Transparent disrespect for dyke culture

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture
Guest post by Karen Thompson; cross-posted with Liberation Collective

Editor’s note: This post by Karen Thompson is in response to an episode of the television program Transparent, which disdainfully and contemptuously parodied the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the women – mostly lesbians – who called it home for 40 years.

(1) One of the things about festival that is so fucking amazing is the sheer magnitude of female competence. The stages, the sound, the tents, the everything is put together with such care and consciousness and that everything — made out of spit and bandaids — can look like something so polished, so professional, so ON POINT. It’s not that we make nutloaf; it’s that we make nutloaf for THOUSANDS OF WOMEN over OPEN FIRES in all weather. For free.

So the general fucking HINKINESS of the look of the “Idlewild” shit pissed me off because it looked jacked up and like someone threw a camping party in someone’s backyard instead of the sheer magnitude and scale of ability that is demonstrated at fest the minute you walk in the gate. And that lack of attention to that sort of detail (when the slickness and smoothness of everything else on that show is never skimped on), once again ignored female competence and what we can do without males.

Which was one of central liberatory aspects of Festival for me.

(2) The sheer scale of the place. We were thousands. We were legion. This wasn’t a handful of whatevs. We are a city. We are a people. We are a culture.

And yes, I get it. TV. Budgets. There is only so much. But DAMN. Undermining our decades.

(3) The yelling “MAN ON THE LAND” which, as we all know, no one fucking does like a chain but as a beep beep of vehicles.

So once again, no one is fucking seeing the WHERE and WHY and HISTORY of why that had to be done. And no one is talking about the threat of men coming on the land with guns, or hanging barbie dolls in trees in Gaia, or any of the spray painting of dyke that we had to cover up. The leering at naked bodies. The reality of male violence that made that rapid alert system necessary.

(4) No kids? Really? Why would that be? I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. It made the nudity seem sexualized instead of just that we have a place where we can be nude when we get hot or whatever. Just cause. Because we are safe to do so there.

(5) Safety. Ali said something like “this is so NICE.” and there was a weird moment of rape free something. But there was nothing that made it clear what it feels like to be in the woods and not worry about someone leaping from behind a tree, putting a knife to your neck, and raping you.

Yes, women rape. And they have at Fest. But women have not stranger raped using weapons or by kidnapping someone from their tent in the middle of the night. And that is a real talk moment about why Fest was important.

(6) Policy.

What bothered me about this is that the whole place works on intention. The whole place was trusting women to not be assholes. And we weren’t. For the most part. That you are expected to behave a certain way and trust and honor. And that is how we were able to do what we were supposed to do. And so the importance of that intention as a community ethic was lost.

(7) Fuck the Indigo Girls

Your moral code made it impossible for you to play at Fest again but was totally cool with you being in this crazy depiction of yourselves at this FARCE of a representation of Michigan?

Seriously, that along with Syd Mutschler’s breakdown about their playing at venues operated by racist, women hating scum and having no issues with THAT just…I don’t know. Just not okay.

(8) Also do you really think it wasn’t a CHOICE to not show, say, the WOMYN OF COLOR tent?! Because then we would have had to have a real talk about separate space for oppressed people and how Fest is one of the rare places that saw the battle against racism as a community value. As opposed to that weird scene where someone was appropriating Native American culture and mocking how we create our healing spaces.

AGAIN. I GET IT. THIS IS TV. NO ONE CARES. I GET IT.

But this was a lesbian who has made a show that has been deeply stewed and thought about and respectful of the experience of a group of people. She has ethically created space for trans women and men to tell their own stories, to be there, to be present, to be shown in their truths.

And yet, she gets to dyke culture and suddenly we turn into this flattened version of ourselves. If she was going to do it? Why not do it? Why make us the cartoons in a series that was all about detail and finesse?

I don’t think I need to tell you the answer to that.

I’m done. I’m just done. I have no more in me to be down with people in this community who have no respect for dyke culture. None. And I’m done with those in our community who don’t defend us against that flattening and that laying down to the people who support that sort of lesbophobia and caricature.

So yes, we know each other. We will always know each other. We are here and I, for one, will not stop speaking our truths.

Also, I do want to say there were a bunch of things that were awesome sauce. I will never say no to many different women’s bodies being shown in their glory. I will never say no to the fact that we show the world that being a gender non-conforming female doesn’t make you trans (the cameo by the bearded woman, Jennifer Miller). I will never say no to the fact that she showed diverse women as dykes. I will never say no to the REALITY of the fact that trans women come to festival and no one has laid a hand on them and that we can hold disagreement with respect (which, ironically, Maura was unable to do). Plus, a really fucking insightful and necessary insight in the circle around the fire (ALSO ON POINT!) which was that PAIN and PRIVILEGE are not the same thing and being in pain does not mean you weren’t privileged.


Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
Guest post by Syd Mutschler, cross-posted with Liberation Collective


Editor’s Note: This commentary by Syd Mutschler is originally from June 2014, not long after the Indigo Girls reneged on an agreement to play at MichFest in August of 2014. At the time, they made quite a public show of their sudden boycott of an event that the Indigo Girls as a group and Amy Ray individually had played many times. They gave the organizer of the event very little notice that they were pulling out and did so well after brochures, posters, and other materials had been printed and women had bought tickets expecting to hear them at the Festival. Treating women who had supported them financially and in other ways over many years this badly would be ugly enough, but they undertook this boycott after many years of the exact same controversy, yet it hadn’t stopped them from playing and spending time at the Festival at any time before that. This was very likely a decision based purely on finances (they were afraid that they would be boycotted, yet they continued to play at a venue with an owner with extremely questionable ethics), not deeply-held beliefs about “inclusivity”.
As the yearly debate about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival heats up, I have been having a lot of thoughts around boycotts, artists pulling out from the line-up, or artists who have stated they will not play again until the intention of the festival is changed from a gender/sex separate space to only a gender separate space. Artists and trans activists such as Red Durkin have made a lot of statements about why they will not play or why the festival should be boycotted, but I find them to be vague, condescending, emotionally manipulative, and intentionally inflammatory.
The artists’ statements, while varied, all imply that any connection to MWMF and Lisa Vogel is untenable. This claim deserves deconstruction. Let’s try playing Ok Cupid! With this situation, shall we? Let’s imagine that artists and venue owners fill out a political survey and the results will show the percentage of friend/enemy each match is. We will start with Lisa Vogel and the Indigo Girls.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that Lisa Vogel, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers agree on most subjects, except for the fact that Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, that the female sex is a subjugated class, and therefore believes that separate space can be framed by that class. Since the Indigo Girls indicated they would play again if the intention was changed to one only based on gender, we can assume that they do support class-based separate space. That leaves us with Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, and Indigo Girls do not. I will estimate that the test will put them at 99% friends, and 1% enemy.
Being from New Orleans, my next selection will be a venue Indigo Girls often play here, Tipitina’s. Tips is owned by Roland C. Karnatowski III. He is a white, heterosexual, wealthy male who owns somewhere around 7,000 rental properties around the Gulf Coast. His landlord practices are questionable (Google search for yourself) and the Tipitina’s Foundation (a charity) scores so low on finances and transparency, it certainly makes a thinking person wonder what’s going on there. As a straight, white, male, it’s doubtful he has ever spent much time thinking about the benefits of class-based space. Karnatowski has the privilege of not speaking his intentions about anything, unlike Lisa Vogel. Beyond that, since he will take anyone’s money at the door, I guess that makes him a good and enlightened guy. Is that the bar we are setting? Someone who is willing to profit off anyone?
I just used the venue in my hometown as an example, but many of the venues the Indigo Girls play are owned by questionable people. I did some investigating of House of Blues, for example, and could have used them as well.
Do we even need to think about who these venue owners might vote for, or who might make the greater contribution to the Lesbian community or the GBT community? Do silence and capitalism trump the contributions and integrity of an outspoken and compassionate community member like Lisa Vogel? Of course, artists can refuse to play for anyone, but if one does choose to set a political bar on that choice and the bar is set at Lisa Vogel, the bar has been set extremely high. I have to assume that this bar will be applied to everyone, and not just one lesbian who has stated her intention for a sex and gender based space. In the case of Roland Karnatowski III, it is clear he falls below that bar. He makes zero contribution to the Lesbian and GBT communities, has questionable practices as a landlord with working class people, has supported political candidates accused of racism…what do we think? Let’s go with 5% friend and 95% enemy.  Goodbye Tipitina’s!
Lisa Vogel and many womyn who support the festival understand that each of us – not just the performers among us – is responsible for the way our money affects our community. This is why MWMF has no corporate sponsorship. None. This isn’t Lilith Fair or Dinah Shore. Politics and capitalism are hopelessly intertwined, especially in the U.S. Once upon a time, we were much more thoughtful about politics and our money. I don’t see much of a discussion happening about how our dollars are circulating when we buy a ticket to MWMF versus when we purchase a ticket to a show at a place like Tipitina’s. Where are our dollars causing the most good and where are they causing the most damage? Capitalism permeates everything, and those who are ignoring this cannot stand up to their own moral high-grounding.
When politics lead someone to a place where they call for and/or participate in a boycott against an event like MWMF, I have to seriously question those politics. Boycotting is a strong weapon, one that has serious consequences.  Boycotting MWMF is not political. It is female socialization. It is internalized misogyny. I reject this as political. For myself, I will put my dollars in the hands of MWMF without hesitation and with total confidence. The boycotting artists have made me think more carefully about the other places I put my money. After looking at the venues and their owners in New Orleans and stacking them up against MWMF, I will not be going to many shows other than at festival. I will support the artists I love in other ways, such as buying their music directly or contributing to musicians’ funding campaigns.
Why is all of this important? Your money is political. Everyone in the community should be thinking about the impact of their dollars, especially if they are supporting or contributing in any way to the boycott against MWMF. The Indigo Girls are looking me in the eye and asking me to refuse my money to Lisa Vogel while having no problem asking me to give it to Roland C. Karnatowski III. Girls, we have a problem.

Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

Lesbians in the News – 14 November 2015

Lesbians in the News 14 November 2015

Young lesbian couple found murdered

Tatianna Diz and Alexandra King

Tatianna Diz and Alexandra King

Searchers recovered the bodies of Alexandra King, 22, and Tatianna Diz, 20, from the French Broad River in Ashville, North Carolina. The couple had gone missing on October 27th after giving Pierre Lamont Griffin II a ride to a nearby apartment complex. Griffin was later arrested and charged with felony robbery with a dangerous weapon, felony first-degree murder, and reckless driving and fleeing to elude arrest in the murder of another man earlier in the evening. Griffin was initially considered a suspect in the couple’s murder, and has subsequently been charged with murder over their deaths.

