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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] GLB Lesbians at Sydney Opera House: Interview with Georgina Abrahams

Lesbians at Sydney Opera House: Interview with Georgina Abrahams

JD_JaiOn 10 July this year around 1,500 women-loving-women and their families will don their best outfits and step out at the iconic Sydney Opera House to enjoy a four-hour gala evening of Australian lesbian talent. The event – organised by Creative Womyn Down Under (CWDU) – will reprise a similar one that was held 20 years ago, and is part of a weekend of activities open to all lesbian, bisexual, queer or same-sex-attracted women. Georgina Abrahams, co-founder of CWDU, spoke with Katrina Fox about practical feminism, activism and the importance of inclusion.

10 April 2011

What made you want to do this event at the Sydney Opera House that celebrates lesbian culture?

It’s time we were back in the House, reminding each other what an extraordinarily creative, diverse and accomplished group of womyn we are. The concert 20 years ago was so memorable – lesbians still talk about it with pride and joy.

The word ‘lesbian’ is considered by many to be outdated and old-fashioned and even a ‘dying breed’. What are your thoughts on this?

I love the word ‘lesbian’. It has power and magic and politics in it. It stands for every same-sex-attracted womyn who is stepping out of line. Not so long ago lesbian was a secret word and lesbian mother was thought to be a contradiction in terms. Let’s not forget the courageous womyn of the 60s, 70s and 80s who often sacrificed careers, friends and families and fought for our rights so that today we can call ourselves dykes, butches, femmes, lesbians.

I reckon queer is the new lesbian. Lesbians are cool. More and more womyn are embracing not only lesbian love but also womyn-identified politics, challenging misogyny and false loyalties to male myths, ideologies and institutions.

You’re an out and proud lesbian feminist – two loaded terms. What did being a lesbian feminist mean to you back when you first came out as both, and what does it mean to you today?

I was 23 when I came out, over 30 years ago. Being a lesbian feminist holds the same meaning and identity to me now as it did then – as a lesbian my primary erotic, psychological, emotional and social interest is in other womyn. Feminism was, and still is, an issue of human rights.

I’m aware many dictionary definitions refer to love between womyn, but by ‘love’ they mean sexual practices. For me, being a lesbian is so much more. It is learning a deep love of self and other womyn so I become a self-defined person.

And it is a feminist commitment to the freedom of all of us which, as Adrienne Rich so beautifully put:

transcends the category of ‘sexual preference’ and the issue of civil rights, to become a politics of asking women’s questions, demanding a world in which the integrity of all women – not just a chosen few – shall be honoured and validated in every aspect of culture.

I understand feminism can be perceived as a rigidity of style and behaviour. For me, feminism has encouraged exploration and allowed me to bend, experiment and enjoy the challenging dynamics of activism. Essential to feminism is the examining of the way we live, how we treat each other and what we believe.

The name of your company is Creative Womyn, with a y instead of an ‘e’. Why?

There are many creative spellings of the word women: womin, wimmin, wimyn. We chose womyn with a “y” because we want women to ask why? To constantly challenge the things which oppress women – Why we don’t yet have pay equity? Why violence against women is so persistently present in our society; Why women and girls are trafficked around the world.

It’s a feminist, activist “y” to spark up conversation, to keep us conscious about the treatment of womyn. And to challenge sexism in our language – why not take the men out of womyn, make a statement and reclaim language?

The connection with creativity is when womyn are in crisis or depressed, or do not have access to basic resources such as housing, food, clothing, money: one of the first ‘luxuries’ to disappear is creative expression. Survival becomes the focus. Our website and events provide ways for womyn to tap into creative community, information and experiences.

You have always been inclusive and keen to make women’s spaces welcoming to trans women, even when your views went against the grain of the majority, particularly in the past. Tell us about why you’ve taken this stance, reactions to it and how you’ve dealt with that.

People have a right to determine their own identity. CWDU has always been inclusive of all who identify as womyn. It is not in my nature to discriminate against a womyn – whether cis, trans or intersex. I deeply celebrate difference however she appears and I honour the struggle of becoming who we are.

I also appreciate the complexity contained in this often provocative and divisive issue and trust we hold enough integrity in our differences to move forward and keep learning from each other.

