Silver Foxes

Do silver foxes really exist among femmes or is being considered gray and foxy only possible if you’re Anderson Cooper?  My beloved grandmother died at the age of 96 (actually, we’re not exactly sure how old she was) and she was still coloring her hair brown right up until the end.   I’ve been coloring my hair for years, and I’m not ashamed to say that I do it because I’m vain.  Period.  (Have you seen buddhistfemme’s interesting post on the decision to color her hair, “To Dye or Not to Dye?”).

I always thought I would meet my maker like my grandmother–with my hair “done”  in the fullest sense of the term.  But since my last post on aging as a femme, “Stay Young and Beautiful,”  I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to be glam and gray.  I must confess, I’ve had a fantasy of one day becoming one of those “women of a certain age” with silver-white hair.  In fact, some time ago at a party I couldn’t take my eyes off a stunning woman of mature years (a friend of my mother-in-law’s) with absolutely gorgeous white hair.  After we were introduced, I gushed about how much I loved her hair–which she didn’t at all seem to enjoy–only to discover later from my mother-in-law that the lovely hair in question was a wig.  Oops!

I looked far and wide for pics of beautiful gray-haired women and there aren’t a lot.  Here’s what I came up with.  My favorites, of course, are the cinematic ones–Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and Anne Bancroft with those great grey streaks in The Graduate. Let me know what you think!





Sublimefemme Tells All, No. 16

In an emergency situtation, always ground and center yourself by fixing your lipstick first. 


To You, Wonderful Femmes

Dear grrlchef, sarcozona, Lady Brett Ashley, Skinny Bone Jones, the hostess, LaurynX and my other fantastic readers,  

To the wonderful femmes named, you have no idea how much I appreciate your encouraging comments on my last post, “Social Justice and Cute Shoes.”  It’s so fantastic for me to be able to convey the diversity and complexity of my interests and commitments–to convey all of who I am–and discover, much to my delight, that these are interests, concerns, and commitments that I share with so many of you. 

There’s something else all of you probably have no idea about–how often I come up with an idea for a post or am in the middle of writing up an idea and think to myself, “This one will never fly. It’s too theoretical, or it’s too serious, or…”  The other day, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t get much of a response to my Martin Luther King/social justice post, because–good god–I’m talking about racism, imperialism and economic inequality!  Does anyone really come to Sublimefemme Unbound for that?!

I wish I could name everyone who’s been commenting lately because I so value all of your thoughts and feedback.  Recently, after I wrote “When Femme Fails,” I remember sitting on the couch and and saying to Van:  “It’s amazing. The posts I worry are too theoretical and gendertheorish are precisely the ones that people respond to!”   It happens over and over again but I’m still surprised.  It’s more than your appetite for femme theory that delights me, though; what I really appreciate is that you’re willing to go to places even I had never expected to travel to in this blog.  For example, a few weeks ago when I wrote “Janis: Undoing Femme,” I thought to myself that there wouldn’t be any interest in the post because (1) it’s about Janis Joplin for god’s sake! (2) it’s about the unpretty side of femme–not airbrushed pin-up girls but femmes who are raw, wild, funky and flawed.  After all, what’s sublimely femme about that?”  But I wrote the post anyway, like I always do, because what’s the point of blogging if you aren’t being authentic?  And then, go figure, you guys responded to the whole badass femme thing.  You got it, like you always do.

I love the fact that I can stretch the limits of what we think femme is, and you’re right there with me.  I love that I can write as a femme and a radical about racism, and social inequalities and you write back about your own investment in social change.  I love that this is a space where I can be brainy and beautiful, serious and frivolous–or, as I put it in my last post, equally committed to social justice and cute shoes.

I wish I could have you all over for drinks and toast each and every one of you.  Especially since LaurynX will be 21 soon! 😉

Much love,

SF xo

This Quiz Sucks

The lovely Skinny Bone Jones has posted about how she and her loverbird M recently took one of those “ridiculous” (I’m quoting her) butch/femme quizzes.  You can read about their reaction to the quiz and find out about the marriages it almost wrecked here 😉

The half-baked butch/femme quiz…  We know they’re awful and that we’ll  glean absolutely no useful insights from them and yet who can resist?   But, I must say, this one takes the cake.  It’s so ill-conceived it’s not really worth writing a post about, but I just have to express my dissent.  (Yes, I’m dissenting to a quiz.  So there.)  The authors say the quiz is just for fun, but if you’re going to post a quiz on the internet that purports to evaluate people’s gender identities, shouldn’t you take some responsibility for what you’re putting out in the world? 

Here’s my beef.  First, some of the questions just don’t make sense or don’t have anything to do with gender, like this one:

<<When looking for a phone number you are more likely to:
 1.Call and ask a friend who has it
 2.Look it up in the phone book
 3.Look it up in your address book/rolladex
 4.Call information
 5.Skip calling all together>>

Ridiculous.  What is the implication here?  Femmes are lazy?  Butches don’t know how to use a phone book?  I have no idea.

