Femme Friday – Janine Evers and “The Femme Closet”

I met, Janine, a sister butch-lovin’ femme, in Provincetown, where we had lots of fun getting to know each other at the Ptown Femme Klatsch and beyond. Janine is an absolutely fabulous artist. You can follow her on instagram, or check out her work at

https://www.fourelevengallery.com

and

https://www.facebook.com/janineversart/

Deep gratitude to Janine for her generosity in sharing these honest and soul-searching thoughts on femme identity as well as her own beautiful journey to Femme.

The Femme Closet

This is not an article about clothing: although it would make a fun topic to discuss some of the beautiful, creative, sexy, feminine and diverse wardrobes of Femme Lesbians. This article is about the metaphorical closet; you know, the one LGBTQ people have had to hide in for so very long throughout history, and sadly, often still do. And what I would like to discuss here, is specifically a closet that I’ve found myself in; hiding my true femme identity and desires within the Lesbian community.

A few weeks ago, I was headed down the street on my way to meet up with some Femme friends at a local coffee shop, when I bumped into a couple of other friends on their bicycles. They stopped to say hi, and they asked where I was off to, to which I replied I was off to a Femme Coffee Klatsch where we discuss any and all things Femme. My friends on the bikes, (who identify as Lesbians ), both chuckled… Nervously? Patronizingly? Judgmentally? Perhaps, yet I chose to ignore any possible subtexts in the moment, and instead invited them to join in, to which they chuckled again, and one friend said of the other, “Jill defies labels. And she can rock a dress too!” More laughter and, “Have fun!” they said as they rode away.

Hmm…these are dear friends, who love and care about me, and so surely they meant no harm; just playful teasing. But it felt hurtful, it felt as if I was not being acknowledged or taken seriously by my friends. I did bring this up at the Femme Klatsch, and it was helpful and comforting to learn that they too have encountered that type of…dismissiveness? Homophobia? Lack of acceptance? within the Lesbian community as well. What is it exactly that makes non-femme identifying, gay/queer, label-less Lesbians so uncomfortable with the Butch/Femme dynamic? I’m not entirely sure, but I have also found that not only is my femme identity questioned, so also is who I am attracted to. comments like, “She looks like a guy”, and, “ I don’t get it. If you want to be with someone who looks like a guy and uses a strap-on, why not just be with a guy?”.

My own personal coming out story took a circuitous route. Although I first came out as gay in high school in the late 1970’s, it was not a smooth journey to understanding my identity as a femme lesbian. Growing up in the suburbs of NYC and coming from a progressive background, liberal parents, and alternative school education, I had no rejection from my friends and family when I told them I was gay. I’m very fortunate to have had that loving support and acceptance. Once I’d figured out I was a lesbian I thought it would all be smooth sailing into happy relationships. So when I got to college, I joined the feminist and gay alliance groups to meet others from my tribe. I looked around at the other lesbians for clues as to how to dress, wear my hair, walk, talk, etc. So I cut off my beautiful long brown hair, started wearing non gender specific clothing, tried walking with a bit of a swagger, and joined the women’s softball team. I was not an athlete. Dance and yoga were basically it for me! I had a girlfriend in college who I lived with for two years. She did carpentry, fixed cars, had a natural, subtle swagger, and was good at softball. Basketball too. I found all this, along with other things obviously, very attractive about her, but what I didn’t understand was that in order for me to be a legitimate lesbian I didn’t have to look or be like her. This generic, homogenization of gay women of that era that I bought into not only influenced how I presented myself to the world in my physical appearance, but how I dealt with and expressed my sexual desire. My girlfriend and I, along with other lesbian couples we knew, all looked and acted the same…somewhere along the lines of androgynous to soft butch perhaps, but I don’t think we even defined ourselves as such. It was more that how we were was the ‘way’ to be a lesbian. Interesting that there was room in there to express our more butch qualities, but definitely not our feminine sides. This became increasingly difficult for me, this feeling that I had to repress my more naturally feminine self, and I began to feel really confused about my secret desires for how I would like be made love to. My biggest worry was that I had a desire to be penetrated. If I wanted something inside of me, then I must not be a lesbian! it was very confusing. I honestly don’t think I was aware of strap-ons, or butch dick. I had no clue really. In my next relationship I ended up with a woman who was much more femme than any lesbians I knew at the time. I was drawn to her silky long blonde hair, her sense of style which included pretty scarves and heels or little ballet slippers, and especially her bright red lipstick! What I didn’t understand was that my attraction to her was more about desiring to look like her, than it was about desiring to be with her. After that relationship ended I was left totally confused about my sexuality, and so I thought, “Back to men, I guess.” I wasn’t sure that I was indeed straight, but perhaps, I thought I was Bi, and that it might make more sense for me to be with a man because at least I felt more comfortable in being myself both in my look and persona, as well as in bed.  But the smooth sailing to happy relationships that I had first hoped for once I’d realized I was gay, and then had hoped to find when I went on to be with men again, well, it never happened. After two marriages and two divorces to men, I thought, “something is really wrong with me”. Why couldn’t I feel that ultimate connection I so yearned for?

