From an earlier MichFest.
From an earlier MichFest.
I close my eyes and I am back in the Michigan woods, lying in fern and leaf litter, listening to the woods and the voices of women. I open my eyes and the shadow of leaves and voices remain while the sounds of Australian birds and the smell of Australian plants intrude. They’re not ferns, but they’re what I have and they are glorious.
This year, for my first and only time, I went to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, started by Lisa Vogel 40 years ago. I had gone with as few expectations as possible, helped by the flurry of activity in the weeks before I left and the daze I walked through the gate in.
The experience was a revelation, in expected and unexpected ways.
While listening to CC Carter sing about her hips, I realised with a rush that this is what representation might feel…
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IronFoxe reports on an Intention vs. Inclusion workshop.
“As someone with a history of being open to having this discussion, and more importantly as someone who has suffered negative consequences for having done so, I had low expectations for this workshop but I have to say I stand happily corrected. The organizers were dedicated to safety and respect, they laid out firm groundwork for having this conversation in an open manner, and they were sure everyone got to speak genuinely. They had thought-provoking exercises to engage us with, in groups and pairs and on our own, to challenge our thoughts and help us navigate where our sisters with differing views were coming from. They clearly had put a lot of effort and heart into creating that space, and they did an outstanding job of it.”
A slideshow from the final Fest, by Heart.
When Women Were Warriors weighs in.
“The fireworks. And fairy forest. I feel to type it all out somehow flattens what really happens on that land. The reason I bother to say any of this at all is because I hope to see women recreate space like that all over the world until there is no Man’s Land left.”
Lori King writes about a bit of herstory of Fest.
AspensPlease was ambivalent.
“Over the years, “I’m not down with that” became “I’m not up for that,” but my basic answer to Michfest remained the same. I vaguely appreciated its existence, I vaguely disagreed with the intention against trans inclusion. Because Michfest had nothing to do with me, I never tried to nail down my thoughts beyond that.”
Elle Kacee blogs of singing at breakfast, with videos.
Loving Lily was pleasantly surprised.
“Michigan was immaculate the whole time I was there. Women cleaned up after ourselves. There was no violence, yelling or public drunkenness. If you had camping gear or duffle bags or other possessions, you could put them on the ground with NO FEAR of anything being stolen or destroyed.”
Photo credit: Elle Kacee.
By StaceyAnn Chin
When the first Michigan Women’s Music festival
happened/in August/in 1976
the local paper called it
an international gathering of weirdos
imagine that first flood of women
pouring into the deep dark Michigan woods
imagine them finding the courage
to stay on the land despite the angry men
circling the perimeter/the only plan
honk your horn/if there is trouble
call your sister/and she will come
that sisterhood has since grown
into a global jungle/from which we all come
sprouting eagle from Kingston and California
slithering snake-like from Scotland and South Africa
howling wolves from Brooklyn and Bangladesh
no matter where we spring from
we have never had any doubt/this place would be here
next August/to recharge us/for the year ahead
in our heart we could not conceive
of the final closing of these gates
and now/as we attempt to say farewell
the center of me is sobbing oceans
my heart broken open/my chest/cracking raw
because I will never be here again/like this
on this holy ground
these eyes of mine will never see my daughter
in this place at thirteen/or thirty-three/like me
she will never see it/as I have seen it
open/sky/naked spirits/Amazon women
dancing/round red fires of sticks/and stones
taking back the imprisoned bones of ourselves
and finding new freedoms here
in communion/we mourn this bitter end
each of us/trying to remember/that life is a series of cycles
as old as the moon/as expected as the first coming of blood
we who believe in rebirth/see this period of rest
as only a practice test designed
to help us r/evolve in these complicated times
I ask you to remember that we are trained
in the tradition of doing things/they say cannot be done
I beg you to look again
to the determination of the generation
who built this pussy-centered city
with no fucking internet
no kick-starter campaign/no social media
no legal recognition of the right
to love whomever we fucking choose
those Amazons from that era gave birth to abortion rights
and the equal rights amendment
and rape-crisis centers
and women’s shelters
that movement laid the groundwork
for decriminalizing the entire LGBTQIA-BCDEFG identity
forty years after that first gathering of weirdos/we are still here
