Sunday, October 13, 2013

Girls Only: The Queen Mary's Dark Harbor Is Not for Queens

Last night, Tenebrae and I went to Queen Mary Dark Harbor with two friends, to welcome the beginning of the Halloween season. I am here to warn you against making the same mistake. 

Because this isn't a Yelp review, I'm not going to waste your time and mine by detailing each little problem, starting with the parking attendants, to the lines before you even enter, to the extremely low maze quality, it just goes on and on and none of it is worth the effort to dwell upon. What I will dwell upon are the things that are somewhat relevant to this blog.

On their website, it says that they don't allow patrons to wear costumes (except on a couple of designated nights), which makes some sense, I guess. So when you're in the highly problematic line to get in, there's someone whose job it seems to be to make sure that no one is in costume. She stopped Tenebrae, asking, "Is that white makeup?" Knowing what she's getting at, he says, "I'm pale, it's regular makeup." When she starts to bring up the costume thing, I jump in with all my might: "We look like this everyday. We know your rules on costumes and these are not costumes. EVERY DAY. All the time. Okay?" She backed off and I was super proud for standing up for us.

Because the thing is, his makeup was not that different from mine. It was a little paler, and he had reddish eyeshadow that looked a bit ghoulish. But I am so goddamn sure that if a woman had that makeup on, the attendant wouldn't have said anything. The logic here is that if a man has makeup on, it must be a costume. That is why I took up verbal arms.

On a similar subject, there was a little dance area in the county-fair-esque carnival occupying the space in front of the Queen Mary. They were playing crappy dubstep so that people would dance on a little circular stage, which they did, but then there was a tiny pedestal stage off to the side with a cage covering. On the cage was a crappily scribbled sign that read "GIRLS ONLY" stuck on with electrical tape.

My first reaction, predictably, was anger. In the cage-stage at that moment was a ghoulishly dressed employee. Now, if the sign had said "EMPLOYEES ONLY" and they made the choice to put up only women, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the energy to care. But this particular sign, in all it's hand-written-possibly-by-a-four-year-old glory, opens up a bit of a mystery. The only reason that I suspect it was put up by an employee and not a patron was the electrical tape. Because who carries electrical tape? (Well, sometimes I do when I wear it as pasties, but I doubt there was a whole lot of that going on at Dark Harbor.) So, even if it was put up by an employee, I doubt it was officially sanctioned by the event just due to the nature of its extreme crappiness.

There is a time and a place for putting only women on stage and keeping men as spectators, and it's called a strip club. And I'm not putting down strip clubs by making that point, believe it or not. Strip clubs fulfill a (dominant) niche, and it shouldn't be taken for granted and pour over into all other walks of life (especially nightlife). The problem is not objectification (I've said it before and I'll say it over and over again), it's reinforcing this extreme heteronormativity by institutionally objectifying one and not the other.

So I tore the sign down. No one seemed to notice or care, and it was probably the highlight of my night.

[That finger, it's the middle one.]

As for the maze (singular because we only made it onto one due to gigantic lines), it was a complete waste of Queen Mary space. Trash bag decour, animatronic mannequins, no evidence of being on the Queen Mary. I was only there once before for a Rocky con about seven years ago, and it's a pretty amazing place. When we planned to go, I imagined that the mazes would use the creepy areas of the ship to their advantage. No such thing. Tom said it really well when the maze spat us back out in front of the ship: "That maze was actually really impressive...considering that it was for free and at my next door neighbor's house." Yep.

So if anyone reading this does not heed my advice and actually goes to this event later in the month, please report back and tell me if there's a new "GIRLS ONLY" sign. Let's hope not.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Brain Body Continuum

The lack of writing that I did this summer was not only blog-specific. At first I guilted myself over this, as that seems to be a natural reaction to lack of productivity. But then I stopped that nonsense. The guilt, that is. I think this is the first time I've made a switch like this: I spent a couple months living more in my body than my brain and for a short time it was exactly what I needed.

I've been working at the desk at the yoga studio down the street, and doing a bunch of free yoga. I've done more burlesque. Made a bunch of costumes, for shows, events, and Comic Con. Spent 5 nights in the hospital with Tenebrae and we both survived (him with a dead/undead appendix). Made a ton of awesome new food. Went swimming in the damn ocean for the first time since high school. Drank probably way too much, but have no regrets.

I'm coming back to my second and last year in grad school with no work done to my thesis, but am surprisingly okay with this. This will be a very different and probably intense year, and I think I'm as ready as I can be. On top of all the writing I'll be doing, I'm teaching for the first time. I've spent over a year convincing myself that this is the most terrifying thing in the universe, and now I'm trying to convince myself that I'm super cool and collected. On the first day I had them write about planning their own funerals. Yes, I've been put in charge of shaping young minds and this is what happens. Additionally, I'll still be tutoring and possibly bar tending at CalArts. And keeping the yoga job. And still dancing. I can't say how long all of these will last until some start cannibalizing others.


