Meditations for Queer Femmes: Remembering

Yesterday, Tex and I were chatting with our landlord here in Ptown, and the subject of caretaking elderly parents came up. We told him about moving my folks from their house three years ago when my dad was in a health crisis.

“We had two and a half weeks to move them and put their house on the market, and their 40 years of collecting books and objets d’art from all over the world didn’t make our job any easier,” said Tex.

“We got rid of so much so quickly,” I chimed in. “Some of it I regret, but it’s ok. I still have it in my head.”

I meant that I have memories of the way my mother carefully annotated and filed informative and edifying articles from wildlife magazines, or the way my father put his book collection together: Extreme Sports; Extreme Living; Extreme Exploring; every single Stephan King book ever written; first editions of books by every member of the St. Louis Mafia; Beat Poetry, etc., and that those memories are rather nice ones. Our landlord surprised me by making a little moue of sympathy, expressive and dear as only a kind and lovely gay man can make it, and I realized that, for him, having all that stuff in his head would not be rather nice.

And so I started thinking about memories. Whether they burden or uplift. Why the ones that float to the surface do so and what it means to have forgotten so many other moments. Every time I pass a certain house in our suburban town, for example, I remember that it was where Seth was first given candy. The elderly lady who did the deed couldn’t believe our toddler had been so deprived. I had been trying so hard to keep him pure and healthy, delay sugar pollution as long as possible. It’s a memory that brings up conflicted feelings, to say the least. Is that when his difficult path began? Is that where I definitively failed him as a parent, something that informed the rest of his childhood in some deep and negative fashion? I pass that house almost every day! I would certainly be much better served by a daily remembering of something else about Seth’s toddlerhood, something wonderful, dear, deeply positive, but it’s the candy that haunts me and connects me to present-day difficulties.

I also, of course, carry many memories pertaining directly to my queer femme journey. Like the Candy House, so many of them continue to deliver the sting of the initial reaction I had to the event in question: the time a butch was deathly rude to me at a Butch Femme Bash and Tex nearly had to duel him at dawn; the time, or rather times, other queers have spoken harshly, dismissively, angrily about femme identity; the absolutely horrible time I left a straight female friend in danger with a man who had given us both a lift hitchhiking. It’s all very well for me to try and comfort myself by saying I truly did not understand what was going on due to my naiveté, extreme youth, and the queerness that I wouldn’t be able to recognize for years and years; the memory still gnaws at me whenever I think of it.

Memories are memories of memories, a member of our Historical Queer Book Group recently told us whilst we were discussing Hothead Paison, a work that brought up a lot of memories for those of us of a certain age. It’s a comment Tex has been repeating, as it blew her mind. And if memories are memories of memories, and it makes sense to me that they are, then perhaps we’re remembering emotional responses even more than the events in question, emotional responses that continue to inform our lives currently, whether positively or negatively.

The butch I dated before I fell head over heels for Tex had a deep resentment of femmes, and told me several awful stories about how femmes had fucked her over. Hearing her speak like that about femmes made me feel anxious, wary of her, and somewhat uncertain of my own actions, especially since I was just coming into my femme again after a very difficult lesbian divorce. At the same time, this butch seriously turned me out, bringing me back into my body, making love to my curves and stretch marks and shy places and utterly glorifying my newly awaked femme.

Any leader or teacher understands the influence one negative or hostile person can have on any given group of people. If allowed to do so, that person will suck all the air out of the room, bring in angry and contentious energy, and force the group to go in unhealthy directions, just like that, in the blink of an eye. It takes a skilled leader to prevent a counter-productive free-for-all when that pollution is unleashed.

We know that memories of abuse and trauma can live in our bodies. What about positive, loving memories? Don’t they also live in our bodies, couldn’t we invite them to be more present and curative? I believe this is the purpose of the before-bed exercise where you write 100 positive things you remember about the day: the moonlight on the water; the cute Italian greyhound named Gia and her two cute daddies; kissing Tex on Commercial Street; the dyke server at brunch who called me “baby”; overhearing a young gay man say to his companions, “Oh, girl, they were canoodling so hard!” And that’s just five!

It is particularly important in this time of hostility and violence, to remember queer and positive events that are connected to loving queer energy. Long-ago touches from your first queer lover. The way your best friend hugged you when you came out. The excitement of finding out a long-dead relative was queer, and that her journals are just sitting there, up in the attic of your grandmother’s house. A look, a wink, a sistering; the time at the Not Another Fucking Lesbo Potluck you all got to laughing so hard that one of you let out the mother of all farts and that made everyone laugh even harder.

Bring up queer events from your queer lives and revel in the emotional sustenance.

Gird yourself with your own queer history. Hold up the queer humor and kindness you’ve been lucky enough to receive. Open yourselves to memories of queer family. Use your skills.

Reach back and remember.

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.