This August, Camp Trans and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival announced changes in a 14-year struggle over the explicit exclusion of transgender womyn from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) is the largest and longest-running women’s separatist music festival in the world, started in 1976 in rural Michigan. MWMF emerged from the radical women’s community of the 1970s and encompasses a wide range of women and a wide range of political views. In recent years, MWMF has been criticized for what some see as regressive ideas about gender, self-identification and separatist space.
In 1991, a trans woman was kicked out of the music festival in an event that would become historic. The MWMF created an official policy specifying that the festival is for ‘womyn-born-womyn’ only, and asking that anyone not identifying as a ‘womon-born-womon’ not attend the events arguing that women who were born and raised as women share a common experience and thus need separate space. Since 1994, Camp Trans has been staging protests and cultural events directly across the road from the entry gate to the MWMF, with the explicit goal of changing this policy. Camp Trans believes that all self-identified women should be welcome at the festival. Camp Trans’ tactics have ranged from direct education work with festival attendees, to a national boycott campaign pressuring artists and performers not to play at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Camp Trans has also emerged as its own yearly festival, drawing 100-200 participants each year for music and workshops focused in transgender communities. A variety of artists and activists have spoken out in support of trans inclusion in recent years, including the Indigo Girls, Emi Koyama (www.eminism.org) and author Michelle Tea.
This past August, two transgender women bought tickets at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival gates, stated that they were trans women, and were permitted into the festival by the women working at the gate. Camp Trans responded to this event with a press release proclaiming the struggle to be over, and celebrating unity between Camp Trans, and supporters of trans inclusion within the festival. (see the release at: http://camptrans.squarespace.com/latest-news/2006/8/21/camp-trans-press-release.html) The festival responded with a press release contradicting Camp Trans’ message. According to MWMF owner and proprietor Lisa Vogel, “if a transwoman purchased a ticket, it represents nothing more than that womon choosing to disrespect the stated intention of this Festival.” Vogel’s basis for continued exclusion of trans women is also articulated: “I ask that you respect that womon born womon is a valid and honorable gender identity.” (see the release at: http://www.intraa.org/story/mwmfpolicyrebuttal)
It is unclear which of these naratives will end up being more accurate regarding the festival in the coming year but the understanding of gender in radical communites is changing According to Camp trans organizer Jessica Snodgrass, “this is not about winning. 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.”