• Jess

Love Letter to Femme Elders

The woman I am today owes a debt to many people. I am going to pay it now. Rest assured, nothing I could say or do would be enough, but when you owe more than you can pay, you pay what you can.

Strong, so strong now, my foundation. You are my roots. Leah Lakshmi. Anna Camilleri. Joan Nestle. Amber Hollibaugh. Without you, I would not know my own name: femme.

Your dreams and your words and your survival nourished me. See, Leah, I read “gonna get my girl body back” and it hit so hard. Cuz I saw a name for me. I saw the way you took your body back. Your body and your life. You saved me. At a time when I was lost to myself, you saved me.

Leah, you revealed to me the necessity of dreaming. Before you showed me that self-love was revolutionary, I saw my body as a battleground, bloodstained and haunted. Before you, I thought we only got one body, one life. Without you, would I have discovered those were lies?

I rebuilt my body, rebuilt my life. Blessed my body with tattoos and piercings. Gave myself permission for glitter, micro-minis and fishnets. Anointed this body with fragrant oils and declarations of holiness. Because of your courage and your honesty. Now I can look at myself in the mirror and say “This is a woman who is not broken. This is a woman who is rebuilt”.

Anna, when I read “Cut from the Same Stone”, it floored me. The Medusa tattoo on my back is a tribute to your reclaiming her story. From you I learned how it was possible to protect your heart and still your own fear, set it down and move sure-footed towards you desires.

You taught me first that there was no shame in being “impenetrable, an utterly untouchable stone femme”. Later you taught me that there was no shame in wanting more than that. You let me see that yielding, that opening, was not treason. This is a lesson I still have not mastered.

Joan, your courage and vulnerability are legendary. You faced the sex wars and kept talking when other feminists tried to shame you for your desires. You refused to silence yourself in the name of sisterhood. Standing in a slip, unashamed, you said what you needed to say.

I need your bravery and the words you imagined your mother would say “They called you freak and me whore and maybe they always will, but we fight them best when we keep on doing what they say we should not want or need for the joy we find in doing it”.

Amber. Brave. You taught me that fucking, that staring unflinching at who and what we desire is as necessary as protesting. From you, I learned that fumbling and failing and having things come out wrong is worth it in the struggle to name and honour our desires. When you wrote about femme hunger, I understood in a way I hadn’t before, the ache I felt in the gut.

“If we don’t see ourselves or others who resemble our experience, the experience itself becomes suspect”. Thank you for speaking your heart and for giving me a gift. The gift of seeing someone whose experience looked like mine. You gave me a way to see myself and my desires as precious and sacred.

When I lie down with a butch lover and we reach across a swirling morass, the hatred of bodies and sex and queers, when we love each other and ourselves, it is radical. When I slip stockings over smooth legs and swing my hips in the hopes of making some butch go weak in the knees, that counts. That naked expression of who I am and who I want is a power no one can take from me.

My femme foremothers, I read your words over and over again with a zeal which good yeshiva boys reserve for Torah. I wrap your stories around me like tefillin. Each of you, in your own way through cracked concrete. Fighting to live and to shine. Stealing whatever it takes to keep growing.

No words to say thank you. Never enough words of my own. But my heart swells with gratitude for your words. You gave me my name and my home. And I see now, how none of you saved me.

You, my femme foremothers, showed me how to save myself.

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