Hair of the Blog

January 21, 2022

People sometimes ask me, Is that your natural hair color? Referring, of course, to my beautiful long red hair. In my opinion, this is one of the ruder hair questions out there. But for enquiring minds who have to know, the answer is “no” – at this point, there’s a lot of gray “naturally” in my hair.

My born-to hair color was hard to describe. Some people called it brown, some called it blond, a boy in the fifth grade who liked me called it “fawn brown.” I had to be careful with hair products because it had a tendency to take on an orangish hue my mother called “brassy.” It was an unusual multi-textured shade people often commented on, and I had no thought of changing it.

But I did use neutral henna to condition my hair. I fell into this habit when I lived on wimmin’s land. Wimmin’s land is a rural collective living arrangement for feminists that is closed to men. The wimmin’s land where I lived was in sourthern Arizona, and women on the wimmin’s land circuit flocked to this place in the winter. They would take this opportunity in their low-budget traveling lives to condition their hair with colorless henna, which could be purchased cheaply from the co-op in bulk, sunbathing naked in the desert sun except for the muddy goo wrapped in plastic film on their heads.

You probably know where this is going. Somehow the red henna got mixed up with the neutral henna at the co-op. Maybe somebody left a baggy laying around and it got poured back into the wrong jar. All I know is that I washed the conditioning henna out of my hair one afternoon and got the shock of my life. Nor was I the only one; the co-op heard from a number of angry women. One particularly incensed woman demanded that the co-op pay her restoration bill from the hair salon, which they promptly did.

Red henna in most hair only imparts a lustrous sheen that may appear slightly reddish in strong sunlight. In blond hair, or hair that has a tendency to take on orange highlights, it turns a bright rusty color. Usually this washes out in two to four weeks, making it too labor intensive for a hair dye, but for a lucky (or unlucky) few, the hair strands absorb and hang onto the color, and it will not wash out. The furious woman who went to the beauty parlor was still a strawberry blond six weeks later.

Myself, I decided I liked the effect, once the shock wore off. My friends asserted that it fit my personality, and I rather agreed. Since that time, I’ve treated myself to more henna as the roots grow out, using only packaged red henna from a reputable source, of course. I can tell from the roots that my hair is graying beautifully, as my grandmother’s did, so it sometimes seems a shame to be covering it up. But the red does seem more “me,” like a corrective action the Goddess herself decided to take. I was taught growing up that completely dyed hair on an older woman, like long hair on an older woman, is verboten. It doesn’t look natural, having young hair with an old face. But I’ve decided I don’t care. It is natural. It’s me.

Of bisexuals, lesbians, and “febfems”: Defining sexuality

January 7, 2022

I understand the impulse to apply a rigorous definition of “lesbian” in the current climate, with trans-identified men (transwomen) claiming to be lesbian. There should probably be a better definition for bisexual women in same-sex relationships. But there are a few thorny issues that need to be considered.

The old “political” definition of lesbian was a woman who had romantic/sexual relationships with women only. Thus “lesbian” was defined more by what you did than by what you were. In the last century, most “lesbians” were not so keen to scrutinize the motivations of women choosing to describe themselves as lesbian. That may have partly originated from the need to increase numbers in the fight against homophobia. Or maybe most women simply didn’t care. The male lesbian was a bad joke.

Lesbians who self-identified as political tended to be extremely critical of women who had sexual relationships with men. Women who had sex with men were supposedly lightweight in their political analysis, unable to scrutinize their oppression out of a need to appease male partners or potential partners. But (possibly political or possibly born-this-way) lesbian Adrienne Rich pointed out that mothers of sons face very strong incentive to accommodate patriarchy, regardless of their sexuality.

I have noticed some lesbians using their definition of lesbian to set boundaries against criticism of the lesbian community. A firm boundary can protect against self-reflection. Many political lesbians have been willing to speak out about unhealthy behaviors within lesbian communities, and there’s a lot of heteropatriarchy in lesbian communities to unpack. With strict but unverifiable definitions, Lesbians speaking out in unpopular ways can be dismissed by speculating that they secretly want to fuck a man are “political lesbians.”

Then there’s the whole issue of compulsory heterosexuality. Rich and other lesbians argued that ALL women are essentially lesbian, and that socialization creates sexual desire for men. That still leaves room to differentiate women who are attracted to men from women unattracted to men, but it’s difficult to reconcile compulsory heterosexuality with the born-this-way idea.

Another problem with strict definitions (and maybe it’s not a problem) is that Sappho herself would not qualify as lesbian (except on geographic grounds) if we’re defining it as never experiencing sexual desire for a man. Sappho preferred women but had at least one self-attested male flame. Rich was married and had two sons. So we’re going to weed out a lot of our lesbian sheroes if we insist on being very firm about boundaries. Yet at the same time, these firm boundaries, rooted in desire, are self-identified and thus impossible to verify. Maybe Rich never had an orgasm with her husband. How would we know? Do we even want to know?

