Note: This is a guest post from Prettyqueer editor Red Durkin, who started the recent petition to boycott Michfest until trans women are included. Just FYI I didn’t provide any additional editing or formatting.
This is part of a response I just wrote to a woman who contacted me to ask the age-old Michfest question, “what about naked trans women being seen by children and sexual assault survivors.” I generally don’t engage this because it never feels sincere, it’s literally traumatizing for me, and I don’t expect it to go anywhere. However, something about the way this woman approached me made me want to engage her. So I did. This is my official resignation letter from ever engaging this question again:
Let me first say that you’re not the first person to bring these concerns up. As I believe I said before, I recently experienced a traumatic flashback (and was subsequently barely able to get out of bed/stop crying for a week) because of this exact line of questioning. I’m not at all sure how I’m able to interact with it right now, to be honest. I’ll respond in a couple of ways.
1. the practical: Something that I’ve never seen proposed is “separate nude space for trans women.” Assuming that trans women will be inclined to be publicly nude (something I’ll address more in a minute) it is entirely possible to designate “trans nude” space on the land where anyone potentially scandalized or traumatize by trans women’s nudity can be aware of and not go. Frankly, I think this is a nasty idea as well, but it would constitute a compromise and I’ve never heard it genuinely suggested. Why not? I think the reason is, quite honestly, that this isn’t a practical concern. That presenting the “challenge of trans women’s bodies” an insurmountable logistical concern, supporters of the exclusion are able to skirt the real issue, which is that they just don’t want trans women around at all. But yeah, practically speaking: separate nude space on the land, a policy of “no nude trans women” outside of that space, separate showers OR specific “trans friendly” shower times. Same for massage. Again, this isn’t an ideal. In fact, it’s still highly offensive to me, but it’s a compromise and I’ve never heard it taken seriously by anyone.
2. the reality: Every time this question comes up, my first reaction is “have you ever met a trans woman?” I can speak for myself when I say that I have had //lovers// who have never seen my penis. I would literally rather be beaten up than walk around naked in public. My shame about my body is DEEP and the same goes for most of the trans women I know. I’m not saying that it’s IMPOSSIBLE that a trans woman would want to walk around naked, but I, frankly, see that as being so unlikely that it’s almost ridiculous to worry about.
3. the philosophy: Putting it bluntly, if we ACTUALLY accept that trans women are women, why is it okay to tell them that their bodies are inappropriate for children to see and traumatizing for other women? Especially in a space that LITERALLY boasts about the “diversity of women’s bodies” that can be seen there. Can you imagine facing these charges as a woman? Please, take some time to think about what it feels like to be a woman with deep seated shame around her body, to have a body that the world deems disgusting and wrong, and to then have other women, other //feminists//, tell you that yours is a body unworthy of care, that it must be kept from the eyes of vulnerable women, because it is a vulgar weapon. Women kill themselves over that kind of ostrecization. I have come close, myself.
Specifically speaking to the issue of sexual assault survivors: Especially in a queer/lesbian space, I find it incredibly dangerous to equate penises with sexual violence. This erases MUCH of the assault/abuse/violence that happens within lesbian communities. It also erases the women who experience that violence. As I mentioned in my initial reply, I am a sexual assault survivor myself. I feel completely ignored/unseen when trans women and sexual assault survivors are spoken of as though they’re mutually exclusive. I am the cross section of those identities. So, so, SO many trans women are. Do we not deserve healing? I hear so much about the “healing energy” of Michfest. Honestly, I have the exact opposite feeling. At this point, that space has wounded me so VERY deeply that, even if the policy changed, you couldn’t drag me onto that land with meat hooks. MANY trans women I know feel the same way. The healing that non-trans women recieve in that space has been, in part, cut out of OUR hearts for decades. I don’t fight the policy for my sake, but in the hope that some day trans women who have not been scarred by the Land can go and be healed of their pain and trauma and shame, just like other women.