Why I Won’t Be Hosting David Rovics

This is a guest post by Jen O’Leary- although, as you can see below, it’s cosigned by me and several others. Jen had been planning to host David Rovics for an upcoming gig in Dublin this month. Here is her explanation for why she no longer feels able to do so.

If you’d like to cosign, let me know in the comments or via my Twitter or Facebook and I’ll add your name. And I strongly encourage people to share this one- I feel it’s important that a strong message be sent to Rovics about showing respect for trans people’s identities and dignity. On to Jen:

Why I won’t be hosting David Rovics.

On the 17th December, David Rovics’ Facebook pages posted an automated status marking Chelsea Manning’s birthday. However, the post referred to Chelsea Manning by her old name which she has explicitly asked not to be referred by. Not only did David Rovics refuse to edit his scheduled post to reflect Chelsea’s stated wishes, but he proceeded to insist that the text of the post was a “statement of fact” and published the following comment: “Was Chelsea Manning born that day? No”.

David says he does not see how his words are disrespecting to Chelsea’s wishes. However, by insisting he’s right, he is disrespecting not only Chelsea, but by extension, the wider Transgender Community.

David Rovics says that Chelsea Manning is his hero, yet he refuses to amend his words which have the potential to hurt her by validating the treatment which she is currently being subjected to by the state. Before the court-martial even began, Chelsea Manning was imprisoned for three years and for over nine months of that period, she was subjected to inhumane conditions, including solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, and stripping naked in front of prison guards.

Chelsea Manning has also been refused hormone therapy and surgery related to transition. She was sentenced to 35 years in an all-male prison, in violation of her rights as a trans woman. She is facing years of imprisonment in an environment that is hostile and dangerous to queer people. Transgender people in prisons face difficult struggles and are often forced to do time in solitary under the guise of being “for their own safety”, or get housed in protective custody which means restricted socialisation, meal times, and recreational times. David Rovics is at best ignoring the associated risks to Chelsea, and at worst reinforcing them.

Our main goal, as activists, has to be to get Chelsea Manning out of prison, but we also need to fight for her rights while she is in prison. If Chelsea Manning’s own allies continue to misgender her, this makes the fight to convince the state of her rights much harder.

For this reason, I no longer intend to host David Rovics for his Dublin gig on the 16th January. We have a responsibility to Chelsea Manning and to the trans community to support them in all aspects of their lives and we call on David to apologise and act as a strong advocate for Chelsea and trans people everywhere.

Please contact David Rovics either by email, or through his Twitter or Facebook pages, to ask him to edit his post and issue an apology.


Jen O’Leary

Beth Flanagan
Aidan Rowe
Aoife FitzGibbon O’Riordan
Francis O’Reilly
Kiran Emrich
Audrey Bryan
Paul McAndrew
Michelle Hamilton (Glasgow)
Jen Dalton
Caroline Mitchell-Scriver
Allison Grant
Eve Campbell
Margaret Stuart
Steve Garrett
Wendy Lyon
Bas Ó Curraoin

Why I Won’t Be Hosting David Rovics

56 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Be Hosting David Rovics

  1. 2

    friends, jen o’leary appears to be some kind of provocateur as far as i can tell. you should really look into what you are co-signing. i’m a huge supporter of chelsea manning, and jen is doing her best to make a mountain out of a molehill. which is easy to do on the internet, of course. i fixed the mistake right away, but not in the way jen thought i should, and she sent a stream of repetitive emails trying to educate me on transphobia, thinking this would make me see her perspective. but a disagreement over whether it’s best to delete a post or amend a post does not amount to me being transphobic.

    1. 2.1

      I’m not sure what calling Jen a ‘provocateur’ is supposed to achieve, aside from being a continued refusal to engage with her actual points.

      When you say that you “fixed the mistake right away”, I’d like to know what it was that you actually did? Because what you did not do was amend your post to correctly refer to Chelsea by her name- which would have been simple for you to do and would have prevented this.

      The problem here is not that you had a post scheduled which incorrectly referred to Chelsea. It was that, when this was pointed out to you, you refused to take any action to fix this.

