Friday, May 17, 2013

Envisioning an Inclusive MichFest: Thoughts from Trans Womyn Belong Here

by Trans Women Belong Here on Thursday, May 16, 2013

Trans Womyn Belong Here (TWBH), along with supporters, allies, and would-be Festival-goers, envisions an inclusive Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MichFest) that honors and values all womyn.

The individuals who make up Trans Womyn Belong Here believe that by making Fest more inclusive for trans womyn, we can make it more inclusive for all womyn. While the Festival’s producer has written a letter making it clear that she does not intend the Festival to be for trans womyn, she has also invited continued discussion of this issue and some of us continue to attend the Festival with hopes for change. Until the website and Festival program explicitly state that trans womyn are not welcome, we will continue to understand a Womyn’s Festival as a place for all womyn and work to make it as welcoming as possible.

Recently, a renewed call to boycott the Festival has generated artist statements, online discussion, and a letter from MichFest’s producer. In response, we have worked together to articulate some answers to some of the questions that have been floating around. We have also put together a brief history of the actions of Trans Womyn Belong Here.

Please note that TWBH is very loosely organized. People come and go from discussions, and are involved in a variety of ways. The perspectives of those involved are diverse and complex, and cannot be represented thoroughly or accurately here. The comments below are intended to reflect some broadly-shared thoughts and ideas from within TWBH.

Despite the challenges we face, it is TWBH’s intention to continue to create welcoming space for trans womyn at MichFest. We support those who decide not to attend—in fact, some of us have made this decision ourselves. We also support showing up and engaging with MichFest as allies.  We are doing the best we can and coming to this work from a place of love.

What Does Inclusion Look Like? What Are the Possibilities?

In considering these questions, it is important to acknowledge that trans womyn have already been attending MichFest throughout its thirty-seven-year herstory, and therefore the Festival has wrestled with these questions already for some time.

The issues around inclusion must be dealt with for the sake of the health and integrity of our womyn’s community. These are some of our thoughts and ideas about how the Festival could become inclusive of all womyn. They are by no means complete but are a contribution to a continually unfolding process.

Public Face of MichFest

An inclusive Festival would use language that specifically welcomes trans womyn on the website and in any Festival literature or advertisements.

MichFest promotes diversity by including performers who are a variety of ages, races, and performance genres; an inclusive Festival would also ensure programming that includes openly trans womyn performers.

Healing from the Conflict

Over the years, this conflict has created a lot of pain and harm for many involved in the Festival.  In following the healing traditions of MichFest, a truth and reconciliation process is needed where each womon has the opportunity to speak to her experience and be heard and validated.  We envision this happening via a healing tent in the community center area, for both drop-in conversations and activities, as well as structured workshops. In this way, we can begin to heal the rifts between us and move toward a Festival where all womyn feel included.

Role Models

We know that our children are watching us.  In an inclusive Festival, we will model what it means to form sisterhood with all womyn. We will demonstrate through our actions that it is not okay to treat another womon poorly or admonish another womon’s body parts or genitalia because she is different.  In showing the next generation that separatism is a valid and empowering tactic against patriarchy, we must make clear the distinction between creating healing space for womyn impacted by patriarchy and casting out a specific group of marginalized womyn.

Revitalization of MichFest

Many womyn choose not to attend MichFest because of trans exclusion, either because they don’t identify as WBW, because their partners/friends don’t feel welcome, or because they don’t want to support discrimination. Each year we hear from several more womyn—workers, performers, and general attendees—who decide that they can’t return until things change.

We envision a revitalization of Fest in which many of our lost sisters return, and many more feel inspired to join the land for the first time.  We ultimately want MichFest to flourish and thrive into future generations, and we believe an inclusive Fest is the only way to make that happen.

An Inclusive, Body-Affirming Festival for All Womyn’s Bodies

MichFest has always made a strong attempt to be body-positive and to counter patriarchal  expectations by celebrating the diversity of womyn's bodies. In a recent letter to attendees, producer Lisa Vogel states: "Our intention [that the Festival is for womyn-born-womyn only] has always been coupled with the radical commitment to never question any womon’s gender."   Excluding womyn purely based on their bodies undercuts this commitment. At an inclusive MichFest, all womyn's bodies are welcomed and celebrated.  No womon will be glared at with hostility because she is suspected of being trans. No womon will fear being told that she is not womon enough because of her facial hair, the shape of her breasts, for wearing or not wearing makeup, her height, weight, style of dress, infertility, reproductive choices, irregular menstrual cycle, or anything else. The diversity of expressions of womynhood at the Festival would continue to be empowering and unifying.

