"This femme fucks back!" was the message on a homemade t-shirt I saw on a woman at this year's Dyke March in New York. Silk-screened in bright pint ink, those four words—a statement, a warning, a come-on—speak volumes about the current state of femme gender and sexuality, On the one hand, "This femme fucks back!" is meat to counter the stereotypical notion that femmes behave just like traditional straight girls are supposed to—you know, we're here to look pretty and get fucked. It expresses the feelings of a lot of femmes I know: We are not all just sex toys for butches, and some of us are even tops. But it also speaks to me on a deeper level. It articulates an important shift happening among femme-identified dykes. We're taking control, in and out of the bedroom, and refuse to be invisible among other dykes.
Just because I feel comfortable wearing skirts doesn't mean that the "F" box fits me like an opera-length black satin glove. Similar to many butches, bois, and tranny boys, my appearance is a conscious, complex, and evolving expression of my gender. My aesthetic may resemble traditional notions of femininity, but that doesn't mean that I am your average, straight-appearing, straight-acting girl. The truth is that I am queer and there is not just one way to be queer.
Fifteen years after Joan Nestle wrote her first femme manifesto, A Restricted Country, queer and non-queer people still make misinformed assumptions about femmes. We always pass because we look straight. Our femininity shields us from homophobia and anti-gay violence. Our gender and our appearance "match," so we don't have the same body issues/dissonance that butches have. We were assigned a female gender at birth, and we look female and feminine, so the assumption is we cannot be gender misfits, outlaws, or warriors.
Our identities and our activism are seen as less complicated, less valid, less important. As more people who previously identified as butch lesbians begin to identify as trans or FTM, many femmes are faced with these issues head on. Although there are femmes at the forefront of all kinds of gender activism, from conference and group organizing to legislative efforts, within trans-political scenes, many femmes feel relegated to the status of "ally." We are your wives, girlfriends, tricks, buddies, supporters, and, yes, allies. "Ally" is a descriptive and useful term, but it often leaves us feeling like we are