Grief (Non kiddo related)

My heart is really heavy and I need to talk through it. I’ve been processing it with other people and need to get some things out and well, this is my blog so I am putting it here. I know that things I am about to say are unpopular – feel free to move along. Know I am writing and not editing – I may not get everything completely right with this. Forgive me. I emotionally can’t handle rereading to edit.

This August will be the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF). MWMF is a 40 year old festival that takes place in the woods of Michigan each year and because of ongoing controversy it can’t continue. MWMF’s purpose (my words, not theirs) is to be a place for women and girls to recover from a patriarchal society and celebrate womanhood. It is come under fire because it is not trans* inclusive. The last statement festival organizers made asked that folks just respect the intention of the festival – meaning that if trans* women come, understand that the focus is on women who have survived girlhood.

I’m not going to debate it here. Years ago festival organizers stated that it is for “womyn born womyn”. Yeah, that’s shitty language. It was years ago. They didn’t have it right. The HRC pushed to have gender identity removed from ENDA and folks still support them. I’m moving past verbiage here.

I’m heartbroken about MWMF ending. I’m heartbroken because the reason it is opposed is because it is not trans* inclusive. It is not trans* inclusive because the purpose of the festival is to recover from being a girl in a patriarchal society and, for the most part, trans* women did not experience being socialized female as a child (I understand that this is increasingly not true and that’s an issue with this idea).

Being a girl is hard. Living in the patriarchy is hard. And I strongly believe that there is a shared experience in girlhood. I’ve talked to my friends. I’ve talked to girls. There are common themes of not feeling good enough and not being enough and depression and failed friendships and body image and femininity. Girls with conservative parents experience this. Girls with liberal parents experience this. Girls across the globe experience this. And MWMF was a place where some of that was undone. Where girls and women were free.

There is an assumption that because I go I do not think trans* women are women. That is wrong. There is an assumption that because I go I think trans* women are less than. That is wrong. What I believe is that I have a shared experience with the women there and we are there to heal together.

Festival ending says to me that girlhood and womanhood do not matter. That in order to be accepting of all we cannot be accepting of our different life herstories. That there is no need for people to heal from and celebrate this life experience.

MWMF saved my life. From 14 to 22 I had periods of time where I actively tried to kill myself. Going to festival saved me. I understood. I felt not alone. I recovered. It saved the lives of my best friends. It saved the life of a 14 year old girl I know and love. These are not statements to be dramatic – they are true. MWMF has saved the lives of hundreds and thousands of women – we had a place to go where we were heard and understood and where we felt worthy. And there has never been another place I have felt that kind of protection.

The goal of MWMF was to focus on women and girls recovering from girlhood. It was asked that the focus be on those who lived that experience. And it’s gone because in our culture that experience is not important. I understand that in the past trans* exclusionary statements had been made. At this point, it was just asked that the focus stayed where it needed to be. But asking for women and girls to be the primary focus of something was too much. Asking that my life herstory and the life herstories of my friends could be the focus of something was too much. In our current society to ask that we focus on the history of a woman who has lived as a girl and now lives as a woman somehow takes away from other women’s experiences and because my experience does not mirror theirs I am not deserving of a place to gather with my sisters who share my herstory. Because my herstory is a more dominate one in our culture celebrating it is oppressing others. I just don’t understand. I honestly don’t understand why I cannot have a place to gather with folks who share my story and heal together.

I’ve lost friends over this in the past and am continuing to do so. For ten years I have asked people who feel MWMF is wrong to talk to me about it – to help me understand what I am missing. No one ever has. I’m watching friendships go now and while I grieve those I am more focused on grieving the lives that won’t be saved by MWMF. I’m grieving the loss of a place where I first felt okay. To walk away from a friendship with me over my support of a place that saved my life is saying that my life does not matter and in that I feel so much anger. That’s why this festival existed in the first place.

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Posted on April 23, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. I’m sorry to hear you are hurting, friend. The emptiness we feel when we lose things that are so integral to our happiness and healing can feel so suffocating and painful. I hope you find some peace with the situation and continue to express yourself as needed. I’m glad you were saved during those difficult years and are here now to share your beautiful family with us.

    • Thanks friend. I feel a mixture of how one feels when their parents move out of their childhood home and how I felt the day George W. Bush got elected. I’m sure I’ll be slightly more hope filled soon.

