Femme: Defining Ourselves


Photo ©Orlio  (Used under license from Shutterstock.com)

Since my post on Deciphering Butch/Femme, which gave a brief checklist on how to determine whether someone is Butch, I’ve had several requests to do a similar description of Femmes.

Femmes are complicated to describe, as each of us have unique personalities, styles, and life stories. Femmes are the most invisible of all Lesbians. We are usually viewed with suspicion by other Lesbians, who often mistakenly assume we are either trying to “pass as straight” or that we actually are Straightbians. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Femmes know from an early age that we are “different”, even if we don’t have the vocabulary to describe this feeling. We may look like other girls and we get along well with other girls, but we always know we are not like other girls in some fundamental way.

From the earliest age we can remember, Femmes feel as if we live in an alternate universe: we are separate, different from everyone we meet, always on the outside. While frustrating, this distance also gives us the unique advantage of seeing the world with the clarity of an outsider’s perspective. Sadly, however, this same uniqueness also makes us feel invisible and misunderstood.

Femmes don’t see ourselves anywhere: not in books, not in stories, not in movies, not on television.

Even though we may have superficially physically resembled the fairy-tale princess of our childhood stories, we didn’t relate to her…at all.  Who would helplessly sit around waiting for anybody to save her, much less a man (ewwww)??  Not us, that’s for sure.  We would figure out how to cut that long hair off, make a rope out of it, and rappel down that castle wall all by ourselves, thank you very much. We might even save another girl or two while we’re at it.

We may have strongly identified with Marcie on Peanuts as children. We got crushes on our elementary school’s tomboy (or perhaps on the dyke PE teacher). We developed “close friendships” with other girls. Boys were “icky” to us even as young children, and when we became teenagers and all the other girls in our class were going boy-crazy, we remained in the “boys are icky” stage (and we stay in that stage forever).

When we came out, prior to dating a Butch (unless we were fortunate enough to have a Butch as our first lover), we probably dated dykes initially…but we felt confused, because although we knew we were a Lesbian dating a Lesbian, we knew something was missing.

It wasn’t until that first Butch comes into our Femme sphere (even if as only an acquaintance or friend) do we realize exactly what was missing!

Once we fall in love with a Butch, we never understand how anyone could ever look at our Butch and mistake her for a man, because, as a Femme, we really see  (and appreciate) our Butch as the doing-woman-different female that she is.

While we may appear stereotypically “feminine” in mannerisms and appearance, we are typically very practical. We would not wear kitten heels and a miniskirt on a hike in the Alaskan wilderness. We are likely to be strong, independent, and self-sufficient. We can probably fix a sink, change a tire, and/or kick-box; and we are Femme regardless of what we are wearing or what we are doing.  We dress down or dress up, depending on the situation.

(“High Femmes“, the kind who wouldn’t even go to Walmart without full makeup and sexy stilettos, are not Femmes at all…they are Straightbians).

Femmes love our Butch partners fiercely, and we would defend them to the death. But while our Butches make us weak in the knees, they don’t make us weak in the head.  We wouldn’t hesitate to tell our Butches off if we needed to. One mistake people often make is in thinking that Butch/Femme relationships are a mimicry of heterosexuals. The truth is that Butch/Femme partners are equals in every way; we don’t have the power imbalances and manipulative gymnastics that often underlie heterosexual unions.

In summary, sometimes (but not always), people may not be able to identify Femmes simply by looking at us ~ well, unless we are with our Butch partner, of course.  However, Lesbians with good gaydar can usually pick up on us, particularly if they are around us longer than just first glance.

But regardless of the fact that we may look different than many Lesbians, we are 100% Lesbian.

Invisibility is not our choice, nor our friend. We are not fake or faux. We are as strong as we are sensitive. Straight people do not see us because they are blind. Other Lesbians sometimes do not recognize us because they only see themselves. Butches often look past us because they do not trust, having been hurt by fakes. Our numbers may be small, but we exist. And it’s time to tell the truth about us.

16 thoughts on “Femme: Defining Ourselves

  1. I identified with some of this, but not all. I was a fairly typical girl growing up, and butches definitely make me weak in the knees. But I’m not very feminine these days. It sounds like you’ve defined femmes as always partnered with butches. But isn’t there such thing as two femmes together?


    • Hi purplesagefem,Thanks for your comment! To answer your question, based on my own thoughts, as well as based on numerous discussions with others over the years, the term Femme is traditionally/typically used to designate those of us who are attracted to Butches. For two “feminine” lesbians who are attracted to each other, they would typically be referred to as “Lipstick Lesbians”. It’s useful shorthand to differentiate the two in conversations. But I have seen the term “Femme” be used to describe any “feminine” lesbian, which is indeed confusing and that’s why I like to specify. Thanks again for your comment! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed the post very much. Thanks. I agree also that Femme is intended to describe those who are attracted to Butches. That is the usage I have always heard and used & I have been out a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I related to this post very much. I find that too many people are uninformed or misinformed about Femmes, and about Butch-Femme relationship. Thanks for bringing us some visibility. Oh, and regarding the above comments, I wanted to say that I agree with you that the term Femme in lesbian culture indicates an attraction to Butches. This is not actually confusing, unless people use the term incorrectly, which does happen a lot. The way I explain it to people is that the term Butch-Femme is well-known for a reason. (It is not called Butch-Lipstick Lesbian). Femmes are attracted to Butches. Lipsticks are attracted to other Lipsticks.

    Liked by 3 people

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  7. I absolutely love this. This is me, right down to the crushes on baby dykes in my childhood, “close female friendships” etc. I fell victim to the usual compulsory heterosexuality, but now I am free again and with women only. Fierce Femme.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Thanks for commenting! I did another post on later-in-life lesbians, about those who do initially TRY to be straight (which is impossible if a lesbian, but sadly common) to please family/society/church/etc. before coming out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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