Second, the quiz is hopelessly outdated.  There is no recognition of lesbian gender in general and femme as a queer gender in particular.   Skinny is absolutely right about the Leave It to Beaver version of femininity that undergirds the quiz.   Their chart suggests that femme is soft, weak, etc and butch is strong, hard, etc.  I’m so over these tired steretypes.

It’s obviously written by people who have no clue about femininity or femme.  For example, take a look at this question:

<<If FORCED to wear eye shadow, what color would you wear:
 3.You’d have to consult your colorist
 4.a color that matches your skin tone exactly

It took me ages to figure out that #4 is the butch answer.  The authors don’t seem to realize that tone (warm or cool) does not equal color.  So you actually want to match you skin tone when selecting makeup colors!   

I scored exactly the same as Skinny:  Strong Femme.  According to the authors’ chart, that’s basically an “androgynous” femme.  Since their ideas about gender are archaic, “strong” means kinda butchy for them.  But no worries, my lovelies.  I’m happy and proud to be a strong femme.  Strong enough to say that this quiz sucks.

Social Justice and Cute Shoes

News flash:  Martin Luther King’s legacy is far more complex than the mainstream media acknowledges!  

By articulating the connections between racism, imperialism and economic inequality, King showed how struggles for social justice are interrelated.  Today, what I find inspiring and important about MLK’s message (the real one, not the sound bite) is its radicalism.  I use “radical” in the most basic definition of the term–going to the root, origin or source.  King addressed the root causes of racial oppression in American society by pointing to the connections between U.S. economic policies at home and abroad. He fought against the military-industrial complex, founded the Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice, and courageously opposed the Vietnam War.  

On the eve of Obama’s inauguration, it’s tempting to cheer about the progress we’ve made or declare that Obama himself is the realization of King’s dream.  But the very same problems that King most forcefully addressed–racism, militarism, economic injustice–are arguably the most pressing challenges America faces today.  Although we may cheer as Obama is sworn in tomorrow, we also desperately need to think about King’s broader message of human rights and social and international justice.  Well, that and equal access to footwear, because what’s a femme revolution without cute shoes? 😉

So, my lovelies, let’s really honor and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.  Instead of watching the usual “I Have a Dream” sound bites we get every year, take a look at these MLK quotes, most of which are not likely to make the news today:    

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.”

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

“We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Stay Young and Beautiful

I have a birthday at the end of the month, so even though I’m perfectly satisfied with my current age I will have to relinquish it.  I’m not one to pout, darlings, but the truth is that I’m really only comfortable with aging when someone else is doing it.  

Here’s where this post was supposed to turn away from the narcissism of my own issues about my birthday and discuss more lofty and socially important matters–the tyranny of youth, how to confront aging as a femme, blah blah blah.  But honestly, I’m not in the mood.  It’s just too dreary.

The thought that makes my inescapably middle-aged heart happy is this:  Van is 9 years older than me, so I’m always younger in comparison.  Wasn’t I clever falling in love with an older butch?   But actually she looks so much younger than her actual age that people regularly don’t believe her when she tells them how old she is.   No kidding, a new acquaintance just asked to see her driver’s license!   And she makes absolutely no effort to achieve this youthful glow, whereas I have a whole skincare regime–cleanser, exfoliator, masks, treatments and mosturizer. (Van says it takes me forever to get ready for bed.  Not true, I retort; it’s just seems like forever if all you do at night is brush your teeth! )

But since I’m indulging my narcissism, let’s get back to my story. Looking for words of wisdom and comfort today, I pulled out my copy of Helena Rubinstein’s My Life for Beauty, her 1964 autobiography which is also a beauty guidebook.  For women past 35, Helena advises:  “Sleep without a pillow or allow yourself a flat one only.  This wards off extra chins.”   Extra chins!!!  Good god.

Fuck it. I love my fluffy pillow and do not plan to stop using it anytime soon.  And, although I adore Helena, how reliable is the advice of anyone who says that “the ideal time to exercise in the evening is when you return from work at about 6:00 o’clock”?  Is she out of her ever-loving mind?!  That’s the ideal time for a cocktail, of course.

“To get back my youth,” Oscar Wilde wrote, “I would do anything except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.”  Exactly.  Time for a Manhattan!

Beyond Femme Realness

Since we’ve been talking about “failed” gender performances and the like lately, a “Masculinity Fail” post from Fail Blog caught my eye.  The video itself, which is about a weatherman who screams and freaks out at the sight of a cockroach in the middle of his broadcast, is pretty hilarious and made me wish I had a sissy weatherman on my local news.  (I don’t mean to say that this particular individual is a sissy, but rather that I have a deep affection for sissies.) You can check it out here.  But don’t waste your time reading the comments, most of which are appallingly homophobic and misogynistic. 

