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Frowning on Femmes: Policing Femme Gender Expression

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When a world famous drag queen is physically removed from a gay club in Paris for presenting too femininely, what does that say about the queer community’s acceptance of femme gender expression? Nothing positive, that’s for sure. The Season 7 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Violet Chachki, was physically dragged out of the gay club Le Depot in Paris this past month. While they weren’t in drag, they were wearing makeup, and were not deemed masc enough to be allowed in. Chachki agrees that the policy is transphobic, which confirms that even if a space says it is queer/trans friendly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.

Femme Fundamentals

Le Depot is a prime example of the disgust and rejection of femininity in the queer and trans communities. To be femme means different things to different people. According to the lesbian blog Autostraddle, “femme” is a descriptor for a queer person who presents and acts in a traditionally feminine manner. Gina Tonic, a writer at media company Bustle, claims that “all femmes hit upon two key aesthetic and identity-related traits: Being feminine and falling somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum.”

For a non cis, white perspective, I asked Romeo Jackson, a 24 year old black, nonbinary femme student at the University of Utah, what femme means to them.

“Resistance; survival. To me, it is an homage to ways in which we have tried to eradicate black women from the Earth – from existence. It’s also a disposition, something you feel. Earrings, hoops, and lipstick are part of that, but more importantly, femme is owning something that is despised in our culture.”

The Power of Femme

Jackson confirms that the queer community has quite a bit of work ahead of us in regards to accepting and celebrating femme expression and culture. “We can’t be misogynistic. We have to understand what femininity looks like. That starts with people in power resisting the hyper masculine nature that we lean towards.” There are even opportunities to embrace femininity in activities as small as icebreakers for groups activities. “We do team builders in queer spaces but I’ve always wonderred, why don’t we take teen magazine quizzes and talk about those? Femininity is seen as unimportant.”

One of my personal role models is the gender non-conforming performance artist, writer, educator, and entertainer, Alok Vaid-Menon. “Their eclectic sense of style, political comedy, and poetic challenge to the gender binary have been internationally renowned. Alok was recently the youngest recipient of the prestigious Live Works Performance Act Award granted to ten performance artists across the world. They have been featured on HBO, MTV, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New York Times, and The New Yorker and have presented their work at 300 venues in more than 30 countries.” Their Facebook and Instagram posts often feature their phenomenal outfits and inspirational, personal, and poignant commentary.

The last time I wore this outfit (photo on the left) I was punched in the face by a white man who told me that “He was okay with gay people, but I was too much!” Every time I saw this outfit in my closet I thought about that man, that pain, that fear…and I couldn’t bring myself to wear it again. It’s been a year today since the incident & I decided to wear that red jumpsuit out with a big smile and a belief in something greater than myself. That man was wrong about a lot of things: but he was right about something. I AM too much! I am TOO honest, TOO beautiful, and TOO powerful to prioritize other people’s hatred over my joy. I am TOO free for fragile masculinity and I am TOO determined to end the gender binary to give up!

A post shared by ALOK ? (@alokvmenon) on

Femme: The Final Frontier

As my conversation with Jackson came to a close, it ended on a healing and inspirational note, as well as a call to action.

“Cis women, trans women, nonbinary people who are femme – there is a radical potential to build together. We could reimagine gender systems. So much of our society is based off of masculinity and capitalistic notions of femininity. Groups of femme folks working together will transform queer politics in a beautiful way.”

Originally posted 2017-11-05 16:33:27.

Sara Whittington is a genderqueer artist raised in Central Louisiana, but currently residing in Brooklyn, NY. They have had the good fortune to be able to travel across the country, as well as abroad. Some of their favorite trips thus far have been adventuring across Iceland, spending summers on Lake Michigan, and a family celebration in Mundesley, England. In their spare time, Sara enjoys writing letters to loved ones.

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Travel Reading: The Assassin Chronicles – Chapter One

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     Palm Springs, California; it had everything. The rolling, maroon mountains in the rural areas contrasted sharply with the sun-baked estates of the rich and famous far off in the distance. From his view on the aerial tramway of Mount San Jacinto, The Assassin – Smith – could just make out both. The tram ride was one of the most popular attractions in Palm Springs. He admired this canvas before business grabbed his attention.

