About MichelleMichelle Brown is an author, activist & public speaker who believes in common ground for all people.
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Category Archives: Love
Printed 4/30/2015 in Between The Lines issue 2318
I’m always surprised by the reactions of people when I tell them I have been (more than once) to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival.
Most often the response is either, “You went?” “You camped?” or, after thinking about me/my life while shaking their head, “Of course, you would go!” Then the real questions begin – were there many black women there? You slept in a tent? Did you get naked? But most often, the question asked is why I, a self-proclaimed lover of all things urban who considers “roughing it” staying at a hotel without room service, would go the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. My response generally involves telling the story of my first MWMF!
I went primarily because Shea Howell was going. Everyone has one of those friends who they would follow anywhere, who strongly impacts their life and who they straight-up, unashamedly, unconditionally love. Shea is my person. The Meredith Grey to my Cristina Yang, you might say. We’ve worked on many things together. We marched together. We summered together. So when she said I needed to go to the festival, I was ready.
Shea and the rest of our group went up before I did earlier in the week. I was supposed to drive up with a mutual friend on the weekend who had attended before and knew the location of the spot Shea et al. camped at every year. The festival is on over 600 acres; I needed a guide.
That Friday, when we were supposed to leave, my guide was nowhere to be found. Made a few calls and discovered that she had left without me. Undaunted, I threw my gear into the car and headed toward Hart – a little cranky, but I had plenty of time to get there before dark.
When I arrived, culture shock kicked in. I was a “Festie Virgin.” I had no idea where Shea was camped, and I had all this junk to lug across a huge parking lot into the woods and I didn’t know where I was going!
I walked and as I walked, I got angry. Angry at my guide who had left me and angry at myself, but then the magic of “The Land” began. Women came up to see what was wrong. They took my bags. They set about finding my friends. They comforted me and made me feel welcome. I was part of the sisterhood.
We came from different socio-economic classes. I was African-American while most of them were white. We had each experienced patriarchy, but many of them had also experienced a privilege I never would because of their race. But on “the Land” it didn’t matter – we were all womyn/sisters.
They didn’t just drop me at the campsite and forget about me. They checked in on me, helped me navigate the showers, pathways and workshops. We danced naked under the moonlight.
That weekend and at the other festivals I attended in later years, I learned what it was like to be in a space created by, for and about women. It was empowering.
After I tell people about my first trip, I go on to tell them about the women who build everything! The women who not only make sure the land is handicap accessible but help women with disabilities experience the festival fully – pushing wheelchairs, getting meals, etc.
I tell them about the marvelous feeling of walking clothed or naked amongst your sisters, feeling truly beautiful just as you are with no “body shaming.” I tell them about the acceptance and respect for each other and different lifestyles. And how being in this space opened my eyes and helped me evolve as a person of color, a woman and a lesbian – to think differently, to challenge patriarchy and to, more than ever, stand in my truth.
I had experienced a freedom that every girl/woman should have the opportunity to experience in their life – a freedom that can gird us for the fight that continues for full equality. However, it was because of the lessons learned that I stopped attending.
The lessons you learn on “the Land” go home with you, some short-term while others for a life time. It was during these years that my LGBTQ family increased as I met and became friends with many transgender sisters and brothers. One day while having coffee with a friend, she said, “I just want to be accepted as me. You have no idea what it’s like to be judged by how you look.”
I thought back to that day wandering around in the woods. Someone could have looked and seen this angry black woman wandering about, turned and walked away. Instead, they saw our commonality, our womanhood, our humanity.
When I arrived on “the Land” I was welcomed as a woman with the understanding that my path to womanhood was unique, but we shared a humanity.
We were different, yes. My path had been different from my Trans Sister, but here we sat sisters in struggle. Here was a member of my community facing the challenges in our woods of oppression, trans-phobia and discrimination. Her safety, her protection, her equality was on the same path as mine. We — all of us in the LGBTQ community — are on that path.
The times they are a changing. We know that gender is more than chromosomes. More of our children are declaring that they are transgender at an earlier age. Too many of these children are dying often at their own hand because we are still defining masculine and feminine by what’s between their legs.
