ttsbh @ michfest2015

It’s hard to know where to start because I don’t really know where it started for me. Was it the moment I ordered my ticket, or when it arrived?

Was it getting into the car to leave Canada and go home?

Was it being waved at by hundreds of women in the line as we drove to find our place to enter michfest?

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Was it entering the gates?

The line was several hours long and I hiked some of it because I couldn’t be in that fucking car any longer. My backpack and tent weighed about 40 pounds. It was hot and busy and confusing when I past the fest gates. I had to ask for help a few times in the first moments of being there. When a tall bare-breasted woman put my wristband on, she asked if this was my first festival and I replied in the affirmative, to which she shouted ‘festie firstie!’ and womyn cheered all around me.

I came to festival alone, getting a ride with two women from Ontario, strangers to me. I had met in person only a couple other women there, smashesthepatriarchy and Rachel Ivey among them. We’d met at Radfem Rise Up in Toronto in 2013, where our conference received death threats and stake-outs by trans ‘activists’ and co.

Being alone felt really alone.


After I chose my two workshifts—one doing garbage and one in the ‘womb’, michfest’s version of healthcare—I consulted the map and chose where I would camp. Having no context of where anything was or how far of a walk it would be, I actually made a really good decision and camped out in Amazon Acres, which is quiet camping. Across the road, I later learned the ‘reddit radfems’ including smashesthep were set up. And a little farther down, near the chem-free camping, were the tumblr radical feminists and lesbians.

I loved setting up my tent and unpacking my pack. I have a great camping system and feel good implementing it. It felt nice to have control after being a passenger in a stranger’s car for two days. I listened to the womyn around me set up and cry with joy and exclaim over friends. In my tent, I cried for a bit. It was both happy and sad. I was so glad to finally be there—to be with my womyn. I’d waited so long, worked so hard to make it happen. But I was also distinctly aware of my insecurities. I was totally alone. I had no idea where anything was or what the unspoken rules were or how to find people or if anyone would like me. I felt really raw and scared.

I wandered around for a bit and used the janes before returning to my tent to check my program. There were no concerts the first nights, but there were movies playing in a common area. I had bought one bottle of wine from the grocery store (wtf USA) in Hart, so I got into that, despite having intentions to save it for a special night. I discovered there were message boards where women could leave notes for others, so I checked that. I didn’t get a single message all week, because I’m the high school loser, so that felt really good too. The experience of being around all women wouldn’t really hit for a while, but it really was nice to walk around in the dark and not hunch up or feel like I needed to know who was walking behind me at all times.

Anyway, I sat on my blanket in front of a big projection screen under the stars and watched Diary of a Serial Monogamist and a couple shorts that were excellent. I wrote a terrible poem later about the woman sitting next to me smoking something really sweet smelling.

After the movies I went back to the tent and finished off my bottle of wine. I took bullet-point notes of the days events to make this write-up easier, and I ended that day’s notes with a heart so it couldn’t have been all that bad.

*

On the second day, the workshops started. This, besides the womyn, was my favourite part about fest. I absolutely loved the workshops. I find things like that so easy to do as an introvert: it’s more or less structured, there are start and end times, and most of the womyn don’t know one another. I’ll be writing out all the workshops I attended just so I remember and because there were so many! It’s hard to explain—there were intensive workshops, general ones, and unofficial ones like the full program Radfem Rhapsody offered by WoLF (Women’s Liberation Front, a radical feminist organization).

The first intensive I attended was The Yoga of Divine Creation with Richelle Donagan. Three hours of amazing, powerful body knowledge filled with intention. We mostly practiced in singles but toward the end we paired up and I was partnered with a beautiful crone whose face is imprinted on me. Her name was Suzanne. So we yoga-ed together and then we were asked to hold hands and tell one another ‘I see you.’ So she says this to me and I burst into tears. I had felt so invisible, that stupid patriarchally informed and enforced sense of isolation and solitude that was enhanced by new surroundings. She was so kind to me I almost melted. She said, ‘I see, you have strength, you feel things so strongly.’ And I do. And I did. And I saw her. ❤

I waited in line for lunch (chick pea and feta salad) for about an hour and a half—just as I sat down with it, mikroblogalas found me! It was so, so cool that womyn recognized me from tumblr. It happened four or five times. I felt like a rockstar. She introduced herself and I said, how I say her blog name internally is nothing like how she says it (I wouldn’t say how I said it then because I was embarrassed, but I really anglicize it: ‘micro blogus’ basically. No subtlety.) I had lunch with her and her wife whose name I’m not sure how to spell it (and I’m not using radical feminists’ first names here especially if they blog. I’ll omit a lot of names and if you are mentioned in any way and don’t want to be, tell me.) Then fucking discosangfoid pops up like we’d known each other for a decade and I’m internally screaming at meeting these awesome womyn while trying to choke back chickpea salad and they are so awesome.

So the third contingent of radical feminists, the facebook radfems, also shows up—I’m just dying. All my favourite worlds are colliding and I’m falling apart with happiness. Three of us tried to go to an archery workshop but bailed because it was so busy. Then I ran into smashesthep. My notes got a little damp thanks to a future 14 hour rain marathon so I’m not sure what we got up to but I think I’m seeing the word beer here, which makes sense for us. I left for a nap because yoga had destroyed me.

When I woke up, I went to the radfem rhapsody meet and greet which is along one of the ‘short-cut’ paths.

I’m wondering if I’m giving enough atmosphere of michfest here. I mean, we’re in the fucking woods. It’s 600+ acres with very familiar flora to what we have in Ontario. Every path and road is covered in women, rushing or dawdling, hauling loads in, running the range from naked to clothed, in every fucking iteration of woman you can envision. There were no perfect bodies, but every woman was exactly as she was. The girls ran around like little maniacs or danced and climbed trees and howled with laughter. Campsites were littered everywhere, deep into the woods and right up against the road, each with a taste of the women within–there were tinkle lights, flags, banners, boas, signage, everything. Lesbian was the default. Everyone was so friendly. I helped women carry packs or loaned my program and eventually even knew enough to give directions to other newbies. You could speak aloud ‘I don’t know what to do’ and ten women would stop and offer guidance. Anything you needed, they had—except firewood, you gather that shit yourself.

The radfem meet-up was really great. I came in a bit late and introduced myself and my plan of a women-only sustainable cooperative in Canada. Women were very receptive, as they always are. I met hellanahmean who is just this really calming and interesting and funny woman who wants to incorporate women and farming together, which fits perfectly for my plan—now to make Ontario appealing enough to her so I can persuade her to come here!

Actually, something important I learned was this: my vision of women’s land can’t be and isn’t the only one. All these womyn want this. And we can’t have only one—look at michfest. One huge gathering is unsustainable and frankly very targetable. But hundreds or thousands of womyn-only cells across the planet, we can do that. We need to, and we are. It became more and more evident that we are talking about saving women’s lives here.

I also met Giovanna who wrote a book I bought, along with the Radical Women’s Alliance’s zine XXtra. These women are so skilled it’s beyond. We all share this vision of womyn together, safe and sustained.

Btw hellanahmean I put a heart next to your name in my notes because you are such a cutie.

Smashesthep and I went to the movie night together and saw hellanahmean and another woman so we all sat together. We watched a fascinating but not exactly awesome animated short about menstruation. It was really catchy but unimpressive with the lack of mention of menstrual cups and non-het relationships. Then there was a short sci-fi future piece about a teenager who uses virtual reality to present as a man and connect with the popular girl in school. They end up together and the cg was cool. Very cute and I love future stories. The main feature was Out in the Dark, the doc about the five black lesbians charged with the stabbing (blatant self-defense) and then defamed in the media in very racist terms, followed by equally racist and sexist sentencing. It was really emotionally evocative especially on the heels of Sandra Bland’s death.

After the movies, smashesthep and I went to the communal fire in Bush Gardens, which is the noisy camping area. There was this really gorgeous blonde butch who I met in the line on her motorcycle, but she left after a while and some really noisy and kind of offensive women came so we went to the Triangle, which is where the message boards, movies, and a huge firepit are, along with some tents for workshops and other stuff. We listened to the drumming around the fire. There is something about hearing your heartbeat echoing outside your body, about hearing your voice circling through the mouths of other women. One of smashesthep’s reddit friends found us there, and on the way back to the tents, we both knew the chant she started: ‘earth my body, water my blood, air my breath and fire my spirit’, which she learned from Jewish camp and I learned from a witch, so that was one of many fascinating synchronicities.

*

So on day three I slept in a bit and made it for the last hour of Sarah Hoagland’s intensive on Radical Feminism. I think everyone reading this will be really excited to know that for the most part, michfest actually is radical. The vast majority of womyn support the intention and use a class analysis when discussing feminism. The rest of the women are there for the lesbian loving which is also important. Most are there for both!

I came across more racism in the form of denial of privilege than liberalism, which is what came up at the intensive. A woman wanted to talk about male violence as the sole oppression without acknowledging her role in white supremacy and basically denying that as a white woman she has any institutional power whatsoever over women of colour. It was embarrassing and this woman showed up elsewhere making such odd demands, like at the tumblr radfem meet up, she tried to prompt the discussion of actions when that wasn’t the intention of the workshop. It felt instigate-y. I’ll talk again about white supremacy when I discuss the Radical Feminism and Women of Colour workshop.

Day three was a day of very little eating because I went to so many workshops. My eating disorder flared because of the anxiety and I dropped a lot of weight and became a bit obsessive, one day eating nothing but pumpkin seeds. For many women, michfest is a place where these habits drop. Where sobriety is easily maintained and some women even go off medications because they feel so safe and free. For me, being in a different country on the grace of strangers and not knowing where I stood at all times exacerbated my eating issues. It was something I recognized and tried to make room for with kindness.

I hate that it may sound as though I had a bad time at michfest or it was really emotionally triggering for me, because it was exactly what I expected in attending alone. I don’t have the greatest coping skills, I know that, but that is something I’m working on, not something michfest initiated. I want this to be a really honest portrayal of my experience, but please know my usual feeling was one of euphoria and glee.

Next was the detransition workshop, hosted by redressalert, who is fucking funny and awesome and so so kind, twentythreetimes, and crashchaoscats, both of whom are hugely articulate and neither of whom I really got to know in person to my disappointment. But wow. This workshop was the killer. It was the best attended at fest. It was so powerful, so edifying, so enlightening. Many older lesbians really had no idea what was happening to their younger sisters, which was a common thread at michfest—the way patriarchy fights to keep generations at one another’s throats rather than in tight embrace. Older womyn made to feel irrelevant; younger womyn feeling abandoned. It’s sickening and this went a long way towards remedying that.

I had to leave that workshop early for the Lesbian Tent Revival workshop, which was good in that the presenter gave options for shutting down racism, but I really regretted missing the end of the detransition workshop. It was spoken about for the entirety of fest.

I then returned to my tent and laid out a tarot spread, getting one of the most intense readings I’ve had in a while. I took a photo of it, it was so brilliant. Afterwards, my anxiety cooled down and I really began to enjoy myself wholeheartedly.

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I popped over to the radfem rhapsody tent for the last ½ hour of the political lesbian workshop. It was really inspiring and I intend to write more on that topic soon. My thoughts are, the more the merrier, but do the fucking work before you take on something like lesbian. Like radical feminist, lesbian transcends identity politics and can’t be adorned the way queer is—there is no room for shifting sexuality in lesbianism.

I went to the opening ceremonies alone and totally died for Staceyann Chin’s thunderous poetry. Amazon womyn will rise again!

Then I spotted Rachel Ivey, hellanahmean and the facebook radical feminists (who do have tumblr I know, but I mostly know them from fb—ha, as I wrote this, one of them followed me on tumblr muahaha) and went to sit with them. We stayed for a few songs before heading back to some radfems’ tent. There was gin and whiskey (thanks, sisters<3 what a mooch I am) and we had a really great discussion that ranged from political to personal and back, a real spinning experience that I was thrilled to participate in. I won’t forget that night.

*

The fourth morning, I attended a workshop hosted by Tamarack on the global women’s movement. It was really poorly attended, not sure why. She told us about a website called worldpulse.org that discusses female experiences and actions by women worldwide. It was cool to see an older radical so invested in online discussion and activism. Something we young women take for granted. It’s natural for us to be able to talk with our sisters all over the planet, hear and share their stories, and ours with them. But twenty+ years ago, this was unheard of; radical sisters had little more than the lies of the patriarchy to rely on when seeking the truth of women in other countries.

