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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.”

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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Trans History Part 1: From the Stone Age to Stonewall

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When the topic of trans history comes up, most folks start with Marsha P. Johnson and her role in the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is, trans folks have been around since at least the Iron Age. When discussing history, the majority of topics and stories told in the United States are Eurocentric. Given that limitation, trans history appears not only to be less diverse, but also shorter – like we’re a trend that started in the 1970s and hasn’t gone out of style. In honor of LGBTQ History month, here is a condensed timeline of moments in trans history worldwide, before Stonewall.


900 BC

In 1995, archaeologist Timothy Taylor discovered evidence of men who cross-dressed during the Iron Age, in graves in southern Russia.  


700 BC

King Ashurbanipal of Assyria spent a great deal of time in women’s clothing. This was later used as justification to overthrow him, proving that transphobia is nothing new.


1503 BC

Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascended to the throne for 21 years until she resigned in 1482 BC. Possibly learning from the disfavor shown to her predecessor, Queen Sobekneferu, she donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship. She had one daughter, Neferure, whom she groomed as successor to also present as male, but Neferure did not live into adulthood. After Queen Hatshepsut’s death, her second husband attempted to erase all record of her.


1576 AD

The explorer Pedro de Magalhaes recorded that some women in the Tupinamba tribe in Brazil lived as men, hunted and went to war. Referencing the Greek legend of the Amazons, he named the Amazon River after these individuals.


1577

King Henry III of France frequently crossdressed. When he was dressed in women’s clothes, he was referred to as “her majesty” by his courtiers. Even his everyday kingly clothes were considered outrageous despite the flamboyant standards of 16th-century France.


1624

Assigned female at birth, Nzinga ruled as King of Angola for 29 years. They cross-dressed and led several successful military battles against the Portuguese.


1654

The wonderful, bisexual Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated the throne. They dressed in men’s clothing and renamed themselves Count Dohna.


1676

Abbe Francois Timoleon de Choisy attended the Papal inaugural ball in women’s clothes. Their memoirs, published postmortem, offer the first written testimony of MTF gender expression.


1700s

“Molly houses” started popping up around England. They provided a space for the gay community to meet, carouse and relate to one another. “Mollies” were men who often crossdressed and developed their own queer culture.


1728

Chevalier D’Eon, assigned male at birth, was a famous French spy/ambassador. They lived a significant part of their life as a woman. Chevalier’s birth sex was a hotly debated question, even though their birth name was Charles d’Eon.


1907

Chui Chin, a cross-dressing Chinese revolutionary and feminist was beheaded for organizing an uprising against the Manchu dynasty.


As you can see, trans folks have ALWAYS been here. While it may seem like there has been an increase of members of the trans community within the past 5 years, the only thing that has changed is more diversity and inclusivity in vocabulary. When I first heard someone say that their pronouns are they/them, and explain to me what genderqueer means to them, I felt comfort and excitement and validation all rolled into one. There’s a word for what I feel! Other people also identify this way! I’m not making anything up, this is a valid identity!

When folks say that they’ve never met a trans person, they don’t know it, but that’s more than likely not true. According to a study run by the Williams Institute published June 2016, 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. This number does not include the trans folks that did not participate in the the surveys used to procure this study, nor the folks that were comfortable enough to identify as trans. Given this information, 1.4 million is a bit on the low side. Chances are, you HAVE met a trans person, they just didn’t out themselves.

Be sure to check in next week for Trans History Part 2: Stonewall and Beyond!


Most resources were found at http://out.ucr.edu/docs/trans_timeline.pdf and http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php.

Originally posted 2017-10-08 12:41:59.


Also published on Medium.

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Fashion

Amazon is selling a pro-anorexia hoodie during Mental Illness Awareness Week

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week, folks, a time for sharing stories, knowledge, and coming together to talk about the importance of respecting mental illness.

Apparently, Amazon UK did not get the memo because they are selling hoodies making a mockery of anorexia, which is a serious mental health issue. The hoodie, in hot pink font, says “Anorexia: like Bulimia except with self-control.”

 

This is, of course, is disgusting and troubling, not only because it trivializes anorexia and bulimia, both of which are serious and life-ending illnesses, but because this isn’t the first time that people have disregarded eating disorders. Most of our culture treats eating disorders like a hollow punch line. In recent years, celebrities like Meghan Trainor said that she “wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder,” the late Carrie Fisher called herself a “failed anorexic,” and who could forget the infamous Kate Moss quote “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”?

People are understandably upset about this hoodie, calling for Amazon to ban the sale of the hoodie which is sold by a 3rd party for $25.88. People, many of whom have suffered for years or have lost loved ones to the illness, have spoken out about their disgust for this shirt.

However, other people have commented saying that this shirt is “no big deal” and people need to stop being so “politically correct” and some even find it “funny.”

So why is this shirt a big deal?

