Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-08-02

I Withdrew My Energy from Michfest and Here are 10 of the things I Learned

Filed under: Events and Announcements — Tags: — Bevin @ 10:29 pm

I decided over the Winter to withdraw my energy from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

Since I’ve previously spoken so publicly about why I think trans women should be openly included in the Festival as attendees, performers, workshop presenters, staff and crafts vendors, I think it is important that I speak publicly about my decision to withdraw my energy.

I took inventory of my values. Near the top of my values is my art and activism in the world helping people love themselves. My work is about neutralizing body currency but even more dispelling the myth that anyone is not worthy of love.

Further down the list of my values is my investment in resolving this conflict. The problem for me in the last few years became that I really believed in my strong vision that the conflict could be resolved in favor of trans women’s inclusion. That belief and passion in my conviction fueled me into an energy expenditure that was out of line with my actual system of values.

I felt an obligation to show up to Festival and keep having these conversations because in many ways I grew up there. The Michfest community raised me into political consciousness. I began attending in 2001, at 22 years old. I learned that you could love your body at any size and gender presentation on that land. I learned to love myself there.

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2001Shuttle2001, I was 22 and fascinated by everything and taking a jello shot just handed to me. // My friends Erica and Karen waiting for the Shuttle.

Over the years they began to feel like my family. Stepping away from my family or a community I belong to when we have a disagreement is not how I roll. I want to show up for conversations. So I did. It was through my privilege as assigned female at birth that I was able to develop these trusting relationships and have these conversations in the way I did. I really believed in the goodness of the place, the culture of the people and the openness and warmth that I know the women there to be capable of. I really believed change could happen.

Going to the Festival takes a lot of energy, it is a huge undertaking mentally, financially, physically and emotionally to live off the grid and outside that long. Working at the Festival takes a lot of energy, putting in 8 hour shifts. Working on actions for inclusion takes energy before, during and after Festival.

2002femmedragkings2002 at the Femme Parade with my drag dad, Johnny KingPin.

In the summers of 2013 and 2014 I added co-facilitating a four part workshop called Allies in Understanding, aimed to develop communication between women on all sides of the debate about trans women’s inclusion. Building bridges and understanding where there had been a total communication breakdown. Not easy work, but I felt like this might be the key to open up a solution to the decades old debate.

Work with Allies was rewarding and effective with incredibly smart women I respect and love, but wildly time consuming. Days during the Festival I would end up working a 12+ hour day. That’s a really huge energy commitment.

photobyandyalseri20102010, Trans Womyn Belong Here action on stage at the Sia concert. Photo by Andy Alseri.

Among the work I’ve been part of I felt was most meaningful was Trans Womyn Belong Here’s scholarship program funding trans women’s attendance. Having their presence so that they could be part of the dialogue on the land about trans women’s inclusion was crucial. Over the past couple of summers the TWBH presence has dwindled, and so has the presence of trans women on the Land. My motivation to do the work was on behalf of trans women who wanted to attend. As that number dwindled, so did my motivation. I don’t feel it ethical to have dialogue about inclusion without a trans women presence, and there were no out trans women in attendance last summer.

I believe everyone in the world is entitled to know and feel their inherent awesomeness. My association with Michfest harmed my ability to do that work. Thus, I decided to withdraw my energy and redirect it towards making the world a better place in different ways.

memegan20072007 Femme Parade with Megan, a friend of mine I met at the Festival in 2002.

Some you win some you learn. I learned a lot. Here are some of the things I learned during my 14 year tenure as a Festival attendee and later, as a staff member:

1. People cling to things as they are with the idea that keeping something alive is succeeding. Things have a lifespan. And letting things have that lifespan is important. The fact that Michfest is ending is okay. Even your own participation in community is a thing that has a lifespan, and it is okay to let go with love.

2. “All that you touch, you change. All that you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change. God is change.”–Octavia Butler, the Parable of the Sower.
I believe nothing can last that cannot bend and change. I’ve learned that watching the Michfest infrastructure unfold from the inside out. I feel that a lot of the reasons Michfest is ending have to do with not being open to change, not just because of the intention but also the ways in which they used their resources and public relations.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of not being willing to change, which is why I was open to checking my value system and seeing if it lined up with where I was putting my energy.

hollynearshrine20082008 inside a Holly Near shrine.

3. I fuck up and I sometimes cause harm, even as I intend to do good. I know that I have fucked up in my process with and my communications about working through this conflict. I am willing to learn. I always want to be doing better. I want to be open to fucking up because I never want the fear of fucking up to hold me back. I want to be open to checking my behavior, actions and words because I want the world to be awesome and I want to help it become awesome-r.

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4. There were more than 2 “sides” to the debate about trans women’s inclusion at Michfest. Certain women wanted autonomous space that was trans inclusive. Certain women wanted autonomous space that was trans exclusive.

There was a whole spectrum of women with feelings in the middle somewhere. Most of them knowing that they wanted autonomous space for women but not sure how trans inclusion would affect that space.

I heard two women tell me the same idea for a trans inclusion policy, one of them identified as trans inclusive and the other as trans exclusive. But both with the same idea. There was more alignment than folks realized looking outside the conflict.

There are lots of folks who still attend the Festival who believe in the full inclusion and participation of trans women.

All of the people who attend the Festival love having a separate space for women identified people. 90% of the folks who attend, regardless of their position in the discussion, want everyone else to be their full expression of themselves for that one week a year in the woods together.

The other 10% are just assholes. There are assholes everywhere you go, even in a loving intentional community. I have learned that.

2010backpackchair2010 with backpack chair.

5. Learning to navigate this issue and love people in spite of our differing politics has actually made it easier for me to open up to my family of origin. I now know how to weather conflict with resilience. I show up with my family authentically myself and I accept them even though I don’t agree with some of them politically. Working with my Grandmother on her internalized ageism, fatphobia (etc etc etc) is a life’s work, but I love her and all the things she’s taught me about owning my Femme. I have more tools for loving her around the places we disagree from having done this work on the Land.

2010grover2010 photo outtake with Grover.

6. I want to give my energy to spaces where trans women are welcome with open arms. Where they are included in the programming and their experiences and needs are just as valuable as the experiences and needs of all women in attendance. Outside of Michfest I do this 100% of the time. I didn’t know at 22 years old that you had to ask if trans women were included in full participation of a women’s festival but I know now that I need to make sure of that before I invest my energy.

Last September I attended the Ohio Lesbian Festival to see what it was like at a fully trans inclusive festival and it turns out it’s great. Anyone who wonders about trans inclusion should go to the LezFest or another inclusive festival like Fabulosa in CA.

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7. I think the work to resolve the conflict by the administration of the Festival began in earnest about a decade too late. Maybe if we had Allies in Understanding workshops starting in 2002 we could have seen change enough to create a trans inclusive Festival. (Work on the outside of the administration of the Festival for inclusion, including Camp Trans and actions on the Land, began in earnest in the late 90s.)

I sent my resignation letter via email to the owner of the Festival, and one week later (before she replied to my email) I got the announcement that the Festival was going to end after 40 years.

It was a mind-fuck to learn about the end of the Festival after I had already gone through my own grieving process. To learn that it would end still felt shitty. Especially given the amount of work we had done with Allies in Understanding to build room for resolution in the conflict. It felt like we gave up once we started really working to resolve it. But I realize now that it was too late.

There are hundreds of women I know who attended or wanted to attend the Festival in the past who could no longer hang in there until it became trans inclusive. So many folks have told me how they miss it and they hope for change. Everyone who wanted to attend a trans inclusive Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has a different kind of mourning that a lesbian institution could not be open to a full spectrum definition of women.

I don’t think there ever has been or ever will be an institution like Michfest and I think the failure to change and the failure to work in earnest to resolve a huge organizational issue lead to its demise.

Though it is owned by just one lesbian, I think that the Festival is the product of the energy of the thousands of women who attended the festival and who ever wanted to attend the Festival. This has always included trans women. I have been told that trans women have always been at the Festival. They certainly have been since I began attending. There’s much to be lamented in the grief around the Festival’s legacy, but I hope there isn’t an erasure of the fact that trans women have always been part of the community.

miraclewhips20112011 with the Miracle Whips.

8. I love my Michfest family and I trust that the relationships I’ve developed will continue to stand. I know lots of folks who stopped going years ago over the issue of trans women’s inclusion who are still considered part of the tribe to the folks they love. I think one of my biggest fears was losing the tribe, but I know that people will speak my name and keep me close to their hearts even if they don’t see me on the land.

9. People get really concerned with other people’s choices. I’ve lost friends and colleagues without a word over this conflict, whether they were people who are staunchly pro-intention or staunchly anti-Michfest.

One of the nicest things a friend of mine said to me was, “Bevin, I love you regardless of where you camp.” And that person was an important part of my process when I was thinking about leaving what I have long regarded my queer homeland. It is scary and hard to put a stop to a thing you’ve had in your mind and a political goal that was so meaningful. It’s really helpful that I had friends who had different political opinions from me who would never go to Michfest hang in there with me to help me make this shift.

facial2012My friend Sam giving me a facial in the woods. 2012.

10. I love going on vacation with big groups of people I know. It’s what made Michfest feel like “home.” It’s the feeling I was willing to work so hard to preserve. Even when I didn’t know a woman, if I saw her on the path I smiled at her, because probably eventually I would meet her. I want to start coordinating big vacation trips with folks I know.

(There’s a cruise to Alaska with some gay friends of mine in September 2016, I’m totally serious about getting a bunch of people together. Let’s cruise and camp and go to theme parks and on RV road trips.)

This summer I am 98% totally happy with not being at Festival. I miss my friends but I know I will see them in the world. It’s not the same as living with them in the same “town” for 2 weeks a year but I feel confident I can womanifest something really awesome in its place.

The 2% missing this year? I miss my breakfasts with Sully, this totally amazing baby I got to eat with every morning last year when I’d get up at 7AM for my workshop prep. I do not get to have breakfast with a baby every day in my real life.

9600470693_0990889476_z2013 with me and Sully.

And I’ll miss the Twilight Zone glow party on Thursday night.

The Twilight Zone has been the home to a bunch of super awesome mostly working class dykes from the Midwest who have always been very trans inclusive and provided the safe(r) space for trans women on the land to camp. The glow party this year will be an epic send-off to a complex much-beloved and much-maligned institution.

PhotobyLauraVogel20092009. Photo by Laura Vogel.

2014-07-30

Michfest and Trans Inclusion: Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

Filed under: Queer Oprah — Tags: — Bevin @ 2:04 pm

Today I landed at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a week-long celebration designed specifically for womyn located in Hart, Michigan. The Festival actually begins on Tuesday but since I work at the Festival, both as a member of the Box Office crew and a second job co-facilitating a four day workshop series, I get there a few days early. I have attended the Festival since 2001. I have found it to be an incredibly unique place that is healing, spiritual and connecting in a way that I haven’t seen an equal. I believe it is a powerful event worth preserving for further generations.

In 2002 I became aware that trans womyn were not included in the intention of who is invited to attend the Festival. I also learned that this issue has been a longstanding source of conflict within the Festival. This past year, in particular, has sparked a strong sense of urgency around the issue. An ongoing boycott has collected more fervor and supporters this year, more Facebook posts have been seen on the topic, more conversations are being had about it around the water cooler/tea basket. The reason for the additional energy around it might be connected to the strong momentum that has been gained this year in the transgender movement – what the cover of Time Magazine called “the Transgender Tipping point”.

