Over the last few years, my femme identity has very much informed the way that I relate to myself as a trans woman, as a queer woman, and as a feminist more generally. Did that make you laugh? Fuck you bigot. All I got is femmeness to be a woman, because I’m a man. Don’t you dare take that away from me? Like “being a woman” has ANYTHING to do with being female. If you were to ask a hundred different femmes at a Pink Essence conference to define the word “femme,” you would probably get a hundred different answers all relating to the hard ons we got the first time we put on our mommy’s panties. Having said this, most femmes, who I will call memes, because we are men, would no doubt agree that an important, if not central, aspect of femme identity involves making sure feminine gender expression, or “femininity” never ever ever ever goes away, for without it WE WOULD LITERALLY DIE.
It is common-place for people in both the straight mainstream as well as within our queer and feminist circles to presume that feminine gender expression is more frivolous, artificial, impractical, and manipulative than masculine gender expression, and that those of us who dress or act femininely are likely to be more tame, fragile, dependent, and immature than our masculine or “gender neutral” counterparts. Of course, I will ignore radical feminists who have a critique of gender that posits that the feminine gender role is one that females are socialized into to keep women subordinate to men. Those bitches are just mean and simply don’t understand how empowerfulizing it is to be viewed as a sperm receptacle for Real Men (which doesn’t include me, because I’m a laydee). By reclaiming femininity, those of us men who are femme and have never been oppressed by gender are engaged in a constant process of challenging these negative assumptions that are routinely projected onto feminine gender expression. Just kidding! We only exist because of these negative assumptions!
While reclaiming femininity is an important part of our femme identities, the specific ways in which we engage in reclaiming, re-appropriating, and re-conceptualizing femininity differs from person to person based on our varied experiences, struggles, and histories. Did that sentence blow you away? Re-read it. It’s that good. Do you understand what it means? No? Well, do you want your friends to think you’re transphobic? No? Well, you better pretend it made sense. Need help pretending? Just email me for tips, I’m the best pretender around. But basically, reclaiming femininity makes as much sense as reclaiming virginity, if you’re a guy, err, transwoman.
I have found that my life history as a man, err, transsexual woman has led to me having a somewhat different view of femininity and femme identity than that commonly held by the majority of cissexual femme women. Yes, that’s right. I said cissexual, not cisgender. Deal with it, bitches. In this chapter, I will explore some of these differences. And when I do, know by “differences” I mean “my world view is superior.” My hope is that, rather than drawing a sharp distinction between trans femmes and cis femmes, like, say, the fact that I’m male and actual women are female, what I have to say will make clear the many similarities that we share. Tee hee. It’s just #girlslikeus. Tee hee. And rather than dis-identifying (OMG, look what I did, I am trans Mary Daly) with my trans experience, it is my hope that cis femmes (and other readers) will draw parallels between my struggles and experiences and their own. Because really, it’s an experience of #sharedgirlhood to have your tuck slip. Am I right, girls? Tee hee.
Many of my thoughts regarding the similarities and differences between cis and trans femmes grew out of my experience at the Femme 2006 conference, which took place in San Francisco in August of that year. San Francisco is awesome because it’s where every person with a personality disorder goes to be homosexual. At the time, I was about three-quarters finished writing the book that would eventually become Whipping Girl. What’s that? You don’t own 4 copies of Whipping Girl? Transphobe! My main purpose in writing the book was to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions that people have—both in the mainstream and within feminist and queer communities—about trans women and femininity. Also, to make a lot of money off of personality disordered queers. Result! Focusing simultaneously on both femininity and trans women was no accident. I had spent five years doing trans activism up to that point—conducting transgender 101 workshops, writing essays critiquing media depictions of trans people, and working to violate the boundaries of lesbian and women’s spaces like the rapey prick I am. And the one thing that came up over and over again was the way in which trans women and others on the trans female/feminine spectrum receive the bulk of society’s fascination and demonization with regard to transgenderism. Because men really are the most oppressed people on the planet. In contrast, people on the trans male/masculine spectrum have remained relatively invisible, and that has nothing to do with misogyny or the fact that lesbians are generally viewed as irrelevant. It has EVERYTHING to do with the Power of Pussy.
This disparity in attention suggests that those of us on the trans female/feminine spectrum are culturally marked, not for failing to conform to gender norms per se, but because of the specific direction of our gender transgression—that is, because of our feminine gender expression and/or our female gender identities. Oh my God, I did it again. Will you look at that sentence? Did you see what I did there? MEN RULE!!! And while it has become common for people to use the word “transphobia” as a catchall phrase to describe anti-trans sentiment, it is more accurate to view the discrimination and stigma faced by trans people on the trans female/feminine spectrum in terms of trans-misogyny. That just sent a shiver down my phantom penis. TRANSMISOGYNY!!!! I have found that many people who have not had a trans female or trans feminine experience often have trouble wrapping their brains around the concept of trans-misogyny, so I will offer the following two anecdotes to help illustrate what I mean by the term. Now, mind you, I will never pause to reflect that I am treated as I am because I am a rapey, boundary violating prick. No, it’s always transmisogyny.
