"Wait, but you don't look like a lesbian."
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that in the last decade, I'd have enough cash to cover an entire month's rent. It's the plight of femme-presenting queers.
I recognize my privilege in being able to move through out the world without attracting negative attention in unsafe environments, but femmes like me often miss out on little things like the ubiquitous "dyke nod" that visibly queer women often exchange. The ability of butches to almost immediately be identified is something nearly foreign to me.
There is really not a femme equivalent. When I was single, it was difficult to convince anyone I was anything but straight. At gay bars, I was often labeled as the closest gay man's "fag hag" - a term and identity I hope dies off any day now. Or, I've had lame "breeder" jokes lobbed my way (another term I wish would disappear). Despite speaking up, I rarely had my identity accepted without a fight. As a femme, you often slip under the radar of both straight and queer people.
Once, at a college party hosted by the lesbian club on campus, I entered an apartment filled with a dozen butch lesbians and gender-queers. My little femme heart was so happy. Until the host drunkenly suggested I leave. After all she said, "I didn't fit in." Years later, at Dyke Day in San Francisco's Dolores Park, that same host apologized for excluding me, but at the time I felt like I'd never find the supportive queer community I was looking for.
Since then I've found more accepting friends. But, part of me wonders if it is just due to being visible (My partner and I are very active in the local LGBTQ community) and in a openly gay relationship that signifies my queerness to others. But simply being a queer femme isn't enough somehow, because it challenges the belief that all feminine women are heterosexual and that all dykes are more masculine.
I love being femme and have met some of the most amazing, strong, self- assured, bad-ass femmes throughout Southern California, women who have inspired me to be more confident and unwaveringly declaring myself so.
Part of that process has been actively seeking out others like me; from attending a regular femme-focused clothing exchange that also doubles as a support group, to watching some of those femmes perform in a burlesque troupe. It is empowering to witness that femme visibility in action.
Just remember, the next time you're eyeing that lip-glossed, high-heeled femme-presenting person at a club, think before you dismiss them as just another bachelorette party, or a pack of straight girls descending upon your gay bar.
Make femmes more visible.
Here are a few resources for those of you who might be seeking: Check out the Femme Conference facebook page at facebook.com/groups/femmeconference or this meet up group at meetup.com/madfemmepridela.