Protesting the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces, most notably the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival;
Building a trans-inclusive community that is welcoming and safe for all;
Empowering the next generation of activists to fight for trans issues locally through organizer trainings, workshops, and leadership development; and
Advocating for the inclusion of trans issues in progressive, queer, and feminist movements by building coalitions with supportive organizations and bringing attention to local campaigns.
Trans Inclusion and MichFest
Our position on inclusion at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is described below. We do not claim to speak for all trans people, or even all those who attend Camp Trans. But we do speak as a group of organizers who are commited to feminist values, queer women’s culture, and trans rights.
- We support the Festival and its commitment to women-only space. We believe that women-only space is a valuable and increasingly rare necessity in our society. However, such spaces have an obligation to be inclusive of all women, especially those who are marginalized by virtue of race, class, ability, and trans status. We make a distinction between the festival community, an amazing and positive community created by thousands of women, and the handful of organizers who are in control of its discriminatory policies.
- We oppose the trans exclusion policy because it discriminates against trans women and is counter to the festival’s own values. 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.
- We envision a festival in which all self-identified women are included and welcomed. The organizers have acknowledged that trying to police genders or bodies on the Land is futile and only creates rancor. The only viable solution is to open the festival to all self-identified women.
- We believe that male-identified individuals, whether trans or otherwise, should not be a part of women-only space. We recognize that many trans men have a history with the queer women’s community and find it to be a safe and supportive space, and that many members of the women’s community may be in transition or questioning their identity. There is obviously no clear place to draw the line, and we do not believe there should be any hard rule about trans men in women-only spaces. However, we do wish to address the dynamic in queer communities of trans men being welcomed as an acceptable variation of dyke while trans women are alienated or outright excluded. Ftm fetishization and mtf exclusion are two sides of the same coin. The presence of trans men at festival, to which we have seen little opposition from those who ostensibly support the WBW policy, is hurtful to all trans people, but especially to trans women, because it reinforces this dynamic. Trans men should decide for themselves when it is time to remove themselves from women-only space as a matter of respect for their sisters. Because the culture of the fest is largely welcoming to trans men (as evidenced by the large number who attend) but hostile to trans women, we see the policy as not transphobia per se, but trans misogyny.
- We wish to see the festival continue and thrive. Contrary to some rumors, we have never called for the festival’s closure. We recognize, though, that many women, especially younger women, do not attend Michigan because the WBW policy does not reflect their feminist values. It is unfortunate that the stubbornness of only a few organizers, including owner Lisa Vogel, threatens the survival of one of the last remaining bastions of women’s space. Like all communities, Michigan needs to evolve and adapt if it is to survive. Because we want the festival to grow and thrive, we are working with the festival community to see that it embraces all women instead of driving more and more of them away.
Frequently asked questions and objections
Q: Michigan excludes trans women because the fest is a space for women who have the experience of growing up female.
We hear this argument frequently from supporters of the WBW policy, and we welcome the opportunity to address it here. We have three points to make.
First, we point out that “womyn-born womyn” is a bogus category created specifically to exclude transsexual women, and as such, has no legitimacy as a subject position. The phrase was coined in the late 1970′s in the wake of widespread paranoia about trans women in the women’s movement, following publication of Janice Raymond’s transphobic manifesto The Transsexual Empire.
Our second response is that there is no universal experience of growing up female that is common to all women. The argument above seeks to impose a universal concept of “girlhood” that is ignorant of the intersections of race, class, and culture. It is also true that trans people are transitioning at younger and younger ages. We know of many girls who are transitioning in their teens and even a few who are still children. Surely these girls have a unique perspective on what it means to grow up female, one that deserves to be represented as part of the diversity that Michigan claims to embrace.
Finally, we acknowledge that it may occasionally be valuable for women who were raised as female to create an exclusive space for the purpose of examining how that experience informs their present lives. But that is not the stated intent of Michigan. We have yet to see even a single workshop at fest addressing the issue of girlhood. To the contrary, the primary purpose of 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.”
Michigan consciously defines itself around a shared culture rather than a shared set of experiences. The fest’s own literature takes as a given that different women have vastly different life experiences and histories of oppression. Though there are undoubtedly many discussions about politics and identity during the week, the main virtue of Michigan for most women is that it is a safe and supportive space to relax and enjoy women’s culture. Trans women, as a part of that culture, as members of those same communities, and as women who experience misogyny like any other, have every right to participate in this relatively safe space and this celebration.
Q: Yes, I go to the festival, but I’m working from the inside to get the policy changed.
We find it problematic that anyone can claim to be advocating on behalf of trans women when our own voices are absent from the discourse on the Land. In such a situation, there is zero accountability toward those whose interests are at stake. Furthermore, it is hypocritical to claim to support us while simultaneously giving hundreds of dollars to an organization that discriminates against us. No one can represent us but ourselves.
Q: Why not just start your own festival?
In fact, we have, and we continue to do so. But of course, separate does not mean equal, and does nothing to address the trans misogyny that the trans exclusion policy encourages.
Q: Allowing trans women in would compromise the safety of the festival. / I just wouldn’t feel safe anymore.
We reject the notion that any space is inherently safe just because it is women-only. To claim otherwise is to ignore the growing trend of domestic violence and abuse within same-sex relationships.
But also, this assumes that trans women would constitute a visible alteration to the festival’s culture. And while we suspect that if the trans exclusion policy were abolished this August, most women would scarcely notice a change, there are other reasons to be suspicious of this argument.
It seems that the concern that is really being expressed is that of penises on the Land. Of course, if you take a walk down to the craftswomyns’ tables or the twilight zone, you will see a great multitude of penises that are already on the Land, which suggests the following: penises, on their own, do not commit violence women. It is men who use penises to commit violence women, by and large. And a carbon-based penis on a woman is no more likely to be an instrument of rape than a silicone-based penis sold at a booth.
To ascribe to the penis such awesome power of male domination and violence seems to us to play straight into the symbology of patriarchy. And inasmuch as we know of no epidemic of violence by trans women toward non-trans women, concerns about violence are unjustified.
Women’s bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. While seeing certain kinds of women’s bodies may be uncomfortable for some people, that doesn’t mean those people are right to try to exclude the kinds of bodies they don’t like. When members of a group feel their discomfort with a marginalized sub-group outweighs the rights of others to exist in the same space, they are acting from an unfair sense of entitlement, regardless of their own marginalized status or oppression.