• Sarah Fonseca

Is ‘This is Paris’ a Queer Femme Text?

I. “How many real voices do I have?”: Queer Femme Performativity

II. “Me, Nancy Reagan, my Parents”: Queer Femme Familial Estrangement

III. “She really is like a boy”: Queer Femme Androgyny

IV. “There was such a change from 13 to 15”: Queer Femme Rebellion

V. “The mind may forget, but the body never forgets”: Queer Femme Trauma

VI. “Bitch boy, following me around like they always do”: Queer Femmes and Men

VII. “My grandmother always called me Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe”: Queer Femme Voyeurism

VIII. In Closing

In these precarious times, any vérité effort that takes passive inventory of its subject’s great wealth is destined to be met with great reservation. In 2020, there is rent to re-negotiate, medical bills to pay, and milk, bread, and eggs for which one must save her pennies. For Paris Whitney Hilton — a digital mogul whose public largess was defined by revenge porn and the axiom “that’s hot” — the goals at present are measurably different. “I love making money,” she muses on-screen. In another scene, she tells her sister Nicky that she “will not stop” working until she makes a billion dollars. Paris wants to be in the 1%. Meanwhile, the rest of us are lucky to have one cent to our names.


This is Paris’ final cut not does not include any of the hard questions filmmaker Alexandra Dean might’ve posed to the public figure regarding her economic and political postures. However, I was floored to remain enraptured by the socialite and Web 2.0 mastermind throughout. Not only that, I found myself doing something akin to empathizing; though this sentimentality was not aligned with the Poor Little Rich Girl revisionist narrative that Hilton wishes to bring to the fore by creating this film (on which she served as a producer). Instead, I observed Hilton’s excesses, jaunty mannerisms, dry voice, around-the-clock workaholism, athleisure, her extreme apathy for dating men but reverence for homosexuals, her fraught relationship with performance, and a rough edge largely undetectable to the heterosexual eye.


I saw — forgive me — femme.


This is not to say that I consider Paris Hilton femme. That she is not, and will not be. Unless, of course, she stages a marketing-informed coming out party with which we’ll have to reckon. And we queers will, just as we reckoned with Annie Leibovitz opening Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair closet door in 2015. As is to be expected, lesbian apprehension about Paris’ theoretical homoerotic authenticity — never mind that of her co-requisite bimbo persona — would be pervasive.


Unfortunately, such questions of legitimacy are unique to the femme experience, as well.


This is Paris premiered at Tribeca Film Festival — a clearing house for documentaries with monied distributors — this spring. Subsequently, the nonfiction piece was released publicly on YouTube — the video sharing platform where aspiring influencers go to die — in mid-September. Despite vying for a mass audience, Hilton’s effort to reclaim her legacy from noble critics and misogynist trolls alike would’ve been more effective had queer spectators been targeted appropriately; surely our ilk is sophisticated enough to know that there is little point in mounting an all-encompassing defense of Paris, a woman whose ‘fame for fame’s sake’ media ethos greased the gears of the Trump Presidency.


Her gestures, affects, and moods, however, are a whole ‘nother thing. With its first bit of dialogue, something entirely unexpected but deeply resonant bursts forth from This is Paris.


What follows is a parsing out and restructuring of these related queer images and scenarios from This is Paris’ 105 minutes; consider this an unauthorized edit of Alexandra Dean’s film, envisioned on paper.


I. “How many real voices do I have?”: Queer Femme Performativity

Any enduring queer investment in This is Paris will be enormously indebted to its 18-member editorial team, including Melanie Levy (United Skates), Allea Ortega (Madeline’s Madeline), and Alexandra herself. Well before the title card appears, and well before the ethereal sounds of Sofia Coppola favorite The Jesus and Mary Chain begin, we know that this film is going to be about Paris Hilton’s identities, plural.


In this fleeting first scene, Paris enters a recording studio, presumably to record a radio spot for this film. Over and over, she repeats the phrase, “This is Paris.” Later, this line of dialogue will be lifted to title the documentary.


She eases into different personas, many of which we are already familiar by way of supermarket magazine displays and her influential reality television show, The Simple Life. She seems tickled by the heist of it all; the effortless ability to be seven different people at once, one or more of which might be herself.


“This is Paris Hilton,” she says before lowering her voice an octave. “No, this is.”


