Episode 101: Introduction to the Series

This is the first episode of the series and gives some background on the the original project.

Musical introduction:

~Mothers and daughters, womyn born womyn
and we gather in the light of the August Moon
Amazon womyn and we’re out in the woods
and we heal by the light of the August moon.
Powerful womyn , creative womyn!
Dancing in the light of the August Moon.
Girls and womyn in the Michigan woods.
And we love by the August Moon. ~

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Welcome to the Wanted Project Podcast.  Since this is the first episode, I’m going to start off with a little back story to give people who are unfamiliar with the project a sense of our origins and then perhaps touch on what I see as a vision for our future.

(funky bass riffs)

One of the first things that is important to talk about is the connection we have to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Not in any kind of official capacity, but the project was created by and for members of that community

Michigan, for me, was a place where I saw so many different kinds of ways to be female.

Minor things to some people, perhaps….

But…like….I really had no idea how hairy women could be.  It seems like now, maybe 28 years later, from the first time I went to the festival, that, (chuckles) “why didn’t I know that?”  it just seems common knowledge, you know.  But – I’m not a hairy person so that was like, “oh -wow – I didn’t know that!”  You know?  And…

That’s because it’s SO common for women to shave, pluck, wax, laser, hair remove, electrolysis …I mean, this is like a 4 BILLION dollar industry – hair removal – aimed mostly at women.

And  – what’s funny is that it’s so common for women to remove their body hair that we think of THAT as natural. Like – of women NOT having body hair as natural, and women HAVING it as unnatural.

So…These kinds of things got challenged the very first time I went to Michigan, I was like “whoa!”.

Full-on beards or mustaches or something like that – I mean it wasn’t a lot of people – but it was some people ….and you’d just be walking  along the path and be like “oh my god!”  You know, like – “This is a way that women can be!” like everything I saw!

And even, like, our different sizes and shapes.

I think most women have issues with their body that they might think….

“Oh, I’m not very pretty… or I’m not very shapely in a way that’s acceptable, you know, out and about.”

I mean – you never see women who look like me on TV being portrayed as if they are beautiful.  Or you know, even, like, not repulsive.  That’s a whole other extreme.

I feel like my goal was indifference. I really didn’t want people to have an opinion about my body, or my presentation or my clothes.  And all that kind of stuff.  I didn’t want the kind of attention that you get from men if they find you attractive.  Some people do – but I didn’t.

So, Michigan was mind blowing – it was a place that I fit in.  And there was a level of safety…and a sense that you could be vulnerable in a way that you turned off your instincts.  I don’t think women realize how on we are all of the time.  Like we have this sort of fear factor or something that’s just always making us conscious about where we are and who’s around us. And in Michigan, we didn’t have to have that because there were only females there.  Or – it was supposed to be that way.

I don’t think that I’m someone who is seen as male in my presentation.  Maybe here and there some people “sir” me  – but it doesn’t happen all that much. You might think that it would because of the way I dress or whatever.  It doesn’t really happen that much.

I think it might if I was less curvy – if I was not as fat as I am…. And I was able to sort of hide my curves.  Then maybe it would happen. And, it certainly did happen when I was younger and smaller.

But when I was a kid being someone who people mistook for a boy.  I never thought I looked like a boy.  I always thought it was weird that they thought I looked like a boy.  Cuz I didn’t think I looked like a boy.

And – It would be like me going into the bathroom, of course, bathrooms have always been a big issue… and somebody telling me that I’m in the wrong bathroom – and “this is women’s room – this is the GIRL’s room” and I’d just go , like, “I know” and go on in.  And sometimes it REALLY upset people to the point that they called security, only to find themselves embarrassed by having gotten it wrong.

I know that a lot of people themselves feel embarrassed about it.  And you know, that can go either way.  You can end up feeling embarrassed that people get it wrong and you’re subject to deal with security and stuff like that.

But I always thought it was more embarrassing for them.  But, you know, I could see why women would be concerned with men in the bathroom.

I don’t think it takes much to really look at somebody – to look them in their eyes.  Stop looking at their hat or their shirt or pants or whatever outfit they got on.  Look at them!  Like, You can generally spot someone who is just a gender non-conforming woman.

Michigan was a place where, as a female, you were seen as a woman.  Like, It was the one place that I know that women could be fully bearded and hairy and muscular and all kinds of different presentations, and not be questioned.  For one week, have noone saying “are you going in the right place?  Are you IN the right place? “ This is one of the things that was a real perk at Michigan for years and years and years.

