Following the lead of poet Andrea Gibson and the Indigo Girls, “Orange is the New Black” star Lea DeLaria has pulled out of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, citing the festival’s exclusion of trans women. DeLaria, who plays Big Boo on the show, is a comedian, musician and actor. She was set to perform at the festival when someone was asked her on Twitter why she would support a festival that would exclude her “Orange is the New Black” co-star Laverne Cox.
@tomleger that is a skewed view.
— Lea DeLaria (@realleadelaria) May 6, 2014
The festival, nearly 40 years old, is a yearly gathering in the woods of Michigan that attracts about 3,000 women who gather in a feminist space to enjoy music. Central to the festival is the notion that it’s a space just for womyn-born womyn.
Lately, Michfest has come under increasing fire for excluding trans women through its womyn-born womyn credo. The term “womyn” refers to cisgender (people whose genitals match the gender they were assigned at birth) women who grew up feeling restricted by traditional gender norms often forced upon cisgender girls. Protesters want the festival open to all people who identify themselves as women. It’s a complicated issue, but eventually DeLaria decided pulling out was best. She posted a written statement on Instagram:
After over 30 years of gay activisim and as an out, proud member of the LGBTQ Community, I do not wish to be a party to infighting. We queers need to find a way to stop this fighting and work together towards our common goal.
Both sides of the Michigan Women’s Music Festival dispute refuse to listen to each other. Due to their unyielding stance, I am withdrawing from the festival.
I truly look forward to the time when all LGBTQ stand as one. Perhaps then we can collectively laugh at how f—-d up is it when I’M the voice of reason.
The increased visibility of gender non-conforming women like Big Boo has contributed to the disruption of ideas surrounding the rigid gender roles we see throughout culture, like the examples documented by the blog Sociological Images. Just this February, Facebook debuted 56 different gender options for its users. Trans activists point out that even spaces that bill themselves as progressive can become exclusionary; restricting the festival to womyn-born womyn can be seen as outdated because there’s a whole spectrum of gender nonconformity. Even the word “womyn” can be interpreted as cissexist because it deliberately excludes trans women.
These conversations are not just being parsed in radical subcultures. The politics of excluding trans women have existed at many women’s colleges for decades. Just last year, Smith College, one of the oldest and most well-respected women’s institutions in the country, rejected the application of Calliope Wong, a trans woman whom the admissions department deemed “male.”