1. Solly August 26, 2012 @ 8:55 pm

    Hina-I love this story thanks for sharing it. This topic is very important and complex. It would be great if more people share their thoughts on it too. Cool.

  2. Starfish August 28, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

    Thank you for the well-thought out commentary on what I consider an institution, an important part of the herstory (haha I can’t believe I just used one of those words) of modern feminist queer women’s struggle. I wished there had been a WOC tent with good food when I went – all I remember is a lot of bland potatoes, cabbage and onions. I probably lost ten pounds subsisting on the prison rations they provided there, hahaha! It sounds like things are a little more diverse now – which is also good to hear. While I have some misgivings about allowing pre-op MTF’s onto the land, from the perspective of someone who comes from a very conservative background, I see your point about carving out a space for them, like other spaces for BDSM people, etc. However, I think that discounting some people’s objections to seeing male bodies unclothed is insensitive to the fact that not all of us are from liberal, hippie-type backgrounds where it’s normal for people to run around buck naked. Many of us are not even from cities, let alone “enlightened”, “blue state” areas, and it’s all a big adjustment for us to be somewhere like the festival. Personally, I’m not even that thrilled to see most women naked, let alone men. Call me uptight if you must, but not everyone is into that kind of thing. But that doesn’t mean that people like me aren’t interested in the greater experience of being in a women-only space, and feeling the freedom and safety (real or imagined) of being in such a space. In rushing to ensure that trans rights are upheld in every situation, people forget about the rights of others. Very rarely do I ever feel like I’m in the majority or mainstream anything, but I am not trans; yet I do have rights as well, as do many other people who don’t fall into either category (mainstream majority or trans).

  3. hina September 4, 2012 @ 1:06 am


    i really appreciate your perspective and the way you expressed it. the festival certainly isn’t billed as a ‘clothing optional’ space, however that is exactly what you see when you go. open, communal outside showers, topless dining, etc. i didn’t see any full-on buck-naked sex (dammit) but lots of titties. yea, i had a nice time. strangely enough, i went camping again this weekend. planning another trip before winter comes!

Getting Deep in the Woods

Uncategorized Comments (3)

Against the current wisdom, I packed myself an extra large trunk and headed into the Michigan woods for a week to attend the largest all gal music festival in the United States. It is held the first week of August every year and has been since 1975. Some of the same ladies who went way back then still attend. The numbers have been whittled down by over 60-70% by so many factors, but a group of the dedicated return year after year to construct and deconstruct a village, share thoughts, ideas, music, skills, food, crafts, laughs, joy and tears.

Speaking of the food, I am quite put out that a gaggle of girls in the woods can’t make it work a little better than couscous with some raisins and onions in it. The vegetarian fare was seriously lacking. I gratefully subsisted on ‘bagel dogs’ from the local cafe. Not quite a bagel and I’m sure not quite a hot dog, it was sometimes the only food I would have in a day, because I couldn’t bear to wait in a line of hundreds for a salad of lettuce, carrot and cabbage! The food they served was edible, but weak. I was saved by the cooking over at the POC tent, however. A sister knows about some grilling over a fire, let me tell you. Fish, chicken, pork, ribs, rice and beans, oh my goddess! That’s what I am talking about! I was lost in joy as I stuffed my face, the moaning all around me tickling my ears like an orgy of gastronomical debauchery!

I met so many odd characters. I camped in an area with a motley sort of burn-outs, losers, bandits, addicts, theives, dealers and lost causes. Some nights, their parties would wake me from some nauseating nightmare about work. The sharp edge of their desperation and sadness thinly dressed as laughter would scrape against my earplugs and rouse me for another cigarette. I think immediately of Sadie, who went by random names depending on her mood. Like most people there, legal names were strictly avoided. Everyone had a clever alter ego. Minx, Dutchie, Burn, Shaggs, Hopper, Fur, like that. Sadie sailed in all the way from Australia, hard as nails and several teeth missing in front. Screeching and moaning, calling out constantly for attention, for Mommy (her girlfriend who floated in and out, always there in time to catch a fall or supply more drugs) and for someone to laugh at her jokes. She reeled about the campsite nightly like a carnival ride with everyone taking turns to supply a supportive chuckle or shoulder as needed; plowing blindly through existing conversation with shouts of, “I LOVE YOU PEOPLE!” and “FUCK MY LIFE,” which were her two most common phrases, guaranteed to get a round of laughter from the sodden campers.

There was the Iranian who shouts in freedom from center stage one night, “I (stutter, stutter) am from Iran, and I love woman!” The crowd goes wild. I think of the crazy Texans, who would deliver a rebel yell at the slightest provocation, the couple from Georgia, and upstate New York, from Canada and Queens, Brooklyn and Nebraska. I think of Noriko, this beautiful, tattooed Japanese goddess, the proud royalty of African heritage, and Marilyn, a 73-year old who has been coming to Michfest since it’s early days. And Janelle, a goddess-loving goddess who still wears Birkenstocks without so much as a blink! We shared a chuckle about that. And, the 14-year old Pandora, who was raised on the land since the womb, having never known a summer without Michfest.

