Fresh from my annual adventure in the woods at MichFest, I thought I would provide some highlights from my summer adventures.
TAMALE AND THE POWER OF STICKTOITIVENESS
I got to spend a lot of time with the gorgeous and caring Miss Tamale Sepp. I met her through the IDKE community years ago, and have performed alongside her precious few times but consider her a kindred spirit. She’s two months older than me but it feels like we’re twins in some ways. She likes to say “I’m dramatic, not drama” and I could not agree more. We share a penchant for flamboyance and big personalities, red hair and big tits.
One of the things I love most about Tamale is her relentless drive and passion. She decided the last afternoon of the festival that she wanted to spin poi. She needed this very specific type of camping fuel. “Coleman something something in a red can” she repeated to anyone who would listen. She easily asked 600 people and as the afternoon wore on and I was beginning to give up, as the cuntree store ran out of all sweet snacks other than keebler fudge stripe cookies, as campers had been flooding out the front gates since the early morning hours, as night was beginning to fall. She got a tip from someone to check beside a specific high traffic dumpster as a lot of campers leave things behind. I bid her adieu after another heart to heart atop a hay bail.
Two hours later she was at the Last Chance Desperation Dance* grinning from ear to ear, handing me a book of matches with a can of Coleman fuel at her feet. She saw it in someone’s cart and asked if she could use some and they gave it to her. She performed three of her beautiful fire dances that night, one solo and one using me as a sexy (and very trusting) prop underneath her, and then later as part of the Womyn of Color Community Tent burlesque show.
Had Tamale given up when I was beginning to doubt the possibility, she never would have had that fulfillment and the hundreds of women who watched her perform that night would have missed out on some beautiful midnight magical moments. It was a really salient example to me of the benefits of tenacity and putting your needs out there.
ACTIONS FOR TRANSSEXUAL WOMEN’S INCLUSION Photo credit Andrea Alseri
A photo from the stage protest during Sia’s “Breathe Me”. The people are all wearing “Trans Women Belong Here” t-shirts. During the “How to welcome transsexual women to Michfest” organizing meeting Sia and JD attended and she invited people to wear their shirts and come on stage. There were an additional 3 rows of folks behind the catwalk. Also when we (the folks on stage) raised our arms, a bunch of folks in the crowd stood with their arms raised as well. It was really beautiful to be part of this action. I’m like third back from the center wearing a long sleeve black undershirt and striped skirt. I did my best to make a t-shirt look good.
Rae, one of the transwomen inclusion organizers, did an excellent t-shirt modification.
There was a lot of productive and peaceful organizing on the Land this summer around the issue of transsexual women’s inclusion in the womyn-born-womyn community intention at the Festival.** It was really great to see so much visible mobilization and have so many great conversations with people who are long-time (like 20+ years) attendees of the Festival. I have seen a shift in the community perception of the presence of an all-inclusive definition of “womyn” within the last decade I’ve been attending the Festival, but of course there is no crystal ball to tell us when/if/how that shift will be reflected by the Festival itself.
Photo Credit: Amanda Leinberger
Women’s space is personally very important to me, and something I see as a periodic necessity for my ability to live in this society. I grew up in Girl Scouts and going to Girl Scout camp. I also believe very strongly in gender non-essentialism and that gender is non-binary. I think that women’s space can be inclusive of a non-binary gender, and the umbrella can be as big as it needs to be to include all women. I also don’t believe anyone has the right to decide who else is a “woman”. Not the clerk at vital records who files the birth certificates and not someone who is organizing an event. I think gender is self-determined.
The first time I went to Michfest it blew my mind. This was before I learned about body positivity, before I learned that Femme was anything other than pejorative and being able to see a literal sea of women’s bodies (and a lot that looked like mine) in a comfortable and free environment radically changed my view of my own body. I want Fest to become that kind of space for all women. I am committed to doing the work from the inside, while I’m there to spiritually replenish my ability to do my art and activism in the outside world.