Arts & Entertainment

  • Help make season 2 of The Lesbian Collective a reality by donating to their Kickstarter campaign. The Lavender Collective is a web-based comedy about a group of lesbians that meet up every week to talk stuff out.
  • Domestic violence organization, Safe Horizon, presented an all-female reading of Shakespeare’s Othello, titled “An Evening with Desdemona and Emilia,” on October 27th. The reading included out lesbian performer and playwright Lisa Kron and LGBT activist StaceyAnn Chin.
  • Nigerian director Elizabeth Funke Obisanya took away the best short film prize for her movie “Magda’s Lesbian Lover” at the Black Entertainment Film Fashion Television and Arts (BEFFTA) awards ceremony in London.

Laws, Politics and Policies

Social and Health Issues

  • Lesbian couples discuss the issues and difficulties they face when trying to conceive.
  • The first same-sex marriage certificate in Tokyo was issued to a lesbian couple on November 5th. While their certificate only applies to two wards at this time, many see it as an important first step towards full marriage equality in historically conservative Japan.
  • A study of 7,200 young adults from England found that LBG teenagers are twice as likely to be bullied and socially excluded at school, than their straight peers.
  • A new study out of the University of Essex is claiming that women are either bisexual or lesbian, and never straight. Among other things, the researchers are trying “to test the theory that because lesbians can be more masculine in many of their non-sexual behaviours (for example, the way they dress), they are also more masculine in their sexual responses.” Anyone else questioning the motivations and conclusions of this study?
  • A Change.org petition has been started to take the L out of LGBT. Petitioners are arguing that LGBT organizations are not only prioritizing T over L, but also “actively discriminate against L interests.”
  • The Mormon Church has announced that children of same-sex couples will be denied entry into the church until they are 18 years old, move out of their parents’ home and disavow all same-sex relationships. This announcement came soon after Salt Lake City elected its first lesbian mayor on November 11th.
  • The Curacao Tourist Board wants to welcome gay and lesbian travelers to experience the island’s ‘live and let live’ atmosphere.
  • With lesbian visibility an ever present issue, do we have language specific to lesbian communities or an archetypal “lesbian voice”? What lesbian specific language  do you see, and is it location specific?

Events

  • Aussie movie All About E arrives for a screening in NYC on December 2nd. Described as a “crime caper with strong lesbian characters,” it will also be released by Wolfe on DVD on December 1st.
  • The Lambda Literary Foundation is accepting applications for the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices to be held at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles beginning July 24, 2016. Applications are due by January 5, 2016.

Thanks to Lisa Mallett for compiling this fortnightly edition of Lesbians in the News.

If you have any other stories, please add them in the comments or email them to me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

Lesbians in the News – 30 October 2015

Lesbians in the News 30 October 2015

Guyana loses Woman of Courage Zenita Temall Nicholson

Guyanese LGBT activist, Zenita Temall Nicholson died on October 26th. Temall Nicholson was honoured last year by the US Embassy in Georgetown as an International Woman of Courage. She was the Country Coordinator for Caribbean Vulnerable Communities/PANCAP Global Fund, and past Secretary on the SASOD Board of Trustees (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Guyana).

On presentation of the Woman of Courage award in March 2014, Temall Nicholson was described as being “an energetic, effective and passionate advocate at both the national and international levels for the principle that both women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gays, bi – sexual and transgender persons are human rights, deserving of equal attention and protection”.

Guyana remains the only country in South America where homosexuality remains illegal and is punishable by imprisonment, with additional laws criminalising gender non conforming dress, although men may cross dress or express their gender identity as long as it is not for “improper purposes”. Women may wear trousers but do not appear to be covered by the same ruling enabling cross dressing.

As reported in a 2012 report to the UN CEDAW Committee, Guyanese lesbians remain subjected to harassment and sexual threats, compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory femininity and/or gender conformity.

Zenita Temall Nicholson’s activism will be missed in a country which requires significant improvements to secure the safety and wellbeing of lesbians, and our thoughts are with her family.

 

Arts & Entertainment

  • Curve magazine will contain an in-depth story on lesbian erasing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in their January issue.
  • Listen to author Michael Helquist discuss his new book about Marie Equi; lesbian doctor, activist and anarchist.
  • Follow bloggers Wandering Wives, a UK lesbian couple that sold everything they owned to travel the world.
  • Copies of Blood and Visions: Reconciling with Being Female by Autotomous Womyn’s Press are now available at Green Woman Store. It includes writing by ten womyn who stopped their transition from female to male.
  • Listen to the recording of “The Sounds of MichFest 2015: a Radio Documentary of the 40th and Final Fest” on WORT. It can be found under “Access Hour” in the archives from October 26th.

Laws, Politics and Policies

Social and Health Issues

Crimes against Lesbians

  • A lesbian couple vacationing in Hawaii was attacked and arrested by a police officer that didn’t like their public displays of affection in a grocery store. Taylor Guerrero and Courtney Wilson spent three days in jail before charges were dropped. The Honolulu Police Department has launched an investigation into the incident. Wilson and Guerrero have filed a lawsuit against the officer for discrimination.
  • A Welsh lesbian is speaking out after her attackers received a slap on the wrist for verbally and physically attacking her in north Wales in July. 44-year old Jackie Hatton-Kesketh says the attack left her unable to continue working at her job and contributed to the breakup of her 12-year relationship.

Events

  • The leading scorer in the history of international soccer, Abby Wambach, announced her retirement on October 27th. Wambach finishes her amazing career as the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, only the second American to win the title since Mia Hamm (2011 & 2002).
  • Jamaica held its first Montego Bay Pride on October 25th and announced it was a complete success. The event included music, networking, a 10-minute Flash Stand in front of the Summit Police Station and a speech by leading Jamaican activist Yvonne McCalla-Sobers.

Lesbians in the News compiled by Liz Waterhouse and Lisa Mallett.

If you have any other stories, corrections or comments, please add them below or email them to liz@listening2lesbians.com.

Lesbians in the News – 24 October 2015

Lesbians in the News 24 October 2015

“Lethal threat for the whole of humankind” – ongoing persecution in Russia

anti-gay propaganda

News for Russian lesbians gets grimmer as new legislation flags the possibility of being fined or arrested for merely coming out on the grounds of homosexuality posing a “lethal threat for the whole of humankind”.  The legislation is matched by public opinion reportedly showing an increase in the percentage of the population who believe that lesbians and gay men should be “isolated from the population”, with one fifth purportedly supporting the “liquidation” of the LGBTI  community. Following previous anti lesbian and gay crackdowns, including the banning of “anti gay propaganda” in 2013, the proposed legislation would fine Russian lesbians and gay men for publicly declaring their sexuality, with proposed incarceration for making the “declaration” in a school, cultural institution or public building.
The situation for lesbians in many parts of the world remains dire, with legal sanctions complementing social sanctions including horrific rates of corrective rape, as reported by Victoria A. Brownworth.

Arts & Entertainment

  • Lesbian representation on television and in movies gets a critical eye.  Is there a ‘Need Not Apply’ sign for lesbians that are not white, thin and femme?
  • FujiTV in Japan will debut a new drama on November 7th featuring a love story between two women.  Some argue the series isn’t going far enough in portraying current real world situations for Japan’s lesbian community.
  • Lesbian playwright and head writer of The Laramie Project, Leigh Fondakowski, is opening a new play, Spill, about the BP Oil spill in the Gulf Coast in 2010.

Laws, Politics and Policies

  • The State of Utah is paying up after denying a lesbian couple a birth certificate for their child with the names of both mothers included on it.
  • Civil unions began in heavily Catholic Chile on October 22nd.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union is taking on a northern California high school that sent a student home for wearing a ‘Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian’ t-shirt.  According to the school, the t-shirt was an “open invitation to sex,” which sounds scarily similar to accusations leveraged against rape survivors.  The student fears she will be expelled if she wears the t-shirt to school again.  On the opposite coast, a lesbian teacher in New York details the harassment and bullying she experienced from the principal and assistant principal of her school.  When she complained about the bullying her son was getting at school she was told, “It is an abomination against God, and you made this child a victim of your poor choices.”  Charming.
  • Did you ever wonder how Roberta Kaplan and Edie Windsor met?  The Advocate does a great story on the powerhouse these two women created in changing the fight for marriage equality in the U.S. forever.

Social and Health Issues

Crimes against Lesbians

  • A woman in Louisiana has been arrested for cruelty towards her lesbian daughter, including suggesting on more than one occasion that her daughter commit suicide.
  • UK figures report a dramatic rise in homophobic hate crimes, although it’s not clear what percentage is against men and women, and what percentage of crimes are even reported.
  • Lesbian and gay asylum seekers face homophobia in Europe from fellow asylum seekers, according to the Washington Post. The article is notably silent on the experiences of Lesbians.

Events

Profound thanks to Lisa Mallett for compiling the vast majority of this edition of Lesbians in the News.

If you have any other stories, please add them in the comments or email them to me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

Michfest – going home, leaving home

I close my eyes and I am back in the Michigan woods, lying in fern and leaf litter, listening to the woods and the voices of women. I open my eyes and the shadow of leaves and voices remain while the sounds of Australian birds and the smell of Australian plants intrude. They’re not ferns, but they’re what I have and they are glorious.

Banksia

Not remotely fernlike…

This year, for my first and only time, I went to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, started by Lisa Vogel 40 years ago. I had gone with as few expectations as possible, helped by the flurry of activity in the weeks before I left and the daze I walked through the gate in.

The experience was a revelation, in expected and unexpected ways.

While listening to CC Carter sing about her hips, I realised with a rush that this is what representation might feel like. Listening to a woman sing about her female lover, with love about her body, in a clearing full of women, many of whom were lesbian, I realised what it felt like to be the part of the norm as a lesbian, and not the unrepresented minority.

not even close to being ferns....

Not even close to ferns…

We didn’t need to explain. We didn’t need to justify. We could safely assume safety, kinship, shared understandings. A week of woman and lesbian as one of the defaults (not het-excluding, note) made clear how fragmented and scattered we were, how unrepresented we were, even by cartoon representations, how even at LGBTI events, groups and gatherings you often cannot assume kinship. So bittersweet, to experience that but for so fleeting a moment. And there are so many ways in which lesbians have even less representation, along lines of race, class and more besides.

More than just experiencing representation though, we spent a week honouring the real diversity of women and girls as the default. I know that in a way that was unfamiliar I felt SEEN, not unusual or singled out, and not invisible, but visible and normal. We saw each other. We greeted each other. We hugged and smiled and trusted and we could just BE, however we wanted to be. I can only imagine what this experience could be for women who feel less seen and accepted than I do.

Neither fern nor oak

Neither fern nor oak

And with that visibility came a level of safety that is hard to describe. On the land I anticipated no trouble whatsoever. I trusted women. They trusted me. We assumed good will. A guard I didn’t know I had up was lowered. And for a week we were enough, and not too much. I wasn’t too loud, too pedantic, too round, too feminist, too woman centred, too lesbian, too vocal, too ANYTHING. I just was, without needing to reduce myself. And the second and third thoughts in my head weren’t there because I was so connected to what was going on that they didn’t need to be. I was just in the moment.

