Femme Friday: Femme Klatsch! with Liz

Femme Klatsch is a new feature, where queer femmes chat with one another on all themes femme. Sweet femme sisters – chime in!

 What does femme mean to you?

Who are your femme role models?

How did you find your femme?

and today’s question:

Can you talk about how your understanding of “femme” has evolved over the years?

Deep gratitude to Liz for this gorgeous and generous queer femme reflection!

Plenty Queer Enough

“Lez!” It’s 1972 and I’m in junior high. As most of us know from experience, when bullies taunt you, they fuck with your name. With a name like Liz, getting “Lez!” hissed at you in the halls is surely cliché standard. Especially when it’s 1972 and you’re a baby femme who passes. I didn’t know the word; but I could tell it was something really bad.

It’s 1975: I’m in high school and someone snarls “Lez” at me in the halls. I read the thrilling new Ms. Magazine, I know what “feminist” means, I know what “lez” means, and I no longer think it’s something bad. But I wonder, do they know something I don’t? Am I one? I decide to look into it. I have, after all, met one “self-avowed” lesbian. She’s older, out of high school, and we volunteer at a hotline on weekends. I scrutinize her. She’s assertive, androgynous and seems to know a lot. Not like me at all, offbeat girly girl that I am. In fact, she’s the total opposite. Guess I’m not one.

Also, if I was a lesbian, wouldn’t I most likely be in love with my best friend? Isn’t that what “women loving women” is all about? It sounds lovely. Sweet. I almost wish I was one. I try to picture falling in love with my best girlfriend and draw a blank. Nothing. I know I’m not a lesbian.

1982: I’ve graduated art school, I’m working, and I’m in an all-girl punk band. By now, I’ve met more lesbians. In fact, nearly all my friends are lesbians. It seems natural. It is natural. I come out! But not as a lesbian after all. I’m a newly-minted bisexual. I quickly seek and find my first girlfriend, and she’s assertive, androgynous, and seems to know a lot. As I model my new vintage black leather jacket for her, she sadly informs me that it’s a “femme” jacket. “Femme”: I don’t know the word, but I can tell it’s something bad. I’m embarrassed. I wear it anyway. I do like it a lot. (After a long night of clubbing with a friend, I lose the femme jacket and replace it the very next day with a standard issue motorcycle jacket, which I own to this day.)

1989: I fall head over combat boots in love with a strikingly handsome, tall, dark-haired dyke who is assertive, tough, artlessly sincere, and is so far beyond androgynous that “masculine” can’t begin to describe her. When I bravely show up in a modest black vintage dress for our formal date, she gasps in awe. I’m speechless, gazing at her in her crisp black tux, the first time I’ve ever seen such a bold statement of serious female masculinity. She nearly trips over herself to open the door of her freshly-washed, robin’s egg blue truck for me. I’m over the moon, discombobulated, and on entirely unfamiliar terrain.

Neither of us knows much about the terms “butch” and “femme”, but we dance the steps as if we are born to it. Which, of course, we are. I never look at a man again. (A cis-guy, that is.)

1993: This butch and I have broken up. I’m wrecked. I’m thoroughly devastated. I drag myself through life for a year. I remind myself we had so little in common; we communicated so differently; we wanted completely different things. So why was I so crazy in love with her? Why did I want her so much? Was there anything for me to learn from all this misery? Stunningly, mercifully, Joan Nestle explains me to myself in The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, published that year. Still grieving my lost love, I begin to understand.

Joan Nestle shows me who I am: a femme. A queer femme, plenty queer enough, descended from a long line of proud strong femmes. I discover I have fore-queers! And I learn that my lost love was a big ol’ Butch with a capital B. I discover I’m a femme who needs, requires, must have a butch. A femme with a voracious appetite for butch. Reading Joan Nestle, I feel the awe I had experienced when I put on my first pair of eyeglasses: the world became jarringly clear in a way I could never have imagined.

(Later, I learn that not all femmes want butches. That’s fine too, though I admit it surprises me, and to this day I don’t understand how any femme can resist a hot butch.)

It’s 1995. 1999. 2008. The years go by, and though I can appreciate being femme, I often wish I could de-program the part of me that lights up for butches only. If there were only a potion, a program, a partial lobotomy! Everything is so much easier with my feminine friends. As a femme, it seems I find little in common with most of the butches I’ve met, besides being queer. I try dating a wonderful femme, and I’m ashamed of myself for not responding one iota to her beauty. I feel like a bad queer. I tone down my femme. I lower my expectations. But I need butches.

