The Resiliency of Flowers in Spring

On Sunday it snowed in Boston and my heart broke a little bit.

Daylight’s savings has passed, the sun has set after 6pm, and in the cemetery where I work flowers have been sprouting up in irregular patches, surprising me with glimpses of white and purple on my lunchtime walks. I spent an afternoon on the Boston Common in a dress and no tights, and came home with a light sunburn, marking the shape of my sunglasses on my face.

And despite all that, on Sunday it had the audacity to snow in Boston.

When I woke up on Monday morning to the sight of 4 inches of snow carpeting the ground, I immediately thought of the snowdrops and purple crocuses that had been so eagerly growing as the temperatures had begun to rise. “Goodbye little friends,” I thought. “Maybe you’ll come back again in a few weeks.”

And yet today as I walked from my car to the office I saw something remarkable.

My little flower friends had survived! And even more impressive: there were more of them! Not even a mid-March snow storm could keep them down.

The resiliency of flowers in springtime astounds me every year. Emerging from the long, dark season of winter, where staying in bed feels like a better option than everything else, where we put on layers and don’t let skin touch open air, hearing more dark weather is coming is pretty soul crushing.

Similarly, being a queer femme committed to social justice and liberation, waking up to hear the North Carolina passed a bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT people, or that Kourtney Yochum has become the 7th transgender person to be killed this year, after a winter of hearing vitriolic racism and sexism coming from presidential candidates and watching 1/4 of the queer women characters on TV die, it can feel a little hard to not break down and cry for the state of the world. It can feel like the injustices are piled so high, that there is no way to break through. Like maybe we will never see the sun again.

But the flowers do it. They survive the thing that should kill them over and over again, and they come back, as beautiful and necessary as ever. They rebuild a world that seems to have died and announce that spring is here at last.

So much of my femme identity has been inspired by flowers. They are fragile but resilient. They are vibrant and beautiful, but also necessary to our ecosystem. Flowers have seasons where it’s their time to grow and when it’s their time to go back to the earth, and protect themselves. Also they grow in groups, which is never a bad idea for femmes.

It takes a lot of strength to be able to be vulnerable with others in a way that allows you to take in the sun, but might also allow you to get hurt. It can be challenging to take up space with vibrancy and color in a world that wants you to look or be a certain way. It is hard work to put beauty and love into the world when you know someone will call it frivolous and there is a chance that it might put you in danger. It is scary to dream of a better world when you feel like you are surrounded by hate.

Luckily we have springtime to remind us of what it means to be resilient. To show us what a beautiful world is coming if we believe in it, and keep believing, no matter how long the winter.

Advertisements

An Open Letter to my Straight Friends

Dear Straight Friends,

Recently, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend.  Yes, like the Robyn song.  And no, not “girlfriend” like significant other.  “Girlfriend” like BFF.

For starters, let me just reiterate: please please please stop using the word girlfriend to refer to your BFF.  I’ve fought this battle one too many times, and I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of explaining to you that every time you call your straight best friend your girlfriend, you are erasing me.  You are making it so that every time I call my (hypothetical) lover/romantic partner/significant other my girlfriend, I am never entirely sure people will know what I mean.

I had the uncomfortable experience of explaining this concept to a room full of straight women in one of my classes recently.  Somebody had chosen to translate ses amies as “her girlfriends” (ses amies is the feminine version of “friends” in French; “girlfriend” is a totally different word: petite copine).  I simply could not understand why it was so hard to translate ses amies as “her group of female friends,” or even just “her friends.”  

“It’s confusing,” I said to them.  

“Why?”

“Because when I am talking about my girlfriend, I don’t mean my friend.”

“But obviously she’s not talking about anything romantic.”

So basically, we’re going off of the age-old adage: straight until proven queer.

It seems to me that the use of the word “girlfriend” can be especially difficult for queer folks who identify as femme.  The use of this word to mean “straight best friend” is often justified by the (straight) speaker in the name of context.  Basically: “I’m straight, and I use ‘girlfriend’ to mean friend, and nobody would ever question me when I use ‘girlfriend’ to mean friend, so I should be able to keep using ‘girlfriend’ to mean friend.”

For femmes, it may not be so obvious to the casual listener that “girlfriend” means significant other.  “But, she doesn’t look gay,” the listener might think to herself, “she’s probably just talking about her best friend.”

The easiest way to avoid all of this confusion, and stop erasing queer ladies’ romantic relationships?  How about just using the word friend?  It’s as good a word as any other.  And don’t worry, nobody will think you are any less straight.

