Ruth Barrett and Bigotry

(Gentle reader, I am blogging from my phone, and therefore unable to make links live or employ typical formatting protocols until I can get to a computer. Please forgive the rustic look of this note in favor of its content.)

This frustrating and fascinating tidbit showed up in my Facebook feed from Ruth Barrett this week:

"Dear Community Sisters and Performers of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival,

I want to give Alyson Palmer a standing ovation for her brilliant and eloquently crafted letter in response to the trans-activist’s call to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival performers to boycott the Festival. Alyson speaks to my own sentiments and I could not have said it better. In sisterhood and solidarity, I am writing to add my voice in support of Lisa Vogel and the women who honor and respect the Festival’s women-born-women (WBW) intention.

My friend Kathy, who has attended the Michigan Festival for well over 30 years, said to me last night, “How is it that “women” with penises are given more rights and compassion than female-born women? Why is my right to self determination being challenged by others who at the same time ask me to accept their self determination?” I echo her questions.

For 51 weeks a year I have unlimited opportunities to engage with male-born men and trans-people. For one week out of the year I want to be with my female-born sisters, girls and women. I come to Festival to help create, contribute and experience an embodied female reality. I come to take in the joyous expressions on our young daughter’s faces who can run free on the land, and experience this freedom in a safe space. My need, and the need of other WBW, to spend time solely with WBW is not trans-phobic. We are not AGAINST trans-women. This accusation of trans-phobia is a distraction from what we are actually saying and asking for. I have great difficulty with those trans-women and their allies who refuse to honor the intention of Fest as a healing space for WBW and the boundaries we have set. I am heart sick and exhausted by their bullying tactics, their threats to my personal safety, my wife’s safety, the safety of our home and our livelihood. Over the past years we have ignored death threats as we choose to stand for sacred space for WBW and girls. Trans-women and their allies can’t seem to accept being told “no” by women. Why can you not respect our need to gather with our own kind to heal, to rest, to nurture and restore ourselves? What possible threat are we to you?

Two of my very close friends, one who is a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, were traumatized when they individually encountered fully naked adult males in the shower at Fest. When my friends asked in stunned voices, “What are you doing here?” They were told by the trans-women, that they were “women” and had a right to shower there, penis and all.

I quote a recent letter I received from Alyson Palmer, director of “Chixlix” written to the Michfest Performers of 2013 concerning the online petition to boycott Michfest:
“ Anyone who truly understands the suffering of sexual harassment and abuse; the constant small violations and dark steady threat of even larger ones; the savage horror of rape or any of the sick tortures that the penis-proud wield so easily against women and girls of every age, would rise up and DEMAND that WBW have earned the right to a place in which to cling to one another and heal. To parade the dangling tool of the oppressor in the face of a woman who has been debased is unconscionable. The insensitivity of trying to force the victimized to get over it already so someone else can party woot woot is an insulting layer of fresh misogyny. It is selfish, it reeks of entitlement and it is cruel.”
I and other womyn like me stand for the original intention of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. We need and deserve a week set apart for female-born women and girls to celebrate our mysteries, our creativity, ourselves, without fear.

The boycott demand of MWMF performers is patriarchal in its bullying tactics, and only demonstrates further a power-over mind set by trans-activists who would destroy the Michigan Festival rather than respectfully help to protect and preserve the now rare female spaces left to us WBW. We need the respite of Michfest for our healing, to create and celebrate the swirling cauldron of music, arts, dance, theatre, ritual, and comedy, that enriches us and empowers us to return to the patriarchial, penis-ruled world where female WBW continue to be defiled en masse, worldwide. The self-centered actions of those who seek to bully their way into the Festival, threaten the performers, and plan to create a drama-filled Festival, clearly demonstrate their utter disrespect for the needs of female-born women. Their actions also clearly demonstrate their unexamined, undiagnosed and unchallenged misogyny. I speak directly to all trans activists, Female-born sisters are not your enemy, and never have been. The feminist vision, intention, and work of creating Michfest solely for female born WBW simply does not include you because the festival was not created to address and is not intended to serve your needs.