Once, about two years ago, I was walking down the street in San Francisco, and a trans woman happened to be walking just ahead of me. She was dressed femininely, because otherwise she’d be a dude, but not any more feminine than a typical cis woman. What’s that? San Francisco is lousy with butch dykes? Fuck them, they are actually men. Stop derailing my fantasy with reality. Two people, a man and a woman, were sitting on a doorstep, and as the trans woman walked by, the man turned to the woman he was sitting next to and said, “Look at all the shit he’s wearing,” and the woman he was with nodded in agreement. How dare these people notice the man wearing stereotypical women’s clothes. It’s hateful to observe things with your eyes! Now presumably the word “shit” was a reference to femininity—specifically, the feminine clothing and cosmetics the trans woman wore. And of course, it couldn’t be homophobia that was driving their comment. I found this particular comment to be quite telling, because I want to be telling you this anecdote RIGHT NOW to prove that transmisogyny is real. After all, while cis women often receive harassing comments from strange men on the street, it is rather rare for those men to address those remarks to a female acquaintance and for her to apparently approve of his remarks. WHAT? You call bullshit? Fuck you, bigot. Furthermore, if this same man were to have harassed a cis woman, it is unlikely that he would do so by referring to her feminine clothing and makeup as “shit.” How do I know this? What’s that? I wouldn’t know this because I’m male? Fuck you, bigot. Similarly, someone who is on the trans masculine spectrum could potentially be harassed, but it is unlikely that his masculine clothing would be referred to as “shit.” What? You say I am pulling shit out of my ass? Don’t you know using the word shit is evidence of transmisogyny? Thus, trans-misogyny is both informed by, yet distinct from, transphobia and misogyny, in that it specifically targets transgender expressions of femaleness and femininity. Did you see how I reached a conclusion (signaled by the word “thus”) without actually providing any evidence to support my conclusion. My own opinions on things are just as good as facts. The second example of trans-misogyny that I’d like to share occurred at an Association for Women in Psychology conference I attended in 2007 (for those unfamiliar with that organization, it is essentially a feminist psychology conference).
No, of course I had no business being there, because I am male, but remember, my activism centers around violating women’s boundaries. One psychologist gave a presentation on the ways in which feminism has informed her approach to therapy. During the course of her talk, she discussed two transgender clients of hers, one on the trans male/masculine spectrum, the other on the trans female/feminine spectrum. Their stories were very similar in that both had begun the process of physically transitioning but were having second thoughts about it. First, the therapist discussed the trans masculine spectrum person, whose gender presentation she described simply as being “very butch.” She discussed this individual’s transgender expressions and issues in a respectful and serious manner, and the audience listened attentively. However, when she turned her attention to the trans feminine client, she went into a very graphic and animated description of the trans person’s appearance, detailing how the trans woman’s hair was styled, the type of outfit and shoes she was wearing, the way her makeup was done, and so on. This description elicited a significant amount of giggling from the audience, which I found to be particularly disturbing given the fact that this was an explicitly feminist conference. How dare those feminist bitches laugh at a porn sick autogynephile!!!!
Clearly, if a male psychologist gave a talk at this meeting in which he went into such explicit detail regarding what one of his cis female clients was wearing, most of these same audience members, as well as the presenter, would surely (and rightfully) be appalled and would view such remarks to be blatantly objectifying. In fact, in both of these incidents I have described, comments that would typically be considered extraordinarily misogynistic if they were directed at cis women are not considered beyond the pale when directed at trans women. As both of these anecdotes demonstrate, expressions of trans-misogyny do not merely focus on trans women’s female gender identities, but more often than not, they specifically target her feminine gender expression. What’s that? All a transwoman has to make her “a woman” is her fantasy thoughts and her girly clothes? Fuck you, bigot. Trans-misogyny is driven by the fact that in our culture, feminine appearances are more blatantly and routinely judged by society than masculine ones. See how I just erased the oppression faced by gender nonconforming women by stating that if they dressed “more like men,” they’d be ok. See how I erased male v. female? See how magical I am? It is also driven by the fact that connotations such as “artificial,” “contrived,” and “frivolous” are practically built into our cultural understanding of femininity—these same connotations allow masculinity to invariably come off as “natural,” “sincere,” and “practical” in comparison.
What’s that? Is that because gender itself is constructed, as radical feminists have pointed out for forty years? Fuck you. Femininity is natural. And Pink has ALWAYS been a girl’s color. Bitch. For example, when a woman wishes to charm or impress someone, she is often described as using her “feminine wiles.” But when a man tries to charm or impress someone, nobody ever accuses him of using his “masculine wiles.” Instead, he is simply seen as being himself. I’m such a clever girl. The word “wiles” is defined as “a trick, artifice, or stratagem meant to fool, trap, or entice; a device.” This is the how people typically view feminine gender expression: as manipulative, insincere, and artificial. But they are wrong. It’s totally real, especially when someone with a penis performs it. There is a common, yet false, assumption that those feminists and queer women who favor trans woman exclusion are primarily concerned with the fact that trans women were born male, that we have experienced male privilege, that we have had or may still have penises, or that we may still have residual “male energy” (whatever the fuck that is. Yes, I said “whatever the fuck that is” & that’s not an example of my male energy, bitch).
I would argue that the growing acceptance, and even celebration, of trans male and trans masculine folks within queer women’s communities over the last decade demonstrates that this supposed fear of maleness and masculinity is largely a red herring. See how I equated masculine gender performance with being male? Rather, in my many encounters with cis feminists who are hesitant or resistant about including trans women’s voices and issues within the feminist movement, almost invariably, the first thing they mention is what they consider to be our “over the top” or “exaggerated” feminine gender expression: the way we supposedly dress hyperfemininely and wear way too much makeup, that we turn ourselves into “caricatures” of “real” women. And the fact that this is the first thing they mention must mean it’s the ONLY thing they are concerned about. And my fingers are in my ears now LALALALALALALALA.
Janice Raymond chided trans women for the fact that we supposedly, “conform more to the feminine role than even the most feminine of natural-born women,” and Robin Morgan claimed that by doing so we “parody female oppression and suffering.” Those bitches don’t know how to dress, obvs.Anyone who knows multiple actual trans women knows that this monolithic image of trans women as “hyperfeminine” is nothing more than a ruse, one that typically grows out of an uncritical acceptance of media depictions of trans women, or out of stereotyping based on one or two actual trans women the person may have seen or met (and who were obvious as trans precisely because of their especially high femme presentation). What’s that? You say there are thousands of blogs, YouTube channels and a whole social network dedicated to this called Pink Essence? Fuck you, bigot. Actual trans women differ greatly in our personal styles and gender expressions just like Men. Some are rather conventional in their femininity, while others are understated, and still others strive to be fabulously feminine. Some identify as femme dykes or femme tomboys. Other trans women are very androgynous in their manner of dress and gender expression, and still others dress and identify as butch. But in all cases, all of us aren’t actually women. So what purpose does this monolithic image of trans women as hyperfeminine serve? Oh, see how I made radical feminists the ones with an agenda that is targeting men? What’s that? You say I sound like an MRA? Fuck you, bigot. You know what? From now on, I will just say FYB.
