Tuesday, 25 June 2013

So, what is femme? (3)

Exactly two years ago, in ‘So, what is femme? (2)’, quoting part of Elizabeth Marston's essay Rogue Femininity, I wrote: “I doubt I'll ever be able to put it better than this”. And perhaps not. Nevertheless, I like very much what Elise Nagy has to say in her own article Exploding the Limitations (on the queer activist and literary ‘In our words’ blogsite). A few extracts:

Femininity has a lot of rules, and one of the overarching rules is that it’s nearly unattainable, that you will always be striving. It will keep you busy and keep your money and energy tied up in trying to reach some imaginary pinnacle of perfect femininity while you could be out doing magnificent things with your life, or exploring and constructing your own vision of femme that isn’t dictated to you from capitalism and sexism.

In many ways the difference between identifying as feminine or female and identifying as femme is one of intentionality and awareness. (...) Femininity is what’s expected of you if you’re assigned female at birth. Femme exists between and around sex and gender assigned at birth. Femme opens up a space for people who weren’t necessarily assigned female at birth but also might not accept a strict and naturalized gender binary. Femme can be a space for people who reject that assignment as having any real personal meaning. Femme is embodied in trans women and cis women, trans men and cis men.

Femme is what you do with yourself in the world, the way millennia of ideologies of femininity collide in the sway of your hips and swoop of your eyeliner. Femme is a vision as well as a way of presenting; Femme isn’t hierarchical or exclusionary. Femme isn’t necessarily straight and isn’t necessarily gay; femme can be asexual, femme can be kinky, femme can be fluid. Femme is by/for people of color. Femme is by/for people with disabilities. Femme is by/for people who can’t afford what Femininity is selling and wouldn’t want to buy it anyway.

Femme is about gestures, mannerisms, affectations and performance. It’s about making the face you present to the world represent the self you feel most like in that moment. Sometimes it’s about allowing yourself to act the way that people have punished you for, it’s about resisting the idea that traditional masculinity should be a requirement of your embodiment. Femme is contradictory and chaotic. It’s unfixed, mutable, fluid, and heterogeneous.

Femme is a personal identity, but it’s also a political one. It calls attention to the performativity of gender and sexuality. It questions the idea that there can be too much: too much blush, too much tulle, too many holes in your short shorts, too much calling out of racism, too many discussions about neocolonialism. Femme is resistance. Femme pushes back against the idea that people must act traditionally masculine to be powerful or traditionally feminine to be acceptable. Femme rejects white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Femme explores and explodes the limitations placed on people when they’re assigned female or male at birth.

I like this because it's political femme; powerful femme; confident "pay-it-no-mind" femme; confrontational "if-you-don't-like-it..." femme; impatient "when-do-we-want-it?-now!" femme. Femme that celebrates and draws strength from difference, independent of received notions of sex, gender and sexuality. Femme that rejects imposed prescriptions of what people are or should be. Femme that explodes the limitations of what femme is and can be. This is radical femme.

On which note, it's quite appropriate that I was directed to Nagy's piece by ‘Radical Femme’ on Facebook. Thanks, Katie :)


  1. This is rousing rhetoric, connecting femme to a political resistance and liberation which I endorse.

    In truth, though, I think such political manifestos glorify what is actually motivated by psychology much deeper than political gesture. xx

  2. Sure thing. Or to put it another way... The political is personal :)