Hey- I’m not sure if this is the right way to respond, because I don’t really understand tumblr. But I was skimming this blog and came across some conversation about a repost of a quote from my 2008 keynote at the Femme Conference. The quote was “Femme is any way of being a girl that doesn’t hurt,” and there were a variety of responses- some expressing hurt and anger at their read of that quote as transphobic, thinking that “girl” just meant cisgendered women, some expressing a belief that yes, femme should just mean cis lesbian women, and more.
As the writer of that sentence, I want to clarify what I meant by it. This is especially important for me as a queer, disabled, working class writer of color. I want to be clear about what I mean by my intellectual property when it’s debated, because so often queer and trans people of color and other folks with identities that are marginalized by whitecapitalistablistbullshitpatriarchy have our ideas discussed without us. And, as the disability rights movement has asserted, “Nothing about us without us.”
So, to clarify: I don’t believe that “femme” is a gender identity that is or should be restricted to cisgendered queer women. I think of femme as a broad spectrum of gender identities that claim and are a spirit of ass-kicking femme strength, beauty and complexity that resists racist, sexist, classist, ableist ideas of what femininity is . I know and love and claim many, many kinds of femmes in my communitites as loved and needed ones- ciswomen, transwomen, Two Spirit folks, and genderqueer and trans folks (including femme boys and bois) who embody many kinds of gender in their bodies. In using the word ‘girl’ in that speech, I was using shorthand. In my everyday speech, I often use the words ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ as a shorthand that encompasses a lot more than a limited idea of girl/boy as cisgirl, cisboy. I was not meaning ‘girl’ as equaling ‘ciswoman only” but as the many ways of embodying femmeness or femininity- something that I hope was clear from the rest of the keynote. (I can understand, thinking about this more, how using this shorthand wasn’t an ideal way to express the concepts I was going for and am going to think about what might be a better way of deploying language around expressing what I believe about femmeness.) I’m sorry this wasn’t clear, but I want to be clear about it now.
I think femme is its own beautiful, revolutionary thing, and it is embodied many ways by many different genders and bodies. Creating and murturing communities with an ass-kickingly broad definition of femmeness is part of making femme communities that don’t hurt and that work for liberation, for me. I am interested in building communities of liberation where we get to do this work, love each other and where we don’t reify an idea of femme of being just one way- and especially when that one way translates to just being white, cis, skinny, able bodied, middle-class femininity.
That’s what I believe and what I meant ;)
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinh