I recently became aware of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and my first impression was, “Wow, what a wonderful thing!”. Of course this was scant inch on the screen before I made my way down to the whole big “womyn-born-womyn” controversy. I’d like to pretend otherwise, but the whole thing kind of hurt my feelings. I should know better, but it did anyway and I thought I would explore why.
For those unfamiliar, the MWMF began back in 1976 in the spirit of “for us, by us, only us”. It’s not a new concept; men have been doing this since time immemorial as a way to have a great many male only spaces where they could act “themselves” (i.e. in a manner in which women would tacitly disapprove). This is perfectly understandable. Women do deserve the same kind of space where they can let loose and have a good time without worrying about being leered at, sexualized, or even just get plain shitfaced without having to worry about becoming victims of violence and rape. This of course should be all spaces, but the world just isn’t so accommodating. Things veered to the right when it was decided from the get go that “womyn” means having an ‘F’ on your birth certificate right on the delivery date. No exceptions.
I’m not going to go into the history of it all here as Wikipedia does a fine job of that. Needless to say, the policy has been a sore point for the MTF community since inception. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a music fest.” Yeah… not exactly. It’s like a men’s society with a ‘White’s Only’ sign on the door. It’s very hard to read that and not take it that not being the later excludes one from being the former. Intended or not, it is the real message that is coming through.
Before rebutting, I’ll take a moment to outline the stated reasoning behind the exclusionary policy. As the story goes, trans women were not subjected to same patriarchal devaluation and instead enjoyed many years of male privilege until we decided to transition. In addition, trans female presence might make some of the cisgender women uncomfortable. I’m sure this can be expounded upon by delving into some of the more rigid feminist theory; “appropriating the female body” and all that. The take away remains clear. We don’t count as women.
These arguments have been chipped away at already – there is no ‘universal’ cisgender girlhood experience; dubious male privilege is significantly reduced by having male expectation imposed (something many or most of us found impossible to satisfy), etc – so I won’t pontificate on these at length. We also might argue that there are all sorts of personality types who make others around them uncomfortable. I’m very certain the number of cisgender women attending who creep out other women for one reason or another far exceeds even the best projections of trans women would might like to attend. I’ll leave the rapist disguised as a trans woman in the same box we find the stalker calling from inside the house and the escaped convict with a hook haunting lovers lane. Please.
When you take all that away, it looks like another dreary case of people excluding others simply because they can. When one considers the rough numbers – cisgender female population of about 150,000,000 vs. transgender female population of 12,500 – , it’s like having an event where the entire undergraduate population of Cornell is invited, except explicitly for Suzie Jones. Imagine that! “Come one, come all, to this fabulous Cornell event! All except you Suzie, with your advantageous birth condition and funny looks. (It’s OK, she doesn’t have feelings like us real students.)” Put that way, it sounds pretty mean in spirit doesn’t it?