Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Privilege and Disadvantage: Femme Invisibility

Waiting for the streetcar yesterday morning, I looked over to find a middle-aged man staring, voraciously, at me (*gag*). I wear dresses almost every day; I wear make-up almost every day; I wear earrings, jewellery, and pretty things almost every day. I'm a girly-girl. But I'm queer so that makes me a femme. I am a femme. So, Mr. Middle-Aged Sicko... F***-Off! I'm not dressed like this for you! Avert your eyes or I'll be tempted to kick you.

I am a queer femme and this is a contentious identity claim in many respects. Allow me to elaborate.

In terms of privilege, I am definitely privileged as a femme in the "society-at-large:" I am pretty much undetectable as queer (passing almost always as straight) which leads to the disadvantage of this very privileged identity... I'm also invisible in the queer community and to other queer people.

While I may pass as straight, it is difficult to always be "outing" myself, dealing with people's surprise when they discover I'm queer/gay/not straight. And their shock is, in some respects, a little homophobic. Most people have a very limited ideal of what a queer person will or should look like... and I don't fit that ideal for the general population. Within my family, I believe much of their disbelief (about my queerness) stems from the fact that I don't look or act "gay" (but also because of their homophobia). That's probably the most significant oppression I have to live with. I can handle the oohing and aahing when I come out to other people but it hurts that my family does not/will not accept who I am. However, I am sure I look so straight in part because I must manage my appearance for fear of upsetting my family (who I live with). While being a femme is very much who I am, because of the respect I have for my family, I look more like a straight girl than a queer femme per se. But this is a small sacrifice that I am willing to make because I do love and respect my family and it's really not worth the visibility in my opinion at this time.

As for the issue of femme invisibility within the queer community, I will be honest and say that I don't partake in that community very much. I barely leave my house except for school but that's another story altogether. Nonetheless, it's upsetting and annoying that when I want to be read as queer, I am not. Especially when there is a babe sitting across from me on the subway and she obviously has no idea I'm queer too!

Now What?
I believe this is one of the biggest issues I struggle with, particularly in terms of my family. I can't be too "loud and proud" because it's just not an option for me right now and having a "double life" as things are hard enough. As for being a femme, I've heard some arguments that femmes are subversive: they subvert the gender norms of femininity as well as the expectations of what a queer female is/should be. One such film where these ideas are discussed is FtF: Female to Femme (check out the trailer It implies that femme is a valid sexual and gender identity that has power to subvert hegemony through this form of gender performativity (a la Judith Butler). So, I guess being a femme is activism in and of itself... but I just have to work on asserting that part of my identity, in public at least.

via my friends awesome privilege diary for school

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