The Queer Fat Femme Guide to Starting a Community Group

To: Bevin
From: Someone on Myspace who lives in Idaho
Re: Question

Hi There!

Since the Femme Mafia website is under construction [It’s back up now] I thought this would be the next best place to find what I am look for. I have been reading your blog for a long time and was very impressed as always with your fabulousness and the success of Femme Pride 2009 this last week. This got me thinking about something I have been putting on the back burner for some time and that is starting a chapter of the femme mafia here in good old Boise, Idaho. Your blog post stated that Atlanta was also working as a big sister chapter to help get other chapters throughout the country get started but the link also directed to the under construction page and frankly I’m impatient lol!

A struggle I found in coming out, and recognizing my sexuality and gender identity was that in Idaho I couldn’t seem to find any lesbians who looked like me, dressed liked me, or understood the issues I was experiencing and found important to me. The social circle I run in I adopted from my partner who leans more towards a butch label and I find myself the only femme in a sea of dykes quite frequently. I KNOW THERE HAS TO BE MORE OF US OUT THERE! I was lucky enough to enter the queer blogosphere and find like minded femmes that helped me find my way and realize that just because I suffered from femme invisibility in my home town didn’t mean it had to be that way. A big motive for me is that I want to help extinguish that issue, as well as the other femme stereotypes that have been created for us here.

I guess what I was really wondering is if you could offer any advice on how to get started, a good way to find some femmes and to create an interest in forming a femme community for support, to open discussion and to hopefully create a loud sparkly place in Idaho for us.

Thanks so much for your time!

Hi [Name Omitted]! Thanks for getting in touch!

The first piece of advice I have for you is that community building only requires two or more people with a commonality, who get together to share it. So keep in mind that while you are one, as soon as you start making space for Femmes, they will join you!

I’m really happy to hear that you have found recognition of your Femmeness on the internet. It’s so hard to walk around in LGBT community and feel like you don’t belong. The first time I ever went to Michfest I felt like I was the worst lesbian ever, so alone and isolated because I didn’t know myself or have any language or touchstone to how I presented. In a sea of lesbians I felt like I looked straight. Of course, that was my own massive insecurity talking. There were lots of Femmes running around, I just didn’t know how to see them or identify with them.

The next year at Fest they started the Femme parade and it made all the difference to feeling included, represented and celebrated. Now it’s a huge, yearly event and while Femme isn’t the majority in the mainstream lesbian community, we’re certainly starting to stomp our stilettos and get noticed in lots of unlikely places.

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That’s me at this past year’s Femme Parade with Emma Riot of the Miracle Whips (an LA based a queer femme performance troupe that works to promote models of progressive femininity, to create radical erotic possibilities, and to disrupt conventional notions of sexiness).

The nice part about the internet is that it makes it easier to facilitate community building. I’m a big believer, though, in taking community offline and IRL*. There’s no replacement for the magic that happens when you see yourself (or at least parts of yourself), in person, across a brunch table, in a meeting, at a coffeeshop, wherever you gather. And making that happen, as a community leader, is a gift you give yourself and other people.

You mentioned that pride is this weekend. My suggestion is to pick a meeting place, date and time (public spaces like coffee shops work best, especially for shy newcomers who may not feel confident enough to come to someone’s home) and make a flier. Do it really DIY, on a copier, instead of doing expensive postcards. At big pride events we are inundated with flashy corporate BS** that the homemade 1/4 page copy on hot pink paper will really stand out.

Say something like “Are you interested in starting a Boise chapter of the Femme Mafia? Come to this planning meeting and meet other Femmes!” I would then include the mission statement from the Femme Mafia Atlanta***, which is what Damien and I did when we started the Femme Family in NYC. It gives people an idea of what you’re trying to do and what it can look like. I also strongly advise against using exclusively the term “femme lesbian” because Femme is so much more than that, and the Femme Mafia in particular is inclusive of bisexual, queer, lesbian, dyke, etc… femmes of all genders.

So pass out those fliers, post in craig’s list Women for Women, let other places on the internet frequented by Femmes know about it (the Butch-Femme.com buletin boards are a great spot to find people looking for community). Post it on Facebook and Myspace and have friends of friends tell people. You are absolutely right, there are lots of Femmes out there.

At the meeting, make plans for what people are interested in organizing. Group attendance at events (like drag shows or bar nights) are fabulous and easy to put together. It took us 6 months but the Femme Family did a fabulous coming out party to great effect, and we got to dress exactly as fancy as we wanted to. And our Femme Poker nights (which are Femme only events) are our smallest attended events but perhaps the most meaningful.

My favorite quote about Femme invisibility is from Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s keynote address at the 2008 Femme Conference. “Femmes aren’t invisible. People just don’t know how to look.” Your job, starting a Femme Mafia chapter, is to teach them how to look!

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What you need to know about the Femme Mafia main chapter is that right now it’s being run by Debby alone, who has to get through each chapter application. You can email her at femmemafia at gmail dot com for the application. But it will take a minute, so don’t let that stop you from starting a local Femme group in the meantime!
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Me and some of the various current and former Femme Mafia leaders, L-R Debby, Angela, Rachael, Jen and me.

*In Real Life
**Though, Absolut, Suburu, etc… if you’re reading this I would love your sponsorship for my Pink RV tour. Get in touch, femmecast at gmail dot com.
***In the words of my bestie Rachael:

“At its most basic, the Femme Mafia is a progressive, edgy organization of self-identified femmes open to all genders that seeks to foster connections between femmes, reinforce femme identity and provide members with the occasion to bask in their own fierce fabulousness and the fabulousness of others. In a larger sense, it provides us with a sense of community, a forum for the examination of our identities, of how each of us fits in the community at large and of how we femmes as a group can make a place for ourselves. The organization also does a lot to counter the many misconceptions and preconceived notions about what a femme is and what a femme does and to show none of those assumptions are true all the time. Being at a Femme Mafia event and seeing Femme reflect back at you in so many different forms can be a challenging and transformative experience. It can also be addictive. I find that Femmes are hungry for it, and so am I. For me, Femme is an umbrella under which we find solace, and not an exclusionary or restrictive predetermined formula. Femme Mafia is reinforcement, it’s challenging, it’s celebration, it’s discussion and it’s fucking fun.”

If anyone reading this is in Boise and wants to be put in touch for organizing purposes, comment here and I’ll send your info along!

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