On Being (Femme): Speaking Truth to Experience

“I’ve been femme all my life, whether or not I have chosen to identify as such. But we all know identity is never just about our relationship to ourselves. It’s about that and it’s about how we are read and how we are treated in relation to how we present.

By Katey Pants, Special for PQ Monthly

I have been putting off writing this and sending it in for over a year. I mean what’s so hard about it? Just talk about being femme. I’ve been femme all my life, whether or not I have chosen to identify as such. But we all know identity is never just about our relationship to ourselves. It’s about that and it’s about how we are read and how we are treated in relation to how we present. Just talk about being femme—people will really like it, I am told. But I know that not to be true, deep in my heart and in the back of my eyeballs that turn to tears every time I try to give voice to the pain the over-valuation of masculinity has on my mind, my body, my emotions, my sanity.
Just talk about being femme.
But I sit down to collect and archive my conversations, private and otherwise, about my experience with being femme and I am paralyzed by it. I come to this grinding halt because of this intrinsic fear. Just talk about being femme. I can barely do it. Because in the years I have been coming of age as a femme, aging as a femme, changing my ideas and conceptions around being femme, and just being femme, I have learned loud and clear that not only do very few people give a shit—a lot of people just straight up hate hearing what femmes have to say about anything. I fear being called a whiner, which happens constantly when I am trying to talk about sexualized violence.
I fear that by speaking truth to my experiences with misogyny and sexism in my queer community, I will be pitted as being hostile. I fear that my feelings, my vulnerability, my sexuality, my personhood, and my essence will just be written off as me just being a big bitch. “She’s too aggressive.” All of these fears are coming from a long place of direct feedback to my voice. A voice that doesn’t claim to speak for others but is just trying to speak for herself. A voice that understands that femme is not a monolith. And my experience with patriarchy is just that: one of the many experiences. I put this off for a year and felt that with a cringe I had to just finish it up and press send.
Just talk about being femme.
But how can I even explain I am a dynamic person with thousands of contradictions that does experience sexualized violence in a way that is different from straight women. Just talk about being femme. But seriously, I am not dealing with any privilege of having heterosexuality being assumed on my body. That has just made me disposable to my queer community and seen as a piece of angry trash in the straight world. Just talk about being femme. But seriously, it’s so much and man it hurts like none other. It’s constant threats of multiple forms of violence. It’s sexism and the economy of desire. It’s homophobia in the sense that queers as a whole have decided what is valuable and what is authentically gay usually means what is masculine. It is some class shit because it is assumed that my décor of my body is related to what’s in my wallet. And trust, I don’t have a bank account and have seen a dentist twice in my entire life. And goddamn it hurts.
Part one. I love being femme. The closer I get to my authentic self, the more femme I become. I love other femmes. I love having conversations with other femmes about their experience under misogyny. How their experiences are shaped by their position in this world in relation to race and class.  Being femme is not a monolithic experience. And more specifically my experience as a femme lesbian is fundamental to my daily lived experiences in homophobia and misogyny and are also shaped by being poor and working class.
I am told by straight and gay worlds that my life as a dyke will be better when I can marry, which eclipses the many ways institutional homophobia and sexism affect my healthcare, my housing, my body, my emotions, my physical safety, my access to institutions of learning, and my ability to meet my basic needs—all of which marriage will not solve for me.
Part Two: I don’t want to be visible anymore. I don’t want to talk about my visibility anymore. I want to escape patriarchy and escape the garbage my community refuses to see, the refusal to acknowledge me as a whole person because of their own misogyny. I want femme escapism. I want queer escapism. I want to resist assimilation into heteronormativity and into homo-nationalism. I want to create new forms of love and entanglement that have never existed. I want to subvert the stupidity of assuming that gaudy décor makes artifice and that tough masculine attributes make someone authentic. I want to fail at being visible.
Recently I have been obsessed with the rejection of queer activism’s focus on strategic visibility. This is a long conversation that this weird essay cannot solve. However; in an intense study around it—I came across the art and work of Zach Blas and his work titled Escaping the Face: Biometric Facial Recognition and the Facial Weaponization Suite that looks into concepts of not only rejecting visibility politics but a replacement of an understanding that we should be failing at the institutions we are trying to gain access to because those very institutions in themselves are harbingers of white supremacy, violence, sexism, and of course, homophobia.
In his lecture around The Queer Art of Failure, by Jack Halberstam, he highlights that we should be failing and escaping. “Failing,” Halberstam writes, “is something queers do and have done exceptionally well; for queers failure can be a style…or a way of life…” Halberstam explains that queers have always failed heteronormativity, so failure can be turned into an opportunity to live otherwise. Queer failure emphasizes the impractical and impossible desires for resisting political visibility from the state. For example, an act of queer failure might reject gay marriage as a form of recognition-control. Queer failure engages political and social change differently than policy; attention is not given to legal reform but to styles of living as disorderly and uncompromising (anti-)aesthetics and (anti-)politics.” I want this. I feel this and it’s terrifying and liberating at the same time.
Just write about being femme, they said. But how do I explain what is so much? Should I just copy and paste Julia Serano’s chapter in her book Whipping Girl on “Putting the Feminine Back in Feminism”? Because I am just tempted to do that. Just write about being femme. Well I don’t want to often because I want to not hog the mic and step back and listen to other femmes first. But a year is a year and heres just some collected notes. I guess I did it. I just wrote about being femme.

            Katey Pants is a femme, a dyke, a communist, a weirdo, a broken person, sometimes a sad person, sometimes a party person. She DJ’s in the northwest a lot. She makes strange art. She keeps a blog about her life called Ghost Narratives on tumblr. She has plans one day to go to a dentist and have a working vehicle. She wants to not work so hard. She loves inviting good conversation and shutting up when it’s her time to do so.