Back to my story:

So, I’m listening to this podcast.  Amina and Ann, the “long-distance besties” who created the podcast, are talking to Rebecca Traister, writer of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.  Rebecca is telling the story of Amina and Ann’s friendship, explaining that the intensity of their commitment to one another is really more like a romantic relationship than anything else.  She goes on to explain that a handful of unmarried women are beginning to host celebrations to honor their singledom, a chance to receive all the gifts they missed at the weddings they never had (I’m rolling my eyes now).  

“Basically, it was our platonic lesbian wedding,” one of the women in Rebecca’s book explains.

First thing’s first: there is no such thing as a platonic lesbian wedding.  By saying there is such a thing as a platonic lesbian wedding, you are reinforcing the ages-old, pernicious stereotype that lesbians are really just glorified best friends, who like to have sleepovers with each other and talk about their secrets and sometimes snuggle in their pjs.  

Hey look, I get it: being married to a woman sounds great.  But guess what?  There are people out there who do that.  They’re called lesbians.  And when they sleepover at each other’s houses, they do a lot more than snuggle.  

So please, for the love of God, stop saying that you and your best friend made a pact that you will marry each other if you are both single by your fortieth birthdays.  I spent my whole childhood being taught that a lesbian was a failed heterosexual, and I don’t need you to reinforce that.

And please stop telling me, after I tell you that I’m queer, that you “wish you were gay, because it would be a lot easier just to be with a woman.”  There is nothing “easy” about being queer.  There is nothing easy about the fact that 95% of the women you meet on a daily basis, no matter how smart or beautiful or sympathetic they might be, will never think of you as anything more than a friend.  I wouldn’t trade my queerness for anything, not even that 95%, but that doesn’t give you the right to tell me that my life as a queer woman is oh-so easy.

And just because it’s not easy being queer doesn’t give you the right to say: “I could never be a lesbian.  Women are so high maintenance.”  I hardly even feel like I should have to explain how completely you have internalized the lies of the patriarchy if you are able to form this sentence.  I suggest a rigorous course of psychoanalysis, and a visit to your local feminist bookstore.

Because here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man or straight or queer or trans or bisexual or non-binary: relationships are hard work.  Relationships are high maintenance.  Loving is a terrifying, complicated, courageous act.

And it is even more terrifying, and complicated, and courageous when history refuses to recognize that your love is real.  Or worse, when society tells you that your love is unnatural, abnormal, or just plain wrong.

For centuries, maintaining a facade of “friendship” was a necessary means of survival for queer women, a way to love their partners in the shadows of society’s expectations of female friendship.  But we shouldn’t have to survive this way any more.  We shouldn’t have to live in the shadows of feminized “affection”.  If we are lucky enough to live in environments where we feel safe to express our identities, we shouldn’t have to worry that our straight friends will set us back a hundred years.

So to all of my straight friends, I just want to say: try a little harder.  And if you have any questions about this confusing business of not erasing your queer friends’ identities, you can always just ask them.  After all, that’s what friends are for.

Love,

Hannah

I Went to Texas and All I Got Were These Great Outfits

I am a true clothes-loving femme. I love dresses and button-downs and comfy jeans and t shirts. I can go from high femme to tomboy femme and be perfectly happy. I like to plan my future in terms of the outfits I get to wear. Maybe it’s being indoctrinated into a consumer driven capitalist agenda, but it makes me feel happy to dress in clothes that make me feel good.

As a plus size girl in a skinny fashion world, however, shopping often sucks.

It sucks to try on clothes designed with smaller bodies in mind, just made a few sizes bigger. It sucks to not be able to button shirts over my ample chest when the rest of a shirt fits fine! It sucks to try on dresses that cling or hang baggily on my body, as if I don’t get to look good because I don’t fit into ideals of beauty. There are a lot of style trends that are created around smaller bodies that make other women look cool and effortless, but when I try them out I feel like people see me as sloppy and lazy.

Last week I made my first foray into the American South. I visited Dallas and I saw many things for the first time, like long horn cows and bedazzled rhinestone hats that said “USA.” I also found several different stores that sold clothes that actually fit my body! I don’t know if it’s true that everything is bigger in Texas, or if it has to do with Southerner’s penchant for putting sugar in everything, but it seems like people in Dallas, Texas know what a full-figured woman wants to wear!

The hat of my dreams.

