Monthly Archives: June 2013

First Time

My ticket came in the mail yesterday.  I am excited but nervous.  Not telling my friends about it.  Wishing that the larger queer/lesbian/feminist community realized how important [WBW]omen’s space is, or realized the violent significance in the attacks against it and against those who would attend…
On that note, a repost:
A Letter to My Community Regarding the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival by Sara St Martin Lynne on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 8:03pm

I came out in 1990. I was sixteen years old. The term “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” gave me a certain power as I walked the hallways of my rural high school with my favorite girl. It spoke to a knowing that I had community, and that I had decided to not be ashamed – even as said girl and I got shoved around, verbally harassed and punished by our parents. It provided me with a slogan that made me feel like I had strength in numbers. It gave me a framework to understand and celebrate my outsider status.

That was more than half my lifetime ago now. Since then, I have been deeply involved in the issues of my LGBT community. I have spoken on LGBT panels at high schools and in churches. I have done AIDS outreach in bars and on railroad tracks. I have organized rallies.  I have attended rallies. I have donated money. I have attended too many vigils for our dead. I have sat through endless coalition meetings. I have celebrated with you. I have mourned with you. I have shown up.  I am not bringing this up for the sake of being self-congratulatory. I am bringing this up to say that this community raised me. And to say that I never imagined I would find myself standing on what appears to be the wrong side of the line with this community– especially as it relates to our shared and unique LGBT liberation movements. Then I fell in love with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

Like many women who love the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I have been deeply troubled over what is happening within the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. Yes, we are wrestling with a definition of woman that upholds the significance of socialized experience as well as self-identification. No, this has not been easy. We are a community of women with a lot of varying thoughts, beliefs and convictions. We do our best to listen to one another respectfully. We have been called upon by women inside of our community and by the larger community to examine the boundaries of our autonomous space. We are doing that, pretty much 24 hours a day. I can guarantee you that no other conscious community is working harder or thinking more about the politics of women’s autonomous space than the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. We have engaged each other in heated conversations, we have brought one another to tears at times, and some of us have made the very hard decision to step away while some of us have made an even deeper commitment to the sustainability of the festival regardless of our position on the inclusion of trans identified women at the festival.  In the context of these interactions, there is a general understanding that while two women may not agree on this topic (or the myriad of others that have come up over the years),that each woman has a common love and respect for the festival and a desire to contribute to the community in a way that will benefit everyone involved. I have friends who have told me that while they may disagree with me, that they love and respect me all the more for my participation and voice in our discussions. I feel their love and respect. I believe them. And I love and respect them back.

For the most part, I have chosen to engage with friends and in face-to-face conversations  with people in my community rather than lend my voice to the multitude of threads and “debates” about the festival that are taking place all over the Internet. I have had a couple experiences recently that have changed my mind.

The first of these experiences was reading an article that was recently published in “The Advocate” entitled “Is It Wrong to Play Michfest?” In this article, the producer of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was referred to as a “liar” and compared to George Wallace. There is a loud voice in our LGBT community that is actively calling for the villainization and defamation of a woman who has devoted her entire adult life and career to building up, creating and sustaining a place of safety, strength and celebration of the women who make up a large percentage of the LGBT community. The effort to erase her work and reduce her legacy to that of a public enemy of the LGBT community, a “bigot” and a“false feminist” (are you kidding me?!) is ridiculous, cruel, appalling and simply not acceptable. Whether you agree with her feminist politics or not, Lisa Vogel deservesa whole hell of a lot more respect than that.

Then I received a series of private messages on Facebook in response to a statement I publically posted on a page called “Allies in Understanding” The first message simply said, “I am anti-Michigan and I did not like your post.” Another that said “Not at all” and another claiming “We will succeed at tearing that place down”. It is relevant to mention that nowhere in my post did I even make mention of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It is not the first time I have heard the term “anti-Michigan” or seen threats about “tearing it down”. Those messages did get me thinking though and they ultimately inspired me to write this letter.

