Femme FATale


R.I.P. Bettie Page
December 12, 2008, 1:44 pm
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bettiepage7

Such sad news that Bettie Page has passed away. She has always been, in my head, a bit of a femme icon – at least aesthetically. Though I’ve never heard or read of her having partners other than cisgendered men, she knew how to work fishnets, thick-cut bangs, and stilettos better than most. Bettie, if not in her own personal sexual practices, was a bit queer because of the nature of her work that started out as mere pin-ups, but quickly transitioned to fetish modeling that included bondage and spanking shoots. Most of these latter photos were of her with other women.

Last summer, I was on a road trip with my family. My dad was passed out asleep and my mom, grandma, and I were playing a game in order to pass time. One of us chose a famous person they would embody and the other two would have to ask questions to find out who they were. I chose Bettie Page once and my mom and grandma were guessing for nearly 30 minutes before they gave up. When I enthusiastically yelled, “Bettie Page!” they both looked at me all confused. Neither had any idea who she was.

For someone so “notorious,” it seems that Bettie Page’s revival and now legacy will go on living in the hearts of very particular subcultures. I’m glad that she’s a little bit part of mine.

R.I.P., Bettie Mae.

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homonormativity, negligence, and duanna johnson

i’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging over the last week or two because of these exams of mine coming up that will pretty much determine whether or not i can/will continue with this ph.d. program and move on to (finally) beginning my dissertation research. i have a set of three “publication ready” papers due next monday and then the oral exam, which terrifies me, on december 8th. but my blood pressure is not the topic of this entry. all of this is to say, instead, that i haven’t been writing not because there’s nothing to write about or because I have nothing to say. in fact, there is so much to say that i’ve been dying to put out here, but that my workhorse way of life right now has not been allowing me. i realized this morning when i woke up, unplanned, at 7am after only being able to fall asleep at 3:30, that maybe i at least need to get this one post out of me that has been aiding in my insomnia, especially this past week. i might catch a lot of shit for this entry, but since I’m in major-exam-fighting mode these days, bring it.

i’ve acknowledged on this blog and offline to friends and family too, as many of us have, that november 4th was an exciting and historical day for the u.s. electing barack obama, but a disappointing day in terms of the myriad of anti-affirmative action and anti-queer rights ballot measures that passed, including of course, the number of bans on gay marriage. i’ve been surprised to watch, between coffee breaks and citation searches, this unification amongst members of our “queer” communities to rally in support of gay marriage. (sidenote: i’m purposely putting “queer” in quotes here because of the, seemingly, changing definition of this word recently. one that i used to acknowledge as being tied to a particular, transgressive kind of politics that now, in light of these recent events, seems almost remiss) surprised not because marriage rights are not important to many gay people and their allies, and not because i doubt the ability of folks in these communities to organize around such an issue; the hrc, amongst other organizations, has been telling us to do so for the last 5-10 years after all and we are certainly a community of ralliers. i’m surprised, more so, because over the past week i’ve watched my queer friends across the country, people who are part of my “radical” queer community, that have for so long been outspoken about homonormativity, about the monopolization of the gay marriage debate, and about the negligence paid to more pressing issues like trans rights, queer p.o.c. rights, and hate crime legislation, organize against prop 8. and i worry, is this the new “queer” politics?

let me clarify something before i, unintentionally, wind up devaling the efforts of folks who came together since november 4th and, especially, those who turned out nationally in most major cities across the country on saturday. i don’t think going out and rallying against prop 8 this weekend was a bad thing. at all. i think that, in light of what just happened, national organizing and public disavowal of anti-gay rights ballots in all of the states that passed them, not just california, is an important thing. no doubt the number of demonstrations and, what jointheimpact.com is counting as, over one million people protesting across the country is exciting and shows incredible solidarity.

