We're gonna get into the meat, and we're going to miss a bone.
I don't make work for critics, or art historians, I make work for my community. And that's because when I was in art school Rita McKeough fucking tore a new hole, gave me some good mirrors to hold up to myself, and to see who was around me and behind me and whose shoulders I was standing on. I know who I'm making my work for... But the issue is, I do want… I do want a little bit of a wider spread. I (don’t) want there to be kids that don't know that we did a champagne enema performance in 2000 at Eastern Edge because it was before internet history… so therefore, it doesn't exist. And I think that there's one of the things that drives me crazy - and I say crazy, because I am actually crazy, you know, I'm not using it as a pejorative, it's like it's a descriptive - one of the things that makes me so frustrated and makes my craziness aggravated, is that our history as queer people and specifically as transgressive, queer people, is always erased,
The "right" would say that we are post-racial, and that we are post-colonial, and that we are post-homophobic, and that this is an inclusive time, and that you can challenge things that are done wrong, as opposed to (that) we actually care about each other, and we've dismantled capitalism, and we're working towards reparations, not just the assumption of equity. And then you have to prove that you've been unequally treated, which is garbage, you know, the fact that we can't hear about transgressive, queer history, or critical race theory, or the ongoing genocides of Indigenous people in Canada - so-called Canada - in our elementary schools, is the problem. And, until that is remedied, fuckin' put those champagne bottles up my butt... There needs to be… there needs to be transgression, just as a part of our queer knowing of ourselves.
I was just a very wild child. Newfoundland - or Ktaqmkuk - was a wild place to be born... and it is great.
It was such a fucked up weird… you know, I didn't recognize until I was in my late 30s, that my childhood was actually totally dysfunctional, abusive. I had all of this developmental trauma. So I had no idea, (I thought) that my childhood was idyllic: I grew up on a dairy farm until I was five, and we moved to this bedroom community of St. John's. And then when I was (a) young teenager, started getting to explore the punk scene and all of that and… and also (I) came out really young, and was volunteering almost immediately… volunteering with queer things. As soon as I came out… being engaged in community through activism was something that I just got sucked into really OR felt called to.
I remember being in high school… I would have these giant – GIANT - raver skater boy pants with literal... (well) they weren't literal clown shoes, but they were like red wingtips that had a bulb toe, a bulbous toe, and a stacked leather heel, that was an inch and a half, and I loved them. I wore them all the time. I wore flat pan stick foundation, and contouring it's 25 years in the future so it's just full-face flat foundation… no makeup on top of that because that was "makeup" but foundation was just to neutralize my complexion… which, as a teenager, what are you looking for? And then I would just throw dust hologram glitter on top of that (laughing)... I get so delighted when I think of it! What the fuck was I thinking? And I had (a) blue Statue of Liberty weird haircut, spikes… or this weird blue hairline and burnt orange in the middle… and I get so upset when I see people with hair now that are doing boring things with it. I'm like, “Bitch, you do not deserve to have that hair!” I did more interesting things when I was in high school.
But the first drag experience was actually hosting a fundraiser through the activist group that I was a part of, I'd never really done it before, (and) I found a surgical drop sheet that had this big square, it was like a green canvas broadcloth with a seamed square hole in the middle. And I assumed it was a Baptist church - kind of choir, you know - smock or muumuu or something… because there's so many Baptist churches in St. John's… I put it on and a blonde Marilyn Monroe wig, and I sang the theme song to "Taboo 2" which is an incest themed 1970s straight porn (laughing) and hosted the show, and that was like drag for me… (at) 16.
One of the things that I think was so fundamental and foundational... I mean, some people would say God is their foundation… I would say that holding open the Joy of Gay Sex in the gay section of the bookstore and waiting for older men to stand close enough to me to know that we were now going to do the thing that was holding the illustration up... that was foundational, you know, like having access to queer space, even if it was (a) three-by-six section of a bookstore… that was where I got my access to queer culture and history. And in part of that was (this) Gay Times Magazine… and I got to see (that) there's a drag queen named Miss Fish in London, that's cool. I'm going to buy this magazine, tear out the photo, cut it and put it into this collage of a poster that we're making for the Love Ball, because I'm gonna throw a party at 15 in St. John's called the Love Ball, that's a fundraiser for this other non queer event, you know, because I've never had a drag mom. So I was, I didn't know that you needed special makeup. I didn't know that the... that makeup wasn't just a series of sheers, you know. (laughing) So it was really only looking at photos of myself, and especially photos of myself taken later in the evening, as the makeup has sweat itself off, with my face under… on my chin or on my neck, it was only in looking at my own image that I was able to see what I wanted to be that I wasn't. And… to reference those other images from (a) drag pop culture that I was able to access through some of those magazines.
