Meditations for Queer Femmes — Sad, No, Make that BOUNTIFUL Queer Stories!

Still feeling literary and looking forward to discussing Gabby Rivera’s profound and profoundly sweet novel Juliet Takes a Breath tomorrow evening with our fabulous Queer Book Group, and I’ve been thinking about queer stories.

The other day, when a friend handed me back the copy of A Scarlet Pansy I had lent him, he said happily, “I just loved how Fay had tons of entirely ‘dissolute’ sex all his life, with little to no repercussions!” Indeed, Fay the hero/heroine of Robert Scully’s 1932 novel, has everyone drooling over him, straight or gay, and beds a lovely bevy of fellas with great abandon. He is neither punished nor shamed for this, but rather takes it as his queenly due. Did you catch the date? That was 1932.

So I am wondering about the heavy legacy of what is supposed to be our literary due. Is it really true that all queer lit until our enlightened ages was sad and miserable? That no queer character lived happily ever after until The Price of Salt or Rubyfruit Jungle? E.M. Forester kept Maurice from being published until the early 1970s, and he wrote it in 1912! If a well-known author was writing happy queer stories and keeping them in file drawers, there must be oodles of other books by less-well-known authors out there!

Denying ourselves a history of happy queer lives reflected in literature seems to me to be another way we are robbing ourselves and allowing ourselves to be bullied by the status quo. As soon as we buy into the idea that unless we’re “normal” we are destined for heartbreak, we lose ourselves, we lose connection to a more complicated, layered and happy history that surely is available. Perhaps hidden, perhaps written down in a corking code using Ancient Greek and algebra, like those fabulous secret diaries of the randy Miss Anne Lister, perhaps otherwise misplaced or overlooked, but waiting to be found again and with us nonetheless.

Sarah Waters brazenly and wonderfully makes up an intricate queer past where queers are real people, have full and rewarding lives, along with lots of sex and adventure. What a gift it is when artists queer the queer story! Speaking of which, we can also go back and do a little revisionist work on some of the lugubrious classics, like for example, what if Mary, the femme from The Well of Loneliness, cruelly betrayed by Stephen, gets to Canada with the odious Martin, ditches him and makes her way to an early version of wimmin’s land run by a motely crew of dykes with survival skills and no use for the fellas?*

All our queer voices must have a place, and all our queer stories are precious and important. I am just thinking that there is a reason that many of the extremely difficult stories are given more room than the ones starting with a healthy queer life and going from there.

Juliet Takes a Breath is one of those stories – and am I mistaken, or is the young protagonist more than just a smidge femme?? – and I am so fucking grateful! “I want my work to be centered in joy,” says Gabby Rivera, who is also the writer for Marvel’s America, featuring America Chavez, the first queer Latinx hard femme superheroine.

Centered in joy. Oh, purr!

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

Meditations for Queer Femmes What Is Femme?

In the 1935 novel, A Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully, the pansy protagonist, Fay Etrange, encounters “an anomalous-looking masculine woman, Miss Bull-Mawgan, and her inseparable friend, Elsie Dike”. My heart leapt, and then sank again when the author writes (on p. 99), “Elsie always kept close to her friend for fear that some of the money would be spent on another one”. Oh, yeah, keep telling yourself that, I thought. Keep telling yourself that Elsie is just a user, has found herself a sweet meal-ticket. She couldn’t possibly be attracted to that abomination. Oh, no! There could never, ever, be such a thing as a female who prefers female masculinity over male masculinity. It goes against the order of things, don’t you know. Even Fay Etrange, the most feminine of fairies, can see that! Where there is no penis, there can be no genuine (healthy, normal, real, etc.) sexuality.

As regular readers of this blog may know, my friend Constance is in the habit of politely inquiring of likely passers by if they identify as butch/femme. Sometimes they do, and are happy to chat. Sometimes they get huffy, and declaim self-righteously, “No labels!” Speaking of labels, Tex and I routinely get called, “Ladies”, something most of our butch/femme couple friends are familiar with and something that is particularly frustrating in a place like Ptown, where you would think other queers would be aware enough to go for the less gendered “folks” or “people”, especially if one of the “ladies” is wearing distinctly masculine clothing. At a recent Femme Klatsch, one of the participants started out saying, “I’m not sure I belong here…” and ended the evening having enjoyed herself immensely. “Femme” comes in and out of focus: is it a role? a label? an insult? a passing trend? an embarrassment? a weakness? a joke? something we shouldn’t mention in polite company?

Like any identity, femme is infinite. What kind of femme are you? Who are your femme role models? What nurtures your femme? These are questions we ask at Femme Klatsch, and the answers are as varied as the participants. While femme may not click for the vast majority of people, that doesn’t mean we femmes should follow their lead. What nurtures my femme? Not taking my unique, beautiful, complex, thrilling, delicious sexuality for granted, nor allowing others to ignore or denigrate it.

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.

Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 11:26 AM  Comments (4)  
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