First off, sorry for the long delay in posting this month’s femme visibility challenge! It’s been a whoa-bizzy time, what with one of my partners leaving for a year abroad and so many projects on the go. I hope it’s worth the wait!
This month, my challenge to you is to write a letter of thanks to a femme who has, knowingly or unknowingly, mentored you—helped to shape your identity, your politics, your concept of self, expanded your sexuality or gotten you to expand or change your notions of what “femme” means as a way of moving through the world. If the person is still living, please send the letter to them directly. I bet they’ll be *thrilled* to receive it. We need way more honouring of the trailblazers, my friends!
I know without a doubt who this person is for me. Annie Sprinkle. It’s interesting that I’m working on this post today, actually, because I just found out that my dream of sitting down and having a conversation with her is about to come true. I found out right as I was about to write all of this to you that I’ve been chosen to do an Xtra profile on her for the final(?) performance art wedding in her Love Art Lab project—amazing how things line up sometimes, isn’t it?! I'll be sure to post the article here when it's done. But before I even sit down and interview the dazzling Ms Sprinkle, I’m going to write her a letter of gratitude…it is, after all, long overdue.
Can I call you Annie? You don’t know me yet, but I have a lot to thank you for. There was a time in my life, before I encountered your work, when I thought that certainty, hardness, strong opinions, right answers and unwavering strength were where power came from. Unquestioningly I thought this. And femininity? The worst of the world’s problems! To me, femininity was a question of buying what the world was selling and playing into the hands of men who were unwilling to see my selfhood and my gender beyond a certain suffocating framework. And the idea of enjoying sex and my body, of wearing the clothes I wanted? I thought these were the things that got women into trouble; what caused the bad behaviour of men. The story went something like this: “There are looming exploitations that this particular body, this particular self is responsible for. I must try to stop that.”
If I could just be more like a guy—bathe myself in masculinity, blend in more, wear baggier clothes and sneakers and hang out with men, then *somehow* my femininity, the source of men’s desire that I thought had caused the sexual and emotional violence in my life—would just go away, along with all its hassles. The catcalls, the staring, the deer-in-headlights moments where I didn’t know what to say, the men calling me dear and honey and sweetie and shortie and toots and ho and babe and hun and sweet-cheeks and babydoll and pretty girl and broad and bitch. I could wave bye-bye to the avalanche of sleazy comments on my nice dress, my nice ass, my nice face, my nice hair, my nice tits, my nice smile, my nice hands, my nice eyes, my nice legs…well, you get the idea. I thought I had found *the* way to end what I call the shop-and-chop: when passersby parse my body into breast and leg and ass and face for their desirous digestion. I was angry about that, sure, but I didn’t want to be angry. I just wanted a solution. I figured that the anger was too big to take on, anyway...it was like a bouncer I had no hope of getting past. But if I turned off the femininity tap, that would end the bullshit once and for all, right?
The thing is (and you may have seen this coming), it didn’t work. It didn’t change a thing. My six facial piercings, my short, spiky hair, my unpleasant scowl and my tough, manly walk in tough, manly shoes changed nothing about the way I was treated. For lots of reasons we already know, but the most revelatory one was that denying who I was would not change the world because it’s not an action of strength. It’s one of dilution. What I needed was becoming, not unbecoming. My body needed to be a home for the me that I am. So I set off to find the centre of my bare soul. My essence.
Like any woman who delves into the project of learning how to come home to her body, I had no idea just how much would need to change in my heart and my mind before there would be space enough to live. The detoxifying, the clarifying, the listening. The silence. The biggest block I found? I never trusted the feminine as a place of potential power. Certainly not the straight feminine, (“Those silly, teetering girls! Don’t they know better?”), but the feeling was the same in a queer context. The artifice, the adornment. I saw it as false and fundamentally flawed because of how feminine people were treated. No matter who they wanted to fuck. I didn’t know yet how to separate expression and perception. So I picketed my identity...which is to say I stood against the (fem)me I wanted to be.
Enter your book, Post-Porn Modernist. I had no idea before opening this book that the denial and distrust of my body was at the root of so much suffering and dislocation. I was afraid of my body. I was afraid of men. I was afraid of desire. I was afraid that there was something fundamental about me that caused in others an urge to exploit. I was afraid that I caused it all by being a feminine woman. I was afraid that I couldn’t present as myself and be powerful. But as I read the dulcet tones of this book—really, it was like music spilling over me—I saw such tender appreciation for what the body is and can do, for what pleasure and strength we can find together in the freedom of our bodies. Your straightforward sense of freedom, the seeming absence of judgment and sexual fear and shame. Wow, it made me weep. By the end of the book, I was actually weeping. Why? Well, I’ve felt and said and tried a lot of “no” in my life. What broke open when I read your book was a yes. A great, big beautiful yes. To life, I suppose. To my body. To curiosity. To openness.
I started writing you a letter that night. I was trying to jot down the symphony you had started in me, to track the movement. It’s just that all I had were the first five notes. So I tucked the beginning of the letter away, which I had pounded out on my Brother typewriter after rolling in a stray brown paper bag that was laying nearby on my art table. It felt that urgent. I was still crying as I plunked out the letters. The ink was all dotted with ploppy tears. But I didn't have the words yet. I promised myself that I would, one day, finish that letter—when I knew what the notes to the song were. That was 12 years ago. Your words and work—everything from your crygasms to your Love Art Lab weddings—has continued to inspire me to open and open and open again. Like my skin is being turned inward and my core turned out. In the best possible way.
You started my life engine all those years ago. Or at least inspired me to start it for myself by modeling a freedom that I wanted to know was possible long before I was willing to try it. A joy and calm in being a sexy, loving woman who embraces her body as a trustworthy home and a site of natural wonder. I look to you in your poise and humour and openness, and I see how much trust is there as the foundation of it all. Trust in life, in goodness, in mystery—what I see in you isn’t believing, it’s knowing. And there’s a big difference. Trust is a slowly-turned garden, and it’s a total miracle.
There’s probably much change still to come for all of us...the big, overhaul changes. Changes big enough to know that more change needs to happen. Learning how to see this world change because of eyes that are changing. Our side-by-side becoming. The rolling and shifting and breaking of ground. The tools we share.
Amidst all this turbulent change we're undergoing, I want to tell you that I am so grateful that you were born to help other people be born. Thank you. For all you’ve done and all that you’ve said so open-heartedly, thank you. You have profoundly changed my life, and the lives of so many people through your work. So I’m going to raise my voice in praise of the rising sap of strong-ass femmes in this world and bless your part in that.
Thank you thank you thank you, and may you always leap!
Big Femme Love,
***Some of you may be wondering where the “visibility” aspect comes in with this assignment? Well, sometimes visibility is about holding up a mirror to someone else—showing each other who we are and some of things we’ve accomplished. I feel an especially strong need these days to honour people who have gone before. Elders, teachers and other kinds of smarty-pantses who really get the essence of what it is we’re doing here and the leaps we need to make in order to continue in the right direction. Think deeply. Really find your words and pull out the essence of what you gained from this wonderfemme who helped to shape you. (One of the benefits of winter is the deep, quiet thinky time.)
If you do want to make this challenge more literal, share your letter in the comments section of this post, or as a note on Facebook and tag all your femme friends—or turn it into a tribute song and put it up on Myspace. Whatever you like! Just get the femme praise flowing!