Happy B’day Angelina

It’s Angelina Jolie’s birthday, which got me to thinking.  Remember when Angie was an unpredictable wild child and all-around badass, not the perfect wife/mother/Hollywood goddess/goodwill ambassador?   I’m glad she’s happy, really I am, but I miss the good old days when she played with knives, kissed girls, dressed like Morticia Adams, wore a vial of Billy Bob’s blood on a necklace, showed off her tattoos, and wasn’t afraid to rock out her tomboy femme side!  But hey, you know how I feel about bad girls! 😉

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Against Femme Privilege

There’s been good discussion over at A Brown Girl on the question of femme invisibility and femme privilege, prompted by ABG’s reposting of Nikki’s thoughtful piece on that issue.   I’m a big fan of Nikki and her blog, give me space (to rock), but I think the concept of “femme privilege” doesn’t actually capture the experience of living as a femme-identified queer.   Here’s why.

Nikki’s point is that femmes have privilege over people who read as “androgynous,” “butch,” or “masculine.”    While I agree with her about the discrimination faced by gender nonconformists, it seems like a dangerous overgeneralization to assign privilege to femmes.  Femmes may deal with different forms of gender oppression and homophobia than other members of the LGBTQ community, but this doesn’t make us a privileged social group.   Furthermore, to describe femmes as privileged doesn’t account for mutiple or overlapping oppressions such as race, class, nation, ability, age, etc.  For example, is a Chicana femme living in poverty more privileged than Ellen Degenerous or Samantha Ronson? 

Still, maybe you’re thinking that I’ve been sidestepping Nikki’s central argument–namely, the idea that femme invisibility is a form of privilege. While some femmes may experience forms of unearned privilege–i.e. white privilege–“femme privilege” implies that women in general have a privileged status and that femmes in particular aren’t oppressed sexual minorities (because of the cloak of invisibility).  I just can’t get on board with these positions.

For me, “femme privilege” divides queer women in terms of gender at a time when we would be better served by thinking about what connects us.  By pitting “gender variant” butches/genderqueers against “gender conforming” femmes, femme privilege implies that (1) these are opposing groups that can be neatly divided (2) all femmes can or do pass (3) passing = privilege. The last 2 points remind me of those who say that bisexuals aren’t “real” queers because they can always pass for straight by cashing in on their heterosexual privilege.  (A biphobic stereotype, needless to say.)  It also reminds me of the argument that gays and/or queers aren’t an oppressed minority because, unlike blacks and other racial minorities, they can “hide” their sexual orientation.  Grrr, I hate this one!  I think anybody who says this has no idea about the struggles and problems produced by living in the closet, which is itself a form of oppression.

I think  Nikki is right that we all need to consider questions of oppression and privilege in our lives, but the privilege model doesn’t allow us to do this in a complex, multidimensional way.  My beef is really with the whole notion of dividing the world into privileged vs. nonprivileged people.  In my view, most of us are both privileged and nonprivileged in multiple aspects of our lives.

Do you think femme privilege exists?  I’m interested in your thoughts about this!

Visible: A Femmethology (Review)

Why is it so hard to claim femme? This is one of the many things I was thinking as I read Visible: A Femmethology, the new two-volume set just released by Homofactus Press. I’ve been puzzled by this question myself for years. As a professor, I teach about all kinds of  “hot-button issues”–abortion, queer theory, AIDS, gay marriage–pretty much without fear. I also come out as a lesbian regularly (and fairly effortlessly) inside and outside the classroom. But it still makes me nervous to stand in front of a class and come out as femme. There is nothing else that makes me feel so vulnerable. 

Femmethology is a community-minded collection that does a wide range of cultural work, all of which I cannot do justice to in this post.  I read the anthology not as a scholar but as a lesbian who is on her own journey to “own” femme, the beating heart of my queerness.  What I appreciated in Femmethology is the bravery of all the femmes who dare to tell their stories and claim their femme-ininity.  One of the real strengths of the collection is the diversity of femme the authors bring into view; on these pages, we get to meet trans femme-inists, femmes with disabilities, Southern femmes, African American femmes, fag hag femmes, and gender warriors who cultivate new forms of trans-masculine femininity (to name a few).  I was particularly interested in the way that several of the writers explore the intersections between transgender, gender fluidity, and femme.  In her essay about coming to terms with her identity as a trans femme-inist, Josephine Wilson writes about how her affinity for femme made sense “because being femme and being trans were so closely related for me.”  Readers are reminded that femmes are gender outlaws, even as we struggle against narrow definitions of transgression that all too often make our forms of gender trouble hard to see.    

