Thoughts on the Twin Oaks Queer Gathering

Written by Warren:

I’ve been curious about the FEC communes for a little over a year and this past August I finally had an opportunity to visit Twin Oaks during the Queer Gathering. Generally speaking, it’s not difficult to arrange a visit to these communities, but I live in Sweden and I have a small daughter which makes logistics somewhat trickier. Both visiting and membership procedures are (understandably) much more restricted when it comes to children. However, as a long-time activist in the LGBTQ rights movement, I was really looking forward to experiencing an American queer gathering. Would it be similar to the Danish and Swedish queer festivals that I’d been to? Most of my experience with American queer politics has been through the internet, what would it feel like to meet the thoughts and ideas and personalities of my queer siblings across the ocean in person?

First, a bit about the word “queer.” Queer has become something of an umbrella term for the LGBT community as a way to say sexual or gender minority without getting into specifics. But this hasn’t always been the case and in the Scandinavia capitol cities (and Berlin and perhaps a few other places) “queer” had been long used to describe the so-called faction of LGBT people who were far-left leaning politically, almost exclusively vegan and not at all interested in respectability politics. Conversations at Scandinavian queer gatherings ten years ago were more likely to focus on abolishing marriage and legal gender than marriage equality and third gender markers. There were designated sex-spaces, hands-on BDSM workshops and yes, orgies. I wouldn’t be surprised if the term “pink washing” was actually coined over a pot of vegan stew in the cafeteria of an abandoned school building squatted by queer anarchists. These were also spaces haunted by traumatic childhoods and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The Queers were a crazy, beautiful, amazing, bizarre, radical hot mess. Today, the English-language influence has grown stronger and “queer” is now being used more and more as a catchall term for the alphabet soup even over here. With a shift in language, comes a shift of ideas and culture and that which has no name tends to fade away.


They had buttons like this at the gathering 

My first delight upon arriving at Twin Oaks, was seeing queers in the woods. This was, in fact, the first time I’d ever seen queers camping en masse. Despite being outdoorsy myself, my own LGBTQ-community experiences have mostly been urban. If you missed the sign announcing the grass parking lot, you would know you were in the right place from all the Subarus.  The secluded location combined with intense heat (for me, omg I was dying, never sweated so much in my life) and clothing-optional policy created a vibrant visual “all-bodies welcome” setting that was powerful. Judging by the pronoun nametags, around half of the participants were nonbinary and many more had binary identities with nonbinary bodies comfortably taking up space and freely existing. This alone is something I wish for all trans people to experience at least once in their lives.

Street sign in New York City near the Stonewall Inn 

The spaces between and beyond gender were stronger and more tangible during this gathering than I’ve seen them.  The flip side of this coin, was that the presence of solidly binary-identified cisgender gay men, lesbians and bisexuals was little more than a murmur. This brings me back around to the question of how big of an umbrella is the word “queer” in reality? Who feels welcomed/described by the word? Is it enough for the author of an online glossary to define a word as a catchall for it to function as a catchall? 

As for the leftist-coloring of the word, that I couldn’t judge at this opportunity– this was afterall a gathering at an income-sharing egalitarian commune. Socialist leanings would be a given. I did however attend a food justice queer revolution workshop during the gathering which trojan horsed Marxism as the solution to climate breakdown and post-apocolyptic governance. If Americans are so scared of socialism they have to carefully dance around it (one participant even quoted Marx without attributing the quote to Marx) at a queer gathering on an income-sharing commune…well, Bernie Sanders has his work cut out for him.

I learned from a workshop on being queer in community, that approximately the same amount of transphobia exists at Twin Oaks and some of the other communities as in the wider American culture, maybe shifted a bit to exclude the extreme negative end of the scale. The usual generational divide between those who get it and those who feel the fundamental rules of nature have been shifted beneath their vary noses, can be felt as much at Twin Oaks as anywhere else. The Queer Gathering is a bubble of freedom and liberation even within the communities movement.

Author with daughter and friends in the background 

I did bring my 5-year-old daughter with me and was grateful for the free babysitting provided by volunteers. Being babysat by a wonderful, mostly naked man with large breasts was an experience that stimulated questions that led to conversations I was happy to have the opportunity to have with my daughter. Despite being trans myself, back home transness as topic in itself is not one that comes up very often in our day-to-day life. She even took the stage during the audience-participation queer, drag, burlesque, talent show event– I love that she felt safe enough to confront her stage fright and that she too got to experience empowerment and acceptance.

It was wonderful to meet some familiar faces from this blog and other internet spaces, in person– the people you see here are every bit as delightful in real life. Warm, compassionate and inspiring. If you’re thinking about taking the leap and going to visit a community, do it. 


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Thoughts on the Twin Oaks Queer Gathering


How 8 communards organized a conference but failed to build a geodesic dome:

How do you organize a conference with no one in charge?

Organizing in community is not a linear process.  Mistakes are part of the process. Multiple people work in parallel. Sometimes there’s conflict. But eventually, the work gets done, and the result is something that could not have been made in any other way. Process over product.