I have, for a long time, been emphatically against “femme qualifiers”. Sub-categories of femme that, in various ways, manage to imply that Femme, in and of itself, is divorced from characteristics like “practicality”, “technical skill”, “willingness to get dirty”, “strength”… you name it.
I wouldn’t have such a problem with these qualifiers BUT every time I’ve heard them, it’s come across that the user is trying to connect “[qualifier] femme” with something that is traditionally coded as masculine in the, er, “over culture” (sorry, I’m using a lot of quotation marks here) in order to make femme – or at least her (usually her) particular manifestation of femme – more respectable, or worthy of being taken seriously.
Now it’s possible that I’m reading this (all of them) wrong. Maybe it’s similar to when I’ve said “Tough-ass femme” to describe a particularly Joan-Jett-esque style of unapologetic, queer leather-femininity. Maybe “unapologetic” is, itself, traditionally coded as masculine by the “over-culture” that teaches us all that The Feminine is responsible, and must therefore be perpetually punished, for The Fall of Man. (Yes, I’m getting biblical on you. Cope).
And yet.
And yet it wasn’t until today – thus prompting this post, as it happens – that I’d heard “[qualifier] femme” used in any other way.
I was at the Rainbow Youth Forum today. I got dressed up – leather pencil skirt, ankle boots, hot pink fishnets + matching mini cardigan[1]. Very Dangly Earrings & glitter mascara. I even did (one hand worth of) my nails in rainbow colours.
One of the attendees, seeing me behind my Info Fair Booth, commented that they liked my pants.
I said “I never do pants”.
Except that what I actually said was more like “Uh.” Followed by an exchange where the now-slightly-embarrassed individual appologized for not realizing it was a skirt (given the table I was standing behind) and I was friendly and relaxed and casually stated “I never do pants. They just don’t fit[2] so why bother”. Or words to that general effect.
At which point, another attendee (a local poet, I’m happy to say – she does good work) commented that “I never do pants” was the most hard-femme thing she’d ever heard.
Which, I admit, I felt rather chuffed about.
A friend of mine once gave me a zine. “On Being Hard Femme (issue #1)”. The cover featured a hammer juxtaposed with a tube of lipstick. The contents… didn’t seem to bill “hard femme” as anything different from “plain old regular femme”. Granted, my definition of “plain old regular femme” seemed to be a LOT different from that of the author, so maybe that’s where the disconnect was happening.
I know a femme – a femme who is by turns hard, soft, intense, mellow, dominant, submissive, energized, tired, practical-planning-oriented and spur-of-the-moment-adventurous – who is proficient in the uses of both hammer and lipstick.
In fact I know many.
We are not Only One Thing – no more than anyone else is. Proficiency with a sewing machine doesn’t make you femme any more than proficiency with a nail gun makes you butch. They are both power tools.
I was chuffed that this gal at the RYF had called me “the most hard femme” because it wasn’t in a context where I’d be “strident” or “dominant” or even “unapologetic” – where I’d been something that boils down to “behaving in a masculine way while being feminine”.
It got me thinking about how “hard” relates to “stone”, and what that, in turn, has to do with intensity, with the bedrock geography of one’s identity. But also about immovability/inflexibility and speaking/acting in absolutes.
Is “hard” something I really want to be? What does it mean?
Would I have been as chuffed about it if she’d said “‘I don’t do pants’ is the most femme (sans qualifier) thing I’ve ever heard”? (Hint: Yes, probably).
What is “hard femme”? What is “high femme”? What is “stone femme”? What is “soft femme”? …And how do the they all relate?
Ms. Syren.
[1] I don’t tend to wear a lot of pink. I got fuschia nail polish a few years ago, and I have a tank top, but… that’s about it. So going out and buying a hot pink cardigan – in the name of coordinating with my name-tag which, as it turned out, had hot pink writing but was not, in fact, a large rectangle of hot pink cardstock as I had expected – was not a particularly typical move for me. I’m waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more likely to go with purple as my queer colour of choice. I’m not sure why I feel a need to tell you this, other than to make it clear that I was Making An Effort in my visual/gender presentation. Do with that what you will.
[2] See “Tall”. Don’t even get me started about 40″ inseams. O.O