Well, in a world where femininity is regularly disparaged as being manipulative and insincere, such images reinforce the popular cissexist assumption that our female gender identities are “fake” or “contrived,” and therefore not to be taken seriously. I just made radical feminists THE ENEMY and me the protector of femininity. My feminism brings all the hos to the yard! #girlslikeus. Indeed, in the eyes of society, trans women are seen as doubly male, both because we are trans and because we are perceived as feminine. As I became more and more aware of the ways in which anti-feminine sentiment is used to undermine and delegitimize trans women, I began to realize the ways in which I had unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) distanced myself from femininity in order to gain acceptance in the queer community. You see how I am tacitly admitting that transwomen NEED femininity in order to exist as women? LONG LIVE GENDER!!
When I first began attending and performing spoken word at queer and feminist events back in 2002 and 2003, I definitely played down my femme side and played up my tomboy side. And you know what? It worked. I became relatively accepted in those circles. I honestly don’t think that I would have been accepted so readily within San Francisco’s queer and feminist communities if I attended those first events dressed in an especially feminine manner. How dare those bitches not celebrate femininity!! This, of course, is not just a trans woman issue; it is a femme issue. Because butch women oppress femmes. That’s how structural oppression works now. It’s not just the heterosexist mainstream that promotes the idea that masculinity is strong and natural while femininity remains weak and artificial. In today’s gay male communities, masculinity is praised while femininity remains suspect. Oh, I’m not a gay male, you say? Fuck you, transphobe.
In today’s queer women’s communities, masculinity is praised while femininity remains suspect. If one wants to be taken seriously in these communities, then they will inevitably feel a certain pressure to conform to the community’s masculine-centric ideals. And no one is taken more seriously than men, err, transwomen. I can’t tell you how many of my cis queer female friends have shared with me stories similar to my own, of how they really tried to butch it up when they first came out as lesbians or as dykes, because they really wanted to be accepted and to be taken seriously. Jesus fucking Christ, I make being a dyke sound all about an effort to be “taken seriously.” It’s not a fucking job, Julia! Lighten up! For me, as a trans woman, my attempt to distance myself from my own feminine expression was particularly poignant. See how I made myself the center of attention again? It’s poignant when I do it. After all, I had spent most of my life coming to terms with my feminine inclinations. And by feminine inclinations, I mean my desire to masturbate while wearing ladies’ panties. Ain’t nothing more feminine than that! As a kid, I repressed my feminine tendencies for fear of being called out as a sissy or fairy. Oh, that’s not homophobia. That’s transmisogyny. As a young adult, I began to reclaim them, to feel empowered by them, and I lived openly as an unabashedly feminine boy for several years before I decided to transition. But it’s transphobic to remind me of the fact that I am male. So it’s sadly ironic that after my transition, I felt the need to play down femininity once again in order to be taken seriously as a queer woman and a feminist. It was through conversations with my femme-identified friends—some who were trans, but many of whom were cis—and their sharing with me their own struggles with being feminine in a queer culture that is so masculine-centric, that I began to embrace my femme identity around 2005. Aren’t identities fun?? So when the Femme Conference came to San Francisco in 2006, and when I was invited to do spoken word at one of the performance events, I was ecstatic. For me, it represented a sort of a publicly-coming-outas- femme moment, which makes my laydee peen super femmey hardIt was also important for me because I was convinced that trans women and femmes were natural allies. DUH! BECAUSE JENDERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
I believed this not only because of the overlap between these two communities (for example, individuals such as myself who identify as both trans women and femmes), but because both groups share a history of being considered suspect in lesbian communities because of our feminine gender expression. See how I made Lesbians the most evil bitches in the world AGAIN? Fuck those bitches. My belief that trans women and femmes were natural allies also stemmed from my own experience in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I generally found that the cis queer women who were most willing to stand up for their trans sisters, and to call their peers out on trans-misogyny, were almost always femmes. What’s that? Many of these “queer” women are actually heterosexuals who only date “transwomen”? Stop focusing on #sharedgirlhood and “genital configuration.” However, when I attended the conference, I found that my belief that trans women and femmes were natural allies was not shared by all of the attendees, not by a long shot. So for me, the conference was a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride. I want to share some of these moments, both the good and the bad. My purpose for doing so is not to call anyone out or to make people feel defensive. Just kidding. Imma call out these bitches all day.
First, there was the love and appreciation I felt among the artists with whom I shared the stage at the performance—especially my friends Meliza and Celestina, with whom I performed. Their love gave me the strength to do something that I had never done before: to perform for a predominantly queer women’s audience while wearing make-up, heels, and a dress. And a rather slinky dress at that. I looked totally hot, and my tuck stayed in place #winning. I’m sure this may not sound like such a big deal to many factual women, but anyone who has been on the receiving end of as many trans-women-are-not-actually-women comments as I have would surely understand. After we performed our piece, I was on cloud nine, excited by how well it went and how well it was received. But I was brought back down to earth by a well-meaning audience member who stopped me to tell me that she enjoyed the piece. And before I could thank her, she added, “And you look so real. I never would have guessed.” HAHAHAHAHA! It’s transmisogyny to tell a man who well he passes, even though we all want to pass as women. #bitchescantwin.