Regardless of the reason, I have learned that there are more than two sides to this conflict. Many people feel silenced, hurt and disrespected in the current climate of the conversation. In addition, there have been many misconceptions running rampant which have fostered a lot of confusion and have led to even deeper levels of resentment and mistrust. So, I’ve written this post to clarify from my perspective, some of the misconceptions about Michfest and trans issues and to hopefully support the work towards healing.

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Misconception #1: Trans Womyn are not allowed on the land.
The first misconception that Trans Womyn are not allowed on the land. Trans womyn have always attended the Festival and continue to attend the Festival. Some of these womyn are open about their transition status, others remain stealth on the land. Since 2008 I have worked at the Festival’s Box Office. I know first-hand that no one’s gender is questioned when tickets are sold to the Festival. However, it is the intention of the festival to focus on cis womyn during organizing of the festival which has spurred the conflict and debate.

I do not agree with this intention. I believe that trans womyn are womyn. Because I love the Festival and find the intergenerational interactions, incredible work providing access to disabled womyn and many other aspects of the event valuable, I continue to work to change the intention from the inside.

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Misconception #2: Anyone who does not boycott is Transphobic
The second misconception is that anyone who attends the Festival (and does not boycott the event) must be transphobic and is harming the trans movement. This is a particularly hurtful misconception that has caused me personally to receive a life-time supply of hate mail. I receive hate mail from people who believe trans womyn should not attend the Festival as well as from people who believe I am transphobic for working within the Festival to change it.

The truth is there are a large number of festival participants each year who work tirelessly while on the land to change the intention of who is invited to the festival, and ensure that trans women have equal voice and space at the festival – including having trans womyn in the music line up.

I have personally organized fundraisers to provide scholarships for trans womyn to attend through the Trans Womyn Belong Here scholarship fund, initiated dozens of one-on-one conversations with Festival organizers about the topic, and over the past couple of months will have spent 150 hours or more organizing efforts for trans womyns’ inclusion, having discussions with folks on and off the land and preparing and facilitating the 4 day workshops that seek to build bridges between those who do not support the intention and those who do.

I am not alone. There are a number of people on the land who continue to rally for trans inclusion by engaging in hard conversations, initiating petitions, songwriting, and doing a slew of other actions seeking to open people’s hearts and minds. As a result, the number of people aware of and supporting trans inclusion has grown every year. And the more people who come to the land who believe in trans inclusion, the more likely it is that the Festival’s intention will change.

As any social justice buff knows, the trick to creating change is not just one strategy… but a number of strategies coming from the bottom-up, top-down, and inside out. To suggest that those working their tushi’s off from the inside on this issue are transphobic, hurts people’s hearts (a lot!) and creates greater friction within the movement – making the goals that much harder to reach. However, to see us all united in an effort to create an environment of healing and love for people of all body types, backgrounds and circumstances…. that’s the type of movement I want to be a part of.

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Misconception #3: The Festival Will Never Change its Intention
The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the apartheid movement, the abilities movement, the LGBT movement, and pretty much every movement that has made significant gains did not do it quickly. This is because there is a powerful and unrelenting opposing force in each of these movements – fear. Fear of change. Fear of loss of what one has gained. Fear of engaging with a community that one doesn’t understand. Sometimes even fear of physical safety.

I believe that the best way to eradicate fear is by building bridges of understanding.

Last year, I co-facilitated a four part workshop series sponsored by the Festival called Allies in Understanding. This workshop series sought to heal the deep rifts caused by the conflict and create space to have more productive dialogue. The workshop was incredibly successful, healing and powerful. Womyn on both ends of the conflict made connections with one another that allowed one another to be heard, some for the first time in a discussion about the Festival’s intention. It was amazing to see people’s minds light up as they developed a new understanding of the “other” community, and seeing hearts open to new ideas and new perspectives. I remember overhearing so many conversations with the words “Oh… you know I never thought about it that way.” You could practically feel healing taking place in the room (and by room I mean circle of ferns).

I will again co-facilitate this four day workshop series in 2014 on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the Festival week (in addition to working at the Box Office). With the higher level focus on trans issues this year, we are sure to get more people, more ideas, and more passion to create healing that is necessary.

And as stated earlier, the more people who attend and are in favor of changing the intention, the more likely the intention will change. Maybe this year will be the year that the Mich Fest Trans tipping point is reached. We won’t know unless we try. And, because I love this space and find no equal, I will continue to try, however unpopular that opinion may be.

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Misconception #4: There is No Transparency about Festival Activities and Policies
I have heard that one thing that has been very difficult is that folks “disappear” onto the Land and there isn’t transparency around what actions and conversations are happening in the ferns. This is not an effort to shut down knowledge about the important conversations, but rather has more to do with low levels of access to technology and a lack of infrastructure for communicating about the topics.

In a small measure to help resolve this one part of the conflict, this year, I will be using social media (Instagram) to provide at least some visibility. I’ll report back about the workshop series, discussions and highs and lows of the Festival experience. I will do my best to allow folks on the outside to feel heard and to know what is happening on the ground. I am seeking to facilitate understanding and foster conversation.

In addition, if you are not attending the festival but have a question or comment that you would like to bring to the dialogue please send me an email at: alliesinunderstanding@gmail.com. I promise to take all questions and comments that seek to build bridges and inspire healing to the session and do my best to bring back responses to those off the land.

I want to make it crystal clear that my Instagram project and the email project will in no way violate any wyms’privacy. Everything that will be shared will be with consent.

Specifically the workshop Allies in Understanding is confidential and there is a detailed and thoughtful communications contract that guides our work in that space. I co-facilitate the workshop with womyn who are on the whole spectrum of opinions about Trans inclusion. I think this work towards understanding works best when we can take the hand of someone we do not agree with politically 100‰ and work with them for resolution.

Final thoughts…

I feel particularly drawn to this work because I believe that the Festival will continue to exist and that it will open up the intention to include trans womyn. My mission in life is to make the world safe for all bodies, and I feel it particularly important to do this work in and for a space that I love and a people (the current, future and former attendees of the Festival) who I consider family.

That said, the conflict around Festival moves far beyond the 3,500 workers, attendees and performers and has deeply hurt and affected queer communities and families all over the world. It is my hope, my personal intention, and my unyielding conviction that love, trust and understanding will triumph. And that all people will be considered worthy of love and full acceptance, exactly as they are.

Trans Womyn Belong Here Visioning Statement for a Trans Womyn Inclusive Michfest

2013-07-26

No More Transphobia in My Name

Filed under: Queer Oprah — Tags: — Bevin @ 10:43 am

**The title of this post is a riff on the lyrics of the Michfest theme song written by Max Feldman.

A few weeks ago I was asked to emcee a community event that centers around inclusion of all bodies in a queer context. About a week later I was asked by one of the organizers not to emcee because they were afraid that publically aligning themselves with me would make trans women not feel welcome at the event. “You advocate for people to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival” they said to me.

I was surprised and hurt that this happened. An important part of my core value system is that I believe all bodies are good bodies. I feel especially moved to do work that celebrates people whose bodies are maligned in our culture–fat bodies, dis/abled bodies, bodies of color, sex worker bodies, older bodies, trans bodies and non-normative bodies of all permutations. Attacking one body is attacking all bodies. The events I produce I intend to be body positive for all. The writing I publish is meant to empower all bodies. It’s sad to think that anyone thinks that the spaces I’m in or create are not safe for trans womyn because I believe trans womyn should be welcome at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I believe it and I’m an outspoken proponent for inclusion, both in the intention around organizing as well as performers on stages and brought into the community fully. I think it will only make the Festival stronger and better and more wonderful.

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I’m going to back up a little bit here, because not everyone knows the controversy surrounding the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. For some background about the controversy and how I feel about the intention around organizing, read Towards a Spiritual Definition of Wymhood, where I advocate for a non-medical definition of womyn. I also want to point folks to the Trans Womyn Belong Here Visioning Statement for an Inclusive Michfest, which was written collectively in May of this year following the letter from Lisa Vogel.

I’m actively part of organizing with TWBH, which includes several trans womyn. All members either attend, might attend or used to attend the Festival. A core value alignment is that we love and appreciate the Festival and believe trans womyn should be included in the organizing principle.

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In March I published a post trying to get folks who want to work for trans inclusion to attend the Festival (which is I believe the post the folks who asked me not to emcee were referring to). There’s obvious activist burn-out in this community and we need more help and voices. The more people who no longer attend Festival because the intention around organizing doesn’t line up with their values, the more homogenous the voices at Festival and the more it loses the diversity that makes it stronger.

After I published my piece, there was a renewed call to performers of the Festival to boycott the Festival. A few performers backed out of the line-up, including Andrea Gibson and Nona Hendryx, who felt they couldn’t support the Festival by attending and chose to join the boycott. A small handful of performers, most notably the headliners Indigo Girls, released statements that spoke in support of trans inclusion at the Festival, but also noted support for the Festival itself. They will speak for trans inclusion from the stage and will decline to perform again after this year.

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Additionally, many artists who were not called on in the petition to boycott declined to participate in the Festival because of the intention around organizing. Courtney Trouble declined an invitation to screen a film.

After these public statements by artists, Lisa Vogel, the founder and owner of the Festival released a letter to the community. (Because I couldn’t find the letter on the official Michfest website, I republished the letter as a static page on my site here as I received it in an email.) Her letter has been interpreted in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people. It’s interesting the more time that has gone on since Lisa published a Letter to the Community how many different perceptions about her words I’ve heard. Some people read it and hear “No way no how no trans womyn ever.” Some people, including myself, read it really differently.

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I genuinely believe it was a step forward from her previous statement in 2006. I believe it was an invitation to continue this dialogue–the biggest we’ve ever gotten from Lisa directly. She said while we haven’t changed the intention yet we are still talking about it. And I want to point out the line where she says specifically, “The onus is on each individual to choose whether or how to respect that intention.” I don’t respect the intention, but I do love an appreciate what this Festival has done for me as a person in so many ways.

I mean, I know Lisa Vogel. I know her well enough to believe her best intentions and to believe that when she says she’s listening she is. I’ve been in meetings with her and seen her listening to all sides of the issue. I know she is working to protect a community that is important to her and she wants to feel that the community is ready to move forward. It’s a giant bummer to think that this community that she’s drawing from is becoming increasingly more homogenous as people who believe trans womyn should be included feel more burn-out and disillusionment and stop coming to be part of the community.

I also totally understand why people think that there’s absolutely no moving forward based on Lisa’s letter. I can see that perspective, though I don’t agree with it.

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I’ve done a lot of soul-searching on this issue. I literally think about this every day. What it comes down to for me, as in all things, is whether or not what I am doing is in alignment with my values.

I believe trans womyn are womyn. Period. I also believe this Festival is an important part of our living herstory, there are so many things that are available through this gathering that don’t happen anywhere else. I’ve been part of this community for over a dozen years and I consider them my family. I don’t want to walk away from my family while we’re having this conflict, I want to make sure my voice is heard and I want to bring forward the voices of trans womyn.

There are still trans womyn who attend the Festival and Trans Womyn Belong Here provides scholarships to trans womyn to attend Festival to ensure their voices are not silenced in the conflict. There are still trans womyn who want to attend the Festival. (There are also lots of trans womyn who don’t want to attend and who are tired of hearing about this issue.) I want to continue the work until I no longer believe that change is possible. I want to stand in solidarity with the trans womyn who are at the Festival and want to come. That’s what my value system leads me to.

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Change comes from a lot of places, it comes from people choosing not to attend the Festival. It comes from people choosing to attend and have dialogues. It comes from people doing what is right for them and there isn’t just one way to go about changing something. I support people who want to boycott the Festival if that is what makes sense to them. There are people who have attended for many years who can’t participate any longer because the conflict itself is too much to bear.

