Tag Archive: Queer


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. :-\

I wrote a little bit about my experience at Reading Out Loud over on my writer blog. But, for those who were wondering, I thought I’d post this information here:
 
When I introduced my pieces, I explained that I came out twice. Once as bisexual, while being a goth chickie in my teens (seriously, no big thing), and again, about ten years later, as a het-married gal who was poly, kinky, and still bisexual but a lot gayer than I’d originally thought. The pieces I performed were all from books that I read during 2007-2008, books that gave me language to talk about myself, and books that showed my my own reflection at a time when I badly needed to see my own face in the pages.
I read from works by two authors, both of whom are also bisexual, kinky, poly, and femme. Like me.
 
Here’s what I read at Reading Out Loud:
 
Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls
“On Being a Bisexual Femme” By Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha – under the name Leah Lilith Albrecht-Samarasinha
(Femme hunger; “I must choose who I lie down with very carefully”)
 
Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity
“Whores and Bitches Who Sleep with Women” by Kathryn Payne
(“Do you know your lineage?”)
AND
“Gonna Get my Girl Body Back” This is a Work in Progress” by Leah Lakshmi
(“I take one step past what I know”)
 
Longing at Least Is Constant by Kathryn Payne (poetry)
“Bi-Nary”
(“Why do I have to write it? / […] / To laugh, yell, and taste it all”)

So… If you read Urban Meliad, you know I’ve been picking serviceberries all week from various available-to-the-public trees. And doing on-the-fly food security outreach (i.e.: telling people that, yes, you can eat these – here’s how) to anyone who asked me what I was doing. It’s been grand. 😀
 
One thing I’ve noticed is that men are more likely than women to ask about it; and that men of colour are (slightly) more likely to ask about it than white men, and they’re also more likely to approach me for confirmtaion that this is food, rather than to inform me that I probably can’t eat those (this is when I laugh, pop one in my mouth, and tell them that they’re fine).
I find this Interesting.
 
I mean, yeah, given the number of guys who ask me about fruit who also ask me if I’m married (or otherwise involved with, always, a man) or tell me I’m beautiful, or start out by calling me “sunshine” (or “sweetie” or whatever), some of this may just be that they’re looking to pick up, or at least flirt, and hey, here’s a chick who’s clearly busy doing something that requires standing in one place for a while, so: why not?
 
But it makes me wonder what they’re seeing.
See, I know that I’m child-free and polyamourous, a femme dyke, a spell-casting witch, an animist-polytheist, and broke enough to (need to) use foraging as a way of upping my healthy food intake without upping my grocery bill.
But I also know that, as (visually, at least) a Nice White Lady with earth-mama hips, a modest (ish) summer dress, and my hair up, I’m more likely to be read as “supposed to be here” (even when I’m flat-out nicking food off of other people’s trees[1]) by landlords, tennants, shop-keepers, and bylaw officers than I am if, say, I was a Nice Inuit Lady or a dude who was missing a lot of teeth.
 
Speaking of dudes who are missing a lot of teeth, and related to the “what do people see” question:
Today, while picking service berries (2.5 litres, as it turns out! Go me!) I had a conversation with an old guy. It went something like this:
 
Him: What are these?
Me: Serviceberries. Here. Try one. Pick the dark ones, they’re the ripest.
Him (picking serviceberries): What church do you go to?
Me (figuring that saying “actually, I’m a polytheistic witch” might not go over well): This one. I sing the praises of creation[2].
Him: Wonderful.
 
Now, I realize that I could have completely avoided temporarily forestalled this conversation if I’d just said “I’m a health outreach worker” rather than “I’m a wife” when he asked me what my job was[3].
Maybe that was dumb of me, though, because he followed this up with a question about children (he suggested that, if we prayed, we would have them eventually) and – long story short – I told him that, actually, I was married to a woman, that the friendly, feminine, thrifty, religious, long-skirt-wearing, lady who stated her primary occupation as “wife” was, in fact, Completely Unnatural.
He said he’d pray for me. Specifically that I would see the light and have lots of heterosexual children (boy or girl, doesn’t matter… progress?).
:-\
 
My wife, when I told her this story, pointed out that I don’t have to tell Random Strangers (that’s me editing what she actually said) everything.
 
