Femme or Phase? — The Need for Communities like Laviot
Cantor Tamara Wolfson writes about her experiences of feeling alien in both queer spaces and straight spaces as a high femme, and sees Laviot as the community that can welcome all.
“Seriously? You’re too feminine to be gay.” “Are you sure you’re gay? You just look so straight!” “Wow, I’d seriously never have known you were gay.”
I never wanted to be “The Gay Cantor”. Rather, I’d much prefer to be the cantor that happens to be gay. In a way, this has been easy for me as a cis-female high femme. I’m extremely conscious of the privilege that allows me to enter into heteronormative spaces and receive all the perks of my assumed straightness — most notably, relative immunity from the homophobia-laced threats and discrimination that so many in the LGBT+ community encounter on the basis of their outward appearance or gender expression. The flip side of the femme coin, however, is that my queer identity is often ignored, even in queer spaces that would sooner assume I’m an ally.
Unless I specifically mention my partner and emphasise her pronouns, I am always read as straight. As a result of this erasure that I, and many femme women, experience, we end up coming out to people every day as if it’s for the first time. And for some of us, that repeated coming out can feel like reliving a trauma. The brief moment between my “I’m gay” and the other person’s reaction can often feel timeless. And in that seemingly never-ending moment, the tug-of-war between my pride and my fear gets so intense that sometimes I wonder whether it’s easier not to say anything at all.
When I first came out almost a decade ago, I thought I had to scream my sexuality in order to compensate for my feminine appearance. I soaked up clichés like a sponge: I cut my hair short, got my tongue pierced, and literally painted my nails rainbow. I felt an almost existential need to let the people around me know that I was gay. This was as much connected to my fear of erasure as it was connected to my need for community and support. In my baby gay state, I felt that my femininity precluded my ability to engage in lesbian culture and, as a result, I tried to tone it down. A few years on, however, I embraced my feminism and femininity, expressing them fully in my appearance. I take pride in my “lipstick lesbianism”, and wear it as a statement of empowerment. However, this self-empowered and self-empowering expression is also very isolating. For a long time, I have struggled to find a community of like-minded women and have, more than once, been outright dismissed as a confused straight girl going through a phase — something that no queer person wants to hear, especially not from within the queer community.
This is one of many reasons that communities like Laviot are not only important, but necessary. The queer community has had its fair share of divisiveness, in-fighting, and splintering. I would guess that at one point or another, we’ve all come up against barriers when we’ve tried to join communities that tout themselves as inclusive but fall short of that promise. Laviot offers a model of an aspirational, inclusive community that doesn’t size you up, judge your looks, check your references, or assume your identity. In a world made toxic by judgment and exclusion, Laviot may be the perfect antidote.