Meditations for Queer Femmes – Shakespeare’s Sonnet 97

Many years ago, as an undergraduate, I took this wonderful quarter credit English class where all we did was talk about Shakespeare’s sonnets. And then, every week, you memorized a sonnet and went in to the professor’s office to recite it and discuss it. So much fun!

In the past few days, I’ve found myself thinking about Sonnet 97, one of the ones I memorized. It just floated up, and I realized that it came to me because I’ve been thinking about love a lot. I’m thinking about missing someone you love, how hard that can be, how compelling it is to just topple over into misery, and yet, if that’s all you do, if that’s where you pour every ounce of your energy, heart, and soul, how much you deny yourself of what’s happening this very moment. When I was in college, I didn’t know I was queer. I was really into yearning after unavailable boys. I was into it all, the suffering and moaning and fretting. These boys wanted nothing to do with me, and I didn’t know any better, I thought that was romantic. I thought it was appropriate for me to practically martyr myself by wantingwantingwanting and never getting. It was fucking miserable! And now I see how I was the one unavailable, not them. I was unavailable to all men, but I didn’t know it yet. I don’t think I’m the only queer femme who provided herself with romantic drama the best she could before she knew she was queer and could move on to more solid, honest romantic relationships with other queers. I used to think that the hard work of love was very lonely, that I must just soldier bravely on, whether it was for a boy who didn’t love me back or someone who loved me but I didn’t love them back. It took forever to sort things out and realize that understanding your preference – in my case, butches – makes all the difference in finding romantic partners. And then the hard work begins, but it has a good chance of being generative, of there being justice in the relationship, not just bleeding and bleeding and bleeding onto the stone cold and heedless ground…

I still love Sonnet 97. It’s a little bit spooky and it really nails that feeling of despair. It’s a declaration of love, certainly, but I think it came to me now because it can also be read as a kind of warning: don’t let this happen to you! This sucks! All these wonderful things are going on and I’ve allowed myself to see only one thing – that you’re not here – so I’m missing them. All of them. A cautionary sonnet, both for the lover and the beloved, who can’t possibly be everything and all to the lover. It’s unfair to ask that of someone you love. So now when I recite this sonnet, I think about how we are tricked, as lovers, as people who love, to abandon ourselves and to demand too much of ourselves and of our beloveds. How we’re encouraged to avert our eyes from hard-but-worthwhile work in a love relationship and instead go for the huge emotions, the ones that have little chance of lasting, the ones that can be utterly destructive. How amazing and magical that this same sonnet has stayed with me, and continues to feed my heart and soul.

Dear lovers, dear queer femme sisters, how have your understandings about love changed over the years? Did you used to think you were straight? How did you think about love then? What about now? What art do you reach for when you want company thinking about love? And more broadly, what art has accompanied you for the long haul? Has its meaning(s) deepened and changed as you’ve gained wisdom and experience? Today, let’s pay homage to love and art and to every little bit of effort we make to grow with health into our huge queer femme hearts.

 

Sonnet 97

How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeing year!

What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!

What old December’s bareness everywhere!

And yet this time removed was summer’s time,

The teeming autumn big with rich increase,

Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,

Like widowed wombs after their lords’ decease.

Yet this abundant issue seemed to me

But hope of orphans, and unfathered fruit;

For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,

And thou away, the very birds are mute;

Or if they sing, ‘tis with so dull a cheer,

That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

–Shakespeare

 

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

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”)

 

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