Femme Friday — Vickie Shaw

Women’s Week is about to begin in Provincetown, and you can bet that Tex and I will be there with our lesbo bells on! We have a special place in our heart for femme comedian Vickie Shaw, whose ridiculous schtick at the Women’s Week Idol show is deeply satisfying and whose true blue femme raunch and rant will always make you (laugh so hard you’ll) cry.

Deep gratitude to Vickie for her dedication to all-queer humor!

“Grandkids”

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme. I want to feature you! Email me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me feature your beautiful, unique, femme story!

 

Published in: on October 6, 2017 at 11:58 AM  Comments (2)  
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Meditations for Queer Femmes: Remembering

Yesterday, Tex and I were chatting with our landlord here in Ptown, and the subject of caretaking elderly parents came up. We told him about moving my folks from their house three years ago when my dad was in a health crisis.

“We had two and a half weeks to move them and put their house on the market, and their 40 years of collecting books and objets d’art from all over the world didn’t make our job any easier,” said Tex.

“We got rid of so much so quickly,” I chimed in. “Some of it I regret, but it’s ok. I still have it in my head.”

I meant that I have memories of the way my mother carefully annotated and filed informative and edifying articles from wildlife magazines, or the way my father put his book collection together: Extreme Sports; Extreme Living; Extreme Exploring; every single Stephan King book ever written; first editions of books by every member of the St. Louis Mafia; Beat Poetry, etc., and that those memories are rather nice ones. Our landlord surprised me by making a little moue of sympathy, expressive and dear as only a kind and lovely gay man can make it, and I realized that, for him, having all that stuff in his head would not be rather nice.

And so I started thinking about memories. Whether they burden or uplift. Why the ones that float to the surface do so and what it means to have forgotten so many other moments. Every time I pass a certain house in our suburban town, for example, I remember that it was where Seth was first given candy. The elderly lady who did the deed couldn’t believe our toddler had been so deprived. I had been trying so hard to keep him pure and healthy, delay sugar pollution as long as possible. It’s a memory that brings up conflicted feelings, to say the least. Is that when his difficult path began? Is that where I definitively failed him as a parent, something that informed the rest of his childhood in some deep and negative fashion? I pass that house almost every day! I would certainly be much better served by a daily remembering of something else about Seth’s toddlerhood, something wonderful, dear, deeply positive, but it’s the candy that haunts me and connects me to present-day difficulties.

I also, of course, carry many memories pertaining directly to my queer femme journey. Like the Candy House, so many of them continue to deliver the sting of the initial reaction I had to the event in question: the time a butch was deathly rude to me at a Butch Femme Bash and Tex nearly had to duel him at dawn; the time, or rather times, other queers have spoken harshly, dismissively, angrily about femme identity; the absolutely horrible time I left a straight female friend in danger with a man who had given us both a lift hitchhiking. It’s all very well for me to try and comfort myself by saying I truly did not understand what was going on due to my naiveté, extreme youth, and the queerness that I wouldn’t be able to recognize for years and years; the memory still gnaws at me whenever I think of it.

Memories are memories of memories, a member of our Historical Queer Book Group recently told us whilst we were discussing Hothead Paison, a work that brought up a lot of memories for those of us of a certain age. It’s a comment Tex has been repeating, as it blew her mind. And if memories are memories of memories, and it makes sense to me that they are, then perhaps we’re remembering emotional responses even more than the events in question, emotional responses that continue to inform our lives currently, whether positively or negatively.

The butch I dated before I fell head over heels for Tex had a deep resentment of femmes, and told me several awful stories about how femmes had fucked her over. Hearing her speak like that about femmes made me feel anxious, wary of her, and somewhat uncertain of my own actions, especially since I was just coming into my femme again after a very difficult lesbian divorce. At the same time, this butch seriously turned me out, bringing me back into my body, making love to my curves and stretch marks and shy places and utterly glorifying my newly awaked femme.

Any leader or teacher understands the influence one negative or hostile person can have on any given group of people. If allowed to do so, that person will suck all the air out of the room, bring in angry and contentious energy, and force the group to go in unhealthy directions, just like that, in the blink of an eye. It takes a skilled leader to prevent a counter-productive free-for-all when that pollution is unleashed.

We know that memories of abuse and trauma can live in our bodies. What about positive, loving memories? Don’t they also live in our bodies, couldn’t we invite them to be more present and curative? I believe this is the purpose of the before-bed exercise where you write 100 positive things you remember about the day: the moonlight on the water; the cute Italian greyhound named Gia and her two cute daddies; kissing Tex on Commercial Street; the dyke server at brunch who called me “baby”; overhearing a young gay man say to his companions, “Oh, girl, they were canoodling so hard!” And that’s just five!