I think she has a point.
 
I recently read Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, which I will get around to reviewing at some time in the future[4], but there’s one essay in it called “Looking Straight At You” (Zena Sharman, iirc) which talks about the million micro-second-quick decisions that feminine (and therefore “straight-looking”) queer chicks – femmes – make every day about whether or not to come out (again) to (yet another) random stranger who has assumed that we’re het.
 
In the same way that Zena – in the anecdote she shared in her essay – chose not to out herself to the cab driver on a long ride home (because she’s in an insolated environment – being alone in a moving vehicle with the stranger who’s asking about whether or not there’s a boyfriend in the picture), I often choose to out myself when I’m in my own (heavily queer, it bears mentioning) neighbourhood, in a well-populated area, during business hours because… what are they going to do? (Other than pray for me, I mean). If things get gross, I can – and do – walk away. Typically I don’t get followed. (Possibly because I’m generally bigger than whoever my interlocutor is? That’s my guess, anyway).
 
So, no. I don’t have to tell the Random Stranger everything about my private life. I definitely don’t need to tell Random Strangers whom I suspect will not be overly happy about the information I’m doling out everything about my private life. And it’s probably much wiser not to do so.
And yet…
 
And yet I kind of want to do so anyway. Because – okay. While I realize that it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more likely that the dude who said he’d pray for me is going to, well, forget all about me and/or write me off as a wacky fluke (or a nice girl who’s just very misguided) and continue to think that The Lesbians all look like KD Lang and/or SheHulk and, failing that, that he’ll just start habouring some minor “they could be anywhere” paranoia about dykes… I’d like to think there’s some tiny, microscopic chance that he’s going to stop assuming he can tell, and also stop assuming that We’re All Horrible In Every Way.
Call me naive.
 
And… Even though it’s none of their business; even though what makes my sexuality not blindingly obvious (and therefore “closeted” or “deceptive”, depending on what angle you’re viewing it from), or completely irrelevant, is assumptions on the part of the gazer about what looks “gay” or “queer” versus what looks “straight”, as well as social morees that normalize (and therefore set-as-default) one type of sexuality over all the others; I still don’t like “pretending” to be straight, letting people go on assuming that their stereotypes are accurate, especially when they’re applying those stereotypes to me and to my face. I don’t like “lying by omission” (or the likelihood that it will be interpreted as “lying by omission”) just because someone else made a wrong guess and is now talking to me with the wrong set of assumptions. So I tend to tell people when it comes up.
 
Maybe that’s not wise of me, and maybe that’s going to change. But for now, that’s where things are at and why.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] This is less of a thing when it comes to serviceberries, because the City Of Ottawa has been planting them like Woah all over down-town as part of various stree-rehabilitation projects (Preston and Bronson being two of them). I told one guy, today, that I thought it was part of the NCC’s plan to increase Ottawa-Gatineau’s Food Security (along with renting out small farms in the Green Belt to people specifically so that they can raise a diversity of veggies, fruits, and live stock to be sold at Ottawa Farmers’ Markets and similar). He rolled his eyes, but then told me about the orange trees in his home town, so I think he actually approves of the plan. 😉
 
[2] Thank you, United Church Choir up-bringing, for that handy turn of phrase. 🙂
 
[3] I say “forestalled” because, well, see earlier paragraph about the frequency of flirtatious and/or nosey behaviour on the part of dudes who talk to me while I’m picking fruit. There’s a really good chance that he was going to ask about this eventually.
 
