Saturday, August 26, 2006

As Promised - A Hopeful Angle on MWMF

Didn't write this, either. As I wrote in a "comment" to the previous post, I am not very prone to hopeful writing (or thinking) about Michigan Women's Music Festival, or about trans issues generally. But I do feel better reading other people's hopeful thoughts.

I received this piece from Sailor J Lewis Wallace with no return address, but with a message to "forward/share this as you wish". So I am doing that. You can, too.

I do not agree with everything that Sailor says. But I do find Sailor's message both heart-warming and thought-provoking. I'll probably be posting a few of my own thoughts about MWMF within the next few days.

*Hi Everyone. I just got back from Camp Trans

I am so glad to have had the honor to be at Camp Trans (CT) and the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (MWMF or the Festival) in Western Michigan this year. This year at MWMF/Camp Trans marked an important shift in the culture of the festival and CT. For the first time since official trans exclusion began at the festival in the early nineties, an out transsexual woman purchased a ticket and went into the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival without resistance from festival organizers or attendees. Another out transsexual woman gave a workshop on trans inclusion inside the festival for a group of about 60 womyn. In the meantime, the "Yellow Armbands", a group of feminist trans allies at the MWMF, organized within the festival all week for visibility of trans issues and inclusion of trans women. Across the street, Camp Trans had its own cultural festival of workshops, musicians, poets, trans and non-trans attendees of all genders, and celebrated its 16th year of protest and culture!

I wanted to write to folks in my communities because I know that this exciting news is going to travel fast and I wanted to personally share my views on some questions regarding the situation. I do not represent all of Camp Trans in writing this although I am an active member in that community.

*Did the trans exclusion policy change? Is trans exclusion over?

I am sure in the year to come that much discussion will ensue within the broader queer and feminist community connected to Camp Trans and the MWMF about the festival's longstanding policy excluding trans people and specifying MWMF as a space for "womyn-born-womyn" only.

Here is what I believe to be the bottom line:

Trans womyn attended the festival this year without harassment, and the policy is no longer being enforced, by Festival organizers or participants. As far as I know, Camp Trans will no longer be explicitly protesting the policy. Trans people and allies will be at both the Festival and Camp Trans next year because the majority of the womyn at Festival are open to the presence of trans folks at festival, open to the fact that the times are a-changin', and open to a deeper dialogue about feminism, transfeminism, oppression and inclusion in womyn's spaces. It won't be easy, but it is happening. After all these years of fighting and debating, the transphobic status quo that once supported excluding transwomyn from womyn's spaces is no longer as powerful. The written policy, the word of Lisa Vogel and the potential vehemence of a few transphobes at the festival, simply do not matter as much as they once did.

Transphobia in this womyn's community holds less weight now, and the tides are turning in this small corner of the radical world. If you are reading this, you probably have yourself to thank for
that, because you have probably been working towards that shift for many years now. Now is a time to celebrate, my friends. A weight is slowly being lifted and this is a gift to all of us who have invested time and energy into building feminist space for so many years. Trans womyn are womyn, and we hope they will finally be welcomed as such in the coming years at the Festival.

I think it's important not to frame this issue in terms of a Camp trans victory over the Festival, or an end to the Festival as it has been. This change represents a positive advancement in the
ability of different sectors of queer and feminist community to work together. It represents something positive for the future of both camps. It's time to celebrate that together.

*Okay, so why does this whole thing matter?

1. The festival matters: The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival is one of the largest and longest-standing radical, feminist, womyn's separatist spaces in the world. Festival leaders have been consciously excluding womyn who identify as trans from their space for about 15 years, leading to a huge and divisive controversy in feminist and queer communities all over the US
and some parts of the world.

2. Trans people matter: We are strong, amazing, influential people just looking for a place to be. Trans people negotiate a painful and direct marginalization on a daily basis to varying degrees in
this culture. For most of us, just as many lesbians have experienced for a long time, there is no place to go, very little support, and no such thing as "trans-friendly-anything" in the daily world we walk through. We are forced to isolate pieces of our identity and hide pieces of our past and present at almost all times, for many reasons. We spend so much time trying to prove our validity it's virtually suffocating. Transwomyn experience a double-edged sword within this, as womyn in the world who also have a unique and marginalized experience as trans.

