Monday, March 26, 2007

This is for Renegade Evolution.

I thought, given some recent discussions about femininity on Twisty's and Witchy-Woo's blogs, it might be good to note that femme feminists have always been a cornerstone of feminist movement and theory. I don't consider myself to be particularly femme, but frankly, I resent all of this disrespect toward femmes, just as I would resent disrespect toward butches (which Leanne Franson takes on quite nicely here).

Fortunately for me, there was recently a request on WMST-L for a bibliography on being a bi or queer femme, specifically works that discussed:
-bi femmes' relationship with queer theory, activism and communities
-one's sense of 'not fitting in' either theoretically or politically
-femmes' relationship to feminism
-the process of coming out and coming to voice; establishing identity relationally

The responses are still coming in, but I will list the few that were posted here along with some others that I'm aware of.

Joan Nestle is, of course, the queen of femme theorizing, and she edited and contributed to the The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader.

Brazen Femme, edited by Anna Camilleri and Chloe Brushwood-Rose. This text reprinted Duggan and McHugh's, "The Fem(me)inist Manifesto."

The film, FtF: FEMALE TO FEMME, covers many of the above topics. More info and a trailer are available here.

The filmmaker of FtF has also compiled a bibliography of femme-related academic materials.

And may I take this opportunity to tip my hat and raise my glass to all the femmes out there, queer and straight, who contribute so very much to feminist struggle. You know, in both straight and queer feminist communities and theory, femmes get dissed because they look like "normal" women. And women who don't, whether because they choose to be subversive in that way or because they just naturally do not meet the feminine, heterosexual "ideal," figure that this means that femmes are not to be trusted.

(Does that sound familiar, bisexual readers?)

Criticizing femme women simply for being feminine is no different than criticizing a woman who is raped because of what she was wearing at the time. Before someone writes "How can you say that?! You don't understand radical feminist theory!" let me just say that I've read it, I get it, and I stand by my statement. Women who support the patriarchy are a problem for feminism and for other women - it's true. But that support CANNOT be judged by a woman's appearance. And if we all have to waste our time changing our clothes before we can get down to work...well...that's just sad.

19 comments:

Renegade Evolution said...

thanks

Anna said...

I have super enormous major issues with 'FtF' femmes who theorize themselvles into being 'transgendered' in some way. Like, I can't even express how troublesome that is to me.

antiprincess said...

maybe someone could get me up to speed on this.

FtF? what gives?

sallysunshine_26 said...

AP: I'm not sure what FtF means either. Maybe PF will clarify for us?

In defense of all femme's or those with femme leanings, I'm right there with you PF!

PF Said: “And may I take this opportunity to tip my hat and raise my glass to all the femmes out there, queer and straight, who contribute so very much to feminist struggle. You know, in both straight and queer feminist communities and theory, femmes get dissed because they look like "normal" women. And women who don't, whether because they choose to be subversive in that way or because they just naturally do not meet the feminine, heterosexual "ideal," figure that this means that femmes are not to be trusted.

(Does that sound familiar, bisexual readers?)”


YES! It does!

For instance, along the same lines…

When I first came out, I was looked down up with disdain by other lesbians (and now feminists!) because I didn’t subscribe to their uniform. You know, the baggy tee-shirt, baseball hat, tennis shoes, and jeans look. And yes, I wasn’t trusted. At various events, gathering, and bars women approached me with, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here.” It was strange. I never expected that others would react so negatively, it was just me being me, after all.

Still, to this day, there is “les/bi girl club” that is definitely a member’s only thing. (Similar to the some of the Radfems member’s only club) They travel in packs together and resent outsiders (read: anyone who isn’t like them). But, I say, fuck it. I’ve never been a “blending in” kind of person, there’s a lot of power in being on the outside. People on the outside take risks and forge paths that others are too weak to travel on.

I’ve read the Twisty thread on femininity, and yes, it is total shit. But, it’s their shit, and I say, just let’em have it. I’m not going to argue with them. If they think that’s what femininity is, well then, enjoy.

Note to RE and anyone else who might be feeling attacked or judged by these women:

My mom used to say in moments of frustration and anger, with a great big mischievous smile on her face, “Sally, don’t let the bastards get ya down.” True today, as it was then.

Danielle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danielle's Daily life said...

I've never heard of feminists looking down on women for being feminine. It doesn't shock me, though. I always wonder what they'll find next to be angry about. Some people have a lot of time on their hands

belledame222 said...

right on, PF and SS

saltyfemme said...

My own personal understanding of FtF is not necessarily that femmes are actually transgender but that it is a real transition to shift from understanding one's own gender identity as 'female' to 'queer femme.'

Also, books. Nestle's femme-butch reader is fantastic, but actually A Restricted Country taught me even more about femme, both personally and historically. And Shar Rednour's Femme's Guide to the Universe was also not on the FtF list, just wanted to make sure someone took note of it since it is fabulous.

