Friday, October 21, 2011

Music Review: Barbara Ester & Beth York, Heartsongs

Heartsongs
Barbara Ester & Beth York
Released: 2008
Genre: Reflective Acoustic Music for Lesbians
Tracks: 13
Independent distribution Send a $15 check or money order to: Barbara Ester 185 Boxwood Lane Spartanburg, SC 29307

I had the feeling of going back in time when listening to this CD. The rich vocals of Barbara Ester interwoven with her own and Beth York’s melodic instrumentals are delightfully reminiscent of early womyn’s music. Together they weave for us a tapestry of living, loving, and introspection as Lesbians.

Although the CD may at first give a nostalgic feeling of early womyn’s music It is soon clear that Barbara and Beth give fresh and unique nuances in the making of their music. We as listeners are taken on a journey that has its roots in our herstory of womyn’s music, but like great trees we send out our branches; so too do Beth and Barbara in this ever unfolding musical blossoming.

Barbara’s voice beckons us to know we are entering a special place. The song ‘Incantation’ sets the mood for us by creating the sphere of Lesbian-only space. Further we are invited to delight in remembering the excitement we may have felt when we first heard music by, for, and about Lesbians. I imagined a group of dykes sitting around the campfire singing ‘We Are Everywhere.’ This song like ‘Ode To A Gym Teacher’ or ‘The Leaping Lesbians’ could easily become the next great Dyke anthem. I smiled with recognition to hear the familiar Alix Dobkin song ‘Her Precious Love.’ This added to the familiarity of this music and made me want to keep listening.

I was particularly moved by the lyrics of ‘My Song’, which was written by Bairbre “Living without yourself is lonely. Emptiness, not for me. I’ve got to let my voices fill me. I’ve got to sing for me.” To me this song spoke so true to the struggles we face as Lesbians when we seek to be out most authentic selves in the face of everything else that tells us we are wrong. The pain of giving voice to our deep inner selves and the joy of letting that voice ring out. I have no doubt any lesbian would find her own meaning in this song, but likely we have all shared what Barbara and Beth try to share with us in their version of this sadly sweet, yet uplifting song.

If you love the music that was characteristic of the early years of womyn’s music both catchy and complex, reflecting all the moods we as lesbians have. If you want lyrics that speak to our experience then and now, deep and thoughtful, then you want this CD. It will be familiar, yet fresh and innovative, much like a long-time friend. “Remember all the stories we have shared along this journey...”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rethinking Positive: Women, Individualism and Collective Consciousness.

Positive is a loaded word. It has been co-opted and nearly made meaningless, much like the word empowerment. Being positive is often framed within the tenet of new-age jargon that goes something like, “You have none but yourself to blame if bad things happen to you” and is used to explain why we are not all rich, thin, happy, and healthy. Apparently, this is a result of not being engaged in “positive” thinking, right? Ever wonder why those who tout “it's all a state of mind” and can prove it by their own success are mostly rich white men and a few token trophy women? Too often it becomes a trap for women to conform to the male-centered model of power and wealth at the expense of others. Certainly it is void of any political let alone feminist analysis. Nothing new or positive about it, it is the same old song and dance in shiny new packaging. So when Rain and Thunder decided to do their Positive Issue, I felt a twinge of uncertainty. The idea of rolling out something even containing the word “positive” while the present state of the world moves maddeningly in a different direction seemed a fool's quest at best. I didn't want to be serving up the usual new-age bitter pill of victim blaming disguised as a sugar-coated enlightened philosophy. But Rain and Thunder is far from promoting that. The wimmin behind it are thoughtful, intelligent, passionate feminists, who know that great understanding and change can occur when when one brings to bear sharp political feminist analysis to any subject. The common refrain “we each chose this life so our soul could learn a lesson”, flaunted as the be-all and end-all of being positive, can no longer hold up.

So amidst all this, where does one begin? I have had the privilege of some recent discussions about individualism vs collective mass movement-building as to where and how we must move forward. A friend of mine asserts that the time for individualism needs to fall away, especially for radical feminists. That it is a dead-end in and of itself and keeps us disconnected from each other. On the other hand most of us are individualistic in our focus, like it or not. That is, we start almost always with ourselves and then move outward. Although I am still making sense of what this may mean, I for now believe that these two seemingly disparate ideas may for a time have to go hand-in-hand. For the present, we live in a male dominated society that is overly focused on our individual needs and desires. Our culture is so saturated with this individualism that many may even believe it is innate to our nature. Even as I write these words, the question of it stays with me and I truly do not have an answer, just the question. Whether this individualistic focus is intrinsic to our very characters or a clever construction of heteropatriarchy, it is a big and possibly erroneous leap to ask that we turn it completely off in favor of a purely collective consciousness. I am not dismissing the importance of collective consciousness. It has been a hallmark of revolutionary feminist thought and action. Not so long ago, during the Second Wave, consciousness-raising groups bridged the gap between the individual and the understanding of the struggles of women as a class. Collective thinking may be wholly necessary for the mass movement-building needed if we wish to rescue ourselves, each other, and the planet from certain destruction. But it will probably take a long time to unfetter ourselves from the “me first” kind of thinking that has prevailed in this male-dominated, hetero-centric, warlike culture for the last 5,000 years.

This should not be taken as a sign of resignation, quite the contrary. I submit it as a challenge to all of us. I am recalling Merlin Stone's When God Was A Woman and Marija Gimbutus's The Language Of The Goddess. In these works both authors, through careful and arduous research, document that there was a time when we lived and acted more collectively. That the needs of all were considered along with or perhaps even above those of the individual. Both scholars assert that war and wanton destruction were almost unheard of and that peace and prosperity were abundant. So there was a time when not only did harmony prevail, but women and girls were glorified and respected and had true agency.. Imagine for a moment not living in fear for your very body. The fact that it did happen means it can happen again. That is the vision I hold and believe in even while mired in a culture that tells me not only is it the individual that matters, but truly it is only the individual men that can have any real meaning. They grant meaning to everyone and everything else. Yet for now we must begin where we are. For the memory of that long ago past has almost been forgotten. But we can't let it end there. Hope has to start with some tiny spark in the depths of the person, it is what often drives us to do something. But we then need to carry it forward with others.

Yes, as women it is good to focus on our personal lives, health, and happiness, but that is not the stopping point, it is merely the leaping off point. And I would also say that in no way should we wait until we have our own stuff all sorted out before we engage in collective change making and mass movement building. This brings it back to the idea of individual and collective work going hand-in-hand. I also must acknowledge that what this looks like for every woman will be different. The idea of individual need must be considered within a larger social-political context. Political and economic climate of where a women lives, whether her nation is at war and the overall status of women in her immediate environment are reflected in social attitudes concerning race, class, age, physical ability, economic class, and sexual orientation All these factors come to bear on a women's ability to effect change in her own and other's lives and her community. This is where the challenge of stepping beyond the individual framework/model must come into play. Moving beyond ourselves involves a lot of unlearning. Challenging privilege and sharing resources for those that have them means a willingness on our part to acknowledge and unravel the tapestry that has been woven in the images of the great white father. It is not easy. Often it is painful and frightening to do this. I know too well the struggle of shifting away from those false comforts that have been afforded me in society. My upbringing has been one of capitalism being the way and individualism rules which means “to each his own.” I have railed and resisted at times because I believe we can do better and that everyone deserves better. Maybe this is the true essence of being positive. However difficult and even insurmountable it may seem, these paradigm shifts are essential if we are going to create any lasting change. Even for those of us who don't have much, we can do something beyond ourselves to feed the collective life.

Positive has to take on a new meaning for women. We need to take back this word and as Mary Daly might have considered and encouraged, reverse it on those who have twisted it into a meaningless act of self-affirmation of male superiority. It is not foolish for we as feminists to believe that individuals can come together and create a world renewed. It will not magically happen, that is where the new-age “if you just believe it will happen” gets us stuck. It will take persistent and grueling hard work. It will not be magical, but it will take spark, vision, and courage. We will need thinkers and doers of all experiences and abilities. We will need imaginings of something different and new stories to tell the next generations coming-up. What we have now keeps us out of the truly powerful meaning of what it might mean to be positive. The greatest individuals in history's memory would have us believe that the “great” men and very few women did it all on their own. But the much older and wiser memory of herstory would reveal that they did not do it alone. They relied upon a great mass of people to help move things along. And many, many women have been the driving sustaining force of any great change. We need not be fooled into thinking that the stories we are presently told are the only ones that are the true version of reality. I am positive that there are many yet still unheard, but in our psyches we know them. This is probably the crux of what being truly positive is about. The ability to imagine and dream of freedom, not just for one, but for all. That is what will help us each move our individual selves into a mass movement for change.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Video Review: Dreamworlds 3

DREAMWORLDS 3: Desire, Sex, & Power in Music Video
The Media Education Foundation:
Written and narrated by Sut Jhally
Produced: 2007
Category: Gender
Chapters: 7
Distribution: http://www.mediaed.org/

This is the third video within the Dreamworlds series from the Media Education
Foundation (MEF), an organization producing and distributing documentary films critiquing the impact of mass media on society. The writer and narrator, Sut Jhally (who is also the Executive Director of MEF), continues to return to this topic, updating its content and expanding on the discussion of the reciprocal influence music videos have on society and that society has on the making of music videos. At the core of this ongoing discussion is the role women’s bodies play in this media form and how it has impacted our culture.

