Guest Blogger

A Trans Woman at Michigan Women's Music Festival

Filed By Guest Blogger | August 15, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: lesbians, Michigan, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, music, transgender, women's music

Editors' note: Tobi Hill-Meyer is a multiracial, queerspawn, genderqueer, transdyke, colonized mestiza, as well as a regular Bilerico reader. She is a trans activist and writer who volunteers for Basic Rights Oregon and sits on the board of COLAGE. She writes zines which can be found at http://www.handbasketproductions.com and her blog can be found at nodesignation.wordpress.com.

Tobi at WCWMF.jpgWhen I was a child, my parents would take me to women's music festivals. As a baby, I was passed around to a dozen different "aunties" at the feminist newspaper where my parents worked. I essentially grew up in women's space - queer women's space specifically. And really, I've never left.

Being trans, however, there are some women's spaces that don't want me around. I find it's usually based on ignorance, stereotypes, and Janice Raymond-esque conspiracy theory. As is the case with most bigotry, the stereotypes and ignorance fade away the more people actually talk with each other. That's why removing anti-trans women policies has become so important to disrupting trans misogyny. The most well known anti-trans woman policy is at the Michigan Women's Music Festival, which has been used by trans misogynists across the country to justify their own similar policies.

Yet things have been shifting dramatically at Mich Fest. This year I was one of several out trans women to attend. When I went up to the front gate and asked, "I'd like to buy a ticket, and I'm an out trans woman. Is that going to be a problem?" The response I got was, "No, why would it be?" along with a bright smile. And when I was met with the traditional greeting of "Welcome home!" my heart melted and it didn't feel cheesy at all - I was finally allowed back into the space I had grown up in.

I had wanted to go to Camp Trans - the annual gathering of trans activists across the street from Mich Fest - ever since I had heard of it back in 2003, but due to the distance, I had been unable to. When I heard that an out trans woman was sold a ticket to Mich Fest in 2006, I knew I had to go the next year. Then Lisa Vogul released a statement that trans women would not be kicked off the land but neither would they be welcome. Confusingly, it sounded like women like me would be allowed to pay for a ticket, but might be subjected to abuse and intimidation.

In 2007, I stayed at Camp Trans and tried to get a handle of what the climate was. I talked with the trans woman who bought the ticket the previous year, and was spending the whole week there that year. She told me that for every angry glare she encountered, she got ten warm smiles.

When I returned to Camp Trans this year, I wasn't sure if I would attend Mich Fest or not. At the beginning of the week, I participated in a joint Mich Fest/Camp Trans workshop, and one woman decided to put her wallet behind her support for trans inclusion. We had been discussing how one of the major factors preventing trans women from attending is the multi-hundred dollar price tag. Given the rampant anti-trans employment discrimination, it's an amount that many simply cannot afford. She then decided to make a donation to Camp Trans, specifically to be used by a trans woman who wanted to attend the festival but couldn't due to a lack of funds. A few other festies joined in, and almost instantly we had an informal scholarship fund.

I was so moved by the collaborative attempt to bring trans women into Mich Fest that I decided to purchase a ticket myself. I still held some concern that I'd be entering a hostile space or making myself a target for trans misogynistic harassment, but upon entering that quickly melted away.

When I told them it was my first year the welcoming committee shouted "Festie Virgin!" and clapped noisemakers. After a quick orientation, I was sent on my way and I headed off to the Day Stage. As I was soaking everything in, I couldn't help but be a bit amazed. Within half an hour, the emcee had referred to a particular audience member by male pronouns, one of the performers sang a song about her cock, and I had seen many more beards than I had encountered at Camp Trans. Over the years I had heard a lot of concerns about "male energy" and "penises on the land" but it was quickly clear to me that Mich Fest had enough of each to go around without needing trans women's help.

I didn't really encounter any hostility. Most people I talked with said that they were extremely happy I was there and thanked me for coming. I ran into several friends, was offered a "festie virgin" spanking, and even ended up being flirted with by someone who I suspected might have mistaken me for a trans man.

I'm not sure exactly where this leaves everything. Lisa Vogul hasn't changed her stance saying that trans women shouldn't come. But the fact is, we are coming. And with the welcome we've been receiving, I can only imagine that more will be coming.

In addition to the informal scholarship, toward the end of the week a group of Festies leaving early gave their armbands to trans women who had been unable to attend. With those armbands and the ones purchased by donations, a group of trans women went into Fest and presented a workshop on ENDA. The doors have been opened and it is time to begin dialogues for change. I look forward to all that it will bring, and with luck, ignorance won't survive the face to face contact.

If you would like to donate to Camp Trans you can mail checks to the PO box below. If you would like your donation to be earmarked to help buy Mich Fest tickets for trans women, include a note saying so.

Camp Trans
PO Box 46055
Madison, WI 53744-6055


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Cindy Rizzo | August 15, 2008 1:24 PM

Tobi,

My partner and I were so moved by your post. Thank you so much for updating everyone on the positive changes at Mich Fest. It sounds like the Festival attendees are light years ahead of the Festival organizer. I am so glad that worm has turned! :)

Glad you enjoyed your first Mich Fest.

Cindy

thank you.

puts a new light on things

I've said this before - but you are fearless. You rock! Thanks for sharing this.

Hi Tobi,

Great post but one quibble: all of us who did the workshop Sunday bought our tickets. I was thinking about reusing one, but I was nervous enough about going on the land already. Once I got in and calmed down, I was able to be part of a great discussion. I'm really pumped up about the activism we can do next year!

-Alice

Thanks for the clarification. I had to leave before that happened so I didn't know the details of how it all went down. I know that at least one person was re-using my arm band and I was under the impression that there were some other folks who re-used an armband or two or three as well. Do you know if that happened? Or were they just not a part of the workshop presentation? And while we're talking about it, how did the workshop go?

Alice - tell us about your experiences too!

Although I did not go on the land, I truly felt as though a "shift" had taken place this year at CT. There was tons of positive energy when I "walked the line" and at the workshop held outside the mich fest gates on Tuesday. The fact that several open trans women were on the land and they were received with open arms is a testament to the change in attitudes of the majority of mich fest participants.

My wife and I have wanted to attend MichFest for a while now, but have always refused because trans people were not welcomed. Perhaps we'll save enough for 3 tickets in 2009 and send the third to camp trans...

TPQ

Erin Crosland | August 15, 2008 11:18 PM

Wow, that's so incredibly heartening--thanks for sharing. I realized after reading this how much I had invested in crafting a rationalization for the trans woman-exclusion policy so that I wouldn't have to get too upset over it. But it feels good to be able to relax that now and to nurture hope that acceptance and understanding of trans people like me will continue to grow in society. I'm so glad you found the courage to participate in the festival, despite the official obnoxiousness around it, and that you received such a warm welcome from so many "real people" on the ground (land!) when you did. Yay!

While there are threads like this one on the forums, I wouldn't feel safe there.

Wading through some of the comments in the Female Identity and Gender Politics section is not for those with sensitive stomachs. They consider Raymond to be a Tranny-Lover.

It's usually the same half-dozen, but they're strident enough, and some of them violent enough, to make me fear there's genuine risk. Here's why.

I can see why you wouldn't feel safe. Those threads were horrific and I simply could not stand to read more than a few comments. These women need to understand that until all women can attend uncontested that it is not truly an all woman space.

Parker, sister warrior,

Thanks for finding out Brenden's real name. You really are the master of online detective work! Srsly! I gave all pertinant info to my cousin, who as I said has been with the IRS for just over 18 years. After looking over everything I provided, all I heard at the other end was "interesting"!!!!...lol I should know more tomorrow, I'll email you on whatever else she finds out about Mr. _____

dirt

Source

Anyone who doesn't see that there are some dangerous and rabidly transphobic people within the GLB movement should have a look at this thread.

If non-trans michfest visitors are supportive of trans women and wish for their inclusion, then are they doing something about it? Breaking down transphobic barriers is much easier when both sides are fighting for the same thing.