  2. I’ve never been, but I know a lot of people who are grieving like you that MWMF is in its last year. I didn’t know that it was specifically about the trans issue, though – I had heard it was more financial. Although now that I think about it, that could have been from people withdrawing their support.
    I am really sorry. ❤

  3. I’m pretty upset about this as well.

    • Thanks for letting me know. It honestly has helped so much to not feel like I (and the people I am venting to) am the only one upset by this.

      • I grew up in michigan too, and went every year from when I was young. Being in a space like that is amazing and hard to really describe to people who haven’t gone. I feel like the trans movement has already taken most of our butches, why did they have to destroy the festival too?

      • Yes. It’s so hard to me when people who have never been dismiss what festival is. There is no way that without going you can ever comprehend it.

        Have we chatted before about both being Michiganders? I don’t think i knew this.

      • No, we haven’t talked about it. I grew up in Kalamazoo, I’ve only lived here in Indiana for about 5 years. What about you?

      • I grew up in Grand Blanc – outside of Flint. Lived in Lansing for many years and moved West about 6 years ago. I have family in Portage and love Kalamazoo.

      • Ha! Small world! I bet if we looked hard enough we would find out we know some of the same people 🙂

  4. “In our current society to ask that we focus on the history of a woman who has lived as a girl and now lives as a woman somehow takes away from other women’s experiences and because my experience does not mirror theirs I am not deserving of a place to gather with my sisters who share my herstory.”

    THIS. This, to me, is the essence.

    I was really hoping you’d write about this, Emily. I’ve never been to MWMF, but it’s had a place on my list since the moment I learned of it. Friends have started, continued, and expanded their healing process there. I desperately wanted to attend, but could never rally the funding or time off to make it a reality. To hear that this is the final year of MWMF, knowing it would be nearly impossible to go during this process of uprooting our lives – and knowing that a replacement safe space likely won’t pop up in its absence – I grieve. More than for myself, I grieve for my kids. I grieve for the loss of a community I wanted to connect with & share with my children, a safe space for my girls as they grew & developed as independent adolescents immersed in this culture of deeply engrained misogyny and fun feminism.

    Patriarchy damages us all – male, female, trans, queer, etc. To me, MWMF represented an island, a place where one could go and actually escape from that for awhile. We need more safe spaces, not less. The loss of MWMF is not a victory for the trans community. The loss of a safe space for girls and women of any kind, a place to gather & discuss, to heal & re-create, that is not a victory for trans-women or trans-men. The world does not become any more trans-inclusive by the ending of MWMF.

  5. I tried posting a bit ago from my phone, not sure if it ever went through–

    Briefly, though, I wanted to say that despite never having been to Fest, I feel its loss. Rachel and I have talked about going ‘someday’ never thinking that we’d run out of opportunities.

    I also wanted to thank you for posting, as your words eloquently reflect my feelings on the matter. It’s so important to have safe space in which to support and love each other and help each other heal, and it’s frustrating (heartbreaking) that that space is so often denied and that this amazing piece of lesbian/feminist/womyn centered culture is coming to an end.

  6. I’ve not been yet, but I am working on attending this year. I had visions of attending each year with Evelyn, giving her the opportunity to be in this space each year and grow up with Michfest as something that would be an integral part of her childhood. I feel a little silly feeling sad about something I’ve never been a part of, but I am.

    I’m sorry you’re hurting – I hope in time your heart heals and the strength you found through MWMF stays with you through the coming years.

  7. Aww I love
    Your compassion for the festival. It seems like it has really been a HUGE part of your life and helped you cope with a lot. It’s so crappy that something with decent heritage would end because of discontinuing support. Especially something so large, hmmm. It’s crappy your in Michigan, California would fight to keep it. My mom lives in port Huron Michigan….I wouldn’t move there if you payed me a million bucks. Good luck, keep your spirits high and the good thing is your an adult now well, as we must deal with things coming in and out of our lives. Saying goodbye to the festival might put you in place of something else huge you can supports

    • Thanks for the note. It’s hard losing the space but there are parts of it that weren’t feasible for my family (like cost! Travel from the west coast to michigan and then festival tickets is huge.) but knowing it doesn’t exist for other people is hard, too. I’ve connected with other people grieving and feel a bit better knowing we’re not alone.

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