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In plain sight

Ideas

In plain sight

The young woman was chatty, real chatty
Last week I was in Calgary, doing a weeklong residency at a small university. The first night there, I drove my rental car to the closest Safeway I could find to stock my little dorm fridge and countertop with food that could be microwaved or toasted, or made with boiling water from a kettle. I can’t digest gluten (like, at all) so campus food, for the most part, is not a good idea.

I stopped at the little Starbucks kiosk to grab a coffee before shopping. The young woman with the long brown hair and the smiling eyes behind the counter was chatty. Like, real chatty. As talkative to strangers as I am. And that is saying something.

Somehow the topic of California came up. She was American. I told her I had just returned from a week in San Francisco. Her eyes lit up.

“San Francisco is my all-time favourite city.” Her eyes met mine, solid and unflinching. Still smiling. Then she raised an eyebrow. “And we both know why.”

I looked right at her. A sister. I would not have suspected. But then again, I wasn’t looking. I was here for almond butter and rice crackers. Besides, she was half my age.

I smiled, and then told her about my free gig at the university on the Thursday night.

“No way?” She went to school there. Turned out she was reading my novel in her women’s studies class. Small world. She was going to be at the gig. I thanked her for making my coffee super hot the way I like it, and I left.

Sometimes I can spot a femme a mile away, even in trackpants. Hard to describe, but I know it when I feel it. A certain curl of lip, or an almost too-long look hello. But sometimes it is hard to tell, especially if I’m not looking.

Sometimes the radar is muted outside of gayland or a super queer literary thing, in places you don’t go looking for femmes, necessarily. But there they are. Everywhere. Just like the rest of us.

We talk about this a lot, my femme friends and my sweetheart and my brothers and I. My sweetheart gets fatigued, these days, with the “femmes are invisible” dialogue, prefers to think of herself as a stealth femme warrior, sneaking in unsuspected like, in a power suit and stiletto heels, striking stereotypes from the front and assassinating assumptions of bureaucrat men in boring blue suits, strategically coming out when she feels the need, and not when she doesn’t. More empowering, she says.

Still. How does a stealthier-type femme let someone know that she might swing in his or her or their general direction, should he or she or they play their cards just right if you know what I mean?

I heard from my friend Anne, a femme tattooist, that back in the day in the bars out east some of the femmes would get small blue tattoos on the insides of their left wrists, right where their ladies’ watchbands would hide them, as a signal to the butches. Back in the good but hard and scary old days. With the three pieces of women’s clothing and the police raids and the getting your name in the paper and losing your job and the whatnot.

I also heard tell of some crafty femmes recently in the Bay Area making flower fascinators and barrettes out of hankies, because you can’t put a hanky signal in the back pocket of your jeans if you are wearing something other than jeans. And what if you are just dressed casually? What if your outfit doesn’t call for a hairpiece of any sort, or what if you are into receiving oral sex (light blue, left) but are wearing teal that night and you part your hair on the left, and it simply doesn’t work with the rest of your ensemble?

My butch friend Sir suggested, rather unfortunately in retrospect, to a brunch table full of femmes one morning that they adopt a more unusual, and thus noticeable, sign for us butches, not to mention other femmes, or whoever might be looking for a firm sign of their femme status. Sir suggested a monocle, which I thought was a genius plan, but I am glad I kept this part quiet because Sir was immediately laughed down.

A ridiculous idea, we were both informed by unanimous decree. Who wears a monocle? With what exactly? A waistcoat? Use your heads, we were told. The thing is, we thought we were using our heads.

I humbly ask that you put yourself in our boots for a minute. Imagine that you are a butch dyke buying rice crackers in a supermarket in Alberta. You are new in town and lost in the suburbs. Even if you suspect she might be queer, what are you going to do about it, huh? How can you be sure? What if you are wrong? You get a feeling, maybe call it intuition, maybe she is wearing a Tegan and Sara T-shirt (to work at Starbucks?).

Okay, well then maybe it is the way she rocks that uniform, or her Fluevogs (how can you see her feet, you rocket scientist, she is standing behind the counter, plus what femme in her right mind would wear her good boots where they could be damaged by boiling hot milk?).

Okay, maybe it is because she is playing the Indigo Girls (she is a first-year women’s studies student, you can’t count on this, they all listen to the Indigo Girls now, queer or not).

You get the conundrum, right? No one wants to be the predatory queer making eyes at the innocent straight girl serving coffee at the Starbucks kiosk in the damn suburbs.

So. I have an idea. How about you just do something totally radical? How about you just do like my new friend Melissa in Calgary did? How about you just take a chance and tell me?

