Meditations for Queer Femmes — Where Do We See Each Other?

“One of our few (if only) seven-nights-a-week gay dance clubs is closing on September 16th,” writes Billy Masters in his 9/12/2018 column, which I read in Bay Windows. “Paradise in Cambridge (MA) has a special place in your beloved Billy’s heart. That was the first club that hired me to host a show – their Sweet 16th birthday party. Once I had a mike in my hand, there was no stopping me. And now, there’ll be no stopping me from saying we’ve brought this on ourselves. Support your gay businesses – or soon there won’t be any.”

And in her 1994 collection of sexy short stories, Behind Closed Doors (more on this book later!), Robbi Sommers writes “Whenever two lesbians find themselves alone in a group of straights, a magic camaraderie occurs. Sooner or later, they cross the room and strike up a conversation. It’s a basic lesbian phenomenon – strangers, ex-lovers, enemies. No matter how things were yesterday, in a straight environment, we gravitate.”

The times are changing, the face of homophobia is changing, queer culture has changed so rapidly that it seems we hardly know who each other is, we hardly know what it is we share and where in the hell we can have interesting and generative conversations with one another. We’re good at pointing out each other’s inconsistencies and hypocrisies, good at drilling down on our own identities and, especially the younger set, really good at finding each other online, but how else are we communicating with each other? What do we count on each other for? Expect from each other? What kind of help can we give each other? How do we show queer love and support across the board, to all the beautiful letters of the ever-expanding alphabet, in all walks of life and at all ages?

Answers to those questions seem heart-breakingly elusive at the present moment. Speaking with youth and individual queers around town, hearing about their daily compromises, losses, isolation, and challenges, usually directly related to homophobia and heterosexism, I often find myself wondering what the next iteration of queer community will be, sans places like the Paradise and sans the secret handshakes.

Visibility is an answer, of course it is, but what does that mean, exactly? I can remember when queer publications celebrated any representation of queerness, even if the queer character was a villain or a ludicrous, insulting stereotype. We spend so much time fighting for honest representation in popular culture, as if that’s the only place that matters. It matters, of course, but there’s a huge difference between seeing yourself (sort of) reflected in an ad for hard liquor and feeling a visceral connection to a little girl singing, “Ring of Keys”. That little girl – both the character and the artist who birthed her — experienced the incredible gift of an adult queer walking into her actual life. If we are lucky, something comparable happened in our lives, and we were blessed and healed by the experience. Seeing some semblance of queer on tv can also be powerful – I was just listening to the Butchies song where there’s mention of Ellen coming out, which is something none of us around then will ever forget – but it isn’t real in the way a human being you meet or even just glimpse is real. It isn’t real in the way a teacher, family friend, neighbor, or other member of the place where you live is real. It isn’t real in the way living, breathing, complicated and visible real-live queers are real.

On the cover of the latest  Advocate, one of the last standing queer publications, we see a sweet photograph of a group of young queers, illustrating the story, “The Kids Are All Right: 20 Years After Mathew Shepard’s Death, Today’s LGBTQ Youth are Living in a Very Different World”. Glaringly lacking is any representation of female masculinity. The lesbians (a couple) and the trans woman are very girly in the “traditional” sense of the word. I would be lying if I said this doesn’t upset me, but for the first time, I thought to turn my energy elsewhere. Rather than trying to kick ass by challenging the rapid and uncaring barrage of information, that information that is everywhere and nowhere, I am dedicating myself even more to my own queer art. Art is timeless and deep and meaningful in ways the artist sometimes doesn’t even understand herself. Art connects and teaches and sends out love, a steady heartbeat. You can come back to art again and again, finding new meaning, new inspiration. Art changes as you change. Art is always there for you.

As much organizing and activism I’ve done for the queer community, as proud of that as I am, I’m beginning to understand that, for me, the most radical and lasting gift I can offer up is my queer femme art. That to ignore that call – louder every minute — is to capitulate to the confusion and rage stirred up by constantly reacting.

Dear femme sisters, what are your gifts? How do you embrace them? How do you love them and nurture them?

Our gifts are unique. Sacred. Beautiful and varied. Each of you, my darlings, my miracles, each of you manifests your queer femme gifts like the goddesses you are. Each of you blesses the world.

This is how we carry queer community into the now.

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.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”)

 

 

 

Queer Femme Meditation Friday, Showing Up!!

Gosh, all week I kept meaning to do the Monday Meditation and somehow the days have slipped by. I seem to have missed Femme Friday last week, too! Perhaps I just needed a wee sabbatical, as this is the year anniversary of Meditations and Femme Fridays (Pingy-Dingy Wednesdays came along a bit later).

Let’s meditate together here on Femme Friday. Let’s meditate on showing up. I don’t mean showing up to kick ass and fight injustice, because we do that already, every single minute of our lives. I mean showing up as in, “Oh, there we are!” Because for some reason, femme lives and femme story and femme bodies don’t really show up all that much in queer publications, let alone out in the world.

I just read a wonderful book by Barbara Sjoholm in which she chronicles her quest to find women seafarers. Almost all of them wore men’s clothing, did men’s jobs, and in one wonderful instance, hung a tissenhorn on her belt so she could take a whiz with one hand on the tiller if she needed to. A bunch of those seafarers had to be queer, right? We can recognize them as such. But, not one mention of the women who loved those seafarers, also queer, but, apparently, not showing up in the historical record or even in the imagination of queers who do historical research on queers and women.

This morning, Tex and I dropped the car off for service. Last time I was in, all by myself, the very sweet but very clueless straight man who usually takes care of us must have called me by Tex’s name 50 times. I said to Tex as we walked in today that seeing us together might be too much for this guy, but he took it like a man, called Tex by her name, and kind of skittered his eyes off me, smiling nervously, whenever I spoke. Later, I said to Tex, “If you’re Tex, then who the fuck am I?” I’m just not showing up at the garage.

Nor do any of us femmes show up in Butch, photographer Meg Allen’s gorgeous new collection of photographs and one of the latest iterations of art that lovingly documents a much-maligned segment of the queer population. Allen “has given our community a gift with her new book,” Curve magazine says, “[she] memorializes the butch not only for posterity but also to illustrate that the butch is very much alive and well in the 21st century.” No question or quarrel from me, of course not! Not only is work that contributes to queer visibility and diversity incredibly important, this butch-lovin’ femme enjoys a little tasty eye candy just as much as the next girl, but let me ask you this (and it’s not the first time I’ve made this query): if butches and masculine-presenting female queers are in need of holding up, positive visibility and being artfully and lovingly displayed for the eyes of other queers and indeed the world, what about a) the female queers who identify as femme and who love butches and, b) the female queers who identify as femme and love each other or whoever the fuck they please? In other words, all of us femmes!

Last night, at a fundraiser for one of my most favorite organizations ever, True Colors Theater, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a femme I had met before and of meeting another femme for the first time. I am so excited to invite them to our next Femme Klatsch, which is getting pretty close to including 25 femmes. All of us with our own styles, our own interpretations of our identities, our own romantic preferences, our own way of being queer, our own hurts and pleasures and brilliance and hopes for ourselves and for the world.

How is that not incredibly compelling? How is that not something other queers might like to see more of? How is that not worthy of a limited edition fancy-queer-pants coffee table book?

Close your eyes and listen to your breath. Let it all go. Rest in the present, allowing any thoughts to touch down but not linger. let go let go let go

And when you open your eyes and look around, refreshed and renewed, reach out to your femme friends and your queer friends who value femme and all that it entails, and let’s make some fucking art!

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.