So I’m getting ready to go to Michigan, the fortieth and the last Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. I haven’t started packing yet, although I leave the day after tomorrow.
I remember my first Michfest, twenty-seven years ago. It was 1988, and Marisol and I had just gotten married that spring. It took a long time to get in the gate, and the sun set before we found ourselves on the land. We were tired and dispirited as we walked along, carrying all our gear, peering into the shadows, looking for a place to camp. Marisol was the expert camper, I was a novice, so I was mostly holding the flashlight while she struggled with the various tent pieces.
The next morning we thought it was raining, but when we poked our heads outside the tent, we found we’d camped right next to the showers. There were a row of naked women laughing and squealing, since the water was icy cold. It was endlessly entertaining. We already felt better about being there. And later on, when we got in the water ourselves, we experienced something akin to being inside a Sno-Cone.
Sometime between now and then, they added heaters to the showers, and so women don’t necessarily sing out when they get into them. Michfest has changed, grown up. They used to have a special over-40s area, and at some point, it became over-50s. Camping has gotten harder for me as I’ve entered my 60s, and Marisol has completely given it up.
But I still go once in a while. When I’m there, I still give astrology workshops, as I have since 1988. I soak up the feeling of being in a woman’s village, a place where women are absolutely safe from predators (except mosquitos). A place where women can get away from the male ego, and its tendency to demand all the space and all the attention. A place where we support each other, listen to each other, and give each other room to create. It’s not like all women are the same, but we do have a culture of our own, and it’s hard to see this in the ordinary world, where the harsher light of male culture drowns it out.
This is not to say that Michfest has been a peaceful Eden all these years. Women do differ, and there have been vehement disagreements over all aspects of feminism, sexuality, gender, race, and cultural appropriation. Fierce battles have been fought with words, with the ultimate goal a collective raised consciousness. It’s an ongoing process, sometimes as shocking as those cold-water showers, but many of these conflicts have led to changes in the way the festival is organized.
In the last few years, Michfest has been embroiled in the most virulent conflict of its life, from a group of MTF transgender activists who say the festival discriminates against them. They initiated a boycott against Michfest and the artists who performed there. The conflict may have begun as a desire to be included, but ended up as a campaign to destroy.
I remember when S/M women felt that there was no place for them at the festival, back in the day, and now there is an area where they can play all night long. There were signs that this same process of assimilation was happening with trans women, but we’ll never know how it might have played out. Michfest is ending.
And from my point of view, there’s still a terrible need for it in the world. Lesbians are more assimilated than they were in 1988, but feminism hasn’t progressed all that much since then. There is no other place where several thousand women can live for a week without men. There is no other place where we can discover who we are, and what kind of world can be created without patriarchy.
The aspects during the coming week show a time of great jubilation, and a time of mourning and sadness, all at once. Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will be together in the bold, exuberant sign Leo, and this is perfect for getting up on there on the stage and giving everything you have to give. It’s a wonderful planetary grouping for a week-long celebration, in which every woman dresses in whatever gives her most joy. It’s great for group hugs and kisses, and campsites festooned in banners and ribbons.
But all three planets are squaring Saturn, the planet of limitation. Saturn is about knowing when it’s time to give up, to let go. Saturn turns out the lights when the party is over.
And so I expect to see a lot of laughter and a lot of tears, during the coming week. I’ll be going through my own emotional roller-coaster too, because Michfest has given me so much. It’s not heaven, but it’s a better world.