To be happy

It’s noon on a Monday. I’m in my quiet Paris apartment, sprawled out on my belly in the first queen bed I’ve ever called my own. It’s cloudy again, like it has been almost every day since I arrived. I slept in until 11 this morning, because there was really no good reason not to. I made the poor decision of flipping onto my belly around 10, which always gives me confusing dreams about people I would rather not dream about. But when I awoke, there was hot coffee, and the breeze coming in through my window, and a stack of good books to get me through the morning.

So, life is pretty damn good. Like, maybe the best. For the first time in a long time, I have been able to do all the things I love most—writing, cooking, walking, spending quality time with friends—without feeling like I have to sacrifice any one of those things for another. For the first time since I got my heart broken one year ago, I feel like I can actually be happy—simple, carefree happiness, the kind where you sit around for hours laughing and dancing and you never have to leave the room to cry because you’re so painfully aware of how fleeting it all is. Today, it doesn’t feel fleeting, though of course it is. Today happiness is forgetting. Forgetting that happiness could ever end in pain. Forgetting that people leave you, and that you leave people, and that we all leave each other in the end. Forgetting the space between numbers on the clock and the way it goes on ticking. Forgetting that it ticks at all.

Friends, I am telling you all of this because one year ago today was the worst night of my life. It’s a night I have never really told anyone about, a night that only one person in the whole world is able to testify to, someone I no longer talk to and who I still miss like hell. It’s a night I can’t even talk to myself about most days, or my therapist, or my best friend. It was the night when something very deep and essential broke in me, and I saw the thin veil spread over everything I loved, and how quickly it could be pulled away to reveal darkness, nothingness, disappearance. An endless and dizzying abyss.

One year ago today, I literally did not know how I could go on living. Today, I am alive.

To anyone who has ever seen the darkness you think no one else can see, I am with you. I want you to know that you can never unsee what you have seen. But I also want you to know that with time, you can learn, you can choose to forget. Not forever, and not completely, but enough to go on living, and find your way to happiness again.

Today I am proud of the work I have done to take care of myself in the wake of that worst night. Today I am profoundly grateful to the people who hugged me, and cried with me, and made me laugh, and made me coffee. Today I am grateful for my family, those who raised me and those who chose me. Today I am grateful for a room to call my own, and a fridge full of food, and the knowledge that none of this will disappear by sundown.

Today, I am happy.

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Love is all we have

There are no words for what happened in Orlando last night; or rather there are too many and none of them are quite right.

There is the fact that I have already seen people asking not to politicize this tragedy, saying we can not blame the hateful ideology of a presidential candidate, or gun laws for what happened. It’s true there is no one thing that convinces someone to take a gun and use it to kill people he perceives to be “different” and “wrong.” But this didn’t happen without context. There are many ifs. If he hadn’t been able to access a weapon that can kill many people in a short period of time. If he hadn’t been exposed to political agendas that say that LGBTQ folks don’t deserve basic rights and heard the underlying message that queer folks, trans folks, and people of color don’t matter and don’t deserve to be alive. If if if.

There is the grief for the queer folks who died while celebrating their identities. It’s pride month. It was latin night at Pulse. It is a time of joy and community and conversation about how to make our communities stronger. There is grief for the families and loved ones of these queer folks, and the knowledge that family often looks different in the queer community. There is imagining the fear of not knowing if someone you love was hurt because you’re not “next of kin” on government forms.

There is anger that this could happen. Why did this fucking happen? Why did this have to happen? Why has this been happening in smaller, less publicized ways for years and why hasn’t it been stopped? Why is my queerness perceived as such a threat that people debate if me and my community deserve basic rights and safety? Why are trans women considered threats when they want to pee, when they are part of a community that constantly has to worry for it’s own safety?

There is fear for those I love, for copycat attacks that will follow, for losing more queer people, who are just trying to live.

There is a sense of impotence for what I can not change, and for the privilege I have that means I am less at risk for these kinds of attacks because I am white and middle class and cisgender.

And there is love. Love for my queer community. Love for the people who are already organizing vigils and donating blood and writing their representatives. Love for the others afraid for their own safety. Love for the grieving and the bereft. Love for Muslim folks in the U.S. (especially LGBTQ+ Muslim folk) who already are the scapegoats for so many tragedies.

It can feel trite to quote Martin Luther King Jr but since reading about the shooting, what has circled in my brain is this:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

We have to continue to love each other as hard as we possibly can. The root of justice is love. The root of our community has always been love. In heartbreaking times like this, love is all we have.

