Femme Embodiments of the Other Part 1

Mainstream media and the fashion industry may have more femme portrayal than other queer identities, but at what cost?

The majority of femmes we see on TV and the runway do not represent the vast diversity within the femme community. Over sexualized and dressed for the white male gaze, heteronormative / heterodominant beauty standards dictate how our favorite TV characters walk, dress, and act.

To help dismantle the heteropatriarchy, we are starting this series — a collaboration between myself and Theologian & Ethicist for the Movement of LGBTQ lives, Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza — to bring more femme voices to the table.

We aim to feature a diverse range of femme identities including those with non-normative / counter normative sexual orientations, immigrants and undocumented folks, people of size, people of color, people with disabilities, nonbinary folks, people of trans experience, people from working class backgrounds, people of faith who wear religious garments, and more.

Our goal is to expose the deep intersections that frame identities of femmes by highlighting the ways in which femmes are impacted by the logic of dominance that is so often illustrated in hetero-normative-patriarchy. The “logic of dominance” is a way of describing the concepts that inform the thought patterns and resulting practices that further expose a supremacist ideology. Femmes are often those who are most impacted by the logic of dominance and the white male (masculine) gaze in that the narrative is that femmes are to be consumed by male-bodies and masculine folks. When we actively begin to dismantle the logic of dominance that has a parasitic relationship with the logic of white supremacy, we also address the internalized misogyny and sexism that often is at play in these logics.

1. Alysse Dalessandro

Alysse Dalessandro is a queer plus size fashion blogger, writer, social influencer, designer, and professional speaker. After graduating with a double-major in Journalism and Gender Studies, this entrepreneur is best known as the owner/designer for body positive fashion brand Ready to Stare and its corresponding personal style blog, #StareStyle. In addition to her work in fashion, Alysse travels around the United States as a professional speaker and she is a trusted voice in the body positive community. She has been selected to speak at the Success Her Way Summit, Queer Body Love Series, Curves Rock Weekend, the TCFStyle Expo and the Fat Activism Conference.

Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t being discriminated or othered for my gender presentation and physical appearance.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't being discriminated or othered for my gender presentation and physical appearance. As a fat femme, my body is both hyper-sexualized and de-humanized on a regular basis. I am the representation of one person's lust and another's hatred and for some, I represent both. I am often seen as less than human and there's an entitlement that others feel to my body that often makes me feel very unsafe, especially online. In person, people have always harassed me for the way I choose to dress my fat body. My blog is called Ready to Stare and it was inspired by a time when I was walking across the street and someone screamed "hey fat girl, stop trying to look skinny." That experience of being stared at and shamed in that way inspired me to get to the place where I am at now: staring back and challenging the way we view fat bodies and disrupting the male gaze. If you are going to stare at me, I am going to stare back. Confidence isn't reserved for people who meet society's beauty standard. Everyone should have their right to exist and feel good in their own body while examining the ways in which others are oppressed for their bodies, too. 

What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be?

Being a queer fat femme, I have struggled with my own visibility. As a fat woman, I am often the largest in the room and still the most invisible. As a femme, I am still often viewed as straight no matter how many times I tell people that I'm not. Learning to become comfortable in images has helped me so much in owning my identity and taking control over my own visibility. These images are my way of saying, "you don't have control over my body or who you think I am; I do." I have a small tattoo on my back that says "Io sono mia" which in Italian translates to "I own myself" or "I am mine." Most people I encounter don't know what it means, but it reminds me that I have control of my own body. 

How do you use style as a means of resistance?

From an early age, personal style became my resistance. I always had an interest in fashion and I would get bullied for the way I dressed my fat body. My own friends would be like "how could you wear that?" so I made a conscious decision to dress how I wanted to dress and not how others expected me to dress. Finding what I wanted to wear in my size wasn't always easy and to be honest, it's still not. I started thrifting and designing my own clothes and accessories in high school. I know that the hourglass shape of my body is often associated with hyper femininity so I began to find ways to challenge that. I began shopping in the men's section, not only because they had more pieces in my size, but because it helped me to challenge the gender norms so often associated with my body type. I would wear a men's mesh football jersey with just a bra underneath. In fact, I still have an entire section of my closet dedicated to mesh jerseys. I would wear men's button-downs with no pants. But if I want to to wear a dress and heels, I do that too. My only rule is: if I like it; I wear it. Practicing this form of resistance at such a young age definitely prepared me for the work that I do now. I don't allow how others feel about my body to determine what I put on it. When you're fat, wearing what you want is a radical act. I think it's hard for people to describe my personal style and for me, that's kinda the point. 

