Archive for the ‘MichFest’ tag
Gauge at Radical Masculinity has posted about Camp Trans 2008:
Considering that Camp Trans was in early August, this post is really late. Anyway, this past Camp was my third. Camp was really stressful for me this year, because I was pretty involved in getting things to happen, both before and during Camp. But it was still an amazing, wonderful, intense, and healing space for me.
A lot was accomplished at Camp this year. Walking the line of Festies, the vast majority of Michfest attendees are now either pro-inclusion or really don’t care. There were only a few anti-inclusion people that I talked to, and they weren’t angry or anything – they just politely said they didn’t want to talk about it, so we didn’t. That was the Monday, which is the start of that big event across the road from us (MWMF, of courses).
For thematic reasons, and because I missed it before, Drakyn at Monster’s Creed also posted a report:
As I said before, CT was awesome.
Michfest is no longer it’s main thing, though certainly its still important to CT. The “WBW”(such a BS phrase) policy is pretty much unenforced and it seems like the majority of festies either don’t care if trans* women are there or want trans* women there. In fact, some festies who left early left their wristbands with CT for trans* women to get in and another festy donated money for tickets for trans* women. I missed the days we walked the line, but I heard that reception was mixed which is pretty normal. Though there were some folks that didn’t talk to any negative people at all.
The mtf-spectrum folks who went to fest all had a good time, they even hosted a workshop on ENDA. One woman I talked to said that one festie she had spoken with in the line recognized her and came over and said hi and was very glad that she had made it into fest.
Also, I really like that the expectation that only cis women attend is continually breaking down. Per Gauge:
The exciting news that we found out later in the week was that a Festie had donated enough money on Monday, earmarked for the purpose of sending two trans women onto the land. Between that, another earmarked donation, and several trans women purchasing their own wristbands, quite a few trans women went on the land this year, enough to run a workshop on Sunday, the last day of Fest, on the land.
And per Drakyn:
Michfest is no longer it’s main thing, though certainly its still important to CT. The “WBW”(such a BS phrase) policy is pretty much unenforced and it seems like the majority of festies either don’t care if trans* women are there or want trans* women there. In fact, some festies who left early left their wristbands with CT for trans* women to get in and another festy donated money for tickets for trans* women.
Not only are Festies welcoming trans women, they’re actively supporting our going onto the Land in this way.
This essay starts from the assertion that trans and cis women are equal in their determination of feminism, yet trans women’s agency is systemically marginalized within it. It critiques cissexual feminist entrenched positions about the relations between trans women, male privilege, and women’s space, showing how taking trans women’s perspectives and herstories seriously dramatically alter the terms of debate, providing new insights and making room for a new generation of feminists.
One excerpt (follow the link above for the rest):
When I listen to people ‘debating’ ‘letting’ trans women, trans men, and/or trans people as a whole into women-only [sic] spaces such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Michfest) and domestic violence shelters, the experience is profoundly frustrating, even when it’s my allies I’m listening to. It’s the wrong structure, the wrong conversation, and the wrong participants. When a cissexual1 woman or a trans male spectrum person says “all woman-identified women/all trans people should be allowed into women’s space [sic],” I feel almost as disempowered and silenced as when they say that we shouldn’t. Though well intentioned, they represent independent moral/political judgments and statements of principle—not the voices of trans women.2 Do their statements correspond to the wishes, needs, and priorities of trans women? Do they empower trans women’s voices, or contribute to their erasure? More to the point, do cis women (let alone trans male spectrum people) legitimately have that power, to decide whether or not trans women should be allowed into “their” spaces?
Inclusion is important, and I’m happy for every voice that demands it. But the fundamental problem is not the exclusion itself. Trans women are regularly the targets of [cis] feminist misogyny (Serano 2007, 16-7; Califia 2003, 86-119) and misogyny against us is frequently tolerated in “women’s,” “women & trans,” and “queer/trans” space (Serano 2007, 352); even in so-called transfeminist work, anti- trans woman sentiment may be seen as a legitimate expression of diversity within the transfeminist movement, and not inherently anti-feminist (ex. Scott-Dixon, ed. 2006, 154-160; 170-181.) Even the term “transfeminism” itself frequently marginalizes and erases trans woman feminists.3 The problem is that even when trans women’s participation is allowed or encouraged, our concerns, comfort, and safety are almost universally secondary.
Let’s make the record clear: there is virtually no women’s space extant today. Michfest is not women’s space, nor would it be even if trans women were allowed—it’s cis, white, middle class, able women’s space. When one group controls a space or institution, when only its members’ voices, concerns, and perspectives are relevant to the determination and organization of that space—that is to say, when that group ‘owns’ the space—it is their space, regardless of who else may enter. So when allies to trans women demand our inclusion without simultaneously demanding that that space be accountable to us—including that trans & cis women be equally in charge of what constitutes women’s space and feminism—they are not demanding fundamental change, only a softer supremacy.
To get a copy of the essay, Cedar asks for a donation of $5 plus postage:
So, now that you’ve read pieces of the essay, I hope you’ll feel moved to donate, and I’ll send you the whole shebang in the mail. Yes, the USPS, I’d much prefer to keep it offline. I’m asking for $5 plus postage, roughly, but it’s also pay-what-you-can.
Remember to read the other excerpts in the original post. The section on male privilege, especially.
This post describes my personal experience with domestic violence, and may be triggering for those who have experienced it.
When I wrote the post about the exclusion of trans women from woman-only spaces, I linked to three separate blogs where someone took pains to explain how the presence of penises is triggering to survivors, and thus survivors must be protected while in woman-only space from coming near a penis.
This argument has several problems with it. The first is the paternalistic notion that survivors need to be protected from anything that can trigger them. The second is the rather hypocritical notion that the only thing that can trigger a survivor in a woman-only space is a penis. Or rather, that other triggers don’t need to be filtered out.
Some history: I’m a survivor of domestic violence. I was in a relationship from 1989 until 1994 in which I was emotionally abused, and battered a few times, isolated from friends and family, and even prevented from finding work. One of my few social outlets was the computer – I frequented computer BBSes from 1989 until 1992, and switched the internet in 1992. Most socializing that did occur tended to happen around my abuser, which made it difficult to say or do anything.
In 1989, I had been in the process of transitioning for two years. I had changed my name the previous year, I had been on estrogen since September of 1987, and I experienced the male gaze rather frequently. I met a woman who was much older than I am. A woman who, I later realized, exploited my age and my increasing sense of myself as a young woman. She was married, but her husband had joined the army and was at basic training, and their relationship was open – polyamorous. To have someone appear to give me unreserved, unconditional attention as a woman was . . . well, not new to me by that point, given the men that had also pursued me, but with two exceptions, I’ve never really been strongly interested in men. While I hadn’t firmly defined myself as a lesbian until several years later, even then attention from a woman was a much stronger pull to me than attention from a man.
So, she exploited my sense of myself as an attractive woman, and I was attractive. Men were constantly flirting with me. One man moved nearly 200 miles to maintain a relationship with me, and another man tracked me down to my place of work and followed me around. The former was sweet, but the latter was really really disturbing and creepy. I’m not saying this to establish my credibility as a woman, attractive or otherwise, but to establish context for the next part. This woman, whom I’ll call Mary, was careful to tell me how beautiful I was to her. She was occasionally subtle and often not so subtle about using my trans status to tell me how no one could really love or accept me like her. This wasn’t a message that I took to instantly – I mean, I had the boyfriend from 200 miles away at the same time. But it was an invasive, insidious message, one that played on my insecurities.
I was also not comfortable with sex at the time, as I hadn’t had surgery yet, and was still trying to save for it. I was not comfortable with my anatomy at all, and sex involving it would be dissociative and triggering. The thought of sex was dissociative and triggering. But she kept pushing me, and we did some foreplayish stuff, but she wanted me to pleasure her, while I basically wasn’t comfortable receiving at all. She played the “If you really loved me, you’d do whatever I want despite your comfort zone” but somehow the idea that if she really loved me, she’d respect my boundaries never came up.
After her husband got out of basic training, we were basically attached at the hip. Her husband was assigned to the Presidio in Monterey, CA for intelligence training (including some language learning). And she asked me to move down to Monterey with them, and offered to help pay for my surgery. What I didn’t think of was that in Monterey, my family and friends would be over 1,000 miles away. I ended up leaving the boyfriend, but our relationship was rocky anyway. I also left my support network behind – my roommate, who graciously provided space rent free during the early part of my transition during which getting a job was very difficult, my mother, and my grandmother. It wasn’t much of a support network, but on the recommendation of my psychiatrist, I had cut off all contact with my high school friends. Yay standards of care.
