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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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Salem, MA: Connecting Queer History with our Queer Present

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Salem, Massachusetts is a city steeped in a rich, tragic history. Rather than shy away from the crimes and hysteria that made the city infamous, Salem has embraced the tragedy that plagued it that one summer in 1692, and has since committed itself to helping visitors learn from their ancestors’ mistakes.

The History of Salem

Salem was founded by Puritans from England in 1626. Originally split into Salem Town and Salem Village, the city had a clear distinction between the upper and lower classes, which was a huge factor in the mass hysteria that swept over the city in 1692.

The witch hunts that overtook Salem began when higher class girls accused lower class women of being witches and consorting with the devil. The accused women were helpless in numerous ways; their families had no money to pay for them to get out of jail, and there was a general and deep-seated distrust of the lower class, mixed with pervasive sexism. Low class women were already a disliked minority. When the accusations began, they became a hated minority.

The trials ended when the governor’s wife was accused of being a witch. Thus, the attitude towards the witch hunts changed completely. It was all right when a low class woman was accused because she could not defend or save herself, and it made sense that someone so low would betray their town and their religion by making deals with the devil. A higher class woman had the power to alter the conversation around the witch trials and ultimately bring them to an end.

Outcasts Unite

It’s no secret that Salem has a very queer history. That one odd summer put the city on the map as a home for the marginalized and the outcast, and therefore serves as a safe haven for minorities–especially the LGBT+ community–even today. Rainbow flags hang from every other store and restaurant window, and citizens walk comfortably in all manner of dress and costume.

The atmosphere in Salem makes it an extremely comforting place to live and visit. There is a complete lack of judgement that directly counters the city’s historical hysteria. What was once a place of fear has become a place of joy and acceptance.

We Are Not our Ancestors’ Mistakes

Since the trials, Salem has learned from their ancestors’ mistakes and have dedicated their city to educating tourists and natives alike about the dangers of mass hysteria and the susceptibility of minority groups. The constant message at the end of every historic tour or museum warns everyone to not let history repeat itself. Unchecked fear and distrust of minorities can only lead to the destruction of a town or city’s integrity.

Salem’s rich history and accepting atmosphere make it an amazing city to visit and learn more about the history of the oppressed. Share with someone you think will want to know more about the connection between Salem’s queer past and our queer present!

Originally posted 2017-10-31 19:24:41.

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A “Brief” History of LGBT Book Censorship

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A few weeks ago was banned book week, a time where we celebrate and fondly read, a little out of rebel instinct, such classic banned books as Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. However, it is a good time to look at what books still get banned today. Yes, even in the Good Ol’ U.S.A we still ban books.

The trend in banned books in the 21st century is a little disturbing. According to the American Library Association (ALA) Top Ten List in 2016, half of the books on the top ten list, the top five to be exact, were challenged because of LGBT characters and mentioning trans characters. Books like This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and “I am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jenning.

This is not the first time that LGBT books and writers have been banned or challenged by the public, since the Renaissance. So, for LGBT history week, let’s take a look at some of the popular and extreme classes of LGBT censorship.

The Poetry of Sappho 570 BC (but censorship probably happened during the 14th century)

Oh, if you have not heard of Sappho my friends, you are in for a treat. Sappho was a Greek poet who lived on the island of Lesbos, which, fun fact, is where we get the term Lesbian, because her poetry was all about loving women, in every sense of the word. In her day, her work was extremely popular, being required reading for Greek Citizens and praised by Plato himself as the tenth Muse. It’s said that she wrote nine volumes of poetry. Unfortunately, most of that is lost, with only fragments and one full poem remaining.

So what happened?

Censorship, that’s what. Historians suspect that Sappho’s work had been censored or destroyed by leaders of the early Roman Catholic and Byzantine churches in order to destroy Sappho’s message of erotic female love, paganism, and just female empowerment. It also could be assumed that, until the invention of the Gutenberg Press, most Ancient Writings was copied out by hand by monks, who were bothered and intimidated by Sappho and her lady love and refused to copy it, or censored out all the gay parts.

