Queer Femmes Respond – Liz Nania on The Speaker Sisterhood and COVID-19

Cheerful readers, you have perhaps been lucky enough to view queer femme artist Liz Nania’s stunningly lovely work either at an exhibit or on her website. Recently, she joined The Speaker Sisterhood, “a nationwide network of speaking clubs for women who seek public speaking skills, the confidence to share their voice, and a strong, supportive circle of friends to help them do it. We’re gathering women who are ready to make their voice heard and discover how powerful they are.” Here, in a speech delivered at her local branch of the Sisterhood, Liz reflects on fear: how she is honoring it, observing it, and meeting it with grace and courage.

Deep gratitude to Liz for her wisdom and generosity, for her deep commitment to queer community in general and to butch/femme visibility in particular, and for being so brave and SO FUCKING FEMME!

The Speaker Sisterhood was, for me, a lot like the coronavirus.

At my first meeting, our leader Jen asked us to speak right then and there, on the spot. I would need to instantly come up with a topic, and speak for two or three minutes. Did I mention I would have to fill up two or three entire minutes? With a topic of my choice. That I needed to come up with instantaneously. At my first meeting.

I felt the coldest deepest fear imaginable. I felt like the very blood in my veins was beginning to freeze. I felt paralyzed.  I stood there in front everyone. They at me expectantly while I just blinked, and my mind was racing so frantically, I couldn’t latch onto a single thought for what seemed an eternity. I babbled nervously about not being able to come up with anything, and trying to hide the burning terror I was actually experiencing in that moment.

As you may guess, I completed the exercise, sat down, and I neither passed out, nor died. No one ridiculed me. The women at the table had listened to me attentively and with expressions of genuine interest. Then someone else presented their own spontaneous mini speech, and then, another. This was a normal thing to do.

As I drove to work after leaving that first meeting, I was feeling pretty proud of my bravery, and also stunned at how deeply afraid I had been. I knew I was going to feel really scared, but I couldn’t believe how truly terrifying it was for me to simply speak. My own extreme fear seemed wildly disproportionate to the reality of the situation.  It was NOT a matter of life and death, for godsake! But I knew this speaking challenge would continue to be very scary. So I went right to my laptop and prepaid my membership dues for six months. I needed to commit. This group of women felt safe to me. We had even laughed together.

I began thinking about that frequently quoted “fact” that many people fear public speaking more than even death. Believing this factoid is truly soothing to me. I don’t beat myself to a pulp for feeling this shocking degree of fear over something that really does NOT warrant it, because so many others share that same fear too. So while I’m pretty sure I’m the most anxious person in the room at the meeting, I know I’m not the only one to ever have that fear. And that tells me that, with the repetition of practice, I can relax this fear. Maybe even conquer it. And conquering a fear that is so chilling, nearly immobilizing, in a safe environment, seems like an extremely valuable use of my time.

Little did I know, when I first joined the Speaker Sisterhood that I would really need to marshal those fear-slaying skills. Because we would all soon face, what is for so many, a genuine matter of life and death. The worldwide pandemic.

In the past weeks, I’ve felt that same ice-cold fear, roiling in my belly. That near-panic. The frozen sensation of being immobilized, my heart pounding. Times of tears. People I know will die! What if I can’t save my mother?

These emotions were nearly identical to those I experienced in the Speaker Sisterhood meetings when I knew my turn to speak was coming, or when the moment came when I all I had to do was just open my mouth and talk. It amazes me to recognize how similar my mental and physical reactions were, when only one of these scenarios actually poses a threat.

This made me curious. I remembered that at my second Speaker Sisterhood meeting, my blind terror shrank a few degrees, becoming just strong fear. By the end of my third meeting, having spoken up six or seven times in total before this group of kind, gracious women on the same path, my strong fear had transformed into “fear”— just regular, palpable anxiety, a mild stomach ache, very familiar, nothing that would drench me in cold sweat. And now I see that this softening of fear happened from the repetition of practice and the welcoming support my speaker sisters who are on your own speaking journeys with me.

A few weeks ago, my gripping terror and misery over experiencing the beginning of this pandemic loosened, and has now subsided a fair amount. Of course there is and will be plenty more to worry about. But I’ve had about as much practice in creating new habits in this virus-infested world, as I’ve had in the Speaker Sisterhood so far: like many of you caring for elder parents, I was trying desperately to convince my healthy 89 year old, very independent mother, to practice quarantining and social distancing, even from her own daughter. I’ve been creating entirely new systems so I can get her daily needs met, while trying to convince her to let me do that. I’ve been learning how to make disinfecting and quarantining and social distancing the new normal in my own home, and I’ve been shutting down my workplace, which is my dance studio, for the foreseeable future. Like all of us, now I’m weighing the fear and risk in every action I take.

I’ve practiced doing all these new pandemic-related actions about as often as I’ve practiced public speaking.

And though this is only the beginning of this hellacious global crisis, I’m grateful that I’ve so recently strengthened my ability to fight fear, through my practice in the Speaker Sisterhood.

