Maggie Cee and her troupe fiddle with gender roles.
by Kristen Humbert
Published: August 18, 2009
COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN: "Femmes like to do the 'Hey fellow queer!' nod and smile, too," says Maggie Cee, "and what we get back is an expression of 'Why is that straight girl smiling at me?'"
[ lgbtq ]
Two conservatively dressed women take to the stage and begin talking in prudish, Victorian English. But what comes out of their mouths isn't related to Charles Dickens or the Corn Laws: Instead, they discuss how a femme person can look cute while going on a rock-climbing date, and when it's proper to have sex in a public restroom.
The contrast between dainty speaker and naughty topic in this piece, one of many in The Femme Show's routine, is glaring and funny. But for performer and founder Maggie Cee, it's also a sardonic take on a serious subject — the social implications of femininity within queer culture.
Born in Boston in 2007, The Femme Show is ensemble-based and involves dance, clowning, spoken word and performance art. Cee and her gang did a previous show at Tritone in 2008, but this year's act is completely new.
City Paper: What’s your personal definition of “femme?”
Maggie Cee: Femme for me is about consciously choosing femininity. That can mean all kinds of different things to different people and different things to the same person on different days. But consciously choosing femininity, [a gender] which is so often denigrated and marginalized in our society — there’s a real power in that.
CP: What was the impetus behind the creation of The Femme Show?
MC: I am a dancer by training and part of the impetus of the show was that I was not finding a place where my work, my choreography and dance pieces — which are explicitly queer — fit into Boston’s modern dance scene. As a femme person myself, I was part of a great femme community in Boston called MadFemmePride. I learned from my experience with those folks that there were people that would want to make and see art about femme identity. And from a more personal standpoint, I have experienced ways in which femmes are marginalized in the queer community. This show is partly a way to respond to that.
CP: How have you felt marginalized as a femme person?
MC: When I've been single [and] out trying to find people to dance with or date, I've definitely felt that I’m "invisibilized." That people see me in a bar, in the gender I present — which is pretty feminine — and assume that I am a straight girl out in a lesbian bar with her lesbian friend. I also live in a very queer neighborhood in Boston, and people sort of look for a certain stereotype of what a lesbian looks like. To quote one of my performers, femmes like to do the "Hey fellow queer!" nod and smile too, and what we get back is an expression on that person's face of "Why is that straight girl smiling at me?"
CP: What are some of the show’s highlights?
MC: This show is all-new from the last time we were in Philadelphia. We have spoken word from Alicia Greene and Rachel Kahn. We have the "Society for the Preservation and Promotion of Sapphic Social Mores," which is Rachel Kahn and I talking about modern queer etiquette dilemmas in this ridiculous, over-the-top, Victorian-etiquette-manual language. And yes, we collect Victorian and more recent etiquette manuals, which is how that piece started.
We have a spoof-ballet number, with Johnny Blazes and I [combining] clowning and classical ballet, representing how femmes are often misunderstood by their partners and the community. And there is "Check One, Please," a piece involving boxes and a used-car salesman character, which illustrates the ways in which, in picking a gender or identity outside the mainstream binary gender options, you can still be told that you need to do certain things to conform to the idea of the “outsider.”
CP: Why present the concept of femme identity through performance art?
MC: When you see a live performance, you are given the chance to take everything in and reflect it through your own experience. So what people think a piece is about, what they loved or hated about it, is going to come through their own experience. So I think we’re drawing audiences in and letting them interpret and feel things for themselves, which I think is really powerful.
CP: What do you hope people unfamiliar with femmes will take away from the show?
MC: I think folks who have had experiences where their gender was a place of tension will relate to the show on one level. And I think for folks who haven’t necessarily thought about gender and queer identity before, they might come away with a message about the importance of finding your own voice and being yourself.
CP: The show originated in Boston, and that's where you live, so what drew you to perform in Philadelphia?
MC: We've been trying to find places to perform where we can connect with different queer communities, and we know that Philly has a great queer community. There's a lot of independent, do-it-yourself art and music happening.
The Femme Show | Fri., Aug. 21, 8 p.m., $10, Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., 215-573-3234, thefemmeshow.com
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