coming to femme: unspelling the gender binary in women's only spaces




girlhood
“hat your rack. how to moonlight coo. gngate your sluice. 
the french manicure. who taught you to bruise?”
 
i was raised in velvet dresses. lace collars and french braids.
as a toddler i was gifted a doll who blinked when tilted backwards.
a doll that “weighed the same as a real baby.”
it was my mom’s doll before it was mine.
 
my favourite toys growing up were an easybakeoven and a microscope.
i have always been told that i talked too much. that I’m “bossy.”
i have never sat patiently in the place your words meant to put me in.
 
because i won the leadership award in seventh grade i was “sleeping with the teacher.”
because her boyfriend (or crush, or ex, or secret lover or rapist ... who knows, it was different each time) thought i had “a nice ass,” i was “staring her down” and needed to “keep my mouth shut” and “not come back to school, bitch” as i left the locker room at the public pool, followed by the girls who had cornered me while i was changing, he yelled above the crowd of onlookers, “i’ll back you up if you fuck me.”
when my ex-boyfriend found out i had cheated on him with his best friend he sent me a facebook message calling me a slut. i didn’t tell him i said no.
8 times.
i should be given a shiny gold trophy for my expertise at pushing men off me on dance floors.
the stick and poke on my leg that says “feel” is not an instruction.
it’s affirmation.


women’s center
“i have looked like that
hard femme
switchblade ass swish
ima cut you at the bus stop for saying good morning
because i know everything that could and has come
from that moment”
leah lakshmi piepzna-samarasinha in body maps
 
in the women’s center we sit in circle.
we wait politely for our turn to speak. We listen and lean in.
we have been socialized to wait our turns and show we are listening.
we are held by the safety of knowing we can ask for a tampon to be passed beneath the bathroom stall.
my partner craves this safety. they tell me they miss it - every time they choose a bathroom.
i have heard it called communion.
i have heard it called “sisterhood”.
but for me, this feeling is more like being smothered, slow and soft and tender.
 
the women, in the circle
they listen. they hear me.
they value. request. celebrate my voice.
but they don’t see the deep tiredness that drains its way through me.
 
sisterhood, is a wall.
it keeps us in, and others out.
and i am both hailed and held at arm’s length.
if i confessed the secrets only i can see by looking at me you’d walk me
to the other side of the wall on the coat tails of your second wave.
 
this pulling and tugging makes disparate my tightly woven heart.
my body is too finite a being to hold all these pieces together.
what i learn from all this tugging,
what falls out from the in-between spaces,
is that i am not a woman, after all.
 
i am a femme.
 

femme
“femme is defiance. femme ignores the male gaze & tells patriarchy to fuck off. femme is a refusal of the pressure to be thinner, whiter, pimple-free, wrinkle-free, smaller, quieter. femme says that we’ll take the short skirts but you can keep the catcalls to yourself.”
 
i'm a femme because i embrace femininity as an unabashedly brave flaunting of my desire to be liberated from the trappings of misogyny, rape culture and patriarchy. and yes, i will fight for what i love. and i won’t chip a nail doing it.
 
i'm a femme because i'm a witch and both those parts of me are old as fuck. so old they have survived burning, unwanted touching and drowning and never ending catcalls.
 
i’m a femme because i share community with sex workers. and they are some of the baddest, wisest, toughest, big-hearted bitches i know - with some of the most profound healing powers i’ve ever come across.
 
i'm a femme because black lace is my favourite fabric. and i wear it when i’m using power tools.
 
i’m a femme because i make practical look fabulous and you better believe that my chainsaw safety pants make my ass look incredible. and no. that does not give you permission to touch it, much as you might want to.
 
i'm a femme because make up is the closest thing i've ever worn to war paint. i know no greater allegiance than glitter.
 
i'm a femme because femmes are magical and wild and tender and fierce. because vulnerability is the greatest weapon we can yield. and we do, we wield it so well.
 
i'm a femme because i fell in love with another femme. and even though our genders are very different i feel a sense of home with them that grounds and guides me to know and love myself better. and together, we’re unspelling ancient hexes and holding hands as we fuck ourselves free.
 
i’m a femme because i am not defined by my biology. because cunt is a battle cry scrawled in glitter.
 
my femme doesn’t live in the land of “woman” with the postal code of “she.”
 
nope. you can find me over on “they” street. with the genderqueers and genderfucks and the gloriously bizarre and tender weirdos who beguile the binary and say - “oh love. it’s not the falling short that makes failure, it’s the flailing insecurity with which you cling to your dreams as they’re dying.”
 
my femme isn't going to be the same as your femme or anyone else's necessarily, but it might have shades, or shadows or flickers of glitter that remind you of your femme.
 
and that is how, even in the darkest of new moon nights, we can always find each other if we listen to the tug of our heart strings.
 

beyond only
“and grief itself beneath you. good magic,
you tell me, and don’t ask questions
until i want them.”
leah horlick in for your own good
 
i am hailed to women’s only spaces. despite the oil slick feeling of non-belonging.
and every time i’m in them, i think of all the pieces of my heart that don’t belong there.
 
the bearded femmes with male passing privilege who secretly call themselves lesbian separatists.
the femmes with bodies like borders and boundless bravery.
the genderfucks in a suit and tie in july.
the sex working, cash-hustling, love touch mavens.
the tit-grabbing, open-mouthed porn princesses, fleeing the service-industry-industrial-complex.
the boys who cried. the bois with soft hearts and tender hands.
the fag boys. the listeners. the bois drowning in crushes and undelivered love letters.
the suit and tie to grandpa’s funeral even though they still call you jane.
or nancy.
or samantha.
 
women’s spaces are cauldrons. old and warm and iron and rusted.
here we see our elders. here we see the crones.
here we bask in the drive and lessons and sacrifices of those before us.
here we walk among the headstones.
 
what magic do we will here?
who are we hailing? and who are we casting to the violence of alone-ness?
dropping people through cracks like pennies from rooftops.
 
what if we stopped hailing “women only”?
what if we hailed hurt?
what if we hailed damage?
what if we hailed broken?
what if we hailed wailing open hearts and moon howls?
what if we hailed all the spirits pressed dry beneath the boots of patriarchy?
what if we hailed the hearts quivering at knife point?
what if we hailed the bleeding hearts longing for ritual?
what if we hailed communion?

maybe then my femme heart would feel whole,
would feel heard
would feel held
in the "safety" of these spaces.

--

if you appreciate this poem you may appreciate my poetry chapbook 13 months feral. you can order a pay-what-you-can digital copy of my chapbook here.

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