However, in 1960, Sappho was saved from obscurity when Mary Barnard, a poet, and English-to-Greek translator, reintroduced Sappho to the reading public by translating her work using fresh language that better reflected the clarity of Sappho’s lines, thus creating new interest in Sappho’s poetry, which you can find here.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855)

Leaves of Grass is a collection of poetry which, just like Sappho, was censored for its homosexual themes and sexual imagery. So much so that Walt Whitman could not get a publisher for his work and had to self-publish his poems. During his lifetime, his poetry was heavily critiqued. When the poetry collection was first published, Whitman was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior when his boss read it and found it offensive. Literary critics thought the homosexual themes and images in the collection were “disgusting.” However, Whitman always believed that he would be accepted by the American people, and today Leaves of Grass is considered one of the most important collections of American poetry.

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde (1895)

It feels like Oscar Wilde was legit the embodiment of the term “Too Gay to Function.” When Wilde first took his book The Picture of Dorian Grey to publishers, they thought the book was good, but a little too gay for sensitive Victorian readers. So Wilde cut out about 500 words from his already short novel. It was published which led to a huge public outcry because it was “still too gay.” It was taken out of print and Wilde rewrote a lot of his novel, changing it from 13 chapters to 20 and doing much more character development. It was published again and the Victorian people rioted, “It’s still too damn gay!”

Oscar Wilde was gay and as open about it as a person living in Victorian times could be about it. Because of this openness, Wilde was put on trial not once, but three times, for being gay. During his three trials, the opposing side read aloud from “Dorian Grey” calling it a “sodomitical book.” Wilde tried to defend himself by saying the book is about art for art’s sake, not to have some kind of meaning, and that an artist’s rights should be defended. Basically kind of saying, “if you think it’s gay then you’re gay.”

This didn’t work. Wilde was sentenced to two years in prison and died in exile at the age of 46.

An article from the New Yorker may have put it best: Wilde went to prison not because he loved young men but because he flaunted that love, and “Dorian Gray” became the chief exhibit of his shamelessness.”

Screen Adaptions to Tennessee Williams’ Work (1950’s-1960’s)

I think my favorite saying of all time is “That’s not what happened in the book!” We are all familiar with certain changes that happen when we adapt a book into a movie. White-washing is a very popular (though it shouldn’t be) trend that happens. There is also a thing such as straight-washing, where a gay character is made straight or their sexuality isn’t stated, and that’s what happened with Tennessee Williams’ famous plays A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when Hollywood got a hold of it.

Tennessee Williams was a gay playwright, active in the 1940’s-1970’s, where it was still not okay to be out. Williams channeled his own sexuality into his work, mentioning, or at least implying, gay characters in his work. For example, the main character, Brick, in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof who was in love with his now-dead best friend, Skipper, and the play itself having heavy homosexual themes. There is a rather long monologue in A Streetcar Named Desire where Blanche talks about her dead husband who killed himself after people found out he was gay.

These plays were extremely popular, so Hollywood quickly snatched them up to make them big pictures. However, due to the Hollywood mortally code at the time, they couldn’t mention homosexuality in any of their movies. So Blanche’s husband was cut, and Brick was made totally straight.  

Tennessee Williams was reportedly so upset with the changes made in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that he told people “This movie will set the industry back 50 years. Go home!”

Tango Makes Three and Other Children’s Books (2000’s)

While books are no longer being banned on a government scale, they’re being challenged at the community level, in small libraries all over the country. Most of the books that are being challenged in America today are about gay families. The most famous example is the children’s book Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell, a story about two loving penguin parents that happen to both be male.

It’s number four on ALA’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged books:2000-2009. Also challenged are the books “Heather has two mommies” and other stories that normalize LGBT families. To attack these books and try to get them out of libraries is an attack on the LGBT family.

Even though it’s 2017, we still have a lot of work to do to stop censorship. Because you can’t censor LGBT. Speak out against censorship, and read some banned books! 

