Femme Hatred in Non-Binary Communities

I wanted to talk about something I’ve witnessed across many different communities amongst some non-binary identified individuals: femme hatred or just the overwhelming avoidance of the feminine within non-binary identified individuals.

I want to preface this by saying that on a base level, I understand some of the anti-fem attitudes I see. I have a variety of different reactions when people perceive and judge my gender. Although I’m non-binary identified, because I am constantly analysed through a binary lens, different ways of interpreting my identity illicit different responses. When I’m assumed female, this has, in the past, demonstrated to me that I have somehow failed in an attempt to create non-binary presentation. In other words, I am somehow gendered, despite not wanting to be.

When I’m assumed male, this demonstrates to me that I have some how succeeded in an attempt to create a non-binary presentation. I am still gendered in society’s eyes, even in a way I don’t want to be. Being non-binary means that I don’t identify with either option, but yet, being assumed male because I am usually assumed female¬†means that I have somehow won, I’ve somehow subverted understandings of gendered norms and at least crossed a boundary in what I’m used to being perceived as. Therefore, it would make a lot of sense that being assumed female contains a lot more negative emotions than being assumed male does.

So on a basic level, I get some of the hatred and avoidance of femininity. If that just reaffirms an identity to others that you don’t have, then I understand wanting to stay away from it. I see lot of examples of explaining non-binary identities or genderqueerness by putting gender on a spectrum with “male” or “masculine” on one side and “female” and “feminine” on the other side, with genderqueer or non-binary identities set right in the middle. While this gradient may illustrate the point very clearly to cis people or binary identified people, I feel like the gradient really fails to capture the essence of gender expression and interpretation.


One of the many incarnations of the "Genderbread" person, a quick guide to explaining the differences between sex, gender, orientation, and expresion.

One of the many incarnations of the “Genderbread” person (by jermo234), a quick guide to explaining the differences between sex, gender, orientation, and expresion.

While the experience of different marginalisations and intersections always differs, one thing that many privileges have in common is being a cultural and social default. So, for example, a privilege of whiteness is that whiteness is so often considered a default. “Flesh tone” is code for “white skin”, items of clothing, bandages, or other items that are meant to blend in with skin or look like skin always reflect whiteness, the majority of individuals represented in films as a default are white, and artists consider the race of a sculpture as white immediately before anything else. That’s just one part of privilege.

Maleness and masculinity have that same privilege within Eurocentric¬†societies. Groups of individuals are commonly referred to with male pronouns or male signifiers (those guys) and masculine general names are considered gender neutral (dude) where female or feminine signifiers (ladies, girls) are not given the same flexibility. Default avatars and representations of humans are always masculine bodied and represent white supremacist society’s concept of a “male” figure. Curvy shapes with breasts or hips never enjoy that same freedom. Therefore what becomes inevitably clear is that within white supremacist society, non-binary individuals do not and cannot exist in between the gradient of “masculine” and “feminine” when masculine is a cultural default.

A collection of default avatars, most containing "masculine" features.

A collection of default avatars, most containing “masculine” features.

I’ve already discussed how I feel that androgyny tends to create a situation where more masculine presentations are preferred and one must abandon all feminine qualities in order to achieve a “genderless” look. Therefore I understand why a rejection of the feminine, femme-ness, and “female” represents some freedom from gendered constraints. Within this gender disordered society, many are often searching for something that will get a recognition of gender neutrality or at least a lack of gender from others. But what I think a lot of non-binary people forget is that we’re negotiating with a society that refuses to accept our existence all together. Audre Lorde once wrote, “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Playing by their rules of “gender” and what is constructed as “genderless” may not actually break any of those rules.

I don’t wish to say that should a non-binary identified person choose to dress more masculinely or overall have a more masculine presentation that they are somehow buying into the binary or reinforcing any harmful stereotypes. At the end of the day, I think what feels comfortable for your own personal expression is something I don’t have the right to dictate and the last thing I would want to do is force someone into yet another gendered box, since that’s what I feel like is already happening left and right.

Instead, I would like to see more non-binary people, if they haven’t, reconsider their aversion to the femme and femininity. Because so much of our culture is already so anti-feminine and pro-masculine. None of exist within a social vacuum, we’re all positioned toward a state of femme rejection and hatred. I think it’s worth examining those attitudes at least once over.

This article was published in January 2013 and was last updated in October 2014.


  1. I’m an AFAB nonbinary person, and my daily presentation is on the femme side of androgynous. I sometimes feel like I’m “letting the side down” by preferring this presentation, so an article like this is really heartening. Thank you!


