ARTIST STATEMENT

Raina invites audiences to be curious about queer identities by discussing the inherent magic in being queer. Even her fiction and abstract work is deeply personal and hones in on specific gender identities and their intersections with sexuality, race, class, health, and relationships. Raina was first trained as a professional artist and designer from Maine College of Art, has a Ms.Ed in Teaching and Learning and is now studying popular fiction in the Stonecoast MFA Program at University of Southern Maine.


Visual Art & Design

by Amy Raina

ART & PHOTOGRAPHY COMING SOON!


Fiction Collection

by Amy Raina

 

MORE FICTION COMING SOON!

Nonfiction Collection

by Amy Raina

 

MORE POEMS COMING SOON!


Queer Parenting Collection

Queer Maine Mama

by Amy Raina


The Femme Show Collection 

by Amy Raina

 

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The Femme Show

The Femme Show is a Boston, MA based group of queer performers who bring personal explorations of queer femininity and fem/femme identity to the stage in a fun, eclectic variety show. This is queer art for queer people: challenging, introspective, brazen, funny, sexy, and gritty but always powerful. Amy Raina has been involved with The Femme Show since it's inception in 2007.

Trust a Femme

Originally performed for The Femme Show, 2018

 

i. Not a Love Poem

You and I were always a love poem

Palms and lines intertwined

Background

To the sounds of people whispering, Is that a boy or a girl?

 

Your genderqueer heart was

Bruised like eyes from that poor excuse for a man

My genderqueer heart

Held you crying

Unfolding into Femme arms

Threads

Unravelling into the beautiful man you were meant to be

The man they never would let you be

But femmes?

We see you, we see

And so naturally, you and I

We made that kickstarter account

To fund your surgery

 

ii. The Straight Girl

But this is not a love poem

This is not Keats or Whitman.

Last I heard,

You were happily ever after

Fully transitioned,

Dating some straight girl

I heard, you even finished your MFA

Got a job at Whole Foods

But this is not a revenge poem

 

Not a story of love lost

The next stanza is not about how I saw you

Walking hand in hand with her

Your new girlfriend.

 

I froze, like a small mammal

The two of you, oblivious birds

She laughed at your jokes playfully,

Flipped her hair, and tapped her heels in adoration

I’m happy for you, no really, I am,
What a beautiful, blonde, sun-lit, straight-lined sonnet you have there

 

iii. FEMME INVISIBILITY

Then

The lighting changed

She leaned into you in this kind of way

Touched your chest in this kind of way

Fabric falling from her forearm revealing a sleeve of tattoos

I squinted my eyes.

Peculiar lettering on her handbag

Hand-stitched letters on leather

T and R and U and S and T

Trust a Femme.

It read.

With a silent E

Quietly seeking comradery

 

A stone dropped into the pit of my stomach.

Suddenly

White spaces and blank paper all around me

Typewriter broken

Serifs slid from the stanzas

Onto the floor

Dropping like dead insects onto the hardwood floor

 

I had no choice but to turn the page

She is no straight-lined sonnet,

I had just done to her, what so many have done to me

 

iv. Seeking Connection

Femmes

We ares complex stories

Often mistaken at first glance

 

I flip the page to a feminist poem because

I am pulled in her direction,

Has she too, felt the aching?

The yearning to be seen?

Has she too, held him crying?

Held space for his rage, fear; his pride?

Held space, invisibly

For all letters, LGBT

Femme invisibility

Running fingers through female masculinity

While holding steady to our own gender identity

 

v. Image of a Femme

But how do we define Femme?

 

I imagine her sitting on a lavender couch with Oscar Wilde

He has a flower in his pocket and writes poetry

Her pen is a needle

Piercing through the taught fabric like a page

Pulling the floss through again and again

It was her grandma that taught her, how to separate

The threads,

How to back-stitch,

And dot the I’s with french knots.

