frustration
So this page started in 2006 as a post entitled Frustration, which addressed the issue of FTM-spectrum participation at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (often called simply “Michigan” or “Michfest”) and the underacknowledged problem of how FTM acceptance in the queer women’s community has contributed to the continuing invisibilization and marginalization of trans women in those same spaces.

In 2007, I added a couple more posts related to the issue of trans woman-exclusion in queer women’s communities, and trans-exclusion within lesbian and gay communities more generally. Since then, I continue to write about these issues, but I do so on my blog - such posts are tagged with the label frustration.

Also, if you have a particular interest in this issue, I have written more extensively about it in my chapbook On the Outside Looking In, and my full-length books Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive and (to a lesser extent) Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity...

Contents:
8/14/06 - Frustration
How FTM-spectrum participation in queer women's spaces often marginalizes trans women.

8/23/06 - Not Quite There Yet...
My response to the dueling Camp Trans/Michigan press releases of 2007.

2/10/07 - “Controversizing” the Issue
How calling Michigan’s trans woman exclusion-policy a “debate” or a “controversy” is not as neutral of a position as it appears to be on the surface.

5/13/07 - the SF Trans March/Tribe 8 debacle
During planning for the 2007 SF Trans March, the issue came up as to whether bands who perform at trans woman-exclusionist women’s events should also be allowed to perform at the Trans March as well. The following are a series of my posts on the issue...

For more articles on this topic, just search for posts labelled frustration on my blog.



Frustration
by julia serano - posted on 8/14/06

here is a scenario that i hope will spark some long overdue dialogue:

say a woman you know is the victim of sexist discrimination, and her discriminators were unapologetic about it. if you were a righteous male ally, would you:

1) hold the discriminators accountable by calling them on their shit, boycotting their business, etc.

2) assure the woman that you will meet privately with her discriminators, behind closed doors, and try to show them the err of their ways.

if you chose #2, and the discriminators refused to change their ways, would you:

1) hold the discriminators accountable by calling them on their shit, boycotting their business, etc.

2) instead, continue to meet with the discriminators in private to try to change their mind, because you have worked with them before on other issues and you know they are good people deep down.

If at this point you still would chose #2, would you continue with that strategy for years on end? Would you continue even if some people used the fact that the discriminators were willing to meet with you as evidence that they aren’t really sexist?

If you were the woman in this scenario, how would you feel? Angry? Frustrated? If every time you spoke with the “male ally” about the issue, he simply told you to be patient, that these things take time, wouldn’t that sound condescending and patronizing to you? Would you even consider that man an ally?

As a trans woman, this is how I feel right now about many FTM-spectrum folks (as well as many non-trans queer women) in my community. While some trans guys & queer women I know are righteous allies in the fight against trans woman-exclusion policies in lesbian & queer women’s communities, others choose to enjoy the privilege they have being accepted in queer women’s spaces, even if it comes at the expense of trans women’s identities. Often this is couched in the language of fighting to change such policies (see comments in a recent TransNation Camp Trans article and my response below). What is typically overlooked is how this enables anti-trans woman sentiment in queer/trans spaces.

People pretend that specific events like Michigan are merely isolated incidents, but this is not the case. Many trans women – even ones who are dyke or bisexual-identified – do not feel comfortable in queer women’s spaces (even the ones that explicitly include us) because of the anti-trans woman sentiment that often exists in those spaces. All it takes is a handful of dykes to make trans misogynistic comments that are not called out by others in the community (whether they be queer women or FTM-spectrum folks) to drive trans women away.

I find it sad that no one (FTM or non-trans queer woman) has ever asked me why more trans women don’t come out to shows that occur at the intersection of the trans and queer women’s communities (while scores of trans guys attend these events, typically there are a mere handful of trans women). If they did ask me, I would tell them about all the times that I’ve had trans women ask me when I’m performing next, and when I tell them that it’s at a queer women’s event or a queer/trans event, they have told me that they’d rather not go because they do not feel comfortable or safe in those spaces, because they have been harassed or belittled at such events before.

At the Femme Conference this past weekend, there was a significant turn out of FTM-spectrum folks but hardly any trans women – even though it was a FEMME conference. When Shawna Virago and I (the only 2 trans women there who I was personally aware of) brought up issues that made us feel unsafe & uncomfortable in that space (specifically, the spoofing of trans identities in the film Female-to-Femme and several anti-trans woman comments made by one of the keynote speakers), we were described by some as being “divisive.” (note: it was certain attendees who said this, not the conference organizers (who were very supportive of us)) I have heard similar complaints about “divisiveness” from queer women and FTM-spectrum folks regarding Michigan, Osento, etc. We are not being divisive! We simply want to be fully respected in our own community!

I am not comfortable about the way that people who play Michigan or make trans misogynistic comments are coddled by other queer women and FTM-spectrum folks in my community. When folks who play Michigan or who are Michigan-apologists take the stage at trans events, it says to me that trans women are second-class citizens in our community. I am all for fighting under the Transgender umbrella so long as all of our concerns are being addressed. But if Transgender means that trans women’s concerns and representation is going to take a back seat to trans male concerns (just as lesbian often takes a back seat to gay men in queer activism), then maybe this isn’t really my community after all.

-julia
http://www.juliaserano.com

PS, please feel free to link or forward this message to anyone who you think needs to hear it.

if you want to write to Julia personally, she can be reached at the following addresses:
by email at

the article that contains the FTM-spectrum comments that provoked this email can be found here:

http://www.sfbaytimes.com/index.php?sec=article&article_id=5342

here is my letter to the editor of the SF Bay Times:

Most of the quotes in your recent article about the controversy surrounding the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival’s trans woman-exclusion policy (“Michigan Or Bust: CampTrans Flourishes for Another Year”) came from two genderqueer FTM-spectrum trans-identified people, Bryan Burgess and Lynnee Breedlove, who offered the same tired rhetoric about “changing the festival from within” that Michigan apologists have been spouting for years now. If you look back at history, there has not been a single instance where people have overcome a deeply entrenched prejudice without first being forced to interact with the people they detest. And the fact of the matter is that Michigan’s “womyn-born-womyn-only” (and similar policies elsewhere) are not meant to keep transgender people in general out of women-only spaces. Rather, they are specifically designed to exclude trans women (who live and identify as women despite being assigned a male sex by others at birth). As FTM-spectrum trans folks, Burgess and Breedlove are afforded the privilege of talking about their transgender identities from inside the festival gates or from the festival stage, but they conveniently ignore the fact that any trans woman who tried to do the same would be immediately expelled as a result.

As Burgess’s and Breedlove’s comments show, the lesbian community has become rather accepting of trans people who identify as “he,” as a “guy,” or “trans men who...are pretty far along with their transition.” Despite this FTM-specific progress, many lesbians remain dismissive of, and hostile toward, trans women. Many pretend that they are most concerned about our “male energy” or “male” genitals, but this is a hypocritical stance considering the dyke community’s infatuation with trans men, drag kings, and strap-on dildos in recent years. Personally, as a trans woman, I have found that lesbians who wish to dismiss me do not simply take me to task for the fact that I am transgender – instead, more often than not, they mock my femininity. And the overwhelming majority of arguments used to justify trans woman-exclusion are firmly rooted in traditional sexism (I have written more extensively about this issue at this link: http://www.juliaserano.com/outside.html ).

