This is an amazing poem by the wonderful Elise Matthesen, who I had the privilege of meeting some time ago and who has given me permission to reproduce it here.

Femme Thang

It’s a femme thang
to be demurely in-your-face
It’s a femme thang
it’s attitude
It’s a femme thang
it’s camp conceit
something about long cigarette holders
and spike heels;
we let the butches do
“strong, silent & competent”
that’s their number in the butch/femme cabaret
It’s a femme thang
to know the roadmap for romance
the seven warning signals
of incipient sexual ecstasy
every pulse point
that could possibly carry perfume
and where to buy silk ribbons
for half price
It’s a femme thang
to be a steel lily with lacquered nails
a waif in a cloud of ringlets
carrying a copy of Baudelaire
or a sunset-crowned, big-shouldered woman
chanting the sutras of her linguistics class
as she draws the pan of challah from the oven
It’s a femme thang
to know how to kiss
how to be kissable
like it says in the handbook
“butches, don’t kiss her until you’re ready.
She’ll tell you when you’re ready.”
It’s a femme thang
to regard Vogue magazine
as raw material
for the next piece of sartorial satire
It’s a femme thang
to think of Victoria’s Secret
and performance art
in the same breath
I remember the first time
somebody called me a femme as an insult
it was like the first time
somebody called me a queer
they meant to be derogatory
but I was so tickled
to find a word that referred to the way
that I do it
that I said, Yeah
so what’s your point?
It’s a femme thang
to know how to bat our eyelashes
it’s a femme thang
to be a tough broad
It’s a femme thang
to keep a shrine to Mae West
little rows of votive candles
burning among the quotations
“Come up and see me some night.
Come Wednesday night;
that’s amateur night.”
It’s a femme thang
to know how to be a serious bitch
It’s a femme thang
to know what every magic wand
and little box of jewel-colored powder
might be good for
It’s a femme thang
to have preferences in lubricants
the way connoisseurs have preferences
in vintages of wine
It’s a femme thang
to be comfortable acting butch
Real femmes aren’t afraid to act butch
because we know it looks attractive on us
like all those women in Shakespeare
impersonating boys
It’s a femme thang
some girls have it
some boys have it too
it’s a gift
it’s a talent
it’s guerilla ontology
it’s the way we strut our stuff
and the fascinating noises we make in bed
It’s a femme thang
and sometimes it’s just enough
to keep the music playing in the face of despair
Life seems to call
for a parade amid the rubble
and anywhere there is defiant celebration
you can bet that
up front
male or female
there’s some bitch with a baton
inciting revolution
swinging her tassled boots
and saying, “Yeah
so what’s your point?”
It’s a femme thang
to up the ante
It’s a femme thang
to lob in the incendiary glance
to say
“Can you handle it?
Or are you just gonna wish
you had the chance?”