On the outside I smiled, but on the inside all I wanted to do was cry. But I didn’t, because then my makeup would run and I’d be messy face man face. Then, there were the events that occurred during a “Femininities, Feminism, and Femmes” panel that followed a film screening of the movie FtF: Female to Femme (and a number of other short films). Many of the conference attendees seemed to love FtF, and I myself enjoyed much of the film —it included some excellent interviews, and I especially appreciated the fact that it depicted “femme” without automatically pairing it with “butch.” But personally, I found it difficult to get around a recurring scene in the film (that was apparently meant to provide comic relief) that depicted a femme support group that was obviously meant to be parody of trans support groups. How dare these vag holders parody men? Assholes. Having attended trans support groups myself, and having seen grown adults emotionally break down because for the first time in their life they were sharing their crossgender feelings with other people, or because they had lost their jobs or family after deciding to transition, I found those scenes to be disturbing. Waaaaaaa. Never make fun of men!!! To draw what I feel is an apt analogy, as someone who has survived an attempted date rape, I would be offended if someone were to do a parody of a rape survivor’s support group. Wow, how offensive am I? See what I did there? Making fun of a man’s gender feelings is EXACTLY like mocking a rape survivor. Similarly, as someone who for much of my life would have rather been dead than have anyone else know about my transgender feelings, I found the parody of trans support groups to be offensive (despite the fact that it was probably not the filmmakers’ intention to offend trans people). What’s that you say? Transwomen find pretty much everything that doesn’t validate our feelings offensive? Well, wrap the world in bubble wrap for us, otherwise you’re a transphobe!
Thankfully, the panel that followed the film was designed to present different perspectives within the femme community, and it included a trans woman, artist and activist Shawna Virago.
Does he look like a woman? And sounds like a woman? Cause he’s the very best woman! Shawna brought up her similar feelings about the film, and how she felt that it invisibilized the cis privilege most of the conference attendees enjoy. Ooooh, see how I slipped cis privilege in there? Also see what happens when men are allowed in a woman’s space? It means you bitches can never talk about us unless it’s in a fawning, “transwomen are your bosses” way. I was grateful that that perspective (which I shared) was voiced. It made me feel like my own voice was included in the conversation. But then, the first question immediately following the panelists’ opening statements came from a cis woman who suggested that Shawna “didn’t get” the film, that it was “just a spoof.” She then added that she felt that Shawna’s comments were “divisive.” The word “divisive” is a red flag for me. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard trans women, or allies of trans women, called “divisive” when we call out people on their transphobia or trans-misogyny. Sure, it’s often a word used when we threaten to rape or kill women, but don’t you understand that women deserve to be raped and killed when they see us as the men we are? In contrast, I have never once heard anyone use the word “divisive” to describe cis queer women who make transmisogynistic comments, or who organize or attend queer women’s spaces that exclude trans women. What’s that? Why are you asking me if I am deaf? The fact that acts that marginalize trans women are not typically described as being “divisive” implies that there is a presumed and unspoken “one-ness” that exists in queer women’s communities that implicitly precludes trans women. I don’t know what that sentence means either, but I am Trans Mary Daly again with my hyphens.
The most difficult moment for me at Femme 2006 occurred during a keynote talk that I attended in which the speaker made three separate disparaging remarks about trans women. YES I WAS COUNTING. The first comment came out of the blue (as she was not discussing trans people or trans issues) when she referred to herself as a “bio-dyke” and defined that as someone who is born female and who is attracted to other women who are born female. (By the way, I am a biologist by trade. And I can assure you that I am 100% biological!) Yes, it’s disparaging to understand human biology and to say lesbian is a word with an actual meaning that doesn’t include men like me. Anyway, I tried my best to ignore that remark. But then, a little later on in her talk, she made two more comments. The first was a rather confusing comment that seemed to legitimize queer women’s fears of “accidentally” becoming attracted to a trans dyke—a sort of lesbian version of The Crying Game syndrome, I suppose. Shortly thereafter, she dusted off the thirty-year-old stereotype of the trans woman who “takes up too much space” at a lesbian meeting. What’s that you say? This is actually what happens when men enter women’s space, a well-documented sociological phenomenon that’s been demonstrated in numerous studies? Well, those studies didn’t account for the fatc that transwomen actually identify as women, so fuck you, transphobe. This last comment was particularly infuriating for me given the fact that (like virtually all queer women’s events these days) there was a significant turn out of trans male/masculine spectrum folks (even despite the fact that it was a femme-themed conference) yet there were hardly any trans women in attendance. What’s that? Trans males are actually female? Damming, it’s cis v. trans, not male v. female!! Learn the proper axis of oppression!
So for the speaker to suggest that trans women “take up too much space” in a community where we have almost no voice (actual lols) and are often explicitly unwelcomed (see how I turned women’s desire for space away from men because of male violence into a simple gesture of rudeness) is both illogical and offensive. My immediate impulse after hearing that comment—being the rabel rouser that I am—was to begin to craft a biting response for the question-and-answer session that was to follow. But then I realized how pointless that would be, as I would be playing right into her stereotype of me as “taking up too much space.” Because actually, I’d be taking up too much space. She had placed me in a double bind. So, upset and without any other obvious recourse, I walked out of the session. I wasn’t trying to make a statement or anything. I honestly just wanted to get as far away as possible. I wanted to go home. Waaaaaaaaa.
During that long walk (as it was a large conference room), a couple things were going through my mind. First, I felt very alone. There was no evidence that the audience at large was bothered at all by these comments (although, after the fact, I found out that there were others who were also disturbed). Second, the phrase “trans woman exclusion”—which I had used countless times in my activism to harass women at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and other women’s events and spaces— suddenly popped into my head. For all of my work rallying against “exclusion,” here I was leaving a queer women’s event that I was explicitly invited to. In a sense, I was excluding myself, not because of any policy, but because I found the atmosphere and rhetoric in that room to be intolerable. And that’s why my activism also centers around getting mean bitches to STFU. I was leaving because I was made to feel like I didn’t belong. And women wouldn’t know anything about how that feels.