As a Priestess and elder of Women’s Mysteries for over 35 years, I understand and value the importance of female-only space. This kind of sacred space has literally saved women’s lives, and continues to do so. The Michigan Festival has provided this sacred space for female born WBW for decades, because our life experiences matter. This is why so many of us have been planning our lives around Michfest for decades, travel great distances, spend hard earned money, and make sacrifices too numerous to mention, in order to participate.

I choose to give my goddess-given energy to female-born women and girls. I will continue to defend the right of females to gather, the right to define ourselves as female-born girls and women, and will not be bullied into submission by anyone. I seek no war with anyone. I stand in my truth and for whom I love. I love women and our children. May we, and the Festival survive to tell our stories of Festival to our great grandchildren.

Should the Festival intention change, or the Festival be destroyed (as is clearly an acceptable intention/option of some trans-inclusion supporters), I and many Festival performers and elders, will not return. To trans activists I say, the Festival that you have forcibly inserted yourself into will no longer exist, there will be no Michigan Festival left as we have known it. Trans-women and their supporters may stand on what was once our sacred space, now become a battleground, and insert their flag into the ground. The taste of victory will turn bitter as wars on women and girls always are. Will their victory be that there be no place left for us to celebrate ourselves as female beings in all of our diversity, power, and beauty? The thought of this sickens me in my gut and heart. I feel sadness, anger and frustration.

To trans-women who choose to violate the intention of the Festival, and the women who support their inclusion I say, “Stop. Stop. Stop!” May you learn respect for the needs of women and girls to have our time together. Stop making women who support the Festival your perpetrators and oppressors. We are not your oppressors. You are not our victims. If you really love and respect women, let yourself feel the needs we have. May you come to understand our need to have our time together once a year, on women’s sacred land. May those who have made the Festival their battleground, wake up. May they learn to respect the needs of women and girls that the festival has provided for 38 years.

It has been a sacred honor to contribute my own gifts to the miraculous vision of the Michigan Festival for the past 29 years. I stand for the festival’s intention with my body, my heart and spirit. It is my hope and prayer that I may contribute for many years to come.

Blessed be!
Ruth Barrett
Director of the MWMF Candlelight Concert,
MWMF performer, and workshop presenter"

I am not surprised. Nearly a year ago, when Ruth Barrett was gaining quite a bit of attention in the Pagan media for her apparent softening on the issue of transgender-exclusive space after an emotional and public confrontation with Transgender activist, feminist, and Priestess Melissa Murry at Pagan Spirit Gathering, she sent me a link to the coverage:

I replied:

Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 6:41 PM
Subject: Re: podcast from Pagan Spirit Gathering

"These are very promising words. I will similarly be watching your actions to see if they match."

Ruth responded with:

On Jun 25, 2012, at 4:54 PM, ruth barrett wrote:

"I know that you don't know me, Rabbit, so you don't know already that I always endeavor to walk my talk to the best of my ability to do so.
I am in a state of gratitude for the new partnership of support forged at PSG, and hope that our efforts will be supported by the pagan community.

I responded with this:
(Full Disclosure: I have removed about 10 sentences from this message that specifically dealt with other individuals by name, and I do not have permission to publish those personal details for public consumption.)

