Being a queer identifying woman in America today is beautiful and terrifying all at once. On one hand, there has never been a time in this country‘s history where queer people have been so vocal and so free. On the other, in this battleground of a sociopolitical environment, conversations pertaining to identity, queer symbolism, and institutionalized oppression are difficult to navigate. As much as I love to huddle within the safety of the LGBTQIA+ community and the wide reach of that umbrella term, queer identity is more complicated than a handful of letters, and our existence can never be confined to just one experience. In an examination of the fluidity and nuances of identity and orientation, I endeavored to visualize the nature and perceptions of femininity, and engage a dialogue on its connection to queerness.
In a conversation with femme-identifying queer woman Eliza Griffin, we visually and conceptually navigated the the relationship between femme identity and the color pink, and symbolism that is implied by it.
Erin Davis for Pink Things: How do you identify and what does it mean to you to claim it? What does claiming it look like for you?
Eliza Griffin: I identify as lesbian or gay. I use lesbian the most often, I also use gay and queer, but lesbian is the term that I would use to describe myself officially. I feel like sexuality is really fluid. I identify as gay now and I don't think that I'll ever be attracted to men, but I have no idea if I will never be. And so I guess I claim that label because I like to be part of something bigger than myself. But I don't necessarily find myself feeling as though I don't ever want to like men or that I will just completely push men out of my love life forever. I'm not very closed off with that, which is why sometimes I just go by queer. I take a lot of pride in being a woman and I love women immensely and I think that embracing your sexuality, since it took me so long, is really important. I've had a lot of challenges with it. In my experience with prejudice, I feel like it’s not always a blatant “This is wrong,” but something more subtle than that. So accepting and embracing it has been really important to me.
PT: I’ve found that the prejudice queer women face is often very indirect and something that people have plausible deniability about. It's like bigots know what they're doing and contributing to is wrong, but it's so subtle that they can go back and say, “Hey, that's not true. I'm not like that. You just misunderstood.”
EG: Yeah, for sure. I think there's so much that goes into unintentional prejudice, especially since I feel like guys in particular have a tendency to walk it back. I have a couple of guy friends that are my best friends in the entire world and they're great, but they have certain preconceptions. If I were to talk about my girlfriend, they would be like, “Ooh, do you like make out with her?” It over sexualizes us and I'm just like, “No.” And I feel like that's a tendency for a lot of people. If I'm holding hands with my girlfriend, a guy might come up to us and be like, “Who wears the pants in the relationship? Do you want to make out?” Like, we're not here for you. Please leave.
PT: I also observed that identifying as more masculine and more feminine is not necessarily reflected in how you express it. Identity should always be valid, but it's not always treated that way because someone who identifies as a femme lesbian might not present in the stereotypical way.
EG: Even the idea of saying “I don't dress very feminine” is reinforcing stereotypes because it supports the assumption that if you dress a certain way, then you're automatically this or that. I definitely am a femme lesbian, but people don't always see that because of the way I dress or look outwardly. People don't normally stereotype me when they first meet me because they don't think I look gay. I've gotten that from literally every single person who I've told. That's the typical reaction.
PT: I want to talk about the wider significance pink has as a symbol of a people and how it was used to label and stereotype queer identifying people. Recently there's been a pushback movement of a lot of different minority communities of reclaiming things that were once used as tools and symbols of oppression. For the queer community and the feminist community, this symbolic color is a part of that. What’s your opinion on this?
EG: Pink has a long history with homosexuality, bringing to mind the Holocaust because that's how gay people were identified, by the pink triangles. Also, I feel like pink is perceived as a more feminine and girly color, especially as of recently. A negative that comes to mind for me is that femininity is and has always been seen as inferior to masculinity. Since pink is associated with being feminine, it can be associated with weakness. It all comes out of this deep-seeded idea that being masculine is better than being feminine. So for me, the color can be used to push back against that stereotype and not allow femininity to be associated with weakness anymore. Being feminine certainly does not mean you’re weak at all. And I think that for people, especially femme lesbians, embracing the feminine is a really important part of combating this.
*Read Part 1 Here*
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
All photos by Erin Davis.
Erin Davis is a writer, artist, photographer and multimedia journalist based in Atlanta. She is a regular contributor for Pink Things.