Inspiration and Connection vs. Appropriation — Meditations for Queer Femmes

I am not unaware that there is something potentially naff about me, middle-aged white femme, running around town in my mini van, aka The Femmemobile, blasting Shai’s “Blackface” album and really fucking getting into it. Usually, the title song makes me tear up, in fact, despite how many times I’ve heard it. I just relate so whole-heartedly to its message of self-acceptance, love, and the importance of art. I am comforted and inspired by it.

One personal reason I like this 90s R&B band so much is that my musical taste was deeply influenced by the fact that my high school was mostly black and I came of age listening to Sugarhill Gang and Parliament and Sly and the Family Stone, but I believe that queers in general and femmes in particular are extremely good at picking up on messages of life and love from other oppressed minority groups. It’s kind of like a superpower.

At its best, this queer superpower is connective rather than acquisitive. We intuitively lean into and appreciate the shared humanity of other folks outside of the mainstream who are punished for being different. Really, I think our superpower helps us understand and relate to all kinds of folks. As James Baldwin wrote, “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

Certainly, we femmes are experts at finding comfort and power and love in the nooks and crannies of the world. Art from a great variety of cultures, most of which are not the one I grew up in, helps ground me and gives me inspiration and strength to be my most genuine self, and from there I make my own art.

I hope that my appreciation of art that is not culturally mine is and remains respectful and non-acquisitive. I hope my writing and organizing uplifts not only femmes and other queers, but also other folks who are loving and justice minded.

That the theme, as we used to say in literature class, is universal.

Every Monday (or Tuesday), I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

Published in: on June 27, 2017 at 5:40 PM  Comments (2)  
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Femme Friday — Millie, from Trumpet by Jackie Kay

Darlings, I did not reread this beautiful novel for this post, as I did not have time, but I started it again, and was immediately drawn back in to this compelling, queer story. What had stayed with me was the sweet, hot love between this white femme and her husband, a passing woman, the black jazz trumpeter, Joss Moody, who she meets in Glasgow in the 50s. Have any of you read Trumpet? Tell me, talk to me! And while you’re at it, do you have a favorite fictional femme?

Deep gratitude to Jackie Kay for writing truth about Millie for all of us.

       It is dark now outside. The streetlamps cast their yellow light on the streets. A lot of us leave The Wee Jazz Bar at the same time. We look like people that have just been created out of the night, people who have just landed on the planet all at once together with the same pioneering, fierce look on our faces. We move along in our long coats with the collars turned up. It is windy. The wind blows a can along the street. Tonight is the night. Joss holds my hand tight as if he’s protecting me from something.

            He walks me right to my door. He goes to kiss me on the cheek, but changes his mind and kisses me full on the mouth. He grabs me up in his arms, sweeping my face towards his. He pulls me closer against him till my feet almost rise from the ground. His breathing is fast, excited. I open my eyes and stare at him whilst he is kissing me. His eyes are tight shut. He says my name as he kisses me over and over again. I feel like I am dying. I take his hand and lead him up the stairs to my small flat. I hope Helen is sound asleep, tucked up in her little bed.

            But when we get up the stairs, everything changes. Joss doesn’t throw me on my bed like I am expecting. He paces the room. ‘Sit down,’ I say. “Make yourself at home.” I’ve gone all shy. The intimacy of my own bedroom has made strangers of both of us. He sits down on the edge of my bed looking terrible, troubled. ‘What is it, Joss, what’s the matter?’ There is something he has to tell me. Something he should have told me ages ago, months ago, but couldn’t. He was afraid that if I knew I would stop seeing him. I feel sick. ‘Knew what?’ My mind is racing. Maybe he’s married; maybe he’s got one of those men’s diseases; maybe he’s committed a crime. I don’t know what it can be. I catch myself in the mirror. My hair is all out of place; my eyes look as wild as his. I can tell it is something serious, but I try to laugh it off. I ruffle my hands through his hair and kiss his cheek. ‘It can’t be that bad,’ I say. ‘Nothing is when you are in love.’ It is the first time I have ever told him this. It makes him more unhappy. He actually looks like he is going to cry. He tells me he can’t see me any more, just like that. I don’t believe this is happening. The moon is full outside the window, gaping in. The night is a lie. I want to go to sleep. I want to stop him talking and climb into my bed with him and fall asleep in his arms. I don’t care what he has done. I don’t want to know what he has done. He is saying he is sorry. The big moon gawps at me. It is strangely excited. I feel as if my world is turning mad.

