Tag Archives: Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture

Transparent disrespect for dyke culture
Guest post by Karen Thompson; cross-posted with Liberation Collective

Editor’s note: This post by Karen Thompson is in response to an episode of the television program Transparent, which disdainfully and contemptuously parodied the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and the women – mostly lesbians – who called it home for 40 years.

(1) One of the things about festival that is so fucking amazing is the sheer magnitude of female competence. The stages, the sound, the tents, the everything is put together with such care and consciousness and that everything — made out of spit and bandaids — can look like something so polished, so professional, so ON POINT. It’s not that we make nutloaf; it’s that we make nutloaf for THOUSANDS OF WOMEN over OPEN FIRES in all weather. For free.

So the general fucking HINKINESS of the look of the “Idlewild” shit pissed me off because it looked jacked up and like someone threw a camping party in someone’s backyard instead of the sheer magnitude and scale of ability that is demonstrated at fest the minute you walk in the gate. And that lack of attention to that sort of detail (when the slickness and smoothness of everything else on that show is never skimped on), once again ignored female competence and what we can do without males.

Which was one of central liberatory aspects of Festival for me.

(2) The sheer scale of the place. We were thousands. We were legion. This wasn’t a handful of whatevs. We are a city. We are a people. We are a culture.

And yes, I get it. TV. Budgets. There is only so much. But DAMN. Undermining our decades.

(3) The yelling “MAN ON THE LAND” which, as we all know, no one fucking does like a chain but as a beep beep of vehicles.

So once again, no one is fucking seeing the WHERE and WHY and HISTORY of why that had to be done. And no one is talking about the threat of men coming on the land with guns, or hanging barbie dolls in trees in Gaia, or any of the spray painting of dyke that we had to cover up. The leering at naked bodies. The reality of male violence that made that rapid alert system necessary.

(4) No kids? Really? Why would that be? I don’t know why that bothered me, but it did. It made the nudity seem sexualized instead of just that we have a place where we can be nude when we get hot or whatever. Just cause. Because we are safe to do so there.

(5) Safety. Ali said something like “this is so NICE.” and there was a weird moment of rape free something. But there was nothing that made it clear what it feels like to be in the woods and not worry about someone leaping from behind a tree, putting a knife to your neck, and raping you.

Yes, women rape. And they have at Fest. But women have not stranger raped using weapons or by kidnapping someone from their tent in the middle of the night. And that is a real talk moment about why Fest was important.

(6) Policy.

What bothered me about this is that the whole place works on intention. The whole place was trusting women to not be assholes. And we weren’t. For the most part. That you are expected to behave a certain way and trust and honor. And that is how we were able to do what we were supposed to do. And so the importance of that intention as a community ethic was lost.

(7) Fuck the Indigo Girls

Your moral code made it impossible for you to play at Fest again but was totally cool with you being in this crazy depiction of yourselves at this FARCE of a representation of Michigan?

Seriously, that along with Syd Mutschler’s breakdown about their playing at venues operated by racist, women hating scum and having no issues with THAT just…I don’t know. Just not okay.

(8) Also do you really think it wasn’t a CHOICE to not show, say, the WOMYN OF COLOR tent?! Because then we would have had to have a real talk about separate space for oppressed people and how Fest is one of the rare places that saw the battle against racism as a community value. As opposed to that weird scene where someone was appropriating Native American culture and mocking how we create our healing spaces.

AGAIN. I GET IT. THIS IS TV. NO ONE CARES. I GET IT.

But this was a lesbian who has made a show that has been deeply stewed and thought about and respectful of the experience of a group of people. She has ethically created space for trans women and men to tell their own stories, to be there, to be present, to be shown in their truths.

And yet, she gets to dyke culture and suddenly we turn into this flattened version of ourselves. If she was going to do it? Why not do it? Why make us the cartoons in a series that was all about detail and finesse?

I don’t think I need to tell you the answer to that.

I’m done. I’m just done. I have no more in me to be down with people in this community who have no respect for dyke culture. None. And I’m done with those in our community who don’t defend us against that flattening and that laying down to the people who support that sort of lesbophobia and caricature.

So yes, we know each other. We will always know each other. We are here and I, for one, will not stop speaking our truths.

Also, I do want to say there were a bunch of things that were awesome sauce. I will never say no to many different women’s bodies being shown in their glory. I will never say no to the fact that we show the world that being a gender non-conforming female doesn’t make you trans (the cameo by the bearded woman, Jennifer Miller). I will never say no to the fact that she showed diverse women as dykes. I will never say no to the REALITY of the fact that trans women come to festival and no one has laid a hand on them and that we can hold disagreement with respect (which, ironically, Maura was unable to do). Plus, a really fucking insightful and necessary insight in the circle around the fire (ALSO ON POINT!) which was that PAIN and PRIVILEGE are not the same thing and being in pain does not mean you weren’t privileged.


Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

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On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival

On the Indigo Girls Boycotting the 2014 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
Guest post by Syd Mutschler, cross-posted with Liberation Collective


Editor’s Note: This commentary by Syd Mutschler is originally from June 2014, not long after the Indigo Girls reneged on an agreement to play at MichFest in August of 2014. At the time, they made quite a public show of their sudden boycott of an event that the Indigo Girls as a group and Amy Ray individually had played many times. They gave the organizer of the event very little notice that they were pulling out and did so well after brochures, posters, and other materials had been printed and women had bought tickets expecting to hear them at the Festival. Treating women who had supported them financially and in other ways over many years this badly would be ugly enough, but they undertook this boycott after many years of the exact same controversy, yet it hadn’t stopped them from playing and spending time at the Festival at any time before that. This was very likely a decision based purely on finances (they were afraid that they would be boycotted, yet they continued to play at a venue with an owner with extremely questionable ethics), not deeply-held beliefs about “inclusivity”.
As the yearly debate about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival heats up, I have been having a lot of thoughts around boycotts, artists pulling out from the line-up, or artists who have stated they will not play again until the intention of the festival is changed from a gender/sex separate space to only a gender separate space. Artists and trans activists such as Red Durkin have made a lot of statements about why they will not play or why the festival should be boycotted, but I find them to be vague, condescending, emotionally manipulative, and intentionally inflammatory.
The artists’ statements, while varied, all imply that any connection to MWMF and Lisa Vogel is untenable. This claim deserves deconstruction. Let’s try playing Ok Cupid! With this situation, shall we? Let’s imagine that artists and venue owners fill out a political survey and the results will show the percentage of friend/enemy each match is. We will start with Lisa Vogel and the Indigo Girls.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that Lisa Vogel, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers agree on most subjects, except for the fact that Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, that the female sex is a subjugated class, and therefore believes that separate space can be framed by that class. Since the Indigo Girls indicated they would play again if the intention was changed to one only based on gender, we can assume that they do support class-based separate space. That leaves us with Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, and Indigo Girls do not. I will estimate that the test will put them at 99% friends, and 1% enemy.
Being from New Orleans, my next selection will be a venue Indigo Girls often play here, Tipitina’s. Tips is owned by Roland C. Karnatowski III. He is a white, heterosexual, wealthy male who owns somewhere around 7,000 rental properties around the Gulf Coast. His landlord practices are questionable (Google search for yourself) and the Tipitina’s Foundation (a charity) scores so low on finances and transparency, it certainly makes a thinking person wonder what’s going on there. As a straight, white, male, it’s doubtful he has ever spent much time thinking about the benefits of class-based space. Karnatowski has the privilege of not speaking his intentions about anything, unlike Lisa Vogel. Beyond that, since he will take anyone’s money at the door, I guess that makes him a good and enlightened guy. Is that the bar we are setting? Someone who is willing to profit off anyone?
I just used the venue in my hometown as an example, but many of the venues the Indigo Girls play are owned by questionable people. I did some investigating of House of Blues, for example, and could have used them as well.
Do we even need to think about who these venue owners might vote for, or who might make the greater contribution to the Lesbian community or the GBT community? Do silence and capitalism trump the contributions and integrity of an outspoken and compassionate community member like Lisa Vogel? Of course, artists can refuse to play for anyone, but if one does choose to set a political bar on that choice and the bar is set at Lisa Vogel, the bar has been set extremely high. I have to assume that this bar will be applied to everyone, and not just one lesbian who has stated her intention for a sex and gender based space. In the case of Roland Karnatowski III, it is clear he falls below that bar. He makes zero contribution to the Lesbian and GBT communities, has questionable practices as a landlord with working class people, has supported political candidates accused of racism…what do we think? Let’s go with 5% friend and 95% enemy.  Goodbye Tipitina’s!
Lisa Vogel and many womyn who support the festival understand that each of us – not just the performers among us – is responsible for the way our money affects our community. This is why MWMF has no corporate sponsorship. None. This isn’t Lilith Fair or Dinah Shore. Politics and capitalism are hopelessly intertwined, especially in the U.S. Once upon a time, we were much more thoughtful about politics and our money. I don’t see much of a discussion happening about how our dollars are circulating when we buy a ticket to MWMF versus when we purchase a ticket to a show at a place like Tipitina’s. Where are our dollars causing the most good and where are they causing the most damage? Capitalism permeates everything, and those who are ignoring this cannot stand up to their own moral high-grounding.
When politics lead someone to a place where they call for and/or participate in a boycott against an event like MWMF, I have to seriously question those politics. Boycotting is a strong weapon, one that has serious consequences.  Boycotting MWMF is not political. It is female socialization. It is internalized misogyny. I reject this as political. For myself, I will put my dollars in the hands of MWMF without hesitation and with total confidence. The boycotting artists have made me think more carefully about the other places I put my money. After looking at the venues and their owners in New Orleans and stacking them up against MWMF, I will not be going to many shows other than at festival. I will support the artists I love in other ways, such as buying their music directly or contributing to musicians’ funding campaigns.
Why is all of this important? Your money is political. Everyone in the community should be thinking about the impact of their dollars, especially if they are supporting or contributing in any way to the boycott against MWMF. The Indigo Girls are looking me in the eye and asking me to refuse my money to Lisa Vogel while having no problem asking me to give it to Roland C. Karnatowski III. Girls, we have a problem.