It is particularly important in this time of hostility and violence, to remember queer and positive events that are connected to loving queer energy. Long-ago touches from your first queer lover. The way your best friend hugged you when you came out. The excitement of finding out a long-dead relative was queer, and that her journals are just sitting there, up in the attic of your grandmother’s house. A look, a wink, a sistering; the time at the Not Another Fucking Lesbo Potluck you all got to laughing so hard that one of you let out the mother of all farts and that made everyone laugh even harder.

Bring up queer events from your queer lives and revel in the emotional sustenance.

Gird yourself with your own queer history. Hold up the queer humor and kindness you’ve been lucky enough to receive. Open yourselves to memories of queer family. Use your skills.

Reach back and remember.

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.

Meditations for Queer Femmes — Calling on Queer Femme Company

Since arriving in Provincetown a few days ago for rest and renewal and the first real vacation Tex has had all year, both she and I have found our tolerance for straight people has taken a serious nosedive. Straight people in Provincetown can come in a variety of flavors, but most of them seem to expect queers to be, if not thrilled that they’ve chosen to partake of Ptown’s pleasures, at least polite. Straight people are used to queers being polite to them. We want what they have, after all – you know, marriage and normalcy which only they can confer — and also, queers so often take it upon themselves to model what a truly “all are welcome” society might look like by lavishing generosity, time and energy on straight people who drift in and out of their lives. The trouble is, as Tex and I discussed on the beach last night, trying not to see the straight couple making out in the gentle evening wavelets, most straight people only know how to take and never give. They actually seem to believe that taking from us is something that we desire and that we should be grateful for. And then they move on, leaving us exhausted and drained and most detrimentally, with little to no energy for exploring and living with integrity our own queer lives. Whatever those may look like, and that’s hard to know, given that we’re almost only ever in straight culture.

I know that my queer femme soul is both inspired and harmed by the anger I carry towards straight people. I am inspired to voice ideas and, if I’m lucky, solutions for myself and for other queers as we attempt to swim with the straights. I am harmed by undying anger, that flares up and has unfortunate consequences. That makes me feel mean and small-spirited and that, ironically, hampers my ability to enjoy being in one of the few places on earth where the culture is about as queer as it can be and where I am so incredibly lucky to be spending time.

Dear, queer femme sisters, I do not have an answer for this anger thing.

I need you to talk to me about what you think and what you do.

Who and what are your supports when you are in the heights of fury?

How do you keep your queer femme soul from being wounded and bled out?

Speak to me, darlings, bolster me with your words.

Out here on the tip of the land, I need your queer femme company.

Every Monday (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.

 

Published in: on July 5, 2017 at 8:28 PM  Comments (2)  
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Femme Friday — Constance Clare-Newman, The Bio

Can I tell you how much fun it is walking the streets of Ptown with Constance and witnessing her fearlessness as she sweetly and with genuine curiosity asks likely passers by, “Do you identify as butch/femme?” This because of our ongoing and hopeful organizing to make butch/femme space in Ptown, not as obvious a task as one might think!

Constance is such a dyed-in-the-wool, caring and gracious community member, showing up for her people on both coasts. Check out her efforts to get a real dance floor installed in the Ptown rec center:

https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/danceptown

http://provincetown.wickedlocal.com/news/20160816/provincetown-dancers-want-spring-in-their-steps

and read about her beautiful femme life below!

Deep gratitude to Constance!

Constance has over forty years of extensive experience in various movement disciplines. Raised by a ballet dancer mum from Australia, she was dancing before anything else. But being a horse crazy girl, Constance chose horses over dance and grew up to be a horse trainer and a riding teacher. Constance rode dressage professionally throughout California and spent four years studying in Europe. She trained horses and riders through the international levels of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI). The horse business is filled with lesbians of all varieties and Constance taught and trained with red lipstick and nails while seducing lesbians and “straight” women alike. 

As a young dyke in the late 70’s, Constance had briefly attempted to present as she was instructed to: cut off jeans, T’s, work boots, short hair, no shaving, an attitude of tough. However, and thank the goddess, Constance fell for young butches who encouraged that tight red dress with heels for dancing and that bright red lipstick.

