Meditations for Queer Femmes: No Straight Femmes

BEAUTIFUL

It’s morning in Sheffield, Iowa, sometime in the late 60s. I’m probably about 8, visiting for the summer. My grandmother is getting dressed in front of the big mirror in the bathroom. I’m sitting on the closed toilet, watching, because at my house, with my no-nonsense mom, nothing this exciting ever happens. Grandmimi pulls on pantyhose, a slip. Her skirt, the matching blouse. A pin, bracelet, her rings. She steps into her high, high heels. Fluffs up her hair, nails it with hairspray. Spritzes perfume. She uses an eyelash curler, mascara, powder, rouge. And finally, she untubes her red lipstick and deftly colors her lips. Now I’m standing next to her. She knows I’m down here, by her hip. She tears herself away from her fabulous reflection to swoop down in a cloud of perfume and hairspray for my morning kiss, full on the lips. Now I’m beautiful, too.

That is an excerpt from my piece, “Tamago”, in Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories edited by Sacchi Green. I wanted to post it here because it goes a little way towards explaining why I used to say the below every Femme Friday:

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.

I have to say, I never felt completely right about saying that Grandmimi was a straight femme (although I have no qualms about describing her as fabulous!), and I have been meaning to revisit this for some time. Recent conversations with femme friends both during and outside of Femme Klatsches, have made me understand how important it is to me to reserve the term “femme” as utterly queer, utterly unavailable to straight women.

I know that I used to confuse the two: straight women’s fabulous femininity and my own queer femme. I remember once at a secretarial luncheon, where I was the only queer, whipping out my lipstick and reapplying after the meal. Some of the women looked at me askance, and when I asked, murmured that it’s a bit rude to apply makeup at the table; better done in the powder room. Today, I would not care a titch about what straight women think is or is not proper. Back then, I thought, “Oh, I’m doing it wrong!”

I love how Maggie Cee articulates why she has reclaimed the spelling “fem” over “femme”:

I’ve recently decided to reclaim the older spelling of fem after seeing use of “femme” by straight cisgendered people explode in the past year.  I am all about an expansive definition of femme/fem across all kinds of people and bodies,  but I am not here for straight women appropriating a term with very specific queer meanings.

That’s it: “very specific queer meanings”, meanings we continue to reclaim, rediscover, invent and revel in. Straight feminine women may have influenced us, inspired us, loved us, been good friends, but they can not be femmes. Their relationship to femininity is and always will be different from ours. As for the spelling, I’m still mulling over what Maggie has to say about it. I like that it’s a French word (I still haven’t been able to find out what “femme” is in French, though!), because I love French, and I haven’t been exposed to the offensive appropriation of the word that she has, so I’m in a bit of a bubble. To be continued!

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

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes and Femme Friday Combo!

“starting from fem” notes

June 8th, 2017 Maggie Cee

This weekend I was honored to premiere a section of “Starting from Fem”, a work-in-progress exploring the construction of femme identity US working class bars of the 40s-50s. The piece will eventually become a full length solo performance.  I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me on the 2+ year journey to this piece.

In the introduction to the landmark butch-fem anthology The Persistent Desire, fem* author and activist Joan Nestle dedicates the book to Jeanie Meurer, a fem friend who passed away in 1991 before ever sitting down to record an oral history for Joan’s Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Joan laments “I realized that I had spent many long hours listening to butch women tell their stories, but I had put off listening to Jeanie. My own femme self-hatred had made me a careless listener.”

If even Fem Superstar Joan Nestle admits to overlooking fem history and stories, imagine all the many ways in which misogyny and self-hatred affect the stories we know and tell.  I love studying history to help my understand my queer community. But I suspect we are not getting the full story of fems in this community, just as I know we are often not hearing the full story when it comes to the stories of people of color, enslaved people, transgender people and Native people.

Much of my research for this piece relies on The Buffalo Women’s Oral History project and Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, a history of butch-fem community from the 1930s-1960s in Buffalo, New York.  Despite the efforts of authors Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis to interview fems, the narrative is skewed decidedly towards the butch side. Fems are referred to as “not around any more” or as having “gone off and gotten married.”

I’ve spent over a decade in the queer community talking, writing, and performing about fem. I believe that some of the roots of fem-phobia in the queer community can be traced back to the beginning of modern LGBT history.

This section of “Starting from Fem” is a coming-out and coming-of-age story about a fictional young woman finding a lesbian community in the 1940’s. Because the voices of fems are so obscured by history, I have created a story based on facts while using fiction to explore the emotional landscape of a fem’s journey.  I know there are anachronisms, that my character might be articulating thoughts and feelings that would be foreign to someone at the time.  But I’m not trying to create a perfectly accurate portrait.

I invite you to imagine with me a fem-friendlier world, one where fems were able and welcome to articulate their feelings, needs and desires, where they valued themselves as a central part of their communities.

A note on music – All three songs with lyrics I chose for this piece were popular songs prized by gay women at the time for their double meanings. The word “gay” had long been used to mean same-gender loving. “Secret Love” comes from Calamity Jane, a movie with a very butchy-seeming main character and some decidedly Sapphic overtones.

*I’ve recently decided to reclaim the older spelling of fem after seeing use of “femme” by straight cisgendered people explode in the past year.  I am all about an expansive definition of femme/fem across all kinds of people and bodies,  but I am not here for straight women appropriating a term with very specific queer meanings.

Deep gratitude to Maggie for her brilliance and dedication, and for providing both meditation and fem this week! It’s been a time over here at the Total Femmedom…back up and running next week, Goddesses willing and the crick don’t rise!