Q&A with Lesbian Music Pioneer Alix Dobkin
Alix Dobkin came out publicly during the feminist movement of the 1970s. She’s credited with starting the Lesbian music movement with the production of the album Lavender Jane Loves Women in 1973. She takes the stage Saturday night at the Gay Community Center of Richmond and signs copies of her memoirs earlier in the day. GayRVA spoke with Dobkin last month about coming out, being a woman in music, and feminism.
GayRVA: What was your coming out process like in the 1970s?
Dobkin: My process of coming out was perfect. I came out in 1972 on Valentine’s Day. There was such a huge Lesbian movement. I was playing at colleges in the 1970s and there was such an excitement about feminism and women loving women.
I was a guest on WBAI Pacifica with Liza Cowan and came out on her show. I came out in the feminist movement. It was simply who I was. It was being myself and being very public about it. There were huge amounts of support. People say I’m courageous. I never was frightened and always felt empowered like it was the right thing to do.
How did coming out and being a lesbian impact your creative process?
I feel like my Lesbian feminism is a very spiritual thing. All of my songs that I wrote as a Lesbian were very clearly written for a woman about women. You can’t change the pronoun for the song to make sense. I was very careful about building that into the songs. I had to make my politics very clear through the music. Being raised by a progressive communist Jewish world as a youngster, I learned that you combine education with entertainment. Really it’s about articulating my life and my consciousness.
How has lesbian culture changed?
There has been a shift. In the 1970s and 80s, there were hundreds of women actively involved making a living from women’s music in this country. Music was our strength. Women’s music was the single largest organizing force for Lesbians – second only to softball. Since the mid-90s or so, it’s been gradual, but the culture isn’t as focused as it was. Certainly, there aren’t as many women making a living from this music. There isn’t the same type of community that there was for 20 plus years. The ideas have gotten into the mainstream and we’ve influenced a lot of performers that are popular today. But Lesbian music isn’t the same as it was.
Why is that?
The world changes, everything changes. Enough Lesbians reached a comfort level that the intensity disappeared. There are still important issues, but we are visible at least. So that struggle is old – the struggle of becoming visible and visible to each other. I’m not saying it’s not still important. It’s not as central as it was.
Another part of it was AIDS. A lot of Lesbians left the community to help the men.
There were also a lot of dysfunctional people. A lot of people got sober and that helped, but there were struggles and fights and people leaving the community feeling wounded. A lot of women moved into families and had children. A lot of this took focus off of the community and nowadays, a lot of people have less time to devote to community and culture and providing our own entertainment. There are many factors that interrupted the lesbian community.
You’re a big supporter of women’s-only spaces. What is it about that space that’s so special?
As a man, when you go into a room and there’s only men in the room, there’s a certain energy. When a woman walks in, it changes. That’s the reason it feels different. Back in the 70s, it was very important for us to create our own space. Back then, when a man walked into the room, the focus shifted to him – even if that wasn’t his intention. “Is he comfortable?” “What’s he thinking?” as well as “Get this guy out of here!” and “what’s HE doing here?? Even the presence of one quiet man could cause this shift.
That’s not true any more – we can hold our own space now. Back then it was very important for us to do, but today women’s space feels secure. I don’t do women-only concerts unless the producer requests it, but there’s a certain energy in the air when it’s only women.
I’d like to say it’s not reverse sexism. Just like African Americans wanting to meet together without white people – it’s not racism. Racism and sexism are institutional structures in society that support oppression. It’s not for the purposes of maintaining dominance, which men-only has been forever. Women-only is not reverse sexism or institutional sexism.
Tell me about your book, “My Red Blood.”
It took 17 years to write. I’d like to think that it’s a collection of really good stories from my past. I always tell people I happened to have been born at the right time in the right place. I was at key points at the right times. My parents were Communists in the 30s and 40s. I was a teenage Communist in the 1950s during the Red Scare, and then came out in the feminist movement in 1972. These were all very significant moments in our history. I felt I needed to write down those memories of how it felt. The book ends the moment that I come out. I’ve already documented my Lesbian story through music, articles, columns, my songbook, and liner notes to my albums..
Alix Dobkin signs copies of her book on Saturday, February 20 from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. at the Gay Community Center of Richmond at 1407 Sherwood Avenue. She performs at 8 p.m. Tickets for the concert are $15 in advance and available online here. Tickets are $20 at the door. For more on Dobkin, visit www.alixdobkin.com and www.ladyslipper.org. “My Red Blood” is published by Alyson Books.
“You are mine” is about “one teenager dreaming about another, even though they’ll never be together.”December 16, 2015
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