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Genderlicious: "I believe that I can support you, but also support people who hate you"—On the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival

The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is next week. Having not grown up in North America and having taken a fairly circuitious route to feminism, the first time I ever heard of Michfest was about seven years ago in the Inga Muscio book Cunt, where Muscio talks about what a transformative experience it was to be completely surrounded by only women for a week. Then, a few years later, while I was attending a writing retreat for women of colour at the Leaven Centre in Michigan, one of the women began to talk about Michfest, and their womyn-born-womyn policy (WBW), i.e. the fact that only cisgendered women could attend Michfest. I was stunned.

Muscio later appended another section to Cunt, explaining how transphobia at Michfest made her reconsider her early statement that "all women have cunts". Muscio ends this excerpt saying:

What if a kid felt completely NOT the specific gender that society assigned him/her throughout life, and so decided to get an operation or take hormones when s/he grew up so that his/her physical appearance would mirror the self-image s/he holds dearest to his/her heart?

What is wrong with any of this?

What, exactly, does it mean to be a woman?

What, exactly, does it mean to be a man?

Why shouldn't one's gender be as fluid as one's life should be, if its a happy life, I mean.

If its a life where freedom happens.

Other people writing for Bitch in the past have articulated what is wrong with a WBM policy. Dani Eurynome says in this article: 

While I have heard many of my "sisters" talk about supporting the institutions and changing from within, as a political person, I know that is a bunch of crap. It is up to me, a person who is not being discriminated against, to put up a huge fuss and boycott. Anyone who currently identifies and lives as a woman [should be included]—no inspections, oaths, or harassment."Safe space" means naiveté at best or falsehood at worst. If women actually believe that they cannot be harmed by other women, then they are naive. A penis is not inherently dangerous—a brain is.

In the same article you can find a few folks arguing for the protection of WBW policies. The current status of Michfest's WBW policy is unclear to me; it seems as if the WBW policy has been rolled back. So why is this still an issue? Annie Danger writes in An Open Letter to my Friends Who Attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival: 

I am also speaking up because, in only the most technical of senses, I could finally go [to Michfest]: I can purchase a ticket as an out transsexual woman (though one cannot find that information on the MWMF website). I have considered going. I have had hours and hours of conversations recently—with decade-long Michfest workers, with transwoman friends and their lovers, with women's-movement organizers who have never been to MWMF, and with those who know me best—about this possibility and I have come to a very solid conclusion: I have no moving reason to put myself through that emotional shredder. I cannot go there and not interact with this issue of trans-exclusion. It is on my body. To go and try to have fun, to do anything but loud and firey activism about this issue would be to leave my body. To disassociate further from a body I fight daily to be in.

I completely disagree with WBW policies. For one, they uphold the extremely transphobic belief that trans women are not "real women" - I mean, it doesn't get much more transphobic than that.

It's also very harmful for a movement to form alliances with others based solely on identity, rather than politics.  I have learned the hard way, for example, to not assume that any old woman of colour I meet strolling down the street is going to believe what I believe, or even have experienced the world the way I do. Sure, it can be natural to believe, when you feel cornered and alienated by ye olde Dominant Culture on the basis of your identity, that everyone else with your identity, will have reached the same conclusions about the Dominant Culture as you have. But that's a fantasy - and it's also essentialising. It does to others what the Dominant Culture does to us: it assumes that you can predict what someone thinks and feels simply on how they look. 

Take it from me: make friends and allies based on politics and ideas, not whether or not someone has the same identity as you. Because I'd rather be on a team with Tim Wise than Condoleeza Rice.  

In light of all this, I wanted to share that adorably radical video above with you, and its musings on transphobia, friendship, derailing and true solidarity. While it is about a trans woman and cis woman at odds in their friendship, in its short running time it is also a painfully accurate portrayal of any friendship divided by power lines, where one friend has a kind of privilege that the other doesn't. 

Life as any kind of radical is hard. Don't make it harder by barking up all the wrong trees, and ignoring the trees that want to enter into a symbiotically nurturing alliance with you.

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Comments

28 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Wow. That video says a lot.

Wow. That video says a lot. I think it says a lot about how transwomen in my experience (as a transwoman) feel about their role in dyke-centric subcultures. I felt so vindicated by some of the fairly cynical things this video has to say. I think that is telling: I am not a person who thinks cynicism is productive. But inside disheartened cynicism is always real criticism. Real pain. I hope that the people who create the culture of Michfest--the participants--are able to really reach outside the gates and change the way transwomen feel about the place.

