Anyone who has witnessed the power and beauty of a femme walking down the street knows that something happens in the atmosphere, a sizzling crackling something or other when she’s near. Men walk into doors and women drool visibly. It’s like femmes have their own weather systems in which they create lightning at will and decide where it lands.
But where does this power come from?
Choice. Femme is a chosen, cherished practice that is born of a conscious decision to value what’s usually dismissed and to imbue it with a shimmering, multifaceted power. To me, it’s all about the courage to stick out, welcoming the tongue-tied adoration in exchange for your smart, beautiful, strong fabulosity.
Most femmes will tell you their power emerges from a combination of unabashed celebration of play, intelligence and beauty, and a fierce self-possession that does not often accompany the mainstream flaunting of femininity (Girls Gone Wild, anyone?).
Femme is a flawless recipe for inspiring wonder. When a femme walks into a room, the loud thoughts of people all around her — regardless of sexual orientation — translate to something like, “Who is that woman, and why can’t I look away?”
Because she’s magical, that’s why.
Femmes rebuild a sense of reverence in the world. The vibrant, brawny energy of femme charms the pants off pessimism and shifts assumptions, but it also inspires people to be in service to the feminine. And God knows we need a little more of that in the world.
I recently used the term “worshipful” to describe the kind of pure, focused, appreciative attention that femmes often receive. People want to do things for us. Not necessarily in that insistent “Ladies first” way — though that does happen. More often, it’s in the spirit of service: “If you have a need, please tell me. I want to fulfill it.”
You don’t even have to be a top to enjoy the hell out of these moments. It’s a delightful circumstance that makes me feel like I’ve gone back in time. But what historical era featured gallant men and women in optional mental servitude to the whims and pleasures of powerful feminine women who knew their own strength and value?
That said, despite the fact that femme has been around as an identity for decades, it is widely misunderstood — both inside and outside queer communities. Femmes are not apolitical, and we are not anti-feminist. In fact, the opposite is true. Embracing a combination of femininity, joyful embodiment, intelligence and radiant strength is a political act. It represents a radical recoding of femininity as a potent and valued mode of expression. It forces us to confront our dismissive, anti-feminine assumptions on a moment-to-moment basis: if she’s showing cleavage, she’s not a feminist; if she shaves, she’s not political; if she’s pretty, she’s unintelligent; if she’s fat, she can’t be sexy; if she’s sexy, she can’t be taken seriously.
Practising femme is taking direct action against the patriarchy.
And everyone is good enough to join the femme party, including those who are fat, short, smart, scrawny, flat-chested, aggressive, funny, mean — women who are typically judged as unsuccessful in their femininity. And they get a “Hell yeah!” for their outfit, to boot.
Though elements of physical presentation are an essential part of femme identity, it goes way beyond lipstick and cute shoe/dress combinations. Femme is also a highly visible celebration of body and sex and politics and power and intellect and glitter. Yes, glitter. Because glitter is central to magic. And magic is central to femme.
While there are many deeply charming aspects to being femme, one of the less-than-pleasant parts is the feeling of never being seen for what you actually are: a queer. Not a flirty, vapid and available straight woman in cute heels. It can get frustrating, and a lot of the femmes I know complain about being incognito queers. But if you look at this invisibility from another angle, it becomes hella fun because no one sees your gender party-crash coming. Think of the sheer culture shock we can enact at will!
The change potential here is awesome: utterly recoding what is assumed or understood to be true when encountering a person who is “typically feminine.” It’s especially delightful to be occupying a deviant sexuality while schooling the world about what femininity can mean.
This is a little something that I like to call the booby trap, ie: an invisible trap in which you reel ‘em in with your charming outfit and seeming normalcy, then unleash your nuanced feminist politics on their sorry asses. It’s way better than therapy, let me tell you.
But if you’re feeling less than eloquent during one of these awkward moments, there are other options. One of my favourite things to do when I get het-checked — my term for when I’m assumed straight and then eagerly consumed as a piece of eye candy who will undoubtedly reciprocate this steamy love gaze — is to do something totally disgusting, like hork up a big phlegm-ball, cough and wheeze elaborately, pick my nose or scratch my ass. This never gets old! Mostly because of the painfully consistent response of stop-and-stare while looking hurt, disappointed, nauseated and deeply betrayed.
I recommend dropping culture bombs like this on a regular basis. It’s funny as hell and the perfect femme revenge.