 

vi. Our Lover’s Hands Are Dry

Femmes

We are complex stories

Palms and lines intertwined in history

Like lovers

Like not for you lovers, but

Lovers

Like lovers for us lovers

Like Sappho’s lovers

Like Sappho’s poetry

Ancestors of antiquity

Eclipsed always by masculinity,

Made into that stupid femme fatale stock characters, but

Reclaimed, finally

With words and poetry

Thank you

Audre Lorde

Adrienne Rich

Maya Angelou

 

Femmes.

Reclaimed finally by the sweat of our labor

Reclaimed by our hands

Reclaimed finally

By cooking food for our Family

Tucking the kids into bed

And when everyone’s sleeping

We brew revolution, instead

We sew buttons to their collared shirts

Hand-wash boxers, binders in co-op sinks

We clean the sutures that free hearts and chests

All with pride!

 

But our trust is in our hands and

Our hands are dry

 

vii. The Repetition

Of course I want to trust a femme

Of course I want to hear the caged bird sing

But we are trained to distrust each other

To not see each other

To draw hard lines in the sand

Black and white lines

The alliteration is horizontal hostility,

The repetition is

Sexism

Racism

Homophobia

Three distinct vertices of an upside down love triangle

The simile is made of stone and

The simile is distrust

Hardened like stones

Like stone butches relinquishing femininity

Like our trans men stuck in that damn binary

We can’t be a man and a woman too, no!

We can’t transcend the power of two

“That’s why he chose surgery”

I thought to myself, in that moment, but I was hurt

And broken

Another stone droped into the pit of my stomach

And he kisses her head adoringly and

The stones pile up in me

It’s not jealousy, exactly,

It’s distrust.

 

viii. The Simile

How do we conjure trust?

(Because we need it more than ever now)

 

I imagine the three of us in Greenwich Village

It’s 1969 at the Stonewall Inn

The song plays a secret code
But before we can escape

Bright lights and police

White police, like white houses

Lining us up in rows

Assaulting us against walls

Femmes: we are the ladies they could never put their hands on

Consensually

No, we belonged to their worst nightmares

We belonged to our

Butches and trans men, still today, the manifestations of their fears because

White police are always like white houses

Lining us up in rows

And then that one night in June, we finally had enough

It was just like any other night, except

Finally, we had enough

Distrust

They heard us sing across the country

Finally, we held hands

Palms and lines intertwined

And the birds were set free, dipping wings in orange sky

 

ix. Trust a Femme

Trust a Femme.

There’s still no need for punctuation

When it’s written in embroidery

Pulled through pages of history

Golden thread

Sunlight

So bright

But this time I stop squinting

And open wide

Open doors to birds free

Letting the song of freedom carry comradery

 

x. Time to Trust

This is a Femme poem.

To that Femme who sat with needle and thread

To our allies, in solidarity

And to her boyfriend, not mine instead

I am listening now

Are you listening too?

I am listening, finally

Stones will topple, crush, and disintegrate

Because I,

Now trust in you.

 

Hammered Gold

Originally performed for The Femme Show in 2015 as a longer monologue titled “Pink Corduroys”, this is the shorter version.

1983

Gender is not mine. 

I don’t know the word gay 

I only know what it’s like to grow up in central Maine. 

My mother brings me to the hairdresser.

Her name is Sally.

Long nails tapping on the gun, 

She pierces my ears. 

They give me an orange lollipop to suck on

The piercings hurt and

A quiet lingering happens now

From the adult men, mostly my father and his friends

They drink scotch with maraschino cherries

They call me Shirley Temple

My grandmother says: “You, be thankful.”

Her heavy, gold earrings have stretched out her lobes

My earlobes become infected. 

The skin closes up around the puncture

I want more orange candy, I think.

It tastes like Fruit Loops, like warm Orange Crush soda

1993

The pinkish corduroys are my favorite 

I’m spending Christmas in Florida at my grandmother’s condo

(All grandmothers from Maine eventually move to Florida)

I refuse to wear anything but the heavy corduroys and a sweatshirt with a moose on it

This is my quiet protest to spending Christmas here. 

My cords and I, we don’t know anyone who is gay yet, 

but I imagine the gay men in Florida

Acting like thin flamingos

I open the Christmas gift from “SANTA”, written in all caps

My mother is still disguising her handwriting

The small box opens to sparkling gold hoop-earrings

They forgot

I haven’t worn earrings in ten years

I say “Thank you.” 