Lastly, not to toot my own horn (toot toot) but I've written a bit about femme identity. And I feel warm and happy when I am reassured that the feminist world is not all the femininity haters, so thank you for this post.

Anna said...

My own personal understanding of FtF is not necessarily that femmes are actually transgender but that it is a real transition to shift from understanding one's own gender identity as 'female' to 'queer femme.'

I don't agree with that at all. I think (blah)t(blah) and 'transition' are words that have real, concrete meanings when dealing with transsexual/transgendered people, and I really feel those terms are to at least some extent being co-opted in situations like this.

To put it plainly, I think too often the experiences of trans people are totally erased and overlooked in broader discussions about gender. Which is probably why I'm so persnickety about this.

saltyfemme said...

I agree, I think the lives and identities of trans people stand on their own and certainly deserve a place of their own. That said, however, I don't think that trans folks can own or define the words "transition" or "gender identity." A lot of us queers struggle with what our bodies mean to us and how they are interpreted by the world around us and how to reconcile those two.

I don't personally identify with FtF but I get it. What I do ID with is the femme invisibility, with constantly being seen as the sucker straight-acting girl in heels or, alternatively, standing behind the queerness of a partner, as is often the case for femmes whose partners queer them publicly. We have our own (different) experience of erasure.

We are not trans, I get that, I hear you, and I know it. But I disagree that a term like FtF erases any experience or identity of transpeople. Can't they both exist, together, and support each other? Why does the existence of one have to deny the existence of another?

Cassandra Says said...

"(Does that sound familiar, bisexual readers?)”
Why yes, now that you come to mention it... sense that one is a traitor hovers just below the surface in both cases.
Sally - I've had the same experiences with the lesbian community. For that very reason I'm pretty much uninvolved with the community here, which sucks. I'd LIKE to be involved, but the constant demands that I "examine" all my choices and apologise for them...No. Not going to do that. Not for men, not for other women.
RE Twisty et all...I just don't see why they assume that because femininity feels hateful and contricting to them it feels hateful and constricting to everyone else, too. If I can accept that some feminists like to wear overalls why can't they accept that some feminists like to wear short skirts and tank tops (in the summer, when it's 95 frickin degrees outside...if you think I'm swathing myself in any more fabric than legally necessary you're smoking crack).

plain(s)feminist said...

Anna wrote:
I think (blah)t(blah) and 'transition' are words that have real, concrete meanings when dealing with transsexual/transgendered people, and I really feel those terms are to at least some extent being co-opted in situations like this.

To put it plainly, I think too often the experiences of trans people are totally erased and overlooked in broader discussions about gender. Which is probably why I'm so persnickety about this.


And Salty responded:
I don't think that trans folks can own or define the words "transition" or "gender identity." A lot of us queers struggle with what our bodies mean to us and how they are interpreted by the world around us and how to reconcile those two.

...

We are not trans, I get that, I hear you, and I know it. But I disagree that a term like FtF erases any experience or identity of transpeople. Can't they both exist, together, and support each other? Why does the existence of one have to deny the existence of another?


I can see Anna's point, but I also agree with Salty that FtF needn't erase trans experience/identity. I can see how it could do so. But I think it is a way to articulate something about gender that is difficult to articulate outside of these associations.

Ironically, it is this same sense of language that expresses a particular state of being, consciousness, experience - in the context in which that experience is overlooked - that has often prompted the whole "woman born woman" thing, as well as the whole "lesbians are women only and forever and if you ever sleep with a man again, you're not a lesbian." And even the whole "feminists don't do x, y, and z" thing.

I don't think we can have it both ways. I think we've either got to allow for language slippage - while still insisting on recognition of lived realities - or we can have no language slippage whatsoever.

(That's not a theoretically perfect idea, and I can see how it would break down particularly around WBW, but you get the general concept.)

Something else...I don't consider myself to be transgendered. But there were times in my life when I was unsure. For part of my childhood, as I remember it, I was frequently mistaken for a boy. I sometimes felt like a boy. As an adult, I frequently did not feel female when I was around heterosexual women. I was also mistaken for a man on several occasions and at different points in my life. And when I once went out in full drag as an adult, I was surprised to find how completely comfortable and at home in my body I felt.

So - my gender presentation did not always match my sex, and my sense of my own gender was, at times, at odds with my sex. This is the case for many queer women who do not identify as trans.

Now. What does that make me? The point: I think "transgender" has a very particular meaning and it does indeed make that experience less visible if someone like me, who is cissexual (cisgendered?), uses it. But I would also say that gender is a complicated thing and that there are other options between transgender and cissexual on some sort of spectrum. And isn't "transgender" generally used as the sort of umbrella term that "queer" is? Or do those of us whose self-understanding of gender is somewhere in-between need to use words like "gender-queer?"

belledame222 said...

