By Emily Dievendorf
“We have said that this space, for this week, is intended to be for womyn who were born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn. This is an intention for the spirit of our gathering, rather than the focus of the festival.” – Lisa Vogel}
The problem with a clearly stated intention is that it is also a declaration of ideology and a vision. In Lisa Vogel’s vision for the world that she creates every year through the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, trans*women are not included. Her “intention” is that, were they to follow the vision she clings to, they would not show up, or they would show up and crawl into themselves once inside the gates so as not to alarm other women with their presence. I ask you not to respect the intention. It isn’t respectable.
We are at a point in history where many of us, especially in queer and feminist communities, are rightfully insistent that how we identify is who we are and that who we are and how we identify can be expressed in a multitude of ways along the gender continuum. If one of our allies in the struggle for equal rights identifies with the larger experience of being a woman/womyn, then they are with us and we are stronger together.
When women/womyn from all over the nation converge on one piece of land with the lofty goals of creating security, empowerment and inclusion for each other and one particular group of women/womyn is clearly defined as both not belonging and threatening the attainability of that utopia, we are offering validation to the arguments of those who dehumanize and attack trans*women. In our exclusion we are ensuring that we know trans*women less as humans and sisters and are less likely to feel accountable to a trans*woman’s suffering.
Please, embrace and appreciate your “Fest family,” but reunite and grow your family at an event that does not harm others. For marginalized groups, our close-knit support system is commonly that which is developed over time with people who were once strangers but who share our experience. Your found family is invaluable. If you view Michfest as your safe space remember that trans*women are the least protected from violence among us and are needing, desperately, a safe and validating place to rest.
Many excuses for trans*exclusion at Michfest are rooted in prejudice and ignorance. Painting trans*women as dangerous is drinking the extremist Kool-Aid. It naively ignores the violence we do to each other by claiming that we can be in a space that accepts intolerance and degradation and still be safe. Painting trans*women as foreign to our experience as women when many of our trans*sisters have spent a lifetime feeling cast out simply because their identification with the female experience is so very real, is to tell them that we don’t believe them when they tell us who they are. It is to say clearly with our dollars, our presence and our silence that we don’t see them as women. It uses arguments that have been used against women of color, women of certain faiths, women who are gender non-conforming and women of different ethnicities against another group of our own. It hinders the safety of any womyn attending that cannot or won’t fit themselves into boxes. It makes us wrong.
While our world is starting to more openly celebrate trans leaders and pop culture icons, we are not yet making the connection that while anti-trans violence may most often come from outside the LGB communities (not always) we are complicit in the vulnerability of trans*people. Michigan has no legal protections in place to combat hate crimes and transgender women of color are disproportionately targeted for the most violent hate crimes. The exclusion of trans*people continues to make them islands or to ignore that they are left stranded on islands, even while we are finally acknowledging the danger they are in.
Equality Michigan – as the statewide advocacy organization for the LGB and T communities in Michigan – asks that you live your values. Stop playing Fest. Stop sponsoring Fest. Stop attending and giving your money to an event that, in being passive in its bigotry, is active in its exclusion – because your money is its own passive acceptance of how your investment impacts those around you. Stop making excuses. Supporting Michfest makes us weapons against our own people. Until trans*women are invited to sit next to you as their authentic selves, it is hypocrisy and it is harm. Until the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s “intention” is changed to a “policy of full inclusion for all women,” we must stop supporting Michfest.
Sign our petition. Contact the artists. Build the pro-woman/womyn oasis you need, wish to see, and that ALL women deserve.
Related Op-Ed from Lansing, Michigan Transgender activist Zoe Steinfield https://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=67215