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Dearests, I am off for a week of writing, and will be offline and up in my creative head.

On Monday (and every day): take care of your queer selves, love your queer selves!

On Friday (and every day): inhabit your femme goddess and sashay forth!

Back with you soon! xottf

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 9:00 AM  Comments (1)  

Femme Friday – In Praise of Joan Nestle

For taking John Preston to your bosom;

For the sexy shoes;

For writing femme-butch erotica;

For giving words and form to femme;

For your generosity;

For writing about your mother’s sexuality;

For Herstory Archives;

For your cleavage;

For focusing on class issues;

For being pro-sex;

For surviving;

For breaking boundaries;

For never stopping talking.

Deep gratitude to Joan Nestle, across the generations and all the way from here to Australia.

 My woman poppa

 You work at a job that makes your back rock-hard strong; you work with men in a cavernous warehouse loading trucks while others sleep. Sometimes when you come to me while I work at home, you fall asleep in my bed on your stomach, the sheet wrapped around your waist, the flaming unicorn on your right shoulder catching the afternoon sun.

            I just stand back and look at you, at your sleeping face and kind hands, my desire growing for you, for my woman poppa who plays the drums and knows all the words to “Lady in Red,’ who calls me sassafras mama, even when I am sometimes too far from the earth, who is not frightened off by my years or my illness.

            My woman poppa who knows how to take me in her arms and lay me down, knows how to spread my thighs and then my lips, who knows how to catch the wetness and use it and then knows how to enter me so women waves rock us both.

            My woman poppa who is not afraid of my moans or my nails but takes me and takes me until she reaches far beyond the place of entry into the core of tears. Then as I come to her strength and woman fullness, she kisses away my legacy of pain. My cunt and heart and head are healed.

            My woman poppa who does not want to be a man, but who does travel in “unwomanly” places and who does “unwomanly” work. Late into the New Jersey night, she maneuvers the forklift to load the thousands of pounds of aluminum into the hungry trucks that stand waiting for her. Dressed in the shiny tiredness of warehouse blue, with her company’s name white-stitched across her pocket, she endures the bitter humor of her fellow workers, who are men. They laugh at Jews, at women, and, when the black workers are not present, at blacks. All the angers of their lives, all their dreams gone dead, bounce off the warehouse walls. My woman grits her teeth, and says when the rape jokes come: “Don’t talk that shit around me.”

            When she comes home to me, I must caress the parts of her that have been worn thin, trying to do her work in a man’s world. She likes her work, likes the challenge of the machines and the quietness of the night, likes her body moving into power. When we go to women’s parties, I watch amused at the stares she gets when she answers the traditional question “What do you do?” with her nontraditional answer “I load trucks in a warehouse.” When the teachers and social workers no longer address their comments to her, I want to shout at them, Where is your curiosity about women’s lives, where is your wonder at boundaries broken?

The Persistent Desire; A Femme-Butch Reader, edited by Joan Nestle, Alyson Publications, Inc., Boston, 1992

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

Scary — A Meditation for Queer Femmes

The email felt like a punch in the stomach. At the last minute, truly at the 11th hour before a co-sponsored drag event for local queer youth, the straight person in charge of the co-sponsoring institution had discovered some rules and regulations that had to be followed. Her tone bullying and panicked, she demanded our queer organization do background checks with the police. Never mind we have had stringent safety protocols in place for years, never mind that other events had been co-sponsored in the past with no mention of this requirement, she had apparently received a phone call from a concerned citizen and had passed that BS right on to the queers.

I am learning to understand that when I feel strong emotion for “illogical” reasons, I am tapping in to a deeper, sounder logic. Despite the song and dance about “we apologize for the late notice” and “our hands are tied”, this unreasonable request came about because of a very solid and nasty reason: homophobia and, more specifically, Fear of Drag.