I don't personally identify with FtF but I get it. What I do ID with is the femme invisibility, with constantly being seen as the sucker straight-acting girl in heels or, alternatively, standing behind the queerness of a partner, as is often the case for femmes whose partners queer them publicly. We have our own (different) experience of erasure.

yep.

there's also something i've been struggling to articulate about my...being drawn to...transfolk and trans issues, more often MtF than not, and my being a queer femme who's not particularly into the butch-femme dynamic.

i would not personally identify as trans, obviously, but...shrug. there are grey and unexplored areas around here somewhere, i think, having to do with desire if not necessarily identity per se...

sallysunshine_26 said...

PF said: "Something else...I don't consider myself to be transgendered. But there were times in my life when I was unsure. For part of my childhood, as I remember it, I was frequently mistaken for a boy. I sometimes felt like a boy. As an adult, I frequently did not feel female when I was around heterosexual women. I was also mistaken for a man on several occasions and at different points in my life. And when I once went out in full drag as an adult, I was surprised to find how completely comfortable and at home in my body I felt."

Wow, Plains, I had no idea! You always seemed pretty girly to me! LOL!
I’ve never been out in full drag before, but it sounds like a lot of fun.
Since we’ve been discussing these issues about desire, femininity, “uniforms”, ect.. I tried a little experiment a few weeks ago.

I went to a bar (straight venue) in a tie, dress shirt/pants and suit coat. Then, the next night I went out in a mini, black boots, and a tight shirt (straight venue again.) The reactions I got from men were no different. I did, however, notice a difference in *my* behavior. Weird, huh?

The night I wore the suit and tie I found myself admiring, flirting, and approaching more women than I probably would’ve otherwise. There was edginess as it applied to my confidence level.

On the mini-skirt night, yes, I still felt confident, but it wasn’t the same. The change in my attitude was subtle, yet noticeable.

Clothes don’t make the woman, but they sure can provide fuel for the mood of the moment, in my experience anyway.

nexy said...

" I think "transgender" has a very particular meaning and it does indeed make that experience less visible if someone like me, who is cissexual (cisgendered?), uses it.

i'm not so sure. the term "transgender" covers such a wide diversity of experiences, that i think most of the world population could claim it as their own. the term has evolved to have very little meaning and a very wide girth. while i may have agreed with you 20 years ago, today, i'd say that the damage to the term has been done, and at this point i don't think it can be undone.

on the other hand, the term "transsexual" is pretty specific, or perhaps has come to be used in a specific way. mostly for people such as myself, who've undergone hrt and surgery, but is also used for people who live as their target sex, which is not their birth sex.

part of the problem is that society has a pretty specific set of rules for each sex. so how many rules must be broken for a person to be considered trans? one of the biggies is who you sleep with - i've heard it argued that gay people are transgendered, but not transsexual.

on the other hand, crossdressers are considered transgendered. most people think of cd's as men who occasionally dress in stereotypical women's clothes - dresses, heels, makeup, etc. for women, the line is a bit more fuzzy. 100 years ago, a woman wearing pants was cd. these days, most women wear pants. the "rules" constantly change over time and across cultures, making "transgender" rather evasive. and that's unlike "transsexual", which typically referes to a person having undergone (or is undergoing) a "medical" process. so the specific "rules" regarding gender are only static when viewed within the context of a specific slice of time and place.

it's enough to give one a headache.

Anna said...

A lot of us queers struggle with what our bodies mean to us and how they are interpreted by the world around us and how to reconcile those two.

That's true, but what you do in order to reconcile those things is quite different, and I can't imagine using the same words to describe that.

I don't think we can have it both ways. I think we've either got to allow for language slippage - while still insisting on recognition of lived realities - or we can have no language slippage whatsoever.

PF, I think possibly this is not the point you're trying to make, but I don't think it would be a case of "language slippage" to consider a MTF transsexual woman a woman.

I also think nexy's post points out the fact that there is a lot of quibbling over language in situations like this, and I really am sorry that I started this because that was not my intent.

plain(s)feminist said...

PF, I think possibly this is not the point you're trying to make, but I don't think it would be a case of "language slippage" to consider a MTF transsexual woman a woman.

Right. That's what I meant about the language slippage thing breaking down around the idea of "woman born woman." But I will add that I understand the perspective that says that women who inhabit female bodies (I don't really know how to say this, so I hope my language doesn't offend) all of their lives have a different experience of being female than do FTMs, for example. I think that's fair to say. Now, some folks will take that to the point of saying that this means that only that first group can claim the word "woman" for themselves, and while I don't agree, I can empathize with anyone's desire to have the particularity of their experience named and recognized.

I also think nexy's post points out the fact that there is a lot of quibbling over language in situations like this, and I really am sorry that I started this because that was not my intent.

No, don't be. I think you made a good point and one we need to work through in feminist and queer communities.

Anna said...

I actually don't have a problem with the term "women born women" or with women who have lived their entire lives as girls/women claiming that experience as something unique. When that term and experience are used to denigrate other people I have a problem, obviously.

belledame222 said...

i guess technically speaking piny could be considered an "FtF"...if she wanted to be considered so, of course. FtMtF probably isn't what you meant, tho'...? truthfully FtF isn't a term i'm familiar with