Guest Post by Amynomene
My first exposure to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was, unfortunately, in relation to the infamous womon-born-womon intention controversy. It was probably 10 years ago, and Bitch magazine had an article that laid out the issue. At the time, I was something of a baby feminist: I had a vague sense of unfairness toward those of my sex but no knowledge of feminist history, waves, theories, or famous feminists other than Gloria Steinem. I had even less of an idea about queer theory or the postmodernism that was eating the academic establishment from the inside out.
Without any other knowledge about the situation, or even about Fest itself, I intuitively understood there is something specific that happens to females who grow up in this society and live as women because they are female. If these women wanted to gather for a week to hash that out–great. On the other hand, I related to the trans experience in that I never felt comfortable in my own body, either. Society was always telling me to be one way, and I wanted to be another. But I didn’t, and still don’t, understand why people of one distinct experience would be fighting tooth and nail to claim that it was exactly the same as another group’s. Subsuming one’s experience under the umbrella of another’s seemed offensive to my American-style respect for everyone’s unique roots. And, after all, they’re just talking about one week in the woods, right?
Oh, I had so much to learn. Over the next five years, I came out of the closet, to many yawns and shrugs. In 2009, I found myself unemployed and idly surfing when I came across a radical feminist blog. I read the entire archive over the next two weeks. That blog led me to others. Before I knew it, my eyes were opened to the truth of the world around me. I couldn’t not see it anymore even if I tried.
By 2010, I felt called to that bastion of radical feminist ethics, MWMF. I was determined to ignore the controversy (like many other Festie-goers) and experience whatever it was that beckoned me. Over the course of just two days, I underwent what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening. “Music festival” is a pathetic, half-assed term for what that space truly is. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to an enormous group of women who didn’t conform to society’s restrictive prescriptions. I sat there almost slack-jawed watching women of every stripe and persuasion be free and beautiful. I left there claiming the identity of “woman”–something I’m not sure would have ever happened if I hadn’t gone.
I returned home in a state of happy shock only to learn about the vandalism from rogue elements of Camp Trans. In fact, I had been inconvenienced by the damage done to the showers in my camping area. But I’m a city girl, and I don’t scare easily.
I joined others online who were equally outraged at the sabotage. I began reading more about the actual history of the controversy, as told by both sides. Aside from the negative feelings about “their” actions, I knew I had to experience Fest once again. 2011 was a bit of a different story.
Both sides ramped up. Women who support the intention of Festival to be for those born female, raised as girls, and living as women managed to come together in the two months prior to Fest via social media in a way that had never happened before. They began voicing their opinions and wore red to signify their support of the policy. Workshops were held. Performers on both sides of the issue spoke out from the stage. The “Trans Women Belong Here” group raised money to sponsor tickets for trans women. They also sold t-shirts and passed out writings about their perspective.
I’m not going to get into specifics about what I heard or what I personally experienced because I don’t believe it’s helpful to the conversation. I ask that you, the reader, trust me when I say that the actions of a few were truly outrageous–and I mean that in the sense of inspiring outrage. Pro-intention women came home with dead emotional batteries. Many felt extremely angry and deeply disrespected. That led to heated online arguments. It is my impression that women on both sides of the issue, and those in between, got burned out.
The good news is that our pro-intention pilot lights are flaming up again, which is why I’m even attempting to write this.
The HUB’s contributors and other bloggers have written eloquent, sharp, and sometimes funny takedowns of the trans borg’s favorite myths. We’ve all witnessed the claw-back of women’s space in our own communities. Virtually no space outside our own homes is allowed to be solely for born-females anymore. Our domestic violence shelters, health clinics, poetry nights and universities have succumbed to their delusions, not because they’re correct but because they throw tantrums and bully their way in.
Obviously, I am not a long-time “Festie.” I am not a lifelong radical feminist or even a “gold star” lesbian. What I am is someone who sees through bullshit and can suss out the impetus behind every action. And those who say that female-born women are not allowed to gather separately are feeding us a massive line of misogyny-motivated bullshit. Those who say that we are “policing” the definition of woman operate from a deeply rooted self-centeredness that is alien to me and my sisters.
I love Fest for what it is and for the experiences I have there and nowhere else on Earth. But I fight for Fest because I see it as a beachhead, forging the way until this a wave of radical feminism crashes ashore and takes down the fragile support beams of queer theory’s fairytale sandcastle. Contrary to popular Internet opinion, Festival is not lost. Twenty years of protests have left her battered but not down for the count. Our spirit has transcended all of that, and we are finally putting our actions where our hearts have been all along. I see, from my perspective as a relative newbie to Fest, that the revered values of kindness and openness and community-mindedness have been the very things that prevented women from taking direct action. 2012 will find us un-gagged and willing to say what our female socialization has been shaming us into not saying. We will be made brave by the network of allyship we have developed amongst ourselves. We are secure in our belief that Festival should remain a space for the female-born.
I know of radical women who belong at Fest who don’t go because it’s too far to travel, too much time to take off of work, or they absolutely hate camping. I know of radical women who have stopped going because they feel male-borns have already infiltrated, and their time and energy are better spent elsewhere. I know of women who, incredibly, have never heard of Fest and belong there.
Now, more than ever before, we need your support. One of the last large-scale radical feminist spaces needs your support. She needs some resuscitation in the form of helping hands, present and on the land with her. I realize many of us are strapped for cash, even downright poor (myself included), but this is a call to you: Come this year and connect in real time with sisters who hold the same values you do. If not this year, start planning for 2013. It’s certainly early enough to start socking away cash for that! If you need help with the ticket or gear, ask for it. If you really can’t swing it, I ask that you donate whatever money your budget allows so that another female-born can represent you in this struggle for the right of women to define their own boundaries.
Y/Our voice deserves to be heard.
Amynomene is a moderately ambidextrous jill-of-all-trades who loves radical feminist take downs of patriarchy’s sacred cows and pet theories, motorcycle rides, and food.