Velvetpark’s Official Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2011

Before the year comes to a close, Velvetpark presents our round up of the Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2011.

Before the year comes to a close, Velvetpark presents our round up of the Top 25 Significant Queer Women of 2011. Our third annual list was carefully crafted by our editorial team.The primary determinants for consideration has been female-identified or non-gender-binary persons who have made a significant contribution to lesbian/dyke/trans/queer visibility in the areas of arts, culture and activism, or who made a critical impact on our social equality this year. It has become our tradition to choose women who are not celebrated by the mainstream media, or individuals whose actions and accomplishments have been overlooked even within our own communities. In an effort to continue to honor new names from our vast, rich culture, we have refrained from duplicating honorees from our 2009 and 2010 lists.

As with previous lists, the numerical order is not meant to suggest a ranking system; these women hold equal weight in significance and achievement. We applaud them all!

Before we begin, we would like to take this moment to remember three women who passed away this year but who left indelible marks upon our queer culture and herstory: Cherly B, Barbara Grier and Paula Ettelbrick.

1. The 99% – Angela Davis, Activist, Scholar, Author

Known for her work in the Communist Party USA, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party and women’s and prisoner’s rights, Angela Davis reclaimed her “rabble-rouser” mantle in 2011. The 99% may not have a specific face, but it’s hard not to think of Davis as a kind of figurehead of this leader-less movement. She traveled the country this fall, making various speeches at a handful of OWS encampments, including Occupy OaklandOccupy Washington Square Park, Occupy Philly, and Occupy Wall Street. Echoing “Down with capitalism!” cheers  through the newly popular form of the “human microphone,” Davis said the public “should imagine a time when money becomes obsolete,” and that, “[i]n the meantime, there is a whole range of issues that can define our radical struggle.”

2. Courage Under Fire – Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, Citizen First Responders

The “Norway Massacre” captivated the world. When gunman Anders Behring Breivik went on a crazed shooting rampage at the end of July, among the first responders were Hege Dalen and her partner Toril Hansen, who, on four separate trips, rescued forty youth from Utoya Island. The mainstream media, fascinated by the gory details of and motivations behind the massacre, remained willfully ignorant of the couple’s heroism. As Roz Kaveney of the Guardian duly noted, “[m]ainstream culture does not like the idea of lesbians being people who would put themselves in danger to save teenagers, probably heterosexual teenagers, that they have never met. We are far more used to lesbian couples, in very special issue-driven episodes, being in danger, and having to be rescued themselves.” We are inspired by both Dalen and Hansen for their fearlessness and selfless humanity.

3. Pagan Goddesses – Annie M. Sprinkle and Elizabeth M. Stephens, Ecosexual Sexecologists

Seven years ago Annie and Elizabeth set out to create a body of work celebrating their partnership in love, activism, and art. The Project, Love Art Laboratory culminated this year in San Francisco. Love Art Lab was inspired  by Linda M. Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, with the intention of turning life into art and art into life. Beginning in 2005 Sprinkle and Stephens created a wedding ceremony, inspired by the the Kundalini Chakra system, pagan rituals, and their own philosophical and aesthetic ideas. With each ensuing year the couple chose a new theme, created a new wedding and selected a new location in North America or Europe. Early on the couple worked though a battle with breast cancer keeping all elements of their relationship on public artistic display. Each year concluded with a gallery show of that year’s artistic ephemera. In Sprinkles own words she said one goal was to to switch the metaphor of “Earth as Mother to Earth as Lover.”

4. Oral Herstorian – Tiona M., Multimedia Artist of Black Social Realism

Tiona McClodden set out to document a part of black herstory this year with the production of the feature-length documentary film, Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project. Through nearly a dozen candid profiles of black lesbian elders (ranging in age from their 60s to their 80s) and accompanied by archival footage and personal ephemera, McClodden, the executive producer and director of the award-winning feature-length documentary, black./womyn.: conversations with lesbians of African descent, determines to “reveal rare images of black lesbian life and history…and also [to] bring to light a number of black lesbian underground movements [in order to solidify] a black lesbian presence within overall American black history.” (Currently, McClodden and her producer Lisa C. Moore are touring the USA to both screen their extant work and also to continue interviewing black lesbian elders. For more information, check out their Kickstarter page or their Facebook page.)