But we’re dealing with 21st century politics and problems. Bisexual women who claim they are lesbian while being in relationships with male “lesbians” are undermining the whole lesbian community. If you never care about the sex of the people you socialize with, it’s no problem. If you’re looking for a true women’s community, it’s a big problem.

The word “febfem” has been proposed to refer to women who are essentially same-sex in their lifestyle but have felt sexually attracted to men at some point. It’s asserted that this word came from bisexual women, but I would like to see proof, because I see it promoted by lesbians who want lesbianism defined by an internal feeling rather than by actions. The sound of the word is nasty. It sticks in your throat. It sounds worse than “cis,” which also has an ugly sound to it, and it’s coming from the same place as “cis”: people forcing a definition onto another group to accommodate their own self-definition.

There might need to be a word for bisexual women, whether they are exclusively in same-sex relationships or not, because bisexual women are so different from bisexual men. Bisexual men do not face the possibility of pregnancy, for example. Bisexual men face oppression when in same-sex relationships, but do not face oppression based on their sex. Bisexual women are at a disadvantage when in relationship with a man, whether or not he is bisexual, so choosing a heterosexual relationship is not a way out of oppression for a woman, the way it is for a bisexual man. (This, by the way, was one of the biggest reasons 70s and 80s political lesbians tried to convince all women to become lesbian. The idea was that same-sex relationships, even considering the rampant homophobia of the time, were less harmful for women.)

I am not a separatist, in the sense of seeing it as imperitive to socially segretate from men at all times. But I do think women-only space is important, at least sometimes, and to have that space we have to define what a woman is. Fortunately, it’s not difficult. Adult human female. Everyone knows what that means. Other definitions are fuzzier. I think women have a right to make definitions and set boundaries, whatever those are, including kicking Sappho out of lesbian-only space. But I’m not necessarily endorsing or agreeing with these firm boundaries based on sexual identity.

In sum, I think there does need to be a word for bisexual women who prefer same-sex relationships. I think we need words for women’s sexualities that do not include men. Transwomen are not lesbians. Bisexual men and women inhabit very different spheres. I hate the word febfem. I hate the word and I hate the concept behind the word: that it is critical to definitively separate women from one another. I think what is most critical is to definitively separate women from men.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2021

This marks the TENTH YEAR that I have been blogging. I have updated this site weekly, except for last week when I forgot. (?!) I was going to share my favorite Christmas movies. Now you’ll have to wait another year.

Wishing you a joyous, prosperous, and blessed year ahead.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 22, 2021

I am grateful to you, my readers, for almost ten years of blogging!

Photo: Larry Smith

I once had a turkey challenge me to a race. I was cycling down a country road, and the turkey trotted along beside me. I started cycling faster, and then the turkey started racing me! The encounter ended at a draw when we reached a copse of trees and the turkey had to take wing.

Giants of the Northeast Woodlands

September 17, 2021

There have been persistent reports of large human or human-like beings who inhabit the woods in the northeastern United States and Canada. They are hairy and very shy. They reportedly like to throw sticks and rocks at cars, but otherwise are seldom seen.

A word for these beings used by Algonquian-speaking tribes is Yakwawi (plural: Yakwawiak). They are sometimes called Sasquatch, a word which comes from the American Pacific coast. The ubiquity of reports of these beings around the world has led some to speculate that they are not-too-distant cousins of homo sapiens, another offshoot of homo erectus. Natives of the northeast woodlands describe Yakwawi as a type of bear.

I have never seen a Yakwawi, although I have heard things hit my car a few times. I’m always interested in the reports of others.

The Case of the Missing Lighthouse

June 11, 2021

This is a picture of the Crown Point Lighthouse I took a few weeks ago. Located on the western shore of Lake Champlain, the tower was erected in 1858. It was one of about a dozen on the shores and islands on the lake helping ships navigate what was once an important commercial route. In 1912 the lighthouse was redesigned as a monument to Samuel de Champlain, an early European explorer of the lake that now bears his name. The lake has traditional names, of course, an Abenaki one being Bitabagw, “the lake between.”

The mystery I’m working on takes place on an island in this lake (entirely fictional, though some of the lake’s real islands are inhabited). Of course I’m going to work a lighthouse into the story. It’s been done many times before, but lighthouses are so romantic and spooky that I can’t resist.

One Fish, Two Fish, both of them fishy

March 19, 2021

One of the worst things about cancel culture is that it provides shelter for people like Woody Allen. When I talk about cancel culture, I’m talking about the job loss, censorship, and no-platforming of individuals for expressing heterodox opinions or calling attention to inconvenient facts. Cancel culture is policed on social media and enforced by self-serving clueless boobs, especially in the corporate media. Just as the McCarthy witch hunt was unable to bring down people like Lucille Ball, while ruining the careers of lessor figures such as John Garfield, today’s cancel culture has only managed to annoy JK Rowling, while forcing people like Julia Robertson out on their own. Cancellation is about disallowing legitimate speech, not about behavior. Ironically, purveyors of witch hunts and cancellation, while often denying these crusades are taking place, reserve for themselves illegitimate libelous speech, such as wantonly calling someone a “communist” or a “transphobe” without evidence.

