Music by Jeff Milligan, Anonym, Aphex Twin, Mickey Finn, Martini Bros
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book a show!
Inspired by the outrageous costumes and antics of 80's London club god Leigh Bowery and the exuberant theatrics of contemporary videogame cosplay, The Ms. Pac-Mondrian Trance Dance Seance Performance is a ritual reincarnation of Piet Mondrian's spirit through ecstatic dance to the music he loved, surrounded by the art he painted. After a brief induction by the psychedelic shaman Ms. Pac-Mondrian, the video game player becomes the DJ as Ms. Pac-Mondrian go-go dances to the boogie woogie sound effects of the projected Pac-Mondrian game, accompanied by a live glitch video remix of Mondrian's key neo-plasticist works. Guided by Piet Mondrian's firm theosophical belief that he was an old soul reincarnated many times, the Prize Budget for Boys invite you to a kinaesthetic/synaesthetic performance extravaganza to raise the dead and bring back the boogie!
Ms. Pac-Mondrian combines the videogame
world's first sexual fetish practice with its first trans-gendered performance. Contemporary 'cosplay' celebrates nubile girls dressed in videogame character costumes for exhibitionist play, while 25 years ago boy-gamers first adopted a transgendered virtual feminine persona while playing Ms. Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Mondrian's transvestite shamanism explores the simultaneous history of cartoonish and monstrous representations of the feminine form in videogame media from the gastronomically indulgent rotundity of Ms. Pac-Man to the impossibly proportioned grotesquery of Lara Croft: a compressed digital history of Western art taking us from the Venus of Willendorf to Barbie in 15 years.
Glitch Mondrian degrades each digitally stored neo-plasiticist signal by breaking off some of its dangly bits, physically truncates the binary file to ensure data loss, then loads the painting into photoshop where the broken images cause the program to malfunction, crashing erratically to break images into their constituent RGB and CMYK colour channels, layered as transparencies, resized, recoloured, and remixed in increasingly chaotic fashion. Mondrian's primary paint colours of red, yellow, and blue are joined by the primary colours of the digital world: the red, blue, and green of televisions and monitors, and the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black or printer ink. Glitch Mondrian refreshes every half-second, opening a new psychedelia of action-packed mentalism to jam up neo-plasticist masterpieces into trippy club visuals.
I've been to Malabar's again and got more stuff. Did a series of Ms. Pac-Mondrian head shots in the park yesterday with my buddy Scott [MacSween], a clubbing/fashion/reportage photographer living in London UK. Playing dress-up sure is fun. The kids thought I was a clown and giggled, and the tranny in full make-up eyed me suspiciously. Next up is working up the costume. What a wicked day off.
"There was a concert for some goth band at the phoenix and when I walked by in full mondrian make-up I turned every head, it was funny outfreaking the freaks. when we stopped to take pictures some girl walking by with her boyfriend asked if she could take my picture, and all the neighbourhood little kids giggle cuz they think it's a clown face. what fun! An image from that will be used to advertise the next Moustache, a monthly dance club\stripping night at Remingtons put on by luis jacob and will munro."
"Did one of a portrait of Ms. Pac-Mondrian on my face, (who is black in the actual game since Mondrian's grid is yellow) which I called Pac-Face, too racy?"
"Went to Art Metropole to see the launch of Miguel Jacob's amazing portrait of Luis Jacob dressed up in a tribute to Leigh Bowery. Miguel won a contest sponsored by famous fashion photographer Nick Knight, and it's delightful for both of them. Luis is my favourite Toronto artist and one of my favourite people in the universe, an absolute wonder of kindness, and an anarchist who lives what he preaches. Turned out not too many people showed up, but I got to see a bunch more of Miguel's photographs, and a bio-pic on Leigh Bowery, which were both fantastic. It was the most inspiring thing I've seen in a long time. He was a freak of unprecedented magnitude.
