Indian American choreographer Bhumi Patel calls herself a “femme.” Femme does not simply mean “feminine,” she explained in a candid first-person piece for the SF Chronicle. “It is used in queer circles to designate queer femininity, in a way that’s often self-aware and subversive. It is both a celebration and a refiguring of femininity,” she wrote.
To give some insight into the femme culture, Patel curated “Fem(me): Again,” a performance featuring eight artists relating to questions around their femme-ness in vastly different ways, that was staged June 5-6 at SafeHouse Arts in San Francisco, Calif. She explained that the performances covered a range of emotions – “from the solace that is found in friendship to the heartbreaking rejection felt in the diminishing of femininity.”
Each dancer, she continued, spoke “bravely and truthfully” from their own experiences instead of mimicking the stories of others.
To indulge in femme culture, Patel wrote, is to be “brave, and to have strength,” adding, “And, it means experiencing oppression from the dominant culture, even inside the queer community, where masculinity still holds power.”
Emphasizing the relevance of works like hers, Patel, the founder of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Patel Dance Works, stated that these works matter because “many of us still don’t understand that female does not equal woman and that femininity is not an experience exclusive to folks that identify as female.”
Even in queer communities, Patel noted, femmes are often invalidated or overlooked, writing, “My queerness has been diminished and joked about by other queer people, which instills a level of self-doubt. Am I queer enough? Can I speak about being queer if I’m not seen as queer? I’ve finally come to believe that queer gets to mean whatever I want it to. It gets to look like me.”
“And, because there are others who deserve this visibility, and because my expressive modality comes in the form of movement, I curate this program to intentionally make space for femme voices,” Patel added.
Patel founded Patel Dance Works, a queer, feminist dance company, with Jordan Wanderer in 2017. Their mission, according to their website, is to create “queer, feminist movement art that holds the focus of creating movement at the intersection of embodied philosophy and dynamic sensation taking precedence over stagnant form.”