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An open letter to Lisa Vogel

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Lisa,

I want to say this as lovingly as possible. This might puzzle some of my trans siblings who have witnessed decades of discrimination, exclusion and casual derision, but I believe a loving dialog beats an angry shouting match every time.

This ongoing distraction over the attendance of trans individuals at MichFest will only grow over time as transgender individuals gain greater acceptance. As more and more people come to find MichFest's discrimination unacceptable -- and you need only to look at history to know this is how it will play out -- MichFest will suffer. Boycotts will be launched by artists and attendees; sides will be chosen; divisions will be sewn amongst women, and the loving atmosphere you dream of for MichFest will begin to sour and grow poisonous. The writing is on the wall; you must have realized this by now. Something must change. I think you know this.

You recently issued a statement that said:

However we express our individual gender identity, for this one week, we recreate ourselves outside the margins of female socialization, and use this sanctuary to examine and unpack the very real oppression of being born and raised as females in our male-defined culture. We carve out this space to turn our attention toward ourselves and toward one another in a culture created and defined by us.

As I read it, I thought, "how cool is this?". You have worked hard to create a space where women can get out from under the Patriarchy for a while. I get it. I applaud it. It's a beautiful vision. I would gladly help and attend -- provided I didn't feel like I was walking around with a target on my back. I, like most people, tend to avoid places where I am unwelcome. You see, later on, your statement says:

We do not and will not question anyone's gender. Rather, we trust the greater queer community to respect this intention, leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it.

This is half a loaf. The way you say this feels like a thinly disguised "whites only" sign. Why not simply state that all those with a gender of "women" and only those with a gender of "woman" are welcome to attend and will be lovingly received? Do you think the crossdressers or others who sometimes play at being a women won't get it? Will abuse it? Is it so hard to ask, "Do you identify as a woman? Yea? Come on in! No? Sorry; women only."?

I am encouraged that the statement says "gender" and not "sex". It says you realize that our reproductive system is not our gender. I get that for MichFest to succeed at creating the space you envision, men must be excluded. So this feels like a reasonable boundary to me. Unfortunately the statement conflates gender with sex in various places, and so leaves the world confused as to whether you mean "women", or "females". Does MichFest exclude "men", or "males"?

When the statement says, "Being born female in this culture has meaning, it is an authentic experience, one that has actual lived consequences.", I completely agree. It does have consequences. But the distinction you draw here is an entirely artificial construct. As a trans woman, I have my own experience and consequences, which are just as authentic as anyone else's. It wasn't so long ago that the requirements to join the Daughters of the American Revolution included being both a woman and white. In time, they adjusted their artificial construct. That many white women were opposed to welcoming non-white women into DAR must not be lost on you. Nor should the contemporary parallel that many cisgender women currently oppose welcoming trans women, period -- at MichFest or anywhere else.

You call for an ongoing dialog, but what remains to be said? We are either publicly, wholeheartedly welcomed by management, or we are not. You seem to have mumbled a half-hearted disavowal of the the notion that one must have been born with a female reproductive system to attend MichFest. I think. You claim that

Ours is a fundamental and respectful feminist statement about who this gathering is intended for, and if some cannot hear this without translating that into a "policy", "ban" or a "prohibition", this speaks to a deep-seated failure to think outside of structures of control that inform and guide the patriarchal world.

Why the equivocation? Why didn't you go on to finish with

Those that have translated our words into a "policy", "ban" or a "prohibition" are wrong. ALL WOMEN ARE WELCOME!

That's all you would've had to say, and you would be done with this by now.

Instead, your statement contains two equivocations, a plea to demur action and conflates sex with gender. You are in a position of leadership; your equivocation is taken as a dog whistle by those are are hostile to transgender people. It is seen as you tacitly hanging up that "whites only" sign. It is seen as you choosing a side from this divided group, rather than uniting us all by choosing all women, both cisgender and transgender and everyone in between.

Please. Take down the sign -- loudly, publicly, and as only you can. Please put an end to this division, this distraction, end this source of anger and heal these wounds. Isn't that why MichFest was started?

With Love,
Heather Barron

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