On friday night I had another burlesque show, one which I was massively conflicted over for various reasons. (Though to be fair, it seems like I'm massively conflicted over most things most of the time.) First, it was friday the 13th, and the fact that the show did not capitalize on this glorious date struck me as a huge waste of an opportunity. I did not advertise it for this reason. It was a Broadway tribute, which on any other day would have been just great. But not on friday the 13th.

The second reason was strictly between me and myself. I did Mein Herr from Cabaret, which I've done before. But I had done it first for a bachelor party type event, which of course held its own set of massive internal conflicts. Anyway, the way that I feel about performing burlesque is that if I'm not doing something new and different (or at least abstractly supporting something new and different), then there's no point. But Mein Herr is already a burlesque style number, and therefore nothing is being added to it by performing it. 

However- and this is in a similar vein to the mental switch that I made over the summer- I decided to convince myself that it was okay. I decided it was okay to show up, have some fun, be sexy, and make a little money without concocting a work of creative genius in the process. To be clear, I don't think it's a good idea to approach burlesque or any kind of performance this way in general. But in order to say "yes" to more things, and also to be able to make a little extra money here and there, I have to tone down the creative and political pressure that I put on myself to make Art. Not everything has to have a capital A.

Now, despite describing this as a super nonchalant show-up-and-be-sexy thing, it still took quite a bit of work. And yet when I got up there, it felt like it was over in five seconds. I know this is a common phenomenon for performers, and not at all a unique experience, but it really surprised me. Like, I almost wasn't there for it. Was I just extremely on top of it or a complete waste of space? I couldn't say. I know it's better than feeling like a song is going on way longer than it should; that's when you know something is wrong. But it's like I spent all this time planning and rationalizing something that barely happened, physically speaking. 

I think my point is that in a time when I'm about to encounter an avalanche of new things to accomplish, I'm trying to learn that it's okay to not be perfect. Otherwise I'll never get anywhere.


Friday, June 14, 2013


I'm not exactly the rainbow type. In sentiment perhaps, but visually, not so much. In honor of pride month and more specifically West Hollywood pride, which I didn't actually make it to cause that's how I roll (intending to make it to huge overwhelming events and then not going is in fact how I roll), I wanted to creatively circumvent the rainbow with my own interpretation as visual support.

It sort of started as a joke. I said on Facebook, "Sometimes it's difficult being goth and showing gay pride support at the same time. This is my answer to that challenge."

But as the stun of my breathtaking wit subsided and I started to dwell on it more sincerely, it became much more meaningful than the simple gay/goth quip, and more meaningful than a rainbow, to me. If a rainbow represents acceptance of all different kinds of people, and everyone's ability to be bold and proud of their different identities, then perhaps a grayscale could represent the possibilities and unfixed-ness within individual identities.

It is debatable whether I can be included in the queer Q that is sometimes but not always tacked onto LGBT(Q), or if I am really just an "ally." It is debatable to the point where I don't even want to unleash the debate right now; the point is the ambiguity. I live in a gray area and know and love others who do too... Not to mention a young man by the name of Dorian.

GrAY Pride?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Public Property, Private Party

I've noticed a lot of discussion recently in the facebook-o-sphere about street harassment, its multitude of forms, and how ubiquitous and culturally ingrained it is. Well, since my car accident, I've fallen back into the grimy arms of public transit while my car is in the shop for (insurance-covered) repairs. Needless to say, unfortunately, I have contributions to this topic.

A couple of days ago, I was waiting for the bus one block from my house. I was at the stop no more than two minutes when an SUV pulls over, driven by the bro-iest bro-dude I've ever seen, with a woman in the passenger seat, both probably in their late 20s. I have headphones in, and he motions for me to take them down, to which I begrudgingly oblige.
Predictably: "You want a ride?"
Also predictably: "No, thanks."
Yet they're still there. "I like your hair. Who does your makeup?"
"It's nice. I'd really cum all over it."
The girl punches him in the arm playfully, and they speed away before I can react.

Because of the street noise, I couldn't quite process what he'd just said until I considered the way that she reacted and the way that his facial expression changed; it was vastly different than the rest of the "conversation," like he knew he was being a bully and invasive, and was hamming it up and enjoying it. What shocked me most was how upsetting it was, and I honestly think that the most upsetting part was not even his verbal abuse, but that I wasn't given a chance to react. By the time I realized what had happened, they were gone. To him, there was no consequence. No reason not to keep treating people like that. The woman he was with was clearly accustomed to this kind of shit. (Is she part of the problem or a victim of it or both? I'd say both, and it makes me both sad for her and angry at her, but this a whole other topic.) My inability to react basically left me very alone with the experience, and I was more shaken than I would have expected to be. I was stuck at that bus stop for twenty more minutes, and actually considered just giving up and going home because after being out for a total of about five minutes, the world was already terrible.