my concern is that in all of this outrage over prop 8, in all of the organizing, what has “queer” politics left behind? why, post-november 4th, is homonormativity, and all that it overshadows, not still one of the queer community’s biggest gripes? and if you want to tell me it still is and that the outcry against prop 8 since election night doesn’t change that, how and why did we not organize and demonstrate over the recent murder of duanna johnson, a black transwoman of memphis, tennessee? how did we, the people who claim to be so attune to what national gay rights conversations consistently leave out, allow gay marriage to trump issues of transphobia and racism right under our noses? in the midst of all our rallying over the *institution* of marriage (and yes, i support all of us having that option even if i’m *institutionally* opposed to it), we obscured a woman’s, a member of our larger queer community’s, death.

duanna johnson was brutally beaten by memphis police in a hate crime incident that occurred in february of this year when she was arrested for prostitution. last sunday, the 9th, she was found murdered, shot to death, with last i read, no suspects in custody. how do so many of us queers still, a week later, not even know her name, let alone what happened to her? the queer community i’ve been so proud to be a part of was one that would have spread duanna’s name from coast-to-coast in order to raise awareness around this incredible loss and around issues like the intersection here of gender, sexuality, race, and class; hate crimes; police brutality; transphobia; and violence against sex workers. and all of this while simultaneously calling bullshit on organizations like the hrc that continually make marriage the locus of their attention and financial support, while programs that look at more marginalized groups within queer communities, and the issues that pertain to them, are consistently overlooked or cut altogether in the name of producing a white, affluent, normative image of what gay looks like. this is the queer community i love and support and that doesn’t require quotation marks to qualify its meaning.

i worry about its survival and i worry about what else, who else, we’ve failed to see in the past few weeks and whether or not this is what “queer” is truly at risk of becoming. in the meantime, this thursday is the international day of transgender remembrance where, surely, duanna johnson’s life will be honored and represented amongst the many other folks whose lives have been lost in the struggle that it is, not to marry, but to just live.

you can check out events happening all over the world and, hopefully, in your area at www.transgenderdor.org

also, because i’m 100 years behind in my blog reader, check out jack’s (of angry brown butch) post from earlier this week about this exact topic.



these are not playthings.
September 10, 2008, 1:06 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

i’ve been doing some heavy thinking lately about these pieces of me i hold so personally dear in the depths of my heart. my identities: my assertion of “femme”, my claiming of “bottom,” particularly. with the exception of the last two or three years, these have never been easy words or titles under which i’ve stood. i did not learn these pieces of myself from others. i did not do only as i saw them do and come to these places. they are both identities that, for me, are wrapped in complicated personal histories of a host of things: love, inadequacy, pleasure, guilt, passion, unhappiness, and two hundred other emotions. these identities are not ones i take lightly or for granted.

in short: these are not playthings.

my journey to femme was a hard one ripe with insecurity and an absence of community or language to define who i was and what i was feeling. where i came out as queer was certainly a positive space to do so, but only in particular ways, ways that embraced an androgynous aesthetic that was doubly inaccessible and undesirable for myself.

growing up femme there was heartbreaking.

my queerness was questioned daily by my lovers, friends, my community, the definition of myself by others as nothing more than a “lesbian until graduation”. and i tried, and i tried, and i tried to fit in there, to be that non-femme thing they wanted me to be and even donning sports bras and cargo shorts, i failed. miserably. i didn’t pass as anything non-femme.

i remember, there was this time, friends of mine were throwing a “frat row” party, and all these dykes just slightly amped up their already masculine clothing to get closer to that douchey, frat boy image. i was supposed to do the same. i was able to hold it together long enough to put on those cargo shorts, t-shirt and borrowed a visor from my next door neighbor. but it was actual fucking tears i cried when my best friend told me i couldn’t possibly go if i was going to keep on my make-up. there was no place for that. no mascara allowed. no place even for “sorority girls” at this party either. no femininity. period. i left two hours in, cried my way home, and wrote heart-wrenchingingly in my journal that i wondered if i’d ever find space where i fit. “will i ever be able to make this queerness work?”

