Alexis Clements' Unknown Play Project
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Writer Alexis Clements is currently underway on a documentary film on women's spaces. Remember those? Well they still do exist and they still are very much apart of our cultural his/herstory. If you came of age in the aughts you may wonder why? Lets let Alexis explain:
Vp: Why do you think its important to preserve or at least tell the stories of the history of women's space?
Alexis: It’s incredibly important to preserve and publish the stories of women’s spaces, because without those records, they literally cease to exist, not just physically, but in the larger world. Queer women’s spaces have long been invisible in the wider culture, and even to lesbians and queer women themselves. I know that when I was younger, I literally couldn’t see lesbians in the culture. They weren’t showing up in newspapers, they weren’t showing up in the books I was told to read in school, they weren’t showing up in the movies I was watching. I didn’t know where to find them. That’s partly because of the particulars of my upbringing, but it’s also because lesbians literally didn’t appear in the vast majority of media I was consuming as a young person, except in salacious talk show segments or derogatory headlines.
But of course there were queer women in the world, producing their own media, carving out and maintaining spaces, claiming their own ways of being in the world whether or not the wider culture acknowledged them. There is this incredibly powerful and multi-faceted legacy that a lot of people continue to work hard to preserve and highlight.
One of the things that’s adds to the sense of invisibility is that many of the spaces where lesbians and queer women gathered and continue to gather aren’t explicitly women’s or queer spaces. For example, feminist bookstores have a long and rich history of providing important space for lesbians to gather, find and share stories, and host events. But the queerness of many feminist bookstores isn’t always put forward.
Also, many spaces where queer women gather are personal spaces - literally people’s homes. Two particularly poignant examples of that, past and present, both of which will be in the documentary are the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, which literally began and lived within the home of two of its co-founders (Deborah Edel and Joan Nestle) for years, and more recently the Feminist Art Gallery (FAG) in Toronto, Canada. FAG is not a space that is exclusive to queer people or only to female-identified people, but many queer women are part of the space in different ways and the initial space for FAG is a small building in the backyard of its co-founders Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell.
Why people gather in homes and personal spaces has a lot to do with the accessibility or inaccessibility of other spaces in terms of economics, in terms of who makes decisions when the space is shared with people other than queer women, in terms of safety, and also, I think, just in terms of ease and comfort.
All of that contributes to these spaces being illegible for many people in the larger culture. And this is true of many of groups of people in the US, not just queer women.
Are you covering Mich Fest and if so how are you navigating the issues of transwomen in that particular womyn's space?
I will not be conducting interviews at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival for this documentary, though I’m sure the topic will be raised in other spaces. There are a variety of reasons for that, and this decision was reached after much discussion and conversation. For me, one of the principal reasons that I am not going to focus on Michigan is because it takes up so much of the conversation about lesbian space right now that it actually seems to drive a lot of people's perceptions of what lesbian or queer women’s space is, even though it is only one such space. Granted it is an important one, and a lot of people go there, but the current, and even the past controversies that have happened at Michigan seem to have given a lot of people the idea that what’s happening at Michigan is the same as what is happening in every other lesbian space. To some extent there may be elements of truth in that, but in other ways, it’s not the case. Part of my goal for this documentary, in whatever way I can, is to challenge people’s assumptions about what lesbian space is, what that means, who is and isn’t included in it, and so I’ve made a choice to visit some spaces that are a little less well-known as well as some that are not as obviously “queer” in an effort to expand the conversation a little bit.