I don't think it says everything about Michfest: I think the goal of coalition building asks me to respect and hope the best for this institution and to try and engage beyond a boycott strategy. A cut-and-run policy of 'they're fucked up, so just disassociate with them" hasn't worked. I don't know how to not feel terrible about my friends going there, but I do need to respect them. I need their help to make that happen.

That said, the best for this institution is for it to change its *culture* of transphobia as well as its policies. I am willing to figure out how to let go of so much resent and dismissal around this issue, but I need to know the people of Michfest. are working hard for me, too.

That's too bad...

I totally get the importance of women-only spaces. I've encountered a few individuals who try to argue with me on this, but the fact is, after being saturated in men my whole life, and having all of my decisions be influenced on whether or not a man is in the room, it is refreshing and liberating to be in a woman-only space. But I don't see transwomen as anything more or less than just women, and the spaces I've been (usually college campuses) don't make the distinction, either. I wish that the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival had a good reason for this, but they don't.

heck yeah

women-only space is awesome. and it's so much better with as many different kinds of women there as you can possibly get together - including the trans ones!

Awww, my friend made this

Awww, my friend made this video. He's awesome. I am so glad to see that activists aren't letting the issue of the tranphobia of MWMF go ignored. Many have been shamed, silenced, bullied and insulted.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

other videos, too

Thanks for bringing attention to this issue, Thea, and also for posting our video (it was made by three trans folks last Saturday).

I wanted to acknowledge, too, the many people who are making new videos about this and other trans topics. Mira Bellwether, in particular, has been especially prolific. Below is a list of links, in roughly the order the appeared on the internet--or at least, in the order I found them. There are a lot of voices being broadcast, it's an exciting time to be a trans person on the internet.

http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6835877/
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6838615/
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6840631/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n670SoCVMws
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6842163/
http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6842971/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9FZCr8ijOc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eJDU3QN-jc

Thanks so much Tom!

Hi Tom! Thanks so much for chiming in on this thread and sharing these links! I love your video (and appreciate how it (sadly!) applies to many kinds of silencing that go on in radical communities) I was wondering who made this great video and if there was other stuff like it. Hooray!

Tom and Co. are smart,

Tom and Co. are smart, fierce, tireless activists - all around wonderful artists and people! Thanks, Tom, for this!

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Because I'd rather be on a

Because I'd rather be on a team with Tim Wise than Condoleeza Rice.

I am confused by this statement. Could you parse this out for me. I know who both people are, but I not sure what they have to do with each other.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

choose people by politics, not identity

Hi Snarky!

What I meant here, with reference to how and who we choose to form communities with, is that it is more important to look at what people value than how they identify or what demographic they belong to. At other points in my life I felt like I only ever wanted to be around women of colour. Then I realised that that is actually a shallow (though understandable) approach - just because someone is a woman of colour, doesn't meant that they are going to have the same politics as me, same life experience as me, or values as me. And also there will be many people who are not women of colour, that I would be better off allying with.

So Tim Wise as a white guy who is also an amazing anti-racist writer, vs Condoleeeza who is a woman of colour but not someone I share politics/values with.

That's not to say that I do not value WOC or women-only spaces. It is amazing to be with my people. But I also have to avoid assuming that all woman of colour or people of colour are my natural allies - I should rather choose allies (and hope to be chosen as an ally) based on beliefs rather than demographics.

Thanks for this! I was

Thanks for this! I was burning out my google trying to figure out if either party had weighed in on MWMF. I definitely understand and appreciate your point. I frame Rice differently and a bit more sympathetically, but your point is an excellent one and it's one I'm challenging myself to consider. So again, thank you. Tim Wise is complicated, but again, I appreciate the analysis provided here. (He's not as sex positive as I'd like).

My apologies for the monster derail.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

hate?

Look, I don't hate men, or anyone who wasn't born a woman. I just need to be with my sisters who WERE.
Try this for an analogy: I am white. I am also an anti-racist. However, I do not insist on being included in events, at spaces, in organizations for Women Of Color. Having grown up and lived with the privileges accorded to white people in this racist world, I do not know, and cannot know, what it is like to be anything but the old white dyke I am. I understand why it is important for W.O.C. to have their own refuge at MWMF.
We are who we were raised; we are not able to paint ourselves in charcoal and suddenly become a woman of color. It isn't skin deep, and neiother is my experience as a woman, and a lesbian in this world.
All we ask for is one week--ONE WEEK--without those who have had male privilege. That's all. Why is this so hard? It's just one "No, you're not invited."
Simple, really.
Love is what drives us, love for one another. Not hate. Please, can you not take "no" just for this event? Why?

Kitty Barber

Kitty, Have you ever spent

Kitty,

Have you ever spent any time with trans women? Do you have any friends who are trans women?

I see this argument all over and I feel like it could only be made by people who don't have personal experience caring about or loving trans women. Trans women are women. They were "born" women, they will always be women, even if some people misinterpret that, such as their parents, a doctor, or any number of midwestern lesbians.

Having male privilege isn't a magic wand, either. You jump to a lot of conclusions about what it is like to be a trans woman before transition, or as a young boy. Placing that much power on the phallus itself (or on the M on an ancient birth certificate) lets complex systems of oppression go unchecked. Women are not oppressed because men have penises; women are oppressed because we live in patriarchy, and we live in a world where being a woman is "less than." By excluding transwomen for not being "real" enough, you replicate that patriarchy--and that's maybe the saddest part of this whole mess, that you are allowing the systems of power that you are trying to escape in Hart to invade the land, a terrible cancerous stain on what should be a beautiful festival of everything wonderful about women, sexuality and feminism.

"We are who we were raised?"

I see what you're saying, but I can't agree. I was certainly not "raised" to be the proud feminist queer I am; as far as my parents are concerned, I was raised to be a conservative heterosexual. Strangers may still read me as straight, but obviously that doesn't make it true. As for "those who have had male privilege," what about ciswomen who look conventionally masculine enough to be sometimes read as men? They may experience male privilege, yet it would be ridiculous to deny them access to a women's event.

I love and agree with the idea of women-only space, but Michigan's WBW policy (which, if I'm not mistaken, was officially lifted several years ago, though obviously anti-trans bullying still takes place there) was not fair or helpful. I respect Heather Corinna quite a bit, but her argument, similar to yours, that if one supports spaces for only people of color, etc, one should also support a WBW policy seems flawed. Michigan is not a festival built around sharing the experience of being born female; it's about being a grown, queer woman who loves music, and no part of this is compromised by transwomen. Aside from the fact that womyn-born-womynness is nearly impossible to prove, what good could a WBW policy actually do anyone?

Thanks and agreement

Thank you @Tom and @BadAssMuppet for stepping in here and explaining that trans women are women in such an eloquent way. Just to say it one more time: Trans women ARE women, period. If a women-only space excludes trans women, it's not a women-only space; it's a cis-women-only space.

People who are looking for a bit more information on this topic might want to check out this post from Questioning Transphobia on checking your cis privilege: http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/how-to-check-your-cis-privil...

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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analogy

@kitty: nice analogy with the women of color. I am totally with you on that one. as a white woman, the W.O.C. tent is totally off limit for me. that space is not open to me, and I respect that. the same applies to the MWMF and it's WBW-only policy. and it's not even a full week...! ;-)

Missing the point

Annette,

Actually, the WOC analogy doesn't work at all in this situation because trans women ARE women whereas most white women ARE NOT women of color.

Also, the fact that the festival is less than one week doesn't cancel out its exclusionary policies. One day or one year, it's still for cis women only.

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

PS

The analogy also doesn't work because white women are afforded higher status under patriarchy than women of colour, this is essentially the argument for why men aren't allowed at women's events and acts like trans women don't experience sexism, never mind transphobia.

Let's try again.

The WOC space analogy is better fitting this way: not allowing trans women into a women's space is like a rejecting a women of color who passed as white when she was younger from a WOC space. It is saying, your experience is less valid than mine. Because your identity was not visible for part of your life, you do not count.
And it is wrong.

Agreed

I agree that this is a much better analogy.

I will go out on a limb and say that all white women are not women of colour. (Unless Kelsey, you meant white women who are also POC, ie mixed...in that case the woman is a "woman of colour and a white woman," not a "white woman.")

I actually find it quite offensive for white feminists to use women-of-colour only spaces as an excuse to support a WBW policy. It is important to keep in mind that while oppressions are parallel, they are not the same. To use an unrelated struggle as a means to justify oppressive behaviour in another sphere is an attempt to mask cruelty with righteousness. Using a woman of colour only space to justify a WBW policy is a pretty poor way of showing solidarity with women of colour. This woman of colour does not appreciate being used in that way.

WBW space / exclusionary spaces.

We all have different views on how the fest policy is applied. This is how I have related it to myself.

I am a black woman. That is how I identify. I have one African American parent and one white parent. I attend many many events aimed at African Americans, and many aimed at African American lesbians. I have never been turned away for being …half white.

