On Tuesday, for Brown Bag “Colgate at Michfest", Panelists Prof. Meika Loe, Prof. Mary Simonson and students Susan Miller ‘16 and Sarah Wooton ’15 spoke about their personal experiences attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival this summer.
Sarah Wooton started the Brown Bag explaining to the crowd about the big controversy in this year’s MichFest in particular: whether or not to let trans women attend the festival. While the issue caught a lot of press over the summer having been debated vigorously for years, it has yet to come to a resolution. On the one hand, some people argue that the “safe” nature of the space for women-born women can be threatened by the presence of trans women, especially ones who have not “fully transitioned.” On the other, the festival is seen as an inclusive space, trusting and accepting of all women. One of the arguments Sarah explained, made by some of the women in the latter group: giving into the huge pressure to transition that trans women receive might be considered a sign of giving into the patriarchy itself, was something I had never heard or considered before. However, it does not seem fair, to me, that a group that already deals with so much oppression, hate crimes and pain on a daily basis be subject to more punishment for not being radical enough. Especially to strip them of one of the few safe spaces that is supposedly welcome and available to all women is almost absurd.
Susan Miller, who had been to the festival twice before, talked about how she has seen it change and how she has seen herself change, especially in trying new things in the festival. Prof. Simonson then talked about her experience helping in the kitchen with its high standard for safety and hygiene protocols, even for a festival that gathers 9,000 attendees! Finally, Prof. Loe shed light on her attendance as a mom—going to the festival with her 7 year old daughter Levi. She was amazed at the “full spectrum of gender play” and its acceptance in the festival. Coming in as a Women’s Studies professor, she revelled on how it was almost an idealized space to her—this level of lack of judgment, and total liberation of expression and motion. Being there with her young daughter, who got to see such radical expressions—everything from people with beards to people in costumes and everything in between—and grew to appreciate it, and who Prof. Loe was able to just let wander and trust to a group of individuals she’d never met before to watch over, was to her, like no other. “Only in Michigan Womyn’s Festival,” she said.
The festival, almost 40 years old and with humble roots of establishment by a 19 year old Lisa Vogel, enjoys a level of prestige and popularity that is quite astounding. While the future of the festival is still in question given declining revenues from music shows and the controversies surrounding it, it is one of the few spaces women today and in the past have had that is just for them, accepts them and indeed, celebrates them. This is especially meaningful and significant for traditionally marginalised slices within the woman demographic, including the trans population. Thus, to many regular attendees (and our panelists seem to agree!) MichFest means "home.”