This video starts with a much-needed warning to viewers on the graphic nature of what lies herein. I would warn potential viewers that no matter how one prepares oneself to watch this video, the images would still be shocking and disturbing, especially to women.

The narrative throughout the video is concise in its analysis of current trends in video making. Cleary Jhally has given great consideration to the social implications of our video generation. Many questions are posed. What do these images tell us about what it is to be normal? What messages do they send to men and women about female sexuality and male power and privilege? Whose views, ideas, fantasies, and realities do we really see when we are exposed to such images, and who benefits from perpetuating these images?

The narrator takes us on a journey through the Dreamworlds highlighting these questions and trying to offer answers that are based on a social observation model akin to those used by sociologists who distance themselves from the subjects they are observing. Sut Jhally creates a framework for this model in several chapters, Constructing Femininity, The Pornographic Imagination, Ways of Looking, Female Artists Trapped, Masculinity and Control, and Real Life Enactments.

As it progresses Dreamworlds 3 makes one thing clear, from its early inception with the launch of MTV in 1981, music videos have relied on women’s bodies to feed the insatiable imagination of a very small representation of our social schema: the teen-age boy. Music videos rely heavily not just upon the use of women’s bodies, but the fragmented use of women’s bodies. This is related directly to techniques being used in the porn film industry. More and more former pornography filmmakers and participants are crossing over into music video.  These techniques do not allow any woman to be seen as a whole and complete being. Instead women are reduced to mere parts by the use of camera angles. No longer a she, but an object useful for only one purpose: the satisfying of male desire. Over and over again images are shown in Dreamworlds 3 of women’s bodies that emphasize breasts, genitals, buttocks, and legs. In contrast, depictions of males usually show them fully clothed and in complete control of any woman and often hordes of women in their proximity. This is what Sut Jhally says is influencing our cultural beliefs about men and women, how women are to be regarded, and what continues to justify the misogyny in our society. It is further supported by the mass proliferation and accessibility of this form of televised media that it has become a perceived normalized cultural reflection for all age groups, spanning all musical genres.

I was disappointed that Sut Jhally stopped short of directly linking male misogyny and violence towards women with the influence music videos may have on the male psyche and their perception of women. I felt that as the writer and narrator he nearly made the connection, but his own positionality as a man forbade him from making that conclusion. He has the luxury of being able to address these issues from a purely intellectual framework. He does not have to fear that representations of his likeness will be reduced to mere a target of both consumption and disdain as they are in a disturbing scene in Dreamworlds 3. Women are taken backstage and stripped naked so members of a rock band can ogle then and throw slices of packaged lunchmeat on their naked bodies for recreation. As a female viewer I could not just detach my emotional self from what I was seeing, even with the thoughtful, intellectual narration offered by Jhally. I felt the tight feeling in my body that comes with knowing humiliation and hatred based on being female.

I would recommend this video, but with caution. The images are startling and upsetting. They fall barely short of being what I would most certainly call pornographic. Included as well are a few frames and photos of real-life assaults on women that play out the idealized teen-age boy fantasy of the supplicant woman from music videos. Although the writing and narration of Sut Jhally does raise important questions about how videos have played a role in perpetuating the horrid oversexualization of and misogyny towards women in our society. For me it still fails to draw fully what is an obvious conclusion: that imagery such as those used in videos is a direct representation of men’s beliefs about women. Those beliefs seen over and over again, reinforced and normalized by more rampant and expected use of pornography in music videos makes it very easy to keep women subjugated. The video does discuss, albeit in a removed fashion that women are little more than things to be used and consumed for men’s pleasure, even if it means total degradation, which includes female artists. No matter how much talent they possess it will always come down to how they look and how they “perform” for the watching man. Finally we come to the crux of the dilemma. Many young people will believe what they are seeing is true because it is on TV and the Internet. This is the medium of certainty for our youth. They garner their cues for social understanding and behavior from the images they see. Although this video may be useful for discussion of these issues, it falls short of equating the viewing of such imagery by men and women as s direct link to the dehumanization, hatred, and violence known by we women today.

Book Review: From the Closet to the Courts

From the Closet to the Courts
By Ruth Simpson
Forward by Cheryl Jacques
30th Anniversary Edition
Take Root Media, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-4196-6596-7

In her forward Cheryl Jacques, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign and the first openly gay senator from Massachusetts, reminds us “The more things change, the more they stay the same…” and so I found this to be profoundly true when reading From the Closet to the Courts.

Ruth Simpson first wrote these words more than thirty years ago and the first edition of this book was published in 1976. Even so, as I read I could still identify with much of what Simpson so eloquently described in her experiences as the founder of the first lesbian community center in New York City, which came through as part of her role as president of the New York City chapter of Daughters of Bilitis. She held this post until the organization disbanded in 1977 due to internal strife. As an out lesbian, she relates with stunning clarity her own and other’s pain, fear, uncertainty; all the personal and societal ramifications that choosing to be out often carries.

Simpson takes on every conceivable attitude and myth about homosexuals, tracing their roots from the egregious hurts often first inflicted within the family of origin and expands them outward to the larger societal influences. The church, the psychiatric profession, the media, law enforcement, and the courts, Simpson takes them all on with a style that is somehow both scholarly yet down-to-earth. She challenges and debunks much of the faulty logic that has been used to oppress lesbians and gay men and also offers it as consideration for us to apply to other oppressed groups.

Impressive further is that Ruth Simpson also turns her gaze to the very organizations and networks for lesbians and gay men. She offers poignant recollections and searing questions to these groups on how they can and have caused some of their own pain and strife by divisive or exclusionary thinking and actions. Although I admired her ways of examining these issues, I also found myself in disagreement. My own bias is that as a lesbian separatist I do not agree with the sentiment that Simpson states as “na├»ve” and “irresponsible” in seeking at times necessary separation. Too often lesbians have been co-opted and reduced to an even greater level of invisibility in the service of men, straight and gay alike.

Despite this, I found myself nodding with understanding and recognition to much of what Ruth Simpson has laid down in these pages. Readers of course will find that indeed some things have changed, but as one reads about how blatant and ferocious misunderstandings towards homosexuals was a scant thirty years ago, they will realize that the echo of that is not as far away as it seems in these times of backlash. In her afterword, Simpson reiterates this point, going over many of the trials and tribulations we still have before us and how now more than ever we must be diligent, brave, and revolutionary.

Although not what I’d call an uplifting read, I would nonetheless highly recommend reading From the Closet to the Courts. And once done, to lay down the book and take up an action that continues to counter the wrongful misconceptions and invisibilities still faced by lesbians today. Like Ruth Simpson, we can all be pioneers in thought and agents of change.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Music Review: Kate Reid, I'm just Warming Up

I’m Just Warming Up
Kate Reid
Released: 2009
Genre: Lesbian Folk,
Tracks: 10

This is the second release of this amazing Canadian singer/songwriter. For those of you who already know Kate’s music from her first release in 2006 Comon' Alive, you will not be disappointed. Kate continues to write and perform in the range from comical and vibrant to deep and soul-searching. If this is your first listen to her music, then you will soon find yourself spellbound by her words, humming the tunes to yourself that carry her words on intricate, thoughtful, and fun melodies. At her heart, Kate Reid is a storyteller and poet. Every song has a tale to tell. Be it a humorous jaunt about running into an ex-boyfriend or visiting a local small-town bar and realizing she is the only lesbian for a long ways. Other songs take a deeper look into her own heart, whether the first blush of love or the rage about the disappearing and murders of women in Vancouver. Kate shows her prowess with both pen and guitar by carrying us with her on a musical journey through a life that is full of joy and quirky humor, but like all of us she also reflects the sadness and dismay that can take hold and brings one to a deeper place of understanding.

