Musings on Life for the Queerly Inclined

Posts tagged ‘femininity’

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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Being Visibly Queer: When Every Day is Coming Out Day

Okay, y’all: I’m gonna do something new.  I’ve never used National Coming Out Day as a vehicle for coming out before.  I tend to be pretty out in my life all the time, so while I appreciate this day (which happens to be today) for raising awareness of and prompting conversations about gender and sexual minorities, I haven’t personally observed it differently from any other day.  I had no plans to do anything special to mark today.  Then a conversation with Pandaqueer changed my mind.

If anyone is unclear about who Pandaqueer is, just know that he’s fabulous.  We discussed recent conversations he’d had about femmephobia as it is incorporated into notions of “visible queerness.”  Not sure what I’m talking about?  When searching for a queer community or queer friends, to whom do you look?  What signs tip you off?  What does it mean when you describe someone as “looking so gay”?

If your visions of queer people are exclusively

  • thin, white, feminine men
  • non-binary folks whose genders you can’t “figure out”
  • androgynous and masculine women with “alternative lifestyle haircuts”

THEN YOU NEED TO FUCKING CHECK YOURSELF.  Wake up and open your eyes.

Who gives me a hard time about coming out?

I feel way more pressure to come out and to defend my gender and sexual orientation around queer people than around straight ones.  Non-homophobic straight peeps might not immediately read me as queer, but if/when I tell them, they usually just accept it without interrogating me.  This is probably due in part to their unfamiliarity with the nuances of gender presentation and identity labels within LGBTQ+ communities.  That figures.  At least I don’t need to defend myself at length (we’re not going into homophobic douchebags here).

Queer people are a totally different story.  Now, LGBTQ+ communities are many and varied, so these problems don’t occur in the same way across the board.  I’m speaking directly from my experiences in queer communities I’ve lived in and visited.

I’m speaking about queer communities that prioritize masculinity over femininity–that value studs, butches, androgynous folks, and masculine trans* people, over femmes.  I mean queer organizations in which masc-of-center folks are viewed as the best leaders, the most transgressive, powerful, and brave, the ones who really put themselves out there.  These are the groups in which I have to prove my queerness again and again.

  • If I talk to you for an hour about queer theory, will you take me seriously?
  • If my relationships look queer to you, will you understand that I’m not confused?
  • If I plan LGBTQ+ community events, will you get that I’m here to stay?
  • If I explain myself and my choices to you constantly, will you accept that I didn’t put on heels and lipgloss accidentally?
  • If I write enough of these blog posts, will you see that I’m not helpless or unaware of patriarchal oppression?
  • If I teach you the word femmephobia, will you recognize your own behavior?

Let me be clear: there are some amazing, transgressive, powerful, brave masc-of-center queer folks and they should be celebrated.  Gender non-conforming queer people (such as non-binary folks and masc-of-center women) face different challenges than those of us who are gender conforming (or perceived to be).  The problem is when the attention paid to them eclipses everyone else.  This happens particularly in the case of feminine-of-center and femme people.  (That I feel I have to justify writing about femmes and explain that I haven’t forgotten about masculine queer people is indicative of the problem.)

If you think “queer” and never think femme, that’s a problem.  Retrain your brain.  If you think “queer” and every image that appears in your brain looks the same (think race, gender presentation, age, ability, body type, class, nationality), check yourself.  Interrogate your assumptions.

Okay, Here We Go:

My name is Tamar and I am a pansexual, femme, cisgender woman.  I am not “hiding” in femme.  I’m here and I’m visible every day.  If you don’t see me, that your problem.

Phew–now that that’s out of the way, have a lovely video.

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.

“I totally support femmes–they’re so hot”: Terrible Opening Line

Dear universe and would-be allies:


Source: the lovely femmesandfamily, whose blog I recommend you check out.

Femmephobia, a topic that is more often than not on my mind in some form, was brought up anew in a conversation with a friend a couple nights ago.  We talked about wanting to wear overtly feminine clothes some of the time and more masculine ones at other times. Should be easy, right?  But it’s not.

Getting Dressed: A How-To Guide for Femmes and Anyone Who Dips into Femininity Occasionally

  1. Find fly outfit (trying on five is normal–we can’t always get it right the first time)
  2. Put it on
  3. Contemplate accessories (flower? pocket watch? jewelry? picket sign? rock?)**
  4. Worry about people hassling you and/or making asshole comments about your appearance
  5. Tell yourself that you’re over-thinking things and that no one is going to give you a hard time about how you look
  6. Go out into the world, looking fly and feeling good
  7. Someone will invariably make an asshole comment about how you’re presenting yourself

I (and so many other friends I’ve spoken with) have noticed a trend in sectors of the queer community: the idealizing of the thin, white, androgynous hipster look.  If this is your look and you wanna rock it, that’s great for you.  But when the attention paid to people who embody this look far eclipses the focus on all other gender presentations, there’s a big problem.

What’s going on here?

  • Patriarchal society prizes men and masculinity.  Looking through all sorts of intersecting oppressions, the ideal person (according to US society) is a white, cisgender, able, upwardly-mobile, masculine man.
  • In this patriarchal society, women are required to be feminine and then punished for doing so.  Femininity is seen as compulsory (you must look/behave “like a lady”) and also weak and deserving of ridicule (“girly” stuff is routinely dismissed as useless, superfluous, a joke).
  • We internalize misogyny; everyone is taught that femininity is not strong or powerful.
  • Results: men are socialized to be masculine and hate on femininity (“Why do women spend so much time on their hair/makeup?  What a waste of time!” and “A feminine man–shock, horror!  I must distance myself from him!”).  Women who don’t wanna fit into the socialized femininity are told that they can have an out by also hating on it (“I don’t get along with women–they’re so vain and catty.  All my friends are guys.”).  Everyone gets cool points for hating on femininity.  Wow, how fucked up is that?

What about queer communities?

  • Stereotypes: queer women are masculine, queer men are feminine.  That totally describes everyone, right??  Ha no.
  • Result: anyone who doesn’t fit this description is usually unseen/ignored.  People who do fit it are stereotyped as the big dyke or the gay bff.

The Really Nasty Part that Started this Whole Post:

Rejecting femininity is seen as a cool and radical thing to do.  Femme-ness is consequently labeled conformist and unimportant.  According to this logic, femmes are eye candy, but we don’t really have anything interesting to say.  In case there was any doubt about this, let me clarify: just because I wear makeup and heels does not mean I’m brainless, unaware of my actions, and unwittingly conforming to patriarchal expectations.  I have not failed to deconstruct my internalized whatever-the-fuck.  I am not waiting for you, oh great masculine-of-center queer person to save me by showing me the error of my ways.

If you describe yourself as a radical queer activist, but all you have to say about femmes is that we look hot, while simultaneously ignoring our contributions to discussions in favor of listening to masculine-of-center folks (who may well be saying the same damn things we said ten minutes ago), do not be surprised by the wall of skepticism that I will build between us.

If femmes/sometimes-feminine folks are talking about how it’s an achievement to wear what we want without worrying about it, do not look at us with blank stares, as though we’ve said the most obvious thing in the world.  Do not roll your eyes when we affirm for one another that it is in fact okay to say “fuck you” to people’s expectations and present our genders differently every day.  If you do, chances are you’re one of the people who makes us uncomfortable and fuels our preemptive worries to begin with.  Do not be step #7 when we get dressed.

**Note on the accessories list: “Why did you include a rock?”  I know people who carry rocks in their purses.  This is not an issue of advocating violence; it is an issue of protecting oneself when you know that you’re at risk of being attacked as you walk down the street.

What is “female”? Womanhood, Racism, and the Olympic Games

The sports world has been abuzz recently over the case of Caster Semenya, a South African runner and 2012 Olympic hopeful.  Dubbed by some “the fastest woman in the world,” she’s now under investigation for not actually being a woman.  (Everyone’s bullshit detectors should’ve just perked up.)  These two articles break down the case against her.  Essentially, other runners and Olympic officials have accused her of having androgen levels in the “male range” (whatever that means–nobody seems eager to give a precise definition), which according to their logic, give her an unfair advantage over other female competitors.

Some clarifications and a couple huge issues:

1. Androgens are not just “male sex hormones.”  They’re found in all bodies, regardless of assigned sex.  Androgen levels are generally lower in FAAB bodies than MAAB* ones, but there’s variation from person to person.  Besides, Olympians are exceptional athletes, so what makes anyone think that the standards used for us mere mortals would apply?

2. Sex =/= gender.  We divide sports by sex, not gender, so everybody who’s saying that Semenya’s gender is being scientifically investigated needs to step off.  She says she’s a woman, so we’re going with that.

3. From my friend Leila, the BAMF ultimate frisbee player:

“Hormone levels are more indicative of one’s sex than one’s gender identity…A more feminine-presenting woman could have higher testosterone levels than a more masculine-presenting woman, yet is more likely to be left alone in the sports world since she might not fall prey to the traditional argument that sports turn women into butch lesbians.”

Yep, pretty much.  I don’t see the Olympic officials calling for mass testing of all athletes’ hormones in this particular way.  The International Olympic Committee’s new ruling speaks of “the investigated athlete” and describes the formal procedure of “Request[ing] a Female Hyperandrogenism Investiagtion.”  It seems as though other athletes and IOC medical officials can request the investigation of a specific athlete; otherwise no additional testing will take place.  This means only a few athletes will be singled out in this way.  Alienation, much?

4. Let us not ignore the fact that Semenya is a black South African and that North American/European standards of beauty (which have been pushed all over the world) are Eurocentric.  (That is not my controversial opinion; that is a fact.)   When standards of womanhood and femininity are defined by white women, according to phenotypically white features, women of color are the ones scrutinized for not being “womanly” enough.

5. More from the IOC: “women ruled ineligible to compete may opt to medically lower their androgen levels.”  Great.

Semenya may have high levels of androgens, but for the IOC to single her out for testing, state that she must medically interfere with her hormones if she doesn’t pass said testing, and (at the last minute–the Olympics start at the end of this month) threaten not to let her compete is more than unfair.

* FAAB: female assigned at birth; MAAB: male assigned at birth.  Not taking into account trans* people who may have taken hormones. The inclusion and categorization of trans* athletes is a whole other conversation that needs to be had.

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