Meditations for Queer Femmes – Your Family Heirloom

We queers have such complicated relationships with our families. There’s full-on rejection, full-on idealization and “I’ll do anything to keep the love” and everything in-between. I’m talking about families across the board here, of origin and chosen. How many of us queer femmes dated boys and men because our families of origin expected it? How many of us queer femmes de-girlied ourselves when we (finally) came out because our new queer family expected it? Then one day, if we’re lucky, another dyke tells us she likes it when we wear lipstick. Maybe we have enough courage to tell her we like it when she wears lipstick, too, or we buy her a tie for her birthday “just for fun” and shit gets way more real all of a sudden. Or we might realize our single aunt, the one who moved away to a big city or to a remote farm and who has always been spoken of with scorn or pity or both, is actually twice family and has a rich and rewarding life. Information about her real life may have been unavailable to us as children, but it is waiting for us now if we just reach out.

Humans love knowing where we come from, where certain traits, tendencies, gifts and hurdles might have their origin. Who in our families (all our families) might have worked out a thing or two concerning life’s great questions.

I started thinking about family heirlooms after reading a passage by Chögyam Trungpa in his book, Crazy Wisdom. The passage is about hopelessness, which I think ends up actually being about hope, or anyway, about accepting that life can be really hard right at the same time that it is full of sweetness and wonder. In Al-Anon, they talk about “the gift of desperation” that brings someone to this under-the-radar (at least it was for me) spiritual program. And it’s true, because as much as I hate alcoholism and addiction and how they’ve hurt so many people I love including myself, I’m incredibly grateful that I’m learning to stop spending all my time drilling down on the negatives and being miserable. Instead, I’m finding the strength, support and love to be able recalibrate and refocus. Human experience is big. There are so many ways of being in the world.

Our family heirlooms – because there are so many once we direct our attention there – are solid reminders of our humanity in all its rainbow glory. I remember and draw sustenance from the way my Gramps took care of kids in his rural school district during the Depression, feeding them from his garden, buying one young man a suit so he could graduate high school with dignity; from the cheerful example of Grandmimi, who lit up her small Iowa town organizing and including and fully participating in just about everything; how my parents quietly reached out to neighbors and taught me that one little act of kindness and community ripples outward; how John Preston and Joan Nestle got together to edit Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together and model deep queer community by linking their disparate queer worlds; by the way Lee Lynch lovingly wrote and wrote and wrote and continues to write about butches and femmes; how so many queers over the ages managed to leave us their priceless stories – a few who have touched my life over the years (there are so many!): Miss Ann Lister, Quentin Crisp, Anonymous, Amber Hollibaugh, Audre Lourde, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Leslie Feinberg, Richard Rodriguez, Felice Picano, Chrystos, Mary Renault, Tove Jansson, Becky Birtha, Mark Merlis, Samuel Steward, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, James Baldwin, and I could go on for pages…

I am bolstered and inspired in who I am and who I strive to by these many, many family heirlooms.

Dear queer femme sisters, spend a moment today in gratitude for your families and what they have bequeathed to you.


The passage that inspired this Meditation:

Student: When you talk about hopelessness, the whole thing seems totally depressing. And it seems you could very well be overwhelmed by that depression to the point where you just retreat into a shell or insanity.

 Trungpa Rinpoche: It’s up to you. It’s completely up to you. That’s the whole point.

 S: Is there anything –

 TR: You see, the whole point is that I’m not manufacturing an absolute model of hopelessness with complete and delicately worked-out patterns of all kinds, presenting it to you, and asking you to work on that. Your goodness, your hopelessness, is the only model there is. If I manufactured something, it would be just a trick, unrealistic. Rather, it’s your hopelessness, it’s your world, your family heirloom, your inheritance. That hopelessness comes in your existence, your psychology. It’s a matter of bringing it out as it is. But it’s still hopeless. As hopeful as you might try to make it, it’s still hopeless, and I can’t reshape it, remodel it, or refinish it at all. It’s not like a political candidate going on television, where people powder his face and put lipstick on his mouth to make him presentable. One cannot do that. In this case it’s hopeless; it’s absolutely hopeless. You have to do it in your own way.

–Crazy Wisdom by Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala, 2001

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

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.”)



Pingy-Dingy Wednesday — Dusk Peterson

I love you, John.

Dusk Peterson, you get one pingy-dingy! Along with Michael Rowe and Laura Antoniou, thank you for loving John, too, and for holding sacred space for him here.

I’m a typewriter whompin’, card catalogue lovin’ girl from back in the day, and I yearn for a time before the covers of trade paperbacks were all squidgy, so you can imagine that I don’t actually understand what a pingback is. I do know that it can in some way be part of spreading the love, and since that’s what I’m all about at The Total Femme… every Wednesday, I pay homage to the laughter and inspiration to be had elsewhere online.


