Michigan Womyn's Music Festival: Lesbian And Feminist Musical Artists Supporting Segregation
Performers Shouldn’t Be Too Surprised In Being Called Out For Tacitly Embracing Antitrans Hate
If a whole bunch of trans people tell you that your words are transphobic, they’re right.
I’m often found quoting this statement by Allyson Robinson these days for a reason, which is to say that there are people who try to excuse themselves from having their words considered transphobic by self-proclamation. People don’t like to have themselves or their words labeled as racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic…or even transphobic.
Well, the word transphobic comes to mind again for a specific organization; for a specific Womyn’s Music Festival. There are some sincere lesbian and feminist folk with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) who seem sincerely misguided, and stuck in the feminist identity politics of the 1970’s when it comes trans women’s identities being fully included in the community of female identities.
In all but the first two years of the festival, MWMF has articulated a womyn-born-womyn attendance policy. The policy, stripped of all positively-phrased-negatives and euphemisms, is a policy that’s designed to exclude all transsexual and many intersexed women from the festival. Excluding certain kinds of women from a women’s cultural event seems to be identity politics at its worst; a product of poor reasoning and/or fear. The end result of this womyn-born-womyn policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is a concept we have a highly charged word for: segregation.
This year is the 35th year of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF). In all but the first two years of the festival, MWMF has articulated a womyn-born-womyn attendance policy. Without sugarcoating, this womyn-born-womyn policy is a 33-year-old segregationist policy.
We live in a world where progressives want to be female positive, so we sometimes see a world where progressive women don’t call out their peers for bad behavior, much in the same way that a number of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people don’t call out transphobia when they see it within their own lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. In the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s case, lesbian and feminist women of influence haven’t been behaving as if the policies of the Michigan Womyn’s Music festival are segregationist. So I ask: why are feminist and lesbian performers playing at this segregationist event? What are bands and artists doing performing at a festival that has a long running, segregationist policy that indicates all transsexual and many intersexed women aren’t really women? Moreover, are they affirming this particular kind of segregation or do they not see it qualifies as such?
Late last week, the festival announced this year’s line-up. Lesbian and feminist musical icons scheduled to perform at the festival include the Indigo Girls, Chris Williamson, Holly Near, Ferron, Bitch, and Toshi Reagan — among others.
It needs to be stated harshly: when lesbian and feminist musical artists perform of note perform at a festival with segregationist polices, they are actively supporting segregation. The artists performing at the event cannot be blind to the long-running controversy regarding the festival’s attendance policy — in fact, the Indigo Girls have long been aware that the policy has been a bone of contention within communities, as Amy Ray has brought up the policy on the Indigo Girls website.
Festival director Lisa Vogel, who has been the key person at this event during the entire 35-years of the festival, has long embraced and defended the womyn-born-womyn policy. From a 2005 interview on the womyn-born-womyn policy of MWMF by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls:
Amy Ray: Do you mind making a statement about the transgender issue and Michigan Womyn’s Festival’s “women born women only” policy?
Lisa Vogel: Not at all, well let’s see, just off the cuff, here’s what I would have to say about it. As a queer community we’re all struggling around how we explore and expand gender definitions, and the women here who are creating this festival are part of that. And I feel very strongly that having a space for women, who are born women, to come together for a week, is a healthy, whole, loving space to provide for women who have that experience. To label that as transphobic is, to me, as misplaced as saying the women-of-color tent is racist, or to say that a transsexual-only space, a gathering of folks of women who are born men is misogynist. I have always in my heart believed in the politics and the culture of separate time and space. I have no issue with that for women-of-color, for Jewish women, for older women, for younger women. I have seen the value of that and I learned the value of that from creating this space for so many years. So the troublesome thing is, in the queer community, if we can’t, not just allow, but also actually actively support each other in taking the time and space that we need to have our own thing, then to come together, in all of our various forms, is going to take that much longer. And I understand how certain activists in the Camp Trans scene only see this as a negative statement, and I think that there’s a lot of connection that’s getting lost. Because, I really think that folks aren’t understanding how crucial this space is, as it is, for the women who come here. And, maybe that’s just it.
One problem with this statement is that every year, Camp Trans is set up outside the gates of the Michigan Womyn’s Music festival. Every year, a whole bunch of trans people are telling the organizers of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival that their words and their actions are transphobic. When the whole bunch of trans people tell Lisa Vogel and the other organizers of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival that their words and actions are transphobic, Lisa Vogel saying that the calling the words and actions of the of the festival organizers “misplaced” and not transphobic are…well, wrong. “If a whole bunch of trans people tell you that your words are transphobic, they’re right.”
