Reflections on The Michigan Womyn’s Festival

23 Nov

I am grateful that the Indigo Girls have made a public stand on the trans-exclusionary policies at the Michigan Womyn’s Festival. They made a statement earlier this year that they will not play again until the organization changes their policy that only women who fit into their narrow definition (someone born with a vagina and continues to identify as female – of course there is a prefix for this now and it is cis, but at this time it is still only narrowly understood/used) may be  admitted to experience the festival.

I attended this event once in 2000, I believe it was. It was at the insistence of someone else. At the time, I was put off by many segregationist and exclusionary practices followed regarding gender status of women, race, and the gender of children accompanying their mothers. In fact, I was alerted even before that. As the car I was in entered the grounds, I was made aware of the existence of the trans-camp protesting at the gate.  I thought that I should probably get out then and join, but I succumbed to the perceived pressure of feeling an obligation to the women who had brought me there from Ontario.

Later that week, women who outed themselves as trans once into the festival were forcibly escorted out. My heart broke to witness a teenage trans woman asked to leave and coldly ushered off the property in tears while being heckled by more mainstream-queer onlookers. This sickened me. In retrospect, it is embarrassing that I didn’t walk out and join the trans camp at this point (it seems like the obvious thing for me to do when I think of it now, especially since I wanted nothing to do with the place after that), but instead chose to join up with the internal protest and attempt to make women inside the festival aware of both the policies and the events that had taken place.

In this article , Lisa Vogel, one of the festival’s founders is quoted as saying that after a transgendered woman was asked to leave the event in 1991, it has never happened since. I don’t know if she is genuinely  unaware or lying, but I know this isn’t true from having seen it many years later. I believe there were others asked to leave the same year that I was there, after having outed themselves as a group, but it was many years ago, and I don’t remember this part as clearly.

As though transegendered people aren’t dealt enough humiliation and indignity on a daily basis worldwide…to treat someone that way in an obstensibly safe place – oh, it really enrages me and hurts my feelings. Imagining the struggle that the young woman whom I saw ousted had already gone through to be out as transgendered during the teenage years that are so difficult for everyone already…to imagine that she may have thought she had finally found a place where she was accepted as she was, only to have it yanked away when she identifies herself…

While I am glad that the popularity of the Indigo Girls will draw some public attention to the issue and sincerely hope for a change in policy, the memory is sour when I think of the Michigan Womyn’s Festival and that  will not change.

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