I also went to the Disappearing Butch workshop, which was about losing younger lesbians to transition. It was really enlightening and important, and we had a lot of smaller discussion groups. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of intelligent, respectful, and informed debate. We didn’t all agree by half, but we made the effort to see where the other was coming from. And older lesbian there told me to speak up more, so that was really uplifting.

In that group, there was an activist named Xan who I really took to as well. She reminded me of my friend Peggy who has been occupying Bala Falls for a year now to stave off an unwelcome and dangerous hydroelectric dam. Pure, passionate agitator. I ran into her frequently and got hugs. She staged a protest of the Women in Service walk, defending michfest as a land of peace. Gotta love it. The military is anti-feminist and wreaks havoc on women and children on both ‘sides’. Women are not safe in the military, or from it, or because of it. We can have solidarity with military women without blind acquiescence to the war machine.

What happened next was really cool. I went to the DGR workshop on radical resistance and DGR, but the host wasn’t there—I later learned she didn’t make it to fest at all. Anyway, we had the discussion without her, and it was epic. By far my favourite experience in workshops. I knew the most about DGR so I had a lot to say, and I feel like I really made a dent in some thoughts. Especially when it comes to defining radical feminism as not just the most extreme of feminisms but as a movement that seeks to identify and destroy the root of female oppression which is male supremacy. Quite a few young women asked me more questions and one was really impressed with my composure. I am good at speaking, I’ll give myself that. I do it very mindfully and breathe very consciously, which gives the impression of confidence (and indeed begets confidence over time). I ran into many of the womyn from that workshop again and had a ton of really great, radicalizing conversations. It really had the feeling of how I imagine second wave consciousness-raising discussions must have went.

Afterward was the tumblr radfem meet up, hosted by the gracious shero antilla-dean, she who assembled the radfems. It was so fun to put faces to names and to be a real person with all the other real people (hearcs, ironfoxe, so many others  ❤ I can’t wait for the blog roll!). There was a second waver there who wasn’t on tumblr—I don’t think—but when it came to her turn to introduce herself, she began to cry. She told us she had no idea we existed at all, she thought the movement had petered out. So I realized it’s our responsibility to make sure older feminists know we’ve picked up the gauntlet and intend to finish this fight. We have to meet these feminists where they are at so we can be in this together. One thing that later came up was making sure our original writing gets to wordpress, which is where so many older radical feminists blog. AFK activism is huge too, though—we need to make sure radical feminists in our own communities know we exist.

So this was the night of the burritos, which were really good. I met a woman in line who was at the second michfest. She’s actually done an Outward Bound course herself, so we bonded over that. I ran into smashesthep and gaaaaaaahghjgakjgjghj and we watched the butch strut for a bit (butches <3) before heading to the night stage to hear Betty play. There, an older black lesbian found me and told me how much she liked my words at the DGR workshop, and we talked about the need for a total overthrow of the current irredeemable system. That was a huge highlight for me.

It’s so fucking imperative for white feminists to listen to women of colour and make space for them to speak and shut down those who interrupt them or derail conversations they need to have. White feminists have a major responsibility to be cognizant of how much time and energy we take up—I pretty much believe there is nothing a white feminist says that a women of colour can’t say better, if we support her platform to say it.

After the concert, I went to the redditors’ tents and drank with them before we headed down to the party area, the Twilight Zone, for the Glo Party. After thinking we lost someone to the janes (she went ahead without us lol), we made our way to the party and proceeded to get good and smashed, dancing and flirting—though not with the redditors, the self-proclaimed bihets. I loved the experience of dancing among all women. I knew no one would come up behind me and touch me without warning–women actually introduce themselves or speak to you before they start to dance with you. We didn’t dance in those tight circle formations women usually do at the club or dances–we were freely mingling and moving and even dancing alone without any anxiety. I want to live like that. The simplest experiences continued to bring tears to my eyes because I was becoming ever more aware of how normal and perfect it is on the land, and how tight and uncomfortable I feel ALL THE TIME in area 51.

This isn’t where I first met islandofthesirens and her awesome gf, but I saw them again there along with discosangfroid, who bogarted a glowing balloon, defending it with a voraciousness that was oddly appealing. The imagery of her determined face cast with the glow of an orange balloon stays with me. I walked back to my tent with about eleven glow sticks jammed into my sports bra.

*

So on the fifth day I slept in until about 12:30pm. I have no idea how I managed this, given how noisy and hot it can get in the late morning. Then I showered. Let’s break down the shower experience.

My towel is too small to cover my whole body. Do I walk to the showers clothed, undress, shower, towel off, and dress again? No. I hate getting dressed while damp.

Do I use the towel around my waist and go barebreasted there and back? I really wish I had. But my body issues never gave me a break on the land, even though it was as close as I’ve ever felt to freedom in my own skin.

Anyway, I decided on wearing the towel around my hips and a sports bra, which was itself more brave than I felt. At the showers, there was a line of naked women. The showers are hitched to a wooden frame so sisters shower three by three. There is a ‘shy shower’ with a ring of curtains.

I’m naked waiting in line and I see the bodies of two beautiful women ahead of me and I think, if they were clothed, I would assume their bodies were perfect. But they weren’t. Whatever I imagined perfect to be, no woman was. We were all so awkwardly and amazingly human, so wildly exactly as we were meant to be. I measure my wellness with how desperately I want my body to change. I always posit the question, if I could start over in fresh skin—no tattoos, self-harm scars, stretch marks or loose skin from weight loss—would I? Or am I supposed to live in this body as a representation of the things I’ve dealt with in my life? Do I really need to wear my skin like a badge or a storyboard? Or wouldn’t it be nice to look… plain?

The shy shower was the first one that emptied when it was my turn. I asked the women behind me if anyone else strongly needed it, so she could go ahead of me. No one did, so I ended up using it. Of course I left my glasses there (and of course they were waiting for me when I returned) and my feet never got clean but at least I smelled good again.

