Most of all, I didn’t expect to meet Lynette.
June 18, 2019 10:09 PM   Subscribe

I didn’t expect to have a profound reckoning with my relationship to my own lesbianism and womanhood. I didn’t expect to make friends I hope to keep for a long, long time. I didn’t expect that spending a few days with a couple thousand lesbians on a floating hotel/casino/mall/amusement park would push me to radically reconsider the future I’d been carefully and painstakingly planning for myself.
Shannon Keating went on an Olivia cruise, run since 1990 by the legendary lesbian record company and didn't expect much beyond having a good time. It ended up overturning her entire life.
posted by MartinWisse (40 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
I absolutely loved this story! And now want to go on an Olivia cruise.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:32 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


This was one of the best things I've read in years.
posted by k8t at 10:39 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


i had tears in my eyes. i hope these crazy kids make it.

but also, it does sound like an utterly affirming experience. hope olivia seriously considers making their trans-inclusivity more explicit.
posted by cendawanita at 10:51 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


That was lovely.
posted by twirlypen at 11:07 PM on June 18


That was delightful, both in style and content.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:16 PM on June 18


What an incredible writer, and DAMN do I feel the big dyke energy come through. So many thoughts.

The only lesbian space I’ve ever been in was a huge lesbian night at a bar in my hometown. I can’t fathom what it felt like to be on that cruise ship. I’m incredibly jealous, but also fall into the millennial “are you kidding me I can’t afford that” slot as well.

I would feel most at home with all the trans ladies and the enbies/genderqueer folks included, I’m so glad she brought that up. I don’t even know quite how to classify my gender identity or expression anymore. Does it matter more how others perceive me, or how I perceive myself? (This is a topic Contrapoints hit on in one controversial video and a subsequent followup about how much perception factors into whether someone is a woman, in any definition of the word.)

I want everyone to be extended the same grace and flexibility I’m trying to extend to myself, because this shit is hard, and knowing that I would be more welcome simply because I outwardly present female feels strange and exclusionary. And in saying that, realize that part of why I feel that way is because I’m afraid of being excluded from lesbian spaces because I’m bisexual and use she/her pronouns only because nothing else fits better, and I’m not sure I would feel so at home on a cruise like that after all. (But let’s face it, there will probably never be a bisexual gendercurious cruise.)
posted by Snacks at 11:59 PM on June 18 [10 favorites]


I am happy the author had a positive experience! I hope she keeps having positive experiences. I found this infuriating, though.

From the first link in the post:

Later in the week, Tisha Floratos, the vice president of travel for Olivia, told me that she and her staff think about this a lot. “We’ve talked about how we begin to promote inclusivity while also preserving our core: that this is a company for lesbians. We don’t publicly, historically, say that we’re trans inclusive, but we’re always welcoming to our trans guests.”

At the Gen O meetup, the hairdresser mentioned that most of the paying customers on board are older women who’ve had an extraordinarily difficult time navigating life as lesbians; they deserve a space, she said, to fully be themselves. Maybe Olivia could do a specific queer-plus trip for trans people and gay men? Being in a space with “someone who looks like a man,” she said — horrifying me, Jamie, Matie, Dana, and a bunch of others — “can cause these women so much trauma.”

The room exploded. Eventually, after a few minutes of impassioned back-and-forth, the group’s conversation wrapped up more or less amicably. But I left the meetup keenly aware of how much there was for all of the cruise’s passengers — despite what we had in common — to disagree about.


ah, yes. how welcoming.

...our identity still hasn’t been able to shake the sexist, classist, and anti-gay stereotypes of lesbians as uncosmopolitan boomer TERFs, sporting Tevas and cargo pants covered in cat hair.

oh, I feel so bad for you, for the terrible injustice of people thinking your space is lousy with TERFs given your own statements like five minutes ago in this very article, including examples I didn't quote verbatim.
posted by bagel at 12:35 AM on June 19 [12 favorites]


Snacks: let’s face it, there will probably never be a bisexual gendercurious cruise.

