Looking smart

(I enjoy “smart” as an adjective to describe an outfit. Also “handsome” for women.)

I’ve been thinking lately about the weirdly important role clothing plays in queer settings. Or any settings, for that matter. The more comfortable I get wearing men’s clothes (and let’s be honest here–how much of my wardrobe at this point isn’t from the men’s department, if not straight out of my father’s closet?) the more comfortable–excited, even–I am about dressing up for more professional or otherwise dressy occasions. I’m not yet at the point where I would wear a tie to a job interview, but I’m definitely past the point where I’d wear a skirt to one. (For what it’s worth, that ship sailed around ninth grade.) And I’m discovering that though it may get security called on me in a public restroom, my chosen fancy attire won’t actually cause too much confusion anywhere else. Just by way of an example, I recently wore a three piece suit (well, minus jacket, because it was warm- but tie and vest) out to dinner, and our waitress had no trouble identifying the Sig Fig and I as ladies.

But my newfound comfort with the dressiest of male clothing is causing a bit of consternation for the Sig Fig. See, she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing a tie. Her idea of a nice outfit doesn’t involve khakis and a button-up. So she’s increasingly worried that whatever she wears, she’s gonna look the femme on this butch’s arm.

Now, I’ll admit that it’s pretty hard for anyone (short of a man, I guess) to not look femmier than me when we’re out together. I’m not trying to swoop in as SuperButch here–it’s just the state of affairs. But does that automatically mean that other people read us as Butch and Femme?

While it’s true that in queer settings things like ties are becoming more fluid in terms of what they express for the wearer, by and large they still carry masculine connotations, and it often takes a lot of feminine accessories to cancel those out. Skirts and dresses are similarly well-established as feminine articles. So if you’re person who tends to think of people as butch and/or femme (I’ll admit to being one of those, though my personal preference for the butcher end of the spectrum means that I’m more likely to be gauging butchness), you’re likely to see a woman in a tie and a woman in a skirt as butch and femme, respectively.

But is it the same in non-queer spaces? If I’m out with the Sig Fig, are people thinking, “Whoa, there’s a butch and a femme?” Or are they distracted by my gender-variant dress enough just to think “Whoa, there’s a chick in a suit?” Do they look at us and simply think “Whoa, there’s a couplea dykes?”

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4 Responses to Looking smart

  1. alden says:

    i think if i didn’t know you, i’d think, ‘hey who’s that high-powered, wall street tycoon type of power broker?’ but then, i pretty much have that reaction to everyone wearing pants. and shoes. at the same time.

  2. mk's ladyfriend says:

    I think part of my deal with being read as A Butch And Her Femme is that people may assume that you and I carry out traditional gender roles wherein you are the Dude and I am the Lady.

    Maybe this concern stems from the time a GENDER STUDIES GRAD STUDENT said, “So, your girlfriend is like the man and you’re the woman in your relationship, right?” I pointed out that we were actually both women, and then she got that I’m-trying-to-imagine-how-you-bang look on her face. I know that there are a lot of ways to understand butch/femme relationships, but I feel like most people don’t stretch their brains beyond, “Okay, so which one plays the man’s role? Ah, a tie. I see now.” And we’re just so much more complex than that! I mean yeah, you wear a tie, but what the world doesn’t know is that behind the tie, you’re pretty much a tiny, sugar-covered bunny sitting on a doily next to some marzipan fruits, singing “I still want a hula hoop.” And I like that. A lot. I guess I don’t like the possibility that strangers might reduce our relationship to some simplistic pseudo-heterosexual role playing thing.

    I’m also just sort of insecure about my place on the butch/femme spectrum. I find butch ladies super hot (but you are of course the hottest) and I would like to feel super hot myself. But lo, I know that I just can’t pull off a tie, or even a jaunty cap. A lot of the not-wanting-to-be-labeled-femme is that my heart wears a tiny leather jacket.

  3. pandanose says:

    I didn’t say I was wearing pants and shoes simultaneously. (Though in the case in question, as it happens, I was.)

    Also, I would like to maintain that at no point have I ever wanted a hula hoop.

  4. Diane says:

    I’m very femme- love m dresses and all the things that go under them from corsets to my g/f. I also incorp. mens ties to my attire- but I like the funny ones. My g/f who is a high ranking business woman wears dress pants, boots,button downs and still falls short of looking like a man but she is a strong fit butch and a mean business woman. But I have gotten her into mens boxer briefs and I have found that it turns me on to buy them for her. I can tell you all sorts of web sites and have learned there are many types of mens briefs. I love the softness of the ones from the designers. I can’t believe I paid 39.99 for a pair but once they were on her cute little butt, I would spend it over and over and have. I don’t mind the butch fem thing and neither does she. We are proud of us and I love the way we dress. We also do the grunge look and love it- I believe we all find our happy medium- I just get so giggly over buying the boxer low rise briefs- so much that when I am on the laptop giggling she is saying I need help 🙂 but in a loving way. She can’t believe how excited I get over her in them. i believe we all try different things and let our altered ego or soul identity play thru 🙂 Have a great year everyone.

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