In New York, the New Femme Fatales
Even if a label is self-titled and freeing, it always ultimately fails to define individuals, as the documentary The Aggressives, shown last week, proves.
Identity politics, especially gender politics, have given rise to a plethora of terms, compound terms and definitions that, even for those fluent in English, can seem practically foreign. The word “aggressive” may seem familiar enough, but a small subculture of lesbian women in New York City have given it a new, if evasive, definition — it is employed to aid in describing who they are.
In The Aggressives, part of the LGBT Film Series, omniscient director Daniel Peddle attempts to shed light on what it means to be an “aggressive.” The Aggressives follows the lives of six different “aggressive” lesbian women who “wear the pants” in a relationship, according to Rjai, one of the featured women. The result is a mini-portrait of each character’s life and a striking testament to their individuality, as each gives her own spin on what it means to be an aggressive.
There is Rjai, with an impressive collection of drag ball trophies; Tiffany, who only dates transgender men; Kisha, model and courier; Flo, an Asian who “only dates black girls...because they got the body;” Marquise, who joins the army and Octavia, an ex-convict.
While each aggressive shares some similar aspects of traditionally defined identity, as the movie unfolds, it is quite apparent that each aggressive is proudly individualistic, often flatly refusing to conform to any notions of what it means to be an aggressive outside their own definition.
When pressed to give an answer to what an aggressive is, each woman gave a different response.
“I do how I feel comfortable,” said Tiffany.
Kisha, flashing her silver fronts to the camera said, “It feels so natural. I’m beautiful... I’m femme aggressive.” Clarifying she did not do the modeling to impress women, Kisha continues, “If you are going to be an aggressive, you gotta do it right.”
Rjai, a semi-celebrity for her appearance on Ricki Lake, had another perspective. “It bothers me when people ask me if I want to be a man. ...My sexuality has nothing to do with my gender.”
Marquise, a transgender who later enlists in the army, said that being an aggressive “is not about wearing baggy clothes.”
Flo echoed this comment. Being aggressive “is not what you wear, it’s you inside.”
While each of the aggressives were strong individuals, there was still a clear sense that perhaps much of their strength came from being accepted for who they were.
After describing an incident in which she was told to leave the women’s bathroom because she was mistaken for a man, Flo said she “never had an experience with a girl until I entered the scene.”
While there were few interview clips in which the women mention the importance of the aggressive lesbian community of which they are a part, clips of the women at clubs together show this small base of support.
These clips strongly contrast the interviews with the women’s family members. Octavia’s mom reflected a predominant opinion from immediate family. “That’s not her. I don’t approve of it, but I accept her; she’s my daughter,” she said.
By the end of the film, the term “aggressive” still maintains its slippery, elusive nature. In the last segment, Kisha points out the problematic nature of the “aggressive” label.
“I used to get excited about that word, [aggressive], but not
anymore...just call me Kisha,” she said.