because Michfest has always been about more than just music
it has remained a light/at the end of a yearlong tunnel
it has been a promise that has kept so many of us going
in return/so many of us/have tried so hard to keep it going
over the years/we have persisted in coming
insisted on defying the odds
year after economically challenged year
every August/for one week/we orchestrate
this neurotic amalgamation of tarp
and bug spray
this single-minded, slick-wet celebration of flashlights
these flooded sleeping quarters
these fucking RVs and second-hand Subarus
these butch parades and sweat lodges
is about knowing/with everything in us
that being called a girl/is not a fucking insult
under these Sapphic stars
it’s the highest form of compliment
this place has been a celebration of our girlhood
a recognition of the magic of surviving womanhood
it has always been an open invitation to those of us
existing outside the confines of gender-binary limitations
this place is an homage
to the bra-burning/radical feminists of the nineteen-seventies
they believed they could/not only pick a fight against
but/they believed they could also fucking win
we are still fighting those same battles today
which is why we still need to stand together
against the patriarchy
to stand/to gather
this miraculous gathering of women
is only going down
for an expected cycle of much-needed rest
after all/it has only been four fucking decades
since the young Blood Moon
only 19 years old/with ovaries the size of fucking Saturn
started this shit—radical/feminist/midwife that she has been
she has kept the course for 480 months
Lisa Vogel and the long crew and the short crew
and the cooks from Gals
and artisans from Crafts and the workers at the Night Stage
and the artist on the Acoustic Stage
and the witches from the Womb
and all women stirring the multiple cauldrons
that make up this crazy cavalry
they have been holding down the logistics
of this place of safety for 2,080 weeks
it fitting to acknowledge also
that it has only been 14, 560 days
since you magnificent Michigan festies
have been pushing this impossible rock
up the motherfucking mountain of misogyny
forty years is a very long time/my sisters
as the dust settles on our beloved dirt road
indulge your inconsolable ache
lament/weep/wail/cry all need or want
but know too/the seeds of joy we each planted on this land
will never be dead/instead/the legend of its roots
will grow large inside the heads and hearts
of all of us/who have loved here/and fought here
fucked out loud and without apology here
the memory of it/the spirit of it
will tingle inside the scarred chests
of warriors who survived
and female castration
and childhood molestation
and familial rejection
and ovarian cancer/and HIV and Aids
and drunken husbands/and human trafficking
and homophobia/and gender-policing
and poverty/and wire hangers
and rape again
this year/after we say our final farewell
we will again go home
to stand alongside incarcerated Black men
and undocumented children/and transgender boys/girls
and underpaid women/and all those bodies who remain targets
for the wealthy white bigots who would want everyone
who is not them
enslaved/or deported/or killed
with or without a yearly gathering on this land
we will never stand inside the gender-norms expected of us
we will continue to meet/in tents
we will keep resisting/and out of this resistance
will come another core assembly of need and opportunity
a door that will push this community to birth itself anew
when it does/it is our duty to be ready
to receive it/every one of us
after the burning of our holy city
we must do something with this astoundingly beautiful ash
we have to cash in the credit of this place
to race toward a future in which our daughters
and our daughters’ daughters keep demanding
safety for every/body living this planet
this is call for Zuri and Cree
and Zora and Naiobi
this is a call for Zander and Josie and Emerson and Kai
this is a call for you/and you/and you/and me
this call is for all the girls/who grew up here
or came here
or heard about the magic that once existed here
to come together/to continue to fight
to grow up and out/to fucking bloom/and rise
and rise/and rise again
to find our Amazon phoenix spirit/to ascend
in flesh/in truth
let us use this moment to rewind/to reincarnate
to hatch and spawn/new blood
to amplify the ageless power we have all felt here at Michfest
the magic of this place must remain/in each of us
giving us direction
long after the pain of our present sorrow
From Lisa Vogel’s Facebook page.
StaceyAnn’s website is here.
Terrific post from Redress Alert on the 2014 MichFest.
“It was not that they all knew, from direct experience, what I was on about. It was that they were listening and empathizing so hard, with so much love, that their care was palpable. They were not an audience but witnesses.”
“At Michigan, for the first time, I was not indigestible. I was not a contaminant.”
“These women are the soul of the Place…Simply, they are making magic and inviting you in.”