Yes, this is addressed to the person who sent me those messages, but I am also addressing this to the larger LGBT community. Why? Because recently there has been a tremendous amount of very bad behavior that is being celebrated, supported and carried out in the name of LGBT activism. I am addressing this to the larger community because so many of you have entitled yourself to weigh in on the current controversy surrounding the festival, but almost no one (outside of the Michfest community) has been compelled to speak up when someone has made threats of violence or rape against the women in our shared community – under the name of “equality” and “civil rights”. People in our own LGBT community are calling lesbians “irrelevant”, “stupid”, “outdated” and “un-evolved”. We are being told that we deserve to “be beheaded” and “raped by woman-born-dicks”. We are being invited to “evolve or die”, “fuck off” and to “go die in a fire” and so much more. This abuse is happening in public forums on the Internet and in the comment sections of mainstream LGBT news outlets. No one is saying a damn thing about it, unless it is to say that we have brought this upon ourselves by our own fear and bigotry. Part of the painful irony of these hateful messages is they all come in the name of gaining entrance to a space where women have gone to seek refuge from this kind of hateful messaging, let alone very real threats that often accompany it. My dear LGBT community, how is this acceptable you? Your silence is a betrayal. Your silence makes you complicit in the damage and injury that is being caused. I am holding you accountable.

To reduce and neglect the scope and significance of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the contribution it has made to the lives of thousandsof women in the LGBT community is unjust and irresponsible. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is far more than the sum of this current hurtful and divisive situation. For 38 years, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been a constant evolving exercise in radical hospitality. For thousands upon thousands of women, it has been a place of acceptance, safety and love unparallel to any other place in the world. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is a place that has devoted its entire existence to building community, promoting female artists and empowering women and girls. It has always been and continues to be a place that houses and celebrates all forms of female gender presentation and female bodies. It is a place that has taken itself to task on the issues of racism, classism, ableism and ageism. It is a music festival that has repeatedly forgone corporate sponsors and still manages to provide the nutritious meals that are included in the price of a festival ticket for every single woman who attends. This all-inclusive ticket also entitles every woman on the land to community health care, childcare, emotional support, and workshops. ASL interpreters interpret every set of every single stage at Michfest. Every communal space is wheelchair accessible, made so by women who get on their hands and knees in the blazing sun (or pouring rain) and drive nails into the ground through upside down carpets. Great effort is taken to make sure that every woman on that land knows that she is wanted, that she is welcome and that she is precious among us. It continues to be a place that prioritizes the environment and care for the land that the festival is built on. Every single piece of garbage gets picked up by hand. In the months between festivals there is not a trace of festivity left behind. I almost resisted the urge to contrast this to some of the disgusting messes I have seen in the wake of some of our Dyke Marches and Pride Celebrations, but I will not. We take pride in cleaning up after ourselves. Yes, we have a great time in those woods, but oh how this community has worked and continues to do so.

I am not ashamed of my love for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I am not ashamed of the community of women who embody the spirit of it. There is too much to love, too much to be proud of, too much at stake and too much to work toward still. To me, a larger LGBT community that does not comprehend or acknowledge the value of a place like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has not evolved itself out of the need for it. The erasure of one of the most radical and revolutionary spaces on this earth is not a revolution I will ever embrace. To work towards the extinction of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival with no regard for her legacy, complexity and relevance or history is short sited, selfish and careless. I will work so hard to see that this festival survives any best efforts to “tear it down”.  I will do this with my words, my actions and my checkbook, just like this community has taught me to do when something matters deeply.

-YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION TO REPOST THIS IS ITS ENTIRETY-

Edit: For more writing from Sara St. Martin Lynne, see www.fishwithoutabicycle.com

The neighbors make yucky sounds.

After gaining some awareness of the violence in intercourse, the ways it is used to harm women, the eroticization of this harm and therefore of intercourse, and the eroticization of a gendered power imbalance, I have had a shift in my attraction for men.  That is, I have the attraction less (or “attraction” because I’m not sure it’s real attraction), and I also analyze it.  Where in the past I might have got all “turned on” and “hot” to be in a man’s embrace, now it’s more like “I notice that I am in a very vulnerable position. Ah, blood seems to be flowing to my vagina, which has positive associations for me.  I would very much like this man to satisfy himself on my body.  Hm, I’m experiencing this encounter through his body instead of through my own, which is a kind of dissociation.  Yeah, do it!  I’m going to have a rape fantasy now…rape fantasies are fucked up.  OK, men’s chests look weird.”