Constance’s next career and decade included a return to dance, a move to San Francisco, and a journey into recovery from addictions. As a modern dancer, Constance performed professionally in the Bay Area with Anne Bluethenthal & Dancers and Purple Moon Dance Project, both companies headed by lesbians and with strong lesbian themes. Lucky!

During this time, Constance was the only femme to work at Old Wives Tales bookstore, which although they had a history of severe lesbian feminist politics, the women who worked together during this time were all fabulously supportive of each other. Femme oppression was in the air, but not from the staff. Femme appreciation arrived in the 90’s in San Francisco. When The Persistent Desire was published in 1992, many butches and femmes breathed with ease again, or maybe for the first time ever. The butch/femme renaissance invited new discussions about sexuality that was exciting to many lesbians who had felt they needed to tamp down their desires for difference.

The next decade or so was spent finishing a BA and going to the 3 year training to become an Alexander Technique teacher. What drew Constance to Alexander was the possibility she saw in others not just of relieving back pain, but of embodying ease and grace and giving up a life of pushing and striving. Particularly one inspirational role model, Anne Bluethenthal, (another femme lesbian,) who prioritized a state of being and a way of working that prioritized what really mattered to her.

Constance met her butch husband in 2000, got married in 2001, (again legally in 2007) and has since enjoyed a delicious marriage in which deliciousness is emphasized.

Constance now lives in the desert of Palm Springs in the winter and in Provincetown, on the bay in summers. As well as running a beautiful house and garden and entertaining many guests, Constance teaches others to increase their postural and movement awareness and efficiency. Bringing mindfulness to all activities creates a life of embodied grace and choicefullness.

Constance’s current teaching is informed by all the disciplines she has studied, as well as her continuing education and exploration in somatic methods such as Continuum, Laban, experiential anatomy, trauma work and consciousness studies.

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

Who’s That Lesbian?

Like many long-term couples, Tex and I have little code words, inside jokes and years-long continued conversational topics to keep us engaged and amused. Here in the suburban wasteland, whenever we see a likely candidate walking around, we quickly spell out “W”, “T” and “L” in ASL, then sing this little song, “Who’s that lesbian? Hey, who’s that lesbian?”

Yes, we are complete goobers.

Last week was the fourth year Tex and I attended Women’s Week in Provincetown, a dyke-a-palooza that’s been going strong for over 30 years. One of the highlights for me of this full and thought-provoking eight days was Cris Williamson’s song-writing workshop. Having come out late, I did not experience the full impact of her 1975 “The Changer and the Changed”, the ur-album of lesbian music, and really, knew very little about her. During the course of the three-hour workshop, where 16 of us wrote a Women’s Week theme song together, it became apparent that Cris is actually a lesbian guru-goddess-grandmother-top, whose dedication to her own art and her own people is unwavering and fierce.

If I thought anything about Cris before meeting her, it was only to snobbishly dismiss her music as cheezy and outdated. Seeing her in Ptown as she played a show every single day, signed albums and connected with her fans at Womencrafts every single day, did fundraising for her latest album every single day (as I believe she has done for many of her previous 30 or so albums), was incredibly inspiring. Who’s that lesbian? A shimmering jewel in our crown, that’s who.

In previous years, I have used Women’s Week as a writer’s retreat. This year, Tex and I decided to just go and be, hang out together and apart, give ourselves over to the energy and plunge ourselves into the great sea of women. I still took care of some writerly business, however, and did two readings and a signing. I also went to a writer’s workshop at the Provincetown library with 90-year old poet Hilde Oleson, as well as the workshop with Cris.

As a writer, I am constantly distracted by my commitment to activism. As an activist, my writing can suffer by being too precious or political. In addition, rather than sit my ass down and write, I find it a hell of a lot easier to roll up my sleeves and get to work scheduling meetings, responding to emails and following up on the thousand and one other urgent organizing tasks.

In Provincetown this past week, I worshipped at Cris’s feet, basked in Hilde’s wise and humorous presence, continued political conversations with Women’s Week friends, shop owners and other Ptown year-rounders, brainstormed with Tex about how to lovingly and effectively address racism against American Indians in the mostly-white dyke population. I began to feel something I don’t often feel: fully and truly myself. Integrated. Standing in my power as femme, writer, activist, mother, daughter, wife, observer, critic. Goober. It was incredible.

Re-entry into our life in the “liberal” suburbs was rough. But every time we go to Provincetown, we come back more committed to that integration, something queer people have been historically denied. And last night, our grassroots organization, Mystic LGBTQ+ Youth Support Network (Queer Mystic), celebrated over a year of programming and opening queer space for queer youth. Local folks, queer and straight, youth and adults, sat in a circle and talked about our lives, our wishes for our town and the progress that has been made. Today, I am sitting my ass down and writing this post, the first in many a moon.

