The Michigan Women’s Music Festival hasn’t been relevant in over 30 years.
MichFest is often seen as a monolithic symbol of transphobia and radical feminism gone wrong, but that denies the incredible diversity of the women who have been part of the festival over its nearly four decades of existence. I went there to help myself understand my identity through experiencing feminist and lesbian history. It was a good decision — I had never been in another space where queer women in their 20s volunteer side-by-side with lesbians in their 70s while building a community. From assembling the various stages at MichFest, to driving the shuttles, to cooking the meals, to volunteering at the medical center — everyone takes part in running the festival, and every attendee does two four-hour workshifts.
Shortly after arriving at MichFest 2010, I lugged my gear to the Twilight Zone. The “Zone” has long been both the late night party center of the Fest, and a refuge for people of marginalized gender and sexual identities, including BDSM practitioners and transgender women. As I got to know campers at the Zone and shared stories with them, I formed many deep, trusting friendships. I eventually felt comfortable discussing being transgender — which was met with nothing but acceptance.
The second year I attended MichFest I went as part of the organization Trans Womyn Belong Here (TWBH), and we worked to mobilize allies of transgender women and build transgender safe-spaces within the festival. TWBH organizers, including myself, also ran workshops about transgender inclusion, which meant my name was in the official MichFest program next to the word “transgender.” My workshop was a success, and I got to know many long-time attendees and staff who were dedicated to making the festival they loved into an inclusive space they could be proud of.
One of my fondest memories of MichFest was my first all-woman mosh pit. We were thrashing around to delightfully angry music in an aggressive but well-regulated fashion, much like the many women’s roller derby bouts I’ve skated in. One woman showed up with about a dozen kids from the day care. The kids saw people crowd-surfing, and wanted in too. We organized ourselves in two lines, arms ready to receive on-coming children, and whisked them up to the front of the stage. It was crowd-surfing unlike any I’ve ever experienced. It was gentle, caring and punk-rock at the same time.
Both years I attended MichFest I volunteered at the medical center, also known as the “Womb.” The second year I was mentored by an herbalist in her late 70’s. We talked about environmental justice, Monsanto, pharmaceutical companies, lack of quality research on herbal remedies, science, how women healers are often marginalized by our culture, and more — and we had a lot of beliefs we shared.