            I knock my night cream off my dresser. Something in me just blows. ‘You can’t do that,’ I tell him and I find myself hitting him on the chest, crying. He gets angry with himself. I can hear him swearing under his breath. Then I hear him saying, ‘Forgive me.’ And he gets up to go. But I can’t have that. I grab him and pull him back. He is taller than me. I can’t shake him with my full force. So I shout instead. I don’t care about waking anybody up. I scream at him, ‘An explanation, you owe me an explanation. What’s the matter with you? Are you sick? Have you killed somebody?’ The strange thing is he already feels like he belongs to me. My anger makes him mine. ‘You really want to know, don’t you,’ he says in a voice I can’t quite recognize. ‘You really want to know. I’ll show you then,’ he says. ‘I’ll show you what is the matter.’ He has a strange expression on his face, as if for a moment he is suspended, not quite himself.

            He takes off his blue jacket and throws it on my floor. He takes off his tie and throws that down too. His hands are trembling. I am trembling. I think maybe he’s changed his mind and he wants to make love. I think, shouldn’t he undress me first? I’m not sure. I try to remember what the couple of other boyfriends I’ve had have done. My mind goes blank. He is undoing the buttons of his shirt. He slows down now. Each button is undone so terribly slowly. Underneath the shirt is a T-shirt. He takes that off slowly too, lifting his arms up and pulling it from his waist over his head. He discards it. His eyes are determined. He looks at me the whole time. An odd look, challenging, almost aggressive – as if he is saying, ‘I told you so. I told you so.’ He pulls the next T-shirt over his head and throws that away too. He has another layer on underneath, a vest. His clothes are spreadeagled on my floor like the outline of a corpse in a move. The vest is stripped off as well. He looks a lot thinner now with all that off him. I’m excited watching this man undress for me. Underneath his vest are lost of bandages wrapped round and round his chest. He starts to undo them. I feel a wave of relief: to think all he is worried about is some scar he has. He should know my love goes deeper than a wound. ‘You don’t have to show me,’ I say. I feel suddenly full of compassion. ‘Did you have an accident? I don’t care about superficial things like that.’ I go towards him to embrace him. ‘I’m not finished,’ he says. He keeps unwrapping endless rolls of bandage. I am still holding out my hands when the first of his breasts reveals itself to me. Small, firm.

 –Trumpet by Jackie Kay, 1998

 Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

Published in: on June 23, 2017 at 5:17 PM  Comments (2)  
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A Vision — Meditations for Queer Femmes

We were packing up yesterday, after our anniversary weekend in Provincetown. We were dawdling, in no hurry to begin the drive back to our dreary Boston suburb. As I tidied (our landlord waives the cleaner’s fee if we leave things nice), I heard Tex call up to me. I got to the window just in time to see: an old person in a reclining wheelchair being pushed by a long tall leatherman, also old, wearing leather shorts, a leatherman cap, handcuffs hanging from his belt.

Tex nodded to the pair, then came upstairs to sit with me as I lost it. Those two unclenched something in me, love, hope, admiration.

“Talk about persistence!” I sobbed, and Tex said, “And insistence!”

Fierce femme sisters, persist in living your lives as your full queer selves.

Flag femme in all stages of life.

It doesn’t matter if you’re completely decked out like those brave Sunday Strollers, or if you wear it on the inside and proud, you darlings, you lovers, but wear it queer and wear it every fucking minute.

Before the election, we queers were teetering on the dangerous brink of assimilation. Now we are in danger of so much more hate and violence.