Several unpleasant days and interactions followed until I was able to correctly identify the source of my frightened, angry and furious reaction to this “request”. In the past, and even to some extent today, I might have retreated into that state the status quo loves to impose on us queers: paralyzing self doubt. With the help of my butch husband – a dab hand at spotting institutionalized homophobia – my colleagues and my own not inconsiderable wisdom, I managed to get to a place where I could handle the situation in a way that felt good and appropriate to me, that had elements of compromise (we have a pretty good relationship with this organization, after all), but that allowed me to stand by what is right. The drag will go on!

Before that happened, though, I ran into the person who had started the whole shit storm. She looked me in the eye and asked me how I was. Although I was shaking with upset fury, and yes, fear, I looked her in the eye and said I was fine but that I was not enjoying myself and that we would talk later about this, after the event in question. She blushed and looked down, murmuring her assent.

When I told my husband, she said, “You scared her.” Surprised, I realized that this was the case. My husband, pure-D butch, is used to scaring straight people, but it’s not a familiar feeling for this femme. I can’t say that I didn’t like it, to tell you the truth, and I definitely have filed it away in my bag of organizing tricks. I am always forgetting that straight people are scared of queers for so many twisted reasons, and I usually feel that my white, cis, able-bodied, middle class privilege outweighs my oppression as a queer. And I am definitely thoroughly trained as a woman to avoid confrontation, always trying to smooth things over, but this time, I stayed the course.

I know that it’s a direct line from cozy, local unquestioned institutionalized homophobia to the jailing, beating and killing of queers somewhere else. Business as usual must be disrupted. When we step into our scary, we step with power and love. When we step into our scary, we are loving ourselves and we are loving other queers. Scary, unstoppable, together: we are helping to heal the world.

 Every Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, even), 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 – Minnie Bruce Pratt

This is not a research paper. This is a love letter. Minnie Bruce Pratt came into my baby femme life in the mid-ninties, in the form of her book, S/HE. I was in a doomed relationship with my partner at the time and would remain there for years and two babies to come. Reading Minnie Bruce’s exquisitely written, exquisitely honest, exquisitely femme pieces kept me company as I navigated the long, obstacle-strewn path back to my own true nature. Certain scenes written by this femme national treasure are burned in my memory. They have become part of my femme circulatory system, running in my body true as blood. So much grief in her life, her children taken from her, the loss of her butch, victim of an undeclared war, so much pain in her long femme life, and so much generosity as she continues to speak up and fight back and make us the queer femme gift of posting a poem every Thursday! Love always, to Minnie Bruce, who made me know, without a doubt, that I, too, would one day “be made translucent with desire”.

Deep gratitude to Minnie Bruce Pratt for her uncompromising femme fury, political understanding and inspiring art.

The Ritz

Just before we sleep, I stroke your back and begin a favorite fantasy, how we met each other when we were very young. Outside the Ritz movie theater in thick summer night, I am a slightly plump teenager, self-conscious in white short-shorts and sandals, waiting with friends to see Pillow Talk or Where the Boys Are. You are a stranger, the only person no one knows. (“What am I wearing?” you say. “Blue jeans, and a white t-shirt, and sneakers.” “Yes! How did you know?” “I do know you,” I say. You murmur, to yourself, “Did you really have on short-shorts then?”) Someone taunts you with where you are from, but you flirt with me in front of everyone. (And you in the present begin to talk to me: “What’s your name? What a pretty name. Will you take a walk with me?”)

The other boys and girls have done nothing but tease me about my name since we began school together when we were six. Suspicious, they watch me on the edge of something dangerous, talking to a strange boy, in the spill of light from the street lamp. Junebugs skid through the air and thud into us. Doris Day’s poster face, virginal and blonde, smiles secretively at us. I watch myself looking at you, wanting what I can’t even name. I ask you, “Are you really a boy?” And you say, “Yes….No.” We pay our fifteen cents to go sit in torn vinyl seats. You want to put your arm around me, but I say, “No, everyone is watching. Around here, that’s almost the same as getting married.” You hold my hand instead and whisper in my ear how sweet I am. I say, “You are too nice to be a boy.” Sometimes when we play at being teenagers, you coax me, “Please let me touch your breasts,” and my nipples heat up and then flare out in the fear of being touched. Then I begin to cry, bitter hot tears, wanting so badly to be a girl who had you for her first kiss, her first everything.

