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Pre-2008 Posts

The Erasure of Lesbian/Feminist Politics and Culture

From my tent, Michfest 2004

The view looking out from my tent on Womyn’s Land one morning, Michfest 2004

Do yourself a favor and feast your eyes on Amy’s Brain Today’s post of yesterday in which she responds to  and expands on issues raised in my recent post and in all of the related posts throughout the blogosphere.   Amy’s post is just magnificent.  An excerpt:

As a radical lesbian feminist separatist, I claim as my heritage lesbian/feminist politics and culture. And I want to be very clear that what is contested here is the existence of that culture, and who will define the terms of its existence. This is demonstrated, perhaps most clearly, by the relentless protest targeting the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and the fact that a major source of the momentum behind that protest comes, not from transwomen, but from (to use the festival’s terminology) “women-born-women.” To some extent, the transgender movement is being used by certain lesbians in an attempt to gain control over the definition and future direction of lesbian/feminist culture, to continue the trend of focusing away from women- and lesbian-identified lesbians and our interests. This disregard for and denial of lesbian/feminist culture is demonstrated by the demands of Camp Trans, and others, that artists who perform at Michigan should be banned from “queer” events throughout the rest of the year–artists who, in many cases, have dedicated their lives to feminist activism and the creation of lesbian/feminist music, writing, and art. Their lesbian performances, and their lesbian/feminist perspectives, are not welcome at “queer” festivals unless they toe the transgender party line. This is demonstrated by the response to Yawning Lion’s blog post back in the spring, and by the fact that the entire current internet brouhaha was begun by someone criticizing the posting of a quote by Sheila Jeffreys having nothing to do with transgenderism. Whenever a lesbian is accused of “transphobia,” any work that she may have done on behalf of women or lesbians is crushed underfoot and trampled into the dirt. It does not matter; it’s as if it doesn’t even exist. The fact that Michfest has for 30 years provided a refuge for lesbians to express our sexuality openly in a world where sexual love between women is still punishable by death–not to mention a space in which women and girls are safe from male violence–means nothing in the terms that have been used to frame this debate. The fact that Alix Dobkin has spent her life traveling the world performing for women/lesbians only, singing and writing about the lives of lesbians, means nothing. The fact that Sheila Jeffreys is a brilliant feminist historian who has traced the repression of female sexuality by men is absent from this controversy. These facts and many more like them illustrate nothing less than an attempt to erase an entire culture–which is ironic in the face of transgender activists’ endless assertions that women and lesbians try to define the experience of transwomen. Given the continual denial of the value of lesbian/feminist efforts for lesbians and women, it sure looks like the transgender movement is trying to define, if not outright destroy, lesbian/feminist culture as an autonomous free space created by lesbians, for lesbians. This amounts to sexism within the “LGBTQ” “community” and in this sense, this conflict is part of the greater backlash against feminism. This is one reason why this controversy is, or should be, of concern to “mainstream,” straight, and liberal feminists.

I am the inheritor of lesbian/feminist culture. I am one of those the women who started Michfest in 1975 were dreaming of–a generation of lesbian/feminists who might come along behind and build on what they started. So many of those women did not have children of the body, but I am nevertheless their sister-daughter; perhaps I am also their sister-lover, for I surely love them and what they built, passionately, with my whole self, heart/mind/body/soul. And I am here to tell you that, as the creative bloom of an oppressed group, that culture is valid, on its own terms. It has the right to exist as it sees fit. It has the right to define itself in any way it chooses. It has the right to a political analysis that makes sense from where it, we, I stand. I am here to tell you–if you are not living in the world as a lesbian, as a woman who loves women, who puts lesbians first, lesbian/feminist culture is not yours. If you are attempting to appropriate lesbian/feminist culture for the purposes of destroying all it has tried to build, your claim to it is not legitimate. I have spent countless hours of my time and a pretty nice chunk of change working on an archive to preserve some of the political writing of that culture–not because I approve of everything that’s in it, but because I think the history of my people and their struggles is important, and deserves to be known and understood by all people who claim to want justice.

Hear hear!  The crowd is on its feet, standing, waving, and cheering,  Amy.  Rock on!

 Heart

Discussion

39 thoughts on “The Erasure of Lesbian/Feminist Politics and Culture

  1. YES, Amy is so cool. What a woman!

    Posted by rhondda | January 4, 2007, 7:42 pm
  2. Wow Amy. I read the whole entry on your site, and I encourage everyone to pay a visit, read the entire body of work. I am still digesting the whole entry, and will read it again, along with sending it out to others that would benefit from reading what I call an excellent writing.