People call Festival a healing place. For me it’s a place of growth and centering. I am challenged to do new things and I’m confronted with a huge conflict. I hate conflict! I want to run and hide from it. But I know I’m not on this earth to hide. I know I’m not here to run from things that are uncomfortable. I believe in the transformative power of connection.

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I think this conflict is solvable because I know how similar both sides on this issue are. If there are thirty dominant political beliefs that we all agree on but it’s one that we don’t, I think it’s something that can be resolved. I think the conflict is particularly uncomfortable for everyone right now because it’s coming to a head–this is what change feels like.

Marianne Williamson said on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday “Younger people know more about things that change, older people know more about things that don’t change.” I’ve learned so much from the intergenerational aspects of the Festival, but this conflict seems to drive our lesbian elders farther and farther from the younger queer community. Festival is an amazing space that fosters this intergenerational interaction like nowhere else I’ve been and I think it’s crucial to maintain a space that has so much herstory and to continue to grow and adapt to further generations.

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Separatist space is an important part of my life. I feel like this place is particularly centering for me because it is a womyn-centered space. I grew up going to Girl Scout camp, it’s empowering to be in a space that is only womyn. It’s a wonderful, positive, caring community. I want this space to be as loving and welcoming to all womyn. Honestly, I have more in common with most of the trans womyn I know than someone who has always felt entitled to her womanhood–especially folks who were raised middle class or wealthy or thin. I spent most of my adolescence beating back huge parts of my personality and self-expression because I didn’t feel like I had agency over my femininity or womanhood. Michfest helped me learn how to step into who I am as an empowered woman, but I have that battle for womanhood in common with many trans womyn and we got here in different ways. They are an important part of the diaspora of womynhood that should be represented on the land.

And because I didn’t feel born into womanhood, because I feel I had to fight my way into it, I don’t identify as a woman born woman. I don’t attend the festival as a woman born woman, I attend it as a woman who fought to get into her body and does hard work every day to step into her power.

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It has bothered me for quite some time that the festival advertising and materials do not include the intention clearly stated. When I was 22 and considering my attendance at the Festival, I was post-Women and Gender Studies degree and was lucky enough to have professors who taught the Kate Bornstein school of gender. I knew that trans women were women at that time and I still believe without a shred of doubt that their womanhood is just as legitimate as mine is.

It’s not the Michigan Womyn Born Womyn’s Music Festival. It’s a womyn’s festival. And the intention around organizing isn’t clear from the festival advertising. If I had realized in 2001 that the Festival excluded trans womyn, I probably would not have chosen to attend. I wouldn’t have gone and wouldn’t have learned how much that space could do for me, fuel me and feed me so that I could go back out into the world and do the work I do. But I did go. It continues to fuel me. And I don’t want to walk away from it while I believe there is work to be done to expand the intention around womynhood.

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I wanted to write this piece because I want to clarify that I believe all bodies are good bodies. It was hard to be asked not to emcee a show because people understand my politics in a way I don’t intend. But it helped me remember that people just see black and white about this issue–I attend Festival and therefore they don’t wait to hear my politics about it. I wanted to make sure people who read this know why I continue to choose to attend, continuing to work towards a goal I know a lot of folks have given up on.

I was asked by Lisa Vogel to help facilitate a workshop over several days of the Festival talking about the conflict. I’m looking forward to working with people who have different views than I do about trans womyn’s inclusion. I’m looking forward to working towards healing and resolution because I still believe it is possible.

If you are at the Festival this summer, please attend the workshop series “Loving Allies in Understanding.” I will also likely have some TWBH schwag on my person (or know where to get some) so please come see me! I work at the Box Office by the front gate and when not at work am found roaming downtown.

If you’re not attending Michigan this summer because you have decided to participate in the boycott, here is a tumblr for folks who are homesick for Michfest.

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Here are some more writings I’ve done on the issue of trans womyn’s inclusion at Michfest and Michfest itself:

Lesbian Tea Basket (2012 Festival)

Towards a Spiritual Definition of Wymhood

Everyday Glitter (2011 Festival)

Glamping Tips and Fashion in the Woods

How I Spent My Summer Vacation (Festival 2010)

Lessons from the Nudie Workshop (2008 Festival)

2013-03-21

11 Reasons to Attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival This Summer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Bevin @ 12:30 pm

I’ve written about my attendance at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival here before. It’s a wild and wonderful adventure I take every August, where I totally unplug from the outside world and set into the hum of a life in the woods, sleeping in a tent (with many fabulous amenities) and creating something truly one of a kind every year with hundreds of other wyms.

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Since I love the Festival and the amazing things it’s done for me in the 12 years since I started attending, I have a vested interest in getting as many Fest-curious wyms to attend as possible. Further, I’m part of a group of past, present and future attendees of the Festival who are working, in love and in direct one-on-one communication with other attendees, to change the intention of the Festival (See #9 below) and we need more, fresh wym power to help us continue the work.

If you’ve always thought about coming, now is the time to turn that thought into a plan. Without your support, it can’t continue. In order to turn folks’ maybes into a yes, I’ve compiled a top eleven list of reasons to attend the Festival.

Photo by Jae Sevelius
Me, doing my best to make a beach chair look glamorous. Photo by Jae.

1. Because it Won’t Be Here Forever

It’s no secret that attendance at the Festival has declined over the past couple of decades. There are so many other queer and lesbian adventures that womyn can take now. Olivia Cruises are basically the opposite of the Festival (but cost about quadruple what it costs to go to Fest). And it’s less stigmatized to travel while queer now than it was when the Festival began in the late 70s. Maybe, with the internet, lesbians and queers feel less isolated than they used to. It’s a different way of life in this century.

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Built by hand, from scratch, every single year. And I get to use a sledgehammer!

I think that is what makes Festival so important and special. It’s a piece of our herstory that is living. It is a thriving metropolis one week a year in the middle of the woods. It’s populated with some incredible people, where saying “Hi” on the path is normal, where you never have to play the “is that a teenage boy or a hot girl” game (pro tip: it’s always a hot girl) and you’ll make lifelong connections with people you never expected. There’s no cell service so there’s more one on one interaction. People are focused. People are free. It’s nothing like an Olivia Cruise. It’s nothing like any place you’ve ever been.

But the thing is, this place is created by hand every single year. It costs money to do that. Even if most of the workers are volunteer, they still need to get fed, performers still need to get to the Land. And if folks stop coming to the Festival, it won’t continue.

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Me and my friend Leo. P.S. All photos by me unless otherwise noted.

2. Being Exposed to Lots of Body Types

When I was a tender 22 year old facing my first Festival, I was most nervous about showering in public. I knew group showering was just something that was part of it (they call it “open air” showering) and it was just a thing people got over when they got there. My first year was 2001, a year so hot we were in the 100s for several days in a row. After the load-in that first day, I was so hot, hungry and dehydrated that I immediately didn’t care that I was naked with strangers. I was just so grateful to be showering.

My first Festival was also the first time I ever saw naked women’s bodies that looked like mine. Imagine living for 22 years never realizing that your naked body was pretty normal, compared to everyone else. Since we live in a sex negative, body negative culture that prioritizes hairless, thin, muscular bodies, it’s not weird I didn’t know what I looked like naked was totally normal.

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There’s an incredible array of body types at Festival, that span gender expression and body hair. There’s also a normalized nudity culture, where if you’re hot it’s fine if you take your top off. My first year that was a total culture shock, but now I’m used to it. I don’t walk around topless (I find it uncomfortable as a fat person with big boobs to not be in a bra, but that’s just me), but I appreciate that lots of other people feel comfortable.

And the showering? I find the group showers to be so fun! My bestie Victoria and I try to time our showers together every day so we can shave our legs next to each other and gossip about our dating lives experiences.

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Victoria, getting me a beer.

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Chilling with my friend Jamison in the shower area.

3. Objectifying Women in a Feminist Way

Along with normalized nudity comes normalized body appreciation. And there’s the kind of “You look really good today,” comments (both in an out of clothes but usually it’s outfits). And there’s also just the really hot womyn around all over the place. Bikini wearing tractor drivers. Muscley butch carpenters making things out of wood. Spectacularly cleavaged red and blonde haired girl working at the front gate. (That’s me, by the way.) Some hot androgynous person lying on a tarp at a stage. Dapper dandies strutting through the woods to night stage.

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My friend Lexi always does this leaning thing that is so hot! I love a good lean!

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Shelly and Jen, great for ogling in a feminist way. Photo credit, Cordelia.

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Olive, looking fly and fashionable as always!

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Rainy day = bikini wearing tractor driver.

In the default world, street “appreciation” is often a site of assault or unwanted attention. On the Land, though, you know it’s generally coming from a feminist place and it feels much more welcome. It always takes me about a day to get over Festival culture shock and drop my guard from the default world, but once I’m in it it’s so nice to be part of the giving and receiving of compliments, appreciation and friendly objectification. Also I like boobs and appreciate when friends like Vic take off their bra and throw it at Krudas Cubensi.

MV, heels in the woods.
Vic, with clothes.

(True story, a couple of weeks ago I was on a date and my date had planned to take me out for fancy hot chocolate after we went to the theater and we happened to be across the street from Scores–a famous, mainstream strip club in Manhattan. She said, “I can take you to Scores if you want. Or hot chocolate.” My response? “I’m not that kind of dyke–I like body diversity and predominantly real boobs. Also, I get that kind of thing for free all the time. Let’s go for hot chocolate.”)

4. Experience Incredible Music

It is a music festival, after all, so it’s wonderful that there are always new groups to discover. This year I’m really excited THEESatisfaction will be playing for the first time, along with my favorites Lovers, JD Samson & MEN and Indigo Girls. I’m excited to hear Sea of Bees, also, I’ve never heard of them but love it!

I’m also utilizing the feature on the Michfest website where you get to listen to the music ahead of time. I took it one step further and started a Soptify playlist (it’s best if you set it to shuffle) so I can pre-listen to the top 5 songs or recent albums of folks playing the Festival.

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Dorothy Allison performed last year!

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Sometimes when Amy Ray is finagling other queer artists to come on stage for Closer to Fine before the Indigo Girls show she says to the performer, “I think you know the words.”

In addition to all of that, it’s an amazing place to hear music away from the concerts. At my first Festival I got to attend a private Chris Pureka concert (just Chris and a guitar) after hours. Last year I was hanging out with Scream Club and we passed a bunch of my pals at a campfire late at night and my friend Katie asked them to play their song Acnecore. And they totally did. My friend Clare is a talented acoustic guitar player and singer and works across the road from me. Once I learned she knew Purple Rain I asked her to play it every day.

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5. Parties in the Woods

If partying is your deal, especially partying in safe(r) spaces, or going to concerts, dances, drum circles, intimate gatherings or costumed parades, this is the place to be. I coined the term “lesbian keggers in the woods” to refer to the revelry on the Land after attending the Lansing Kegger several years in a row. Seriously, some folks from Lansing bring a keg, dig a hole and have a by donation beer situation near their campsite with music, tiki torches and lights.

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The parties are what you want to make of them, too. Very DIY. In 2005 I was camped with four friends and we decided to throw a Fat Femme Make-Out Party (make-out parties were very trendy in the mid-aughts). I bought battery operated twinkle lights, put them along the path, created a make-out game and it was the most amazing Alice in Wonderland type of situation, with people coming and going, spontaneously finding it along their various travels.

