Is this feminine enough for you? … and thank you

Hey reader! Thanks for getting to know me in 2011. My first blogging year has been phenomenal and I’ve really enjoyed the discussions we’ve been having. I mean, really enjoying. Did I tell you I was obsessed with gender and sexuality? Oh, really? You’d noticed? Oh, OK then. I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring! In true festive style I am going away on holiday for a week, so the first installment of Lipstick Terrorist ranting in 2012 will be in the second week of January. See you on the other side…

I place my elbow on the table and flip my middle finger at the person sitting opposite me. She had just told me off for eating some dropped food off my lap. ‘That’s not very feminine, is it?’, she teased (she knows I’m a femme and a feminist). I grin back cheekily, over my finger. ‘Is this feminine enough for you?’ This is my sense of humour; teasing my friend in return.

I had spent the whole afternoon leading workshops on zines and sexism in the queer community and I was exhausted. The visiting artists (including me) and the festival organisers had decamped to a yummy falafel place in order to get some well-earned nourishment.

It had been an intense day. My afternoon had been organised into three slots. A guest facilitator from Finland would present her collective and zine on sexism in the punk scene, I would then present my zine on sexism against femininity in the queer scene, and finally we would  run a workshop on sexism in left-wing activist scenes in general. It was a plan. Except I messed it up by deciding that my presentation would be much better as a workshop. I didn’t want to speak non-stop for an hour and a half; I wanted us to have a discussion.

I had run a similar workshop on sexism against femininity in the queer scene at the Copenhagen Queer Festival back in July. I had decided to make that workshop a space for feminine-identified queers only. Whoever felt they fit that bill could come along. I did this because so often we feminine queers are afraid to speak out, afraid that voicing our experiences of sexism will be taken as our own prejudice against queer masculinities. Specifically, I think, against trans guys. I personally don’t believe this to be true. Talking about one group’s experience of oppression does not automatically mean you are dissing another. But I guess this reaction, or at least, the fear of this reaction comes from the fact that, no matter how much gender theory we have read, we still see masculinity and femininity as a binary system; co-dependent and mutually defining. I blame the patriarchy. (And maybe, just maybe, these genders are inherently binary. It’s how they’ve been created, at least. Anyways, that’s totally a whole ‘nother theory book.) So, fear of being seen as transphobic (against trans men) is very real and it makes people afraid to speak out. Therefore this workshop was ‘separatist’. Participants said that they appreciated this space and felt safer because of it.  (It is worth noting that, although the workshop was open to all feminine queers, no men were present.)

In the workshop, we agreed that we feminine folks are not taken seriously as ‘real’ queers. As feminine people, especially feminine women, both cis and trans, we are not fashionable. Definitely not cool. We are seen as inhabiting an inherently conservative, unexamined gender. (For more on this type of sexism, check Emma’s piece in the awesome zine I edited. It’s for sale at Other Nature in Berlin.) We are not sexy, probably because we’re not seen as radical. And we are invisible. An old trope, but still very true. Femininity in cis and trans women is not seen as queer, and therefore we, ourselves, are not seen by queers.

So, fast forward to Hamburg and the Zine Action Day organised by Bildwechsel. This was a weekend dedicated to examining, perhaps obviously, the politics of zines and how they can be used to political ends. Most of the attendees at the festival came from left-wing scenes, such as punk and queer. Most were female-assigned at birth – women, genderqueers, trans guys, as well as a couple of cis guys. When I announced that I wanted my presentation to become a workshop on sexism against femininity in the queer scene, the group became very stressed. I think my description of the feminine-only space at Copenhagen made this mixed group panic. Were the masculine folks meant to be there? Did they have anything to say on this subject? Should they leave to give space over to other people? One cis-looking guy got up and left, probably because he felt that this wasn’t the place for him. I, too, then questioned my decision to make this a workshop. I certainly didn’t want to force anyone to do anything that made them feel uncomfortable. To speak, if they didn’t want to. What I wanted was to share thoughts and experiences around this subject; to hear what people had to say. I had imagined that the group would prefer to have a discussion, rather than listening to me talk about my projects for an hour and a half. But maybe I really am that interesting!

In the end, after I had emphasised that I wanted to share opinions, that I didn’t want to force anyone to speak, the group felt a lot more relaxed. Some people spoke, some people listened, and that was OK. Similar thoughts were expressed to those that came up in Copenhagen. Queer femininities are ignored, dismissed as unqueer, sidelined in the focus on queer masculinities.

I am doing what I can as an activist and artist to redress this balance (that is, to re-dress it in something tight and sparkly and long earrings! I couldn’t help myself).

