Last Thursday, I went downtown to meet with an attorney to arrange the legal change of my name and sex designation. I arrived early. But her office is in the Gayborhood, just a few doors up from Giovanni’s Room, so I went there to browse while I waited. It was actually my first time in Giovanni’s. I’d never seen many of the LGBT periodicals on the shelves. I was delighted to discover Curve – “The Best Selling Lesbian Magazine”. I flipped through it and determined it was interesting enough to spend a few bucks on, so I bought an issue and have been working my way through it since.
My delight soured yesterday when I encountered this article in said issue: The Fight Over Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest
The Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest (MWMF) is an annual radical feminist event open only to women. As Brownworth explains:
MWMF is about women who are oppressed by men every minute of every day being free of that oppression for one week of their year or possibly their lives, and reveling in that and celebrating each other.
“That sounds great!” I think to myself. It might be fun to attend someday! But, as it turns out, there’s a serious caveat. MWMF is open only to what they call “Womyn-born Womyn” (i.e. no trans women allowed). There has long been a battle between the MWMF organizers/supporters and “Camp Trans” – a trans-rights activist group arguing against the trans-exclusionary policy.
Now, my gut reaction was to side with Camp Trans. But I did some thinking on this. If MWMF is based on the common experience of being recognized as female at birth and dealing with all that entails, then that’s fine. That doesn’t imply that trans women are any less women; it’s just a matter of a particular shared experience. I could live with that. My experience was different – confusing and painful in its own way, but different. If that’s what this is about, then I’m happy to respect that and stay out of it.
Brownworth appears to be in favor of a somewhat more open policy:
If I were running MWMF, this is what I would say: No penises. No male privilege. No oppression of women. Just fun, music, dancing, celebration. Solidarity.
That’s kinda heartwarming. Right on, sister! Right?
I don’t want to pick a fight with anyone. I honestly think the fight is unnecessary.
Me too! Let’s not fight.
So I have to ask this question of those transgender women who want to be at MWMF: If you identify as female, then why are you fighting with other women every August?
I’m not fighting, no worries. Solidarity!
Why can’t you come to MWMF like other women to revel in the 100 percent femaleness and celebrate with music and dancing and being playful without the presence of men?
Um, becaaauuuse, I don’t have the money or vacation time to go to MWMF this year?
If you haven’t fully transitioned and still have your penis, can’t you keep it hidden away for that week or wait to come to Michigan until after you have fully transitioned and that remnant of the body that is the wrong body is gone?
Is exhibitionism a common problem among trans women who’ve attended MWMF? ‘Cause frankly – and I can only speak for myself, of course – I’d prefer to keep it hidden away at all times, period, not just at MWMF. But again, that’s just me.
Can’t you respect the healing and celebration that Michigan offers women?
Wait, what? What’d I do?
But for me the debate over Michigan is: if you are a transitioned woman, why can’t you assimilate with other women for one week and allow your femaleness to predominate? It is the remnants of your male privilege that the women of Michigan are objecting to. As transwomen, can’t you stop fighting with other women long enough to feel what it is like for women at Michigan? Women at MWMF have been damaged and brutalized by male oppression and male privilege–street harassment, homophobia, incest, rape and just “simply” making two-thirds of what they make for the same job. Why isn’t it okay for them to be safe from men and just relax, celebrate, listen to women’s music and dance their hearts out for one week of their lives?
Now, hold on just a minute…
Brownworth spews forth a fountain of accusatory misinformation about trans women without directly “accusing”, as such. Rather, she phrases her questions in a way that implies this is the state of things and this is the nature of trans women. She’s not actively suggesting it; she’s reacting to what she frames as an already-understood truth. Which then allows her to take what looks like a compassionate stance by sympathizing with the struggles of trans women, as well as a defensive stance for having been labeled transphobic.
To those of us familiar with transgender people, the “facts” she’s questioning are obvious fallacies. This line of questioning is a load of indirect propagandist rhetoric. If she were saying this on an internet forum or in some independent, photocopied periodical, I could brush it off. There will always be willfully ignorant people like her trying to spread misinformation. A quick search on Google shows that this isn’t Brownworth’s first offense. What gets me is the fact that the editors of Curve allowed this to be published in their professionally produced lesbian culture magazine. They should know better. In fact, I find it hard to believe they don’t know better.
A quick check through the pages, and I see that Brownworth’s name appears as the author of some other articles in this same issue. What’s more, during the above mentioned Google search, another name came up on the transphobic radar – a musician known as Bitch. Hmm, didn’t I see something about Bitch mentioned on the cover of this issue? Oh, why yes I did! Her new project is prominently featured in a 2-page spread! Oh goody. (EDIT 9/27/13: Bitch may not be so bad. See her Open Letter: Dispelling the Rumor. There are thoughtful arguments in the comments section, but there’s solid reason to give Bitch the benefit of the doubt.)
Why are these people being given a platform in a prominent, general-lesbian-community magazine? Why can’t I go into an LGBT bookstore and flip through a magazine without having to defend myself against wanton misinformation?
After this episode, I can tell you I’ll be boycotting Curve magazine, unless the editors/publishers stop allowing it to be a soapbox for transphobes. And I don’t really feel like going to MWMF anymore either. Anyway, I don’t need it. I already have a fantastic women-only space. And in this space, I’m recognized as a woman first; being trans is just an experience this woman happens to have to deal with. We call this space women’s roller derby, and there’s plenty of it much closer to home than Michigan.