What is Women's FEST?
It started at the turn of the millennium, as CAMP Rehoboth eyed expansion of its community center and programs.
A small group of women, the CAMP Rehoboth Women’s Project, put together a half-day event in April 2001. This Women’s Conference hosted speakers addressing topics such as health, financial planning, and legal protection for lesbian couples banned from legal marriages. The morning conference, upstairs at the Rehoboth Library, was a sell-out at 75 women.
Now, 19 years later, sold-out means over 2,000 women, a four-day party in downtown Rehoboth, celebrity comics and musicians, a welcome dance party, a giant tea dance, a golf outing, pickleball and cornhole tourneys, book signings by well-known authors, an art show, and well-known guest speakers.
The more things change, the more they stay the same! Only bigger and better.
In Honor of Women’s FEST Some Folks Have Weighed in on the Status of Women Today. Cheers!
“We need a cabinet like Clair Underwood in House of Cards. Women need more roles in leadership.”
Deb Qualey, Anesthesiologist • CAMP Rehoboth member
“Younger women today are potentially looking at a promising future. There were a few generations between theirs and ours that didn’t recognize or embrace feminism and the history from whence they’ve come. But young women today are feeling empowered and are ready to take on the world. Solidarity for women!”
Tret Fure, singer/musician
“For women, it’s sadly the case that our cultural and political landscapes continue to function like giant games of whack-a-mole. The biggest difference today is one of critical mass. So many women are popping up all over the place, it’s becoming impossible to keep them smacked down. But you gotta hand it to the stick-to-it-tiveness of the patriarchy—they sure do keep trying!”
Ann McMan, award-winning author
“Women in this century, especially the younger generation, are everywhere: boardrooms, government, the Supreme Court, all the professions, and as entertainers, selling out concert arenas across the world. Unbelievably, there are still people who want to put us back in the kitchen, ‘barefoot and pregnant.’ But we have found our voice!”
Kim Butler, Rehoboth Beach resident
Letters contributor • local entertainer
“Women today—are taking back our power!”
Poppy Champlin, comic
“I think of Emma Gonzalez calling out the truth through tears and I have hope we’ll never be silenced again.”
Lee Lynch, author
What Is Lesbian Literature?
by Lee Lynch
It’s nice that some non-gay writers include us in their stories. I’m thinking of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder detective novels in which he has an amusing lesbian friend who is a dog groomer. Very respectful and matter-of-fact that she’s a dyke. But that doesn’t make the novels lesbian any more than the presence of Robert B. Parker’s gay male bartender and strongman in his Spenser series makes the books gay male.
How about Sylvia Plath’s much revered novel The Bell Jar? The writer implies that a secondary character, who typically for that era commits suicide, is gay. Or Mary McCarthy’s The Group, in which one of eight old college friends has a woman lover. Should we consider these lesbian books?
And Mary Oliver, a lesbian, but the reader must hunt for allusions to her affectional orientation, and then be uncertain. Her beloved books are probably included in every lesbian library and the poems express the experience of one lesbian. Can they be claimed as our literature? Hardly.
Leonardo Padura Fuentes, novelist, critic, and essayist, wrote, “I bury myself in Cuba deeply so that I can express what Cuba is, and have not left Cuba because I am a Cuban writer and I can’t be anything else.”
Padura Fuentes creates Cuban literature. Substitute the word “lesbian” for “Cuba” and his sentence describes an author of lesbian literature. Genre doesn’t matter, nor era, fiction or non-fiction. Truly lesbian writing delves deep into the lesbian psyche, not to the exclusion of the rest of human experience, but through the unique perspective of gay women.
Jeannette Foster’s renowned and lengthy history and analysis of writings which hint of, refer to, or portray lesbians, is titled Sex Variant Women in Literature. Itself decidedly a prime example of what I call lesbian literature, the book does not pretend to examine that subject, but only to identify dykes in writings since the Bible. That is lesbians in literature, not lesbian literature.
And now the label is being slapped on all sorts of books, and categorized that way by LGBTQ people themselves. This trend is not encouraging queer women to tenaciously explore and document our lesbian experiences. It only encourages the assimilation that manifests in crossover books, books written to appeal to all readers. It only discourages most publishers from accepting submissions whose focus is fully and earnestly lesbian. It only denies lesbian readers works that reflect the reality of our lives.
While it’s true that we can only write that which inspires us, when teachers, editors, agents, and awards administrators, among others, hold mainstream writing as the standard, and all but ignore books with an exclusively lesbian focus, they lead us away from serious, in-depth examination of our lesbian selves. No matter how popular or literary, including a gay female character, or a dalliance between women or a minor character who is questioning—none of those are legitimately part of lesbian literature.
