You may vaguely remember the boisterous and beautiful singer Frenchie Davis from watching American Idol or you might recall that she’d impressed audiences with her Broadway performances. But one thing is undeniable, you’ll be struck by her presence. She commanded attention at this weekend’s Women of the World (WOW) Conference.
“I have an aggressive personality,” Frenchie said. She sat in a director’s chair alongside Sophie Hassett, Pasha Cook and Ally Castillo. The queer and/or trans women sat on a panel for the WOW Conference to talk about their experiences and concerns about the LGBTQ community. Frenchie and I locked eyes during her opening statements; she arrested my gaze from the way that her royal purple dress set off the gold in her caramel skin and short, wiry blond hair. (Can someone say girl crush?) However, only half of her beauty lied in her full, contoured face—the other half (of course) lied in her words championing the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Pasha Cook, a personal development coach and athlete spoke on living her truth as a queer, gender non-conforming woman. She said, “People look at me and they see the masculinity…but I’m really a woman and I’m soft and sensitive and I identify with all parts of me. I like to say that I’m multi-dimensional.”
In addition to identity and presentation, the talk went on to touch other conversation pieces like: stigmas surrounding bisexuality, what is and isn’t appropriate to ask queer and/or trans people, the coming out process, the transitioning process, the importance of White LGBTQ people’s participation in today’s civil rights and Black lives matter movement as well as the recent onslaught of media coverage surrounding trans men and women.
Of course, Caitlyn Jenner came up. Frenchie spoke at length about the need for journalists and bloggers to maintain ethics and integrity in their storytelling, pointing out that stories about the queer community can reach people without being dramatized.
“I don’t need your readers’ sympathy. I’ll take your empathy and respect…I think that there has to be some responsibility taken,” Frenchie said. “Here’s the thing about Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover—before Vanity Fair, there were National Enquirer covers, and In Touch Weekly covers, and blog posts and Wendy Williams ‘Hot Topics’ so we didn’t really leave Ms. Jenner much of a choice, did we? She had to do this publically because you all created the narrative. Then readers became embittered because Ms. Jenner was rich enough and media savvy enough to take control of the narrative.”
Frenchie continued, “As someone who has lived through several media shit storms through not doing anything but just being myself, I think that you guys have to be respectful—particularly in how you market the story. I know you have to make money and sell papers or whatever but somebody needs to work harder at finding the balance between what is ethical and what will be profitable for the paper. With Caitlyn, a lot of these stories don’t need to be sensationalized to touch people’s hearts and minds.”
Can the church say amen?
“[A] lot of times people associate strength of character, strength of personality, aggressiveness or assertiveness with masculinity and I don’t subscribe to that school of thought. I think that women can be feminine and be strong. We push eight-pound people out our vaginas. We’re the strongest people in the world,” Frenchie said.
Jude Kelly would surely have seconded this notion. Kelly started the Women of the World Conference four years ago to celebrate women and girls’ history, resilience and bring light to social justice issues and power struggles around the world. The conference first began in London and has since expanded to venues across the UK, Australia, the U.S., Somaliland and now India.
WOW’s recent New York conference was just the latest stop in the movement with performances, panels, workshops, film screenings and mentoring sessions spread across the Apollo Theater and the City College of New York campus in Harlem.
There were events spanning a range of interests: body image and self-love for girls, politics surrounding everyone’s favorite f-word: finances, African dance, sex, human trafficking, relationships, community organizing, domestic violence, the rising population of Latin-Americans.
Girls, Inc., Bloomberg, Citibank and Live Out Loud were among the sponsors and co-curators for the event. There were a few notable names like Iyanla Vanzant, Michelle Williams, Angela Simmons, Amanda Seales and Mona Scott-Young headlining some of the events. If you’ve never heard of this amazing conference, consider this your lucky day!
Frenchie brought down the house again later that evening with her solo performance, “The Frenchie Experience” at the Apollo Soundstage. Old school faves Macy Gray and Joi also hit the stage for the “Black Women Rock!” show. I had all the feels after hearing so many fabulous performers and speakers talk about their experiences as women.
Cook was speaking directly to someone in the audience at the queer/trans panel when she said these words, but I think that anyone could have taken them to heart after leaving the conference:
“Know that you matter. Your life is unique but it’s beautiful at the same time and you are, too.”