The Politics of Femme Pleasure

Trying to keep down the cost of my fall wardrobe, I took some things to the tailor today and was rewarded for my frugality with a vision of my sexy tailor–wearing a gorgeous chocolate slinky wrap dress and 5-inch nude platform peep-toe pumps–on her knees at my feet marking and pinning my pants. Seriously, this girl is stunning. I may need to take a few more things over later in the week….

I’m sharing this highlight of my day with you because, well, I can’t stop thinking about my tailor. And because I’ve also been thinking about how much my own femmeness is dependent upon what I call “props”–costume, products and objects acquired to perform my gender (or the illusion of it). My gay role model, Oscar Wilde, points out that in modern society we’ve confused what we have with who we are. This extends to all facets of our lives. As long as we’re killing ourselves working, lusting after the next new and improved must-have gadget, and fighting each other at home and abroad, we can’t attain any kind of freedom, including the freedom to be queer.

Without a doubt, it’s important to me to make socially conscious choices in my life (be a frugal femme, shop union made & fair trade, be eco-friendly, give to charity when I can), but in my view these are individualistic solutions for global problems. If Wilde is right, the freedom to be queer–to develop our own individual potential and to experience beauty, pleasure and joy in our lives–depends upon creating a world in which value isn’t measured solely in terms of material things.

So, what’s a progressively-minded and fashion-forward femme to do? Revolt, of course! But stylishly. The philosophy of Sublime Femmeness is that any revolution without beauty is not a revolution worth having.

This post is my reply to Lady Brett Ashley, who threw down the gauntlet yesterday, and to Lucy. Both commented productively on my “Queer Luxuries” post, thanks!


16 Responses

  1. I am in love love love with my seamstress and have come up with all sorts of silly reasons to visit. Though bringing in something to have a button sewn on cannot give a good impression…

  2. We all have our relative muses….I have the cheeselady, but I would trade her in for said tailor, esp since none of my pants fit me anymore. 🙂

    Yum, I love good cheeses. I could pretty much live on cheese, bread, wine, and fruit. And salad. Can you tell I’m hungry? What’s for dinner? xo Sf

  3. regarding revolution, the unofficial mission of an org. i work with is “create beauty and fuck shit up” =)

  4. “create beauty and fuck shit up”

    that is AMAZING

    i want to be part of that…

    um my muse right now is my amazing, talented, FINE professor. 😉

  5. I want a tailor like that! But this is an interesting look at our mentality. It can be difficult, simply because part of the mystique of being femme, I think, is all the stuff we use and have to create this beautiful image. Shoes, clothes, expensive perfume; I mean hell, my grooming products alone could fill a steamer trunk. It creates a certain atmosphere that I think we all love and luxuriate in, but it costs. It can be expensive to be femme. So how do we deal with this?
    Also, “create beauty and fuck shit up” is awesome and I will be quoting that somewhere, soon.

    Hi SL, I didn’t think it was possible to be more of a product queen than I, but I’m starting to think we may be neck-and-neck. Although I certainly agree with you that being femme can be expensive, I think the issue is bigger than this, as I tried to suggest in my post. For me, it’s about the need to fight for economic and social justice for everyone. Amber Hollibaugh–a working-class femme sex radical, artist and former sex worker who has done amazing work as a Left political organizer and feminist/queer activist–is one of my femme role models because this has been her life’s work. xo -Sf

  6. All gender requires props, in addition to body language, speech patterns, etc.

    I also wonder why butches aren’t questioned for their extensive rituals as well…I’m thinking people are thinking that femininity is more about a “ruse” or “dress up” and masculinity is “natural” and doesn’t require any products or upkeep…it’s just an “authentic” attitude. Which is pure bull.

    I think class privilege straight up needs to be examined, and I don’t think it’s effectively examined by beating yourself up for buying expensive junk.

    Perhaps all that didn’t answer the original post. haha. Oh well, I do agree that not constantly wanting for more stuff is a key to happiness. I also think that being aware of what companies exploit (hell…most) helps. Though as you said it won’t solve the world’s problems in that area.

    Hi lovely Lauryn: Re class privilege, I couldn’t agree more. And you’re right about butch gender. It’s funny, the sexist logic that says masculinity=nature and femininity=culture dates back to Aristotle, and yet today radical queers still repeat this logic by suggesting that femme is somehow more artificial or “constructed” than butch gender.

