Sunday, 23 March 2014

Reading.

"Reading" can have a different meaning in my (our) world. It goes with "being read", being perceived behind (or beneath) what you're presenting to who you "really" are. It has to do with pretence and privilege. Pretence, as in believing we're pretending, not who we say we are, not who we think we are. Privilege, as in taking your own self for granted, as "normal", and assuming the right, therefore, to define what's "real" and what's not for the rest of us, and mean it. Fuck that shit. You don't get to tell us who we are or what we're about. Only we get to do that. And you can fucking stand still for it.

But actually I didn't mean that kind of reading. (Nor the unitary authority in Berkshire.) I meant simply reading, as in reading books, articles, essays, blogposts – all towards my planned submission to Queer Feminine Affinities next month. Okay, I haven't set anything to paper yet, but it's taking shape in my mind, as to the slant I think I'm going to take. In particular, I think it has to be first person singular, not plural; "I", not "we". And as Dorothy Allison writes (quoting Bertha Harris) in ‘Skin’: “The things you hesitate to talk about, those are the things you should be writing about.” Which means I'm probably going to have to write about sexuality, and not in abstract terms. Hmmmm. I think I need to think about that some more.

Meanwhile, here are a few incidental items arising from my research:

1) Reading ‘Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme’ directly after the anthology which inspired it – ‘The Persistent Desire’ – is quite revealing. In the nineteen years between, the world has changed. Meanings have broadened. People's identities are more complex and complicated. But then Joan Nestle always said they were anyway.

2) And this photo by Del LaGrace Volcano (in ‘Femmes of Power’) of London queer femme performer/impresario, Bird la Bird.



I just love the framing of that photograph. The red background. The red heels. The red ruffles! The powerful in-your-face femme. And (relevantly here) the piles of books which indicate it as being very queer. You can't see the titles in this small sized version, but they contain pretty much every book I've been rereading, and many many more besides.

3) And from the blogworld, this piece by queer butch, Sinclair Sexsmith: ‘Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?’ As I commented there, I relate to this very strongly, albeit coming from the “other direction” (in the dubious binary sense). In particular, when they write:

Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay.

So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. (...) It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns.

I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own (...) not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in
my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no. Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.

I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.


Switch the genders round (male-female, butch-femme, feminine-masculine, etc) and that's pretty much me right there :)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Third Anniversary.

Damn. My blogging anniversary – February 7th – has been and gone again without me noticing. Oh, well, never mind.

Once more, there have been fewer posts this year than last. If it wasn't for my resolution to post every calendar month (which I'm still just about managing), there'd probably be even less. What can I say? I need inspiration in order to write anything. And at the moment I'm busier with reading: doing research for my ‘Queer Feminine Affinities’ submission. Though I might post a picture arising from that shortly. We'll see.

Stats update (2013/14): The most viewed post is now ‘In vision (3) - male bodies, female clothes’, which currently has over 2600 views. Not sure what's bringing people to that one; possibly searches for (any of) the four models featured therein: Alex Drummond, Jasper Gregory, Andrew O'Neill, and Michael Spookshow. (Thanks again to each of them for allowing me to use their photos.) Overall monthly pageviews peaked at 2654 last February, the same month ‘In vision (3)’ was posted. The highest referring sites are now Reddit, Google and T-Central, with (new entry) Twitter following up some way behind.

My own favourite post in 2013 was the (second) one about ‘Stuff’. But I'm still waiting to unleash my “it's just stuff” diatribe...

Last night I went out in my new furry coat (£29 from ‘Daphne's Handbag’) for the first time proper. This one is especially furry and I got quite a few comments. Nothing aggressive or antagonistic – rather, complimentary (random people), amused (friends), and quizzical (drunk guy on the bus home): “Why are you wearing that?” “It's nice; it's furry.” “Can I touch it?” “Sure, if you want.” “Is it real?” “No, it's acrylic, like carpets.” [Or not. I see Wikipedia says carpets are generally made of nylon, not acrylic.] We went on like that for a little while, the woman he was with venturing that it was “sixties” and “afghan”, and me agreeing that it sort of was. And then they talked to themselves about something else and I nodded off.

Nobody said: “That's a woman's coat!” (Perhaps they all think it would be rude to say that.) So I've not been able to retort (disingenuously): “It's just a coat. Just because some dickhead has stuck a gender label on it is no reason not to wear it.” Or something like that. Basically: “It's just stuff.”

Then again, maybe it's better that no one really gives me any crap at all :)

Monday, 27 January 2014

Queer Feminine Affinities.

In April of last year, Alexa Athelstan and Vikki Chalklin sent out the following ‘Call for Submissions’:
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Queer Feminine Affinities aspires to become the first collaborative book that collects a diverse variety of written and visual materials by, on and for femme, queer, alternative and subversive feminine voices and communities emerging from within the UK.