that was a breaking point for me. a moment when i realized it was hurting too much to be queer in this way. and i slowly started to let it go and started to embrace my femme. and as i shed that sorry excuse at androgyny i was trying to pull and stepped up to the plate femmed out the way i’d always wanted to be, i met her. this big, ol’ rugby playing butch. this rough, tough femme-lovin’ butch. and i was home. i flourished. things fell into place. and i was accepted, my queerness was embraced in this community suddenly. but then, just as quickly as it was handed to me, it was stripped away in my realization that it was just because of her. because i was counterpart to her uber masculinity that was so revered in that space. i was femme, but not my own.

and this went on long after college. still, i held strong to my femme in the midst of queers completely ignoring and straight up disavowing my sexuality and gender. read me, called me, named me “ally” to my face because i was all girled out at dyke night at the bar. how could i be anything other than straight looking like that, they asked my friends. i cried my way home again.

i am home now though in my skin, in my femme, but it wasn’t ever easy. it’s still hard sometimes, but it’s improved. this things is volatile though and i hold it close to my chest because of everything it means to me; that road was rough, but i don’t regret the conversations with myself it forced me to have, the questioning of my communities it made me do, the loneliness it caused and the absolute joy and love it has become.

my femme thing is not a plaything.

nor is this thing i claim as bottoming. they are not the same, they are not inextricably linked, but they are related in the depths of me. this identity is newer to me than femme in that i have only in the past few years named it for myself, but hardly a new need or want. this part of me that weaves itself between memories and history of myself alone and myself with her and constantly has me digging for evidence of it that proceeded and followed her. proof that this has been me all along. i find it everywhere.

bottoming is not new to me, not new like her and that love whirlwind we had. it is not trendy to me. i do not will it to be radical so that i might have my points raised as some kinky, subversive queer type. i claim this space because of desire foremost and an investment in all that desire contains – respect, dynamic, communication, need. a big part of this is because of having experienced those desires, knowing what it’s like to have them and knowing what it’s like to feel their absence. and this is not to say that if you have not done x, you cannot claim y. more so, it’s a feeling inside me that is very tied to the act of doing and having done, both being undoings and redoings of me.

i come to bottoming first from a place of love – because that’s where it was first really named for me. of giving, of expecting to be valued and respected for this generosity of giving myself, of allowing you to take and experience me. this is not about who gets fucked and who does the fucking, it’s about yielding and holding, ebbing and flowing.

i do not claim this identity as a mere desire to occasionally have a little control taken from me. i do not claim it as something i think i want, but have never done nor thought about beyond actual physical results. i do not call myself a bottom to satisfy an equation of “femme is…” or use it as a way to critique someone else’s needs or desires…

and i wish you wouldn’t.

because this femme thing, this bottom thing, they are not playthings.

these are heart things, soul things, me things and my chest is heavy when they are cheapened by your carelessness with them.



Fat, Queer Anthology – take 2!
September 4, 2008, 3:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

i’m currently in the process of sending out the second round of calls for submissions for my anthology project, “Spilling Over: A Fat, Queer Anthology.” in the event that any femme FATale readers are interested in submitting, i’m reposting the call for submissions here. drop me an email at spillingover@gmail.com if you’re interested! also, please feel free to link back to this, share it in your reader, or send your friends the anthology’s myspace link. i’m trying to get the word out about this as much as i can. thanks! xoxo.

Call for Submissions

Working Title: Spilling Over: A Fat, Queer Anthology
Contact: spillingover@gmail.com
Submission Deadline: December 1, 2008

Despite the attention given by queer studies to the materiality of bodies and the cultural and social inscriptions that designate them, still a dearth of both scholarship and literature exists around intersections of gender, sexuality, and fatness.  As fat studies begins to emerge as a viable academic location of inquiry, questions surface as to how fat bodies, deemed “excessive” in their trespasses of size and space, create even more complex subject positions when compounded by queer desires. This proposed anthology seeks contributions addressing junctions of “fat” and “queer” in pieces that consider the representations and resistances of non-normative corporeality and also writings considering the theoretical conceptions of these intricate subjectivities. Spilling Over will reflect the notions of excess, boundaries, and containment implied by the labels “fat” and “queer” both singularly and collectively.  In the form of scholarly writing and creative non-fiction pieces, essay submissions might consider (but are not limited to):

•    theorizing the concept of “excess” as it pertains to fatness and queerness
•    fat and queer identities; personal narratives; reclaiming “fat” and “queer”
•    notions of (in)visibility, hypervisibility, and passing and/or privilege
•    intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, (dis)ability, age, and religion
•    the economics of the obesity “epidemic” and the diet industry
•    fat, queer art and performance; performativity
•    pleasure, sex-positivity, eroticizing non-normative bodies
•    acceptance movements, political activism, resistance
•    the engagement of feminism with fatness
•    global, transnational, transcultural constructions of fat, queer bodies and lives
•    critical reflections of fatness and queerness in media, literature, film, music, and visual arts
•    the rhetoric of fat oppression, fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia, bigotry, responding to and/or addressing hate speech

By December 1, 2008, please send your 2,000 – 6,000 word submission, along with your complete contact information and a 50-100 word biography, to spillingover@gmail.com with the subject line of “Spilling Over – Submission.”  Submissions must be received in 12 point Times New Roman font and sent in via Word documents (PDFs will not be accepted).  Pieces will be reviewed and decisions made by April 2009. Please note that accepted submissions will be approved on a tentative basis, pending editorial board approval once the anthology has secured a publisher.

Questions can be directed to me at spillingover@gmail.com or visit the MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/spillingoveranthology

Please distribute widely.



The Femme Archive
August 31, 2008, 7:30 pm
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At the Femme Conference, I attended “The Trouble with Femme History,” a workshop co-presented by Cookie Woolner and Mira Bellwether on the history of femme. One of the discussions after the talk centered around the need to create and/or add to femme archives to aid in solidifying our own collective and individual presences in history. Obviously, one of the difficulties in locating “femme” in history is the absence of tangible evidence of its existence (as well as other things being barriers to this like language and identifiers that span time and place). So I’ve had this on my mind the past few weeks: how I can personally be more responsible in contributing to a larger history and future of femme identity by being conscious of what evidence I physically hold onto and eventually leave behind.

This post is a longtime coming in many ways, as I think continually about creating space for femme community both offline and online; this is part of the reason I’m so excited about *this* blog, after all. Creating an archive now, as spurred by Cookie and Mira’s talk, not only will serve queer communities in the future, but also help us right now in finding each other, sharing experience, and creating space for those of us detached from any sort of femme or queer communities at present. I’m specifically thinking about sublimefemme’s Love Letter to a Femme in Need (one of the best posts I’ve read in a long while), about my own evolution to being femme, and about the stories of so many others who’ve traveled a long, bumpy road to get to claiming this fierce, but sometimes volatile, f-word. Last week, I received an email from a reader of femme FATale about the “lack of good femme role models” and about resources that aided in coming into one’s femmeness. I was able to respond with a few things that have personally affected me or felt validating, but there’s so much more that others could contribute if there was a space for it – a composite of our femme resources!

So let’s do this. Let’s post the who, the what, the where, the when of how we got to call ourselves “femme.” There’s no wrong answer here. It could be a book, a song, your best friend, your uncle, that time at the homo bar, that time on the bus. What were the things that got you to this place? This is our chance to share information that moved us, that got us, that made us cry or laugh or just made us finally feel fucking recognized. Here’s a space to share stories with each other, to thank the people who helped keep our femme hearts pumping. Post your contribution to this wee start of a femme archive below or link us to your own blog where you flesh out your own list. Send it to your friends, forward it around. You get the idea. Ready? Go!

my list of contributions:

– jennifer tilly’s character, “violet,” in the film bound. silly, maybe, but i watched this movie nearly 50 times my junior and senior years in college. after the first two years at my women’s college where butch and androgynous were the only two queer identities seemingly present and after hiding my awesome rack under a puffy vest and actually crying when i was told i couldn’t wear mascara to a dyke frat party, violet reminded me that i could be every bit as queer and still love and wield my skirts and eyeliner as trophies of that.

jen cross. her essay “surface tensions,” in the anthology nobody passes. jen cross is an inspiration, an amazing femme role model, and an incredibly talented writer. her spoken word should never be missed. everything she writes gives me chills.

