Some Notes on Imbolc

Newborn lamb in a stable
  • Imbolc means “in milk,” or “in the belly.”
  • The Wheel of the Year turns to Imbolc on February 2.
  • If it is warm and sunny on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks. If it is cold and cloudy on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks.
  • Lambing season starts in February.
  • A shepherd’s hut is a tiny house on wheels.
  • At Imbolc, the shepherd is the trusted servant of the sheep. The lamb lies in the belly of the Great Mother. It emerges into darkness.
  • Shepherds wait in their tiny houses, they shiver and they stoke the fire.
  • They keep vigil with the ewes. They usher the lamb out into the cold.
  • Many cultures kill and eat a lamb in the spring. Easter happens near Ostara, when the sun shines merciless over the thawing ground.
  • Imbolc happens in darkness.
  • At the monastery, we would sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”
  • Continue reading “Some Notes on Imbolc”

Hello, I Am Still Queer

Photograph of a rainbow flag waving in the breeze

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I present below an essay I first published on my site about 20 years ago. Sexuality and identity run on a spectrum. Today I tend to identify as a queer femme. I like the word queer because it is all-encompassing, placing me in solidarity not only with socially-acceptable gay, lesbian, and bisexual monogamous couples, but with all the rest of us: gender rebels, transfolks, bisexuals, straight supporters, heteroflexibles, kinksters, and others with complicated identities. We all deserve a place in the world and we all have something to contribute.

Because I present visually as gender-typical and my partner is a man, my queer identity is largely invisible today. It doesn’t change the fact that I feel passionately about issues of gender equality in all its forms, and about the ways that gender issues intersect with issues of race, national origin, class, and disability. I’m proud of the way that the queer liberation movement has evolved over the last couple of decades, not only in terms of legal protections for same-sex couples, but also for the new awareness and advocacy for trans folks and for femmes of all genders.

On the Definition of a Lesbian Continue reading “Hello, I Am Still Queer”

Trigger Warning: Jesus is Lord, Francis is Pope

Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States raised a lot of complicated feelings for me. On the one hand, I’m glad he walks the walk of his namesake. In the other hand, it’s far too little and far too late; nothing he does or says in his tenure as Pope is likely to repair the damage of my Catholic upbringing. Continue reading “Trigger Warning: Jesus is Lord, Francis is Pope”

Interview with Carolina de Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango

In her new book The Gods of Tango, bestselling author Carolina de Robertis weaves together a story addressing the issues of race, class, immigration, and sexuality as beautifully as the tango weaves together the music of Argentina’s many immigrant communities. In language musical and brutal by turns, de Robertis tells the story of Leda, a young Italian immigrant who passes as a man in order to pursue her dream of becoming a tango musician. Along the way, we learn the back stories of many other characters and the obstacles they overcome — or fail to overcome — as their lives intersect with Leda’s. de Robertis took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her work.

Image of a woman with long hair and red lipstick wearing a red sleeveless shirt.
Carolina de Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango

What inspired you to write this book and what sort of research did you need to do to write it?

I began with the seed of my own great-grandmother’s immigration experience, from Italy to Argentina. I quickly saw, however, that from that seed I wanted to grow a much larger story, not only about the great migration of that time to South America, but also about the rich cultural history of the tango’s origins, and about female transgression into an underworld of men.

I did a huge amount of research. I scoured libraries and bookstores, read piles of books in English, Spanish and Italian (badly), walked the streets of Buenos Aires and Montevideo and Naples and my ancestral village in Italy, took tango dance lessons and violin lessons, and consulted with all sorts of experts, from musicologists and musicians to friends on the transgender spectrum. Continue reading “Interview with Carolina de Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango”

Interview with Alexandra Delancey, Author of Lesbian Romance Always Her

Always Her, by Alexandra Delancy
Always Her, by Alexandra Delancy

Alexandra Delancey’s novellas Always Her and Me and Her chronicle the love story between newly-out Elise and ultra-cool tomboy Jack. I caught up with Alexandra recently to talk with her about her characters, her craft, and the business of publishing in the age of e-books.

