The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival: The historic RadFem vs TERF vs Trans fight

West Coast Lesbian Conference

NOTE: In 2008 the non-transgender Feminist/Radical Feminist community popularized the term Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) as a way to identify a group, primarily focused on targeting transgender people in the name of Radical Feminism – as being non-representative of Radical Feminism itself. It is out of respect for these feminists that I’ve used their terminology to differentiate between Radical Feminists icons like Monique Wittig and Andrea Dworkin and TERFs like Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond.

Many in the feminist and trans communities have come to view the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) as a microcosm of the larger Radical Feminist vs TERF vs Trans battle that’s been raging since the 1970s.

TERFs began to colonize the RadFem identity as early as 1973 at Radical Feminism’s biggest event: the West Coast Lesbian Conference. The conference was specifically trans-inclusive, but TERFs disrupted the event, demanding that trans attendees be removed. TERF icon Robin Morgan incited violence by telling the TERFs to “deal with” a trans women who was known to be in attendance. When a group of TERFs tried to physically assault the trans woman, Radical Feminists stepped in to protect the trans woman. Instead of beating the trans woman, the TERFs instead beat the Radical Feminists. After the TERF violence, the conference still voted to remain a trans inclusive space, but the trans woman left the conference to avoid further TERF violence and disruption to the conference. [1]

That same year, even though she was scheduled to speak, at the instruction of a TERF leader, Stonewall hero and trans woman Sylvia Rivera was beaten for attempting to speak at the 1973 Christopher Street March.[2] [3] This precipitated Rivera’s suicide attempt and withdraw from activism. [4]

Sandy Stone at Olivia Records

Perhaps the most iconic Radical Feminist institution was the Lesbian Separatist music collective, Olivia Records. This collective is largely responsible for the rise of women’s music movement of the 1970s. The Collective was trans-inclusive and even helped trans women access trans medical care. TERF icon, Janice Raymond discovered this and began a campaign against Olivia and the trans member of the Collective. This resulted in numerous death threats to the Radical Feminist members of the collective and credible armed death threats against the trans woman. Moreover, TERFs threatened to financially destroy Olivia Records for being trans inclusive with a boycott. Even though Olivia voted to remain a trans-inclusive space, the trans woman left the Collective to avoid further TERF violence and disruption to the Collective. The founder of the MWMF, Lisa Vogel helped target both Olivia and the trans woman.[5]

TERF letter published in Sister, 1977 featuring Lisa Vogel

Janice Raymond lied about these two events in her TERF book, The Transsexual Empire, the Making of the She-Male.[6] [7] At the time, Raymond’s book, billed as a Radical Feminist critique of trans people, became the most esteemed attack on trans people; as trans historian, Susan Stryker said, “The Transsexual Empire did not invent anti-transsexual prejudice, but it did more to justify and perpetuate it than perhaps any other book ever written.”[8]

Raymond then when on to help deny medical care to generations of trans people. The denial of trans care resulted in significant deaths within the trans population.[9]

The Tapestry, 1986
The Tapestry, 1986: Noting Raymond’s NCHCT report

Lisa Vogel’s attempted assault of a Radical Feminist at MWMF resulted in the rise of Radical Feminist-run trans-inclusive women’s music festivals.[10]

In 1991, after learning that her friend (a trans woman) had been thrown out of the MWMF for being trans, a Radical Lesbian Feminist began educating MWMF attendees about trans women. In 1992 and 1993, the Radical Lesbian Feminist again organized the effort to educated MWMF attendees about trans women. In 1993, two significant things happened: 1.) a MWMF survey found that most MWMF attendees wanted trans women at the MWMF and, 2.) TERFs threatened violence unless the trans women who were part of the 93 education effort be ejected from the festival. MWMF responded by ejecting the trans women from the festival, resulting in the first Camp Trans event. Both the Leather Dykes and the Lesbian Avengers offered bodyguard protection to the trans women. The 93 education and outreach site was vandalized by TERFs.[11]

1992 MWMF Survey being conducted. The survey found that most women – by a wide margin – wanted the festival to be open to trans women.

