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"Femme" Ain't Always Easy

By Kelly Saulsberry

“It’s so much easier for feminine lesbians than butch lesbians” so the story goes. I know what lesbian folks usually mean when they say this. We live in a society where many people have very rigid ideas of how men and women should think, behave, talk, and dress, among other things. If you are a woman or a gender variant person whose persona or gender presentation doesn’t correspond with those narrow and shallow perceptions, people get uncomfortable at best and violent at worst. I witnessed the dismissive looks people gave an ex-girlfriend and several friends of mine who identify as butch. I have heard several butch women share their negative encounters and harassment in the street, at school, or in public restrooms where they were assumed to be male and were, therefore, verbally attacked or physically removed from the bathroom. So I totally get it, and I am empathetic. Life can be difficult for some butch lesbians because of people’s ignorance, intolerance, and disrespect.

However, being a “feminine” lesbian like myself is not always a walk in the park, either. Assuming it’s always easy for feminine lesbians in this world oversimplifies our experiences and inadvertently privileges the experiences of butch or gender variant people to us more feminine sapphos. There have been times when my lesbian authenticity was in question by lesbians merely because I was deemed too feminine and girly to be a “real” lesbian. This is only a mere annoyance at times at which I roll my eyes and keep right on. Imagine, though, having to hear homophobic comments all the time made by extended family and peers because they are certain I am not “one of those queers”. Never mind that they’re too clueless to realize that many straight people would also find their remarks offensive. Let’s not talk about straight men who refuse to respect my flashing signals that scream “I’m not interested!”; those guys that make offensive comments about “homos” in my presence and become confused as to why I’m giving them a dirty look or walking away; or men who pursue me, even though they know I am gay, because they are determined to convert me into a believer with their irresistible cock (the one I bought pleasures me just fine); or the man that called me a dyke by the red line El stop and said “You like dick don’t you?” when I refused his advances; or another man who had the audacity to ask why a woman “like me” would be interested in women and find them satisfying. In some ways, straight men get just as angry with feminine lesbians who reject their advances than with butch lesbians for being who they are, because they are insecure and think only men should have access to and enjoy a woman’s femininity, NOT another woman. I have experienced this. A lot of straight men are threatened not only by gender variant people but also by feminine women who dare to be feminine AND with other women at the same time.

My point? There are layers of complexity about feminine and femme identities and experiences that don’t always make it easy, even though it may be tempting to think so because many of us can “pass” as straight on a good day. Some days I wish I couldn’t pass as straight, so that those homophobes too intimidated to hurl insults in the presence of a gay person, would just merely shut the hell up, stop hitting on me, and leave me the fuck alone.
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