I said a silent prayer that I would not end up star- ring in my own Hitchcock thriller. Mostly I was bored, which may very well have been mutual. Because it often seems like those are the only choices: that if you are not going to be a serial monogamist or married for life, you better at the very least play an empowered slut. It is a very beautiful thing that there are places on the web, in homes, bars, community spaces, where butches, femmes, and other queers on the margins can find each other, find love and even post the minutiae of that love, the accretion of the quotid- ian of which are lives our made—be it ironing shirts, cooking, walking the dog, or sex dates gone awry.
In an ultimate chivalrous gesture, our photos could exist side by side: the domestic bliss and the occasional pitfalls of single femme life. I dreamed up the comments that could be posted to legitimize my single femme identity. Girl, you look so miserable! Good for you for putting yourself out there—what a beautiful portrait! I love the energy of mediocre, dissatisfying sex in this picture!
But, this will also do: the telling of this wonderful, terrible, sometimes abject, sometimes hot, oc- casionally lonely, always interesting, and not—so—domestic femme life of mine. Introduction In , when I had been chronically ill for just over a year, I wrote a short essay about my struggle to maintain my femme identity despite my new disability. Restricted Access is still in print and is often used in disability and gender studies classes or cited in articles about disability and sexuality. After more than a decade, the time has come to reexamine those issues to see what has changed and what holds true about disability and femmehood, both in my life and in the larger world.
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A slightly revised version of the original essay is followed by my new thoughts on the topic. Still, Femme Autumn We sit in a conference room at the gay and lesbian health center, among salmon— and beige—toned chairs, walls and carpet: we are ten or so women, tentatively beginning a discussion of what it means to be butch, to be femme, how we arrived at these self—designations. We are all, in varying degrees, nervous—afraid to offend, steeled to be challenged. Or, at least, the road to a dream. Femme dyke. Femme woman who loves butch women.
Political, capable, comfortable—and femme. At our first meeting, we were getting acquainted.
She said she had a disability, and it made her question her identity as butch. Yet, she admitted, living with chronic pain and fatigue, it was she who often sought comfort, who asked her nondisabled femme partner for help, who even appreciated it when a man held the door open for her. She wondered how to maintain her butch identity in the wake of disability.
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His eyes bulged with shock: the second lily pad was too far away for him to reach. When I was eighteen, I came out as bisexual, at twenty, as lesbian. In between, I fluctuated between flannel with fatigues and neon miniskirts with leggings. Then, in October , the lily pads were pulled clean away, and I fell into the deep, murky waters of illness and disability.
Lying in bed day after day, I watched the trees outside my window turn gold, then thin—limbed and spare, and finally become glazed in city snow, wondering what would become of me. I could no longer work or go to school, do my own shopping or cleaning, go to restaurants or parties, nor even visit friends. As the cornerstones of my identity were ground under the relentless wheel of long—term illness, I sifted through the sands for the pieces of myself I could recognize, trying to pull myself together.
My identities as worker, writer, lesbian or any kind of sexual being all had to be either discarded or reimagined. The process of building identity can be so gradual and organic that the elemental building blocks may be invisible. But when a radical shift shakes the foundations of identity, those individual pieces fall into the light and beg to be examined. I had never given much thought to what exactly made me femme. But when I lost the markers of femme identity, I missed them terribly and wondered if I was still femme.
One of the most upsetting losses was makeup, specifically lipstick.
Visible: A Femmethology, Volume One
Due to MCS, I had to discard all my personal—care products, including perfumes, hairstyling aids, and cosmetics. Since becoming ill, that entire experience remains inaccessible to me. I cannot wear my club clothes because they retain chemical odors. I cannot wear some of my boots or dress shoes because of dizziness and coordination problems. I often cannot comply with many normal social expectations because of the physical exertion required to stand, make conversation, or sometimes even sit up.
Now that I could no longer enter those surroundings or wear the clothing, makeup, and accessories that went with them, was I still femme? My hair tangled, my body limp and sore, my skin splotchy, I wondered if I would ever look good again. Was there any point in being femme if I were unattractive and inert? With the flashier, sexier aspects of my femme role buried, I found myself grasping for any active role that could help me define—and value—myself. As a nondisabled woman I had used the redeeming qualities of strong will and body to make femme identity acceptable.
Left with the choice of being a non—power femme or nothing at all, I knew that I was—and must find evidence of my being—a femme. Yet how, or whether, I could find my femme self, I did not know. I was certainly not alone in this search. While disabled men may be able to retain the benefits of maleness, disabled women who are unable to fulfill either gender role are left in a state of rolelessness, a psychosocial netherworld.
After all, needing assistance—whether physical or fiscal—is perceived as ultimately girlie.
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Yet, as a lesbian, the solution of being ultrafeminine is even more complicated. Nor do I win the admiration or recognition of my lesbian sisters—I am not the strong, athletic, independent woman our subculture says we are all supposed to be.
yoku-nemureru.com/wp-content/desktop/288-top-cell-location.php These are enforced fragrance—free events in places with couches, where I can rest. I have also discovered catalogs with safer makeup and clothing. The makeup, while less toxic than most commercial cosmetics, still aggravates my symptoms, but for special occasions I endure the discomfort for the pleasure of looking the way I want.
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Still, these are solutions for special occasions. They cannot feed and sustain an identity over the long haul of solitude and inactivity. As I lost the transformative powers of places and objects that made me feel femme, I had to find the essential femmeness within me. With so much stripped away, I became driven to hold onto what is meaningful and indestructible: my values, thoughts, and feelings. When I am in deep pain or illness, or simply wending through the endless solitary days, I cling to myself as my best and truest resource.
Accepting, and even asking for, help, taking care of myself, and moving and speaking more softly have all become important parts of my life. I only know that I am; I feel that I have a femme essence or spirit.
Visible: A Femmethology, Volume Two
I carry my femmeness inside me like a red satin cushion. It comforts me. It gives me a place to rest. It sets me aglow with color. And I know that when it can, my femme flare will emerge glittering. Maybe not as brightly as before, but in certain ways the more precious for its survival and my transformation.
However, I squirm at the implications: after more than a decade, my essay appears to be one of just a handful that touch on the junction of disability and femmeness. The answer lies in the hiddenness of both femmes and people with disabilities PWDs , and the synergistic impact of both on disabled femmes.