Meditations for Queer Femmes — Nice to See You!

“Nice to see you!” says Rhea, an elderly resident of an assisted living facility. The greeting is not reserved solely for the people she knows, but for everyone. At the facility, attendants, visitors and residents are quite diverse. Skin colors, religion, class, sexuality, gender presentation, ability – there are many differences among them. Doesn’t matter. “Nice to see you!” says Rhea, smiling her sweetest smile, cheerfully and generously including us all.

Because of oppression and isolation, all stripes of queers are forced into a position of spending inordinate amounts of time and energy constructing and defending our identities. This is certainly true for queer femmes. It can take such a long time to feel a sense of belonging. The femmes who stay silent, watching and listening and never contributing to a conversation; the loud femmes, who talk so much with such authority that you never see their vulnerabilities. All of us reaching for that sense of community, a place where we not only see but are seen. We are always coming out to straight people as queer, lesbian, whatever we decide to say (really, how can they be expected to understand femme and who has the time and spiritual energy to constantly be explaining?) and, almost as often, to our queer kin, who have their own ideas and prejudices about femme.

Identities, all identities, evolve as we age. This is a human birthright, to be able to continue to discover yourself as you gain experience and wisdom. Our wider culture does not generally feel elders have much to contribute, and our own queer culture – or rather “cultures” – is so separated by age that we don’t often have the opportunity to interact with one another across generations.

There are times when, damaged by hate, all our energies must go to daily survival. There are times when, bolstered by community and art and laughter, we can reach out without being depleted. At all times, we can grow stronger by imagining a lifeline connecting us. Let us recommit, femme sisters of all ages, to casting that lifeline, one that links us and sustains us, that holds us and uplifts us. Where we can rest in the love.

Let us be generous with each other. Let us help one another. Reach out a hand.

When Rhea says, “Nice to see you!” you get the feeling she’s saying, “We’re still alive! Different people are interesting! You’re obviously a fine person!” and perhaps most profoundly, “Where would we be without each other?”

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.

Femme Friday — Jewelle Gomez

I have here on my desk a signed copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Jewelle Gomez’s novel, The Gilda Stories, a treasure in 1991 when it was first published, and a treasure still. I had the great good fortune to take part in an all-day workshop Jewelle co-led at the Creating Change conference last Thursday. (Having inadvertently left my copy behind, I rushed off to Giovanni’s Room during lunch and, thank goodness, Jewelle’s book was in stock!) The workshop, “Thriving: The Eric Rofes Legacy: Envisioning a Transformative Queer Movement Focused on Sex, Health, Politics, and Liberation”, points to the focus of Jewelle’s activism which is expressed in story and direct action: sexy, wholesome, politically wise and profoundly liberatory.

“Hold out your hand, doesn’t matter which one,” said Jewelle last Thursday, in a closing ritual. 40+ queers reached out. Jewelle read the words of her ancestor, Chief Seattle, about connection, then cast a lifeline out to us. She told us we are connected, now, and that we are all holding onto the lifeline. To remember that, to envision the connection when we need strength and support. The love and power in that room at that moment was queer magic that I will never forget, that is sustaining me now as I write and that will continue to do so for life.

And now you, dear reader: hold out your hand!

Deep gratitude to Jewelle Gomez!

One summer evening BC (before cell phones), my home telephone was out of order so I strolled down to the corner in the musky urban night air of Manhattan to call a friend from a phone booth. As I was talking two male passersby started telling me in lewd detail what sex acts they would like to perform on me. I thought about the fact that women go through this debasement regularly, routinely. How we usually steel ourselves and block it out. But this time, on that evening long ago, rage welled up in me like a tidal wave. I told my friend on the other end of the line to hold on.

