Very closely related to my last post is the subject of Deep Lez (which has also come up in various discussions on Tumblr recently). Deep Lez is more of a theory, a movement, than an identity (though there certainly are some who are choosing it as an identifier for themselves). And it’s also not so very serious all the time. It’s a feeling and a culture. Astrology, tea, folk music, Goddess worship, crystals, labrys jewelry…all totally Deep Lez.
Deep Lez is a phrase coined by artist Allyson Mitchell to reclaim ‘lesbian’ as a radical identity and calls it both “theory and practice.” Deep Lez honors the contributions of radical lesbian feminists of the second wave while still acknowledging the problematic aspects of the politics of that time (namely, transphobia). Deep Lez acts as a bridge between the second and third waves, urging feminists of the current generation not to forget our herstory and insisting on more inclusive politics this time around. As Mitchell says in this interview,
Deep Lez is about rescuing lesbian and radical feminism from being forgotten or discarded. There are some really amazing principles and practices that I don’t want to get lost…I think a lot of people are too dismissive of lesbian feminism. It becomes a joke and a cliché at best. At worst, people gag on the word lesbian, forget about being able to affiliate themselves with it. I think there is a deep set misogyny in these statements. I want to call attention to this misogyny and at the same time tweak lesbian feminism into an inclusive contemporary urban context that could really use a lot of its principles right now, and actually does use a lot of its principles but doesn’t necessarily give it credit.
And I say, credit where credit is due. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think my tea is ready and I need to consult my horoscope.
My identity, like that of most folks, is a complex, multi-faceted thing. It is never static and is often confusing. Sometimes I feel like I’ll never truly find myself. And sometimes I never want to. I have learned so much about myself in the past couple of years, and about love and community and solidarity and letting go and moving on. Every time I think I finally know my truth, I learn something new. It’s scary and exciting.
I thought I was pretty settled on queer as the best identifier for myself. Queer femme to be specific. But after some really insightful, thoughtful and often volatile discussions on Tumblr regarding the queer community, labels and misogyny, I realized I had some deeper digging to do. I was ‘queer’ but why? Why ‘queer’ and not something else? Was that really the best fit or was I avoiding deeper introspection?
It took a while to get to this place but I had to finally admit that having a romantic and/or sexual relationship with a man (cis or trans) held no interest for me. I wanted my relationships to be with female-identified people. And yet, I shied away from using ‘lesbian’ as an identifier. I’m not sure if I did it consciously, certainly not in the early stages of my evolution. But when those discussions appeared on Tumblr, I realized that I, too, was guilty of shunning ‘lesbian’ in favor of ‘queer.’
Queer just seemed so much more radical and as is pointed out in the links above, lesbian tends to be seen as passé and associated with more mainstream politics or less politically aware in general and therefore lesser in the radical queer crowd. But where did this idea of queer as a monolith come from? Why has the larger queer community decided that there’s a specific set of rules to follow in order to be The Best Radical Queer. Why do we keep setting up these hierarchies amongst ourselves? These are important discussions we need to be having.
Lesbian identity also has been marred with the existence of a transphobic radfem history that obviously cannot and should not be glossed over. However, radical lesbian feminists were certainly not all MichFest loving transphobes so the damnation of an entire identity based on a small subset is truly unfair. Those who choose lesbian as an identifier are also frequently accused of propping up the gender binary. I disagree. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to want to center your relationships around female-identified people while still supporting those outside the gender binary. Some people are binary-identified and some are not. One does not negate the presence of the other.
I agree that, as others have more eloquently asserted, telling women that centering their relationships around women is somehow less radical is straight up misogyny. But in a culture so entrenched in misogyny , I think the most radical thing I can do is to reclaim ‘lesbian.’ I want to rescue it from the unfortunate parts of its history and honor the important, groundbreaking parts. I refuse to let the insecurities of others in the queer community keep me owning an important part of myself. Because this is about me and my desires and those desires do not include men and I’m done caring about their feelings being hurt over it.
I’m a lesbian. A dyke. A femme dyke to be specific. Deal with it.
Within the queer community, femme is often reduced to simply outward appearance, but a dress does not always make a femme. It is difficult to formulate a clear, concise definition of femme because femme at its very core defies simplicity. For me, femme is a way to proudly own my femininity and express all facets of myself, soft and flowing complete with rough edges and bursts of color. Femme allows me to subvert the prevailing notions about what femininity is and who it’s for. My very being is a ‘fuck you’ to the idea that women doll ourselves up to snag a husband. Femme is liberation. But femme isn’t simple. I’m a sassy Appalachian femme; a stubborn, never-backin’-down Aries femme; a feisty short-haired, edgy femme; a compassionate, pleather-wearing vegan femme; a flirty, shimmying belly dancer femme. I’m a femme who loves stompin’ it out in heels as much as I love retiring to the couch in my PJs for an evening. I am at once graceful and goofy, serious and silly, always passionate, oftentimes to a fault. I walk with a femme swagger that can hypnotize. My femme identity is much more than simple femininity. It’s not just a costume but a performance emanating from my core.
(The bulk of this post originally appeared in an earlier post of mine, The Complexity of Butch and Femme. I edited and condensed it down for a fellow Tumblr femme, vivelesfemmes, who is putting together a queer (southern) femme zine project for a class.)