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Here’s another way I diverge from the standard femme guy narrative (if there is such a thing): I’ve never had an urge to wear women’s clothes. (Not even with Eddie Izzard’s caveat: “They’re not women’s clothes; I bought them; they’re mine.”) I’ve always felt slightly uneasy about this fact: surely, as a femme boy, at some point I would feel some sort of draw towards them. But I can’t say I have.
Actually, that’s not quite true. I have felt a fascination with women’s clothes as such — just not on me. I’m a bit of a costume drama queen (“If there is a petticoat and Helena Bonham Carter, I can feel the tears well up in my eyes…” – Margaret Cho) and love looking at big fancy dresses, the more outlandish the better. I also love drag shows — again, the more over the top costume-wise, the better.
Historically, one of the first lines of attack for what we could term the liberal gay and lesbian movement in combating prejudice in the mainstream was targeting stereotypes in the media. And one of the most vigorously and consistently attacked stereotypes was the presentation of queer men as effeminate.
Those of us around at that time will remember the disgust directed at Jack from Will and Grace. Before him there was Jody of Soap, Harvey Fierstein and Scott Capurro’s characters in Mrs. Doubtfire, and Robin Williams and Nathan Lane’s characters in The Birdcage. Conversely, any gay character who isn’t femme is lauded for breaking stereotypes (as if masculinity weren’t itself a stereotype of men).
The reductio ad absurdum came when the boys of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy were accused of incarnating gay stereotypes. One of them in particular (I forget which one) reacted with irritation, because he wasn’t asked to portray any stereotype at all, but was simply being himself. Read the rest of this entry »
Trigger warning for suicide and for gender-based familial and psychologist-inflicted violence and abuse behind the cut — this one is pretty grim.
This is the tragic and infuriating story of a young man who was subjected to mental and physical abuse by his parents, at the behest of a “therapist,” because he was unmasculine. The therapist used him as a data point supposedly validating his “therapy” for “unwanted” gender presentation and the gayness with which he linked it. Despite growing into a superficially successful adult, he was never able to heal from the trauma this had caused and took his own life at age 38. His sister and brother are left to pick up the pieces.
Little children assigned as boys who are effeminate, flamey, into ‘girls’ toys’ or cross-gender identified have always received attention but most of it has been decidedly negative, ranging from [NOTE: possible triggers in these articles!] Dr. Phil’s recent nonsense to decidedly creepy gay panic to disturbing, abusive, and of course completely unscientific “therapies” (more on these later) and all the way to murder.
That’s why it’s been decidedly refreshing over the last few months that there’s been a minor drumroll of books and blogs by parents raising their fey kids: Cheryl Kilodavis’s book My Princess Boy, the went-viral post “My Son is Gay” at Nerdy Apple Bottom, and Raising My Rainbow are just a few of them.
What wigs me out a little bit is the reaction that some of these parents get: concern trolls freaking out about the irreparable harm they may be doing to their sons by — what? letting them dress in pink and play with My Little Ponies?
Never, for these folks, does it enter the equation that just maybe they might be doing more harm by forcing the kid to stifle their gender identity and their harmless self-expression, learn to hate and be afraid of femininity in themself and others, and come to understand they disappoint and frighten their parents and other grown-ups just by being themself.
I’m not a parent, I don’t plan to be a parent (I can’t even deal with my cats), and I wasn’t extraordinarily girly as a child, although I definitely wasn’t what you’d call boyish either. But I have to say kudos to these parents for loving their children and being committed to encouraging them in being who they are and pushing others to do likewise.
p.s. As full of fail as I understand the show is in so many ways, I’d like to give it up to Glee for portraying not only a sympathetic, unabashedly effeminate male character in Kurt Hummel, portrayed by the adorable Chris Colfer, but also showing the tender, loving, and accepting relationship between him and his very traditionally masculine dad. I sort of wish I had a TV and the time necessary to watch the show (and could stomach its transphobia, racism, ableism, and other kinds of nonsense), just so I could follow how Kurt is doing.
