If you haven’t heard this term before, you’re probably searching for a definition, or generating one of your own. I will explain what I mean by this below, but there are a few things which I think are important to say first.
I have written before on the difficulties of dating and the politics of desirability. Have spoken about the aversion our society has to (trans)femme bodies and disabled bodies. Sometimes this is exhausting. I don’t want to think so much about dating, about romance, about sex, and about how my body fits into other people’s conception of these things. I sometimes wonder if, as an audience, you are getting sick of me talking about this. But I am queer, and live in a society which predicates its idea of queerness upon these things.
Perhaps this is why there is so much erasure for the asexual and aromantic members of our community? Perhaps this is why there is so much erasure for the bi/pan/polysexual members of our community in perceived “heterosexual relationships.” Perhaps this is why there is so little visibility for the disabled members of our community? Sometimes it feels as if you are only allowed to be as queer as another person’s willingness to fuck you.
This makes these questions and feelings nearly impossible to escape.
These was an article “Why Can’t My Famous Gender Nonconforming Friends Get Laid?” recently published in Vice, which discussed the romantic difficulties of genderqueer and gender nonconforming writers Jacob Tobia and Alok Vaid-Menon. It was here that I first encountered the term femmezone.
While I’d like to posit this as my hot take on the concept, this article was published in June and it has taken me several months to parse through my feelings on the topic. So here is is, my cold take on the femmezone:
First, it is important to define the term as the inventor of the term does. The article quotes Alok as saying of a boy who femmezoned them, “It was obvious that he sought friendship with GNC people because only friendships with masc people were sexualized… [h]e created this distinction between friendship as asexual/femme and dating as sexual/masc.” At first, I reveled in this term, how well it described a feeling I had been experiencing about my own undesirability.
While Alok’s definition seemed to stop at their desexualization by masc folx, I began to extend the way I applied this term to women and femmes I was attracted to, but who didn’t share that attraction to me. I was quick to lament people “always wanting me as the wrong kind of girlfriend.”
Looking back on it, I instantly see the issue in this dynamic. How close my use of this term rides to its obvious inspiration, the friendzone. Defined as a state wherein one member of a friendship wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not, this deeply attached to our culture’s misogyny and the objectification of women and femmes.
Which creates a series of difficult ethical questions. Is the concept of the femmezone as inherently as problematic as the friendzone? Fundamentally they are separated by the power differential. A man claiming he was friendzoned by a woman is universally agreed to be problematic, but for a femme to claim a man has femmezoned them/her is far more complex.
As is the question of whether a woman or femme can femmezone another. Certainly a power dynamic exists between cis woman and trans women / femmes, but it does not involve the same kind of objectification.
In the end, thinking about the concept has left me with far more questions than answers. It is difficult to parse out the way that sexual identity, transphobia, and other issues play into these interactions. How does the idea of the asexual/femme and sexual/masc dynamic Alok suggests break down when it applies to the attractions of queer women vs. queer men? How much can we attribute these phenomenon to individual tastes before systematic patterns begin to emerge? And at what point does the rhetoric of the friendzone and the femmezone become indistinguishably one?
There is also the issue of racism and colorism. The way that I am sexualized as a white, light-haired femme on HRT is far different from the ways in which Alok, a dark-haired South Asian who is not on hormones, is sexualized. As such I cannot speak to their experiences or how they perceive the effects of their gendernonconformity on their desirability.
With that said, in my own life, I am critical of what using the rhetoric of the femmezone means. I am still working through my feelings about it, but for now I have decided not to use it as a way of describing my experiences.
Most of my closest friends are femmes, some of whom I’ve had crushes on, some of whom I still do. For my most recent birthday a friend of mine bought me a poster which says, over and over again, “keep your friends close & femmes closer.” Every time I look at it, it reminds me, despite sometimes unreciprocated feelings, how happy I am to have this kind of girlfriend in my life.
torrin a. greathouse (they/them or she/her) is a genderqueer, cripple-punk from Southern California. They are the Editor-in-Chief of Black Napkin Press. Their poetry is published/forthcoming in Duende, Apogee, Frontier, Lunch Ticket, & Assaracus. She is a 2016 Best New Poets, Bettering American Poetry, and Pushcart Prize nominee, and semifinalist for the Adroit Poetry Prize. torrin’s first chapbook, Therǝ is a Case That I Ɐm, is forthcoming from Damaged Goods Press in 2017.