Discover more from warm cups of tea
everything will glow for you
thoughts and vibes. happy pride
Winter is here. As I type this, there are about 22 hours from my 22nd birthday. I’m not keen to dwell on it, though I did listen to Pure Heroine earlier, the album of my high school years. I don’t know what city I will be in six months from now, except that the cheapest and likeliest option of the three is to stay. Which I can do! The air getting colder, life expanding, though I think that coolness is meant to make things shrink. Help yourself to some dark chocolate and a cup of chrysanthemum tea.
Slightly different from a normal Joanne newsletter~ I wrote this last year for a submission, did not get selected but it was probably quite good for me to write. I wouldn’t really know because I don’t think about stuff like that. Very grounded in who I was about a year ago and also me as a person. Like it does feel brutally personal and I am throwing it out there even though I do hate when people perceive me, I tend to write this newsletter as if to a void that has five friends at most inside it. Still. I know that some of you will have read this (I love you) and it has only minor edits and additions in square brackets so yes. Happy pride month.
under all this
Love, love, go ahead and have another plate of it, it doesn’t run out. — Richard Siken
The day is a strangely sunny autumn. I am on the swings, thinking about change and growing older and who I am and what I am doing and listening to Mitski sing, I was so young when I behaved twenty-five / but lately I’ve been feeling like a tall child. I am terrified of time slipping through my fingers at the same time as experiencing events and emotions I could never have imagined possible a year or two ago. I am, somehow, constantly learning about myself. Every time I think I’m done, I discover something new. Some days I get so full of love that I’m coughing up flowers.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinba writes, ‘Sometimes I feel like I’ve been writing the same story since I started writing, about love that stays and love that blows up no matter how careful you tend it.' Claiming even part of this statement troubles me, because I have a nebulous relationship with my own identity, and trouble contorting my self-image to claim that I am a ‘writer’. But I, too, often feel like I only ever write about one thing, or many things which amount to the same story — loneliness and desire and confusion and hope and lesbianism, all wrapped and interlinked and indivisible to me. Love is seeping into everything.
It’s in August 2019 that I first stumble upon Leah’s essay, part of a pdf uploaded online called 'On Butch-Femme: Compiled Readings'. This becomes my first real introduction to butch/femme history, dynamics, culture, literature, extending my understanding beyond google results and social media posts. A year and a half later, I am in the 306 section of the library in search of books on death in Rome when I come across a small collection of texts on lesbianism. I borrow the hot pink Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme and I rediscover Leah’s essay on femme friendship. I call her Leah as if we’re friends and it’s true that I do feel a certain kinship to all lesbians, to people throughout history who have felt the way I feel, loved the way I love. In the introduction to Persistence, editor Zena Sharman recounts carrying library books home in a red wagon, and explains: 'I’ve read my way into everything that’s ever mattered to me — feminism, social justice, queerness, femme.' I read this in the afternoon sun as the tram rattles down the road and I understand.
The year is 2013 and I am carving myself into the internet, reckless and painfully lonely and chasing the shininess of online validation. The world is open for my exploration and so I begin to fracture myself across tumblr and goodreads and emails with internet friends. I enshrine my thoughts and interests online. I meet people who share my interests and like the media that I like and I talk to them and it’s not that I ignore real life, more that I have multiple. Both are soundtracked by Lorde’s Pure Heroine, an album I will return to over and over again. I am only as young as the minute is, full of it. Foolish, really. But I jump and I’m buffeted by ephemeral connections and everlasting friendships.
I think at first that it’s natural to be drawn to women. I just think Rose Tyler is neat. I convince myself that I’m too young for real romance though I devour books that suggest otherwise. I latch onto Blue Sargent of The Raven Cycle, who is told throughout her life that her true love will die when she kisses him, so she decides she will simply not fall in love. The question of sexuality lingers on the edge of my thoughts and my microblogging exploits but it’s easy to turn away until it isn’t. Suddenly it’s late 2014, early 2015, and I’m questioning my sexuality for the first time but definitely not the last. I join twitter, expand my circles and my online exploits, I am drawn into direct contact with girls my age open in their affection for and attraction to actresses, to celebrity women, to other girls. I am listening to Taylor Swift’s cover of Riptide, hearing her sing I swear she’s destined for the screen / closest thing to Michelle Pfieffer that you’ve ever seen and only later do I truly understand the rush of emotion. Blue Sargent falls in love and to this day I think the resulting relationship is the foundation and pinnacle of romance, though I now also view the relationship as lesbian-coded [Gansey is lesbian gay bisexual and trans coded all at once btw, happy pride month]. Eventually, I find books with gay characters, read Everything Leads to You and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and The Song of Achilles. Mired in a cisheteronormative world and unwilling to let go of potential attraction to men, I decide I must be asexual and biromantic and I come out on facebook almost on a whim and I will look back with mixed regret and admiration but I am almost fifteen now and a little bit fearless. ‘Girls Like Girls’ by Hayley Kiyoko changes my life, just slightly.