Show yourselves as complex, layered, divine beings, my queer femme enchanters.

Cast spells of connection among queers of all flavors.

We must be able to see our own diversity and gain inspiration from each other’s strength.

“I will never forget those two,” said Tex over supper. We were back in the burbs. Surrounded by straights.

We must never forget our true and queer natures.

Femme sirens, you must not.

I insist: You must not.

 Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes and Femme Friday Combo!

“starting from fem” notes

June 8th, 2017 Maggie Cee

This weekend I was honored to premiere a section of “Starting from Fem”, a work-in-progress exploring the construction of femme identity US working class bars of the 40s-50s. The piece will eventually become a full length solo performance.  I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me on the 2+ year journey to this piece.

In the introduction to the landmark butch-fem anthology The Persistent Desire, fem* author and activist Joan Nestle dedicates the book to Jeanie Meurer, a fem friend who passed away in 1991 before ever sitting down to record an oral history for Joan’s Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Joan laments “I realized that I had spent many long hours listening to butch women tell their stories, but I had put off listening to Jeanie. My own femme self-hatred had made me a careless listener.”

If even Fem Superstar Joan Nestle admits to overlooking fem history and stories, imagine all the many ways in which misogyny and self-hatred affect the stories we know and tell.  I love studying history to help my understand my queer community. But I suspect we are not getting the full story of fems in this community, just as I know we are often not hearing the full story when it comes to the stories of people of color, enslaved people, transgender people and Native people.

Much of my research for this piece relies on The Buffalo Women’s Oral History project and Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, a history of butch-fem community from the 1930s-1960s in Buffalo, New York.  Despite the efforts of authors Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis to interview fems, the narrative is skewed decidedly towards the butch side. Fems are referred to as “not around any more” or as having “gone off and gotten married.”

I’ve spent over a decade in the queer community talking, writing, and performing about fem. I believe that some of the roots of fem-phobia in the queer community can be traced back to the beginning of modern LGBT history.

This section of “Starting from Fem” is a coming-out and coming-of-age story about a fictional young woman finding a lesbian community in the 1940’s. Because the voices of fems are so obscured by history, I have created a story based on facts while using fiction to explore the emotional landscape of a fem’s journey.  I know there are anachronisms, that my character might be articulating thoughts and feelings that would be foreign to someone at the time.  But I’m not trying to create a perfectly accurate portrait.

I invite you to imagine with me a fem-friendlier world, one where fems were able and welcome to articulate their feelings, needs and desires, where they valued themselves as a central part of their communities.

A note on music – All three songs with lyrics I chose for this piece were popular songs prized by gay women at the time for their double meanings. The word “gay” had long been used to mean same-gender loving. “Secret Love” comes from Calamity Jane, a movie with a very butchy-seeming main character and some decidedly Sapphic overtones.

*I’ve recently decided to reclaim the older spelling of fem after seeing use of “femme” by straight cisgendered people explode in the past year.  I am all about an expansive definition of femme/fem across all kinds of people and bodies,  but I am not here for straight women appropriating a term with very specific queer meanings.

Deep gratitude to Maggie for her brilliance and dedication, and for providing both meditation and fem this week! It’s been a time over here at the Total Femmedom…back up and running next week, Goddesses willing and the crick don’t rise!

Meditation for Queer Femmes – Who Gets the Love?

Over the weekend, my butch husband and I attended Swingtime, a queer dance that has been going strong for over 25 years. The political atmosphere of the nation, our recent firming up of a decision to try and retire in Ptown and subsequent intense desire for this to happen immediately, the fact that our younger son graduated from high school Saturday and is flying full tilt out of the nest, and the pain and feelings of helplessness around our elder son’s health issues all made for a pretty emotional weekend. We were ready to relax and dance with our people, let me tell you.

