What follows are communications related to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, held every August in Michigan, and its official ban on trans women entering the festival. The policy is more of a "don't ask, don't tell" ban, as trans women have been at the festival, but the official policy has caused deep divisions in the community.
Now, a call to boycott performers who are scheduled to be at this year's festival has sparked responses from some of those performers, as well as a response from the Festival's founder, Lisa Vogel.
What follows is the original boycott call, from www.change.org/petitions/indigo-girls-and-other-michfest-2013-performers-boycott-mwmf-until-the-organizers-fully-include-trans-women and three responses.
Petition: Boycott MWMF until the organizers fully include trans women
Petition by Red Durkin , Brooklyn, NY
(This petition has 1.501 signers as of April 12, 2013)
The official stance of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival indicates that the Festival is open only to cisgender women and that transgender women are not officially allowed on the grounds as volunteers or attendees. This is in accordance with a long-standing policy of exclusion that founder and producer Lisa Vogel confirmed as recently as 2006. ( eminism.org/michigan/20060822-mwmf.txt&; .
Although in the past some of the staff has "looked the other way," the policy against trans women that is in place has cultivated a climate of transphobia at the Festival. This situation is unwelcoming and unsafe for transgender women and has become a divisive influence on feminist communities, both at Fest and around the US.
The reality is that Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is not safe for any women until it is welcoming for all women.
We are asking you, as a musician, and as a person who believes in the dignity and equality of all women, to stand in solidarity with transgender women and our allies and to not attend or perform at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival until Lisa Vogel and the other organizers fully and openly welcome all self-identified women.
Although there is a small, devoted group of individuals working from within to change the transphobic policies put into place and enforced by the organizers, we believe that real change can not happen until all women are welcome to attend the Festival. We are asking you to respect the boycott of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival until real, substantive change has taken place.
We believe that the markers of substantive change are three simple things:
1) The organizers must amend the festival policy to explicitly welcome all self-identified women to the annual MWMF.
2) The organizers must recognize the destructive impact that 20+ years of transphobic policies have had on our feminist and queer communities and issue a formal statement acknowledging and apologizing for this injustice.
3) The organizers must program at least one performer who is a transgender woman to perform at the Festival. This will show that transgender women are truly welcome and that they have a legitimate place and voice in the MWMF community.
Until these three demands are met, we call on you to not attend or perform at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. You are implored to respect the call to boycott this event because the organizers have maintained destructive and transphobic policies that are unwelcoming and unsafe for all women in our communities.
This petition calls upon all attendees and performers of the 2013 Michigan Womyn's Music Festival to boycott the Festival until substantive change is achieved.
The list of performers of MichFest 2013 is posted here: http://michfest.com/performances/index.htm
JD Samson & MEN
Sea of Bees
Sick of Sarah
Aima the Dreamer
Hills to Hollers with Laurie Lewis, Linda Tillery and Barbara Higbie
God Des and She
Michigan Fest official response, April 11, 2013:
Letter to the Community
On March 28, an activist named Red Durkin posted a petition on Change.org asking artists and attendees to boycott the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival until organizers fully and openly welcome all self-identified women. This petition has intensified a long-running debate about and within the Festival, a debate that has often included intense misrepresentations about the political heart of this gathering.
There is no doubt that complex political debate is healthy and necessary within our communities; however, a boycott, within this context, fails to advance resolution and only seeks to exact damage. As the Festival's producer for her full 38 years, I write today to clarify the festival's herstory, intention and my desire for understanding within our communities, as well as to clarify where I stand on these issues.
I have listened, I have talked, I have struggled, and I will continue to do so. I do not fear our differences. But I do fear the harm being done to the space held so dear by so manythe space known around the world as "Michigan" by the way this conflict is playing out. And thus I hope you will consider what I have to say with an open heart and open mind, as I pledge to continue to listen to the diversity of voices in this struggle.
Why We Gather
The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is a soulful gathering of womyn from all over the world, created 38 years ago during the height of feminist organizing.
Built from the ground up by womyn's innovation and womyn's labor, filled with art, performance, play and discourse we live together for a week in the woods and create community as we know it in no other form. There's freedom on that land that womyn living under patriarchy rarely touch; freedom to walk in the woods at night alone without fear; to be clothed or not clothed depending solely on comfort and personal style and without judgment; to move and work and play and love without the socio-cultural constraints that uniquely push down on all womyn, all the time. For these reasons, Michigan remains vital and vibrant even though countless other institutions from that burst of consciousness are gone. For these reasons, there's no real debate about the value of the Festivalit is precisely why passions run so strong on all sides of this issue. When we started Festival 38 years ago, we did so to make a home and a space where we could grow our own definition of female identity.
