Jul 20, 2005
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival
For the past 30 years, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF)has held its festival in northern, rural Michigan. Women come from all over the country to attend. It is a celebration of womanhood and solidarity. No men are allowed. The women camp out, listen to music, dance, sing around the campfire and generally just enjoy each other's company for one week a year. The festival attracts something like 6-7 thousand women each year.
Womyn of every age, color, shape, style and attitude gather each year to enjoy a womon-loving cultural extravaganza of our own creation. This year's version includes over 40 performances, hundreds of workshops, a film festival, a crafts fair, and fitness and dance classes. The program will celebrate the artists who have fueled the Festival culture from our beginnings in 1976 and bring together all of the artists who contribute to the Festival's musical heartbeat in the new millennium. The Festival is held on 650 acres of lush Michigan woodlands where you can hike in for the deep woods experience or settle in a busy fireside neighborhood.
But, as with most things, not everyone is happy with the Festival. For the past dozen years or so the policy of MWMF has been to allow only "womyn born womyn" on its property. The organizers, who own this property, argue correctly that they have the absolute right to restrict access to whomever they please. This space, they argue, is for women who have spent their lives experiencing the brunt of the patriarchy. This space, for one short week a year, provides them with an escape from the patriarchy and the experience of a supportive, woman-affirming space. Nevertheless, a closer look at that wording obviously translates to: No trannies allowed. In protest of this policy a group of trans-people, and in later years, other supporters such as the Boston Lesbian Avengers, have attended an organized protest of this policy in a small campground down the road from the entrance to MWMF, called Camp Trans:
In 1991, a woman was asked to leave the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival after her transsexual status became known to festival workers. The festival began for the first time to enforce a policy of allowing only "womyn-born womyn" to attend. The first official Camp Trans was held in 1993, when several transsexual womyn and their allies began camping and holding demonstrations outside the gate. Camp Trans returned in 1994 with the support of transgender activists Riki Ann Wilchins and Les Feinberg, and again in 1999 with many members of the Boston and Chicago Lesbian Avengers. The events of 1999 drew much attention and controversy, culminating in heated tensions as a small group of transgender activists were admitted into the festival to dialogue with organizers and to negotiate a short-lived compromise allowing only post-operative transgender womyn on the festival land.
I have gone through several personal reactions to this whole debate/mess. I have been outraged. I've been understanding and I've been ambivalent. But I think that, in the final analysis (for me), the answer is not about me. In other words, I understand (and agree with) the argument that says that the Festival's policy essentially argues that trans-women are not women at all. From Camp Trans' web-site:
The festival, as stated on its website, is "a magnificent celebration of womyn's culture and community" in which "womyn of every age, color, shape, style and attitude [sic] gather each year to enjoy a womon-loving cultural extravaganza of our own creation." The fest claims to embrace the total diversity of women, and it frequently uses rhetoric suggesting that it represents a singular and all-inclusive women's community. Given these statements, when the festival singles out and excludes trans women from that diversity, it sends the message that trans women are not women. Many of us are only too familiar with the effects of this message firsthand in our own communities.
That makes me feel pretty lousy. In this they deny me my experience as a woman and further set me apart from the rest of humanity. But, I keep coming back to a fundamental premise. This is not about me. The organizers of MWMF cannot deny me my experience, only I can do that. Hey, I probably wouldn't even go to the Festival, even if such a policy did not exist -- I hate camping! And, by the same token, I won't be going to Camp Trans. Still, I cannot deny my wish that this division can be worked out and that the Festival organizers will re-consider their policy. There is no universal experience of womanhood.
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» Catching-Up: Musings on Life, Law and Gender from Half the Sins of Mankind
Denise is on hiatus for one of the best of all possible reasons, but before she went off, put up an interesting post about the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. [Read More]
Tracked on Jul 30, 2005 10:50:08 PM
I wrote about this in the issue of BTL that came out this week. There are natal-born women who agree with you(besides myself, I mean); I quote a few of them.
I admire you for claiming your right to own your experience as a woman. You are a very strong person, both by chance/blessing and by conscious choice. I hurt, though, for the non-natal women who have more difficulty owning their experience and their being in the face of others who would deny it. Especially when those others "ought to" be more understanding, accepting of and open to those who are discriminated against for so many of the same reasons that they face oppression.
