In February of 2012, I was broken. I had left a toxic long term relationship in which I had spent ten years tiptoeing around in the hopes of not provoking an angry, alcoholic outburst. I didn’t realized how much I had changed myself to keep the peace until I finally broke free and started trying to figure out who I really was.
I was broken. I was unsafe and I was broken. I came back home to Ohio from the Virgin Islands and I put one foot in front of the other to get through every day. I didn’t miss her, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was, or where to go, or what to do to make a living. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I didn’t have many friends and the ones that I had were far scattered. Living that long with someone who had a tendency to piss off everyone I knew left me without a circle of friends. I felt wholly alone.
I was unsure in my skin. I hated my body. I didn’t like being naked. I was sure I was a terrible lover. I felt insecure and nervous. I had anxiety. I was afraid.
I had heard of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival many years before and it sounded incredible. I brought it up with my ex a few times and she wouldn’t even consider it. She used to say she hated lesbians. I didn’t hate lesbians and I didn’t hate women, but I think a small part of me must have hated myself because I let her keep me from going. The thought of me going by myself wasn’t even an option.
Being single meant adjusting to a lot of things I hadn’t had to consider in many long years, but it also meant that for the first time, I was free to make my own decisions. And one of the first decisions I made was to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
I posted an announcement on Facebook and my BFF of all time immediately responded that she was going to fly to Cleveland and come with me. There was no backing out after that. I went to fest that year. It changed my life.
I’ve written before about my first fest, and my second fest, and my third. This year, I will write about my fourth and last. Lisa Vogel, the amazing Amazon who started this life changing space, has announced that fest is ending after the 40th anniversary.
I’ve gone through various stages of grief. The sadness comes in waves as I remember moments from fest or I think about things that I haven’t yet done. I feel sorrow for those who will never attend, for the girls who won’t scamper safely through the woods, unafraid and confident in a way I never was. I’ve shed tears over involuntary thoughts about the future. The community of women have gathered on Facebook and through phone calls and in person and through text to grieve together something that we all share whether we’ve been going for forty years or we’ve only been once. The understanding that there is nothing else like this in the world. The knowledge that Lisa and all of the other women who have worked to build this community year after year have created something that is so much more than a music festival. So much more than a camping trip. So much more than a week in the woods. They (we) created a tribe. We created safety. We created, we continue to create, a community of women who bolster and love each other. We’ve created a space where women can see, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that women are powerful, that women will rise up, that women can create any fucking thing that they want. That’s what fest is… it isn’t a week in the woods. It’s a revelation. It’s a revolution. It’s belief. It’s love.
Fest has brought so much to me. Every lover I’ve had in the past three years has been a fest woman. I have friends who see me and hear me and just get me and love me down to my toes. I met my current partner at fest. I learned about radical honesty from fest women. I first heard the term self-love at fest. I bought my first dildo there. I tanned topless in the sun there. I danced. I sang. I kissed. I laughed. I walked and walked and walked through the woods in the light and the dark and I wasn’t afraid for my safety. Not once. Not ever.
When I got the news, all I wanted was my tribe. I wanted my love and my family all gathered around so we could all hold each other and share memories and laugh and cry together. It felt like a death or an impending death of someone we couldn’t bear to live without. I needed my arms around my loves, so we could grieve and be grateful that whatever amount of time we have had at fest, we had that time.
Laying in bed last night, thinking about my chosen family and fest, and all of the things that it means to me, I realized that I am myself. I’ve *become*. That somewhere between that first fest when I timidly crept into the shy shower after dark and could barely convince myself to even say hi to strangers to my last fest where I gave a workshop on self love, basked in the glow of my tribe, and walked around the land like I OWNED it, I have become myself. I have found my own power. I’ve cast off the years of oppression and I’ve forgiven myself for letting it happen. I’ve not only marveled in the idea that women can create anything, I’ve come to realize that I myself can create anything. I took the lessons that the generations of women at fest have given to me and I’ve used them to build a fortress of self love around my soul. I’m me. I’m Beth Burnett. I am an Amazon. I’m a lover. I’m a mother earth goddess sexy brilliant warrior of love. I *am* Michfest.