Kate is most assuredly a proud lesbian and she takes many opportunities to let her listeners know this. For those of us who also name ourselves as proud lesbians, the lyrics will carry a familiarity of shared experience.Only Dyke At The Open Mic will be one that not only gets wonderfully stuck in your head, but you’ll laugh out loud. Emergency Dyke Project Which began with Kate sitting in her car by the side of the road while crews shored up an overflowing river, got me in the end. I wasn’t sure where it was going at first, but Kate’s sly wit, good writing, and upbeat playing drew me in. As the song wound on it became about the living as a visible lesbian and the wish for recognition from each other and maybe the mainstream. Uncharted Territory has a humorous tone but goes a little deeper and shows Kate’s savvy commentary on being a womon, surviving violence, being out, proud, and oh so lesbian despite what mainstream society says a woman who plays and sings ought to be. These songs show off her liveliness with/in music, including driving beats and interesting arrangements using layers of instruments which I especially enjoyed.

For those of you who are Canadian, you may recognize the 1907 Robert Service poem The Cremation of Sam McGee. This one is fun musically and an interesting story, but it might be that it takes being Canadian to appreciate it fully. The longest selection on the CD, I was quite happy when old Sam McGee was finally in the furnace. Mind you not a bad song, but it did seem a bit out of place on this recording of otherwise lesbian-identified delights.

For me, Kate Reid really shines when she gets down with raw emotions. She can do this with her wit, but when she casts off the humor and shows her other sides, I feel that part in me come to life that says, “Yes, I know what this is.” With the song, Truck Driver, Kate invites us to see her as a young girl and her memories dreaming of freedom and the open road. This song makes me long for a pick-up truck and nothing but highway before me. Sisters, listen to this one for those long journeys and sing it sweetly like Kate. Reach To You is a tender love song, one which makes me teary-eyed and longing for love every time I hear it. Rise Up feels like another love song, but this is about the love of life and facing, knowing, and loving one’s self. The journey that is sometimes a struggle, but ultimately embodies hope, when coming to truly know the worth of one’s own heart and place in the world. No More Missing Daughters is sad at first, but as I listened… it, like so many of Kate’s songs, ends up brilliant with hope and the light of possibility. Rage is the catalyst. It comes through loud and clear. Women being murdered is not something any of us need turn away from. Here it feels like Kate is not only telling us a story, but also calling us to action. The music is strong and simple — a ukulele, a shaker, and Kate’s clear voice weaves a web of power and magic that gave me visions of women everywhere marching out to every place on earth and stopping all violence in one fell swoop!

I could play Kate’s newest album over and over again and as with her first album it is one I will be acquiring for friends. I’m Just Warming Up is a must-have for this dyke and I hope it is so for many, many more lesbians. This singer-songwriter deserves our attention. If you are fortunate enough to live in British Columbia, go see her perform live. Maybe it’s because Kate sings of such universal ideas for and about lesbians. Maybe it’s that she can string together words and deliver them in a clear, vibrant, and tender voice. Maybe it’s that she is a gifted musician who knows how to use both complexity and simplicity to carry her strikingly clever and meaningful songs to our ears. Whatever it is, Kate Reid’s music has had an impact on me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As Far As We Can Go: Mary Daly's Memorial And Beyond