Who’s that lesbian? Hey, who’s that lesbian? Stay tuned.

———————————————–

Me, Alli and Eve’s verse for the Women’s Week theme song, “This Place”:

Do you see?

How the light inside you beckons fearlessly?

Do you see?

How it flares within you so relentlessly?

Do you see?

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 19, 2016 at 10:29 AM  Comments (6)  
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Life-Changing Women’s Week

Living in the suburbs, things are nice. We are lucky enough to have a backyard, with a wonderful apple tree, a large yew, a gorgeous dogwood and magnolia. Yesterday, walking the dog, I made him wait for a long time as I enjoyed a catbird, nestled in a tall, bushy rhododendron, going through its entire repertoire: cardinal, sparrow, blue jay, sparrow, cardinal, blue jay, cardinal, cardinal…. It’s quiet and safe here, and the air is a lot fresher than in Boston. Our house is in pretty good repair and we have lovely neighbors. It’s comfortable.

Years can pass.

Years can pass where you put off the effort that it takes to pay attention to parts of yourself that aren’t fed in the suburbs. You think everything’s ok. You have daily tasks, you’re working, the dog needs surgery, your older son has a rough patch but now seems to be doing quite well in college, your younger son drives you crazy ever since he got the i-phone that he is now never without and that has supplanted reading, conversation, participating in household chores and sleep. Your old parents live down the street and their care takes up a lot of time. Your cat has now lost six collars to his active outdoor life, a life you worry about seeing as how a neighbor just one street over saw a coyote at 7am, just trotting along. Cats have been disappearing, sad fliers on telephone poles.

Everything’s fine, though. Normal.

Earlier this month, for the third year in a row, I went to Provincetown during Women’s Week for a writing retreat. It’s always a blissful time; this year, it was revelatory.

I drove down on Friday, and Tex was to come along on the plane later in the week. In the car, suburbs behind me, my mind more or less exploded. Everything I saw and heard made me think – about my writing, two novels knocking around in my head, about the organizing work I’ve been doing, about life, about being queer. By the time I got to our rental, I was in a state. My creativity, no, my queer creativity had roared back into life and had completely taken over. I spent most of the week indoors writing, keeping reading company with Felice Picano (Like People In History) and Richard Rodriguez (Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography), doing puzzles, crocheting, writing, writing. Tex got there, and I kept beavering away. But every time I went out, something magical happened. I met a butch/femme couple who remembered my reading from last year, and was anxious to buy another book with one of my stories in it. Tex and I met another couple who have been together 37 years and who were truly some of the nicest women we’d ever met, and then we kept running into them all over town, and every time we did, Tex and I felt as though we had been blessed, because their presence was so profoundly healing. Another couple we met made us laugh so hard in Toys of Eros with their shenanigans that we almost forewent going to see Karen Williams that evening, but are so glad we didn’t, because she is such an important and hilarious lesbian visionary. We were embraced by another butch/femme couple, with whom we are now machinating about how to sponsor a couple of butch/femme events next year. And that’s not even the half of it, Mary!

Back in the ‘burbs, after (this is not metaphorical) a tearful farewell, Tex and I feel a shift in our bones and hearts. Ignoring the wellspring of queer love necessary for sanity – in other words, chugging along in our suburban haze, excuse me straight suburban haze – is taking a huge toll. We can do it, yes, we’ve proven that, and living here has provided us with opportunities to do work that is fulfilling and important (in ESL tutoring and queer organizing for me and hunger relief for Tex) but our own souls have been crying out. We can’t put off this soul work any longer, deep into middle age, surrounded by tasks and responsibilities, the precariousness of our lives as humans, fallible and without any guarantees of safety, longevity, health. This was revealed to us in Provincetown just now, a gift, a blessing. In Provincetown, the gay mecca, where we were broken open by the lesbian energy and utterly queer culture. Where we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and wanting and connected to other queers, and where we have now sworn we will return as often as possible. Not only that, but we are determined to carry Ptown into our suburban realm, be mindful of taking a spoonful – a whole bottle! – of queer medicine every day. Caught in the straight undertow for so long, we are now strapping on our rainbow floaties and paddling in the opposite direction. Sharks and storms be damned, we are swimming with the mermaids now!

Published in: on October 21, 2015 at 2:30 PM  Comments (1)  
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