Inspired by collections like Joan Nestle’s (1992) The Persistent Desire: A Femme Butch Reader, ChloĆ« Brushwood Rose and Anna Camilleri’s (2003) Brazen Femme, Ulrika Dahl and Del LaGrace Volcano’s (2008) Femmes of Power, Jennifer Clare Burke’s (2009) Visible: A Femmethology, and Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman’s (2011) Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, amongst other engagements with femme and queer femininities, Queer Feminine Affinities warmly invites written and visual materials that reflect on femme, queer and alternative femininities as an embodied lived experience, identity and imagined community. The collection is particularly interested in reflections that can contribute to, challenge and expand on the established legacies of these wonderfully rich anthologies.

Whilst the aforementioned collections originate from and discuss femme and queer feminine identities within a largely American context (aside from Ulrika Dahl and Del LaGrace Volcano’s Femmes of Power, which covers both American and European spaces), Queer Feminine Affinities aims to engage queer feminine voices and communities existing and emerging in the UK. The collection asks to what extent conceptualisations and lived realities of femme, queer, alternative and subversive femininities have travelled and translated along transnational lines of queer inheritances, and where our paths have diverged and our figurations have been reinvented to take fresh forms. Most of all, however, the collection simply aims to provide a printed space in which a diverse variety of feminine identified voices and perspectives can mingle in creative dialogue, discussing topics that are close to our queer fem(me)inine hearts!
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The deadline was subsequently extended to 17th January 2014, by which date I submitted the following proposal:
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Straight male femme: Re-envisaging heterosexual MTF transvestism as a femme identity.

After briefly outlining a few basic ideas which lie behind (my interpretation of) femme, in particular as a non-binary-specific gender and erotic identity, I propose to examine femme literature and explain how selected quotes parallel my own experience as an MTF transvestite. This is significant both to me personally and (perhaps) more generally. In the first instance, femme has enabled me to reach an understanding (extrapolated from a traditional lesbian butch/femme paradigm) of my own "feminine" identity, without reference to (for me, false) notions of femaleness. In the second, it follows the line of enquiry posited by ChloĆ« Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri in their introduction to Brazen Femme: “Both of us had begun to sense the need to articulate femme as a gender experience that is never tied to biological sex. (...) What would it mean to be a femme and not a woman? What would it mean to be femme outside of a lesbian framework? What is it that femmes have in common? What makes femme different from femininity?” Given that femme is famously difficult to define (“we cannot begin with a definition; we cannot offer assurances of any kind” – Duggan & McHugh), perhaps the most meaningful response to those questions is a personal one. In that spirit, I will try to portray aspects of my own femme, as neither a woman, nor a lesbian – and, at the same time, indicate (if indirectly) how femme offers a critical theoretical model for understanding MTF transvestism.

Possible word count: 3000 (if that's the maximum)

Brief biog: Jonathan (...) is a mainly straight, queer, femme, white, English, fifty-something, male cross-dresser, who paradoxically believes that the idea of discretely gendered clothing is nonsense. He blogs about transvestism, (trans)gender and femme at malefemme.blogspot.co.uk.
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In this blog I've written about femme in both personal and general terms, but I've come to suspect that the idea of femme doesn't really resonate with people; that is, with my own (TV/CD) community. The trouble is, I think, that femme (and butch/femme) is not a very familiar concept there. Although the word "femme" itself is part of our language, it's not used in the same way. To us it just means "female" or "as female", as in the expression “en femme”. So while people may get what I've written about gender, even relate to (parts of) my own experience with gender, they don't get why this is actually femme or what this idea of femme means. And that's because MTF transvestites don't tend to go looking for ideas about gender (etc) – or an understanding of their own gender – in queer female and lesbian literature. Why would they? What do queer women's real lives have to do with straight men's lives anyway?

Quite a lot, in my opinion. The sort of books the two editors list above (as inspirations) offer critical perspectives on gender, sexuality and desire which are widely applicable. I'd recommend people to read all those books and a lot more besides. But it's unlikely they're going to, so I thought I'd make it a bit easier. Reread all the books myself. Note passages where something a writer has said is directly applicable. And then point it out, so readers can see their own experiences and feelings reflected back at them. Recognize this? Yes? Well, a lesbian femme wrote that. This is femme. This is you. Perhaps.

The reason this is important to me is because I think femme (and butch) provides the best model for understanding these aspects of gender and sexuality; separate from notions of sex, of maleness and femaleness, even of transness – although transness cannot be discounted either. To paraphrase Jack Halberstam (in ‘Female Masculinity’): Because of its reliance on notions of authenticity and the real, the category of (male) femme realness is situated on the sometimes vague boundary between transgender and femme definition. The realness of fem(me)ininity can easily tip, in other words, into the desire for a more sustained realness in a recognizably female body.