Once I arrived in Monterey, the really abusive stuff started. At one point, Mary’s husband – Rich – was pretending to be a woman on the local BBS scene – something which made me deeply uncomfortable, but I didn’t say anything about it to any of the local sysops. However, Rich got clumsy once, logged in as his female persona, logged in as himself, and then as his female persona again, and the sysop of one of the local WWIV BBSes watched this happen, and posted about it. I noticed the thread, didn’t say anything because, what the hell? It was his game, I wasn’t part of it, or so I thought. The next day, after I returned from work, Mary mentions that the sysop had posted that Rich was also this woman he was posing as, and told me that if I did not back Rich up and tell people he wasn’t this imaginary person, she was going to out me on the local BBSes. So… I backed him up, because I was stealth and being outed was a fairly horrible thought.
And games like that were being played constantly. She used the same threat to get me to ban two people from my own BBS for basically no reason, and sabotaging their trust for me.
However, the fact that I was socializing over the computer itself became a point of contention – she wanted me to stop. She got angry with me when she caught me using the modem (after I shut down my BBS), so if I wanted to call BBSes (and later, the internet) I had to do it when everyone was asleep. But she’d do phone checks and flip her lid if she heard a modem tone. Once she actually removed my modem from my computer and hid it. It got worse once I got onto the internet – at this point, I was talking to people from all over the world, making long-standing friendships, and generally finding some escape from her stifling abuse.
I left for two months to visit my family. Within a month, I was planning to stay, start college, help raise my nieces and newborn nephew, and escape. At the end of the second month, Mary called to ask when I was coming back down, and I felt this sense of doom and powerlessness, I felt like I had to go back – and besides, she was being nice and apologizing for the horrible things she’d done and promised to be better and I fell for it. And of course, things were back to normal. It was after returning in fact that I discovered she was screening calls from potential employers. I had been searching for a job for months before I’d left and continued to search after I returned. I managed to answer the phone once while she was gone, and it was someone who wanted to interview me, who wanted to know why I hadn’t shown up. Of course, I’d never received the message. I don’t know how many messages I didn’t receive, I just know that until 1990, I had constant employment. After 1990, I was never able to find a job.
Anyway, back to the Internet – it was a friend on the internet who suggested I call a DV shelter in 1992 when I described what was going on, and her reaction to what I was telling her was pretty strong – much stronger than I expected, and I was explaining why I was downright miserable. On some level, I just assumed I deserved to be treated this way. I called the nearest DV, began asking about what I could do, was asked if I were trans, and was bluntly refused.
Two years later – two more years that I didn’t have to go through – Rich and Mary decided to move to Ohio. The plan was that I’d move too, but the plan was also to drive across country. As it turned out, my grandmother’s house was on the way, so I said I’d like to stop and visit my family for a month or so, since I’d be moving thousands of miles away. They dropped me off, I took the things I absolutely wanted to keep and left the things I could live without, and never saw them face-to-face ever again.
My grandmother sucked at lying, though. Mary started calling the house, almost daily – usually while I was out, thankfully. But one time she called right as I was going out the door, and my grandmother turns around and asks loudly “Are you here? It’s Mary.” (Trigger, here, btw, I had a panic attack right then and there) and I told her “No!” and she sputtered that I had just left and hung up. I didn’t feel safe anymore – Mary could call at any time and my grandmother was not going to protect me from any calls that came while I was home. She was not going to change her phone number, and I couldn’t move out until I got a job. So I had to take responsibility for that myself, for the fact that any incoming phone call could be Mary.
Mary tracked down my e-mail address in 1995. She apologized for everything she had ever done, promised to help me find a job and pay for my surgery (that she had spent years preventing me from earning money to pay for), and I ignored her. She sent me another e-mail in 1996, and I ignored that as well. I haven’t heard from her since, and with luck I never will again.
But things still trigger me to varying degrees. The flashback to the wedding in Kill Bill, part 2? When the Bride steps outside and finds Bill waiting for her – that moment was a trigger for me. I was right back to the time that Mary called me while I was at my mother’s and wanted me to come back. I was right back to the time she called my grandmother’s, and my grandmother made it clear I was there and not willing to talk. That’s a hard scene for me to watch, but I know why it’s a hard scene, and when my friends watched the film, I watched it with them knowing about that moment and taking care to leave when it came up so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.
