We Have to Enter the Conversation – a Follow Up to My BAGRC Resignation Letter

In Community, Michfest by ssml17 Comments

I do not wish to make my resignation from the Board of Bay Area Girls Rock Camp personal. I have never seen it that way and I still don’t. They are a small organization trying to build an anti-oppression model that empowers girls, provides them with community and teaches them how to rock out.  They have a small staff that works very hard and puts in some incredibly long hours in service to a vision that I believe in and support. I have genuine respect and affection for that organization and especially for my former Board members who remain in leadership there and whose leadership I admire greatly.

Last week I published my resignation letter here on my blog. In the 48 hours that followed BAGRC became the recipient of strongly worded emails from donors who felt betrayed and heated posts on their Facebook page. There wasn’t any part of me that received any personal gratification from the negative attention and shame that BAGRC was receiving. In fact, it actually caused me to feel pretty damn conflicted. I struggled with myself knowing that an action I took caused an organization that I had proudly served to all of a sudden be faced with the task of doing some pretty intense damage control. I went so far as to ask some friends who had shared my letter to take it down. I asked some people to remove their posts from the BAGRC Facebook page. I do see the necessity of shining some light on what has happened. I just want to be careful to not let the righteous anger and betrayal that we feel to ignite for a second and then dissipate after we have made our feelings known in an email or on  the organization’s Facebook page. Additionally, I don’t want the blame to rest exclusively on the shoulders of BAGRC. For me, that’s a little too easy. I see this as a deeper call to action.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am frustrated by the events that led to my resignation from the board. And I still think that they have some questions to answer for the Michfest community and that they should be held accountable. But this is bigger than the individuals involved. This speaks to a larger problem. There is a pervasive ideology that has taken root in the queer community that led four intelligent women who are passionately committed to the vision of their feminist organization to believe that my affiliation with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival was incongruent with a leadership role in their organization. They really believed that in spite of the support given by the women in the Michfest community, that my presence could negatively impact their organization. Those individuals believe the vision and values of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival are in direct conflict with the vision and values of Bay Area Girls Rock Camp and that having me on the Board said something about themselves that they did not want to say. Those four individuals felt so certain about the rightness of their opinion that they did not consult anyone else in the organization before telling me that they thought it was best that I step down. I can say with complete certainty that they know absolutely nothing about the values and vision of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival community. They based their decision on the fact that they were afraid that my presence on the board could  “alienate the trans population they are trying to attract.”

The staff stated in an email that the reason that they thought it best that I step down was because of the fact that the festival’s “ WBW policy” defines woman as women who were born female. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the intention (there is no policy) of the festival, which is a whole other conversation, there is no way you can factually state that the festival published a public statement last spring claiming that WBW is the only definition of women – or that it sees itself as “defining womanhood” at all.  That is a lie. That is campaign strategy that has been built on a platform of framing any definition of woman that acknowledges that biology and socialization are relevant to the female experience as oppressive and transphobic. The lie that the festival is transphobic along with the women who attend it has been told so many times that people who say it don’t even know they are lying when they say it. That campaign strategy has been so effective that it has caused people who normally wouldn’t give a second thought about a bunch of women gathering in the woods for a week on private land to buy into an idea of us as a bunch of un-evolved, culturally irrelevant, unenlightened hate mongering transphobic civil rights violators. It’s a campaign strategy that has worked so well that even women whose lives have literally been saved by going to the festival have absorbed the shame of that lie and stopped attending or have gone into the closet about it. No compassionate and reasonable person wants to be seen as or seen with a hate mongering transphobic civil rights violator.  Rightly so.

This is serious. This is real. Women, we need to address the fact that for the past two decades a conversation has been taking place about us that we are not welcome to participate in. Not only are we not welcome at the table, we are not even allowed in the room. And in our absence, the false narratives being told and retold about us continue to define us and justify the silencing, shaming, and bullying that have been leveled against us. We have been successfully character assassinated as a community. The false accusations of transphobia and bigotry have people believing that they are on the right side of history when they silence us, protest against us, make fun of us, when they threaten to storm the gates and tear the place down, when they call us selfish or stop talking to us at all because we attend the festival, when they inundate performers emails and Facebook pages with threats and abuse, when they heckle and harass performers at their shows or get those shows cancelled all together, when they ask us to resign from the Board of non-profit organizations (that serve girls for Goddess sake!), when they call the woman who has held the vision and space for the festival for almost 39 years a false feminist and an enemy of the LGBT community (and worse) on the festival’s Facebook page – they believe these actions are politically righteous and completely justified. The damage that has been done to women’s livelihoods, reputations, careers and relationships as a result of this lie is vast and significant. Our fears are completely justified. Still, we have to enter the room. We have to enter the conversation. We have to reject those false narratives and we have to say what we know to be true about our community and ourselves. I am not saying that this is easy. What I am saying though is that it is completely fucking necessary.

So, here is part of my truth as it relates to this specific conversation. I am a reasonable woman who possesses intelligence, compassion and integrity. I am a woman who is committed to the liberation of all girls and all women. I stand in solidarity with the intention of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I do not see those things as mutually exclusive. I am happy to discuss it with anyone who really has the courage to listen, but I do not apologize for it. It was not that long ago when I was terrified to speak about this topic publicly. I was afraid I would say something wrong. I was afraid that I wasn’t as studied or articulate as some of the more vocal women in my community. My thoughts felt unfocused, unorganized, instinctive, and far from being formed. I was afraid of being misunderstood. I was afraid of sticking my neck out. And to be truthful, my pulse quickens for at least an hour every single time I make my thoughts public. Every single time. I know the hornets nest that is always under out feet here. I’ve seen some beloved friends get stung over and over again. I’ve also seen them survive it. One thing I know to be true about the women in my community is that we do not let one another fall. Knowing that I have the commitment and support from the women in my community whether they agree with me or not has made me less afraid to speak honestly about what is on my mind. I am grateful for that every single day.