But I didn't, I took the bus and transferred to the metro. It was crowded and I stood at a pole, very aware of how many people were looking at me; people are always looking at me, and I don't mean this in a good or bad way, it's usually pretty neutral, but in this case I was extremely on edge. If anyone said anything I thought I would either punch them or burst into tears or both.
Then I feel a poke in the arm. Tense up, expect the worst from humanity. But, it's an older punk lady who doesn't say anything, just simply gestures for me to take her now empty seat. I thank her but say she should keep it. She insists and says she's getting off in just a couple of stops, so I thank her again and go take it. When her stop arrives, she points to me from the door, smiles, and says:
"You have a good night. You made my day just by existing. You've made me smile, so you go out there and smile too, you deserve it."
I didn't really know what to say, but I thanked her, awkwardly but sincerely. I've always had worse experiences with humanity on the bus than on the metro, and this was a day of extremes. Like as a bittersweet welcome back to public transit, the universe was like, "Here's everything. It balances, right?" Does punk lady actually balance out douchebro? Unfortunately, no, but the juxtaposition was helpful.

Something I said in passing that I'd like to elaborate on: that I get looked at a lot and most of the time I find it neutral. Alternative looking people get looked at a lot. So do "attractive" women. I happen to be both. A lot of the time I don't even notice, but when I do, I usually don't find it creepy unless I'm given specific reason to. This comes with the "alternative" part; straight guys are only a handful of the random people with their eyes on me, not necessarily the default or majority, and I think this is what has desensitized me. Women and gay guys comment on my appearance just as much as the typical dude. It's different, yes, but it makes it easier to just take a compliment at face value. Sometimes the only thing really different about a (straight) guy's comment is a look in the eyes or a certain kind of lingering expectation that I sense but cannot otherwise describe. Those are the "compliments" that I don't want to say "thank you" to, but am not sure what else to say. And I ask you, Internet, what do you when a man says, "You're beautiful"? (Oh, I got an "exotic" on the bus the day before this.) Is there a way to not say thank you without being rude? Which is different from an old lady saying it (which happens), and different from anyone of any gender saying, "I like your style." I've read a lot of blog articles out there about women's experiences with strange men's compliments, and most consider it to pretty much always be a kind of harassment, an expectation that women's appearances are for public consumption. And in most cases I agree with this. But something changes when you- or let's just say I- have a skillfully honed and intentionally uncommon aesthetic. Appearances are social, or at least the parts of our appearances that we CHOOSE are, and a lot of choice goes into mine. It feels hypocritical to be angry at public attention, and most of the time I'm not. To be clear, this is completely separate from the topic of the douche in the SUV. That was straight up verbal abuse. But the thing that gets me is, the guys with the decent, non-invasive they just have the common sense to stop talking before they go as far as douchebro? Are they that different? And that possibility makes the world pretty scary. But I am never going to stop looking like this, and I am not going to be scared away from public transit when I need it.


The timing was especially interesting and terrible, because the next day, I had my first non-Sideshow burlesque gig. It was for a private party, a friend of friends' bachelor party and baby shower. So, very literally taking my clothes off for a room full of men. I did a routine to Mein Herr; it was strange, relatively fun, and made surprisingly good money. An important factor in keeping it fun was that the men's cheers were somehow very clearly WITH rather than AT. 

Afterward, one guy said, "I don't think anyone has ever made Liza Minnelli so sexy."
I said, "Well, drag queens."
"Okay, anyone female."

The thing is, I'd often rather be one of the drag queens than even the sexiest woman. I don't think that playing up hyper-feminine sexuality is necessarily contradictory to feminism in any way, but I do worry that it somehow precludes my drag queen dreams. I don't think this is a logical progression, but it's a feeling I can't shake. I worry that I am indulging in super hetero, cisgendered structures and opportunities just because I can, and it's ultimately only mildly gratifying.

More opportunities have arisen for me to do burlesque, and I'm very much on the fence. I feel similarly to how I did about gogo dancing, which I totally miss, by the way, for what I feel are self indulgent reasons. Not that that's bad, I guess. But even more so than gogo dancing, burlesque has an extreme "LOOKIT ME" quality that makes me kind of wary and uncomfortable unless I feel that I have something unique to contribute (not just to a troupe, but to audiences, the world, my life, whatever), and I'm not sure that I do. Generally speaking, On the Fence is pretty much just where I live. We'll see where this goes.


