Why I Won’t Be Going to MichFest This Year

by Guest Blogger

Guest post by Sapphocles

Last year, I sent the following directly to Lisa Vogel as well as posting it to the MichFest and Facebook Womyn MichFest boards. I got loads of supportive responses from individual women, but nothing from Lisa, unless you count the shutting down of any discussion of this issue on the “official” MichFest boards as a sort of response. Or the blind eye that the she and the other organizers seem willing to turn toward Scout and other long-time Festies who have gotten caught up in the whole trans* delusion. As much as I hate to admit it, MichFest no longer feels like safe space to me.

I am posting this partly because I need to share my non-experience of MichFest this year, and partly because I know I’m not the only one who had these kinds of thoughts and feelings. My reactions may have been a bit more extreme than most, but I suspect that is only in a canary-in-the-coal-mine kind of way.

First, a little background.

I am a butch lesbian who has never had the option of passing as anything else. As a kid, I was made fun of for my size and my total lack of “feminine” traits. As an adult, I’ve been mistaken for a man more times than I can count, including once when I was accosted in a Mississippi casino by a male security guard who followed me into the ladies’ room because another woman thought I didn’t belong there.

Like far too many of us, I have a history of childhood abuse. In my case, though, the perpetrators were primarily women: a psychotic live-in grandmother who violated my body in many sadistic ways, an alcoholic mother who was herself too damaged to intervene or even acknowledge what was happening, and a female teacher who sexually exploited me when I accepted her offer of help with my family issues. That teacher was the first in a series of self-identified “straight” women with whom I became romantically involved, always on the condition that I attempt to suppress and/or disguise my butch identity as much as possible, at least in public, and that we not name ourselves lesbians, even to ourselves.

In the late 1980s, when the last of these relationships ended, I attempted suicide, and ended up in the psych unit of a Catholic hospital. Improbably enough, my life began to turn around when a pastoral counselor in this hospital gave me a book by Mary Daly, and told me that he thought embracing my lesbian feminist identity would be key not only to my recovery, but also to my survival. Slowly, I began to discover the womyn’s community and assume a place in it.

Although I had heard from friends that MichFest was a place like no other, it wasn’t until I actually set foot on the land that I understood the truth of this statement. For the first time in my life, I had the experience of being in a place where I was assumed without question to be a woman. Until then, I didn’t have any idea how invisible and unsafe I felt every single day, simply walking through the world. While I also felt the relief that I have heard other womyn talk about in relation to the threat of male violence, it was the basic validation of my butch female self that was so incredibly liberating for me. I returned a half-dozen times in the 1990s, and my experiences at Fest played a huge part in the healing that occurred as I became first comfortable and then proud to be a radical semi-separatist lesbian feminist.

Several years ago, I returned to Michigan after a decade-long absence in which other forms of self-exploration had for me taken precedence over Fest. I was surprised that the energy was so palpably different from what I remembered, but I attributed this to a combination of my having aged and so many of the younger women having been steeped in post-modernism and the queer/gender theory that I had by then come to regard as too silly to be harmful in any lasting way.

Living in a university town, I had also become aware that my opinions and attitudes about trans issues are no longer politically correct. Distilled perhaps to the point of oversimplification, my belief is that people who identify as trans are attempting to solve the wrong problem — that trying to change such an immutable characteristic as their biological sex rather than challenge the constructs of what it means to be male or female in a patriarchal society cannot possibly resolve the very real dysphoria they experience. At the same time, I believe that trying to solve the wrong problem is not only a right that we all have, but something that most of us do in the process of becoming who we are. I am not transphobic; I do, however, feel entitled to think of transfolk as other than womyn, and to assert that boundary in attempting to preserve what little womyn-only space remains in our culture. I also believe that transmisogyny is real, rampant, and as unacceptable as any other form of violence against womyn.

Last year, this issue became much more personal for me. At the Festival, I was surprised by how quickly and completely the feeling of safety I have always felt on the land evaporated as a result of the Night Stage demonstration and, to a lesser extent, the various acts of vandalism that occurred during the week. After the Festival, my fear turned to anger as I learned more about the pressure that many young butch women are now under to transition, and about what I’ve come to think of as a Transgender Borg that has slowly but surely co-opted each of the footholds that we “second-wave” feminists struggled so hard to establish, particularly in academia. Not only are we are losing a whole generation of butch womyn, but every transition further marginalizes those of us who have spent much of our lives learning that being butch and being female are not mutually exclusive.

