The encounter was beautiful, but painful, and I don’t know what to do with the pain.
After the zoom session there is optional time for sharing in small groups. Chris thought she had logged out, and was surprised to hear my voice coming from her computer. She switched the camera on again and settled to talk.
In the nineties she went to an FLGC (as it then was) gathering. I thought she meant FGC, for everyone, rather than Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, even after she said its theme: “Called to be queer”. If that had been for the straights, it would have been radical. We shared that we were both happy with the word queer, but she is lesbian and she mourned the comparative loss of the word “lesbian”.
She lives in Michigan, she says. She used to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, and just like with FLGC she felt immediately at home there. She was with her kind. She could relax completely. “Have you ever felt like that?” she asks.
Um. Yes I did, with the Sibyls “Christian Spirituality Group for the Transgendered”, and with Quakers on weekends, though I have to relax into the weekends, consciously step out of the guardedness of ordinary life.
I enjoyed our conversation. We were sharing personally. We have things in common. And seeing a trans woman she starts talking of Michfest, which finished in 2015. For whatever reason Michfest finished, it was not because of trans people.
Why would a festival end? Because it was not financially viable, or because those in control of it decided to shut it down. It might end because the original organisers no longer had energy or motivation to continue it, and could not find anyone to take it over, but here the statement closing it came from its founder, so it seems that was a decision.
It excluded trans women. The organisers were disingenuous, saying there was no rule that it was limited to “womyn born womyn” but an “intention” that festivalgoers could honour as they saw fit. Well, I have not changed sex, I am a woman, and I was born a baby with the potential to grow into a woman, not a man, but I would not want to go where trans-excluders might make it very clear I was unwelcome.
Before looking into it I had thought the festival was feminist, not specifically lesbian feminist. The facebook statement closing it is unavailable, and such parts as I can find does not say why it was closing, just that it had come to a natural end.
Trans women cannot close down anything, particularly with the uncertain state of US discrimination law at the time. LGBT groups and allies called on Michfest to include trans women, and some bands would not participate because it didn’t. The Advocate says that the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National LGBTQ Task Force had petitioned Michfest to include trans women, but formally withdrawn that petition saying discussions were ongoing and they hoped for a resolution. Yet Michfest simply shut down. It looks like trans excluders closed it rather than admit trans women.
Chris had a festival where she felt completely safe and at home. Then it stopped. She sees a trans woman she does not know, and that’s the topic she brings up, almost as if she blames all trans women for her loss.
As a lesbian in her 60s, the loss of Michfest is unlikely to be the main hurt in her life.
Well, I did not tell her that trans women and our allies were powerless to shut down the festival. Only trans-excluders could do that. This post is not just too-late repartee. I sympathise with her. I am sorry she was hurt.
She passes the hurt on to me, and what can I do with it? She would probably agree that the festival validated female bodies and female experience and allowed them to escape misogyny for a week. I think she agrees that my presence would have lessened that.
I have hurt and sadness of my own. A woman on zoom today gave me time to share and asked useful questions.
How can we reduce this great reservoir of suffering?