Open Letter to Lisa Vogel
by julia serano

--This piece was written shortly after I attended Camp Trans 2003, an annual protest that takes place just outside the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The mission of Camp Trans is to end the festival's "womyn-born-womyn" only policy, which was created specifically to exclude transgendered women from attending the event. Lisa Vogel is the sole proprietor of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. This piece originally appeared in my chapbook Draw Blood.--

you call your festival
a "celebration of everything female"
well, as one of the tens of thousands of trans women
who are excluded from your event
i am writing to challenge your sense of entitlement
how dare you tell me that i am not a woman!
you draw lines in the sand
to mark where you believe woman begins and ends
but your definitions are distorted with contradictions
as they were designed specifically
to draw me out of the picture
tell me, how do you expect woman to grow
beyond her old boundaries and into new roles
when you are so set on patrolling her borders?

feminist critiques of western science
describe masculine perspectives as being reductionist
and feminist approaches as being holistic
so tell me, why do you revert to man-made labels
and define me based on my organs and chromosomes?
you, who no doubt cringes
every time a woman is objectified
every time a man fixates on her specific body parts
how easily you turn around and reduce me to my genitals!
and please tell me why a self-described feminist
would insist on propagating the male myth
that men's power and domination arises from the phallus?
you choose to believe
that my penis is the ultimate symbol of maleness
but the truth is, like the rest of my body
she is merely flesh and blood, nothing more

and every time you fixate on my male past
or what's underneath my pants
you deny every other aspect of my person
i am a woman every time i walk down the street
dealing with cat calls
and jerks trying to railroad me off the sidewalk
i am a woman every time my opinions are dismissed
and every time i fight back to make sure
that somebody doesn't get away with it
and i am a woman every time my lesbian life partner and i
dare to hold hands and kiss in public
you insist that all trans-women still have male energy
but nobody ever senses it in me
you falsely believe that you know the difference
between woman and man
but as someone who has transitioned from one to the other
i can tell you first hand
that when it comes to gender
most people only ever see what they want to see

so the question is
why do you choose to see me as a man?
what feminist goal is served
by lumping me into the same category
as the alpha males that you call your oppressors?
doesn't the fact that i've risked so much demonstrate
that i believe woman is something worth fighting for?
have you ever considered embracing me as living proof
that a woman's fate is determined
not by the limitations of her body
but rather the expansiveness of her mind?
and if most straight men are scared to death
about what i represent
then tell me, as a feminist
doesn't that mean that i'm doing something right?

we could be allies
but instead of acceptance
you only offer me excuses
when i say i want to participate in women's space
you announce that i've come to destroy it
when i insist that i am a woman
you play word games and declare
that the michigan womyn's music festival
is all about “girlhood”
you say that i will bring violence onto the land
but the truth is that trans women
aren't any more violent than other women
you worry about me flaunting my penis
but the sad truth is that most of us trans women
have been made to feel such societal shame about our bodies
that we find it difficult to undress in front of others

and the most insulting excuse
you use to exclude me from the festival
is that my body might trigger abuse survivors
when you make this callous claim
you erase the fact that trans women
are verbally and physically abused for being women too
i know what it's like to have men
force themselves upon me
and there are no words in your second wave feminist lexicon
to describe the way that i have been raped by male culture
every trans woman is a survivor
and we have triggers too
they come in sets of two
like pronouns and public restrooms
designed to remind us of every time
someone else has had the audacity
to define our genders for us
and "womyn-born-womyn" is one of my triggers too

is your attempt to normalize yourself
in opposition to me
it is the same strategy that heterosexuals use
when calling themselves "straight"
and everyone else "queer"
is your attempt to create another hierarchy
another class system
between "born" and trans women
well i refuse to be a second class citizen
and as far as i'm concerned
this debate is no longer about my body
it is about your bigotry
your gender issues
your contradictions
your tired-ass thirty year old dogma

this debate is no longer about my male privilege
i gave that up years ago
this debate is about is your birth privilege
and how you devalue woman
by taking for granted that fact
that people see you as female both inside and out
it's your birth privilege
that allows you to consider "don't ask don't tell"
to be a reasonable festival policy
it's your birth privilege
that entitles you to hurl epithets at me
without ever considering
what it might be like to be in my shoes
without ever imagining how angry you would be
if someone thought they had the right
to tell you that you are not a woman
how frustrating it would be
if every time you acted feminine
it was dismissed as parody
and every time you acted butch
it was seen as a sign of your true male identity

i can't understand how any lesbian
who has struggled against patriarchal ideals
about what makes a "real" woman
can turn around
and use the word "real" against me
that is not feminism
it is merely hypocrisy

i hear many women say that they are “tired of this debate”
well unlike them, i don’t have the luxury
of being bored with this issue
because it is me who is being discriminated against
and since practically all of the discussions they have had
about Michigan’s "womyn-born-womyn”-only policy
have taken place in the absence of trans women
their claims that they have participated in a true debate
are clearly illegitimate

some of my queer women friends
make apologies on your behalf
they say they feel torn
between respecting my identity as a woman
and understanding your protectiveness of women's space
but i tell my friends that they are not the ones who are torn
i am the one who is being torn
in half
stripped of my identity and all of my life experiences
stripped of the person that i am
and reduced to just my penis and male past

i tell my friends that they don't feel torn
they just feel uncomfortable about the decision
that every single one of them has to make
they can either support a trans woman-phobic policy
or call other women out on their prejudices
because it is not feminist
to ignore discrimination within your own community
and no place can ever truly be called "women's space"
until all self-identified women are included.

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