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Any party you can imagine is fair game on the Land, with enough help and getting the word out (and making sure if it’s after 11PM you keep it low enough for folks to sleep or host it in the loud and rowdy camping area). I’ve seen people host old-timey jams, impromptu concerts, chocolate pudding wrestling, and my first year (2001) a group had “walled” off a whole grove of trees for a make-shift dungeon.

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Edward Fortyhands was a thing one year. Bring saran wrap, duct tape, forties and make about 14 friends.

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Me and Nicky on the Land.

My two co-promoters of Yes Ma’am are also Festival attendees and we’re scheming to figure out how to throw a Yes Ma’am in the woods. Stay tuned.

If you can dream it, wyms will come.

6. Practice Getting Dates in a Safe(r) Space

A friend of mine once commented “I was lead to believe that if I came to this Festival I would get laid all week.” Let me assure you, kind readers, this is not always the case. However, if you want to get laid, learn some ways to ask people on dates and get over your fear of rejection, this is a great place to practice. Here’s my pep talk post about asking people out. And here’s some good text ideas for asking people out, easily modified in person in the woods.

It’s sort of like going to a 3500 person mixer. It’s like “shooting fish in a barrel” since a large percentage of the people at the Festival are available in some way. Some are on a Free Ass Pass (TM) for the Festival. Some are single. Some are newly out and very excited about it. Whatever, there’s lots of people to meet and lots of people to go on dates with. So if you want to ask people out, probably folks will say yes. Anecdatally speaking, more people are available on the Land than in the default world.

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Last year I was not monogamous in some way off the Land and was therefore available for the first time in a couple of years to go on dates. I was so excited! I began my two weeks on the land with a list nine deep of people I was excited to flesh out for possible dates. (Victoria calls this her “bang list.”)

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Four immediately dropped off because they were otherwise involved. I put one on the shelf because they live close to me and I could flesh that out in the default world. I got to know a couple more and lost interest (brains, wit, charm and style are so important and you just don’t know enough about someone you think is hot from afar). By the end of the first week I was down to one possexibility who hooked up with someone else. This gave me and Victoria a lot to process about in the shower.

There was a wild card who arrived during the Festival, I spent a bunch of time with her taking walks and hanging out in my hammock. I used my date-asking skills on her and got a no. But it was okay in the long run. I was on the Land! It was a great place to get support from my friends, feel my feelings and go get some emotionally soothing tea from the Womb. (See that Lesbian Tea Basket Episode here.) 24 hours later I was over the rejection.

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Lauren, being a babe.

I’ve learned that whether or not I get laid does not determine the success of an event I go to. In fact, removing getting laid from factors of success is a really great way to ensure I’ll have a good time no matter what. And I definitely had a great time the years I went to Festival and was not looking for dates.

However, there are people I know who get laid every single year, and I call those people Ass Masters.

Victoria has a pretty amazing method of getting laid at Festival (she calls it the “Mukka Method”), which just involves being very blunt. Straight up saying to someone, “Do you want to make out?” It really works. Time is short at Festival, it’s important to get your nos out of the way so you can get to the yes’s!

Photo by Randi
Me and Victoria teaching Clare where baby tutus come from. Photo by Randi.

7. Get Your Nature On

If you’re like me, you live in a building that has four walls and windows. You might live a lot like me and not be able to hear crickets at night and sleep with street lights coming in your window. And if you’re seriously like me you hear the rumble of trucks, busses and annoyed cars off and on all night. It is so different to live outside. It’s actually really loud–I have to get used to the sound of the tree frogs, cicadas and crickets in order to fall asleep. I also seriously have a love/hate/wonder relationship with middle of the night thunderstorms because it’s awesome to be sheltered from them (put up a rain tarp) but the lightening makes it feel like you’re sleeping in a disco.

I love the feel of dirt under my feet, I love seeing cool caterpillars, ferms and trees everywhere. Since Fest is only one week a year, most of the wildlife (including birds, sadly) makes itself scarce so you don’t have to get all up in it all the time. But there’s nothing like living, working and playing in the forest under a blanket of stars and with the comforts of chairs, twinkly lights and a DJ dance party.

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8. Being Silly in Safe(r) Spaces

Fest is such an anything goes sort of place, that I am able to let loose in a way that I don’t as much in my day-to-day serious New Yorker bustling from place to place life. My old friend Megan (who I met first on an old online blogging site and then in real life at Fest in 2002 and then we both moved to NYC) lives in Austin now and we get to live in the same town for two weeks. We were walking one day and out of nowhere just started creating this song about eating breakfast with an ex. It was really hilarious and I wish we had it on tape.

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Dressing in costume is a great way to have fun in the woods! Latrice models some sparkly eyelashes. P.S. I call Kubby one of my “slow plays” as I’ve been flirting with her for years and one year we’ll finally make out.

One time I was just going to the restroom and ran into Gretchen Phillips playing a tiny keyboard while someone else sang a song and did some spontaneous dancing on the path outside the Janes. It was magical and so fun.

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Me and my friend Michiko.

My friend Sam who runs a SPA IN THE WOODS (you read that correctly) is obsessed with R. Kelly and we did a lot of singing R. Kelly this summer. It became a sort of call and response, an impetus for me to memorize the lyrics to the beginning of Bump ‘n’ Grind, and totally liberating. (Also, Sam gave me an R. Kelly facial, which involved her singing R. Kelly while massaging my face.)

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Sam, singing a little R. Kelly. DJ Average Jo is that fashionable queer in the background.

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Adriana is the other half of the In The Bush Spa, cutting hair.

Victoria and I were having one of our shower chats a couple of summers ago and I asked if she was going to the healing circle (have I mentioned that Fest is full of woo) and she said she always just giggles at things like that so she doesn’t attend. I said, “Sometimes you’ve just got to giggle for the Goddess.” Elvira Kurt, the resident Festival Emcee, overheard us and quoted me at Day Stage.

When you’re in a beautiful space with friends, anything is possible and ordinary things are easily made fun.

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Megan, playing ukelele.

9. Come to Help Out the Efforts of Trans Womyn Belong Here

You should come if you believe trans womyn are included in the definition of womynhood. Currently, the intention of the Festival’s organizers is to include only womyn-born-womyn. I believe we should change that intention to a spiritual definition of wymhood, and explain that at length in this post. There are hundreds of past, present and future attendees who work with Trans Womyn Belong Here to change that intention through grass roots, one on one discussions, workshops and providing safe(r) space on the Land for trans womyn. I’ve written about my desire for a spiritual definition of wymhood at the Festival previously.

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I love this Festival and I don’t want it to die from lack of attendance. I don’t want to have to start a new Festival where all wym-identified-wyms are included, I want this Festival to continue to evolve to reflect the womyn’s communities have already evolved throughout the lands. It happened with S/M in the 80s, when the lesbian separatists thought S/M was appalling and didn’t belong on the Land and now there’s a whole S/M cul-de-sac years later. There have been so many evolutions in this 38 year old Festival that I believe it can change again.

But in order to do that we need folks who can help! Come to the Festival! Be a friend and ally to trans wyms. Pick up a position of leadership and run workshops on trans-inclusion (the workshop proposal deadline is June 7th). Join the TWBH email list and work on planning what is going to happen this year. A lot of folks who were active in the past do not have capacity this year.

We need more, fresh, enthusiastic energy!

Consider joining us in the woods. If you have questions about attending as a TWBH supporter, there are a lot of resources available to you. Almost every Fest Womon is super helpy and wants to help get wyms to the Land, and the same is true for TWBH supporters.

Photo by Melanie See
Photo by Melanie See. TWBH didn’t (and probably won’t again this year) participate in the “tee shirt war” where folks wear shirts en masse to show support of either maintaining the intention or changing it. Last year (2012) at opening ceremonies a bunch of folks wore red. But I ran into a ton of TWBH supporters who were also wearing red and, unbeknownst to them, having a visual marker against trans inclusion. So confusing!

Stage Protest during Sia
2010 on stage visual protest thanks to Sia. Photo by Andrea Alseri.

If you have questions about attending Fest as a TWBH supporter (even if it’s just to be another voice on the Land having one on one conversations that are so crucial to this movement) contact TWBHResources at gmail.com. If you have more questions about Trans Women Belong Here, check out the website! If you want to run a fundraiser to help put together materials for the movement and provide scholarships to trans womyn who are fest attendees, do that in your hometown! Donations to TWBH can be made through this link.

If you’re in NYC, the Yes Ma’am crew (me, Nicky and Jo) are producing a TWBH fundraiser on May 22 at Stonewall! More information to come, but we are soliciting raffle donations (books, services, gift certificates, tee shirts, etc…) now.

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Also, there is this awesome purple tee shirt being sold showing trans folks and labrys folks welcoming one another. It’s available in sizes Youth XS all the way up to Unisex 5X!! Only $10!

10. Make Life-Long Friends

The first year I attended the Festival I was 22 years old and I didn’t know a single soul on the Land. I rode and camped with two strangers I met on the forums. I’m still friends with Erica a dozen years later and did a reading at her wedding. When I drove cross country half the folks I stayed with were wyms I knew from Festival. It happened slowly over time, but now I know hundreds of people by name and many of them I consider close, dear friends. Taking the risk to attend was one of the best things I ever did for myself. Festival continues to open my mind and heart in so many incredible ways, and the people I’ve met are a great part of it.

I also want to say that some of my dearest friends on the Land are people who don’t agree with me about changing the intention and I’m okay with that. I really believe approaching the situation with love and appreciating our differences is one of the best parts about this community.

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Victoria just tasked me with documenting every costume change this summer!

11. Amazing value for the money!

Just a bonus one… A ticket to Michfest starts at $450 sliding scale before the July deadline for early-bird tickets. There’s a layaway payment plan available. This ticket includes everything–meals, showers, space to camp, 36 concerts, a film festival and about a million other things. There’s a ride board to help you find someone to split the driving cost. There’s a huge forum full of resources for first-time festival goers to learn what to pack and how to enjoy your life in the woods for a week. There is so much! If you’re on the fence about going, do some research and turn that maybe into a yes! We need you, your energy and your light on the Land this August!

Read more of what I’ve written about Michfest at this tag.

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2012-08-14

New Episode of the Lesbian Tea Basket! Womb Tea at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival!

Filed under: Lesbian Tea Basket,Video — Tags: — Bevin @ 7:59 pm

Fans of my web series The Lesbian Tea Basket, where I rate and review tea and reclaim tea parties for lesbians, will know that I judge tea based on a two prong system–whether it warms your soul and how it tastes. I also like to call attention to various tea accessories, like the mug I use or preparation jazz. I’m a Femme who loves accessories.

That said, there is something to be said for the perfect environment to enjoy a cup of tea. At Michfest folks are pretty Goddess-oriented and witchy, and the healing center (the “Womb”) is totally tea-core. There’s a tea for most of what ails you and I have been healed several times by a wham-pow tea. (Pao darko one year for a persistent yeast infection. It literally went away within 24 hours where monistat and other remedies failed.)

Playing Taboo, Drinking Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
Playing Taboo, drinking tea with Valerie, Melanie (Tender Forever), Lauren, while Jacks looks on.

So this summer I was enjoying a cup of lemon, ginger and honey tea served in a cauldron in the Belly Bowl on hour 36 of persistent rain and cold, and I thought I should film an episode of the Lesbian Tea Basket. I didn’t do it as there was a rousing game of Taboo that we couldn’t drag ourselves from, but on Sunday decided to trek over to the Womb to get some tea to soothe my tender heart. I’m a girl who believes in feeling feelings and I was really experiencing them.

