Michfest: Some Perspective

I want to share these images of music festival posters with the acts that don’t include females removed for the people who wonder why an all female music festival has been important to any of us.

I mean this just scratches the surface.

Lilith Fair was a good mainstream event. But was all of the sound and lighting and production done by women? Were the stages built by women? Were all the instrumentalist women? Was all the staff women? Were even half of the staff women?

Last time Lilith tried to start up and do another tour, ticket sales were so low that it didn’t get up off the ground. What does that tell us? That it had sucky acts that no one was interested in? Did it have really great acts that no one was interested in? Why aren’t people interested in the talents and voices and art of women?

If you Google Michfest, you will find article after article, many written by men***, that tell of it as “trans exclusionary.” They will frame those of us who value the festival and it’s intention for female space as “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” and go on to refer to us again and again by the acronym TERF with the same amount of venom and disdain and misogyny more often conveyed by “bitch” or “cunt.” The most dominant theme will make one wonder why anyone would want to go to this horrible event. If you check the Google returns of blogs and Twitter and Tumblr, you’ll see mention of the musicians as being “crappy,” “second rate” and “lousy acts that no one’s ever heard of…” You’ll see mention of the attendees as “ignorant,” “unevolved,” “old dinosaurs who will hopefully die off soon,” “stuck in the past,” “rigid” and on and on…

It’s much more difficult to find out from the “oh so powerful” (according to the dominant framing) womyn like me who love it. Does anyone find that at all worth considering?

I have written a few blogs about my experience of festival and my take on some of the politics involved in the justification in attacking it. In response to the blog titled “I value separate spaces” a reddit user responded as follows:

“Admittedly, I have had a negative view of this festival for years because people always said it was bad because of the trans issue. Why was it easier for me to be mad at these women who desire their space than it was for me to simply listen to their experiences within those spaces?

I’ve understood the other side for years in which I claimed not to be part of the oppressors. But why is it that if this group is so privileged, why haven’t I ever heard their side without derision and hatred being aimed at them? Why did I blindly accept this hatred, rather than listening to these women?

Something doesn’t add up.

Thanks for posting this article, I honestly never bothered to understand where they were coming from.”

I found that interesting and hopeful. But it was just one person. And it was said about a year ago. There are many people who will not read my long ass blogs and or many who are not willing to get deeper than saying whatever they can to dismiss and distance themselves from us as soon as possible. No one wants to be thought of as unkind or worse, be accused of being a “TERF” or a “TERF” sympathizer.

So what does it mean for Michifest to be “trans exclusionary”? What did this supposed “trans exclusion” at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival look like? How was it enforced? With all the recent transgender women and kids in the news, the general public is becoming sensitive and finding compassion for transgender folks so the idea that an event would enforce some policy that coldly denied transgender women their womanhood as well as entrance to the festival just seems mean spirited. It’s easy to agree with the dominant framing of us as hateful. But the truth is trans women have not been excluded. If they came, they were sold tickets. I’d guess most had a good time, especially since some attended multiple years. Some trans women have also worked on staff. So the truth is that trans women have not been excluded. The event is just intended for and centered on females. And for some of us that is specifically important, because we understand that our lives are informed by the fact that we are female and that we have healing to do around surviving as females in patriarchal misogynist cultures.

There are, perhaps, two main issues people have with the intention for female space, one being that they think our priorities as an event/community should be that we gather with a focus on gender and not sex. The festival, they say, by virtue of it’s 40 year old name, is a “womyn’s” festival not a “female” festival. And of course the second problem is the “unevolved perspective, that trans women are males.” And if you agree with that as an “unevolved perspective,” I mean I really don’t know what to do with the dismissal of biology and the material reality that goes with it. Male and female are defined across most all cultures and applied to all species pretty much the same way. We can either agree to settle on the meaning of words or not. But if we do not settle on the meaning of words, then all of this is pretty meaningless anyway isn’t? It’s like the queer politics gender/sex equivalent of “Who’s On First?.” But OK whatever…because in terms of fest, no one is actually turned away or asked to prove their sex or gender. They are simply asked to respect the intention for female space. And when I say that they are “asked,” I mean no one is actually asked anything. The intention is known. How individuals proceed from there has been up to them.