There’s this neighbor that I used to/occasionally have a crush on.  These days it’s less “He looked at me, I’m palpitating!” and more “O hai asshole.  I see you are hot today, aka you could overpower me.  I’m going to think about you fucking me now.  You jerk.”  I go back and forth between thinking he’s gross and thinking he’s hot; it goes hand-in-hand with whether I’m subjectifying or objectifying myself that day.  It’s an internal struggle between my feminist politics and my Stockholmed femininity, having the thoughts that I detest and simultaneously observing myself having those thoughts.  Makes me feel dirty.

However.  I do take it as a sign of progress when I can hear said hot neighbor having bed-shaking intercourse next door (the walls are thin), and all I think is how gross it is.  You lose some, you win some.

On writing

These seem true:

  • I want to write what I’m thinking.
  • I want to be unafraid of writing something unorganized, or something that isn’t profound.
  • Writing is part of my process towards and within feminism.  Reading, thinking, writing, and following where the ideas lead are my way of engaging with radical feminist thought in the absence of a radical feminist community IRL.

Some women are great at academic writing, distilling the works of others, building on theory, relating it to current events and their own lives.  This is not what I will be doing; it’s not a strength of mine.  I value these writers, because they have opened the door to radical feminism for me to enter.  I don’t know who might benefit from what I write, or how.  I have some vague notion that my writing about my newly-raised consciousness, my uncertainty, my difficulties and joys, may resonate with others who are who are also new to radical feminism.  Maybe it’ll make them curious, or they’ll feel encouraged.  My hope, of course, is that more women will see the value of radical feminism, build women’s communities, and break out, as possible, of the shackles that the default of patriarchal culture has put on us.

If I inspire anyone, that’s great.  If not, at least I introduced myself to most pro-woman community that I have ever known.

A helpful observation from WitchWind’s On writing and creativity

Abstraction, I believe, is patriarchal. It means dissociation, fragmentation, separation, and it doesn’t make sense to life. The concept of abstraction was invented so men could pretend that what they were saying was more true, universal and objective, so their ideology and political, destructive agenda could be hidden, so experience grounded in reality (and truth) could be discredited and so this erasure could appear legitimate.

In contrast, a life-filled approach to writing:

I tried it the other day, just to write my ideas as I wrote, without thinking about it much, as if I were writing a long comment, just to let the words flow: and I found it very enjoyable. So easy! It was such a relief! I let the ideas appear as they came through, it’s very soothing, relaxing in fact. Being relaxed and trusting in what will come out of the process is very important because this is when the ideas, insights, images, creative spinning come: not when we’re tense, fearful, harshly judging and contorted, crippled, as men want us to be to silence us. To discover that was amazing. And the ideas do come through, it’s a lie that you can’t make yourself understood this way. I didn’t have to contort my brain into pieces to fit every bit of my insights into a structure, a steel built argument, thesis antithesis crap, it was liberating. And this is what I mean by process instead of ends. It’s using writing as a thought process itself, not transcribing past thoughts, or reorganising them so they conform to deadening babble. It’s making thought and action into a single movement. I like it when writing has the same quality as the spiraling discussions I have with other radical feminists, or the thought processes generated through reading radical feminist books, or from reading a story that is women. I would have stopped writing if I hadn’t discovered this really.

I have found this so inspiring.  I think I will back t it when I doubt myself, my writing, my usefulness.  I like thinking that we can spiral together.  Much thanks to WitchWind.

 

Calling out Male Approval Syndrome

It is the second time in a month that a man–a total stranger who knew absolutely nothing about what was going on–decided to give me his male approval.

Delivery guy enters shop where I’m working.  Colleague and I are busy doing things with our hands, and guy has to wait a moment before getting a signature.  So while we are coming to a stopping point in our task, one that almost no one knows how to do and which we have been doing for years, he decides to say, “You all are doing a great job!”

