this subtle body of desire – III

Part I

Part II

What happened was that I began to question my other forms of self-definition. What does femme mean, if after giving myself permission to leave it by the wayside for a bit, I began to also change the way I approach sex, kinks, feminism, desire, writing…? I was expecting to change in some ways of course, but I suppose I thought they would be aesthetic changes: not merely superficial, but not radically life-altering either. I was wrong.

What does femme mean anyway? There is a bare-bones definition, and then a concatenation of vaguely related ideas, so you get something like: “one who is feminine in appearance or manners” and if you fit that, you’re expected at various points to also be submissive, or nurturing, or willing to be objectified, or revel in your overt sexuality, or wear retro horn-rimmed glasses… yes, I’m being ridiculous, but I’ve never quite figured out why these things accrue to the idea of feminine, either in the straight world or the queer one. They certainly aren’t an integral part of it, but the connections and connotations are so pervasively insidious that it’s hard to separate them out in practice, even if you try to in theory.

In any case, here is what I did see changing and clarifying in my experiment:

I thought I desired feminine women for fairly obvious reasons. Then I began to have random fantasies about more butch ones, about the way they take up space in the world; the powerful angles at which they hold their arms; their unflinching eyes. Up till then the appeal I saw in butch-femme roles was entirely in the contrast between them: the differences each highlighted in the other. Now I began to perceive the strength and beauty of these couples not as separate things, each belonging to one, but as complementary parts of both. Now I began noticing that the mechanic with the shaved head had a shy smile in her gorgeous green eyes,  along with the swagger, and her pretty little girlfriend who balanced so delicately on her heels crushed coke cans in her strong hands when she was done with them.     


I really like this shift in perception; it’s made me go a long way to being comfortable with myself in so many things. I was becoming more stereotypically masculine myself, in manners, decisions, speech; plainer, more assertive and direct, uncompromising. I still look feminine, always will, but had gone back to wearing clothes chosen for practical convenience rather than visual impact. And there had been a surprising amount of guilt around all this. Allowing myself to express my real reactions and feelings felt, and still feels sometimes, like an enormous transgression, a betrayal of so many complicated things that try to take up all the space in my mind with their strictures on how I shouldn’t think: Family, Culture, Society, Propriety. I’ve been so tired of being patted on the head for being a good girl and then forgotten, but never quite been willing to embrace the idea of being an unashamedly bad girl either; this was finally a way out of that particular either/or trap, while not falling into the male/female role playing one in the process. 


~ by mortarandpestle on October 28, 2007.

2 Responses to “this subtle body of desire – III”

  1. This is what I like most about femmes; their fluidity. I have never been with two femmes who presented or enacted their femininity in the same ways. Some were assertive, daring, bold and courageous… others were submissive, begging and subtle. Some held all the power in our relationship, some held none, and many shared that power between us. I think by trying to label ourselves so much, we do in fact limit our movement and decisions. Like, I am a butch top, until I want to be underneath of a beautiful, assertive femme top… and then what am I? And of course, I always feel guilt in that desire, will my partner who expecting a butch top be disappointed by my bottoming mood?

    The butchness that allows me to be me, also prevents me from being myself at times, as you’ve written about here.

    This whole series has been really thought provoking. What good writing!

  2. Thank you for your kind words! I’ve really enjoyed reading what you have to say in response as well. I want to take it further in this exact direction though: how all this plays out during sex, and in power roles, so thank you for bringing that up. I’ll be posting more soon!

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