The Indigo Girls will still be performing, but are using their platform to push for transgender inclusion in the festival.

The Indigo Girls will still be performing, but are using their platform to push for transgender inclusion in the festival.

This is a strange, surprising story. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is described on its Facebook page like this:

Michigan is a dynamic celebration of diverse performances, hundreds of workshops, a daily film festival and a week-long crafts show, running pace with non-stop dances, pageantry and play – all fueled by a steady pulse of pure fast-flowing fun. We live together in the remote woodlands we’ve nurtured for decades, collectively building our traditions of music, art, conversation, controversy and community. Our cultural mirror reflects us at our best – fully relaxed and wide awake. We plant our feet firmly, take up more space, laugh louder, play harder, and sink into the comfort and beauty of this place that many of us have come to call home.

Among the “interests” listed are “womyn, lesbians, dykes, music, art, film, feminism, queers,” and lots of other things.

So it’s really surprising that they’ve banned transgender women from attending. Facepalm much?

The director attempts to explain, in response to a petition asking the artists on the roster to boycott the festival. Her words are thoughtful and I encourage everyone to read them in full and not go into full-on attack mode, but it’s still disturbing:

The Festival, for a single precious week, is intended for womyn who at birth were deemed female, who were raised as girls, and who identify as womyn. I believe that womyn-born womyn (WBW) is a lived experience that constitutes its own distinct gender identity.

As we struggle around the question of inclusion of trans womyn at the festival, we use the word intention very deliberately. Michigan holds this particular lived experience of womanhood as honorable, meaningful, unique and rich. Our intention has always been coupled with the radical commitment to never question any womon’s gender. We ask the greater community to respect this intention, and to value the complexity and validity of every gender identity, including that of WBW. The onus is on each individual to choose whether or how to respect that intention.

Rejecting Transphobia

I reject the assertion that creating a time and place for WBW to gather is inherently transphobic. This is a false dichotomy and one that prevents progress and understanding. I believe in the integrity of autonomous space used to gather and celebrate for any group, whether that autonomous space is defined by age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, class or any other identity. Whatever spaces we carve out in our community to encourage healing and rejuvenation should be accepted, and we should support each other in this endeavor. Nobody should be asked to erase the need for autonomous spaces to demonstrate that they are sisters in struggle.

Hm. Earlier on in her letter, the director says this:

Built from the ground up by womyn’s innovation and womyn’s labor, filled with art, performance, play and discourse – we live together for a week in the woods and create community as we know it in no other form. There’s freedom on that land that womyn living under patriarchy rarely touch; freedom to walk in the woods at night alone without fear; to be clothed or not clothed depending solely on comfort and personal style and without judgment; to move and work and play and love without the socio-cultural constraints that uniquely push down on all womyn, all the time.


Okay, there are two things going on here. I bolded the part above, because that sort of argument is beneath people who identify as liberals. That’s right-wing, smear tactic crap in the same vein as “do you want men in the bathroom with your little girls?” That’s the first thing.

Secondly, it seems that the organizers don’t understand what a transgender person is, and maybe that’s why they’re talking about walking alone in the woods at night. A transgender woman is a person with a brain that is gendered female and who was born in a body that does not match the brain. Transgender people are not flippant about who they are, nor are they the “men in dresses” that the Right Wing paints them as. It’s a huge societal risk for people to come out as transgender, to begin the process of living in the correct gender, regardless of how they decide to undergo that transition. Likewise, there’s really not an epidemic out there of bearded cisgender men dressing up as girls in order to be around vulnerable women. It’s not like “oh, I’ll adopt this transgender persona, it sounds like an effin’ cakewalk, and then I can get close to LADIEZ.” Seriously.

The director in her note says that she wants to have an honest conversation. Well, here you go. It’s beneath the standards of an organization that prides itself on feminism, women’s rights and women’s freedom to buy into such an antiquated, incorrect notion of transgender women as people.

Transgender women are women. Or womyn. Transgender men are men. Period.

The Indigo Girls, who are on the roster of acts scheduled to perform, have addressed the issue on their blog [full disclosure: I really love the Indigo Girls]:

We want you to know some of our thoughts about our participation in Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Indigo Girls have a lot of respect for protest and dialogue in our feminist and queer movements, and we want to do our part to encourage growth and evolution in our community. We care about MWMF deeply, and in our years of playing the Festival, we have evolved and benefited from the experience. We have received many gifts from this unique and powerful gathering.

Our hope for all the past years has been that the Festival would move towards an intention of Trans-Inclusion. We have continued to search our selves and look at both sides of this issue and truly respect the different points of view, but have always come back to our core belief that Trans Womyn should be included in the Festival, and their womynhood should be honored by the intentions of MWMF. The current intention for the Festival to be for “Womyn born Womyn” only grew out of an important necessity to honor the idea that womyn have a variety of self expression and appearance and they need a safe space where their womynhood is not in question as they stand in many different places on the spectrum from femininity to masculinity. This intention has a very important historic basis and has kept the space safe for many womyn over the years. But we strongly feel that the time is long overdue for a change of intention, to one that states very plainly the inclusion of Trans Womyn. To us, this change of intention is the only path to a truly “safe space” for womyn.

We are in a time of struggle and rapid changes in our movement and we would be remiss to not recognize that many of the strides that have been made are a result of Trans Activism and the strength and perspective they have brought to the queer and feminist revolutions. We feel that if someone identifies as a womyn, they are a womyn and should be welcomed into our community with open arms. We will only be stronger for it.

We will be playing the Festival this year in the spirit of change. We encourage the Founders and the community of MWMF to find the bravery and compassion that we are all endowed with to create a space that is Trans Inclusive. We know these changes are complex and take time and careful consideration. MWMF has a long and important history of being on the cutting edge of positive change- a torchbearer for the hard transitions within the feminist and queer movements. This is the time to fulfill MWMF’s most vital role in our community and help to honor the Trans Community out in the world, by honoring them within the world of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. We hope in the end that we can all find our “safe space” and comfort on the sacred land of MWMF.


Although we are playing the festival, we honor the current protest against MWMF and hope that it will help move the community towards change. Any money that we make playing the Festival will go towards Trans Activism. We will make a statement from stage at the Festival in support of Trans Inclusion. We have made it clear that this will be our last time at the Festival until MWMF shows visible and concrete signs of changing their intention. We have no animosity towards anyone in this case but see the deep and fearless legacy that MWMF has had during its existence and we honor that. We also honor the prayerfulness that has been a part of this struggle on both sides. This is not an easy path, so we empathize with all who struggle to make their decisions. We love Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and hope for it’s continued presence and power in our lives.


Amy and Emily
Indigo Girls

Well worded, and an interesting way to handle it. It seems to me that the other artists on the roster should probably follow suit. Andrea Gibson has cancelled her performance. I’ve reached out to another artist, one that I highly respect, to see what she has to say about it, and I’ll keep you all updated.