Safer Spaces for Survivors

Much attention has been focused on the hypothetical potential for violence that including trans womyn may bring: accusations of trans womyn being predators, fears about predatory men pretending to be trans womyn to gain access, and trans womyn’s bodies triggering past experiences of trauma and violence. TWBH believes the way to address these fears is not to exclude trans womyn, but rather to address the issue of violence on the land. For example:
  1. Educate Festival attendees about sexual violence. Fears about trans womyn do not align with what we know about sexual violence and have more to do with prejudice than reality.  An inclusive Fest would challenge harmful myths and prejudiced-based fears.

  2. Learn about triggers.  It's important to respect that triggers come in a variety of forms.  They can be smells, sounds, emotional feelings, sights, or any other sensation.  We must take care to support each other around our traumatic histories, minimize our harmful impacts on each other, and respond to requests for help in dealing with them.  However, we must not blame another womon, or an entire demographic of womyn, for the violence that has been inflicted upon us by others, just because of her accent, skin tone, body shape, or genital shape.
    For the vast majority of womyn, it is triggering to be scrutinized, inspected, and judged, or to be asked to hide part of your identity or body for someone else’s sake. An inclusive MichFest recognizes that triggers are not justifications to cause harm to others.

  3. Increase support for survivors. MichFest has long served as a healing space and has made a particular effort to support survivors of sexual violence.  In an inclusive Fest, we must recognize that many survivors are trans womyn, and that supporting survivors means supporting trans womyn survivors as well.

  4. Develop effective community responses to violence on the land. An inclusive Fest would recognize that acts of violence and sexual assault occur at the Festival regardless of whether or not trans womyn attend. An inclusive Festival would provide resources and space for those who experience violence on the land and for survivors who have faced violence at the hands of other womyn.

Provide Adequate Privacy Showers

As much as we value the representation of all womyn's bodies, we also believe that no womon should be pressured into putting her body on display. To this end, we ought to provide better options for those who prefer privacy when showering. Too many womyn have been forced to choose between forgoing showers or navigating a situation they feel uncomfortable with.

The Festival must increase its efforts to ensure that the privacy showers currently provided are well-maintained and available throughout the Festival.

We also recognize that there are womyn who are not comfortable being exposed to other womyn's bodies in a group shower setting.  In an inclusive Fest, we would not make distinctions based on the type of womon's body they are uncomfortable with.  If a womon is uncomfortable with seeing a womon whose body differs from hers while showering, then she could choose to use the private showers.

In Summary

An inclusive Festival would:
  • publicly welcome and feature trans womyn;
  • facilitate a healing process for those affected by this issue
  • model inclusion and celebration of diversity
  • berevitalized by the addition of many womyn who have not felt comfortable to attend;
  • celebrate the wide range of womyn’s bodies;
  • educate attendees about prejudice-based fears;
  • address the issue of violence on the land;
  • and provide more adequate privacy for showering. 

We hope that this collaborative statement will help the MichFest community move forward to undertake specific discussion of what an inclusive festival can look like. We urge all womyn to envision with us, to discuss, and to create actionable solutions this summer, at future Festivals, and everywhere in our communities.

With hope,

May, 2013

To become part of the discussion, please email

Actions by Trans Womyn Belong Here

While TWBH is mostly known for providing T-shirts as a way to demonstrate support for trans womyn’s inclusion, we are also involved in many other actions toward our goal of an inclusive Festival. Some of things we do:

  • Provide workshops focused on trans womyn’s inclusion.
  • Provide a safe(r) space "chill tent" for trans womyn and allies on the Land to have a space to meet and decompress.
  • Create and distribute ‘zines detailing workshop times and locations, artists who are supportive of changing the intention of the Festival, and the mission of Trans Womyn Belong Here.
  • Create and distribute T-shirts, buttons, and tent flags encouraging people to act as visible allies and have one-on-one discussions about inclusion.
  • Have one-on one discussions with other womyn who are interested in discussing the issue of inclusion.
  • Facilitate a scholarship program that fundraises ticket fees for interested trans womyn to attend the Festival.
  • Circulate a card soliciting "welcome to the Land" messages from trans womyn’s allies.
  • Create safe(r) spaces signs in specific camping areas, such as "Zone for All ♀."

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