There are so many beautiful expressions and intersections of LGBTQIA+ identity and love.
Because so many LGBTQIA+ people have experienced social marginalization, we’ve learned to create and recreate our own culture. This looks like sharing resources with chosen family, exploring and nuancing our gender expressions, queering reclaimed rituals and ceremonies, and archiving our existence through art every step of the way.
This photo series captures and celebrates the beauty of how contemporary Femme and Butch people express themselves autonomously and in relationship to each other.
There is so much love, passion, and pride in these pictures. This is what liberation looks like.
30 years old
Long Beach, CA
“I perform this hyper femininity because it feels really comfortable for me. It serves as a physical manifestation of my natural state of mind (soft, elegant, glamorous, sweet), and it makes my heart sing. I like the term ‘high femme’ because I’m quite over the top with my femininity. It’s about personally being in love with your own designated femme markers rather than succumbing to being ‘feminine’ because it’s what you’re supposed to be. It isn’t about being a better femme or more of a true femme. For me, it’s about having fun with a highly extreme exaggeration of feminine gestures. It’s definitely a parody, an act.
“It also connects deeply to my love of performing burlesque. I actually tried to be feminine when I first came out. It didn’t quite flow. It felt contrived, and it was because it wasn’t authentic. As I allowed my high femme self to develop on its own, I found that I wasn’t fighting with myself over how I presented. It came naturally after deconstructing my thoughts on performing femininity and re-building what it all personally meant to me. More changed in my mind and then I feel like I began to blossom outwardly. I think it’s worth noting that I feel like a high femme even outside of my clothing and makeup.”
35 years old
Long Beach, CA
“I have been comfortable expressing my masculine energy as far as I can remember. Around high school, I felt ashamed of it, but quickly reclaimed my masculine expression after high school. The older I get, the more comfortable with my masculinity. Now, I am expressing both my femininity and masculinity interchangeably. I’m proud of who I am and how far I’ve come in spite the lack of resources and community available to me during my time developing my identity. I feel free to explore new realms with my partner, and I’m so grateful for the communities that I belong to now for their support.”
Persian Jewish Stone-Butch Queer Woman
25 years old
Law Student and Social Justice Advocate
“There are many layers to my identity. Each aspect of my identity is a distinct and separate part of who I am; however, they often interact in complicated ways. For example, in my Persian community, women are expected to be subservient to men, and being masculine means being sexist and aggressive. However, while I am a very butch and masculine, I am one of the most gentle people you will ever meet, and I fight against the patriarchy every day.”
Queer, Femme, Lesbianpansexual
24 years old
English Grad Student, Writer, and Activist
“I did not know, when I was younger, that being femme was not anti-feminist – society’s femmephobia really affected me growing up! – but once my eyes were opened to the world of femmes and butches, it became clear to me that I could locate my own body in the bodies of the femmes who have come before me! Being a queer femme is profoundly radical: I am not conforming to anything, I am being myself, all the while shoving the binary out the proverbial window, because it says that people cannot be femme and strong. I am both, and I love it.”
Gender Fluid Butch-Femme Transwoman
71 years old
“I am a female born in a male body, and gender fluidity is my growing process. My local ‘fans’ get confused when I fluctuate between different wigs and my own hair, which I am growing out. I am continuously inspired by my rainbow family who are ‘wind beneath my wings.'”
Primarily Femme, But More Butch on the Inside
37 years old
“I embrace my femininity and wear it with pride. Anyone who chooses to judge me based on the heels I wear or the make up I apply is too narrow-minded to be in my world.”
37 years old
Drag King Performer
Mr. Neighbours 2011-2013
“One of the main reasons I do drag is for my community, whether its showing them that it’s okay to be different, giving them an escape from the stressful hectic thing we call life, or doing as many benefits as I can get my hands on. No matter what, my community comes first because I know what its like to not have anything to help us or educate us.”
39 years old
“I used to resist my identity for many reasons — mainly because I did not see a WOC that was gay, and the few that I did were somewhat butch. After trying to suppress my sexuality for years, I chose to embrace it and bust the stereotypes that attempt to pigeon-hole us into believing we have to fit into a box for someone’s comfort.”
39 years old
Wichita Falls, TX
“For me, being a femme is partially about presentation: I am not obvious, I am kind of a ‘stealth dyke.’ There is also an element of Texas Southern Womanhood. We are deeply rooted in family, we’re loyal, we are proud, we’re level headed, we’re cool under pressure. Our southern hospitality is unmatched, and we wrap this all up in a feminine appearance, but we are also fierce in our protection of our friends, family, and community.”
Transmasculine Genderqueer Butch
37 years old
Wichita Falls, TX
“I identify very much with old school Butch values and the Butch Femme community. As I have grown older and allowed myself to explore the boundaries of my identity, I definitely found myself expanding into the transmasculine and genderqueer communities, but never to the exclusion of Butch identity. I don’t accept the linear concept of a gender spectrum that places heteronormative masculinity as some sort of ideal end point to aspire to; I exist in a space beyond the binary where I am free to embrace all aspects of who I am and where I can be my authentic self. Masculinity isn’t exclusive to those born biologically male. Just because I am masculine, doesn’t mean I aspire to heteronormative masculinity, because I think it would be setting my sights pretty low – I am so much more than that.”
Please read the following Everyday Feminism articles to learn more about LGBTQIA+ Identity:
- Femme Invisibility: On Passing Right by Your People and Not Being Recognized
- ‘Who’s the Man?’: Heteronormativity and Queer Relationships
- 3 Ways to Rethink Masculinity as a Newly Masculine-Presenting Person
The Butch/Femme Photo Project is a project dedicated to the diverse identities of Butch and Femme within the LGBTQI community. Butch identified photographer, Wendi Kali, created the project after discovering the lack of current photographs of butches and femmes in today’s community while searching for her own identity in 2010. Her hope with the project is to build upon the history of butch and femme by adding photographs of the people who claim those identities today and to show how those identities have evolved by photographing the many unique and individual expressions of butch and femme. Please follow Wendi Kali on twitter at @wendikali55.