And frankly, if you’re single, it really sucks if you’re only attracted to about 1/10 of 1% of the population. So I specialize in settling for the Fine For Now girlfriend, because a good butch, or any butch, is hard to find. I have lots of fun, and lots of heartache. When I fall off the horse, I get right back on again. It’s ok, I tell myself; I never wanted to get married anyway. But breaking up is hard to do. Miserable, actually! And I seem to do it every 2 or 3 years. For 20 years. Until……

2012: It’s a summer evening, and I’m wearing a pretty dress and shiny red shoes. I’ve grown out my curly hair. I’m no longer playing neutral. I look up to see the most dashingly handsome butch; or guy? No, she’s butch. She stands before me, sharply trimmed salt and pepper-hair, sporting an orange plaid shirt, and she breaks into the shiniest grin I’ve ever seen. I will soon discover she’s brilliant and funny, and she’s so masculine that she will soon go by “transbutch”. She will adore my femmeness and require it like I’ll need her butchness. But more that that, we will fit together in all the other ways I had only recently dared hope for. This lifelong semi-single femme meets her butch match at last! I can’t make her my husbutch fast enough.

My femme identity blossoms wildly. I revel in it, no longer seeing my butch-loving orientation as a curse, and I rarely try to fit in with the gender neutral queer majority. Being femme is way more fun than ever.

How did this happen? If I had read this when I was younger and single, I’d probably be thinking sourly, “Well, aren’t you just the lucky one! What a cliché ending!” But sister femmes, I’m living proof that it can happen, not “when you least expect it” as I’ve been smugly told: but when you most expect it. I made a decision to expect the best; the best one for me. I found great power in discovering, then embracing, and finally expressing my full femme identity, and all of my Liz-ness, and then I expected someone else to “get” me, too. I felt relief in quitting the well-worn path of dumbing down my particular brand of femmeness in exchange for maximum social approval. Suddenly, luck happens! Dearest femme sisters, the femme journey is never dull, is it?

Liz Bailey

PS: I love the auto-correct for “femmeness”: famines; fameless; feminisms; feminists; filminess! It’s a found poem!

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Femme Friday — Queer Femme Rising! An Interview with Sable Twilight

Sable and I met in the Radical Faerie Heart Circle at Creating Change, where we shared such lovely moments together. I am so thrilled to welcome her to Femme Friday, and am moved and inspired by her responses sparked by the following interview questions:

 “When first I found femme, I…” (thank you, Radical Faerie Heart Circle, where we were asked to complete the sentence, “When first I found a faerie…)

 Can you talk about how your understanding of “femme” has evolved over the years?

 Do you see femmes as being able to contribute something unique in this time of upheaval, danger and protest?

 Who are your femme role models?

Deep gratitude to Sable Twilight for these illuminating words!

 I am Sable. Sometimes Sable Twilight. A queer, femme, trans woman in Denver, Colorado. I currently work as a program manager for the transgender programmers a local LGBTQIA+ community center in fair sized Midwestern city Some of the additional identities I hold are white, middle class, temporarily able-bodied, born in the United States, college educated, mid-forties, and with English as my first language. And these are the lenses of understanding and relationship from which I approach my understanding of femme.

When asked to write about myself for Femme Friday, I was not sure how to approach it. While I had thought and read a bit about femme in terms of activism, visibility, and political, social, and spiritual dynamics, I had never really given voice or word for to how having a femme identity relates directly to me. I think, in a lot of ways, femme invisibility has been so strong, so powerful that it has been invisible even to myself for much of my life.

I think I have actively identifying as femme for about six years now, though reflecting back, I can see signs where I have always been femme. I consider myself more of a business femme, casual femme, witchy femme, and occasional pajama femme than high femme. I think one of the most empowering things I have done for myself, in relation to my femme identity, was to recognize how femme can manifest in many different ways and in many different dynamics. Initially when I started thinking of myself as femme, I would compare myself to other people I identified as femme. And I would often judge myself a bit harshly for not having enough of what I perceived as the femme trappings. Eventually I came to realize that, for me at least, femme was more about a relationship with myself, the world, and the universe. For me, femme about fluidity: in my relationships, in my identity, in just about everything. I think that is what makes femme such a challenging to define, because it can be such a fluid and unique for each person.

