Am I a "lazy femme" or not?: The elusive definition of femme

March 13 | Guest post by Chris Wolfgang
Lazy Femme Tee from TheBeatClothingCo

I found a T-shirt the other day on Etsy. It said "Lazy Femme," and something about it struck every chord in me. Yes. Yes, that's me. That shirt is mine.

The next morning, I got nervous. Did I understand what femme meant? Was I claiming something that wasn't mine after all? I looked it up, and the first definition I saw was "feminine lesbian." Oh, that definition was much narrower than I thought. I'd have to give the shirt to someone else. You see, I don't have a lot of answers about my own gender and sexuality, but I do know what I'm not.

But I kept scrolling and I saw this article from Bustle — What Does Femme Mean? The Difference Between Being Femme & Being Feminine — and this article from Autostraddle — What We Mean When We Say “Femme” — and I felt better.

Hey look! It's Chris on Instagram!

With so many different, wide, and varying definitions of femme, this is what settled into the nest of my heart: It is a messy word that somehow encompasses the appeal of winged eyeliner and red high heels, the traditional expectations thrust on womanhood throughout history, the caring, the emotional energy, the spirituality of an enormous heart, and it's wrapping all of that up in a big ball and handing it to the world.

"Here. You want this? Do you feel like this is your heart? Take it. Have it. This word is yours."

It doesn't matter what's in your pants or on your chest. It doesn't matter who you want to have sex with (or if you don't want to have sex with anyone). It doesn't matter what pronouns you favor.

Do you love to embody beauty (itself, a very wide word)? Here is a concept that might fit you: femme.

As I said, there's a lot I don't know about myself. But I know that I love my lipsticks and eyeliners and hair dye. I love cooking and hosting, and paying attention to what my friends need — whether that's a refill on their wine, or someone to divert the conversation now and ask a tactful question later. I love listening to what the world needs, with its diversity and its unheard history and its ever-changing vocabulary.

Of course, an intense makeup routine, and a dinner party for twenty people, and listening to the pain of the world all take it out of you. I personally can't pick all of that up and put it on every day. I will have days of sweatpants and no makeup and refusing to hang out while I cover my stained T-shirt in barbecue chip crumbs.

And I'll sit there and rest in the idea that Lazy Femme works for me.

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  1. Can't see the photo from IG.

    I get this, I range from jeans and tshirts, no make up and no effort hair, to fancy vintage look, full face make up, spent hours on my up-do, and those could be back to back days!

    1 agrees
  2. The word femme does originally come from lesbian culture! It has recently certainly been expanded to mean 'feminine queer person' which I think is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a femme lesbian myself I do believe it should not really be a word for cisgender heterosexuals. I don't know how you identify and am not saying you shouldn't be using this word or anything but I do really want to stress that femme doesn't just mean 'feminine person of any kind', it's a word for and from the lgbt community.

    17 agree
    • Thank you for this! I was just Googling "can you be femme and be straight?" I thought it was LGBT-only, but I wanted to be sure.

      • You make a great point, Shannon! In most contexts, I do see it being used to define an aspect of a queer/lgbtq identity, so I certainly don't disagree with your first comment at all.

    • I hear what you're saying, but I'm a little bit uncomfortable with saying that a word 'isn't for' a group of people. I'm queer myself, and agree that the word has a specific and important meaning in the lgbtq community, but as Cecile pointed out, words have many meanings.

      5 agree
  3. I've always had the femme definition thrust upon me bc I like makeup and fashion, but makeup and fashion can be masculine or androgynous, rather than "feminine". I enjoy gender bending fashion as Wells s pencil skirts and heels. Today, my undercut cropped bleach blonde hair is in a distinctly non-committal"femme" top-knot and I'm barefaced wearing a sweater and wingtips that both came from the Men's section. I don't feel femme today.

    But my real discomfort about being pushed into the femme-role of a butch/femme couple is the residual gender-role expectations that tend to fall on me because, "I'm the woman" (*RAGE*). I find myself leaning more heavily toward a maculine gender expression these days and I'm not sure it that's because it feels more authentic or it is to fight against those roles: "No, obviously I'm not going to carry our child, can't you see the shoes I'm wearing?"

    Regardless, I sure do love this sweater.

