Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I don't identify as femme (why not? it doesn't fit how I feel. my gender can't be defined that easily. that is all) but I relate to a lot of what's being said here.

Ever since I've been growing my hair out (yes, that's all) I've noticed a distinct shift in who notices me and what kind of attention I get. It's all about the hair, folks. True story. Ask any middle schooler.

A couple of Sinclair's points that I enjoy**:
Not being seen as queer and recognized as radical by straight folks is a common complaint I hear from femmes. There is an added burden of constantly having to come out verbally, constantly having to remind the folks around you that you are queer, constantly having to deflect and defend yourselves against unwanted straight male attractions, since in this culture the display of femininity is presumed to be for the attraction of men, men’s gaze, men’s sexual advancement. It is seen as an invitation to being hit on, in fact. A girl out on the town and all dressed up in heels, dresses, lipstick, must be trying to “catch a man.” Of course, this isn’t true. Whoever this girl is, she could be wearing those things for all kinds of reasons, for her boyfriend, for her friends, for herself, for her wife. And this is constant. Walking down the street, catching a cab, on the subway, at work, at a party, at a play, at a concert, in a bar – everywhere a femme goes, her femininity is assumed to be for men and to attract a man.

(This is also, in fact, one of the reasons femme-ness is subversive, and feminist: it re-creates femininity not as a tool to catch men, but as an authentic mode of expression for onesself and for queerness, disrupting this idea that femininity is “natural” for women.)

...You can’t choose who sees you when you walk down the street – you put yourself out there in a semi-public domain and you can’t pick who you interact with on a daily basis. But you can choose what those interactions mean. And here, you just have a more advanced sense of this sex-gender assumption than they do. You are right. They are not.
and also
What a complicated, heartbreaking, turning-ourselves-inside-out that coming to a new identity process is. And when it is not marked by physical proof, when someone looks the same, there is no particular indication that Something Big Has Changed, so how do we know? By speaking of it, by talking about it, by documenting it in some form. Still, so much of the data we take in is visual, so even when our minds take in that something is different, if we don’t see the physical proof, it might not register the same way. I think this is also partly why the process of coming out as a dyke often involves things like cutting one’s hair off – which is the rejection of femininity and the association that femininity is performed for the attraction of men, yes, but also a physical marker that something has changed.

These are just things that are “true,” according to our culture: femininity is a tool for the attraction of men; dykes reject this and therefore don’t have to perform femininity; if you are a dyke, you also come to a more androgynous gender identity as part of your dykeness. Sexual orientation and gender presentation are so tied together – that is the sex-gender assumption in a nutshell.

At a conference not too long ago (just before the vote, actually) I was talking to a small workgroup of LGBT folks. We were asked to describe what we imagined or wanted to focus on as a community after the election was over. I suggested that, as a community, we do some work around sexism, because most homophobia comes down to gender-based discrimination.

For example, how can you tell someone's queer? Unless they're making out with someone, you kind of have to go by gender markers. It's the gender transgression that is the problem, not the sexual orientation.

Why do some straight guys feel incredibly threatened by gay men and fixate on gay sex? Because gay sex is believed to be "feminizing" in a world where feminine=less power.

Why are transwomen subjected to violence more frequently than transmen? See the "feminizing" situation above.

Why, even, is marriage an issue? Because it's seen as making a mockery of the man-woman dichotomy.

Every single one of those folks around the table looked at me like I had two heads. There was a brief silence and then the conversation moved on, closing over my comment without any indication that it had ever existed.

Yes, okay. And there's a big part of the problem, in a nutshell, and why I have a hard time getting behind a lot of the queer activism that's going on right now. More on this later, I think.

**hee hee


Zack said...

This is so true. And not surprising that it was not acknowledged. Challenging stuff usually isn't. Too bad.

sarah said...

Wouldn't it be nice to have a series of conversation/dialogue events throughout the winter where we talk about these issues as a community? Queer Talk: Non-Marriage Issues that Impact our Community

We could talk about queer youth, aging, genderism and sexism, violence, partnerships where marriage isn't an option (because it isn't desired, let alone isn't possible), etc.

Jen said...

Wow, Sarah! What an idea! We could call it a.... community conversation? Unfortunately I think that not many people would show up for these conversations.