Of course the editors of Queer Feminine Affinities are under no obligation to accept my proposed piece. But I shall continue working on it and just post it here if it's not to appear elsewhere.

Whether the lesbian authors I intend to quote will appreciate their words being associated with – being appropriated by – (shall we say) straight men in frocks is another question.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Fifty.

Not my fiftieth post (that was this one). Me. Fifty. Today.

Half a century.

It feels like that should mean something, so I'm posting about it. I'm not sure what though. It does feel a lot nearer the end than the beginning, I have to say. Likely that's because I've been in a more morbid frame of mind since my sister died (on 24th October last). Then again I might live to be 103, in which case I'm not even halfway through. Now that does seem utterly bizarre. More years than I've lived so far. What might I do with so long?

I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy livin' – or get busy dyin'.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

So, what is femme? (4)

Another day, another definition of femme. This one comes from Julia Serano in a piece, Reclaiming Femininity, from her new book 'Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive' (Seal Press 2013).

[I]t is common for people to have somewhat varied opinions regarding what the word “femme” actually means. For me, having a holistic view of gender and sexuality, I would suggest that most of us who are femme share two things in common. First, we find that, for whatever reason, feminine gender expression resonates with us on a deep, profound level, in an inexplicable way that isn't easy to put into words. The second thing that we share is a sense of being different, perhaps because we are lesbian or bisexual. Perhaps because we are trans women or feminine men, or we fall somewhere else along the transgender spectrum. Or perhaps because our bodies fall outside the norm in some way, because we are fat, or disabled, or intersex. Or perhaps we experience some combination of these, or maybe we are different in some other way. Because of our difference, we each have to make sense of what it means to be feminine in a world where we can never achieve the conventional feminine ideal, and in a world where feminine gender expression and sexualities are plagued by misogynistic connotations. For me, that's what femme is. It's a puzzle we each have to solve. And because we are all different, we will each come up with a different solution, a different way of making sense of, and expressing, our femme selves.

This definition I like because it's open-ended. It's a non-definition (“we cannot begin with a definition; we cannot offer assurances of any kind” – Duggan & McHugh), allowing each of us to define – or, more accurately, realize – femme for ourselves.

Actually I like Serano's writing in general; it's just the right blend of (gender) theoretical, political and personal material that appeals to me. I've quoted a bit more from Reclaiming Femininity – in which Serano talks about essentialism and difference – on my tumblog. And there's another (shorter) quote here – about MTF crossdressing and effemimania – from her previous book, 'Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity' (Seal Press 2007).

You should probably go and buy those books right now :)

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Pink List 2013.

Two years ago the Independent on Sunday's Pink List – “101 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that make a difference” – was a prompt for my own list of Inspirations. This year's Pink List is an inspiration in itself with numerous trans activists featuring, all the way to Paris Lees at the very top. It's great to see people like — ah, why be selective?! I'll just list them all...

Luke Anderson, Helen Belcher, Sarah Brown, Jane Fae, Raphael Fox, Jackie Green, Lewis Hancox, Tara Hewitt, Juliet Jacques, Roz Kaveney, Natacha Kennedy, Jennie Kermode, Paris Lees, CN Lester, Jay Stewart

...with Christine Burns on the judging panel, and yet more denoted ‘National treasures’ and ‘Ones to watch’.

In the words of Little Pete: “That was a good day.” :)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Trans-Inclusive Feminism.

Or: “Yet More on Trans (vs.) Feminism” – except that there's no “vs.” to contend with this time...

We, the undersigned trans* and cis scholars, writers, artists, and educators, want to publicly and openly affirm our commitment to a trans*-inclusive feminism and womanism.

This heads a publicly declared statement of trans-inclusion, written in response to “a noticeable increase in transphobic feminist activity”. From 105 original signatories – some I knew; many I didn't – the list is now up to 400 and rising all the time.

The statement can be found at feministsfightingtransphobia.wordpress.com. Its criticism of anti-trans feminists is stringent and incisive, as you can read for yourself. But what I like most are these two extracts:

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises.

Most importantly, we recognize that theories are not more important than real people’s real lives; we reject any theory of gender, sex, or sexuality that calls on us to sacrifice the needs of any subjugated or marginalized group. People are more important than theory.

Or as Dorothy Allison wrote: “Simple answers, reductionist politics, are the most prone to compromise, to saying we're addressing the essential issue and all that other stuff can slide. It is, in reality, people who slide.”

Their statement is a commitment not to let people slide. As such, it's both impressive and heart-warming – and I'd just like to say:

Thank you :)