May 1st 2010 was an almost perfect spring day. One of those days in New England that we wait all winter for. One could almost feel the buds opening on the trees and the shoots pushing their way up through warming earth. A day to celebrate life! Seemed fitting as we, a group of four radical lesbian feminist friends (big sinners all!) made our way into Cambridge for the memorial re-membering of Mary Daly. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about on the 2-hour trip from Easthampton, but I know Mary held sway in our conversing, for we all had been deeply influenced by her.
When I heard she had passed away on January 3rd a deep sadness and shock went through me. I had known she was not well. I had seen her at the Feminist Hullaballoo in New Mexico in 2007. It was clear then that time was exerting itself on her mortal body. Still when she spoke, her words reverberated with a strength that comes through when a womon speaks her truth, what Mary herself embodied as the courage to Sin Big. Now on this bright spring day the reality was very much sinking in that Mary Daly was no longer on this earth in physical form…or was she? I would soon find out that although she had let go of her physical body, she was still very much present to all who were coming together to re-member, to honor, and to carry on her work.
So much to hold in our be-ings in the time shared at Episcopal Divinity School as so much was said and by so many great wimmin. It would be impossible to relate every detail, every word, every emotion, but in these recollections I hope to share with you some of the dedication that Mary helped fire in so many. As theologian Mary Hunt reminded us, “Mary Daly in her own words threw her life as far as it would go.”  That is the true and awesome power of who she was and the work she not only accomplished but lived. Over and over again this phrase would be invoked and it is why I settled upon it for the title of this piece, for it is the impact on those of us left behind and how we carry on that is the true memorial.
We were welcomed by Emily Culpepper and met “Team Mary”, who included Culpepper, Nancy Kelly, Nancy O’Mealey, Mary Hunt, Linda Barufaldi, Jennifer Rycenga, and Roseanne Barr. They are the wondrous band of wimmin who put together the event. Linda Barufaldi read Emily Dickinson’s poem Long Years Apart. “Long Years apart — can make no Breach a second cannot fill —The absence of the Witch does not Invalidate the spell — The embers of a Thousand Years Uncovered by the Hand That fondled them when they were Fire Will stir and understand—” Fitting as we here noting the absence of one witch, but oh how the spell still endured and we were now the hands left that would stir.
The web of re-membering was woven this day with words and whose words better to be the threads of that tapestry than Mary’s herself?  Eight wimmin read from each of Mary’s books. One of the funniest yet also poignant moments of this reading was when Jane Caputi read from her shared work Wickedary where she recounted and reminded us, “BORED, CHAIRMAN OF THE n: any bore-ocratically appointed bore who occupies a chair — a position which enables him to bore others all the more.” Mary’s sharp way of making her point that in our present society it is the task of word-weaving Websters to name things for what they are. More, Mary wanted us to know the most basic elemental workings of the cosmos; to know God (or Goddess) as verb, for we must not forget that Mary Daly was a theologian and a feminist philosopher. Carol Adams shared this with us from Mary’s book Amazon Grace: Recalling the Courage to Sin Big. “All wild creatures and other realities participate in Be-ing. By which I mean Ultimate Intimate Reality. The constantly unfolding verb of verbs that is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism.” As Mary further reminded us with her words, “…the shock of meeting Be-ing is simple and direct. It is absolutely surprising and Joyous. It is self-transformative and changes everything.”
Liz Anker sang one of Mary’s favorite songs, In the Witching Hour by Willie Tyson. Here is one of the times it seemed Mary herself made her influence felt. Not being a fan of technology, the amplifier and microphone malfunctioned and Liz played without their aid, with us a room full of witchy hags singing along and ending with a collective howl! I am sure this is just as Mary Daly wanted it. Roseanne Barr then read for us her short essay on the day she “knew” Mary had died. It was moving hearing her retelling of the vision she had of Mary’s spirit visiting her on the exact hour of her death. Tears punctuated Roseanne’s reading, her own and ours, as she told of how she championed her friend’s writing to appear in The New Yorker magazine. A great feat on Roseanne’s part as too often Mary Daly’s writing is little known to the greater masses outside feminist circles.
Linda Barufaldi shared with us a most heart-felt and wonderfully funny letter from one of Mary’s long time friends, yet equally her theoretical adversary, Robin Morgan. For a friend and adversary were not mutually exclusive. No, to Mary a good friend was one who could hold her own in a good and intelligent argument, even better if it involved a good strong drink, as we learned as Robin Morgan’s story unfolded. “Difficult twins” is the name Mary gave to her and Robin’s 40-year friendship. This is also where we first heard “Sisters, we meet on bloody Jesuit ground!” a war cry Robin, much to Mary’s delight, delivered strongly and loudly in a speech to rally support for Mary in her difficulties with Boston College. It was to be repeated later by one of Mary’s students in another recollection. We delighted in hearing that Mary and Robin spent a night polishing off a bottle of Irish Mist and arguing with fervor over Aquinas and Dante, Mary favoring Aquinas and Robin the latter. Mary asserted that Aquinas had already covered all the theology and philosophy of “the Divine Comidia” so Dante’s Poem, The Divine Comedy was little more than exalted plagiarism. We, along with Linda Barufaldi, laughed as she continued to expertly read Robin’s letter, “She (Mary) got that twinkle knowing this would drive me crazy.” Robin’s rebuttal knowing it would equally drive Mary crazy was, “…and art goes where theology can’t—and outlasts it!” On they went through the night, finally agreeing with much roll-on the-floor drunken laughter “There was a non-place for both Dante and Aquinas in the non-heaven, we non-believed in and which we would jointly assault if we didn’t.” Neither did it escape either of them of the absurdity and hilarity of  “…two infamous man-haters quarreling over whose guy was best.” For all the laughter and merriment of Robin’s letter the ending of it was clear, Robin loved, respected, and honored her long time friend and would miss her deeply. She did remind us that Mary was a visionary and although “underestimated in her time” her ideas and words would endure and be there for us all.
One of the wimmin who has known Mary the longest, Dr. Elizabeth Farian, regaled us with stories of their early days of forging a friendship in the 1950’s as they studied theology at St. Mary’s College. On it continued as they both found their way to feminism and a shared love of animals. Here was one of the shortest, yet no less important sharing of the day. Dr. Farian wanted us to know that Mary loved animals, not just as pets, but also as sentient beings and companions. She urged us to consider carefully this kind of relating; to take on as our own work the struggle to name and stop any cruelty against these special, fully realized beings we have the privilege to share the planet with.
Emily Culpepper talked about existing “on the boundary.” Be-ing in that place where they, and now we, are inspired to push established patriarchal boundaries and have choices that are beyond the either/or paradigm set forth by the patriarchs. To do this Emily said we needed to continue to move beyond the patterns, language, rituals, and symbols that were held so loftily high within patriarchy. She told us it was out of the conversations she had with Mary Daly, first as her student and later colleague, which drove this home for her. Mary told her we had many weapons and tools at our disposal to undo those patterns. One of the tools Mary loved to use was the labrys. Emily quoted Mary, “We use the labrys of our minds to cut through the dualisms of patriarchy so that we are not compliant with all those dualistic traps.” I could almost feel the collective gesture of each womon as I looked around and noticed how many of us instinctively touched the labryses many of us were wearing as tangible talismans of these words we knew to be true. For me, I smile fondly remembering that Emily called Mary an “Irish Scold - in that tradition of a scalding witch that speaks truth to power for human justice.” Emily knew Mary as a womon who was not afraid to speak her mind and in that tradition she expected the same of others. She was also not adverse to other’s criticism of her work, but demanded that any such criticism be rooted in a foundation of thorough explanation of unwavering intellect. In this Emily Culpepper urged us, we could take on this tradition and like Mary become scolds against injustice and topple patriarchy.
The intensity of Emily’s sharing was contrasted by a video from Kate Clinton, whose comic brilliance carried us into a hilarious, but no less truthful re-membering of Mary. As many of us knew and were finding out through the sharing of others, Mary Daly had a sharp wit. She loved to play with words and humor was an important part of that. We were reminded that humor makes a difficult journey more bearable and we all know the journey ahead for us is still fraught with difficulty. Like Mary we need to need to laugh long, loud, and often.
Jane Caputi offered us this idea. Mary Daly wanted us to very much escape from the “foreground”, the mono-dimensional place where all of patriarchy operates and is defined for us as reality. Mary Daly strongly believed there was/is an alternative to the phallocentric, male dominated reality she termed the “Background, the realm of Wild Reality”: a place where ideas and form were interwoven and where wimmin had power to undo the fabrication, objectification and alienation of the doom laden foreground. As Caputi shared, one way for us to journey out of the foreground and into the Background was through “Gynocentric Memory, the memory of the world that existed before patriarchy and still exists.” Jane then shared a Grimm Fairy Tale, Frau Trude. The gist of which was a little girl goes to visit Frau Trude, a witch and sees her as a devil. Frau Trude then turns the little girl into a block of wood and throws her upon the fire, remarking at how brightly she burns. Caputi reminds us to not take this story in the literal sense, but to use the art of Reversals. Frau Trude is a Witch and her depiction as a devil is really her glorious fiery witch’s headdress, which can be both frightening and glorious all at once. The transformation of the child and her burning in the fire is also not as it seems, a certain death and obliteration, but instead a transformation/transmutation. She is changed forever, initiated into a different state of be-ing. Her burning is not the end, but a beginning, the fire of illumination and understanding. Jane Caputi then reminds us that we too can undergo this initiation and set alight our own transformation. For her and those who had met, studied, and worked with Mary Daly, this was done in the very real and tangible presence of the witch herself. For the rest of us who did not have that direct opportunity there still remains her words, each one a match to set our consciousness ablaze.
Xochitl Alvizo then took the podium. She is one of the Hedge Hags, a group of wimmin whom Mary Daly taught, played, laughed and transformed with in the last years of her life. Xochitl was for me one of the most powerful speakers of this event. Why? Because she is one of the next ones who will carry on Mary Daly’s vision. She is one of a few who were with Mary as she was letting go of her mortal body. Because of that I imagine Mary gave to the Hedge Hags the culmination of her life’s work up to those last moments.  Xochitl again echoed, as many did this day, “…we encounter Mary Daly and everything changes.” Xochitl spoke about the power of Mary’s words and the power they have to transform.  “Each of us is affected differently by our engagement with her work and our friendship with her. And each of us is committed to be-ing in the world in a new biophillic way because of it. Mary Daly’s vision and work is so big and expansive and it is big enough to spark all our different ways of be-ing. Because Mary lived out of a vision of abundant light; a biophillic light, never out of scarcity; yes desperate, but it was a good desperate, because the world has to change, it has to! So there is room enough for all of our vision, for all of our ways of be-ing, and waking up.” We then heard how each of the Hedge Hags is taking on the vision of Mary’s work and hopes in their personal lives. Her words infused me with my own hope and en-couraged me to think about how I can also carry the visions of Mary Daly out into the world and see the world change. “Mary knew that when wimmin come together we spark and weave a new reality and we live into a new world and we do it together as friends. She always said, we have to have courage, that’s what life is about, especially now, we have to have courage. And courage is something we learn through courageous acts. We learn courage by couraging.” Xochtil then closed with these words “… so let us go and Sin big and throw our lives as far as it will go!”
BK Hiipsher and Marla Marcum shared with us the last interview Mary gave in 2008. Most remarkable was not the video montage or even the audio (although they were remarkable in their own right) but the personal story BK shared about her first meeting of Mary and the transformative change that occurred because of it. She sat in front of Mary, who fixed her gaze upon her and asked quite matter-of-factly, “What’s so great about you?” And she waited for an answer. As BK related she at the time had no idea, but Mary demanded an answer, as it seemed she did from everyone. It was one of the most important questions BK had ever been asked and as she learned the answer through Mary’s teaching, so too did she learn what was so great about all womyn.
Mary Daly had a great appreciation for words, but not just those written, but for those spoken as well. She believed in the power we have of passing on what we know through oral tradition and the deep listening that is required for that to occur. In that tradition Emily Culpepper had us turn to our neighbors and tell each other our stories of Mary Daly, to speak our truths and listen deeply of the ways Mary had influenced and changed our lives.
Next, we heard from Ger Moane who came all the way from Ireland to speak about Mary’s affinity and influence with Irish feminists. Know this, Mary Daly loved, and was dearly loved by the Irish feminist community. She made many trips to the land of her own cultural heritage and it is where she frolicked with cows and learned about the hedge schools, coming home to carry on the tradition, something I believe she would want us to continue.
Here we met the Hedge Hags, Xochitl Alvizo, Tiffany Steinwert, Kathryn House, and Marla Marcum. Four wimmin, who gathered at Mary’s house to learn from her directly outside of the confines of academentia and now each in her own way was poised to carry on Mary’s work. From them we were granted a glimpse into Mary’s last few years of life. Funny and personal, each Hedge Hag’s sharing spoke to the devotion and commitment they held for Mary, each other, and the larger vision of a reality beyond the patriarchal foreground. Tiffany shared with us that Mary kept every card and letter sent to her by womyn. Marla echoed the cry “Sisters, here we stand on bloody Jesuit ground!” which she shouted every day upon setting foot on the Boston College campus at the end of her morning commute. Kathryn shared that she and her college roommate, so enamored with Mary Daly began to speak Wickedese (with proper emphasis and punctuation in their speech and body language!) She told us that Mary taught her “…how to wield the labrys with compassion and tender friendship, teaching me wisely to never turn its sharp blade on myself or any other womon.” She reminded us, ignited us that we were like them, all the students of Mary Daly, but now it was time for us to become the teachers. One of the ways the Hedge Hags were continuing Mary’s legacy was to name a room after her at the Matilda Jocelyn Gage Museum, in hopes that future generations of womyn would investigate and learn and thus, be forever changed by encountering Mary Daly.
We then witnessed the passing of the labrys amongst Team Mary and the Hedge Hags. It had been one of Mary’s used as a tangible physical symbol for cutting away the falsehoods of patriarchy.  For this moment Emily Culpepper offered us this, “It represents the power of passing on through the generations from the archaic past to the archaic future.” I think Mary would have liked the symbolism of this gesture, knowing we each carried within us the labrys of our own be-ings with the ability to use it as she had so often encouraged womyn to do. We then sang Cris Williamson’s Song of the Soul to formally conclude the memorial. However, as you can guess, it was not really an ending, but the next step into a beginning.
            Mary Daly left behind more than just an impressive and monumental amount of writing. She left for us a path to follow, a way to undo the insidious influences of patriarchy by re-weaving the language and thus re-learning and re-membering our own birthright as womyn. Her daring to challenge the patriarchs, to name their necrophillic madness as they carry our world on a careening ride towards destruction is no small feat. She held at her center the task that it was up to us individually and collectively to become pirates. As she put it in her 1996 article in The New Yorker “Women who are Pirates in a phallocentric society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to Plunder -- that is, righteously rip off -- gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must Smuggle back to other women our Plundered treasures. In order to invert strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the chances we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my Pirate's battle cry and wake-up call for women who I want to hear.” This memorial was more than just for Mary Daly, it was for all of us, a band of Radical Feminist Pirates committed to sinning big. It was certainly far more than just a time to come together to honor one of our own; it was a call to continue the work and vision that Mary Daly had begun and was now ours to carry on. We have the means and the tools. Let us courageously take up the labryses of our minds and throw ourselves into our lives as far as we can go!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Other Side of Activism: Withdrawal as a Radical Act of Defiance