Date: June 27, 2012 7:41:07 AM PDT
Subject: Re: podcast from Pagan Spirit Gathering

"You are right. I don't know you except by reputation, media, and our very few encounters. While I have no personal quarrel with you, these limited points of contact have thus far shown me that your integrity as a leader leaves a lot to be desired, in my eyes. Perhaps we have different definitions of integrity. Perhaps we have similar definitions of integrity. Only time and observation will tell. I cannot speak for the entire pagan community, but I am completely open to seeing you in a positive light. I am completely open to supporting you again if you earn back my trust. Before I met you, only having read your book and heard your music, I did see you very favorably...I wanted nothing more than to see you in the best light at that time, excited and enlivened as I was by your work, Z's work, and the Tradition. Recently, your words and actions have shown me other sides of you that I find distasteful. It will be harder to earn back my esteem now that it has been lost. This is true not only for me, but for many people who have become disenchanted with you over this issue. That is the way of these things- it's easier to maintain a good reputation than to recreate one. But it is possible. Thus, as I mentioned, I will be observing your actions. For my part, integrity would include:

- demonstrating that beyond a few feel-good promises, you are intending to follow through with educating yourself about the transgender experience, choosing to use inoffensive language consistently, choosing to create inclusive rites as well as experience-specific rites at public gatherings, and demonstrating a deep knowing and acceptance that this topic is not ever, ever going to disappear from your community priestessing radar.

- a certain amount of public humility. True humility will be apparent in action. Similarly, so will bandwagon jumping for the sake of turning the bad PR about the Dianic Tradition in your favor. As of now, what it looks like from the outside is that you and Z are both very afraid of losing a stream of revenue for your priestess work, and are therefore talking a good game. While I trust there is a measure of sincerity in your words, because you ARE a divine daughter of the Goddess and therefore a being of love, I also smell money fear when I suddenly see you and Z softening your stance on this issue RIGHT AFTER Z launched one of the most offensive Facebook diatribes I've seen mere weeks ago, and in the face of extreme pressure to either play ball or see a potential stream of revenue dry up. So, humble and genuinely invested action over time will counter that appearance and show me that this is, indeed, a sincere effort.

I guess, overall, what I want to see (and perhaps this is reasonable, and perhaps it is not, but it is nonetheless it is what I perceive is needed at this time) is for you to drop the prideful stance of High Priestess in favor of being a humble sister and friend to all humanity. The sister and friend to humanity is the true High Priestess. The crown is nothing but a piece of metal or leather unless the mind beneath it is devoted to a highest good, even if that carries one beyond one's own personal agenda.

So, there you have my full opinion. Please know that I have no need to make you wrong, to demonize you as I have seen others do online. I have no desire for any of this to be painful for anyone. But right now, I am crystal clear in the knowing that you are still tangled in some things that may yet cause a lot of pain to others, and will severely hurt you and the Goddess community as a whole. Please think about what I have said.

In service to the One who is Beyond Names and Labels,

So...what happened, I wonder? I never received a response to my letter, but I didn't really expect I would. I knew these things would be tough to hear. They were tough for me to hear when I went through my own process of discernment around this issue, a discernment that brought me into a very profound period of personal transformation. But these hard truths are part of the journey. Where did Ruth Barrett's commitment to growth go? Or was it actually ever there?

Because a smart Priestess who was walking her talk in this situation would definitely have done some reading, and would know that the term "women-born-women" is offensive. I understand that some people do not know this at first, but that innocent ignorance cannot last for long when the information is readily available.

Because a caring Priestess who walked her talk would have taken the time to really get to know several transgender women, and would learn that what some of them suffer in rape, assault, and a deep feeling of phallus-aversion is equally extreme to whatever you might suffer.

Because a skillful Priestess who cares about both MichFest AND personal growth around gender issues would begin thinking strategically about how to create a sense of safety there for ALL women attendees, including Trans women AND separatists, and would begin dialogue from within about how to meet all needs. It's a big place. There is room for everyone if people will just be patient, compassionate, and solutions-oriented in dialogue about it.

Because...well, a Priestess who walks her talk, a year later, after garnering so much good will and positive attention for her promise of growth, would not have written the letter that showed up in my Facebook feed this week.

Melissa Murry, the brave Goddess who stood up and demanded to be counted at PSG last year, responded to Ruth's recent letter with this video, and I will leave you with her powerful words. Please go watch this woman level some truth and wisdom.