We possess a deep desire for radical healing in our communities. We feel strongly in the value of dialog versus silencing and blacklisting, and are deeply hurt by the decision of Oregon’s Queer Students of Color Conference’s (QSoCC) planning committee to remove us from the bill and revoke our participation after 5 months of planning. We were notified only 10 days before we were scheduled to be keynote presenters and workshops facilitators that we were no longer welcome to celebrate and support our LGBTQPIA comrades of color.
We recognize that there is a tremendous amount of distress and pain from the issue of transwomen’s exclusion from the intention of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival for everyone who has a stake in dismantling patriarchy and healing from the wounds gender oppression has wrought in different ways on us all. Our hearts grieve with the hurt felt by transwomen who feel excluded and rejected by Michfest’s intention of being a space for cis women [“women-born-women” is problematic language used by some Michfest organizers/attendees]. We also feel tremendous compassion for the people who cherish the festival as a unique sanctuary carved out by women (designated female at birth, DFAB) who desire to turn attention to the shared experience of being born and raised female in this male-defined culture.
As artists committed to justice, we have a deep role and responsibility to play in helping to bridge the divides in our communities, to listen deeply and help us hear each other, to help us move from our egos to our hearts, to 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. While we understand the frustrations that have lead to this call to protest, we disagree firmly with the tactic of attacking the artists who perform at MWMF, and the deep division and further silencing it imposes within our communities. Many artists who present at Michfest (as well as festival goers) are leaders and supporters of trans-solidarity work. It feels like intimidation and bullying to force artists whose life purpose is to help bridge divides and be vessels for healing, to either boycott this festival or be boycotted for their livelihoods.
QSoCC’s decision to cancel our engagement has been particularly disheartening for us for two reasons: 1) Since QSoCC’s offer to hire us, we began organizing with other people in the region to maximize the impact of our trip. It is our model to allocate the funding from larger gigs with larger budgets to subsidize the community work we desire to do for less or free. Around this particular invitation, we organized to do a free benefit for Zenyu (a grassroots org that cultivates the embodied leadership and holistic well-being of queer people of color in Seattle to help better lead social justice movements), and an event at Highline Community College (the most diverse CC in the WA) in support of their Unity Week. Our contract with QSoCC made it possible for us to commit to these other engagements 3,000 miles from our home. Unfortunately, since being removed from the list of presenters, we are now being told that we will no longer be paid any portion of our agreement, even though we had signed a contract, purchased our flights, and exchanged over 50 emails with the planning committee over the last 5 month building toward this event. 2) Secondly, the planning committee made a unilateral decision about our participation in this conference on the assumption that Climbing PoeTree no longer aligns with the mission and vision of QSoCC, without having a discussion with us to even know our perspective. Following that decision, we had a conversation with two of the organizers letting them know of our willingness to address this nuanced and difficult issue with QSoCC participants that desired to be in dialog. They denied us this opportunity for reciprocal listening to build toward mutual understanding and growth.
As communities who historically have been oppressed, there is a divisiveness that we have inherited and unconsciously adopted as our own. This divisiveness has seeped into almost every part of our organizing. We do not believe that the struggle for Michfest is a black and white, which-side-are-you-on-issue. We refuse to be forced into fictitious dichotomies that equate our performing at Michfest as being anti-trans.
There are deep dialogues taking place during the festivals through intentional workshops and informal conversations that demonstrate powerful models of how to practice radical listening and speak to each other through difference. The healing and growth emerging from these courageous conversations represents the kind of communication we need to be having to help heal the myriad divides and abrasions amongst us: inside and outside of this festival, around multiple tables. This is the type of dialog we wish could have been afforded at QSoCC, and the type of conversations we as Climbing PoeTree are urging we all engage in to create unity across difference, integrating seemingly conflicting needs and abandoning no one.
Our prayer and our purpose is intended toward healing and reunification for us all. A deep inner-knowing that we all belong. We belong in our bodies, we belong in our communities, we belong to each other. No one can win, until we all win. Our liberation is bound up in each other.
Alixa & Naima