Speaking of visibility, I love Sharon Waschsler’s observation that as femmes “we work at being distinctive….  I haven’t met a femme whose aim it is to blend into the woodwork.”  I couldn’t agree more.  If anything, Femmethology shows that we are claiming femme with panache.  To quote the slogan made famous by London’s radical femme activist Bird La Bird, “Femme invisibility–so last year!”

Don’t miss the rest of the Femmethology Virtual Tour:

4/1. Sugarbutch Chronicles
4/2. Ellie Lumpesse
4/3. Queer-o-mat
4/6. Catalina Loves
4/7. cross-post: The Femme’s Guide and Femme Fagette
4/8. Daphne Gottlieb
4/9. Bilerico Project
4/10. Screaming Lemur: Femme-inism and Other Things
4/13. The Femme Hinterland
4/14. Bochinche Bilingüe: Borderlands Writing and The Vagina Adventures
4/15. Dorothy Surrenders
4/16. Miss Avarice Speaks Her Mind
4/17. The Femme Show
4/18. CyDy Blog
4/19. Sexuality Happens
4/20. Queer Fat Femme
4/21. Sublimefemme Unbound
4/22. Tina-cious.com and Jess I Am (butch-femme couple day!)
4/23. FemmeIsMyGender
4/24. The Lesbian Lifestyle
4/25. Femme Fluff
4/26. Weldable Cookies
4/27. The Verbosery
4/28. A Consuming Desire and Creative Xicana
4/29. Queercents
4/30. en|Gender

Femme Literary Meme

We deserve a meme of our own!

Best all-around femme self-help book  Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life.  A fountain of wisdom.  The book includes gems such as: 

  • “Never forget that only you can ever fully appreciate your own true beauty.” 
  • “The essence of managing money is managing to have enough of it.”
  • Miss Piggy on choosing a career:  “Does your chosen career offer an opporutnity fo genuine fashion growth?”

Butch literary crush  (character, not author) Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon

Femme literary crush  (character, not author) See my post Delta of Venus for answer 😉

Favorite femme author Amber Hollibaugh, My Dangerous Desires

Book you’d like to see turned into a movie  Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

Best lesbian vampire of all time  Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu (literature) and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger (film)

Favorite femme fatale  Norma Desmond from the film Sunset Boulevard of course!

Butchest book you own  Judith Halberstam, Female Masculinity

Femmest book you own  Helena Rubenstein, My Life for Beauty

Favorite genderqueer book Read My Lips:  Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender by Riki Wilchins

Bizarre conversation starter  William Burroughs, Naked Lunch  (also qualifies as one of the butchest books I own).  Causes straight guys who would ordinarily never speak to me think we have something in common.  Sorry, dude, we don’t.

What author do you own the most works by?  Literature:   Virginia Woolf ; Theory:  I own tons of Freud and Marx.

Favorite magazine  Allure.  If only they would make me an honorary beauty reporter!

Go-to beauty book  Kevyn Aucoin, Making Faces.  This is why they call them makeup artists.

Favorite biography (queer)  Tie!  The Scars of Sweet Paradise:  The Life and Times of Janis Joplin by Alice Echols and Holy Terror:   Andy Warhol Close Up by Bob Colacello

Lesbian classic you want to encourage more people to read Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood.  Not an easy read, but the prose is gorgeous.

Hottest thing you’ve ever read  Carol Queen, The Leather Daddy and the Femme

Tomboy Chic: Style and Tomboy Femme

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I’ve always adored women in menswear or menswear-inspired clothes.   (How hot does Katherine Hepburn look here?  Enough said!) So of course I was pleased about the buzz for the new “tomboy chic” and the so-called “boyfriend look.” (Note to the fashion industry:  Enough already with this boyfriend crap.  Heterosexism is not cute.)  Check out “Tomboy Chic” in H & M Magazine to get a sense of how this trend is playing out.    

For all of their supposed gender coolness, most of the recent articles on menswear trends in women’s fashion ultimately reinforce not only heteronormativity but also gender binaries.    For example, the H & M piece gushes about how fantastic it is to wear menswear (“straight from your boyfriend’s closet!”) only to remind readers in its final sentence:  “Don’t forget to add your own special feminine touch.”  Ugh.  Pardon me while I throw up.  

