Early last week, Lisa Vogel announced that the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival would close after this year’s 40th anniversary event. The response was tears in some quarters, and from some “good riddance.” I’m ashamed to admit that I put off weighing in because I’m not thick-skinned and I hate getting trolled.
But somebody has to say the obvious. That the whole MichFest thing may have begun as a fight about trans inclusion, but for the last few years it’s mostly been an opportunity to engage in dyke-baiting and attacking women-only spaces, however “women” is defined.
While MichFest organizers did eject a trans woman in 1991, they later acknowledged — repeatedly — that the action was a mistake. Trans people actually do attend the festival. Some even staff it, and, I believe, have directed workshops. Last year, Vogel, the founder and director, attempted to clarify the matter by issuing a statement declaring that MichFest considered trans women as women and that at the festival nobody’s gender was ever questioned.
Given the multiple apologies for the fuck-up and the fact trans women already do attend the festival, though not all are out, it’s hard to understand why critics continue to give the impression that pitchfork-wielding dykes and evil cis women have repeatedly chased trans women from MichFest.
Worse, they encourage other trans people to attack both organizers and participants with a level of rage and hate that we do not see directed toward anything or anybody else. Not the politicians who refuse to allow trans people to determine their own identities. Not cops who routinely roust trans women. Not their rapists. Not their murderers. Nope, the real obstacles to trans progress are those filthy bigoted dykes at MichFest who should probably all be exterminated.
Am I exaggerating? Not much. The Internet is awash with anti-MichFest posts that end with diatribes attacking lesbians as a class, many wishing for our collective demise.
MichFest critics have been so effective misrepresenting the facts that I was surprised last year to discover trans women actually did go and many treasured their experiences there. One woman explained how much she learned hearing other women’s stories and getting a sense of feminism in practice. The problem was that she was afraid to come out as trans and have her heart broken. That is a real issue. And I would’ve liked to hear more from her. Unfortunately, she didn’t fit the narrative of the MichFest critics and people like her were erased.
It’s true that she may have risked rejection. I don’t know what the atmosphere is like, and lesbians aren’t more enlightened on trans issues than anybody else. And, as in any other group, there are some dykes who are hardcore trans-haters, including a number who deny the transgender experience, explaining that trans women are just effeminate men who refuse to accept their femininity and are trying to extend their male privilege into the female domain.
The biggest difference, in this debate, anyway, is that most lesbians, including the organizers of MichFest, have made a big effort to distance themselves as fast as they can from these trans-deniers and bigots. Lesbians are so eager to condemn transphobia that we’ll even attack each other to prove our bona fides. A number of lesbian organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights were persuaded to sign a petition boycotting lesbian artists who were going to appear at MichFest, though some, including NCLR and its director Kate Kendell, later reconsidered.
Tellingly, while everybody rushes to denounce the transphobia of MichFest, few have emerged to defend lesbians from the resulting dyke-baiting. No one is willing to talk about lesbian issues at all, including why MichFest existed in the first place. Why? Because Vogel refuses to renounce her belief that women (however that is defined) deserve their own space? Where female bodies and experiences can be central and they can relinquish the daily burden of misogyny and abuse…?
Is it all too dykey? Too… essentialist for the post-feminist, post-queer year of 2015? Before you write a comment full of sneers and snark, tell me, just what has changed? Not misogyny. Not violence. Not the attacks on female bodies. Unless men have quit raping women this week, quit killing us at home and in the street, quit dissecting the voice and hair and thighs of the few women who venture into politics.
Half the women I know have PTSD from a life of having a cunt and tits in public. Why wouldn’t some women need a breather, a woman, womyn, wimmin-only space? Men don’t know what it’s like. Even trans women don’t know what a lifetime of it is like. How could they? Which is why it would be nice if we could chill out and talk about all this, how our lives intersect, even if they aren’t identical. We could maybe even talk about how dyke-baiting isn’t good for any woman, trans women included. Turn down that sleazeball on the corner, whaddaya get called? A dyke.
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.