Your characters are well-drawn and idiosyncratic, especially some of the more minor ones like Tatiana, Christie, and Alyssa. How did your own experience of the lesbian scene inform these characters?
That’s really nice to hear. I didn’t base any of them on individual people that I know, but I wanted to reflect the experience of being in your early twenties and being gay, or thinking that you might be gay, and the insecurities and preconceptions that sometimes accompany it. I spent my twenties discovering the lesbian scenes of several countries, and they all have their own norms and cliques. They can be frustrating at times, but they’re a lot of fun too. What I’ve always loved about the scene is that it gives you an opportunity to meet a much broader cross section of people than you otherwise might, so I tried to make my characters diverse in order to reflect that.

Tell me more about how the characters of Jack and Elise evolved.
I like writing tomboyish characters. Continue reading “Interview with Alexandra Delancey, Author of Lesbian Romance Always Her”

For Beth with the Golden Hair Published in Oddball Magazine

Oddball Magazine just published my poem “For Beth with the Golden Hair.”

I am a weaker version of you
you are a stronger version of me
you said as you did not grind the gears
as you pushed it into fifth

Read the full poem here: http://oddballmagazine.com/2015/02/25/poem-by-frances-donovan/

Hanne Blank's Take on National Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today (November 20) is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Please take a moment to honor those whose lives, health, and safety have been taken from them because of their gender expression. My fellow queer writer Hanne Blank posted something on Facebook today that sums up my feelings about transphobia perfectly. It’s reposted with permission below.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance I am thinking of those we’ve lost and thinking about the connection between anti-trans violence, misogyny, femmephobia, and, most of all, power.

When people on the transfeminine spectrum are attacked for being trans, a large part of what is going on is that they are being punished for having the audacity to relinquish masculinity and the symbolic power of masculinity while being, or originally being, male-bodied.

This is power and that is supposed to be inherent and inseparable from being male-bodied.

When people on the transmasculine spectrum are attacked for being trans, a large part of what is going on is that they are being punished for having the audacity to claim masculinity and the symbolic power of masculinity while not being, or not originally being, male-bodied.

This is power that it is supposed to be impossible to possess if one is *not* male-bodied.

I am, of course, oversimplifying. Anti-trans violence consists of many things. But I oversimplify to make a point, because anti-trans violence is at root the violence of misogyny and femmephobia.

Anti-trans violence rests, in a fundamental way, on the notion that maleness equals power and femaleness equals lack of power.

The fact that so many people get attacked and killed because their bodies and/or genders and/or gender performances disrupt this equation is one reason that as a feminist, and a cisgendered woman, I care deeply about trans* issues and trans* safety.

Trans* folk are unsafe in this world for exactly the same reasons that I as a cisgendered woman am unsafe in this world: any power I have or exhibit looks like a threat to many people invested in the vast complicated power of patriarchy. It destabilizes what they rightly perceive to be the historical source of their (supposedly innate, rightful, inalienable) power.

I would ask you to think about this today, as you remember the trans*folk who have been attacked and killed as a response to the ways they destabilized the myth of inalienable and inevitable male power.

And I would ask you to think as well why it is that we have no day of remembrance for cisgendered women who are attacked and killed for the same reasons.

If you care about one, it is morally incumbent upon you to care about the other. Because they are, at root, the same thing.

My cisgendered femme feminist solidarity has been with trans*folk from day one because I have always perceived the ways in which we face a common enemy.

With love and deep appreciation I am asking you to consider this, and what it means — or perhaps should mean — for your own expressions of political and cultural and community solidarity around the problems of sex, gender, and power.

(Note: Yes, you may repost/link/etc. if you wish, but please credit me, Hanne Blank)

More about Hanne Blank:

Resources in the USA and Canada for GLBT Folks and the People Who Love Them

My company’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) employee organization forwarded me this list, compiled by the Employee Assistance Trade Organization. These are organizations and hotlines that can help queer folk with all areas of our lives, including coming out, advocacy, workplace issues, healthcare access, legal problems, gay-friendly religious organizations, and violence recovery. I’ve added a couple of links to organizations in the Boston area as well.

Continue reading “Resources in the USA and Canada for GLBT Folks and the People Who Love Them”

Speaking Out About Sexism and Harassment is a Way for Feminist Writers to Find One Another

The Hairpin recently published a piece by Emma Healy about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways men ignore, negate, and harass women in the world of writing and publishing. Stories like the ones she and her colleagues recount make me feel so much less crazy as I contemplate returning to the world of writing and publishing, an industry I ran from years ago when New Media was the big idea. The Web seemed like an easier alternative to the hermetically sealed world of NYC publishing houses and academic presses. I started publishing my work on my own website in 1996 and haven’t looked back since. On a few occasions, it’s even resulted in literary journals soliciting my work — something unheard of in the more traditional literary world.