5. Leader of La Frontera – Cherríe Moraga, Activist, Playwright, Poet, Scholar

Since the publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color in 1981, Cherríe Moraga has dedicated herself through her scholarship, art (as a playwright and poet) and activism not just to the feminist cause or Chicana feminist cause, but, more acutely, to advancing, exploring and advocating Xicana feminism—with an “x” to signify her personal and political investment in civil rights as a queer, Chicana lesbian. This year, Moraga published the capstone of her lifelong achievements—which range from book awards (PEN West, Critics’ Circle, an American Book Award) to being named a USA Rockfeller Fellow in 2007: A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000-2010. In 2012, Moraga will debut her first play in fifteen years, New Fire: To Put Things Right Again, a dramatization of Indigenous American mythologies “to tell a 21st century story of rupture, migration and homecoming.”

6. Haute Queer-ture – Tania Hammidi, Writer, Performance Artist, Curator

Tania Hammidi made 2011 a signature year in butch*/stud/trans/masculine-of-center fashion by curating QUEERTURE, an LGBTQAI fashion show the final event of UCLA’s “Queer Fashion Conference,” as well as by publishing Judgement Day: Fashioning Masculinities, a coffee table style book celebrating butch and trans-masculine fashions and styles. To be clear, Hammidi is no fan of the “fashion police,” saying “[w]e don’t need to replicate the snobbery of the mainstream world—Instead, it would behoove us to foster environments where LGBTQ’s feel good about their bodies and looks. Style is where it’s at. Style is something unique to each one of us.” Hammidi currently teaches at California College of Arts in San Francisco and is looking forward to curating another fashion show this coming year about bringing visibility to the developmentally disabled.

7. The Cravat Makes the Wo/man – Kate Ross, Fashion Designer & Entrepreneur

(photo. Sophia Wallace)

Brooklyn-based designer Kate Ross is the creator of the exclusive neck-wear line Distinguished Cravat. Her attractive, non-gender-specific bow ties have been patronized by people in both the queer and straight communities. You can find the “distinguished cravat” in a Beyoncé music video and donned by the likes of Janelle Monae. Every piece by Ross is hand made and often times made with vintage fabrics that tend to run out because demand is high. Her take on classic, seamless designs has ushered in a new era of masculine of center design that can be worn by both men and women: “All that I am is presented in my designs. When I create something I keep in mind that I would want to wear it myself.”

8. Punk-Intelligentsia – Daphne Gottlieb, Poet & Author

Experimental performance poet Daphne Gottlieb has long been a darling of the punk rock intelligentsia. This year she co-edited Dear Dawn: Aileen Wuornos in Her Own Words, a collection of letters written from death row inmate Aileen Wuornos to her childhood friend. The book reveals the complexity of a misunderstood and maybe misguided icon, one who most of us have only known as a character played by Charlize Theron in the 2003 biopic Monster. Gottlieb also published 15 Ways to Stay Alive, a collection of postmodern cutup collages, found words, and mashups focused on survival after personal and communal disasters. In 15 Ways, she does the one thing storied poets, like Vegas magicians, never do: reveal her sources. The resulting collection is as intellectually stunning as it is pure punk catharsis.

9. Humor is the New Habit – Kelli Dunham, Comedian, Author, Ex-Nun

Kelli Dunham, a prolific writer and stand-up comedian for over a decade, spent the latter half of 2011 on tour with her latest show, “Why the Fat One is Always Angry,” which was born from the loss of her partner, Cheryl b, who died due to complications from cancer this past summer. The tragedy of this loss inspired Dunham to create the blog Grief Sucks, which, she explains, was created “as a reaction to the kitsch that passes as death /dying/ bereavement discussion in the popular/dominant culture and [which] makes [her] want to poke out [her] eye with a spoon.” Few people have the skill or depth to turn despair into side-splitting humor.

