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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.
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.
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.
Happy equinox, gendernauts!
The new post I’m gestating (it’ll be about how femininity is equated with artificiality) has been delayed for a bit (ETA: Here it is!); I’ve just gotten a sweet new job without giving up the old one, so I think it’ll be a little while before I work up the mental energy to finish it, and I really should give Julia Serano a reread first.
In the meantime, I will buy time by shamelessly recycling existing material. For those of you who enjoyed my post on body image and the effeminate guy — apparently it’s received the most hits of any of my posts to date — I felt I should highlight a really interesting comment that was left on it. Commenter enoch said [paragraph divisions added]:
As a transmasculine person, I have some trouble keeping my femme identity visible to people who do not understand the full range of femme possibility.
Interestingly enough, I’ve found the that more masculine I make my body appear, the easier it is to layer the trappings of male femininity on top of. Now, this may be because, as a female-assigned person, I will look like a small, youthful man for much longer than my male-assigned counterparts, but I don’t think I’m frequently read as a twink (there are a few creepy old men who sit around in the garden of my local LGBT center who certainly look at me that way, but pretty much no one else).
Still, I am presented with the challenge of making my body masculine enough that I will be interpreted as a femme guy rather than a butch woman. I think that people who understand that transfolk have as much variety of presentation as cisfolk generally recognize my femme identity quite quickly.
Perhaps instead of looking for cues among femme women, you can look for cues among femme transpeople, some of us have learned how to combine masculine appearance with femme identity in innovative ways you might not have considered.
This is a really interesting point, and one I’d never considered! Props to enoch for bringing it up.
While I stress over a prolonged bout of underemployment, here’s another quote for you.
54. […] The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.
55. Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.
56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.
— Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp“
(Slight divagation here: I’ve been thinking about this for the last little while. Maybe a way to express this is that camp is to irony or mockery as teasing is to taunting. Taunting is done out of a feeling of superiority or out of revulsion for the possibility that the taunter could be associated with the thing taunted. Teasing is done out of love, and so is camp. You don’t enjoy your derision of the campy thing; you enjoy the campy thing itself, in all its atrocious glory, in a very honest and direct way, even if that’s not what the creator intended (although it might be). Not to get too woolly here, but maybe it’s that instead of feeling superior to the creator of the campy thing, you identify with them, you have a delicious feeling of common humanity. ‘This is ridiculous, and I am just ridiculous enough myself to appreciate it, and that delights me.’)
“ 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.”