Co-editors Julieta Salgado and Charles Theonia on work-love boundaries, meetings in underwear, and finding your place within a community of resistance.
femmescapes is a “zine of queer + trans affinities with femmeness,” co-edited by Julieta Salgado, and Charles Theonia. Julieta is a translator and photographer who works with unhoused LGBTQ youth at the Ali Forney Center; Charles is a poet and teacher at Borough of Manhattan Community College. In femmescapes V.1, contributors like Reina Gossett, Porpentine Charity Heartscape, and Jamie Berrout imagine being femme and making art without the threat of gendered violence. After taking a transatlantic flight that leaves her “having a Wednesday that’s longer than 24 hours,” Reina Gossett wonders:
“What would it look like to make art about my condition? The condition of the freak, the condition of the outlaw. Art that would turn towards & increase my lawlessness & my lewdness, my disintegration and incoherence. Art that might bring me shame.”
In femmescapes V.2, artists and writers discuss what it feels like to be femme under worsening authoritarianism. How can femmes protect themselves and each other? How can femme-ness be used to fight back against an anti-femme state?
In addition to being co-editors, Julieta and Theonia are also a couple. Working with a partner is difficult; it’s hard to be critiqued by someone you love. But Salgado and Theonia make it feel okay by respecting each other’s schedules, setting work/life boundaries, and sharing the project with a friend, zine designer Abigail Lloyd. I spoke to Julieta and Charles over Twitter and Gmail and, in the meantime, looked at adorable Instagram pics of them in greenhouses at the Brooklyn Botanical gardens, bottom caption: “fern 4 flower.”
How did you decide to make this zine?
Julieta Salgado: It started with us fantasizing about another world, The Femmescape, as a place we could live and love without the fear of many violences. I think Charles named the idea of a zine and that just seemed way more tangible than forging a portal to a parallel femme universe, you know? The cover of Vol. 1 is of a portal made by Adee Roberson. I hope our zine feels like a mini world our readers can enter and feel seen.
What does femmeness mean to you, and has that changed from V.1 to V.2?
JS: I have way too much to say about my femmeness ... In relation to our zines, I went from wanting to escape this reality to seriously considering what risks I will take to fight fascism. These days, I dress as cute as ever but with a side of I-might-have-to-join-this-black-bloc-real-quick, on some insurgent femme shit! But that’s really it. My ability to fight or fly has always been the very center of my gender and that’s extra salient right now.
Could you talk about the opening photo shoot? I was especially into the masks. They render the wearer opaque, literally “masking” their identity, but, interestingly, these masks were also ornate and gorgeous, more hypervisible than under the radar.
Charles Theonia: Masking up, even with a plain ski mask, singles you out from the non-masked at the same time as it obscures your identity. It’s like a mask announces: I’m about to get into something. So why not with crystals?
On opacity, some of Diego Montoya’s masks look like they would block the wearer’s sight, smell, hearing, or speech. But another imaginative possibility, since the photo series is titled “we be the future,” is that they might serve to enhance the senses or make them accessible, like Geordi’s visor in Star Trek, which he sees with rather than through.
Could you talk about KOKUMỌ’s pieces? Those were probably my favorite ones.
JS: Yes, her “Dear John Letter to the Movement” is one of my favorite pieces in this whole zine! And for entirely personal reasons: I am a neuroatypical gal who’s trying to get free, but I belong exactly nowhere in the NYC movements and that’s sad but also just a fact. What else can I say other than it’s fucking hard to be brown, crazy, and empowered within a community of resistance?
CT: I’m always looking to learn from work that deals with being wronged without moralizing about it. KOKUMỌ is so good at tracing her own evolutions, looking back at her past selves – what she wanted, what she put up with, what she settled for – and making it clear that she is in an ongoing project of laughing while she refuses to take any of your shit.
What is it like to work with one of your romantic partners? I’ve never been able to pull that off.
CT: It’s great, we have meetings in our underwear. One adjustment for me was being in touch throughout the day but not always being able to talk about this project because of our different schedules and capacities. I had to practice impulse control and better work-love boundaries. Just because we got a new submission I’m excited about does not mean we have to talk about it right this minute.
JS: It feels like a new form of intimacy for me altogether. It can be tough to tell a loved one when you dislike something they adore, or to edit work when you have very different artistic styles and educational backgrounds. Meetings in underwear and a breakfast cocktail are key though.
How do you conceptualize femmeness within the ongoing commodification of “identity politics”? A friend was talking about how, while for her, identity is important because it shows how people are oppressed differently under capitalism and is a way to build solidarity, it is ultimately something we should seek to overcome. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that, and I would be curious to know what you thought.
CT: I’m interested in non-hierarchical gender, not the end of gender. Gender abolition and the end of identity sound like more masc-by-default neutrality to me. As with anything, femmeness can be commodified, or if we focus on it exclusively, we’ll be erasing huge swaths of people’s experiences. But that’s also my issue with “overcoming identity” – it sounds like racial colorblindness, where we’re expected to stop talking about race so that we can get past racism.
JS: I’m thinking of tweets I saw this morning by femme icon Che Gossett: “Tfw you see signs meant to be cute or fierce like ‘femmes don’t owe you shit’ And it's like actually boo, white femmes owe reparations.” “Femme isn't a universal category.”
I distrust anyone telling me I might overcome my identities once we overcome capitalism. The truth is I exist as an amalgamation of colonialisms, and for better and worse, I love me. So yeah, I’m a femme mestiza who sells her labor for wages. The only identity I’d love to overcome is being working and poor. But as someone who actively wants an end to this genocidal empire we currently live in, I look forward to new languages and ways of being, and that includes femmeness.
V.2 is very much about feeling betrayed by movements but also being unsure of where that leaves you. (Without a movement? With a different one?) Throughout femmescapes, that kind of loss very much felt like mourning to me, which I liked.
JS: I’m glad you felt that vibe, mourning and loss certainly informed much of our work.
CT: I get stuck in this question all the time, which is part of why I love Joss Barton’s piece “TRANSSEXUAL LOVE DREAMS ON THE INAUGURATION OF TRUMP” so much. It explores the pains, insecurities, and pleasures of a resistance that’s built on sexual connection, not just in its retaliatory “psychic sexual energy,” but also in the intimate support it makes possible. It’s a depiction of lovers and community that says: We need each other; we treat each other so badly; we can do better. One thing that might look like is getting your ass lovingly eaten and then getting lessons on how to fire a sniper rifle.