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Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Mylène Farmer‘s greatest hit, her anthemic single “Désenchantée.” I’m guessing that a lot of my readers won’t know her music, especially in more Anglophone areas, but she’s sort of the Francophone Madonna: one of the hugest gay icons around the time I was coming out, both in France and Quebec (she is French but was born while her parents were living in Montreal), and like Madonna with much of her fame spurred by her iconic and envelope-pushing videos. (Interestingly, like my other musical idols the Pet Shop Boys, despite not being especially popular in North America her career has endured and she is still a huge hit in Europe.)
I associate her music and this song in particular with 1998 and 1999 and 2000, at the height of her fame (her 1999 Mylenium tour was one of the highest grossing for any non-Anglophone artist) the time I first started meeting other queer kids and going to clubs, when playing “Désenchantée” meant madness on the floor, especially at Ciel! Mon Mardi at Sky which was one of the best nights of clubbing ever (it was before they renovated and while Mado Lamotte was still emceeing). I felt such joy at connecting, finding a place in this great motion; anything was possible.
And it didn’t hurt either that to me the song was an awesome anthem for the age I was and the activism I was getting involved in, or that she bends gender like all-get-out in the videos.
[Trigger warning: scenes of violence, including some apparently directed at a character due to gender presentation.]
And even more so than that were the lyrics to “Sans contrefaçon”:
Tout seul dans mon placard, les yeux cernés de noir
À l’abri des regards je defie le hasard
Dans ce monde qui n’a ni queue ni tête, je ne fais qu’à ma tête
Un mouchoir au creux du pantalon, je suis Chevalier d’Éon
Puisqu’il faut choisir, à mots doux je peux le dire
Sans contrefaçon je suis un garçon
Et pour un empire, je ne veux me dévêtir
Puisque sans contrefaçon je suis un garçon
Anyway, any of her music always brings me right back to that time, the wonder and tremulousness and intensity of my late adolescence and the beginning of my adult life, and especially “Désenchantée.”
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.
Bill C-389 passed. The House of Commons voted — narrowly, but with support from every party — to outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in federal areas of jurisdiction and to consider crimes based on those grounds as hate crimes.
I’ve been working on this issue for a really long time and it’s an incredible relief and joy. For me, both as a genderqueer person and as someone in love with a trans man, it really hits home.
Let’s hear it for Bill Siksay, the bill’s sponsor and the NDP’s LGBTT issues critic. He’s a wonderful person and he’s retiring from the House at the end of this parliament, and I can’t think of a better legacy to leave behind.
It now must pass the Senate before the next election in order to become law. But if this should fail to happen, either because it gets defeated in the Conservative-dominated Senate or an election is called before it passes, the NDP has a very solid groundwork for reintroducing it in the next Parliament until it finally is passed. In the meantime, I hope the provinces move on introducing their own bills, to cover provincial areas of jurisdiction as well.
But enough of this. At least for a day or two, let’s celebrate
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).
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.’)
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.