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1 I WILL ROCK SOME GLITTER LIKE YOUVE NEVER SEEN: BURLESQUE, FEMME ORGANIZATIONS, AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF THE FEMME MOVEMENT By MAURA RYAN A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009
2 2009 Maura Ryan
3 To the femmes
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to begin by thanking my mentor and chair, Kendal Broad Wright, who awes me with her knowledge of gender, sexuality, and social movement literatures, and her dedication to providing advice about my research, my writing, and my career. I could never have developed as the kind of feminist sociologist I am without her invaluable mentorship. I am also grateful to the other three sociology professors who served on this dissertation committee: William Marsiglio, Milagros Pea, and Constance Shehan. William Marsiglio has taught me invaluable le ssons as an expert on qualitative methodology and gender; for the last two years especially, he has gone above and beyond the call of committee duties, extending much of his time offering me advice about teaching, research, and professionalism. Milagros P ea has taught me critical lessons about how to enrich feminist scholarship; I am grateful to her for her approach to sociology, her mentorship on the topic of social movement studies, and her suggestion that even something as fun as femme lube wrestling is a social protest. It was her suggestion that GLBT activism may fall under waves just as feminist activism does. Constance Shehan served as a kind support system, and an exceptional sociology mentor; I thank her for her feedback and excitement about my work, for nominating me for a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduate student teaching award, and for recommending me for the University of North Florida position I held the academic year of 20082009. Finally, I am indebted to Kim Emery, an E ng lish professor who served on this dissertation committee, for her kind suggestions and her gentle reminding that I should never be quick to disregard the useful contributions of second wave feminism, lesbian feminism, and mainstream gay and lesbian polit ical goals like marriage rights. I would also like to thank Jack Freeland, the first person who helped awaken, validate, and strengthen my femme identity. Not only has he supported my femme identity, he has
5 supported my femme research, taking me into hi s Seattle home for the summer of 2008. We have known each other for more than ten years and I can truly say that he is the best fag a (queer) hag could have, the most brilliant person I know, and the best bittle in history. I am forever grateful for his humor, his big heart, and his loyal friendship. I also thank his partner, Jayson Peterson, who has read drafts of my work, bought me pink tequila, and taught me beautiful lessons about the expanding possibilities of queer family. Destry Taylor has also e arned my respect and gratitude for her unending dedication to make the world right. Not only has she spent years listening to me process personal gender and sexual politics, but she helped make my research possible by allowing me to stay in her Seattle home for the summer of 2007. I am also grateful to Joey Miller in ways she cannot imagine. As my partner through my first years of graduate school, she unselfishly gave me an unexplaina ble amount of love and support. Thank you to James Alyson for being one of my best friend s on this earth my family, and some one who awes me as a femme ally. I am grateful to my graduate student colleagues who helped me maintain a sense of humor, read my work, argued with me, agreed with me, and helped me understand sociology in ways I could not have without their perceptive points of view. Some of these wonderful people include Deeb Paul Kitchen, Will Jawde, Billy Jeffries, Meggan Jordan, Clare Walsh, Yuko Fujino, Dana Berkowitz, Colleen Cain, Jeffrianne Wilder, Beau Nil es, Rachel Hallum, Louisa Chang, and Georgia Bianchi. I am especially indebted to my colleague Namita Manohar for providing an outstanding example of how to be a feminist scholar, a genuinely good person, and a friend. I thank her for lighting candles fo r me to write and pass my qualifying exams and to find an academic job. I
6 thank her for reading my work, reminding me that I am smart and capable, and for generally keeping me sane during graduate school. I am also forever grateful to Amanda Moras, a gra duate student colleague who has become a dear friend. I thank her for always hearing my point of view even when I am wrong, for always being on my side, and for teaching me new points of view. I am glad that her smarts and her sense of style exist in the world. I thank her for being a wonderful teacher and sociological thinker, who I have largely modeled my own teaching after. I thank her for being kindred, and for being a remarkable kin keeper. Of course, I am grateful to my parents, Christine and Joseph Ryan, for their constant support, love, and willingness to listen to me. They are truly selfless people who have prioritized their childs happiness in this world. Finally, I am grateful to the femmes and femme allies who trustingly let me into their communities. They have taught me lessons about the power of self identification, femme solidarity, and speaking up when our own community fails us these are lessons that I will always cherish.
7 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...............................................................................................................4 LIST OF TABLES .........................................................................................................................10 ABSTRACT ...................................................................................................................................11 INTRODUCTION .........................................................................................................................13 The Research is Political, The Personal is Political, and the Research is Personal ................17 A Note on What is To Come ..................................................................................................21 LITERATURE REVIEW: FEMININITY, QUEER FEMININITY, AND IDENTITY POLITICS ...............................................................................................................................24 Femininity ...............................................................................................................................24 Queer Femininity and Femmes ...............................................................................................33 Identity Politics .......................................................................................................................38 THEORETICAL SENSITIVITY: NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, CULTURAL POLIT ICS, AND QUEER POLITICS ...................................................................................42 New Social Movements ..........................................................................................................43 Cultural Politics ......................................................................................................................47 Queer Politics ..........................................................................................................................49 METHOD AND DATA .................................................................................................................52 Feminist Research, Feminist Methodologies ..........................................................................56 Research Design .....................................................................................................................64 An Ethnographic and Interview Project ..........................................................................65 The Ethnography .............................................................................................................66 The Interviews .................................................................................................................73 Profile of Interview Participants .............................................................................................75 Analysis ..................................................................................................................................77 WHAT IS A FEMININE SELF?: QUEER PARIAH FEMININITIES AND THE RACE/CLASS DIMENSIONS OF THE FEMININE OTHER .............................................79 Describing A Feminine Self ...................................................................................................79 Pariah Femininities: Queer and Feminine Others ...................................................................88 Queer Selves Create Different Feminine Selves .............................................................90 Queer Communities Create Critical Perspective about Gender ......................................97 Race and Class Dimensions of the Feminine Other .............................................................106 Axes of Oppression: Femininity at an Intersection of Privilege and Oppression .........107
8 Race, Privilege, and Femininity ....................................................................................110 Femininity, Beauty, and Social Class ............................................................................117 FROM FEMININE TO FEMME: THE GROUP CONSTRUCTION OF A QUEER FEMININE IDENTITY ........................................................................................................128 Intra Community Definitions of Stigmatized Femininity ....................................................129 Femme Stigma (or, the Political Term, Femmephobia) ............................................130 Previous Reluctanc e to Identity as Femme ...................................................................139 Intra Community Defintions of Political Femme .............................................................146 Physical and Beyond Physical Characteristics of F emme ............................................147 Intentional Femme ininity as a Resistant Gender Identity ............................................152 A Celebration of Femininity as a Challenge to Patriarchy ............................................157 Femme Controversies: Sexual Orientation and Transgender Questions .......................159 The Process of Femme Identity: Meeting Other Femmes ....................................................168 The Sociality of Femme: New Feminine Meanings ......................................................171 FEMME ORGANIZATIONS AS A CULTURAL QUEER PROTEST .....................................174 Femme Solidarity ..................................................................................................................177 Femme Visibility ..................................................................................................................188 BURLESQUE: PERFROMANCE ART AS QUEER CULTURAL PR OTEST ........................200 Burlesque as a Sexuality Challenge ......................................................................................203 Burlesque as a Gender Challenge .........................................................................................215 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FEMME MOVEMENT: QUEER ACTIVIST WAVES, CURRENTS, AND OCEANS ..............................................................................................226 The Femme Movement: Cultural and Contentious Politics .................................................227 The Femme Movement and Lesbian Feminism? Feminist Waves and a Queer Shift ..........234 Feminist Waves .............................................................................................................238 A Modern Gay and Lesbian Movement, But Are There Glbtq Waves? ..............................239 Oceans of Cultural Change and the Femme Movement As a Queer Current: Implications of Research ...................................................................................................252 Limitations and Areas for Future Research ..........................................................................264 EPILOGUE: ACHIEVMENTS OF THE FEMME MOVEMENT .............................................266 CITY INFORMATION ...............................................................................................................271 DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEY .......................................................................................................272 SEMI STRUCTURED INTERVIEW GUIDE ............................................................................274 TABLE OF INTERVIEW PARTICIPANT DEMOGRAPHICS ................................................277
9 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................280 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................................................................................................293
10 LIST OF TABLES Table page A 1 Troupes and Organizations by City .................................................................................271 A 2 City Demographic Information [gathered from the 2000 census] ...................................271 D 1 Table of Interview Participant Demographics .................................................................277
11 Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy I WILL ROCK SOME GLITTER LIKE YOUVE NEVER SEEN: BURLESQUE, FEMME ORGANIZATIONS, AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF THE FEMME MOVEMENT By Maur a Ryan August 2009 Chair: K. L. BroadWright Major: Sociology This dissertation details the rise of what participants called a femme movement in queer communities: it is an account of the political work accomplished by femmes (feminine bisexual, lesb ian, and queer women) wherein they encourage Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer [ GLBTQ ] people to shift their negative ideologies about femininity. The author spent about one and a half years (and over one hundred and forty hours) conducting e thnographic observations of femme activist organizations and queer burlesque performances; she also conducted thirty one indepth interviews with activists and performers associated with these groups. Each type of organization is part of the femme movement: femme organizations are dedicated to creating femme solidarity (amongst members) and femme visibility (so that GLBTQ people may recognize the possibility of queer femininity); queer burlesque troupes use hyper feminine erotic performances to critique th e mainstream rigidity of gender and sexuality expectations, proving that femmes are a vital and sustaining part of queer communities. The author argue s that the rise of a collective femme identity and the political work done around that identity are consti tutive of a uniquely queer New Social Movement. It is a movement that is not neatly feminist or queer, but is inspired by both communities histories,
12 id eologies, and cultures. Thus, she eventually argue s that the femme movement may help scholars think of GLBTQ activism in terms of activist waves, as feminist scholars have conceptualized gender based activisms. The femme movement is a current within the present day GLBTQ activist wave, which exists inside an ocean of intermingling gender and sexual pol itics.
13 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Femininity and women who present in a feminine manner have been highly controversial in lesbian communities. Stein (1993) argues that this controversy has existed for at least two reasons. First, because many femini ne lesbians do not cue queerness in the same ways that many masculine lesbians do, they have the choice to remain silent about their sexual orientation in situations where they may receive sanctions for it. Feminine lesbians, because of their ability to pass as heterosexual, can receive moments of heterosexual privilege where more masculine lesbians cannot. Second, their desire is suspect as less authentically lesbian. Taylor an d Rupp (1993) explain that lesbian feminist intervention into lesbian commu nities has sutured philosophies of feminism to the idea of what it means to be a lesbian and that the lesbian feminist position on gender disregards femininity as frivolous and oppressive. Yet, feminine women have held a historical place in lesbian com munities (Kennedy & Davis, 1993). Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s one of the predominant expected genders for lesbians was femme, a subcultural community term which refers to bisexual and lesbian feminine women (Nestle, 1992a ; Kennedy & Davis, 1993). Although the controversy over femininity amongst lesbians has been waging since the onset of second wave feminism to the current time, feminine women or femmes have maintained a presence in lesbian communities. Although empirical investigatio ns of bisexual and lesbian feminine women are sparse, biographical writings of women who identify as femme describe problems of alienation, invisibility, and vilification because of their feminine presentations [see Nestle, 1992b; Newman, 1995; Rose & Cami lleri, 2002]. This project offers an investigation of the ways in which femme alienation, invisibility, and vilification are being redressed in the form of a new social movement. The femme
14 movement, as my participants called it, is a New Social Movement; it is made up of small, unaffiliated organizations who promote cultural change within their own subcultural communities. This is a project about femininity, queer feminine identification, the group construction of a collective femme identity, and the pos sible utility of ( femme) queer politics. In part, this is a project about gender, femininity, and identity. The research presented is situated within a trajectory of gender scholarship in sociology which has pointed to the importance of distinguishing bet ween sexed bodies and gender expression (West & Zimmerman, 1987; Lorber, 1994) and to the ways in which race, nation, class, and sexuality complicate gender expectations (West & Fenstermaker, 1995). This research is also being conducted in response to several calls for particular kinds of queer scholarship: Stein and Plummers (1994) call for empirical work on how sexuality manifests itself in cultural practices; Nardis (2002) call for explicit discussions of sex and sexuality; and Valocchis (2005) call for attention to the nonnormative alignments of sex gender sexuality (Valocchi, 2005). More specifically, this project is about organizations who strategize around the issue of feminine identity and expression specifically in queer communities, who want to make space for themselves in the queer community (not the national community), and who want to shake things up while they organize for change. It is dedicated to understanding how femme has shifted from a feminine label within lesbian communities to a consciously articulated queer identity and how femme identified people have mobilized to challenge femme stigma. That is, it is of great import that the femme movement is located within a context of queer deconstructionist1 1 I use the term deconstructionist as Gamson (1995) does; that is, as a sociologist. Queer theorists in the field of literary and cultural studies may have a different understanding of this term. politics (Gamson, 1995) rather than more mainstream politics.
15 The word queer is sometimes used as a catchall term for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender [GLBT] community and it is sometimes used to describe a blurring of gender and sexuality categories. When I employ the wo rd queer to connote the blurring of sex/gender/sexuality boundaries, I mean to say that I see queer as quite different from gay or lesbian and that I see queer politics as quite different from gay and lesbian politics. As Gamson (1995) states, Queerness in its most distinctive forms shakes the ground on which gay and lesbian politics has been built, taking apart the ideas of a sexual minority and a gay community, indeed of gay and lesbian and even man and woman (390). Because a queer political philosophy rejects the privileges of sexual normalcy, its political maneuvers do not include lobbying the state for inclusion in its institutions (Berlant & Freeman, 1992). The consequence is that queer politics fails to look like traditional politics at all; the consequence is that if we want to understand what queer politics looks like today, we have to redefine what constitutes politics. The femme movement allows us to do just that: it allows us to look at atypical movement organizing in order to think about the motivations, goals, and achievements of a kind of queer politics. The femme movement can be conceived of as a multi faceted attempt to challenge feminine stigma in queer communities. There are femme organizations, and various kinds of femme performance art like burlesque, spoken word, and erotica; there are national femme conferences and documentaries being made about queer femme identity. For the purposes of this project, I focused on two types of femme mobilizing: femme organizat ions, groups who promote femme solidarity and visibility in queer community; and queer femme burlesque troupes, groups who create erotic performance art with hyper feminine gender performances. This work highlights these two kinds of femme politics becaus e they each embody an important genre of this
16 kind of queer politics: one of them is committed to building solidarity amongst femme identified people and visibility for femmes in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer [ GLBTQ ] communities through me asures like discussion groups, marches, and other visibility outings; the other uses art to challenge the rigidity of gender and sexuality and celebrate the unique contributions of femmes in GLBTQ communities. To understand the process of the femme movem ent, t his research project began with the following four important and interconnected research questions: 1. Because being queer and feminine has been thought to be mutually exclusive for women, how do individuals who identify as both manage this intersection of their sexualities and gender expressions? 2. How is femininity understood and presented in a queer context? 3. How do two types of queer feminine organizations femme organizations and queer burlesque troupes provide a space in which individuals understa nd queer feminine gender expressions in the context of other group members? 4. What are the purposes of organizing around this particular kind of queer gender identity and how are their goals accomplished? To answer these questions, I employed a mixedmet hod qualitative data collection of participant observation and indepth int erviews: I collected over 140 hours of observations of queer burlesque troupe performances and femme organization events in my multi sited ethnography (Marcus, 1995) in the cities of Atlanta, GA, Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR [please see Appendix A, Table 1 for a list of organizations and troupes by city] ; I also conducted 31 semi structured, indepth active interviews (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995) with members of all the organizati ons and troupes I observed [please see Appendix D for a list of participants, their organization/troupe affiliation, and their demographic information]. Guided by a constructivist grounded theory methodology (Charmaz, 2000; 2006), my analyses examined th e central research questions listed above, with sensitizing concepts about
17 the social construction of gender and sexuality performance, and the social movement parameters of queer cultural politics. This research is an intervention into the usual feminist conceptualization of femininity as problematic, to the academic attention paid to theorizing masculinity (Schippers, 2007), and into the usual academic conception of normative sex gender sexuality alignments (Valocchi, 2005). The research provides useful empirical examples on the experiences of queer feminine women, but also offers a more general knowledge on the production of gender expressions, on the ideological meanings of femininity, and on how social change occurs within communities. The Research is Political, The Personal is Political, and the Research is Personal2 While this research is about the construction of femme collective identity and femme political work, it is also very deeply about me. This is an intensely personal research project because I am queer, because I identify as femme, and because I have firsthand experiences with what my participants called femme invisibility, femme alienation, and femme stigma in queer communities. I came out as a lesbian when I was fourteen an iden tity that would shift over the next thirteen years to dyke then to lesbian feminist then to femme dyke then to queer femme but I did not identify as femme until I was twenty years old. I remember being nineteen and announcing to my partner that I hated femmes, but that I didnt hate Leslie Ma (the lone femme member of the dyke punk band, Tribe 8) because she seemed like she was actually queer (and not straight) and that she seemed really tough. The now silly part of this declaration was that I was f eminine, but not femme identified; queers always thought that I was straight, and not tough, 2 Parts of this section were published as an essay: Ryan, Maura. ( 2009) The femme movement: Why were here, why were (so d amn and beautifully) queer, and why youre going to get used to i t I n Burke, Jennifer Clare (ed.) Visible: A Femmethology, Volume 2. Michigan: Homofactus Press. pgs.60 63
18 and maybe would say that they too hated me because they perceived me to be less dedicated to the queer community and feminist politics than they were. Eventuall y, through trying to read every piece of queer written word I could get my hands on, I stumbled upon the book Stone Butch Blues and to borrow an articulation from Betty, a participant who also started to identify as femme after reading this book, I felt like I had walked through the front door of where I was supposed to live. I read essays and books by femmes: Joan Nestle, Lesla Newman, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Amber Hollibaugh, and Jewel le Gomez femmes from an earlier generation, femmes who I will always be thankful for, femmes who have helped preserve my soul, my sense of self, and my dignity when other queer people have been hurtful. Like other femmes, queer spaces offer me a range of emotions and experiences: love, warmth, safety, isolation, open hosti lity, and even violence. Like when I was twenty I saw the Butchies (an alternative band comprised of butch identified dykes) play and a group of masculine dykes mocked my presentation by talking about pretty nails and long hair; later in the night I was standing on the outskirts of a mosh pit and one of them punched me in the face and shoved me all I heard when she did it were the words straight and get out. Before those things happened it was a night that made me feel reprieve from a hostile homo phobic world I lived in a small college town in Florida, but I was around dykes! In the same night I felt warmth and safety and open hostility and violence, all from other dykes. Other queer people have always made me aware of how they feel about fem ininity. Telling queer people my dissertation topic has increased the number of awkward conversations I have about femme and have made me even more aware of the heartbreaking philosophies queer people have on the topic. Here are just a few:
19 Theres noth ing worse than a femme girl whos basically a straight girl in disguise one of those girls who wants to settle down, be wifey, be a lazy ass bottom, and then pretend that she gets some kind of queer credit for wearing red lipstick. When it comes down to it hell! I think I just described all femmes [A queer strangers response to hearing about my dissertation topic]. Thats [a] great [topic]! Can you figure out a way to get rid of them for good? [A queer strangers reaction to hearing that Im rese arching femmes in queer communities]. There are basically tough femmes and housewife femmes and tough femmes dont take shit. Which one are you? Well you look like a housewife femme so I dont know [A friend of mine musing cavalierly about my passing privilege and which femmes he believes take shit]. Could you tell me why femmes are always such selfish bitches? [A genderqueer identified former friend of mine]. Femmes are always selling out lesbians [A genderqueer identified friend of mine who som etimes dates femmes]. I know that this tends to happen with dissertations. A friend of mine in grad school had a dissertation about white class privileged women hiring domestic workers. Suddenly everyone including white feminist academics at her job in terviews was confessing to her their torrid tales of hiring a cleaning lady. Everyone has an opinion. Or possibly everyone needs to confess and to do this they make themselves see researchers as stand ins for priests. They can discuss anything with us the fact that they dont want to pay their employees a living wage to clean their homes or they can look a femme in the eye and tell her that feminine passing girls are sell outs. Everyone has an opinion. Add queer people with their tendency to be opinionated, their tendency to be vocal about their opinions, and their seemingly collective fear/disdain/hatred/suspicion of femininity and youll hear a lot of stuff that will make a femme mad. Mad. Hurt. Maybe hurt is a better way to describe it. It is the feeling that I have been punched in my stomach and had the air knocked out of my lungs or that my gut fell out of my body and onto the floor and I can only look on and not breathe and not say a word because the
20 people I love most who I still belie ve exist with me in an unwritten and nonverbalized contract to make me feel safe and loved and whole refuse to see me. As the above quotes suggest, queer folks have taken to talking to me about femininity like I am not femme. They believe that I hav e become a researcher of feminine queers a vessel soaking up opinions about them to guide my work. I realize that this is a resourceful tactic they use. It is not to benefit my work or to engage in a philosophical discussion. Apparently, and painfully for me, I believe that people want to say these things to femmes. Theyre itching for the opportunity. Theyre angry because some of us pass or because some of us bottom too passively or because some of us are high maintenance. They want to hold us acc ountable for these things. Some small part of me believes that they say these things to see the speck of hurt in our eyes. Femmes are well trained at cleaning up our reactions to these sentiments. We hear these things so much that the deep pools of hur t that we feel have only a momentary reflection in our eyes. A blink. A narrowing of the pupils. A flash of deep hurt. I sometimes wonder if they watch themselves reflected in my eyes and feel okay about what they just said to me. Sometimes I fight ba ck, explain in a hurried and begging fashion that what theyre saying is not so. More often especially now that Im a researcher I nod along. The only residue of my actual feeling the it, punched in the stomach, air supply cut off feeling is the way that I imagine my eyes turn into narrow slits as I nod. This dissertation reflects that those moments of individual deep hurt have collected into a flood of femme resistance. Finding out that groups of femmes have been brave enough to challenge the femme hating in queer communities has saved my life.
21 I approach the study of this flood of femme resistance as an ethnographer, but also as a femme. The project that follows details my situated understanding of femme political work during my immersion in political femme communities. A Note on What is To Come This dissertation presents the development of femme collectivity in queer communities. That is, analysis begins with some participant insights about their orientation toward femininity, moves into discussing the construction of a femme identity, and then details the political work around that identity. Chapter 2 provides an overview of sociological and interdisciplinary literature of gender, femininity, queer femininity, and identity politics. In Chapter 3, I provide a discussion of my theoretical sensitivity by offering an overview of New Social Movement theory, cultural politics, and queer politics. These two chapters are meant to convey that this is research which reflects on and contributes to knowledge about three major social phenomena: gender, sexuality, and social movements. In Chapter 4, I detail my research design, data collection profile of participants, and analysis. Chapter 5 begins analysis of my research by introducing the reader to how participants understand the concept of femininity and their own orientation toward gender identity and expression. It relies on Schippers (2007) idea of pariah femininities to understand how a situated queer feminine identity might mean different e xperiences than mainstream feminine expectations. This chapter also engages the concept of race and class differences amongst the queer feminine women I interviewed. Chapter 6 describes the group construction of a femme identity: it offers background on participant descriptions of feminine stigma in queer communities and the responsive construction of a politicized femme identity.
22 Chapter 7 analyzes the meaning of femme organizations and demonstrates how they achieve their purported goals of creating sol idarity and visibility for femme identified queer women. Chapter 8 offers the rise of burlesque in queer communities as an example of how femme political work can happen more subtly through the medium of art. While Chapter 7 describes the obvious politic al work of femme organizations who verbalize a demand for femme inclusion in queer communities, Chapter 8 describes the ways in which femmes use art to suggest that femmes are a unique and vital part of queer communities. Chapter 9 offers a discussion of the meaning of the rise of a collective and politicized femme identity, femme political activity, and its location inside and outside both feminist and queer political work. Using the femme movement as a uniquely queer (and feminist inspired) version of a New Social Movement, I suggest here that scholars may think of GLBTQ activist work similarly to the way feminist scholars have talked of waves of activism; I suggest that we may think of the femme movement as a current within the present day GLBTQ activ ist wave and that we may think of the modern GLBTQ activist wave as being inside an ocean of gender and sexuality politics. Finally, Chapter 10 provides an epilogue of the state of the organizations and troupes I observed and interviewed. It is here that I reflect on the successes I believe they have achieved in their short existence. What is to come is the detailed account of the emergence of femme political work, a uniquely queer and feminist inspired New Social Movement. Femme political work is bas ed in the redress of feminine stigma in queer communities. As such, it frames the problems with and solutions for feminine stigma in feminist and queer political logics. Specifically, the political histories of both feminist and GLBTQ communities have fo rmed a unique set of frames for
23 femme political work: lesbian feminisms focus on personal transformation and subcultural politics; the feminist sex wars, which established a sex radical political common sense; third wave feminisms de sti gmatization of femininity; the mainstream gay and lesbian commitment to visibility; Queer Nations commitment to radica l, in your face politics; and transgender activists commitment to recognizing variant gender identities and expressions. These political histories have created a femme political common sense: femmes are demanding recognition and inclusion in queer communities based on the logic that personal transformation (like the way we think of gender identity) can be political, that subcultural change can change the culture, that visibility is vital to a healthy self concept, and that politics can and should be irreverent, fanciful, fun, and sex positive; they rationalize their demand for inclusion by promoting the idea that femme identity is radical because of its rejection of natural gender and its celebration of femininity despite patriarchys misogynistic dismissal of it. Femmes put a queer political logic into (a new kind of) practice: everyone should be granted the freedom to choose the gender/sexual practices, expressions, and identities that feel right for them.
24 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW: F EMININITY, QUEER FEM ININITY, AND IDENTIT Y POLITICS As this project details the rise of a femme movement, built on redressing the marginality of femmes in queer communi ties, this literature review offers an overview of sociological and interdisciplinary scholarship on gender and femininity, queer femininity, and identity politics. Femininity For many social thinkers, questions surrounding gender have been of prime import because, as an organizing feature of social life, it is one of the mechanisms that direct our life chances (Connell 1987; Acker 1992; Risman 2004; Yancey Martin 2004). This is a topic that deserves a social (rather than biological) focus because, as many sociologists contend, gender is socially constructed (Kessler & McKenna, 1978; West & Zimmerman, 1987; Lorber & Fareell 1991; Kimmel 2004; Lorber, 2005). Although some scholars focus on how the social construction of gender is rooted in ideology (Lorber & Fareell, 1991; Lorber, 1993; 1994), many choose to focus our attention on the ways in which gender is maintained through practice (Kessler & McKenna, 1978; West & Zimmerman, 1987; Messner 2000; McNay 2004; Ridgeway & Correll 2004). So, it is not just that processes of gender are enacted upon us, but that we enter into these complex processes through the relations of everyday life. Kessler and McKenna (1978) are considered pioneers in establishing this now common sociological understanding of gender, th e hallmark of their work being that they used an ethnomethodological approach to understand the specific workings of gender in our social world. Ethnomethodology, credited to Garfinkel (1967), is an orientation that places the emphasis on the everyday; it is concerned with how people make sense of the world around them, how they take part in the world using this knowledge, and how they produce the world by their actions. Imagining gender within an ethnomethodological framework meant that Kessler and McKenna
25 (1978) claimed gender, rather than being a consequence of biological functions, is produced through interactions with others. Within this theory, one of the key functions of gender relations is the process of gender attribution, a method by which peopl e are categorized as male or female. Similarly, West and Zimmerman (1987) followed in the tradition of ethnomedological approaches to explain everyday gender productions. In their famous contribution to this literature, they described that in doing gende r we are performing our gender for an audience who holds us accountable for the correct gender presentation for our sex category. Through their articulation of accountability they illuminated the differences and linkages between sex (our bodies), sex ca tegory (being taken to be in the category of male or female), and gender (the expression of masculinity or femininity that leads people to place us in a sex category). Because we pattern our own gendered behavior in order to avoid sanction for inappropria te gender characterization, we may say that gender is the result of complicated prescriptions, proscriptions, and performances that produce a desired effect (West & Zimmerman 1987; West & Fenstermaker 1995). There have been many uses of this framework tha t have since expanded the notion of doing gender to a more complicated understanding that doing gender is race and class specific (Hall 1993; West & Fenster maker 1995; 2002; Trautner, 2005). Since Connells (1987) landmark work on hegemonic masculinity, s ociologists have had the theoretical tools to discuss masculinity as being multiple that is, differently experienced for men who are organized differentially along hierarchies of race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation and to conceive of how mas culinity practices are necessarily connected to a gender hegemony that ensures male privilege. Hegemonically masculine men experience ultimate access to societys resources precisely because their masculinity is situated against the purported inferior mas culinities of men of color, working class men, and gay men and against the
26 constructed inferior gender practice of femininity. So, while some privileged men are situated against some marginalized men, all men are always situated against femininity. All men benefit from the patriarchal dividend in some fashion (Connell, 1995). For this reason that women can never occupy a power position that is equal to the hegemonically masculine man Connell suggests that there is no theoretical basis to discuss a h egemonic femininity. Instead, we might talk of emphasized femininities, a femininity that is defined by compliance to mens desires under patriarchy (Connell, 1987). Connell (1995) defines masculinity as simultaneously a place in gender relations, the practices through which men and women engage that place in gender, and the effects of these practices on bodily experience, personality and culture (71). Expounding on this definition, Schippers (2007) says that we may take several meanings of masculin ity from his definition: it is a location that individuals can move into through practice; it is a set of practices and characteristics understood to be masculine; when these practices are embodied by men (or women, but especially by men) they have wides pread effects. Although the practice of masculinity seems to be individual, gender cannot be individualized; they are enacted collectively by groups, communities, and societies (Schippers, 2007). As Schippers (2007) notes, there have been many sociologica l uses of hegemonic masculinity, attempts to theorize female masculinity, and attempts to theorize multiple femininities, but femininity is still under theorized. In much the same way that femininity is always othered to the superior attention awarded t o masculinity, she believes that femininity has been displaced in work on masculinity (86). What she offers, and what she contends has heretofore been lacking in social theory, is a conceptualization of a hegemonic femininity and multiple, hierarchical femininities whose construction and practice are central to a male
27 dominant gender order. To that end, Schippers (2007) offers a definition of hegemonic femininity: it consists of the characteristics defined as womanly that establish and legitimate a hie rarchical and complementary relationships to hegemonic masculinity and that, by doing so, guarantee the dominant position of men and subordination of women (94). Involved in this definition is the recognition that some femininities are constructed as sup erior to other femininities and that this ascendancy of hegemonic femininity over other femininities [serves] the interests of the gender order and male domination (94). Women who resist patriarchy who do not serve the gender order or male domination create wholly different feminine identities than complicit, passive feminine expectations. Although Schippers (2007) may be one of the first scholars to take a theoretical interest in hegemonic femininity, other feminist sociologists have investigate d the idea of subversive femininity. For instance, Leblanc (2001) studied women in punk subcultures. She found that although punk culture is coded as masculine almost all of her participants identified as feminine, but that their femininity included toug h fashion, foul language, and unladylike behavior. They amended conventional ideas of femininity to form their own: most girls negotiated between femininity and punk, creating alternatives by creating aspects of both in creating specifically punk girl i dentities (150)1 1 Although LeBlanc (2001) focused on women in a male dominated punk subculture, it is important to note that many punk subcultures have shifted their understandings of gender and sexuality due to the feminist and queer political work of bands such as Tribe 8. Also, Wilkins (2004) studied women in goth subcultures, finding that the ethics of social nonconformity in their subculture aided her participants ability to experiment with taboo gender behavior. Her participants rejected a passive feminine sexuality in favor of being active pursuers of sexual encounters and participating in non monogamous relationships. In both cases, the researche r s illustrate that women can resist patriarchy while
28 maintaining feminine self concepts. One of the l eading ways to resist compliance with patriarchy is through sexual nonconformity [this is further discussed in the following section on queer femininity]. An earlier model than Schippers (2007) for discussing multiple femininities came from Pyke and Johns on (2003) who claimed that we may discuss a white and middle class hegemonic femininity that is constructed in superior opposition to the femininities of women of color. Not only do Pyke and Johnson (2003) critique Connell (1987) for arguing that hegemonic femininity is not possible, they also take issue with the concept of doing gender (West & Zimmerman, 1987) because it privileges gender practices while ignoring macro race and class power structures which similarly produce behavior. They interviewed 100 second generation Korean and Vietnamese women about how they negotiate their ethnic immigrant cultural norms and Eurocentric mainstream norms of gender. In their study, respondents reported consciously acting differently in different cultural settings. I n ethnic settings, they felt pressure to act in accordance with docile and domestic expectations of femininity, which they did not see as reflective of their true personalities. In mainstream settings, they felt encouraged to comply with caricaturized por traits of Asian femininity or to distance themselves from stigmatized images of Asian femininity. Their study provides evidence that bicultural women may produce different gender performances based on the specific expectations associated with their gender and their race. Referring to Pyke and Johnsons (2003) claim, Schippers (2007) maintains that the inequality between white women and Asian women is based in the racial hegemony of white supremacy and that their superior/inferior positions within the raci al hierarchy do not translate to maintaining a patriarchal gender hegemony. She says: I suggest that we move away from defining variation in gendered practice across different races, classes and settings as different masculinities and femininities, and in stead
29 understand this variation as hegemonic masculinity and femininity refracted through race and class difference (98). Scholars who suggest that femininities are stratified based on race and class hierarchies would not disagree with Schippers point tha t the reigning hierarchy that places white women at the top and women of color on the bottom is a race hierarchy. However, they would argue that the race hierarchy intersects with the gender order, which encourages or limits certain womens opportunities to express, embody, or project femininity. One of the key problems in modern feminist thought has been the failure of white middle class feminists to take race s eriously. Collins (2000; 2006) has been at the forefront of suggesting that feminist thought must take an intersectional approach one that theorizes about gender, race, class, and sexuality simultaneously to understand any one of these oppressions. Said differently, to fully understand gender oppression, scholars must understand how race, cl ass, and sexuality oppression influence (and are influenced by) the gender order. Although feminist thought has made some strides in its inclusion of racial talk, as Schippers does when she admits that a white supremacist racial order exists, what it still fails to do is understand that gender has a raced hierarchy associated with its functioning and that race hierarchies are gendered (Collins, 2006). Further, using Shippers own language of hegemonic femininities and pariah femininities, which she says is not maintained through race or class stratification, we might argue that women of color have been as sociated with a kind of pariah femininity, a femininity which is feared because of its risk of contaminating a pure hegemonic femininity. For example, African American women have been stereotypically associated with several mythical archetypes: the mammy, the jezebel, the welfare queen (Collins, 2000), which all serve to reproduce a gendered racial order (which produces differential oppression for women in a racial
30 hierarchy) and a raced gender order (which produces differential oppression for people of color in a gender hierarchy). The reason that Schippers is reluctant to include race as one of the qualities that informs occupying a hegemonic or s ubjugated feminine position within the gender order is that she has constructed a theory that is attentive to the ways in which behavior complies or resists the gender order: hegemonic femininity complies; pariah and alternative femininities resist. In he r reasoning, a woman of color cannot occupy a non hegemonic femininity simply because of her race because her behavior could still comply with patriarchy. It is true that anyone can comply or resist patriarchy through their behavior. However, they are al ways complying with or resisting a white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Just as women in queer communities experience different cultural norms for feminine expression, race, ethnic, and class norms influence how people experience and identify wi th femininity. Certainly, sociologists of gender have come to understand that all gender expectations expectations of male masculinity and female femininity are rigid, unyielding, and often oppressive. However, femininity is especially marked by its association with inferiority. For this reason, canonical feminist writings that discuss gende r identity try to make sense of womens oppression; femininity is rarely discussed in feminist discourse without its link to oppression.2 2 Exceptions to this can be found in cultural feminist descriptions of the supe riority of feminine ways of interacting [see Gilligan, 1993], but these orientations tend to be essentialist in that they assume women to have a core femininity; social constructionist feminists tend to see femininity as only oppressive. For example, in her de scription of the sex/gender system Gayle Rubin (1975) explains that womens subordination is a consequence of the social organization of sex and gender. Her foundational claim is that society transforms sex into gendered activity, but further argues tha t society mandates that its citizens take on characteristics that will serve the interests of
31 society. In short, society forces individuals to understand themselves as gendered people. Similarly, in One is Not Born a Woman Monique Wittig (1981) detaile d the ways in which women have been convinced of the myth that the category of woman exists. She claims that uncovering this myth is the first hurdle that must be overcome in order for women, as a social class and not a biological group, to attain freedom. The title and premise of her essay was borrowed from an earlier idea articulated by Simone de Beauvoirs (1952), who noted that: One is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between, male and eunuch, which is described as feminine (249). In searching for an explanation of womens subordination, feminist scholars have argued that gender categories, expectations, and characteristics are part of a socially produced myth that ensures womens unequal status in society. For the subordination of women to succeed, society has had to ensure that female people are convinced of their belon ging in the category woman and that this category describes a distinct group of people with unique (and undesirable) characteristics. Unsurprisingly, during the second wave era of U.S. feminism, mainstream political solutions to gender inequality call ed for the end of gender differentiation (Echols, 1989; Rosen, 2000; also see Atkinson, 1974 for an example). Even when a sexless society was not the political goal in mind, much of feminist discourse has explored the damaging consequences of feminine man dates [see Bartky, 1988; Bordo, 1993; Weitz, 1998 for examples]. Although it may be true that ideals of feminine beauty and expectations for feminine mental and emotional performance have detrimental effects for women, this has too often meant that femini sts condemn femininity (and people who are feminine). Ti Grace Atkinson, a notable second wave
32 feminist, compared womens identification with femininity to Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which captives are loyal to their captors (Serano, 2007). Serano (2007) has recently taken this condemnation to task, arguing that any successful feminist paradigm should question the misogynistic tendency to devalue femininity. Part of her claim rests on creating new definitions of sexism, arguing that a singular definition is ineffective. First, she argues that there is a cultural focus on oppositional sexism where men and women are understood as mutually exclusive categories that do not overlap in their abilities or characteristics. Second, to maint ain the male centeredness in gender hierarchy, there exists traditional sexism Traditional sexism is an ideological basis of understanding maleness and masculinity as superior to femaleness and femininity. This particular kind of sexism, working in conc ert with oppositional sexism, ensures that those who are masculine will have power over feminine people. Both of these kinds of sexism contribute to misogyny, the degradation of all things feminine in favor of all things masculine. Feminists, she argues, have been inattentive to the ways in which traditional sexism degrades femininity alongside femaleness. Mainstream feminists have internalized the idea that femininity is frivolous, stupid, and inferior even when they argue that female people should not be typified by these stereotypes. Said differently, in order to challenge the legal ramifications of oppositional sexism, mainstream feminists have joined forces with traditional sexists in their negative views of femininity (Serano, 2007) As a sociol ogist, I contend that gender is a micro and meso level practice that is constituted by (and constitutes) the larger social practice of gender inequality; as a feminist I also contend that dominant expectations of femininity have been used to naturalize sex distinction, rationalize heterosexuality, and inflict hurt on women. However, this research is situated much in the same way that other feminist sociologists have dealt with femininity. Just as LeBlanc
33 (2001), Wilkins (2004), and Schippers (2007), have been interested in the possible ways that women can be feminine and still resist patriarchy, this work details another kind of simultaneous identification with and resistance to feminine expectations for women. Queer Femininity and Femmes If hegemonic masculinity is defined by the characteristics of sexual desire for a feminine object, physical strength, and authority, then what is hegemonically feminine must be defined as its opposite: a feminine object to be desired, physical weakness, and passivity. Ref erring to what Butler (1990) calls a heterosexual matrix, where gender is constructed as a binary of two distinct classes of people who are necessarily attracted to one another because of their mutual exclusivity, Schippers argues that the binary opposit ion of masculine and feminine characteristics resides in the gender orders tendency to view men and women as perfect heterosexual pairs. In opposition to the reigning hegemonic femininity, Schippers suggests that we may conceive of pariah femininities, or femininities that are deemed not so much inferior, as contaminating to the relationship between masculinity and femininity (95). These pariah femininities include: women who have sexual desire for other women; women who are promiscuous, frigid, or sexually unavailable; and women who are aggressive. As such, they constitute a refusal to embody the relationship between masculinity and femininity demanded by gender hegemony (95). The possession of just one of these characteristics means that an individual becomes a kind of person, delineated by her subversive behavior; she becomes a lesbian, a slut or a cocktease, a shrew or a bitch. Schippers conception of hegemonic and pariah femininities is important because it suggests a more complicated a nalysis of multiple femininities and because she focuses on behavior it suggests that ones gender status is more influenced by what a person does than ascribed characteristics like race [an idea I deal with in Chapter 5] Most importantly, her ideas
34 sugg est that some feminine behaviors can resist compliance with patriarchy. Her focus on womens sexual behavior being linked with feminine compliance or resistance to patriarchy resounds with some feminist and queer scholarship which suggests that heterosexuality and gender categories are co constructed. Taking these ideas into account, I suggest that a key organizing principle of femininity is compliance or noncompliance with heterosexuality. In his introduction to 1993s Fear of a Queer Planet Michael Warner developed the term heteronormativity as a way t o illustrate the highly routine mechanisms employed to render heterosexuality natural and all other sexualities alternative or unnatural; unveiling heterosexuality as unnatural social practice asserts t he necessarily and desirably queer nature of the world (xxi). Arguing that the height of heterosexual privilege is its ability to cast itself as the very definition of human society, he says, Het culture thinks of itself as the elemental form of human association, as the very model of intergender relations, as the indivisible basis of all community, and as the means of reproduction without which society wouldnt exist (xxi). However, he notes that other scholars have also developed ways of articulating the social nature of heterosexuality when he refers to Wittigs (1992) idea that the social contract is heterosexuality; she says, To live in society is to live in heterosexuality (40). Feminist scholars have been interested in the sociality of heterosexuality since the 1970s (Warner, 1993; Ingraham, 2002; Jackson, 2005); their work was pivotal in exposing heterosexuality as both a normative ideology and an oppressive social practice (Ingraham, 2002). As Ingraham (2002) points out, perhaps most not able amongst these scholars are Adrienne Richs (1980) description of heterosexuality as a takenfor granted, compulsory institution that ensures male dominance and Monique Wittigs (1992) argument that heterosexuality is a political regime which necessita tes sex categories. From a feminist assessment of
35 heterosexuality, it is a highly regulated and ritualized social practice and it is responsible for gender categorization and gender inequality (Butler, 1990; Ingraham, 2002; 2005). This sentiment is prese nt in Ingrahams (2002) argument that heterosexuality is more than a natural impulse or a socialized attraction; she states, Rules on everything from who pays for the date or the wedding rehearsal dinner to who leads while dancing, drives the car, cooks dinner or initiates sex, all serve to regulate sexual practice (74). Similarly, it is present in Jacksons (2005) reiteration that the coercive power of institutionalized heterosexuality has gendered effects when she states that heterosexuality entails w ho washes the sheets as well as what goes on between them (18). Ingraham (1996) argues that the connection between gender and heterosexuality is so significant as to warrant the term heterogender. She explains: Gender, or what I would call heterogender, is the asymmetrical stratification of the sexes in relation to the historically varying institutions of patriarchal heterosexuality. Reframing gender as heterogender foregrounds the relation between heterosexuality and gender. Heterogender confronts the equation of heterosexuality with the natural and of gender with the cultural, and suggests that both are socially constructed, open to other configurations (not only opposites and binary), and open to change (169). Heterosexuality and gender hierarchy are mutually constitutive of each other in that the basis of heterosexuality relies on two socially constructed and mutually exclusive sex categories to make sense of itself and that, in turn, sex differentiation (and the gender inequality that follows) r elies on heterosexuality as a rationale for its own natural existence (Butler, 1990; Ingraham, 1996; 2002; 2005; Jackson, 2005). Rejecting heterosexuality is not the only way to resist patriarchy, but it is a unique way that marks women as non compliant w ith the gender order. Femmes have long argued that their femininity is not compliant; because it is a femininity outside of the heterosexual matrix, femme femininity is radical and critical. Harris and Crocker (1997) say this in the introduction to t heir book, Femme: Feminists, Lesbians, and Bad Girls :
36 Femmes like other groups of women were not always welcomed into a mainstream feminist movement that had as its primary constituency middle class white women. For femmes in particular, feminisms fa ilure was its pejorative understanding of femme as equivalent to patriarchally imposed femininity, rather than alternatively a positive understanding of femme as a critical approach to femininity. In its (mis)recognition of femme, feminism denied femme its radical and critical nature (3). Many queer women transgender women, femme identified people, and femme allies now reject the kind of feminism that uniformly disregards femininity by arguing that choosing feminine presentations is not incongruent with a feminist orientation [see Rose & Camilleri, 2002]. It is not only mainstream feminism that has misunderstood femme femininity as compliant rather than subversive; lesbian communities have been dismissive of femmes as well. Modern (lesbian) understandi ngs of appropriate lesbian gender are infused with a second wave feminist intervention that directed the current ideology of lesbian gender toward an aesthetic of androgyny (Case, 1999). Before this intervention throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s t he predominant lesbian gender dynamic was that of butch and femme. According to the often cited anthropological work of Kennedy and Davis (1994) on the midtwentieth century butch/femme bars of Buffalo, New York, butch/femme dynamics were so prevalent tha t there was little room to articulate any other gender identity. Butches and femmes, ostracized from the gender and sexuality norms of their day, found family like community with another. They also created unique community norms regarding relationships, sex, masculinity, and femininity. The prevalence of butch/femme gender began to change in the 1970s when a lesbian feminist political sentiment emerged, seeking to redefine the parameters of appropriate lesbian behavior by criticizing the already existen t lesbian culture of butch/femme (Nestle, 1992a; Kennedy & Davis, 1994; Case, 1999; Rubin, 2003). College educated feminists, who were largely removed from the working class lesbian bar subculture, would enter butch/femme bars and attempt to educate them about the oppressive nature of their gender dynamics (Nestle, 1992a); butches and
37 femmes in lesbian organizations were purged or encouraged to change their gender presentations (Case, 1999). Butch/femme couples were accused of unwittingly aping heterosexual roles (Nestle, 1992a). Butches were painted to be uncivilized brutes who attempted to garner power by dominating their feminine partners; femmes were assumed to be fallen heterosexual women who forced their partners to be masculine as substitutes for m en (Case, 1999). Consequently, it became politically and socially difficult to assert a butch or femme identity for decades following this gender intervention (Nestle, 1992a). When lesbian feminists of the 1970s were constructing a definition of what i t meant to be a lesbian, much of it relied on feminist identification and androgynous gender expression (Taylor & Rupp, 1993). Although there has always been some cultural difficulty in understanding the possible same sex desires of feminine women, lesbia n feminism solidified the relationship between an androgynous/masculine gender expression, feminist identification, and lesbian authenticity. Maltry and Tucker (2002) commented: A feminist perspective align the signifiers of femininity (dishes, make up, s having, long hair, fashion) with both weakness and stupidity. Simultaneously, feminine signifiers are not merely cast off, but instead are replaced by boots, unshaven legs, and toughness. Within this construct, femininity cannot be seen as powerful because it is not androgyny that has become the ideal, but masculinity. As femininity and masculinity are configured within feminism, female appropriated masculinity can at least be seen as active resistance to ones imposed feminine gender. Femininity, however, cannot be seen as resistant in any capacity (94). They explain a conflation of not just masculinity with lesbian authenticity, but femininity with weakness and compliance. In the 1990s, what some refer to as a butch/femme renaissance emerged (Roof, 1998) with publications like The Persistent Desire: A Femme/Butch Reader (Nestle, 1992b), Stone Butch Blues ( Feinberg, 1993), and The Femme Mystique (Newman, 1995), that allowed lesbians to redress the issue of gender in lesbian communities. According to some of these works, during
38 this time it became fashionable for lesbians to play with masculinity and femininity in their gender presentations and it became more acceptable to identify as butch or femme. However, both scholarship and the popular press pai d far more attention to the butch/femme dyad and female masculinity than it has to femme femininity (Maltry & Tucker, 2002). Although today some suggest that lesbian gender norms are now more inclusive of a broader range of gender presentations (Stein, 199 3), many femme writers suggest that masculinity is still privileged in relation to femininity in lesbian communities [see Rose & Camilleri, 2002]. According to this perspective, when masculinity is the measure of authentic lesbianism, femmes sexual orien tations are suspect and they become alienated from queer communities (Andr & Chang, 2006). Maltry and Tucker (2002) suggest that the privileging of masculinity in understandings of dyke identities is so extensive as to warrant the term butch privilege (90). They argue, Granting authenticity solely to masculinized dyke identity invalidates the identities of those who deviate from such a model and ultimately renders the existence of some invisible (90). The characterization of femme femininity as unfe minist and uncritical and the idea that only masculine women are truly queer, are precisely the issues taken up by the organizations and troupes I studied. Identity Politics Social constructionists are interested in identity as a construct which reflects t he conceptual structure of the surrounding social world (Rust, 1992: 366). That is, identities are inherently social. Further, although acquiring an identity is already a social psychological endeavor, the articulation of identities has enhanced social and political consequences. Rust (1992) argues that the sociality of identities is especially true for disadvantaged or stigmatized groups, or what Bernstein (2005) calls status identities, and what Calhoun (1994) calls challenged identities. People in oppressed race, gender, and sexual minority groups create
39 identities that are attached to feelings of solidarity and the assumption that members of the group share common experiences, interests, and values; this can lead to politicization through a soc ial movement that seeks to redress the inferior status of the group. Melucci (1989) first introduced the concept of collective identity as a way to understand the link between structural motivation for a movement and individual action. That is, collecti ve identity, or how people come to understand themselves as linked to a movement, helps provide insight as to why people act (Melucci, 1995). Part of the goals of a movement must be for people to see themselves as a unified group with specific goals; they must begin to see themselves and their personal outcomes as connected to the outcomes of the movement (Melucci, 1995; Polletta & Jasper, 2001). In short, social movement scholars have come to understand that the identity of movement actors is always pres ent in the processes of movements. However, some movements exist because of the identity of movement participants. As Bernstein (2005) notes, these movements are unique in that the challenged identity of participants create part of the basis for grieva nces (48). Movements that center on these identity concerns are what Marxists have disparagingly referred to as identity politics, dismissing them because of their individual rather than structural, economic concerns (Bernstein, 2005); they are also what New Social Movement theorists have called identity oriented paradigms, paying attention to the importance of seeking cultural and ideological change in American social movements since the 1960s [see Touraine, 1981]. Identity politics have been both lauded and criticized. Critics argue that organizing around identity can lead to further marginalization by ignoring the complexities of group differences (Ryan, 2001), that groups built around a certain identity cannot agree on anything besides being uni ted against a common enemy (Bernstein, 2005), and that identities are often
40 based on essentialist understandings of the world (Ryan, 2001; Bernstein, 2005). However, proponents argue that it is politically transformative to associate with people who confr ont the same life circumstances; oppressed people involved in identity politics may organize for changing their status, but organizing around the identity may also help their feelings of self worth (Ryan, 2001). Further, people who criticize identity poli tics for its essentialism have not considered that proclamations of essentialism may be made as a strategic maneuver rather than an actual position of the activists (Bernstein, 2005). Identity politics have always been a major part of the womens movement in that women have had to see themselves as a class of people in order to be politicized around the issue of gender inequality. It has also been uniquely contentious in the womens movement because identities are multiple: race and sexual orientation iden tities have proven to be a divisive issue, especially for (white) (heterosexual) women who believe that the identity of woman should be primary (Ryan, 2001). However, Ryan (1997) claims that reports of identity politics being detrimental to the womens mo vement are too simplistic because there is much evidence of multiracial feminist organizing. Increasingly the mainstream gay and lesbian movement is relying on a quasi ethnic form of identity politics (Armstrong, 2002). Conversely, queer politics [discus sed further in the next section] is philosophically opposed to identity politics; instead they seek to destabilize socially constructed identity categories. What I have offered here is an overview of gender, femininity, and identity politics so that we m ay begin to think about how identity politics may work when the cohesive identity being constructed revolves around queer femininity. While the gender and social movement literature discussed here certainly provides sensitizing concepts for the ways I ana lyzed my data,
41 the next chapter more specifically details theoretical concepts on modern movements. The confluence of New Social Movement paradigms, cultural politics, and queer politics help explain the dimensions of the femme movement.
42 CHAPTER 3 THEORE TICAL SE NSITIVITY : NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS CULTURAL POLITICS, AND QUEER POLITICS This project is broadly informed by a tradition of feminist sociology and queer sociology. That is, feminist social theory focuses on womens lives, experiences, and subordina tion; its goal is to uncover the ways in which womens experiences have been overlooked in traditional scholarship and to make womens lives better (Alway, 1995). Distinct from the practice of using gender as a variable and from the misunderstood concept that feminist theory only reflects the social movement of feminists, feminist theory seeks to make gender a theoretical focal point in our sociological dissection of the social world (Stacey & Thorne, 1985). This project is informed by a feminist worldvie w in that the central research questions center on gender and because I am attuned to questions of equality. Also, queer sociology is described by Stein and Plummer (1994) as an incorporation of queer theory and sociology that accomplishes the following: (1) It questions the role of culture more seriously than sociologists currently do; (2) It brings sociologys key concerns inequality, modernity, and institutional analysis to queer theory, providing a clearer analysis of sexuality; (3) Because sociol ogists must understand how identities are constituted in cultural practice of everyday life, sociology offers queer theory a focus on how people actually construct their lives; (4) Finally, because queer theory can teach sociologists how important it is to study the center alongside the margins, a more queer sociology (183) is also critical of normative sexuality. Generally, a queer sociology utilizes the insights of queer theory (its rejection of naturally occurring sex, gender, sexuality and its radica l posturing) while retaining sociologys unique fo cus on institutions and sociality of interaction (Green, 2002 ). Specifically, this project is guided by new theoretical insights in social movements that have helped me contextualize the femme movement. H ere, I provide an overview of the
43 conceptual paradigms on New Social Movements, cultural politics, and queer politics that inform my analysis. New Social Movements Before the advent of New Social Movement theorizing, there were two dominant waves of soci al movement thought. Prior the 1960s, American social movement scholars fell under a tradition known as Collective Behaviorists who often problematized social movements as irrational [see McAdam, 1994 for a critique of this genre]. With the myriad of 1960s movements challenging social inequality, movement actors could no longer argue that activists were irrational, ushering in a new wave of Political Process and Resource Mobilization theorizing. The dominance of Political Process/Resource Mobilization perspective in U.S. social movement scholarship privileged the political, organizational, and network/structural aspects of social movements while giving the more cultural or ideological dimensions of social movements significantly less attention (McAdam, 1994). Proponents of Resource Mobilization, in particular, seem unable to understand that movements cannot be reduced to their movement organizations (Rucht, 1989). Their rejection of the cultural aspects of social movements is the result of the rejectio n of the classical Collective Behaviorist paradigm, which emphasized the role of shared beliefs and identities but whose perspective was based on assumptions of irrationality and pathology of movement actors (McAdam, 1994). Although Collective Behaviorist s tended to focus on individuals and ignore the larger goals of movement activity, Resource Mobilization perspectives introduced an overemphasis on orga nizations and became inattentive to individual perspectives (Gusfield, 1994). To make this point, Meluc ci (1989) calls Collective Behaviorist theories actors without action and Resource Mobilization theories actions without actors (17 20). In many ways, the New Social
4 4 Movement (NSM) perspective is a reinvestigation of the importance of ideas and ideolo gy that was present in Collective Behaviorist perspectives (Gusfield, 1994). Much of the work on social movements tends to take one approach and distinguish itself against the other, trying to decipher which is best, creating schisms like structure vs. culture as explanatory models for the emergence and sustainability of movements (Bevington & Dixon, 2005). According to McAdam (1994) movement analysts should have two goals: to account for the structural factors that have strengthened movement opportuni ties; to analyze the processes by which meaning is attributed to the significance of movement participation. In short, although shifting opportunities in political process and availability of resources is important, cultural shifts are also important (McA dam, 1982). In contrast to an integrative approach that deals with political structures and culture, the NSM The NSM perspective became popular because new social movements emerged that could not be explained by existent American traditions in social movement scholarship. perspective is most usually associated with a concentrated concern with ideas, ideology, symbols, and identity. The NSM perspective is more of an approach than a theory; it is not a set of g eneral propositions that have been empirically tested, rather it is an attempt to identify common characteristics in contemporary movements (Johnston, et al., 1994). What is more, it is a perspective that gai ned prominence as a critique of both Collective Behaviorist s and Resource Mobilization s assumptions, but it is also a perspective that describes a particular kind of modern social movement (Melucci, 1980; Johnston, et al., 1994; Pichardo, 1997). 1 1 The use of NSM t heory in American social movement scholarship was born from European traditions [see Tarrow, 1988]. This refers to a broad range of protest movements: the student movement, the womens movement, ga y rights movements, animal rights movements, minority nationalism, alternative medicine,
45 environmental movements, the new peace movement, citizen initiatives, and the list could go on (Rucht, 1989; Johnston, et al., 1994). Importantly, the term new social movements does not describe all current social movements. Instead, it describes modern movements with a particular character and structure; they are loose, heterogeneous, decentralized movements (Rucht, 1989). Also, new social movements differ from earl ier forms of collective action in the following ways: (1) they do not bear a clear relation to structural roles of the participants. The social location of the participants is often based in diffuse social statuses that do not have structural explanatio ns (e.g. organizing around peace or the environment); (2) they exhibit pluralistic beliefs and solutions, in contrast to the unifying elements of collective action found in Marxist movements; (3) they tend to focus on formerly weak dimensions of identity; (4) the movements tend to blur the relationship between the individual and the collective; (5) they sometimes focus on personal and intimate aspects of personal life (e.g. the womens movement focused on womens sexual practices); (6) they use radical mobi lization tactics of disruption; (7) they tend to be segmented, diffuse, and decentralized (Johnston, et al., 1994). Also, unlike the linear movements that present a goal and a direct means toward a projected end, new social movements tend to be fluid movements, in that they imply changes in how values and realities are conceived; they occur outside or in addition to organized and direct action (Gusfield, 1994). For example, the womens movement occurs in more than just one organizational context: although it includes organizations like the National Organization for Women, it also occurs in the everyday interactions between men and women (Gusfield, 1994). For this reason, it is more difficult to assess successes and failures in new social movements (Gusfield, 1994).
46 New social movements are described as a product of postindustrial capitalism and therefore uniquely different from working class movements of the industrial age (Pichardo, 1997). According to Johnston, Laraa, and Gusfield (1994), the focus on identity in new social movements is related to characteristics of a postmodern society: material affluence, access to information, confusion over abundant cultural opportunities, and system inadequacy in providing norms for identification. According to Pichardo (1997) the NSM paradigm is a recent addition to social theory that stresses both the macro historical and micro historical elements of social movements. At the macro level the NSM paradigm concentrates on the relationship between the rise of con temporary social movements and the larger economic structure, and on the role of culture in such movements. At the micro level the paradigm is concerned with how issues of identity and personal behavior are discussed in social movements. However, as he also suggests, scholars should be hesitant to assume that new social movements represent any new or unique turn in social m ovement activity. Instead the New Social M ovement perspective should be take n for what it is: the latest addition to social theory on social movements, this time offering a previously ignored emphasis on identity, culture, and the role of the civic sphere (Pichardo, 1997). With its focus on identity and culture, the femme movement is an obvious example of this kind of movement. It i s useful to understand the femme movement within the context of the New Social Movements paradigm because it helps explain the wider cultural phenomena that have helped the emergence of this kind of movement. That is, a subcultural movement that is concer ned with identity and a cultural shift in consciousness about femininity could only exist in a society that has allowed new kinds of movements to emerge.
47 Cultural Politics The dominant view of social movement scholars has been that in Western democracies, social movement activity is directed toward the state and the states institutions (Van Dyke, et al., 2004). However, Van Dyke, Soule, and Taylor (2004) argue that public protests are also meant to shift public opinion, identities, individual behaviors, a nd cultural practices. Although all movements direct some attention to the state, they claim that movements like the civil rights movement, the gay and lesbian movement, and the womens movement direct a considerable amount of energy toward nonstate enti ties like public opinion or ideology. In fact, many of the movements that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s were more concerned with culture and identity than with challenging institutions (Bernstein, 2005). This form of organizing politicized aspects of e veryday life previously thought to be apolitical such as sexuality, interpersonal relationships, lifestyle choices, and culture itself (Van Dyke et al., 2004; Bernstein, 2005). Cultural politics are often centered on questions of identity and thus hold the position that the expression and affirmation of identities can be a basic motivation for political work. It has been suggested that an attack on culture may be especially useful in gender based movements because of the tendency for gender inequality to permeate everyday practices (Gusfield, 1994). As such, the movement itself can permeate everyday practices. For instance, Robin Morgan said this about the womens movement: This is not a movement one joins. There are no rigid structures or membership cards. The Womens Liberation Movement exists where three or four friends or neighbors decide to meet regularly over coffee and talk about their personal lives. It also exists in the cells of womens jails, on the welfare lines, in the supermarket, the factory, the convent, the farm, the maternity ward, the street corner, the old ladies home, the kitchen, the steno pool, the bed. It exists in your mind and in the political and personal insights that you can contribute to change and shape and help its g rowth (Morgan, 1970 quoted in Dicker, 2008: 20).
48 Divergent from traditional Marxist class politics that tend to rebel in structured, conventional protests, gender movements can exist in personal transformation or small scale consciousness raising amongst f riends. Changing even some minds can change the culture, and changing the culture can help alleviate inequalities. Movements based on sexuality concerns also challenge culture. For instance, alongside lobbying government agencies and pharmaceutical compa nies to be more proactive in ending the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [ AIDS ] crisis, AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) also devised strategies to challenge cultural homophobia because of the link between homophobia and institutional inaction a round AIDS (DeLuca, 1999; Edwards, 2000). Further, there are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender [ GLBT ] cultural practices that can be described as political even if they do not tend to look like traditional protests. For instance, Taylor, Rupp, and Gams on Increasingly, social movement scholars have recogn ized the importance of c ulture in social movement activity alongside more mainstream agitation for change. Because the femme movement is subcultural because it does not ask for change from dominant members of society, and because it does ask for social, cultural, emotional and intellectual changes from other queers (rather than institutional or organizational changes), cultural politics helps explain the logic of femme political work. (2004) have argued that the performances of drag queens can be broadly understood as a form of social protest. Although their performances have long been understood as apolitical camp or as sexist attacks on women [for a description of misunderstanding drag queens, see Newton, 1979], they suggest that drag queen productions are better understood as a protest against the cultural prescription for heterosexuality and hetero normative gender expressions.
49 Queer Politics According to Gamson (1995), the successes of the mainstr eam gay and lesbian movement have been achieved because they have built a public collective identity. In creating a claim to a shared, fixed identity they have developed an ethnic/essentialist politic; they have even established gay festivals, neighborhoods, and a flag. He says, Underlying that ethnicity is typically the notion that what gays and lesbians share the anchor of minority status and minority rights claims is the same fixed, natural essence, a self with same sex desires (391). Yet, this logic is opposed by the philosophy of queer politics. These deconstructionists, who believe clearly defined collective categories to be obstacles to progressive change, believe gender and sexuality categories to be historical and social products rather th an naturally occurring phenomena. Gamson (1995) explains that queer deconstructionists believe the following: It is socially produced binaries (gay/straight, man/woman) that are the basis of oppression; fluid, unstable experiences of self become fixed pri marily in the service of self control. Disrupting those categories, refusing rather than embracing ethnic minority status, is the key to liberation (391). The difference between mainstream gay and lesbian politics and queer deconstructivist politics may b e simplified to a difference in political philosophy: the former adheres to fixing a collective identity in their argument of their minority status; the latter seeks to achieve gender and sexual liberation by challenging the historical rigidity of those ca tegories. However, the philosophy of queer politics directs its political maneuvers. That is, because queer politics envisions itself as a radical challenge to the state, it does not lobby for inclusion in its institutions; queer politics is more based in achieving cultural changes than institutional reforms (Warner, 2000). It is not only the targets of activism that differ between queer and mainstream gay and lesbian politics; the way activism unfolds is wholly diff erent. For
50 example, AIDS Coalition T o Unleash Power [ ACT UP ] and Queer Nation, queer political organizations active in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were both know n for their direct action street protests, their flamboyance, and their cultural antics, such as performing street theatre or staging die ins to make their points (Crimp & Rolston, 1990; Brub & Escoffier 1991; Berlant & Freeman 1992; DeLuca, 1999; Edwards, 2000). According to queer activist/writer Mattilda/Matt Bernstein Sycamore (2004) in the introduction to Thats Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation assimilation robs queer identity of anything meaningful, relevant, or challenging and calls this progress (3) and goes on to say, As the gay mainstream prioritizes the attainment of straight privilege ov er all else, what gets left behind is any critique of the dominant culture, whatsoever (3). While the early 90s politics of ACT UP and Queer Nation may have given way to a gay mainstream political agenda that prioritizes marriage, adoption, and military service (Warner, 2000; Bernstein Sycamore, 2004), queer critiques are still waging as a subcultural form of politics. In a fascinating parallel to the femme movement, queer politics is often located within the queer community: queer people agitating for change from people within the GLBT communit y. For example, Fed Up Queers [FUQ] a direct action group that lasted from 1998 to 1999, organized demonstrations to prove that the increasingly normalization of gay identity was at the expense of larger freedom s (Flynn & Smith, 2004). Similarly, the organization Gay Shame, established in 1998, protests Gay Pride events in order to critique the corporatization of gay culture (Bernstein Sycamore, 2004). I note that queer politics is part of my theoretical orien tation because I see femme cultural activism through a lens of queer politics. That is, because of the ways that the femmes I
51 interviewed discussed gender, femininity, and sexual orientation, their political mode is best described as queer. It is important that this new attention paid to femme gender id entities has an antecedent of a queer politic that diverged from essentialist understandings of gender and sexual orientation categories. Partially in response to the AIDS epidemic which called for new ki nds of radical activism and partially as a consequence of the intellectual stronghold of queer theory, GLBT people reclaimed the word queer in the late 1980s/early 1990s. During this time, members of GLBT communities began referring to themselves as queer as a way to characterize the new dimensions of their communities (increasingly there were members who could not be described easily as lesbian or gay) and to mark their politic of provocation (Epstein, 1994:153) in which they challenged heterosexu al societal norms (Duggan, 1992; Stein, 1993; Epstein, 1994). The word queer is associated with a particular kind of de constructionist politic; it is weary of labels, celebrates gender and sexual fluidity, and it does not hold reformist political intentions (Duggan, 1992; Epstein, 1994). It makes sense that if GLBT communities have provided a queer avenue through which one may more thoroughly investigate taken forgranted assumptions of what it means to be a lesbian, or a woman, or a feminist, or an ac tivist, that they may also re investigate what it means to be masculine or femin ine. In many ways, femmes are queering what it means to be a femme, as well as what it means to be feminine
52 CHAPTER 4 METHOD AND DATA This project is an ethnographic and interview based project that investigates individual queer feminine identities and the ways in which they are publicly performed in queer communities through burlesque performance and femme organizational events. I conducted extensive observation of two queer burlesque troupes in Seattle, Washington [WA] (with minor observation of troupes in Portland, Oregon [OR] and Atlanta, G eorgia [GA] and extensive observation of one femme organization in Atlanta (with minor observation of organizations in Portland and Seattl e) [please see Appendix A, T able 1 for a list of troupes and organizations by city]. This project is constructivist in the ways that I approached collecting the data and in t he ways that I analyzed them My et hnographic approach (interpretivist ethnography) (Denzin, 2003) interview approach (active interviewing) (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995) and analysis approach (constructivist grounded theory) (Charmaz, 2000; 2006) are connected by a methodological orientation that views the researcher as someon e who produces meaning rather than someone who uncovers knowledge. Broadly, this is a project on a unique form of political expression and organizing within the confines of the queer community: the femme movement. As such, it is both about the persona l dimensions of feminine identity and the group dimensions of the political work around it. For the purposes of this project, femininity is important as a self concept. That is, it is being investigated as a self conscious identity on the parts of my part icipants. Any self proclaimed definitive articulation of femininity would be flawed by its blindness to genders most constant truth: femininity is in constant flux, being interpreted and mutated by the doers and readers of feminine practice (as discussed in Chapter 2) However, I offer here a more
53 concrete definition of how I am conceiving of femininity in this research design. The definition that follows is one that is formed by observations in femme communities and my sociological understanding of gender. That is, what follows is my definition of femininity, based on a sociological interpretation of how I perceive my participants views of femininity. First, femininity is that which culture associates with being womanly, and as such, is often associat ed with female bodies. It may seem that I am denying the socially constructed basis of femininity. On the contrary, I am suggesting that the socially constituted binary of male and female sexes has produced the idea that femininity is naturally associated with female bodies. Although it is not the case that female bodies are naturally feminine, it is the case that people culturally identify some bodies as more feminine than other bodies. Second, and in slight contradiction to my first point, femininity exists in external and stylistic markers of extravagance that are intended to convey messages about the doers internal sense of her or himself. Feminine style markers such as br ight colors, high heels makeup are not understood as neutral. They are worn with the intention of producing a feminine effect; without them female bodies might be interpreted as quite androgynous. Third, alongside visual cues of femininity, I understand femininity to reside in the emotional and mental characteristics that this culture has designated as not masculine. Although a patriarchal gender order would define these oppositional gender traits as inferior because they are not masculine, an alternative consciousness might value them. For instance, we might say that e motionality is preferable to stoicism; we might conceive of weakness as preferable to violence. Finally, I concur with Connell (1987) and Schippers (2007) that femininity is always and already constituted by (and re constituting) power relations and that these power relations are
54 discursively produced through practice; even when I discuss femininity as an identity, I conceive of feminine identity as a kind of gender practice. This project focuses on bisexual, lesbian, and queer women who navigate femini ne meanings in queer communities. Throughout, I attempt to distinguish between lesbian communities and queer communities by using the appropriate language for each. However, I understand that queer communities is a vague term. When I use the term queer to talk about my participants communities, I mean the meeting places, ideologies, and culture of a group of people who are not heterosexual and who hold a political philosophy that diverges from lesbian communities. In many ways, it could be said t hat my participants reside in queer womens communities. Actually, one could argue that queer womens communities are a generationally specific modern incarnation of lesbian communities. However, the increasing prevalence of transgender men and genderque er people in these communities make this an inadequate term. By and large, the queer community my participants reside in is made up of nontransgender bisexual/lesbian/queer women, transgender men [femaleto male transsexuals] and genderqueer people [people who refuse a binary gender identity] Nontransgender bisexual/gay/queer men tend to build distinct communities, as do transgender women. Although the femme movement has attempted to include nontransgender men and transgender women who may identify as femme, the historical location of femme within lesbian communities has made this a perfunctory and unsuccessful action. At the level of examining organizations, investigating femininity becomes something of a different endeavor. Alongside questions of personal feminine development, this project seeks to understand why and how feminine people in queer communities organize around femininity. Organizing around femininity is happening in countless ways; there is a rising popularity in
55 femme organizations, burlesque troupes, spoken word performance art, and national and regional femme conferences. This project investigates just two of these cultural phenomena: femme organizations and queer femme burlesque both due to their prevalence in GLBTQ communities a nd their unique contribution to femme politics As discussed in the literature review many femme identified women experience a tenuous relationship with the queer community because of the stigma that surrounds femininity. I n response to this marginalizat ion, some communities have developed femme organizations in order to offer solidarity to femme people and to create femme visibility in queer communities. Although I can imagine that femmes may have held discussion groups or gotten together with femme fri ends on a regular basis for the same reasons that femme organizations mobilize around femme identity, there is no record of femme organizing prior to the modern uprising of this form of organizing. Femme Mafia believes itself to be the first organization of its kind; my research concurs with this assessment. Burlesque is a vaudevillian inspired striptease that utilizes extravagant costumes, dramatic makeup, and humorous skits to entertain audiences through a merging of erotic display and wit. According to Baldwin (2004), The Golden Age of Burlesque was during the 1920s and 1930s, a time when every major U.S. city offered burlesque venues. By the 1960s burlesque almost met its demise with the rise of modern strip clubs. In the 1990s, however, burl e sque was revived by counter culture performance artists (in New York City and Seattle) and is now generally referred to as neo burlesque.1 1 I pursued Seattle as a research cite for burlesque observations because it is well known for its queer centered burlesque performance. While New York certainly has much counter culture performance art and perhaps individual queer performers, the Northwest is well established as a place where queer burlesque emerged. When burlesque reemerged in the 1990s, the media in New York City referred to it as both creative stripping an d femaleto female drag
56 (Baldwin, 2004:27). Since the 1990s burlesque has grown in popularity; it enjoys continued success in counter culture performances and has seen some growth in mainstream recognition of it (Wilson, 2008). Not all neoburlesque i s queer burlesque; this project focuses on queer burlesque, which I define as all queer identified burlesquers performing for queer audiences. Feminist Research, Feminist Methodologies The second wave of the U.S. womens movement helped create an atmosphere of academic feminism in which feministoriented academics began to challenge the mainstream assumptions of their disciplines (DeVault, 1996; Messer Davidow, 2002). Feminist social science methods exist because of the womens movement, feminist theory in academia, and the emergence of a research focus which provides a political investment in womens lives (Reinharz, 1992; DeVault, 1996). Feminist social scientists challenge the epistemological (the assumptions about how to know the social and apprehen d its meaning) and methodological (the study of actual techniques and practices used in the research process) foundations of classical social science techniques (Fonow & Cook, 1991: 1). That being so, the epistemological and methodological standpoint of feminist social science research speaks back to the knowledge production project of the social sciences. Feminist social scientists exist within a larger movement of academics who seek to challenge the assumptions of positivism, the belief in an objec tive and value free science (Smith, 1987; Wolf, 1996; DeVault, 1996; 1999). According to scholars who challenge it, positivisms purported objectivity is merely a subjective endeavor, masked as a project to objectively portray reality; the subjectivity of the researcher is seamlessly masked when their perspective matches dominant beliefs (Wolf, 1996). This mask of objectivity is the method by which exploitation and domination occurs through the production of knowledge (Smith, 1987; Wolf, 1996).
57 Feminis t social scientists epistemological challenge to positivism is essential because it is the first step in unraveling the patriarchal exclusion of women from the production of knowledge. Most notably, Dorothy Smith (1987) has described a process of the relations of ruling or a ruling apparatus, in which power, organization, direction, and regulation [are] pervasively structured (3) through a complex intermingling of routinized practices, including government, law, business, discourse s in texts and educational institutions. According to Smith (1987), mainstream sociology has created a portrait of society based on the standpoint of the ruling and is produced by men who do the ruling. To understand society from a mainstream sociological perspective is not to take on an objective knowledge of society; it is to take on the view of the ruling. The mainstream sociological investment in objectivity is composed of a deep male bias cloaked in the rhetoric of objectivity and universality. Women have been ex cluded from the relations of ruling; because of this, they have also been excluded from an integral part of the relations of ruling: the formation of an intellectual and cultural world centered on men, more formally called, the production of knowledge (Smi th, 1987). The control of discourse, over the production and dissemination of knowledge, ensures the reification of the status quo (Smith, 1987; Collins, 1990). In her sociological contribution of describing Black Feminist Thought Patricia Hill Collins (1990), has argued that elite white men have been the exclusive purveyors of knowledge and that the control over what counts as knowledge has the potential to further marginalize already marginalized groups. Although women can practice positivist inquir y, it does not behoove a feminist project to do so because mainstream sociology only accepts work as objective if it validates their pre existing masculinist assumptions.
58 The philosophy of feminist social science methods rests on a rejection of positivism and focuses on knowledge production (and the effects of knowledge production) because feminist research is a political enterprise. Critically engaged with the project of excavation, placing womens experiences at the center of social science research, feminist social science methods diverge from classical approaches to data collection because feminist researchers have a political goal to help better womens lives in their production of knowledge (DeVault, 1999). As I stated earlier, feminist social scientists are not the only group of academics who challenge the assumptions of positivism. Rosenau (1992) points out that where positivists stress the importance of objectivity and reason in their deductive and inductive observation and analysis of patterns, postmodernists deny the possibility of objectivity, representation, regularity, or logic in their deconstructive analysis of narratives, texts, and emotions. The epistemological standpoint of most feminist social scientists is most paralleled with wh at Rosenau (1992) calls affirmative postmodernists, who are balanced between what she calls the modern approach of positivists and the skeptical postmodernists. The affirmative postmodernists, or what we might think of as feminist social science a pproaches to research, promote conducting research in the following ways: they seek to reduce the authors authority; they question the value free nature of their discipline; empowerment (of participants, researchers, and readers) is important; they do not seek to generalize to explain reality, but to offer a slice of interpretation of multiple realities; relativism is stressed over objectivity; truth is seen as fluid and unfixed; and the researcher may employ reason and logic, but only with a deconstruct ivist caution. Challenging the baseline assumptions of positivisms objectivity and supposed nonpolitical intentions is the foundation of feminist social science epistemology. However, a feminist social science epistemology must also challenge classic al approaches to research that
59 are rooted in positivism. For instance, feminist social scientists redefine ideas of authority, subject/object distinction, the standpoint of the researcher, and the insider/outsider position of the researcher. In de legitimating the notion that one can become an authority based on the nonpolitical, objective social science investigation of the social world, feminist social scientists promote multiple versions of reality and multiple authorities on those realities (Smith, 1987; DeVault, 1999). Importantly, feminist social scientists ideally view their participants as authoritative knowers of the research project they help produce (Reinharz, 1992). Related to this redefinition of the participant as an authority, femini st social scientists have also challenged the traditional distinction between the subject (the researcher) and the object (the person who is objectified as a thing to be researched) (Westkott, 1990) by philosophically viewing the researched party as a part icipant rather than a subject of investigation (Reinharz, 1992). Generally, a great deal of theorizing has questioned the traditionally takenfor granted nature of the researchers relationship to her/his participants, research project, and the theory produced by her/him. This has produced a methodological position: standpoint theory. Within Smiths (1987) description of the relations of ruling she also argued that because women are excluded from the ideologically structured mode of action of knowled ge production womens way of knowing the world is not represented in scientific inquiry (17). From this point of view, a solution to the problem of mens standpoint in reproducing the relations of ruling through knowledge production is for women to crea te knowledge from their unique standpoint (Smith, 1987). Standpoint theory is both an explanatory theory (based on describing the relationship between the production of power and the practices of power) and a theory of method (a guide on
60 how to produce future feminist research) (Harding, 2004). Most notably, standpoint theory is heralded as a method of empowering oppressed groups because it values their social locations, their experiences, and their oppositional consciousnesses (Collins, 1986; Harding 2004; Sandoval, 2004). Importantly, standpoint theory, or the promotion of situated knowledges, in feminist social science philosophy is married to the debate on the importance and use of insider/outsider position of the researcher (Naples, 2003). While mainstream social science methods may note the importance of insider or outsider position of the researcher in relation to the group she/he is studying, feminist social scientists are attentive to the exploitive potential of the researchers positional ity (Reinharz, 1992; Naples, 2003). They note that there are both positive consequences that can come of being an insider (the preexisting knowledge of the group, the ability to gain entrance to the group) and to being an outsider (having a learning lens may encourage participants to teach the researcher more); and that there are possible negative consequences related to each position: an insider may more easily exploit the trust of their participant s, an outsider may exoticize participants e xperiences (R einharz, 1992; Naples, 2003). According to Naples (2003), in describing an outsider within the academy positionality, Collins (2000) suggests that communities of similarly located people (e.g. African American women) can create a partial explanation o f the matrix of domination through their distinctive group standpoint. Conversely, she says that Smith (1987) encourages an individual dialogue between the inquirer and participants about their daily life actions and how they are structured (Naples, 2003) In both cases, such dialogue is to decenter dominant discourse, and to continually displace and rework it to determine how power organizes social life and what
61 forms of resistance are generated from social locations outside the matrix of domination of relations of ruling (Naples, 2003: 53). The methods of feminist social scientists are married to feminist epistemological standpoints. However, unlike the epistemological foundation for conducting feminist research which is based on a commitment to challenge gender inequality and to highlight womens voice s in the research project, there are various methods for conducting feminist social research. Importantly, there is no one feminist method, but many ways to conduct feminist inquiry (DeVault, 1996; 1999). Common feminist methods include interviews, ethnographies, case studies, content analyses, and discourse analyses (Reinharz, 1992). Although feminist social scientists tend to favor qualitative methods, because of the actual use of womens voices in the research process, quantitative methods may also be used with feminist intentions (Reinharz, 1992). A method can said to be feminist if it: (1) attempts to shift the focus from mens concerns to womens experiences (Reinharz, 1992; DeVault, 1996); (2) follows a scientific process that minimizes harm and exploitation of research participants (DeVault, 1996); (3) conceptualizes womens behavior as an expression of social contexts (Reinharz, 1992); (4) develops knowledge that is useful to women and lea ds to social change that will better womens lives (DeVault, 1996). It is not the method itself that can be described as feminist, but the rigorous, self reflexive practice of the method that is feminist (Reinharz, 1992). This project utilized feminist e thnography and feminist interviewing ideas in the collection of data. The qualitative method of ethnography, as an alternative to mainstream positivist methods, is pre formulated to be amenably produced by feminist social scientists. This is not to say that all ethnographies are feminist. If all ethnographies were feminist we would not see male biases in cultural anthropology (which bases much of its findings from ethnography inquiry) and
62 pioneering women who contributed to the field of ethnography would not be ignored in academic scholarship on the method (Reinharz, 1992). However, the method has empowering potential when it is ethnography in the hands of feminists (Reinharz, 1992: 49). This has come to mean, as Reinharz (1992) states, research ca rried out by feminists who focus on gender issues in femalehomogenous traditional or nontraditional settings, and in heterogeneous traditional and nontraditional settings (55) and goes on to say, the researchers are women, the field sites are sometimes womens settings, and the key informants are typically women (55). Importantly, Stacey (1996) has suggested that a feminist ethnography may not be possible because ethnographys tendency to require some form of deception is at odds with feminist goals of being truthful with participants. Although Reinharz (1992) notes Staceys (1996) concerns, she maintains that a mindfully feminist ethnography is possible. I also contend that feminist ethnography is possible if the researcher has feminist goals, is self reflexive about the process, and is truthful with participants about the ends of the research project and that this project is in line with these requirements. The political concern behind encouraging my participants narratives is similar to pers pectives in feminist interviewing techniques. Feminist interviewing methods mirror interpretivist interview practices (like active interviewing) in that they both tend to suggest the importance of interviewee led discussion in interviews [see Reinharz, 1992]. However, feminist social scientists maintain the importance of this practice because of an ethical and political concern with womens lives and gender oppression (Reinharz, 1992). As such, feminist researchers also suggest practical ethical consider ations in researcher interactions with participants. For instance, feminist researchers suggest that researcher self disclosure in which
63 the researcher tells the participant intimate details of her life alongside the intimate details shared by her partici pant may be good feminist practice (Reinharz, 1992: 32). Because of the political dedication in feminist research, there is an assumption that interviews are more than just places where strangers are asked about their experiences by strangers; there is an assumption in feminist research that a friendshiplike rapport can (and should) develop between researcher and participant (Reinharz, 1992). Further, as DeVault (1987) claims, interviews between women can have a consciousness raising like quality to them. My qualitative interview tools for talking to femmes incorporate feminist researchers goals of empowering participants and developing a rapport with them. In fact, I believe that just as some feminist scholars have suggested an easier rapport betw een women (Reinharz, 1992), a possible queer interview method might rely on the similarity of social location between researcher and participant when both members are queer (and in this case, queer and femme identified). However, as some critics of thes e feminist research method claims point out, assuming a universal connection between women is dangerous because of the potential it has to erase race, nation, and class disparities between women (Patai, 1994). Certainly, in that I attempted to create an e mpowe ring feminist interview method which sought to establish rapport between the researcher and the researched, I was cautious to not assume a universal and unmediated queer connection between all queer femme participants and myself. I believe that these interview methodologies have allowed me to construct an interview setting that encouraged the empowered participation of my participants, whose subjectivities have been traditionally ignored or exploited in academic inquiry. Further, the policing functions of heterosexism and homophobia silence my participants narratives in many other institutional
64 (in work, family, health care) and social (in interactions with strangers) settings, making the interview spaces encouragement of their narratives unique. R esearch Design The main cities that host sites for ethnographic observation are Seattle WA (for burlesque observations) and Atlanta, GA (for femme organization observations). As urban areas, they are both diverse settings. Yet, they are diverse (and eve n urban) in different ways. According to the 2000 census, the population of Seattle is 563,374 and Atlantas is 350,000. In Seattle, almost half of the population over 25 holds a bachelors degree or higher and in Atlanta this is true of only 37% of the population. The two cities economic and racial statistics vary as well. Seattles median household income is $45,736 compared to Atlanta s $30, 576. Eleven percent of Seattles population lives in poverty as does an outstanding 27% of Atlantas populat ion. In Seattle, people report their racial identities in the following ways: 70% white, 13% Asian; 8% black or African American, 2.5% other, 1% American Indian, 0.5% Native Alaskan or Pacific Islander, and Latinos/Hispanics of all races make up 5.3% of t he population2Portland, Oregon is also a host city for minor observations I began with the cities of Seattle (because of its well known queer burlesque troupes) and Atlanta (because of its well Five percent of Seattles population identify themselves as multiracial. In Atlanta, people report as following: 33% white, 65% black or African American, 2% Asian, less than 0.5% American Indian; less than 0.5% Native Alaskan or Pacific Islander; and Latinos/Hispanics of all races make up 2% of the population. Only 1% of Atlantas population identified themselves as multiracial in the 2000 census. Also, 17% of Seattles population was foreign born whereas only 4% of Atlantas population described themselves this way. 2 It is pertinent to remember that this is the governments racial categorization and that Latinos, specifically, are becoming increasingly difficult to categorize because of the narrow racial categories available for them.
65 known femme organization). After learni ng of a burlesque troupe and femme organization in Portland, I spent time in that city while I lived in Seattle. Portland tends to mirror Seattles demograp hics. [please see Appendix A, T able 2 for the three cities demographic information in table forma t]. Seattle, Portland, and Atlanta are examples of imagined urban meccas for GLBT people who may be searching for a queer friendly living environment (DEmilio, 1993; 1998; Weston, 1995). They are urban areas that are known for their queer communities, but provide different opportunities for survival based on differences in state laws, differences in economic structures, and differences in politics of race relations. All of these things provide a basic context for how the queer people in my study constru ct their lives, their feminine identities, and their organizations. An Ethnographic and Interview Project This project relies on both ethnographic and interview data in order to understand the individual identities, public personas, and organizational efforts of queer feminine women. Because I am dealing with the topics of identity, performance, and social change, I employed a mixed method approach that allowed me to investigate different aspects of feminine gender expression. For example, ethnographi c observations were useful in my pursuit to understand queer feminine gender performance; interviews were needed in order to understand how troupe/organization members thought about their gender performances and how they articulated their gender identities Also, part of my ethnography included analysis of texts produced by these organizations which allowed me to think about the institutional discourses of femininity that are being locally produced within these groups. Utilizing the method of ethnography allowed me to conduct a project that, as Stein and Plummer (1994) call for, is attentive to developing an understanding of
66 how sexuality, along with gender, race, ethnicity, class, and generation, is articulated and experienced within a terrain of social practices (184). Increasingly, it has become a tradition for feminist scholars to employ the method of openended interviews in combination with ethnographic work (Reinharz, 1992) in order to uncover personal voices of participants in combination with observing their practices; this project follows that tradition. The traditional sociological method of interview provided an opportunity for my participants to tell me about their identities and how they viewed their organizational practices; the method of ethnography provided me with an opportunity to document the ways I saw their gender/sexuality practices unfolding in public forums. In short, through interview my participants could tell me about their identities and through ethnography I could watch thei r identities in practice. The Ethnography M y ethnography was conducted in the sites of Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle ; I committed to an emerging tradition of multisited ethnography. Focusing an ethnographic project in multiple sites may seem contrary to ethnographys project of intimate emergence in specific locales, but it can provide a useful alternative approach to field work. As Marcus (1995) says, Ethnography is predicated upon attention to the everyday intimate knowledge of face to face communi ties and groups (99); he goes on to say that traditional ethnographers in favor of single site observations may find that the move from committed localism to represent a system much better apprehended by abstract models and aggregate statistics seems ant ithetical to [ethnographys] very nature and thus beyond its limits (99). However, multi sited ethnography illuminates the very project of ethnography: to paint a picture of the system by studying the localized representations of it. Every ethnography i s a representation of the system and should therefore be studied in multiple incarnations of the system (Marcus, 1995).
67 Although multi sited ethnography attempts to provide multiple examples of how macro structures affect micro experiences, its goal is n ot a generalizable or holistic representation of reality (Marcus, 1995). Its rejection of the traditional ethnographic claim that one can understand the global from just one local site, and its suggestion that one can learn aspects about the system thro ugh multiple examples of it, illustrates its divergence from a positivistoriented methodology (Marcus, 1995). My attention to multiple sites and the kind of ethnography I conducted placed me within a constructivist orientation of ethnographic work, in contrast to earlier models of ethnography. Early models for conducting ethnography provided a set of systematic tools for researchers to document reality; it was believed that researchers could turn culture into a series of written words (Hammersley & Atkin son, 1995; Denizin, 2003). Building on early models of ethnography, but questioning their positivistic understanding of reality, constructivist ethnographers exist within an interpretivist epistemology (Denzin, 2003). This projects ethnographic accoun ts are situated within the framework of an interpretivist ethnography, where context replaces text, verbs replace nouns, structures become process, (Denzin, 2003:16) and where the ethnographer, values intimacy and involvement as forms of understanding (Denzin, 2003:16). Although traditional ethnographers intimately involve themselves in the communities they study, they tend to see themselves as objective observers of reality; interpretivist ethnography builds on the traditional tactic of community emer sion by utilizing their involvement as a source of data. Similar to feminist methodology [see Reinharz, 1992], interpretivist ethnographers question the possibility of objectivity and purport that their interpretation of observations is only one version of reality. Intereptivist ethnography most accurately describes the kind of observations I conducted because of my feminist objection to positivist assumptions and because of my situated identity within the
68 communities I am studying. As a queer person, as a femme identified person and as someone who is knowledgeable about queer communities, I entered into observation sites with a pre formulated knowledge of the situation which allowed me a unique ease in interacting with members of the community; this als o directed me toward a unique interpretation of what I watched. The ethnography consisted of observations of four queer burlesque troupes (of which members were interviewed) and three femme organizations (of which members were interviewed). Although the frequency of queer neo burlesque troupes is not documented in the academic literature, even cursory internet research will find that at least one queer burlesque troupe is now likely to exist in most urban areas; it seems to be a rule that if a city is kno wn for having a significant queer population, it will also have a queer burlesque troupe. During my burlesque observations, I participated as an audience member. At most events there was a cost associated with entrance to the event, which I paid in order to enter. In those cases the funds collected at the door were donated to benefit the queer community in some way. (Examples of this included queer youth programs, gay pride festival events, or a documentary made by queer film makers). I would arrive when doors at the venue opened (usually about an hour and a half before the performance began) and stay for the music and dancing that conventionally follow burlesque events. Staying after the burlesque allowed me to understand the full atmosphere of the e venings and provided an opportunity to have informal conversations with the burlesque performers who mingle with the audience during this time. The frequency of femme organizations is not as great as queer burlesque troupes, but the number of this kind of organization seems to be increasing. For observations of femme
69 organizations my participant role is more difficult to concretely decipher. I have made my presence as a researcher known to members at events where I observe, but I have participated in t he events much the same way other members have. These events included salon discussions about femme identity with the Femme Affinity Group, dyke marches and pride marches with the Femme Affinity Group and the Glitter Revolutionaries, dinners, dancing, s leepovers, and even a trip to the zoo with the Femme Mafia. As discussed in the beginning of this section, I chose the Northwestern locations of Seattle, WA and Portland, OR and the Southeastern location of Atlanta, GA because of their exemplary burlesque troupes and femme organizations and because of their differences in population. What I also found is that the most well known burlesque troupes (discussed later) were located in the Northwest, with femme organizations being (seemingly) less important in t hese regions. Similarly, the most wellknown femme organization (discussed later) was located in Atlanta, where queer burlesque is present, but (seemingly) less important than the presence of the femme organization. Accordingly, I allocated the most hour s of burlesque performance observations in the Northwest (Seattle specifically) and the most hours of femme organization observations in Atlanta. My observations of femme organizations in the Northwest are minimal as are my observations of queer burlesque in the Southeast. In total, I conducted extensive observations with the burlesque troupes The Queen Bees3 3 In the tradition of social movement scholars who use the actual names of their social movement organizations, I use the actual names of these burlesque troupes and femme social organizations as a way to demarcate them in my research as movement organizations. All interviewees were given pseudonyms. and The Von Foxies (both in Seattle, WA) and with the femme organization, Femme Mafia (Atlanta, GA); I conducted minimal observations with the burle sque troupes The Rose City Sirens (Port land, OR) and The Moxie Cabaret (Atlanta, GA) and with the femme organizations, The Glitter Revolutionaries (Seattle, WA), and Femme
70 Affinity Group (Portland, OR). All of the burlesque troupes and femme organizations are younger than five years old. The heart of the queer burlesque performances I observed are located in Seattle, WA with The Queen Bees and The Von Foxies. I centered my burlesque studies in Seattle because it is one of the two cities where neo burlesque emerged (Baldwin, 2004) and because The Queen Bees are the most renowned queer burlesque troupe in the U.S.; I say this because of their notoriety amongst queer people (list serves, web sites, and people outside of Seattle speak of them) and because ther e is a documentary about them. The Von Foxies are also recognizable outside of Seattle because they won best troupe in last years Miss Exotic World pageant, the national competition of burlesque dancers. I spent two months (May and June of 2007) living in Seattle, attending burlesque events, and meeting with burlesque performers and former performers. I spent nearly 50 hours in the field during this time and recorded ethnographic notes of my observations. Minor observations were conducted with queer burlesque troupes that are located in the same cities as femme organizations, The Rose City Sirens (located in Portland, OR) and The Moxie Cabaret (located in Atlanta, GA). I spent about 15 hours in the field observing their performances. For these two troupes, I mostly relied on interview data to provide information about their organizations, but I was able to witness some of their troupe performances as examples of their work. The heart of my femme organization observations is located in Atlanta, GA with Femme Mafia, an international organization that dedicates itself to femme visibility using a myriad of methods. Founded in January 2005, it was the first Femme Mafia chapter; the organization now has chapters in Milwaukee, WI, Springfield, MO, Chica go, IL and two international chapters
71 (one in Sweden and one in Germany); the leader of the Atlanta chapter, referred to as The Donna, is the figurehead of all the F emme Mafia chapters. T he emergence of five other chapters in three short years speaks to t he signi ficance of Femme Mafia, Atlanta. Femme Mafia, Atlanta has over 150 members and about 2030 active participants who are present at every gathering. Beginning in September 2007 and ending in May 2008, I have observed every meeting and event associat ed with Femme Mafia during that time. They meet for dinner and an after dinner event every second Saturday of the month and sometimes offer additional Femme Mafia events at the end of the month. Their events are creative: in September 2007 their after di nner event was a gender performance show at a local lesbian bar; in October 2007 their second Saturday event brought them to the Atlanta Zoo and then brunch; and the additional event in October was lube wrestling hosted by a gay mens leather bar. I have spent over 75 hours in the field with this organization. Femme Affinity Group, or as they refer to themselves, FAG, is a similar group in Portland, OR that has yet to receive the national recognition that Femme Mafia has during its existence. They offer a monthly discussion group to facilitate femme solidarity and consciousness raising, events sponsored by the organization (like a night of queer art performances), and they have written two zines (short magazines). L ike with the burlesque troupes t he Ros e Ci ty Sirens and the Moxie Cabaret, I did not conduct extensive observations with this group. When I was living in Seattle I traveled to meet with them twice. The first time I sat in on their monthly discussion group and the second time I marched with t hem in their portion of the Dyke/Trans march in Portland. I have spent six hours in the field with this organization. Although I relied on interviews with members of this organization for a bulk of my data on them, witnessing one of
72 their monthly discuss ion groups and one of their pride events allowed me to observe examples of how they interact with one another and how they are received by queer community members. Also, whil e living in Seattle I learned about a contingent of the 2007 Queerfest parade wh o called themselves The Glitter Revolutionaries. Femme identified people and people who considered themselves allies to femmes were invited to march with them as they chanted about femme visibility and threw glitter into the crowd lining the street; they organized a similar march for Seattles gay pride parade in June 2008. The people who organize this march speak of want ing to create an organiz ation by the same name, but thus far they have not been able to sustain themselves as a femme organization. Although the Von Foxies (Seattle, WA) and the Rose City Sirens (Portland, OR) are enjoying the height of their popularity, a majority of organizations have either disbanded or experienced a serious decline in popularity. The Queen Bees (Seattle, WA) and Femme Affinity Group (Portland, OR) have disbanded although some members of the latter hope to restart the organization. Moxie Cabaret (Atlanta, GA) offers spontaneous shows after long hiatuses. The Femme Mafia (Atlanta, GA) saw a dramatic drop in membe rship, a lull in event a ttendance, and public discord over the way the organization is run: they attempted to reorganize in the spring of 2008 with what they jokingly called Femme Mafia version 2.0 but it was largely unsuccessful; the organization now ha s a new board, but membership has not increased. The Glitter Revolutionaries (Seattle, WA) has never been able to maintain steady collectivity; they are able to come together for the pride parade march, but otherwise are maintained as a loosely affiliated group of friends. The longevity of these organizations may seem problematic for my contention that a femme movement is occurring. On the contrary, I believe that the fluctuation of these organizations/troupes and even the total disbandment of some of them, may be seen as evidence
73 of the kind of politic they embody: a uniquely queer version of a N ew Social Movement. In this sense they provide a way to think about the special contributions of these kinds of movements. In total, I have spent about one and a half years and about 140 hours observing burlesque performances and femme organizational events. The Interviews Alongside ethnographic observation of burlesque troupes and femme organizations, this project is also based on individual interviews with me mbers of each type of femme group. Each troupe/organization holds the following number of members: The Queen Bees (a rotating cast of around 20); The Von Foxies (3); The Rose Ci ty Sirens (3); Moxie Cabaret (a rotating cast of about 20); Femme Mafia (over 150, 2030 core members); FAG (about 50, 1520 core members); The Glitter Revolutionaries (7 10). In total, I conducted 31 interviews. I did the following number of interviews with each: The Q ueen Bees (7); The Von Foxies (1 ); The Rose Ci ty Sirens (3); M oxie Caba ret (6 ); Femme Maf ia (8 ); F AG (4 ); The Glitter Re volutionaries (4). Although Seattles and Portlands femme organizations and burlesque troupes had distinct membership, several members of the Moxie Cabaret are affiliated with the Femme Mafia. Tw o of the interviews I conducted with the Moxie Cabaret also account for two of the Femme Mafia interviews. Interestingly, the two femmes interviewed who were currently part of the Moxie Cabaret were far less involved with the Femme Mafia than they used to be. It seemed to me through my observations in all cities that the femmes in femme organizations and the burlesquers did not overlap in social circles or friendships. They we re distinct organizations; probably because they do very different kinds of pol itical work. I did not attempt to only interview founders or leaders of organizations. Instead, my strategy was to interview the general populace of the organizations in order to get a broad
74 understanding of its existence. In some circumstances (The Que en Bees, The Rose City Sirens, Moxie Cabaret, The Glitter Revolutionaries) I did interview the leaders and founders, but it was not my intention. I would let everyone in the organization know I was doing interviews and ask if they would be interested in t alking to me about the organization; the people who notified me first were the people who were interviewed. In all cases, they were people I knew to be deeply involved with the organizations/troupes from my ethnographic time spent with them. I targeted s everal unrepresented groups making sure that I interviewed women of color, a male person who was previously femme identified and involved with the Femme Affinity Group, a male boylesque dancer who performs with femme burlesquers in Atlanta, and a female gentleman identified person (Cynthia) who runs the Moxie Cabaret. All of the interviewees except the last three described (Randall, Charles, and Cynthia) are feminine nontrans queer women. Nearly all of the women interviewed, with the exception of five burlesque performers identified as femme. All of these five burlesque performers reported to sometimes or most of the time or sort of identify as femme. It makes sense that all of the people who sometimes identified as femme were involved in t he sect of the femme movement that pays attention to feminine performance with their burlesque, rather than femme identity, as with femme organizations. The reader can look to Appendix D for a list of which participants identify as femme; the reader may a ssume that quoted interviewees are femme identified unless otherwise noted. All interviews were conducted by me in faceto face interviews. Interviews took place in a variety of settings. Settings included participants homes, coffee shops, restaur ants, and even a public laundry facility where I helped the interviewee wash and fold her laundry. Interviews lasted between 45 and 120 minutes.
75 Interviews followed an active interview approach (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995), allowing individuals to coc onstruct the interview and to initiate their own topics. Based on my initial ethnographic observations and my previous knowledge of the literature, I created a demographic survey and a semi structured indepth interview guide that encouraged an active int erview discussion, focusing on their individual identity negotiations with being queer feminine people and on their participation in their respective organizations [please see Appendix B for the demographic survey and Appendix C for the interview guide]. All interviewees were administered informed consent that is consistent with University procedures and approved by the Universitys internal review board. I explained the research project, how the interview would be conducted, and how their interview data would be used by me; I also requested permission to tape record the interview [please see Appendix D for a copy of the informed consent]. Pseudonyms were assigned to each interviewee. Because some of the troupes/organizations have very few members, I wa s careful not to note defining characteristics about them in order to maintain confidentiality. Following each interview I wrote memos of potential themes that came out of our talk. The digital records of the interviews were later transcribed verbatim by me personally. Profile of Interview Participants Interview participants were very representative of the demographic dimensions of femme organizations and burlesque troupes I observed. In terms of age, sexual orientation, race, class, education, and occupation what is described here could easily be understood as the dimensions of femme organizing, as I have witnessed it. There are no systematic profiles of these groups memberships.
76 The femme movement, and my interview sample, is composed of fairly you ng people. This is unsurprising as the movement is located within radical queer communities, which is often associated with youth. The oldest person I interviewed was 44, the youngest was 20; the average age of participants was 30 and the median age was 29. In terms of sexual orientation, a majority of participants identif y themselves as queer. 14 participants, or 45%, responded simply that they are queer to the demographic question on sexual orientation; another 14 participants, 45% more of them, identified as some combination of queer and another sexual orientation word such as Katie who said t hat she is Queer/Dyke/Bi. Two participants identified as gay and one identified as bisexual; these participants were somewhat older than the bulk of partic ipants in their 20s and early 30s. A majority of interviewees identified themselves as white: 25 of the 31 people interviewed, or 81% were white. Three people, or about 10%, described themselves as Black or African American. Two people, 6% were bir acial: One of them was Black and white; One of them was Native American and white. One participant, or 3%, described her race as Latina. The femme movement may also b e characterized by class privileged and highly educated members; m y data also reflects this. Four participants, or 13%, we re upper middle class. 14 participants, or 45%, were middle class; Five participants, or 16%, described themse lves as lower middle class. Six people, or 19%, self identified as working class and two people, or 6%, ide ntified as poor or broke. In terms of education, all participants had more than a high school education and more participants held a masters degree t han just had some college. Five participants, or 17%, had some college. 19 people, or 61%, had a ba chelors degree. Six people, or 19%, had a masters degree and one person, or 3%, had a PhD.
77 A majority of occupations tended to be located in the nonprofit sector or in of fice and managerial work. Three people, or 10%, were fulltime students at t he t ime of the interview and two of them, or 6%, were unemployed. One person, or 3%, was a legal sex worker. Six of them, or 19%, were in service or retail work. Ten participants, or 33%, were in nonprofit work, paid political organizing, or social work and nine participants, or 29%, were office workers, managers, or researchers. [For a list of this demographic information and participant pseudonyms, please see the Table of Interview Participant Demographics, Appendix D]. Analysis Grounded theory, developed in the 1960s by Glaser and Strauss, advocates for an inductive approach to codifying qualitative data in a practical and scientific way; their advancement of qualitative methodology has been seen by many as a means to make qualitative inquiry a more posi tivist process (Dey, 2004; Charmaz, 2006). Although it is positivist in its assertion of a scientific process, the paradigm of grounded theory breaks with that tradition of conducting research by insisting that researchers do not define a hypothesis about their research and that they use a constant comparative method that allows theory to emerge from the data; instead of moving from theory to data for proof of existing theories, one is instructed to move from data to an emergent theory (Charmaz, 2006). In t erpretive grounded theory, closely associated with Charmaz (2000; 2005; 2006), questions the classic grounded theory assumption that there is a reality that can emerge from the data collected. Instead, an interpretive (or constructivist) grounded theory provides tools for qualitative analysis that acknowledges the researchers role in the process of creating theory (Charmaz, 2005). According to this perspective, researchers grapple with questions of meaning; we assume that we are investigating how realit ies are constituted rather than assuming that we are uncovering one external reality (Charmaz, 2000). In this way, the coding process is a process
78 of meaning making. The codes that emerged were a unique result of the interplay between me, as a researcher and the data I have collected. In total, my data includes one and a half years and a bout 140 hours of observation and 31 in depth interviews. I studied people involved in femme organizing and femme burlesque troupe s about their self identification with femininity, their experiences being feminine people, how their experiences had shaped their ideas about femininity, and their organizing around femininity. The chapter that follows this begins data analysis: we begin with how participants talk of feminin ity itself and their self described impulse to express in a feminine manner. Their emotional connection to femininity and their desire to enact feminine expression are precursors to a politicized femme identity, which itself is a precursor to femme social movement activity. As you read the next four analysis chapters, it is pertinent to remember that the political work being done by femmes is part of a trajectory of feminist and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer [ GLBTQ ] political concerns. T heir debates about gender expression, queer collective identity, and the queer and feminist ethics of sexual representation are informed by feminist and queer histories of activism prior to femme cultural interventions.