We said sister and we meant it with sincerity and love. I grew up doubting that the sisterhood was something I could rely on, skeptical that women would be essentially more reliable, not understanding the political meaning and intent behind the concepts of solidarity and sisterhood. At Fest I understood what it could mean at its best.

Sisterhood and solidarity

Solidarity – liberty – sisterhood – self determination

I understood, perhaps most of all, that there was a different way to be. Betrayal is not inevitable. Violence is not inevitable. Fear is not inevitable. The things we have come to expect as women in our society are not inevitable, they are chosen values that align with and are created by our social order.

At Fest thousands upon thousands of women wandered the land, day and night, in varying degrees of dress and undress, from jeans to corsets to nothing, in varying degrees of intoxication and sobriety, in populated and deserted areas, without thought of rape. Unlike the recent stories of endemic rape at music festivals, we managed to celebrate and party, not to mention randomly nap in the leaf litter among the ferns, without experiencing or perpetrating sexual violence against women. What we were doing, wearing, how we were behaving, who we were with, what time of day or night it was – none of these factors mattered. This showed that there is a way for women to be, other than at constant collective risk of rape and abuse. It wasn’t the absence of factors often considered to be provocation. It was the absence of predators and perpetrators. While we know from bitter experience that women cannot be essentialised as angels, we also know that the central problem is socially sanctioned and promoted male violence against women. In the absence of it, we relaxed in safety.

And in this context I learnt, at a profound level, that I can trust women. Not just the women I know and trust, but women in general.

And these realisations were both political and personal.

Familiar horizons, new horizons

Familiar horizons, new horizons

At the healing circle, which was moving and profound and upsetting, all at once, I saw and felt women’s intense grief and pain. And I started to forgive myself.

I saw a mother hugging their small child and I pined for mine, suddenly struggling with our separation. I grieved for the abuse I couldn’t prevent. I grieved for the abuse I didn’t know about until years too late. And I let myself acknowledge that I was not responsible, that while I should have been able to protect him as a mother, we were both victims. Not being omniscient and omnipotent doesn’t damn me as a bad mother, and intense grief and regret can exist without assuming guilt.  That which I know for other women, I started to know for me.

While so much of what I experienced on the land was so personal, it reflected back on our socialisation, the framing of women’s lives, the framing of lesbians. It reflects the way in which women are routinely denied space to meet alone lest we realise this all.

Even now, derogatory comments are made about fest, even as women revel in their perhaps first and definitely last experience of it.

We might live in a society that doesn’t want women to love women, but most of all, it doesn’t want us to love ourselves, individually and collectively.

Everlastings

Everlastings

So it is a political act to meet alone as women, to love women?

Let’s be political then, and meet alone as women, form and connect with our tribe.

We can start imagining new ways to live then work to make them a reality.

We can be the acorns from Lisa Vogel’s mighty oak.

Lesbian allies – a reality check

After seeing yet another post about how to be an ally to anyone but women, let alone lesbians, I wondered – what would you say about being allies to lesbians?

Is this even the right way to approach the issue?

These are the collective thoughts from my wall and a public FB group – names removed to protect the innocent* but I’ve tried to keep women’s words….

Don’t see what you would say? Add your thoughts in the comments section or email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

Protecting lesbians

Protecting lesbians – how do we do it?

How to be an ally to Lesbians:

PRIORITISING

  • Stop centring men over women.
  • Stop censoring us when we talk, and particularly do not censor us when we talk about things like the contents of this post.
  • Some of us ARE Separatists and put other Lesbians and born female women first and foremost in EVERY aspect in our lives..including spiritually. Stop considering that a bad thing or belittling it and us.
  • Don’t only talk about us when we’re dead or celebrities… *snort* yeah, us too kthx.

LOOKS

  • Don’t measure us against media-fuelled, patriarchal (heteronormative) beauty standards. the media (and capitalism) is BS – we all know that.
  • Don’t judge a lesbian by how butch she looks. Don’t say shit like “you’re so pretty though!” to a more feminine looking lesbian. Fuck off with judging by appearances ever, okay?
  • Do NOT put down Butches and accuse us of being “wanna be men” or on the way station to transitioning. Many of us are fierce FEMALE PROUD Butch DykeAmazons and been in the trenches fighting FOR Dykes and womyn for DECADES!!
  • Women – support your gender non-conforming sisters whether you are lesbian or not.

SEX

  • The damn obsession with men and their penises – don’t ask lesbians if they’ve been with a man, or tell them they haven’t found the right man or offer to fuck them straight. Just fucking don’t.
  • Don’t assume we have been with a man. Don’t assume we haven’t. Just don’t assume.
  • Preaching to us about who we should be obligated to sleep with is fucking rapey…
  • Don’t tell us we are bigots for being lesbian, for attraction only to other women. It’s bloody homophobic. And don’t apologise to or soothe men who are upset when we say this.
  • Don’t accuse lesbians of being “shallow” for not wanting to sleep with someone who has a dick.
  • In fact, Don’t. Try. To. Invade. Our. Spaces. Or. Our. Bodies. Ever.
  • Don’t tell us we are going to hell. Our spiritual lives are our own and we have our metaphysical shit in order.
  • If you’re a straight man, don’t act like we’re trying to steal your gf/wife.
  • And don’t EVER assume that what you see in “lesbian” porn bears any relation to most actual lesbians, or that it was created for us.

WHY WE ARE LESBIAN

  • Don’t tell us we’re pretty enough to get a man if we tried. We are not with women because we can’t “get a man”. We don’t WANT a man.
  • Don’t assume we’re lesbians because someone hurt us. In other words, don’t assume our lesbianism is a symptom of trauma or that it is a pathology in itself.
  • Don’t assume being lesbian is a phase. But DO remember that we were socialised to heterosexuality so it can take time to work free of that.
  • Don’t assume being a ‘political’ lesbian means asexuality or het-women-trying-to-be-‘gay’ (sic).
  • Don’t assume we were born this way. Don’t assume we weren’t. We’re lesbian now and that’s what matters.
  • Don’t rely on the born this way script. Compulsory heterosexuality is a fucking thing. Look it up.

REALITY AND NAMING

  • Remember that biological sex actually fucking means something and is a reality that women, even lesbians!, cannot fucking escape.
  • Don’t tell a woman she isn’t ‘lesbian enough’ or buy into the ‘gold-star lesbian’ type thinking. pls and thx.
  • Don’t use words to describe lesbians as insults. Dykes are awesome, thank you very much…
  • Stop harassing mental health professionals who attempt to help women with internalised lesbophobia and misogyny.
  • Do not assume we wish to be called “queer”, in fact do not argue with us when we refuse to be called queer or gay. These are male-centred concepts that render us invisible, and many of us reject them, even if your lesbian BFF thinks they’re ok.
  • Don’t call men lesbians.
  • Particularly, don’t think that if lesbian porn turns you on that you, as a male bodied person, are either a lesbian or a woman! (This suggestion came with sources to show it wasn’t a paranoid “fantasy”.)
  • Don’t think that disagreement about who is and isn’t lesbian is transphobia. Lesbians have a right to self determination and to resist appropriation.
  • On that note…

APPROPRIATION – JUST DON’T!

STEREOTYPES

  • Stop considering us the scary ugly feminists that you distance yourself from. Has anything really changed since the days of the lavender menace?
  • Do not ever insinuate that we want to be men or need to transition. Nope. No way.
  • Don’t say stupid shit like “who is the man/woman in the relationship?”
  • Do not put down those of us who are primarily Butch on Butch or “what a waste of a good Butch.” Lesbian sexuality is way more diverse than Butch/Femme or two lipstick types together.
  • In fact, don’t rely on stereotypes or sex roles to understand us. We’re actual individuals. There might be common culture but we are wildly diverse. Don’t reduce us to a 2 dimensional cartoon.
  • If we somehow look to you like we fit a stereotype, don’t assume our choices have anything to do with those stereotypes. We aren’t cartoons, we’re real people.
  • Don’t portray us as weak, sad, terminally ill, pathetic, two-dimensional, perpetual victims and lost. We are strong wonderful women.
  •  Don’t expect our relationships to be just like het relationships just with a strap on.
  • We are not failed attempts at straight people.
  • Don’t assume you know anything about lesbians because you watch OITNB.
  • Don’t assume I know that other lesbian you met one time… you know, the one with the long brown hair? I think her name’s Tracy or Sarah or something. You even kind of look like her, isn’t that weird?

DON’T FUCK WITH US

  • If you’re not a lesbian – and you’re sure about that – don’t flirt with us just because you think it will be some harmless fun.
  • Don’t assume visible/butch lesbians exist to affirm your desirability. Don’t assume we’re perpetually DTF.

STOP HARASSMENT

  • Upon being informed that a lesbian is with her partner, DO NOT ask if you can watch (hey… it’s happened more than once, ok?). Don’t joke about that either. It’s not funny; it’s creepy.
  • When a lesbian says “no” that doesn’t give you the go ahead to harass her for not sexing herself to entitled pricks.
  • When you see lesbians being abused, intimidated or  sexually harassed, don’t look away. Get involved and stick up for us, particularly young lesbians.

POLITICAL CHANGE

LESBIANS AS A DERAIL

  • Don’t use lesbians as your token “but women rape too!” in response to women talking about rape and other forms of male sexual violence.

WHAT I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO SAY

These things happen around the world, including in YOUR country…

TL:DNR SUMMARY

Don’t prioritise and centre men. Most of this flows from systemic male dominance, and the violence and subjugation used to reinforce it…

Every time I think the list is complete enough, another suggestion comes in. I’m aware this is far from comprehensive, which says a lot about how lesbians are regarded and treated around the world.

………..

So the pointers from lesbians around the world on how to be an ally really made me wonder…..

WHAT DOES BEING AN ALLY EVEN MEAN?

Is this concept even worth using? What does being an ally mean to you?

Articles like the one that triggered this one seem to be about performance of socially required (and superficial/unquestioning) support more than any genuine commitment or action that demonstrates actual solidarity.  The articles seem to be about visible ways to look like you are guilty about your privilege and identify as supportive, rather than outlining really practical ways to help change the world behind the scenes.

Does this help any group or is this kind of two dimensional tokenism merely about paying lip service rather than demonstrating solidarity and working to make the world better for those who are marginalised?

There’s certainly an expectation that women demonstrate allyship by quashing their questions, indulging in self flagellation – classic female socialisation. Femsoc tells us to genuflect before the needs of others, and ignore that voice telling us that we are betraying our own needs.

Genuine solidarity does not require this. Genuine solidarity should be based on analysis that can be challenged and debated. Genuine solidarity does not ask you to harm yourself.

