When I was dating someone who read as butch, I was routinely called their ‘trophy wife’. This always bothered me for a few reasons, in spite of my initial inclination to accept the comment as a compliment about my appearance and my partner’s charm or romantic allure. Of course I wanted to ignore the implication that my partner was somehow less attractive than me because of their gender presentation. I wanted to keep the peace and avoid provoking fragile masculinities. But it always bothered me that my attraction to queer masculinity was not acknowledged.
To call someone a trophy wife is to dismiss them as a subject of desire.
To the hetero mainstream eye, cisgender queer femininity is perceived as a prize that has been won by a subject whose gendered aesthetic is not only considered unattractive or undesirable, but even villainous or immoral. This further promotes the binary of light/dark, femme/masc, good/evil, pure/perverse that is so popular in mainstream media, and which is often employed toward the end of objectifying femininity.
What I found interesting when researching other uses of the term ‘trophy wife’, is that most commonly, a trophy wife is synonymous with ‘gold digger’, a woman who pairs with a man for his money. Money is traded for arm candy in a relationship with a trophy wife. When an ignorant bystander sees a butch femme queer couple, they can only make sense of half this equation. The economic status of queer women is nowhere near to that of straight men, and so bystanders are left with the task of understanding just why this pretty feminine woman is standing so close to that lesbian who looks like Justin Bieber.
Incredibly, there have been moments when someone will assume I have a history of domestic violence before they recognize that I might in fact be sexually attracted to a butch woman.
Using queer femme fashion as a framework through which to empower the expression of femme-ininities, I am working on my ‘trophy wife’ aesthetic. This look will utilize hyperbolic accessory, award symbolism (military medal brooches!), and lots of GOLD. I am envisioning a strong lapel, various metal hardware and some elaborately flamboyant head piece. My aim is to take back the trophy wife trope and channel it into an outfit that serves to mock hetero-normativity while subverting the notion that cis femmes lack queer desire or sexual agency.