Femme Friday – Barrie Jean Borich

Please welcome Barrie Jean Borich to The Total Femme this Friday! Confetti! Applause! Fireworks! Glitter and love! Barrie Jean is a femme author whose books have a place of honor on my femme bookshelf, an academic, an activist, a generous, nuanced, and beautiful thinker, and so much more. Thank you for stopping by, Barrie Jean!

Deep gratitude to Barrie Jean for her over three decades of femme, for taking time out of her busy semester to write such a thoughtful and gorgeous post, for her dedication to femme story, and for writing, “The femme who sustains keeps her fashion livable.” Hell yes, queer femme running shoes!!


Blog entry for The Total Femme

February 16, 2018

By Barrie Jean Borich

Having used the word femme to describe myself for over three decades, I have to stand back and pause before I am able articulate what the designator means to me today. When I was young in the mid-1980s the word defined the kind of lesbian I was, which was the type who wore dresses, high heeled boots, and eyeliner. (I still am that type, with the exception of the heels I can no longer handle, at my age, living as I do now in a dense urban environment without a car and always running for busses, cabs and trains. The femme who sustains keeps her fashion livable.) My femme ways have not otherwise really changed much over the years, but as gender politics shift I have come to think of femme a bit differently, as more than a modifier, a gender identity in its own right, overlapping yet distinct from the markers of woman and lesbian.

When I am asked to parse my identity, filling out surveys that ask me to choose from a long list of check boxes (and you can tell I am a queer by how often I am asked to fill out such surveys) I tend to check both cis and genderqueer, because in the femme these descriptors overlay. The combination may not be a perfect fit but femme is never one of the boxes and so hybridity is the only way, within the selections offered, I know to indicate the way femme resides in the space of that overlap. We are often not accurately seen, living outside of the heteronormative narrative, a position that provides us broad parameters of beauty as well as misogyny-marked injury (the Me Too! Movement, has, in its familiarity, shaken me to the core) as well as tremendous outlier strength and the critical distance from hetero-dominative narratives to see things others do not. As a writer I love this overview and would not for anything give up this seat.

I wrote directly about these shifting ways of seeing femme identities in “Our Bodies, Our Archives,” the essay that led The Total Femme blog to my work, but all my books have been about interrogating the world from the femme point of view. My first book, Restoring the Color of Roses (Firebrand 1993) was about coming of age as a femme and also about recovering from the broken parts. My Lesbian Husband (Graywolf 1999) was about living in long-term pre-marriage-equality domesticity with my spouse Linnea (who these days self-identifies as a trans-masculine human being) to whom I am now legally wed, and I continue to write about femme perspective on our marriage, most recently in the essay “The Butch and the Bathroom.” My next book, Body Geographic (University of Nebraska 2012) was about the relationship of Midwestern cities to the femme body at midlife. In my new book, Apocalypse, Darling, I explore broken places, delusion, and the nature of both love and forgiveness, my femme body at the center of these intersections serving as a kind of weather vane.

In this excerpt of Apocalypse, Darling, which is an adaptation of TS Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland” (the book is a cycle of short sections like this one) Linnea and I attend a contentious family wedding:

The Tattoo Merchant. Inside an Inaccurate Indiana Fantasy 2008

And so we gather in this golf course living room, on folding chairs set up where a sofa usually sits. Linnea and I accidentally sit on the bride’s side instead of the groom’s, and her redheaded surgeon sister joins us, along with kids and husband, and we are all settled there, me on the end, my shoulder grazing the rough brick of the fireplace, before we notice our seating mistake. By then we don’t want to take the trouble to move, especially since the groom’s family is far too few to claim one whole side of the room.

And there I sit when some old uncle, yellow-shirted, keys and coins jangling in his pocket, squeezes up along the fireplace wall, making passage where there is no passage, a camera hanging around his neck, ostensibly pushing up to the front to get a better snapshot. He straddles chairs, clatters forward, and it makes no sense that he wouldn’t just walk up the center aisle, until he gets to me. Standing behind, bending over, he places his palms on each bare shoulder and squeezes, leaning into my neck, whispering into my ear, his vanity requiring, but receiving, no response. Nice tattoo, he growls, and he squeezes me again.

Linnea sits just two inches away, turns and glares at this bumpy old uncle, as any husband would. Only then does this guy take his hands off my shoulders. Only then am I sure he does not know what we are talking about here.

He punches Linnea on the shoulder, ha-ha, guy-to-guy. In the linguistics of the old country I am a blond with visible boobs and tattoos, a good-time gal hanging in this gallery of broken torsos, still smelling of the wind of some familiar burning, his nothing touching nothing of me, my real body, Linnea’s body, not to them what our bodies are to us, made of fragments of a language still, here, unheard.
From Apocalypse, Darling by Barrie Jean Borich, available now From Ohio State University Press.
©2018 Barrie Jean Borich


Barrie Jean Borich is the author of Apocalypse, Darling (Ohio State University Press: Mad Creek Crooks/Machete Series in Literary Nonfiction 2018). Her memoir Body Geographic (University of Nebraska Press/American Lives Series 2013) won a Lambda Literary Award and Kirkus called the book “an elegant literary map that celebrates shifting topographies as well as human bodies in motion.” Borich’s previous book, My Lesbian Husband (Graywolf 2000) won the ALA Stonewall Book Award. She is an associate professor at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she edits Slag Glass City, a journal of the urban essay arts. www.barriejeanborich.com

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story!

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”)