I came out in 1990. I was sixteen years old. The term “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” gave me a certain power as I walked the hallways of my rural high school with my favorite girl. It spoke to a knowing that I had community, and that I had decided to not be ashamed – even as said girl and I got shoved around, verbally harassed and punished by our parents. It provided me with a slogan that made me feel like I had strength in numbers. It gave me a framework to understand and celebrate my outsider status.
That was more than half my lifetime ago now. Since then, I have been deeply involved in the issues of my LGBT community. I have spoken on LGBT panels at high schools and in churches. I have done AIDS outreach in bars and on railroad tracks. I have organized rallies. I have attended rallies. I have donated money. I have attended too many vigils for our dead. I have sat through endless coalition meetings. I have celebrated with you. I have mourned with you. I have shown up. I am not bringing this up for the sake of being self-congratulatory. I am bringing this up to say that this community raised me. And to say that I never imagined I would find myself standing on what appears to be the wrong side of the line with this community– especially as it relates to our shared and unique LGBT liberation movements. Then I fell in love with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
Like many women who love the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, I have been deeply troubled over what is happening within the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. Yes, we are wrestling with a definition of woman that upholds the significance of socialized experience as well as self-identification. No, this has not been easy. We are a community of women with a lot of varying thoughts, beliefs and convictions. We do our best to listen to one another respectfully. We have been called upon by women inside of our community and by the larger community to examine the boundaries of our autonomous space. We are doing that, pretty much 24 hours a day. I can guarantee you that no other conscious community is working harder or thinking more about the politics of women’s autonomous space than the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. We have engaged each other in heated conversations, we have brought one another to tears at times, and some of us have made the very hard decision to step away while some of us have made an even deeper commitment to the sustainability of the festival regardless of our position on the inclusion of trans identified women at the festival. In the context of these interactions, there is a general understanding that while two women may not agree on this topic (or the myriad of others that have come up over the years),that each woman has a common love and respect for the festival and a desire to contribute to the community in a way that will benefit everyone involved. I have friends who have told me that while they may disagree with me, that they love and respect me all the more for my participation and voice in our discussions. I feel their love and respect. I believe them. And I love and respect them back.
For the most part, I have chosen to engage with friends and in face-to-face conversations with people in my community rather than lend my voice to the multitude of threads and “debates” about the festival that are taking place all over the Internet. I have had a couple experiences recently that have changed my mind.
The first of these experiences was reading an article that was recently published in “The Advocate” entitled “Is It Wrong to Play Michfest?” In this article, the producer of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was referred to as a “liar” and compared to George Wallace. There is a loud voice in our LGBT community that is actively calling for the villainization and defamation of a woman who has devoted her entire adult life and career to building up, creating and sustaining a place of safety, strength and celebration of the women who make up a large percentage of the LGBT community. The effort to erase her work and reduce her legacy to that of a public enemy of the LGBT community, a “bigot” and a“false feminist” (are you kidding me?!) is ridiculous, cruel, appalling and simply not acceptable. Whether you agree with her feminist politics or not, Lisa Vogel deserves a whole hell of a lot more respect than that.
Then I received a series of private messages on Facebook in response to a statement I publically posted on a page called “Allies in Understanding” The first message simply said, “I am anti-Michigan and I did not like your post.” Another that said “Not at all” and another claiming “We will succeed at tearing that place down”. It is relevant to mention that nowhere in my post did I even make mention of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. It is not the first time I have heard the term “anti-Michigan” or seen threats about “tearing it down”. Those messages did get me thinking though and they ultimately inspired me to write this letter.
Yes, this is addressed to the person who sent me those messages, but I am also addressing this to the larger LGBT community. Why? Because recently there has been a tremendous amount of very bad behavior that is being celebrated, supported and carried out in the name of LGBT activism. I am addressing this to the larger community because so many of you have entitled yourself to weigh in on the current controversy surrounding the festival, but almost no one (outside of the Michfest community) has been compelled to speak up when someone has made threats of violence or rape against the women in our shared community – under the name of “equality” and “civil rights”. People in our own LGBT community are calling lesbians “irrelevant”, “stupid”, “outdated” and “un-evolved”. We are being told that we deserve to “be beheaded” and “raped by woman-born-dicks”. We are being invited to “evolve or die”, “fuck off” and to “go die in a fire” and so much more. This abuse is happening in public forums on the Internet and in the comment sections of mainstream LGBT news outlets. No one is saying a damn thing about it, unless it is to say that we have brought this upon ourselves by our own fear and bigotry. Part of the painful irony of these hateful messages is they all come in the name of gaining entrance to a space where women have gone to seek refuge from this kind of hateful messaging, let alone very real threats that often accompany it. My dear LGBT community, how is this acceptable you? Your silence is a betrayal. Your silence makes you complicit in the damage and injury that is being caused. I am holding you accountable.
To reduce and neglect the scope and significance of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the contribution it has made to the lives of thousands of women in the LGBT community is unjust and irresponsible. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is far more than the sum of this current hurtful and divisive situation. For 38 years, The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been a constant evolving exercise in radical hospitality. For thousands upon thousands of women, it has been a place of acceptance, safety and love unparallel to any other place in the world. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is a place that has devoted its entire existence to building community, promoting female artists and empowering women and girls. It has always been and continues to be a place that houses and celebrates all forms of female gender presentation and female bodies. It is a place that has taken itself to task on the issues of racism, classism, ableism and ageism. It is a music festival that has repeatedly forgone corporate sponsors and still manages to provide the nutritious meals that are included in the price of a festival ticket for every single woman who attends. This all-inclusive ticket also entitles every woman on the land to community health care, childcare, emotional support, and workshops. ASL interpreters interpret every set of every single stage at Michfest. Every communal space is wheelchair accessible, made so by women who get on their hands and knees in the blazing sun (or pouring rain) and drive nails into the ground through upside down carpets. Great effort is taken to make sure that every woman on that land knows that she is wanted, that she is welcome and that she is precious among us. It continues to be a place that prioritizes the environment and care for the land that the festival is built on. Every single piece of garbage gets picked up by hand. In the months between festivals there is not a trace of festivity left behind. I almost resisted the urge to contrast this to some of the disgusting messes I have seen in the wake of some of our Dyke Marches and Pride Celebrations, but I will not. We take pride in cleaning up after ourselves. Yes, we have a great time in those woods, but oh how this community has worked and continues to do so.
I am not ashamed of my love for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I am not ashamed of the community of women who embody the spirit of it. There is too much to love, too much to be proud of, too much at stake and too much to work toward still. To me, a larger LGBT community that does not comprehend or acknowledge the value of a place like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has not evolved itself out of the need for it. The erasure of one of the most radical and revolutionary spaces on this earth is not a revolution I will ever embrace. To work towards the extinction of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival with no regard for her legacy, complexity and relevance or history is short sited, selfish and careless. I will work so hard to see that this festival survives any best efforts to “tear it down”. I will do this with my words, my actions and my checkbook, just like this community has taught me to do when something matters deeply.-
YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION TO REPOST THIS IS ITS ENTIRETY-
Cathy Brennan, a lesbian, was attacked at the New York City Dyke March this past weekend by a group of trans women and their supporters, one of whom was an organizer of the march. Cathy was one woman and she was targeted by a group of people, one ringleader of which acknowledges she “lost it.” Cathy used her one voice to speak her own truth and assaulted nobody.
This is despicable behavior, unconscionable and disgusting. To be silent about it when speaking up is possible, to ignore it, to fail to acknowledge it, would be wrong. Hence, this post.