In this video with my pal Megan from Austin, I review the tea the witches brewed me and also talk about Trans Womyn Belong Here actions and general Fest stuff. Enjoy!

P.S. The denoument of this episode is that I drank the tea, went back for seconds a couple of hours later and definitely felt better the next day.

2012-06-25

Everyday Glitter: MichFest Edition

Filed under: Queer Oprah — Tags: — Bevin @ 1:30 pm

We’re rounding the last and biggest stretch of Gay Stamina Month and I’m sitting at home on a Friday night instead of going out. Of course I’m pondering in the back of my mind what I might be missing out on but I like to think that if I’m not there they aren’t experiences I was meant to have. I’m also thinking about how there’s a theory in yoga about Shavasana–corpse pose/rest period–that when you do it between poses it actually heightens the poses’ affects on your body. That maybe instead of trying to cram in all of the big Pride activities into my schedule I’ll instead focus on just a few and savor the delights of each of them. My Pride Agenda was only a tiny handful of the hundreds of events happening this weekend. It’s nice to think I’m savoring this Pride weekend instead of marching everywhere and alternately downing gatorade and alcohol.

Last Friday I published a long post about the efforts of Trans Womyn Belong Here and wanted to follow that up with a post about what else happened last year. Like Pride, Michfest is a huge undertaking, with hundreds of workshops, concerts, informal meetings, parties, performances, meals and catching-up with old friends (not to mention that I work eight hour days thirty minutes outside of downtown Festival) I could do the same running ragged thing I used to be inclined toward.

Instead, this year, I focused on letting go of my high expectations for doing things and let the Goddess be my scheduler. It made things really beautiful with a lot of opportunity for quiet Shavasana. The glory of a digital camera and my relentless documentation of my queer life has helped these past few years for me to record precious memories, and 2011 Fest for me was not spectacular or earth shattering. It was better than that, a lot of joy in the everydayness of two weeks in a wym-created wilderness civilization. I barely make any of my photos public but I wanted to share a little of what makes this place so special to me.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE FIRST: SPA TREATMENTS IN THE WOODS

I took Glamping to a new level last year. Being fairly broke when I got to the Land, I sold some merch during the worker craft fair, a two hour affair where folks browse one another’s wares and buy much coveted wooden labri or show off some great art. It’s really one of my favorite events.

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My merch. I still have some of those bandannas, if you’re interested they’re 10 bucks each. Hand silk-screened in Brooklyn and super high quality.

I did well enough to afford a facial from In The Bush Spa. ($50 or so.)

It’s pretty incredible what you can do in the woods that isn’t at all like camping. Sam is an aesthetician by trade and brought an entire facial experience into a screen tent she shares with the hair stylist Adriana. Sam does everything except extractions. The experience of getting a facial was totally decadent. It was only the second one I’ve ever had! My skin felt like a baby afterward.

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Sam giving Gilly a foot treatment.

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Getting a facial in the woods!!

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There’s no express guarantee this haircut will get you laid but it’s pretty likely.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE SECOND: HAPPY HOURS

My friends Suzanne and Jen regularly have happy hours in the woods. This involves coolers, camp chairs and beer. They’re super welcoming. I’m the kind of person who camps alone and doesn’t bring living room stuff, and the money it would require to supply ice for a cooler for my like one daily Diet Coke isn’t worth it. But the collective magic of Suzanne and Jen’s place makes it possible to enjoy an icy brew when happy hour strikes and I’m passing by. The generosity in the form of cold beer and beverages on the Land is pretty incredible.

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Suzanne introduced me to this beer while at a happy hour near her tent. I forget if she bought this awesome dress at the worker craft fair but I highly encouraged it.

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I am very iced tea identified so I made some in the sun. I love a sun tea in the afternoon and the happy buzz from too much caffeine around 7PM.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE THIRD: CATCHING UP WITH FRIENDS

Without fail, every single time I tried to set-up a time to hang out with a friend one or both of us had to cancel. Which is difficult to do in a land with no text messaging. I was amazed to find out when I didn’t try to plan it I had quality time with every friend I intended to as well as more new ones. Sometimes I ended up skipping a concert or whatever it was I was heading towards but it was good, regardless.

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My heart swells and pops when I see Victoria on the Land. She also drives a TRACTOR. Hottest Femme ever.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE FOURTH: THE CALM BEFORE THE PARTY

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Me and Claire and a red solo cup. Also that light stick around my neck is AWESOME. It’s an effective flashlight, lantern and flashy disco party light all in one.

I have a really hard time with missing out on parties. I love going to the Twilight Zone Party Pit at night (the “loud and rowdy” camping area, neighbors to to S&M Cul-de-Sac) but ever since I started working the Festival I can barely make it out there at night. I am usually totally beat. So on Saturday night, intent on making it to a lesbian kegger in the woods at least once that week, I got off work at 10:30PM and walked over to the firepit. My pals who camp there and didn’t go to night stage were stoking the flames building a bonfire and setting up for chocolate pudding wrestling. (I like to call it yeast infection wrestling, but there is a shower really nearby.)

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Jess, tending the fire.

I had a great time sitting in someone’s loaned camp chair and sharing some kind of intense alcohol combination in a bottle with my friend Jess. I’m sure there was something bad decision making in that bottle but it was fine with me. I was excited to just get to hang with pals and not be worried about being too “on” for the party. As folks started coming back to the Party Pit I enjoyed the energy but was actually pretty grateful to have experienced the low-key part, before the drumming and yelling started for pudding wrestling, while it was just a few folks and a fire pit and the promise of a night. Something about the woods making noises more subtle when you’re mellow and then a cacophony when they get crazy.

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Quinn!

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That bottle…

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I left to go to the bathroom at some point and then just started on the half hour midnight trek to my tent on the other side of the Land, satisfied I had the exact kind of night I hadn’t intended but enjoyed very much.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE FIFTH: BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE

About four days into the Festival I realized I had hardly seen any half-naked or scantily clad fat Femmes roaming the Land. There had been plenty of thinner Femmes wearing just bras and panties or whatever lingerie but hardly any fats. I wanted it to change and I realized I needed to be the change I wanted to see. As scandalous as some of my outfits can be I actually rarely go out even on stage in anything resembling just a bra and panties. But I decided to revise my Femme Parade outfit to reflect my new intention.

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It’s not that big of a deal in the scheme of things, in an environment as supportive and full of body diversity as Michfest, but it’s still a big deal to do something outside of your comfort zone for the first time. And it was for me. And I was glad I did it.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE SIXTH: NAPS

I took a lot more naps this year than ever before. I found it soothing. Sleep is my party drug.

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There’s never enough time or capacity to get it all down after it happens. Years ago I used to bring a journal to Fest thinking I would sit under a tree and record things and I would get around to that maybe once and abandon it. I’m an extrovert and always want to get into stuff so I keep myself pretty busy.

I made time last year to sit and write in my tent and in the woods (I camp in a pretty quiet neighborhood) and then I would fall asleep for a half an hour and wake up to sun-dappled woods and the far-off sounds of rehearsing and get myself up to go back out to the Fest.

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EVERYDAY GLITTER THE SEVENTH: JAMMING IN FRONT OF THE JANES

So one day I was walking nowhere in particular and ended up seeing Gretchen Phillips playing a tiny keyboard with a microphone in front of the Janes. I rolled up and she handed the microphone to someone else who started singing or scatting, making up some song. My friend Gilly joined us and we stood there dancing to this impromptu jam session. It was really fun and probably the best my heart has felt in a long time.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE EIGHTH: PICK-UP SHOWERS

One of the best, probably not intentional, aspects of Festival is that the rehearsal tent for artists is across from where the Workerville showers are. I love to time my showers when my favorite bands are rehearsing. This is not something you can really plan, but you can let it happen.

One day I was laying around with this puppy pile:

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Lexi, Amanda and T laying around and chatting.

And then I heard the beginning of MEN rehearsing. So I hopped up and made my way to the showers. Live music and showering are a special only at Fest kind of thing.

Also MEN’s show was really great. During their encore for “Who Am I to Feel So Free” they all took their clothes off and performed it naked. Such a special, intimate moment, if it can be intimate with a thousand people. I think at Michfest it can.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE EIGHTH: TREATS

Treats are something you have to bring as part of your glamping entourage but you can buy ice cream during the week of Festival.

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My favorite chips and you can only get them in Michigan.

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This sheet cake was amazing and I was so happy that Hollywood had a birthday. I was also shocked that she was forty.

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Leah and Lauren brought a seltzer maker to make their glamping more complete.

EVERYDAY GLITTER THE NINTH: THAT TIME I USED A SLEDGEHAMMER

People love cleavage and a sledge.

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EVERYDAY GLITTER THE TENTH: THE SKY

Nature puts on quite a show on the Land. I really did do a lot of looking up/tripping over things last summer.

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EVERYDAY GLITTER THE ELEVENTH: THE RUNNING OF THE TARPS

I forget which concert I really wanted to be close to, but I participated in the ritual I hadn’t done since I was 23 and really needed to see [insert band or spoken word poet] up close. The line opens at 6PM (6:05 for workers) to go put down your tarps to get prime concert seat space for the night stage shows. I used to wait in line forever and ever for that prime seating. This time I brought my little beach chair and waited ten minutes or so for the workers’ run. It was actually really fun, and sort of nostalgic to do something that I used to be so fervent about when I was in my early 20s. It’s awesome to go back to a place for so long that I have nostalgia.

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The line (on the worker side).

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The running.

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Success! Dana and Fae.

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(This is my co-pilot, Dana. Since I sold my Prius we are going to drive to Fest together in my roommate’s conversion van! The gas is going to be triple the cost but it will be fun.)

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Security. Heron makes sure the running of the tarps is orderly.

*****
I’m publishing this post two days later–it takes a long time to go through the photos from Fest! Anyway, I hope everyone had a great Gay Stamina Month and for those of you I’ll see in the woods in 6 weeks I can’t wait! xoxo

2012-06-14

Towards a Spiritual Definition of Wymhood: Working Towards Trans Womyn’s Inclusion at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

Filed under: Queer Oprah — Tags: — Bevin @ 11:57 am

The 2011 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival brought forward more open conversation about Trans Womyn’s inclusion at the Festival than I have experienced in my 11 years of attendance. It was also the first festival where I saw so much open conflict and such an intense backlash of folks who oppose Trans Wym’s inclusion.

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Regular readers will recall that I love the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and am a vocal supporter of expanding the intention of organizing the Festival to include Trans Womyn. My desire for this intention to change comes from a place of loving the Festival and what it can do for people of all bodies who experience the world as a woman. For me and many others, Women of all origins and paths are part of the term “Women” and my communities at home that are created around Femme or Woman or Dyke identity are explicitly inclusive of Trans Women and we participate in that ongoing process of unlearning cissexism in order for that inclusion to be true in practice. I want this to be true of the Festival I love so much.

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Photo by Julia Cameron Damon

During the Opening Ceremonies this year I had a spiritual awakening. These happen for me in a subtle flash, sometimes suddenly, sometimes slowly there is a shift and I have clarity about something that previously troubled me. The opening poem spoke of Artemis and her tribe of womyn hunters. On the stage appeared dancers, many topless, dancing with bows. The ceremony continued with music and the shooting of three flaming arrows from the stage. It was visually stunning. I was stirred in a very deep part of myself.

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Photo by Julia Cameron Damon

All of this talk about wyms called to be part of a tribe churned up the gender trouble I have been feeling for many years about the intention of the Festival. The intention of the Festival has never sat right with me, not just because I am an ally to trans womyn and see it as transphobic, but something about the very intention itself seems contrary to what the Festival is all about.

