"Things happen in threes" is how femme writer/performer Anna Camilleri opens her poem of the same name in Boys Like Her. I think of this because for me, coming to comfort with femme as an idea and label was as easy as opening my eyes to myself, as important as having space for myself in the world, and as hard as giving myself permission to speak; all this in a world that encourages us as citizens, women and queers, to be blind, invisible, and silent.
Illumination / Realization
I knew I was weird and smart before I knew anything else about myself, and I also knew I was a pervert before I realized that would take a femme form. The day I pulled on my new seamed stockings and attached them to the garter belt I'd stolen from the thrift store, I felt my ass and thighs newly alive. Topped off in a vintage dress and wielding a wooden spoon, I headed to the kitchen and waited for my girlfriend to come home. I was lucid with anticipation, my skin charged and cunt so hot I could barely sit. What would I do to her and how would she respond? What would our sex feel like with my fetish objects in place?
She strolled into the room and looked at me, smiled until she saw the flush on my face, gave me a once-over and said, "What the fuck are you wearing?!" In that moment I realized both that I needed artifice - that I was the artifice when I thought of my sex; and that I needed to be with people who could see that in me - so what the fuck was she doing not seeing it? And what the fuck was I doing with her? Aha, I realized, I am a fancy femme pervert. Now what? And with who?
Some people - I think - walk through this world not needing much recognition or validation because it already comes from someplace very special and well-nurtured inside them. I guess I want to call this state "non-abusive life experience privilege." For the rest of us, any act of still-being is an act of resistance, and the places our validation come from are a little more complicated. For me, still-being at all meant I had to ask myself what was true about my desired state in the world, and hopeity hope that my ladyfreak flag would fly. Punk rock and weirdo friends made it possible and actually ok, so I was a girl in a dress in the pit who hit on girls by talking about science. Proto-femme.
I turned 21, I moved to Toronto, I met the butch I'd eventually fall in love with. I knew from the first second I saw her - tribe8 t-shirt stretched tight over her belly, orange mowhawk flaming, harley boots spread proudly, sweet face smiling - that she was the kind of girl I needed. And when she looked at me, she saw the same need back: attitude and sugar touching queer desire, signaled by blue betty page hair and impossibly small dresses capping stockings and poleclimbers. Seen as the femme that I felt myself to be.
Looks aren't everything but they are meaningful, and that relationship gave me the feeling of being seen in meaning: by both her and the world. The indescribable feeling of walking down the street with her, knowing that our duo signified my queerness, my femme to her butch and my unavailability to the leering men who harass[ed] me constantly. And being seen meant being here in a whole new way.
If a femme walks down the [hopefully paved] path in a forest and there's no one around, is s/he still a femme? If s/he wants to be, yeah. The truth is that to "be" something is to ask that identity to interact with the world, as well as to ask it to do you favors, to lean on it when there's no one around, to curse it when the people around you judge ugly, to prize it when we need something to prize. To be seen as we see ourselves is icing.
When I think of the femmes who inspire me [wonderfully, there's a lot], it's always their attitudes I hook onto - grace beauty form fashion achievement all count, but it's how you're getting it done that reflects 'femme,' to me. And so many of the femmes I see getting it done do it with words.
I didn't speak unless spoken to for about five years when I was a child: the loaded power of words for questioning and criticism couldn't escape my brain, and the people taking care of me violently refused to let a girlchild use the power in language to question, so the only safety for me was in silence, an unspoken front of aquiesence. When it was time to refute that reality, it seemed my language was broken, that I skipped ahead and knew too much too fast, but couldn't articulate it [and never ever to authority figures]. To become the femme I want[ed] to be, I had to retrain my capacity to speak up, speak out, and speak my truth, in any scenario. There is no one day I have that marks this facility, but rather the compounded capacity to talk first, contest, argue, speak alone and challenge is surely part of the the power I wield that I identify with my femme self.
Knowing that I can speak and argue [eg, "Leave her the fuck alone! What, are you gonna hit me?!"] safely sometimes that others' can't, because I am white, petite and appear gender normative. Knowing that every time I speak critically or against what is being said to me I am actively winning out over my evangelical upbringing. Knowing that even though I only have facility in one language, I will use it at every opportunity for liberation. Knowing that giving myself new names, complicated identities, and locations to slip around from, is harnessing language and utilizing ideas that already exist, on my terms.
Things we realize, other's recognition, our ability to name it. The interior eye, the exterior eye, the transference of meaning from one to the other; the triadic structure behind textual comprehension. And we are beholden to the existing structures - as much as I am interested in taking them down with a flip of my hair. Things happen in threes: beginning, middle, end; length, width, depth. This story is only mine in the details; the form is ours. The transference to meaning is yours: thanks.