Finnian Burnett


I just spent a week in Michigan with thousands of women, listening to music, attending workshops, making out with a stranger, walking in the woods in complete safety, and writing.

Let’s be fair, I didn’t do a lot of actual writing at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, but I was constantly composing ideas in my head. I wrote a whole scene in which Andy and Alice, two of the characters from my second novel, have a discussion about the festival. I can *feel* it in my heart, but getting it down on paper is hard. The barrage of feelings and impressions that I encountered at my first fest are still swirling around me in a kind of hurricane of love and acceptance.

It’s making the real world a little hard to take. I feel disconnected, like I am talking to all non-fest people through quicksand. I can hear myself saying things to my customers in that higher pitched, ultra-smiley kind of way and I wonder why no one else sees me as fake. Or perhaps they do, and I just don’t realize it. I think I hadn’t realized how shallow so many of my interactions in the real world were until I had so many significant ones at fest.

As a trans-advocate, I went in expecting to argue about the trans exclusion policy of the festival. However, having experienced it, I understand that policy now. I am not sure if I can articulate it yet, but I do agree that there should be woman born woman spaces only… just as there are some spaces that are only for people of color, or for men, or for Jewish people, or the hearing impaired.

I met a lot of amazing women, and a few that I consider lifelong friends. Even if we don’t see each other again, or only see each other at fest, there is the link between us now that will never die. I got to reconnect in the most wonderful ways with my soul sister, Kim. This is the woman who has, literally and figuratively, held my hand as I jumped into the deep end more times than I can count.

I wore nothing but a long skirt and a bra one night. I was walking down the road, feeling a bit insecure about it and several women stopped to tell me that I was beautiful. One shuttle driver actually stopped and yelled, “You look amazing!!” It made my night. How often does that happen in real life? In a word, never.

I was woefully unprepared for camping. It rained for two solid days and I was so cold at night that I woke up with my teeth chattering. Women from neighboring campsites brought me thick wooly socks and extra blankies. My best friend and soul sister, Kim and I learned some lessons in spooning… that is, do it. The only time I was warm at night was when I was cuddling with her. One cold day, as I was shivering in the rain, an amazing woman offered me hot tea and oatmeal, cooked at her campsite. Another brought me hot coffee. Still another gave me gloves.

I was offered some interesting sexual activities, which I sadly turned down. It turns out that I may be an adventurer in my head, but in the real world, I want a connection with someone before we have sex… even if it is just a one night thing, there has to be a friendship of sorts. I should make it extremely clear that there isn’t anything wrong with the things I was offered and I tried to make that clear as I was turning them down… It wasn’t a judgment call on the people who offered them, but my own shyness and trepidation. I would say that it was a failing on my part, but good friends wouldn’t let me say that. Instead, they reminded me that I am just out of a long-term, oppressive relationship and I am finding myself and my own boundaries. And that was also part of what Mich fest was about for me. Finding myself. And meeting people who embrace and love that self for who she is.

I walked everywhere, regardless of the weather. I showered in front of other women, out in the open, at the communal showers. I wrote a short story for someone and poured my heart and soul into it and then sent it to her.

I was unafraid to compliment people. If I found someone beautiful or gorgeous, I told them. If someone had a great smile, I told them. If they made me happy, I told them. It wasn’t a flirting thing, it wasn’t about coming on to anyone, it was purely about wanting to let them know that they gave me joy in one way or another. Almost everyone responded with love and joy… except one memorable woman who, in response to me saying “You look great in that cowboy hat,” said, “Thanks, my girlfriend likes it too!” Kim actually snorted over that one, but I just smiled.

I challenged myself and my assumptions. I accidentally jumped into the middle of the street during the butch parade because I thought some hot leather dyke was motioning for me to come forward… turns out she was motioning at her wife who was standing behind me. It was pretty embarrassing, but as Kim said, if there is ever a moment when I *don’t* jump into the street at some hot leather dyke motioning toward me, i might as well give up my lesbian card.

I threw knives and tomahawks at a target and actually hit a couple of them! Me! Throwing tomahawks! It was… in a word…. AWESOME! big props to Vick, the incredible teacher of that workshop who basically wouldn’t let me be scared and decided that since I was there, I was going to throw. She gave me courage. It was… again, AWESOME! I definitely intend to do that workshop again next year… and the archery one as well.

I was unafraid to be alone. Even in the dark. In the woods. I spent several nights walking alone in the woods after dark. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even nervous. In fact, one night, as I was walking alone, I got into a place where I couldn’t even see any tents or any lights of any sort… and I suddenly heard steps behind me. I wasn’t afraid even then. I simply turned, said hello to the woman who was walking behind me and went on my way. It is impossible to explain how the burden of fear oppresses us on a daily basis, even if we don’t actively feel it. For me, it is there. If I am alone after dark and see a man walking toward me, there is always that bit of anxiety. It was incredible to not have that for a whole week.

I learned the sign language for “awesome” and “thank you.” (Two of my favorite words.) I met an incredible deaf woman with whom I had a lot of trouble communicating and I have made a pact that this year, I will learn at least enough sign language to have basic communication at the next fest. I never realized how much I take communicating for granted. I watched this woman in a crowd and my heart ached to be able to translate what was going on. We were able to talk several times through an interpreter, but when there wasn’t one, all we could do was smile at each other. As my sister said, we both knew that we had things in common and that we could have intelligent conversations with each other, but the language barrier held us back. I aim to correct that this year.