I cannot speak for Paris, although I do know, that for queer femmes, the identity rests in the sum of the affects. The self cannot be easily distilled down to any single performance. With time, the individual saddled with femme identity learns to masterfully cloak their own tendencies: this is how one puts on when they are scared; this is how one grows tempestuous when furious; this is how one simpers like a schoolgirl when exhausted. And if Paris is lucky, someone who loves her will notice and appreciate these behaviors, too. Her mother might never fully get there. “Watching her today, all the rhinestones, all the costumes she’s attracted to,” the Hilton matriarch muses. “It’s like a little Disney child. Yet, I don’t know, it’s like a shield or a cover,” she says, not quite understanding.


Experiencing this languid moment of shape-shifting in This is Paris resembles encountering a trunk of girlish costumes when seven and aggressively eager for make-believe. Yet it also alludes to something else more mature — not some obligatory nod to a Gender Trouble passage, but the ways so many femmes do this precise sort of mental channel-changing to survive. We are baristas getting by on tips from gentrifying fathers and prostitutes convincing clients that they are in love. We are people who sometimes use these old affects as crutches when we are trying to fall in love ourselves. It is relieving to be as tickled by ourselves as Paris is with Paris.


Public queer femme performativity — in its multitudes — anticipates is being seen, namely by men. But not only that. It also anticipates the responses of others to one’s image. This is a quality which a global celebrity would also possess. In this John Berger-esque scenario — where Paris is an image replicated in varying postures a thousand times over, and those images are then replicated — she responds physically in time with the shutters of paparazzi, precisely aware of how those snapshots, and their replications, will land in tabloid news. Paris’ intuitive process, honed over two decades, recalls Berger’s hyper-gendered musing that “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman is male: the surveyed is female. Thus she turns herself into an object of vision: a sight.”


But Paris does not stop there, for she also — as queer femmes so often do — guides the surveyor. After paparazzi shots of her began selling for $1,000,000 in the early aughts, Paris bucked the exploitative model by controlling her own image. “I’ve been stuck with her ever since,” she concedes, feeling trapped by the capitalist brand — one of Paris’ many feminized identities. In an interview, Kim Kardashian credits Paris for introducing the similarly-made billionaire to “the reality world.” In another, a professional shutterbug makes a strong case for Paris having invented the selfie in 2004.


“He hates cameras,” she says of her grandfather early on in the film. She laughs. “I did not inherit that part of him.”


What goes filmically unsaid: Paris Hilton’s Instagram is ranked the 565th most followed on the platform.


See: Queer Femme Trauma


II. “Me, Nancy Reagan, My Parents”: Queer Femme Familial Estrangement


When visiting her grandfather William Barron Hilton’s mansion to share familial effects with Alexandra, Paris doesn’t notify the estate of her visit. No Hiltons are home, it seems. This guided tour is a lonely moment of reflection for Paris, made further pointed by the familial absence on-screen. Paris points at photos of the stiff-lipped Republican dynasty into which she was born. In these candids and studio shots, the Hiltons all recall that moment in the 1980s where everything looked and felt like the 1940s. This all to say, the Hiltons are extremely Reagan. “Me, Nancy Reagan, my parents,” Paris says as she surveys memory lane. She is so not a Reagan.


In a separate moment of reflection, Paris is joined by her mother, who tells Alexandra that Paris could never say the 41st President’s name correctly as an infant. “Bushy George,” Kathy Hilton remembers tenderly.


While Alexandra does not make Paris address her own political affiliation, one does sense a clash, a tension. “My family has always been conservative,” she says, stating the obvious. “Being a part of this family… it’s a lot of pressure and it’s a lot of weight because I feel like I am carrying on a legacy.”


This legacy, one that seems remarkably lonely, is made all the more so by the on-screen absence of its presiding patriarch: Richard “Rick” Howard Hilton, Paris’ father. “Rick is very private,” Kathy justifies. “I don’t think he was really comfortable doing an interview and explaining his life story or his family’s.” Rather than considering how this might make his daughter, who seems to finally have something worth saying, to feel, Kathy summarizes his inheritance story. We realize that her father being jilted out of “millions and millions of dollars” might have inspired Paris’ quest for a billion.


What really happened here? This question will be answered shortly. Yet Paris’ unhappiness among other Hiltons is so pronounced. The exception to this palpable estrangement was her grandmother Marilyn June Hawley Hilton, the late wife of Barron who essentially raised Paris’ father as a single mom. But not even her closest sister, poised and controlled, is capable of affording Paris comfort in the present. These conversations with Nicholai “Nicky” Olivia Hilton Rothschild are so staged, yet essential to the production’s success. As far as this media appearance goes, it will be her way or the highway. “There’s no one in the world that knows her better than me,” Nicky boasts to Alexandra. It feels like an omission of capital, not love.