79 CHAPTER 5 WHAT IS A FEMININE S ELF?: QUEER PARIAH FEMINI NITIES AND THE RACE/CLASS DIMENSIONS OF THE FEMININE OT HER In the following chapter I describe how my participants see femininity: as something that is both a social expectation for them and a deeply felt impulse; as something that is socially constructed (and therefore not real) and something that benefits their self concepts when they perform it (and therefore feels very real). This chapter also reflects on the ways in which their social location as queer women and their race and cl ass positionality affects their femininity. Because they are involved in a social movement, they are people with a highly politicized concept of femininity. That is, their concepts of femininity help elucidate the political meanings of femininity and gender expression in queer communities integral conversations in feminist and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer [ GLBTQ ] politics. D escribing A Feminine Self Although participants had spent a great deal of time thinking about femininity becaus e they organize around the concept defining exactly why they want to be feminine and what exactly femininity is proved to be a difficult task. For example, w hen I asked Annabelle what femininity is sh e responded: UmI dont know. The first thing that c ame to my mind was the opposite of masculinity because to me they counter each other like a dichotomylike if one didnt exist then the other wouldnt exist. I dont know. I know it when I see it, but I dont know how to describe it. Like the now famous description of pornography or Judith Halberstams description of masculinity (1998), Annabelle cannot describe femininity, but knows it when she sees it. We know when we see certain phenomena because they are otherwise indescribable. In addition, we may need to see femininity because it is often such a visual production. Emma told me that she was very feminine. When I asked her to describe what that meant to me she replied:
80 Well, I wear makeup everyday, generally speaking. I wear dresses as much as hum anly possibleI wear high heels and skirts and things that show my boobs off. Jewelry. Lots of Jewelry. Mmm yes. Oh and my hair. My hair is a big part of it too. Its long and beautiful and I love it. Although one may be able to list numerous mental or emotional characteristics that tend to be associated with femininity, Emmas description of herself as feminine rested on typical style markers of femininity: dresses, high heels, skirts, jewelry. While these items are literally put on her body, she al so describes choosing attire that will show [her] boobs off, intimating that she also uses her body to produce a feminine aesthetic. Interestingly, she also described having hair that is long and beautiful as something that is a big part of her femin inity, a characteristic that is a mainstream expectation for women and one that she cannot take off. Other interviewees also discussed their hairs relationship to their femininity. Katie explained her feelings about her long curly hair this way: Frankl y, I get really jealous about [queer femmes with short hair]. Like, Ive had my hair short and it did not feel good to me and really hot femmes that can pull off the queer short hair. I get really really jealous about that. How much I hate myself for hav ing really long curly hair, getting to curl it and make it all pretty or my nailsloving the feeling of having long nails and knowing how queer it is to have short fingernails.
81 because it curtails her ability to express masculinity on days where that may be preferred to feminine expression. Weitz (2002) has suggested that womens hair styles announce their social location in society, their status, and their political orientations. For both Katie and Michelle, their tumultuous relationships with their long hair are imbued with social meanings that contradict a self that can be fluidly feminine and queer: they at once feel a sense that their femininity is rec ognized by having long hair and that their queerness is less recognized by the same attribute. Nearly all of my participants told stories of disidentiftying with some aspects of femininity that they find negative. Danielle said simply, the part [of fem ininity] I definitely reject is the submissiveness part. Similarly, Ruth explained her rejection of behavioral femininity : Behaviorally Im not very feminine. Im very outspoken. I tend to be very direct in my language. And I feel like, I think thats why it was really hard for me to come to femme identity because my form of femininity is not so much typical. In my everyday interactions with people, in the way I address people, I feel like I tend to be more masculine in my behavior, but more feminine i n my presentation. Although many participants rejected aspects of mainstream femininity that they associated with submissiveness or weakness, many of them also embraced qualities that might be considered conventionally feminine by critiquing the idea that those qualities are necessarily submissive. Ruth also explained: One time I was talking about being in the follow position in dancing. I like to use that [as a] metaphor [for femininity] because a lot of people see that as a position of weakness. But the thing about partner dancingin swing, or two step waltz, salsa, that kind of thing, the thing about partner dancing, as a follow, you have to trust the lead. Yeah, you have to do what the lead tells you to do, but the follow is in the ultimate position of power because you choose to go with the lead and if you dont go with the lead, the lead doesnt go anywhere. I feel like thats the power of femininity. Its about acceptance and openness and theres something that happens in that partnering. Every time I could dance with somebody different and its a very different experience. And if I dont feel comfortable and I dont trust that person its going to be terrible.
82 Ruths comments parallel her thoughts about femininity to concepts of masculinity: just as it is inaccurate to assume that a follow position, or a feminine position, is inferior it is also inaccurate to assume that someone who is leading, or taking on masculine characteristics, is more powerful. Also conveying the idea that one can be empow ered by traditionally feminine traits Betty said, My femme [identity] really means to me that I am really empowered by things that are really traditional gender roles. I really enjoy caretaking; I would really like to be a mom. Importantly, traits like following, caretaking, or even being a mom are often seen as inferior characteristics in comparison to more masculine traits. In making the argument that they feel empowered by them, perhaps they are saying that they feel empowered articulating tha t they want those things; they feel empowered because they have shifted the cultural meaning of these acts to be positive attributes. In their quest to redefine conventionally feminine traits as something that can be empowering, as Betty notes, several respondents discussed how coming to a feminine identity in their adult lives has made them find a lot more compassion for straight women, as Betty also told me. Specifically, several participants brought up early memories of their mothers and grandmot hers femininity as a source of learning femininity. Patricia reflected: Probably my mother [was a model of femininity]. My mother was really feminine and even when I was really young I wanted to be [femini ne like her]. When I was like eight I wanted h er to make me up; she would do my nails, give me little French manicures. Not because my mother was gender roleing me but because I wanted it really badly and she was really feminine too so she kind of helped develop that in me. She was probably my bigg est role model in terms of femininity. In fact it is possible that Patricias mother was gender role ing her and that she wanted it really badly. Importantly, though, Patricia reflects on her emulation of her mothers femininity with fondness illustr ating that this process was not painful for her and that, at least she feels, it
83 was something she wanted In a slightly divergent tale, Katrina shares her own story of trying to emulate her mothers femininity: M y mom she is not at all gay and she is very [feminine] in her presentation of herself, extremely so, more than your average heterosexual woman. She puts a lot of time and energy into her hair, her makeup, her appearance, her accessories. That being my, I think defining female role model of wha t it looks like to be a woman, of course rubbed off on me. As a child, like not uncommon, I played dress up in my mothers clothes. There was this standard of beauty I was trying to attain. So not only is she very highly feminine in her expression of her self, but she is also very stereotypically beautiful. Shes 58, weighs 118 pounds, has a full C cup, teeny tiny waist, no ass to speak of, shes like a walking Barbie doll, right? So as a young person, you know, this being my primary model for what a w oman is supposed to look like, playing dress up, and then coming into myself as a young, like an adolescent and then a teenager, there was this sense of trying to accomplish something that was absolutely unattainable. Im taller than her, Im bigger than her, I dont have big breasts. I have a really large ass. Its like everything was upside down.
84 and in many ways, feeling powerless. Most significantly, they learned to experience joy at being gender role d. They also suggest how deeply internalized their feminine identities are. All of my participants who identified as femme [ femme identity is discussed in depth in Chapter 6] described their femininity as a deeply internal impulse. Danielle said, My [ femme friend] would say, if I go out to the mall in a pair of sweat pants and a t shirt and some converse on, people are s till going to know Im a femme. Like you cant this off of me. Whatever the external markers of femininity may be, they can be taken off; Danielle insists that feminine identity cannot be taken off of her. Betty also reflected on her femme identity: Well you know how you dont really know something is happening or youre experiencing something until you look back on it. Ive always love d attention. Ive always loved extravagance. Ive alway s loved dressing upmy mothers favorit e story to tell my friends and my lovers is when she bought me my first pair of shoes, how I held my little feet up out of the buggy and my feet were going and my hands were going and I was so little. What wa s I? Probably like two, but I was so excited a bout having these shoes. As a kid, I always lovedmy mom is a pastor so we always went to church. Being southern, thats a huge part of my family culture. So, you know, I always loved getting dressed up for church. In that way, I always did ballet. I loved getting dressed up. I loved the makeup and you know, getting ready for my shows. So, I think in a gendered sort of way I was always sort of femme but never realized it. Although Betty could not take on a self conscious femme identity until she was an adult, for her, part of her femme identity is based in a love of femininity that she claims she has always had. Later in our interview Betty shared with me that she identifies as glitter core. She said, I identify as being glitter core. You know how people identify as being like something core? Yeah. Im totally glitter core. Again, a socially constructed feminine marker, glitter, is something that is described by Betty as being a part of her core self. Similarly, Ruth told me that comin g to identify with femininity was realizing that it took over 30 years to figure out that this part of me is something thats part of me. Although she says that femininity is not innate, that it is like figuring out youre queer. You can choose to e xpress it or not. Both Betty and Ruth recognize d that feminine identity is social, but they both seem to imply that their
85 orientation toward femininity is not something they were socialized into feeling. Katrina tells another story of always being oriented toward femininity: No matter what social group I identified with, I always dragged it up. I tried to be kind of gothy or new wavey, but I would be dripping in all the crucifix jewelry, but overwhelmingly like all over my body. Then I tried to be kind of like the skater chick and doing the low slung baggy skater/rave look inevitably I would wear the low slung baggy shorts and the baggy shirt with tennis shoes that had rhinestones on them. You know? No matter what look I tried to do, I always fucked it up. It was always involving too much accessorizing, too much rhinestones, too much glitter, and so finally when I was in high school I sort of realized that I had my own look I was going for and I just embraced lame and sequences and all these things. Part of Katrinas story with fashion and adornment seems to be her internal inclination to drag up the attire of her current subculture and make it more feminine by adding jewelry, rhinestones, and glitter. For cissexual1I feel pretty, I dont know. What do I get out of it? It just makes me feel fabulous. I like the way I interact with people when I feel pretty. Not just when I look pretty, but when I feel pretty. It makes me more social It makes me more comfortable. women, an orientation toward femininity is difficult to separate from the societal expectation th at they should be feminine. All gender identities and expression s are composed of rewards and consequences for the identification or presentation. As Chapter 6 discusses, even socially nonconforming gender identities/expressions like female masculinity have subcultural rewards. Similarly, the feminine women I interviewed got rewarded for femininity in ways that exceeded social support for their feminine choices: femininity made them fe el good. When I asked Emma what she got out of being feminine, she responded: If Emma were to take steps to be less feminine, it would have an effect on how she felt about herself; she would be less social and less comfortable. Importantly, it is necessary f or Emma to feel pretty, not just look pretty for other people. Later in our conversation Emma expounded, 1 The terms cissexual and cisgendered are ways of referring to people who are not transgender.
86 What would I do without glitter? I would die. I would die. What would I do without dresses? I would die. I would be so unhappy I would die. While E mmas passionate commitment to glitter and dresses may sound like a toddlers temper tantrum, it conveys how much she attaches her happiness to her ability to express femininity. Similarly, Katie says of her femininity, I dont where it comes from, but I know that itsit feels very real. Katies impulse to express femininely feels very real to her. It is so real that she is unable to articulate what causes it. She went on: One of my biggest vices, if anything is going askew or anything is going wrong [in my life], just spending so much time in my closet because I get ready in my closet, spending time on my hair. I dont know where it comes from, but I know that I feel better about myself and I feel more connected to the world when I get to do stuff like that. And its like, sometimes its on a superficial level and sometimes its like on a level of, everyone has their thing that makes them feel really good and if I want to curl my hair for three hours and Im not hurting myself or anyone else then thats what Im going to do. I dont know where it comes from. The reason that I think its more than being socialized that women should look and act this way is that a lot of it can be curling my hair for three hours and not leaving my house. Theres not outward approval. Of course, that is part ofgender identity and all of that, but a lot of it is how it feels so good to me and doesnt have to be validated. I think were told to look feminine because well be validated in this way. I think part of that has been true for me. Knowing what its like to walk in the world as high femme and all of that, part of that is not. Its something else. I dont know what it is. Katie offers a complicated analysis of her apparent need to produce a feminine expression. S he tells us multiple times that she doesnt know where it comes from, insinuating that it is more complicated than coming from the usual suspects of either biology or social validation. She admits that women are socialized to want to feel pretty when she says, that is part ofgender identity and all of that, and that part of wanting to be feminine is being validated as feminine by other people, but she continues to assert that it feels so good and doesnt have to be validated. Crimson provided another example of how femininity makes her feel good This was her response when I asked her if femininity ever felt bad to her :
87 [Femininity] definitely feels good. I feel empowered all the time. I feel like, I dont know, as far as it being a task if it feels like a task, its a fun task. It feels like a task when Im getting ready to go someplace and I cant think of like how Im going to present myself for this particular night, as far as getting dressed up for things and inventing my femme self. But its like a challenge kind of task where its exciting, you know. Even though I feel like Im still femme in my baggiest sweat pants and my rattiest tshirt, theres still something about getting dressed up to go someplace where its just completely different. I feel like I walk different and I stand different and its just this powerful, strong thing even if nobody is looking at me. I feel like theyre supposed to be and they should be. Its a very strong thing. Crimson separates external markers of femininity from her feminine identity by saying that shes still femme in her baggiest sweat pants and rattiest tshirt, but also suggests that she feels more feminine when she is highly adorned with feminine markers. As evidence that she feels good and empowered by femininity, Crimson claims that she does not need people to look at her, to validate her femininity. If they are not looking at her, they should be. She went on to explain the lasting effects of dressing up for a special evening: Even the next day. I could be at work in jeans with grease on them, but its like I know my potential and I know its almost like this, like this superman thing where superman goes into the phone booth and comes out a superhero. I work in a diner. Im a wai tress. And I see all the time where guys come in and all my coworkers who are taller, or thinner, or lighter [skinned] or flirtier the guys come in and they get better tips [from the male customers] and they flirt back and forth and I almost have that superman feeling of like, oh, well, youre not reading me as femme right now (or maybe you are) but you just dont know the bombshell vampness that is me. Theres still that feeling. Theres that feeling of when Im figuring out how my strength is going to be dressed up and presented at some event where there will be queer people the taller walk I get is there so when Im feeling invisible as my queer self or my fat self, I still feel I know whats going on here. Since Ive been cognizant of my queer identity and my femme identity, I feel stronger and more confident. Even though theres that invisibility for not being read as femme or for not looking like the standards for societal femininity, I definitely feel it all the time and its empowering. In contradiction to the idea that feminine presentations need to be validated by others, Crimson suggests that even the memory of a feminine presentation can change her feelings about herself. Like Katie, Crimson describes rewards for her femininity coming from an internal place, not a
88 social validation. Further, Crimsons self validation for her femininity counteracts oppression she feels in dominant society for her unconventional feminine beauty. These participants describe an idea that was reiterated to me time and again in interviews with queer feminine women: they perform femininity because it feels good to them, not because they are trying to fulfill a social mandate for female behavior. Notably, Foucault (1979) argues that one way power works is through technologies of power, which influence our actions, give our actions meaning, and provide a way for us to think of our actions and our selves; these technologies of power encourage the internalization of social mandates so that we feel like we ha ve freely chosen our behavior. Using this Foucauldian idea, Martin (2003) insists that gender exists outside of interactions and institutions; it also resides in the deep, internalized parts of who we are (57). She suggests that we also pay attention t o internalized technologies of gender or the aspects of the gender system that are in us, that become us (56). Certainly part of the way that gender become[s] us is through our own interpretation of gender based on our social location. Said different ly, femininity is contextual; it is situated, perhaps most significantly by ones sexual participation in the gender order by compliance or resistance to heterosexuality. The next section deals with how participants describe their own de naturalization of female femininity through their queer identities and their participation in queer communities. P ariah Femininities: Queer and Feminine Others Recall that Schippers (2007) described pariah femininities as femininities that are deemed not so much infe rior, as contaminating to the relationship between m asculinity and femininity (95). Schippers offers four examples of pariah femininities; they are overwhelmingly women who reject feminine sexual scripts: women who have sexual desire for other women, wom en who are sexually unavailable to men, women who are considered
89 promiscuous, and women who are aggressive. These behaviors mark women as noncompliant with patriarchy. Further, Ingrahams (1996) concept of heterogender suggests that the institution of he terosexuality relies on the exclusive performances of femininity and masculinity (and their sexual relationship with one another). We might say that hetero(feminine)gender connotes two achieved statuses (femininity and heterosexuality) and that they work together to carry out the mandates of institutionalized patriarcha l heterosexuality. Thus, heterofemininity (and its converse, heteromasculinity) are joined as one concept. A queer feminine expression that disarticulates het erosexuality from femininity thus renders both systems less effective in their ruling. As Michelle commented: I think that everybody, almost everybody, has had some kind of interaction with a butch woman so its not so new and frightening. And they can understand why someone would w ant to adopt masculine qualities. It might peeve them a little bit, but they get it. You want to be like me, of course you do, why wouldnt you want to be like me? Why someone would take on feminine qualities, but exaggerate them to the point that [ heter osexual men] are no longer attracted to them? They cant understand that. Why would you want to attract queers? Dont you want a real man? If you could just tone that down, you could probably get yourself a man. I think that thats really scary to peopl e. Although Michelle acknowledges that butch women are disruptive of the gender order for their female performances of masculinity, she argues that feminine queer women disrupt it in a different way. If as Butler (1990), Ingraham (1996), Schippers (2007), and Michelle suggest, that heterosexuality is built on the mandate that men are masculine and women are feminine, there are multiple ways to disrupt this sexual gender order: women can present as masculine or queer women can present as feminine Althou gh the practice of women presenting as feminine is conventional, queer women presenting as feminine subverts the conventions of hetero(feminine)gender. She also suggests that the femininity of queer women is scary to heterosexual men be cause femmes are no t trying to attract heterosexual men ; when women use
90 femininity to attract queers it is necessarily a thought about decision rather than an unexamined social script for femininity. Michelle continued: People see [queer femininity] as very powerful and tha t makes them scared. They think, in my experience at least, people think, so whats gonna happen if people stop doing things because I and the rest of society tells them to? What if they do it because they want to OR what if they DONT do it because they dont want to? Whats gonna happen to society? That comes down to the binary. They get so overwhelmed and so afraid of what would happen if that gender binary were dismantled. What do you mean you have a gender expression that doesnt require a binary? What do you mean that you have an orientation that doesnt require a binary? Thats how Ive understood the world so how can you come now and try to tear that apart? Michelle argues that queer feminine women challenge the gender binary because their fem ininity connotes choice: women are feminine in compliance with the gender orders concept of heterosexuality that male masculinity and female femininity are naturally occurring opposites that need one another; when queer women reject heterosexuality yet em brace femininity, they reject the practical uses of femininity. In Schippers (2007) words, they reject the relationship between masculinity and femininity (95). In Michelles words, they have a gender expression that doesnt require a binary. In this way, choosing to do femininity because they want to underscores the idea that women can choose not to do femininity if they dont want to. In the following two sections, I will discuss how the sexual social location of being queer influences ones femininity. First, I offer descriptions of how participants described their individual desire to queer visual and interactional aspects of femininity because of their personal rejection of femininity. Second, I analyze the ways in which queer communit ies foster an environment of critical reflection on normative gender which encourages a consciously queer feminine identity. Queer Selves Create Different Feminine Selves As discussed in Chapter 2, heterosexuality and gender are understood as fused entitie s; because queer femininity rejects the status of heterosexuality, queerness informs the status of
91 ones femininity. Further, a rejection of the status of heterosexuality informs how one experiences femininity. This may be particularly true when feminine women have to negotiate everyday interactions with hetero(masculine)men who misread their presentations of femininity to be a hegemonic hetero(femininity). Michelle commented: Any time [queer feminine women] have tried to express their femininity, whic h is what I guess they are naturally drawn to, theyve gotten unwanted attention from men, often resulting in violence. Even if its not resulting in violence, its resulting in attention youre not looking for. Youre not getting attention from other que ers that you want; youre getting attention from straight men that you dont want. And I think theres so much frustration in that. Similarly, during our conversation about how she started to become more feminine after coming to a femme identity, Edith tol d me: As I started adopting more traditional feminine signifiers I got so much more attention walking into work. I mean, I think I have always sort of gotten a little more attention because of my hair. It catches peoples eye. But as soon as I started w earing heels and especially if I was wearing red lipstickI would definitely get comments like, oh, girl, I like redheads Ok, you and every other guy on the planet. I m so shocked by that. I have re d hair, oh my god! Where have you been all my life? Al though Edith jokes about the ludicrousness of being catcalled on the street, her assessment of when it began happening more is important: when she began adopting more traditional signifiers. She went on to talk about how this attention makes her feel: if you try to counter some of the attention you get with a [statement of], Im queer, fuck off theres this sort of perception of deception on our part, like we were doing this thing to attract their attention. Its like the woman in a short skirt in a d ark ally, you were asking for it because you were putting yourself out there in a way that makes you attractive to them. Its not its just really not comfortable at all. It reminds me, I think of what happens when trans women [male to female transsexua ls] get discovered as being trans when a guy has been attracted to her. It challenges his identity and thats when the violence happens. In a way youre at risk, I dont know if its more risk or less risk, I try not to assign value to that, but youre at risk for a different reason. Pariah femininities: femininities which resist the relationship between masculinity and femininity that makes heterosexuality and patriarchy possible. Edith places queer women, women in revealing clothing who are sexually una vailable and trans women in the same category: women
92 who are thought to deceive men by performing femininity without the intent of pleasing men. In turn, patriarchy doles out a punishment: violence. Heather, a trans woman I met at a Femme Affinity Grou p meeting in Portland, told a story during the salon session [a femme discussion group] about how she has stages of reaction when men sexually harass her: first she feels validation, then fear, then anger (after the fear has subsided). She explained that she has different fears than other women because, as she said, when girls like me get raped they end up cut up in little pieces. She went on to discuss how this affects the way she dresses when she goes out in public, If they look under my skirt and I dont happen to be situated in the right way that day, I could die. So I wear pants. Reflecting on what her femininity means, she said, Im scared all the time. Femininity is dangerous [authors field notes]. Edi th and Heather, as a non trans woman and a trans woman, are situated differently in societys gender order : certainly Heather faces much more danger for her femininity than does Edith. Importantly, though, they both recognize that their departure from hegemonic heterosexual femininity marks them as pariahs who must be contained through ritualized violence. Further, they both recognize that their femininity makes them visible targets for such violence. After all, Heather said, femininity is dangerous in these cases, femininity has the po tential to provoke attention and their refusal to comply with that attraction has the potential to lead to violence. Katie also commented on how the expectation that femininity is used to attract heterosexual men makes her feel unsafe as a queer feminine woman: one of the things I struggle with probably more than anything else with my gender identity is really really really unwanted attention from men. It makes me so angry. I have a lot of anger around it and a lot of just awful feelings around it. So I know that a lot of this socialization of how women should look and act comes from heterosexuality of like, this is how youre going to get attention and validation from men, and that is not in any way, shape, or form [what I want]. More than anything [I have] the thought of what can I do to lessen [attention from men] because a lot of that attention is unsafe.
93 Katie went on to say If I could change that I would. I dont know how. If she believes that it is not simply being female which attracts so m uch attention, but her particular brand of femininity, then it might stand to reason that making herself less feminine might be one way to change her circumstances. However, as she noted during different points in the interview, expressing femininely mak es [her] happy. When she says, I dont know how to get less attention from men what she might mean is that larger societal norms would have to shift: being a feminine woman would not be confused with being heterosexual and (perhaps) femininity would not invite having ones space occupied by masculine people. Michelle, Edith, Katie, and Heather describe a link between heterosexual male attraction and violence: if a woman attracts a man and then refuses him, it could result in violence. More abstractly by virtue of expressing a queer identity, queer women become subject to the violence of patriarchy without the protection of men. Said differently, being a particular kind of woman makes some women more vulnerable to violence. In an interview about sex workers, Chapkis (2006) said, Women and sex are closely linked in our culture womens sexual status is still defining for many women: virgins, wives, and mothers have a protected status denied to sluts, dykes, and whores (244). Some queer feminine w omen I interviewed internalize this differential feminine status as something positive to project to the world. In short, they attempt to create a queer feminine style. Renee told me, It is very important to me for people to see that Im queer. And fem inine. You know? This is what it looks like Sometimes I think I try to make what is invisible, visible. She and I went on to have this conversation about her style: Maura : Its an interesting style to pull off and Ive wondered if you think about it, if you take steps to think, this makes me queer, Ill keep my hair like this because it makes people read me as queer ? Renee : Yes, definitely.
94 Maura : So you consciously think about it? Renee Because she doesnt feel the need to express as super high femme and because it is important to her to be read as queer and as feminine, Renee consciously constructs a feminine style that people would have to read as queer through the style of her hair (a Mohawk), facial piercings and tattoos. : Yes, definitely. I definitely consciously think about it. Im not super high femme or anything like that so I just want to make sure that people see me as queer and femme. Montana also told me that she believed that femmes can create a performative queer feminine aesthetic. I get tired of looking at queer notions of femme that are skinny, white, women that I think you could see just as easily on the pages of Cosmopolitan or Ladies Home Journal or whatever. I think that while certainly Im not suggesting thats not a valid fe mme representation, but what does excite me is when I see femme representations either in person or in media of queer women who do have a queer aesthetic, who have something youre not going to see on the cover of those magazines whether its, you know, how do th ey present with their body size? H ow do they pr esent with their body ability? H ow do they present with their class? H ow do they present around their race, their tattoos, their body modifications, their sense of style in clothing? Danielle agreed that style differences sometimes connote a queer femininity, Pretty much the way that you can identify queer femmes from [other] girls is, you know, a lot of times theres more tattoos, or a little more edginess to them or a little bit more funky style or a little bit of you know! However, this is not foolproof. Even if it is more common for queer women to have Mohawks, piercings, tattoos, or even funky style, some heterosexual women also adopt this style. Although no one could definitively say th at someone is queer or h eterosexual based on presence or absence of tattoos, Renee is suggesting that a kind of political stance (e.g. that women do not need to look a certain way to be considered feminine) influences her style choices. Danielle, a black femme, agreed:
95 In the black community, a lot of times, we can measure whos queer and whos not by natural hair. If you have natural hair, youre likely queer. If you perm your hair, youre likely straight because that comes with being feminist too thoug h and being Afrocentric and everything. For me, its easier for me to pick out femmes. I mostly hang in the black community and so, you know, Im like, oh, ok, shes a femme, shes a femme, that might be just one of her straight girlfriends. For Renee, trying to make what is invisible, visible through her projection of a queer looking femininity, it is another consciously produced resistance to heteropatriarchy. For Danielle, feminist and Afrocentric political ideas about ideal standards of beauty ma y influence how some queer women present themselves to the world. Most other participants felt that while some queer feminine women do adopt an edgy style that may allow some people to read them as queer, they themselves felt that their femininity made m ost people read them as heterosexual. However, like Renee and Danielle, they felt that queer feminine women adopted a different feminine attitude which marked them as queer, like Patricia who said I feel empowered because Im a femme. I might be 10 times more outrageous [than the average woman] because I feel so empowered as a femme. Emma told me that this is how she deals with being read as heterosexual, Im also a very brash sort of brassy feminine person and that doesnt really match up with who a feminine straight woman is supposed to be. So I think thats actually one way that I deal with not being read as queer, is not being a good woman. When I asked her to give me examples of what it means to not be a good woman, she told me, Being loud, being obnoxious, not shutting up when people tell me to be quiet, speaking my mind about everything. I really actively try to break all the stereotypes around femininity and what it means to be feminine. Patricia agreed with her: [When youre a femme], I think youre sort of loud. You get attention. Straight women might get attention, really feminine straight women might get attention, but its like we said earlieryour attitude. Because you sort of have that aggressive attitude. I dont mean aggressi ve, but its out there. Your presentation is out there and that leads to visibility and thats a choice, to take on that attitude and go out there and show it off, for sure.
96 And Danielle agreed: [My femininity is] definitely different because I know tha t when Im in a room of straight people I stand out a lot more than the other women, regardless if theyre [considered] hotter than me [by societal standards] I know that I have a presence thats very different. Thats just a lot more I think queer fem mes are a lot more, so what? You know? I, you know, a lot of us are very independent women; were like, you know, notwe dont care as much about what other people think and straight womentheres that sassyness about us thats like, you know, whatever. Its like, the I dont need you [attitude] and when I want what I want, Ill go get it. I think thats a lot more of a queer perspective, you know, thats separate from straight women Like Renees perspective that queer feminine women should visually express their queer difference, other participants felt that queer feminine women diverge from heterosexual feminine women in their attitudes. Just like some heterosexual women having tattoos and Mohawks, it is of course true that some heterosexual women are loud, do not shut up when people tell [them] to be quiet, have an aggressive attitude, or have an I dont need you [attitude]. Whether or not it is possible for heterosexual women to take on the attitude characteristics they describe, participant s who felt this way believed that their attitude difference stemmed from their queerness. Crimson said, I feel like femmes take a lot less shit than straight girls do like I dont know femmes who arent like, this is a privilege, if you cant handle it Im going to move on. In some ways these participants are delineating a false line between heterosexual and queer women based on stereotypical ideas about (heterosexual) hegemonic femininity; in doing so they create a perspective that assumes all heter osexual women are a homogenous group. However, their description of their different femininities, whether those differences are visual or attitude based, is not selected arbitrarily: they reason that these differences are based in the distinct goals of fe mininity for most heterosexual women and most queer women. They are not necessarily talking about individual heterosexual women, but the expectations of hegemonic heterosexual femininity. Irene explained:
97 Im not the nurturing one in the relationship, y ou know what I mean? Im not good with emotions, or anything like that. Relationships I look for are pretty evenly split in terms of those things. Like I dont seek out, you know, anything other than that. I think that partly because of who I am, but partly because Im queer tooIm not feminine in stereotypical ways. I do, I like to cook for people. I like certain things like [that] I definitely think that queer femmes strike a balance with partners, people, and relationships. While I embrace a lot of things I do not believe, I do not feel that I want some things. I definitely want a strong balance, equality, that kind of thing. Similarly, Blake told me that while heterosexual women and queer women may appear to have similar feminine presentatio ns that maybe they do not share the same goals or the same background. When I asked what those goals might be she said: Well, theyre probably not trying to attract the same folks. So a straight womans goal is probably to find a guy so she can settle down and have kids and that ties into how she presents herself; [a queer woman] wouldnt necessarily maybe she just doesnt want to have kids, shes more confident, maybe not needing to settle down and start a family. Again, there are heterosexual women w ho expect equitable relationships or whose primary goal is not to settle down and have kids. However, what all of these participants are commenting on is the overarching ideal of heterosexual femininity: femininity is narrowly defined in its visual aest hetic; it is associated with submission and weakness because of its mandated compliance with hetero(masculinity); and the goals of hegemonic femininity are associated with reproduction and family life. In their description of alternative feminine selves because of their queerness, they are commenting on the ways in which queer communities offer alternative ways to structure ones life and to question normative gender productions. Queer Communities Create Critical Perspective about Gender Of course it is n ot an individual rejection of heterosexuality alone that influences an alternative queer femininity; it is a lived feminine expression within queer communities that offers alternative gender interactions (which, in turn, influence how queer feminine women think
98 about their femininity as personal, internal, performative,2Part of the reason that queer experien ces with femininity differ from hegemonic femininity is that queer womens experiences with sexual difference in queer communities allow them to revaluate the hegemonic mandates of femininity. Sabrina said: and beneficial ). This happens in multiple ways: queer communities create different experiences with gender which allow for a personal reflection about femininity; they offer relationships with people who have multiple and alternative gender identities. Also, as Ill end this section discussing, queer communities expansive array of gender identities offers a safe place to explore feminine expressions. I think that we process things differently. I think where a straight girl might just go along with those [mainstream femininity] cues, not even ask why the hell did I do that? Because weve dealt with a coming out process, Im gay or [whatever], were a little bit more in touch with the mechanisms i nside our own head[s] that bring up the reasons why we do what we do. Similarly, Crimson told me: Queer women have to question a lot more because were taught that were supposed to be with men. If we go as far to think outside that then we also question other things that like arent what we imagined for ourselves or how we feel happiest. I think its just more common for us to be like, ok, well if I dont have to do it this way then something like dating who Ive been told to date, then I dont have to be the quiet, coy, waiting to be chased, personality. Making the same connection between heterosexuality and the mandate of female femininity that other participants have made, Sabrina and Crimson suggest that evaluating (and then rejecting) the assumpt ion that they should be heterosexual has meant that they also evaluate the necessity of being feminine. Also, the queer women I interviewed told me that they were more likely than heterosexual women to reflect on their femininity because they are surroun ded by a community 2 Throughout, I use the term performative to describe femme gender the way that my participants used the word: to describe a conscious performance of femininity. Importantly, academic queer theorists use the term differently [se e Butler, 1990].
99 expectation that they should be masculine, that is reject femininity, because they are queer. Kelly said, [There is] a tendency within the lesbian community to be less overtly feminine, because, At one point, I would say there was a very strong tendency to be outspokenly and deliberately androgynous. The idea that being too masculine or too feminine was wrong and that we shouldnt buy into those gender roles. Because of this community norm, Kelly said, Straight women never encounte r the circumstances of walking into a social gathering and have people judge them for whether or not they are too feminine. The judgment that a woman could be too feminine to be authentically part of a lesbian community may influence some women to try to be more masculine. Katie told a common tale of shifting ones presentation from feminine to masculine when she stopped identifying as heterosexual: I think my entire life I have always been very stereotypically feminine, but as I started to question m y sexuality and go through that whole phase I really associated being feminine with being straight and I didnt understand how I could have all these other attractions and desires outside of that and so when I was a sophomore in college and began to come out as a lesbian, I cut off all my hair and didnt wear a lot of makeup and went through this whole makeshift gender identity to try to make this other label of my sexuality fit because I didnt know how the two could coexist. Kelly and Katie are meeting a negotiation between gender accountability (wherein dominant culture insists that sex and gender align in the production of female femininity) and a queer subcultural expectation that they should reject female femininity. When Katie started associating f emininity with being straight, she went through a makeshift gender identity in which she became more masculine to make her gender fit her non heterosexual sexuality. The experience of rejecting the stereotypical femininity she had grown up with, livin g with a more masculine presentation, and then reevaluating both gender expressions when she decided to express more femininely means, to Katie, that she has a uniquely conscious feminine identity. Katie went on to say:
100 I think that identifying as femme is, I think what makes it queer is that it is a thought about gender expression in a way. I dont think its a choice like when I shaved my head and stopped wearing makeup and how like uncomfortable and foreign that felt. Like, I dont think its a choic e that Im comfortable in my body and in my expression, but I think that its really a thought out process. Im really well aware about the politics behind the clothes that Im buying and Im really conscious about how people are going to treat me and perceive me in the way that I present myself. In her conscious feminine identity of femme, Katie offers a complicated analysis about choice in our gender identities and presentations. She made a choice to present as masculine when she shaved her head and stopped wearing makeup. Because it was a choice, and not something that she felt inclined to do, it felt uncomfortable and foreign. Although her femininity is not a conscious political choice, because it is what makes her feel more comfortable, it is a th ought out process. It is queer because it is a thought about gender expression. Similarly, when I asked Charlotte what made her femininity queer, she told me, its queer because you choose it. She went on: Its so easy to go through life and do wha t society tells you. I grew up in the country and I was raised to grow up and have babies and like have a farm, which is something I still want to do, but have a farm, have babies, dont go to college, get your high school diploma and call it good. Get on your tractor and start going. It would have been really really easy to do that. It would have been easy to do that. There were plenty of people I could have had as a partner, plenty of land, and I had all the skill set. You know? And it would have been easy to do that, and to do what people told me. To take this gender and say, thats good enough for me, and I think people do that. But whats queer is when you defy that and you can defy that by consciously choosing what you want and I think thats radical. Although shes a cissexual female feminine person, Charlotte conceives of her femininity as not doing what society tells her. She rejected the idea that she should have an unreflexive femininity, marry, have a farm, and have babies. Although s he is feminine, something that we might say is something people told [her] to do, it is radical because she is consciously choosing what [she] want[s]. Annabelle felt similarly: I think that femmes are so different from straight women. I can ki nd of understand why some people might have that complaint about a straight woman [that they reinforce gender stereotypes about women by being feminine], although I would certainly not have that
101 complaint. But I think femmes are very different and theyre very conscious about gender. They know what all their options are. Its like a conscious, for me at least, I feel like its a conscious choice. A conscious expression. Its not like my parents told me to wear a dress and so I did. You know? Its not a s simple as the way I perceive heterosexual womens femininity. Kelly also said, All this stuff is more complex for queer women than for straight women, in my opinion. In that sense, being feminine is more complicated. I think it would be rather easy t o assume that these queer feminine women are making an argument for the radical nature of their own gender expression by scapegoating other feminine (heterosexual) women as less aware of their options and therefore, duped by patriarchy. Perhaps this is, i n part, true [please see Chapter 6 for a further discussion of this]. After all, we are left with a portrait of heterosexual femininity that is an unconscious reproduction of what they have been told to do; it is simple and noncomplex; they put on dresse s because their parents told them to. However, in other ways, these participants are explaining their different experiences with femininity due to occupying a lower status in societys sexual hierarchy. Discussing the queer femme controversy over whethe r or not heterosexual women can claim a femme identity [discussed further in Chapter 6], Katrina said: Straight women can identify as femme. Straight women dont Because they take their gender expression as an assumption, not as a performance. For example I have known straight women [who] for all intents and purposes remind me of queer femmes, but they would never identify that way because its not necessarily a choice to them, to look a certain way. I think its very much a choice for me, and a very cele bratory one. Its not that they cant identify as femme, its that they (not they, I shouldnt say they broadly as in all straight women have no concept or are sav v y of this kind of language, that would be a ludicrous assumption). Most straight women do nt view [femininity] as a choice, they view it as an assumption. That sort of thing is exactly opposite of why I identify as femme Katrina clarifies the idea that heterosexual femininity is simplistic or apathetic: perhaps many heterosexual women enjoy f em ininity (as queer feminine participants say they do) and an empowered feminine identity has little to do with the gender someone finds herself attracted to.
102 For these reasons, heterosexual women can identify as femme, a conscious feminine identity. How ever, by and large, they do not because, as Katrina notes, they take their gender expression as an assumption. Although this may not be all heterosexual women, hegemonic hetero(gender) is based in being hetero(feminine) or hetero(masculine) and believin g that these are natural categories (Bornstein, 1994). Someone may conceivably have a heterosexual sexual orientation and question the naturalness of sex, gender, and sexual orientation categories, but she would then be taking on a kind of alternative, or pariah, femininity herself; hegemonic femininity is constituted by unreflexive feminine behavior. Also, while mainstream gays and lesbians have become increasingly invested in projecting a portrait of gay communities as normatively gendere d (Bornstein 1994; Duggan, 2002; Seidman, 2004), these participants suggest that queer communities have a history of cultivating a resistance to normative gender, which encourages people in queer communities to be highly reflexive about their gender identities and ex pressions. Katie mused, I dont know that straight women think about their gender identities a lot (or if they do what that means for them), but I think queer femmes [do]. Similarly, Ruth said, like a random straight person on the street doesnt thi nk a lot about gender identity and you talk to a random queer person on street, and theyve spent a lot of time thinking about gender identity. Also, Renee commented, [Being queer] makes you very conscious. I think in terms of masculinity and femininit y and what you see as masculine and feminine is more obvious because were consciously doing it. When I asked her why queer women talk about consciously choosing femininity, and heterosexual women tend not to discuss gender that way, she said: Probably because when you identify as something, like youre in a minority group, like I said, you really have to you kind of have to kind of come outside and you see everything around you. For me, evaluating all these different things. For me, I guess, being aware of my own femininity and masculinity and seeing what exactly is feminine to
103 some folks and what is masculine to some folks. Gosh, for me performance, being able to display it what I see as masculine and what I see as feminine. She went on to say There are so many words when youre queer. There are so many. There are so many subcultures within queer. In part, what Renee is telling us is that queer people may discuss identifying with complex and nuanced gender identities because queer communi ties offer more gender identities than dominant culture allows. Danielle agreed: I [had] never thought about [gender] as much [until] Ive been out as queer. [I] never thought about it quite as much because it [wasnt] always in your face. [Now it is]. You know, someone will say Im only attracted to femmes, or Im only attracted to that, and you start thinking about the words and what they mean and when they say that what their expectation is from that. Just being in the queer community, I feel like youre constantly being forced to analyze a lot of parts of your identity because theyre always being questioned. Abby, said, I think there are straight women who just love femininity and arent doing it for men. Some are, some arent, but you know, the on e difference is Im queer so all the complexities of being queer versus being straight. Different worlds. She went on to concur with Renee and Danielle: With feminine [heterosexual] women, what Ive noticed is theres not that kind of awareness of being sex positive, of playing with gender from being attracted to FTM, genderqueer, to butch certainly not, some femmes are attracted to femme women too. Theres just not that awareness [for heterosexual women]. The multiple possibilities for gender (and at traction to those genders) in queer communities allows for a personal reflection of gender and sexual attraction that may not be afforded to people outside of queer culture. Further, queer people constantly interact with people who have non normative gend er identities and expressions. More than the abstract possibility of multiple femininities and masculinities, queer people have the opportunity to reflect on gender and sexuality because people in their community offer real life examples of gender diverge nce. Katrina explained:
104 [Queer people] have to [evaluate gender]. Its part of our culture. I mean, if you are existing within queer culture and you are around people who are in same sex couples, around people who are playing with notions of being genderqueer, possibly trans, possibly going through surgeries, everything you know about the dichotomy between male and female, between expressing as male well, between biological sex, between gender, between sexual orientation, everything you know about those so called dichotomies gets blown up. If youre paying attention at all these things are getting called into question everyday within your lived experience. So, I mean, if theres any level of self awareness or critical thought in people who live around queers, you have no choice. It is those real life examples which provide queer people with something the hegemonic gender order does not provide, and something that queer feminine women maintain makes their feminine identity different from heterosexu al women s femininity: choice. Michelle expounded on how queer communities and lesbian communities offer bisexual, lesbian, and queer women more choices than heterosexual women are offered : In the queer community, particularly in the lesbian community, theres be en this amazing and beautiful and great history of saying, you know what, all those things that you say I have to do because I was born a woman, I dont have to do them. And I think thats a really fantastic thing. I think for straight women, they dont, they havent, womens lib only went so far. I think the culture still gives them so few options in terms of what parts, if any, sort of feminine coding or trappings that they want to go for. They may not want any of it, but they feel like they have to b ecause of societal pressures. I think that for them they dont have any options of femininity. Michelle points out the amazing and beautiful history in lesbian communities of rejecting mandates for being a woman in society; although feminism has offer ed some choices for heterosexual women, it only went so far. Queer women are offered the choice to totally reject femininity or to embody parts of feminine coding. The gender choices offered in queer communities are multi layered: it offers a reflecti on about gender identities and expressions, but it also offers a range of feminine expression. Sabrina said, I think that queer femininity takes on its owntheres this kind of like freedom to play with the boundaries of sexuality, gender, and social conformity. This freedom means that people like Michelle can feel that they learned the drag queens version of femininity while
10 5 others, like Crimson, can recognize that, queers have a broader idea of what can be feminine. Michelle elaborated on the wa ys in which queer cultures options in femininity encourages a hyper femininity: The difference is that queer femmes have options with femininity. Theyre saying, you know what, I dont have to wear lipstick, its a choice, so Im going to wear bright pink lipstick with a glitter overlay just to let you know that Im going this on my terms. I didnt do this because my daddy told me I had to or because Im trying to attract an army man. Im doing this because I like the way it looks; I like that it stands out and it doesnt look like everybody else. Michelle, like many other participants, felt that because they have chosen femininity, they make extravagant and hyper visible displays of femininity. These displays of femininity are often rejected in domin ant heterosexual society. For the idea of femininity to be kept intact as natural, it cannot look so produced as pink lipstick with a glitter overlay; wearing this kind of makeup displays their rejection of trying to attract an army man. Although que er communities reserve a certain stigma for feminine expression [ discussed at length in Chapter 6], they also offer a safe reprieve from dominant cultures hostile environment for feminine expression. Most importantly, participants explained that queer co mmunities are safer places to express femininely. Emma, who said that she actively tries to challenge how people conceive of feminine women by not being a good woman, said that when Im in queer spaces I dont have to do that so muchI can be more, I dont know, stereotypically feminine. Similarly, Irene told me that she enjoys being hyper feminine and taking on a drag version of femininity, but not in heterosexual settings as much because its not the same. Michelle agreed, its fun to put on glitter and bright pink makeup, and boas, and six inch heels and you can do that in the safety of your own community where you cant really do that in other communities. Its fun and safe. Patricia explained further: When Im in the straight world lik e a lot of men make me feel really unsafe because theyre responding to that outrageous sexuality because I cant turn it on and off because
106 its that core part of me and so I get hit on a lot but they wont back down and I get scared. I dont want to go out alone at night. I dont feel that way in the queer community; I feel the opposite. I feel really strong. Even when butches hit on me inappropriately Im like I can freakin top you because Im a femme! Its like a totally different power exchange, in my mind. I might not be any safer in the queer community, but it feels safer. I really think a lot of femmes feel that way. When Patricia expresses herself in heterosexual settings, men make her feel unsafe, whereas queer communities offer a totally different power exchange. For this reason, the safety offered by queer communities to express femininity, queer communities sometimes witness a more outrageous presentation of femininity. Katie also feels that, part of [feminine display] is different i n queer communities because I do feel that it is slightly safer in queer communities for femmes. She explained: I think [that with femininity in queer communities] theres a lot of in your face kind of thing and I think that part of that is trying to re own part of whats been taken away. Like, I feel really objectified [in heterosexual settings] and I cant walk down the street because of how Im being perceived and so when I walk into the dyke bar, Im still going to wear my miniskirt and Im going to show all the dykes that I know what Im doing. And its more of an ownership, like its more of a kind of like, if you were going to objectify and marginalize this, when were going to make a were here and in your face kind of thing. Katie later said, F emininity has to be downplayed to be safe or taken seriously in the rest of the dominant world. Because of this, she feels that her femininity has been taken away in dominant society. Although queer communities might be hostile to some expressions of femininity, they also provide safe places where queer feminine women can express a hyper femininity and not feel as fearful of the consequences of their production as they might in heterosexual settings. R ace and Class Dimensions of the Feminine Other Re call that the reason that Schippers (2007) is reluctant to include race as one of the qualities that informs occupying a hegemonic or subjugated feminine position within the gender order is that she has constructed a theory that is attentive to the ways in which behavior complies
107 or resists the gender order: hegemonic femininity complies; pariah and alternative femininities resist. She argues that women of color should not be understood to occupy a category of alternative femininity because of marginalized racial status; scholars should think about how behavior complies with or resists patriarchy. I both concur and disagree with her perspective. From my point of view, i t is true that anyone can comply or resist patriarchy through their behavior. However, they are always complying with or resisting a white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Just as women in queer communities experience different cultural norms for feminine expression, race, ethnic, and class norms influence how people experience and identify with femininity. Axes of Oppression: Femininity at an Intersection of Privilege and Oppression These axes of oppression associated with a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy racism, classism, heterosexism, and sexism are played out on t he bodies of individuals. This is perhaps easiest to see when people exist at an axis of oppression which encompasses several oppressions. Let us spend some time hearing from Crimson, a self described queer femme, a now twenty one year old who has call ed herself queer since she was thirteen, a woman who described her class status on her interview survey as Poor/Black/Fat/Nappy haired. When I asked Crimson why she described her class status as these four things, she told me that these things informed her status in society. She went on: When I came out queer to my family, my mom, she wasnt disappointed exactly she just thought it was going to be a taxing thing, but one of the things she brought up was its ok when white people are queer because ev erythings just ok for them. Youve already got things going against you, do you really want to add on to that? I understand that with being queer, Im also black, Im also fat. Then theres one more thing with the hair thing. I dont see there arent women on tv or in magazines who look like me. Women who are black and are depicted as pretty are light skinned or have straight hair, or a lot of times have blonde hair. Thats just another thing I had to accept of being outside the norm. Its one of the things I had to accept about myself.