This is all of a piece with identity politics which prioritises identification and performance over reality. Identifying as an ally replaces being an ally. Once you have identified as an ally to whichever group, irrespective of your actual actions, you can dispense with the culturally created guilt (usually of women), congratulate yourself on a job well done with honour satisfied and carry on being self righteous about those not liberal enough to be allies. Despite everyone paying lip service to supporting the marginalised group, nothing actually changes.

And this squanders the good intentions of many people, who may well read the articles and want to be supportive. It also provides a get out of jail free card to those who don’t much care but want to be seen to do the right thing…

Either way, perhaps the concept is too shallow to be of any use.

……….

LISTEN TO LESBIAN VOICES

Regardless of the validity of the “ally” concept, the list of what not to do to lesbians is pretty clear. Each one of those points was written based on personal experience of being abused, exploited and erased, on the basis of being lesbian.

If you want to take anything to heart, listen to what lesbians have said here and don’t re/name us, don’t redefine us out of existence. Don’t harass, belittle, or dismiss us. Don’t appropriate us. Support and encourage us to focus on each other, on women, as women. And help us fight to change the structures that enable and benefit from our eradication.

If you have anything to add to this, please share your thoughts in the comments below or email them to me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.


* I tried to keep original wording but names were removed. If you would like credit for your comment, please let me know and I will add your name in. 🙂

Banning lesbians – same sex attraction is not bigotry

I have avoided writing about this because I know what the reaction can be like and I have seen what happens to women who do speak publicly about this.

I have tried quite hard to discuss various issues WITHOUT addressing this because it is polarising, causes people to stop thinking, and leads to abuse and harassment. Moreover it is difficult to write anything nuanced on this topic without people misinterpreting and wilfully misrepresenting your words. And then there’s the ever-so-trendy hate that rains down on those that state publicly what others keep quiet about.

But I know that not writing about this is being silenced. I have “allowed” myself to be silenced on this just as many other women have, because of potential fallout.

And there is no amount of staying quiet that can keep us safe as lesbians, because there is an attempt from some to redefine the word lesbian to exclude us.

lesbians banned

This includes a clear attempt to coercively redraw lesbian women’s sexual boundaries and to silence the lesbians who protest this.

I have no interest in defining and complicating others’ lives* but words have meanings and language matters.

We cannot stay silent while we are told that we are bigots for being lesbian.

To be a lesbian is to be a female who is romantically, emotionally and sexually attracted to other females. This is same-sex attraction.

There are those who argue a different definition of this word.

The debate hinges on

a) whether you think transwomen are women or not**
and
b) whether you think sexuality is attraction on the basis of gender*** or sex

If you think that sexuality is about same SEX attraction, you may have noticed something going on.

Women who say that they are lesbian and ONLY attracted to females are being told they are bigots, and are being abused on this basis.

I don’t care if women are attracted to (and in relationships with) transwomen but what concerns me is the use of the word lesbian to describe that relationship because of the implications for same-sex attracted lesbians. My interest is solely caused by the implications for same-sex attracted lesbians of that language use – this is about the difference between self-affecting acts and other-affecting acts.

There are real consequences if the word lesbian includes transwomen.

When those of us who are same-sex attracted lesbians try to describe ourselves, our relationships or our sexuality, what word are we to use if we cannot use ‘lesbian’? If the word used for some time to describe us, as understood by most people, is no longer representative of us what language are we to use?

More than this, if the word lesbian cannot be used in a context that excludes transwomen then we are even more marginalised. And this is what I see happening, this is what has happened to women I know, what has happened to me.

Lesbians are being told they are bigots, transphobes, transmysogynists and TERFs for considering it ACCEPTABLE  for lesbians to be solely attracted to other females.

Originally when this was not such an extreme situation, I was not as concerned, assuming that using the word ‘female’ to specify same-sex attraction would be sufficient and unproblematic.

However, this is now a problem for two reasons. Firstly, any number of transwomen define themselves as female, rendering the qualifier useless in some conversations. But for those who consider the word female to denote biological sex, it is apparently unacceptable to exclude “non-female lesbians”.

In a lesbian group, amongst lesbians, I was told that it is transphobic for lesbians to be solely attracted to females. It is not a sexuality, apparently, it is a bigotry!! This happens repeatedly to lesbians around the world.

Lesbians must be able to name our own reality and we need that word to describe female-to-female same-sex attraction. We have no other word.

For centuries we have been socially sanctioned for our sexuality, we have been closeted, persecuted, abused, correctively raped, and killed, solely on the basis of being lesbian. Compulsory heterosexuality has weighed heavily on us, and we have borne the burden of oppression as women AND as lesbians.

And now we find that, in a lesbian community, being a dyke is suddenly outlawed?

In what way is this not just the continuation of compulsory heterosexuality?

When we are told that not being attracted to someone who was born male****  is immoral, this is exactly the same as being told that we are deviants for attraction to women and non-attraction to men, but it is now clothed in language that frames and proclaims us as oppressive for acknowledging biological facts and our own sexuality.

I see young lesbians confused by this, trying to do the “right” thing. Baby dykes asking if being lesbian CAN mean only being attracted to females, trying hard to be inclusive even in their own sexual experiences.

That women are still asking if sexual boundaries are acceptable means that the rape culture which constantly erodes and undermines women’s sexual boundaries and attacks our determination to maintain them, carries on, stronger than ever.

We MUST name our own sexual boundaries.

We MUST name our own sexuality.

Any attempt to stop us, to oppose our right to speak on this and our right to use the only language we have to describe our reality, is profoundly anti lesbian.