This year, I was thrilled that so many womyn were willing to stand in support of the Festival intention, and I looked forward to meeting some of the like-minded womyn I felt I had come to know through the MichFest boards and the Womyn MichFest group. I was excited that there would be a very visible way of expressing support for maintaining the space that we have built for ourselves, and that many womyn were no longer feeling it necessary to remain silent in the interest of being nice, making others comfortable, and/or shielding themselves against the slander of transphobia.

But then, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to Fest. I had no sooner arrived  than I began to experience some of the most severe symptoms of PTSD I have ever had. Because of the nature of the abuse I suffered as a child, my PTSD symptoms are not ones that can easily be managed in an environment like Fest. They are, however, ones that I have finally learned strategies for handling. Since I was pretty sure I could get things back under control, I suggested that my friend go on without me, with the understanding that I’d stay in a hotel in Ludington and come in to the Festival as soon as I was able.

Tuesday turned into Wednesday turned into Friday turned into Sunday, and still I could not get to a place where I felt safe and confident enough about being able to care for myself on the land. Unlike the handful of other times I have been incapacitated by such symptoms, this time there was no obvious trigger, only that this very charged Festival was under way. As I attempted to process what was going on for me with my therapist and a non-Festie friend, I began to understand better what my triggers were. In part, my fear was that, as a single butch womyn who prefers to camp away from the crowds and noise of “downtown,” I would be an obvious target for any trans activists who were seeking confrontations. I was also afraid, though, that if I did encounter any problems I might not be able to get the help I needed from other womyn on the land. In the context of so many transfolk and their allies openly violating the boundaries, I could no longer trust that someone as butch as I would be recognized as female by other womyn. Not only would this have been unthinkable to me when I had come to Fest in the past, but it replicated my childhood trauma far too closely for me to be able to work through it in time to come into this year’s Festival. To feel suspect on this sacred land in the same way that I have no choice but to live in the rest of the world was not something I felt able to tolerate.

Hearing about the “Wanted” posters developed and other efforts that were made during the week specifically to reach out to womyn like me gives me hope that I will be able to find a way to come back next year and once again feel safe at Fest. Sharing my experience is one step in this process. Another is asking those of you who are on the fence to consider that transfolk are not the only ones who have issues related to inclusion when it comes to MichFest. And, unfortunately, this is one of those issues for which there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. The real question is not whether you are trans-positive or transphobic, but whether you support trans inclusion that by definition comes at the expense of butch lesbians like me.

51 Comments to “Why I Won’t Be Going to MichFest This Year”

  1. Trans inclusion always comes at the expense of Butch lesbians and other females ( = women). This is the aftermath of relinquishing the word “woman” to male pretenders. I don’t believe that they are trying to solve a problem, I believe that they are intent upon appropriating female social space, particularly the words “woman”, “girl”, and “daughter”, the pronouns “her” and “she”.

    Something about locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen.

    You were betrayed by women during your female childhood, as too many of us have been, and that betrayal echos louder and louder into an emotionally deafening roar as females betray each other within the so-called “women’s” / “feminist” movement at an ever-increasing rate every year.

    If I ever go to Michigan again ( I was there during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s) it will be to organize ( surreptitiously) with other Lesbian Separatists. So-called “women’s” spaces have become hazardous to our physical and mental health.

  2. First, let me say I am very sorry to hear of your negative experience in 2011. Looking back, though, it’s probably a good thing you didn’t actually get past the front gates. It was an exhausting, overwhelming experience for many womyn. And the “official” response has been, let’s say, underwhelming. We are all in a difficult position here.

    I am encouraged that you do want to come back, though! Please know that we ARE the majority, even if it didn’t seem like it before. So many womyn have been scared to show their true beliefs. This year will be different. That is a guarantee. In fact, your story gives me even MORE motivation to be visible in my support of the intention!

    Yours is a powerful story, and it needs to be heard.

    Perhaps you all have seen this already – but we’ve got a donation going to raise money for visibility. Even if you’re (“you” being readers who support the intention) not going, please consider donating so that someone else can be visible in your place.

    http://www.neverbedefeated.com/

  3. Wow. What an excellent, and felt, disclosure. This really makes me reevaluate the entire trans debate. Thank you so much for your openness.

  4. I’ll be there my sister, standing up for you and all who are not able to stand in that space, at this time. We will hold the space for you.

  5. I will be there, holding space for you when you are ready to come back. You and me and all the other womyn who need this healing space so much deserve to have it.