Which brings me to Woody Allen. He has long been under fire for behavior, not for opinions or for speaking about unpopular facts. Even granting that the credible allegations by Dylan Farrow have never been proven, for reasons having nothing to do with their merit, the dude hooked up with the young daughter of his former romantic partner. It may be true that he waited to become sexually involved with her until she became barely legal, in which case what he did wasn’t against the law, but most people consider his actions exploitative and despicable, and some people hold him accountable accordingly. If people object to this pervert being feted in awards ceremonies, it doesn’t bother me a bit.

What bothered me about his quashed autobiography was not that it was being published. I wouldn’t have read it, being way too familiar, throughout my social work career, with the whining victim tone predatory men use to describe their life. But I personally wasn’t upset about the book deal. What did upset me was Ronan Farrow’s allegations that Allen’s account of the crimes he remains accused of was not fact-checked. This, after Ronan Farrow’s journalism on sexual predators in the film industry was minutely scrutinized for evidence.

For Allen to claim that Dylan Farrow’s allegations are unfounded is to say that she is lying or delusional. Women who bring false claims of sexual abuse are treated harshly, by public opinion and the law. It’s one thing for Allen to claim he’s innocent in an interview. In a nonfiction book, it calls the publisher’s vetting process under scrutiny. I am not privy to serious discussions about the course of action after Ronan Farrow raised a stink, but I don’t see how the book could have been published while giving Allen permission to address allegations against him without proof. He’s had adequate opportunity to respond, without making the credibility of those associated with his projects problematic.

On to the second fish to be fried, flayed, and charbroiled. The Dr. Seuss biz has about played out, but I’m bringing it up here as another example of something being reflexively assigned to “cancel culture.” The situation here is more of a gray area.

The trust for Dr. Seuss voluntarily withdrew a half dozen of his many books from publication. The drawings in the books, most people would agree, are unequivocally racist. There is no evidence that the trust was forced to do take the action they did, although there have been calls from some quarters to withdraw all Dr. Seuss books from school libraries and publication, whether overtly racist or simply penned by the author. So there were calls to “cancel Dr. Seuss,” yet there is a difference between responding to legitimate criticism and having your arm twisted to (not) say “uncle.” There were other ways to address the racism in those particular books, but the trust chose their own course of action.

I supported the decision to withdraw the books in question from publication, and would not call this “cancel culture.” In retrospect, however, I think the way the decision played out is a cautionary tale. If the Dr. Seuss trust was not under any exigent threat, why was the decision accompanied by a formal announcement? That in itself triggered an outraged response. Perhaps the hope was that the public statement would mean racism in other children’s books would be addressed, through being withdrawn, redrawn, or edited. (This process has actually been happening since the sixties, though not fast enough or complete enough for some.) Perhaps the trust thought the calls to cancel Dr. Seuss altogether would cease if they responded to legitimate criticism. If that was the hope, it was misplaced.

Soon there were calls for all libraries everywhere to destroy the books in question. Then the calls to cancel Dr. Seuss altogether were amplified, along with similar outcries against other twentieth century children’s authors. EBay and other resellers banned the sale of the now out-of-print Seuss books. Considering the amount of racist memorabilia sold on eBay, not to mention the appropriated archeological treasures, this action could only be called a cynical ploy to pander to what was becoming a mob frenzy. The move to halt publication of the books may not have been provoked by cancel culture, but cancel culture took over.

Calls to cancel “racism” in books, longstanding or newly published, are often, in the current climate, not made in good faith. This is a power and control game, one that shuts down discussion of racism instead of furthering it. When the trust made an announcement about withdrawing those six books, rather than doing it quietly, some people smelled blood in the water while others had fears stoked that were not about racism. Suddenly we were talking about censorship and cancel culture, and while that needs to be talked about, racism itself, as opposed to ass-covering virtue-signaling designed to avoid being called a racist, was no longer part of the conversation. Was quiet action a better choice? Either way, a discussion that could have been had, was not had.

Which is what cancel culture is all about.

Call for Contributions

March 5, 2021

I thought I’d pass this along to women who are interested. It looks like it will be an interesting anthology.

I decided to rework my online series about women’s intentional communities into an essay for the forthcoming She Summons, also by Mago Books, the first volume of which will be out late this year or early next. That’s what I’ve been working on this week.

What It’s Like to Live on Wimmin’s Land

This essay discusses the pros and cons, joys and pitfalls, of women’s intentional communities, also known as “wimmin’s land.” There has been more talk in recent years about re-establishing all-woman living collectives in rural areas, a phenomenon that began in the 1970s and faded somewhat by the turn of the century (though some women’s communities are still around). For women dreaming about this alternative, I wanted to share some of my experience and perspective.