I’ve read the submissions to the recent carnival of aces about nonbinary people, and both Stormy’s submission, and an essay linked to the Thinking Asexual’s submission bring up the notion that many people consider sexually pleasing others / sexual objectification to be an essential part of being femme. Stormy says:
If femininity is supposed to be centered around pleasing a partner (usually men, but not always), then how can I even be considered femme? I’m always reading queer anthologies, blog posts, articles, and critiques trying desperately to find a gender journey I relate to. Every femme/non-binary narrative I find is saturated with the role that sexuality played in the writer’s gender. I look and look but never find someone like me. I often ask myself if I can exist as a femme without a fuck given about sexually pleasing others.
The Thinking Asexual says:
I realized recently that I’ve always felt the most sexy when I’m dressed up femme, and I associate that feeling of sexiness with being in someone else’s sexual gaze. On the other hand, when I’m dressed masculine and feeling masculine, I love the way I look and I do feel very good-looking, but the “sexiness” factor isn’t there in the same way. The admiring looks of strangers are toned down and less openly lustful, than they are when I’m provocatively femme.
Now, I am binary cis-female and tomboy. I’ve sometimes said that I am ‘occasionally venture into butch territory’ or something like that, but to me, ‘butch’ is something I might do, just as I sometimes do ‘femme’, whereas ‘tomboy’ is something I simply am.
However, when I have put on a ‘femme’ performance, I haven’t experienced intense sexual gaze the way that the Thinking Asexual (and many others) describe. I used to present as femme at work, yet never received concentrated sexual attention.
To me, the ‘sexually pleasing (masculine) people’ thing is just one aspect of being femme, and I always felt it was a disposable aspect. I was able to dress as what I think was a very femme way without being sexy.
I wore a clean, simple black skirt with black pantyhose and simple black shoes. These aren’t particularly pretty, but also not ugly – ugliness attracts attention.
My blouse was silver-lavender, and again, was nothing beautiful, but also visually non-offensive – great for smoothly sending the gaze any stray eyeballs to something else.
In a way, I made an equivalent of a hijab for using femininity to deflect instead of attract attraction.
I dressed this way partially because I don’t want sexual attention, thank you very much. I also tend to be loud, and can sometimes seem a bit forceful to people, so this ‘don’t mind me’ manner of dress helped soften the blow.
See, another aspect of ‘femme’ is making oneself silent and unnoticed. This is obviously just as rooted in patriarchy and sexism as sexual objectification of the ‘femme’. However, given that it’s there, it can be used to present as femme *without* sexually pleasing others.