On The Importance Of Visible Femme Icons

Photo by Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images & Photo via New Line Cinema

From Dolly to Ditto

Being a femme can sometimes feel like wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Living in a heteronormative world where the gender binary still very much exists, the general public makes a lot of assumptions about someone’s identity based on how they dress, the length of their hair, or the style of shoes on their feet. Femmes, queer women who primarily prefer to dress in a style deemed “feminine” by society, frequently bemoan being mistaken as straight by everyone from straight people to other LGBTQ people.

Growing up femme gave way to a lot of confusion for me, but also a lot of fun, because while there seemed to be very few visible femmes in popular culture or mainstream society, finding someone who represented something close to that idea was exhilarating. As a baby of the ‘80s, going through puberty and all kinds of posturing in the ‘90s, my femme icons weren’t even necessarily queer, but had a kind of different energy about them that resonated with me. While androgynous or more masculine-of-center girls had movie and TV tomboys to turn to, I didn’t necessarily find solidarity with them (just some swoon-worthy crushes; I’m looking at you, Just One of the Guys). And those more “obvious”-looking lesbians and bi women are often the poster children for How to Look Gay, which is exactly why I had an immediate identity crisis upon coming out at age 20. But after assuming the position and wearing band tees and baggy jeans, I slowly started to reintegrate skirts and dresses back into my wardrobe, namely because I realized that being queer and feminine is not mutually exclusive.

Even as a budding baby dyke who learned how to apply eye makeup from issues of YM and Sassy, finding a femme icon took some time. After I found the first one, I began to realize that there had been others. I just hadn’t been able to place the feeling I had about them—the instant kind of camaraderie I’d experienced in seeing them, envying them, sometimes obsessing over them. For me, those early icons were Jennifer Tilly in Bound and Angelina Jolie in Gia. What they have in common is very aesthetically clear—long dark hair, pale and poreless round faces, a penchant for black clothing, bright red lipstick, and, well, other women. But more than what they looked like, they asserted a kind of self-confidence that wasn’t masculine, but instead, completely feminine, dominating a room. It’s a vibe, a spirit, a way of inhabiting the world that is so decidedly femme that I knew I was destined to be one. 

“I can always tell if a femme is a lesbian without anyone telling me,” says writer and self-professed femme Zara Barrie. “Queer girl energy is in the way a woman moves. She moves a little more freely, not in an apologetic way like she’s worried about attracting or intimating a man.”

Still, femme energy is totally enigmatic—something only other queer women (and allies privy to the details) can surmise.  

“I once heard someone say that the difference between a fashionable person and a ‘fashion icon’ is an icon has a style so distinct you could dress up as her for Halloween,” Barrie says, who notes that out singer and designer Beth Ditto has long been her go-to femme icon. “With that winged eyeliner and porcelain skin and avant-garde goth-punk wardrobe, [Beth] is definitely someone you dress up as for Halloween. She’s what I like to call ‘bad girl chic’—my favorite look.”  

Not unlike my icons, Ditto is “all about wild juxtaposition,” Barrie points out. “Ladylike pumps with wild tattoos. Sweet baby doll bangs with a bondage-inspired dress. Being traditionally sexy—but for women, not for men.” 

Other queer women prefer a little more traditionally feminine elements in their icons, however, they have that same kind of “I’m dressing for me, other women, and not you, sir” swag. Chicago-based activist Cassandra Avenatti cites Dolly Parton as her fave femme: “She is unabashedly fierce, outspoken, and glamorous, with such an emanating warmth,” Avenatti says. “She champions sex workers, queers, and people experiencing homelessness, all while giving precisely zero fucks about what others think about what she does with her body, and what she dresses it in.” 

Stylist Chelsea Fairless names Miss Piggy as her ultimate icon, but says she often doesn’t know someone is femme “unless they roll up with someone who is gender-nonconforming or if they are wearing a T-shirt from [queer, feminist-owned shop] Otherwild.” (Which, for the record, is the only way I’m usually read as queer; the “How Dare You Think I’m Straight” tank is helpful at delivering the message.) 

