I went to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Twice, even. Once in 1987, and again in 1990. I had a great time. That’s where I learned to almost like Tofu scramble. I went with friends, and had a lot of fun, both at the festival, and on the road trips there. And it was pretty special – a place where one got to just be the “womyn”-loving person you were, bare-breasted and all. Oh, and the music was really great.
The festival was formed in the cauldron of the lesbian separatist movement, and retains one of that movement’s more problematic features: the policy of only allowing “womyn-born-womyn” to attend. What exactly does that phrase mean, anyway? Well, is quite exclusionary. For one, it excludes transwomen. It also excludes anyone who is born a woman, but might identify as anything except a woman. It also excludes anyone who is intersex.
I was too young to be deeply involved in the lesbian separatist movement – it was reaching its conclusion in the Lesbian Sex Wars of the early 80s about when I was coming out. But one of the hallmarks of that movement was, frankly, transphobia. One of the seminal books of the time was Jan Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire“. It might have a few interesting nuggets to think about, but largely it is a transphobic screed, and is considered by some to be hate speech. (I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but it is extremely hard to argue that it is not quite transphobic.)
Now, you know that I have a somewhat complex relationship with this issue. But not complex enough to not know clear transphobia when I see it. And Michigan’s continued refusal to change their policy around who can attend is transphobic, plain and simple.
This is not a new issue, in case some of you young ‘uns think it is. The last time I went, back in 1990, there were conversations, and someone flew a plane over the festival and dropped flyers about transwomen not being allowed in. In 1991, someone was asked to leave the festival when it became known that she was trans. There have been protests outside the festival entrance for many years now. There have been recent statements by well-known musicians suggesting changes, but the organizers are pretty clear in their intentions to keep this a space for “womyn born womyn.”
In some sense, it is their prerogative, since it is a private event. But the problem is that it has become much more than that in the more than 25 years of its existence. It has become an iconic community event of lesbian culture. And as such, in my opinion, there is responsibility to be truly inclusive.
But, from the continued insistence of the organizers, that’s not going to happen. So perhaps, unfortunately, Michigan will just fade away into irrelevance, as more and more people find their transphobia too much to jump over in order to attend or perform. Besides, who spells women with a “y” anymore?