However, I will admit that this media hype has forced me to consider the differences between tomboy chic and tomboy femme, which I’ve discussed previously.   The more I think about it, tomboy chic doesn’t seem to be a mode of gender mixing at its core–I think it’s more of a revitalized style of femininity. (In other words, it’s like when I wear menswear-inspired pieces but still look femme).   Tomboy chic may be alluringly androgynous, but its gestures are not extravagant or theatrical.  Only tomboy femmes dare to take the risk of identifying with the extremes of gender.   This is what Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were all about.   In a contemporary context, Annie Lennox and supermodel Linda Evangelista seem to take similar risks.  Swoon away, my pretties.

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What I particularly love about Evangelista is how all of her “looks” read as drag impersonations, lovingly realized.   She can transform into the second coming of Elvis or Sophia Loren, and in both cases she isn’t afraid of flamboyance or exaggeration.  I also love that when she’s looking butch or androgynous, she communicates an authenticity (or perhaps a depth?) that feels very different from the tomboy chic.   I use the word “authenticity” precariously, aware of the contradictions I’m invoking.  As the photographs show, it’s all an act–effacing any sense of a natural gender–but it’s still for real. 

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Because she performs all facets of gender as genuinely fake, Evengelista brings a postmodern edge to the multigendered personas of classic Hollywood stars like Dietrich or Hepburn.   This is one of the things that champions of tomboy chic seem to miss when they mistakenly invoke these Old Hollywood stars as tomboy icons.   What was compelling about Dietrich and Hepburn was not just that they dared to wear menswear but that they were daring enough to make the muliplicity of their gendered identities visible for mass appreciation.  And on that note, it’s only fitting that I end with two images that showcase the flamboyant gender flexibility of Dietrich. (If they look familiar, it’s because I’ve copied them from a previous post!) 

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Femme Myths

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Myth #1  Femmes are helpless

Myth #2  Femmes aren’t really dykes

Myth #3  Femmes are passive

Myth #4  Femmes can’t be tomboys (or tomboys can’t be femmes)

 

What myths about femme and/or lesbian gender do you want to rid the world of?  

And hey, don’t I look good putting on my spare tire?! 😉

 

Femme Pleasure and Strap-On Sex

I’ve sometimes felt that some butches are rather too… a-hem… narcissistically attached to their strap-ons.   If you can’t fuck without it, get out of my bed. 

Don’t get me wrong; I certainly don’t think strap-ons or dildos are heterosexist or antifeminist, and I’m not sitting around worrying that I have internalized heterosexist norms because I like sex with toys.  Actually, I think we’ve all absorbed these norms whether we acknowledge it or not.  The question is how do we engage/play with them in empowering and empathic ways (empathy being the opposite of narcissism).

For a number of years I took an antidepressant that had sexual side effects.   The world-rocking orgasms I used to have became a thing of the past.  It was really hard for me to come and if I did, my orgasms often left me feeling dissatisfied anyway.  It sucked, to put it mildly.   You often hear people (women, really) say that sexual pleasure isn’t “just” about orgasms, blah blah blah.  Unless the person in question is stone-identified, I think anyone who says that is (1) suffering from false consciousness or (2) having orgasms!

During the time I was struggling with managing my sexual side effects I suddenly developed a new empathy for those straight women who find sex to be more frustrating than satisfying.  It also made me start to wonder about how the popularity of strapping it on has affected lesbians in general and femmes in particular, who presumably aren’t any more likely than other women to orgasm from vaginal-only stimulation.  

As the website Go Ask Alice!  puts it, “For most women, making it a goal to reach orgasm during intercourse is a bit like making it a goal to find that elusive pot of gold held by a cute little leprechaun at the end of the rainbow.”   (A silly quote, but St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, so indulge me please!)  Most studies say that 70% of women do not and will not achieve orgasm from “unassisted” penis-in-vagina sex.  We all know that many women with male partners never have orgasms from intercourse and some become accomplished fakers in order to perpetuate the illusion that real women come from big, hard dicks.  To make matters worse, now doctors are “helping” in the way that they almost always do–by locating the problem in women’s bodies and then proposing to “fix”  it.  Good god, even too-cool-for-school Margaret Cho–Margaret Cho people!– got one of those G-spot shots (that’s where they inject collagen into your G-spot to “increase sensitivity”) in her quest to “achieve” orgasm from intercourse.  Just how far will we go to maintain our illusions about heteronormativity?  Pretty fucking far, clearly. 