 

–Minnie Bruce Pratt, “The Ritz”, S/HE, Firebrand Books, 1995

 

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

Published in: on May 12, 2017 at 1:54 PM  Comments (2)  
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Meditations for Queer Femmes — Be the Loved Version

“Let me tell you a story,” says Dorothy Allison in her book, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. “If I could convince myself, I can convince you. But you were not there when I began. You were not the one I was convincing. When I began there were just nightmares and need and stubborn determination.”

Where are the loved versions of our femme stories? They begin with our femme yearnings and move into the world through our art – and we all make art. Whatever our art may be – writing, like Dorothy, dancing, sewing, painting, filming, parenting, cutting hair, going to work, conversation, gardening, etc., ad infinitum – there we have the opportunity to fully embody our femme. We can model full-on, ferocious femme living. Out of adversity and desire for it to be different, out of honesty and not being willing to capitulate, we can stay true to the queer femme heartbeat that powers our queer femme bodies. In doing so, we shine that light into the world, and we are capable of reaching and boosting up other queer femmes. Not just femmes, either, but other queers who themselves may be desperate to see examples of genuine, uncompromising queer lives. We can resolve to stop protecting straight people with our silence, our embarrassed smiles, our forgiveness. We can resolve never to pander to straight people again, whatever that may look like for the particularities of our lives, even if it’s just a very slight attitude shift or giving deliberate and daily care to keeping a protective shield around our soul. We can resolve to be beacons to the queerlings* we encounter, even if we just pass them on the street one rainy day downtown when we’re out on a date or simply running an errand.

In our despair, our loneliness, our isolation, we may have trouble seeing how amazing we are, how our femme magic gifts the world every single fucking day. Femme sisters, and I do not use that term lightly, little only child that I am; Femme Sisters, shine for yourselves. Shine for your Sisters. Feed your femme fire with love and community and art and queer culture.

There is nothing more powerful than a flamingly visible loved version of a queer femme life.

Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is what it means to have no loved version of your life but the one you make. –Dorothy Allison

*the young ‘uns! (thank you to E., from Queer Mystic, for this excellent designation!)

Every Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, even), 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 – Femme Klatsch with, moi! The Total Femme

Femme Klatsch is where queer femmes chat with one another on all themes femme. Sweet femme sisters – chime in!

 What does femme mean to you?

Who are your femme role models?

How did you find your femme?

and today’s question:

What sustains your femme?

One of the things that sustains my femme and that opens up big queer space for me to be my most sincere and truthful femme self, is the inspiration of other queers who are really-oh, truly-oh themselves, in all their queer glory. It really, really helps if they have a good sense of humor, too. For example, Tex and I recently attended the yearly fundraiser, ClimACTS, for Theater Offensive. The memory of founder and executive artistic director Abe Rybeck in a truly tremendous neon outfit, waving and blowing kisses as he was carried onto stage by two scantily clad fellas while another hunky number in ass-less pants serenaded him with Italian opera will sustain me unto my dying day.

Queer story sustains my femme. Whether it’s in a book, like Juliet Takes a Breath by Gaby Rivera, or observed, like watching Michelle, the current owner of Womencrafts in Provincetown both honor the history of the store as well as honor the political complexity of today’s queer world, or told to me directly, like the stories I hear from the QSA members or from other femmes — I need queer story almost as much as I need to breathe.

Coalition building and intersectionalty sustain my femme. My straight colleagues and friends model how I can be a better ally, show me how to recognize my privilege and wear it with a sense of humor and responsibility. The National Day of Mourning is a holy day for me. My femme is sustained when I brainstorm and discuss with other queers about strengthening our organizing by asking hard questions about race or disability, for example. My femme is sustained when I hear from a straight colleague with new information about our ongoing struggle to get our town to deal with its Native American town symbol. Attending Creating Change sustained the fuck out of my femme.

My femme is sustained by the love of my butch.