– chris. though we’re not together anymore, she loved and nurtured my femme. got me, got it. taught me how to be good to a butch. real good. validating. we made sense, made fireworks. she taught me to love, love, love, and made me strong enough to love myself, respect my hot femme self and get up, get out, and get on with it. without her.

– charlotte. my best friend, my femme sister. she keeps femme fun and exciting for me. she also reminds me of how important it is to always keep my sense of self, my femme sense of self, in check. she is always true to herself and i love and respect her for it. thanks. for so much. always.

– e. she has always respected and loved the way i do femme. i have grown and cultivated this femme self through us and her arrival into her own butchness. in ways, she helped to bring my femme heart back to life after a good ol’ smash-up. she reminds me of what i’m good at.

femme mafia. if there is a femme mafia chapter near you, you’re a lucky femme. if there isn’t and there’s community for it, you might want to consider taking the time to start one. a year ago, there was no femme mafia twin cities, now there is and i’ve been connected with some of the smartest, most thoughtful femme friends, role models really, a femme could ask for. thank you, fmtc for reminding me of the importance of having so much femme love in my life. minneapolis/st. paul femme community never looked so good!

– as a fat femme, bevin’s femmecast, for sure, as well as just knowing of the existence of fat femmes who organize like fat femme mafia, queer fat femme l.a., fat and queer/f.a.q.

– linda. mommy. she is my favorite embodiment of femme. though not queer, she taught me at four years old that even dressed up pretty in heels, hair pinned in a french twist, it’s still ok to raise hell when you’ve been done wrong, curse like a trucker, and spit on a guy’s car window who has just stolen your parking space in a crazy new jersey mall parking lot at christmastime.

– the brazen femme anthology. for being there in words when femme community wasn’t. for instilling in me so deeply that femme is so much more than merely an aesthetic and never, ever “just” a counterpart to butch.

– femme conference 2008. leah lakshmi-piepzna-samarasinha. dorothy allison. julia serano. veronica combs. i will trust and honor and love my fellow femmes. i will, i will, i will.

ok, your turn.

This post is cross-posted over at the The Femme’s Guide to Absolutely Everything. I listed it here too because I didn’t want readers only of this blog to miss out on contributing to a list of femme resources. Also, the post is partially inspired by a femme FATale reader, Corri, who emailed me seeking some information on where I had found support in my own femme identity. I’m turning off comments here so that you can post them over at the Femme’s Guide and so we can have one central location of a bunch of different resources, tips, experiences, etcetera. Whether it’s a book, a favorite film, some wise words once spoken to you, the love and support of your family/friend/partner, a performer, a collective, a group, an experience, your cat, whatever, I want to hear about what aided you in your journey to claiming “femme.” What keeps you strong and fierce and claiming “femme” as a part of your identity? Check out the post and leave your contributions or thoughts in the comments! I’m so excited to hear from you all.



the mommies.
August 31, 2008, 3:19 pm
Filed under: mom, queer, random ramblings | Tags: , ,

after ten long days of visiting by mom and grandmother, i have returned to my life as it was. somehow, when they come to visit, which is always fun and productive (not poor word choice, i promise. more on it in a sec!) , i feel like i enter into some other universe where my usual self doesn’t exist. phone calls and emails go unanswered, blogging doesn’t happen (clearly), friends aren’t seen, shit sits on my neverending “to do” list with no checkmarks beside them. it’s this strange putting on hold of my life that also happens in other ways and winds up, around day 5 or so, causing me to feel so completely not myself.

my mom and g’ma are great. they’re strong and fierce and together and so when they come, they regulate. like, they help me get shit done. thus, the word “productive.” i’ve been saying for six months that i was going to paint my bathroom and two months that i was finally going to clean out and organize my closet, but i didn’t do it until they rolled up and were like, “seriously? let’s do this.” they’re hardcore and i love them and appreciate them, they just take over life.