“It turns out that when you stop demonizing your elder women or patronizing them as ignorant dinosaurs, and you go hang out with them in the woods instead–they show up and mentor you in ways you thought only happened for boys in novels and movies.”
“Now that I finally know this, not only in my mind but from within all the borders of my own body, I want to scream, ‘You cannot stand in the exact spot I am standing in without standing on me.'”
“What I am left with is this bitter question: “Who would I be if I had not been lied to and kept from this Place for all these years?”
I believe I would be speaking and singing in a voice nobody will ever hear again, a voice I altered with testosterone instead. I believe my body would be more typical for my chronological age, and not frequently disabled by chronic pain. I believe I would have had the chance to manage and learn the logic of the odd hormonal balance I carried before I disrupted and obscured it by adding T. I believe I would speak from the position of having recovered my sense of bodily integrity, instead of living with the knowledge that I colluded in my own erasure by medical “normalizing.” I believe I would be a hell of a lot less alone.”
By the always delightful Phonaesthetica.
“The nutloaf was nutty. The drumming was drummy. I bought a dykey leather bracelet, got my period, howled like a wolf, showered in the open air and woke up in a tent underneath several inches of water during a thunderstorm. I washed dishes in a communal trough and let a silky wolf spider shimmy up my arm. I felt Lisa Vogel’s true love for each one of us in the fireworks show on Saturday at Night Stage.
It was Fest. It was the last Fest.”
Read the rest here.
OUR HOLY BOOK HAS ALWAYS BEEN OUR FEMALE FLESH AND BLOOD
Embodied Feminist Spirituality, Gender-ism, and Women’s Mysteries
(Below are some excerpts from this wise and eloquent speech.)
“We recognize that our daily human experience is filtered through and informed by our female bodies, our specific female physiology, and how our attitudes about the female body are affected by gender socialization.”
“In ancient times, women’s exclusive gatherings were recognized as being vital for the good of the greater community. We continue today to gather to hear our shared stories of survival, of courage, and to celebrate our lives.”
“Had I been raised by Scythian Amazons in a matrifocal culture, I would have been raised thinking that becoming a woman meant to know how to be a capable warrior, hunter, and horsewoman, a weaver of cloth, a gatherer of herbs, a strong, brave nurturer and protector of the young.”
“Speaking as a Witch, the ability to name something or someone is the power to define its very nature. To know, name, and speak the true name of something is to possess the spiritual ‘handle’ with which the speaker can control or influence that thing.”
“….must we also continue to oppress ourselves by perpetuating unexamined misogyny and deny our differences that may actually be sacred gifts? Different but equal is not possible in the dominant patriarchal culture we live in.”
“If you are not living inside your body, where are you living? And who has taken up residence inside you in your absence? Whose stories do you believe? And whose agenda does that serve?”
“…we must learn how to discern the boundaries between ourselves and the toxic environments we live in, how to wisely filter extraneous debris from essence, pan for gold in the swift currents of a river.”
“Remember that, ‘magick requires a great amount of practice and very little effort.'”
“Listen to what is sounding here and now, feel and see all that is actually happening in this moment, in addition to what you’ve planned.”
The transcript of this speech may be read in its entirety at Gender Identity Watch.
By Kathy Mandigo
I am packing up my stuff to move, and I came across a folder of work-related papers. One item was a card I had forgotten I had, but as soon as I opened it, I remembered it and the sender. It was a card of thanks from a transgendered patient, a lesbian who transitioned to a man, expressing appreciation for my help in her* journey to become the man she felt she was.
*(While I used to accede to my patients’ chosen pronouns, I now use the biologically appropriate one.)
I saw this patient at a youth clinic (patients under 26), and she was usually accompanied by her girlfriend. She had been seen and assessed and started on treatment at the Gender Dysphoria Clinic that ran at the time in a local hospital. I initiated nothing, merely administered the testosterone injections they prescribed.
I watched my patient change: she gained weight and muscle, developed a lower voice, sprouted facial hair, and described increasing sex drive and aggressiveness. I remember feeling comfortable that this patient seemed very grounded and confident, and I did not feel manipulated in our interactions, which helped me feel comfortable to administer the injections.
