WHEN the All Jane Comedy Festival quietly underwent a name change this year, Blogtown commenters wondered if the festival was kowtowing to the demands of a lone male protester who leveled accusations of sexism at the fest last year. But when I followed up with All Jane's publicist, Maura Brown, the story turned out to be something very different—and something much more in line with All Jane's mission to provide space for comedians who're outside the industry's straight white dude norm. As it turned out, the name change was about inclusion of transgender stand-ups—not pandering to confused men's rights activists.
In a statement Brown sent to the Mercury, All Jane founder Stacey Hallal wrote, "Last year, the All Jane No Dick Comedy Festival became the center of an attack by both a highly vocal men's rights activist and some members of the trans community. The men's rights activist was certainly annoying, but we felt no need to change our behavior in any way to appease him because we fundamentally disagree with him. However, we were genuinely upset to find ourselves suddenly at odds with the trans community.... After many months of research, conversation, and soul searching, it came down to one undeniable fact, we just couldn't live with the idea that there might be a trans comic somewhere out there who didn't or wouldn't apply to the festival because she felt excluded by the name."
All Jane's name change might seem small, but in a political landscape where traditionally cisgender women-only spaces, from women's colleges to arts festivals, are faced with the question of welcoming transwomen, or enacting the very misogyny they purport to be fighting—and where transgender people often face misgendering and other bigotry directly related to the words people use—choices of language are actually huge. It's exciting to see an arts festival that's willing to evolve for the better. As a counterpoint, consider the now-defunct Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which closed up shop this year after its stance against allowing transgender women led to boycotts from LGBT advocacy groups and big-name performers like the Indigo Girls.
MichFest was nearly 40 years old. This year will be All Jane's fourth year, but it already seems like a sign of what's to come for arts festivals and communities that purport to promote marginalized voices: To paraphrase feminist blogger Flavia Dzodan, they will need to be intersectional if they want to stay relevant—or even in existence, in the case of MichFest. That means making changes like the one All Jane's organizers committed to this year—and one that isn't all talk either, given that All Jane's lineup typically includes a relatively diverse cohort of comics, with its unapologetic focus on women taken a step further through its strong showing of LGBT comedians and comedians of color.
All Jane's organizers have been touting the 17-19 percentage statistic (the percentage of women in the comedy industry) for the past couple of years as an explanation for why it needs to exist. But as the festival continues, its necessity is becoming increasingly clear—and increasingly nuanced. This isn't really about numbers anymore, but about leveling the playing field for performers you wouldn't necessarily get to see elsewhere, and creating an inclusive environment that's the stuff of nightmares for MRAs everywhere. Hallal put it this way: "[Our] festival is for women. Trans women are women."