(continued from A Femme Grows in Montreal, part I)
I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18. Continuing in my tradition of learning everything I ever knew about being a fag from lesbians, I first started to consider the label ‘genderqueer’ when I read it in Alison Bechdel’s wonderful comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in the mouth of her butch, drag kinging character Lois, who proclaims, “I enjoy being a girl… in a perverse sort of way.” This gripped me. For me, it had never been a question of reconciling my feminine ways with my manhood; it was about being something other than a man.
At another revelatory time I joined a program that went into schools to do anti-homophobia workshops. As part of the training, a trans person came in and had us play “gender gumby,” a game where we would brainstorm as many labels for gender as we could think of and then drew lines to make up a network of those that applied to us. It was the first time I, personally, had ever been encouraged to think of my gender as potentially non-binary, something other than a check-box. I was thunderstruck.
I identified far more with being a fag than with being a man; given two check-boxes, I would check off M, but I always wanted to scratch it off and write “Femme gay boy” instead. My gender was a queer one.
I treaded water with this concept for a long time, making desultory efforts to look for other cissexual males who identified in this way and coming up empty. I also struggled a lot with poor self-esteem relating to my appearance, partly complicated with my ideas of how I would rather look as a femme man. I felt I was not being taken seriously as femme because of the way I looked, a struggle I’m still not through with. (More on this later.)
I also had to struggle with the hatred and disdain that we – that I – faced for being femme, both from inside and outside the gay community. From the constant “no fats, femmes, or druggies” or “if I wanted a woman I’d be straight” cult of machismo that pervades gay men’s space, to the half derisive, half misguidedly compassionate reassurances that “don’t worry, you’re not that femme!”, to the time I had death threats chanted at me in a metro station late at night and was sizing up whether I could jump onto the tracks and run to the next station, until the train finally came and I could get away, I became conscious of the contempt and danger I faced, even as someone who might not be visibly gender-deviant all the time (as long as I’m wearing a winter coat and keeping my mouth shut).
I did find a great deal about the trans community and became more and more interested in their situation and their struggle. I read a lot of Bornstein, Serano, Califia, and their cousins, and did a fair amount of political work on trans people’s rights, such as legal protection and access to health care.
My genderqueerness also affected my Pagan practice, and vice versa. A turning point came at a Pagan gathering in Ontario, at which one of the rituals was a Men’s Mystery: a set of ritual, competitive challenges such as running, swimming, and so forth, the final winner of which would be declared the mock-‘king’ of the gathering. It was all in fun, of course, and I’m sure the men who chose to participate it found it rewarding, but it turned me right off – I had less than no interest in seeking competition and victory.
At one point, another man came by and enthusiastically asked me, “Are you doing the Men’s Mystery?” “No,” I told him. “Why not?” he asked, surprised. “Don’t you want to be King?” “What for?” I retorted, surprising myself. “I’m already a Queen.”
It was with that word, that sudden burst of intuition, that I found myself abandoning spiritual practice that didn’t meet my needs as a genderqueer person. I had previously identified with Wicca, a tradition that emphasizes the balances and dualities in nature and identifies them with the female and the male. As that fact became clearer to me, I found myself more and more reluctant to identify with something I couldn’t endorse whole-heartedly. Another turning point came at a Beltane ritual where we were invited to submit our names to be chosen as Queen or King of the May. It was clear that I would be welcome to apply for either, if I wished, but neither fit; I still did not want to be King and felt that applying to be Queen would be stretching a point, and there was no such role as Grand Poobah of the Obstreperous Genderqueers.
I started to dabble in ritual that emphasized ambiguous and queer roles, at one point leading an Autumn Equinox ritual on balance using the Apollonian and Dionysian duality, with the Goddess presiding over all, instead of emphasizing that between the Goddess and the God. I wore genderfuck and invoked Dionysus, and a woman wore men’s clothes and invoked Apollo.
In 2007, my grandfather died. Musing about my own death and looking over some pagan resources on death and dying (Starhawk and Macha Nightmare’s Pagan Book of Living and Dying), I rediscovered the Radical Faeries, a group about which I had heard in the past but with which I had not yet had any contact. I felt a sudden, intense connection, an intuitive rightness to their liturgy discussed in that book; without really knowing why I found myself making prayer beads according to a Faerie design.
I sought a Faerie circle and found one in rural Ontario, and got a ride up. It was an intense revelation, a place where queer men celebrated a unique spirituality and way of life focused on our experience, and where effeminacy was emphasized as beautiful, sacred, special, and desirable as much as butch masculinity.
An even more intense Faerie experience awaited me at a gathering I had the privilege of attending in France in 2009; after that, and other spiritual experiences on that trip, I began to seek out and devour books on gay men’s and genderqueer pagan spirituality, of which the most important have been Queer Spirits, by Will Roscoe (an associate of Radical Faeries founder Harry Hay) and Hermaphrodeities by Raven Kaldera.
That trip to Europe had as its excuse to bring me to the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights at the 2009 Outgames in Copenhagen. While there, I had the pleasure of renewing a connection to a long-lost acquaintance, a union activist from Ontario involved with the femme dyke community. In those few days we bonded over many conversations about femme identity (as well as an especially intense shopping trip).
I became increasingly envious of her tales of femme dyke solidarity and the community of femmes that exists among queer female-assigned or identified people. Coming down from that trip, I became more and more despondent at the seeming absence of any such thing among queer men or among male-assigned or identified people in general. Even Google, on one especially fraught evening that left me on a river bank bewailing the dearth to a very dear and sympathetic young man, turned up nothing.
So this blog is my little attempt to remedy that situation. I would love to turn the tide of effemimania and femmephobia directed at femme guys. I hope my reflections might be useful to some of you, and maybe we can get something going! FEMME POWER.
Femme video of the week: If you like Mika you’ll probably like French singer Sliimy. Here’s his video “Wake Up”.