One Year Out

It’s a Friday night.  I’m sitting at a dining room table in a charming brownstone in Brooklyn, drinking wine and snacking on French cheese, surrounded by a circle of my peers.  My professor has invited us to her home for an end-of-semester celebration.  We’re adults now, we can sit around drinking and talking about literature. The world of academia is a world I’ve chosen to spend the next five years in, a world I will probably spend most of my life in, and it’s important to me that I feel at home here.

For me, an essential part of feeling at home is being out.  It’s something I’ve had to work on ever since I graduated from Mount Holyoke, where by the time I was a senior you were pretty much queer until proven straight.  That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately, and when I moved to New York City, I had to decide whether, and how, I would come out.

It didn’t happen all at once.  It started first with friends, and then with fellow students, and then with a not-so-subtle comment about lesbians in my history class, and then with a heart-to-heart with my boss at work, and by the time the spring semester hit, there was no going back.  I was out to my professors, colleagues, and co-workers, and I felt lucky to be in a place where that was possible.

I joke sometimes that I’m the “token queer” in my department, always talking about the social construction of gender and writing papers about lesbians.  I’m proud to be “that feminist,” the one who never lets you get away with a racist, sexist, or homophobic comment, the one who always brings it back to the patriarchy, the one who talks about periods when there are men in the room (the bloodier, the better).

By now, people have more or less gotten used to it.  They laugh at my raunchy jokes, they ask me about my date with the cute girl I’ve been gushing about, they nod politely when I go on a feminist rant in the middle of class.  

And then, they start asking questions.

“When did you know you were gay?” they’ll begin, and then, “How did your parents react?” and before you know it, “How do you have sex?” (or even, in one instance, “Who plays the man?”)

I used to think it was my duty to educate: These poor straight people, I reasoned, they just don’t even know what they’re talking about.  They’ve never talked to a real live queer person.  They just want to understand.  They mean well.

It would be easier if I could just make a blanket statement about these scenarios, say which questions a straight person can ask and which they can’t, what responses to offer and when to offer them. But the truth is, it’s different every time.  It’s different being asked about my coming out story by a new friend when we’re bonding over coffee than it is being asked by a professor who barely knows me in a classroom full of fellow students.

This is what happened last week, as we sat around drinking wine and talking about literature in my professor’s adorable Brooklyn brownstone.  Somehow, we got onto the topic of college.  With tears in my eyes, I told the story of the first time I ever visited Mount Holyoke, the way I fell in love with the college as my parents and I drove past the clock tower on that crisp April evening, the way I felt at home the minute I stepped foot on the campus.

“Were they cool?”  My professor asked, referring to my parents, who I had mentioned only in passing.

“Cool?”  I replied, caught of guard.

“With you being gay?”

I felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me.  We hadn’t even been talking about my coming out, and the story I was in the process of telling really had nothing to do with my journey into queerness.  But instead of letting on that my professor’s question–asked completely out of context–had made me feel like the smallest version of myself, I mumbled some kind of a vague response, and changed the subject.

As the evening went on, this continued happening: questions thrown at me as if I were a walking encyclopedia of queerness, eyes turned to me every time anyone mentioned anything that was even remotely “gay,” homophobic jokes veiled as clever jibes.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect my professor, and I appreciate my peers (all straight women, I should add) and the work we’ve done together over the course of the semester, but as the night went on, I began to realize that while everyone else was beginning to feel more and more and home, I was beginning to feel more and more like a stranger, or worse, like nothing more than the search box on google.gay.  

It’s hard for me to write about this night for several reasons.  First of all, I am mortified to think that my professor or peers might someday read this post, and tell me that I was overreacting.  “It was all in good fun,” they might say.  Or worse, “I never said that!”

The second reason why it’s difficult to write this is because it’s about more than just one evening of uncomfortable questioning.  It’s about the fact that coming out can be as terrifying as it is liberating, and that some nights, it’s more of a burden than it is a relief.  

But at the heart of all of this is a deeper question: when you live with an identity that has historically been invisibilized, misunderstood, and antagonized, how do you fight for visibility, understanding, and empathy without losing yourself in the process?  

The reason why it bothered me so much to have my professor ask about my coming out was not because I am ashamed of the story, or because it is too painful to tell.  It bothered me because that story matters to me.  There is no simple answer to the question “how did you come out?”  It is a story that needs time.  It is a story that needs a dedicated listener.  It is a story full of pregnant pauses, colorful details, and vulnerable confessions.  It is a story that I cherish.  It is a story that is profoundly and uniquely my own.

