Femme Friday – Aisha Johnston

A young friend and her mother visited yesterday, and we got to talking about, among other things, the word “femme” and the word “lesbian”. The young woman said that she is not a femme, although sometimes her presentation might be femme, but that she very much identifies as a lesbian. “Some people might call me bi, since I’m attracted to men and women,” she said, “but I am a lesbian.” Poor mom, who is a straight ally, wondered if that means the word “lesbian” has lost its meaning. More discussion ensued!

It can be difficult to keep up with things and also to keep to your queer north star in this age of rapidly evolving terms, but the good news is that, as long as we stick with open and honest dialogue and continue to honor our history and our elders, a great deal more of us could come into a place of ease about who we are a great deal sooner than we might have. Below, Aisha contributes to the important and ongoing discussion about queer identity, among other things!

Deep gratitude to Aisha, for her generosity in sharing her experience and thoughts about this intricate and delicious subject!

 “…but you are always too intense / frightening in the way you want him / unashamed and sacrificial / he tells you that no man can live up to the one who / lives in your head / and you tried to change, didn’t you? / closed your mouth more / tried to be softer / prettier / less volatile, less awake…”

– Warsan Shire, “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love”

I want to be honest with you: it has taken me over two weeks to figure out how to write this post. I am now semi-comfortably situated on my favorite couch, with my daily morning coffee and my laptop finally booted after forgetting to plug it in last night — a regular occurrence for me — and a huge part of me still doesn’t know where this string of words is going to go. When previously featured fierce femme, Victoria, reached out to me and asked if she could recommend me to write for a popular femme blog, the majority of my reaction was of sheer gratitude and honor. My partner, Jo, and I started our little queer blog earlier this year, All Queer For Takeoff, and have been happily watching the small amounts of visitors and readers increase in a slow stream over the passing months, but a feature? Whaat?

The secondary reaction was something along the lines of, “am I even femme enough to write for this queer, femme-centered blog?”

Before remembering one of my favorite pieces of poetry by Warsan Shire (excerpt featured above), I had initially intended to title this post: Squeezing Between the Lines: When ‘Femme’ Doesn’t Fit. My journey and exploration into my “femme-ness” (or lack thereof) has been a winding, twisting road, with the occasional 90 degree drop — and my gender versus my presentation has been something that Jo and I have been casually discussing over the past few weeks, so this invitation could not have come at a more fascinating time.

To start near the beginning, and to avoid any confusion: I have always presented as female and that has never been challenged or questioned by anyone in my life. Other physical qualities have, at various intervals; my weight (I went from close to 300 pounds to 140 pounds, and have received both negative and positive comments on both ends of that scale), my interest in body modifications (ear gauges, piercings, I have 10+ tattoos), my choices in clothing — nearly everything I decided to do with my body was met with somebody else’s opinion, but the way I presented my female-ness was never one of them. My outward gender presentation has always matched my biological sex. Being partnered to someone who identifies outside of the gender binary, I would never claim to have shared any part of their experience and I am grateful that I have not dealt with any dysmorphic feelings about the way I or my body looks.

I was introduced to the world of masculine of center, female-bodied folx when I was in sex work for a brief period. None of the clients I met ever referred to themselves as Butch and there wasn’t ever any talk about the Femme counterpart. I’m not sure if this is because I was in a domme role when I was in the sex industry, or that it just wasn’t relevant — I suspect, though, that it had more to do with the deeply embedded patriarchy and misogyny that exists in the Butch / Femme world, which has become more apparent the longer I’ve been involved in this community, and the more I observe the dynamic. These wonderfully masculine of center people were coming to me, to be treated in a way that could be perceived as incredibly feminizing, and I think the best way to eliminate the leaning towards that “femininity” was to eliminate all sides of the binary altogether. This was also something I strove for with my cis-male clients; I truly believe that the act of genuine submission, with a well-matched, responsible dominant, can be one of the most healing and grounding experiences imaginable. It was always much easier to get into that headspace (for both parties) if there wasn’t mention of gender or sex before or during a scene.

