Excerpts - The Femme Mystique|
From the Introduction: I Enjoy Being a Girl
When Sasha Alyson first invited me to edit a book about femmes, I was both flattered and insulted. Flattered because Mr. Alyson had confidence that I could take on such a project, and insulted because he prefaced his invitation with the question, "You do consider yourself a femme, don't you?" I was indignant. How could he have even the slightest doubt? I racked my brain: had Sasha ever seen me without lipstick and heels? Finally I decided he asked me in order to be 100 percent sure, since--let's face it-- you just never know, and heaven help anyone who makes a femme faux pas. Even in the gay nineties, with lipstick lesbians reigning supreme, some women find it an insult to be called a femme.
Not me, though. I am a femme and proud of it. It took me years to embrace the term, though when I think about it, I've always been a femme. My nickname as a little girl was "Diamond Lil" because I loved to play dress up with my grandmother's costume jewelry. I would clomp around her apartment in a pair of her high heels, a matching evening bag hooked on my elbow, my little body adorned with all the rhinestones it could hold. Who cared if my grandmother's clip-ons pinched my tender earlobes? I knew even then that beauty had its price. My grandmother would dab some perfume onto my wrists and some powder onto my cheeks, and there I was, a five-year-old femme fatale.
Everything changed for me during adolescence, when my body began to blossom. Boys started to notice me and I didn't like that one bit. For in addition to noticing my body, boys and men made it clear that my body was something they wanted. Somehow I had to make it just as clear that my body was not something I intended to give away. I did that by making myself as unfeminine as possible. I wore baggy jeans and shapeless sweaters or t-shirts. I did not use makeup or wear jewelry. My hair had no style at all and was in my face so much that, when I wore my tortoiseshell glasses, I looked like Cousin It of the Addams Family.
This fashion-free phase lasted through the early days of my lesbianism (I came out when I was twenty-seven). I looked like your basic dyke--jeans, t-shirt, sneakers--the only difference being that I had long hair, which I cut immediately. Then I cried for an entire year while I waited for it to grow back.
About this time, I went to a lesbian party and saw her, my first butch.
I kept staring at this woman across the room from me, who was wearing white jeans, a black shirt, a man's white jacket and a white tie. Needless to say, her hair was quite short (and perfectly combed). I kept thinking, what is a man doing at a lesbian party? And even though I was at that party to find a girlfriend, I couldn't take my eyes off this person who I thought was of the male persuasion. Finally the butch took her jacket off and I saw that she had breasts. Then I really couldn't look away.
But I still didn't realize that I was a femme, feeling an intense sexual attraction for a butch. I thought she was the ultimate lesbian and that I should try to look like her as much as possible. Of course this didn't work: I looked ridiculous in a man's jacket and tie. A femme trying to look like a butch is just that: a femme trying to look like a butch. When I finally realized that I didn't want to be a butch, I wanted to sleep with a butch, a whole new world opened up before my eyes......
©1995 Lesléa Newman