By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
HART, Mich. – From Aug. 7-14, transgender activists and allies from all over the country will descend on Camp Trans, the transgender community’s answer to the “womyn-born-womyn” policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is held nearby during the same week.
According to the Camp Trans web site, the first Camp Trans was held in 1993, two years after a transwoman was asked to leave MWMF. While Camp Trans hasn’t always been focused on protesting the exclusion of transwomen from women’s space, organizers began refocusing the event beginning in 2003.
According to Lorrraine Donaldson, a member of the executive committee who is in charge of culture at Camp Trans, the event is both a protest of the MWMF policy and “an experience in and of itself.”
“In particular this year, [because] we have a number of guest speakers and presenters who are there to help educate trans people and allies in how to become better activists to deal with all of the issues that trans people are facing in the world at large,” she said. Donaldson stressed that Camp Trans is open, not only to trans women and men, but to anyone who is trans-friendly. According to the Camp Trans web site, about 200 people attend each year.
Political activity is a central facet of life at Camp Trans. Participants “walk the line” at the MWMF, educating about the harm they say that the Festival’s exclusionary policy does to trans women and the women’s community as a whole. And, according to the Camp Trans website, “Throughout the week we’ll have trans activists from around the country presenting workshops designed to give you the tools to organize around issues that affect trans people in your own community – health care, discrimination, employment, HIV, lower-income resources. This is the “meat” (or textured soy protein, if you like) of CT and is not to be missed!” In addition, organizers are planning a week-long workshop on organizer and activist training.
A festival is not a festival without entertainment, and Camp Trans is no exception. The 2005 Camp Trans event will feature entertainers including Sandy Stone, Dana Baitz, the Athens Boys’ Choir, and LotSix. There will also be time for trips to the nearby lake and other social activities.
Despite the plethora of events, however, the heart and soul of Camp Trans is a protest against the exclusion of trans women from women’s space, particularly the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. According to Donaldson, MWMF’s exclusion of trans women “hurts a lot of people.”
“I think one thing that’s very important about the protest aspect of Camp Trans is to recognize that excluding trans women from Festival hurts more than just the trans women,” she said. “It hurts other women who’d like to attend but don’t because they disagree with the policy. It hurts women who attend the festival without friends or lovers who can’t or won’t attend. It hurts women who feel guilty about attending while other women can’t. It hurts women at Festival who are deprived of the contributions of those women who can’t or won’t attend. It hurts women’s communities that are divided over the issue. It hurts LGBT communities that are forced to choose between supporting the MWMF and respecting trans women. It hurts trans women, who come to feel that we have no place in communities that disrespect us, and it hurts the communities that alienate trans women.”
At least some “womyn born womyn” agree with Donaldson.
Janna Pereira of Dennis, Mass., says that she and her partner, Kathleen Lambert, stay away from the festival because of the policy. Pereira is a natal woman; Lambert is a transwoman.
“Now, if she wanted to practice deception, she could go to MWMF,” said Pereira of her partner. “No one would know about her male past by looking at her or talking to her. But the point of going to an event like this is to get away from ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ not buy into it.”
Janelle Wielhouwer of Kitchener, Ontario, another natal woman, said she has been to MWMF but “I will not return until they change their policy.”
“I cannot enjoy the land knowing that those women who are immigrants to women’s country are not welcome,” she said. “I cannot enjoy it any more than I could join a club that excluded people of color.”
“I grieve every year that I am not on the land, and I hope to one day be able to return, but only when this policy has changed,” she added.
An organizer for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival said that there are currently no plans to change the “womyn born womyn” policy.
“As far as we’re concerned, nothing’s changing for us,” said Sally Ramsey. “We’re continuing to do the same festival we’ve been doing for thirty years.”
Though, according to Donaldson, in the years she has gone she hasn’t seen many other trans people from Michigan, the event does have nationwide support. Fundraisers for the 2005 Camp Trans have been held in Minnesota, North Carolina and California.
For more information about Camp Trans, including directions to the event site, visit http://camptrans.squarespace.com.