Tag Archives: Woody Blue

What IS Lesbian space?

By Woody Blue

In 1979, Womonwrites emerged as an lesbian only conference held in a public space in the South. It was structured as a writer’s conference. The founders of the conference recognized the need for lesbian space and were not apologetic in their approach to forming it and defining it as such.

Lesbian space is hard to find. It is different from women only space. Women only space grew from consciousness-raising groups in the 70’s. Women only groups gave women the breathing room needed to define themselves as women. They were able to see more clearly that because they had been born with a vagina, they had been assigned a subservient role in a patriarchal structure that put men at the top. Men decided what women would wear, how they would look, what jobs they could perform and what pay they would receive. From these women’s groups, a feminist analysis of patriarchy was pieced together and women, feeling empowered by this new understanding, dared to challenge patriarchal ideas and systems.


Lesbian space is hard to find. It is different from women only space.


Lesbian space grew out of the women’s groups. Straight women partnered with men and their discussions included that at the end of the day they would return to their male cohorts. Women who came out as lesbians faced a double threat. Not only did they not agree to conform to stereotyped sex roles; they also chose not to center their lives around men. Lesbians only wanted to focus on lesbians; empowering themselves and not spending their time, energy and skills providing for men. Their focus was clearly and decidedly on women.

And with that, by 1979, Womonwrites was born.

Womonwrites 1979Before I came to WW in 1986 I had been very involved with the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. To put it in a nutshell, it was a 52 acre farm bought by women and peace groups to create a women only community, putting feminist values into practice. It was situated adjacent to the largest US nuclear military base in the country which warehoused nuclear weapons and shipped them overseas to US bases in European countries that were NATO allies. The purpose of the camp was to train women in all aspects of nonviolent civil disobedience as well as learn and practice feminist principles in order to build a more peaceful world. There were sister encampments in England, Scotland, Germany, Sicily and a few other countries. It could be said that women world-wide were organizing to get rid of patriarchal structures by taking the fight to the U.S. military. The peace camp was our practice space.

I had only been out for 3 years before stumbling into WW in 1986 and I clasped my lesbian identity around me like a warm blanket that occasionally reverted to a suit of armor.
I found myself as a lesbian in public, structured lesbian space. It was like having a lesbian discussion group magnified 400 times. I didn’t have to explain myself; I didn’t have to explain my sexual preferences; I didn’t have to guess if someone at the conference was a lesbian or not. She was a lesbian; no need to ask. This was enormously freeing as I was used to walking in a predominantly straight world, where I’d been told 1 in 10 was gay.

Upon arrival at WW, I immersed myself totally. I was from the North yet I was welcomed because I was lesbian. I didn’t consider myself a writer, but I was welcomed because I was a lesbian. I hardly knew anyone but that was fine. There were plenty of lesbians that wanted to meet me and wanted to hear about the Peace Camp.

I remember my first reading. I refused to stand on the stage. Instead I insisted on being on the grass and shouting my poem about being a curious housecleaner that invented stories about the people she cleaned house for by searching for clues under the bed and in the wastebasket. I refused to read it; instead memorizing the 3 page poem and strutting up and down on the grass.

At WW, I was given the freedom to be who I was, to break the rules, to explain my life experiences. WW, as safe lesbian space, allowed me to grow into my lesbianism, and encouraged me to take writing seriously. This is something that I could not have accomplished in a straight women’s writing group, in a mixed male and female writing group, in a trans, queer, or bisexual writing group. I needed and still need a lesbian writing group. I don’t see that ever changing.


At WW, I was given the freedom to be who I was, to break the rules, to explain my life experiences. WW, as safe lesbian space, allowed me to grow into my lesbianism, and encouraged me to take writing seriously. This is something that I could not have accomplished in a straight women’s writing group, in a mixed male and female writing group, in a trans, queer, or bisexual writing group.


Over the years, WW has attempted to keep the conference lesbian and to keep it safe. In the last 10 years, there have been efforts from some lesbians attending, to open the conference to the queer, bi, and trans communities. This would invite a male presence into the conference and it was strongly opposed.

In the last several years, there have been women who have challenged the definition of lesbian space. Their argument is that males that have transitioned are now women. If they have women lovers, they are also lesbian and now they should be allowed to come into lesbian space. The counter argument is that transitioned males are NOT women. They have their own set of gender role disparities and they do not become women just because they say they are women. Males do not have the right to redefine what a woman is. This is not all there is to the arguments but it does state the crux of the matter.

The last 10 years this issue has not gone away from WW. There have been some women who have shared their thinking in the readings. There have been a few workshops to explain various points of view. Not everyone attends workshops. There is little time to have an open discussion with all members of the WW community during the conference. As a result, there has been no concrete open public dialogue. Rather, there have been closed private discussions, mostly among those wishing to change policy.

The DispossessedDespite our differences, WW has been a safe environment for lesbians. Throughout the years, I’ve always felt safe to speak my mind regardless of whether we were engaged in arguments over SM issues, health issues, or what to pay the cooks. I have always felt that my interests were taken into consideration when decisions are made.

Last February, after years of discussion about opening up the lesbian writer’s conference to queer and trans women, the planning committee voted to change who would be allowed to attend the conference. The planning committee was well aware that there were many lesbians who strongly disagreed with opening up the conference. There had been a stormy debate on the WW FB page. It was not a good place to hold this discussion. Though most of us tried to keep it polite and respectful, it was not always so. There were women who weren’t on FB who couldn’t participate in the discussion. There was an occasional person chiming in that had never been to WW. It was agreed to close that discussion and pick it up at the planner’s meeting.


Last February, after years of discussion about opening up the lesbian writer’s conference to queer and trans women, the planning committee voted to change who would be allowed to attend the conference. The planning committee was well aware that there were many lesbians who strongly disagreed with opening up the conference….It was never stated that a decision would be made at that planners’ meeting.


It was never stated that a decision would be made at that planners’ meeting. Not everyone can get to the meeting and I rely on having all lesbians’ opinions brought into the decision-making process and consensus being reached. In my memory, that is the way it always has been. The planning committee now says they have always voted on decisions; however, I and others say this is revisionist. Be that as it may, the decision was made.

Lesbians opposed to this decision argue that people born with penises can NOT become women through medical interventions, can NOT change the definition of women to suit their needs, can NOT be a women because they feel like one. Much has been written on this, yet most lesbians have not heard the arguments, and have not been able to have public discourse on these issues. Lesbians and others that raise these issues are quickly shouted down, and referred to as bigots and the new slur word of TERF, short for trans-exclusive radical feminist. Concern and protection of lesbian space is translated as trans hatred and transphobia.

Lesbians who agree with the decision claim that they are evolved; that they are open-minded; that transwomen have suffered from misogynistic society and need our support. The claim that anyone can be a woman because he says so, whether that person is on hormones or not, whether that person has a penis or not, whether that person has no lived experience as a woman is accepted by many lesbians as well as queer, transgendered, bisexual, and all the other gender variations that have popped up lately. These are people first in line to throw stones at women born women who raise a fuss.

It has come down to this. There are lesbians and feminists who strongly oppose the intrusion of men to redefine who a woman is and who occupies women’s space. Revising the definition of women to include men who insist they are women takes away the ability to have, create or maintain women only space. And, of course, that underscores the definition of lesbian and makes it impossible to create and maintain lesbian only space.

This year, the planning committee, voted to change the mission statement of WW. The statement now reads, “Founded as a lesbian conference and reflecting lesbian values, WW is a gathering of lesbian writers and others who may identify differently but know they belong at a lesbian writer’s conference.”

This past spring, the WW conference was open to those others who identify differently but know they belong at a lesbian writer’s conference. It was no longer lesbian safe space. A number of lesbians who disagreed with the decision refused to attend. The people that did participate, attended workshops and ate communal meals in a tense atmosphere. Those that supported the new participants deserted the public areas for the most part and spent their time in the loud and rowdy cabin. There was some intermingling, and there were some intensely hostile moments.


This past spring, the WW conference was open to those others who identify differently but know they belong at a lesbian writer’s conference. It was no longer lesbian safe space. A number of lesbians who disagreed with the decision refused to attend. The people that did participate, attended workshops and ate communal meals in a tense atmosphere. Those that supported the new participants deserted the public areas for the most part and spent their time in the loud and rowdy cabin. There was some intermingling, and there were some intensely hostile moments.


Personally, I am distressed and downright outraged that we have lost public lesbian space. Womonwrites community, as part of the larger lesbian nation, is now divided and the division comes in the form of whether we are willing to protect men who say they are women. Having attended WW for over 30 years, I am now marked and targeted as a hater, a bigot with a restrictive attitude. I’m told I belong to a group of old white cis women, the tofu-eating and Birkenstock wearing generation who refuses to evolve. My opinion doesn’t count and neither does anyone else who stands by me. I seem to be standing in the way of progress.

I refuse this description of me and I refuse to back down from my opinions. Pressure is strong from the trans community. Lesbians all over the country are looking for lesbian space with lesbians that were born with a vagina and have lived experience from birth as female.

The only lesbian space I now know of is this Gainesville Lesbians Reader’s Potluck group and the Lesbian Writer’s group that is meeting irregularly. I’m asking this group to confirm that this is a lesbian only group holding the definition that lesbians are born with vaginas, and that we not change that. Even if there are lesbians that align themselves with the trans community, I ask that they not lobby to change the nature of this particular group.

With all of the hatred flowing in this country at this time, I would like to have one safe spot as a lesbian, a woman born lesbian. There is a lot more to say, and I would like to propose that lesbians who feel strongly about this issue meet and form a study group or a book group or a support group, whatever feels appropriate. I would like all of us to engage each other in discussion and work out agreements that are acceptable and not trample on opinions or disrespect each other or name call.

I do not want to see the Gainesville Lesbian community divided. In these troubled times, it is more important than ever to maintain lesbian space and keep it safe.

By Woody Blue