108 One of the ways that Crimson resists a white supremacist patriarchy is through wearing her hair natural without a relaxer or a perm which is just another thing outside the norm. Because the gender order is infused with racist codes for behavior, Crimsons hair decisions mark her refusal to comply and would most probably mark her as a pariah someone to be feared because of her refusal to comply. Although some women of color may comply by making different ha ir decisions, white women do not even have this choice because their hair is assumed as a neutral default assumption for how hair should be and how women should look to be considered beautiful. White women do not have to comply or resist, in choosing the texture of their hair, because they are always implicated in a white supremacist gender order. Crimson said more about experiences with her hair: Its not even questioned that [women of color] wouldnt have straight hair. I challenge people every time we talk about it. Why dont we question why we would burn our scalps to look like somebody else? I think I was in high school when I stopped straightening my hair. Not only was I the fat kid and the openly queer kid, I was the kid with the big nappy hair. So it became another thing I had to make fit who I am and so I make it a point to address that as well, being the other, its just another thing that has to be dealt with, that I have to be conscious of. Sometimes people will make it an issue. Why dont you put straightener in your hair? Its not something I think about [anymore]. When she made the decision to stop straightening her hair, she became the girl with the big nappy hair, as well as being the fat kid, and the openly queer kid it was a n aspect of her identity that made her the other. All of these identities created a persona that was othered in her high school environment and no one who experienced one of these oppressions could understand the whole of experiencing all of them bein g black, wearing natural hair, being fat, and being queer. She went on to describe how her queer politics influence her experiences with her hair: I belong to this online forum that is for black women with natural hair and the whole idea is that from the time black women are small children, were taught that your hair needs to
109 be changed and I got my hair relaxed for the first time when I was five Thats usually the average age five or six So before I stopped and cut all my hair off I had no idea what my natural hair texture was like. So the forum is so everyone can exchange ideas because of none of us knew. When you stop and cut your hair off its a big surprise and nobody knows what to do with it or what products to use so we have this forum. I ge t really excited about it all the time, but its sad when the political aspect comes in and people dont understand. I feel like its always the femmes that get it. Any black woman can wear her hair natural. For some women it is a fashion thing or its w hats cool right now or its low maintenance or whatever. But when conversations about white supremacy or cultural assimilation or whatever comes up, its the femmes that are like, yeah, thats why I do [it]. At a different point in our interview Crimson told me that she does not believe heterosexual women can be femmes so when she says that its always the femmes that get it, she means that queer women of color are the ones who, she believes, understand the political nature of wearing natural hair. Alt hough the forum to discuss natural hair is political in its very existence because it offers information on how to wear hair that white society has denigrated, Crimson believes that any black woman can wear her hair natural but that political beliefs abo ut white supremacy and cultural assimilation are infused with a queer rejection of racist/patriarchal/heterosexist ideals for how women should look. Again, the intersection of her multiple identities influences how she experiences one of them, the weari ng of her hair. In discussing why she does not feel conflicted about wearing her hair natural she said, I feel like its just been so long that Ive known that Im not what society sees as beautiful that I dont even try to be that anymore. She expounded on this issue: My hair being the way it is it definitely is seen as another strike against me in the idea of what makes a pretty woman. With my dark skin color and my thighs, being openly queer, not straightening my hair is on that list of things that I have taken and made powerful. It does I have encountered people who dont think its attractive or Ive been in job interviews where people are like, what are you going to do with it? So I feel like its just another one of those things that I want t o take back, to claim its power and its beauty, as something that is that a lot of people wont recognize as attractive or positive, but that I want to make very femme and sassy. Certainly women who have dark skin, [large] thighs, or queer attracti ons can behave in a way that complies with a racist, heterosexist gender order. It is Crimsons decision to claim
110 [the] power and [the] beauty of these things and to make them very femme and sassy which marks her resistance against patriarchy. Again, other women white women whose hair texture is a default assumption or women with conventional body sizes and conventional sexual attractions begin their journey toward compliance or resistance at a different starting place than Crimson. These women c an still resist, but they are negotiating different choices. Although it is necessary to understand how womens behavior influences their status in the gender order, it is also imperative to understand the ways in which women are organized differently a long hierarchies of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality pre behavior. Race, Privilege, and Femininity Just as the queer women I interviewed believe that queer communities offered subcultural gender norms when compared to dominant (heterosexual) cultur e, the queer black women I interviewed believed that black communities have alternative gender relations when compared to dominant (white) culture. Johanna explained her experiences growing up African American in the south as growing up in a matriarchal community with a glass ceiling: Theres that whole experience when youre going to church that like women can be like ushers and head of the choir and all that good stuff, but theyll never make church elder and its just a given. Its not something som ebody challenged and got smacked down for, its just a given. So, yeah, in that way. Femininity isnt like revered and exalted, but I kind of feel like I still felt this sense of a matriarchal community with the cooking of big dinners and the way that big social activities were organized by women and men just sat on the periphery and men were shooed out of the kitchen and shooed out of the talks and all that good stuff, boy children especially. I kind of feel like I grew up in this matriarchal community, but it had a glass ceiling on it. Although femininity may not be totally revered and exalted in communities she grew up in, there was still a sense that these communities could be described as matriarchal. Importantly, this discussion of a kind of m atriarchal community was juxtaposed against how white women experience femininity: Johanna believes that white women do not experience matriarchal communities and that this affects how they develop femininities. She went on:
111 I kind of feel like with black folks, maybe all communities of color, that feminine, being feminine for women, is kind of the default setting. Sometimes its more extreme like I dont think I could do some of the things with my hair or the wearing of hats that my mother and grandmot her do, you know, going to church. But I kind of just feel like it was the default setting. The way I grew up it might be more difficult to be butch. Although femininity is a default setting for all women, Johanna seems to believe that all communitie s of color create more of an emphasis on women being feminine. Whether or not it would actually be more difficult for a white woman or a black woman to be butch, what is important is that Johanna relates her opportunities for gender expression to the rac ially specific community in which she was raised. In agreement with Johanna, Renee a Black femme said, I think [femme stigma] is definitely a black/white [difference] sometimes. Black femmes never had any issues with being femme, feminine at all. Rene e told me this at a moment when we were discussing how some white femmes had been treated badly in queer communities in Atlanta; she believes that white and black queer women have different experiences with queer femininity because they come from having di fferent femininity experiences as white and black women. In the way that all gender codes of behavior constrain or facilitate behavior, racialized codes of femininity may facilitate pariah femininity, or resistance against patriarchy. Danielle told me, I think as black women were already expected to be more outspoken and to stand up for ourselves and already, you know, not taking any bull shit while in a dress and heels. Yeah. She continued to explain what this means for black queer women: The thing is, I mean, black women are typically expected to be more aggressive and dominant so thats already a traditional part of our femininity whereas its more traditional for white [women] to be more submissive so I think us falling into queer femininity is a lot easier in terms of having that edgy, spunky, sassy, diva quality about us, you know. Its a lot easier, I think. Stereotypical ideas about black women that they are outspoken, they stand up for [them]selves, dont take any bullshit, and are more aggressive, have historically been used
112 to rationalize their oppression (Collins, 2000). Not only does Danielle note these as positive qualities, she surmises that these qualities makes it easier for black women to [fall] into queer femininity, which is edgy, spunky, sassy, and diva[like]. Importantly, Danielle concurs with Johanna and Renee that racialized experiences with femininity create unique experiences with feminine identification, but she suggests something more. These alternative f eminine qualities she associates with black women of outspokenness, aggressiveness, and sassyness qualities which resist patriarchy are qualities that are associated with a pariah queer femininity. This is perhaps more evidence that black women are al ways outside of hegemonic femininity. As previously noted, it is not just queer desire that promotes an alternative femininity, but the context and sociality of a queer community. Similarly, it is not just being black, but being a part of black communiti es (and queer communities) which provides these alternative meanings of femininity. For example, during a different point in our interview, Danielle explained how black communities promote dressing up: Definitely, the black community promotes dressing u p like far more so it gives you opportunities to present how you want to and how its more exaggerated, I guess, a lot more frequently. And then the whole ballroom scene [parties in Black communities that offer awards for hyperfeminine and hyper masculin e outfits] that I was mentioning earlier. Its mostly people of color and they have competitions of performing femininity and whatnot and so youve got [to] strut down the catwalk and you know, the best this, the best that, whatever, a lot of the ballroom scene very much promotes hyper femininity and hyper masculinity and like no room for the middle situations. This subcultural expectation for displaying exaggerated gender may help encourage a hyper femininity which facilitates femme identity for queer b lack women. She continued: Its so funny because I spend the vast majority of my time in black queer space so, you know, the only time ( I go and I obviously spend time in mixed spaces as well ) but Im trying to think like hmmI think theres actually mor e black femmes than white femmes in Atlanta, like a lot more. Come to think of it, just thinking about when you walk into a room, like me walking into a room in a party that I go to, plenty of femmes. Plenty!
113 Everywhere and theyre lesbian femmes. When I go out to the clubs where there are fewer black people, I feel like theres not as many high femmes. Perhaps because it is common for black subcultures, like queer ballroom cultures, to encourage exaggerated femininity and masculinity, there is more latitude for expressing an extravagant femininity. After all, Danielle says that there are plenty of femmes in queer black spaces and not as many high femmes in racially mixed environments. Crimson seemed to have an optimistic idea about queer femm es understanding each others oppression across lines of race and class difference. She said, Because being queer, being ostracized and othered, you start to understand other peoples oppressionI can talk about race and class with other femmes and femmes get it. Whereas like other women just dont seem to get it and its disappointing. However, it was rare in interviews I conducted for white women to have spent time analyzing how their race has affected them as feminine people. Very few white women w ere as conscious of their race and class privilege as Betty, who said: My race and my class absolutely affect my femme. [In terms of social class] I think the most striking example is that Ive had the luxury of learning about my femme. Ive had time to think about it, Ive had time to read about it, study about it, and you know, free to speak about it in this really articulate way. There have been times in my life when Ive had two jobs, but that hasnt been often. Im able to exist in the world in a wa y where I can arrange myself, and arrange my expression, in a way that feels great for me. The intersection [of class and race] is [also] present, you know, because theres nothing upsetting to anyone about me being white and femme. Thats a huge amount of privilege. Theres race privilege in that in society. Although she does not specifically articulate how her race status has influenced her experiences with femininity, Betty is conscious of how her class position has affected her feminine identity: i t has afforded her the luxury of articulating a specific kind of femme identity, which she largely encountered during her college education. She adds that because she is middle class and white, there is nothing upsetting to anyone about her being femini ne. She implies that femininity associated with working class women and women of color is upsetting to the social order,
114 implicating white, middle class women in maintaining racialized hegemonic femininity. Providing a specific example of how white fem ininity can have racist effects, she added, The aesthetic of southern white women is wholly dysfunctional. I really believe that women, southern white women, are socialized [to believe that] manipulation is our only tool. White southern women talk about their feelings all the time, how they feel about something, which is really, you know, can be quite racist in that it takes up so much space. Just as Johanna, Renee, and Danielle recognized the ways in which their experiences in black communities created opportunity contexts for them to live femininely gendered lives, Betty is arguing that white women are socialized not just as women but as white women. Importantly, she tells us that one of the ways white women are socialized to be manipulative an d to talk about their feelings all the time can be quite racist because it takes up so much space. In short, she makes the argument that white feminine socialization has an effect and that effect can uphold a racist hierarchy. Katie was also con scious about how her race and class privilege have influenced her feminine identity: The most recent thing thats come for me is makeup in that I love it and think that it is so much fun [but] also knowing that with makeup, clothes, all of that, theres a ton of class stuff behind all of that i n the particular way that I express femininity. I dont think there is in the way that everyone does it, but in the way that I do it theres a lot of class stuff that goes behind it. Theres a lot of patriarchy dee ming whattheres a lot of race stuff that goes behind makeup [also]. A lot of that not being ok in how weve stereotypically defined what it means to be a woman, and choosing to identify with that, and theres some privilege that goes along with that. And I think more than anything its just an underlying patriarchy deciding that this is how women should look in the world. More than anything, Katie tells us, there is an underlying patriarchy which dictates how women should look in the world. These expectations for how women should look are infused with race and class bias. Not only does she realize that there is class stuff involved in the specific kind of femininity she expresses, but she also points out that she has chosen to identify with ster eotypically defined [notions of] what it means to be a woman. Although her queer
115 identity marks her as having a pariah femininity, Katie takes accountability for the ways in which her race privilege and classed production of femininity associate her with a more hegemonic notion of femininity than the femininity productions of working class women and women of color. Montana, a white, middle class femme who is conscious that her race and class statuses have had some effect on her feminine identity, provided some explanation for why many white women are inept in analyzing their race privilege. When I asked her why she identifies as a fat queer femme, she told me: Thats basically, for me, the crux of [my social justice work] but that leaves so much out. I ts interesting because all three of those identities are marginalized identities, you know, and so, you know, Im sure it would be much more accurate to be like Im a white, able bodied, educated, American and English speaking queer fat femme so I want t o admit the things Im not saying when I do say that, but definitely thats the that is the intersection of where I do my social justice work. The crux of [Montanas] social justice work centers on being fat, queer, and femme because these are aspects of her social location where she experiences oppression; because of that, they have become salient identities. It makes sense that ones most salient (and therefore most analyzed) identities would be those that are marginalized. For instance, Michelle, a white working class femme, spoke at length about how her class has influenced her feminine identity [discussed below], but when I said to her, Do you feel like your race, being white, has influenced your femininity? She answered, I think it influences everything. I think more than race, I think class influences everything and yes, I think definitely my class background has informed my ideas about femininity. Although Michelle went on to talk about how her race is possibly influential because her experiences as a white working class woman have been different than femmes she knows who are working class black wome n, her first response was that class is more influential
116 than race. Often there was an acknowledgment on the part of participants with race and class privilege that they receive social privilege in these arenas, but how this occurred was left unanalyzed. Emma, a white middle class femme, was unable to analyze how her race and class affect her femininity even after she brought up the importance of race and class. This was our conversation: Maura : Do you feel like femme looks a certain way? Are there style markers? Emma : I think thats a regional thing probably. It has to do with class and race, for sure. Maura : So tell me from your specific location. What has your race and class taught you about femininity? Emma A similar conversation occurred with Edith. I asked Edith if she thought her race and class positions, as a white, middle class femme, had influenced her femininity; she agreed that it had. When I asked her to tell me how they had influenced her, she said: : I dont know. Those are things I dont think about very often so Yeah, I havent really thought about [that] or put much energy into [thinking about it]. Part of that might be that Seattle is so fucking white that I dont feel like its something I could think about or construct in any kind of appropriate way because I dont really have [many experiences with people of color] it would just be so theoretical and based on so many assumptions that [it] just feels not ok to me. These examples might be illustrative of a woman of color critique of white feminists: they have learned to acknowledge that race and class are influential hierarchies, but still fail to think about the ways i n which they actually structure their lives (Mose, 2006). Also, these narratives tell an important story of identity and how certain identities become salient in the way that we organize our daily thoughts and actions. In terms of queer femininity, it i s evidential of why these queer feminine participants have spent so much time analyzing (and organizing around) their feminine identities: their queer identities challenge their feminine status and mark them as pariahs. Significantly, working class partic ipants, like Michelle, were well versed in describing the
117 intersection of queer, working class, and feminine identities; women of color participants, like Johanna, articulated the intersection of their queer, woman of color, feminine identities. The inter section of sexuality, class, race, and gender are always present in the social location of individuals, but they become more salient when the identity is oppressed or challenged removed further from hegemonic ideals of femininity. Femininity, Beauty, and Social Class Class oppression influences ones feminine identity, just as race, ethnicity, and sexuality might. However, social class is unique in the way that it intersects with hegemonic femininity in the expected production of feminine beauty. Conve ntional feminine characteristics (both visual and mental) are situated within a hegemonic (white, middle class, heterosexual, and complicit) femininity. Feminine women who diverge from this archetype are visible pariahs. Just as Danielle suggested that n orms of black femininity are parallel to norms of queer femininity because of their resistant qualities (being aggressive, standing up for ones self, et cetera), Michelle, a white working class femme, believed that working class femininities are similar to queer femininities. Talking about the difference between middle class femininity and working class femininity, respectively, she said, Thats the delicate, flower femininity and ours is the rough on the street femininity. Repeatedly during the interview she would call queer femininities fierce and in your face, in arguable opposition to delicate, flower femininity. These perspectives are articulating the departure from hegemonic femininity that women of color, working class women, and queer wom en make; their focus on the behavioral qualities associated with many women in these groups suggest, not just their subordinate status to hegemonic femininity, but their pariah resistance to it and patriarchy. This intersection of class and femininity b ecomes all the more complicated when we talk about the specific identity of queer femmes because butch/femme, the antecedent of modern
118 femme identity, was based in a working class subculture of lesbian bar life (Kennedy & Davis, 1993). Michelle spoke to t his conflict: For me, [femme is] about working cl ass history, thats where butch/ femme came from. I think that has a lot to do with the exaggerated stuff too. I think when you work on streets, people who work on the streets have exaggerated femininity or exaggerated masculinity to attract customers and a lot of people who started the butch femme phenomenon worked the streets. And, so, I come from a working class background where femininity is this really harsh thing. Its this really rough and raw thing and I think thats where femme started. I think it started from this very stone, very rough, beginning and I identify with that. I think [thats why] people automatically link the term fierce with the term femme. For Michelle, part of the current roug h and raw qualities of femme identity exists because of their historical basis in working class communities. For her, it is perhaps not queer femininities departure from heterosexuality that marks it as pariah, but its association with working class beh avioral pariah femininity. Edith, a white middle class femme, has also noticed this fusion of working class origin and modern femme sensibilities. She told me: Theres a lot of class issues around femme community. I definitely feel like I would be out of place for class reasons so I would probably shy away from it [a lot of times]. Being in a more privileged position, I dont feel comfortable in queer space and I dont feel comfortable in femme space, like I have to apologize for the job I have. Because of her middle class status, Edith feels uncomfortable in femme community. Significantly, she discusses queer space and femme space as the same kind of community. In some ways this speaks to the ways in which queer culture rejects the materialism ass ociated with American capitalism (unlike more mainstream gay and lesbian communities) and the ways in which femme community is still based in working class sensibilities; It also illustrates that femme organizing resides more in queer communities rather than gay and lesbian communities Perhaps because of its working class origins, femme identity would not be comfortably situated within a mainstream gay and lesbian framework. Edith went on to say that this is especially true in the visual presentation of femme:
119 Edith : At the same time, I look at some of the things that other femmes do who are probably in a different class bracket than I am just because of what I do for a living and what they do for a living and I love the way they perform their femininity. The fact they go to a thrift store and find some awesome skirt. I love that style. I wish I had that style sensibility. I dont know that it would really work on me, but I think thats just as femme as anything else. I end up feeling a little shame about having a good job that makes a decent amount of money and being able to buy new clothes and end up a little embarrassed about it sometimes. Maura : Because queer sensibility is a little more? Edith : Working class. Maura : Like queer presentation espe cially? Edith In part, Ediths narrative speaks to an unproductive middle class guilt for her privilege in that she end[s] up a little embarrassed about her class position; it is also illustrative of the ways that people in privileged positions can exoticize the positions of oppressed people in that she wish[es] [she] had that style sensibility. Because of the symbiotic relationship between working class femininity and queer femme sensibilities, Michelle felt that middle class femmes emulate wor king class origins of femme. Even when middle class femmes try to adopt the style Edith wishes could work on [her], Michelle believes that the middle class femininity they were raised with still comes to the surface. She said: : Yes. Im thinking about middle class femmes Ive met through femme mafia who definitely have a softer edge to their presentation of femme, even when theyre femmed out to the hilts its definitely softer. Im thinking about femmes I identify with more and they have a rougher approac h to femme and theyre all working class. The reason Michelle gives for identifying more with working class femmes is that they have a rougher femininity and middle class femmes have a softer edge to their presentation. I asked Michelle, When you s ay a rougher femininity, can you give examples or talk about that a little more. Is it an attitude, is it in presentation? She answered: Its in all of it. I definitely think that it starts from the attitude, but its shown [in the presentation]. She went on:
120 When I was thinking just a minute ago about middle class femmes I know and working class femmes that I know, its interestinglike if I take two different people in two different outfits. The middle class femme is wearin g an outfit that costs 50 bucks or whatever, but its very nice material and it would be very acceptable in mainstream culture. There might be something thats a little over the top, some accessory thats big and bold, but the fabric is nice and the overall presentation is very pleasing by mainstream standards. The working class femme Im thinking about is often wearing fabrics that are associated with other subcultures. She might spend the same amount of money on that outfit, but its something that would not be appreciated in proper community. Importantly, clothing that marks class status is not necessarily based in how much one spends on an outfit, but with what feminine qualities the outfit is associated. She went on to give examples that working class femmes might wear that would not be appreciated in proper community: leather, or nylon like pvc, or lace, something that would be seen as promiscuous or somehow sub, [inferior] Working class femmes, in Michelles mind, are more likely to present their femininity with style markers that are somehow promiscuous or sub because working class femininity is already associated with these sexualized markers of subordinated femininity. Although queer femininity is also subordinate to a hegemonic ideal of femininity, the middle cl ass status of queer feminine women positions them closer to that hegemonic ideal. She went on to make the conjecture: There must be something there in middle class femmes femininity, that its more tied to mainstream cultures ideas of femininity and b ecause working class femmes are already marginalized because of their class background, I wonder if, for that reason, their approach to femininity is always going to have a subcultural marginalized look to it and feel to it. Again, as Michelle pointed out, working class femmes are already marginalized because of their class background and so their queer femininity is even more subcultural than the queer femininity of middle class femmes, which is more tied to mainstream cultures ideas of femininity. A lthough it is significant that a specific queer feminine identity, femme, has been infused with working class meanings, it is unarguable that the larger context of ideal hegemonic femininity is also infused with class hierarchy an d acc ess to displaying cap ital success.
121 If social class can be read on ones body (Adair, 2001) and social class and femininity intersect with one another, it is reasonable that expectations of hegemonic femininity are displayed through displaying ones class affiliation. Further, ideals of feminine beauty are associated with things that decorate the body, things that are purchased. An example from Femme Mafia in Atlanta is instructive. Although other femme organizations I spent time with seemed averse to consumerist displays of femininity Femme Affinity Group in Portland especially articulated an anarchist and anti capitalist position and projected a doityourself (DIY) kind of fashion aesthetic the Femme Mafia in Atlanta always struck me as particularly invested in extravag ant expressions of femininity. This extensive quote from my observation notes of my first femme only Saturday night Femme Mafia event: When I got to the restaurant, Danielle and another mafia femme were just discussing their friend who received a pair of Versace sun glasses that were 360 dollars from her butch as an apology for an argument theyd had. Later, I found out that the Versace sunglasses belonged to the leader of the organization. They call her the Donna, a feminized spoof of the mafia leade r name, the Don. A few minutes later the Donna entered. She is tall (at least in her very high heels); she wore a black pencil skirt, black vinyl high heels, and a hot pink corset with embroidered flowers. She is slender, but curvy with long black curl y hair, pulled into a teased ponytail with an impressive amount of height. She wears fake eyelashes, red eye makeup, and a lot of lipstick and lipgloss. She tells us that her corset was handmade for $80, bragging about the deal she had gotten. She sits next to me and immediately shows Danielle and the other mafia femme a ring on her right hand. Its a big pink stone with encrusted diamonds around it. She says, I just needed some diamonds on the ring so I put them on today They coo over it. She announces that the diamonds are actually cubic zirconium. Then shows them another ring, a pink ring with a raised gold crown around it. Also she tells us that earlier that day she went to a costume store, you know, to buy something simple like spirit gum anot her girl laughed and said simple like spirit gum? and she said, yeah, how else do you keep pasties on? When she was there, she bought a pair of $50 fake eyelashes: they have sequins, jewels, and feathers on them. She said, Did I mention I had a good day? I did. Later in the evening when the organization leader walked away from the table, Danielle and the other mafia femme told me that they have an annual masquerade ball in January to celebrate the organization. Last year, they told me, the organization l eader wore a Marie Antoniette type dress with a huge train and a big wig. They said in unison, thats why
122 shes our Donna. Danielle said Im just not that fabulous She paused and said, I cant afford to be that fabulous. After the constant references to extravagance and how much things cost I jotted in my memos, How would working class fem mes feel in this environment? Importantly, the Donna casually mentioned being raised poor and working class and coming from nothing several times during my time with Femme Mafia. Although I did not interview her, my guess is that the Donna would not currently identify as middle class. Interestingly, she told me that she left Florida, where she grew up, because major gay cities like Miami have lesbian communities where its all about having the right sunglasses. She has described her femininity to me as gritty, and that the femme she identifies with is all about white trash debutant and infused with a southern working class sensibility. I agree with her assessment. Using Michelles language, the Donnas presentation is not considered appropriate in mainstream societ y: her clothing is often synthetic material, she is often mistaken for a drag queen because of her outlandish makeup, and she has large and visible tattoos; she is also bi racial and often tells stories about how her race is difficult for people to assess, another departure from hegemonic feminine ideals. However, her constant reference to the cost of her feminine production is telling of the classed expectations associated with femininity as is the mafia femmes agreement that the cost, time, and effort she puts into her femininity rightfully makes her their Donna. She is fabulous, and, as Danielle notes, not everyone can afford to be t hat fabulous. Katie, a white middle class femme who was raised upper middle class, noted how she negotiates her particular classed (and expensive to produce) version of femininity with her political ideas about capitalism: [Negotiating class politics and beauty] has been a really big struggle for me and Im not over it. Part of it has been giving myself permission to be ok with wanting to look [what I consider] pretty. Part of it is still that I am now supporting myself completely on my own, my mom will take me shopping twice a year.
123 financial way for me to purchase the clothes that I want to, but its also been an ethical getting myself in a mind frame.Theres been all these places in my life where Ive ded icated myself to social change and what that looks like. Ive done a lot of traveling in my life. Ive seen sweatshops and know how unjust they are and all of that. Even thinking about the politics of companies that produce the clothes that I buy and how they treat their workers and all of that. And I think that now more than any other time in my life, Im knowing that and Im trying to be very smart about that but Im also stepping back and saying this is what Im going to dedicate my life to studying and this is my volunteer hours and this is everything and Im going to go shopping and try not to feel guilty about it and that still changes a lot. Interestingly, as Edith pointed out, products that do not exploit workers tend to cost more than more commonpl ace items that are known for their poor production policies: [Someone might feel like], Hey, I might not agree with Mabelines products, but I work at a nonprofit and its important to me to express femininity and I cant go to Sephora and buy the really f ancy makeup or stuff thats socially conscious Like making those tradeoffs between these politics and those politics and self expression and always fighting the good fight and how you give parts of yourself up to do that sometimes. Its not always worth it. There are sacrifices and theyre not always on the side we would like them to be. Edith explained, Now that Im not working at a nonprofit and I can be more intentional about where I spend my money, I do. Even when I had to buy my makeup at the drug store, I was as good about it as I could be without having to eat crappy. Further, as Katie also stated, Edith explained how some feminine people decide to make a tradeoff wherein they participate in consumerist culture because it benefits how they fee l about their gender expression: Someone [on my friends livejournal made a post that] said I have a real problem with some of the ways that femme is expressed in some of the unexamined capitalist overtones They had [written] some things that really piss ed me off. I was like, what the hell makes you think its unexamined? We were raised under the same queer culture that you were. Were all activists too. Not all of us, but a lot of us are pretty hardcore activists and recycle and care about the environme nt and do the best we can to be good global citizens. So it bugs me when I hear people say, oh well, being femme youre not examining these other things Well, I have, but being me and being true to myself is really important to me. And it bugs me when t heres [this idea that] oh, I cant believe you would shop at a drug store and [buy] mabeline, they do animal testing. Yeah, thats really horrible, but at the same time for people who cant afford it, who am I to tell them, like, you have no right to your gender expression unless it lives up this set of ideals that may not be yours anyway. Even if they are, like its none of myits not my place to take that away from them.
124 In some ways, this right to [a] gender expression and the negotiation of feminine ideals and capitalism that comes with it, is unique to feminine women. As Edith later stated, I think there are definitely class issues with access to some of the external things that we do to signify our femininity. In many ways, feminine women are s capegoated for being capitalist consumers in a way that masculine people are not because of the obvious products that go into producing a feminine presentation. Katie explained further: I think that when you look at femininity and capitalism, it is really mind boggling to me because when I look through Cosmo magazine or something and I look through all these ads that are just really really not ok[I look at] what theyre saying and [also] know that women are really smart and a lot of them are really smart consumers. Its interesting that a lot of can be so in your face [but that] theres still so much buying into it kind of thing that I havent really been able to figure out. Is it internalized stuff thats happening or what? I do thinkit would be inter esting to see. It would be interesting to see how much women spend on appearance versus how much men spend; it wouldnt surprise me if its drastically more [that men spend]. In this statement, Katie notes two important social phenomena: first, capitalism is targeted at women in a unique way. Even though women are really smart, and really smart consumers, there is some kind of internalized stuff thats happening wherein women are encouraged to buy products in order to feel entitled to a genuine femi nine identity. Her second point complicates her first: women are not solely to blame for consumer culture because it would be unsurprising if men spent more on their appearance than women. Although it has been famously noted by Wolf (1997) that an econom ic consequence of patriarchy is that women spend a large portion of their income on their appearance, Katie is noting that feminine products are more obvious. For instance, a seven dollar tube of lip gloss worn with a fifteen dollar pair of high heels mig ht read as more engaged with capitalism than a masculine persons appearance of no lipgloss and a 150 dollar pair of Doc Martin boots. Katie went on to explain that a discussion about the importance of purchased gender markers is especially critical when we are talking about queer people purchasing these items:
125 Absolutely [queer femmes talk about external gender markers as part of their femme identity]. And the fact that this is a queer community, which is very different for me than a gay community, and I feel like a queer community is not financially stable. Theres a lot of people being majorly discriminated against, femmes included, in the job market. I would not consider the queer community as having a ton of wealth and all this disposable income so i t is really interesting that there is this whole material thing to it. I think for queer folks and for trans folks. I think that when you look at all the money and the effort that goes on for gender markers, theres a lot going on for a community that doesnt have a lot of money. Katie, like others, places femmes within a queer community rather than a gay community and suggests that queer people, because of their variant gender expressions, are discriminated against in the job market and do not have a ton of wealth. Still, there is a whole material thing to it, in the production of gender variant identities and expressions. This point underscores the ways in which capitalism intersects with the production of gendered selves in that we purchase p roducts to feel authentically gendered. These moments of femininitys intersection with beauty ideals, race hierarchies, class differences, and capitalism highlight the situated existence of femininity. Social location and personal experiences within mult iple social hierarchies is perhaps the leading reason that Schippers (2007) theory is useful, but must be amended. As she argues, i t is crucial that we pay attention to the ways that femininity can be hegemonic and not just emphasized, underscoring the w ays in which women who comply with patr iarchy reap societal rewards; i t is crucial that we understand femininities to be multiple and organized differential ly in societys gender order. Further, Schippers offers a way to understand how behavior can comply with or resist the gender order. As I have spent some time discussing in this chapter, my participants queer identities and participation in queer communities led them to want to produce a different kind of femininity, one that seeks to diverge from com plicit, heterosexual hegemonic femininity. However, as I have also discussed, my queer participants were organized differently within the gender order, depending on their race and class statuses.
126 Still using Schippers (2007) ideas, we might say that al l women can comply with or resist patriarchy, that femininities are multiple and organized along stratification lines of hegemonic, subordinate, and pariah/al ternative femininities. That is I suggest that we think of the hegemonic category as one that implies access to white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy it is for women who occupy a privileged race, class, and sexual orientation category and who comply with patriarchy through their behavior. Women of color, working class women, and queer iden tified women, who occupy a subordinate femininity category, can resist patriarchy through their behavior, but they will never access hegemonic femininity. Finally, any woman whether she occupies a hegemonic or subordinate femininity category can occup y a pariah/alternative femininity category through her choices to resist the gender order with subversive behavior. Importantly, as this and the next chapter details, alternative femininities can feel authentic, deeply internalized, and empowering. The f emme movement, discussed throughout the rest of this work, stems from queer feminine womens deeply internalized impulse to be feminine, their situated feminine identities, and a growing consciousness that both mainstream and queer cultures disregard femininity as inferior to masculinity. In the next chapter I discuss exactly how it is that participants moved from an orientation toward femininity to a deliberate femme identity In many ways, femme identity can be thought of as a political tool which expl ains some queer womens experiences with femininity. That is, they frame their orientation toward femininity in politicized terms, using the narrative resources most readily available in their queer communities. Gubrium and Holstein (2001) suggest that postmodern selves are produced by various and multiple institutional affiliations. Institutional identities are locally salient images, models,
127 or templates for self construction; they serve as resources for structuring selves (Gubrium & Holstein, 2001: 11). Inspired by an ethnomethodological approach to understanding the ways members of society do social interaction, Holstein and Gubrium (2000) are concerned with how members do social interaction. Part of that doing is through institutional understa ndings of self that then construct a self in situationally specific ways (Gubrium & Holstein, 2001). Practically this means that in institutions (e.g. the organizational context of Alcoholics Anonymous), individuals use narratives available to them (narra tives that are institutional, cultural, and social) in order to construct a recognizable person in interaction with other persons in their immediate situation (Holstein & Gubrium, 2000). Broad (2002) has used Holstein and Gubriums (2000) idea of postmodern selves to articulate the idea that social movements provide a resource with which movement actors build recognizable selves to other movement participants and social actors outside the movement. Similarly, femmes construct a group definition of femme identity that will be recognizable to other queer people: it relies on a queer political logic that personal gender choices are radical if they are freely chosen, that a queer orientation toward gender rejects the privileges of heterosexuality, and per sonal gender transformations can be a challenge to patriarchy.
128 C HAPTER 6 FROM FEMININE TO FEM ME: THE GROUP CONSTR UCTION OF A QUEER FE MININE IDENTITY [Femme] is a fucked up way of relating to femininity. Its not a normal, not a straight, not a normativ e relationship to femininity. [Emma] I [have] this whole thing about femme being other than what is considered, I guess, normal femininity Its like everything else is the norm, which Im ok with. Im ok with that being the norm and having this thing about me that is not as socially acceptable or not standard I guess. For me, femme is femininity that is not the typical heterosexual submissive quiet woman that I was taught to be. Its a kind of femininity that is overdone its the kind of thing that for me, femme is when you think its too much, its almost enough[femme is] going too far. [Crimson] You cant say the term identity without the term politics, its identity politics because [its] only in the political realm that you need to express a specific identity. Any time some one says, this is my identity, theyre making a political statement. [Michelle] As Emma and Crimson described above femme identified individuals understand the unique queer feminine identity of femme as being differ ently defined, and in fact posed in opposition to, a conventional feminine identity; Also, as Michelle argued, exerting this particular identity is a political act. This chapter analyzes the ways in which participants understand queer communities as havin g stigmatized femininity, which has facilitated an agreed upon political definition of what it means to be a femme in queer communities, and the ways in which this politicized identity has created new feminine meanings in queer communities. Most signifi cantly, by detailing how participants understand femmephobia, its impact on their identity work, and the political meanings of being femme, this chapter tells the story of how the femme movement takes unaffiliated individuals who are queer and feel oriente d toward femininity and creates a collective femme identity According to Taylor (1989), collective identity is a shared group definition composed of the motivations of a movements members. It arises from a shared sense of injustice and builds solidarit y. Essentially, the practice of creating a collective identity helps members make political sense of who they are and motivates them to
129 take action to redress injustices (Taylor, 1989; Taylor & Whittier, 1995; Taylor, 2000). On the consequences of collec tive identity, Taylor (2000) says: By asserting a collective identity in public life, social movements produce a rich oppositional culture of rituals, music, art, knowledge, and other symbols and practices that voice new moral positions, often extended in personalized politics (223). However, the creation of collective identity can have unintended consequences: the process relies on drawing the circles that separate us from them (Taylor, 2000: 223) which can ignore the complex and fluctuating identities of its members. What is more, organizing around the marginalized identity of movement actors may also serve to reinforce the validity of those socially constructed categories (Gamson, 1995; Taylor, 2000). Recall (from Chapter 3) that the mainstream ga y and lesbian movement has created a collective identity that relies on the assumption of a fixed, same sex attracted, sexual self, which is marginalized because of homophobia. Recall also that opposition to this claim has created a divergent path of quee r deconstructionists who organize around challenging social categories of gender and sexuality. Importantly, detailed in this chapter, the femme movement takes on a queer deconstructivist philosophy which rejects essentialized identity categories, but als o attempts to build a collective femme identity. That is, by articulating that femme identity is chosen and not naturally occurring they maintain a queer rejection of natural gender and sexuality categories while also taking part in the identity politics that queer deconstructivists reject. I ntra Community Definitions of Stigmatized Femininity All feminine identities are social in that they are a reflection of a socially constructed gender order, social interactions, and the internalization of those learned gendered meanings. The social processes involved in femme identity are perhaps easier to see because femme is a uniquely defined subcultural feminine identity dominant culture does not recognize this
130 identity and so femme identified people learn its meaning as adults. As is consistent with all identity politics, femmes are involved in a political process of redefining an inferior status (being feminine in queer communities) and redressing the consequential inequalities through movement activities. Significantly, though, the inferior status of femme and the re articulation of a positive femme identity are both happening at a subcultural level; it is an intra community discussion rather than a conventional dynamic wherein oppressed groups seek redress from a dominant power holder in society. This section describes how femmes understand the stigma associated with femininity in queer communities and the reluctance to identify with femme that follows. Femme Stigma (or, the Political Term, Femmephobia) All participants discussed learning that queer people value femininity less than masculinity before they came to femme identity. As the next subsection will elaborate, part of the reluctance to identify as femme and the impetus for organizing around fem me once one does identify as femme rests on understanding that stigma is placed on feminine ex pression in queer communities. Montana told me this story about arranging to meet a queer identified college roommate in person after they had conversed over e mail and the telephone: She described herself in such a way that I still had no clue at all that she was femme. When she asked me what I look like I said, well, Im 55 but people think Im a lot taller because I wear really big shoes And she was like, you wear big shoes? And at that moment I was like, oh god, shes going to be another dyke who thinks Im totally not because of how I look And I was like, yeah And she was like, do you wear glitter? And I was like yeah. And she was like
131 things were in the community at the time, both around [the lack of] femme organizing awareness and kind of the glorification of masculinization that was really intense at that time. Although she was young, living in Kentucky, and had never met a femme identified person, Montana had an intimate knowledge of what some people call femmephobia, a knowledge that led her to know that she may be rejected by other queer people for presenting femininely. Charlotte analyzed her negative treatment in queer communities as being related to femmephobia. When I asked her what that meant to her she paused thoughtfully and told me: I ts a repetition of heteronormative culture in some ways becaus e people really are scared of femmes and scared of femme power Like a feminist group is scary to the culture at large. People are terrified of women or femi nine people having power, thats the core of femmephobia. In this description the core of femmephobia is a fear of femininity. Annabelle, who repeatedly used the word femmephobia in our interview agreed. When I asked her to define the concept she said Well, its similar to misogyny, but its specially aimed at queers. Its specifically within the queer community. So its not just hating on women or hating on femininity. Taking these definitions into account, we might say that femmephobia in queer communities is comprised of two powerful concepts. First, there is the subcultural belief that queer women should present as masculine and that masculine gender presentation is part of an authentic queer sexual orientation. Second, femmephobia describes the ways in which queer people comply with the general cultural belief that femininity is inferior to masculinity. This subsection will discuss participant experiences with each of these. Queer communities may be the only spaces which provide safe have ns for gender non conformists. The assumption that not being heterosexual makes someone an unmasculine man or an unfeminine woman is related to dominant cultures maintenance of heterosexuality because the concept stigmatized sexual minorities as being gender variant (Chauncey, 1994;
132 Katz, 1996). Still, queer people themselves have also celebrated gender nonconformity because it connotes resistance to heterosexuality (Queen, 1994). In many ways, the mainstream and queer cultural assumptions that bisex ual, lesbian and queer women will reject femininity have helped to create a queer collective identity of gender nonconformity. The assumption that all queer people will look visibly gender nonconforming renders cissexual female femmes invisible in bei ng accurately read for their sexual orientation and their intended gender performances. As Cutie said in Femme Affinity Groups zine, I feel like our queer community privileges folks who present as more masculine. It is still, mistakenly, what many peop le identify as visibly or more truly queer. Sometimes I will walk down the street and another queer will look right through me In our interview, Montana described how this happens to her: Anyone whos fe mme has experienced being in queer spaces and no t being acknowledged as queer. Just the simple things. When I walk around the lake by myself and I run across people who I read as queer I may not get the knowing gla n ce or the nod or whatever you want to call it. If Im with somebody who is butch or masc uline then were queered and I get that acknowledgment. I mean, we know that. We know that, but at the same time So I used to tell people, to fight invisibility, just assume that all folks are queer, all women are lesbians until you have reason to know otherwise. That was just to point out that you cant look at people and know if theyre queer. Irene also pointed out the trouble of femininity leading people to assume she is heterosexual: I hate, I hate, I hate being assumed of as straight. I really don t like that. I mean it s not a huge deal. It used to [think of it as] a bigger deal, but I just dont like it. I dont know why its any different than any other assumption people would make about people or different than any other assumption I make about other people a hundred times a day too. But I just dont like it. I dont like getting hit on by guys; I dont like people thinking thats an option. I often wish that my sexuality was more obvious without me wearing like a rainbow flag which is going to make me look horrible like lambda earrings [a Greek letter associated with gays and lesbians] or something horrible. Both Montana and Irene acknowledge the importance of signifying queer identity, but perhaps disagree with other queers that gender no nconformity should be what signifies it. Irene jokes that she should not have to wear lambda earrings to be read as queer and Montana, perhaps
133 more seriously, suggests that we should assume that no one is heterosexual until we learn otherwise. The exp erience of invisibility for femmes is not a necessary consequence of women presenting femininely; it is part of femmephobic ideology because it disallows female feminine expression and queer attraction to coincide. Charlotte said: Y ou actually dont ga in legitimacy until you get a date. Thats the drama. Once I have a partner then people can see [me] Its a visibility thing. I walk down the street and people are like, oh, shes queer and that doesnt always happen when I walk down the street alone. Its femmephobia. Its invisibility. Using a personal experience about dating a visibly genderqueer person, she elaborated, I wou ld walk down the street with Vic and people would be like, hey, its Vics girlfriend I was n ever Charlotte, I was always Vi cs girlfriend, but as soon as he was gone it was like I disappeared. So, it is not a natural state of affairs that feminine women do not have a queer aesthetic; these participants place the blame on other queer women for not seeing them as queer. This failure to see the complexity of queer presentations, possible in femininely presenting women, is part of femmephobia. Emma also commented, B eing a feminine person in Seattle means that I am ineligible for being part of the gay community, at least on the street. Montana commented on why this public invisibility is hurtful, The reason I really resist invisibility is that I think it leads to oppression. Were afraid of that which is invisible. We pathologize that which is invisible. We exclude th at whi ch is invisible. Certainly Montanas sentiment was felt by other femme participants, who felt invisible in that they are not seen as queer and also excluded from queer communities. These participants have focused on their invisibility on the street, or the way that queer strangers read them in public. However, participants also raised concerns that the femmephobic idea that feminine women are not queer marks them as less authentic than other queers even when they announce their queerness. Irene descr ibed the peer pressure she felt in her group of
134 dyke friends to be more masculine when she first came out as a lesbian, Everyone was very androgynous, there was no hair, no nails, or anything. I definitely remember thinking, am I lesbian if I dont l ook like that? I didnt feel adequate enough, I didnt feel radical enough. Charlotte told a similar story about her group of friends when she was a young lesbian. Charlotte consciously became more masculine at the time, but a friend of hers, Alex a re mained feminine; Charlotte remembered how her circle of friends talked about her: They talked about her all the time. She wa s treated as very suspect like theres no way Alexa cou ld be a real queer. Shes only queer for Tammy its only for Tammy Shes gonna turn back. And she hasnt. She isnt. Now finally shes gained legitimacy, but it took a really long time More than the idea that being feminine makes someone less radical than masculine dykes, some people have had experiences with feeling that they were judged as less queer. So, more than being made invisible in public, participants felt invisible, or excluded, in their own communities. Emma said, It definitely feels like theres some larger queer scene in Seattle that Im not part of and I f eel that is largely due to being femme. Femme participants felt that queer communities keep them at a distance. Without my asking any questions about how they feel in public queer settings, several participants brought up not feeling comfortable in queer spaces, especially lesbian bars. Talking about the Wild Rose1 1 The Wild Rose (Seattle), My Sisters Room (Atlanta), and the E Room (Portland) are similar lesbian establishments. While their crowds see some heterogeneity in age, they are all lesbian bars with a primarily young clientele. a lesbian bar in Seattle, Katie said that she feels un dateable and wonders if it is because she is femme. She said, Dykes are like why did the straight girl wander into our bar? Abb y also said, All feminine women, we all have stories about the Rose, being told the bar you want to go to is down there whatever. And I just remember feeling just completely not fitting in in queer communities here in Seattle. Edith said [I t ] wouldnt be ok to walk into the Rose down there
135 like this. I wouldnt dare do it, not without some sexy butch on my arm. And commented again later, I wouldnt go to the Wild Rose dressed like this. I dont know that because Ive done it and had a bad experienc e, I just know it wouldnt be a good idea. Ruth also felt this way: Then theres the Wild Rose which I cant go into I feel like every time I walk in there people are looking at me like Im lost and confused. My girlfriend will say, theyre not looki ng at you like that Well, theyre not looking at you like that because you look like you fit in there, but I do feel like they look at me like that. She just wont see it or she cant see it. I dont know what it is. I just never feel very comfortable t here. These experiences were not limited to Seattle. Talking about My Sisters Room, the primary lesbian bar in Atlanta, Michelle said that masculine lesbians make comments to feminine women like, Did you get off at the wrong train stop? Renee, also t alking about My Sisters Room, noticed a trend of how some femmes have been treated there. She said, I would be pissed because my heels would be stuck in the floorboards. Oh my god! It was so annoying! It was kind of sportyish dykes. They all looked a like. T shirts and shorts and flip flops. I guess they were just like, fem me, what are you doing here? Reflecting on the homogenous aesthetic of lesbians at the bar and unfriendly environment for people in high heels, Danielle said, I get to My Sister s Room. People are looking like they just rolled out of be d. I come in there wearing a dress and some heels. My stilettos are falling through the cracks in the wooden floor. Oh God! I was like, this place is not for femmes Renee and Danielle offer h umorous accounts of feeling like their bar was not designed to include people who dress the way they do. More generally, though, these Seattle and Atlanta accounts provide specific examples of a more pervasive problem of femme exclusion. It is important that these moments of exclusion occur in lesbian bars, places in which much of the young queer community is located. People go to lesbian bars to find solace from oppressive heterosexual culture, to meet other queer people, to socialize and find communit y, and to find dates (Enke, 2003). That femme participants felt ostracized in lesbian bars illustrates
136 their more general exclusion and the idea that, as Katie said, they are un dateable because of assumptions about their queer authenticity. Charlotte summed up why being ignored in bars is part of a more general femmephobia: So not getting a date is a bigger femmephobic thing and part of why that is is we are not recognized. We are treated as suspect in our sexuality because our gender as femmes in not valued. It comes back down to misogyny. I think not getting a date is a really concrete example about how were being discriminated against, but also just shoved to the side, our opinions not being value d, our experiences shrugged off. Paradoxically, t hough, several femme participants spoke to the ways in which femmes are sexualized in queer communities. Charlotte also said: Strangely enough Im seen more at the E Room [Portlands most prominent lesbian bar] because there are more feminine lesbians th ere and because there are so m any people. Not because [femmes are] united, but because theyre fuckable. And theres a lot of us and its a place where butches or masculine people hang out so you can gain a small piece of visibility. Its not a visibilit y that you want to keep for all time. Its not something to write home about, but its there. Sometimes it makes you feel a little better. Similarly, Edith said that it bothers her that she feels she cannot go into the Wild Rose by herself because mascul ine people in her life benefit from [her] presentation of femme when they are attracted to her. Because of that she said, T heres this objectifying aspect to that too. Its the same crap. The fact that its ok for you to be doing that if youre doing i t for my pleasure. Katie told me, What I have noticed is being in dyke bars, and these masculinely leaning expressing dykes grabbing my ass, is that the femme thing is still really fetishized. Rose also said that femmes are expected to wear revealing clothing and to act hyper sexual in lesbian bars because femmes are exoticized in queer communities. The idea that femmes are valuable only because they are, as Charlotte said, fuckable, was reiterated by Stephen, a now femme identified trans man wh o used to identify as a butch lesbian. He wrote this in Femme Affinity Groups zine about his early experiences in lesbian communities, Femme very much existed in [the South Carolina] community [I grew up in] but
137 it was viewed as a necessary evil of sort s. To be gay was to be butch; to be butch was to date a femme and to be femme was suspect He went on, saying that femmes were t hose weak girly things who didnt know what it was really like to be GAY in the south. Those desirable objects to be caught and released like prize deer. These femmes describe a situation in which queer communities keep femmes at an emotional distance, yet simultaneously sexualize them. This kind of treatment, sexualization and social marginalization, mirrors the way that d ominant groups have treated subordinated people. According to participants, femmes are treated this way because they are not read as authentically queer, but also because they are feminine people who are not read as authentically queer. That is, negati ve feminine stereotypes created and maintained in dominant culture are placed on femmes by non femme queers. Sabrina said, W hen I did transition [from butch to femme] there was some hostility. There was some, like, why would you choose to go the rol e of the weaker side ? Similarly, Patricia reflected, W hen I started going out to the bars it was very much seen as weak like W ow I cant believe how straight you look, why are you coming out with us ? In some ways, queer people have a unique response t o femininity. Ruth suggested, M y feeling is like if youre going to be queer you have to be strong and independent because the world is against you. Like, [queer people think] femininity does not fit into that model. However, participants were more lik ely to recognize the way in which these negative stereotypes are reflective of larger cultural patterns. Irene wondered, Femmes are always in the background in almost any way you can imagine. I think that to me thats something Is it because were w omen and women are undervalued? Like the women are kind of back in society, so that even happens in a queer community? Katrina also noted that [Queer women ] devalue that which the broader culture identifies as feminine. She went on, When we look at
138 somebody and we look for cues as to who they are in our culture, when we [see] feminine cues movements, clothing, hair, all that sort of stuff it is automatically less than and it s devalued. In this way, participants suggested that femmephobia is related to wider and more pervasive issues of misogyny, which devalues femininity because of its association with women. Randall suggested, [Femme is not] seen as radical because masculinity is inherently more valued, because femininity is seen as fake and femininity is seen as all these things we dont value. I really think [its] because of misogyny and sexism. And Charlotte explained how she now thinks of femmephobia, The words I have for that now is that thats misogyny, straight up misogyny. I didn t understand that that could happen within a, you know, a group that is outside of the majority. I didnt understand that queer people could be misogynist. In addition, Edith said: Theres definitely a lot of the same bullshit sexism that translates ove r into queer spaces and into queer womens spaces the way that masculinity seems to be valued in the lesbian community, that it is more ok to present as more androgynous or masculine or transgender or whatever and that is more desirable and to compete for that in a way. Thats the same bullshit stuff. Masculine identities and expressions take up more space and are seen as more valid in their queerness and how is that not the same bullshit dressed up in a different costume? The subcultural community term femmephobia recognizes the unique ways that queer people devalue femininity and suggests that wider cultural understandings of femininity are problematic. This stigma that participants talked about is differently engaged than Goffmans (1965) perspect ive on stigma. Namely, although femme femininity might make them more acceptable than masculine women or effeminate men in mainstream culture, their sex gender alignment is stigmatized subculturally. As detailed later (in Chapter 7), femmes demand visibi lity for their discredited feminine identity. This is a maneuver that also diverges from Goffmans (1965) expectation that the stigmatized individual will go to great lengths to hide his/her stigma; importantly, this demand for visibility is similar to ot her Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender,
139 and Queer [ GLBTQ ] activism it is a familiar political logic. Although I do not spend a great amount of time discussing Goffmans (1965) ideas about stigma and its management, Chapter 9 makes use of his ideas on f raming (1974) to talk about the collective action frames of the femme movement. Understood in social movement terms, femmephobia is a mechanism by which a gendered queer collective identity is produced which assumes queer sexuality means a rejection of co nventional looking gender expression it is a form of boundary work. Also, it can be accomplished as a successful strategy of boundary work because it relies on misogynist stereotypes about femininity. The articulation of femme identity indicts both fem mephobic queer women and dominant culture: it suggests that misogynistic dominant culture is informing femmephobia. As the next section will discuss, these femmephobic ideas, according to participants, prevent people from identifying as femme, at least fo r a time. Previous Reluctance to Identity as Femme Logically participants spoke of their r eluctance to identify as femme as connected to the stigma attached to femininity in queer communities. Johanna, a burlesque performer who still struggles with whether or not she identifies as femme, explained: I have a lot of weird life experience around peoples definitions of femme and what that means. To me it seems like no one would ever really cop to it, but to be femme and queer means you like a certain kin d of music, you dress a certain kind of way, that you have an obsession with youth culture and money and it seems really vapid. I know thats horrible to say. Thats been my experience. Do I identify with that kind of femme? No. But when I sit down and I read and I talk to my other friends who are femme and we have the same experiences Im like, ok, maybe I am femme and were femme in this really not a really different way, not a radically different way. Its like we are, but its been given a bad name. Johanna associates being femme and queer with predefined interests, a dress code, and a set of very negative stereotypes: an obsession with youth culture and money, and being really vapid stereotypes that generally reflect dominant societys negative view of femininity. In a
140 way, Johannas internalization of negative ideas about femininity has led her to rationalize the poor treatment of femmes in queer communities, even herself. She went on to comment on the experience [femmes have] where they go to the bar or whatever the lesbian hang out is, [and] they get disrespected because theyre femme, saying, Yeah, Ive had that experience as well, but kind of understand where its coming from, you know? Significantly, she says that when she sets a side time and reads about femme or talks to other femmes, she thinks ok, maybe I am femme, but that her femme identity diverges from stereotypical ideas about femmes. Aside from an unacknowledged internalization of femme stigma, like Johannas, partic ipants who currently identify as femme told me that they had previously rejected the identity for more specific reasons: they were afraid of how other people would view them because they themselves disrespected femininity; it was a label that was put on th em by other people; and it was an identity that was conceived of as too limiting or singularly defined to describe their lived experiences. Participants associated their initial reluctance to be feminine with subcultural assumption that queer authenticity meant a rejection of femininity. Irene told me, I definitely, probably around 19 or 20 tried to be more androgynous and tried to be more like friends who were lesbians, or more what lesbians looked like at the time When I asked her why she made this decision she told me, because I got a lot of shit, took a lot of flak for being femme so I tried [being more androgynous] for about a year and it just felt horrible! Similarly, Michelle reflected on her early experiences, like most people in the queer community when I first came out at 19 the only way I understood coming out was butch and so I was very excited and proud to walk around with my burgundy crew cut and my chain wallet and boots an my A shirts. Betty had a similar experience:
141 G rowing up and learning about dykes it was very androgynous and sort of from a feminist angle like what gay was, very not gender ed in a specific way. Like the Indigo G irls are an example. But there was this very teeny tiny picture of gay and I had no language for gen der until I went to college and it occurred to me [that queer gender could include femme] As did Charlotte: I came out as queer in college when I was a sophomore I guess, and sort of understood queer to be very linked with gender. Especially being som eone who was so adamant about being included as someone who wasnt queer for so long, I really felt the need to legitimize myself. A lot of times, not just in my situation, that means proving that you have a gender outside of [the] norm. Femininity was not valued in my community. I went through a time of being pretty terribly butch, for lack of a better word, or attempting to be like that and it never really fit. This teeny tiny picture of gay and the need to legitimize ones self by inhabiting a ma sculine expression led these now femme identified people to consciously produce a gender expression that felt foreign to them. In these ways, they were not just rejecting femme identity, but femininity. Patricia, who also attempted a more masculine prese ntation when she first came out talked about her early queer rejection of femininity: I remember being like a dyke in jeans and ripped t shirts and a baseball hat and this old school butch came up to me, ( and at the time I probably would not have known tha t she was an old school butch) but she asked me to dance and she was like, your hands are so feminine and I was so freaked out! I didnt know how to respond because I hadnt learned any language around that yet not until I started reading. ( Now I woul d know how to respond. I would KILL to have that happen!