What was disheartening this summer was the interactions with Camp Trans this year. My friend Bryn, a long-time Camp Trans goer, read a piece about her experience at Festival in 2007 on Episode 9 of my podcast. It’s a really great listen.
There were reports of vandalism on the Land this summer from people camped at Camp Trans, and as a worker who works at the front gate, I heard people yelling terrible things from their cars at us as they drove past. This is something I’ve never experienced from Camp Trans. I’ve been over there many times, have a lot of friends who camp there and have enjoyed the “kinder gentler” peaceful activism that has been the trend over the last several years. I know whatever happened were the actions of a few individuals and not a whole community, but it is very disappointing that it happened at all when the actions going on from Festival Goers were so positive.
FINDING YOUR OWN RHYTHM
I spent a lot of time on vacation this year fighting off bugs (they were worse than ever) and trying to look good while doing it. A Festie Virgin friend of mine told me “I was lead to believe this was going to be some sort of non-stop sexy romp in the woods” and I responded “Nothing deters my sexual appetite like the taste of DEET.” Not that sex doesn’t happen in the woods, but when I removed getting laid from whether or not I felt my Festival was fun or a success I had a much better time. This theory is also true for conferences and other high-pressure hook-up queer social gatherings.***
I think it can be really hard to understand that what makes something a good time for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true for other people. This took me so long to internalize. Some people have to get laid to have a good time or do [x,y,z] to have a good time. I would always beat myself up for not enjoying things in a similar way because I absorbed what other people were saying should be my goals for what is a good time.
The Festival is a great space for me to remember this lesson. Some people go to the Festival for the sole purpose of just drinking with their friends all week, some go for the nature, some book up every moment of their day with workshops, concerts and activities. I sometimes get so wrapped up in the idea of the time I think I should be having I become really checked out from the joys and pleasures of the time I am actually having.
Indigo Girls was my favorite concert and I remained completely sober for it because I wanted to really experience the joy of seeing one of my favorite bands play. I was also experimenting with how to wear flannel as high Femme. Also pictured is my friend Des in her outfit from the Butch Strut.
It took me several years to realize that just because I was “camping” didn’t mean I had to dress like it. I’m always far happier wearing clothes that express who I am in a way that zip away hiking shorts and tevas don’t even come close to doing. So I wear what I want and accept that there might be a wardrobe casualty (rarely).
Partying in the dark dark woods? Sequins will get you noticed.
This is another lesson in not letting fear hold you back. I don’t worry about being overdressed anymore, and the same goes double for as costume-friendly environment as MichFest.
My friend C. approached me at the beginning of Festival week and told me that her dream was to get her light blue convertible in the Femme Parade and have me ride in it. I told her, “I didn’t know that it was my dream to ride in a light blue convertible in the Femme Parade until this very moment but I am happy to help make this happen.” It took many conversations and work on many folks’ parts but the coveted and extremely difficult to acquire Festival vehicle pass was obtained and we took up the rear of the parade.
All in all I had a great time, deepening friendships and spending some quality time helping to create something entirely put together from scratch every year by women. It’s an incredible experience and incredible feeling. I can’t wait to do it again.
*Not the official name in the Festival program.
**More on this topic is being pooled at this site here, clickie clickie.
***Likely another blog post on this topic is forthcoming.
I am on News 12 New York in a piece about businesses with gay employees that offer health insurance. Re/Dress was selected and as an employee who is gay and has health insurance, the newscaster asked me "Will you and your partner be getting married?" And I said "I want News 12 viewers to know I am single."
Anyway, they said in the report, "Bevin Branlandingham, who is single, doesn't want to get married for insurance." And then I talk about how getting divorced is expensive so you shouldn't get married for health insurance.
It is a radical act to love yourself in a society that says you shouldn't because of any number of your inalienable characteristics. It is a radical act to create a career that is different than the typical 9 to 5. It is a radical act to send your friends cards with compliments on them (which is what I did for Validation Day, but now I think the blizzard from last week delayed their arrival).