Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘community’

Femmespiration and Femme Wins

This is the post full of femme awesomeness.  Y’all may have noticed that this is a recurring theme, but here’s where it takes center stage.  Why?  Because I have spent way too much time in queer communities and spaces that were/are riddled with femmephobia–in which I was made to feel really insecure about my gender presentation, or felt compelled to dress down all the time to avoid attention, or was constantly told (implicitly and explicitly) that femme was pretty much worthless and if I truly wanted to fight the patriarchy I’d present myself in a masculine way.  Ughhh so much BS.  (Need further explanation?  See: 87% of this blog.)  As a way of retroactively counteracting some of this negativity, I’ve decided to make a list of femme-positive moments.  Most are directly from my life; some I’ve observed.

Note: this is not a checklist of things required in order to ID as femme, nor is it a list of things that all femmes relate to, nor is it my entire conception of femme.  It’s a scattered collection of fun moments that I associate with femme or that exemplify how I do femme.  So, here goes…

  • Seeing other femmes out and about and smiling at one another.  Especially when we’re both reading queer theory on the train.
  • Nail polish with huge chunks of glitter in it.  I like to call this “don’t fuck with me” glitter.
  • Heels: some haters pity me for my apparent lack of awareness that I’m wearing tools of the patriarchy on my feet.  Fuck that~~if I’m in 3″ heels, I walk taller and you’ll be able to hear me coming from down the street.  Heels are powerful.
  • Enormous purses: why yes, I do carry a huge ass Mary Poppins bag at all times.  Laugh all you want, but when you need water, band-aids, medicine, tissues, pens, gum, hand sanitizer, sunblock, gloves (the wool kind or the latex kind), lotion, a bottle opener, books, etc., you know I’ll have them.
  • Realizing that that plum eye shadow really does compliment the gold eye shadow and accentuate your eyes perfectly.
  • Fuchsia lip gloss: I maintain that this is the key to improving any day.
  • Magical jacket: it’s sheer, translucent, green, blue, leopard-print, and chunky zippered all at once.  I know this sounds like an impossible combination, but it’s actually the best thing ever.

Magical jacket
(Oh yes, this is my face.  It’s been a while~~hello.)

  • As a femme cis woman: breaking stereotypes of what queer women are “supposed to look like.”
  • Glitter.  Did y’all here that?  GLITTER.  This is basically my life motto:

(source)

  • Rejecting the notion of “high maintenance.”  I hear this thrown around all the time as a criticism of femme folks.  Femininity is deemed superfluous and superficial; by extension, femmes are viewed as super demanding/unreasonable if we spend a lot of time/energy on our physical appearance.  Fuck that.  If I spend over an hour sitting in front of a mirror doing the most elaborate makeup for a party, I don’t need your approval.  If I bring a bigger suitcase than you because I needed to pack bunches of scarves and shoes (while you brought a pair of jeans and two extra shirts), my choices and opinions aren’t magically less valid.  I just intend to wear different fabulous outfits every day, while spewing my still informed, intelligent, valid opinions.  You’ll look fierce in your jeans and tees; I’ll look fierce in a never-ending series of fabulous shoes. 

(source)

  • Re-imagining femininity on our own terms: defined by our own values and desires, not the kyriarchy.  Resisting the pressure to be white (or at least light-skinned),  slim and also hourglass-shaped, able in all ways at all times, passive/quiet/unopinionated, dressed in ways that require large budgets, etc.  I love seeing and hearing about how other femme folks navigate these pressures and still look and feel fly.
  • Huge flowers: in our hair, pinned on our clothes/bags/shoes, on jewelry, painted on our nails, painted on our faces, etc.
  • Poofy skirts.  They’re the best.  Pencil skirts are the other best, as are huge bell-bottom jeans.  Cozy sweatpants are the other other best.
  • Sequins.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Coincidental fabulousness: that time when my shirt, lingerie, and phone case were all leopard-print, and I didn’t even notice til I was almost out the door.
  • Not being forced into or ashamed of femininity–(re)learning that it can be awesome/fabulous/wonderful/powerful/sharp/full of pizazz.
  • These shoes:

photo_7

  • The story behind that picture: taken on the last day of Femme Con 2012.  I was talking to a new femme friend (and recent Seven Sisters grad~~woot woot!) when suddenly this dapper person races across the lobby to us with a camera, pointing excitedly at our feet. “Can I take a photo of your shoes??”  We looked down.  I was wearing the peep-toe wedges; she’s got the combat boots.  They’re upholstered in exactly the same fabric.  We had no idea.  By this point, we’d been in a workshop together and had been standing next to one another for about ten minutes, never realizing that we were wearing matching shoes.  *Commence OMG squeals*
  • Later realization: that was the first time I’d experienced a masculine-of-center person making a beeline for femmes to compliment our style, rather than the other way around.  Perhaps this seems insignificant or surprising to you, but for me, it was definitely a wow moment of “oh yeah, my gender presentation is valued and appreciated by people besides myself.”
  • Shared experiences: connecting with other femmes and finding words for things you didn’t realize you were struggling with, so now you have a name for that thing that makes you so mad/frustrated/confused/joyful that you weren’t able to articulate before or were afraid no one else would understand.
  • These shoes:

Glitter heels

I own these shoes.  Bonus: I just finished a show for which I wore them every Thurs-Sun for a month.  Holla.

  • Huge shout-out to all the femmes of color!  Y’all are so gorgeous and your styles so fierce and your words so inspiring.  I say this not because I think you need my validation, but because I know that in some queer spaces, femme is most readily visible on white bodies.  In white-dominated queer spaces, we (white folks) often overlook QPOCs and marginalize your experiences.  I’m sorry.  I try my best to recognize when this happens/might happen and to do something proactive about it.  Always a work in progress, but I’m striving to be your ally.
  • Fascinators: Kate Middleton isn’t the only one rocking them; that’s all I’m saying.
  • Femme flagging: y’all get so creative!  I’m impressed.  Femme folks are going all out with strategically pinned flowers, jewelry, handkerchiefs in hair and on shoes/belts/wrists, and oh my god the nail polish.
  • Metal spikes and studs on clothing/shoes: rock on with your tough selves!
  • Cupcakes: baking them, eating them, cupcakes as patterns on cloth, looking like a cupcake personified~~it’s all good.
  • Shout-out to femmes of differing abilities and body shapes/sizes!  Obviously our heteronormative society has a certain set of beauty standards.  Beyond this, queer communities have developed standards of beauty/attractiveness that often perpetuate the same oppressive norms that we’re theoretically fighting.  Fuck all that.  This goes back to my point about defining femininity for ourselves, on our own terms.  Seeing people do this–however they’re doing it–is inspiring and beautiful.
  • Politicizing rhinestoned corsets
  • Mixing colors/patterns and not being afraid of being over the top.  As we learned from To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar 

Larger than life is just the right size!

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I May Not Look Queer, but I Do Look Like I Might Send a Stiletto to Your Face

“You don’t look queer.”

“Your nails are too long to be gay.”

“She probably cut her hair to get people to notice her.”

“Just wear plaid or get a tattoo!”

“Well…you just look straight.”

“Wear one feather earring–that’s a queer thing.” *

“If I can’t see you, how am I supposed to know you exist?!”

Okay, now that I’ve gotten them out there, all of these comments can go die in a fire.

Currently, all the new Mount Holyoke students are mid-orientation.  This is a magical time of getting acquainted with Moho and having the most jam-packed long days of activities, yet somehow they’re still managing to blog about it.  Earlier today, on Tumblr’s #mount holyoke tag, someone posted the following:

Some immediate thoughts:

  • How do you even have time to write this stuff?
  • Fuck you!  Maybe I don’t wanna wear plaid every day.
  • Poor firstie, you can’t find the community you want.
  • BUT FUCK YOUR WELL-INTENTIONED IGNORANCE
  • You’re trying so hard AND FAILING SO MUCH HARDER
  • I’m sorry you’re lost and looking for friends and feeling queer-deprived.  I so want to help you out.  But this here is some BS.  Check yourself.

