Joe LeBlanc, the Conference Chair and founder of the Butch Voices Conference August 20-23, 2009, told me about the conference almost a year ago and I loved the idea. Watching it develop since October has been really incredible. What began as the germ of an idea has become something really big and amazing. If you can road trip or take a last-minute change of plans and go to this conference you absolutely MUST. The Femme Conference changed my life--I can only imagine how incredible Butch Voices will be.
I was driving up to Michfest last year and got all excited because I saw a cute fat girl with good hair in the line. I immediately told my friend in the car “I NEED to know that girl!”
As often happens to me, I already did. She turned around and it was Matie, a marvelous queer fat femme I’ve known for a few years. She’s one of those friends I have that I see only once or twice a year when I’m lucky, but it’s like nothing to pick back up with the antics and the heart sharing.
Towards the end of the week at Fest, Matie lead an impromptu Nudie workshop on the Twilight Zone where we both camp. She spread the word amongst the Zone neighborhood that she was going to lead the workshop and eight of us gathered in a screened porch off to the side of a field. A motley crew made up of all dykes but from pretty different social backgrounds. I think there were a couple of people I’d call hipster types, a couple of punk girls, a high femme fashionista (me), etc… Definitely not people I would think at first glance would go to something as lesbian seventies as a Nudie workshop, and even people I’d be sort of intimidated to befriend a few years ago before I became the gutsy social butterfly I am now.
The format of the workshop was simple, but ultimately very, very powerful. We all took off our clothes at the beginning and then stood up in a circle looking at one another. We took turns being the center of attention but stayed in the circle formation. The person whose turn it was would tell the group their name, and what they love about their body and what they struggled with. Then the group would go around and each person in turn would give a specific compliment to the person about their body. Then we would move on to the next person.
We were all in our 20s and 30s. We all had different kinds of bodies, fat, thin, in between, hairy in regular parts, hairy in different parts, shaved, unshaved, light, dark. It was amazing and definitely not the kind of thing you normally do with other queers in their 20s and 30s, when we’re all sort of wrapped in our cloak of cool. Aside from the naked part, it is also an unusual experience to be part of a lesbian consciousness raising group with a bunch of young queers.
It was the kind of thing that reminds me that everyone has body issues. Body policing comes in all forms and against every type of body. The work of body pride and body liberation is not just for fat people, it’s for everyone, because everyone has the right to love their bodies. People who are deemed “too skinny” get a different kind of body policing, but it still happens and it’s not okay.
It was amazing to be able to see and comment on the vast diversity of body types just between the eight of us. It’s astounding what nature can do with a body and seeing it, studying it for an hour, is really incredible. Even though Michfest is technically clothing optional, and on a sunny day lots of womyn run around without their shirts on, I never have. I only go naked in the group showers and even that was a big deal to overcome when I first started going to the festival. So it was in the spirit of that openness and in a moment of challenging myself to work on my freedom with my body without clever undergarments and my femme fashion to go to this workshop.
It’s also really powerful to tell stories about your body when you’re that exposed. It is vulnerable and transformative. I am grateful to Matie for being an amazing friend, but also for creating that safe and magical space.
Matie followed her dream to New Mexico to open a sex toy store (well, “sexuality resource center”, and you CAN shop online there). I profile her in the upcoming “Thinking Big” Episode of FemmeCast. You’ll hear that soon. I’ll be seeing her in August.