“For me, being femme means viewing vulnerability as a strength.” – M.
[Insert soundtrack of Hannah, gently weeping]
So what does it mean to me to be a femme?
When we ask ourselves this question, I think we are also asking the question: “what does it mean to be vulnerable?”
I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck.” I am reticent to excerpt this poem, as a full understanding can only come from the full text. But there is one particular stanza I would like to bring into focus:
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
This, I believe, is what we find when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with ourselves, and especially when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others.
Every story is a performance. Every narrative is a construction. Even (and especially) the ones we perform and construct for ourselves.
Vulnerability is the tired breath you take when you exit the stage.
As a kid, I told myself the story of a shy young girl who would one day be courted by a dashing young man. They were going to marry (and have sex, I guess, if they really really had to) and live happily ever after.
When I let go of this story, I did not let go of the thing itself. I let go of the myth. I did not let go of the part of me that sought deep, lasting love. I let go of the wreck waiting to happen. I let go of the voluntary wreckage of myself.
I allowed myself to float back to the surface, to be the diver and not the drowned, to be the explorer and not the explored.
When I did this, I was making a decision not to lie to myself anymore. Adrienne Rich tells us that lies are nothing more than an “attempt to make everything simpler.” And this is exactly what I had tried, and failed, to do. By lying to myself and to others about my sexuality, I was seeking a simpler version of myself – a version of myself that did not, in fact, exist. Because truth is not simple. And when we lose the truth of ourselves, Adrienne tells us, “we lose faith even with our own lives.”
So what does femme mean to me? Femme means having faith in my own life. Femme means being brave enough to get wet (pun very much intended) and dive into the deepest parts of myself. Femme means living a complicated, murky, inconvenient truth of myself. A truth that will never be complete. A truth that is certainly, and often, inconvenient to others.
It is inconvenient to wear my red high heels, to tie my grandmother’s pearls around my neck, to paint my lips red, and to fuck a woman. This is the thing, the very thing, that the myth of femininity does not wish to recognize.
If that myth does not wish to recognize me, then I must seek to recognize myself.
And I recognize myself as a woman.
And this is the thing itself. This is the unsimple truth.
I am a woman. Who loves women.
I am a woman, who loves.