Published in: on October 4, 2017 at 10:58 AM  Comments (4)  
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Meditation for Queer Femmes

Generations work differently for queers. It’s interesting to think that a femme who comes out in later years may well have more in common with a femme 20 or more years her junior, one who had the resources and support to come out as a teen, than she does with a straight woman her own age. In the same way, a femme in her 40s can become a queer elder, whereas a straight elder won’t achieve that honor until their 70s or later. We queer femmes live through so much, walk through so much fire. How many of us had to make ourselves up “… out of brilliance and ass”, as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says in her poem, “Femmes are film stars”? Most of us had no femme sisters, no best femme friends. Our sexualities are counter culture and we flaunt and represent even when our straight age mates are perming their dyed hair and retreating into I’m-no-longer-sexually-active “sensible” clothing. We femmes fought so hard to find our heart’s delight – years and years, for some of us, not until post menopause, for some of us – and so we dash headlong into our joy, flaming, blooming, shouting. We are not invisible.

In John Preston’s novel, The Arena, initiates into the old-school world of power and submission become more sublimely human as they go ever deeper into serious explorations of their sexuality and true nature. We femmes, too, come into our power the more we understand and act on our own individual femme directives, the closer we come to our soul purpose. We femme angels, born to bless the world! What gifts do you offer to your family and community, dear femme sisters, simply by your fierce dedication to plumbing the delicious depths of your queer soul?

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.

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.

For the Love of a Fag

I have been reading My Guru and His Disciple by Christopher Isherwood, and in it, he’s just met Don Bachardy. Because I’ve read Christopher and His Kind and also seen the dear dear movie “Chris and Don” and read other stuff by and about Isherwood, I am incredibly moved reading about their early years, knowing that they stayed with each other until Isherwood’s death. This morning, as I was on the way to my pilates class, I was thinking about their age difference – 30 years – and how that could have posed such an obstacle but it didn’t. Then I said to myself, “Thank goodness they found each other!” at which point I completely teared up and had to blink furiously and take a deep breath in order to keep driving safely.
Isherwood is an inspiration to me for so many reasons – his honesty as a writer, his refusal to compromise himself or hide his sexuality, his spiritual quest, his love for his friends, his sense of humor (dry!), the way he engaged intellectually with friends and colleagues, and his generosity and devotion to Don. That Isherwood’s books exist, that Don is still painting, that there is a documentary about them – what a gift to me as I face the challenges of being queer and married and a writer. What a gift to the world!
Other fag stories that have touched and inspired me deeply include writing by Mark Merliss (I wrote him a mash note! He wrote back such a nice thank you!), Robert Rodi, David Valdez Greenwood, E.M. Forster, John Preston, mommywithapenis, David Henry Hwang, James Baldwin, Richard Rodriguez, Mark Doty, Michael Bronski, J.R. Ackerley, W.H. Auden, Quentin Crisp, Mattilda – and doesn’t the list go on? Yes, yes.
On my shelf is a book edited by Joan Nestle and John Preston called Sister and Brother: Lesbians & Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together. In the introduction, Joan Nestle talks about exchanging long letters with her gay friend, Carl, “giving each other the courage to explore queerness,” and John Preston talks about “the connections that seemed to linger just below consciousness”. John’s agent, Peter Ginsberg, and an editor, Susan Fox Rogers, had had a conversation, writes John, about “why the recent burst in lesbian and gay publishing didn’t reflect the reality of their lives; that most gay men and lesbians had, in fact, warm and often powerful relationships with one another”.
Rereading the introduction – read it yourselves, it’s pure gold! – I am in tears for the second time today. How I love John Preston for talking so forthrightly about how sexy he found Joan, and other lesbians in his past! As if lesbians don’t reciprocate in finding gay men totally hot! Our queer sexualities unite us, even if we don’t always want to fuck each other (although sometimes we do). How I love Joan Nestle for her courage and warmth and her truth speaking – and for her love of John, for cradling his head to her generous femme bosom in the book jacket photo. This book is a love story between them, paying homage to other love stories between other fags and dykes. Obviously it’s time for me to reread this book, and I will, I will, but I wonder: where is the conversation today? Where is my fag brother who weeps over the doomed love of Aimee and Jaguar and the long love of Del and Phyllis, rereads The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, is inspired by May Sarton and Audre Lord, loves Jackie Kay and Nalo Hopkinson and Isabel Miller, gets off on the erotica and smarts of Carol Queen and Laura Antoniou, cheers on the pioneering efforts of Tristan Taormino, Amber Hollibaugh, and Minnie Bruce Pratt and finds the strength to go on in a harsh and imperfect world after reading the novels of Sarah Waters where our queer history is so lovingly and thoroughly brought to life?
Joan and John edited their book in 1994. 17 years later, what twists and turns has the conversation taken? What are we saying — fags to dykes, dykes to fags — and how are we encouraging each other to be our own unique, queer, evolving selves in a very fast-moving, confusing, jittery, juddery world?
Where does our love stand now?

Published in: on November 2, 2011 at 12:48 PM  Comments (1)  
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