“It’s kind of coming home again,” says Robyn McTague, who’s attended the annual conference for Bold, Old(er) Lesbians and Dykes (BOLDFest) in Vancouver multiple times. For her, BOLDFest offers a sense of community that’s missing from her daily life in Richmond, BC.
“Outside of the conference, I think there’s a lot of disconnect,” she explains. “We have a few women’s dances throughout the year and that’s really it. I’ve noticed there’s started to be more meet-up groups and people trying to connect in those ways, but a lot of the stuff’s for younger women.”
“I think there’s a lot of women who feel isolated,” she says, “and who feel like there isn’t really a lot of places to connect. I think sharing our stories and our lives is just so important.”
Mary Gendron, who lives in a small town in Arizona that has little to no community for aging queer women, agrees.
Gendron had heard great things about BOLDFest, whose 11th annual gathering took place Sept 10–13, 2015, at the Coast Plaza Hotel in Vancouver. The variety of speakers and performers was unlike anything else she had seen at similar events, she says.
“For me, it’s taken me from my everyday life and put me in this rich, powerful pool of deeper conversations, deeper connections . . . deeper, more meaningful discovery about aging,” she says.
“Something that’s really standing out at this conference is the creativity — the music, the storytelling, the art. They’ve had intergenerational, older women talking to younger women, it’s been so rich,” she says. “There are so many different voices.”
Intergenerational workshops have become a fixture of BOLDFest. Gibsons, BC resident Judy Lynne, who’s attended “basically all” of the previous BOLDFests, says she has noticed a difference in the way generations interact.
“I think what’s exciting for me about being an older woman in the community is I feel really recognized and honoured in a way I don’t think I recognized or honoured women when they were older.”
Besides having a workshop dedicated to sharing across generations, the conference also subtly encouraged an intergenerational dialogue through other workshops. In one, Breast Cancer Pink, presenters Chelsey Hauge and Kate Reid shared a song they co-wrote, inspired by a blog post Hauge wrote while undergoing chemotherapy. Their work challenged the very gendered experience of breast cancer, while also allowing the women to compare their realities with disease at various points in their lives.
The result was a moving two hours of tears, laughter, singing, and, more than once, the women threw their middle fingers up and shouted “fuck you!” to cancer and the industry that’s been built up around it.
Another highlight from this year’s conference was a performance by Sheila Norgate. Her piece Seriously Funny Girl combined heartbreaking storytelling with comedy in a way that resonated deeply with many attendees.
“All I wish is that the word will spread, and enough women will continue to come to sustain this, because it’s something that would be missed,” says BOLDFest founder Pat Hogan. “I mean, all things come and go but the fact that we’ve been here for 11 years is some statement.”
There is no denying that this conference continues to play a huge part in sustaining a sense of community for many of the women who attend, whether they find a workshop that challenges their perspectives, meet new friends or partners, or simply find a place to celebrate their identity as an aging lesbian.
“This has been an honour and a privilege to be here — I’m blown away by how powerful it is,” Gendron says. “I want to do everything I can to make people aware of this conference. I think it’s been a life-changing experience.”