I came out in 1990. I was sixteen years old. The term “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” gave me a certain power as I walked the hallways of my rural high school with my favorite girl. It spoke to a knowing that I had community, and that I had decided to not be ashamed – even as said girl and I got shoved around, verbally harassed and punished by our parents. It provided me with a slogan that made me feel like I had strength in numbers. It gave me a framework to understand and celebrate my outsider status.
That was more than half my lifetime ago now. Since then, I have been deeply involved in the issues of my LGBT community. I have spoken on LGBT panels at high schools and in churches. I have done AIDS outreach in bars and on railroad tracks. I have organized rallies. I have attended rallies. I have donated money. I have attended too many vigils for our dead. I have sat through endless coalition meetings. I have celebrated with you. I have mourned with you. I have shown up. I am not bringing this up for the sake of being self-congratulatory. I am bringing this up to say that this community raised me. And to say that I never imagined I would find myself standing on what appears to be the wrong side of the line with this community– especially as it relates to our shared and unique LGBT liberation movements. Then I fell in love with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
Like many women who love the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I have been deeply troubled over what is happening within the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. Yes, we are wrestling with a definition of woman that upholds the significance of socialized experience as well as self-identification. No, this has not been easy. We are a community of women with a lot of varying thoughts, beliefs and convictions. We do our best to listen to one another respectfully. We have been called upon by women inside of our community and by the larger community to examine the boundaries of our autonomous space. We are doing that, pretty much 24 hours a day. I can guarantee you that no other conscious community is working harder or thinking more about the politics of women’s autonomous space than the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. We have engaged each other in heated conversations, we have brought one another to tears at times, and some of us have made the very hard decision to step away while some of us have made an even deeper commitment to the sustainability of the festival regardless of our position on the inclusion of trans identified women at the festival. In the context of these interactions, there is a general understanding that while two women may not agree on this topic (or the myriad of others that have come up over the years),that each woman has a common love and respect for the festival and a desire to contribute to the community in a way that will benefit everyone involved. I have friends who have told me that while they may disagree with me, that they love and respect me all the more for my participation and voice in our discussions. I feel their love and respect. I believe them. And I love and respect them back.
For the most part, I have chosen to engage with friends and in face-to-face conversations with people in my community rather than lend my voice to the multitude of threads and “debates” about the festival that are taking place all over the Internet. I have had a couple experiences recently that have changed my mind.
The first of these experiences was reading an article that was recently published in “The Advocate” entitled “Is It Wrong to Play Michfest?” In this article, the producer of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was referred to as a “liar” and compared to George Wallace. There is a loud voice in our LGBT community that is actively calling for the villainization and defamation of a woman who has devoted her entire adult life and career to building up, creating and sustaining a place of safety, strength and celebration of the women who make up a large percentage of the LGBT community. The effort to erase her work and reduce her legacy to that of a public enemy of the LGBT community, a “bigot” and a“false feminist” (are you kidding me?!) is ridiculous, cruel, appalling and simply not acceptable. Whether you agree with her feminist politics or not, Lisa Vogel deserves a whole hell of a lot more respect than that.
Then I received a series of private messages on Facebook in response to a statement I publically posted on a page called “Allies in Understanding” The first message simply said, “I am anti-Michigan and I did not like your post.” Another that said “Not at all” and another claiming “We will succeed at tearing that place down”. It is relevant to mention that nowhere in my post did I even make mention of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It is not the first time I have heard the term “anti-Michigan” or seen threats about “tearing it down”. Those messages did get me thinking though and they ultimately inspired me to write this letter.
Yes, this is addressed to the person who sent me those messages, but I am also addressing this to the larger LGBT community. Why? Because recently there has been a tremendous amount of very bad behavior that is being celebrated, supported and carried out in the name of LGBT activism. I am addressing this to the larger community because so many of you have entitled yourself to weigh in on the current controversy surrounding the festival, but almost no one (outside of the Michfest community) has been compelled to speak up when someone has made threats of violence or rape against the women in our shared community – under the name of “equality” and “civil rights”. People in our own LGBT community are calling lesbians “irrelevant”, “stupid”, “outdated” and “un-evolved”. We are being told that we deserve to “be beheaded” and “raped by woman-born-dicks”. We are being invited to “evolve or die”, “fuck off” and to “go die in a fire” and so much more. This abuse is happening in public forums on the Internet and in the comment sections of mainstream LGBT news outlets. No one is saying a damn thing about it, unless it is to say that we have brought this upon ourselves by our own fear and bigotry. Part of the painful irony of these hateful messages is they all come in the name of gaining entrance to a space where women have gone to seek refuge from this kind of hateful messaging, let alone very real threats that often accompany it. My dear LGBT community, how is this acceptable you? Your silence is a betrayal. Your silence makes you complicit in the damage and injury that is being caused. I am holding you accountable.
