Women putting women centre-stage

Organiser of Lady and Trans Fest explain the politics behind the event


In a room at Seomra Spraoi, Dublin’s “autonomous social centre”, four young women are creating posters and flyers while a scraggily-haired dog wearing a bandanna lies across a couch. The dog is called Muesli.

“So he’s a hippy dog,” I say.

“He’s a punk dog,” says Zoe Doe, one of the organisers of this weekend’s Lady & Trans Fest. Ladyfest is a punk-influenced, feminist music and arts festival that has taken place across the world, always run independently by local volunteers, ever since the first was held in Olympia, Washington, back in 2000.

Ladyfests have been sporadically held in Ireland. My wife was involved in organising one in 2004, and I played some music at it with a mixed gender band. The main aim is to foreground women in music and the arts. The current organisers, who have no connection to the previous group, have added Trans to the title and are including more LGBT issues in the mix.

“[Some feminists] haven’t always been inclusive of transgender people,” says another organiser, Indigo (she prefers not to give a second name), who is drawing an intricate logo as she talks. “So we wanted to make sure it was really trans inclusive.”

“One of the nice things about Ladyfest,” says Sarah Malone, a third organiser, “is that depending on the individuals involved it comes out in different ways. Each one is different.”

There’s a buzz of activity around the place. Upstairs a banner is being completed. At one point volunteers go to collect pallets from a nearby market to build a stage. “A lot of us are coming from DIY standpoints and want to make it quite DIY,” says Indigo. “Some people call Ladyfest, La-DIY-fest.”

Being inclusive is what it’s all about. “I’ve found myself at a lot of festivals and gigs that are really male dominated,” says Malone. “Even in progressive, revolutionary, anarchisty type spaces like this [she gestures around Seomra Spraoi] things can fall to women without people noticing it. If you’re not mindful of it women do end up making the tea and doing the cleaning and looking after the kids. I don’t think it’s out of badness, it’s just the way society is put together so without consciously recognising and working against it, it can happen.”

Zoe Doe stresses there are straight, male volunteers helping out. “A lot of dudes are like, ‘f**k yeah, I’ll do childcare! F**k yeah, I’ll do cooking!’ It’s really exciting.”

There’s been both a resurgence of feminism and a swelling LGBT pride in recent years. The Lady and Trans Fest organisers broadly see themselves as part of that. The recent Panti-gate controversy and abortion campaigns politicised many young people, says Sarah Malone. “I got involved with pro-choice stuff and through that ended up realising how interconnected everything was. I ended up getting more politically and socially aware. I think people are paying attention to these issues a whole lot more.

“More women now have the language. They can name problems, which is the first thing you have to do before you fix them. There’s a nice level of solidarity among women at the moment.”

For many young women, Lady and Trans Fest is an opportunity for networking. Entry is free, dinner is provided for a “suggested donation” and people from LGBT and pro-choice groups from around the country are travelling up and staying on couches. “Someone I know in Galway said ‘man, I don’t know anything about the queer scene in Galway, I don’t know what to do here’,” says Doe. “Well, they’ll come here and get to meet other people from Galway doing the same things.”

On Friday night a gig took place in Sweeneys. “Punk, folk punk, and punk rap,” says Doe, “with mainly female or trans performers”. The line-up included her own accordion, guitar and musical saw band, The Trainwrecked Chicken Bones.

Tonight at Outhouse there’s spoken word from a group called Petty Cash, extracts from the Vagina Monologues and music from a member of a band called Twin Headed Wolf.

Over the weekend there are workshops and discussions in Seomra Spraoi on self defence, creating DIY sex toys, drag, trans people and feminism, and gender in the Middle East. There’s even a knitting workshop called “Putting our ovaries on their rosaries.”

“They’re making knitted uteri,” says Malone. “They’re really cute. People can make them for themselves or for the Abortion Rights Campaign to sell.”

‘Menstrual art’
Then on Sunday at Seomra Spraoi there’s a screening of queer and feminist film as well as several musical and cabaret acts, including two performers doing a “menstrual art performance.”

“It’s exactly what it sounds like,” says Malone. “They collected their menstrual blood and use that as part of their performance,” explains Indigo.

Malone laughs and recalls watching the Hollywood comedy This is the End . “There was a whole set of jokes where someone is giving out about someone else jacking off in their house and it’s written as a funny scene.”

“Watching it I was thinking ‘They’d never have that with women.’ So I think it’s really cool for women to be doing art pieces that might be a little uncomfortable for some people.”

They discuss growing up with sexist advertising, a hypersexualised popular culture and gigs where male audience members are pushy and the stage is filled with men.

“The Lady and Trans Fest is just this awesome thing where we can create the alternative,” says Indigo. “We’re doing a positive thing to show that it doesn’t have to be like this. Look: another world is possible.”

For more details about Lady & Trans Fest go to ladyfestdublin.wordpress.com http://ladyfestdublin.wordpress.com

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