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.