The way I saw it, there were two potential responses.  A) Reblog her post with some helpful commentary about LGBTQ+ orgs on campus, or B) declare loudly to myself “fuck you, we’ll wear what we want” and go make a glorious plaid-free lunch.  I was sorely tempted by B, but I decided on a compromise.

Fast forward several hours.  I went out to dinner with my fam–flowy skirt, matching bag, and 3″ heels included–and returned home to find that this firstie’s post had accrued 90 notes.  Two of those were mine and a friend’s, both calling her out and suggesting some places she might meet the people she’s seeking.  Most of the comments were along the lines of “OMG yesssssssss!  Can this be a thing?  Can we collectively buy into the notion of visible markers of queerness and condemn anybody who doesn’t follow?!

No.  Stop.  Just shut up before I fight everyone this blog post gets even longer and angrier.  Femmes are not necessarily incognito; we are not a group to be “weeded out”, much to your aggravation.  We are not an annoyance.  Just because we are not decked out in rainbows and plaid doesn’t mean we’re not there.  Or ya know what?  Maybe we are sashaying past in plaid and rainbow jewelry, but you’ve been conditioned not to recognize us.

What do “gaydar” and “reading” someone’s sexual orientation actually mean?

We are, in fact, not describing sexual orientation at all–we’re responding to gender transgressions.  Obviously there are cases in which you see two people whom you perceive to have the same gender making out and you think to yourself, “Wow, they’re pretty queer.”  Yep–in that situation, you’re probably right.  That aside, most people who are described as “looking LGBQ+” are feminine men and masculine women.  Those gender presentations are culturally coded as not straight.  Tada!  Conflation of gender presentation and sexuality.

What comes to mind when you think “queer woman”?

All too often, the image conjured is white, short-haired, masculine, either very stocky or very slender (either way, no curves allowed), and wearing some combination of the following:

  • Bean boots, baggy jeans, boxers, androgynous suit, rainbows, plaid, ear gauges, facial piercings, down vest, flannel, etc.

These clothes–as well as women enjoying “manly” activities/accessories/ hobbies–are coded as queer and are understood as markers of “legitimate” queerness.  The people who embody these stereotypes are “really queer.”

What happens to the rest of us?

According to this model, femme and other feminine-of-center women can’t possibly be queer, or at least aren’t “queer enough.”  It’s clearly our fault we’re not seen: we’re in hiding, we just haven’t learned yet how to be truly queer, we’re new to the queer community, we don’t understand how things work, our presentation is just not right.  It’s up to us to change.

NO.  Fuck that.  I will dress how I damn well please.  I’ve wasted too much time trying to rearrange my wardrobe, interests, and style to fit these bullshit standards that privilege masculinity.**  If you overlook my femmeness, that’s your loss.  The problem is not that you can’t see us; it’s that you choose to ignore us.

* Most examples of this are super appropriative of Native American cultures and modes of dress.  That shit’s gotta stop.  Like now.

** Oh hey there, patriarchy!  Can’t forget about you.

Why You Can’t Take Me Out in Public

This past weekend was Andersonville Midsommarfest, one of Chicago’s 598206 annual summer street fests.  For those of you who don’t know, Andersonville is a historically Swedish area that now has a reputation for being the queer women’s neighborhood.  When my friend and I were there on Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining, the temperature was above 90, the music was blasting, and the beer was flowing.  What did this mean?

Okay, what else?  It means a brigade of HRC volunteers were out collecting money and signatures to support their ceaseless campaign for same-sex marriage.  Now don’t get me wrong–I think marriage equality is an admirable goal.  As long as marriage is the key to gaining tax breaks, healthcare, immigration aid, easier adoption, etc, I absolutely think it should be equally accessible.  Marriage also means a great deal to many people, so yes, I support same-sex marriage.  That sounds lovely, but it’s not my top priority.

