A little over a week ago, I received a phone call from a dear friend that also happens to be a tremendous performer, artist, and organizer. They'd asked to talk to me about a recent saddening change that had taken place with Rivers of Honey (ROH). ROH, which for eight of its 13 years of existence has explicitly been a performance venue for womyn of color and trans folks of color was now redefining itself to EXLUCDE trans women while still including trans men. In fact, the new mission of ROH described itself as a female bodied space for folks that were raised as girls. The active exclusion of transwomen from a women's space is nothing short of trans-misogyny, the oppressive policing of women's bodies and vagina-checking at its worst. It equates womanhood with genitalia and in expressly including transmen in the mission as welcome in women's space it ignores the sovereignity of transmen and boldly states that having a vulva, despite your choice of gender expression, is all that is necessary to make (or keep you from being) a woman.
As an ally to trans and gender non conforming folks of whatever ilk (and as someone that identiies as genderqueer), I will not tolerate transphobia, transmisogyny, gender policing, or genitalia checking. I support self-organized spaces but I do not accept active oppression in creating those spaces.
I have read the historical documents from Rivers of Honey. I have seen past posters and flyers that are explicitly trans inclusive, and I have read the responses from the current producers of Rivers of Honey, and I find their response to be lacking, surface, and smoke and mirrors to try and cover up their transmisogyny. I stand with and am a part of the Rivers of Honey Community, and I am happy to share with you the response of the Rivers of Honey Community to the mission change of Rivers of Honey.
COMMUNITY RESPONSE TO RIVERS OF HONEY
Rivers of Honey is a women-centered monthly cabaret at WOW Café Theatre in NYC. Since it began in 1998 Rivers has served as a major cultural institution, a launch pad for artists and producers whose work might never have been seen and celebrated in mainstream venues, and a vital, queer-centric POC community space.
In August 2011, a small and closed Rivers of Honey team stated the cabaret is now a "platform for womyn of color, defined as female-bodied individuals." Under this new policy trans women are no longer welcome to produce or perform. Trans men and other female-assigned gender non-conforming people are still welcome provided they identify with the "female-bodied" women's only space.
For the past 8 years of Rivers’ 13 year existence, trans women, trans men and gender non-conforming people have all been welcomed be a part Rivers of Honey. Until recently, language inclusive of all women and trans folks has appeared on Rivers of Honey fliers, the WOW website, and Facebook and MySpace pages. A Rivers of Honey mission statement that was collectively written and agreed upon in August 2009 states that: "Rivers of Honey is a monthly women's cabaret featuring queer and trans artists of color."
Questions about how these decisions were made, requests for clarification, and objections to the policy have been met with silencing, dismissal, and the refusal of further discussion.
Rivers of Honey is an important institution for our community. We love and value it deeply and therefore do not wish to see it replicate the trans misogyny and transphobia we struggle so fiercely against in our larger society.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
1. The exclusion of trans women of color from the women's space of Rivers of Honey is an act of trans misogyny – a form of transphobia directed specifically against trans women. Such exclusion is part of a damaging pattern of discrimination that contributes to the already tremendous degrees of bigotry, harassment and violence that trans women of color face.
2. The current language is not truly inclusive of trans men and gender non-conforming people of color. Just as the current language implies that trans women are not truly women, it also implies that trans men and gender non-conforming people are, in the end, actually women despite their own self-identification. In both cases, people are being robbed of their agency to define their own identities.
WHAT WE WANT
We, queer and trans people of color, community members, past performers, producers and audience members want to see:
Rivers of Honey reject trans misogyny and include all women of color equally, whether they are cisgender women or trans women;
If trans men and gender non-conforming people of color continue to be welcomed as performers at Rivers of Honey, the language of Rivers of Honey should be changed to "a space for all women, trans men and gender non-conforming people of color";
Rivers of Honey return to its longstanding tradition of being an open, accountable, and collectively-run space where dialogue is encouraged, disagreement is allowed, and decisions are made in an open, transparent, and community-inclusive manner.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
We ask our community members and allies to join us in voicing your opinions and concerns. We offer these ideas for participation:
DISTRIBUTE WIDELY .
Share this note with your communities, families, colleagues, and friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, personal blog, etc.
SIGN THIS LETTER .
Click here to be added to the list of signatories for this letter. Please include your name and organization as you would like it to be listed.
LET CURRENT PRODUCERS KNOW YOUR OPINION.
If you choose not to attend or perform at Rivers of Honey because of these changes, or if you attend or perform but disagree with or have questions about these changes, please voice your questions/concerns to the current producers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOIN US ON FACEBOOK .
RSVP to this event https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=154348077984682. It will be updated to take place at the same time as each monthly Rivers of Honey until the policy of trans inclusion is reinstated. Updates about actions related to trans inclusion at Rivers will also be sent to folks who RSVP to the event.
Rivers of Honey Community