I went to local businesses and chains I had only previously seen on the internet and I was surrounded by things that were made with me in mind! When I walked into Torrid (a store that exists in New England but that I had never actually seen before) for the first time you couldn’t pry the goofy grin from my face. It doesn’t matter that they lean heavily into the hearts and skulls motif, being in a store where the employees and customers all looked like me made me feel finally seen in a world I sometimes feel rejected from. Trying on clothes that were too big for me at times was a privilege because it meant other women were sharing in my joy.

I’ve spent a long time working on loving my body. For a while clothes meant covering up something that was too big. When I was a young college queer  I would go to stores with my friends and see feminine clothing that I thought was so cute, but just not for me. I lived in oversized men’s button downs, which effectively hid my shape and advertised my queerness.

Then I learned about femme identity. I learned that my body and my voice shouldn’t be afraid of being too much. That I could dress my body for myself and not for the consumption of others. That I could be feminine and queer. I felt good about playing with fashion, and with some much needed confidence (as well as the endless affirmations of my femme friends), I started feeling like my body isn’t something I need to hide. It felt like a one woman revolution. In a community that often privileges skinniness and masculine-leaning androgyny, I could make a little space to just be me.

For me being fat is intrinsically linked with being femme. It’s about taking up space and being unapologetic and making choices for my own happiness. It’s about finding community with people who share my size and affirm it. It’s about not being ashamed to eat in public or wear something that’s ugly or to use my style to make a statement. It’s about not letting overarching ideologies about femininity or size make me feel bad for being who I am.

It is a continuous challenge to unlearn the many “isms” we internalize over the course of a lifetime, but the work is infinitely rewarding, as we learn to love ourselves and each other in new, more complete ways.

Thanks @Dallas for the fun trip. Sorry I made fun of the cowboy hats so much.

❤ Marnie

 

 

Our Selfies, Ourselves

It may sound strange, but sometimes I forget I have a body.

Sure, I use it everyday. It’s part of everything I do. Without it I could not walk or type or even think. But often I forget about it.

(This is a privilege. You better believe I remember my body when it stops working the way I want it to, or when I’m suddenly faced with a world not designed for me. During the two weeks I spent on crutches after spraining my ankle in college, I was constantly aware of my body. And hills. And the insurmountable distance between my bed and the dining hall).

When I imagine myself, the details are blurred. Often I am a bit thinner and taller. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I feel jolted. I am surprised by the face that looks back at me. Who is that?

There are a lot of reasons I imagine. I’m a cerebral person, I tell myself. Having anxiety means that sometimes my brain can’t stop thinking, there is a whole universe of worst case scenarios and alternate endings in my head. I imagine it to be like a a highway of flying cars, like in The Jetsons. The thoughts swirl around in empty space, and sometimes collide without clear street signs. I can feel them in the space right beneath the spot where my forehead meets the bridge of my nose, a knot of twisted metal.

Thinking of myself in those terms rests the blame squarely on my own shoulders. It was inevitable. My brain is hardwired this way. Maybe if I just thought less.

But there is something else. As far back as I can remember my body has been under observation. Being called fat as a second grader. My older brother’s friend telling me he “liked a curvy girl” when I was in the fifth grade. Finishing my lunch in my seventh grade math class and a boy mocking me for “always eating.” My mom once asking me why I always wore my dad’s hoodies. They weren’t flattering. She didn’t understand that I had to cover my body up, hide it. It was too big. I was too big.

And this: I can only eat certain foods. It’s not an allergy or OCD, as has been suggested. Since I was a toddler I simply have not been able eat certain things without throwing them back up. There have been doctors and nutritionists, and half-baked theories picked up from Yahoo News and TLC’s “Freaky Eaters.” (Flattering title TLC, good going). The only thing that has stuck with me is something a school counselor told me in college. “Most eating issues that originate in early childhood are based in a lack of control over one’s own body.”

 

 

Sometimes I wonder what could make a toddler feel their lack of agency so acutely that they would take it out in such a drastic way. I don’t know if it started as a preference or if I always had a physical reaction to new foods. I am missing some of my own narrative. I don’t know how to tell this story without it’s beginning, but I don’t know if it matters that much.

The truth is that no matter how unique my reaction might feel, I’m not the only little girl who ever felt like she didn’t have control over her body. I’m not the only person to feel disassociated from their own body. I’m not the only person who has taken drastic measures to get that control back.

Which brings me to the selfie. Omnipresent on social media, derided by many think pieces mocking millenials, the selfie is one of those things that “teen girls like.” Other things include boy bands and fanfiction (both of which I think are invaluable to young people trying to safely explore their sexuality and identity, but more on that another time).