War is raging over this planet. The 20th and 21st centuries have proved to be the bloodiest times in recorded history and certainly our erased herstory. The United States alone has more soldiers abroad than any other nation on earth, with troops in more than 153 countries. The country I presently live in is storming around the planet, one along with many others, waging war on unprecedented levels. War is being waged supposedly in our names. Recall that when we first invaded Afghanistan one of the calls was to free women of the oppression they were subjected to under Taliban rule. Are the women any less oppressed? What is even more alarming is that war is not just waged against an “enemy state”, but it is being waged on every major life supporting system we depend on from the air we breath, and food and water we nourish ourselves with. So many issues and demands to draw our attention… where exactly are any of us as activists to put our focus if we are to bring about an end to war against our precariously woven ecosystem, the people, and the land itself?

I can’t tell you how many emails I get a week from various organizations to write letters, sign petitions, make calls, and send money. I do my best to respond. I write, I call, I sometimes show-up at events and stand in vigils, yet even as I do all this I wonder if it matters? As of late I have been asking myself more and more if it makes a difference; if I have allowed myself to be steered into a rather passive state of being? It is an uncomfortable place to be and uncomfortable questions to ask. Yet I feel that when I now consider how to be an effective activist I can no longer not afford to ask such questi0ons, even when the answers are not always readily available or easy when they are. All those emails, all the “difference” I think I am making as a computerized armchair activist are all acceptable forms or dissent within the United States and in fact is encouraged. My democratic, capitalistic, American, (let’s not forget god-given right) to exercise my voice in protest may really be just a diversion, a smokescreen… a well conceived way to delude myself as an activist into thinking I am making changes; a way to shift the focus off the continued brutal destruction of the planet and all things female.

This violent exploitation of people, resources, and land is not acceptable, yet rarely is the analysis present that names those who will primary benefit from this endeavour, be it war or activism, will be men and those who will suffer the most regardless will be womyn. Why do we as activists rarely talk about the one common root to all of this raging war on global levels? I am talking about heteropatriarchy or if you don’t quite get the hetero part of it, the patriarchy. When we look at almost any well-known activist organization, we see the same hierarchical structure with males poised at the top. Their solutions are just as patriarchic in their nature as the problems. Asking the boys to please be nice, please stop murdering countless persons, please stop pillaging the land, please stop decimating the environment, please help the hungry, the homeless, and please be good to the women. All the letters, the emails, the channeling of money to worthy causes, the peaceful protests and vigils may unfortunately be two sides of the same coin.

Well I am tired of saying please. I am weary with following the acceptable ways of creating change. It feels like a futility of unending bureaucracy and all for a few paltry concessions (crumbs really), patriarchy is still standing strong conducting business as usual. As of late I feel a strong and compelling desire in me to cross over into something else. I want the alternative; a world where womyn and girls are safe and assured that the environments where we live nurtures our growth on every level. At the same time I am also figuring out exactly what that means. I find myself asking more questions even as I am searching for the answers. Even as I write these words I feel the uncertainty or perhaps the unfamiliarity of where I am going. One thing is for sure I am no longer wiling to say please and I am definitely advocating for stepping outside acceptable forms of activism, to continue the defiance of heteropatriarchy through the withdrawal of our energies. Consider wimmin’s lands, collective households, cooperatives, clandestine schools, feminist presses and bookstores as alternatives to what Mary Daly termed the Malestream. It may be as simple as sharing an uproarious evening filled with good food and laughter. It may also be of the greatest personal risk. Those who have crept out of an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs; or those who have read a book even if to do so would mean certain death. What has not happened is any energy been given to heteropatriarchy. That is where I want to be. So that is the garden I cultivate.

I want to put my energy into what feels like the alternatives. I have had the good fortune to see it in tangible forms. Consider this journal you are holding. It is the result of many hours of dedicated work by a few individual womyn who believe that naming the fallacies of patriarchy and sharing the wisdom of women and girls is more than necessary. Across the world are many places that womyn have created Wimmin’s lands are but one of the many alternatives womyn create. I have visited a few of them in my home country. One place I return to again and again exists in New Mexico. It is the dream of many womyn that has been happening for more than 20 years. In this place as one travels along the dusty roads to the land, there are four gates that must be passed through. Each one an act of leaving behind the world of men; the last gate in fact has a mirror upon it. According to Jae, who presently lives on the land this is to reflect back patriarchy, to leave behind that world and enter completely into an alternative and very real world that places women at the center. These examples of course do not mean there is no strife or hard work. In fact withdrawing of our energy from patriarchy to create and maintain these alternatives is nothing short of monumental. I think of the clandestine schools in places like Afghanistan. Women and girls risk their very lives to bring knowledge to themselves. Even when men destroy the buildings and kill countless numbers of them they continue to meet. I All these acts show us it takes great perseverance and great strength to step out of what we have known not just since our birth, but has been known for thousands of years. But in all that time many have known there is something beyond than what is presented to us and no matter where we live we can reach for more than what patriarchy is handing us.

We must never forget that our true strength is when we do not push against the mighty fortress. Patriarchy is quite ready for that. Little by little we can remove our support. The structure of heteropatriarchy is quite dependent on the support of women, right down to our very bodies. Imagine what happens to a great tower when the unseen and often disregarded support structures bearing the weight at the bottom are removed? It may seem slow at first, not even perceptible, but inevitably it will topple. When we disengage and let heteropatriarchy become insignificant. Then we have shown our real power. The one power all men fear in us, the power to truly create. We cannot wait for all women to do this; we must decide when and how is the right time and way for us to engage this idea. And it might just be that I am the only one who would call this a form of activism. Still it is not an understatement to consider the removal of tangible support by us and then the creation of preferred spaces as powerful acts and I am compelling you my sister readers to consider this other side of activism. Freedom for us from heteropatriarchy may not yet be consistent or continual, but every moment we reserve for a different way; every instance we place our wisdom, our growth, our ideas, our thoughts and feelings in the forefront we bring change to all women’s and girl’s lives. By resisting long held patriarchal customs, including their defining language in our homes, our gathering spaces, and in how we come together in circles is nothing short of radical activism. We as womyn by choosing to remove ourselves to create lives free of male rule are saying boldly we do not need their approval to exist. It is time to accept that we will never have their approval to exist. We have before us many opportunities to take our selves to the world we deserve to exist in. One where we are the center, where we rejoice in our abilities as womyn. Make love, make art, make laughter, make alternatives, make change, and make magic, Make revolution!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Remembering A Long Ago Promise:

The New Mexico desert streams past on the shuttle ride from Albuquerque to Santa Fe। Brown and red desert dotted occasionally with the greens of cactus and grasses. A wide blue sky streaked with clouds. I am tired from my journey. I hear the buzz of small talk among strangers as we are shuttled to our various hotels and find myself feeling impatient and wishing for some sisterly dyke energy. Somehow through my own mental fog I hear the voice of the womon in front of me. She is responding to someone’s question. I hear her say she is here for a conference in Santa Fe. She is here for the Hullaballoo! Suddenly we are no longer lone dykes trying to bear under the strain of traveling in heteropatriarchy. We are now sisters of the same tribe. We move closer and spend the rest of the trip discussing lesbian feminist theory and how we’ve come to be here. I am in the company of Hye Sook Hwang and she is one of the presenters at the Feminist Hullaballoo. I am joyfully privy to an overview of what she will be presenting and how she came to be here at the invitation of Mary Daly. As she is dropped off at her hotel we embrace and so it begins. The energy has shifted I am no longer a solitary dyke and this auspicious and fortunate meeting of another sister will be the beginning of many more such interactions waiting to unfold.