[4] Short version: It’s a good addition to the “essays on femme” canon (I’m not so familiar with the “essays on butch” cannon, so I can’t really say on that one), with a good mix of voices and a decent amount of (Vancouver-centric – go figure) CanCon. I recommend. 🙂

It’s just over a week away, and I’m gleefully oogling the conference schedule in order to decide which pannels I want to attend. 😀
 
Right now, it’s looking like:
Session One: If I Had A Hammer: Reclaiming Feminist Porn As A Tool of Political Activism Against Oppression
(LUNCH – I don’t think I get to go to the keynote speakers’ luncheon, alas, but I’ll make due. Perhaps my young lady and I can get together with a few of our also-attending buddies and get lunch ensemble).
Session Two: To Be Real: Authenticity in Queer and Feminist Porn
Session Three: Being Out Now: How Performers Navigate Sexual Morality and Media Representation
AND
Session Four: The Politics of Kinky Porn and Feminism (because Duh. Although Teaching Porn in Accademe sounds good, too).

There’s a reception at the end of the day and, from there, we will get dolled up and go to the Switch Party.

“Hard Femme”

I have, for a long time, been emphatically against “femme qualifiers”. Sub-categories of femme that, in various ways, manage to imply that Femme, in and of itself, is divorced from characteristics like “practicality”, “technical skill”, “willingness to get dirty”, “strength”… you name it.
I wouldn’t have such a problem with these qualifiers BUT every time I’ve heard them, it’s come across that the user is trying to connect “[qualifier] femme” with something that is traditionally coded as masculine in the, er, “over culture” (sorry, I’m using a lot of quotation marks here) in order to make femme – or at least her (usually her) particular manifestation of femme – more respectable, or worthy of being taken seriously.
 
Now it’s possible that I’m reading this (all of them) wrong. Maybe it’s similar to when I’ve said “Tough-ass femme” to describe a particularly Joan-Jett-esque style of unapologetic, queer leather-femininity. Maybe “unapologetic” is, itself, traditionally coded as masculine by the “over-culture” that teaches us all that The Feminine is responsible, and must therefore be perpetually punished, for The Fall of Man. (Yes, I’m getting biblical on you. Cope).
 
And yet.
And yet it wasn’t until today – thus prompting this post, as it happens – that I’d heard “[qualifier] femme” used in any other way.
 
I was at the Rainbow Youth Forum today. I got dressed up – leather pencil skirt, ankle boots, hot pink fishnets + matching mini cardigan[1]. Very Dangly Earrings & glitter mascara. I even did (one hand worth of) my nails in rainbow colours.
One of the attendees, seeing me behind my Info Fair Booth, commented that they liked my pants.
I said “I never do pants”.
Except that what I actually said was more like “Uh.” Followed by an exchange where the now-slightly-embarrassed individual appologized for not realizing it was a skirt (given the table I was standing behind) and I was friendly and relaxed and casually stated “I never do pants. They just don’t fit[2] so why bother”. Or words to that general effect.
At which point, another attendee (a local poet, I’m happy to say – she does good work) commented that “I never do pants” was the most hard-femme thing she’d ever heard.
 
Which, I admit, I felt rather chuffed about.
 
A friend of mine once gave me a zine. “On Being Hard Femme (issue #1)”. The cover featured a hammer juxtaposed with a tube of lipstick. The contents… didn’t seem to bill “hard femme” as anything different from “plain old regular femme”. Granted, my definition of “plain old regular femme” seemed to be a LOT different from that of the author, so maybe that’s where the disconnect was happening.
 
I know a femme – a femme who is by turns hard, soft, intense, mellow, dominant, submissive, energized, tired, practical-planning-oriented and spur-of-the-moment-adventurous – who is proficient in the uses of both hammer and lipstick.
In fact I know many.
We are not Only One Thing – no more than anyone else is. Proficiency with a sewing machine doesn’t make you femme any more than proficiency with a nail gun makes you butch. They are both power tools.
 
I was chuffed that this gal at the RYF had called me “the most hard femme” because it wasn’t in a context where I’d be “strident” or “dominant” or even “unapologetic” – where I’d been something that boils down to “behaving in a masculine way while being feminine”.
 
