It is often said that, "No man is an island," but I've noticed that a lot of femmes seem to be lonely and solitary structures; islands inhabited by only one; or peacefully orbiting planets comfortable keeping just to themselves. I've come across a great number of reasons for this-- all of them legitimate, most of them intensely painful. I've heard everything from femmes being kicked out of their lesbian communities for either being too "femmey" (don't even get me started on that word) or not 100% homosexual (or both all at once) to femmes not feeling they are "femme enough" to compete with other femmes (or simply feeling sick of all the pressure, competition, and cattiness in general). Many of the femmes I know have grown content to be their own sphere of specifically branded queer femininity. They've grown thick skins by choice or by force and are used to walking in the world as if they are the last of their kinds... but others seek community and either find that it doesn't readily exist in their area or are repeatedly rejected for not looking or acting enough of the prescribed part.
I have not always lived in the Bay Area. I come from small communities, small towns-- I know what it's like to be the only femme in an entire gay bar. I know what it's like to spend a night only speaking to drag queens, because nobody else will even look at you. I know what it's like to look for others who look like me and come up empty time and again. I know what kind of pressure it is to be told or, in so many ways, shown that if only I'd look and act differently, I'd be more attractive and more accepted. Conversely, having also lived in large cities for a many years, I know what it is to be given the stink eye from other femmes when you enter a room. I know what it is to be excluded from friendship with local femmes because you're not _______ enough or far too _______ to be allowed into their inner femme circles. I know the pressure (and ultimately, the disappointment) in knowing that some femmes will be competing with everything you do from your hair to your shoes even if you'd rather not play that game with them.
Even though I am now blessed and lucky enough to live in an amazing queer community with an astounding number of diverse, wonderful, beautiful, and amazing femmes, I still often find myself looking to the internet for solace and solidarity just as I did in my earlier femme days. It's amazing where I end up finding it some of the time. For example, very recently a large online community I belong to (FetLife, a kink-based social networking site) decided to add "butch" and "femme" as gender identities. When this decision was announced, there was an immediate public outcry complete with a full range of internet-based painful stupidity. New wounds were created by those who did not identify as butch or femme dismissively stating that femme and butch were not valid gender identities and then further complaining that adding them to the website as gender options was only serving to be divisive and confusing. Old wounds were reopened when friends of mine wanted to list the gender identity as "femme" but were hesitant, remembering all those times they'd been told they weren't queer enough or femme enough to claim such an identity. And many folks, myself included, were somewhat annoyed that "femme" had been randomly shortened to "FE" (as the abbreviation "F" had already been taken for "female") while "butch" was inexplicably shortened to "BU". In short, the entire affair very quickly turned into a hot mess. I was getting irritated, it was getting late, and the more reactions I read on the website, the more rapidly I began to lose my faith in queer community (again).
The things that settled me down in the end were so simple, and they were the following. First and foremost, I turned my computer off for the night. Yes, they have an off-switch, and I like to make use of it and be among real people for awhile when the electronic personalities of actual human beings are upsetting me. My girlfriend and I had a nice, intelligent chat and then went to bed. The second thing happened this afternoon when I was finally ready to turn the computer back on. I logged onto the site to re-read a post I'd made complaining about "FE" being the new shorthand for "femme", when I saw that a friend of mine had pointed out, in passing, that Fe is the symbol for iron on the periodic table. This stopped me dead in my tracks.
My brain started spinning in an entirely new series of directions. This statement knocked me out of the virtual and back into the literal. Femme is forged and tough like iron. Femme can be purified or left dirty; molded or natural; sculpted, shaped, re-shaped, made into art; used for tough mechanics; liquefied into something hot and fluid; formed into its own protecting locks and gates; a magnet; simple and useful; complex and decorous, necessary for health and wellness... and when mixed with carbon, the end-all, be-all, femme(FE) can be made into steel. Such a beautiful, but at the same time simple, redefinition of femme had never occurred to me and it all of a sudden made me very, very happy. Every time I am knocked back down to the brass (or in this case, iron!) tacks of things and go back to the basics, I always manage to learn something new. Femme is elemental. It's so simple, it's right there. We are a building block of queer life. Our element is iron(Fe), which can be just about anything it chooses, given the right circumstances.
Following this revelation, came another stunning comment from a different friend of mine. As a joke, she began to make light, science-based humor about my femme(FE) identity and ended up saying the following:
"I wish your outer electron shell happiness in attracting and combining with any other elements you desire."
She meant it to be taken lightly, but I found it to be absolutely beautiful. She is absolutely right. Our outer shell, our femme presentation can be anything it likes, but it should be happy. We should be happy. We are allowed to be happy. And we are allowed to attract and combine with any other elements we desire. It's so easy. It's such a simple equation: femme = femme. The unknown is its own solution. We all know ourselves, we are all femme, if the specifics are unknown to others, that's fine. If we are each, every day, defining "femme" and femme always equals femme, then what is there left to argue about? How can you create a fraction from that equation? Why would there need to be IF/THEN statements? What about femme = femme could ever be unclear?
The simple fact is, femme community shouldn't be complicated. Loving each other and enjoying each others presence shouldn't be hard. Planets in their own orbit can come together without colliding and form a entire solar system. Femme love for each other can be our iron-based, plasma sun; the peace of acceptance can be our slow-burning, glittering stars-- one for every single one of us, with still an infinite number more that are yet to be named; and those constant, steady lights can guide all of us, new femmes and old, back home if ever we are lost. That is, if we let it.