Camp Trans was an annual demonstration held outside the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in Oceana County, Michigan. It was organized by transwomen and their allies as a protest of the Festival and its policy which excluded transwomen from attending.


The  Michigan Womyn's Music Festival had its roots in lesbian-feminist and lesbian-separatist analysis of patriarchy, and was 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 adhered to a belief that a defining quality of womanhood came from being born and raised in a female body. The festival had maintained a policy of "womyn-born womyn only" since its inception, which, though not systematically enforced, had become a lightning rod of controversy.

Opponents of the policy argued for a less deterministic understanding of gender and insisted that "womyn-born womyn" was an artificial and exclusionary category created specifically to exclude transsexual women, and as such, had no legitimacy as a subject position. Many Camp Trans supporters saw the festival as a symbolic space, one which, as the largest women-only space in the United States at the time, set a precedent for the explicit or implicit exclusion of transgender women in other queer and feminist communities and establishments. They viewed the policy as transphobic.

Much of the debate centered on the concept of privilege. While many supporters of the WBW policy argued that transgender women had experienced male privilege at some point in their lives, opponents insisted that this viewpoint failed to recognize the oppression that transgender individuals face and the privilege that non-transgender people have in avoiding this oppression. In recent years, the controversy over the policy had also come to include debate about the presence of transmen in women-only space and lesbian communities overall.


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[citation needed]. Although the festival had maintained a women-born-women policy since its inception, as evidenced by posters from the first festival in 1975[citation needed], 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.[1] A significant incident occurred in 1993 when a number of SM women approached the protesters to offer their services as security[citation needed].

In 1994, Riki Wilchins pressured some of the original group of protesters to give her a leadership role in organizing the event[citation needed]. 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[citation needed]. 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.[2]

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[citation needed]. 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. In 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[citation needed]. This group, many of whom were involved in outreach campaigns to musical artists associated with the festival, sought to create a broader community that was more welcoming to transgender women.

At this time, Camp Trans moved to a large swath of national forest land down the road from the festival and attracted close to 200 people each year for several years.[citation needed]. Attendees participated in direct actions and outreach to the festival-goers (or "festies") as well as workshops, games, dances, and performances. They mostly spent the week living out of tents in the woods and eating communal meals by the campfire, as lesbian folk music echoed in the forest.

== Events of 2006 ==

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. 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[citation needed].

In 2006, a transwoman organizer of Camp Trans named Lorraine Donaldson was sold a ticket to the 31st annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival[citation needed]. 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.[3] 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[citation needed]. 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.[4] Contact information for the Yellow Armbands was officially linked via the Camp Trans website on August 22, 2006.[citation needed]

The 2006 Press Release Controversy & Resulting Organizational ChangesEdit

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."[citation needed] 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.[5]

During the 2006 festival, an exchange of letters occurred between Donaldson and Lisa Vogel[citation needed]. 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 transwomen 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 transwomen to respect that intention.[6] Following the press release fallout, Donaldson resigned from Camp Trans and joined the Yellow Armbands as an organizer.[7][8]

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 transwomen purchased tickets and were admitted to MWMF[citation needed]. A similar claim of victory was published by Camp Trans that year.[9][10]

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.[11] Other activists also resigned over concerns that Camp Trans was privileging the voices of transmen over transwomen 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.[12]

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 transwomen and cisgender female inclusion supporters.[13] When Donaldson and the Fest For All Womyn camped in The Twilight Zone in 2007, this marked the first time in the history of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival that transwomen were sold tickets and camped on the festival grounds with no conflict.[citation needed]

2007 was also a landmark year for Camp Trans, because for the first time in their 16 years history[citation needed], they held elections for their organizational positions.[14] Camp Trans organizers celebrated this as a positive step in the right direction when the majority of elected positions were filled by transwomen. After this time, attendance at Camp Trans dwindled until the even finally stopped organizing official attendance. The Michigan Womyn's Festival declared its final year of operation one year aftward.

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. To: Women Concerned About Transsexual Oppression (April 28, 1993)
  2. Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music Festival Discriminatory Policy Still In Effect (June 26, 1999)[1]
  3. 'Michigan Eight' Evicted Over Festival's New 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (August 12, 2000) [2]
  4. Camp Trans - Saturday Night Video Speech (August 19, 2006)
  5. Let's Everybody Take A Deep Breath (September 20, 2006)
  6. MWMF Press Release: Michigan Womyn's Music Festival Sets The Record Straight (August 22, 2006) [3]
  7. Transitioning Organizational Roles (August 25, 2006)
  8. Message In A Bottle (To CT07 Organizers) (September 18, 2006)
  9. Son of Camp Trans Press Release: Protest Called For Women's Music Festival Discriminatory Policy Still In Effect (June 26, 1999) [4]
  10. Camp Trans Needs Us! (August 26, 2006)
  11. Farewell (May 28, 2007)
  12. Fest For All Womyn Community on LiveJournal
  13. On Boycotts (July 23, 2007)
  14. Camp Trans 2007 Organization Update (April 16, 2007)

External linksEdit

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