There is a lesson in swing dancing to start the evening. I found myself dancing several times with a very sweet young person, a BBW, a young woman of color visiting from the Midwest. I went into Gay Mom mode, encouraging her and teasing her gently, as Gay Moms are wont to do. She was such a sweetheart and I enjoyed getting to know her a little bit. Suddenly, I must have gotten a little too gay, because she started mentioning her boyfriend, how he thinks it’s odd that she likes hanging out with gay people so much, but that she feels so much love and acceptance from gay people, and she loves them in return. I think I managed to control my face, and I know that I subsequently met her mom and her aunts (who are a lesbian couple), and I believe I did not betray my surprise. I hope I was able to keep my disappointment that she wasn’t queer to myself, but it definitely got me thinking and fretting, and I’ve been picking away at this ball of confusion for the past couple of days.

A queer friend remarked, upon hearing this story, “I go to a queer event to relax, and I don’t want to be tricked into giving away my queer love to straight people just because they’re comfortable in our space.”

Part of me agrees whole-heartedly, because that’s definitely some of what I’m feeling. But I am also thinking about how I have been learning about and fighting against racism since I was in elementary school, and I have been a feminist for almost as long. How could I possibly begrudge this lovely, dear child of color and of size the experience of feeling embraced and loved and safe? I know that it is systemic oppression and the status quo that revel in members of oppressed groups pitting themselves against each other, that all the work I do with queer youth is about helping to open space where all youth will be able to fully be themselves, and I know also, that, as my gal Pema Chodron says, “if you decide to open the door to everyone, you give up being able to chose who walks through”, and yet, and yet. I did feel a little tricked, even though I often wear a button that says, “Assume nothing.”

Anger is so easy to go to, especially now. My nerves are frayed, I’m exhausted, and I feel old and sometimes pretty hopeless and helpless. I wanted to dance. I did dance, the whole night, and a few of those dances were with this young woman, who was kind and sweet and open-hearted. It’s complicated. It’s deep. There are no easy answers, except, perhaps, a space opened and maintained with integrity and love will attract those who are themselves loving and in need of love.

 Every Monday (or Tuesday or even Wednesday), I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

 

 

Femme Friday — Rahel Neirene

I’m an old school, in print, kind of femme, and subscribe to as many queer publications as I can manage. In my April/May Advocate, the beautiful and exuberant Rahel Neirene is featured in “Contributors”, where we learn that:

Assistant Editor, RAHEL NEIRENE is a queer black femme living in Brooklyn who loves to talk about feelings, sexual health, and plants. She’s constantly reimagining the ways one can interact with time, space, and memories; especially through scent. Much of her written work covers healing and being a survivor of sexual violence.

 Do you know how rare it is that someone identifies as a queer femme, just willy nilly right out in the open? You don’t know (or perhaps you do) how much guessing and wondering I do as I peruse my queer rags and just fossick around in Ptown and otherwhere. So first of all, there’s that. Second of all, Rahel wrote a profoundly moving, generous, soul searching and heartfelt post-election piece that reads like a how-to for life, love, survival, and how we can work together for peace on all levels, heart to world.

Deep gratitude to Rahel for rising and setting regardless.

My fear made me think about my future. I questioned so much in the past several days. I thought about how hard it is to find work and how I’m the best hustler I know because I always make things happen and even when things fall apart around me there is ALWAYS something else that I move into. I thought about my creative desires and what would happen if they never come to fruition. I thought about how safe I would be going forward from the heightened security that I would see in future hours, days, and months. I thought about how I have never felt completely safe and how I fear for my friends, family, and lovers safety. I thought about my anger and frustration and what it means when I am working in customer service and have to hear white people talk about how sad they are about the state of America and how they can’t stop crying about it. How they feel at a loss. How I don’t have time to feel that. I have to keep going. How it’s been like this long before the election and how it’s gonna continue to be like this. How Wednesday morning, an old black man on the subway said, “I fear for your future honey,” as he got off the train. How I wanted to say to him, “I don’t. I’m ready.”

****

I thought about what I really want. I want white people to accept the reality that their families are fucked up, and they can’t run away from it. I want white people also to understand that being pissed and not having space for white fragility in my life doesn’t mean that I don’t create with white people. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love on white people. I really, really, really want white people to actually get to know what whiteness is so real dialogues can happen.

