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An array of multi-colored lights illuminate the stage of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio. The cast of performers that range from drag to burlesque share the spotlight, each illustrating their own talents and identities. The variety showcase stood as one of the final acts of the first FemmeFest, a community-wide queer and femme celebration.
“It’s just really great to see members of the community that I don’t usually see,” Chelsey Danielle, No Good Babies band member and FemmeFest performer, said. “I feel like since we’re all sharing this space here it just feels like even though I don’t know you, we’re all part of this wonderful community.”
The weekend-long FemmeFest event was held June 2 through 4 to mark the four-year anniversary of Denton-based podcast What the Femme!?. The podcast was first created in 2019 after WTFemme!? founder and co-host Danielle Longueville, also known as Marie de Menthe, found herself unable to articulate her thoughts on how to describe what being femme meant to her. Longueville used this question to fuel the start of a podcast where she could have conversations with members of her local community about the meaning and impact of one’s identity.
“I created this platform not only to answer that question and explore femme and queer identity but also to encapsulate queer history,” Longueville said. “We preserve that by capturing the stories of queer artists, and the occasional ally, from our community, both local and global.”
The three-day celebration featured performances from several queer and femme-identifying artists. Acts included burlesque artist Honey Sabina, rock band LovesickMary and drag artist Xochi Mochi. A series of workshops were also offered by various instructors, like The Bearded Queer and WTFemme!? co-host Birdie Holly.
FemmeFest was also held as a fundraising event for the R4K Fund, which provides qualifying individuals with free therapy services, and the Denton Bail Fund, a volunteer collective that offers support to those across Denton County who cannot afford to pay their bail. Longueville said both causes are important to her and her co-host and the event helps further their mission to give back to the community.
“We’re both personally pretty philanthropic people, so it’s important to us to have that element exist within the work that we do,” Longueville said. “It’s a fitting pairing as far as being in line with our values and who we support and who we’re here to advocate for.”
Longueville feels one of the most impactful qualities of FemmeFest is to offer a space of representation for members of Denton’s queer and femme community. Similar to her podcast, she said this allows others who have previously been overlooked to see themselves acknowledged and celebrated for who they are.
“Our effort to put a spotlight on the queer community, to record their experiences and talk about their history and highlight what makes them the artists, the people they are today is so impactful in so many ways,” Longueville said. “That person knows that their story has been told and been heard, and it’s going to be heard for as long as we can give them this space.”
Many sectors of the festival, including an art installation hosted by Caron Dessoye, university alumna and Denton Workbench owner. The collection was curated with the intention of matching the event’s overall femme and queer themes. Dessoye said being clear in her applications about thematic requirements further reflects how being upfront about the need for queer representation in the local community is important.
“It’s really the only way I feel we can be right now,” Dessoye said. “We just have to be upfront about who we are and what we support, and in Denton, we support queer in every way that we can.”
Vikter Solis, FemmeFest stage manager and friend of Longueville, said offering this open venue allows others to be proud of their identities. They feel this sense of community can help others become more comfortable in sharing who they are with the world.
“It creates a space for vision,” Solis said. “Hopefully we will bring that courage and create the space so that people can see that it’s okay to be who you are and however it is you identify.”
Aside from offering support for others, Longueville said both FemmeFest and WTFemme!? have helped validate her own identity. She believes this shows how impactful these kinds of accepting spaces can be for the community members they serve.
“It’s been transformative in how I look at my own identity, not only as an artist, but as a queer person, and it’s been very validating in that,” Longueville said. “What I’ve learned is that the expression or the phrase does not define the person, but the person defines the expression or the phrase. We are what makes them like them, they are not what makes us us.”
As the hosts of WTFemme!? continue to record episodes and plan future events, Longueville hopes to further include queer members in conversations about their own community. Longueville said that there is so much societal harm that has been done to the queer community in making sure that people don’t know they exist. By continuing the podcast and its inclusive mission, she hopes to reverse this attempted erasure.
“My hope is that our audience members find themselves in the stories that they hear and 10 years from now, 20 years from now, when people start writing history books or continue to write history books about us, the books will be thicker and there will be more pages,” Longueville said. “There will be more stories to be heard because we’ve been able to capture them.”
Featured Image: Co-Hosts of What the Femme!? podcast Birdie Holly (left) and Marie de Menthe stand in front of a FemmeFest sign on June 4, 2022. Photo by Kristian Freeman