Laura Luna Placencia wore a bright orange blouse with a black and white polka dot blazer over it. Her cat-eyed glasses framed her face in a poised and confident manner. Her silver eye shadow and long eyelashes popped.. We met at a cafe that was also a bar. Laura Luna, with great consideration, asked if it was okay with me if she ordered a cocktail. (Of course I said yes.) We grabbed drinks and sat in the back area of the cafe to chat.
In coming to LA, I have said that I didn’t have high expectations, so it was a pleasure to be able to speak with such a passionate person who has been living, working, and both creating and contributing to community in LA for about a decade. She told me that the only places she’d “cheat on LA with would be the Bay or New York City, because I have strong communities there, but I definitely have my community here.” We chatted about her communities in LA and how she has been able to build strong, “authentic” relationships in this urban beast. If she wants something to exist, she creates it–so about a year and a half ago, she created a group for femmes of color in LA. Laura Luna Placencia: a fat-identified, Xicana femme, chose to share some of her stories with me, so I’d like to share some of those with you.
What communities do you consider yourself part of here?
Definitely the queer community…where I live is called the Femme Fortress, because I’m femme identified and so we’ve always had femme people that live there. And so I started a group on facebook for LA Femmes of Color, so we have meet-ups, and we just had a makeup day last week. And a lot of the femmes that are in the group are a lot younger than me so they call me their femme mama, (I know I’m going to start crying!) so I do a lot of things to support them. Like one of them got married last year, so, you know, going to their weddings. And the same one is in a dance program at one of the colleges here, so going to go see her dance recital. And we have self-care days that we do together. You know, even though it might seem superficial to other people, all of them have always said that the times we have together are so important. That makes me feel good…because I always go back and think that as a youth, when I first came out, and when I first started reading about femme and really connecting to that identity, there wasn’t really any, you know, any support groups. And at that time, the internet was just barely picking up steam, so it’s not like nowadays where a lot of the younger folks who have internet access can find tumblr, or sites like that where they can connect with like minded people or like identified people. That’s kind of what keeps me going with that work. I also do a lot of work, or have done a lot of work, around queer fashion. But, I’ve just done a lot of different community building in LA, but now that I’m getting a little bit older, I’m trying to scale down just for my own self-care. But I feel like a lot of the work that involves femmes of color is really in my heart, and that’s the work that when I have to scale down, that never gets cut.
Are there a lot of other strong organizers who you work with?
Yeah, there’s actually an amazing poet, Sophia Rose Smith, who is also, I mean, she’s just a little bit younger than I am, and she does a lot of work with queer youth. I really feel like, in terms of organizing that group, I mean we’re still a small group, so she’s the other person I look to when I need to. But the ones who are younger also give me so much life, and their resilience is just so amazing. We all organize together, but I feel like I’m the little mama hen! Like right now we’re getting stuff together because we’re putting together a proposal for Models of Pride. So just us trying google hangout for the first time, doing the document, it feels so rad, you know, to work collaboratively with other femmes of color who, you know, we’re always put to the side. I really feel like masculinity is put on a pedestal in queer communities. So I feel like we’re really taking space in that way.
Yeah, yeah definitely…I always found that most of the performers, or groups that were doing cultural, or artistic performance groups, were mostly masculine identified. That’s also why I feel very strongly about continuing the work with the femmes of color, and supporting them, because masculinity is always put on a pedestal.
And you were saying that now you find a lot of community online? So do you find bridges between femmes of color in different cities?
Yeah, yeah, so there’s this big femmes of color group on facebook that is just really amazing. There’s also a bigger femme group, that is how I found the femmes of color group. But I feel like the femmes of color group, I allow myself to be a little more vulnerable with that group. So I’ve been able to forge friendships with a lot of these femmes who are in other cities and I was able to meet a bunch of them at the Allied Media Conference last year, and I feel like my heart just cracked open. It was so beautiful. There was one femme, Bianca, who lives in New York, and we’d been following each other on twitter since 2008, and we’d never met, we met for the first time at the Allied Media Conference. It was just so beautiful. And Kim Katrin Milan, she’s just one of my biggest femmespirations, seeing her in person, I was just like a kid in a candy store, feeling the energy. When I met Yiming, when I met TK who does this amazing jewelery work. Connecting the dots, it was just so beautiful.
And that community has been growing throughout the years, and didn’t exist when you were finding that identity?
