Welcome back to Femme Embodiments of the Other, a series founded by Qwear’s Founding Editor, Sonny Oram, and Theologian & Ethicist for the Movement of LGBTQ lives, Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza.
Through this series, we aim 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. Though femmes in our community face marginalization, objectification, exploitation, and ongoing violence, this reality isn’t always recognized by the greater queer sphere. We’ve even heard some folks use the term “femme privilege,” when confusing how the cis privilege and pretty privilege that some femmes possess intersects with society’s logic of dominance. When some people hear the word “femme,” they think of femmes from shows like the L Word: tall, beautiful, white and white passing, wealthy, able-bodied, beautiful cisgender women.
But what about all the others?
We are pleased to Invite Qwear writer Mojo Disco to introduce our next segment of Femme Embodiments, in which we invite 5 new femme faces to share their stories through style.
INTRO BY MOJO DISCO
What is Femme Privilege?
I wish I had an answer. I’ve never seen it before. In these United States of America I think everything is Anti-Femme. Everything from gender constructs, to opportunity, in some way or form oppresses femme presenting people. Even when it appears to the naked eye that we are being honored or praised, the undercurrent is usually based in degradation, lust, or even worse, violence.
I believe there are two major energies in this world; Masculine and Feminine. Most people tend to fall in between them both. However, I never felt more connected to my power than the day I decided to tap into my divine femme energy. It was a life changing decision to choose one side of the spectrum and I decided not to look back. The power is sometimes hard to explain as it is mainly felt, but its effects are life changing. I find that I am able to directly manifest the world around me with this power. It is not only based on things like beauty, fragrance, and perspective, but it also embodies things like strength, wisdom, and love labor. The greatest thing to me about being/identifying as femme is that there is no set definition or example. However its energy is always felt.
Unfortunately, in the LGBTQ community, femmes are usually at the bottom of the totem pole (right above disabled folk) regardless of how much they are desired. This system is identical (read knockoff) to the system in place for heterosexuals. Growing up queer I would hear things that described people as “too gay” or “too femme.” Even today, I still witness the “No Fats. No Fems” mentality in gay culture. All these heteronormative aligned things progress the notion that Masc is superior and when challenged proves how Masculinity is so fragile. To be Masc identifying/presenting in this world is the real privilege.
The irony of Beyoncé’s hit record “Who Runs the World” is that however powerful it was for girls around the world, it was not the truth. Men run this world. That is a fact. However it is the femmes doing the work, birthing and nurturing this world. You will find that it is fem/femmes who are the faces behind strong social movements like the Riots at Stonewall (which is why we celebrate pride) Black Lives Matter, and even Paint and Poetry, an event I created myself. We have been, and are still HERE and we deserve the visibility and recognition for the work we do to reshape this planet no matter how close or far we fall on the heteronormative beauty spectrum.
Cee Sando is a wardrobe stylist and style expert specializing in queer/ androgynous looks. Inspired by travel, the ocean, tea, sashimi, and an effortlessly yet perfectly put together outfit, cee has a keen eye for design, attention to detail and a passion for style. Cee has dressed actors for the Golden Globes, Oscars and Emmys and Golden Globes. She has also worked with brands such as Beats by Dre, Hyundai, LG JustFab, ShoeDazzle, and Sanctuary Clothing. find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat @ceesando.
Can you describe a time when you experienced discrimination due to your gender presentation or physical appearance?
Sadly, it is so hard to choose just 1… There’s the time I was passed over for a job I interviewed for because of my natural hair or another time I was told in a business meetings that my septum ring was just too distracting for the individual to keep talking to me, or the time a certain shoe brand did not want to work with me because I had to bring my service animal into their offices… and that is just the tip of the iceberg. While these experiences were frustrating to deal with at the time, I no longer look at them as negatives. I currently have the most phenomenal book of clients I have ever had as well as an incredible network of associates and fashion professionals that continues to grow daily. I appreciate that how others perceive me upon our first meeting is a quick ad easy litmus test for me wanting to work with them lol!
What empowers you to live authentically despite society’s ongoing policing of femme bodies and surveillance of what a femme should be?
In my own lifetime I have seen how much mainstream society’s notions and perception have changed… and I know they will continue to change and mature and I want to be a part of that process. I am thankful for all of those who have come before me to fight sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of discrimination. We each have the right to choose how we want to dress and express ourselves. My hope is that while I am having fun choosing my clothing, accessories, makeup, and hairstyles, I am also inspiring others to live their best life authentically. Once upon a time I believed that I was unable to mix my professional and personal life. I was afraid that revealing my sexuality, disability, and political leanings would somehow hinder the growth of my styling career. However, since I found the courage to embrace bring my individuality to my work, my career has blossomed in ways I could never have imagined. I LOVE being the unique/ weirdo/ unicorn stylist that I am! I would not label myself as an “activist” by any means, however, I am proud to show my own form of activism through my career and personal clothing choices.
How do you use style as a means of resistance?
My style is my way of showing/ living my politics in each moment, whether it’s slogans, patches, or wearing unexpected pieces. I once shied away from stares or comments about my appearance but now I welcome it! I love making some feel more comfortable in a space knowing that they have a political ally in me, and I also don’t mind making others uncomfortable. I wear my loud kinky hair proudly. I have no fear of visible tattoos or piercings. I wear sneakers with evening gowns to black tie events because I cant think properly if my feet hurt. I wear “men’s” clothing when it’s more comfortable. I pile on jewelry and accessories and prefer black and white clothing so my personality (and accessories) can take center stage!
All photos by Claudia Villeda