     “Is it feasible?”  This was his handler, Mr. Wolf. He was an attractive man with wafting, golden hair and sparkling emerald eyes. Unfortunately, the red blazer he wore didn’t do a thing to showcase his muscular build nor add any degree of menace to his five-foot-seven stature.  

     Smith, a handsome forty-something year old man with jet black hair and a very demanding face, had quite the crush on his boss. The relationship oozed sexual tension, but Wolf suffered from a horrible disease – he was debilitatingly heterosexual!

     “Well?”

     With a sigh, The Assassin nodded once. He was a man of no words. In fact, for the rest of the gondola ride, he ignored Wolf. He peered out at a gorgeous sunset that few places in the world could rival.  

     After the charming sky-ride was finished, The Assassin climbed inside his very tasteful candy black Mercedes SLS. He opened the glove compartment, removing a silenced Colt M45 pistol from its depths. Smith tucked the weapon into its holster beneath his pristine white suit jacket.

     The car’s engine roared to life, like a pouncing lion leaping from the bush. Smith piloted the car past a string of golf courses and shopping malls which he was sure housed only the best designer brands. That reminded him: He needed to pick up an Armani tux for his mother’s vow renewal.

     As the sun continued to set, it was clear where Smith was heading; the annual White Party. The fireworks could be seen throughout the Springs, exploding in majestic whites and pinks.  

     The main event took place where it normally does, White Party Park. More than twenty thousand men, some half-naked, a few totally naked, ate, drank, made out, and partied around the giant Ferris wheel.

     Smith was both enthralled and disgusted. He loved gorgeous, sweaty men, but loathed gratuitous promiscuity at the same time. It’s true; The Assassin was a walking conundrum. Pity he forgave his own quirks. The quirks kept him single and lonely.  

     If a person were to wonder how he entered the party armed and without the complete pat down, the answer would be simple.  Security tends to become slack when Greek Gods prance around in tight white speedos.  No one detected him clambering over the scaffolding set up beside the Ferris wheel.

     Work then replaced his view of the delicious debauchery and he set his gaze on a massive VIP tent.

     Inside that tent, Fred Robertson and Graham Phelps discussed what to do with the charitable donations.  Both men were shrewd in business, but only Fred could be called unscrupulous.  He was an overweight smoker battling inoperable lung cancer.  His partner in crime, however, was one of the healthiest men in America and the owner of the largest pharmaceutical company, BioScience Labs.

     Halfway through Fred’s plan, Graham interjected.  “Won’t work, no sir.”

     “I organized the event,” Fred shot back between coughs.

     “Which is why you’d be the only suspect, you idiot.”

     “That’s why our friend’s out there.”  Fred lit another cigarette.  “I’m not gonna die for enjoyin’ life.”

     Graham chortled.  “You do know they do put the warning labels right on the package now.  In bold.”

     Fred simply glared.  “I pull this off, we got a deal?”

     “My company could always use more cancer funding.  Although, you’re screwing over your own community.”

     “I don’t have HIV.”

     Smiling and shaking his head, Graham shook Fred’s hand and left the tent.  He almost bumped into Wolf.  His odd proportions made the white BDSM outfit he wore look laughable.

     Fred put out his cigarette.  “That’s not exactly subtle, son.”

     “He’s here.”

     Wolf snatched Fred’s collar, nearly dragging him out of the tent.

      Smith was waiting.  He grabbed Fred’s head and snapped it backwards.

     Briefly stunned, Wolf watched Fred’s lifeless body fall to the floor.  He growled and reached for his gun.  Smith already had his in hand and was about to take Wolf down when Wolf grabbed the nearest bystander.  The bystander took the bullets.  Smith disappeared into the crowd.

     Wolf went another direction, but the pair of them had falcon vision.  Neither lost sight of the other.  They made their way through the crowd and into a gay bar.

     Thankfully, the gay bar was tasteful and not at all what one would expect.  Like most restaurants in Palm Springs, the bar had class and a classy clientele.

     Smith entered the men’s room right before Wolf.  He sauntered over to the urinal.  Wolf joined him.  They were waiting for a man in the middle to finish.

     After some extended eye contact, the third wheel turned to them and baited them in a butch voice.  “Want some privacy?”  Both killers almost made him their next target.  He scurried away, his pride crippled.

     Smith and Wolf still just stared at each other.  They were hesitant to even flinch.  Then, Wolf’s arrogance got the better of him and he drew his gun.  His opponent grabbed his arm and shoved it in the urinal.  When Smith flushed, he rendered the weapon useless.

     It was time for him to use his own.  Wolf countered by tackling Smith to the ground.  More punches and kicks were thrown.  While unclear, one of them managed to slam the other’s head into a sink.

     Playtime was over.  Wolf, now scared, dodged a couple punches that Smith smacked right into the bathroom mirrors behind them.  He didn’t have time to avoid the glass shard Wolf wielded.  Smith’s jugular was the intended target, but Wolf managed only to get Smith’s arm during a block.

     Another kick landed Smith on his back.  When he stood up, the bathroom door creaked closed.  Wolf ran.

     The next morning felt like Hell.  Deep bruising and bandages stretched over Smith’s face, mocking him.  He slithered up to his car, a tux slung over his shoulder and a tourist pamphlet in one hand.  The shop from earlier didn’t have Armani as he predicted; he settled for Versace.

     Smith opened the pamphlet and marvelled at all the tourist attractions he was missing out on.  Palm Canyon called to him.  He loved to hike, and these rocky mountain trails with views of palm trees and subtle peaks ignited a primal fire within his soul.  Then he took a gander at the information on the art museum in the city itself.  It featured classic and performance art; the former his favorite.  His inner child wanted to visit Soak City and ride the 70-foot twin scorpion water slide.  At times like these, Smith wished he was normal.  However, he knew he’d never be back here.  He would never enjoy these things.

     For just a minute, The Assassin examined his car, then the tux.  It almost seemed like he had grown distasteful of extravagance, too.  What else would he do with the money he made, he asked himself?  Not that it mattered.  Smith was heading for a crisis of self and he didn’t even know it.

     With that, he got into his car and headed into the mountains.  His final destination was the airport on the other side.  After showing his ticket, he headed through the gate.

      “Enjoy your trip to Switzerland, Mr. Kowalczyk,” the stewardess called out.

     Smith grinned.  It was dangerous using his Christian name, but he enjoyed hearing it.  Actually, in truth, he barely remembered it.

     Meanwhile, in the middle of the Sea of Japan, Wolf reported his failure to his superior aboard a freighter.

     If this mystery man had a physical form, it was well hidden by the shadows of the cargo hold.  “What made you think I’d sign off on this?”

     “There’s something you need to see.”  Wolf pulled a photo out of his pocket and handed it to the figure.

     “Is this credible?”

     “Yeah, boss, it is.  I triple checked.”

     The mystery man sucked his teeth.  “Have everyone waiting for us on the dock.  Dear God, how did I not see this?!”

     Wolf nodded and backed away respectfully.

FADE TO BLACK.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for next week’s story, full of more international intrigue, travel ideas, style, and fashion.

Originally posted 2017-09-18 22:49:12.

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The Life and Legacy of Edith Windsor

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As many of you may know, Edith Windsor, the pioneer for marriage equality in the United States tragically passed away on Tuesday, September 12th. Because many are upset about her passing (I know I am), it is important to look back and remember all that she had accomplished in her 88 years of life.

Edith Windsor, born Edith Schlain on June 20th, 1929 in Philadelphia to James and Celia Schlain, was a Russian Jewish immigrant and, because of the time in which she was born, her family suffered from the Great Depression. However, Windsor persevered and earned a master’s in mathematics from NYU and eventually joined IBM, where she worked for sixteen years. While in college, Edith met Saul Windsor. Their relationship ended once when Saul discovered that Edith had fallen in love with a female classmate. Edith, however, said that she did not wish to be a lesbian and proceeded to marry Saul. This marriage did not last very long as after a year of her tying the knot, Edith told him that she longed to be with women and they divorced. She then moved from Philadelphia to New York City.  

While in New York, Edith met Thea Spyer. Both in relationships of their own, they had to keep their relationship a secret. While Windsor was working for IBM, she received multiple phone calls from Thea Spyer. In order to conceal her sexual orientation, she told her colleagues that she was speaking to Thea’s brother, a fictitious person named Willy who, comically, was the name of Windsor’s childhood doll.  

“Like countless other same-sex couples, we engaged in a constant struggle to balance our love for one another and our desire to live openly and with dignity, on the one hand, with our fear of disapproval and discrimination from others on the other.”

In 1967, Spyer asked Windsor to marry her. Windsor was again afraid that her sexuality would be discovered, so Spyer proposed to her with a diamond brooch. Unfortunately, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977. Fearing that she would not be alive to see same-sex marriage legalized, they got legally married in Canada in 2007.

Tragically, Thea Spyer passed away in 2009, which left Edith with a large tax bill that heterosexual couples would not have after the death of a spouse because the legal definition of marriage in the US did not include same-sex couples. Sensing the inequality, Edith decided to sue the federal government. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples. This milestone of equality was one of the catalysts that led to the Obergefell vs. Hodges case in 2015 that deemed the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

In addition to her pivotal role in achieving marriage equality, Windsor also volunteered with the Gay and Lesbian and Defenders (GLAD), the East End Gay Organization, the LGBT Community Center, and more. Edith Windsor is considered a pioneer for marriage equality and she certainly deserves the title. Thanks to Windsor, same-sex couples across the US can now marry the person they love with the full benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy today. It is my hope that Windsor can inspire others to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community and help fight bigotry around the world. Edith Windsor is unfortunately gone but she will never be forgotten. She will continue to inspire the LGBTQ community to be proud and to fight for the rights they justly deserve.

Originally posted 2017-09-18 18:03:58.


Also published on Medium.

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Internalized Homophobia: Why It Hurts and What You Can Do

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Some of you know that I grew up in south Georgia, which isn’t one of the most accepting states in terms of marriage equality. When you live in the middle of the Bible Belt for something like 19 years, it makes an impact on you, from your actions to the way you think. I know this firsthand.

Because of my background, it took me until high school to even consider that my sexuality might not be “normal” compared to those around me. It took even longer to admit it to the people I knew. And even now, when asked about my sexuality by new people, I hesitate a little. For a long time, I attributed this to my shy nature, but it was something far worse. I realize now that most of my hesitation and fear was because of internalized homophobia, which is ”the involuntary belief by lesbians and gay men that the homophobic lies, stereotypes, and myths about them…are true.”

I like to think I’m open-minded and accepting, and as a lesbian who has dealt with plenty of external homophobia from society and people I know, judging people for their identities is the last thing I would ever want to do. People should be able to love who they love without judgment, but I think it has become all too common for us to extend this thinking to those around us, but not toward ourselves.

When I’ve dated women, I’ve found myself hesitating to tell people I’m in a relationship with someone of the same sex, probably because of my southern, religious upbringing. It’s not that I don’t care about my SO, and I am proud to show my love. But there is always one part of my brain that seems to cringe away from calling attention to the thing that I was told was “wrong” and “sinful” from a young age.

Through media and misconceptions about liking women, so many people are raised believing in the “predatory lesbian” stereotype. And I can think of a couple instances where this did happen to me. I came out to friends who happened to be female and they suddenly didn’t want to have anything to do with me. That kind of rejection and homophobia hurts and can affect your self-esteem and your “relationship quality,” according to a study by David M. Frost and Ilan H. Meyer. Because of those experiences, combined with a southern conservative background, I was taught that my sexuality was something dangerous, something to be ashamed of.

Internalized homophobia can be hard to work past, even after you become aware of it within yourself. It takes a lot of validation from your own mind and from those around as well. It can take years to get over, and even then it doesn’t always completely go away. It’s hard to retrain parts of your brain that have been hardwired to hate your own sexuality.

It may sound cliche, but the best way to get over that internalized homophobia is self-love. Tell yourself one, two, even five times every day that you are valid, that you are normal, and that you aren’t weird for loving who you love.

Look in the mirror and smile as you say “I’m gay,” “I’m queer,” or “I’m a lesbian.” You will feel silly at first (trust me), but it’s good. Look your SO in the eyes and tell them you care, and that you’re proud to be their partner/boyfriend/girlfriend. They can benefit from that pride and validation too. Like I said, it might be cliche or silly, but loving and respecting yourself (like the snail here) is the first step to fighting that ingrained homophobia.

Once you start loving yourself, it becomes easier to ignore the voices (both internal and external) telling you that you’re not “normal.” Love is normal, so that means you are, no matter who you love.

Share the love with those around you, and help spread the word about this issue. We’d love it if you could give this and other articles a share on social media, so everyone in the LGBTQ+ community can hear our message.

Originally posted 2017-09-16 11:28:02.


Also published on Medium.

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