Femmepire Records: The Femme Shark Manifesto

july femme.jpg

Femmepire Records is a series of interviews on femme identity.

Here's July:

Do you identify as femme? Why?

Proudly! It took me a long time to identify as a femme, mostly because of internalized misogyny and fear, but my femme identity manifests (or femmifests!) itself in flamboyance  -- unauthorized femininity and badassery in which I take everything the world has taught me about walking through the world as feminine-presenting and turn it on its head. To me, femme is one of the fiercest identities out there, because femmes recognize the risks of living in a world that is systematically against them and they still keep on loving, and fighting, and taking care of each other.

See also:

Femmepire Records: Sisyphus, Barbie, and the National Femme Authentication Bureau

Femmepire Records: Genderfuck Girliedrag with Jolie O'Dell

Regardless of your previous answer, do other people identify you as femme? How do you feel about that?

I feel like this is a hard question to answer. I'm pretty up front about identifying as femme, and do a lot of footwork to educate straight folks and unknowing queers about the fierceness of femme identity. But I believe that the ideas of femme physical representation feel pretty regional. For example, I came up as a babyfemme under the badass matriarchy of Oakland femmes, but now live in a rural, no-coast area where femme is represented in many ways.

In a few words, define femme.

I believe that femme is self-defined, and that to put limitations on the identity would be to do an oppressive disservice to the smorgasbord of fabulous manifestations of femme identity that exist across the gender spectrum. That said, the one definition that I have found to apply to me, personally, comes from an essay written by Elizabeth Marston called "Rogue Femininity," in which femme identity is talked about as an "unauthorized copy":

"Let's say femme is dispossessed femininity. It's the femininity of those who aren't allowed to be real women and who have to roll their own ... That's how I understand femme: badass, rogue, illegitimate femininity. It's the femininity of those who aren't supposed to be feminine ... I'm saying that conventional femininity not only involves a performance, as Judith Butler pointed out, but also a couple of membership rules. These say that the only people who are allowed to do the feminine performance are straight and have girl bits... If you're ruled out, then no matter how heartfelt your femininity, it will be understood as fake ... Bleat all you like; to the world, you're no sheep. To the world, you're a wolf."

Though I argue with the idea that femme identity is interchangeable with femininity, and with the way the word 'real women' is being used in this context, I love the idea of femme identity being 'dispossessed femininity." It certainly feels like that for me!

Do you feel like you have to try harder to be read or seen as queer? If so, how do you deal with that?

I think that the idea that femmes are normative, or "pass as straight" is absolutely bogus. Even if you choose to represent your femme identity in ways that are considered normatively feminine, identifying as femme is still radical, still political. Femmes have likely gone through extreme misogyny, inside and outside of the queer community, and that is why they are "unauthorized copies," as Marston says. I don't pay fools any mind. They wanna tell me I'm not queer enough? I got a big mouth. I got bite to me. I fight back with words, and with walking the walk.

Do you feel constricted in who you date/sleep with because of your appearance?

Nope. And femme identity isn't necessarily represented physically. I think that the only problems I have had in dating previous to my current partner have been when OTHER folks try to police my identity, or say that I should only be with butches. Let other folks worry about who is dating whom.

Lesbian representations on TV/movies are almost always femme. Do you feel like this contributes negatively (or at all) to your life/gender presentation/identity?

I would challenge this question to ask about assumptions made about femme identity here -- what makes you believe these characters are femme? Why? If it is a matter of femininity, I think we need to broaden the spectrum of how femme is understood in our communities. Femme does not necessarily equal femininity, and vice versa. And to answer your second question, I think that these representations of feminine-presenting queer women in television are perhaps in conversation with some forms of femme identity, but not all. I don't look to popular media to mirror what is happening in homegrown communities.

What are some resources/websites/books/movies you look to for inspiration about femmeness/queerness?

I have some incredible femme groups on Facebook that fuel me, both in energy (knowing I have femme family across the country), and in fabulousness. I think that there are a lot of books out there about femme identity that could be useful to folks trying to figure themselves out, but I also think that, unfortunately, many many of the books and resources out there suggest that femme identity is all about femininity, physical representation of femininity, puts femme into categories of identities that are only complete with butches or masculine identifying or presenting folks, or further oppresses femmes to believe that they need to 'prove themselves' to be queer, or need to be satisfied taking a back seat to other folks' identities.

If you could make up your own category to describe your appearance/gender presentation, it would be: ____ and why?

I'm a femmeshark! I don't have to make up a category, because I am fortunate enough to have read and embody the Femme Shark Manifesto.

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