|A workshop at Camp Trans
The first weekend in August, as they have for three decades, thousands of lesbians will pilgrimage to the heart of Michigan, and transform a remote acreage into a temporary city. The annual migration culminates in the weeklong Michigan Womenâ€™s Music Festivalâ€”also known as MichFest or simply Michiganâ€”where women will bare their breasts, attend workshops, have short on-the-land affairs, and listen to performances by top female musicians.
Because MichFest officially limits entrance to the festival to â€śwomyn-born womynâ€ťâ€”or those who have â€ślived their entire lives as females,â€ť it will, once again, be protested by the women and women-born members of Camp Trans.
In a handbook discussing the MichFest-Camp Trans conflict, Emi Koyama (eminism.org) details the history of the protest, which began in 1992, a year after trans woman Nancy Burkholder was expelled from festival grounds. Koyama argues that the organizers canâ€™t and donâ€™t enforce their policy because to do so would lead to harassment of butch and gender-ambiguous women.
Bryan Burgessâ€”who says there are no appropriate words to describe his genderâ€”regularly attends MichFest, and insists, that despite the festivalâ€™s policy, thereâ€™s no monitoring of attendees:
â€śThere are certainly transwomen who come to the festival and thereâ€™s no one whoâ€™s going to stop transwomen from going to the festival.â€ť
Burgessâ€™ own presence at MichFest proves that the festival has changed over the years, whether in response to Camp Trans protests or to the internal pressure. MichFest now accommodates female masculinities and woman-born individuals who, like Burgess, prefer the use of the pronoun â€śhe.â€ť
â€śThereâ€™ve been some trans men who come to the festival who are pretty far along with their transition,â€ť says Burgess. â€śWithin the festival thereâ€™s some kind of organic process by which trans masculinity is being handled by the community.â€ť
Musician Lynnee Breedlove, explains, â€śMichigan has changedâ€¦by people going in and changing it. The more we go there and talk about who we are, the more itâ€™s gonna change, because Michigan is what we make it.â€ť
Transwomen remain targets of the policy, but, Angel Dobbs-Sciortinoâ€”one of the trans women organizing this yearâ€™s Camp Trans, says masculine trans folk (along with the Lesbian Avengers) make significant contributions to Camp Trans and the on-going protest.
Instead of protesting with Camp Trans, Burgess presents workshops about trans issues while on festival groundsâ€”work he says is supported by the festivalâ€™s administration.
Â â€śSo, while I disagree with the policy,â€ť Burgess says. â€śI donâ€™t begrudge the organizers and [I] think that working with them in an amicable way is going to change something.â€ť
Breedlove who identifies as a guy and a dyke, played Michigan with his band, Tribe 8. There he urged attendees, â€śGo to Camp Trans! Talk to a real tranny before you judge,â€ť and then sang â€śBreasticles,â€ť his song about being a no-op tranny.
Â â€śI think weâ€™re having an impact, all of us, from all the different angles that weâ€™re approaching the issue,â€ť Breedlove says. He dreams of a time when Michigan changes its policy to include anyone â€śwhoever was, is now, or will be a woman.â€ť â€śBarring that,â€ť he says. â€śWeâ€™ll hang that sign over our own fest.â€ť
Some may hope Camp Trans (camptrans.squarespace.com) morphs into itâ€™s own festival, but Dobbs-Sciortino isnâ€™t one of them.
â€śI kind of hope [Camp Trans] will stop existing. Weâ€™re not really moving towards being an alternative festival.â€ť
Â â€śA lot of the queer people Iâ€™ve talked to have said they can see both sides of the issue,â€ť Dobbs-Sciortino says. â€śWhich means that the status quo continues. But nobody wants to see MichFest shut down. Itâ€™s been a part of queer culture for thirty years. I would much rather see trans women let in than have it shut down.â€ť
Breedlove sees the festival as even more importantâ€”a living symbol of feminismâ€”and he argues, â€śWithout Michigan though, we wouldnâ€™t be outside its gates protesting, we wouldnâ€™t even be having a trans movement. This all grew out of feminism.â€ť
Trans writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall can be reached at email@example.com.