Michfest and Trans Inclusion: Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

Today I landed at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a week-long celebration designed specifically for womyn located in Hart, Michigan. The Festival actually begins on Tuesday but since I work at the Festival, both as a member of the Box Office crew and a second job co-facilitating a four day workshop series, I get there a few days early. I have attended the Festival since 2001. I have found it to be an incredibly unique place that is healing, spiritual and connecting in a way that I haven’t seen an equal. I believe it is a powerful event worth preserving for further generations.

In 2002 I became aware that trans womyn were not included in the intention of who is invited to attend the Festival. I also learned that this issue has been a longstanding source of conflict within the Festival. This past year, in particular, has sparked a strong sense of urgency around the issue. An ongoing boycott has collected more fervor and supporters this year, more Facebook posts have been seen on the topic, more conversations are being had about it around the water cooler/tea basket. The reason for the additional energy around it might be connected to the strong momentum that has been gained this year in the transgender movement – what the cover of Time Magazine called “the Transgender Tipping point”.

Regardless of the reason, I have learned that there are more than two sides to this conflict. Many people feel silenced, hurt and disrespected in the current climate of the conversation. In addition, there have been many misconceptions running rampant which have fostered a lot of confusion and have led to even deeper levels of resentment and mistrust. So, I’ve written this post to clarify from my perspective, some of the misconceptions about Michfest and trans issues and to hopefully support the work towards healing.

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Misconception #1: Trans Womyn are not allowed on the land.
The first misconception that Trans Womyn are not allowed on the land. Trans womyn have always attended the Festival and continue to attend the Festival. Some of these womyn are open about their transition status, others remain stealth on the land. Since 2008 I have worked at the Festival’s Box Office. I know first-hand that no one’s gender is questioned when tickets are sold to the Festival. However, it is the intention of the festival to focus on cis womyn during organizing of the festival which has spurred the conflict and debate.

I do not agree with this intention. I believe that trans womyn are womyn. Because I love the Festival and find the intergenerational interactions, incredible work providing access to disabled womyn and many other aspects of the event valuable, I continue to work to change the intention from the inside.

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Misconception #2: Anyone who does not boycott is Transphobic
The second misconception is that anyone who attends the Festival (and does not boycott the event) must be transphobic and is harming the trans movement. This is a particularly hurtful misconception that has caused me personally to receive a life-time supply of hate mail. I receive hate mail from people who believe trans womyn should not attend the Festival as well as from people who believe I am transphobic for working within the Festival to change it.

The truth is there are a large number of festival participants each year who work tirelessly while on the land to change the intention of who is invited to the festival, and ensure that trans women have equal voice and space at the festival – including having trans womyn in the music line up.

I have personally organized fundraisers to provide scholarships for trans womyn to attend through the Trans Womyn Belong Here scholarship fund, initiated dozens of one-on-one conversations with Festival organizers about the topic, and over the past couple of months will have spent 150 hours or more organizing efforts for trans womyns’ inclusion, having discussions with folks on and off the land and preparing and facilitating the 4 day workshops that seek to build bridges between those who do not support the intention and those who do.

I am not alone. There are a number of people on the land who continue to rally for trans inclusion by engaging in hard conversations, initiating petitions, songwriting, and doing a slew of other actions seeking to open people’s hearts and minds. As a result, the number of people aware of and supporting trans inclusion has grown every year. And the more people who come to the land who believe in trans inclusion, the more likely it is that the Festival’s intention will change.

As any social justice buff knows, the trick to creating change is not just one strategy… but a number of strategies coming from the bottom-up, top-down, and inside out. To suggest that those working their tushi’s off from the inside on this issue are transphobic, hurts people’s hearts (a lot!) and creates greater friction within the movement – making the goals that much harder to reach. However, to see us all united in an effort to create an environment of healing and love for people of all body types, backgrounds and circumstances…. that’s the type of movement I want to be a part of.

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Misconception #3: The Festival Will Never Change its Intention
The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the apartheid movement, the abilities movement, the LGBT movement, and pretty much every movement that has made significant gains did not do it quickly. This is because there is a powerful and unrelenting opposing force in each of these movements – fear. Fear of change. Fear of loss of what one has gained. Fear of engaging with a community that one doesn’t understand. Sometimes even fear of physical safety.