Because anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness and causes 12 times more deaths than any other illness among girls ages 15-24, to whom this hoodie is targeted. According to the National Eating Disorder Association 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lives and 1 in 5 people with an eating disorder will die prematurely as a result.  

This isn’t a question of political correctness, or not being able to take a “joke.” These are human lives, humans who are dying over an illness that is constantly not treated or undertreated because of the horrible stigma. Because of horrible stereotypes that end lives. I personally never felt stronger, or felt that I had self-control because of my eating disorder. I don’t feel pride in my anorexia, but I will not be ashamed of my struggles and I will always speak out against toxic things such as this. Shirts like these, thoughts like these, are part of the problem. Speaking out is part of the solution.

So maybe I’m being too sensitive, but I think things are too loud to stay silent.

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:16:23.

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Supreme Court Sides With Baker, Ignores Civil Rights

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I have no problem with people practicing their religion. In fact, freedom of religion is literally the first thing in the US Constitution. What I do have a problem with is people using their religion to discriminate against people. Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, sided with a baker in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple because his religion does not allow him to acknowledge same-sex marriage.

 

How it started

Same-sex couple Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Masterpiece Cakeshop to design and bake a cake for their upcoming wedding in 2012. However, the owner of the bakery, Jack Phillips refused to bake the cake because baking it would be a violation of his religious beliefs, saying that they can deny service to anyone who intends to purchase baked goods from Masterpiece Cakeshop with the intent that they will be used to celebrate a same-sex wedding.

 

Why this was wrong

The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act that “prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, religion, disability, race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry.” By refusing to bake the cake for Craig and Mullins, Jack Phillips discriminated against them because of their sexual orientation. Clear-cut, obvious violation of this act, no? The Colorado Civil Rights Commission agrees, as, on May 30, 2014, they found that Masterpiece Cakeshop had committed discrimination against a person based on their sexual orientation which is, as mentioned before, a violation of Colorado law. Victory! Or maybe not…

 

A difference of values

Ever-persistent, Jack Phillips was unhappy with the Commission’s verdict and appealed to Colorado’s Supreme Court in 2015. When his case was denied, he went to the SCOTUS to settle the matter once and for all. I and many others were hoping that the DoJ would side with Craig and Mullins, seeing as how Jack Phillips broke the anti-discrimination law in place in Colorado. However, on September 7, 2017, the Supreme Court stated that Phillips baking a cake for a same-sex wedding infringes on his first amendment right as it goes against his deeply-held religious beliefs. Phillips claimed that Colorado was violating his right to free speech and his right to practice his religion. These claims do not hold water as the SCOTUS found that one’s religious beliefs do not excuse them from “compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that government is free to regulate.” So basically, Phillips’ claim that his first amendment right was being infringed upon is not true and that him using that as an excuse to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple would not normally be considered valid. So why did the SCOTUS reach the verdict that they did?

 

A much deeper issue

It is no secret that over the years, the LGBTQ community has had to fight an uphill battle in this country. LGBTQ people have existed since humans first started to populate the Earth, but only recently have they received the same rights as heterosexuals with the Obergefell v. Hodges case in 2016 that decriminalized same-sex marriage across the United States. However, that was just the first step in fighting the arduous battle for equal rights. In many states, a person can be fired for being gay or transgender and over one hundred anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 2017. There is a very obvious anti-LGBTQ pattern here, showing that we still have a long way to go to have equal rights. Back to the bakery case, the DoJ claimed the cake baking is a highly expressive act and, as such, is protected under the first amendment. The problem with this logic is that Phillips outwardly refused to bake the cake because of his personal objection to a customer’s identity, which by all accounts is discrimination. It would make sense if Phillips refused to bake a cake that included hateful symbols and/or words because of the moral implications. However, this was not the case. Phillips literally refused service to people because of their unchanging identity. This is analogous to a restaurant owner refusing to serve food to a person of color because the owner has some sort of objection towards any non-white individual. What’s more is that the Supreme Court never held the belief that any for-profit business has the right to discriminate by claiming free speech.

Barry Goldwater, who voted against the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, believed that the government should not make businesses associate themselves with certain people. However, this argument was never adopted, but, unfortunately, there is one exception to civil rights law that allows discrimination against same-sex couples because most opposition to same-sex relationships are rooted in deeply held religious or philosophical beliefs. This is how Phillips got away with clearly discriminating against people: homophobia is perfectly acceptable because of someone’s religious beliefs. However, the Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation is “immutable” like race. So, if it is illegal to refuse service to someone based on the color of their skin, why is it acceptable to refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation? Logically, under the current laws in the US, the government cannot give civil rights protection to one group and deny another group the same rights. Clearly, this is not an issue of religious freedom, but one of deep-seated and long-lasting bigotry and homophobia.

Originally posted 2017-10-05 07:19:44.


Also published on Medium.

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