Camp Trans

Camp Trans

Camp Trans is an annual demonstration held outside the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival by transwomen and their allies to protest the Festival's policy of excluding transwomen from attending.


The 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 womenhood in a safe environment without domination, oppression or interference by men. Its primary organizers adhere to a belief that a defining quality of womanhood comes from being born and raised in a female body. The festival has maintained a policy of "womyn-born womyn only" since its inception, which, though not systematically enforced Fact|date=July 2008, has become a lightning rod of controversy.

Opponents of the policy argue for a less deterministic understanding of gender and insist that "womyn-born womyn" is an artificial and exclusionary category created specifically to exclude transsexual women, and as such, has no legitimacy as a subject position Fact|date=July 2008. Many Camp Trans supporters see the festival as a symbolic space, one which, as the largest women-only space in the United States, sets a precedent for the explicit or implicit exclusion of transgender women in other queer and feminist communities and establishments. They view the policy as transphobic.

Much of the debate centers on the concept of privilege. While many supporters of the WBW policy argue that transgender womyn have experienced male privilege at some point in their lives, opponents insist that this viewpoint fails to recognize cisgender privilege as well as the oppression that transgender individuals face. In recent years, the controversy over the policy has also come to include debate about the presence of transmen in womyn-only space and lesbian communities.


Camp Trans was sparked by a 1991 incident in which a woman named Nancy Burkholder was ejected from the festival after her transsexual status became known to festival security guards Fact|date=July 2008. Although the festival has maintained a women-born-women policy since its inception, as evidenced by posters from the first festival in 1975 Fact|date=September 2007, the 1991 incident falsely led to the belief that the policy was only articulated as a means of preventing transsexual women from attending. Every year afterwards a group of trans and non trans women protested the exclusion of trans women from the event. Initially these protests were small affairs. For the first few years they were actually carried on inside the camp. [ To: Women Concerned About Transsexual Oppression (April 28, 1993) [] ] A significant incident occurred in 1993 when a number of SM women approached the protesters to offer their services as security.

In 1994, Riki Wilchins pressured some of the original group of protesters to give her a leadership role in organizing the event Fact|date=July 2008. A more organized group of transwomen 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 much attention and controversy, culminating in heated tensions as a small group of transgender activists were admitted into the festival to exchange dialogue with organizers and to negotiate a short-lived compromise allowing only post-operative women on the festival land. [ Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music Festival Discriminatory Policy Still In Effect (June 26, 1999) [] ]

Over the next three years, Camp Trans leadership shifted to members of the Chicago queer community, and the demographics of the camp changed to include many more transgender men and genderqueer-identified individuals. Few transwomen attended during this period, as festival attendees increasingly came to view Camp Trans as a transgender annex of the festival, rather than a site of protest, and the camp itself did little to dispel this myth. ["Welcome To Sunny Camp Trans" (Boston Lesbian Avengers, 2001) [ 2003] ] , yet another group of activists from the online messageboard took over the planning, with the goal of refocusing the camp's mission on protesting the festival's exclusion of transgender women. This group, many of whom were involved in outreach campaigns to musical artists associated with the festival, sought to create a broader community that is more welcoming to transgender women. ["All kinds of Women: Camp Trans 2003" [] ]

Camp Trans has, in recent years, become somewhat of a mecca for the nationwide queer community, and has spurred the careers of a few famous queer celebrities and academics. The camp has moved to a large swath of national forest land down the road from the festival and attracts close to 200 people each year. Attendees participate in direct actions and outreach to the festival-goers (or "festies") as well as workshops, games, dances, and performances. They mostly spend the week living out of tents in the woods and eating communal meals by the campfire, as lesbian folk music echoes in the forest.