“I wish that there was a telltale signifier of a femme lesbian, but even I often make the assumption that a femme woman is straight,” Fairless says. Which is why so many of us have taken to queering our wardrobes with identifying tops, pins, or pieces of jewelry. And luckily, in the past decade, there have been lots of fashion-forward ways to include nods to not-so-straight sexualities through personal style outside of the go-to rainbow wear or in-your-face slogan Ts (although my DYKE crop top surely helps make the point pretty quickly). 

Passing as heterosexual may not sound like such a big deal to some people, but consider how annoying it is to be consistently assumed to be something you are not—something that you feel must be “proven” or detailed in order to be counted. And what we need more than ever as an LGBTQ community, and as minorities who are continuously having to prove not only our worth but our existence (yes, still!), is to show up shouting, “Hi! It’s me! I’m here and queer in heels, get used to it!”  

This is especially important in communities where LGBTQ icons are even less visible, like in communities of color. One of the first black femmes I ever remember seeing was Samantha MacLachlan, in a very tiny part in the film Set It Off. Ursula was the original Amber Rose—the short-shorn blonde girlfriend to Queen Latifah’s butch Cleo who put on a pair of fishnets and black bodysuit with both a turtleneck and a thong to give Cleo a lap dance on top of a luxury car. Up until then, I had never seen anything like it—a feminine woman sexually expressing herself for her pleasure and the pleasure of another woman? Was this some kind of sci-fi fantasy? 

Sometimes femme icons aren’t even necessarily femmes themselves; like Miss Piggy or Dolly Parton, they might not identify as queer (although there are certainly rumors). Looking back now, I pulled inspiration from icons like Cher from Clueless, who, at the outset, might seem completely straight, but, to me, read as queer for her specific disinterest in dating the boys at her school and always wanting to wear something different from what everyone else was. She took risks, and she was drawn to gay men (just like I was before I realized I was a total lez). Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson in Kids—their skater girl-chic edge inspired me, as did their agency over themselves and their bodies. And then The L Word came around and provided thousands of viewers the chance to drool over Carmen de la Pica Morales—or, if you were like me, wonder where she got such banging black lacy lingerie. 

For femmes, it’s not what you wear; it’s how you wear it. There are no rules—and that’s preciously the point. It’s how a piece of clothing or how pieces put together can throw off everything society thinks a lesbian is and how she should look. It’s about how men don’t get to decide what’s sexy or desirable because their opinion literally does not matter. Anita Dolce Vita, the creator of the Hi Femme!, an offshoot of the masculine-of-center style blog Dapper Q, says her work in the queer fashion space has made her "increasingly cognizant about the power of fashion to oppress or to be a tool for liberation,” and that she sees femmes “leading the way” in the movement toward doing away with conventional ideas of womanhood.

“The more we, as a society, cease making assumptions about people’s gender and sexual orientation based on clothing or makeup and the like, the more we become liberated from oppressive binaries and heteropatriarchal beauty standards,” Vita says.  

Young femmes today have so many more out queer women to look to for inspo—Amber Heard, Cara Delevingne, Lauren Jauregui, Amandla Stenberg, Sarah Paulson—and they are blessed with the ability to not only recognize them but to hear them openly and proudly talk about their queer identity. And along with women taking more ownership over their feminism and sexuality and the things they do with and put on their bodies, the more power femmes have not to be assumed straight and to become more visible in the world.

Photo by Rachel Dennis


"What do girls even do together?" This question, or some iteration of it, is frequently posed to me once someone finds out I'm bisexual or hears me mention my girlfriend, or if I make any reference to being interested in girls. I would be annoyed by it, but I have empathy because I know how hard this kind of information can be to find. In fact, the details of how two people with vaginas have sex isn't very widespread information. And, I know that I didn't really have all that much information about girl-on-girl sex before, well, actually having it myself. It's precisely this kind of situation that queer sex educator Stevie Boebi is trying to fix.

