It’s awesome that the August Femme Writing Prompt is on femme invisibility, because that’s a theme that seems to recur in my life for a lot of reasons, and not all of them (strictly) femme.
The prompt goes like this:
What is your experience (or lack thereof) with femme invisibility? What is one thing each of us can do to help end this phenomenon?
Femmes. We’re the girls who blend in. The ones who hear, over and over, “But you don’t look gay,” accompanied by a puzzled facial expression. We’re the girls who have long hair or short hair but “girly” hair. We paint our nails, we wear jewelry, we translate femme to mean a million different things but they all usually trace back to something that at least superficially resembles our straight (if punky) counterparts.
We’re the ones who liked growing up girls, at least in some ways.
We’re the ones that “The Community” (of the gays, that is) ridicule for “wanting to be with a man” or for “trying to pass” or for “not being real lesbians.” We come out, over and over again, because we are… just… invisible.
When I first came out as bi, in high school, I wasn’t taken seriously. The few people who knew – including people my age – told me that I was just experimenting, or that I really didn’t like women, I just didn’t have enough good friends who were women and so my affections were “mistargeted” into romantic leanings. I had a friend, however, who was much more butch-looking than I was. She also came out as bi around the same time. But her appearance made her instantly credible. As opposed to my toe-shoe-wearing ballerina look, which just made me look “arty.”
When I came out as gay, in 2005 when I left Janus, I was at first almost entirely shunned by “real” lesbians. Apparently, real lesbians do not wear makeup, do not curl their eyelashes, disdain to wear high heels, and would never stoop so far as to flirt with, much less actually marry and procreate with, a straight bio-male. Ever.
When I found the butch/femme community, a little later in 2005, I found a home. I found a place where not only was I recognized as queer, I was celebrated for the way I looked, dressed, and interacted with my counterparts – the butches. I found a place where I was visible, where I was seen, for the first time in my adult life. I went from feeling completely alone to completely loved… so long as I stayed in the bar and didn’t step back out on to the street.
When I finally identified my interpretation of the word “femme,” and claimed it as my own (which took me all the way until 2008, but that’s a whole ‘nother set of blogs), my enthusiasm for the word and all its glorious baggage effectively ended the relationship I was in at the time.
I’ve been writing about my experiences with femme invisibility for just about as long as I’ve been blogging. My favorite post on the subject was one I actually wrote just a couple of weeks into TSOC; Cellophane went up on February 9, 2009.
Seems to me that I’ve been through a couple of different levels of transparency since then, and with my marriage to Rhett, I’ll be entering yet another.
I “look” straight – albeit somewhat punky, what with the tattoos and the clothing choices. But I wear makeup, I paint my nails, I play with my hair, I adore my high heels. Hell, my work boots (cowboy style, not high-heeled) are black high-gloss leather with sparkles. I’m the kind of girl who tells the guys she works with that she’s queer, only to be told in turn that all she needs is the right prick and the right fuck. Maybe I don’t hear it directly, word for word, but the message gets delivered nonetheless.
My experiences with femme invisibility occur daily. Sometimes they’re funny; sometimes they hurt like hell. But only very rarely am I seen and acknowledged on my own for who I am and how I love unless I’m standing next to Rhett or another of my butch friends.
I’m high femme – proud to be, fiercely unwilling to change my identifier or my physical presentation to make it work better in someone else’s opinion. But in order for that to matter, to make a difference, I have to come out every single day, all over again. The only way it’s ever going to get better for me, or for anyone like me, is to keep challenging the assumptions of appearance. I have to, we have to, keep asserting our corner of the market on femininity. We have to keep analyzing what it means to be a woman, to be female, to be feminine, and to be femme, and we have to keep forcing other people to recognize that those definitions and representations are as mutable as sand on a beach.
We can end the phenomenon of femme invisibility by choosing to stop treating all women as background, as accessories, as scenery. By looking an individual woman in the eye and asking her who she is, how she wants to be treated, where she lives her life. By recognizing that each woman is, in fact, just another individual – not a set of behaviors and characteristics.
But we’re not going to, at least not in my lifetime or even yours, because the stereotypes and generalities are too easy. Human beings categorize by commonality. We just do. For better or for worse, I’m going to stay invisible except when I refuse to be. Because even invisibility is a choice, as is how we respond to it.