When I was in high school, I was frequently branded by my peers as a “Goth”. This stemmed from my penchant for wearing dark-coloured clothes, my love of music like Led Zeppelin, the Dresden Dolls, and Nightwish*, and my overly flowery and admittedly pretentious vocabulary. At first, I resisted the term, believing that “labels are for soup cans”, and not wanting my individuality to be diluted. I was also adamant that I wasn’t Gothic enough for a variety of arbitrary reasons, ranging from I don’t wear make-up, let alone black lipstick, to I have no piercings. My curiosity about the term was piqued though, and after reading Voltaire’s** What is Goth?, doing some research into the aesthetics, and lurking on some online forums, I came to the conclusion that being called a Goth wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, I actually enjoyed many of the elements I discovered during my research, particularly the music, the theatrical flairs, the art, and the sartorial standards. So I played it up, bought myself a pair of lovely boots, and enjoyed myself. Voltaire himself said that Goth could be anything you wanted it to be, after all.
Being That Goth Girl was, undeniably, fun. It gave me a confidence boost, and a fabulous sense of humour and perspective. Running away from other people’s perceptions of me was exhausting, but embracing them and making them my own was as easy as a midnight stroll.
I went through a similar phase of labelling, annoyance, petty denial, and eventual embracing when it came to describing myself as a nerd. Now, I find myself reaching the final stage with another, lesser known term, Hard Femme. For those of you outside of the queer community, this is probably not a familiar phrase, but this zine does a better job explaining it than I could on my own.
I came across the term through cultural osmosis, being so heavily involved in the local queer scene, and something about it struck me when I first heard it. On its own, the label femme felt a little like a too-high-heeled shoe: Beautiful, but slightly uncomfortable and not really tailored to me and my particular tastes and needs. Hard femme though, with the emphasis on jamming conventional norms surrounding strength, beauty, femininity, expression, and power, appealed to me greatly. Now, as a recovering rape survivor, I need to remember my strength more than ever, and one of the ways that I have been doing so is playing around with my appearance, because I feel it is my right to feel beautiful again. I can feel myself slowly healing each time I look in the mirror and declare “I’m fucking fabulous!” before leaving my house.
It’s just a term, but hard femme, I think, may be just what I need in order to continue that healing. Beauty and strength with a rebellious, playful twist. It’s a work in progress, but I’ll let the world know how it works out as I play around with the word and my identity. It’s amazing what little things can help you cope and rediscover, and how labels, as arbitrary as they are, can act as a starting point for asserting, rather than masking, your individuality.
This is also my way of announcing that, after school starts on September 5th, you can look forward to a barrage of fashion photos from yours truly, so you can see me play around with my new look. Enjoy.
* Spare me your lectures about how those aren’t Goth musicians; it wasn’t me calling myself that, it was a group of high schoolers who thought Bauhaus was a song by the Commodores.
** This one, not that one.