Given the ubiquitous presence of technology in the U.S, I think it’s easy to forget that smartphones/webcams/ipads are relatively new, and have given most people an unprecedented access to cameras. Before the millennial generation getting your picture taken was a process that either involved expensive digital cameras, or developing film (not being able to see a picture before it printed!), and if you wanted a picture of yourself, someone else usually had to take it. It’s only in past decade or so that the subject of a picture could really be the photographer. No more “say cheese,” the selfie is not beholden to the gaze of someone else. A person can look at themselves and decide how they want to be seen.

I have been known to spend 10 minutes setting up the perfect selfie, then filtering it appropriately for social media. (Not photoshopping you’ll notice. The subject here is my own face, not an imaginary face). It may seem silly, but it allows me to have some control over this body of mine, and reminds me that it exists. It takes the time I need to be deliberate with my body. I test the shapes my face can make. I see how I look in motion through the mirror-like front-facing lens of my phone’s camera.

(To me selfie taking is an art form. A good selfie is one that takes time. There is staging and lighting to choose. This may seem artificial, but I think a bad picture is like pausing Netflix while a character is in the middle of moving. They don’t actually look like that you guys).

Through the art of taking a selfie I make something beautiful where once I only saw something ugly. The image in my head becomes that picture I took.

I’d like to be able to say I love my body all the time, but the fact is, I need help a lot of the time. I don’t always remember that my body is a part of myself. We’re more like awkward roommates. When I can use a selfie to show how I feel it feels like we’ve successfully merged, even for a moment.

I think selfies have the opportunity to be helpful in this kind of personal healing. They encourage us to be a little sillier, to find the beauty in ourselves, and to share this moment in a world constantly telling women, queer people, people of color, people with disabilities, and every intersection therein to take up less space. It can be brave to put yourself into the world and say “I am beautiful and I deserve to be here.”

There is a downside to selfies of course. They are fighting against the pressure to appear “perfect” on social media, showcasing only our best attributes. So much of our social life takes place online, another place we are disembodied, shrunk down to a profile picture or an avatar, where we can curate our own lives. It’s easy to start defining our value in terms of number of likes.

I don’t have any easy solution to that. I do think it’s easy to forget that the people we interact with online are real people. I think there is value in placing parts of our vulnerable selves online, and recognizing that as being a strong and hard thing to do. On more than one occasion I have been moved to tears by the kind notes I have received from friends on my Facebook wall or in my Instagram comments. I know firsthand the power that social media has for meaningful connection. I think there is also space for intentionally positive online communities that encourage us to support one another as well as ourselves, like #BlackoutDay and College Compliments Pages.

I do think the pros out-weigh the cons. Speaking for myself, as a queer femme woman I often feel like the expectations of how my body should be are completely unrealistic, or catering to someone else’s gaze. I spent years being afraid of being feminine because I didn’t want to be sexualized and then because I didn’t think I could be feminine and queer. Taking selfies gives me my agency back over this body which sometimes rebels against me, and which I often neglect. It reminds me to look at myself through my own eyes. I am not the subject of anyone else’s gaze but my own. My selfie, myself.

Coming Home

During the holiday season, there’s a lot of talk of coming home. Today, as I boarded a plane from New York City to Denver, I found myself in a time warp, thinking not just about what it felt like to come home this year, but how it felt last year, two years ago, my first year of college… how this feeling had changed for me in so many grand and minute ways over the years.

I also thought about the fact that at this same time last year, coming home meant coming out.

For many queer folks, coming home for the holidays is far from easy.  Sometimes, it can feel like walking onto the set of a TV show – you know which role you have to play, and you also know that the walls guarding your cozy living room are made of cardboard.  Nothing feels real, but everyone is playing the part so well…

For others, coming home may be a joyous occasion.  A time for laughter and companionship, for rest and gratitude.  My hope is that everyone finds at least one space where they can feel this way in the next few weeks, even if it is not a space that others would consider “home.”

Today, as I looked down from the airplane onto the frozen cornfields, snaking rivers, and disparate cities of the American West, I felt the word home as I have never felt it before.  I felt it not as a concept, but as the knowledge, bone-deep, of a remembered belonging.

I thought about Giovanni’s Room, a book I read for the first time this month, and of the phrase:

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. 

For the main character in Baldwin’s novel, home is more than just a house, or a town, or even a family.  Home is a state of innocence.  A not-knowing.  An unquestioned acceptance.  A fierce, but unspoken and unspeakable blindness.  Home is an illusion that, once shattered, can never be re-membered.

