Femme Conference, Day 1
I really need to think/talk through some of these things that we’ve been discussing in the workshops and plenary sessions at Femme Conference, hosted by the Femme Collective in Oakland, CA.
First I attended a nonviolent communication workshop, which I thought was incredibly informative. I think I already do a lot of those things, but the thing that struck me the most was that in order to communicate effectively we must know what our underlying needs are. Our feelings are usually in the forefront of our minds when we’re trying to resolve a conflict. But what are those feelings telling us about our needs? If I feel that my requests are being ignored, whether or not they are, perhaps the underlying needs is to be heard and witnessed in my frustrations. I want to commit to listening more to my feelings, rather than pushing them away.
Next I attended PolyFemmeory which was, as you might guess, about being femme and polyamorous. Which I am, if you haven’t noticed. We briefly discussed some common joys of being femme and poly, then moved on to themes in the challenges we face as poly femmes. We focused on jealousy, competition between femmes, boundaries, judgments of others, communication and time management. Each of these is loaded and would make an entire post in and of itself, but competition between femmes made its way to the top of our conversation. Here are the notes I took:
*We must use vulnerability and insecurities as a tool to build community with other femmes and non-poly femmes and friends.
*It is important to identify one’s own value within each relationship, determine why primary partners love and desire us and hold onto that when we are feeling less-than.
*Desexualizing our interactions with people we are jealous of may be helpful to reduce jealousy. Poly is so centered around sex, but it’s crucial to get to know people in non-sexual settings as well.
*Love other femmes, encourage respect and community.
*Femmes are scarce, poly femmes scarcer, so the building and maintaining of femme community may need to take precedence to the pursuit of potential lovers.
*Sometimes a competitive, antagonistic spirit arises when inferior to others because of body size, “degree” of femmeininity, personal qualities, education, class… etc.
*Competition between femmes … may be rooted in inernalized misogyny, and femme allies should not participate in that – should encourage us to behave lovingly toward one another.
*Polyamory can and should include non-sexual relationships, too. Poly is one way of creating chosen families; if we have people we can relate to as family, then perhaps we will have someone to talk to when we are feeling jealous.
I thought about this. I have been developing a non-sexual relationship with a woman in my community. We have put ourselves on the line for each other, and have cultivated a friendship where we both give and receive equally. Some have wondered why we are so close. We both have our quirks, our baggage, sometimes my friends don’t understand her, sometimes her friends don’t understand me. But somehow we have been able to meet each other in the places where we overlap… where we overlap. But neither she nor I can survive with only one or two femme friends. This femme positive space, this place where I am in the company of more self identified political femmes than I have ever even met in my life… it is inspiring me to be more proactive about creating a way to get femmes back home connected with one another. I honestly can’t say I know the names of more than 5 femmes within an hour radius of my home. I know they’re there, but hellifIknow where they are. But how do I get them together, how do I get them organized if I cannot even find them? I am constructed for community building/organizing, I just haven’t found my niche yet. Maybe this is it.
In the polyfemmeory workshop I finally felt like I was here and in “the circle” as it is called, where I am freely, wholly me, without monitoring my behavior every second… when one of the workshop presenters asked, “did any of you have camp jitters before coming to femme conference? [group generally nods, ‘yeah’ in agreement] I was so nervous about picking out my clothes, and I wanted to look cute -enough- because I knew everyone was to be cute, but then I got here and you all so pretty and I’m pretty and we’re all pretty!!!” she smiled so big and I think we all smiled because although we all have different definitions of pretty, we were all pretty. I have rarely been in a place where everyone understandsd each other’s “pretty” however each person chooses to define it by their appearance and demeanor.
I got SO MUCH out of my third workshop for/about femmes living with mental illness. How powerful it is for forty women to be talking openly with one another about strategies for coping with all different kinds of mental illness. I took several important kernels of wisdom from this discussion. First, we acknowledged how difficult it is to talk with people about our mental illness, and to find people who are willing to listen. So often once we disclose our mental illness, then every concern, problem or conflict that we have is blamed on our “crazy” rather than on the root issues. “Crazy” to me, is just that we respond differently to stressful situations than others do… We talked about the importance of forgiving ourselves for episodes, freakouts, or poor choices that stem from our mental illness. Not just ourselves, we must also forgive our friends for their episodes, and for ways that they have hurt us when they’re in a less than ideal frame of mind. But ya know, forgiving other people is the easy part for me. Forgiving myself is the hard part. As queer femmeinist femmes, we might feel pressure to be a perfect, beautiful, strong, fierce femme… what we think that means is that we’ve got our shit together and don’t need anyone’s help. Fuck that. That’s some pull yourself up by your bootstraps bullshit that we should have collectively kicked to decades ago. Being strong doesn’t mean that we don’t need help. For me, ASKING for help when we need it makes us strong. The presenter even noted that if you are ALIVE with mental illness, you’re already strong because it’s fucking hard. Don’t apologize for your mental illness, but don’t sweep it under the rug either. It’ll come back sooner or later.