Paris is, in a sense, a queer femme at the familial table during the holidays, being reminded by her mother to cover her bellybutton ring before dinner, only to get hell from her cousins for soliciting meat-free options once clothed and seated. The political rift here is more complex than any party line; it is a matter of blood and bone, and hers being, somehow, unacceptable. “My mom wanted me to be a Hilton,” she explains. “And I wanted to be Paris.”


See: Queer Femme Promiscuity

See: Queer Femme Trauma


III. “She really is like a boy”: Queer Femme Androgyny

As Alexandra tails Paris, it is delicious to watch the subject’s go-to affects lessen; to see her slouch; to hear her voice deepen; to witness her lean into identities that feel less guarded and more marked by sweatpants and the sundry trappings of girlhood. Her favorite baseball cap, heaven help us all, bears the NYPD seal. In the present moment, Paris resembles the girl in the familial archival footage, pulling up her extra-large t-shirt to reveal that she’s wearing her father’s poker-patterned boxers as shorts.


“You’ve never been the most conventional gal,” Nicky quips.


Once more, it seems like an omission of capital — the cold knowledge Nicky has of Paris — rather than one of love.


An uncanny amount of time is spent auditing Paris’ gender. Nicky, always a little too quick in emphasizing her own Hilton normalcy, probes her sister’s childhood for aberrations in a way familiar to queers with existing family ties. “Growing up, we were different. I was definitely more girly,” she observes. “While I was more into sneaking into my mom’s closet and playing with her clothes and her shoes, Paris was more a tomboy. She has this persona that she’s this sexy bombshell, but she really is a boy at heart.” Today, Paris’ main differences are her lack of a husband and children. But at least she’s had her eggs frozen.


It’s intense to hear someone else so far removed from the queer underground describe, in so few words, a well-forged path of queer femme awakening that is always a little feral, a little haphazard. Kathy follows suit. She figured, given Paris’ early obsession with animals, that she was doomed to be a member of the working class: a veterinarian. “And once, she let a snake out of the cage at the Waldorf,” she declares. Throughout This is Paris’ 105 minutes, there will be many visual and verbal references to Paris’ romances with animals, including:


A goat

A hamster

Cats

Dogs

Diamond, Paris’ current chihuahua

Ferrets

Little Poopy Face, a rabbit

Monkeys

Penguins


The monkeys — and the curious absence of the WASP staple, the horse — evoke a line from an episode of The L Word where, at a tense dinner party, the writer Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner) diffuses tension by making a silly observation: Gay girls want monkeys as children and straight girls want horses.


What to make of Paris’ undeniable androgyny? I use ‘androgyny’ here not to emphasize an aesthetic or phenotype, but the state of the brain that is not quite gendered, which is to say, unboundaried. This psychic androgyny is frequently perpetuated by precarity and the affiliated physical trades of blue collar workers; though it can arise in girls of means, as well — usually, when parents are more tolerant or — as in Paris’ case — are unwilling to lose their daughter to a hypersexualized teenage girlhood. “No dating, no make-up, no this, no that,” Nicky says of the Hilton girls’ teen years in New York City.


“I’d not been through any trauma yet,” Paris says.


See: Queer Femme Rebellion

See: Queer Femme Trauma


IV. “There was such a change from 13 to 15”: Queer Femme Rebellion

Wigs. A SEXY necklace. A shirt that reads Hot Bitch. A “really great” fake ID. “Pink hair and glitter and the shortest little skirts.” Raves. Ditched classes. These were the trappings of Paris Hilton’s long-abated teen rebellion in Manhattan.


It would be years in the making. Upon arriving in New York in 1996, Paris struggled to adjust not only to the rigors of her family, but the rigors of the 1% to which she still torturously craves admission. “I was the new girl at school,” Paris remembers. “I dealt with a lot of bullying and the girls kind of ganging up on me and being mean to me. In New York, there’s the socialite scene. Everyone knew who I was. My mom had us go to etiquette classes. So we basically were taught to be debutantes. It’s very proper, very prim — almost like a Stepford wife. It just didn’t seem real or natural to me.”


