Earlier this year, I got to accomplish one of my life-long dreams: attending a women’s festival. For context, I’m in my late twenties, I’m a lesbian, and I had never been to a women-only multi-day event prior to this.
I’ve been trying to go to a fest for a while now, but everything seemed so far from my city in Texas. (This is not entirely true, by the way. Check out LOE’s list of lesbian events in the US, or get a subscription to Lesbian Connection if you haven’t yet.)
Truthfully, I may have been a little intimidated. A lot of these events are shrouded in secrecy, understandably. Even now, there are enough people out there who get violently angry about women gathering that events sometimes get shut down. It’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting into.
Enter: my amazing internet friend Drach. We met on Tumblr when our mutual friend from England pointed out that we both live in Texas. We’ve been talking ever since, and when I expressed my interest in going to all-women events, she told me about this festival outside of Austin that she goes to, called the Texas Festival of the Goddess. There are two festivals a year – one in Spring, which is adult-only, and one in Fall, which is all-ages.
I missed the window to go to the Spring festival, so I set out on my journey to make it to the Fall festival. First step: convince my wife to go with me.
The thing is, my wife J and I are pretty much atheists, and the festival is pretty explicitly spiritual. J had an image in mind of what a goddess festival might look like, and she wasn’t sure it was something that would be fun for her as a Fat Butch Of Color. She expressed that she didn’t want to stand naked in a circle with white women chanting the praises of motherhood and the complementary nature of the divine feminine to the divine masculine. Which, okay, that’s fair. Me neither.
So I went back to my friend for more information. Drach assured me that the spiritual activities were optional. Unlike my wife’s Christian family and peers, these women would not be attempting to evangelize to us.
Though still skeptical, J eventually agreed to come with me, provided we spent a night camping at the festival. Honestly, I think she mostly agreed because it gave her a chance to try a car-camping set-up that she’d been researching wistfully on YouTube for months. (Did you know that if you marry an outdoorsy woman, you actually have to go outdoors with her? So unfair.)
After checking in, we were greeted by two lesbians who, as it turned out, I had met online before. It really is a small dyke world after all. We relaxed a bit as we looked around and saw that the attendees were not demographically monolithic, just all women. (Drach later explained that the fest was intentionally body-neutral – the founders had experiences in the past at festivals where larger women who were just being naked the same as everyone else were called so brave. Well-intentioned, but it certainly puts you on the spot.)
Speaking of nudity, since no photography was allowed, we were free to be as naked as we wanted. I immediately went tits out and OH MY GOSH WHY DON’T WE DO THIS ALL THE TIME. This may have been the Fall festival but it was still Texas so it was 95 degrees and sunny. Get the President on the phone because I need to have my chest out all summer long from now on.
And then… we just hung out. With all women. For a good 24 hours. It was amazing.
There was this quote I couldn’t get out of my head, from an Alison Bechdel book I had read two years ago called The Secret To Superhuman Strength.
“My gob was absolutely smacked. Not a man in sight.
You can have no idea of the toll taken by being constantly gawked and whistled at, taunted and groped … to say nothing of more dire yet no less pervasive threats–until you experience the sudden cessation of these things.”Alison Bechdel, The Secret To Superhuman Strength
For me, the sudden shift was how little I stood out.
There were women with body hair, everywhere. Pit hair, puss hair, nip hair, everything. Women whose nails were short, whose faces were bare, and whose stomachs rolled visibly and comfortably. Just like me! And there were so many lesbians and bisexual women. Quite possibly the majority of attendees were women-for-women.
In one moment that I’ll remember fondly, we were eating in a group of about 5 or 6 women. One of them said, “Maybe I should’ve gotten utensils, I’m just eating with my hands.” Another said “Well, that’s what fingers are for, right?” and every single person at that table synched into a gay hivemind and simultaneously went “Well…”
It was like my childhood dream of going to a lesbian summer camp had come true. I was finally somewhere where I didn’t sense that unspoken distance between myself and the heterosexual people around me. As I talked about in a previous essay, I’m not as obviously gay as I was growing up. I can blend in sometimes. And I’ve grown enough to be able to find common ground with straight women (and even men)!
But it does take effort. I spend a lot of my time making sure I’m not intimidating people, worrying about what they think, and doing the endless mental math of making sure I’m nice enough to men that they don’t hurt me but also not so nice that I become special to them. (This is a joke, I know some men will hurt you no matter what you do). Way too many guys in high school and college got the impression I was their manic pixie dream girl, despite me repeatedly mentioning my girlfriend.
It’s an easier balancing act with straight women, again, especially as the straight-passing dyke I am today. As long as they don’t glimpse my armpit hair, or leg hair, and we’re not in a setting where everyone else is wearing makeup.
At the festival, though, I wasn’t worried about any of that. It’s probably the least I’ve ever worried about my body in public, which is crazy considering I was half-naked and surrounded by women who love women. I think part of the difference was that the women seemed to understand and appreciate the female body for what it actually is – sans makeup and bras, but also sans flannels and Docs. Yes, a lot of us there were attracted to the female body, but I didn’t feel looked at or leered at. My body was able to be neutral and normal, not inherently sexual, even when unclothed.
We honestly spent the majority of our time swimming partially naked in the pool with our existing friends and making new ones. I loved it. Aside from swimming, we attended a talent show, signed up for work shifts to help make sure everything ran smoothly (I got to feel very handy when I happened to know how to fix a toilet), ate potluck food and just passed the time enjoying each other’s presence.
And Drach was right – all of the spiritual experiences were entirely optional. We joined for the closing ceremony, wherein we did in fact all get in a circle (but we got to sit, and it wasn’t just a bunch of white women chanting about femininity). During the ceremony, I accidentally stepped on a small scorpion. Did you know there are scorpions outside of Austin? I didn’t. It felt meaningful, but I have no idea what it could mean. If you read omens, let me know.
We helped pack up, participated in a raffle wherein I got this wild and glamorous handmade vulva pendant, said our goodbyes and left.
The only thing I could ask for is that it happen more often. Right now, the festival only happens twice a year. Maybe that’s my sign to start going to more fests. I truly wish I could spend every weekend feeling as normal as I did there.
For now, I know I’ll be back for the Spring Festival of the Goddess. Maybe I’ll report back, but since Spring is adult-only and apparently significantly spicier, I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to disclose. If you want to know what it’s like, your best bet is to meet me there!