Monday, March 28, 2011

Open Letter to Bitch

As I sit here and read back and forth both side of this argument my brain keeps playing in the back of my head, what does that even mean “womyn born womyn” and am I womyn born? I was mostly socialized as a womyn but not really because I was allowed some variance in my personality. I don't think I was born a womyn. I personally don't think I was born a man either but I don't identify with either of the binary genders. If I did consider myself a man then I would consider that I was born a man. My gender identity and socialization is not attached to my sexual organs.

I believe this is the piece that the Michigan Womyn's Festival and Bitch are missing. Trans folks are not socialized the same as cis-gendered folks. There are countless cases of trans women who in their formative years suffered countless abuse from fathers, brothers and other authority figures trying to beat the effeminacy out of them. I am not sure I see the male privilege in this.
I do see a deep misunderstanding and inability to have compassion.

I am not trying to advocate that folks who were socialized as womyn can't create specific safe spaces as I would feel uncomfortable limiting the personal freedom of anyone. Bitch speaks of People of Color specific spaces. But this also can be problematic because there are many people now who grew up in multicultural families but have skin privilege. I see the complication happening when people start drawing arbitrary lines in the sand defining other people's identities. Whose is the decision maker on who gets to be a womyn?

This is one of the reasons I have issues with separatism. I am not part of any elite separatist group. I am not a women. I am not a man. I am not white. I am not a person of color. Despite being invited into these spaces I always feel as though someone is thinking I shouldn't be there.

But this is all about something so much more than whether I agree or disagree with seperatism. This is about -->THE<-- a="" actually="" also="" america="" and="" any="" are="" area="" around="" at="" being="" believe="" between="" born.="" br="" concur="" confirms="" consideration="" difference="" divide="" doctor="" doesn="" festival="" gender="" grey="" if="" into="" is="" it="" large="" maintains="" man="" me="" means.="" north="" of="" on="" only="" patriarchal="" placed="" policy="" probably="" real="" says="" sex="" so="" some="" stating="" system.="" system="" t="" take="" that="" the="" there="" they="" this="" to="" trans="" upholds="" us.="" were="" what="" when="" womyn.="" womyn="" world="">
Instead of advocating for exclusion, I would like Mich Fest to come to the table and talk about compromise. What would it look like if the policy defining what a women was was broadened but some space are defined as safe places for those who were socialized as women to explore that oppression. Or another option would be to lend support to trans women to create a festival that was inclusive and change the language of the exclusion as to no longer invalidate trans womyn's womanhood. Even language like: to create a space for those socialized as women to have space to explore that oppression. If that is truly what Mitch Fest is trying to do and why Bitch supports the space. In many ways, if this were the language that was being used I would agree with Bitch and say yes, they have a right to create that space specifically for folks who were socialized as women.

The disagreement I have is with the language that is being used. First off, individuals have no right to self identify as an ally. This is not a word you can call yourself. It is not a label you can hide behind so you don't have to address your oppressive action or languages. Case in point: if someone says your words and actions are trans-phobic and/or trans-misogynist, your response should NEVER be, that can't be true because I am a trans ally. Another response would be I am sorry I have done something that has hurt you, please let me know what it was so I can be more careful next time.

Bitch is not an ally to ALL trans people even if she is an ally to some transmen. Her speech is abrasive to me. Her words compel me to believe she does not acknowledge the difference between sex and gender identity. She seems to believe that trans basically means butch women /femme men. Saying statements like: “I support women making their own boundaries...” and using women to only identify women who were labeled women at birth does not acknowledge that transwomen are women. It says that they are only men who 'want to be women.' I don't think this is what Mitch Fest nor Bitch are trying to say. What I don't realize is why both parties as well as many other “feminist” organizations continue to deny allegations of transphobia and trans-misogyny instead of actually engaging in community dialog with the trans-feminine community.

So Bitch I repeat what many other people have stated you must be accountable for your language and lack of education around the lives and experiences of tranwomen.

Again, non-violent anti-oppressive communication would state: “I am sorry I have done something that has hurt you, please let me know what it was so I can be more careful next time.”

If after hearing their words you feel defensive ask yourself does what they ask for cause me harm or infringe upon my rights somehow.
If so then you can speak from that truth.
You can state: I need a space where women born women can congrigate.
They can response: that language hurts my feelings. Why? (See above)
then you as an individual and Mitch Fest can come to a compromise.

If you still think Transwomen have so much privilege I will point out the facts which are readily easy to find. At TransEquality.org and the TaskForce.org and transgenderdor.org where you will see lists of names of transwomen who were brutally killed.