In 1999, Camp Trans was largely organized by the Lesbian Avengers. The group bought a 16-year-old trans girl to the MWMF ticket booth and informed them that they were from Camp Trans and that they had a trans youth with them. While the MWMF sold everyone in the group tickets, the moment the group of Avengers entered the gates, TERFs began trailing the youth shouting, “MAN ON THE LAND!” This continued until the group turned into a mob that had surrounded the youth, screaming at her until MWMF security moved everyone to a tent where the trans youth was made to stand in front of an enormous group of TERFs who spent the next 2 hours berating her.  One adult openly threatened the life of the youth without consequence. The youth was marched to the gates of the festival and expelled. I interviewed the Lesbian Avengers about their experience:[12]

S. [Lesbian Avenger]: About 10 TERFs were waiting for us when we came in. The whole ‘MAN ON THE LAND!’ started as soon as we walked in. I mean, at the time, we’re kids, we’re teenagers and these are all adults. I mean, when I think about it now, it was just so fucked up. We were trying to give out t-shirts and stickers about being inclusive. But, it was getting bad.

K. [trans girl in the group]: A huge crowd of yelling people formed around us and I started crying at that point. It got so loud that Nomy Lamm, who was performing there as part of Sister Spit, came over and stood up for us… The crowd and me were walked over to a tent area. The way that it worked was that there was a queue of people who were going to get to say whatever they wanted to say. I remember, specifically, one woman looking right at me and telling me that I needed to leave the Land as soon as possible because she had a knife and didn’t know if she would be able to control herself if I was around her.

Cristan Williams: WHAT? How did people react to that death threat?

K: Because of the way they were queuing, as soon as one person stopped speaking, another would start, so nobody said or did anything about the death threat. At that point, I checked out. I was first I was sobbing and [B] was holding my face close to hers, telling me that it would be over soon, but then I just checked out.

S: The moderator did nothing. It was just a mud-slinging, hatred pouring out. It was just like one by one by one being like, ‘You’re a rapist! You’re raping the Land! You’re destroying womanhood! I don’t know what I’m going to do to you!’ – it was just violent, hatred, and I know that most of it was geared at [K.]. I was up there being attacked, but I wasn’t getting the brunt of it. This went on for at least two hours.  At least 30 people were allowed to speak at us, but there were around 75 under the tent, and if you included the people around the tent who were watching and listening, well over 100.

Most of the media coverage around the MWMF casts this as a RadFem/Lesbian/Woman vs Trans issue. It’s not. The MWMF has come to represent a more nuanced struggle between TERFs who target both Radical Feminists and trans people in the name of Radical Feminism. The evidence reveals that almost from the start, the chances were that “there is still a better than 999 in 1000 chance that most Festigoers would welcome” trans women.[13] Moreover, the evidence reveals that the most iconic Radical Feminist institutions were designed to be trans-inclusive, until TERF violence forced trans people to choose between their own safety, the safety of Radical Feminists, the institution itself and leaving the space. As has always been, TERF aggression comes wrapped in the guise of Radical Feminism, for the purpose of colonizing Radical Feminism.

For instance, in honor of the Radical Feminist ideals of Andrea Dworkin – the Radical Feminist icon who explicitly supported trans medical care[14] – Sheila Jeffreys was invited to speak at the 2006 Andrea Dworkin Commemorative Conference. There, Jeffreys asserted:

Now one of the things I find puzzling about it is that, when I look at the House of Lords debate on this legislation, those I agree with most are the radical right. Particularly the person I find that I agree with most, in here, and I’m not sure he will be pleased to find this, is Norman Tebbitt… Tebbitt also says that the savage mutilation of transgenderism, we would say if it was taking place in other cultures apart from the culture of Britain, was a harmful cultural practice, and how come we’re not recognizing that in the British Isles. So he makes all of these arguments from the radical right, which is quite embarrassing to me, but I have to say, so called progressive and left people are not recognizing the human rights violations of transgenderism or how crazy the legislation is.