Then I started going to the gay bar when I was 16 in St. John's because I was already volunteering for Newfoundland Gays and Lesbians for Equality. And (I) was the youngest person by 10 years. So they just assumed “Well, why would there be a teenager hanging out with all these 20 and 30 year-olds, so I never got ID’d going into the bar. Because I was always with a group of older people. So, I had access to the scene in St. John's… there were a couple of drags that were around. Jackie was… you know, there's always a big girl named Jackie and she.... God love fucking Jackie; she was so good. But it was all female impersonation. And it was all diva worship and diva-like replication. And I didn't do that. I didn't know that that was what we did. I didn't think that as a punk and baby anarchist, I was like “Well, I'm not here to take orders… this is just… isn't this fun? I didn't know why I was doing it. …I didn't recognize the kind of the pantheon…. local pantheons or the court system or even though a lot of these things were kind of getting presented to me I was like "Oh this is a thing that we get to do as queer people" and because I see queerness as inherently about autonomy we do it however the fuck we want and that means I do it however the fuck I want.
…At the same moment as I was becoming excited by drag… I found the Angry Women RE/Search series… with the illustration of Medusa on the cover and then Diamanda Galas talking "kill all men/kill your rapist", and I was just… "This is it" you know, this is it, like IT... I had seen drag queens in the town and people that I loved and cared about, but I had seen gay male culture being so misogynistic, like just replicating and amplifying this misogyny. And I saw drag queens as taking the things that we have forced women to become and or grapple with taking the trappings of femininity that are, in some ways, like the most immobilizing or disabling and then making fun of them for it, and through it, and with it, and I was… there has to be another way there has to be. And you know, I didn't want to just be an alien robot sex Queen hooker, which is what every fucking alternative drag queen says, you know, it's like, "I'm just an alien hooker". I'm not just an alien hooker, you know, also, I'm a hooker in real life, and that has its own set of, you know… and a very lazy one... it has its own set of traumas and complications and problematic things about representation. But… there had to be a way to be a feminist, or feminist allied or feminist supporting drag queen.
I taught myself makeup skills, I used to use like, Snazaroo clown paint. And this was like, this was being a drag queen for 10 years, this was when I was living in Ottawa, 2006/2005. And I would go to the fucking art supply store and be like, okay, clown paint, this is it. Great. Now I can make things like really graphic… I can make things that are gonna last all night from 100 feet away. So they don't need to look good up close. And they didn't… I would be sweating and melting… because I was mostly doing club events, or cabaret things…There was definitely still some street intervention stuff happening then. But it was it was more club spaces, and on a stage on a platform away from… out of people's reach, but still within the space. So you know… graphic looks good under the bright lights… But it's with the internet shift, like the shift to all of these makeup YouTube tutorials and whatever… I was “Oh, why don't I try out beautiful, you know, why don't I see if I have the skill, I always wanted to be a painter.” …That’s what I actually intended to do in art school, but I signed up too late for the painting class, (and this) led to video art instead. And then all of a sudden, I was a performance artist, because video was limiting in terms of… the format of a screen. … and it was the late 90s. So all video art was about, you know, like the performative anyway ....So I think when I look at what has shifted materially there is you …just a little bit more maturity in my relation to the concepts and themes, but it's still the same stuff. There is a little bit more money being thrown at the makeup, but the costuming like the makeup is still mostly secondhand. And the makeup is still whatever it is, and then cobbling together from there. But that there has been a through line the thing that's missing is blood.
I'm working on this retrospective right now of these drag performances. And.. it was the Death Race, it was a performance that I created to say goodbye to the Drag Race I had done for a decade… it required that I had to come back to St. John's every summer. And that was becoming more difficult to do, because I didn't have a stable income really. And, I also recognized that I had been doing this Drag Race performance over and over again as this celebratory thing. And the last iteration of it, the 10th iteration, I was thinking about, again, talked about… about suicide in the performance and talked about… our community, and, and trans and… trans-specific violence, and economic disparity, and… it had become a performance of the things that we are caged in by, and the things that we are harmed by, but it was still so… joyous. And I wanted to do something that marked the death of this performance. That was that was also a bit like bringing joy to the community. It became like the most popular event in Pride… we had 200 people show up for the March For Freedom because we still call it the March For Freedom, because we still needed freedom, you know, but we had like 350 people show up for the Drag Race because it was this event that was also kid friendly, and in public and a fuck you to capitalism and had become… we brought free food, you know… there were like organic turnips that were prizes, like it was this joy giving temporary autonomous zone… it was all the things I wanted it to be. And then to give that up was really hard. So I did a performance called the Death Race. It happened to be pissing rain that day, when we still had, you know, like 50-100 people show up… It was the time in my life where I loved a fucking shift dress and a matching jacket. And you cannot tell me that a shift dress and a matching jacket does not look fucking classy on whoever the fuck wears it like it is just beautiful. And my head was shrouded in black chiffon. And I took out a bottle of spray paint and spray painted the front of my dress black. I took off my jacket, put it in the garbage spray painted my dress black and then took a wire bristle brush and scrubbed the paint off the skin that was overlying so that was flush… raw and the skin was not painted. And then… I had two members of the audience and one was reading aloud. In a loop the lyrics of Didn't We Almost Have It All and I got hogtied and then dragged around at the perimeter of the space which shredded the dress and all of the points of contact that were touching the ground. Then… I had this bucket of salted trimmed navel beef. Just like what my brother won when he was like five years old and played bingo with my step grandmother. As… such a beautiful kind of symbol of like how much I hate Newfoundland cooking but also how much of a Newfoundlander I am… and so I took off the shroud and did a wig reveal - which apparently now is a thing - but I had this like wig on and the wig that I was wearing. I took off and then soaked that in the blood and then washed the stone tiles of the space where we were working with the kind of watered down salted blood and threw out the meat, kind of as the waterline kind of went down as I kept washing and just cleaned this space that we'd used for 10 years of our memory input. And it was… it was rough. And it was, you know, it was specifically taking these iconic images from performance art history, and contemporary art that (resonated) with me about marginalized communities, or like speaking to trauma, and speaking to the kind of power of marginality to push back.