  6. Thank you for all the work you do to preserve women’s space.

  7. This “divide” among female born is quite nettlesome. As a young dyke, we went to see drag shows at the local gay hangouts and all understood that these were just gay men playing dress up. They were not threatening to females in any way and fun was to be had by all.

    On occasion, we had hairy men with full beards come in with dresses and high heels but HEY! never thought a thing about it. Dykes are very inclusive about such societal misfits and everyone was welcomed.

    But this trans-“women” calamity is too much to bear. Something so simple as having a few female-born spaces bringing such vitrolic and violent backlash by MEN claiming to be “lesbians” or “females” or frickin’ ham sandwiches, makes me sick.

    The more I read, the more I realize I CAN NOT debate crazy and delusional. Will not do it!

    I am going to Festie this year with my head held high, thankful for being a dyke and partaking in all of the female, peaceful goodness.

  8. I echo nefarious1 in that we will be there holding your place. I have “intention wear” for every day of Fest and I have other obvious signs of my intention. I think this year will be much different than 2011 in that more will be showing their support for the intention and we will be strong in support of those who need extra support. I hope you can find a way to come back and will come sit with me in my camp in RV.

  9. i never realized how different, inspiring and indeed critical female-only space was, until i started spamming comments on my own blog that failed to 1) evince reading comprehension and 2) add something to the discussion. without intending to, i had created a space that was exclusive to males by definition: they are literally unable to comply with those terms, even if they want to. of course, some fun-fems got stuck in the filter too…what was left was not only a female-only space but was a radical space where women were free to go to the ends of our thoughts. i literally had not experienced this before, ever. and if the men and trans had gotten their way, i never would have experienced it — not only was i not supposed to even try to control the quality of the discussion on my own blog, or realize that there was indeed a problem of quality introduced by some people commenting there, their cries of “censorship” could be heard for miles once i denied their access. being online, and anon, i did not fear an IRL attack if i did not comply with their demands, and i did not comply. IRL it is quite a different thing, as we see what happens to women when they stand up for women and for womens right to organize without men.

    women are not supposed to know what it feels like to be involved in a discussion where are concerns are heard, and where our work and our thoughts are taken to their logical ends. we are expected to be truncated in this way, emotionally and intellectually, and physically. the only intact female-only spaces now are places like the laundromat, or church, where women are busy fulfilling their patriarchal roles. this of course is straining the word “intact” past its breaking point.

    anyway, the conversations about mich fest and female-only spaces that are happening right now are inspiring to me. and the point is being made all over the place that we are not supposed to know or realize what female-only space feels like. that way, patrairchal handmaidens like chub-rub (at dyke fest) and others can, without lying or being dishonest in any way, declare female-only space to be unimportant. she literally wouldnt know, having likely never experienced it herself. this is true for many women, and its going to be true for many more as mandatory mixed groups (gender-neutrality) become the norm for us at younger and younger ages.

  10. we will also be expected to forget or discount, i should imagine, the feelings of safety and security we (the lucky ones of us) had when we were very young and hanging out in our friends kitchens with moms and sisters. in retrospect, the fluttering feeling when the boys would walk in was likely a response to our emotional and physical space being violated. at the time, i though it was sexual attraction (to my friends brothers) or guilt and shame for being gossips, or for not working hard enough to finish our tasks, or whatever. it was a feeling of being “caught.” to feel guilt and shame when we are the ones being violated is mandatory, of course, and applies in many contexts. and the violation, whatever it is, is not even recognized as a violation. getting twitterpated around boys is only ever recognized as that — and never recognized as anything else. but i at least remember the feeling, before they walked in. those are some of the fondest memories of my life. it is beyond words to think that some women will never experience even that, and that others will say well, its not important anyway. it is.

  11. Mary, how does it help us to blame women for what has happened in the women’s/feminist/lesbian community?

  12. Re: queerfatfemme tumblr bullshit

    Wym Shwim. Noone is stopping the trans-absurds to purchase their own land and have whom they want to come and play. Oh please, they can exclude born-females even. I would abide by those rules and applaud them.

  13. yes, and what a neck-snapping reversal it is too. to say that it is *radfems* who are using a “patriarchal medical model” when we define “woman” to include ourselves, and to exclude men. when it is the patriarchal institutions of medicine and law which have allowed transgender as we know it today to even exist. when it is the LEGAL and MEDICAL definitions — not ours — which now includes “gender identity” as a relevant factor of sex, because they have changed the rules to benefit themselves because they can.

    this is not new, though. we need spaces like this to discuss modern manifestations of ancient patriarchal values, without making the mistake of thinking that any of it is new. and yes its urgent, but its always been urgent. chub-rub is not unique, even though she thinks she is. its part of our grooming to believe that we are all “unique individuals” and to embrace that — we are desperate for that recognition, i started feeling this desperation when i was a young teenager myself, but why are we desperate for it? its not because its true, even though in a sense, it is true — we are all “unique and beautiful” blah blah. no. its because our objectification is complete and total. we are interchangeable to each other, in every way that matters so men. men know this too. they start telling us how special we are from the time we are young, (its called “wooing”) at the same time they are sticking their dicks into us and dooming us to the same fate to which all women are doomed.