Boebi has gained a big following for her informational YouTube videos about how to use a strap-on, how to scissor, how to fist someone, how to choose a vibrator for yourself; any question you could have, she will get you an answer. She doesn't shy away from topics that people wouldn't be quick to ask someone about IRL, either, like BDSM. And she covers the kind of things that are definitely not what we're taught in sex education classes—likely not even in the most progressive curriculums. A study from GLSEN notes that only 4 percent of teens reported learning anything positive about queer sex in their sex ed classes, and points out that in some states, it's actually prohibited to mention queerness at all.

Particularly when it comes to sex with two vaginas, the lack of available public education leads to a general lack of understanding of how we have sex, which then leads to a lack of understanding in the queer community, too. "I just think that lesbian sex is so oversexualized, and we're the least educated," said Boebi when I asked her recently why it's so important for her to spread knowledge about queer sex in particular.

Boebi said that she started out on YouTube making videos about technology, but after she came out as a lesbian, her audience flipped from mostly male to mostly female, though she would prefer a less rudimentary gender breakdown ("the algorithm only deals in binaries, sorry," she quipped).

Ultimately, her sexuality led her to change her content entirely, because she wanted to educate people who couldn't find answers to their questions anywhere else—even on the internet.

"I started getting a lot of what I called 'stupid questions' from very confused teenage girls saying, like, 'How do I do it? Can I get AIDs from fingering someone?'" Boebi told me. They were questions that probably should have had easily Google-able answers, but, when Boebi looked for lesbian sex education content to send to fans who were asking her, she came up empty-handed. "I couldn't find anything. I think I found, like, two articles on Autostraddle, and that was it," she said. "And then I was like, Well, shit! If no one else is going to do it, then I guess I will."

Boebi's audience is mainly comprised of 13- to 24-year-olds, so she keeps in mind that she's helping people who may not be experienced, or even out yet. She uses her own experiences to inform her work sometimes, but also researches extensively and talks to people she knows who "have fancy Ph.Ds in sexology and shit," who can answer her questions or point her to resources she should be referencing.

Boebi's charm is in her relatability; even if she's talking about things we've been conditioned to feel shame around, she does it in such an open and honest way that all that shame disappears—as it should. She does this by perfectly meshing professional talk with jokes and sarcasm, and even uses characters based on star signs. She knows the importance of taking on taboo topics, because there are so many people who won't otherwise find answers to their questions. "I don't actually struggle in my everyday life asking people if they've ever been anally fisted before," Boebi joked with me. "I'll take that burden."

And keeping her tone light and humorous is of the utmost importance to her. "When people are laughing, they're comfortable, and I want people to feel comfortable," Boebi said. "And I want people to know that I'm comfortable talking about sex, and they can be, too." It helps also, Boebi told me, that her audience is separated by a screen, and she's not "in a room with a 12-year-old talking about my labia."

Beyond instructional sex videos, Boebi also deals with other rarely discussed facets of sexuality and physicality. Boebi is polyamorous, and talks openly about it, confronting the stereotypes and the misinformation about the identity head-on. And, she was also recently diagnosed with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome after going years without a diagnosis, and she aims to start working more with disabled queer sex educators to make her work more inclusive of people with disabilities. Though she pointed out to me that her work was already encompassing of disabilities, she "hasn't been a part of the disability activist community for very long," and so she has a lot to learn.

And, though Boebi's happy that she has the platform she does, she wants a more inclusive array of sex educators to join the scene. "My voice is my voice, and it's unique to me, but I think there should be way more," she noted. "Especially people [with intersectional identities]. That would make me so happy if we could diversify sex educators."

And, though Boebi says there's no "ideal way" to educate people about sex, she's definitely on a better track than the public education system, and she makes clear that there's nothing shameful about sexuality—in fact, it's just a part of being human, and a really fun one, at that.

Screenshot via YouTube

The band shared details about their new St. Vincent-produced album that will drop "you into the world of catastrophe"

Sleater-Kinney just shared more information about their St. Vincent-produced album and dropped a new single.