FYI, dirtywhiteboi has never been to michfest. She, and her regular commenters, just love using any excuse to talk shit about trans* folk.
She also loves creating sockpuppets and getting into trans* LJ comms to screen cap and mock personal entries.
And while many of the other transphobes like Heart and Luckynkl do go to fest, they are the minority. I actually met a cool festie at CT who is a biologist and who got into it on the boards because she described herself as cissexual and believes there is enough scientific proof to say that transsexuality (though not all trans*ism) has a biological base. Don't know if I agree with her, but she was still really nice and interesting to talk to.

PS: Tobi, this is Kristopher from CT *waves*

violetteleduc | August 16, 2008 12:58 PM

wow, this is a great story. I was sad last week reading comments on this topic on Feministing.com and a piece by Julia Serano on Alternet. I do like Julia's great writings most of the time but I thought this time she went to far opening direct fire at transmen attending MichFest saying they want it both ways. (to Julia: F*ck the binary)
But this story makes me very happy! Thanks for sharing.

Julia's point is the way trans men access to women-only spaces reinforces the justifications used to exclude trans women from those same spaces, as well as the way she sees some trans men play into that.

This is similar to the way rape and DV survivors are used as tokens to justify excluding trans women (because penises or masculine people might be triggering).

Thanks for sharing your experience.

As a long term festie go-er, I can't say that I will be one of the womyn welcoming trans womyn into the gates of Fest; the intention of MWMF is for women born women to attend... if you cant identify as a WBW, then fest is not intended for you... its one of those things, if you know yourself to be trans, then you do not understand what it is to be a WBW... I dont care what genitals or chromosomes you are born with, it is understanding identity..

when you are a WBW, you know it... please come to Fest... If you are not a WBW, please enjoy camp trans or some other festivals; MWMF is not for you.

I dont care what genitals or chromosomes you are born with, it is understanding identity..

Clearly, you do care what chromosomes people are born with, or you wouldn't have posted this nonsense.

You don't know what it's like to be trans, so you have no basis from which to police trans people - especially not when it comes to telling trans women whether we belong in women-only space. Your comments about "woman-born woman" are after the fact excuses used to justify Fest's discriminatory non-policy.

Trans women attend fest every year and will continue to do so. The problem isn't whether it's allowed or not, but whether the cis women who attend understand that this is the right thing to do. Clearly, you don't, and clearly, this makes your opinion rather valueless.

Womyn2me,

I'm not hiding who I am or trying to sneak in. I identify as a woman born woman who is trans -- both because I was just as much a woman at my birth as other woman, and also because, with the original meaning of the phrase, I am a woman born of a woman. If the festival wants to exclude me, they have the option of turning me away at the gate. But so long as I'm welcomed in with smiles, the assertion that it's not for me rings false.

It's also useful to be aware that the festival existed for almost two decades before they started turning away trans womyn and that for those two decades trans womyn attended without issue. When I hear that it's not intended for me - without any policy or tangible impact to point to - it sounds like all it means is that some people don't want me there (even though more people do want me there).

Well, as a queer and trans woman of color raised in a lesbian family, there were some people who didn't want me in "their" school, some people who didn't want me in "their" store, some people who didn't want me in "their" newspaper, and so on. But at each of those places I had more people who did want me there. And my feminist upbringing taught me to be strong and meet people face to face. If the people selling tickets tell me to go away, I will, but if they willingly take my money, I won't go away just because a small percentage of the people there have already judged me unworthy.

Tobi, If you are a WBW, then fest is for you; you do not identify that way, so it is not intended for you; Your posting says you are a Woman born a woman who is trans; thus you do not understand what it is to be a WBW and Fest is not intended for you. many other events are trans inclusive, you might want to go to one of those instead.

