The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, often referred to as "Michigan" or "MWMF" or "Michfest", is an international feminist music festival occurring every year in August near Hart, Michigan.

Creation and purpose

Template:Unreferencedsection As a response to misogyny, sexism and homophobia,[citation needed] MWMF was created in 1976 by 19-year-old Lisa Vogel, her sister Kristie, and Mary Kindig, the We Want the Music Collective. All three were working-class women from Michigan who had seen female musicians and stagehands demeaned and repeatedly harassed at festivals and venues run by men.

MWMF created (and continues to create) a feminist alternative, and a niche for lesbians in the music scene. It continues to create an annual place for living out lesbian feminist politics. Many queer women feel safe and "at home" at Michigan, with the result that lesbian-identified women are among the 3,000-10,000 women who attend each year.

Initially run on a smaller parcel of land, in the early 1980s, through donations and fundraisers as well as proceeds from former festivals, the collective purchased Template:Convert of woodland in Hart, Michigan, and permanently preserved festival lands for women to gather. This land is now affectionately referred to by attendees and workers alike as "The Land".

In the mid-1980s, Vogel was joined by Barbara "Boo" Price, a producer in the Bay Area, as a co-producer. Price's last festival as a producer was in 1994.

Functioning, activities and services

Template:Unreferencedsection The festival is completely built, staffed, and run by women; indeed, women build all of the stages, run the light and sound systems, make the trash collection rounds, serve as electricians, mechanics, security, medical and psychological support, cook meals for 4,000 over open fire pits, provide childcare, and facilitate workshops covering various topics of interest to the attendees, who are referred to as "festies".

Community decisions are made through worker community meetings where the youngest members of the community are given as much access to participate as the oldest.[citation needed]

Three vegetarian meals are served daily to festies and festival workers, which is included for all ticket-holders. Ice is made available for purchase on-site for coolers. There are no buildings on the land, so sanitation is provided through an outdoor dishwashing area, cold water taps, outdoor heated showers, as well as 'porta-janes'.

The festival takes great care to provide healing space for various communities; accordingly, there is "Womyn of Color"-only space, as well as separate spaces for girls and teens. No males over the age of four are allowed on the land although a satellite boys camp welcomes boys through age 11.

Accessibility for women with physical disabilities is provided through some larger-sized 'porta-janes', designated camping and seating areas, and on-site transportation. Electricity is provided to attendees for essential medical equipment by advance arrangement. A volunteer network of ASL interpretation for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (HoH) provides signed interpretation at all main stages as well as outdoor films and many workshops. Childcare, health care, and 12-Step Program support are available to all at no cost.

In addition to ample "general camping" areas, specialized categories of camping areas include "Chem-Free," "Scent-Free", the (unofficial) "Solo Collective" for those attending MichFest on their own, "Over-50s", families with young children, "DART" camping (Disabled Access Resource Team), and an area for deaf and hard-of-hearing festies to camp together, should they wish. There is also dedicated space for "Loud and Rowdy" adult campers and late-night revellers, called the Twilight Zone.

Artists and Craftswomen are an integral part of the MWMF experience, and have provided original, visual expressions of women's culture since the festival began. These artists provide an essential means by which women recognize each other and connect, throughout the year.

Besides the concerts, spoken word performances and comedy, there are also workshops, campfires, sports, movies under the stars, on-site parades, a crafts market, a music store, open-mike performances, drum gatherings, dances, sweat lodges, and other activities to promote healing and well-being. A community-made quilt, vocal choir, and hand-drum orchestra are also assembled throughout the week.

Production and performances

The festival creates a high tech production in an extremely rural outdoor venue. Built over a month-long period by a volunteer workforce, the festival land starts completely in its natural ecological state. After the week-long festivities, the workers tear down the entire operation and completely remove all non-organic materials from the land. The equipment is then stored in a variety of local barns and warehouses to be used the following year. By the time the last woman leaves the land, nothing remains to bear witness of the event; even the electrical boxes that power the festival are buried at each festival's end.[1]

Three stages feature an eclectic selection of women musicians. Tracy Chapman began her career playing to the festival audience and many singer-songwriters before and since then have built loyal followings across the USA and beyond because of their connection with the festival.[citation needed] The festival has absolutely no corporate sponsorship, with each year's festival paying for the next.

The Leather Wars & Creation of "The Twilight Zone"


Although relations between self-proclaimed BDSM practitioners and lesbian feminists had been strained since the late 1970s and early 1980s, tensions came to a boil at MWMF during the years 1987 through 1990. During the 1980s, the festival management, who were largely second-wave feminists and non-supportive of sex and kink positive feminism, instituted a policy that explicitly banned leather dykes from practicing BDSM on "The Land". Festival workers were given a hand-out that explained this policy. Furtermore, they were expected to monitor other workers and festies for any S/M or D/s behavior that the management deemed "abusive". Failure to comply to this expectation led to some women being expelled from the festival grounds.

