LOCAL News :: Gender and Sexuality : Protests and Vigils

Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

A guerrilla performance troupe descended upon Venus Envy in the St. Louis Center on 4-15-2006 to highlight the event organizers' lack of a fair transgender policy. The performers staged a tongue-in-cheek freak/fashion show, complete with barker wearing top-hat and tails, highlighting the gender ambiguity of each “freak.”
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The troupe encouraged spectators to guess which freak would or would not be welcome in Venus Envy, pointing out that, for example, a man who has undergone complete transgender surgery to become a woman could participate, but a woman who has not undergone any surgery and identifies as transgender could not. The stated mission of the Venus Envy organizers is to create a female-driven arts event, empowering women who otherwise would find little exposure in the largely patriarchal arts industry. However, as explained by the guerrilla performers, this policy becomes murky, arbitrary, and inconsistent when inter-gendered artists seek to participate in Venus Envy. Although the performers agree with the core mission of Venus Envy, and indeed some of the performers themselves had art hanging in the galleries, they contend that the event's lack of a fair transgender policy ends up excluding an even smaller minority of artists from exposure.

The performers repeated their inter-gender freak show several times throughout the mall, and they were ultimately escorted out of the building by private security guards. By that time, however, the troupe had deposited fliers throughout the mall explaining their protest and providing contact information for Mallerie Zimmer, the Venus Envy executive director.

Excerpted from Venus Envy's policy (emphasis added):

Article I. Transgender Policy.

Section I. Visual artist must have the anatomy of a woman (a vagina, not uterus) and live life as a woman to qualify for exhibitions.

Section II. Performing artists must have a minimum of one woman, as defined by Article I, Section I, driving the performance.

People who can perform, according to this policy:

Female-bodied Women

Post-op Transwomen: male-to-female transsexuals who have had surgery to create female genitalia.

Intersex: people who were born with ambiguous genitalia.

People who can't peform:

Transmen: female-male transsexuals.

Transgender/Genderqueer: words used to describe people who identify outside of the culturally-imposed gender binary, and identify as neither man or woman.

Pre-op Transwomen: male-to-female transsexuals who have not had surgery to create a vagina. In particular, many transwoman feel they were born and have lived their whole lives as women, and many can not afford surgery.

Organizations that support all transgendered artists:

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as a performer

Venus Envy threw us out!

Ladies and Gentlemen Penises and vaginas! Step right up, and take a look at the offenders of gender, the deviants of dichotomy the freaks, the fairies, the queers theyre all here!

With these lines, I opened our guerilla theater version of a gender freaks sideshow last night at Venus Envy. Our splendid troupe of seven was able to perform the 10-minute skit four times at four different locations in the Venus Envy venue before being kicked out by the Venus Envy organizers. Venus Envy is an art show that claims its primary core value is to explore and diversify the definitions of womanhood.

Our goal in preparing our protest performance was to raise awareness on Venus Envys official trans policy. The policy states that to exhibit/perform at Venus Envy your art must be driven by a woman and, to be a women, you must both 1) have a vagina (uterus optional) and 2) live life as a woman. The first part of this policy obviously excludes transwomen who have not had surgery. Often the reason these women have not had sexual reassignment surgery is because they do not have the health insurance and/or money to pay for the surgery. Surgery or no surgery is often an issue of economic class, not gender identity. The second part of the policy is even more ambiguous and thus has the potential to be exclusionary. What does it mean to live as a woman? For anyone who is questioning gender binary and creating an identity that transcends and either/or definition, this policy is problematic. Taking this policy to its logical conclusion, one could reasonable ask, Are butch lesbians, tomboys, or genetic females with androgynous gender presentation living as women?

Our troupe included an artist who identifies as trans and was denied the opportunity of performing at Venus Envy. The skit we created presented five gender freaks ( a pre-op transwoman, a post-op transwoman, an intersex adult, and a gender queer) as if they were part of a circus sideshow. We wanted to reflect back to Venus Envy how they are treating trans folks as outsiders as freaks. I played the role of the sideshow Barker, enticing people to come in and see the freaks. Using verse written by members of the troupe, I described each freak as the actor pantomimed the description. Heres an example, describing the pre-op transwoman:

"Our first gender offender is Yolanda! Clad in the garments counter to her birth sex, Yolanda has lavishly and horrifyingly asserted her gender to be that of a woman, while her genitalia remains a phallus, an outright penetrating device to enter the very being that Yolanda presents herself to be. This demonic dichotomy I counter to all that is natural, normal, natal, and nice."