[More on the segregationist womyn-born-women-policy below the fold, including Pam’s take on the faulty logic behind the policy, and hate towards trans men and trans women that’s hosted within the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival‘s discussion forum.]Another problem seems based Vogel’s and her peers’ fear about the idea that biology may not be destiny…that if one acknowledges trans male or trans female identities as truly male or truly female identities, it somehow erases the identities of womyn-born-womyn. Quoting a media release of 2000:
Underneath all of these perspectives lies a common thread of fear – and its big sister, anger:
* For many of us, fear and anger over what feels like the triumph of sexism and misogyny: the obliteration of who we are as womyn; that “woman” is no longer seen as a valid identity, but as something mutable.
* For some of us, fear and anger over the loss felt on the community and personal level of the dykes who no longer identify as womyn.
* For those who support a trans inclusive policy, and whose internal conflict with the womyn-born womyn policy means they may choose to leave, and – for those for whom womyn-born womyn space is essential to their experience of Michigan – fear of losing this beloved community.
* For womyn whose gender was questioned as a result of the events of the 1999 Festival, and for some survivors, a loss of the sense of safety and security which is a precious part of Michigan.
So, trans women and trans men are portrayed as objects of fear, and trans women in particular are inferred to be potential predators that would impact “the sense of safety ands security” of other women at the festival. I would argue — and I am arguing — that the fear expressed about trans men and trans women by Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival on mutability is of the same ilk as that of the fear of transsexuals expressed by Ruth Jacobs of Maryland Citizens for a Responsible Government. It’s not fear based upon actual misbehavior of actual trans people, but instead it’s based on imagination and irrationality.
Pam is of the same mind I am on this, and states as much in evaluating some of the reasoning Vogel states are behind the womyn-born-womyn policy. I asked Pam this past week to take a look at just that one interview of Lisa Vogel by the Indigo Girl‘s Amy Ray cited above, and she picked out some of Vogel’s statements in defense of the womyn-born-womyn policy that Pam found poorly reasoned:
“And even though there were no men at that Midwest Festival and there were women-only concerts, we were in an eco-sphere of kind of left-wing hippies, which were mostly lesbian, and gentle and supportive men, who we hung out with.”
Gentle and supportive men — what affront do they pose to the movement?
Let’s accept that premise for a moment — they are banned from the concerts because they are born men, but have accepted a woman-positive and affirming POV, not the male cultural norm.
This may in fact, be less affirming given this response later:
“There was this whole process that was happening about questioning women of color, butch women of color.”
Because white women would visually read butch black women with buzz cuts or short afros as men, and who dressed in male gender norm clothing, this automatically set warning bells off. But honestly, these women have appropriated the accepted gender norms of men, and in fact, may accept the very same male cultural negative social norms even with female genitalia. Gender is in the head!
This is troubling:
“I feel very strongly that having a space for women, who are born women, to come together for a week, is a healthy, whole, loving space to provide for women who have that experience. To label that as transphobic is, to me, as misplaced as saying the women-of-color tent is racist, or to say that a transsexual-only space, a gathering of folks of women who are born men is misogynist.”
It doesn’t make a lot of sense given that I don’t see an explanation of why genitalia itself makes one a woman? There are plenty of women who are born with a vagina that I wouldn’t want to rub shoulders — with Phyllis Schlafly, Maggie Gallagher or Elaine Donnelly at this festival. It’s because of their particular view of women, their rights, and their political and cultural sensibilities. If they had a penis between their legs, they would be equally repellent. I don’t see a lot of logic in denying transwomen the opportunity to affiliate with their identified gender at this concert based solely on genitalia. What happens to the intersexed? I just believe the thinking is based just as much in fear as it is on bias/discrimination.
We’re talking about a largely generational matter here that is being passed down, where many of the women may have had bad experiences with men, and see separation as a needed space psychologically. If that is the case, then they need to talk about that; it’s a separate issue. The denial that actual discrimination is taking place that tosses the complex nature of gender, gender presentation and birth genitalia aside by this decision is an indictment of a movement that is out of step with reality. It may be wrong, but in the end they have chosen a path that can only exist with binary thinking.
I think the question is that are they ready to accept the heat that comes with being stuck in this time warp? That these artists are willing to stand behind discriminatory thinking based on an inability to expand their thinking on this one piece of what a woman is to accommodate the discomfort of a particular slice of women?
It’s an interesting question, but they cannot expect people to remain silent or to let statements go unchallenged.
