During a TEDxConnecicutCollege talk, Hari Nef asked a question: “Why are we being shamed for our femme?”
It came at the end of her 12-minute talk that speaks about how being “femme” — presenting oneself in a way that is traditionally feminine through clothes, makeup, mannerisms, etc. – is often a tool for survival for trans women, but is often judged as a wrongdoing by progressive thinkers. Trans women and non-trans women alike are judged as giving in to repressive standards if they decide to wear lipstick and high heels, Nef says, but that shouldn’t be the case. If trans women decide to be femme as a survival tactic, or simply because they like it — what’s the problem?
“It’s time for the aesthetics of upwardly mobile feminist respectability to make room for the aesthetics of survival, particularly trans survival,” Nef says. “It’s time to revise what a feminist looks like, especially if hair, makeup and nails allow her to get jobs, make friends or ride the subway home safely at night. It’s time to free the femme because some of us need it or like it and that’s OK.”
Nef, an actor, model, and writer, speaks about the difficulties she faced during her own transition and how she ultimately “feminized” herself. “I wanted a body that allowed me to do the things I wanted to do in the way I wanted to do them,” she says.
But as difficult as her own journey was, Nef points out that many trans women, specifically trans women of color, are forced to deal with life and death situations on a daily basis. Even if they are able to “pass” as women, “[a trans woman's] race, her class or her citizenship can place further targets on her back.”
“Worldwide a trans person is slaughtered every three days,” she says. “The vast majority of these victims are trans women of color and the vast majority of the discovered murderers are men dissatisfied with our embodiment of femininity; dissatisfied by trans femininity; men who judge us to be not femme enough. … Hair, makeup and nails keep us strong and safe; does that make us sellouts? Or survivors?”
Watch her entire talk below: