Earlier this week I read an article asking Where Have All The Butches Gone. Again. How many times have I heard this lamented? How many times do we need the exact same article to be written? Each time they never challenge the assumption that all trans men start out as butch lesbians and completely ignore the real problem.
When I was younger and just discovering butch-femme archetypes, I looked around my community and wondered why I didn't really see any femmes. Almost everyone had short hair and an androgynous style. I could count on one hand the number of dykes who wore makeup, dresses, or heeled shoes. I ended up dating one person whose primary identification was as a femme dyke, and had strong rituals around makeup and attire. Just one year later, he transitioned.
After a few other femme dyke friends also transitioned, I started noticing similar patterns all around me. I think I know more femme trans men and trans men who used to be femme dykes than I do those who used to be butches, and it led me to the question: Why are all the femmes turning into men?
An entire generation of femmes seems to be disappearing, trading in their heels and garters for bowties and vests. Sure, they are wearing the same gold lame booty shorts, but now with a packer inside. They might still identify as femme, and wear bright and glittery makeup, but now they do so as men, sporting facial hair to complete the look. They go around in shirts proclaiming "Sissies Rule," and tagging my neighborhood with the slogan. Whole companies are sprouting up to support "dapper" clothing fashions.
And don't get me wrong. I'm sure that among them are many who really and truly are nellies and sissies and I'm proud that we've reached a place where they feel safe to express that. Some of my best friends are femme trans men, and I've even dated a few. But when I see so many moving away from womanhood I have to wonder if there is something more going on.
Even among the femmes I know who don't transition to male, many are identifying themselves as genderqueer and going by 'they' pronouns in yet another way of abandoning womanhood. An entire movement is growing that proclaims "Femme is Genderqueer." What does that mean? Are no femmes female anymore?
If you take a look online you'll find bits and pieces of femme community, but it's all been reframed, such as the growing trend of "hard femme." Femininity apparently isn't strong enough unless you add a modifier to distant yourself from traditional femme identity. What's wrong with just calling yourself "femme"?
Now I'm sure by this point there may be some of you jumping up and down as if to shout - "I'm femme! Don't forget about me." I appreciate that. Congratulations for resisting the pressure to transition to male or genderqueer. It's wonderful to have you around, but - and I don't mean to be dismissive - but chances are that you don't really count.
Sure, there are femme conferences and femme communities, but they don't fit this narrow image of femme identity in the exact right manner. Maybe you use a similar but different word to describe yourself. Maybe your queer femme identity isn't based on whiteness. Maybe your queer femme identity is wrapped up in a gender theory I don't understand. Maybe you date trans guys or - heaven forbid - cis guys.
And I know some of you are saying.. "What about femme trans women! Transition goes in the other direction as well!" Again, you're right, but... we all know that trans women don't count. I'm talking about femmes in queer women's community, who show up for queer women's events, who are accepted as part of the community, and I'm sorry but we all know that doesn't describe trans women.
Maybe they just don't like queer spaces, maybe they're all straight, or maybe, just maybe, they aren't treated very well when they show up. But whatever the reason, you never see more than one or maybe two femme trans dykes at these kinds of events. So they don't count either.
Some of you might be rolling your eyes. I've heard it before - "You're manufacturing the problem yourself by discounting all the femmes that are around and ignoring all the trans men who weren't femmes before transition." Sometimes I wonder if maybe you've got a point.
In the end, I keep looking at the femme trans guys I know, or the trans guys that were femmes, or the femmes who use gender neutral pronouns, or the femmes who are trans women, or the femmes who have a different cultural value of femininity. You might see diversity and power of community, but I don't. I'm too consumed by the utter lack of people who are femme in the exact same way prominent and published femme role models of the 80s were.
I think that's sad, don't you?