2003

A renaissance framES

The mirror tucked away in a private dressing room,

I’m in a store, downtown

The fuchsia flare skirt with delicate stitching

I move the lace trim between fingers 

It feels like the first time I fell in love with another girl

But I don’t know how to be a skirt-wearing lesbian

Doesn’t that make me straight?

“Traitor,” I hear them saying.

I swallow.

I take the skirt to the counter to pay 

Like holding onto a secret

I ask for a bag to hide it in

Inside the glass counter, I see hammered metal

Gold earrings, so delicate

I could get them re-pierced, I think.

I buy them.

I say to the clerk, Thank you.

2013

My daughter

Wants me to put on another tutu and play princess with her.

I don’t want to. 

I’m tired. 

We compromise on a fascinator 

I’m a magical kitchen fairy. 

She wants to get her ears pierced

Something innately feminine is in her

But I don’t assume she’s straight

I rub her back and watch her fall asleep

And I hope she’ll fall in love one day with a butch

That treats her well 

 

I can feel her tiny sibling growing inside me

The fetus from the donor cell

The non-binary baby that will be born into queerness

I lean my head to one side 

Unclasp my gold hoop earrings

Right ear and then left 

Less energy to indulge in femininity

But it’s still always there

In the simple gestures and 

Small, golden tokens

Those bits of hammered metal


Waiting for the Birds

Originally performed for The Femme Show, 20114

 

bedroom

Jack cleared her throat when she entered my bedroom; a wide grin circled her face and an old sailor tattoo of a sparrow curved around her left bicep. The wings of the bird flexed as she slid off her boxer briefs; she was magnificent; solid, steady, confident, kind, and handsome. She had just spent the last hour fucking me with all of her might and only looked mildly fatigued. It was approaching 2am and it was now my turn to use my biceps. This was not going to be the kind of sex where we’d head to home depot in the morning and pick out matching Adirondack chairs. No, this was going to be the kind of sex that was destined to replenish me.

I have always loved fucking masculine people: engaging my muscles, dripping sweat, the endurance juxtaposed with my delicate lace, femme tattoos, and lady boots. This scene is the epitome of my femme desire. Sometimes it’s challenging to find a masculine person who gets it, who really gets the gender play, and how hot it is, but when you finally find them, even if it is on ok Cupid, it is simply glorious. …And Jack? Oh, she got it. She really got it. Understood gender and my cravings… It was I, rather, the one who couldn’t get it together that night…

My dresser was a clown car stuffed with colorful scarves, little garter belts, lacey panties, but no cock. Suddenly I'd dawned on me that I had no idea where my dick was. I started to panic. Did I leave it someplace? No, this can't happen now. We couldn’t stop now. The best was yet to come! The grand finale, the big finish. My hip flexors were meant to smash up against her sweet ass over and over until she came. I became frantic as I flapped and fluttered around my apartment searching for a piece of silicone anything would do the trick really. I needed it. I needed to fuck her as if my life depended on it. Now, I know what you’re thinking, why not just use my hand? Well, to be honest, I wanted my dick! A loud exhale escaped my mouth.

I sat beside Jack on the bed defeated.  I don’t know what to say, this has never happened to me before. I’ve always been able to… you know, provide for desires like yours… (I’ve always been able to get it up.) ...Perhaps you should just go. No, it’s ok, it’s not you, it’s me… We said awkward goodbyes. I was left in my empty apartment with twisted sheets, lube stains, and hollow air.

That was the moment I realized it. I was fighting the most severe and swirling depression I had ever experienced. It wasn’t just my dick that went missing… it was everything. Everything I had worked so hard to define since coming out at age 17. An undertow had swallowed me back in September and now that it was February, I was drowning. I was engulfed in a foggy underworld; a beast had wrapped itself around my body and started squeezing the life out of me. Fucking Jack was my last desperate attempt to bring the femme I once embodied back to shore. I was lost, beyond sorrow, and living in a foreign, genderless body just hovering above the earth.

