Queer Femmes Respond – Jeannette Hawley

My loves, let me introduce to you my fierce and wise and loving queer femme sister, Jeannette Hawley. When we were working together with queer youth, I had the honor of watching her connect with queer youth and save lives.

Deep gratitude to Jeannette for joining us here today with her wisdom and her magic, for shining love and hope!

My dear queer femme sisters, witchy, tender, and powerful:

I write to you from a windy hilltop in Western Massachusetts, where the maple sugar season has ended, the sugar shacks shuttered by the stay at home order weeks ago. May we cast our spell of love and endurance, resistance and joy in this time of panicked pandemic.

Three years in to retirement, I’ve taken a job as a receptionist at the tiny community dental center. I dress in bright colors, spike my quiff of hair, and do my level best to bring calm to what is a fraught experience for nearly everyone. On March 10, I was suddenly thrust into the category of essential worker, and my practice manager, a sturdy lesbian who owns a farm with her wife up the road, tells me not to get sick, she depends on me.

A favorite aspect of my job that still remains is that I can efficiently alter patient charts to reflect current gender identity, pronouns, and names, without asking for legal documents. I add an extra twinkle to those interactions.

On March 13, an odd hyper awareness coupled with low grade panic, familiar to me from growing up in an alcoholic home, losing many beloveds to HIV, the aftermath of 9/11, Katrina, and the lockdown following the Boston Marathon bombing, began coursing through me. Again the specter of imminent death grins from every encounter.

I recall the soup brigades and volunteers who drove themselves to exhaustion caring for their beloved gay brethren in the last days of their lives. The selfless nurses who worked to create universal precautions to prevent the spread of HIV, all the while easing the pain of lonely men, abandoned in isolation wards. I honor the ACTUP activists who staged die-ins, and offered their remaining days as human subjects to test new treatments. Now is the time for fire-breathing Lesbian Avengers to burn it all down.

At sixty-one, it’s my turn again to use my history as an activist and artist to soothe and encourage my young co-workers. I help by writing telephone scripts that become obsolete almost daily. With every appointment I reschedule, I try to offer comfort.

My beloved husband, who is transgender, saw his immunologist for a severe allergic cough. We are both relieved there was no fever or shortness of breath, but he’s in the high-risk group if he gets infected with the virus. We treasure each day without symptoms, assuming I was exposed back before we had universal precautions at work.

On March 18, a message alert popped up. “Dear Ones, I may have it…” Of course we can’t know for sure, because tests are so rare. Our beloved has such serious underlying health concerns that, even though it is essential she get the test, they would prefer not to “waste” it on someone who probably will die. A week later, the test is positive. My celestial friend who swims marathons on a rebuilt spine, writes glorious epics, teaches at-risk young mothers classical Greek literature. No. I know this disease doesn’t care what we do to treat it, but by sheer force of will, I command her return to health.  It’s now April, she’s out of the ER, breathing still, no co-infection, on the road to recovery.

One of the trans kids who was in our queer youth support group posts that he has tested positive, and is taking antibiotics for bilateral pneumonia. He’s only twenty-three, and has Crohn’s disease as well. I hurl oceans of love to him.

Mykael and I are keeping distance, even at home, because of my work. I miss his touch, so I luxuriate in long yoga stretches and treasure small moments of sensuous pleasure. I strip off my clothes as soon as I come home and rush to my needle hot shower. I open the bathroom window and let the dulcent cool spring air melt onto my warm, wet skin. The sensation of that breeze on my body, wakening every follicle, tightening my nipples, tingling along my spine reminds me that I am a survivor, centered in my own embodied condition.

May the rains of April sustain you.

Jeannette Hawley is retired from her position as the costume shop manager at American Repertory Theater at Harvard. She has worked as a volunteer queer activist for over thirty years, helming Pride celebrations, founding transgender support groups and queer-centered addiction recovery conferences, writing for small queer newspapers, and mentoring queer youth. Fond of lipstick, creativity, gardening, and baking, she dedicates her days now to shining hope and love wherever it is needed.

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it!


New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!


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.”) As I undergo treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.



Published in: on April 3, 2020 at 11:55 AM  Leave a Comment  
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