Dyke-Baiting, Trans-Hating, and the MichFest Debacle

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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.

A Dyke Abroad

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.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

InternationalDyke says:
Kelly, thanks for this article! Well written and to the point.
May 1, 2015, 3:35 pm
graceaware says:
Thank you for casting a spot light on the harassment of dykes and lesbophobia aimed at MWMF. It's deplorable that lesbian organizations would take a stand <against> an event that honors, normalises and centralizes lesbians. It is equally deplorable that the LGBT community as a whole not only does not defend against the bullying of the event, but participates in the bullying. Thanks for speaking up
May 1, 2015, 3:38 pm
kbrown says:
admirably stated!
May 1, 2015, 3:54 pm
Tanya says:
Thank you! I appreciate your voice amidst the hate, thank you for voicing what so many of us believe so eloquently.
May 1, 2015, 4:20 pm
papusa molina says:
May 1, 2015, 4:24 pm
sarah says:
I actually got a tear in my eye reading your article. It feels very emotional to finally see some press coming through that seeks truth, and says the hard, yet obvious things. I appreciate your bravery in coming forward to write this truth. Good on you.
May 1, 2015, 4:52 pm
Michfest lover! says:
Not to diminish you calling out dyke-baiting where it's appeared in blogs or mainstream would be good to talk to more folks who've been more directly involved. Yes, Michfest ejected a transwoman in the 90's, which started this whole debacle. And yes, transwomen have attended. But often they've attended "under the radar" (ie secretly) or if they've been open they've met with marked hostility. Online, some transwomen attendees have been doxed (had their personal information/names/photos published by those who are very angry about their attendance). Michfest has been an amazing space for women & lesbians, but the treatment of transwomen is a major reason why many non-transwomen & lesbians stopped attending. As people who've experienced discrimination based on our gender presentation & sexuality, many of us couldn't stand by and watch transwomen, who've fought so hard for the right to be called women, to be excluded...and spoken about in ignorant & hateful ways. It's sad that a middle ground couldn't be found to save this amazing, private spot where women can feel safety & pride.
May 1, 2015, 4:58 pm
But mason says:
Excellent article! Well done and thank you!!
May 1, 2015, 5:40 pm
@Wendy71x says:
Here is the point. As long as female lives in a violent, misogynist world is being denied and erased by the many people attacking MichFest, there cannot be a dialogue, as Vogel has stated. When female only spaces are wanted and needed, this should be respected. All that happened was the attack of, often misogynist, (trans) people, which is the anti thesis of MichFest. Its in fact, ironically, what MichFest is for to be away from, for a week. This entire thing showed me how much misogyny against females is very alive and people will do anything to destroy such spaces.
May 1, 2015, 5:53 pm
cathiaw says:
the privilege to deny and extend and continue discrimination, great job folks. you are not here to take your hurt out on others. injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
May 1, 2015, 6:31 pm
@Wendy71x says:
'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.'
May 1, 2015, 6:35 pm
tessa rooney says:
May 1, 2015, 7:44 pm
Brenda Turney says:
Thank you for your passion and thoughtfulness. Thank you for knowing this is too important not to speak out about!
May 1, 2015, 8:21 pm
guest says:
Thanks for the thoughtful analysis.
May 1, 2015, 9:24 pm
theemkd says:
May 1, 2015, 9:31 pm
WADyke says:
Thanks for your journalistic integrity and trying to report on the whole story...not just the loudest...
May 1, 2015, 10:05 pm
dix marie says:
thank you for presenting a more realistic framework.
