Sistah Summerfest 2003
                June 6-8, 2003
An Event for Womyn of all Ages,
                               Lifestyles and Persuasions



This Life I Live FemmeNoir Events Contact Coffee Klatch The Village

Pat Parker
Twenty Years . . .
The Women Gather
Since I Do Not Dare
An Ideal Partner
The Greatest of These
In The Spirit
You Were Loved
You Are Not Alone
Choose Your Label
Peace On Earth
This Life I Live
Eros, Pathos
Choice of Weapons
On My Own


This Life I Live

I fear this column has become a cathartic expression of my experiences with death, loss of love, and a reflection on an awakening of self as Christine’s roots slowly recede.  Funny thing, this reflection on self has moved me to look hard at my reflection in the mirror and ask the question “where have you been all these years?”  Another article of interest for me was the tape recorded dream I have since listened to again and again which foretold what I would experience years later.  This dream confirmed for me what I have now come to realize, I changed who I was to be acceptable to someone I both loved and admired and, in the dream, I left Christine and her friends, as she packed her things, came into my own and returned to the person I used to be.  I now understand why I had to come to California back in 1990, the year Christine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was to meet the teacher and mentor who would provide me with understanding on living my life out and proud as a lesbian.  I truly feel blessed and I am grateful.

Christine and I came from different backgrounds.  I was introduced to the lesbian lifestyle through a very different group of women whom I will refer to as the Secret Society of Lesbians (the “SSL”).  I was introduced to the group through a woman I knew from school.  Her “gaydar” was obviously working better than mine – I’ll call her “J.”  She invited me to a “private party being held at a friend’s house” and she asked me to pick her up “so we could go together.”  How convenient.

I did, and when we arrived, I saw women, lots of women, no men.  A bit nervous to say the least I wondered, silently of course, how she knew about me.  Up to that point, I had been living my life vicariously through the lives of Audre Lourde, Cheryl Clarke, Barbara Smith and a few gay and lesbian papers and magazines, anything I could get my hands on.  The only lesbians I knew were the White and easily identifiable women at school who were a curious lot but I had no real interest in knowing them.  I found them too boyish and I wanted no part of that. 

After a few drinks and a bit of socializing, I cornered “J” and asked her how she knew.  Her explanation was we had become so close and had started running around so much, she felt she would push it a little by introducing me to her friends – so I would know.  Her belief was if I became uncomfortable, since I drove, I could leave, and she would get a ride home.  How quaint. 

Through “J” and other women I met in this group, I developed great friends and relations.  We were like girlfriends, we shopped together, hung out at the makeup and perfume counters together, went to the movies together, we even went to straight discos and clubs together, and yes, we even slept together.  No drama, no hang-ups, just girls having fun. 

At that time I was maybe 20 years old when I was introduced to the SSL.  I did not understand fully the consequences or judgments others could have if they knew what was going on.  I only knew this was right for me.  So of course, I could not and did not fully appreciate the luxury this life afforded me.  How easy it was for a woman to visit another woman’s apartment and maybe spend the night particularly when the perception was “we don’t look like lesbians.”  Who would suspect; we painted our nails, dressed well, who would suspect us of being lesbians?  What a luxury. 

If there were any suspicions, our gay (or down-low) brothers came to our aid (as we did for them) and would pose as boyfriends.  Albeit, I had my own boyfriend at the time, in fact, I was engaged to marry this wonderful young man.  It was this relationship with my fiancé that wore heavily on my conscience.  As a Black man, I could not bear the truth of my life coming back round to hit this man in the face.  He could not compete with this truth and I could not continue to do this to a brother.  What was paramount in my mind was at all costs; do not disrespect a brother particularly a brother you’re involved with.  So, I eventually confessed because I felt it better he hear this from me instead of finding out somewhere else.  I subsequently broke off our engagement; I just could not bear lying to him anymore.

I then took a long and hard look at the women I had been socializing with.  Some were married, or in committed relationships with men, were engaged to men, or had some form of intimate relations with men.  Others were only interested in women, were living with women in two-bedroom apartments or homes pretending to be roommates, or cousins, or chose not to declare a thing.  These lies became very uncomfortable for me. 

I went to “J” and told her of my concerns and she in turn solicited the wisdom of two other women, I will call one “S”, who then sat me down to instruct me on the consequences on “doing the right thing” as I called it.  Her wisdom was I would have to change otherwise: I would not be totally accepted by those lesbians who were out; I would be treated with suspicion; many women will think me to be someone passing through on my way to the arms of a man; and others will denounce me out-of-hand.  Oh, the litany of negativity did not cease, but I was determined to prove them wrong.