I’ve learnt to deal with reactions to inclusion by building community and bridging divisions, which I see as a powerful feminist act. Differences of opinions are vital, and I hope we can continue to explore the values of justice, care, respect, liberation, together as feminists.

In a practical sense, this means showing up and being prepared to engage in open-hearted discussion. Womyn face oppression and discrimination on a daily basis and we don’t need to perpetuate this further amongst ourselves.

Core to your feminism is activism, on a broad range of social justice issues. You were one of several hundred women involved in the Pine Gap protests – tell us about this.

In 1983 about 800 womyn spent two weeks in the desert outside the US Base Pine Gap near Alice Springs. On November 11 many of us pulled down the wire fence, walked into the security base and were arrested.

We collectively called ourselves Karen Silkwood, after the American woman who spoke against nuclear power plants and was killed for her courage. We were all taken to the Alice Springs lock-up and the next day 111 ‘Karen Silkwoods’ explained in court why we don’t want US bases, uranium mining, nuclear power or violence committed against our beautiful planet and its fragile inhabitants.

This herstoric action emboldened many womyn to further questioning and continued vigilance on environmental, personal and feminist levels.

What other kinds of direct action have you taken part in over the years?

Anti-apartheid in South Africa, independence for East Timor, Black deaths in custody, animal liberation, Reclaim the Night, legal abortions, pretty well all environmental issues, including the 1980’s Franklin River Campaign in Tasmania, and I’m a founding member of the Australian Greens Party.

This year marked my 30th year in Sydney’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. In recent years I’ve been marching with Rainbow Babies and it was our son’s third year in Mardi Gras and at Fair Day.

Feminism comes in many shapes and forms, with different ideologies and approaches from radical, to liberal, socialist and so on. You’ve described yourself as a practical feminist. Please expand on this: what you mean and how it plays out in your day-to-day life.

My feminism is a lived set of values based on the sharing with other womyn of a rich, inner life, working against male exploitation, and the giving and receiving of practical and political support.

My educational background is teaching, social work and counselling. I support womyn who are homeless, womyn just out of prison, older womyn, womyn living in poverty, and womyn with disability. A lot of this work involves asking new questions and coming up with new answers.

Practical feminism means you need to read a lot, to understand a lot, to feel a lot and to be honest.

Feminism in the west has been criticised for being too white and middle-class. As someone who’s been involved in feminism in Australia for around 30 years, what are your thoughts on this?

I’ve had discussions on this with womyn of colour in the States, UK, India, Nepal and here. Many of these womyn prefer the word ‘womanist’, as it has a strong root in African-American  culture. I remember Alice Walker saying womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender. Black womyn I know see black feminism as the logical movement to combat the many oppressions that all womyn of colour face.

Basically feminism as I’ve lived, read and observed it, is a desire and struggle for freedom, which is the same for each of us – even though our methods and experiences may differ.

Central to feminism is antiracism, anticlassism, antiwomyn-hating. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote more than 200 years ago, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, that she did not wish womyn to have power over men, but over themselves.

The work I see being done today by Australian feminists is using social and political power to create change for the better for other womyn. Some of them are undoubtedly ‘middle class’ and to their credit they have not abandoned the fight in these politically disillusioned times.

Nor have they perverted the cause. They fight for a world where power is no longer gendered and equality is not wishful thinking. Middle-class womyn can be oppressed as well.

I see feminism alive and well in the hands of the next generation of young womyn, as well as  white middle-class womyn, who both offer a political ethos that is flexible and humane. And sometimes, understandably, angry.

At this year’s International Women’s Day centenary rally in Sydney, an Asian factory union worker spoke of how she has set about unstitching the sexist, racist culture for the sake of those she represents.

Wherever we come from as feminists, I know we can be beacons of hope in our communities and provoke action so that all womyn may be freer, healthier and more courageous.

What in your opinion are the key issues of importance to women globally nowadays?

Safety, emotional, mental and physical well being, financial independence, educational equity and fairness,  gender bias, respect and equality, having a place you call home, freedom to choose lifestyle, friends and a meaningful future. And getting our views across – more womyn on TV, stage, film, reviewers, senior positions and top jobs.

What about for lesbians?

