appreciating a femme.
July 2, 2011
according to a group of folks on facebook, today is femme appreciation day… i was considering writing my usual snark about female-assigned dominated queer communities (boring), maybe exploring my relationship to the femme visibility movement (umm, complicated, loooong, AND boring), or just ignoring the whole thing… i do, after all, have a cake to bake for my youngest kiddo’s birthday tomorrow! i was in the car with my girlfriend, though, and ranting on those first two topics and she reminded me that appreciating people is good.
so, in the spirit of femme appreciation day (even if 60%+ of what i read about it makes me want to turn on my snarky rant mode), i am going to appreciate a femme from my life.
when i was 15 or so, i was on the AntiJen e-mail list for trans youth (mostly trans girls), run by the wonderful Aunty Jenny. i was trying to cultivate a certain radical-punk-rock-dyke persona that appealed very much to me as a queer girl-who-didn’t-really-feel-like-being-trans (i would have greatly preferred being one of the “normal” (as i thought of them then) radical-punk-rock-dykes who populated the world of the chainsaw records message board), and the level of pink loving, fluffy-stuffed-bunny snuggling that was being talked about by a lot of my ostensible peers was making me nervous. nervous because i was in the process of disavowing those parts of my self that loved pink and fluffy-stuffed-bunnies and wanted to wear lipstick… i was cutting off the parts of myself that it was possible to cut off in order to try to fit my perception of a radical-punk-rock-dyke, cutting off the one part that seemed to distinguish me most from the “normal” ones having proven entirely too difficult and painful.
Aunty Jenny let me know at some point that there was a girl on the list, a little bit older than me, who lived near me, and i arranged to meet her in my neighborhood to go record shopping and eat nasty fast food.
as soon as she got out of her mom’s car i was fascinated, wowed, and mortified. she was so confident seeming, so in her body in a way that i am still struggling to be… neither of us was passing particularly well (we were babies, practically), but she was trying to do what i was trying to do when i was 13 and 14, before the radical-punk-rock-dyke dream swallowed me up with it’s whispered promises of carhartts and pomade and making out with cute girls wearing bandanas around their necks: being a “normal girl,” wearing cute jeans and barrettes, wearing lipgloss… the things that, when i tried them, got my ass kicked, got my arm held to the flame of an older boy’s zippo lighter, got death threats shoved into my locker repeatedly, and got boys interested in secret makeout sessions that no one could ever know about… or else.
she was funny and i wanted her to be my best friend. she was beautiful and if she had asked me to kiss her i would have imagined doing so for a thousand nights afterwards at bedtime, but chickened out on actually doing it. and yet…
i was scared. and embarrassed. i had decided that if i wasn’t going to pass all the time, i was going to claim a space in the world with comrades (the aforementioned radical-punk-rock-dykes, assumed to never be other trans women, of course) who would shout on street corners: girls can have any kinds of voices! girls can look all kinds of ways! girls don’t even have to pass as girls! and here was this smart, kind girl who didn’t seem to be taking whatever fear she had of this world and it’s violence and running home with it, reinventing herself to not get noticed or to get noticed as intentionally queering the discourse through her radical non-normative gender. she was just doing what she wanted to do with her body and her life. i imagined that if she had wanted to intentionally queer the discourse through her radical non-normative gender, she would have been doing that, too. and here i was, not doing that to be true to myself but to protect my true self from public mockery (the world has a special brand of plutonium poison for femme trans women, and it is distributed freely by queer folks as well as straight folks) and to present the world with a persona of devil-may-care toughness, as well as to claim allies it would later turn out didn’t understand my gender presentation as having much relationship to their radical non-normative genders.
we talked for a long time and for once i knew how my friends felt, the ones who were always telling me i talked too loud, that my voice sounded fake, that i was embarrassing them. i feel so much shame even now, and i certainly felt it then, but i felt like the eyes on her and on me were spewing their poison past the tough exterior defenses i had created… finding and killing my pink-fluffy-stuffed bunny.
i didn’t return her calls or e-mails after that. i was, i told myself, busy with my work getting Riot Grrrl Chicago going, and then with my new membership in the Chicago Lesbian Avengers. and besides, we didn’t really have all that much in common, she and i.
i still sometimes wish she had been my best friend… i hope i would have learned to be a good friend to her and be proud of her, like i have learned to care about and respect myself in the last few years, even the parts of me that love pink and sometimes wear lipgloss. i am way more similar to her than i ever could have admitted then.
i appreciate that she planted the seed in me that would grow into a need to give real caring and support to other trans women, and to quiet the self-hating part of me that wants to be busy judging them so as to feel safe from thinking about myself, who i am and how i have failed to become someone entirely different. i hope she is out there being radness incarnate still and not taking any shit.
this one goes out to her:
p.s.-i know that there are a lot more radical trans women around these days, and that, on the internet at least, we have a tendency to buy into the transmisogyny that tells us unexamined, unintentional femininity is bad, at least in trans women, and that this often comes out in making fun of trans women who aren’t (by our exacting measurements and standards) “radical,” or who have websites with pastel pink cursive fonts on dark pink backgrounds, and i think we should stop. as long as we play the game of being the good, cool, hip, or enlightened trans women, cis feminists, trans guys, and female-assigned genderqueers are going to view even us “lucky” few who can play their game as lesser, faker, and generally an afterthought to their own amazing radicoolness. and i don’t just say this because my ‘zine is full of hearts, i like to bake in a cute apron, and i never wear pants.