On Femme Identity and Sisterhood, Part 2

Many moons ago, when I was a wee little queer, I found myself at a party, explaining to the host how I saw myself in relation to my girlfriend at the time. She nodded her curly head and asked at one point, “So you identify as femme, then?” In that moment, something clicked. Something also grated, but the clicking was more important at the time. Here was the start of my Epic Search for Understanding Femme Identity.

I didn’t think too much of it back then. I defaulted to an affiliation with the word “femme” because my partner at the time was butch-identified. Not necessarily as a gender identity (not in the Butch Is A Noun way), but more as an extra descriptor. And that’s how I became femme – in an adjective way. My partner was butch, therefore I must be femme, right? ‘Cause that makes total sense.

Fast forward a few years to the end of that relationship and the end of that identity. I needed to rediscover who I was and in that process, I found myself questioning what “femme” meant. Was I still femme now that I did not have that butch partner? Well, that first year was an epic amount of reconstruction. Codependency had left me without a shred of an idea of who I was, and figuring out “femme” was part of that reconstruction. I found myself a mentor (by pure, glorious, glittery accident) who had all of the things I wanted right then: a poly, kinky relationship, and the secrets of how to make eyeliner your bitch. I also had, for the first time ever, girl roommates. Like, took tips out of Cosmo, followed all of the dating rules, dyed-in-the-wool, certifiably heteronormative girls. That was the year of figuring out that femininity did not have to mean weak or undeserving of respect, which sounds relatively “duh” at face value but took a lot for me to actually believe.

My family does not appreciate femininity. There’s a respect for the work involved in the roles of mother and wife, but not so much for anything else. The women who wear makeup in my family are treated with a certain level of blasé scorn, and it was always said about the girliest ones that they would never really amount to anything. No woman who commands any form of respect in my family regularly wears skirts. Dresses are a barely-tolerable holiday thing. Heels are not to be worn if there is any possible way around it. But I wanted all of those things. I love heels and skirts and makeup and tight clothes, and loving those things does not make me a slut who will never amount to anything. Painting my toenails does not magically remove my work ethic. Putting on a miniskirt does not suddenly make my neural connections slower. Being away from my family for 9 months and being able to learn about and express this type of femininity made it seem stronger to me, made it okay for me to be this way. I was finally able to see the strength in myself as being femme.

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On Calpernia Addams

Calpernia Addams is a beautiful human being. You might’ve seen her story told by heartthrob Lee Pace in Soldier’s Girl. I met her years ago when she came to perform as our headliner for a dinner show during Trans Activist Week on campus. This is the latest quote of hers that I love:

“You choose your community’s voices and heroes. You choose your entertainers, your thinkers and your fighters. Make those choices. And if somebody is making your world a worse place, call ’em on it.” Read the rest here.

Not everyone can be heard all the time, that’s the unfortunate truth of things. But as long as others insist on speaking for us, we have the right and the responsibility to ensure that they represent us adequately. Citizens are politically responsible, and individuals are socially responsible for the betterment of this world. How you do it, well, that part’s up to you.

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On Gender Identity

Hey-o! I’m now writing for The UnderEnlightened: an online magazine for young adults who really know they don’t need to have the world figured out but still maybe feel like they should. The best bit? I wrote a piece on coming out as GQ and how to pick your very own strap-on, all in one.

“I wasn’t born with my dick. In fact, it took me about three years, lots of money, and a lot of emotional baggage to get it. Now I have it, and I love it, and as I write this, it’s sitting happily on my nightstand: my own phallic muse.” Check it: http://theunderenlightened.com/2014/03/28/me-and-my-strap-on/

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On the Time Passed Between Posts

It’s kind of mind-boggling to think that I haven’t touched this thing since July, when I posted from halfway around the world on a rainy day in Victoria, AUS. I’m in grad school now, and while people keep telling me it’s SO MUCH HARDER than undergrad, I’m really not finding the work as difficult as everyone said. The difficult part for me has been managing my time between social, familial, and romantic relationships, work, and school, which has been an on-going dilemma since I first had friends. I feel like while I do laugh a LOT in all of those places and relationships, I’ve lost the time to dedicate just to pure and simple fun. So today, on a break from studying for a midterm in research methodology, I re-visited one of my favorite places on the Internet:

Hey Girl, It’s Rachel Maddow

…and promptly got butterflies from every beautiful picture of this beautiful woman. Seriously. So. Flippin’. Gorgeous. If I could just have her and Sex Radical Ryan Gosling around at school, the discussions would be absolutely fascinating! Of course, I foresee that going the way of performance art/ threesomes on the quad, but that would just be even more intellectually invigorating!

And thusly, I give you this gift of Rachel Maddow. May it please your senses half as much as it hath please mine own.


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On Femme Identification and Sisterhood, Part 1

I know I’ve talked a lot about femme in here, and I know that I keep doing the “more on that later” thing, so I figured it might finally be time to sit down and explain a little about my idea of femme.

Femme is my gender. I know a lot of people use it as an identity, not necessarily as a gender. I’ve had some issues coming to claim it as a gender, in part because of its pervasiveness as an identity. But somewhere along the lines in the last few years, I felt it settle within me as my gender, and I find it comforting that even when its expression varies immensely, I still feel femme. There’s something grounding in it for me.

It wasn’t always like that. I grew up with a great amount of discord between femininity and power. My parents got together in Berkeley, CA in the ‘70s. If that doesn’t scream second-wave hippie feminists to you, then I don’t know what will. They were and still are all about equality between men and women. There were a few hitches, though. They were cool that I was a girl, as long as I wasn’t girly. Also, while their beliefs resembled a rather tame version of a lot of ‘70s radical ideology, both of them came from very traditional 1950s households of two parents and five kids where the women did all of the housework and the men held the day jobs. The combination of these histories resulted in a freak permutation of stereotypic gender norms with a Rosie the Riveter attitude, complete with compost. My parents definitely loved me and wanted me to be a girl, they just didn’t want me to be girly. They praised me when I did well in school, encouraged me when I wanted to learn how to bake and cook, and gave me stern talking-tos whenever I asked for something deemed “too girly”. I distinctly remember the look of horror they exchanged across the room when, at age 7, I opened a Belle-themed Barbie doll at my day care’s Christmas party, as if with that one present all my chances for career and academic success were swept away in a sea of fashion and glitter.

I learned how to be a girl from my female friends in high school. Herd mentality is a fantastic asset when you’re trying to figure out how the hell to fit in. Each friend group has its own norms for how to act, dress, and talk, and this script was what taught me how to be a straight girl. I learned the feminine things of appearance: fashion rules, the basics of make-up, how to do my hair in something other than a pony tail. I learned the romantic scripts for dating and talking to boys and which boys were off-limits. But the best thing about my group of friends in high school was that I learned what the beginnings of a femme community felt like. Granted, it was full of the teen angst and drama that are associated with the storm-and-stress approach to adolescence popularized in Western psychology (thank you H.S. Sullivan), but it was a start.

So picture me, all seventeen and savvy with the straight-girl knowledge of how to interact with the world. And then I turn 18. And then all of sudden I’m bisexual. Those scripts can still work, right? Right? Nope. I learned the hard way that everything is always in flux.


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Dirty Queer Sex Tour

You know what’s really cool? Good Vibrations. You know what’s even cooler? Me at Good Vibrations. The handsome, verbose editor of Say Please is kicking off the book tour with a reading in San Francisco’s Polk St. store this Sunday from 5-6pm. I’m excited to hear them talk dirty in public. That just sounds like fun. And it gives me a reason to make the trek up to Good Vibes (which, really, does not take that much convincing). I’m looking forward to it.