142 rejection of femininity stems from a larger cultural dismissal of femininity. Two femme men provide examples. Stephen, a femme trans man who used to identify as a butch lesbian, wrote this in Femme Affinity Groups zine about remembering his previous identity: [It is a] laughable image, of me as butch, me the swishiest tranny fag bitch imaginable. My silly fat self trying so hard to find a little community, posturing and preten ding I wasnt just as dangerous as those femmes in the bar. Being a boy who didnt know boy was an option. Being a fag who made out with gay boys but would never let anything happen to maintain my lesbian identity. Being a femme who distrusted femininit y, fearing what it reflected about me and my image. Stephen tells a complicated tale of gender identity: he was posturing a butch persona and rejecting femininity because that was a norm in his lesbian community, but he was also searching for a queer male effeminacy at a time when he did not know that boy or fag were options for him. As he said, he was a femme, who distrusted femininity. In an interview with Randall, a trans man who was until recently femme identified, he told me a similar story of rejecting femininity to compose an authentic male identity: Well when I first came out as trans I really tried hard to really like squash any amount of femme in me and tried to butch it up. I didnt do a very good job, but I t ried really hard. I got real ly I became a huge jerk because I was trying to be somebody I wasnt. I was trying to fit into all these really macho cultural stereotypes and it just really wasnt working very well and I kind of, I was living in Rhode Island at the time, and I kind of started to embrace being a little more feminine but I didnt really have a lot of language for it. There werent a lot of femmes in the community I was in at all. So everything I really knew about femmes was stereotypes. I didnt even really know it was an identity that people were empowered by. Like Patricia, Stephen and Randall tell stories of not having femme role models, of not knowing that femme is an identity that people were empowered by. The latter two stories tell a more global tale of gende r mandates: queer women may be encouraged to reject femininity to maintain a queer identity, but these trans men also felt pressure to reject femininity to project an authentic male self.
143 It is significant that men and queer women feel pressure to reject femininity. Abby suggested that any rejection of femininity is married to a misogynist valuing of masculinity. Describing why she was reluctant to identify as femme, she said, I definitely had my own internalized sexism going on. Several years ago sh e attended a discussion series in Seattle on the topic of femme identity. She reflected: We ended up having these meetings. Probably 20, 30 people came. And so once again, I didnt identify as femme, I was just interested. Mostly I was interested in ch allenging my own sexism. Why was I afraid of femininity? Why was I so against femininity? As a feminist, I had to kind of take a look at that. Especially because as a feminist I was raised to question how we devalue women. Not necessarily gender, but wom en. The equation, being equated, the devaluation of femininity. Just as Stephen and Randall broaden the conception of femme stigma to trans men who have to suppress the desire to express femininity, Abby made a connection between femme stigma and misogyn y. In order to identify as femme, Abby had to investigate her own internalized sexism which led her to devalue femininity. For some participants who were already feminine expressing, there was still a reluctance to identify as femme because it was a label that other people put on them rather than an identity that they freely chose. As Emma said, Before I self identified as femme, people were putting that label on me and I wasnt really hip to that groove. I didnt think that was cool. I think that s part of why I resisted it so furiously. Similarly, Rose, who says that she currently sometimes identifies as femme, explained I identify as femme when I self identify, not when somebody looks at me and says, this is what you are. She explained her early experiences with being told this is what you are: It was in Albuquerque, is where I started to learn about queerness, but the gender identities in the groups that I started to come out into were either butch or femme and I didnt know what eith er of those were and I was told that I was femme. I dont like to be told that Im anything so without evening knowing what it was I said no, Im not
144 Rose rejected femme identity, without knowing what it was, because it was an identity that she had not se lf elected. As Charlotte suggests, it is common for people to not have an understanding of femme, I think that I felt like my partner at the time identified as butch so I understood myself to be femme at that point. But I didnt have an understanding of it as femme that existed on its own; it was more like femme as a compliment to someone elses identity. Like Rose, Charlotte had the experience of being called femme before she identified that way She told me, Because [my partner at the time] was bu tch and pretty well respected as someone who was butch at the time, there was an assumption that I was femme and I didnt feel that way. I didnt feel that way. For Charlotte, this issue of being labeled as something she did not identify as came to the surface when her college group of friends decided to start a dyke fraternity composed of butches and a ladies auxiliary composed of femmes: They decided that there would be frat boys and there would be a ladies auxiliary which was totally fucked up. Totally fucked up. I think now as someone who is secure in my gender identity [I] would be like, yeah, what? Ladies Auxiliary! But there was also this implication that the ladies auxiliary was like the second best, and their job was to support the frat boys and be at their beck and call and make the pies for the drinking games. Fuck you! I was so angry. They told me I would have to be in the ladies auxiliary and I was like thats not cool. You cant do that. You cant police gender and you cant dete rmine what my gender should be. It is important that Charlotte now identifies as femme, and that she would have had a different kind of response to the idea of a ladies auxiliary if she had freely chosen to be part of it. This is reflective of Chapter 5 s discussion of how femme identity diverges from hegemonic feminine mandates in that it is a femininity connected to conscious choice. For participants who either continue to struggle with femme identity or who have previously rejected femme identity, t here was also the belief that femme identity was too narrowly defined to include them. Rose, for example, does not always identify as femme
145 because she does not want to be expected to be feminine all the time. She said, I dont want to be limited to being feminine within the identity of femme because Im not always. Stephanie and Brittney, burlesque performers who I interviewed at the same time, had this conversation about negotiating femme identity: Stephanie : Its hard to categorize. You know, I thi nk something we celebrate is open fluid sexuality. I identify myself as queer, bisexual. Sometimes I wake up and I think, I feel like a pretty princess. And I want to wear my pretty pink dress and the next morning Im like Brittney : I want to dig in t he dirt! Stephanie : I want to eat a raw cow and wear my wife beater and like, look like hell. Brittney : I dont think I identify with anything even though Im definitely femmey. Stephanie Stephanies conception of queer is having both sexual and gender fluidity; she parallels being bisexual with having both masculine and feminine gender characteristics. Of course, femme ident ity should not be encouraged for people who would not choose it. However, many femmes would argue that there is room for masculine characteristics within femme identity. That is, dig[ging] in the dirt, or eat[ing] a raw cow, could be performed by peo ple who identify as femme. The idea that femme identity means living up to a narrowly defined concept of femme kept many participants from identifying with the gender concept. Abby said, I felt like I didnt measure up in some ways, because there was this total history and culture and expectation that I wasnt sure was quite me. Lucy felt similarly: : Ill definitely be considered a butch sometimes. Like if I were to go out in public some people would be like, woah. Butch dyke I moved here and was being called femme a lot and didnt feel like it was an identity that was mine to claim. It also wasnt an identity that I was claiming originally. It was an identity that was being put on me. All the history I knew around femme identity was like I didnt know a modern movement around femme. My advisor in college identified as femme and was raised poor and working class and she was a lot of my information around femme was around history, and theory, and books. Not just theory, but like Dorothy Allison, stories Really what I knew was a historical perspective of femme and
146 not really a modern day movement around femme and also sounded very generational and it wasnt mine to take on. Lucy, like several other participants, rejected femme identity because it was something that she was labeled; what she knew of femininity was a historical conception of femme that was generationally and class based. It was learning a modern day movement around femme which made it an identity she could adopt. So, part of the redefinition of femme identity must focus on rejecting feminine stigma, promoting it as a self identity, and broadening the conce pt to include vast experiences that might be called femme. I ntra Community Defintions of Political Femme When I asked participants to tell me what femme meant to them they eventually provided an answer. Many of them prefaced their answer by telling me that the power of femme identity is that it is not neatly definable. Michelle said, F emme means a zillion different things in a zillion different contexts to a zillion different people. Emma said, Femme has always felt really ambiguous to me and that feels really good. Nobody can really tell you what that is. It hasnt really been set in stone, yet. She noted that people identify with femme because it is indefinable, I dont think that is an answerable question [what femme means]. Im really actu ally glad that its not. I dont want it to become something that people can gloss [over] like this is what a femme is Im glad that people take it up now as something thats not [definable]. Notably, participants told me that femme identity is being discussed and organized around in queer communities rather than more mainstream gay and lesbian communities [discussed further in Chapter 5]; this reverence for an indefinable identity is influenced by modern femmes placement in queer communities.
147 Paradox ically, femmes definition is being rearticulated in the context of a movement built around identity politics and queer deconstructivist ideas about gender and sexuality. So, although femme participants were weary of a fixed definition of femme, they also offered loose meanings of the identity for them. This section offers a four part discussion of this loose definition: the physical and beyond physical characteristics of femme; femme as an intentional identity; femme as a celebration of femininity; and I end this section by discussing controversies of inclusion around sexual orientation and transgender people. Importantly these loose understandings of femme are part of a modern re articulation of femme identity in the context of a movement that seeks to redress femme stigma in queer communities. Physical and Beyond Physical Characteristics of Femme As I will discuss a little later, many participants felt that the essence of what femme means went beyond physical dimensions of feminine presentation. Howe ver, part of the complexity of femme identity is that it is also projected in an external presentation. Renee told me: A lot of [femme] for me is about presentation and style. I think thats a very very large part of it. As much as I would love to say it s an attitude, I think its all about perception. When people look at you, theyre not going to say shes femme because of her attitude. Theyre going to look at you and say shes femme, shes dressed in girly clothes. Although part of the project of redef ining femme is centered on broadening the concept of femininity so that self identification is more central to femme identity than conventional feminine presentation, Renee argues that external presentation is still important because the perceptions of other people matter. For Renee, femme identi ty must be validated by an audience s understanding that femininity is being expressed. Serano (2007) believes that femininity is an internal impulse to externally decorate the body. Consider Ruths concept of wh at femme means:
148 The other thing I tend to recognize about femme identity is that its about beauty and grace. I think bring ing beauty into their lives in general. Femmes always compliment people on beauty. Theyll say I love your earrings, your shirt is really beautiful or your hair whatever it is. I notice that not everybody notices those things and comments on them. Its very affirming. Theres so much ugliness in the world. To have people who can recog nize beauty and bring it out, is really wonderful. Like Serano (2007) believes about femininity more generally, Ruth argues that femme identity is not just about beauty and grace but about bringing beauty into their lives in opposition to all the ugliness in the world. In this way, femme identit y is a conscious commitment to recognize feminine decoration, rather than taking it for granted. For others, this internal identity that has an external effect means that femme identity built on the assumption that all gender is socially constructed g ives femme identified people the freedom to play with gender in a hyper expressive way. Michelle explained: I think one thing [femme] means for a lot of people is hyper femininity. I think it means taking what some people call the trappings of femininity and exaggerating them as a reclamation process. I think they say its one thing to have sort of feminine traits or to I guess subscribe to feminine ideas but its an entirely other thing to take those ideas and exaggerate them and make a point about t hem. The external expression of femme identity illustrates a reclamation process of conventional femininity and an exaggeration of those traits to make a point. The point of a hyper femininity is that it no longer looks like natural gender. Par ticipants often talked of femininity (and masculinity) in extremes. For example, talking of femininity as being related to glitter, boas, and high heels (or masculinity as being related to digging in the dirt, eating a raw cow, and wearing a wife beater as Brittney and Stephanie did earlier) may seem confusingly stereotypical for people who purport to think about gender in a complex fashion. Importantly, as Michelle illustrates in the above quote, talking about gender in extremes illustrates their point that political femme identity is based in an assumption that there is no natural gender: whether someone is male or female, he or she can choose an extreme presentation of femininity or
149 masculinity. When a female person chooses femininity, she may over produce it to convey her stance that it is a choice. Cisgendered womens production of an exaggerated femininity proves that they conceive of all gender as performative. Katie compared her femininity to trans women for this reason: My kind of femininity I tend to associate it more with trans women. Ive actually been told that I pass really well, and I think from trans women, that is a huge complement to get and multiple times, because Im in a lot of trans spaces, have been thought of as a trans women. For me, whats queer about it is the hyper femininity. I identify with drag queens and I do identify with trans women, I do identify with the choice to wear a short dress down the street and what that means. And thats very queer, to me Just as West and Zimmerman (1987) argued that trans women learn about gender difference (and deference for women) because they consciously learn how to perform femininity as adults, Katie compares her femininity to trans womens femininity because she is conscious of the choice to wear a short dress down the street and what that means. The idea that she is putting femininity on and does not have to, is very queer to Katie. Several participants agreed, using words like hyper femininity to describe what femme means a nd several also talked about having a solidarity with other people who consciously do femininity, as Katie does. Irene told me, For me, a lot of my femininity istheres another aspect for me that is almost like drag queen. Katrina also felt this way: The closest I ever came before I had words to identify [as a queer femme] was that I started to identify as a fag or a drag queen. Um because in the expression of femininity that drag queens do, theyre not trying to look like real women, theres no pretense that theyre trying to look like a woman on the street. Theyre taking the concept of femininity and sort of bastardizing it and making it into this huge, explosive, overly expressive thing. I was like, thats kind of like what I do! Before Katrin a knew that femme identity was an option, she was drawn to the femininity of drag queens who do not try to look like a woman on the street, but bastardize the concept of femininity to make it hyper expressive. When Katrina found out about femme identi ty, she realized that these ideas were similar and began identifying as femme:
150 I started to think that theres no such thing as a natural femininity, that its all performance and if its all performance then why not just do it in a way thats fun and makes me feel fun and silly and expressive? So I started to identify as femme Post college, I just star ted saying, Im femme. Although she felt a connection to drag queens when she was younger, it was when she started to believe that theres no such thing as a natural femininity that brought her to femme ide ntity. Femme participants tended to agree with her, a constitutive part of femme identity is the belief that femininity is socially constructed. Again, all of these participant comments about hyper femininity are based in a theoretical assumption that natural gender is a farce. That is, in discussing the external possibilities of femme, they are commenting on the internal belief system on which femme is based. Sabrina commented, I hope that femme is not just about fashion because if it is, what the hell are we doing? Talking about coming to femme identity, Ruth said, I guess I found it very confusing because I was like, well I have long hair, but that doesnt make me femme. You can have long ha ir and not be femme. Or you can wear skirts and not be femme. Femme identity is more than feminine expression; it encompasses ideas about gender and an internal way of being. Most participants saw femme as a uniquely queer identity [discussed later] and one whose participants are critical of the assumption that gender can be a natural. For these reasons, participants described femme in opposition to conventional feminine attitude markers. Lucy said that femme identity is not the superficial things tha t people often interpret it as, like shaving your legs. Instead, she said that femmes she knows are smart, stubborn, creative. Blake said she equates femme with, power, a little bit and demanding respect and commanding attention, a lot of attention Like Blake, Danielle said, theres a certain power about [femme] in that youre demanding the attention of onlookers. I mean, demanding. They see their femininity as
151 powerful, in opposition to how many of them see mandated versions of femininity, because they have chosen to identity with it. Edith commented: I was sort of trying to explain to someone what butch was and I realized that its the same thing, to me, as being femme. It was this gentle strength. I think strength has a lot to do with it, for me. I know femininity is generally associated with passivity and weakness and following other people and being less direct. Its not at all like that for me. I see thats how my mom operates in the world. I am the opposite of that. I am annoyingly di rect and dont let anyone tell me that I cant do something and if they do Im going to work really hard to do it just for the enjoyment of proving them wrong. In paralleling what femme means as the same thing as what butch means, a gentle strength, Edit h positions femme as a queer and consciously chosen identity. Importantly, her version of femme is the opposite of conventional versions of femininity. Whether participants focused on external markers or personality characteristics that define their ide a of femme, they all saw femme identity as something that becomes part of them. That is, someone can be feminine expressing, even hyper feminine expressing and not be femme; someone can be feminine and be strong, demanding of attention, and direct and not be femme identified. Although the above physical and mental characteristics describe how they envision femme, they must coincide with a sometimes indescribable feeling that one is connected to femme identity. As noted in Chapter 5 by Danielle, it is something that cant be taken off. Katrina commented further on why femme identity describes her more than drag queen: With a drag queen, there is more of an assumption that I am trying this on right now and go back to something else in a minute. Wherea s for me, this really is whether I try to fight it or not who I am it really is. I went through all sorts of different looks and phases in my life and every one of them I just wasnt being true to my own personality and my own drive and my own choices right? It was a long process of becoming. Theres not an idea that Ill try it on and then set it aside for a more normal appearance later. Likewise, Patricia said: It always feel more like my core, like who I am inside not the expression on the outsi de. Its about being queer although I do know some straight femmes. Its about how you behave when youre interacting with people. To me, it defines my every interaction, its why I behave the way that I do. Even if its in my everyday business like today I felt very
152 femme all day at work even if I was not in a queer situation. Its the core. Its the why I feel the way that I do and its why I choose to do the things that I do its because I feel femme. Comments like femme identity is who I am or that it is my core tell us that femme identity is something highly personal; it is possibly something that cannot be contained in describable characteristics. Ruth agreed, For me, to one day identify as femme, from an outside perspective, probably nobody noticed the difference, but I felt the difference. I felt like the leaves on the trees were brighter and greener. Ruth continued to present her femininity the same way and her personality characteristics remained the same she was the same person Femme identity, as identities are meant to do, crystallized the ways she thinks about herself in the world. Intentional Fem me ininity as a Resistant Gender Identity Femme participants explained that even though they feel oriented toward femininity, they see femininity as socially constructed and their own femininity as performative. Montana explained how her orientation toward femininity, which feels natural to her, can still be thought of as social, even performative: I was born with a lot of very fem inine traits, thats just how I am. I also perform femininity. You know, I wasnt born knowing how to put on fake eyelashes or how to walk with my hips swaying, but I do them because I learned how to do them. Patricia also felt this way: I think [femme ] is a choice. I think maybe femininity just happens. Its that whole nature versus nurture thing. Like when I came out as gay I was extremely feminine, but I didnt have a name for it, and I never would have thought it was an identity it was just the way I dressed, but then its a conscious choice to take on sort of being femme because again, you have to verbalize it. For Patricia, femininity just happens in the way that she feels naturally drawn to it, but femme is an identity, that has a name fo r describing a conscious femininity. It is the verbalized identification with femme identity which marks its divergence from femininity. As Michelle, said T heres a difference between feminine and femme. Patricia went on, Ill go to a
153 primarily lesb ian bar and Ill see a lot of women who look femme to me, but maybe queer femme is more of a political identity because when you stop and talk to them they just identify as lesbians or gay s [who are feminine]. Again, femme is an identity which encompasse s more than just looking feminine. Because femme is a conscious feminine identity, the femininity of femmes is thought of as consciously produced. Actually calling the production of femininity a performance, Danielle said, Being femme, you get a lot of good opportunities for performance for maniacs like myself. Strut around, get yourself together, look pretty and get some at tention. I asked her, You mean performance in the everyday, not your burlesque? She answered: No [not my burlesque] Im ta lking about when I wake up in the morning and I decide what Im going to put on for the day and how Im going to interact with people. I think that a lot of gender is performance. I know for me it is. I know that when Im home by myself theres not much thats femme about me. Are you kidding? Im sitting there with my shorts and my beer and, you know, eating on the couch and legs wherever but when I leave the house Im excited to go and present myself to the world as some thing that excites me. Daniell e refers to her everyday gender presentation choices as performance and discussing her public presentation of femininity in opposition to a more natural state of being home alone. Just as Chapter 5 argued that queer femininity diverges from hegemonic fe mininity because queer women are exposed to a gender process which exposes the un naturalness of female femininity, participants argued that femme identity is based in a conscious choice to take on feminine characteristics. Edith reflected: Feminism wa s such a huge part of coming into my own skin as a woman and as a queer woman. I sort of channeled through feminism and kind of ended up going back to some of those compulsory indicators of femininity, but I did it intentionally. I chose them. It wasnt just like, this is how women are. I mean, I went through the overalls and no makeup what ever and that just really wasnt me. It was what I thought I was supposed to do to be queer identified. Going back, I think its that intentionality, to me, that makes it femme.
154 Edith takes on compulsory indicators of femininity but feels that she chooses them. This was also true for Betty: I think [femme is] a validating form of expression and I think its really empowered. I shave my legs now because I really enj oy it. I dont shave my legs because I think I need to, I dont shave my legs because I think it makes me a more attractive woman. I think its been the most liberating thing in the world for me to take all of these patriarchal connotations, as much as I m able, off of feminine expression. Its really freed me up to be really confident about, what are the motivations for this expression. Both Edith and Betty reject the idea that women must be feminine and that the conscious decision to be feminine frees f emininity from its patriarchal connotations. The kind of consciously chosen feminine identification inherent in femme identity allows femmes to identify with certain aspects of femininity. Michelle spoke to this concept and also suggested that the most important aspect of femme is self identification: For me, it comes down to my gender identity being something that I have control over, not something I was handed, but something that I picked up myself, maybe thats the difference for me [between femininit y and femme] Im not feminine because someone told me I was supposed to be or Im a woman and thats the way Im supposed to move through the world. Im femme because I have hand selected the parts of femininity that work for me, left out the ones that dont work for me, and taken those cherry pickens and made my own kind of femininity. Michelle reiterated, I think that you dont come across femme identity just by happenstance; I think its a very intentional move. People going through their daily li ves being feminine arent femme because its a gender identity. Its something that has to be claimed. Abby succinctly said, In essence, [femme is] about intentionally valuing femininity and embodying that. Charlotte agreed, What my femme identity is is that its about a conscious femininity. Its about understanding what society says is feminine and choosing it anyway and not choosing all of it. As did Katie, Femme to me means intentional femininity. Making the defining characteristic of fem me identity a consciously chosen identity, rather than looking feminine, allows for a broad conceptualization of who can identify as femme. Betty
155 said, What makes someone femme is someone who wants to be femme. Katie said, I have a really broad idea o f what femme is as far as including trans folks and genderqueers and people I may not read as femme identifying as femme. And Charlotte, I think femme is what you choose to identify it as P ersonally Im very invested in self identification as the biggest piece of what femme is In addition, Annabelle said: To me, its just anyone who self identifies as a femme [is femme] Sometimes you meet someone.like I might meet someone who doesnt look at all femme to me, but they identify as femme. Like, theres femme boys and stuff. To me, its just about self i dentifying as femme. Foregrounding claiming the identity as the most important aspect of femme identity means there can be femme boys. Betty also talked about expanding her own definition of fe mme by focusing on femme identity being about intentional femininity and self identification: I used to define femme by what it wasnt and I cant do that anymore. You know, I used to say that femme is just for women; I used to say that femme is just for queer women. I think femme is a gender expression. I think femme is an empowered and reclaimed expression of femininity in a way that feels empowering and positive for the doer, for the person that is claiming femme Rather than define who may identify as femme, as she used to, Betty has decided that femme is its own gender expression that is empowered and reclaimed and feels empowering for the person who is claiming it. The above concepts, articulated by cisgendered women who are femme identified and focusing on the importance of femme identity being an intentional femininity and a conscious identity, create a description of femme that is resistant to the gender order. That is, although they are articulating a female femininity for themselves, th eir belief that femininity is performative and that anyone can claim a femme identity suggests that they believe gender identities should all be freely chosen and not based in mandates associated with biological sex. Katrina explained: For me, identifying as a queer femme is sort of sayingeven though Im making another category its sort of saying fuck you to all of thatFor me, I believe that all gender is a
156 performance and so Im going to call a spade, a spade. For me, identifying as a queer femme is really identifying as a femalebodied drag queen and I love that. I think its very exciting. Its indicative of deeper, my deeper philosophies and values of sex and sexuality and all of those things. These philosophies around sex and sexuality include a r ejection of gender mandates based on the patriarchal assumption of natural sex. Katrina said, What I dont want is the assumption that I have to perform any number of things. I want it to be freely chosenI dont do this because its assumed that I will, like taking a breath. That is, even though she is a woman choosing femininity, calling her femininity a choice removes femininity from a necessity for women. She went on, Another part of identifying as a queer femme is a little bit of a political sta tement that femininity is not in and of itself bad. It is when we use these things to restrict ourselves and each other into unchosen roles or unhealthy roles that those things become bad. Danielle also explained: I find [femininity] oppressive to people who havent done enough introspection about what it means. Those people are being oppressed by it. The people who havent analyzed [it] for themselves. The people who are doing [it] by default or the people who do it because this is what they think, this is what it will get them and they dont know any other way and they wouldnt be able to [do] ot herwise or something. Both Katrina and Danielle admit that femininity has historically been oppressive. Danielle continued: When you go home and really think about it, when you embrace everything and make sure that it truly is who you are rather than just accepting it by default. Then I think its when youve gotten to the point of no longer be ing oppressed by something thats use d to oppress people. If fe mininity is chosen, a product of introspection, removed from a default assumption that women should be feminine, then it is no longer oppressive. In this way, even though their expressions are aligned performances of female femininity, they see their gend er identities as productions that evade female feminine mandates. In this way femme femininity (even when it is produced by cisgendered female people) is a gender resistant identity.
157 A Celebration of Femininity as a Challenge to Patriarchy Just as intent ional femme identification is a response to being labeled femme, femme participants told me that their femme identities are, in part, a response to a cultural (and subcultural) devaluation of femininity. Participants kept acknowledging that a major part of their choosing to identify as femme is a conscious decision to celebrate femininity. For Katrina, femme identity has given her a context for celebrating her own femininity. She said: T hrough my coming to identify as a queer femme, along that narrat ive was learning to love myself and learning to love myself in a very powerful way. I know very few women and Im not saying this to be boastful or to brag, it actually is sad I know very few women who are as confident as I am, who move through the world just sort of I dont know, confidence is the only word I can think of for it. If you want to call it arrogance, fine. All I know is that I dont say the terrible things in my head that I used to say to myself, I dont pick myself apart. I dont beli ttle myself. I mean, we all have our bad days, right? Part of coming to identify in a certain way was saying you look this way and you have these tendencies and thats fine and thats beautiful and you can celebrate that and you can love that. Ruth also fe lt that femme identity had given her a permission to celebrate and express femininity [in a] way that [she] didnt feel before. She said: [Before identifying as femme] I f elt like I had to suppress aspect [s] of femininity because well, in general, our culture is not very supportive or encouraging [of femininity] to be feminine in our culture is to be considered weak; its looked down on. If you want to succeed in the office, you know, you can be feminine but only to a certain extent because then youre a slut or a whore or youre sexualizing the workplace. I think theres just a lot of messages that femininity is limiting and for me to see that it doesnt have to be limiting and it can be expanding. I keep going back to the word celebratory. Cultural u nderstandings of femininity tend to be limiting and derogatory. Although patriarchy mandates that women be feminine, it also produces misogynist ideas about femininity so that feminine women are punished for their gender productions. For Ruth, femme identity has allowed her to counter those limiting mandates of femininity with the idea that it can be expanding and celebratory.
158 During our interview, Montana shared a definition of femme she heard articulated by keynote speaker Leah Lakshmi Piepzna S amarasinha at a femme conference in 2006. She prefaced by telling me, everyone in the room broke down in tears so its clearly something thats powerful to a lot of people, and that it resonates profoundly with femmes. For Leah, and for Montana, fem me [is] a way of being a girl that doesnt hurt. After telling me this definition Montanas eyes welled up with tears and she said it was one of the most powerful and amazing things [she] had ever heard. Again, all women are held accountable for the e xpectation that they perform femininity and hence receive social rewards for being feminine; paradoxically, feminine productions that receive social rewards are narrowly conceived and exact hurt on the doer. Again, femme provides choices in femininity a nd a celebration of femininity that does not hurt. For Katrina, Ruth, and Montana femme identity has provided a context to redefine femininity, so that it may be celebrated in their own lives. However, this femme celebration of femininity extends beyond the individual: it offers a critique of feminine devaluation more broadly. For example, Abby said, [Femme] is a whole identity. It really is very political for me. Its truly about unapologetically valuing femininity. Similarly, Montana said that i n order to discuss femme identity, we also have to talk about the fact that all of these things that are considered feminine, that have historically been associated with women, are devalued in this culture and so the idea of saying proudly, yes, these are things that I enjoy doing and theyre feminine is importan t. In these ways, femme is a project of personal reclamation for participants, but it is also related to a larger political project of reclaiming femininity Certainly the celebration of femini nity that femme identity provides has the most immediate consequences for femme identified people. However, the celebration is part of a
159 larger critique of the devaluation of femininity and thus holds deep political challenges to patriarchy. So, femme is defined as a conscious identity rather than an assumption of female femininity, but it also produces new ideas about femininity. That is, femme identity offers a challenge to patriarchys conception that women are naturally feminine and that femininity is naturally inferior to masculinity. Femme Controversies: Sexual Orientation and Transgender Questions When I asked participants to tell me about what femme means to them or how they came to identify as femme, many of them would tell me a sexual orienta tion history. For example, when I asked Montana, Maybe you could tell me about coming to identifying as femme. She said, Sure. For me, femme is a queer identity even though I totally respect anyone who is not queer who wishes to identify as femme. But for me personally it is very connected to my queer identity. Abby told me, Femme for me is definitely part of my sexuality. Its how its somewhatit helps [describe] who Im attracted to, the dynamics Im attracted to, what I like to play with. Irene also said, Femme to me, to me personally, femme means both in my sexuality, my intellect, the way I relate to people, mainly everything I do, the way I dress, the way I show myself to world to my friends and family Montana, Abby, and Irene tell personal stories of femme being queer identities. Notice how each of them uses phrases like for me and personally indicating that they do not wish to solidify femme as a queer only identity for other people. Part of the sensibilities associated with queer identities, in which femme tends to be located, is that they are fluid and freely chosen; in not placing a queer border around femme identity, they recognize this complexity. Although I never asked participants if someone had to be queer to qual ify as femme or if heterosexual women could identify as femme, several participants brought it up on their own. Renee said, femme, for me, is Im feminine and Im very queer and I want you to see that Im
160 queer and I want you to get it. Annabelle responded to my request to define femme, I think its someone who appreciates femininity and is queer and leans toward things that are feminine. Queers that lean toward femininity. For Renne and Annabelle, and other participants who would define femme this way, queerness is an unquestioned aspect of femme identity. Crimson, however, was aware that there is some debate about this concept. She said, I know of conversations [amongst] other femmes that some femmes think straight women can be femmes. I am not of that class of people. I think femme is queer. Some femmes believe that if one of the defining characteristics of femme identity is that someone is intentional about their femininity, then it is possible for heterosexual women to be femme. Two inter viewees brought up that they believed the definition of femme should be widened to include heterosexual women. Interestingly, they both provided Dolly Parton as an example, someone who is hyper feminine, whose fan base has been queer for decades, and whos e sexuality has been rumored to be not quite heterosexual. Randall talked about the movie 9 to 5 and how the women in that movie were so fucking amazing, especially Dolly. In the movie three very different women, one of them played by Dolly Parton, take over their workplace and exact revenge on their sexist boss. Randall conjectured that if this were a news story and not a movie, that many queer femmes would reject the possibility that these women were femme. He said: I think that a lot of people w ould see them and be like, oh theyre cool, but theyre not like us, but they dont understand the and they would use a whole bunch of fancy language to talk about what these women didnt understand and I think its like playing into and reinforcing the stereotypes that are placed on women. Instead of being like Im not going to entertain the idea that people who are feminine are stupid and you know, [they think these people are] making random moves that maybe cool but they dont know what theyre doing. Betty agreed with him. She once had a friend who would claim that Dolly Parton was femme and she would respond, Nu uh! because, as she said, I dont know if Dolly Parton has ever
161 heard the word. She went on, I used to be really defensive about str aight women not being femme. It was almost sort of a classist stance because I was expecting people who identified as femme to articulate the femme, right? Just because you cant articulate it doesnt mean youre not. While calling people femme who ha ve likely never heard the word goes against what others say is a main criteria of femme identity, that is a freely chosen identity, Randall and Betty are interested in femme being seen as an identity of feminine empowerment. For them, it is exclusive to demand that someone be able to articulate a femme identity. Randall said, P eople like to think of themselves like, well I have an analysis of my gender so my gender is better and I think thats really messed up. He believed that he saw women of color working class women, and trans women dismissed as not femme because they did not have the same articulation of femme that many queer femmes do. He suggested that if those women were embraced for their awesome femininity, that there may be a broader mo vement, S omebody doesnt have to have the same kind of anal ysis to like, you know, [share] some common ground with. Although anyone would agree that reclaiming femininity is an admirable process for any feminine person, it is undeniable that femme ide ntity has a uniquely queer history. As Blake said, Femme is a word that only queer people use. Further, it seems unlikely that heterosexual women would be clamoring to count as femme identified, and not only because they have yet to hear the word. Fem me not only connotes a celebration of femininity, but a belief that gender is not natural. As Katrina was quoted as saying earlier, straight women can identify as femme. Straight women dont because by and large, heterosexuality is built on the assumpt ion that masculine and feminine genders are real, fixed, and immovable. For femmes who argue that femme is a queer identity, they are articulating the definitional qualities of not only celebratory
162 femininity, but also self identification, a rejection of natural gender, and its historical locality in queer communities. As Michelle said, My evolution as a queer person led me to femme. And so theyre inextricably linked for me now, even though I know in my mind that theyre separate things, separate issues Articulating femme as a queer identity does not suggest that there is a barometer of authenticity based on sexual partners, but that queer communities offer a context for the blossoming of femme identity. Where femme has historically been a label used to describe feminine lesbians [see Kennedy & Davis, 1993], the modern definition of femme articulates it as a unique gender identity with queer sensibilities about gender. This new articulation is summed up by Charlotte who said, At this point in my lif e, I feel like being femme is my gender identity. I am not a man or a woman, I am femme. That is something that is entirely different from my sex, and from mainstream thoughts about gender and labels. Crimson, who answered the demographic survey question, what is your gender? with the simple response femme, felt similarly. She said, I think theres a definite difference between how I was taught that wom en are and who I am as a femme I feel for me personally that as a woman, my femme self transcen ds that its just a totally different category for me now. The idea that femme is a different identity than female or woman challenges the idea that femininity is natural for women. This articulation of femme identity was also present in the perf ormance community of The Queen Bees burlesque troupe [burlesque is discussed further in Chapter 7]. Several of them told me in interviews that they proudly referred to themselves as bioqueens, drag queens who are biological women. Two participants acknowledged that some members of The Queen Bees would refer to themselves this way, but that they personally have come to distance themselves from the term. Lucy said she now rejects the term because she believes nothing is
163 biological, noting that if bi oqueens wanted to emphasize the performative nature of gender, they would refrain from words like biological to mark their difference from people assigned male at birth. Although Montana respects people who choose to identify this way, she explained th at, for her, it is a problematic term because it potentially co opts the unique experiences of transgender people. Rose, a participant and former Queen Bee who still believes in the radical potential of the bioqueen label, explained why she promotes T he Queen Bees as drag queens when she talks about the troupe, Whenever I talk about The Bees I always say we were drag queens. I always say it to get a reaction out of people and I always get a reaction out of peoplePeople are always like, what do you mean? No youre not. Drag queens are this, this, this She would then explain that they used the term because they view themselves as people who perform hyperfemininity, even though they were assigned female at birth; they see all gender as drag. I asked her if any gender variant or genderqueer people in her queer community had a conflict about the use of the term. She answered: I often say to someone who say s that something is not ok around gender or sexuality, my standard answer is, challenge yours elf to rethink these things. I mean, thats what folks really need to do. Its all freakin fluid. Its all one big fluid process and to not allow folks to identify in a certain way is really really it can be really harmful to people and communities. It lacks the creative it takes away the creativity of people. Who are we to say, this is ok, this is not ok? Rose asserts two important aspects associated with femme identity. First, its all freakin fluid, suggesting that a feminine woman is just as u nnaturally produced as other gender categories like masculine woman or feminine male born person. Second, she argues that self identification is primary in gender identification. There is a trend in defining femme identity as so critical of the assumptio n that gender is natural that, as Charlotte suggests, femmes are no longer women. That is, some femmes see their femme gender identity as a unique category. Because femmes see their femme identity as
164 something they transitioned into, there is a trend of some (femaleborn) femmes identifying as transgender. Abby, the only participant who felt this way, explained her position: Because Im a political organizer and because Im political, I see [transgender] not just as an individual identity. I do see it as a movement that can be about gender liberation. Its kind of broader than individual people who feel theyre not the ir real gender and then changing. Thats certainly part of it, but theres more to it too. And as Ive just been learning about peoples j ourneys, Ive clearly thought about how I fit in that. Thinking about how people describe the coming out phase, and that this is a unique gender and it just sounds very similar to me as Ive come out as femme. And I dont see myself [like other women] I see [feminine] straight girls as allies, but were different. I see feminine queer women as allies, but theres still a difference [if they dont identify as femme] Seeing the differences in that and the complexities in that, i ts totally subtle. No one else theyre not going to look at somebody else and say, oh youre different genders Like other transgender people, Abby believes that she had a coming out phase associated with becoming femme and that hers is a unique gender. However, there is more to her choice to identify as transgender. Most of Abbys interactions with trans people have been with trans men; as she notes, trans women often occupy different communities leaving queer women and trans men in the same community. Part of her motivation in identifying as trans is, as she said, a reaction to the attention given to the performance of masculinity in queer communities. She said: Femmes have been put in the position of a support person, SOFA [Significant Others, Friends, and Allies of trans people], or whatever it is. And its not recognizing femme as an actual identity. [But femme is] still the same formula of what other trans men are talking about. This is political too. Putting femininity in the dialogue around gender. Being tra ns, and being genderqueer, just giving it, if you willI dont think its had a legitimacy that other identities have because of sexism in the queer community. Bringing these ideas together, she finalized, It might be a reaction, but really I think here s the formula almost of what trans is and realizing that femme fits that formula of what is genderqueer. For Abby, identifying as trans because she identifies as femme challenges the sexism in the queer community by demanding a dialogue about feminini ty and asserts that
165 femme identity is uniquely different from other female femininities it is a gender identity that she has moved into as an adult. Other female participants did not describe identifying as trans. Although they live in different cities and he does know Abby, Randall, a once femme identified man with a trans history, was aware that some cissexual female femmes identify as trans as part of their femme identity. Offering some generosity about the phenomenon, he said, I can kind of see where [ femmes identifying as trans ] happens because theres this thing in queer communities where youre supposed to have the most radical gender and you get the points for having the most radical gender. Still, he rejects the idea that femme (for cissex ual female people) is possible: I feel like sometimes [the idea that people get more credit for having a radical gender] translates into people who are fem me and cissexual being really adamant about the fact that they have a genderqueer identity and callin g themselves trans when theyre not. Its justI thinkbeing transI believe in self identity, people can identify however they want, but being trans is like a real identity and a real experience and like sometimes with using language in a broad way where words dont mean anything can turn into this thing where a word meant something and then other people took it away and then other people who still need that word are like, what do we do about that? I dont have that anymore. It doesnt mean that anymore and it means that people are expecting something else. He argues that being trans is a real identity and a real experience. In some ways, he is calling Abbys analysis of femme female femininity being trans an abstract exercise in gender theory. T heoretically she has moved into a gender identity that is different for her than the female feminine woman she was socialized to be. For Randall, this is not a real trans experience because it does not involve a physical transition and it does not invol ve confronting difficulty in dominant society. He went on: M y trans history has not always been a fun thing. Its not something that I want. Its not even something that I claim anymore. I dont, you know, Im proud of myself as a transsexual and a tran s person; its not something I would change about myself, but its not something that I want [ed] Its not something that I asked for. Its something really gross that happened to me that I had to deal with and I became a better person for it.
166 Abby argu es that the articulation of femme identity as a trans identity a unique gender identity that must include a marked shift from the gender one used to be rejects the naturalness of female femininity; Randall argues that this idea unfairly co opts transge nder oppression. In some ways, this claim to transgender status made by some femmes resembles a broader argument in transgender communities. The idea that gender can be queered from a variety of perspectives and experiences is in conflict with the idea that transgenderism is a real condition composed of a body mind gender conflict. One last aspect of the intersection of femme and trans identities occurs when transgender people identify as femme. Where the above discussed how some femme identified pe ople come to identify as transgender, there are also cases of transgender people coming to identify as femme. I was only able to interview one transgender person, Randall, who, significantly, no longer identifies as femme. However, his trans man identity and femme identity coincided at one time. W hile this may not be a controversy of femme identity it does hold unique challenges. Femme identity has historically been located in lesbian communities; my participants suggest that it has shifted into a broa der queer location. Femmes in the femme movement promote the idea that one must neither be currently female, nor have been born female, to identify as femme. Still, most femme identified people are queer non transgender women. Although femme communities express an openness to include transgender people, few trans people are attracted to the identity. While trans women would confront a unique set of circumstances if they chose to identify as femme, I was not able to interview any of them. During my time in Atlantas Femme Mafia I was informally told that a femme identified trans man attempted to go to a femme only event and he was asked to leave because he obviously wasnt femme [authors field notes]. Portlands Femme Affinity Group included a few core members who were transgender. None of
167 the other organizations I profiled had core members who were out trans women. Randall, at one time, was one of the trans male members of the Femme Affinity Group He explained the special circumstances involved i n his expressing femininity: L ike a year ago I started taking hormones and still was really heavily identifying as femme and felt like taking hormones was going to allow me to even further the expression of my femme identity because I knew I was going to s tart passing more. And not passing and presenting as femme was something that I automatically got punished for like people getting my pronouns wrong and stuff so that was sort of an exci ting prospect for me. It was something that stopped me from expressi ng femme a lot. So when I started hormones I got really really campy and really femme for kind of a while. Not more femme, but I really femmed it up for a long time As Randall and Stephen have been quoted earlier, trans men may feel like they are held t o a stricter code of masculine expression because they are the mercy of cissexual people validating their claim to male identity. When Randall expressed more femininely he got punished by people not reading him as male misprouning him as she because they assumed his femininity meant he identified as female. He assumed that taking testosterone would help people read him as male, which freed him to femme it up. After taking testosterone for a year he feels that he is about to start passing consis tently and this makes him want to express femininity less. He went on: Especially because like at this place of being on hormones where if I dressed femme I pretty much dont pass but if I dress a little less femmeIm on this line where Im about to star t passing almost a lot and its just easier for me to pass a little bit sometimes if I dont look or act as femme which I think is just where Im at on being on hormones right now so Im turning it on and off right now. Its about knowing the right time t o express it. Serano (2007) suggests that trans women are punished for being transgender and the choice to be feminine in a patriarchal order that denigrates femininity. Trans men who express masculinely are certainly held accountable for being transgender, but as Randall suggests, trans men who also wish to express some feminine characteristics are also doubly marked as inferior in the gender
168 order. As he says, if he manipulates his actions by acting less feminine, he can gain some legitimacy by passing as male. Both the sexual orientation and transgender controversies embedded in femme identity illustrate the current fluctuation in its definition. Femmes in political femme communities are invested in transforming gender identity, in creating femme as its own gender identity. Involved in this process is a certain amount of boundary drawing beyond defining what a femme is, they must also define who gets to be a femme and the consequences of people in different social locations employing the identit y term. Consistent with other New Social Movements, a great deal of femme political work is focused on individual transformation and identity talk. In other social movement terminology they also indicate the simultaneity of collective identity work and deconstructive queer politics. In one sense, they are building a definition of who is femme and who is not femme, and creating borders around these identity definitions a process of collective identity. However, in another sense they are actively dedicated to blurring the boundaries and coherence of sex categories, gender categories, sex, and sexuality a commitment to queer deconstructive politics. T he Process of Femme Identity: Meeting Other Femmes Thinking in sociological terms about gender as out lined in Chapter 2, because femme has moved from a label placed on people to a consciously chosen identity, the identity is processual. That is, femme identity happens over time and there are turning points associated with articulating a femme identity. As Abby said, identifying as femme was not an aha moment. It was over time. Part of why femme identity happens over time is because femme is a subcultural gender identity option; dominant culture does not provide a word for women who choose to be fem inine. As Danielle said, I didnt even hear the word femme until I was 22 or something like that. And as Katrina said, I think that its been a long process of becoming
169 and its only been fairly recently that I feel lik e I had a real word to put to [myself] that I was actually comfortable with After learning about the potential of a queer femme identity Katrina joked that hindsight is 20/20 because her orientation toward femininity make s sense through the lens of queer femme identity. For some, learning about femme identity happened through reading books about queer culture. Irene told me, I first heard the term femmeI remember I was reading something on stonewall [a riot that ignited the modern gay rights movement] when I was probably 16 I r ead the word femme and it all kind of clicked together. I started using the word when I was 16. Similarly, Betty told the story: I read Stone Butch Blues which was the first piece of fiction t hat had any butch femme in it. T hat was given to me by a fri end. I felt like I came home. I was like what have I spent the rest of my life doing? So it was like, it was its not so much as a light bulb went off as I walked through the front door of where I was supposed to live. For Irene, reading about the po ssibility of femme made something click and led her to identify with it since that time; For Betty, reading about femme may not have been an immediate light bulb moment, but the potential of the identity offered by the book allowed her to understand he rself more thoroughly. Significantly, she said that it was as if she had walked through the front door of where [she] was supposed to live learning a historical account of a queer feminine identity in the famous work, Stone Butch Blues solidified una rticulated notions she had held of herself and had not been able to express. For other participants, it was more common to first learn of the word femme as a negative label. For them, femme identity was not possible until they learned of a broader defi nition of what femme could be. For example, Charlotte said: I came to understand that femme was an identity that existed outside of other peoples [masculine] identities and that it was mine and that I could own it and that I could be like, I could be som eone who was both masculine and feminine, someone who defied conventional standards about what is femme.
170 That is, another reason femme identity happens over time is because self identified femmes have to challenge the internalization of negative assumptions about femininity (and the femme label) in order to understand femme identity as a concept that is broad and complex enough for them to take on as their own. In the way of collective identity, it is important that nearly all femme participants came to femme identity through meeting others who identified as femme. Ruth reflected that, although she had heard of the word femme and nonfemme identified friends had been referring to her as femme, she did not identify as femme for some time. This is because, as she said, I think it was primarily because I didnt know other women who identify as femme. She went on to explain: Its only after meeting other femmes and realizing that femmes can totally kick ass in their own wonderful ways that, that I came to see my femininity and my queerness as not mutually exclusive. I think some of it is about having role models and access to that. It was through meeting other femmes, which she said was liberating and terrifying that she was able to explore the possibil ity of identifying as femme. Meeting people who embody femme identity shifts the identity from a concept to a lived reality. Katie said that moving to Seattle and meeting femmes was a turning point for her own identity. She said, [I] met other folks who identified as femme and realized that that was an option to identify that way, and more importantly, an ok thing to identify as. Montana reiterated the following about when she met other femmes, I knew that femme was an identity I could happily claim a s mine Also, meeting femmes who are diverse example of femininity provide multi dimensional possibilities for femme identification. Abby told me that the following was integral in her process of coming to femme identity, I met some fabulous femmes who were high femme. I just thought they were fantastic. They were so empowered around their femininity. I really admired that. I was like, wow, thats pretty damn cool. Akin to
171 Abbys story, Annabelle told this story about meeting the first femme identified person who inspired her: Ive always been feminine, but I wasnt [always] femme identified I remember the first femme I met where I felt like, oh my god, Im like her, were the same was this femme. I met her she was younger and more in my scen e, in the punk scene, a little more queer and radical than the femmes I met before. She was like a drag queen. I dont know why I just identified with her more. She inspired me. She was a femme activist. She was a different type of femme, it made me realize that there are all types of femmes Annabelle had previously heard of femme identity and in college she had known lesbians who were femme identified; it was not until she met someone in her punk scene, who was radical and queer that she felt li ke she could also identify as femme. Similarly, Randall reflected: [I] started hanging out with these two femmes and getting to know about femme and getting really excited about femme. I still didnt know it was something I could claim because I didnt r eally know any men who identified as femme and I especially didnt know any trans men who identified as femme. I didnt really know any trans men at all an d then I came to Portland and m et a friend of mine who was a trans man and identified as femme and w as really living his life and expressing his gender in ways that I really admired and really wanted and didnt really, had not known that was a possibility for me. For Randall, meeting cissexual femmes allowed him to get really excited about femme, but it was not until he met someone more like him that he learned it was a possibility for him. These narratives of coming to femme identity reiterate the new definition of femme identity: it is a unique concept, separate from female femininity and it is a n identity which demands conscious articulation. Likewise, it is significant that for most participants self identification as femme was born from social interaction with other femme identified people. This underscores the necessary sociality of gender i dentities and specifically the unique social workings of queer femme identity. The Sociality of Femme: New Feminine Meanings This chapter has illustrated competing subcultural definitions of femme: for some nonfemme identified people femme is a label pla ced on feminine people which signifies exclusion
172 from authentic membership in queer communities and a misogynistic dismissal of femininity; for femmes, in response to this damaging label of femme, femme has been defined as an identity which is freely chosen, celebratory of conventionally feminine characteristics, and resistant to assumptions that women must be feminine. While the femmephobic femme label is built on assumptions internalized from dominant culture, femme identity is a modern development art iculated in the context of a movement. That is, the concept of femme as a distinct identity, and femmes as a united group of people, is a process of collective identity. Femmephobic presumptions about feminine people in queer communities prompted people oriented toward femininity to assert their valid participation in queer communities they have articulated femme as a positive and fulfilling identity and [as I will detail in Chapters 7 and 8] they have created femme organizations dedicated to femme soli darity and visibility and burlesque troupes dedicated to the artistic celebration of femininity. In turn, these organizations and troupes provide an added dimension to the project of femme definition. For example, Lucy said that being part of The Queen B ees burlesque troupe strengthened [her] relationship with [her] femininity and [her] femmeness. Similarly, discussing what Femme Mafia has offered Atlantas queer community, Danielle said: People know Femme Mafia, people know the name. People know pr etty much what its about so if you say, Im part of it that automatically [conveys] like oh, you guys are rad, you guys are pretty cool. Youre all the hot girls always out there having fun, very confident, very self assured. And doing your part to involve the community [Were] discussing our gender expression and just taking our place. I think a lot of Atlanta has definitely benefitted f r om that. I think weve also given permission for the rest of the people around us to bring up their femme, to become even more femme than they had been because were here. And so I think just in terms of modeling, I think its done something to add more diversity out there. I think there are more femmes bec ause of femme mafia. Burlesque troupes and femme organi zations provide contexts for femmes to strengthen their own identities through their participation with the group, and they offer other might be femmes
173 new possibilities in understanding the potential of femme identity. As Danielle said, there might be more femmes because of femme organizations. W here femme, as a label or an identity, has always been social in that its meanings are transmitted through interaction with other people, femme identity becomes institutionalized in the context of organizations and performance groups.
174 CHAPTER 7 FEMME ORGANIZATIONS AS A CULTURAL QUEER PROTEST Femme Mafia absolutely became a part of me. [Betty] What can we do as a group to insulate and protect our own? Which is one of the things Ive loved about the mafia. Weve explored the bas e of what it means to be femme. [Sabrina] Gimme a F E M M E Whats that spell? Solidarity! You dont know who we are? Its pretty clear. Were sassy femmes And were genderqueer. Femmes are joining forces, You can hear the roar. Were not gonna be invisible anymore! Its not about what we wear Or who we fuck. Were strong and fierce And weve had enough! Femmes unite! Show them yr might! Femmes unite! Come out and fight! [Femme Affinity Group zine ] According to femme participa nts, not only do femme organizations become a part of its members and protect [their] own, they are dedicated to uniting, showing might, and com[ing] out [to] fight. In social movement sociology terminology, they are organizations, like other GL BT organizations, who fight the indignity of marginalization and who want to redress their low status. However, unlike most other Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender [ GLBT ] organizations, their target is the queer community itself. Whether I was interv iewing members of the Femme Mafia in Atlanta, the Glitter Revolutionaries in Seattle, or Femme Affinity Group in Portland, when I asked what the purpose of their organization was, they all shared the same answer: to promote femme solidarity and femme visib ility within their queer communities Irene said of Femme Affinity Group, definitely
175 promoting femme visibility was the main thing, [but also] femmes just meeting for me, it was just that it was there. And Randall said of it, [Its] about building f emme visibility. It was an activist and social organization at the same time. I think part of it was to build femme community. Similarly, Michelle provides a lengthy reflection about the need for Atlantas Femme Mafia: It was having a place where peop le could be seen and be celebrated because there was so little room for that in Atlantas queer scene at the time. Number one: you wouldnt be recognized [as queer] by anyone in a queer setting. In fact, you would be kind of scolded for being out of plac e. Getting off at the wrong train stop or whatever. And then you certainly wouldnt be celebrated. If they were going to let you hang out, they certainly werent going to talk about you like you were great. Im so grateful that we have Femme Mafia, so grateful to [The Donna] who came along and said, this is ridiculous! Its time to celebrate us, damn it! So Im hoping that will happen everywhere. I do see it springing up a lot. That was the original goal, to have safe space set aside to be recognized, to say, youre queer and I know it and Im glad youre here You know? Like
176 responses to pervasive femmephobia in queer communities; they are interventions into the isolation and lack of space for femmes in queer communities. That is, e xperiences with femmephobia politicize femmes: it makes them yearn to share moments with people who have been treated similarly (so they may reach individual changes) and it establishes the need to promote visibility so that femmephobia will be challenged (so they may reach community changes). Throughout this chapter I will elaborate on why these femme organizations highlight solidarity and visibility as the primary goals of femme organizing and detail the ways they achieve their stated goals. One section below is dedicated to each topic; I began each section with an event I attended which illustrates the goal of solidarity or visibility. Although I have observed several events organized by the Femme Mafia Femme Affinity Group, and Glitter Revolutionaries I begin the following sections by focusing on a sleepover organized by Femme Mafia and a pride parade femme contingent organized by the Glitter Revolutionaries. They each illuminate key elements that are important in building theory on the topic of quee r femme organizing. This approach is similar to Messners (2000) article in which he witnessed an entire season of his sons soccer games, but chose one game to ethnographically examine. Messners approach to studying moments is inspired by Hochschild s (1994) description of magnified moments, which she describes as episodes of heightened importance, either epiphanies, moments of intense glee or unusual insight, or moments in which things go intensely but meaningfully wrong. In either case, the mome nt stands out; it is metaphorically rich, unusually elaborate and often echoes [later] (Hochschild, 1994: 4, quoted in Messner, 2000: 766). I use these examples alongside interview data to offer ethnographic depth to the interviews I conducted and to echo the purported goals of interviewees.
