Beyond the Binary: Secret Femme Faggots and Other Fierce Femmes

I slide on my cock, slowly stretching into my new gender expression—a liminal, suspended moment of desire and intimacy. I begin to embody another part of me, the masculine, androgynous, sometimes genderless components of my identity that hide behind my daily performance of femininity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being femme and fully embrace my identity as a woman and fierce feminist. I feel powerful and sexy in my femme accoutrement—the fitted dresses that accentuate the curves on my petite frame, the makeup that I recently learned how to apply, the jewelry gifted to me by my partner. My femme identity is something I’ve learned how to perform; a role which I am still perfecting; a conscious, daily choice; an intentional expression of one part of me. I love my femme power. And yet, in this moment, wearing my cock, embodying Daddy with a firm, loving hand, watching my boy squirm with pleasure as he begs for more, I derive my sexiness and empowerment from a different source.
 

Caity_2
Photo by Asher Torres

 
At 14 years old, first boyfriend in tow, the middle school halls empty in between class, I would carefully sneak into the boys’ bathroom, stand in front of one of the urinals, and pee. I was fascinated, almost fixated by the fantasy of having my own cock. Yet, never once did I ache for a real one, always loving that I could strap on any shape and size and remove it whenever I pleased. I began reading erotica around the same time, seeking titillation in gay vampire stories—what I call the root of my faggy fantasies. For years, I played out these fantasies only in my head. Until one day, I strapped on my cock and asked for my first blowjob. He was straight and cis, and after all the pain and trauma I had survived at the hands of straight men, topping him felt beyond empowering. I was shocked to finally be realizing my fantasies, especially after years of performing a more conventional femme identity with transmasculine partners, incredulous that the reality of this faggotry was beyond anything I had dreamed. I began to cry. I eventually found my joy in queer role-play, where I could play at the convergence of all of my sexual desires and gender identities with other fag-identified partners, finally breaking free from a singular construct of femme identity.
 
Photo by Asher Torres
Photo by Asher Torres

 
Although the very definition of queer troubles binaries of sexuality and gender, from the outside, queer relationships that seem to recreate feminine/masculine dichotomies could be viewed as reconstructing heteronormative or misogynist gender roles. Yet, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find that these relationships are not always so black and white. Not all femmes are submissive bottoms, nor are all femme tops mean mommies. Some femmes flirt with masculinity or androgyny, particularly during sex, either with masculine-of-center or other femme partners. Several terms have emerged that attempt to understand this complexity and gender fluidity of seemingly fixed or binary female and/or femme identities. Prominent queers, such as Jill Nagle and Janet Hardy, identify with the term girlfag—a woman, however she chooses to express this female gender identity, who is attracted to gay men. In the words of Carol Queen, “Fag implies head-held-high rebellion in the same way that queer does: You may try to use this word against me, but I’ll cloak myself in it with pride, and it’ll repel all your sticks and stones and insults.” There is much less written about the term femme daddy—an Instagram hashtag, some discussion board posts, and an Urban Dictionary entry that states: “A rare gem typically found in the leather or kink community, a female identified femme and/or feminine woman who can rock a skirt, lipstick, and other girlish accouterment, who personifies a Daddy style in their D/s relationships—firm, structured, constructive, while being loving and supportive.” In my own primary relationship, I’ve started using the term secret femme faggot, a particular representation of these fluid notions of feminine gender identity. Most days, I’m Daddy; other days I’m little faggot; sometimes I’m just my partner’s femme girlfriend. Secret femme faggot encompasses all of my expressions of gender and sexuality and not-so-secret love and indulgence in faggotry.
 
Photo by Asher Torres
Photo by Asher Torres

 
One femme relays her relationship to femininity: “Being queer and being femme, it’s a way that I get to define femininity for myself and find a lot of power from it. I don’t feel like I fit into conventional norms of femininity, although sometimes, from the exterior, I’m read this way.” She blurs these gender lines with a “little edge,” as she describes it—armpit hair, piercings, shorter hair, wearing a cock during sex: “To me, there’s such a power trip in bringing masculinity—my form of masculinity, with my cock and my edges—into a relationship where somebody holds themselves as more conventionally masculine. I love pushing that boundary. It’s a huge turn on and huge power play and I love watching people get out of their head about…how they should fuck…because of their male or masculine identity. I love watching people go through that process, and in that process finding a ton of pleasure.” Another femme sees her identity as genderfucking, albeit rooted in femininity: “Femme is so much more than what you’re wearing. It’s a being, a grounded sense of power and control.” Although recently, she has begun exploring her more submissive side, playing with and trusting in new power dynamics and energies with different partners, all while still wearing a cock and embracing her own version of femininity.
 
Photo by Asher Torres
Photo by Asher Torres

 
Jill Nagle describes the discovery of her nuanced femme identity: “I finally began to understand, in my gut, what I had only known intellectually: butch and femme can be totally independent of gender orientation. In my case, my inner fag had long been misidentified as simply femme.” One femme we spoke with, who often identifies as Daddy, also sees femmes and fags as circular modalities, blending and stemming from a similar source. Her masculinity is grounded in her femme experience and femme body: “When I’m embodying faggotry and masculinity, to me, femininity is big enough to hold space for masculinity to come inside of it. My femme is big enough to also have these faggy and masculine aspects to it and to hold [this gender expression] as part of the whole.” Another femme top also sees femme and fag as part of the same side of a gender spectrum, describing her expression as femme faggotry: “For me, faggotry is about pageantry and outfits and style.” After years of dappling in androgyny and identifying as a tomboy, she’s finally settled on a femme identity—pulling and sculpting her expression from various people and influences: “Having to navigate [my sexuality] really allowed me to put my femme presentation on display as my everyday drag, and then embrace more androgynous sides of me during sex, in more private times.”
 
Photo by Asher Torres
Photo by Asher Torres

 
Not every femme we spoke with necessarily identifies as a femme daddy or a girlfag or a secret femme faggot, but each was able to relate to this fluidity of femme identity in some way. My identity has been a secret—until now—mostly because of my hesitation to take up space in a genderqueer community from a place of privilege. Each day, I put on my femme costume and I pass as straight. I consider myself cisgender, as I only prefer male pronouns during sex. Yes, femme invisibility is real and it can feel disempowering for many queer femmes, despite other privileges that we may have. Yet instead of taking on a genderqueer identity, or participating in spaces for gender non-conforming people to make sense of experiences and discrimination to which I don’t necessarily relate, I’d rather work out my gender identity with a community of other femmes, with support from masculine-of-center queers. This is my own stuff, and I know it. Navigating my gender and sexual identities still feels like a work in progress, even after nearly 20 years of exploration. This project was born from a need to not be so secret, to create space for these types of discussions, to explore the intricacies of femme identity and sexual expression. I see secret femme faggot as a way through which to build upon the experiences of other queer women—girlfags who’ve come before us or femme daddies still waiting to come out—and to make way for a greater discussion and recognition of the multitude of queer femme identities.
 
Photo by Asher Torres
Photo by Asher Torres

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Corinne Goldenberg
Corinne Goldenberg Author

Corinne Goldenberg is a queer femme and global wanderer who writes about intersectional feminism and the confluence of gender and sexuality. She studied Women and Gender Studies at Smith College and International Affairs at the New School.

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