  14. I’ve been watching this new tactic of deeming any pro-female speech as “hate speech” – http://bugbrennan.tumblr.com/post/26153366995/things-that-are-hate-speech-2012

  15. bugbrennan,

    It’s not about “blame” – it’s about what happened, and how, and why, and what we need to do to dig ourselves out of the hole.

    Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And those of us who *have* learned from history are doomed to twist in agony as we watch those who didn’t learn.

    Learning from history means that you have to *know* the history from reading or hearing it from others, and then *think* about it. I know the history from having been inside it for decades. But I am not the only one, for sure. Slowly but surely some archives are appearing on the internet. Nevertheless, post-modernist takeovers are not documented except in the sense that the victors always get to re-write history.

    We experience betrayal only from those that we thought, or expected, that we could trust. If you don’t like my use of that word, I will try to find another, and will also be happy to take suggestions to that effect.

    Thank you for publishing my comment.

    Those of us who have spoken out against queer-ification and trans-ification have been sent to Coventry too many times. This is how we find ourselves in our current predicament, besieged.

  16. To me, you sound exactly like trans women who suggest those of us doing this work “need more education.” But do continue.

  17. Ah, then I sound like a male, you say?

    Well, then I apologize. You have nothing to learn from older dykes. Nice to know. Carry on.

  18. its the difference between radicalism and reformism, and its a conversation thats been happening for a long time. expecting those who “do this work” to read the works of our feminist elders and to understand the context is not too much to ask, but it is often too much to expect. expecting reformists to turn radical never happens, i dont think, bc it would normally be futile, and indeed there are many who would read radfem work and never actually GET IT. but if radical feminism — including context — isnt informing “the work” then what is? its a legitimate question.

    and the issues of capitulation and language are relevant to the larger discussion, as well as to this thread. it becomes tiresome to have to repeat over and over and over that capitulation doesnt work, and to see this lesson learned the hard way EVERY FUCKING TIME. i think thats the point. and it becomes sad and can be enraging to think what couldve been if no capitulation had taken place ever. but its hard to know whether and to what extent anyones capitulation or collective capitulation to transgender politickers demands and threats over the last 30 years has affected anything, isnt it? how could we possibly know that?

    at any rate, its definitely meta. which means it can be discussed again and again, and surely will be. as for this post, it is distressing to read that a butch lesbian fears for her safety at a female-only event, and recognizes that she is in danger there, for the first time, of being misidentified as male, because there are so many fucking men there now! that is devastating.

  19. It’s a leap to assume I and others “haven’t read.” And it’s wrong to assume this should be an either/or discussion. I don’t believe that. I also don’t believe that I will live to see any liberation for females, in a meaningful, patriarchy-destroying way. But if we can leave breadcrumbs for the future, I want to be part of that.

  20. my comment was a general comment only. and i happen to know for a fact that some reformers havent read a fucking word of daly or jeffreys, bc they told me they havent (while others SHOW their ignorance frequently). also, its not a leap to assume it, since so many PEOPLE havent read them, not particularly liberal reformists but certainly including them. i am speaking in generalities, and from personal knowledge. its also demonstrably true. this isnt about you.

  21. also, what you say about “breadcrumbs” is highly relevant, i think. we are talking about our history being erased, including how capitulating the last 1000 times we’ve done it HASNT WORKED to achieve womens liberation from men, or at least having the discussion where some of us think thats true. we get to make that observation — that it hasnt fucking worked — without the observation being negated and erased (dont we?) it is a reasonable observation/conclusion and it is our right to make reasonable conclusions based on the evidence. its all in the way we define “liberation” i expect (and im sorry to say its a matter of definitions like everything is now — i mean that when *we* say it, we mean it. literally.). its not a matter of admitting or denying that there are ways to make *some* womens lives more comfortable *sometimes*. that we can take as a given.

  22. Well, here’s my personal take, FWIW:

    The issue is boundaries.

