Published in the Spring 2012 issue • Body Politics
In Praise of the Vulnerable Femme
Note: This is the full version of the Body Politics piece we published in the Spring 2012 issue.
"My political obligations? I am a Black woman … in world that defines human as white and male for starters. Everything I do including survival is political." —Audre Lorde
A few months ago I wrote a poem called 'In Praise Of The Vulnerable Femme'. I composed it as an ode to Femme Of Centre folks and particularly Of Colour (FOCs); as recognition of their beauty, heralding their resilience, and acknowledging their experiences of multiple intersecting oppressions. I began that poem by revealing something vulnerable about myself so I could offer something at the alter of the goddessdom that are FOC. I thought it was important that I offer something so FOC's know that I come in peace and with humility — Femmes can tell when you are bullshitting and I repeat this so all you reading can get a good lesson in femme respect and worship. FOC brave some of the worst this world has to offer and at the intersection of oppressions to be female and female-identified, to be a person of colour or indigenous person and to add being queer and/or differently abled means that there are several systems of advantage where we are at the 'bottom'. And still we dare to be sensitive, vulnerable, sexy in a world that decries these things weak, useless and an invitation to violence. When it comes to femmeness, I come softly bearing gifts on my knees, offer love and admiration in great abundance and listen carefully for instructions. I love the 'hardest' of femmes, alpha femmes, strong womyn who have raised themselves up to survive in a world hell bent on destroying us.
And I want to say that there is power in our softness, in our vulnerability. When I see us in mirrors, biting lips and furrowing brows, I want to drop to my knees womyn and tell you that we are perfection. But we stand in this all together, carrying with us the whispers and shouts of a glossy photoshopped world that tries to will us into non-existence with size 00's and I see you worry that my gaze comes with a judgement but I promise you it doesn't. (And to be clear no shade to my slender sisters, I simply believe that you/we should all get a real number)
Dorothy Allison says "Femme girls dance on razors every day of our lives, and some days it is only bravado that keeps us upright." And womyn I see you, I see you in your fierceness, your anger and your insecurity and I love you in all of it.
I love the many expression of femme-ness, love the subtly and directness in our sexuality, love the war paint, love us knee deep in the swamp and wide eyed in my arms. I love it when you tell me what to do and love it equally when you have no idea.
I want to shield us from the whole world beautifulbrokengorgeous as we are. I think that your round bellies are so sexy, the way you wrap your tight curls/locks/braids/crown is artful and commanding and when you say something crass/brilliant/provocative/brave I.melt.every.single.time
It can be hard to love femmes as a femme and I think that it came from how hard is has been to love myself as a femme of colour. There is no purity in this system, no place outside of it. The countless implicit and explicit messages that shame femmeness, the historical and contemporary devaluing of the bodies of womyn of colour — we feel it and we wield it at each other. Policing each other's bodies, actions and voice in ways that hurt the most coming from our sisters. The most powerful tool of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed and I knew that if I was going to love FOC unconditionally (knowing that there isn't a FOC monolith), that I would have to learn to love myself and take that work seriously.
And I wanted a happy ending, but somewhere along the line, I remembered that my favourite poems didn't rhyme and some stories start in the middle, I realized that I needed to learn to affirm the strategies for self love I already had as opposed to continuing a cycle of shaming femininity for being inadequate as well as developing new ones. And like the best stories, it is a process, something I read and re read, something that can ebb and flow, but body memory is a powerful thing — so once I had it, once I could name it, it was impossible to forget it. My fall into femme of colour love came from my fight to love my breasts.