Meditations for Queer Femmes — Useful

It’s wartime once again. The straight men, young and not-so-young, are caught up in a fever. They’re desperate to fight for their country. The straight women are anticipating, grieving for sons and husbands, scheming, trying to make the best of a situation driven by forces outside of their control. Many of them remember the last war. Two lesbians, lovers, discovered and threatened by authorities, approach their untenable situation very differently: one uses all her money to purchase tickets for them on a ship going to America, the other decides to be useful. To serve her country, to do her part. She refuses herself, her lover, and a chance at a life together. She will stay in England, closeted and alone in this small town, teaching straight people and the children of straight people. Everyone in wartime makes sacrifices. The difference for the lesbian is that no one will ever know the extent of her sacrifice; no one will ever know how desperately she, too, is in need of comfort and support.

The above example is from the Masterpiece Theater show, “Home Fires”, but the story is one that is repeated over and over, in fiction and in real life. The lesbian daughter who everyone assumes will take care of ailing or elderly parents. The helpful lesbian, always available to fix a bike, babysit, give a ride, shovel a walk. The details of our lives are hazy and unclear to most straight people, easily dismissed. Out of our own, often unexamined and hidden guilt and internalized homophobia, we can have the tendency to prioritize being useful. We find time, we always find time, to answer the demands of straight society.

Alternatively, we may angrily withdraw from straight society, using all our resources to connect with other queers, erect bulwarks to protect ourselves. But a life spent in constant reaction against something as huge as pervasive, historical homophobia is a sure way to drain the soul.

We queer femmes are so often doers, fixers, creative thinkers, connectors. Many of us can move skillfully in both straight and queer worlds, but we are seldom able to relax in either, given we are so often read as straight wherever we may be. Whether attempting to appease our straight families or workplaces, or lift up the culture and lives of other queers, we are constantly pursuing useful activities. In that pursuit, have we left room for finding healthy, sustainable ways to care for ourselves? Have we given ourselves time to let loose and to play?

Being useful all the time can leave us very alone. It can hide from us personally fulfilling opportunities and challenges. Being useful can be a protective shell, but one that may not allow us to grow. Helping others is one of the most deeply meaningful of human activities, but allowing oneself to be taken advantage of will sour it in the long run. Of what use will you be to anyone, let alone to yourself and to those for whom you are responsible, who are most best beloved, and who give you so much love, if you have burned out after being so useful for so long?

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.

 

Published in: on August 7, 2017 at 7:03 PM  Comments (1)  
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Meditation for Queer Femmes

Later … a small group of us squeezed in a trip to the park…so that a photographer could take publicity photos of John and me. Huddled against the November wind, John and I positioned ourselves on a bench, trying to find poses with which we both felt comfortable. Finally I gave up trying to find the pose that would not call up stereotypical male-female images and just let my body find its own position. I knew I wanted to hold John, for my own self, and so I raised myself up, and held his head against my breast.

 –Joan Nestle in the introduction to Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together, which she edited with John Preston

Generosity. We femmes are so generous. We love so deeply and we see, we always see, how we can help make things better. We can’t help putting on little get-togethers, making soup or cookies for someone, spreading humor and healing and keeping an eye on things. How many of us are or know a femme who is everywhere at once, salving wounds and doling out hugs to the whole world? You know, the femme version of the butch Mr. Fix-It, a femme who is wired to comfort, listen, sympathize, organize, make art and drive people places. We work so hard to give and give some more, and oh, the world is a better place for our queer bounty!

When does that impulse for generosity carry us too far into overwork, where we stop listening to our heart and find ourselves driven by “shoulds” or ego or the voices of the status quo? When we are tired, bone-weary, depleted. When we have given so much to others that we stop being able to distinguish what is really giving and what is just going through the paces. A gift from an exhausted and distracted giver may turn out to be a burden for the receiver, and no gift at all.

Femme sisters, be generous to yourself first. Rest! Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks of all. Rest does not mean numbing – one more piece/glass/episode, oh, what the heck, I’ll just finish the whole thing, I deserve it! – nor does it mean complete withdrawal from your complicated and demanding life. “Make the better choice,” advised my chiropractor as we talked about how to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet. We can make the better choice as we cherish ourselves, as well. A quick walk around the block instead of cookies; 15 minutes playing an instrument, singing or drawing instead of more wine; a book instead of a binge watch.

Not because you’re fat, lazy, unhealthy, a lush or a tv-head, my sweet darlings, but because you are precious.

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.