At the time, the mere idea of a female identity autonomous of male identity was revolutionary. Over the course of nearly four decades, we have continued to discover, (re)define and live out what it means to be womon-identified and to recognize and honor diverse gender expression among womyn. Every August we do the work of growing into a community inclusive and meaningful for womyn from diverse class and cultural experiences, different abilities and agesa community alive with a value system grown from the core of radical feminism. Over time, some clear collective values have emerged: communal cooperation; a willingness to show up and listen; an ethos of love, compassion, and active care for others; an undercurrent of strength and fierce resiliency; and a commitment to remain teachable. These values are the foundation of the Michigan community. These values reflect the intention of the space.
About the Intention
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.
I reject the assertion that creating a time and place for WBW to gather is inherently transphobic. This is a false dichotomy and one that prevents progress and understanding. I believe in the integrity of autonomous space used to gather and celebrate for any group, whether that autonomous space is defined by age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, class or any other identity. Whatever spaces we carve out in our community to encourage healing and rejuvenation should be accepted, and we should support each other in this endeavor. Nobody should be asked to erase the need for autonomous spaces to demonstrate that they are sisters in struggle.
Clearly, our community struggles with the wide-ranging opinions that have formed around this question. Womyn who love the Festival deeply have intense feelings on all sides of this issue. There have been a great many good, loving and smart discussions between womyn who profoundly disagree, and there have been disrespectful and dehumanizing behaviors on both sides of the debate that demean all of our feminist political ideals. We all must stand up against hate speech, harassment and threats in any form, against any individual and against all of our communities.
I passionately believe the healing in our community will occur when we unconditionally accept transwomyn as womyn while not dismissing or disavowing the lived experience and realities of the WBW gender identity. Sadly, the extreme voices on this issue have driven much of the discussion, and the aggressive rhetoric leaves little room for building the alliances that are critical to everyone's survival, growth and integrity. We must find ways to be allies in this discussion. I know that for some, WBW space seems flatly incompatible with honoring and supporting transwomyn within the larger womyn's communities.
Regardless, we must listen to those who believe in the power of every womon's voice, and commit to stay in a process with open hearts, open minds, and abiding respect even when that conversation gets incredibly hard. Space for WBW and a true solidarity with the trans community can and does co-exist.
Our Commitment to Each Other, My Commitment to You
The extreme positions being repeated, stoked, and disseminated on the internet do not represent the complex wholeness of the Festival voice, and they overshadow the more measured communication that will heal this divide. I call to each one of us to approach this issue in the purest example of sisterhood, to wrestle with the extremely difficult questions of our relationships with one another, and to do so always with compassion and abiding respect.
I commit to promote, foster and participate in continuing discussion on and off the land in hopes that we can all move towards greater understanding of each other's perspectives. I will, however, turn my focus away from the destructive voices that do not seek progress, but only stoke division.
As Festival works to survive and thrive into her fifth decade, I will do everything in my power to ensure that she continues as something beautiful, more complex than ever and yet true to the principles that spurred me to start this celebration in the first place.
I invite you to join me on this ongoing journey.
Lisa Vogel MWMF founder
Email from the Indigo Girls, April 4, 2013:
To our community in regards to Michigan Womyn's Festival:
We want you to know some of our thoughts about our participation in Michigan Womyn's Festival. Indigo Girls have a lot of respect for protest and dialogue in our feminist and queer movements, and we want to do our part to encourage growth and evolution in our community. We care about MWF deeply, and in our years of playing the Festival, we have evolved and benefited from the experience. We have received many gifts from this unique and powerful gathering.
Our hope for all the past years has been that the Festival would move towards an intention of Trans-Inclusion. We have continued to search ourselves and look at both sides of this issue and truly respect the different points of view, but have always come back to our core belief that Trans Womyn should be included in the Festival, and their womynhood should be honored by the intentions of MWF. The current intention for the Festival to be for "Womyn born Womyn" only grew out of an important necessity to honor the idea that womyn have a variety of self expression and appearance and they need a safe space where their womynhood is not in question as they stand in many different places on the spectrum from femininity to masculinity. This intention has a very important historic basis and has kept the space safe for many womyn over the years. But we strongly feel that the time is long overdue for a change of intention, to one that states very plainly the inclusion of Trans Womyn. To us, this change of intention is the only path to a truly "safe space" for womyn.