On another occasion, someone who I saw as a friend did something that – well, it put me right back into Mary’s house. It wasn’t him being mean or even trying to be mean. What he did was downright innocent, and had no business being anything I’d need to guard against, but it triggered me so badly I was unable to sleep that night with help from Benadryl, and caused anxiety problems that forced me to drop some freelance work I was doing at the time.
I appreciate it when my friends realize that something is triggering and help me deal with it or get away from it, I don’t require it. I don’t know everything that can trigger me, and I certainly can’t expect anyone around me to protect me from all possible triggers.
So I get back to the women who are explaining to me why the possibility that a trans woman might trigger a cis woman in a shelter or at MichFest means that trans women must at all times be kept from cis women, at least in safe spaces. Of course, this isn’t about safety, because just being triggering is not enough for something to be dangerous, but it is presented as being a safety issue.
Now, let’s go back to my friend who accidentally triggered me in a way that neither of us could possibly have predicted. What he did that triggered me isn’t really important. What if my friends told him that he couldn’t be around me because I found him triggering? Why would I need other people to make this choice for me?
What if they didn’t like him much, and they used that as an excuse to keep him from coming around? What if they decided his brown (Cuban) skin was what triggered me (it wasn’t), and thus they decided that I needed to be protected from men with brown skin? What if they made these decisions on my behalf without asking my opinion? What if they started making other decisions on my behalf regarding how my friends interact with me without asking my opinion?
To be fair, I’d be pissed off. I can manage my triggers. I don’t blame my friend for triggering me, I don’t blame the fact that he’s a man, nor do I blame his brown skin. He didn’t spend five years tearing down my self-confidence and self-image just so he could control my life. He just accidentally reminded me of something that happened during those five years. If I or my friends told him that his presence was triggering, at that point, we’re blaming him for what happened to me – holding him responsible. Hell, might as well blame Quentin Tarantino too, for that Kill Bill wedding scene. Hold him responsible.
Or, I can own the fact that my triggers come from my history, that one person abused me often, and her husband who abused me less often (he was responsible for the instances of battering – including one instance in which he charged into my room to scold me with a little physical force mixed in).
What I don’t want is for my friends to rob me of my agency, to frame me as a victim who needs protecting from my own history. To shield me from whatever they think might trigger me.
Other survivors have said similar things. One, who spoke to the Lesbian Sex Mafia about their rule that trans women had to keep their penises covered at all times said:
I know some people say that this policy is to protect survivors from being triggered by the sight of a “bio penis.” The truth is, anything can trigger me. I can walk down the street and get triggered. I can stay at home and get triggered. I can get triggered by something someone says, by how I feel, by what’s going on in my body. There are lots of things at a play party that could trigger me, and they are not trans women’s bodies.
My triggers are just that. Mine. It would not be fair or practical to ask you to try to protect me from my own triggers. They are my responsibility. I was robbed of my choices when I was abused. In owning responsibility for my triggers, I take that back. I own my experience. I get to decide what I do about it. I get to ask for help if I want, or go resolve it myself if I want. Nobody has the right to protect me from my choices.
I know what it’s like to be isolated from the community support I need. I know what it’s like to be shamed about my body. I know what it’s like to not be seen as a whole person, to be reduced to the gender box someone put me in. All of that is what perpetrators did to me. That is what LSM is doing to trans women, and it does not protect me, it hurts me. In fact, it triggers me. Thinking about how people justify this policy as a way to protect me turns my stomach into a twisting ball of knots.
I don’t want your protection. It comes at too high a cost. And I’m not just talking about the cost of trans hatred and fear in my community, which is a high enough cost for me. I’m talking about the cost to my dignity and right to choose for myself. By thinking you need to protect me, you are sending me a message. You are saying that you have no faith in my ability to care for myself. That you see me as helpless and as a victim, forever. That you would rather protect me than listen to what I really need. That you would rather decide to hide “penises” away than to set up policies to effectively deal with harassment and violence in our community. Is that the message you want to send to survivors?
Of course, she’s not speaking specifically for shelters and MichFest (or other woman-only spaces), but what she’s saying here is pretty powerful, and highlights how radfems often position victims in such a way as to rob them of their agency. To use them, in this case, as tokens to justify excluding trans women from these spaces.
I also quoted this comment from Feministing in my linked post above:
What all this talk about trans women’s penises triggering women tells me is, aside from the notion that cis women’s comfort trumps trans women’s safety (see shelters), that trans women are being held responsible for possibly triggering survivors. That it is somehow our fault that we might be seen as men (because people can shapeshift their faces, you know) or someone might discover we have or have had a penis. That we bear a mark of Cain that says it’s not safe for women to be around us just because of what those women might see when they look at us.
