It’s still almost five months away but the yearly online backlash against Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has begun in earnest. Yesterday one of the confirmed acts, Hunter Valentine, announced that they would be pulling out due to the festival’s female-only policy.
Hunter Valentine are a band full of vagina-having, vagina-loving lesbians. I know this because I saw some of them having vaginas and loving vaginas when they were on The Real L Word and it was pretty explicit and kind of gross. I’m willing to bet everything I own that every single one of those ladies knows the difference between a vagina and a penis.
The band published a more detailed statement on their Facebook page that I will reproduce here (bold mine): –
After much thought, hard conversation and inner struggle, Hunter Valentine has decided that we will not be playing Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival 2014.
We had the pleasure and privilege of playing MichFest a couple of years ago and we were blown away with the capacity at which people welcomed us and made us feel at home. We had never played a festival that had such a history and held such a strong and firm identity in itself.
We as a band have always felt that it was important to us that our live shows would represent a very open, diverse and inclusive space. Our goal since we started was to play for as many people as possible that would listen and make those people feel like they were a part of a community.
We understand and appreciate that the festival maintains the stance of celebrating women, and as a band of strong women we also celebrate the gender that we are. The issue with us playing Michigan Womyn’s Festival lies in how we do now, and always have believed that the term women includes transgender women. In our mind the term “trans” should not be a label that alienates. We have always felt and identified as positive trans allies and feel that playing the festival would directly contradict our beliefs that a trans woman is a woman and should be seen, respected and treated as such.
We apologize to any fans that we may have let down and would like to thank the festival for inviting us back to be a part of it. Hopefully we will be back to play the MichFest stage when things are a little different and there is more room for open minds and change.
So, Hunter Valentine “feel like” and “identif[y]” as “positive trans allies” and because of this, they have decided to forego the opportunity to be involved in an lesbian-centred, women-only, uplifting, healing space. Too bad for them, I guess. It doesn’t really concern me that Hunter Valentine pulled out of Michfest. I can’t afford to go this year (or probably any year) and I’m not a huge fan of their music. There’s tons of other awesome acts lined up and I’m sure everyone will have a great time regardless. Whatevs, yanno?
What does bother me is how Hunter Valentine, like the Indigo Girls last year, are framing their objections to the intention of the festival. Both groups cited their reason for pulling out or threatening to pull out as a lack of inclusiveness from the fest’s organizers. The Indigo Girls and Hunter Valentine both state that their audiences are ‘diverse’ and that they want their shows to be welcoming to all. I totally get that. Y’all gotta put food on the table at the end of the day so you want as many people as possible to come to your shows. That’s totally understandable. My problem is with the framing being used. The implication here is that MichFest is not diverse and is not welcoming to all and from what I’ve observed from this year’s programme, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
For instance, the pricing options for MichFest tickets are on a sliding scale. The producers have stated that even if the lowest price is unaffordable, women should contact the festival organizers and work something out. MichFest seems like it’s pretty inclusive of poor women.
The campsite and festival are are fully wheelchair accessible and there are various resources onsite that disabled women can avail themselves of. There are 12 step meetings and peer-to-peer counselling and all women can access basic first aid and healthcare. MichFest seems like it’s pretty inclusive of women who have disabilities or mental health issues.
There are spaces set apart specifically for women of colour and the festival operates a Womyn of Color travel fund which allows many low-income women, who wouldn’t otherwise have the ability, to attend. Seems like MichFest is also pretty inclusive of women of colour.
I could go on an on about inclusivity. Lisa Vogel – the festival’s founder and producer – had this to say about the festival’s intention in 2013:
The Festivat, for a single precious week, is intended for womyn who at birth were deemed female, who were raised as girls, and who identify as womyn. I believe that womyn-born-womyn is a lived experience which constitutes its own gender identity.
As we struggle around the question of inclusion of trans womyn at the Festival, we use the word intention very deliberately. Michigan holds this particular lived experience of womanhood as honorable, meaningful, unique and rich. Our intention has always been coupled with the radical commitment to never ask any womon’s gender. We ask the greater community to respect this intention, and to value the complexity and validity of every gender identity, including that of WBW. The onus is on each individual to choose whether or how to respect that intention.
That’s so diplomatic I almost can’t even deal with it. Lisa Vogel is a more nuanced woman than I. It’s difficult to argue against what Lisa is saying here because it’s so damned reasonable. She’s acknowledging and validating the ‘womynhood’ of trans ‘womyn’ (which I refuse to do) and putting the onus on to them to respect women’s boundaries. MichFest’s policy does not exclude trans women, it simply asks them to respect the intention.
What trans women have done in response, is say, “Oh my God, you have asked me politely to respect a boundary and leave a bunch of women alone in the woods for a week?! This is OUTRAGEOUS!” and, instead of respecting the boundary or not respecting the boundary, have loudly called for the boundary to be cast aside.
This histrionic behaviour serves to set trans women up as the justified injured party. They are respecting the boundary. They’re just letting it be known that they think the boundary is oppressive because it’s really not fair that they’re left out of one week in one forest in one part of the world. To hear trans women activists go on, you’d think that Lisa Vogel started the festival in 1978 specifically to exclude trans women. You’d think that every year, a few thousand of the most penis-phobic, hateful bigots on the planet made a pilgrimage to bigot Mecca where they take off their clothes and dance around, cackling, exerting their cis privilege, and plotting the death of every trans woman in the world. You would think that there are armed guards on the festival’s front gate performing random spot checks and looking inside women’s underwear to make sure they have a vagina. There’s actually none of this. There’s just a bunch of women of every age, race, sexuality, ability, and socio-ecomonic class, who want to get together with other women and just be women for a while. That’s it.
The intention of MichFest is not to exclude trans women. MichFest has absolutely nothing to do with trans women and everything to do with actual women. It provides a space for women to relax away from the prying eyes of men. It affords women the experience of living and working together as a female-centred community. It means women are able to get drunk and stumble back to their tents in the dark and not have to worry about becoming a victim of male violence. It allows gender-nonconforming women some breathing space where they can have a whole week without having their femaleness called into question while using a women’s bathroom or changing area. It gives survivors of rape and sexual assault a place where they can begin to come to terms with themselves with the support and encouragement of their sisters. These are all valuable and sorely-needed experiences.
Framing MichFest’s intention as being about transphobia and exclusion is disingenuous at the best interpretation and a bare-faced lie at the worst. Women need to stop being so afraid and so accommodating and we need to start supporting women-only space or we’re going to lose it. We need to know that we have a right to define our own space and who we want in it. It’s not actually up for negotiation.
Someone on Twitter the other day said, “The first and most basic woman-only space is her body.” This really resonated with me. All women have the right to declare their bodies a woman-only space. They can do this by choosing to remain celibate or choosing to only share her body with other women. When women have asserted this boundary, men have gotten upset and started their cotton ceiling and their “having my penis inside you is different to having a man’s penis inside you!” nonsense. If women aren’t even allowed to define their own bodies as woman-only space, we’re definitely not going to be allowed to claim any sort of land or physical space.
But men have prohibited women from doing stuff since men and women existed. We never used to be allowed to wear jeans but then some brave women just started doing it anyway, and gradually things changed and now everyone has a pair of jeans.
I don’t care if a certain percentage of women in the world don’t want to participate in women-only space. That’s their loss as far as I’m concerned. What I do care about is ensuring that women who do want access to this space are able to get it. And honestly I expect other women, and especially lesbians, to have my back there. And they don’t. The rebranding of feminism to mean ‘equality’ gives young women cause to think that means men have equal right to be in our spaces. They don’t.
I’m disappointed Hunter Valentine chose to use their platform to denigrate and degrade women-only space and reframe the issue so the focus is back on what men want and how we should defer to them. If you don’t want to be a part of a women-only community, that’s cool. Don’t be. But to try to persuade others from autonomously forming their own? That’s not cool. That’s actually kinda shitty.
Women are entitled to their space. They need to take it.