  2. I think there are several things going on, im faab and i have questioned my gender and dislike a lot of things about the female gender role. I find that it is possible to not do femininity and choose clothing that could be worn by either sex, i find that the problems only begin when the clothing is used to hide ones sex. For example its possible to wear really short hair, jeans and converse with a t shirt that fits out the mens and still not have a problem. It still is genderless. People tend to assume your a lesbian who is butcher. If the clothes you wear are similar versions of the mainstream street trends and fit you then it does not bring as many problems.

    But when people try to hard to be somewhere in the middle, like i once did by wearing really long hair amnd masculine clothes or by some other means it draws attention to the fact the person is more hung up on gender then the average person and attracts attention. When some people try to achieve an androgynouse look by dressiong for gender presintation only it just does not work, and the person ends up trapped in avoiding gender and is not free from gender.

    Its like the transwomen who try to avoid wearing anything that could be masculine, it draws attention due to the way most female fashion trends even for femme women include the odd iten that has a masculine edge to it.

    Transmen on the other hand tend to just be wearing the menswear trends so blend in more, even more then butch women because most men will not be wearing big heavy boots unless he is hiking or working, instead he will be wearing lightweight trainers or converse, a butch woman might be wearing combat boots on a sunny day in town. Its like the transwoman who cannot wear trainers at all so does not exercise. Ive just been out with a transwoman who was like that, taking her for a walk was impossible as she was too hung up on wanting to look feminine she could not wear trainers or boots.

    It tend to work better if the focus is on not playing up ones femininity without playing it down and then just adding masculinity on top of it without overdoing it. I went through a phase when i was young where i ended up being butch, i was just going through a stage with buzz cut and superbaggy mens sports wear, on the street i passed as a young man, i just did without trying all i was doing was following my instinct, not thinking about gender.

    Before i knew it i had a circle of friends and a place in it, even the gym i went to i was in a box i never knew about. When the phase passed and i let my hair grow a bit and wanted to try different clothes etc, my friends were suddenly trying to keep my masculinity and saying things like what you doing, you with hair etc. It even went as far as me loosing a friend when my hair got to a certin length. When my hair got longer i needed to put something in it to keep it out my face in the gym, and people were shocked to see me with a hair band in as they had never seen me any other way. I find there is kind of a line, people do except masculine women and get used to you, the girls work out your not as much competition and men get to know you might be a lesbian. I find that its possbile to then go super masculine at times, but when you go more feminine its like you then are taking up a different space in life, so you then loose some of your chips.

    I have tryed to be feminine so many times in my life as ive always tryed to keep in check my own masculine side and to stop it going to far and me loosing myself in it and becoming trans. The more feminine i was the more male attention i got which was a pain, and also other women held me to higher standards. I think masculine and feminine people are given a different space in the world, and when someone trys to stay too much in the middle people dont like it incase you end up getting too much of either space. Its the same way bisexuals are treated, many dont like them because they dont know whos partner they could take. A lot of men treat lesbians of one of the lads in the sense they know she is off limits but she might like there girlfriend etc. Women are the same with lesbians they might wonder if there gonna be hit on, but they know there boyfriend is safe so they can relax around the lesbian in a different way. I find some streight women are ok with me once they know im not gonna fancy them, i can get let of being competed with. There is some type of gender based competition going on all the time between people, all the measuring up and seeing who is competition for mating. Because theres two sexes in nature, and because showing off body assets is part of how people compete when people try to gender cross a lot of the clashes that come towards them are not transphobia, its just coming from not knowing how much of a threat the person is.

    For example streight women tend to watch how much other women interact with available men. They also are always on watch for how much body women reveal and how they do it. Because of this it makes life harder for women who may want to have a blend of masculine and feminine. This is because the feminine is seen as a marker to be regulated as its seen as competitive with women. The masculine will also be seen as done to attract women and repel men. So when one trys to do both, people tend to think bi or unsure as most people have no idea gender is seperate from sexuality.

    Any gender presintation can feel free, it only becomes a problem when other people put you in a space for it, then it changes. On the plus side seeing someone go from masculine to feminine tends to make people think about there own gender. Just like seeing gay people makes some streight people think about there own sexuality and if they ever have had any gay thoughts. Being around gender different people can do the same thing, this is good for society i believe but it does cause a stir at first. I think trans and queer people evolved for a specific purpose and there suppression leads to the suppression of everyone as all have the ability to be more fluid. When gender is more fluid its better for all as people can learn to deal with people as people first and gender and sex second. Some people have to know a persons sex to be able to relate to them, imagine what the world would be like if that was not the case. None binary people give people a chance to learn a new skill and to change the way they box other people off based on sex. Sometimes it even challenges peoples sexuality.