10. (We’re) All About Eve – Eve Fowler, Artist, Curator

Eve began her art career as a photographer, showing in New York and then Los Angeles, where she has since made her home. Her works are in the collections of the SFMoMA, the New Museum and the Smithsonian in D.C. She has become a central figure in the LA arts scene, not only prolific in her own work but she support the arts community through Artist Curated Projects (ACP). Born out of necessity to kick-start talented yet unknown artists careers, Fowler and her artist-pal, Lucas Michael, began showing their friends works in Fowler’s apartment. Catering to the queer arts scene there are now 135 artists involved curating projects through ACP and the shows are now in spaces throughout the city. This year Eve was included in the Greater LA arts show that traveled to New York this summer and got some splashy attention from Interview Magazine. Word is Fowler is not one for stealing the spot light, so we hope she doesn’t mind that we’ve singled her out this year.

11. Cinematic Explorer – Céline Sciamma, Screenwriter, Director

Having helmed the acclaimed Water Lillies (2007) Céline Sciamma captivated audiences once again with Tomboy, which won numerous awards at LGBT film festivals across the globe this year. Similar in topic to Dee Rees’ exploration of gender in Pariah, and likewise similar to Water Lillies’ themes of exploration and self-discovery, Sciamma tenderly approaches the concept of gender through the innocent eyes of Laure, a 10 year-old “tomboy” who introduces herself to the kids in her new neighborhood as a boy named “Mikael.” Sciamma’s intention was to think about gender through a child’s eyes, she says, “because I think that in childhood experimenting goes with invention.” What the film reminds us all of is the freedom—from the rigidity of identity—of youth.

12. Commander-in-Chief – B. Cole, Community Activist, Founder of the Brown Boi Project

This year, B. Cole helped spearhead and facilitate the Brown Boi Project’s release of Freeing Yourselves: A Guide to Health and Self-Love as well as the launching of Brown Boi project’s youth initiative at the 2011 Second National BUTCH Voices Conference held in Oakland. Known to most of us as the Project Director for Brown Boi Project (a community of masculine of center womyn- a term created by Cole in 2008- men, two-spirit people, transmen, and their allies committed to transforming privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving Racial and Gender Justice), Cole is more than committed to healing lives through her work. Cole is also a member of the Progressive Consultants Network and the Development Executives Roundtable, in addition to being  the co-author of Through the Lens of Culture: Building Capacity for Social Change and Sustainable Communities.

13. Lizbians on TV – Liz Feldman, TV Writer, Producer, Director

While lesbians have loved her for a long time as the creator, writer and star of the webseries This Just Out, Liz Feldman achieved mainstream this year as a writer and producer of the best new comedy of 2011, 2 Broke Girls—a show replete with sapphic double entendres, which we can undoubtedly attribute to Feldman’s fantastically twisted mind. No stranger to comedy, Feldman won four Emmys for her work on The Ellen Degeneres Show (not to mention that she wrote some of Ellen’s jokes for the 2008 Oscars), serves as a “comedy correspondent” on the Jay Leno Show, and is a writer and producer on the hit Bette White TV show Hot in Cleveland. From her work “behind the scenes” to her work in front of the camera, Feldman has solidified herself as a multidimensional force in both the LGBT and in the mainstream entertainment industries.

14. Celebrated Outcast – Dee Rees, Writer & Director

Dee Rees could not have had a more spectacular year. Her story is unheard of—have you ever heard of a queer woman of color, who’s film about a queer teenager of color dealing with gender issues, being picked up by a highly respected indie film production company (Focus Features)? Unbelievable—and a testament to Rees’ brilliance as the writer and director of Pariah. Written as a full-length script in 2005, then re-calibrated as a short subject in ’07, and finally re-adapted as a feature film that premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Pariah, which opens nationwide this week, has received unanimous praise from both LGBT and mainstream audiences.

15. Face Changer – Julie R. Davis, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Face Value

In 2009, Julie R. Davis, a long-time activist—the campaign manager of Oregon’s successful “No on 13” campaign in 1994; the founding executive director of Basic Rights Oregon; and, recently, the Northern California Campaign Manager for the “No on Prop 8” campaign, to name just a handful of her contributions to our community—along with queer historian Dr. Timothy McCarthy founded Face Value, for which she currently serves as its Executive Director. This past year, Davis helped the Project secure a $730,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to fund a research project that will examine the “harms children” argument championed by anti-gay activists. As Davis told the Bay Area Reporter this July, “‘We know [due to] over 30 years experience that the issue of children is a winner for our opposition,’ that when children enter the conversation ‘people will instantly go to this place of anxiety and fear and completely shift how they are reacting to an issue or to actual people they know in their lives that are gay and lesbian.’” At the forefront of activism and academia, Davis’ work with Face Value has developed a new effort within our larger LGBT movement.

