“Ultimately it’s about an expansion, not about building boundaries around what butch and femme should be,” says gender researcher and power femme Zena Sharman, who along with her partner, storyteller and Xtra columnist Ivan Coyote, co-edited the brand-new anthology Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, set to be launched on May 17 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The book includes pieces by more than 40 contributors from all over North America and Europe who identify as many varieties of butch and femme.
“We were really just trying to take our conceptions and other people's preconceptions about what butch and femme meant, set them aside, and try to solicit voices from as wide a range of the spectrum as we possibly could for whom those words still resonated, for whom butch and femme were still relevant in their lives — but outside the stereotypical boxes,” says Coyote.
Sharman adds, “I have a lot of conversations with femmes who are coming into a femme identity, and I always encourage people to read. This is how I found a sense of history, with recognition of all the stories that don’t get captured in the published literature, of course. As writers and readers we’re interested in developing community through reading and writing. That was really an overriding goal of putting the book together.”
The Vancouver-based couple was inspired by Sharman’s reflections and research on femme invisibility and Coyote’s attendance at the summer 2009 Butch Voices conference. Another major factor was the strong reader response to Coyote’s pieces "A Butch Roadmap" and "Hats Off to Beautiful Femmes," columns published by Xtra in July of 2009.
“The response I got from those two pieces was incredible and pointed the arrow at how we needed some new discussion and some contemporary cultural product that dealt with butch and femme desire and issues,” says Coyote.
The editors chose the title Persistence for two main reasons: first, to pay homage to The Persistent Desire, the landmark 1992 butch-femme anthology edited by renowned femme activist and writer Joan Nestle. “That book factored pretty big in our understanding of ourselves as baby butch and baby femme years ago,” Coyote says.
Sharman adds, “I think the second reason is to point out the persistence of these identities. Over time and over changes in communities, butch and femme continue to thrive.”
Joan Nestle herself wrote the book’s foreword — a contribution of which Sharman and Coyote are particularly proud, especially since Nestle originally declined to participate. “She said she’d always steadfastly refused to do a sequel to The Persistent Desire because she saw it as really capturing a moment in time,” says Sharman.
Coyote adds, “She was worried that it was either us or our publisher wanting to ride on her coattails. So I thought, 'Okay, Coyote, you gotta charm Joan Nestle, but you’re not the only butch who’s tried to charm Joan Nestle, so you gotta be charming without being too charming.'”
The charm worked, and the resulting foreword “really situates Persistence and where we are today in this very powerful context,” according to Sharman.
Coyote adds, “Her foreword alone is worth the cover price, as far as I’m concerned. It’s really beautiful and a really good reminder that we still have lots of places to go.”
Persistence also includes the work of two contributors from the original Persistent Desire.
Sharman reflects on creating the anthology: “It’s been a pretty neat process for us. We’ve been together for four years, and we’ve spent half the relationship putting this book together. And we still love each other.”
As for what we can expect at the launch itself, Sharman quips, “There will be a lot of really well-dressed queers!” In addition to good outfits, the evening will feature readings and performances by contributors Debra Anderson, Bear Bergman, Anna Camilleri, Ivan Coyote, Nairne Holtz, Karleen Pendleton Jiménez, Zena Sharman, Melissa Sky and Zoe Whittall.
The launch takes place at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander St, on Tuesday, May 17, doors at 7 pm. Tickets are $5 to $15 (sliding scale) and books will be available for purchase.
All Ways Butch and Femme
Edited by Ivan Coyote & Zena Sharman
$22, Arsenal Pulp Press