In French – Baldwin’s adopted language – the word “home” does not even exist.  Maison can be roughly translated to house, foyer to household, and chez to a place that one inhabits.  But home – that bone-deep knowledge of a remembered belonging – is not a concept that the French language seems to understand.  I find it interesting, then, that Baldwin chooses not only to emphasize this word in his novel, but also to expand it – to dive to the depths of its hundred meanings and find the one meaning that speaks to him.

Let me be more precise:

When Baldwin says that home is not a place, but an irrevocable condition, he is speaking to more than just a physical – or should I say, geographical journey from one place to another.  When I read this line for the first time, I cried.  Not because I began to imagine the house where I grew up, or the streets that I played in as a child, or the smell of chicken soup in my mother’s kitchen – but because I realized that to me, being queer has often felt like leaving home.  To me, queerness is this irrevocable condition Baldwin speaks of.  

Which, ironically, also means that it is my home.

For me – as, I’m sure, for many queer folks – coming out was not a linear process.  In the beginning, it felt like walking that extra block further than I’d ever walked before, and then sprinting back home before my mom realized I was gone.  It felt like the scene in Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend where Elena and Lila leave the confines of their small Italian village for the first time, aching to see the sea, only to run back home when the black sky opens up with rain.

The first months that I spent really exploring my sexuality were a challenge to what I had always known, yes – but not yet an escape.  A longing – but a longing that I could not yet translate into desire.

I made a map of everything I knew – all the streets and houses and buildings that made up the world I had so long inhabited – and then I began to imagine roads forking off from the edges of that map… lakes and rivers and mountains and whole oceans that I finally allowed myself to envision.  And like a child hiding her rucksack in the floor boards, I only shared my plans in whispered half-confessions, and only with the people I believed shared the same dream.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much love it took for me to come out – to myself, and to the world.  The love of others, yes.  All of the voices who affirmed me, who guided me, who shared their stories of triumph and heartbreak.  But also the love that I was willing to offer myself.  The love it took to build the kind of confidence required to set out where there was no map, and to simply be.

Adrienne Rich says that this leaving, this apparent cutting off of everything we have ever known, is not simply circumstantial, but is, in fact, necessary.  If we never leave home, then it is never anything more than a place.  The placeThe only place.

But there come times—perhaps this is one of them

when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;

we when have to pull back from the incantations,

rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,

and disenthrall ourselves, bestow

ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed

of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static

crowding the wires. We cut the wires,

find ourselves in free-fall, as if

our true home were the undimensional

solitudes, the rift

in the Great Nebula.

No one who survives to speak

new language, has avoided this:

the cutting-away of an old force that held her

rooted to an old ground

the pitch of utter loneliness

where she herself and all creation

seem equally dispersed, weightless, her being a cry

to which no echo comes or can ever come.

So what does it mean, to speak a new language?  What does it mean to bestow ourselves to silence, to a severer listening?

For Baldwin, speaking a new language didn’t mean inventing new words. It meant finding new meanings to the words he had always known.

Words like home.

Words so common, so expansive, that they are both the seer and the seen, both the writer and the written, both the teller and the story.

This holiday season, as I find myself at home – more myself than I have ever been – I find new meanings to the words I have always known.  Words like daughter, friend and woman.  Words like care, truth and family.  

Perhaps this irrevocable condition I find myself in is not simply a measure of what I left behind.

Perhaps it is also a measure of what I chose to come back to.

Perhaps coming out was always coming home.

On Space, Self Love, and Margaret Atwood

“Last year I abstained

this year I devour

 

without guilt

which is also an art”

-Margaret Atwood, You are Happy

 

It was difficult to watch the news in the two months after I graduated from college, during the summer of 2014. News of the Isla Vista shootings came 4 days after my commencement, a month later the Hobby Lobby verdict rolled in, announcing that a corporation can deny contraceptive care based on their religious affiliation, the rape of a 16 year old teen went viral, and simultaneously the “I don’t need feminism” campaign began plaguing the internet.

Individually each of these events were heartbreaking, but when you put them together, the message being directed at women was impossible to ignore: women are not in charge of their own bodies, women should be punished for not having sex, women should be punished for having sex, and women who object to this somehow hate men.

It is incredible to me how quickly conversations that are specifically about women are derailed by someone who says “but are you thinking about men?” especially when what is being discussed is women’s health and safety. Or that, when we react with rage, we are told we are over-reacting or being “too emotional” a catch-all phrase which means “your emotions are inconvenient for me.” Similarly popular are “crazy woman” or “angry feminists.”