We are one community – LGBTQ – still discriminated against, still under attack. It’s time we have dialogue on the core values our community will embrace for ourselves, our children and generations to come that must include respect for our diversity and inclusiveness for all members of our community.
I was deeply saddened to hear this is the last Michigan Women’s Music Festival. It has changed hearts, minds and lives. It provided a transformative space for women to grow as women where we can find and live our truth. Strong, empowered women can not only change the world but also the boys/men who live in the world. The loss of this space and its potential for transformation, growth and change is a loss to our entire community.
By Michelle E. Brown
My new book of poetry “Three Layers & A Brassiere” is available for purchase online! Book signing is in planning stage but get your’s today and receive a special gift at the book signing.
Book Over view:
On a frigid November weekend in 2012, I took a trip to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My plan had been to catch a train, hit the city and just wander about taking in the sights. I wanted a lost weekend, to wander around to find something—just what I really didn’t know. But these uncertain plans took an unexpected turn when, instead, I hitched a ride with a friend.
I met an amazing woman named Gwen who was in her eighties, and over the course of the weekend, she shared stories of her remarkable life. One afternoon, we were heading out, and her family, being protective as families can be, gathered sweaters, scarves, and jackets and proceeded to try to convince Gwen to put them all on. Her response: “I’ve got three layers and a brassiere, that’s enough to keep me warm.”
On the ride back to Detroit, I thought about Gwen her life and the three stages of life—childhood, adulthood, and those final days. Maybe all we need are those three layers, not all those mountains of things, just to see us through to warm our hearts, our spirits, and a brassiere to hold the memories.
By Michelle E. Brown
Her streets no longer lined with trees
Branches arching across streets
Paved with hopes and dreams
Now minefields of disrepair
Potholes, broken sidewalks
Lots and playgrounds strewn with litter
Vacant lots, crumbling buildings
No neighbors sitting on stoops sharing stories
No quartets under streetlamps singing songs
Store fronts sit vacant
While residents wait for buses
Always late for a trip to no where
She is maligned, misrepresented,
Stripped of her authority
As her people suffer
As her people thirst
Managed neglect for the benefit of profits
But she’s a queen.
Her majesty does not lie in institutions
Credit ratings, political wrangling
Her majesty cannot be bankrupted
Because she’s a queen
Of, for and by the people
She is the people
And she/they are rich
Rich in spirit, rich in art
Feeding her people from gardens
Growing in forgotten lots
Entrepreneurs, innovators, dreamers
Calling her people, all people
Black, Brown, White, Young, Old
From across the street
From around the world
To rise up, to stand up
Not in war, but with voices raised
To wage love
She is a queen
She is Detroit.
By Michelle E. Brown (For Transgender Day of Visibility 3/26/14)
Daddy wanted a son
A man child, legacy bearer
A son to toss a ball, cast a rod
Share manly things around the campfire
While cleaning guns
Daddy wanted a son
Momma wanted a daughter
A woman child, baby girl
Pretty curls, frills and dolls
She’d teach her to cook, to sew
To preen and be coy
Share womanly things
While getting mani-pedis
Momma wanted a daughter
I sat amongst the stars
Hearing their longings
Seeing their dream
Looking down, pondering
I want to be me
Unfettered by sexual identity
Not playing roles in their boxes
Safe from lines drawn by intellect and reason
If I must choose
I choose to stay here
But daddy wants a son
Momma wants a daughter
Earth wants my presence
So I must leave my heavenly sanctuary
Pushing me, pulling me
Traveling towards the light
Where daddy wants a boy
Momma wants a girl
Doctor opens his mouth to pass judgment
Pronounce life’s sentence upon me
What is it
Is it boy
Is it girl
I open my mouth and shout
Shout for those who came before
For those who will come after
Before the verdict is given
Do not bind me with your biases
Your preconceived notions of
Who I am
How I should be
I am not it
Not boy, nor girl
I am a baby
Let me, be me
“I was born a baby, not a boy” Janet Mock 02/06/2014