Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Womyn Born Womyn

Right now my best friend and 1st cousin Randee Riot is at her all-time favorite event, The annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, otherwise known as Fest or Michfest.

According to the Michigan's Womyn Festival Wikipedia page the festival was set up as:

...a response to misogyny, sexism and homophobia,[citation needed] MWMF was created in 1976 by 19-year-old Lisa Vogel, her sister Kristie, and Mary Kindig, the We Want the Music Collective. All three were working-class women from Michigan who had seen female musicians and stagehands demeaned and repeatedly harassed at festivals and venues run by men.

MWMF created (and continues to create) a feminist alternative, and a niche for lesbians in the music scene. It continues to create an annual place for living out lesbian feminist politics. Many queer women feel safe and "at home" at Michigan, with the result that lesbian-identified women are among the 3,000-10,000 women who attend each year.

Randee continually stresses the enjoyment of being surrounded by a space that is only filled with women. All women, all week. She often talks about the sense of undeniable "sisterhood" that develops throughout the week and how liberating it is to walk the land topless in a women-only society. In fact, it is one of the only places, if not the ONLY place where a woman can walk naked within a women-only environment.

However, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival has been under criticism for a number of years due to the founder's "Womyn-born-womyn" policy. Here's some background on that:

Since its inception, "the Michigan Festival...always has been an event for women, and this continues to be defined as womyn born womyn" (Lisa Vogel & Barbara Price). This policy has gained notoriety for the festival, as it officially requests that the attendees be "womyn-born-womyn" (WBW) only. That is, those who were born and raised as girls, and currently identify as women. MWMF is one of only a few women's festivals with a WBW policy.

In 1991 Nancy Burkholder, who had attended the festival the year before without incident, was expelled from MWMF when she disclosed her transsexual status to festival workers who, in turn, informed the festival office. Burkholder was asked to leave the festival and received a full refund of her ticket. Festival organizers continued to advocate their support of the women-born-women policy even as criticism from some segments of the queer community mounted in response to Burkholder's departure.

Supporters of the policy believe that the particularity of WBW experience (separate and apart from a woman's experience) comes from being born and raised in a female body, and see the festival as a celebration of that experience, under the oppression of patriarchy. Many attendees and workers remark on feelings of liberation they experienced while within the WBW-only environment of the festival: from a feeling of safety at being able to walk in the dark without fear, to a deep and sometimes virgin acceptance of their bodies. Supporters of the policy feel that the experience of being WBW in a place that honors the bodies, brains and brawn of WBW (regardless of how they "fit" into mainstream culture), and rescripts the limiting experiences available for women and girls, is vital to unlearning a lifetime of internalized misogyny for both attendees and festival volunteers.

The festival has stated that it does not and will not perform "panty checks." Rather, it states that women must "self-monitor", and attend only if they can honestly state that they were born as a girl, lived as a girl, and presently identify as a woman.

I support and respect the right for the founders to make any decision they choose regarding the womyn born womyn policy, since it is their event, but this debate has me asking, "How does one define Transgenderism?"

In my personal opinion, if one feels as though he or she has been born into the

wrong body than that's enough to qualify as Trans, or the new, less technical term GenderQueer. Although The Womyn's Music Festival vows to not do any "

panty checks" it seems as though the inclusion of Transpeople to a festival like this would have to be all or nothing. Being pre-op, half-op or even post-operation male-to-female transgender simply cannot matter. Who is to say that being pre or post op makes one more or less of a woman? You simply can't.

With ENDA in the news and Transpeople becoming a louder and more visible community it is important that we are compassionate to the perspective and struggle of transfolk. I've often heard straight people ask, "but I just don't understand the whole gay thing." To that I respond, "It's not for you to understand. You're not gay." I do, however, expect compassion and respect.

I remember at a community forum not too long ago a Transman standing up and saying, "We do our activism everyday by merely being who we are and walking within society. We need you people, the community, to walk alongside us."


Anonymous said...

There are so many things I want to say to this but don't know where to begin and what to exclude.

Having been a planner of an event that was started by gay leathermen for gay leathermen. The women wanted to come and so we said OK. There was some great women that we wanted to be at the event. Then it became a PC event and had to meet all these rules that the "women" wanted/pushed etc.

So having watched an event that was GREAT that the women wanted to attend and then in my own view ruined because it had to be PC. Look at this as amazingly non-PC. How long have gay men been told by women that we have to be inclusive yet they are allowed to be exclusive.

(sorry for the long comment)

Serg said...

I believe the state should also rename itself "Michigyn" for the event.

Bart said...

I would like to say that I understand the intent of the Festival's policy but it fails to make sense on far too many levels....

Stating "womyn-born-womyn only" shows a total lack of understanding of trans identities and completely obliterates those of inter-sexed individuals. They're saying that trans-women are not born women because they weren't born with traditionally accepted female identified genitals and they seek to further subjugate their bodies and lives by excluding them from their idea(l) of socialized womenhood.

It's just another example of the feminist movement narrowly defining "Woman" and ditching those who don't fit in. Women of colour, lesbians, working-class, women who weren't mothers and so on, have all been abandoned by certain groups or waves of feminism.

I get the whole wanting to hang out with only women for a week and get ur mensus on and what not, but it's just so second-wave and irrelevant in ideology. They're not helping women as a whole when they seek to narrowly define what "Woman" means. It's just more harm than good, really.

Knucklecrack said...

I hear ya man and good points. Just keep in mind when the festival was created things like intersexualism, transexualism and gender queers weren't really household terms yet.

@SFTall Guy- I hear you loud and clear too. Honestly, I think it's ok to have women only events and men only events and and trans only events and then all inclusive events.

Kelli Busey said...

I am assuming most people are not trans who here. I am awestruck by your compassion and depth of understanding of gender issues. An allie natal woman who is a board member of my transgender advocacy group brought this up to us. I have this year really begun to move from a narrow t girl id to being proud gender queer. Its you that make me so proud.

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