All of the above as well as visibility, marriage equality, overcoming self-hatred in the form of internalised lesbophobia. To be able to walk in the world proud and free. And our children treated with respect and honour.

At a recent Mardi Gras event Women Say Something, the topic was diversity and inclusion. The lesbian/queer communities are incredibly diverse with lots of different tribes with different values and ideals. How do we make connections between these different groups with sometimes oppositional views?

Firstly, let’s work with gratitude – how fabulous our communities are incredibly diverse with lots of tribes within tribes. And then, let’s connect with respect, openness, curiosity and care. With humility and a desire to listen, learn and support. With an energy to work with strengths, and a healthy appreciation of differences. With the toughness of a visionary heart.

What is the aim of the Lesbians in the House Concert?

Visibility, fun, pride, a reminder of our achievements in the past 20 years and future goals, and a celebration of lesbians, our lives and communities.

You will no doubt encounter criticisms of classism from people who will argue that with tickets at $100 for concessions, the event is aimed predominantly at an elite or privileged market of white, middle-class lesbians who can afford to go and is inaccessible to poorer, marginalised lesbians/queer women. What is your response to this?

I hate to think of lesbians not being able to attend due to insufficient resources. This event needs to cover its costs and it takes a big budget to produce a four-hour gala at the Sydney Opera House. The concert would not have been possible at all if the performers had not been so generous in donating their time.

There hasn’t been anything quite as momentous as this for a long time. This is essentially a lesbian community event at a big-ticket venue and we feel so lucky to have the time, support and contacts to make it all happen.

With three months left to buy a ticket, I trust that womyn who want to participate on 10 July will be creative and save, make a birthday request, and find a way of prioritising the joy of taking over the House for one night. This may not happen again for another 20 years!

In 1991, the tickets were $50 and $75. They’ve doubled in 20 years. Let’s remember petrol was 18 cents a litre 20 years ago, and now it’s difficult to find a pump under $1.40.

It’s impossible to please everyone in terms of entertainment, but can you say something about your process of choosing performers and how you’ve tried to ensure that the talent appeals to a wide range of lesbian/queer women, both young and old and from different backgrounds.

The night will certainly provide a wide variety of musical styles, ages and experience. The first half brings together many of the artists from 20 years ago, including opera singer Deborah Cheetham, folk legend Judy Small, blues and jazz singer Anique and even some of Jive with Jeanettes original dancers.

In the second half we’ve chosen fabulous and diverse artists who are out, proud and totally entertaining, including Bluehouse, Julie McCrossin, Shauna Jensen, Kerrianne Cox, Mignon, Journey MC and Maeve Marsden.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them from the night?

A sense of belonging, of feeling valued and respected, a deeper appreciation of our diverse culture and creative lesbian performers, and inspiration to be more involved in social change.

That older womyn will enjoy and celebrate the younger lesbian artists and vice versa. And that during the night the wisdom, spirituality and connectedness in our worldwide culture is felt and deepened.

Lesbians are attending from all around Australia, New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Europe, the US and Canada. It’s going to be wonderful.

Lesbians in the House will be held at the Sydney Opera House on 10 July. Tickets are $140 or $100 concession. Book tickets at the Sydney Opera House website.

Lesbian Weekender is a weekend of activities and events, including a Day in Newtown festival. One of these events is a discussion forum. If you have a topic you would like discussed, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For full details of all events, visit the Creative Womyn Down Under website.

Katrina Fox is editor-in-chief of The Scavenger. She will facilitate the discussion forum during Lesbian Weekender.

Image: Georgina Abrahams and her son Jai at the Opera House. Photo by Gabe Journey Jones.


Comments   

0 #1 Maria 2011-05-11 17:06
Western feminists are eurocentric, racist, and spoiled rotten brats. It's hard for me to ignore that the most famous of all australian feminists, Germaine Greer, openly supports radical Islam's oppression of women and homosexuals, even going so far as to blame women for rape. Ironic that the feminist movement used to argue against such ideology. The western feminist has abandoned its creed of freedom and equality and have taken up the torch of global communism, even at the cost of women's rights. A heavy dose of radicalised, irrational hatred for the United States only weakens their dialog. Hypocrites and lairs, all of them.
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