When announcing this project, dapperQ’s owner Anita Dolce Vita, shared, “I began to notice that queer fashion media, designs, and conversations that celebrated masculinity were proliferating at the expense of femme visibility.” Anita, who is a femme herself, stated that she is not shifting dapperQ’s focus, but rather carving out a much needed space for femmes as part of their inclusive programming.
Since its launch, Hi Femme! has spurred love and thanks from many corners of the queer community. But for some, the mere presence of femmes in what they perceived to be a boys' club is drawing up fragile masculinity. As holders of queer spaces, we are not immune to femmephobic remarks. When Qwear took steps towards being inclusive through working with Fit For a Femme over 3 years ago we got a lot messages claiming that femmes didn't deserve a place at the table.
The Hi Femme! project is now getting similar feedback, and I'm saddened that the climate hasn't changed since then.
Take for example, this facebook comment, which was posted on Hi Femme!'s latest feature of Chaka Bachmann (and later deleted:)
The note reads: "Just out of Curiosity, has dapperQ's focus officially shifted from butch fashion to femme topics? I used to read the website religiously but I haven't seen a single article about anything pertaining to butch fashion in at least a month now, barring the reposting of Rain Dove's TomboyX commercial, and I check pretty religiously. I always directed fellow butches looking for fashion ideas and suggestions of where to find clothes that fit and look good to DapperQ, but if an editorial decision has been made to move away from that and focus primarily on femme fashion, I'd to know so I can suggest more appropriate websites when people ask (and stop feeling faintly disappointed every time I look to see whether a new article has posted)."
No matter how politely it's masked, the message and others like it is clear: These MOC/dapper/butch individuals feel so threatened by femme inclusion that they would rather find another boys' club than share their space. Messages like these hold an ultimatum: keep up the femme inclusion and lose me and my friends as readers. And therein lies the fragile masculinity: Masculinity which relies on power over women to thrive.
Update 3.6.17 3:30PM EST: We've received requests to include more screenshots of the conversation that transpired after dapperQ responded to this question. I don't want to make this all about one instance, as it is a community problem and this is just one example — nor do I believe we need more proof as to the femmephobia evident in the original statement. But due to reader request, I've included the rest of the conversation. Click on the plus sign below to expand. Trigger warning: trans erasure up ahead!
The two screenshots below show that dapperQ answered succinctly and respectfully but the commenters (1) still felt the need to take up femme space and center the conversation around masculinity and (2) have a gross misunderstanding of the differences between identity, presentation, and expression. They wanted femmes of color to do the labor of educating them in what was supposed to be a femme space. Said femmes still attempted to educate them and even referred them to bklyn boihood for resources. Yet they kept on going, saying that that all femmes are cis and all femmes have it easier than masculine folk.
Unfortunately, the orginal commenter deleted their comment, so I only have partial images to share that some folks grabbed before it was removed.
This screenshot shows dapperQ's response to the orginal posting from Anon 1.
dapperQ: No, it hasn't. We've just become more inclusive of a wider variety of queer style and dismnatling harmful erasure of femmes.
Anon 1: And there hasn't been a single article about butch issues or butch fashion worthy of publication (that wasn't a repost of a commercial - a good commercial, but still not original material) in more than a month? I mean, Saint Harridan, a major, groundbre...[rest of comment is hidden]
Anon 2: I'm femme, but I would posit that, at least in wider society, butches are plenty erased, ignored, depicted as unattractive or unworthy of attention, etc. It's not femmephobic for a specific website to choose to focus particularly on butch fashion and culture.
The Defiant Femme: Hm, very peculiar positions, I have to say. So let me get this straight: A site that pre-dominantly is dedicated to celebrate MOC style is erasing now butch and MOC women by also featuring every now and again a Femme. Hm, I am not sure if I really can... [rest of comment is hidden]
Anon 2: Nah, femmes are an oppressed group, but we are not oppressed in the same ways butch women are, because we are cisgender. Misogyny and transphobia are two different things. We're all oppressed. We're oppressed in different ways.
Anon 2: But seriously, toxic masculinity is a really, really loaded term to use in regard to someone who is genderqueer.
dapperQ: Also, intersectionality. Masculine privilege is real. White privilege is real. If you need rsources in how these are reproduced in the queer community I refer you to the work of bklyn boihood. You can be oppressed and still oppress others. Did we not learn anything from the 53%? #listentoblackwomen
The Defiant Femme: You know that not all Femmes of cis and not all Femmes are Women right? I think we have to be careful [not] to generalize out of our own privilege. Just to clarify that.
dapperQ: No, it's not. Because masculinity is a construct and toxic components of it are consistently reproduced in our community over and over and over. Refer to bklyn boihood please
This type of behavior by masculine individuals upholds violence towards women. Anthony Williams, a sociology major at UC Berkeley and founder of the #MasculinitySoFragile hashtag told The NY Times, “When you challenge masculinity, it hits a nerve. It makes some men nervous. But violence against women is a result of the fragility of masculinity. A woman can say ‘no’ to a man on a date, and she could end up dead."
As a MOC queer and femme ally, all I can say is that femmes are ALWAYS welcome. Femmes are more than welcome. Femmes make our world go round. Femmes make our community strong. Comments like this are hateful and dangerous, and have no place in the queer community.
Now first let me point out: femmes have always been a part of dapperQ. For the 6+ years that Anita, a femme of color, was running dapperQ, no one seemed to have a problem enjoying the fruit of her labor. Femmes have also made many appearances in "A Dapper Wedding" editorials. No one complained when femmes were featured in articles along with their partners, but when femmes are given their own platform, people are suddenly up in arms. To accept femmes into our space as partners but not as people who deserve their own features sends a strong message to the femme community about the value we place on them.
