Femme Friday – Inspirational Book: The Way of Tenderness by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Here at the Total Femme, we do adore some Buddhist wisdom, but there are times when it can just be soooo straight, sooooo white, and soooo smug. The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender is balm. I flip it open at any page and come across profound and healing wisdom.

Deep gratitude to Zenju Earthlyn Manuel for thinking and writing so deeply and with such great love about our precious bodies.

Seeing the body as nature is to directly see form as nature, as of the earth. It is to see the pure form of life without the distortions. Although we are confronted with the challenge of the varied forms of nature, we have a tendency to view this challenge as strictly non-organic, as not of nature. Rage springs up when certain embodied forms of life – blackness, queerness, and so on – are not recognized and honored as part of nature. The embodiments of race, sexuality, and gender are in fact the fires through which we must pass to awaken. The fire will not destroy us if we can see authentic interrelationship in its flames.

 Are these bodies really the enemy of the spirit? Do our struggles with race, sexuality, and gender belie a hidden denial of the body, a mortification of the flesh? Need we sacrifice our bodies in the name of spiritual attainment – hurting our backs and knees far too long in meditation? Why do we ignore the nature of our bodies, something we all share in common? What is this body?

The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, “Body as Nature”, p. 91.

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 fall 2018: Books from which queer femmes can draw inspiration. What are your trusted sources of light and love? Please share!

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.”)



Published in: on February 22, 2019 at 6:13 PM  Comments (2)  
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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.



Meditation for Queer Femmes

A femme sits in meditation. Thoughts arise. According to the instruction, she’s to think, “Thinking,” and let the thoughts move on, as thoughts do. Nonetheless, her body tenses with anger. So many people lately have let her down. She knows relatives have voted for this new, hateful administration. Also, her social justice work for queer youth and community has been compromised by colleagues who have abruptly withdrawn. She knows why some of us need healing time, but she can’t help feel upset at those who have left the fight. Anger vies with compassion. Thinking. Breathe. Tears well up. Images of despair appear: the torture of queers past and present, of black and brown people, the destruction of culture, of lives; landscapes ruined by war, mining, fracking, drilling; polar bears struggling to survive, bees, butterflies, manatees, bats, orangutans and so many more; refugees trying to escape, drowning. More and more images come and the tears spill over. What can she do in the face of so much misery, so much history, so much hate? Thinking. Breathe. Now she moves on to contemplating her drug of choice: sugar. It would be great to have some candy just about now! What kind does she want the most? Thinking. Breathe.

When the timer goes off, the femme stretches and sighs. Will she ever get through those 20 minutes with even a modicum of a calm mind? Maybe not. Probably not, knowing her and her busy, busy brain. But she is more and more confident that those 20 minutes of meditation help her in ways she may not ever completely understand. She trusts this. Surely, she is now situated more solidly in her body, her queer body. With which she braves the world every single day. Her queer body taking up space, loving her butch, her babies, her parents, her friends and colleagues, and, as best she can, all of humanity. The whole wonderful world. Her queer body, strong enough, despite it all, to follow her queer soul and heart. To love and work and flame as she is meant to do.

Every Monday, I will 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 December 5, 2016 at 11:19 AM  Comments (2)  
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On my way to work this morning, listening to WMBR, I heard a song called “Your Mother Wants to Know”. In the waning days of my last boy’s childhood, I have been grieving many of the things that did or didn’t happen when my boys were little. I couldn’t quite understand all the lyrics to Scrawl’s song, but the big heartbreak of it made me cry.

Yesterday, during the three-hour wait for Owen’s eye specialist appointment, I read the latest Time from cover to cover, including a mom ed by Kristen van Ogrtop about her relationship with her college-going son and her perhaps vain hope that he will vote in the upcoming election. He almost never communicates with her, which sounded very familiar, but then she said that sometimes he does send her a cheerful emoticon, which is way more than I get from Seth, now a sophomore down in Florida. But every day, I get to see Seth’s legacy in the form of the graffiti lite he and pals used to do using post office labels. Stuck up on the stop sign at the end of a nearby street is his attempt to wake people up: WHO IS LEONARD PELTIER? Damn, does that always make me smile!

