Don’t Look at Me, There’s Nothing to See (I’m Playing Femme)

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.


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Tomboy in Femme Clothing

I am cis-female. A cis-female who falls into tomboy territory (at times, possibly even crossing into butch territory). I was always more interesting in rescuing the damsels in distress than being rescued as a damsel in distress. And, as I’ve discussed before, when I have fantasies without pregnancy, I have a tendency to take on the “male” roles.

Aside from work (and certain special occasions), I generally stick to practical, plain clothing … which is associated with male behavior (females are expected to look nice when they go out, rather than wear the most practical thing).

However, at work, I deliberately dress as femme. I don’t wear makeup – I draw the line there – but I wear (short) heels, pantyhose, a skirt, a nice blouse, a scarf, and I tie up my hair.

My employer, by the way, does not pressure me to do this. I actually dress more femme than most of my female colleagues. Some of them have even told me, when they see the effort I put into my appearance, that I can lighten it up a bit.

However, to me, femme clothing gives me the freedom to be as tomboyish as I want at work. With femme clothing, I feel that, no matter how much of a tomboy I feel like that day, I can express it, because my femme clothing will balance out any excessively tomboyish behavior. If I wore the type of clothing I wear outside of work, I would feel less free to be myself at work. The femme clothing is a shield – with it, I feel safe, without it, I feel exposed.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking this – after all, American women are stereotyped in Taiwanese culture as being tomboyish, and when I show what a tomboy I am Taiwanese people often remark that it’s because I’m American (I don’t think it is, by the way). At the same time, I want to keep my job, and not just for economic reasons – if I lose my job, I also lose my residency, and could be forced to leave Taiwan. Thus, the femme clothing stays.

And, besides, wearing femme clothing is fun. It’s as if I’m disguising myself as a different person. Halloween year-round 😉