Category: queer


So, a few months ago (early December), I was reading about Femme Stuff while working a reception job. I spent the whole morning reading primarily about femme invisibility and ended up writing a Twitter Thing about how the postal carrier who turned up with the mail around Noon had asked me if I’d ever considered being an actress because I was “using my facial expressions very intensely”.
What I thought was “Shit, I’m totally doing that”. But what I meant was… I’m flagging.
Flagging hard, to no-one in particular, wearing all of my sparkle on the outside because I was reading about how un-see-able I am to other queers.
 
That intense, almost theatrical, expressiveness is a thing that makes femmes intimidating and fascinating, but sometimes I wonder if that Femme Dazzling Smile (like a butch nod, if you will) that lights us up when we see each other isn’t just us saying “I See You, Femme!” but is also us asking “Do you see me?”
I mean, maybe that’s just me.
But I do wonder if we turn up the volume on our already/often pretty innate intensity, particularly in queer spaces & contexts, in the hopes of being recognized as Family when we don’t (necessarily) have fades / asymmetrical haircuts, or rock a pin-up aesthetic, or have leopard-print on that day or what-have-you. (As a side note, I have a pair of Fake Cat-Eye Glasses that I got for doing cam work, and I sometimes want wear them around town just to see how that effects the way others perceive me. I don’t know if that counts as “field work”…)
 
It’s a weird thing. Kind of nice to know that it shows up, even when I’m not consciously doing it? Kind of heart-breaking to know that I try That Hard to be visible even when there’s nobody around to see me?
 
An anecdote: Back in November, I went to a combination book-launch/dance-party/AGM/fundraiser (you know how that goes), and had all my dazzle on when I headed home afterwards. Halfway home a butch-of-a-certain-age, under a big umbrella, chatted me up for no discernible reason at all. Unexpectedly visible. Who knew?
I just about floated home. Not because that particular person was particularly exciting, just because: she (they?) recognized me well enough to flirt, noticeably, with a stranger in spite of drizzly night + my warm coat & non-heeled boots.
It was so freaking validating.
 
I’m in my late 30s. Most het-cis dudes don’t catcall me. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve “aged out” of the Easy To Intimidate range, or what (I am not complaining, if I have), but, despite that, most of the attention I get on the street is from people I’m fairly confident are cis dudes. They flock like cis dudes in their 20s who are trying to prove their manhood. Then again, maybe I think they’re cis guys because 100% of everyone else has a pretty solid idea of how uncomfortable it is to hear “How’s my wife?” from a stranger, sooo… What I’m saying is, it’s not necessarily “business as usual” to be all “Hey, Lady” when you’re QAF.
 
Years ago, on a day that was warm, but not nearly warm enough (so probably in late April or early May), I went out in my leopard-print skirt, my alizarin monster-fur ¾-sleeve jacket, a pair of dangly earrings, and a slick of raspberry lippy. I didn’t know it was Femme Visibility Day until I logged onto twitter that evening. But someone else did, some other femme with pin-up-girl bangs and winged eye-liner, who looked me in the eye like she’d seen something holy, reached out her hand, and said “You. Look. Fabulous!”
She gave me a smile that lit up the street, and I walked home wearing a crown.
 
One single day to throw away all the toxic, internalized shit that insists on telling us that deliberately-feminine-presenting people are always straight, always binary, always either cis women or wanting to be read as such (and I do not mean for safety reasons)… That it’s rude of us to plaster an unverified marginalized identity or two all over someone else’s unconsenting body, like we would be shaming them, just because they look familiar in some way. That it’s better (safer? Less painful? For whom?) for us to assume that the person with the fancy fade and the delicate Monroe piercing, is a “metro-sexual” straight, cis dude, not a brother-fem gay guy or genderqueer and pansexual or a trans dyke rocking Lesbian Haircut Number Two; wiser or kinder (are you kidding me?) to assume that the person with the scuffed, cuffed jeans and the crimson extensions, or the red, red lipstick and the fedora, is a cissexual straight girl not a genderqueer, sexuality-queer trans fem/me, a cis bi-dyke, a trans lesbian.
…That assuming anything else would be met with hostility or confusion or even anxiety, a whole other sort of Unrecognized to the one we’re used to from random androgynous-queers on the street, and all the more painful because of it.
 