            I want to be able to have conversations across the intersections of POC. I want us to be able to yell about it, to call each other on our shit, and to really listen. I want us to be able to cry with each other about how frustrating it is to figure out how to be there for each other without hurting each other – because realistically – we gonna hurt each other sometimes.

I want us to be raw about how we see each other so we can know who we are looking in the eyes. I want us to admit that we are silent about what each of us struggles with; admit that we don’t take care of each other at various moments – and sometimes we just can’t, and that’s OK; that we hold hostile doubt about how we can move and shake shit up. How whiteness has caused us to be fearful of really being soft with one another. How myths of productivity have taught us to see the person whose creative moments have been put on pause as lazy, ignorant, and not using their full potential. How we see what we want and desire out of each other but we aren’t looking past that to really see what the other wants. I want us to build with each other and protect each other’s solitudes.

            I want us to imagine what it’s like to really communicate with each other on that level of mutual respect and understanding. How digging into our own personal storms and walking through the debris will allow us to be able to survey the aftermath. Then we can talk to each other about what the fuck is happening and how we can make moves.

            How then, do we dig into our storms? I am reminded of Audre Lorde’s A Litany for Survival — how we weren’t meant to survive anyway. But we do. We are subverting life itself. How fucking beautiful is that? I took several moments to look at myself and my own subversion: I am here. I am Black. I am femme. I am queer. FUCK YES.

            When I woke up Wednesday morning, my thoughts weren’t on crying. My thoughts weren’t on “OMG HOW DID THIS HAPPEN TO US?” My thoughts were “Bitch you already knew. Get your clothes on cause you have an interview to kill today.” There was no pause in my thoughts. I pushed through my exhaustion, through the pain of migraines. I became the sun and moon all at once. I rise and I set regardless.

–from GOMAG, 11/14/16 “On Queer, Black, Femme Survival: When the Spirit Says Move, You Move” by Rahel Neirene

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

Meditations for Queer Femmes — Femme Pairings for Hard Times

PAIN ~ CONNECTION

 

REGRET ~ RESOLVE

 

GRIEF ~ DETERMINATION

 

FATIGUE ~ FEMME FIRE

 

Every Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday, even!), I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

 

WATCH THIS SPACE

Dearests, I am off for a week of writing, and will be offline and up in my creative head.

On Monday (and every day): take care of your queer selves, love your queer selves!

On Friday (and every day): inhabit your femme goddess and sashay forth!

Back with you soon! xottf

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 9:00 AM  Comments (2)  

Femme Friday – In Praise of Joan Nestle

For taking John Preston to your bosom;

For the sexy shoes;

For writing femme-butch erotica;

For giving words and form to femme;

For your generosity;

For writing about your mother’s sexuality;

For Herstory Archives;

For your cleavage;

For focusing on class issues;

For being pro-sex;

For surviving;

For breaking boundaries;

For never stopping talking.

Deep gratitude to Joan Nestle, across the generations and all the way from here to Australia.

 My woman poppa

 You work at a job that makes your back rock-hard strong; you work with men in a cavernous warehouse loading trucks while others sleep. Sometimes when you come to me while I work at home, you fall asleep in my bed on your stomach, the sheet wrapped around your waist, the flaming unicorn on your right shoulder catching the afternoon sun.

            I just stand back and look at you, at your sleeping face and kind hands, my desire growing for you, for my woman poppa who plays the drums and knows all the words to “Lady in Red,’ who calls me sassafras mama, even when I am sometimes too far from the earth, who is not frightened off by my years or my illness.

            My woman poppa who knows how to take me in her arms and lay me down, knows how to spread my thighs and then my lips, who knows how to catch the wetness and use it and then knows how to enter me so women waves rock us both.

            My woman poppa who is not afraid of my moans or my nails but takes me and takes me until she reaches far beyond the place of entry into the core of tears. Then as I come to her strength and woman fullness, she kisses away my legacy of pain. My cunt and heart and head are healed.

