tatiana de la tierra

My big feet have always pleased me.  By big I mean the size of cruise ships.  By pleased I mean that they are fun; each brightly-painted toe wiggles freely in its own universe.  I prefer my feet bare.

I learned to love my feet in my adolescence.  For one thing, they were central to kickball, the only sport I ever excelled in.  It didn’t matter that I couldn’t swing from monkey bars or put a basketball through a hoop.  I could kick those big red rubber balls like no one else.  My feet seemed to have a mind and power of their own, and those balls flew high, far, and hard across the playground.  But that wasn’t the only kicking they got credit for.  Anyone who thought to wrongly cross my path received a swift kick.  My feet were my instant switchblade, my ultimate protection.

My feet also inspired me to learn toe tricks.  I can pick up coins, pencils and papers with my toes.  I can do a double-jointed jig with my right big toe, and all of my toes dance to their own rhythmically orchestrated music.  They know the keyboard of a word processor as well as my fingers do.  They type out mysterious imaginary messages:  divas dare to fly home; another day a winged book will hold you.  I listen to their words.

And then, of course, there is the pure pleasure of the ground beneath my feet.  I wore sandals when I went outside to play and then threw them in the bushes while I surreptitiously went barefoot.  Grasses tempted the soles of my feet, twigs stimulated the nerve endings, and little rocks jolted them.  I learned texture with my feet:  silky sand, moist earth, crackling dry leaves, tender moss.

Regardless of all the positive foot reinforcement I enjoyed while growing up, my feet became a nuisance in my adulthood.  I didn’t enjoy my feet any less, but finding shoes to fit my cruise ships became a problem.  They’re too wide at the front, too narrow at the heel, and one foot is bigger than the other.  I was beyond a size ten;  “normal” women’s shoes didn’t fit me.  While other women wore clogs, moccasins, pumps, sandals, loafers, boots, or anything else they wanted, I was doomed to wear men’s sneakers, flip-flops and open-toed sandals.  Given that I liked to wear eye shadow and lip gloss, dangling jewelry and Indian skirts with sheer tops, it was a shameful existence.  There was no way that I could look like a lusty earth-momma with such clunky footwear.

But when I came out as a lesbian among gringas, my shoe-related problem cleared up.  They didn’t wear “normal” women’s shoes!  I emulated white feminist dyke footstyle and bought some dignity in the process.  I got Birkenstocks, Reeboks and combat boots.  Adding my own flair, I dressed up with men’s low-cut soft black leather boots, zippered on the side, and wore them with ruffled ranchera skirts.  My shoes reinforced my childhood-kicking sense of power and they contrasted with the silk flowers in my hair.  It was a contradiction my feet and I could live with.

Things got complicated foot-wise when I moved back to Miami and integrated with Latin culture.  My identification as a combat femme within a Latina lesbian context didn’t cut it, especially when the focus became the femme.  By then,  I knew that I was the kind of lesbian who melted for butches, those hard-edged dykes with piercing looks and knowing hands.  And I was also independent and fierce in my own way.  I was not just a femme; I was a combat femme.  And so Birkenstocks became horrid, sneakers juvenile and combat boots were truly una exageración.

I became lovers with a macha cubana who loves my lipstick and detests my footwear.  We go to parties, restaurants and discotheques where normal women’s shoes are the norm.  High-heeled lesbians and traditional butches play hardball here.  Although there are a few androgynous beings, most Latinas deck out, accentuating roles.  Femmes wear rouge and skirts with pantyhose; butches wear the pants.  I found myself in a league where a gringa adaptation no longer fit.  Daily furtive foot glances from my lover became a measure of my own disgust with the state of my cruise ships.  I searched desperately for proper shoes, combing the Yellow Pages and interviewing big-footed women who crossed my path, begging for the knowledge that would place me under femme control.

I found out about a store that had big shoes for women.  It was an hour and a half away and my lover and I talked about going together for weeks as if we were planning a trip to ancient Greece.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t find any shoes there because they only sold up to a size thirteen.  Or that the shoes would be fuddy-duddy like the typical polyester clothes available to fat women.  Or that I would be ripped off and humiliated.  Or worse yet, that I couldn’t dress like the real femme that I was.  If I couldn’t find femme shoes I would have to kiss good-bye the butch that swooned me.  Or I could go back to playing with gringas and drop this whole concern.  But I didn’t want to do either of these things.  I wanted to play hardball like the combat femme that I am.

One afternoon we headed for the big shoe boutique in the sky.  It was full of normal women’s shoes.  They were more expensive than usual, but then it was unusual to have a selection.  I was stunned to discover that my cruise ships, enlarged by my mind’s eye, were only a size eleven and a half.  I found out that, due to a lifetime of never wearing women’s shoes, my spread-out feet couldn’t fit into many of them.  Still, I had a few choices.  I strutted for my lover, seeking approval accentuated with “mi amor.”  She liked the clear vinyl black-tipped heels that smashed my toes.  We settled on black sequined low pumps, dressy golden open-toes sandals, and casual white woven flats.  At the last minute I couldn’t resist a pair of red Zodiac cowboy boots with fringes on the side.

I walked out of that store like a cruise ship remodeled into a forty-foot yacht.  My feet were no longer like the humongous, inefficient and slow cruise ships that slowly lumbered towards the Bahamas.  Instead, they were like the sleek, quick and classy privately-owned yachts that went anywhere their owners desired.  With my new shoes I could navigate over any terrain.  I could click on the dance floor in heels with my lover and stroll into art galleries and cafés on South Beach.  With proper shoes simple things became simple again:  going to the movies, dashing through the supermarket, pumping gas.  As I embarked upon an unheralded liberation, I realized that shoes would no longer be a determining factor in my sexual or cultural identification.  I could be a Latina and a lesbian and a combat femme all at once.

And I still prefer my feet bare.

julio 29 de 1992, mayami
rewrite:  26 de abril de 1997, el paso, tejas

Originally published:

de la tierra, tatiana. “A Latina Combat Femme, Her Shoes and Her Ensuing Cultural Identity.”  The Femme Mystique.  Ed. Lesléa Newman.  Boston:  Alyson.  1995:  133-135. Also published as: “a latina combat femme, her shoes & ensuing cultural identity.”  The Second Coming.  Ed. Pat Califia and Robin Sweeney.  Los Angeles:  Alyson.  1996:  106-107; and “Foot-Wise.”  Utah Foreign Language Review (1997):  91-94.