This week’s post is by guest blogger Bonnie Morris. She’s the author of several books including the groundbreaking Eden Built by Eves, a women’s studies professor at George Washington, and an in-demand speaker at conferences. This is an excerpt from her upcoming book The Disappearing L: erasure of lesbian spaces and culture, due out in 2016 from SUNY Press.
I rushed off, journal in hand, to camp out at my first women’s music festival just after I turned twenty. I’d read about Michigan in the copy of off our backs passed around at my young lesbian support group: since 1976, the rural Wombstock had been hosting thousands of women annually during its August week of concerts on private woodland. Rumor and stereotype abounded: supposedly, one would encounter naked Amazon separatists, political correctness at breakfast, sex in the ferns, holistic mystery food served out of barrels, mandatory recycling workshifts, Perseid meteor showers, voyeuristic raccoons, and meeting a new girlfriend named Lynx or Oak—as well as the best sound stages and production values in Lesbian Nation. I entered this community in its sixth year, August 1981, the last time the festival met on the “old land” near Hesperia. Getting there involved eighteen hours of road trip on a privately chartered Greyhound bus with sixty other defiant lesbian activists. If the journal entry I wrote after my first lesbian concert radiated euphoria, a blearier vibe characterized my writing as I headed to the Midwest that week.
13 August 1981.
This Greyhound bus is beginning to STINK. And everyone is in a couple but ME and I had to take the one single seat in the back by the tiny bathroom. I couldn’t sleep with all the boozing, the pot-smoking, the shrieks of laughter, the off-key singing along with bad guitar. Each new bus driver (and we’ve had several) has begged us to stop getting high. “Please, no foreign tobaccos,” one roared. “I’ll get stoned myself and drive right off the highway.”
Later: we are HERE! And it is an OVERWHELMING scene. I am surrounded, as far as the eye can see, by shirtless Amazons. Indeed, thus far the word I’d use to sum up my first impression of the festival is BREASTS. I confess I feel a little lost. I threw off my own shirt, had a “healing massage” at “The Womb,” attended one workshop on psychic phenomena and another on lesbian separatist parthenogenesis. Then a sex workshop, a dramatic reading of some weird play, and then the heavens opened. My outdoor sleeping nook flooded, so I took my soggy bedroll, soggy diary and soggy self to the communal chem.-free tent. Due to the sudden storm, one million women also decided to bunk down in the same community tent. I had to sleep in a rock-filled pit area one-third the space of my actual body length. I was pinned in by the Japanese woman on my right, two snoring lovebirds at my feet, and dirty guitar cases from the flooded jam tent on my left. I spent hours in the fetal position, cursing.
True to the era, within one day I caught the spirit again.
Now I’m really at home here, thrilled to be in a place without mirrors, men, or sexism. I feel Amazonesque as I wander, naked, aware of my muscles and back skin. Yesterday my feet felt tender on the cricket-covered ground, but today I run swiftly over the soft hills. I love the tahini and watermelon on my tin plate. My breasts are burnt, my feet are caked in mud, I am dirtier, grimier and sloppier than I’ve been in the two years since high school, yet I love how I feel. Our glamour is really from within! How can I have lived all these years without the joy of going shirtless? It feels so natural! Seeing the breasts of all these women adds new qualities to their FACES. This is my life choice. I have been silent because so much of what I feel has already been expressed so eloquently by others before me in this movement. But I want to capture it all, for it has captured me.
This entry records the turning point in my own life. Easily meeting women whose books I had just read in my women’s studies classes, or whose music I had played on the turntable all year since coming out, I charted a course of describing what they and others had to say. That, in turn, became what I wanted to say: this culture was important, and I was not the only one to feel that way: around me were the collected movers and shakers, agitators and theorists of the lesbian body politic. So, I listened and scrawled. I took notes in food lines, during water breaks on my kitchen workshift, by flashlight in my moldy sleeping bag at night. I wrote faster and faster when intense musician Ferron strummed her guitar onstage, and I slowed as Meg Christian sang soulful Southern ballads. I once again became the woman in the fourth row who was always writing in her journal during concerts. Others wandered off to find an orgy or a high while I did self-assigned history homework on a stump. I saw, onstage, a different kind of American Revolution altogether. One that would likely never be a test question on the AP U.S. History exam.
By 1986, my efforts to capture the scene expanded; three years of graduate work in women’s history now informed my methodology and my rationale. I was determined to write the first published book on festival culture. Armed with a battery-powered tape recorder, I attended as many festivals as I could afford each summer, simultaneously tape recording everything verbatim, writing in my journal about what it meant, taking photographs at critical moments, and — most importantly — getting other women in the audience to journal along with me. There was too much to describe for one person to get it all down; moreover, diversity and inclusion and access were part of festival politics. The views of one white grad student hardly sufficed. Now it wasn’t enough that I was writing in my journal at concerts. Everyone else had to, as well.
More about Bonnie’s work here.
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