My femme is sustained when my new femme friend and I machinate to take over the world.

My femme is sustained by this blog, and by hearing from you.

Deep gratitude to all of you in all of your queer and fabulous variety!

 Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

 

 

Meditation for Queer Femmes: The Trouble With Straight People

They suck all the air out of the room. They’re our best friend and we are both committed to keeping it real. They want to come to our gay parties. They want to kill us. Fuck us. Be us. Help us. Fuck us up. They think they get it. They exhibit great interest in our queer femme lives and in moments of loneliness we reveal our secrets. They run hot and cold. We can’t trust them. They want what we have even though they already have everything. They’re our sister, who has known us all our lives. They assume we want what they have. They’re casually prurient with our most intimate secrets. They’re our brother, and he’ll come around, we’re sure of it, once he just matures a little more. They’re ok with us. They believe in us. They’re not bigots! When we’re out in public, they assume we’re straight. We sometimes let them or we use too much energy proving to them we’re not. Intersectionality gives them hives. They’re in our way. They’re our mom, and she’s so great. They exhibit tremendous ill breeding. They don’t have the imagination or the inclination to see us in all our queer femme richness and variety. They’re our dad, and that’s just the way he is. Our relationships with them are always so precarious. They don’t need us and can go years without us. We need them for so many complicated reasons. We hate having to need them. They break our hearts. They show up when we least expect it and we are inordinately grateful. We have to protect them from the pain of our queer femme lives. They’re everywhere.

Every Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, even), 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 May 3, 2017 at 12:11 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Life if Full of Bananas

Last night, I picked Owen up at the airport, where he’d flown in after 10 days on a school trip to France. Senior Assassination had already been going since Sunday, so he had a lot of texting and catching up to do. Sure enough, he received recon from colleagues that his assassinator was waiting outside our house, squirt gun loaded. In order to help him stay alive, I let him out one street over, and he snuck into the house via back yards. When I pulled into the driveway, a wholesome young person popped out of the parked car to inquire politely if this was where Owen lived. I gave away nothing.

One of the things Owen brought home with him from France is a t-shirt that reads, “Life is full of bananas”. Now, ain’t that the truth? Owen deftly maneuvered a wonderfully satisfying stay in France, despite the casual homophobia of his host family and his not having packed enough layers for the damp and chilly French spring. Meanwhile, his older brother remains a ball of confusion, stressed to the max and wedded to the negative; wedded also to the coping mechanism of either no communication, or communication consisting of angry blaming of those who love him the most. Still and all, he seems to be making it through the second semester of his sophomore year of college and personally, I am trying to stick with the positive.

Tonight, I am slated to speak at Town Meeting about the proposed Rainbow Commission, which would be in charge of all things queer around town, something that has been a long time in the making, and for which I and many colleagues have worked diligently. I am definitely feeling good about this, but I am also feeling done. I’d much rather spend time on something that feels both selfish, in some ways, but really exciting and deeply necessary: building exactly the kind of femme community that I crave. Using my organizing skills to fulfill my very own needs. It’s not that a Rainbow Commission won’t make my life in town much, much better, it’s just that I am understanding that this is the time and the hour for me to apply my own creativity and energy to projects that directly feed my creativity and energy. I’m thinking exit strategy for my town organizing and I am inviting in new projects that are actually old projects whose time has come. Despite all our responsibilities with elder care and college kids, Tex and I know that this is the time where pulling out all the stops on our art, relationship, spirituality, and joy is indicated, no, required.

As Tex says, “That is what our parents and our children actually want for us, whether or not they can articulate it.”

So, dear readers, I will see you there, dans la vie, la vie plein de bananes.

This banana-filled week, please accept the above post as both Monday Meditation and Femme Friday. Next week we will resume our usual programming!

 And a shout out to Roda over at Growing Self for nominating The Total Femme for a Liebster Award! Thank you, Roda! I don’t have the bandwidth to continue on with the process, but I very much appreciate your support. Check out Roda’s joy-filled, blog, folks!

