by Mia McKenzie
I was talking a couple of nights ago with the beautiful and fabulous Cherry Galette about the femme/butch dichotomy that seems to be so prevalent in queer community, lamenting the fact that feminine-identified girls like us who want to get down with other feminine-identified girls sometimes get funny looks. Or just…less play.
Somewhere back in the early days of queerdom, some queen decided that femme/butch was what every couple should look like. Said queen (I think her name was Miss Noxzema Jackson, but I might be confusing her with someone else) waved her glitter-star-tipped magic wand and put a spell on errrrbody, child. Okay, that might not beexactly how it happened. It might have had more to do with mimicking heterosexual female/male gender-roled relationships (heteronormativity, y’all!). But whatever. This is not an anthropology paper, okay, nerd?
What this is, is me being a teensy bit salty.
I identify mostly as aggressive femme, and my gender-presentation moves along a spectrum from femme to what I like to call “borderline tomboy” and back, depending on my mood. I am attracted mostly to women who are both feminine-identified and feminine-presenting. This puts me in a peculiar place in queer dating society. When I am presenting femme, I get a lot of attention from bois and studs and butches. Who are all wonderful people, I’m sure, but who do not necessarily “float my boat,” as they say (and by “they” I mean your grandparents). When I am presenting borderline tomboy, I get more attention from femmes, but something about the attention feels a little bit off, maybe because I fear they are responding to what I think of as a small sliver of my overall gender-identification.
When I am on the East Coast, in Philly or NY, and especially if I am in a black lesbian club, my gender-presentation affects my every interaction. If I am presenting femme, I am immediately and almost exclusively approached by studs. If I am presenting borderline-tomboy, I may suddenly be on the radar of femmes. More often, though, in the latter situation, because I never fit solidly into any category that can be called “butch” or “stud”, nobody really knows what the hell to make of me. I’m supposed to be one or the other, right? A femme or a stud. Right?
Cherry assures me that this is not an East Coast thing. She says it’s big in the Bay Area, too. Cherry is femme all the time, and high femme much of the time. I have one pair of boy jeans. Cherry has no pairs of boy jeans. Cherry also prefers femmes, but because she is so femme, most of the attention she gets is from butches and studs and other masculine-of-center folks.
So…what’s a femme-loving femme to do? (Really. I’m asking…)
None of this is to say that everybody is hardcore into the femme/butch thing. Nor is it to say that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just to say that…well…
Okay. At the Femmes of Color Symposium last summer in Oakland, there was this keynote speaker whose name I don’t remember who gave this whole spiel about femmes and the way we interact with our bois. Like, she didn’t even leave room for the idea that some of us might not be into bois at all, or might be into both bois and other femmes. That idea didn’t seem to have crossed her mind. That’s what has me salty about this. Not that there’s anything whatsoever wrong with femmes loving butches and vice versa, but that sometimes it feels, in queer community, like no other option is allowed. That no other kind of desire is even recognized as existing.
Heteros, on the other hand, are obsessed with femme-on-femme loving. It’s really the only fictional “lesbian” relationship you ever see represented in mainstream movies and television. And, of course, porn. Maybe that’s it. Maybe male-created lesbian porn is how femme-on-femme action got a bad rap. Cis dudes love femme-on-femme. And good queers reject everything that cis dudes like, right? I mean, that’s pretty much how I decide everything: if cis dudes like it, it’s my least favorite thing! Ew! Get that shit away from me!
But seriously. I’m ready to reclaim femme-on-femme loving, y’all. In a big way. Who’s with me?
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She just finished a novel and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.