However, if I attended an event and the promoter informed me that the goal / intent of the event was to discuss the issues of being raised by TWO African American parents in this society, I would agree that event wasn’t the place for me. As my life experience being raised by a white mother, and black father, and how this world treated my family and me, was certainly not the same as how a black woman raised by two black parents was treated.

I have no issues allowing those who DO fit that scope to have the event they envision. I appreciate that they are wanting to share nuances that were not a part of my upbringing & life experience.

I do not think all events need to include all people.

I used to attend a fat swim for women. Fat women have a hard time attending public pools. People laugh , make fun and in general make it very hard for them to enjoy swimming. Then suddenly there was a Fat swim, for women over 200 lbs. It became really popular. There started to be questions like.. IM 5’2 and 190 Im obviously fat but under the 200 lb rule, can I come? My partner wants to come as well, she’s not fat, but she certainly wouldn’t make fun of anyone, can she come? My son has two fat mothers that he loves, he’s definitely not going to say anything, can he come? The atmosphere of the fat swim changed little by little and then abruptly fell apart. Most women when asked why they no longer attended said, It was no longer the haven for fat women they enjoyed.

There is value in space that caters to a subset, every event need not be for all people. IMHO

I have also said before, " make your own party ", but of course that would entail 35 years of sweat & hard work, community building, gathering of people, and saving, to finally have an event like fest. It's much easier to just insist they include you. And cut out all the hard stuff.

♥ Trish

The reason the queer movement

The reason the queer movement is where it's at today is because of Stonewall, where TRANS WOMEN stood together with queer men and women. You owe a lot to those people, and therefore you owe it to trans women to treat them the way they deserve to be treated: like any other woman. Radfems always act like it's ok to stomp all over trans people, especially women (see GenderTrender's wordpress site, for example), because of the lie that trans women were born male and therefore lived easier lives, but that's not true. Many trans women passed as women despite not yet understanding what it meant to be trans, and therefore endured hardships that most women couldn't believe. Being bullied and teased in the home, school, the workplace, for something they couldn't control. But no, trans women, who have always been women with the unfortunate side effect of having a body poisoned with testosterone, don't need time to heal; time to be with other women who were oppressed by the exact same group of people. What is the percentage of suicide attempts in cis women? For trans women it's nearly 50%. Half the people born trans try to kill themselves. I can guarantee not so many cis women have. Trans and cis women are in the same fight, and by oppressing trans women, devaluing their existence just because you buy into the false lie that they were born with some privilege just because someone told you they were, you have become the new patriarchy. The institution you fought to throw off, the one that has treated you like dirt for so long...you're them.

This policy is the very

This policy is the very definition of HATE.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

supporting a WBW policy does not equal hate of trans women.

Being Pro WBW space does mean one is anti trans. The two concepts are not opposites.

Sort of in the way people mistakenly think Love & Hate are opposites.

Love & Hate are two different emotions.

For example: Flowers vs No Flowers are opposites on the stick..
NOT trees vs flowers

The opposite of having my shoes on.. is having my shoes off. It is not having socks on.

Being Pro flowers does not mean you are anti trees.

It just means that you, for THIS garden choose flowers only.

To attempt to call it hate, is just an attempt to inflame.

♥ Trish

There is no HATE here! I

There is no HATE here! I think WBW policy is right and should be respeced. WBW are different from trans women, their lived experience, upbringing, way of thinking and reasoning. Not understanding the differences and only concentrating on our shared opression is not the way forward. I think that while there is cisgender privilege, and while it may not be fair trans women should be puting their attention on more important issues. I think that as people we should understand and respect the fact that different people who share a common heritage would like to come together alone, in a safe place and have a few moments to themselves. I fear that by forcing their way in trans people aren't making themselves very well liked. There is a difference btn being BORN and RAISED female, and being BORN male and RAISED male and feeling like YOU self identify as female. that's a FACT! It's not transphobic, it's not hate, it's a difference that can never be changed because the way you lived your life was very different from the way WBW did. WBW have far different issues Specific to them, to their lives and psyches and meeting with fellow women who share those same struggles is empowering. I think it'd be empowering for Transwomen to have THEIR own place. A place they can talk about issues specific to them. It not only makes both sides richer, by living together, sharing, focussing on their own experiences but it fosters understanding and cooperation. I'd be very happy if i saw a Transwomen festival or camp. I am pro womyn born womyn celebrating together but that doesn't automatically make me transphobic. Saying tha is erasing my lived experience, one that as all WBW we share.

