I’ve never been much of a romantic, but I have to admit I have a certain softness for women that doesn’t quite surface around men for me. I’ve plunged into this relatively newfound vulnerability of mine with poems like “Eyelashes,” “As Freckles Fade,” etc.
There are also several pieces in this book which I wrote about the same person; these are somewhat presented as sad “love” poems, but they’re all written with more analytical purposes. There was maybe no more than an hour or two of heartbreak involved on my end, but what really got me is why this person stuck in my mind as an “ideal” partner for so long, even after we parted ways. Therefore, I attempted to write love poems in order to break down the situation and potentially comprehend the meaning of it. I considered the things that really stayed with me about this woman: her sense of humor, her easygoing manner, her seeming adaptability to a multitude of social situations, her smile, her hair, her honesty, etc. The two of us never got incredibly involved with one other, but for whatever reason, she stayed with me in a way no other woman has before.
Writing about her seemed like the only logical solution to the puzzle she’d instilled in my mind. Experimenting with “love” poems was a completely new experience for me, and what I discovered by writing them is that I don’t actually hold any lasting feelings for her; she simply opened my eyes to a type of person that I didn’t realize exists in this world prior to our meeting, a breed of human being I could actually maybe commit to someday.
Not all romantic writing, however, goes hand-in-hand with other human beings. “Eyelashes,” “Flowers for a Rose,” and “Romance of the Rosé” are all essentially love letters to the strength and splendidness of femininity and, in the case of the latter two, gothic aesthetics.
On Femme-Erasure, Femme-Phobia, Lipstick Lesbians, Misogyny, and Appropriation
There are several poems in this book, such as “Lipstick,” “Inerasable,” and “Footprints,” which deal with the topic of femme-erasure and femme-phobia in the LGBTQ+ community.
I’m a proud, femme-presenting woman who presents the way I do as my own personal method of battling misogyny; it’s what works for me. And, to be quite frank, being a femme-presenting woman means I’m frequently on the receiving end of femme-erasure, femme-phobia, and other misogynistic behavior. Some of these themes appear in pieces like “Footsteps,” “Entrée,” “Quivering,” and “Rage.” These all deal with the war many [though not enough] of us are in against misogynists and the patriarchy. And this issue, as I tried to express in Silk & Cigars, goes further than the oppression of women by men alone; it extends all the way to women who live complacently with the internalized misogyny society implants in every single one of us. Some of these poems are a commentary on the behavior of chauvinistic men, but others are a call-to-action for women, begging those of us who are still appeasing the patriarchy by harming our own sisters to take a long, hard look at ourselves and ultimately unsubscribe from misogyny.
Circling back to the topic of femme-erasure/discrimination in LGBTQ+ spaces, a handful of these poems (“Lipstick,” “Never Yours,” “Brunchtime Buttercup,” “From Afar,” “This Wintertime Buttercup,” etc.) address the sub-genre of queer women (since, of course, not all queer women are guilty of this behavior) that mocks, infantilizes, objectifies, disrespects, invalidates, and/or tries to erase the feminine-presenting members of our community.
Note: The poem called “Lipstick” addresses the wrongful assumptions less feminine-presenting women make about their more feminine-presenting peers; it applies to the majority of my experiences dating other ladies as a so-called “lipstick lesbian” (as in a queer woman who literally wears lipstick). Now, although I understand that the term “lipstick lesbian” is up for debate in the community by many queer women and feminine-of-center people, it’s one I’ll continue to use until the day I, and others like me, stop getting shamed, judged, and invalidated by other queer women simply for presenting the way we do. Sticking to our guns as femme-presenting people in the face of daily adversity from both queer and straight people by wearing things like lipstick, nail polish, and dresses is tough, and we should be allowed to speak of our courage in being true to who we are in the face of adversity; better yet, we should be permitted to do so proudly. It’s a shame that the mainstream media has appropriated the term “lipstick lesbian” to differentiate between “conventionally-attractive,” “gender-conforming,” “non-stereotypical” queer women and our less feminine-/more masculine-presenting counterparts [while also inherently putting the latter down], but here in the Western Hemisphere, people steal and repurpose things from other cultures every single fucking day. Furthermore, the LGBTQ+ community is no exception to being robbed in this manner. I deal with this extremely infuriating reality in terms of my own heritage, as a first generation Indian-American woman, and see it happening across the board with other ones as well. However, if we wrote-off and relinquished every last thing that was stolen, adapted, disrespected, misused, etc. by Western mainstream society, marginalized people would eventually be left with absolutely nothing.
Therefore, I don’t believe that proud femmes should be deprived of the pride we feel in being “lipstick lesbians” (a thing most [and not just “some”] of us celebrate without putting down queer women who present differently than we do), especially in a world where we get constant shit from everyone for being the way we are, just because mainstream society appropriated the term and used it harmfully. If anything, we should fight for it; if we can reclaim the word “queer,” then we can also wrestle back the term “lipstick lesbian.”
I see the way the world sees me, the way strangers see me. They infantilize me, and write me off as superficial, stupid, hypersexual, weak, wanting, needing, and utterly incapable.
Why? Because I love fashion, worship Britney Spears, am petite in stature, and encompass a plethora of traditionally feminine physical traits, including a curvy figure and a very high-pitched voice. People’s negative perception of me is, through-and-through, a manifestation of the misogyny society forces us all to internalize at a very young age.
But fuck it. Presenting as a femme [even while rocking the more “masculine” parts of my wardrobe], along with writing Silk & Cigars, is my own, personal love letter to femininity, femmes, and feminism. Making my mark in the world, no matter how big or how small, while rocking lipstick and heels feels like my destiny.
Thus, I embraced my [possible] fate years ago, and I have yet to regret it.
On Femme Fatales
I’ve included a couple of odes to femme fatales sprinkled, of course, with magical realism (ex: “Empress” and “Surge”). After all, what better way could there possibly be to celebrate the strength and marvel of feminine queerness and femininity than with clever, stunning, and lethal female figures?
Publishing Silk & Cigars goes so much further for me than simply posting about my queerness on safety-proofed social media accounts or sharing this truth with my closest confidants behind closed doors. This time, I’m outing myself to the entire world…
And there’s no looking back.
After dining on my pumping, thumping,
And ever-treacherous heart,
The Empress dons my gleaming blood,
Scorching paint on her ravishing smirk;
My claret is the vibrant, red lipstick
Which artlessly escorts her couture,
And echoes crimson against her beaming halo.
This lionized Empress is our sole heiress of
The Beautiful, the Brutal, and the Blasé
In this demonic dynasty where rules are feigned
And anarchy reigns.
I’ve had enough of you stealing glances
At the door.
This boyfriend of mine you’ve conjured in your head
[from an array of your own qualms]
Will not be joining us now…
It’s just you, me, and my lipstick tonight.
You can either take it,
Or leave it.