And as you might expect, a festival director and festival that encourages segregationism — couched in flowery language — encourages hate towards the excluded population of transsexual women. You can see this hate expressed in the hosted in the forums of the MWMF…here are some examples:
From the entry entitled Lesbians Say, Get your ‘T’ off My Neck:
…For males to assume that females have no rights regarding the definition of female, for males to claim to be women, for males to bully their way into the class of woman and erode the rights of women, for males to think that we have no say in who is actually held within our class, for males to claim and do all of this is just another signal that males intend to run all of the world, according to their script, and that we, as females, as women, must push back.
We must push back HARD against the males who claim to be women and who push their male agenda as if it is a woman’s agenda. No male can truly know what being female is.
I say, “Get your T off of my L”
I am in favor of removing the T from the LGB. I will have the LGB no other way.
No one ever asked the T to be with the LGB. The T just showed up and took over, as men are inclined to do, and the result is that the L has been bashed and harmed, by the T’s. Even the gay guys say that they did NOT ask the T’s to be a part of the LGB, and that the T’s just showed up and attached itself.
So, get gone T. No one asked you to be with us. The L’s are now more than just tired of being bashed by the T’s, we are to the point of throwing your asses out…
And from the entry entitled Chastity Bono Undergoing Reassignment Surgery (regarding trans men):
…These “men” want to be treated like men/seen as a man, but they are not tough enough to assert themselves with bio men. It is much easier to force their testosterone induced “masculinity” on lesbians (there have been situations at B-F events in NY in which trans guys had to be escorted out because of aggressive behavior).
My feeling is this: who the f–k wants men in lesbian spaces? If I wanted men in my personal space, I would be straight. The way I see it, If you want to be a dude, thats cool….do you. However, don’t hang around and expect me to be happy about your new “male” identity. Read: G-E-T L-O-S-T!!
“Transitioning” is selling out one’s genuine self (who doesn’t happen to fit into what society expects of someone with genitals like yours’) and buying into the gender binary (society’s narrow definition of man or woman) that patriarchy has always had a stake in perpetuating.
And too, from the entry entitled Appropriating Womanhood in 7 Easy Steps:
December 3, 2009 at 9:59 am (Uncategorized) (appropriation, woman)
1. Re-define “woman” as a “gender identity.” It will never do to allow “woman” to continue to refer to an adult female, as people who do not fit the biological profile of an adult female will never be able to claim to be women. Do not dwell on the fact that this re-definition gives no information whatsoever about what it is exactly that someone so identified is saying about himself; the vagueness makes the word easier to claim.
2. If absolutely necessary, back up this re-definition by explaining how hopelessly vague the meaning of “woman” currently is (ignoring the fact that it’s never been so vague as to include men, of course), that language is fluid and changes over time, or that strict definitions are inherently oppressive. Do not mention that none of these shortcomings lead to your re-definition. With skill, it is even possible to argue that “woman” should be re-defined to include “mtfs/transwomen” because otherwise, it excludes “mtfs/transwomen.”
3. Convince people that gendered pronouns exist to reference “gender identities,” as opposed to biological sexes. Bonus points for convincing people that the proper use of pronouns is determined by feelings.
4. Continue with the brainwashing phase, pretending that “woman” was a gender identity all along, or should have been, at least. Try to avoid being dragged into discussions about why it should be that way, except to assert that the alternative is transphobic…
It’s not too difficult to connect the dots to see that the womyn-born-womyn attendance policy – the segregationist attendance policy — of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival suborns hate towards trans men and trans women. Lisa Vogel and the rest of the MWMF organizers should know that their womyn-born-womyn policy suborns hate towards trans people — for gawds’ sake, they host hateful thoughts within their own message boards.
So I ask again, why are feminist and lesbian performers playing at this segregationist event? What are bands and artists — such as the Indigo Girls, Chris Williamson, Holly Near, Ferron, Bitch, and Toshi Reagan — doing performing at a festival that has a long running, segregationist policy that indicates transsexual and intersexed women aren’t really women? Why are these feminist and lesbian performers suborning hate, discrimination, and segregation within the LGBT and feminist communities?
Those aren’t rhetorical questions.
* Indigo Girls: 2005-06-13: Amy – Michigan Womyn’s Fest Interviews
* Indigo Girls: Activism: Making Shelters Safe for Transgender People
* Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival 2006 Press Release: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Sets The Record “Straight” (where 1. current policy explained/justified, and 2. Lisa Vogel’s first apparent appropriating the transgender terminology “gender identity” to describe “woman-born-woman” as a gender identity)
* Julia Serano, Renaissance Woman: Frustration (discussing the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s 2006 press release, as well as other problematic issues related to the festival)
* Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance (INTRAA): Rebuttal: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Sets the Record “Straight”