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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.