Saturday, January 31, 2009

A rural angle on lesbian separatist communities

Sarah Kershaw's story in today's NYT about lesbian communities makes several mentions of rurality. Writing of lesbian pioneers who founded a community in St. Augustine, Florida in the 1970s, the story tells of 20 of these pioneer women who still choose "a separate lesbian world . . . hav[ing] built homes on 300 rural acres in northeast Alabama, where the founders of the Florida community, the Pagoda, relocated in 1997."

Kershaw continues:
Behind a locked gate whose security code is changed frequently, the women pursue quiet lives in a community they call Alapine, largely unnoticed by their Bible Belt neighbors — a lost tribe from the early ’70s era of communes and radical feminism.
The story notes that most such communities are in rural areas, which reminded me of the utility of rural places for those seeking privacy, for those with a separatist bent. (I've written about this before in relation to religious separatists, such as here and here).

The point of Kershaw's story is these communities' struggles to survive as mainstream society's acceptance of lesbians has increased, leaving less perceived need for these enclaves. She writes:
As the impulse to withdraw from heterosexual society has lost its appeal to younger lesbians, womyn’s lands face some of the same challenges as Catholic convents that struggle to attract women to cloistered lives.
For me, the story represented an opportunity to reflect on the tranquility of rural places and what that has meant and means for these women. Some rich quotes from the women at the Alabama community suggest their profound appreciation for the natural settings in which they live. I also liked contemplating these communities living in peace with -- if apart from--their rural neighbors, especially given the stereotypes of rural people as intolerant of LGBT folks (read here and here) . . . . until I noted that the women agreed to be interviewed by Kershaw only if she promised not to disclose the exact location of their homes because "they fear harassment from outsiders."


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Anonymous said...

Read Shewolf's Directory of Wimmin's Lands and Lesbian communities for a better understanding of the call of rural life to lesbians. It is amazing what you can learn about this kind of life that never occured to one. Rose