Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

cultivating femme

       i'm a femme. i haven't always been a femme, hell, at one point i was a hyper-masculine, bearded hipster. But right now, i'm a proud femme. This word is tricky though and is laden with history and connotation and subtext.

       Obviously this word doesn't apply to me in it's historical context. i'm not a cis 1950's lesbian who is devoted to her butch partner. The world has changed to the point that this interpersonal dynamic seems to be one more often read about than lived.

       But i'm so thankful for the stories of these high-heeled bombshells cutting their lover's hair and cleaning their blood stained knuckles and the like. i know that i romanticize these stories. The tension and pain of being read as straight while seeing a different type of violence done to your most cherished must have been incredibly intense. And this is not my experience. i don't want to commandeer these stories at all.

       But i don't think that my experience is so far off that i can't relate. i'm often read as cis, usually a cis man, though increasingly as female, both of which feel like i'm being cast as that which i am not. So i know what it's like to not be seen or acknowledged. And the people i love most are oppressed. So, i can relate to that bit too. These stories give me a sense of precedent for my experience.

       Mostly though, i want to learn and grow from these stories. To be able to weather years of this type of pain must have required an incredible strength, and to do it with the care and compassion commonly associated with the word must have called for a nearly infinite grace.

       My life has already, and for reference i'm in my mid-twenties, been difficult, sad, painful, violent, you name it. Unfortunately the world doesn't seem like it's going to change tomorrow. So, for me, identifying as a femme is not merely about the fact that i don't leave the house without eyeliner and carry a purse on my broad shoulders. Being a femme has much more to do with cultivating capacities that will help me and my loved ones weather the storm that is our fiercely normative culture.

       My compassion gives me the tireless energy that i need to care for the queers in my life. Compassion birthed the patience to hear about the same type of oppression over and over again without becoming disengaged, because people need to have their stories heard by someone who can relate. It bore the love needed to selflessly offer my support time and again. It gives me the courage to endure; to hear about rapes and attacks and accosting interactions and still be present when called upon.

       When i embrace others i seek to absorb their sadness and pain. When i rest my head on my partner's chest i want my affection to make them feel cared for and acknowledged. My compassion allows me to let people stay at my house when all i need is to be alone or to let people talk when i just need silence. It teaches me to feed others when i don't have food because i know a lot of other queer folks have even less. It allows me to search through my painful history for useful fragments of wisdom when others need that.

       Compassion has taught me grace. Grace has helped me to forgive the well-intentioned cis folk in my life who have said incredibly ignorant things or who have hurt me, often without their asking. Grace has allowed me to take the same type of disrespect every single day but remain smiling and full of the sun. Grace has taught me that i can be the sun for others even when the sun doesn't shine on me. That energy has been cultivated within my soul and shines outward.

       Grace allows me to admit my limitations. It's hard, but i can own what i can't do and can seek out folks who can. i can be selflessly matronly in this way. Grace allows me to be flexible and reevaluate what's needed. Grace gives me the precision to call out problematic elements in my community in a way that feels like i'm not being disingenuous or driving a separatist wedge in my community. It allows me to honor both a need to push the community to grow but also cohere it because we can't afford to be more fractured than we already are.

       Grace and compassion have taught me strength, although admittedly, strength came much easier. Part of this is about privilege, because i was taught strength both by mainstream culture and by counter-culture. Mainstream culture values masculine strength and punk culture values brazen strength. So it was valued in my youth, while both the former qualities were not, and were thus necessarily more consciously cultivated.

       But grace and compassion together helped me learn to tailor my strength. Most of the time, i can check my own pain and panic, whether this means putting my emotions on hold to support another or stalling my panic to be able to call out an offensive stranger. i've transformed my strength into a selfless, community focused, utilitarian strength.

       Femme, for me, is about passion for life. i'm not talking about a lust for adventure, but a willful embrace of the more stereotypically monotonous or mundane. i relish the opportunity to care for others. This day-to-day life is where that caring takes place. i also love to learn and grow. Although this love is partly selfish in that there is an element of pure love for growth, there's another element that loves to grown and learn so i can share my skills and my wisdom.

       None of this is perfect yet, nor do i think it will ever be perfect. But i'm going to keep refining my femme self as long as it feels right, as long as it feels useful. i am thankful that support and compassion and patience and grace all feel deeply good in my soul because they are much needed in my community.