May 1, 2015, 10:18 pm
Daralyn Maxwell says:
The statement at the end............Even trans women don’t know what a lifetime of it is so dead-on I can't understand why more trans women (I am one, btw) can't master that simple concept. It seems that there are two diametrically opposed thoughts on entry into Michfest, depending on who you (think you) are. On the one hand are the women for whom Michigan was developed; creating a safe space for whatever reason. THAT ALONE should be enough and any human being without a sense of irrespective entitlement would understand that. I think that sometimes the rhetoric gets a little repetitious and far flung, with denial of the rights of trans women to exist and some drum beating about gay men, etc. I also get that defensiveness leads all of us to make statements that, under other less strenuous circumstances, we might not put out there. Then of course there are my alleged sisters, some of whom make ME want to smack them silly. From my own perspective there are so many reasons I can't bring them all in here. So I will just repeat what I often opine as the biggest problem........JUST BECAUSE YOU MAKE A DECLARATION doesn't mean the world has to fall to its knees and bow before you! I know from much anecdotal experience that many trans women use Michigan as a validator; I MUST be a woman since I was at Michfest. But you went there in fear, in the closet, and terrified of discovery. I have never been to Michfest; I'm sure I could tag along with friends if I wanted but their reasons for being there are in some ways beyond my comprehension BECAUSE OF THAT STATEMENT MADE AT THE END OF THE ESSAY! We, ALL trans women, have not lived a life that created an emotional environment requiring a space like Michigan, a SAFE space. Not enough trans women GET how important that is or why, because of OUR experiences. As much as I understand it, I will never own it because of the messed up circumstances of my own existence. So rather than force my way into someone else's safe space I live in mine. I live with friends who are on the fence about acceptance; if they don't like my personality that's a different story. But MY reality is that I can't hold the women's community responsible for their anger towards the trans women population; if trans women would DITCH THE ENTITLEMENT and 'learn the lay of the land' then perhaps more might actually understand how this whole situation has become far less than cordial!
May 1, 2015, 10:41 pm
Michelle says:
Darslyn, you are a wise woman indeed!
May 1, 2015, 11:34 pm
Burn says:
Thank you for speaking the truth so clearly. Such a bitter irony that Michigan Womyns Music Fest should be brought down by the fury of those who started their lives as men.
May 1, 2015, 11:48 pm
Carolyn says:
I never yet met a person with an anti-Fest bias who knew the facts. Here they are:
May 1, 2015, 11:58 pm
Vicki says:
I've been having a hard time trying to reason to myself why I have been uncomfortable re transwomen in lesbian space and Kelly has helped me understand it better. And Daralyn, you have also done an excellent job explaining and helping me understand also. I think you'd make a good friend. Thanks to you both.
May 2, 2015, 12:03 am
Goddessboi Planetlove says:
Thanks!!! This truth is so important! the violent language and bulling toward fest and those who attend has gone un challenged and allowed and even supported by major lgbtqia organizations. Its hard to believe all these years, like 24 yrs the hate could go un challenged and no leadership, none, nobody could stand for lesbian culture And agree to disagree and call for an end of the violent language and bulling!even in this democracy Not one! Cowards
May 2, 2015, 12:06 am
kate says:
It's true that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. But is this really unjust? I dunno.. is it discriminatory for an underclass to create its own space? Is it possible that space penetration by men who desire to be women is unjust to women? Especially when the vision of "what it means to be a woman" is often highly sexually objectified and fetishized (in accordance with patriarchal gender roles) in male-to-"female" expression? Why are women always expected to sacrifice themselves, their space, their needs, their comfort.. for others? Where are all the female to "male" folks fighting for access to the Free Masons and all those men-only societies? I doubt they ever even think about it, because FEMALES ARE SOCIALIZED to not be entitled to anything.
May 2, 2015, 12:18 am
kate says:
Thank you for your clarity and compassion. Much respect to you, Darslyn.
May 2, 2015, 12:23 am
big up says:
Michigan was not "brought down" by anybody. Lisa Vogel did this thing for 40 years, she is retiring. I'm sure the constant barrage by LGBT media didn't help, but Michigan wasn't brought down anymore than the Lexington Club in SF was. Let's give LV credit for her work and what she has done.
May 2, 2015, 12:54 am
big up says:
Thank you for this article. Thank you for getting that Lisa Vogel understands that trans women are women and that female experience is real and that the two are not mutually exclusive experiences.
May 2, 2015, 12:56 am
Vicki Randle says:
thank you for this sober and compassionate viewpoint and the skill with which you gave it.