also, it’s really hard maintaining any semblance of my queer self when cut off my from my friends and my community and any sort of queer outlet when they’re here. i’m out to them and all; have been for years. my mom, especially, is cool with it. grandma, meh…she ignores it for the most part, but i’ve learned to be ok with that. she’s 85. i get it. but, like, it’s painful and fruitless to have conversations about why, for example, i have a book titled “female masculinity” on my bookshelf or a femme mafia postcard on my fridge. my mom engages *briefly* for the sake of my g’ma and my g’ma just smiles and nods or looks at me like i’m some perversity. out of touch with friends and queer life on and offline makes for this really uncomfortable space for me after ten days.

then there’s this complete denial of my sexual self in the sense that i’m not saying mom, g’ma, and i need to sit down and talk knockin’ boots or any such thing, but for two women who have met people i’ve had relationships with several times, there’s this strange naivety about the fact that i’m 27 and have a sex life. like, for example, my mother’s questioning of an extra toothbrush in my bathroom or the men’s body wash in my toiletry drawer. my mom knows i date butches. she gets what that means. last christmas, i brought a butch home with me and she bought her boxers with cowboys on them! but the idea that *gasp* i might have someone who sleeps over regularly and uses such things? nonsense! or my grandmother’s absolute disregard for privacy showcased by my entering my bedroom to find her rifling through my nightstand “looking for a pen!” now, i know how to mommy-proof. all of my various naughty things were stowed far, far away, but isn’t it a fairly ubiquitous notion that said naughty things are often kept in nightstands and nearby dresser drawers? ubiquitous enough that someone might be dissuaded to randomly pull one open and start digging? maybe this is generational? i don’t know. regardless, g’ma needs to check herself.

this is all just frustrated ramblings, but all to say that i’m still here and will be blogging fun things soon.

sigh. it’s good to be back.

xo.



fail: beth ditto
July 31, 2008, 2:03 pm
Filed under: arg, class, fail, fatness, over it, pop culture, privilege, queer, race | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

this week has been one where you can’t blog fast enough about something. it seems like the second i read the news about beth ditto’s recent problematic spread in nylon magazine, five other posts popped up on my reader about it. namely, check out the smart and thoughtful responses from tara at fatshionista.com and the fierce ladies at threadbared (which is also cross-posted over at racialicious, one of my favorite reads!). both of these pieces are super insightful and exciting for the fact that they are so complete in their analyses. read them and love them!

the only 2cents i want to add is oh how i wish this photoshoot had come about a month sooner! don’t get me wrong, i wish it didn’t exist period, but if it’s going to, the least we can do is use it as a teaching tool and that i find exciting amidst the harm a photo like this does.

i’m thinking about june of this year when i went to an academic conference for an area of study whose evolution over the past thirty or so years has been so dedicated to thinking intersectionally about issues like gender, race, and class, along with the much-needed additional analyses of other identifiers like dis/ability and size. and yet, at a meeting aimed specifically at making space for fat studies within future conferences and the discipline as a whole, conversations about fat inclusion were “justified” by claims that “being fat is the last acceptable oppression.” i was so stunned by this response that i couldn’t control my body’s reaction to shake my head “no” rapidly and uncontrollably despite what i’m sure many assumed to be quite rude. this position is so offensive and so privileged, yet surprisingly rampant amongst a number of straight, white, fat folks.

and so then here’s beth ditto! someone who is white, but who grew up poor and has working class roots, is fat (publicly and on-stage!), and is queer and partnered with a masculine-identified, female-bodied person (i’m not sure how freddie fagula identifies, so…). and despite all of this, a photo like this exists that just so “brilliantly” makes clear that we are so far from any kind of place where any one identifier is the final frontier of oppression.

beth ditto, i thank you for being a strong, fat, queer girl, and for all of the awareness you’ve raised about what it’s like to be fat in the spotlight and in the mainstream, but it takes so much more than that to hold my respect. where’d your good politics go, girl? the ones that made us all fall in love with you in the first place? we’re all waiting for your response…