I am weary of FTM-spectrum trans folks who try to frame Michigan’s policy as though it was a “trans” issue in general, when it specifically targets trans women and is driven primarily by trans misogyny. Reading Burgess’s and Breedlove’s feel-good, things-will-change-eventually rhetoric felt as ignorant and arrogant to me as an all-male panel discussing women’s issues would feel to the average woman. While folks like Burgess and Breedlove may be helping to strengthen the bonds that already exist between the lesbian community and male- and genderqueer-identified trans people, they do it at the expense of trans women’s identities. The debate over trans woman-inclusion at Michigan has been going on for almost fifteen years now. And at this late date, anyone who still believes that they can change the festival from within is simply enabling lesbian prejudice against trans women.

Julia Serano
Oakland, CA


Not Quite There Yet...
by julia serano - posted on 8/23/06

People have been asking me about the recent turn of events at Michigan. While many blogs and email lists are buzzing with the news that Michigan has “overturned” its “womyn-born-womyn” policy, this is hardly the case. The situation is described by a recent article in the Michigan LGBT paper “Behind the Lines” (presumably in their 8/17/06 issue - I will link to the specific article once it appears on the web). This is what they report has changed:

While festival organizers said the “womyn-born-womyn” policy remains in effect, they conceded that they will sell tickets to any woman at the gate with the hope that ticketholders will respect the spirit of the “womon-only space.”

So, in other words, trans women are still not allowed in the festival, but the festival will allow them in anyway. Hmmm...

Lisa Vogel has a slightly different take: a Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Press Release sent out yesterday says:

“Does this represent a change in the Festival’s commitment to womyn-born womyn space? No.” says Vogel. “If a transwoman purchased a ticket, it represents nothing more than that womon choosing to disrespect the stated intention of this Festival.”

(The Michigan press release also (for the first time, I think) describes “womyn-born-womyn” as a “gender identity”, which (along with the movie Female-to-Femme) highlights just how popular the trend of appropriating transsexual language and identities - even in the name of denying transsexual rights - has become among many lesbians).

The Camp Trans press release (which was widely circulated over the last two days via the internet) does not contradict these accounts. Although they understandably tried to put the best possible positive spin on this slight change, playing up the welcome they received from attendees when trans women openly entered the festival, while playing down the fact that trans women were still officially unwelcomed according to the policy.

So now, if you will allow me to go into “pundit-mode”, I will share my views on these recent developments:

THE GOOD

The fact that trans women can now enter the festival and speak openly about being trans women is an absolutely crucial step forward. As I said in my letter to the editor of the SF Bay Times (see above) “If you look back at history, there has not been a single instance where people have overcome a deeply entrenched prejudice without first being forced to interact with the people they detest” - in this case, that doesn’t mean transgender people in general, it means trans women. Personal interaction is the only reason why past resistance to leather dykes, drag kings and FTM-spectrum folks in the festival has subsided over time. I cannot tell you how frustrating it has been as a trans woman to be patronizingly told by queer women and FTM-spectrum folks that they are supposedly fighting for my behalf inside the festival. Such claims are arrogant, ignorant and irresponsible. Nobody can speak on behalf of trans women - only we can speak for ourselves! And none of the most adamant trans woman-exclusionists will even consider re-thinking their positions unless they have the opportunity to interact with us, to see first hand that we are not the demonic Janice Raymond characatures that they have been taught to believe. And now, unless Lisa Vogel changes her mind once again, it looks like we will finally have that chance.

THE BAD

Well, first off, the policy still is still cissexist - as it legitimizes cissexual genders over transsexual genders - and it still (despite all of Lisa Vogel’s claims to the contrary) dimisses trans women’s female identities. Trans women still will not be invited to take the festival stage or have a participatory voice in the festival itself. Since those trans women who do attend have officially been described as “disrespecting women's space”, their presence in the festival may be seen as illegitimate or even criminal by some attendees. In other words, we are still not fully recognized as women.

Considering all of the emails I have received describing the situation as though Michigan has “overturned” its “womyn-born-womyn” policy, one fear that I have is that people will consider this issue to be over. The issue of trans woman-exclusion first gained large amounts of attention within the queer women’s community in 1999 and 2000 due, not only the revival of the Camp Trans protest, but to the call for artists to boycott the festival. This boycott - which has resulted in fewer younger queer women acts and audience members attending - has been the only leverage that proponents of trans woman-inclusion have had in this situation. But unfortunately even this has been slipping lately: in the last few years, several larger queer women's acts (e.g., Erase Errata, Le Tigre and Tribe 8) have broken the boycott with little to no outrage from the greater queer women’s community. And the growing participation of FTM-spectrum folks within the festival has further invisibilized the trans woman-specific discrimination that continues to this day.

Unfortunately, this recent slight policy tweak could turn out to be a stroke of genius for Lisa Vogel. By upholding the “womyn-born-womyn” policy, she avoids alienating the most hard-core anti-trans faction of festival goers, while at the same time potentially duping pro-trans queer women into believing that the festival has changed its ways.

THE UGLY

My biggest concern regarding this slight tweaking of policy involves the safety of those trans women who go to Michigan next year. There is a lot of intense hatred of trans women among the most adamant trans woman-exclusionists - if you don't believe me, just check out what is actually said about us on the Michigan message boards (Beware, nasty stuff, please read at your own risk: http://www.michfest.com/ubb/Forum4/HTML/000885.html). The fact that the policy is still in place makes it quite likely that trans women will not feel entirely safe in this most famous “safe women’s space”. What happens when trans women attempt to use the bathrooms, showers, etc. (particularly for those who have not undergone hormone therapy and/or bottom surgery)? What happens if they are directly confronted by angry festival goers? In many ways, Lisa Vogel’s failure to make a clear stand enables potential harassment of trans women.

Re-thinking the issue

Michigan is the world’s largest annual women-only event in the world, and the fact that a growing number of dykes and trans folks feel apathy and indifference over the exclusion of trans women (who identify and live as women) from this event contributes to the growing sense that trans women are merely second-class citizens in both the trans and lesbian communities. Part of the reason why I wrote my original post was to encourage people to recognize the connections that exist between 1) outright trans woman-exclusion at events like Michigan, 2) everyday sentiments of trans misogyny (i.e., prejudice targetted directly at trans women rather than transgender people as a whole) that occur on a regular basis in the queer women’s community, and 3) the way that such sentiments make trans women feel unwelcome, unsafe and irrelevant in queer women’s spaces, even those that have policies that explicitly welcome us.

While many people contribute to this problem in different ways, I focused my original post on FTM-spectrum folks who choose to enjoy their own privilege of being in queer women’s spaces without recognizing how their presence often further marginalizes and invisibilizes trans women's identities. When a FTM-spectum trans guy who calls himself “he” goes to a women-only space like Michigan, it reinforces a belief that most transphobic and trans-ignorant women already have, which is that trans people’s identified genders are not to be taken seriously. And when FTM-spectrum folks overlook or fail to question the gross disparity in the numbers of trans men vs. trans women in what are supposed to be queer women’s events and spaces, they provide cover for the trans misogynists; I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people claim that Michigan’s policy is not transphobic because “lots of trans people [i.e., FTM-spectrum folks] attend.”

