Sexual Identity What Is Femme Invisibility? By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC Facebook Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. Learn about our editorial process Updated on August 22, 2021 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Margaret Seide, MD Medically reviewed by Margaret Seide, MD LinkedIn Margaret Seide, MS, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of depression, addiction, and eating disorders. Learn about our Medical Review Board Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Aaron Johnson Fact checked by Aaron Johnson Aaron Johnson is a fact checker and expert on qualitative research design and methodology. Learn about our editorial process Print Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz There is a standard image in our culture of what a queer woman looks like. When the word lesbian is mentioned, many people picture a heavyset, masculine woman with short hair—possibly a mullet-wearing a big flannel shirt, blue jeans, and construction boots. Perhaps she is wearing a trucker hat, or a beanie, as well. In reality, they are many queer women who don't look like this. However, the picture we hold for lesbianism in our society equates to the image of the descriptor "butch." If you aren't a part of queer culture, chances are that you've never heard of femme visibility, or of femme invisibility. Even though it isn't talked about much in mainstream heterosexual culture, the fact is that LGBTQ+ people who present as feminine women have been historically erased from the LGBTQ+ narrative. This has happened for many reasons. This article will explore what leads to femme invisibility. Also, we'll look at what femme invisibility is and why visibility matters. What Does LGBTQ+ Mean? What Does "Femme" Mean? A femme is a queer person who presents in a feminine manner. A femme can be a cis woman, a trans woman, a gender-nonconforming person, or a nonbinary person. This person may be a lesbian, pansexual, bisexual, or any other identity under the queer umbrella. Any LGBTQIA+ person can identify as femme, but it's most common when people do that they possess some feminine attributes. Femmes may have just one, a few, many, or all of the feminine features and styles that we associate with women and girls. To be someone who identifies as female and has the gender expression commonly associated with women is known as gender normativity, whereas masculinity in women is considered gender nonconformity or gender divergence. These are some of the attributes a femme may possess: Long hairClothing designed for womenFeminine facial and/or bodily featuresMakeup"Girlish" demeanor, speaking voice, and/or mannerisms Feminine vs. Femme Upon seeing these traits, you may be confused about how femme is different from feminine. After all, feminine women often wear makeup and clothing made for their gender, too! The difference between femme and feminine is that femme is an intentional relationship with one's femininity as it relates to their queerness. Identifying as femme is welcoming the fact that you present as feminine while simultaneously being queer. It eschews the idea that women who love women need to look masculine, and instead embraces the fact that people who look as society expects women to look may be just as queer as those who appear more masculine. Straight women are not femme even if they are feminine, just as they aren't lesbians. The History of Femmes in Queer Culture It was in the post-war culture of the 1940s and 1950s that the term femme began to be used to describe gay women who looked feminine. This was generally done within the context of butch-femme relationships, where one person in a partnership would be masculine-presenting, and the other feminine-presenting. By being perceived as gender-conforming, femmes were usually not seen as gay or lesbian like butches were. Also, it was often presumed when a femme was in a relationship with a butch woman that she had been partnered with cis men prior and would do so again after. Butch-femme relationships are no longer the norm for female relationship dynamics because we have come a very long way with gender expressions and identities in the many years since the 1940s. However, femmes continue to not be considered as large a part of the queer narrative as others due to not being visibly queer. They are often left out of stories of LGBTQ+ activism, similar to how it was predominantly POC and trans people who began and spearheaded the movement in the 1960s, yet only received cultural credit for it in recent years. Unlike people of color, who face more marginalization and systemic oppression than LGBTQ+ people who are White, it is the day-to-day privileges of femmes in society that have made their inclusion in the queer narrative difficult to acquire. Privileges of Femme Invisibility There are many privileges that come with looking like a gender-conforming straight woman, but they all center around one thing: blending in. By not looking visibly queer, femmes aren't as easily subject to harassment for their sexuality or gender expression. They aren't discriminated against by workplaces or educational systems for not presenting within their gender. A femme may experience hardships and homophobia in the world because she is queer, but her physical presence alone is never the indicator of her queerness. Challenges of Femme Invisibility Just like there are privileges to being femme, there are also challenges. These are the most common ones. Not being believed when they tell someone they are queer Lack of recognition by other LGBTQ+ people Being hit on and/or sexually harassed by straight men (though any human can experience this, it's particularly commonplace for femmes) Parents and family who are shocked when they come out An inner sense that they must "prove" their queerness because it isn't visible Lack of acceptance within LGBTQ+ communities The presumption that they are "bottoms" in the bedroom People may not take their sexuality seriously They are often told, "But you don't look gay," which is disrespectful Strangers engage with them under a presumption that their partner is male Glossary of Must-Know Gender Identity Terms Why Femme Visibility Is Important Femmes may not be visibly queer just by looking at them, but that doesn't make them any less important to the queer narrative of our culture. Femme visibility is important within both queer and straight spaces. In queer culture, seeing femmes as LGBTQ+ provides them with a sense of community. Accepting them as no less queer than those who are less gender-conforming provides peace of mind, happiness, and the acceptance that everyone deserves. Femmes represent the diversity of the LGBTQ+ landscape equally as much as those who appear more obviously queer do. Visibility enables them to fight for equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people alongside their peers. As far as straight spaces go, a femme who is understood to be LGBTQ+ helps straight people make fewer presumptions about what queerness looks like. Queerness does not have one look; it isn't just effeminate cis men and masculine cis women. There is no specific face, body, style, or look that indicates one person is queerer than another. Some styles and features may be common within queer communities, but any living person can fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella no matter what their physical attributes or gender expression are. The more we can understand that, and the less we can presume to know others' identities, the more joyful a time people who don't fit perfectly into societal expectations can have in life. 5 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Walker JJ, Golub SA, Bimbi DS, Parsons JT. Butch Bottom–Femme Top? An Exploration of Lesbian Stereotypes. Journal of Lesbian Studies. 2012;16(1):90-107. doi:10.1080/10894160.2011.557646 Crawley SL, Willman RK. Heteronormativity made me lesbian: Femme, butch and the production of sexual embodiment projects. Sexualities. 2017;21(1-2):156-173. doi:10.1177/1363460716677484 Blair KL, Hoskin RA. Experiences of femme identity: coming out, invisibility and femmephobia. Psychology & Sexuality. 2014;6(3):229-244. doi:10.1080/19419899.2014.921860 Gunn A, Hoskin RA, Blair KL. The new lesbian aesthetic? Exploring gender style among femme, butch and androgynous sexual minority women. Women’s Studies International Forum. 2021;88:102504. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2021.102504 Firestein BA. Becoming Visible : Counseling Bisexuals across the Lifespan. Columbia University Press; 2007. By Ariane Resnick, CNC Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.