Femme invisibility: the idea that, as a feminine presenting woman, you are not really a queer/lesbian unless you are knuckle deep in another woman at that very moment. The notion stems from the idea that you must ‘look a certain way’, and one must constantly prove their queerness. That you need to have the funky hair, the hat, the skinny jeans or the ability to do the Instagram selfie ‘come hither’ eyebrow.
Various things tend to happen when you are feminine presenting and into other women. Outside of the queer community people tend to think you’re either:
- Going through a phase
- Faking it to trap the studs.
- So confused you got lost and ended up in the wrong sexuality and are really straight.
It is always a case of ‘prove it’ and one of the major problems with this that it leads to the othering and the ostracizing of queer femme presenting women.
Expanding your queer social circle is hard enough without it being compounded by the fact that those you are trying to see can’t see you
Femme phobia and the privilege of ‘femme invisibility’
A friend once spoke about how she witnessed a conversation in which two feminine women who were dating were asked by another queer woman: “how do you even have sex? do you swap lipsticks or something?”
Within queer communities one often finds the replication of what are termed ‘heteronormative tendencies’: the idea that one must ‘be the man’ and one must ‘be the woman’. This leads to a whole host of backlash for ideas such as ‘butch for butch’ (when two masculine presenting women are attracted to each other) or a femme woman being dominant in bed. The idea is entrenched that one must play their gender role in a relationship, even when they are two women.
This is to say two women, essentially, could not be together.
Expanding your queer social circle is hard enough without it being compounded by the fact that those you are trying to see can’t see you. Furthermore, in a context where identifying as queer could have you losing jobs, getting kicked out of homes and even physically harmed in your own community, these signals and forms of connecting are potentially very powerful.
The problem with femme invisibility is that it presumes a norm, even within the supposedly ‘abnormal’. There is an issues with freedom of self when women are accused of presenting in this manner in order to ‘actively access a privilege’ rather than because that is how they are. It stems from a conclusion that there is one way to present sexuality to the world despite the fact that not all people will be the same.
To assume that women who are queer will automatically present a certain way erases the existence of a whole host of people who love dresses, pink drinks whilst also seeing another woman naked. It erases the existence of the woman who wears converse trainers and lipstick. It also further entrenches heteronormative ideas of presentation and women, that only those who don the mantle of masculinity are entitled to access to the sex and sexuality of another woman.
It also makes it very hard to find someone’s face to sit on a Saturday night.
This piece was first published on Huffington Post South Africa.