In my ultimately futile effort to conclude my two-part Solstice-inspired series before Imbolc, here’s the other half of what I was led to reflect on during my trip to San Francisco this Yule.
I’ve long had a complicated, difficult relationship with what’s usually called the Sacred Masculine. A lot of Pagan practice, especially that related to or derived from Wicca, very much centres the notion of the Sacred Masculine as an essential and basic concept along with the Sacred Feminine in a duality that’s seen as the root of nature.
In many ways that’s understandable and very useful to many. But for me it’s always been difficult to relate to. I’ve previously related an especially revelatory incident in which it was assumed that I, as a man, would naturally be drawn to the Sacred Masculine, and how thoroughly that didn’t work.
Sadly, even where we manage to avoid the grosser patriarchal aspects that most of us are trying to get away from, we often present the Sacred Masculine in a way that concentrates on very specific traits or aspects of the world that are culturally defined as lower-case-m masculine.
My friend Jack posted this on Facebook:
Discussing patterns of attraction with wife:
Her: I’ve historically been attracted either to prettyboys or to bears, and you’re not really either. *looks at me* Hmm…I suppose you’re–
Me: a weird mutant hybrid of the two? 😄
Her: …remember YOU said that, not me.
♥ ♥ ♥ Somuchlove.
And his friend Stuart Lorimer said:
AND I SQUEED.
I’ve complained about body issues in the past, and specifically one of the things I’ve always regretted is that, despite being hairy and kind of, you know, convex, I’ve never felt much access to bear-type spaces as a femme guy.
The way it was always explained to me, bear was about breaking away from the tyrannical non-masculine hegemony that governs all of gaydom and finally getting to be properly masculine. Bears are butch, trying to be a bear while femme is Doing It Rong, and I would be unwelcome. Period.
Maybe I’m wrong; maybe this is all some bullshit I’ve been fed. Heaven knows it wouldn’t be the first time. Maybe there’s lots of room for a hyperfaggy cub who wears fedoras and brocade scarves, can use the phrase “accent wall” without stammering, and is doggedly trying to educate himself about “product.” I would love to know that.
But in the meantime I love the idea of noticing that furry, non-tiny guys can be not just bluff and handsome but flamey and flirty and, well, pretty. So “prettybear” gives me a happy, and I’m sharing it with you.
I already knew it was going to be amazing to be in San Francisco over the Solstice season, and the prospect of an unchained Pagan bonfire on Ocean Beach after two days of Radical Faerie space was already exciting enough. Let alone one, as a commenter pointed out, held while Mercury is in retrograde and there’s a lunar eclipse.
Even then, though, I certainly did not expect to abruptly decide to join the people who were taking all their clothes off and scampering into the Pacific Ocean. (The thought process basically went: “I live in freaking Montreal. How many chances am I going to run naked into the water on the Winter Solstice that don’t involve a hot tub?”)
Anyway, it’s a beautiful season of synchronicity in my life right now, and I’ve been taking advantage of it to think about the uses of gender and sacred androgyny in my Pagan practice, and a few issues arising from it. I won’t expand too much on that practice itself at present*. But here are a few recent things I had really interesting and valuable discussions of during those four days.
I’ve found that, as in all things, it’s super important to consider my cissexual privilege in doing sacred androgyny work. Two different trans friends made more or less the same observation within a few days, in slightly different contexts, that encouraging people to think outside the gender binary plays way differently if you’re speaking to cis or genderqueer people than if you’re speaking to trans people (particularly transsexual people who identify clearly as men or as women).
While in Ottawa on other business, I recently had the distinct pleasure of hanging out with my friend Ariel and the ladies of Femme Family Ottawa, a wonderful example of the communities that femmes build for ourselves. These femmes (all genders of femme are welcome, though all the other attendees at this particular meeting were women) meet every month for an informal chat at a cute café in Chinatown. I was a bit of a novelty, both as a boy and as a Montrealer, and I enjoyed the cross-pollination that went on.
