Femme invisibility from a non-cis POV
Expanded from a comment I wrote on an article by Megan Evans (Huffington Post):
Not all queer women are invisible because of femme presentation. The issue is more complicated among trans women. Some trans women are singled out for violence by the straight world and the cis world because of femme presentation. For some trans women, being femme is what makes them visible. There is another group of trans women who are occasionally read as cis, and other times read as trans. Their invisibility is temporary and random. And some trans women are regularly read as cisgender.
When femme trans women are read as cis, they are doubly invisible until bureaucratic paper trails or honest talks about personal history are used against them. When their queerness is revealed, the outcome is different than when just revealing trans status.
If I am read as trans among queer people, not only is my queerness questioned, but my femme-ness is questioned as well. My body is coded as “male”. I’m written off as “androgynous” unless I go over-the-top in my femininity. Even then, I am granted a segregated version of “femme”, banned from the hallowed halls of cis presentation, written off as a cheap imitation or an amusing oddity.
When I’m read as cis, none of this happens. My experience becomes that of the cis “femme invisibility” narrative. But I mentally start the countdown clock to when something comes up in conversation revealing my trans status. At which point cis people immediately change how they react to my presence. I’m invisible no longer, and in their eyes, femme no longer.
My dating issues aren’t just about being invisible to other queer women. I am also denied my womanhood. Instead of being overlooked like I don’t belong, some lesbians make the case that I literally don’t belong at all. I’m not just an outlier, I’m an impostor.
This varies from person to person, and trans status isn’t the only thing that affects how femmes are read by others. I’m disabled, and this changes how others perceive my femme-ness as well.
What intersections have you encountered between femme identity and trans status? What else affects how you, as a femme, are read by others?
“Hanging in the air between us is their excuse, whether spoken or silent: "...but you don't look like a lesbian." It bothers me that I must carry the burden of proof, that I must continually defend my selfhood. Why must I look like a lesbian? Why must lesbians "look" any way at all?”—Nick Lehner, Lesbian Invisibility and the Femme’s Dilemma
“See, my issue, lover pants, isn't the term "femme invisibility." It's the fact that we queers have a visual "Is she or isn't she" that rivals the US Army's. Without the haircut, no one knows you're a soldier. And, sweetcheeks, I tried the haircut. I looked like a quasi-butch reject from Miami Vice. I just couldn't stay away from pastels. Don't judge me. If [a femme] is not providing you with oh-so-subtle clues (like a drawing of Sappho on her forehead) you could do something revolutionary by not assuming anything. Go talk to her. Even if she's as straight as Donna Reed (although that theory is contested), she may appreciate the company. If she drops no hints as to her libidinous tendencies, take the plunge and ask. If she's offended, then good. She needs the gay in her life. You may make her think, and then there's a toaster oven in it for you. Who doesn't like door prizes? So, my little perishable, please take a chance that the girl in the high heels and eyeliner is queer. Even at the grocery store. She's not only being friendly, she's checking out your produce.”—Belinda Carroll, Excerpted from A Guide to Getting Laid by a Girl in Lipstick and High Heels, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme
should we talk about how, for femme invisibility to be a problem, you first need to have cis privilege? i think i just realized that THAT is the thing that sits wrong with me about the problem of femme invisibility. I want to be like “yes that sucks” but on some level I’m always like “wow that kind of suck must be pretty nice”
No Queer Girls Are Queerer Than Others: Resisting Femme Invisibility
”’Femme means my feminism and my femininity walk hand in hand,’ said Bevin Branlandingham, a self-identified queer, fat, femme writer and performer.
“Femme means I look how I want to look and not how someone tells me I should look to be perceived as queer,” she added, “and not how someone tells me I should look because I am a woman.”…
…Our femininities are often marginalized and delegitimized. We are often seen as heteronormative, apolitical, less radical, and less queer in a community where being visible and valued depends on being masculine or androgynous.
This femmephobia in queer communities—this devaluation and stigmatization of queer femininity—is a form of misogyny that is rooted in dominant patriarchal culture. It’s a form of sexism that intersects with cissexist, heterosexist, racist, classist, ableist, and sizeist views of femininity, women, and what it means to be queer.
The accusation that femme women “pass as straight” undermines our own self-definitions of our femme identities, our empowered embracing of our femininities, and our blatant disruption of the normative constructs of what it means to be feminine and a woman.”
(NAILED IT. -jj)
It started with a statement.
“But McKenzie, you don’t look gay.”
This is all it took for me to take my blossoming identity and pack it back down into a small, dark box.
Because I don’t fit into your stereotype I suddenly became a white picket fence assumption.
My “hair isn’t short enough”, my “fingers aren’t long enough”, my “ideas are not radical enough”.
No I won’t let your smooth coffee words stunt my growth. Your assumption is not a statement because a statement implies something factual and who are you to tell me a truth about myself?
My identity is going to grow like an ivy infestation.My petals are going to reach for the embracing sun and bow down to the wise moon. My roots are going to dig deep into the beckoning earth and I will become a force worth reckoning with.