16. Grilled Cheesus – Hannah Hart, Chefbian,Youtube Star

Hannah Hart had us from “HELLO!” Born out of the simple, unassuming desire to have a drink and make something to eat while video-chatting with a friend, this adorable little gaymo has created one of the most critically acclaimed webseries of the year with My Drunk Kitchen. She was even dubbed “the Queen of YouTube cooking shows” by LA Weekly and has a fan base who call themselves “Hartosexuals.” With this critical attention—by the likes of Time, The Huffington Post, and CBS News—came questions about Hart’s sexuality, about which she has never denied or finessed to broaden her public appeal, telling AfterEllen “This is my life. It’s my one shot and I have to be true to who I am. I wanted to come out before I ever decided to do something creative because I never wanted to the world to meet me as someone I wasn’t.” Filled with sardonic humor and subtle intelligence, Harto’s My Drunk Kitchen makes us always come back for seconds.

17. When Sontag Met Rawhide – Emily Roysdon, Interdisciplinary Artist

As one of the more unpredictable and exciting art stars in the world today, artist Emily Roysdon designed and directed Gay Bar Called Everywhere (With Costumes and No Practice), which played at New York’s famed experimental performance space, the Kitchen, this past May. A panoply of queer feminism replete with references to the history of performance art itself or as Roysdon called it an “undisciplined, interdisciplinary run at herstory,” Gay Bar Called Everywhere was arguably the year’s (arguably even the decade’s) biggest gathering of queer artists to amass on one stage. Roysdon, whose work has been seen and performed from Stockholm to Mexico City, had no trouble in orchestrating luminaries such as Barbara Hammer, K8 Hardy, JD Samson, A.L. Steiner, and Nao Bustamante (to name just a few) into what Roysdon imagined “Susan Sontag’s life and work taking place in a gay bar” would look like.

18. All Hands On The Bad One – Carrie Brownstein, Indie Star, Rock Icon

It’s been years since Carrie Brownstein rocked our worlds as the guitar playing, occasional-vocalist (need we recall her tingle-inducing shrieks in “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”?) of Sleater-Kinney. Co-creator, writer, producer and actor of Portlandia, which returns for its second season on IFC this January, Brownstein has re-emerged as a cultural force in this smart satire of Portland’s hipster scene, telling the New Yorker about the show’s niche as a “mock epic” of small differences. Perhaps even more thrilling is Brownstein’s return to music as the frontwoman of the rock band Wild Flag (along with Sleater-Kinney drummer, Janet Weiss, and joined by Mary Timony and Rebecca Cole), which released its debut album this fall to wide acclaim, coming in at #9 on Rolling Stones’ “50 Best Albums of 2011” list. If 2011 is any indication, Brownstein is back.

19) Tour-de-force – Pauline Park, Gender Rights & Global Activist

The list of Pauline Park‘s accomplishments in activism and advocacy of transgender rights is nothing short of stellar. One glance at her speaking engagements this year at Conferences throughout the country attest to this. From the UN to Occupy Wall Street, Park has spoken at no less than nine conferences across the country, as well as having penned numerous articles dealing with transgender and global issues. Park is a vocal opponent of Israeli Apartheid. She waded into both the controversial article on the State of Israel’s Pinkwashing (by Sarah Schulman) and the Israel/Palestine conflict that erupted at the LGBT Community Center of NY this year. Park currently chairs the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) and is president of the board of directors of Queens Pride House.

20. Cherry Grove – Jeanette Winterson, Author

After dedicating the past couple of years to her impressive writings in YA Literature, Jeanette Winterson has given us another emotional tour de force with her new memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, in which she mines old territory ( her troubled childhood raised by evangelist parents, then coming out at age 16) and brings the story into a fresh, stark, almost shocking relief. Author of such seminal lesbian books as Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, and Written on the Body, Winterson is a writer of startling invention and originality, pushing the boundaries of gender, love and everything else in the most intoxicating ways. When so many writers are formulaic and predictable, she holds the mind completely captive, always seducing and luring it somewhere new.