This may smack of separatism and early gay liberation, but we have a right to our own cultures, whatever kind of queer we are. As we focus our words on ourselves, we build a legacy for the future-dykes of two or two hundred years, whether next door to us or in a place where queericide is the norm.
When I see today’s writers of unabashed lesbian stories who show the same spirit as Jane Rule, Isabel Miller, and Radclyffe Hall not getting their due, I wonder how far have we really come? These are the women who are struggling to communicate the essence of who we are by writing from their very lesbian hearts. ▼
Lee Lynch is a pioneering, award-winning LGBTQ writer, author of the classic novel The Swashbuckler. Her latest novel is Rainbow Gap.
A Creative Life
by Ann Aptaker
If you ask me, living a lesbian, gay, or trans life is a creative act. Now, being lesbian, gay, or trans isn’t by definition creative (as Lady Gaga so powerfully stated in her refrain “Born This Way”), but to my mind, living a lesbian, gay, or trans life is a daily act of creative expression.
And perhaps never more so as when living such a life was illegal, and therefore posed a danger to one’s freedom. Creative living required creative survival strategies.
So what happens when the creative act of living a lesbian, gay, or trans life meets the innate creativity of being an artist? Especially back in the good ol’ dangerous days? Oscar Wilde, as we know, went to jail for it. But there were some who actually thrived. Say hello to Rosa Bonheur.
Bonheur, born in 1822 in Bordeaux, France, was quite likely not the first lesbian artist. The centuries previous must have had their share. But she was among the first to live openly as a lesbian, often wearing male clothing and living in domestic relationships: first with Nathalie Micas for nearly fifty years, and briefly with American portraitist Anna Elizabeth Klumpke, late in life, until Bonheur’s death in 1899.
Okay, lucky Rosa. Lucky to be born into a family of artists who moved to Paris when she was six and where her father encouraged her artistic abilities. Lucky to possess an artistic talent so potent it could not be denied—and was even lauded and rewarded—no matter what her contemporary society thought of her sexuality and her decision to live it. Lucky in her romantic partners, especially Nathalie, who took on the role of a traditional wife, taking care of the domestic needs of house and home in order to give Rosa the freedom to paint. And lucky, most of all, to have a personality which didn’t cower, not as a lesbian, not as an artist.
Unlike so many women painters in art history, lesbian or otherwise, who by frame of mind or social pressure (even from other artists) confined themselves to domestic scenes or small, precious images, Bonheur was among the very few who thought big, dared big. Painted big. As an animalière—a painter of animals—Bonheur strode confidently into the sometimes brutish, sometimes graceful drama of animal life. She made it her business to uncover the anatomical secrets and energies of that life by entering realms not traditionally open to women: getting her hands into the blood and guts of dead animals at the Paris abattoirs and dissecting animals at the Paris Veterinary Institute. The result of this boldness of mind and action—and deliciously creative arrogance—were paintings of monumental scale and power. The most famous, “The Horse Fair” (Le Marché aux Chevaux), painted between 1852 and 1855, and which hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is enormous, standing eight feet high by sixteen and a half feet wide. The horses, their riders, and handlers, are all in a swirl of muscular activity. Painted at such a large scale, Bonheur does not let us escape the wildness, the danger.
Active muscles and bodies. The primitive instincts of the natural world. I think it’s not too far a stretch to say that the creative boldness of Bonheur’s lesbian life mirrors the creative boldness of her artistic oeuvre. A woman brave enough to live openly as a lesbian in a viciously disapproving world is brave enough to get into the middle of the raw world of animals and their human adversaries or masters.
It’s always iffy to suggest that artists’ private lives are a primary influence on their creative ones. There are, after all, any number of factors influencing artists’ choice of subject matter; their religion, perhaps, their politics, or most often the intellectual trends of their time. But when it comes to the study of art history, where so much was and is seen, discussed, and yes, painted and sculpted through the male gaze, whether it’s looking at human or animal bodies, at buildings, landscapes, or flowers, decoding art through a female prism is long overdue. And decoding art through a lesbian prism is thus way, way overdue.
So say hello to Rosa Bonheur, creative lesbian. ▼
Ann Aptaker’s series featuring dapper Lesbian art thief and smuggler Cantor Gold has won Lambda Literary and Goldie Awards. In addition to writing crime fiction, Ann is an adjunct Professor of art and art history at New York Institute of Technology.
Image Credit: Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair, oil on canvas, 1852-1855 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York