Another thing that helped me become less afraid to speak to and about my community was the attack on the festival that resulted from Red Durkin’s petition last year. By launching that petition she caused me to get crystal clear about what I see as the deeper values and vision of the festival. It put me deeply in touch with all of the reasons that the festival is valuable, necessary and worth speaking up for. I have every signature on her petition to thank for my ability to speak to those values and vision. I have them to thank for this letter that I wrote last summer. I have mainstream LGBTQ magazines to thank for publishing articles where trans actvists shamed women for not speaking out against the festival and called the producer of the festival a liar and compared her to George Wallace. Those articles gave me the fire and the words to call people out when they try to stand on our necks in an effort to legitimize themselves. I am grateful to anonymous internet users who think it’s cool and fun and funny to make fun of lesbians for opening my eyes to the misogyny that this smear campaign has been based on all along. It’s easy to say I am grateful now. We collectively survived and loved one another through the relentless stinging we endured last spring and summer. We actually came out so much stronger and sure of ourselves because of it. I’m certain of that. But it was walking through that devastation with the women in my community that brought me to the edges of my shame and enabled me to release it so that I could start talking to my Sisters about our right to carve out some space together and dignity. It turned out my Sisters were ready to listen. That is what I am most grateful for.

Ironically, it was the heartbreak, shame and chaos that was brought on by Red Durkin’s petition that created the desire in me to step forward last spring and form a team for the BAGRC Bowl-a-thon fundraiser with some of the women from the Michfest community. It felt like a moment when we needed to come together as a community around something light hearted and positive. It felt great to rally around those girls. It was beautiful to see that money rolling in and to rejoice over the fact that we had won the award for highest funded team. I was excited for some of the people in my larger community to have an opportunity to see us in action and get a glimpse of the kind of community that we really are. Generous. Fun. Proud. Gorgeous. Loving. We were excited to be with every single person who was at that event. Our hearts were on our sleeves about the hope that we carry for the voices of all girls to be heard. Learning that there was a conflict over whether or not to accept the support of the Michfest community that day was deeply saddening to me.

To learn that BAGRC would rather forsake the future support of the Michfest community than dive into the complexities of this conversation gave me pause and caused me to question BAGRC’s commitment to the girls who are central to BAGRC’s mission. Ultimately, I do believe that BAGRC cares about the girls that they serve. In fact, I know that they do.

However, I also believe that the strain of activism that informed the decision making process of those four individuals who asked me to step down, would gladly throw girls under the bus in favor of the “feelings” of  some trans identified adults. So, this is me. I am stepping into the room. Right now I just have one question. Will the real bigots please step forward?


  1. Nef

    I welcome the conversation. Thank you for showing us a way to have it with integrity.

  2. Tallon

    So glad to be hearing your voice in this struggle Sara!! I know many sisters will be inspired by your courage, integrity and compassion, to find their own voices, and I think I can speak for those of us already deep into the conversation, your posts strengthen our resolve and give us hope, can’t thank you enough for that Sister!!!

  3. Holly Pruett

    “it was walking through that devastation with the women in my community that brought me to the edges of my shame and enabled me to release it so that I could start talking to my Sisters about our dignity” – wow, talk about redemption! You inspire me, SSML. Thank you.

  4. catherine crouch

    Yes, yes and yes.

    Especially the part about your fear of speaking out. Dorothy Allison says what we fear most is what we should be writing about. The feelings/insights we are afraid of exposing because they are so raw. This is the artist’s job. We connect dots and it can be harsh. It can make people uncomfortable, for sure.

  5. Laura Howard

    Yes, I will enter the conversation as well. As Audre Lorde taught us all – ‘Your Silence will Not Protect You’

  6. Vicki Randle

    what powerful, compassionate, beautiful, crystal clear writing. what courage and depth and burning love. thank you. I’m also in the room.

  7. Max Dashu

    Just now seeing this. I heard about this at the time; so it was you they forced out. Just ugly. The silencing and coercion is stunning. Thanks for standing up.

  8. Judith

    Had (another) long juicy chat about all this today. It ended when I wound up and in to saying “IT’S ALL MISOGYNY” and my friend echoed it and there we were , with that happy/angry, burning/soothing sensation of understanding what it means to understand, how it defines and expands us, strengthens and isolates us.
    We cannot afford to hate the haters, we cannot afford to condescend to them either.
    What we are for is so much more powerful than what we are against – and that’s where our energy must remain. There is nothing for us to attack, there is only the constant modelling of what loving and respecting all wimmin looks like… including transwimmin.
    We can be angry and frustrated and heartbroken at this refashioned and frequently unconscious hatred of women who bleed and/or bear children, but whenever possible we need to be let hate speech echo in the ears of its speakers.
    This is next to impossible, but it’s a good visualization. Imagine not taking the hatred personally, imagine not swinging back: the vile waves of ugly sound and thought washing back over the violent and fearful.

    Pacifism is not despised for is weakness, it is feared for its strength. “They are not afraid of what we are against,” said Kathleen Barry, “they are afraid of what we are for. What we are for is so much more powerful than what we are against.”

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