Thursday, February 6, 2014

With 1,000 Women on a Caribbean Beach

Club Med, Dominican Republic
Yes, a few of those women are topless
Another 2013 highlight took place in the Dominican Republic with San Francisco-based Olivia, a lesbian travel company. Founded 40 years ago by 3 visionaries to produce music by Chris Williamson, Meg Christian, Holly Near and other pioneers of the women's music movement, Olivia now     offers dozens of yearly resort vacations and cruises, from
Alsaka and Africa to Turkey and Tierra del Fuego.

My ex, Barbara Evans, and her partner Patricia -- for their picture, see "Friendly
Connections" below -- told us about their plan to go on the Olivia 40-year anniversary cruise in March. Becky and I were still in Mexico then, but we signed up for the anniversary resort week in May. Olivia generously offered me a mid-afternoon workshop slot and announced a publication party for the newly revised Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence.

Passing the microphone at Lesbian Nuns event
But who would tear themselves away from a Caribbean beach or a poolside mojito to attend a workshop? I told the organizers to remove half of the 40 chairs they'd circled under a large palapa roof. It would be embarrassing and difficult to facilitate a conversation with 5 or 6 participants sprinkled over so many seats.

But I was wrong. Within minutes of the starting time, all the removed chairs were back in the circle. Latecomers sat on a stone wall or leaned against pillars.

Empty chair next to me belongs to Becky, who took this picture
I asked people about their connection to the book. Poignant stories emerged from lesbian ex-nuns or their partners, who had read LNBS when it was published in 1985. Others had simply heard the title and were intrigued. A few women were struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their religion. A Minneapolis couple we had met the day before simply came to support us.

We felt safe to express affection all week
As I answered questions and showed the differences between the 1985 Naiad Press edition and the new Bella Books edition, I was grateful that what began as a journey of personal healing has ended up touching so many lives. For that story, see my blogpost New Lesbian Nuns below.

The workshop was one of many highlights of a remarkable week. As Becky and I relaxed into the safety and freedom of a women's community, we felt more expansive, more loving. By mid-week, it seemed that most of the 1,000 Olivia women were experiencing something similar, as if a current of trusting, open-hearted energy embraced and connected us all. My only other experience of this phenomenon was at the week-long Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

White night dance, for Olivia's 40th anniversary
Actually, this was a week-long music festival. The daytime dance classes and evening dancing had Becky and me out on the floor for 2 to 3 hours a day. The nightly concerts with comedians and musicians exploded with energy. A powerful documentary about Chris Williamson's ground-breaking 1975 album Changer and the Changed made us weep. Chris herself, now white-haired and with a voice that still moves us deeply, performed a whole concert of her funny, tender, mystical music.

NanBec with Chris Williamson the day after her Olivia concert
The next day, Chris sold and signed copies of the twenty-some albums she has released since Changer and the Changed and took a few moments to chat with Becky and me.

The all-inclusive resort, a first for us, was expensive. But Olvia does things other travel companies don't. Olivia reserves an entire resort or cruise ship, whether 500 or 1000 women sign up. Prominent feminists like Edie Windsor, Maya Angelou, Lily Tomlin, Melissa Etheridge, and Martina Navratilova offer workshops. Olivia bring their own staff, who facilitate excursions and other activities as well as handle any challenges that arise. Resort and ship employees are given sensitivity training. Guests can relax, knowing that for at least a week, they won't have to deal with homophobic attitudes and behaviors. For some, it's the first time they have ever held hands or kissed in public.

Olivia is a change-agent, confronting anti-gay attitudes in ports from Turkey to the Bahamas and giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to community organizations. Olivia's dynamic founder and president, Judy Dlugacz, has even organized three round-table discussions with Michelle Obama, who apparently enjoys having breakfast with a group of politically astute lesbians.

Becky and I hope to join the "LADIES OF OLIVIA" again someday.

A pina colada on a Caribbean beach with Becky and
a thousand other lesbians. Life doesn't get much better.

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