177 Femme Solidarity In November of 2007 Femme Mafia announced that they would hold a slumber party at a Mafia Femmes home. The evening of the sleepover more than twenty femmes attended: of them, seven femmes slept ov er and the rest of the attendees came to take part in the festivities, but did not sleep at the hosts house. More than half of the femmes who attended did not stay to sleep over; instead, they came to take part in slumber party activities (eating junk f ood, pedicures, gossiping), but left the party to go on dates, go home to their partners, or to meet people for other engagements. In many ways the slumber party is a queered performance of conventional teenage femininity; the fact that several femmes too k part in the sleepover, but did not sleep over speaks to the performative aspects of the event what was important about the sleepover was not actually sleeping over, but the events of the evening. At the same time, in that it is a queered performance of conventional femininity, the sleepover is used as a tool to promote solidarity amongst its members. Before attending Femme Mafias slumber party, I noticed that their website had posted pictures of the slumber party from the previous year; photographs showed femmes: in pajamas; wearing cold cream and bior strips across their noses; dramatically posing for the camera; or making silly faces. This year they painted their nails, knitted, and got pedicures with hot massage tubs. The refrigerator was full of beer, wine, and soda; the freezer was full of ice cream. Tables of food held cheese and vegetable trays, potato chips, cookies, and brownies. Even though everyone announced that they were full from the spread of food, about two hours into the evening they ordered pizza so that, as one attendee said, it would just be more sleepoverish. Later, when we decided to watch a movie we chose The Craft because its plot centers on the friendship of a group of teenage girls; excitedly someone commented, I t hink theres even a sleepover scene in the movie! Throughout the evening there was a self conscious
178 attempt on the part of Mafia members to make the event as close to a traditional sleepover as possible. The sleepover is a symbol of American girlhood. Girls come together at someones home, eat junk food, talk about makeup, groom themselves or each other, watch movies and they fantasize about romances with boys. According to Wolf (1998), girlhood culture is constructed to train girls into an appropria te adult heterosexual femininity. Where boys may focus on personal interests, the interests of girls are molded into future (hetero)sexual lives. For instance, she argues that young girls value relationships with other girls (and that if their lives were allowed to develop along these lines, they might prefer romantic relationships with women), but that culture ensures their future heterosexuality by selling them boy bands, and gossip magazines about teenage boy actors. In this way, the sleepover is a ki nd of heterosexual milestone for young girls. It is a pubescent heterosexualizing lesson. It is an event of non romantic homosocial bonding that sets girls up to be women who find platonic love with each other and romantic love with boys. Adult women do not have sleepovers; the sleepovers they had as young girls have already groomed them for friendships with women and romantic relationships with men. The adult queer slumber party is an illustrative example of the contradiction presented by queer femini nity. Like queer femininity itself, the adult queer slumber party is deceptively similar to heterosexual feminine mandates of girlhood, but subverts those mandates by its very similarity to it. Said differently, because of queer femininitys separation o f heterosexuality and femininity, the use of dominant femininity performances (like the slumber party) subverts heteropatriarchys rationale for femininity. Adult queer feminine women having, as they called it, an old fashioned sleepover has several im portant functions: First, as one of the goals of the
179 organization is to build femme solidarity, the slumber party is utilized to enable homosocial1 More specifically, I interpret the sleepover as an example of an event wherein members can find solace in private moments with other people who are like them, who understand their femininity experiences in queer communities. As discussed previously, because both dominant culture and lesbian subcultures expect lesbians to reject femininity, queer femme members of Femme Mafia must articulate their femininity in a way that heterosexual women do not. At some point, queer feminine women must consciously choose to be feminine because of the lesbian mandate of androgyny or masculinity (and suspicion of femininity). Because heterosexua l women are always expected to be feminine they may not have a conscious moment of choice around their femininity. (in this case, femme only, not just girl only) bonding. Second, it is a campy performance of girlhood which allows the organization to symbolically reclaim a femininity that they have been coerced to reject in lesbian communities. The performance of the sleepover is one way in which this occurred in Atlantas queer womens community by Femme Mafia declaring that they were having a slumber party (with all that slumber parties represent) and that only femme identified people were allowed to attend. The slumber party itself allowed discussions to happen that also disrupted the silent mandates of heterosexual femininity and lesbian masculinity. For example, 24 year old Nicole was talking to a group of about seven femmes and she asked them how they felt about being feminine when they first came out Although she had acknowledged her attraction to women for some time befo re that, she had resigned herself to spending her life with a man and keeping [her] 1 It should be noted that this event was homo social and not homo sexual I witnessed no hints of sexual encounters between the femmes this evening. The focus was on femme friendship bonding rather than sexual bonding.
180 distance from gay people so that no one would think [she] was gay. About a year before the slumber party she decided to begin dating women: The problem was I didnt know any lesbians so I took a straight friend of mine with me to My Sisters Room [a local lesbian bar]. I wore jeans, a black top that tied up, and heels. [The femmes listening cued, stating that she must have looked cute.] I know! I thought I looked cute. I still think I looked cute. Well, I got to the bar and saw that everyone there was wearing cargo shorts and had really short cropped hair. I said to myself, Is this what it means to be a lesbian? Do I have to cut off all my hair and wear mens clothes? Its naive, but I thoughtI would rather not be gay. If it means giving up being feminine, I would rather not be gay. I was nave then. I didnt know I could have both [Nicole, authors field notes]. Feminine heterosexual women are not in a social position to have this conversation. It is possible that feminine heterosexual women have self conscious reflections about their femininity but lack the community resources to have conversations about it; it is also possible that because of their privile ged space within sexuality and femininity those who enjoy their femininity do not question it. Importantly, the kind of internal negotiation Nicole describes is unique to queer feminine women. Further, the need to have a group discussion about this ident ity negotiation is unique to queer feminine women. Where masculinity may be understood to signal queer sexuality to queer and heterosexual people, queer feminine women are more often in a position in which they have to verbalize their sexual orientation (Stein, 1993). This may mean that a more complicated discussion about sexual orientation emerges. For instance, Joanie announced the question to the room, Heres a good question: if youre dating a transman, do you become straight or bisexual? Sonia, a femme dating a transman answered her, well, I identify as queer. While for Joanie a femme dating a transman made her heterosexual or bisexual, Sonia articulated her identity as queer; other women commented that they knew of women maintaining a lesbian identity when they were dating men.
181 Masculine women are seen as queer (both by mainstream culture and other queer people) regardless of their sexual partners because their masculine identities visually mark them as queer. Historically femmes have been ostracized from lesbian communities because of their suspected sexual relationships with men (Stein, 1993). However, since the 1990s, several events have made this position untenable, especially in queer communities that espouse goals of gender and sexu al inclusion [please see Chapter 9 for a lengthier discussion of the politics of this queer shift]. Femme Mafias organizational response to these shifts has been to welcome femmes of all genders and sexual orientations into their organization; this was e vident in the sexual orientations represented at the sleepover and the discussions femmes had about their sexual orientations that evening. Instead of trying to assert that femmes are authentically lesbian and should thus be accepted as queer enough, the organization is asserting that the queerness of femme identity does not rest on having exclusive sexual relationships with women. One of the ways this is achieved is through talk about masculine people having sex with men. For instance, a femme in a nonmonogamous relationship joked that her transman boyfriend was such a fag because he always seemed to have sex with men more often than women. Likewise, a femme dating a butch said that a couple of years ago her butch had sex with a male friend while s he was visiting her family in Ohio. When her butch partner returned and told her she assumed that she would be angry, but she said, Why would I be mad about that? By extending bi positive sentiments to men and masculine women, femmes in Femme Mafia leg itimate the idea that masculine queers can sleep with men thus delegitimating the stereotype that femininity means sleeping with men. In this way, they make the statement that people of all genders sleep with men and that if femmes sleep with men it does not detract from their
182 queerness Importantly, this is also related to the common sense politic of sex positivity in femme organizations; members often espoused positive beliefs about nonmonogamy and sex outside the context of relationships. The cons tant discussions of gender, sexual orientation, and sex are clearly ways that adult queer slumber parties diverge from conventional girlhood slumber parties. Significantly, the slumber party was suggested as a Femme Mafia event because it represents girl bonding and was meant to encourage femme bonding. The event allowed these conversations about gender and sexuality to occur; that is, femmes bond through a verbalized reflection of their queer gendered experiences. This is why a key principle of femme organizing is the building of solidarity between members, allowing femmes to find community with likeminded others. As the above description of the sleepover (and conversations that occurred during it) suggest, femme organizations provide a context for c ommunity building and support from other femmes who have shared similar experiences in queer communities. Recall from previous chapters that femmes experience femmephobia in queer community. Femmephobia is multidimensional; it includes: invisibility in public when femmes are not recognized as queer; social alienation even once they announce their queer identity; and stereotypes placed on them because of negative conceptions about femininity. Dominique, a mafia femme, answered this way to the question Why Femme Mafia? on the organizations web page, Because we are all tough broads who need to band together and fight oppression and be fabulous and glossy while we do it. We need each other's camaraderie to get us through we need that girly girl love and support. It was common for people involved in femme organizations to reiterate this sentiment: they fight femmephobia and provide an opportunity to look fabulous and glossy while [they] do it. Part of the satisfaction derived
183 from membership in a femme organization is being surrounded by people who present as femininely as they do. As Dominques quote suggests, camaraderie from people who are girly girl[s] is essential to get [them] through their experiences as femmes. A reflection of them selves through the eyes of other queer people who have similar gender presentations offers a politicizing solidarity. Patricia said: I just love the celebration of that kind of queer femininity. [I always ask femmes] like, have you ever been to a Femme M afia event? I just love it! Sometimes there will be like 50 of us and we are dressed
184 My girls. I just love my girls. I just love its so nice to get dressed up and go out with peo ple you know are celebrating you for that very reason alone and you may never even talk about femme identity. Were just talking about shoes and nails but [it] just amazingly gets me through the month knowing that I have that to look forward to. I love it And Danielle also said: My first connection with the femme community was really through the Femme Mafia. I was like, theres more people like me? Like really? You know? Its and you guys are queer and into queer politics and youre this femme? L ike, amazing! I had never seen that face before. So it was really exciting to be a part of. Patricia gets through the month knowing that she has at least one opportunity to gather with her girls because she knows that they will celebrate her for he r femininity. Even if they never discuss femme identity specifically, she feels understood by them in a way that she would not feel understood by non queer feminine women or nonfemme queer women. Danielle furthers this idea by explaining how the Femme M afia was exciting for her because they were externally like her, but also had queer sensibilities like her. In a challenge to the femmephobic idea that feminine expression and feminine interests are antithetical to radical queer identity, femme organizations provide atmospheres that reiterate the potential for these things to coincide As Erica, a Mafia Femme writing on their website about what Femme Mafia has meant to her, said The Mafia reminds me that Im no less of a queer for getting facials, watchi ng Americas Next Top Model, or wearing stilettos. I can be superficial. I can be angry. I can be political. I can be sincere. And I can be lovely. That is, femme organizations are places were femmes can meet other femmes who share their interest in external feminine presentation and exemplify complicated queer, radical, angry intellectual points of view. Betty told me: For me meeting all these young incredible femme women was probably the most amazing thing Ive ever experienced because en massethere s all these incredible femme women. Its the most beautiful thing Ive ever experienced. To see all these faces looking back at me and to know that they were all queer femme women.
185 Betty describes her time in Femme Mafia as the most beautiful thing s he had ever experienced because it was an opportunity to meet queer femmes en masse groups of femmes who offered incredible representations of queer femme experience. Importantly, this sense of community creates an arsenal for dealing with femmephob ic experiences in queer communities. Katie said, I think that like we have to be in touch with each other. Its not an option [for me] if Im going to exist as a femme in the queer community, I have to know that theres other people there. This is the political context of femme organizations. It is not just that they meet others who are like them, but that they meet others who are like them, who have been alienated by their community because of their gender presentation, and who think this should chan ge. Annabelle told me that she loved being part of Femme Affinity Group because she really loved having a femme community because [ I] liked having a place where we could discuss issues we all felt connected to. Charlotte agreed: [Femme Affinity Grou p] changed my community and my group of friends, and how, how we made space to talk about those things that were kind of unsaid. It gave me a space, and other people a space, to talk about the shit that sucks about being femme, about being femme in a comm unity that doesnt recognize you. I think it also gave us an opportunity to try and change that. Part of the rationale for needing femme community is, of course, that femmes share unique experiences in queer communities. As Kelly said, Part of why I w ant to spend time with other femmes is because of the commonality there because Theres a lot of experiences coded into the femme experience. I dont need to constantly talk about it with other femmes, but it gives me a lot of commonality. Significant ly, the story she told to underscore the commonality of femme experience was that she gets tired of having to constantly constantly come out as a lesbian. She said: A lot of femmes have had the experience of walking into a lesbian bar and have people l ook at them like, well, why are you here? Um. Again, its not as bad as it used to be and its not as bad in Atlanta as some other places, but Ive heard that there are still some dyke
186 bars out there where if a girl walks in in a dress people are not goi ng to be terribly friendly to her because theyre going to assume that shes just a straight sightseer or some girl out for a cheap thrill or something like that. Being seen as heterosexual, and hence being isolated from queer community, is an aspect of femme experience that has been discussed previously in the section on femmephobia. What is significant about Kelly referencing this kind of moment is that she does so at the exact time in the interview when she discussed the importance of femme organizati ons. That is, femme organizations intervene into this negative treatment and in some ways offer a solution. The solution is solidarity from people who have had a similar experience. Emma said, I think that [femme organizing is] definitely about visibility and recognizing peoples queer identities and orientations around sexuality. For me, thats the most important part. This is something I noticed time and again during my ethnographic research: during various events femmes would tell stories to each o ther of feeling alienated; always, there would be a response which validated the storytellers feeling of alienation as real (and not imagined) and which validated queer femme identity. If queer collective identity has coalesced as a masculine only enterp rise, then it is logical that femmes would not be recognized as queer because of their female femininity. However, when femme interviewees talked about feeling invisible and alienated, they gestured to something more profound than the assumption that they should probably be masculine because they are queer. Feeling invisible is a consequence of the queer collective identity of masculinity. For instance, Charlotte wrote the following in the Femme Affinity Group zine about the invisibility of queer femal e femininity: There was a time about three or four years ago when I didnt think I was femme. Where I dressed in too big clothing and wore cowboy boots to change my walk to a swagger. In retrospect, I realize I was trying to prove myself. I wanted ever yone to know I was queer as much as I knew I was. I wanted them to notice me. I wanted to be hot shit.
187 Invisibility is not being recognized as queer. Feeling alienated is perhaps a result of that invisibility, but it is more specifically a reference to being rejected by other queer s once a queer identity has been projected by femmes. Members of femme organizations told me that they felt actively ostracized by other queer people, even in situations where they felt it was reasonable to believe that the y are queer: people would ask them if they were in the wrong bar; a femme in Atlanta had a cigarette thrown at her in a lesbian bar; femmes have had service refused to them in lesbian bars; femmes tell me that the queer community makes them feel undateabl e because of stereotypes about them; as Emma said, they feel ineligible to be truly part of the gay community because they are femme. Throughout this chapter I use the words invisibility and alienation frequently and interchangeably. Although they are different in degree, they stem from the problem articulated by femmes of finding female femininity incompatible with queer identities. Femme organizations help femmes deal with feelings of alienation. For example at a Femme Mafia brunch after an ou ting to a zoo Danielle walked up to the table looking distraught; when someone asked her how her night was she said, lets just say that last night I learned there are some places femmes shouldnt go. A femme responded, maybe you should tell us so we c an all heed the warning. The Donna agreed with Danielle, Weve all experienced that. In this instance, Danielle brought up the alienation she experienced to a group of people she knew would understand; The Donna offered consolation that is not an indi vidual experience, it is something that all femmes experience. Similarly, at another event a Mafia Femme, Ruby, told the group that she went out the other night in a crowd of masculine women; a gay man walked up her and said, lesbians! I love lesbians! and then he turned to her and said, Youre not a lesbian! I know. I can tell. Youre
188 not a lesbian! she continued, and I was like, okay. Thanks. Although this is a story of a gay man, not another queer woman, disregarding her sexual orientation, none of the queer women she was with defended her. The Donna said, [you should have said] why dont you tell that to all the pussy I eat? The group laughed; Ruby laughed and said, yeah! The solidarity offered by femme organizations confirms the val idity of feminine presentation and the authenticity of queer identities claimed by feminine women. Ashley, a Mafia Femme, told me this about why Femme Mafia was so important to her at my first Femme Mafia event: This organization has been really vital for me. When I first came out I cut my hair really short and had it spikey and dyed it blonde and the reaction I got from the community was great. I was accepted, you know? But I just decided that wasnt methen when I came to Atlanta [and I was feminine] I woul d walk into a place like [My Sisters R oom] and I would feel like an island, like an alien. You know, people would assume I was straight or bi curious people made fun of me to my face; I remember liter ally having to hold back tears. Again, invis ibility and alienation work in concert with one another. When people would assume [that Ashley] was straight or bi curious they made her feel invisible by not recognizing her queer identity; when people made fun of [Ashley] to her face, they made her feel alienated by socially rejecting her. In these examples femme organizations provided a safe haven for femmes who have been alienated by other queer people because they are femme: Danielle could tell her story to a table of people who validated that th e same thing has happened to all of them; Ruby could have the experience of being told that she is not a lesbian humorously counteracted by people who understand that her femininity and sexual orientation can coincide; and Ashley could have the experiences of feeling like an island and like an alien dissipate through an organization that is vital for her because of its ability to offer femme community. F emme Visibility Significantly, femme organizations begin with the concept that femmes need support from other femmes; eventually this translates into a need to change the community. That is,
189 femmes establish these organizations to provide solidarity for femmes who feel alienated, but the logical next step is to challenge the source of that alienation. Ruth discussed both of these ideas: For me, [the reason for femme organizations] goes back to validation and affirming femininity. And, you know, its like not just about gender expression but, like, that this can be a powerful way to be in the world. Its about getting more support to be in even more different. Youre already down for the count because youre queer and youre a woman, and add femininity on top of that, its just I dont think any person wants to choose to be even more marginalized. I think its about carving out space and making it so a young queer femme can walk into the Wild Rose and nobody gives her a second glance, or if they are its because theyre interested not because they think shes in the wrong place and theyre defining, theyre asserting their territories. You know? Youre too feminine, you dont belong here. I think its exciting for me because 10 years ago I didnt have that. For Ruth, femme organizations provide support but they are also involved in carving out s pace so that in the future young queer femmes will not feel as isolated by queer communities as femmes do now. This is why alongside femme community, which provides individual support, femme organizations work toward femme visibility, which seeks to establish a grander change at the level of community. In some ways, invisibility is seen as the reason for alienation. That is, if queer people saw more constant examples that it is possible to be feminine and queer, they would not ignore femmes as potentia lly queer (making femmes feel invisible) or ostracize femmes (making femmes feel alienated). The immediate solution for femmephobia is solidarity because it allows individual femmes hurt by the low status of femininity in queer communities to have friends and a meeting place; the long term solution for femmephobia is visibility so that they might shift queer collective identity to include feminine women. In June of 2008 the Glitter Revolutionaries organized a femme contingent in Seattles pride parade. T wo days prior to the main event a group gathered at one of the members homes a femme who is also a member of the Von Foxies to make a banner for the contingent. Craft supplies and burlesque costumes were everywhere: there were feathers, sequins, boas fabric with leopard print, vinyl with flames, and a lot of glitter; eventually we deconstructed several
190 Hawaiian leis, originally used for a burlesque costume, to build a letter on the banner. The banner was a tarp measuring about 3 feet by 6 feet. The y hot glued pink lace to the back of it and used the materials to spell out FEMME PRIDE in different colors with different textures; they hot glued a pink boa underneath the words. The morning of the pride parade we met downtown at a designated location assigned to us by the larger committee organizing the event. About 15 femmes and 5 allies gathered to march, dressed in gold dresses, floral dresses, pink skirts, fishnets, and high heels; 2 of the femmes wore matching vinyl hot pants and tube tops, outr ageous makeup, with wigs and huge platform heels that made them over 6 feet tall. Before we started marching the leader of the organization, Emma, walked around everyone and asked if she could dump either silver or gold glitter on people; everyone was cov ered in one or both of the colors of glitter. As we walked the crowd shouted and cheered for the femme contingent; the cheers mainly came from masculine lesbians who seemed to be performing an expected attraction for feminine women and gay men who seemed to be celebrating the demonstrations of femininity. As we passed the announcers they read the statement that the Glitter Revolutionaries supplied, that they provide solidarity and visibility for femmes and the crowd cheered. In many ways, I found the cheering of the crowd counter intuitive. After the march, I wrote on my notepad, Why did they cheer for us? Isnt the point [of the contingent] that they dont celebrate us? There are several ways to answer my questions from that day. First, during our interview Michelle said the femme organizations are popular because the fem me movement is fun to look at In her group, the Femme Mafia, Atlantas community was hostile to them when they formed, but eventually paid them a lot of attention: they had a rticles written about them in the gay newspaper, the same lesbian bars where femmes could not get served drinks
191 asked them to have events, other organizations asked them to cosponsor events. Perhaps this is because, as Michelle suggests, femmes are fun to look at. It is also important who was cheering: gay men, who have long had to contend with mainstream notions that they should reject femininity; feminine women who had no context to celebrate a femme identity, and masculine women the cheerers who whistled, shouted, and cat called the contingent. In many ways the latter celebration speaks to the simultaneous sexualization and alienation that happens to femmes previously discussed in Chapter 6. Finally, it might be said that the femmes were demand ing celebration through their visibility stunt. I asked Emma, the leader of the contingent, if she was surprised by the cheer ing; she said yes by nodding affirmatively I followed up, saying that I assumed there might be some booing. Booing? She said, Oh no, that would not be happening, allowing inflection in her voice to imply that the femme contingent would have taken strong action on booing members of the audience. Perhaps on a day that was celebrating the visibility of the GLBT community, the f emme contingents point that they should also be celebrated was conveyed. Amongst the cheering, the announcer called, and check out how they walk in those heels. Femmes from the contingent would shout to the crowd, Happy Pride! and Arent we pretty? Several of them would walk to the sides of the march, offering hugs and kisses on the cheek while they wished people a Happy Pride. Two of the femmes approached a man protesting the march, holding a sign that said homosexuality is sin. They approache d him and tried to give him a kiss on the cheek and wish him a Happy Pride; he backed up from them so they could not kiss him and shook his head to indicate that his answer was no. They joked, come on, dont you want to turn us straight? and then they t urned to each other and kissed
192 heavily for a minute before breaking up the kiss with laughter and running to catch up with the femme group who had moved on while they stopped to talk to him. Alongside the cheering from masculine women and gay men, the contingent crossed feminine women in the crowd who joined the march. Often there would be a group of gay men with one feminine woman and the men would point to her and shout, shes femme, shes femme! or there would be a lesbian couple with one feminine w oman; in either case, the contingent would shout for them to join us and several of them did. Interestingly, they looked markedly different from the femmes who organized the contingent: a couple of the joined marchers looked to be about 17 or 18 and were very conventionally feminine; one of the femme lesbians who joined was in her 30s and had blond hair, wore a tiara, a light pink skirt and pink heels and a shirt that read, femme. Later someone referred to her as The Ladies Home Journal femme, illustrating that they too saw her as a far more conventionally feminine women than themselves. The specific difference in style may have been an affiliation with queer communities (that the femme contingent organizers shared) and an affiliation with the more m ainstream gay and lesbian community (that the joiners shared). This was evident to me in their feminine presentations because the queer femmes were decidedly more outrageous in their presentation. It was also evident to me in the reactions to the conting ent of the joiners: femme organizing is squarely located in queer communities; mainstream gay and lesbian communities are not necessarily having widespread discussion or organizing around femme identity. The women who joined the march were shocked that w e were present; their demeanor running to us, taking pictures with us, hugging us, shaking their heads and saying I cant believe you guys did this and this is so awesome showed their deep isolation and their gratefulness
193 for queer feminine present ations being highlighted as a possibility. Katie, who marched with the Glitter Revolutionaries that day, also noticed these things: There were women who ran out and joined the march with us; there were women who ran out and like took a picture with us and [said] thank you so much. You would see these women just like, thank you so much, thank you for being there The other thing that was interesting, that I havent thought a lot about was like a femme with a lot of gay men and having the gay men point out at her like, shes femme too! kind of like something happening that was really interesting. Out of all the interactions I saw that was the most common, to see all these gay men or other people pointing to the femme they know and I think that speaks a lot to the lack of community and people really knowing that and being like, oh my god, I know a femme and shes not here with all these other femmes Interesting thing. Lots and lots of gay men being like, shes femme and you should talk to her The queer femmes who organized the contingent did so to combat the invisibility of femmes in queer communities; the response they received from people who the organizers perceived to be even more isolated reiterated the need to form a femme presence in queer communities. Katie went on to say that it is because femmes are so invisible that a visibility demonstration like the femme contingent in the pride parade is needed; she said, I think because in the queer community feminine identity does feel so invisible, [the contin gent gave] some visibility and sense of understanding and community. For her, a femme contingent in the pride parade was really awesome and really necessary. When I asked Emma why she organized and participated in the femme contingent, she jokingl y remarked, I got to wear an awesome dress. Who would turn down an opportunity to march in a parade and look fabulous and have people scream at you because youre gay and theyre gay and they really think youre pretty? She then more seriously reflected: [The femme contingent is meant] to get people thinking about what it can mean to be femme. I think that is absent a lot of times. [People think] femme is some antiquated thing from lesbians in the 60s and 70s and its no longer a relevant way of expres sing gender. Just to let people know that were still out there and we look really hot. Importantly, Femme Mafia and Femme Affinity Group also organize femme contingents in their local parades. I did not visit Atlanta during pride celebrations because it was in conflict with my
194 other ethnographic research, but they are rumored to have a major presence in Atlantas gay pride celebrations. For instance, I was checking into a hotel in Atlanta one night and the desk clerk asked me what I was doing in town; be cause of her masculine presentation I read her to be a lesbian and I told her I was in town studying the Femme Mafia, wondering if she knew of the organization. She replied, yeah, yeah, the Femme Mafia they pull some stunts during pride. Theyre alrig ht. Theyre fun. When I asked her what kind of stunts, she replied, just wild stuff. Colorful. Always fun and really out there. Although Portlands 2008 pride celebration was the same weekend as Seattles, I was able to attend their 2007 pride we ekend and the Femme Affinity Group had organized a contingent in the dyke march, a march that takes place a day before the general pride parade dedicated to dyke visibility. I attended a Femme Affinity Group meeting where they planned the contingent in the march; as one femme noted, obviously we want to be a visible force in the march. About 35 femmes and femme allies marched in the 2007 dyke march: they all wore black, white, and hot pink; they wore buttons that read femmes unite with hearts; their banner was hot pink and read, femmes unite. Interestingly, Femme Affinity Group is not composed of only dykes; while many femmes in the organization may identify as dykes, others markedly do not. Even male femme identified people marched in the dyke m arch. In some ways this illustrates the historic location of femme in lesbian/dyke communities even as its meaning has shifted to include people who are not lesbian/dyke identified (or even people who are not women). Also, it defines who femmes (in Por tland) want to give them recognition. In general, pride parades are meant to establish recognition of sexual difference: they are moments of demonstrating the existence of GLBT people, of celebrating that existence, and of suggesting that there should be more of an everyday acknowledgment of their existence. In
195 short, they are moments of GLBT visibility. It is poignant then that femme organizations decide to demand femme visibility during pride parades and dyke marches. It is a significant parallel o f isolation and marginalization: in organizing contingents, femmes are telling the larger GLBT community that femmes are ignored in ways that mirror dominant cultures erasure of GLBT lives. It is also an important demonstration of where femme activism oc curs: it asks for change from other GLBT people; it is not directed at nonqueer dominant others. Dyke marches have also historically made this demand: they were established in response to the focus of mens experiences during gay pride celebrations and t o make visible the unique circumstances of dykes (Ghaziani & Fine, 2008). Certainly the femme movement is not the only form of organizing that takes place within queer communities, developed by and directed toward queer people. There is a long history, for example, of organizing to challenge hierarchies of gender, race, and class within GLBT organizations (Armstrong, 2002). Femme contingents tended to be so emotional for the actors involved, perhaps because it was a protest directed at their own commun ity. Certainly all activists feel an emotional connection to their activism, but it is perhaps true that people have a higher emotional investment in their activism when the target of their protests are members of their own community. As Lucy said, how painful it was, identifying as femme and hearing really femmephobic shit in my community. Its more painful, personally, for me, in my own community. Femmes in the femme contingent were involved in a moment of pride celebration, of telling dominant culture that they refused to be silent around queer sexual orientation and that they were in fact committed to celebrating it and celebrating each other; they were also involved in a femme contingent of that pride celebration, of telling other queer people tha t they refused to
196 be queer in narrowly defined ways and they were committed to celebrating their gender identities and the defiance of people who presented like them. Katie reflected: Oh my god. I think that marching was really powerful for me. One of the things was that the femmes would cheer when the femmes would march and I saw a lot of masculine identified or differently gendered folks clapping in huge recognition of the queer community, that I dont felt like arose in all these other places. But it fe lt good to see queers acknowledge that were there and were a huge part of the community and that it takes a lot of guts to live in the world the way that we do. I felt like there was some recognition there. For Katie, the march was powerful because sh e felt recognized by other queer people. Having a femme community in Seattle, she is used to having solidarity with other femmes, or recognition of her experiences from other femmes. The femme contingent was a protest of femme invisibility and a demand for recognition; when nonfemme people cheered for the femmes, Katie felt that they recognized what is usually ignored that femmes are there and a huge part of the community and that it takes guts to live in the world the way femmes do. Katies fe elings about the Glitter Revolutionaries femme contingent illustrate the larger rationale for femme visibility demonstrations in queer communities. All of the femme organizations I studied said they were dedicated to femme solidarity and femme visibility ; the most obvious event dedicated to femme visibility is the femme contingent in the pride parade, but visibility demonstrations happen in less obvious ways as well. For instance, Femme Affinity Group would wear buttons, patches, and t shirts that said femmes unite regularly; they would flier Portland with statements about valuing femmes. As Charlotte said, through these actions, We gained visibility and pretty legitimately. We showed up and wore our patches and our shirts and we were like, what up? Were here. This were here logic is connected to larger GLBT visibility attempts. She is specifically referencing Queer Nations slogan, Were Here. Were Queer. Get Used To It. Michelle also referenced this slogan earlier in this chapter when she said that femmes saying to each other youre queer and I know it and Im glad youre here
197 was kind of like the protest slogan. This connection makes sense. Other GLBT organizations have focused on visibility as a path to redress the harm of discrimi nation. When Queer Nation said, Were Here. Were Queer. Get Used To It, they demanded that heterosexual society deal with their queer presence; when femmes say, what up? Were here, they demand that other queer people deal with their presence in the ir community. Also, Femme Mafia would hold takeovers of lesbian frequented establishments which meant that they would organize an event where 40 to 50 femmes would gather at a venue that is usually unfriendly [unfriendly in terms of service and treatment from other patrons] to femmes and dance, drink, or eat. These are not conventional protests where social movement actors might stand outside an establishment and protest patrons with signs. Because femmephobia is subtle like subtle racism, as Abby said, the protest is also subtle: they attend venues and demonstrate that femmes are a large portion of the community. As Danielle said, I love the idea of going out as a huge bunch of dressed up femmes and taking over a place, showing that we take up spac e and were allowed to. This group visibility has had personal consequences for her too, Its given me an opportunity to have a lot more visibility. People definitely know me now. I mean one of the taglines [of Femme Mafia] is earn your reputation, so. Not only does Danielle note that Femme Mafias visibility demonstrations tell people in queer communities that femmes will take up space and that they are allowed to, but they have also given her a personal feeling of visibility in her community. T he goals of femme visibility are two fold: they provide a protest of femme invisibility in queer communities and they promote an opportunity for femmes to personally feel more recognized as members of the queer community. This was true for Charlotte who s aid: One thing that in my personal life that Ive done to combat that femmephobia and that invisibility is just to hang out with a gaggle of femmes and to demand attention as a crew
198 or to make attention, or give each other the attention that we dont get from the larger community. If you dont have it, you have to make it and you cant depend on people giving it to you, you have to make it yourself. From Charlottes point of view, femme organizations a gaggle of femmes or a crew will garner atten tion, which creates visibility for femmes in queer community; they also provide visibility for each other because they see each other as they understand themselves to be. Abby, a member of the Queen Bees who also marched with the Glitter Revolutionaries, reiterated this point: As a single femme not just whether or not Im partnered, but single out in the community theres a different feel versus when were together and taking up space so thats I think I feel much more invisible as a single femme v ersus when were all together, like in a tribe, if you will. Its no fun being invisible. I also think, when Im with other femmes, maybe Im not more visible, I just feel more visible. Which is really important, if you feel more visible, thats kind of the point. Katie also spoke to how different it feels for her to be with a group of femmes: I think that without a posse of femmes I feel really uncomfortable and I stick out, and that sometimes Im not very welcome, but then I feel like when Im entering spaces with my femmes and its like, oh my god the femmes showed up, then it feels different. Significantly, Abby and Katie juxtapose being alone in queer spaces with being in a tribe of femmes, a posse of femmes, or, as Katie also said, with my fem mes, intimating the bonds of femme identity. Katies feelings on sticking out or not feeling welcome dissipate when the femmes [show] up. Although groups of femmes occupying space where other GLBT people gather would have the effect of demonstrati ng the existence of femmes in queer community, it more immediately offers femmes in the group a feeling of visibility. As Abby said, perhaps she is not more visible, but she feels more visible. Again, the rationale for femme visibility is both to challen ge the larger queer community on its femmephobic denial of femme existence and the personal fulfillment of feeling publicly
199 recognized as femme and queer. Consider both of these statements made by Charlotte about Femme Affinity Group. First she discussed what the group accomplished in Portland: I remember meeting somebody who told me they were scared of me because I was a part of FAG and I was like, yeah, were a fucking force to be reckoned with. I think that we were seen as a united front, as a force, as a legitimate force. We gained a legitimacy. We marched in dyke march and people are cheering, theyre like, we didnt even know we had a femme group! Thats awesome! I think that did change the landscape. Next, she discussed how Femme Affinity Groups visibility affected her: As far as [Femme Affinity Groups] lasting power [in Portland], I really couldnt say. I could only say for me personally and I think it did change a lot about I see myself and how I see my community, the way I see the femme co mmunity in Portland. Personally, it changed my landscape. Certainly all movements affect both individual and social change. However, in that femme organizations exist because of a grievance that has to do with the identities of its members, the individual changes are perhaps more central to the movement experience. That is, the promotion of visibility affects community change, but it also allows the individuals involved to feel more immediately visible. Although they are not interested in policy chan ges and instead focus on cultural changes, femme organizations offer a glimpse of conventional political work: they create solidarity amongst marginalized members of their community; they demand visibility and recognition from people they feel have ignored their presence. However, the femme movement is comprised of more than just this kind of organizing. In the next chapter we spend some time thinking about the possible political contributions of feminine performance art and how this work creates queer co mmunity possibilities for femme identity and feminine celebration.
200 C HAPTER 8 BURLESQUE: PERFROMANCE ART AS QUEER CULT URAL PROTEST Art tells our history. If we look back to the history and the books that have been burned, all we have is art. Thats what tells it. I think that through reading that and seeing that, I think people its not just queer people. [Queer people] just have more boxes we have to get out of. If were queer and brown and big and whatever more boxes once you have to open one, you have to open more. If you look back theres always been that bard in the castle picking on the king right before his face through art, you know, the court jester. Politics have to grow up. If you can make them laugh, they may not realize theyre being educated or challenged or whatever the case is. [Cynthia] [Performing with the Queen Bees] wasnt just about entertainment. I do gogo dancing now. That is just about entertainment. That is not about being political in my head. That is just visu al enjoyment and I do it because the money is good, but this? We didnt get paid for this! We didnt make any kind of profit off of it. We killed ourselves over it. We fought with each other. We cried. We went through major body revelations. We went through so much. [Rose] I was a founding member [of the Queen Bees] who didn't have a lot of [prior] experience in performing and didn't truly value art as a legitimate form of social change organizing. Now I'm a poster child for the importance of polit ical art as a tool for political, social, and institutional change. In fact, I feel no movement will be successful without the voice of artists and I strive to bring the political artist movement to the forefront of a new generation of progressive activis ts. [Abby] For people accustomed to traditional politics, performance art may seem to be the furthest thing from political activism. Where femme organizations are not exactly taking part in traditional politics, such as demanding rights based changes fr om the state, it is far easier to see th e activist intentions of femme organizing ( in that they are organizing, creating a sense of solidarity, and even marching) than it is to see the political intentions of burlesque. During our interview Johanna, a bur lesque performer in Atlanta, told me, that groups like the Femme Mafia are very overtly saying we are feminine and we are taking up space but that she was not sure if burlesque did. She paused and said, I guess burlesque, being the one person on sta ge, does, but much more subtly. She continued, [It is] political to me, but its also performance. Its not traditional activism, I suppose. Thats what Im thinking of the rallying. Of course if Johanna compares burlesque to traditional activism to rallying it does
201 not meet the requirements of political activism. However, once she thinks of activism more abstractly she is willing to concede that it more subtly counts as femme activism; it demands that feminine queers be able to take up space in a different way than femme organizations. After we ha d this conversation I asked Johanna overall, considering all of her experiences, if she believed burlesque was political. She replied: I think its political if you make it political, so theres that. The straight girls I [have] perform[ed] with, hate their bodies. They get up on stage and pantomime that they love their bodies and that they love them so much theyre showing them off not political. Thats not loving, thats not positive. On the other hand, when you have an intention behind it, like Im a woman of color and you think my sexuality should be this way and I refuse to pander to that or youre a woman of size and youre like I know you think my fat ass shouldnt be in the street in cut offs, but Im about to make you look at me and want me. I think the intention behind any performance is what makes it political. In some ways, Johanna is arguing that who is doing the burlesque matters. For instance, how one feels about the body she is displaying to the audience matters. If someone loves a body she is supposed to disdain, but shows it to the audience and demands admiration, this can be politically challenging. More specifically, she tells us that the intention s of the burlesquer s matte r : burlesque is an art form; it can be political but must be intended to be so. For example, in her own work, she told me about how she challenges her audience on raced sexual politics: I feel like black womens bodies and sexualities are looked at in this really stereotypical way, like the classic Sapphire thing. [So] I feel like when black women do burlesque, it just takes on this really overt political tone that youre not experiencing with women who look white. I kind of feel like people are expecti ng me, when I go out on stage as a black woman, people are expecting me to have this high energy, dancey, happy, Josephine Baker, jiggaboo, coon kind of thing going on and [I like] to defy [that] a lot of what I like to do, at least the basic concept of m y character is that I defy [those] expectations. Im a black woman who is not crawling on the floor or dancing a little jig, wearing a banana skirt, leopard print, bone through the [hair]. Although black women can certainly unthinkingly do burlesque, just as some white women do, Johanna acknowledges that black womens bodies have a history of sexualization that cannot be compared to white womens sexual objectification (Collins, 2005); she responds to this political
202 awareness in her routines. By creatin g a very classic burlesque character, complete with fan dances to old Billie Holliday songs, she defies the expectation of how she should be sexual and entertaining to her audience. As the opening quotes attest, art is a uniquely useful way to approach social change. As Blake said, I think its a way to get to the audience too. They may not go to a political rally, but theyll go watch burlesque. That is, burlesque can certainly reiterate political ideas to likeminded audience members, but it also holds the potential to politically challenge the audience about what they currently believe. Because it is an artistic performance, you can speak to people who may not be drawn to traditional organizing. Similarly, Abby said: These [burlesque] shows, I think, gave a voice to peoples ideas and thoughts and ways of being and how they see the world. It was a relief. It wasnt preachy. It was fun and campy. You saw something that was reflective of how you see the world. It wasnt preaching (not that all pol itical organizing is preachy). I think [performance is] also [a] consciousness raising too, but in a subtle way that you dont even know youre learning and I think thats way more effective than being judgmental toward people and saying you should think this way Its consciousness shifting. I think thats what art can do. And so Im a strong believer that in any movement there needs to be art involved. Montana agreed: I think that art, to me, is the most profound and beautiful way to affect social c hange. That doesnt mean you have to get on a stage and [provide an] artistically and politically relevant show that gives us the answer[s] to issues that have been haunting us for years, but if you can make people laugh in a way thats uplifting, if you c an give people hope, show them its ok for them to be who they are. Theres all different kinds of ways to be on stage. Its very powerful. Its an opportunity I take very seriously. I enjoy it. You can be on stage and be political and be funny and have a good time. To me, art is the best way I can think of to actually evoke social change, one of the key elements. Importantly, discussing burlesque performance art as activism is not an academic argument created here; it is very much understood as a form of political activism by the performers themselves. It is perhaps because the performers I interviewed saw art as a means to survive and resist oppression that their performances were so political for them. Betty said that art and
203 entertainment are natu ral expressions and that they are ways to step out of your hard life, bad relationship, shitty job; its necessary. She went on, It doesnt surprise me when I hear stories of places where horrible things are going on like war and people [are] making m erriment, doing dances, whatever theyve got. Reflecting on her own experiences with creating entertainment she told me that when she first started performing burlesque a friend of hers told her she wanted her to become a queer hero. Her friend told h er, you need to become a queer superstar so we can adore you, about that Betty said, I thought [that] was very interesting. We, as a queer community, need that. We need queer rockstars. Significantly, Betty was moved to explain that queer communitie s need queer rockstars while she was talking about how people can make merriment in oppressive situations. For some, burlesque is a form of entertainment; for others, it is a form of art. For the burlesque performers I interviewed, it was an art f orm that they used to make political points. Through burlesque they create critiques of dominant sexual and gender meanings that are harmful to queer people. Where femme organizing specifically challenges the queer community on its femmephobia, burlesque subtlety challenges the queer communitys femmephobia by illustrating that feminine queers can provide an entertaining protest of homophobia, sexism, and gender rigidity. As this chapter illustrates, burlesque is an avenue through which feminine queers b ecome the rockstars of the queer community. B urlesque a s a Sexuality Challenge Burlesque is most obviously about sex. There is no removing the current performance art, whose original manifestation gave rise to modern stripping (Shteir, 2004), from the realm of sex and sexual gratification. One of the goals of any burlesque performance is to sexually excite the audience. This has unique political consequences when the performers and audience
204 members are queer and when queer sex is the central them e. Consider these events from my ethnographic research: At the 2007 pride festival event in Portland the Rose City Sirens performed a series of dances individually and then performed a group finale. In one of the individual performances, a troupe member slender, with short femininely styled hair and outrageous makeup, wearing a white ribbed tank top, suspenders and tight fitting short skirt ended her dance by standing on a speaker and pouring two bottles of vodka over her body. She shimmied and rolled her hips as the liquid poured over her body and made her white shirt sheer enough to see through it. The crowd roared, hooted and clapped. Next to me, a woman stood with her mouth agape, staring up at the performer. Another woman next to her pres umably a stranger asked her, are you going to be alright? She replied, I think so. Thats the hottest thing Ive ever seen. At a fundraising event in which the Von Foxies were featured performers, two members of the troupe entered the stage weari ng floral dresses, pearls, and white gloves. One of them sat in a white garden chair while the other sang her the song that played on the speakers. The lyrics announced her love for the woman she sang to, Youre smart, youre funny, youre lovely, and y ou believe that human rights violations are wrong. The woman being sung to smiled and nodded enthusiastically. The woman who was singing paused with the music, but theres just one thing I need to knowdo you take it in the ass? The woman being sung to jumped out of her chair and shook her head from side to side, indicating that her answer was no. They followed each other around the stage, with the pursuer trying to convince the pursued to submit to her sexual request. Finally the pursued took the pursuer by the shoulders and turned her around; the pursued lifted he r own skirt, to reveal a dildo1 1 a phallic shaped instrument used for penetra tive vaginal or ana l sex. strapped in by a harness around her
205 hips. She motioned back and forth as if she were anally penetrating her. The audience laughed and clapped. The performer who had been requesting to be the penetrator, and was now the penetrated partner, turned her head toward the audience and smiled. Then she stood up, lifted her own skirt and turned the other dancer around, revealing her own dildo strapped in by the s ame method. She moved back and forth as if anally penetrating her and the other one smiled to the audience. Significantly, this was not merely a scene about sex; this was a scene in which two conventionally feminine women engaged in anal intercourse wit h each other. As such, the Von Foxies sought more than just sexual interest from their audience; they also evoked a challenge to standard understandings of how feminine women can have sex. Feminine girls, in dresses and pearls, can be attracted to each o ther and they can have sex that we might not expect them to have. In this case, the sex that we may not expect them to have is a penetrative act that is profoundly symbolic of a source of stigma for queer people in the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [ AIDS ] era (Hollibaugh, 1996; Schulman, 1994). Another example includes the political content of the ongoing theme of safer sex messages in the performances I observed. On one evening, The Queen Bees performed such a message at a fundraising event for a queer youth organization. The announcer, a drag queen, called out to the audience, Wanna avoid the sting of sexually transmitted infections? Safer sex is sweet as honey when The Queen Bees whip it, whip it good. Four members of the troupe entered the stage: two of them wore very feminine outfits and two of them were in masculine drag; after entering the stage the song Whip It began playing. The performance had two different segments. During the first, the two dancers in masculine drag engaged each other by looking intensely at each other. One of them dramatically pointed to the other and they danced
206 toward each other; their encounter culminated in mock anal sex. Behind the two engaged in the mock sex act, a tall blond troupe member, wearing a nurs es dress with condoms, gloves, and dental dams of various colors hanging off of it, danced around them with a wild look on her face. Another troupe member held a sign that read boy meets boy. Before the end of this segment, she flipped the sign over t o read, Thats a wrap, implying both that a condom was wrapped over a penis and that the sexual encounter had come to an end. Both of the dancers who were in drag undressed until they were wearing black bras and gold hot pants. They walked up to each other with flirty looks on their faces and the sign holder displayed a sign that read girl meets girl. Parodying lying in bed, one of them held up the corners of a large white sheet so that the audience could only see her head and shoulders; the other pe rformer knelt in front of her and was lost behind the sheet. The nurse threw safer sex tools at the duo and the performer we could see threw her head back in pleasure and silently contorted her face to make happy movements with her mouth. To conclude thi s act the sign holder displayed a sign that read, Hot Dam! a double entendre that remarked on the hot sex that had happened and the use of a dental dam. To conclude the whole performance, all four members moved to the front of the stage, dancing. The y snapped latex gloves on their wrists, snapped their fingers in unison, and walked off the stage. The political intent in this performance that safer sex can be erotic in malemale or femalefemale encounters was especially clear because its venue was a fundraiser for a queer youth organization. Similarly, one evening two of the Von Foxies performed a safer sex message against an erotically charged dance to the song Feel Like Makin Love. Dressed in the same floral dresses and pearls that they wo re during a previous performance, the two demonstrated interest in each other by smiling demurely and lifting the hems of their dresses. Using a giant notepad
207 resting on an easel, one of them showed the other pre drawn pictures of safer sex techniques. A fter a few examples of condom use and dental dam use, there was a cartoon of a hand and a latex glove. The next page showed a hand cupping itself upside down so that four of the hands fingers were on top of each other and curved upward; it was labeled t he duck. The performer being shown the pictures enthusiastically nodded her head, clapped her hands, and jumped up and down. The one showing her the pictures took her hand and led her behind a sheet so that the audience could only see her head and shoul ders. The one who led her there dramatically removed a latex glove from a box, snapped it on her wrist, and winked at the audience. She knelt under the sheet and the standing performer threw her head back in pleasure. The kneeler reached her arm out fro m behind the sheet and held up two fingers and then disappeared behind the sheet again; the standing member of the troupe threw her head back dramatically. Then the kneeler showed the audience three fingers; and then four; and then the duck. Like The Q ueen Bees performance above, The Von Foxies used their performance to teach people about safer sex techniques and bragged about the erotic possibilities of queer sex. The burlesque performances that had explicit safer sex messages derive from a queer pol itical position that sexual activity is healthy and that the way to avoid contracting infections is through careful sexual engagement (Hollibaugh, 1996). As highlighted by queer AIDS activism, i t is derived from an era in which the government attempted to keep gay men ignorant about safer sexual practices by denying information about contraction and instead recommending abstinence and from a community commitment to educating each other about such safety steps. Significantly, these are performances composed by women: queer women have a commitment to educating bi/gay/queer men about safer sex practices, signaling the overlap of queer mens and womens sexual ethics since the onset of the AIDS epidemic.
208 More broadly, we might say that queer burlesque is political simply because it is about queer sex. Said differently, because lustful sexual exchanges between members of the same sex are typically sanctioned, the opportunity to display ones body for a queer audience (or to visually/vocally appreciate anoth er queer persons body) is unique to that environment. In short, because queer sexuality is politicized by non queer dominant others, queer sexual displays are political. Renee told me, I think just seeing just seeing womens bodies in general, theyr e always sexualized so when you add that in an equation of queer folks, its kind of like ten times that. Theyre like wooooo. Theyre all really excited about it. Womens bodies are always sexualized, but they are not always sexualized by queer people She explained further: I think [queer] peo ple sexualize it more because [queer sexuality] wasnt allowed so when youre in this queer environment, you know, youre really kind of amped to celebrate moreso than straight folks I guess. In straightin audience, like burlesque performers in straight crowds, theyre not yelling and celebrating, theyre just kind of watching. You know, as opposed to yelling, screaming, and all that stuff. I definitely think theres a difference. According to Renee, the different political cultures surrounding heterosexual and queer sexualities inform how the audiences behave in particular burlesque moments: because heterosexual sexualization is available everywhere, it is not as unique and therefore not as exciting as th e opportunity to experience queer sexualization of a womans body. Certainly when burlesque performance is located in queer contexts it informs the kind of performances that are created. That is, the content may more specifically speak to sexuality and ge nder grievances queer people have with mainstream manifestations of those practices. The burlesque performers I interviewed told me that they performed for queer audiences because they get something from the audience and because they wanted to give the audience something: the audience allowed them to feel sexually appreciated in a uniquely queer way and they wanted to
209 give the queer audience an opportunity to experience an atmosphere where they also feel sexually free. For the performers themselves a queer audience provides an expectation that the boundaries of sexual and gender conformity will be challenged, which allows for the creation of interesting performance art. Abby told me, W eve always performed for queer audiences so there was a level of sexua l sophistication that we came to expect. Umso we could take more risks. Similarly, Lola said, Being a queer burlesque troupe gives us more of a like freedom. Like if you think of the word queer, yes, its a word we use to describe our sexuality, but it s also strange and different She went on to say that for that reason, We can be strange and different and very gender fluid with a lot of pieces. So, burlesque may be a form of performance that queer people use to make political points, but it is not political by its very nature; its creation by queer people and location within queer contexts that allows performers to make gender and sexuality critiques. Importantly, it is not just that the performers and the audience are not heterosexual, but they specifically subscribe to a queer orientation. Again, this is not a matter of samesex attraction translating into radical political possibilities; this is a matter of queer politics informing how one is oriented toward the world. For example, Johanna ex plained that burlesque can be typical in that the performers can just be near nude women who are the white beauty myth standard where you should be blonde and blue and size 6 or whatever, and that this can even happen in nonheterosexual settings. She said, but I mean, for the most part, I guess that would be a lesbian venue. I feel like when I perform with queers, theres all sorts of great politics that go along with that so its all good. These queer politics that go along with queers allows the performers to feel appreciated.