It also implicitly absolves cis women from potentially triggering women ever. From appearing threatening to other women. These possibilities are simply not mentioned, because to mention them – to mention that cis women can be abusive, can be batterers, that cis women might trigger survivors – calls into question the entire idea that trans women can be excluded on the basis of bearing potential triggers. If anyone or anything can trigger a woman, if anyone – man or woman – can be abusive, how can MichFest truly be a safe space? Should it even be described as a safe space? Especially considering that this isn’t a matter of safety, but positioned as a matter of perceived safety, as if a survivor is somehow incapable of measuring actual threat from someone who triggers her.
But this absolution also applies to DV and rape shelters. I’m not saying that the only potential triggers that anyone’s arguing to protect against are trans women and their genitalia – shelters don’t allow men – but rather that positioning trans women as nuclear explosions of triggerness makes it easier to elide other problematic issues in the shelter – for example, dealing with a battered lesbian’s abusive partner:
One of the big barriers for lesbians seeking services for domestic violence is that is may be hard for police or service agencies to determine which partner is the victim. Sometimes the abusive partner will call the police or seek services at a domestic violence shelter as a way to further control her victim.
I imagine that the staff at many DV shelters do take this problem seriously, and many try to screen for it, but I’m not seeing many arguments that lesbians should be kept out of shelters because the abusers might sneak in to keep their partners from accessing the shelter, or to find their partners in the shelter in the first place. I personally find this problem a lot more worrying than the possibility that someone in the shelter might have a penis that no one’s likely to see, or worrying that a trans woman who’s in the shelter as a rape or domestic violence survivor is likely to bring any kind of violence into the shelter herself, or that cis men will use the fact that trans women can access services by pretending to be a trans woman so he can assault women in the shelter (and I can’t find any information anywhere that this has actually really happened in any shelters that admit trans women).
I’m not finding the explanation that trans women might be triggering to be a convincing argument. This is a double-standard held against trans women, and not one that is universally considered to be the way that shelters should handle trans women. The fact that Vancouver Rape Relief (for example) defends its “no trans women ever” policy while also maintaining links to multiple explicitly transphobic and transmisogynistic articles that were posted during the Kimberly Nixon case, that Vancouver Rape Relief positions as “protecting women-only space” on this page, makes it hard for me to accept that it’s strictly about protecting survivors from potentially triggering situations, but rather about not accepting trans women as valid women in the first place.
But the main reason I posted this is that I realized that as a survivor of domestic violence, that I am tired of radfems using survivors as tokens to justify excluding trans women, or as reason to attack sex workers who don’t present themselves as victims. I’m tired of experiences that I myself have survived being given as reason to keep me out of women-only space. And seeing the women – the other survivors – I quoted above speaking out on this, I realized that there was privilege here too, the privilege to speak for other women solely on the basis of positioning them as eternal victims, thus requiring eternal protection.
Cicely has posted this explanation of her change of mind about whether it’s right to exclude trans women from women-only spaces (or create cis women-only spaces) on the MWMF forum. She also gave me permission to repost it here:
I used to support WBW space at michfest on the grounds of shared girlhood – i.e. this being space for people like myself who have been perceived and acted upon in the world as female from birth and throughout our lives up to and including the present. In fact when I left these boards approximately two years ago in disgust at the way trans women were spoken to and about by some, I wrote to the effect that I didn’t want to be associated with a women’s event that provided a haven or pulpit for these excesses, but also that I would support the right of WBW to claim the space for as long as it was wanted.I’ve felt obliged since then to take a very close look at the origins of my thoughts and feelings on this issue and that’s where I’d like to begin to explain why I’ve changed my mind. This is my own personal journey which may or may not resonate with anyone else here. I’m hoping it will.
It was very easy for me to buy into the WBW concept based on the understanding that trans women were not like me. I was a self-identified lesbian by the time I was eleven years old in 1965 and in my early twenties during the 1970’s I became an active feminist. From that time I spent many years socialising mostly with other lesbians who were feminists, and huge amounts of time and energy discovering, noticing, analysing, talking about and protesting male socialised and politicised behaviours including male egocentricity, male entitlement, male centredness (male is normal, female is default), male on female aggression and violence and so on. I read studies and watched documentaries – such as the one that demonstrated how teen-aged males, when given a written test which they failed, typically came up with external reasons or excuses for their failure (the neighbours had the music up loud so I couldn’t study properly; it was a trick question) while teen-aged girls typically took personal responsibility for their failure.