After all five characters were introduced, I asked the audience which of the five would be able to have art displayed at Venus Envy. Only the post-op transwoman (who had the wealth to purchase sexual reassignment surgery) would actually be allowed to submit art for Venus Envy. We end by asking the question:

What makes a woman?
Some might say that these characters are not women,
But patriarchy clearly says they are not men.

Besides our theater piece, some members of the troupe put together a flyer (see below) to give to audience members at Venus Envy. Over the course of our four shows, we distributed almost 1000 flyers. After doing the first show in an unoccupied performance space in the open part of the venue, we realized that we needed to be inside one of the gallery rooms to be heard and completely understood without amplification. So we would go into the large gallery rooms and ask the artists if we could perform there. Many of these artists knew someone in the troupe, and they were eager for us to perform. Even artists we didnt know were very receptive. In the final (and largest) room, the group that was schedule to perform next were so supportive that they told us to do our skit first, and then they would start there performance when we were done. This was one of the main performance spaces, and a number of Venus Envy board members and organizers were in the room. To their credit, they did not attempt to interrupt our performance. However, once we were done, we were told You can protest, but not in here before we were escorted out of the building by event security.

The irony, of course, is that our protest piece ends with the chat, Where do we go? We dont fit in. Venus Envy let us in. And, Venus Envys response was to throw us out.

My role was primarily as an actor; other members of the troupe wrote the script and the flyer. It was a wonderful consensus process that I felt privileged to be part of.

Re: as a performer

I just wanted to add to Steve's comment that the fifth "freak" was a trans male on hormones (testosterone) and with "top" (mastectomy) surgery, but still posessing female genitalia. Though this "freak" has a vagina, he cannot perform/participate in Venus Envy because he doesn't not live his life as a "woman."

Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

I have a question about the protest...

After your applications were rejected what action did you take? did you go directly to protest after application rejection? Did you plan a sit-down meeting to discuss your issues with venus envy workers? Did Venus Envy let you in to protest until their planned event started? And why were you boycotting venus envy, a guerilla group in and of themselves, when the real issue you have is the perception main stream America has of your lives? You should work closely with venus envy to bolster community. Not further separate yourselves from a group that, if dealt with responsibly, could increase understanding of your cause as well.

There are many gender displays that are appropriate at an event like venus envy. There is a place for trans-gendered individuals. I hope the transgendered community can work out their differences with venus envy.

Re: Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

There was an attempt by the artists who were rejected to be in dialogue with the Venus Envy organizers. Venus Envy did not "let us in" - we crashed Venus Envy and repeated our street theater until we were thrown out. We were NOT boycotting Venus Envy. Some of us performed at Venus Envy on other nights, some of us had art displayed at Venus Envy, and some of us attending Venus Envy. There was NO attempt to organize any sort of boycott. As I said in my comments, I love Venus Envy and have supported it on many levels in the past.

We are happy to work with Venus Envy, but Venus Envy does not seem to want to work with us. I think your comments are reversed. I also hope for unity, but it is Venus Envy that has to work out the problem, not the trans-community and their supporters.

Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy


Re: Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

White supremacist creeps like Volksfront seem more the freaks to me.

Re: Re: Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

Thanks for the plug.

Re: Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

this day in history - may 1st - 1945 - goebbels commits suicide in the bunker & takes his wife & six kids w/ him - one day after hitler offs himself - on the afternoon of april 30th, 1945

earlier that march - march 19 - hitler turns against his beloved, master race volk, issuing his nero decree - scorched earth policy - as the german troops retreated in their defeat in the ruhr

on march 18 - the day prior - hitler says that it is no longer necessary "to show any regard for the basic necessities that the German Volk will need to continue existing in its most primitive form. On the contrary, it is better to destroy even these things. For the Volk has shown itself to be the weaker one, and the future belongs exclusively to the stronger eastern Volk. What is left after this war are, in any case, only the inferior people, for the good ones have been killed in action."

heh, what did you expect from pathologic totalitarians? diversity?

Re: Transgender guerrilla performers crash Venus Envy

This day in history.Although accounts of an aquatic beast living in Scotland's Loch Ness date back 1,500 years, the modern legend of the Loch Ness Monster is born when a sighting makes local news on May 2, 1933. The newspaper Inverness Courier related an account of a local couple who claimed to have seen "an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface." The story of the "monster" (a moniker chosen by the Courier editor) became a media phenomenon, with London newspapers sending correspondents to Scotland and a circus offering a 20,000 pound sterling reward for capture of the beast.

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An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.
-- Mark Twain
Source: "Glances at History" (suppressed)

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