Femme Friday: Femme Klatsch! with Liz

Femme Klatsch is a new feature, where queer femmes chat with one another on all themes femme. Sweet femme sisters – chime in!

 What does femme mean to you?

Who are your femme role models?

How did you find your femme?

and today’s question:

Can you talk about how your understanding of “femme” has evolved over the years?

Deep gratitude to Liz for this gorgeous and generous queer femme reflection!

Plenty Queer Enough

“Lez!” It’s 1972 and I’m in junior high. As most of us know from experience, when bullies taunt you, they fuck with your name. With a name like Liz, getting “Lez!” hissed at you in the halls is surely cliché standard. Especially when it’s 1972 and you’re a baby femme who passes. I didn’t know the word; but I could tell it was something really bad.

It’s 1975: I’m in high school and someone snarls “Lez” at me in the halls. I read the thrilling new Ms. Magazine, I know what “feminist” means, I know what “lez” means, and I no longer think it’s something bad. But I wonder, do they know something I don’t? Am I one? I decide to look into it. I have, after all, met one “self-avowed” lesbian. She’s older, out of high school, and we volunteer at a hotline on weekends. I scrutinize her. She’s assertive, androgynous and seems to know a lot. Not like me at all, offbeat girly girl that I am. In fact, she’s the total opposite. Guess I’m not one.

Also, if I was a lesbian, wouldn’t I most likely be in love with my best friend? Isn’t that what “women loving women” is all about? It sounds lovely. Sweet. I almost wish I was one. I try to picture falling in love with my best girlfriend and draw a blank. Nothing. I know I’m not a lesbian.

1982: I’ve graduated art school, I’m working, and I’m in an all-girl punk band. By now, I’ve met more lesbians. In fact, nearly all my friends are lesbians. It seems natural. It is natural. I come out! But not as a lesbian after all. I’m a newly-minted bisexual. I quickly seek and find my first girlfriend, and she’s assertive, androgynous, and seems to know a lot. As I model my new vintage black leather jacket for her, she sadly informs me that it’s a “femme” jacket. “Femme”: I don’t know the word, but I can tell it’s something bad. I’m embarrassed. I wear it anyway. I do like it a lot. (After a long night of clubbing with a friend, I lose the femme jacket and replace it the very next day with a standard issue motorcycle jacket, which I own to this day.)

1989: I fall head over combat boots in love with a strikingly handsome, tall, dark-haired dyke who is assertive, tough, artlessly sincere, and is so far beyond androgynous that “masculine” can’t begin to describe her. When I bravely show up in a modest black vintage dress for our formal date, she gasps in awe. I’m speechless, gazing at her in her crisp black tux, the first time I’ve ever seen such a bold statement of serious female masculinity. She nearly trips over herself to open the door of her freshly-washed, robin’s egg blue truck for me. I’m over the moon, discombobulated, and on entirely unfamiliar terrain.

Neither of us knows much about the terms “butch” and “femme”, but we dance the steps as if we are born to it. Which, of course, we are. I never look at a man again. (A cis-guy, that is.)

1993: This butch and I have broken up. I’m wrecked. I’m thoroughly devastated. I drag myself through life for a year. I remind myself we had so little in common; we communicated so differently; we wanted completely different things. So why was I so crazy in love with her? Why did I want her so much? Was there anything for me to learn from all this misery? Stunningly, mercifully, Joan Nestle explains me to myself in The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, published that year. Still grieving my lost love, I begin to understand.

Joan Nestle shows me who I am: a femme. A queer femme, plenty queer enough, descended from a long line of proud strong femmes. I discover I have fore-queers! And I learn that my lost love was a big ol’ Butch with a capital B. I discover I’m a femme who needs, requires, must have a butch. A femme with a voracious appetite for butch. Reading Joan Nestle, I feel the awe I had experienced when I put on my first pair of eyeglasses: the world became jarringly clear in a way I could never have imagined.

(Later, I learn that not all femmes want butches. That’s fine too, though I admit it surprises me, and to this day I don’t understand how any femme can resist a hot butch.)