I went out in full Mondrian make-up with a red bow, a red, black, and white patterned mini-skirt I cut from a biking shirt, a mult-coloured plaid jacket with a blue patterned cravat, white socks and adidas running shoes, hairy legs. It was hilarious. After watching the documentary @ Art Met, I walked home past the set-up for the MuchMusic video awards, and all the way up Church Street. I got great reactions from the MM production people, which I took as a good sign, because those people have seen everything. The Church Street crowd was mostly supportive, though I got a great reaction from a couple queens: "That is just horrifically ugly, it's just so ugly." and in a completely fey voice:"What the fuck is that?" I responded by blowing a kiss which earned me the following riposte: "Don't you kiss at me bitch!!" to which I just said "Relax!" And of course I wasn't the most outrageous drag queen on the street anyway, somebody had a super bright rainbow pride outfit on with matching wig.
The best part about living in my neighbourhood is that every time I've gone out in make-up and outfits or whatever, there's always someone freakier.
I'm taking the fact that my first outfit was enough to get a rise out of the people in the pop music trenches and the style queens in the village as a good sign. When the excess is so vulgar that the champions of vulgar excess cry too much, I'm on to something. Leigh Bowery has quickly become one of my new biggest heroes.
For my first outfit I invented a new kind of clothing: the shkirt. I found a patterned shirt that I liked, and cut the shoulder/arms off, wore the shoulder/arms as a dickey, and the rest of the shirt pulled down to skirt level, thus making it a shkirt. The shkirt alone is worth doing some kind of photospread for. I went back to the Goodwill Buy the Pound today on lunch to buy any stuff I could find that was really bright, sparkly, shiny, or wildly patterned, and I'm going to collaborate with Holly to sew together rag-tag glam costumes that will look like the Fraggle Rock rag monster went to Vegas. Then dance.
Well, Ms. Pac-Mondrian was the belle of the ball! I won a prize for best representing Parkdale fabulousness, although I actually live in St. Jamestown. The prize was a painting of some model's eye. This is the first art prize the prize budgies have won while representing the PBFB, I reckon, yeehah! I will post photos of the outfit when I get home, and scan the painting too. This outfit was definitely a step up from the last in terms of glam and glitter! Holly also made shortbread cookies that we cut into pac-men, which was a big hit, and sewed the outfit together from the bits I got from the goodwill, so she gets a big thanks for that!
There were plenty of old rich white people, most of whom felt obliged to remark on my outfit, which drew a few into conversations about PBFB art projects. Everyone at the party got a loot bag with stuff from artists, so I made sure a copy of the flyer made it into each one of them. This will make a good tie-in to my pitch to LACMA for Ms. Pac-Mondrian to be at E3's Into the Pixel show. Also Paul Petro was there sponsoring and running the party, he has a pretty cool gallery in Toronto that we might be able to show with, and I spoke to him for a bit.
Here's the official announcement that will go out:
Ms. Pac-Mondrian the Belle of the Ball @ C Magazine Gala! On Monday June 27 2005, Ms. Pac-Mondrian took first prize for festive garb at C Magazine's annual summer fund-raising gala. The occasion marked the first command performance for Ms. Pac-Mondrian, on the invitation of C editor Rosemary Heather. The prize was an original oil painting by Toronto artist John Abrams entitled 'Helena Christensen', 2004. In addition to go-go dancing, Ms. Pac-Mondrian was delighted to serve Pac-cookies to party guests. The prize marks the first prize awarded to the Prize Budget for Boys since their inception, and the boys are tickled red, blue, and yellow that it was for dressing like a girl! Forget the Prize Budget for Girls and welcome to the Prize Budget for Trans. Ms. Pac-Mondrian: Go-Go Dancing Beauty Queen of Video Game Art has won her first pageant (of sorts) yippee!
