Alright, I’ll admit, I was caught in a moment of weakness, and for a brief moment, my politics went out the window. It was December — the darkest month of the year. I was newly single, and the image of thousands of sweaty, half-naked women dancing around a campfire was too tempting to pass up. So despite my discomfort with the Michigan women’s music festival’s women-born-women entrance policy, I filled out an application to volunteer at the annual event.
I got home last week to find a cheerful yellow postcard announcing that I’d been selected to join the volunteer crew on “the land” this August. But despite my desire to spend a week among miles and miles of delicious dykes, I couldn’t imagine entering the festival’s gates unless the wonderful trans women in my life could join me.
Because as much as I like to idealize radical lesbianism, I’ve recently had to come to terms with its troublesome history. And in the same way that in the 1980s, liberal feminists had to confront their own internalized racism and make space for women of colour, modern-day dykes are questioning the discrimination inherent in a biologically determined definition of what it means to be a “woman.”
The general consensus among all of my queer friends is that the principle behind Vancouver Rape Relief’s decision to reject Kimberly Nixon’s volunteer application is outdated, and represents a dinosaur-era interpretation of gender. And even though the Supreme Court Of Canada recently rejected Nixon’s appeal, effectively allowing Rape Relief to continue discriminating against her for being trans, many other women’s shelters have expanded their entrance policies to include women with different gender histories.
Still, it’s the stain of transphobia that prevents a lot of young women from embracing the label of “lesbian.” And I worry that this is leading to a dilution of women’s experiences, as so many of us rally under the umbrella of “queer.” Allyson Mitchell agrees, and is working to articulate a new vision of lesbian identity that she calls “Deep Lez.”
Mitchell, an academic, artist and founder of the fat activist group Pretty, Porky And Pissed Off, describes Deep Lez on her website as being about “rescuing lesbian and radical feminism from being forgotten or discarded. At worst, people gag on the word lesbian – forget about being able to affiliate themselves with it.”
Mitchell wants to “call attention to this misogyny and at the same time tweak lesbian feminism into an inclusive, contemporary urban context. She suggests that like the term “queer,” lesbianism can and should become a label that anyone can choose to embrace.
“The lez of Deep Lez is the reclaiming of lesbian, the opening up of the identity to be inclusive of anyone (regardless of gender or sexuality race or ethnicity) or any practice and theory that fits under the organic hemp umbrella that is Deep Lez,” says Mitchell.
Mitchell’s comments make me giggle because they remind me of Lisa, the “lesbian man” character on the L-Word. They also describe the two wonderful men I live with. Because it’s a toss-up as to who is the biggest lesbian in my household. I can’t decide if the award should go to gay roommate #1, who regularly cranks up the vintage Indigo Girls CDs, or gay roommate #2, who dons his “Dyke March 2001” T-shirt while making curry and discussing anti-oppression theory.
I can’t imagine better allies in the struggle for women’s equality. And though I recognize the need for certain exclusive spaces, I wonder if the dykes running the Michigan fest remember that it’s the patriarchy, not the penis that needs to be abolished.
It disappoints me when the feminists that I admire don’t get it. Like the musician Bitch, who recently defended Michigan’s entrance policy in an interview with Lesbian Life, saying “…it’s not trans people being marginalized. It’s people who were born as men. The festival is for people who suffered a girlhood.”
To Bitch and others who agree with her, I ask you to imagine what it could be like to “suffer a girlhood” while also being forced to play the role of a little boy. While many of us suffered through the indignity of being a girl in a patriarchal world, those of us lucky enough to be born into bodies we’re comfortable with need to recognize our privilege, and check it at the door. Or at the gates of any music festival.
So I’ll be living on the land this August. But I’ll be pitching my tent at Camp Trans.
To support Camp Trans, come hear folksingers Rae Spoon, Kristin Bell-Murray and Melissa Laveaux at Club Saw, 67 Nicholas. Fri, Mar 17 at 7:30pm.