At registration we are gifted with a goodie bag of dykely delights। Our program is a spiral bound mini book complete with the schedule, presenter/performer bios, and spaces for jotting down notes. Of great prominence in the bag is a book, one of several Mary Daly classics, Gyn-ecology, Wickedary, or Pure Lust. This sparks a flurry of trading and adds to the fun and sharing that will continue throughout this extraordinary weekend. Digging deeper into the bag we find, much to our delight an array of snacks and hand-made hemp bracelets. It is a true bonanza of gifts, and right away I can feel that so much thoughtfulness has gone into this event. This exquisite gifting sets the tone for what will be an amazing experience.

Friday evening is the formal beginning of the Feminist Hullaballoo, but the planning and energy put into this event began a long time ago। 13 womyn came together to pull this off. Sonia Johnson and Jade Deforest most recognisable at its fore, but it must not be forgotten that every sister involved gave greatly and lovingly to make this happen. Brandan Beech, Chloe Cervantes, Janet Cramer, Sequoia Edwards, Kimberly Elliot, Karen Foss, Sonja Foss, Ashley Grisso, Kris Kirschbaum, Constance Rose, and Monica Yancey. Collectively they are Estrogenerations Inc. What they have given is immeasurable and revolutionary. Even now 3 months later the most memorable thoughts still come to me as clear as the days the Feminist Hullaballoo happened.

Our emcees are Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz. They have the task of keeping us entertained in those in-between times of presenters and performers. An honest humour steeped in the stories of their lives growing up Brooklyn raised Jewish girls and discovering their love for each other more than 40 years ago. Their banter is sharp-witted and has the entire place roaring with laughter. These two incredible womyn are featured in a film entitled Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House.
A lone womon takes the stage। Lesbians thunder their applause for the womon standing and waiting to speak. It is Sonia Johnson. Her voice is soft yet strong as she asks us to remember. She calls us all to remember when we last gathered; when the world was in such peril; when it rested with us, the womyn to create change. She weaves for us a story to aid our memories. A circle of womyn gathered on a hilltop, pledging our lives to each other. In that time, the burning time countless of us went to our deaths, but still we defied the man-made madness and risked our very lives to gather, to promise, to remember. Then we had to forget. We had to forget to stay alive. Here and now Sonia reminds us is the fulfillment of that promise. We have gathered again to take up the task of saving our beloved planet and ourselves. For it is the magic of womyn that will make it happen, even in the midst of this new man-made madness, for when we gather we are powerful. Sonia leaves the stage to the same thunderous applause, but we are now not just clapping for her, but for ourselves as we now remember why we are here.

We have been asked to remember, to ignite the spark of a long ago promise। We create a vibrant ritual that calls forth the primal and fiery energy of our lesbian spirit. On the stage sits a huge cauldron. A womon dancing wildly to thundering drums around it as flames shoot from its depths. This is a powerful image. We, like the cauldron, hold a mystery and depth that can only be seen by daring to peer into the center of it. There one knows the true fire of the lesbian soul. This symbolic container holds the energy for our now remembered untamable lesbian spirits. Our hearts are the drums, our bodies the cauldron, our spirits the blazing fire contained within.

My first met new friend Hye Sook Hwang speaks of growing up in Korea। Of feeling separate and trying to find a way that made sense to her womonly soul. Her journey took her at first on a Christian missionary path, but soon enough she found her way to what she now calls the first Goddess of her people, Mago. Her story is amazing. She retells a moment when as she climbed a mountain it came to her that she was making an arduous journey to her own powerful self. In her voice I can hear the excitement as she first discovered Mary Daly and then later spent countless hours painstakingly translating some of Daly’s work into Korean. Now here she is at the invitation of Daly herself, telling her story and about to embark on creating a “gyneversity” that womyn may discover for themselves and with each other the too often untold stories of our true beginnings and power. She reminds us that we as womyn are always at the heart of peace and unity. That being gynecentric means that man and their patriarchal systems can never define us. That true power is female.

It is clear that we are here to not just remember a long ago promise, but to go forth and create strong, vibrant, womon-centered, and lesbian-loving communities। To do this we must put our intention into that commitment. Sandra Aaron leads us in a meditation, settling us down into our roots with the earth. She compels us to seek out a sister we do not yet know. We take our hand-made hemp bracelets, tying them around each other’s wrists. This is now a womon we are accountable to. We pledge to each other how we will carry our memory and promise back to our home communities. I think of all the womyn from home I love so dearly. How I can give them even just a little of the spark I have been gifted with here. I now have a sister who I can continue to share this with. Someone to check-in with regularly and share not only my own progress, but be part of knowing how she has carried her own spark back to her home and the womyn who are part of her life. In the “Actual chat-room.” dykes gather to leave on a bulletin board their intentions in written words. These are the intentions first with the tying of a bracelet. These are the intentions we will carry back to our homes to build lesbian feminist community. Already the board is overflowing with the colourful 3X5 index cards. This is the tangible reminder of what we are striving for. I write down my thoughts and leave my wishes there for all to read.

I am overflowing with the emotion of it all। It seems that wherever we begin to gather I find myself immersed in a swirling embrace of womyn. Some I know, some I have just met, but it is as if we are all familiar to each other. Everywhere there are smiles as we recognise each other. It is these times with each other that I recall with the most intensity. Images of these special moments like snapshots of freedom from heteropatriarchy. Having lunch on the lawn with friends; behind us a group of dykes has gathered and are singing. 100+ lesbians take over a local Indian restaurant. We push all the tables together and are joyously welcomed by the head chef, a womon. Food is passed freely around the tables for all to sample. Smiling, happy lesbians everywhere; this space is ours! Sitting in morning sunlight with Jody, Wolf, and Barb, talking about being separatists and how we strive to create a unique dyke culture. Fran Day who edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom is called to the stage. We erupt in thunderous applause and many rise to their feet. I am beaming to see her basking in the love and adulation of her sisters. This is a dyke who has done so much in helping maintain our lesbian culture. As she walks back up the isle she spots me and we embrace, rocking back and forth, professing deep love and friendship for each other. I see my good friend Cybilla, she hands me a copy of Sinister Wisdom in which is an article I helped write. I laugh as she asks me to sign her copy. I now know if even just a little what it might feel like to be famous. Most of all I remember the moments with my long-time friend, Jody. Holding her hand as we listen to Margie Adam and riding in her car in the cool New Mexico night air.

Something is building up; a low rumble, then a thunderous noise। I wonder if it is the sound of many womyn’s hand’s clapping. But the sound begins to take on a rhythm, a beat. I enter to see Afia Walking Tree on the stage. She is a sight to behold. Her tall, muscular body enrobed in colourful garments. I am transfixed as are many. She holds us all in a dazzling flurry of rhythm as she plays an African djembe drum. Her voice rings out as she calls to ancient Goddesses. On and on she goes, changing drums. Each one creating a different sound that perfectly matches her vibrant voice. She calls and we respond in song. Our voices ring out, first separate then merging into one great sound at the end.

Music is so much a part of this event as are the spoken words and the gathering of so many wild sisters। Alix Dobkin and her guitar; every song a familiar friend. She sings to us and we to her. Margie Adam sitting at the piano. Every song seems to carry a vibration that we want to savour. We remain still and quiet after each song, letting the final note fade away before erupting into wild applause. More importantly we get time to stand and talk with these great womyn in the lobby. Alix is familiar with this area and I get to pass on some hellos from dykes who could not be here. Margie and I discuss labyrinths from around the world and their magical, transformative female power.

Even time travel is not out of the realm of possibility here। In fact we do just this with Suzanne Bellamy. We are now 500 years in the future and are viewing slides of a recent archeological discovery. Looking back at the beginnings of the second-wave of feminism from a dig site in Australia. This presentation is both funny and poignant. How remarkable that womyn came together to question the way things were. Created feminist presses, C-R groups, and collective households to shake consciousness loose from the grip that males were the center of the universe. To be willing to face their own and other’s deeply mired self-doubts and exuberant joys. I gaze around the theater and see many older faces, knowing these are the sisters who did the work before me and now I am here to take up my place in the continuing to remember. I wonder if in 500 years what those womyn who come after me will think and if they will have fulfilled the promise.

Anytime strong, radical feminist dykes get together we not only create amazing, powerful, revolutionary vibrations we create challenges, disagreements and controversy। We certainly create these things in the context of heteropatriarchy, just by our very naming ourselves lesbians and feminists, but we also create these with each other and the Feminist Hullaballoo was no different in this respect. The first vibration of this came to be felt when Sally Gearhart spoke. She asks us to consider the differences between activism and inspiration. Activism has an inherent obligation and component of suffering that does not aid those who are oppressed. Inspiration is about being “self-full”, looking inward for our own source of power. The opposite of war is not peace, but diversity. For her this does include queer politics and this is where the divergence for me began. I can fully understand the desire to create a peaceful, loving world, and for Sally it means making room for everyone, even males. At his point I have shut-down and can no longer hear what she has to say. It is a difficult decision, but I choose to leave, as do some other dykes. We find each other and reaffirm our choices as dyke separatists. This does not mean I came away without benefit from what Sally had to say. I appreciate that she made clear how important it is to know what we want, to know what we don’t want, and to make the choice. By moving towards that we create more than just activism, we do indeed create inspiration.

Let us not forget that just as in heteropatriarchy, we face the insidiousness of racism, classism, ageism, ableism, looksism, anti-Semitism, internalized lesbian hatred, and cultural appropriation (colonialism) in our own communities। It is important to name these and be called on them when we knowingly or inadvertently engage in them. Cherrie Moraga does not hold back in naming and challenging us in this respect. She reminds us that womyn in many countries face death because of their heritage or skin colour. We who are white feminists are not as cutting-edge as we may like to think simply because we have First-world privilege. And until we have the direct experience of Third-world womyn we need to ask how much of this notion that we are radical, cutting-edge feminists is about our personalities, our egos, and our control? Womyn of colour are still told that their grandness is illness; their greatness insanity and we must not only recognise this as coming from the male-dominated world, but from within our own lesbian communities. It is up; to us to remain vigilant and continue to not just push our own brand of white feminism, but to create a true sisterhood that gives more room to the sisters who are truly cutting-edge You can feel the discomfort of this ripple through the room, but as Cherrie points out criticism is an act of love and celebration is the result of hard work and struggle. We still have much to do and many sisters are far from being in the comfortable place we now enjoy.

Shaba Barnes tells us of her own journey into activism। How she wanted to be a part of OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change), but had to wait until she was sixty. At the time she did not understand the need for this boundary and separation. Did she not count? Indeed she did, but she had to find other ways to make her difference. She organized womyn in many places and helped create a womyn of colour event in New Mexico. Today she is very much a part of OLOC as well as other groups. Today she knows that there are times to work together and times when we need to respect different group’s needs for separate solidarity. We create collectively stronger commitments when we can respect these boundaries and foster understanding amongst ourselves for this need for divergent affinity. When we finally do come together our voices will be both diverse and unified.

The time has come for the Feminist Hullaballoo to close. It is however not an ending, but a beginning. Now it is up to us to carry what we have begun here back to our homes and communities. All the presenters and performers take the stage. A great drum rests at its center. A strong beat is begun, like our strong womanly hearts it is felt. Lesbians everywhere are moving and singing. We create a great sound of remembering. Womyn who helped create our opening ritual pass around small bags with seeds for us to take home. Let these like the ideas, dreams, promises, and commitments be sown that something beautiful, resilient, loving, and peaceful may grow. Onward we go!

How I Am

“Oh you look so good!” “Wow, you look so much younger!” “You seem so healthy and fit!” “ Ooo girl, you are looking so great; I can’t believe how much weight you’ve lost!” I have just entered the main house at a local retreat center and healing sanctuary। It is Late May and women are gathering as we do three times a year celebrate. This occasion is special as we are marking our 20th year together. The excitement is thick in the air as we are arriving. Regular attendees, those who’ve not been in a while, and a few newcomers are unloading our cars for the week-end ahead. We carry in bags laden with decorations and sacred objects for the alter, musical instruments, sleeping gear, and of course bountiful quantities of food. All this activity is joyous in its own right, but even more as womyn come into this space they recognize each other and are ready to lay down the burdens of the mundane world, they embrace in joyous and heartfelt greetings. As a regular attendee for the last 17 years I get my fair share of hugs and exclamations of glee at the familiar reunion of sisters knowing they have entered into a different reality and can be more authentic in their true selves. I come with ignited anticipation for the genuine affection that seems to flow so easily between us. As I am buffeted by the enthusiastic greetings of my sisters though, I am immediately aware that they are lavishing me with a different kind of energy this time than I had received in the past.

It has been about six months since I’ve seen most of them। I had missed our winter gathering and so what had been a gradual weight loss to me and those who see me regularly must have seemed dramatic to them. I was about 25 pounds lighter due to increased physical activity in my life. However it had not been a conscious effort on my part and I myself was not fully aware of how different I might have looked. I do not often give much attention to my appearance, but a half-year of intensive martial arts training had left its mark on my body, presenting me as leaner and more muscular in my physical form. This is what draws the most comments and inside I feel myself beginning to squirm.

It is obvious and painfully so that my longtime friends, whom I have come to see as refuge from the world at large carry an aspect of the world that they are not even aware of into this place। I take in carefully all the exclamations of praise given to me. I breath deeply and smile at each womon and say how happy I am to see her as I consider the nagging feeling of discomfort and dis-ease that is growing within me. They continue to comment on my appearance and now not just to me, but let it flow to each other and soon I find I have become a subject and center of attention in a circle of about 12 womyn. On and on they go until as if by a collective consciousness they notice I have stopped smiling and as they settle into a silence and turn their collective gaze back to me, I take the chance to speak. “It really is good to be back in our circle again and your company means so much to me. I am incredibly happy to be here with all of you, but I am very uncomfortable with all the attention and comments that seem to focus on how I look.” My opening is met with silence. After a few seconds a womon asks me why I should feel uncomfortable with such praise. I respond that it is focused on how I look and to me reinforces for all of us the misaligned importance on appearance. Some womyn nod; I am relieved by this, hoping that they do indeed understand. Others look puzzled.

“What is wrong with what we are saying? You do look good and I think hearing h that ought to be positive।” I know my response must be careful here. I am aware that defensiveness is brewing in some of my friends and I want them to understand my position on this and not feel like I am criticizing them. I try the broad scope first. I speak to the “womanly ideal” conveyed in our current western culture. Womyn are expected to be supermodel thin, yet have large breasts, be flawless in skin tone, which includes being hairless, and have long luxurious, silky, shiny hair. Everyday this image is reinforced through the media and advertisements. What’s more insidious is that we as womyn have become the trumpeters of these messages, conveying them to each other in every setting we gather in. I ask my friends how many of them hear from other womyn the need to diet or change how they look in their places of work or even in the grocery store. Nearly every one of them nods in affirmation to this experience. Now I bring it all to this moment. I remind them that we gather to leave that world behind and although they think they are paying me compliments they not only reinforce the emphasis on looks for me, but for each other as well. What of our other sisters who are larger in size who overhear this; what message is being told to them? To me it says that somehow they are less than because they do not fit the ideal. Somehow they are flawed. Further I remind my friends that body size can change over time and what will be their reaction if I plump up; will I somehow have fallen from grace? I am still who I am. I am the one they have come to know who likes to sing, cook, play, love, write, practice martial arts, and walk the dog. I did and will continue to do all these things regardless of my body size. Our theme for this week-end is Celebrating Abundance. We want to do this in every aspect, which includes most assuredly our bodies.

I can feel the energy has shifted some in this circle. I look at each womon and say, “You are beautiful no matter what.” They echo it back to me. We make a pact to not talk this week-end about how we hate our bodies, how we need to diet, or can’t eat what we want. Further we resolve to help each other in this by pointing it out if and when it comes up. And it does indeed come up, but now I am not the one voice trying to hold off a creeping tide of self-hatred. I am now part of a chorus. In the spirit of that feeling I end with the verse of a song by Libby Roderick that we commonly sing together, which holds a wonderful message for all of us.

How could any one ever tell you
you are anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
you are less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving s a miracle
How deeply you’re connected to my soul*

*Libby Roderick

Lighting The Fire

I want a REVOLUTION।

I feel the wanting with every fiber of my being। It has been with me since the day I entered this world as a mortal womon on the planet Earth. Through my life it has burned intensely like flames with fresh dry wood added and then other times, it has waned, smoldering hot coals, hidden. But as life changes and new experiences provide me with chances to grow, fresh material to burn, my coals reignite…

Light is returning,
Even though this is the darkest hour
No one can hold back the dawn

Since this issue on activism has come round again। I had to ask myself what is it I want more than anything, that I would be willing to lay my life down for, to give up all my comforts and delusions/illusions for? As “hokey” as it may read, PEACE was right there. Now the trick is HOW to do that in the present state of the world under heteropatriarchy. So I talk of Evolution/Revolution and a different world where all Wimmin are free from male oppression. Men are running us and the whole planet into oblivion and we are indeed at a critical point!