  3. What I find interesting about this and other similar articles is the hidden reverse assumption that underlies the central observation, thus: “Non-binary people are compelled to present as more masculine to feel they have succeeded in creating a conscious and deliberate gender presentation” relies on “Non-binary people are only those people for whom being seen as feminine would not be seen as creating a conscious and deliberate gender presentation”, i.e. what are generally called ‘AFAB’ people (though I know many people who have issues with the terms we use to describe the idea of normative bodies and normative gender assumptions, which I am very sympathetic to – unfortunately it’s kind of unavoidable when this idea is central to the point I’m raising).

    Of course, it seems, this situation is true /for you/. But extrapolating from this to the class of “non-binary people” means you are, in a parallel way to the problem you actually address in the article, only ‘seeing’ non-binary people if they are AFAB to begin with; thereby seeing any AMAB person on some different, independent axis of cis man to trans woman, via perhaps high camp, drag, cross-dressing/transvestite, but never actually passing through the region you understand as “non-binary people”.

    I say this only as my experience of non-binary people (I have only known a dozen or so) (oh, I am one myself too, just to make that clear) runs the whole gamut between AFAB femme, AMAB femme (where ‘femme’ may have different emphasises on ‘passing’ vs. ‘subverting’ between different individuals), ‘under-the-radar’ vaguely normative appearance (whether from not caring so much about presentation, or from pressures such as those in this article, or from the difficulties of sustaining a non-normative presentation for anyone (I fall into this last category a lot of the time)), which perhaps has a tendency towards the masculine, simply because often “femininity=effort” and vice versa when viewed in certain ways (this would take a much longer comment to explain fully, but for example, for men, taking an interest in presentation is seen as a feminine trait regardless of what that actual presentation is; and “not making an effort” for a woman is seen as a failing of femininity); the stereotypical spiky haircut thing you mention (there are certainly problems with the fact that this *is* the stereotype, and I am sympathetic to your points on this; there are perhaps nuances which I would approach from a different place but I don’t disagree substantively), and the more high camp or alternative end of mainstream queer presentations. And it is only to some of these people that the idea of the pressures you describe actually apply to; in fact for someone like myself, the pressure would be to present *more* feminine if what was at stake was “being seen as creating a conscious and deliberate gender presentation” or “creating a gender presentation different to that which would be ‘expected’ of you” (but I also feel there are different issues present to these in the question of being recognised as non-binary).

    I hope this comment doesn’t comes across as overly negative or overly critical; I certainly think it is true that AFAB femme non-binary people suffer exactly what you have described, and this deserves every bit of attention it gets as a problem in non-binary communities. But AMAB non-binary people seem to me to face very different difficulties in accessing a femme presentation whilst still being seen as non-binary, in that they seem rarely to be seen as non-binary *at all*, as I have described, and so it is unfortunate or perhaps ironic that in fact pieces like this, while very valuable in what they address, seem also to repeat this problem.

    But yes there is much work needed to be done in defending, empowering and legitimating femininity across all contexts, and so we are definitely on the same side! And as I say the problem you point out is a very important one. So I hope this comment is read as sympathetic and constructive, rather than negative!


    1. — I see you have an article about “assigned at birth language”, which I hadn’t read before writing this comment but is very enlightening; it also reminds me that phrases which suffice for my comment are your “Non-binary people who are read as men who express femininity” and “those who are non-binary and who are read as women expressing masculinity or femininity” — this is the spirit in which my references to assignment-at-birth are to be read.


      1. I like the “read as woman” and “read as man” language, but what we’re read as doesn’t matter if for example, we’re passed out and an EMT decides to sto treating us because our bits don’t match what we’re read as. And that’s not something that I actually face, which I think is important to say.


    2. You’re kind of assuming a lot here about my experience and what kind of non-binary people I’ve had interactions with. In specific, I think that by what would be loosely described as “AFAB” people, there -is- a femme hatred. And many “non-binary” communities are full of these people. I know many people who are all sorts of different types of non-binary who actively avoid “non-binary communities” because they’re full of white masculine presenting AFAB people. I wouldn’t assume that non-binary “communities” include everyone from the start. They don’t even include me because I’ve left them because I’m sick of the femme hatred.


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