In 1988, a group of leather women hired a plane to fly over the festival grounds and drop protest leaflets while the festival was going on. They did so with the intention of educating women at the festival about BDSM and the fact that they did not consider their behavior to be abusive, but consensual.

By 1990, enough MWMF workers had rebelled against the anti-BDSM expectation that the festival rescinded the policy, and the first "BDSM 101" workshop was conducted by festival worker, V Kingsley. Over 200 women attended.

Around the same time a camping area at MWMF was designated as friendly space for leather women. Although it wasn't the first location where leather women practiced BDSM on "The Land", "The Twilight Zone" would grow as a play space and "no rules" camping spot for years to come.

The "Leather Wars", as they came to be known by the feminist community, would be the most contested issue at MWMF until trans-inclusion came to a head with the expulsion of Nancy Burkholder in 1991.

"Womyn Born Womyn" policy and debate over Trans inclusion


Since its inception, "the Michigan Festival...always has been an event for women, and this continues to be defined as womyn born womyn" (Lisa Vogel & Barbara Price). This policy has gained notoriety for the festival, as it officially requests that the attendees be "womyn-born-womyn" (WBW) only. That is, those who were born and raised as girls, and currently identify as women. MWMF is one of only a few women's festivals with a WBW policy.

In 1991 Nancy Burkholder, who had attended the festival the year before without incident, was expelled from MWMF when she disclosed her transsexual status to festival workers who, in turn, informed the festival office. Burkholder was asked to leave the festival and received a full refund of her ticket. Festival organizers continued to advocate their support of the women-born-women policy even as criticism from some segments of the queer community mounted in response to Burkholder's departure.


Supporters of the policy believe that the particularity of WBW experience (separate and apart from a woman's experience) comes from being born and raised in a female body, and see the festival as a celebration of that experience, under the oppression of patriarchy. Many attendees and workers remark on feelings of liberation they experienced while within the WBW-only environment of the festival: from a feeling of safety at being able to walk in the dark without fear, to a deep and sometimes virgin acceptance of their bodies. Supporters of the policy feel that the experience of being WBW in a place that honors the bodies, brains and brawn of WBW (regardless of how they "fit" into mainstream culture), and rescripts the limiting experiences available for women and girls, is vital to unlearning a lifetime of internalized misogyny for both attendees and festival volunteers.

The festival has stated that it does not and will not perform "panty checks." Rather, it states that women must "self-monitor", and attend only if they can honestly state that they were born as a girl, lived as a girl, and presently identify as a woman.


Opponents of the policy believe that WBW is a questionable category created solely to legitimize discrimination against transsexual and transgender women. They point out that very little of the festival's content and language about itself centers around specific experiences of being "born and raised", but rather focuses on the idea that the festival is by and for "all women". Opponents argue for a less deterministic understanding of gender, insisting that "women's space is for all self-identified women," regardless of whether one was assigned female or male at birth. Trans rights activists claim that the festival's policy exerts cissexual privilege and that it establishes and promotes an atmosphere of oppression and discrimination by allowing some women in but not other women. Opponents view the policy as transphobic. Since the 1991 incident involving Burkholder, an active protest movement has sprung up around the festival. Opposition has included performers criticizing the policy from the stage, boycotts of performers who have played at the festival and not taken anti-policy stances, attendees wearing yellow armbands to signal their opposition, and Camp Trans, an annual protest camp that takes place near the site of the MWMF.

In 1999, the then organizer of Camp Trans, Riki Wilchins, led an on-land protest of the WBW policy. Wilchins called a highly charged community meeting regarding the policy. Wilchins invited several people along the gender continuum to the land during the protest as a means of physically challenging the policy. One invitee, Tony Baretto-Neto, a post-operative trans man, infamously took a nude shower on the Land. Baretto-Neto would later argue that he deserved to attend Michfest because he had "paid his dues" as a lesbian.[2] A year later, Wilchins returned for a second protest that included other male identified trans men, such as Simon Strikeback. Strikeback, formerly a female identified member of the Chicago contingency of The Lesbian Avengers during the 1999 protest, had transitioned and was identifying as male by the time he entered the festival in August 2000, as part of the "Son of Camp Trans" action. Another participant and organizer, Gunner Scott, would later also transition from Female-To-Male [FTM], and would become a very high profile activist in the Boston community. Strikeback, Scott and fellow activist and trans woman, Stacey Montgomery, among others, would go on to stage several confrontations by the Main Kitchen and Front Gate that led to their expulsion from the festival in 2000.

The fact that Strikeback and other trans men were involved in the 2000 action muddied the veracity of claims that the festival had expelled them merely because they identified as transsexuals or genderqueer. Because the festival is defined as a women-only space, some individuals who were involved or who witnessed the "Michigan 8 expulsion", questioned the appropriateness of male identified persons having entered the festival as part of the action. The relevancy of FTM persons at MichFest would later become a sticking point for future Camp Trans activists, including spoken word artist and performer, Julia Serano, who would go on to assert that the tolerance of trans men at MWMF undermined the ability of trans women to gain legitimacy in women's only spaces.