Don’t you dare tell us our sexuality is bigotry and pretend that it is social justice. This is nothing but a continuation of lesbian erasure through culturally sanctioned male sexual entitlement to women.

That anyone is convinced of the opposite is a testament to how marginalised and misrepresented lesbians are.

I am not saying that women cannot be in relationships with transwomen, nor am I am devaluing those relationships or the people in them, but I AM saying that if the term lesbian is broadened beyond same sex attraction, and indeed redefined to exclude it, then we are silenced, and by our own community.

That this silencing is accepted speaks of a deep and continuing hatred of lesbians.

There is so much more that needs to be said.

Every element of what has been happening needs to be named, but unfortunately it all leads back to our silence, the silence of women – especially of lesbians – about our own lives, both individually and collectively.


The many caveats:

* I have zero interest in policing anyone else’s life, and even less interest in policing who people love. But we need to analyse the meaning of what is happening. I’m certainly not interested in supporting systems that make it even harder for people to be gender non conforming.

** I am using transwomen for the sake of common understanding. There are alternate terms, including trans*women, trans women, M2F and so on. While I’m not exploring that debate now, I have to acknowledge that it is contested and fraught territory with real political significance.

*** Gender – personal identity vs oppressive hierarchy…

**** Born male – more contested language here. Male, born male, AMAB (assigned male at birth), and so on. There’s a lot out there on this. I’m not rewriting or exploring it now.

Because I know I will be asked this – I do not advocate violence, I abhor it. I do not advocate discrimination, I oppose it. Gender critical analysis is compatible with my beliefs that all humans should be able to access basic social infrastructure equally, irrespective of sex, sexuality, gender conformity, race, religion, ability/medical condition, marital status, pregnancy, parental responsibilities and other characteristics or group affiliations, be they perceived or actual.

That I feel the need to state these caveats has a lot to do with the framing of the broader debate, and the way in which lesbians and feminists are misrepresented…

Lesbians in the News 18/04/2015

Lesbians in the news

12/04/2015 – 18/04/2015

Violent Crimes against Lesbians:

Mary Kristene Chapa

Mary Kristene Chapa

Laws, Politics and Policies:

Representation:

Social and Health Issues:

Remembering our sisters:

Religion:

***If I have missed an important news story, please either post a link in the comments section here or email it to me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

On stereotypes and lesbian (in)visibility

She was chatting away with me quite happily, this older woman in the shop. I was holding my goddaughter and she was cooing over her. She was bringing out the tired old “just like a girl” tropes but was very friendly and warmly talking about children. I mentioned mine. She smiled.

I mentioned that my ex partner gave birth. She stopped dead.

And she wouldn’t speak to me, or look at me.

From one second to the next, what been an animated and warm conversation became the pointed ignoring of a customer.

I wondered, what was it that upset her so much. Was it that she couldn’t tell? Was it the fear that if you can’t spot a lesbian, then they could be anywhere

While “readily identifiable” lesbians provoke one sort of reaction, and one they are unable to avoid, do “invisible” lesbians kindle an anxiety precisely because we cannot be readily identified and guarded against?

And what is this if not yet another manifestation of gender policing? The idea is that there is one way to be female, with appropriate levels of femininity and heterosexuality. Perhaps if you are going to violate mainstream cultural norms, then at least you should be identifiable in your “non-normality”?  Being unidentifiable is threatening because you are hidden, seemingly deceptive in your perceived “normality”.

Of course, being identifiably other is also punished, in that classic double bind. But we do not all look the same, even if it would make society more comfortable for us to fit a contrived stereotype. One size does not fit all and there is no single way to be or look lesbian. To expect that is to reduce us to two dimensional cartoons.

One size does not fit all – there is no one way to be lesbian

But the hostility we face and the stereotypes we are assumed to fit are self supporting. The hostility we face for being open has a silencing effect. And when we are silent, the stereotypes are reinforced because the only visible lesbians are those who happen to fit the stereotype.

The women who stay silent are not responsible for this dynamic either. We cannot always speak for a myriad of reasons based in the reality of our lives. I try to speak whenever I can, because I can, but I have not always chosen to and it is not always safe or prudent to. The consequences of speaking are somewhat unpredictable and the responsibility lies with the society that vilifies and silences us.

As I spoke today, I could almost see the images through her eyes – the stereotypes cascading through her mind, superimposed on the reality of me, guiding her response to me, to all of us, informing the instantly invoked lesbophobia.

That cusp moment of sudden realisation is so telling in its liminality – it is a moment in which both connection and withdrawing coexist for a short time and when reactions are unwillingly written on the body in facial expressions and body language. It is that moment in which a shared sisterhood is abruptly and palpably sheared off.

Just for a second you can see the sense of betrayal, that shock at feeling deceived, that physical recoil.

These moments of withdrawal are less confronting than overt hostility and aggression, far less damaging than overt violence. But this rejection is not subtle and it shows that no matter how much they liked you and related to you a minute ago, you are now beyond the pale and the social constructs informing their perceptions prevent them from relating now.

At that moment I want to say – we are not hiding – we are just being ourselves. You are using false stereotypes and gender roles to assess and judge those around you. Blame the misleading stereotypes, and not, us for your confusion and discomfort. Challenge the gender roles used to judge women, certainly lesbians and especially gender non conforming women.  Understand that whether you think you can identify us or not, we are not other and you are not morally superior. Understand that your lesbophobia might be common, but it is hate filled and damages women.

But the words echo blankly – she had already stopped listening.