Some weeks later, I read about a Black Lesbians Rap Group and set out after work one day to attend.  There I was, not a strand of hair out of place, a beautiful wool suit, nylons, heels, jewelry, matching belt, blouse and handkerchief, I walked into a room of women wearing heavy boots, jeans, shirts, natural hairstyles – ooooh I was so out of place.  After the conversation I walked into made its way around the room, the focus went to me and, as my grandmother would say; my soul was laid to rest.  My personal was not political enough for these women.  My attire, my permed hair, my painted nails, my high-heeled shoes, all of me was not acceptable.  I was “conforming to a man’s view of what a woman should look like.”  I was devastated by this and I was also summarily dismissed.

As I rose to leave, another woman walked out with me.  This woman followed me out and told me she knew a party where “women like me went” and she promised to call when she heard about their next party.  She also apologized for the conduct of the women in the room.  We exchanged numbers and vowed to speak again. 

When Executive Sweets had their next party, MJ phoned, as promised, and we agreed to meet there.  I also called “J” inviting her to the party as well and she vehemently refused – a cold “not my kind of party” refusal.  Oh, she was quite pleased at what happened with me at the rap group and offered her “I told you so” but she was not venturing out to “this – no, no thank you.”  So, MJ and I had a great time. 

When the next party came up, “J” actually joined me and did not like it one bit.  In less than one hour’s time she wanted to leave.  When we got in the car she started in with “you don’t get it do you?”  I honestly did not get "it."  In an angered huff, we began a journey from one lesbian bar to another.  We hit the big bistros and the small neighborhood bars just so I could “get it.”  After a whirlwind two or three weeks of bar hopping, we finally sat down to discuss the strange lesson she was trying to teach me.  What was the lesson?  A common theme surfaced – the bars catered primarily to a White clientele; the women wore what we termed “diesel dyke” attire; when we entered a club or bar, we often were not approached and when we were they were mostly “butch” women. 

With all due respect to butches and the struggles they face in a homophobic world, I still believe it is harder for femmes to come out as femme. Butches can pass in an andro situation; femmes usually go through at least a handful of incidences of being questioned or criticized by lesbians who disapprove of their dress, their grooming, or their mannerisms. (Why it's become so standard for lesbians to feel so free to tear down other people is quite another thread ...)

Forum thread from

We talked about butch/femme relationships, how she didn’t feel she “fit” in that community.  She told me if she wanted a man she knew where to find them. She reiterated the conversation I had with her and “S” some weeks prior about changing to fit in, being treated with suspicion as women would see me walk into a room and feel I was there to fulfill some perverse fantasy with or without a man.  All of this was so new to me and I, admittedly, was so totally oblivious to what went on around us I never noticed what she saw but, I was still determined to make a go of this and equally determined was I to continue on my journey in spite of her observations.  Ahhh, the passions of youth.

I never saw “J” again and our conversations were few and far between.  I continued on my journey and eventually met the woman I would share seven years of my life.  Even in this new relationship, we did not participate in strictly gay/lesbian activities.  We had our own circle of friends – some gay, some straight – and we did not venture far from our circle of friends.  We were two women living in a two-bedroom house and yes, we were roommates.

It wasn’t until I came to California, where I met Christine Tripp, when I came to understand the gay/lesbian community.  I was invited to Unity by a coworker and when I entered the church I realized how overdressed I was in comparison to others in the church.  I dismissed this as Southern California casual.  Admittedly, having lived this life for so many years, I came to terms with the fact I would be treated with suspicion.  I found many women really had no point of reference for someone like me.  I would approach them and engage in small talk and we would move on.  Christine was the first person I met who was active in the community and had been most of her life.  She welcomed me and we had long talks about our different backgrounds.  She was very interested in the SSL and I was very interested in her coming out process and her involvement in the community and life of activism. 

Together, we got glimpses of the gay/lesbian community through each other’s eyes – that which is seen and that which is unseen.  I filled in her blanks and she filled in mine.  I would be less than honest to say our relationship was a panacea, it was not.  Christine and I were sometimes the W.E.B. and the Booker T. of I disagree.  Our experiences and realities were so different and yes, I did change – I came into her world, she did not come into mine. 