For me, my femme identity is as much a spiritual one as expressive one. As part of this acceptance of the diversity and fluidity of femme, I have sought to understand it’s diversity and fluidity in the universe and in the divinities I work with. As well as the above social identities, I do identify as a seidr worker, volva, energy worker and as such I have been feeling for a while there is sort of energetic shift I have been feeling in the world, a sort of rising femme energy. I have at times call it Queer Femme Rising, in recognition of the Queer Masculine or Homme energy which I saw developing from the queer (both literally and figuratively) creative movement of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In a similar vein, I have seen this slow manifestation and growth of a femme dynamic manifesting in the world in an ever-growing manner.

As I have been working through my own connection of my femme identity and how it relates to my spiritual path, I have been working through some of the ancestral and cultural trauma embedded within the femme experience. I have been examining the intersection of femme oppression, cissexism and transphobia, queerphobia, capitalism, colonialism, racism and white supremacy, and xenophobia as sort of an extension of a core anti-femme need for rigidness and absolutism. I have begun to understand how femme passion and sexuality, youth and aging, the womb and death, nature itself have been perceived as this uncomfortable threat to the dynamics of patriarchy, control, and exploitation.

I think femme and the sacred femme and the queer femme have a lot to offer during this time of turmoil. They empower and inspire an embracing of change and diversity. And I think from that embracing of diversity opens the possibility for understanding the world and finding new path. For me, femme inspires a certain sense of hope and deep down caring, compassion, and love for the world, as well as a recognition for the need for action.

I think one of the biggest challenges femmes face is femme invisibility. We are everywhere but sometimes is it difficult to recognize one another. This is of the reasons I have been looking at the concept of the femme spiral. As told to me by a femme friend, this is the idea of putting some form of spiral based art, such as a tattoo, on the inside right wrist. The idea is it become a means of recognition which honors the diversity of our experiences as well as the often-cyclical nature of our existences.

I think it is important we stop harming each other. Stop committing lateral violence on one another. And to recognize we are all carrying within us generations of collective trauma. I feel the greatest and most damaging harm committed to us through the burning times and colonization was the internalization of the oppressor and then using that internalized force to regulate and oppress one another. It is time we start to heal our wounds and reclaim our internal power.

I have so many femme role models. They range across the femme spectrum – the high femmes, the punk and working class femmes, the corporate femmes, the Goths, the pajama femmes, the hidden femmes and the public femmes, the queer femmes, the femmes who embody their identities as an act of femme resistance. Even those most handsome of dapper gender queer, trans masculine, and non-binary femmes. They all inspire me and empower me when I allow myself to honor and recognize them.

I do find a lot of everyday empowerment from the Goddess Freyja, who, for me, is a representation of fierce femme, empowered sexuality, internalized beauty, and shaper of one’s own world, path, and destiny. And Freyja is just one representation of femme empowerment. The power of the scared femme is transcendent in countless divinities, both cultural and personal, across time and cultures. Ultimate I seek to see each femme I meet one of my femme role models.

In between work and letting myself relax with the occasional video game (yes I am a proud gamer femme as well), I have been throwing myself into the online course “The Burning Times Never Ended: A Story of Disenchantment and Re-membering Resistance” (http://callingourselveshome.weebly.com/the-burning-times-never-ended-re-membering-resistance.html) as a way to reconnect with a queer femme past which forces of patriarch and capitalism tired eradicating. And as part of my own spiritual journey, I have working through the book “Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual” by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. I enjoy watching Steven Universe, and I think it holds a lot of value in terms of representation and empowerment. I look forward to the next seasons of Sense8 and HerStory. For femme inspired musicians, I am most definitely a fan of Miranda Sex Garden, Siouxie and the Banshees, Sleater-Kinney, La Roux, Carina Round, Ayria, Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows, Jill Tracy, and so many other wonderful artists.

sable twilight

“Just on the border, Of your waking mind, There lies, Another plain, Where darkness and light are one, And as you tread the halls of sanity, You feel so glad to be, Unable to go beyond, I have a message, From another time…”

-ELO “Prologue” Time

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

Femme Friday – Femme Klatsch! With Constance Clare-Newman

Femme Klatsch is a new feature, where queer femmes chat with one another on all themes femme. Sweet femme sisters – chime in!

 What does femme mean to you?

Who are your femme role models?

How did you find your femme?

Today, we begin a conversation with Constance Clare-Newman

The Total Femme:

Can you talk about how your understanding of “femme” has evolved over the years?

