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See you in October!
No Boys Allowed
Twin Oak 26th Womyn's Gathering
By Calliope Kurtz
Slumber party, summer camp. These are magical memories, full of mystique. As children, we enter into community directed and determinate. The nuclear family, the neighborhood, the school. These associations are contrived, and they receive a challenge. Soon after, community expands and accepts more adventitious elements. Chance encounters and ephemeral friendships. Overnight summer camp is a special example. New faces dimly illuminated by flashlights and campfires. Anything is possible when new faces meet. This is an intimate approximation of Halloween, the most social, and random, of holidays ~ with one important twist. Now there are no masks, no role playing. Only the magic of fortuitous community, the desire to exchange delights, remains.
There is one other aspect of community defining its design. Intentionality. In this instance, imagine the forest fort's entrance exclaiming 'No Boys Allowed'. Perhaps that is overstated. Most likely, nobody actively notices the absence of males (or more accurately, male identification); what is divined is increased female presence. That changes everything. It's not necessarily better, but it is noticeably different. And, as the continued success of Twin Oaks' annual Womyn's Gathering demonstrates, it is, on special occasions, necessary. Not for all women, certainly, but certainly for women who remember the startling rapport shared between girls, former strangers, established within seconds, during that summer camp instant when "best friends" might include half the world.
Despite worries about higher gas prices in particular and recession woes in general, Twin Oaks 26th annual Womyn's Gathering, did better than break even, which, considering its function as an ideological outreach, exceeded its modest goal. According to Byrd the Starfish, this year's Gathering organizer (and a Twin Oaks member), the three-day event was "really well attended," bringing in 70 registrants, in addition to 30 or more community members, and "made more money than last year." This certainly ensures there will be a 27th annual Womyn's Gathering. Byrd also noted a substantive influx of newcomers to this year's gathering, with a majority of local and regional women. "We did get someone from Hawaii who registered" Byrd said, as well as receiving attendees from Ohio and Indiana.
Performances, workshops and diversions included DIY psychotherapy, polyamory discussion, bike repair, mud pit (think Woodstock without the brown acid), fire poi, an enchanted forest for children featuring costumed adventurers, acupuncture, body painting, BDSM (introductory and advanced), and a headlining performance by professional bellydancer Shadhavar (who conducted a bellydance workshop the following day). Other items of interest included a barter tent, open mic, open drag show, spiral dance, community singers and songwriters (enhanced entertainingly by sign language interpreters), yoga, organic home-made meals (courtesy Twin Oaks' ace chef Ira), sweat lodge and, of no minor consequence, coffee prepared at 6:30am by none other than the event organizer.
"Not only did I make the coffee" Byrd recalled of her 17-hour stint on Saturday, "I was drafted to DJ the dance party at 9pm the same day." There's no reason not to allow Byrd her moment of well-deserved self-promotion; she certainly didn't take on some thousand responsibilities for the money; Nor was there much glory. No one at the Womyn's Gathering played the role of "staff." I remember on Friday night, the opening evening, a discussion of practicalities to consider - and how quickly one young woman was to assume the duties of maintaining a first aid presence through the night. Child care for the next day was dispatched with the same instantaneous commitment to creating community. That characteristic, choosing to rough it, camping out, perhaps for the first time ever, and to rough it with people who have only just met, is the core meaning of the experience.
Self-reliance through community ~ a community of women, not women-born-women necessarily, but women who have chosen to be women ~ is what the Twin Oaks Womyn's Gathering offered. A little adversity ~ some bugs, some rain, some pebbles in the sandals ~ is the essential ingredient to this particular form of self-discovery and discovery of improvisational community. It's a hike and a camp-out without the expert. The "service" is simply the milieu: inventing and exchanging various expertises from fellow sisters. The fireflies flashing and the crickets chirping are bonuses. (For those who showed up slightly less than unprepared, Twin Oaks raided its own surpluses to provide bedding and blankets for agreeable camping and, after Saturday's rain shower, offered an impromptu laundry run for gathering attendees.)
Was there any quality that made this particular year any different from previous Womyn's Gatherings, I asked Byrd. "Well, we''ve had vendors in the past but I wanted to promote a less capitalistic culture this time," she said. "It was cool to see direct exchanges, like bartering massages for art and energy healing for artisan goods." Another new characteristic was an increase in Queer presence. "I specifically used the language 'non-male identified' to insure that transpeople and people without a definite gender presentation would feel included." Not that there were any token inclinations toward any radical orthodoxy. There was a round of football tossing, after all, and, on at least one occasion, a screening of the Hillary Swank movie "Iron Jawed Angels" brought the flicker of TV lighting into the woods. Why not?
Twin Oaks, it merits reporting, is a rural enchanted village, run, almost magically, on twin precepts of socialism and libertarianism. Some might use fancier terms, like hybridized variations of anarchist this-or-that. What-have-you with the vernacular is most likely OK. Twin Oaks keeps labels at bay by necessity. People come and go; there's always motion. There's the hippie background, being founded during the "summer of love," and Twin Oaks' initial business, hand-made hammocks, certainly lends the place a relaxed vibe. There are also lots of young people at Twin Oaks enjoying the conscientious absence of any seniority pyramid schemes and, since young people are hot to change the world, a fiercely postmodern, post-punk, post-LGBT culture enjoys an optimistically contrarian expression, too. To put it in pop music terms: The Womyn's Gathering, a specialized yet less tangible form of community, attracts the Holly Near people, pairs them with the Yoko Ono people, then shakes 'em up with the Ani DiFranco and Pink people.
Crazy dancing, no boys allowed.
Twin Oaks' Communities Conference
By Roberto & Marta