Actress Zooey Deschanel has been quoted as saying “As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy.” I think this experience resonates with a lot of women. When I was picked on as a little girl for being too chubby, too loud, too unfeminine; if I reacted with rage, I was told to suppress that. “That is the reaction they want.” What an interesting game, provoke a girl into having an emotional reaction, then tease her for her rage. It was often the women in my life who told me that I needed to react calmly, because they had gone through it before and learned to make themselves smaller, so that they would seem more rational.

Well I’m pretty over rationality. The concept is that rational people don’t make decisions with their emotions, but logic, as if logic is ever not tempered by our experiences or emotions. What I learned during my 4 years at a women’s college is that if I can trace my feelings to their roots, then I can often find the solutions to my own problems. If I can trace the emotions of others to their roots I can understand their motivations, and work with them in compromise and collaboration. My emotional reactions have become my strongest asset, and I will not hide them to make someone else more comfortable. Embracing the emotional parts of myself that I used to feel ashamed of has led me to stronger relationships and a braver self.

When Margaret Atwood wrote “this year I devour/without guilt/which is also an art” she wrote about the need of women to be able to take up space, to emote, to consume sex and food and love with as much skill as they had previously been taught to deny them.

Being femme is about allowing yourself to devour without guilt, to take up space, to cry like the world is going to end, and to laugh a little too loud in public spaces. It’s about yelling your rage and fighting for justice.

It’s about learning the art of speaking, even if your voice shakes.

Walking in Heels

Before I moved to New York City, I spent a good deal of time and money trying to find the perfect pair of shoes. They couldn’t be brown. All of my shoes were brown. They couldn’t be flat either. Cool urban femmes didn’t wear flats, right? They would probably be made of leather, even though this complicated my position as an animal rights activist and sometimes vegan.

When I finally found my dream shoes, I didn’t buy them. Naturally. When something is going right in my life, I tend to run away. There must be something better out there, I think to myself. And I end up barefoot in the cold, dreaming of what could have been…

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that I also happened to find these shoes in the first place I looked. Another pattern in my life. I met my first girlfriend the first day of college, but I didn’t have the guts to kiss her until three years later. Here’s hoping that my shoes, unlike my relationship, will last the year.

When I first saw the shoes, I almost walked away. They were so… sophisticated. I couldn’t possibly wear shoes like that. I wasn’t sophisticated. Was I?

I took a picture, knowing that this was a decision I couldn’t make alone. I sent the snapshot to all of my stylish femme friends, soliciting advice from coast to coast. Some raised concerns about the color (somewhere between beige and gray). Most, however, were quick to show their enthusiastic support.

There was the question of money, of course. As a grad student and a long-time thrift store/back-room-of-the-Gap shopper I felt a surge of guilt at the thought of dropping $60 on a pair of shoes that were not, for all intents and purposes, highly practical – i.e., they did not contain orthopedic arch support, nor did they boast a sensible tread.

But… when my feet slipped into those beautiful heels, it seemed that I was never meant to wear anything else – not even Danskos.

After two weeks spent comparing prices, visiting other stores and studying the picture before I went to bed at night, I finally returned to the store. What if they weren’t even there? What if I had missed my chance?

I could describe it as a mystical experience when I saw them for the second time, perched jauntily on top of the shoe box at the end of the aisle in DSW. They were just as beautiful as I had remembered them. I had strategically worn a dress this time instead of jeans, to ensure their versatility. I put them on one last time, and it felt like coming home. It seemed that we were meant to be.

Slide1

I walked around my room at home, dreaming of all the adventures we would have together. Long walks in Central Parks, languid afternoons reading in dimly lit cafés, late nights dancing at the Cubby Hole…

It was my first day of grad school, and I slipped on my new heels defiantly, giving myself extra brownie points for the fact that my bag matched them perfectly.

My Dad, who had helped me move into my new apartment, needed to run an errand in midtown. No big deal, I thought. We’ll be in and out in five minutes, and then we’ll catch the subway downtown and I will dance my way into a glittery new life.

That’s all fine and good, but this is my Dad we’re talking about. Nothing with my Dad is ever quick.

We must have walked twenty blocks looking for this place. I quickened my pace angrily, thinking how embarrassed I would be to arrive late to my first event. My shoes clacked on the cement, my nails driving into the hard shell of those beautifully rounded toes. My heels rubbed against the unforgiving leather, and began to bleed.

By the time I got home that night, I could barely walk.

My love had betrayed me.

