Meditations for Queer Femmes — The Road to Femme

Tex and I saw “Fun Home” this weekend. It was incredibly moving to witness queer story so impeccably presented with such talent and love. The two of us held hands, quite misty, as Small Alison sang “Ring of Keys”, a song celebrating that moment when a young queer spots an adult queer and realizes that she is not alone in the world. Recognizes herself. Carly Gold, playing Small Alison, is a wonderful actor, portraying that pivotal moment with such ebullient joy. It was deeply satisfying.

Later, though, I got to thinking. When or how does this happen for femmes? Our role models are almost always straight women; I think of my grandmother, my aunt, a college roommate. But that powerful zing of connection, “Hello! I’m like you! You’re like me!” that “There I am!” moment may very well not be part of our childhood experience, and even if we do briefly experience queer connection, we are so very good at denying it, trying, in our isolation and confusion, to make it fit into a heterosexual mold.

In Lee Lynch’s story, “Cannon Street,” the little butch protagonist meets an adult femme and experiences some of her first sexual feelings. If we are a femme who is romantically attracted to butches, we, too, might feel sexual stirrings if we ever have the luck of glimpsing an adult butch out in public or of having a crush on a tomboy. But even those feelings can be pretty difficult to interpret. As my straight college roommate encouraged me to do, we might think of them as just a wrong turn having to do with an excess of hormones and horniness. Not to mention the fact that this connection is sexuality-based, which is important, of course, but is only one part of a fuller femme identity.

Every one of us queer femmes is so different. Some of us are expert at constructing an identity. “Maybe we’ve never seen one that could be us yet,” writes Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha in her poem “femmes are film stars”. “but we make her up,” she continues, “we make her up outta thin air; outta brilliance and ass.” Others of us, more timid and cautious like myself, need books and all kinds of other bolstering and specific examples in order to find, let alone progress on, the road to femme.

If our femme role models are all straight, as they are likely to be, then they actually aren’t role models. They might be great at teaching us how to put on eye makeup or choose an outfit, they might love us to bits, we might need them desperately, but in the end, they can actually be obstacles on the road to femme.

At a recent Femme Klatsch, we discussed ways of being out as queer femmes. I like to wear my Femme Show t-shirt; another femme always makes sure to be sporting a rainbow somewhere; all of us are as out as we possibly can be, at all times.

Being visibly queer for we femmes is certainly not as self-evident as it is for butches or more androgynous lesbians, but it is so incredibly important, for our own self worth, for queer femme community, and for the next generation whose paths we will certainly cross.

Every Monday, 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.

 

 

Femme Friday — How to Hostess a Femme Klatsch

Would you like to gather queer femme community around you?

Would you like to share food, stories, ideas, supports, fun times and laughter with other queer femmes in your vicinity?

Are you curious about all the different kinds of queer femmes out there and would you like to form a more cohesive network of queer femmes to bolster and inspire and possibly fuck things up?

If so, then the Femme Klatsch is for you! Liz and Constance and I have hostessed a few Femme Klatsches, and we highly recommend this low-key yet powerful way to connect with other femmes, combat femme invisibility, and open up avenues for queer femme personal and political growth.

Here’s a quick Femme Klatsch guide:

  1. Decide if this will be an open invitation or if you would like to start with a group of femmes you know or know of and go from there.

We suggest that if you issue an open invitation, drill down on the agenda for the evening to keep it focused on femme issues. Of course, if you just want to hang out with a group of femmes and talk about whatever topics come up, that’s fine, too! Oh, and you don’t have to call it a Femme Klatsch, of course, if that doesn’t resonate with you. I’ve got a grandmother theme going here at The Total Femme, and a Klatsch makes me think fondly of Grandma Daisy’s Club evenings, when the ladies of her small southern Iowa town would get together, play bridge, nosh bridge mix, and just in general get up to things. Pick a name that works for you, or feel free to use Femme Klatsch – the important thing is to get together with other queer femmes!

  1. Find and book a public meeting space at a time that works for you personally (it’s not usually worth spending a lot of time trying to find a time that works for everyone, given how busy we all are).

Public libraries usually have community rooms that can be booked free of charge for community events; sometimes cafes have nice big tables that could work; if the weather is nice, a park gazebo might do the trick; if you’re lucky enough to have an LGBTQ+ Center in your area, they would have rooms. We suggest starting out in a public space, especially if you’re putting out an open call. You can always move to meeting in people’s homes later, if that seems like a good plan.

  1. Commit to providing some finger food, a beverage or two and a wee bit of decoration and/or crafty things, if you are so inclined.

You can invite people to bring crafts, and also provide some adult coloring books (why not Tee Corrine’s Cunt Coloring Book, for example??) or other little bits and bobs for folks to fiddle with. People can feel shy, especially at the first meeting, and having food and activities can help put them at ease.

