Image via Michfest's Facebook page
Michfest Has a Few Demands Of Its Own

By Parker Marie Molloy

Originally published on Advocate.com August 19 2014 5:03 PM ET

Yesterday, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival organizer Lisa Vogel issued a statement about the festival — which just wrapped up its 39th year — and the ongoing controversy around its "intention" that the festival cater solely to "Womyn Born Womyn."

In the weeks before this year's festival, a number of high-profile LGBT advocacy groups — including Equality Michigan, GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and National Center for Lesbian Rights — called on the festival to put an end to the "Womyn Born Womyn" intention.

Vogel's statement, emailed to supporters Monday with the subject line, "We Have a Few Demands of Our Own," lays out five requests organizers would like to see the festival's critics follow. Asking critics to "Get your facts straight," Vogel delves into the semantics of the word "transphobic."

"We do not fear their presence among us, a false claim repeatedly made," Vogel writes. "What we resist — and what we will never stop fighting — is the continued erasure and disrespect for the specific experience of being born and living as female in a patriarchal, misogynist world." Later, she adds, "It is not the inclusion of trans womyn at Festival that we resist; it is the erasure of the specificity of female experience in the discussion of about the space itself that stifles progress in this conversation."

Her second bulletpoint is an ask that critics "acknowledge the validity of autonomous, female-defined space." Here Vogel clarifies that straight and bisexual women are welcome at the festival, so long as they understand the the festival is centered around "a community defined by lesbian culture." Later, she refers to the event's focus as being "on the experience of those born female, who've lived their lives subjected to oppression based on the sole fact of their being female." Although it doesn't explicitly mention trans women, this statement rests on the premise that trans women have not always been female, and therefore cannot share an understanding and experience of womanhood with cisgender (nontrans) women.

Later in that section, Vogel laments efforts of organizations like the New York Abortion Access Fund to employ language inclusive of trans men and non-binary individuals assigned female at birth who may carry and bear children, arguing that this type of push is "pressure for erasure of a specifically female reality," highlighting discomfort with "unofficial Michfest anthem," "Pussy Manifesto."

Vogel's third request asks critics to "acknowledge that Michfest creates spaces that do not exist elsewhere." In this section, Vogel highlights the welcoming, familial experiences offered by the festival to those for whom it is intended. Perhaps unintentionally, highlighting the uniqueness of the festival's existence also highlights how it is also one of the only remaining women's music festivals at which trans women are told they are not particularly welcome. 

Vogel goes on to urge groups like Equality Michigan, HRC, NGLTF, and NCLR to "turn [their] energy towards the real enemies of female and LGBTQ liberation," and chastises the groups for having called for the boycott of the event and its artists. Vogel refers to this as "McCarthy-era blacklist tactics."

Two paragraphs later, Vogel urges supporters of those organizations to "withdraw their time and dollars from these organizations until the targeting of Michfest ends." It is unclear whether she views her call for supporters to boycott the organizations as similar to the "McCarthy-era blacklist tactic" she bemoans. 

Finally, she calls on critics to "join the conversation, not the digital sound bite war." She writes, "We hear your truths; we ask you to acknowledge that you hear ours." For a number of Michfest attendees, their "truths" appear to explicitly exclude transgender women as real women. Vogel makes an effort to clarify that position in her latest remarks, telling readers that she views "trans womyn as womyn," though separate from "womyn born and living as female."

Emily Dievendorf, executive director of Equality Michigan, isn't buying the line of reasoning Vogel is selling. In response to Vogel's demands, Dievendorf penned a response, refusing to back down from calling out what her group sees as problematic policies at the festival.

"The position that Equality Michigan, trans activists, allied orgs, and petition signers took on Michfest this year shines a light on the exclusion of the trans* community," Dievendorf writes. "Discrimination is ugly and those who know it well should also know better than to create and feed it. Discrimination is at its ugliest when we know it exists and we choose to create a sacred space within in it — to wrap ourselves with it — because everything else, the privilege and validation that it may be woven into, can feel so damn good. This year we are declaring that we have had enough of Michfest’s double talk and can see through it. If Michfest is to be trans inclusive then it must change the 'intention' to illustrate a wide open door and a safe space for transwomen. In the meantime, while Michfest leaders continue to dig their heels into the excuses and allegiances of yesteryear, Equality Michigan will continue to ask citizens of our state to be clear in their position of inclusion and to invest in the women’s festivals that leave no woman behind." 

Contributor: 
Parker Marie Molloy