I just finished reading Whipping Girl, which my brother bought me for Christmas. It was actually rather surprising gift to recieve from a generally homo and trans phonbic person. Which leads me to suspect that he didn’t acutually choose it.
Regardless of where the book came from, it is still a brilliant book. I adore Juila Serano. She writes with the fire of woman who has been told countless times that she, and her identity are not significant or real. She has a true activist spirit. It infuses her work in a way that reminds me of Leslie Fienberg.
I was reading this book on the couch yesterday, and P looked at me and asked why I was reading it. She didn’t understand what I could possibly gain from a book about trans women. I told her it isn’t a book about trans women, it is about women and the repression of femininity. This book crosses the barrier between trans and cisgeneder in seamless way, reminding us that we are all in woman together. This category is ours, and it is problematic.
This book discussed boundaries quite a bit, specifically in terms of the construction and maintenance of the boundary of woman (who constitutes a woman and why? )
This got me thinking about the boundaries of femme. I have often had people new to the term ask me to define femme and explain its requirements – essentially to explain the boundaries of femme. I have no answer to this. However, I would argue that despite its historical association with lesbianism, femme does not have to be queer or female.
I understand femme to be an a state of consciousness in which the individual recognizes the problematic nature of traditional femininity and its relation to the patriarchal state and structure. As a result, the femme reclaims her femininity in a non traditional, ironic way and uses her body to subvert the ordinary, whether this be through queering or other means. Essentially we do femininity in a different way, a way that empowers us. To me this does not have be gendered, or sexed.
I have seen drag queens who have challenged and repositioned femininity in a most admirable way. The don the utmost feminine attire with power and confidence, and at the same time challenge the way we think about, and perceive woman. Similarly there are some kick ass straight women who challenge the expectations of femininity daily. There are men that are brave enough to adopt the disadvantaged characteristics of femininity and who perform them proudly. To me, these individuals are as deserving of the femme identity as we are.
I understand the importance of boundaries. If you do not define who is in included, than there is nothing to separate you from everyone else. You can’t have an identity without boundaries.
I understand that lesbian femmes are working to honour the history and legacy of the femmes that came before us. Our sisters in the 1940’s whose femme status did not grant them access to the category lesbian. Our sisters who have suffered the doubts of those around them, doubting the legitimacy, their queerness and their identity. Our sisters who have been experienced violence and rape from men who didn’t believe that they were queer. The boundary that keeps us together, unified, is important. But there could be so much more.
I am not trying to diminish the importance of our history and commonality. Instead, I suggest that their is a greater commonality out there. What we femmes all have in common in that we want to gain respect, and acceptance of femininity. We want to make being a girl, being a woman, being feminine not hurt. Perhaps that is more important.