3. Unity matters: Spaces like Camp Trans and the Festival are meant to be a breath of fresh air for people who live lives that are stifled by this kind of marginalization. Ideally, they give us
strength to go back out in the world and engage in our fights for survival and justice. Many of us are part of struggle in various sectors of a left-wing progressive or radical movement to change the conditions of our lives and of many people's lives globally. Feminism and a struggle against heterosexism and transphobia are an integral part of building strength in this movement, and unity amongst womyn, trans and queer people and all feminists is about as important as it has ever been. We are living in a politically devastating time, fighting an uphill battle. It is desperately important right now to be fighting racism, transphobia, sexism, classism, and all forms of oppression that divide us within our movements, in order to build stronger unified fronts against the people who truly hate us, and hate all of us. The right wing in this country wants us to be divided, and they love that we fight with each other as much as we do. The divide between Camp Trans and the MWMF has long represented an extremely painful rift experienced by many womyn and trans folk, and the bitterness that is born out of never having a place of calm or a space to be slightly safer from everyday harassment. It is far easier, sadly, to tear each to shreds than it is to build inclusive, radical safer spaces, even for a week out of the year. The growing ability to build feminist space together and to challenge and overcome transphobic fear within this space is hugely important in a broader political context. This doesn't mean that oppressive attitudes within radical feminism are over, but it allows an example of a time when oppressive attitudes have been challenged and changed. The spaces we've been building for so long exist intact, and we grow stronger every year.

4. Healing matters: Even those who are uncomfortable with the idea of trans womyn at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival must understand that this moment is a positive one, and one of healing. This uncomfortable moment will invariably mean growth. This piece of land and community of people in Western Michigan will support that growth to happen, for all who are involved. After seven years of participating in this fight, and ten years of connection to MWMF, I can say for the first time that I feel an immense amount of trust in Camp Trans and in the Festival. All I want is a space that is larger than a closet to chill in for a week. Gimme a field. Gimme some woods. Give it to me on my beautiful home turf of Michigan. And give it to my friends, who ARE WOMYN, who are feminists, who are part of this community.

*What should we be talking about in our communities and preparing for next year?

The rumor mill works fast and I have already heard bits and pieces of mis-information about what happened this year. Please don't focus too hard on the details of what exactly happened at
CT and especially at the gate of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Very few people were present and therefore very few people can speak accurately to those details. INSTEAD Let's talk about how Camp Trans, the Yellow Armbands, and a plethora of other MWMF workers and attendees are looking forward to welcoming trans people onto the land next year, and beginning to truly work together to support the existence of another trans-inclusive womyn-only space. Let's talk about how happy this coalition of womyn and allies are, to be creating a more inclusive version of womyn's community that no longer excludes some of the most invisiblized and marginalized womyn who walk this planet. This is part of our path to healing, radical, feminist community, and Camp Trans is honored to be working WITH people from the festival to continue to create that, on both sides of the gate.

If you have been boycotting the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival because of its trans inclusion policy, next year is the year to GO BACK TO THE FESTIVAL! For MWMF to work towards a genuine, grassroots trans inclusion, trans people and allies need to be there in full force, starting next year, from now on. The womyn who have been pushed out of participation at Michigan because they could not accept Michigan's inherent transphobia need to be there next year, to support the hard work ahead. Trans womyn who have always wanted to go but never felt comfortable are going to start buying tickets. The policy didn't go away, but its message is no longer the most important message. This is a victory for Camp Trans and for the workers and participants at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

If you have participated in Camp Trans in past years, or always wanted to go, GO BACK next year! Camp Trans needs feminist, anti-racist trans folks and allies to continue building a space in
those woods that can support political development, cultural festivities, and a continued relationship with the Festival as the Festival's gates open up to people who've been camping across the road. These coming years have been a long time coming and they are going to be some of the most challenging, and most celebratory years these spaces will see. Come on down and get a piece of the action.

*Congratulations everyone, we are real!

Five years ago at Camp Trans I think it was hard for most of us to imagine that things were really going to change, and change so fast. Many people gave up or stopped participating for personal or political reasons. If you are not able to be in Michigan for any number of reasons, celebrate. Talk it up. Start talking it up now and talk it up until next year. Camp Trans and anti-transphobia allies at MWMF have ushered in a turning of the tides, through a lot of real, concrete work. It didn't fall out of the sky; boycotts, educational campaigns, media work, and endless heartfelt conversations for many years have built this change. Tell everyone how proud you are that people in your extended feminist community have pushed a true paradigm shift in the last fifteen years. Keep on working for change in your communities and keep on believing that change is going to come, and it won't fall from the sky (how nice would that be?) - it will be created and cultivated by real people like us.

Much Love to you all,
Sailor J Lewis Wallace
Michigan, August 2006

No comments: