"To me the definition of true masculinity--and femininity, too--is being able to lay in your own skin comfortably."
"Femme" is a slang word that refers to a lesbian identity. Some lesbians use femme as a description of their physical identity, as someone who dresses in a traditionally feminine way. Femme is also sometimes used as a gender identity, under the genderqueer umbrella or in its own stand-alone category. It's very often a self-identification, as there are no cut and dry rules about what constitutes being a femme--some femmes wear pumps and pearls, and some wear sneakers and sweaters, some have highlights and layers, and some are rocking the Sinead O'Connor 'do.
The term "lipstick lesbian" has a similar meaning in the United States, but the terms are not necessarily used interchangeably, as lipstick lesbian generally only refers to physical presentation and usually encompasses only the portion of lesbians who would be categorized as very traditionally feminine in appearance. It is sometimes used to refer specifically to very feminine women who tend to partner with other very feminine women. The term "chapstick lesbian" has evolved from this term to encompass moderately feminine to more androgynous lesbians.
For me, "femme" wasn't something I even knew was an option for the first six or seven years that I was out of the closet. I had no examples of queer femininity--except for maybe The L Word, but I didn't know any real lesbians who exhibited the kind of feminity that I did when I first came out. The tiny handful of lesbians I knew (and dated!) in my little midwestern town listened to Ani Difranco and wore their hair in short, cropped styles. I held onto my feminity a little a first, though I pretty quickly tried to blend in with the rest of the gay women I knew, cutting off 13 inches of my hair in one fell swoop and collecting an array of men's undershirts.
College was no easier for me. I went to a women's college for two years where I felt that being gay was decided by my peers to be my defining characteristic. I stopped shaving my armpits and wearing makeup altogether and wore my hair spikey. I ran for vice president of my college's LGBT organization and pierced my lip. My lunch table was known as "the power lesbians." In all of that, I felt like I'd lost who I was altogether. I didn't feel attractive even though I was getting much more attention from women than I ever did when I was feminine. The pretty, sweet (albeit feisty) me had been covered by this militant lesbian super hero out to squash the patriarchy! At the end of my sophomore year I dropped out and moved away.
After moving away, I decided it was time to learn who I was. I experimented with my appearance until finally I felt comfortable in my own skin as a feminine woman. I found that I really enjoyed being fashionable and that heels and jewelry suited me. Though I am never picked out of a crowd as a lesbian anymore and I'm always pegged as the straight girl at the gay bar, I'm OK with it now. I'm comfortable because I finally feel like me again.
Still, I think that femme visibility is really important. It's very easy for many of us femmes to pass as straight, both at work and in public settings, much more so than our butch and androgynous counterparts. While that makes it easier on us, we're doing no service to young feminine queer women who are looking for positive examples of gay femininity.