On MichFest and Women Only Space

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.

UntitledHunter 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.

Hunter Valentine

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.

52 thoughts on “On MichFest and Women Only Space

  1. You’ve said this before and I think this is the most pressing piece of all of this hullabaloo regarding the trans issue. Its always about them reframing our needs, our spaces, our autonomy as some kind of assault on them. It puts our energies which should be going to healing, bonding and supporting one another into the gynergy-sucking coddling of male fucking ego. Its nothing but parasitic male vampirism dressed up as social justice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • They do it all the time and it’s so fucking obvious I don’t know how other women don’t see it. Like the whole #sharedgirlhood thing on Twitter and they’re all screaming, “THIS TAG WAS EXPLICITLY DESIGNED TO EXCLUDE TRANS WOMEN WHY DO YOU SPEND ALL YOUR TIME TRYING TO KICK US OUT YOUR TREEHOUSE YOU BITCHES”

      We literally can’t have anything. Men won’t let us have anything, not even our own bodies. These are dark times indeed.


  2. Reblogged this on oopster74 and commented:
    As a musician, I’d like to attend something like Michfest, but, being trans, I’m not welcome there, so, I fail to understand why you say they’re being inclusive when they’re clearly not being inclusive of ALL WOMEN. I get that you don’t want to see pre-op transwomen getting naked, and that could be a simple condition of entry for pre-op transwomen. For post-op transwomen, I don’t see an issue. But this isn’t about excluding transwomen. Isn’t it true that there’s a blanket ban on anyone trans attending? That would mean mtf and ftm, unless that’s something that just hadn’t been properly rebuffed.

    I imagine Michfest for me would be like Marmite in that I’d either really love it or really hate it, but this policy is akin to segregation with whites only and blacks only facilities, which made no logical sense whatsoever and was based entirely on ignorance. I wouldn’t attend Michfest unless I thought I’d be welcome, which I’d clearly not be by the organisers at this time. The bands that have pulled out it decided not to attend are exercising their rights to free speech, which we all have, and I think they put their point as diomatically as Lisa did on behalf of Michfest – I don’t like or agree with her point of view, but she states it calmly and sensibly, which gives me hope that change is possible, however long that may take.


  3. Maybe it’s time for some boycotting of acts who boycott the festival. It’s their right to play the venues that they choose to play, but the statements they make about men being women should not go unanswered. Never mind the unknown acts like Hunter Valentine (who likely cannot even quit their day jobs). How about the Indigo Girls? What would happen if we didn’t buy tickets to their shows and let them know that we do not buy into the ludicrous notion that men should be welcomed as our sisters?


    • Crappy bands like the Indigo Girls have careers only because of lesbians. Period. Men are not women. These guys do not belong there and these stupid women who support shit like this are morons. Brainwashed, cowardly, woman hating morons.

      They’re the types who think if they’re very inclusive that that will be reciprocated. lol. Honey, these guys you’re breaking your neck to defend are laughing at your stupidity and you are stupid!! I wouldn’t care but your stupidity and hatred and lack of thought for women in general affects me.


  4. You might just as well say that mosques, being for Muslims, and simply advertising their purpose as such, are antisemitic because they are not for Jews. Ar any denominational place of worship, the same way..
    But this is about te. Menz entitlement, and all logic /good manners fizzles away to nothing in the face of that.


  5. Females have fought so hard for female-only space. I just heard that the amazing female-only feminism course I did at uni is now admitting trans. This is colonialism. This is male appropriation of female spaces. This is patriarchy.


    • no, it’s equality, it’s treating people with respect. would you rather they let in a bunch of hairy arsed ftm’s with full on beards (sorry for the swear, that’s just the best way to describe them).


      • It would be equality if trans were female. But they’re not. And ‘hairy arsed’ ftms?? They are biologically female, whether they have hairy arses or not.


      • Referring to someone as “hairy arsed” is just an expression for big and burly, it’s a British saying which is why you might not be aware of it, ie “the hairy arsed biker / builder” etc.


      • actually, yes. ftms are women. now go talk about this on yr own blog. you’re not welcome here.


      • Ftm’s aren’t women, and certainly don’t look like women when they sprout full beards, but I’ll make this my last comment.


      • I have a beard and so do many other women I know. Fuck off with your sexist shite.


      • I’m not being sexist here. When I said full on beard, I had something like ZZ Top in mind. I know some women have facial hair, I don’t have an issue with that, why would I?


      • FTM are female but I don’t think they belong there either. They’ve basically abandoned womanhood and many of them are misogynistic assholes anyway. FTM in that class would try and disrupt it. Trans should get their own shit.


