Effeminacy is NOT femininity. Effeminacy is embodying femininity without consciousness regarding the condition of females in a patriarchal society. I was an effeminate kid; after experience and feminism, I am a feminine adult. Femininity used to be a behavior I couldn’t control in spite of colossal effort. Now, femininity is a choice. Femininity is a behavior that demands not control, but thoughtful finessing and nurture.
This is a subtle fact that I recently found I’d been learning through my little sister...that is, if a public defender-trial attorney who makes almost twice as much salary as I do can indeed be called “little sister!” My sister has a unique relationship to footwear. Like a lot of stereotypical females, she is obsessed with buying shoes. Last summer, as a gift, I gutted and organized her closet. I had to empty out a small bookshelf of books left over from college to house her shoes. (Can’t run from blood: I have a similar bookshelf I use to store old t-shirts) But the funny thing about Meenha’s shoe-obsession that it is bipolar in gender. She collects, predictably for a thin gal with long hair and penchant for mod/ 90s raccoon eye makeup, interesting high heels. But she also spends equal time and energy (if not dough) collecting basketball shoes. And I don’t mean vintage high-tops in cute girly colors and dip-dyed in irony. I mean real baller shoes: she keeps up with whatever latest shoe Nike (or Reebok or whatever) brings out in homage to whatever basketball player is dominating the scene. It is the strangest scene: she has rows of towering 4 or 5-inch heelers next to clunky white leather court shoes that all look alike (to me).
Her Louboutins next to her Lebrons:
What’s more interesting, she follows an interesting sartorial philosophy centered on these shoes: unlike most gals, she wears the heels in the daytime and basketball shoes in the night time. Meenha will wear these outrageous designer stilts—like the Louboutin “Declic” or the Jil Sander pumps with pyramidical heels (first pic)—to work. She hobbles about expertly in unforgivingly tailored skirt-suits and 5-inch heels, all the while providing due process to keep the U.S. justice system functioning. Then, when she’s getting ready to go out to a club or dinner with friends, she’ll change into a Castro fag uniform—fitted leather jacket, Rick Owens tank, trousery jeans—and top it all down with her Lebrons.
Now, this is a look I would never rock for myself, but it has, weirdly enough, influenced my own feminine style. My sister refuses to do corporate power drag for her day-job as a lawyer. For her, dressing close to androgyny is not a magic skin to force and power. Instead, she piles on a pound of eyeliner and steel-black eyeshadow. She’ll rarely wear her hair up—it’s always gently teased and flowing out like Cindy Crawford circa 1992. And then the stilettos. I’ve watched her in action in the courtroom and it’s pretty impressive: she is a sharp and thunder-voiced woman who displays great poise, calm, and logic in face of her opponents. When she combines these traditionally “masculine” traits with her overly feminine style, what you get is not androgyny but a dark, empowering femininity. Her Louboutins are a different kind of court shoes, for a different kind of court. Meenha’s courtroom skills are not undercut by her femininity. Rather, femininity forces observers to re-think how we gender certain skills in the first place. You have to start thinking: perhaps logic mixed with guerrilla aggression has always been akin to beige lipstick, dominatrix pencil-skirts and high heels.
Conversely, I love that my sister does not feel the need to “dress up” to go out at night: no leg-baring skirts, no strappy shoes, never a plattered cleavage (neither front nor back). You could throw her going-out outfit onto a twenty-year old babyfag and he’ll look quite smashing. But on my sister, the outfit doesn’t look like male drag; its potential masculinity is subsumed by her femininity. This is how I learned femininity should be worn: thrown-on, casual, but always overpowering.
The opposite of femininity is masculinity, but aggressive power is not the opposite of femininity. A couple Friday nights ago, my friend Tara J. and I were leaving Daddy’s (a bear-leather bar in the Castro, now known as 440 Castro) when a scruffy old fag sneered after us: “There’s a lot of women in the gay bar tonight!” As Tara said: “Yeah, like two of us among 200 fags is a lot.” Our anger at the guy’s sexism made me think about how this fag viewed himself when he drew such a heavy identity-wedge between himself (the rightful occupant of a “gay bar”) and women: does he think that his facial hair and lumberjack clothes and pathetic Caucasian machismo automatically makes him the opposite of “woman”? It seemed funny to me that he made his sexist observation in a high, nasal, faggy-affected speech? How could he be so unaware of his effeminacy, and how that links him to the very femininity that is a major cultural-historical component of the idea of “woman”? At his age, he ought to know better.
Effeminacy is an ultimately infantile stage: you do what you do without realizing what it is, and how it accrues and radiates meaning in the world. Obviously, it is not a bad thing, but it is a preconscious state...and consciousness is always a better thing. So I don’t feel like I need to wear heels every day to feel more aware of my femininity. My stand-by shoes are not Louboutins but worn-torn Converse high-tops. I wear them and feel like I’m wearing ballet slippers, or a corset made for my feet. I wear them and feel like my sister, gliding around the nightlife in Lebron stompers.
The affections are more reticent than the passions, and their expression more subtle. If she herself should ever fall in love with a man, she, like Helen, would proclaim it from the house-tops, but as she only loved a sister she used the voiceless language of sympathy. (E.M. Forster’s Howards End)