I want to write a bit more about the Femme Conference, about the struggle of being with all femmes, being in that girlfriend place that has been so missing most of my life, and how painful it is, what an awful ache.
Since Sunday, I’ve been feeling this kind of throbby warmth in the aftermath of the FemmeCon, like an afterglow. And here’s why, I think: last night, when I was writing about my own transition over the last 6 years, I recognized the breadth of my own femme support system, my circle of amazing femme friends and supporters (some of whom maybe I’m naming as honorary femmes), who’ve walked (with) me through this change from butch to femme, who walk with me as I keep on trying to find sure footing in this girlness:
The women from home: Molly, Juli, Carla, Lisa, Kathleen, my sister
the Dirty Inkers: Dorian, Naomi, Renee G (and not femme but of course Renee R, too, who was so supportive and present with my transition even though it meant she was the only butch left in Dirty Ink!)
The Body Heaters: Kathleen Delaney(again), Veronica Combs/Vixen Noir, Alex Cafarelli, Meliza Bañales, Vagina Jenkins, Leslie Freeman, Celestina Pearl, Nicky Click, Gigi Frost —
The sisterfemmefriends: Sarah Deragon, Tina D’Elia, Rachel Carroll, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
and more local femme role models/writer colleagues than I could name…
I’ve spent, maybe, too much of my life with books, with movies, with others’ stories of friends who show up for you when you’re sad, who open your blinds, who bring you back to life and bring you ice cream or Chinese noodles or a bottle of wine. I hear those stories when I’m at the femme conference, too, stories of bone friendship, friendships mourned over when they’re lost. I envy those stories: the girls who got together easily, or seemingly easily, who meet each other as girls/women/femmes/comrades/and something else, too. Who show up, answer phone calls, hold your secrets, give advice, argue and come back together again (or don’t). I mean people who hold your heart and meet you where you live, under your scars and surfaces, in all of your mess. People who you perform for, maybe, like we all perform all the time, but who can see your performances — can see the edges and the underneath, who know the backside of your smile and your rage.
The truth is I have been terrified to be so known. I am still. Friends know me better, differently, than lovers do. Forever, it seems like forever, the people I could be close to, raw and honest with, were the people I was fucking or in a romantic relationship with. That’s an old story that I don’t want to tell it all again, but let’s just suffice it to say that that’s what my stepfather allowed: why would I spend time with anyone I wasn’t about to get into bed with? Friends were a threat to him, of course, and so he cut me out of that possibility. I had people I hung around with at school, lots of guys I liked and talked to, and some girls too and what I’m really trying to say here is that while I had people I spent time with, I walked around inside a wall. As soon as I left school, the wall came down and I was back inside my own personal hell. We all had one, I know.
When you’re a teenager, you’re supposed to be learning how to relate to other people, how to be a friend and a community member — we learn about drama and interpersonal bad behavior in junior high and high school, but we also learn about solidarity and community and friendship — at least, ideally. Maybe lots of us don’t. I’m one of the don’ts, because I couldn’t. When you’re growing up in a controlling or abusive situation (I know many of you all know this already), you can’t let others in: You’re not allowed to. They’re ridiculed, threatened by the system you live within. In college, once I started trying to make strong emotional ties with folks outside my family, my stepfather threatened their lives — and so it becomes a matter of saving someone else, to disconnect from them. How could it not be easier, safer, then, finally, to be alone? I didn’t learn how to be a heart-friend, how to be that raw and vulnerable, how to see and be so seen.
This isn’t about not having connections with people, having love. It’s about something deeper. How much I missed that experience of best-friends, of endless phone conversations with someone who loved me not just because we were fucking, someone I could talk to about anything. I hated hearing anyone else talk about it. I didn’t want to know about your best friend: it was just a reminder that it wasn’t me, that that wasn’t a world I got to inhabit.
Of course, the truth is, I’d been trained into my own sexual currency; but I didn’t know or believe in my worth as a friend. There’s been a process of unearthing, this letting myself be a friend I could believe in, because, for years, I was the friend you just had to let go of — don’t expect anything from me. I might not always answer the phone. I might disappear. I might lie and hide from you. My romantic relationship will always come before you. I might not open even though I will expect you to: and then I wondered why I felt so lonely.
Over the course of the last couple of years, I’ve become aware that I have the friendships I’ve always wanted: thick-heart-risky-brave connections with women who make me want to be more and more honest and real. It’s terrifying: these are people I admire and ache for, who are smart and brave and risk-taking, who don’t have to choose me but do. But do. Complicated and imperfect; people I’ve gotten angry with and still loved with everything. How can this be?
There’s more here, but I’m going to stop with this: thank you. I love you. I’m sorry. I’m working. I’m so grateful for you.
And thank you for being there, and for reading —