I just got a message from Julia Paonessa, the promoter for Kick Magazine's Mike Huckaby night at Footwork (which was the best deep driving techno I've heard in what seems like forever)! I didn't get a chance to speak to her, but I arrived 10 minutes before the headliner went on, then spent the rest of the time dancing and drinking. In a club environment people seemed to have less of a context for understanding what I was doing than at the art bar at the Gladstone for the vague terrain night. I guess freaks in and around the art bar is a usual thing, so when I gave people a flyer they were satisfied. Several people who asked this time around still expected more explanation. I have to come up with some witty stock answers, some better schtick. At any rate I was nervous going in, but there was no need, people were quite enthusiastic, got lots of thumbs up and high fives. Somebody gave me a cd, and invited me to a masque party on Tuesday. It was all good.
In the picture she took you can see the shoes I bought for the costume. They're plain white adidas shell toe 'Superstars' that I painted in the Mondrian colours, so they're now adidas 'Mondrian Superstars'. I will paint 'MONDRIAN' on the side in black letters to make it more obvious. Can't wait til my plush Pac head comes in. yippee!!!!
I was reading this article here called Character Selection: From Princess to Dwarf, written by a woman about choosing girl characters when younger, then guy characters later.
She quoted this bit from another article:
"When designing characters, it's important to keep in mind the tension between identification and alienation, because the player is both actor and spectator." But never a passive spectator, because you are controlling the person.
She later says in a comment:
"I definitely think that age has a lot to do with character selection. Once boys hit puberty and they have expressed an interest in girls, their selection of a female character is no longer perceived as them wanting to be a woman (that they are gay), but actually affirms their masculinity because they want to watch this pretty woman kick butt."
So as soon as guys realize that they can have a different relationship to the 'female' on the screen, not being her, but dominating her, then it's OK to play a female character.
Maybe that marks the same transition in interface from phallic Joysdicks to vaginal Cuntroll Pads. Remember, the medium is the massage.
Also, this is interesting from the same exchange:
Mark1970: I used to play mspacman a lot.....ouch...
Christina Loguidice: Mspacman is a little different. She is basically a yellow dot with a bow....not what we have this day and age.
Don't worry, Ms. Pac-Man was just a dot in drag, your masculine identity is safe!
Not anymore, if I have anything to do with it, wooohahahahahahahahaaaa!!!!!
And speaking of bad puns and gender play, on my way to the lexiconjury I did some shopping at North Bound Leather and Priape, two fetish gear stores to get some stuff to create a joystick/dick for Ms. Pac-Mondrian. MikeB and I had been talking about it for a while, and last night I decided to start rigging it up.
At the lexiconjury, I went up during the open michelle part of the evening (like an open mic, but there's a policy that you have to read one original poem and one cover poem), and brought the North Bound Leather and Priape bags up on stage with me. I then went into a big spiel about hockey and the start of the NHL and the poem I was going to read about the Elindross (the Ancient Mariner's nemesis who got signed with the Leafs this summer) but forgot at home, then recited this hockey poem:
Tiger Tiger burning bright
In the box after the fight
What enforcers fists did fly
To scar thy fearful symmetry?
I dragged out the tension long enough (people were yelling "What's in the bag?" etc), then got to the pre-lex shopping excursion. I talked about cosplay as a videogame fetish practice and creating the Ms. Pac-Mondrian costume, then pulled out the dildo harness from the North Bound Leather bag. At this point the host said "30 seconds" To which I responded, "Come on, I'm just getting started." I then launched into full-on schtick.
One of the readers earlier in the night had some musical accompaniment and kept repeating the question: "Does Neptune taste like chicken?" So I said, "I wrote a special song tonight for a special performer, Gary Barwin. That song about Neptune touched me deeply, and I wrote this for you.
[sung in a long drawn out lounge singer style]
I'm so sorry for this inept tune
But Uranus tastes like chicken."
I got the "30 seconds" again after that one, and said, "So then at Priape I bought this 9 and a half inch dildo [pull it out of the bag, laughter and gasps from crowd] oh wait, this is only 9 inches, awwww. Oh well, this is nothing anyways, at Priape they had a butt plug that was sooooo big" the audience responded "How big was it?"
"The butt plug was soooo big it was practically a stool!"