Of course, Janice Raymond loves Jeffreys. She said, “Sheila Jeffreys who, with exceptional courage, clarity and scholarship interrogates the dogma of transgenderism.” And, of course Jeffreys has a few things to say about Camp Trans. In her new book, Gender Hurts, Jeffreys characterized Camp Trans as a “siege.” She claims that the reason Camp Trans is around is that trans women want access to vulnerable lesbians. She cites an internet troll in order to make the fact claim that Camp Trans is an armed violent group of trans women who engaged in chemical warfare and gave cis women PTSD. Anti-trans prevarication of the type found in Jefferys’ academic writing has become a permanent feature of the MWMF. [15]

Most recently, the National Black Justice Coalition, Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Human Rights Campaign, the Nation Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Marriage Equality USA and several other social justice organizations signed a petition asking that the trans exclusionary policy of the MWMF come to an end. TERFs have responded by systematically doxxing and otherwise harassing individuals who joined these organizations in signing the same petition and have moved on to legal harassment.

The behavior TERFs display around the MWMF exemplifies the historic bullying and intimidation Radical Feminists and trans people have faced at the hands of TERFs. It is for this reason that the MWMF continues to be such a flash point within all of these communities.



[1] “That time TERFs beat RadFems for protecting a trans woman from their assault

[2] Women in the GLF were uncomfortable referring to Rivera – who insisted in using women’s bathrooms, even in City hall – as ‘she.’ Pressure mounted. The year 1973 witnessed clash that would take Rivera out of the movement for the next two decades… As they passed out flyers outlining their opposition to the ‘female impersonators,’ Rivera wrestled for the microphone held by emcee Vitto Russo, before getting hit with it herself. Rivera explained, ‘I had to battle my way up on stage, and literally get beaten up and punched around by people I thought were my comrades, to get to that microphone. – Benjamin Shepard, That’s Revolting!, pp 126 – 127

[3] Sylvia Riviara recounted the event: “Jean O’Leary, a founder of Radicalesbians, decided that drag queens were insulting to women… I had been told I was going to speak at the rally. And that’s when things just got out of hand. I’m very militant when it comes to certain things, and I didn’t appreciate what was going down with Jean O’Leary stating that we were insulting women… She told Vito Russo to kick my ass onstage… but I still got up and spoke my piece.” – Susan Glisson (Ed), The Human Tradition in the Civil Rights Movement, p 325

[4] “[T]his incident precipitated yet another suicide attempt on her part… the events of that day in 1973 ultimately took something out of Sylvia Rivera. In the succeeding years, Sylvia Rivera’s participation in ‘the movement’ waned. Although she attended every Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade (with the exception of two) until her death, Sylvia’s formal participation in organizations like the GLF and the GAA came to a halt.” – ibid.

[5] “TERF hate and Sandy Stone

[6] “Having experienced on an everyday existential level the destructive elements of sex-role stereotyping in a patriarchal society, many women perceive that transsexuals does nothing to alter this society by merely reinforces it. Robin Morgan, in her speech to the Lesbian Conference in Los Angeles in 1973, address herself to this issue in responding to transsexual intrusion into the conference. “If transvestite or transsexual males are oppressed, then let them band together and organize against that oppression, instead of leeching off women who have spent entire lives as women in women’s bodies.” Such critique, of course, proceeds from a feminist perspective. However, what is important to note here is that what many transsexuals are saying, in stating that women are less tolerant of them than men, is that many women who probably would not call themselves feminists have an instinctual understanding of the destructiveness of transsexualism.” – Janice Raymond, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male, p 85

[7] “This only serves to enhance his previously dominant role and to divide women, as men frequently do, when they make their presence necessary and vital to women. Having produced such divisiveness, one would think that if Stone’s commitment to and identification with women were genuinely woman-centered, he would have removed himself from Olivia and assumed some responsibility for the divisiveness.”- Janice Raymond, The Transsexual Empire, The Making of the She-Male, p 102

[8] Susan Stryker and ‎Stephen Whittle, The Transgender Studies Reader, p 131

[9] “In a cross-sectional study of 141 transgender patients, Kuiper and Cohen-Kittenis found that after medical intervention and treatments, suicide fell from 19 percent to zero percent in transgender men and from 24 percent to 6 percent in transgender women… Clements-Nolle, et al, studied the predictors of suicide among over five hundred transgender men and women in a sample from San Francisco, and found a prevalence of suicide attempts of 32 percent. In this study, the strongest predictor associated with the risk of suicide was gender-based discrimination that included “problems getting health or medical services due to their gender identity or presentation… Notably, this gender-based discrimination was a more reliable predictor of suicide than depression, history of alcohol/drug abuse treatment, physical victimization, or sexual assault. These studies provide overwhelming evidence that removing discriminatory barriers to treatment results in significantly lower suicide rates.” – State of California Department of Insurance, 2012

[10] “A TERF’s fist gave rise to trans-inclusive women’s music festivals

[11] “How TERF violence inspired Camp Trans

[12] “Lesbian Avenger Oral History,” Transgender Archive, Houston, Texas. Part of this interview will be featured as an upcoming interview for the TransAdvocate.