I had amazing conversations all day, every day. If I was just even hauling my garbage to a dumpster, or walking to the latrines, or going in search of coffee in the mornings, I met incredible women with incredible stories. I met lesbians from every race, culture, income level, age, size, shape, religious belief, etc, etc. Who knew there were so many different kinds of lesbians? I spent a lot of time talking to older lesbians, asking them about what it was like to come out when they did. It was good to be reminded that there is a whole generation of womyn in front of me who had to fight way harder than I have ever had to fight in order to be out and proud.

I saw more hot butch women in one place than I have ever seen in my life. There was the tall, white-haired super sexy stud in classy, pressed menswear in the butch parade who turned and winked at me as she was going by. Wow. Fluttered my heart. There was the hot New Yorker who was selling ice cream outside of the Crafts tent. Kim and I were sitting in our camp chairs, just watching all of the gorgeous women walking by and hot NY ice cream woman made our day. There was the sexy Minnesota butch and her beautiful femme girlfriend who were camped next to us. Lyda. (I’m not sure of the spelling, but she was intelligent and kind and beautiful.) There were leather dykes and flannel dykes and women who might label themselves as butch today and femme tomorrow and there were so many women like me who don’t really fall into either category, but who loved my idea of holding a “crunchy granola lesbian parade” next year for all of us in-betweeners. There were shaved heads and long ponytails, and big biceps, and naked breasts of every size and shape. It was an eye opener.

I met someone who refused to let me talk crap about myself. She didn’t chastise me… she just simply refuted any negative thing I said about myself in a no nonsense, irrefutable way. She was so sure and so confident that I had no choice but to believe her. I love her. Not in a marriage kind of way, but more of a general feeling of peace and happiness that I was lucky enough to have met someone who got into my heart and made it fuller. Every time I think my heart is as full as it can be, I meet someone who manages to get into it anyway. I have a lot of love to give in a lot of different ways and the festival is a great place to explore that. In fact, I loved several women that I met at fest, and I still love them. And I always will, whether we see each other again or not.

Perhaps most importantly, I found some of my own strength and self-worth. I have come away from this festival with a strong belief in myself and my path. I am going exactly where I want to go. I am a writer. I may still work in a grocery store to pay my bills, but I have a novel and a publisher and a second novel and short stories that can make people laugh or cry or say “WTF!?!” I don’t know how long I will have to have an actual job, as opposed to supporting myself with my true calling, but it doesn’t matter right now. I am following my true path and that is the most important thing anyone can do.

So in the end, for me at least, the festival was about so much more than just music. It was about love and acceptance and becoming more of who I want to be and peace and discovery. Next year can’t come soon enough.

18 thoughts on “Processing, writing, and readjusting to the real world

  1. joestolfi3 says:

    Discovery … Love it

  2. nefarious1 says:

    ❤ Great account of your experience. Thank you for sharing!

  3. nefarious1 says:

    So glad you shared your experience! It warmed my heart and made me smile.

  4. BunBun says:

    what a clear and joyful accounting of a first fest! thank you So Much for sharing this!

  5. Nisey says:

    Beautifully captured. This, too, was my first fest and as I read your words, I thought, “Yes! That’s exactly what I felt!” I’m so happy you came to know and love all that is unique and wonderful about living that ONE week on the Land.

  6. Pam Potgeter says:

    I loved your retelling of your experience at fest! I am a long time festie goer, and reading your story reminds me of those exact feelings I had 30 years ago at my first fest!

  7. wildwomyn says:

    Wonderul that you experienced the magic of Fest. This Fest was my second, and despite holing up during the rain so I wouldn’t catch a cold, I met more people, was better rested and able to do most of what I wanted. Wonderful to read about your experiences and happenings!

  8. Jill says:

    Beautiful words! I hope I get to meet you next year. I think you have put into words what many of us feel about fest. I’m so glad your experience was so lovely.

    1. bethsnewlife says:

      Thank you everyone… and Jill, I am on Facebook under Beth Burnett. Let’s stay in touch and we can make it happen to meet next year at fest! 🙂

  9. heartsmind says:

    Be~u~til~ful! A beautiful expression. Big michfest hug of thanks. Looking forward to meeting you next August.

  10. Roar says:

    Dear Sister.
    Thank you so much for your beautiful words of reflection. Michfest is truly a place where we can be real and open our hearts. I look forward to seeing you on the path (or at the quilt frame) in August.
    Roar the Quiltworker

    1. bethsnewlife says:

      Thank you, Roar! I look forward to meeting you as well. 🙂

  11. Julie Nicolay says:

    What a wonderful rendering of your experience…so full of love! Though not a Michigan-goer yet (opportunities missed, etc.), I’ve been to many others for decades, so know the first-fest feelings and magic. Wonderful! I’d have been one of the ones who told you how beautiful you are, by the way. : )

  12. Traci says:

    Beth, this was well thought out and written…kudos to you and your experiences that you can share with others. Well Done friend!

  13. sensiblestilettos says:

    I can’t explain the feelings I experienced reading your blog. You inspire me to attend Festival. I hear many stories and imagine what the days and nights will hold but your blog painted a vivid picture. The only way to find out for myself is to go.. I hope to meet you on a trail next year.

  14. sailorboy says:

    I don’t think I met you at fest, but reading your account of it, especially as we are moving towards the long winter, was very enjoyable. I’m very glad you had such an amazing time. I’ve been going for 11 years now and can’t imagine my life without it!

    1. bethsnewlife says:

      Thank you. I am feeling the winter pangs now, too, and thinking of the warmth of the woods. (Though I was freezing a couple of nights there!) Glad for midway parties to sustain me… I’ll be going to MO for one in January.

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