    Amy, thank you.

    Posted by uppitybiscuit | January 4, 2007, 7:56 pm
  3. Yes. Anyway, on that Michfest issue, call me naive or -phobic, but I cannot figure out why anyone would want to crash any particular festival or part of a festival … or let ONE festival or part of a festival be for ‘women-born-women’ only … etc., etc. … it seems for all the world like a typical attitude of MEN. Sorry, but it does.

    Posted by profacero | January 4, 2007, 9:13 pm
  4. …p.s. typo above: I meant, NOT let one festival or part of a festival be for ‘women-born-women’ only.

    [And yes, I realize that making this comment I am discounting the experience of those who suffer because they do not have women’s bodies, or because they have acquired them and now suffer discrimination for that reason. But I hear in that complaint that men (or ex-men)’s suffering is more important than women’s.]

    […p.p.s.: barging in places is what the typical male does … and b****ing because of having been excluded from someone’s party is what the typical middle school student does.]

    Posted by profacero | January 4, 2007, 9:20 pm
  5. And that, profacero, is why I appreciate you so dang much.

    Well, one reason!

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 4, 2007, 9:21 pm
  6. Because men cannot take no for an answer? That is not my answer, but it is something that might be my answer. (I am just learning still). A good friend who is a breast cancer activist said that women’s voice on breast cancer got heard when they look at and borrowed from the tactics the male AIDS activists used in the strategies of that struggle. Men do not take no for an answer.

    Posted by Pony | January 4, 2007, 9:22 pm
  7. Sorry profecero and heart, we cross posted.

    Posted by Pony | January 4, 2007, 9:26 pm
  8. I hear in that complaint that men (or ex-men)’s suffering is more important than women’s

    EXACTLY. Women must always take care of all of the suffering people. We are not allowed to put ourselves, our lives, our own suffering, FIRST, without being punished for it.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 4, 2007, 9:26 pm
  9. What’s to be sorry, pony, you are right on!

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 4, 2007, 9:39 pm
  10. I just want to copy & paste everything you lot have said and say yes!

    Posted by sparklematrix | January 4, 2007, 9:46 pm
  11. “you lot.” You British wimmin! 😀

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 4, 2007, 10:15 pm
  12. And just think – I almost didn’t say those things, thought I might shock some people with partial and extremist views. This ‘reflex’ must say something about the (largely academic) circles I hang out in most of the day.

    Posted by profacero | January 5, 2007, 3:27 am
  13. Oh, Amy, wow. That post leaves me speechless. (And yay to Susan Brownmiller. Appropriate person to read when dealing with old controversy, I should think.)

    Posted by Edith | January 5, 2007, 3:28 am
  14. The post from Amy’s Brain is brilliant, simply brilliant.
    Standing OVAtion from Stormy.😀

    Posted by stormcloud | January 5, 2007, 11:29 am
  15. Sigh. Amy’s post really synthesized so many of my political beliefs – for their own sake, for their own validity – without having to bow to the pressure to conform lesbian feminist politics to the armchair feminism that seems to currently predominate. My lesbian feminism has nothing to do with men. Nothing to do with trans politics. It is about me and the women I love and politically agitate for. If I ever make that step of living a separatist’s life, it won’t be because I’m leaving something, but because I’m finding something within and without that has been largely hidden in this life.

    Posted by Q Grrl | January 5, 2007, 3:13 pm
  16. Heart, thank you for reprinting this. I wanted to thank Amy for getting into print what many of us are thinking. The way everything has been watered down, there is this pressure to do the “I’m ok, your ok” thing. Bloggers have been getting a lot of grief for *gasp*, actually expressing an opinion. As it is, it is good to know I’m not alone- this can happen when you’re stuck in between the “waves”. Keep up the important work!

    Posted by anna | January 5, 2007, 3:27 pm
  17. Having never participated in either festival — MWMF or Camp Trans — I can’t speak to either experience and probably should, therefore, keep my mouth shut.

    Having given that disclaimer, I would say a) that I loved her article and I look forward to reading the full thing on her site and b) I am very disheartened to learn that any lesbian activist is somehow kept from participating in other outside activities merely because she performed at MWMF. How sad. What a terrible childish reaction. I don’t know who speaks for the lesbian community and I don’t know who speaks for the transgender community (such that it creates the “transgender line” that needs to be “toed”) but sometimes I wish they’d both just lower the volume a bit.

    It’s a real shame that any of us that are oppressed by the patriarchy should ever find a need to call each other names or exclude one another. I hope we grow past middle school; I really do. And, I hope my b****ing isn’t considered too intrusive; I’m just another “ex-man” who embraces radical feminism trying to find her space in the world.

