Meditations for Queer Femmes — The Dean of Femme

In one of those rather wonderful lesbian twists of fate, the Dean of Student Life at our younger son’s college is one of Tex’s ex-girlfriends. When we first figured this out, Tex remarked to me, “I’m into deans,” because another of her exes was a dean, too. I experienced a pang of loss at this, given that I abandoned my academic career many years ago. Angrily, I stomped my foot and hollered, “Well, I’m the DEAN OF FEMME!”

I was groomed my entire life to be an academic. Both my parents are full professors, as are my aunt and uncle; most of my relatives were teachers and educators of some kind or another. It took me years to recover when I ended up fleeing from the toxic atmosphere of my PhD program, as I thought I’d completely flopped in terms of family expectations. Happily, now I see how teaching manifests itself differently in my life – I am, after all, a tutor – and how my organizing is informed by what I know about academia. They weren’t a complete loss, after all, all those years of higher education, the end result was just a little different from what I’d been taught to believe was where I’d find the most satisfaction.

Queer femmes have also defied straight people’s expectations of them. We present feminine but we have removed ourselves from heteronormative society and behaviors. We are foreign bodies wrapped up in what might look like familiar trappings. We do not act like straight women because we are not straight. What we do with our feminine is nothing at all like what is expected. We have veered right off the straight path, the one we were taught would lead us to the most satisfaction.

Today, take a moment to think about all the places and times you disappointed your family or yourself by not doing what you thought you were supposed to do. Were your actions actually a way of saving your own life? Of taking yourself out of a toxic situation, where continuing would have smothered your awakening queer self? Stopped your femme from fully blossoming? Kept you from finding your own true queer femme path?

As painful as these times are, given that it’s never fun to disappoint those who love you, they are also the turning points where we choose our own integrity. Today, celebrate how far you’ve come and how strong you are. Rest for a moment in the fact that, even if you don’t know them personally, there are so many other queer femmes who are rooting for you and who also celebrate your queer femme journey.

I know I am and do.

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.

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.”)

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 3:13 PM  Comments (5)  
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Meditations for Queer Femmes – Walking on Sand

I walked on the beach a lot when we were in Provincetown recently. It was cold and windy but the light, as always, was effulgent. Looking down, there are stones of all colors, shells, crab limbs dropped by sea birds, seaweed, bits of trash, including pieces of broken glass that need to cook a lot longer before they get to call themselves seaglass. Looking up, there’s that light and the ocean moving.

It’s not that easy to walk on sand. You have to use your core, and even if you do, it makes you sore in muscles you don’t usually think about. A wave might soak your shoe. But every time I started to feel tired or think it might be better to take my walk on the street, I realized that I was smiling and that really, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Maybe something about the bracing difficulty of walking, something about the beauty and the wind and the uncooked seaglass – I don’t know what it was, but out there on the beach I found myself mulling over identity. If you think you know what someone’s identity means, it’s easy to ignore the reality of their life. Example: the many people, straight and otherwise, who refer to Tex as my “wife”. They know I’m gay, they know I’m married, so obviously, the person I’m married to is my wife. As misassumptions go, it’s not the worst one ever; nor is it the end of the world when the two of us are referred to as “ladies”, but it’s irksome. One reason for this is that if people think they know your identity, it can give them license to ignore what that identity actually means to you. It is a false sense of knowing that can close them off to the rewards of keeping an open heart and taking on the challenge of observing, asking and stepping into the unknown. It is a reminder to me when I find myself making assumptions about what someone’s identity may imply.

When first I found my femme, I was uncertain, so I clung to what I thought were requirements. I bemoaned the fact I couldn’t walk in heels due to physical issues, that I wasn’t a high femme, or what I thought a high femme was supposed to look and act like. Happily, those moments passed with minimal damage and I have since learned many enlightening lessons about myself and about other femmes. Queer femme feels so roomy to me now. So much still to explore, because identity is always moving, always revealing more. I’m so curious, so grateful, so inspired by queer femme.

Queer femme sisters, love yourselves this week. Love yourselves by making time to walk on the beach or in the woods or by water of any kind, where you can let your thoughts drift and touch on things sublime.

Every Monday (or 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.


Published in: on November 28, 2017 at 3:31 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Femme Friday: Femme Klatsch! with Liz

Femme Klatsch is a new feature, where queer femmes chat with one another on all themes femme. Sweet femme sisters – chime in!

 What does femme mean to you?

Who are your femme role models?

How did you find your femme?

and today’s question:

Can you talk about how your understanding of “femme” has evolved over the years?

Deep gratitude to Liz for this gorgeous and generous queer femme reflection!

Plenty Queer Enough

“Lez!” It’s 1972 and I’m in junior high. As most of us know from experience, when bullies taunt you, they fuck with your name. With a name like Liz, getting “Lez!” hissed at you in the halls is surely cliché standard. Especially when it’s 1972 and you’re a baby femme who passes. I didn’t know the word; but I could tell it was something really bad.

It’s 1975: I’m in high school and someone snarls “Lez” at me in the halls. I read the thrilling new Ms. Magazine, I know what “feminist” means, I know what “lez” means, and I no longer think it’s something bad. But I wonder, do they know something I don’t? Am I one? I decide to look into it. I have, after all, met one “self-avowed” lesbian. She’s older, out of high school, and we volunteer at a hotline on weekends. I scrutinize her. She’s assertive, androgynous and seems to know a lot. Not like me at all, offbeat girly girl that I am. In fact, she’s the total opposite. Guess I’m not one.

Also, if I was a lesbian, wouldn’t I most likely be in love with my best friend? Isn’t that what “women loving women” is all about? It sounds lovely. Sweet. I almost wish I was one. I try to picture falling in love with my best girlfriend and draw a blank. Nothing. I know I’m not a lesbian.

1982: I’ve graduated art school, I’m working, and I’m in an all-girl punk band. By now, I’ve met more lesbians. In fact, nearly all my friends are lesbians. It seems natural. It is natural. I come out! But not as a lesbian after all. I’m a newly-minted bisexual. I quickly seek and find my first girlfriend, and she’s assertive, androgynous, and seems to know a lot. As I model my new vintage black leather jacket for her, she sadly informs me that it’s a “femme” jacket. “Femme”: I don’t know the word, but I can tell it’s something bad. I’m embarrassed. I wear it anyway. I do like it a lot. (After a long night of clubbing with a friend, I lose the femme jacket and replace it the very next day with a standard issue motorcycle jacket, which I own to this day.)

1989: I fall head over combat boots in love with a strikingly handsome, tall, dark-haired dyke who is assertive, tough, artlessly sincere, and is so far beyond androgynous that “masculine” can’t begin to describe her. When I bravely show up in a modest black vintage dress for our formal date, she gasps in awe. I’m speechless, gazing at her in her crisp black tux, the first time I’ve ever seen such a bold statement of serious female masculinity. She nearly trips over herself to open the door of her freshly-washed, robin’s egg blue truck for me. I’m over the moon, discombobulated, and on entirely unfamiliar terrain.

Neither of us knows much about the terms “butch” and “femme”, but we dance the steps as if we are born to it. Which, of course, we are. I never look at a man again. (A cis-guy, that is.)

1993: This butch and I have broken up. I’m wrecked. I’m thoroughly devastated. I drag myself through life for a year. I remind myself we had so little in common; we communicated so differently; we wanted completely different things. So why was I so crazy in love with her? Why did I want her so much? Was there anything for me to learn from all this misery? Stunningly, mercifully, Joan Nestle explains me to myself in The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader, published that year. Still grieving my lost love, I begin to understand.

Joan Nestle shows me who I am: a femme. A queer femme, plenty queer enough, descended from a long line of proud strong femmes. I discover I have fore-queers! And I learn that my lost love was a big ol’ Butch with a capital B. I discover I’m a femme who needs, requires, must have a butch. A femme with a voracious appetite for butch. Reading Joan Nestle, I feel the awe I had experienced when I put on my first pair of eyeglasses: the world became jarringly clear in a way I could never have imagined.

(Later, I learn that not all femmes want butches. That’s fine too, though I admit it surprises me, and to this day I don’t understand how any femme can resist a hot butch.)

