And some of us are brave…
"Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get better, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival lineup was announced. Holy Cow! I had known for some time that I was on the festival and headlining again, but when I saw the lineup I was so excited about the 39th year of the festival. The New York contingent is in effect this year including Climbing PoeTree, Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely, MazzMuse, Marcelle Davies-Lashley, Cocomama and blaKbüshe. Of course my west coast folks are representing as well, but the person who stood out for me was Beverly McClellan!!! I don’t know if you watched the first season of the Voice, but Beverly was one of the four finalists on Christina’s team. She is a vocal beast!!! I can’t wait to see her on the land. Whoo Hoo!!! It was a good Friday indeed, but little did I know, this simple announcement would become my steam roller and a reactionary battle cry.
Monday, March 10th (12:47am)
I received an email from the representative from the Purim committee who I had been corresponding with saying she needed to talk to me, but realized she didn’t have my number so I should give her a call. I really thought nothing of it. I replied to the email with my number; saying that I was up, but she must have gone to bed.
“There’s a Shit Storm Coming!” (11:58am)
The statement above is the actual subject line of an email that was sent to me and another artist by a good friend, about what was about to go down. When I opened the email it said:
“I just found out that the Purim Collective voted to take Shelley off the bill because she’s performing at Michfest and a bunch of the Purim organizers are supporters of the Michfest boycott. They plan on calling you this afternoon. I didn’t want you to be blindsided. I just wanted to give you a heads up even though you probably know. I wanted you to know that there are people ready to support you Shelley if you want or need that.”
Well…I did NOT know. So her email did catch me off guard, but not as far off as that phone call would have. Now I knew exactly why the committee was trying to get hold of me via phone after we had been corresponding via email the whole time.
I got my friend who sent me the email on the phone, and she broke down what was happening. Honestly after I got her email I knew EXACTLY what was happening. Therein began my wave of emotions. My Monday morning emotion was, “Whatever! If they don’t want me on the event, then I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.” Well, that was the morning.
I know some of you are wondering how a issue with Michfest could have made its way to a Purim event in Brooklyn. So I’ll break it down for you in a nutshell because that’s all we really have time for.
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is just what the name says. It’s a WOMEN’S music festival. That means that ONLY WOMEN attend the festival and ONLY WOMEN build everything on the land to make the festival happen. The only time there are men on the land is when they come to clean the port-a-janes at the end of each night. So, the protest/challenge for many years, long before I even started attending, is around trans-inclusion in the festival. There are some who feel that the festival should be for womyn-born-womyn only meaning that you must have been born a girl and more specifically born anatomically into a woman’s body in order to attend the festival, while others feel this is not a fair assessment of womanhood in these changing times of gender identity and politics. Now as you can imagine this is a tricky and touchy subject to say the least and one that I’m not about to begin to address here, but let’s take a moment to contemplate the challenges on both sides of this argument. It’s not only about gender politics it’s about the body politic. Feel me?
As for me, I have been blessed to be able to heal in women-only spaces for years and I am not about to argue against those spaces because they have made me a better woman, a better person and helped me to step into my power in such meaningful and profound ways. Michfest has been one of these powerful spaces. I don’t just go back year after year because it’s something to do for a week in August; I go back because it’s a refuge. It’s a week of no men and the energy that comes with that in the world. Let me also make something clear, I love men. I have some of the most wonderful men in my life in both my professional and personal circles, but sometimes a girl needs a break from even the most evolved man! I will not apologize for my love of the festival, the land or for what is has meant to me over these last eight years. I have made personal and professional friendships that will last me a lifetime on and off the stage. I will not apologize for the tears and scars I have left there that the land has taken from me so that I can fly. I will not apologize for wanting my spaces with women as I know it and have known it, so I will not be bullied or made to feel ashamed of my love for this place or these women. I will not be made to feel ashamed of the love I feel when I walk through those gates and hear the words, “Welcome Home.” But that does not mean that I am anti-trans and/or not open to having a conversation about the changing face of womanhood. I’m not afraid to ask or be asked the hard questions, but if you only want to throw fear, shame and angry gestures my way, then any conversation we could have had will be a wrap! Trust me, I’m being real polite right now. Feel me? OK. Let’s carry on.
The Call (10:28pm)
The whole day went by and no call from my Purim committee rep. I was in total “Act as if…” mode already. Even though I had gotten the earlier email telling me what was coming, I just kept moving forward with show plans. My thought, until I hear it from the horse’s mouth, it’s not a done deal. Then on my way home from a pretty stellar night, I got the call.
When the Purim rep told me that I was voted off of the show due to the fact that I was headlining Michfest I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I really was and soon became angry (my second and third emotions) because A) this is NOT the first time I’ve played festival. In fact this year will make my 8th! So if the committee was really that dedicated to protesting the festival and the artists who play there then they would have vetted me! All they would have had to do was 5-minutes of research and they would have found out that I have played Fest MANY times and participated in many capacities. AND if they were REALLY dedicated to this protest they just wouldn’t have invited me from the get go! B) No one on the committee did me the courtesy of calling to talk about how they felt once the Michfest lineup came out. No one asked me about my politics. No one took a moment to say, “Hey, Shelley has supported us and has been promoting the event to get people out so maybe we need to check in with her and see where she’s coming from and let her know what our challenges are.” No! None of THAT happened. Instead, in what felt like a total reactionary move they voted me off the show and then sent a woman who really wanted me to stay on the program to give me the news! Yup! But we’re getting there.
During the course of this conversation, which lasted about 30 minutes, I asked a lot of questions and got some pretty sad answers. Also the woman I was talking to was exhausted because she’s the mother of a young baby, which also made me angry. Not that she’s a mom, but because I knew she was tired and even though she wanted to talk to me because we had been corresponding the whole time, she clearly was not up for this conversation, which could really have been delivered by someone else, namely someone in this nameless, faceless committee who voted me off the island to begin with who probably doesn’t have children and wouldn’t be exhausted at 10:30pm on a Monday night. Another thing that had me livid was that fact that this nameless, faceless committee knows my face and name, but I don’t know theirs? What kind of cowardly shit it that??!! The woman on the phone told me that they were still going to pay me (well of course they were), but then she asked me not to say anything about this, specifically over social media. What??!!! Are you kidding me? So you have to right to just vote me off the show, for really no good and fair reason that I see, I have no say in the decision-making and then you pay me and want me to shut up about the whole thing?? Now, you’re smoking! I promptly told her I couldn’t make any promises on that front. In other words, Fuck That!
Now I ask, what does that sound like to you? I’ll tell you what it sounds like to me. It sounds like some white, male, entitled, patriarchal, misogynistic, cowardly bullshit is what it sounds like. I have absolutely no idea what the faces of the people who voted me off the show look like and honestly that doesn’t even matter, but I know THAT energy when I feel it. I know shady dealing when I see them. I know the shadow masculine when I encounter it. Trust me I know. I’ve been a black woman a long time. I know patriarchy and misogyny like I know my name.
Then came the rant. I got on Facebook at about 3am and let folks know how I was feeling. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that, but I needed to be loud that night. My feelings required more than my journal.
As a side note, I also found out earlier that day that musicians in the house band, who happened to be all women and transgender (in specific FTM), were being questioned about their affiliation with Michfest artists! Yes you heard me correctly. So now we have also entered into some pseudo-McCarthyism here?! I’m just asking.”
Worth a read on the whole thing.
Nice to see yet another black artist taking a stand in support of the festival.