Now let’s acknowledge that constantly proving yourself and affirming who you are is unfair and exhausting. As sex writer Sophie St. Thomas’ friend remarked to her at a burlesque show: “When you’re femme, you have to come out every day.” Coming out can be an exhilarating experience, but it’s also an incredibly vulnerable state of being, and can often trigger past trauma. Besides, not everybody’s personality lends itself to being strident and confrontational. What do you do if you don’t want to become a Professional Femme Gay Woman?
Tolero agrees that confronting someone is not always the best choice. Doing it, even in a compassionate way, “can be really activating,” Tolero says, “so learn how to identify in the moment when you’re getting too upset or triggered.” It’s great to stand up for yourself, but it’s also good to know when you’re emotionally safe and when you’re not.
Luckily, there are other ways to feel affirmed. Unapologetically take up space at the parties and events you attend. Reaching beyond your local community and filling your social feeds with queer folks who look all kinds of ways can serve as a daily affirmation that you are gay enough, exactly the way you are. (Gabrielle Kassel, who feels similarly to you about being a queer femme, has a good starter list here.) Dating apps are also an excellent way to proudly claim an identity upfront and find people who are attracted to the authentic you, while weeding out potential partners who will call your identity into question.
And I know I’m going to sound like your mom when I say this, but consider trying to make new friends. Nobody should put up with friends and romantic partners who make you feel unwelcome and less-than, regardless of sexual orientation. Don’t give up on finding people who have more expansive, accepting views about queerness. Depending on where you live, this won’t always be possible IRL—at least at first—but becoming part of affirming online communities is a start. Tolero suggests seeking out femme-specific spaces for support, but also groups within the queer community that are catered to your interests, not your specific identity: a queer book club, for instance, or a queer movie night. “Lead with who you are,” Tolero says, “and you’ll find your people.”
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