This weekend I was honored to premiere a section of “Starting from Fem”, a work-in-progress exploring the construction of femme identity US working class bars of the 40s-50s. The piece will eventually become a full length solo performance. I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me on the 2+ year journey to this piece.
In the introduction to the landmark butch-fem anthology The Persistent Desire, fem* author and activist Joan Nestle dedicates the book to Jeanie Meurer, a fem friend who passed away in 1991 before ever sitting down to record an oral history for Joan’s Lesbian Herstory Archives.
Joan laments “I realized that I had spent many long hours listening to butch women tell their stories, but I had put off listening to Jeanie. My own femme self-hatred had made me a careless listener.”
If even Fem Superstar Joan Nestle admits to overlooking fem history and stories, imagine all the many ways in which misogyny and self-hatred affect the stories we know and tell. I love studying history to help my understand my queer community. But I suspect we are not getting the full story of fems in this community, just as I know we are often not hearing the full story when it comes to the stories of people of color, enslaved people, transgender people and Native people.
Much of my research for this piece relies on The Buffalo Women’s Oral History project and Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, a history of butch-fem community from the 1930s-1960s in Buffalo, New York. Despite the efforts of authors Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis to interview fems, the narrative is skewed decidedly towards the butch side. Fems are referred to as “not around any more” or as having “gone off and gotten married.”
I’ve spent over a decade in the queer community talking, writing, and performing about fem. I believe that some of the roots of fem-phobia in the queer community can be traced back to the beginning of modern LGBT history.
This section of “Starting from Fem” is a coming-out and coming-of-age story about a fictional young woman finding a lesbian community in the 1940’s. Because the voices of fems are so obscured by history, I have created a story based on facts while using fiction to explore the emotional landscape of a fem’s journey. I know there are anachronisms, that my character might be articulating thoughts and feelings that would be foreign to someone at the time. But I’m not trying to create a perfectly accurate portrait.
I invite you to imagine with me a fem-friendlier world, one where fems were able and welcome to articulate their feelings, needs and desires, where they valued themselves as a central part of their communities.
A note on music – All three songs with lyrics I chose for this piece were popular songs prized by gay women at the time for their double meanings. The word “gay” had long been used to mean same-gender loving. “Secret Love” comes from Calamity Jane, a movie with a very butchy-seeming main character and some decidedly Sapphic overtones.
*I’ve recently decided to reclaim the older spelling of fem after seeing use of “femme” by straight cisgendered people explode in the past year. I am all about an expansive definition of femme/fem across all kinds of people and bodies, but I am not here for straight women appropriating a term with very specific queer meanings.
Thank you to everyone for an amazing show in Boston! I really can’t describe what it felt like to perform again with these amazing folks and celebrate 10 years and many miles on the road together. We were also joined incredible Femme Show first timers Neon Calypso and Kathleen Delaney and some fave artists who are more recent additions.
I am thinking a lot about sustainability and what it will take to keep this show going. We’ve moved from a collective-ish model in the early years to really being a one-woman headed organization where almost all of the behind-the-scenes work is done by yours truly. After a weekend celebrating and looking back, I am thinking about what a more community-centered show looks like and wondering if there is energy out there for other folks to get involved and what that might look like.
The Femme Show has received little institutional support or recognition – not from local arts organizations, not from queer organizations. But this weekend, as I came very close to crying during bows while Alicia talked about what it means to create anti-oppressive queer community space, I thought about how important community recognition is. I feel recognized and loved by community here in a way that I haven’t always been able to connect with. It’s powerful, and humbling, and it has refueled me to keep doing this. Maybe not for 10 more years, but who knows?
Friday June 2 and Saturday June 3
7:15 Box Office/Doors, 8:00 PM show
$15 students, seniors, Boston Dance Alliance Members
$20 general admission
Original dance/theatre from Queer Choreographers Maggie Cee, Grant Jacoby, and J Michael Winward.
Over the past few years producing The Femme Show and GenreQueer, I let my own projects (besides SPPSSM) fall to the wayside. In 2014 I realized that if I was going to continue the Femme Show, I needed to get back to centering one of the reasons I started the show in the first place: My own art.
Since then, I’ve gone back to therapy, performed solo at BarWotever at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, performed in Peter DiMuro’s Gumdrops and the Funny Uncle, applied for a grant I didn’t get that helped me focus my project, and found a director to collaborate with. The end result will eventually be a full-length solo show exploring how femmes found and connected to butch/femme community in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Butch/femme or fem bar culture was an important precursor to the gay liberation movement that followed. By being visibly queer and taking up public space, femmes and butches alike created space for same-sex loving women to find and support one another in the face of virulent homophobia from the outside world. “Starting From Femme” imagines and explores the queer past and passions between people who loved, fought, and created space to be themselves out of sheer necessity and determination. “A Queer Time and Place” features a 20-minute excerpt from the piece. You can be part of the first audiences to see this work!