      Also- and this wasn’t anything Jen pointed out in this letter, but something I noticed personally- while you were objecting to people asking you to correct your post, you took absolutely no action whatsoever against the people who were writing extremely insulting and transphobic remarks about Chelsea on your page.

      So: How did you fix your mistake?

    2. 2.2

      Here, David, let me help you with this, since you seem to be having some problems with those toes of yours wiggling about in your mouth.

      “Yeah, you know. I kinda dropped the ball on this one. I should know better than to refer to anyone, trans or not, by anything other than the name they’ve asked people to call them and the pronouns they wish to be refered by. When trans folks and allies pointed that out to me, I should have listened, fixed the issue and gone on with it. But instead, hey, I got all “I’m right, shuddup” and now, look, things are all out of control. Also, when I allowed someone to use my page to call Chelsea an “it”, I should have stepped in and stopped that shit.

      In short, I should have owned my mistake and not allowed other people to continue to spew transphobia on my page. Sorry. I’ll do better in the future. Here is what I’m going to do now to make this right….”

      This ^^^ is what you should be saying. Instead, you’re going to try to provocateur-bait a dedicated activist. Wow. Hella classy.

    3. 2.3

      Having always been a fan of David’s work (hell, I covered two of his songs last time I played a gig), I find this whole episode disappointing. It does not take much to apologise when one makes a mistake and to then correct that mistake. To instead throw around accusations at those who (politely and patiently) is shockingly childish behaviour.

      Everyone makes mistakes – please just apologise, change the error and move on. You’re better than this. No one was making any personal judgements against you for an automated message on your facebook page. All it took was a simple click to alter it.

      You say Chelsea Manning is your hero? Well then comply with Chelsea’s stated wishes about her gender.

    4. 2.5

      What did you amend about the post? It’s one sentence long and (I’m looking at it right now) it STILL has the wrong name on it. So, like, what exactly did you change? Did you change the tense? Was it originally in the passive voice? What mistake do you think you made? Have you considered, at all, even for a second, that you’re in the wrong here, that YOU are making a mountain out of a mole hill by refusing to fix one fucking word?

    5. jr

      If you could please address Chelsea, as she has asked, as a woman this includes proper pronouns, she, her, hers, and proper name,
      When she was born the doctors got it wrong so saying that “facts” are facts… You need to look all of the factors not just one aspect of the facts, unless your bias.
      If you want to actually help Chelsea, listen to what her trans brothers and sisters are telling you.
      Have a good day.

  2. 3

    Trans people and Trans allies have beef forced to “make a mountain out of a molehill” for no other reason than David’s own hubris. David, if you are tired of people harping on your mistake, if you are tired of getting emails about it, if you are experiencing call out fatigue, stop making us have to explain to you over and over again why what you did is abusive. Stop taking up space. Step back, and be accountable. Instead, you’ve acted in the utterly predictable way that most middle class white men act–you’ve centralized yourself.

  3. 4

    the thing is that this is all a question of whether one needs to change a post, or amend it. i amended it. obviously some people think that’s not good enough. why? i like the toes wiggling in my mouth bit… i need a bath.

    1. 4.1

      What is the difference between amending and changing? As far as I was aware, they’re synonyms. And no, you haven’t changed it.

      Also, really, I think I’m not the only person here who would appreciate a more considered and less flippant response than this.

    2. 4.2

      Pro tip: publicly discussing what the genitals of your “hero” look like isn’t generally a great way to honor her. None of this should be in any way controversial. Thank gawd you and your ilk fastly becomming insignificant pariahs in radical culture.

  4. 5

    The objections are not about amending the wording of your post (which has yet to be done.) It takes more than a straight dude’s indulgent desire to run damage control to make things right. Of course you’d rather these objections be about something simple and pedantic like a Facebook post, but see, they aren’t. These objections are about your self-serving misappropriation of Manning’s prison sentence, about your willingness to offer a platform to Trans-antagonists, and about your thievery of Trans dignity and narratives. Your failure to wrap your head around those well supported objections doesn’t mean they magically become about something else, just because you want them to. Rewriting history and stuffing words in oppressed people’s mouth looks ugly on ya, bro. If I were you, I’d quit before I ruined my career.