It got me thinking about how “hard” relates to “stone”, and what that, in turn, has to do with intensity, with the bedrock geography of one’s identity. But also about immovability/inflexibility and speaking/acting in absolutes.
Is “hard” something I really want to be? What does it mean?
Would I have been as chuffed about it if she’d said “‘I don’t do pants’ is the most femme (sans qualifier) thing I’ve ever heard”? (Hint: Yes, probably).
What is “hard femme”? What is “high femme”? What is “stone femme”? What is “soft femme”? …And how do the they all relate?
 
Thinky-think.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms. Syren.
 
 
[1] I don’t tend to wear a lot of pink. I got fuschia nail polish a few years ago, and I have a tank top, but… that’s about it. So going out and buying a hot pink cardigan – in the name of coordinating with my name-tag which, as it turned out, had hot pink writing but was not, in fact, a large rectangle of hot pink cardstock as I had expected – was not a particularly typical move for me. I’m waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more likely to go with purple as my queer colour of choice. I’m not sure why I feel a need to tell you this, other than to make it clear that I was Making An Effort in my visual/gender presentation. Do with that what you will.
 
[2] See “Tall”. Don’t even get me started about 40″ inseams. O.O

The day after tomorrow I am marrying my servant.
To me, this is a way to let the not-so-kinky world (members of our families, for example) understand the depth of the relationship we share.
When I was trying to sort out what it would mean to me to put a collar on my Ghost, what it boiled down to was: I want to keep her for ever.
And, frequently, that’s also what putting a wedding ring on someone boils down to – with or without the desperately sexist property rights business in its origins: The desire to spend the rest of one’s life with a particular person.

So here I am, a kinky, polyamourous dyke set to walk down the aisle holding the hand of my Servant. One of her other girlfriends is going to be her maid of honour. My big gay aunties are coming into town for the ceremony.

And what kind of promise can I make to a wife who has already vowed to honour and obey me?
To treasure and guide her. To lift her up and help her be her best self. To celebrate her achievements and help her through her rough times. To take care of her. To trust her. To love her with an open heart and to cherish her all the days of my life.

So, when I first conceived the Greater Granola Blog Project, I had expected to wind up writing “H is for Harvest” and doing a post on what-all went on at Unholy Harvest 2012. To that end, I’m dropping a Very Short Synopsis here for your reading pleasure. The longer H-prompt will be coming to you in a few hours. Stay tuned. 🙂

Harvest was awesome (big shock). I dressed up as the Prom Queen of Harvest High and sang opera (the Flower Duet from Lakme) with The Lesbian Gym Teacher. I won the “best legs” competition (and was really happy to see “legs” and “back” be up for the “best of” prize because, y’know, not everyone is hella endowed in the tits department, as a for-instance, and it was nice to see other body parts getting recognized). Ghost and I did our first-ever branding scene. I played with people other than my own girlfriend (not something I do very often, so it’s kind of a big deal for me). Ghost, along with a heap of other faboo dyke bootblacks (organized, iirc, by Tarna – YAY!), raised a heap of cash to help keep Unholy Harvest running. “Femme-ily” got mentioned during the closing ceremonies as “What Harvest Means to Me” – which I love. I pretty much cried when I heard it, because Yeah. I got some new lingerie at the gear-swap AND flirted with a cute redhead at the post-clean-up brunch. AndGhost proposed to me on the drive home, when we stopped by the side of Highway Seven to admire the Northern Lights (which I’d never seen before).
So, yeah. Short version is: Harvest 2012 was FUCKING AMAZING and I’m seriously looking forward to 2013. 😀

Whee!

TTFN,
Ms S.

Okay.
So this is one of those conversations I tend to tip-toe around or talk about in generalities rather than holding up, and taking to task, my own, local community. So I’m a tad nervous here. Consequently this post (which is kind of on the long side, even for me – more than 1,700 words not including all the footnotes) is going to use my own, local community as one example in a discussion of a much larger situation.
Bear with me, please.

Okay.
A few months ago, shortly after NMA Ottawa, I wrote a post about trans women, cis women, and queer women’s spaces where I talked about the phrase “I don’t want to hurt someone”.
Much more recently, I made a post about femmes flagging with nail polish and, in it, I alluded briefly to the privileging of masculinity in dyke/queer-women’s spaces. And I got a reader comment[1] asking me to talk more about that subject because she experienced that masculine-privileging as femme invisibility.
And then, yesterday morning, my young lady and I got an email on one of our community lists, starting a discussion about this article on Feministing, the phrase “women and trans”, and the growing perception of it – or the underlying vibe at events, dating tendencies, and spaces labeled as such – as Problematic or Not Okay.

And I thought: The privileging of masculinity within dyke space; and the prevalence of the phrase “women and trans” to describe the desired demographics of a particular type of dyke space; and the exclusion that queer trans women frequently feel, to one degree or another, in that particular type of dyke space… Those are all related.

So I decided to try and write about that inter-relation and about how the phrase “women and trans” is exclusionary in general, but also how it ends up being specifically exclusionary to trans women.

The first thing I want to do is to talk about me (me, me, me…) in order to reveal at least some of my more significant biases. Because I think that has an effect on the use of “women and trans” and how its use is perceived.

So.

First thing is that I’m binary-identified, cisgender, cissexual, and femme.
So I don’t have a “masculine side”. My experience of “having” a masculine gender presentation has been – a few times a year, so not exactly frequently – one of being misgendered by people who are drunk, distracted, or just very narrow-minded in terms of their understanding of “woman”, who have seen my height and, maybe, my shoulders and thought That has got to be a guy…
I don’t have to pack two sets of clothes for every vacation/event/trip because I don’t know, for sure, which point on my own gender spectrum I’ll be occupying on any given day. I’ve only got the one point, and it’s firmly rooted in “chick”. (Which means that there’s going to be a fair bit of “I imagine that, maybe” and “I’ve heard people with X experience say” in this essay).

Second thing is that, perhaps in spite of being a bi-dyke rather than a “capital L lesbian”, I’ve got a dyke separatist streak in me that’s a good mile wide. My definition of “women” might be vastly different from the biological reductionism espoused by, say, a certain music festival we all know and loathe[2], but I still get fluttery over the concepts of “women’s land” and “women’s space” and “women’s experiences” and stuff like that. When I see “women and trans party”, what I want it to mean is “cis and trans WOMEN’S PARTY (with, okay, maybe a couple of guys thrown in because they’re somebody’s partner)”.

Third thing is my own dating history. Most of the women I’ve fallen for, crushed on, flirted with, dated, partnered, and loved have (a) been feminine of center in their gender presentation, (b) had a history of transition or ID’d as trans(sexual), (c) been somewhere on the bi/queer/pan spectrum rather than being “gold star lesbians”, or (d) all of the above.

All of this to say that, both personally and romantically, I have a vested interest in spaces where femmes, feminine-of-centre bi-dykes & queer chicks[3], transsexual women, women with trans histories, and women whose gender histories, sexual orientations, and gender presentations blend some or all of those categories in various ways, are welcomed on more than just paper.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that because where a given person’s gender ID and gender presentation “live” is going to have a big effect on the kind of space they want to occupy/create and – more to the point of this post – what the phrase “women and trans” is going to mean to them and potentially how they’re going to perceive spaces/events that are labeled as such.

Which leads me to this (lots of speculation):