One of the women brought up femme invisibility, a concept that comes up repeatedly in femme queer women’s thought. If I am characterizing it accurately, it is basically that femme queer women often feel that they are not being read as queer, owing to stereotypes of what queer women look like and do. They may feel not embraced, whether in queer women’s spaces or in the world in general, if they are read as ‘traditionally feminine’ and therefore as straight women. It’s a frustrating place to be, and not just because it makes it difficult to get laid.
A constant refrain over my journey to accepting, living, and celebrating my femmeness has been, “Why do you feel the need to” do whatever femme thing happens to be striking the person’s irritation at the time. The subtext is that it’s not possible I should just want to do these things, that they should just make me happy or agree with me. Since I’m a boy, I have to have some reason, I have to be able to account for them.
And the question itself is so odd, anyway; “need” suggests compulsion, that I must not have a choice in the matter, but the very question “why” suggests that I have some sort of ulterior motive, that I’m doing it just to be perverse and annoying.
This isn’t restricted to me, of course. There is a constant theme in our culture and kyriarchy that things considered to be feminine gender traits are regarded as fake, artificial, performed, or histrionic, and things coded as masculine are normal, natural, rational, artless, sincere, or direct. And those viewed as men are regarded as especially artificial when they behave femininely because they are disrupting gender assumptions.
I’ve just gotten back from a weekend in Ottawa on business, and finally had the opportunity to hang out with Femme Family Ottawa, an awesome group that gets together for lunch and kaffeeklatsching every month. A dear friend (the one I mentioned in this post, who I hung out with in Copenhagen and helped to inspire this blog) is a member. We all had a great time chatting about our femme stuff. One or more posts are going to come out of the discussion we had.
Anyway, between the business in Ottawa and a new job, I have been rocking a lot of really cute menswear lately and I have to say I am really, really enjoying it. I regard brightly coloured dress shirts as one of the best things ever to have happened to men’s clothes (it’s hard to imagine now they were all but unknown twenty or thirty years ago; you could have any colour of dress shirt you wanted as long as it was white, or if we were going really crazy, white with little stripes). Then you have the joys of ties, vests, and hats to go into.
(Slightly shameful fashion story: some time ago I was watching a video of a young gay boy testifying in front of a committee on same-sex marriage in I think it was the Vermont state legislature. He gave an impassioned and cogent argument on equality and dignity, and all I remember is that he was wearing a brick-red shirt with a slate grey tie and matching vest and I decided immediately that I wanted that outfit. It remains one of my favourites.)
In Ottawa, for example, on Friday I wore a fuchsia shirt and a bright white tie; on Saturday, when I went to lunch with the femmes, it was a lavender shirt, purple and black striped tie, dark slate striped vest, and my favourite fedora (which I had bought in Copenhagen with my friend; I have a large head, and apparently so do the Danes as it was the first place I’ve ever been able to buy a hat off the shelf). Today it was a bright red shirt, darker red tie, and the vest again; all with jeans (I do love tie and jeans, although unfortunately I can’t wear jeans at my new job).
I do think it’s interesting that something coded as strongly male as the shirt and tie can become marvellously fey and enjoyable just through the choice of colours. It also looks good on my body, especially with a vest. I spent the weekend feeling like a grown-up Kurt Hummel. It’s something I want to explore a lot more deeply.
From time to time, I get into a discussion that goes more or less along the following lines: there’s pressure on straight men to be masculine, and there’s pressure on queer men to be feminine, and both are equally bad. Or: some queer men will reject you for being too femme, and others will reject you for being too butch. Or: you are just feminine because it’s expected of you as a queer man; you’re just conforming to the stereotype and either putting on a show for the straight people or trying to impress other queers.