But by 2005, activists at Camp Trans and MWMF had become frustrated with the boycott effort and felt that a combined effort of external and internal activism on the grounds of MWMF might be more effective in making inclusion a reality. [ "Transexual Fury: Summer Camp Special". (July 2006) [] , [] ] A few activists thought that separating MWMF-attending activists from Camp Trans might increase the chances of fostering peace between both organizations, so an online community group called The Yellow Armbands was formed and meetings were conducted on "The Land" at MichFest in 2006. [ "Closets 'R' For Clothes" broadcast on 88.3 WCBN, at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. (July 12, 2006) [] , [] ]

In 2006, a transwoman organizer of Camp Trans named Lorraine 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. ['Michigan Eight' Evicted Over Festival's New 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (August 12, 2000) [] ] 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 that none was 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 Yellow Armbands pro-inclusion support group held their first meeting at the Watermelon Tree in the common dining area of the festival. A cisgender female activist from Camp Trans informed the group that Donaldson had tried to purchase a ticket, but that she had been denied entrance. A pro-inclusion box office worker was shocked to learn that this paperwork was given to Donaldson and insisted to the members of Camp Trans and the Yellow Armbands that this leaflet was inaccurate and that if Donaldson returned the next day, that she would in fact be sold a ticket. Members of the Yellow Armbands joined organizers of Camp Trans at their campsite that evening and discussed the news.

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 transwoman 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 transwomen 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. A camper captured the good news as it was presented onstage by a Camp Trans committee member and later posted it on YouTube. [ "Closets 'R' For Clothes" broadcast on 88.3 WCBN, at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. (August 16, 2006) [] , [] ] [Camp Trans - Saturday Night Video Speech (August 19, 2006) [] ] Contact information for the Yellow Armbands was officially linked via the Camp Trans website on August 22, 2006. ["Yellowarmbands Now Linked from the Official Camp Trans website!", Yellow Armbands Livejournal. (August 22, 2006) [] ]

The 2006 Press Release Controversy & Resulting Organizational Changes

Following the 2006 festival, a small group of Camp Trans organizers decided to issue a press release that claimed that festival had "ended it's 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. [ Let's Everybody Take A Deep Breath (September 20, 2006) [] ]

During the 2006 festival, an exchange of letters occurred between Donaldson and Lisa Vogel. Vogel asked Donaldson to discontinue attending and respect the "wbw-policy" after she learned that Donaldson was sold a ticket by the box office on August 9, but she requested that Donaldson keep the letter private, thus not giving consent to Camp Trans to republish the contents.

Some organizers of 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 put the parameters of the "wbw-policy" out there in black and white. Some supported this tactic because they felt that because Vogel hadn't given the Camp Trans organization permission to republish the letter, nor was the actual policy (or what Vogel refers 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. [MWMF Press Release: Michigan Womyn's Music Festival Sets The Record Straight (August 22, 2006) [] ] Following the press release fallout, Donaldson resigned from Camp Trans and joined the Yellow Armbands as an organizer. [ Transitioning Organizational Roles (August 25, 2006) [] ] [ Message In A Bottle (To CT07 Organizers) (September 18, 2006) [] ]

It is also important to note that a stealth musician who had transitioned 10 years earlier did perform in the early 1980s and in 1999, during that year'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. [Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music FestivalDiscriminatory Policy Still In Effect (June 26, 1999) [] ] [ Camp Trans Needs Us! (August 26, 2006) [] ]

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. [Farewell (May 28, 2007) [] ] 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. [ Fest For All Womyn Community on LiveJournal [] ]

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 cisgender female inclusion supporters. [ On Boycotts (July 23, 2007) [] ] When Donaldson and the Fest For All Womyn camped in The Twilight Zone in 2007, this marked the first time in the herstory of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival that trans women were sold tickets and camped on the festival grounds with no conflict.Fact|date=July 2008

2007 was also a landmark year for Camp Trans, because for the first time in their 16 years history Fact|date=July 2008, they held elections for their organizational positions. [Camp Trans 2007 Organization Update (April 16, 2007) [] ] Camp Trans organizers celebrated this as a positive step in the right direction when the majority of elected positions were filled by trans women.

ee also

*Michigan Womyn's Music Festival
*List of transgender-related topics
*Lesbian Avengers
*Fest For All Womyn
*Yellow Armbands



* "Is the Michigan Debate Over?" Gina de Vries, Curve Magazine, July/August, 2007.
* "Sheer Chaos" (Illustrated Comic), Stacey Montgomery, 2000-2006. []

External links

* [ Official Camp Trans site]
* [ Detailed History of Camp Trans from 1991 to 2000]
* [ Camp Trans Blog on Livejournal]
* [ Fest For All Womyn Inclusion Organization on Livejournal]
* [ Yellow Armbands Community Blog at Livejournal and former site of organizing for inclusion inside of MWMF]

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