I would like to introduce you to: “To Be Continued,” a new section of PQ Monthly where we can safely talk about topics and issues facing us within our community. We all engage in and hear rumblings about stressors in our very diverse family—however, we often do not talk about them outside of our immediate spheres of influence, thereby keeping us safe from hearing opinions other than those similar to ours (social media has made that easy). With “To Be Continued,” we will engage our readers in meaningful and mindful discussions and serve as a bridge to create better understanding of one another. I must stress that conversation will be monitored and we will not allow hate speech in any form [PERIOD]. The opinions shared in this section may not be that of Brilliant Media LLC, or any of its publications, its only intent is to share our community’s truths and move to a better place of understanding. Know our goal here is to facilitate respect and discussion. The rules: We all have the right and responsibility to look at every issue from all sides and be fair in our presentation of the facts, and the first step of this is seeing all sides of ourselves and being fair and honest in our self-assessments. It starts with us as individuals, and extends out to transform our lives, our communities, and the world. We are all in this together—so please, let us all speak our truth with kindness and love, and make room for each other to do so. After all, we are all breathing the same air!
Today’s politics of gender are new to many who were politically active in the last century. The politics of patriarchy—sexism and racism—seem alien to those being politicized now. This new column, To Be Continued, will be a forum to bridge the generations and to foster dialog and tolerance.
Identity is Power
By Renee LaChance, Special for PQ Monthly
Everyone has an identity and a personal life journey. When you find kindred spirits along the way, it is affirming, nurturing and healing. My first time experiencing that was at the Northwest Women’s Music Festival in Portland. (Important to note: in the ’70s and ’80s, any event that said “women” was code for “lesbian.”) That first concert filled up my senses. It was The Dyketones: a rock and roll band of dyke musicians in ’50s and ’60s drag—proud dykes performing with slicked back hair, poodle skirts, saddle shoes, leather jackets, flat tops, and bouffant hair dos. They sang recognizable songs from my favorite ’60s radio station with a twist. I laughed, I hooted, and most of all, I felt pride. It was the most powerful experience I had had as a lesbian.
Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, says, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” That is certainly true for the lesbian community. In marginalized communities, identity is power. Historically, lesbians have given up their identity and power for the greater good.
In the mid to late ’60s, on the coattail of the civil rights movement, women began fighting for their liberation and the freedom to be their authentic selves. This second wave of feminism began 40 years after the suffrage movement that won women the right to vote. Though lesbians led the movement, we were asked to straighten up for the good of women’s liberation. Some lesbians opted out while others remained active and hid their identity and orientation so the women’s movement could move forward.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, we thought we could be visible as lesbians in our own community, so many of us worked to add lesbian everywhere the word gay was used. For example, we wanted Gay Pride to be Gay and Lesbian Pride. It would take years of struggle for lesbians to be recognized and included. For too long we gave up our identity and our power.
In the early ’80s the AIDS pandemic began. Lesbians stepped up to care for their gay brothers as the U.S. government and their families gave up on them. Lesbian visibility had to be put on hold to work on the politics of the AIDS pandemic.
It was around this time that a lesbian and gay counseling center in Portland called Phoenix Rising started a women-only event at Breitenbush Hot Springs called Women in the Woods. We took over the entire camp and closed it to men so we could commune with Mother Nature and frolic au natural if we desired. Attending this summer event was the only time during the year we felt free of the misogyny, sexism, body shaming, and homophobia that we dealt with on a daily basis. It was the one time of the year we could take off our protective shields and revel in our authentic selves. It gave us time to heal and rejuvenate so we could go back to our lives and work on the hard issues: healing from abuses of the patriarchy, helping our gay brothers die with grace and fighting injustice. It was the second time I would feel completely affirmed within a group.
For three decades, Women in the Woods was respite for the lesbians who dug the yellow brick road to equality. The lesbians that were the founders, volunteers, and donor base for the organizations that birthed Oregon’s acclaimed LGBTQ community.
Over those decades, we were used to being pariahs of the mainstream culture. We banded together at “women’s” events and used code words to identify ourselves to one another in public places. The term woman born woman became a term of empowerment for lesbians in the twentieth century; it set us apart from the mainstream culture. It defined our margins. It represented pride, self-esteem, and self-acceptance. It was an identity that alerted us to others like us while shielding us from patriarchy and rape culture. Now, the vehemence directed at us for embracing that identity is causing fear and distrust. We feel marginalized and it is a direct assault on our identity. One more time we have to give up our safety, history, and our power for a greater good that does not include us.
While there is some transphobia amongst lesbians who identify as women born women, it is not the majority. Instead of trying to erase the identity of a generation of women/lesbians/dykes by shaming and bullying, let’s use empathy, education, non-violent communication, and tolerance to change hearts and minds. It will take us much farther than name-calling and ultimatums.
To me one of the definitions of woman born woman is surviving girlhood in a patriarchal culture. As more and more trans girls are allowed to be girls, the less this will be an issue in our community. As we all evolve to that place, the work we did in the ’70s and ’80s should be respected and the dykes who claim woman born woman as their identity should have the freedom to do that and be with others who identify that way, too. I hope this column can be a springboard for the thoughtful and civil conversations necessary to bridge this divide and move everyone to common ground. The conflict is marginalizing our matriarchy.
Renee LaChance cofounded Just Out, Oregon’s lesbian and gay newsmagazine, in 1983 with Jay Brown and a handful of forward thinkers that embraced diversity. She was a trans ally before the phrase was coined and identifies as a butch woman born woman who loves women, and vaginas. She is the winner of the Spirit of Pride award in 2000, the Pride Pioneer Award in 2012, and the Brilliant List in 2015.