I’ve already gained some skills and resilience I never imagined I’d need to rely on so soon.

And I’ve learned it’s through practice and community, particularly a really good community of women.

About her art, Liz says: Much of my painting is abstract, but I do create some representational work, too. My art explores love, time, celebration, being a woman and a lesbian, social commentary, and other things dear to my heart. And my textile art is unapologetically feminine; it’s even more girly than I am!

See Liz Nania’s work: www.liznania.com, and on Instagram at liz_nania_art.   

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 spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

 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.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

 

Pingy-Dingy Wednesday – The Mail, and a Lesbo Sing Along!

Oh, sweethearts, how I ADORE getting mail! I don’t mean on my computer, I mean in the actual mailbox, actual letters. Just last week I got a letter from my femme sister, Liz Nania (go check out her gorgeous art as soon as you can!), so cheerful, so uplifting! She sent me a frazdabulous patch that says FEMME LESBIAN!!! Thank you, Sis!!!

But…do I need to worry about touching the envelope? This article helps me understand the risks.

Joseph G. Allen, you get one pingy-dingy! Thank you for your calm and generous explanation for those of us whose brains are wired to go from zero to one hundred on the panic-o-meter!

Many a year ago, when I was a member of the wonderful Family Folk Chorale, we sang the song “Swimming to the Other Side” by Emma’s Revolution. Now, they are offering all kinds of community building singing and songwriting workshops via yon computer, so check it out, and keep singing!

Pat and Sandy, you get one pingy-dingy! Thank you for your decades of rising up and fighting back and providing love and solace to so many folks! We love you!

I’m a typewriter whompin’, card catalogue lovin’ white 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, love, and inspiration to be had elsewhere online.

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.”) As I undergo treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

 

Published in: on April 1, 2020 at 3:46 AM  Comments (2)  
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Femme Friday – Liz Nania is a Femme Artist!

Way back in the day, some of us femmes did a thread called “Femme Pussy” on butchfemme.com – whee, that was fun! As a wordy and nerdy femme, I love thinking about and discussing language, meaning, and of course, pussy, what’s not to enjoy? I think a lot about how my identity – so long in the making and discovering and building – influences my writing, and have enjoyed discussions about femme and art with other femme artists. I am so thrilled to welcome my sweet femme sis, Liz Nania, back to The Total Femme, to showcase her sexy, gorgeous art, and to hear from her about being a femme artist.

Deep gratitude to Liz for her so-fucking-femme art!

Femme Art by Liz Nania

Does femme art exist? I’m a painter and a textile artist, and a femme lesbian. So, is my art “femme art?” Definitely. It’s also feminist art, lesbian and queer art, and art by a woman artist.  I’ve never been one to shy away from labels; representation is important! I wish more artists from marginalized groups would share their identities as they share their art and music and writing and performing, and I’m still surprised that so few do. I know it’s risky. But so is being an artist!

Much of my painting is abstract, but I do create some representational work, too. My art explores love, time, celebration, being a woman and a lesbian, social commentary, and other things dear to my heart. And my textile art is unapologetically feminine; it’s even more girly than I am!

The most flaming femme piece I ever made is “Femme Flag”, a rainbow flag sewn from printed fabric, lace, my lingerie, remnants of my clothing, a piece of embroidery from The Total Femme’s aunt, and the waistband of my husbutch’s jeans painted gold. “Femme Flag” is an unabashed celebration and symbol of femme lesbian pride and identity. Then there’s “Blue is for Butch”, a piece created primarily from my butch’s clothing. The focal point is a metallic gold sun, one of the primary symbols I use for her in my imagery. Under the sun I stitched a dangling fringe of keys. (For the record, I made this piece before the wonderful Ring of Keys song was written. For decades, many a femme has salivated like Pavlov’s dog at the sound of butch keys jingling from a belt loop, and I’m no different!) So, art made by a femme in tribute to her butch? Definitely femme art!

“Fun In The Closet” is a tongue-in-cheek textile exploration of lesbian desire in the 1950s. Among the winding vines and flowers embroidered on a vintage bureau scarf, lurid lesbian pulp fiction novels are hidden; an embroidered swirling current of energy roils up the floral smokescreen. I imagine some well-worn lezzie pulp novels hidden in many a closeted women’s bureau drawer, perhaps under the “unmentionables”.

I also created a series of paintings meant to be shown together, the Butch Series. It consists of 12 drawings on encaustic wax on birch panels, with added gold leaf and a little pigment, describing and worshipping the beauty of female masculinity, as modeled by my wife through her butchly body language. The world hasn’t caught on to the magnificence, and often even the existence, of butch women, so I thought I would help it along.


I’m proud to call these works femme art, feminist art, lesbian art, and women’s work. Any artists care to join me? Come out, come out, wherever you are! Why not be the change you wish to see?

See more of Liz Nania’s work: www.liznania.com, and on Instagram at liz_nania_art.   

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! New Femme Friday feature for 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.”)