I agree with the exact wording you've used here, though maybe not for the reason you wrote it. I believe we are unlikely to have any sort of curious or questioning cruises, because the uncertainty implied by those terms is at odds with the commitment required to fund and organize big events.

I think it is more likely for trans or trans-and-friends organizations to continue growing than for cis-centric events to attract their audiences. The kind of cultural shift Olivia would have to pull off to get me onboard looks super hard and unlikely - even compared to a new cruise getting off the ground.
posted by bagel at 12:52 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


I'm a straight, CIS woman (twice divorced, btw) who absolutely hates rom-coms and believes that "love-at-first-sight" is truly impossible. Yet, I loved this story.

Go figure.
posted by she's not there at 3:25 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


She seems kind of negative on cats....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:05 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


“I just don’t understand some of these women,” she said, looking around the room at the joyful group of dancing lesbians. “Why do they insist on making themselves so ugly? I’ve never gotten the whole butch thing.”

Worth noting that once the TERFs are done with trans women, they'll move on to butches. This "ooooh, we treasure our butches, WHY must they be pressured to be men" thing is total expediency.

I’ll admit I wasn’t necessarily expecting Olivia to be a hub of sexual energy. I thought I’d mostly meet a lot of Midwestern, dutifully monogamous couples in their fifties and sixties

Yes, here in the midwest we're all boring and terrible. No one has sex in the midwest except occasionally, as a duty. No sex please, we're midwesterners. All real queer people turn eighteen and move to New York or San Francisco, where they uniformly have kinky, fabulous sex, wear exciting fashions and successfully practice polyamory with no bad feelings or break-ups.
posted by Frowner at 5:37 AM on June 19 [51 favorites]


What a story!!
posted by Sterros at 5:46 AM on June 19


This piece so deeply affirms that in-person communities and convenings are important for groups where people have a hard time finding each other and making time to have big deep conversations together.
posted by brainwane at 6:05 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


wow

it sounds like hell for a trans woman. i don't expect i'd feel much more welcome or desirable there than i have in other so-called inclusive lesbian spaces, where i've mostly felt tolerated

her bathroom experience sounds a lot more like sexual assault than "bad sex."
posted by polyhedron at 6:32 AM on June 19 [12 favorites]


her bathroom experience sounds a lot more like sexual assault than "bad sex."

Oh, yes, I am not here to invalidate her agency, but god damn, that fuckboy-woman was out of line. She was still on the toilet, Christ. That story haunted me a little. It takes a lot to make me feel like Brad & Janet, but the whole scene here kinda does it.

I am so glad she found love. It is an extraordinary pairing that would not have been possible elsewhere.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:40 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


That was interesting to read, and obviously it was important and exciting for her. I hope the company finds the courage and desire to make the cruises genuinely more inclusive (rather than supposedly accepting, but not talked about at all).

And I agree that the bathroom scene was more gross than just "bad sex," which frames it more as a neutral thing that happens to two people equally, rather than an inappropriate thing that was done by one person. But it's also fine and probably healthy for people to reframe experiences in ways that make them feel better, or more in control, or that don't trigger bad memories or whatever.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:46 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


cw mostly for talking about the fucking transphobia (and man, maybe the whole post should have one?):

Yeah this article...this was sort of a bummer to me. Both simultaneously reminding me how hungry I am for lesbian community — and lesbian experiences are different; we really do need our own spaces, too — and how it doesn’t really exist anymore bc too many people insist on being terrible. Like they kept using the word “inclusive,” but it was because they either didn’t understand what the word means or because they were really committed to the gaslighting. Trans lesbians are lesbians. The only way that becomes difficult for you is if you’re a bigot.

I think it’s sort of ridiculous to assert that they’ll be coming for butch women next; they haven’t done so for the entirety of the existence of modern queer culture. There have always been women who didn’t find MOC women attractive or who got weirdly homophobic about it, but that’s categorically different from the sort of...existential? rejection and hatred of trans women. And that kind of makes it worse. They’re ok with nonconforming gender presentation in some prescribed ways, but not in others. It puts the bigotry in relief.

