On Being a Femme

The Femme Collective is hosting their second conference on all things femme this month in Chicago: Femme2008 Aug. 15-17 @ Wyndham O’Hare.

Keynote Speakers:

Not only does their line up show diversity, it is embedded throughout the conference. The conference chair is a woman of color and the committee includes an accessibility awareness coordinator (something I think all conferences should have to ensure that differently-abled feminists can participate). They have a WoC caucus Disability Caucus and Bi-Femme Caucus among other caucuses. And among the panels that will be presented are discussions of transfemmes, the intersections of disability and femme identity, and how woc do femme. There are also tons of activism panels and an Activism Caucus to get you fired up about transforming that theory into action! As their mission statement shows, they are also doing a lot of thinking about other ways of identifying gender variations across the LBT spectrum as well as being as inclusive as possible. The only thing they did not do, is thinking about the price, which is high tho not as high as NWSA.

Their mission statement:

Femme Collective is committed to creating conferences by Femmes, about Femmes, and for Femmes and their allies. We understand that Femme is more complex than just being a queer person who is feminine; it is a part of how we interact with and shape our world as queer academics, activists, artists, homemakers, parents, professionals, students, teachers, etc.

Our conferences seek to explore, discuss, dissect, and support Queer Femme* as a transgressive, gender-queer, stand-alone, and empowered identity and provide a space for organizing and activism within Queer communities. We hope to attract people of all genders who are interested in a deeper understanding of Femme identity, culture, and history as well as Femmes interested in learning, teaching, connecting, and building community geared towards social change. Recognizing that queer Femme gender can be constructed independent of and/or intimately connected to biological sex, this conference will build coalition among queer Femmes of every stripe. Taking into consideration the various ways in which Femmes across the country and the world construct Femme based on region, class, race, ethnicity, access and ability, the Femme Collective will strive to create a safe place for open dialogue among a plethora of Femme-identified persons and their allies.

We are dedicated to: creating a Femme-positive environment; selecting programming to honor differences in ethnicities, physical abilities and gender expressions; and highlighting the intersection of queer Femme identity with issues of race, class, age, and body. We hope that together we can create a space to explore many of the complexities of Femme identity, including (but not limited to) questions of privilege, invisibility, intersecting identities, class mobility, aging, and the differences between femininity and Femme identity. We hope to contribute to giving voice to queer Femme identity, and to building unity, coalition, and solidarity in and among genderqueer communities.

*We recognize that for many lesbians and same-gender-loving Femmes ‘queer’ is not a term that works and that it can often feel alienating and unwelcoming. We want to recognize that language is always imperfect, and make it clear that we use the term as an umbrella to include all of us who identify as Femme within LGBTQIA/SGL and genderphile communities. We are using this term to specifically and intentionally include lesbians and same-gender-loving women as well as genderqueers, transwomen, and folks of every sex and gender who identify as Femme and see themselves as part of LGBTQIA/SGL and genderphile communities.

This conference excites me not only from a girly girl perspective but also from a pedgogical one. When it comes time to teach my intro to lesbian identity course(s), there are only a handful of texts to work with on femme identity in its own right and only slightly more on butch-femme pairs. Funnily enough, two of them were keynotes for the original conference in 2006. While there has been a boom in the academic work on female masculinity, largely led by Halberstam (who I continue to contend does not do enough on intersectionality in her analysis), there has not been a similar level of attention to other forms of gender identity in the LBT community.

The dominance of a certain kind of “known” body in the identification of female queerness is so prevalent in WS that people often do a double take when I step into the front of the room. It always amuses my colleague who trades these courses off with me which people take her class and which take mine. While she laments the “closet cases,” her class also has way more out and proud butch and androgynous women than mine; mine has more wocs, femmes, transwomen, and closet kids (and boys) than hers. Every now and then I get a boi who sticks her head in and says “I thought this was the lesbian class” and when I ask “what makes you think it isn’t” she blushes and offers to close the door and later to carry my bag. (I’m telling you it happens every year.) As another example, when one of my colleagues in anthro wants to demonstrate butch-femme pairs, I suddenly get free coffee and something glittery in my mailbox with a plea to get up early and be her “date.” So it is particularly exciting to see this conference grow into a regular thing and be embraced by academics and activists alike.

I hope that it produces publications I can teach. (Hint: ask your conference participants to write a publishable draft of their papers and release an anthology, use your conference attendance and the reputation of sponsors like Howard Brown Health Center to convince a publisher that your anthology will sell. Ask your keynotes to write a 1-2 page intro so you have your big name in the front. And viola!!! Everybody wins.)

If you want to enroll, do it now, b/c you are already into the late registration fee zone. click here.

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