Visible: A Femmethology
What do 57 femme authors have in common? About as much as the cover of Visible: a femmethology has to do with Femme visibility…which is to say, the answer's not so simple.
"Judging a book by its cover" is almost exactly the metaphorical brilliance of the controversial cover image which introduces this two-volume anthology. Within the pages, femmes from a broad range of identities define and dismantle the rules of femmedom through essays, poetry, interviews, personal accounts and revisited works. The resulting breadth of materials comes together (twice) in earnest and articulate expressions of the femme experience that noted author Dorothy Allison quotes is "essential—a roadmap of Femme Nation, an index, an anthropology, a manifesto, and a googleology."
Planning your syllabus? Let no femme leave you unturned. Few femme anthologies exist outside the relation to Butch/Femme desire, a noted point of contention explored in Visible: A Femmethology. Of these, anthologies such as Brazen Femme and The Femme Mystique must have undoubtedly inspired Jennifer Clare Burke in her editorial vision for Visible: A Femmethology is a collection of authors who speak to the next decade of gender politics.
Though Burke and Homofactus Press produced a two-volume set, no differences set the two books apart. Furthermore, a few contributors are featured in both books, so picking just one may prove a challenge. Works range from academic essays and dissertations, such as "The Shimmy Shake Protest: Queer Femme Burlesque as Sex Positive Activism" (Maura Ryan) to creative writing in poetry, story, and prose, such as slam poet Daphne Gottlieb's "Diesel":
"So tell me," I asked her, gesturing as best as I could with my forearm stuck to the bar in used beer, "How do all these straight girls know I'm queer?" She raised one perfectly twigged eyebrow at me from under jet rockabilly bangs. One side of her bee-stung mouth twitched up in a smirk. "That's what I was going to ask you," she said, teetering on her heels to go pour a beer, leering back at me over her illustrated shoulders. ("Diesel", V. 1; p.17 Daphne Gottleib)
Though every femme story is unique, there are a few themes which illuminate common struggles. Topics such as 'passing'—being recognized as one's identity, be it a queer woman, a bisexual woman, or a femme, prove to be challenges that unite the authors' experiences. Further complexities such as health, sexual abuse, economic standing, and racial and cultural oppressions also define life experiences and the authors' relation to their femme identity, however it is defined.
"Femme is an intentional performance of, a queering, or an explicit presentation using signifiers of femininity. This is inherently queer, but not exclusively so." (This Femme's User Guide, V. 2; p. 47 Alex Holding)
Between coming-out stories, childhood reflections of gender construction and embodied identity, and the sexual or non-sexual relationships that formed in relation to love and desire, the works found in Femmethology paint statements of life from the femme experience.
Though we [she and her lover] routinely have the kind of race/class/gender discussions that would make freshman Women's Studies classes shit their pants, what I can't quite explain to her is that, as a Black woman, I have to do everything I can to assert my femininity because every single day, I hear the phrase 'Blacks and women,' as though they are mutually exclusive.
"My identity exists in the forgotten spaces between the two." ("Femme Queening—An Identity in Several Acts", V. 1; p. 55 Kpoene' Kofi-Bruce)
Observations from outside femme existence are also included, as found in prolific butch sex blogger Sinclair Sexsmith's loving letter to femmes:
To the femmes who know that your identity is more than the edges of your body, more than what you wear. To the femmes who know that mine is too." (Love Letter, V.2; p. 139 Sinclair Sexsmith
As the queer experience is told with more volume and frequency, through anthologies, television series, film, music, art and political accomplishes, so will identities such as femme become more visible. It is through works such as those found in the pages of Visible: A Femmethology that unite and inspire readers of all backgrounds, be they queer, straight, femme, alone, proud, trans, young, or curious.
In the words of Trannyfag Femme contributor Joshua Bastian Cole, "The world is slowly getting mushier."
Completing this review of Visible: A Femmethology was not an easy task; with over 57 amazing and diverse contributors who presented heart-breaking, hilarious, informative, ranting, inspiring, and tantalizing works, each with too many quote-worthy passages to consider, perhaps my defeat pays the anthology a compliment: I cannot justly explain the importance and relevance of this book to identity politics of myself or anyone I know… therefore you must go out and read it on your own, and I highly recommend that you do.