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What Is Femme Invisibility?

Femme Invisibility

What Is Femme Invisibility?

If you are interested in understanding what causes femme invisibility, what it means, and why it matters, you are at the right place.

Most people picture queer women as masculine, particularly with short hair, baggy shirt, blue-ragged jeans, and construction boots. Maybe with a hat or something like that. But in reality, there are lots of queer women with mini-skirts, skinny jeans, and other types of cloth cisgender women like to wear. In short, you cannot tell that a certain woman belongs to the queer community based on their physical appearance and how they dress.

If you don’t know much about the queer community, it is more likely that you don’t know anything as far as femme invisibility and visibility are concerned. Though it’s not a new thing in the heterosexual culture mainstream, the truth is that LGBTQ+ members who present as feminine women have been excluded from the LGBTQ+ narrative.

What Is The Meaning Of “Femme”?

Femme is a queer person representing themselves in a feminine manner. They may be a trans woman, cis woman, non-binary individual, or a gender-nonconforming individual. This person may be a pansexual, lesbian, bisexual, or identify with other identities under the queer umbrella.

Any LGBTQ+ member can identify as femme as long as they possess some feminine features. A femme may possess either one or more feminine characteristics that are associated with women or girls. Being a person who identifies as a woman and has gender expression associated with feminism is known as gender normativity. On the other hand, masculinity in women is identified as gender nonconformity or gender divergence.

Some of the attributes possessed by femmes include long hair, makeup, girlish voice and mannerisms, feminine bodily features, and clothing designed for women.

History of Femmes in Queer Culture

The term femme made its way into the vocabulary world in the post-war culture of the 1940s and 50s. The term was used to describe gay women with feminine features. It was done within the context of the butch-femme relationships, whereby one partner was required to be masculine while the other had to show feminine traits.

By being gender-conforming, lesbians with feminine characteristics were not seen as gay or lesbians compared to butches. It was believed that a femme who was in a relationship with many women related with a cis man and would do so again.

Currently, butch-femme relationships belong to the past, especially given that gender expression and identities have come a long way since the 1940s and 50s. However, due to not being visibly queer, femmes are not mostly considered part of the larger queer community. They are left out of LGBTQ+ activism and do not get enough credit for their sacrifices for the LGBTQ+ community.

Femme vs. Feminine

It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between femme and femininity. After all, they all wear makeup and wear clothes designed for women. However, the difference is that femme is an international with one’s femininity related to their queerness.

When someone identifies as femme, they welcome the fact that they present feminine while being queer. It is renouncing that women who love fellow women should be masculine instead of showing feminine traits. Even if they are feminine, straight women are not femme since they are not lesbians.

Advantages of Femme Invisibility

Some advantages come with femme invisibility. Since femmes look like gender-conforming straight women, they are likely not to experience harassment. They are most likely not to be discriminated against at work since you can’t tell if they belong to the queer community. Though they may experience homophobia due to their queerness, their physical appearance is not indicative of their queerness. Additionally, femmes do not experience bullying and are likely to receive good health services just like straight women do.

Disadvantages of Femme Invisibility

Advantages and disadvantages go hand in hand. Femme invisibility has its fair share of drawbacks that include:

  • Not being recognized by the larger LGBTQ+ community
  • They are not believed when they say they are queer
  • They are not believed by their families when they come out
  • Straight men harass them
  • Not accepted within the LGBTQ+ community
  • They are assumed to be at the “bottom” in the bedroom
  • Thought to be involved with male partners
  • Their sexuality is not taken seriously
  • They feel disrespected when they are told they don’t look gay.

Importance of Femme Visibility

Femmes may not be recognized as queer based on their physical appearance. However, that does not make them lesser as far as queerness is concerned. Femme visibility is as important to queer as it is for straight people. Recognizing femmes as a part of the LGBTQ+ community provides them with a sense of belonging. With recognition, they are certain of peace of mind, happiness, and acceptance. Additionally, femmes are in a better position to champion the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals since they are likely not to be discriminated against by their peers.

Members of the LGBTQ+ help straight people to have a different view when it comes to the appearance of queer women. Queerness can be in many forms; it can be a womanish cis man or masculine cis woman.

Understanding Femme Invisibility – Final Thoughts

There is no given style, look, or general appearance that makes one more queer than the other. Queer people may have some characteristics in common, but anyone can fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella no matter their physical appearance.

Understanding that you can’t tell someone‘s identity based on their looks means living in a joyful world. It’s not right to assume who people really are. The most honorable thing to do is accept who they say they are and use the right terms when addressing them.

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Danielle Aubin (she/her), Online Clinical Social Worker/Therapist, Roseville, CA
Pagano Wellness Clinic – Individual, Couple, and Family Therapy in Richmond Virginia

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