Queertoday contributor Mark Snyder‘s Pride 2009 weekend started out kind of rough. And racist! Maybe. After watching a set by New York based performer Wendy Ho, at Polk Street mainstay The Cinch, he penned this entry:

Tonight at the Cinch in San Francisco, a bar known to be very queer and politically left, she performed for a crowd that was divided among those who laughed and cheered, and those who booed and were disgusted. I bet if she had black-face on instead of her blond afro people might have thought twice.

When the Appeal contacted Snyder for more details, he responded (in part):

When Wendy Ho began her performance everyone cheered. Within seconds though, people realized this was not a drag queen but a girl in a blond afro wig. Her first statement, I’m Wendy Ho, I’m Asian, no… I’m black,” garnered cheers and laughs from many, and groans from others.

Throughout Wendy’s performance she spoke and rapped and sang songs about being “ghetto,” and spoke in a way that exaggerated stereotypes of black people. I was in a group of 9 people. We were all disgusted by her blatantly racist performance, as were many of the people around us.

We were all very sad to see that a place like The Cinch, known for it’s radical queer clientele would invite and applaud such a performer.

So there you have it: The Cinch: haven for white supremacists! And there’s more: Anna Conda, the organizer of the Cinch’s weekly Charlie Horse Friday event, had this to say about the evening in a FaceBook message to some fans:

Hope everyone has recovered from Pride! (Or Gay Freedom Day) I had a blast! Except for hiring a certain chanteuse at our Friday Night celebration who was exploitative of myself, the gay community, Asian Culture and Black culture. I am very sorry that so many of you were as offended by her as I was and I have learned a big lesson. NO MORE Wendy Ho at our club. It was a black mark on an otherwise fantastic night! However since we do not censor I guess that’s what you get stuck with when we just say “Yes” without research. Sorry.

Okay, then. It’s definite. Wendy Ho is a racist against black people and also white people and also Asians. Her stance on Latvians and Choctaw Indians is unclear. How can this monster possibly defend herself? The Appeal reached out to Wendy Ho for comment, and received the following from John Kalinowski, Ho’s publicist:

I actually attended that show, and judging from the peels of laughter, raucous applause, and the huge crowd hugging the stage throughout the entire performance, the show seemed to have gone very well. But of course, as with any larger-than-life artform, there will always be dissenters.

Got it. So, let us assume that the crowd at the Cinch were all racists, too. John also provided this statement from Ho, herself:

Wendy Ho is a character that celebrates over-the-top femininity and is by no means meant to offend, but rather to unite communities by blurring the lines of culture and sexuality. She is the product of a midwestern white girl, Wendy Jo Smith, who grew up listening to gangsta rap where the words “bitch” and “ho” were common terms for women.

Wendy Jo was told repeatedly that she had a “big black booty,” and, in her predominantly “white” choir class, was asked not to sing so “soulfully.” With a tongue in her cheek, Wendy humorously calls herself a “Ho,” thereby taking the power out of the word as an act of feminism, not an act racism.

And when Wendy takes the stage, she is saying that it’s ok to be a loud white woman who is not simply confined to the “skinny,” “quiet,” “pretty,” “submissive” stereotypes that still plague white women today.

It should also be noted that Wendy Ho plays primarily to gay crowds who generally applaud her work because they seem to understand what it feels like to be judged and condemned for a part of who they are. Wendy Ho is the mouthpiece for Wendy Jo Smith to dismantle these stereotypes through the power of music and comedy, where the joke is always on “da Ho.”

So, the question that I have for these concerned audience members is, “Who is stereotyping who?”‘

Oh. So, wait. We are the ones who were racists all along? Shit.

The best part of Ho’s (very reasonable, to us, but one of your correspondents is also a loud non-skinny formerly Midwestern white woman, so: biased) statement is that it saved us the time of trying to encapsulate her ethos for you. So, instead, we’ll just give you this: her YouTube channel, her site, and he alter-ego, Wendy Jo Smith’s site. Now you know everything.

Dear readers, we’d love to hear your perspective on Ho and her reception in SF. Did Wendy Ho, perhaps, poke a hole in San Francisco’s self-satisfied bubble? Or was she just talking offensive trash wrapped in some art school fancy talk? Is Ho friend or foe? Were you at the show? Please, give us the scoop in our comments.

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  • Brock Keeling

    They done much worse (or better) at the Cinch. If you go there expecting FABULOUS Frank Chu nods, odes to bacon, and feather boas, you’re in the wrong place.

    Good for you, Wendy.

  • Heklina

    Well, having run Trannyshack for over twelve years, I have definitely been on the receiving end of this kind of controversy….it’s funny how the people who would perform the controversial numbers would then go on with their lives and I (and in this case Anna Conda) would be left behind to clean up the mess.

    Let’s face it, this (San Francisco) is a town that loves to be up in arms about one issue or another, I really feel sometimes as though people will go out of their way to be offended by something. The political correctness can be insufferable at times, and I am always wanting to challenge this notion of “You can’t say that” or “You can’t do that”. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, people have to look at the intent behind a performance and not just look at something in purely black & white terms.

