Writing Femme

I wrote this piece for the 2008 Femme Conference that happened in Chicago, where I was invited to make a presentation. I recently found it on Dropbox while looking for old plays that I hope to revisit. It’s really interesting because I feel I have always had to justify or explain why I see myself as queer femme despite being happily married to a man with whom I have been raising two beautiful children. In fact, “queer” is a term I have lovingly embraced, having always wondered where I and many of my dear friends fit in the gender binary that have been imposed upon us from childhood. Hope you’ll enjoy reading it.

The other day while making peanut butter and maple syrup for a six-year old daredevil, I got a call that made the hairs on the back of neck stand.

“Charie? Charie M?” I asked, incredulous. I almost wanted to say, “Is this Charie? The bad mofo who broke my heart in junior high? The short cherry-cheeked soft butch with a swagger that roused my 16-year-old libido?” I felt the heat rise up my face– a much welcomed hot flash, believe me.

When I think of femme I think of butch. Butches make a femme different from a dyke or a lesbian. In the Philippines we used to call them “mars”– the antithesis of “pars” or butch.

Charie’s call made me smile, secure in my femme sexuality. See, I had been doubting myself for awhile, or more like I feel people have been doubting me. Four years ago (18 years now actually) I fell in love with a man. After being with butches for most of my serially monogamous life, I ended up marrying a man, to the delight of my born-again Christian mother and the conundrum of friends and acquaintances. Not just A man, he likes to qualify — The Man– a hard man with the heart of a soft butch. (Sounds like a teaser for a cheesy action flick.) I didn’t think I should give back the toaster, but sometimes I wonder.

Not.

I identify mainly as a queer femme. I will never feel at home in a straight bar where I could never do as a femme does in a dyke bar, moving hips and arms like I’m discovering my body for the first time, eyes closed, sweat swirling in the disco lights. When I write my plays, my heroines are hard femmes. They raise their fists to injustices here and everywhere. They cross borders to be with lovers, defying patrol guards and homophobic immigration laws. They fix broken door hinges, make a mean mac and cheese from scratch, turn into superheroes (or supervillains), and rescue butches from their internalized Gomorrahs.

In my writings it is the femme that makes hard decisions. They move in a straight world that makes oppressive assumptions about who they are. They pass to survive. They pass to win hearts and minds in the battle against small-mindedness and ignorance.

They pass because there is no other way.

In most of my works, being femme is not the central focus. Most of the time, their femme identity is incidental, implied not stated, but it still is at the core of their pain and underscores the decisions they make. In one of my favorite (and most toured) plays titled “Sister OutLaw,” the title character Marina has an expiring visa, but she can’t go back home because her family is relying on her to send money for an ailing mother and to help her sister provide for her son, so she does not have to go back to an abusive husband. But she also wants to stay in America because she is secretly in love with her best friend from high school, Joey. Unbeknownst to Marina, her best friend also has feelings for her (classic best friend-turn lover romantic comedy plot). Marina ends up having to marry Joey’s brother for papers, but in the end, pars and mars get together, and all three of them live happily forever in an overpriced West-Loop condo.

Let me clarify one thing though. My femmes, hard as they come, do fall in love with other femmes, lesbians, men, and trans-folk. Because really, in the end, to a hardcore femme it is all just degrees of butch-ness.

About filinthegap

Lani T. Montreal is an educator, writer, performer, and community activist. Her writings have been published and produced in Canada, the U.S., the Philippines and in cyberspace. Among her plays are: Panther in the Sky, Gift of Tongue, Looking for Darna, Alien Citizen, Grandmother and I, and her most-toured comedy drama about gender and immigration, titled Sister OutLaw. She is the recipient of the 2015 3Arts Djerassi Residency Fellowship for Playwriting, 2008 3Arts Ragdale Residency Fellowship, the 2001 Samuel Ostrowsky Award for her memoir “Summer Rain,” and was finalist for the 1995 JVO Philippine Award for Excellence in Journalism for her environmental expose “Poison in the River.” Lani holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Roosevelt University. She teaches writing at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago and writes a blog called “Fil-in-the-gap”. (filinthegap.com.) She lives (and loves) in Albany Park, Chicago with her multi-species, multi-cultural family.
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