It’s 1995. 1999. 2008. The years go by, and though I can appreciate being femme, I often wish I could de-program the part of me that lights up for butches only. If there were only a potion, a program, a partial lobotomy! Everything is so much easier with my feminine friends. As a femme, it seems I find little in common with most of the butches I’ve met, besides being queer. I try dating a wonderful femme, and I’m ashamed of myself for not responding one iota to her beauty. I feel like a bad queer. I tone down my femme. I lower my expectations. But I need butches.

And frankly, if you’re single, it really sucks if you’re only attracted to about 1/10 of 1% of the population. So I specialize in settling for the Fine For Now girlfriend, because a good butch, or any butch, is hard to find. I have lots of fun, and lots of heartache. When I fall off the horse, I get right back on again. It’s ok, I tell myself; I never wanted to get married anyway. But breaking up is hard to do. Miserable, actually! And I seem to do it every 2 or 3 years. For 20 years. Until……

2012: It’s a summer evening, and I’m wearing a pretty dress and shiny red shoes. I’ve grown out my curly hair. I’m no longer playing neutral. I look up to see the most dashingly handsome butch; or guy? No, she’s butch. She stands before me, sharply trimmed salt and pepper-hair, sporting an orange plaid shirt, and she breaks into the shiniest grin I’ve ever seen. I will soon discover she’s brilliant and funny, and she’s so masculine that she will soon go by “transbutch”. She will adore my femmeness and require it like I’ll need her butchness. But more that that, we will fit together in all the other ways I had only recently dared hope for. This lifelong semi-single femme meets her butch match at last! I can’t make her my husbutch fast enough.

My femme identity blossoms wildly. I revel in it, no longer seeing my butch-loving orientation as a curse, and I rarely try to fit in with the gender neutral queer majority. Being femme is way more fun than ever.

How did this happen? If I had read this when I was younger and single, I’d probably be thinking sourly, “Well, aren’t you just the lucky one! What a cliché ending!” But sister femmes, I’m living proof that it can happen, not “when you least expect it” as I’ve been smugly told: but when you most expect it. I made a decision to expect the best; the best one for me. I found great power in discovering, then embracing, and finally expressing my full femme identity, and all of my Liz-ness, and then I expected someone else to “get” me, too. I felt relief in quitting the well-worn path of dumbing down my particular brand of femmeness in exchange for maximum social approval. Suddenly, luck happens! Dearest femme sisters, the femme journey is never dull, is it?

Liz Bailey

PS: I love the auto-correct for “femmeness”: famines; fameless; feminisms; feminists; filminess! It’s a found poem!

Every Friday, The Total Femme showcases a queer femme goddess. Suggestions welcome!







Meditations for Queer Femmes – First Day of Spring

No matter when we femmes come out, no matter our age, we share the exhilaration of coming in to our truer, more genuine self. We feel so good, so full of love and comfort, so juicy and sexy now that we’ve found our femme! That moment of pure joy, of uplift, when we know who we are and feel it from soul to toes; that sweet enlightenment – how we wish to shout about it! Look world, a brand new femme is born!

But that same world we’ve moved through until now rarely shifts to accommodate our shining, genuine selves. At our most vulnerable and ecstatic, we are shut out. Sometimes the rejection is immediately apparent, sometimes the awareness creeps up on us: we are no longer considered a part of the normal progression of things, despite the fact that we are finally where we are meant to be.

We all confront this according to our natures and our resources. We may go back in the closet, if that’s the only way we can keep our jobs or our families. We may fight tooth and nail. We may pull a certain amount of denial around us, murmuring, “Oh, she didn’t mean it like that!” and “He’s really not a homophobe – he was just joking!” We get angry, depressed, astonished, bitter, and frustrated. Dealing with this heartbreak, we are distracted and pulled away from our human birthright of being allowed to deepen our self-knowledge and act on that knowledge to bring our unique gifts to the world.

But not today! Today, dear femme sisters, on this first day of spring, meditate on your truest, deepest selves.

Blow on the embers.

Rekindle your sacred femme fire.

Illuminate. Regenerate. You are a blessing, you are blessed.

You are exactly who you are meant to be.

Every Monday (or Tuesday), 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 March 20, 2017 at 5:00 PM  Comments (2)  
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