No, not at all. And I hate to be that older person who is like, “You guys have it so good!” because we all go through our struggles. But even the other day, I was having a conversation in the car, “Why do we do the work that we do? We do it so that the younger people can have it a little bit easier.” And it’s just the cycle, of continuing this work, continuing this work, in order for everyone to have it…
In fact, there’s a project in LA called the Gwen Project, it’s specifically for queer and trans youth of color, and so this weekend was their last. It’s a six week program on Saturdays, and it’s free for the youth, and they get to you know, build community. And so I was one of the volunteers, I pick up a few of them and take them to the location where it’s going to be. And one of the youth had just gone to the Janet Mock signing of her book. And she’s also trans-identified. And someone was trying Janet, talking about how it’s so much easier for the girls nowadays. And that’s why we do the work, in order for it to be easier. There’s always challenges, how do we make it easier.
Creating a world we want to live in.
Exactly. I feel like for me, this is why we do the work. This is why, for me, we do the work. This is why we don’t just…I see so many people in my corporate day job, and they have no idea about anything other than their lives. Why do I go to my corporate day job and then after work do all this other community building work? Instead of just going to work and then resting, chilling out, watching tv. Instead, I come home, I’m on emails, going to a meeting. It’s because I..don’t have any children…so I want my own legacy to be to make it easier for the next generation.
So when you were initially organizing and figuring out how you were going to identify, who and where did you find inspiration?
I remember being in college and finding the Butch-Femme Reader and just devouring that book. I understood that I wanted to be femme because I liked butches. But it wasn’t until later that I understood that femme could be, and femme is, is its own thing, you don’t need a butch to be femme. So Joan Nestle…but even after that, I remember that was back in the AOL days, I had met a woman who was like, ‘you’re femme, I’m femme,’ she was older, so like, ‘we should hang out, not in a sexual way or in a dating way, but to have fun and do make up or whatever.’ And she was like a total chola from the hood, and I loved it because I could identify with her. And her partner was more masculine, and she kind of taught me the street-code of the butches and the femmes, and I feel like I looked up to her in that way. So I kind of had an older femme, a femme mentor.
A lot of the stuff now that I look back at, could be taken as very sexist or misogynist, but it was the code of the streets. I don’t even know how to explain it…but then, because the internet started picking up, I remember the first day I read the Femme Shark Manifesto, I was just like, Yes! This is everything. This is everything. It’s keeping it real, it’s praising femmes, if you got to steal your shit, you make a way out of whatever. If you’re working the corporate life, good for you. I feel like I really identified with that. So I just started googling and finding different people.
And my friend Natasha and I, it’s funny how this came about–we had a company called Sappho’s Return. So we produced, at that time, lesbian, mostly of color, art, performance art, visual art events in LA. So it kind of came out of us wanting to find girlfriends who were more artsy. Not find them at a club. It was really cool because our first show that we did together was at a coffee shop in Long Beach called Viento y Agua, we just literally emailed all these people on myspace who were poets, or we had known, maybe we had gone to their shows or something, but hadn’t built big relationships with them. And 200 people came! And there was an all-glass wall. I curated the art portion of it, and we curated the open mic part of it together. And there were people outside of the glass waiting to get in. So I was just like, “Wow!” And then there were all these cute girls, so it really worked out well! So we just kept doing different productions, different events. The first fashion event we did was a butch-femme vintage fashion show. There was some modern stuff, mostly vintage. 99% queer models, literally all the makeup artists volunteered, all the models volunteered, all the stylists volunteered. It was just so amazing.
So I just kept meeting more people, finding really amazing community, all kinds of folks. Natasha and I started doing our own things, Sappho’s Return had it’s day. She does graphic design, so she’s successful in that, and I went more towards femme of color organizing and fashion. So I did other fashion projects. I was the creative consultant for the fashion show at the Butch Voices Conference in 2010. And I did the UCLA Queer Fashion studies, they had a fashion show called Queerture that closed the conference. I did the femme portion. I had 17 models, all femme and all styled differently. I had punk femme, motorcycle femme, vintage femme, all kinds of femme. It was really amazing, a really intense project. That…you never really understand how much support you have from the community until something like that, then you see it. There was no way I could have, by myself put together this whole thing. Including all the models, the hair and makeup people, personal assistants, the catering for the femmes, there was like 30 people. That was just our portion of the show. There’s a rough video on youtube, it’s just taken with a cell phone, just our portion of the show and I was just like, oh my god. Wow. I think we also got donations. And last year at the Allied Media Conference, together with two other folks we did a track called Fierce, Fashion, Futures. And we did a fashion show for the closing ceremony.
