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.
When 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.
PO Box 46055
Madison, WI 53744-6055