I call it REVOLUTION। I strive for it in the choices I make. I am fortunate and bountiful in my life in so many respects, but I am well aware that too many of us are being extinguished by the privilege and power run amok amongst the male species. One too many of my sisters languish in prisons or are raped and battered, objectified, bought, sold, annihilated. Somehow men are supposedly in charge of EVERYTHING! How did this happen and, perhaps more importantly, why do we let it continue?

As a long time activist, who has given great energy to different causes and also grown jaded and frozen with hopelessness and fear, I know well the struggle to not to give in to the inertia that can overtake me as a result of living in patriarchy। So many of us lesbian feminists face those moments of questioning. We wonder if what we do makes a difference? If the intense and bright flames of our dreams for a different world don’t just burn themselves out in the airless heteropatriarchy and leave little trace of our presence save for a bit of scorching around the edges. I tell you the fire still burns even now, just when I thought it had faded away. It calls me to reach out to other women –to reach out to those who know the longing best, EACH OTHER. We need to talk to each other about that deep yearning and what is it we truly want.

One planet is turning
Circle on her path around the sun
Earth-mother is calling her children home.

In no time in say the last 2000 years has there been any time without some kind of conflict। In the last 2 centuries, men have taken it to scales in which EVERY woman is subject. Women are used as the reasoning to go to war, such as the cry the US government used to rally support for invading Afghanistan Women are the ones most likely to suffer at the hands of either side’s soldiers as well. Yes, males kill each other in brutish and unthinkable ways, but womyn will most likely suffer the anguish of rape and slavery before they too are murdered. Is it any wonder we yearn for peace at our cores? Deep in every womon is the memory buried like coals beneath ashes, awaiting the puff of wind to reveal its still burning heat; glowing we are the ones who bring life to the world. But so many have forgotten their real Power. Instead they have bought into power by male standards. They have allied themselves to the ones who would destroy them. And yet we still thrive. For many of us the memory of our true Selves and what that means for the planet is finally coming into the forefront of our consciousness.

So here we are poised for the big change we can all feel coming। Inside us burns a fire, not always understood even by ourselves. We live in a culture that if given the opportunity will destroy everything. I don’t want to be remembered on the cosmic scale as the planetary beings that sadly self-destructed. I don’t want to so toxify the entire planet that it becomes uninhabitable for any species. I also don’t want to idly stand-by and watch men do it either. I want a REVOLUTION and I know it’s going to take every single one of us to do it.

The how to do it is often much more complicated than the desire to make it happen। Many things can get in the way of organizing. It would be foolish to negate the effects of racism, classism, ableism, ageism, and sexism on any woman’s ability to create change. Sometimes the struggle to survive is more than any one can take. Here in the US, I live in relative comfort despite struggling at times with poverty. I have white-skin privilege and a loving network of friends and family that do indeed rally to my aid should it arise. I have little to give up, but some have even less. I would barely hesitate if I thought it would improve things for all of us, but I can only say that for myself. Asking other women to give up what little if anything they have can be daunting at best if not downright terrifying. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is convincing women who have allied themselves to men. The status they enjoy, the privilege and power bestowed upon them because of their connection to their husbands and children; it is difficult to imagine any woman giving that all up for the lofty dream of women’s freedom touted by some “radical” lesbian who wants to being about the demise of heteropatriarchy However, I perceive it as a false security and sense of power, because it is given by others and not owned by the woman herself, for herself. She is only as useful as her roles as wife or mother and once these are done; as many find out they become invisible and anonymous. Of course the same may be said for some lesbians as well. Those who believe in the right to marry and “be like everyone else” as a way to gain acceptance may find themselves quickly if not more invisible and anonymous as het women because they are seeking vindication by conforming to heteropatriarchal standards. The dream of the house, the car and happy children are buying into the patriarchal paradigm as the only model for purposeful existence and happiness. So where to start and just how to begin the conversation, which may eventually lead to action? This publication is one place ot start. It may inspire other like-minded sisters to risk talking with women they know in their social connection, families, and workplaces about the possibilities of a different world. C-R groups, feminist readings, along with any action that continues to expose the true plight of women and the precarious nature of our entire planet can only further the realization of our need for change.

Let’s keep it burning
Let’s keep the light of hope alive
Make safe our journey through the storm

Fan those flames my Sisters, in whatever way you can, for whatever matters, truly matters to you। What would you lay down your life for? What would you give up for EVERY woman to know peace? Our sisters need to remember and we have to find a way to help them remember. That is the REVOLUTION I long for. That every woman remembers her fire! REMEMBER: We were not meant to be slaves, not porn-stars, not prostitutes or whores. Not blushing brides, not beings of any less value. We are here! We exist and the whole so-called human race could not exist without us. We can no longer abide our own destruction or the destruction of the planet. And that is exactly what it is going to come down to!

Talk, write, march, yell, scream, whisper, but do not be completely silent! Most of all talk with other we’moon about the longing for peace and how easy it might be for all of us if we finally agreed to act as one great flaring of flame, transforming all it touches। We were once Goddesses and Warriors, Remember? Yes, Remember!

FREEDOM, true freedom and PEACE for all womyn! Imagine it sisters! Let it run wild like the cleansing fires that could take a whole forest, but leaves in its wake new life। We are the flames, we are certainly the coals. Coals become transforming/transmuting fire by just doing. All it takes is a good wind. Let’s embrace the wind sisters!

Fire transform me
Bring me to my passion
I choose life! YES!
I choose courage!
To dance among the flames… *

Alisa Starkweather


Monday, August 24, 2009

Remarkable

When you went to sleep last night did you consider that you were a survivor? Did you consider as sleep came over you that elsewhere around the world another womon was closing her eyes, not sure if they would ever open again? Did it come to you as you awoke that you had done something extraordinary? Did it come to you that every womon everywhere who awoke to face another day was also extraordinary? You are a womon, a remarkable survivor. Every womon is a remarkable survivor.

We come in all spectrums, we womyn. Some like me call themselves Lesbians. Some like me call themselves Radical Lesbian Feminists. Some like me call themselves Dyke Separatists. Others do not. Defining of oneself is not always easy. For some it is not even a possibility. For me it is deep and personal, nor is it static. Twenty-one years ago I called myself a Lesbian, but it was stuttering and hushed, bound up in the fear of what others might think and fear of their reprisals. Today I cannot only say Lesbian, but I have strengthened it by adding to it the further definitions of who I am in this world. This is how I have survived and more how I have thrived. But even as I sit here and write these words I know that too many womyn will never have the luxury to utter such words. Their survival is more basic, more desperate, and oh so remarkable.

Not every womon can even consider who she is. Every womon does not have my life’s experience or the privilege to live where I live. Some of my sisters face unbelievable hardships, things that I wonder if I could endure, but every womon does what she can to survive. For some there is no choice. Be it to have babies or to live under the constant fear of annihilation from war, disease, or starvation. Some womyn are to spend their whole lives hidden from the world, never to have their face let alone their voice be known. Others have no identity in the other extreme they are commodities. Bodies revealed only to be consumed in the name of so-called desire. These womyn have no privacy of self, they are splayed and displayed for all to see. And when they are no longer deemed useful they are discarded, thrown out, killed, and erased.

Despite the horrifying realities in all the extremes of how terribly womyn have it in this world we endure. I know that every story that reaches me, is the ongoing struggle to survive. I know that every womon who does not make it has done her best and has left a legacy for those of us still here to carry on. You see I am not just in this for myself. I am in it for every girl and womon born to this planet. I am in it for all of human kind. It is because of we womyn that we are all here.

I have relative luxury compared to many of my sisters. I do indeed face discrimination, but the color of my skin, the era and the country I live in, the age and ability of my body and mind has afforded me certain privileges that I must not take for granted. I survive by remembering this and working for the abolition of violence against and freedom of all womyn and girls. I survive by living in a way that is as sustainable as possible. I chose to live simply and harmoniously. It is the small things that add up. From what I chose to eat and wear that makes a difference. These small things can become big things. Big things can become great things. If I write a letter of protest or urge a head of state to do right by womyn and girls, my one letter along with thousands, maybe millions of others says we are paying attention. I have marched as one person, but together with others we have been a wave of change, transformation, and revolution on epic scales. If I do this is it really inconvenient? What could be more convenient than to promote the well being of not just myself, but every living thing?

How do I survive? I live with the mindfulness of not just myself, but of others. I do this because I can. I do this because I want every womon to one day have the choice and the chance to live, as she wants to. Some I know, some I will never know. So when you close your eyes tonight and go to sleep, let yourself consider that you are a survivor; let yourself consider all the womyn of the world. We are all survivors and even thrivers. I want you to know that you are remarkable. I am remarkable. Every womon before, with, and after me is remarkable.