I felt somewhat disconnected from the essays in Brazen Femme. Many, especially in the beginning, were written in that stream-of-consciousness, grammarless, spoken-poetry-confession style which does nothing but irritate me. I also do not respond to “I am Woman! I am Femme!” type essays that revel in celebrating something without taking it apart a bit first. I couldn’t quite grasp the flow of the book, wished for more structure, and also perhaps more historical or social analysis to help give context to many of the essays. However, this may be more reflective of the fact that I am a fairly literal-minded, detail-oriented, practical person. Others of a different bent may really appreciate this collection of essays.
While most of the book is written in a similar style, there is some diversity in voice. There are essays by fat-positive feminists, sex workers, drag queens, and essays on the black femme experience. Interestingly, I really disliked Sky Gilbert’s Drag Queens and Feminine Women: The Same but Kinda Different. All of his assertions about the shared femininity between drag and femme felt assumptive, or even invasive, of female sexuality and social history.
However, when Daniel Collins recounted a weekend spent in fishnets and tulle dresses at a radical faerie camp, I was delighted by the way he described male queer femininity. With Gilbert, I felt spoken at about things I experience everyday, whereas Collins was inviting me to share in his life story. Similarly, Michele Tea’s essay about going to the roller rink as a teenage girl gave insight without demanding that I shared that same social marker of girlhood (I hated the roller rink with a passion, actually).
I really did not start engaging with the text until about halfway through, with Kathryn Payne’s essay on the intersection of prostitution and femininity. Payne takes on a fairly scholarly tone while also exploring her own biographical story as a former sex-worker and now professor. Another highlight was the conversational piece between Abi Slone and Allyson Mitchell, Big Fat Femmes: Squeezing a lot of Identity into One Pair of Control top Nylons. At one point, they wonder what a historical analysis of femme culture and identify would look like: would there be fashion trends for femme women through time, like the ubiquitous sleeveless flannels of the 80s butch? The moment I read these words, I desperately wanted to read that book.