Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Michigan Womyn's Music Festival: transphobia revisited

Unfortunately, the ongoing brawl over the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (herein known by its nickname, Michfest) continues on for another year.

Each year seems more contentious than the last. Increasingly, there are pro-trans demonstrations at festival, featuring t-shirts emblazoned with "Trans Women Belong Here". QueerFatFemme believes that women should attend specifically to protest the omission of trans women, and believes someday the rules will change, as they eventually evolved to include BDSM and "chem-free space" -- neither of which were initially greeted with kindness. (NOTE: Trans women have attended the festival since its inception, even performing/working there, despite the official rule excluding them. Trans women were already an integral part of Michfest BEFORE the rule became "official" -- so this exclusion can also be viewed as an EXILE.)

This year--in response to a petition--Lisa Vogel, Michfest co-founder/owner of festival land, issued a very confusing statement. She seems to be winking at the presence of trans women, as long as they properly keep their heads down and shut up about it. One might even read the statement as green-lighting the admission of trans women in a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" fashion. Vogel's statement reads, in part:
The Festival, for a single precious week, is intended for womyn who at birth were deemed female, who were raised as girls, and who identify as womyn. I believe that womyn-born womyn (WBW) is a lived experience that constitutes its own distinct gender identity.

As we struggle around the question of inclusion of transwomyn at the festival, we use the word intention very deliberately. Michigan holds this particular lived experience of womanhood as honorable, meaningful, unique and rich. Our intention has always been coupled with the radical commitment to never question any womon's gender. We ask the greater community to respect this intention, and to value the complexity and validity of every gender identity, including that of WBW. The onus is on each individual to choose whether or how to respect that intention.


This whole fiasco seems emblematic of the stand-off between radical feminists and trans women, and it makes my head hurt. We should all be getting along, dammit. I often find trans women to be instinctively feminist, due to their unique experiences, and I want them in our ranks. However, lots of radical feminists don't. Further, the two groups seem singularly obsessed with pissing each other off, creating endless Tumblr pages/blogs dedicated simply to trashing the other side. And these hate-blogs (as Mama Moretti commented here) get TONS of hits, every time they are updated.

Some people spend all their online-time enumerating why the other side is not just wrong, but EVIL. Some people, frankly, seem driven nearly insane over it.

I recently wrote about the incident at Portland State University during the recent Law and Disorder Conference, in which trans activists attacked a Deep Green Resistance display table for selling literature they deemed transphobic and unacceptable (I still don't know specifically WHICH BOOK they were selling that set everyone off)... and I expressed my disapproval of their tactics, which included destroying books, marking people up with magic-markers and throwing burritos. Even though I have written here (at great length) of my crazy-Yippie past (and similar tactics *I* have engaged in), I wrote that I now know (as a radical living in possibly the reddest state in the South) what it is like to be the hapless person on the other end of that behavior... and I have grown to believe that these types of tactics are NOT very effective, even if they are great fun and feel deliciously self-righteous. I think these tactics may even do HARM to a cause, sometimes even bringing sympathy to those who are attacked and accomplishing the opposite of what we intended.

The excitable gang over at Feministe became very angry with me; they wrote several enthusiastic posts announcing that I am a Bad Person and saying "fuck you"--which I found even more alarming. Obviously, discussing long-term strategies and points of agreement is no longer even considered an acceptable goal; the war has advanced to the point that there can be no efforts at Detente that don't appear to be "pandering" to one side or another. (sigh)

And Lisa Vogel's strange, ambiguous statement certainly did not help the situation.


Still, I gotta wonder, is Michfest (a throwback to feminism's Golden Era) an event that trans women truly want to attend? Most women *I* know have not even heard of it (or are only peripherally aware of it) and show absolutely no interest when you tell them about it. Why is this such a big deal to trans women--just because its off limits to them? (I no longer want to attend, for instance, although I did attend way back in the aforementioned Golden Era.) Why does THIS PARTICULAR EVENT matter so much, when there are plenty of other places/events that are also off-limits to them?

Why do trans women care so much what radical feminists (specifically) say about them?

Why do radical feminists believe trans women (specifically) are such a threat? (And before you answer, "because they believe they are men!"--keep in mind, they seem FAR more aggravated by trans women than they are by men. Many of these hate-blogs do not even write much about feminist political issues, but only cover an issue like abortion when trans women say critical things, or declare it isn't as important to them as radfems believe it should be.)

I admit: I don't get it. And the longer the war continues, the less I get it. It strikes me as patently bizarre.

Yes, the old hippie is pleading for peace. I fully expect to be pilloried, but blessed are the peacemakers.

Buddha told me this would be rough.


The newest salvo fired at the radfem faction is THIS rather disturbing 2008 Philadelphia Gay News story by radfem Victoria Brownworth. This is OLD news, so at first, I wondered why the trans faction was dredging it up at this rather late date.

Then I read it.

Ohhhh my goodness.

I confess, I was pretty upset and disgusted. This is bad. Like, really really bad. Cristan Williams writes at TRANSADVOCATE:
The reason I chose to do this article is that Brownworth, a self-identified radical feminist, has written extensively about power, privilege, the need for acceptance, boundaries and the well-being of kids. Yet here – even though she felt it was “creepy,” “wrong” and even though she also felt “anxious” about it – she asked this kid to have access to his genitalia (if you believe what she wrote in 2008).

If the power roles were reversed and it was an adult pre-op transwoman who came across a vulnerable 15/16 year old cisgender girl with an illicitly obtained genital body modification, would RadFems (or anyone for that matter!) view it as being okay if the transwoman gained access to the girl’s genitalia for a peek? What if the transwoman then discribed the girl’s genetalia in detail – down to what her cliterous looked like – in newsprint and/or on the internet? What if the transwoman, five years later, tweets that she felt “creepy/wrong” about it but nevertheless defended her actions by saying that the girl asked the transwoman to do it? What would happen? What would be said about that situation?

Take the trans issue out of this. If this was an adult cisgender woman and a vulnerable 15/16 year old cisgender boy with an illicitly obtained genital piercing or tattoo, we all intuitively understand that it’s inappropriate for an adult to deliberately gawk at the kid’s junk while they’re nude, much less detail what the kid’s genitals looked like in print or the web! Yet because it’s transkid, nobody has said anything for FIVE YEARS!
Awful, just awful. I was genuinely disturbed that Brownworth thought it was ever acceptable to exploit this child in this manner. I hope someone can locate this young person (named Devon, who would now be 20 or 21?) and affirm that he is okay.

Regarding this story, Brownworth's various replies to her critics are ... off. Just off. Strange. A lot like Lisa Vogel's bizarre non-statement. It is as if these radfems don't really believe they are dealing with human beings or something. Brownworth seems actually taken aback that you would ask her about it.

Meanwhile, as we speak, the radfems line up and obediently back up Brownworth, even in an instance when she was OBVIOUSLY very wrong.


It all just makes me so ashamed.