Some participants expressed the feeling that having mental illness makes their problems dismissable. When we have problems or arguments or conflict, it’s dismissed as our “crazy” talking. It’s turned into an imaginary problem because we’re crazy. In some cases, our opinions and experiences aren’t counted because they are somehow extraneous. That is some fucked up shit, and I don’t want any of you to stand for this kind of treatment. We do not have “hysteria” and a wandering womb, but even if we did, our opinions and experiences still count!
Jeez, do I even have words for the fourth workshop? I’m over 1k already and I really don’t want to overload you people. I write for myself not for anyone else more than for anyone else. If you’ve read this far, you’re brave and invested in gender justice. Thank you.
Quit Fucking Taking Us for Granted: How to Survive the Movement as a Femme. This panel dealt with social justice “movements” of all kinds from combating racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, etc. but spoke of them all collective as “the movement” because really, when we are invested in one of these, we are aware of and support all the others. Interlocking oppressions and intersectionality people. It’s the truth. Rather than focusing on femme “invisibility,” which lemme tell you has been hashed and rehashed, this discussion focused on strategies for moving past invisibility and discounting of femmes in political activist groups. One speaker said, “Let’s stop telling others how to be and what to do, and get down to the work.” She pointed out that we are community organizers and activist simply by being out queer femmes. Another made it clear that caretaking is not bad, it is not “women’s work” when we are interdependent, caring for each other, rather than being involved in a one-sided arrangement where we are not receiving as much as we give out. You can’t take the personal stuff out of your politics, they are intertwined. Community and political organizing is not a business, it deals with people and must be sensitive and changeable, rather than staunchly goal-oriented. The next panel member remarked how being an “invisible” femme makes it a little bit easier to be sneaky and get things accomplished right under the noses of naysayers… honesty and vulnerability are crucial to building relationships with people, femme or not.
Morgan Masochist completely blew my mind. It was like rapid fire. We can’t wait for the revolution, let’s do it NOW. That’s how second wave feminism worked. Women got tired of waiting around for their turn, for the revolution that everybody said was coming, they got loud and fucked shit up. Maybe today we are lacking a sense of urgency, or the belief that we ARE able to change things through our resistance. Morgan asked, “How do we navigate rape culture as a tool of empire & capitalism? How does rape culture inform public and private violence?” FUCK appropriateness: it is all about patriarchy and white supremacy. We don’t fucking have time for appropriateness, playing by the rules and coloring within the lines. Fuck appropriateness. And that’s what I plan to learn to do.
The final speaker noted her struggle to come up with an answer to the question, “why do we need to organize around femmeness? what does that have to do with ‘the movement’?” – She identified this struggle as internalized misogyny. Organizing around queer femmeininity creates community, banishes our sense of isolation and empowers/encourages us to keep getting louder and more fierce. She said that passing can be powerful if it is used purposefully. We don’t have to scorn invisibility necessarily, we can reframe it as a tool of resistance.
Just a couple of final notes: the femme organizers panel discussed how dichotomy between high and low femme is problematic and arises from classism. High femme for a poor or working class person looks a lot different from that of a wealthy educated person. To make apparel choices radical, we’ve got to create an environment where everyone can dress however they want, in ways that are meaningful and resistant to each individual.
During the opening remarks, the speaker spoke out about reframing the ways that “call out” each other for things that are being done “wrong” and remember that we too might be wrong. “They” want us to be angry with each other, to divide us. Rather than turning our frustration toward our allies, let us redirect our righteous anger toward the problem, rather than toward the people who are obviously on our side and working toward the same goals.
I’m tired. Gotta get my beauty rest. I don’t regret a single penny that I spent getting myself here. I needed to be in community with femmes since I have been feeling so incredibly isolated from femmes and queers in general. I am feeling restored already, only one day into this grand experience. I can’t imagine how much more I am going to learn and grow. Trying to take it all in by taking notes and retyping my notes but I know it won’t all get integrated until I go how and start implementing all of these revelations.
P.S. if I hadn’t left my heart in Turkiye, I would have left it here in San Francisco / Oakland. Love it!