Camp Trans was an annual demonstration and event held outside the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, by trans women and their allies, to protest the Festival's stated intention that the event is for "women-born-women" (WBW), meaning women who were designated female at birth, raised as girls, and who now identify as women.
Michigan Womyn's Music Festival has its roots in lesbian-feminist and lesbian-separatist analysis of patriarchy, and is intended to provide a week-long safe space for attendees to enjoy music created exclusively by women, immerse themselves in women's culture, and celebrate their womanhood in a safe environment, without domination, oppression or interference by men. Its primary organizers adhere to a belief that womyn-born womyn are justified in gathering together, separately, from others.
Camp Trans was sparked by a 1991 incident in which Nancy Burkholder was ejected from the festival, after another woman asked her whether she was trans, and Burkholder refused to answer. For several years afterwards, a group of people (including both transgender and cisgender women) protested the exclusion of trans women from the event. Initially, these protests were small, and sometimes carried on inside of the camp.
A more organized group of trans women and their allies began camping and holding demonstrations outside the gate. After a five-year hiatus, Camp Trans returned in 1999, led by transgender activists Riki Ann Wilchins and Leslie Feinberg, as well as many members of the Boston and Chicago Lesbian Avengers The events of this year drew attention and controversy. A small group of transgender activists were admitted to the festival, to exchange dialogue with organizers. They negotiated a short-lived compromise, allowing only post-operative trans women on the festival land.
In the early 1980s and in 1999, a stealth transgender musician who had transitioned 10 years earlier performed in MWMF. During 1999's Camp Trans event, a number of trans women purchased tickets and were admitted to MWMF. A similar claim of victory was published by Camp Trans that year.[unreliable source?]
By the early 2000s, the fight for trans-inclusion at MichFest had shifted toward a national artist outreach campaign that sought to persuade artists like Le Tigre, The Butchies, Tribe 8, and Bitch and Animal to boycott the festival or speak out from the stage. An online community of young trans and cis feminists known as strap-on.org was the center of organizing for this campaign. In 2003, a group of activists associated with strap-on.org called an impromptu meeting at the True Spirit conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss the state of Camp Trans. Many of these activists felt that Camp Trans had lost its focus on trans women's issues specifically and wished to return Camp Trans to its original mission of fighting for trans women's inclusion in queer women's communities. With the help of a few members of the Chicago community who had been running Camp Trans, this new group of organizers re-launched Camp Trans with a new strategy focused on constituency building and economic pressure.
Camp Trans 2003 marked the beginning of a new phase at Camp Trans in which trans women became more involved in the leadership and the camp's political organizing became more sophisticated. Tactics broadened to include on-land organizing of allies and workers inside the festival, outreach to festival attendees camped on the road waiting to enter the gates (known as 'walking the line'), strategic partnerships with festival vendors like Babeland and organizations like the Audre Lorde Project, and dialog with festival musicians like Amy Ray and Ember Swift. Camp life was filled with workshops, trainings, concerts, play parties, and performances, many of which drew significant numbers of festival attendees. Visitors to Camp Trans during this period included Julia Serano, Nancy Burkholder, Sandy Stone and Michelle Tea.
Events of 2006
By 2005, some activists at Camp Trans and at MWMF had become frustrated with the boycott effort. Many felt that a combined effort of external and internal activism on the grounds of MWMF might be more effective in securing inclusion. Camp Trans' on-land organizing had led to the formation of new, independent groups such as Yellow Armbands (later renamed Fest for All Womyn) and Trans Womyn Belong Here that fought for trans inclusion from within.
In 2006, a trans woman organizer of Camp Trans named Lorrraine Donaldson was sold a ticket to the 31st annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. On Tuesday, August 8, 2006, Donaldson approached the workers at the front gate of the festival and asked if she could purchase a ticket. She was instructed to read an outdated handout that was printed by the festival office in 2000 following the controversial events surrounding the Michigan 8 protest. The writer of this paper indicated that the festival was still enforcing a policy of exclusion for transsexual women. When Donaldson pointed out that the document was outdated, and asked for a current version from the workers, they told her a current version was not available. Donaldson requested that the workers seek up-to-date policy information in writing from the office, and informed them that she would return the next morning. That same day, the newly organized pro-inclusion support group known as Yellow Armbands held their first meeting at the Watermelon Tree, in the common dining area of the festival.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 9, Donaldson again approached the box office workers near the front gate and asked to purchase a ticket. She was met at the gate by three members of the Yellow Armbands and one organizer of Camp Trans, all of whom witnessed Donaldson disclosing her trans status to the box office manager, before being sold a ticket and given an orange wristband that designated her as a "festie". Donaldson attended the festival for the remainder of the week and participated at a trans inclusion workshop that was presented by trans woman Emilia Lombardi, who was also an organizer with Camp Trans and who was sold a ticket to the festival on Friday, August 11, as well. The workshop was listed as part of the official festival program and both Donaldson and Lombardi were open about being trans women at the workshop that was attended by over 50 people. Donaldson and Lombardi also continued to join the Yellow Armbands mealtime gatherings, where they were met with support from festies and workers. The conclusion of the 2006 festivals in Hart, Michigan was marked with noted optimism and collaborative spirit between Camp Trans constituents and their pro-inclusion supporters at MWMF, as was noted immediately by members of the community and media. A camper also captured the good news as it was presented onstage by a Camp Trans committee member and later posted it on YouTube.