I believe that the best way to eradicate fear is by building bridges of understanding.

Last year, I co-facilitated a four part workshop series sponsored by the Festival called Allies in Understanding. This workshop series sought to heal the deep rifts caused by the conflict and create space to have more productive dialogue. The workshop was incredibly successful, healing and powerful. Womyn on both ends of the conflict made connections with one another that allowed one another to be heard, some for the first time in a discussion about the Festival’s intention. It was amazing to see people’s minds light up as they developed a new understanding of the “other” community, and seeing hearts open to new ideas and new perspectives. I remember overhearing so many conversations with the words “Oh… you know I never thought about it that way.” You could practically feel healing taking place in the room (and by room I mean circle of ferns).

I will again co-facilitate this four day workshop series in 2014 on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the Festival week (in addition to working at the Box Office). With the higher level focus on trans issues this year, we are sure to get more people, more ideas, and more passion to create healing that is necessary.

And as stated earlier, the more people who attend and are in favor of changing the intention, the more likely the intention will change. Maybe this year will be the year that the Mich Fest Trans tipping point is reached. We won’t know unless we try. And, because I love this space and find no equal, I will continue to try, however unpopular that opinion may be.

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Misconception #4: There is No Transparency about Festival Activities and Policies
I have heard that one thing that has been very difficult is that folks “disappear” onto the Land and there isn’t transparency around what actions and conversations are happening in the ferns. This is not an effort to shut down knowledge about the important conversations, but rather has more to do with low levels of access to technology and a lack of infrastructure for communicating about the topics.

In a small measure to help resolve this one part of the conflict, this year, I will be using social media (Instagram) to provide at least some visibility. I’ll report back about the workshop series, discussions and highs and lows of the Festival experience. I will do my best to allow folks on the outside to feel heard and to know what is happening on the ground. I am seeking to facilitate understanding and foster conversation.

In addition, if you are not attending the festival but have a question or comment that you would like to bring to the dialogue please send me an email at: alliesinunderstanding@gmail.com. I promise to take all questions and comments that seek to build bridges and inspire healing to the session and do my best to bring back responses to those off the land.

I want to make it crystal clear that my Instagram project and the email project will in no way violate any wyms’privacy. Everything that will be shared will be with consent.

Specifically the workshop Allies in Understanding is confidential and there is a detailed and thoughtful communications contract that guides our work in that space. I co-facilitate the workshop with womyn who are on the whole spectrum of opinions about Trans inclusion. I think this work towards understanding works best when we can take the hand of someone we do not agree with politically 100‰ and work with them for resolution.

Final thoughts…

I feel particularly drawn to this work because I believe that the Festival will continue to exist and that it will open up the intention to include trans womyn. My mission in life is to make the world safe for all bodies, and I feel it particularly important to do this work in and for a space that I love and a people (the current, future and former attendees of the Festival) who I consider family.

That said, the conflict around Festival moves far beyond the 3,500 workers, attendees and performers and has deeply hurt and affected queer communities and families all over the world. It is my hope, my personal intention, and my unyielding conviction that love, trust and understanding will triumph. And that all people will be considered worthy of love and full acceptance, exactly as they are.

Trans Womyn Belong Here Visioning Statement for a Trans Womyn Inclusive Michfest

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Comments

  1. First, as an aspiring festie, I join others in thanking you for having the vision and courage to bear with the hate mail and continue in the quest for healing, both on the Land an in the feminist community at large!

    Lisa Vogel’s statement of August 18 (“We Have a Few Demands of Our Own”) suggests to me that the challenge is to grow the intention, as opposed to merely changing it.

    Growing the intention means keeping it WBW-centered, but letting it expand like a circle from this center, or flower out from these firm roots, to embrace also other women such as the trans women who “work on crew,” as the August 18 statement notes.

    Reading about your experience and wisdom as a co-facilitator of Allies in Understanding makes me feel at once sadness that I have not yet been on the Land, and hope that I may soon set foot there, knowing that I am fully welcome.

    It is in this spirit that I share some language, much of it borrowed from and all of it inspired by Michfest documents, that could be one starting point for dialogue on growing the intention.

    ——–

    The intention of Michfest is to gather, for one week each year, in a celebration centered around the life-long experience of womonhood in all of its seasons and variations: the experience of womyn who were deemed female at birth, share the journey of girlhood, and continue to live and identify as womyn. Thus firmly centered, our loving intention expands its circumference so as to welcome and embrace all womyn: all our sisters who now live and identify as womyn.

    While all womyn are welcome, at the heart of Fest is the Lesbian experience as embodied by womyn-identified-womyn assigned female at birth; and also shared in their own way by many other womyn encompassed within the circle of our expansive intention.

    Above all, we intend to create and sustain a safe, all-womyn’s space for healing where survivors of rape and domestic violence, and those coping with post-traumatic stress disorder or other issues, can find rest, respite, and joyous renewal. MichFest is a unique space containing within it many spaces and niches, where we can honor both our special needs and differences, and our common sisterhood which carries us from year to year and from Fest to Fest, as we are reminded by our perennial greeting on the Land: “Welcome home!”

  2. I am really frustrated that you have gotten any hateful correspondence. I wish I could wipe it all away.

    But really… for misconception #1… I don’t accept that there’s any meaningful difference between “not allowed” and “asked to stay away”. I can’t imagine being anything but miserable at an event I’d been specifically not-invited to. (Can you?) I’m amazed that there have been trans women who have chosen to come in the face of that.

    And I’m afraid I still don’t believe you on #3. The owner of the land is firmly committed to the policy, and has been for literally decades; children have been born, grown up, and sometimes died while we’ve been waiting for a change. I think your wonderful positive energies would probably be better spent contributing to other community events that are already fully inclusive.

    That said, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, and your goodwill is a gift. Thank you.

    • Ugh, a self-reply. But I realized there’s a little more I want to say.

      Even though I don’t think you’ll ever succeed in changing the dis-invitation to trans people, I’m not saying you’re accomplishing nothing. Every individual woman you educate, every mind you open has attitudes and decisions that affect the rest of the world all year round – and the impact on the rest of the world is what the argument is really about, anyway. In fact, your successes might have unique value – you might be reaching the very people who might have never listened through any other channel. So I wonder if I was wrong in thinking your energies would have greater benefit elsewhere. Well… I guess you’ll continue to use your best judgement, regardless! Thank you.

  3. I would like to respectfully add some other misconceptions:

    That the born-female intention implies that trans women aren’t women. The leaders at Michfest have been saying for a long time that they view trans women as women, but that being born and raised female in our culture is a unique experience, and it’s OK to run a support/healing space to help people work through that experience.

    That all trans people are pro trans inclusion at Michfest. There are trans women who are pro-intention, usually (from my experience) for similar reasons as the ones I’ve heard from the actual Michfest leadership.

    I consider myself a dedicated trans ally, and have put a lot of time and energy into supporting trans community groups and calling out transphobia. After attending Michfest and listening to a lot of different viewpoints, I don’t view the intention as transphobic, and I was glad to learn this year that there are trans women who agree with me on that. Just wanted to add my experience here.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and all your hard work, Bevin! You make me hopeful about the future at fest…

  5. I do appreciate you moving towards including all women at the event but given that trans women were ejected from the event and no policy change was announced, no public distancing from notable TERFs have taken place, I am not convinced #1 is a myth.

    I do really appreciate you trying to change things from within but I will not support cis women who perform there, especially after witnessing and being on the receiving end of abuse from supported of the exclusionary nature of the festival.

  6. You need to stop this. You’re on a very misguided crusade. Let Lisa Vogel have her space. If you support trans women then don’t attend – but do not be a bully in our name.

  7. Not being pro-inclusion does not automatically make one transphobic.

    Yeah, actually it sorta does.

  8. Actually Marlene, excluding trans women from women’s definitively makes you transphobic, more specifically transmisogynist.

  9. Marlene says:

    You left out one misconception….actually, you created it. “Not all who do not boycott the festival are transphobic AND some of those very same people are pro-intention”. Not being pro-inclusion does not automatically make one transphobic.

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