Femme Without Apology

Candy Bar on a Saturday night is busy and loud.
I am behind the bar, wearing a dress and red lipstick, waiting to meet a friend. The occupant of the stool next to me is the picture of camp; tight purple t-shirt, pale ripped jeans, and glitter converse.
He is ruefully sipping a rum and coke.
We make eye contact for long enough that somebody has to say hi. I take the plunge.

“Hallo, how are you?”

“Good thanks! You look fabulous, darlin’”

He smiles. I smile, happy to talk to him while my friend wades through tube delays.

“Are you out with some friends?”

“Yea, my best mate is over there tryna’ pull”

There is a lingering silence.
I attempt to attract the bartender’s attention while he fiddles with the straw of his drink.

“I don’t often see men here! What a novelty”, I throw out.

Though not unheard of to see gentlemen at Candy bar, it is hardly common place. I feel like our conversation needs a harmless icebreaker.

“Bet some of these lesbians wish they were men though”

“How do you mean?”

“So they could fuck loads of girls”


“Yeah, I bet some of them wish they had a cock. They look near enough like men anyway. Some of them, not you obviously though”

He winks, with what is clearly meant to be generous reassurance… not you obviously though.

His friend saves me by ushering him outside for a cigarette. Though, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have replied anyway.
Partly because there is nothing to say to a comment like that between strangers, and partly because I am not surprised. Sadly, I have heard many a similar theory, in a progressive area of one of the world’s more accepting cities.
There it was again; the statement that all female identified people with masculine gender performances want to be men.

I am what a lot of people would categorise as ‘femme’ or ‘tomboy femme’.

For me, this means I often swap heels for funky flats, or high tops, but like dresses and make up. When I look particularly girly it gets me compliments, amongst other femme girls, gay men, and even straight boys and girls.
The way I dress is seen as something which doesn’t threaten cis-gendered masculinity, so straight boys often read me as heterosexual,  sometimes telling me they don’t believe me when I say I’m not.

Straight women aren’t frightened that I’m going to accost them because I look more like them than a girl in dungarees and doc martins (lull them into a false sense of security, right?), gay men thank me for being “a real girl” (whatever that means), and occasionally fellow femmes (see what I did there?) try to pass snide remarks about the gender expression of the more masculine of centre women around us (worst chat up lines ever, I’m telling you).

What truly makes me feel uneasy about the “wish they were men” argument is that it smacks of veiled transphobia; you’re allowed to subvert your sexuality but not your gender.
It gives the impression that it’s okay not to be straight as long as you stay within the confines of dominant lesbian and gay culture. In other words: look like a ‘normal’ girl/boy– don’t be trans*, intersex, or too radically queer at that (check this out if you’re not sure about what any of these terms mean!)

Don’t get me wrong –  being told I’m pretty is flattering when it’s sincere.
However, at the expense of another female identified person, compliment quickly becomes insult; I do not dress the way I dress because I am worried that if I don’t someone, especially a man, won’t tell me I look fabulous.

When my femininity is put on a pedestal, devaluing butch women, my gender performance loses its power.
What is a conscious feminist decision is reduced to satisfying the male gaze.


My sense of liberation, as a queer girl, is deeply tied in with that of all female identifying people.
After all, femininity is not “being a woman”, and I am no more or no less a woman than any other female identifying person.

Any insult to butch or masculine of centre women is an insult to me because my femininity is on purpose. It is not an apology for the fact that I am not straight.



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  1. I think this post is lovely, because it highlights what the femme visibility movement is NOT about – it is not about segregating ourselves from butch lesbians, or any other lesbians for that matter. It does not make us happy when you tell us we are, in your eyes, better than the other lesbian categories and identifications out there. Sure, it’s nice to be complimented, but not in a backhanded way that separates us from the rest of our community; our friends, even our girlfriends.

    Nicely done. Anything with a mean girls quote wins for me. x

  2. Elfie

    Great post. I can’t count the amount of times I have been rejected entry to gay clubs because, apparently, I “don’t look like a lesbian.” Its incredibly frustrating.

    I have also experienced, many times, the straight male reaction of disbelief followed by approval – “you’re not a lesbian! That’s what I like, a lesbian who looks like a woman.” I don’t care what you like!

    There is an assumption that when a woman presents herself in traditionally feminine ways, she does so for the benefit of men whether she’s gay or straight. And of course, there is an assumption about femmes that if indeed we are “real lesbians” and not doing it all for male attention then its probably only a temporary phase and we’ll grow out of it when we find the right man!

    The occasional gay male reaction is even more baffling, just as you say, they try to complement me for not looking like I want to be a man. It seems to me to be barely veiled misogyny.

    It seems to me that women’s desire is never taken seriously. Other people always seem to think they know better, and that you have alterior motives for the way you dress and who you sleep with. Seems part and parcel of the ubiquitous male assumption that all any woman wants is their cock, regardless of whether she knows it or not.

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