and that is a false goddamn equivalence.
[Trigger warning for transphobia]
I got around to listening to some Ferron today. In fact, in the interest of intellectual honesty, I am currently listening to Ferron.
I was raised on 70s lesbian-feminist music. (Thanks, Mama Cass [no, not that Mama Cass]). In some ways I’ve felt ‘older’ than my queer peers because my childhood home, at least sometimes, was filled with middle-aged (white lower to lower middle class) lesbians and everything that meant. I was raised to say things like “family” and you know I don’t mean bio family, and I saw T-shirts with women spelled womyn.
This also meant I faced something of a learning curve when I came into my own as a queer adult. Members of what I consider to be my family have gone to Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF, Michfest), and they did so uncritically and unquestioningly.
For all I know, they walked past Camp Trans with an uncaring eye, maybe even making some awful remarks about trans people. I don’t know. I never asked them.
This isn’t about women’s spaces, which as a non-woman, I firmly believe I don’t even get to have an opinion about. It is about why concert promoters get to tell people what gender they are. And what the hell I’m supposed to do as a genderqueer person and a trans ally raised by second-wave lesbian-feminists when it comes to the persistent, almost casual transphobia evinced by artists I love.
Now, I know there’s a simple answer. (Hint: I’m getting there.) But first I want to unpack what happens when people call feminists on their transphobic shit.
Go to any page where people are talking about their unease when it comes to artists they love performing at Michfest. Here, here’s one for you. People who think about no longer supporting artists who are transphobic or who support transphobic institutions get called things like witch hunters and book burners. We’re also told that we are the ones who are dividing feminists into pro- and anti-trans camps.
My goat, it is gotten.
Listen very carefully: there is no fucking excuse for transphobic feminism in the 21st Century. All you need to recognize that fact is a functioning sense of right and wrong.
The former Righteous Babe Records recording artist Bitch (of the now-defunct Bitch and Animal) is a primo example of someone who has found herself on the other side of this issue from me. Now, other people have delved into Bitch’s transphobia at length, so I’m not going to rehash all that. I want to talk about something I’ve never heard anyone talk about: Animal’s vicious attack on transmen in her song, “Cosmic Tranny.”
“Been arrested for my tits almost twice/ So how can I cut them off to be free/ And leave all the girls to patriarchy/ If I become a man instead of facing my fears/ So I can get the privilege of not being queer/ I’m calling you out assimilator/ Not gender warrior/ You’re collecting on Mr. while she’s suffering sister”
At which point I immediately turned off the record. So, in case you were wondering if some feminists still thought the very existence of trans men was misogynistic, doubt no more.
Animal self-id’s as trans, which speaks volumes to the lengths some people will go to appease and uphold hatred.
And then there’s the fact that my (once) single favorite musician in the known universe, Ani DiFranco, sings back-up on this track and produced this record. And she produced Bitch and Animal’s records, and now Bitch is off producing for Ferron. And all of them are deeply tied to the MWMF, and my head is about to go boom.
I took this screenshot of the performers at this year’s upcoming Michfest:
Marga Gomez? Love her! Elvira Kurt? One night I ended up a part of her bit about her Hungarian parents. (IT WAS THRILLING.) Team Dresch? All right, there not my favorite thing ever, but the amount of money I’ve given them is greater than 0. Cris Williamson, Dar Williams? Hell yeah! Holly Near!!! Holly Near!!!
Amy Ray? I love Amy Ray. I want to be Amy Ray when I grow up. I have all her records, I’ve seen the Indigo Girls in concert FIVE TIMES. One time she was walking toward me in Ann Arbor and all I could say was “OH MY GOD IT’S AMY RAY, OH MY GOD IT’S AMY RAY.”
When Bitch wrote a Facebook note defending herself (weakly) against charges of transphobia (saying she’s been in a band with a trans person? check. saying that band brought trans issues to the world? check. saying she was allowed to use the word tr*nny? check), her claim was that only one of the 400 (!?) shows Bitch and Animal played that year was exclusively for FAABs (female assigned at birth – ‘cos you gotta bust out your postmodern gender lingo so people will thank you aren’t transphobic, which you are).
Only one of the shows we played was for white people only!
If someone legit tried to use that as a defense, what would your reaction be?
Transphobic transphobia-denying feminists like to brush off the word cisgender, because somehow it “oppresses” them.
Right.That’s the issue.
Moving forward, I really don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Or maybe I’m scared because the right thing is so hard. I can’t give any more money to people who traffic in transphobia. I’m boycotting RuPaul. I’m sure as shit never listening to that Animal record again.
But transphobia is like the ugliest thread in the sweater of lesbian-feminist art: it’s woven throughout the whole damn thing, and once you pull it, you realize how many people are implicated. (End mixed metaphor.)
All your good work comes to naught when it is stained with the taint of bigotry.
Am I going to burn my Amy Ray records? No. First off, that’s ecologically irresponsible.
But we have to be able to critique our own. What does it mean when we critique privilege but turn around and act like we don’t have it?