Today, I am sharing the words of guest contributor Ash who is exploring a sense of identity as they navigate a queer identity that is often misunderstood both straight communities and LGBTQ+. As with each of these posts exploring identity, this might be something that you relate to or something you find challenging. We will be exploring different contributors' approaches to navigating their own understanding of identity with each of these posts.
Each guest piece will be shared with the intention of creating a safe space in which the contributor defines and uses labels that feel right to them. I encourage you to read Ash's story with an open heart and if you have an identity story to share, I would love to give it a home here. Drop me your idea via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I like to start articles and books with definitions. Years of academia have me partial to citations, despite my deep frustration with the bureaucracy and too-often-unacknowledged privilege of the whole system. So to start this article, which is heavily rooted in intersectional queer theory (as is basically every aspect of my life), I turned to Google to find a quick and relatively simple-to-understand definition of femme. Turns out Google doesn’t really know that answer too well, because the first page of links are almost all limited to “lipstick lesbians”*, which I am not. So, I will attempt to explain my own definition of femme, and hopefully that will help get us started.
At its core, femme is the complete opposite of toxic masculinity. It is an identity, a noun, an adjective, but also a verb in everyday life. To be femme is to queer (as in disrupt, as in challenge, as in unsettle, as in actively question) femininity. It is to embrace the soft, the kind, the emotional, the intuitive sides of ourselves, and to find power within those qualities rather than the weakness that toxic masculinity tries to convince us is inherent. It is to be vulnerable and to find the strength that comes from asking for help rather than allowing ourselves to be isolated. And - here’s the important part - femme has absolutely nothing to do with your gender identity, and doesn’t even have to be part of your gender presentation (although often it is). Your genitalia does not dictate your ability to identify as femme, and absolutely should not impact your ability to engage in femme-focused spaces.
Femme ≠ woman.
You can identify both as a woman and as femme, but the two are not interchangeable terms. For myself, I identify as a nonbinary* queer femme. This is just the context for what I want to talk about with you. It’s not the primary topic. However, it is important for framing everything we’re about to talk about.
I want to talk about softness. I want to talk about how learning to be soft in a world that sees soft as weak, as powerless, as lesser than, is so fucking courageous. It is also terrifying. Let’s not forget terrifying because when we are trying to break the mould, to fight against the system, there are rarely guidebooks to help us along the way. We’re so often swinging blindly in the dark, hoping to connect with our final target (which we have no real idea of anyway, we just know it’s vitally important to find).
So here’s the thing: I don’t know what softness is really supposed to look like. If you asked me “how do I get to soft?”, I wouldn’t know what the “right” or “easy” answer is. I have a sneaking suspicion that soft probably looks different to all of us to some degree or other. In our current world though, that’s so often isolated and focused on pitting us against one another, I truly deeply believe that learning how to find our soft is a radical form of resistance, and integral to our collective survival.
I love lists, and short paragraphs, and long run-on sentences that are missing punctuation so you forget to take a breath when you’re reading it until you get to the end and you realize you’re almost out of oxygen and then you make it to that final period and you suck in a huge gulp of air like it’s the most important thing in the world (because it sort of is), and you realize how that’s sort of how you talk in real life when you’re so passionate about something. So here’s a combination of all of the above, because I think probably it’s the best way of untangling the many definitions of soft that are floating around in my head.
Soft is kindness, is gentle, is community. Soft is also accountability and acknowledging when we fuck up and hurt one another, intentionally or unintentionally.
Soft is being able to say, “I’m sorry,” as much as it is about saying, “please help me.
Soft is saying, “I love you,” to everyone and everything we love, and erasing the idea that love is only one single definition or restricted solely to sexually romantic and/or familial scenarios (but also being totally OK with the vulnerability and beauty of those scenarios).
Soft is having multiple people we feel safe enough to have a panic attack around, and soft is also feeling stable enough in those relationships to articulate when we don’t have the capacity to offer that level of help in any particular moment. Soft is acknowledging that we can’t always help people, no matter how much we love them. It’s also acknowledging that the people we love aren’t beholden to helping us when we wish that they could, although it’s truly magical when they do.
Soft is listening to our bodies - feeding them, stretching them, watering them, cleaning them, letting them feel experiences deeply without getting stuck.
Soft is intuition and trusting our guts.
Soft is listening.
Soft is letting go of judgements and expectations.
Soft is accepting emotions as being valid always, even when they are the opposite response of what we want in a particular moment or when we know they are in reaction to past trauma rather than current experience.
Soft is necessary for survival.
Soft is necessary for our/my health.
Soft is essential for my definition of femme. It is the opposite of everything that toxic masculinity clings to, and is how I will fuck with the system every single day of my life, and is simultaneously the hardest and the most sustainable method of resistance I’ve ever known.
I don’t have all the answers, and probably if you give me a week I’ll have added seventeen more things to this list that I feel are just as important as everything here. Maybe even more important. Still, that’s part of being soft too: being ok with never having the final answer, and always being willing and open to learning. I hope we can learn together, or in tandem, or in some sort of weird symbiotic way, like how mushrooms talk to each other under the earth. Let me know if you want to be like a mushroom with me?"
*Editors note: In the interests of making some of these terms quickly accessible, I have chosen quick links for reference. However, there is always debate and interpretation and ultimately, the key here is an individual's right to self-identify. We will be hosting a live hangout about this exact topic at the start of May. More details to follow via my Patreon page.