210 Importantly, performers I interviewed were invested in what they could offer the audience [discussed below] and what the audience could offer them in understanding the intentions of their performances. Crimson told me, In a queer venue I feel like people know what femme is and they appreciate that. People just get it and they know the statement thats being made without me announcing, this number is important because Similarly, when I asked Renee if it was important to her to perform for a queer audience she told me: Definitely! Definitely! Because even when I was gogo dancing at the salsa club it was just like ok, Im hired to dance. Im just dancing, ok, great. It was fun because I love to dance, but I mean, I l ike the attention, but I didnt feel any connection. With queer audiences you I feel like they really do appreciate me up there. Where Crimson and Renee feel that queer people appreciate them, other interviewees brought up that queer venues feel saf er to perform in because of the sensibilities queer people have around womens bodies. Cynthia, a nonfemme who calls herself a female gentleman and runs the Moxie Cabaret in Atlanta, told me that she has noted different reactions to burlesque based on the composition of the audience: [Womens reactions are] different from the male socialized reaction to tip. Like when men tip theyre expecting something in return. Totally subconscious, but the moment to be able to touch [a woman] or [theyre saying] notice me, Im tipping you. Im giving you validation. There is a physical manifestation of this. When women tip, theyre almost nervous; [its like the tipping means] Im really saying thank you. Its a very different behavior. Then depending on the place in straight places, there [might be] much more hooting and hollering, [like they are in a] frat house or strip club. According to Cynthia, men have been socialized to view women as sexual objects that enhance their sense of themselves as dominant men e xpect something in return for tipping a woman. Male privilege (which assumes female sexual subjugation in the service of male satisfaction) is regimented in society, evidenced by frat houses and strip clubs. For these reasons, women engage in sexual inte raction with other women differently than men do.
211 Certainly some queer burlesque performers have been disrespected by queer audience members. Lucy, for example, told me that the Queen Bees sometimes had a problem with audience members inappropriately touc hing performers or catcalling during performances in a way that interrupted the routine. During one particularly trying evening one of the performers stopped the routine and said to the audience of queer women, its a little better coming from you, but not much, referring to how when men sexually harass women it is tied into a system of patriarchy and male privilege. Lucy told me, I dont think its any better. Its rude and inappropriate. Still, most of the performers I interviewed not only felt ap preciated and understood by queer audiences, but felt safer. For example, Katrina, who also performed with the Queen Bees said, Theres this entitlement that happens with straight audiences, like I am entitled to look at a nude womans body, that doesnt feel the same in queer culture to me. She explained why that is: Theres just so much baggage when we dont view gender as a choice, when we dont view sexuality as a choice, when we dont view sexual expression as a choice, theres a lot of baggage in those identities. A lot of history of oppression so that for me, performing in front of straight men does not feel safe necessarily. It feels like I am a literally probably at some point putting myself in danger because I am enticing a man, I am then all this stuff comes up like whos a slut? And all the words we use for sexually free women. So theres, you know, like as a woman in the world, I am afraid of men to some degree because Im afraid I can be hurt by them, Im afraid I can be raped, Im afraid of the labels of being a sexually free women around straight men, like slut, whore, and everything else. Not that all men buy into that. Thats not what Im saying. But theres baggage in these histories and theres no denying that, you know? So for me, w hen Im performing in front of a room of gay men who have no sexual interest in me, but are like whew! Boobies! you know? And a bunch of women who may or may not have a sexual interest in me, but theyre still women like me so theres not this oppression this history of violence, history of all this other fucking baggage. I can then feel truly freely sexual. I am being sexual and it is free and self defined and it is safe. To me performing in front of queer audiences just removes a lot of the baggage w e deal with in our daily lives in a very gendered society. Katrina recognizes that the history of violence inflicted on women by men, imposed by patriarchy, can have actual consequences in her life: she is actually afraid to be a sexual performer in fro nt of heterosexual men. Her solution to feel truly freely sexual is to perform
212 for queer audiences. Rose similarly explained how she subverts patriarchy by performing for queer audiences in a way that is personally gratifying: Im not into giving dudes what they want. They already have it. They want to see a naked lady, its not hard for them to get that. You know? Im more into giving queer folks what they want and that just makes me happier. And I cant say that I would expect maybe this is tot al judgment and stereotypical of me, but I expect that I would be treated better by a queer audience than I would in a straight bar Thats another reason, feeling a little bit safer. I also do know that there can be very awful people in a queer audience. Not to say that a queer audience is heaven. I just prefer it. I prefer dancing for my people. Importantly, the decision to perform for queer audiences because one does not want to give dudes what they want because they already have it is a political critique of patriarchy, but more immediately about personal gratification. Rose prefers to perform for queer people because they are [ her ] people. Burlesque performance has sexual meaning for the performers because queer audiences reflect the image perf ormers have of themselves; they feel validated and appreciated in their sexuality. However, the most obvious reason that burlesque has sexual meaning is that it is a sexual performance. Charles, a boylesque performer told me, [burlesque is] about teas ing people, and making people turned on. Thats a huge part of burlesque, is playing into people sexualities, and getting them turned on. Thats a huge part of burlesque. That is, burlesque involves getting sexual pleasure, as discussed above, but it i s also about giving sexual pleasure to the audience. Katrina explained how these aspects coincide: I think the truth of the matter is that burlesque is a place where we give and receive sexual pleasure to some degree. And sexual pleasure can look a lot of different ways. Im not going down on anybody. Nobodys going down on me. Nobodys touching me or anything like that, but yeah, Im being sexual in front of an audience who is getting pleasure from that, that is sexual pleasure. She continued to sa y, The truth is, [burlesque] is about sex and sexuality and sexual pleasure. Burlesque is a sexual exchange; it is an interaction in which the performer receives gratification
213 from being wanted and appreciated and the audience receives gratification fro m watching them perform. Through this exchange persistent cultural ideologies about sexuality are challenged. Involved in the process of burlesque performance is developing an ideology of sexuality that is then portrayed to the audience. That is, the burlesque performers I interviewed have spent their adult queer lives developing a critical perspective on sexuality and burlesque is one way that they bring this critique to the queer community. For instance, throughout the following quotes, notice how K atrina talks of her perspective on sexuality and then discusses the importance of portraying that to an audience. She asserts that sex is literally everywhere in our culture, but she also explains, it is my belief that the majority of sexual messages w ere exposed to in the broader culture is not particularly a healthy sexuality. Not a sexuality that is freely chosen or empowering. Instead, she explains, I dont think sex is bad. I dont think its dirty. I think its awesome when its coming from an informed place, when its freely chosen. As an adult queer woman, she told me, she can now say this about her sexuality: I can say, yes, sex has been used to hurt me in my life, but for the most part, as an adult person who chooses sexual encounters, Ive had beautiful, amazing, celebratory, empowering experiences, ones where I benefit, its not just to pleasure somebody else, where my sexual pleasure is a primary component. She continues to explain that through her burlesque she models this to her audience. How beautiful is it that I can model some of that for somebody else? Thats pretty fucking beautiful and pretty fucking amazing. According to Katrina, burlesque can be really revolutionary and really beautiful because [it] transmits those me ssages and models that celebratory sexuality. Lola also agreed with Katrinas conceptions of sexuality; she said, The concepts of guilt and shame arent actually valid emotions. Theyre just concepts. And the idea that sexuality, on any level, is negat ive or dirty or bad are also just concepts. For her, burlesque is also a way that she criticizes the idea that sex is negative, by [the Rose City Sirens] embracing burlesque and
214 embracing erotic performance art, its creating a safe place for other peop le to experiment. She continued, [it is] important for us and what were doing, to [have] a really quirky approachable good presence off the stage so that people recognize that the wild sexy people we are on the stage is entitled to everyone. Stephani e, also talking about the Rose City Sirens, told me why they started their troupe: I think we wanted to share that eroticism. [We wanted to show the audience] that its for everyone. Sexuality is something that spreads all over the map. You know, [we wanted to] give the queer community a chance to have a bunch of quirky, funny, sexy ladies being role models for the community. The burlesque performers I interviewed see themselves as people who have developed a radically different view of sexuality than the dominant one disseminated in larger culture. They tend to believe that sexuality should be freely chosen, positive and healthy, and queer positive. Burlesque is one opportunity to model this ideology to the audience and become sexual role models. I n one fascinating example of this role model behavior, Colleen told me that although she is still queer identified she has only dated men for the past several years, but that she perform[s] under a queer identity. When I asked her what she meant by pe rforming under a queer identity, she told me that several of the Von Foxies routines center on lesbian sexuality: she said that she performs an ass number and a fisting number with another woman in the troupe; there is also a lollipop routine that ends with a lesbian orgy. She continued to expound on what performing a queer identity means to her: I feel like I perform um lesbian or I perform girl on girl on stage when I havent done that in real life in a long time. Its interesting I still feel culturally queer and politically queer but I dont actually have sex with women anymore. Thats part of the persona that I am on stage because because part of what is important to me is expressing the entire range of options that I have for being a sexual person. And in doing that under the great lights on stage, with all the people watching, that it gives other people
215 courage to do it for themselves in their own bedrooms. So I feel like I perform its another part of shooting beyond where I actua lly am. I perform a much wider range of sexuality than I actually do in my life anymore. I dont necessarily know that wont change. Thats part of why I perform it. Its an option for me. Its ok. Its allowed. Its but it does feel kind of weird to be in a queer troupe and to be like the last time I slept with a woman was a billion years ago. Although Colleen is not very interes ted in having sex with women right now it remains an option for her, it is allowed, because it is a form of sexuality she sees as being just as valid as other sexual exchanges. She performs this queer identity under the great lights on stage to model her belief that queer sexuality options should be available to anyone. Femme activism, for the most part, is focused on chal lenging the subtle ways that femmephobia is perpetuated in queer communities; it is a subcultural form of activism rather than one that is directed at the broader culture. Burlesque slightly diverges from this pattern. It is an art form that takes place subculturally in queer communities, but is directed at dominant ideologies about sexuality. They are not attempting to challenge sexuality norms in queer communities, but to reject dominant sexual norms which have been used to hurt queers. However, because it is queer feminine women who are the actors in this political critique, their performance art simultaneously becomes a site of discussion about gender, femininity, and femme inclusion in queer communities. B urlesque a s a Gender Challenge Although burlesque is most obviously about sex and sexuality, it is more subtly about gender. That is, the commentary made about sexuality is made through the performances of hyper femininity and most burlesque performers are women who are feminine in their every day gender expressions. Because the people offering critiques of homophobia and sex negativity are feminine women, burlesque protests the femmephobic idea that feminine women are inauthentically queer and erodes the invisibility of feminine women in queer communities.
216 Re call from the chapter about femme identity construction [Chapter 6] that femmes believe other queer women see female femininity as a sign of heterosexuality, compliance with patriarchy, and a generally non radical gender. While burlesque s criticism of sex negativity poses a challenge to dominant ideology, the gender challenge being posed by burlesque is more subcultural: they are demanding that queer people conceive of femininity as potentially radical. Centrally, b urlesque is part of a broader performance art project in queer communities; it is related to other gendered performance art. Specifically, the burlesque performers I interviewed very much saw their burlesque as a new manifestation of drag performance. Drag queen performances have a situated history in gay mens communities (Rupp & Taylor, 2003). As Newton (1979) said, drag queens are both performing homosexuals and homosexual performers (20) in that their performances must always be understood as part of a gay subculture that influences and is influenced by their performances. Perhaps most significantly, drag queens celebrate one of the most socially despised deviances about gay life: gender nonconformity (Newton, 1979; Rupp & Taylor, 2003). Rupp and Taylor (2003) argue that drag has been an important strategy in the gay and lesbian movements struggle (5) in that it can serve as a catalyst for changes in values, ideas, and identities (6). They argue: Drag in the context of the gay community [is] primarily [a] trans gressive action that destabilizes gender and sexual categories by making visible the social basis of femininity and masculinity, heterosexuality and homosexuality, and presenting hybrid and minority genders and sexualities (212). In this way, drag is not o nly a commercial performance, but also a political event in which identity is used to contest conventional thinking about gender and sexuality (Rupp & Taylor, 2003: 2). Although they felt an affinity with drag queens because of the femininity productions they were doing, many of the performers understood their performances as a kind of response to
217 the dominance of drag king performances in queer womens communities. Importantly, drag king performances were originally a response to prevalence of drag qu een performances in GLBT communities [see Troka et al., 2002]. Drag king performances take the historical challenges to heterosexuality and gender rigidity offered by drag queens and place them in a different context; when it is masculinity rather than fe mininity being played with and female birth assigned people rather than male birth assigned people performing, the performances take on different meanings (Volcano & Halberstam, 1999; Shaprio, 2007). Most idyllically, drag king performances can foster pol itical conversations about the harmful nature of masculinity and womens oppression through their comedic representations of men (Volcano & Halberstam, 1999). Although Halberstam (1997) found that very few of her drag king interviewees identified as mascu line outside of their performances, Shapiro (2007) found ten years later that the feminist drag king troupe she studied became a conduit for many of the members to transition to male. From the position of my interviewees, the presence of drag king perform ances in queer womens communities has only increased the attention given to masculinity in those communities [this is discussed below]. Further, many of the people I interviewed found that drag kinging had devolved from its original dedication to challenge harmful representations of masculinity and that instead, they revel in these depictions. The performers I interviewed were dedicated to creating social justice commentary in their burlesque which they saw as divergent from some of the negative represe ntations of misogyny and cultural appropriation in some drag king performances. Cynthia, the nonfemme female gentleman who organizes Moxie Cabaret in Atlanta, told me that when she watches crotch grabbing drag kings she cringes. She told the story of one evening of drag king performance in Atlanta: I remember I was sitting next to the Donna [of the Femme Mafia], and Vagina [Jenkins, a prominent Atlanta burlesque performer] and we were watching this show that they were
218 both presenting in. I thi nk even the Donna had already gone up and talked about Femme Mafia and next came a white [drag] king with pimp [written] on a cup [he was holding] and the song was B [calling women bitches] and every single offensive thing you could imagine and I looked at [the two femmes I was sitting with] and their faces had dropped. The only thing I could do was walk up to that person and be like, just in case youre curious, that really offended some ladies Femme Mafia just said we are about female power and women of strength and here comes this youre my bitch, Im going to whore you out [type song]. Im like, what are you doing? Im not going to judge it. Im going to respectfully express my opinion and instead Im going to give the ladies a nice place to come [b y organizing Moxie Cabaret] because I want a nice place to come. Charles, a boylesque (male burlesque) performer, started his performance art as a drag king; he grew to feel similarly to Cynthia about some of the drag king performances he has seen: With a lot of drag kings here in Atlanta (and Im sure this is the case in other cities as well), they perform this concept of masculinity that is just completely disgusting to me. Its a very frat boy mentality. You walk around the stage and you grab your c rotch and you sing songs about bitches and hoes and shit that I would never want to perpetuate. And so the drag performances that I did try to do the audiences didnt know what to do with because it wasnt what they were used to seeing. So I learned tha t drag kinging was not the art form for me. Interestingly, Cynthia and Charles were the most vocal in their condemnation of drag kinging; neither of them are femme identified and neither of them are feminine women. Perhaps they feel more responsibility to condemn misogynistic acts of masculine people in queer community; perhaps the femme identified performers I interviewed had less latitude to criticize such a pervasive (masculine) art form in queer communities. Either way, the femme burlesque performers I interviewed may not have called drag king performances misogynist, but they saw burlesque as an intervention into the attention paid to drag kinging in queer communities. The goal of burlesque performers was to insert themselves into the drag performanc e art community as a way to insert themselves in the gender dialogue going on in queer communities. Montana, a founding member of the Queen Bees who had previously performed femme drag
219 in the feminist drag king troupe the Disposable Boy Toys2One of the members of the [drag king] troupe, his partner, Tristan [Taormino], lived in New York City or maybe he went to D.C. to the Great Big Drag King Show, but he came back so excited because he was like there are these women and theyre doing the same thing you are and they call themselves bioqueens and we were like yeah! We have a name and thats great! The first year we went to the IDKE [International Drag King Extravaganza], we had a name, it was what we called ourselves, and we wrote the Bioqueen Manifesto. Then even within the year, even before the Queen Bees started, the second year [I went to IDKE], we were totally called to task around that name and immediately realized ho w problematic that name was and we I just went back to calling myself a drag queen. Some people called themselves femme queens, some people just called themselves queens. The second year we went to IDKE, I was still with the Disposable Boy T oys then, it was before the Queen Bees were started, and I got there and they were like, Look! We made bioqueen t shirts for you! And I remember being like, that, oh, we dont call ourselves that anymore and kind of having that feeling. I was pretty intense about wa nting to stop using that term because of the problematics of it. told me this story about searching for a way to talk about her performances: What Montanas story illustrates is the prior impossibility of hyper feminine performance art by cissexual women before burlesques popularity. Originally she was excited by the term bioqueen because it described who she was and what she was doing, but when she came to find the term problematic because of its suggestion of the importance of biological gender, she stopped using it. She went back to calling herself a drag queen; others cal led themselves femme queens or just queens. What is important about this story of naming is that femme performers were searching for how to describe their performance art in unscripted territory; they were performance artists without a genre. As Montana told me earlier in our interview about the process of naming, I called myself a bioqueen for the two years I was involved with the Disposable Boy Toys simply because when I first started performing we didnt know what to call ourselves. We didnt know of other people doing this at all: femmes performing femininity, as 2 This is the same feminist drag king troupe studied by Shapiro (2005; 2007). Montana concurred that this troupe was amazing, and very dedicated to social justice. They should not be confused with the drag king performances described by Cynthia and Charles.
220 drag. Importantly, they had to define themselves in relation to other more understood genres: the femininity performances of drag queens and the masculinity performances of drag kings. Again, the burlesque performers I interviewed were interested in creating their troupes because they saw them as artistic interventions into the attention given to masculine performances; burlesque was a way for people oriented toward femininity to perform. Importantly, this perspective illustrates the appreciation many burlesque performers have for drag and suggests the previous exclusion of femininity in these performances. Abby said: In the queer community, drag is definitely the art of queers. Its all about gender bending and fucking with gender. Thats what the Queen Bees did and then we put in other elements too. We were always fucking with sexuality and gender. And, as queers, thats what we get blamed for doing anyway. Here we get to do what we do a nyway, but be celebratory and campy about it. We celebrate our unique voice. If, as Abby suggests, drag is the art of queers it is important that people oriented toward femininity have a place to publicly fuck with sexuality and gender. Of course femm e identified queer women could have been active in drag performance by performing masculine drag. However, burlesque provides an avenue through which the production of femininity becomes part of the queer communitys discussions about gender. It should be noted that all of the burlesque performers I interviewed are feminine and that a majority of them also perform as drag kings. Several interviewees with the Queen Bees and the Rose City Sirens proudly told me, as Rose said, we all did drag king stuff too and at least one of the five Atlanta burlesque performers does drag king performance. I witnessed events where well known burlesque performers did drag: sometimes they offer the masculine counterpart to another burlesquers femininity performance, some times they perform a sole drag king number that could be interchangeable with other drag king performances; sometimes they perform drag and hyper feminine burlesque in the same evening; sometimes they perform both in the same number. These performances of both masculinity and femininity in burlesque
221 troupes highlight the conscious and strategic decision to perform femininity (or masculinity) in the moments they choose to embody those genders. What I have been suggesting is that burlesque is not a happenstance celebration of queer femininity; it is a consciously political intervention into the performance of masculinity. More broadly, we might say that its emergence was a reaction to the general privileging of masculinity in queer womens communities and that burlesque is one place where that is being protested. The emergence of the Queen Bees troupe provides an excellent example: Montana, who had been a femme performer with a drag king troupe in California, had been active in trying to make the legenda ry organization the International Drag King Extravaganza recognize femme and femininity performances. She moved to Seattle and became active with a group of femmes who decided that Seattles queer womens community privileged masculinity and punished femi ninity: they created a series of community conversations called Queering Femininity3Thats why the femme show happened in the first place. There was a lo t of valuing around masculinity and masculine performance and drag queens, but not necessarily [bioqueens]. There was nothing on [bioqueens]. (I hate the term bioqueens, I hate bio anything, but thats how [some] folks identify). [There was] not a lot of valuing around queer burlesque or around bioqueens or around queer femme performance. Thats why there was a Femme Show in the first place and then the Queen Bees debuted. It was sort of an accidental debut. I mean not really, but I dont think folks kne w what it was going to become. Then they were like we should have a meeting and I was like, great! Im in! Because it was mind blowing and it was incredible. and decided to host a performance art night known as the Femme Show. A group of women performed a queer femininity routine as part of the femme show; they received so much acclaim that they formed the infamous burlesque troupe, the Queen Bees. Lucy, an original member of the Queen Bees, also reflected on the social climate that birthed their troupe: 3 The series of talks called Queering Femininity hosted by femmes should not be confused with the 2005 Seattle conference titled Queering Femininities. Several interviewees asked me to make this clear because they fel t that their social justice framework did not correspond with the allegation of racism, inattentiveness to class inequalities, and misogyny directed at the conference.
222 Again, the celebration of femininity is not an unintended consequence of burlesque; it is the go al of burlesque performance. Although the burlesque performers I interviewed were feminine in their daily lives, they saw their feminine burlesque performances as a kind of drag because they were so hyper feminine. Johanna explained: For me, I work in a coffee shop where I get really dirty. I dont wear makeup on the daily. I have my natural hair on the daily. I ride my motorcycle to and from work and the femme that [my character] portrays, thats her character, is totally different from the kind of fe mme I am. So I definitely and I like that about it. I can put on this drag and there I am. Meredith felt similarly ; she said, [drag kinging and burlesque is] like an extreme representation of one or the other. Its like, yeah, I wear makeup, but not e veryday. I wouldnt necessarily be putting on lashes and wearing heels and taking things to that extreme. For some burlesquers, it was the extreme femininity that made them see it as a drag performance. Rose reflected: [Burlesque is drag because of] the amount of effort we would go through in costuming and the amount of sexuality and sexual energy that we would put forth on stage. I dont do that in my everyday life! There were folks who didnt recognize me because of how I am in daytime and what I exude on stage. That is I was definitely dressing up in drag, in a feminine manner. Thats where the queen comes from. But I was dressing up in drag and exuding this personality, this sexual identity to its largest extent and I dont do that everydayFor me, thats drag. The costumes, the heels, all the makeup, all the big hair, the tits hanging out, the butt hanging out, you know? The wearing of all kinds of like toys that we would wear. Thats all exuding something thats drag and so every time I did a show I considered myself to be in drag, whether I was a drag king or a drag queen. In arguing that women even if they are feminine in their everyday appearance can produce feminine drag by creating hyper feminine performances, the performers make an argument for the social construction of gender. That is, they beg the audience to see that women can be feminine and be doing drag. Whereas the culture usually understands drag to be a cross gender performance (of men doing feminine drag or women doing masculine drag), these
223 performers suggest that drag is the hyper performance of gender. This allows for a consciousness to emerge which views all gender, regardless of sexed body, as performative. Further, many performers saw their burlesque as a kind of feminine drag that was an extension of their femme identity. Recall from earlier chapters that many of the femmes I interviewed understand their femininity as socially constructed and performative rather than natural; several of the burlesque performer s I interviewed told me that this is precisely why they enjoy burlesque because it is performative and they enjoy performing femininity. Danielle said: [Burlesque is] essentially like getting to be like a drag queen and all [femmes] have visions of bei ng like drag queens. Are you kidding? Yes. A lot of why I love burlesque so much is because Ive seen drag shows for my whole life and seeing men or trans people express their femininity and perform in their femininity and get so much excitement from it. I was like, but wait, Im a woman, I want to perform my femininity in this way! Its real campy, and real over the top, and real, you know. I want it to be as draggy [as drag queens]. She went on to tell me that wearing long eyelashes and feathers an d full drag make up and red lipstick is unbelievably exciting. Meaningfully, she said, You could never feel more femme than that. Similarly, Crimson said that after her first burlesque performance she wanted to do it all the time because it was just the epitome of intensifying and playing up femininity. Katrina agreed, I think [burlesque performance] was the ultimate conclusion of the way I express. Just really taking the performance of gender to the most literal place. It may seem that the points made in these last few pages are in contradiction with one another: the idea that burlesque is drag because it is different from ones everyday femininity does seem to conflict with the idea that burlesque is drag because one sees her everyday femi ninity as performance and drag. Certainly, it is possible that these interviewees felt differently about their femme identities and their burlesque personas. However, I believe that they are actually saying something quite similar to one another. In the ir own ways, they assert that female femininity can be seen as
224 produced and unnatural: performers who see their drag as different from their everyday femininity are still asserting that female people can perform femininity which disarticulates femininity f rom the natural realm; performers who see their drag as similar to their everyday drag maintain that this disarticulation of femaleness and necessary femininity exists in their everyday experiences. Burlesque is one way to produce political messages thr ough art. Through burlesque, performers critique dominant sexual ideology that is narrowly construed as heterosexist, homophobic, sex negative, and unhealthy. Because it is an artistic labor undertaken by feminine queer women, it criticizes the idea that masculinity is the only way to achieve a radical queer gender. That is, burlesques queer cultural protest is twofold: first, it protests larger social (sexual) oppressions that affect queer people; second, it challenges people to accept female feminini ty as performative and queer. That is, because it is an art form brought to life in queer communities by femmes, femmes are challenging other queer people to see them as contributors to the maintenance of queer communities. Succinctly, Abby told me, The uniqueness [of burlesque] is that it brings femme visibility. Similarly, Lola told me that she performs burlesque with the Rose City Sirens for femme visibility reasons; she said, I feel very strongly about having a very highly femme, like, fierce, lik e erotic presence in the queer community. Just as burlesque is one artistic way to achieve broad political goals, it is one way to achieve femme activist goals. Burlesque is not an organized form of femme activism, as femme organizations are, but burlesque performances are related to a femme movement. Lucy said this about the intention behind creating the Queen Bees, There was an intentionality, like, [we were saying] we are asserting queer femme identity into the conversation and we are intentionally i nserting ourselves
225 as part of the drag community [We were making the statement], we are here, so fucking deal with us Johanna told me that although it may be easy to think of burlesque as a way that women objectify themselves as objects of desire because they are believed to be just going along with the feminine ideals, it is not that simple; she said, its actually really political and the opposite of all that because it demands that you look at it. She went on, Burlesque is taking up space, put ting on makeup, too much glitter, too much makeup. Its loud and obnoxious and on top of that, it demands your attention. That, to me, is the goal of my femininity. Burlesque is able to demand attention and demand that [we] look at it precisely bec ause of the social and political climate queer people are experiencing now. So, although burlesque is may not be conventional femme activism, it is possible because of, and certainly part of, the femme movement. So far I have offered analysis on particip ant understandings of their femininity, on the group construction of a political femme identity, and on the unique political contributions of femme organizations and burlesque performances. In the subsequent chapter, I discuss the significance of the femm e movement, why it is emerging at this political moment, and how we may use it as an example to think about waves of GLBTQ activism which exist in oceans of social change.
226 CHAPTER 9 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FEMME MOVEMENT: QUEER ACTIVIST WAVES CURRENTS AND OCEANS When I began my research in 2007, I saw femme organizations and femme performance art like burlesque as abstract forms of political activity. I actually suspected that people involved in the organizations and troupes did not see their partici pation as political; I expected them to describe their activities as fun, social, or artistic. However, as soon as I started my ethnographic observations, my view changed: the political commentary in burlesque numbers was overwhelming and constant; the ways that the Femme Mafia created space for femmes in lesbian bars that were unfriendly to them reminded me of other queer visibility actions like dyke marches; the ways that Femme Affinity Group linked femme concerns to broader social justice issues o f gender inequality, fatphobia, and homophobia awed me. It became obvious that the people I was studying saw themselves as political activists. Still, I lacked the imagination to understand what this political work meant. That is, I did not conceptualiz e femme expression, activity, and organizing as a femme movement until I began conducting interviews. In my first interview in Atlanta, with Sabrina, she talked about how Femme Mafia was really integral to the current femme movement; astonished, I asked, theres a femme movement? She said, of course. Other femmes in Atlanta mirrored this conceptualization of femme organizing as part of a movement; Danielle called it the femme revolution. This trend continued throughout my interviews in Seattle and Portland. I believed that I was being creative for seeing political activism in their organizing; they saw themselves as building a movement. In this chapter, I reflect on previous chapters through the lens of sociology and social movement literature to detail what I now see as the significance of the femme movement in the broader context of gender and sexual politics. Specifically, I argue that the femme movement must be seen in terms of a uniquely queer version of a New Social Movement; it is a fem inist
227 inspired, queer current in the current Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer [ GLBTQ ] activist wave. Although U.S. feminist activism has long been conceived of in terms of waves, or periods of heightened activism that is influenced by its hist orical time (Taylor, 1989), scholars interested in GLBTQ politics do not tend to use a wave analogy to explain sexuality activism. In part, I borrow the wave concept to discuss a queer movement because conceiving of activism in terms of waves conveys the idea that generation is important. That is, as Whittier (1995) has argued, movement actors have unique philosophies about their cause and specific ideas about how to agitate for change based on when they were politicized. This is because shifts in moveme nts before them influence how their movement will proceed. For the femme movement, their grievances about femme stigma have merged with political conversations in feminist and GLBTQ communities on essentialism, separatism, sexual ethics, femininity, and g ender identity to create a common sense model for femme organizing. Significantly, femmes in GLBTQ communities have always learned how to survive in the face of feminine stigma; they have resisted in creative, unique, and radical ways. By talking about a femme movement, I am not suggesting that modern queer femmes are politically savvy and that femmes in earlier generations were not. The kind of femme resistance we are seeing now is an organized resistance; it is political work that is self described as a movement that is the modern incarnation of femme resistance. It is perhaps best to clarify that I mean to talk about the femme movement of today beginning around 2000 and continuing into the present time. The Femme Movement: Cultural and Contentious Politics As stated throughout, the femme movement occurs at the level of cultural politics. As Michelle said, femme identity is not politicized in terms of state or federal regulations, but that at the same time, f emme identity will always be politica l. When I asked her why femme is
228 political, she highlighted that femme is especially political in this moment of organizing in queer communities. She said: I think that femme is political right now because it is a movement because people are on the fro nt lines of queer discussion saying, femmes are queer too We have a voice and we need that to be heard, we demand for that to be heard. And so for that reason, especially in this moment, in this political climate, femme identity is hugely political. Sp eaking of her own experience in Atlanta, she reiterated the feelings of alienation other femme interviewees told me. She said, [Non femme queer women] treated us like trash. Its hard to explain. Its hard to articulate for me. It was more of a feeling Its just its so hard to articulate; there was just this obvious shunning. Importantly, these feelings of alienation eventually led to femme organizing. She continued: It was interesting because [before Femme Mafia] [femmes] were not banded as a com munity. W e didnt know it was happening to each other. We thought it was just happening to us. That was so amazing when Femme M afia started that we got together and said, this happened to you? This happened to you? This happened to you too? Wait, what? And realized there was this open hostility toward all of us and I guess [we thought there would be] strength in numbers Michelle explains a classic example of movement beginnings: individuals are treated badly by people who have authority; they believe that it is only happening to them until they talk about their experiences with others; through consciousness raising, they discover a pattern of ill treatment against their group; they take political action when they realize that there might be strength in numbers. In many ways, the femme movement unravels in ways which mirror more traditional movements. However, its specific manifestations are unique to the ways in which gender and sexuality movements tend to progress. Further, the femme movement prov ides a specific example of a gender and sexuality movement which is instructive for how we may think of these kinds of movements. The femme movement is another testament to the claim by Van Dyke,
229 Soule and Taylor (2004) that the permeation of gender and s exual oppression means that these movements often redress grievances at the level of culture. Although cultural movements may be distinct from more traditional movements, they are not immune to the conflict associated with political work. During my time w ith femme organizations and burlesque troupes affiliated with the femme movement I found them to be rife with conflict. Some of these conflicts revolved around defining membership of the organizations, constructing a decisionmaking structure for the orga nizations, and race and class inclusion. First, as detailed in Chapter 6, in creating a group definition of femme, who gets to be a femme is a matter of conflict. Recall that in constructing what it means to identify as femme, there were debates about th e definition of the word: femmes argued about whether or not it was a queer only identity or if it could include heterosexual women and (some) femmes argued about whether or not femme counted as a transgender identity. In addition, there was talk of wheth er or not someone had to look femme to be femme. The emphasis placed on self identification solidified that officially someone did not have to express in conventionally feminine ways to count as a femme. However, organizations constantly battled the wide r cultural idea that femmes must look feminine in expected ways. Second, although not elaborated on in previous chapters, it is important to recognize that how organizations and troupes should be organized was contentious. Several of the organizations most notably the Femme Mafia and the Queen Bees disbanded, in part, because of their political structure. For instance, the Femme Mafia lacked a formal structure for much of their existence. Although there is now a President, a CoPresident, and orga nizing committees, in the beginning, as Betty said, [they] had no formal board. Nothing. Paradoxically, Femme Mafias beginning had no formal organizing committee, but they did have a Donna, a leader
230 who was associated with the functioning of the enti re organization. This hierarchy also led to difficulties. Betty continued on the topic of how the organization was structured, well, there was the Donna, which I think is repulsive. Crimson also said, I think its just a hierarchical fucked up thing, to be the Donna and have everyone else be your minions. It just starts off badly and goes in that direction. Although it was my impression that the role of the Donna meant a serious allotment of organizing responsibility and that the title was meant to be campy rather than serious, members of the organization felt that Femme Mafia became about the Donna rather than the femmes, as one participant told me. Conversely, the Queen Bees structure was built on a philosophy of nonhierarchical cooperation every decision was met by consensus and every performance piece had several hours of group discussion dedicated to its political consequences. All of the performers associated with this organization told me that it was exhausting work and the number of hours they dedicated to the troupe is the reason that they burnt out and eventually disbanded. Third, the femme movement has major problems of race and class inclusion, with the majority of its members being white, middle class, and college educated. This was true in my sample, which my ethnographic observations confirm reflects the larger community. Although all of the regions I visited had race and class problems, they were most contentious in Atlantas Femme Mafia. What is fascinating is that Sea ttles and Portlands organizations and troupes lack infighting about race and class diversity because they have the most extreme problems: they are the most homogenous in race and class; Atlantas community had the most race and class diversity and the most verbalized difficulties around those issues. Moxie Cabaret, Atlantas queer performance troupe, was the most successful in racial diversity. The evening I observed them, a majority of their performances were performers of color. Cynthia, the organize r of
231 Moxie, told me that the goal of Moxie is to turn culture on its head so that whatever the majority is white, male, heterosexual, thin becomes the minority. They are quite successful; three of the four performers I interviewed from Moxie were women of color and they did not discuss race issues in the Moxie Cabaret. All of those women, however, discussed race problems within the Femme Mafia: membership of femmes of color in Femme Mafia is not representative of the number of femmes of color in A tlantas queer community; femmes of color who were involved in the organization felt tokenized; the Femme Mafia does not frame itself as specifically anti racist and they do not do enough to reach out to femmes of color. Interestingly, women who were ve ry high up in the organization when I spent time with them were women of color: the Donna is biracial, one of the vice Donnas is Latina, the other (then) vice Donna was biracial (she once described herself as half Jamaican, but looks white. However, non e of these women are black. In the racial climate of Atlanta, racial inclusion might mean taking specific strides to dull the historic tensions of white onblack racism. Femme Mafia operates under a philosophy of colorblindness: they are not specifically racially exclusive, but they do not make attempts to be antiracist. Because of this colorblind logic, their events tended to pander to white femmes, especially in venue. For instance, at a Femme Mafia brunch one morning, I witnessed a black femme say t hat they should hold an event at Apache, a spoken word club; another black femme said, Femme Mafia? I think that place is a little black for Femme Mafia. Another time, I went to dinner with the Femme Mafia that would be followed by an event at a club c alled Traxx: when I arrived there were only two black women and one white woman at the table (when usually there were at least fifteen people attending during that time ); when I asked why so few people had shown up that evening, one of the black women told me, the place were going to tonight is a black club and I think a lot of the white women in Femme Mafia might feel
232 uncomfortable coming tonight. Even when event organizers attempt to be inclusive, by organizing events at black clubs for instance, the white femme base of the organization makes it unsuccessful. This is still a fault of the larger organization: without an anti racist ideology, they allow white femmes to be members without investigating their own racism and they only participate in surface level attempts to include femmes of color. These kinds of contentions are not unique to the Femme Movement. The contests I highlight here parallel contests in other forms of dyke and queer politics. Ghaziani and Fine (2008) offered analysis of Chicagos Dyke March, noting the conflict involved in organizing around the category dyke. Like the femme movement, dyke marches are (at least in part) directed at the gay community rather than the dominant culture: they emerged as a demonstration of dyke visi bility toward male dominated gay pride celebrations. Although the official logic of the event is that it is an inclusive event welcome to anyone who self identifies as a woman who loves women, the dyke march finds itself in conflict over defining group me mbership (e.g. Who is a dyke? Who is welcome to attend?) and the political structure of the organization (e.g. Who should be included in making decisions? By what process should decisions be made?). Organizers fought unyieldingly at meetings, bitterness emerged about white college girls running the organization, questions of inclusivity waged. According to Ghaziani and Fine (2008), dyke march organizers have, in many ways, reproduced the inequalities that their organization was established to combat. When conflict in an organization is tied to the group identity, infighting ensues. That is, Infighting is not just about personal disagreements; instead it entails on going, collective disputation that is linked to conceptions of group identity and cult ure (53). Understanding an organizations conflicts helps illustrate their idioculture, or a merging of ideology and small group culture. Said differently, conflict and infighting helps
23 3 establish how movement participants do ideology. The contentions in the femme movement disagreements over who gets to be a femme, how organizations should be structured, and race/class inclusivity are examples of femmes wrestling with culture. Perhaps queer attempts to wrangle ideologies are all the more complex because they are managing dominant cultures ideologies and subcultural queer ideologies. According to Cohen (1997) it may be the femme movements location in queer politics that births its antagonisms, especially its issues of race and class inclusivity She argues that although queer politics offered hope in their antiassimilationist strategy to reorient how people understand and respond to the very nature of sexuality, it has not actually offered a truly transformative radical politic. Instead of attacking gender and sexual binaries, queer politics has instated and reinforced new binaries, such as the dichotomy between heterosexual and everything queer. It has not gone far enough to imagine the ways that power influences privilege; ignoring that po wer is multifaceted (and does not just exist along lines of sexuality), it has disregarded marginalized people on both sides of the heterosexual and queer binary. Although there are fascinating specific parallels between the femme movement and other femin ist and queer movements, i t is useful to look beyond specific parallels to dyke marches, failures of queer politics, or otherwise and instead look at general parallels between the histories of feminist activisms and GLBTQ activisms. To understand the situated context of the femme movement, it is fruitful to understand how it emerged. We are seeing the femme movement today because of movements that have come before it. As the femme movement is feminist (but also queer) and queer (but also feminist), i t is an example of a current movement birthed from the entwinement of feminist and queer politics.
