If you’ve ever doubted the power of a united community, you apparently have not met the transgender and gender non-conforming family and their allies in St. Louis, Missouri. No strangers to adversity, they took to social media yesterday to voice their concerns when new details about an upcoming scheduled fashion show were released.
Promoter and photographer Chuck J. Pfoutz of Chuck Pfoutz Presents had contacted Metro Trans Umbrella Group (MTUG) in October 2019 asking them to collaborate on his plan to stage a high-end fashion show. While initially interested in joining forces, MTUG stepped away from the project in November citing lack of capacity at that time within their organization to devote resources to the production. Their Executive Director had been injured and MTUG needed to care for their own organizational needs.
Pfoutz persisted planning and casting for the event. A cast of approximately 50 models were locked in for the show scheduled for March 14 at Mad Art Gallery in St. Louis City. Few specifics of the event were publicly released. Pfoutz explained to me that he always keeps the theme details secret to “protect the surprises.” Surprised they were. In fact, many in the cast had also been left in the dark until details started surfacing via social media.
I contacted Pfoutz this morning about the community concerns and he was eager to explain the event by sending me the same copy that had been released to the general public via a Facebook event page. The show titled: The Maximum Exposure Fashion Series Presents “Beyond the Binary” was to be an historical event featuring Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Non-Binary runway models of all gender identity, expression, size, ability, race, and age. Open to the public, the theme of the show was Transgender Murder Mystery.
Based on true events the show was designed to highlight the hate crimes in the transgender community. The text that Pfoutz sent out to certain individuals also thanked everyone for protecting the theme and respecting his vision.
In my text conversation with Pfoutz he contradicted his text regarding the theme by telling me that theme was the vision of the models in the show. If any models were involved in developing the theme, he certainly did not solicit ideas from all involved as I was in contact with some of his cast who had no idea that a trans murder theme was the direction of the show.
The trans women of color who were planning to model in the show were quite concerned with the nature of the show’s content and found it in poor taste that anyone could believe it a good idea to form a show around the death of a trans person, let alone cast trans women of color to deliver the message. This was of great unease to members of the community who took their discussion to social media last night.
Messages sent to the author by anonymous sources close to the situation describing the transphobic behavior they experienced with Chuck Pfoutz.
Also troubling was the assertion that Pfoutz had previously presented himself as transphobic by misgendering persons identifying as transmasculine and knowingly refusing to use their pronouns. There had been underlying concerns from the onset about Pfoutz’ intentions in mounting a trans-centered show. This behavior was publicly known by local transgender performers in the St. Louis drag community and became part of the online noise again as conversations continued regarding the upcoming March event. All who shared their stories with me asked to remain nameless as they wish to continue working as performers in the community and feared retaliation from Pfoutz.
I asked Pfoutz why he had chosen a trans theme. After a number of attempts to avoid answering my question by sending me links to other fashion shows and past event successes he’d produced, he finally shared that in 2016 he lost a personal friend – a trans woman who was shot by her boyfriend. He did not disclose her name but said she was well known. If this was the catalyst driving his desire to build this production, how does his claim of respecting the visions of the models fit into the script?
When I questioned the insensitivity on his part in choosing trans violence as an entertainment piece and especially not sharing the vision with the entire cast, Pfoutz stood by the decision and stuck to his previous position stating he was respecting the ideas of the models. I also suggested that trans stories should be told by trans people. Pfoutz saw nothing wrong with continuing with the theme even after the model he stated in one text to me had dropped out due to the backlash.
Public outcry was also responsible for some backpedaling last night when Pfoutz changed the event page to add that proceeds from ticket sales would be divided between a number of local trans advocacy groups. MTUG was included in the list of recipients, although they were prepared to decline the donation out of their concerns.
A testament to the power of community voice was the decision this afternoon from Mad Art Gallery to drop the event from their calendar. Mad Art Gallery is a long-time ally and friend of MTUG and the St. Louis transgender community and could not in good faith allow the show to take place in their facility.
After receiving the news, Pfoutz took to social media to make a false claim that he had canceled the event out of respect for the community. We’ll add this to the growing laundry list of disconnects between what Pfoutz asserts to have occurred and what those close to the event know as factual.
The St. Louis trans community would like to thank Mad Art Gallery for their ongoing support and friendship. MTUG will once again be holding their annual art show and fund raiser Transcending the Spectrum 7 at Mad Art Gallery on May 2 and asks all allies to join them for an evening of art, community, and no hate.
Mad Art Gallery is an award-winning event space located at 2727 S. 12th Street in St. Louis.
To learn more about Metro Trans Umbrella Group visit them on the web.
Visit Mad Art Gallery for facility information on event booking.