    The question of economics is somewhat different, in my view. I think both butch and femme are equally commodified (like all sexual identies under capitalism), but it seems to me that it’s easier to be a butch on a budget. I’d love to hear what others think about this. xo -SF

  7. I’m chastened. SF, you’re correct, the issue os about more than just product. I just happened to focus on the materialistic things femmes do, and less on the changes we could/should make. I do like how you linked fashion to consumerism to economic and social justice.
    LaurynX, I think upkeep on butches can vary wildly from butch to butch- mine doesn’t require much at all, truly. I know there’re lots of dandy-butches out there; I love questioning their rituals (while drooling, lol). But in my experience, looking ‘feminine’- het or queer- tends to require more upkeep. Sigh.
    However, isn’t part of examining class privelege looking at the expensive junk we buy, and asking ourselves why, and whether we really need it? Is it possible to really fight for economic justice and be, well, a consumer without feeling hypocritical? (This is the problem I find myself facing- don’t mean to project.)

  8. I really like the conversation going on around here. I stumbled over from Alex’s site. She is seriously funny.

    I probably spend less than $100 a year on clothes. I would go so far as to say that I appear on the surface to be as low maintenance as a human being can get without actually running around naked. But I did go out and work hard to get myself into the ultimate butch accessory: a $120,000 tractor trailer rig. Now… you can buy a lot of finger-nail polish and “product” for that amount of cash, right? So which of us is more “constructed” from a monetary point of view?

    I think femmes often get a bad rap because of what it is they’re purchasing. No one is going to argue that makeup or this mysterious “product” of which you all speak is an artificial addition to a person’s projection of themselves, but how many admit that a big old Harley is often the exact same thing?

  9. two random thoughts…
    first, i think the current emphasis on effecting change *through consumption* is very interesting… ie buying fair trade, organic, etc. i guess it makes sense given that it’s easier for most of us in the u.s. now to understand ourselves as consumers than as producers… of course it’s not a brand-new thing either, see the nineteenth century british boycott of “slave sugar”, including little signs in sugar bowls to assure guests that this sugar was not produced with slave labor…
    second, the idea of masculinity being less expensive/product intensive is partly built into the stuff itself, as currently configured. in many cases equivalent masculine products–clothes & esp. shoes–are considerably less expensive and also better made (ie, made to last longer). no great insight here, just an observation from someone who’s shopped on both sides of the aisle.

  10. I’m with you on this too, if we have to have a revolution in our lives, at least try and make it sexy. I’m all about letting both sides of my nature come out, male and female (My Alex and Alexandra as I call it), but like to do so in er, frugal style, and dress to please and pleasure me (for the most part) as I’m definitely a sensualist! 🙂

    Coco was a hero of mine. Simple elegance is the key, for me.

  11. I’ll admit, I love clothes and looking nice, but the more I’ve gotten into Buddhism, the more I’ve been asking myself- do I NEED to buy this? Shopping can often provide a bit of a rush or function as a pick-me-up when we’re feeling down. I think we need to ask ourselves why we’re really doing it. Are we trying to fill some kind of hole or feel better about ourselves? If so, I think we need to look deeper than our wardrobes.

    And I’m not saying that we should feel guilty everytime we buy something, just be a bit more mindful in examining our underlying motives. Also, we’re being told to “buy green” when really the answer needs to be BUY LESS. We need to extract ourselves from the consumer frenzy- look at where it’s gotten us!

  12. amen, buddhistfemme! i’m a huge fan of resale shopping as a sort of compromise between my hippie inclination to stop buying shit, and my inclination to…well…buy shit.

    as for butch and femme being differently commodified, broad cultural generalities seem to imply that femininity is based on looks and masculinity on action, which means that we’re spending our money in rather different ways (with sometimes very different cultural value placed on them – as a number of people have mentioned). then, there are plenty of “high-maintenance” butches and “low-maintenance” femmes out here to confuse the issue for folks =)

  13. Femmes flirt with fashion…chefs flirt with food…what do femme chefs flirt with?

  14. Maybe femme chefs flirt with sexy servers? =)

  15. That depends on the server…but mostly that behavior is for the gauche or the 20 year olds…but if you find me a sexy server in need of a chef…its open for discussion. Also, servers are easy, they eat everything I offer them 🙂

  16. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

    Thx Sandra. Stop by anytime! xo SF

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