    Michfest is not a specifically radical feminist event, and because only radical feminists among the various feminist groups have set clear and definite boundaries as to who our constituents are, these ongoing troubles are inevitable.

    Radical feminists understand that women are not social constructs. Women are a biological “essential” group whose behavior is in part controlled by social constructs. Analyzing those constructs, dissolving the destructive ones, and finding out who we are outside the influence of male domination is one of our most important tasks.

    It is a severe violation of social mores for women to assemble together without men for relatively free discussion. Entire institutions have developed over the millennia to prevent this. The threat this presents to the System cannot be overstated. Attacks on such assemblies, including libel, pressure on vendors and lessors, outing and doxxing of individual organizers, hijacking of agendas, street protests, and infiltration with disruptive behavior, are commonly used in modern times to stop such assemblies or to derail them.

    Michfest is a highly visible symbol of such separate assembly (so is Radfem 2012. So is any well-publicized public event where separate assembly is envisioned). Therefore, among other kinds of attacks, some men who now call themselves women, and who have very specific political and social issues and agendas which are sometimes only tangentially related to the issues of women, insist on entry and a derailment of the women’s agenda in favor of their issues. The well-established tactics of the System are being used. The definitions of who is a member of this group, and how the group sees its relationship with feminism, lesbians, and other women, are transitional, in change.

    There is no way to prevent an influx of disturbing and destructive elements when a separate group, however they define themselves, seek entry and are accepted, WHEN THAT GROUP DOES NOT HAVE CLEAR BOUNDARIES OF ITS OWN which can be evaluated.

    Many of this group do not understand the implications of their actions and are being used by other members of the group who do wish to disrupt and derail. The biggest problem with acceptance of this group is that, having no clear boundaries itself, any male can adopt membership in it as a temporary or tentative or opportunistic identity. It is done simply by announcing that he is a member of that group. This entirely destroys the underlying reason for Michfest, namely, to be a place where women can assemble freely without interference from men.

    Since the women organizers of Michfest cannot control the boundaries of this group to prevent derailment and disturbance, and most importantly, a loss of boundaries for the assembly as a whole, this group should not be invited unless and until their boundaries are clearer and can be evaluated better. For now, Michfest would be wise to exclude this group and adopt radical feminists’ emphasis on clear boundaries.

  23. Sorry, should have said “are some of” our most important tasks.

  24. “I was also afraid, though, that if I did encounter any problems I might not be able to get the help I needed from other womyn on the land. In the context of so many transfolk and their allies openly violating the boundaries, I could no longer trust that someone as butch as I would be recognized as female by other womyn”

    This is so bad. We’re going backward…Men have got what they wanted and the sad thing is that so many women have helped them along.

    Until I started blogging last March, I would usually chat on mumsnet, which is an enormous website catered for women of all walks of life. I went back there recently and it is chock full of men “discussing” shit i.e pontificating their political opinions and stifling women’s thoughts. Why on earth would men feel the need to go to a mother’s website? It’s FULL of men.
    It is shit there now, quite frankly. Shit and boring and dull and male.
    So they’ve got what they wanted.

    It is VERY important that women be allowed to congregate without men if we want liberation.
    MEN understand this, why can’T WOMEN???

  25. It sounds like you are doing the right thing for yourself by staying away right now. It’s so terrible that it’s come to this.

  26. Thank you for sharing your story, Sapphocles. I’m sorry you had to undergo this.
    The triggering you described is a proportionate reaction to the invasion by men. Men violating us and our spaces can only be but traumatic, and it is intended, so to install a climate of terror, of paralysis, so we don’t act against men’s domination.

    Thanks for this discussion!

    Men are at war against us and if we don’t create spaces for ourselves, nobody else will. It’s not like we even have the leisure to explain it to other women and wait until they take action. If they won’t do it, then only we can do it. We need to take action here and now, and wherever we can, create spaces for women, for us, find creative ways to do so, even it’s little, small. Or regain the spaces men have taken from us, by force. Not wait until men invade us to realize that men can or will want to invade us, but create the spaces with the conscience that men will want to invade us and protect ourselves from it beforehand as best as we can, even if it might not work eventually.

    When organizing in public, too many of us act as if we were in a state of semi-peace where we can meet and congregate more or less freely, or openly. This is not the case. Resistance means building preemptive strategies to counter the occupation and constant surveillance of men. It’s a matter of survival, for many of us, protecting ourselves from men and their intrusion may be the difference between surviving or being killed, or being severely triggered to the point of paralysis and suffocation. Without giving ourselves a safe space to organize our resistance, to be together, to be free to think and express ourselves, to heal, to create new worlds, there is no way we will even get near to forming an alternative to patriarchy and have the cohesion and power to crush the male system.

