Archive for December, 2008

Queer dance party (to go)!

December 18, 2008

I cannot count the number of times I have danced around my living room in solidarity with this video.

Ethical community.

December 17, 2008

“We do not want to be hated for who we are, where we come from, and what we do.” — A prominent queer femme activist.

Wait. You don’t want to be hated for what you do? There seems to be an underlying assumption here that “we” only includes the honorable ones, the ones who are out there fighting the good queer fight, challenging outdated and oppressive assumptions, defending the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us — and, moreover, spreading kindness and charity along the way.

But the queer community, like any other, is made up of good, bad, and — mostly, if we’re honest — complicated characters. I don’t think we should hate each other for instances of bad behavior, but I certainly think we should be discerning and explicit about what we expect from one another. No matter how talented and devoted an activist, no matter how brilliant a social commentator, no matter how attractive or intelligent a person, people — femmes and feminists included — fail.

And when “what we do” just isn’t right — when a person spouts racist invective or unexamined class assumptions, or is emotionally or physically abusive, or crosses sexual boundaries, or acts in ways that fly in the face of common sense and shared values — then I would argue that it is the right and the obligation of the community to hold our own accountable.

I don’t think of community as a group of people behaving as they please with mutual agreement not to judge or even react to unethical or destructive acts. I envision community as a dynamic, diverse network of people who are deeply committed to interrelated goals and who rely on one another to encourage and — if necessary — enforce behavior that leads us towards those goals.

We have to build trust if we want to build solidarity.

Creative defiance.

December 15, 2008

In honor of the holiday season and the upcoming opportunity to make good in the New Year, I wanted to share a few ideas for how to perform femininity and defy consumerism in one fell swoop — and to invite you to post some your own.

Make it yourself. Consumerism depresses creativity. We have thousands upon thousands of options, but product has been dissociated from process. I invite you, dear readers, to exercise your creative capacities. What would you be wearing right now if you let your imagination replace the images advertising has fed you? What colors and textures and shapes would you use? What could you communicate about who you are, how you feel, what’s important to you?

Whatever your skill level, it’s worth trying your hand at sewing clothing, making jewelry, knitting & crocheting, even mixing makeup from scratch. You’re capable of more than you think. Instructables and wikihow are terrific resources to get the creative juices flowing. And if you really prefer to leave the seam stitching to someone else, consider arranging a trade with a friend in need of your particular skills. Homemade dress for tax completion, anyone?

Recycle. I’m big on donating used clothing to thrift shops (especially for a good cause, like Housing Works here in New York), but I also love me a good clothing swap party. So get together some friends and let the fashion remix begin. I’m also known for slicing and splicing old dresses and tying tees into tube tops, although I have to admit the results vary (sadly my local library doesn’t carry this book). An awesome project (and present-making goldmine) is silk screening onto old skirts, skirts, and choice undergarments. Check out this great tutorial (sorry, no undergarments pictured, folks).

Invent and innovate. Got flowers (real or faux)? Wear ‘em on the lapel of your pea coat or pin those babies in your lovely locks. And, ooo honey, that scarf over there was meant to be a wrap-around skirt. There are most likely things all over your house that could be transformed into femme fashion. A friend of mine recently told me that she’s planning to makpink-sewinge a dress from some old curtains (see dramatic pre-enactment). For my part, I have some orphaned earrings that could come together as a fabulous charm bracelet.

Mix and match. I know you haven’t worn that gray dress in ages, but what if you paired it with this red patent belt? The billowing silk blouse in the back of the closet is dying to meet your hot pink pencil skirt. And have you tried your sensible black slacks with that abandoned pair of periwinkle stilettos? My point is, you handpicked every garment that’s hanging in your closet right now. Isn’t taking a new look at your fabulous finds of yesterday a better bet than picking your way through the clothing racks downtown?

Hope these ideas are helpful. It’s an ongoing, yet welcome, challenge for me to think about consumerism through the lens of high femme, and vice versa. I’d love to hear your thoughts and share strategies on how to ensure we can play with gender without playing into the very systems we hope to question. I welcome anyone with self-fashioned items to show and tell — I’ll gladly post your inspirational examples.

Uncoupling consumerism and high femme.

December 14, 2008

Being an avid flea-market-treasure hunter and coupon-wielder myself, it’s taken me a while to realize that frugality alone doesn’t do much to combat consumerism. All those newly minted recessionistas are still spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need.

