Please check out this scholarship in honor of Bryn.
The Bryn Kelly Scholarship for Trans Women/Trans Femme Writers
Please check out this scholarship in honor of Bryn.
This weekend was a fabulously busy. It was my 2nd year at the Philly Trans Health Conference (PTHC), first time as a board member. I presented six times, volunteered, and had tons of meeting, both for fancy business and friendly love. My thoughts about the conference circle around a sense of growing community, and our past and future. This was stirred particularly by my seeing friends from early on in my coming out, people who I haven’t seen in years, reawakening memories of first finding community, that desperation to not be alone, and the joy of connecting with someone who was like me.
I ran a trans performance plenary with the amazing performers Bryn Kelly, Katastrophe, Athens Boys Choir, The Notorius OMG, Leah b. of Gender Edge, Ignacio Rivera, and AJ Bryce. As we all spoke, points of similarity kept arising; we all started out alone, isolated from anyone else like us. We never planned to be this visible, we were searching for ourselves, and ended up finding more than we ever thought. And in searching for myself, I selfishly loaded the conference with femme stuff this year. I brought the issue to the board, stressing the importance of femme inclusion, and before I knew it I was titled the Femme Program Coordinator – something PTHC has never had before. Honestly, I questioned myself like “but, wait, I’m not what most people think of when they think femme… should I be in charge” but then I realized that not only was there no one else, and it was me or nothing, that also the fact that I am not the “mainstream” vision of what femme is might be a good reason for me to take it on. Time to break the mold and get the wheels of change moving! There were so many folks like me there, it was like looking in a mirror – a much more fabulous and well dressed mirror. And when the inevitable happened, and non-trans female femmes raised their eyebrows saying “wait, you are the one in charge a femme programming….?” I brushed it off and smiled to myself, because the femme workshop they attending would not have been there if it wasn’t for me. If they didn’t think I was femme enough, then they could get out of my workshops- and there were several. Through the supportive conference leadership I was able to take PTHC from having one femme workshop (that had only been in programming for two of the ten years of the conference) to seven workshops focused on femmes presented by a diverse array of femmes of different identities, and all of them were packed! My femme boys workshop had almost 160 people in it which was intense but wonderful, and gave me ideas for new programming next year. I also did a workshop with my mentor and friend, Moonhawk River Stone about gender identity disorder removal which was a success, and we have new plans for the next year, and how we aren’t willing to wait anymore on what we’ve been nervously dragging our feet on. Our community is getting too big, too strong to sit under this oppression any longer. Ignacio Rivera and I did a fun sexual liberation workshop for the young folks in the youth programming track. It was incredible to hear 16 year olds talking about the gender binary and privilege. It made me wonder where I would be if I had known about that stuff when I was their age, and it blows my mind thinking what they may accomplish by the time they are my age. Speaking of age, I also got a ton of baby time this weekend, getting to play with S. Bear Bergman’s son, while totally blowing off other stuff that was not as important as crawling around the carpet with a 16 month old. I wonder what things will be like in the trans community when that baby grows up…
My other big task of the conference planning was I directed and performed in the new show, “Blender! Trans Performance Showcase.” This was the first time a performance showcase has been a part of the Philly Trans Health Conference and it couldn’t have gone over better. I wanted to do a show because I wanted to promote trans and queer performance, and also to stress the importance of including art in our work as activists. Our community’s art is our community’s culture, and if we don’t support it, who will? This show was great. It was honestly the most hectic, disastrous, stressful show I’ve ever organized but it was also one of the most exciting because we were forging a new space. In the end, all the hard work was worth it. All the performers were fantastically talented doing spoken word, music, dance, and drag. We bonded together, ready to create something for our people, and to show our people what we had created. The fabulous Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque troupe were life-savers in helping me run the stage, and the audience was happy and excited giving the night such a positive energy. It was a great way to wrap up the weekend and I’m looking forward to running the event next year!
Video from the performance, which loops in perfectly with this blog topic. I call it “GenderBent Kids” partly after the name of the song the dance is set to, “Kids” by MGMT. Its a little reflection on myself growing up, enjoying both femme and masculine cultural expressions, but continually feeling the need to choose between one or the other under the imposed narrative of social authority promoting the gender binary. Like most of my favorite pieces, it came together from a last minute idea that hit me like a hurricane like “OMG this would be awesome” and there it was. This is the first run of it so I’m looking forward to beefing up the dancing a little bit more and maybe making it a little more complex.
This conference was just a good example of where I want our community to be going. This conference is the biggest trans focused conference in the world, and it just turned 10 years old. Seems fitting we are on a good path of growth, which could not have happened without the amazing folks working on the project. We weren’t without issues this weekend, not without people being hurtful and oppressive, or without pain, but we worked through it. We were together with our elders and our youth, forging a community that was accountable, responsible, active, understanding, and loving. Hell, even Chaz Bono got an earful of community folks asking him about his behavior and holding him accountable – more on that later. Our community is growing, and we’re getting stronger. We gotta keep this up.