I turned on the two men and began screaming like a mythical banshee. I could see that they thought I was overreacting – they were “just being guys.” But my harangue exploded uncontrollably, stripping away their macho posturing. One man yelled desperately to the other, “Brother, she’s crazy!” He clutched at his friend’s arm and they fled down the street away from me. I was shaking with the pen-up fury of all the women who’ve ever been harassed on the street. I came back to myself when I heard my friend, terrified that I was being murdered, shouting my name through the telephone receiver. I thought with shock that if I had had a weapon in hand I would have gleefully beaten or shot or stabbed or bombed those two guys. Instead I went back to my flat and wrote the first installment of what would become The Gilda Stories. –The Gilda Stories, Forward, July 2015

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

Published in: on January 27, 2017 at 1:19 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Meditation for Queer Femmes — Loving Our Femme Selves

Walking into a room filled with other femmes, any one of us might have a moment of trepidation. Do I look like a femme? Act like a femme? Move, speak, think like a femme? How do I measure up against all these other femmes? Maybe there’s some femme essence I don’t posses, a secret I don’t know?

Trained by a consumerist society to believe that what we have is never enough, having already braved struggles to unearth our queer femme identity, having swum hard against the rip tide of the status quo, we carry so many insecurities.

Femme sisters, step into this room. Femmes are here to welcome you. Each unique. Each with gifts to share, from make up and hair tips to elder wisdom. Personalities, styles, energy, age, race, ability, class – a delicious mix of all these and more.

Open your heart. Insecurities may arise, but allow them to still again, as all emotions and thoughts will naturally do on their own, if given a chance. Open your heart. Listen as femmes speak about their bodies the way we view them, care for them, pleasure them. Offer your own sweet, funny, sexy femme story. Allow a shift from compare, self-judgement, dismissal to learn from, appreciate, treasure.

Femme sisters, step into this room. Femmes are here to welcome you.

#CCFemme17

Our Bodies Are Powerful, workshop led by LaSaia Wade and Alison Amyx at the Creating Change conference, Philadelphia, Jan. 2017

Every Monday (or Tuesday and this week, it’s 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.

Gay for Love

Beloveds, I am winging my way to the Creating Change conference later this morning, the one in Philadelphia, the one where there’s a bunch of gays for pay and other queers machinating and fomenting.

I’ve never been, have always wanted to, and this year, Mystic LGBTQ+ Youth Support Network is sending me!

Yesterday in the QSA, I explained to the kids what “gay for pay” means. They understood completely! (I didn’t have as much luck explaining “Carol Merril” to them, oh well, I mean, as in, “Could you please be Carol Merril and show us that on the whiteboard?”)

I don’t get paid a cent for the work I do with queer youth and queer community, and have, in previous years when looking at the Creating Change offerings, felt I would be on the outside looking in if I went. This year, I have a badge and an affiliation, even if I make no salary.

I’m gay for love, and I will get back with you later. Please forgive the lack of Femme Friday this week! And darlings, stay strong and keep up the fierce, gentle resistance.

I love you.

Published in: on January 18, 2017 at 9:02 AM  Comments (1)  
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Meditation for Queer Femmes — MLK Day Celebrations

In reading the vignette below, a recounting of the MLK Day celebration for our suburban town, I hope you can find ways to connect to your own queer femme relationship with Dr. King’s work.

When I was a little, chubby, white, baby femme bookworm, I just assumed MLK Day was already a holiday, although that actually happened much later. My suburb, just next door to the city of St. Louis, had experienced white flight, so that by the time I got to high school, the student population was over 90% black. Jessie Jackson spoke in our auditorium, telling us, “You are somebody!!!” At that assembly, there were some white students who refused to stand for the Black National Anthem, while others were actively involved in organizing against apartheid.

Last night, in the Boston suburb where I’ve lived for over 20 years, my butch and I joined the mostly elderly white crowd for our town’s MLK Day celebration. We all stood for the black National Anthem, and the familiar peons to Dr. King were spoken earnestly and lovingly. An award was given to a white minister who “embodies Dr. King’s values”. We sang “We Shall Overcome” and enjoyed the Mistress of Ceremonies’ seamless, rambling, beloved routine (what will she say this year?!).