Part of the reason why Marnie and I started this blog in the first place was because we both longed for a space where we could share these stories with readers who cared, with people we trusted, in a space where we had the time and freedom to craft these stories in an intentional and meaningful way.

One of the main reasons why we longed for this kind of space is because we had already experienced it.  For four wonderful years, we had lived at Mount Holyoke, a place where coming out felt more like coming in.  

Thinking back on it now, it’s not so surprising that I teared up while telling my classmates about the first time I ever visited Mount Holyoke.  Because here’s the thing, it wasn’t just the way the clock tower looked that April evening, lit up by the vibrant colors of a New England sunset. It was the fact that, on the first night I ever spent on campus, I found myself sitting at a dining room table in the Rockies, surrounded by a group of friendly, intelligent, beautiful young women, welcomed into a space where storytelling was not just a momentary distraction, but a way of life.  The stories we shared that night, and every night since, were the colorful threads that formed the fabric of community.  What I knew that evening, more than anything else, was that I was already home.

It’s been one year since I left Mount Holyoke, and one year since I started coming out to the wider world.  If I’ve learned anything in that year, it’s that home is a story only you can tell.

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Image courtesy of MHC Archives

It’s An Exercise

The summer before my senior year of college I decided to live in a dorm at my school, and do a little bit of project work for my boss. It had been a rough year for me, but tempered with a lot of therapy and self-discovery. Therapy is great for self-discovery, but only if you don’t mind feeling like you’ve been ripped open at least once a week. It’s like losing the top layer of your skin; everything feels red and raw and it hurts if anything touches it, but it heals pretty cleanly.

One day I was working with my boss, when I made a joke to the effect of “lol I’m the worst.” You know, the kind of casual, self-deprecating humor that people use a thousand times a day. But my boss stopped me, and looked me in the eye and said “now say something nice about yourself.”

I was taken aback. Didn’t she know it was a joke? I didn’t actually think I was the worst. But I still couldn’t come up with one good thing to respond with.

I had never realized how those jokes could add up, until they became the lens in which I viewed myself. Someone who was annoying or loud, or generally the worst. The things I said in public became the thoughts that circled my mind, like vultures zeroing in on a kill. I’mtheworstI’mtheworstI’mtheworst.

I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom “no one can love you until you love yourself.” It’s been pointed out many times how harmful that line of thinking can be to someone with a mental health issues who doesn’t love themselves, to believe that then nobody can love them. But I think there is still some wisdom there. Until you learn how to appreciate the fact that you are worthy of love, it is hard to believe that anybody would truly love you.

I decided I would stop saying negative things about myself, or at the very least, I would counter it always with one good thing. I needed to break up the pattern of self-abuse, and start believing that I could be good enough.

A few months ago I was out with some of my old friends, when one of them started apologizing for being indecisive. I told her it was fine, we are all just people, and we have quirks that make us who we are. I suggested we all list one thing that we think of as a flaw about ourselves. Everyone could think of one easily. Then I said “now let’s do an exercise where we all say one nice thing about ourselves.”

Everyone got immediately uncomfortable. They fidgeted and made fun of me for being corny. Answers were tempered with “I guess I’m not that bad at….” and “maybe I’m okay at this.” Some refused to answer at first. One friend said in jest “I’m really good at tricking people into being friends with me.” This dragged out over many uncomfortable minutes because I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted everyone to find the thing in themselves that they were proud of.

These were smart, accomplished, funny, hard-working, beautiful women, some of whom I’d known and admired for most of my life. If they couldn’t think of one thing  that they felt proud of, who could?

Their experiences and mine don’t exist in a void. When you spend your whole life hearing you’re not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not smart or straight or white enough, not gender conforming enough or able-bodied enough, it becomes entrenched deep within your mind, until it feels impossible to untangle. Some days it always lurks at the top of your mind, and all you can think is “I suck I suck I suck.” Other days it comes as a surprise. “I thought I was past that, I thought that was healed.”

I don’t know if it ever quite heals. But as an exercise, I try to be actively being kind to myself. I try to not compare my accomplishments to others, because there was a time when my depression was so debilitating that I couldn’t  focus on much beyond “get out of bed” and “ask for help.” I do my best to feel proud of how far I have come and what I have accomplished. I try to reach out to friends who get it, so we can mutually complain or laugh or just feel understood. Community, I am learning, is an essential part of healing, and of living.

What if instead of downplaying our accomplishments, we let ourselves be proud of them? What if when we felt good about ourselves, we said it out loud? What if we told others that we are proud of them, or that  they are brilliant, interesting, and beautiful?

I think love is an exercise. It’s something we have to practice, until we get it right. It’s something that takes energy and time. And it’s something we have to do for ourselves, in addition to doing it for others.

Last week I put on my favorite blue dress and went for a walk with my wonderful girlfriend. I told her “I feel so pretty today.” She said “it’s nice that you like yourself so much.” It made me smile. Maybe it’s unusual to hear people compliment themselves, but I think it’s an exercise we should do more often.

Who It’s For

It’s a Saturday night.  I’m all dressed up: high heels, polka-dot tights, red lipstick, the works.  I could be going to The Cubby Hole, or Hot Rabbit, or a house party in the Village.  Instead, I’m in an auditorium full of scholars, holding a shiny silver trophy in my hand.

I’m not usually a huge fan of competitions, but this time around, I thought I’d give it a try. The Threesis Competition is a chance for master’s students to share their work with people outside of their fields.  Three minutes, one Powerpoint slide, eighty competitors, one winner.

Apparently, that winner is me.

My cheeks hurt from smiling so much.  I’m trembling.  I’m shocked.  I’m nervous.  I’m excited.  I can’t wait to have a big glass of wine in my hand.

I’m on my way to the reception, and just as I’m about to walk over to my group of friends and give them all big hugs, an older man approaches me, and takes my hand.

Not shakes.  Takes.

He’s holding it there, in his sweaty palm, like a scene from one of those crime dramas where somebody is making an illicit deal in a public place and they have to keep smiling even though they’re about to kill each other.

“I’d love to get coffee with you sometime,” he says, before asking me my name, or congratulating me, or asking me how I feel about winning.

“I’d like to talk to you about the fact that men can be feminists too,” he says, “the boundaries are porous, it’s not just about women…” blah blah blah blah blah

He goes on like this, holding my hand hostage, mansplaining man feminism to me for about five minutes.  Once he’s finished, he looks up at me as if he’s forgotten that the hand he’s holding belongs to a person, and says, “What’s your name again?”

This, after I had just given a presentation on radical lesbian feminists and their fight to smash the patriarchy. Oh, the irony.

If this had happened to me a few years ago, I probably would have smiled, and nodded politely, and thanked the man for his thoughtful feedback, and explained that of course men can be feminists too, that everyone should be a feminist, that we were so happy to have him join our ranks, that I was just so grateful to be here in the first place, so lucky to have the support of men like him.

But instead, I took my hand back where it rightfully belonged and explained that there’s a difference between being a feminist and being an ally, and that if he had more questions on that topic, he could consult any number of resources on allyship, and that I really needed to be going.

Thirty minutes later, I was happily holding a big glass of wine in my hand, discussing intersectionality, workplace discrimination, and astrological signs with a group of fellow queer feminist scholars, grinning from ear to ear.

Dear mansplaining faux-feminist, I want you to know that my research, my life choices, my red lipstick, and my activism have nothing to do with you.  I don’t do it for you, and I don’t give a shit about your approval.

I do it for my mother, I do it for my best friend and the baby she’s carrying in her belly, I do it for the friends who cheered me on from the front row, I do it for every girl who walks down the street with her eyes down and her keys between her fingers, I do it for every queer kid who’s ever thought they were the only one, I do it for all the women who could never have stood on a stage and announced to the world that they loved women, I do it for my friends, I do it for my lovers, I do for my family, I do it for myself.

And if you, mansplaining faux-feminist, happen to be in the audience while I’m speaking, rest assured I won’t be paying any attention to you.

Queer Exhaustion

Recently I have started to believe I am suffering from a severe case of queer exhaustion.

It comes from being the only queer person in a room. Or being outed at work to some co-workers I don’t know that well. Or having a well-meaning straight person tell me repeatedly that her kid “definitely isn’t gay” but he really cares about “those issues.” Or reading news about anti-LGBT legislation, that seems to be growing everyday.

At a recent party I was joking with my one other queer coworker about Mean Girls, and how we were both “too gay to function.” A straight coworker who was standing there immediately replied to our laughter with “You know I never said gay as an insult, even when I was a kid.”