Please add your thoughts in the comments below. If you are interested in writing a guest post please email me at liz@listening2lesbians.com.

 

Lesbians in the News – 30 October 2015

Lesbians in the News 30 October 2015

Guyana loses Woman of Courage Zenita Temall Nicholson

Guyanese LGBT activist, Zenita Temall Nicholson died on October 26th. Temall Nicholson was honoured last year by the US Embassy in Georgetown as an International Woman of Courage. She was the Country Coordinator for Caribbean Vulnerable Communities/PANCAP Global Fund, and past Secretary on the SASOD Board of Trustees (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Guyana).

On presentation of the Woman of Courage award in March 2014, Temall Nicholson was described as being “an energetic, effective and passionate advocate at both the national and international levels for the principle that both women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gays, bi – sexual and transgender persons are human rights, deserving of equal attention and protection”.

Guyana remains the only country in South America where homosexuality remains illegal and is punishable by imprisonment, with additional laws criminalising gender non conforming dress, although men may cross dress or express their gender identity as long as it is not for “improper purposes”. Women may wear trousers but do not appear to be covered by the same ruling enabling cross dressing.

As reported in a 2012 report to the UN CEDAW Committee, Guyanese lesbians remain subjected to harassment and sexual threats, compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory femininity and/or gender conformity.

Zenita Temall Nicholson’s activism will be missed in a country which requires significant improvements to secure the safety and wellbeing of lesbians, and our thoughts are with her family.

 

Arts & Entertainment

  • Curve magazine will contain an in-depth story on lesbian erasing in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) in their January issue.
  • Listen to author Michael Helquist discuss his new book about Marie Equi; lesbian doctor, activist and anarchist.
  • Follow bloggers Wandering Wives, a UK lesbian couple that sold everything they owned to travel the world.
  • Copies of Blood and Visions: Reconciling with Being Female by Autotomous Womyn’s Press are now available at Green Woman Store. It includes writing by ten womyn who stopped their transition from female to male.
  • Listen to the recording of “The Sounds of MichFest 2015: a Radio Documentary of the 40th and Final Fest” on WORT. It can be found under “Access Hour” in the archives from October 26th.

Laws, Politics and Policies

Social and Health Issues

Crimes against Lesbians

  • A lesbian couple vacationing in Hawaii was attacked and arrested by a police officer that didn’t like their public displays of affection in a grocery store. Taylor Guerrero and Courtney Wilson spent three days in jail before charges were dropped. The Honolulu Police Department has launched an investigation into the incident. Wilson and Guerrero have filed a lawsuit against the officer for discrimination.
  • A Welsh lesbian is speaking out after her attackers received a slap on the wrist for verbally and physically attacking her in north Wales in July. 44-year old Jackie Hatton-Kesketh says the attack left her unable to continue working at her job and contributed to the breakup of her 12-year relationship.

Events

  • The leading scorer in the history of international soccer, Abby Wambach, announced her retirement on October 27th. Wambach finishes her amazing career as the 2012 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, only the second American to win the title since Mia Hamm (2011 & 2002).
  • Jamaica held its first Montego Bay Pride on October 25th and announced it was a complete success. The event included music, networking, a 10-minute Flash Stand in front of the Summit Police Station and a speech by leading Jamaican activist Yvonne McCalla-Sobers.

Lesbians in the News compiled by Liz and Lisa.

If you have any other stories, corrections or comments, please add them below or email them to liz@listening2lesbians.com.

Michfest – going home, leaving home

I close my eyes and I am back in the Michigan woods, lying in fern and leaf litter, listening to the woods and the voices of women. I open my eyes and the shadow of leaves and voices remain while the sounds of Australian birds and the smell of Australian plants intrude. They’re not ferns, but they’re what I have and they are glorious.