 

waiting for the birds

My mom used to call it waiting for the birds. While I was growing up her depression was always more severe in the winter months. I would parent myself until late spring, when the geese flew back to make nests and hatch their goslings. It was the early 80’s and way before the term “seasonal affective disorder” became common language. Prozac wasn’t even on the market yet. Protecting herself from the cold clinical label of depressive disorder my mom fiercely protested doctors and meds and insisted she was simply waiting for the birds.

In March before my 7th birthday she returned home from the hospital and we took early morning walks down to the lake in silence. I was a scrappy little femme back then; wearing pink corduroy overalls and pigtails. I’d scruff my sneakers on the dirt roads, kick rocks, and watch them roll down-hill into the ditch. We’d sit by the shore; waiting and listening; waiting for the snow to melt; waiting for the days to become longer; waiting for her happiness to return; waiting for the birds. Eventually the ground did thaw and as the sun hit her face, she’d whisper: Finally, Finally the sun’s out. 

 

treadmill

My adult self was now tied to a warped treadmill, day in and day out I moved to a mechanical rhythm that seemed pointless. There was no color, no lace, no lady boots, no passion, no feeling, no gender. My identity no longer  grounded me on this planet although I had the distant memory of it. If I stopped at any moment, the beast would surely devour me, but to continue on seemed impossible.

The winter months went by in darkness and in cold. And then, I recall the moment femme finally came back to me. It was an afternoon in May. The moment was simple, mundane even, but ghostly; a divine act beyond me set into motion by perhaps queer lineage or genetics, ormaybe just luck.

 

morning circle

I was sitting in front of 23 fourth graders doing a read aloud at circle time. The students were antsy all day and their little prepubescent bodies were just hanging on by a thread until June. I was reading the words from the book and turning the pages, but I couldn’t actually hear the story anymore. Depression had exhausted me. It was the opposite of elevation. I placed my elbow on my knee to make it easier to hold up the book. I needed to conserve energy for the impending daily dismissal routine.

My vision seemed blurry and my brain in a hazy mess. Zach was in the back sneaking the coveted legos out of the plastic bins. Iseyic was folding a paper airplane deviously getting ready for flight. Any normal teacher would address these behaviors immediately, but I simply stopped caring. All I could care about was tapping. The tapping. It’s all I could hear: taping tapping. Sam was sitting criss cross apple sauce tapping his pencil incessantly on the floor.. Tapping tapping… I wondered if I was actually going crazy; actually cracking up because the tapping just kept getting louder and louder in my head. I turned the page and took a breath.

My girls, Lauren, Charlie, and Kelly were at my feet, lying on their bellies listening intently to the story ignoring Sam and his stupid pencil. Their sweetness made me nostalgic for girlhood. The sun peered in through the windows and hit Lauren’s little face. “Ms. Raina!” Her voice called out. She broke into my hazy brain. “Ms. Raina a floaty!” Huh? “A floaty! A feather floaty! Look! It’s a floaty!” What are you talking about? “A floaty!” She was insistent. I dipped into the feeling people get right before they go crazy. “A feather floaty! Look! It’s a floaty! A bird feather!! Ms. Raina!!” She pointed up at this tiny white feather floating in the air. The girls started blowing air up at it so it would hover right in front of my face so I’d see it. Finally, finally…the sweet relief of winter. I started to feel my feet inside my boots, and my boots firmly planted on the ground; and my hand on my skirt, and my body rooted to the earth beneath me.

Letter to a LIGL

Originally performed for The Femme Show, 2011

 

Dear Life is Good Lesbian,

I simply adore you. We've been dating for a bit now, and I have finally worked up the courage to invite you to The Femme Show... So I thought I would write you a letter to sooth any hesitation you may have about my femme identity. Please note that the term "Life is Good Lesbian" (LIGL) is not an attempt to box you in, it's just a simple ode to your style and optimism. I have been inspired by this brand you covet so closely and your simplistic approach to life.

