(AP) — Alix Dobkin
, the lesbian singer and feminist activist who wore a t-shirt that read "The Future is Female" in an iconic and recently resurrected 1975 photo, has died at the age of 80.
According to Liza Cowen, her friend and former partner, she died at home of a brain
aneurysm and stroke.
“Everything she did was about being a public lesbian in the world,” Cowen, who also took the striking photo, explained.
Dobkin co-founded the band Lavender Jane with musician Kay Gardner in 1973, and with an all-female team of musicians, engineers, and even vinyl pressers, they recorded the album "Lavender Jane Loves Women" — the first album ever entirely produced by women, according to Cowen.
According to her 2009 memoir
"My Red Blood," Dobkin was a performer in the folk music scene in Philadelphia
and New York in the 1960s, where she mingled with future superstars like Bob Dylan.
When she came out as a lesbian, she forged ahead musically as an early leader and then mainstay of Women's Music, a genre created by, for, and about women that spawned a network of publications, record labels, venues, and festivals beginning in the 1970s.
“She became an iconic, larger-than-life figure for women who identified as lesbians,” said Eileen M. Hayes, author of “Songs in Black and Lavender,” a history of Black women’s involvement in the movement.
Dobkin performed songs such as "Lesbian Code," which jokingly lists the various ways women interested in women identify each other, as well as a version of the alphabet song that begins, "A, you're an Amazon
." Dobkin, who was Jewish, frequently played Yiddish songs and told stories she had heard growing up in Philadelphia.
She frequently performed for all-women audiences. According to an undated flyer advertising one of Dobkin's shows, all-women concerts provided women with the opportunity "to come together to develop our culture as part of the process of taking control of our lives," and it requested that men who supported the fight against sexism
Kathy Munzer, a friend and collaborator who produced shows for lesbians in Chicago for more than 30 years, dubbed Dobkin "The Head Lesbian," saying in a Facebook
post that she inspired others to be proud of their identities.
Prior to the AIDS epidemic, lesbian and gay organizations operated separately, according to Hayes. The Michigan
Womyn's Music Festival, a prominent women's festival where Dobkin performed for years, excluded transwomen from attending. In 2000, Dobkin wrote in defense of cis-women-only spaces while also seeking out conversations with transwomen and defending the right of everyone to love and be themselves.
“I am especially concerned about the narrowing of women’s identities and the erasure of women’s history; for raising these concerns, we have been labeled as ‘bigoted,’ ‘transphobic,’ and worse; are these not credible concerns?” she wrote in a column for the Chicago Tribune.
Reflecting on the debate over cis-women-only spaces, Hayes stated that at the start of the women's movement, "it was a statement about who is this movement supposed to benefit the most?"
According to Hayes, the decision to create a parallel media
ecosystem reflected the difficulty that women face in breaking into the mainstream music industry.
“It didn’t support women as performers, singers, engineers, and ad people
,” Hayes said, adding that “it’s still very difficult for women to break into the industry.”
Hayes described the resurgence of the slogan "The Future is Female" and the resurfacing of Dobkin's photo as "fabulous."
Cowen said the slogan came from a woman's bookstore in New York, Labyris Books, which had screenprinted a small run of the shirts. She photographed Dobkin wearing one for an article she was writing about lesbian fashion. The image was featured in an Instagram
post in 2015 by @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, an account that chronicles lesbian history.
“What we’ve learned through the women’s movement is that, yes, the future is female, but it’s not a one-dimensional female,” Hayes explained, “but it’s a female identity that is constructed with various threads, various backgrounds, and that is the corrective our new generation makes to the failings of previous generations.”
Dobkin's family kept a public diary about her health
in the weeks leading up to her death
, which drew hundreds of comments from friends
and fans, who wrote about how Dobkin's music gave them comfort, guidance, and community.
“And yet you bring us together again, wonderful woman you are!!!,” one commenter said.
Dobkin married Sam Hood, whose father owned a folk music venue in New York where she had performed, before coming out as a lesbian; Dobkin is survived by him, their daughter, Adrian, and three grandchildren, as well as other family members, former partners, and fans.
Hayes expressed gratitude to Dobkin for her musical and political leadership as a historian and witness
to the women's movement.
“I think Alix Dobkin’s death just reminds us of how far we’ve come in terms of LGBTQ
right to life, and right to life as in the right to be,” she says.