*

Fast forward to October. I’ve been in the city for one month, and I haven’t worn the shoes once. I’ve been invited to a housewarming party in Astoria – a housewarming party swarming with attractive young queers. This is no time for orthopedic arch support and sensible tread. It is time to pull out the big guns.

Listen, I tell my shoes before we head out, I don’t want any bullshit this time, okay? No blisters, no bruises, no sore toes. Behave. I mean it.

On the way there, I feel like a million bucks. I walk to the beat of Laura Marling, in defiance of the painful memories of our last outing together – in defiance, too, of all the ladies in my life who, like these shoes, had betrayed me.

I would show them.

Several hours, and many glasses of apple cider mimosa later, I am dancing at the Stonewall Inn. I’ve been wearing my heels for hours now, and there isn’t a blister to be had.

“You look fierce,” says one of my friends as we dance. “I’m intimidated.”

At last, I’ve made it.

So my story has a happy ending. I may not have found anybody to go home with that night, or really proved anything to my ex, who has never seen my awesome new shoes and probably couldn’t care less.

But at the very least, I finally learned how to walk in heels. And that is a victory worth celebrating.

femme for me, not for you

12277224_10153675559326285_1102212606_n (1)

Of course being femme also means I get emails like this. Am I so transparent??

I feel like dressing in a “traditionally feminine” way gets a bad rap. By this I mean, skirts, dresses, make-up, jewelry, things you’d find in the women’s section of the clothing store. Of course there is nothing about wearing a dress that is inherently “just for women” because as my Mary Lambert crop top tells us:

12244076_10153675591556285_1887053928_n

We are brought up to think of masculinity as a neutral starting point. You can say “guys” to a mixed gender group and it will be accepted, whereas if you say “girls” it’s an insult to the men in the room. You probably have seen one of the many many tv shows where a women wears a button down shirt and jeans (that make her ass look nice) and the nice guy best friend tells her she’s “not like other girls” and means it as a compliment. She’s not vapid or silly, and she never takes too long to get ready because she’s too busy watching sports! She’s so much better than the evil current girlfriend who wears heels and lipstick apparently.

femtaylorswift

To quote my everyone’s favorite taco commercial “Why can’t we have both?” 

There is nothing wrong with wearing jeans and a button down and liking sports. There is equally nothing wrong with wearing lipstick and a dress and going to see a chick flick on Super Bowl Sunday. I’m pretty over the idea that dressing femme means being more invested in capitalism (did you barter your bowtie and suspenders for a goat?) or somehow more invested in the patriarchy. By devaluing femininity you’re also buying into the patriarchy! It’s almost like the patriarchy wants to pit all the genders against each other so they’re too busy with in-fighting to realize that we’ve all been fucked over.

But seriously there is this myth that people dress femininely to get attention, which is at best kind of a narcissistic belief and at worst victim blaming.

I wear dresses (and crop tops and skirts) because they make me feel good. And powerful. And because the world is sad sometimes and it is valuable to want to put a little beauty into it. Because for so many years I didn’t think I could be beautiful. And because I am a person and I am allowed to take up space.

So shout out to the femmes who dress from themselves, and take intentional time to make themselves feel good, and tell others how beautiful they are. Whether you wear pants or a dress or a jumpsuit or nothing at all, you keep doing you. I think you’re fly as hell.

12118598_10153625198626285_7531393203194422976_n

Diving In

“For me, being femme means viewing vulnerability as a strength.” – M.

[Insert soundtrack of Hannah, gently weeping]

So what does it mean to me to be a femme?

When we ask ourselves this question, I think we are also asking the question: “what does it mean to be vulnerable?”

I am reminded of one of my favorite poems by Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck.”  I am reticent to excerpt this poem, as a full understanding can only come from the full text.  But there is one particular stanza I would like to bring into focus:

I stroke the beam of my lamp

slowly along the flank

of something more permanent

than fish or weed

 

the thing I came for:

the wreck and not the story of the wreck

the thing itself and not the myth

*

This, I believe, is what we find when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with ourselves, and especially when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others.

Every story is a performance.  Every narrative is a construction.  Even (and especially) the ones we perform and construct for ourselves.

Vulnerability is the tired breath you take when you exit the stage.

As a kid, I told myself the story of a shy young girl who would one day be courted by a dashing young man.  They were going to marry (and have sex, I guess, if they really really had to) and live happily ever after.

When I let go of this story, I did not let go of the thing itself.  I let go of the myth.  I did not let go of the part of me that sought deep, lasting love.  I let go of the wreck waiting to happen.  I let go of the voluntary wreckage of myself.