It was shortly after my mother had died, 10 years ago, that I began to really do some soul searching to understand my feelings and desires that I had so long repressed. Eventually after joining a dating site, and searching through many profiles of lesbians it began to finally become clear to me who I was attracted to…butch women! I began to read some butch/femme erotica, and check out websites that talked about the butch femme dynamic. I finally realized that I wasn’t strange, or perverse, or messed up, and that there were others that felt as I did. I was nearly 50 years old when I came to understand my true identity. These days it seems that labels are becoming dirty words. no one wants to be confined to labels, but rather be fluid in their genders and sexualities. And that’s wonderful! I love how so many young queer people are embracing all the nuances of this. But for me my journey has led me to a label…a very specific one, and it has given me the power and the acceptance that I have craved for so long in trying to figure out who I am in this lifetime, and to finally come out of the Femme closet to own my identity as a Femme Lesbian who is attracted to and loves Butch Lesbians.

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.”)

 

 

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!!

BorichAuthorPhotoApocDarling3

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

FRONTCOVER_Borich_HiRes

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.”)

Meditations for Queer Femmes What Is Femme?

In the 1935 novel, A Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully, the pansy protagonist, Fay Etrange, encounters “an anomalous-looking masculine woman, Miss Bull-Mawgan, and her inseparable friend, Elsie Dike”. My heart leapt, and then sank again when the author writes (on p. 99), “Elsie always kept close to her friend for fear that some of the money would be spent on another one”. Oh, yeah, keep telling yourself that, I thought. Keep telling yourself that Elsie is just a user, has found herself a sweet meal-ticket. She couldn’t possibly be attracted to that abomination. Oh, no! There could never, ever, be such a thing as a female who prefers female masculinity over male masculinity. It goes against the order of things, don’t you know. Even Fay Etrange, the most feminine of fairies, can see that! Where there is no penis, there can be no genuine (healthy, normal, real, etc.) sexuality.

As regular readers of this blog may know, my friend Constance is in the habit of politely inquiring of likely passers by if they identify as butch/femme. Sometimes they do, and are happy to chat. Sometimes they get huffy, and declaim self-righteously, “No labels!” Speaking of labels, Tex and I routinely get called, “Ladies”, something most of our butch/femme couple friends are familiar with and something that is particularly frustrating in a place like Ptown, where you would think other queers would be aware enough to go for the less gendered “folks” or “people”, especially if one of the “ladies” is wearing distinctly masculine clothing. At a recent Femme Klatsch, one of the participants started out saying, “I’m not sure I belong here…” and ended the evening having enjoyed herself immensely. “Femme” comes in and out of focus: is it a role? a label? an insult? a passing trend? an embarrassment? a weakness? a joke? something we shouldn’t mention in polite company?

Like any identity, femme is infinite. What kind of femme are you? Who are your femme role models? What nurtures your femme? These are questions we ask at Femme Klatsch, and the answers are as varied as the participants. While femme may not click for the vast majority of people, that doesn’t mean we femmes should follow their lead. What nurtures my femme? Not taking my unique, beautiful, complex, thrilling, delicious sexuality for granted, nor allowing others to ignore or denigrate it.

Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 11:26 AM  Comments (4)  
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