    1. 5.1

      These objections are about your self-serving misappropriation of Manning’s prison sentence

      That seems a projection. Would you support Manning so fiercely were he cis straight male or is his gender politics the motivation here? Clearly David’s song is about the antiwar politics that led to his sentence.

      1. Mod hat off:

        This conversation is about respecting Chelsea Manning’s gender, yes. There has been no disagreement whatsoever on antiwar politics here- and even if there were, it’d be entirely irrelevant to the issue of respecting Chelsea’s gender.

        So yes, I would feel the same about Chelsea’s politics, actions and imprisonment were she a cis straight male. Since she is not, however, she faces significant additional barriers which were explained in the OP.

        And my support for Chelsea’s right to have her gender recognised, by the way, exists regardless of my opinions on her politics, actions and sentence.

        1. “There has been no disagreement whatsoever on antiwar politics here”

          None whatsoever? Explain what was “self-serving misappropriation of Manning’s prison sentence” supposed to imply?

          1. The word misappropriate is a verb that means “to appropriate wrongly or dishonestly for one’s own use.” [citation: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000; Houghton Mifflin Company.]

            In his role as a folk songwriter, David wrote a song about Chelsea Manning’s imprisonment, profiting from the international attention her actions and subsequent imprisonment has garnered. In doing so however, David knowingly dishonored her name and pronouns in both the song and in it’s advertising. David’s misappropriation of Chelsae’s story, while benefiting his career and driving up traffic on his website, also perpetuated Trans-antagonistic structural violence she and other Transgender inmates face in the prison system.

            Are we clear now?

          2. “profiting from the international attention her actions and subsequent imprisonment has garnered.”

            That part is the part I call “a projection”. Do you believe the transgendered community is immune to such accusations?

            It is a common accusation of artists who address public topics/figures/events. Such accusations are a common way to dissuade artists from doing any political work at all.

            Ask yourself, did Howard Zinn appropriate his subjects for personal gain in “A Peoples History of the United States”? Was Woody Guthrie riding “Pretty Boy Floyd’s” coattails in that song? Was Wendy Carlos appropriating Bob Moog’s or even Bach’s work merely for personal gain?

            David is hardly a Sally Fields not thanking Norma Rae at the American Oscars. He is a struggling folk singer, living on the margins, writing songs for issues he had advocated for since the start of his career in the early 90’s. Pretty certain he isn’t profiting in any monetary sense. His CD sales are quite meager and he gives all his music away for free on the internet out of principal. He is deep in debt. Huge dental bills, etc. The only reason I know this is that he writes about it on his blog and has for a while now. Plus he has a kid to feed and raise.

            The accusation of David riding Manning’s coat tails for personal gain is similar to accusing the trans community of doing so, which is why I initially called this something of a projection.

            “David’s misappropriation of Chelsae’s story, while benefiting his career”

            Its “Chelsea”, its not “Chelsae”, yes?

            Would you rather David NOT have written a song in support of Manning (or anyone or anything)? Then he could avoid accusations of cynical profit motives and personal benefit.

            Such “misappropriation” introduced the story to more ears. Music is like that, it gets through where other mediums don’t.

            He is going deeper into personal debt to recorded a properly gendered version of the song in the studio.

            Proper gendering is a righteous cause and you have done a good thing here. May hats off to you for that, but I do disagree about the misappropriation part.

          3. This is a strawman argument. Nobody here alleged that the “Trans community” is “immune” from cultural misappropriation. If you did even a cursory Google search, you would find that there are hundreds of articles written by People of Color, Indigenous People, and Native peoples that call out white feminist and Queer culture for misappropriating their experiences, histories and narratives. Right now, you are demanding space in a conversation and community to which you do not belong. You’ve misgendered Chelsea, and are now using logical fallacies to derail an otherwise productive conversation. Someone sincerely interested in social justice would step back, take a knee, and listen.

          4. I don’t want to derail the conversation re properly gendering Chelsea. I’m pointing out that suggesting david rovics writing that song was a “self-serving misappropriation of Manning’s prison sentence” is at the least a hypocritical assertion. You’re not the first one to accuse an artist of such.

            Again, I apologize for misgendering Chelsea, was my error.

            As far as being part of the community, its something that is personal to my family. I do attend our local Transgender Day of Remembrance ( http://www.transgenderdor.org/ ) in San Francisco and have friends for whom I sadly must now light candles.

            As far as demanding space, I can only say I exist and I thought communication was welcome. If that isn’t true, I’ll cease.

          5. I do want to emphasis that I AM listening. I am reading, processing, offering feedback, and asking for clarification. This is dialogue. You are not being ignored and I am taking your points seriously.

          6. “David knowingly dishonored her name and pronouns in both the song and in it’s advertising.”

            One detail, Chelsea did not announce her gender transition and pronoun preferences until AFTER David wrote the song. It was a couple of years ago. The recent posts were indeed misgendered however and it took too long to correct it as he points out in his blog. Good job advocating for it.

  5. 7

    i don’t know what is meant by “misappropriation of Manning’s prison sentence.” but as far as facebook goes, i guess you’re suggesting that if someone allows comments by someone who they disagree with, as i do regularly, then i’m “giving them a platform.” i believe when i corrected the post by commenting myself, that counts as amending. i don’t see the need to change the post. it all seems very nitpicky to me, but yeah, i’m a straight dude so i probably don’t know what i’m talking about, which is always the perfect defense for anyone criticizing straight dudes, but it’s intellectually bankrupt.

    1. 7.1

      Yes, David. Ignore everything anyone has said and accuse us all of picking on you for being a straight dude. Because of course that is the only thing that could be going on here.

    2. 7.3

      Commenting on a post is just commenting, amending is when you add-to or change the content of the post. This is the internet, it’s not like printed media.

      Tip for a fellow white hetero cis-male: when you find that representatives of marginalized or socially under-privileged groups are telling you that you’ve fucked up and disrespected them, the most likely explanation is that you have fucked up and disrespected them. The alternative explanation that they must be wrong and that you somehow understand their experience and perspective better than they do despite having only experienced life as a white hetero cis-male doesn’t really stand to logical scrutiny – it’s just the shortest mental route to protecting your threatened self-esteem. We all do this. But a much better way is to own your mistake, apologise, figure out where and why you went wrong, fix it, acknowledge that you didn’t know any better before, thank people for helping you understand better now, and just try to do better next time.

  6. 8


    The really sad thing here is like, seriously, you’ve just spent hours defending shit when a simple one minute edit and an “i’m sorry” would have made everything all better. Like… does that make any fucking sense to you?

  7. 11

    now it’s going to look like i’m concerned about my reputation or concerned about my career by saying this, and i’m truly not. but i think i do have stuff to apologize for here, which a friend of mine has just helped me realize. i’ll say more on that soon. thanks for your help, all of you. eoin madsen, reading your comment also helped make the light bulb go off above my head. sorry for being an idiot. gonna work on that some more now.

  8. 12

    Eoin, you are 100% spot on– thanks for speaking up. It isn’t surprising that David only gave a shit when a fellow hetero-cis white man criticized his actions. Not believing oppressed people, and not treating them like experts on their own experiences has been the calling card of white anarchists for decades. David–you not only need to consider what you did to Chelsea and, by extension, all Trans people, but also consider why you are only willing to be educated by white men like yourself.

  9. 13

    i think it’s more about what eoin said, rather than the part about him being a heterosexual man. but you may have a point there, too, i don’t know, since i read his message as one message, and it included the part about him also being a heterosexual man. in any case, it’s certainly a phenomenon i’m aware of, that which you refer to, and one i should be more thoughtful about, generally.

    1. 13.1

      It is an easy trap to fall into. And there is a fine line between entirely understandably having more empathy and affinity for people speaking to experiences like yours and.. well, having more empathy and affinity for people speaking to experiences like yours.

    1. 14.1

      I don’t think you should have to do that, Eoin. It’s awesome that you said what you did–you used your privilege and bystander influence to stand with people who have less power than you. That other men with power have an unwillingness or inability to be educated by anyone who doesn’t share their cultural power shouldn’t mean the onus is on you to obscure your own identity.

        1. i really hate to think that i was affected by your intro to your point and that that’s what allowed me to listen to you, but maybe that’s true. damn that’s annoying…

  10. 17

    Glad to see the apology and the humility now. The best way is always to try and understand people’s perspective, no one wanted to attack you for a mistake.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Dublin 🙂

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