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“Butch in the Streets, Femme in the Sheets” and Other Bullshit

I’ve come across a lot of problematic attitudes in the few months since I last posted, but one thing that’s been consistently on my mind lately is the conflation of gender and sexuality. Firstly, to all of those people who say they don’t see gender: suck it. Gender exists. Especially here in the good old U.S. of A. It’s a social construct, yes, but that doesn’t make it any less real or any less influential. Just like with race and how being “color-blind” doesn’t fix the problems that we have with racism, acting blind to gender doesn’t fix the problems we have with gender-based oppression; it just ignores them. Now, I’m not operating on the binary, here. When I talk about gender, I’m talking about everything between and including boy, girl, man, woman, FTM, MTF, butch, femme, genderqueer, bigender, trigender, two-spirit and anything else you can think of. Gender doesn’t merely exist on a spectrum; it exists in any way the human brain can imagine it. And while it does interact with sexuality, it should not be mistaken for sexuality, which brings us to today’s conflation:

“Butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.”

This saying, frequently thrown around in communities of queer women, does exactly what we’re not supposed to do: confuses gender presentation with sexual preferences. It refers to a masculine-presenting person who prefers to be the less-dominant partner during sexual activity. This idea not only perpetuates the notion that femme people can’t be dominant in bed (which we should all know by now is a lie), but also acts on the internalization of fem-phobia that equates femininity with weakness or submission. This fear of being considered feminine and therefore weak pressures many masculine folks to avoid owning their desire for submission, or conversely pressures people who love subbing to avoid identifying as masculine. It also reinforces the idea that masculinity should always include sexual dominance and, when it doesn’t, that the person is somehow “tricking” the observer – sound familiar? It should. That whole problem of “tricking” the observer is the basis for things like gay or trans panic: the panic that a person feels upon finding out that someone is gay or transgender (usually during some form of sexualized activity, like flirting or foreplay). This panic has been used to justify horrific acts of violence against LGBT folks throughout history and continues to be a reason many people remain closeted, when the reality of the problem lies within the person reacting to new information, not the LGBT person revealing this information. Everyone is in charge of hir own emotions, actions and reactions. In the gay or trans panic defense, we see a neglect of responsibility for those emotional reactions coupled with victim-blaming, all of which could be completely avoided by simply asking questions in a respectful manner from the beginning.

Now here’s the really radical part: you can do that with butches too.

Have an inkling that the hot stud you have a date with on Friday is more submissive than dominant? If it’s bothering you, ask. Don’t dismiss hir and then run around trying to belittle hir masculinity by telling all your friends ze’s “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets”. Using that phrase, especially if you identify as either butch or femme, just hurts you because in using it you’re perpetuating the rigid boundary lines that decry that femmes can’t be tough and butches can’t be soft. That femmes can’t take charge and butches can’t lie back and take it. That masculinity is somehow greater than femininity.

It all comes down to assumptions, really. See a butch on the street, assume ze’s dom; see a femme on the street, assume ze’s sub. I remember hearing from the time I was old enough to walk how I should never make assumptions. Never make assumptions about anyone or anything because when you assume, you make an ass out of “u” and “me”. Well, fuck, that’s hard. Never assume anything about anyone? Damn. If I did that, I’d never get laid! If I never assumed anything, I would never have the idea of, “That person looks queer,” and I would most likely not engage hir in conversation. Assumptions are helpful that way in that they help one identify who is most likely to be a part of hir community. They help in sparking initial contact, but they can be a detriment once that initial contact has passed. So here’s my proposed solution: be loving. Because everyone makes assumptions and there’s no two ways around that, but mediating the response to corrected assumptions is something over which we as individuals have complete control. By being loving, we expand the notions of what’s acceptable in our own minds and in turn, in the communities in which we live. Regarding our fellow human beings with compassion allows for greater flexibility within the human experience.

And what is the human experience if not in flux?


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