Bitch has been asking for specific things so here are my personal requests:

1. Stop self-identifying as a trans ally.
2. Release a statement that whether or not it was out of context, the language bitch has used at various points in the past is hurtful to trans folks especially trans women. And also admit that using hurtful, oppressive language that minimizes an individuals gender identity and experience is transphobic and advocating for the exclusion of a population based on a patriarchal view of gender identity is trans-misogyny.
3. Commit to reading literature by Trans-feminists and engaging in direct dialog with the transfeminist community around language and identity politics.
4. Agree to play mitch fest only if organizers agree to have a dialog about their exclusionary language and policies.
5. Recognize and publicly acknowledge that belittling trans-women by saying they are acting on male privilege when they self-advocate and then belittling them for not protesting you is really oppressive.


It was brought to my attention after I wrote this by J who brings up a good point. Who would define who was socialized as a women and as I stated above I am not sure I would identify as being socialized as a women as I was my dad's son to take into the woods and my mom's son to take care of the house. Although I do still like the language better than women born women that insinuates that if you were not born a women you can't ever really be one and doesn't take into consideration the difference between sex and gender.

So I think if this was an interpersonal dialog that would be a compromise I would take one for the team. On a national scale though we can probably come up with something better to create harmony between communities need for segregation and safe space and our global social justice movement. I don't want to take a way a space that means so much to so many people but I can't ignore all the people it does take space from. I hear feedback that there are other women's music festivals but I don't know of them and as a born and raised feminist this shows a lack of understanding because what I was trying to say was there is a point as an organizer you must check your own privilege and take into account what your organizing is doing to other people in other communities.

A good example was the recent Trans March Fiasco where the pervasiveness of unchecked privilege and racism prevent a large portion of the community from attending whether those individuals where people of color or just standing in solidarity with people of color. To me it didn't make much sense to alienate themselves like that. For me I am also wanting to have more people feel welcome and included as opposed to telling people that they are not welcome which invalidates their very existence.

And although I seem to exist in the lines between these spaces I still see that they are important to those who need them. I hear this as the excuse that is used for Mitch Fest. "You just want to take away our safe space." No, I don't actually hear that coming from anyone. I hear: your space makes me feel unsafe. I hear: your movement is oppressive and unsafe to our community. I hear: we are asking you to change your language so it is so oppressive and invalidating. All these writings and open communications that I have found on the internet are spoken from this traditional feminine communication style written by trans-women. What I see as being very patriarchal is having your identity defined by another person, alienation and oppression technics, segrgation, one name of person being better (more real) than another name of person.

Another exhert from an interview where Bitch says somethings which i found really hurtful:

“And you think someone who's male-to-female, once they've transition to being female, you still consider that male birth to be a factor; you really distinguish between a woman who's born a woman and a woman who's born a man?

B. Yeah, there's a definite distinction. It doesn't mean that they're not a woman. If they want to be a woman, I'll call them a woman, I'll treat them as a woman, no problem. I don't have any problem with changing up my definitions of what a woman is. But, they're definitely not a woman like I'm a woman. It's a different kind of woman, just like a black woman is a totally different woman than me in a lot of ways. Simply based on our experiences in the world and how we spent our girlhoods. It's going to be totally different for somebody who's black, than for me, as a white girl. And how I walk into a deli in New York, I'm treated totally different than somebody who's black, you know? I think that a lot of what's projected onto us is by nature just completely different. And so yeah, a woman who was born as a man is definitely a totally different kind of woman than me.”

I respond by asking how does she know what kind of a women a trans women is or how they are different than she is. We can learn through intercultural communications that one of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming similarities and assuming difference. In the same sentence I will say that I support people being able to claim their own space and I also support people being able to self-identify and claim their own identity and experiences. If choosing between the two I will support for the decision that doesn’t deny rights to a person based on labels that patriarchy place upon them. I will choose the side who is trying to communicate why something is hurtful, not the side which is hurting another one.

I don’t want a witch hunt, I just don’t want people to abuse the word ally and take away any mean that it might have. I honestly am not sure I would have said anything if that wasn’t the first thing in my face. “I am your ally so you can’t call me on my language.” is a fallacy. As an ally I ask people to correct my language and give me better language to use. I make mistakes. I am human. I am willing to forgive other people’s mistakes and see that they are human as well. I am NOT ok with someone saying they are my ally when using language that is hurting people in my community. I am currently in conversation with Bitch about doing an interview with me. I hope that she will listen to the words that I am trying to bring to the table for consideration. Currently she says she thinks it is intense for me to ask her to stop identifying as a trans ally and that she doesn't appreciate my assumptions.

