Presented at Glitterati: An Evening of Fierce Femme Sparkling Entertainment
For the 2010 Femme Collective Conference, Saturday August 21, 2010
FemmeCon 2006: Standing in a never ending line of femmes who desperately needed to pee, I watched a beautiful young woman float through the bathroom door and begin checking herself out in the mirror. The line was very long...millions of femmes in corsets and stockings and NASA inspired under-clothing fueled with the liquid courage required to spend an entire weekend with people who reminded us a little too much of ourselves. The line was infinite and there were only two stalls. Not a new story. Because I was bored I watched as the woman in the mirror carefully checked herself for flaws, re-touching her hair, smoothing her dress. And then, without the slightest provocation she began slapping the shit out of her own face. Hard! Over and over again - harder and harder - her own palm and finger prints rendering the precision with which she had applied her blush minutes earlier entirely useless.
She appraised her reflection mercilessly in between smacks as she began talking to the red face staring back at her: You stupid, ugly bitch. You are so fucking ugly. So fucking ugly -smack/smack/smack - I fucking hate your ugly face, you disgusting bitch.....you fucking make me sick!
The entire bathroom was watching. Silent. No one was giggling tipsy or chatting to their friends - the lucky two people occupying the stalls in that moment stopped peeing. I sucked in my breath and my shoulder briefly touched the shoulder of the curly-haired femme standing next to me. She wasn’t breathing either. It felt like it went on forever and I wondered if it was going to get worse- I wondered if I should get help but then I realized that running into a club full of drunk gender queers shouting: “Help! Help! A woman is hating herself in the bathroom.,” would generate little sympathy.
Eventually she put her make up back into her purse and left the without ever acknowledging the rest of us. We started breathing and peeing again. A few of us laughed nervously.
Earlier that night I had performed to my first large audience since I had moved to San Francisco eight months earlier. Earlier that night I had performed for strangers, and new friends and a small group of women who hated me for fucking the wrong femme’s ex in a profound moment of self- destructive Saturn Return madness several years earlier. That night was transcendent because the punishment I received in my former city for the crime of falling into lust in my mid 20s was near total social isolation. But San Francisco had seen that one or twice before and decided to embrace the better parts of me anyway. I had been welcomed back into the fold. I had come home.
The award winning writer Peggy Munson says: “The isolation chronically ill people endure amounts to nothing less than socially sanctioned torture,” when she tries to explain what it is like to be a young, female artist slowly watching your own body decay - little pieces of you shedding off here and there all the time - all while the world keeps moving and your friends keep touring and no one wants to hear about the nest you’ve made on the floor of your bathroom because you are often too sick and too tired to crawl back to bed.
The word she uses is : torture. We cannot waterboard people who fall in love with our exes. We cannot force our dying friends back to health with electric jolts and threats so we shun them. We cast them out. It’s fucking brutal- and Biblical - and it works.
In my mid 20s, I was a newly minted femme who fell into the wrong boi’s bed (and here I must pause to offer all of my femme sisters a substantial piece of advice which I hope will serve you for the rest of your lives....if the object of your desire invites you into their bed and it is covered in matching Spongebob Squarepants sheets it is ALWAYS the wrong bed to fall into.)
My first femme mentor is an extraordinary woman. She is a tornado of brilliance and charm and beauty - every bit as powerful and capable flinging your ass so far out of Kansas you have to decide really quick if you are meant to be a good witch or a bad witch. She taught me the greatest lie she ever learned - the greatest lie every single one of us ever learns. She showed me who I was and then she taught me about scarcity. “Here,” she said....”here is what you are - look at your face in the mirror, do you see how beautiful you are? Do you see how beautiful and queer you are?” She taught me to love my shoulders. She gave me “Stone Butch Blues” to read. She showed me the first harness I’d ever seen and she held me while I sobbed after my first butch girlfriend broke up with me on Christmas day. She told me there are not enough butches or boys to love us. She taught me that the only way to be seen sometimes was to make sure we are always well-lit - even if that means burning the people standing closest to us.
No one ever tells you the person you look up to, the first person who turns your face to the light and gives you a name for all of the questions that have roamed inside of you for years is really just a person like everyone else.
On May 31st, 2009 my femme friend, the gorgeous May Jawdat sent me an email with a link to a New York Times article saying Dr. George Tiller had been murdered that morning in his Church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr.Tiller was one of the three physicians in this country who possessed the technical skills, compassion and bravery to perform second trimester abortions. Sometimes his clinic in Wichita had thousands of protesters. His clinic was fire bombed in 1986 and he rebuilt it. He was shot in the arms while in his car in 1993 and when he healed he went back to work.
Dr. Tiller wore a button almost every day that said: “Trust Women.” When the clients who came to my abortion clinic were too many weeks pregnant for us to safely help them we sent them to Dr. Tiller. Dr. Tiller died so that my clients could live. He was shot in the eye at close range because he trusted women.
May asked me a very reasonable question that day.... “Why do they hate us so much?” I have thought about it every day since because she deserves an answer. I did not know in August 2006 during my transcendent Femme Con moment that my own body was silently and swiftly decomposing. Most of this time I have been an uninsured and unemployed American. When there is no money there is no medicine, there are no tests, there are no treatments to halt the progress of the disease. I spend 90% of my time alone, in a darkened room waiting for something to change. And if that was the sum total of my story I would not be here talking to you tonight.