The validating Butch-of-a-Certain-Age in that anecdote? The femme who made a point of telling me she could see me? Those encounters are the polar opposite of the queer dances I tend to go to. Queer dances run by femme friends. Queer dances where I at least kinda-sorta know the other regulars. Queer dances where I still walk in with the working assumption that people who don’t know me personally will be wondering what the Straight Lady is doing in their space.
And, to a point, I know that this is basically “Don’t Self-Reject” on a social scale. That I’m assuming every sort-of-stranger there is going to look at me the way my own femme friend looked at the cab-load of 20-something other femmes and assumed they were a bunch of het-cis kiddies crashing the dance during Pride.
The assumption (the fear) that I won’t be seen as “belonging” in a queer context is definitely partly pre-rejection (pre-jection?), but it’s also the end result of every time a more “obvious” (read: masculine) queer doesn’t pick up on my traffic-stopping lipstick & leopard-print skirt, every time the androgynous youngsters at the hippy indie grocery store only turn on the “Oh! You’re one of us!” familiar-smiles when I put money in the Ten Oaks donation box, every time someone I met at That Queer Thing, One Time looks right through me (huge, hard-to-miss me) on the street because I no-longer have Queer Context to flag for me.
It makes me a mix of sad and angry every time.
 
It’s funny / not-funny, strange / not-strange, that I get Recognized by people who I’m reading as older-than-me cis gay men – the ones who sing their sentences in much the same way that I do (so probably some degree of fem, even in the land of No Fats No Femmes Adonis-hungry gay culture) – more often than I get recognized by butch women in my own age bracket. Fellows who stop me on Booth street, in my pencil skirt and plunging neck-line, to say “Honey, do you have a light”, or who stumble, tipsy, up to me in my five-inch heels and mini dress – fresh from the Alt 101 drag show where the only people who gave me the nod, or looked anything like me, were there to perform and in costume – and inform me “Oh, sweetie, they’re gonna love you at CP” only to correct themselves with “Then again, maybe it’s not your scene” when they hear me respond in soprano… because everyone knows that a feminine cis-lady is straight, right?
 

 
This is why I try extra-hard to dazzle-smile at the baby femmes I see on Bank Street, or Somerset, or in the art classes I work for. This is why I try to assume that anyone whose style and bearing a just a little “too much” for where they’re standing – too glamourous, too skin-confident, too aware of their own sensuality – is one of mine, no matter where I find them.
The ones with Nefertiti eyeliner and pink-purple-blue hair extensions.
The ones wearing sun-dresses & stockings in November.
The ones with delicate wrist movements and shy smiles who paint fairy-wings on me in art school.
The ones who dye their armpits to match they eyebrows and scalps.
The ones who name themselves “queen” and “bi-gender” to strangers, but whose body-language says it before they ever open their mouths.
The ones who lounge on the counter, one leg crossed over the other, in deep v-neck t-shirts.
The ones who do the social/emotional labour of keeping up their end of a conversation.
The ones who sidle up to me at parties, because I’m taller than they are, and ask me where I got my shoes.
The ones braving dyke march with long, long hair and flowers in their hatbands.
The ones with boyfriends and big jewelry and hot-pink lipstick who call everybody Darlin’ in the office.
The ones with natural hair and magenta-cerulean plaid back-packs and huge earrings on the bus.
The ones who pluck their eyebrows so carefully and tailor their rock-show tshirts into boat-necks with the sleeves ripped off.
The ones who wear their plaid shirts & blunnies with cut-off short-shorts and scoop-neck tanks.
The ones in skinny jeans and perfect, sparkle-diamond nose-studs.
The ones rocking cocktail party jewelry in their 9am classes.
All of them.
All of us.
I want them to know I see them. That we gleam like fucking rubies, like lights in the dark, to anyone who knows how to look.

Someone I still love did this to me.

Dating Tips for the Feminist Man

There are two kinds of boundary violations: overt and covert.

We know a lot about one half of boundary violations: the kind acted out in an anxious way.

This first kind of boundary violation is hopefully already obvious. This is when you say no, or are unable to consent, and someone goes ahead and touches you anyway. This is the kind of boundary violation that occurs when someone touches your body when you are drunk, or are unconscious, or are drugged, or do not say an enthusiastic yes, or your body language communicates trauma, fear or hesitation and someone goes ahead anyway.

It is the kind of boundary violation when men insist that we smile for them on the street, or smile before they will give us our food at a restaurant, or when they insist we talk to them and placate them and flirt with them when…

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Queer Fam… of Origin

A few years ago, when I was an outreach worker for a province-wide Q/T health organization, I got to spend an afternoon with my wife and a bunch of other out-of-town (mostly) adults hanging out in Renfrew County for the local queer youth support/social group’s Big Day Out. THere were safer sex workshops. There was a drag workshop. And there was a dance-party (at which a friend of mine paid the party a surprise visit in her Elvis Gear, thus putting the king in The King, and the kids went nuts and wanted pictures. It was a good time.
BUT (or, more accurately,AND): I met a youngster who needed to talk about Stuff with someone who wasn’t an immediate part of her microscopic dating pool. Long story short: We emailed, she told me about feeling like The Only Queer in the Family, I mentioned some statistical probabilitiess, and she wrote me back to tell me she’d asked her Dad and he’d pointed out the small but significant group of homos amongst her cousins.
“I’m not the only one!” her email crowed.
 