Humans frequently sadden me.
Posted by: Dawn Wolfe Gutterman | Jul 22, 2005 10:07:23 PM
I think what is difficult about this topic is: MTF want an entire life of male socialization ignored when is comes to the festival and FTM's want their entire life of female socialization recognized when it comes to staying at a woman's college. I'm not sold that an entire movement needs to be on the same page at all times, but which is it? In both cases it seems like people are asking that the male is ignored, but that doesn't work in reality. It seems to me that in both scenarios there is a reluctance to recognize privlege (either recently assumed or historically gained). Regarldess, I think the policy at festival is a sound one. Women are always being told that they need to share their space, and I am kind of tired of women being told how they have to run things. Men never seem to want to take any responsibility for their privledge and push their way into everything. I think it's sad that we even need to be having these conversations. Why not jsut let festival be and let women's college's be a space for women. Have we not had enough of this crap already?
Posted by: BoSox | Jul 24, 2005 12:02:08 PM
The debate exists only, BoSox (IMHO) at the margins. Where boundaries are always stretched. How do we define women? Is an MTF who transitioned at an early age (even teens) and has minimal to no "male socialization" NOT a woman in her 50s? Yes, according to the Festival guidelines. There are literally too many examples to try and show how blurry this line is in this small space -- the fact remains that their is not bright line rule about who is a woman. We have general guidelines about who we will allow into the club and who we will exclude. It is human nature to want to belong to the club. There is no club for transsexuals in our society. None. And it hurts; and we long to belong.
Posted by: Denise | Jul 24, 2005 1:11:49 PM
I suppose that depends on "early." If what you mean is at birth type sex assignment, then there is no real socializaion. Some may even espouse little to no socialization prior to language aquisistion. I would listen to that argument. But, after language acquisition, I don't think there is much of a debate. While I agree that this stuff occurs at the margins, there are HUGE ramiifications. For example, my school is now infiltrated with self-identified men who are robbing women of the all women's experience they are paying 35k+ to enjoy. The arguemnt is not so small in such a context. This is all identity policits & has a big impact on people of all stripes - marginal or no. I think a lot of the problem is that no one wants to be excluded, but that is precisely what happens when we start defining things. If men had not objectified and systemically excluded women for so long, maybe there would be no need for a festival. But, that's not reality. So, I think the festival should have the right to include or exclude anyone. I guess it's not a jump for me to see why they do this. They are protecting against the vestiges that will remain due to socialization. The last thing they want is an MTF usurping dialogue b/c she has had the privledge of voice for so long. Will all MTFs do this? No. But, why should the festival even take a chance? Women have worked long and hard for a space to call home. It was not so long ago that women felt they had no place in the world. What they have now is even minimal. It is obvious to me why women would want to protect this at all costs. I guess the only immediate solution is for trans folks to create a space to call home too. If they want to excludes all bios, I would support that too. That process would be the same as that which all monirty groups need to do and have done. Why should trannies be any different? One may ask why we need this stuff at all - I hope some day we will not. I guess I am bothered by MTFs not intuiting why women want the festival the way it is, but I can only rationalize that by a lifetime of male privledge. Is there an angle I am not seeing? Most women cannot accoplish what MTFs have accomplished in their lives already while living as men. How do I know? Most women do not have the disposable income to spend on transitioning. I know this may sound harsh, but when you and the women before you have worked so hard to create something, it's a pisser to have that called into question by those who seem to have been advantaged by the system up to the point of transitioning. The whole thing stinks of men being pissed about not being able to be a part of every club where they have had the joy of defining the club for so long. Because I am a person of heart, I would be all for a festival where everyone could join - just not this one.
Posted by: BoSox | Jul 24, 2005 3:26:05 PM
It would be untruthful if I did not add that there are few places I would go that you cannot (like my bed) . . . I am still working this one out if for no other reason b/c I adore you and don't want you excluded or in pain.
Posted by: BoSox | Jul 24, 2005 4:01:33 PM
BoSox, I understand your arguments, I've heard them many times. Janice Raymond wrote a book that articulated them well - The Transsexual Empire. There is no question that I used my male privilege to accomplish much. But, I didn't ask to be socialized as I was. I didn't ask to be treated deferentially or accorded superior opportunity because of the accident of my birth (an accident which, I would argue, has cost me greatly at the hands of the patriarchy). I also have NO desire to impose that (or myself through my socialization) upon others. I recognize that I do that sometimes inadvertantly (isn't that what social training is all about -- privilege is largely invisible to the privileged).