Okay? I thought. Congratulations, you’ve reached the most basic level of human decency by not using someone else’s identity as a slur. Then I realized, maybe he thought we were saying gay as a joke, to make fun of ourselves. Maybe our long hair had tricked him into thinking we were straight women, laughing at “the gays.” I’m still not sure what he meant.

All of these incidents are tiny and from people with good intentions, but they add up and take a toll on my spirit. I’m tired of being used by straight people to make them feel like they’re good people because they are nice to a queer person. I’m tired of being erased by people who don’t think a woman who dates women looks like me. I’m tired of feeling like I then have to explain to these people why what they said was hurtful in my work place, and in my personal life, and to strangers I just met.

I am incredibly grateful that I came out at my liberal, historically women’s college, where the queer population is large and varied. Being queer has first and foremost been a joyful identity for me. I love being queer. If I could go back in time and choose my sexual orientation, I would pick being queer every time. It is the lens in which I see the world, and the vehicle that has pushed me into being a more compassionate person, and the means through which I have found my amazing partner. It’s like finding out there is a fourth primary color that everyone knows about, but pretends doesn’t exist. I didn’t come out to people outside of my college, because I wanted to protect that feeling of joy. But then I decided I wouldn’t downplay the person I was in order to make other people comfortable.

One of the tenets of my femme identity has always been practicing compassion and empathy for others. Even before I knew what femme identity was, I liked to be someone who others knew they could go to with their feelings and not be judged. For me, the basis of all relationships is the ability to be vulnerable with another person and trust that you will be received with love. When I started to think about being femme, not just as a way of presenting my gender, but as a way of being, I started to think about how I can practice empathy, not just with folks I’m close to, but also with people who hurt me and disagree with me.

And it’s hard. I am trying to learn how to be compassionate with those who offend and also give myself the room to feel angry when I am erased or tokenized or when I give my trust to someone and feel let down. Sometimes it involves explaining to people why their good intentions can still cause pain. Often it involves retreating to my queer community, to be reassured that I’m not being “too sensitive.”

Right now I am trying to learn the boundaries between caring for myself and allowing other people room to make mistakes. It can be exhausting when those mistakes are made with something I hold dear, like my queer identity, but I believe it is ultimately worthwhile.

Reading is Sexy #3: Women

I read Women in one sitting.

I had been waiting months to read it.  My aunt passed the title my way sometime in October.  I had just moved to the city, and books were already piling up next to my bed, forming a kind of barrier against the window. I started therapy, and developed a new ritual: I would walk out of my therapist’s office (in tears, of course) and make my way to The Strand. I’d pick a book, smell it, read the first few sentences, caress its cover, decide it had to be mine.  I’d buy it, walk across the street to the coffee shop, sit with a cup of coffee, and begin reading.

I kept looking at Women, every time I went into the store.  It was so small, so bare.  I liked the way it didn’t try too hard to be anything, to grab my attention.  Beige cover, brown title, one word.  It reminded me of French bookstores, those lovely, perfect stacks filled with white and beige spines, consistent to the point of madness, differing only in name.

full_women-web-front-cover

When I saw it again, walking through the stacks last Saturday, I knew it was time.  I remembered reading the review, something about a woman falling in love with a woman for the first time, a lesbian coming-of-age story, or something like that.  Oh yes I better read that, I thought.

It’s Saturday night.  My parents have just left after their first time visiting me in the city.  Off they go with their suitcases and bags and photographs of the city.  Once they leave, the illusion of living in a family again (coffee handed to me when I wake up in the morning, how was your day? when I return from school, what should we watch? cramped in the queen bed at night falling asleep together like we always used to do) has left with them.  I am alone in my apartment and we have been walking all day and my feet hurt and it is so quiet here, how is it so quiet here? How could my apartment feel so different, and yet so familiar, as if the months I’ve lived here were my whole life and none of it.

I get annoyed at the sunlight, stubbornly sticking around longer than it has in months.  I make tea, because I’m trying this new thing where I give my body what it needs to teach it what it wants and then I learn that it can want what it needs and right now I really really want a cup of very hot jasmine tea.

I sit on my bed, propped up against the headboard, and I’m holding my tea, and it’s so quiet I wish I could scream just to test it, but that only makes me want to cry, so I grab the book and start reading.

“Girls are cruelest to themselves. — Anne Carson, The Glass Essay”

I am not sure whether to be annoyed or curious by this epigraph.  Any book that begins with “girls are” or “women are” is immediately dubious, in my opinion.

I choose to be curious.

