Femme Friday — Lesléa Newman

Many of you may know Lesléa (pronounced Lez-LEE-uh) Newman as the author of Heather Has Two Mommies, but she is also a big ol’ femme who has been in the public eye for many years, writing, speaking, mentoring and just generally being visible as heck. With 70 books under her bodice, there’s a lot to read by this fabulous femme, but my favorites are two of her books from the 90s: Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear and Little Butch Book. I also love and appreciate The Femme Mystique which she edited in 1995. What are your favorites?

Deep gratitude to Lesléa!

When I sent out a call for manuscripts for The Femme Mystique, I got hundreds of replies. Some women shared my story of being a femme until adolescence, only to give it up and then take it back again. Other women wrote about being tomboys and not discovering their femme side until later in life. I heard from femme tops, femme bottoms, high femmes, ultrafemmes, femmes who sleep with other femmes, femme-on-the-street-butch-in-the-sheets femmes, furious femmes, future femmes, and forever femmes.

 Many femmes wrote about the frustration of being perceived as heterosexual, both in the straight world and in the lesbian community. Many femmes wrote about the pain of unhappy childhoods, unlike many butches who knew from an early age why they felt different. Many femmes wrote about the rage they feel when they are assumed by straight and gay people alike to be “just another pretty face.” And many femmes wrote about the joys of being femme, the sheer pleasures of our sensuality and sexuality that make it all worthwhile.

 Here are our stories. It is my hope that this book will offer an understanding of the many ways there are to be femme. I thank Sasha Alyson for entrusting me with this project and all the women who sent me their poems, essays, photographs, and stories. I would also like to thank all the femmes who came before me, gracing the world with their beauty and their bravery. And to all the femmes who come after me, I say this: each femme has her own mystique. Find yours, and never let anyone take it away from you.

Lesléa Newman, June 1995, The Femme Mystique

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






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.