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically offensive about that sentence.  At best, it’s small-talk and encouragement.  But I happened to be watching his face as he said it, and I noted his tone.  The subtext was dripping with implications of “little lady” and a pat on the head.  I’m not interested in arguing with anyone over whether he was “just being nice” or whether I was being “overly sensitive;” if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.  Although any man can engage in this behavior, there is a certain type.  It’s often, though not necessarily so, a guy used to having a lot of power, a guy used to having women care about his approval.  Maybe he’s the boss, dangling the promise of a promotion, or maybe he’s just a regular guy, dangling the promise of dates and marriage and financial security.  Whoever he is, he thinks a lot of himself, and he thinks he’s really great for being so nice to the people under him.  Here comes the magnanimous patriarch, doling out approval to his adoring subjects.  How could they not be happy to know he smiled on them?

But I can’t deal with that.  I can’t let it slide.  No man is going to walk into my shop and act like he knows more about my profession than I do, act like he owns the place.  I will not let him leave thinking I give a shit about his totally uninformed opinion.  I will not prop up his ego with a smile and a thanks.  I will put a nick in the entitlement he carries around.  In this case, unfortunately, I can’t do more than that.  I won’t feel bad that he doesn’t, as a result, go home and ponder his role as an oppressor.  Maybe, at some future point, he will accumulate enough negative responses to his behavior to give him pause, but the chances of that are slim.

But really my refusal to let it slide is more for my own sanity.  For all the times that some weasel in a suit told me to smile and I did.  For the times a stranger touched my knee or back and I waited for it to be over.  For the times my superiors made sexist jokes and I stayed silent.  For the times I let a complete windbag talk at me for hours, because I was waiting for an opening to politely exit and he didn’t give me one.  For the times that I’ve been deferential, placating, demure, self-doubting, ego-stroking, or polite in the face of disrespect, I have to finally draw the line.  I have physical boundaries that I will defend.  I have social boundaries.  I will not let men monopolize my time, space, resources, emotions, or energy.  I will not let them abuse my existence in the world to support their myths about themselves.  I am not here to be used.

It’s a small thing, when a man says self-importantly, “You’re doing a great job,” and I reply with “You don’t actually know!”  But it’s also a big thing, because I’m taking notice, connecting the dots, and starting to understand the big picture.  A raised consciousness is the first step.

Learning to Clear My Head

From Feminist Ninja: http://feministninja.tumblr.com/post/38888854700/how-to-have-sex-with-a-radfem

I bet you think you know some women who like the genders in bed. One that just ruuuuuuuuuves to be dominated or made to feel like “a woman.” Let’s break this down a little. What does “being a woman” mean when in bed? It’s a kind of submission to the will of the man, especially in domination. Unless you have ever had NO OTHER OPTION but to be the recipient of the advances of another because your very BEING is defined as being a recipient (based on your anatomy and how the dominant culture interprets your anatomy) then it’s hard to understand how this effects the woman you are thinking about getting closer to. Women learn to eroticize being helpless, weak, passive creatures, with their backs all arched up and their necks falling helplessly back into your strooooong embrace.

But that is NOT what a female is.

That is a distortion of her.

This is the sort of stuff that caught my attention and drew me toward a particular philosophy.  I’d been unhappy with the sex I was having, and unhappy with the fantasies.  Disturbed that of all the possible sex I could be having, I was most turned on by being on the bottom of missionary.  I was never really comfortable with the line that whatever I chose empowered me.  Certainly, it was what all the feminists [sic] were saying, but I had still more questions that were not being addressed.  Agency, yes, ok, but what about symbolism?  What about the gendered patterning of roles in BDSM?  How can choosing something that is already a worldwide system be a radical choice?  And how could I, really how could I, steadfastly reject male domination of women, all while craving to be dominated by a man in bed?  Why was this stuff in my head?  The feminist websites I read didn’t have answers to these questions, and I felt like I was the only one having a problem with this.

I was wrong, of course.  Radical feminists are talking about this, but they’re in the minority.  Their websites aren’t at the top of search results.  They’re hard to find, but they’re there.  And they have answers.  Yes, the symbolism matters.  Yes, “being fucked” metaphorically is related to “being fucked” in the bedroom.  Yes, BDSM is just an exaggeration of patterns of dominance in “vanilla” and patterns of abuse, found worldwide.  No, individualism will not dismantle patriarchy.  And the desire to be dominated is a tragic survival strategy in a violent world.

Porn grossed me out.  Now I know why.  Rape fantasies grossed me out.  Now I know why.  The things that happened in bed grossed me out.  Now I know why.

