Meditations for Queer Femmes – Your Family Heirloom

We queers have such complicated relationships with our families. There’s full-on rejection, full-on idealization and “I’ll do anything to keep the love” and everything in-between. I’m talking about families across the board here, of origin and chosen. How many of us queer femmes dated boys and men because our families of origin expected it? How many of us queer femmes de-girlied ourselves when we (finally) came out because our new queer family expected it? Then one day, if we’re lucky, another dyke tells us she likes it when we wear lipstick. Maybe we have enough courage to tell her we like it when she wears lipstick, too, or we buy her a tie for her birthday “just for fun” and shit gets way more real all of a sudden. Or we might realize our single aunt, the one who moved away to a big city or to a remote farm and who has always been spoken of with scorn or pity or both, is actually twice family and has a rich and rewarding life. Information about her real life may have been unavailable to us as children, but it is waiting for us now if we just reach out.

Humans love knowing where we come from, where certain traits, tendencies, gifts and hurdles might have their origin. Who in our families (all our families) might have worked out a thing or two concerning life’s great questions.

I started thinking about family heirlooms after reading a passage by Chögyam Trungpa in his book, Crazy Wisdom. The passage is about hopelessness, which I think ends up actually being about hope, or anyway, about accepting that life can be really hard right at the same time that it is full of sweetness and wonder. In Al-Anon, they talk about “the gift of desperation” that brings someone to this under-the-radar (at least it was for me) spiritual program. And it’s true, because as much as I hate alcoholism and addiction and how they’ve hurt so many people I love including myself, I’m incredibly grateful that I’m learning to stop spending all my time drilling down on the negatives and being miserable. Instead, I’m finding the strength, support and love to be able recalibrate and refocus. Human experience is big. There are so many ways of being in the world.

Our family heirlooms – because there are so many once we direct our attention there – are solid reminders of our humanity in all its rainbow glory. I remember and draw sustenance from the way my Gramps took care of kids in his rural school district during the Depression, feeding them from his garden, buying one young man a suit so he could graduate high school with dignity; from the cheerful example of Grandmimi, who lit up her small Iowa town organizing and including and fully participating in just about everything; how my parents quietly reached out to neighbors and taught me that one little act of kindness and community ripples outward; how John Preston and Joan Nestle got together to edit Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together and model deep queer community by linking their disparate queer worlds; by the way Lee Lynch lovingly wrote and wrote and wrote and continues to write about butches and femmes; how so many queers over the ages managed to leave us their priceless stories – a few who have touched my life over the years (there are so many!): Miss Ann Lister, Quentin Crisp, Anonymous, Amber Hollibaugh, Audre Lourde, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Leslie Feinberg, Richard Rodriguez, Felice Picano, Chrystos, Mary Renault, Tove Jansson, Becky Birtha, Mark Merlis, Samuel Steward, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, James Baldwin, and I could go on for pages…

I am bolstered and inspired in who I am and who I strive to by these many, many family heirlooms.

Dear queer femme sisters, spend a moment today in gratitude for your families and what they have bequeathed to you.


The passage that inspired this Meditation:

Student: When you talk about hopelessness, the whole thing seems totally depressing. And it seems you could very well be overwhelmed by that depression to the point where you just retreat into a shell or insanity.

 Trungpa Rinpoche: It’s up to you. It’s completely up to you. That’s the whole point.

 S: Is there anything –

 TR: You see, the whole point is that I’m not manufacturing an absolute model of hopelessness with complete and delicately worked-out patterns of all kinds, presenting it to you, and asking you to work on that. Your goodness, your hopelessness, is the only model there is. If I manufactured something, it would be just a trick, unrealistic. Rather, it’s your hopelessness, it’s your world, your family heirloom, your inheritance. That hopelessness comes in your existence, your psychology. It’s a matter of bringing it out as it is. But it’s still hopeless. As hopeful as you might try to make it, it’s still hopeless, and I can’t reshape it, remodel it, or refinish it at all. It’s not like a political candidate going on television, where people powder his face and put lipstick on his mouth to make him presentable. One cannot do that. In this case it’s hopeless; it’s absolutely hopeless. You have to do it in your own way.

–Crazy Wisdom by Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala, 2001

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.”)