Michiganwomyns

  

The Human Rights Campaign announced on July 30th that it would publicly support efforts to end the anti-trans “intention” of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (the intention is the policy to exclude trans women from the festival on the grounds that they are not womyn-born womyn). Festival organizers and supporters, including founder Lisa Vogel, continue to contend that the festival has no official policy around the exclusion of transgender women, instead clarifying that organizers 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,"Vogel wrote in a Mayblog post. "This is an intention for the spirit of our gathering, rather than the focus of the festival. It is not a policy, or a ban on anyone."

 

Vogel says attendees are supposed to self-police. "We do not 'restrict festival attendance to cisgender [nontrans] womyn, prohibiting trans women,' as was recently claimed in severalAdvocatearticles," Vogel has written. "We do not and will not question anyone's gender. Rather, we trust the greater queer community to respect this intention, leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it."

 

On Wednesday July 30th, according to Parker Marie Molloy writing for the Advocate, Human Rights Campaign senior content manager Beth Sherouse joinedEquality Michigan in its call for MichFest to put an end to its exclusionary intention

 

In the almost two weeks since the HRC joined Equality Michigan in condemning the exclusion policy, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center, The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), the Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have also spoken out against the anti-trans policy (referred to by the euphemism, “the intention”).

 

I have waited this long to write, because I had hoped to reach a point of emotional equilibrium, to be able to speak carefully and dispassionately. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, and I’ve waited long enough.

 

As a trans woman, I feel the exclusion as……….exclusion. Whether it is a stated policy, formal to the stated ideals of the festival, or a stated intention that “the greater queer community respect this intention, leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it”, exclusion means not welcome.

 

Speaking for myself, I have no desire to wish to attend a private party on privately owned land to which I have been very clearly disinvited. I also do not believe that any coercement will result in a more inclusive policy.

 

[Note-I have been very fortunate in my life to have been befriended by some wonderful women, women who have been or still are attendees of the Festival. These women embody the inspiring principles of self-determination, community and free expression that also inhabit the Festival, and they have gone out of their way to create space and events that capture that spirit and are inclusive of all, enabling me to see and feel why the festival means so much to so many. Many of them have chosen to forgo the experience of Festival in solidarity with their trans sisters.]

 

What is this festival about that defines what a woman is, and who isn’t? That’s where I’d like to focus. Because the real issue isn’t the need for women only space; every trans woman has experienced prejudice, bigotry, and harassment at some point in their lives. During and after transition, the overwhelming majority of us feel the full weight of the patriarchy, no less so than cisgender women. There is no lingering reserve of male privilege buoying trans women with entitlement and power. Actually, looking at unemployment rates, underemployment, levels of violence, lack of access to public accommodation, lack of access to health care, and the appalling lack of conviction and just sentencing of our attackers and murderers, a case could well be made for the opposite.

 

Trans women really really get the need for women’s space. Trans women understand the need for women’s space, free of the societal expectation of conformance to assigned gender roles that is still very much a part of daily life in the 21st century. But this particular space, called the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, is not for trans women.

 

Why? Because there are those who say that trans women are not women, as in, they do not qualify as women “born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn”, according to founder Lisa Vogel. In other words, the supporters of the “intention” disavow the life experience and identities of trans women, reducing them to dehumanized objects unworthy of consideration for the validation of their identities as humans who are female.

 

The claimed ownership of conceptual womanhood by both sides of the political spectrum, of gender policing by those who demand rigid adherence to toxic societal expectations of gender expression and gender roles, to those who demand the abolishment of gender as an outmoded cultural artifact now irrelevant, has its own long and sad history. It’s also a big topic and for another time. Let me say this: trans women have paid terrible prices for living their lives as who they are, as authentically and genuinely as they can, no matter who has done the othering, excluding and discrimination. Some succeed better than others, sometimes due to genetics, often to class, often to geography.

 

Imagine suffering through dysphoria, through a puberty cementing the dysphoria of  GenderIdentity Disorder (a medical diagnosis, not psychotherapeutic, according to the most recent DSM) to their very flesh, and later finding the means, understanding and self-acceptance needed to be able to transition. Imagine living a life free of the crippling depression, anxiety and hopelessness that comes with Gender Dysphoria (the psychotherapeutic diagnosis that accompanies GID, the medical diagnosis).

 

Now imagine surviving that, winning a throughway beyond the 90% suicidal ideation rate, 41% suicide attempt rate, and 12% suicide rate, only to be told YOU are STILL not woman enough!

 

This happens in hundreds of ways, every day. But as an institutionalized example of that othering, MichFest takes on greater meaning than just that of a large women-only space and music festival.

 

Do I see a need, now and on into the future, for a space like the one provided for women by women at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival?

 

Yes.

 

Do I see a need for greater acceptance by society overall of the reality of trans people’s livesand identities?

 

Yes.

 

Do I see a brilliant path forward, reconciling the emotion and thought behind the anti-trans exclusion policy at an event with publicly sold tickets with the ever-so-slowly-progressing evolution of societal acceptance of trans people?

 

No. 

 

In time, hearts may open, opinions may change, but as long as some--even other women--continue to deny the female identity of trans women, there will still be strife, there will still be struggle, and we’ll still have names to read every November 20th, the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

 

Peace.

 

[Editor's Note]: On Aug. 18, 2014 Lisa Vogel published a statement to her personal Facebook account. The post was published with a list demands: http://www.buzzfeed.com/skarlan/michigan-womyns-music-festival-releases-statement-concerning

 

 

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