Once again, I know a lot of righteous FTM-spectrum allies of trans women, and I very much appreciate their support. Unfortunately, the predominant sentiment among the FTM community as a whole seems to be one of ignoring how sexism leads trans women to be the focus of public demonization and dehumanization regarding transgenderism, both in mainstream culture and within the lesbian community. It is trans-misogyny, not transphobia, that leads trans women to feel like second-class citizens within both the trans and queer women’s communities. I think I summed up the way I feel about this best in a piece I wrote (about my experience at Camp Trans a few years back) called On the Outside Looking In. Towards the end of that piece, I said:

I am a transsexual in a dyke community where most women have not had to fight for their right to be recognized as female – it is merely something they’ve taken for granted. And I am a woman in a segment of the trans community dominated by female-born genderqueers and folks on the FTM spectrum, neither of whom have experienced the special social stigma that is reserved for feminine transgendered expression and for those who transition to female.

Until people realize that the primary discrimination that trans women face is not “transphobia”, but trans misogyny, the dialogue regarding this issue will remain incomplete and inadequate, and trans women will continue to be considered largely irrelevant and unwelcome by the greater queer women's community...



Here is the Camp Trans press release:
(if you don't want to read these press releases and would rather skip ahead to the next post, click here.

Camp Trans Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 21, 2006
www.camp-trans.org


Michigan Women's Music Festival ends policy of discrimination against Trans
women

After 15 years of controversy, supporters welcome trans women to 'the land'

HART, MICHIGAN - The Michigan Women's Music Festival began admitting openly
trans (transgender/transsexual) women last week, bringing success to a
longstanding struggle by trans activists both inside and outside the
festival.

"Seeing trans women inside the festival for the first time brought me to
tears," said Sue Ashman, who attends the festival every year. "It's
restored my faith in women's communities."

Ashman said "I have friends who have already committed to bringing
themselves and others for the first time next year."

Organizers of Camp Trans, the annual protest across the road from the
festival, say that every year at least one trans woman at Camp Trans walks
to the festival gate with a group of supporters, explains that she is trans,
and tries to buy a ticket. In past years, the festival box office has
produced a printed copy of the policy and refused.

"This time, the response was, 'cash or credit?'" said Jessica Snodgrass, a
Camp Trans organizer and festival attendee who spent the week reaching out
to supporters inside the fest. "They said the festival has no policy
barring any woman from attending."

The woman purchased her ticket on Wednesday and joined supporters inside the
festival. Another trans woman, Camp Trans organizer Emilia Lombardi, joined
on Friday to facilitate a scheduled workshop discussion on the
recently-retired policy.

"This kind of discussion has happened before inside the fest," said
Lombardi. "But for the first time in years, trans women were part of the
conversation. Over 50 women shared their thoughts about what the inclusion
of trans women means for the Festival and how we can move forward."

"We didn't expect to change anyone's minds in the workshop - but in the end
we didn't need to. The support we found was overwhelming."

Both trans women say they were moved by how friendly and supportive other
festival attendees were.

"We spent all day inside the festival, talking with other women about how
Michigan has grown to embrace the diversity of women's experience," Lombardi
said. "The attitudes of festival goers have definitely shifted since the
early 90's."

With their original mission accomplished, organizers say Camp Trans will
continue to be a place for trans people and allies to build community, share
ideas, and develop strategies for change. And they will keep working
together with festival workers and attendees to make sure trans women who
attend the fest next year have support and resources.

Camp Trans will partner with a group of supporters inside the fest next year
to establish an anti-transphobia area within the festival. Representatives
from Camp Trans and A group of festival workers and attendees, organizing
under the name "The Yellow Armbands," plan to educate people on trans issues
and provide support to trans and differently gendered women. Festival
attendees have worn yellow armbands for the past three years as a symbol of
pro-trans inclusion solidarity.

Both Camp Trans and supporters at the fest say they are excited to be
working together to welcome trans women and support a trans-inclusive,
women-only space.

"This is not about winning," said Snodgrass. "It's about making our
communities whole again. The policy divided people against each other who
could be fighting on the same side. We want to be part of the healing
process."

Camp Trans (camp-trans.org) is an effort to end discrimination against trans
women within women's communities. For 14 years, Camp Trans has been a site
for trans people and allies to protest the policy, build community, and
develop strategies for change.

BACKGROUND

The festival's policy against trans women was first enforced in 1991, when
festival security ejected Nancy Burkholder from the grounds of the festival.

As the largest women-only festival of its kind, and as one of the few
remaining women's events to openly discriminate against trans women, the
festival was well known for its policy, drawing criticism from trans
activists and festival attendees. Two years ago, a group of attendees
deployed a 25-foot banner opposing the policy during the headline act.

###



Here is the Michigan press release discussed above...

MICHIGAN WOMYN’S MUSIC FESTIVAL PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2006

MICHIGAN WOMYN’S MUSIC FESTIVAL SETS THE RECORD “STRAIGHT” 

Hart, Michigan – Seeking to correct misinformation widely distributed by “Camp Trans” organizers, Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival founder and producer Lisa Vogel released the following clarification:

“Since 1976, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been created by and for womyn-born womyn, that is, womyn who were born as and have lived their entire life experience as womyn.  Despite claims to the contrary by Camp Trans organizers, the Festival remains a rare and precious space intended for womyn-born womyn.”

The facts surrounding the interactions between WWTMC and Camp Trans organizers are as follows:

In the months preceding this year’s Festival, held August 8 – 13, there was communication between a Camp Trans organizer named Lorraine and Lisa Vogel.  Letters from Lorraine continued during the Festival, when they were hand-delivered to the Festival’s front gate from Camp Trans, which takes place on Forest Service Land across from Festival property.  On Tuesday, August 8th, Camp Trans organizers inquired at the Box Office about Festival admission.  They were told that the Festival is intended for womyn-born womyn, and that those who seek to purchase tickets are asked to respect that intention.  Camp Trans organizers left without purchasing tickets.  They returned the next day and were given the same information. Lorraine at that point chose to purchase a ticket. 

On Wednesday, August 9th, Vogel sent a reply letter to Lorraine which stated in part:

“I deeply desire healing in our communities, and I can see and feel that you want that too. I would love for you and the other organizers of Camp Trans to find the place in your hearts and politics to support and honor space for womyn who have had the experience of being born and living their life as womyn. I ask that you respect that womon born womon is a valid and honorable gender identity. I also ask that you respect that womyn born womyn deeply need our space -- as do all communities who create space to gather, whether that be womyn of color, trans womyn or trans men . . . I wish you well, I want healing, and I believe this is possible between our communities, but not at the expense of deeply needed space for womyn born womyn.”

Vogel’s written request that Camp Trans organizers respect the Festival as womyn-born-womyn space was consistent with information provided to Camp Trans organizers who approached the Festival Box Office.  “Does this represent a change in the Festival’s commitment to womyn-born womyn space?  No.” says Vogel.  “If a transwoman purchased a ticket, it represents nothing more than that womon choosing to disrespect the stated intention of this Festival.”

“As feminists, we call upon the transwomen’s community to help us maintain womyn only space, including spaces created by and for womyn-born womyn.  As sisters in struggle, we call upon the transwomen’s community to meditate upon, recognize and respect the differences in our shared experiences and our group identities even as we stand shoulder to shoulder as women, and as members of the greater queer community.  We once again ask the transwomen’s community to recognize that the need for a separate womyn-born womyn space does not stand at odds with recognizing the larger and beautiful diversity of our shared community.”

