Helen Boyd joins us from (en)Gender:

Recently I did a talk that one of my queer femme friends attended, and at some point during the talk I mentioned what a hard time I had with Betty’s femininity because it brought up my own issues with my own “failed” femininity. Afterwards, she asked, “Well don’t I drive you nuts, then?” or something like that.

& The funny thing is: no, she doesn’t. Aside from her being a nice person who takes people as they come (moreso even than most other open-minded folks I know), she’s a queer femme. & The girls who were the bane of my existence - and the women who still are - were almost always straight femmes. Because queer femmes are somehow different than their straight sisters. For starters, they flirt with me, & I can flirt with them, & even though everyone knows nothing is happening, there’s a script of sorts that jives with everyone involved. Queer femmes have met other women with my gender before, & a lot of the time, they’ve dated them too. Our genders are mutually complimentary, you might say. Butches seem occasonally puzzled by me, or they seem to understand me, or they accept me as some kind of liminal butch, but they certainly aren’t threatened. Gay men - femme and masculine - seem to get that I’m not a jerk. (Or, as a gay friend said when he met me, “Oh, so you’re hip?” - after which we didn’t really need to discuss anything about my gender or SO beyond that.)

But it’s straight feminine women I can’t seem to have an un-awkward conversation with; often I feel like they’re worried I’m going to hit on them, and/or that their boyfriend is going to like me better than them (because of that “one of the guys” thing). Sometimes I swear they’re worried about both simultaneously. Straight feminine women seem to have way more invested in a kind of combative, competitive relationship between women - you know, who is the prettiest, the most feminine, the most fashion sense, or who gets the most attention from boys. Mostly I feel like I’m being asked to a duel but I haven’t got a pistol & I don’t the rules and I don’t know who I challenged and certainly didn’t mean to. It’s really like being in a culture that I don’t know & I’m not familiar with, the way that sometimes, as a white person, another white person will say something racist to you as if assuming you agree, or as a straight person, having another straight person make a homophobic joke assuming you’ll think it’s funny, too. Straight women like to complain about “what a guy” their man is, & how they don’t understand them at all, especially how they don’t hear anything when they’re playing a computer game or the like. And when I’ve said something along the lines of, “yeah, well I tend to tune out when I’m playing The Sims,” I get stares all around as if they’ve discovered a traitor in their midst.

And I am, I guess, a gender traitor. I don’t have much in common with the people who are assumedly “my tribe” - other heterosexual women. I don’t know how to talk to them. I don’t know how to make them feel better about themselves, or reassure them that I really dress the way I do on purpose. But it hadn’t occurred to me that it wasn’t all feminine women I felt that way about until my friend asked me that question. Looking back, it’s often been queer femmes who have helped me think about femininity in ways that didn’t just piss me off.

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