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Femme Problems 121: Coping with Femme Invisibility

As Beyoncé says, pretty hurts, and in the case of femme presentation, it hurts us in ways that others in our community may not even know or notice. Sure—being a femme lesbian has its perks and privileges, but it certainly doesn’t come without its fair share of disadvantages.

We lipstick loving ladies go unnoticed in the lesbian community, often mistaken for the straight girl in the room. People simply don’t take us, and our sexuality seriously. We often find ourselves over-asserting or relentlessly defending our love for other women. While we can forgive the ever-so-clueless straight person for the error of his or her ways, we find it harder to accept this kind of intolerance from our own community.

Whether we’re wearing high heels, short skirts, or cute black boots with studs on the side, it’s not easy to stand in our shoes. Sometimes we feminine presenting lesbians have to discredit just as many presuppositions regarding our gender representation as our masculine presenting women or gender queer counterparts.

If we identify as lesbians, then—you guessed it—we are lesbians. And yes, we are sure of that. So why is it that our fellow women continually question us to the point we feel like we need to present proof? We’ve heard so many butch women ask “where are all the femme lesbians?” Well, we are right in front of you and we are every bit as part of this community as you are.

We are the girls at the bar who you assume must be straight. When you question the certainty of our own orientation, you are stereotyping, typecasting, and discriminating against those in your own community. I’m just as queer as I am feminine—those qualities don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And what do you mean I don’t “look gay”? What exactly does gay even look like?

It’s natural to try and figure out who among us is queer whenever we’re in new spaces. It’s nice to know when “family” is around, but it’s nearly impossible to gauge the level of our queerness based on my appearance. We love women. We love their bodies, their smell, and the feel of their skin on ours. We love and can love women just as strongly and powerfully as a cisgender male, a butch, or anyone in between. We don’t have to rock a buzz cut or flannel shirt to be just as lesbian as you. It certainly doesn’t give you the right to question our skills, preferences, or performance.

Breaking through the shield of femme invisibility day after day can be exhausting. Just like our gender queer and butch presenting sisters and brothers, we are constantly deciding when and where to correct the overly presumptuous person in regards to who we are, what we do, and who we love: “Actually my partner is a she. No doctor, I’m sure I’m not pregnant. I’m a lesbian.” Being open and honest with our medical professionals is one thing, but constantly reaffirming our lifestyles to our colleagues and peers is exhausting. It propels us to overly exert our sexuality on social media, Facebook, in the work place, and in common conversation to the point that it feels forced, unnatural, and awkward.

Understanding that every person’s situation is unique is the first step toward understanding femme invisibility.

As we attended TaggFest this past weekend, so many important conversations came up, but one panel representative had some advice that we must never forget: “Always accept people’s self-definition.” These four words hold key to fighting and preserving anyone and everyone’s place in our community.


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