My issue with the HRC is that it claims to represent and fight for the needs of all LGBT (where’s the Q?)** individuals and families, yet it’s really a one-issue party.  Everything the HRC does or addresses miraculously gets tied to marriage equality.  I was a member for several years, but finally gave up after receiving an email informing me that a right-wing politician who was campaigning for a governorship had ties to a white supremacist group that had publicly called for the murders of queer folks and people of color.  This was a problem because if he won and if (hypothetically speaking) a marriage equality bill were to come to his desk, he might veto it.  Excuse you…WHAT?  No.  That’s a problem because the guy is part of a hate group that wants to kill peeps.  That’s not a marriage issue; that’s a HOLY SHIT WHITE SUPREMACY issue.

Besides that very extreme incident, I’d rather throw my (limited) money and (bountiful) support behind an organization that reps a full community of queer folks, not just white, class-privileged, gender-conforming ones.

So…I walked into Midsommarfest and was immediately stopped by an HRC rep.  (Side note: why they gotta have so many hotties working for them?  C’mon why can’t the hotties be more critical thinkers?)  (Reminder to self: okay, okay, people just have different values when it comes to their political organizing.  That’s fine I guess.  Boo.)  There was a petition for me to sign and oh I could donate too.  I quickly and politely, but firmly, explained why I quit the HRC and that if their values aligned more with mine–addressing hate crimes, safety in schools, youth homelessness, inclusive and accessible healthcare; fewer black tie dinners–then they should talk to me again.

I found my friend and we continued walking through the fest.  While giving her a brief rundown of what had just happened, we were stopped by another HRC rep.  Another petition.

Me: When the HRC gives a shit about trans* people and people of color, come talk to me.  [Walking away]

HRC volunteer: [Calling after me] We’re getting there!

Me: [Calling back] Very slowly!

Me in my head: “We’re getting there?”  What does he think this is, 1970?

My friend, Elizabeth: I love you.

Later in the afternoon, we saw him again.

HRC volunteer: Can I talk to–oh, I saw you earlier.

Me: Yeah, you probably don’t wanna talk to me again.

HRC: I actually don’t know that much about the HRC.  I’m a straight guy and I’ve just been volunteering for the last two years.

Me in my head: Thank you for clarifying your straightness.  I might have misread you as a sneaky gay.  The horror!

HRC: I’ve been hearing some criticism of the HRC–now some of that has been directed at our last president–some people have said we’re elitist and not in touch with “the common man”…

Me: You hear correctly.  [Mini “marriage and rich white people aren’t the only issues” spiel]

HRC: Well, what I’m talking about today isn’t marriage.  It’s about employment.  Have you heard of ENDA?

Me in my head: I probably know more about ENDA than you do.

Me: Mmmhmm.

HRC: Ya know, there’s actually more state-by-state discrimination against transgender people than against gays and lesbians.

Me in my head:  

He assured me that there were some trans* people working for the HRC– “I learned that there aren’t just men and women, there are people in between and all kinds of other ways”–and that he in fact knew a couple.  He proceeded to tell me about his girlfriend’s friend’s birth name, her current name, and her medical history.

Me in my head: Please stop talking.  I’m happy for you and I genuinely would like to talk with you about what you’re hearing about non-binary genders and how different people experience their transitions, but right now you’re outing your acquaintance.  I’m sure she’s beautiful and yes, I’m she sure rocks that dress, but I DON’T NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS.  This is not my business and you are outing her in your effort to demonstrate your own trans* friendliness.

The conversation kinda ended there, as he needed to get back to talking to people who wouldn’t problematize every word and might even donate some cash.  Before we parted, he reiterated his hope that things at the HRC would get better (ie more inclusive) with time and that their new president, Chad Griffin, might push for that.  We shall see…

In other news, I got to catch up with the lovely Elizabeth and share one of these:

Oh and I won a beer glass (I would) and a bottle of water (really?) at the Proud to Run tent.  Good times.

**In this case, LGBT has been interpreted as big G, small L, tiny B, no T.  Forget radical queer, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people.

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