Looking back at the title of this post, ‘is this feminine enough for you?’ becomes a challenge in the context of the queer community as a whole. In the spaces I move in, the ‘correct’ queer question to ask yourself is, ‘is this genderqueer enough?’ or ‘is this masculine enough?’ My response is, ‘enough for whom?’ Who are we trying to please? If we tailor our behaviour to suit ourselves, then that’s just great. But if I don’t wear my classy dress on New Year’s Eve because I am trying to fit other people’s ideas of what I should look like, then that’s not right. In case you are new to this blog, you might not already know that I am pretty fed up of going along with other people’s ideas of what I should be doing. Maybe it’s time to ask the wrong question. The uncool question. Let’s start 2012 by being totally unfashionable. Hello, world. Is this feminine enough for you?

zine sneak preview!

Check out the sneak preview of the zine, including excerpts from two of the awesome texts we will be premiering.

The preview is to be printed double sided to make a 4-page mini zine. To be found in awesome places in Berlin. Feel free to download!

(provisionary) zine deadline now announced!

I will be debuting the zine on sexism in the queer community at Zinefest Berlin on 26 and 27 November 2011. The zine is a collection of writing and art on sexism against femininity from feminine queers across Europe and beyond! Find out more info here.

I will be staffing a stall with freshly pressed copies of the zine for sale, along with beautiful vagina cupcakes and extravagant femme antics. Be there or be, um, straight?

Ms Laura Lipstick’s Zine Premiere

Zinefest Berlin

26- 27 November 2011

@ Werkstatt der Kulturen: Wissmannstraße 23, 12049 Berlin

Sat/ Sams 12:00 – 23:00 Sun/ Sonn 12:00 – 18:00

tits and tassles

When I told people I had started doing burlesque performances, one of my closest friends told me she was worried about me. She told me that self-confidence had to come from within, and not from the approval of other people. Her objection made me think long and hard about the dynamic that happens when, as a feminine woman, I take my clothes off on stage.

My friend, let’s call her Emily, suggested that if you are a woman and take your clothes off on stage in a seductive way, you are somehow buying into sexism. You are encouraging other people to view you as a ‘sexual object’ and not a ‘real person.’ Of course I think many men’s sexist harrassment of me comes from this very same assumption. That when they look at me all they see is a blonde feminine white woman, and they perceive this as a weakness that they can attack.

“You could call it feminism with tassles on”

So, this is where things get tricky. Because even though we have all these negative associations with femininity, and female bodies, I refuse to accept them. I refuse to believe that men own my body. That when I undress I am always doing so for a male audience, a male gaze. I do own my body. And the assumption that many men make, that for some reason my dressing up, beauty, or even undressing, is for them, always makes me really really angry.

Going up on stage and performing for a mostly queer audience is an act of self-love for me. When I perform my beauty and sexuality onstage I am inviting people to participate in a specific vision of myself. And this is a vision that I control. I decide what I will do, which parts of my body I will or will not reveal and how long the performance will last. I choreograph this presentation from the song choice to the dance steps to the rose that I hand to the lady in the first row. And in this sense, I am asserting my agency, my ownership of my own body. I choose how it is presented and how it is viewed.

I think burlesque can be feminist because as a performer you are in control of that sexual gaze. You decide to which parts of the body it is directed, for how long and how nude these body parts are. I think the best burlesque conveys a message while teasing at the same time. The climax of much burlesque is the ‘tit moment.’ The topless performer turns around and you see (giggle) breasts! But these breasts are still partially covered; the nipples hidden behind decorated pasties. The naughtiness of the boobies is emphasised by the fact that the nipples are never shown. You are allowed to look, but you don’t get to see everything. The titillation (awesome word) comes from this, ultimate, refusal to show all. I, the performer, am in control. Maybe this control over the audience’s gaze teaches us something about the way we look at women.

“I am inviting people to participate in a specific vision of myself”

I don’t think that I can say that all burlesque is feminist. I am sure there are acts out there and dynamics between the performer and audience that I would find sleazy and uncomfortable. Not all performers find power in their own performance, and maybe they have been coerced into performing for economic reasons, rather than their own interest.

But for me, burlesque has given me more space for self-expression. It has allowed me to explore and show-off my sexual femininity in a queer community which often devalues feminine women (more in another post). In showing or not my tits and other parts of my body, I feel that I am showing and teaching the audience about the complexities of looking at women. There is something very powerful about pasties. You could call it feminism with tassles on. Give ’em the old razzle dazzle, and they might just start to see your point of view.

So, here you go, Emily:

Ta Daa!

Listen to me discussing my latest project on Transgender Radio!

Along with the Berlin Femme Mafia I am compiling a zine on Sexism in the Queer Community. Listen to me discussing my motivation for the project, the dynamics of sexism in the queer community and my thoughts about why it exists.

Short version for the time-pressed and full version for the very enthusiastic.

P.S. If anyone knows of any local radios that might want to air this that would be well awesome. Contact me!