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Beating a Dead Horse — Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

A lot has been said about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. That’s MWMF for short. Not the best acronym in the world. In any event, as my one (1) reader on this blog is likely aware, it’s an annual festival and chance for women to move from a patriarchal society into all all-women inclusive, safe space. For the past five to ten years it’s garnered criticism for offering admission to trans men (who some view as woman) and excluding trans women (who some view as men). This underlines one of the last, remaining impasses in radical feminism.

Radical feminism departs from regular feminism because, in the words of Michelangelo (the turtle), it’s “totally radical, dude.” Like most things radical, I’m tempted to say this too goes too far, but I’m not the person to make that claim. I have science degrees, and my utter dearth of classes in any liberal arts discipline means in any argument I’m liable to be wrong. Further, feminism is a multifaceted thing, and the MWMF represents only a flavor of it. Regardless, I’m going to give my opinion, since this is a blog.

Cis privilege is an idea adopted by some to mirror other privilege constructs like white or male privilege. Similarly, it refers to a knapsack of goodies at one’s disposal, should they be a member of the privileged group. In this case, to quote Brad Pitt, “What’s in the box?!” Funny you should ask, Brad. Your gender expression isn’t judged to be indicative of the legitimacy of your identity, you can expect to not be turned away from medical services on the basis of your gender identity, and so on. There’s a good bit there. Some radfems assert this is all bologna (a fun word). Basically, whether or not they asked for it, trans women were treated for a good part of their lives as men. As such, they’ve benefitted from male privilege, whether they wanted it or not. In asserting a need for a safe, non-patriarchical space, some radfems argue that trans women share in having benefitted from male experiences and may even be products of the patriarchy itself. More radical transphobic rad fem views, if that clause makes sense, are provided in seminal texts like “The Transsexual Empire” by Janice Raymond. Here, we’re told that trans women are confused men who co-opt, sexualize, and demean women’s bodies. As such, the book has been characterized as either as accurate, a screed, or utterly transphobic.

This, to this day, underlines a pretty major division in radical feminism. To trans, or not to trans? Some buy into cis privilege, some don’t. Or, some buy into it yet find it irrelevant. So, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival lives on, and continues to disallow trans women entrance. In opposition, trans women and their allies have established Camp Trans. This similar venue offers a more inclusive, if smaller, safe space. Clashes between the two groups occurred, and subsequently post-op trans women were allowed to attend the MWMF. Undeterred, many in Camp Trans have continued their boycott.

That’s the current state of affairs. What do I think? After all, nothing I’m saying is anything a Google search couldn’t provide.

In my view, this is largely an ideological battle. It means little in practical terms, and I have a hard time with it for that reason. Maybe all people who lack an understanding of the full implications are liable to feel similarly, maybe that’s my shortcoming. Let’s get real; trans women entering into the event would be unlikely to disrupt the safe space. And, I really doubt many trans women honestly wanted to attend before admission was denied. So, all of about two trans women wanted to go, and neither would’ve infringed on the space. This is what we’ve been arguing about. In terms of reality, just let ’em in. In terms of ideology, I dunno that this conflict will even come to a close.

My two cents is that they should be able to allow or disallow whomever they want. They can create a safe space for womyn-born-womyn, or Harry Potter fans, or hip-hop fans. I’m glossing over some significance (e.g. implications of patriarchal oppression lacking in HP, privilege, etc.), but it remains their prerogative to include and exclude at their whim. Welcome to America, they don’t have to be ideologically right in order to do as they please. Their reason for exclusion can be as real or arbitrary as they choose. I do think they’re wrong, though.

Some women are tired of their gender being defined by men, and I’m tired of having my gender defined by a few rad fems. As an aside, here’s a clue; when you’re treating me with the same attitude as evangelical Christians, you’re doing it wrong. Lots of folks seem to have an opinion about the legitimacy of my identity, of issues close to the core of who I am at heart. Most of these people don’t know me.

White feminists made the mistake early in second wave feminism of dismissing the issues of women of color, and when they did take them seriously, they defined the problem and spoke for them. This is a different time, the context has changed, but some commonality exists. Another group of less privileged folks is still being ignored, or having their issues minimized and subsumed under a larger construct, or else we’re being defined and spoken for. It’s a bit much. And, if you’re gonna do that, at least get to know me. My Pokemon jokes aside, trans people aren’t all the same.

This and so much more that’s been repeated ad nauseum. I’ll stop here since I’m not saying anything new. The bottom line is that there’s an ideological battle about trans people that’s not been resolved in, really, a few decades. It’s pointless because (1) ideological battles rarely end (e.g. we still have folks arguing for intelligent design in the classroom, we probably always will), (2) if the policy is ever changed it’ll be because a plurality of folks have a change of heart — not because everyone at MWMF has suddenly become convinced (see (1)) — the most extreme views are often the most challenging to sway and a festival of some rad fems is an uphill battle, and (3) trans people are fundamentally not respected by some at MWMF who’d see a world where no trans people exist as a step in the right direction. Sweet. I’d rather crash a Westboro Baptist Church rally and ask for a picket sign. Maybe that’s the idea. Make the event so unsavory that there’s no desire for trans people to go, whatever their stance. As Charlie Sheen would say, “winning!” What an awesome idea.

Whether or not they’re right is irrelevant since they can exclude as they please. There are plenty of places I can’t go, or I don’t feel safe going, and frankly it doesn’t mean much to me in any practical sense. I don’t go camping at festivals, I go in National Parks. I do, wish, though, that we’d be allowed to define our issues and speak for ourselves. I feel comfortable asking for that much, too.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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