I imagine that someone who is faab and genderqueer/genderfluid might read “women and trans” as “I can bring all my selves to the party”. Not having to force yourself into a binary ID/presentation when that’s not you is, I can assume, kind of a help.
Likewise, I imagine that a queer faab chick who tends to date (faab) people who are masculine-of-centre in their gender presentations or whose gender identities are somewhere on the trans-masculine spectrum… would probably have a vested interest, romantically speaking, in attending events where their partners (or potential partners) wouldn’t be excluded. Likewise, maybe/maybe-not, she might feel more secure in a “women and trans” space because (maybe?) she wouldn’t feel like her own identity as a queer woman could be challenged/forfeited[4] due to the gender-ID of her partners[6].
SexGeek has an (old) post called venn diagrams of likelihood about the energetic/attitudinal differences she frequently sees between “pansexual” play spaces and “women and trans”/“queer and trans” play spaces. Some of the language is a little dated, but I think it’s a relevant counterpoint to this in terms of the kind of vibe that (cissexual and/or faab) people may be using “woman and trans” to describe.
Which is great.
Except.
I can’t help thinking that the experience of spaces/events labeled “women and trans” is probably quite different – maybe identity-splitting, maybe erasing, maybe invalidating, maybe anxiety-provoking, maybe something else entirely – for the chicks who are both trans and women… you can see that reflected in the original “I’ve had it with ‘I date women and trans men’” article, linked at the beginning of this post, but also in the author’s follow-up post and elsewhere, from other bloggers (e.g.: here and here).
Now all of that is, yes, a total guess on my part – albeit a guess based on anecdata (perhaps not much better than a guess based on fuck-all) but there you have it.

So. Moving on from there.

Where am I going with this?
First thing, I guess, is that I’m a cis chick and I’ve been twitchy about the phrase “women and trans” for a couple of years – through organizing an event with that designation, even, though I don’t like what that might say about me – because, like it or not, good intentions or not, someone is getting left out or delegitimized when we use those words to describe our community or our events.

The guys who come to (and, in some situations, run) the “women and trans” events that I attend (and, in some situations, run) are by and large the kind of guys I’m okay with letting into my “boy-free zone” of a life[7]. I don’t know what makes them comfortable being men in spaces that are, far more often than not, explicitly coded as queer women’s spaces.
All things being equal, one would think that queer trans women would flock to these dyke-coded, “women and trans” labeled (fucked up language aside, though more on that shortly), events, knowing that those spaces are theirs, while het/bi trans guys might be inclined to give them a miss, possibly because they don’t want to get hit with the whole “dude-lite” thing[8].
Or, alternatively, all things being equal, the people who want the kind of vibe described in SexGeek’s post (above), wouldn’t feel like they could only get it by finding “inclusive” ways of saying, effectively, “Cis dudes (and your probably-present gender-privilege-induced sense of entitlement) keep out!”
Either way.

… But all things aren’t equal, are they?

That’s the trick.

My women’s community, my queer community, my broader local and national QUILTBAG communities, are all born from, and theoretically in some sort of opposition to, a heteronormative dominant culture that, in addition to everything I said in footnote six[6], privileges masculinity over femininity, men over women, and maleness over femaleness.
That stuff is fed to us on every possibly level from the cradle.
Which means it’s buried really deep and it shows up in different ways in different people, and when you manage to strip away the latest, top-most layer, there’s always more, and more subtly so, underneath it.

My partner says that language is the least of the problem, that phrases like “women and trans women” and “women and trans event” are indicative of a much larger problem, but aren’t the root of it.
And she’s right.
But I believe that language both shapes and maintains worldview[9].
And I believe that, in a (sub/counter) culture that both privileges masculinity over femininity[10] and is deeply suspect of the entitlement and gender-privilege of cis men – a privilege that we are translating onto everyone with maab bodies… yeah. I believe that under those circumstances, the use of the words “women and trans” to define our spaces will result in trans women fearing hostility or feeling excluded and therefore not showing up (or showing up only when they’re coming with an established partner; or showing up but not expecting to get any play; or showing up but not talking very much; or showing up but feeling like they have to keep their bodies under wraps in order to be tacitly accepted as part of the community; or showing up but feeling guarded about how much, if at all, they can trust the rest of us; or, or, or).
And if that’s what’s happening, then we need to find new language.

If what we’re striving for is that body-loving, pleasure-positive, privilege-aware, diversity-celebrating, consent-active, creative, hedonistic culture/vibe/space… and some of the people we want to include are feeling excluded and therefore not showing up… it’s not just on them to screw their courage up and come in spite of their misgivings. It’s really, really, really on us to (a) change the language we use when we’re describing our events/spaces – for example, explicitely stating “this is a party for kinky, queer, cis and trans women and for trans men who have history in our community & who are comfortable being in women’s space”[11], and (b) challenge the attitudes[12] that back up, justify, or are justified by that exclusive language.

Thanks for reading this, I know it’s been long.

Cheers,
Ms Syren.

[1] Which, like, never happens.

[2] Actually, Alice Kalafarski has an article about that which includes the following paragraph:
[…] I know that the majority of festies are in the middle with her. They don’t want to be transphobic, but they don’t want to actively call out the bigots and be part of a conflict that makes it harder for every (cis) woman to hold hands and have a great time at fest.[…]

[3] I’m making a distinction here because, while I might think “My friend Beryl is totally a femme. She wears makeup when she wants to feel powerful and isn’t afraid to get naked in public”… ‘Beryl’ might not actually ID as femme. It’s a thing.

[4] I’m a member of an online support[5] group for (frequently cis) partners of trans people and a LOT of queer-identified cis women post to the group about how, now that their partner is starting T, they (the post-maker) are having a bit of an identity crisis because they’ve ID’d as a lesbian for years/decades and are now (officially) dating a guy.

[5] Although “support” isn’t always what happens – frequently it’s “let’s ignore this person’s need for help and support in favour of crucifying the n00b for not already knowing the approved language when their partner’s just come out to them”.

[6] See also: Biphobia in dyke spaces which, like femme- phobia/invisibility, is related to transmisogyny: They all boil down to biological reductionism, androcentrism, and the alleged linear relationship between genitals, gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender presentation as taught to us by a heteronormative dominant culture that doesn’t have a clue what to do with any of us.

[7] See above re: mile-wide streak of lesbian-separatism, yes, but also: When I got divorced (from a dude) and came out (again) as a bi-dyke and a queer chick, this time actively looking for a girlfriend, I decided that my life was going to be, as its default state, a “boy-free zone”. What this really meant was that I changed my “default boundaries” and my assumptions about how I “had to” behave with someone who used male pronouns, and started holding men to the same standards of behaviour that I’ve held women to For Evar in order to be willing to hang out with them. Whadaya know: As soon as I did this, I started liking guys a whole lot more. /shocking.

[8] I feel kind of weird saying that because, in my idealized vision of a cis and trans Queer Women’s event/party/space, the (cis) women in question also don’t pull the “dude-lite” thing because we don’t reduce anyone’s gender-identity to the genitals they currently have or were born with.

[9] This is why being able to name ourselves is important. This is why colonial powers kidnap generations of kids and prevent them from speaking their own languages. This is why reclaiming slurs is powerful… when they are reclaimed by people who have actually had those slurs used against them.

[10] In some extreme cases – like the one Sherilyn Connelly talks about in her essay (“In the Shadow of the Valley”) in Visible: A Femmethology – this can manifest as a culture of “you have to be on T in order to prove that you’re butch enough to be a real dyke”. O.O

[11] Not nearly as short-and-sweet as “women and trans”, but it doesn’t leave anything blurry, either. And that matters. That said, if anyone has suggestions for a short-and-sweet phrase to use instead? I am all ears!

[12] A word on “challenging attitudes”: That doesn’t just mean “purge it with venom and fire” (something I sometimes need to work on). It means taking your beloved friend aside (which, I’m aware, is way scarier than bitching out someone you don’t know very well) and saying things like “I know you feel really [thingy] about Situation Q, but when you talk about Situations D and F as though they were Q, you’re kind of confusing things and you’re being really rude. Do you want to maybe talk about that?”
Which maybe sounds like babying the privileged people, but which is (I hope) actually giving the privileged people a chance to confront their own privilege, stereotypes, and internalized crap in a way that they may actually do it – rather than, say, a way where they’ll just clam up and, at best, do the gender equivalent of white guilt, instead of actually looking at their Stuff and exorcising it.