The latest edition of Lesbian Connection printed three letters from MWMF workers, craftswomen, and attendees in response to an entry in the previous edition about the 2010 activism conducted within Michigan this year. We were responding to a four sentence letter that basically "congratulated" trans women for violating Michfest's woman-born-woman policy. The writer suggests that, in the future, we leave our t-shirts at home. Here are our responses:
LETTER FROM KRISTA
In regards to [the] letter about the [Trans Womyn Belong Here] t-shirts at MichFest this year. I am not a trans woman and I wore a t-shirt that said "Trans Women Belong Here" at the festival. Many of the other women who wore the shirts were also allies like me. We wore the t-shirts to publicly declare our support for including our trans sisters in a very important women's event. Trans women are a wonderful and important part of my women's community. In order for me to be in integrity with myself there isn't a way for me to be silent and not advocate for them. I did not intend to violate anyone's space by wearing the shirt, just speak up about something I feel in my heart. I think that speaking up for something you believe in is a time honored tradition amongst people who want to see positive change in the world.
On a technical note there is actually no official policy at the festival about "women-born-women" being the only people who can attend. If there were it would raise the issue of who gets to decide and how to define and police that. I do know that many trans women feel very strongly that they were born as women - perhaps more keenly than I do. I know that for someone who is not trans gendered it can be very hard to understand. It helps to get to know trans gendered people personally. There are so many trans gendered people in the world from all different cultures and walks of life - how can we deny their experiences? Shouldn't we celebrate and support them?
I also believe that accepting gender as somewhat fluid is a direct challenge to the patriarchy, which is based on the idea that there are only two genders and you either belong to the oppressors or the oppressed. I love the festival and want to see it grow and embrace a greater diversity of women. I would wear the shirt again and hope to have more conversations from the heart about what it means and how we can move forward together.
With love - Krista
LETTER FROM "ANONYMOUS"
This letter is in response to [name withheld] letter from the Nov/Dec issue of LC. It really saddens me to see such comments coming from within our feminist women's community.
First I'll correct a couple of factual mistakes: Michfest has no policy or practice of excluding transsexual women from the festival. And it is an incorrect assumption that everyone wearing the "trans women belong here" t-shirt was a trans woman. I also believe it is worth pausing for a moment to think about the assumptions that probably all of us have made about who is trans and who is not.
But the most significant problem in [the] letter is the idea that the presence of transsexual women (whether wearing t-shirts or not) violated the festival. It's important to recognize that some trans women were a part of the 2010 festival, and also most if not every previous festival for the past 35 years (again, we all need to check our assumptions). This is not new, this is not a change, it is inevitably a piece of creating a large women's community. Festival goers perhaps worked even harder this year to create a more visible welcoming of this marginalized slice of women's community. This is good and important work. It is part of the long tradition of work to end patriarchy. We feminist women have a long and beautiful history of struggle in claiming our own rights, respect, and space in a patriarchal world. And Michfest has always been a place that has really celebrated and nourished this. How often have we all heard women described as unacceptably "mannish" or "aggressive" or "not real women" when we fight for our rights and justice? Playing into that same approach by claiming that the women who took up some space fighting for women's justice therefore "represent the patriarchy" is a gross manipulation of feminism. And additionally one that, in this case, seems to have been made as a pointed cheap-shot against the sub-group of women (those who are trans) that already most frequently experiences the legitimacy of their genders denied and disrespected within our patriarchal world. Let us please not repeat the violence that is done to us in the broader patriarchy within our own women's communities.
LETTER FROM RAYNA
Dear [Name Withheld],
I am saddened to read your response to the women at Michfest engaged in pro-trans women actions. Specifically, you seem upset that women, like me, were wearing shirts, the most common of which read “Trans Women Belong Here”. Because there continues to be so much confusion, let me clarify that we were advocating for MtF trans women. I was impressed at how these shirts were a powerful tool for thoughtful dialogue. Countless women came up to me during the week to express their support, their hopes, their gratitude, and their changing views. In contrast to the legacy of hostility towards trans women at Michfest, I found that there is overwhelming support.
From your statement, it seems that you perceive even non-aggressive free speech actions that address this conflict within our community as a patriarchal violation. Yet to engage in dialogue with my sisters about who we are, and who belongs in women’s community, is a feminist value. I look to the Radicalesbians in their 1970 manifesto “The Woman Identified Woman.” Their writing is in response to lesbians’ exclusion from women’s liberation activism and to the prevailing idea that lesbians were not “real” women. They write, “Women resist relating on all levels to other women who will reflect their own oppression, their own secondary status, their own self-hate. For to confront another woman is finally to confront one’s self.” Taking my cue from feminist lesbian herstory, I believe that it is right and good to question who has been left out of the Michigan women’s community—a community that prides itself on celebrating the diversity of women— and to welcome her. Often this work is uncomfortable, but it is this encounter with other women that is the necessary step to “begin a revolution to end the imposition of all coercive identifications, and to achieve maximum autonomy in human expression” (Radicalesbians).
I am a non-trans woman dyke in love with a trans woman. The shirt I wore, and that you presumably also want me to leave at home next year, says “I am in Love with a Transsexual Woman…I Miss Her (hair, eyes, mouth, breasts etc…)." It is heartbreaking to be at Michfest, a place that celebrates women-loving women, and to know that my girlfriend does not yet feel welcome, that our love might not be celebrated. Although I wish that you did not feel disrespected, I will not be silent about my love.