As we reported, a local woman is claiming that the Celebrate the Night committee unfairly refused to audition her for their variety show because of inaccurate information that she worked as an escort.
Today, the CTN organizing committee issued the following statement:
Celebrate The Night is an event that was created to give women a place to perform, in honor of National Coming Out Day. We are not Transphobic. Transexuals have been welcomed, embraced and involved with CTN via performance, volunteers and on the committee.
Emilia never approached CTN, other than via a request for a meeting with the GLCC. The GLCC is not formally affiliated with CTN.
As to Jessi, we respect a person's right to self definition. Jessi has been inconsistent in self-identification. The escort website is what lead us to other websites where Jessi frequently self identifies as male and that is inconsistent with CTN.
We regret that some have chosen to take offense at this.
Sincerely, CTN committee
Now, I must say that they responded fairly quickly for an all-volunteer organization. That being said, I find their response disappointing for several reasons.
First, there is an inconsistency. The email Jessi provided says that she was not being offered an audition because of Internet evidence that she was an escort. In this message, CTN claims it is because of her gender identity. Assuming the email was authentic, there's a problem. Either CTN lied to her and is misleading the community. That's very troubling. I hope CTN will step up and explain the conflicting accounts.
Second, there's the claim that Jessi identifies as a man based on information available on the Internet. AND in spite of Jessi's statement that she identifies as female. I'm curious if the CTN committee took into consideration the fact that Jessi may be in the process of transitioning (a fact her partner Emilia confirms)? That begs the question of who gets to determine when a person in transition is a woman, or at least woman enough to perform in a variety show. Should there be clearcut rules based on legal standards? Should the committee get to ask personal questions about an individual's anatomy .. a “lift the skirt” test? Even assuming there is a way to objectively determine womanliness, shouldn't that standard be publicized out of fairness to everyone? And shouldn't Jessi and others have a chance to defend themselves? Granted, I shudder at the prospect of forcing transwomen to defend their gender identity to help raise money for the GLCC.
This event is about National Coming Out Day. Those of us who were born women have probably had multiple coming out moments throughout our lives. And we live everyday with a heteronormative presumption that we are, in fact, straight until proven otherwise. Some of us allow that misperception to go unchallenged for a variety of reasons, sometimes that we are not safe coming out in certain circumstances … at work, to our family, in our faith communities, etc. Does the fact that a local poet, singer or comedian remains closeted at work make them less of a lesbian or bisexual woman? Of course not.
Transwomen also have to come out, sometimes as both a lesbian and a woman. Isn't that a process we should honor when we celebrate National Coming Out Day? Shouldn't we be cheering Jessi on instead of punishing her? Shouldn't we be excited for her and appreciative of her willingness to take the risk of performing in public to help raise money for a good cause?
Shouldn't she have the same chances as every other performer who may be passing as straight women in certain realms?
Rather than rail about what I perceive as the underlying generational conflicts at play here, I'm going to skip right to a proposed solution.
I'd like to see CTN give Jessi an audition. If she makes the cut, great.
I'd like CTN to turn this situation into a teachable moment for our entire community. Take the bull by the horns and incorporate the coming out experience of transwomen into the event. Perhaps include some information in the event program. Ask some transwomen (Emilia?) to share their experiences and give them a few minutes at the mike. Solicit some poetry or other performance pieces. Set up a visual arts display. Just make an effort to acknowledge the unique experiences of transwomen.
There's a wide gap between claiming to be “not transphobic” and celebrating the lives of transwomen.
Local rocker Joey Murphy put forth an alternative solution on a local email list.
I'd like to go a step further and challenge the old guard a bit. Let's see who is a larger cultural force in Pittsburgh, who is more inclusive, who isn't tethered to old, outdated feminist politics, and who throws a better party.So, how about we put more positiv spin on this inter-generational dissonance and organize a “Celebrate the NEW, YOUNGER, Night?” For the same night, or “Celebrate the Dawn of a New Day” – you get the picture. We can pick a charity to raise funds for, maybe a Women's Shelter, or Gay Youth Shelter, and challenge their group to a fund raising duel through ticket sales. I bet we could trounce them in terms of attendance and show what valuing all members of the queer community looks like.
It is great to see the whole discussion move into solution mode. Joey claims that CTN organizes an event to meet the needs of their friends. That may well be the case. I did not attend last year's event (I think I had to work), but I've been to several in the past. I was usually one of the youngest women there and was not surprised that so many of my friends did not want to attend. $20.00 can be pretty steep on a social worker's salary especially when you tend to some of the same acts year after year. I understand they have been working on diversifying the performers, so I hope they are working on ways to attract younger women.
It would be great for them to partner with the Women & Girls Foundation to make the event more accessible to women without the means to attend and incorporating queer-identifying women into the event.
Either way, we hope that CTN will address the escort/male identity conflict to undo some of the damage this debacle has wrought on their organization's reputation. Being publicly caught in a lie is not a good thing. The proof is in the email I suspect.
I wonder if Jessi even wants to perform at this point? If not, then Ledcat and I would like to take Jessi and Emilia out to celebrate women that night. Thai style. Anyone wanna join us?