Femmethology author Jen Cross

Femmethology Author Jen Cross

How do you define your femme identity?

I define my femme identity as a reaction to the intersection of feminine gender presentation and a female-sexed body. I define my femme identity as, and a correlation to, my femalehood, my queerness, my being a lover of female masculinity and butchness, my white middle-class midwesternness, my being a survivor of incest. Shit. I define it as a problem some days, as a curse some days, as the most phenomenal thing about me some days: I don’t feel that way about this so-called female body, but the femme-/feminine-gendered-ness continues to be a space of contradiction and struggle.

I’m getting to where I’m ok with that. I’m getting to where I like the way that femme looks different on me almost every day. I’m getting to where femme looks a whole lot like I imagined “grown up woman” was going to look like when I was a little kid: freedom, variety, play, laughter, jeans and long twirly skirts, pretty and scuffed knees. Grace and klutziness. Angry and joyous. Hands that are strong and soft and calloused and scarred and audacious.

How do other identities you have not only intersect with femme but also contradict it?

It can feel like every identity both intersects and contradicts, contravenes, every other identity sometimes. Sometimes it feels as though a Midwestern whiteness inherently undermines the fierceness of the loud-mouth, thickly fearless femme that I want to inhabit. There are times when being a capital-S survivor of sexual trauma is so along-the-lines of white American (= victim) femalehood that I can’t figure how to devastatingly embody them both and have them feed into rather than on one another. Ever since coming out to myself as femme, I’ve fought to retain the identity of strong-bodied woman – wanting to be the girl in high heels carrying the heavy load. Physical strength is an important piece of my own identity, and it’s been a struggle to feel as though I can be seen as undermining someone else’s identity if I can lift a whole lot of pounds. But then, I’m from farm stock, and women out thataway know how to pull (our) weight; it’s a value. It’s a necessity. Letting someone else carry mine for me is a difficult negotiation.

What are some joys of being femme?

The shoes. The word-play. The friendships and solidarities. The underminings of expectation, within and without our various queer communities. The fingernail polish. The nakedness. The conversion (recognition?) of nudity, of skin, into costume and even armor. (Did I say the shoes?) The laugher. The sexiness. The crying in public places. Our deep queerness. The sense of an actual rightness within myself, even if it’s momentary and transient. The appreciation of cleavage. The abutment of biceps and glitter; I mean, the glamour of strength, and the strength of softness. Our own contradictions, surprises, eruptions. The volatility of our erotics, our desire. Finally recognizing our multiplicities—*my* multiplicities. Ball gowns. Jeans and t-shirts. Bright, dark nailpolish digging in cookie dough, in the dirt, in language against the page, slow and thick into another’s body…

What role does writing play in community-building for you?

Writing is community and community-building for me. Reading is the primary way that I (as a white, middle-class, Midwestern girl whose family was focused on education and upward mobility) have found language for the possibilities in my life (as a girl, then as a survivor, then as a dyke, then as a sexual human, now as femme and partnered with a butch-trans husband), and I’ve often written myself into the life I desired, as well as in response to those who’ve inspired and helped create space for me (so many you-saved-my-life thanks to my ancestor writers, my fore-folks, my inspirations). I’ve often had to write the essay or the story that I most needed to read at some difficult time in my life, and have had the strongest responses from readers of those pieces. The writing workshops I facilitate are as much about affirming each of our stories and artistries as it is about participating in the creation of safe and risky community.

How does it feel to be part of the Femmethologies?

I’m deeply honored to be a part of the Femmethologies! To be one of a multiplicity of voices exploring what femme can be feels like a gift. What I hope is that these books will help to create that wider space of what our queernesses can look like, so that fewer folks spend stretches of years feeling like there’s only one right way to be (be good, be gay, be strong, be right, be queer, be revolutionary, etc.), whether or not that way is a right fit for them. I hope these collections help me/us/our communities recalibrate our gaydar, you know? So that we can better recognize and celebrate one another and ourselves.

Femme is _____ (one word only, please)