I’m getting ready to head to Michfest with swirls of emotions crashing in my heart. About to board a plane to a place that has brought me tremendous healing, liberated my conceptions, and spawned and deepened some of my most cherished relationships; and a place that simultaneously has wrought tremendous pain on the trans-women who feel excluded by its intention to be a haven for women who were designated female at birth.

The contention around this issue has been deep, and I know has flared intense hurt and betrayal among folks on every side, all of us who have a stake in dismantling patriarchy and healing from the wounds of gender oppression.

Just as we have come to hold as true, that the gender binary is rigid, artificial, and antiquated, I believe that the struggle around Michfest is also not a dichotomous, which-side-are-you-on issue. It is nuanced and complex, and requires of us compassion, courage, and willingness to grow. It begs of us to learn a lesson much more far-reaching than this 5-day festival:

6a00d83451b2ee69e2017617165cd0970cHow do we work in solidarity across differences?

I wish this were the year we were stepping onto the land celebrating that our trans sisters are explicitly invited to take part in the festival. Instead I am attending as a cis women actively working from inside to shift the culture of the festival, and leveraging my influence as a performer to change the policy. In the wake of the boycott, Alixa and I (Climbing PoeTree) made a choice to perform at MWMF to continue engaging in dialogues to answer that critical question, with a commitment to transferring resources from Michfest into trans-inclusive spaces by donating our honorarium [read on below].

Alixa and I feel a deep responsibility as artists committed to justice, to help bridge the divides in our communities. Artists have a role in helping us move from our egos to our hearts so that we can listen deeply and hear each other, and can offer vision of how we move from places of gridlock and dissension to imagine new possibilities for mutual advancement, as we co-create the realities of the futures we desire to participate in building.

I am devoted to this restorative, unifying, and visionary practice. I am committed to engaging in the deep dialogs that take place during the festival through intentional workshops that demonstrate powerful models of how to practice radical listening and speak to each other through difference. I am committed to having informal conversations with trans women who chose to attend [yes many trans women participate in MWMF] to learn and understand more about what their experiences are like at the festival, and what support they desire from cis allies. And I am committed to engaging in more convos when I return, with trans-solidarity coalitions, individuals, and comrades who are committed to designing and developing the creative and healing spaces that embrace the inclusivity we are craving.

I feel that courageous and compassionate communication is imperative to help heal the myriad divides and abrasions amongst us: inside and outside of this festival, around multiple tables.

The reality is there are so many forces out there trying to divide us. And there are so many real threats to our dignity and survival, forces that don’t even pretend to be anything less than in overt opposition to our existence. It is a mistake to make enemies of each other, even if we may disagree on some key issues. We mustn’t be afraid of those differences.

Michfest is a valuable space— indeed that is why it is so contested.  There is no other place like it in the world. It is a rare sanctuary brimming with healing and magic. A treasured oasis for so many who battle sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia on a regular basis. Who are survivors of intense sexual violence. Who are gender renegades who experience daily scorn and condemnation in their hometowns through the streets of Chicago and the back roads of Oklahoma. Who are forced to hide their gender expressions and sexuality publicly year round back home… and on. I have never experienced such a broad range of gender expression among women in my life, nor have I ever had the opportunity to sit and talk with women with backgrounds so dissimilar nor comparable to my own, than at this festival.

It is an immensely valuable space built from the determination and diligence of thousands. and WE NEED MORE!

handsWhat would it look like to transmute more of the energy being congested in the Michfest contention, into creative vigor to build and strengthen other festivals and gathering spaces where all women can come together in sisterhood for healing, organizing, skill sharing, and celebration—regardless of their sex classification as babies? And I am not saying “Go build your own festival!” as I have heard declared before. I am inviting all of us who are invested in trans-inclusion to band together in support of creating and sustaining the spaces we all so desperately need for our collective liberation.

For me part of that process is sitting down with the folks who have been building Michfest up from the ground for nearly 40 years, to learn from their process creating an event of such epic and impactful proportions, both its triumphs and its failures.

For Alixa and I, it also looks like channeling resources from Michfest into trans-inclusive spaces. As Climbing PoeTree, we are committed to donating all the proceeds that we earn from our performance at the festival toward supporting a convening, event, coalition, or institution that reflects the values of inclusion we want to embody moving into the future we are collaborating to create.

That said, if any one reading this wants to share a fabulous equitable space that’s already in existence or that’s being conjured— that needs to be energized with love and fortification— PLEASE SHARE!!! Let’s give the entities (and visions) that represent the transformation we desire, as much (if not more!) positive attention as Michfest has received negative attention. We grow what we feed.

Where there is pain, may there be strength. Where there is sadness, may there be wisdom. And where there is fear, may there be renewal.

With deep respect for our interdependence,

Naima