Here are some links to other writing people have done about this issue:

http://www.facebook.com/notes/annie-danger/an-open-letter-to-my-friends-who-attend-the-michigan-womyns-music-festival/127678003942665
http://www.pamshouseblend.com/diary/1971/
http://blogout.justout.com/?p=17838
http://queertoday.blogspot.com/2007/06/trans-misogyny-in-dyke-communities.html
http://eminism.org/readings/bitch-mwmf.html

Here are some exerts of Bitch's comments:
KB: Do you get shit from the trans community for playing at Michigan?
B: Yes, from parts of the trans community. People who think there aren?t trans people at Michigan are so fucked up. If someone tries to tell me [Michigan] is transphobic, I tell them to stuff it. There?s so many trannies there. And it?s not trans people being marginalized. It?s people who were born as men. The festival is for people who suffered a girlhood. That?s all it is. They?re not trying to redefine what women are. I think it?s really ironic, I don?t see nearly as much activism around all male gatherings. I?m sure everybody over at Camp Trans are not protesting all the all-male gatherings that happen all over the country all the time. It is so the patriarchy. I?m so over it. I think it?s totally the patriarchy and it?s complete ageism.
KB: How so?
B: Because going to Michigan is like going to another country. These visionaries set up Michigan for six f**king days out of the year. It?s not like they?re trying to make a city. They want to have a party with only these kinds of people. They?re our elders. They had a vision. When I was younger, I had a stereotype of what an older lesbian was. I thought they were nerdy, wearing purple all the time and walking around with their hand drum that they can?t play. And then when I went there I had my mind blown by what an intellectual, what a survivalist community it was. If my elders want to say for these six days only these kinds of women can come, then I need to respect that. It is so against our nature to respect women for having boundaries. I think that?s exactly what?s happening.
I had the same experiences as a white girl at Michigan. I felt blown away that I couldn?t go to the women of color events. I felt very entitled about it and very pissed off. And then I had to be schooled about it. I met this Black woman at a meeting and I told her I wanted to go to that, I feel it would educate me to be less racist. And she said sometimes people need to section off and they need to be with people who?ve had similar experiences so they can come out into the bigger community and be stronger people. I really had to respect that.


Bitch. I'd say my stance basically is that I support the policy. I support women making their own boundaries for something they've created and how they want it to go down in the world. I came upon that after years of debating with myself and with other people. It just dawned on me that in our society it's so hard for us to accept women saying no to people. And that feels like the root of the issue for me - that this is a private gathering in a way, and it was set up by a small group of people who have this ideal that they want it to be like that, and I think that's OK. Also, I can't ignore the politics of entitlement around it, you know, how a lot of the issue, and I have noticed this in talking with my friends out at Camp Trans, a lot of the issues are around people born males. So, I find in this patriarchal system that so much of women's energy goes towards making men feel comfortable and satisfying men. This is hard to say... I'm not convinced that if there were problems with people born women being excluded from this space...I'm not so convinced that so many people would rally around them, trying to help them. I think there's a lot of entitlement at work. When I see protesters at my shows, generally the majority is not trans people. The majority of the protesters are fem girls, usually white students, and there's usually one M to F - it's all about them. So I can't ignore that dynamic and I think it's hard for people to tolerate, when they're raised in the patriarchy, it's hard for people to tolerate women saying no. -http://indigogirls.com/correspondence/2005/2005-06-13-a/interview02.html

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I think the idea of being raised a girl or being socialized as a girl is really complicated once you bring gender dysphoria into it. Yes, part of socialization is how people act toward you but a big part of socialization is how you are viewing the world and the messages given to you. If you are receiving the messages and identifying with masculine socializing agents then that is going to be a big part of your socialization.

I agree with what you are saying about the difficulty women face in saying no in our society and I think that it is their right to exclude or include whoever but I also think that it is other people's right to say that what boundaries you draw says something about what you value and that they disapprove of the values exhibited.

Separate from those boundaries is the language a person chooses to use to explain and reinforce those boundaries. Using oppressive language is unacceptable.

I think another big problem here is that it is such a popular festival within the feminist community and a lot of popular feminist institutions give more popularity to it with their support. This reinforces their power and makes it problematic when they do something that is unfeminist.

And of course an institution can't expect to be taken seriously if it calls itself an ally of any oppression and refuses to listen to those facing the oppression. It should be I am an ally so you can tell me when I am being oppressive. -CR