In the queer femme memoir Dirty Water, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha writes, “I was happiest when I had a body. I had been all body, all gender for a while. I needed some time off from having a body in order to figure out what kind of relationship I would have with one when I got back to it.” For Paris, there was no waiting. Years spent as a Stepford wife-in-training left her with ample time to consider her body. There would be no time off between the unnatural past and the affirming future.


Simultaneously, Paris’ parents, overwhelmed by the burden of their prominence, grew stricter. “I wasn’t allowed to go out or go on dates or to school dances,” she recalls. “My parents were scared and they didn’t want their reputations to be ruined.”


To hear her tell it, Nicky saw the rebel wave cresting before the other Hiltons felt its impact. “Finally, she was like, ‘I’m doing what I want.’”


Paris began with modeling, which her mother had explicitly forbidden. She found her way to Patricia Field and Betsy Johnson, whose candy-colored accoutrements would become a “whole fashion dream world” for her. It was, by all accounts, a slow build to fully-actualized bad girl.


Enough time spent in New York City’s studios inevitably led her to dance-floors in the after-hours. She quickly fell in love. “I felt accepted,” she remembers. “I just felt like the Queen of the Night; that’s where I really become Paris.” Nicky, ever the family archivist, remembers the other side of events. “She was just gone in the night and my mother would be up all night calling every nightclub and threatening them.”


Paris would face reprimand at every turn, as is to be discussed in subsequent sections. But what she was, at this moment, was free.


During this period, Paris would meet another Queen of the Night: the gay photographer David LaChappelle. In 2000, he would capture the essence of Paris’ rebellion. Tits out in mesh and wearing aviators, a hot pink mini-skirt, and a matching fingerless glove, Paris stands in Marilyn June Hawley’s parlor. Bottom lip caught between her teeth like Debbie Harry or Courtney Love, Paris — the immaculate portrait of the Hilton nightmare, dwelling firmly within its dynasty’s walls — gives LaChappelle’s camera the finger. He titles the portrait Grandma Hilton’s House.


What goes filmically unsaid: Paris had been initially tapped by LaChapelle for a trousers shoot. “Paris had a charisma back then that you couldn’t take your eyes off,” he said of her in 2017. “She would giggle and laugh and be effervescent and take up a room.”


See: Queer Femme Performativity

See: Queer Femme Trauma


V. “The mind may forget, but the body never forgets”: Queer Femme Trauma

Paris did not bring us here to solely discuss the ramifications of having a private sex tape, filmed when she was 18, leaked by her older ex-boyfriend Rick Salomon to audiences worldwide for capital gain. After all, Paris and Paris alone controls all likenesses of Paris now.


“It was like being electronically raped,” she acknowledges in passing, making me wish she hadn’t used the digital qualifier.


This is not what Paris wishes to prioritize. She wants to discuss something much more harrowing than the banality of being assaulted by a man in America; there’s enough of that permeating archival footage of her appearances with David Letterman and Matt Lauer, anyway. Instead, Paris wants to discuss what came before this particular incident, her total rebellion, and her familial estrangement.


She wants to discuss, apparently, queer femme trauma.


Animated sequences tell the tale: during Paris’ teen renaissance in mid-1990s New York City, her mother met her wits’ end. “Finally, I locked her in the room. I was afraid she could run into a predator or get kidnapped,” Kathy justifies. “And I thought, this was the worst mistake, moving here. I’ve gotta get her out of here.” However intensely her mother might have feared for Paris’ life was inevitably increased by her daughter’s presentation, one often embraced by — yes — the queer femme. A really great fake ID. Pink hair and glitter and the shortest little skirts.


Paris was locked away in her room and then in the wilderness. She was awakened in the dead of night and shuttled — kicking and screaming — to an Emotional Growth School. And then others. With names like Ascent, Cascade, CEDU, and Provo Canyon School, these outdoor programs make the ex-gay conversion therapy camp environ of The Miseducation of Cameron Post feel like a trip to Idyll Dandy Arts. The “schools” frame manual labor as the only solution for the problem adolescent; breaking them — emotionally, spiritually, physically — is the goal. In one interview, Paris likens these experiences to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.


These camps were tough; initially, Paris was tougher. She escaped from one with another girl prisoner. “We ran through cornfields, through mountains.” They were eventually caught by staff and beaten. But that didn’t stop her from running from facility after facility. “She jumped down an entire flight of stairs,” mom recalls. “They shut down highways. Shut down the airport,” sister remembers. At no time did anyone think to ask, “What is she running from?” While at Provo for an eleven-month stint, Paris was subjected to solitary confinement and forced medicating. She has never told her family about any of it.


