Sniffdown on Michigan

If it’s August, it’s the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF), where women from across the globe congregate in the woods of Michigan to jam to women’s musicians. Full disclosure – I’ve never been to MWMF, and I am not a big fan of live concerts or crowds. I went to Twin Oaks ‘Women’s Gathering with an ex-girlfriend back in the 1990s, and I spent most of the weekend complaining about the food. However, I support – 100% – my sisters in their desire to go to the woods and get sweaty free from the male gaze. Have at it.

The issue of transwomen participation at MWMF has become more contentious over time. For a number of years, transpeople and their allies gathered at an event, Camp Trans, held just outside the Festival grounds at the same time as MWMF, where they also hosted musicians, speakers and workshops. Recently, a contingent within Camp Trans decided to pursue crashing MWMF and/or forcing MWMF to welcome them as their only goals. To that end, some supporters of “trans inclusion” bought transwomen tickets to MWMF, escorted them on to the grounds, and helped conduct “inclusion” events.MWMF was clearly formed for females, to give females space away from males. In these unfortunate gender queer theory/post modern feminism days, though, the word “women” has lost its original meaning (i.e., female). Hence, the demands for transwomen to attend MWMF.

All of this, of course, overlooks the plain and simple truth – this event takes place on private property, and no one has a right to go there except the people the organizers invite. And if they only want to invite females, they have a right – no matter how much this hurts people’s feelings.

Let’s review the law. All states ban discrimination based on “public accommodations” based on race, sex and religion and the like. This means that no one can discriminate against you in accommodations accessible to the public based on those characteristics.

This is a good thing. In a civil society, we want to eliminate irrational discrimination than bans people from accessing spaces deemed “public accommodations.” Our society benefits from freedom of movement in and access to public spaces, and from the exchanges that can occur between different kinds of people in those public spaces. However, these statutes generally provide exceptions for what I will call “truly private places.” MWMF is a perfect example of an event segregated by sex and occurs on private property as a private event. It is a truly private place.

Michigan law provides that a person cannot “(d)eny an individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status.” “Place of public accommodation” means a business, or an educational, refreshment, entertainment, recreation, health, or transportation facility, or institution of any kind, whether licensed or not, whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public.

Michigan law goes even further than other states, stating that places of public accommodation also includes the facilities of certain private clubs like country clubs, golf clubs, boating or yachting clubs, sports or athletic clubs, and dining clubs. However, the law does not apply to other private clubs or other establishments not in fact open to the public. That is, the law does not apply to truly private places – like MWMF.

Private property, private clubs. People have the right to assembly privately and to talk amongst themselves. This is a good thing, because it gives people the choice to form their own private networks. This is good for females, as we need a break from the overwhelming male-dominated focus of the world (think Virginia Wolf and a room of one’s own). And although it might make you “feel bad,” that is not reason enough to deprive people of their right to assemble privately.

As a feminist, I support people’s rights to assemble privately by whatever interest group they choose in keeping with the law – even if this means I am not invited. When you DEMAND access to truly private female space like MWMF, are you also saying that you think a Christian should crash a meeting of Muslims in a truly private place? How about a white power racist demanding access to a Black Panthers meeting in a truly private place? What if I stopped by a trans* only support group meeting at the GLCCB? Is that okay? Should I stop by?

Exercising dominion over people’s truly private places is what dictators do. Is that who you want to be?

Friday, 26 August 2011

One comment

  1. […] There was a noticeable difference between the Dyke Marches of the 1990s and the 2012 Dyke March – the presence and influence of trans and genderqueer culture. As a participant in the 2012 march, I recognized it as inclusive space, as I support the right of women to establish the boundaries of their own space as they choose. […]

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