I wrote a story last summer about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and I wish I’d had this story to read beforehand — I had no idea lesbian separatism existed beyond short-term deals like the Rosie O’Donnell cruises. (And the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.) The organizer and I talked a lot about the idea of maintaining a purely male-free zone — artists who commonly perform with male backup musicians are asked to perform solo, and there are restrictions keeping boy children past diaper age away from the action, to name but two. At the end of it I came to the shrugging acceptance I apply to most of these deals: It takes all kinds.
The NYT story I linked to concerns the “about 100 below-the-radar lesbian communities in North America, known as womyn’s lands (their preferred spelling), whose guiding philosophies date from a mostly bygone era.” The bygone era referred to appears to be the crunchy-granola ’70s, but really goes back far further — Americans have been trying to create insular, utopian communities as long as there’s been an America. Maybe Alex can give us a few thoughts about this; he’s an Underground Railroad historian, and many of these groups provided refuge to escaping slaves en route to Canada. He’s also gay, so maybe he has some insight about why a bunch of white-haired crones want to live in a world where no penises are tolerated anywhere, although God knows the women themselves are plenty forthcoming:
“Outside the gate, it’s still a man’s world,” said Rand Hall, who retired as the publisher of a gay and lesbian newspaper in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Fla., and moved to Alapine in 2006. “And women are not safe, period. It’s just that simple.”
I got news for you, sister: No one is safe, inside or outside the gate, but I suspect she knows that already. Even Alapine isn’t safe, as the story suggests — younger lesbians are increasingly uninterested in living like this, which current residents maybe don’t see as progress, but I do. They never knew the world that made these women feel so uncomfortable in the first place, and that’s one of the things I talked about with the Michigan festival founder, who was a few years older than me and only caught the tail end of it herself — the police raids on gay bars, estrangement from families, the threat of job loss and public humiliation. Not every gay woman can pass, after all, or get away with a Boston marriage in a rose-covered cottage in some university town, masquerading as sisters or dear friends united in shared grief over the loss of their beloved husbands. But she — the festival founder — had been stopped going into women’s restrooms and had others hassles related to being very butch at a time when it simply wasn’t accepted. So I get it.
Unlike some of the crueler comments on Metafilter or the utterly clueless Brother Rod Dreher (who’s always threatening his readership with something called the Benedict Option, and I for one hope he gets off the pot sooner rather than later), I think the passing of these settlements is a sign of progress. This is something the festival founder and I batted back and forth for a while. Are women really threatened or degraded by the presence of a man playing bass on a stage behind lights? She said no, but that someone like me could never understand the attractiveness of such an environment to someone like her, and it’s only for a few days, after all. I’ll give her that.
I’ve known deaf people who would just as soon never interact with the hearing world, black people who’d love to live in a no-whites zone. Just about every group that’s been marginalized, abused or otherwise made to feel unwelcome will always have a few members who simply turn their backs on the whole game. Even men have their no-girls-allowed clubhouses, only we’re more likely to call them by their proper names — “seminaries” and “troop ships,” and yes I’m making a joke.
Ultimately, however, I think segregation is a losing game, and to the extent that women like these would certainly feel more welcome in today’s larger world, I think you can definitely call that progress.
What you can’t call progress, I fear, is a bit of news that broke Friday, too late to even make a final pilgrimage: One of my favorite bars in Fort Wayne closed over the weekend, a victim of the recession and, probably, a citywide anti-smoking law. Fort Wayne has a local-pub tradition similar to St. Louis’. It’s full of humble places where you can always get a cold beer and a decent cheeseburger for not a lot of money. Or was. (Please, someone: Tell me Jack & Johnnie’s is still in business.) The Acme was the regular lunch place for Dr. Frank and me, and he was the first person I called when I heard. He was equally gobsmacked, and proceeded to reel off all the family decisions he and his wife had made there, all the after-event rounds he’d bought there, etc. The place was decorated in the sort of style widely imitated in more self-consciously ironic yuppie boîtes — individual jukeboxes at tables, vinyl upholstery, knotty-pine walls. The neon alone is a treasure.
Gone the way of all things, I guess. I’m still sorry to hear it.
Finally, one bit of bloggage: How to hack portable roadside electronic signs. A guerilla-filmmaking skill I’m going to keep in my back pocket.
My old boss Richard did one of those 25 Things lists on Facebook. He did 35, however, and they were all wonderful, but especially Nos. 2 and 3:
2. We had this weekly feature on one of the newspapers I worked for. This elderly guy would draw an animal and write about it. Very educational. After about three years, though, he started drawing animals that didn’t exist.
3. We also had a hunting column, i.e., which animals were in season, etc. We called it “Dinner.” And we had a chatty obit column called “Cadaver Palaver.”
And so another week begins. Enjoy it, all.