      • We’re mammals, yes? Think we all have hairy arses & I’m pretty whiskery myself…


  6. Heaven forbid that women can’t have our own spaces with no explanations and no apologies and all the trans insults and b-words and aggression of the male to trans just proves our point that they are deluded men, and we don’t want anything to do with them. What if lesbians stopped attending Indigo Girls concerts, let them know that they really dissed lesbian nation. Maybe the trans can pay their bills.


  7. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest sounds like an uplifting and an amazing experience :) I am truly saddened that I can never be a part of it, but understand that it is completely reasonable to be this way. Womyn born womyn absolutely have a right to their own spaces, and being genetically male, even if no longer perceived that way, I should have no say in what they define as inclusive.

    Sad that males seem largely unable to accept this. For whatever it’s worth, I’m incredibly embarrassed by them, and sorry from the bottom of my male-priviliged heart.


    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish more posts were as respectful as yours. We need to stop the hate! On both “sides.” (And stop thinking in terms of sides; our opinions are as diverse as we are.) It is appropriate to separate at times to deal with our different experiences of oppression, and necessary as well to come together to learn from each other.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What?! Thank you?! Geezus. Thank you for keeping your thoughts to yourself.

        And than YOU, op, for stroking it. Perfect example of why men are not welcome at MichFest.


    • The thing is, if you WERE there it would no longer be an uplifting and amazing experience. It would become just another place women feel like second-class citizens, oppressed (because you) afraid, wary, editing themselves, judging themselves, splitting into factions, status seeking (yah, some would still do this sucking up to the man: because you’re not a woman and everyone but you knows it). Etc.


      • Red, I appreciate your fervor, but you might want to read my comment again as it seems that we are arriving at the same conclusion :) As I said, I would love to go, but completely understand why I cannot.


  8. Soooo….Transwomen get to have their own spaces yet we, wbw, don’t. Oh yeah, i’m definitely seeing their way of ‘equality’. Lesbians can never catch a break, can they? SOMEHOW, we’re the ‘oppressors’ and they’re the ‘victims’. I’m noticing that Men, Bisexual women, and transwomen are use the exact same line. “You say you don’t hate us yet you don’t see us as potential (sexual/romantic) partners. Therefore, you actually do hate us.” Funny how that works.


  9. After much thought, hard conversation and inner struggle, Red has decided to withdraw my work and money from organisations which are funded and mandated to protect and foster women (the most marginalised and abused of the oppressed) but allow men into their programs to suck up the limited, hard fought-for money and space that is meant for women, women and children, elderly females, native women, Black women, disabled women, immigrant women. Women. Sorry women, no room here for you.

    No money, no more, no time, no fundraising, no hours and hours in your kitchen, no driving around to pick things up, bring funders in, no none of it.

    As long as these orgs which are meant for women “Welcome transwomen” (and THANK them) nothing from me, no more.


    • Is there not room in the world for both kinds of organizations? WBW-only, transwomen only, and then others where we are able to come together and work towards common good?

      I don’t mean to insinuate that women need my help, nor do I think that rape / crisis centers should open doors to trans women unconditionally; I think that it’s fantastic that you contributed to Vancouver Rape Relief, and that the legal proceedings against them for the trans issue were a waste of energy. But surely not every single organization which accepts transwomen as volunteers is just a patriarchy-reencforcement center in disguise?

      Is there no common ground between us at all?


  10. In fact, I just sent what I was going to give to you (you know who you are) to Vancouver Rape Relief. And I’ll do it again, and again and again. Ditto with my hours and hours of volunteer work.


  11. this article is stupid. your logic is flawed all over the place. get it together.


  12. Pingback: Trans-activists don’t want discourse. They want to shut us up | FireWomon

  13. My comments are probably not welcome here, being a transsexual who calls themselves a woman, but I just wanted you to know that not all trans people disagree with the idea of “women-only-spaces.” And I apologize if this post is a violation of your space. When I first started transitioning, and then heard about the MichFest controversy, I initially wanted to side with MichFest, but was overwhelmed by my experience of sex dysphoria and got swept along by a lot of the popular opinions on the subject, usually from self-described “trans allies” who (with the best of intentions, I am sure!) just ended up making me feel like a victim, thus dis-empowering me. In a way, this immobilized me once again under patriarchy.

    I now agree once again with MichFest and also with “women-only” spaces. If there were no patriarchy, and no oppression of specifically “women-born-women,” then I might change my views – but the reality is that we live in a social structure that forces the biological sex category of woman to bow down to the needs of everyone else, over and over again. And now trans identities have been convinced to take part in this abuse.

    I cannot be a spokesperson for trans people, but I just want to say I am sorry for the lack of understanding, for the hate and vitriol that is directed at you by my trans siblings. We may not have our spaces, but that is a separate issue – you deserve yours. Know that there is at least one trans person who is willing to respect that.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: So there’s to be a ‘TERF tracker’? Put me top of the list. | FireWomon

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