I am sorry the onus is on you. Believe me, if I could think of a safe way for me to ask if you are queer without insulting you if you are not, or risking my own skin in a Safeway in the Prairies somehow, I would. Because it gets real lonely out there, sometimes. It would be nice to know.
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Comments

At least there is a disscussion
It's interesting that within the Lesbian community there is actually a discussion about femme visibility vs invisibility and interactions with butches. I can't help but compare this to straight acting gay men vs effeminate gay men. One of the major differences I noticed is that even when there is discussion on the gay male side of this issue it tends to be accusatory. SA gay men tend to be seen as fakers or not being true to themselves simply wanting ''straight privilege''. It's an interesting difference. The Lesbian community is lucky to have someone like you Ivan you skillfully avoid the uglyness of that these debates seem to draw.
crafty femme from the Bay Area
Hey! As one of the crafty femmes that Ivan has heard tell of I thought I'd comment with a link to the hanky flower clips mentioned: http://www.etsy.com/shop/kinkycraft

My hanky flowers for flagging femmes have been very well received by the kinky femme community, and although they are primarily aimed at the kink-identified femmes, they have been an interesting part of the overall discussion of femme (in)visibility.

Thanks so much for the mention, Ivan.
Maybe it could be simple?
My advice to you in this conundrum is: go for broke. Since the only person whose behaviour over which you have control is yourself, ASK. You can't wait for the other person to offer; at a deli counter or wherever, you don't have time. From my perspective, your closet was always made of glass, as you say, Ivan, so yes, I could tell what you were from the time I first laid eyes on one of your pictures. As a person who didn't know what she was for years upon years, I now meet with gratitude the frank and gentle intrusion of persons who dare to venture in with the words it takes nerve to say. It is why I undertook to read what you wrote, and why I continue to read and listen. So if someone asked me if I were a lesbian, which by the way no one has done yet, I would like to think that I'd meet that question with delight in my face and an unshy willingness to reply.
Well,
how sad. i hope you find peace with this soon.
Oh, Romham
You are a bully too. My words were describing how I FELT about Ivan's writing. Just like Ivan writes about her FEELINGS. It is MY right to say things however I want to. This article bugged me, so what???? I let it be known, so what??? I have read Ivan's words of ranting, anger, hatred, bullyness, and a concoction of other negative phrases to numerous to mention here; however, I have read them in this publication and on her Facebook page. She comes across, often, as very judgmental to those of us who don't PRESCRIBE to her way of seeing things. I have read her angry comments to those of us who disagree with her. And that is scary - because if she were the one person "running" things, we ALL collectively would be in trouble with someone like Ivan - goodness, what would she do with the likes of us, who do not agree with her way of thinking. Lock us up, whip us, bury us, kill us, ridicule us.....she is not a respectful writer, in MY opinion, often. I am ALLOWED to say that however I wish. You romham are a bully too and obviously one of Ivan's "followers". Like hangs with like. As my mother says "those who lie with the dogs, will catch their fleas".

Have a good evening.
who's the bully?
"man act / division of women / retrograde and misanthropic / bully / right out to lunch / angry at being a woman but really wanting not to be / a swirling undercarriage of angry just below her surface / nastiness of other people who don't conform to her way of thinking or being, she cuts them down / have bullied and ridiculed others who are not on the same path as you / discriminatory against people and your public writing shows it / bitter and nasty / lives off of the Canadian Taxpayer / extremely derogatory / drivel"
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Yet Ivan's the bully here? You have described someone with these words who i don't know. This is not Ivan. i don't agree with everything Ivan writes, and i'm quite happy to tell her so. But there's no reason (and ultimately no point) in tearing someone apart the way you have, about things which really have fuck all to do with you, when you can't even string a sentence together without cutting her up personally with these utterly clueless words. She doesn't need your approval (or your taxes for that matter). Critique? Great, go for it. We all need to be challenged on our bullshit, i do it with others and accept critique of my stuff too, sometimes less gracefully than i'd like to admit. We all have a right to be angry, if you're not angry, you're not paying attention after all. But we can call each other on our shit, we can be harsh and pissed about it if we need to, but at least have a point, eh? Your only point seems to be that you don't like her writing. Big deal lol. Get in line with the rest of the people out there who don't like someones writing and move on with your life! It's fun, i promise!
To BIFF in Burnaby
???? - Don't understand your comment. You can go and burn all the books you don't like - have at it. I don't burn books.
Sigh
ER, I'll meet you at the library and you can choose all the writings you don't like and then we'll burn them.
Are you for real TL
Much of Ivan's income is not from getting a paid by X-tra West, I speak of the grants she applies for and obviously gets from the Government for Artists.

She lives off of the Canadian Taxpayer for much of her income and I have an issue with THAT and what/how she writes. I find her writing extremely derogatory and I don't give a shit what others think about that statement.

As a female taxpayer and a citizen of the country, I have every single right to disagree with the crap I read of hers and complain to the government about it and the fact that they fund her drivel.
Are you for real?!
ER - Xtra is bankrolled by Pink Triangle Press, which makes its money from...chatline ads. Nothing to do with the gov't at all.

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