I went to a workshop on the Law of Attraction – that which is like unto itself is drawn – which was really lovely because it was mostly women talking about how being brave and being kind had opened their lives to love, which is my experience as well. I spoke about how my anxiety and depression had conspired to keep me locked in self-hatred and defeat, and how I struggled to regain control of my life after letting men siphon it, and how beautiful things became for me when I decided to lead with love.

After that, I ran into hot-flanks and worthy-of-armor and their friend on my way to a radfem rhapsody workshop, and they were going to Max Dashu’s workshop on the Witch Burnings. I had gotten my timing mixed up which happened frequently, so I went with them instead.

One of the hardest things about fest was deciding where to invest my energy. So many things were happening at once, and I could have stayed a month and not repeated an action twice. I lost out on a lot of much-desired information because I had to choose between sometimes up to four subjects. The depth and breadth of womyn’s knowledge is beyond fathom. We are so fucking brilliant.

I’m so glad I went to Max’s workshop. She has such a handle on the topic from a radical feminist perspective, not to mention the collection of art and imagery she’s collated. It was heartbreaking and it made me feel sick a lot, thinking of these women, no different from me, in such agony and fear, so betrayed, so keenly aware of the injustice. Defending herself, suffering in such pain, often her sisters and friends dying around her, until eventually she is murdered too. It’s so fucking wrong. It’s so evil—yet it was so perfectly normal. Any man had the power to have a woman killed, because she spurned his advances (fended him off from raping her), practiced medicine or midwifery, spoke with other women about their oppression, had a miscarriage, spoke out against an abusive man, loved another woman…

All these things that feminists do, these women died for. This is women’s herstory. There is a genetic legacy that impacts us today. There was a town where only two terrified women remained alive. If they had daughters, imagine their world. Imagine the physiological impact of being in utero to a woman living in constant fear and horror.

We are their daughters. Never forget them.

After the workshop, Max led a discussion with a smaller group of us. I asked the famous question: how many actually died? Well, the answer is complicated. We will never know. The 9 million number was an extremely exaggerated extrapolation made by a male historian that is often falsely attributed to feminists. But most numbers are underestimations. We just don’t know.

Because women today are still killed for being accused of witchcraft. This isn’t only herstory but our present story.

There I met darksnowfalling who is a really special woman who I didn’t get to spend much time with.

This is when the rain started. I don’t do well with being cold so I went back to my tent. I barely ate that day and stayed in my tent until the rain stopped almost 14 hours later, reading a book and drawing cards and generally being a sadcase.

*

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So Saturday is generally the big day at fest. I went to the crafts tents for the first time and bought some awesome stuff.

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Four awesome books–one by Giovanna whom I met and love, a zine by RAW which is excellent, the 2016 We’Moon calender, and Witches Heal, a lesbian’s herbal guide to self-sufficiency.

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Some groovy teas.

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A patina copper bowl. Copper is traditionally seen as a woman’s metal as it was herstorically worked by women for women’s needs. Magically, copper is a balancing and channeling agent. Visually, I just really fucking liked it and wanted it.

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This photo does zero justice to the most beautiful boulder opal I have the honour to call my own. Three veins converge to make the large inclusion. I’ll replace this with a better photo soon.

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And, of course, a fucking chalice.

After, smashesthep spotted me from the line for Saints, which is where you can buy coffee and some food. I got the world’s best chocolate doughnut and an iced tea. We went over to the day stage and watched Crys Matthews perform, which was awesome. After, I popped back to my tent to get ready for my garbage workshift.

I’d spent a lot of the week being really nervous about the workshifts, and I really wish I had done them earlier in the week, but even though I made it through the line to get into fest relatively early, many of the shifts were full and I really wanted to be in the Womb. I wanted to do garbage because I figured it was one other womyn wouldn’t like, and I don’t mind doing gross stuff and I’m physically strong.

The shift went fine. There was one woman I worked with who was really gorgeous with this genuine easy smile that made me all warm. I fell in love about seven times on the land, none reciprocated, damn it! The shift was only an hour and half because so much had been done in the morning. It was indeed disgusting, but as we’re driving around in the back of this truck full of evil, women shouted out their thanks at us, so I felt kind of like we were heroes.

After I cleaned up, I headed to the Radical Feminism and Women of Colour workshop, which was really hugely impactful. Some main points that were made:

Radical feminism is more than simply ‘putting women first’. As white women, it’s easy for us to say that. Women of colour, especially those who view race as the primary oppression they face, have more of a struggle. To demand they put a racist white woman over a man of their race, when they are so immersed in racial oppression, is not okay. Radical feminism is a movement to liberate women from male supremacy, which includes racism, which white women benefit from—even when we wish we didn’t. To deny this is to deny reality. We can ask for solidarity without demanding priority.

‘White feminism’ is a phrase to describe a feminism that doesn’t prioritize ALL women. For example, I frequently see white women describe gender as ‘women being seen as meek, virginal, fragile…’ Well, women of colour and especially black women do not experience this brand of femininity. Black girls are frequently sexualized and exoticised. Ignoring these distinctions is ‘white feminism’, that is, a too-broad statement that fails to incorporate compounding oppressions aka intersectionality and posits the white woman experience as the default.

The best part about this workshop was a young black woman who came to check out what radical feminism was all about as in her experience it was so demonized. She was articulate as fuck and asked great questions. I saw her later in the dinner line and asked what she thought. Guess what. It totally resonated with her and spoke to her and her experiences.

That happened A LOT. There were many radical feminist workshops on the land, and newcomers almost always left radicalized. Only once, during the DRG workshop with no facilitator, did a young woman leave I believe feeling unheard—after I said we didn’t have time in the face of the climate crisis to wait to change legislation or reform the current system, but we had to act radically and quickly.

The dinner that night was rice pasta with tomato in it, so I mostly ate green beans. I ran into a woman who was at Radfem Rise Up a couple years ago, and we caught up a bit and ate together.

I headed over to my shift at the womb. Like I said, Saturday is the main concert night at fest, so I knew we’d be busy.

The section of the womb I worked in was herbal medicine. Women would come in with various complaints: headache, hangover, earache, UTI, cramps, etc, and we would concoct her an herbal tea to help. It was so fucking interesting. One of the other volunteers was an herbalist, so she knew her shit. I learned so much. I did most of the grunt work but got to interact with a lot of women as well, including taping a garlic clove into a woman’s ear. I felt really competent after a while, and it inspired me to increase my kitchen-witch knowledge.

After my shift I was supposed to meet up with someone, but I was so exhausted I went to bed.

*

Now that I’d had a fucking doughnut, I was a fiend. I went and bought two more.

Then I went to a workshop on a lesbian land community in Arkansas. They were recruiting, but really I wanted to pick their brains on how to make it work. I learned a lot from them and really loved hearing them speak so passionately and assuredly about their homes. I’m contemplating going to stay there for a month if the opportunity arises in the next year. They gave me great advice on how to start my own land, which is of course my life’s work.

After that, a bunch of attendees from tumblr/fb met and talked—about everything: women’s land, trans politics, how to support trans men and detransitioned women, how to connect with older lesbians so we/they don’t feel so isolated, how to carry on the work after fest, how to apply all we’ve learned into our lives and activism. It was a really amazing discussion and I was struck again at how smart, kind, passionate, driven, and ANGRY women are—and how those qualities are creating an unstoppable force. There are no more waves to feminism—now, we are the sea. We are everything.

Afterward I went to the crafts bazaar again and got a book and also got another doughnut.

And a detransitioned woman and I went to the acoustic stage (me for the first time) to watch the One World Inspirational Choir, which was so beautiful and profound. Women’s voices in unison change the world. There is a reason singing and dancing is women’s work–because we’re transformative. I cried a lot and had to leave before the healing circle.

I returned to my tent for a while to decompress, then went to the day stage with smashesthep to listen to the comedians. Even as funny as they were, I also learned–to make time and space for kindness and solidarity with all women—to not look away as I pass them or stare at the ground, but to make eye contact, and smile, and speak, because we are in this shit together. We need to perfect radical sisterhood now, so that when the shit hits, it’s rote for us.

When it was time for the candlelight concert, I was really excited. I loved the acoustic stage, and I’d been told by my boss at work, a michfester, that instead of clapping women would hum and it sounded like a beehive. She was not wrong (even though I suspected her of fucking with me as she is wont to do). Although we had to stand—the entire area was packed—it was really amazing. I really cried at this particular song about the degradation of the environment and how the souls of women who came before are returning. When you cry at michfest, somewoman will always hold you.

When the concert ended, there was a devastating lull. No one wanted to leave. Then there was this fucking HOWL—a wolf howl. The entire audience took it up and we all howled our grieving. It would die out and then begin again from another area of the audience, this powerful ebb and flow of despair, power, and hope. I’m not sure if this is something that’s happened before, but I know how much it impacted me. It was animalistic and raw and so deeply honest.

After we left, a few of us went to the Triangle to the firepit. We sang and cried and talked. I offered a song that my crone activist friend created who didn’t come, and they sang it with me as I cried.

*

On Monday morning, it was time to go home. I woke up really early and packed up. I’m really impressed at my packing. I got it all in/on my backpack, and considering I’d bought books and acquired a tarp and other goodies, I nailed it. I hiked out to where the cars were parked and found my ride again. As we drove out, women smiled and waved goodbye, and I waved back. But once we left the gates, I broke down. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to occupy michfest and live there forever. I wanted to cut myself and rub her dirt into my wounds and keep her with me. I felt urgent and exposed. But so honoured to have been there, so rewarded for that struggle, and so loved. That land won’t ever stop being home. But we are travellers now, and we have to figure out how to take home with us and cultivate new space for ourselves and our sisters and our loves.

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Aside

Women are stronger with women

So I’m of the radical mind that any woman can be a lesbian. Any woman can leave men, do The Work, and be with women.

Women are born and raised in a patriarchy. One of the key tenets of patriarchy is compulsory heterosexuality. This manifests in a number of ways and varies by place and time but it always means women are taught to fuck men, cater to men, birth males, and see women and femaleness as less, as Other. Compulsory heterosexuality means women are not allowed to be lesbians. Men make sure lesbians are derided and degraded in media, that lesbophobic slurs are commonplace, that lesbians never see themselves represented anywhere, and that women are punished for loving women too much. It’s not subtle. Iterations of lesbians in all media are raped by men or die—or are not lesbians at all because their male creator had them fuck men. Little girls are called dykes for holding their friends’ hands in grade school. Most girls these days are first exposed to lesbians through porn, which is made by and for men. (This first exposure is changing and we do have more positive, strong lesbian women to look up to than we ever had before.)

And that’s just the pressure to NOT be a lesbian. The pressure to fuck men is just as powerful. The two feed off each other, they work in layers, they are employed based on the need at the time. Are women deciding not to marry men? Make it so women can’t afford to live alone. Are women deciding to live with other women? Destroy and demean female friendships. Are women lesbians? Remind them that their bodies belong to men, that they are performing for the male gaze, that men can decide to be them just to get to fuck them.

Girls are raised to hate other girls, and they grow up to hate women. We are rewarded for it. We are always encouraged to tear other women down. And there men are, eternally praised and promoted as the proper (only) choice, the hero, the inevitable result of being a woman. Patriarchy, MEN, derail young women from lesbianism by child sexual assault and rape. CSA grooms women for a lifetime of heterosexual abuse. This can become a cycle that destroys countless women.

My question is, is it any wonder there are not more lesbians?

The Born This Way narrative is politically expedient. “Don’t discriminate against us, we can’t help how we were born.” It appeals to the religious narrative: God made us this way. It makes sense to a lot of women. Many, if not most lesbians knew they were gay from a very young age. Was it before compulsory heterosexuality ‘got’ to them? Not in all cases certainly. But I think that might be part of it. When you are able to know yourself before someone else tells you who you are, you are more likely to fight back, to not believe the lies.

Women who were always lesbians are still submitted to compulsory heterosexuality. Harassment, abuse, heterosexism, corrective rape, are all ways of keeping lesbians in line, to remind them who they are there for: men. Lesbians are the punching bag for patriarchy because they are the furthest removed from men.

