What does femme mean, and how does it differ from the ‘traditional’ femininity which feminism so often puts under the microscope? Milly Shaw reviews a book of photographs of and interviews with femmes from around the world
Stilettos, lipstick, beards: there’s more than one way to be a queer femme. Photographer Del Lagrace Volcano and writer Ulrika Dahl have travelled seven countries in their quest to explore the notion of queer femininity. The result is Femmes of Power, a book of coffee-table-beautiful photography mixed with postgraduate-level queer theory discussions of gender expression.
In a queer world that can still be suspicious of women who claim to be gay yet have long hair, femmes like Swedish linguist Charlotte Karlsdotter, who believe “a well-shaped and kept beard is a beautiful ornament that shouldn’t belong to men only”, occupy a whole other level of queer femininity, which Lagrace Volcano and Dahl are delighted to explore.
The first hurdle for self-identified gender-variant photographer Lagrace Volcano was the very notion of photographing femme women. As he explains, “I asked myself if the world actually needed any more images of ‘pretty women’ since proud, powerful images or portrayals of masculine women are still so rare on screen or in print.” And while it may be true that images masculine women are conspicuously absent, femme women are also largely invisible within queer spaces, and queer women are still underrepresented in mainstream media.