    Boundaries is an important issue for us. Having our boundaries constantly violated as a condition of our existences under patriarchy, setting boundaries is one of the most difficult tasks as a women, whether it be with men or women.

  27. It really blows my mind that Sapphocles makes clear to us that she no longer feels comfortable in what used to be THE space by and for women due partly to the fact that some women, enough women, have conceded “woman” to men (thereby obscuring HER identity) only to have the person who sponsored her post refer to male-to-trans* as “women” and imply that actual women who have commented here sound like/are behaving like men.

    Wtf is going on here?

  28. It’s dyke-baiting. Dykes being scapegoated for the crimes of men. Meanwhile pandering to males themselves.

    “I am the wall at the lip of the water, the Dyke in the matter, the Other” (from Judy Grahn).

    I have done it to other dykes, and have seen dykes do it to each other over the years.

    We are not pricks. And pricks are not us. We can learn from this.

  29. For me, it is very clear. Women have our own culture, which has been nearly erased by patriarchy, men, (and yes, with the collusion of some women, who, as Sonia Johnson says have “terror-bonded” with their oppressor) as has been said here. We are our own sovereign biophilic beings. Our essence has nothing to do with men/maleness, which is on the decline–from 1000 genes on the y chromosome to somewhere near 45. Since we have experienced near erasure in too many ways to count for at least the last 5000 years, I see it is imperative and absolutely necessary to have as much truly women-only space as possible to re-memeber, to re-claim, to re-joice, to re-juvenate so that we may re-trieve and be re-stored–like re-storing a battery with its charge. “Transwomen” still carry that depleted y chromosome. They are not women. Anywhere they take up space–and it seems to me the nature of the y, as it has become, is to take–they want to own. The essence of woman is entirely different. I just completed a retreat in Ashland OR on “Uncovering the Biophilic Autonomy of Women” for women only. At one point in the retreat, a huge V appeared in the sky directly over us–chem trails, perhaps, but it was still a synchronous validation of our work in women only space and phenomenal to see.

  30. “We are our own sovereign biophilic beings.” I’m just going to spend this gorgeous California weekend basking in those words, thanks, shemama.

  31. Different state, same sentiment 🙂

  32. I loved that comment, thanks Shemama!

  33. Thanks so much to all of you who took the time to respond to my post. It’s hard to put into words how much it means for the combination of grief and anger I feel about having for all practical purposes lost this precious sanctuary to be heard and understood, if only by a minority of my sisters. Along those same lines, I am more grateful than I know how to express for those of you who are committed to saving a space for me by keeping this issue alive and visible at Fest.

    I had truly hoped that with time for some additional work on my own stuff, I would be able to return to Fest this year. I began to have doubts about that when the new discussion boards were launched, and it became clear that what most Festies want — those who make their voices heard, anyway — is to not have to deal with this issue in any direct way. The final straw for me, though, was seeing what happened to Cathy Brennan at the NY Dyke March. I do not understand how anyone can doubt that this is exactly where things are headed at Fest, if indeed they haven’t already reached this point. While I admire Cathy’s ability to remain calm and respond from a place of clarity to such unrelenting abuse, I know that is not something I can do — at least not yet.

    I’d also like to respond to a couple of the comments that were made on my post. First and foremost, I think it’s critical for those of us who value women-only space to resist the temptation to critique the specifics of what others who understand the basic importance of this issue are and are not willing or able to do. For example, there are certainly arguments to be made about the nouns and pronouns we use in talking about transfolks, but I think we have already lost the battle if we allow ourselves to get caught up in the semantic games that are the lifeblood of the whole trans* movement. It’s clear that no matter what we accede to, it won’t be enough; it will just be the new starting point for the next appropriation. So where it used to be “she” and “woman” that determined whether we were “inclusive” enough, it’s now “female penis” and “transclit.” In view of the incredible risks she has been willing to take on behalf of women who have had enough, I really don’t understand how it makes sense to question whether Cathy or anyone else has in any way capitulated to the TransBorg because she is willing in some contexts to make a distinction between “woman” and “female,” or to refer to a transwoman as “she.”

