The real ‘woke up’ call: Good Times does not get a pass after publishing a transphobic anonymous letter

Xinistra, aka Jorge Guillen (left), and Rogue Roulette, aka Zak Keith, at Santa Cruz Pride festivities.
(Via Jorge Guillen)

Xinistra and Rogue Roulette, two drag artists who participated in “Drag Story Time” in Watsonville last month, pen an open letter airing their anger and hurt over the anonymous homophobic and transphobic letter Good Times published about their event. That letter prompted both an apology from Good Times and a change in the publication’s leadership. They feel the weekly’s apology was inadequate and doesn’t address its systemic failure. “Merely apologizing and moving on is not enough,” they write. “Not in the current national climate. You don’t get to sweep this under the rug.” They also address the letter writer, local businesses, their fellow drag artists and queer community and you, the public.

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We are the two drag artists who participated in “Drag Story Time” at the Raices y Cariño family center on Sunday, May 21. We are writing this open letter in response to the “Letter to the Editor: Woke Up Call” Good Times published on May 17.

The letter was anonymous and the Good Times published it just a few days before our show. The letter was filled with misinformation, fear-mongering and hate speech that specifically targeted queer, nonbinary and trans folks.

The letter’s three short, unsigned paragraphs made us, the organizers and the families attending the event vulnerable and targets of potential violence. The magazine inexplicably included both the address and a picture of the Raices y Cariño family center and its families. This is a family center that has been a beacon of support to many families in Watsonville and Pajaro, a community of color.

The organizers of a drag story time event in Watsonville say they are disappointed that a local newspaper published a...

We spoke out about the anonymous letter and, to its credit, Good Times responded with an apology posted on Instagram, on its website and in print for the hateful content it published.

We appreciate it, but we are still not satisfied.

Our country is in a terrible place right now, with the lives and lifestyles of queer, nonbinary and trans folks being limited, regulated and imperiled across the county. In California, in Santa Cruz County, our beloved home, we should at least be able to feel safe, a beacon of hope for others.

It’s appalling that we can no longer feel this way.

Here is our extended “letter” in response to Good Times’ apology.

To Good Times:

We appreciate your apology, but we also want you to know it is not only meaningless, but performative.

You write: “In no way does this letter reflect the opinion of Good Times.”

However, you don’t explain why you consciously printed an anonymous letter that openly gave a platform to hate, lies and vitriol targeting queer, nonbinary and trans folks. Where is the accountability for the author? Who read and approved it?

Publishing that kind of letter gives legitimacy to such ugly rhetoric.

It is reckless and irresponsible. How can our community trust you when there was no fact-checking? No questioning of who gets visibility. No policy not to publish anonymous letters.

You do not get to write an apology and wash your hands of accountability and liability. Had any harm come to us, any of the organizers or families, you would be answering for that.

We want you to know that people did show up to protest the event, and while protesting is a right, what the “protestors” were doing was more fearmongering and using hate speech to vilify and intimidate us and those attending the event.

They not only used hurtful language to demean the queer community (one of their signs called queer folks “groomers”), but they also made the event feel unsafe.

Those who showed up in protest mirrored the language used in the anonymous letter you published. That is not a coincidence.

Reducing the queer community to “insecure and mentally ill adults” is not only insulting but reckless when tying it to “the destruction of the innocence of childhood.”

Rogue Roulette (left) and Xinistra (right) at the May 21 "Drag Story Time" event.
(Via Kat Armstrong)

In your short apology, you say the letter does not reflect the opinion of Good Times. You also say you “have taken steps to ensure that future editions are more carefully reviewed.” You don’t say how. You don’t say what went wrong with your process and why this letter got published.

We — the public and those affected — are owed that explanation.

Your May 23 apology is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. Statistically and anecdotally, we know corrections never have the same reach as the original story.

When we asked for transparent and community conversation, you declined. When we agreed to talk about the harm you caused and give you the opportunity to share your experience and we could heal together, you declined. That’s one reason we’re writing this open letter. You have changed editors, but what will that now bring?

Merely apologizing and moving on is not enough. Not in the current national climate. You don’t get to sweep this under the rug. Our community is facing an alarming rise of violence — not only through discriminatory legislation (the American Civil Liberties Union is currently tracking 491 anti-LGBTQI2S+ bills) but through rhetoric and violent acts.

