Femmepire Records: Can Straight Women Be "Femme?"
Femmepire Records is an interview series on femme identity. Click here for the elevator pitch and first interview.
Here's Anita Dolce Vita, the managing editor for dapperQ.com, an inclusive queer fashion website for masculine-of-center lesbians, masculine presenting genderqueers, and transgender men.
Do you identify as femme? Why?
I'm actually pretty old school. I identify as a "lipstick lesbian." People have referred to me as a "femme" and it never bothered me. However, recently I started thinking about -- maybe even over-thinking -- the term more.
A few months ago, I wrote a post for dapperQ titled "Our Favorite Images of Feminine Gender-Benders," which was originally titled "Our Favorite Images of Femme Gender-Benders." I had used the term "femme" in the original title more broadly, as I had previously described, without any assumption about the subjects' sexual orientation. One self-identified femme lesbian reader was very upset that I used the term "femme" to refer to straight women and tweeted and made several comments about how I appropriated the word on a queer site.
I got to thinking, the "Google Translate" definition of femme from French to English is simply "woman." Now, I'm no linguist, and if others have more to say about this, I am open to learning. But, if "femme" translates to "woman," and we are using it to also describe feminine-presenting lesbians, then are we perpetuating the idea that "woman" is synonymous with "feminine?" Are masculine presenting self-identified women not femmes too? In any event, these terms in our community can all be so complicated.
In a few words, define femme.
I suppose it depends on the context in which the term is being used. Broadly, when I think of the word "femme," what comes to mind is "femininity." For example, how the word is used in the phrase "Femme Fatale." Or, another example, on the television show Glee, the characters in the group "The Troubletones," which is comprised of a mix of lesbian and straight performers, refer to themselves as "fierce, femme, and phenomenal."
Do you feel like you have to try harder to be read or seen as queer? If so, how do you deal with that?
YES! As a biracial, lipstick lesbian, I have struggled with trying to fit in many different groups. One of the best things I've heard is the term regulatory queerness: "a controlled or directed expectation of queer identity or expression, according to rule, principle, or law," which is brilliantly discussed in the Peculiar Kind (at the 11:36 mark). You know, the queer community is always looking at hetero-normative expectations under the microscope, while simultaneously creating very limiting queer-normative expectations. I no longer want to live inside of those boxes.
How does your gender affect your sexuality, if at all?
I was raised by my grandmother, who ruled the roost. She was a strong, feminine matriarch, so I never saw femininity as being weak or limiting. My femininity is very powerful and that is very much represented in my sexuality.
Do you feel constricted in who you date/sleep with because of your appearance?
Not so much. I've dated masculine and feminine women.
If you could make up your own category to describe your appearance/gender presentation, it would be: ____ and why?
I don't really know. I'm hyper-feminine. My style is very Michelle Obama. I'm just a feminine presenting lesbian. The feminine part is obvious. The lesbian part not so much due to normative expectations.
What prompts you to present the way you do? Is it something you consciously think about?
I'm full-on drag queen sometimes. My grandmother would have allowed me to wear anything. My family never pushed me to dress "like a girl."
I remember having to wear sneakers for my first physical education class and I nearly cried because I thought they were so horrendous looking. Despite my teacher's advice, I wore my patent leather flats to class. I just do not feel comfortable wearing anything masculine. Never have.
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?
Femme representations tend to be hyper-sexualized, sometimes created for straight male consumption. People like Ellen, Maddow, K.D. Lang, Abby Wambach, who are more on the masculine side, don't have to make "sexy" their main selling point. I want to see some real feminine lesbian media power players, not just straight "sexy" women playing lesbians on TV or in movies.
What are some resources/websites/books/movies you look to for inspiration about femmeness/queerness?
Autostraddle is a great website that has a little something for everyone. Other than that, the usual fashion magazines.