Later in life lesbians and political lesbians did not escape compulsory heterosexuality. They frequently had relationships with men before coming out. They bring with them huge amounts of male-identification, internalized misogyny, the poison of lesbophobia and homophobia. It takes huge amounts of self-awareness and self-love to move beyond seeing yourself as an object to be fucked to a subject with genuine emotion and love. (This isn’t to say always-lesbians don’t deal with self-hatred; they absolutely do, and it’s encouraged by patriarchy for all women, especially lesbians, to hate themselves). One thing that always struck me when I was with men was how much I felt like an actor. My words, my movements were not my own. I was presenting a preconceived notion of woman (read: straight woman) for the male gaze. I wasn’t ME—I was what I knew they thought I was. I learned this ideal from movies and porn and real life straight relationships. I had no lesbian role models that weren’t torn apart by men in order to keep me from straying from my ‘path’. When I found radical feminism, suddenly my words were my own. I was speaking with power and assurance. I knew what I was saying was my truth. And contrary to the idea of Born This Way that I’d grown up with, I saw that many radical feminists chose to devote their energy and words and love to women. And frequently, they fell in love with these women. It seems, to me anyway, to be such a natural progression of love. You’re with men, and in quiet and loud ways they hate you. You often hate yourself. You radicalize and find love. You learn to love yourself. You speak with love and love women. Then you Love Women. It is sexual, though not in the patriarchy prescribes sexuality. I think this is the key reasons some lesbians don’t approve of or believe in political lesbianism. Because male sexuality, which informs all female sexuality but most especially the sexuality of women who have sex with men, is toxic, parasitic, violent, and draining. I’ve said before that part of the reason it took me so long to figure out I’m a lesbian was because I didn’t want to do with women what men had done to me. That was my idea of sexuality. It wasn’t something I would inflict on someone I loved. It was something DONE TO me, not mutually shared. Patriarchy and men almost destroyed my ability to love women. And that was ON PURPOSE. And they succeed so frequently.

I believe that most women don’t actually want to be with men, and their “attraction” is nothing more than brainwashing and patriarchal grooming. Why else would patriarchy have to work so hard to keep women with men? If it’s so natural, why not let it progress naturally instead of forcing it upon us and removing all access to agency and choice? Women are tortured by the way they’ve been trained to react to men. I’ve had heartbreaking conversations with women who would do anything to undo what compulsory heterosexuality did to their brains and bodies from before they could speak. But the brain is incredibly resilient and plastic; heterosexuality can be unlearned with the rejection and removal of men.

I think the misconceptions around political lesbianism is a problem with language. As radical feminists, we cannot have the same idea of sexuality as the patriarchy does. We cannot demand that lesbians have sex—that is up to the lesbians. We are not men. We must be honest and real with each other. If you’ve been with men, you know they damage you. Having sex with men and being exposed to male-centric porn and media makes you feel like you can’t have sex with a woman without objectifying her, without hurting her as you’ve been hurt. This takes time to work through, maybe all the time in the world. But a woman who loves women, who only wants to be with women, and who is attracted to women, with whatever baggage she brings, is a lesbian. It’s not political celibacy—that’s called spinsterhood and it’s admirable as fuck but different. It’s not that I’m trying to mince words. I take umbrage with phrasing like ‘lesbians want to fuck women’ and ‘lesbians want to have sex with women’ because they are both so stained by maleness and PIV-centrism. It’s almost certainly because I was stained by maleness that I struggle with the patriarchal lexicon, and that’s my issue and the issue of all women who have been exposed to toxic male sexuality and their control of language.

It’s interesting that when this conversation first started happening in the seventies, it was lesbians telling straight women to ditch men and discover women, and straight women saying they love the cock and the privileges and they’re just fine thanks ever so. It’s changed now, and I do understand why. But the women looking to political lesbianism aren’t het women who’ll go back to men. They are radical feminist women who eschew men and value women, and that’s an important distinction. Every woman can be a lesbian. Not every woman should be. Some women will hurt lesbians and destroy them with their male identification–they should not be lesbians until they do The Work. But no woman is born straight. Women are groomed, and in that process there is real harm.

For me, political lesbianism was a stepping stone. It made me realize that just because I’d been fucked and raped by men didn’t mean that was my entire story. Since I (thought I) was bi, I think the transition was easier because I already had that attraction, as tainted by patriarchy as it felt at times. I stopped being with men and in fact moved toward separatism. Once I was free from those tendrils of men, once their vampiric access to my body and selfhood was revoked, I woke up. Everything changed for me. In some ways political lesbianism is coming to your true sexuality through radical female-centric politics. Loving women IS political. It is personal of course, but the personal is political. We do not exist outside patriarchy, not even separatists. It is simply the realization that you don’t have to be with men and that relationships with women can be mutual, healing, loving, and sexual. It’s the realization that you were lied to, with all the power behind patriarchy, about men, about women, and about yourself.

Sometimes I think we should retire the term altogether, but that might be because I just don’t need it anymore, and that’s incredibly selfish. Regardless of how you come to love women, of how long it takes or what your journey looks like, if you exclusively love women in every female sense of the word ‘love’ then you are a lesbian.

Aside

Part of my feminism is helping women discover their love for women. In the conversations I have with ‘het’ women in person and online, it’s easy to see that many women are only with men because it’s what they know, what they were taught, what’s expected of them. Many women, having been hurt and abused and gaslighted all through their relationships with men, don’t actually like men very much, for good reason. I talk about my own experiences: being molested at a young age, getting into relationships with men to help me escape other men, taking in all that male-identification and misogyny, despite considering myself a feminist. Had I been born a lesbian, my molester wouldn’t have cared, the same cycle of events would have been set in motion. As it is, I’ll never know what I was born as, because my reality was erased and derailed from the time I was born onward, and that ONLY stopped when I turned away from all men altogether.

I hate that lesbians have left radical feminism because of political lesbianism. We can’t afford to lose a single woman’s voice. I do fear the misrepresentation of PL on tumblr (the idea that it is a ‘new fad’ is insulting and misinformed). Second wave lesbians spearheaded the idea that all women could choose to reject men and be with women (intimately, sexually, whatever was ‘right on’ for the individual lesbians involved). That no woman is born straight. I don’t really question the idea that born lesbians are just that. That isn’t my experience but I see it enough. But I don’t think that because some women are lesbian from word go, that means some het women are born het. Lesbianism is MORE than just hetereosexuality but with women. They are not comparable, especially under a political lens. Heterosexuality is a political institution that benefits men. Women need to recover from it. 

