TransGriot note: The 'womyn born womyn' policy has been a contentious issue for decades between some elements the trans community and the feminists who created and sponsor the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.
The 35th anniversary edition of Michfest will be taking place August 3-8 in Hart, MI.
This is an open letter by Annie Danger to her feminist friends who claim they support transwomen but then surreptitiously bounce to the 650 wooded site called 'The Land'.
An Open Letter to My Friends Who Go to Michfest
By Annie Danger
I want to talk about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Rather, I’m feeling like I have to bring up this conversation and push it forward and I’m pretty frustrated with that because, well, I don’t want to have to talk about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I understand and respect that it is important to you. I know you love it, and I am asking you to do more loving, not less.
I feel like I have to bring it up because I feel pretty shitty that so many of my friends attend and how they do or do not talk to me about it. Perhaps you are one of those friends?
To note: I do not want to start a fight. I am making a request for greater engagement with the curious politics of coalition building and alliance. I understand this is a complex-feeling issue with a lot of history. This may be a call out, but it is with a revolutionary ethic of love that I send it. In this ethic, I do my best to drive my activism and my life with a difficult and powerful combination of respect, recognition, honest and open communication, affection, commitment, and trust for all people in this world. Especially my allies.
This letter comes from trying to put my years of resent through this filter of loving: I feel hurt and I am writing because want to trust that you have my back as a transwoman. I am having a hard time separating your attendance of MWMF and your silence with me about this issue from your level of respect for me; for my body. I don’t want to feel this way and I am willing to do the work to let go of a decade of resent, but I need your help. Will you help me?
I have spent a lot of time trying to make this letter driven by more than anger and resent. When you go to Michigan, I push you away. I keep you at arm’s length as an ally of transwomen. As an ally of me. What I hear is that the festival is a powerful and welcoming other planet where women’s lives, pains, struggles, and hopes are more commonly understood. This is allegedly a place of healing based on welcoming. A harsh toke for me: This is a place where I, on a body level even more than a political one, am profoundly unwelcome.
There is no place I’ve ever been where my transsexual woman body and my experience of gender feel fully safe, wanted, welcome, supported, normalized, trusted, trustworthy. There are many places I call home, but not any I automatically trust--mine is a body in question. There is very little safe space for transwomen. Not even at queer land, where we are often wanted in the abstract but not so much welcomed in practice. People don’t seem to know how to think about transwomen. And for us to make a squawk about our treatment often runs the risk of being called out as misuse of the male privilege we were raised with. To be woman enough to share womyn’s spaces, we must be good girls—we must be quiet.
So here we are, 35 years into the MWMF and nearly 11 years into my life as an out, hormone-enhanced transsexual. I have spent this decade- plus fairly actively turning my back on the arguments around Michigan because it was simply not my fight: I cannot imagine going there and feeling safe. Even the naming of womyn with a ‘y’: I respect and understand the place from which this nomenclature comes. But it must also be said that it drips gender essentialism in its disassociation from male language, tells me I am not important there, not a priority.
So I disengaged. I became silent. There are a lot more pressing issues, in general or specifically about trans-inlcusion and the safety of transwomen, than trying to get a bunch of terrified separatists to let me pay them to camp in their woods and attend their party. And when more and more friends kept going, and when you proceeded for years to forget that it is an issue for me—to chat all about it like it was just someplace I didn’t happen to go; to tell me you wished you could get me there and never go much further than that; to discuss my absence while at the festival but not much of why—I proceeded to turn my back in small ways on you, too. Just the tiniest, most pernicious ways: silent distrusts, people held so close, but at arm’s length when it comes to recognizing and caring for my life, my struggle as a transwoman, or my body. And now I feel pushed, finally, to say something because my lover is going. My love. And because of this, I am struggling to believe she really sees and loves my trans body because of it. She is in this conversation with me--she carries me well in her heart. This letter is also the outgrowth my struggle to trust her on this. I trust her so deeply, but this issue has always been a dangerous place for me.
I am also speaking up because, in only the most technical of senses, I could finally go: I can purchase a ticket as an out transsexual woman (though one cannot find that information on the MWMF website). I have considered going. I have had hours and hours of conversations recently—with decade-long Michfest workers, with transwoman friends and their lovers, with women’s-movement organizers who have never been to MWMF, and with those who know me best—about this possibility and I have come to a very solid conclusion: I have no moving reason to put myself through that emotional shredder. I cannot go there and not interact with this issue of trans-exclusion. It is on my body. To go and try to have fun, to do anything but loud and firey activism about this issue would be to leave my body. To disassociate further from a body I fight daily to be in.
And, yes, this issue of my friends at Michigan is a trigger point for a whole world full of transphobia. I feel your attendance with all the weight of a decade of distrust around trans issues. My experience of transwomanhood is one that runs a baseline of distrust: I do not tend to expect anyone except for other transwomen (not genderqueers, not my queers, not trans men) to really see or make room for trans women. But I do hope they would. I am asking for help: I want to build this trust. I am tired of crying alone and feeling like I have to take care of transwomen because no one but transwomen is willing to really take a stand for us. I want to build this coalition. I want this tired old issue to move in new, healing directions. I want to let go of all this resent. I want us to be a stronger, smarter community. But reaching a hand out on my end requires so much clear, concerted effort on your end. Show me you are as committed as I am to justice around this issue. I am tired of ignoring this issue.
For all of us there are a lot of different contexts to this struggle: so many needs to meet, so many ways to talk strategy, so many enormous feelings to unpack and source. I know I have work to do here, too: it is my work to be willing to take each hand that reaches out. But under all the complicated ways to have this discussion, I keep feeling horrible about your support of this institution. I don’t want to. I respect that it is powerful and I do my best to remember that it is powerful in ways I simply cannot imagine. I know you do some sort of work on behalf of trans issues while inside the festival, but I do not know what it is and you do not tell me much about it. From the outside, I have not seen much in the way of results. What I hear about from you is all the fun times, amazing things to learn, deep connections, healing, and fucking that happens. You are much better at letting me know that part. I hear from you your defenses but not your explanations. I am writing this because I want more. I want you to actually show me that you have my back.
I understand that change is slow. That there are changes afoot. I understand that you may feel there is important strategy to being as quiet as you are. But I am writing to remind you that in the meantime, I need you to show me that you respect the very real issue of transwomen’s lives. Change may be slow, but I need to know that it is nonetheless coming as fast as is possible. Right now I don't believe that.
I want to say, I am deeply disinterested in shame or guilt (although I do accept apology). I am interested in sharing strategy and in developing new tactics. I am interested in action. I have an enormously hard time leaving behind the base politics of "going" or "not going": it still feels a little like treason to me for people to just go and not address the complications. This letter is my attempt to move forward: Attending the festival is not, necessarily, the issue. Attending while treating trans issues as a side note is what feels so hard. My body and my struggle are not side notes for me, but I am not the one who can change this festival. This shift, more present and possible than ever, starts with you.
I am not, necessarily, asking you to not attend. I am asking you to answer, with action that I can see, this: How is this more than just a party in the woods? What does it mean that you can go and I cannot? I cannot forget that my body is not valid there. You cannot remain silent with me about this and expect me to trust you.
I am asking you for proactive communication. I am saying that by the simple act of going to this place, you are engaging this issue of trans inclusion. So please stop feeling funny and being mostly quiet about it. Please restrain yourself from feeling defensive and instead engage me on this before I have to engage you again. That may not involve calling me to discuss this. I am asking you to show me you are my ally. I am asking you to speak up. I am asking you to make transwomen visible in this place where we are made invisible. I am asking you to be loud and loving and creative. I am asking you to rock the boat. I am asking you to prove me wrong: find many ways to show transwomen that we are welcome there.
I hear many people who attend are in support of trans women attending, but I do not feel welcome. The culture of separatism amongst the organizers and the legacy of this bigotry are much stronger than the words “I really think most people would want you there.” This is not your fault, but if you are going to go there and remain close to me, I am requesting that you make it your issue in a much more visible way.
Please do things while you’re there that show me that you really respect my body. My life. My womanhood. Please let me know about them. Please be willing to push harder. Please show me I can trust you to have my back. Please, if you’re willing: stand up, step it up, and be a louder ally. I do not want more antagonism: I am not asking you to hate MWMF. I am asking you to love me as much as you love this festival. I am asking you to love us both. Loudly.