By Rand Hall
I think it is important that there is a permanent record of the death of Womonwrites, the Southeastern Lesbian Writers’ Conference as a lesbian only/woman only space. In 2018, after 39 years, the publicity states that anyone who thinks they belong is invited to attend with a specific welcome to transgendered people. This is being done under the banner of inclusivity and diversity. Those that do not want males (people with a penis, growing up as males or currently identifying as male and claiming male privilege) at Womonwrites are now considered “opposed to diversity.” There is no recognition of the diversity among (woman-born-woman) lesbians: Southern lesbians, West Coast lesbians, black, brown and multi racial lesbians, Latina lesbians, old lesbians, teen age lesbians, newly-out lesbians and old dykes, single lesbians, never married lesbians and recently divorced lesbians, blue collar and professional lesbians, new writers and published writers, mothers of sons and child-free lesbians. And all of these diverse lesbians and many others have attended and been welcomed at Womonwrites. It is not that straight or bi women or a transexual has not attended in the past for they certainly have. But as non-lesbians, they were not specifically made welcome and their non-lesbian issues and experience were not a focus.
I was part of an email discussion among Womonwriters who were not in the Facebook discussion of non-women-born-women (trans people) welcome at Womonwrites. That Facebook conversation can only reflect the opinions of those women on Facebook and on Facebook during the few days of the discussion and those willing to post in that public forum. At the request of a few of those non-Facebook email writers, I am sharing some of their words. These were written just before and immediately after the 2018 Womonwrites planning meeting held in Atlanta.
On Feb 2, deJoly LaBrier wrote:
. . . . There are not enough places where we can experience lesbian only space. I too feel ok about other women taking men/trans as partners, that’s their business. But if an event or place is designated lesbian only space, I feel that should be honored. Womonwrites was always a lesbian writers conference, until the trans population began moving into it. Now there are several who come and want to bring their partners who may also be trans but feel they are lesbian now. Although I can’t imagine all that entails for them, I see lesbians as women born women who love women born women. I’m not sure I can go to WW any more, unless I assume and accept that it is no longer a lesbian writers conference.
On Feb 2 , Linnea Almgren wrote:
WW is a lesbian writers conference, by and for lesbians. Welcoming all the other gender types of the world makes WW something else, with a different focus and basis. I attend for the feeling of lesbian unity. If it becomes a sexual diversity conference, I am likely to drop out. . . . . . Of course, I maintain that WW, as a lesbian writers conference, can only continue to exist as a lesbian venue. If non w-b-w lesbians and other males and hetero women are included, then the focus changes. I could not share myself in the same way. I would experience this kind of diversity as a violation of my lesbian self. It is unlikely I would put myself through the struggle even this one more time.
Again on Feb 4, Linnea Almgren wrote:
as for a lesbian having a trans partner…that is her business….but at Womonwrites, I would not welcome her trans partner. I do not feel she is respecting her lesbian sisters if she insists her trans partner should be able attend. Even if one trans is allowed….it is no longer lesbian…the door has been open..usually, it cannot be closed. I do not have resentment against trans…to each his/her own. It was hard enough for me to accept who I was…to embrace that I was a lesbian and I was ok. I do not mind going to events with trans, but I would mind if it was a lesbian event…I feel that is an invasion.
On Feb 4, Iris Laudy wrote:
First, some of the trans population who call themselves women and/or lesbians destroyed Michfest. This was a refuge and space I and thousands of other womyn-born-womyn were sustained by for decades. For me, the loss of Michfest remains an open wound.
Second, some of the trans population who call themselves women and/or lesbians are now attempting to encroach upon the lesbian only Womonwrites space. I don’t want that to happen.
Our womyn-born-womyn lesbian spaces are under covert and overt attack. I am totally opposed to this insidious intrusion. We must stay Amazon strong so we can preserve the lesbian womyn-born-womyn traditions we so carefully created.
On Feb 4, Linnea Almgren wrote:
Somebody who does Facebook please post the following message for me. You have all said it so well — at WW and everywhere else — wbw lesbians are healed and strengthened by lesbian unity and lesbian visibility in ways the focus on gender diversity can never provide. If WW changes from a lesbian writers conference to a gender diversity focused writers conference, I won’t want to be there.
On Feb 4, Jan Jennings wrote:
Even though the transgender issue has been decided, I would like to comment to this issue because I just joined the fb discussion today. . . . I must say, there are experiences that form our womanhood that are not shared with transgendered women. And that speaks to our writing, our feeling of safety to write and share whatever is in our hearts, and to many who have been traumatized by men, our feelings of personal safety.
In school, I was often the child in the class who made the best grades, but the boy who had done the best was introduced as the best student in the class. As a former teacher, I can tell you that statistically teachers do call on male students more often. Male dialogue is seen as more important in academic situations. Girls are supposed to perform in an average way, keep quiet, and fade to the back so that male students can shine.
I had a period with all the embarrassment and pain that entails. I felt the emotional rise and fall that going through puberty means for a girl. My point is that while transgendered woman have had their own trials . . . . . they are not the trials that formed a woman born woman . . . . . For me, shared experience is very important in my sharing of writing. I love WW because it is a very safe place to share . . . . . So, I will attend WW with a very open heart, but I do wish there were somewhere, some event, where woman born women were allowed to flourish as a group with shared experiences and like mindedness. . . . .
On Feb 5 Barb Stoll wrote:
It boggles my mind that lesbians are still so afraid to protect lesbian-only space. I will protect Lesbians and their space with my last breath. I support LESBIANS and that does not mean that I am not sympathetic to transgender people and would fully support their right to be who they are. BUT, that doesn’t mean it has to diminish my right to Lesbian only space just as my right to lesbian only space should not diminish their right to space of their own. I will fight for my lesbian sisters and their right to NOT BE ERASED!!!!
On Feb 6 Jan Smith wrote:
The decision made at WW is so sad. I feel betrayed by the women at WW who fought for me, lesbians, in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s….all the years. When I attended WW the last years…I was inspired, in awe…so many lesbian women that thought as I did…had my hurts and my dreams. I was floating on a cloud…finally a space for me…. Now, I find out , I have no say in including men in my space. They may act like women, dress as women, think they are women….but when the clothes come off, the makeup removed they are men with a man’s heart and penis. My question, if I attend WW…will I be expected to sleep in a cot next to a trans…take a shower in their presence…will the name be changed, as it will no longer be lesbian WW….all my adult life I have been in a straight world….finally, I had thought I had found some place to feel safe, to be with lesbians….. now, I am suppose to be accepting of men, trans, in my lesbian space . . . . . just so sad….
On Feb 6 Barbara Stoll wrote:
I hear you sister. My heart is broken. . . . The whole situation is very sad to me. The loss of yet another space for lesbians to be their authentic selves without any male anything.
On Feb 6 Jan Jennings wrote:
Me, too. I am rethinking going again. I thought I should go try it since there is really nothing else. But when I think of the betrayal, I realize that my attendance may be taken as approval. I also do not want to be sleeping, showering, etc. with a man. It’s extremely sad for me, too. Sometimes I wish I had been born a bit earlier so that I could have more experiences of lesbian spaces before they all disappeared. Sad.
On Feb 6 Barb Stoll wrote:
As with anything worth having and keeping it must be fought for, continually. Unfortunately, the younger generation of lesbians do not see this as worthy of their efforts. They are in a different place, having been able to get to that place on the backs of their foremothers hard won efforts.
On Feb 6 deJoly wrote:
Me too… I have withdrawn my name from the WW Facebook page and I will not be going again. My space that I thought was safe for me to be free to speak about my most intimate lesbian life, is now gone… betrayed by my own sisters is right… just not going back.
On Feb 7, Jan Smith wrote:
I am correct, I think, in saying WW has been going on for over 30 years. Everyone knew it was a lesbian event. When some of the women have trans partners and they cry because they cannot attend…well, they knew it was a lesbian event. Respect for the others who attend seems to not be on the table. Wow…because of a few, my lesbian space has disappeared. I am suppose to look the other way and it be ok??? Inclusive for all…wow…so much power a few seem to have. I find it very upsetting, very sad….I am old…but being in the company of lesbians was very important to me. . . . .
On Feb 5, Barb Stoll wrote:
Is anyone posting these responses on the WW Facebook page? They should be there. I am not on Facebook or I would post them.
On Feb 7, Rand Hall wrote
Womonwrites has been my home and my family since 1979. I, a woman-born, woman loving lesbian, am now attacked as wanting to be with “like-minded old lesbians,” like this is an offensive thing. It may still be called Womonwrites but it is no longer a place I
want to be. –– Rand Hall
Here is the language that was voted on and overwhelmingly passed at WW Planners’ Meeting 2018: This inclusiveness statement will be in the WW information, and on a large sign near our registration table.
Womonwrites is committed to providing an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome and is encouraged to participate at their desired level. We continue to review our policies, behaviors, activities, and attitudes toward these goals. Within workshops and throughout the conference, we will engage in some facilitated and some unfaciltated discussions to stimulate and assist in shifting our internal and external experiences with outreach and inclusiveness related to but not limited to race, age, gender expression, gender identity, class, ability, and ethnicity. Founded as a lesbian writers’ conference and reflecting lesbian values, Womonwrites is a gathering of lesbian writers and others who may identity differently but know they belong at a lesbian writers’ conference.”