Utter silence! It was glorious. Oh man, I thought burlesque was fun, but when it's mixed with irredeemable schtick, it's even more delicious! I finally got around to the cover poem, which was the text from the bottom of the dildo box. Then I stumbled off-stage knocking the mic over saying "Thank you very much, you've been a wonderful audience." All in all a good bawdy cabaret performance, and all off the top of my head (well, except for the Tiger poem).
So I got to System Soundbar at 12:00, and tried to walk straight in, but the security guards said “You look great, but ya still gotta get in line.” A girl in line asked me if I was doing this for any particular reason or just because, and I said, just because, you dress like your life depends on it, or don't dress at all. She said “Awesome!” and gave me a neck-swivel and finger snap. I stole the line from Leigh Bowery, but I didn't let on.
So I got in the guest list line, and it was about a half hour before I got in. I walked around the bar to figure out where I wanted to stake out my stomping ground. It's an old drug habit to figure out my routes
to the exits and bathrooms, then stick to one spot the whole night. I found that cut down on dealing with bad trip situations. Carrying a big
purse, I wanted to be near a post to put it against, so I found one that was closest to the smoking area exit door, so there was a breeze, cuz the outfit gets freaking hot.
I put down my purse and started dancing, and within 5 minutes a guy with a camera came up and said “Hi, I'm from Fab (one of the two gay free weekly papers), do you mind if I take your picture?” I said “Sure, I'd love it!” I took my big white cartoon gloves out of the purse, put them on and started dancing (I like action shots better in clubs than posed
ones, freeze frame of dancing energy as opposed to posing). A reporter from Fab (Rolyn Chambers, 'Deep Dish' gossip columnist) introduced himself and then took a couple posed pictures with me. He asked me why I was doing it, was I getting paid by the club (a common refrain, lots of people asked me that, and were happier to hear it was just because I was in love with freakery). I said I found out about Leigh Bowery through a friend of mine Luis Jacob. “I know Luis too!” I loved Leigh so much I had to do it. He then asked why the Pac-Man, and I gave him the postcard with the cabinet on it and explained the Pac-Mondrian game, and he said “Oh yeah, red, blue, yellow, I went to art school, haha.” To which I responded “I didn't.” I
said the costume was also part of a stage performance called the Ms. Pac-Mondrian Trance Dance Séance Performance. If any of this gets in the paper, the thing I want to see the most is the title. Giving an interview in the middle of a dance club with bass-heavy 130bpm music and people bumping you makes things difficult enough as it is. Given the likelihood of telephone game style mishearings, it could be just about anything. He said he loved the outfit and it takes a lot of balls.
Another photographer came up 5 minutes after the first one, and he was from the club. They post photos from the night on their website, so here's that picture I snagged from the site.
The response from people in the club was almost overwhelming. If this were a dj or producer I really cared about, I wouldn't go in the outfit because I couldn't dance for longer than a minute at a time without being interrupted. People would stop to talk to me, or just give the high 5, thumbs up, and all kinds of Yeeaahhh!!! exclamations. People
liked to press down on the top so they could see Pac-Man eat my head. I would always respond with a “Wakka Wakka Wakka!” The most interesting comments I heard were: “You look like something out of the Warriors”, which is some kind of futuristic gang movie made in 1979 that had crazy costumes, and “You look like Mariko”, as in Mariko Mori, a Japanese
artist who is awesome, which is a big compliment.
One girl I spoke to about the outfit whose name I believe was Brin said “When I saw you, the first thing I thought was Leigh Bowery.” “Oh, thanks, I'm honoured! He's the reason I started doing this in the first
place.” “I'm a student at OCAD and I'm working in photography, could I shoot you?” “I'd love to pose for you, absolutely!” “I'm into costumes and dressing up too, I have like, 14 wigs, I could help with your costume.” “Sure, let's collaborate!” “Dressing up shouldn't just be for Halloween. I guess you're not even going to go out for Halloween when everyone else dresses up.” “No way, Halloween is when you dress even more outrageous to outdo everyone else's outrageousness. I'll be debuting the joysdick, a strap-on dildo with ball-gag knob. That's to go with our cuntroll pad of course.” And then I whipped the cuntroll pad out of my purse, and she laughed. So, it would be really cool to do something with her. I hope she gets in touch.