234 The Femme Movement a nd Le sbian Feminism? Feminist Waves and a Queer Shift In order to reflect on the significance of queer womens political modes of behavi or today, it is essential to discuss an earlier form of non heterosexual womens political work and community building. Lesbian feminism came out of a radical branch of 1970s feminism which was opposed to liberal femin isms inclusion tactics and instead focused on flamboyant tactics (Echol s, 1989; Taylor & Whittier, 1992). Radical feminists, a faction of the womens movement, pursued personal transformation and formed communities that were meant to be utopian feminist societies. They held gender oppres sion to be a primary oppression and stressed womens commonality because of their belief in a sex class system ( Taylor & Whittier, 1992; Whittie r, 1995). In the mainstream womens movement of the 1970s disputes over sexuality and sexual orientation becam e more frequent, mounting to the gay straight splits where lesbians were purged from major organizations and lesbians began to establish their own separatist societies (Echols, 1989; Rosen, 2000). Some trace the beginning of lesbian feminism to 1971 wit h the creation of the Furies, the first separatist lesbian organization (Echols, 1989). In fact, lesbian feminism is defined by its separatist beliefs (Taylor & Whittier, 199 2). Many believe that disputes over sexuality drove radical feminists away from t he movement and left liberal feminists in control of the mainstream feminist movement. Lesbian feminism is a kind of cultural feminism; importantly, some feminists have been concerned that the rise of cultural feminism has meant the de politicization of r adical feminism and de mobilization of the womens movement (Taylor & Rupp, 1992). Cultural feminism has been criticized as a way of life that retreats from politics into lifestyle (Taylor & Rupp, 1992; Whittier, 1995). However, Taylor and Whittier (1993) argue that radical feminism gave way to a new cycle of feminist activism sustained by lesbian feminist communities. Lesbian feminist communities are an abeyance community which had the ability to absorb highly committed
235 feminists in a climate that w as hostile to radical feminist organizing. Some scholars suggest that the perseverance of lesbian feminism illustrates that feminists have not retreated, but learned how to challenge power structures in ways that are culturally possible (and will therefor e lend itself to movement longevity) (Taylor & Whittier, 1992; Taylor & Rupp, 1993; Whittie r, 1995). Taylor and Whittier (1992) define lesbian feminism as a social movement community which sustain[s] a collective identity that encourages women to engage in a wide range of social and political actions that challenge the dominant system (350). It operates at the national level only through connections amongst local groups; it is decentralized and segmented. It is a movement that relies on cultural activ ism: they develop counter institutions, a politicized group identity, shared norms, values, and symbolic forms of res istance (Taylor & Whittier, 1992). Their activism can be found in establishing communities that stress feminist solidarity and connections between women, newsletters that convey woman identified sentiments, womens music festivals, womens bookstores, and even lesbian travel agencies (Taylor & Whittier, 1992; Taylor & Rupp, 1993; Whittie r, 1995). It is the structure and philosophy of lesbian feminist political organizing that is perhaps most similar to the femme movement. That is, although young queer women often vocalize a rejection of lesbian feminism, young queer womens political consciousness is imbued with lesbian feminist ideas of pol itical activism. Like lesbian feminists, young queer women in the femme movement believe that individual transformation should be a primary political focus, and that political work accomplished subculturally can challenge dominant oppressive structures. Their organizational attempts to be inclusive and reject hierarchies also mirror lesbian feminist organizational str uctures (Taylor & Whittier, 1992). There are even subtle similarities in their views on political identity like the similarity between the way that lesbian feminists
236 distinguished between the lesbian who is a staunch feminist and the lesbian who is not of the va nguard (Taylor & Whittier, 1992: 359) and the way that politicized femmes distinguish between queer femmes and feminine bisexual an d lesbian women who presumably do not have a consciousness around their femininity. That is, lesbian feminists believed that it was not enough to be a lesbian, but that one needed to have a feminist consciousness around what it meant to be a lesbian; quee r femmes rationalize their movement around femininity by disassociating themselves from people who are uncritically feminine. However, the femme movement also significantly diverges from lesbian feminism in its gender and sexual ideologies. Taylor and Rupp (1992) claim that the three greatest sins perpetuated by these forms of lesbian feminism were essentialism, separatism, and building alternative cultures. While it may be said that the effort femmes put into building femme safe spaces illustrates a p romotion of an alternative queer culture, it is firmly opposed to essentialist beliefs about gender and sexuality and separatist philosophies. Along these lines, there are four outstanding differences on gender and sexuality philosophy between lesbian fem inists and femme movement participants. First, lesbian feminists see themselves as women; femmes see themselves as queers. According to Taylor and Whittie r (1992) part of lesbian feminist consciousness was shifting lesbian identity away from a gay ident ity: being a lesbian did not mean being a gay woman, it meant being a woman identified woman. That is, lesbian consciousness shifted lesbian identity away from a deviant sexual identity to a slightly more acceptable feminist identity. This philosophy als o helped lesbian feminists reject solidarity with gay men. Queer women in the femme movement may have feminist concerns with gender inequality, but their movement is
237 squarely within queer communities; their most salient identity is that they are queer, no t women or feminists. Second, lesbian feminists rejected feminine expression and femmes, clearly, do not. In what Devor (1989) has called gender blending lesbian feminists assumed that rejecting patriarchy meant rejecting expectations of feminine be au ty. Taylor and Whittier (1992) explained that lesbian feminists wore lose clothing that enabled movement, wore short hair or simple haircuts, did not shave their body hair, and wore no makeup. Although femmes reject the patriarchal expectation that all w omen perform femininity and the expectation that women manipulate their appearances for male approval, they believe that their feminine expression does not make them complicit with patriarchy. Third, lesbian feminists rejected a myriad of sexual practices that they believed harmed women through a promotion of rape culture (as with sadomasochist practices) or the objectification of women (as with any practice that sexualized womens sexual anatomy) (Whittier, 1995). This position also aided the rejection of solidarity with gay men because lesbian feminists judged gay male sexual practices like the use of pornography, anonymous sex, and intergenerational sex as oppressive (Taylor & Whittier, 1992). Conversely, the femme movement is a movement of sex radicals: the philosophy of movement participants assumes a queer rejection of sexual normalcy; femmes use sexual displays to feel empowered and prove their membership in queer sex radical culture. Fourth, lesbian feminist s believed in essential differences be tween men and women and femmes believe in fluidity in bodies, gender identity, and gender expression. As Gamson (1995) notes, the goal of celebrating gender nonconformity and including transgender people in their political ideas marks a movement as queer This is perhaps one of the femme movements most
238 major divergences from lesbian feminism because it speaks to a much deeper conceptualization of gender and sexuality. The femme movement is deeply concerned with destabilizing ideas about the naturalness of sex, sexuality, and gender; lesbian feminism is most deeply concerned with the status of women. This divergence of the femme movement one that marks it as inspired by feminism, but maybe not squarely feminist makes sense if we understand the femme movement as generationally unique. Feminist W aves In general, American feminist activism has varied in its goals and structure according to the historical, social, and political climate surrounding the movement throughout the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty first centuries. To distinguish time periods within the movement that has spanned three centuries, feminist activism has come to be known by its waves (Dicker, 2008). The first wave of American feminist activism, from the late 1800s to the 192 0s, revolved around educational and work opportunities for women, but was most marked by the suffragist movement to earn women the right to vote (Dicker, 2008). The second wave of the 1960s and 1970s is perhaps most associated with what American femini sm is: it was a movement compromised of multiple factions, dedicated to both legal reform (Rosen, 2000; Lorber, 2005; Dicker, 2008) and radical cultural change (Echols, 1989; Whittier, 2005; Rosen, 2000); its goals focused on gender problems in fields as broad as education, work, family life, reproductive rights, violence against women, and images of women in the media ( Lorber, 2005; Dicker, 2008) Third wave American feminism, occurring since the 1990s to the current time, is marked by its focus on individual change, cultural issues, and an intersectional analysis of gender which also pays attention to race, class, and sexuality (Henry, 2004; Walker, 2004; Lorber, 2005) While critiqued by some feminist scholars, for the purposes of this dissertation, this model for thinking about activism is useful because it accounts for how movements are built
239 based on the social and cultural opportunities movement actors have in their historical moment. For instance, the second wave molded its goals for gender equa lity around the cultural opportunities in the American 1960s culture where other movements for racial equality, sexual freedom, and peace were waging (Taylor, 1989); the third wave is creating a movement built on the successes and failures of the previous wave and the cultural supposition that we are living in a post feminist age (Henry, 2004). Importantly, understanding feminist activism in terms of waves allows for an analysis of what happens in between heightened periods of activism. For instance, Taylor (1989) has suggested that feminist movements do not end in between waves, but that they enter abeyance where activists refrain from traditional activism but maintain their social networks so that they may organize when the cultural climate is mor e conducive to activist challenges. A Modern Gay and Lesbian Movement, But Are There Glbtq Waves? If one were to chart feminist movement activity over time, it would be easy to visualize the analogy of waves there are clearly defined periods of height ened activity followed by lulls in activity. That is perhaps why the feminist move ment has so consistently been discussed in terms of waves while other movements have not. Drawing from social movement sociology and the historical and sociological literature about GLBTQ political work, I argue that GLBTQ activism might also be understood as flowing in a similar fashion to what feminist scholars have recognized as waves of feminist activism in that GLBTQ activisms ebb and flow in relation to the external so ciopolitical forces which allow movements to emerge, flourish, or end. This also helps explain why the femme movement is queer (and not simply feminist) politics and feminist (and not simply queer) politics. As stated earlier, sexuality scholars tend n ot to describe GLBTQ activism using a wave analogy. Plummer (1995) provides a notable example. He argues:
240 shifts in consciousness and identity [amongst gays and lesbians] have their parallels in the shifts in community and culture on a wider scale. T he history of gay community passes through complementary stages: three main waves can therefore be detected (89). He describes the waves as follows: first, there was exploration (89) wherein underground networks established covert meeting places; seco nd, happening around the end of the Second World War, saw the beginning of law reform organizations; the third, from the 1970s the present, has focused on coming out and allowed for the institutionalization of gay life. I use the idea of waves in similar fashion, to convey the idea that shifts in the culture allow for certain political narratives, identities, and work to emerge. However, my delineation of these shifts, or waves, in GLBTQ activism differs slightly from Plummers (1995) description. In what follows I detail the ways in which I see a possible delineation of GLBTQ activist waves. The first emergence of the 1950s, referred to as the homophile movement (Adam, 1987), might be called the f irst wave. The 1970s gay liberation movement (Adam, 1987), might be called the second wave. The late 1980s emergence of radical direct action, in response to the onset of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [ AIDS ] epidemic (Edwards, 2000), might be called the third wave. Finally, the rise of a successful mainstream movement, increasingly dedicated to corporate funding institutional reform politics (Ward, 2008), might be called the fourth wave. To be clear, this is my interpretation of one way to think about waves of GLBTQ activism; I recognize that the distinctions between waves may be taken up differently by other scholars. Although there is evidence that organized gay life existed in the U.S. prior to World War I, the modern U.S. gay and lesbian movement i s often portrayed as having emerged in the 1950s in what is referred to as The Homophile Movement (Adam, 1987; Seidman, 2004). The context of the 1950s in the U.S. was one of social panic and fear of outsiders, a time when the nation was struggling to ensure a feeling of security after the ini tiation of the Cold War, and a
241 time when conventional nuclear family values were touted as the American ideal (Seidman, 2004). It was also during this time that the image of a polluted homosexual became the national scapegoat for American political fear s: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) listed homosexuality as a mental illness; homosexual behavior was a criminal offense; McCarthys The House Un American Activities Committee (HUAC) sought to persecute communists who they be lieved were hiding in homosexual communities; and the closet became a routinized structure for gays and lesbians to hide from the homophobic persecution of their day (Seidman, 2004). The Homophile Movement of the 1950s was composed of secret meetings of organizations whose political goal was integration and respect for gays and lesbians; they sought legal protection, a reform to sodomy laws, and an end to police raids of gay establishments (Adam, 1987). The two most famous organizations were the Mattachi ne Society, a gay mens organization established in 1951, and Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian organization established in 1956. Importantly, from the inception of gay and lesbian political organizing, gay men and lesbians organized separately from one another (Adam, 1987). This might be said to be the first wave of GLBTQ activism in the U.S. Most scholars use the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 to mark the beginning of a new era of gay and lesbian organizing, the era of the Gay Liberation Movement (Adam, 1987). The radical sociopolitical context of the late 1960s and early 1970s was far different from the repressive atmosphere of the 1950s. The radical womens movement, the students movement, the black power movement, and the general cynicism toward t he American government after the Vietnam War helped created an atmosphere that was conducive to a radical liberation movement for gays and lesbians. Organizations like Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance focused on
242 visibility and coming out, used direct action tactics to challenge broad social inequalities of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation, and celebrated a gay and lesbian counterculture (Adam, 1987). The gay liberation movement of the 1970s can be seen as a second wave of U.S. g ay and lesbian activism. Although the homophile movement was quietly reformist and the gay liberation movement became loudly radical, they were connected in time in that the slowly paced work of the homophile movement built the impactful gay liberation movement. The cultural differences of the movements were due to their external sociopolitical environments. Importantly, the second wave of GLBTQ politics and the second wave of feminist politics parallel one another in time sequence. They were also simil ar in their multifaceted approach to liberation. I n the latter part of the 1970s there was a sharp decrease in gay and lesbian activism: lesbians left the gay liberation movement and dedicated their lives to feminist struggle, small lesbian organizatio ns, or a nonpolitical lifestyle; many gay men left activism to experiment with the new sexual freedom easily found in gay meccas like the Castro in San Francisco (Schulman, 1994). The gay and lesbian movement experienced its first major lull (or what Tay lor (1989) might call period of abeyance work) in activism. I assert that the third wave of the GLBTQ movement emerged in the late 1980s in the U.S. The third wave of U.S. gay and lesbian activism was surprisingly radical for being located in the Reagan Bush years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In the mid 1980s the AIDS epidemic, and government inaction to it, incited the gay community to initiate a new wave of activism. The near decade depletion of the gay male population, the governments tota l inaction to help people with HIV/AIDS, and the 1986 Bowers V. Hardwick decision, that maintained the criminalization of private sexual relations between members of the same sex resulted in a
243 mounting anger amongst gays and lesbians (Schulman, 1994; Edwa rds, 2000). Fear of AIDS brought out a vocal and intense homophobia in the public that spawned new anti gay initiatives at the national, state, and local levels (Crimp & Rolston, 1990; Schulman, 1994). This new homophobia made cosex organizing with gay men a necessity for lesbians (Schulman, 1994; Stoller, 1995). In response to the AIDS crisis and the Bowers V. Hardwick decision, gays and lesbians held the 1987 March on Washington where they gathered in demand for increased civil rights and committed ac ts of civil disobedience on Capital Hill. ACT UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power], which formed earlier that same year, was a focal point of the March (Edwards, 2000). ACT UP was known for its street theatre actions, its intense media sav v y, and its s urprising success as an activist organization (Crimp & Rolston, 1990; DeLuca, 1999; Edwards, 2000). They have speeded drug approval, forced change in health care policy, challenged unfair drug prices, and thwarted anti AIDS measures in government through an unorthodox social activism (Crimp & Rolston, 1990; DeLuca, 1999). They are perhaps best known for their die ins, in which they took up a social space with their dead bodies to force people to view the devastation of the disease (DeLuca, 1999). One s uch action focused attention on Cardinal OConnor, a high powered Catholic clergy member who repeatedly made anti gay/anticondom use statements, and who organized to stop initiatives to help people living with AIDS and safer sex campaigns. On March 10, 1989, in their Stop the Church! action they entered St. Patricks Cathedral while Cardinal OConnor was speaking and mimicked dying in the aisles. Members who were not dying, stood and shouted at the cardinal, Youre murdering us! Stop killing us! We re not going to take it anymore! Stop it! (Crimp & Rolston, 1990). As homophobia was the root of the governments inaction when gay men were dying of HIV/AIDS, ACT UP sought to
244 challenge social attitudes surrounding homophobia as well as creating initia tives to help people living with AIDS (Crimp & Rolston, 1990). For example, they held kiss ins in public places to challenge public decency, flaunt their sexuality, and force heterosexuals to confront their homophobia (DeLuca, 1999). According to Gould (2002) ACT UP was able to create an emotional common sense that marshaled grief and tethered it to anger (177). This was ACT UPs logic: If you feel grief, as we all do, then you should also feel anger towards those who have caused you to feel grief; and if you feel anger, you should join us in militant action to fight those who are responsible for turning a public health issue into the AIDS crisis (Gould, 2002: 182). For a period of five to six years, ACT UP was able to use the gay communitys grief around a health crisis to encourage direct action activism. In the early 1990s ACT UP found itself in the classic double bind for AIDS activist organizations: they were simultaneously criticized for focusing too much on AIDS (and not enough on gay and le sbian civil rights) and for focusing too much on gays and lesbians (and not all people living with AIDS) (Edwards, 2000). During this time there was a split in AIDS activism(s). In a move toward increased conservatism and social respectability, the large r gay and lesbian movement chose to disassociate itself from the deadly AIDS virus and AIDS activists chose to focus their concerns on the treatment of people living with AIDS, regardless of their sexual orientation (Schulman, 1994; Edwards, 2000). Gays and lesbians who were still dedicated to radical direct action formed their own groups. In 1991 Queer Nation, NYC was founded, as was the Lesbian Avengers, NYC in the following year (Schulman, 1994; DeLuca, 1999). Queer Nations tactics were to cross borders,
245 to occupy spaces, and to mime the privileges of normality in short, to stimulate the national with a camp inflection (Berlant & Freeman 1992: 152). Its members argued that since all queer people were not legitimated as citizens by the state, the pr oper response of GLBT people should be to swear primary affiliations to other queer people for queer people to have a nationalist devotion to other queers (Chee 1991). While Queer Nation, as a political organization, only lasted two years, its inf luence on the ways in which GLBT people think of themselves has been much more long lasting (Brub & Escoffier 1991). For the Lesbian Avengers, activists maintained their intense criticism of societys homophobia, but also vowed to incorporate fighting s exism into their organizations purpose (Schulman, 1990). Importantly, the founding members of Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers were all trained as activists in ACT UP, NYC. That political environment taught them the publicity skills and direct action methods necessary to create their radical queer organizations. Like ACT UP, Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers were organizations dedicated to making queer existence possible and visible through radical direct action. Although mainstream gay and lesbian organization also flourished at this time, radical queer activism was a mainstay of the time (Edwards, 2000). During the late 1980s and very early 1990s, the context of the AIDS epidemic created a political environment in which angry direct acti on was the most common kind of political effort in gay and lesbian communities, evidenced by the vocal presence of ACT UP at the 1987 March on Washington. The mainstream gay and lesbian decision to distance itself from AIDS activism and the emergence of organizations like Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers demarcate the modern divergence between mainstream gay and lesbian politics and queer politics. Militant AIDS activism reoriented the object of gay pride away from community stoicism and toward gay sexual
246 difference and militant activism (Gould, 2002: 177). Militant AIDS activisms radical critique still exists in the ethics of queer politics today. The GLBT communitys response to the AIDS epidemic was to organize in support of people living wi th AIDS and to organize in response to the reason underlying the governments neglect of the health crisis: because the governments inattention to the AIDS epidemic rested on a homophobic fear of queer sex, part of the radical response of AIDS activists w as a celebration of queer sex and a direct action politic dedicated to the visibility of queer sex (Schulman, 1994; Warner, 2000). However, not all gays and lesbians agreed that GLBT communities should promote a visible sexuality and not all gays and le sbians agreed on the tactics pursued to end the AIDS crisis. For instance, some gays and lesbians agreed with representatives of the state that gay baths should be closed to help stop HIV transmission while other gay activists argued that closing the baths would be a homophobic punitive measure (Hollibaugh, 1996). Although the debates emerged for different reasons, the debates in queer communities around sexual representation in the 1990s were strikingly similar to the 1980s sex wars in feminist communi ties (Hollibaugh, 1996). According to Hollibaugh (1996), [the sexuality debates] rest on many of the same fundamental questions: the role of the State in regulating sexual behavior, the meaning of desire, and the need for danger in our erotic lives (326327) and goes on to say, Perhaps the most important parallel involves the demand to control our own bodies (327). According to Warner (2000), the debates around sexual representation following the AIDS epidemic were the beginning of the political di vide between mainstream gay and lesbian reformists who wished to sanitize gay and lesbian identity from its association with gay sex and queers who celebrated the unique political potential of queer sex and its representations. It is a
247 crystallized division that can still be seen today. Although it is not unimaginable for a queer kinkpositive lesbian to want to get married to her partner, mainstream gay and lesbian organizations that advocate for the right to marry are often criticized for the ways they continue to desexualize gay identity (Warner, 2000; Goldstein, 2003) and queers who revel in sexual freedom and kink tend to reject reformist models of inclusion, such as marriage tactics (Warner, 2000; Goldstein, 2003; also see Sycamore, 2004). Now ther e is something of a nonqueer fourth wave that is more concerned with i nstitutional inclusion than the previous wave. T he shift from the third wave of gay and lesbian organizing to the fourth wave does not exist because of a lull in activism. Instead, the third and fourth waves must be conceived of differently because of their wholly antithetic approaches to activism. Where (what I am calling) the third wave was dedicated to direct action tactics and challenging ideologies such as homophobia, (what I am calling) the fourth wave is associated with lobbying and institutional inclusion. Specifically, current gay and lesbian politics are characterized by its focus on marriage, gay and lesbian parenting, and military service (Warner, 2000; Duggan, 2002; Golds tein, 2003). This new wave may be said to have started in 1993, marked by the 1993 March on Washington, focusing on these new platforms rather than AIDS (Edwards, 2000). Although there is something to be said for gay and lesbian inclusion in existing ins titutions, some scholars have suggested that the price of inclusion is too high. Duggan (2002) has famously described these new movement goals as contributing to a culture of homonormativity amongst gays and lesbians wherein they deny queer difference i n order to participate in normal American institutions. Bryant (2008) refers to the strategies initiated by the mainstream movement as progay homophobias, a phenomenon in which gay and lesbian
248 advocates internalize cultural antigay homophobia and crea te an antihomophobic response that is progay but also homophobic. Said differently, in order to garner rights that have been denied to them because of perceptions of gay culture, the mainstream gay and lesbian community attempts to distance itself fro m those perceptions of gay culture (namely sexual promiscuity and gender nonconformity) and, in turn, validate the homophobic notion that these are virtues that call for discrimination. Further, these strategies have become successful; the mainstream gay and lesbian movement is a major movement. Ward (2008) argues that activist organizations have become part of the neoliberal establishment; LGBT organizations have become increasingly market driven and profit oriented. This culture of profit, alongside t he goals of institutional inclusion, means that gays and lesbians in mainstream organizations are willing to forfeit diversity, a cornerstone of the gay liberation movement and queer perspectives, in order to succeed. Ward said: Lesbian and gay activists embrace racial, gender, socioeconomic, and sexual differences when they see them as predictable, profitable, rational, or respectable, and yet suppress these very same differences when they are unpredictable, unprofessional, messy, or defiant (2). With th e rise of potential profit (or success in a capitalist society), the gay and lesbian movement has become even less diverse than its origins. According to Armstrong (2002), the GLBT community recognizes that their ethnic status is markedly different from other ethnic types because a GLB sexual orientation (or transgender identity) is a category that people from very different backgrounds come to in later life. To mediate this problem, the community has reveled in the idea of celebrating diversity, both as a call to wider society to celebrate the sexual differences of its inhabitants and as a proud reminder that the community itself is diverse. However, since the 1980s, the GLBT community
249 has received constant criticism from queers of color that this t estament to diversity fails to include them (Armstrong, 2002; also see Ferguson, 2003). As Ward (2008) would contend, creating the appearance of a unified gay community has been a political strategy. According to Bernstein (1997) there are times when ide ntity based movements highlight their differences with the dominant group (in celebration of difference) and times when they find it politically useful to highlight their similarities with the dominant group (in suppression of difference). The current pol itical strategy of mainstream gay and lesbian politics is one of suppression of gay and lesbian difference. It is produced to disassociate gay from strange or abnormal, and, more specifically to dissociate gay from queer; this particular strateg y has meant a gay and lesbian disassociation from bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the social and political spheres (Gamson, 1995; Phelan 2001). In what Phelan (2001) calls a flight from strangeness, gays and lesbians have attempted, as of la te, to approximate normality by making the claim that the only difference between them and heterosexuals is the slight matter of sexual orientation and that they should therefore be entitled to privileges of the state [see also Warner 2000]. Another way to think about activists who celebrate difference and those who suppress difference is Gamsons (1995) description of ethnic/essentialist politics and deconstructionist politics. The former believes that clearly defined categories (e.g. to be a le sbian means to be x, y, and z) and collective identity are necessary for movements to be successful; the latter believes that clearly defined categories (e.g. lesbians can only be x, y, and z) are obstacles to success (Gamson, 1995). Importantly, I contend that these essentialist and deconstructionist politics may occur as factions of the same wave. That is, while I argue that the third wave of GLBTQ politics was more defined by queer deconstructionist politics and the
250 fourth wave is more defined by ethni c/essentialist reformist politics, there were hints of the other in each: the third wave saw mainstream politics and the fourth wave still has some queer political activity. Queer politics, by setting themselves in opposition to gay and lesbian politics and because of their critique of gender and sexuality categories, tend to be more inclusive of bisexual and transgender identified individuals. Paradoxically, however, queerness is an attack on identity itself (Gamson, 1995). Because so many successful activist endeavors have based themselves on organizing around identity, there has been substantial concern over how successful queer politics can be (Gamson, 1995). The queer deconstructivist politics undertaken in the 1990s have not disappeared. They co ntinue as an undercurrent in the title wave of modern GLBTQ activism. That is, as the mainstream gay and lesbian movement has become more successful, and more institutionalized as a major social movement, queer cultural politics have also been developing to contribute cultural challenges as the mainstream movement creates institutional challenges. After all, Gamson (1995) argues that both deconstructivist and identity politics are necessary in this political moment. The femme movement provides an example of how this is so: they contribute c hanges that cannot be achieved b y more mainstream politics; more mainstream politics achieve changes that they cannot. Conceptualizing political activism in terms of waves helps contextualize movements in their unique s ocial, cultural, and political climates. It also helps explain why actors make political decisions around their movement activity. That is, political actors are influenced by the time period in which they become activists. According to Whittier (1995) a lthough there are many factors that distinguish political actors in a movement from one another, a key factor is
251 when participants are politicized, their political generation. Using her interviews with activists from the radical womens movement, she suggests that, what it means to call oneself feminist varies greatly over time, often leading to conflict over movement goals, values, ideology, strategy, or individual behavior. In short, political perspectives are shaped by when activists enter the move ment. Although Whittier was talking about feminist activism, my data suggest that this is also true of GLBTQ movement participants: political generation matters a great deal because of the major shifts that GLBTQ activism has undergone since its modern in ception. To reiterate, I have described a series of waves that comprise the history of GLBTQ activism in the U.S.: the first wave, of the 1950s and early 1960s, was typified by seeking legal protection and increased citizenry rights; the second wave, of the 1970s, was typified by a liberationist era philosophy that sought legal reform and criticized cultural ideologies; the third wave, of the late 1980s and early 1990s, was a response to the AIDS epidemic in the form of a radical direct action politics ; the fourth wave, since the mid 1990s and continuing into the current time, is typified by institutional reform. Again, talking about these activisms in terms of waves offers a way of thinking about how the most dominant kind of activism in a specific t ime period is related to the social and historical context of its time; importantly, it does not deny that multiple kinds of activism can, should, and do exist inside the same wave. I argue that the femme movements emergence makes sense if we think of it in relation to feminist and GLBTQ movements and understand the se, to some degree, in terms of ideas of waves of activism. The femme movement is an identity based movement which relies on a political consciousness around femininity, gender identity, and queer identity; it positions itself within the
252 subcultural of the queer community and makes use of cultural politics to shift the communitys ideas about femininity and contributions to the community made by feminine people. It is a movement that is birthe d from feminist and GLBTQ movements that have come before it. Since the 1970s, feminism has deeply characterized lesbian cultures (Taylor & Rupp, 1993) and as such, modern queer womens communities are a manifestation of feminist and GLBT political debat es. Queer women today exist in a community that has experienced lesbian feminisms legacy of radical feminism, the feminist sex wars of the 1980s and the pro sex politic that emerged from it, the AIDS epidemic and the queer sex debates of the 1990s, thi rd wave feminism, and queer and transgender debates that have emerged since the 1990s. The femme movement is a conglomeration of these developments. It is a movement that is deeply influenced by radical lesbian feminism in its structure, its focus on cu ltural activism, and its commitment to politicized identities. Because of its influences from sex radical culture, and queer and transgender debates, i t is also a movement that fundamentally disagrees with much of the ideology of radical feminism. It is also its own unique kind of movement: it is a movement around femininity, around freedom of gender and sexual expression, and yet around inclusion from the broader queer community. Oceans of Cultural Change and the Femme Movement As a Queer Current: Implic ations of Research While the metaphor of waves helps to highlight how the femme movement is historically situated, my research presented in this dissertation suggests that to visualize how the femme movement came to be and what consequences it might have, it is actually better to extend the metaphor of waves of activism to include an entire ocean. An ocean of activism includes the intersection of movements, accounting for how distinct movements can be both divergent from and overlapping atop one another. It allows one to visualize the spikes in movement activity and
253 how they occur alongside other movement participation. Using this analogy, we might say tha t the femme movement is a current, one that flows alongside other currents, in the modern wave of GLB TQ activism and that the modern GLBTQ wave exists within an ocean of gender and sexual politics throughout history. By discussing femme political logic and the histories of the feminist and queer waves of activism which have influenced it, I have been desc ribing the frames of the femme movement. The idea of collective action frames employs the term framing from Goffmans (1974) who described frames as schemata of interpretation which allow us to locate, perceive, identify, and label occurrences in ev eryday life (21). The terminology acknowledges that social movement framing is alive, and changeable: This denotes an active, processual phenomenon that implies agency and contention at the level of reality construction. It is active in the sense that s omething is being done, and processual in the sense of a dynamic, evolving process (Snow & Benford, 2000: 614). Framing analysis exists within a NSM paradigm of social movement scholarship because of its commitment to understanding the ideological dimens ions of political work. That is, frame analysis seek s to understand how movement actors frame political problems and solutions ; it suggests that political work does not automatically happen, but develops from the engaged activity of activists. According to Snow and Benford (2000), frame analysis core task is to understand how movement participants produce, maintain, and distribute ideas to the culture. They say, [the framing process is about] meaning work the struggle over the production of mobilizing and countermobilizing ideas and meanings (613) Some movement framing is strategic (Snow & Benford, 2000: 624), deliberate or goal oriented attempts to construct a certain image of the movement, while others are discursively (Snow & Benford, 2000: 623) created through talk, text, and interaction with others.
254 Importantly, movement logic or movement frames can, and often do, overlap with other movement logics (Snow & Benford, 2000). This idea that movements learn from one another, have a co mmon sense for dealing with cultural issues, and develop similar solutions is especially useful in understanding the overlap of gender and sexual politics. I want to spend some time specifically discussing the confluence of feminist and queer movements in the creation of the femme movement by talking about philosophies of sexuality and gender fluidity. That is, the trajectory of both feminist and GLBTQ ideas on sexual representation and gender identity are integral in the formation of the femme movements philosophies on these matters. As is fitting with a queer movement, the femme movement holds a prosex philosophy. By this I mean that they reject stigma associated with multiple sex partners, or non traditional sex acts and that they believe sexuali ty may be a path to liberation. This is perhaps most obvious with burlesque performance, as critiques of sexism and homophobia are brought to the audience through stripteases and simulated sex acts. However, prosex themes are also prominent in femme org anizations. For example, the Femme Mafia held a lube wrestling benefit for the organization at a gay mens leather bar an event that surely would have been horrifying for many second wave lesbian feminists and one that conferred their status as an organization that was freely sexual and overlapping with kink communities. Also, the Femme Affinity Group published this cheer in their zine on the topic of Bondage/Domination/Sadism/Masochism [BDSM]: B D S M What does it spell? Fun! Be a bottom, be a top Cmon ladies, grab your crop! Be a robber, be a cop Once you start, youll never stop.
255 Tie me up, tie me down Tickle me and bite me. Sticks and stones may break my bones But whips and chains excite me. Get kinky, yea yeah, get kinky, uh huh! I used to be (clap, clap, clap) Vanilla plain (clap, clap, clap) But now Ive mastered (clap, clap, clap) The art of pain, uh huh! Safe! Sane! Consensual! While there may be femmes in lesbian commu nities whose sexual ethics mirror lesbian feminists, politicized quee r femme identity (in the context of the femme movement) hold s a political common sense of sex radicalism. This is due to a generational shift in queer sexual ethics brought on by both feminist and GLBT positions on sexual representation over the last thir ty years. According to Henry (2004), the use of the word queer amongst young women marks a generational shift that is meant to establish philosophical differences from lesbian feminists on the issue of sex. People who espouse sex positive beliefs are re sponding to what Gayle Rubin has called a sex negative culture, (Rubin, 1993) in which there is a profound stigma against all things sexual and to the mainstream feminist logic that equates sexuality with womens oppression (Queen, 1997). According to C alifia (1994) people who reject sexuality norms and wish to promote a cultural overhaul of those norms are sex radicals. He states, being a sex radical means being defiant as well as deviant. It means being aware that there is something unsatisfying an d dishonest about the way sex is talked about (or hidden) in daily life (xiii) and goes on to say, It also means questioning the way our society assigns privilege based on adherence to its moral codes, and in fact makes every sexual choice a matter of mo rality (xiii). The potential for sex radical culture has been birthed from controversial debates over sexuality in feminist and queer communities.
256 Debates around womens sexuality have been present in feminist politics since the first wave of feminis t organizing (Hunter, 1994) and have continued through the second waves discussion of reproductive rights, lesbian inclusion in feminist politics, and patriarchal expectations of womens sexuality (Rosen, 2000). However, feminist sexuality debates are most associated with the feminist sex wars of the 1980s. The mounting friction over questions of pleasure, power, violence, consent, representation, and autonomy erupted at Barnard Colleges 1982 conference on Pleasure and Danger in womens sexuality: fe minist activist group Women Against Pornography protested the conference wearing t shirts that said For Feminist Sexuality on the front and Against S/M on the back; the Lesbian Sex Mafia, a New York City organization dedicated to politically incorrect sex, responded with a speakout the next day; the feminist magazine Off Our Backs covered letters to the editor on both sides of the debate for months following the conference (Hunter, 1994). Although the debate between anti pornography feminists and anticensorship feminists became the most visible and memorable disagreement during the sex wars (Duggan, 1994) the decade long debates also featured discussions on prostitution, lesbian/queer sexuality, sadomasochism, and even style/fashion aesthetics (Queen, 1999). Some queer feminists claim that the sex wars created new erotic opportunities for queer women and that it changed the ways that queer feminists theorize about subjects like erotic oppression, sexual domination, and gender relations (Queen, 1999). For some pro sex feminists the journey through the sex wars meant that they valued queer erotic identities over what had come to be seen as a judgmental feminism (Rubin, 1981). Similar debates around erotic representation emerged within GLBT comm unities with the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. Because the governments inattention to the AIDS epidemic
257 rested on a homophobic fear of queer sex, part of the radical response of AIDS activists was a celebration of queer sex and a direct action politic dedicated to the visibility of queer sex (Schulman, 1994). However, not all gays and lesbians agreed that their communities should promote a visible sexuality as a tactic pursued to end the AIDS crisis. For instance, some gays and lesbians agreed with re presentatives of the state that gay baths should be closed to help stop HIV transmission while other gay activists argued that closing the baths would be a homophobic punitive measure (Hollibaugh, 1996). Importantly, one of the dividing line s between GLBTQ political models tends to be around issues of sexuality representation. Where the gay and lesbian ethnic identity model of political organizing tends to be rights based, queer politics tends to be ideologically and culturally based (Gamson, 1994). For this reason, where a defining characteristic of mainstream gay and lesbian politics is their disassociation from queer sex (so that elites will believe their movement slogan that they are just like everyone else) (Warner, 2000) a defining characteristic of queer deconstructivist politics is the goal of creating a sex radical culture where queer sex is more visible an d less sanctioned (Califia, 1994; Warner, 2000). Deconstructionist queer political philosophies reject the privileges of sexual norma lcy and as such, its political maneuvers do not include lobbying the state for inclusion in its institutions; instead, queer political action takes place at the level of cultural change (Berlant & Freeman, 1992), with a great deal of emphasis on the empowe ring potential of queer eroticism (Califia, 1994; Warner, 2000). A s stated earlier, a lthough feminist and queer sexuality debates emerged for different reasons, the debates in queer communities around sexual representation in the 1990s were strikingly similar to the 1980s se x wars in feminist communities. Both debates birthed cultures
258 which believe that political power can emerge from a cultural celebration of sex, pleasure, and erotic freedom (Calif ia, 1994; Queen, 1999). Just as the sex positive s entiment in the femme movement is the result of feminist and queer debates about sexual representation, the ability to frame female femininity as potentially revolutionary is a result of modern feminist and queer discussions about gender. Specifically, th ird wave feminism has offered a new vision of femininity and the transgender movement has offered queer communities a new discourse on gender identity and expression. Amongst other shifts from second wave feminism, third wave feminism is known for its realization that second wave feminism was exclusive to many potential movement joiners because of its rigidity. Rebecca Walker (2004), an activist credited with naming the current nexus of feminist activity the third wave has said that there will always be young women who are adverse to feminism because of the stigma associated with challenging gender inequality but that there are many others who are feminist but not Feminists (xiv). For the latter group, she says, we came to our radical consciousness i n the heady postmodern matrix of womanist texts, queer culture, postcolonial discourse, Buddhism, direct action, sex positivity, and so much more (xiv). That is, the third wave acknowledges that there are intersecting oppressions that must be confronted, that sex inequality must not be conceptualized as the most primary oppression, and that there should not be rules associated with how to be a feminist (Orr, 1997; Baumgardner & Richards, 2000; Lorber, 2005). Talking about third wave feminists Walker (2004) continued: We find that the nexuses of power and identity are constantly shifting, and so are we. We find that labels which seek to categorize and define are historical constructs often used as tools of oppression. We find that many of our potential a llies in resistance movements do feminism but do not, intuitively, embrace feminism (xiv). The most major shift that third wave feminists have taken from second wave feminism has been to conceive of feminist activism as personally defined, not rule oriente d, and fluid.
259 Part of this new fluidity has allowed feminists to redress the informal feminist rules associated with gender expression and fashion, namely the rejection of femininity. As Scott (2005) explains, first and second waves of U.S. feminism have consistently argued that women attempt feminine presentations it makes her a dupe of fashion, the plaything of men, and thus a collaborator in her [own] oppression (1). She argues that at least one of the problematic s of this argument is that it has always been women in power race, class, educational, and sexual power who have told other women how they should dress themselves. Further, she contends that decorating the body is not antithetical to a feminist commitment to gender equality. The femmes I interviewed would not describe the femme movement as a feminist movement, third wave or no. However, I think it can be characterized as a queer movement with feminist concerns. Recall that although their movement activity is directed toward queer people with the intention of changes in queer communities, they saw the redress of femme stigma as related to the larger cultural devaluation of femininity. Because queer womens communities are so infused with feminist principles, many interviewees told me that to come to a femme identity they had to r econcile misconceptions they held that being feminine meant being anti feminist. Discussing how she came to see herself as a high femme feminist, Danielle told me: [Atlanta] is the first place where Ive seen super high femme feminists. It just didnt exist to me before. Everyone has their vision of the feminist whos the militant man hater whos a little butchy, a little androgynous, a little toned down, always wearing pants and flats, all of that. But it s kind of like once you own [femininity], you know, for yourself, and you acknowledge what it is, what the performance of being femme is, once you own it, it can be an expression of your own feminism. Again, while the femme movement is not located within a specifically feminist agenda, it is located within an ocean of feminist and queer politics: developments in feminism affect the trajectory of queer womens politics. Hence, the eruption of third wave feminism has influenced how femmes see femin inity. Ru th, someone who describe d herself as being in an age bracket of
260 second wave feminism, said, Third wave feminism is really interesting because theyre saying hey, femininity is great Theres a lot more room for femininity. This third wave room for fem ininity is one component of the politicization of queer feminine identity in queer communities. Alongside the rise in queer deconstructivist politics, the 1990s saw a rise in transgender activism a form of activism that was divergent from previous tra nssexual organizing and distinct from other movements (Broad, 2002). The transgender movements central practice is defining transgender identity and constructing future goals for action based on the defined identity (Broad, 2002). However, the construct ion of transgender identity has been quite contentious (Wilchins, 1997; Broad, 2002; Valentine, 2007). Some trans activists are invested in defining transsexuality as a definable medical category with boundaries which determine inclusion for identificatio n and medical treatment while others are invested in transgender as an identity that may deconstruct rigid gender categories by offering people options beyond woman and man (Wilchins, 1997; Broad, 2002). Although trans people have built communities a nd organizations that are distinct from GLBQ people, there has been a historical and current overlap of gender variance and sexual difference (Feinberg, 1996). Some of this overlap has been contested, especially by GLB people: Although trans people have b een visible members of the modern gay and lesbian movement, evidenced by the drag queens and trans women present at the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians have been reluctant to include them in major movement platforms (Rivera, 2002); lesbian feminists hav e vitriolicly rejected both trans men (because of the supposition that they betray women by becoming men) and trans women (because of the supposition that they are unfairly appropriating womens identities) (Califia, 2003; Rubin, 2003).
261 At other times th e convergence of gender and sexual difference has been celebrated. Most notably, GLB people who espouse queer politics are often noting their willingness to include trans people (and gender variance) in their political model (Gamson, 1995). For queer w omens communities, one of most notable divergences from lesbian communities is queer womens proximity to transgender people. In fact, femmes often have romantic and sexual relationships with trans men [see Stelly, 2009]. This was true for the people I interviewed: of the fourteen partnered femmes I interviewed, eight (or 57%) of them were partnered with trans men. This is an important development in the ocean of gender and sexual politics because the ideas about gender fluidity, gender freedom, and gender choices developed by factions of the trans movement have influenced femmes to think more critically about the choice to be feminine. Katie summed up a common idea expressed by femme interviewees: I think, for me, dating a trans man has been really w onderful for me. And [it has been wonderful ] for a lot of femmes being around people who have thought a lot about their gender and are really aware of the consequences of expressing it in the way that they do. That has really helped me. Its provided a structure for thinking about my gender. The development of a potentially radical female femininity is based on both the third wave feminist conception that femininity is not harmful and transgender movement ideas that people should be able to freely choose and express their gender. The femme movement should be understood in relation to past (and current) waves of feminist and GLBTQ activism, but it is not neatly feminist or queer. Importantly, it is sex radical and inclusive of gender transgression m arkers that illustrate its connections to current waves of third wave feminism and queer strains of GLBTQ activism. That is, the femme movement is shaped by both historical and current dynamics of both feminist and GLBTQ politics. The femme movement is feminist in a number of ways. It shares surprising similarities to second wave radical feminist ideas about personal transformation, cultural politics, and
262 structuring organizations in nonhierarchical ways. Yet, it rejects second wave feminist notions that gender inequality is a primary oppression, that men and women are essentially different, and that particular kinds of sex are harmful to women. It is also informed by third wave feminist reclamations of femininity and ideas about intersecting oppress ions. Yet, it is not a third wave feminist movement, as femme movement participants would describe themselves as located within the queer community, asking for change from GLTBQ people. Although the femme movement is self described as a queer movement, i t is so influenced by gender concerns that it is not neatly a sexuality movement either. It is certainly queer in the way that femme activists prioritize their queer identities in their activism and in the way that they seek redress for femme stigma from other queer people. It is certainly influenced by modes of historical GLBTQ political behavior, especially conversations of sexual ethics, queer political sensibilities, and transgender inclusion debates. However, it is also infused with a feminist rejection to gender inequality. Recall that a key part of femme identity is rejecting the patriarchal conflation of femininity and inferiority a major philosophy of the femme movement is based in gender liberation. That is, although they are located within queer communities, they are not necessarily asking for redress of a sexuality based issue; instead, they are asking queer people for redress of a gender based concern. For these reasons that the femme movement has both gender and sexual concerns and be cause it is deeply influenced by both feminist and GLBTQ waves of activism I have suggested that it is useful to think of oceans of cultural change alongside our concept of waves, activist generations, and distinct movements This metaphor of oceans of gender and sexuality political work complicates the idea of activist waves by suggesting that politics are not only shaped by their historical time, but also by
263 other waves in the ocean, or other movements occurring around it. It further complicates our idea of activist generations by suggesting that multiple politicizing effects can occur in one generation. However, it is also a validation of these ideas. The femme movement is an example of a current, inside a wave, inside an ocean of activism; it is a n example of an activist generation. The metaphor of the ocean allows scholars to think about the way the cultural politics of gender and sexuality are done today: through the merging of feminist and queer concerns, through the merging of feminist and que er histories, identities, cultures, and ways of agitating for change. Thinking of activism in the context of generationally specific waves inside an ocean helps illuminate the total social context of political work. More significantly for gender and sexua lity politics, the ocean metaphor helps elucidate the confluence of feminist and queer politics for specific communities. That is, young queer women have political concerns that are infused with both queer liberationist concerns that critique sex negativi ty, homophobia/heterosexism, and the rigidity of sexual orientation categories and feminist concerns that critique patriarchy, the cultural superiority of masculinity, and the rigidity of gender categories. In many ways, talking about politics in terms of an ocean is an intersectional perspective: it accounts for how people may be politicized when they occupy multiple communities. The femme movement is instructive for just that reason: it illustrates how a community of people who exist within a trajectory of multiple social movement communities femmes in queer communities who negotiate both feminist and queer histories, sensibilities, and political concerns make sense of their political social location. The femme movement helps us understand the possibility of conceiving of oceans of activism, but the metaphor of oceans, which hold waves of activism, has broader implications for understanding social movements. Oceans are the broader field of social change which hold
264 distinct movements. Just as movements tend to have both institutional and cultural targets of their work, they are both distinct and overlapping : waves are distinct; the ocean is where movements overlap with one another. Limitations and Areas f or Future Research The major limitations of this work are due to constraints of time and travel. The femme movement, as participants described it to me, is comprised of various (and varying) organizations all over the U.S.; many of them attempt femme political work in ways not discussed here. For e xample, if I had more time and resources I might have also observed and interviewed people involved in the Phi Delta Femme in Chicago, Illinois, a femme sorority that is surely differently oriented toward femme politics than other femme organizations. I might have spent time traveling with the Femme Porn Tour, a spoken word performance troupe, comprised of all femme identified people, who travel the U.S. performing artistic descriptions of sex from the point of view of femmes. Similarly, the Femme Show in Boston, Massachusetts, offers artistic commentary on sex, gender, and sexuality from femme standpoints. Also, this project might have been more strongly developed by researching the national femme conference which brings together distinct local femme activists together for the purposes of community building and strategy sharing. It would have been useful to spend time observing other chapters of groups I studied; for example, Femme Mafias other U.S. and international chapters. Also, I might have spent time observing the nuanced chapters of groups I studied, such as the the Femme Pirates in Tucson, Arizona (a divergent chapter of the Femme Affinity Group) or the Fat Femme Mafia (a Toronto, Canada group who melds the politics of Femme Mafia with fat posi tive body politics). Other limitations include the race and class diversity of participants in my study. Although the percentages of women of color and working class people interviewed for this study
265 did tend to reflect the population of femme political c ommunities I observed, it would have been responsible to over sample these groups to insert their situated perspective into the conversation about femme identity and femme political work. Future research in this arena must pay attention to the ways that fe mmes meld femme political goals with other political concerns. For instance, the aforementioned Fat Femme Mafia and the podcast FemmeCast: A Queer Fat Femme Podcast Guide to Life may provide examples of how femme political work and fat acceptance movement s have parallel and complimentary goals in that they both attack insidious discriminations, find empowerment in prosex ethics and center on identity as a path to empowerment. Also, future research may engage in a broader investigation of femininity politics in queer communities; specifically, it would be intellectually beneficial to study gay male organizations that are dedicated to femininity politics such as the Radical Faeries.
266 CHAPTER 10 EPILOGUE: ACHIEVMENT S OF THE FEMME MOVEM ENT The Queen Bees and the Femme Affinity Group have disbanded, Femme Mafia interviewees agree that the group has met its peek in popularity and since declined, and participant sentiments imply that the movement is too flawed to have any real longevity. Still, the movement a ctors I interviewed told me that the brief femme organizing they took part in helped contribute to profound changes in their communities. A common statement of participants is summed up by Irene; when I asked her what Femme Affinity Group has done, she sa id, I think its easier now. Definitely. Being femme [is easier]. As noted previously, the changes achieved in femme organizing are both personal and cultural in that femme organizing attempts to achieve a place for femmes to feel solidarity with other femmes ( personal) and that it critiques queer cultural norms about gender and sexuality (cultural). When I asked P atricia if Femme Mafia had changed anything in Atlanta, she responded: I know I have [changed because of it]. [I] feel like [I have] a si sterhood and I love the networking. I have a place to go if I ever need anybody. I have sisters that I know get me ; all I have to do is show up and say Hi, Im femme and they get me. They may not know exactly what it means to me, but theres this immedi ate embrace and Im understood. And I can laugh and have fun and be who I want to be; its being able to reach out to people all over the entire country. Its grown. Its gorgeous. I think its gorgeous. For Patricia, the changes that Femme Mafia has achieved are personal: it provides a sisterhood and networking with other femmes; it provides her a place to go if [she] ever need[s] anybody. Similarly, Lucy told me that performing with the Queen Bees meant that she got to be a part of something that felt like community and transformation. She went on about the personal transformations brought on by the Queen Bees: [In] m y experience, [before the Queen Bees] walking into a bar in Seattle was [a bad experience]. A s a femme I couldnt get a date to save my life and as a big girl I couldnt get a date to save my life and femininity didnt seem valued. T hat was something that, if
267 you asked most of the B ees, you would have heard a lot of the same experience. I think that we, [the Queen Bees], along with Bent [a queer writing institute run by a femme], along with Miss Indigo Blue [a femme sole burlesque performer], along with other amazing performers, were able to sort of change some of that. Significantly, although these participants told me about individual benefits that have come from femme organizing, it is pertinent to remember that these personal benefits are reflective of a wider cultural shift. The existence of a support network for femmes where Patricia can go and feel understood is a cult ural shift in queer community; the availability of getting a date as a femme, getting a date as a big girl, and feeling that femininity is valued is a cultural shift in queer community. In many ways, femmes are challenging queer culture to achieve chan ges for individuals. When I asked Charlotte if Femme Affinity Group changed Portlands landscape, she said, It changed my landscape. Because the femme movement is based on questions of identity and inclusion, it makes sense that when I asked if their organization changed anything, interviewees would tell me that it changed things for them. Again, these individual changes are related to a cultural shift. In embarking on a journey to make individual femmes feel that queer communities value them, they cr eate cultural changes. When I asked what being part of Femme Mafia meant to her, Renee said, It was just kind of cool to be very visible, to be [part of] a large group and command attention. We were a pretty strong force for a good minute. Personally, Renee enjoyed feeling visible and command[ing] attention; culturally, femmes created space where they demanded attention in that they were a pretty strong force in queer community. The relationship between individual benefits and cultural changes are reciprocal. That is, femmes can feel more visible (or more included, or more appreciated) and that creates a cultural space where femme gender identity is visible (included, and appreciated); also, when femmes make cultural space for queer femininity, there are necessarily individual consequences.
268 Unrelated to our discussion about what Femme Mafia has achieved in Atlanta, Michelle was discussing the difficulty of femme women passing as heterosexual. I asked her, Do you feel like that, sort of privil ege of being able to pass, is held against femmes in queer communities? She responded: All the time. All the time. In my experience, yes. T hank goodness for the femme movement, thats changing [femme discrimination] a lot. When I first moved to Atla nta this scene was hostile, openly hostile to femmes, which was interesting because I had so many good experiences in Alabama, but everyone knew me there. Everyone knew my politics and knew that I had, you know, fought the man and all that kind of stuff, s o I guess I had street cred in the queer community and when I came here, I had none. Nobody knew me here. And even though I was partnered with a very genderqueer person at the time and they would tell me, its a phase, clearly Im going to leave her for some [man] [I] just [got] the most insane bullshit from people when I first moved here. This community, thank goodness for Femme M afia, because this community has changed dramatically. Its amazing how much this com munity has changed in the last four yea rs. Notice how Michelle credits Femme Mafia with her diminishing ex periences of discrimination. T he emergence of the Femme Mafia has changed Atlantas queer community dramatically, so much so that she implies that individual femmes would not experienc e the negativity she experienced upon moving to the city. Some of the organizations I have profiled have yet to reach much popularity, like the Glitter Revolutionaries, some of them have disbanded, like the Queen Bees, and some of them find themselves slo wly losing the enthusiasm needed to keep them banded together, like the Femme Mafia. None of the organizations or troupes I studied have been organizing for more than ten years. In comparison to other movements, it seems that the femme movement may be co mprised of many small, unaffiliated, and short lived organizations. However, this does not mean that the organizations or the movement are unsuccessful. On the contrary, their success lies in being a building block for future cultural changes in quee r communities. The activists I interviewed understand this. Kelly explained that Femme Mafia has inspired other femmes to politically organize:
269 People know what Femme Mafia is. They see them march in dyke march. I marched with them in dyke march last year and uh, you know, I think and theres a bunch of femme groups that have sprung up around the country and locally that are at least [partially] inspired by Femme Mafia. S ometimes it is [a] F emme M afia [chapter], sometimes they call themselves Femme P i rates or whatever, but I think its all inspired by Femme M afia. It looks to me like its really clear that there s a nationwide movement and [Femme Mafia, Atlanta] was one of the leading edges of the movement. While femme organizations and burlesque tr oupes are unaffiliated in the way that they do not communicate or organize with one another, they do inspire one another; while femme organizations and burlesque troupes may be short lived, they may have lasting effects. In many ways, the femme movement is telling of the ways in which new (gender and sexuality) social movements unfold. Importantly, like other culturally based movements, they build a piece of cultural change and so are part of movements that will be built in the future. Recognizing that he r burlesque troupe was both influenced by prior femme activism in Seattle and that they were contributing to new formations of femme cultural challenges, Lucy said of the Queen Bees, I dont want to be obnoxious and say we were it, but we were sort of a new wave [of femme activism]. The brief glimpses of popular femme organizing I have described have achieved personal and community specific transformations in the way that individual femmes feel that they have femme community and in the way that interview ees tell me their communities have changed to be more femme friendly. They have also become part of gender and sexual discourse in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer [ GLBTQ ] communities. Just as the sex wars, third wave feminism, and the transgender movement have changed the terrain of gender and sexual conversations, so too has the femme movement. Although social movement scholars have begun to recognize the importance of culturally based movements [see Van Dyke, et al, 2004], there is per haps an impulse to disregard the impact of this kind of organizing. Also, there has been some concern that queer movements cannot be successful because of the queer goal to destabilize identity and the assumption that
270 movements needs stable collective identities to succeed (Gamson, 1995: 403). If we are going to deem the femme movement successful, which I believe it is, then we must first reorient our definitions of movement success. Just as queer nation was a short lived organization, rife with co nflict, that had a lasting effect on how queer people perceive themselves, their culture, and each other ( Brub & Escoffier 1991 ), so too has the femme movement shifted queer communities perceptions of femininity, gender identity, and inclusion. Succes s does not mean state directed politics or measurable policy changes, it does not mean longevity, and it does not mean serene agreement amongst members. The contributions of the femme movement may not be as identifiable by all queer people as queer nation s lasting impression; it is possible that people who are not involved in the femme movement have no sense that it is occurring. However, they have made small changes by making it easier to be femme in queer communities. Perhaps more importantly, they have become part of a discourse i n queer communities; their current of queer activism has forever changed the tide of discussion and organizing around gender and femininity for queer people.
271 APPENDIX A CITY INFORMATION Table A 1. Troupes and Organizati ons by City The City The Burlesque Troupe(s) The Femme Organization Atlanta, Georgia (SE, U.S.) Moxie Cabaret The Femme Mafia Portland, Oregon (NW, U.S.) The Rose City Sirens Femme Affinity Group (FAG) Seattle, Washington (NW, U.S.) The Queen Bees an d The Von Foxies The Glitter Revolutionaries Table A 2. City Demographic Information [gathered from the 2000 census] Demographic Information Atlanta, Georgia Portland, Oregon Seattle, Washington Population 350,000 529,121 563,374 % over age 25 with a Bachelors degree or higher 37% 32.6% 48% Median Income $30,576 $40,146 $45,746 % living below the poverty line 27% 13% 11% % white 33% 77.9% 70% % African American 65% 6.6% 8% % Asian 2% 6.3% 13% % American Indian/Native Alaskan/Pacific Islander le ss than 1% 1.1% 1.5% % reporting other less than 1% 3.5% 2.5% % Latino/a of all racial groups 2% 6.8% 5.3% % multiracial 1% 4.1% 5% % foreign born 4% 13% 17%
272 APPENDIX B: DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEY Instructions: 1. Please take a few moments to fill out this survey before we begin our interview. 2. If you do not wish to answer a question, for whatever reason, you may leave it blank. 3. All of the questions are openended so that you can use the exact words you would normally use to answer these ques tions. 4. You may use as many words as you like to answer these questions. For example, some people may have several words they use to answer the question, What is your gender? Please provide any words you would use. 5. Please do not place your name on this document. The interviewer will place a numbered code at the bottom of this page to connect the information to your interview. Demographic Questions: (1) What is your gender? Gender (2) Do you identify as femme? (3) What word s do you use to describe your sexual orientation? Sexual Orientation (4) How long have you identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, or transgender? (if more than one of these applies, please list each identity and how long you have identified with each). (5) How do you define your race? Race (6) How do you define your ethnicity? (7) How old are you? Age (8) Where did you grow up? Residence (9) How long have you been living where you do now? (10) Why did you move to the city you live in now? (11) How would you describe your social class background? Class and Occupation (12) How would you describe your social class now?
273 (13) What is your occupation? (14) What is the highest level of education you have completed? (15) What is your personal yearly income? (16) What is your household yearly income? (17) What is the gender identity (man, woman, genderqueer, etc.) of the people whom you typically date? (More than one answer is fine). Dating and Relationships (18) What is the gender expression (masculine, feminine androgynous) of the people whom you typically date? (More than one answer is fine). (19) Are you currently single or do you have a partner (or multiple partners)? (20) Do you have children? If so, what are their ages? **If you do not currently have a partner (or partners), your survey is complete. Thank you. *these questions are asked in the singular partner, but if you have multiple partners, please provide multiple answers. If you currently have a partner (or multiple partners): (20) What is your partners gender identity? What is their gender expression? (21) What is your partners sexual orientation? (21) What is your partners age? (22) What is your partners race? (21) How long have you and your partner been together? (22) How do you de scribe the status of your relationship currently? Thank You! INTERVIEW CODE: ___________________________
274 APPENDIX C: SEMI STRUCTURED INTERVIEW GUIDE (1) What does society think it means to be feminine? Section 1: Feminine Understandings Generall y speaking, what characteristics does society associate with the ideal form of femininity? (2) What is the general queer sentiment surrounding femininity? do queer people encourage femininity? why or why not? what will it take for queer people to celebrate femininity? (3) What does it mean to you to be feminine? (7) What does it feel like to be a feminine person in this culture? Section 2: Femininity History (8) What does it feel like to be a feminine person in queer communities? (9) Can you t ell me about what it feels like to be a feminine person in your romantic relationships? (10) Tell me the story of how you came to identify as feminine. History of femininity race, class, age/generation, sexual orientation, region (11) Have you always been feminine? (12) Was there a difference for you between being a feminine person and then identifying as a feminine person (femme)? (13) Before you identified as femme/feminine, what did you think of being feminine? (14) Can you explain some turning points for me in how you came to identify with femininity? (15) Why do you think you identify with femininity? (16) How does race factor into societys ideal conception of femininity? How has your race factor into the way that you think about your fe mininity? (17) How does class or ones socioeconomic status fit into societys ideal conception of femininity? How has your class background factored into the way you think about your femininity? (18) How does sexual orientation matter in societys ideal conception of femininity? How has your sexual orientation factored into how you feel about your femininity?
275 What has being queer taught you about femininity? (19) How does generation matter in how one thinks of femininity? (20) How does regi on in the country matter in how one thinks of femininity? [IF PARTICIPANT DOES Section 3: Femme NOT (21) Why do you not identify as femme? IDENTIY AS FEMME] (22) Do you think that femme identified people understand femininity differently than you do? (23) What do you think it means to be femme? [IF PARTICIPANT DOES IDENTIFY AS FEMME] (24) What does it mean to be femme? Can you provide a general community definition of the word? (25) What does femme mean to you? (26) Why do you identify as femme? (27) What is the difference between being feminine and being a femme? (28) Do you know about the history of femme identified people in queer communities? Do you see yourself as part of that history? Why/why not? (29) Has the meaning of femme chang ed? Why? (30) Are all femmes similar in some way? what characteristics need to be present for someone to be femme how can femmes be different? What kinds of femmes are there? (31) What is the purpose of you r organization? Section 4: Organizational Experience Is your organization deliberately trying to initiate social change in queer communities? Why do queer communities need this? Have you ever been in any other organizations that are dedicated to social change? can you compare this organization to those? How are they different? (32) How does your organization achieve this? (33) If race, class, and age determine how people experience femininity, how does your organization pay attention to this?
276 (34) How receptive are queer people [outside your organization] to what you do? (35) What has this organization meant to [the city interviewee resides in]? (36) What does this organization mean for queer politics more generally? (37) How did you become involved with this organization? why did you become involved with it? has it satisfied your initial desires? (38) What has being a member of this organization meant to you? (39) Has this organization shaped the way you think of your femininity?
277 APPENDIX D TABLE OF INTERVI EW PARTICIPANT DEMOGRAPHICS Table D 1. Table of Interview Participant Demographics Pseudonym and Organizational Affiliation Age Sexual Orientation ID as Femme Race Current Social Class Occupation Abby, Queen Bees 38 Queer; Queer Femme Yes White Working class Political organizer Annabelle, Femme Affinity Group 28 Queer Yes White Middle class Customer Service Rep Betty, Moxie Cabaret 30 Queer Yes White Middle class Office whore/ Part time performer Blake, Queen Bees 35 Bisexual Often White Middle cla ss Research Scientist Brittney, Rose City Sirens 27 Queer/ Bisexual Mostly White Middle class Server Charles, Moxie Cabaret 20 Queer/Fag No White Broke Barista Charlotte, Femme Affinity Group 23 Queer Lesbian, Dyke Yes White Middle class Youth Educat or Colleen, Von Foxies 29 Queer Yes White Lower middle class Social worker Crimson, Moxie Cabaret 21 Queer Femme Yes Black Poor/ Black/ Fat/ Nappy haired Surly Waitress Cynthia, Moxie Cabaret 35 Queer No White Middle class Manager Danielle, Femme Ma fia and Moxie Cabaret 26 Lesbian/ Queer/ Gay Yes Black/ Woman of color/ Biracial Middle class Social worker Denise, Femme Mafia 41 Lesbian/ Gay Yes White Middle class Software Engineer Edith, Glitter Revolutionaries 29 Queer/Dyke Yes White Middle class Graphic Designer
278 Table D 1 Continued. Pseudonym and Organizational Affiliation Age Sexual Orientation ID as Femme Race Current Social Class Occupation Emma, Glitter Revolutionaries 26 Queer Yes White Upper Middle Class Teacher for adults with disabilities Irene, Femme Affinity Group 36 Gay/Homo, A drag queen who loves dykes in a femmes body Yes White Upper Middle class Psychologist Johanna, Moxie Cabaret 31 Queer/Bi/ Lesbian Maybe African Am Working class/ poor Barista Katie, Glitter Revolutionar ies 23 Queer/ Dyke/ Bi (sometimes) Yes White Upper/ Middle Class Non profit assistant Katrina, Queen Bees 33 Queer; Queer Femme Yes White Lower middle class Non profit Kelly, Femme Mafia 44 Queer/ Lesbian/ Dyke Yes White Middle class Student Lola, Ros e City Sirens 25 Queer/ Lesbian/ Dyke Yes White Middle class Sex Work; Exotic dancing Lucy, Queen Bees 34 Queer Yes White Middle class Sex Educator Michelle, Femme Mafia 29 Pansexual Yes White Working class Actor & Restaurant Server Meredith, Queen B ees 31 Bisexual/ Queer Yes White & Native Am Working class Preschool teacher Montana, Queen Bees 33 Queer Yes White Working class Unemployed Patricia, Femme Mafia 39 Queer Yes White Middle class Performer & Retail Manager Randall, Glitter Revolutionar ies 23 Queer No White Middle class Unemployed
279 Table D 1 Continued. Pseudonym and Organizational Affiliation Age Sexual Orientation ID as Femme Race Current Social Class Occupation Renee, Femme Mafia and Moxie Cabaret 28 Queer/ Lesbian/ Gay Yes Black Be tween Working and Middle class Student/ Researcher Rose, Queen Bees 29 Queer Most of the time Latina Lower Middle class Restaurant server, Gogo Dancer, Social Worker Ruth, Glitter Revolutionaries 37 Bisexual/ Gay/Queer Yes White Middle Upper class Non traditional Librarian Sabrina, Femme Mafia 33 Queer Yes White European Upper middle class Quality Assurance Manager Stephanie 24 Bisexual/ Queer Sort of White Working class Pizza delivery girl
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293 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Maura Ryan is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, C riminology, & Law at the University of Florida. Her research interests include gender, sexuality, and social movements with a particular focus on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer [ GLBTQ ] identities, communities, and political work. Upon compl eting her doctorate, she will begin teaching as a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Georgia State University.