    Posted by umlawgirl07 | January 5, 2007, 3:33 pm
  18. If you would build a ramp for my wheelchair V, and nexyjo, please use punctuation and porper spelling and grammar and syntax. Otherwise, you make this blog “inaccessible” for me and my disability. (One of my disabilities).

    You leave out meaning if you leave out punctuation.

    end tangent and rant

    Posted by Pony | January 5, 2007, 5:52 pm
  19. “Men do not take no for an answer.”

    An important point. And this attitude is worth emulating, at least in certain situations.

    Posted by profacero | January 5, 2007, 7:14 pm
  20. Hey, anna, thank you very much! And umlawgirl, thanks for your thoughts and participation here. I don’t think you’re being intrusive at all and appreciate hearing what you have to say.

    profacero, so true.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 5, 2007, 7:36 pm
  21. Thanks for the support everybody.

    Posted by Amy's Brain Today | January 5, 2007, 10:05 pm
  22. Hi,
    It is such a wonderful thing that we have had such great radical activists fighting and maintaining our history! Like slavery abolutionists and liberal feminists we must never forget the devastating effects of going back! Like Nelson Mandella fighting for freedom for black people we must have our voice heard. But what happens once our voice has been heard. Are we looking for a voice in our own country, a voice in western society, a voice in the places voices can be heard. At what point does the fight end? I guess this will be answered differently for each individual! When does the fight become not a voice highlighting oppression, but a voice instigating aggression? When do we need to embrace our oppressors and their fears in order to carry them along with us in their needy state of recognition? Paulo Friere is a very great man and in writing the Pedagogy of the Oppressed he identified that we can only every be free when the oppressed liberate their oppressors without becoming the oppressors of the oppressed. It is a fine line, which we have not yet reached, but one we must not disable future generations with!
    I appreciate and value your time, energy and effort toward a lesbian feminist ideal, an ideal which makes my life and lifestyle possible in England! We must not forget that everything is sutained by diversity and power invested in the diversity of individuals which collectively make society. Just as nature requires diversity to exist we are going to find out that we do too!
    Respect!
    D

    Posted by D | January 6, 2007, 3:22 am
  23. Paulo Friere is a very great man and in writing the Pedagogy of the Oppressed he identified that we can only every be free when the oppressed liberate their oppressors without becoming the oppressors of the oppressed

    I LOVE this, D, thanks for saying it. I am a great admirer of the work of Paulo Friere but don’t know it well, but it’s on my list to learn better.

    Thanks for those great words, and welcome!

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 6, 2007, 5:56 am
  24. Shouldn’t that be

    “Paulo Friere is a very great man and in writing the Pedagogy of the Oppressed he identified that we can only every be free when the oppressed liberate their oppressors without becoming the oppressors of the oppressors.” ?

    Posted by Branjor | January 6, 2007, 8:39 pm
  25. Hi Heart et al,

    Not really wanting to hijack the Ashley thread with my separatist stuff, I’m putting this here.

    It is a poem, written by Caryatis Cardea, back in the 80’s.

    It speaks for me more eloquently than I can for myself:

    ————————————

    Separatist

    what i am thinking
    will never be forgiven

    men

    are destroying
    the world

    should they discover my heresy
    and they do a little more each day
    it would not be condoned

    i say to my sisters
    men
    are destroying the world

    and my sisters say
    it is not men
    who have done this
    they are not alone to blame
    it is caste and class
    it is nation
    it is religion and race

    and i say
    who has done these things
    not a one is organic
    rising like lava
    each has been planned carefully
    and executed

    executed i say
    maimed raped murdered
    poisoned drugged
    buried alive

    raped

    and my sisters say
    gender is nothing
    it is culture and the role of mothers
    the exploitation of labor
    it is not men

    and i say to my sisters
    i know what i believe
    that every crime
    has a perpetrator
    and every criminal
    has a victim
    and i do not speak of law
    written down by men
    but of ethics so cosmic
    they are of the very stuff which holds
    the world
    in balance

    and they
    and we
    the womyn
    are violated
    every moment

    of every day

    year after year

    for centuries

    and i say to my sisters
    men are destroying
    the world

    and my sisters say
    coalition androgyny
    unity
    we all must work together
    because
    men
    some men
    may be destructive
    but they can be healed
    they are only the later form
    of little boys
    poorly trained

    in a culture
    whose root and purpose
    we will not name

    and I say to my sisters
    castes yes and class and religion
    heterosexism and hatred yes
    of queers and jews and dark skinned people
    fear of nature
    animals slaughtered and held captive