*       *         *

In an effort to build further understanding of the Festival’s perspective, answers are provided to questions raised by the recent Camp Trans press release (which contains misinformation):

Why would the Festival sell a ticket to an individual who is not a womon-born womon if the Festival is intended as a space created by and for womyn-born womyn?  From its inception the Festival has been home to womyn who could be considered gender outlaws, either because of their sexual orientation (lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, etc.) or their gender presentation (butch, bearded, androgynous, femme – and everything in between).  Many womyn producing and attending the Michigan Festival are gender variant womyn.  Many of the younger womyn consider themselves differently gendered, many of the older womyn consider themselves butch womyn, and the dialogue is alive and well on the Land as our generational mix continues to inform our ongoing understanding about gender identity and the range of what it means to be female.  Michigan provides one of the safest places on the planet for womyn who live and present themselves to the world in the broadest range of gender expression.  As Festival organizers, we refuse to question anyone’s gender.  We instead ask that womon-born womon be respected as a valid gender identity, and that the broad queer and gender-diverse communities respect our commitment to one week each year for womyn-born womyn to gather.

Did the Festival previously refuse to sell tickets to transwomen?  The Festival has consistently communicated our intention about who the Festival is created by and for.  In 1999, Camp Trans protesters caused extensive disruption of the Festival, in which a male from Camp Trans publicly displayed male genitals in a common shower area and widespread disrespect of women’s space was voiced.  The following year, our 25th anniversary, we issued a statement that we would not sell tickets to those entering for the purpose of disrupting the Festival.  While this is widely pointed to by Camp Trans supporters as a "policy," it was a situational response to the heated circumstances of 1999, intended to reassure the womyn who have attended for years that the Festival remained – as it does today – intended for womyn who were born as and have lived their entire life experience as womyn, despite the disrespect and intentional disruption Camp Trans initiated. 

Is the Festival transphobic?  We strongly assert there is nothing transphobic with choosing to spend one week with womyn who were born as, and have lived their lives as, womyn.  It is a powerful, uncommon experience that womyn enjoy during this one week of living in the company of other womyn-born womyn.  There are many opportunities in the world to share space with the entire queer community, and other spaces that welcome all who define themselves as female.  Within the rich diversity now represented by the broader queer community, we believe there is room for all affinity groups to enjoy separate, self-determined, supportive space if they choose.  Supporting womyn-born womyn space is no more inherently transphobic than supporting womyn of color space is racist.  We believe that womyn-born womyn have a right to gather separately from the greater womyn’s community.  We refuse to be forced into false dichotomies that equate being pro-womyn-born womyn space with being anti-trans; indeed, many of the womyn essential to the Michigan Festival are leaders and supporters of trans-solidarity work.  The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival respects the transsexual community as integral members of the greater queer community.  We call upon the transsexual community in turn to respect and support womyn-born womyn space and to recognize that a need for a separate womyn-born womyn space does not stand at odds with recognizing transwomen as part of the larger diversity of the womyn’s community.

What is Camp Trans? Camp Trans was first created in 1994 as a protest to the Festival as womyn-born womyn space.  Camp Trans re-emerged in 1999 and has been held across the road from the Festival every year since.  A small gathering of people who camp and hold workshops and a few performances on Forest Service land across the road, Camp Trans attempts to educate womyn who are attending the Festival about their point of view regarding trans inclusion at the Festival.  At times they have advocated for the Festival to welcome anyone who, for whatever period of time, defines themselves as female, regardless of the sex they were born into.  At other times, Camp Trans activists have advocated opening the Festival to all sexes and genders.

What is the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival? It is the largest and longest running womyn’s festival in the United States.  Since the first Festival in 1976, tens of thousands of womyn from all corners of the world have made the pilgrimage to this square mile of land in Northern Michigan.  The essence of the Festival is that it is one week a year that is by, for and about the glorious diversity of womyn-born womyn and we continue to stand by our labor of love to create this space.  Our focus has not changed in the 31 years of our celebration and it remains fixed on the goal of providing a celebratory space for a shared womyn-born-womyn experience. 




“Controversizing” the Issue
by julia serano - posted on 02/10/07

In February, 2006 there was discussion on the
Kithology board about how genderqueer- and FTM-centric last year’s SF Trans March was. Several people posted suggestions about how to make it more inclusive of MTF-spectrum folks, including my suggestion of not including any performers/speakers who still participate in trans woman-exclusionist events like Michigan. Someone replied to my post who disagreed with my suggestion - they stressed that this matter was still a “controversy” and they went on to further suggest that folks from both Camp Trans and Michigan should be invited to speak from the stage to air out this “debate.” Here is my response:

Are you actually suggesting that we invite Lisa Vogel (a non-trans woman who is sole proprietor of MWMF) to have a few minutes at the Trans March stage to lecture us on why she believes trans women don’t belong in women-only space? Why not also invite Janice Raymond, J. Michael Bailey and Pat Robertson, you know, to ensure that a diverse spectrum of anti-trans woman perspectives are fairly represented?

I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that you’ve fully thought out your line of reasoning here. If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that the Trans March should offer equal time to both/all sides of this debate. In other words, you want to “teach the controversy” (as George W. says with regards to the issue of teaching evolution in schools). This strategy may sound nice in theory, but in real life it is highly problematic, as it makes several (usually false) assumptions: 1) that both sides of the “debate” are equally valid, 2) that the people who advocate opposing sides have similar power and voice, thus ensuring that they are equally capable of getting their messages out, and 3) that the audience is completely non-biased and capable of suspending their own prejudices and self-interests in order to judge the “debate” 100% objectively.

More often than not, pleas to listen to “both sides of the debate” or to “teach the controversy” are merely injustices disguising themselves as fairness. For decades, tobacco companies argued that the jury was still out on whether cigarettes cause lung cancer despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Polluters have similarly argued that there are scientists on both sides of the debate with regards to global warming. In both of these cases, 1) the evidence on both sides of the debate are not equally valid (i.e., the evidence overwhelmingly showed that smoking causes cancer and pollution causes global warming), and 2) the only reason these issues became a “debate” in the first place was because tobacco and fossil fuel companies have way more political and financial power than the people on the other side of the argument (aka, you and me). In other words, the people with the less legitimate argument kept a pointless debate going for years on end by “controvers-izing” the issue - creating the impression that there is a legitimate “debate” when there really is not one.

One can see how dangerous this can become if one ventures into the realm of identity politics. If Rosie O’Donnell writes an autobiography, should newspapers and magazines that review her book be obliged to review Anita Bryant’s or Fred Phelps’ autobiography the following day? If Cornell West appears on PBS to discuss his views on racism, does the network automatically have to invite David Duke on the same program to provide an alternative view?

What should be becoming clear by now is that insisting that an issue be presented as a “debate” or a “controversy” is not necessarily a neutral position. Often it is a highly prejudice position, as it can bring a person’s identity or perspective into question. If a local paper interviewed you or me individually to talk about transgender activism, that could be an empowering piece for gender variant people. But if they ran our comments along side the views of a gatekeeper, an evangelical preacher and a lesbian separatist, that would most likely be a disempowering article. Their illegitimate views would have the effect of undermining our own perspectives regarding our gender identities, expressions, and the obstacles we face.