Paris has brought us here to have us bear witness to her pause; the moment when she stops running and escaping into work and lays down this teen burden before the parties who caused it.


“They say trauma, the mind may forget but the body never forgets and it’s trapped in you and can come out whenever,” Nicky waxes, omitting her own culpability with elegance. Despite understanding her younger sister’s adolescent tumult, she did not stage an intervention then and is apprehensive to stage one now. “She was very naughty,” Nicky says to Alexandra right in front of an incredulous Paris. “Did you ever say ‘sorry’ to mom and dad?” she presses. When Paris tells her mother about the abuse, sitting opposite Kathy with Diamond the chihuahua dutifully in her lap, she breaks down in earnest; as does her mother.


Paris seems to understand the limitations of blood family over chosen family, as evidenced when she seeks out the support and community of other Emotional Growth School survivors, including Jessica, a woman in her 30s with facial piercings and a faux hawk who was Paris’ best friend during a program. She lauds Jess “a badass.”


It’s lonely at the top, the platitude goes. The isolation eclipsing Paris as a result of no familial accountability is palpable; as is her urgent desire to connect with others. Like LaChappelle all those years before, flamboyant creative types flit in and out of frame at Paris’ headquarters. While in Korea for a promotional tour, she meets with two gender transcendent fans who end up comforting her in a ball-pit when she, jet-lagged, sobs over the next morning’s brutal call time.


Isolation isn’t Paris’ only dilemma originating from her experiences in Emotional Growth Schools. She attributes Rick’s sex tape to her post-facility free-fall and is quick to own the rest, too: her obliterated trust, fears of being kidnapped, insomnia, and even her hoarding. Overwhelmed by her accumulation of belongings that she holds onto because she had everything stripped away from her while in these camps, it becomes apparent that Paris’ materialism is just as informed by trauma as it is by capitalism.


When asked when she will stop running, Paris responds simply, but truthfully: one day.


What goes filmically unsaid: In her music video for her 2006 girl power battle hymn “Stupid Girls,” the singer P!nk parodies a coterie of early aughts socialites, including Mary-Kate Olsen, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton; in the video, P!nk satirizes Rick Salomon’s revenge pornography.


See: Queer Femme Familial Estrangement

See: Queer Femme Rebellion


VI. “Bitch Boy, following me around like they always do.”: Queer Femmes and Men

For the sake of not offending those most invested in This is Paris as a potential queer text, time paid, here and elsewhere, to the more intricate details of her numerous relationships with cisgender men will be extremely limited. Quality exceeds quantity in love and romance. Besides, Paris cannot clearly state what she wants in a boyfriend, let alone what she wants in a husband. Apart from a prominent marriage that could establish her as a fully-throned member of the House of Hilton, her motives are unclear.


Given Nicky’s marrying off to a Rothschild heir, it is probable that the Hiltons still operate by the same relational practices that Adrienne Rich challenged so mightily in her 1980 essay Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. There, she observed that “the retreat into sameness—assimilation for those who can manage it—is the most passive and debilitating of responses to political repression, economic security, and a renewed open season on difference.”


“I’m freaked out by people. Especially men,” Paris says, unable or unwilling to assimilate. She sabotages the Hilton procreational goal by going for unredeeming guys. It is no wonder that she considers her own money life’s greatest priority.


“I just saw him and I thought he was handsome,” the 39 year-old says of her newest boyfriend, Aleks Novakovic, a German. We don’t know how she feels from him apart from that. Paris is prioritizing Paris. “I don’t want to be seen in public together yet. I’m not ready for that,” she asserts, citing her experiences with paparazzi and past relationships gone awry. But Paris’ image control, in this instance, echoes the selective visibility of queer femme identity; of using ‘bisexual’ when we mean ‘dyke,’ of ‘they’ when we mean ‘she’; of considering how much homoeroticism to show and how much to keep under wraps.


The truly wonderful thing about Paris’ trauma is that it forces her to have impossibly high expectations of men. “Because the lines between tough love and abuse are so blurred, it’s really not easy to see the signs of abuse in a relationship,” she sagely observes of her experiences with Rick. There have also been other abusive paramours along the way — five in total — and many more who have hacked into her computers, beaten her, and destroyed her things. Aleks, with his heavy drinking and petulant baby voice, seems to be of a similar stock. He is nothing and she has everything. Ahead of his arrival at her home, Paris installs security cameras.


