Festival of the Babes: The Best Kept Lesbian Secret?

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Festival of the Babes is an event unlike any you have heard of. It’s a soccer tournament, with the term “soccer” used, uh, loosely, as the rules for playing can and do involve streaking, lawn chairs, booze, and impromptu games of spin the bottle.

In addition, all the players rock costumes on the field and theme their teams with punny or sexy names—this year will feature the Star Whores (gay the force be with you!), and previous teams have included the Green Gay Packers, Genital Hospital, and the Orgasm Donors. “Think Roller Derby names with a vengeance and a lesbian slant,” say FOB organizers.

DSCF1693photos via Festival of the Babes

Now in its 26th year, the latest iteration of FOB is taking place in Seattle over Labor Day (sorry, Gaybor Gay) weekend (Sept. 2-5). It’s a smaller, more intimate Dinah Shore-type event, with parties, playfulness, and camaraderie at its core. The fest is trans-inclusive, straight-inclusive, and open to all, even those who have never touched a soccer ball. It’s a celebration of queer women and “those who don’t mind being mistaken for one,” as the website notes.

Despite being around for a quarter of a century, FOB has largely managed to fly under the radar. The fest has been held in San Francisco, Vancouver, Portland, and other west coast metropolises, yet despite living in San Francisco (and now Oakland) for many years, not even I had heard of FOB. How did I manage to miss an event that has been referred to as “lesbian Christmas”?

I plan to rectify that this year. And, full disclosure, I will probably be reading some lesbian sex haikus at one of the after-parties.

Speaking of the Queer Mecca, that’s where the first FOB was held.

“It was at the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver that a small group of women from San Francisco and Vancouver first met on the soccer pitch, said Shannon McCann, a veteran FOBer now in her 12th year. “In 1991 they envisioned a soccer festival to further their merry connection and emphasize fun and friendship over competition. The ‘Festival of the Babes’ began on a foggy morning, with a car horn signaling the start and end of the matches.” The first FOB had eight teams playing over a weekend, with around 100 women participating or watching.

Since then, FOB now frequently has more than 20 teams playing and hundreds of spectators getting in on the action. This year, FOB has 15 teams already signed up, and can register up to 24 total, or around 300 players.

The games themselves are small, seven versus seven, with full-sized goals (for “extra scoring”), and referees who oversee every game and orchestrate games of spin the bottle, naturally.

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If you don’t play soccer, you can get in on the merriment in a few other ways. Sign up for a party pass to get into the three closed-access parties in Seattle’s gayborhood, Capitol Hill; be a volunteer (it’s an all-volunteer-run event, so pitching in to help not only gives you an excuse to talk to all the babes, but also is a much-needed job, and sends karma points your way); or you can play soccer anyway, even if you don’t have a team or any experience.

“Plenty of women play who have never touched a ball,” FOB organizers tell me. “You can sign up as a ‘Free Agent’ and be assigned to a team of cool people.”

“All babes come to FOB to play a little soccer and have a lot of fun,” said FOB’s Indiana Maternowski. “Whether it’s your first year or your 20th, we all step on the pitch with one goal—have fun. It’s not about the score of the game, because (lezbehonest) we will all score in one way or another.”

What else might a festival-goer see or experience at FOB?

“My favorite things to witness at FOB are spontaneous stopping of soccer and starting spin the bottle, slip ‘n’ slides, baby-oil wrestling in a kiddie pool, and beer-chugging races,” said FOB’s Dani McIntyre, who has been involved with the event since 2003.

“I love that you don’t have to play soccer to enjoy FOB,” added Shannon. “The rules are completely made-up as the days go on—refs have authority to stop the game and ask for a game of spin the bottle, and every time anyone scores a goal, they have to make out with the goalie. One year, two of our players decided to tie themselves together with rope to play keeper because both of them wanted to be kissed, and neither cared if anyone scored. Another year, I saw someone’s goalie sitting in a lawn chair on the end line with a beer, obviously not moving to stop any goals.

“It’s not uncommon for an entire team to go streaking,” Shannon continued, “to strip down to their skivvies and interrupt a game in progress by running onto the field.”

Dani noted that she has scored at past FOBs in more ways than one.

“I’ve been in two different long-distance relationships with ladies I met at FOB,” she said. “No more of that!”

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Players also compete for a chance to win a special FOB trophy called “The Buttercup,” named for a former FOB player who has since passed away. The trophy is awarded to the most “FOBLY virgin”—someone new to FOB who embodies the spirit of playfulness, fun, and free-spiritedness.

“It’s not about winning,” Indiana said. “Because when you’re frolicking around in the sunshine with a bunch of pretty ladies, dressed in funky costumes in a safe and inclusive environment, we are all winners.”

Sounds, well, FOBulous.

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