I think as a fat-identified queer person of color, I’m not supposed to. According to society, or the “fashion industry”, I’m not supposed to have a voice in fashion. To actually say that I’m a stylist, I run an etsy shop and I curate vintage clothes, so to actually have my own say is, for me, so powerful. Other people have found that powerful, and I find power in them feeling powerful and they found power in me feeling powerful. Especially other fat-identified people. Style is for everyone, everyone gets dressed, right? Why take out a certain portion of the population for whatever, just because their trans, or fat, or queer, or not white. I find a lot of power in that.
And by you opening doors, it opens doors for other people.
All of the models that I had for runway show, most of them were activists that I knew, some of them had been in my previous shows, some of them had never walked a runway before. Like I said, it was just so much community support. One of my friends came and volunteered to be the runway coach for those who had never walked a runway before, to feel more comfortable. It was just such a beautiful community project.
It’s so interesting to me the way models and people in fashion are put on a pedestal, and when you flip that, and put yourself on a pedestal, and say, Actually I am as good as they are, and there’s no reason I can’t do that.
Yeah, just because I can’t fit into those too small clothes doesn’t mean I don’t have a certain style. So I find it really empowering to be on instagram, and take pictures of my outfits, and even hashtag, like #fat, #plussizestyle, yeah this is style. I also find what is empowering to me is also when folks who never would have thought to hire a stylist, because I have that community background, I feel like they are more apt to say to me, oh, I have this event…recently a friend was getting married, and was having a wedding and came to me and needed a bowtie, so I found a beautiful bowtie, it just looked great. So I sent it, okay here, I found this, this, and this. Okay, go.
Switching gears a little bit, is your family around this area at well?
No, my mom actually lives in Las Vegas. Because my brother is in the military, when my brother was stationed in Vegas, she moved there from Ontario, my hometown. But then my brother got moved to New Mexico and my mom stayed in Las Vegas. So my mom is in Vegas, and my brother and his family are in New Mexico. So I’m alone here, but not really alone.
Yeah, actually, it’s funny because–my brother is very stoic, he’s a military guy, he’s a lot younger than I am but he’s definitely doesn’t show a lot of emotion, he’s a guy’s guy, brews beer, likes guns. He had never really acknowledged my partners, and one time I went with one of my previous partners to have Christmas in Las Vegas with my family, this is when he was still living in Vegas. And he was like, “Oh here, this is for you guys”. We opened up the box, and it was some wine glasses, he knew we liked wine, with both of our intials on it. That’s when I knew, he gets it. He gets that this is a long-term thing. It warmed my heart so much. And just recently last week, I have a nephew who going to be five, so they came to LA because they came to take him to Disneyland. So I went to meet up with them and we went to a little store that was in Disneyland that was all Little Mermaid stuff because I love Little Mermaid and most of my friends love Little Mermaid. And so we walk in with the baby, and my brother said, “Oh, you want that dress?” And I thought he was making fun of my nephew, and I thought he was trying to be funny. And I was like, “That’s not funny, he can wear whatever he wants, dresses aren’t just for girls,” and he was like, “No, we let him play with whatever he wants.” I’m not there when they’re raising my nephew, so I don’t know what they’re talking to him about. And he was like, “We tell him he can do whatever he wants, he prefers more ‘masculine’ options, but we tell him whatever is fine.” So I guess he likes the Tinkerbell movies, but some of the other military moms are like, “You shouldn’t let him watch that,” but he likes it so they’re like why not let him watch it. They’re not overly supportive, but they are supportive.
My mom is like, super supportive. It wasn’t that way all the time but now she’s super open. On Friday, when I went to my baby femme’s recital… I call her every day after work, so I was telling her. She was like, “Oh what are you doing today?” And I said, “I’m actually at the mall because I’m heading over to one of my friends recitals” She was like, “Oh what friend?” I was like, “Oh she’s actually, I call them my baby femmes.” She doesn’t really understand queer because we speak in Spanish, so I was like, she’s also gay, she also identifies as feminina, so femme. I’m older, so I like to go support. She was just like, “That’s so good, m’ija!” She’s met all of my long term partners, and has been pretty supportive. There are some things that, because she’s older, and the language, can make it a little bit difficult. I don’t really talk to her about femme stuff. I also don’t know how to describe it to her in a way that she would understand in Spanish.