It made sense to me, with what I’d learned and experienced, that someone who’d been perceived and acted upon in the world as male from birth could have very little to no conception of the accumulated effects of sexism and misogyny on women like me. It starts early, some say from the very moment of birth, if not sooner. Male socialisation also starts early. And then, for trans women who’d transitioned later in life, what about the advantages and privileges they’d had access to in things like skills training, education, good jobs, good income etc, while they’d been perceived as male? It all adds up to a very different experience of the world, and that’s before even considering the fact that apparently some trans women aren’t very successful at looking or sounding like cisexual women, and some either can’t afford to or choose not to have SRS, so that they are literally women with penises. Overall, I thought these could be very big gaps to bridge. I felt it was more than reasonable that WBW, feminists – and lesbians in particular (because I’ve always regarded michfest as a primarily lesbian event) – should have a space in which they didn’t even have to think about these issues, let alone confront them, because they were not about them and not about their lives.
You’ll notice I’ve written ‘them’ and ‘their’ lives, not ‘me’ and ‘my’ life. The reason for this is that my support for WBW space had always been support for other cisexual women’s desire for it. I have personally never felt okay about excluding trans women from any women’s space I happen to be in and the reason for that is probably that if it’s a social space, she’s likely to be a lesbian. Where else is she to go? I don’t think it’s up to me, and neither do I feel any desire to put limits on where a lesbian trans woman can seek community, friendship, sex or love. My approach would be to take individual trans women as I find them in person, as I do all women. However, despite the fact that I’d never had a personal commitment to or a need for WBW space, I didn’t feel that I could speak for all women. I picked a side in the broader debate around michfest because I felt I had to, and then that the right thing to do was to support the group I was part of. (Of course, I was referencing my own supporting and one-sided beliefs, so that was pretty easy. My original question, once I started asking myself questions, wasn’t even ‘are these differences real or the whole story?’ – it was, ‘what should we do about the differences?’) When I think about it though, I was inconsistent. I now understand that I hadn’t thought about the issue very deeply or broadly or from any different perspective because, frankly, I hadn’t needed to. (This is the most basic cisexual privilege.)
When I was considering going to michfest and first came to these boards I was thinking about the festival as the oft-quoted ‘one week in the woods’. I could support that for those who wanted it or felt they needed it, especially as most other women’s festivals in the US, as I learned, do welcome trans women. On the other hand, the Lesbian Space Project in Sydney which collapsed after a decade of bitter and polarising debate was about purchasing a building for a permanent space excluding trans women. While I wasn’t in Sydney participating in the debate, I was always opposed to that idea. Clearly though, there’s a relationship between the two. Thinking through that connection over time I came to the conclusion that the problem is the WBW space concept itself. (Also, I no longer use ‘WBW’ at all. Where appropriate I refer to myself as a cisexual woman, meaning that there is no dissonance between my mind map of the sex of my body and my actual body sex. I understand that not all trans women or trans men experience their transexuality in the same way, but many do describe it as this kind of dissonance, and I take them at their word.)
Obviously the transexual female experience is not the same as the cisexual one (though the differences are not as clear-cut as I once believed), but the questions I eventually asked myself included these:
Is total exclusion of trans women from a festival celebrating the diversity of women an appropriate way to deal with the differences between cisexual and transexual women? After all, we accommodate every single one of our other differences, including those that impact dramatically and permanently on our life paths and often make it difficult for us to understand each other – differences like race, class or ability – all of which involve privilege or lack thereof.
When a trans woman is experiencing life as we do 24/7, what is the purpose of focusing on her often difficult and painful history to the point of actually using it to make her unwelcome anywhere among us today?
Is the acknowledgement of cisexual female experience necessarily diminished because trans women, overwhelmingly outnumbered, are in our company? (Is the acknowledgement of lesbian experience diminished because a minority of heterosexual women attend michfest?)
How does it make feminist sense that a cisexual, heterosexual, Christian Fundamentalist woman would be welcome at michfest, even though she’s unlikely to want to come, while a lesbian trans woman who is a feminist and does want to come, is not? (I’ve seen this written on these boards – and also that transphobic women are welcome which, of course, is self-evident.)
