The Femme Show: Challenges Assumptions, Subversive Femininity

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Performers in The Femme Show. Back row, left to right: Stella Swingline, Rachel Kahn, Frenchie St. Pierre. Bottom row, left to right: Maggie Cee, Havalah Bachus, Alicia Oshun.  All Photos: Steph Plourde-Simard

Performers in The Femme Show. Back row, left to right: Stella Swingline, Rachel Kahn, Frenchie St. Pierre. Bottom row, left to right: Maggie Cee, Havalah Bachus, Alicia Oshun.
All Photos: Steph Plourde-Simard

By: Lauren Walleser/ TRT Assistant Editor—

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Billed as “queer art for queer people,” The Femme Show—a variety show featuring personal explorations of queer and subversive femininity through dance, drag, poetry, performance art, and burlesque—took the stage for its eighth year in mid-October at the Cambridge YMCA.

Artistic Director Maggie Cee, a 2011 recipient of the History Project’s Lavender Rhino Award for being an emerging LGBT history maker, founded The Femme Show in 2007.

“My background is in dance, and I was looking for an outlet for my work that would connect it to my queer community,” said Cee. “Boston has a great femme community and I knew that it was a topic people were passionate about and interested in discussing, and I was at a point in my life where I was coming to own my femme gender.”[pullquote] The show explores fem/femme identity and subversive femininity, which means different things to different people.[/pullquote]

The show explores fem/femme identity and subversive femininity, which means different things to different people.

“I never felt included amongst my peers,” Poison Ivory, a performer with The Femme Show, said. “It was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I was not like everyone else. I knew I was queer, but there was a time when I was uncomfortable with the label. Femme eventually became the term I used to identify myself because it made me feel powerful and sexy.”

For Cee, “femme is a gender that is conscious on some level when, in a fundamentally misogynist society, choosing femininity is a radical act.”

Performer Rachel Kahn shared her own take.

“For me, femme identity and subversive femininity are about autonomy and about self-definition,” said Kahn. “I’m not femme identified in comparison to anyone else or any other identity. I’m femme because it’s who I am and it’s an individual identity that makes me feel more whole and more fully myself. I’m as femme onstage as I am sitting in my living room in sweatpants.”

Cee said The Femme Show is important because society still considers femininity to be “weak and frivolous,” both in society at large and in queer communities. The show tackles misogyny, cultural expectations of beauty, mental health, intersections of femininity with racism, cissexism, and class issues, as well as queer and femme histories. [pullquote]Cee said The Femme Show is important because society still considers femininity to be “weak and frivolous,” both in society at large and in queer communities. The show tackles misogyny, cultural expectations of beauty, mental health, intersections of femininity with racism, cissexism, and class issues, as well as queer and femme histories.[/pullquote]

“We strive to be thought provoking and make people question their assumptions about gender and sexual orientation,” said Cee. “Not all of us identify as femme, or as women, but we all deal with gender and femininity in our art and therefore we are challenging not just mainstream society, but also mainstream LGBT/queer culture. For me, one of the most important things we do is put a spotlight on femme-related ideas and issues, which hopefully spurs thought and discussion beyond just one night.”

Kahn shared how The Femme Show differs from other LGBTQ or queer performances.

“Femme identity and experience is central—it’s not an object or a prop,” said Kahn. “While I’m all for consensual objectification, I also think it’s great for an audience to see femme performers engaged in work that has a more broad focus than that.”

Cee also noted how The Femme Show sets itself apart.

“I think our content is consistently topical and thought provoking,” said Cee. “We also are cross genre in a way that is uncommon—there are queer cabarets with drag and burlesque, and queer open mics for music and/or poetry, but we put all those things on stage at once, plus comedy, classical and concert dance, and some more out-there performance art type pieces.”

According to Cee, those involved with The Femme Show also march in Boston Pride with MadFemmePride, a social group for femme-identified people, their friends and community.  They also perform and do workshops at LGBTQ youth conferences, and performers of all identities who are interested in making work about femininity or femme identity are welcome.

“I care more about the work than a person’s identity. Performances in The Femme Show need to be fully developed, considered and rehearsed,” said Cee.

The group is always looking for volunteers and is actively seeking performers for their performance art salon, Genrequeer, which will take place November 23 at A Far Cry Orchestra space in Jamaica Plain.

“This might sound super obvious, but I hope people walk away from the show with a feeling for the multiplicity of femme experiences and identities,” said Kahn. “Since there’s no universal experience of femme or of femininity, I hope that audience members have the opportunity to connect to many different perspectives on femme experiences, stories, and lives.”

Sponsors for the show included The Network/La Red, Maureen Cotton Photography, Fenway Health, Re/Dress, Osome Beamer, The Theater Offensive, Out To Dance, Bilicious Productions, Here Booky Booky and Go Deeper Press, and Life Alive.

For more information, visit www.thefemmeshow.com.

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