A long, long time ago—back in August?—I got an email from a reader named Asha, (1) asking where I came up with the name “alphafemme” and (2) saying that before she’d even read any of my blog, she felt a click—the word alphafemme, she thought, worked really well for her, and would I be offended if she appropriated it for herself. I promised her a post on the subject, and it is woefully overdue.
Let me first address the second thing—if the word alphafemme seems like a good fit for you in your identity, and even if your reasons for finding it a good fit are completely different from the reasons I will articulate below, by all means, if it feels good to you, use it. I think there’s a huge difference between deciding that alphafemme works as an identity label for you (which I would not call appropriation), and deciding you’re also going to publish a blog under the title “alphafemme” and write about (many of) the same things I write about or telling people that you’re me (which I would call appropriation). I would guess that most people are not inclined to do the latter, but I fully endorse the former! Run away with it people!
And now I’ll go back to the first thing, which is where I came up with the name “alphafemme” in the first place. I address this a bit on my About page (which needs updating anyway), but let me go into a bit more detail here.
After the obligatory coming out identity crisis, which I think many (if not most) queer women go through at some point or other (and I think this in itself is fascinating, and I totally want to write about this too), I started grappling with that all-important question: Who Am I? And maybe I have less self-awareness than most, but it took me quite a lot of trial and error to come to an understanding of my identity that felt right. I guess that was part of what I wanted this blog to do for me, to help me go through it all and decide what works for me and what doesn’t. And while I’ve (for now) finally settled on femme as a sort of umbrella-word for how I identify, it was hardly easy to come to terms with that.
I’m sure part of the insecurity in identifying as femme was internalized sexism, that some of the fear had to do with not wanting to choose what might seem to others to be “unenlightened” or, worse, hurting feminism. I’ve pretty much gotten over that now (see my post on femininity for a discussion of that), thank goodness, and am now fiercely, comfortably, and even subversively feminine.
But another major qualm I had with identifying as femme was this fear that I somehow didn’t actually know what femme meant, and that I would be scoffed at by other self-identified femmes for identifying as such. (“YOU’RE not femme, you have short hair!” or “but I hardly ever see you in dresses! that’s not really femme!” or “femmes don’t strap on! femmes don’t do the fucking!”) In San Francisco, it seems to me like everyone I’ve met who identifies as femme fits a certain image: dyed blonde or raven black hair, porcelain white skin, bright red lipstick, fishnets, tattoos… And believe me, these ladies are smokin’, but it’s just not my look. And so I was like, well, if that’s what femme is, then I’m not femme. (There are, of course, many other femme-identified ladies in SF who do also do not fit that particular description, as I’ve come to realize. Yay!)
And yet it still appealed to me. I still felt that my mild obsession with high heeled-peep-toe pumps and my growing infatuation with cooking still somehow made femme the right word for me. But since I was still kind of hesitant, it needed a qualifier. Something that made my identity mine.
It came to me last summer when I was watching old episodes of The L Word with a friend of mine, reminiscing about the pre-Dana’s-death days of the show. Or, rather, it came to my friend. We were watching one of the episodes where Bette is dealing with the protestors to her gallery’s art show. My friend turned to me and said, “she reminds me of you, she’s such an alpha female.”
“What does THAT mean?” I asked.
“Well… you’re strong, and fierce, and driven, and you’re always on top of everything, always in control. And you dress sharply feminine, powerful. But you’re also vulnerable, I think, I mean right? Don’t you sometimes just want someone to hold you and have someone else be the stronger one?”
And oh. my. god. YES. She was so right. I think my similarities to Bette end there (I’m not a raging bitch who cheats on my lovers in order to maintain a facade of Control Freak, and unfortunately I look nothing like her), but such as they are, the similarities ring so true. And “alpha” is an excellent way of describing me. I’m confident in my intellect, and I am meticulous, in control, ambitious, and driven. But I’m not just alpha. I’m alphafemme. I’m an alpha who wants to be enfolded at the end of the day. I’m an alpha who loves to pretend I’m a 50s housewife, a la Betty Draper, but happier (I’m currently obsessed with Mad Men). I’m an alpha with soft eyes and a maternal edge. I’m an alpha, with femme. Alphafemme.
Of course, to you, it can mean anything you want it to. If it conjures anything else for you, please share!