A sense of suddenly being a first-class citizen

Arwa Mahdawi reports on a festive annual event:

Every year at the end of March, 20,000 lesbians from around the world fly into the Californian desert for five days of debauchery, and I’m one of them. It’s my second time at the Dinah, also known as the largest girl festival in the world. I’m staying at the Hilton in Palm Springs, which is hosting the famous Dinah pool parties, and the hotel feels like a homosexual harem.

It’s a surreal experience: for a few days the world is turned upside down, the minority is suddenly the majority. Everywhere you look, lesbians are smiling, drinking, dancing, kissing. There are a few men around – staff working the event and guys who have been dragged along by lesbian friends – but they are hard to spot. It’s basically entirely queer women in attendance.

It’s named after a Dinah Shore golf tournament. This is its 26th year.

Today, nobody is here for the golf. No one is here for the DJs, comedians or YouTube stars performing either. They’re here for the girls. Butch, femme, old, young, gold stars, bi, black, white, hardcore, normcore – the Dinah attracts a diverse group. There’s a sense of liberation and a tacit understanding that what happens in Dinah stays in Dinah (unless it ends up on Facebook).

Lots of hooking up, lots of drinking.

The feeling of permissiveness is compounded by the desert scenery: it looks like there has been some sort of gaypocalypse, and all the straight men and women have died out.

I can’t lie, it’s nice being in a predominantly female space for a few days. There’s a feeling of comfortable camaraderie; a sense of suddenly being a first-class citizen. But I feel like that comes more from the queerness rather than the femaleness. No one at the Dinah wishes a plague on all men. Despite the stereotype of the man-hating dyke, most lesbians really like men (we need them around to ensure we don’t get too distracted). The Dinah isn’t about separatism; it’s about celebration.

A funny thing about this article – there’s not a single mention of trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or of the cotton ceiling, or of trans women. Did Mahdawi not get the memo? I thought everybody always got the memo.

While a lot of big brands have only started wooing dyke dollars recently, the city of Palm Springs has long been cognizant of the economic benefits of embracing diversity. It grew to prominence in the 1930s when closeted Hollywood movie stars would head to the desert to escape the studios’ scrutiny. The likes of Rock Hudson, Liberace, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich all spent time there.

Today it’s estimated that almost half the population of Palm Springs are gay, and it has the highest per capita gay population in the US, if not the world. It’s also seeing a surge of interest among straight Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio recently bought a vacation home there: the Dinah Shore Palm Springs Estate.

Rob Moon, the openly gay mayor of Palm Springs, told me that “now more than ever, the city is experiencing a tremendous renaissance and Dinah Shore Weekend has been a huge economic driver. We owe a debt of gratitude to the LGBT community for helping Palm Springs evolve into the ultra-cool, stylish and sophisticated city it is today.”

As for the future of lesbian-centric events, there has been a trend of lesbian bars closing recently. This has been partly been blamed on apps like Tinder, which make meeting other gay people less reliant on gay bars. It’s also been put down to more liberal attitudes; there’s no longer a need for gay space if all space is more inclusive.

Will the next generation of gay women feel the same need for an extended women’s party? Mariah Hanson, founder of the Dinah, certainly seems to think so. “There’ll always be need for gay people to come together and congregate,” she said. “Our culture is unique … we’re not part of straight culture. The Dinah is and always has been five days of incredibly magical celebration of our lives. If the UN would pay attention to what’s going on at the Dinah it could change the world in a big way. People put aside their differences and go home feeling changed.”

Should I get pissed off about being excluded by that “we’re not part of straight culture” line? Should I call these women SERLs? Or should I just think it sounds festive and move on? Hmm, hmm, so hard to decide.

I’m kidding. It’s easy to decide. Mind you, I don’t like deserts or crowds or public swimming pools or drinking a lot, so that helps make the decision easier, but even if it didn’t…I would still find it easy to say it sounds festive and move on.

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