    That said, I also think that there has always been an elephant in the room when it comes to the extent to which most women would like to deny the truth that it is not only men who can and do harm and abuse and exploit women in a patriarchal society. And I think this is what you were picking up on, Mary Sunshine, in your comments about the aspects of this debate that have to do with women betraying other women. I know that as a survivor of abuse that was perpetrated primarily by women, there have been many times when I have felt uncomfortable with the oversimplification implicit in a “women = good and men = bad” construct. I don’t believe it is the job of women whose history is different from mine to take my overdetermined sensitivities about the potential for harm from women into account when formulating a policy that outlines what we as women will and will not expect of one another. I do, however, think it is the responsibility of all women to recognize that these value judgments are not made in a vacuum. The question is not whether it is a good thing to be inclusive of transfolks; of course it is. The real questions that we have before us are whether the value of being inclusive outweighs the damage that is necessarily done to a subset of women in the process, and whether this damage ultimately represents harm to all women — even those who are not rigorous enough in their analysis to know or care that they, too, are being harmed.

    Early this morning, I posted a question asking for clarification about why the issue of trans inclusion has become the only political issue that cannot be discussed on the “official” MichFest discussion boards. Why it is that this issue is considered toxic, when racism at fest, anything related to the Zone, or how comfortable straight women are likely to feel if they come to Fest are apparently not considered “political.” According to the board’s counter, more than 50 women have read that message — yet not a single one has offered any sort of response. To me, that speaks volumes about where things currently stand. Yes, we’ve come a long way — but we still have an awfully long way to go.

  34. I’m basking too!! I try to bask in my biophilic fem reality as much as possible!

  35. Sapphocles,

    Thank you for your expressing your passionate love for women, for your bravery in recounting your experiences, for baring your soul to us, for bringing your Lesbian being into our lives.

    If I am ever at Michfest again, I will bring you with me in spirit. I will bring your knowledge with me. Thank you for giving to me.

    And thank you to the passionately women-loving commenters here who give to me, and bring me back to Life.

  36. It is never a good thing to be inclusive of “trans women” in women’s sacred space. For myriads of reasons. Not only because women have been traumatized and need space away from all men to heal. Women have to live in the world as actual or potential bearers of new life (I know, not all women, but only women) and so women need to be in charge of society in order to guarantee that the conditions under which women do this are optimal, or at least satisfactory. This will not happen with males in charge or males “equally” in charge. Women need the undivided strength and nurturance we get in women’s sacred space in order to develop the strength and wherewithal to do this with.
    This need will continue even after women are all healed from patriarchy’s traumas. I know that’s not “fair” to men, but it is reality. And of course they are very fond of telling us that “life isn’t fair.”
    I am also rather offended that it is a “question” as to whether or not the “value” of inclusivity outweighs the damage that is necessarily done to a “subset” of women. First of all, the damage is to all women, not just a subset, for the reason given above and other reasons. And there’s no “question” about it – the “value” of inclusivity of trans males in women’s space NEVER outweighs the damage done to women. IMNSHO.

  37. I’m with you, Barbara. For me, it has been a profound and deep awakening into what’s really going on here on Her, our planet. I don’t think about what’s fair to men. I think about what women need in order to thrive b/c when women thrive so does all life. It’s pretty simple. So, we call the shots. It’s supposed to be that way. It’s not about hierarchy. It’s about reality–the deep wombwisdom truth of the biophilic ecstatic star essence of femme–that from which all is born and unto which all returns. Left alone, it is perfection, as has been shown by feminist archeology. Messed with, all life suffers. So, just leave us alone, and we’ll do just fine, and so will all things. Any man who wants to trans himself–ok, fine. Just do it over there, away from me. I won’t judge you. Just leave me alone.

  38. sapphocles,

    This WBW made a comment to you on the board. I said something similar to your post back in March where I was told in so many words that discussing WBW as in relation to m2t at Michfest was verboten. Kinda pissed me off.

  39. Thanks, Chonky… The counter is now up to100+ views since my post on the MichFest board, and yours is the sole response. I don’t know why this surprises me, but it does; and, sadly, it reaffirms my sense that Fest is not currently a place where unapologetic butch lesbians can count on the support of other WBW when it comes to perpetrators of the trans variety. I wish I’d thought to include a link to this page so that women who are afraid to speak there would at least know there’s a welcoming place here. I can’t go back and add it now, since I said I would respect the intention of the powers that be regarding the boards, but maybe your post will alert anyone who cares that there *are* women who won’t be silenced. Thanks again for your support.

  40. After going to the IWMF in Middleton this last weekend, I am fucked in the head. I’ve forgotten what it is to be around all women, how safe it feels. I don’t want to be around men anymore- and they’re everywhere up in my face and I am afraid that they will hurt me.

    I talked to a few women about MichFest and told them I was hesitant to go since there’d be that kind of boundary violating going on and I just can’t take it anymore.

