Coming Out as Femme: How My Transition Helped Me Find Myself

by: Jonah M. Lefholtz

First off, I need to stress that I am only speaking for myself and in no way do I mean for this to reflect the feelings of any other femme identified people out there. I don’t know how others feel, and since this is new to me, I’m not even entirely sure how I feel. But here goes something:

Femme. The Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines femme as: 1. A woman, and 2. A lesbian who is notably or stereotypically feminine in appearance and manner.

Femme. To me, it’s a loaded word. As a transguy that is primarily romantically and sexually attracted to female-identified and bodied people, it sometimes feels as if it is if the queer community expects that I date a femme–to confirm my identity as a male to not only myself, but to the rest of the community. Whether or not this rule was self-imposed or whether or not it really is almost an expectation of some transmen who present certain ways, I don’t know.  It’s up for debate.

For years, when I would think of somebody that self-identified as femme, I thought of a female-identified person whose identity fell on the extremely feminine side of the gender spectrum. I thought I knew what femme was because I dated femmes. I used to make a habit of it. I thought femme only meant fierce women in high heels and lipstick, eye shadow and dresses. Not something that could ever apply to me. I mean, I transitioned for a reason, right? I knew guys that identified as femme, and I scoffed at the idea. I didn’t scoff at their identities, but I was certainly confused by who they were and went about building invisible walls around myself to contain any truths that may leak out.

Identity is an ever-evolving thing, to me. People have come into and left my life that have made me question what I think I know about myself. They’ve made me reassess who it is I am becoming and who I want to be.  Six months ago I wouldn’t have been able to admit to you that not only am I femme, but that I finally feel safe identifying that way. Six months ago, I definitely would have told you that I wasn’t and never have been butch, but the word femme would never have left my mouth, and it wouldn’t have even been floating around my consciousness. Sure, in the past, I’ve referred to myself as “faggy”–but that’s not it at all. For one, it’s not fair for me to say. I’m not reclaiming the word from the grips of hate language if I don’t identify as gay, in my opinion. (Also, I don’t even really know what “faggy” is.)

For years and years, I presented and acted as masculine as possible. After I started testosterone, it took me years to pass full time; during those “in-between” years, I adopted a persona that was more masculine than I was. I was an actor and how I felt and how I tried to present myself were contradictory.

Then something happened. Something inside me switched off, while something else switched on. I both stopped caring so much and started caring more; I quit comparing myself to other people and started listening to myself more. Part of the change has to do with the people I’ve surrounded myself with in the last year. I’ve always had an abundance of accepting friends–don’t get me wrong–but there’s something more relaxed about the way I interact with my loved ones now. It’s both me and them. I’m still growing into myself and my friends reflect that growth and transition.

It all adds up. The obsession I’ve had with Les Miserables since I was 13. The way I hold and carry myself, my rejection of my “boys club” membership, my fascination with gold lamé, that time I was a radical cheerleader and pranced around on stage in purple short-shorts, my affinity for being a nanny (I’m totally ok with feeling both maternal and paternal), the nagging feeling that I need to paint my nails, the ballet class I recently signed up for that I absolutely love, how every other Halloween I find a reason to dress in drag. Even things people said when I first decided to transition 9 years ago affirm this part of my identity. When it comes to my gender and sexuality, my mother has said some pretty awful things, but she had a point when she said to me, “I don’t get this whole ‘tough guy’ thing you’re trying to do these days. What are you trying to do? It’s not you.” Yeah, mom, it wasn’t. I’m not tough. I jump up and down when I’m happy, and I squeal sometimes, too, and during the years I was trying to act tough, or butch, or whatever, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

What does femme mean to you? To me, it means being brave and strong, and embracing the way I was socialized, and embracing the bits and pieces of me that don’t always fall in line with what it means to be a man. It means acknowledging that there is a gender spectrum, and that it is vast, and that no matter where I fit on it, my expression is valid and beautiful.  It means that I’m questioning the assumption that just because I transitioned and identify as male, that it means I have to be as masculine as I can be.  It means I am confident in my sensitivity.

I don’t know if any of you are asking yourselves why I bothered to transition in the first place, because wouldn’t it have been easier to just stay the way I was? Right, I could have saved money, and some relationships but I wouldn’t want to navigate my life as anything other than a man. I love my body hair and my musculature, I love my voice and the fact that my muscles have grown not only physically, but socially and emotionally.

Also, I know that had I not transitioned, I never would have been okay with this part of who I am. I never would have signed up for a ballet class and I never would have let myself enjoy watching my body move as it does. I would have kept fighting it, because nobody–including myself–would have seen all of me. Had I not transitioned, I never would have been able to see that throughout my life, my identity will move and shift as I grow as a person and that identity is never completely actualized because its potential is always changing. Coming out as femme has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. It’s allowed me to come out of hiding and be who I am.