Nope, sorry: just because you don’t spend as much money on material goods doesn’t mean you’ve escaped the cycle of obsession and possession.

There’s a disturbing tendency in our culture to equate happiness and self worth with purchasing power. And while everyone is in danger of identifying too closely with the objects that allow them to feel comfort, confidence, and contentment, women have been the targets of particularly damaging and divisive marketing campaigns.

Magazines, billboards, and commercials conspire to make us believe we aren’t lovable or desirable without certain beauty products, clothing, accessories, and other items – and, as if that weren’t harmful enough, many ads propagate the myth that women must compete against one another to prove our value in the world. One of my dearest hopes is that women, and femmes, can work together to challenge and dismantle these frameworks over time.

High femme is not a synonym for high maintenance.

December 8, 2008

To clarify:

Performing femininity can be effortless, or it can be an ambitious creative undertaking, a project to which a person chooses to devote thought, energy, analysis, and emotion. The body, like it or not, becomes a billboard for social and societal messages the instant we set foot (or stilettoed heel) outside our homes. For me, part of the joy and the challenge of being high femme is to play with public perceptions through how I adorn my body and how I behave — and, more to the point, the interplay between the two.

I’ve frequently seen the phrase high maintenance used to dismiss or demean the physical and psychical work that goes into crafting some of the visual aspects of femininity. In writing this post, I initially felt tempted to provide actual figures on the amount of time I spend applying makeup, selecting an outfit, et cetera. But I’m afraid that anything I could say would play into existing judgments. Would you take me more seriously if I said I spend 15 minutes getting ready in the morning as opposed to two hours?

Well, I think that’s fucked up.

If I were an artist making murals to draw attention to gender inequities and social wrongs, would you slam me for spending too much time on a given project? More or less high-maintenance-womens-tshirt-pinktime — it shouldn’t matter. What matters is who I am and what I want to say. My femininity is art I create, wear, and perform daily, and I’d rather be critiqued on how successfully that art challenges gender expectations than how long it takes me to pose the challenge.

There is, of course, such a thing as vanity, but we should be careful to distinguish it from the considered and inventive work that people do to display and play with femininity. Vanity is excessive pride in one’s attractiveness or achievements, and it is focused on the idolization of the self. As a queer high femme, my gender work is focused on creating more accurate, flexible, and nuanced social understandings of femininity, both for my personal comfort in the world as well as for the good of other women and feminine-performing people.

It’s closer to advocacy than to vanity.

Start at the beginning.

December 5, 2008

I was born bald, and I stayed that way for the first year of my life. After six months of strangers cooing, “What an adorable little boy!”, my parents pierced my ears. I imagine that cool needle gun cuddling up to my soft skull was my first direct encounter with the cultural constellation of behaviors, attitudes, and feelings commonly referred to as femininity.

After such a painful and confusing start (Ouch, mom! Why do you hate me?), you’d think I would have been turned off to the whole venture. Yet a review of the photographic evidence reveals that toddler me had quite a penchant for mixing my big brother’s hand-me-down striped tees with strands of pearls; tree climbing in various improvisations of princess garb; and, rather alarmingly, blowing out birthday candles while wearing a lace veiled ’40s hat (Thanks, mom: guess you don’t hate me, after all! Or do you…).

I spent all my free time ages 2.5 to 12 drawing, and the majority of my subjects were women — imaginary and real, tall and petite, thin and voluptuous — but always elaborately adorned. Ladies in saucy strapless dresses and earrings that dangled down past their shoulders. Girls with elbow gloves and prim purses wearing evening gowns with slits up the thigh. High heels. Red lips. And every shade of eye shadow imaginable.

My life since then has been a slow process of applying that same artistic instinct to my own clothes, face, and body — and daily presenting my work to the world. I dare you to assume I can’t change a tire, talk theory, or stoke the fires of the revolution just because I’m wearing jeweled fake eyelashes. Go ahead: try me. The fact that my fascination with and deep investment in femininity is misunderstood and maligned in mainstream culture and queer culture alike is beside the point. No, I take that back. I don’t want other people’s views to be a part of my feelings about femininity, but they are.

You can’t take the audience out of the performance, can you?

I use femininity to challenge assumptions and defy stereotypes. I perform femininity with an ear to farce. I narrate femininity in the first person, but experience it within the context of history, culture, and community. I stick with femininity because it is what holds my attention, keeps me guessing, keeps me real. It’s my hobby and my home.