            My woman poppa who does not want to be a man, but who does travel in “unwomanly” places and who does “unwomanly” work. Late into the New Jersey night, she maneuvers the forklift to load the thousands of pounds of aluminum into the hungry trucks that stand waiting for her. Dressed in the shiny tiredness of warehouse blue, with her company’s name white-stitched across her pocket, she endures the bitter humor of her fellow workers, who are men. They laugh at Jews, at women, and, when the black workers are not present, at blacks. All the angers of their lives, all their dreams gone dead, bounce off the warehouse walls. My woman grits her teeth, and says when the rape jokes come: “Don’t talk that shit around me.”

            When she comes home to me, I must caress the parts of her that have been worn thin, trying to do her work in a man’s world. She likes her work, likes the challenge of the machines and the quietness of the night, likes her body moving into power. When we go to women’s parties, I watch amused at the stares she gets when she answers the traditional question “What do you do?” with her nontraditional answer “I load trucks in a warehouse.” When the teachers and social workers no longer address their comments to her, I want to shout at them, Where is your curiosity about women’s lives, where is your wonder at boundaries broken?

The Persistent Desire; A Femme-Butch Reader, edited by Joan Nestle, Alyson Publications, Inc., Boston, 1992

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

Scary — A Meditation for Queer Femmes

The email felt like a punch in the stomach. At the last minute, truly at the 11th hour before a co-sponsored drag event for local queer youth, the straight person in charge of the co-sponsoring institution had discovered some rules and regulations that had to be followed. Her tone bullying and panicked, she demanded our queer organization do background checks with the police. Never mind we have had stringent safety protocols in place for years, never mind that other events had been co-sponsored in the past with no mention of this requirement, she had apparently received a phone call from a concerned citizen and had passed that BS right on to the queers.

I am learning to understand that when I feel strong emotion for “illogical” reasons, I am tapping in to a deeper, sounder logic. Despite the song and dance about “we apologize for the late notice” and “our hands are tied”, this unreasonable request came about because of a very solid and nasty reason: homophobia and, more specifically, Fear of Drag.

Several unpleasant days and interactions followed until I was able to correctly identify the source of my frightened, angry and furious reaction to this “request”. In the past, and even to some extent today, I might have retreated into that state the status quo loves to impose on us queers: paralyzing self doubt. With the help of my butch husband – a dab hand at spotting institutionalized homophobia – my colleagues and my own not inconsiderable wisdom, I managed to get to a place where I could handle the situation in a way that felt good and appropriate to me, that had elements of compromise (we have a pretty good relationship with this organization, after all), but that allowed me to stand by what is right. The drag will go on!

Before that happened, though, I ran into the person who had started the whole shit storm. She looked me in the eye and asked me how I was. Although I was shaking with upset fury, and yes, fear, I looked her in the eye and said I was fine but that I was not enjoying myself and that we would talk later about this, after the event in question. She blushed and looked down, murmuring her assent.

When I told my husband, she said, “You scared her.” Surprised, I realized that this was the case. My husband, pure-D butch, is used to scaring straight people, but it’s not a familiar feeling for this femme. I can’t say that I didn’t like it, to tell you the truth, and I definitely have filed it away in my bag of organizing tricks. I am always forgetting that straight people are scared of queers for so many twisted reasons, and I usually feel that my white, cis, able-bodied, middle class privilege outweighs my oppression as a queer. And I am definitely thoroughly trained as a woman to avoid confrontation, always trying to smooth things over, but this time, I stayed the course.

I know that it’s a direct line from cozy, local unquestioned institutionalized homophobia to the jailing, beating and killing of queers somewhere else. Business as usual must be disrupted. When we step into our scary, we step with power and love. When we step into our scary, we are loving ourselves and we are loving other queers. Scary, unstoppable, together: we are helping to heal the world.

 Every Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, even), I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was a fabulous straight femme, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.