 

 

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes — “What, you think we needed your permission?”*

“What is it with all these quotes?” my father asked me plaintively. I was in grad school getting an MFA in Creative Writing at one university and he was well into his 30th year teaching philosophy at another. “The kids these days use so many quotes at the beginning of their papers!”

Guilty! I had probably just written a paper about Maud Gunne and Yeats where I’d prefaced it with the quote, “I’ll be your mirror; reflect what you are,” from the Velvet Underground. Certainly meaningless and banal to someone like my dad, but replayed in its full glory in my mind, incredibly important to my sense of self, my understanding of the world and its many complexities, and utterly relevant to the topic of the paper at hand.

Last week, I wrote about the album “Horses” by Patti Smith. The album certainly means nothing at all to a lot of people, but for the people who were there, whose minds were similarly blown, well, you know what I’m talking about. And even if you’re more “eh” on the subject of this particular rock poet goddess, you’ve got your own heart and soul connections to other songs, so you still know what I’m talking about, even if you don’t feel Patti in your DNA.

It happens when you’re young and it doesn’t stop happening, that intense connection to a piece of art that reaches you at the exact moment you are examining life’s most compelling questions. And as high school teachers try and explain when talking about Shakespeare or the Greek tragedies, those questions just haven’t changed since Lucy (whose name was surely not that). But oh, those moments when it happens. When you feel that indescribably deliciously satisfying CLICK that both nails something in place and flings wide open doors and windows you hadn’t even known existed: someone has been here before me! someone amazing! they had this to say! they know what I’m feeling!

A good teacher can convey this experience, definitely, although it doesn’t have exactly the same impact. Still, when my junior high French teacher, worn out from decades of trying to reach the untamed minds of hundreds of uncaring American children, held onto her desk as she swayed, eyes closed, quoting Jacques Brel’s “Barbara” to us, let me tell you, I was not one of the kids whispering and passing notes. I still get goose bumps thinking about it:

                        Rappelle-toi, Barbara,

                        Il pleuvait sans cesse sure Brest ce jour-là

                        Et tu marchais souriante

                        Épanouie ravie ruisselante

                        Sous la pluie

                        Rapelle-toi, Barbara,

                        Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest

                        Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam

                        Tu souriais

                        Et moi je souriais de même

                        Rapelle-toi Barbara

                        Toi que je ne connaissais pas

                        Toi qui ne me connaissais pas

                        Rapelle-toi

Remember! And reconnect with those most passionate feelings that make us human, that carry us forward into spiritual, political, sexual maturity. Those feelings that might dim, but that can be ushered back into brilliance with the sound of a few dirty guitar chords, a poem, the cover of a book, a painting, a play, a quote.

Queer femmes have had to do so much translation in this regard. Nico wasn’t singing to a butch in “I’ll Be Your Mirror”; the narrator of “Barbara” is not queer and neither is the vision to whom he writes; none of the seminal texts (and I use the adjective deliberately) we read in high school allow for any queerness at all to seep into our worlds. This is why it is so important for us to make and to seek out queer art. So that we can feed our queer femme souls.

Do not lose sight of our rich resource, our queer femme art. There are so many of us, and we are all and always engaged in the art of reframing “reality” to include our bodies, our lovers, families, interests, concerns and stories. From Liz Nania’s paintings and her Femme Flag; Miel Rose’s embroidery, candles, fiction and prayers; SublimeLuv’s poetry; Kathleen Delany-Adam’s smut; Constance Clare-Newman’s dance; Tina D’Elia’s theater pieces; Dorothy Allison’s fiction; Kitten LaRue’s burlesque Nia Witherspoon’s plays, and so many more, to the art of any and every queer femme’s daily life. Reach out for it , surround yourself with it, reconnect and go forth fierce and with love. Do not wait for permission.

*The Butchies, “To Be Broadcast Live”, Are We Not Femme

Every Monday (and sometimes 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.

 

Femme Friday, Liz Nania

“Step, step, rock step! Great! Very good! You’re all looking wonderful!” That’s femme dance instructor, Liz Nania, wearing a portable mic and her rainbow Hilary shirt because she’s never giving up! She’s teaching the basic steps to swing dancing at December’s Swingtime, a monthly dance for queers. She is also founder and owner of OUT to Dance, and has been teaching all manner of folks to dance for over 25 years. The gift of a queer dance space with Swingtime – one of the longest running queer dances around – is beyond compare.

“This is a no-drama space,” she says to her dancing crowd of queers. “Dance with each other! We encourage you to switch partners and meet folks!” Post election, she says “We need to have fun together and we need to laugh.”

Liz is also a visual artist, whose media are painting, specifically in encaustic, and more recently, textile art. Savor her gorgeous work at www.liznania.com.

Deep gratitude to Liz Nania for making art, for keeping us dancing and laughing with each other!

http://www.swingtimeboston.com/

http://www.outtodance.com/

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

(Femme Friday is one day late, due to my computer needing work. All better now!)

Published in: on December 10, 2016 at 5:03 PM  Comments (2)  
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