Sometimes it’s a surprise, is what I’m saying.
 
In my case… it wasn’t entirely a surprise.
We were all just really, reeeeeeeeeeeally clueless.
But it still kind of floors me when I’m visiting my (bio) aunt, my (married-in) aunt, my masculine-presenting cousin + her super-femme lady-love[1], and my Big Gay Honourary Uncle… because it’s like: I don’t have to flag! They all KNOW!
It’s like some part of my brain forgets that they’re my relatives, that one of them has known me since I was born, and most of the rest have known me since high-school, and all I see is a house full of hippie-ass creative queers (MAH PEOPLE!) whom I don’t see every day… and I suddenly want to be all “So, my wife and I went to this queer slow-dance thing last weekend…” while re-applying my hot-pink lipstick and talking-with-my-hands so much that my shoulders are getting in on the action.
I feel like those kids in Renfrew, going a little hay-wire just because there are Other Queers Around… even though 90% of who I hang out with, these days, are big ol’ homos.
It’s a bit bizzarre, to tell you the truth.
And yet.
I’m not the only one!
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Who totally gave me the Femme Dazzling Smile when she met me, because we do actually recognize each other, but I wasn’t expecting it, and it was really nice when she did it. 😉

So someone on Twitter asked who-all was going to attend this evening’s Day Of Pink Gala (hosted by the CCGSD, formerly Jer’s Vision), and I responded, this morning, with one word: Nope.
While the sentiment was definitely clear, I did feel like I was being a bit misleading. So, as is my wont, I wrote a blog post to talk about this a little bit more.
 
Look. The truth of the matter is that I’ve never gone to a Day of Pink Gala. Even though it’s a free (iirc) party, and even though there’s a good chance that there’s free food at said free party, and even though I am exactly the kind of broke artist who will show up at a stranger’s vernisage specifically to eat the free cheese while trying to get a modeling job… I never went to DoP. For Reasons. Put it down to my being a home-body and big crowds making me nervous.
 
In previous years, this wasn’t anything to Make A Statement about, so I never did. At most, I’d shrug and go “Meh. I think I’ve got something else on that night” and not mention that “something else” was probably “youtube videos”. But then this happened: The CCGSD appointed Laureen Harper as their Day Of Pink ambassador. Now, on her own, Laureen Harper is just… some chick. Google her, and pretty-much all you’ll find is her connection to her husband, the current leader of the governing party of Canada.
You know, the biggest bully in the country.
(Okay, he might be tied with Don Plett, but every slime-ball needs a wingman, amirite?)
 
So here’s the thing. It is (technically) possible to have a lasting, loving relationship with a partner whose politics differ radically from your own. At least in theory[1]. So this would be a completely different situation if Laureen Harper’s youth-advocacy work involved being vocally and publically supportive of the rights of specifically queer and trans students to a harassment-free learning environment.
But, as far as I can tell, she’s not doing that. Sure, she talks about how it’s important to support diversity in schools, but in Ottawa, and in Ontario more generally, we’ve been watching state-sponsored English-language Catholic schools insist on the term “diversity” as a way to specifically refuse to support, or even recognize, their queer and trans students. “Diversity” in and of itself is great – the Pagans have a saying, “Strength in Diversity”, that references how much healthier a tall-grass prairie is to a monocrop, for example, how many voices singing in harmony with each other are way more powerful, more moving, than one voice shouting all alone – but “diversity” isn’t great when it’s co-opted by people who are actively trying to force you back into a closet.
 
Also, something worth noting: Pink Shirt Day was originally a campaign started by two rural Nova Scotia 12th-graders in support of a ninth-grade student who was hit with specifically homophobic slurs when he wore a pink shirt to school one day. Day Of Pink is a national upshot of youth-for-youth solidarity and, importantly, of youth standing with peers who face violence specifically because their gender presentation and/or sexual orientation is, or is perceived to be, outside of what’s considered “normal”.
So here’s a story from my own childhood:
I didn’t know “bisexual” was a thing until I was sixteen, and it took another year for me to figure out that “bixsexual” was a term that applied to me. But I didn’t need to be “out and proud” or even just “visibly queer” (as a cis, femme, little girl, the only things that marked me as “other” were my height, my music, and – unexpectedly? – my insistence on wearing dresses) to face homophobic bullying. Nobody beat me up, but my fifth grade was all about getting swarmed by mobs of classmates jeering “Are you a lesbian? Are you a lesbian???” (if you were wondering about where that fear of crowds came from…), stealing my shoes, being told that people being “different” was fine just “Not when they’re different like you”. It was my teachers being deeply unsettled to see me doing a Fred and Ginger dance routine with another girl in my grade.
I know damn well that I was not the only turned-out-to-be-queer kid in my class. Not just statistically, either (Ottawa’s a small town, for a place with a million people). Given that none of our teachers were saying “there’s nothing wrong with this, stop being a douche-canoe”, I can’t say I blame them for letting me draw the fire, if they’d even figured themselves out yet, which isn’t necessarily the case. But if they knew? If nine and ten year old kids knew they were One Of Us, and knew that to keep themselves safe they had to laugh at the (other) faggot right along with the Normal People… do you really think they wouldn’t?
I’m not typically one to quote Ivan Coyote, but they said something on facebook a while back, after having seen a high school teacher wearing a pink t-shirt that read “The Pink Shirt Says It All”. What they said on facebook was (I’m paraphrasing, I think) “The pink shirt means fuck-all if it’s not backed up with action”.
 
