If you haven’t heard, Outside the Boxes – Celebrating the Queer Body Erotic is coming. Someone who cares about me more than I can really comprehend, and who apparently likes to take risks on my behalf, is paying for my workshop fee. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. It’s a ten hour drive, which is not bad at all, and I’ll be visiting a friend in Alexandria, VA on my way in, and increasing the number of states I’ve been to by three! I’m still figuring out housing (hey, pipe up if you’ve got a suggestion!), but I’ll sleep in my car if I have to. This work is so important to me. Unlike the other two workshops, I’ll be entering the circle among queer and gender non-conforming people, which Sinclair confirms will include femmes! Of course it does. Of course.

Sometimes I feel a kind of survivor’s guilt – let’s call it passer’s guilt – when it comes to claiming to have a queered gender. How dare I call myself a gender non-conforming person when, to most people, I’m just a feminine woman? How dare I call femme a trans identity when I am not subject to the same horrific kind of discrimination and violence as “visible” trans-spectrum people are? Obviously these guilt feelings contradict a lot of what’s been said by me and by others about being femme.

Femmes are often totally misunderstood in both queer space and straight space…everybody’s femme is really different.

Ain’t that the truth. Honestly, sometimes (like right now) I don’t even understand myself. Other times, though, I’m absolutely sure. Is femme queer because it jiggles all the dust and bullshit out of mainstream heterosexual femininity and then dunks it in a glitter bath? Maybe. But you know, all that glitters isn’t femme, and femme doesn’t always glitter. Sometimes the pixie dust under your fingernails is combined with dirt and tears, and that’s OK. It has to be OK. Because that’s part of who we are as femmes.

Femme isn’t just in the mind. It begins in the mind, but gender presentation is comprised of both how you feel on the inside and how you appear to others – how you are read. It has to do with your demeanor, your way of speaking, and your body language. Femme is feminine, but. but. but there’s a catch. A twist. A kink. You might say that femme does things polite, complicit ladies don’t do. Sure, there are daring, badass straight women. Absolutely. Still, femme is not that. Even after these past several years of trying to really describe femme, to understand it enough that I could explain it to non-queer folk, I still can’t put my finger on it. Femme is not afraid of “too much” and laughs at fences that try to pen her in. She’ll climb right over, tearing her skirt and scraping her elbow on the barbs. As she jumps down to the rocky ground beneath her, she brushes herself off, puts her hands on her hips and smiles before carrying on exploring all that there is to be and see and do in this big world of ours.

I have some things to work on before entering the circle again. Somehow, I need to figure out how to leave “enough” at the door. When I find myself in a room full of femmes, I start feeling really inadequate about all sorts of things. I’m too shy. I enjoy getting dolled up, but I don’t make it a priority so it rarely happens. I didn’t wear makeup today, my shoes are old, I trip over my own feet. I don’t have a speech problem, but I do speak very slowly, carefully evaluating each word as it comes out and sometimes people think I’ve mumbled or stopped talking. Really, I’m just pausing to make sure the sentence I was jut in the middle of crafting is still sounding how I wanted it to sound, working on what I’ll say next. That leads to me thinking that I have nothing of value to say. If I’ve let myself get this far into self-doubt, my body image pipes up and says something about the padding on my arms and belly and starts to look for someone who could conceivably be less pretty than me. Hopefully I can get a grip by that point, but if not, my mind slips down a slope of “What if they’re all just pretending to be friendly, and I’m completely blind to the fact that they all wish I wasn’t here?”

That’s not entirely fair. It’s not just when I’m around femmes, but my tendency toward being overly self-critical does feel amplified when I am surrounded by the community I most identify with. So, whether I’m feeling confident or not when the time comes, I’m going to try my best to leave my inadequacy and self-doubt at home. Someday maybe I’ll be able to relinquish it forever.

Remind me to explain to you why I need lots of verbal affirmation, and that I’m not just fishing for compliments.