Citing Confusion And Unintended Impacts, Northampton Concert 'Transperformance' Changes Name

Aug 12, 2021

A decades-long concert tradition in Northampton, Massachusetts, is changing its name. Organizers say they want to be more inclusive.

Since 1991, the Northampton Arts Council has put on a musical fundraiser called Transperformance. Local bands 'transform' into a famous act, according to a theme, and usually play in costume.

But the title's prefix can be confusing. Many assume it means transgender.

“Which is actually what I originally thought when I heard the name. I thought, ‘Oh, this is amazing. It's a concert of entirely trans musicians,’” said Danielle Amodeo, chair of the Northampton Arts Council. “And then I found out that it was just kind of a misnomer...So you don't want to be misleading in that way.”

Amodeo, who joined the arts council about two years ago, is among several younger members, including one trans person, who found the name Transperformance problematic.

“People have labeled it as something that doesn't sit well,” she said. “Tone-deaf, I think, is ableist language so I hope not to use that. But the idea is that – it’s a bit tone-deaf.”

Amodeo said newer council members brought their concerns to the longer serving members.

“And I think that once folks heard that there was an unintended but true consequence, that there was a negative impact,” she said, “they wanted to do whatever they could to change it.”

There was some debate on how and when to implement the name change. In the end, the arts council sent out a statement on August 10, a week before this year's performance.

“Renaming the concert is part of NAC's ongoing equity and inclusion work,” the statement read. “NAC acknowledges and apologizes for any harm or negative impact using this name has caused to members of our community who are trans.” 

“I'm sure that they're changing it for what they view is a good reason,” said Dallas Ducar, a trans woman who runs a Northampton health center, Transhealth.

Ducar said she hasn't heard of any trans people offended by the name Transperformance; she's been focused more broadly on the fight for transgender rights.

“This has really not been on the radar because there are just much bigger fish to fry,” Ducar said.

But she said she appreciates the consideration of transgender people.

For now, the event is temporarily called “Performance 31: Unsung Heroes,” highlighting musical acts that have never been part of the event before.

Amodeo said they plan to ask audience members at the concert to weigh in on what the future name should be.

The event's founder, Bob Cilman, retired as director of the arts council in 2013. Reached on vacation, Cilman said he hadn't heard about the name change.

“I could see where the name at this point in time could confuse people into thinking this is an event by and about the queer community. So the name change makes sense,” Cilman wrote in an email. “What’s most important is that the Arts Council produces great art that’s an inspiration to everyone in our community.”

Correction: The version of this story that aired in Morning Edition contained the wrong year for the first Transperformance concert. It began in 1991.