I went to the art fairs this weekend in a drag persona as Ms. Pac-Mondrian wearing a 9” strap-on dildo (a “joysdick”) and big fake tits to look for an art dealer, and as a result I got ejected from the CBC building for doing drugs on the premises, booed and kicked off stage at the Alternative Art Fair Gladstone, and banished from the Toronto International Art Fair at the Convention Centre. If that aint a tabloid-worthy adventure amongst the moneyed and well-heeled art
glitterati, I don't know what is!
After the Toronto International Art Fair gala on Thursday, I walked out of the Convention Centre and was accosted by two CBC employees who practically begged me to watch a taping of the Air Farce. They promised me I'd get on TV in a crowd shot, so I went in (I'm such a press slut). They were warming up the crowd, and when the stage manager said George Strombolopolous was on the show, I screamed “He's so hot!” When George came out, he walked up to me in the bleachers and made some lame joke about Halloween being over. As if I didn't hear that from every meathead I passed on my way to the Fair! George is a professional, and that's all he's got?
When they started taping, I soon realized that a half-full bleacher to the farthest left of the stage was not so telegenic and there was no chance of getting on TV. I turned to the guy sitting next to me and said “If I don't see a camera on us in 10 minutes, I'm going to smoke pot until they kick me out.” So after a few more skits I lit up my pipe for a good haul, and as I was being escorted from the premises by security, Mike Tamburro introduces himself as a tabloid reporter from the Toronto Special. He gave me his card and said we should do an article in the future cuz the paper's interested in quirky stuff.
I had no idea we had a tabloid in Toronto until then, and I immediately started acting accordingly! At the Toronto Alternative Art Fair gala later that night I bum-rushed the Leslie and the Lys show, they are the undisputed queens of the Gem Sweater. I fielded all the boos and catcalls by dykes offended by the Ms. Pac-Man plush dolls hanging from
safety pins through the nipples of my exposed tits (I thought it was because I wasn't wearing a gem sweater, but Andrew Harwood, one of the directors, told me it was because dykes (his word) were offended by my costume), then while on my knees seeking the blessing of Leslie she literally kicked me off the stage.
The following day at the International Art Fair, after spending a couple hours walking around the fair handing postcards to anyone who seemed interested in the costume, I was sitting at the C Magazine booth talking to Rebecca Gimmi (the general manager of the mag) when a guy with a beard and an accent in a dark suit walks up to the booth, holds up a
postcard with a picture of the Pac-Mondrian artcade cabinet and asks me if I am handing them out. Of course I figure this is my big break, some swanky European dealer has come to offer to represent me, sell our art for thousands of dollars, and save me from the vacuous horror of my office job. Dreams of video game auctions at Christies and complimentary cocaine at openings raced through my head.
First thing out of his mouth: “There are rules everywhere, and you have to follow the rules here. You can't do this without asking permission.” So much for powder dreams. Turns out he was the director of the Fair, Linel Rebenchuk. The next words out of his mouth were “You have to leave now. And don't come back.” He handed the postcard back to me, which was printed with the line “Let's put the play back in display.” Apparently not at the Fair. When I didn't sprint for the exit he repeated “You have to leave!” I had been gathering up my stuff and assured him I was leaving. As he was walking away I turned to Rebecca and said “I've been kicked out of better places.”
Part of the reason I wore the costume to the fair was to satirize art fairs by promoting our video game art the same way they do at video game tradeshows: tarting up a big-boobed booth bunny to entice the customers with the best advertising. In the art world they're known as gallerinas, but the mechanism is the same, if only more subtly attired. One of the people I met was enthusiastic about the costume and performance and we spoke for a while & she told me she was working for a gallery, even though she had no exhibitor pass and was drinking at the time. She was pretty hot, wearing a low cut cleavage revealing white top with a suit jacket, doing undercover or viral marketing. Her job was to flirt with men and get them to come to the gallery's booth, if there's a sale, she takes 20%. So the high brow is only the low brow with a few more scraps of clothes and a lot more self-delusion.
So, the result is I'm still an art slut, giving it out for free. None of the pimps I met at the Fair were willing to be my dealer and turn me into an art whore. (I did make some contacts to follow up on though, of course) Wearing that costume to the opening when all the rich ladies were drunk was a trip, I had women pinch my nipples (real and fake ones), pinch my butt, ask if my butt was real (it was, she said, “I thought you had some padding, well then you have a nice butt!”), while
the guys seem to prefer exclaiming “Nice tits!” (Can't they see it's a RACK!). The woman who took the cake was in her 20s and asked me to spank her, rub the rubber Mickey Mouse gloves on the skin of her back (latex fetish, anyone?), and the prize for the grabbiest guy goes to the fag who figured playing with the dildo wasn't enough and reached underneath to grab my squished up dick.
As for Friday at fly, the go-go dancing gig was the most ecstatic performance I've ever done in my entire life! The only one comparable was our opening in New York. All my spare time for a couple weeks went into creating and assembling the costume and props, with multiple trips to the goodwill, hardware store, sex shop, electronics surplus, fashion trim and leather accessories, and dollar store. I hadn't drilled or sewed anything since grade school shop/home ec, and making the costume myself that I then wore to great effect was a really satisfying feeling.
I also have always wanted to do a big outrageous costume go-go dancing thing ever since I saw Michael Alig and a bunch of club kids on Geraldo in the early 90s (was it late 80s?). I did wear pretty crazy clothes in my teens at raves back in the day, but it was nothing like the two costumes I wore on Friday. There was a time in my early 20s when I auditioned for a guy at a party who did costumes and organized go-go dancers, and he took me on for a party a friend of mine was throwing, but then moved to Montreal a couple weeks later and wasn't involved in the party at all. I was really excited back then, and the subsequent feeling of disappointment was pretty big, and that opportunity has been in my head the past couple weeks. I never had the guts or drive or desire back then to pursue it on my own, and it took a colossal effort over the past couple months for me to build up the courage to do it now. Any residual disappointment at lost opportunities was washed away by the end of the night on Friday, I can guarantee that!
The performer is on a 4 foot high platform in the exact centre of the crowd, and each session lasted between 5-10 minutes. The first time I went out it was OK, but the routine with the power pill prop didn't work out all that great, I need some more practice/thought on that one. I was also feeling out the platform and figuring out what kind of dancing I could do. There wasn't all that many people there at the time either.
The second time I went out was prime time 1:30 and the place was rammed. I got on the platform, bent over and wiggled my butt in the 4 directions so people could see the "Loonies Only" sticker and the red anus in the mailbox/coin acceptor I had strapped around my waist. I took an anal ball/quarter out of my purse and tried to insert it, rocking back and forth, having difficulty. I then shrugged in exasperation, then got out a tube of KY from my purse. I smothered the ball in KY, then made a show of inserting it. As soon as it was in, I did a Frankenstein coming to life kind of flailing bit and launched into the highest energy dancing I could muster. People in the crowd were loving it! After a bit I got out another ball and made a big show of offering it around. One of the people in the crowd obliged and put the next one in, then I danced for another couple minutes and that was it.
I'd done go-go dancing before, but at raves it was always a peripheral entertainment to the main focus of the dj. In the gay club environment you're the centre of attention and people were responding to the dancing by pumping their fists in the air and yelling! It's an absolutely electrifying feeling. Although I was dancing at full throttle, I never actually felt tired and did the bits or left the stage when it felt right in terms of the performance, not due to necessity. I was worried about being out of shape, but there was enough adrenalin and the expectations were short enough (only 5 minutes!) that everything was perfect. I've always been a sucker for performing, but after being a writer for so long I had no idea after all these years dancing would be my favourite performance. I just want to dance, is that so wrong? It's been deliriously fun to catch a little bit of the show business bug.