When Aleks simpers and moans about Paris press conferencing and performing a DJ set while they are on vacation, she does what I wish more women would do, myself included. As he makes the critical errors of repeatedly dropping the MacBook she needs for her set and then pawning needily at her, Paris rips off his VIP armband and has him thrown out of the venue.


Hands wiped clean of the boy, she escapes into her set. Alexandra’s camera lingers on a rainbow flag amid the thousands of people waiting for her to make the bass drop on stage. The music ends with the former rave kid shouting I love you—not to the boy, but to the audience; amorphous, wild, and ready to listen to her.


What goes filmically unsaid: In 2016, Paris’ Hilton’s then-20 year-old brother, Conrad Hilton III, was charged with assault after a series of offenses aboard a 10-hour flight from London to Los Angeles. Hilton’s refused to wear a seatbelt, smoked pot in the bathroom, and referred to fellow passengers as “peasants.” The event culminated with Hilton punching the plane’s bulkhead.


See: Queer Femme Performance

See: Queer Femme Trauma


VII. “My grandmother always called me Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe”: On Queer Femme Voyeurism

There is something decidedly Old Hollywood about the Hilton women; some residual set of mannerisms from the time when the free market ran with little populist critique. Nicky is especially incongruous with present-day femininity — which is not to be misinterpreted as synonymous for queer femme identity. When Paris’ sister scoffs about hating interviews, she is seated casually in her penthouse apartment, resembling Audrey Hepburn in ballet flats and skinny jeans that have not been collectively en vogue since Paris’ heyday, and Audrey’s before that.


In Paris’ Grandfather’s mansion, there is a portrait of the woman with Elizabeth Taylor. In childhood, as we hear in archival footage, Paris was nicknamed “Star,” foreshadowing her inevitable spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Prior to building her own persona, Paris was given several. “My grandmother always called me Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe,” she remembers. In another home reel, she calls Paris “Lana Turner.” This is the realm of the queer femme; the realm of saucy alter egos and fandom.


Despite her many efforts — the fragrance lines, the make-up kits, the reality television shows, the musicianship — Paris is best suited for the movies. “Motion pictures are for people who like to watch women,” the gay film critic Boyd McDonald wrote in his 1985 book Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to ‘Oldies’ on TV. Paris has known for decades that society will rubberneck in her general direction. But in us, she will find an audience that truly loves women, and truly loves looking.


What goes filmically unsaid: In 2008, Rotten Tomatoes asked a then-27 year-old Paris to divulge some of her favorite films. Several themes arise across her selections: Paris likes outsider protagonists, typically feminine. Included on her list of favorites were Beaches (dir. Garry Marshall, 1988), Edward Scissorhands (dir. Tim Burton, 1990), Moulin Rouge (dir. Bazz Luhrmann, 2001), and There’s Something About Mary (Peter and Bobby Farrelly, 1998). Of Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly, Paris said, “I used to live in New York. I can relate to her.”


See: Queer Femme Performance


VIII. In Closing

It would go against ethics and good taste to recklessly speculate on Paris Hilton’s sexuality or gender. But this film, with its non-stop notes on femme, will uncannily resonate with viewers who are ready to unearth all of their own lived experiences and witness them play out on-screen.


The six broad queer femme paradigms identified here are by no means comprehensive, nore are they applicable to all persons who self-identify as ‘femme.’ It is only the dearth of unabashed femme images that leaves us open to reckoning with Paris. But — amid the performance, the familial estrangement, the androgyny, the rebellion, the trauma, and the voyeurism — the femme ability to endure, and perhaps to tell the tale, are the only truly universal qualities. As lesbian historian Joan Nestle wrote in the 1992 essay collection The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, “I wasn’t a piece of fluff and neither were the other femmes I knew. We knew what we wanted, and that was no mean feat for young women [...] oh, we had our styles — our outfits, our perfumes, our performances — and we could lose ourselves under the chins of our dancing partners, who held us close enough to make the world safe; but we walked the night streets to get to our bars, and came out bleary-eyed into the deserted early morning, facing a long week of dreary passing at the office or the beauty parlor or the telephone company. I always knew our lives were a bewildering combination of romance and realism. I could tell you stories.”

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