RUST BELT FEMME by Raechel Anne Jolie


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A queer feminist activist celebrates her roots in what she proudly calls “white trash” culture.

Though Jolie left behind her native Ohio in 2003 and went on to earn her doctorate and become “firmly queer,” she insists that “home home has always been Cleveland. Even when it hasn’t been.” The blue-collar neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city provide the setting for the author’s story, which begins with a harrowing account of her father’s accident: He was hit by a drunk driver, crippling him and leaving him brain damaged and often violently enraged at his fate. After a year at home, he returned to the care of his mother, who had strained relations with Jolie’s mother, who then raised her daughter on her own. “Being poor is written in my blood and my bones as much as it is sung from my tight skirts and cheap lipstick,” writes the author. “Being poor, really, became the building blocks of my gender; this embodied expression we in the queer community call femme. It’s a type of femininity that I have come to realize is inextricable from the shape of early poverty, the shades of the rural edges of Cleveland, and for me, the sound of punk.” Many of her rites-of-passage initiations into sexuality and punk culture, the two intertwined, were heterosexual, at least as recounted in these pages, but her embrace of “femme” and her cultural analysis are particularly illuminating. In her explanation, femme “was formed by the working poor, and it wasn’t for men. Rather than appeasing the male gaze, femmes got dressed for the pleasure of their butches and for the pleasure of their own damn reflection in the mirror. And it was, or became, a little exaggerated….A femme instinct to up the sex appeal to better spite the male gaze.” It seems that well before she came to terms with her sexual identity, she knew what she liked, and she communicates her feelings effectively to readers.

A sharp coming-of-age portrait.

Pub Date: March 10th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-948742-63-4
Page count: 150pp
Publisher: Belt Publishing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2019