We are in a time of struggle and rapid changes in our movement and we would be remiss to not recognize that many of the strides that have been made are a result of Trans Activism and the strength and perspective they have brought to the queer and feminist revolutions. We feel that if someone identifies as a womyn, they are a womyn and should be welcomed into our community with open arms. We will only be stronger for it.
We will be playing the Festival this year in the spirit of change. We encourage the Founders and the community of MWF to find the bravery and compassion that we are all endowed with to create a space that is Trans Inclusive. We know these changes are complex and take time and careful consideration. MWF has a long and important history of being on the cutting edge of positive change- a torchbearer for the hard transitions within the feminist and queer movements. This is the time to fulfill MWF's most vital role in our community and help to honor the Trans Community out in the world, by honoring them within the world of Michigan Womyn's Festival. We hope in the end that we can all find our "safe space" and comfort on the sacred land of MWF.
We understand that there are many folks who feel passionately about these issues, but we encourage people on both sides to act peacefully when they express themselves. There is nothing to be gained from hateful rhetoric or aggressive actions. All over the world queer, and specifically Trans folks are beaten and killed for being who they are. The community of MWF has a responsibility to fight this hate and be a beacon of love and light for all womyn suffering under hate and oppression, and this includes our Trans Sisters. If you are against Trans Inclusion at MWF, that is your prerogative, but that does not mean you have to be aggressive towards the Trans community. This kind of hate and aggression will rip our community apart and we all know who benefits from "divide and conquer" and it's not womyn or queers.
Although we are playing the festival, we honor the current protest against MWF and hope that it will help move the community towards change. Any money that we make playing the Festival will go towards Trans Activism. We will make a statement from stage at the Festival in support of Trans Inclusion. We have made it clear that this will be our last time at the Festival until MWF shows visible and concrete signs of changing their intention. We have no animosity towards anyone in this case but see the deep and fearless legacy that MWF has had during its existence and we honor that. We also honor the prayerfulness that has been a part of this struggle on both sides. This is not an easy path, so we empathize with all who struggle to make their decisions. We love MWF and hope for it's continued presence and power in our lives.
Amy and Emily, Indigo Girls"
Response from Ubaka Hill:
I am compelled to respond directly to your direct request that I boycott the MWMF in August 2013.
First of all, thank you for showing the courage to take action for what you and others believe is right, just and worthy of a strategy of a boycott as a method to force change within an established socio-cultural-political shared value system. Historically, this strategy of change has been very effective and at times, not having a positive impact or outcome towards a desired goal.
I am an adult-child of the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Rights Movement, Anti-War Movement, Anti-Apartheid Movement, Native People's Rights Movement, Gender Equality Movement, Student Rights Movement, Environmental Protection Movement, Animal Rights Movement, Worker Rights Movement, including being a social-activist musician for positive social change from the age 17 till now age 56.
I have experienced and witnessed many very powerful and effective ways to push for positive social-cultural-political change. Boycotting was the last strategy, when all else failed, sometimes steps away from extreme actions leading to fear, misunderstanding, aggression, violence and sometimes war, leaving people splintered and separated. In this case, I feel that a boycott is an over qualified strategic action for a path to changing the MWMF core values and intentional gathering.
Some of our shared basic core-values as Human Beings are respect, dignity, cooperation, integrity, honesty, equality, fairness, peace, kindness, safety and freedom. These values I stand strong and courageous for, this is why I play and create the music and the songs I share with you.
I've come to learn from these historical movements for positive social-cultural- political change is that everyone wants understanding, respect and reconciliation as part of the process for peaceful and lasting change. I have also decided as I have become more expanded in my consciousness, that I will never again use my energy against anything, only for that which I want to bring into my personal and shared reality. We want the same, how we get it is where our humanity, strength and integrity shine.
My response to your courageous request that I cancel my Drumsong Workshop and the Drumsong Performance by participating in a strategy of a boycott against my own employment, my fans, my students, my peers, my musical, spiritual and cultural community of womyn and against the collective MWMF community, this is not the method of change that I want to participate in. They old ones would say "don't cut off your nose to spite your face ". "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water". I do listen to the teachings of the Elders. I speak only of the method and not the essential cause of which I want more inclusion in the discussion of change through peaceful dialogue and interaction. We must be watchful of horizontal hostility. There's got to be a better way !