I am going to let my long hair down, I’m going to flip you the bird with my stubby fingers, and I am going to show you that my ideas are bulletproof.
so i saw a post in this tag about how cis femmes are more privileged because of their femme-ness
and i really hate the idea that “looking straight” somehow gives me straight privilege
i do not have privilege when my femininity is seen as a show for men. that is heteronormative in and of itself.
i do not have privilege when i’m out to people and they still don’t really believe i’m gay but still try to distance themselves from me because i’m not perfectly “straight”
i don’t have privilege when people get angry at me for being gay because they feel like i “tricked them” with my femininity which could easily lead to violence
i don’t have privilege when i hear negative, homophobic remarks all the time because straight people think there isn’t anyone gay around.
i don’t have privilege when my identity is considered invalid
i don’t have privilege when i pass as straight by the very fact that “passing as straight” is a thing because of the same fucking gender stereotypes which prevent us from accepting more masculine straight women as a valid expression of gender as well.
“To all the beautiful, kick ass, fierce and full-bodied femmes out there, I would like to extend my thanks to you. It is for you that I press my shirts and carefully iron my ties. It is for you that I make sure my underwear and socks match. It is to you that I tip my cowboy hat. It is for you that I polish my big black boots. I know that sometimes you feel like nobody truly sees you. I want you to know that I see you. I see you on the street, on the bus, in the gym, in the park. I don’t know why I can tell that you are not straight, but I can. Maybe it is the way you look at me. Please don’t stop looking at me the way you do. All of my life I have been told that I am ugly, I am less than, I am not a man, I am unwanted. Until you came along, I believed them. Please do not ever stop looking at me the way you do. I would never say that the world is harder on me than it is you. Sometimes you are invisible. I have no idea what this must feel like, to pass right by your people and not be recognized. To not be seen. I cannot hide, unless I am seen as something I am not. This is not more difficult, it is just different. I know those shoes are fucking killing your feet. I want you to know how much I appreciate that you are still wearing them. You look hot. I love you in them. They look great with that dress. If it makes you feel any better at all, the boots I have on right now weigh approximately 12 pounds apiece and they make the soles of my feet burn like diaper rash in a heat wave and it feels like I’m wearing ski boots when I have to walk up stairs. But I wear them for you. Even still, my new boots are velvet slippers compared to your knee-high five-inch heels. I notice, and I salute you. I promise, I am not just staring at your tits. I am trying to look you directly in the eyes, but you are almost eight inches taller than me, please see above note regarding your five-inch heels. At the same time, I would like to mention that while I was trying to look you in the eyes, I couldn’t help but notice your lovely new pendant. I am sure it really brings out the colour of your eyes, if I could see them. I want to thank you for coming out of the closet. Again and again, over and over, for the rest of your life. At school, at work, at your kid’s daycare, at your brother’s wedding, at the doctor’s office. Thank you for sideswiping their stereotypes. I never get the chance to come out of the closet, because my closet was always made of glass. But you do it for me. You fight homophobia in a way that I never could. Some of them think I am queer because I am undesirable. You prove to them that being queer is your desire. Thank you for loving me because of who I am and what I look like, not in spite of who I am and what I look like. Thank you for smelling so good. Thank you for holding my hand on the sidewalk during the hockey playoffs. I know it is probably small-minded of me to smile wicked at all the drunken dudes in jerseys smoking outside the sports bar in between periods because you are so fucking hot, and you are with me and not them, but I can’t help it. That’s right fellas. You want her but she wants me. How do you like them apples? Thank you for wearing matching bra and panties. I don’t know why this makes my life seem so perfect, but it really does. Thank you for being the daughter my mother always wanted. You are so smart and successful and you dress so fine that you almost make up for her having me and my sister for her real children. Thank you for reaching out in the dark at the movie theatre to grab my hand in the scary parts. It makes me feel like I am strong, that I can take care of you. Even if there is no such thing as vampires, and you do so much yoga that you could probably easily kick my ass. I want you to know I love your crooked tooth, your stretch marks, the missing part of your finger, your short leg, your third nipple, your lazy eye, your cowlick, your birthmark shaped like Texas. I love it all. I want you to know that I know it is not always easy to love me. That sometimes my chest is a field full of landmines and where you went last night you can’t go tomorrow. There is no manual, no roadmap, no helpline you can call. My body does not come with instructions, and sometimes even I don’t know what to do with it. This cannot be easy, but still, you touch me anyway. Thank you for escorting me into the women’s washroom because the floor of the men’s was covered in something unmentionable. Thank you for asking me if I had a tampon in my purse really loud so the lady in the turquoise sweatshirt did a double take before gathering up her daughter and hitting me with a pool noodle. I can’t say for sure whether that is what actually would have happened, but thanks to you I didn’t have to find out. Thank you for wearing that dress just because you knew it would match my shirt. Together, we are unstoppable. When seen through your eyes, I am beautiful. Turns out I was a swan the whole time.”—Ivan E. Coyote
“I am a Femme. But don't get me wrong, Femmes are not weak or easily stereotyped: I work ten hour shifts in steel cap boots (you try that and see how tired you get), clean up vomit, play in the dirt, stand up for myself, I can walk through dark streets at night and not be scared, do what I like. I am a Femme who goes out in drag, and when I do, I pack. I fit no stereotypes, I am my own definitions, boundaries and best judge. I am a Femme because I am a Femme because I am a Femme. ”—Me (Isobel Connell), in a diary entry yesterday
“When I learned that by accepting the label gay I had somehow opened myself up to having a thousand other labels tacked on, some of which I could choose, but plenty of which I couldn’t.”—Femmes: Beyond Lipstick (and heels and dresses) on Autostraddle
I hate when people you want to do better
The people you expect to do better
I hate running into femme phobia on the daily
from all sorts of queers
who should know better
but just can’t seem to really wrap their head around femme identity
other than to assure me they love femme girls
and then go back to legitimizing all the ‘really queer’ people and actions
that are nothing like me.