WE WERE THERE: HER/LA’s Mothership Festival

HER/LA Mothership festival

Photo by Samantha Snitzer

On November 5th, 6th, and 7th, a group of two hundred women convened in Desert Hot Springs, California, for HER/LA’s Mothership, a queer, trans, and non-binary inclusive feminist festival for women. I attended Mothership with my childhood best friend, Chris Tsuyuki, with whom I’m writing this piece. For full transparency, I am white, and Chris is third-generation Japanese American. This year’s event was the second iteration of the festival—the first taking place in LA as a pop-up festival—so, as Chris points out, “it’s still growing and findings its audience and voice. If they can reach out to more POC feminists, this festival can probably grow into something that really feels like it’s for all of us.”

Chris and I camped Friday and Saturday nights, beside Camp Beaverton, the lesbian Burning Man camp. The camping spot was an open space behind Sam’s Family Spa and Hot Water Resort—essentially a trailer/RV park with three mineral pools—which meant we had electricity, potable water, toilets, and showers. A hundred or so camping tents surrounded four festival tents, where various workshops and activities were held throughout the weekend. The most popular event was “How to Drive a Vulva,” a presentation by sex educator Allison Moon, who was so energetic, intelligent, hilarious, and queer- and trans-inclusive that you could feel the positive energy vibrating through the room. If only everyone—specifically teens—could have access to such powerful sex education, where the focus is on feeling healthy about your sexuality, asking for and giving consent, communicating your needs during sexual activities, advocating for your own pleasure, and using safe sex practices. It always feels so important to hear someone talk about sex, bodies, and desire in healthy ways, and even for this audience of twenty- and thirty-somethings, it felt like Moon’s sex-positivity was something we all needed to hear.

Another popular event was the panel “Women’s Sexuality in the Media,” hosted by former editor-in-chief of AfterEllen Trish Bendix, with writer and actress Alexandra Roxo, artist and creator of the male-nipple sticker Micol Hebron, “Bye Felipe” creator Alexandra Tweten, and writer and actress Mel Shimkovitz. The panelists, acknowledging how white the panel was (Bendix reported that some panelists had cancelled), talked about working in the media, art, and film industries. It was an interesting glimpse into those worlds, though the one-hour time constraint meant we couldn’t get into a very deep or political discussion.

Chris and I, knowing we would write about Mothership for Weird Sister, observed the festival with a critical eye. We thought about white feminism. We talked with some women from London about Brexit and our upcoming election. We talked with some straight women who felt a bit left out for being straight at what felt like a mostly queer event. We thought about how different it was to be with only female-identified people for the weekend, how safe it felt, how the male gaze was absent; in its place were a lot of women walking around with bare chests—but no feeling of being just a pretty object. There were, of course, many beautiful women, with all manner of gender representation, all of whom seemed to feel comfortable in their own skin. From Chris’ perspective: “I don’t know if this comfort in one’s own skin is special in the greater scheme of things, or just a special first experience for me, but not only by removing the male gaze and not having our bodies hypersexualized, I felt comfortable in a way I never have. Just the women letting it all hang out. It’s the first time I’ve sat (in the dirt) and not even thought about sucking my stomach in. I saw such a diversity in body types and a celebration of the beauty of our differences that I’ve never known before firsthand.”

The only men on the campground were the guys inside the Pie for the People foodtruck, a Joshua Tree pizzeria. When the breakfast food truck didn’t show up on Sunday morning, these guys made breakfast pizzas. They were friendly and chatty, yet respectful of the space HER/LA was creating. A caption on Mothership’s Instagram account sums it up well: “A love note for Pie for the People: We feel like you’ve become a part of our festival, we love you, we appreciate you, you’re delicious!”

On Saturday night, Chris and I drank cocktails mixed by Chelsea Vonchaz and Cherryl Warner, the founders of #HappyPeriod, a nonprofit providing menstrual hygiene kits to homeless people, which received, as a donation, a portion of the weekend’s proceeds. We danced to DJ Good Boy, LEX, and CLAY. We made new friends. We went to the creativity tent and put “CUNT” stickers on our faces and took pictures. We celebrated. We connected. And we got female-symbol tattoos by Hannah Uribe. It was a warm desert night so a bunch of us in the tattooing tent, including Uribe, took off our shirts, put stickers on our nipples, and got tattooed like goddamn fucking women.

And then, Tuesday happened.

Now, we are thinking about this post, about this weekend, about this world in vastly different ways. At the festival, I wasn’t sure what the angle of this piece would be. Were Chris and I critical of certain aspects of the festival? Did we think it was still a bit too white? Were some of the presentations and workshops lacking in deep, intellectual thought? Could it have been more political? Did it cost $195, not including food and drinks? Yes. And yet.

What Chris and I see now, in the light of Trump’s election, is that we—everyone who attended Mothership—were gathering, strengthening, building. We were making contact with the mothership: inclusive, intersectional feminism. We thought, like all liberals/progressives/Leftists, that Hillary’s win was in the bag; we thought we were celebrating. No one that weekend was worried. There was a Trump piñata, as part of the “Destroy Your Oppressor” workshop, held by Women Fuck Shit Up Fest, but other than that, no one seemed to be talking about Trump.

So, we celebrated a little too early. But we were mostly recharging ourselves before the devastating Tuesday results, and now we set off from the mothership on our own little spacecrafts. Chris and I are grateful to know of the women in LA who are making their queer voices heard, who are writing the scripts they want to see, who are pushing against mainstream media, who are creating music and art. Grateful to the women who traveled from outside of LA or even outside of the US to commune for a weekend with like-minded individuals. Grateful to HER/LA founder Laura Wise for putting together this safe space.

One of the event’s hashtags was #WomenWillRoar. We can’t let hate, racism, xenophobia, or the divides within our feminist movement silence our roar of anger, empowerment, self-love, and hope for the future.

HER/LA Mothership festival

Photo by Chris Tsuyuki

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