I love the way your short hair blows in the breeze and your life is good t-shirts wrinkle in all the right places. I adore your commitment to hiking, water sports, organic vegetables and golden retrievers. I adore it when you get excited about your bicycle and match the colors of your helmet to your bike's frame.  I love that you wear chucks with dress pants and belts that match your eyes. You have the most beautiful eyes and green garden crocs a girl could ever wish for. When you talk about recycling and the 5k you're training for, I swoon. I especially adore your fierce commitment to a label-less life wherein you state strongly that you do not wish to be boxed-in or gender stereotyped.

Oh Life is Good Lesbian, I dream of camping underneath the stars with you. When I'm not with you, I long for a goodnight kiss from those lips, under the starry summer sky. Oh to be pressed up against your Subaru Forester! The moon would shine down on your Life is Good bumper sticker and my cute pink flats and bare ankles would nuzzle up against your sensible Keenes... our hips pressing up against each other...

When our eyes first locked under the brim of your messenger cap I know you weren't even sure if I was gay. I quickly affirmed I liked girls ...a lot... and then you flirted your way into my little heart. I know you were skeptical at first about my skirts and my girly shoes, my big dangly earrings, and my tinted Burt's Bees lip gloss. "Why tint a perfectly good Chapstick?" You asked as I opened my compact. I'm the first self-proclaimed femme you've dated so i watched as you got turned on when you saw me put on lipstick the other morning, I knew right then and there all your second-wave feminist values were brought into question.

Okay, now to be totally honest, when i first met you, I was a little skeptical about your Life is Good t-shirts because I'm kind of like: "Life is like just okay..?" right? I mean... Maybe I'm just a little jaded, but isn't it kind of like the racist colorblind argument where you ignore the oppression that’s happening in the world? Isn’t it a little classist to say.. Life is Good? But Despite our differences, it seems as though we like each other a lot - so much to the point that one day we might actually adopt cats one day, or even discuss alternative insemination techniques. And let's face it, we have some great scissoring sex.

But you worry because you're dating someone who identifies as Femme, people will think you're the boy. I saw it on your face last weekend when my friend automatically grouped you in with the butches when we were picking kickball teams. I felt you pull away from me. I know. I've heard this before. You're not butch, you're not the man. You're both feminine and masculine. And most importantly, you don't want to be boxed-in. I know. I see you.

I like you just the way you are. ...And you know, if you do happen to revel in your boyish charm on occasion or wear a tie out on our date night, or that cute Patagonia sweater vest with the wicked lining for extra warmth, I will still see you, all of you and your label-free gender. I promise to never call you almost-butch or soft-butch when describing you to my friends. and I promise to listen intently when you talk about the pressure to be trans-masculine. I promise to stick up for you when people say that you're butch or trans and just haven't realized it yet. If you ever do decide you want to get chest surgery or bind on a regular basis, I'll never say I told you so. Because.. I see you.

In return, I simply need you to see me. Thank you for not assuming that just because I’m femme I'm a pillow princess or a bottom or high maintenance. See, I don't want to be boxed in either.

Femme is just a word that helps me describe myself and my queer history. Femme is fluid and always evolving. Femme can be sexy, but its also strength, confidence, poise, and brilliance. Femme is never weak, never dumb; never impractical.

And so, when you say things like "Can you walk all that way in those shoes?" Or "I've never seen you wear jeans before because you always have to wear those skirts." That is NOT seeing me. PLUS, It hurt my feelings a little. PLUS, It's misogyny talking. No one ever asks if someone in chucks or boat shoes can walk all that way in those shoes; when we all know they too have sucky foot support! That’s sexism talking. What I’d rather you say is: "Wow. You look so sexy in those shoes." Or "Damn, you look so good tonight. Life is good when I'm with you."

It might seem like im trying to complicate life with all my labels and identities, but is quite simple to me. What I'm wearing might look ridiculous to you, or it might seem like I'm unnecessarily dressing up all the time, or making a political statement all the time, but I assure you, I'm not dressing up, I’m not acting hipster, it's just me. This is just who I am. Femme. All I ask is that you see me. And I promise to see you. And if we see each other, life will just be... so good.