May 2, 2015, 4:04 am
jamiebobamie says:
Thank you, Kelly, for a clear, concise and fair article. Thank you also to Daralyn. It is refreshing to hear from a trans woman who gets it.
May 2, 2015, 6:52 am
judith says:
Daralyn, the current irrational face of transactivism hides sisters like you from me, tho I know they are out there. I am grateful beyond description to hear what you have to say.
May 2, 2015, 7:41 am
M Winterfalcon says:
Daralyn, This is the first time I have heard a trans person ever state what you said. Thank you!
May 2, 2015, 8:53 am
Andrea Bowen says:
Thank you.
May 2, 2015, 9:39 am
kelly says:
Thank you.
May 2, 2015, 1:09 pm
Tina Gianoulis says:
I really appreciate this thoughtful article--sometimes it seems to me that women's space existed for about a minute (always under attack) before being almost utterly erased by those we least expected it from--our ideological children--the next generation of queers. i would think that trans folk would understand better than anyone the need for safe refuge with those who understand your life experience and your oppression--a sad commentary on our depressing human tendency to attack rather than understand.
May 2, 2015, 3:14 pm
amanda says:
"Fought so hard for the right to be called women" - that is a key phrase, which to me indicates that trans people with this struggle, and their allies, should get together for mutual support. If you have experienced discrimination and harrassment, then how about having some empathy (women are known for their empathy, after all) with wbw who have fought so hard to survive as women in a mysoginist world. That is why wbw need space to heal for one week out of each year.
May 2, 2015, 8:57 pm
Diane Lee Patalano says:
Time is needed for reorganization on many levels. Something even better will reemerge if there is a need and 'real' inte'rest.
May 2, 2015, 11:44 pm
Deborah Jackson says:
Right on, sister.
May 3, 2015, 8:32 am
Laura says:
I have attended michfest for 27 years. I am not sure I would know a trans woman from a lesbian who identifies more male looking ( according to our society rules). I have thought I was on workshifts with a couple of (wo)-men. Not bothered by it, and I wish it was not such a big issue. It has been my personal observation that usually however these issues get solved, or worked on, in that microcosm we called michfest is how they get resolved in the larger world, so I was hoping for a great outcome that is inclusive for everyone for obvious reasons. Thanks for your article. It's refreshing to read one that is not hate oriented. That festival has been a staple for 4 generations of women in my family as a wonderful refuge once a year to explore, grow, dance, laugh, cry, and express ourselves without judgement. i will sorely miss it and so will my grand daughters.
May 3, 2015, 10:06 am
naturalbornwoman says:
Daralyn Maxwell: "I know from much anecdotal experience that many trans women use Michigan as a validator; I MUST be a woman since I was at Michfest.". There it is, the truth of the matter.... Natal women, with all the baggage natal womanhood confers, must cede their one week of safe space so [wo]men can feel validated. And, lesbians are obliged to sleep with [wo]men for the same reason. If this isn't misogyny at a new low, what is? Thanks for the reality-based comment, Daralyn Maxwell.
May 3, 2015, 4:29 pm
dingo says:
Interesting comment.
May 4, 2015, 1:56 pm
dudeliketotally says:
Michfest died of self inflicted wounds. I have mixed feelings about the way it ended up becoming such a target, because generally I believe in punching up and for Michfest was hardly large or powerful enough to deserve all the hate it got, but still, as a trans guy who IDed as a lesbian for about twenty years of my life, the only thing I ever heard about Michfest was how transphobic it was. That could have easily been prevented if, back in the 90s, the organizers had come out strongly in support of trans rights and the inclusion of trans women soon after the incident.