I allowed myself to float back to the surface, to be the diver and not the drowned, to be the explorer and not the explored.

When I did this, I was making a decision not to lie to myself anymore.  Adrienne Rich tells us that lies are nothing more than an “attempt to make everything simpler.”  And this is exactly what I had tried, and failed, to do.  By lying to myself and to others about my sexuality, I was seeking a simpler version of myself – a version of myself that did not, in fact, exist.  Because truth is not simple.  And when we lose the truth of ourselves, Adrienne tells us, “we lose faith even with our own lives.”

So what does femme mean to me?  Femme means having faith in my own life.  Femme means being brave enough to get wet (pun very much intended) and dive into the deepest parts of myself.  Femme means living a complicated, murky, inconvenient truth of myself.  A truth that will never be complete. A truth that is certainly, and often, inconvenient to others.

It is inconvenient to wear my red high heels, to tie my grandmother’s pearls around my neck, to paint my lips red, and to fuck a woman.  This is the thing, the very thing, that the myth of femininity does not wish to recognize.

If that myth does not wish to recognize me, then I must seek to recognize myself.

And I recognize myself as a woman.

And this is the thing itself.  This is the unsimple truth.

I am a woman.  Who loves women.

I am a woman, who loves.

❤ Hannah

Dear Hannah

Dearest Hannah,

It pains me to say that while I remember that day, when I was a CA and you a wee firstie, I don’t remember meeting you! I don’t want you to take it personally though, because I was a TERRIBLE community adviser. Some advice to my babes with anxiety- never take a job in the place where you live. Being judged on bulletin boards when you’re trying to hide in your room is the WORST. I know some larger schools compensate with free room and board, but not moho! We made $88 every other week for a pretty emotionally draining job. Don’t do it.

That being said, I wonder if we would’ve been ready to be friends all those years ago. I think about this sometimes with Katie, who lived down the hall from me during my first year in college, but who I didn’t fall in love with until my senior year. In the time between I fell in and out of love multiple times, went through some of the worst depression of my life, went to therapy for 2 years, learned how to take care of myself, and grew up. If I hadn’t gone through that, maybe I wouldn’t have been ready to accept the love and support she (and you) had to offer. I think the same holds true for my journey to identifying as femme. It didn’t come all at once, I had to work for it.

During my senior year of college I had a conversation with my brilliant femme friend Jessica about doing anti-racism work in the student orgs on campus. She was the chair of the QPOC student group, and I had just stepped down from my role as chair of a different LGBTQ org. I told her that I felt frustrated because while we came up with ideas to make the group more inclusive, I never felt like they were put into action. She offered me this brilliant advice that applied to activist work as well as my whole life:

Progress is very rarely linear. The idea that your problems have an all-encompassing, rational solution is a masculinist way of thinking.

She rocked my world by telling me that. As a newly identified femme I wondered, what is a feminist way of thinking? In my experience, when people are asked to describe femininity they will describe appearance and when asked to describe masculinity they’ll describe character traits. What, I wondered, are the character traits of being feminine?

For me, being femme means viewing vulnerability as a strength. We live in a world that privileges being “rational” over being emotional, but what would it look like if we listened to our joy and our anger and our grief? What would it look like if we treated others with radical empathy, and tried to view things from each other’s perspective instead of putting our opinions first? What would it be like if we made space for conversations that are are painfully honest, and instead of looking for a solution, just sat with our discomfort, knowing that to err is human? What if we made space for our humanity and the humanity of others?

Being femme to me means trusting that growth is a part of a process. There were times in the midst of going to therapy where I felt worse than where I started. I would cry for an hour and leave feeling like I had been ripped open, to go huddle in my bed. Those were the times when the real work was done. I had to look into the eyes of the grief at my center, and only by doing that could I take away some of it’s power over me. Being femme means trusting in your own resilience and throwing yourself heart-first into the world.

And femme means community. Femme means being the drunk girl in the bathroom who tells everyone else how pretty they are. Femme means making safe sober spaces (where you still tell everyone how pretty they are). Femme means calling your friend on their walk home, so they don’t have to be afraid walking alone. Femme means sharing and crying and laughing and validating and calling out and calling in, and taking care of each other.

I’m very lucky to have many amazing femme friends, whose constant love and validation has buoyed me on the daily. For me, being femme also means being grateful for all the love and light in my life.

You’ve got all my love Hannah, and I’m excited to embark on this blog-venture with you! So for you, same question: what does femme mean to you?

❤ Marnie