Our Favorite Images of Feminine Gender-Benders

In response to Lady Gaga’s drag performance on the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, drag king comedian Murray Hill stated, “There is barely any visibility for FTM, drag kings and lesbians on television. There is a huge imbalance. For Lady Gaga, the biggest pop star in the world, to go on TV with millions of people watching in drag as a man and then to actually say ‘lesbian and transgender’ live is undeniably powerful and creates change. She ups the visibility big time and gets the language into the mainstream.” But, Lady Gaga, as her alter ego Jo Calderone, wasn’t the first or the last femme star to blur the gender boundaries in mainstream media. Here are some of dapperQ’s favorite images of gender-bending femme stars:

Scarlett Johansson

Cindy Crawford

Michelle PfeifferChloe Sevingny

Marlene Dietrich

Diane Kruger

Kristen Stewart

Sigourney Weaver

Josephine Baker

Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone

Hillary Swank

Jessie Matthews

ย Sofia Coppola

Katharine Hepburn

Fan Bingbing

Barbara Streisand

Olive Thomas

Christy Turlington

Christy Turlington

Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista

Cate Blanchett

Amanda Moore

Sara Quin, Tegan Quin, Amanda Palmer, Amy Cook

Natalie Portman

Victoria Beckham

Tilda Swinton

Emma Watson

Glenn Close

Janet McTeer

Ciara (left and right)

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39 Comments

  • Hmmmmm… not crazy about seeing the term “femme” appropriated on a queer site. Couldn’t you just say “drag….?”

  • Let me explain further — these stars don’t identify openly as Femmes, nor does Lady Gaga, (as far as I know), and as a queer Femme, I would prefer that the term not be appropriated, especially on a queer site, especially given the low visibility of Femmes. Sure, these women/stars are doing drag and gender-bending, and that’s cool and hot, but that does not make them Femmes.
    Btw, Femmes are gender warriors too!

  • As a femme of color myself (I wrote this), I totally understand and agree with us not having much visibility. I often find myself frustrated having to explain to many of my peers that “femmes” in the “queer” sense of the word face many obstacles too. (BTW, I think you might like a discussion going on right now on Autostraddle).

    The word femme translates to “woman.” From that perspective, this term can be applied to anyone who identifies as such regardless of where they are on the spectrum. Thus, the meaning is contextual. There is evidence that mainstream society uses the term femme to mean feminine, as in femme fatale.

    The word femme as slang for feminine is not unique to our community, just as the word butch can be used to describe a straight woman or gay man. In fact, we wrote a quirky piece on a business called Butch Bakery, owned by a straight man, that offers “masculine” cupcakes. And, on a popular t.v. show last week, three of the straight female characters called themselves “fierce, fab, and femme.”

    My intent was not to decrease the visibility of “queer” femmes, and, as such, did not use the word “queer femme” to describe them. As a lesbian identified femme, I feel quite comfortable using the term in many contexts and do not feel that it steals from my own identity or takes away from the fact that we need more positive “queer femme” role-models.

  • Great collection of photo shoots, whatever term ya’ll feel comfortable using to depict these actresses, looking damn sexy is always a universal language.

  • I love all of these. So many gorgeous, gorgeous ladies. I wish I knew why I find women in menswear so… sexy, for lack of a better term.

    But I must ask: where is Annie Lennox? No one wears a suit better than Annie Lennox. She’s perfection.

  • agree, what about Victor Victoria (played by JA, mentioned Sep 19?) in a tuxedo smokin’ a cigar !?

  • I appreciate having female gender bends, but perhaps the word "feminine" isn't what you're looking for.
    someone in makeup and dresses is better fitted to the word feminine.
    someone in a suit and facial hair is better fitted to the word masculine.

  • Know that I adore Annie. ๐Ÿ˜‰ That said, she never struck me as anything approaching masculine. In fact, I've *always* perceived her as hyper-femme. (I know the same is true for many/most of the BUTCH lovers I know.) In truth, few if any in this series of pics read as masculine to me. Putting a female in a suit, trimming hair, et al. does not (for me and many I know) a GENDER-BENDER (or butch or Gender Rebel) make. Now then, these supermodels in drag— I expect appeal to a good chunk of the male demographic— and some lesbians. But…. not this one. They're all real PURDY though. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Agreed. It would be really special, though, if BULLDAGGER, UBER-BUTCH lesbians could get even a modicum of "air time." While I suppose it's fun to look at supermodels dressed up as men, the relative invisibility of BUTCH LESBIANS is, by comparison, *not* "fun."

  • Have to agree that Annie Lennox belongs here, moreso than Sigourney Weaver, Lady Gaga (don't get me started) or any of those younger actresses who owe their entire look to Marlene Dietrich.

  • Missing some fantastic examples from Western films. Suzy Amis in “Ballad of Little Jo,” Mercedes McCambridge in “Giant,” for example. Jenny Shimizu? And the famous Cindy Crawford and k.d. lang Vanity Fair pic? Catherine Opie’s photos? And I’m with others, some great images but we still have a big field of cultural lack where images of butch women are concerned.

  • does anyone know if the katherine hepburn photo is real, or photoshopped? hard to imagine the studio would have allowed a female star to have their hair chopped off so short, back in the day.

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