Rewriting History

Marlene says:

Over the past thirty or forty years, people have spent lots of time and energy unearthing missing or obscured histories. The re-discovery of history that had been invisible or mis-reported has changed our perception of the world we live in. This has been especially true of the history of marginalized peoples. Watching how this process unfolds makes it clear why and how it’s important that we do what we can to ensure our history is recorded accurately. This is especially true if we are members of marginalized groups.

A little while ago, I got an email announcing that Lynnee Breedlove would be the featured performer at a local open mic event. I have lived in the same queer community as Breedlove for more than fifteen years. The email included major pieces of the bio on Lynnee’s website.

All such bios are self-serving, and I have no issue with that. Not all such bios include outright distortion of history, and I do take issue with that. Reading this one made me think about the way that this common technique is used to distort our understanding of the world we live in.

The bio says:

The founder and frontperson of the first American out dyke punk band Tribe 8, which has always stood for queer, transgender, multiracial, and working class visibility, Breedlove has toured Europe and North America with Tribe 8 as well as Rise Above: The Tribe8 Documentary.

The truth is a little different. When Silas Howard (a member of Tribe 8) started testosterone, there was quite a ruckus. There was talk of the band breaking up. There was talk that Howard would be kicked out of the band for no longer being a Dyke.

The bio also describes Breedlove as “a vanguard of the queer/trans community.” In the mid-1990s, I worked as a messenger. While I would have loved to work at Breedlove’s Lickety Split messenger company, I was not welcome because I am a trans woman. Instead, I worked at one of the traditional macho asshole messenger companies where I got harassment rather than community. Lickety Split messengers wouldn’t even talk to me on the road.

Lisa Vogel, founder and operator of the Michigan Womyns Music Festival, uses her own rewritten history to justify her ejection of trans women from the festival. She claims that the festival was always a “womyn born womyn”. This term was invented in 1991 when a trans woman was ejected from the festival. Vogel has since declared that the festival’s intention was always centered around the shared experience of girlhood. Many people (including me) believe that the category “womyn born womyn” is questionable on its face, and simply a strategy to legitimize trans women’s ejection from the festival. That issue aside, the phrase was never used to describe the festival between 1976, when it was founded, and 1991.

When Vogel says that this was always the policy, she frames the issue as though trans women had never been there before and that they suddenly began seeking permission to enter “womyn’s space” that had never been theirs, despite evidence of trans women’s participation in the queer women’s community at least as early as the late 1960s.

Rewriting history is commonly used to portray opponents as undoing the way things have always been. The view that is falsely portrayed as part of “always” is given the smell of being somehow inherent in civilization’s structure.

The National Rifle Association has been quite successful in fabricating and advancing a version of early American history in which everyone owned a gun. The truth is otherwise, but this fake history frames gun control as the removal of a right that has “always” existed. I’m a gun owner and believe that gun ownership is a critical defense against the tyranny of our own government, but that doesn’t mean I likes the NRA.

Bottom line, when someone tells you how something has always been, it’s frequently a clue that they are full of shit. See also: Faith Sentence

6 thoughts on “Rewriting History

  1. Minor clarification request about the Michigan Women’s Music Festival – do you mean the phrase “womyn born womyn” was applied to the Festival for the first time in 1991? I’m reasonably certain I heard the phrase in the 1980s.

  2. Thank you for bringing these facts to light for me.
    I don’t know how to express this, but I’ll try — I’m sorry for the pain that exclusion has caused. I am grateful to you for writing about your experiences, and other members of the trans community for writing about theirs, because it allows me to question and challenge whatever is in my own brain about this and come to new conclusions that allow for inclusiveness.

  3. Lisa,

    Yes. I think you are right. I don’t know who to credit with inventing this term as a way to exclude trans women.

    I’d also like to clarify that the critical part of the page linked to at *ejection of trans women* is at the bottom, where Vogel states that the policy did not actually change in 2006. It’s interpretation was just muddled a bit.

  4. Last night, I had an interesting conversation with a friend about some of the things in this post. The short version of our end point is this:

    The things I am describing about Lynnee Breedlove happened a long time ago. The world was a very different place as regards transphobia. That was true for my friend on a personal level and it was (in subtler ways) true for me. Breedlove’s perspective on trans issues at that time was also quite different than it is now.

    If as enlightened people we paint over our own past, before we were enlightened on any particular issue, we make the change invisible. If we allow ourselves to tell the story of once having had beliefs we have come to see as limited and ignorant, then we allow a model for changing others’ perspectives on similar issues.

    I understand the desire to say that one has always been the good person one sees oneself as now. That isn’t always the truth; when I was fifteen, if you had told me that I would be who I am now, I might have stabbed you for saying such a thing.

  5. The same thing happened at Olivia Records, with Sandy Stone.

    And, I didn’t know that about LIckety Split and I’ve been peripherally involved in the same community since the early 90s. Wow that sucks.

  6. I think the situation with Sandy Stone at Olivia Records was especially sad.

    For those who don’t know, Sandy Stone is a trans woman who was one of the founding members of the Olivia Records cooperative. Her trans history was known by the members of the collective, who had no problem with it. Stone was forced to leave when transphobic bigots in the lesbian community made death threats and organized a boycott insisting that Stone leave. Sandy Stone left for the sake of the record company.

    My hands ball up in fists and my teeth grind together any time I hear or tell this story.

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