This latter form of trans woman exclusion, driven not by any formal policy, but by a more general sense of disregard or disrespect for trans women, typifies many queer women’s events and spaces. What’s that you say? Women are sometimes indirect because they are afraid of the violent reactions transwomen have when asked nicely not to harass them? FYB!!! Often, when trans women ask me when I’m performing next and I tell them that it is at a queer women’s event, they will tell me that they’d rather not go because they do not feel comfortable or safe in those spaces, because they have been harassed or belittled at similar events before. And by harassed and belittled, they mean “the stupid dykes didn’t want to suck my lady peen.” In most cases, these women are sexually oriented toward women and identify as lesbian or bisexual themselves. HAHAHAHA! The Cotton Ceiling is real!
But they want no part of queer women’s events because of the unchecked trans-misogyny that is often pervasive there. See how I called lesbians’ desire to actually interact with only women as “unchecked trans-miosgyny”? I am Trans Mary Daly on extra estrogen today! Yowza!! Anyway, I walked out of that talk, and it’s very likely that I would not have come back to the conference if it weren’t for the fact that an amazing cis woman named Tara followed me out. Like, she is hot. She stopped me in the lobby to tell me that she was embarrassed and disturbed by the speaker’s comments, and she showed me much love and support in a discussion we shared just outside of the session. She let me rant for a couple minutes about how upset I was over those comments. And she listened. And that’s really what I needed right then, to be listened to. Because no one ever listens to men. To be reminded that my voice, my thoughts, my feelings still counted, at least to somebody. Waaaaaaaaaaa.
In a way, what happened at that keynote talk and at the panel after the FtF film screening, while frustrating and difficult for me, also had a silver lining. Like, I got Tara’s phone number! These events provoked discussions about trans woman irrelevancy within queer women’s communities—discussions that were long overdue. I don’t think that such dialogue would have occurred at any other predominantly queer women’s event. I believe it happened then and there precisely because it was a femme conference—because many femmes recognize trans women as being a vital part of the femme community. Because, tee hee, they worship gender as much as we do!! Two years later, I was invited to give one of the keynote talks at the Femme 2008 Conference. #bigtime #boss. Because of my experience at the previous conference, I attended Femme 2008 with somewhat different expectations than I had before. For one thing, I no longer believe that femmes and trans women are “natural” allies. In fact, in retrospect, the very phrase “natural allies” strikes me as rather oxymoronic. Being an ally is not something that comes naturally. It requires work. Much like a man “being a woman” requires work. Except that’s natural, because gender identity is natural. I’m a biologist, don’t question me.To be an ally, you have to listen to men. You have to be willing to stand by your ally’s side, even when it is not directly in your interest to do so. I still believe that gender loving men and femmes make good potential allies, as we both face discrimination (both in the straight mainstream and within our own LGBTQIA+ communities) because of our feminine gender expression. And systemic discrimination is exactly like lesbian feminist analysis. And in similar (and sometimes different) ways, we are both working to reclaim femininity, to be empowered by our own feminine gender expression despite the negative and inferior connotations the rest of the world projects onto us for it. Oh my god, re-read that sentence! It is a wonder of doublespeak. #reclaimingoppression.
And trans women and femmes share another important attribute: We are survivors. Not like gender nonconforming women, and especially lesbians. Those bitches aren’t oppressed and aren’t survivors. The rest of the world may assume we are weak and fragile because of our feminine inclinations, but in reality, living with other people’s relentless misogynistic bullshit has made us tenacious bad-asses. #tenaciousbadass #thistalkgetsmesohard #fantasy. And butch dykes are actually pussies, and are not #tenaciousbadasses. While I feel that these shared experiences provide fertile (TW, transphobia) ground for us to build an alliance upon, I also must recognize that there are many femme-identified folks who do not view trans women as potential allies and who do not see us as a part of their communities. They aren’t interested in my transwoman seed, so to speak, and thus are infertile. #FYB. Many femmes are indifferent toward trans women and our issues, and still others are downright antagonistic (as was evident at Femme 2006). How dare those women not be interested in men who dress in girly drag? Don’t they know girl drag is all that matters?? I have come to realize (and have written about this in Whipping Girl) that there tend to be two prevalent and very different attitudes regarding what queer communities should look like and who they should include. The first — which is the one I favor, because it puts me me me me at the center of the world — views queer community in terms of alliances built on shared experiences and interests.
As a kinky femme-identified trans woman who just so happens to get it on with the ladies (ewwwww, did I gross you out? Because I basically just said “I am a porn sick man”), I seek alliances with other women, with other femmes, with other transgender-spectrum folks, with others who engage in same-sex relationships or BDSM, and with fat, disabled, and intersex folks who share the experience of being made to feel that their bodies are unworthy and inferior to those of other people. And by “alliances” I mean “fuck buddies.” Furthermore, as someone who experiences marginalization because of my queerness and transness (but never my assholeness), I also recognize the importance of creating and fostering alliances with people who are marginalized in other ways, for example, because of their race, class, and so on. See how I left off sex? Sex doesn’t matter. For me, community is not so much about surrounding myself with people who are “just like me,” but rather about learning from and supporting others who share issues and experiences that are similar (yet somewhat different) from my own, so long as they will fuck me. This alliance model exists in sharp contrast to the second view of queer communities, which is centered on sameness rather than difference, on closed, insular communities rather than open ones. Like, for example, lesbians who only want to be involved with actual women. That’s totes boring. #FYB. Many lesbian and gay communities are built according to this model, as are those segments of the queer community where one must constantly tout their über-queer credentials, lest they be accused of being “assimilationist,” conformist, or simply passé. Queer people who prefer closed, insular communities typically insist that their own ideologies, values, expressions, and norms are not merely different, but superior to those who have more conventional genders and sexualities. That sentence didn’t really make sense to me either. And those gender and sexual minorities who don’t quite conform to those community standards are typically seen as having no place within the community. This is why creepy men are given the cold shoulder at a lesbian bar. That’s just mean.