Constance:

When I first accepted my femme identity I was so excited. Yay! I could admit to loving butches. They could admit to loving my femme being. It was San Francisco in the early 90’s and butch/femme love was being celebrated. So many butches and femmes out on the streets, that it almost seemed the norm. I think it has never been the norm in lesbian society, but during that brief butch/femme renaissance, we were the trend of the moment. We were leather dykes and activist dykes and corporate dykes. Working class or downwardly mobile (it was San Francisco), we femmes were girly in our tiny skirts with Doc Martens for day and shiny heels for night. Lots of cleavage and glitter or sleek in leather. Butches in their Dickies and chains with keys. Butches in biker jackets with stickers all over. Butches in suits and ties. Dressing up for each other and appreciating the Otherness. In love with the otherness, which had been hiding in lesbian circles for a while.

Some percentage of us lesbians have always been drawn to the difference butches and femmes love in each other. I’m sure since the time of Sappho, some of us have loved and been turned on by our similarities, and others by the differences. The particular way butches and femmes enchant each other with their differences is unique.

When I first came out, I loved butches and felt desired in a particular way by them, but felt ambivalent about the dynamic. In the 80’s, in my small town, no one talked about being butch or being “feminine” without a little derision. We were all supposed to be equal, and tender, and womyn-loving-womyn. While aspects of that were delightful, the overall desire to conform, so as to belong, certainly hampered my own deeper desires. Growing into my femme identity was something that came with little bits of acceptance over quite a long time. Of who I was as a child, as a young woman, as a lesbian who desired lesbians who were on the “butchy” side, to who I became as a femme clear about her need for a butch.

For me, that need is for a woman who looks like a guy, who has the emotional accessibility of “female,” and stands in her power as Top/Daddy/Dyke. Who loves and is enlivened by my sexy girly or elegant lady ways of looking and being. Who is empowered to be who she is in the world by my love, admiration, support, protection. Who responds to my femme sexuality with her butch sexuality, and nurtures our differences.

Lately, with gender blowing up in all our faces, I see lots of young people exploring non-binary ways of being. Still, whether in San Francisco, LA or Provincetown, I do see a percentage of young butches and femmes together in the mix. I don’t know how they identify today, but I do see them, openly drawn to each other’s difference and turned on by the unique frisson that has always been.

Deep gratitude to Constance for sharing her eloquent femme story!

 Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes — Nice to See You!

“Nice to see you!” says Rhea, an elderly resident of an assisted living facility. The greeting is not reserved solely for the people she knows, but for everyone. At the facility, attendants, visitors and residents are quite diverse. Skin colors, religion, class, sexuality, gender presentation, ability – there are many differences among them. Doesn’t matter. “Nice to see you!” says Rhea, smiling her sweetest smile, cheerfully and generously including us all.

Because of oppression and isolation, all stripes of queers are forced into a position of spending inordinate amounts of time and energy constructing and defending our identities. This is certainly true for queer femmes. It can take such a long time to feel a sense of belonging. The femmes who stay silent, watching and listening and never contributing to a conversation; the loud femmes, who talk so much with such authority that you never see their vulnerabilities. All of us reaching for that sense of community, a place where we not only see but are seen. We are always coming out to straight people as queer, lesbian, whatever we decide to say (really, how can they be expected to understand femme and who has the time and spiritual energy to constantly be explaining?) and, almost as often, to our queer kin, who have their own ideas and prejudices about femme.

Identities, all identities, evolve as we age. This is a human birthright, to be able to continue to discover yourself as you gain experience and wisdom. Our wider culture does not generally feel elders have much to contribute, and our own queer culture – or rather “cultures” – is so separated by age that we don’t often have the opportunity to interact with one another across generations.

There are times when, damaged by hate, all our energies must go to daily survival. There are times when, bolstered by community and art and laughter, we can reach out without being depleted. At all times, we can grow stronger by imagining a lifeline connecting us. Let us recommit, femme sisters of all ages, to casting that lifeline, one that links us and sustains us, that holds us and uplifts us. Where we can rest in the love.

Let us be generous with each other. Let us help one another. Reach out a hand.

When Rhea says, “Nice to see you!” you get the feeling she’s saying, “We’re still alive! Different people are interesting! You’re obviously a fine person!” and perhaps most profoundly, “Where would we be without each other?”

Every Monday (or Tuesday), 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.