The white minister who received the reward is she who refused the queer kids I work with their Drag Extravaganza.* I remained seated, as did my butch, when she received a standing ovation. Queerness, in fact, is glaringly lacking, year after year,** although the piano player last night was definitely gay.

As a white, queer, avoirdupois, middle-aged, femme bookworm, I absolutely believe that MLK would love the gays. Everyone uses his words to further their own versions of justice and much has been written about how his increasingly outside-the-box and radical thinking has been watered down. As we continue to strive to, in the words of Colson Whitehead, “Be kind to each other, make art, and fight the power,” can we honor this man’s legacy by honoring his truly world-changing ideas and including everyone?

The Mistress of Ceremonies called for the audience to give the MLK Committee suggestions for next year. My butch and I will be complying with her request.

*Please see my post “Love Letter to the Methodists”

**Please see my post, “Would MLK Love the Gays?”

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 January 17, 2017 at 6:35 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Femme Friday — Namaste Evolving

For this Femme Friday, I was lucky enough to be able to connect with Namaste Evolving, who first came to my attention as an actress in the webseries “Between Women” (watch it NOW!). She was kind enough to share her bio, a short email interview and a powerful poem for this Friday’s post.

 Deep gratitude to Namaste Evolving!

 Bio

Namaste Evolving is a woman of many gifts and talents that she open heartedly shares with the world. The hats that she so gracefully wears include Entrepreneur, Artist, Writer, Poet, Actress, Student of Holistic Living, and Raw Food Chef Consultant (graduate of the Graff Academy).
Writing since she was 11 years old, Namaste Evolving has written short stories and poems, participated in numerous poetry slams at some of the most popular poetry venues, including the “Apache Café”, “Kats Café” and Nuyorican Café”, where she was the poetry slam winner. Her foray into the arts goes even deeper with her acting career, which includes playing Natalie Hintmore in the highly acclaimed web series “Between Women”, as well as, “For Colored Girls” and “Vagina Monologues” directed by Onyx Keesha, “Only God Can Judge Me” written by Natalie Simone directed by Onyx Keesha, and “Opia” which she co-wrote and was also the starring actress. She has also spoken out on social issues on the newly launched talk show Gab Talk. Her writing also includes her new blog “Coloring the Grey Areas” https://coloringthegreyareas.wordpress.com/, where she opens up in a vulnerable quest to heal, evolve, and use her experiences to encourage other people to do the same.
Namaste Evolving is a force and a light that continues to shine through everything she touches. She uses all of her gifts and talents as a way to empower, educate and create awareness. Her continued study of writing, film, social and economic issues, healthy eating, metaphysics, living off the land, spirituality self-care, and Holistic Living are all ways that she strives to educate, empower, and make a difference in the lives of friends, family and the world as a whole.

 Interview

TTF:   Would you be willing to say a little about your relationship to the identity “femme”?

NE:     I would not consider myself fully “femme”, my energy tends to fluctuate between what would be considered in society to be masculine and feminine. Many assume from my typical dress style that I am “femme” all of the time, but once a person gets to know me that perception usually changes. I am an unapologetic anomaly.

TTF:   And “queer”?

NE:      If I had to label myself I would be more likely to use the term fluid. Even though I have been in relationships with women for most of my adult life I would still say I’m more attracted to energy as opposed to gender.

TTF:   And maybe some thoughts about “Between Women” — what it’s been like, what it means to you?

NE:     I have so appreciated all the opportunities and lessons that have come from working with Between Women and I have been so grateful to be able to bring my light to such an amazing project. Being a part of a group of people that work to make their dreams a reality, that keep pushing through adversity, and that consistently evolve on so many levels has been an honor and an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I started on this journey so that I could conquer my fears because I knew the work I wanted to do with people and the messages I wanted to spread would require me to come out of my shell, be vulnerable, and willing to expose my imperfections. Getting in front of a camera with no acting experience and giving people a front row seat to my flaws was a challenge I took on and it changed my life. At times it hurt, at times I was afraid, at times I did not know if I had made the right decision, but today I know that I absolutely did. I never knew that this show would end up being a blessing to so many people, I never knew the people I could help by being on this show, and I learned that when I step out on faith, listen to spirit, and keep talking to God in the midst of fear that I will be blessed beyond what I could have ever imagined. One of the main things I have loved about Between Women is the messages and the inspiration to fall more in love with writing and film and how to use it as a form of activism.