"A true revolutionary has a deep sense of Love," Che Guevara
I would love to participate in the powerful process of understanding, making way for mutual respect, leading to reconciliation towards peace and happiness for the highest good of all. 2013 is about relationship building, elevating the conversation, mindfulness, compassion, healing, forgiveness, expansion and transformation. These are very delicate times of change, change and resistance to change can be very uncomfortable while necessary. The human species is changing on the evolutionary timeline, new branches of the Tree of Human Life is introducing new ideas to us, new possibilities, new ways of being and expressing our Human-ness yet to be define or named, while the branches that are already well defined and established provides a foundation for growth. We do stand on and rely upon each other's shoulders along the way of the path of self-discovery, expression and survival.
"Desiring to be with ones own likeness is not a statement against difference or diversity it is a desire for same-ness."
Defining our selves, according to ourselves and maintaining our own self-identity is historical and in the natural order of the human experience. Birds of a feather do flock together, this is in the natural order in nature, as there is value and benefit to this instinctual nature for comfort, safety and survival in same-ness. There are times when I need to be with "my people" and times when I need to be with a diverse community. Most children prefer to be with other children their age, this we understand, respect and support as natural behavior. Feeling separate and left out is an unwanted feeling by anyone. Desiring to be with ones own likeness is not a statement against difference or diversity. This I must respect for me and for others.
I can feel the negative vibrational energy by my name being listed on your performer target list of the petition. I do not want to be associated or affiliated with this call to action. I ask that my name, which means "Unity Is Best " be removed or perhaps linked to this communication. Please post or share this communique publicly with all members of our shared communities and I will do the same for transparency and understanding.
Let's let the Love of our shared values guide our actions towards each other with the highest expression of our human potential. The patriarchal model for change is waning with the old paradigm of force, pain and suffering. As we evolve with our humanity intact, know that we are all in this together ! We can have unity in our diversity ! The respect of our unique differences is to appreciate and celebrate our own reflection that ultimately reveals our essential one-ness. I am a proud woman-born-female, I am biologically and energetically self-defined, and just like being in the forest or a garden, I appreciate unique self-identities of our human quilt, and yet for me, ultimately at the end of the day....my Soul authentic, not ethnic and has no gender, therein lies my true identity from where I express my humanity !
Thank you for this great opportunity to be part of this process. Invite me into your circle, I will come with my drum, a open heart and open mind. May we all know peace, community and freedom!
From My Heart to Yours, Ubaka Hill
Enough. Enough with the lies and the threats. Enough with the bullshit. With the poison that is older than old. Yeah, it's misogyny. Good old-fashioned woman-hating. Woman-haters wearing dresses. That's old too. They were called priests. And they burned us. Witches, Jews, loose women, the healers and the lesbians demonized, tortured and killed. Hyperbole to bring that up now, in the context of the Michfest "controversy". Maybe. But, and it's one hell of a but, when they say "burn it down" know there is no "it". There is only us. We make festival happen. We are the targets, of demonization, of disrespect, of rape threats. That we are the targets is neither accidental nor coincidental. Of course there is the promise that if we stop gathering together, if we stop creating community based on love of women, if we simply stop being so dang dykey, then we will be safe. They won't attack us anymore. Because we are driving them to it, you know. Witches that we are. Enacting lesbianism, Womyn loving Womyn, sometimes with them, sometimes without them. And the latter is never ever allowed. Not conceptually, not concretely. The threats are concrete - rape, death, destruction. What about the conceptual destruction? It's there. Even more downright genocidal in fact. Read on even if you don't give a shit about theory. They do. Read on.
Being perceived as, fashioned as, a girl, precedes an infant's and child's capacity for conscious choice, for self-definition. The various institutional, cultural, familial pressures exerted on the baby, infant, child labeled "girl" are significant. Denial of this significance is denial of our lived experience. Denying the lived experience of women & girls - gee, that's novel. To declare all righteously or puffed up with academic credentials that we silly little muff heads don't know what we are talking about when we talk about our lives is all too familiar to anyone who has been conscious on the planet for a while. For those of you who haven't the luck of years or those who skipped consciousness, denial of the lived experience of women & girls is a strategy/tactic of patriarchal oppression. Our self definition as survivors of girlhood, as expanders of womanhood, who recognize our painful relationality to patriarchy (so yes, as womyn born women), is not accepted by them. They want our self-definition to cease to have meaning. Not in the liberatory sense that we are free of gender stereotypes or biological determinism, but in the very non-liberatory sense that their self-identification trumps our self-identification. The refusal to acknowledge our difference is an attempt to erase us. It is wanting us, and the values we've developed and brought into our lives, including the values we work on at Festivala space Lisa Vogel has provided and nurturedto not exist. They are not proposing a win-win solution.