Recently, while scanning photos of Christine, I thought I would pull some of my old photos to scan.  I was shocked at my transformation.  Christine was known as a femme and I guess, unknowingly, I tried to fit the role of butch.  As I looked through the pictures, I heard “J” and “S” speak loudly – “you’ll have to decide butch or femme and don’t be too femme.”  Yes, I changed and they were right.  I remember going to a club in Los Angeles with a friend of mine from Chicago and yeah, we were never approached by anyone to dance.  I remember being at a party, in Christine’s house, when someone made a comment that everyone in the house was gay and one woman pointed and looked at me and said “she’s not.”  Christine found that quite amusing and said it was because I looked "straight."  She often commented on how she and I could go to a restaurant and the person serving us would say “how can I help you ladies” 

Unfortunately, there exists a chasm between two communities of Black lesbians.  Fortunately, Christine and I were able to build a bridge of understanding across the divide – even if it was just the two of us.  We knocked heads sometimes as we agreed to disagree, but we tried to understand and at least between the two of us, we came to understand one another.  I shall take nothing for my journey and if I had it to do over again, I would do nothing different. 

I am thankful to “S” and “J” for trying to protect me from what they themselves experienced and, as a result, chose to live secret lives.  I thank “MJ” for making me feel good the night I was insulted and for sharing.  But, more importantly, I thank Christine for her patience and show of unconditional love.  She put up with a lot from me, particularly my incessant questions pertaining to things she took for granted – her way of life was so different from my experiences as a lesbian.  Thankfully, with her guidance, I came to understand butches and became less judgmental.  She helped me to understand both my masculine and feminine sides and I learned I could not reject one and expect to remain a whole person. 

Finally, I am thankful Christine, in her interest in maintaining a relationship with me, walked from the front of the church where she had been standing, all the way to the back of the church where I was sitting, took a seat and leaned towards me to ask what I was doing after church.  She did not have to do this.  She could have done as others did; have a brief conversation with me and walk away.  She did not.  That one sentence was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  Finally, I felt someone in the lesbian community did not see me as something unapproachable – for whatever their reasons – she treated me as someone worth knowing.  No one else made me feel as welcomed as Christine did – and for that, I am grateful. 

I will end with yet another communication from Christine – my, she seems to talk more now than she did in life.  As I started writing this piece a few weeks ago, I laid across the couch and took a nap and immediately went into a dream chock full of symbolism.  (It was so full of symbolism I am still charting this dream.)  Christine and I shared a love of nature.  She often came to visit me “the villa in Altadena” because I am surrounded by nature.  We loved our trees and neither one of us ever entertained the thought of cutting them down.  She particularly loved my back yard and tried to get every flower or plant I had or have back there.  She loved my family of hummingbirds, Mr. Squirrel and his family, and she and Diva Dawg often stood in my front door to watch the crows in the front yard.  (Crows have a significant meaning in Indian traditions.  The day before Christine made her journey; one solitary crow was perched in a limb over my driveway and cawed – the song of death.) 

In this dream, Christine showed me a brick house surrounded by trees with lush green grass all around – not something one would find in California.  Christine was not in the car with me as I drove through this neighborhood, but her voice was clear and distinct when she said “this is where you should live.”  As I returned home, I went to let my dogs in and Diva Dawg had a look of bliss on her face, she so loved the “other mommie” and I knew, in the dream, Christine was near.  As I looked out over the yard, strewn everywhere was my favorite flowers.  Christine neither knew my favorite flowers nor my favorite colors, but in the dream there were large gladiolus everywhere and in my favorite colors, blue and yellow.  I do have one hibiscus plant, which I worked desperately hard to save after the roofers practically destroyed it, there were red hibiscus flowers (aka Rose of Sharons) strewn throughout the yard as well along with yellow and blue bows.  I now know she both knows and understands me now and again, for that I am grateful.  Thank you darling.

Written by Amy Goodloe
Copyright © 1993, 1999. All Rights Reserved.

Lesbian Identity
and the Politics of Butch-Femme Roles

copyright (C) 1970 by Radlcalesbians. All rights reserved

(Excerpt from article)

The contemporary feminist analysis of lesbian identity is an example of just such a tendency. For the past two decades, the dominant form of feminist discourse has, in attempting to "liberate" lesbian identity from patriarchal control, instead imposed its own identity politics on the lesbian community, with the result that those lesbians whose behaviors or "styles" do not conform to the feminist agenda have been doubly-oppressed -- once by the dominant patriarchal culture, and again by the movement that claimed to seek the liberation of all women. This is perhaps most obvious in the feminist critique of role playing among lesbians, which is considered by the dominant feminist discourse to be a barrier to one's "true" identity as a woman (assuming that there is such a thing).