One of the photo blogs I follow, FuckYeahFemmes, has been having a lot of discussion about inclusion recently. Some issues were raised about the blog being un-inclusive of transfolks; all sentiments I can identify with whole heartedly. However, I never felt that about this blog because though trans/non-female identity posts were not common, I asked the author a long time ago if I could post and she was very welcoming. But to anyone who has not asked, they probably wouldn’t think it was very representative of all femmes. The author reached out to me about being more inclusive of guy/trans/gq femmes and she immediately began to act on making a more inclusive blog. Unfortunately some of the blog readers have not been equally awesome and have been posting commentary about how it is “ridiculous and offensive that femme is being appropriated by masculine identified people…” and how “femme IS restricted to female identified, feminine presenting, lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer women.” This is so hurtful. I continue to struggle with why we are oppressive of our own communities, and frankly why we queers can’t get our act together. Below is my response posted on the blog:
“I’d like to respond to the several “femme appropriation” posts that have been appearing. I have a female sex assigned body. I am a male transguy. I am genderqueer. I am read as a man but more often as a woman. I live as guy. I am a femme.
I am a feminine person and though masculinity is an aspect to my identity it is not prominent. I used to beat myself up over it, my whole life spent stuck between what I wasn’t and what I couldn’t be. It was lonely, frustrating, and painful. When I found FEMME I stopped feeling so “wrong” and I started feeling something I had never felt; included. Femme supports me so I am no longer ashamed of being feminine despite other expectations. It empowers me to not feel obligated to be something I’m not while also validating me in being who I am. When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are telling me I am not allowed to be myself.
Boarder policing is one of the most detrimental things we do in our communities. How is stating that people “are not allowed” to identify with how they feel any different from the oppressions placed on us from outside queer communities? Yes, there are words other than femme, but femme is more than a word, it is an identity and it is a community. And if there is a community of people who identify similarly to me, live similar lives, have similar politics, why would I not be in that community? Is it because I am not identical to you? To that I say is anyone really identical to you? History is important. And in history we have been combating oppressive systems that try to define femininity based on what someone else wants. I find that we are now doing that again, but in a different forum. We must always remember where we came from, but we also must look ahead to where we are going. An identity label is not a physical space; it is a state of mind, and it is a community in communities. Me, a guy, standing under FEMME is not stealing someone’s spot under the umbrella. There is always more room and there is strength in numbers. When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are telling me that you are going ahead but I must stay behind alone.
When we talk about appropriation, we are discussing communities of power and privilege adopting words, behavior, etc of communities who have less/none. By being male one may think I have more privilege and therefore I am appropriating but I am not seen as male in society, by government, by the average person on the street, in a gay bar, or even on the internet. I do not receive a plethora of privileges from the patriarchy. It oppresses me too; not the same ways as for a woman but in ways just as legitimate. Closed spaces and safe spaces are vitally important. Women have the right to be in women-only spaces and use language that speaks to their experience. But for femme, there is not one femme experience and your femme experience is not the only one. As queer people we have a lot of doors closed on us. I can not understand why we continue to close doors on each other. We must do all we can to combat privilege and exclusion in order to create a just and conscious community. Maybe femme means woman to you, but it does not mean woman to me. How can we judge who is right? The presence of maleness or masculinity does not negate femininity. The gender binary is not a friend to anyone, including femmes. I work hard for the femme community, just as hard as someone who is not male. When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are telling me I am not good enough to have a safe community.
Yes, I admit that I do get frustrated when any group address at FemmeCon or on a femme blog is “Ladies!” My response is to remind folks that I am here in hopes of change. FuckYeahFemmes is not a transphobic blog. Originally, I didn’t know if I was allowed to post on it so I asked the author and her response was very welcoming. We can’t know everything all at once, what matters is learning responsibly and correcting our mistakes. FuckYeahFemmes did correct itself and I know that for a fact because I was personally contacted by Shawna (author) about how to make the blog more inclusive. I wish everyone in our community had FuckYeahFemmes’ drive and love for community inclusion. When we see others challenging our friends, it is hard not get upset but the answer is not to pick up our toys and go home. The answer is to listen, to talk, and to open our arms to one another saying “This is hard for me too, but we can make it together.” When you tell me I am not allowed to be femme, you are not standing up for the femme community; you are standing in the way of it.
In solidarity and love, Midwest GenderQueer”
Fortunately, not all the blog followers are un-inclusive. There have been posts by readers advocating for the diverse spectrum of Femme, including the author herself. I guess we can only keep working, keep fighting until we all are included. Until then, we’re going to continue to hurt each other and fuck each other over.
The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference is looking to expand on creating a great community for both genderqueers/ non-binary folks and all kinds of femmes. The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference is one of the largest transgender-specific events in the world, which makes it a great opportunity to expand on our communities. So if you’re into conferences, you like to travel, or you live near Philly please consider submitting a workshop, host a discussion, or just attend!