We need to feel safe here and everywhere else. We won’t simply give you a “pass” on this.

To the anonymous author:

Your comments, your ill-informed beliefs and your ignorance are harmful.

We implore you to learn more about the LGBTQI2S+ community and educate yourself. Ask questions and listen. If you can’t do any of that, then keep your hate to yourself.

But don’t let your ignorance fuel more harm to others for your own false sense of moral high ground.

Do better.

We hope you understand the irony that in hiding behind anonymity for safety purposes you jeopardized the safety of others.

Be better.

To local businesses:

We know many of you have opened your doors to us and worked with us to make more community spaces feel safe and inclusive for all.

We also implore you to consider how neutrality on issues like this deeply affects the LGBTQI2S+ community in a way that undermines the integrity of all the work we have collectively done.

Xinistra at this year's Dyke Trans March.
(Via Jorge Guillen)

Your voices, especially as allies, are crucial to maintaining the progress our communities have seen. A public stance against any vitriol directed at queer, trans, and nonbinary people is as important as the collaborative events we put together to further enrich our communities.

Inclusion and allyship means taking a stand with us during moments like this.

It means being willing to be uncomfortable and empathizing with us. It means reassuring us that you have our backs. This is an invitation to think critically about this issue as a business and the significance of allyship. The discomfort that can emerge in thinking about what role you play in this discourse is but a glimpse of the daily discomfort LGBTQI2S+ experience while homophobia and transphobia continue to have space in our community. We love and appreciate you.

Beloved queer community, especially our trans and nonbinary friends:

We are strong and, most importantly, we are here for each other.

Fortunately, “Drag Story Time” was a success. Our community rallied and showed up to ensure the safety of everyone attending. Thank you.

Rogue Roulette.
(Via Zak Keith)

Thank you for helping facilitate and create a meaningful and impactful event for our community and allowing us to spread joy and connection. The event was not only fun, but it was interactive and both the kiddos and their parents all had a positive experience. Above all else, the kids had a blast and were celebrated.

As kids, being able to see ourselves in thriving adults is essential. It’s something we wish we had growing up.

We got to be those adults during “Drag Story Time” and had fun doing so.

Parents and their kids got to see us put on our makeup and transform into Rogue Roulette and Xinistra. And they got to ask us questions — not only about drag but also about what being queer means.

The folks who showed up as the “Rainbow Defense Coalition,” a loose organization of members who offer protection, are folks we frequently see at other queer events. They are a new group organizing in helping to create a sense of security at events like “Drag Story Time” and create volunteer signup sheets online for events. And while it is wild that we even have to consider having “security,” we recognize why we need it and are grateful to them.

Too often, we have seen violence on queer bodies.

The books we read are about inclusion, acceptance, love and understanding. Books are a powerful tool in helping us to communicate and express ourselves, especially as kids.

We did not grow up with much of any queer representation in books and media, and thus at a young age, how could we articulate what we felt when we didn’t know what it meant or what those feelings were?

We are so honored to have been able to be part of something like this and don’t take for granted how important this is. We also don’t take for granted how fortunate we are to be able to co-create safe spaces with y’all.

And to all our fellow drag artists, burlesque dancers and performers of all creeds, thank you for continuing to be an inspiration in our community. We look forward to continuing to show up where needed and support our beloved community.

We offer you love.

Xinistra, aka Jorge Guillen, is an immigrant from Mexico and a lifetime Watsonville resident, as well as an active board member of the Pajaro Valley Pride nonprofit organization. Jorge is an alumnus of UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor’s degree in literature, as well as an activist within the LGBTQI2S+ community and a drag artist/performer. During the day, Jorge helps in providing support services to neurodiverse folks, and off the clock transforms into Xinistra or is involved in activism with other local organizations.

Rogue Roulette, aka Zak Keith, is a nonbinary graduate student at UCSC pursuing a doctorate in developmental psychology studying queer youth identity development and family relationships. Their research ties deeply into their community activism and their drag artistry. They are part of several community organizations that serve our queer youth through education, support and entertainment. Their drag name is based around pushing on the norms of society about what gender art should be, who has access to it and what it means.

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