In your email, when you described the issue of trans woman-exclusion at Michigan as a “controversy”, you were essentially suggesting that my identity as a woman is controversial and up for debate. In other words, you presented my identity and lived experiences as a woman as though they were “questionable” (in contrast to cissexual women’s female identities, which you seem to view as being “unquestionable”). As a transsexual, I deal with this sort of issue all of the time, where people wrongly assume that their presumptions and stereotypes of who I am are more valid than my own identity, perspectives and life experiences. While I may have to navigate this sort of arrogance from other people in my day-to-day life, I should not have to be subjected to it at the Trans March.

You are most certainly not the only person who has ever tried to “contoversize” my female identity in this way. My female identity is regularly reduced to a “debate” by non-trans queer women who would rather spend a week with their friends in Michigan than examining their own cissexual privilege. What’s even more disappointing to me is that there are a lot of FTM spectrum people out there who do the very same thing. They hypocritically expect their friends, families and co-workers to respect their male- or genderqueer-identities for 51 weeks out of the year, then for that one week at MWMF they take advantage of cissexual privilege (which presumes that one’s “birth sex” is more legitimate than one’s identified and lived sex) in order to enter women-only space. Their insistence on “having it both ways” marginalizes me as a trans woman: it delgitimizes my female identity in both the lesbian and the transgender communities of which I am a part.

In my original post (which you replied to), I didn’t just bring up MWMF out of the blue. My post followed the theme of two previous posts which raised the issue of how past Trans Marches have tended to be very FTM spectrum- and genderqueer-centric (a point that you didn’t even address in your reply). This isn’t just a Trans March issue, or a Michigan issue, but one that reaches every facet of the trans/queer community in the Bay Area. Most trans women I have spoken with have said that they feel increasingly marginalized and irrelevant in a trans community that seems to revolve around folks on the trans masculine spectrum. People who make trans-misogynistic comments or who attend/perform at trans woman-exclusionist events are regularly coddled in our local trans/queer scene. This seems to send a message that trans identities should be respected when they are genderqueer or FTM spectrum, but not MTF spectrum.

Many of us on the MTF spectrum are beginning to fear that transgender activism invariably favors trans masculine perspectives over trans feminine ones (akin to how “gay rights” organizations and events often promote a gay male, rather than lesbian, agenda). This is a very real issue that is not going to go away any time soon, regardless of who performs on the Trans March stage.

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the SF Trans March/Tribe 8 debacle
by julia serano - posted on 5/13/07

The following series of posts take up where the last post leaves off. The first message in this series was posted to a public board where there was an ongoing discussion of how the SF Trans March tends to be FTM/genderqueer-centric (like most Bay Area “trans” events) and what can be done to get more trans women to attend. I suggested that many trans women (particularly dyke- and bisexual-identified trans women) might feel more welcome if the Trans March sent a clear message that it was not going to invite folks who play trans woman-exclusionist events. This turned out to be problematic, as Tribe 8 had already been invited to play. The remainder of the messages were originally posted on Trans March private boards & not meant for public consumption. The only reason why I am posting them now is because at least one Trans March organizer broke with this confidentiality by complaining to folks outside of the committee about the views and actions of two of my allies on this issue. And Lynnee Breedlove (of Tribe 8) has also posted his views on the matter on his blog. So since it has become a public matter, I am posting my words so that they are not misrepresented by others. Wherever possible, I have edited messages to delete names so as not to make this a personal matter; the only people explicitly discussed are Lynnee & others who have performed at Michigan in recent years (as those were public and politically relevant decisions made on their parts). There are six messages (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and an epilogue...

message 1
This message was posted on a public trans board

I agree with what others have said regarding lack of MTF spectrum participation at the festival. On a related note, I know that a number of trans women who did show up to last year’s march were made to feel unwelcome by the fact that a couple of the performers during the pre-march have also relatively recently performed at women’s events that exclude trans women. This is an issue that (in part) I tried to address in an open letter to the FTM spectrum community last year. This isn’t just a trans march issue, but one that comes up all the time at trans events.

Whenever a trans woman or ally brings this issue up, it is typical for others to claim we are being “divisive”. To me, what that says, is that the person is more concerned about perserving the alliance between FTM folks and non-trans queer women than they are perserving an alliance between FTM and MTF spectrum people. I know a lot of folks under queer umbrella regularly disregard MTF-specific issues, which is why many trans women I know feel largely unwelcome and irrelevant at queer/trans events. I hope that maybe this year’s trans march can be the start of a new era in trans events where we as a transgender community make a stand and say that in order to participate in this event, you have to fully respect *all* transgender identities, not just those on the FTM spectrum.

message 2
Someone from the Trans March contacted me after the last post and asked what my thoughts were about Tribe 8 possibly performing at the March. This is my response (which was forwarded to the Trans March message board).

Feel free to forward my last post and this email to the Trans March organizers if you wish.

I know that a number of people who I spoke with at last year’s Trans March were extremely bothered that Kaia performed because she has argued in the past that “womyn-born-womyn-only” lesbian spaces are not inherently anti-trans - this of course denies the fact that some of us are both lesbian *and* trans women. Because we lie at the intersection of both identities, it is impossible for anyone to make such claims without necessarily delegitimizing one of those identities. That is, the only way that “womyn-born-womyn-only” lesbian spaces can be politically valid is if one believes that trans women’s lesbian and female identities are inherently less legitimate than those of cissexual women.

Many of the folks who were upset about Kaia’s presence on stage were also bothered that Sini performed. Since I am not personally familiar with Sini’s view on this issue, I will instead focus on Lynnee, with whom I (and others) have had multiple conversations with regarding this issue. Now I love Lynnee and I appreciate much of the work he has done as a queer artist and activist, but the fact that he has continued to perform at Michigan is highly problematic for a number of reasons, as I will describe below.

First off, Michigan’s “womyn-born-womyn-only” policy is not transphobic per se, as it does not discriminate uniformly against all people who transgress gender norms. Rather, it is trans-misogynistic, in that it singles out trans women for exclusion. Female-bodied genderqueers and transgender folks on the FTM spectrum are not only allowed to attend Michigan, but folks like Lynnee and Animal and JD Samson have been invited to take the stage (in Lynnee’s case, despite the fact that he identifies as a guy and refers to himself with male pronouns). Further, in recent years, the festival has shifted its language from calling it a festival for womyn, to saying it is a festival for those who were born and raised female – this change purposely accommodates the growing acceptance of FTM spectrum folks within the lesbian community (see TransNation article about trans guys attending Michigan). Thus, it is more accurate to say that Michigan’s policy is trans-misogynistic, in that it is specifically designed to keep trans women away. One could also say that it is cissexist, in that it privileges “birth sex” over identified sex and views trans women’s female identities as being less legitimate than those of cissexual women.

Taking this into account, there are several problems with Lynnee’s presence at the festival:

1) Because Lynnee identifies as a “he,” the fact that he continues to enter a *women-only* space fosters the idea that trans people’s gender identities are not to be taken seriously. He also provides intellectual cover for the festival, as many Michigan supporters can (and do) claim that the festival is not anti-trans because plenty of transgender people attend and perform there.