This is not an easily resolved problem. I've said before that the Festival should have the right (and of course, it does have the right) to exclude or include anyone of any shape or history that it wishes to exclude. I do think that the concern that MTF womyn will somehow usurp the power structure is largely founded on anecdote and fear, but I acknowledge that I have no more substantial evidence for that than you do for any counter argument. I believe that there are women out there - natal - who fit every male stereotype that you can imagine -- taking up space, holding and wielding power, etc. Or, what about the intersex? There can be no definition that does not tell some group that they are not welcome in the space with which they identify.
And your argument about our starting our own space doesen't really fly. There are simply not enough of us. It's like the whole "club" analogy. We can't start our own club -- we identify as women. That club structure is imposed and we buy into it (for better or worse; perhaps worse as it obviously perpetuates the dichotomy).
It all comes back again to identity politics and the pitfalls inherent therein. I identify as a woman and because I had a piece of flesh between my legs when I was born, I will forevermore be denied my identity. And, because I've chosen to abandon the identity that the patriarchy gave me, I am now relegated to the category of people known only as "the other". Until we find a way to embrace people and all their complexities (and that may be an impossible task) we will likely be destined to this suffer this debate.
Posted by: Denise | Jul 25, 2005 2:27:04 PM
Having just re-read your first comment above, I also feel the need to add one more thought. You do realize, don't you, that your comment lumps trans-women in with men? You literally just called me a man. I know my experience gives me the right to reject that. You may classify me as the other, if you must, but please don't lump me in with men.
Posted by: Denise | Jul 25, 2005 3:39:08 PM
I do not think that the small amount of male entitlement that might be added to the mix as a result of including MTF's compares to having to live with the injustice of excluding them. I don't want to have to live with that. Plus, honestly, I welcome the diversity. The time will come anyway. I honestly don't understand the resistance.
Posted by: LeAnne | Aug 18, 2005 9:14:25 AM
Wow Denise, how many hours have we debated this? I agree with you in many ways; I also agree with BoSox. We were socialized as men, even tho in my case I consider it a form of assault as I clearly did not want it. I was afforded some opportunities b/c I was born male. I also subjected myself to many things I would NOT have due to that "accident of birth." I spent 4 years in the US Army (Uncle Sam Ain't Released Me Yet!) jumping out of airplanes with a 23 lbs machine gun. I weighed 141 lbs. I was 5'6" tall, by far the smallest "man" in my battalion. I was picked on, laughed at (never had to shave), marginalized, ignored, and excluded from most groups. In short, I wasn't man enough. I finally quit trying to delude myself and transitioned, met my partner, and finally feel comfortable with who I am. Now, I am picked on, laughed at (you don't want to be in lockup with me when I'm talking to a client - I'm aN Ass't Public Defender),marginalized, ignored, and excluded from most groups. In short, I'm no woman enough. Fact is, we'll never entirely fit and I've learned to live with that.
That said, I remember a story of a CD (cross-dresser) that couldn't get a party planned well dressed as a woman. (S)he went up to her room, donned male attire and "got things done." Would you want that person showing up at the gats of the MWMF asking for admittance? I think not. I know I'm pointing to an extreme, but you see it's just a "draw the line" argument. SHould there BE a bright-line? Should it be a balancing test on a case-by-case basis? I don't know and I'm tired of fighting it. This mattered greatly to me when I met my partner, Alicia. She is from MI and a radical feminist. She attended the MWMF every year until she met me. Our relationship in the beginning was fraught with pitfalls b/c of my status and her feminist beliefs. In the end, she came to the realization that I am every bit a woman as she is. She has now given up the MWMF entirely. That has always bothered me as I know it was an affirming place for her. I know she misses it. I also know she loves me dearly and does not want to see me hurt. We had to do our own balancing test in our lives to make our relationship as strong as it is today. I'm just sorrow it included the bright-line that we'll never attend the MWMF.
Posted by: Michelle | Aug 23, 2005 12:27:01 PM