Yay! Let's hear it for the transsexuals, transgendered, two-spirits, androgynes, FTMs, MTFs, gallae, smoothies, ladyboys, butch dykes, sissy boys, drag kings and queens and all the other gender queers out there!
After working on a project that involves dancing, seance and cross-dressing for a while, I learned that spontaneous creation of rituals to commune with the dead, trance dancing and cross-dressing are all things that people who have had psychotic/manic episodes frequently do. Somebody even agitated to have something added to the DSM (and was successful) for spiritual crisis, that has symptoms of psychosis that debilitates/incapacitates, but instead leads to spiritual awakenings, mysticism and feelings of the oneness of the universe, and could be helped with talk therapy without meds. Although I felt as a staunch materialist that the performance I was creating was all in jest, to make fun of Mondrian's metaphysics, there I was, right in the black and white of the medical textbook doing the same thing as all the other religious fools. It was eerie.
Two passages from a couple great books on gender: "Cross-culturally, the individuals who have freed themselves from the fear of humiliation [or perhaps, take perverted pleasure in it] are clowns, fools, jesters, and tricksters. This can be Coyote, Uncle Tolpa, Br'er Rabbit, Racoon Dog, [Marcel Duchamp], or any number of documented practitioners of what Scoop Nisker calls *crazy wisdom* in cultures around the world...What do fools have in common? Well, they don't play by the rules, they laugh at most rules, and they encourage us to laugh at ourselves. Their pranks of substituting one thing for another create instability and uncertainty, making visible the lies embedded in culture. Fools demonstrate the wisdom of simplicity and innocence. In our civilization, the only people doing these things are considered troublemakers, whatever their line of work." Gender Outlaw: Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein
I strive to be a better fool every day. Having been threatened, harassed, and almost trans-bashed a couple times wearing the Ms. Pac-Mondrian costume, the male privilege I have otherwise enjoyed for the better part of my life was stripped away and I was face to face with the violence that threatens anyone not gendered male (women and those that violate gender or sexual norms). I felt guilty, like a tourist or like a transgender interloper and realised in the most visceral way what threat trans people who wear the clothes to mark their gender of preference but can't "pass" face on a day to day basis. Holly's advice on the protocol for my behaviour in costume about getting to events and avoiding violence is a script she's lived by for a long time. I also feel deeply ashamed that one of the things I did when faced with a threat from someone yelling that I was a fag was to say I wasn't gay. My fear led to an attempt to retreat to my privileged gender/sex position, that it was OK, I'm really just one of the boys. Ultimately it's not constructive for me to dwell on it, and I almost laugh at it now, because of course it has no effect on people who greet genderqueerism with vioence, gay, bi, transvestite, transsexual, it's all the same trash/target. The presence of the bouncer outside the club and my own hasty dash into a cab were what defused the situtation.
I have managed to avoid any violence so far, and am taking precautions to do so in the future. It also reminded me of the time when I did get gay-bashed outside of a bar in Brampton. I was accused of being gay because of how I danced, and although I escaped injury in the altercation that followed, a friend of mine who helped me out got his nose broken and we spent the next several hours in the hospital. So gender issues have been on my mind a lot lately.
Here's my favourite passage from Patrick Califia's Sex Changes: Transgender Politics, which was written while he identified as a lesbian. He has since undergone hormone therapy and lives as a man:
"People who have succeeded at the gender game and formed an identity as a man or a woman prize that accomplishment. If the achievement of a traditional gender identity ceases to be an ordeal, the worth of that accomplishment diminishes. If the standards of gender performance change significantly, or if the losers refuse to accept their less than status, the winners won't be able to justify the suffering and hard work that was necessary to become men or women. Of course, it's not supposed to be hard work to be accepted as a man or a woman; it's supposed to be a natural and effortless process. Few of us are even aware of the pervasive rewards and punishments that shaped our gender identities - unless that process was not successful. I suspect that much of the hatred and fear of transsexuals is based on the discomfort that others experience when they are forced to recall the pain of involuntary gender conditioning. It is easier to believe we never had a choice about something so fundamental than to process and accept the fact that the choice was taken away from us and ruthlessly suppressed.