I refuse to believe that the opposite of pride (is) shame, or that… that to be proud is resisting shame. …I'm a part of - - we are, I guess, a collective… It's called The Infernal Grove Drug Users Study Group. And it's a bunch of video and film artists who are making conversation about our relationship to reality and to altered states, and aesthetics, the aesthetics of living in a fucked up capitalist system. And we were talking about the idea of disclosure, because there's some people… who talks about their relationship to recovery and to the steps… like the capital R recovery, and 12 step model and all of that. And I have always kind of existed in a harm reduction space… harm reduction always includes abstinence, and always does and always has, and this idea of disclosure of disclosing one's history of being a substance user, or of having an addiction, or being an addict, you know, this idea of disclosures is seen as like a necessary part of the process. And I'm like, “Where's the fucking mystery bitch? Like, why are we not allowed to have mystery in our lives?” …And why is this idea of disclosure within this context, being spoken about in this universal way, where it feels like disclosure is always of benefit, you know, that we that like this idea of telling of speaking, our truths, is always going to create positive change. And I said, “Well, you know, my history as a person living with HIV, who also identifies… as non binary and has… had a trans woman roommate a bunch of years ago, we had this great conversation about how disclosure for her is threat… like its threat of violence. And we talked about… for people living with HIV and trans people (that there’s) actually a lot of analogous descriptions around and feelings around the threat of truth, the threat of disclosure, and I think that is the lens that I bring to the pride versus shame binary. …I do feel like I moved through the world without having had these developmental experiences of shame that have kind of colored or drive me or pull me in some ways. So in that way, I guess I would be shameless. But that's also just because I fucking learned how to dissociate really quick when I was a kid. You know? So that's a trauma response. And that's not a negative. That's something I'm really proud of: my child self's ability to manifest that and stay alive. I think, though, that there's lots of reckoning for us to do… within the state of so-called-Canada to think about our relationship to… there's nothing to be proud of. There's literally nothing to be proud of. I want to say that 25 more times, you know, there's nothing to fear of our shame, either. You know, there are lots of activities that I've participated in that I regret, and that I think were, you know, missteps, learning opportunities, whatever… I also became an HIV tester and never said the word risk. Because I think that our sexuality as queer people is fucking over-policed, and over-surveilled and pathologized. And we have that history to reckon with. So I committed to myself to delivering sexual health assessments without ever uttering the word risk to the people that I was working with. There's lots of ways to do that, you know, likelihood possibility, outcome, expectations, lots of ways to have language… lots of ways to use language to mean what your fucking saying, and not mean other things. And the conversation around shame and pride is so delicious and so fascinating. And… I feel really blessed to have been able to avoid it for so long. Because it's tricky, and… there's so many feelings attached to it. And histories… and in some ways evokes, for me, this memory of being a baby AIDS activist and being in this meeting and not knowing the history of the movement and saying, bold-facedly, you know, that some of these older folks needed to get out of the way. I am horrified that I said that. I was told as much afterwards they're like “Do you fucking know what you just did?” Now I do. And now I'll never make that mistake again. I'm not ashamed of that.
Okay, could we also just have a moment of me saying, I'm not a Munozian (José Esteban Muñoz)… I am an Edelman (Lee Edelman), Edelmanian, I am No Future, I am not Cruising Utopia. And I love slash hate, like there's so much beautiful that Muñoz says… but he wrote Cruising Utopia as a critique of No Future and I don't think No Future gets a critique, I think it's the fucking final word. And I think that people have forgotten to read No Future. And what Edelman actually says - and I have extrapolated a little bit about or on it of what he was saying - but Edelman was saying (is that) no, it is this idea of the future that we keep insisting upon (which is problematic). Which is… I think Muñoz got it wrong a little bit, you know… it's the idea of the image of the child that we keep depending on, the idea that we have to do something for the future. And this is also something I'm trying to fucking reckon with… the way that I think Edelman is talking about queerness is like don't depend on the future because this is all we fucking know, (all) that we have is I'm talking to you right now. And I'm accountable to you. I'm accountable to my sister in the other room, I'm accountable to this moment… and that's something that queerness does inherently… it's not about the negative potential of… immaterializeability. Oh, my God, that was not even a word! (laughing) But I hope you know what I mean, the impossibility of being able to materialize, it's not necessarily that… it's about accountability. And I would say a nihilistic accountability… it's like that we are here now, and we have absolutely no promise of anything else.