Thursday, September 9, 2010

Into the Woods Part 3 - in which my heart breaks a little

The light was golden. Watermelons were stacked around the trees. Women sat on hay bales and camp chairs or leaned against trees eating their (vegetarian with ingredients carefully posted in order to care for people with food allergies) dinners. It was Friday evening at Michigan.

A small group was gathering around two women wearing Transexual Menace t-shirts who were passing out info. Something shifted in the air. I perked up. I wanted to talk to these women. And I wanted a t-shirt.

The women wearing the shirts were passing out fliers about trans inclusion in the festival. One woman was Riki Wilchins, who's kind of a big deal in trans activism. I was excited to hear what she had to say. The other was a woman named Kris. She had been identified male at birth and had not had any medical interventions that would have changed her appearance. If someone made assumptions about her gender, they would likely have assumed that she was a very feminine young man. But that's not how she thought of herself. And frankly, that's not how she felt. For me, every gender falls somewhere on the color spectrum of energy. I can't define it, it's not rational, it's intangible. It's about my gut. And my gut told me that this young woman belonged on the land. That she was a woman born woman. A woman who was not socialized as a woman. A woman with genitals different than mine. But genitals are as different as snowflakes. She was a woman. Who was also fragile, tentative, brave and young. A woman who people were suddenly not being nice to.

My hackles were up.

Within a few minutes, women were yelling at each other. Some supporting Riki and Kris, others horrified that these women were on our land. After about 15 minutes, a worker appeared and stopped the yelling.

"This is Michigan, and if we're going to talk about this, we're doing it the Michigan way. If you want to discuss this, go under the kitchen tent. We'll put together a speaker's list and we'll pass a talking stick."

Yes, there was a talking stick. At least I think there was. Maybe it was just a psychic talking stick.

There was yelling, there was crying, there was a lot of sharing feelings, fear, prejudice, hate, honesty. It was raw. And terrifying. I'd never seen this at Michigan before. I'd heard about it. A few years before this, Tribe 8 simulated assaulting an abuser on stage. This resulted in a massive hue and cry and processing meetings for the rest of the week. Tribe 8 now had appeared on the night stage. Women had protested other women walking around wearing their consensually acquired bruises, now no one seemed to care. There was a time when the only dildos sold in the crafts areas looked like vegetables or dolphins. Now, at least half looked like penises. Change happens. But it can be slow. And painful. I knew that this discussion was important. That it was part of a process. But that didn't make it any less awful.

When it was my turn to speak I'm pretty sure I sounded like an idiot. Like an over emotional idiot. I'm not bad at speaking in public. I used to act in community and school theater, I'd worked as a lobbyist in the Minnesota legislature. With other women, I'd led public ritual. I'd been a local organizer for It's Time Minnesota that passed a trans inclusive non discrimination law. I'd spoken on college campuses on GLBT issues and military aid to El Salvador. Saying something about why all women should be welcome on this land shouldn't have been hard. But it was. I was crying before the first sentence was out of my mouth.

I was bullied pretty severely in elementary school. That experience gave me, a white girl from some heavy privilege, a hard lesson in being other. It has deeply colored the way that I look at the world. I'm almost grateful for the experience. But perhaps I could have learned that lesson in a less scarring manner. When I see someone who wants to be a part of a community, who sees themselves as part of that community, being ignored and marginalized, or worse, those scars reopen. With rage and shame and violent visceral pain.

I think I said something about what it was like as a bisexual woman with a husband in womyn's space. And something about how these women were women who belonged here. I can still see what I saw in that yellow and white striped tent. I can feel the tears on my face, the pain in my belly. The sights, the senses, the emotions are more clear than the words.

Other women spoke. For many women it came down to genitals. This land was somewhere that they didn't want to see real live penises. Some women didn't believe that anyone could really be transgendered. Some women said trans women post surgery were welcome. Others explained that access to surgery is a class issue - that not all women could afford surgery.

Finally, we were all talked out.

Riki and Kris decided to go back to Camp Trans. They weren't feeling like they wanted to stay on the land. Frankly, I wasn't sure I wanted to stay on the land either. A small group of us walked them out to the gate. Then I went to bed.

The next morning I woke up, broke down my tent and went home.

I still think about Kris and wonder how she's doing. She was such a sweet person. And I ache that my people caused her pain in a space where she should have been welcomed and celebrated.

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