2) By entering into a space that excludes trans women and claiming to “speak on our behalf”, he essentially makes himself the self-appointed spokesperson for trans women. Being that he has not had an MTF experience himself, this is extremely problematic in that it contributes to the erasing of trans women’s voices on this issue. Only trans women can legitimately speak for ourselves. And while Lynnee may have the best of intentions, he often misrepresents our perspectives (as he comes from a genderqueer FTM spectrum position rather than a transsexual MTF perspective). Most trans women (as well as Camp Trans) support the idea of women-only space, but believe it should be open to all self-identified women. Lynnee, on the other hand, often takes the blurring-distinctions-between-female-and-male approach, which actually undermines our claims that we should be allowed in because we live and identify as women.

3) While Lynnee may be sincere about going to Michigan to change people’s minds regarding trans women, countless FTM spectrum folks who attend don’t go out of their way to advocate for our inclusion. They would rather have it both ways (i.e., to be male-identified while simultaneously maintaining the privilege of entering women-only spaces whenever they wish). This invisibilizes the issue of trans woman-exclusion (i.e., the issue of trans women being excluded from women’s space becomes secondary to the issue of FTM spectrum inclusion). Once again, this is exacerbated by the fact that FTM spectrum folks *do* have a voice on the land while trans women do not.

4) The idea of Lynnee going into Michigan to convince the trans woman-exclusionists that they should allow trans women into the festival is extraordinarily naive. The problem isn’t that trans woman-exclusionists are ignorant of the existence of trans women, but rather that they have horrible misconceptions and stereotypes about us. And if you look back at history, there has not been a single instance where people have overcome a deeply entrenched prejudice without first being forced to interact with the people they detest. Mere words cannot dispel bigoted stereotypes and fears, only personal experiences can. Those who talk about changing the festival from the inside out often cite past instances where the festival has changed its ways, how it has overcome internal resistance to allowing SM, dildos, or male drag on the land. But those policy changes did not occur because of discussions or debates - they happened because dykes were just bringing those things into the festival with them and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. And once women at the festival had to live next to leather-dykes and drag kings, they began to realize that those women were not really so different from them. The debate over trans woman-inclusion at Michigan has been going on for almost fifteen years now. And at this late date, anyone who still believes that they can change the festival from within is simply enabling lesbian prejudice against trans women.

I have gone into these issues in more depth in an open letter to the FTM spectrum community that I posted on my website last year. I highly encourage you to read what I wrote there, not simply because it represents my views on this issue, but because it came out of many conversations I have had over the last couple years with frustrated trans women. In fact, when I posted it, I received a ton of positive responses, more than for anything else I have ever written. These responses were not only from trans women, but also from other trans/queer folks who recognize that MTF folks are increasingly marginalized within trans/queer spaces.

My last post followed two preceding posts that urged that changes be made to increase MTF inclusion/participation in an event that tends to be genderqueer- and FTM-centric. I don’t think that this is the Trans March’s fault per se, but rather that the people who gravitate to the March tend to reflect the disparities that already exist within the trans/queer community at large. With the exception of TGSF, practically all organizations and events in this city that are billed as being “trans” tend to be dominated by folks on the FTM-spectrum. Many even encourage non-trans queer women’s participation more so than MTF spectrum participation. This has been going on for years now and, to be honest, many of us on the MTF spectrum are beginning to fear that transgender activism invariably favors trans masculine perspectives over trans feminine ones (akin to how “gay rights” organizations and events often promote a gay male, rather than lesbian, agenda).

You said in your email that you were hoping to have Tribe 8 perform at this year’s Trans March. I can understand why you would want to have them perform, as they are popular and Lynnee is a big part of the trans/queer community here. Being that I am not one of the people doing the hard work of putting together the Trans March, I don’t feel that I am in a position to tell you that Tribe 8 should or shouldn’t perform. But what I can tell you is that, so long as Lynnee continues to perform at trans woman-exclusionist events like Michigan, many trans women and allies will interpret Tribe 8 performing at the Trans March as yet another sign that MTF folks are second-class citizens within the Bay Area trans/queer community.

I know that this fact complicates things for you an the other Trans March organizers, as you will likely feel that you are in a double-bind: If Tribe 8 plays, you may alienate many trans women, but if you chose not to invite Tribe 8 on account of them playing Michigan, then many genderqueers, FTM-spectrum folks and non-trans queer women (who together make up the majority of those who attend the March) will likely be upset.

From my perspective as a trans woman, it’s a lose-lose scenario: If Tribe 8 plays, then trans masculine perspectives will continue to trump trans feminine perspectives. And if Tribe 8 is purposefully not invited on account of the concerns of trans women, then those of us on the MTF spectrum will once again be told that we are being “divisive.” Of course, nobody ever calls people like Lynnee who attend or perform at Michigan divisive. This double-standard reflects the fact that the “one-ness” that is supposedly being divided (i.e., the trans/queer community) implicitly includes FTM spectrum folks and non-trans queer women, but not MTF folks. For me, that is the real problem.

Anyway, what I have written here is just my opinion and perspective. Other trans women will either agree or disagree with what I have said here, so you should definitely solicit other MTF opinions. I very much respect you as a friend and fellow activist, so if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

message 3
There were other Trans March organizers who shared my views on this issue, and they convinced me to get more involved and attend a few meetings, which I did. However, I was not added on to their main email group until a much later date. This is what I wrote in response to all of the Tribe 8-themed emails that had previously been posted by the time that I was added.

So while I’ve been to a couple Trans March (and performer task force) meetings, I haven’t been on this email list until yesterday. I’ve only now had the chance to look through some of the recent back-and-forth messages about Tribe 8. Frankly, I’m disappointed, but probably not for the reasons you might think I am. There was a lot of discussion about Michigan and their policy and Lynnee’s past comments about that and whether or not Tribe 8 supports Camp Trans, etc. Those are the details that have been obscuring what this debate is really about since 2000. The giant pink elephant in the room that nobody seems to want to talk about is the fact that the LGBT community in general, and queer women’s communities in particular, have become increasingly welcoming of trans male & trans masculine folks, but remain apathetic (at best) to hostile (at worst) toward folks on the trans female and trans feminine spectrums. This has led to invisibility and irrelevancy of trans women and other MTF folks within queer and trans spaces.

This has been building for a while, but for me, it really hit home last year when I went to the Femme 2006 conference, when one of the keynote speakers made 3 different trans-misogynistic comments (i.e., comments that were specifically aimed at trans women rather than trans people as a whole). I won’t go into them all, but her 3rd comment was the most blatant: she dusted off the thirty year-old stereotype of the trans woman who “takes up too much space” at the lesbian meeting, supposedly because of her male socialization. It was pretty fucked up, not merely because it is an offensive stereotype, but given the fact that (like virtually all queer women’s events these days) there was a significant turn out of FTM-spectrum folks (even despite the fact that it was a femme-themed conference) and hardly any trans women. For her to suggest that trans women “take up too much space” in a community where we have almost no voice and are often explicitly unwelcomed shows just how illogical expressions of trans-misogyny can be.

I was so upset and angry that I walked out. Not because of that one comment necessarily, but because I constantly feel anywhere from merely tolerated to outright dismissed in queer women’s spaces. For me this was simply the last straw. What struck me though was how alone I was when I walked out. I was the only one. No one else made a sound. There were scores of trans men and other FTM spectrum & butch folks in the audience, but they just sat there. The non-trans queer women sat there too. The only person to my knowledge who also walked out was a trans woman ally who was equally pissed. She let me vent to her. Afterwards, she told me that she broke up with a past girlfriend because of that woman’s attitude toward trans women: Her partner said fucked up stuff about us, and it really creeped her out. That’s what being a good ally is: Recognizing when particular individuals in a community are singled out for unfair treatment, and not standing for it. Being an ally means walking out sometimes. Especially when a particular policy or sentiment does not negatively impact you personally.

