Thursday, September 27, 2007

Femme and femininity

Femme and femininity
WORLD WITHIN / Changing radiators - wearing heels

Ariel Troster / / Thursday, September 27, 2007

When I first came out as a lesbian, I wore "the uniform": khaki pants, short boy-cut hair, button-down shirts and combat boots. Like every dyke in Montreal, I tried to walk with a little bit more swagger, and desperately wished I was thinner through the hips, so men's clothes would hang out my curvy body with more panache. But after a few years, there was no hiding who I really was: a femme in disguise.

I came out as a feminist before I came out as a dyke. And it took almost 10 years to embrace the label of "femme." Because what's the first thing a thinking teenage girl does to rebel against societal expectations of beauty? She ditches the lipstick and the skirts, shoves her hair under a hat, and demands to be recognized for what she has to say, rather than how attractive she may be to men.

For some women, this represents their most comfortable state of being. But for those of us who covet the mascara and low-cut tops, it can also represent a different form of oppression — this one from our chosen community.

The lesbian feminist movement has a long history of valuing androgynous gender expressions over feminine ones. The demise of butch-femme culture in North America came at a time when feminism was burgeoning in the 1960s. In an effort to free women from sexism and the drudgery of housework, feminists ignored the women who wanted to smash the patriarchy without burning their bras. They assumed that women who wore lipstick were simply complying with the patriarchy, and hadn't been liberated yet. This trend continued for many years, and still touches women today.

As writer Julia Serano argues, "While femininity is in many ways influenced, shaped, and enforced by society, to say that it's entirely 'artificial' or merely a 'performance' is patronizing toward those for whom femininity simply feels right."

Read the rest over at

Queer activism through the generations

Nicholas Little is one of the sweetest men I've ever met ... he's one of the gay mens' outreach workers at the AIDS Committee Ottawa. He works with my roommate Adam, the other sweetest man I've ever met.

He just wrote the most wonderful article for Capital Xtra, and he had some really touching things to say about me. You can read it here.

Nicholas really captured something I've been thinking about for a while now: the need for more intergenerational activist exchange.

Anyway, this is the photo he refers to in the article -- Me and Marie Robertson, and her daughter Ana at the Ottawa Dyke March this summer. It makes me really happy.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Monday, September 10, 2007

Like clockwork ...

We knew that when Harper cut Status of Women Canada and the Court Challenges program, it would lead to the further disintegration of women's groups across Canada. Here's another example:

Dear friends,

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that, because of the Conservative government’s changes in funding policies to women’s groups, the National Association of Women and the Law is forced to lay off all staff and shut down its national office. NAWL’s Board will keep the organization alive on a volunteer basis, but our capacity to consult with women’s groups and advocate for feminist law reform will be greatly diminished.

We will be holding a Press Conference on September 20th at 11:00AM on Parliament Hill to denounce the silencing of NAWL and other advocacy and research organizations by the Harper government.

The press conference will be followed by a Solidarity Lunch hosted by NAWL. If you are in the Ottawa region, please join us to celebrate 33 years of feminist engagement with the law, and to mark this new phase in the life of NAWL. There is no cost for the lunch. Donations are welcome.

Please RSVP by Tuesday September 18 to Jackie Steele at:

We will be sending you more information on the NAWL transition in the next few days. As I will be leaving NAWL soon, communications will be coming from the NAWL Board members.

We will also be posting more information on our website at

In solidarity,

Andrée Côté

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What I learned on summer vacation

What I learned on summer vacation
WORLD WITHIN / The lessons of Camp Trans

Ariel Troster / / Wednesday, September 05, 2007
"Hello, my name is Ariel, and I use feminine pronouns." That's how I introduced myself to a circle of more than 100 people, at my first community meeting deep in the woods of Hart, Michigan in August. I had just arrived at Camp Trans, the activist gathering set up a few paces down a gravel road from the Michigan Women's Festival. The camp was originally created in 1991, after an out trans woman was evicted from the festival for violating its "women-born-women" policy.

Within a few years, legendary activists including Leslie Feinberg and Riki Wilchins helped turn it into an annual pilgrimage for trans people and their allies to organize, socialize, and for a few days each year, create a space where a plethora of pronouns and gender identities are respected and celebrated.

I attended Camp Trans as an ally. I wanted to learn more about how to incorporate trans issues into my queer activism. I prepared myself for the experience of feeling like "the other." I imagined that as a non-trans women, I would somehow feel out of place. I was wrong. What I discovered was a gender- and body-accepting utopia, where I felt more comfortable expressing my identity as a femme dyke than anywhere else I've been.

The diversity of gender expression at Camp Trans was as vast as any gay pride march, nightclub, or supermarket in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood. If your only image of trans people comes from films like Transamerica and Boys Don't Cry, you would have been in for a shock. I met one woman who preferred female pronouns, but insisted on masculine forms of address. Another person identified as a "femme-identified trans boy." Others preferred gender-neutral or plural pronouns.

It made for a bit of a linguistic mud pile, but it was actually more difficult for me to adjust to living without running water, than it was to respect people's gender identities. I screwed up a few times, tripped over terminology and pronouns. Thankfully, there was no language policing at Camp Trans.

But like any ally, I had a few things to learn. While I still pine for the sun-dappled woods, I have tried to carry the spirit of the place with me in the last few weeks by applying some of the lessons I learned.

Read the rest of the article over at

And if you want to know more about what you can do to support trans rights in Canada, check out this recent article on a campaign that's being launched in Ontario to have gender identity enshrined in the provincial human rights code.

Also, if you want to know what Riki Wilchins is doing these days, take a look at the website for Gender PAC -- an amazing U.S. organization that is tackling gender issues on so many levels -- sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism. It's a real inspiration to see such an accessible, intersectional approach to gender-based activism.