2. Jonathan Acosta Abi Hassan

Jonathan Acosta Abi Hassan is a Venezuelan genderfluid pansexual fashion blogger based in Miami. They love to express themselves with their unique personal style and artistic influences. At age 22, Jonathan has lived in over 5 different countries, providing them with the unique experience to see how people around the world respond to those who dress outside of the "social norms" of their society. 

Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?

I remember being in Amsterdam with a group of friends during the summer of 2016 and I almost got attacked by 3 different people on the street because I was wearing makeup and a very feminine outfit.

A few times my mother hid or burned some of my clothing just because they where “too gay for a man to wear.

I also remember a few times my mother hid or burned some of my clothing just because they where "too gay for a man to wear." Every time she tried to reinforce the heteronormative behavior she wanted me to have but that I clearly didn't. 

 

What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be?

Finding success stories of other amazing femme people around the world. It is very inspiring to see someone live their life happily and comfortably being who they are. That inspires me to be who I am all the time.

How do you use style as a means of resistance?

Through style and fashion, humans have the ability to create whatever kind of appearance they want to create. That's why I love wearing any type of clothing that I want to wear, match it with a pair of heels, and I'm good to go.

3. Connie Cann

Connie Cann is a queer Chinese artist from a town of 3,000 people in North Carolina. After serving as a youth worker in Boston for four years, she relocated to Charlotte in 2016. She is currently the Development Director at a nonprofit that coordinates volunteers in high-poverty elementary schools to help students build math skills and academic confidence. She enjoys playing the banjo and painting.

Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?

I experience discrimination due to my gender presentation and physical appearance on a daily basis, in ways that intersect, build up, and break me down.

Unsolicited compliments do not get shouted into a vacuum. They get shouted at me, in the continuum of my life, one after another. When someone I don’t know shouts a compliment at me — even if it’s to tell me I’m beautiful — I feel physical fear that this person might hurt me. Because I get looked at and talked to in condescending and predatory ways All The Time. I get touched in public All The Time.

When someone I don’t know shouts a compliment at me - even if it’s to tell me I’m beautiful - I feel physical fear that this person might hurt me.

Often people refuse the legitimacy of this narrative. Who doesn’t want to be told they’re beautiful? It’s rude to ignore a compliment. You’re lucky to be getting the attention! I get it. It seems small. A hand placed on the small of my back as someone pushes past me on the bus. A body pressing against me as I’m waiting to order a drink. But it doesn’t feel small to me. When I don’t know you and you touch me without asking it’s actually scary for me. I start planning my escape route.

Overwhelmingly, the people who approach me in public are older white cis men who want to know what my ethnicity is. I have had strangers come up to me, touch my tattoos, and tell me everything they know about Chinese astrology (spoiler alert: not much). I have heard:

“My first wife was Filipino. Are you Filipino?”

“Hi. You look so exotic.”

And the classic, “Where are you from?”

Unsolicited attention occurs in the greater context of my life, my experiences, and the historical context of the femme experience. People may think I’m rude for dismissing compliments or ignoring their question or whatever, but really I’m just tired.

What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be?

I read an interview in Complex with A$AP Rocky a couple years ago where he compared fashion to Harry Potter. He referred to how the wand chooses the wizard in Harry Potter, and said that’s what fashion is like. “You gotta let it take control of you. You don’t know, sometimes it is stepping out of your own comfort zone, but it is what it is.”

How do you use style as a means of resistance?

If I stop wearing qipao dresses and overalls and bodycon skirts, I am surrendering to a society that says femmes, queers, people of color, and people from poor small towns are worth less. We are told this through the way we are represented in the media, through institutions, and by strangers on the street. My style encompasses multiple identities, and my identity is my resistance.

4. Sabine Maxine Lopez

Sabine Maxine Lopez is the Owner of Patty Wack Vintage, founder of A Tribe Called Queer a Stylist, Photographer, and Curator of Clothing+Art+Events. Sabine has been collecting vintage for well over 15 years and decided to turn her passion into a business, with the launch of her Etsy online shop in 2013. 