When I walked out of that conference, it wasn’t because of any exclusion policy. There was none. In fact, the conference itself was on paper 100% inclusive of trans folk. No, I was leaving because I felt like I was not welcome—not as a trans person, but as a trans woman. I’m sure some people were happy I was there, but most couldn’t care less. If they did care, they would have walked out of that conference too. In fact, I am sure that if the speaker’s comments targeted trans men or FTM spectrum folks, lots of people would have walked out. Most of the trans men. Most of the genderqueers. Most of the femmes partnered to trans folks. Most of their allies. But the speaker made fun of trans women. And nobody seemed to notice.

But I notice. I notice all of the time. Perhaps when other queer folks perform at queer events or trans events, they feel like they are performing for their peers, for their community. But when I perform at queer events—whether it’s Femme 2006 or Gender Pirates or a Dyke March Benefit or K’vetch or Sizzle or etc., I can’t help but look at the audience and think, “where are all the other trans women at?” I don’t feel the sense of community that others probably do, but rather I feel like an outsider. A token.

There, I said it. The “T” word (no, not testosterone). Token. Nobody, wants to be accused of tokenism, but let’s talk about it. I ran GenderEnders for 3 years and was constantly frustrated by how difficult it was to book trans woman features. I had Shawna and Charlie and Sherilyn and Lipstick Conspiracy and Brooklynne and then what? While my shows were small in attendance, there were more trans women than usual in attendance, probably because I was the host. When I would talk to trans women after the show, they would often tell me that’d they’d rather not go to most trans and queer woman-centric events because they didn’t feel welcome there. And these weren’t straight trans women. They were queer. A lot of statistics indicate that at least 50% of trans women are bisexual or lesbian in orientation. So where are they? Or more specifically, why do they feel unwelcome in queer women’s and trans spaces where trans men and other FTM folks seem to proliferate?

What’s at work hear is not explicit and blatant prejudice. Most queer events in the Bay Area do not have trans woman exclusion policies. Like most instances of marginalization, this issue is driven by unspoken attitudes, sentiments and biases. When one goes to queer women’s events, trans guys are routinely celebrated, while trans women are merely tolerated. While a relatively small percentage may actively want to exclude trans women, the majority is clearly apathetic as to whether we are there or not. They simply don’t care about us. If they did, they would be doing outreach to get more trans women to attend. They would more aggressively challenge anti-trans woman sentiment in their peers. They would hold people accountable for their actions. But they don’t.

It seems to me that most folks on the FTM spectrum are more interested in celebrating themselves and enjoying the fact that they are welcomed in queer women’s spaces than they are in advocating for their trans sisters. The result of this can be seen in the way that (with the exception of TGSF) most events in this city that are billed as being “trans” are dominated by trans men and FTM spectrum folks and relegate trans women to the status of tokens. If one or two or three of us appear on stage, nobody has to ask themselves why there are so few of us in the audience.

The Trans March is important to all of us, but for me, the reason is perhaps different. For me, it is the *only* time in any given year when I attend a trans event and see more than a handful of trans women there. That’s why it is so depressing to me that this conversation has de-evolved into a discussion about Tribe 8 and Michigan, because it started out as a discussion about how to make trans female and trans feminine folks feel more welcome at what many have described as a historically FTM- and genderqueer-centric Trans March. That was my point from the very beginning; see the following two previous posts: (aka, messages 1 and 2)

For me, this has never been about Tribe 8 or Michigan. It is about gaining a voice for trans female and trans feminine folks in a trans male- & trans masculine-centered queer/trans community. I was hoping that my original posts would have sparked a dialogue about trans male- and trans masculine-centrism within our community, but unfortunately it hasn’t. Instead, it’s become about whether Lynnee went to Camp Trans or not. It’s about people using the fact that a trans woman booked Tribe 8 for SF Pride as evidence that their politics regarding Michigan isn’t fucked up at all. That’s a textbook case of tokenism: when people point to one person’s opinion and assume that it somehow represents that entire community.

At this point, I don’t care whether or not Tribe 8 plays. Based on the reaction this discussion has generated, it is clear to me that even if the Trans March committee decided they shouldn’t perform, it would be a mere token gesture to appease the few of us who brought this issue up in the first place. It would be an empty gesture that did not call into question the institutional trans-misogyny that keeps trans women and other MTF spectrum folks from coming to queer/trans events in the first place…

message 4
Someone responded to my last post with a well-intentioned reply that drew connections between trans women and other groups in our community who are also marginalized for other reasons. This is my response to that message:

I appreciate your sentiments and insights regarding the similarities that exist between these different forms of marginalization. I agree with virtually everything you said, although I think it is important for me to differentiate my experiences as a trans woman in a cisgendered world and my experiences as a trans woman within the transgender community itself. All trans voices are marginalized in cisgender-dominated spaces. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is the fact that we make up a minority of the population. The fact that we are a minority provides a convenient excuse for people to ignore or dismiss us.

In contrast, within the transgender community, I am not a minority. There are roughly equal numbers of trans folks in each direction these days. Despite this, trans male and trans masculine voices overwhelmingly dominate in queer/trans spaces. Whenever any trans woman brings up our specific issues within the community, we are either dismissed or called divisive. It’s like we’re the nagging wives of the trans movement. And frankly, I’m tired of being the nagging wife. To be honest, over the last year I have been very torn about how much effort I want to put into transgender and queer organizing, because it tends to be so masculine-centric that MTF-specific issues are always shoved off to the side.

I cannot help but feel that history is repeating itself and yet no one seems to notice. Radical feminism evolved out of the various progressive movements of the 60’s, as many women involved in those organizations were tired of all the masculine-centrism and the fact that women’s specific issues were constantly ignored by the men in those movements. And lesbians began organizing separately from the male-dominated gay rights movement because their specific issues were also dismissed. It’s 2007 and we have all this history to reflect on, so can we please not allow this to happen again within the transgender movement?

Anyway, I’m exhausted and this is all I am going to say about this for now.

message 5
After my disappointment regarding what I felt was an unwillingness to talk about this issue in terms of making trans women welcome at the March, I decided not to attend anymore meetings and to let the issue go (I only told one other person that I was quitting). About a week later, someone posted a message (excerpted below) on the Trans March list which seemed to be directed at me (although I have since learned that it targeted other organizers who shared my views on this issue). Anyway, this was my response:

  • I feel that us dis inviting them for no real reason is discrimination.
There are only two possible reason’s why you would say that there is “no real reason” not to invite Tribe 8:

1) you have not read the multiple previous posts on the trans march list to this effect. If you haven’t, I encourage you to check out the following: (this reference included messages 1, 2 and 3, plus a few posts (not shown here) from others who shared my view)

2) If you have read these messages before, yet you still stand by your original post, then what you are in effect saying is that making trans women feel welcome at the Trans March is not a “real reason” not to invite Tribe 8.