I saw this patient in the mid or late 1990’s, I don’t exactly remember, and as I recall, she was the first transgendered patient I had seen. I was less than ten years into medical practice and hadn’t been taught anything about transgenderism in medical school. I was young and naive and trusted science. There was no science about transgenderism. What was I to do?
With the growing criticism of medicine and physicians as paternalistic, we were encouraged to listen better to our patients, to their expressed realities. Although we did not take the Hippocratic oath in our medical school, we did still attend to the tenet of first do no harm, but I had no idea how to weigh the risks and benefits of attempts at gender transition. I didn’t have a personal opinion then about transgenderism, and professionally I felt an obligation to try to meet my patients where they were, rather than where I was. I wasn’t willing to diagnose transgenderism, but if the team of proclaimed professionals at the Gender Dysphoria Clinic had made such an assessment, I was willing to be the family doctor who provided follow-up.
A few years later, a pilot project clinic was opened within one of the community health centres in our city, a clinic specifically for queer patients. We staffed our clinic with as many queer providers as we could find. We expected a flood of queer patients alienated from the traditional medical system; those whom we actually saw were mostly alienated transgender patients, who either had not been accepted for gender transition by the Gender Dysphoria Clinic (often for psychological reasons) or were unable to tolerate the long assessment process of the Gender Dysphoria Clinic (again, often for psychological reasons).
As I recall, all of these patients were men wanting to transition to being women, and, as I recall, all of them struck me as psychologically unwell, as manifested in their behaviours. I remember thinking that there was an atmosphere of coercion among the staff in which it was uncool to question the validity of the patients’ desires and expressed gender identity. Any psychological disturbance was often attributed to the patient’s suffering of living their life in the “wrong” gender.
I remember often feeling that these patients tried to intimidate me into giving them what they wanted, that they often assumed outraged insult if I asked questions (how dare I enquire, presumably doubting them), that if I did not give them what they wanted they exploded into enraged diatribes and stormed off. I felt very uncomfortable with them and it was challenging to try to do my job and not react to their anger.
The pilot project did not last long, as there were few patients, other than this handful of disaffected transgendered patients. It may have been that, because the clinic operated on Monday afternoons, more well-adjusted patients were likely working and unable to access the clinic. It may have been that most queer patients by that time felt comfortable accessing the health care they wanted. Those questions were never asked to sort out whether it was lack of accessibility or lack of need.
Over the next years, I did not see many transgendered patients, until recently, and with most of them disproportionately appearing among the demographic of mentally ill and addicted in our city.
One patient came to my private office, a lesbian who was transitioning to a male, under the care of a gender specialist of some sort. (The Gender Dysphoria Clinic had ended, I wasn’t clear why. I believe this was effected under the guise of rhetoric that all doctors ought to provide this care rather than it being relegated to a specialty clinic, but I expect there were other politics at play. Disturbingly, what has been opened is a transgender clinic within the provincial children’s hospital.)
She came to my office telling me that she had heard I was a great doctor and that I specialized in transgender issues.
I immediately felt I was being manipulated with a big buttering-up job, and I said this was not true, I was neither a great doctor nor a transgender specialist. My guard was up. I expected this patient read me as a dyke, though I never disclosed, and over subsequent visits, this patient continued to try to be my pal, with an overly-friendly us-two-dykes demeanour, like we were butchly comrades, as though she was forgetting that she believed she was a he.
Over time, I discovered the patient had been withholding unflattering information from me that would have sped up diagnoses of her other issues. I increasingly felt she was attempting to manipulate me with her excessively friendly behaviour, and then pressure me with her sense of what my obligations were (e.g. that I should provide a letter of support for her to have the gender on her birth certificate changed, when in fact this was her specialist’s responsibility, as the diagnosing physician, a responsibility that he had fulfilled, despite the patient’s claims and demands to me).
I tried to be professional, to mind the boundaries (e.g. not provide personal information, not collude in the play of friendship), and I administered the testosterone injections her specialist had prescribed, until the patient’s girlfriend felt comfortable to take over. I held this ground, and eventually the patient tired of me, undoubtedly disappointed and disparaging, and left my practice.
Another patient I saw in my other, public health work, was a man transitioning to a female. What I was told by a nurse of the patient’s story, of what clinics he had attended and who his doctors were, was all over the map, which made me suspicious about what the “facts” were and that I had to verify anything he said.