But it is time for all of us to begin to uncover that history and consider it as carefully as nascent feminists once did in consciousness-raising groups. What was done to us in the name of manhood and womanhood, and why? What doors were closed to us? What selves were murdered? What pleasures and possibilities were stilled? And why was it so important for the entire process to exist in the first place? Whose purpose did it serve? Certainly not the needs of the individual child, the adolescent, the adult.
Gender tyranny is virtually invisible. We have to learn to see it in action if we are going to understand it and put a stop to it. Who would you be if you were never punished for gender inappropriate behaviour, or seen another child punished for deviation from masculine or feminine norms, or participated in dishing out such punishment? What would it be like to grow up in a society where gender was truly consensual? If the rite of passage was to name your own gender at adolescence, or upon your transition into adulthood? What would it be like to walk to down the street, go to work, or attend a party and take it for granted that the gender of the people you met would not be the first thing you ascertained about them? What impact would that have on how you treated them? Or on how they treated you? What if gender was no longer a marker for privilege, certain personality traits, or roles in the family? If gender was a sexual fetish or a symbol of your ability to provide certain types of erotic or spiritual experiences, how would you put your public persona together? What would you want other people to know about you first? Would it be more important to identify your totem animal, astrological sign, career goals, dietary needs, religion, allergies, or degree of sexual availability to passing strangers than it would be to identify your gender?
If you could change your sex as effortlessly in reality as you can in virtual reality, and change it back again, wouldn't you like to try it at least once? Who do you think you might become? What is that person able to do that you don't think you can do now? What would you have to give up to become oppositely sexed? What would you change about your politics, clothing, food preferences, sexual desires, social habits, driving style, job, body language, behavior on the street? Are you able to imagine becoming a hybrid of your male and female self, keeping the traits that you value and abandoning ones that are harmful?
What would it be like to live in a society where you could take a vacation from gender? Or (even more importantly) from other people's gender. Imagine the creation of Gender Free Zones. These retreat centers could be maintained by a new class of rude (as opposed to civil) servants. And what would it be like to live in a society where nobody was punished for dressing up in drag? What if it was taken for granted that cross-dressing and other forms of gender blending became markers for wise people, healers, and visionaries instead of a signifier of sexual perversion and shame? What drag is hiding in your personal closet, kept there by the threat of violence or ridicule?
If these questions frighten, offend, or annoy you, you are one of the people who stand to benefit from transactivism- although it probably doesn't feel like your benefactor. And if these questions amuse, engage, and challenge you, you're probably a transactivist already. Welcome to the genderevolution indeed."
What if instead of eliminating gender, it was something that we play?
I've been out gallivanting with Dan Lavoie a couple times, a party promoter, columnist for Extra, and panelist on the Video on Trial show on MuchMusic. He invited me to be a 'host' of the Now Magazine love and sex party. Hosting apparently means getting dressed up in costume, drinking lots of free booze, and acting out. The perfect job for me! (Too bad it only pays drink tickets) He encouraged us to run around and whoop it up with the regular folks, the more outrageous the better. It was a really crazy party, with all kinds of people getting naked, one couple going at it in the stairwell (they were kissing, he had her shirt up, boobs out, and hand well up her skirt), a stripper pole with strippers, a girl wearing only bra, panties, and high heels breakdancing (floor routines and everything), a dominatrix tying people up and spanking/whipping them, enough guys in chaps to rustle several herds of cattle, and girls in old-school burlesque costumes with pasties and all. I did an improv dance routine with John Caffrey from Kids on TV where he inserted the quarter/anal balls in the slot. They gave out a costume prize, which I won, and took home the 4 Gig iPod Nano.
I also met Benjamin Boles, the club guy who writes for Now, and when I told him about the Pac-Mondrian project with the Detroit and Toronto levels etc he said "Wow, you're my favourite artist." So hopefully he'll come out to the show and blurb it or something.
There was a guy taking pictures of people with two burlesque performers, and he grabbed a snap of Ms. P with the fine ladies.