Despite the power and influence of this discourse, however, voices have risen from within a sort of "counter" lesbian-feminist community of scholars who wish to challenge the limiting identity politics of the seventies and early eighties. Before moving into a review of the way these voices address the identity issues surrounding lesbian butch-femme role-playing, however, it would be useful to consider some of the more general attempts at understanding the politics of lesbian identity which have both influenced and been influenced by this more specific issue.

Susan J. Wolfe and Julia Penelope, in an article entitled "Sexual Identity/Textual Politcs" (1993), have recently issued a warning to theorists who are too quick to use postmodern theory to deconstruct lesbian identity, arguing that any move to invalidate the "identity" of a marginalized group necessarily prevents that group from attaining the degree of subjectivity needed to overcome the oppression of having been for so long objectified. In other words, if theorists make the whole notion of lesbian identity so problematic as to suggest that there can be no such thing, on what grounds then are lesbians to come together in the fight against oppression and homophobia? Deconstructing lesbian identity in such a way perpetuates the "divide and conquer" strategy of the dominant ideology, which has historically been used to deprive oppressed groups of the unity needed for power, by failing to recognize the agency of lesbians in resisting dominant constructions of their identity in favor of ones that more accurately reflect their lived experience. 
[Read More]




Pursuing the Femme Identity
Interviews with Femmes who speak frankly about their identity, their struggle, their triumphs and their ultimate place in queer society.
by Andrea Spoehrer

"As the century progressed, political lesbian activists began to view butch and femme identities as too extreme. They declared femmes to be too straight looking and butches to look too much like men."

The Queering of Femininity
by Susan Craigie

The ideology of women's liberation was ingrained in many aspects of the lesbian community. The prevailing view was that the oppression of women was centered around femininity, that we had been conditioned to be weak and frail, and to gain equality we must shed this cloak of femininity and move towards a "one size fits all" androgyny.

Living Deliberately
by Mowani Carter

Chicago's African American Gay & Lesbian community spared me the trauma of the butch/femme closet. Shielded from the disapproval of the politically correct Lesbian Feminist movement, with its hysterical outlook on "roles," I was free to be what I was born to be - a femme. In my circle, stud (butch)/ femme was a given. There was no explanation/ justification required or expected. If a femme got asked for a slow dance, it was a stud doing the asking and we ALWAYS knew who was going to lead.

Coming Out of the Queer Closet
by Nedhera Landers

My first reaction, in those flannel-wearing androgynous times, was to dismiss the whole thing as an artificial construct. The Black women I'd observed playing out this dynamic only seemed to confirm this negative view for me: "hard", masculine butches and beauty-shop-attending femmes. I wasn't the least bit interested. As I got more into the politics of being a lesbian, I began to think that the great majority of dykes were right - those "old school" butches and femmes promoted ignorant reactions from straights. My only problem with all of this was a nagging little question that just wouldn't go away: how was it that most my lovers looked and acted so "butch"?

A Response to Alix Dobkin's article "Queer & Present Danger"
by De-Anna Alba

. . . . Femme women are not recognized as Lesbians by the Lesbian community. We are stereotyped as somehow less than real Lesbians because we often look like straight women, not androdykes, and because some of us even prefer relationships that look like the traditional "husband-wife" relationships many of us were raised to value. We are looked upon askance because we don't love like women - translation: we like to penetrate or be penetrated.

Femme Perspective
by Kenya

my present is a bit difficult; for some of the members of Lesbiana have chosen not to accept me because my best friend may be my lipstick second to my favorite dildo.
they seem to want to gloss over my involvement in making the streets a bit safer for our GAY community. let me take you back.....remember when i broke many a nail while fighting with my brothers and sisters against the police at Stonewall? when i spoke out for OUR freedom, during the many riots and protests, the marches on washington for the equal rights of all folks, gay included? i am no threat to you my non-femme lesbian sistas. don't hate me because i am beautiful. giggle. we are on the same team.  do not let a little make up, hair spray, nail polish garter belt, heels, teased hair, swishy walks, or flamboyant hand gestures get in the way of what could be a great friendship for us. i am your herstory. i am now. i am the future. i am femme. touch me. feel how soft i can be when i am loving you. my present condition is a bit difficult as i have been given mean stares and snide comments like " am i lost" or " do i know that this is a lesbian bar" when i am not on the arm of my dashing stud or when i am hanging out with my girls.





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