When I saw him, he began by being all girl-friend-y with me, like we were two girls together in this crazy world, behaviour I assumed he had seen and adopted as how women get what they want (had he ever read me wrong! he was mimicking behaviour without having the years of lived experience by which a women learns, if so inclined, when to use that tactic).
As I asked questions about his health background, he became uncomfortable that my questions were revealing inconsistencies in his story (suggesting to me psychological problems), and he got angry and leaned forward into my personal space and flashed me that “you fucking cunt” look.
All women know that look. This was the same look I remembered getting from the patients I saw at the pilot project clinic, but I didn’t know then what to call it, what it was. Now, after so many more years of life experience, I knew exactly what it was: it is a look that men give women to dismiss and devalue and intimidate; it is not a look that women give women (they dismiss and devalue and intimidate in other ways, often by being passive-aggressively haughty).
I was better able, after the years in practice, to hold my ground, and I calmly told him that his angry tone and demeanour were making me uncomfortable and he had to calm down or the visit would be over. He denied being angry, but continued to have the angry tone of voice and body language that goes with that look, part of the package of male power tactics.
I stood my ground and repeated that he was making me uncomfortable. Eventually he settled, I gave him the (non-gender-related) prescription he had come for, and we terminated the visit. I saw him a second time some weeks later, and he did not flare into anger. Whether he was having a better day or had learned to camouflage and control himself better, I do not know.
These experiences, of seeing more men wanting to transition than women, of seeing almost all of the transitioning patients behave in stereotypical gendered ways (their biological gender behaviours flashing through their assumed gendered behaviours) and out of these behaviours try to manipulate me (rather than being able to discuss the situation openly and honestly), seeing more of these transitioning men settling among the mentally unwell in the most disenfranchised neighbourhood, and especially seeing the transgender men continue to exhibit male aggressive behaviours, has convinced me that most, if not all, transgender patients are not in the wrong body but have mental health problems, problems they believe can be fixed if they get in the right body.
At the beginning of my years of practice, with my youth and inexperience, I thought I had an obligation to follow the patient. Now I believe that I failed these patients, and that I have a superseding obligation to tell the truth to my patients. I regret every testosterone injection I gave, every estrogen prescription I refilled, and every time I colluded with my patients in their gender delusion. I regret not speaking up to my colleagues and to my patients, instead giving in to the coercion I felt to go along rather than dare to question. I regret not having had the courage to ask questions to get to the story beneath the gender dysphoria story, to find out why my patients had ever been made to feel there was anything wrong with them in the first place. I want to tell the women that we need them as women, and especially as lesbians; I want to tell the men that no amount of medicalization will make them women. Women may have an easier time of masquerading as men, but as long as every man has within him the “you fucking cunt” look, no man can ever masquerade as a women.
That first patient’s composure stands out from my subsequent experiences with transgender patients. Surely it helped her navigate the Gender Dysphoria Clinic. Was she truly of a different nature, or had she, with her relative youth, not accumulated distorting grievances? After finding that card, I tried to look her up. I wanted to ask if she was still grateful for transitioning, if she was still as happy to be living her life as the man she believed she was, if she still believed she was a man. I could not find her, at least not under his name.
Kathy Mandigo is a general physician in Vancouver who has been in medicine for over thirty years. She has a Masters degree in Epidemiology, and has worked in public health and private practice, at the Canadian HIV Network and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and Health Canada.
The Radfem Repost sister project to MichFest is now over, as is MichFest, but this blog is no more finished than women are. It’s been an exciting and sometimes hair-raising experience, putting together a new blog with so much great writing and support from other women. In little more than a week, we have received over 2500 visitors from 67 countries and over 5000 views.
Women are leaving the Land now. Women are on the road, in planes, and getting smacked in the face with the Patriarchy. Women are going back to their homes and bursting into tears at how wonderful MichFest was, and how sorry a substitute Patriarchy is.
We’d like to hear from you – your stories of being at Michfest, your photos, your videos. We’d also like to hear from those of you who are working on planning what will come now, what will be next August, what will grow in MichFest’s place. If you’re interested in contributing, please email email@example.com.