Monday, September 4, 2006

The L‘s Versus the T‘s

You may well have heard of the Michigan Womyn‘s Music Festival. After all, it‘s been taking place each summer since 1976. For one week, lesbians flock to the northern Michigan woods to listen to music and revel in an all-female atmosphere.

It sounds wonderful. But Phyllis Schlafly is more likely to go than I am. Tents, mosquitoes and communal bathing are my idea of an anti-vacation. So I‘m content to include myself out of Michigan.

Other women are being asked to self-select themselves out of the festival, and they‘re not happy about it. I‘m speaking of transgender women. In my view, if they‘re willing to put up with night after night in clammy sleeping bags that may also house creatures with extravagant leg counts, I say let ‘em attend.

For some years transgender women and their supporters have set up Camp Trans, a protest across the road from the festival. In a press release issued after the festival‘s close in August, Camp Trans said that each year one of its number walks to the festival gate, says she is trans, and asks for a ticket. The box office‘s role in this performance is to refuse, and hand over a copy of the policy.

Until this summer. “This time, the response was, ‘cash or credit?‘“ reported Camp Trans organizer Jessica Snodgrass. “They said the festival has no policy barring any woman from attending.“

Camp Trans rejoiced in print, in a restrained, ladylike sort of way. “This is not about winning,“ said Snodgrass. “It‘s about making our communities whole again. The policy divided people against each other who could be fighting on the same side. We want to be part of the healing process.“

Before so much as a pimple could heal, festival founder and producer Lisa Vogel released a statement “to correct misinformation“ distributed by the trans campers.

“Since 1976, the Michigan Womyn‘s Music Festival has been created by and for womyn-born womyn, that is, womyn who were born as and have lived their entire life experience as womyn. Despite claims to the contrary by Camp Trans organizers, the Festival remains a rare and precious space intended for womyn-born womyn.“

Calling Dr. Kissinger. We have a conflict in the wilds of Michigan that needs your attention stat.

In her release, Vogel said the box office told the trans folks the festival is meant for “womyn-born womyn,“ and would-be entrants are asked to honor that. Michigan‘s attitude hasn‘t changed, said Vogel. “If a transwoman purchased a ticket, it represents nothing more than that womon choosing to disrespect the stated intention of this Festival.“

If I have to cope with one more fanciful spelling of “woman,“ this reporter is breakdown-bound.

More to the point, I agree with Mara Keisling, leader of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who told D.C.‘s Metro Weekly that “it‘s a very insidious form of discrimination. (Vogel) is saying you‘ll discriminate against yourself if you‘re good.“

It‘s discrimination Nancy Reagan could get behind: “Just say no—to yourself.“

Vogel has allowed that this is in part a generational issue, and I can understand the frustration of older lesbians who worked long and hard for safe spaces, only to be told to share with those they might see as pretend or pseudo-women.

But transwomen face so much discrimination; that we dykes should provide more is ironic, wrong, and gives me hives.

I suspect another part of the problem is the yuck factor, the discomfort around those who play fast and loose with their anatomy. Well, remember that we‘re in the process of demanding the larger world get over its yuck factor where gays are concerned.

Finally, this animosity cannot make for good vibes in northern Michigan. Soon the mosquitoes will start to complain.

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