What, Why and How – Inspiration and Enlightenment from FtF: Female to Femme

What, Why and How – Inspiration and Enlightenment from FtF: Female to Femme

FtF: Female to Femme (2006) is a documentary exploring femme-lesbian identity. In the world of queer, femmes – not female masculinities – is almost unknown to the public. By filming femmes in this documentary, FtF can denaturalize gender and proclaim to everyone that the understanding of femininity can be multiple and fluid. Colourful, sexy and funny femmes were filmed in different moving plots so as to construct an impression and politics central to the gender revolution.

From the film of FtF: Female to Femme, what inspiration can we get? By question-and-answering “What”, “Why” and “How”, the following will be an introduction and analysis to the world of FtF: Female to Femme. From now on, let’s continue to read to dive together into the world of Femme-lesbians.

What does FtF mean?

From the film FtF: Female to Femme, we can understand more what the movement of FtF means. It refers to the deconstruction of what society expected on lesbians, particularly on femmes (lesbians with possession of femininity who love butches). According to Jewelle Gomez, the writer and activist, in the interview of film:

“The feminist movement allowed women to deconstruct what it meant to be a female and throw away things that seem superfluous or oppressive and that were part of the containers. And feminism took the top of the container and help women climb out of it …… Lesbian feminists really deconstructed it further by saying not only if there is not who women have to be, it is not women really are.”

Feminists believed that the deconstruction is a kind of remediation to the misunderstanding of society. Consider the discourse in the film of Elizabeth Stark, the writer, director and performer.

“FtF as a transition is about remedying those misunderstanding. But after a series of revolutions, it is about understanding (that) there are many levels to that remedying of those social misunderstanding. And I think one of the powerful things that femmes (FtF) bring to the gender revolution is an existence that the remedy is gonna happen not only on our bodies, but also in a way that people interpret our bodies and gonna happen in relationship, in interaction ……”

As the society adopts a male gaze in expectation to women, women were oppressed and forced to fit in the standard of the patriarchy. In this way, feminists believed their own bodies are misinterpreted and thus proclaiming that “women are not really women”. Thus, FtF becomes a movement by the lesbian-feminists to deconstruct the patriarchal expectation upon women and reconstruct a new discourse by means of this “Gender Revolution”. In the ideal case, femininity can go against the society and violate the expectations without being oppressed. Different interviewees gave response to how they think of the reconstructed femininity: new women will not feel helpless; be a strong femme; be proud of their perfect bodies no matter if they have big breasts or others; believe they are sexy, beautiful and perfect even though they are fat.

Why is this movement particularly concern femme?

However, we may ask why this movement particularly focuses on and is led by femmes among the lesbians? Indeed, the movement of FtF is an Identity Politics. Identity, referring to Gaby Sandoval’s article – “Passing Loqueria”, is derived from borders. “Borders mark distinctions” (Sandoval, pp.170-171). It means that the people within the same borders who possessing the same distinction will form a community which marks their existence as well as the difference between others and themselves (Harris and Crocker, pp.93-94).

When it comes to female sexuality, in the eyes of society, heterosexual women will be referred to the feminine ladies while the first thought of society towards the homosexual women will only be the “butches”, although it is understandable as butches are so distinct and different from the “normal” femininity. However, where can we find the femme-lesbians? In the interview of Heather Findlay’s passage – “Fishes in a pond”, Jewelle Gomez described that femmes are accepted because they can pass as straight (Findlay, p.146).

Though femmes can pass and be hidden in the society, it does not mean that they can escape from any kind of oppression. As society prescribed them as women with no difference to “normal” females, it is an unnamable oppression posted by society upon femmes. This is why Jewelle Gomez mentioned that “we don’t have the proper language to describe how femme oppression happens”. Femmes have to deal with more sexual and men’s presumptions that femmes are heterosexual and therefore available (Findlay, p.146). Consider Elizabeth Stark’s speech in the film. “People look at me and they do not know who I am because what I look like on the outside”.

