I just returned from two glorious weeks working at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Nearly 4,000 festie-goers and workers enjoyed sunshine, the red glow of planet Mars, political workshops, and four stages with every form of entertainment from the spoken word of Alix Olsen to the music of Australian aboriginal songwriter Kerianne Cox. Despite the prevailing good vibes and rain-free weather, all of us were shaken one afternoon when a small plane, clearly violating FAA regulations by flying just above our treetops, buzzed over the festival’s 650 acres of private land for an hour with a long red banner proclaiming “Jesus Christ: Hope for Homosexuals.”
Reactions from the thousands of women below the plane were swift. Some raised a middle finger of outrage at being interrupted, intimidated and preached to during this most precious lesbian getaway vacation. Others reached to kiss their partners in a defiant show of commitment to the homo identity being challenged from above. Longtime women’s music performer and political activist Holly Near was heard to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, because my intelligence tells me so!”
Comedians had fun with the “hope for homosexuals” tag line, joking that perhaps Jesus really could resolve nagging homosexual problems like bad haircuts, butch/femme fashion faux pas, whose turn it was to host the homophobic in-laws, and how to keep that cheap festival-week tent from collapsing during a rowdy session of lovemaking. And some hardened festie-goers simply shrugged off the airplane incident as yet another in a series of amusing festival stories to recount at some future campfire. After all, in 1990 some S/M advocates had rented a plane themselves, dumping lesbian S/M flyers on the festival during afternoon concerts.
However, most women I spoke with agreed on two things. First, unexpected low-level plane intrusion has taken on new connotations of terrorism since 9/11, and any religious warrior using such tactics is guilty of malicious harassment. Buzzing any party of older women and little girls can induce heart attacks and nightmares. Second, planes are expensive to rent and fly. Couldn’t a “Christian” group find a better way to spend money — say, actually helping to feed and house the poor and homeless?
From an economic standpoint, the preacher-plane illustrated an issue many progressive people of faith are already talking about: the waste involved in redirecting thousands of worshippers’ dollars to campaigns against gay marriage, or other church-sponsored antigay initiatives. For instance, instead of renting a plane and scaring us all half to death, one volunteer could have presented the same message by standing outside the festival gates with a sign — not that I wish to encourage this alternative, but in the interests of free speech, religious homophobes do have choices that don’t divert good dollars from the truly needy.
But the truth is, that plane accomplished a sad mission by making a lot of us feel vulnerable. No bombs or pamphlets were dropped on us, but let’s face it: a good number of women attending the festival were naked, or topless, and had paid good money and traveled across country just for the privilege of unmocked nudity. The added insult of voyeurism from above made us wonder if there are any spaces remaining where lesbians can gather and feel safe. Women’s music festivals have long promised, and delivered, the experience of physical safety from daily sexist and homophobic harassment, and the rare opportunity for women to relax shirtless amid the diversity of mastectomy scars, disabilities, ethnic and age and size differences. So, were we being photographed by the pilot, our display of dyke beauty now seized for use in some future anti-gay video? No one could be sure.
But like strong Amazons, we made light of the incident and returned to our tofu, determined to enjoy the rest of the festival. For many the troubling interruption was forgotten as we gathered for Sweet Honey in the Rock’s thirtieth anniversary celebration concert.
Since returning home from the otherwise uplifting festival, I’ve joined many women online discussing their thoughts about the airplane encounter. Quite a few are calling for the FAA to investigate; others note the irony of hearing the festival’s gospel choir practice continue despite the airplane noise overhead. Because the festival discussion board has been hacked by right-wing groups in the recent past, particularly by individuals eager to find a legal loophole that could close the festival down, we’re careful not to say anything that might be construed as threatening to Christian groups — although they seem free to threaten us!
But we’re all weary of defending ourselves against religious charges that we need to be “saved,” that there is “hope” for our conversion. We who are not Christians but, instead, practicing Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans, pagans and animists are weary of proselytizing in any form, while gay and lesbian Christians of all stripes are weary of being perceived as the new heathens whom missionaries must blanket with cautionary tracts and legal barriers.
Whether I’m leading Jewish services at the Michigan festival, worshipping with other gay and lesbian Jews at D.C.’s Bet Mishpachah synagogue, or supporting my Catholic lover by accompanying her to Dignity’s gay Mass service at St. Margaret’s on Connecticut Avenue, you bet I have hope. I have hope that good folks thrown out of their own communities by homophobia will create even better communities. And I have hope that someone like me — born of a religious intermarriage, now in an interfaith relationship — can be a witness that love triumphs over theological difference. Yep, there’s hope for homosexuals: we can help change others. Perhaps that’s what homophobes fear most?
Bonnie J. Morris, Ph.D., is on the women’s studies faculty at George Washington University and Georgetown University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.