I do understand the sort of knee-jerk of “once bi always bi” or whatever, but I think it’s really gross. Women are not tainted by men, they are exploited. Women who choose PL are radical women, women other lesbians should be able to trust. Lesbians should trust political lesbians to: not derail conversations about born this way or lifelong lesbian issues; not fetishize gold star experiences; listen to lesbians’ concerns about PL as a political ideology; give lesbians safe spaces; be respectful in shared spaces. 

Should the label be dropped altogether? A political lesbian is someone who comes to lesbianism through political radicalization. She wants to be with women, exclusively, intimately. The self-descriptor allows her to express both her history pre-radicalization and her promise to women not to repeat it. 

Like I said above, my feminism means reaching out to women and letting them know they aren’t alone, yes men really are that terrible, and yes you can be happy with women if that’s what you want, as long as you are honest and real. I was lucky to have a total stranger care enough about me to point me in the right direction and save my life. Gradually I understood I was a lesbian and would always have been had it not been for men. 

I did experience privilege as a perceived het woman (I was married to a man). I was never harassed for my sexuality (unless people knew I was ‘bi’), I was a social default and received benefit from that. Heterosexuality itself is not a safe place for women, though.  I was also raped and abused within straight relationships, a cycle that kept me from women for much of my life. Women don’t belong with or to men, none of us—our place is side by side with women in revolution. 

I believe all women are derailed by men and by the socialization we receive as females. We are the babymakers, the caretakers, the vessels. Not all women withstand the pressure. If, as a PL, you deny all privilege granted someone perceived as the default approved sexuality, you are doing a shitty thing. But this isn’t opting into oppression. It’s opting out of heterosexuality and discovering you have something to offer women, and being prepared for the backlash from society that any ‘rebellious’ woman faces. And maybe there are women who aren’t ready for the double dose of misogyny and lesbophobia, but radicalized women don’t go back to men and it’s beyond cruel to dismiss women in this way. There is abuse of PL, apparently—women who claim the title while still fucking men or planning to. These women are not lesbians and they are doing significant damage to radical feminism, mainly in the form of causing other lesbians to abandon the movement. So stop doing that.

My lesbianism is political, it is personal, and yes I do want to recruit. 

 

 
Aside

Girlhood

Each girlhood is different. What is learned during childhood stays with us and shapes us. My girlhood made me a feminist long before I understood the term.

I think it all started when I broke my leg. At seven years old I was already a voracious reader. I read my mom’s science fiction, my stepmom’s romance novels, and regularly spent my allowance at the used book store. When I got my first library card, I picked a book and checked it out. Then I sat and read the book (I was waiting for my mom to finish work). Then I checked out about fifteen more, so many the librarian chuckled, this great stack of books I could barely carry back to my mom’s store. Books taught me that every single person is different, that everyone is important, and that everyone has a story. Books gave me empathy, a sense of righteous indignation at injustice, and an escape. Some books gave me a fucked up idea of what women were really like, but I was lucky to have that balanced by good women in my real life, and eventually I learned to read stories about women by women for anything resembling truth.

On the first day of summer I was riding my bike down a huge hill and I lost control and sideswiped a parked car. My leg snapped (tibia in half, fibula a compound break) but my bike kept going–I couldn’t stop because it had pedal brakes, but somehow my dad ran out of his house and stopped my bike before it went into heavy traffic. (My dad then took me to a walk-in clinic instead of a hospital, but I can laugh about that now).

Anyway, I had a hip-to-toe plaster cast for a couple months that was so heavy I had to have a sling under it, over my shoulder, just to carry it. I don’t remember having my cast switched to a shorter fiberglass one, but the memory of having that one removed has stayed with me. I had one very tanned, muscular leg with fine though dark hair. My other leg was wasted, pale, weird-looking, and covered in dark, thick hair. People made fun of me and my mom said I could start shaving and I did.

A year later at eight I got my period. I’ve always been what they call an ‘early bloomer’ or ‘early developed’, phrases I hate because they suggest I wasn’t ripe or ready before but suddenly people were telling me I was. Ready for what? I knew, though, and so did they. Women often looked at me with sympathy when they learned how young I actually was.

During that time my mom’s boyfriend began sexually abusing me and that lasted a few years until I told a friend (something I can’t even remember doing) and she told my stepmom. From there everything changed but no one explained anything to me. I was twelve when I was told I had to talk to the police. Since I’d been at my dad’s that weekend, I didn’t see my mom until I was at the police station, and she was there with my abuser, and I thought that she would choose him over me so I didn’t talk. I didn’t take back my story but I said I didn’t want to talk about it.

My mom stayed with him, meaning so did her kids, until I was seventeen. She didn’t tell me she believed me until I was eighteen and I’m still not entirely sure she does. She still works with him, my sister attends his family reunions, etc. I learned that loyalty is difficult to enact.

During the five years after he stopped molesting me and before my mom left, he fucked with my head in a tonne of small ways. Invading my privacy and space, talking to me about my personal journal entries, petty things like painting my furniture and room colours I hated, and basically destroyed my self-worth by constantly calling me sadistic and manipulative and turning my family against me. I was sent to therapy but when I confessed I had suicidal ideations, again things were sent beyond my control and I was put on medication. At the same time my mom was also on anti-depressants. And those were dark days.

Because I ‘developed’ early I was subjected to treatment usually reserved for older girls. Men were always holding me against them and trying to get me to sit in their laps. My body, hair, face, etc, were constantly public property. Men I babysat for put their hands on my legs or in my lap, using my body for their satisfaction.

Starting in third grade I was a slut because I had larger breasts than other girls my age. I was also really mean and violent–I was the only girl who would fight boys and I basically contracted myself out to other girls. The name-calling and rumours were really painful not just because they were untrue but because I knew it shouldn’t even matter if I had done the things people said. Boys only wanted to date me because they thought I would do things with them. Older guys were constantly after me and used my body as an excuse for their behaviour. Do you know how many guys blamed ME for them not bothering to act human? How their perception of my sexuality became a self-fulfilling prophecy?