21. The Feminist Evolution – Elizabeth Grosz, Queer Feminist Philosopher, Writer, Teacher

Arguably the leading queer feminist thinker of the 21st century, Elizabeth Grosz confirmed her status with the publication of her seminal Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism in 1994. She has tirelessly worked to reorient academic feminism away from trite discussions about the rhetoric and semantics of “identity” and towards a new frontier of thinking about and through the body—the very real materiality of the body—in relation to ethics. Grosz found her footing through Darwin with the recent publications of The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution and the Untimely (2004) and Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power (2005) and has undeniably become the leading scholar on queering Darwin with this year’s publication of becoming undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art (2011). Known for her humility and graciousness by her peers and students, Grosz’s dedication to thinking through the body ensures the promise of new futures for us all.

22. Stand and Deliver – Krys “bLaKtivist” Freeman, Viral Media Strategist, Web 2.0 Evangelist

Krys “bLaKtivist” Freeman is a Masculine of Center writer, viral media strategist and activist, as well as founder of “The Definition,” an online community and blog dedicated to promoting visible community for masculine of center women, transmen and allies. A child of the digital age, s/he likes to be thought of as a web 2.0 evangelist. In June 2011, Krys began working on her first startup, BettaSTOP, which is an SMS application that offers commuters the ability to give immediate feedback on their transit experience, whether they own a smart phone or not. “I want everyday revolution,” says Krys. “And I want revolution every day. Some days that looks like creating space. Some days, it’s creating conversations. Some days, it looks like creating an app that ensures that low-income citizens, people of color… everyone can have safe transportation.”

23. v is for victory – Mx. Justin Vivian Bond, Performer, Author

2011 was a big year for Mx. Justin Vivian Bond. v released a full LP, entitled Dendrophile, which features titles like “Salome,” “Genet Song,” and “The Golden Age of Hustlers.” In September, Bond’s first book, the powerful mini-memoir out from Feminist Press, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards in High Heels, was released to great acclaim and adored for its frank exploration of childhood sexuality and reconsideration of “family.” In preparation for the book’s much deserved press, Bond bravely announced and claimed the terms of v’s gender identity in a finely-articulated and moving post on v’s blog “Justin Bond Is Living.” On the heels of this proclamation, Bond handled a tacky portrait of v in New York Magazine with dignity and just the slightest throw of shade. Time and time again this year, Mx. Bond has reminded us not merely to become—but also to confront, claim, and care for—ourselves.

24. Out on a Lim – Elisha Lim, Illustrator, Musician, Activist, Artist

Elisha Lim, who grew up in a Catholic convent in Singapore, traveled the globe in 2011, spreading gorgeous graphic art like Johnny Queer Appleseeds from Costa Rica to Houston back to their home city of Montreal and everywhere in between. You’ve likely been drooling over Lim’s 2012 calendar, “Sissies and the Femmes Who Inspire Us,” a follow-up to Lim’s breakthrough graphic memoir 100 Butches, which has been hyped by Alison Bechdel and is out from Magnus Books this month. The book explores the resonance of the term “butch” in a queer, politicized context; Lim’s subjects discuss how such language is useful or polarizing in defining themselves. Their line art is clean and sharp, accented with colors and as deliberate and delicate as the accompanying text.

25. Dressed for Success – Crystal González-Alé & Ivette González-Alé, Founders of Marimacho 

After years of trying to find clothing that fits, Crystal and Ivette González-Alé decided that it was time to create a clothing line that catered to the masculine center women who often had to painstakingly search at both men’s and women’s clothing stores in order to find the “right fit.” And Marimacho (“tom boi” in Spanish) was born. With the appropriation of this Spanish slang, the González-Alé’s have reclaimed the term. The clothing is a combination of menswear with female proportions. Crystal and Ivette were able to create quality clothing that is usually hard to find or too expensive to get tailored. Their boi bombers, blazers, and button ups are so well made giving a dapper dude a happy alternative to the ill-fitting disappointments in the men’s department.