Op-ed: Why Antigone Rising & the Head of GLAAD Won't Be at Michfest

While transgender women become increasingly visible, there is one place where the promise of shared womanhood does not include them.

BY Sarah Kate Ellis and Kristen Henderson

August 08 2014 7:05 AM ET

Kristen Ellis-Henderson (L) and Sarah Kate Ellis

The last year has brought about incredible visibility for transgender people. Laverne Cox gracing the cover of Time magazine (and her subsequent Emmy nomination) was only the latest example of high-profile transgender women who are succeeding in their fields. Before that, we saw Laura Jane Grace break barriers in punk music, the release of Janet Mock’s book Redefining Realness, and Carmen Carrera taking the modeling and fashion world by storm.

But along with the rise in trans visibility, we’ve also witnessed an ugly backlash — not only from anti-LGBT activists, but also from within the lesbian, gay, bisexual community.

We’re writing today as two women — lesbians and  feminists — who want to see greater support and respect for all women, including those who are transgender.

The New Yorker recently profiled a group that identifies themselves as “trans exclusionary radical feminists,” people who reject the womanhood of trans women. The piece outlines a decades-old tension and gives a platform to those who wish to denigrate and exclude transgender women from feminist circles and society in general. It’s heartbreaking that trans women, who already face staggering rates of discrimination, harassment, and violence in this world, are now also rejected from women’s spaces.

The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, a feminist music festival held annually since 1976, garners media attention at this time of year for the exclusion of transgender women, touting a rule that welcomes only so-called womyn-born-womyn. Michfest has touched our lives directly, since Kristen’s band, Antigone Rising, has performed there in the past. But she won’t be playing there anymore.

Some festival attendees see Kristen’s decision as a mean-spirited boycott that aims to harm the festival and its organizers. In reality, however, she was simply left with no other choice. You see, Michfest’s rule is unwelcoming not only of trans women, but also of the cis women (i.e. not trans) who respect them — women like us.

And Antigone Rising isn’t alone in its decision to skip the exclusionary festival. Folk duo the Indigo Girls, poet Andrea Gibson, actor and comedian Lea DeLaria, alternative rock band Hunter Valentine, and songwriter and producer JD Samson have all bowed out for similar reasons.

The belief that trans women exist apart from the kind of womanhood that cis women experience is not only offensive, it’s inaccurate. Trans women are women. Indeed, what Michfest sets out to convey is that the category “women” includes a unique variety of experiences that not every woman shares. Why, then, is a transgender woman’s unique experience excluded?

We don’t believe that women’s spaces can truly flourish without welcoming trans women, and we hope that Michfest will come to see that too.

While the particular struggles we face as women are unique to our identity and social location, we all share common struggles — discrimination, devaluation, and so many other biases. We live in a society that polices women’s bodies, denies us access to health care, targets us for violence, and devalues the work that we do. We as women — both cis and transgender — face many of these social adversities.

The time has come for us to stand together and support one another. We are stronger when we are together, and by supporting one another, we can achieve a society in which we, as women, all move forward.

SARAH KATE ELLIS is the president and CEO of GLAAD, the nation's media advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

KRISTEN HENDERSON is a founding member, guitarist and songwriter for the all-female popular rock band Antigone Rising.

Together, the couple wrote, Times Two, Two Women in Love and the Happy Family They Made, (Simon & Schuster). The autobiography chronicled their simultaneous pregnancies and road to motherhood. The two are outspoken advocates for LGBT equality and were featured on the groundbreaking “Gay Marriage Already Won” cover of Time magazine.

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