2006 press release controversy and resulting organizational changes
Following the 2006 festival, a small group of Camp Trans organizers issued a press release that stated that the MWMF had "ended its policy of exclusion". A disagreement ensued within the Camp Trans and Yellow Armbands organizations over whether or not this press release was ethical due to issues of transparency and consent.[unreliable source?]
Camp Trans argued that the press release was a deliberate and necessary tactic designed to bait Vogel into responding with a transphobic press release which would make the parameters of the "wbw-policy" officially known. Supporters of this tactic felt that because Vogel hadn't given the Camp Trans organization permission to republish the letter, nor was the policy (or what Vogel referred to as an "intention") available in writing on the MichFest website or elsewhere, that this was the only way that Camp Trans could ostensibly prove that the policy actually existed. Others felt that the motivation behind the press release was nebulous and not supportive or inclusive of Donaldson or others who were involved in the positive developments that occurred in the summer of 2006. They also believed that the press release caused unnecessary conflict between inclusion activists and the festival office and they preferred to focus on the larger community who were clearly supportive of trans women attending in 2006. Regardless, Vogel did in fact issue a response where she stated again that the festival is intended for women-born-women, and that they hope and expect trans women to respect that intention. Following the press release fallout, Donaldson resigned from Camp Trans and joined the Yellow Armbands as an organizer.[unreliable source?][unreliable source?]
In 2007, the Yellow Armbands blog was frozen by an organizer who resigned from the activism due to lingering issues regarding lack of transparency in the inclusion movement.[unreliable source?] Other activists also resigned over concerns that Camp Trans was privileging the voices of trans men over trans women in their organization. The remaining inclusion activists at Yellow Armbands created a new online community and blog and renamed their organization Fest For All Womyn.[unreliable source?]
Donaldson returned to MWMF in 2007 with the newly renamed Fest For All Womyn/Yellow Armbands and camped in The Twilight Zone area of the festival along with other trans women and female inclusion supporters.
2007 was also a landmark year for Camp Trans, because for the first time in their 16-year history, they held elections for their organizational positions. Camp Trans organizers celebrated this as a positive step in the right direction when the majority of elected positions were filled by trans women.
Allegations of violence and vandalism during 2010 festivals
According to an online news site, Anarchist News, there were several incidents of violence and vandalism during the 2010 festivals. A printed version of the statements found at Anarchist News, as well as further details regarding the incidents was first published by Pink and Black Attack in early September 2010. A confrontation ensued between attendees of Camp Trans and a tow-truck driver near the gates of MichFest during a reading of the history of Camp Trans.
In the Pink and Black #6 zine issue, the publishers included the following description of the vandalism left at one of the Michigan kitchens:
August 7. Hart , MI: Vandalism at Michfest
This year at MichFest, the words "Real Womyn Have Cocks" were painted on the MichFest kitchen and other damage was allegedly done to MichFest property. A flyer was distributed with the following text: 'Second-Wave ‘Feminists’, A hot load from my monstrous tranny-cock embodies womanhood more than the pieces of menstral (sic) art your transphobic cunts could ever hope to create. Love, Womyn-born-Monsters[this quote needs a citation]
Despite these unofficial statements, neither the MichFest office nor the Camp Trans organization has confirmed the veracity of these accounts, nor whether the vandalism occurred at the worker or main kitchen. Although workshops were allegedly held to resolve the matter, no one has specified whether or not Lisa Vogel made an official response.
A thread from the MichFest bulletin board created on August 9, 2011 contains statements from numerous long time MichFest attendees and workers, who confirmed that trans women attended the festival in 2011. There has been no comment from Camp Trans in regards to their attendance or participation in the 2011 festival.
As of 2012
- Myths and The Truth About the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
- "Trouble in Utopia". The Village Voice. September 12, 2000. Retrieved January 10, 2009.
- Williams, Cristan. "How TERF Violence Inspired Camp Trans". TransAdvocate. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
- "Camp Trans History". Camp Trans. Retrieved January 10, 2009.
- Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music Festival Discriminatory Policy Still In Effect, June 26, 1999
- "A Handbook on Discussing The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival For Trans Activists and Allies (Koyama, Emi: Portland: Confluere, 2003: 28-36)" (PDF). Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- WinterMom, Princess (2006-08-26). "Camp Trans needs us!". wbw_is_bullshit community. LiveJournal. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- 'Michigan Eight' Evicted Over Festival's New 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', August 12, 2000
- "(09-19-06)". Dykes To Watch Out For. September 19, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- "Camp Trans: Saturday Night Video Speech (August 19, 2006)". August 19, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2014 – via YouTube.
- "Let's Everybody Take A Deep Breath". camptrans community. LiveJournal. 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- "Transitioning Organizational Roles (August 25, 2006)". Community.livejournal.com. August 25, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- "Message In A Bottle (To CT07 Organizers) (September 18, 2006)". Community.livejournal.com. September 18, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- "Farewell (May 28, 2007)". Community.livejournal.com. May 28, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- United States. "Fest For All Womyn Community on LiveJournal". Community.livejournal.com. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- Let The Trans Women Speak! Anarchist News Online (August 12, 2010)[dead link]
- "Pink and Black Attack #6 (September 2, 2010)". Zinelibrary.info. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- "Let Trans Women Speak: A Response to Camp Trans; Not Yr Sister Press (October 26, 2010)". Notyrcisterpress.tumblr.com. October 26, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2014.