TTF:  And the LGBTQ+ community in Atlanta?

NE:     I think the LGBTQ+ in Atlanta is dope! There are so many talented, amazing, mystical, revolutionary people here striving to make a difference.

Poem
Orisha Oya by Namaste Evolving

She told me she would bring the winds of change upon my spirit and whether strong and bold like a tornado or gentle, calm, and comforting like a summers breeze, well that would be my choice. Either way it was time for me to stand up, believe in myself, and she doesn’t have time for foolishness. So I lit my incense, anointed my crown, and dropped to my altar with all that I had left. Silence, frustration, acceptance. I positioned myself in a child’s pose and let the salt water flow inward as it cleansed my soul, I honor her, I honor her presence. I just listen patiently, respecting her timing, and knowing that she will eventually speak. Having so many in my presence yet feeling this a journey I must physically take alone, I position the crown on my head as I clinch my hands to my throne. I embrace the darkness so that my light may shine, I ease my anxiety by telling myself it’s my time. No longer will I be complacent because my life longs to be adjacent to my spirituality and I will no longer hide. Out of the closet in more ways than one, embracing my roots, the moon, and the sun. Embracing the wind that blows through my hair, a gentle reminder telling me that she is there. I wish I could give more but I can only give as I receive so positioning myself in a meditative pose I close my eyes and just…. breathe. I say to you shalom knowing that my story is not done and hoping you will overstand and we will build as one.

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

Published in: on January 13, 2017 at 6:29 PM  Comments (2)  
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Meditation for Queer Femmes: On Being Grown Up

“No one ever prepared me for it…or for the experience of feeling different even though you don’t appear different to other people.”* This is a gay male character speaking about being gay, but it could also specifically refer to the experience of many femmes who love butches.

Not only are we not prepared, we often don’t know what’s wrong with us. We may go decades trying to fit in to the straight world; after all, we look the part, don’t we? Over and over, we search for a partner whose masculinity awakens our hearts and bodies. Over and over, if our search is limited to cis men, we are disappointed, and in being disappointed, so often blame ourselves. We watch our straight female friends fall in and out of love, finally settling on a man who fulfills them. Without community, guidance, role models, room in which to move and experiment and become more fully ourselves, often our only recourse is to assign the fault of our own lack of romantic fulfillment to bad luck and personal failure.

How many of us are still waiting to grow up? Even those of us who came to their femme identity as a younger person were denied a chance to fully explore the wide world of sexuality, either because we felt compelled to grasp our identity close as a talisman, as protection, or because it was not safe, or both. For a young person bursting with hormones and curiosity, being expected to explore your sexuality with, say, the only other two out kids in your high school, is limiting, to say the least.

And then, once we’re busily out in the world, away from high school at last, it can be so easy to set our femme aside for a moment so we can do our other work: daughter, teacher, leader, parent. Perennially marginalized and infantilized, queers of all kinds struggle with “being grownup”, and we femmes occupy a unique place in that struggle. This is not simply about “putting on your big girl panties” but a much graver, deeper task of allowing yourself to be an adult, despite the myriad forces, historical and present, shrilling at you that you’re a child, pathological, unclean, undeveloped, immature and selfish.

Grown ups – healthy grown ups – gain strength and peace from incorporating their sexualities inextricably with their daily lives. In order to do this, we femmes of all ages need to know each other. We need to see each other at all different stages of life, to understand the many, many ways we can flourish and become. We must open a conversation with each other, mentor each other, tell our stories and make femme-only space. We must find each other.

