Lesbian Land

Drawing of a short haired woman in overalls with a beanie long sleeve, holding two pales and walking, trees on either side of her

Sine' Anahita

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 16 No. 3, "Mint Juleps, Wisteria, and Queers." Find more from that issue here.

As early as 30 B.C., the Roman poet Horace was opining, “This used to be my prayer — a piece of land not so very large, which would contain a garden, and near the house a spring of ever-flowing water, and beyond these a bit of wood.” For most of the world’s history, the right to own such a piece of land was the sole prerogative of men. But now lesbians throughout the South are pooling their resources to reclaim part of what they call “the Goddess Earth” to “buy her back from the patriarchy.” 

The result is a Southern honeycomb of lesbians living, working, and loving on remote plots of land, learning both independence and interdependence in their rural homes. In all, there are more than 100 rural lesbian communities in the South, stretching from Florida to Kentucky, from Arkansas to Virginia. 

Earthstar, a native of Florida, has wanted to create a women-only space for years. She travelled extensively for more than a decade until a small inheritance made it possible for her to purchase a 17- acre potato farm near St. Augustine. Today, she and a friend are transforming the land into a nursery business and lesbian sanctuary on the Florida coast. 

“I’ve always been living on the land, and I’ve always wanted to live in the country,” Earthstar said. “I’ve always lived in the South, so it’s part of what I am to be here.” 

Many land-based lesbians see a connection between their sense of Southemess and their commitment to the land. “We’re all very ‘country’ in our hearts,” said Jes, a member of the Spiraland lesbian community near Monticello, Kentucky. “We all like rural living.” 

Jes, an Alabama native raised in northern Virginia, said her Southern heritage was part of what attracted her to Spiraland. Established eight years ago between Lexington and Knoxville, the six-woman community is now incorporated as a non-profit land trust, held in perpetuity and “committed to nurture, conserve, and maintain the resources and abundant life of the Mother.” 

“My lover Kay and I had a choice of moving North,” Jes explained, “but we felt our roots were in the South, and felt that we wanted to be here. We also don’t like cold weather!” 

“A lot of the way we relate to the land is affected because we’re Southern,” she added. “You have longer growing seasons here. You have different things that grow here than in the North — you have the hardwood forests, you have a lot of trees. There’s more diversity to the flora and fauna in a Southern climate. Even the wildflowers have a tremendous diversity. And the length of the growing season is also real important to me. Here in the Kentucky mountains we can have a spring garden, and a summer garden, and there’s plants that we sow in the fall and can pick off during the winter. That’s all kind of hard to do in Maine.” 

Pat, a lesbian living with her lover Joan on Cedar Ridge Farm in Arkansas, grew up in Florida and attended college in Tennessee. “I think I just feel more comfortable in the South,” she said. “The Southern mountains that are real impressive and dominating and dramatic put me off, but the land in the South that I know — which is from the Smokies to here — feels accessible to me, and feels nurturing to me.” 


The Earth’s Contours 

For land-based lesbians like Earthstar, Jes, and Pat, that sense of nurturing is central to their Goddess-centered spirituality. Followers of the Goddess believe that there is both a feminine and a masculine deity, and they emphasize that feminine aspect because of its relevance to their lives. The Goddess does not live above the earth, they say, like the male god in the sky; she is the Earth itself, and all of her creatures are sacred and must be treated with respect. 

“For me, feminism led to lesbianism led to spirituality — which I interpret as loving the Goddess, loving the Earth, loving myself,” said Pat. Her nature-based spirituality eventually led her to examine the contradictions between her life in the city and her commitment to Goddess-centered principles. 

Leaving Kansas City for the rolling Southern hills of Arkansas was no simple decision. “I kept going to a women’s festival held in the Ozarks for the last 15 years,” she said. “It was a way to meet other dykes who lived in the country . . . and try on the idea, then back off; then try on the idea again. The women at that festival each year kind of become Tribe, and I gained insight into a different way of living.” 

In keeping with their spirituality, Pat and Joan partially support Cedar Ridge Farm by selling organic herbs to a local co-op and the IGA grocery. Because of erosion problems in the hilly terrain, the women had to work with state conservation officials on their land-use plan. “We hired somebody to bulldoze as little as we could, and laid out the contour,” Pat said. “Then we dug raised beds along the contour, and hauled rocks up from the creek bed, so the earth is propped up with the rocks. It’s real pretty, with the curves of the garden along the curves of the hillside.” 

Life in a rural community has inevitably created close contact between the lesbians and other local people. Pat and Joan live in a town of 145 people, seven minutes away from the land where they are building their home. Because they sell parsley, cilantro, and basil to the local supermarket, they deal with townspeople, both men and women, on a regular basis. 

