illustration by liz riccardi

what living on a queer commune in rural oregon is like

my world, my words

by Vanessa Friedman

My World, My Words is a series of first-person essays featuring totally unique, inspiring personal experiences unlike anything you've heard before. The most interesting stories are also often the most overlooked, so we're on a mission to find them and share them with you. Written by people from all walks of life, these essays will move you in ways you might not expect—and that's the point.

I didn't mean to move to a queer land project in rural Southern Oregon when I left New York City two years ago searching for an adventure. But in retrospect it makes perfect sense. The land that I now call home is exactly what I would have collaged on a vision board if you’d asked me where, in my most perfect manifestation, I would like to spend my days: A combination modern queer safe-space, early seventies back-to-the-land commune, and a riot grrrl's DIY fever-dream.

There is a long history of queers moving to rural places and setting up intentional communities where we can fly under the radar of mainstream oppression and expectations. To describe all such places would be impossible. “Queer land” means different things for different people. There are sex positive sanctuaries, drug-free homesteads, separatist communities. Some of these lands have been around for decades and the people who live there would bristle at my use of the word “queer” to describe them (identities are tricky things to pin down, even trickier to assign to others); some have been around for just a year or two and are still looking for a permanent place to settle, renting spots that’ll do while the inhabitants save enough to buy land. I can’t speak for all queer lands, and I can’t even be the definitive voice for mine–it’s been around for a decade, and I’ve only lived here for nine months. 

What I can tell you about is what living on queer land has meant to me, a queer grrrl in her mid-twenties, and why I think it’s so important that all queers know these spaces exist, and that we keep investing in them.

I’d been traveling and living out of a backpack for months when I got here last summer, but I fell in love with our 46 mostly wild acres immediately. Upon arrival I met the women who owned the place, pitched my tent, established how much work I’d be expected to do to earn my keep, and met Rachael, another young woman who was passing through. 

At dinner on my first night Rachael suggested that I read a book she found on the communal bookshelf: Weeding at Dawn: A Lesbian Country Life, by Hawk Madrone. Later that evening I wiggled into my sleeping bag and gobbled up the words all at once, finishing the book in one sitting and swiftly developing a crush on the author, who is now in her seventies and lives about an hour away. I learned at breakfast the next morning that I would be meeting her the following weekend, at an open house we were hosting. We’d skill-share, potluck, and socialize. I couldn’t wait. 

This is my favorite part: getting to know other human beings. Specifically, queers. There is something so damn beautiful about the queer community, about the individuals who belong to it, about our shared history and unique experiences and the honesty and openness that can be channelled when queers gather and talk to each other, exist together, escape the assumptions of heteronormative living. It is extra beautiful when we bridge the generation gap, mingle with our elders and our youth, appreciate that we owe so many of the comforts of our own queer lives to the powerful folks who came before us—but also that the young have much to teach, too. 

Last September a young woman from Ohio came to volunteer on our land and confided in me that it was the first place she had witnessed other women being so powerful, so in charge, so supportive of each other. “I didn’t know this kind of life existed,” she said. “Now that I know, I want to live it.” She cried when she left.

I am constantly begging my friends to come visit me on the land, not because I am lonely or because we don’t already have a constant stream of visitors, but because I want all the queers I have ever known to understand how powerful we are, how self-sufficient we can be. I want everyone I have ever loved to experience this feeling, and I mean so many things when I say that. I mean that I want them to hold a chainsaw and chop wood and then use that wood to make a fire that will keep us warm in the winter, but I also mean I want them to exist in a space that is just a little bit out of the patriarchy’s grasp. I want Diva Cups and skipping showers to be the norm but tampons and deodorant not to be scorned if that’s what you want to use; I want communal cooking and intergenerational learning and late-night slumber parties and impromptu sing-a-longs and love, so much love.

In a world that is steeped in digital media, it feels like a radical act to carve out a physical space and call it ours. The internet has provided a safe space for millions of young queers who may have no where else to turn in their small towns or their conservative families or their own total confusion, it’s true, but I want those people to know there are places where we can meet face to face, get our hands dirty together, fight and fuck and listen and forgive and live, without any screens to separate us. I want to talk about queer spaces that are not New York, San Francisco, London, and Berlin. I want to advocate for community building that does not only take place in bars. 

I want to acknowledge how important queer land is, how grateful we should all feel for it, and how capable we all are of creating it and keeping this legacy alive. I want to help lead a queer revolution in the woods because living here has made me see that we can.

For more My World, My Words, check out:

What It's Like To Be Genderqueer At An All-Women's Naked Spa

We Lost Our First Apartment In The Hurricane

I Left NYC To Travel The World Alone

Life Lessons From A Six-Year-Old Girl