It was amazing to see so many lovely ladies in one place. Oooooold ladies, fancy ladies, bearded ladies, preggy ladies, ladies of every shape, creed, color, style and type. The town that is built is generous and kind, well-maintained (the porta-toilets are the cleanest I have ever seen, period) industrious, honest, patient and wise, open and loving, quick to laugh and sing out loud, protective and safe. All who attend walk in confidence and secret grins, greet you with bright open eyes that stare right through you, strut around shirtless and suddenly proud, with a couple of very obvious exceptions.

There are some who attend who don’t feel welcome or safe and are struggling to create a presence at the festival and change the inclusion policy for trans women that has been in place since the beginning. It is said that the current policy is ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Ha. Michfest began with an intention to be a safe and protected space of healing and bonding, away from the rest of the world, tucked in the deep woods for the ladies. If you were born a girl, grew up as a girl, love other girls, love identifying as a female 24/7, then this is the festival in the woods for you. The intention is about creating and holding space for love and support, trust and healing from the wounds of being reared in and surviving in an oppressive, violent, misogynist, patriarchal war zone slash fucking nightmare.

I think most oppressed minorities feel that collecting in separate space is essential to the work of healing, building community and solidarity. There is separate space on the land for POCs only. Some try to go to the space and talk about how their grandfather was half Cherokee or they have a black great grand cousin or something to gain access, but it’s about how you identify in your daily life. It is not up for debate or challenge, and the boundary is respected and honored at all times. If a POC says you are not welcome, you don’t get to go in. Gabor Mate quotes Seeman and McEwen in his book, When the Body Says No:

“Human beings as a species did not evolve as solitary creatures but as social animals whose survival was contingent on powerful emotional connections with family and tribe. Social and emotional connections are an integral part of our neurological and chemical makeup… The basic premise is that, like other social animals, human physiological homeostasis and ultimate health status are influenced not only by the physical envoronment but also by the social environment.”

The question that many were grappling with seemed to be whether congregating separately from trans women is trans-phobic. Also, while expanding our understanding of what it means to be female by raising butch visibility and re-affirming their desirability through various projects on the land (also read as trans phobic by and large), the community simultaneously doesn’t ask trans women to the table, and who can tell what the future holds.

It’s clear it’s time for a change. All the signs are there: the younguns are all calling for change and wearing flowers in their hair like at  a 60’s sit-in, singing kumbaya and asking why we all can’t just get along; the fresh-from-press college kids say being safe is different from being comfy and it’s time to get uncomfortable; a once-strong community is now divided and weakened; the elders tending toward the separatist side of the issue, shaking their fists and raging, nay, foaming at the mouth, their minds recoiling at the thought of seeing a penis, rattling on about the way things used to be, about how the younguns could never understand what Michfest would be giving up. The trust that the land is built on is eroding, and more fingers point and wag, as the gender of everyone is questioned. Even the land itself seems to be saying, change. It seems that it too is worn out from all the strife and contention, all the bickering and name-calling over the years, and would likely be glad for a break, to heal and regenerate.

There are many Oak trees, Red Oak and White Oak. There are Beech and Pine, and a ground cover of ferns, knee high and most showing browning leaves, due to the unusually dry summer. I learned how to tell a Douglas Fir from other Pine trees finally. It’s some story I am sure I can’t remember about a mouse being scared and running into a pine cone, and a deer running in there after it. I don’t know. Something like that. Anywhay, if you crack open a pine cone and you see a deer foot print, it’s a Douglas Fir. There you have it.

There are many things I would do differently next time, though there will likely not be a next time. Camping for a week in the woods was great, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. Not in Michigan anyway, and not without an RV. I could camp for a year in California Redwoods, but not the Midwest. It rained for 3 days straight, and I think I might have chiggers, which reminds me of the hateful ‘joke’ I heard from my tent on a loud and rowdy party night. Of course, I was the only African-American on that particular campsite. What is a racist joke? Is it hard to tell? I have a test for it. If I was sitting next to the person that told it, would they still have said it? I THINK NOT.

I found myself feeling quite like the trans women standing along the periphery, wringing hands and wondering where the next drunken slur was going to come from, asking myself if I belonged here, trying to look like I was having a good time. Making space on the land for trans women is an inevitability and it has to happen if Michfest wants to continue and grow. Holding onto the visions of the past is no way to encourage the young, fresh-faced college kids to attend whose numbers the fest needs, to continue the vital conversations that have started, and to more fully understand what it all means in the 21st Century. This same kind of resistance occurred years ago with moms with male children. Now there is separate space on the land for them. It happened with BDSM afficianados years ago. Major uproar. Now there is separate space on the land for them. And let me tell you, it is far, far away separate space. Like, bring your flashlight, boo. There is space for disabled and chemical free, for over 50s, I mean, come on.

I don’t miss the land, even though I am glad to have seen it before the end of an era. I do miss the songs around the campfire. Not the humans, but the birds, animals and insects. Every night the cicadas would start their show just before dark, just as they always have. Some things never change.


Hina @ August 20, 2012

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