They will kiss and fondle on stage in London this week, and claim they're encouraging a new breed of young gay women to enjoy their sexuality and beauty openly. But their act infuriates other lesbians, who say the sight of topless women cavorting together on stage is only pandering to straight male fantasies.
And one of their own members is embarrassed by the shock tactics that have made them one of the most notorious bands in America, with soft-porn promo videos that TV companies won't play. Christina Minna was left off the cover of their first album because she hadn't "come out" and she refused to take part when the rest of the band agreed to pose for Playboy magazine.
While the others strip and strut on stage, Minna prefers to stay "buttoned up", holding on to the microphone and concentrating on singing. "It goes against who I am as a person," she says. "I would prefer they didn't do it, and we just went up there with our music, but I had to realise that what the other girls, LaLa or LD, choose to do on stage is up to them as performers. LD would pull out dildos or nipple clamps and that totally horrified me. I had to see that this is about putting the music across and having fun. It made the crowd go wild."
Minna and fellow singer Lynn Pompey are the only two real lesbians left in a four-woman line-up, although the others seem happy to act like it on stage. She is a quiet lover of folk music who would like to sing her own songs and who seems out of place in a steamy dance act, but whose quiet eloquence makes her the band's main spokeswoman.
She's a thinker who gives Fem 2 Fem some credibility against charges that they're puppets in the hands of manager Michael Lewis, an Englishman living in Beverly Hills who saw a gap in the market for "sexy songs sung for women by women" and recruited his first line-up from gay clubs. None of them play their instruments on stage and all the songs are written by Lewis and a partner. Their most notorious number is "Switch", with the lines, "Fem in the sheets, butch in the streets" and "Switch, bitch, it feels good".
"When people meet us and talk, it really changes their perception of who we are," says Minna, who once trained to be a Christian minister. "I'm having enough struggles just being homosexual and dealing with what that means to me and my religion, and to God. I did not choose to do Playboy, but I'm going to support their decision."
Pompey did pose but now regrets it, claiming the band was misquoted and misled by the magazine. "We thought it would educate the straight community, but they portrayed us as complete bimbos," she told Channel 4's The Word on Friday night. Exposure in Playboy got Fem 2 Fem on to every major chat show in their native America, to the horror of Minna's parents. "My dad said: `It's bad enough that you came out, but did you have to come out coast to coast?'."
Fem 2 Fem's rise coincided with the advent of lesbian chic: in the past year supermodel Cindy Crawford has posed with the gay torch singer kd lang on the cover of Vanity Fair and another model, Claudia Schiffer, has appeared on the catwalk in a bridal dress with a female groom on her arm. Almost every British television soap now has its own lesbian and they're all glamorous, whether it's Zoe the vet in Emmerdale or Binnie and Della in EastEnders. The most famous is Beth Jordache of Brookside. Anna Friel, the actress who plays her, was voted most fanciable female in most of the youth magazines at Christmas. It's OK to be a gay girl, it seems, as long as young boys can fantasise about you too.
Fem 2 Fem fit that bill perfectly. Their publicity material describes them as "flying in the face of the clichd anti-fashion dyke", and Pompey says she wasn't accepted in the lesbian community when she first came out. "I wasn't taken seriously. If you look like this they think you're just a straight girl playing around. Who are they to tell me how I should look?"
But for Megan Radcliffe, a columnist for Gay Times, the images Fem 2 Fem play with are the same as can be found in pornographic men's magazines. "While I have no objection to women prancing around in teddies and stilettos and licking each other's navels, they pander to straight male fantasy. Theirs is not a positive, affirming or valuable image, and certainly doesn't appeal to a community Fem 2 Fem will be seen to represent."
Minna does believe Fem 2 Fem are helping people. "A lot of young women have written to us to say they were going to kill themselves but our music is liberating them. They listen to our music on their Walkmans because they don't want their parents to know. They'd rather die than come out."Reuse content