Jonah M. Lefholtz is a student and care-taker in Chicago, IL. He recently came out as a femme male and his life is better for it! He likes spending time with his family and friends, has two cats, and appreciates complexity.

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27 responses to “Coming Out as Femme: How My Transition Helped Me Find Myself

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  3. Awesome piece Jonah!! The way you put this phenomenon especially resonated for me and my fairly recent experience:

    “Then something happened. Something inside me switched off, while something else switched on. I both stopped caring so much and started caring more; I quit comparing myself to other people and started listening to myself more.”

    Femme is such a loaded word, and I think it’s unfortunate how there are often still these sort of strict rules about gender/expression/identity/sexuality that we (we meaning the queer community in general I guess) feel obligated to adhere to. I was totally hung up about not being read as queer, not really self-identifying as femme, worrying about not being femme “enough” and certainly not stereotypically butch either. Then eventually, I kind of decided it totally didn’t fucking matter, and I can be who I am and identify however I want to, and everyone can seriously fuck off if they care. :)

    For the record- femme guys are so rad! It doesn’t make sense to me how things like ballet, (hello, Baryshnikov?) art, working with children, musicals, theater etc. are such intimidatingly feminine pursuits to a lot of masculine/male/butch identified people. Come on! That stuff is pretty neutral in my mind, or universal I guess. Anyone who is too much of a big-butch-tough-guy-bro to rock out to a little Andrew Lloyd Weber, or put on some tights and leap around is totally missing out.

    Lastly, I’m taking adult ballet too, and I think we should definitely choreograph an awesome recital sometime! Feel free to wear your most badass tutu.

    • Rachel! Yes! Let’s choreograph a recital! I won’t get to dance in front of people until I take ballet II, so that won’t be for a few semesters because I’ll probably take ballet I again, to make sure I have everything down right. A friend-recital would be so fun! Let’s talk at the end of our respective classes.

      Also, yeah, I feel like taking care of children, and movement and musicals should be an intrinsic part of everybody’s lives. They round me out, at least!

      My dad said something really interesting as a response to this piece (I’m hoping he’ll post it in the comments) about how people need to categorize and label themselves. We all put ourselves into boxes, but those spaces kind of help us define ourselves. I think as far as that goes – adhering to the rules for a time is important for us to find where we fit and where we don’t, but I think that once we’ve found a space we feel like we fit, maybe the rules become less important. Does that make sense?

  4. Nice piece. I too found transitioning allowed me to accesss the femine parts of me in a way that would never happen before transitioning. I too never ID’d as Butch…was more andro if anything but I was way more masculine prior to testosterone than I am right now. My struggle hasn’t so much been with my identity but with my ongoing sexual orientation crises. I’ve finally let it be….I suppose gay with a girllfriend would apply as I have a girlfriend and continue to have sex with men as well and although I am primarily sexually attracted to men (this much I’m sure of) I do end up with girlfriends a lot……and I do love them. This confusion lead me to try and simplify my sexual orientation (which is extremely complicated even to me) and make some sort of announcement that I was done with women. I don’t think your sexual orientation is dependent on who you date though….just like your identity isn’t. It’s up to you to identify how you feel. I shouldn’t have to back up the “gay” with a list of sexual conquests of men or past boyfriends. It’s all a process….I change all the time which is part of the problem. The categories that exist “gay” “femme” whatever, are stagnant. People get too confused if you surf through different identities on a regular basis….and that’s what I tend to do. People just want you to pick and be one thing though which is fine if your orientation/identity isn’t in flux but mine always is and is dependent on a number of issues. I fall in and out of a lot of “descriptions” but never stay in the same place for too long.

    • “People just want you to pick and be one thing…” Yeah, I kind of hate how often this occurs. I think it has to do with our basic fear of change, as humans. I think that if more people were open to fluctuating, there’d be a lot less confusion in identity. Like, if you just go with the fact that sometimes you don’t know yourself, and sometimes you don’t know where you’re going, and that that’s ok, we’d have a lot more people being comfortable with themselves. There is nothing rigid about life, why should our identities have to be rigid?

  5. Good for you, Jonah. I think we met on TD? I’m so happy to know that you found yourself (or at least what ‘yourself’ is at the moment). It’s a neverending journey to find who we are now and who we will be tomorrow. I’m glad that you listened to that inner voice and allowed you to be you.

      • Oops, maybe not. TD was short for TechnoDyke, a very cool website for lesbian, bi, and trans folks. It shut down about four or so years ago. I was thinking I met you there, but maybe I’m thinking of someone else.

        Either way, I’m glad you’re questioning the need to fit into a single cubbyhole. As a butchy-femme bi, I’m straddling a few cubbyholes myself.

  6. I love this. I love the questioning, the reassessment of who gets to identify as femme, and the thoughtful nature in which you present your own revelations on the subject. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Pingback: Link Roundup #2: 18th-C. crusty punks, SiSU, web tools for teaching, femme boys·

  8. I just wanted to say (this is my first time at your blog), THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS. When people ask me how I identify, I can never properly come up with the right description. Femme-identified genderqueer transguy? I’ve grown up with women, I identify with women, and I’ve finally been able to come to accept the fact that my true power comes from my feminine nature.