  41. Update re my post on the MichFest boards: 200+ views, 1 response. The silence is deafening…

    The text:

    Can someone explain to me why the controversy over trans inclusion and the WBW intention is the only form of politics that has effectively been banned from the “official” fest forum? Look at the list of topics…

    Racism at Fest — not politics
    The Zone — not politics
    How Straight Women Feel At Fest — not politics

    But the fact that I as a WBW butch lesbian no longer experience MichFest as a safe place… that’s politics, and I should take my grief to some other venue.

    Aside from this one post, I will respect the intention of the forum — but I don’t get it, and I *do* feel entitled to ask for an explanation. And LD, since it sounds like you’re the one with the silence button, I’d especially like to know how you came to these criteria about which topics are worthy of discussion and which aren’t.

    Thanks,
    Sapphocles

  42. sappahocles,

    “The hub” is now linked at the festie boards. With hope, maybe some curious womyn will come on over and have a peek.

  43. Apologies for spelling your name incorrectly.

  44. Thanks, Chonky!

  45. “My belief is that people who identify as trans are attempting to solve the wrong problem — that trying to change such an immutable characteristic as their biological sex rather than challenge the constructs of what it means to be male or female in a patriarchal society cannot possibly resolve the very real dysphoria they experience.”

    And it’s terrible that one now has to fear violence for thinking this, because it’s become un-PC to point out the amount of insane sexism going on in trans culture. I feel anxious about this every day and am bullied by other liberals because I believe the same thing you do–someone being born outside gender bullshit can hardly escape gender bullshit by trying to embrace it harder than many non-trans straight people. But people focus less and less on dismantling gender stereotypes and transfolk seem to get a free pass to create caricatured, exaggerated images of what they presume men and women to be. Simply because they bought into what they heard as children about how boys and girls should be, because nobody told them otherwise, and now they are in pain and mutilating themselves and feeling extreme anxiety about not being able to “pass” and never being able to fully change into the identities they’ve constructed. There would be so much less suffering in the world if there were more voices telling children that it’s actually okay to play with cars if you’re a girl and to play with dolls if you are a boy.

    And yet if you state views like these, you are told you are as bad as a racist. How come if a white kid identified as black, listened to black music and adored black culture, they would never be allowed to claim a black identity? People would be very quick to point out the history of racial oppression and to point out that kid never grew up in a ghetto. But apparently if you’re trans, the “um, you haven’t shared the history of our oppression and haven’t grown up as female” arguments are just hostile, irrational phobias instead of… well, the truth. We are supposed to support patriarchal delusions and constructs at the cost of female healing? Right. Well, let’s just toss feminism into the bin, then, because we aren’t allowed to point out gendered bullshit any more. The trans arguments are frighteningly, terrifyingly like the anti-feminist male arguments of how the poor fellows are oppressed by scary loud women and how feminism is abusive and threatening somehow and how we should shut up because we are so oppressive.

    You are incredibly brave to say these things out loud, and I thank you for it, because I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

  46. Here’s a treasure trove: http://violenttransarchives.tumblr.com/

    Just as the name suggests.

  47. Sapphocles,
    Thanks for sharing here. I just found this blog. I was searching for the radfem gathering in July and ran across this.

    I remember your letter and I did experience lots of anxiety and anger at fest in 2011. I am going to be there this year and many of us will wear lots of red and will stand out in the crowd. Transwomen appear to be riding the crest of the backlash against women that we are experiencing. If you make it to fest look for me – I’m one of the “six foot elders” that challenged the “sex therapists” workshop last year. Jasper, aka Lisa Millet

  48. Jasper,

    Would you mind elaborating on the “anxiety and anger” you experienced last year please? I am bringing my daughter and want to avoid any potential danger (to her). Tips?

  49. Mary Sunshine,

    Re: tumbler

    I say allow each and every post that are violent in nature through for all to view. Womyn need to see the ramblings of these verbal-charlatans in the light of day.

    These men would be pleased to know their behavior towards womyn is quite similar to the blokes they are claiming they are not.

    In “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” at the end, Hedwig understood himself to be a man and felt ultimately the peace that came with that understanding.

  50. Hi, I am a celibate straight female and I thank creation for lesbians. I have been dismayed by the attacks on female space. Reading about Mich Fest made me want to go next year partly as a reaction to the marginalization I feel because I am against porn and because I disagree with the notion that I was born with a gender or a sub-conscious knowledge that I was female distinct from the genitals between my legs.

%d bloggers like this: