Meditations for Queer Femmes – Etiquette

I’ve been taking part in the Provincetown Library’s Reading Challenge, and for one of my challenge books, I read: the Student’s Book for Emily Hunter’s Christian Charm Course: A Course for Girls Giving Methods for Improving the Outer Appearance Along with Spiritual Instruction for Developing the True Beauty which Comes from a Heart surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ (first published in 1967; my copy from the most recent printing in 1984).

Setting aside a great deal having to do with evil Christian malarkey, heterosexism, racism, and just plain fuckedness, I was struck by two messages of a more positive nature. One: it matters how you act in public because you exist with other people. Two: it matters how you feel about yourself on the inside, and that, in turn, leads to the necessity of being connected to something positive that is larger than yourself.

There is nothing at all wrong with these two messages, and this admittedly seriously twisted book got me thinking about etiquette. I believe that the usual attitude this day and age among most hip-happening folks, young and old, is that etiquette is completely ludicrous and out-of-date. No one but snots and snobs care about which fork to use or when to wear white. Didn’t Gloria Steinem famously and fabulously say, in response to a worried question about what woman should wear posed by a reporter referring to Madonna-obsessed young women tripping about wearing lingerie on the outside, “Women should wear whatever the fuck they want!”? Of course she did and of course they should!

But perusing Mrs. Hunter’s tactics for staying neat, clean, and healthy on the outside along with her tips on how to pay attention to spiritual needs gave me an odd sense of comfort. Again, if you ignore the sinister aspects of the book, what is at the bottom is an earnest desire to impart adult wisdom to young people, wisdom having to do with how to meet the most basic human needs. Wisdom having to do with empowering young people with the practical knowledge that they are in charge of their physical and spiritual well-being. If you know how and when to wash your hair; if you have some expert guidance in taking stock of your physical appearance so that you can lovingly and with care find ways to look and feel your best; if you understand how to take a break from the mundane and pray or meditate or otherwise bring yourself into alignment with whatever it is that connects you to the sacred, then you are beginning to discover tools that will serve you for the rest of your life. I am all for children and youth having these tools.

Personally, I had little guidance in this arena. I had to put things together myself, from books, from friends, from the media, and my education around taking care of my body and showing on the outside what I was feeling on the inside (and what was I feeling on the inside, anyway??) was spotty to nil. Forget any kind of spiritual education, not even some kind of regular church experience to embrace or push back against – my rabidly atheist father made sure I internalized early on that religion is the opiate of the people and there’s nothing out there.

It may be old fashioned, but I am in favor of teaching etiquette to children and youth. I am in favor of giving children and youth information about different ways human beings nurture their physical and spiritual selves so that they can find a way to do so for themselves. Methods differ, but the basic needs are the same.

I just spent a lovely, leisurely time writing thank you cards to people who have been kind and helpful to me during this long and difficult summer of chemo. Turning my mind and spirit over to gratitude offered me respite from the dread I am feeling about this last chemo treatment coming up and about what the future will hold. Will the cancer be gone? Even if it is, will I get it again sometime down the road? I can really work myself up, especially in the middle of the night. Sitting down and saying thank you reminds me that, with practice and changed attitude, I can turn my heart in a more positive direction – the direction I’d much rather be going. It’s not easy, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than freaking out all the time. This is something that helps me, and there are many, many lovely practices out there, centering kindness and serenity and love, that don’t try to get kids to do something just because they’re scared that if they don’t they’ll be steeped in sin or otherwise be displeasing to the Lord Jesus Christ (dear Mrs. Hunter, I am afraid that I’m looking right at you).

We queer femmes have our own wonderful, queer perspective on etiquette and how to care for ourselves and for others. I know that you have your rituals, your prayers, your affirmations, and your meditations; your cleansing dips in the ocean or walks in the garden or moments of bliss; your love and your kindness and the way you touch your friend on the arm and the unbearably sweet way you smile into your lover’s eyes. Beautiful, spiritual, generous femme sisters, you model health and well-being to other queers and to the world.

I am grateful. I am grateful. I am grateful.

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.”)