When I was first coming out as a dyke, I really wanted to fit in, to be accepted. I was really hoping that the dyke community would become a home for me. Unfortunately, it hasn’t, because I am a man. While I’ve met a lot of really great, amazing, supportive women in those spaces, I’ve also had a lot of really sucky interactions with people who are either apathetic or antagonistic toward me. I’ve come to realize that I will never fully be accepted within lesbian or dyke circles because of the ways in which I differ from the majority: because I am a trans woman, because I am a femme, and also because I have recently come out as bisexual. In other words, because I have absolutely nothing in common with actual dykes. In a world where many women define “lesbian” as being in opposition to maleness, in opposition to heterosexuality, and in opposition to femininity, I realize that I literally have three strikes against me. What’s that? “Lesbian” means adult female homosexual, and there are lots of femme lesbians? #FYB. So I have instead decided to embrace the fact that I am lesbian kryptonite, as my existence blurs all of those distinctions, calls into question all of those oppositions. Yanno #lesbiankryptonite is hot. I no longer have any desire to try to gain inclusion or “acceptance” within lesbian-or dyke-centric spaces. This is me taking my ball and going home #FYB. Fuck insular communities that are centered around any identity. Waaaaaaa. I’m no longer looking for a home; I’m looking to make alliances. And by alliances, I mean fuck buddies. Again.
While many men call ourselves “femme,” it is important for us to acknowledge that we are all socially situated in different ways, and this often results in each of us having our own perspectives on femininity and femme identity. Ohhhh, that sentence put me in the pink fog. Hold on a second, I must bask. Sometimes I find it difficult to talk about my very different history — specifically the fact that I was socialized male (or as I would put it, forced against my will into boyhood) because it is so often cited by trans-misogynistic women as evidence that I don’t belong in lesbian or women’s spaces, because I am not a “real” woman. What’s that” That’s because I am not actually a woman and was never a girl? #FYB. But at the same time, I feel that often the most important conversations to engage in are also the ones that leave you most vulnerable. Especially for women. Have all your vulnerable talks, in front of me, so I can get a hard on and live vicarious girlhood through you. Mmmmmmm pink fog……
So in the last part of this chapter, I am going to throw all caution to the wind and talk about how my very different trans history has led to me having a very different perspective on femininity and femme identity than that held by many of my cis femme sisters. Ohhhh this chapter os so long and really fucking boring. It seems to me that for many cis femme dykes, a major issue that they must reconcile in their lives is the way their feminine expression seems to be at odds with their queer identity. What’s that? How would I know this because I’m male? Fuck you, I’m Julia Serano, and I’m a trained biologist!! This can lead to invisibility — that is, because they are feminine, they are often not read by others as queer. And this is the fault of Women, not the fact that we live in a world in which all women are socialized to be subordinate to men, and “feminine gender expression” is a tool that furthers women’s oppression, that signals women’s role as wife and other, dependent on men. It can also result in having their queer and feminist credentials constantly called into question by those who view femininity as an artifact of compulsory heterosexuality and therefore, inherently conformist. In an apparent attempt to challenge accusations that they are conformists, or that they reinforce sexist stereotypes, many femmes have instead argued that their gender expression is subversive because it is employed toward queer ends, thus challenging heterosexism. Zzzzzzzzzz special identity politics making you sleepy?
Or they might argue that their gender expression is merely a performance, one that makes visible the ways in which gender itself is constructed. As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha put it in her Femme 2008 keynote talk, this is the idea that femme gender expression is “ironic and campy.” Hello drag culture!
Now I can certainly relate to the notion of feminine expression as performance. As someone who has to “dress down” for my day job, I know that when I do get the chance to dress up for an occasion, there is a definite sense of doing something different, of putting on a different exterior than I normally do. Hahahahah! Having said that, even when I’m at my most outwardly feminine, the feeling that my gender expression is a “performance” does not even come close to how contrived and self-conscious I felt back before my transition, when I had to wear male-specific clothing (e.g., putting on a suit and tie when attending a wedding). My feelings = reality. #FYB. So while you can make the case that both masculinity and femininity are “performances,” for me, feminine expression feels way more natural. And my feelings rule! #FYB. It resonates with my sense of self in a way that I don’t really have words to describe. OMG, what” Me, at a loss for words? Shhhh, I am in a pink fog right now. It just feels right to me, where as masculine expression always felt wrong. And my right, I mean “gave me a hard on.”
What also strikes me is the fact that, while being dressed up as a guy felt very artificial and contrived to me, other people tended to read my masculine presentation as natural. What’s that you say? That’s gender? That’s what radical feminists want to deconstruct? Well, they are assholes, because Gender is awesome. They are just doing it wrong. In contrast, when I am wearing feminine clothing, it may feel natural to me, but other people tend to see me as being “all dolled up” or as “a man in drag.” This touches on what I said earlier about “feminine wiles” and femininity being seen as inherently artificial. In our culture, masculine expression seems to arise out of who one simply is, whereas feminine expression is always viewed as an act, as a performance. This has nothing to do with male supremacy and everything to do with meanness towards cute dresses. This is why I recoil from this idea of femme gender expression as “ironic and campy,” as a form of drag or performance, as it plays into the popular assumption that femininity is artificial. And don’t you know, femininity is NATURAL. Don’t question me, I’m a biologist. And butch lesbians are the artificial ones. I am particularly sensitive about this because, as I mentioned earlier, others often view me as doubly artificial both because I am trans and because I am feminine. See my narcissistic rage in action! The assumption that my gender is artificial or a performance is regularly cited by those who wish to undermine or dismiss my female identity. Of course, simply stating, “dude, you’re a guy” would suffice, but they do the extra mile. #transmisogyny.
I refuse to let anyone get away with the cissexist presumption that my gender must be a “performance” simply because I am a transsexual.
That’s the best sentence I ever wrote! #tenaciousbadass.