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Photo by Julia Cameron Damon

There is a lot of fear-based rhetoric from the side of the Womyn Born Womyn (henceforth the WBWs). These wyms believe that people not born into a female check mark on a birth certificate from a (usually male) doctor do not belong at the Festival. This is the current intention of the Festival and the intention that many of the wyms (like myself) who attend the Festival have been working for years to change.

The WBWs have many different arguments to support their position that the intention should remain in place. That somehow the presence of trans womyn might change what the Festival is and the tenor of it. That somehow there would be an influx of “dicks” on the Land. That their safety would be compromised. That we would invite a rape culture from outside the Land into the land. That they support a transgender festival and the right of Trans Womyn to create their own Festival and ask to be left alone for their own space.

These arguments are projections of what might happen. They are fear-based. I’ve been attending the Festival for a decade now and relish hearing about the old days. In the earliest days of the Festival they served a giant wheel of cheese with a community knife to cut it as a meal. The workers shared a common “shitter” that they had to dig in the ground every year. They served beer in big coolers but you couldn’t get orange juice in the mornings. It took many years of wyms doing consciousness raising around the “differently pleasured” to have space for their BDSM pursuits, which many opponents (who were the majority for quite some time) offered fear-based reasons why they shouldn’t be allowed at the Festival.

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Me and the Miracle Whips at the Femme Parade. Lots of differently pleasured Femmes walk the parade with whips, floggers and leashes in hand, which was not the case during the late 80s.

Now there are three square vegetarian meals a day cooked over a wooden fire pit. There are fairy lights at the community center at night and incredible infrastructure to enable dis/abled wyms to have access to Festival resources. And there is a designated camping area for the “differently pleasured” and folks regularly plan demos and play parties. I am fond of calling it the S&M cul-de-sac as this camping area forms a great semi-circle around a common fire pit and you can sort of wander in at night to watch someone being “differently pleasured” against a tree while other folks share a beer in a camping chair they bought at Meijer. It’s like a subdivision in the woods.

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Differently illuminated.

I went on a “Land Walk” with Flowing this summer. She took a group of workers (she also offers this workshop in the program to Festival attendees) through a short hike from our worker living area (the Belly Bowl) up through some of the walking trails and back around. She taught us about the trees and their signs of aging, how the forest used to be a pine forest and was clear-cut to rebuild Chicago after the great fire, and what has replaced it is an aging deciduous forest. She showed us areas of erosion, how immediately the Land reacts to being walked on, and how certain summers birds appear or certain insects and other years they don’t.

I’ve noticed just as an attendee sometimes I see different flora and fauna from one year to the next. In 2002 I woke up everyday with little tree frogs on my tent, but I haven’t had that experience since.

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First and only time I’ve seen a deer on the Land.

Change, in these woods and on this Land, is inevitable. Regardless of any change that might happen with the intention of the Festival, things about the Festival and within the Festival will change. In another decade this Festival will be remarkably different, no matter what is decided about the intention.

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Me, Bitch & Animal when that band existed, in 2001. Look at how much change has happened! I believe that tank I’m wearing says “Subjectify Me.”

The opening ceremony reminded me that Artemis (or choose your own deity/higher power and insert it here) drawing together her tribe to gather in the woods of Michigan is a lot stronger than an intention around organizing or a sex assignment at birth. The spiritual call to womanhood and, specifically, Festival Wymhood is stronger and more important.

I think all girlhoods are important. All girlhoods do not take place embodied or recognized. A lot of womyn who were female assigned know what it is like to feel disembodied for a lot of reasons. I felt terribly disembodied throughout my girlhood and I can point to Festival as a place that helped me heal. Our trans sisters were raised, by an large, in environments that did not recognize their bodies as legitimate. I think the call to womanhood is a spiritual one, and comes from a much higher and more powerful space than Western medicine. Western medicine is what the present intention of the Festival–Womyn Born Womyn–bases their organizing around.

Why, in a space so inherently Womyn-centric, lovingly built from scratch by Wym hands, where we worship the Feminine divine either explicitly or implicitly, are we dependent on a patriarchal medical definition of sex to define who we bring together to celebrate wymhood and all it can be?

It is an incredible effort physically, mentally, financially and emotionally to attend the Festival. The wyms who are drawn to it are drawn for a reason. I can remember the exact moment I realize I must attend the Festival. Obviously, since I’ve been going for a decade, it is drawing me again and again because I need to go. I think this is true for most who do come and would come were the intention changed.

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2011, the year I had that spiritual awakening at opening ceremonies, was an intense summer. I am a big believer in the power of conversation and one on one interaction to raise consciousness. I don’t think it works well for folks who aren’t in the Festival to barrage folks who go to the Festival for activism. It’s a discussion that, when it happens face to face, on the Land, can have an incredibly productive spirit.

Prior to the Festival, a CraftsWym offered in a Forum to make a transphobic tee shirt for sale. She was met with an onslaught of over 6,000 emails, some death threats. There aren’t even 6,000 wyms on the Land during an anniversary year. It’s a small community. So this onslaiught inspired a pretty big backlash and organizing of WBWs, claiming red as their official color and causing a fashion crisis in the life of fashionable folks in support of Trans Womyn Belong Here–no one wanted to wear red and be mistaken for supporting the WBW intention of the Festival.

TWBH is “[A]n informal organization of past, present, and future attendees of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) who are taking active steps towards welcoming all woman-identified women to the festival.” Spurred by a gentle and beautiful year in 2010 with productive consciousness raising, there were new t-shirts, tent flags, pins and a zine with information about the movement and the group, along with workshops addressing the inclusion for folks to go to.

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Greta doing some leaflet folding at the TWBH chill tent.

I’m not one to let my fashion decisions be dictated by others so I wore red and made sure my TWBH flag was visible on my Festival purse all week.

What I love about TWBH is the organizing principle of love for the Festival and a focus on discussion and consciousness raising rather than aggressive action against folks with different opinions.

TWBH was easily identifiable by t-shirts and other paraphanalia, and as the Festival week wore on, WBWs were sporting red felt triangles pinned to their clothes, hats, etc… I found it emotionally difficult to have the opposition to changing the intention so visible. I mean, I knew there were WBW idealists in the world but seeing it visually on so many folks I love and respect was hard to swallow.

But it was actually great, because I got to have conversations with people and hear what they had to say, their concerns and opinions, and be there in a spirit of love and respect. And a good reminder that I don’t have to agree with everything someone says in order to still love and respect them. And I think that is what TWBH is all about–love and respect for the Festival, our Festival community of wyms, and our queer communities at large.

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The flag on my bag.

Throughout the week I had tons of conversations about it, three of which I actually saw the consciousness shift of the wym I was speaking with and they told me they agreed with a spiritual definition of wymhood and were in support of changing the intention. That’s progress!! I have other friends who had similar experiences with consciousness raising. Imagine if we had 30 more new wyms on the Land who believe in Trans Womyn’s inclusion and each of them had these conversations all week and changed three peoples’ minds? Imagine if all 90 of those wyms came back the next year to continue the work, while enjoying the gorgeous Festival that surrounds them? It’s a beautiful idea, the swelling of the land full of wyms creating a consciousness shift that reflects a spiritual definition of wymhood.

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I’m not saying that the conflict was easy. It sucked sometimes. That there was such a visual representation of transmysoginy was hurty. That there were signs popping up everywhere, on Porta-Janes, on trees, that looked like official Festival announcements (and I know some folks thought that they were) telling Trans Wyms that they were not welcome was hard. Hearing stories of harrowing workshop harassment and boycotts of any crafts wyms who supported TWBH was awful. I thought the boycott was especially terrible, considering that the Festival relies on craftswyms as part of the income for the Festival and supporting other wym artists is an important ethic whether or not they agree with you politically. I thought it was aggressive and not what the Festival is about.

What I’m saying here is–we need help. TWBH cannot be effective unless we have more wyms willing to show-up and support the cause. I have tremendous compassion for Lisa Vogel, the owner of the Festival. This conflict is not easy. Trying to sustain a Festival culturally and financially in a changing world while honoring the wyms that have built it and don’t want to lose it to perceived fears is a difficult position to be in, certainly not one I envy. I have a lot of love and gratitude for Lisa and hope the work of TWBH helps to ease the transition to an inclusive Festival. Lisa is a fun and well-intentioned person who I respect.

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More chill tent organizing action.

If you want to help there are lots of ways you can:

1. Come to the Festival!! Help us do consciousness raising. It’s August 7-12th this year. Tickets are sliding scale $440-$550 before July 14. The ticket includes eating, concerts, a place to camp, hot showers, a million workshops and any number of tractor rides. There’s a rideboard where you can get a ride to the Fest with other wyms. There are lots of ways to make it a reality for you.

TWBH will have t-shirts and other ways to be identifiable as a wym who is willing to have discussions about Trans Womyn’s inclusion. There are workshops you can go to as well to talk one on one with other wyms. I didn’t go to any workshops, and all the folks who talked to me just came up and asked me about it because of the flag on my bag.

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2. DONATE to TWBH! Clickie here! If you can’t go to the Festival to have these discussions or don’t identify as a wym or don’t want to live in the woods for a week, donating can go a long way. TWBH provides scholarships to Trans Wyms and also provides educational material and a safe(r) space chill tent (which was awesome to have this year) and every ten bucks makes a huge difference!

3. Host a fundraiser! It doesn’t have to be fancy! Just a pot luck, invite over some friends old-fashioned style not on Facebook and ask folks to pitch in $5.

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2011-07-09

Glamping Tips and Fashion in the Woods

Filed under: Queer Oprah — Tags: — Bevin @ 4:16 pm

I received another good question in my Tumblr ask box from Fuck Yeah Femmes about how it is that I am able to go camping at Michfest and maintain my fabulousness. (Trust that the original question was far more articulate but Tumblr deleted my ask box contents recently.)

Full length mirror. There's also a full garment rack, a chair and a queen size bed in my tent.

That is a really good question. I’ve actually had people reference me before as an example of someone who doesn’t appear to maintain the rugged exterior of a stereotypical camper but who does enjoy it. Like everything in life, I’ve found camping is exponentially better when I do it with the courage to be myself at all times.

I am especially excited to answer this question right now, since people are last-minute deciding whether to go to Michfest (the 6 day tickets are $435-525 through July 9th, July 10th onward they go up to $480-$550 online or at the gate) and the Trans Women Belong Here crew is steadily working to put together a map of safe spaces on the land for trans women and there is a fundraiser in San Francsico on Sunday the 10th at the Lexington.*

I grew up in Girl Scouting. My single mom calls Girl Scouts her second parent. I went camping a lot with my troupes and to summer camp every year. Even though mom and I never went camping “as a family” I got a lot of experience doing it and I think it was invaluable to my personal development. Thanks to my outdoorsy past I am comfortable in the woods and have some bangin’ outdoor wilderness skills. That said, having experienced the gamut of “roughing it” from car camping to backpacking I know how I like to do it and I like to do it up with an insane amount of fabulosity.

I use the term “glamping” for what I do. And I totally prefer camping in the context of a festival for a lot of reasons, and mostly because it enables my glamping, though I am sure these tips will help with any camping adventure you go on that has some access to a car. Community is one reason I love festival camping, I go to Michfest and I’m in this sort of lesbian utopia Disneyland (a descriptive term borrowed from Bryn in FemmeCast Episode 9) surrounded by babes and having incredibly enriching conversations every time I turn around. 40 concerts, workshops, a film festival, a huge shopping area with tons of amazing indie craft people. And the fashion opportunities! People wear some amazing outfits, costumes and fashion to this festival. Yes, sure, bad lesbian fashion is a tale as old as time but SO IS GOOD LESBIAN FASHION! I am a Lesbian with great fashion and it follows me and a whole lot of my pals into the woods!

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Lexi is stylish.

Not having to cook for myself in the woods is another huge reason I love festival camping. My food is part of my ticket and so therefore I can focus on being more glamorous instead of the hours it takes to prepare food when you are camping and properly clean and store it away from critters.

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Utah and Niki don’t compromise their hot hipster style while camping.

I have been going to Michfest for ten years and the best lesson I have learned about my comfort in the woods for two weeks (I now attend as a worker so I’m there before and after the one week Festival) is that I need to do what I need to do and I do not worry about others’ judgment. I’m sure there is no shortage of judgey womyn about how I choose to camp, however there are far more who love the flamboyance and whimsy I bring to my everyday appearance while camping.

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Gilly looking good from the front
I was very smitten with this working outfit that Gillian was sporting.

I long ago learned how to live outside of the shadow of other people’s expectations within and without the woods. It’s much more glittery here.

Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely do festival camping with one backpack and a tiny tent you borrowed from a friend but that would not be fun or comfortable for me.

CAMP SET-UP

There are certain staples in my personal campsite set-up that I will no longer do without.

My tent.

*A very large tent in which I can stand-up. This is essential. I cannot live in a space for more than a weekend where I must stoop. Currently I rock a 9 person tent I bought for $100 on Amazon.** This 9 person tent is very roomy. I have a wing for my bed and a wing for my clothing with plenty of room in the middle for yoga and a lounge chair for doing my make-up.

*A queen size air mattress, feather bed and down comforter. I make this up like a bed at home but with stuff that can get damp. The feather bed keeps the air mattress chill from reaching me during the night. I sleep alone and being in a queen size bed is a great luxury.

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Leah and Lauren show fashion on a date night amongst the ferns.

*A rolling garment rack. I bought one at Target for $17 and it collapses to nothing but is great for hanging up my clothing. I bring a bag of hangers and as soon as I get set-up all of my clothes are hung on the rack. It keeps them from getting wrinkled and looks really pretty. This will be the fourth Festival my garment rack has attended and it really makes all the difference.

*Full-length mirror. You read correctly, I put that right in the middle of my campsite with a can of hairspray next to it ready to apply finishing touches daily. A $5 mirror from a big box store endures two weeks outside and is usually ready to retire when I go home.

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The patch was part of the Trans Women Belong Here efforts last summer.

It is a genuine hassle to get my stuff to my campsite every year. I now know it takes me a full 90 minutes each way using a wheelbarrow (about three trips). I sacrifice this time because it makes the rest of my adventure that much easier.

BEAUTY RITUALS

I was talking to my friend Joey Cupcake once about being Femme in the woods and she said “I just do what I need to do to be comfortable.” I do all the things. I have to make sure my products are biodegradable (since our shower water goes right back into the land) and LUSH helps me take care of that. When I was a Festival attendee I tried a bunch of different places to camp but I found I was happiest when I was camped in the Twilight Zone really close to the showers. They are the least crowded of all of the showers and I would take them twice a day. I like to feel clean–bug spray at night and sunscreen during the day make me feel sticky.

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Megan rocks low-fi Femme with a cotton dress and knee socks.

I also applied a full face of make-up twice a day. It doesn’t take me very long to do this, maybe 5-10 minutes, but I feel more myself with make-up so I do it and don’t worry about judgment. Plus, when I went to Fest as a vacation I treated it as such and did exactly what I wanted when I wanted to. What’s fun about Festival is that it is also a really “anything goes” kind of place so it is really fun to play with outrageous face painting and the like, which is something I’d like to start doing more.

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Kris and Tamale, who did a full face every day as well.

Now that I am a worker (working 8 hours a day) I have far less time to devote to beauty, so I do everything once a day.

BODY HAIR

After my first Festival experience I decided to try to grow out my leg hair. I was shell-shocked at the body hair diversity, and, in fact, the body diversity at Michfest really helped to move me along in my own journey toward body acceptance. I saw so many different types of women with all different types of body hair preferences I thought I might grow out my leg hair. This was also during a time in my life where I was vegetarian, and I make no secret that I was vegetarian for seven years because I thought I needed to be in order to be a lesbian.

I was just climbing out of my stage of “I’ll dress like an androgynous boy because I’m fat and need to hide in my clothes and looking like this will get me laid” and starting to become more Femme accepting, but I needed to try this leg hair thing.

Not for me. I lasted three weeks and couldn’t take it. I jumped into a luxurious bath and shaved it all off. Now I shave as regularly as I do at home while I’m there. And lots of other women in the woods do it, both in the warm outdoor showers and at the spigots.

CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES

Box Office Femmes (in the back of the divamobile)
Sunglasses are essential. People do it up with as many baubles and beads as they see fit, as modeled by Lauren (middle). Also pictured is Sarah who drew the illustration in the header for my blog!

After years of being afraid I might ruin clothes if I brought them to Fest or hiking or whatever, I realize I don’t have much to worry about. If it can be laundered it can come with me. I have worn my prom dress (from my actual 1996 prom), corsets, crinolines, slips, vintage dresses, burlessque costumes, cocktail dresses, etc… I don’t bring really delicate things and I don’t bring things that have to be dry cleaned because that’s a hassle.

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Utah illustrates sometimes all one needs to wear is accessories.

When I travel with crinolines, I discovered to pack them up small I can shove it into a grocery bag and squeeze out all of the air.

I wear lights.

When you party in the woods usually it is really dark. I found this frustrating until I realized I could decorate myself with lights. There are lots of battery operated light accessories out there, like rings and necklaces and hair accessories. I often use these battery operated string lights as a necklace, which offsets sequins in the woods quite well.

Treeano on her middle finger. Michfest realness.
T wears an amazing treeano manicure. Waiting on her permission to use photos of her person, which is also quite stunning.

FOOTWEAR

MV, heels in the woods.
Victoria wears heels in the woods.

This is my least favorite part about camping. Of course, being a Femme who requires solid and supportive shoes is hard enough, let alone in the woods. I hate having dirty feet and I hate having my feet covered up. The best shoes I’ve found so far for the woods are Croc flip flops. They are certainly not the most attractive shoe, but they are really comfortable and you can rinse them off when they get dirty.

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Lauren keeps it fancy.

I also bring one pair each of walking sandals (I like Merrill sandals), sneakers, boots and some shower flip flops. I also was gifted a pair of light-up flip flops which are amazing when you’re out at a party late at night or are trying to amuse yourself on the long walk back to your tent after a late night .

[EDITED TO ADD!]

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I’m so into Lester’s style in the woods! Especially a fancy pompadour! These things take work and dedication. Sadly I don’t have any of my own photos of Lester that don’t involve partially nude others, but hopefully this casual shot and the below more fancy outfit give you an idea of the fance brought into the woods from all parts of the gender spectrum. I borrowed the above photo from Des.

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I borrowed the above photo from Maria.

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How do I have no photos of Heron from the woods? This is Heron at the Hard French Winter Ball in the Santa Cruz Mountains in January. TRUST that Heron brings it in the woods. Also? She brings this super fancy dining kit that involves her own salt, pepper, lox and other seasonings and condiments to brighten up her meals. THAT is fancy eating in the woods.

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Gillian shows nighttime is the right time to rock an amazing Labrys pendant. And a huge faux fur coat. I bring one to Fest as well.

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People decorate their campsites almost as much as they wear fancy costumes. My pals rock a Holly Near shrine in their campsite. I took this photo since my mom is a Lesbian and made me listen to a lot of Holly Near when I was growing up, so I feel I have some Holly infused in me. I took this photo 3 years ago but last summer had an amazing conversation with Holly about the current state of Femme identity. And I now listen to her music without irony, but I haven’t told my mom.

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The Femme Parade is my favorite thing to get dressed up for.

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Megan’s super cute redone t-shirt takes a casual camping outfit and makes it cuter.

I have a million Fest photos but don’t have permission to show most of them so this is what you get of the folks who got back to me. If you have cool fashion in the woods from Fest or elsewhere (Camp Trans maybe?) and permission to post them, I’ll do a follow-up when I get back. Send me an email to queerfatfemme [at] gmail with the photo credit and the name(s) of the fashionable campers in the photo!

*The New York fundraisers I organized with Lauren were a big success, we raised almost $700 for the scholarship fund. Thanks to all of our attendees, volunteers and raffle sponsors!

**I love Amazon for camping supplies. One year when I was still a full-timer working for someone else with that kind of paycheck I was buying things left and right, giant packages arriving at my office and being signed for by my assistants. That’s the year I bought a tent, a hammock and a backpack chair.

2011-06-20

So Much Loss

Filed under: Queer Oprah — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Bevin @ 10:07 pm

First of all, I am renaming Gay Pride Month. I am now calling it Gay Stamina Month. Everyone goes out twice as much, there are three times as many events. (The LGBT Bar Association had not one but FOUR pride events this month–that’s not even touching on the abundance of nightlife!)

And in the midst of this whirlwind of pride events and Real L Word people behind a velvet rope on exhibit at a nightclub, our community is rocked by the tragic and sudden loss of an incredible artist. Our friend Cheryl B. has passed away.

Cheryl B

I knew Cheryl first as a poet and the performer behind Poetry vs. Comedy, but I didn’t really get to know her until she dated my friend Kelli Dunham. She was a remarkable person and their love story is dorky and awkward and tender and glorious. I loved that Cheryl could be both sarcastic and sweet, which is a difficult combination. She was also an incredibly talented writer, evident most recenltly in her fabulous blog chronicling her journey with cancer called WTF Cancer Diaries.

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At Nerd Love with Cheryl, Diana Cage, Molly Dykeman and Kelli.

But mostly I knew that Cheryl really loved Kelli and she made Kelli very, very happy, which was the most important thing to me. I remember the first few times I saw her with Kelli I could tell how much she loved her. Sometimes when I go into people’s homes I can sense how much love there is and with Cheryl and Kelli it was palpable wherever they were. On stage being dorky and reenacting their first dates as the bears in the XTraNormal videos at Nerd Love in February, and in the hospital during visits. It was quiet and beautiful and shared glances and dedication to positive thinking and letters to hospital staff posted on their door about being responsible for the energy they brought into their space.

When Cheryl first got sick it was really shocking, and my heart leapt to Kelli and Cheryl. And I cried because it was so unfair, just like right now I am crying because it is so unfair that someone as loving, generous and wonderful as Kelli should have another loss like this.

This marks the third person I have known personally to pass away in the last three months, all under 46 years old. I am so shocked at how much loss my communities have experienced and grateful for how much love there is going around.

I am a person of faith but not religion. I had this beautiful image a couple of months ago after my friend V passed away of all of the beautiful women who are waiting for me beyond the veil or whatever you want to call the passage from this life. V was a Femme mentor to me–I knew her from afar the very first moment I laid eyes on her at Michfest. She was a beacon of Fat Femme adornment and I saw in her hope for myself. At the time I was so lost with my identity, with my body, I felt so isolated in the lesbian community and there V was, self-confident and strutting through a community she clearly belonged in.

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Here is V atop the truck in the Femme Parade a couple of years ago. Our friend VA is next to her on the left.

We met personally years later and she eventually, and often, called me her fashion icon. I was flabbergasted–how could someone whose own fashion inspired my emergence from my self-hating shell call me an icon? It was some sort of circle of admiration bending over onto itself and it was beautiful.