She has styled and shot all of her PWV Look Books to date and her work as a stylist was chosen to be featured on the runway at Queer Fashion Week in 2016.  Sabine founded A Tribe Called Queer on Instagram because she realized that she wanted to shed light on queers that make a positive contribution to the community.

That passion also inspired her to create and curate the Queer Bazaar, an event that features local queer vendors and is hosted at various queer owned businesses. 

Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?

I have experienced discrimination in some form or another all of my life. As an afro-latina growing up in the 80's, people didn't know what to think of me. Being light skinned with fine curly hair, black folks didn't necessarily accept me. I was teased in high school by the only other black girls in the predominately hispanic school I attended. They shamed me because I didn't have black hair. On the flip side, I was called the N-Word by my own hispanic relatives. It was very confusing for me in terms of my identity. I didn't know where I belonged. I also developed very early and have been curvy from age 12 on. Though my weight has always fluctuated, I've been called fat all my life. Even when I was a size 8 which is crazy to me! I believe society has done an amazing job brainwashing people to believe that women should look a certain way.

What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be? 

I’m often called a bitch because I speak up.

My motto in life is to live authentically... in every possible way! I know that I am powerful. I know that I am beautiful. I (have learned to) embrace my curves. I am proud of my heritage and where I come from. I am brutally honest. And I am also adamant about speaking up and letting my voice be heard! I am not the type to sugar coat my feelings, and i'm often called a bitch because I speak up. Society doesn't want us to have a voice. They want us to sit down, shut up, and follow orders. Well I am not the one. I'll never surrender.

How do you use style as a means of resistance? 

I feel like my style has always been a form of resistance. As a welfare kid, I got so jealous of my cousin because she always had new Guess clothes and fresh shoes. I had to rock Payless and hand-me-downs. It wasn't glamorous. But as I got to high school, I learned to get creative with my clothing. Shopping at thrift stores and re-working pieces to make them my own. I would get called weirdo and stared at because of my outfits. But I didn't care because it was an outlet for me.

As an adult, clothing is definitely my form of art and resistance. It is the most immediate form of self expression. Besides your haircut, people see your outfit before your face. As I hit 35 last year, I had the emergent need to no longer work in the oppressive environment that was my office job. So I quit after 11 years. Since then, my hair has been several bright colors and i'm not afraid to look queer. It's been a fun process blending my new and old self. I'm enjoying this new style journey!

5. Jo Jo

Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?

I deal with this occasionally when dating to find someone who will authentically & genuinely love you for you no matter who you identify as and no matter what's between your legs! 


What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be? 

I think what empowers me most is ME. Also! No matter who you are or what you do, this may seem dark, but you can have all the beautiful things in the world, invest so much money into surgery to change your body, or even be the healthiest person in the world, but at the END of the day we will all pass on. So why waste time trying to be what the world wants you to be? Be YOU! Embrace you! Have fun in your life! As much as you can! Be your own kind of femme! There's no time to waste.

How do you use style as a means of resistance?

I think how you dress isn't always entirely how you break down the walls of society's box, it's HOW you wear it! It's how you feel! I use my confidence, I embrace and rock what I've got! It's all about how you carry yourself! Don't let the clothes wear you, YOU wear the clothes! Shine through what you wear! Where what says YOU, & wear it with confidence! Don't let society box you in!

If you would like to participate in our next Femme Embodiments of the Other features, please email info@qwearfashion.com with:

  1. 5 (high res if possible) photos showing a range of your style

  2. A short bio in third person

  3. The answer to these questions:

  • Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?

  • What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be?

  • How do you use style as a means of resistance?

Thank you for helping us resist the heteropatriarchy!

 

 

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Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza

Queer Activist, Public Theologian, and Latinx Scholar Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, is the Public Theologian in residence at Faith Matters Network. Dr Robyn travels extensively speaking to groups and lecturing throughout the country on ways to live into an anti-oppression and anti-racist frame. Seeking to dismantle multi-system oppressions, including the logic of of dominance that bolsters the logic of white supremacy, Dr. Robyn is considered a Theologian for the Movement of LGBTQ lives and is deeply invested in the Movement for Black Lives. Follow: @iRobyn & @activistheology on Twitter, @queertheologian on Facebook, and @iRobyn on Instagram.

As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.