[13] “MWMF Anti-TS Awareness,” Janis Walworth, LMSW, 1992 (n=633)

[14] “It is a ‘disease’ with a cure: a sex-change operation will change the person’s visible sex and make it consonant with the person’s felt identity… That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition… by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.’ – Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating, p 186

[15] “Equivocation And Lies In Lisa Vogel’s August 18th Statement


Article written by

Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable health care for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at, chairs the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group, is the jurisdictional representative to the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS), serves on the national steering body for UCHAPS and is the Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America.

7 Responses

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  1. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs). | contagiousqueer

    […] (particularly trans women). One concrete example? The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, or Michfest – “a womyn born womyn” (read cis women) music festival that took place every […]

  2. Why the End of Michfest Is Good for Feminism: Two Activists Weigh In — Everyday Feminism

    […] Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, or Michfest, is one of those spaces that explicitly and violently excludes transgender women. For […]

  3. Sex Essentialism: TERFs and smelly vaginas | The TransAdvocate

    […] Likewise, it’s important to note that the Lesbian Avengers facilitated Camp Trans for years. The history of trans inclusion within the Radical Feminist movement is a demonstrable reality that […]

  4. Some Random Person
    Some Random Person at | | Reply

    Honestly, I think the whole MWMF debate is tired, pointless, and really blown out of proportion on both sides.

    If I want to listen to some music, I’ll turn on a CD, or look on YouTube. With zero cost, hassle, arguing, or toxicity.

    If I want to enjoy the outdoors, there is a nice area a very brief walk from where I am sitting. With zero cost, hassle, arguing, or toxicity.

    If I want to think about feminism, I can read books or web sites. With zero cost, hassle, arguing, or toxicity.

    Attending some concert in Michigan, USA? Very expensive, especially with an international plane ticket. In August, I have other things I need to be doing, and do not have vacation time available.

    Even without those practical points, why should I worry about whether I am welcome there or not? Why would I want to pay money for interpersonal abuse and physical threats, when there are other, more conveniently located places where I can be abused and threatened for free? If it is such a toxic environment, I would rather stay away. And staying away is easy, because it is just a music concert.

    It is not employment. It is not housing. It is not medical care. It is not education. It is not an issue of physical safety (as long as I stay away, at least). It is just a music concert.

    On one hand, I do not see that I would actually harm anyone if I went there. On the other hand, staying away does not harm or deprive me of anything important. Probably the only reason I have ever even heard of this concert is because of the incessant internet arguments about it.

    On one hand, I think there is a “forbidden fruit” implication when people focus a lot of time, attention, and energy on feeling indignant and offended and argumentative when they are not welcome at this music concert. On the other hand, I think there is a complementary exaggeration by those who focus time, attention, and energy on feeling like said concert is some special institution that would somehow be contaminated by the presence of customers with certain medical histories. This sense of importance is fed by people arguing – i.e. if somebody is desperately arguing that they want to go to the concert, and is upset about not being allowed, then that makes it seem more special and worth defending.

    This strange, endless obsession with an obscure music concert is just silly. Harping on a small number of obscure 1970s era conferences and protest events is also old and tired.

    Employment, housing, medical care, education, and physical safety are actually important issues. Some of those issues certainly are mentioned in your article, but the harping on MWMF has a distracting and diluting effect.

  5. Ehipassiko | Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest is Evil

    […] already released some of the interview in a MWMF post I did for The entire full interview is very difficult for me to listen to. I […]

  6. The Curious Demands of the Womyn in the Woods: Unpacking the Statement of the Michigan Womyn’s Musical Festival | The TransAdvocate

    […] from the festival. Again, in 1999, the festival did the very same thing, right after it subjected a 16 year-old trans woman to two hours of verbal abuse and death threats from festival goers; it specifically removed the armband from the trans child, but left the bands […]


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