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, and so many more, to the art of any and every queer femme’s daily life. Reach out for it Nia Witherspoon’s plays, 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.

 

Femme Friday – Tina D’Elia

You may have seen her in Season One of “Sense8”, where she makes a brief appearance as a transphobic lesbian jerk or as Neets puts it, “nothing but a loudmouth, Berkeley bitch!”. In her own work, however, Tina D’Elia uses her big queer talent to focus on the lives of queer people of color, including femmes, butches and trans people. In her 2015 work, “The Rita Hayworth of this Generation,” for example, she tells the story of a queer femme, Carmelita Cristina Rivera, who has embarked “on a journey of self-discovery; but before she can find answers inside herself, she faces heartbreak, shame, and failure”.

Deep gratitude to Tina D’Elia for queer femme inspiration, creativity and healing.

If you live in or near San Francisco, please take advantage of having the great good fortune of being able to see Tina in an excerpt from “Overlooked Latinas”, Monday, Aug. 7, at the Marsh.

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