the fantastic leslie freeman

Femmethology Author Leslie Freeman

How do you define your femme identity?

I am a dis/abled femme and a femme crip.

I understand both femme and crip to be markers of conscious, critical engagement with difference.  Femme, as I live it, represents a proactive choice to perform, push, and challenge my feminine gender orientation. Femme is independent of sex, of “biology”, but rather allows me to explore my singular embodiment as a source of explicitly feminine beauty, sexuality, and strength.  Neither is femme equivalent to, nor merely qualifies, “woman” or “girl” identities; I have constructed and embraced my femme identity in defiance of such mainstream interpretations of femininity. It is an opportunity—maybe even a dare—to completely re-define femininity.

Similarly, my experiential knowledge of crip has gone beyond identification with my physical impairment, and, though I am most at home in dis/ability communities, beyond identification with dis/ability as a collective political identity or civil rights issue.  Crip is a recognition of my scarred and anomalous body as a potential site for social transgression, and for new culture-building: ART.  Free from mainstream social conventions, crip allows me to place my embodied experiences at the center of new concepts of beauty, power, and wholeness.  Both femme and crip are about self-determination\-and about solidarity with others who sought self-determination in opposition to oppressive normative forces.

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

In my essay “Essence and Artifice”, I addressed a butch who refused to see my dis/abled femme identity. “In your head, these words contradict each other. I am femme: pretty and feminine. Milky flesh you’d like to swallow. Dis/ability means weakness, sexless passivity—ugly.” This is a perceived contradiction that I struggle against every day.

I’ve spent time in butch-femme spaces where femme has been presented as an aspect of queer woman identity, correlated to, dependent upon, and validated by butch or transmasculine sexual attention.  In these spaces, butch and transmasculine sexualities appear correlated to and adapted from heteronormative masculinity, including heteronormative patriarchal standards of femininity and ability.  Maybe you’ve been to clubs or parties where femmes target their dress and makeup styles to maximize their exposure to a butch-macho gaze.  I’ve also watched femme burlesque and theatre performances of sexual desirability, which have re-inforced a tacit aesthetic hierarchy, privileging curvaceous, cissexual female femme bodies above angular, male, and/or androgynous femme bodies. The same aesthetic hierarchy and competition which essentializes femme as a gender identity, also portays femme as a non-dis/abled identity.  It codifies rituals and ideals of feminine beauty which are inaccessible to many, if not most, people with physical dis/abilities.

In essentializing spaces, I choose dis/ability identity by default. If a “real femme” is one whose skin appears smooth; whose perfume lingers; who dances—in a variety of standing positions—with or for a butch partner, without shaking, spasming, falling, or hesitating; who calls herself fierce but doesn’t complain about pain—Well, honey, that ain’t me. I don’t want that, even if it’s equally hard for me to embrace the positive valuation of my difference that defines me as crip. I’ll be the one at the back of the bar, with the naked scarred face and scruffy tomboy clothes.

Did I mention that I’m Irish, by way of the Ozarks?

What are some joys of being femme?

For much of my life, I have dwelt mostly inside my own head. What I mean is that I have tended to connect more easily to books than to people, and to devalue the resonances that I have felt between my body and my environment, including my human environment. Claiming femme and crip identities has meant moving beyond that dissociated head space and fully into my body, into this sensual consciousness . For me, the joys of being femme include dressing up to dance to Queen, alone on a weekday morning; making snow angels after a long winter run; savoring the aches in my jointsheartcunt after sex.

I’m constantly amazed that femme is both so playful and so powerful, that play doesn’t negate but illumines power.

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

Stories are the connective tissue of community. They show us the power of naming ourselves and our experiences, and allow us to recognize ourselves in one another.

My first real notion of community came from reading stories, especially memoir, which touched on or framed my own experiences, and wanting to be in dialog with the people who had written them, people whom I imagined to be “like me”. Now, I’m completing a MA degree in the nascent field of Transformative Language Arts, writing for personal and social change. As a TLA student and facilitator, I’ve enjoyed amazing opportunities to write in community, mostly with recent veterans and other people with dis/abilities who have experienced trauma.

But the community of writers around the Femmethology project is singular. This community has connected me with brilliant, radical femmes who live and write diverse visions of what I call the queercrip feminine. It has also helped me to build solidarity with and learn from non-dis/abled femmes across disparate cultural locations. I’ve actually made friends through the Femmethologies! (Can I give a quick shout-out to contributors Sass Lowrey and Margaret Price, who sent me new work and mixtapes at regular intervals through an incredibly tumultuous fall and winter?)

How does it feel to be part of the Femmethologies?

I am so excited for this project to make its way into the world, to reach out to other femmes and allies who may be searching for reflections of self and possibility. I’m proud to be published alongside writers who care passionately about both intention and craft—not just the other Femmethology contributors, but all of Homofactus’s authors. I feel blessed.

Femme is _____ (one word only, please).