I am considering Extension 2 English as a HSC subject when I write a poem about a girl. I get told that I could write poetry, or experimental fiction, and although I proceed to drop this unit as soon as possible, the idea of being maybe-a-writer stays. The crush also stays, and somewhere along the line, being gay moves from being an abstract, somewhat obvious sentiment (of course I would date a girl!) to a glistening reality, one that becomes easier and easier to think about. I listen to 8tracks mixes about impossible, unrequited crushes. Fun Home is on Broadway; I listen to Fun Home and then I read Fun Home and I start to extend a hand to the fact that I am a lesbian. [And in 2022 I will watch Fun Home! Cried!] In 2017, Bill Potts is the companion for the twelfth doctor for a season of Doctor Who and I get to see a Black lesbian on this show that I know and love. That same year, Alex the Astronaut releases Not Worth Hiding and then in 2018 I attend her show at the Corner Hotel with a borrowed ID because I am still seventeen and cry throughout the song. Somehow, it is easy to know I like women, difficult to say I don’t like men. [Isn’t that always the case?] I get there, with media and the internet and eventually the people around me as a roadmap.
This little timeline isn’t to indulge in nostalgia for my teenage self, though my heart does break for her. I’ve never felt more alone / feels so scary, getting old. Not even to delve into my internet and media consumption archive, though both are important. Mostly, I want to say this: growing up on the internet harmed me in many ways, but it is also why I know I am a lesbian and why I am able to embrace it so wholeheartedly. Kimberly Dark:
Is it any wonder that we know what we know when we know it? History is not linear; our collective understanding of social phenomena lurches forward and falls back again, always intersecting variously with the individual paths we tread, the ways we understand ourselves, where we grow up, and how we’re taught to feel about being ‘other.’
I grew up and came of age on the internet and I don’t know my life trajectory without it.
As it turns out, understanding yourself is a continual process. In 2019, posts about butches capture my attention somehow and I begin to read about the butch/femme dynamic and its historical roots. I find myself weeping, though I don’t understand why. To be fair, I am an emotional person. Eventually, I read Stone Butch Blues, which changes me in the same intrinsic way that Fun Home and the ‘Girls Like Girls’ music video did. Realising my love for butches is a bit like realising I was gay in the first place, where things fall into place when I didn’t even know there were puzzle pieces missing. At the same time, I want to resist how good and easy it feels. I feel like a rock at the foot of a waterfall.
What does it mean to me, to call myself femme? I don’t feel equipped to answer that. So much history that I am on the edge of, so many experiences I have never had, so many things that only exist as a feeling or an idea. The fact that butch/femme history exists as a subset of lgbtq history exists as a subset of mainstream history, and even then it is dominated by white people. It feels strangely self-important to even pose the question as if my answer matters. I think about it often though. I really do. [I am normalising but I still do this]. It means loving butches, and studs, and people who defy and reject gender binaries, and I do; I love their thoughtfulness, their visibility, their refusal to conform, their carefully built confidence, their little outfits of t-shirt and jeans and jacket and ring of keys. I think that I am both loud and quiet about my lesbianism, and it has taken this long to realise that who I love is a core part of me. I love that I can think about one day being in love. And I love that there is such diversity amongst the lgbtq community at large. I don’t actually think being femme can be divided from caring for and vocally supporting the people left most vulnerable in cis-heteropatriarchy built on the pillars of colonialism / capitalism / imperialism. It should be a place of comfort, one which holds a certain responsibility to remain both aware and (still, always) loving.
But what I really mean is, I’m not in the swing of things yet. But what I really mean is, this is an ongoing journey I am travelling with longing intertwined with a certain kind of doubt, all tempered by disbelief that such happiness is possible.
James Baldwin explains, ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’ You read, and you realise that there have been others like you forever. Sometimes, you grow up without ever seeing yourself reflected back to you and you often don’t even realise it until you read and you meet the aloneness that you have carried until now and then you befriend it and tend to it until it grows into a connection with humanity across time. The Sappho fragment, ‘someone will remember us / i say / even in another time’ that has surely affirmed so many gay people throughout Western history.
It’s also shocking, realising again and again that you’re not alone. In Stone Butch Blues, Jess reads Gay American History, and it becomes a moment of epiphany:
I grew up believing the way things are now is the way they’ve always been, so why even bother trying to change the world? But just finding out it was ever different, even if it was long ago, made me feel things could change again. Whether or not I live to see it. [...] At work, when everyone else is at lunch, I’ve been typesetting all the history I’ve found, trying to make it look as important as it feels to me. That’s what I want to leave behind, Ruth—the history of this ancient path we’re walking. I want it to help us restore our dignity.
In 2020, Darcy Leigh established butcharchive.com ‘based on the principle [...] that we can all be archivists or curators in our own bedrooms, with whatever we have to hand’. This labour of love feels similar to Madeline Davis and Elizabeth L. Kennedy’s desire to write Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, determined to document the lesbian community of Buffalo, New York in the 1950s-60s. It’s similar to Joan Nestle compiling The Persistent Desire: A Butch-Femme Reader in response to rampant butchphobia in the lesbian community in the 1990s, and Ivan Coyote and Zena E. Sherman wanting to document their own cultural moment with Persistence two decades later (a mixed bag, truly spans the spectrum of opinions), and the filmmakers of Rebel Dykes (2021) believing that a 1970s London dyke subculture deserves to be immortalised through film.
Such projects are doubly meaningful because they work directly against the grain of the mainstream. The effect of being excluded from history only intensifies when you can identify it.
The poet Chen Chen writes:
‘I had to Google 'coming out.' I had to Google 'lie vs. lay.' I had to Google 'gay and Asian' and found mainly what white men had to say about bodies like mine. I had to Google 'gay Asian American literature.' I had to Google 'queer.' I had to Google 'fag.' I had to search for one sentence with 'I' that eventually I could say out loud.’
In a few short lines, he pierces the heart of a complex experience, that of being a gay person of colour desperately trying to understand your own experiences, to seek yourself and a community. I think of Kitty Tsui’s essay, 'Who says we don’t talk about sex?' which I still cling to as proof that we have always been here. I think of Malinda Lo writing a young adult book about 1950s San Francisco and choosing to write a young Chinese-American lesbian into that history, not knowing the impact it would have on me.
I would probably still be a lesbian if I hadn’t been so alarmingly online as a child (I really was a child) but the journey would look very different. The internet guided me towards history and books and music, acting as a library, an archive, a source of community. Maybe the internet raised us / or maybe? / people are jerks. The internet has been, at various times, a refuge and a coping mechanism. It is still my main method of communicating with friends, especially those interstate and across the world. It is unbelievably healing to be surrounded with gay and trans people online and/or offline, to belong to a community in the present day. The Social Network (2010) is a romantic comedy disguised as a serious movie about facebook, but so often I remember Justin Timberlake’s line, ‘now we’re going to live on the internet’.
Interacting with lesbian history and culture is still strange to me. Sometimes it finds me, usually I have to seek it out. I’m learning to curate. Projects like the Australian Queer Archives group on facebook, the publication Butch Is Not a Dirty Word which ties its thread to where On Our Backs left off. I like to make an effort to consume media by and about gay people, to piece together an exhibition if only for myself. Works like Angels in America or The Color Purple or Pride (2014) become a doorway into the past, an acknowledgement of those who have come before. Other times the media I consume makes me feel startlingly present, connected to humanity and filled with love — Moonlight (2016) and Rafiki (2018), ‘Pynk’ by Janelle Monae and the Season 1 finale of Derry Girls all spring to mind. It is overwhelming to know that I am not alone in being moved.
These days, I try whenever I can to read / talk to / learn from people whose experiences are sometimes like mine and sometimes vastly different, and I’m deeply grateful that I can. None of us live the same lives, creating a wealth of experience that is marvellous in itself. The spark of recognition never quite dims — it’s a spark of connection and community, the heady knowledge that people like me exist; other lgbtq people, other lesbians, other lesbians of colour. Jeanne Viray’s ‘Everything is Copy,’ and Danny Silva Soberano’s ‘You’re Abundance,’ and Ellen van Neervan’s ‘The Only Blak Queer in the World,’ place such a distinct gladness in my heart, works by local gays. Hearing from and about people like you is healing, yes. And I will take this moment to affirm the importance of solidarity between and within communities. A great tip in life is to make lesbian friends and I have so much gratitude for the lesbians and gays and bisexuals and trans people I call friends, and those I have read or learned from or spoken to or seen on a Fitzroy street — and straight friends who I love dearly too, and am grateful to have in my life. [Transmisogyny in unexpected places has made me sad these past few days, so I emphasise that trans women have always been our friends and our lovers, their existence brilliant and never easy.] We need each other.
Sometimes I listen to k.d. lang sing From your lips she drew ‘hallelujah’ and I imagine being alive in the 1990s when she came out, or maybe the 1950s when lesbian bar culture was at its heyday. It’s a thrilling thought experiment, like the sudden drop on a rollercoaster. Sometimes I still don’t know if I’m allowed to feel all that.
Sometimes I think that I write too much about being a lesbian [I’m diversifying this slowly]. I came into this by reading, and I think I am grappling with it through writing and social media activity alike. Articulating thoughts and ideas in words will often make them appear clearer to me, a mirror where objects are closer than they appear. It’s an intrinsic part of my identity that to this day I am nervous to present to those who love me but when I write I circle back to the same ideas. Driven by the need to express and sometimes I hope that someone will see it and be moved.
In one interview, singer-songwriter/author Michelle Zauner suggests: ‘anyone who’s written something knows that it can be quite a struggle and you can be so clear in your head of how you want to communicate an idea and somehow never quite hit it.’ In Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Little Dog tells his Ma about his uncertainty when he first started writing, how he hated that uncertainty, ‘Even when I know something to be true as bone I fear the knowledge will dissolve, will not, despite my writing it, stay real.’ Both sets of doubt may be largely personal, driven by anxiety and self-questioning that I do relate to, but they are indubitably amplified by being a person of colour in a very white literary space. Impostor syndrome is very real when the system actively does not cater to you, when you have internalised the isolation of growing up without representation. Still, I feel like words have failed me, the words all escaping and coming back all damaged, it’s so much not enough, it must be why I am always so referential. Me, a pomegranate that has been cut in half.
It’s while I’m wondering if I’m even allowed to write about any of this, if it is even worthwhile, if there is something wrong with the fact that everything I write comes back to love in some way, that I find Rina Sawayama’s words on her song ‘Cherry’: ‘I’m happy that releasing it was [in and of itself] an act against my own internal biphobia and thought process that it doesn’t matter, as if there was no need to tell this story.’ I like this idea of storytelling as courage.
We have not touched the stars, nor are we forgiven, which brings us back to the hero’s shoulders, and the tenderness that comes, not from the absence of violence, but despite the abundance of it. — Richard Siken
It’s winter now. Lorde has released a new single, the first in four years, and it reminds me of everyone I have been and the fact that I am still me. Day after day, I feel as though I am only just waking up when the sun begins its descent, golden light filtering through clouds and curtains. Hours spent lying in bed under two blankets and listening to Bon Iver sing, and at once I knew I was not magnificent. He talks about how there is a significance in realising your own insignificance, and realising the smallness of my life somehow makes it easier to link hands with doubt and let go of delusions and open myself to the world instead, to live my small life to its fullest. I am here, threading myself quietly into a tapestry of stories, and that is enough.
punch drunk dumb struck pot luck happy happy
May was strange. I attended my university graduation ceremony, officially closing the ‘undergraduate arts student’ chapter of my life. The feeling was mostly that the ceremony was absolutely not worth the cost of a ticket. Still, it was nice. That same week I attended my brother’s high school concert and a friend’s composition concert and Camp Cope’s concert and another friend’s graduation dinner and then on Sunday night I fainted on the tram and then I was sick in bed for the next week. Election day May 21, an excruciating election period followed by some vague hope that was truly exhilarating and then the comedown of that high and now the wait for the new government to do at least three useful things. That’s not a high bar. And now those heavy days in June / when love became an act of defiance. Love always.
Reading has been slow but is speeding up, currently reading The Violent Century. Thoughts on the Derry Girls ending are that Clare is everything to me and in this case it is as if we really did know these girls, and they really are growing up, it’s wild that it’s over, I have been so into commas and clauses instead of starting new sentences lately. Listening to Florence + the Machine’s Dance Fever — favourite songs must be ‘King’, ‘Free’ and ‘Morning Elvis’ — and Mallrat’s Butterfly Blue — I adore the final run of songs, 'Arms Length’ and ‘Obsessed’ and the titular ‘Butterfly Blue’. I have not listened to the new Ball Park Music in depth but I like what have heard and expect it to grow on me; Wolf Alice is still on rotation; happy Jubilee and Blue Weekend day to all who celebrate.
Yeah. Silly quirky mood I guess. Scheduling so that By The Time You Read This, I Should Be Asleep.
I don’t exist btw.
Thank you all.