V was so full of love and joy for life. She was tender with everyone. Here’s a confession: I was still so intimidated by V that I never once asked her to take a photo with me. I am a person who obsessively photo documents my life. I am always asking people to take photos with me.* But for some reason I kept being intimidated about asking V, I have no idea why. I guess I once put her on a pedestal and it was hard for me to take her off. Also, hence why I have taken over two months to write about her passing because I was waiting to be able to say something “perfect” even though I know better–I know there is no such thing as “perfect” expressions of love or grief.

So the day that V died I vowed never to let my intimidation stop me from taking photos ever again.

I remember the last NOLOSE conference I was hanging out by the pool and everyone else was in a workshop but V was floating in the pool near my ex-lover Luscious. I was talking to V and she asked if I would take her photo with her iphone floating there–she was so happy, she wanted to capture that moment. So I went to her room and got her iphone and took the photo and won’t forget the look on her face and how she soaked up that bit of life like a piece of bread in a bowl of soup. I wish I had that photo, too!

And another moment. V was a really talented quilter. She brought a quilt she made and displayed it at the worker craft fair and sat in front of it. It was yellow and now when I think of her I often think of that image of her in front of that quilt.

Last week marked one year since Luscious passed away. I realized I am not partial to remembering birthdays or anniversaries of death. I think about Luscious every day and actually have been thinking a lot about her lately anyway. And then when people on Facebook** started talking about it, there I was hit with Big Feelings. It’s as though I don’t like the pressure of the one day that is supposed to hurt more than others. Or one day where you have to feel it bigger, like the feelings aren’t already there or something. But then it is that day and it does feel bigger and you don’t know why.

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Me and Luscious. Photo courtesy of Tanja Tiziana.

But that’s it. There are feelings and there are losses and shit is just sad. I used to be so afraid of grief and feeling sad. There was this time in my life where I made the decision to not be sad anymore. I spent most of my teenage years in this intense depression, mostly stemming from feeling very very bad about being fat. I read this book where the main character just hated herself and was miserable and I realized that I didn’t want to live that way anymore. That was the beginning of my life-long journey to love myself.

But what I unintentionally added to that was a judgment of myself about being sad. I worked hard to escape from feelings of sadness and grief. I learned how to rebound like a pro when I got dumped. I was so sad about my step-mom dying when I was 19 I couldn’t talk about her for three years without crying so I just didn’t talk about her. And she was and is one of the most important people to me. I learned how to not let myself feel sad. I learned how to cut people out and cut myself off from conflict when it hurt too bad.

I just read about Akhilandeshvari: The Goddess of Never Not Broken and it reminded me that all of the things I’ve gone through in my life are really important parts of my strength now. When I forget about that and when the sad, angering or frustrating things happen I fight against them because of the injustice.

Since last Fall I’ve been working really intently on healing losses from my childhood and my life. I had a devastating heartbreak and I didn’t try to romantically rebound for the first time since I started dating. I am learning how to grieve. How to really feel my feelings. How to trust my instincts. How to love myself through not feeling things “perfectly” and how being sad is really okay sometimes but that also gives me a huge impetus for joy in the little things. Being in the moment and present. Everything is temporary–and that’s the beauty. When you are sad it will pass. The crying jag in the car, it will be over. And it is so necessary.

I am sad at the loss all around. I think it is really unfair and I feel so much sadness for the partners and family and close friends of the people who have passed.

But I am in awe of all the love in these losses. I am so inspired by the love Kelli and Cheryl had for each other. I am so inspired by the love V had for everyone around her and the life she revelled in. I am comforted knowing that I loved Luscious as best and as broken as I possibly could and she loved me as best and as broken as she could during the time we had together.

And this is me, my process, my looking at the glass half-full. Because I’ve got just one wild and precious life and I choose to have a positive one, and see V in my spiritual posse of Femmes on the other side looking out for me and ready for me when my time comes.

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And I felt this loss, and the heaviness and busy-ness of last week and all the disco floors and ceilings and too many repetitions of that terrible Katy Perry song and my instincts are telling me to take a break from Gay Stamina Month. I’m going away. Wednesday and Thursday it’s me, my dog Macy, and some alone time at my favorite beach. And I’ll be feeling my feelings, my grief and my joy and my awe and my love for women who inspire me.

And here are three things that have brought me great joy in the last two days.


This video.

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This photo. The Prize Pig shirt from Heart Attack Culture is incredible.

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Finding this photo I took in San Francisco while filming for Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s Fierce Fat Femmes documentary. I was doing a performance art piece in this donut shop. I love this photo.

*I think our queer and fat and otherwise different communities are beautiful and this is the vision of the world I want to capture. Mainstream culture gets the magazines and tv shows and news reports and I think we should get as much exposure as we can–hence my drive to create media that inspires self-love for all people, regardless of their differences.

**Facebook grieving still feels hard for me to participate in, but I still totally read all of the things people post about V, Luscious and now, sadly, Cheryl.

2011-04-03

Home is Wherever I’m With You

I came home Thursday night and felt as though I had been stood up. Perhaps my relationship to Netflix has become a little codependent. I used to be a total Netflix failure–the type of customer that is the reason they are profitable. I would get a dvd, let it gather dust on top of the TV, distracted by my fast-paced lifestyle, steadily losing interest in the contents. Eventually losing the dvd and letting my membership expire months of no activity later, after my credit card number changed or expired. This has happened many times.

In the last few weeks suddenly I am a rapt user of Netflix discs. Maybe it’s like a retroactive winter hibernation even though the calendar says Spring. (I’m still using three comforters at night and the “real feel” temperature is 22 degrees right now.) My social plans have ground to near stop and I’m using my free time to get my life more manageable, focus on my spirituality and rest.

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I’m spending a lot of my time nose to nose with Macy, my Shih Tzu.

I’ve actually been craving this kind of down time. Sometimes my life is so non-stop I lament that I don’t take time to record the amazing things that happen and give them appropriate reverence. Also, I am practicing being compassionate with myself and that starts with slowing down and prioritizing self-care. I feel such a weight lifted off of me when I say no to doing something I would be doing out of obligation and not genuine want, or schedule a night home for myself. Also when I stop to think about my compulsion to be social and fear of missing out versus taking it easy I have a better handle on what my actual needs are.

I was telling my co-worker Bunny after a 9.5 hour Shop Girl day that I was really looking forward to a Thursday night at home with the movie Baby Mama that Netflix lead me to believe was going to be waiting in my mailbox. I mean, you develop certain expectations and when the email says it’s arriving “tomorrow” I imagine that to be the case.

Not so. The mailbox was cavernous, not even a junk catalog from one of the million affiliates of Jessica London that I get every other day. (I have only ever shopped from them once and it was online! Their junk mail is relentless.)

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The cats (Bear, left, ALF, right) were home to greet me.

At least when I get stood up by Netflix I have the charms of the Branlandingham Bunch to keep me company. They are all squishy faced and they each have distinct, sweet and ever so slight snores. And, you know, the Netflix has watch instantly so I wasn’t totally empty handed.

But instead of streaming I grabbed a book and put on some Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. And instead of reading I started daydreaming (this is why I am such a slow reader). I was thinking about what home means, especially what it means to me these days. I think slowing down has helped me notice that I treat my home as a closet for my stuff but not as a sanctuary for my mind.

I had an incredible experience at the Queer and Trans conference I presented and performed at Swarthmore College last weekend. (More on that later.) There was a workshop given by Mia Mingus and Stacy Milbern that has totally reshaped how I think about home. They have a blog about their experience moving together from different locations in the South to their new shared home in Berkeley, CA. They are two queer disabled diasporic Korean women of color and there is an incredible amount of thought and intention behind their home and their shared values. In addition to an incredible primer on dis/ability justice, what it means to create truly accessible space, crossing the boundaries between different kinds of dis/ability, they also showed us in a truly intimate setting–their home–how they are re-imagining how they and the collective “we” support liberation.

Their presentation was given via skype and projected from a computer onto a huge screen. (I wish I had a photo of it, it was a spectacular use of technology.) They showed us the guiding principles and shared values they wrote and put up (not unlike art, because it sort of is) in their living room from their living room. They could see us (well, half the room) in a lecture hall in a nice liberal arts college campus 3,000 miles away.

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I was trying to explain to a friend the weird places Bear likes to sleep. Like curled up next to the bathtub.

They talked a lot about how to create interdependence and what that means. That healing is organizing and healers are organizers. That social justice can start right at home. Building a home with intention is important.

Some of their shared values were intimacy, making time for each other, shared meals and adventures. I also appreciated their acknowledgment of the importance of their relationship with one another but also building their community support network and dating relationships.

I listened in awe of what they created together and how much intention they put into it. How important it is for activists to put a lot of love and care into their home in order to be centered. Being centered is where we must start in order to do the work we want to do to make change in the world. It’s just like that airplane emergency speech–put your oxygen mask on before you assist a child. How do you help someone else breathe if you can’t breathe yourself?

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When I was in the workshop I admired Mia and Stacey and also felt some grief and sadness. There are a lot of people I considered family of choice, who I longed to create this kind of domestic situation with who are no longer in my life. I thought I had built unshakable bonds that turned out to be strong for as long as they needed to be, but we’ve drifted apart. And in a more tangible way, I don’t put a lot of intention into my homes. I have interest in it–I read Southern Living magazine every month–yet I have barely paid attention to decorating my homes (yes, multiple) since the last time I lived with a partner. I seriously have two boxes of art I haven’t put up since I moved into my Brooklyn apartment nearly two years ago. I have basically made my apartments livable and functional but never finalized anything.

And maybe I find home with a lot of different people and not just in a space. Sometimes my home is 90 miles away with friends I’ve had for a decade, who helped me learn to be at home in my body and on stage.

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And sometimes they become parents and you get to be an aunt to their magical baby.

Sometimes my home is on the road. I really do feel at home in adventure. I think a lot about getting an RV and piling the muppets in to tour the country giving workshops about body love, performances and getting to hang out with my friends all over.

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Etta is the greatest baby.

Two weeks a year my home is a tent in the woods with a rolling garment rack, people I cherish and the Pandora station of cicadas and tree frogs.

Right now my work and my home are here in this charming Brooklyn brownstone apartment. I’m doing a lot of centering and spiritual work that deserves a place. I have an amazing roommate who doesn’t care that the living room is a craftastrophe and sometimes buys me fruit. I want to paint my living room at long last and turn it into a real design space so that there aren’t spools of ribbon everywhere (glitter will likely remain no matter what, I’m okay with that). And I want to stop waiting for someone else to be in my domestic life plan to settle all the way into my home. I’m the one I’ve been waiting for. I am enough.

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I’m never alone with animal companions. She waits for me to come to bed by sleeping on the side of the bed (and two of the three comforters).

So I am learning from Stacy and Mia’s example without waiting for a Stacy or a Mia to enter into my life. I am incredibly inspired by their example and the intention behind their home. I want to write guiding principles for my home life. I want it to be peaceful.

And while I work on that, I’ll finish watching Baby Mama.

2010-08-18

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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.

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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.

Me and Tamale

ACTIONS FOR TRANSSEXUAL WOMEN’S INCLUSION
Stage Protest during Sia
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.

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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.

Welcoming Transsexual Women on the Land
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.

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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).

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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.

FEMME PARADE
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.

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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.

2009-06-30

Lessons from the Nudie Workshop

Filed under: Fatshion,Glitter on the Highway — Tags: — Bevin @ 10:01 pm

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.

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We were on a road trip to Camp Trans down the road to be in solidarity and hang out with our friends over there.

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.

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