About Words

Friday night I made dinner and Tavi sat at the table and read aloud an article about the definition of Femme.

Pause to appreciate the surprising domesticity that adulthood has afforded us.

Pause to admire the rare skill some people have of recognizing defensiveness as stemming from a lack of education and instinctually applying a balm of knowledge.

Femme. The definitions she reads me are filled with gentle words (self care, lipstick, softness) that counter the hardness of other words (invisibility, assault, fear). And eye-rolling variations of “witchy” used to fill gaps and gloss over insecurities. Femme. I learn that it’s not just the counterpart to Butch anymore. Through the fug of recipes, dishes, whisking, and listening I wonder, if I was coming out now, would I identify as femme? I wonder, if I came out 60 years ago, would I identify as femme?

What happened to Butch?  I loved butch. I was never butch.

I’ve never been femme either. I didn’t have access to that word when I came out. Bisexual reigned supreme. Bicycle-sexual, no, don’t say that, maybe don’t say anything out loud, you’ll sound silly. Lesbian wasn’t much better, it sounded like a germ. Or mouthwash. In early 2000’s Michigan, queer was still an unopened umbrella, more popular for jabbing than shielding. Good old Merriam Webster wasn’t offering up any appealing definitions, and the family computer was much too exposed for Google soul searches.

It didn’t help that I’ve never been a joiner. Too stand-off-ish, really.  Which is a tough way of saying too shy.

It didn’t help that all of the lesbians I knew were ancient in khaki pants, sensible shoes, and long-term relationships.

It didn’t help that I re-entered the closet for a few years once my (ex)partner began presenting as male and my identity made his unsafe.

Lesbian. It’s an adult word, isn’t it? I tried it on many times, but couldn’t take a step without tripping over it until I was 23. What a relief to find it then, to put it on and feel how perfectly it fit. 

I wonder how newly-out 14 year olds feel about lesbian now. I am not much younger than those khaki’d lezzies of my childhood, and just as long-term and domesticated as they appeared. Femme is prettier. Dyke is retro-edgy. Is ol’ dinosaur lesbian clomping its sensible shoes towards extinct? This is what all the fighting was for- options and choices in definitions and labels. Equal rights for lesbians including the right not to identify as lesbian and still have your struggle acknowledged. The right, someday, not to have to struggle?