May 4, 2015, 7:13 pm
Gary Carnivele says:
You're all missing the important fact that no one other than the individual gets to decide their gender. This is not about dyke-baiting or about how women are treated, it is about how MichFest has decided to treat trans-women. I have never heard of a 'man's event' ejecting a trrans-man. Of course that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I believe this article isn't truly dealing with the most important aspect of this controversy. MichFest mishandled this from the beginning and stood by their belief that they get to decide who is a 'real' woman. That is something that should be celebrated under no circumstances. As for those artists who continued to perform at this event, no matter how few their numbers, they should explain their decision to do so. I am open to hearing what they have to say and may be convinced that they have valid reasons. However, as it stands ,I view them, like the organizers of Mich Fest, as anti-trans.
May 15, 2015, 2:18 pm
dkc says:
Actually, trans men have fought for and won access to a whole host of male only spaces! I can't speak to the Free Masons because I have never had a desire to join, but all gay male spaces i know of (bathhouses, clubs, the radical faeries) all welcome trans men with open arms. The boy scouts continue to hold out, which is somewhat ironic considering the girl scouts are welcoming to trans girls, while most adult lesbian spaces continue to discriminate against their trans sisters.
May 21, 2015, 3:41 pm
@Wendy71x says:
What I hear from a few detransitioned trans men is that born males often see them as women. The point is, as Vogel has stated, the misogyny coming from anti MichFest female only space advocates. There is erasure by them of female born women, of specific female issues, lesbophobia etc. Vogel has stated it is this misogyny that deadlocks any further discussion. Trans women should look at themselves and often abusive behavior to women. As MichFest is a place to exactly be away from that, understandably there cannot be space for misogynistic people.
May 21, 2015, 4:05 pm
Jessica says:
"Even trans women don’t know what a lifetime of it is like." Oh, yes many do. I've had the exact same things happen to me and I hate it to. One doesn't need an entire lifetime of abusivness from males to know what it's like. Several years of it is more than enough for any women.
June 13, 2015, 8:32 pm
Chris Winters says:
Let's be honest here, the behavior of "radical lesbian feminist" Cathy Brennan is what inflamed the hostility towards Michfest and ultimately killed it. Brennan's libeling and doxing of hundreds of people, trans and otherwise, who mean her no harm, her contacting of trans people's schools, employers and physicians is deplorable behavior. Brennan claims that "hundreds" of transwomen are "harassing" her, but her Twitter feed reveals that she intentionally provokes and taunts those who "harass" her. No one has done more harm to Michfest, or to the lesbian community, than Cathy Brennan.
July 9, 2015, 3:06 pm
tweekx says:
It didnt matter, when women want spaces for females only, theyre harassed. When lesbians say, also NON radical feminist lesbians, we wont date transwomen cause male biology and balls, we are harassed too. Its quite dishonest to blame all of transwomen activists behavior on Cathy Brennan. In fact, its a cop out of the TA's own responsibilities.
July 9, 2015, 5:54 pm
Chris Winters says:
Maybe you should all stop being so nasty. I don't date trans people either but I continue to support their rights and they continue to support mine. Anti-trans lesbians have been nasty and hateful. You have sowed what you reap. You all remind me of the great line from Torch Song Trilogy: "you pushed me out of your life and then blamed me for not being there." Oh, and you're not entitled to woman only spaces. Likewise, men are not entitled to men only spaces. It's called equality. Its what you asked for. deal with it.
July 10, 2015, 8:53 am
Daralyn Maxwell says:
M Winterfalcon - We met many years ago, when I first came into the women's community where I live. There was (some) resistance to me then; less so today but there are still women/womyn who only want to see the coding on a birth certificate as the (il)legitimacy of another human being. It's sad but I can't change that, and apparently not enough of my own "sisters" (if I DO have to take responsibility for them) want to see that their upbringing disallows them from the reality of life-long sublimation and predation. What a sad state of affairs.
July 10, 2015, 10:46 am
Daralyn Maxwell says:
Stalwarthy - Please don't mistake my remarks and observations as capitulation that I am a lesser mortal. As I see it, the problem becomes more complicated when the issue becomes a matter of who's pain is greater. I absolutely do not refute the validity of WHY Michigan is important; I wish more womyn would come to accept (at least intellectually) that some of us trans women have waded equally treacherous waters to be able to get where we are now. And wouldn't *I* just love a place where I could commune with the Earth and celebrate my own uniqueness. The problem comes in when you take the complexity of trans identification. So many choose to assume a role rather then being genuine; embracing stereotypes as opposed to being true to themselves. *I* find it especially annoying and speaks badly for the current claims of being your "authentic self" wen you pretty much repudiate everything that you were up to the point where you 'crossed the line'.