Look. There are things that CCGSD does that I really, really like. I love that they hold national conferences where high school students can learn how to advocate for themselves and their peers with a specific focus on gender and/or sexuality minorities and youth of colour. I love that they run Rainbow Write, locally, which is a program that bring queer and/or trans writers and, frequently, specifically queer and/or trans writers of colour, to Ottawa to do writing workshops with queer and trans teens[2] (and, if space allows, Rainbow Brights of all ages). But Day Of Pink is supposed to be about stopping specifically homophobic and transphobic bullying; about making schools and, more broadly, the world safer for our children; for sending the message (and backing it up with action, folks!) that this particular type of cruelty – which is used to police gender and sexuality at every age and regardless of what a given targeted-person’s gender and sexual orientation actually are, but which always, always hurts OUR kids, no matter whom its directed at – is absolutely not okay. Deciding that the appropriate ambassador for this message is someone who will actively dilute it, who is someone with deep and personal ties to a party that is clearly dead set against all of us who live outside of that tiny, narrow charmed circle? My dears, that was the wrong decision.
 
Those feelings of rage and betrayal that are flying all over twitter right now? Those feelings are real. Some of us believed you had our backs. But getting popular with the powerful crowd by betraying those who are already getting stomped on?
Honey… that’s what bullies do.
 
 
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Although, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how. That is a hell of a hard road to walk, even when your partner’s hateful, fear-mongering politics aren’t routinely being rammed into actual federal laws.
 
[2] The second time I came out – as kinky and poly and queer-femme – as an adult with my own place to live, it was queer (and frequently kinky and poly) femme poets who got me through my divorce, helped me see my reflection on paper, and helped me find my voice as a writer. I can’t imagine how much more of a huge fucking relief it would be for a queer and/or trans kid, a teenager who might be afraid of getting kicked out of their home if they’re open about who they are, to meet and be mentored by adults who are just like them and who get it.

The idea of Stone, the idea of Femme. I’ve heard descriptions of “stone femme” wherein the femme in question is The Queen of Cups – receptive, reactive, responsive, the partner whose moan, shiver, arch, pushes the energy back, completes the emotional/energetic/erotic loop so that it can cycle through again. In this context (in any context?) Femme Bottom (any bottom?) is all appetite.
But so am I.
I read Xan West’s writing about Stone, about the gaze, about desire and how a partner’s responses can make them come, just with breath, with sound, with need. And this is so familiar to me.
I’m not stone. My clothes can come off when I fuck, am maybe at my most powerful, most “toppy”, when I’m in nothing by sweat-slicked skin and high heeled shoes; I crave touch, hunger for it, too, but it’s scary as fuck and hard to stay in my body to accept it, let alone welcome it, without overthinking everything or flinching/freezing pre-emptively. I’m seven years (twenty years? thirty?) into trying to navigate my way through this minefield of fear, body, and performativity, towards the pleasure, openness, sincerity, the offering that I want to give in vulnerability, in desire, but also towards my own ability to accept the offering I want to receive, crave receiving, as a dominant bottom.
I’m femme.
When Tara Hardy writes “I, too, have a mouth”, about wanting to taste the world; when Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha writes about femme hunger and needing to be cautious when it comes to sharing the gulf of that ravenous need… That’s me.
As a femme top, as someone who is all appetite, who is all mouth, I am not the Queen of Cups. Following you with hungry eyes, I want you to see, and respond to, my desire. At my purest, I am the Great Devourer: I want to eat you alive. I want you to like it. To offer yourself up to my hunger, to the tongue that would taste every quivering, shuddering inch of you.
Xan writes, in “Where Pleasure Resides” (same link as above), a lot about cocks. I don’t have one of those. It’s not a word that fits me. But I deeply understand the yearning to get energetically inside someone, to find her mouth of fire, coax it open with the red, red pulse of my tongue – physical, energetic, or both – until I am so deep inside that I can lap at her heart and coax that open, too.
This is what I want.
This is also what I dread.
I don’t know how much of it is conditioning – my mother telling me, in my teens, that once you’ve fucked someone your heart goes with them, too – versus how much of this is true to the actual connection between touch and trust, between sexual vulnerability and emotional vulnerability, that exists in my body. But, yes, if I let someone fuck me, get inside me, even just feed me – though it’s easier to avoid when I’m topping (“less direct” is the wrong way to say it, but… riding a response is not the same as generating that response, and there’s an emotional buffer in that difference) – the chances that I’ll fall in love with them, want a deep, lasting emotional connection with them, rise dramatically. And that’s scary. Terrifying. And also yearned for.
I’m hungry and afraid to eat.
What a damn silly place to be.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