It’s 1995. 1999. 2008. The years go by, and though I can appreciate being femme, I often wish I could de-program the part of me that lights up for butches only. If there were only a potion, a program, a partial lobotomy! Everything is so much easier with my feminine friends. As a femme, it seems I find little in common with most of the butches I’ve met, besides being queer. I try dating a wonderful femme, and I’m ashamed of myself for not responding one iota to her beauty. I feel like a bad queer. I tone down my femme. I lower my expectations. But I need butches.

And frankly, if you’re single, it really sucks if you’re only attracted to about 1/10 of 1% of the population. So I specialize in settling for the Fine For Now girlfriend, because a good butch, or any butch, is hard to find. I have lots of fun, and lots of heartache. When I fall off the horse, I get right back on again. It’s ok, I tell myself; I never wanted to get married anyway. But breaking up is hard to do. Miserable, actually! And I seem to do it every 2 or 3 years. For 20 years. Until……

2012: It’s a summer evening, and I’m wearing a pretty dress and shiny red shoes. I’ve grown out my curly hair. I’m no longer playing neutral. I look up to see the most dashingly handsome butch; or guy? No, she’s butch. She stands before me, sharply trimmed salt and pepper-hair, sporting an orange plaid shirt, and she breaks into the shiniest grin I’ve ever seen. I will soon discover she’s brilliant and funny, and she’s so masculine that she will soon go by “transbutch”. She will adore my femmeness and require it like I’ll need her butchness. But more that that, we will fit together in all the other ways I had only recently dared hope for. This lifelong semi-single femme meets her butch match at last! I can’t make her my husbutch fast enough.

My femme identity blossoms wildly. I revel in it, no longer seeing my butch-loving orientation as a curse, and I rarely try to fit in with the gender neutral queer majority. Being femme is way more fun than ever.

How did this happen? If I had read this when I was younger and single, I’d probably be thinking sourly, “Well, aren’t you just the lucky one! What a cliché ending!” But sister femmes, I’m living proof that it can happen, not “when you least expect it” as I’ve been smugly told: but when you most expect it. I made a decision to expect the best; the best one for me. I found great power in discovering, then embracing, and finally expressing my full femme identity, and all of my Liz-ness, and then I expected someone else to “get” me, too. I felt relief in quitting the well-worn path of dumbing down my particular brand of femmeness in exchange for maximum social approval. Suddenly, luck happens! Dearest femme sisters, the femme journey is never dull, is it?

Liz Bailey

PS: I love the auto-correct for “femmeness”: famines; fameless; feminisms; feminists; filminess! It’s a found poem!

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Meditation for Queer Femmes — Femme Backup

for Jill

Our queer stories are filled with isolation. So many of us grow up knowing nothing about our culture, our ancestors, our power. So many of us need years to find ourselves, first as queer and then as our own particular marvelous queer manifestation.

As femme goddess Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says in her poem “femmes are film stars”,

…Maybe we’ve never seen the one that could be us yet

but we make her up

we make her up outta thin air

outta brilliance and ass

Some of us never even get there at all, and for these we grieve and flame all the brighter in their memory.

My butch husband and I recently had dinner out with our femme friend, Jill. It was a sweet dinner, where we caught up, laughed, listened to each other’s stories, the ridiculous, the uplifting, the incredibly difficult, the mundane. Midway through the meal, my husband got up to use the restroom. She had previously questioned me, as per usual, about the layout of the facilities. Gendered, not single stall.

“I’ll go, too,” Jill said and I relaxed. I trusted her on butch bathroom duty, I realized. I could sit back and keep enjoying my food.

Back home, I heard how smoothly it all went down. “I asked her if she minded me going first,” my butch reported, “and she said, ‘Of course not! I know how to do this!’”

Just a small moment in the course of the evening, but one that had meaning for me almost beyond words, and one that situated us all in our most intimate and nuanced queer selves.

Every Monday (or Tuesday, Wednesday, even), 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 April 17, 2017 at 5:08 PM  Comments (2)  
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