Per Billboard, Sleater-Kinney revealed that their new album, which they've been teasing since early this year and will be their first since No Cities To Love from 2015, will be called The Center Won't Hold. It's due out on August 16 via Mom + Pop Records. "We're always mixing the personal and the political but on this record, despite obviously thinking so much about politics, we were really thinking about the person—ourselves or versions of ourselves or iterations of depression or loneliness—in the middle of the chaos," Carrie Brownstein said in a statement. Corin Tucker further noted that the new album will "[drop] you into the world of catastrophe that touches on the election."

Janet Weiss noted that the band will "explore a different sound palette" with this album, and pointed to St. Vincent as the reason behind it. She said that St. Vincent "has a lot of experience building her own music with keyboards and synthesizers so she could be our guide to help us make sense of this new landscape and still sound like us."

To satiate us until then, the band released a lyric video for new single, "The Future Is Here," which is very grungy. Bump it, below.

Sleater-Kinney - The Future Is Here (Official Lyric Video)


This is so satisfying!

Even Jon Snow knows just how unsatisfying the final season of Game of Thrones was, and he's ready to apologize. Well, a deepfake of him is at least. A heavily-edited version of Snow's speech from the fourth episode—just before the bodies of those lost in the Battle of Winterfell get burned—now features Snow apologizing for the conclusion of the show and lighting the script on fire.

"It's time for some apologies. I'm sorry we wasted your time," Snow begins. "And I know nothing made sense at the end. When the Starbucks cup is the smallest mistake, you know you fucked up! We take the blame. I'm sorry we wrote this in like six days or something," he adds, before signaling to his peers to light the script with torches and "just forget it forever." "Fuck Season 8," he says before the pages begin to crackle and burn.

If there were more lines left to alter, we would have loved to see Snow also tackle how messy Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister's story line ended up, as well as Bran's kingship, Cersei's boring demise, and the water bottle appearance.

Watch the entire deepfake and try to heal the wounds left by HBO below.


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Photo by Darren Craig

It premieres today, exclusively via NYLON

In LP's song "Shaken," the most recent single from her 2018 record Heart To Mouth, she tells the story of seeing her lover out with someone else—ouch. Today, exclusively on NYLON, she releases a cheeky animated music video that pokes fun at the song's heightened drama and perfectly demonstrates all the angst that comes with falling hard for someone.

"She looks at you like I used to/ And I'm just sitting in the corner sh-sh-shaken," LP sings, as the visual—with art by Maayan Priva—depicts the singer hanging out in a bar, watching the girl she likes meet up with another girl. Despite the situation's inherent drama, "Shaken" is less of a ballad and more of an upbeat bop. LP told us she loves the way "this little video captures some of the fun of the song, and its inherent comical anxiety." Sure, heartbreak isn't that funny, but our (sometimes) overly dramatic reaction to it kind of is.

"'Shaken' feels like a bit of a wild card on this record," LP says. "It's the closest I've come to writing a musical, which I hope to do one day." We heartily endorse this idea: Please, LP, give us the queer jukebox musical we crave.

Until that day comes, though, you can watch the music video for "Shaken," below.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This cameo has the Beyhive buzzing

I went to see Men In Black: International alone. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the shock I received when I saw two specific characters on the screen. Unable to keep it to myself, I shared a curious look with the stranger next to me, who was obviously thinking the same thing as me. "Is that them...?" I whispered first. "I think… so," she replied. Then the two men in question started to dance, and we were both sure: "Yep, that's them."

It was Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. Fans of Beyoncé will recognize the duo as the talented brothers who often accompany her on tour and in music videos. In Men In Black: International, the two of them play shapeshifting entities—they're more like energy forces than aliens—who pursue Tessa Thompson's and Chris Hemsworth's characters throughout the duration of the film. The twins' ability to manipulate their bodies in ways that are graceful and otherworldly really helps sell them as extraterrestrials and is fun to watch.

So if Thompson in a suit or Hemsworth shirtless weren't enough motivation, here's another reason to go see it. If you look close, you can see them in the trailer below.