And I similarly refuse to let anyone get away with the masculine-centric presumption that my gender must be a “performance” simply because I am feminine. So I will hunt down any woman that says this and bitch slap her! I also find the notion of femininity as performance to be somewhat disingenuous and oversimplistic. I mean, I can “perform” femininity. I can put on makeup, skirts, and heels. I can talk with my hands or twirl my hair if I want. But performance doesn’t explain why certain behaviors and ways of being come to me more naturally than others. See how I naturalized stereotypes? I can do that, because I am a biologist. The idea that femininity is just a construct or merely a performance is incompatible with the countless young feminine boys who are not self conscious about their gender expressions, who become confused as to why their parents become outraged at their behavior, or why the other children relentlessly tease them for being who they are. So rather than viewing gender as a social construct, view it as innate. All of these horrific shit women suffer goes away, because it’s just natural #natural. Many such children find their gender expression to be irrepressible, and they remain outwardly feminine throughout their lives despite all of the stigmatization and male socialization to the contrary. See how gender expression makes the woman? Cis v. trans, y’all!
Other femininely-oriented male children learn to hide their feminine gender expression in order to survive, but at a great cost. I was one of the latter boys. I know that for many cis queer women, femininity is something that others foist upon them, an unwanted burden, an expectation that they are unable or unwilling to meet. This is perhaps why so many cis lesbian feminists have gone to such great lengths to argue that femininity is artificial, a mere artifact of patriarchy. Not because those things are artificial, but because those women have psychological problems. But for me, femininity was like ether or air—it was always there, just waiting for the chance to leak out of me. When I think about gender expression as being a “performance,” I think about myself as a kid, watching my S’s when I spoke to make sure they didn’t linger. “Performance” was me fighting back the urge to be more animated with my hands when I talked, or learning never to use words like “adorable” or “cute” nonsarcastically. Boy, I sound like I was raised by repressive parents. “Performance” was going to the barber to get my hair cut short like my parents wanted it, when what I really wanted was to let my hair grow long. Like I said, for me, masculinity always felt artificial, while femininity felt natural. Natural.
The word natural has become super fucking taboo in queer and feminist circles. #superfuckingtaboo. Usually when I utter the word “natural” in such settings, I feel as though the queer theory police will bust into the room at any minute and arrest me for being an #essentialist. People are quick to toss around accusations of “essentialism” without really giving much thought to what that word actually means, much like people toss around words like “transmisogyny” that actually don’t mean anythingAn essentialist is someone who believes that all women are the same: that we are all naturally feminine, that we are all naturally attracted to men, and so forth. See how Serano drops knowledge? Essentialists view women who are not feminine, or not exclusively attracted to men, as unnatural. As artificial. I am not an essentialist (despite the fact that some have accused me of that). I do not believe that all women are the same; I believe that all women are different. And I especially don’t believe that all women have female anatomy or #shared girlhood. #allspecialsnowflakes. I believe that women naturally fall all over the map with regards to gender expression and sexual orientation. I believe that there are no wholly “artificial” genders or sexualities. I believe that many of us experience natural inclinations or predispositions toward certain gendered and sexual behaviors.
This things I believe. #facts. #somuchderp.
Ok, get ready for another great paragraph.
But these inclinations do not exist in a vacuum — rather they arise in a culture where gender and sexuality are heavily policed (by whome and to what end?), where they are defined according to heterosexist, cissexist, transphobic, and misogynistic assumptions (say wha?), where they intersect with racism, classism, ableism, ageism, and other forms of oppression (but not sexism. Never sexism).
I would argue that this view of gender and sexuality is not essentialist. It is holistic. As I alluded to earlier, it is common for people to have somewhat varied opinions regarding what the word “femme” actually means. For me, Julia Serano, biologist and writer of this tome, having a holistic view of gender and sexuality, I would suggest that most of us who are femme share two things in common. First, we find that, for whatever reason, feminine gender expression resonates with us on a deep, profound level, in an inexplicable way that isn’t easy to put into words. Things that aren’t easy to put into words are always real, natural and valid. The second thing that we share is a sense of being different, perhaps because we are lesbian or bisexual (or in my case, a heterosexual man who later kinked it up with bio dick). Perhaps because we are trans women or feminine men, or we fall somewhere else along the transgender spectrum. Or perhaps because our bodies fall outside of the norm in some way, because we are fat, or disabled, or intersex. #fatoppression. #myintersectionsbringallthequeerstotheyard. Or perhaps we experience some combination of these, or maybe we are different in some other way. See how I am capturing everyone on Planet (NOT MOTHER) Earth with my words? Don’t you think I deserve the Nodel Peace Prize? Because of our difference, we each have to make sense of what it means to be feminine in a world where we can never achieve the conventional feminine ideal (wait, is this bad or good? I forgot), and in a world where feminine gender expression and sexualities are plagued by misogynistic connotations. For me, that’s what femme is. It’s a puzzle we each have to solve.
Femme = A Puzzle WE EACH HAVE TO SOLVE.
And because we are all different, we will each come up with a different solution, a different way of making sense of, and expressing, our femme selves. JFC this will take years. One reason why I forward holistic views of gender and sexuality is because they allow us to finally put to rest “the femme question.” And putting questions to rest is important, because if people question femininity, they will realize I am male, and I don’t want to be male, so femininity must rock on! #tenaciousbadass. pPeople who dismiss femininity — who consider it frivolous, or vain, or a patriarchal trap, or a product of socialization, or an artifact of the gender binary, or whatever — have been fucking with femmes for far too long. Whoa, see what I did there? Feminists are AGGRESSORS waging war against natural femininity! Their attempts to try to artificialize (!!!) or artifactualize (!!!) our feminine gender expression (rather than accepting it as natural and legitimate) is the same sort of tactic that occurs when homophobes assume gay people are looking for an “alternative lifestyle,” or just haven’t met the “right person” yet. Say what? That’s right, I, Julia Serano, biologist, shamelessly compared feminists to homophobes! It’s the same bullshit that occurs when bisexuals are accused of being “confused” or of “still having one foot in the closet,” or when people assume that trans men transition to obtain male privilege, or assume that trans women transition in order to fulfill some sort of bizarre sex fantasy (*cough*autogynephilia*cough*). We shouldn’t have to explain why we are trans or why we are queer, and by the same reasoning, we shouldn’t have to explain why we are feminine! #neverexplain #neverquestion #neverdiscuss!