The first few pages sweep me away.  They are beautifully written, tangling past present and future around a central figure, the narrator’s lover, a “her” that goes, at first, unnamed.  It is immediately clear that the narrator will speak of love, try to untangle the meaning of the words tattooed on her lover’s back: “Love, the poet said, is a woman’s whole existence.”

A Virginia Woolf quotation on the first page: this looks promising.

“I am trying to decide what you need to know about Finn before we start,” the narrator explains.  “I don’t know if I will be able to get you to see her the way I saw her.  I worry that if I cannot make you fall in love with her inexplicably, inexorably, and immediately, the way I did, then you will not be experiencing the book in the way I hope you will.”

I should have known, after reading this passage, that I wouldn’t be able to put the book down.  I had to know how the narrator “saw” Finn, what made them fall in love, why she’s talking about their love in the past tense, what went wrong.

“Isn’t it sad to talk about ex-lovers in the past tense,” she says on the next page, “as though they are dead?”

It doesn’t take long before I’m crying.  Page 15, to be exact.  I suppose every person who’s been in love has that list of things that set them off, make them ache.

On page 15, the narrator sleeps over at Finn’s apartment for the first time.  Finn offers her pants to sleep in, they get into bed together, Finn holds her, they can’t fall asleep, they tell each other stories.

I’m aching.

(Dyke Aching was the original title of the book.  Seems fitting.)

It goes on like this, and they fall in love. Or at least, that’s what the narrator calls it.  Love as in: a woman’s whole existence.

The narrator becomes obsessed, unable to hold back even though she knows that Finn is in a relationship with a long-time girlfriend. After sleeping with Finn for several weeks, the narrator begins to wonder if she herself is queer, though she never thought she was.  

I wanted so badly for this book to be revelatory, for the feeling of those first few pages to last. I was so hungry for an honest, tender portrayal of a woman’s first queer relationship, and the heartbreak that follows.

But by the end, I was disappointed.  I got the feeling that the narrator wanted me to be on her side, hating Finn for for breaking her heart.  But I wasn’t on her side. In fact, if anything, I was on Finn’s.

Here’s why:

Reading this book was kind of like falling for a straight girl: she is beautiful and charming at first, but in the end you have to accept that she just isn’t playing for your team.

As I got further and further into the meat of the novel, I felt more and more uncomfortable with the narrator’s depiction of queer women.  Finn is your stereotypical butch character: always wearing men’s clothes, always the one doing the fucking, emotionally unavailable, attracted to “girly” women.  The narrator constantly makes comments about how much more “dramatic” her life has become since dating a woman, an observation that Finn affirms, saying that’s just how women are.

And then there’s the endless pathologizing of the narrator’s own sexuality.  She’s a substance abuser, and Finn is like a drug to her.  She misses her mother, and being with a woman fills that roll… On and on and on.

And then there’s the passage where the narrator, fed up with Finn, decides to brave a dating website.  Her description of the women she goes on dates with would be funny if it weren’t so offensive: the first is a “bike dyke,” the second a U-Hauler, another a vegan.  This was supposed to be funny.  It wasn’t.

And then there’s the fact that being in a relationship with Finn makes the narrator literally lose her mind (episodes of mania, drug abuse, depression).

Finn is left heartbroken and depressed, ruined by her relationship with the narrator.  “I can’t be in a relationship with anyone,” she says, if you have to grieve something, grieve that.”  

It goes on like this, depressing trope after depressing trope, until it finally comes to an end.  

I close the book.  

I’m full of disappointment, and frustration, and judgement.  I wanted you to be everything!  I feel like screaming at the book.  I wanted you to be something else!

The next morning, I sit down to write this post.  I think to myself: yes, here it is, my chance to have revenge.

I start writing.  I pick up the book from time to time, flipping through to remind myself what it was that made me so angry.  I find myself rereading the first few pages.  I find myself unable to stop.  What a beautiful sentence, I think to myself, what a great moment.

And then I realize: this is exactly what it feels like.  To fall in love with someone like Finn.  Looking for a certain reflection of yourself in the other person.  Looking to be affirmed, understood.  Seeing only the beautiful things at first, ignoring the flaws, until they grow in size and soon they are everything, and you are left wondering what exactly it was that you saw in that person in the first place, what it exactly it was that made you think you loved her.

So I guess, in some ways, this book accomplished exactly what it set out to do.

I fell for Women inexplicably, inexorably, and immediately, and it broke my heart.

Not Two, Not One

It is a sunny day in early March, and I take a moment to sit in my body.

The first thing I notice is a tightness in my throat.  I’ve been speaking the name of someone I loved, and I can feel the way the sound of it lingers, lodged neatly between my lips and my lungs.  I let it stay just as it is, heavy in the path of my breath.  I acknowledge all the joy and pain that made it so, and I travel down.

My shoulders are a paradox of strong and weak, resistant to the gravity of my arms, steadfast in support of my head, but weak: always ready to cave in, towards the heart.

And then there’s that one spot of pain I’ve always had, at the bottom of my left shoulder blade.  The same place where I imagine a wing might attach to the bone.  I don’t have wings, but sometimes it hurts as if I had lost them.

Lowering my attention, I circle around the ribcage.  It’s a place I’ve always trusted, a place I always wished I could be closer to.  I spent years fighting with my very skin, thinking that if I could make my body smaller, bring it closer to the outline of my bones, I might find a life more solid, a self more sure.  Today the battle calms, and I try to soothe the scars.

I move gently down, into the dip beneath my lowest rib.

This is the place where I like most to linger.  A place I have only recently come to love.  The place where I am most myself.  My waist, which exists somewhere in the space between breast and hip, is a pliable place where bones meet but never stay, where I bend close to the ones I love, and hold myself when they go away.

The folds of my hips and knees and ankles are the strength at the base of all this longing.  I make angles with my body to meet the weight and lightness of each day, to stand and sit and move through the world.  My feet, folded to meet the ground, know the world as a continually solid thing.

I breathe.  I breathe from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.  I breathe from the follicles of my skin to the marrow of my bones.  

My body is a map.  My body is a destination.

*

I remember the first time I ever meditated.  I was visiting my Aunt, and she invited me to join her in her morning meditation.  “If your thoughts start getting the better of you,” she told me, “just focus on the sounds around you.  Softly name them as they come and go.”  I followed her instructions, viciously shutting down any thoughts that came to mind, so focused on the sounds in the room that I forgot to breathe.  By the time the twenty minutes were over, I felt dizzy.

Almost a year would pass before I meditated again.  So much would happen in those ten months.  I would fall in love for the first time, have my first relationship, graduate college.  And I would do all of this while coming out.

I say “coming out” because it didn’t just happen once.  In fact, it’s still happening.  It’s a decision I make on a daily basis.  It’s a decision I make when I get dressed in the morning, when I get a new haircut, when I shake hands with a stranger.  It’s a decision I made when I decided to write this post.

But in order for any of those decisions to be made, I had to come out to myself.  And to do this, I had to sit with my body, and listen.

For twenty years, I had been telling my body a story.  “Listen,” I said to it, night after night, “this is who you are meant to love, and this is how you are meant to love him.  This is how you are meant to look, and this is what you are meant to wear, and this is how you are meant to walk.  This is how you are meant to be.”  

Until one day, my body revolted.  

I remember the day.  I was standing at the bottom of a spiral staircase in the south of France, embracing a woman I couldn’t seem to let go of.  I remember the feeling of a million tiny magnets sewn into my skin, pulling me to her.  I remember the feeling of her arms around my waist, the way they fit into the pliable space between breast and hip.  And I remember the feeling of my shoulders caving in, towards the heart.

It was only when I listened to my body that I learned to call this love.

*

But what does it mean, to listen to the body?  What does it really mean, to sit?

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki offers the following wisdom:

“Now I would like to talk about our zazen posture.  When you sit in the full lotus position, your left foot is on your right thigh, and your right foot is on your left thigh.  When we cross our legs like this, even though we have a right leg and a left leg, they have become one.  The position expresses the oneness of duality: not two, and not one.  This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one.  Our body and mind are not two and not one.  If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong.  Our body and mind are both two and one.  We usually think that if something is not one, it is more than one; if it is not singular, it is plural.  But in actual experience, our life is not only plural, but also singular.  Each one of us is both dependent and independent.”

I have returned to this teaching again and again.  I have sat with it, walked with it, listened for its echoes in my body.  And part of the reason why it has meant so much to me, this idea of not two and not one, is because it has deepened not only my understanding of meditation, but also my understanding of what it means to be queer.

Just as everyone who practices meditation defines their “practice” in different ways, “queer” means something different to every person who uses it.  I identify as “queer” for this very reason: it is a word that allows for endless definitions, redefinitions, expansions and transformations, a word that is both personal and universal, both singular and plural.  

For me, being queer is not just an identity I hold in my body (as in: I am biologically attracted to women), and it is also not purely an intellectual choice (as in: I choose to be in romantic relationships exclusively with women).  When I say that I listened to my body at the foot of that spiral staircase, the first time I ever had feelings for a woman, I don’t mean that I did so at the expense of my mind.  In that moment, my body and my mind were not two, and not one.  I was not who I thought I was, and exactly who I hoped I would be.  I was new, and I was old. I was confused, and absolutely certain.  

As my meditation practice has deepened and I have sat, day after day, in the “oneness of duality,” a space has opened for my body to be not only object, but also subject, not merely possessed, but also possessing.  Coming out has also meant coming in: facing myself in the stillness, and letting myself simply be.

One of my favorite queer poets, Mary Oliver, says it best:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

The Resiliency of Flowers in Spring

On Sunday it snowed in Boston and my heart broke a little bit.

Daylight’s savings has passed, the sun has set after 6pm, and in the cemetery where I work flowers have been sprouting up in irregular patches, surprising me with glimpses of white and purple on my lunchtime walks. I spent an afternoon on the Boston Common in a dress and no tights, and came home with a light sunburn, marking the shape of my sunglasses on my face.

And despite all that, on Sunday it had the audacity to snow in Boston.

When I woke up on Monday morning to the sight of 4 inches of snow carpeting the ground, I immediately thought of the snowdrops and purple crocuses that had been so eagerly growing as the temperatures had begun to rise. “Goodbye little friends,” I thought. “Maybe you’ll come back again in a few weeks.”

And yet today as I walked from my car to the office I saw something remarkable.

My little flower friends had survived! And even more impressive: there were more of them! Not even a mid-March snow storm could keep them down.

The resiliency of flowers in springtime astounds me every year. Emerging from the long, dark season of winter, where staying in bed feels like a better option than everything else, where we put on layers and don’t let skin touch open air, hearing more dark weather is coming is pretty soul crushing.

Similarly, being a queer femme committed to social justice and liberation, waking up to hear the North Carolina passed a bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT people, or that Kourtney Yochum has become the 7th transgender person to be killed this year, after a winter of hearing vitriolic racism and sexism coming from presidential candidates and watching 1/4 of the queer women characters on TV die, it can feel a little hard to not break down and cry for the state of the world. It can feel like the injustices are piled so high, that there is no way to break through. Like maybe we will never see the sun again.

But the flowers do it. They survive the thing that should kill them over and over again, and they come back, as beautiful and necessary as ever. They rebuild a world that seems to have died and announce that spring is here at last.

So much of my femme identity has been inspired by flowers. They are fragile but resilient. They are vibrant and beautiful, but also necessary to our ecosystem. Flowers have seasons where it’s their time to grow and when it’s their time to go back to the earth, and protect themselves. Also they grow in groups, which is never a bad idea for femmes.

It takes a lot of strength to be able to be vulnerable with others in a way that allows you to take in the sun, but might also allow you to get hurt. It can be challenging to take up space with vibrancy and color in a world that wants you to look or be a certain way. It is hard work to put beauty and love into the world when you know someone will call it frivolous and there is a chance that it might put you in danger. It is scary to dream of a better world when you feel like you are surrounded by hate.

Luckily we have springtime to remind us of what it means to be resilient. To show us what a beautiful world is coming if we believe in it, and keep believing, no matter how long the winter.

We’re making some changes!

Hello Femme as in Fuck You readers,

Thank you so much for following this blog, reading our work, and giving us your feedback! We’re young writers, and having folks interact with our work means the world to us.

When we made this blog back in November we didn’t anticipate how generous our readership would be with sharing our words, or that we would have a readership at all! Some folks have told us they’ve shared our blog with their parents, or their friends, or that our posts have helped them start conversations. That makes us so happy, and to make sharing easier we have decided to change our name.

We love Femme as in Fuck You as a title. We love that is unapologetically angry, and that it refuses to accept stereotypes of what femme should be. However, we do understand that having profanity in our title affects the extent to which folks (including ourselves) feel comfortable sharing the blog. It’s our goal to create conversation, so after many months of back and forth, we have decided at last to retire our original name in favor of something a little more family friendly.

From now on we will go by the name femme for femme. We chose this name because it describes us, just two femmes writing to each other, and to other femmes of the world.

Thanks for all the love and support. We hope you keep on reading!

Your BFFemmes,

Hannah and Marnie

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