Who are your femme mentors? Who are your femme sisters? Who are you, sweet, grown up femme?

*Hugh Paris, a character in Michael Nava’s first mystery, The Little Death.

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.

Femme Friday — Nia Witherspoon

When I first met Nia, there was something going on between the two of us that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It wasn’t bad, it was just hard to identify. Eventually, I realized what it was: this lovely young femme was respecting me as an elder. Such an incredible gift!

Nia is an accomplished scholar and artist, with a BA from Smith and a PhD from Stanford. She generously blesses the world with her nuanced and creative explorations of blackness, gender, sexuality, and intergenerational trauma, giving us queer femme wisdom, making us think, giving us motivation to act in the name of love.

Deep gratitude to Nia Witherspoon!

Nia’s play, “The Messiah Complex”, had its world premier at BRIC (Brooklyn), in May, 2016:

The Messiah Complex is a love story. Or many. It centers on Malika, a teenager on the trans-spectrum, who creates an alter-ego named Messiah, a popular basketball-ball star and aspiring rapper. When Messiah’s secret is revealed at 16, all comes crashing down, and s/he makes a fatal mistake. DJ Messiah, 10 years later, must face the literal ghost of a past mistake unearthed through a nightclub turned ritual. But this ghost wants more than reckoning. Set to the sound of hip-hop, the ring shout, and the wailing of ghosts, Messiah must find a way home.

Featuring a predominately Black, queer and trans cast and creative team, The Messiah Complex is a play about the legacy of the Panthers in the age of crack, where a scratch at a DJ booth incites a replay of the past, an action that interrogates generations of violence on black, queer bodies. This BRIClab Commission brings ritual into the theater, shifting from the secular to the sacred through rites already present in black life—the frenzy of a nightclub, the libations poured on street corners, and the sonic landscapes of hip hop. Ultimately, The Messiah Complex tells a story of recognition, revolution and forgiveness.

And here is Nia, reading:

And if you can get to New York, here’s information on Nia’s new play, YouMine:

https://www.facebook.com/events/227040241082520/

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

Meditation for Queer Femmes

A femme is dreaming. She wakes up, still groggy, and reaches for her dream journal. If she begins writing immediately, the dream unfolds, acquires weight and depth, sparking insight and wonder. If she waits even a few minutes, the dream rushes away, leaving only wisps of itself and sometimes not even those.

At work later that day, a straight, married colleague asks the femme about her “wife”. Today, the femme is juggling a hundred different tasks, as well as a looming deadline, so she just smiles and says, “Fine, thanks.” She has already told this colleague that she is the wife, but he’s too tickled about what he sees as bonding with her to remember, and she’s too busy to remind him. She moves on, the wind taken out of her sails.

It’s frustrating when straight people assume that she is a certain kind of queer, but it’s even more frustrating when other queers gloss over or even denigrate her life, her femme life. “I’m really not into that butch/femme stuff,” a lesbian acquaintance told her recently with a sneer and a shake of her head. “It’s just not for me.” Implying that how could it be for anyone, really, anyone at all? There was a silence, then the femme changed the subject. Sometimes it feels as though no one can really see her.

The femme yearns for opportunities to discuss all manner of queerness. She is now a bit shy of her lesbian friend, a little broken hearted, mourning the missed opportunity for the two of them to learn about each other’s queerness. She wishes they could open-heartedly offer each other the informed support and love “God’s good people”* withhold.

She thinks, “I am a slap-dash, DIY femme who likes to throw together 70s outfits and experiment with eyeliner. I love soft butches who shave their pits but leave their legs au naturel and who are secretly extremely toppy but also cry a lot, and that’s just the beginning. Is there a name for me? Would you recognize it if you heard it?”

Name it! Call it into consciousness. Femmes are part of the queer constellation, we dazzling, innumerable femme stars.

And femmes are dreams , we are writing ourselves into being. The more we explore our infinite femme variations, the more we shine.

What kind of shining femme star are you? What are your dreams?

*Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness

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.