On Christmas Day the New York Times has published a not very flattering review of artist Justin Vivian Bond‘s new winter show “Snow Angel” by music critic Stephen Holden. The article, which consistently emphasizes the “freakishness”, “harshness” and “troubledness” of the Justin’s show and her personality, reveals more about the author’s obvious problems with a self-confident transgendered person on stage than about the actual event. It feels strangely disconnected, like it’s written by someone who’s horizon of experience with stage shows of any kind is stuck in the Sixties or Seventies. Someone who seems to think that “transgendered” is just a modern word for “drag”.
Justin has responded to the review on Wednesday by with a statement on her website, headlined “Have I Been ‘Hate Crime’ed by the New York Times?”. Her response highlights the review’s transphobic language and reveals Holden’s hidden agenda by showing in how many ways his words and phrases are not actually referring to what happened on stage, but to Justin as a (“freakish”, aggressive, troubled) transgendered person. This strong response written by someone who is clearly offended and hurt stands on its own and needs no further commentary or explaination.
Yesterday something strange happened: Artist AA Bronson, who’s work I’ve always admired and who I would have assumed to be the first to defend Justin’s position called her reaction “a tempest in a teapot” and a “cheap self-promotion” on Twitter. What followed was a battle of words between the two artists, in which Bronson accused Justin of having “offened an ‘ally'” (Stephen Holden), while she emphasizes that his response was typical for a “gay man of (his) generation”, who “presumes to be a trans ally”.
I don’t understand Bronson’s reaction. Maybe there are achievements of Mr. Holden that only he (or from his perspective not enough people) know about and he feels like he should defend him. What I could find out by googling both names is that Holden has written a good review of AA Bronson’s book “Negative Thoughts” for The Advocate when the publication came out in 2003. Maybe they’re friends. Or at least longtime-“allies”. Nevertheless, attacking a victim of transphobia after the person spoke out can’t be the right response – especially when the act of discrimination can be pinned down as easily as in Holden’s article. As someone who thinks AA Bronson is a great artist I hope he will make up his mind and at least explain what makes Holden the “ally” he thinks he is. And what “ally” means in this context anyway.