Although Camp Trans alleges that it has severed ties from GenderPAC; that it has different leadership, and that it supports less violent and confrontational organizational strategies since the apparent departure of Wilchins, it remains to be seen whether this is the case. There were activists involved with the Yellow Armbands internal MWMF trans-inclusion organizing in 2006 and 2007 who self-identified as members of the "GenderYouth" sub-chapter of the GPAC organization, and there were also adult supporters of GPAC who attended Yellow Armbands meetings during the 2006 festival, as well.

Introduction of the Yellow Armbands Pro-Inclusion Strategy


While Camp Trans continues to advocate for the end of the WBW policy and inclusion of all "self-identified" women at MWMF, there still exists disagreement over strategy. On the surface, it appears that there is a polarization between those who support a boycott as the most effective method of ending the policy, and those who prefer cooperation between Camp Trans campers and known supporters of trans-inclusion inside of the festival gates. The partnership between festival workers and Camp Trans became official when MWMF worker, Grover Wehman, and Camp Trans activist, Jessica Snodgrass, came up with the "Yellow Armbands" pro-inclusion campaign in 2003. Both activists and their peers encouraged workers and festies who were pro-trans women's inclusion to wear yellow strips of cloth, or "armbands" as a visible sign of solidarity to the trans women who were excluded.

Although the Yellow Armbands was a response to the musician and attendee boycott strategy largely spearheaded by Camp Trans organizer, Sadie Crabtree; some three years after the boycott began in 2001, and less than two years after the Yellow Armbands appeared inside of the festival, relations between both festivals had deteriorated to the point that dialog was non-existent in 2005.

In late 2005 a MWMF festie named dandypants, utilized the online blogging community "Livejournal" in an attempt to bring together discordant elements of both the MWMF and Camp Trans communities. The end result of this effort, combined with many years of outreach and education, resulted in the peaceful inclusion of trans women activists at the 2006 and 2007 festivals.

The Current Status of the Womyn-Born-Womyn Policy

For more information on the press releases of 2006, see Camp Trans.

In 2006, an out trans woman and Camp Trans organizer named Lorraine, was sold a ticket at the box office. Following a press release from Camp Trans stating that the womyn-born-womyn policy was no longer in effect, Lisa Vogel reaffirmed her support of and the festival's adherence to the policy.[3] Even in light of Vogel's statement that the policy is still in effect and requests that it be respected, Camp Trans continued to maintain that the policy is no longer in effect. A hotly contested debate between members of the Yellow Armbands and Camp Trans over matters of ethics and consent surrounding the press release statements followed during the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007.

By the spring of 2007, information came to the surface that revealed that the partnership between pro-inclusion workers and Camp Trans organizers had left festival attendees unaware and exposed to the worst of the conflict between the MWMF management (who relies on their financial resources), and a small group of Camp Trans organizers who have lingering covert ties to Wilchins and GenderPAC. The Camp Trans organization maintains that its end goal is to dismantle the "wbw-policy', which necessitates that it's strategies focus on those who control that policy, even if the end result of protest actions are sometimes to the detriment of the stated goal of literal inclusion of trans women campers, as well as peaceful cooperation of the other thousands of campers at both festivals.

Lorraine did return to MWMF in 2007 and camped there with no incident, but strategy continues to remain a contentious issue for activists at Camp Trans and MWMF. The festival box office staff are selling trans women tickets, and their attendance is supported by a number of workers and festies, so regardless of the "intentions" of the festival management, literal inclusion has in fact happened.

Some of the musicians who have played at MWMF have spoken out in support of removing the WBW policy, and visited Camp Trans to play in that space in solidarity. Others, like Melissa Ferrick and Lesbians on Ecstasy, have, after years of refusing to attend, reconsidered their stance on the boycott and returned to the festival as performers in 2007.[4]

List of past performers

  • Alana Davis
  • Alice Walker
  • Ani Difranco
  • Animal Prufrock
  • Betty
  • Bitch
  • The Butchies
  • Cris Williamson
  • Elvira Kurt
  • Ferron
  • Gail Ann Dorsey
  • God-Des and She
  • Gretchen Phillips
  • Holly Near
  • Indigo Girls
  • Jane Siberry
  • Jill Sobule
  • Julie Clark
  • Le Tigre
  • Leslie and the Ly's
  • Lez Zeppelin
  • Living on the Edge
  • Margie Adam
  • Melissa Ferrick
  • Nedra Johnson
  • Northern State
  • Sarah Elizabeth Campbell
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Shikisha
  • Staceyann Chin
  • Sweet Honey in the Rock
  • Toshi Reagon
  • Tracy Chapman
  • Tribe 8
  • Ulali

See also


External links