Butch / Femme, however, is a relatively new concept to me. Jo and I just celebrated our second anniversary and they were my first real introduction into the B / F community. At that time, in 2017, Jo identified primarily as Stone Butch — considering our relationship began as a casual, sexual escapade, this meant that we had that conversation very early on; Stones having a myriad of boundaries that are often next to concrete (no pun intended) for so many different, varying, individual reasons. Jo gave me a very quick breakdown of what was and wasn’t within their comfort zone, what boundaries were flexible and which ones absolutely weren’t. Having had the “soft and hard limits” chat before, in a sex-based environment, with several different clients, the concept of somebody having no-go zones wasn’t new to me and it was quickly folded into my information bank for any potential future romps with Jo. This, I’ve been told, was also a new occurrence for them, as they had had numerous previous experiences with partners, casual and not, that did not or would not respect boundaries and limits. Both our sexual chemistry and the way we played and built off of one another was soon impossible to ignore, and our relationship evolved.

When Jo became a regular part of my daily life, we began having more discussions about what being Butch meant to them; from more serious conversations, like how to bring up the subject of pronouns with my then 6-year-old child, to lighter inquiries, like whether or not it was appropriate for me to refer to Jo as handsome. They lent me their copy of Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (heartbreaking but exceptional read, I highly recommend it) and I eagerly devoured it, quickly approaching Jo with any questions, including whether or not, as an exclusive couple, I would then be considered their Femme. I’ve never felt particularly feminine other than in conjunction with the people I was with or situation I was in, so the idea of being Jo’s femme was mind-boggling to me, in a way. To me, they were just my partner; I didn’t realize there was a title or a part to play, too.

At the time, Jo was helping administrate a Stone Support group directed at people in the B / F community. The idea was to offer a space for people who maybe identified with Stone but weren’t sure what it meant, a place for their partners to get more information and just generally another community of people that could relate and empathize with others in similar situations. As a means of getting all the information I could, learning what being Stone meant to others and then relating that to what Jo had expressed, the group was great, and I quickly volunteered to help with posting, vetting members, and other day to day moderator-type things. In a lot of ways, this role was very rewarding; there was a small moderator group chat that made me feel, briefly, that I had a couple of friends in my brand new community, I got pretty great responses when I would open up a discussion to members— but this group is really the place where all of my confusion and questioning started.

Our moderator group was made up of a small, mixed number of Femmes and Butches, including the group owner and a Butch friend of hers that obviously had some history together. It came to a point early on in my time in the group where I remember feeling conflicted as to why I didn’t feel like I belonged amongst this group of people. Jo was still an active member at the time and we were continuing to have open discussions regularly, so I had a daily reference point for what (I thought) it meant to be Butch in this community. I knew that wasn’t me, for a myriad of reasons, but the obvious being that I clearly don’t identify with Butch. Not as a word, or a presentation, or anything other than I, as a queer, female-bodied person, find myself almost exclusively attracted to masculine-presenting folx — and, at that time, the only word I had for these peeps was Butch.

The next logical step for me in recognizing this was that, if I wasn’t Butch and there were “only” two sides, then I must be Femme, right? I was partnered to somebody who identified heavily with the old school manners, chivalry, and dynamics of the B / F world, and they were the Butch, so my place should have been obvious, no?

The problem was, I wasn’t “femme” enough for any of the Femmes in that group. Anybody that knows me, knows that I do not fall into any real form of typical “womanliness”; I don’t really like wearing dresses unless I have something to dress up for — even then, I’d probably rather rock some slacks than a pencil skirt; I almost never paint my nails, do my hair, or any of those things that would be considered feminine or girly; I swear like a sailor (when my kid isn’t around), I can throw a helluva a punch (and have, on a number of different occasions — I’ve, admittedly, taken more punches than I’ve thrown, though), and I could change your oil, fix a flat and figure out almost any computer type problem before I’d be able to tell you what kind of toy my niece wants for her birthday, or what the Kardashians are up to now. When Taylor Swift’s, “You Need To Calm Down” video premiered, it took me a week and a half to realize that people were losing their minds because the video was supposed to signify an end to the feud. I didn’t even know they were feuding in the first place!!

Now, before anybody freaks out — I know these are very stereotypical, incredibly shallow examples of femininity and in no way do I suggest these are the only determining factors; for the sake of this post I want to just exemplify that there was a certain level of womanliness that I experienced among the Femmes that I met during this time that I was, simply, unable to relate or measure up to. I didn’t want to talk about makeup, or nail polish, or fashion, or lingerie, or gossip about or sexualize Butches at every opportunity — so these Femmes wanted nothing to do with me. To them, I was just Jo’s partner, an unfortunate, pitiful example of somebody that was trying to squeeze into a community that didn’t fit me. The Butch members of the group were more welcoming to me and seemed to be far more interested in me, but I soon realized that that was because, well… They were interested in me. The few friends I thought I had made in the Butch faction of the group swiftly disappeared when I didn’t provide the flirtatious, promiscuous behaviors they expected from young, “naive” lesbians. We could have easily talked about and connected over a slew of other things; cars, motorcycles, sports… But I wasn’t Butch and thus was not part of the proverbial ‘boy’s club’ that existed there, so I didn’t have the privilege of speaking about these things.

(to be continued next week!)

Aisha (like Asia) is an unassuming person, happily partnered and living her best life with her beau and their 8-year-old son in a quiet, queer-friendly theatre town. A writer, baker, and chronic pain warrior, she currently runs a casual blog, All Queer For Takeoff, with her partner, Jo, where they discuss all aspects of living as queer folx, from family issues and struggles to what happens behind closed bedroom doors (wink). She is musically gifted, playing a variety of instruments including, but not limited to, the french horn, piano, guitar and ukulele, and also loves to sing. True to her Pisces nature, she is both fluid and solid and can easily get lost in her own current of thought. Aisha loves to read, is an avid horror buff and craves adrenaline-inducing experiences (roller coaster buddy, anyone?). She loves baking, chilling out by a campfire or on a cozy couch and playing video games with her beau(s).

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! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it! New Femme Friday feature starting fall 2018: Books from which queer femmes can draw inspiration. What are your trusted sources of light and love? Please share!

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.”)

Published in: on August 2, 2019 at 6:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Femme Friday – Moon Eaters, a zine edited by Lily Xie, Crystal Bi Wegner, and Ailin Lu in Somerville, MA

The other day whilst batting about in Davis Square, I was lucky enough to pick up an issue of Scout Somerville in which there is an article about a new zine, Moon Eaters. The zine is “at the intersection of Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) and femme identities” and the first issue was released in June. The Scout Somerville article includes an interview with Moon Eaters editors, Lily Xie, Crystal Bi Wegner, and Ailin Lu.

“I feel like not seeing people who share something with you, it’s this loneliness,” says Lily in the interview. “It’s really hard to create your identity in a vacuum – you really latch onto whatever you can. There’s queer media and there’s APIA media, and there’s not a lot that is both, so you start to cobble together this mosaic of different pieces of your identity from these different worlds, but there’s a lot of things that conflict. So it’s sometimes confusing, there’s tension there. So having something that encompasses both of those worlds makes me feel a little less lonely.”

I haven’t managed to get an issue of Moon Eaters yet, but this old queer femme zinester from the 90s just can’t wait!

Deep gratitude to Lily, Crystal and Ailin for their essential and healing work, for their generosity, their art, their creativity and queer femme brilliance; for their discussion about amateur wisdom and about identifying red flags when someone might be trying to take advantage of your identity and for not being afraid of the challenge to talk about all of it.

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!