Like just about any industry on earth, web development (or web design, or web application development, or interactive design, or UI/UX design, or whatever the kids are calling it these days) is also a boys’ club. In the 1990s, I was a member of an organization called Webgrrls that brought women in the field together, but sometime around the turn of the century its founder Aliza Sherman sold it to a man (!) and it faded into obscurity. That heralded the end of the golden days of the web, a world that’s been co-opted by Silicon Valley startup capital and an increasingly crowded and complex Internet (or the Intarwebs, or the Tubes, or the blagosphere, or whatever the kids are calling it these days).  The gender discrimination I’ve faced has been subtle and difficult to name. On the whole, my experience has been less creeptastic dudebro trying to get in my pants and more male coworkers bonding over football and beer and then passing me over for promotions.

I try to keep frustration and bitterness from poisoning my interactions with the literary world, but I remain continually disgusted at how hard it is for women to get published and heard in mainstream society. There are bright spots in today’s landscape, such as the VIDA Count, Feministing, Jezebel, the Hairpin, and Gender Focus. Some small feminist presses still survive (Kore Press in Arizona and Alice James books in New England spring to mind. But I’ve found no central community for feminist writers (or queer feminist writers, for that matter), either in print or online. I long for the days of women’s bookstores and feminist presses — in spite of the fact that my experience with New Words in Cambridge wasn’t stellar. Part of the problem is that writers are a solitary lot. Poets in particular aren’t known to be paragons of mental stability, a necessary prerequesite for lasting friendships.

Now that I have a male partner and very little contact with the queer community, finding queer women’s voices in any form of media is an uphill battle. Sexism is a thing people keep denying exists. Feminists continue to have to expend tremendous time and energy just getting people to believe that there is a problem that needs to be changed. In spite of M’s large circle of lesbian friends (he actually knows more dykes than I do), we constantly butt heads when I point out the ways in which women are marginalized in the movies and TV shows we watch together.

And the world of queer women hasn’t changed so much from the 90s when I first came out. It’s still hidden, offline, held in living rooms instead of public spaces. Biphobia still makes it hard for women like me to feel fully part of “gay and lesbian” culture, and legalization of gay marriage has actually widened the gap between “good queers” (monogamous and married, just like you, America!) and “bad queers” (freaky bisexuals with multiple partners and transfolk who dare to challenge the notion of a binary gender system).

Amazon and Barnes & Noble killed the small bookstores like Reader’s Feast in Hartford, CT and New Words in Cambridge, MA, places that served as a focal point for feminist and queer community. I myself worked at a Barnes & Noble with a tiny “gay and lesbian” section (note the absence of the B and T in GLBT) tucked away in the back of the store at foot level, all of its titles shelved spine-out instead of face-out.

New Words closed in the ’00s, and Toni Amato’s Write Here Write Now is on hiatus while Toni recovers from a lengthy illness. Since then, I haven’t yet found a space (meatspace or cyberspace) that focuses on queer, feminist writers struggling to get published. Since I chose a decent paycheck over the groves of academia, I find it that much more difficult to find writers and artists with the time and energy needed to create community in addition to — you know — actually making art. I’ve hosted salons, an Artist’s Way group, a reading series, and writing workshops. These efforts can be rewarding but they also drain me of the resources (spoons, even) I need to do the thing I love the most, which is to write.

So this is a call to action to all queer feminist writers who might read this blog: please share with me where you’ve found or built community for yourself. If you haven’t found one or are hungry for more, consider joining the group I’ve created on Facebook in an effort to foster such a place in a virtual space. Here is the link to the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/womenwritersandpoets/

What Lokito's Death Reminded Me About the Gifts of Being Present During Painful Moments

photograph of a cat and a kitten on a suburban lawn
Old man Walter and young pup Loki

I was visiting a good friend in Hartford, CT on a fine spring day in 1998 when a passel of kittens tumbled across her neighbor’s driveway and onto the grass, mewing and scratching and generally working their kitten magic. From that litter I adopted Loki, a tiger/calico mix with kohl-like markings around his eyes. It seemed appropriate to name a kitten after the Norse god of mischief.

He lived up to his name. On Saturday mornings he would skitter over the hardwood floors of my apartment and under my futon, scratching the underside of it and then running away again. He and Leo, the cat who adopted my mom while she was loading newspapers into her car in the dead of night, would roughhouse in that apartment, jumping three feet or higher at moths, flies, and — in one case — a bat who flew in through the chimney. Other times he would sit and stare at a blank wall for hours. At night he would plop his soft body down next to mine and purr and rub his forehead against my face.

When I moved to Boston to live with Quick in 1999, Loki began sleeping on her side of the bed. She would nudge me and say, “Look at this little animal.” I would grumble that he used to be my little animal.

My relationship with Quick was far from perfect. On one of the multiple occasions when she kicked me out of the house — or when I tried to leave her — I packed up Loki in a carrier and took him with me. She cried over Loki’s departure, not mine. I finally succeeded in breaking away in 2003, just a few months before gay marriage became the law of the land in Massachusetts. When I did, I left him with her. A lawyer, she used to say (more than half seriously) that we had joint custody, but she had physical custody.

Loki developed many health problems later in life. Quick’s obsessive tendencies proved a boon for Loki. She kept him alive through FLUTD, diabetes, lymphoma, IBD, and cancer. Loki was a faithful companion to her through all of it. His health really started to deteriorate in November. Quick kept him alive for six more months,.

Quick called me from Angell Memorial on a Friday night at about 5:30. When I arrived, he was panting in an oxygen tent, unable to raise his head. He’d lost about one-third of his body weight. I could see by his eyes the prison that his body had become. Quick and I had both wanted him to die at home, not on a metal slab surrounded by the cries of other sick animals. But he was so sick, there was no way for us to take him home without causing him even worse pain. Over the course of the next few hours, I helped Quick make the difficult decision to end his life rather than prolong his suffering. Sixteen years after I saw him tumble across my friend’s back garden, Quick and I said our goodbyes to him in that oxygen tent.

I used to say that lovers come and go, but that kitties are forever. They live shorter lives than us though, and it’s inevitable that we will be with them from birth to death. The inevitability doesn’t make the pain of their passing any easier though. Loki’s passing underscores the passing of my own youth — my maiden years. I’m happy to release some of the pain and bewilderment of those years, even as I become aware of my own life’s finite nature. I’m grateful that Quick allowed me to be there with her and Loki, to make those difficult decisions with her and for her, and to be his other mother again during his final hours.

Not everyone understands why I hold on to relationships with ex-lovers. I’ve always found the traditional “straight” approach to love relationhips rather troubling: here is someone you’ve spent most of your waking hours with, for years or even decades, and then you’re supposed to pretend like they don’t exist? I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a period of separation, but at some point in the future I think it’s healthy to remain on at least civil terms with an ex. It’s a way of validating the beauty and connection that happened between you, even if it didn’t result in shared property or kids or whatever else society tells us it means to win at love.

The world of lesbian and queer women is so small, there’s extra pressure to remain on civil terms with an ex. Otherwise, you’d very quickly run out of friends and hangout spots. But there’s another, deeper reason why I hold on to my relationship with Quick. We both know what it’s like to be a woman living alone in a city with no family nearby. Even though we’re no longer partners or lovers, even though we don’t see one another very often anymore, I still consider her to be my family. She’s shown up for me during some very trying times and I’ve done the same for her. I view maintaining the relationship as a way for me to make living amends for the ways in which I wasn’t able to be there for her when we were together. And as I get older and friends move away — or die — I value more and more the longevity of relationships.

When I was in my 20s, I was so full of my own suffering — and my own vision of how the world should be — I couldn’t really pay attention to the experience of other people. Since that time I’ve become more comfortable with ambiguity, more accepting of the world’s imperfections.

I’ve learned what a gift it can be to have someone witness your pain and suffering without trying to fix it, deny it, or appropriate it. Since experiencing that gift myself, there have been a few occasions where I’ve been able to pass it on. This time was particularly powerful. I felt that I could be present not just for Loki, not just for Quick, but also for all those younger versions of myself who fell in love with Loki, who raised him, who met and fell in love with Quick, who suffered through the breakup, and who came out the other side.