And what changed it being that consistently was the challenge to the boundaries of it being intended for females.  People got really paranoid.  Like, they stopped being able to trust that the intention was being respected.  So that informed the experience for a lot of different women.

And it got to be a really hard and sad thing.  And that’s not just for the women who are suddenly not being recognized as women.  It’s hard for the women who really need female-only space.  For whatever reason.  So that they can be vulnerable in a way that they don’t feel safe being in space that’s not female-only.  That might mean they feel safe to take their shirt off in a way that they wouldn’t in a space space that included makes.  It might mean they feel comfortable talking about trauma in a workshop.  But if those boundaries are being challenged and disrespected, you’re quite certain that anybody would do that is not somebody you feel safe around.

And, talking among ourselves about how we could change THAT – as we’re also considering how to fight the effort to frame the intention for female space as hateful for people who are not female….How can we also start working at making this go back to what it was –  which was welcoming space for women born female who didn’t present in socially common ways.

Somebody suggested that we should make wanted posters for males who were known to be attending.  But that was like “oh no, no no – that’s not the way we do things” kind of, you know, response from everybody in that conversation.

So, I suggested we make wanted posters for what we actually DO want.  And among the people in that conversation, we discussed some things, we tweaked some language and we made a sort of fake, wanted poster like a western style old school wanted poster.

And it said…

Wanted: Women like Nedra (pictured above)….who have been disappeared by assumptions.  Women who were born and assigned female, but who present in ways that the world determines as masculine/not womanly.  Women who are assumed to be trans men when they do not identify as men or trans men.  Women who expand the possibilities of what it means to be born in this life female.  You are wanted, you are loved, and we want you to know it.

So that was the first version.  We also had a girls version:

Wanted: Girls like Nedra (pictured above) – whose nature may or may not conform to what the world says a girl should be or can be.  Girls who just want to be themselves and are still figuring out what that means.  Girls who won’t accept the limitations that are projected on them just because they are girls.  Girls who define girl and who refuse to let it define them.  You are wanted, you are loved, and we want you to know it.

So those were the basic two.  There were a few variations for people who felt a little bit differently around the language.

But it was basically the same intention, across the board.  People assumed that everybody who participated of the grown folks were butch-identified.  That wasn’t true. I don’t think that everybody was a lesbian-identified, though most of us were.

It was just an attempt at getting people to look – and when they saw the posters, that they would THINK before suggesting to a woman that she didn’t belong there – or asking a woman if she belonged there or whether she was actually a woman.

I mean. And sometimes this was – when this happened – it happened in different ways.  Sometimes it was people who were worried that there were people violating the boundaries.  And sometimes it happened in ways where there were people who were trying to be welcoming to those they assumed were trans men.  Because they felt that the festival should be welcoming of women who were born female, trans women and trans men – like anybody basically who wasn’t a non trans man

There are a lot of women who identify as women who get assumed to be trans men because they are gender nonconforming women. And yeah, that can happen in Area 51, but the one place it shouldn’t happen is in the space that is specifically determined for womyn who were born female.

So festival was, again, the one place, where for one week, they didn’t have to deal with that kind of bullshit.  So that’s where the WANTED project came out of.  We made these posters

In total, we had 80 posters for the first go-round.  And it seemed to be a powerful, moving experience for a lot of people.  We had a sort of colored version, the photo part was black and white but the print out was colored in a way that it made it look like an old poster or something like that.

We laminated them and we hung them up in an area where you can hang sort of artwork stuff at the festival.  And, in addition to that, I made regular old Xerox copies and hung them up in what we called the porta janes – that’s one of the things we also did as a culture (laughter), is like – communicate through flyers in the bathroom.  So those were put up – a lot of those – I made smaller versions of it and those were taped up in the restrooms.  And I got a lot of them.  So we had some back stock of them – and it was good because they kept going missing.  At the time, because there was this hostility from people who thought that the intention should change. We thought “OMG – this is not even hateful!  Why is this being a target of that kind of thing where they’re taking down our flyers?”

As it turned out, we heard from women that they were so moved that they were sort of collecting them like baseball cards.  That’s how moving it was.  The ones we had left over at the end, women were just in the box, collecting them.  It was a very powerful experience.

Interesting for me, because I’m not a visual artist.  It was interesting to put something together that people were moved by that was more a visual art kind of thing.

And I think it did work.  It did help have women not be asked if they belonged there.

There are a lot of intentions that the festival is built on.  NOT just the intention for female space.  There were intentions that were there and honored in place – not necessarily even all spoken ones.

There were things like, if you smoke, carry an altoids tin and put your butts out in the altoids can and collect them.  Like you didn’t go around the land after a concert and see thousands of cigarette butts.  It’s not like any other place with that. We didn’t have a concert end and then find garbage everywhere.  And it’s not that people didn’t have snacks and drinks and whatever they brought with them – they just…cleaned up.   They took whatever they brought and was garbage afterwards so they took it with them.  And that’s just the way we were as a community.

There’s an intention to do workshifts and people did them.

There’s the intention to not ask women if they’re in the right place – if they belong where they are.  Like, we were meant to assume everyone who was there was female.

The reason it wasn’t a “don’t ask don’t tell” kind of thing, like outsiders often projected.  It is more that we understood the value of not asking women if they were female, that not questioning women about their gender in that space – that was held at a higher value than whether or not somebody was actually violating the intention for female space.

YES, it was possible to attend the festival as someone who was not female and get away with it.  And you COULD interpret that as “don’t ask don’t tell”.  But “don’t ask don’t tell” was a little more of a “it’s ok to be gay in the military and we’re just not gonna talk about it.”

And, for the festival, it was more like “we’d like you to respect this intention for female space. “ and people were able to choose not to do it.

This is probably the best way I can put it: Not enforcing a boundary is not the same as inviting you to violate it.   And if you think it is…. I mean – who thinks like that!?!

That we didn’t want to enforce the boundaries – that we wanted them to be respected….was NOT an invitation to violate them.  But that was often what males thought.

The value in allowing women the experience of not having to answer questions about how they look; of not being told in some implied way that they are outside of woman because they do not conform to social stereo types was held at a higher value.

We valued giving women that space, more than we worried about whether some people might exploit that.

The focus was always on women – females – that’s what our focus was: on creating space for females.

So….moves were not made to ensure those not intended were not there.  We focused on what we wanted – just like in this Wanted Project.

And again, when I talk about intentions, I think it’s really significant how much the community was built on intention.

For example, I’m sure if you go to any major music festival, especially one that costs as much as $500.  You will see armed security and 12 foot fences with razor wire.

We had, literally, a wire fence…no higher than 3 feet tall.  You could easily step over it, and yet people really didn’t do that.  That’s amazing!

And…The festival also worked at making the event accessible to women of different means.  So some women paid more if they could – it was a “more if/less if” practice.  Some women paid more if they could, and others paid less if they couldn’t.

And – you could apply for a scholarship of sorts. To where, maybe, instead of paying $500, you’d pay $300 or $200. Depending on your needs, you could just ask for what you needed.  And ways were made to get women there of varying economic resources.  So, I think all of that is important when we talk about the community that was being built and the intention for female space – and especially what it meant for women who maybe didn’t fit in with “woman” in the larger world because of stereotypes and social expectations that didn’t fit them.

So all of that said, let me just get to the vision for this podcast.  What I hope to do is either interview women or allow us the space to tell our stories.  To bear witness for each other in whatever ways we’re comfortable doing within this medium.  I’ll post the podcasts as both MP3 and MP4.  My thinking there is that some people might be comfortable being on camera.

Basically, that we’re going to be talking about our lives.  Maybe we’ll tell how we came to where we are now…

Maybe we’ll share our baby pictures compared to what we look like now.

Just to sort of add to the possibility of bearing witness for each other.

It’s perfectly understandable if you’re not comfortable with that. I don’t expect all of us have attended Michigan.  You don’t have to be butch or femme, or have any kind of label on yourself.  You don’t have to be a lesbian.

You just have to identify with what we’re talking about….being a female who doesn’t fit society’s expectations for female – beyond the fact that you’re a female.

We know that society has a prescription for what we’re supposed to do as women, for what we’re supposed to like and be good at.

And a lot of us don’t fit that.

That doesn’t put us outside of woman.  That puts their expectations outside of reality.

So again – I want to say Welcome!  I have some people in mind that I’m going to start the series with.  And if you identify, and you feel like you want to share your story, you can get in touch with us and we’ll work out a way to make you a part of it.

In a sort of Michigan tradition in this new medium, we’re planting acorns, and I’m here to tell you “Welcome Home”.