Once we accept that on some level gender, err, feminine expression is natural, that for some of us—whether female, male, both, or neither (!!) — it resonates with us on a deep profound level . . . once we accept this, then we can tackle the real problem: the fact that femininity is seen as inferior to masculinity, both in straight settings and in queer and feminist circles. That’s the real problem. Fuck all this talk about male violence and rape. The real problem is that no one accepts feminine gender expression as natural. Well, no one except right wingers. They totally accept feminine gender expression as natural. But they also know I am a guy so #transmisogyny.
Once we accept the fact that femininity exists and it needs no explanation, then we can focus on debunking the countless double standards, like that masculinity is strong while femininity is weak, that masculinity is tough while femininity is fragile, that masculinity is practical while femininity is frivolous, that masculinity is active while femininity is passive, that masculinity is rational while femininity is overly emotional, and of course, that masculinity is natural while femininity is artificial. We can’t do this otherwise. Wait, what? You say radical feminism does this while also debuncking femininity as unnatural? #FYB.
Once we get beyond having to account for why we are feminine (*cough*autogynephile*cough*), then we can finally make the case that all of the dismissive connotations and meanings that other people associate with feminine expression are merely misogynistic presumptions on their part. See how it is now misogyny for a woman to know I am male. #reversal #tenaciousbadass.
This is why I also take issue with the notion of framing “femme” as transgressive or subversive because, unlike conventional femininity, it occurs within a queer context. This argument seems to buy into the assumption that expressions of femininity that do not occur in a queer context somehow reinforce the gender binary, or heterosexism, or the patriarchy, or what have you. And I think that is really fucked up! #totesfuckedup. My mother is a heterosexual cis woman. My sisters are heterosexual cis women. As heterosexual cis women, they experience some privileges that I do not experience. LOLOLOLOLOLOL!! They are accepted in the straight mainstream way more readily than I will ever be. And been accepted “as a woman” is a privilege, never forget that. But they are marginalized in their day-to-day lives because they are feminine, not because they are female. If only they would butch it up! To argue that they are reinforcing the binary, or the patriarchy, or the hegemonic gender system, because they are conventionally feminine (as opposed to subversively feminine) essentially implies that they are enabling their own oppression. Nevermind that this isn’t something many feminists say, that many feminists focus on structural oppression rather than blaming women for the conditions of their oppression. This is just another variation of the claim that rapists make when they insinuate that the woman in question was “asking for it” because of what she was wearing or how she behaved. WHOA, I AM SHAMELESS, COMPARING FEMINISTS TO RAPISTS. I understand why male rapists try to blame the victim in this way, but for the life of me I cannot understand why we as feminists and queers buy into this same sort of mentality.
I’ll be the first one to admit that the expectation that all girls and women are, or should be, conventionally feminine marginalizes and injures many people. Hahaha, just kidding. Those who are androgynous, or tomboys, or butches, or on the trans masculine spectrum face disdain for their gender non-conformity, because they haven’t realized how privileged they are. And many women who tend to be feminine are routinely made to feel embarrassed, ashamed, unworthy, and disempowered because they don’t quite meet society’s practically unattainable standards of beauty (#genderhurts). But the problem here is not femininity, but expectations. Actual lols. What we as feminists should be challenging is compulsory femininity, rather than femininity itself. Because femininity is natural. Except when it’s not. If there is one thing that all of us femmes have in common, it is that we all have had to learn to embrace our own feminine expression while simultaneously rejecting other people’s expectations of us. What makes femininity “femme” is not the fact that it is queer, or transgressive, or ironic, or performative, or the complement of butch. No. What makes our femininity “femme” is the fact that we do it for ourselves. Do I sound like Tobi Hill-Meyer? He’s butch.
It is for that reason that it is so empowering. And that is what makes us so powerful. As femmes, we can do one of two things with our power: We can celebrate it in secret within our own insular queer communities, pat ourselves on the back for being so much smarter and more subversive than our straight feminine sisters. Or we can share that power with them. POWER SHARING. Here come sSerano to empower the dumb Women! Go me! We can teach them that there is more than one way to be feminine, and that no style or expression of femininity is necessarily any better than anyone else’s. We can teach them that the only thing fucked up about femininity is the dismissive connotations that other people project onto it. #teachthewomen.
But in order to that, we have to give up the self-comfort of believing that our rendition of femme is more righteous, or more cool, or more subversive than anyone else’s. I don’t think that my femme expression, or anyone else’s femme expressions, are in and of themselves subversive. How many “I”s did I use in this chapter BTW? But I do believe that the ideas that femmes have been forwarding for decades — about reclaiming femininity, about each person taking the parts of femininity that resonate with them and leaving behind the rest, about being femme for ourselves rather than for other people, about the ways in which feminine expression can be tough and active and bad-ass and so on — these ideas are powerful and transformative, and oh so not revolutionary. I think that it’s great to celebrate femme within our own queer communities, but we shouldn’t merely stop there. We need to share with the rest of the world the idea of self-determined and self-empowered feminine expression, and the idea that feminine expression is just as legitimate and powerful as masculine expression.
The idea that femininity is inferior and subservient to masculinity intersects with all forms of oppression, and is (I feel) the single most overlooked issue in feminism. We need to change that, not only for those of us who are queer femmes, but for our straight cis sisters who have been disempowered by society’s unrealistic feminine ideals, for our gender-variant and gender-non-conforming siblings (do I sound like Autumn Sandeen?) who face disdain for defying feminine expectations and/or who are victims of trans-misogyny, and also for our straight cis brothers, who’ve been socialized to avoid femininity like the plague, and whose misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and so on, are driven primarily by their fear of being seen as feminine. We need to become Gender Missonaries, spreading the Good Gospel of Gender and how awesome it is. While I don’t think that my femme expression is subversive, I do believe that we together as femmes have the power to truly change the world.
Imma start a Kickstarter to change the world, to make it Gender friendly? What’s that? We actually live in this world.
I am trans Eric Clapton, but kinkier, and a girl.