Saturday, 26 March 2011

So, what is femme?

I'd really like to answer that question, but femme is an elusive quantity and as such is difficult to define.

We cannot begin with a definition; we cannot offer assurances of any kind. For "fem(me)" is not an identity, not a history, not a location on the map of desire. The fem(me) body is an anti(identity)body, a queer body in fem(me)-inine drag.

— from A Fem(me)inist Manifesto by Lisa Duggan & Kathleen McHugh.

What cannot be seen, what cannot be held or pinned down, is where femme is (...) Femme is inherently "queer" – in the broadest application of the word – as bent, unfixed, unhinged, and finally unhyphenated. Released from the strictures of binary models of sexual orientation and gender and sex. Released from a singular definition of femme.

— from the introduction to Brazen Femme by ChloĆ« Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri.

Interestingly, and significantly for me, in the same piece Brushwood Rose and Camilleri relate a "pivotal acquaintance" with a man they call "Jim":

Both of us had begun to sense the need to articulate femme as a gender experience that is never tied to biological sex. (...) What would it mean to be a femme and not a woman? What would it mean to be femme outside of a lesbian framework? What is it that femmes have in common? What makes femme different from femininity?

And then we met Jim. A straight man. A femme. Jim lived and worked as a man. Jim also lived and worked in what most would describe as "women's clothes", but what might also be described as "high femme" clothes. Many people would call Jim a transvestite. Jim called himself femme.

Our brief but pivotal acquaintance with Jim helped us think about the common dangers and pleasures of femme as an experience that is informed by and also exceeds lesbian herstory; as a way of being that cannot be described as quintessentially feminine. Instead, femme might be described as "femininity gone wrong" – bitch, slut, nag, whore, cougar, dyke, or brazen hussy. Femme is the trappings of femininity gone awry, gone to town, gone to the dogs. Femininity is a demand placed on female bodies and femme is the danger of a body read female or inappropriately feminine. We are not good girls – perhaps we are not girls at all.

Perhaps not, no :)

As for the original question: I guess I'll return to it in subsequent posts.

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