What’s femme culture? Femme literature? Femme politics, ha ha ha, you mean lipstick?
I am a disabled, nonbinary femme of color writer who centers femmes in my life. Femme writing has been my touchstone and my everything- something I’ve fought to find, whose multiplicities of theory, story, performance and genius have lit up and saved my life.
But if you look at the syllabi in gender studies course offerings or google “femme literature,” very little will come up. I can still remember the white, gaymous transmasculine academic who more than a decade ago asked me to provide a list of femme writers he could add to his gender studies class because what he has was all masculine and “there just wasn’t a lot of femme writing out there, you know?” Back then, I’m pretty sure I was too frozen to know how to point out his sexist condescension and femmephobia in his comment, but I knew I was feeling it. I also knew that even a decade and a half ago, there was so much femme writing out there- from Joan Nestle’s anthologies to the writing and performance of Jewelle Gomez, Mirha Soleil-Ross, Amber Hollibaugh, Tatiana de la Tierra, Trish Salah, Chrystos, Dorothy Allison, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Ryka Aoki de la Cruz, Meliza Banales. In 2016, after much hard, intentional femme labor, femme cultures are blooming and there are so many more.
Ever since then, I’ve dreamed of being able to teach in a Femme Studies program. Nothing would make me happier than attempting to create a North American Femme Literature 1970-2016 class, and to teach side by side by folks invested in taking us seriously and investigating the literature, history, struggle and science of femmes across time and geography.
I’ve been teaching online writing classes for a while, and last year, I decided to to create a writing class that would center femme writing and writers in all our complexity across the femmeiiverse. I was nervous as hell, but really in love with trying to pull it off. In October 2015, I taught the first version of Hard Femme Poetics as a 5 week online writing workshop. The workshop was open to any writer who identified as a queer femme and was a community centering Black, Indigenous and/or of color, disabled, trans, intersex and gender nonconforming, fat, sex working, poor and working class, older and younger and rural and otherwise marginalized femmes in the writing we read and the writers present. As a disabled writer, I like teaching writing online because it’s accessible to people participating from our beds and safer spaces, because being text based makes it Deaf accessible and easier to follow for folks like me whose hearing impairment and neurodivergence makes 14 people talking hard to follow. I was thrilled to get the chance to teach writers who I love and who have taught me, and to write and learn from a circle of badass femme writers..
In the five weeks we had together, folks came together and created beloved femme community. We cried, talked shit and worked hard, and loved and supported each other. I am so proud of the work students created in the class, and the community, and I am excited to share this work with the world.
My partner says that to dream abundent femme of color futures is a revolutionary act. Here’s to the giant luscious universe of femme writing that centers all of us brilliant and marginalized folks getting bigger every day.
-Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
(PS: For more info the writing classes I teach, including future iterations of Hard Femme Poetics, visit http://www.brownstargirl.org/writing-workshops.html or send an email to brownstargirl@ gmail. com)