If you come out to me as trans while you are at Fest, I will turn and walk away;
I am not going to yell at you or argue with you as some will;
But I am not going to give a second of my time to someone who violates the intentions of Fest;

Luckily for you, you can probably violate Fest intentions and hang out in the Twilight Zone and find some WBW kindred spirits there who will be happy to support you in the clear violation of Fest's intention. Bully for you. But not everyone will do so. There may be rudeness, outright verbal arguments and some yelling at times; some may just point at you or tell other people that you are trans and violating the space. it happens to that trans woman in the loincloth who's name escapes me at this time; Lorraine, I think;
If you come, you may need to prepare yourself for unfriendly, protective of fest intention festie-goers; its what you are letting yourself in for.

We'll just have to agree to disagree on what WBW means. I certainly know about the anti-trans use of the term, but that's not how the term was used originally, and I choose to use the less bigoted intention of the term.

If you come, you may need to prepare yourself for unfriendly, protective of fest intention festie-goers; its what you are letting yourself in for.

Of course, that is nothing new. You don't seem to be making the connection that that is a standard experience of most minority groups everywhere they go. I grew up with folks pointing me out and whispering about my lesbian parents. I'm used to folks being unfriendly to me because I'm an indigenous feminist unafraid to speak out against white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. When it comes to a few festies being unfriendly because I am trans, I'll be fine.

As for the fests intention -- well we might have to disagree on what "intention" means as well. Frankly, when some folks want to keep a subset of womyn (and yes, a subset of WBW) out, but most do not, that doesn't seem like an intention. When the one wommon who has the power to enforce that intention chooses not to after years of having done so, that doesn't seem like an intention. When the front gate says that there's no reason why trans women shouldn't come, when fest workers encourage more trans women to come, when festies set up a scholarship fund for trans women to attend, well, that just doesn't seem like an intention to keep trans women out.

I'm sure back when the fest started, there were some women there who wished that women of color didn't attend, or straight women, or lesbians -- but that didn't make it a part of the fests intention any more than trans exclusion is a part of fests intention now.

Lisa,

Insulting people who disagree with you is neither feminist nor mature;

why not have a conversation with me about this without the slip straight insults?

You say I do not know what it is like to be trans.
I agree, I dont; I think that the life experience of being transgender is unique, just like the experience of being a WBW; I think there are times and places in the world where the life experience of being transgender can be celebrated without having to explain or educate other people who don't have the same experience; much like women only space, space for people of colour, events for deaf women: all of these groups often need and want to gather together with other folks like themselves;
WBW have MWMF to gather together with the intention of being together with other folks like themselves; that is what Fest is about; its neither about keeping men out or keeping out transpeople; it is about gathering together with other WBW;

I'm not interested in coddling privilege.

Trans women are women. If you believe that women-only spaces should not be open to trans women, then I have no time to coddle or educate you. I don't care about your opinion.

I didn't insult you, either. I disagreed with you. If you cannot tell the difference, that's not my problem. You'll have to figure it out on your own. I'm not going to gently guide you through this.

It makes me really sad that there is such scary shit going on there at the MWMF forums (the stalking example posted above is scary and disgusting -- it gets even worse in the linked thread, which is still live as of now!).

You know, the MWMF forums are one of the few places left where the rabid transphobes can get together to hear reinforcement from each other and aggressively outnumber and bully (hello, stalking!? and you say trans people are the problem!) those who disagree.

I was there in 2006, spending time at both CT and fest (I am a wbw, not that it should matter but mentioning for context) and there was already a lot of growing support for trans rights inside fest. The times they will change.

Also, I'm very happy to read that CT energy felt so positive last summer, and I wish it all the best! I wish I could afford to go again, maybe soon!

Hey Tobi,

I loved reading this story last year--it made me contemplate going to Mich for the first time--and would sure love to hear an update or a postscript.

I was one of the festies who "put my money where my mouth is". I'm going back to Michigan this year... and again want to donate... and would like to organize others to donate as well.

Is the PO box still valid? Who is organizing camp trans this year? I'd like to get in touch with them to make sure my efforts would be appreciated....

I'm not entirely certain, piplate. I didn't go last year and I'm going to have to miss it again this year (although I hope to be back in 2011).

I'd start by looking at http://www.camp-trans.org/ (although it doesn't update very often) and contacting camptrans2010@gmail.com