In other news, it's hot as balls in here, and the ceiling fan literally just plummeted from the ceiling to its death. I'll take my cue from the ceiling fan; my work here is done for the night.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Prettiest Zombie

I've heard some commentary floating around that Warm Bodies is basically Zombie Twilight. Even just from the previews, I was ready to refute this (and ready to see the movie, which I cannot say about Twilight). Having now seen the film, I stand by my original assertion.

Warm Bodies courts the Twilight problem, but thankfully doesn't quite succumb to it. Actually, superficially, it does succumb to it, but it somehow survives it. By "The Twilight Problem," I mean the character structure that makes the Twilight films so pathetic. That being, an attractive supernatural male who should by all means be a threat risks everything to protect a human girl whom he loves for no discernible reason. The girl is pretty but unremarkable in both appearance and personality, or rather completely lacking in the latter. In short, that is my impression of Twilight from what little I've experienced of it. I don't even want to validate it by continuing to talk about it; even discussing the many differences will relate it too much to Warm Bodies in a detrimental way. That said, perhaps it is even more remarkable that the movie succeeds despite this initial structure.

On the subject of the attractive supernatural male, my initial thought on Nicholas Hoult's character at the beginning of the movie was simply "he's too hot." Too pretty, too nicely made up, not nearly as disgusting as a slowly decaying zombie corpse should be. His skin is white and smooth, eyes perfectly shadowed, lips tinted with what looks more like lipstick or wine than gore. The infected veins in his neck stop conveniently before crossing onto his face. Really, he just looks like a goth guy in normal guy clothes.

But then I thought, wait. Maybe this isn't a bad thing at all. Most female stars of action/horror films stay beautiful no matter the circumstance, and it's so culturally ingrained that it is rarely commented on. A prime example would be Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil movies. Granted, she's not supposed to be decaying, but she is faced with a multitude of grimy, grueling situations, most of which turn her merely a different shade of goddess. Male actions stars, however, are generally the epitome of grime. One could argue that this is merely a different kind of marketable attractiveness: the stereotype of masculine rugged endurance. I would argue, though, that it's actually not the flipside of the same thing (and not just because I don't go for that persona). Please pardon the generalization, but action films are generally made by straight men for straight men. These leading actors can get grimy and gross because marketing men to men necessitates (or rather, studios think it necessitates) no confusion about why these men are being watched. The layers of dirt, sweat, blood, and stubble put up a barrier. Obviously, many people do find this very thing attractive; in fact, I may be in the minority in finding these men totally unattractive. However, I'm pretty confident in saying that these decisions are not made with these viewers in mind.

The problem I have with the divide of pretty vs. grimy doesn't have anything to do with one being better than the other. It's the divide itself that I find problematic, and that its purpose is so clearly tied to who the film is for. Mainstream audiences seem to feel equally threatened by strong, dirty women as by semi-fem men in main roles. Or rather, wait a minute, who am I to say what makes something as large and amorphous as "mainstream audiences" feel threatened? I guess I am merely reiterating the assumption (whether unconscious or calculated) on the part of those in marketing positions. The correct way to phrase it might be that studios feel threatened by the possibility of not making a ton of money. I personally think that audiences- mainstream or otherwise- are capable of accepting much more than they are given credit for. Whether women get grimier or men get prettier, I don't really care; in fact, a little of both would be just perfect. Copious amounts of dirt and wounds for all may be more realistic, but is realism always the point in film? Certainly not.

With all of that said, Warm Bodies is in no way an action film, but it does visually reference the world of action films. It is also not a horror film, though also decidedly locates itself in the horror world (zombies, obviously). It is at its core a romantic comedy, but that doesn't mean that the zombie plot is purely incidental. (Though I shudder to bring up Twilight again, I will point out that I think its vampire plot is purely incidental.) Rather, Warm Bodies sets out to adapt Romeo and Juliet into a zombie comedy rather than another human tragedy. I could begin a whole new tangent here, but I'm not going to. I had originally wanted to discuss the movie in relation to the tradition of some preceding zombie films, and how it plays with the tried and true if not overused structure.

However, I saw the movie last friday, spent saturday and a bit of sunday writing this, then stopped. When I get to a point where I start ignoring something I've been working on, I think it means that it's time to wrap it up and release it into the world, accepting that it is no epic masterpiece. This is difficult. But this is a blog post, which is better than a perpetually open safari window on a very overloaded and unreliable computer. The end.

P.S. Not quite the end. Writing about trying to bridge the gab between how male and female actors are presented to their audiences ignores one huge point: the complete lack of trans actors. The fact that I hypothetically want to add that in but didn't carve a space for it further marginalizes the possibility. Which is pretty much the opposite of my goal. I just wanted to point that out instead of letting it go unspoken, that's all.