Originally posted 2017-10-28 17:02:27.

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LGBT at NYCC

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Comic book stores and the fantastical stories that they sell have long been a place for the oppressed and marginalized to go when they were feeling down. Comics gave folks a safe space to retreat to when no one else would listen or understand, spinning stories of the misunderstood and how they rose above their circumstances.

Of course, at first comics focused primarily on straight cis white men and women, and their personal trials outside of fighting supervillains were only really relatable to some. Now, comic artists have branched outside of the binary, and comic books with characters (and authors and artists!) of any race, gender or sexuality can be found in many large chain comic book stores and conventions.

I explored New York Comic Con on its opening day, October 5th, and managed to find a plethora of LGBT+ comics and comic artists. Some of which I knew of already and others that were brand new to me, but all were swamped with patrons.

Boom! Studios is a comic publisher that has been my number one supplier of LGBT+ comics for a while. They offer a huge range of comics in terms of subject matter, age range, and representation.

Lumberjanes is the first Boom! Studios comic I found and loved. It’s about a group of girls at a camp for “hardcore lady types,” and the mysterious and supernatural creatures that they find deep in the woods. Two of the girls are dating each other (though their sexualities are never specified), one of the girls is trans and has two dads, and they make a friend at the all boys camp nearby who uses gender neutral pronouns. None of these facts are hidden in any way; they are all addressed directly in ways that readers of any age can comprehend. While the girls have very distinct personalities, they also effectively show just how nurturing, kind, strong and brave lady types of any age or body type can be. The all-female team of authors and artists (one of whom is dating a fellow female comic artist) created a world that will inspire any lady type (or dude type, or neither type) to accept themselves, learn their strengths, and experience friendship to the max.

The Backstagers appealed to me as a comic fan and longtime “theatre kid.” Taking place in a high school theater at an all boys school, it follows a ragtag group of technical theatre students (known to some as “techies” or, in this case, “backstagers”) and the strange and wondrous things they find hidden in the theater’s impossibly large backstage area. The artists, both queer, have said that there is only one straight character in the whole series. In the main group, one of the boys is gay, another bi, and another trans, and, like Lumberjanes, these issues are addressed directly and with all the awkwardness one would expect from high school theater kids. The trans boy is even shown wearing a binder, and frequently mentions how he used to go to the all girls school and help out in their theater department before transferring to his current school. While perhaps a bit of a niche comic, as it is all about high school theater and the drama that happens onstage and off, it’s still an accessible piece of literature and especially important for high school readers as they figure out who they are and their connections to others.

Representation in comics isn’t limited to those in print. Webcomics were among the first to have queer characters, mostly because of the inherent freedom in self-publishing on a more open space like the internet.

Check, Please! Is one of the more popular queer webcomics today. I tried to say hello to the comic artist at NYCC, but the line for her table stretched around her table and down an aisle in Artist Alley. This independent comic about a gay Southern hockey player going to a fictional college near Boston exploded into popularity because it’s free to read, easy to access, and overall just a really great story, dealing with homophobia, toxic masculinity in sports, and unrequited crushes. It’s very cute and often heartwarming, with an eclectic cast of characters, but also deals with very real subjects. It shows the good and the bad of growing up gay and exploring new relationships, which is frustrating and sad, but often comforting to those reading who could be struggling with the exact same thing.

What these three comics have in common is that they have accurate, well-written and entertaining representation, not for the sake of representation, but simply to share amazing stories that happen to have queer characters. In some of these stories, being queer is a huge part of the story or a character’s identity, but in others, it’s simply a fact that is easily acknowledged and accepted. Queer readers need to see that it’s okay to have these feelings or identify a certain way, and know that they can either live a normal life playing hockey at their dream college, or fight magical beasts in the woods at their camp for hardcore lady types, or both.

Be sure to share this article with the comic fan in your life, and leave a comment with your favorite queer comic below!

Originally posted 2017-10-27 19:25:56.

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