    Having said that, I did not see the performance in question, but I wondering if the people offended are also offended by South Park? The countless stand up comedians whose entire repertoire is made up of racial stereotypes? If you really want to be, you can be offended by countless things being thrown at you in pop culture (just today I had an exchange with someone on Facebook who considered the new Ben & Jerry’s slogan “San Francisco Deserves a Better Treat Than Rice” to be racist). I would tell people to lighten up, but I am sure someone out there would tell me that is racist.

    Ultimately, I think it is important, if San Francisco wants any kind of cabaret culture, that we not censor people. While I do not often see eye to eye with Anna Conda, I absolutely abhor the idea of censorship…allowing performers a free reign is what creates sparks of brilliance, and if you try to dictate what people should and should not be doing on stage then you only have the kind of drag show that Trannyshack and Chrlie Horse rebel against. That would really be offensive!

  • marksnyder

    Hi Heklina – I’m Mark. Thanks for TrannyShack – love it. I love south park. I love Sarah Silverman. I love Margaret Cho. I love raunchy, loud, challenging, in your face politics and performance.

    I love when people can poke fun at culture, stereotypes, even race – in a smart way.

    Wendy’s response to her criticism is great, I agree with the sentiments, and I applaud it. Even over at QueerToday we have people discussing if I was right to condemn her. I think this discussion about humor is valuable if we can do it in a respectful way.

    Unfortunately, Wendy’s performance failed miserably at portraying what she is saying she is attempting to do. It really did come across dumb and racist. Her intent may be good, but she should think about how her performances look.

    The authors of this article failed to mention that Wendy Ho performed with Shirly Q. Liquor – a blackface drag queen – recently at Riverspace during a night themed “Hurricane, level 5.”

    I don’t think I’m not being overly politically correct in condemning a performance that came across to many as being racist, and in condemning anyone who would perform with blackface performer Shirly Q. Liquor. If you disagree from a queer anti-racist point of view, that’s cool glad to have started the debate.

  • Brock Keeling

    Sarah SIlverman, who is funny and enjoyable, is racist. There’s zero satire in her comedy.

    Also, I feel the need to point out that the writers didn’t fail to mention Shirly Q; it’s just not a relevant point. The piece is not “can wendy ho be tagged as a racist because of with whom she has been known to perform?” That doesn’t make sense. And is frightening. Slamming anybody (especially a tranny) over their performance partner is treading on dangerous territory.

  • marksnyder

    It’s not only about who she performs with it’s about the nature of that event, the theme. It provides important context. Also I would not assume Wendy is trans.

  • marksnyder

    It’s not only about who she performs with it’s about the nature of that event, the theme. It provides important context. Also I would not assume Wendy is trans.

  • Eve Batey

    Speaking as the “fail”ing reporter, I believe Brock has hit it on the head. This article was about the event at the Cinch, not about the “known associates” of that or any other performer.

    We recognize that Ms. Liquor is a controversial figure, but we’re also aware (as we’re sure you are) that there are many, many other local and nationally-based performers who have partnered with or otherwise advocated Ms. Liquor. It is difficult to journalistically demonstrate that associating with Ms. Liquor “provides important context” for this story.

    If you can do otherwise, I encourage you to do so on your blog.

  • womenbodyandsoul.com

    interesting. as a black woman, i find wendy ho’s act a mash-up satire of race and womanhood. anti-racist it’s not. offensive- absolutely; it’s bound to offend or anger many. what i found intriguing about her act is how she has taken on these exhausting, tired, male-controlled spaces- 1) the narrow lane in which straight, attractive (by mainstream standards) black women of child bearing age are allowed to occupy in popular culture imagery (ho: either video ho or ghetto ho); and 2) the narrow space for seemingly straight, sensual, voluptuous white women who don’t fit the “nice skinny white girl” lane: they get cast as trash or “wiggers”–those “big booty white girls who get with brothas”. she takes this on, dismantles it, and reconstructs it as drag–which is exactly what it is in the first place, AND creates a satirical musical narrative sound track, which is a big middle finger and a laugh to it all. There is no way a white person is going to tread into this territory without offending. Her appearing with Shirley Q. is actually relevant context. It’s a statement about her sensibility and sensitivity. If a performer finds out an anti-gay performer is on the bill with them, and they agree to perform that night or in that venue, it’s info that gives you context.

    A white minstrel in black-face female drag performer who does an anti-black woman act is certainly a racist, hostile performer. It’s interesting how acts like Shirley Q. are based on and perpetuate the dehumanization of poor women, in specific, poor black women. Whiteness is never put under the lens for ridicule in this way.

  • HKCoz

    Hypersensitive? YES! I am not surprised that people are getting all up in arms about Wendy Ho and her Cabaret Show. People just love to be offended by things. I think Wendy Jo is an amazing and talented performer. She is brilliant and hilarious. As someone who knows her personally she is definitely not a racist, she is open-minded and non-judgmental. Her show is not anti-black woman. She loves blacks, Asians, gays, Jews… and they love her, except for the occasional person who does not have a sense of humor and is looking for something to be offended about. Now don’t get me wrong, as a true fan of Wendy Ho my jaw has dropped at some of the things that come out of her mouth. But what she speaks of is coming from a very honest place and she calls it like she sees it. Come on San Francisco! I thought you were more progressive than this. Calling someone a racist is a huge accusation. Do you call your Governor a murderer because he has killed hundreds of people in his movies?