  1. Plan a flexible course of events for the evening.

Liz, Constance and I all really wanted to have discussions centered on femme identity, femme resistance, femme resilience, etc. We introduced ourselves and these ideas both in the email invitations and at the first meeting of the Klatsch. We found that it really helped to have a bunch of direct questions to spark discussion, especially since femmes at the first Klatsch were shy; some were even uncertain if they were “allowed” to be there, to which we answered, “If you were drawn here, you are where you’re supposed to be!”( Sample questions below; tailor them to your own needs, or use them as inspiration to come up with your own.) You could also gather femmes together for a specific event, like you want to go to a demonstration together or you want to do work for a certain local charity or you want to make art together, etc., in which case, you’ve got a built in plan for your gathering.

  1. Send out the word!

You can do an event page on social media, send out a group email, even put up fliers around town – whatever will work best in your community for gathering up the queer femmes! We have an email list, which includes femmes who aren’t physically here in this area; we want to hold them in our femme circle and invite them to join in the conversation, even if we don’t get to hug them at the Klatsch.

  1. Plan the next Klatsch at the first Klatsch.

If the format worked, keep it the same. Or, folks might prefer to get together at someone’s house for a potluck, go out dancing together, meet at an art exhibit, etc. – whatever works! We do recommend that someone be in charge of planning/facilitating each meeting, otherwise things can get lost in the shuffle of our busy queer femme lives. For us, meeting once a month has worked so far, with a hiatus in August.

  1. Let The Total Femme know how it’s going!

We hope your Femme Klatsch is just wonderful! We sure would love to hear about other femme uprisings around the country and world, so please take a quick femme moment to let us know how it went. Write to us at thetotalfemme@gmail.com. Who came? What did you talk about? What happens next?

Sample Femme Klatsch questions (you can write them on the back of postcards, write them on slips of paper to be pulled out of a purse or a hat, or come up with your own unique delivery system!).

What feeds your femme?

Do you feel invisible?

Who are your femme role models?

Do you ever hide your femme?

What is your femme coming out story?

Do you have femme friends?

What kind of femme are you?

What does “queer femme” mean to you?

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess (or a Klatsch thereof!). I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com.

 

Published in: on September 1, 2017 at 10:44 AM  Comments (1)  
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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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Femme Friday – Femme Klatsch! With Constance Clare-Newman

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?

Today, we begin a conversation with Constance Clare-Newman

The Total Femme:

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

Constance:

When I first accepted my femme identity I was so excited. Yay! I could admit to loving butches. They could admit to loving my femme being. It was San Francisco in the early 90’s and butch/femme love was being celebrated. So many butches and femmes out on the streets, that it almost seemed the norm. I think it has never been the norm in lesbian society, but during that brief butch/femme renaissance, we were the trend of the moment. We were leather dykes and activist dykes and corporate dykes. Working class or downwardly mobile (it was San Francisco), we femmes were girly in our tiny skirts with Doc Martens for day and shiny heels for night. Lots of cleavage and glitter or sleek in leather. Butches in their Dickies and chains with keys. Butches in biker jackets with stickers all over. Butches in suits and ties. Dressing up for each other and appreciating the Otherness. In love with the otherness, which had been hiding in lesbian circles for a while.

Some percentage of us lesbians have always been drawn to the difference butches and femmes love in each other. I’m sure since the time of Sappho, some of us have loved and been turned on by our similarities, and others by the differences. The particular way butches and femmes enchant each other with their differences is unique.

When I first came out, I loved butches and felt desired in a particular way by them, but felt ambivalent about the dynamic. In the 80’s, in my small town, no one talked about being butch or being “feminine” without a little derision. We were all supposed to be equal, and tender, and womyn-loving-womyn. While aspects of that were delightful, the overall desire to conform, so as to belong, certainly hampered my own deeper desires. Growing into my femme identity was something that came with little bits of acceptance over quite a long time. Of who I was as a child, as a young woman, as a lesbian who desired lesbians who were on the “butchy” side, to who I became as a femme clear about her need for a butch.

For me, that need is for a woman who looks like a guy, who has the emotional accessibility of “female,” and stands in her power as Top/Daddy/Dyke. Who loves and is enlivened by my sexy girly or elegant lady ways of looking and being. Who is empowered to be who she is in the world by my love, admiration, support, protection. Who responds to my femme sexuality with her butch sexuality, and nurtures our differences.

Lately, with gender blowing up in all our faces, I see lots of young people exploring non-binary ways of being. Still, whether in San Francisco, LA or Provincetown, I do see a percentage of young butches and femmes together in the mix. I don’t know how they identify today, but I do see them, openly drawn to each other’s difference and turned on by the unique frisson that has always been.

Deep gratitude to Constance for sharing her eloquent femme story!

 Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!