I took my daybook with us to the doctor’s office yesterday, knowing how long the wait would be, and somewhere between home and there, I lost it. It’s a mystery, because it’s a whole big notebook and you would think Owen and I would have noticed if it dropped out, but it is gone. Blipped into another dimension, the way our sweet kitty Frankie used to do – there one moment, and the next, gone, baby, gone. Frankie always managed to find her way back to our dimension so she could curl up on Seth’s bed and keep him company through the night, but my day book seems to be enjoying its sejour and I have a feeling I’m never going to see it again.

In the daybook, I scribble notes about what’s going on with my queer organizing, observations, thoughts, plans. I’ve got people’s contact information, to do lists, long rants, “State of the Organizer” sections where I check in about the other parts of my life informing my activism work. It’s a record, a chronicle, a history. I’ve even been asked to archive my daybooks with The History Project, the LGBT history organization in Boston. Now there’s going to be a three month gap.

Tex comforted me, saying that the act of writing things down has value in and of itself. Like journaling, I guess, even if you never see it again, you can feel better and have a clearer head afterwards. But I feel a responsibility to the queer community to leave a record of our queer organizing in the suburbs, not only because our history so easily gets lost, but also because I am so incredibly grateful to the queers before me who made an effort to write things down so they wouldn’t disappear, speaking to me in their own unique bent voices. We need each other so badly, past, present and future.

“Mom, I’ve lost my phone and my ipod so many times,” said Owen soothingly as he accompanied me back to the doctor’s building so we could check the parking garage where perhaps my daybook had fallen out. “I know just how you feel.” I remember those times, how sad he was, how he had to weather the shock of being forcibly parted from all his personal, meaningful minutiae.

I feel I’ve let my people down by being so careless; my Buddhist readings urge me not to be attached, to resist following the stories told by my ego; I keep looking for my daybook in the places I last saw it, knowing it’s not going to be there, just like ol’ George Carlin becoming more and more ridiculous as he looks for his lost keys.

Yesterday, I lost my daybook. Yesterday, I spent over three hours with Owen, outside of time, the way doctor’s waiting rooms always are, just chillin’. We got so bored we started reciting a favorite poem from the boys’ childhood: “Kansas City Octopus”, and Owen was so sweet to me later that thinking about it makes me tear up. Tex, spooning me in bed last night, whispered, “All is not lost! There are so many reasons to live, honey! Don’t give up!” And in the form of a post office label, Seth reminded me that he has a good and justice-minded heart.

I’ll get another daybook. I’ll keep writing the story of family.

The Rugs Broke Me

I was going to write a post called “Ni hutch, ni Dr. Gayle S. Rubin”* about how the process of moving my parents from their long-time home in Montana to a rented house down the street from us really forced me to take “letting go” extremely seriously, in particular, by letting go of regrets. The hutch in question is a wonderful antique, and should have stayed in the Montana house kitchen to help sell the property, but it was mistakenly given away by the neighbor who is doing cleaning and caretaking for us. I’ve been reading the sustaining and brilliant Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader for months,

and when I finally got around to finding Dr. Rubin on the interent, I realized she’s been a visiting professor at Harvard this entire past year, but is now no longer there. I could have gone to a lecture. I could have told her how much her work means to me, and how sorry I am that we missed each other at the University of Michigan. But, I was going to say, no regrets!

Then the rugs broke me.

The rugs being these incredibly lush, gorgeous goat hair beauties my folks have had for over 50 years. They are soft and lovely, and I grew up walking barefoot on them. Out of the 60 plus rugs my parents collected back in the old days from Turkey, Iraq and Iran, the goat hairs were some of my very favorite.

None of the 60 plus rugs had ever been washed, so when they were decanted from the moving van, Tex and I took them to be cared for. We felt really good about tending to something that had given my parents so much pleasure over the years. When we went to pick them up, most of them looked amazing. The colors were vibrant, the wool was soft, they smelled pleasantly of soap. Except for the goat hairs. They were coarse and matted, the hair patchy, as if it had been scrubbed off. Gone were my lush, comforting life companions. Just looking at them made my stomach hurt.