To reduce and neglect the scope and significance of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the contribution it has made to the lives of thousands of women in the LGBT community is unjust and irresponsible. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is far more than the sum of this current hurtful and divisive situation. For 38 years, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been a constant evolving exercise in radical hospitality. For thousands upon thousands of women, it has been a place of acceptance, safety and love unparallel to any other place in the world. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is a place that has devoted its entire existence to building community, promoting female artists and empowering women and girls. It has always been and continues to be a place that houses and celebrates all forms of female gender presentation and female bodies. It is a place that has taken itself to task on the issues of racism, classism, ableism and ageism. It is a music festival that has repeatedly forgone corporate sponsors and still manages to provide the nutritious meals that are included in the price of a festival ticket for every single woman who attends. This all-inclusive ticket also entitles every woman on the land to community health care, childcare, emotional support, and workshops. ASL interpreters interpret every set of every single stage at Michfest. Every communal space is wheelchair accessible, made so by women who get on their hands and knees in the blazing sun (or pouring rain) and drive nails into the ground through upside down carpets. Great effort is taken to make sure that every woman on that land knows that she is wanted, that she is welcome and that she is precious among us. It continues to be a place that prioritizes the environment and care for the land that the festival is built on. Every single piece of garbage gets picked up by hand. In the months between festivals there is not a trace of festivity left behind. I almost resisted the urge to contrast this to some of the disgusting messes I have seen in the wake of some of our Dyke Marches and Pride Celebrations, but I will not. We take pride in cleaning up after ourselves. Yes, we have a great time in those woods, but oh how this community has worked and continues to do so.
I am not ashamed of my love for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I am not ashamed of the community of women who embody the spirit of it. There is too much to love, too much to be proud of, too much at stake and too much to work toward still. To me, a larger LGBT community that does not comprehend or acknowledge the value of a place like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has not evolved itself out of the need for it. The erasure of one of the most radical and revolutionary spaces on this earth is not a revolution I will ever embrace. To work towards the extinction of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival with no regard for her legacy, complexity and relevance or history is short sited, selfish and careless. I will work so hard to see that this festival survives any best efforts to “tear it down”. I will do this with my words, my actions and my checkbook, just like this community has taught me to do when something matters deeply.-
YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION TO REPOST THIS IS ITS ENTIRETY-
Radfem Reboot has exceeded every last one of my expectations and hopes– what a wonderful, amazing, fabulous conference. Probably three-fourths of the women attending (and there are many, far more than I expected to be there) are under 30 years of age. Thrilling! The workshops have been nourishing, inspiring and energizing, every one of them. Kathleen Barry’s keynote was stunning, as was the consciousness-raising that followed. Indigenous women from Vancouver B.C. have presented workshops and panels on how colonialism, genocide and patriarchy have created generations of prostituted women and girls, raped women, murdered women, missing women and shared their ongoing strategies of resistance. We have heard from Lierre Keith, Renate Klein, Susan Hawthorne, Sam Berg, others, and I presented as well, and it went so well, and I am so pleased. Today we’ll hear from Cathy Brennan and Maggie Hayes and will finish with a social this evening. The food has been delicious. I hugged Lucky Nickel and Stillwater and Cathy Brennan and Lierre Keith and Susan Hawthorne and Renate Klein and Kathleen Barry and Maggie Hayes and Sam Berg and Allecto (many times! had a wonderful dinner with this beloved young woman), and Kat and Emzy Femzie and Bunny from Michfest and Pisaquari! I met some women who live close to me, exchanged contact information. My heart is so full, I feel so nourished, I have so much hope, once again.
Cathy Brennan, a lesbian, was attacked at the New York City Dyke March this past weekend by a group of trans women and their supporters, one of whom was an organizer of the march. Cathy was one woman and she was targeted by a group of people, one ringleader of which acknowledges she “lost it.” Cathy used her one voice to speak her own truth and assaulted nobody.
This is despicable behavior, unconscionable and disgusting. To be silent about it when speaking up is possible, to ignore it, to fail to acknowledge it, would be wrong. Hence, this post.
There is some fallacy of human nature that allows people to view practicing as women only as exclusion rather than inclusion. When we gather in an all women rite we are offering a sacred space for the benefit of those attending – the rite is for women, especially if the focus is Women’s Mysteries. Those rites center on menstruation, birthing, and cessation of menstruation, all functions of women who came into this world at birth as female. Even if the rite does not focus on those Mysteries, women need sacred space to grow and heal from growing up in a world that often excludes, puts down, or otherwise attempts to control them as the “less than” gender. Coming together in this way has nothing to do with excluding men – it is about giving women a place of their own.
A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.
Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus,two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximilian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.
While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 – 518 CE) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life“. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today…
Prof. John Boswell, the late Chairman of Yale University’s history department, discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient Christian church liturgical documents, there were also ceremonies called the “Office of Same-Sex Union” (10th and 11th century), and the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century).
These church rites had all the symbols of a heterosexual marriage: the whole community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar was conducted with their right hands joined, holy vows were exchanged, a priest officiated in the taking of the Eucharist and a wedding feast for the guests was celebrated afterwards. These elements all appear in contemporary illustrations of the holy union of the Byzantine Warrior-Emperor, Basil the First (867-886 CE) and his companion John.
Such same gender Christian sanctified unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (‘Geraldus Cambrensis’) recorded.
Same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe list in great detail some same gender ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century rite, “Order for Solemn Same-Sex Union”, invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, and called on God to “vouchsafe unto these, Thy servants [N and N], the grace to love one another and to abide without hate and not be the cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God, and all Thy saints”. The ceremony concludes: “And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded”.
Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic “Office of the Same Sex Union”, uniting two men or two women, had the couple lay their right hands on the Gospel while having a crucifix placed in their left hands. After kissing the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.
Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.
The Dominican missionary and Prior, Jacques Goar (1601-1653), includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek Orthodox prayer books, “Euchologion Sive Rituale Graecorum Complectens Ritus Et Ordines Divinae Liturgiae” (Paris, 1667).
While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.
At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope’s parish church) in 1578, as many as thirteen same-gender couples were joined during a high Mass and with the cooperation of the Vatican clergy, “taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together” according to a contemporary report. Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century.