This past weekend was Femme 2010, the biannual Femme Conference put on by the fantastic Femme Collective. The Femme “community” is like any other where it is in actuality many similar communities grouped together under one umbrella. I am always excited for Femme Con and this year I was optimistic about making more femme friends and also meeting more femme guys, which were few and far between last time (2008 in Chicago). But the longer the conference went on the longer I was alone.
Early in the conference I met a transguy, a femme ally, who confided in me about a woman purposely making negative comments about “masculine energy” taking up space in the conference, insinuating that non-female people were not welcome. I wasn’t surprised, but I assured him that was not the opinion of the general populace of the conference. I have always admired the Femme Collective’s hard work to expand the femme umbrella’s reach, but what do we do when oppression is coming from under the umbrella in addition to outside of it?
Invisibility. Many queer femme women feel invisible because the world doesn’t understand/believe that feminine women can also be queer nor do people often recognize the subversive political action that goes with being a femme woman. Femme transwomen who, among many things, are often refused access to women spaces and have severe issues of safety. Whether it is misogyny in its most traditional ‘women are demons’ sense or in more complex spheres where somehow cute shoes equal complying with the patriarchy – femme women have a lot of shit to deal with. That said I would like to point out that not all femmes are women, and femme women are not the only ones who have to deal with shit.
“Come In Ladies!” The signs were all over the conference, but what about us femmes who aren’t ladies? Can’t we come in or are boys not allowed? I heard whispers: “Men shouldn’t be here” “What’s with all the butch looking people?” and “This is a femme only space” essentially telling me not only am I not a femme, I am also unwelcome. I was really perturbed by the 1970s-esque pro-vagina sentiment that was overtaking everything. Yes, pro-vagina is awesome but vagina does not always equal woman, and woman does not always equal femme. What about those who don’t have a vagina (or a specific a type of vagina), or have one but don’t identify with it? As the weekend progressed I found myself getting nervous. I was worried people didn’t want me there or wouldn’t be interested in my workshop or in my performance (which was in an all women line-up). I felt alone, desperate for people to talk to. I went to a workshop for guy and genderqueer femmes but the whole thing was over run with female femmes processing their loves and issues (some very problematic) about transguy femmes; which I found particularly ironic because it was the only workshop dedicated to non-female femmes but it was dominated by females – but “male energy” is what’s stealing all the conference space. There were multiple testimonies of how femme transguys presented competition for community, status, and even sex partners. This dialogue made me too angry to constructively comment. It was a typical bubble-world testimony of coastal queers thinking the entire world is their liberal city, where apparently transqueers are running wild en masse. I’ve never found it easy to find my own folks, in fact out here in the Midwest the closest feminine (not femme, just feminine) transguy is a nine hour drive away and I only met him last year. Yeah, us femme guys are a real invasion. Claim your radical status and sex partners now before its too late!
Not only am I invisible but I’m getting fucked over by my own communities. Folks like me, we’re the Fucked-Over Femmes. We have to deal with similar oppressions to female femmes but we aren’t allowed to bond and unite over it because we are male or masculine. How much male privilege you think is allowed someone like me? Not a fuckin lot, if I’m even read as male at all. Femininity is considered equal to woman, and not being a woman I am frequently denied the identity of femme, even by those who know me well. Instead I am habitually told how ‘gay’ I am, which I don’t mind because I am queer, but the use of gay here is incorrect and it says something about unconscious gendering. Someone may lovingly say “JAC, you’re so gay'” because I’m wearing a poofy skirt but they don’t say it when I’m restoring a bike. I’m the same person but I’m not expressing the same “gayness” AKA male femininity. Pushing against masculinity is hard; coping with scrutiny from other guys for not being ‘man enough,’ even pitied for getting delt the femme hand in life. I am continually asked why I transitioned at all if I was just going to be like a girl. I do not deserve to pass as well or get the right pronoun because I don’t exude the hypermasculinity that would make me worthy of it and if I am at all bothered by this it is my own fault for not being a “normal guy.”
I love my femme communities and I will continually work hard for them. And I know for a fact that the general community of Femme Con is awesome and strives for inclusiveness, but – and you know there is always a ‘but’ on this blog – different types of femmes have many different oppressions to battle and no one is harder than another. In general we are all up against the same shit: You get cat-called, I get called fag. You’re afraid, I’m afraid. Our big similarities outweigh the tiny differences. I may be a Fucked-Over Femme, but not any more or less than any other femme. You may feel invisible, but no more or less than I am. What is more frustrating that seeing your community when it refuses to see you? We all feel invisible, we are all getting fucked over, we all need to fight together. We all are undervalued and stereotyped because, as Kate Bornstein so eloquently said in her keynote, “sexy is evil and cute is dumb.” How are we supposed to rise above the oppressions put on us when we are still counting people out, or counting people as less-than? (sound familiar?) Kate talked about how no femme is truly invisible, but femmes are still being fucked over, sometimes by each other. We need to stop the legitimacy wars and start doing what we do best, fighting for justice and looking fabulous while we do it.