25 May 2002

Lesbian Butch-Femme Relationships

Dear Rachel:

My question concerns the Butch/Femme relationship. I have always considered myself femme/feminine, but I don’t know if this is really all there is to being femme in a butch/femme relationship. In the past my girlfriends have been either other femmes or more androgynous, but I am in the process of starting a relationship with a butch. She has very clear expectations as to how a femme should behave, and seems to assume that I should already know them (because I say I am femme). Help! I want this relationship to work, but I feel as though I don’t know the ground rules for this kind of relationship. What should I do?

Équipe -Pose ta question!-


Dear Femme-in-training:

First of all, though I may be in the minority, I don’t believe that anyone, butch, femme or however you identify, “has” to act a certain way in order to be a member of the club. I believe that identity is both personal and communal, so that in identifying as a femme you are making a statement about yourself, while also aligning yourself with other femmes. Therefore, I don’t know that I can give you specific ground rules or guidelines because I don’t know what is your girlfriend has in mind.

Do yourself a favor and check out Shar Rednour’s The Femme’s Guide to the Universe, which I consider the Femme Bible. Shar gives the low down on all things femme and starts out by telling her readers how she collected her “femme power.” I think this is a really important concept, because your femme identity comes from you, not from your lover or outside expectations. Yes, butch and femme identities have a long and rich history, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to tell you how to behave (and this goes for everyone, butch, femme or other!).

You should both talk to each other as much as possible about your roles and expectations of each other as people, rather than rely on the categories of “butch” and “femme” to dictate your behavior. Her assumptions come from her lifelong experience of a certain butch/femme aesthetic, which you may or may not share, and you will have to figure out whether those parts of femme-ness fit in with your life or not. She is not necessarily wrong to hold those beliefs, but if for her they are intractable, you might just have to find yourself a more open-minded girlfriend who will appreciate you for your full power and fabulousness.

If it’s a matter of you wanting to learn more about her views on how a femme should behave, you can tell her that you are willing to listen and learn but always reserve the right to make your own choices and decisions based on what works for you. Bottom line is that you both need to communicate about what you want and expect from each other and the relationship, and to have a game plan for when your expectations differ.

Otherwise, you will both be continually disappointed in each other and confused about what’s happening between you. It sounds as if there is potential for the makings of a great relationship here and that’s wonderful, but don’t let your girlfriend dictate how you should behave just because you feel like she has more experience than you in butch/femme relationships. Go with your instincts, keep your mind open and listen to where she’s coming from, but be sure to speak your mind and assess for yourself what you feel comfortable with and what works for you.

Adapted from ‘Tight-Spots: Femme in Training’ – a question and answer column found on www.Lesbianation.com