Analogies

Kitty, as a white person, I believe you should avoid making analogies out of People of Color. It smacks of colonization, appropriation, and privilege. I just got back from Camp Trans, where we had an interesting workshop for People of Color that discussed this very issue...

Womyn-born-womyn is NOT a valid identity to base an exclusionary policy upon, because it is an identity that is specifically designed to exclude a class of women who are at even greater disadvantage, namely, trans women (and for those who may not understand the distinction, yes, it is two fucking words, not one thank you very much).

A more proper, though still admittedly oblique, analogy would be a PoC group which excluded mixed race people (like myself, incidentally) based upon the idea that we mixed race people may be frequently mischaracterized by others as "white" and thus may be granted provisional white privilege by them, or for other reasons, like the way in which many mixed race people have been raised in a predominantly white environment (again, like myself), and thus may not have the same experiences or upbringing as People of Color raised in Communities of Color, or the like.

It also really pissed me off when I see those key words and phrases thrown around, like "Why can't you just take 'No' for an answer", because those are the arguments that are typically employed against patriarchy, and used in the context of trans women, are specifically designed to paint us as men and not women. Just as bad are the patronizing comments meant to be conciliatory that add up to nothing more than, "Oh, we see you as women, OK, it's just that you're not *enough* of a woman." Fantastic how the hypocriticial use of the tactics of patriarchy and kyriarchy by WBW apologists never seems to occur to them, and at the same time, how they love to paint us with the brush of privilege.

I was born a woman, from a woman, and will always be a woman. My cunt may be only in my head for the time being, but at least I don't use it like a dick.

identity

You inadvertently contradicted yourself here: "It isn't skin deep, and neiother [sic] is my experience as a woman..."
Nobody gets to debate someone's self-defined identity. That's why nobody's asking you why you don't think trans women are real women. They are real women, born into a body that does not match who they see themselves as. Their identity is more than skin deep, and more than what their body parts may say.
You also mention male privilege, but as other commenters have pointed out, there are other forms of privilege. You need to educate yourself on the advantages being cisgendered has afforded you.

on privilege

Kitty-

I found this line incredibly offensive:

"All we ask for is one week--ONE WEEK--without those who have had male privilege. "

Several people have already commented that transwomen are and always have been women.

But even aside from this, I'm startled at how you can believe this issue is so simple it can be boiled down to dropping a line about privilege, as if it's such a clearly defined line and you know what experience someone has had because of the body they were born into.

Answer me this - I am a lesbian identified cisgender woman. I came out at age 19. At what age do you think we should draw the line for who is allowed in queer, gay or lesbian spaces, clubs, collectives, associations? Tell me, since I was raised with straight privilege (as were you) - what is it that makes you REALLY a dyke? Under your logic, at what point could I say "I don't hate anyone... but here in my lesbian gathering, I want to spend time with my sisters who are REAL lesbians, without those who have had straight privilege."

Would any of us qualify? Are we all straight until we are not... is there a part of us that will ALWAYS be straight? Of course not. How many years did you spend saturated in straight culture. How long did you question or "pass".... many of us even tried straight relationships that didn't work, but they were part of a straight experience, nonetheless by the trappings of privilege.

How deeply hurt and offended would you be if I insisted that the straight part of you was just too important and you couldn't understand what it felt like to have my lived experience as a lesbian? HOW can you POSSIBLY think that it works that way for any trans person? How arrogant is it to believe you are allowed to take someone's upbringing in a privilege society and give it so much more weight than the person who stands in front of you today and their actions, choices and identity?

Did you come out at 18 or 40? Is it fair for me to question that? If you didn't come out until age 35... you walked with straight privilege for a very long time. Does that make you different and threatening to me? Am I more lesbian than you, is my experience more valid? What about people who are bisexual... does sleeping with men mean engaging in privilege? Does someone like me who "passes" for straight when I'm alone, because I'm femme - am I any less queer or deserving of inclusion in a place with privilege is (and should be) checked?

There is not any one shared collective "correct" experience for being a lesbian that makes us have so much in common that I would call you my sister.... not for coming out as a lesbian, and certainly not for being born with a vagina. Those qualifications do not erase the differences between us, and they certainly do not "naturally" exclude women who were born with differently sexed bodies.

Dear Bitch, As a trans woman,

Dear Bitch,

As a trans woman, in this day and age it seems that the poison of radical feminism has bled into every space that many trans women (and cis women allied with the trans* cause) held safe, it is more than a little refreshing to know that in a place like this, one I've always enjoyed reading, the poison has left you unspoiled. I love you.