This is a guest post by Ms. Boss Femme.
Every so often, maybe at a happy hour or a house party, someone will pick up my hand, examine my fingers, and exclaim “Oh wow, you have straight girl nails! How does that work?” I usually laugh awkwardly and change the subject. I also occasionally find myself part of a group conversation about, say, how to avoid lockjaw and tongue tiredness during a long session of cunnilingus. In these situations I try to be inconspicuously quiet, sometimes nodding in agreement to pieces of advice that sound right.
The truth is, in my current relationship, which happens to be with a masculine-of-center woman, there’s no reason for my nails to be super short because I don’t stick my fingers anywhere particularly delicate. And I can’t contribute any lessons learned from going down on her because… I don’t. I am the one who gets the finger action. I am the one who tires tongues. I am the receptive partner, and according to some definitions, I am a “Pillow Princess”.
A Pillow Princess is a woman who, during sex with other women, enjoys being pleasured but never reciprocates, rarely reciprocates, or reciprocates in a limited manner. It is sometimes tricky for me to navigate queer spaces, because I find that the queer cultures I am a part of have packed a lot of meaning into the relationships between gender expression, gender roles, and the performance of dominance and submission. Each scene has attached something different to the meaning of lopsided sexual reciprocation, and as it almost always does, this has a lot to do with race, class, and exposure to Big F Feminism. It’s almost like folks are still figuring out how to work through the tensions described in the novel Stone Butch Blues, where stone butches (women with masculine gender expression who top their partners sexually and are averse to engagement of their own genitalia during sex) and their feminine partners were criticized by second-wave feminists who felt they were perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes.
The DC locals queer scene, which is heavily black and working/middle class, is a beautiful space but also a space that glorifies heteronormativity. There is extreme pressure to be either a stud or a femme. Studs date/have sex with femmes. Studs top and femmes bottom. And there is a sense that this is how the sexual dynamics between women always are, or should be. While the gender expression of my partner and I, and the sex in our relationship, fit into this system perfectly, it’s so constricting that I feel uncomfortable supporting it. I just see so many people for whom its not working- studs who change their entire gender expression and slide into a sexual role they don’t prefer because they feel that’s what they have to do to date the person they like. Femmes who perhaps want to cut their nails short, but keep them super long because their stud girlfriend wants them that way as a symbol of who is dominant in the relationship. Receptive studs, topping femmes, folks who are neither stud nor femme, and a whole bunch of other people get left out or policed into changing who they are. But if I chime into a sex convo with something like “Hey! You know what’s cool. Sometimes the femme can be the one getting fucked but still be the dominant person in the situation because she’s calling the shots!”, more often than not I just get funny looks.
In my queer college alum/social justice worker (vanilla) circles, there are completely opposite sentiments. There’s a strong push for everyone to be free! Fuck gender roles! Down with heternormativity! Be in equal, reciprocal sexual relationships where everyone is getting all the pleasure! Which is great, but not to the point that it stigmatizes those whose preferences don’t match up. I’ve been told that a partner who doesn’t reciprocate any sex acts is selfish. First, this sentiment makes me feel a little embarrassed of my old school, Stone Butch Bluesey sex life in comparison to all my cool, more fluid friends. But more importantly, I think it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the vast variety of sexual preferences out there, and of the existence of people who truly experience the most pleasure when they are pleasuring their partners.
It’s also important to note that in this scene, the term “pillow princess” is used almost entirely as insult that is associated with delicate femininity and therefore eagerly rejected. I wonder if such rejection is related to the misogyny that often relegates very effeminate gay men to the bottom tiers of respectability and desirability in gay male culture. Are more educated, Big F Feminist queer women subconsciously uncomfortable affirming (in themselves or others) softness, submission, delicacy- the socially constructed extremes of western femininity? When extreme femininity is used as an insult, isn’t that internalized misogyny? If we could disassociate submission from weakness and receptivity from oppression, we would probably respect and value folks in our communities (of all genders) who “bottom” in bed much more. AND everyone would be freer to ignore others’ opinions of what makes a person a good sexual partner, and do what feels right to them and their partners.
Because that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, the way people decide to have sex should be about what makes everyone involved happy and satisfied. For a lot of women having sex with women, pleasure can be derived from either performing or receiving a sex act, and a full and satisfying sexual encounter would involve both types of experiences. But that’s not the case for everyone. There are those of us who snuggle up to our satisfied partners after a session of deliciously “unbalanced” sex, sporting our Princess tiaras with pride.