    magic banned

    and the love
    of womyn by womyn
    abhorred and outlawed

    war and weapons of war
    prisons and tools of torture
    these things i will not forgive

    languages obliterated with their cultures
    and sometimes their people
    radiation and chemical dumps
    land laid waste
    minds laid wste
    the hunger of millions
    a prereqisite of society
    the domination of children
    a necessity of power

    the slavery of womyn
    a deep and primal desire

    confinement intimidation genocide
    starvation rape torture incest terror
    pain poison terror rape

    rape

    and we scream in the night
    and we agonize in the day
    who has done these things

    and i say to my sisters

    men are destroying the world

    and my sisters say
    no
    there are institutions
    beliefs and prejudices
    we must struggle to erase
    we can stop their institutions
    but we need not confront
    the ones who built them
    and want them
    and profit from them
    and love them
    and rebuild them
    and rebuild them
    and rebuild them on our bodies

    but no
    my sisters say
    it is not
    men
    not men
    not
    men

    and i say
    to my sisters
    but it is

    – Caryatis Cardea

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | January 13, 2007, 5:43 pm
  26. Whoa. This is *gorgeous*, Mary Sunshine, thank you so much for it. I love Caryatis Cardea.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | January 13, 2007, 8:42 pm
  27. Re: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

    This was always a women’s festival. Non-lesbian women were always as welcome as Lesbians. Though many women-born-female are supporting transgender attempts to gain access to women’s space, most of the lawsuits targeting such space seem to be brought by male-to-female transsexuals.

    There are numerous lawsuits pending against women (born female) who define in some way as ‘female-born women raised as girls in patriarchy’, and who claim the right to create women-only space (not only in the USA.)

    The male-to-female transsexuals who initiate these lawsuits were raised with the expectations of boys in patriarchy. I would like to know if any one of these male-to-female transsexuals has ever sued a male-only venue for the right of women to access it while he was living as a male!

    How ironic an underscoring of a patriarchal society that a person born male and raised male is being given more right to self-identify as a female than those born and raised female.

    Tells us something, doesn’t it…

    Posted by Kamado | May 1, 2007, 9:08 pm
  28. I would like to know if any one of these male-to-female transsexuals has ever sued a male-only venue for the right of women to access it while he was living as a male!

    Good question, Kamado, and great comment. I’m glad you’re here– welcome. 🙂

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | May 2, 2007, 3:18 am
  29. And nevermind that the trans activists are completely ignoring the Miss America pagent which has it’s own WBW policy.

    What fucking hypocrites but hey, they’ll never bite the patriarchial hand that feeds them now will they?

    One thing I take a certain perverse pleasure in is that all over it seems that GLBT events are biting the dust. Low to no attendance and lame, lame, lame ‘entertainment’ in the form of endless make-believe drag. The ‘Pride’ event here was cancelled months ago even though it’s not scheduled until June and there’s another calling itself ‘pride thru unity’ putting on a small show that puts out a disclaimer that it’s in no way, shape or form involved with the ‘Pride’ group that cancelled. So there appears to be infighting and backbiting going on.

    So for as much trouble as they’re giving us they’re not getting anywhere on their own. May their efforts die in obscurity & glitter.

    Posted by Amazonnight | May 2, 2007, 2:07 pm
  30. did we pass?
    🙂

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | May 3, 2007, 8:31 pm
  31. Wow, Mary Sunshine, that was creepy. That wasn’t me, it was someone who logged in as “Heart” with my e-mail but with a different IP, which I have now blacklisted.

    Asshole.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | May 3, 2007, 9:20 pm
  32. Heart,

    Change the email that you log in with to a disposable email, like h3h4gsga@gmail.com. Just make sure that it is a real email address, and that only you use it, even though it need never be used for anything else.

    Nobody but you will know what email you used.

    Blocking the IP address won’t help: IP address is usually assigned dynamically.

    Anybody who posts here sees the email address that they gave when first posting here repeated below our userid, which also appears automatically. It’s done with browser cookies.

    Somebody who has posted here before, decided to test the system to see if they could log in as you, with one of the email addresses that you have given out publiclly.

    It may have been malice, or it may just have been curiosity.

    You can make your own posts more secure by trying the strategy suggested above.
    🙂

    Mary

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | May 3, 2007, 10:11 pm
  33. Hmmm … it just occurred to me that we *all* might be well advised to adopt the same strategy. Any of our identities could be similarly spoofed.