I wonder, how many of the guys leaving these small-minded comments would concede that no one can ever fully inhabit the category of masculinity, including them?  On a very fundamental level, the tendency to essentialize gender and sexual identities is the problem here.  Which brings me to the connection I want to make.  What I’ve tried to do in this blog is think about femme and gender in ways that step outside this naturalizing framework.  

Sometimes, even for me, it seems impossible to escape the allure of “realness.”   As femmes we ask ourselves:  “Can I be a real femme if I don’t wear makeup/want to be penetrated/[fill in blank]?” Or, “I’ve stopped wearing skirts, so am I still a femme?”   My feeling is that if I devote my energy to trying to be a “real” femme, I’m basically reinforcing the same oppressive gender norms that we see in “Masculinity Fails.”  

The discrimination and violence suffered by genderqueer and trans people is just one example of how social imperatives to be a “real” man or woman have disastrous effects in our world.  This is why, for me anyway, the high femme project of denaturalizing femininity is about expanding gender and resisting limiting gender stereotypes. 

And just in case you were wondering, I’m the one who kills the bugs in my house!

When Femme Fails (and Other Questions)

Last year I discussed “high femme” and shared with you my working definition of the term.   The two posts I wrote on this subject, which you can find here and here, prompted great dialogue–for which I’m so grateful! 

Just to refresh your memory, my goal in those posts was to conceptualize high femmes not so much as “more feminine” than other kinds of femmes, but rather as femmes who use exaggeration and/or theatricality to denaturalize femininity.   In short, for me high femme is a highly stylized form of femme gender expression that tends to privilege artifice over realness.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how this definition raises certain problems and questions.  For example, what constitutes “highly stylized” femininity and who gets to decide?  How “stylized” does a femme have to be before she can be considered a high femme? 

Do you have to intend to “do”  high femme to be one?  We talk a lot about our intentions or self-consciousness in performing femme, but doesn’t the reception of our performance matter too?  Here’s an example of what I mean.  What happens if I intend in a self-conscious way to highlight the artifice/constructedness of my femininity as a lesbian gender, but others (the guy who lives down the hall) don’t read me that way? Instead, they just see me as the pretty single gal in Apt. 3-B.  Has my performance of high femme “failed?”  All gendered performances “fail,” but it feels like something else is at stake here and I can’t quite put my finger on it….

These are obviously more questions than answers, but I wanted at least to put them on the table for 2009.   As always, I’d love to hear what you think!

Sublimefemme Tells All, No. 15

Femme is what femininity without boundaries looks like.






Janis: Undoing Femme


Photo Credit: Janis Joplin Photo Gallery: Rolling Stone

What would it look like if we unhinged femininity from the ideal of flawlessness?  What part can femme play in this project?  All too often, femme is mistakenly equated with prissy, perfect, and idealized forms of womanhood.  But femme doesn’t mean being consigned to some vapid and airbrushed model of femininity!  Femmes are raw, imperfect, wild, strong, and–yes–ballsy, like my femme icon Janis Joplin.   

I discovered Janis’ music when I was a teenager and, although the sixties were long over, I recognized in her a kindred spirit.  I was especially amazed that someone could be so tormented and hurt, and yet also so brave and liberated.  Although Joplin and Marilyn Monroe have very different personas, I think they’re actually similar because their vulnerability is a key part of their sex appeal–you can see the damaged little girl inside the sexually liberated hippie chick or glamorous sex kitten.  Janis wanted everyone to love her but took the kinds of risks that made it seem like she didn’t care what people thought.  She was a badass, no doubt about it.  But for a long time she seemed to me to represent both the possibility of transcending the wounded self AND the seeming impossibility of ever doing that once and for all.    

Now, however, I see Janis not as someone who surrendered to self-destructiveness and pain, but rather as a woman who dared to live her life with electrifying honesty.   I think Roseanne Cash gets it exactly right when she says that Joplin “had an unshakable commitment to her own truth, no matter how destructive, how weird or how bad.”  Janis reminds me to trust myself and my desires–and not to be afraid to kick down the white picket fences around femme. 

Joplin’s style, her screams, her unusual way of moving her body–all combined in a stage presence that was so unrestrained and wild it seemed for many observers to push beyond sex/gender norms.  Janis herself was very much aware of the challenge she posed to conventional notions of the feminine:

Sometimes…. you get out there and you really damage and offend their femininity. You know, ‘No chick is supposed to stand like that.’ I mean, crouching down in front of the guitar player goin’ ‘uuuuhhhn!’ You know, lettin’ your tits shake around, and your hair’s stringy, you have no makeup on, and sweat running down your face….I look at the crowd and the front rows are goin’ — these girls have these little pinched smiles and the expressions on their faces are of absolute horror.

What might as first appear to be a vision of “letting it all hang out” is actually a rethinking of femme.  Janis presents femme not as the performance of an idealized spectacle of femininity, but rather as the process of that spectacle coming undone. 

TELL MAMA:  Who is the most badass femme you know?  

To what extent do ideals of feminine perfection factor into your experience of femme?