So. There’s controversy surrounding an event in Brooklyn that is going to be happening in late June. It is the 24th anniversary showing of “Paris Is Burning” a documentary about the NYC trans and queer people of color (specifically Black and Latin@) ball scene in New York during the 80s and 90s. It is going to be hosted by the director of the documentary herself, Jennie Livingston, and JD Samson of Le Tigre fame. Here is a link to the event page. Issue is, not only are both of these people white, but Jennie Livingston actually got into a lot of trouble for the making of that film, and rightfully so, as she did so under false pretenses and violently exploited the ballroom community. She lied to the kids and folks she was interviewing so as to get them to sign waivers and releases for interviews for free, saying it was a student project, then turned around and made a profit, getting a lot of attention, notoriety, social and cultural cache and esteem, and money off of it, even winning the Sundance Grand Jury Prize. This all at the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York City, where the poor Black, Latin@, and Gay communities were getting hit the hardest. So you could imagine it a damn genocide for those at the intersections of those communities and stigma. You could imagine how sorely they needed that money, those resources, that visibility to help them, to save their fucking lives.
So to come now, given that miserable history of violence and that context of supremacy and exploitation (as you can see expressed by many people who were in the scene at the time both in articles written when the documentary came out and on comments on the event page now), and at a time when Trans and Queer people of color are still dying en masse and being erased and ignored by the media and the state and even by our own fucking communities for we are both too Black and Brown to be queer and too queer to be Black or Brown, and create such an event amid adamant, vociferous outcry by the very community it exploits, well…it’s another day in America, isn’t it? I am going to challenge myself and stop saying “this is gross, dehumanizing, sociopathic, low, genocidal, disgusting, exploitation, racist, sexist, transmisogynistic, antagonistic, erasing, capitalistic, etc,”. It is all of those things, absolutely, but I will stop phrasing it like that. Because it lets so many people who are guilty and complicit and implicit divorce themselves from the monstrosity, from the violence, from the terror. It fools us into thinking this is somewhat abnormal, singular, unique,. Well, it isn’t. It is totally fucking normalized and it happens all the fucking time and we’re OK with this violence because hey, it makes us money and isn’t “Paris Is Burning” so fun? So many of us don’t even know the history of that film, couldn’t imagine the people it was built on. But we should have figured, shouldn’t we? We should assume exploitation so far as TQPOC are concerned.
JD Samson has at least, said she would step down, and her comment seems genuine, and it is good that she has backed out of performing at the event.
But people have called bullshit given her personal relationship with Jennie and so doubt that she did not know what she asked to DJ for, and a previous history of transmisogyny (in which she did not decry or call out MichFest until forced to amid protests and canceled/banned performances by venues).
And all that said, it still means so little, as it doesn’t solve the issue of due reparations for those that got exploited to have this film made in the first place. This still isn’t accountability or remorse from Jennie or the white LGBT community at large for creating and engaging in this culture of exploitation.
So Miley Cyrus, what’s up though girl? Got words about this? Yo Bruce Jenner, what’s happening? Jennie Livingston? Anyone? Everyone?! Where are the white gays who love to throw shade, hunty? To spill that tea? Where are the colonizers that have made their identities off the backs of marginalized poor trans and queer people of color? Who twerk but don’t care when one of ours turns up dead in the street? Who took their place as they got erased and shoved to the wayside, barely breathing or worse, dead?
I thank you for your patience, and apologize that I have been hesitant to make a longer statement publicly. This is a very personal story for me. Emotionally, politically, financially, and spiritually.
I have always believed that the ongoing dialogue, on and off the land at the MWMF, would inspire new understanding and empathy on every side of this debate, and that the festival policy would evolve in response to the desire of many festival-goers and performers to include all Womyn.
I believe that the MWMF should be open to all self-identified Womyn, and over the years, I have maintained the hope that we can find a way through all of the fighting and come to an amicable solution together.
I am still confident that the MWMF will one day become a place of safety, solidarity, and unconditional love for ALL Womyn, and it is with that hope, that I am announcing that this will be my last year attending the festival until that day comes.
If you would like to discuss any of this further, I urge you send me an e-mail or private message to make a personal connection.
I believe that my role as an activist at this time is to help bridge gaps within our community.
Please join me in working together to help open the doors of the MWMF to all self-identified Womyn.
Track 6 from my monthly song series The Teenage Years. When I was 16, someone gave me a Dashboard Confessional mixtape and I decided to put down my electric guitar for a while. The first song I wrote was “Here Comes Morning,” an upbeat emo acoustic ode to confusion. Today in 2012, producers Johanna Fateman and JD Samson (both of MEN, Le Tigre, and more) have transformed my teenage sadness into a dance-worthy pop gem. Enjoy!