A Queer Time and Place showcases original work by choreographers Maggie Cee, Grant Jacoby, and J Michael Winward. The three artists draw inspiration from sources including pop culture, history, and queer theory. Audiences will be moved, provoked and entertained by the unique blend of contemporary and modern dance, physical theater, and original monologues. Guest artists include power//PLAY, the collaborative partnership of Claire Johannes and Jordan Jamil Ahmed. With a variety of perspectives represented, A Queer Time and Place celebrates the theater as a space of inclusion. The Dance Complex will provide a fitting venue: as the mission statement reads from its window at 536 Mass Ave, “We welcome you whatever the dance you bring…There are no others here.”
Two important announcements: PLEASE buy your tickets early and be on time! We want to get as many happy people into the audience as possible! And VENUE CHANGE for the after party – it’s now at the Brahmin – see below for details.
We dearly want to fit all your gorgeous faces at the show! We have 80 tickets per night available for pre-sale and we will have a very limited number of seats at the door. We MUST start the show on time at 7:30 SHARP in order to be out of the venue for their next event.
Please buy your advance tickets asap! http://femme10yearslater.bpt.me/
Advance ticket sales end at 12 PM each day for that day’s show.
Arrive EARLY! whether you have advance tickets or are buying them at the door.
If ticket-holders do not arrive by 7:15, we reserve the right to offer their seats to people who are standing by.
MadFemmePride Femme Show after party 4/29
PLEASE NOTE VENUE CHANGE!!!
After the Saturday performance of The Femme Show: 10 years Later at Club Cafe, head over to the Brahmin at 33 Stanhope St for a Mad Friendly Pride get together. We’ll have mingling and games, plus FREE cake to celebrate The Femme Show’s Anniversary. You can also order food and drinks off the Brahmin menu. (which you should totally do because it will help us meet the bar minimum!)
Feel free to come by around 9:30 even if you don’t make it to the show on Saturday.
With SublimeLuv, Pampi, Johnny Blazes, Madge of Honor, Maggie Cee, Chicava, Rachel Kahn, Ginger Rita, Amy Raina, Havalah, Neon Calypso, and Kathleen Delaney.
Friday’s performance will be ASL interpreted.
Saturday night join MadFemmePride at the Brahmin after the show and raise a toast to 10 years of celebrating femmes!
Get advance tickets to The Femme Show, April 28-29 at Club Cafe. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 cash only at the door. (if you want to see the show for free, you can volunteer!)
Just the Facts:
Queer Ballet October 15, 22, 29 from 2:00-3:15. $5 or pay what you can. Advance registration available.
Come for the whole series or once or twice! RSVP on Facebook to spread the word!
Queer Ballet Class is for LGBTQ folks of all ages, regardless of gender, body type, fitness level, or experience. Whether you want to re-live childhood hours spent at the barre or are interested in exploring this dance form for the first time, this is your invitation to experience ballet in a fun, non-judgmental environment. Despite the strictures that are sometimes drawn around this art form, we can reclaim it and make it our own, discovering the subversive potential of movement. This workshop includes basic ballet terminology, gentle stretches, an introduction to proper alignment and lots of joyous movement.
Presented by In The Streets Productions (the folks who bring you The Femme Show) with support from the Boston Pride Foundation.
A few more thoughts:
I started teaching “Ballet Is For Everyone” when the Femme Show toured to youth conferences and retreats. We were hearing that these events wanted interactive, experiential workshops for their participants, and this was my contribution. I didn’t really know if it would take off, especially when it was scheduled for 9 AM the morning after the big drag show. But it turns out lots of people like to dance and move their bodies, and people whose genders don’t line up with the ballet stereotype were eager to try it. I have wanted to do a version of this workshop in Boston so my friends and community here could enjoy it!
Our human bodies are made to move. Queer people often have additional barriers to finding the ways our bodies enjoy moving. But we can’t have a revolution if we aren’t taking care of ourselves! Queer Ballet gives you an option to try another way to make your brain and body happy! I love this art form and I want to share it with you!
We’ll cover some of the basics that you would learn in any adult ballet class, but I also plan on including lots of joyful, expressive movement that will make you feel like you’re dancing! We’ll warm up focusing on individual movements and body parts – fingers, arms, feet. We’ll do lots of traveling steps to classical music and classical covers of pop music. We get to do all of this in the beautiful studio at Integrarte at Hope Central Congregational Church in JP. I can work with injuries and physical needs including taking the class from a chair, scooter or wheelchair. Email the femme show at gmail if you would like to discuss specific needs.
What you can wear:
What not to wear:
Here are some bonus ballet shots from back in the day!
Thank you to all of our audience members, volunteers, staff and performers for a fantastic spring show! Next spring we will celebrate 10 years of The Femme Show – that’s right, 2007-2017! I feel so blessed to be able to share these artists and their stories with your all.