This brings me back to my central question about strap-on sex, sexual pleasure, and femmes. Do we experience similar challenges around orgasm and sexual satisfaction as our straight sisters?  Or perhaps we experience more sexual satisfaction than they do at least in part because of the advantages of dildos, some of which are designed specifically for G-spot stimulation and/or can accommodate/increase clitoral stimulation?    I think we’re generally more informed and aware than hetero girls about female sexuality and are also more likely than them to ask for and receive other kinds of stimulation (correct me if you think I’m wrong about this), but I doubt I’m the only femme who’s felt inadequate when she couldn’t come from vaginal-only stimulation.   Is this an issue for you?  Do you feel pressured to “perform” for your partner(s)?  If you have different kinds of orgasms, which are the ones that are the most satisfying?  Do you think dykes and butches are relying too much (or not enough) on their dicks?  Are you a femme who likes to strap it on for your girl or boy/boi?  There are clearly gender issues to be addressed here, but I’m especially interested in opening up a conversation about femme sexual pleasure.

Femme=Bottom (And Other Myths)

It’s been a looong day, plus I chipped 2 nails right before I left the office (damn!), so I’m pissed as well as exhausted. Maybe this is the reason I’m seeing red after reading ASK A LESBIAN: “Sleeping with Straight Girls”, which is (sort of) a straight girl’s guide to sleeping with chicks in Q & A form.

This post reproduces so many offensive stereotypes about queer femininity–such as the myth that femme equals straight–that I keep asking myself if the whole thing is meant to be a satire. (But a satire of what? Sapphic cluelessness?) Seriously, would it kill these folks to do a little homework about femme, butch, and stone femmes?!!

I can’t believe that any lesbian who’s been out for more than 5 minutes really believes that femme and bottom are “synonymous terms.” I’ve pasted an excerpt from the post below. What do you think? Is this thing for real or a bad joke gone wrong??

So like whaddo I do? I guess I can’t just lie there anymore.

Sincerely,
Scared str8

Dear Str8,

As it so happens, there is in fact a subspecies of lesbian for whom “just lie there” is precisely their distinguishing modus operandi. These lesbians are the first cousins of straight girls and are known as “femmes” or “bottoms,” which are synonymous terms (occasionally you will happen across an extremely rare breed of lesbian known as the “butch bottom,” but that is typically considered a crime against nature). Now, it might strike you as “unbalanced,” “unfair,” or even “aping heteropatriarchal relations” to have just one lesbian doing all the work in the bedroom, but femmes are possessed of a remarkable phenomenon known as “wiles,” which nearly all butches are powerless to resist. As a result of a femme’s “wiles,” a typical butch is not simply willing but rather indescribably eager to perform all the labor of sexual relations while the femme just lies there the whole time.

helpfully yours!
AJ

V-Day (Don’t Be a Hater)

If you’re a part of the Anti-Valentine’s Day movement–people who wear black and only listen to songs about how love sucks–go ahead, snark away at this post. Certainly, those of us who are fans of the holiday are easy targets, not only because the cheese factor is off the charts this time of year, but also because the vapid commodification of love that the holiday has produced is often more hollow than romantic.

In truth, the commodification of love and emotion is something that happens every day in our society, not just on Valentine’s Day. We’re trained to express our emotions through objects–that is, by buying stuff. If there’s any silver lining to the recession, it’s that I think it has caused a lot of us (including me) to express our emotions in ways that don’t require credit card swipes.

But really, why be a V-Day hater? The other day, I ran into a twice-divorced, hipster colleague of mine in a store near the university where we both work. Let’s call him Professor Hipster. Like a moth to a flame, I had gravitated to the store’s Valentine’s display and was poking through the offerings. I didn’t realize I was being watched until I heard a familiar voice behind me, “Is that Dr. Sublimefemme?”

My coworker seemed rather gleeful at having “caught” me checking out the teddy bears and other admittedly tacky items. The use of my professional title (yes, I really am a doctor, darlings) was interesting coming from Prof. Hipster, who is not a formal person. “Doing a little shopping?” he asked in a condescending tone. I truly think he expected me to be embarrassed. I’m not.

Prof. Hipster and others who sneer at Valentine’s Day as ridiculous and sentimental can kiss my ass. For femmes, Valentine’s Day is a high holy day. But I think we’re often made to feel like our appreciation for the romance of the holiday makes us superficial. Like beauty and fashion, love and romance are trivialized in our culture because they are feminized. If these things mattered to men, I guarantee you that they’d all be as important as the Super Bowl.

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More V-Day posts to come! Are there topics related to the holiday you’d like to see discussed here? Questions about how to sweep your valentine off her feet or how to have a sublimely femme V-day? Leave them in the comments area.

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!

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