Femmes are not accessories.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t welcome femmes into your lives as partners, friends, and activists, and then deny them space to celebrate femme identity. Enjoying the labor of femmes and not allowing them space to thrive is sexism, plain and simple.
Femmes are routinely cast aside in the queer community. Many of my femme friends told me that they’d enter queer spaces only to get asked why they were there. For femmes, projects like these are essential to their liberation. I got the chance to catch up with femme Jaime Marie Estrada, who shared why Hi Femme! is so important to her:
HiFemme! has been a space I’ve been seeking since I came out. If HiFemme! had existed in 2010-2011 when I was grappling with my bisexuality / queerness, it would have done for me then what it does now, it reminds me that there’s more than one way to be “queer.” I do not have to dress in a stereotypically “lesbian” way to be attractive, to be noticed, to be sexual, to be interested in cis-women, transfolks, queer people, gender non-conforming folks, etc. When I was in college at Smith College—just five years ago!—masculine-presenting folks were still upheld as the BDOCs, or Big Dykes on Campus, and femme folks, androgynous folks, and straight-up questioning folks were rendered invisible at our parties, at our events, and in our cultural imagination.
When I stumbled on Qwear and dapperQ again in my mid-twenties, it was because someone I was sleeping with had been featured on one of dapperQ’s hot 100 lists. Femmes have for such a long time been relegated to being the toys of, the partners of, the arm candy of, the side chicks of, and the cultural laborers of, our community. When I saw her featured (and had to hear an endless stream of excitement from her about all the clout it would bring), I immediately sought out a discussion with the founders of dapperQ and Qwear about bringing to center more femme presentations.
The result, seemingly, has been HiFemme!, and unsurprisingly, our community continues to fly the flag of femmephobia proudly and loudly. The HiFemme! posts get less likes, less shares, and less visibility on all the social media platforms. If it was just that, I would understand as we still need time to build an audience. But it’s not just that, we also get inundated with violent comments reducing the founder of dapperQ to a sex object when she posts selfies with the hashtag #femmesofcolorvisibilty, we get emails, comments on FB, and queries asking if masculine-of-center features are going away.
All of this action tells me we need MORE femme visibility than ever. We need more femmes speaking out, we need more masculine of center folks stepping up for us, we need to combat this illness in our community. Our adjacency to passing privilege doesn’t mean our survival is guaranteed, it doesn’t make our work easier, and it doesn’t make us less queer. HiFemme! is here to stay and I hope you’re here to listen.
The rapey comment on Anita Dolce Vita's photo that Jaime referenced provides another example of how femmes are not safe from objectification and harassment in the queer community:
*Trigger warning - rapey language ahead:*
The comment reads: "Not to be rude or come off wrong but I'll put my pussy on those lips. I'm just a straight forward type women. Wit no filter. Like I said not to be rude but truthful your beautiful."
Comments like these aren't easy to forget. I face my own set of struggles due to being transmasculine, but I never feel the direct threat of sexual assault the way I did before I came out.
Anita has bravely kept the comment up as a reminder of the rampant mysogyny in our community. "As much as it is a painful reminder of the daily harassment and sexual aggression directed at me," She writes, "I'm leaving @troi_jack_sun comment up as an example of how misogyny is replicated in our community. It will stand as a reminder that femmes and feminine presenting people are a target to matter where we are on this earth and the attacks come whether we are mourning, celebrating, with our families on our way to work, and no matter what we wear. It's scary and I'm tired fam."
Ironically, the poster has still not apologized and continues to compliment on Anita's lips.
Male privilege means never having to apologize.
Some MOC folk seem to live under the falsity that being femme is somehow easier, and they use this reasoning to continue oppressing femmes. But being femme is not easier. Chaka Bachmann of The Defiant Femme says:
“In general, people assume that for Femmes it is easier, because hey, there are so many straight feminine people on the runway, so shouldn’t that be sufficient? The answer is simply no! No, it is not sufficient. We do not feel part of an industry that reproduces oppression, that polices bodies in all its aspects, that is not queer nor subversive or critical, that appropriates and dismisses as it sees fit – or as the capitalist maximise-profit-equation dictates and that produces its goods in a way that pushes local and global inequality forward.” (from dapperQ.)
Until femmes have endless spaces to express themselves free of judgement, we must uplift femme voices and show solidarity. Femmes have always had our backs, so it's about time we have theirs. No amount of femme celebration will ever take away from our MOC identity. Celebration just doesn't work like that. Femininity only detracts from MOC spaces if MOC are relying on power and the submissiion of femmes to uphold their masculine identities.
And here’s another thing: There is no hard line between masculine and feminine presentations. I know plenty of people who are MOC and like to wear dresses. Clothing is expressive and can take on different meanings. Men used to wear heels, for Christ's sake! In the Wodaabe tribe of Northern Nigeria, south-western Niger, men traditionally wear make-up and dance for women in a yearly Flirtation Festival. In Scotland and Ireland, kilts are part of traditional men's attire. So if a person were to submit a photo to dapperQ who considered themselves a part of that audience but didn't fit what we think of as masculine, I know Anita would respect the hell out of that. And I sure hope other dapperQs would embrace them too.
If we continue to divide ourselves, our community will never be free from oppression. In the queer spaces of which I am a part, everyone is always welcome. The only thing not welcome is bigotry.
Cover photo: I'm Not Sorry About Your Fragile Masculinity Iron On Patch. Pick yours up here and support feminist artists!
Note: This article was updated 3.6.17 for clarity
As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.