They are proposing that they win through concrete (physical and financial) destruction. Or that we destroy ourselves. That we agree that we are silly little things that don't understand our own lives (don't worry, Daddy will show us), and that we have behaved badly (don't worry, Daddy will forgive us). All that matters is that Daddy decides. That is the crux. Because it's not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about power. And Daddy wants it. We have been expanding what it means to be lesbians/women through Festival and other spaces, not just through theorizing but through enacting, through praxis. And that threatens them, not because they are victims of our uncaring brutal meanness, but because Naming is theirs. Particularly the deciding of what is and is not a proper woman. (Notice I said "what" not "who" for they are the only subjects.) After all, they admire us. They just don't respect us.
Of course that is not what is claimed. That would be too naked for today's academics and non-activist politicos. So they take the path of today's conquistador, colonizer, reaffirming today's Empire. They demonstrate how they value something by wanting it for themselves or those in their favor. In order to claim it for themselves, first they must diminish the creators and sustainers: I really like the place! Isn't it a shame how the occupants just don't take care of it. They are just so, so primitive. Unenlightened. Irrational. They don't recognize our legitimate authority/ideology. They are heathens. Convert or Burn.
The actions of someone who claims they must be invited to a gathering in order to support it are not the actions of an ally. They are the enactment of privilege.
How about valuing without coveting, without penetration?
Radical feminism knows that allies are based on coalition, not inclusion.
Radical lesbianism challenges us to acknowledge and embrace our differences. Scary Stuff.
Anne Leighton, Chicago
It seems as if we are again thrust into the heart of an absurdity. The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MichFest) has achieved an importance that has been perplexing to me ever since it became a target some years ago, and raises questions I have not seen answered.
The festival requires months of preparation for a few thousand womyn to mostly camp in the woods together. The attraction of this festival for us has been that it is the one space, for one week, that is penis free (though womyn are now allowed to bring very young boys to the festival). The desire to be penis free for one week of 52 has subjected the festival to accusations of trans women bigotry and a petition is now being circulated encouraging performers and festi-goers to boycott the festival. The offended group is self-defined womyn with penises. The petition, circulated by Red Durkin, demands that the festival be subject to a boycott, and the Indigo Girls are planning to make statements from the stage in support of the boycott on opening night. (They are obviously not going to boycott until after they get money from the festival for being performers which they will donate to the (which?) trans womyn.)
So to the absurdity. What exactly counts as victory for these trans womyn? Clearly, victory is either they are welcomed or the festival must die. If there is no festival then the trans womyn and their supporters have won exactly what?? What political goal for transsexuals is gained by ending the festival? It should be clear to them and their supporters that Lisa Vogel has no interest in producing a festival including self-defined womyn with penises. So what will they do … where will they go … what will give their life meaning then?? These folks do not support, much less attend the festivals in which they are welcomed. Many of us are not going to attend this festival if they are welcomed here. If this festival ends how is that a victory for Trans women?
This is simple nihilism. This festival does not define who is a womon. That is not done at a festival that occurs in the woods one week of the year. The refusal to welcome folks with a penis is not oppression. It is simply a party to which they are not invited. There are no important concerns of trans womyn that admission to this festival will resolve; not violence, employment discrimination, discriminatory health practices, etc. In fact, this attack on this festival is a distraction.
A distraction from important issues of oppression. I am a member of a community that has an unemployment rate of at least 14% as the national number is given as 7%. Many of us non-white folks live in communities suffering from school closings, housing discrimination, etc., in other words racism.
I attend a festival that has for 38 years struggled to see that this is not tolerated for this one week. Attendance is not a civil-rights issue. There is no center of power that trans womyn are being denied access to. Refusing to welcome them is not oppression. Self-defined womyn with penises have lost nothing by not being at Michfest, but they are attempting to take something from those of us who do attend. It is clear that this is not sisterhood.
There is a long history of various groups living with oppression choosing to be together and white women choosing to struggle with racism together without non-white folks. That has been respected by virtually all of us for many years until now. The accepted presence of a penis on the land opens the door for men who have tried over the years to come in. This does not seem to bother these trans womyn and their supporters. It seems as if there are no explanations concerning our reasons for wanting to be penis free that matter to these folks. Either they can come or they will attempt to destroy the festival. This resonates with me as similar to the fate of Black Wall Street in Oklahoma among other events in my history.
Let me end by saying that this has always been about the destruction of the festival and it is a very familiar move. Give us your stuff or we will attempt to take it and if that failsthen it must be destroyed.
Jackie Anderson, Evanston, Ill.