Letters to the Editor: Oct 3 - 10 | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Letters to the Editor: Oct 3 - 10

CP owes apology for "one-sided, inaccurate" story

Re "Gender Gap" [Sept. 27]: I have been a sponsor for Celebrate the Night [CTN] for the past six years, and have done so as an active member of the lesbian/women's community in Pittsburgh. While I did not participate in the e-mails between CTN and Jessi Seams, I discussed them extensively with members of the CTN board. I also reviewed Seams' Web site pages on Sept. 16 and Sept 19. Both times, Jessi is described as a straight man who likes to cross-dress from time to time. I also reviewed the video clip of Jessi's performance to the Barenaked Ladies song "Alcohol." CTN is a non-smoking, alcohol-free event. (This is in response to the significant lack of events supportive of our recovering community.) Therefore, the act was not appropriate for CTN. 

Finally, it is very important to note that at no time was Jessi Seams "banned from an all-woman variety show" as your headline states. She was turned down as a performer.

It is this blatant, sensational tabloid language that I am most concerned with. The GLBT community is already splintered, and this kind of back-biting misrepresentation just further divides us.

The discussion of the social construction of gender is a good one to have, but it is wrong to place it on the platform of CTN. At worst, CTN excluded someone they perceived as a cross-dressing man from the performance list of a women's variety show (not from the event itself).

Furthermore, the consequences are deadly. United we stand, divided we fall. The more we attack one another, the more we jeopardize our ability to promote change within the community at large. The repeated disregard for fact is unforgivable and irreversible. For example, I have never seen a trans-janitor at any Celebrate the Night event and it was irresponsible to print such a thing. This kind of slanderous attack puts the only women-centered, non-smoking, non-alcoholic event in the city at risk. How does that benefit any of us?

The social construction of gender is a fundamental thing. This makes the request for a week-to-week (or as some have suggested, minute-by-minute) gender identity particularly worrisome. I have a hard time embracing the femaleness of someone who is so flippant about this identity. 

I can understand that gender transition is a process, but it seems that Jessi is a woman only when that comes without cost. Gender has significant, political, social and economic meanings. Being both white and male are privileged classes in our societal structure: Recently, a news program reported that women earn 77 cents on the male dollar. That is horrible and unfair, but it is a part of womanhood in American society that doesn't seem to work for Jessi, who retains a male identity at work. 

In light of this, why is it so wrong for an organization who seeks women performers to question that choice? Why is it wrong to say, "In light of your choices to retain your male identity, we ask that you respect our desire for a women-only event"? Why should anyone embrace Jessi as a woman exclusively, when she has clearly stated that s/he has no plans to relinquish her maleness and be a woman exclusively? 

Jessi's life path is not mine to plot. It is not my place to script her gender definition. However, s/he has chosen to slander the community that I hold dear in attempt to elevate her own position and that is inexcusable. I think that Jessi and City Paper owe the CTN board and the women's community an apology. 

-- An Lewis, Harmony

As a financial supporter of the Celebrate the Night event for the past six years, I wanted to "set the record straight" on the facts related to Jessi Seams not being chosen as a performer. This event is and has always been a women's event showcasing the talent from the GLBT community. The event benefits the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, which also is an advocate for the GLBT community.

As the former board member and vice chair of the GLCC, I know firsthand of the commitment to serve our entire community. I would not support an event that showed any bias or prejudice toward the GLBT community. The allegations made by Jessi Seams that the CTN is anti-transgender are fabricated to gain publicity and not based upon fact.

If you had reviewed the CTN Web site, you would see that this event is a "celebration of women," that it is "LGBT friendly" and that it is a 100-percent volunteer-administered event. I also reviewed all the "performances" of Jessi's site, which demonstrated talent that I felt was not up to the standards of past CTN events.

I am appalled that so little journalistic integrity existed in a paper that I have read for 15 years and considered as one that supported the GLBT community. To see an article filled with a one-sided, inaccurate account has convinced me that this paper is now looking a lot like the National Enquirer.

CTN has always had transgendered representation on the board, has had previous transgendered performers and welcomed people from all walks of life as volunteers and in the audience. I have attended every event as a sponsor and have never seen any sign of bias. The CTN staff has decided not to continue this event in the future. The women of the GLBT community have you to thank. Shame on your and your staff!

-- Kathleen Helms, Ambridge

Editor's Note: City Paper repeatedly reviewed Jessi Seams' profiles on MySpace and URNotAlone in the weeks before publication. On each occasion, Seams' profile identified her as a woman. CTN declined requests for comment on this story, but in an April 22 email to Seams -- quoted in the story -- the organization asserted, "While we do have transgendered people involved in our event, you would be the first one to be a performer." The story noted CTN's stated concerns about alcohol, and Seams' pledge not to incorporate alcohol in her performance.


Our Sept. 19 Fall Arts Preview misstated the cost of the Oct. 27 "Down Under Day" at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum. The event is free with admission.

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