Is the femmes of color group here mostly Latina?
You know what, yeah. We’re kind of a little bit Latina heavy. I feel like because we’re a social group, but also…because a lot of us are very social justice oriented, I don’t know. I know that there are other femmes in LA. I feel like we’re very inclusive of different identities, and talk about a lot of things that…like maybe if we were just a social group, going clubbing, doing different types of things, maybe our membership would be bigger. We did have a conversation about trying to grow our group. Right now, we have some folks of Middle East descent, but right now we are very Latino, Latina heavy. There’s not a lot of us, but that’s something that we’re really trying to work on. Hopefully, in the next year, it’ll be a little more diverse. The group just started last year, or the year before. I’ve had femme community, but to create a space for just femmes of color, that just started in the last year or year and a half.
Everytime that we meet, we talk about okay, how do we grow our group, because the need is there…because we need the group, so there are other people who need the group. But also how do we spread the word and attract people…because femme can be seen as just for female-identified folks, but how do we attract femmes who are…male-identified, trans femmes, femmes of different origin other than Latino…so that’s something that we always talk about, so hopefully, by us doing the work… So that’s something, with our Models of Pride submission, we really needed to take inventory of the privileges that we hold as cis-gender femmes, and also a lot of us are Latina, and a few of us are light-skinned, white-passing Latinas in the group. So always taking inventory…
Would you say most of the people in the group are college educated?
I mean, I didn’t finish college myself, but I would say most of the femmes in the group hold a bachelors, and there are a few with advanced degrees. So that’s that group, but I’m also part of another group…well it’s not really a group, it’s really just more like friends and we do a lot of fun stuff together. Really amazing women, they’re a little bit older, who I feel like are like my mentors. And we started getting together through football. So we were in a fantasy football league together and now we support each other in our different events. So last night, one of the friends was the producer of a big charity event out in Orange County, so we went and supported her. And one of the friends got honored by Liberty Hill Foundation last week so going to those types of really fun things. But also going to brunch, hosting a party…now that football season’s over, because when football season’s on, it’s all about the football! And that group, it’s mostly all women of color, and they are just so supportive. And every time I hang out with them, I’m just like, “I wanna be like you when I grow up!”
Did you also find this group through online community?
No, well one of the women who is in the football group, had just moved to LA and was introduced to me. I’m kind of like the welcome wagon if you’re queer, well specifically if you are a queer person of color. So one of my friends messaged me, and said, ‘Hey, I have a friend who is moving out here, she actually works where you work, would you mind meeting her for lunch, or whatever?’ So I met her, was friends with her, and she brought me to a concert with this other couple who was part of the football group. And from there, we all live in the same area, in Northeast LA, so we all started getting together and hanging out. I wasn’t really into football, but then one of the football friends was like, you know, you should join the fantasy football league… and I was like, I’m more of a cheerleader, and she was like, “Well there’s cocktails!” because they’re really into craft cocktails. So I went for the cocktails, but then they were like, you should join the ranking thing. So I joined, and then I started winning! And I was like, I like this! So now I’m anxiously awaiting football season again. Because it’s every Sunday with these women who are funny, amazing, successful, loving, so supportive of anything anyone does. And it’s like, wow, this is exactly what I wanted. I felt like I really manifested these friends!
Anything that I do, anything that anyone does in the group, it’s just like these professional women who I see as mentors but yet friends, and even though almost all of them have advanced degrees, and these really amazing jobs, never is it about that. Never is it about I went to so and so, or my job is this. It’s just about hanging out with really amazing and authentic people. I talk also a lot, online, about mental health stuff. Going through my healing process, with my therapist, and being in therapy, and how it’s really amazing. Sometimes it has its challenges, but it has really enriched my life so much. Just because I feel like, no one talks about it. Everyone casually mentions a therapist but it’s always in a negative way. So part of my journey in dealing with mental health, was I went into therapy and was like I want to be more authentic and I want more authentic people around me. And keeping saying that, over and over again, ‘I want to be more authentic and I want more authentic people around me.’ So I just tell the football women sometimes, I manifested you! Because all of them are just so authentic and help me be my authentic self.