My latest column for The Triangle:
Ivan Coyote, a favorite storyteller of mine, wrote an article recently (“Butches of Belfast, and then some” on xtra.ca) about how she sees her fellow butches whether she’s traveling or sticking close to home. Coyote wrote of her long-time friend, “Lately we get to talking about life. She told me that she never thought she would be single at this point in her life. Wasn’t in the plan. ‘All I ever wanted is to be a good provider, and a good husband, and a daddy. Is that too much to ask? Am I too old-fashioned?’ she asked, and my heart broke some. So many things a guy can’t fix.”
The immediate idea that flashed in my head when I read that was — But a femme can! The right femme for her will come along and….
Then I kept reading and saw that this story was about something else. Coyote said, “But you can try. You can keep your eyes open and be on the lookout for your people. Your brothers, and your sisters. Some of them won’t recognize you right away, or speak to you, but still. […] I see you. All of you butches. I see you and I know myself.”
I love that type of butch solidarity. That is how I feel about femmes. I see my fellow femmes and it helps me to better know myself. That is how I feel about community. I feel for my communities, believe that we definitely need to look out for each other, to see one another.
Another favorite writer of mine, Sinclair Sexsmith, recently wrote a post on their blog (entitled “Femme Invisibility and Beyond” on sugarbutch.net) that particularly struck me. (Please go read it — that entry contains way too much brilliance for me to begin to quote. They touch on sexism in our culture, privilege in our communities, and other political intersections with femme visibility — all of which I find essential to the larger discussion, but am going to steer clear of in this column.) Sexsmith’s post got me thinking in a different way about the subject of femme visibility that I’ve pondered so many times. It got me thinking that we femmes could be more proactive about this dilemma.
Instead of manifesting ostracization, let’s move beyond the notion of being invisible. Because we aren’t! And for every queer who doesn’t see us, doesn’t give us the nod or the time of day, I guarantee you there are dozens of others who do, who will. Instead of wallowing in woes, let’s make ourselves impossible to not notice. Make ‘em sit up and perhaps even think damn as we walk by or open our mouths because our senses of style and ideas are that good. That queer.
Let’s talk fashion. Why not be a little risky, a little risqué, over-the-top even? (By the very definition of femme, we are inherently fierce; we can get away with it. Trust me on this one.) Strap on those fuchsia fishnets and garters, step into that lavender crinoline, tug on the red cowgirl boots! (Maybe not all at once…or why not?) Toy with accessories! Think feathery fascinators, gobs of fake pearls, flagging hanky flowers (look it up on etsy.com!), or heels so hot they make the blisters worthwhile. Let’s branch outside of traditional femininity and play with our appearances in ways that signal our queerness to each other, others, and ourselves. Personally, I rarely leave the house (or even lounge about it) without black mascara and my signature crimson lipstick. Lip gloss at the very least. But that’s definitely not for everyone. Whether it’s an air or an accoutrement you wear, whatever it is for you, make it yours.
Let’s show that femme isn’t just skin deep. Speak up, speak out, for yourself and others! I’m most at home with the written word and so I make my opinions known via my published stories, online venues such as my blog, and now this column. And even though it’s far outside of my comfort zone, I voice my views aloud as well, especially when disrespect is in the air. Our minds are spectacular parts of our identities to be valued and celebrated.
An idea for folks in our communities who are not femme (especially those who are easily read as queer): How about y’all try a little harder to start seeing us? Not only in affirmation of the fact that we belong in queer spaces, but also in celebration. Give us the nod. A smile. Hell, be bold! Give us a wink! Yes, occasionally you may wind up offending (or flattering!) a straight woman. There are worse things in life. Take the risk (if you’re in a safe environment). Try harder to recognize and acknowledge us, no matter whether you’re attracted to femmes or not. I admit it happens to me too (see my post script below); I don’t always see my fellow femmes, particularly when their femme markers adhere to more traditional brands of femininity. We all need to try harder on this one.
Femme is individual. It’s an attitude. It’s a way of seeing the world and moving through it. It’s an energy we give off. It means different things to each of us. That is something to be celebrated. I’ve heard from some who are hesitant to adopt the label because they feel like they’re “not femme enough.” I don’t know what that means. I mean, I can imagine, but in my mind that concept doesn’t exist. I’d wager that those are simply of the (beautiful and praise-worthy) tomboy femme variety. (For lack of a better term — I attempt to veer from descriptors like “low femme” or “high femme” for fear of it being perceived as some sort of hierarchy. It’s not. No single way of being femme is better than any other. And we need more language for this.) I’ve heard the term “out femmed” thrown around. Again, ridiculous. This isn’t a competition; this each femme’s gorgeously unique identity. And we’re in it together.
As I told a dear friend in my very first letter of adoration to her: You are my femme of a feather. We flock together.
In lust, love, & all things woo,
PS — As I was editing this piece in a café, there were two separate tables of women I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed were queer until I overheard the words “hetero-normative” and “lesbian.” Thank goodness for their out-spoken ways…so I could give them the nod.