    Mary

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | May 3, 2007, 10:13 pm
  34. Like if I wanted to be Mary Sunshine in a space that has Mary Sunshine reserved, I can get by the filters by replacing the “i’ with an 1 or l, like this Mary Sunsh1ne. Unless someone is paying close attention it can cause a lot of conflict. I remember all the tricks from flame wars from long ago at open message boards. Or I could do Mary Sonshine, but that looks obvious. What about Mary Sunshlne? One almost misses the l for the i.

    Posted by chasingmoksha | May 3, 2007, 10:20 pm
  35. Heheheheh …

    Just occurred to me that it *would* be this thread that they decided to test in … you know, the one where females object to having our identity stolen from us?

    Posted by Mary Sunshine | May 3, 2007, 10:23 pm
  36. I have been to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and I have to say that I do feel very uncomfortable with Male to Female transexuals there. There are so few spaces that women can be together and actually “run the show”. I feel violated knowing that there are people who were born men that can invade that special place that is ours. Yet, feeling this way makes me uncomfortable, as well. I don’t want to be a hypocritic and deny people rights. I suppose the only comfortable way for me is the “don’t ask, don’t tell, or don’t go at all.”

    Posted by Chris | May 15, 2007, 10:15 pm
  37. Yeah, Chris– I think most of the festival womyn are right there with you. I don’t feel hypocritical or as though I am denying anyone their rights. I feel as though I am defending and protecting lesbian, woman-only spaces because they are very valuable and necessary, and if some of us don’t defend them, we will lose them.

    I think we all know there’s a good likelihood there will be male-born people at the Festival. When I go to Fest, I don’t look for them or even think about that issue, except in workshops designed for that specific subject. I go to have a blast, breathe, sleep, heal, be me, Heart, Cheryl, just myself, unmodified, to be in the woods with amazing, amazing wimmin, to recharge my batteries, breathe Michigan air, eat the amazing vegetarian food, hear good wimmin’s music, compare tattoos with other tattooed women, walk commando in the sunshine, 😀 and so on. Those intent on their own entirely entitled, privileged, white-male-supremacist-sympathizing plans to violate and colonize women’s space get ZERO of my energy and attention, and if they are around, I don’t want to know about it.

    But if I have to, I’ll confront it. There are some plans underway this year for precisely that. Sometimes we gotta do what we gotta do, as only women can do that. Women’s space is worth a lot to me, and I will do whatever I have to do to make sure my daughters and all of the girls and women I love have it.

    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | May 15, 2007, 10:33 pm
  38. It is a rumor that Fest has a ‘Don’t Ask, *Don’t Tell*’ policy. A DADT ‘policy’ is a non-fact, lie, non-truth, made up, doesn’t exist and is only kept alive by those who either know better and want to spread the lie or those that don’t know any better.

    The persons who are intent on violating the female born only policy of Fest would love for their to be a ‘DADT’ to hide behind and I have to wonder if the transgender movement isn’t partially responsible for keeping this non-truth alive.

    Fest does not have a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy which some would read as enabling persons born male to violate the policy of female only as long as they go stealth. Persons born male are not to be on the Land.

    The female only policy is just that, Born Female and still living as a Woman. Period. Fest is for those born female only. (I know it is repetitive of me to say this, but some times it needs to be drilled deep)

    Fest *does* have an unwritten ‘Don’t Ask’ request. That part is true. Fest asks that attendees do not question a womon on the Land who may appear outside of what they think a womon should look like. This is to make sure that those women to have expanded the definition of what a woman looks like don’t get questioned on the Land, don’t get asked if they are male/men.

    Somewhere along the lines people born male and those that harbor and encourage those males to violate the policy of female only have tacked on the ‘Don’t Tell’ part.

    So, the next time anyone says that Fest has a DADT policy you (generic you) can inform them of the correct request, which is simply ‘Don’t Ask’. There is no ‘Don’t Tell’ part to it, never has been.

    Every human being on the Land over the age of five is expected to be born female and living their lives as a womon. Period. This has not changed regardless of what anyone else says, wishes, or circulates as a rumor.

    Fest is a celebration of being born female.

    Posted by uppitybiscuit | May 16, 2007, 12:51 am
  39. So true, Uppity. “Don’t Ask” is a no-brainer given Fest’s commitment to supporting gender-nonconforming females. “Don’t Tell” is about violating the policy and that’s all it’s about; therefore, “don’t tell” has nothing to do with the the policy. There’s nothing for the females who go to the Festival to worry about “telling” or not “telling” anyone. Those violating the Festival might not want to “tell” about their violations, because they want to be free to penetrate and violate freely.
    Heart

    Posted by womensspace | May 16, 2007, 3:19 pm

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