    When asked how I could decide to physically transition if I expected my gender identity to fluctuate and change over time, I tried to explain body removed from mind. Regardless of how I identified, I knew I wanted my body to look different. The muscles have been my favorite part. :) So much love to you. Thank you for being you. <3

    • YOU’RE WELCOME!!

      Everything fluctuates… My favorite part of transition has been my face changing. And yeah, I’m not going to lie, I like the muscles too. :)

      Thanks for reading… you should check out the other authors on the blog! Such a good bunch of folks, here. <3

  9. I’m cis-male, and I recently realized I am probably femme. A lot of what you are saying as a transguy rings true to me as well.

    “I love my body hair and my musculature, I love my voice and the fact that my muscles have grown not only physically, but socially and emotionally.”

    This is so true for me too, except for the physical muscle growing part, as I don’t think I have added any muscle mass since I was 21. Realizing that I was not ambivalent about my body but actually liked it and am glad I have it was a key step for me to allow myself to crossdress, and I can totally see how you had to transition before you could to allow yourself to be femme.

    “What does femme mean to you? To me, it means being brave and strong,[...] and embracing the bits and pieces of me that don’t always fall in line with what it means to be a man. It means acknowledging that there is a gender spectrum, and that it is vast, and that no matter where I fit on it, my expression is valid and beautiful. It means that I’m questioning the assumption that just because I [...] identify as male, that it means I have to be as masculine as I can be. It means I am confident in my sensitivity.”

    I’ve edited out the references to transitioning in this quote because everything that’s left I agree with 100%, and it feels so affirming to read it. Thank you.

    I’m also bisexual in addition to femme, although I “lean straight.” I’m not fully out as bisexual, although I’ve told everyone close to me that I’m bi and they are all accepting. I am only out to a few people about being femme. I just recently told my mother, who was wonderfully accepting. She is a very strong feminist, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

    I am thinking about being publicly out as bi. However, being out as femme appears difficult to me. The problem ever being publicly out as femme is that male femme is so at odds with society’s definition of male. I feel like even if I get people to tolerate me, they will never stop seeing me as either having some sort of fetish or being trans, and never really see me as a man with a femme gender expression. It doesn’t help that I am really sort of high femme, and love really feminine clothes, and wear a stuffed bra when I am dressed as femme.

    (I don’t see wearing a stuffed bra as inconsistent with being femme and not trans, as I know there are lots of stone butches who bind their chest and pack their crotch. If I want to express myself as femme, why not breasts as part of my image, even if everyone knows they are fake? And I do feel so femme when wearing a stuffed bra.)

  10. I always appreciate your wisdom, Jonah. I am assisting an undergrad class on the History of Sex and I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with my students as a great example of an empowered and positive queer identity. (And hopefully they are all reading this comment because they are all checking this blog.) Thank you for being so awesome!

    • I find it interesting that you so closely associate identity and performance. I identify as genderqueer, and was born genetically female. I tend to present a female gender. I am attracted to (mostly) androgynous people of all genders. While I don’t frequently wear jewelry or particularly feminine clothes – usually a muscle shirt or t-shirt, black jeans or long shorts, and boots or sandals – yet, I do not down play the physical landscape of my body, which is curvy on the bottom (its hard to hide a big butt). I prefer to have short hair, but don’t like to spend money on haircuts. Sometimes, i do enjoy presenting femme and I like wearing a dress on a hot day -its cooler! I especially when I look masculine while wearing a dress (I have larger, muscular shoulders.) Traditionally, I have had many more male friends than female, and tend to have lesbian or queer female friends. I like being part of the boys club. I’ve often wished I had a penis, and found I absolutely loved wearing a huge strap-on in a play. I have dreams I have a penis all the time, and in them, I am so happy. My partner is a male with hair down to his waist who often presents more femme than I do. In general, I am comfortable with my presentation, because I don’t think it defines who I actually am. It does bother me that people often do not notice that I might want to be treated in a different way. I prefer gender neutral pronouns, but most people, even queer people, have really had an issue with this and said “Why? You dress like a girl.”

    • Wow, thank you! I am flattered that my words could be used as a teaching tool. I definitely don’t mind. Who is this, by the way? :)

      • Sorry I skipped an introduction; I’m Bristol, I am almost done with my undergrad at DePaul. I’m just entering the awesomeness that is the IOW/queer Chicago community but maybe I’ll run into you one of these days ;)

  11. Pingback: Femme Heart In Butch Clothing: How I Know I Can Live and Flourish « In Our Words·

  12. Thank you so much, this is beautiful, and has really helped me solidify a few thoughts that have been floating around in my head.

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    Do you put up everyone’s comments? Evven those that annoy you?
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