May Jawdat my beautiful, femme friend - my incredible chef/comedian/ all around wonder woman had a job in San Francisco preparing high class organic food for high class people while she and the rest of the kitchen workers burned the fuck out of their hands and arms, and cut and sliced themselves to pieces for $10 an hour. May knows the name of every person she ever worked in that kitchen with, what country they came from, what family members they left behind.
May earned $10 an hour working on her beautiful femme feet, with her heart breaking and her body being broken and May would send me $100 for medicine as though it were a roll of quarters. An entire community of people, many of whom I’ve never met, come together in countless ways and continue to work to save my beautiful, imperfect, ridiculous fucking life. And the overwhelming majority of those people are femmes. My point is this....
If you are new to this community. If you are a young femme and this is your first experience of femmes....even if this is not your first experience of femmes please hear me now when I tell you: Scarcity is NOT your inheritance. Scarcity is not yours to pick up and not yours to carry....Yes, my beautiful community there will be times when your heart is breaking. Times when you will lose something so precious you think you should die from that pain but you will not, even if you pray for it the pain will not kill you.
I flew across the country in ugly surgical support hose to prevent blood clots from floating up to my lungs and killing me at 30,000 feet to ask you with all of the humility and love I possess: Please Trust Women.
No one should lose their friends and their community for falling in love - or taking the wrong person home one night...and if you think otherwise....if you disagree with me can you honestly say you have never loved someone who has not loved before you? Has every single kiss you’ve savored been the first kiss of the person whose hand cups the back of your head to pull you in closer? Is it our responsibility to make sure every fling is a brand new fling so as not to engage the wrath of others?
Imagine the Craigslist Ads we’re going to have to start writing! :
Single Femme bottom looking for Butch Top: Please be edgy and smart and have a good sense of humor. And, please be sure you have never had a crush on/kissed/dated/fucked/played with/fell in love with anyone I know or may know in the future - and if you have please show me how much you care for me by getting all of our friends to avoid that person and talk shit about them until they no longer feel comfortable going anywhere I may decide to go on a whim at any point in the future. Must be over 14 years old and not a virgin - in fact you should be extremely sexually knowledgable. I will also be asking you to sign a waiver on our first date stating you will never in the future do any of the above with anyone I know or the friends of my friends or anyone I don’t yet know but may meet in the future. Can’t wait to hear from you! 420 ok- Safe Sex Only.”
I know the insane part of that entire hypothetical is femme bottom seeks butch top- but just roll with me for a minute.
Many years ago the great poet, and my friend, Ryka Aoki de la Cruz spoke about the portrayal of transgender people and queers in the media. She spoke about how afraid they must be of us to constantly turn us into psychopaths or hapless victims - but either way we always die at the end. We always die at the end.
My Dear May Jawdat: I I think they hate us because we cannot un-stitch the seams of desire from our bodies. We do so much more than fuck - but we fuck spectacularly well. And on our very best days we are not ashamed. We are whole beings - despite how they see us - we are whole- we desire, we chase, we capture and we feast on it....for all that has been denied us in this world they can never take away the secret languages we pull from each other’s bodies. They hate us for that, May. And after all of these days....sitting in a darkened room listening to my irregularly pumping heart I think sometimes we hate ourselves for it too. Sometimes, May, we are them. When we utilize our power to take community away from people as a punishment for following their hearts that is us hating ourselves. When we work our asses off to get by and send ridiculously precious gifts to each other so that we might stay alive a little longer that is us loving ourselves.
My dear newest femme in this room tonight - my dear femmes who have come from smaller communities where there are not many of you reflected when you walk down the street I want you to look at me now: I will be the least hot bitch in the collective - I will be a whole pot of polluted honey in the hive mind if you promise me to remember that there is more than enough love for you here. Scarcity is not your inheritance. Your inheritance is a collection of human beings owning the power of femininity and using it to make all of our lives better.
As I was leaving the club the night of Femme Con 2006 I saw the woman from the bathroom standing in the door flirting with a handsome butch - she kept her eyes on the ground -only fluttering up occasionally through her lashes to encourage the butch on. If you are here tonight dear lady - or wherever you may be - I am so sorry I did not throw my body onto the grenades of your fists before they had a chance to explode all over your face. I am so sorry I lacked the courage to hold you still enough until you could look into that mirror and see how absolutely stunning you are. Next time I will be more brave.
Ryka dreams of stories where we live and thrive at the end.....and I like that dream. If I could I would give each of you a blank notebook with the words: “Once upon a time....” on the very first page. I’d ask you to fill in those books over the next two years with whatever brings you joy or sorrow or intrigue....fill it with your recipes or the first words your children speak, or what you see when you look in the mirror with the intention to cause no harm....I’d ask you to count all of the ways love shows up for you, even when you are not looking. .I’d ask you to trust women a little more each day between now and then and see how your life changes because of it.
I’d ask you all to bring those books back here for the next Femme Con thinking about May and Ryka and that girl in the mirror - And I’d want all of us to write the last sentence together - a line worthy of us....a line that makes us infinitely bigger than the hate they try to feed us-the hate we sometimes swallow. I would want us to end that chapter of our lives with a line we memorize and hold tight to us so that it becomes the very first words that come to mind when we wake up -the very first words our daughters learn to say out loud:
Having loved as hard as I could possibly love these past two years I cannot help but pass a mirror and smile at the femme staring back at me, and because of that I will not lower my eyes to anyone for any reason ever again.