Femme means different things to different people. To see how different, check out this What We Mean When We Say “Femme” round table at Autostraddle. As facilitator Cecelia writes at the start: “We live in a world where it is totally possible to claim the same word as someone else and completely disagree on what the word means.” And they certainly do.
But as I've said before, femme is notoriously difficult to define. (I've given five separate expositions so far in this blog – all linked in a comment here). For me, femme is sort of femininity, but also sort of not. It annoys me when people use the word "femme" as synonymous with "feminine", because it isn't. Not least because feminine comes with a load of heteronormative (and patriarchal) baggage, which femme critically circumvents.
Welsh femme Georgina Jones has recently written about the differences between femme and feminine in Bustle:
— Many folks outside of the queer scene don't fully understand what femme means or recognize its distinct differences from feminine;
— To put it simply, "femme" is a descriptor for a queer person who presents and acts in a traditionally feminine manner;
— All femmes hit upon two key aesthetic and identity-related traits: being feminine and falling somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum;
— Intentionality (quoting Evan Urquhart here) is the key to distinguishing a femme identity from a traditionally feminine one;
— Femme isn't about acting feminine or "girly" in the ways mainstream society generally feels that female-presenting people "should" act;
— Ultimately, "femme" is about breaking binaries. It's about subverting cultural expectations. It's about being more than one thing. It's about queerness.
Considering those extracts in reverse order:
— I certainly like the notion of femme as breaking binaries and subverting cultural expectations; and similarly Elizabeth Marston's formulation of femme as rogue femininity.
— No indeed, it isn't. At least, not necessarily. Individual femmes might do this, sometimes, or appear to do this, if they want, albeit not for the obvious “mainstream” reasons.
— Is intentionality the key? Yes, I think so. Femme is knowing what you're doing, as someone once said. And consequently, I think femme has to be claimed; it has to be a conscious identity.
— Do you have to be queer to be femme? Yes, you probably do, at least in some sort of way, though I might include queer heterosexuality in there.
— But act in a traditionally feminine manner? I'm not so sure about this one. It's a bit too strictly formulated for me. I don't think I do anything like that very much. My femme is far more covert.
— That's certainly true. Then again, I'm not sure everyone in my own queer community fully understands this either. Maybe you have to be femme to get femme. Even if we don't agree what femme actually is...
Okay, I'm not sure where I'm going with this now. This was supposed to be about femme vs. feminine, wasn't it. It seems thinking about femme has caught me in a feedback loop, and it's getting late. So I'll finish by quoting Laura Luna Placencia again:
Femme means whatever you want it to mean for yourself and however you want it to look like if that gender feels like home to you.
But in that case a femme can define their femmeness as being feminine, if they want to, can't they.
I'm going to bed.