Out photographer Wendi Kali has been aware of the classic relational dichotomy of butch and femme for decades, but as she explored her own butch identity, the visually motivated artist had trouble finding images to which she could relate.
"From the research I've done, I've discovered that there are many photos depicting those identities from the '50s and '60s, a few from the '70s and even fewer from the '80s and '90s," Kali wrote on a blog post announcing The Butch/Femme Photo Project. "With this photo project, I wish to build upon the history of Butch and Femme by adding photos of the people who claim those identities today. I hope to show how the identities have evolved by photographing the many unique and individual expressions of them."
Thus far, the Portland, Ore.-based photographer has photographed 95 people, representing 35 cities across the United States and Canada. Kali also launched a Kickstarter page in hopes of funding travel to document butch and femme people in every corner of the nation. The project has already garnered more than $3,000 toward its $10,000 fund-raising goal, which must be reached by Friday for the project to win the pledges made.
"What I've discovered so far in this process is that not only is there a huge butch-femme community thriving in today's world, but also each individual within that community is a very unique expression of butch or femme," Kali tells The Advocate. "There isn't one way to be butch. There isn't one way to be femme. Those who claim those identities define them for themselves. What I hope to do with this project is give visibility to the butch-femme community in order to help others who might be struggling to find their place."
Read on to see an assortment of images featured in The Butch/Femme Photo Project, along with excerpts from interviews the author conducted with each subject. Kali welcomes inquiries from butches and femmes interested in participating, and can be reached at [email protected].
Mel and Erica
Fierce, feisty, femme
33 years old
"I dress up and do my hair and fix my makeup in the morning because it makes me feel good. It makes me feel confident and capable. And it makes me feel attractive to the people I am attracted to. I am crazy in love with my sexy-ass butch. When I move in the world, I want big butches with gray hair and crinkly eyes to pay attention to me. I move in that way, in the world. My lipstick isn’t for 50-year-old men who like feisty redheads. My mascara isn’t for meathead frat boys. My heels aren’t to make other women jealous or self-conscious. I ready myself for my days in the ways that make me most comfortable and confident. My femininity is subversive..."
42 years old
"Valid or not — my definition of femininity was based largely on what one wore on their body, be it dresses, makeup, or what have you. When I no longer became willing to kowtow to my mother's wishes that I 'dress like a lady,' I internalized what is defined as — but didn't really understand yet to be— butch. I learned later on that femininity had many more layered elements..."