The Liberated Southern Lady and the Shy Struggling Artist
For five days in August of 1994, thousands of women came together from all over the world to camp just outside Hart, Michigan for the twenty-fourth annual Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. That year was part of a tidal shift within the community of the festival to include intensive workshops, as well as performances from the underground music scene. Bare-breasted women roamed through the massive camp site reveling in the freedom and safety the festival provides, greeting friends they hadn’t seen since the previous festival, spending time raging in a mosh pit or relaxing in a field to soothing folk ballads, and attending multi-lingual discussions on race, culture, and sexuality.
Deb, then 26 and working to establish herself as a writer, was sent to cover the festival by Third Side Press, a now-defunct lesbian publication based in Chicago. Having been interested in checking out the leather scene for some time, Deb decided to stop by The Twilight Zone, the leather tent. On the path there, she came across a friendly looking middle-aged woman in a black t-shirt bearing the logo of the Chicago SLUTS (the Society of Leatherwomyn United Towards Sadomasochism), the oldest women-only leather club in the city. Normally Deb tended to keep to herself, and perhaps it was the influence of the festival and the legendary sense of liberation it imbues its patrons with, but she decided to take a leap, and called out to the woman, “Excuse me, ma’am? Are you from Chicago?”
The woman’s name, Deb found out, was Gail, and she was, in fact from Chicago. Having seen this “gorgeous, green-eyed woman” coming her way, Gail put her expansive charms to good use, and invited her down to The Chicago Eagle (one of Chicago’s oldest leather bars that recently closed) for a SLUTS meeting, offering to show her around. Deb warmed to her hospitality immediately, surprised at how at ease this stranger made her feel. While the two made a lasting impression on one another, it would be five months before Deb worked up the courage to attend a SLUTS meeting.
For Gail, a naturally gregarious woman, speaking warmly and frankly to a stranger was not an isolated incident, but her interest was piqued by the soft-spoken woman’s earnest desire for information and that Deb had no idea just how attractive she was. Most of all she was surprised by the electric connection between them. With two teenaged daughters at home, Gail felt as if she had little to offer someone so young and full of promise. After they parted ways, she paid little thought to Deb and their meeting until she showed up at The Eagle the following December.