How can an otherwise self-proclaimed trans-allied cisexual woman’s support of the boundary at michfest be explained in isolation from support of WBW spaces, temporary or permanent, elsewhere in the world? I doubt that she would deny that ‘right’ to cisexual women who cannot, for whatever reason, attend michfest. It follows that WBW spaces would ideally be available to all cisexual women, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. All cisexual women should be able to ‘get away’ from trans women.
How can a group of people so large that it’s made up of approximately 50% of the world’s population be considered an ‘affinity group’? I’m inclined to suggest that WBW spaces be welcoming only to women with an openly stated and personal investment in them. Now *that* would be an identifiable affinity group, but it would sell fewer tickets! Michfest thrives on attendance by women who don’t or won’t make a stand one way or the other, women who are blindly or otherwise exercising their cisexual privilege not to have to.
By the time I arrived at the michfest boards (late in 2004 I think), I had not read ‘The Transexual Empire’, had rarely if ever heard the feminist argument that transexuality is about nothing but gender roles – and further that the right and feminist thing to do from that position is be a different kind of man or woman in the body one is born with, thereby challenging patriarchal gender roles – and hadn’t expected to see women of michfest making that argument as dogmatically as some do. I’ve never agreed with it and it’s not my intention to engage with it in this thread. I’m addressing myself here to women who consider themselves trans allies, who are not in the habit of ascribing meanings and motivations of transexuality to trans women that stand in opposition to trans women’s understandings of their own lives and experience, but who have reasons similar to my own as outlined above (either for themselves or in support of others) for supporting the boundary at michfest. I appreciate that there are trans women as well as cis women who support the boundary for reasons of respecting difference, and in fact the support of a few trans women on these boards helped validate my own position at the time.
So, what happened?
At the time I left these boards someone had posted a link to ‘Alas, a blog’, which I clicked on and discovered the blogosphere. I hadn’t known of its existence before then. Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity via the blogosphere to hear the voices of many, many people, quite a number of whom are trans women. I realised that in real life I have met exactly three trans women who I knew were trans, and spoken to none of them in any depth about their lives. On one occasion, which is now over a decade ago, I took my prejudices along with me, and when she and I (both of us lesbians and feminists) had a small political disagreement I privately considered that she had argued in a ‘male’ fashion, that she probably learned to believe in the rightness of her opinions as a male, and finally, that she’d got her university degree while she was a he, and possibly with a level of encouragement often reserved for the males in a family. I didn’t deny her current womanhood or her lesbianism, but I did consider her to be something I most definitely was not i.e. an ex man. My almost automatic response to the situation, because of my beliefs, was to silently ‘other’ and dismiss her, rather than just agree to disagree. I didn’t think I was wrong to do that at the time. It made sense to me. It doesn’t anymore.
I no longer assume that trans children – female or male – receive gendered messages from society in an uncomplicated fashion. I no longer assume that a trans woman who transitions later in life was not a trans child. I no longer assume that because a trans girl or trans woman’s femaleness was/is not visible (and so also not ‘official’), it was/is not a female experience of the world. I no longer assume it’s appropriate to think of trans women generally as ex men, regardless of the lives they lived while being perceived as someone they were not. I no longer assume that every trans woman has benefitted in any meaningful way from having had a male body.
I have not seen evidence of specifically male ways of thinking and/or communicating among the many thoughtful, sensitive, articulate and feminist trans women I’ve had the pleasure of reading and learning from over the past two years. That has proven to be a nonsense.
The ultimate question about the michfest boundary is whether it’s intended to be inclusive of cisexual women or exclusive of trans women. The answer very much depends on where you’re standing. I’ve come to believe that the intention is different for different women who support the boundary, but that in practice it’s certainly exclusive of trans women and as such, discriminatory.
It’s my opinion that if you accept that trans women are women, it’s not good enough to say trans women are too different, they make you uncomfortable, so you don’t want them in any particular women’s space. Anti-discrimination legislation isn’t designed to pander to people’s feelings of comfort. It’s designed precisely to challenge and even override them when they deny other people their equal rights. Asking or expecting individual trans women or all trans women as a group to agree to participate in discrimination against themselves (or agree that what they experience as discrimination actually isn’t), is not a reasonable request, and one which can never in practice be satisfied. Either this conflict will go on indefinitely, or it will be resolved by removal of the boundary.
I live in hope that the festival will go on, and become welcoming of trans women.