  • their music has helped me with my own coming out as a dyke and then a trans-guy.
Of course, because it’s all about the trans guys and what they want. Ever since this subject came up, it’s been FTM-spectrum folks changing the subject from making trans women feel welcome to Tribe 8. Nobody wants to address the lack of trans woman participation at past Trans Marches or at SF trans events and spaces in general. Lately, it’s really just been two of us (and that other person is an amazing ally on this, in part, because he has a trans woman partner and knows how dismissive the SF queer/trans scene can be to trans female and trans feminine folks.)

  • As for people quiting the committee because of all this discussion about tribe 8 to my knowledge this is not true
I don’t know what you are referring to, but actually I quit going to the performers task force meetings because of this. After my last post (which tried to shift the conversation away from Tribe 8 and back to trans women), I was really disappointed that nobody except the previously mentioned ally was willing to address the trans woman issue. It really struck me how several people used another person’s post (which I believe was written with the best of intentions) to move the dialogue away from trans women back to “can’t we all just get along?” Only one person (the previously mentioned ally) publicly or back-channel addressed the issue of whether trans women are equals in this community. Nobody wants to talk about it or even acknowledge that it’s a problem. It’s like that Betty Freidan line: the problem that has no name...

I didn’t announce that I was quitting because I didn’t want to cop a taking-my-ball-and-going-home attitude. Frankly, from my experience as a trans activist over the last five years, I’ve come to realize that in today’s parlance “trans” means whatever is in trans male & trans masculine folks interest, while trans women’s specific issues are invariably dismissed as divisive or irrelevant (like you did in your post). I was hoping the Trans March might be different, but I guess that was naive of me...

  • I feel that the reasons for not inviting tribe 8 must be one of a more personal level
Being that I’ve been the most vocal person on this issue, I am assuming this is directed at me. If it is, then I find it insulting. I’ve said from the outset that I love Lynnee & this has never been about Tribe 8 for me. It’s about making trans women feel more welcome & respected. Insinuating that this is some kind of personal vendetta on my part demeans not only my character, but my perspective as a trans woman. How is this any different from other situations where women bring up legitimate issues and men react, not by addressing the issue, but by assaulting the woman’s character – for instance, by calling her overly emotional or suggesting that it’s “that time of the month”…

  • If you all feel this is taking up too much time then you can step down and let tribe 8 play sense we have fully addressed the issues of concern that have been raised.
As I’ve said, I’ve stepped down already. Obviously all the FTM-spectrum folks want Tribe 8 to play, trans women be damned. So go ahead and invite them. This year’s Trans Guy March should be the best one ever...

message 6
A few days later, I received a private email from an organizer; as you will see, I felt that the message was rather condescending (whether they meant it to be or not). This message came just as I had learned that someone on the Trans March committee defied confidentiality and spoke negatively (and distorted the views) of two other people on the committee who shared the perspective that I advocated. Frankly, I was pissed, as it felt like there was a concerted effort to marginalize those who most vocally shared this view. Because privacy had already been breached, I chose to post my response to the Trans March email list:

I have chosen to reply to your email on the Trans March list (rather than replying to you privately) because I want this to be a public conversation rather than one that takes place behind closed doors. After all, this issue is not about me or you or the Trans March, it is about how many folks in the FTM community enable the continuing marginalization of trans women in the queer women’s communities.

  • i just don’t see how, after [we have] heard directly from the camp trans organizers that they fully support and even promoted lynnee’s activism speaking out for transwomens’ inclusion specifically inside mwmf, how inviting tribe 8 to play the trans march in any way disrespects transwomen.
First off, I am disturbed by the way that you tried to use Camp Trans as a way to trump my (and other trans women’s) view points. After all, Camp Trans is NOT a trans woman organization; while trans women are involved, the majority of folks who organize and attend Camp Trans are not trans women, but rather FTM spectrum and non-trans queer women. And like any organization, they often take public stances that differ from the views of the individual members in the organization. While I respect the work that Camp Trans does, I find it to be an egregious error in logic that you assume that their position automatically overrides my own. It would be like me trying to undermine your view point as a trans person by saying that FTMI or TGSF or some other trans organization holds a different point of view.

Second, you say that you “don’t see” or that you’re “lost” as to why I feel that Lynnee’s participation at Michigan disrespects trans women. This language is really strong and implies that it is I (and I alone) who is being unreasonable. First off, I am not the only one who feels that this is highly problematic; several other Trans March organizers have advocated similar points of view in the past. Second, I have outlined in great detail what is wrong with Lynnee speaking on behalf of trans women in a space where we have no voice or representation (for example, see message 2). I have made similar points in other posts & at the first Trans March meeting I attended.

I would suggest that perhaps the reason why you say that you can’t follow my logic is that you don’t want to listen to it. You have had it in your mind that Tribe 8 should play the Trans March from the very beginning (in fact, you invited them before consulting with the committee) and you seem to be more concerned with whether or not they play than you are with what kind of message this sends to dyke-identified trans women in our community.

  • i think that historically, the ftm and mtf communities have for the most part been really really separate.
Although you probably don’t mean it this way, this statement is borderline insulting given the context of this issue. After all, we are not talking about MTF & FTM communities being separated, but rather the historical exclusion of trans women from lesbian & queer women’s communities. Beginning in the 1970s, trans women like Beth Elliott, Sandy Stone, Nancy Burkholder, and many others were literally purged from lesbian communities that they were originally a part of. In the early 1990s (when Camp Trans first started), most trans guys stood behind trans women’s rights to be included in women only spaces.

Then a funny thing happened. Rather than respecting women-only spaces and advocating for trans woman-inclusion in such spaces, many trans guys instead started to advocate for their own right to be in such spaces, despite their male identities. They wanted to have it both ways: to have the world respect their male or genderqueer identities while at the same time indulging their own selfish desire to continue existing in women’s only spaces. I call this desire “selfish” because it completely undermines trans women’s participation in those same spaces (once again, this is explained in more detail in this previous post: message 2)

So, given this history, when you say that “the ftm and mtf communities have for the most part been really really separate”, you are ignoring the thirty-year-long struggle of trans women fighting to be allowed to participate in their own lesbian communities. And you whitewash away the fact that recent FTM-spectrum participation in such spaces necessarily undercuts trans women’s efforts to have our female identities taken seriously.

In fact, by saying that “historically, the ftm and mtf communities have for the most part been really really separate” in the context of this issue, you seem to suggest that history is reversed: that trans guys have always been a part of the lesbian community and that trans women have only recently tried to fight for inclusion. You seem to insinuate this again when you claimed that we “are some of the first people in san francisco to really actively try to bring these communities together at social and performance events”. Such statements completely distort the history of this issue in order to advocate your point of view.

Anyway, as I said in my previous post, I’ve already stepped down from the Performers Task Force. Like I said, for me this issue has never been about Tribe 8, but about making trans women feel welcome and respected at the March. However, in raising this issue, I have found that (while most organizers have been very respectful) a few have ignored or distorted what I have said, and one person has even insinuated that I must have some kind of personal vendetta against Tribe 8. So much for making trans women’s perspectives welcome...

epilogue

In the end, nobody was happy. Those of us who most vocally held the view that inviting Tribe 8 to play would disenfranchise trans women had all stepped down from organizing as a result of what had transpired. In a post on Lynnee’s blog, he announced that Tribe 8 would not perform at the Trans March (even if asked) because of what had happened. Looking back, what I wrote in my second post seemed pretty prophetic: it was a lose-lose scenario...



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