That night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. For the first time in a long time, I cried in the wee hours, my husband comforting me. At last I fell asleep, only to wake in the morning with a stomach ache. Tex and I talked before she left for work, about how lucky we are in so many respect, how little fallout we sustained despite the really dire health crisis and craziness involved in my parents’ and our recent history. That we are healthy, live in a nice place, love each other, have great kids, do work we love.

As Owen used to say, “I know that already!”

In therapy later that day, I wept again.

Then, last night, Seth came home smelling like booze. Much later, as I tried to sleep, I thought feverishly of the rugs, and how they mean nothing in the face of the health of my children and that it doesn’t actually work that way, that “which parent do you love more” or “who would you toss out of the rowboat” kind of way, that it’s all jumbled up together: childhood memories, physical objects imbued with emotion, living, breathing, changing humans, dear and more dear.

Seth left this morning to visit Tex’s sister’s family, his first solo airplane trip. I dearly hope the rich limbo of time-spent-traveling will give him space to come to some clarity about himself, who he is, what he wants for himself, how best to go about attaining it.

And I know these trials are supposed to be my teachers, according to the Buddhist books I read. I’m feeling close to being able to at least consider that notion right now, with Seth winging his way towards his very loving auntie, with my folks tucked away in their little house up the street, Tex at work, Owen at church camp and me managing to get after another blog post, so:

Thank you, rugs. Thank you, booze. And because her cheerful, graceful aging is also a dear lesson, thank you old kitty who just curled up next to me as I was resting and slept hard, her squeaky purr loud in my ears.


*“Neither Hutch nor Dr. Gayle S. Rubins”


Published in: on July 23, 2014 at 10:32 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Furious Cuisine, or Get Out of My Life, But First Can I Use Your Champagne to Make Some Gastrique?*

Tuesday last, Owen came home with two of his nerdy little friends and demanded, in a most rude and entitled way, that I drive them over to Marsden’s house. I had other demands on my time, including needing to figure out dinner, so I declined. Forcefully, and I didn’t like his tone, Mister. Then, in a fit of ire, I went even further and forbade him from going with the little rats, once it had been determined that they had no interest in staying here, preferring the paradise of Marsden’s palatial and amply-supplied-with-screens abode. In the kerfluffle, both of us forgot that Owen actually couldn’t go, as he had a trumpet lesson, to which I then dragged him with great difficulty.

After the lesson, Owen wouldn’t speak to me. I went about my business, knowing he would come around eventually, and after a while he stomped into the basement and came back up with a package of Korean ramen from Tex’s secret stash (forbidden to the rest of us mortals). He banged about at the stove and cooked himself up a doctored bowl of noodles (he added tofu and veggies). When he came up from the basement, he blatantly displayed the package, just so I would know just exactly what he was doing and how angry he was. But that wasn’t all. After he’d eaten his noodles, he stomped over to the computer, printed something out, and then was rustling about in the basement again. He came crashing back up with the bottle of champagne a friend gave me for my 50th birthday. Turns out, he had a plan to make gastrique, and it needs wine. I explained the difference between champagne and wine and sent him next door to borrow the 2 tablespoons of red from our beloved neighbor. Some time and much excitement with the immersion blender later (I’m still finding splatters), Owen had a lovely gastrique, with which he wowed dinner guests on Friday and which has been enhancing bread and cheese, ice cream, and meat ever since. And of course, cooking cheered him up, and soon he was once again the cheerful young person we know him to be.

From furious cuisine to completely serene. For a mom who spends a good deal of time reading self-help books, especially Buddhist self-help books, that grumpy afternoon was quite a lesson. Who needs Pema Chodron when you’ve got Owen in the house?

*With a tip o’ the cursor to Dr. Anthony E. Wolf’s beloved parenting book, Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager

Gastrique a la Owen Chodron

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, peeled and minced

2 cups fruit (he chiseled out some ancient frozen berries)

2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet your fruit is

3 tablespoons wine or cognac

3 tablespoons vinegar

generous pinch of salt

Melt butter in small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients

Bring juice to boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer until fruit is very tender.

If using berries, strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds. Otherwise, puree mixture.

Taste and adjust seasoning and tartness.

Published in: on May 7, 2012 at 11:05 AM  Leave a Comment  
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