Anyway. Maybe I’ll win the lottery, in which case look for my AskMe, “how do you find someone to help you organize a nonshitty festival?”
posted by schadenfrau at 7:24 AM on June 19 [18 favorites]


Re: the bathroom scene: yeah, YIKES. I’m glad that she didn’t shy away from showing the ways women can be terrible, but she might find she feels differently about that over time. (“The consent element”...Yeah.)
posted by schadenfrau at 7:30 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


I think it’s sort of ridiculous to assert that they’ll be coming for butch women next; they haven’t done so for the entirety of the existence of modern queer culture. There have always been women who didn’t find MOC women attractive or who got weirdly homophobic about it, but that’s categorically different from the sort of...existential? rejection and hatred of trans women. And that kind of makes it worse. They’re ok with nonconforming gender presentation in some prescribed ways, but not in others. It puts the bigotry in relief.

But don't you think this is some kind of weird retread of all that seventies (and IIRC my Dorothy Allison correctly eighties) "butch-femme is gross and retrograde, everyone should be androgynous in this very narrowly construed way that doesn't look feminine but certainly isn't masculine - this is what it is to BE A WOMAN" stuff? That's what I'm seeing.

I'm in a weird position as a masculine AFAB person who would like to transition but de facto can't - I'm often in queer spaces where I'm read as some variant on butch, which is weird, because to me "butch" isn't just "masculine-looking" any more than "femme" is "wearing a dress"...there's a whole bunch of history and culture there and even if I identified as a woman I would be an utter failure as a butch.

But anyway. My experience does not suggest the same kind of hatred of butch women as TERFs have for trans women, but there's some weird stuff. Like, when I'm read as butch I notice that everyone simultaneously wants me around to represent queerness visibly AND does not want to be me, or be like me, or date me. It's great to have masculine AFAB people there because you're certainly not closeted if you're walking around with us, but at the same time there's this subtext that we're weird or creepy or at best totally nonsexual parent figures. I could really easily see this kind of tokenization turning very fast.

I would add that people's experience varies hugely by social worlds, so I'm sure that there are social spaces where MOC women are welcomed and valued, but my experience has been that things are very weird and often uncomfortable.
posted by Frowner at 7:36 AM on June 19 [17 favorites]


butch-femme is gross and retrograde, everyone should be androgynous in this very narrowly construed way that doesn't look feminine but certainly isn't masculine - this is what it is to BE A WOMAN" stuff? That's what I'm seeing

Oh yeah totally agreed. But I see this as coming, paradoxically, from the younger queer camps that are just as likely to deny “lesbian” as a valid identity and to follow that up with “fuck TERFs.” (And indeed, fuck TERFs.)

Like the youth...they think, as they always do, that they have figured everything out and that they are the truly open minded, but they are instead close minded in different ways. And yeah I suppose it’s nothing new.

The result is that there’s no where really safe to just...be. Sometimes I wonder if this is the price of increasing mainstream acceptance*: we don’t need to accept each other as much. Like as queer people assimilate, and those who have greater access to privilege leave those who don’t behind, we lose cohesion (amongst other things).
posted by schadenfrau at 7:54 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]


(Probably worth remembering that even our worst enemies aren't a monolith. I've encountered TERFs who absolutely do have a hate-on for butch women, right here in the present day, no "next" about it, and others who valorize butchness as one component of the Good Old Right Way of Doing Things, Before The Spread of Harmful Gender Ideology. The situation gets even muddier when you include ordinary mostly-apolitical women with unexamined TERFy beliefs, rather than just the militantly political contingent. I think in general, the most salient group is the one that hates your particular gender, or the one that you've had the worst first-hand experiences with.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:05 AM on June 19 [12 favorites]


Worth noting that once the TERFs are done with trans women, they'll move on to butches

Most of the activist TERFs I've seen have presented pretty dang butch (at least to an outsider eye), to the point that I've seriously wondered if it affects the TERF dynamic.

It seemed quite striking to me that they were willing to have self-identified trans guys there--who are men--and yet tolerate such nonsense about trans women and needing to preserve it as a "women's space." You have men there.

They're a very cute couple and I wish them well.
posted by praemunire at 8:47 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


It seemed quite striking to me that they were willing to have self-identified trans guys there--who are men--and yet tolerate such nonsense about trans women and needing to preserve it as a "women's space." You have men there.

Well, they don't think of trans men as men - just butches with false consciousness.

~~

I think that marginalized groups always expect "organic" solidarity - like if we just get into the right formation, we'll have natural, easy solidarity that won't be based on exclusion or a common enemy. We'll just all be similar and we'll all get along. We expect this because we look at, eg, rich straight white men and think, "aha, they automatically guard each other's interests and get along, that's how it's supposed to be". Or we model it on an idealized notion of family that we didn't actually experience - that the "natural" family is loving and caring because it's a family.

Of course, family "solidarity" is inevitably based on hierarchy and power, and often on silence, repression and violence; solidarity among rich white men is an intentional strategy to preserve power, not something natural or real. So we're misunderstanding our models in the first place.

So we go to GLBTQ spaces with the desire for this effortless, organic, natural solidarity, and then whenever anything happens which reminds us that it's not effortless, organic and natural, we panic or get angry, and we use "you outsiders don't belong, that's why we don't have authentic solidarity" rhetoric. This would be such a lovely, comfortable party except there are trans people/people of color/people doing gender wrong/sex workers here.

I think there really are moments of effortless, natural solidarity, but they're specific to circumstances (I just realized that I'm parroting Adorno here). So maybe you're at an event and there's this fantastic, moving speech or performance, or everyone has just had a wonderful meal/day at the beach/dance party/etc, and nothing went wrong, and everyone has been having a very good time. Or when you win a political victory, there's a moment of organic solidarity. You don't get those all the time.

Happy, enjoyable togetherness always has to be about negotiating difference. We can either "negotiate" it by trying to ban it and creating negative solidarity ("this is a space for CIS LESBIANS only") or we can accept that happy, enjoyable togetherness requires some effort and some structure, with people making the effort and facing the discomfort of dealing honestly with difference, and with structures that support this.

I think it's really natural that marginalized people wish for this organic solidarity and wish for conflict-free spaces that don't require a lot of effort and negotiation. It seems like it would be fair with the rest of the world being so fatiguing and garbage so much of the time.

It's just, like, hard work to maintain those spaces. Also a lot of that work is invisible - how many activist spaces run on, like, two people doing everything behind the scenes? - so people think that it is or should be natural, at least until it falls apart.
posted by Frowner at 9:05 AM on June 19 [29 favorites]


It's just, like, hard work to maintain those spaces.

God, it so is. I just got back from the convention that my wife helps run (on the board of the nonprofit and as the safety officer of the con) and it went really smoothly this year for the first time since she joined. And this was entirely because they added about five more people doing full-time volunteering (including wrangling all the people who were willing to do an hour or so of work) and the organizational structure to keep everything working and take as much into account as the budget and manpower would allow. And the biggest conflicts that remained were of the sort where no one is in the wrong but also no one is going to be entirely happy.

And this was after a schism where the people who weren't interested in doing any of this work, or settling for being not-entirely-happy so that other people could be better than completely unwelcome, have left (or been asked to leave.) They're running their own con later this summer. I hope that it doesn't cause anyone serious harm; that's as far as I can manage to go.

I've done the lesbian-only-space thing (long ago and far away) and man, as much as the rhetoric was trying to be inclusive around women who present differently than average, and was explicitly welcoming of "butch" people, it was very clear to me that that approval was entirely conditional on having exactly the right political stance that excluded anyone who did not meet the approved definitions and identities. I'm sure it felt very comforting to people who fell squarely in the center of those ideas and identities, but I mostly just felt like I was waiting for the pitchforks and torches to turn my way.

You can't manage behavior by attempting to police identity. It doesn't solve the problem and it creates a whole lot of other ones, including encouraging other behaviors that are entirely destructive. And because it doesn't solve the problem, it feeds into the fear and rigidity and drive it in the first place, and then you have TERFs. Some of whom are absolutely falling into gender policing of butch women who they claim to support.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:52 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Okay, this was an absolute fucking delight of an article.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:56 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


It's just, like, hard work to maintain those spaces.

sadly, the only ones I've seen IRL that have lasted for any length of time had at least one trustfund kid at the center of it. Which...has its own problems.

I've done the lesbian-only-space thing (long ago and far away) and man...it was very clear to me that that approval was entirely conditional on having exactly the right political stance that excluded anyone who did not meet the approved definitions and identities

ok wait, are you implying this is inherent to a lesbian only space? and not, somehow, to a queer only space? or to a space dedicated to any other marginalized group? or am I reading a generalization where none was intended?
posted by schadenfrau at 9:58 AM on June 19


ok wait, are you implying this is inherent to a lesbian only space?

I'm specifically talking about Michfest, actually. I don't have any particular experience in organized queer-only spaces, although it wouldn't surprise me if they had a lot of the same problems.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:20 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I found this article pretty uncomfortable. Did anyone else catch themselves skimming a lot of paragraphs? There's a lot of ad material for Olivia in here, almost as much as there is of her personal story, which I realize was part of the deal, but not something I care to read. Even if the company is owned by lesbians.

There's the rapey bit, the hand-wringing about trans women (who don't have a chance to represent themselves anywhere in this article), the judgey, bourgeois woman buying her a drink after karaoke. It sounds like a pretty exclusive space, and for me, it wouldn't actually feel that safe. You're constantly being measured against people's expectations of womanhood and gayness-- just like in the rest of the world. And those tickets are mad expensive. The author acknowledges the drawbacks of this, but she's still able to experience that space. I, and a good deal of other small-town queers I know, never could. That, and the lionization of urban gay womanhood, which is out of reach for me because of urban rents-- hmm. Her experience of lesbian culture is almost completely beyond my reach. How much would it cost me to access a safe lesbian space? I've never been in one.

I guess it's thought-provoking. Between class lines, political lines, and the lines of biological sex, there aren't a lot of allegiances actually available to me. Bummer.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 10:23 AM on June 19 [12 favorites]


the hand-wringing about trans women (who don't have a chance to represent themselves anywhere in this article)

For whatever it's worth, I felt pretty great about her handwringing on our behalf. I thought it was a good enough, clear enough acknowledgement of the problem, and I'd rather she wrote the article and acknowledged the problem than not have written it at all.

(Though yeah, I share your sense that these cruises are Not For Me, for reasons beyond that one alone.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:03 AM on June 19 [9 favorites]


I read this just as a love story, and it's a good one, but I feel bad for her partner. Your sweetheart goes off on a business trip, and, bam, you don't have a sweetheart any more. They were buying a house together. There can't have been a lot of warning. What is done out of love is beyond good and evil, but damn, that's harsh.
posted by ckridge at 11:06 AM on June 19 [6 favorites]


Man, if your relationship involves mismatches about kids, where to live, your sex lives, and monogamy-or-not, it shouldn't be *quite* that much of a surprise when it ends.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:14 AM on June 19 [16 favorites]


she's not there: ...CIS woman...

Tiny clarification - cis doesn't need capitalized mid-sentence. There's a myth cis is an acronym, but it's an adjective, originally from organic chemistry, where it basically means "on the same side." In that context, it's the antonym of trans ("across/on the opposite side").
posted by bagel at 11:19 AM on June 19 [10 favorites]


A more trans-inclusive lesbian/queer women-focused space might look more like A-Camp, which Keating mentions briefly. I've never been, but they prioritize having trans guests of honor and have partial discounts (or camperships) funded by the community. It's still very expensive though, and tends to skew younger.
posted by storytam at 11:46 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Hooo boy, did this essay hit me in some very specific places, as someone who just came out as queer in terms of my sexuality over the last few years and is now figuring out my gender identity, and who has found so much joy and acceptance in queer spaces, but is worried about how "my gender stuff" is going to impact that. So both the stuff about how amazing it can feel to be in a queer space, and the weirdness/generational divide around gender are extremely pertinent to me. (not to mention that I'm in my late 30s, so that generational divide, while it's not absolute, is right around my age, maybe a bit older, so I guess it's not a surprise that most of my new queer friends are younger than me).

The first time I went to a queer dance party, like, it wasn't even that great of a party (way too many people, barely any room to dance, super-sceney), but I just felt this euphoria. I was barely out and hanging out with a bunch of queers I barely knew but everyone took me under their wings and was so kind to me and just the energy of being in a room with hundreds of other queer people being themselves and actually able to breathe was amazing.

Overall, the queer community I came out into has been really gender-inclusive (is that the right phase?). Trans men and women, non-binary folks, butches, femmes, etc., not to mention a surprising amount of racial diversity for the mostly-white city I live in ... I'd started to think that this is just the way things were now and maybe all that weird TERFy stuff was just online? (Naive, I know!)

But before I started dealing with my gender stuff, I (AFAB) had decided to audition for a women's LGBT performing group in my city. The other day I got together with someone who used to be in this group and got the scoop from her. And yeah ... it's kind of a mess when it comes to trans stuff. Especially from a loud but vocal minority of older women who tolerate but don't really welcome trans women, and don't want it to be open to bi women or transmasculine people, for instance. And that just makes me feel like I don't really want to be a part of that group. Even if it's just a small but vocal minority, I'm in a pretty fragile place with my gender identity and any community I join at this point needs to be a place that will support that, not make me doubt myself or feel like I need to hide.

And I think that's one problem with the whole "where are all the lesbian spaces going?" question. There's room for queer spaces, no question about it. And I think there's room for lesbian spaces too, but ... I just don't think it's realistic in 2019 to put a lot of restrictions around what that means. The community I have been getting involved in probably looks from the outside like it's a lesbian community (mostly AFAB people and trans women) but it's not - it's a queer community. And ... it's actually thriving. There are events every week, there are actual spaces, there's a whole (small) economy, there's a whole web of relationships. It's thriving because it's inclusive.
posted by the sockening at 6:21 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I feel like I'm missing why people are swooning so much over this. Yes, it sounds like the relationship with her partner needed to end because there were some serious mis-matches, but this sounds like a crappy way for that to happen. Plus, a bunch of people have pointed out on twitter that the same partner she's criticizing as Peter Pan-esque was putting down a downpayment on a house with her. And there's lots of subtle and overt transphobia and transmisogyny (plus the strange stereotyping of non-binary and androgynous people as immature) thrown in. Meh.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:20 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Just a tiny, polite observation: The prefixes "cis" and "trans" did not originate with chemistry, but are ancient Latin word parts used in many different disciplines to denote being on one side or another of an object.
posted by seasparrow at 7:42 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I am dreadfully ignorant of the realities of LGBTQ spaces. The only comment I feel comfortable making is that the camera adores Lynette.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:08 PM on June 19 [2 favorites]


It's worth mentioning (and it's odd to me that the article didn't explore this) that Olivia Records, precursor to the cruise company, included a trans woman (Sandy Stone) who was their sound engineer for several years during the 70s until outside TERF agitation made too much trouble for her. These conversations aren't new.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:28 PM on June 20


I was reminded of this thread when I saw Daniel Mallory Ortberg's latest piece, which I think I may just link without commentary in all future discussions of women's-specific space.
posted by bagel at 9:45 AM on June 23 [4 favorites]


I kinda wish that places/groups that claimed to be inclusive would just be explicit about it.

Decades of not wanting to take up space and intrude and even though I am a woman, I still worry about taking up too much air in women's spaces. So I exclude myself when I don't know how inclusive they are.
posted by anem0ne at 11:48 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


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