“We’re pretty well ‘out’ here,” Pat said. “We don’t use the term ‘lesbian,’ but I’ll bet everyone in town knows. I only had to take one bumper sticker off my car when we came here.” 

The lesbians at Spiraland have had a similar experience. “There are a lot of alternative-type people up here; there are ex-hippies, people like that,” Jes said. “They’re real interested in working with the local groups, and having common ground somewhere.” 

Politically, the women at Spiraland are feminists and separatists. For many of them, women-only space is what makes it possible to disengage from men and men’s institutions, free themselves from male-defined environments, and improve the quality of their lives. 

Nevertheless, Jes said, “I was much more of a separatist in the cities than I am in the country. . . . It’s quite a dichotomy: among a lot of people, you can really be much more self-sufficient, more alone in a crowd. In the country — though our ideals and everything are very separatist — the way we interact with the community is not in a separatist manner. Our attorney advised us to become ‘known’ — you know, ‘Those arc the girls down there in Hampton Holler’ — so the community does not look at us as something that is secretive. 

“And the regular heterosexual men are real different from heterosexual men in the cities. The heterosexual men in the country — well, some of them have real good energy and are kind of mellow; and some of them don’t, but it’s still not the harsh, negative energy like you get from the men in the cities. So I feel that personally I’m a lot more open, a lot more connected with the heterosexual community than I was in the city.” 


No Boys Allowed 

Still, creating women-only space in the country is not without its obstacles. Because it has grown into a full-fledged community of six women, Spiraland has been forced to deal with some of the knottier problems caused by instituting a formal policy excluding men — including male children — from the land. 

“It’s a hard issue, and I think that for lesbians it’s going to get harder and harder,” Jes said. “More lesbians are having babies, and they’re having boy babies. I don’t know anyone that’s gotten pregnant by artificial insemination that hasn’t had a boy. 

“I love children. And if I were able to have children here, and educate the children on our land, and never have them go off our land, it would be different. But they have to go to public schools . . . and at some point they’re going to be exposed to television and other violence: bang-bang-shoot- em-up. And that’s the kind of thing that’s structured to the male personality: that’s my own personal belief. 

“One of our members was going to have a child, and, for whatever reasons, decided not to. I was very relieved that we did not have to make the decision of having to choose between her living on Spiral and changing our policy. We want women-only space, and that doesn’t mean women-only space with the exception of these boy-children. It’s a difficult issue, and I don’t see any good solution, other than an adjoining piece of property where the women with boy-children could be.” 

At Cedar Ridge Farm, Pat and her lover Joan have identified another problem of creating a women-only space. “I think one question I have for myself is about racism,” Pat said. “I think that moving to the country is a class privilege in lots of ways. I’m on disability from my job [as a flight attendant], and that’s where our major income comes from, along with some freelance writing. We could not have moved to the land without that income. The county we live in doesn’t have any black population at all, and hasn’t since the Civil War. So it’s not a place where a woman of color would be comfortable. I have regrets on that level.” 

Nevertheless, the commitment to women-only space remains the keystone of all these women’s dreams of the future for themselves and their land. “Lesbians take priority in my life, and are most important to me. Women are what I want to put my energy into,” Earthstar said. Her dream is for other women to join her and her friend on nearby land, creating a safe space both for local lesbians and those passing through. “I’ve travelled a lot, and I know how important lesbian land is when you’re on the road.” 

Fueled by such aspirations, the rural lesbian communities continue to grow. The goal, Jes explained, is to develop the land in harmony with the Goddess and her Earth. Two houses currently under construction already have electricity, “but we don’t want to stretch electrical wires across the whole expanse of land. So we’re looking for alternative energy sources.” Water comes from two large, bunker-like cisterns that collect rain falling from the roof. There is an 80-year-old log cabin the women hope to salvage, as well as a sturdy barn. 

“Creating a new life outside patriarchy was harder than anyone would have believed possible,” Jes wrote in a recent issue of Maize, a magazine by and for land-based lesbians. After organizational conflicts, the group’s structure has begun to fall into place, and new women have joined the older ones who “dared to keep faith and meet the mortgage.” 

“In another few months,” Jes summarized lyrically, “four wimmin will live on [the Goddess Earth’s] back, walking carefully. With our ears to the ground, we listen to the rise of Spiral’s song of FREEDOM. We listen with our hearts, and sing!” 

Pat’s hopes for Cedar Ridge, 600 miles away, are strikingly similar. “I’d like this land to become a village,” she said. “We have 40 acres, and I’d like to see other such little enclaves. I’d like to have room away from each other, but to see other women build there and be there, close enough to walk to.” 

Her reasons for wanting such a haven, she said, were formed by her exposure to life in the city. “I think as a lesbian and a woman, I know a lot about domination. And oppression,” she said. “I don’t want to be oppressive, if at all possible, toward the planet and its animals. And I want our life here on the land to reflect that approach.”