by: Jonah M. Lefholtz
First off, I need to stress that I am only speaking for myself and in no way do I mean for this to reflect the feelings of any other femme identified people out there. I don’t know how others feel, and since this is new to me, I’m not even entirely sure how I feel. But here goes something:
Femme. The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines femme as: 1. A woman, and 2. A lesbian who is notably or stereotypically feminine in appearance and manner.
Femme. To me, it’s a loaded word. As a transguy that is primarily romantically and sexually attracted to female-identified and bodied people, it sometimes feels as if it is if the queer community expects that I date a femme–to confirm my identity as a male to not only myself, but to the rest of the community. Whether or not this rule was self-imposed or whether or not it really is almost an expectation of some transmen who present certain ways, I don’t know. It’s up for debate.
For years, when I would think of somebody that self-identified as femme, I thought of a female-identified person whose identity fell on the extremely feminine side of the gender spectrum. I thought I knew what femme was because I dated femmes. I used to make a habit of it. I thought femme only meant fierce women in high heels and lipstick, eye shadow and dresses. Not something that could ever apply to me. I mean, I transitioned for a reason, right? I knew guys that identified as femme, and I scoffed at the idea. I didn’t scoff at their identities, but I was certainly confused by who they were and went about building invisible walls around myself to contain any truths that may leak out.
Identity is an ever-evolving thing, to me. People have come into and left my life that have made me question what I think I know about myself. They’ve made me reassess who it is I am becoming and who I want to be. Six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to admit to you that not only am I femme, but that I finally feel safe identifying that way. Six months ago, I definitely would have told you that I wasn’t and never have been butch, but the word femme would never have left my mouth, and it wouldn’t have even been floating around my consciousness. Sure, in the past, I’ve referred to myself as “faggy”–but that’s not it at all. For one, it’s not fair for me to say. I’m not reclaiming the word from the grips of hate language if I don’t identify as gay, in my opinion. (Also, I don’t even really know what “faggy” is.)
For years and years, I presented and acted as masculine as possible. After I started testosterone, it took me years to pass full time; during those “in-between” years, I adopted a persona that was more masculine than I was. I was an actor and how I felt and how I tried to present myself were contradictory.
Then something happened. Something inside me switched off, while something else switched on. I both stopped caring so much and started caring more; I quit comparing myself to other people and started listening to myself more. Part of the change has to do with the people I’ve surrounded myself with in the last year. I’ve always had an abundance of accepting friends–don’t get me wrong–but there’s something more relaxed about the way I interact with my loved ones now. It’s both me and them. I’m still growing into myself and my friends reflect that growth and transition.
It all adds up. The obsession I’ve had with Les Miserables since I was 13. The way I hold and carry myself, my rejection of my “boys club” membership, my fascination with gold lamé, that time I was a radical cheerleader and pranced around on stage in purple short-shorts, my affinity for being a nanny (I’m totally ok with feeling both maternal and paternal), the nagging feeling that I need to paint my nails, the ballet class I recently signed up for that I absolutely love, how every other Halloween I find a reason to dress in drag. Even things people said when I first decided to transition 9 years ago affirm this part of my identity. When it comes to my gender and sexuality, my mother has said some pretty awful things, but she had a point when she said to me, “I don’t get this whole ‘tough guy’ thing you’re trying to do these days. What are you trying to do? It’s not you.” Yeah, mom, it wasn’t. I’m not tough. I jump up and down when I’m happy, and I squeal sometimes, too, and during the years I was trying to act tough, or butch, or whatever, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
What does femme mean to you? To me, it means being brave and strong, and embracing the way I was socialized, and embracing the bits and pieces of me that don’t always fall in line with what it means to be a man. It means acknowledging that there is a gender spectrum, and that it is vast, and that no matter where I fit on it, my expression is valid and beautiful. It means that I’m questioning the assumption that just because I transitioned and identify as male, that it means I have to be as masculine as I can be. It means I am confident in my sensitivity.
I don’t know if any of you are asking yourselves why I bothered to transition in the first place, because wouldn’t it have been easier to just stay the way I was? Right, I could have saved money, and some relationships but I wouldn’t want to navigate my life as anything other than a man. I love my body hair and my musculature, I love my voice and the fact that my muscles have grown not only physically, but socially and emotionally.
Also, I know that had I not transitioned, I never would have been okay with this part of who I am. I never would have signed up for a ballet class and I never would have let myself enjoy watching my body move as it does. I would have kept fighting it, because nobody–including myself–would have seen all of me. Had I not transitioned, I never would have been able to see that throughout my life, my identity will move and shift as I grow as a person and that identity is never completely actualized because its potential is always changing. Coming out as femme has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. It’s allowed me to come out of hiding and be who I am.
Jonah M. Lefholtz is a student and care-taker in Chicago, IL. He recently came out as a femme male and his life is better for it! He likes spending time with his family and friends, has two cats, and appreciates complexity.