July 10, 2015, 10:55 am
Daralyn Maxwell says:
Burn - I absolutely agree, and want to add that if trans women had better guidance as to 'becoming' then perhaps this catastrophe wouldn't be so final. But please..........all of you...........remember that not ALL trans women are cut from the same cloth. Just as we are asked to recognize you for the unique HUMANS that you are, TRY and separate the chaff from the wheat and see that some of us trans women are truly on the same page.
July 10, 2015, 10:58 am
Daralyn Maxwell says:
The world would be such a better and safer place if different people weren't required to "get it".
July 10, 2015, 10:59 am
Daralyn Maxwell says:
Tina - That IS a two way street and repudiating trans women wholesale does nothing to mend the massive rift between the two populations.
July 10, 2015, 11 am
Dusty says:
Oh, and you're not entitled to woman only spaces. Likewise, men are not entitled to men only spaces. It's called equality. Its what you asked for. deal with it. You also can't be demanding 'female-only' spaces when you act against male ones (like the boys-only science class that was protested against by a girl and which lead to her being let into it recently in Ontario.)
July 17, 2015, 3:04 pm
Daralyn Maxwell says:
AS A TRANS own perspective on this is not so cut & dried. MichFest was created to create a safe space for women. The problem arose when some trans activists felt it was more important to "crash the party" than to abide by the rules. Am *I* inflamed that I was technically disallowed from attending? Yep! In my own self awareness, did I feel ENTITLED to disregard the wishes of the organizers of a private event and make a political statement by "infiltrating" this space? Not on a bet! IN MY OWN SELF AWARENESS..........I am not so bold as to think that just because I claim something that it MUST be universally accepted. That is not, by the way, as saying that I am a second-class citizen. It's just that I understand, probably better than most, why places like Michigan needed to exist. For a number of years, I advocated that trans women who felt a need to be in women's space could attend the National women's Music Festival, a far more inclusive event that welcomes trans women with open arms. Did the trans warriors avail themselves of THAT? Nope! They continued to staff Camp Trans outside of the gates of the private property upon which was held the private function MWMF. They felt ENTITLED to get in; that rationale alone would have been enough for me to not want to have anything to do with them. It's one thing to advocate for parity between natal women and trans women, or between trans women and society in general but there as to be a point where a PRIVATE gathering gets to remain private and one's own agenda does not super cede that!
July 18, 2015, 1:35 pm
Chris says:
Something needs to be done about the Cathy Brennan problem. Brennan's lies and hate have hurt people which is clearly her intention. Lesbians: WAKE UP!! Brennan doesn't give a shit about you. Thousands of people are turning against the women's community because of Brennan's behavior. Attention-whore Brennan doesn't care. She has hurt lesbians as much as she's hurt transgenders.
July 18, 2015, 2:39 pm
Jessica Sideways says:
Even though such a space is predicated on cis privilege?
Nov. 7, 2015, 3:03 pm
Jessica Sideways says:
Because here's the thing: trans women are born women, the whole "wbw" thing is an effort to exclude other women. Why should we have empathy for those who want to deny who we are at our very core? Why should we have empathy for those who use misogyny to exclude other women just because they're transgender?
Nov. 7, 2015, 3:04 pm
Jessica Sideways says:
"is it discriminatory for an underclass to create its own space?" If they create it on the basis of discrimination, yes. It's not "men who desire to be women" but rather, women. How is it "unjust" for other women to go into a space that advertises itself as being "for women"? Would you accept this if the discrimination is against black women? Or women of size? Or women who are immigrants? Or Muslim women? Why is it acceptable to discriminate against trans women, then?
Nov. 7, 2015, 3:08 pm

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