And this one. (Hi, Mercedes, I’m a fan…) I find this possibility particularly attention-worthy since, hey, the (struck down as unconstitutional) Bawdy House law was used as an excuse to raid bath houses and kink clubs for ages.

Dented Blue Mercedes

Slightly over a week ago, Canada introduced legislation to replace the anti-prostitution laws that had been struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Conservative government has been trying to race Bill C-36 through both the House and the Senate simultaneously, at breakneck speed.  But the text of the bill has raised questions about its constitutionality.  Sex workers, mainstream media and even many Nordic model proponents and abolitionists agree that it places sex workers in even greater danger than the previous laws did.

But is there also a poison pill within the legislation that could be used to stifle LGBT and sex-positive speech?

Firstly, here is what the dubiously-named “Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act” does:

  • It re-criminalizes communicating for the purpose of commercial sex.  While there is said to be an exemption for the sex worker themselves, that exemption only applies if the communication…

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Okay, maybe this is a really bizarre title for a GGBP post, but work with me here. The other night (more than a week ago, now), I went to a dinner that included a number of people in what I think of as my extended poly family. I made the dessert.
 
It’s funny.
 
Maybe in a more conventially-structured family, I’d look at this kind of an evening as “getting together with friends”. But some of those friends are my wife’s other partners, which makes them more than friends. Some of them are related by leather ties rather than ties of “blood or alliance” (as we like to say in Anthropology Kinship Diagrams). Some are both.
 
In these small, fringe communities (the queers, the perverts) we are fairly used to (re-)building family from scratch, and – because our communities tend to be small – we frequently wind up being “exes in law” or whatever with just about everybody we know. Throw polyamoury and the amicable disolution/redefinition of power dynamics (like when someone goes from being So-and-So’s owner to being hir mentor, for example) into the mix, and you wind up with these intersecting familial-relationships that can make a community look like the cosmic web.
 
And the thing is, this isn’t all that unusual. Any small community – think tiny farming towns, for example – winds up with most families linked to most other families through marriage or cousins or what-have-you. It’s just that, when those interconnections are based around The Fucking (kinky stuff, power-exchanges, sex parties, multiple sweeties… you know, all those things that an up-bringing in Patriarchy doesn’t really prepare you for) rather than around weddings and grandkids[1], it’s like we forget that there was ever a map at all.
 
But it’s there.
 
I have a friend who loves Miss Manners and Emily Post. She loves etiquette books because they basically boil down to answering the question “What do I say if my son brings his gay trans leather-daddy home for the holidays” with “You say: It’s a pleasure to meet you”.
 
We don’t have to come up with a script from scratch. We just have to addapt what’s already there.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Although those could argueably be grouped under The Fucking as well…

At my Poly and Power salons, we’ve sometimes talked about roadmaps or the lack thereof. I find, these days, that I am standing on my carefully hewn path, staring at a Point B in the unbroken distance, and going “How the heck are we gonna get there from here??”
 
My wife says: “You know it’s Poly 201 when you’ve got multiple supportive, accepting families… and you need to negotiate how to manage all the Holiday Stuff without disapointing anyone”.
 
It’s funny, though, because there are roadmaps.
If Ghost and I were, say, a monogamous couple who had open-adopted a queer teenager who still had a good relationship with the parents-of-origin who weren’t well-equipt to take care of her… or if an older relative of mine (or hers) had moved into our (curently non-existant) secondary suite… there would be a road map for “How to NAvigate Christmas” (or Pass-Over, or whatever your High Holy Day of choice is). Maybe not a perfectly fitting one, but it’s there.
 
And so it’s still there when the New Family Member is somebody’s sweetheart.
 
My wife and I had a talk the other night, and I told her that, while I was worrying about things that probably wouldn’t be a problem, I was still worrying about things like “How are Kitty’s parents going to react to me (if they ever happen to meet me, that is)?” and “How are my relatives going to handle either the presence of one or more of your other partners – and the added “strain” of having extra gifts to find for extra people who they don’t really know – at their xmas festivities OR my absense from said festivities if we all go up to someone’s family cottage two years from now?”
 
And, of course, kids grow up. I know I’m carrying a lot of assumed/presumed responsibilities here for managing other people’s emotions and/or expectations, partly because I’m “The Stay-At-Home-Wife” in my poly family, and partly because I’m both the oldest and the geographically-closest-to-the-parent(s) child in my family-of-origin. I know that it wouldn’t really be the end of the world – I wouldn’t really be being a Bad Daughter – if I spent This or That holiday with family members who weren’t also blood-relatives. No-more than it was when my parents stopped “going home for Christmas” and started building their own traditions with the family they were building together.
 
But that baggage is hard to put down, and it makes those zig-zagging trails-in-potentia from Point A to Point B harder to find, the obstacles harder to field and ford.
 
I’m probably not the only person trying to navigate/integrate Poly Phamily with various other family events/obligations at this time of year, so I’m throwing this out there:
 
We can listen to the stories in our heads – the ones that say “So-and-so expects me to handle everybody’s social calendars” or “So-and-so assumes that Everyone’s Plans will revolve around what she wants to do” or “So-and-so is going to pitch a fit if he’s not included in All The Things” or “So-and-so doesn’t get how important X is to me, because zie doesn’t understand its/their place in my life or doesn’t want that for zirself”… or whatever – without recognizing that the tapes are playing…
Or we can recognize that those stories are there (over and over again, as may be the case – it’s rare than anyone figures this stuff out over night), acknowledge what they’re saying, and bring them out into the open: Not as outburst of “You don’t understand me!” or “What makes you think you’re so special?” or “Why doesn’t anybody care about what I need??” but as a gentle, honest voicing of the fears we hold and the vulnerabilities we often hide while we work through this stuff together.
 
It’s scary. But I think it will prove worth it, as well. 🙂

So… I was originally thinking of writing “V is for Vampire” and talk about (other people’s) energy as food, manipulating (other people’s, or my own) energy during S/M scenes, and other stuff like that there. And I may yet do this. But today I’m writing “V is for Vamp” because it lets me look at the connection between “femme” and “femme fatale”.
There’s this whole, huge cultural narrative – one that I can trace back through Christendom and into Judaism via the religious texts we share that have shaped a LOT of European (And thus, a lot of European colonies’) cultures – about how women with sexual agency are dangerous.
 
While I tend to think of “femme” as, specifically, a queer-as-in-dyke form of hyperbolic femininity (and, thus, will mostly be using “she” and “her” to talk about femmes in this post), I do have a couple of broader definitions, like:
“Fem” as in male, frequently though not always gay, femininity; or
“Femme” as in “queered” (meaning “twisted” or “rendered non-normative”) women’s femininity, regardless of sexual orientation.
 
In its broades sense, Femme is “queered femininity” because its femininity that’s done (a) for the feminine person herself (or himself, or theirself) rather than for the “gaze” of anyone in particular; and (b) is, one way or another, an expression of personal power.
 
I find that “traditional femininity” is often read/cued as “powerless”. The Masculine does stuff to The Feminine. The Feminine waits in the tower to be rescued. The Feminine is the (exclusively) sexually receptive partner. The Feminine “lets the boy win” or does the unackowleded emotional labour of supporting The Masculine and centering the experiences, needs, and – particularly apt within the context of this post – desires thereof. And Femme doesn’t do that. Not as a matter of course. Some femmes do any or all of those things, as and when they’re inclined to do so. Sure. But it’s not a requirement, or a “yur doin’ it rong” situation if we don’t[1]. By that token, “femme” is femininity with agency; The Feminine subjectified, rather than objectified.
But that’s not only what I mean when I say “femme” is an expression of personal power.
I also mean that a Femme is someone who expresses/finds/claims her personal power through the (visual – or other?) expression of (frequently over-the-top) femininty. When I’m feeling on top of the world, I dress more impresively than I might do otherwise. Sure. But I also do that when I’m trying to access or activate my own power.
 
You’ve heard the phrase “lipstick as warpaint”? It’s like that, albeit maybe a little bit more nuanced.
When I get All Femmed Up – When I wear the velvet, the leather, the satin, the corset, the big heels, the fancy jewelry; when I bother with lip stain and perfume[2] – I am accessing a particularly powerful, giantess/glamazon part of myself that doesn’t necessarily come out when I’m, say, shlumping around in my bathrobe[3]. When I need to access that part of myself, I put on a little mascara, and it works. I stand taller. I stride, strut, and sashay rather than scurrying with my head down. Just with little mascara. Who knew?
 
And so I come back to the Vamp. The femme fatale who is dangerous, but who is recognizeable because of her cupid’s bow lipstick, her thick eyelashes, the deliberate slit up the side of her skirt. She’s the aloof, vampiric Angelina Jolie to Jennifer Aniston’s “girl next door”; the much-married, hypnotic-eyed Elizabeth Taylor to Grace Kelly’s tragic/fairytale princess. She is “glamourous” (in the sense of “entrancing” and “sorcery” as much as “fancy/fabulous”) as opposed to just “pretty“. The kind of woman who leaves broken hearts in her wake rather than settling down (“Safe in a house and a husband“[4]) the way that women are expected to do.
 
And, no, femmes aren’t necessarily looking to be heartbreakers or home-wreakers or “high maintenance” or any of the other things that we get read as or coded as. On my more cynical days, I suspect that we get coded as these things specifically because we’re not doing this Femininity Thing for the benefit of someone else. Not the guys on the corner, not the butches in the coffee shop, not our dates. Just for us. And that goes against what “feminine” is “supposed to be” (or who it’s supposed to be for).
 
I read an anecdote ones about a femme who’d bring a satin clutch out to the bar, and you could clearly see the outline of a particular dildo inside the clutch. And the gal relating the anecdote said something like “You can’t tell me that’s being ‘sexually passive’.” And I wonder if it’s that clear (if visual, in this case) statement of “this is what I want, and this is how I want it” is what makes the femme, the vamp, the femme fatale so intimidating.
 
Anyway.
I think I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to talk in circles, so I think I’ll stop there.
Ruminate Ruminate Ruminate.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Although I’m aware that this has not always been the case. Amber Dawn, for example, talks about being Stone Femme and how, ten-15 years ago, that was a really unheard-of thing: A femme-identified person who exclusively tops. Likewise, if you look at earlier femme-focussed writing – I’m thinking specifically of the pieces in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls – you find the “femme defined by butch” and “femme as specifically sexually receptive feminine lesbian” tropes/ideas/identities far more frequently than you will in more recent work.
 
[2] “Blood Kiss” by BPAL is a favourite of mine, but I’ve also mixed up my own concoctions – mhyrr, clove, and vanilla, is a nice starting-point for a perfume. 😉
 
[3] Shlumping around in a negligee, on the other hand… 😉
 
[4] That book has a character who is a Vila, and a sorceress, and she teaches the MC a thing or two about the magic – the sorcery – of makeup and glamour.

Poly 201 – Some Thoughts

So, a while back, I went to a Poly 201 workshop held at Venus Envy and run by the fabulous Andrea Zanin. It was a neat discussion and, while I didn’t learn anything new, I did get a lot of things confirmed in terms of what problems people get hit with, and how people deal with them. Which was helpful. 🙂
 
It was… “funny” isn’t the right word. I found that, by and large, what we were looking for was not that much farther beyond “Poly 101”. There was a lot of discussion about managing fears, navigating boundaries, and negotiating (scheduling; balancing) time with one’s People. But the thing is, it was a discussion. A lot of Poly 101 boils down to “I have no idea what I’m getting into. Someone tell me how to avoid the worst of the potential problems. Someone tell me how to do make this (possibly) work”. And, eventually, when you’ve been doing it for a while, you don’t need the “telling” anymore. You don’t need the “theory”, if I can put it like that. You need a place to talk about the practice.
And that, I think, may be why the workshop went the way it did.
 
It’s interesting, as someone who’s part of a heavily-poly, heavily-kinky, predominantly-dyke-identified part of QueerGirlWorld, to see who turns up at workshops like this. I was almost the only person who came solo[1] and I found that most of the partnered people who came were either male-female open couples or male-female-female (or female-male-female) trios wherein one or both of the women involved were bi/queer/pan but the guy… not necessarily het, but was attending with only women partner(s). What I’m saying is that it was a heavily pansexual crowd, one that predominantly used hierarchical-poly terms (primary, secondary) to talk about the people in their lives.
 