Now some folks might think I am being intellectually dishonest when I say that trans women are not actually excluded. I do personally believe that respecting the intention ought to mean they choose not to attend. My experience of those who do anyway is likely to be informed by what I perceive as bad boundaries and entitlement. But in the realest of ways, I think folks are being intellectually dishonest when they center the intention as having anything to do with trans women at all. For me, it’s just like womyn of color taking space as womyn of color. Doing so does not mean we hate men of color or white women. It has nothing to do with them.

And of course there are those who jump to respond to that by insisting that the power dynamics between trans women and females is such that females taking space as females is more like white people taking white people space. And everyone is supposed to agree that white people taking white people space is wrong therefore females taking female space is obviously WRONG. My response to that is not simple, but I disagree with that math. Non-trans women ARE NOT to trans women, what white people are to black people in America. And if you want to know more about my thoughts on that you should check out my blog post SSCAB/DSCAB: Reconsidering the Conversation.

I try to think of ways to convey my thoughts and feelings so that they are easier to understand. This may help draw a parrallel for the dynamics I think are involved here…

Imagine there is a therapy group intended for survivors of childhood abuse. I think that most people would have compassion for someone who grew up in an abusive household, especially if the abuse they endured was sexual. It seems like it would be near impossible for this kind of a history to not inform one’s life. Surely relationships, sense of personal safety, emotional health, maybe physical health, etc would all be informed by the fact one is a survivor. Who would argue against that? Survivors of childhood abuse then having space intended for themselves ought to be seen as something folks have a right to create and maintain toward the healing they seek.

Now perhaps some of the same people also attend a therapy group that is for abuse survivors, but that is not specifically determined for childhood abuse survivors. They may find that group also helpful. But they may also find that they feel like they cannot be as vulnerable in the less specific group. Would finding value in that more specific group make them horrible people? Does it dismiss and deny that other people without that commonality are also survivors of abuse? Would anyone support survivors who do not have that commonality doing what they could to force a change in the intention for survivors of childhood abuse group? Would anyone celebrate the end of the survivors of childhood abuse group, framing the people who found value in it as hateful bigots?

I’d really like to think not. I’d like to think that most people would have compassion for both. In terms of the parallel back to fest, most people don’t have compassion for the the needs of womyn who find value in female space. And I guess maybe that is because what people know about us has been conveyed more often by people other than us and is filtered through their fears, anger and pain. (You can read our own stories here.)

One responder to my blog said, “I know my pain blinds me to your happiness.” She then went on to blame the festival community for the suicides of trans women. But as I responded to her, I think her pain blinds her to our pain. She likely does imagine a happiness that she thinks comes with being born female and is oblivious to what about it might be worthy of unchallenged healing space. I think our pain is not at all considered by our critics. The only thing given consideration in the negative framing of festival is trans women’s pain and fear. And I really don’t know what to do with that. Because what has been asked of us is that we deny our own needs. How is that just? It’s the same expectation females are raised to prioritize. We sacrifice our own needs, for ANY and EVERYONE else. There is a very circular cruelty to all of this, especially if anyone actually stops to consider the females festival has saved and those who will NOT be saved when it is gone.

It breaks my heart that the festival is making this 40th Anniversary year it’s last. I have to say though, that I prefer it end over us affirming the framing that says it is wrong for females to gather as females. I have seen many instances where the festival is said to be forever on the “wrong side of history.” There is never mention of the diversity of female presentation, active investment in accessibility for disabled women, ASL interpreters for all sets and for workshops upon request, the intention for fest as anti-racist space, the inter-generational aspect of the community, the option within for womyn of color to take space exclusively as womyn of color, the healing… the unexpected access to ourselves we get to – just because its possible – in that female intended space. These are not the truths most people will tell about the festival. But while folks are celebrating and satisfied and smug about themselves as more progressive, compared to our “unwillingness to evolve,” I want to remind people that the “right side of history” has historically been framed and recorded by conquerors and colonizers, not the “unevolved,” “savages,” rarely acknowledged as human beings, those conquerors wiped out.

I pray that eventually, in time, we be remembered for the LOVE that we are and have always been. That is the truth of our HERstory.

You may forget but
let me tell you
this: someone in
some future time
will think of us

– Sappho, The Art of Loving Women

Forever and always…See You in August.

***I just find it incredibly entitled that men think their opinions about womyn’s space should matter.