Lipsticks Link Up for Baltimore ’Queer Femme’ Conference
Every other year for the last eight years, femmes of every striped, checkered and glittery pattern convene in a different city to "explore, dissect and support" the concept of the Queer Femme. This year, the Femme Conference landed in Baltimore, and brought enough transgressive kink along with it to make Divine’s birthplace proud.
"The Femme Conference is a chance for queer femmes to gather together for three days of life-changing workshops, skill-shares, lectures, keynotes, performances, films and art that though centered on queer femme identities, expands to incorporate a wide-range of social justice and identity issues," Femme Conference Co-chair Krista Smith told EDGE. "Participants see themselves reflected in each other, discuss and work on tactics to create solidarity and together challenge each other to dismantle current systems of oppression, create social change and build new models for healthy communities, individuals and selves."
Walking into the lobby of the Inn at the Colonnade, I was greeted by people screaming hellos to old friends, engaging in excited chatter and planning their weekend. It was at once energetic and peaceful, a strange combination of loud and calming. This juxtaposition set the stage for the conference.
An all-volunteer collective of femme-identified folks from across the country organizes the annual Femme Conference. As a former volunteer coordinator, I was deeply impressed by the level of commitment and attention to detail demonstrated by the collective.
There were nearly 50 workshops, three keynote speakers, a spoken word event, a clothing swap, (a cabaret show, an art installation, a film festival, local vendors, and free child care through Kidz City. And yes, there was a play party, which was sold out.
Although some of the caucuses were restricted to femme-identified women only, as a burly Baltimore butch, I was happy to share the spaces to which I was invited and respect the space where I wasn’t welcome. I am a femme ally.
I love femmes, not only as the individual women I’m attracted to, but also as heroes. So I was excited to find a diverse community of allies, including a hastily organized but leisurely "Butch Lunch," and an allied workshop facilitated by local biking enthusiast, Myloh ’Bones’ Jackson.
Bird la Bird, a London-based femme performance artist, gave the weekend’s outstanding lecture, "Holding Court," a musing on femmes, femininity and clas. La Bird’s workshop introduced attendees to her work, which addresses topics such as austerity, femme pride and domestic violence. With her creative cohorts, she has created a FeMUSEum. She also organized Bird Pride, a femme presence in pride and a cabaret called Bird Club.
Natalya Brusilovsky was moved by the workshop entitled, "How Close Is Your Monster?: Mini-Autobiographies on Finding Your Femme," where participants talked about how race and ethnicity influenced gender expression and how women think about their bodies.
"We practiced active listening and storytelling, wrote poems, had a free-write, and all drew pictures of our ideal femme superhero, magnifying our monstrous parts and melding them into our whole and unique identities," said Brusilovsky. "The concept of combining our ugliest parts with our femmeness was inspirational and actually, fabulous."
At the popular "Failing at Femme: Insecurity, Competition and the Language of Femme Inclusion," participants discussed how many femmes feel talk about failing at their self-identified persona.
Another powerful workshop was the "Mixed Race Caucus." Attendees shared their experiences with ownership of their ancestry, including being in families that may ignore or minimize one race while affirming another aspect of our identity. The discussion spilled over, with participants eagerly continuing the conversation.
"This was my first Femme Conference, and it meant everything to me to be present and visible as a woman of color," said Femme Conference Media Co-chair Aries Hines. "For me it was a space of thought-provoking workshops, healing caucuses, much needed hugs, difficult politics, laughter, activism, powerful performances, vendors, social justice, community and lots and lots of glitter, put on by a group of people in between day jobs, night jobs, performing, living, loving and growing."
After the official end of the conference, as folks were settling their hotel bills and having long goodbyes with old and new friends, Jess Vallas moderated an extended mini-caucus in the lobby. Topics discussed included invisibility, the power in speaking our truths and the hunger for understanding. At the end, group members suggested a group hug.
"Femmecon was a journey of joy and tears as I felt the affirmation, celebration and deconstructing of my femme identity," Toronto actress and singer Sedina Fiati told EDGE. "To see others like myself holding it down in their own way gives me the strength to keep naming femme and the ways in which it operates in relation to the queer community and the world as a whole."
For more info, visit www.femme2012.com/