Now, I used the term “primary” to describe my wife. I do this because she’s my only “partner” (currently). Everyone else is a friend with occasional benefits, or a buddy who did a scene with me, or a non-romantic phamily-member, or whatever. I don’t use the term “secondary” to describe my wife’s other partners because I know they don’t matter less to her than I do. In my own little spot in the queer-poly-dyke-o-sphere, it’s fairly rare to hear someone talk about “my secondary” at all. It doesn’t seem like language that we use. At least not like that. (Maybe other points in the queer-poly-dyke-o-sphere do?) So it was a little bit weird to hear people throwing those terms around in the sense of “my spouse is my primary because they’re my spouse” and “my SO is my secondary because they’re *not* my spouse” and such-like.
I’m wondering if the reason (or one of the reasons) that the majority of what we talked about boiled down to relief at having a space to talk at all (swap tips, exchange ideas, share information) was because (am I making assumptions here?) the pansexual community is a lot more “normative” than the queer community (although not necessarily the “Capital L Lesbian” community?) in terms of how much it’s affected by the whole Charmed Circle thing.
What I mean is: When I need a space in which to talk about, say, polyamoury and multi-level power dynamics , I just call up my friends and have them all in for coffee and chatter. But (I gather) a lot of folks in the pan/het community… don’t really have that option. A lot of them seem to feel very isolated, like they can’t just bring this stuff up (“My wife’s girlfriend is coming over on Tuesday, so there will be three of us for dinner” or “My boyfriend’s other boyfriend came over last night and we all watched Harry Potter together”) in normal conversation. Wheras me? I have a queer-ass day-job where poly, while not necessarily expected, isn’t all that unusual either. I have a social circle where “mono” is the unexpected relationship style and “poly” (as a personal identification) is the norm. Consequently, I don’t risk losing a heap of social acceptance (aka: losing the valued relationships I have with a heap of friends, relatives, and maybe coleagues) if I’m open about what my personal life looks, like the way someone else – someone whose life, on the outside, looks fairly heteronormative (or homo-normative?) – might.
 
I think that brought a particular flavour to the workshop, and I’m curious to know what it would be like if more of the participants had actively identified as members of the queer community.
 
Anyway.
 
Beyond that, the workshop felt a little weird – not because “it felt a little weird”, but because I left feeling like I was more “on the ball” or “knowlegeable” or whatever than I had really expected. Sicne when do I have “helpful tips”? (Who knew?)
 
I don’t have a problem with this, of course, but it does mean that I Still Have Questions. Questions like:
 
1) If I visit my long-distance long-term partner’s place in Toronto, like I do every six months, and hir live-in long-term partner (whom I’ve known for half a decade, but am not romantically involved with) is having Angst about something in a way that affects their relationship… How much of Other Partner’s angst is my problem to deal with? How much of it is my privilege to deal with? Where are the appropriate boundaries for something that (a) is happening in my presence, (b) involves two people that I care about, (c) may or may not affect me in the short/long term, but (d) doesn’t (officially) have anything to do with me right now? What do I do in that situation?
 
2) How do we, as a poly constelation, negotiate the long-term elder care of my sweetheart who is twenty years my senior? Or, for that matter, the elder-care of five sets of aging parents, some of whom may not acknowledge the relationships I have with their children?
 
3) Suggestions for how to negotiate a change in living arrangment (“honey, we need a bigger house”) wherein another arm of the V (or the X or the B or whatever) is moving in? What are things that have come up for others in this situation, and how did they navigate it?
 
And, yeah, those are all fairly specific questions (none of which are explicitely about me and my particular Phamily, but all of which are at least slightly familiar to – probably – anyone whose been doing this long enough to have become involved with more than one “presumed-permanent” romantic relationship at a time), but they all go quite a bit beyond “How do you deal with jealousy?” and they are all questions for-which I’d really like to find answers. Someone else might want to ask about:
 
“Okay, how do you handle the grandparents (or parent-teacher interviews) when you have kids with a variety of different partners?”
OR
“Suggestions for how to balance who I bring to which Office Event, if I bring anyone to any of them.”
OR
“How do I allow my submissive the freedom to explore polyamoury while making sure that (a) he still fulfills his duties to me (read: I still feel well-served), and (b) he still feels well-held? What systems can I put in place to mitigate the ways in-which his NRE (and/or my insecurities/jealousy/fear) might affect our pre-existing 24/7 power-exchange dynamic and romance?”
 
 
What Andrea said, when she was doing her intro, was that she basically had two options for doing a Poly 201 workshop. One of them was the one she went with: To get everybody together to chat with each other and get some connections going. The other was to “specialize” and do a workshop on “poly with kids” or “navigating secondary health insurance plans for non-incorporated groups” or “long-term, long-distance constelationships” or… whatever. I think, under those circumstances, the “shared wisdom” approach is the right one to take.
I appreciate the conversation starters: She put a bunch of different pictures – everything from [multi-adult families eating dinner together] to [mushroom clouds] to [people dancing naked around a fire] – and asked people to talk (in small groups) about which pictures really jumped out at them, and why. We then rotated people a little bit and talked about the Biggest Challenge, and then Most Rewarding Aspect, of polyamoury for ourselves, personally. They were good exercises and good places to start a larger discussion (it’s the kind of workshop where it could go on all afternoon and we’d still only just scratch the surface). None the less, I’m really glad that I’ve got my own network of kinky, queer, poly chicks to talk this stuff out with at greater length. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] I think there was one other attendee who didn’t bring their partner… and I’m pretty sure what they were doing didn’t qualify as “consensual non-monogamy” for a variety of reasons. :-\