By the time I got to high school I knew exactly what men are. They looked at me like I was food, and I grew to loathe and fear that look. I began to see myself as they did: an object. My body wasn’t mine, it never had been. Men in cars honked at me and yelled at me and my friends, men at clubs and bars touched me against my will, men were constantly demanding my attention and I was not allowed to deny it. Men I loved hurt me actively and passively. Men had sex with me when I could not or did not consent. I knew men were NOT like women, and yet I was still expected to want to be with them, to find the one that wouldn’t hurt me, or treat me like meat, or deny my humanity by mocking my reality.

I read cosmo, trolled chat rooms, watched and read porn, and learned as long as I kept up a learned facade, men would do anything for me. I got into damaging and abusive relationships, the sex I had became more violent and degrading, I lived in depressions for years. I wanted to punish my body because that’s all anyone else had ever done to it. I have countless scars that in my mind showcased my worthlessness. I controlled my unhappiness by controlling my diet. Anything I could do to hurt myself I did. I became an actress and for a long time I expected to live my entire life like a movie. As long as I was writing my part, I thought, I could fix the ending. I could edit. I wouldn’t have to be real.

Girlhood is a confusing time. People always talk about childhood and adolescence, but we need to stop acting like girls and boys are raised the same. While boys were bringing porn magazines to school, girls were learning how to be pleasing, compliant, acquiescent. When boys have pornographic imaginations and expectations, and girls are raised to be obedient, what the fuck do people think is going to happen?

I can’t count the amount of times I’ve felt unsafe with men. I can’t even say how many moments I’ve had where I’ve thought–he’s not going to stop. I’ve been right about that. Empowering a girl to say no doesn’t carry much weight when boys are taught to not take no for an answer, or pretend to not be able to ‘read’ us. And when girls do say yes, as is becoming the norm now more than ever thanks to porn culture and its ‘feminist’ subsidiaries, they ARE considered damaged, fucked up, at fault. When girls say no, they aren’t believed or the guilt of the perpetrator is mitigated by the victim’s actions. Most of the time when a girl says no and he doesn’t care, she never tells anyone. But throughout my girlhood and subsequent adulthood I’ve come to see that if you talk to any women long enough and she trusts you enough, you’ll learn about her rape or sexual abuse. It’s never the same story, and yet it is.

I consider my girlhood different from my childhood. I loved running around in forests, raising tadpoles, bringing home animals, and building snow forts. I was left to my own devices and I was happiest when alone. I had several groups of girl friends, which I lost every time I got a boyfriend. My family was really poor and moved a lot and my mom did the best she could but she’d never learned to be on her own and she couldn’t have supported us that way. There were a lot of bright, shining moments in my childhood.

The darkest moments, though, were almost all because I had a girl’s body. Girlhood matters to girls and I’m sick of seeing it brushed aside and erased.

lies about women

There’s a multi-billion dollar porn industry dedicated to portraying women pretending to enjoy painful sex. There’s a highly lucrative bdsm industry that showcases female masochism as the height of femininity and therefore sexual desirability  There are countless media sources ostensibly for women that but only serve to destroy self-esteem, encourage women to have sex they don’t like or want, and pretend men are just silly-billies who need our guidance because they just don’t get our wacky lady brains.

Disney heroines find love with men often after conquering the female villain who is almost always shown as not having known male love (which is deceitfully painted as the healing love when in fact it’s the opposite). Toys that prepare little girls for ‘womanhood’ train them to expect motherhood and heterosexual marriage. You’ll notice womanhood only includes the facets of being female that appeal to males, such as sex characteristics and sexuality, performed femininity (which is simultaneously mocked and adored), her ability to become pregnant and give birth, or her ability to perform duties like cooking, cleaning, and breadwinning. This is what womanhood is to men: what it can do for men. 

The parts of femalehood that are not celebrated because men or certain men do not approve are denigrated and we are made to feel humiliated by them. Things like menstruation, birth control and abortion, lesbianism and bisexuality, and rejecting patriarchal femininity, are all openly derided because they do not benefit males. Rape has become a joke and when it’s not a joke, it’s porn. 

BDSM, heterosexuality, prostitution, and pornography, when enacted or used by males, is always going to result in the oppression of females. BDSM in its most common form (dominant male to submissive female) celebrates male violence against women. Even if you believe truly informed and vacuum-free consent can even exist under capitalist patriarchy, it still takes a sick fuck to enjoy hurting another human, especially sexualizing that violence in the historical context of males actively oppressing females through sex AND in light of the fact that many women in bdsm have histories of sexual abuse. And yes, I have experience with bdsm and everything else I discuss, so can we fuck off with that?

Contemporary heterosexuality, by which I mean the common representations of heterosexuality in our media and our lives, is shown as the end game. Abuse, rape, forced impregnation, male control of finances and reproductive freedom, childish or threatening behaviour, and basic male uselessness in terms of being a good partner or parent, are all common lived experiences in heterosexuality. The heterosexual couple is the cornerstone of global female exploitation. Abusive rapist men might be outliers but among the silence of their rumoured civilized peers, and believe me it is DEAD SILENCE from ‘decent men’ out there, they speak the loudest. Why don’t these decent men want the rapists to shut the fuck up and die? Oh yeah, all men benefit from and contribute to a rape culture that enshrines male access to female bodies. Porn has also destroyed in men the empathy necessary to see rape as a horror; instead he will always sympathize with the rapist (unless the raped woman ‘belongs’ to him, in which case the rapist broke the bro code).

Porn and the ‘purchase’ of prostituted women is male sexual violence against vulnerable females at its apex. Consent cannot be negotiated with financial compensation or the concept becomes meaningless. I will never speak against women who participate in porn or prostitution other than to urge them to examine their ‘choice’ in terms of coercive, capitalist patriarchy as well as how very little that choice means to girls and women who don’t have one.

So yeah, there are a lot of forces at work against women finding other women. Women are also encouraged and rewarded for hating other women, we are lied to about what we are like and therefore what other women are like. There are multiple scare tactics used to misrepresent feminists, lesbians, political lesbians, and truly any woman who questions anything men like. But there is one thing I learned when I stopped giving a fuck about men—women will protect you. To women (to lesbians and feminists), no woman is disposable. No woman is replaceable. All are necessary, and valued, and worthy.