Banksia

Not remotely fernlike…

This year, for my first and only time, I went to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, started by Lisa Vogel 40 years ago. I had gone with as few expectations as possible, helped by the flurry of activity in the weeks before I left and the daze I walked through the gate in.

The experience was a revelation, in expected and unexpected ways.

While listening to CC Carter sing about her hips, I realised with a rush that this is what representation might feel like. Listening to a woman sing about her female lover, with love about her body, in a clearing full of women, many of whom were lesbian, I realised what it felt like to be the part of the norm as a lesbian, and not the unrepresented minority.

not even close to being ferns....

Not even close to ferns…

We didn’t need to explain. We didn’t need to justify. We could safely assume safety, kinship, shared understandings. A week of woman and lesbian as one of the defaults (not het-excluding, note) made clear how fragmented and scattered we were, how unrepresented we were, even by cartoon representations, how even at LGBTI events, groups and gatherings you often cannot assume kinship. So bittersweet, to experience that but for so fleeting a moment. And there are so many ways in which lesbians have even less representation, along lines of race, class and more besides.

More than just experiencing representation though, we spent a week honouring the real diversity of women and girls as the default. I know that in a way that was unfamiliar I felt SEEN, not unusual or singled out, and not invisible, but visible and normal. We saw each other. We greeted each other. We hugged and smiled and trusted and we could just BE, however we wanted to be. I can only imagine what this experience could be for women who feel less seen and accepted than I do.

Neither fern nor oak

Neither fern nor oak

And with that visibility came a level of safety that is hard to describe. On the land I anticipated no trouble whatsoever. I trusted women. They trusted me. We assumed good will. A guard I didn’t know I had up was lowered. And for a week we were enough, and not too much. I wasn’t too loud, too pedantic, too round, too feminist, too woman centred, too lesbian, too vocal, too ANYTHING. I just was, without needing to reduce myself. And the second and third thoughts in my head weren’t there because I was so connected to what was going on that they didn’t need to be. I was just in the moment.

We said sister and we meant it with sincerity and love. I grew up doubting that the sisterhood was something I could rely on, skeptical that women would be essentially more reliable, not understanding the political meaning and intent behind the concepts of solidarity and sisterhood. At Fest I understood what it could mean at its best.

Sisterhood and solidarity

Solidarity – liberty – sisterhood – self determination

I understood, perhaps most of all, that there was a different way to be. Betrayal is not inevitable. Violence is not inevitable. Fear is not inevitable. The things we have come to expect as women in our society are not inevitable, they are chosen values that align with and are created by our social order.

At Fest thousands upon thousands of women wandered the land, day and night, in varying degrees of dress and undress, from jeans to corsets to nothing, in varying degrees of intoxication and sobriety, in populated and deserted areas, without thought of rape. Unlike the recent stories of endemic rape at music festivals, we managed to celebrate and party, not to mention randomly nap in the leaf litter among the ferns, without experiencing or perpetrating sexual violence against women. What we were doing, wearing, how we were behaving, who we were with, what time of day or night it was – none of these factors mattered. This showed that there is a way for women to be, other than at constant collective risk of rape and abuse. It wasn’t the absence of factors often considered to be provocation. It was the absence of predators and perpetrators. While we know from bitter experience that women cannot be essentialised as angels, we also know that the central problem is socially sanctioned and promoted male violence against women. In the absence of it, we relaxed in safety.

And in this context I learnt, at a profound level, that I can trust women. Not just the women I know and trust, but women in general.

And these realisations were both political and personal.

Familiar horizons, new horizons

Familiar horizons, new horizons

At the healing circle, which was moving and profound and upsetting, all at once, I saw and felt women’s intense grief and pain. And I started to forgive myself.

I saw a mother hugging their small child and I pined for mine, suddenly struggling with our separation. I grieved for the abuse I couldn’t prevent. I grieved for the abuse I didn’t know about until years too late. And I let myself acknowledge that I was not responsible, that while I should have been able to protect him as a mother, we were both victims. Not being omniscient and omnipotent doesn’t damn me as a bad mother, and intense grief and regret can exist without assuming guilt.  That which I know for other women, I started to know for me.

While so much of what I experienced on the land was so personal, it reflected back on our socialisation, the framing of women’s lives, the framing of lesbians. It reflects the way in which women are routinely denied space to meet alone lest we realise this all.

Even now, derogatory comments are made about fest, even as women revel in their perhaps first and definitely last experience of it.

We might live in a society that doesn’t want women to love women, but most of all, it doesn’t want us to love ourselves, individually and collectively.

Everlastings

Everlastings

So it is a political act to meet alone as women, to love women?

Let’s be political then, and meet alone as women, form and connect with our tribe.

We can start imagining new ways to live then work to make them a reality.

We can be the acorns from Lisa Vogel’s mighty oak.