A false alarm thismonth had many women prematurely celebrating the demise of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival’s policy of welcoming only “womyn-born womyn.”
According to an Aug 21 press release from Camp Trans, the annual protest held down the road from the festival since 1999, an openly trans woman was informed the festival had no policy barring any women from attending and was sold a ticket.
But a subsequent press release from the festival quashed the buzz.
“Despite claims to the contrary by Camp Trans organizers, the festival remains a rare and precious space intended for womyn-born womyn,” stated festival founder and producer Lisa Vogels.
Although there has never been a panty check at the entrance and many trans women have attended the festival during the 15 years the policy has been in effect, the for-profit organization behind the festival has asked trans women to respect the exclusive policy.
For Torontonians who have been grappling with the policy for years the flip-flop set off a flurry of renewed debate.
“I can’t speak for the festival, however, what I see the problem being is in the pre-[operative] and early transitioning MTFs [male-to-female trans people] that are still very male,” says festivalgoer Masina Wright. “It’s not about appearance, it’s energetic. Male energy is noticeable in a women-only space.”
Wright first attended Michigan as a festivalgoer six years ago. She says Michigan doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to accommodate pre-op trans women.
“The showers hold six to eight people so pre-op trans women are problematic in the showers. It’s very complicated. Personally, I think if it is going to be a trans-women and women-born-women space there needs to be a whole additional level of infrastructure to introduce and accommodate the separatist feminists who’ve been going to this for 30 years.”
That said, Wright notes female-to-male transsexuals (FTMs) are already welcomed.
“One thing that’s really important to stress is the amazing amount of gender diversity that’s already present on the land. You’ve never seen so many bearded women in one place…. Michigan is inclusive of FTMs.”
Local trans guy Carrie Gray agrees. “Being at Michigan, that’s where I saw my first trans guy 20 yeas ago…. That’s how I became more comfortable with how I see myself — trans man, butch dyke, all those things that I am. Being at Michigan and seeing trans men and old school butches — even trans women in the early days — made me feel like there’s a place where we’re allowed to be as we are.”
The simultaneous inclusion of trans men and exclusion of trans women at Michigan has left many women scratching their heads.
“It’s a double standard if a bio-born woman who has now transitioned to become a man is welcome [while MTFs are not]. Why is that more valuable?” asks local bisexual activist Dana Shaw.
“Those who do the transition to become women have done a lot of work to get there. Does the work that they’ve done to understand what it’s like to live as a woman have less value than the socialization process at birth? It’s like trying to learn a language later. Because they’re not native speakers, does that mean their use of the language is to be laughed at?”
JoAnn Nevermann, facilitator of the Women’s Coming Out Group, says the inclusion of FTMs itself causes tension at the festival.
“It must be recognized that some FTMs present a very masculine appearance which could be disturbing to some of the women at the music festival,” says Nevermann. “They are permitted to participate strictly by the fact that they still have female genitals. Some of these individuals are fairly well along in their process of transitioning and should be more properly identified as males than females.”