Not to be too blunt about it, but I’m always forced to wonder which planet these people grew up on. Where in heaven’s name is this mythical pressure on any (cissexual) man to be feminine? Where have they ever seen it? What evidence or experience can they possibly point at to back up what they’re saying? Who do they imagine I am impressing by being this way?
Let me tell you what pressure I had in my life to be femme, either before or after I came out: none.
I’ve been involved in working for queer rights in the arena of electoral politics for quite some time now, so it’s a little odd that yesterday was my first time watching a debate in the House of Commons in person. About twenty or so queer and trans people and me sat in the public galleries and watched the second hour of debate on Bill C-389, the bill proposed by queer NDP MP Bill Siksay to add gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code.
The bill covers both gender identity and gender expression. This is important because it spreads its protection as widely as possible, to cover transsexual and transgender people as well as people (like me) whose gender presentation is at variance with what society expects of us. As an example, when Khadijah Farmer, a cissexual woman, was thrown out of a New York City restaurant (in Greenwich Village on Pride Day, for pete’s sake) for using the women’s washroom because she was read as a man by the bouncer, she successfully won a settlement under New York City’s ordinance banning discrimination based on gender presentation. A law professor was quoted as saying that if she had had to sue based on New York State’s statute banning discrimination based on sex, she would have had more difficulty.
Furthermore, explicitly including both gender identity and expression will lead to conversation around the discrimination that targets trans and gender-variant people. As Bill Siksay said,
Accessing these protections through a convoluted process using other possibly related categories, usually the categories of sex and disability, diminishes the protection and limits our understanding of the causes and effects of the particular discrimination. A right that has to be explained is not a particularly effective right.
Back to my day. I have often seen the inside of the Commons chamber on CPAC, and a few times on brief visits, but never had a chance to study it for a long time, and it’s quite beautiful. I’ve long admired the Gothic revival architecture of our parliamentary precinct, but the inside of the chamber glows with lush stained glass and is decorated with rows of detailed, otherworldly allegorical carvings (allegory is my favourite genre of visual artwork) and a gorgeous linen covering on its ceiling, painted with coats of arms.
It was the first time ever that trans and gender-variant people’s rights have ever come to a debate in the House. And we picked a good day to watch, because somewhat unexpectedly, the bill was passed at second reading immediately, without going to a vote! (The procedure is referred to as “on division”). The joy in the galleries was palpable: both the surprise and relief (we thought there would have to be a vote, which would have been the next day) and the joy of having our issues undergo serious consideration by our legislators. Our communities have so thoroughly been ignored up till now that in many cases we simply lack any instinct to submit our grievances to our elected representatives — what would be the point? we feel.
Any extent to which I’ve been able to overcome both that complete radio silence and the feeling of preemptive disenfranchisement that it produces has been the most rewarding part of my work. Yesterday, I felt an excitement about the political process that, certainly under our present government, has at times been damned hard to sustain.
(Also as part of my trip, I had a chance to have lunch with a marvellous femme dyke friend who’s one of the main inspirations behind this blog.)
There is still a ton of work to do. The bill now goes to committee, which will be the first time that trans and gender-variant people have a chance to speak on the subject in Parliament (several MPs noted this fact during the speech as a reason it was so important to get this bill to committee). It must pass through all the remaining stages — committee, two House votes, and the Senate — before Parliament is dissolved for the next election, in order to become law. I’ll keep you updated on its progress.
“ Soft people have got to shimmer and glow- they’ve got to put on soft colors, the colors of butterfly wings, and put a paper lantern over the light. It isn’t enough to be soft. You’ve got to be soft and attractive. And I-I’m fading now!”
– Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
As mentioned in the last post, I’ve spent just about the most unpleasant May in recent memory battling it out with a really rather dreadful spot of stomach lurgy that showed up and decided to make itself at home. Beyond the more prosaic misery attached to it, I’ve been feeling just about the least sexy I have in years. So it seems a good time to talk about body image.
A number of years ago I had one of the most frustrating conversations ever. I was just starting to try to intellectually work out this femme thing, and was opening up to an older gay friend about it. “Oh come on, you’re not femme,” he said. “Sure, you play at being femme like we all do, but you aren’t really femme.”
When I protested, he pointed out a hot guy across the street from where we were sitting. He had nice arms and was wearing a tight tank top and a sarong. “Well, for one thing,” my friend said, “to be femme you’d have to look good in a sarong, and honey, I’ve seen you in a sarong.”
This post will be kind of scattered and unpolished, because I’ve been neglecting my blog for like two weeks, disappointing my immense legions of followers who hang from every word that drops from my perfectly outlined, naturally full lips. (okay, I’ll just stop.) So I’m going to just post it, and if I want to add more later, I’ll do a different post.
I don’t like carrying too much stuff in my pockets (it ruins the line of skinny jeans), so throughout my undergraduate career I used one of those black, heavy-duty cotton messenger bags, which I covered with buttons with all kinds of subversive and inappropriate slogans. (Sadly, the bag bit the dust some time ago, but I still have all the buttons.) I also had a similar but smaller bag with a shoulder strap that I used for going out, and a couple of other messenger bags.
From time to time I offhandedly referred to whatever bag I had at that time as my purse. I mean, it had my wallet, my keys, my cell phone, and whatever other crap I was routinely hauling around. And frequently I would get someone (men and women alike) who would reflexively correct me. “Your bag.”
I’m not sure whether she coined it, but in her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (strongly recommended, BTW), author Julia Serano brings the word “transmisogyny” to greater attention. She defines transmisogyny separately from transphobia — hatred faced by any trans person as a result of their trans status — describing it as follows:
Transmisogyny: Sexism that specifically targets those on the trans female/trans feminine spectrums. It arises out of a synergetic interaction between oppositional and traditional sexism. It accounts for why MTF spectrum trans people tend to be more regularly demonized and ridiculed than their FTM spectrum counterparts, and why trans women face certain forms of sexualization and misogyny that are rarely (if ever) applied to non-trans women.
Here are some of the words I like to use for my gender, and why, and what they mean for me.
femme. I’ve recently gotten into some interesting discussions on this. After a radio show on femmes, a woman expressed surprise that I, as a cissexual male, identify in this way. At another time, a person called into question my use of the words “butch” and “femme.” What they were getting at was a belief that “butch” and “femme” are exclusively lesbian words. It’s true that they’ve been used in the queer women’s community for many decades, no doubt originated there, and denote well-developed systems of self-expression. However, queer men have been using the words “butch” and “femme” for ourselves and one another for decades, i.e. it’s not something I made up. I actually didn’t realize that my use of them could be surprising to others. (ETA: I go into more detail on this here.)
Anyway, I like the word “femme” in preference to “feminine” or “effeminate” for a couple of reasons (even though I sometimes use those words too). Read the rest of this entry »
(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 didn’t have the standard super-faggy little kid narrative. I was pretty much a full-on nerd, which at that point was practically its own gender. I didn’t have either GI Joes or Barbies; I had stuffed animals, books, and Legos. Both the war toy and doll commercials on Saturday morning cartoons weirded me out – I identified them right away as weird, fake plastic shit that I couldn’t imagine anyone finding the least bit entertaining, and watching the commercials for them was just cringe-making and embarrassing.
Not that there weren’t certain signs of what was coming. There was that odd affection for rainbows, and at one point I had a dollhouse, but no dolls – just furniture, which I would rearrange. That’s right, interior decorating at age 6. There was also the music teacher who introduced me to musicals in grade 6, where I promptly went bananas for The Phantom of the Opera, and all those obscure operas to which my dad received free tickets that he gave to me and Mom. (I’m pretty sure I was one of the few 12-year-old boys to have seen both The Pearl Fishers and Dialogues of the Carmelites.)