Another day, another definition of femme. This one comes from Julia Serano in a piece, Reclaiming Femininity, from her new book 'Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive' (Seal Press 2013).
[I]t is common for people to have somewhat varied opinions regarding what the word “femme” actually means. For me, 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. The second thing that we share is a sense of being different, perhaps because we are lesbian or bisexual. 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 the norm in some way, because we are fat, or disabled, or intersex. Or perhaps we experience some combination of these, or maybe we are different in some other way. 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, 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. 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.
This definition I like because it's open-ended. It's a non-definition (“we cannot begin with a definition; we cannot offer assurances of any kind” – Duggan & McHugh), allowing each of us to define – or, more accurately, realize – femme for ourselves.
Actually I like Serano's writing in general; it's just the right blend of (gender) theoretical, political and personal material that appeals to me. I've quoted a bit more from Reclaiming Femininity – in which Serano talks about essentialism and difference – on my tumblog. And there's another (shorter) quote here – about MTF crossdressing and effemimania – from her previous book, 'Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity' (Seal Press 2007).
You should probably go and buy those books right now :)