The truth about Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and trans women — a correction.

When I wrote my original article about the trans protestors who targeted Queer Up North International Festival in 2008, I unwittingly reproduced an untruth about Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I quoted the letter asking me to cancel Bitch’s concert, because she performed at and supported Michigan, which had a “policy of admitting only natal women”.

The founder of the festival, Lisa Vogel, has been in touch to explain that Michigan’s position was more nuanced than this.

Please read Lisa’s words:

Thank you for being a caring righteous human being, it really means a lot. We’ve heard very little from gay men in this discussion, and as you have clearly written, the dynamic has no parallel in the gay male community. If the kind of heat that the lesbian community has experienced to change group identities, redefine sexual interests, give up self-defined community spaces and limit the very discussion of how we identify our body parts had played out in the gay men’s community, it would no doubt have looked very different. The very deep vein of co-dependency that runs through the lesbian community coupled with the privileged and aggressive organizing techniques of the right wing trans activists created the perfect storm we are now in.
When the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is referred to, it is almost always is referred to as the ground zero of terfdom, and only the tens of thousands of sisters who actually attended it know it as the beautiful cultural and deeply radical gathering that it was — filled with music, dance, theater and liberation in the woods. It is referenced in articles, spat upon in blogs and makes appearances in gender studies textbooks, always with some version of a constantly repeated lie. You indirectly repeated that lie in quoting from the letter asking you to cancel Bitch because she performed at and supported Michigan, which had a “policy of admitting only natal women”. I know you were only repeating what was in the letter, but it’s a present example of how even in a supportive environment such as your piece, this is the single take-away a reader unfamiliar with the festival would now have about Michigan.
I produced the festival for 40 years and I can say with certainty that we did not at any point attempt to ascertain who was or was not a natal womon. The festival had the broadest spectrum of gender presentation of womyn you could find anywhere on the planet, and for all the gender variant sisters run out of bathrooms and cursed in the street, we were adamant that no one’s gender would be questioned on the land. We did say and meant that our intention was to create a space focused on womyn who were born womyn, who experienced a girlhood (in all of our diversity), and who still lived their lives identified as a womon. This was our focus, this is what we were about. The onus was then up to anyone to decide how to support and respect that intention. This was back in the 80’s, before most of the gay community had considered the T joining the tribe, and besides, we were too busy still arguing about the B.
In 1991 there was a trans woman who was asked to leave the festival. This is the only time this happened but it did happen. From that point forward for 25 years the story line was completely constructed and controlled by right wing trans activists, who harassed artists, festival goers, craft women and of course, producers tirelessly. Eventually the fact that one attended the festival could endanger their job and damage their social/political credibility in “progressive” circles. I personally was compared to George Wallace, Hitler and the (old, not nice) Pope.
It’s all so real. Very smart, politically savvy and strong people — cultural organizers and political leaders — are all afraid to have this barrage of attacks fall on their shoulders. The silence grows.
I don’t think this is the greater trans community doing this. I’ve known too many trans women who have it in their hearts to recognize both the similarities and differences between trans womyn and born female. I see a small network of privileged trans women who carry a lot of financial and political clout, who are connected to deep deep pockets and broad political influencers who are running the story tirelessly. And doing a fucking brilliant job of controlling the cultural narrative and advancing legislative changes. In all things we are experiencing now — it only takes the inaction of good people, willing to do nothing, for this to define the shape of our world.