I’m still working on getting the bad stuff out of my head.  It hasn’t been easy.  Sometimes I’m able to keep the thoughts at bay when I’m with a partner, and sometimes I still think them.  It has been helpful to focus on affectionate emotion and relaxed, playful action rather than on passionate lust and ferocity.  It has also been helpful to focus on the boredom when I am actually bored.  I think this gets me closer to saying, “OK, I want to stop now,” and farther away from having submission fantasies just to cope.  Practicing assertiveness and initiation, despite not feeling turned on at first, has been fruitful.  I am developing positive associations with sexual ways of being that are not passive (though I am wary of taking that to enjoying dominance, which reproduces the same problem).  And I’ve had some really good non-hierarchical sex recently, so I think I’m making progress.

Where I’m at

I’ve been undergoing a sort of feminist revival in my personal life for about a year.  I came across “compulsory heterosexuality” in a blog, and my world changed.  One thing led to another.  Holy crap, someone actually explained why I felt sick about my rape fantasies, instead of saying “Whatever turns you on is OK and is feminist.”  Someone finally said that being turned on by a gendered imbalance of power is awful.  Someone finally pointed out that vanilla het sex already involves dominance and submission.  This is what I’ve needed to find.

So I read a bit, learned a bit, and set it aside.  Felt sad that I was decades too late.  A few months later, I read a bit more.  Found some blogs.  OMG, these people are still alive, I’m not too late.  Set it aside.  Came back to it.  Some blogs had been abandoned or closed.  I found more blogs.  I continue to be grateful that people are having current conversations.  Grateful that they are saying what they do, insisting that it’s relevant now.  I guess that I mostly just want to add myself to the number saying that radical feminism is current.  I don’t have big plans other than that.  We’ll see what happens.

Oh, and political lesbianism.  I want to talk about political lesbianism.

Chivalry

I hadn’t been to a Renaissance Faire in a while.  It had been my idea.  I love costumes, and acting, and fantasy.   I also used to be into the chivalrous ideal.  In recent years, this changed to polite amusement at being “milady-ed.”  This year, I’m less amused.

I know that the romantic ideal of the 1200s, resurrected as Victorian romance, the effects of which we have today, is utter crap.  It’s misogynist.  It’s compulsory heterosexuality. It’s a tool used to trick women into liking being submissive and disempowered.  The sham is especially apparent at a Faire, where half the time women are ladies (men bow to them, kiss their hands in adoration, admire their beauty with poetry), and the other half of the time women are wenches (boob-on-a-platter corset display for ogling and catcalling, objects to be conquered in bawdy tavern songs).  Anyway, even apart from the whole economic/political hierarchy problem, I can’t deal with the lords and ladies thing any more, from a gender point of view.

But I saw it coming.  I saw the actor at the gate, for pre-entrance entertainment, chastising men for being poor gentlemen, for not properly escorting the ladies.  I did not make eye contact.  He approached a young man in my group.  He instructed him to offer his arm to escort the lady.  The young man turned to me.  “Oh, ok.  Can I escort you?” he asked.  I thought about giving the actor a bit of an education.  Maybe ask him what made him think that I wanted to be on a man’s arm?  A “no thanks” and a look of disdain?  Or more about heteronormativity?  My brain couldn’t put an intelligent reply together in time.

Instead, I said, “Oh no, I’m already spoken for,” reached for my girlfriend a few steps behind me, and smugly led her by the hand away from the shocked actor without so much as a backward glance.

I know loving women (most blatantly political lesbianism) is a great big “Fuck you” to patriarchy, and as such punishment is possible.  I felt safe among my friends, among families in a daytime festival, that punishment in this case was not a big fear.  So I flaunted my rejection of heterosexuality in front of this actor.  It was a “fuck you” that maybe only that one man heard.  But it felt really good!  Really good to be like, “I see the shitty offer you are making me [chivalry in exchange for my adherence to femininity], and I have something better.”  Perhaps, for next time, I’ll file away some dead-serious retort about Queen Elizabeth, something thematically appropriate that won’t be rejected outright for angry feminism, something that they can’t ignore.

Also, the young man in my group didn’t know any better.  But he also hasn’t been ruined yet, and I do want to explain to him why being “chivalrous” is not awesome.