Apart from that, femme-lesbians also have a need to mark their distinction against the other lesbians (women-love-women). Katherine Millersdaughter thinks that society will consider lesbians and femmes the same due to their same feminine body (Millersdaughter, pp.120-121, 123). Thus, lesbian-feminism is regarded as a threat to femme-lesbians as the former blocked the visibility of the latter (Harris and Crocker, p.94).

In this sense, it showed that in the society, heterosexual females exist. And even the existence of butches is recognized, though degradedly. But how about the femme lesbians? Oppressed by the heteronormativity and patriarchy, they are mixed and hidden in the pool of homosexual females as if they do not exist. They are different and should be regarded as different from others women. It drives femmes to speak up and mark their distinction against other communities. Thus, the movement of FtF particularly focuses on and is led by femme-lesbians in order to say their distinction out loud and mark their existence against the oppression of society (Harris and Crocker, p.94).

How to avoid disappearing? or How to complete Gender Revolution?

As mentioned above, the obvious way to avoid disappearing is to “say it out loud”. By this method, the existence of femme can be recognized. Femme-lesbians should tell of their difference against heterosexual females and other homosexual females. Femme can at least stand still without being hidden in and oppressed by society.

The collectivity of femme is of great importance as well. Not only can it prove their existence, but also allow them to fight back or remedy the cultural misunderstanding of society. Elizabeth Stark also mentioned collectivity of femme in the film. She said that by parades or other collective activities, femme can create a space for them and form a community in society.

Apart from that, different lesbians and feminists can join hand-in-hand to lead the gender revolution. Lesbian-feminists and butch-femme communities can cooperate in the development of feminism movement. This can help increase the visibility of the whole lesbians and allow them to fight for their “dis-and-reconstruction” of gender.

To conclude, FtF is a feminist movement focusing on and led by femme. They ask and fight for the true interpretation of femininity, abandoning the societal expectation of male gaze. By proclaiming their existence loud, closely staying together and working hand-in-hand with other lesbians, femme can finally overthrow the rigid social system and head to the goal of gender revolution.

1. Elizabeth Stark and Kami Chrisholm directed, FtF: Female to Femme (2006).

1. Gaby Sandoval, Passing Loqueria, in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 170-174.

2. Heather Findlay, Fishes in the Pond – an Interview with Jewelle Gomez, in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp.145-159.

3. Katherine Millersdaughter, A Coincidence of Lipstick and Self-revelation, in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp.119-130.

4. Laura Harris and Liz Crocker, Bad Girls – Sex, Class and Feminist Agency, in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp.93-102.

One thought on “What, Why and How – Inspiration and Enlightenment from FtF: Female to Femme

  1. channabach

    You do a great job explaining the relationship between femme and feminism, providing filmic evidence from specific scenes to support your claims. This makes your analysis well supported and compelling.

    I’m curious about the passing remark about lesbian feminism’s relationship to femme identities. Flesh this out more. You write that “lesbian-feminism is regarded as a threat to femme-lesbians as the former blocked the visibility of the latter.” How did this work? What is the historical and cultural context for this friction (when and where did it arise, and why)? How might this friction be worked through, or acknowledged beyond pathologization? Several of the film interviewees start to approach this question (particularly Gomez), and it might be interesting to spend some time tracing some of the debates here to see how it might be possible to move forward.

    And I’ll also ask you the same thing I asked of the other people in your group because you wrote about similar topics: I’m also curious what you make of the historical and cultural specificity of the variations of femme presented in the film and readings, especially as they are demarcated by race, class, and dis/ability. How, for example, does Gomez’s critique of the whiteness of certain queer cultures resonate with Bañales’s critique of class shame and bourgeois gender? How is the familial sexual violence articulated by Millersdaughter intertwined with (but not identical as) the colonial sexual violence critiqued by the Femme Shark Collective?

    Check the MLA style guide links on the Policies and Writing page for how to cite sources in both your parenthetical citations and works cited list. Works cited entries should be alphabetized by author’s last name, and include the information necessary for a MLA-formatted book chapter entry.

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