The Invisible Femme
One of my all-time favorite books, as a kid was The Invisible Man by HG Wells. I think many of us had it integrated into our curriculums at some point during our schooling on the resented Summer reading list. Go figure, it took me until the seventieth grade to realize why this title resonated so well with me. If you read between the lines of this story you will see it is a covert queer femme of color’s manifesto!
The main character’s plight deeply resembles my life story because he existed in a world where the love he showed would always be unrequited in some ways. He, I mean she existed between two realities, the seen and the unseen. From my experience, the parallel of these sentiments for the queer femme is derived from the gray area between the gay and straight communities and the heteronormality that is pervasive in both.
In the story the character could see his surroundings, but his invisibility wouldn’t allow the world to fully observe him. As a QWOC and self-identified “femme zaddy” (it’s catching on I swear) exclusively attracted to other femmes.... I feel him! In the queer and majority community I often feel ignored and seen as less than whole until I am standing beside a masculine identified partner or person. Since this fairy tale ending or narrative is not what I envision for my future, I fear I’ll always be unseen. A glamorous ghost of sorts that people fear or look past because they do not understand them or their existence.
Last I checked, the queer identity has always been made up of a diversified spectrum. In fact, some may remember a rainbow or two being put out as a worldwide symbol at some point to showcase said differences.
However, it seems there are norms and unspoken rules even in the counterculture. Some of us (especially those in lipstick) are off the spectrum in an area that is unseen by the naked eye. Since “queer” is not presumed by our daily costumes, we are either excluded within our community, or assumed to be straight.
I will be pulling quotes from the legendary novel, The Invisible Man and interpret how it relates to realities for the modern day queer invisible femme. So, put on your best black lipstick, chap stick, or just purse them together in solidarity and let’s bring awareness to this ish!
“Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
First, I want to talk about Femme Power because it exists!
Although invisibility has historically been regarded as a superpower to some characters in comics (looking at you Superwoman), invisibility in real life can be less than desirable in inopportune moments.
Yes, there is inherent privilege and power in having the ability to “pass” which I fully acknowledge and understand. Given this, it is my duty to stand and advocate for those who may not have such privileges like some of my trans sisters or androgynous community. I am afforded the opportunity to walk into any space with little to no makeup on and appear to be cishet. My femininity is an unintentional disguise.
This “passing ability” or “pretty privilege” can afford opportunities for employment, worship and flying under the radar without receiving backlash. You have the chance to come out at your discretion.
But what happens when the costume can’t be taken off?
On the other hand, (of this side of the patriarchy palm) identities are stripped away every time I enter a new crowd and labels are placed on you before you can mention your name. Femininity welcomes the unwanted praise of cat calling in queer and straight populations alike. The closet also becomes a revolving door when you leave it in a skirt, lip and heel. You must constantly out yourself for your identity markers to be honored. This is because your sexuality is not obvious to folks upon first meeting. Spoiler alert: that’s just reality for everyone and their gender identities and it can be exhausting, especially when there is a Q&A to follow. This manifests itself when people are bombarding you with questions, validating yourself constantly and having to correct other’s preconceived notions.
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Now, I love us! I am rooting for everybody black, especially if they are down with the rainbow crew too! Let’s get real though, at times in the queer community of color, we can find ourselves heavily policing one another. To the point where we reinvent or mirror the oppressive systems we were trying so desperately to escape from. Let us remember the femme-stud dynamic simply does not serve as the archetype for every queer relationship. You can find ways to balance both feminine and masculine energies, and probably already do in unintentional ways! I like to joke that my own very cis very straight parents, showed me the cookie cutter queer way I wanted to exist. At times my mother made more money and supported us, and my father is an incredible seamstress. The point being, gender roles (even in their most traditional sense) often switch, and that’s the beauty of the balancing act we call love. I refuse to be confined to a single role that I am required to play with a partner. I just want to be what we need and welcome flexibility. We do not have a blueprint. We are all women reinventing everything.
My stance on this issue has at time warranted backlash and I believe it is because we are still trying to fulfill roles that were not designed for us. Having a heteronormative relationship will not save you from homophobia. No, shade to those that do like Zaddys, mommies, stems, tops, bottoms or both. Let’s respect and honor the fact that everyone’s relationship goals do not look the same. Let’s open our minds to femme for femme and masc for masc relationship dynamics—at the end of the day if you can find love in this world, it’s beautiful!
“I remember that I'm invisible and walk softly so as not awake the sleeping ones. Sometimes it is best not to awaken them; there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
The harsh reality is a femme can be on a date with another femme and the world will not acknowledge it because their styles are similar and I find that to be a problem within our society. This can cause violation and unintentional disrespect when males or masculine of center persons approach the “group” to insert themselves. This has been my lived experience, whether I was in a queer club or ordinary bar. Once the perpetrator was made aware of the situation, pursuits continued with heightened fascination.
The objectification of femme on femme love for others consumption is real. If you don’t believe me, open another tab on your computer and type in a site that rhymes with horn pub! (Don’t really do this because you’ll be welcoming viruses onto your MacBook). This happens so much sometimes it can be easier to stay silent and politely decline. The logic being it is better to be assumed friends because then my partner and I do not have to spend our quality time justifying our existence to strangers.
“I was pulled this way and that for longer than I can remember. And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone's way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So, after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
After years of feeling like the black sheep, not straight enough for the “haters”, nor the right kind of queer for the “gays”, too white for the blacks and too black for the whites. I decided I was a perfectly poised walking contradiction that need not explain anything to anyone. Or try to assimilate to cultures that were mere fractions of who I was. I was a mixture of all those things and the epitome of beauty because of it. The moment I stopped waiting on the world’s validation I noticed a shift, something you could undeniably see! I am now unapologetic about refusing to internalize other people’s opinions about who I should be or should be with!
Also increased visibility of women of color in femme for femme relationships in pop culture helps normalize our army’s existence thanks Tessa Thompson and Janelle Monae.
My presence is a present. That is too big for boxes and my love is undefinable which is why I began identifying as queer in the first place. Truth is my dream relationship is to cultivate something no one else can see, visible only to my life partner and I because we share a unique bond that grounds us in everything we need to take on this world.
After all, maybe it was the world I needed to close my eyes to, so that I could just focus on being me.
Reframe your vision and choose to see the concealed or what the gendered globe didn’t teach.
Let’s all collectively broaden our perspective, because femmes are too fierce not to recognize, especially when there is two of them.
No it’s not double vision, you can just finally see clearly.
Love is love.
Xo your residential femme zaddy