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.

 

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes — Femme Pairings for Hard Times

PAIN ~ CONNECTION

 

REGRET ~ RESOLVE

 

GRIEF ~ DETERMINATION

 

FATIGUE ~ FEMME FIRE

 

Every Monday (or Tuesday or 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.

 

WATCH THIS SPACE

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 (2)  

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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