 

My Femme

Originally performed for The Femme Show, 2008

My femme is from orange street lamps turning on at dusk and being home before dark. My femme is from jump ropes barrettes and braids in the summertime. My femme is from backyard BBQ's, hunting worms in the dirt and willow trees struck by lightning. My femme is a round, solid bowl; a vessel containing confidence and nourishment for my queerness.

When I was young, I felt femme from my roots, creeping up and growing up like tall, green vines. I felt femme rumble when the neighborhood girls whizzed past me on their bicycles and bandanas. I felt femme purr when Cecilia Barkowski in eighth grade math class reached across my desk and her long brown hair brushed up against my forearm.

Today, my femme is a queer artist activist: She gets down and dirty. My femme camps and farms and bakes and reads and sips tea at midnight and then takes the bus to work in the morning. My femme wears flip flops with skirts and rain boots with hairy knees. She is puddle stomping, dirty feet, lace and halter tops with boi crushes, boi kisses, boy shorts standing topless at the kitchen sink brushing her teeth.

My femme dances curvy and wide, sharp and hip hop. These large breasts and strong thighs and thick ankles break down expectations of small size and femininity. My femme is heavy like the weight of an ocean wave crashing against the sand. My femme was the weight on top of her hand in that thunderstorm. My femme is that kinky dominant top and that shy girl bottom. She's the taste of nectarines, red and wet sweetness on your lips. She's the taste of chocolate melting on laughing tongues; red hibiscus rose hips, witch hazel, pink and orange fruits.

I didn't learn this gender from books or theory. I just remembered it from my queer working class ancestors. They passed down its spirit and I honor it with this label, and language. My femme is feminist. Today, yesterday and a century ago:

My femme is feminist.

My femme is a round, solid bowl; a vessel containing nourishment for my queerness.

I remember - when I was just a girl - Cosmo, Vogue and Glamour taught me how I should be a woman. I sought refuge in feminism and queer community except I had to cut off my hair to pass and my lovers always questioned if I was a real dyke.  The L Word has been teaching us how we should be femme: thin, white, rich. And some femme communities are breeding competition. And some dyke communities are breeding internalized misogyny. And some dykes think that femme and butch replicate a hetero-normative lifestyle. No. There is nothing "heteronormative" about this femme. There is no winning for us queers when we work with this patriarchal system that works to oppress us. …Because my femme is still cat-called on the streets: his voice crude and mean, his glance righteous and untrustworthy.

My femme came out years after my first lover said she just hated my pink lipstick. My femme just hid in the cold dark closet of my first apartment on High St. That's where my girlfriend at the time cut off my long, braided brown hair. Her hands were thick and smooth, pulling at my scalp, satisfying her own version of the dykey aesthetic.

When she was finally through, I sat down slowly, the braided entrails of my crown in a circle around me and held tightly in my hand. There, I flashed back to years earlier: I was living downtown and out with my single self one Thursday night. My hair was long, braided and tied up off my neck. I wore a black, smooth halter-top. It was late August and the city hissed with summer heat and drunks. Three men stumbled out of a bar on Congress St. and followed me to my car; Picking apart my femininity.


When I finally got home I was stunned and scared and outraged and impulsively... cut off my hair. I wore hoodies and baggy jeans and that's when my queer comrades complimented me on my new hot look.

So tell me. Is your community safe? Tell me. Are femmes safe? Tell me will my queer family stand for me when my birth family will not? Tell me. Is this community safe for all femmes? Are these streets safe? Are femmes safe here? Tell me.

My femme is quiet, like the sound of the sun setting on September's trees or the sound of the rain covering the roof above my bedroom like wrapping paper. My femme is the taste of chocolate melting on laughing tongues; red hibiscus rose hips, witch hazel, pink and orange fruits. My femme is a solid, round bowl, a vessel containing nourishment for my queerness.

My femme is from orange street lamps turning on at dusk, and being home before dark.

 

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Favorites from Queer Maine Mama

Raina's blog, Queer Maine Mama, documents real-life experiences with children and poses thoughtful questions about parenting and raising young people. These unique posts offer a queer and feminist perspective on raising children culturally queer.