    3 agree
    • Yes! I came down here to say something similar. I'm not opposed to women identifying as butch or femme, but I'm deeply irked by the whole replication of heteronormativity in lesbian spaces.
      Being feminine or masculine is fine, but so is a more androgynous approach. Also, why is there such a pressure to date butch/femme? Doesn't this feel icky to anyone else? It drove me away from the gay bar scene in my last town. I got way too much pressure to "femme" up a little more and was only expected to date butch women. I guess I look tomboy but leaning femme… personally I think my gender identity is something closer to "hippie"– long hair, skirts, tattoos, but no make up or heels ever.
      Don't get me wrong, some butch women are really awesome, but so are some femme women. Why do we work so hard to break down the patriachy, then build these faux patriachal norms for lesbian women?
      I'm also not even mentioning how weird some women were when they found out I was bi/pansexual. I'm 31. It's not a phase… not unless the phase has been happening since I was 15.
      PS. I don't mean this to be an anti-lesbian rant. I've found amazing lesbian spaces in my new town. I'm just saying that we can do better. We don't need to replicate the binary.

      9 agree
  4. I am French and recently came across that word in the context you are talking about, and I have a problem with this particular use of the word. "Femme" is French for "woman". How can anyone say it only applies to trans women or lesbians or any other specific group? It's a translation. If you are a woman, you are "femme". I understand the need for specific words to categorize people out for a sense of belonging. But using a direct translation like that is kind of baffling. Can you imagine telling someone who was born or who identifies as a woman: "well no, sorry, you are not a woman"? It just doesn't feel right.

    11 agree
    • I agree with you. I'm also going to take a wild guess that the phrase "femme fatale" (a closer idea to Chris's of the word "femme") was around long before it was being applied to lesbians.

      2 agree
    • Strangely, my bilingual mind makes a difference in meaning between my native french femme (woman) and the queer english femme (lgbt type)? I never imagined them to mean the same thing, even if it's the same word. I even pronounce them different, my french femme is short and efficient and my english feeemmme is more drawn-out, kinda southern drawl type.

      I guess like you can be gay, happy, or gay, lgbt. My brain makes up the meaning from the context.

      (Totally unhelpful relating to the original article I know, but your comment made me think differently about language and that was pretty cool, thanks!)

      2 agree
    • Taking a direct translation of a general word from another language and using in English to mean a narrower category of that word, is a very common practice in North American English.

      Here's another example from French. In North American English, a "chaise" is "a reclining chair with a lengthened seat forming a leg rest", even though in French it's just "chair". We do this all the time. It's normal. It does not suggest that other chairs are not true chairs.

      5 agree
      • Actually the full name is chaise longue, which translates roughly to "long chair", differentiating it from all the other "chaises". I've never heard it called just a "chaise" before, but I suppose it makes sense when "chaise" is from another language and isn't used in English in any other context. But I've always thought of it as a direct translation of a specific thing, not using a general French word to mean a narrower category of that word in English.

        1 agrees
        • Yep, if you've ever ordered a "chai tea". It uses the same loan word pattern. "Chai" is just "tea" in a number of languages.

        • OMG my whole life I've been reading it as "chaise lounge" (which still kind of makes sense- a chair for lounging) but this makes so much sense!

          2 agree
    • Loan words are used differently in different cultures (I'm also known as Captain Obvious).

      You could wear this shirt in French-speaking contexts and the juxtaposition of the English "lazy" and French "femme" would be kinda funny to anyone and no indication of any LGBT affiliation (my own feminist ass would take it as a self-deprecative or sexist humor though).

      But this same shirt does have connotations in English that have been assigned to the original French word, and not acknowledging them would be ignorant/disrespectful. I've only come across English "femme "in LGBT contents, and it certainly does not back-translates as "any woman".

      Just think how we French use "gay" only for gay men. I've never came across French lesbians describing themselves as "gay", though it happens for English-speaking women (Ellen Page's beautiful coming-out springing to mind).

      The beauty of loan words and language 🙂

      4 agree
  5. I just like the idea that if someone resonates with you, even if it might not be the same as other's perceptions of the idea, you shouldn't have to worry about that. So much anxiety caused by that, when really it's just caused by people judging other people, and there's usually very little need for that.

    • It doesn't just ALSO mean that, that is the original meaning of the English word femme. The French word femme obviously just mean woman, but in English it means feminine lesbian primarily, and has recently also come to mean different kinds of queer feminine people like trans women, bi women, feminine non-binary people, etc.

      I understand that not everyone knows this and that is not a bad thing, it's a word that comes from a subculture that not everyone is familiar with, but please take it from this femme lesbian that my community is the root of this use of the word.

      To also reply to a previous comment, of course 'femme fatale' isn't anything to do with lesbian culture, that's just the French meaning of the word.

      2 agree
      • How do you know? If you're within a community, you'll know more about a word or concept's history within that community than an outsider. Which means you might not be aware of how other communities that you're not part of have used that word or idea. For example, I thought the asexual community came up with the idea of separate romantic and sexual attractions, but recently I read about a gay guy in the 1800s, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who had a term for people whose sexual and romantic attractions don't line up. And bisexuals have been discussing mismatched attractions for a long time as well.
        So my question is – how much have you researched the history of the word femme?

        5 agree

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