Do we ever stop faking, or is it a human impossibility?
I am a strong believer in the concept of the "performative act" as understood and described by Judith Butler in "Bodies That Matter."
To put it probably too simplistically, Butler says that when we name a thing, when a thing is named, that naming is in fact also performing the ongoing creation and reproduction of the thing, based on then entire previous history of that naming. The previous history contains and is the ritual repetition of all of the norms, constraints, prohibitions and taboos attached to the name.
All language is imbued with every iteration of these constraints.
Therefore, if we label ourselves, if we take on a identity or gender (or whatever) name, we are continuing this repetition, this iteration; we are creating ourselves in the context of all that has come before us, at the moment we identify. And then, if this is not questioned, fucked with, we are immediately "fixed" in something that cannot possibly be our own "truth."
So, if you buy this way of looking at identity, language and our inner and outer worlds, in a sense - the most interesting sense to me - we are "faking" as soon as we name our identity and fix it. I think that our authenticity and "truth" comes in moments, in blocks of time, and is shifty, moving. And it will shift in and out of any name we assign it. so in order not to be faking, we have to be in the flow of changing truth. And we all want to fix, to nail down, to place ourselves. What I'm interested in is not whether or not we will ever stop faking, but instead trying to embrace both of those desires; to embrace both the shifting "truth," and the desire to to fix, to name, and to place.
The film has a strong cabaret feel to it. What is the significance of incorporating elements of camp into your shows?
I come from a queer camp/cabaret background. I grew up watching musicals, wanting to be a "triple threat" (actor/singer/dancer) on Broadway. I wanted to grow up to be Gene Kelly. The 1972 Bob Fosse film "Cabaret" shaped my theatrical and sexual tastes when I saw it at ten years old. I performed with drag queens and did queer theatre from the age of 19. Camp is in my blood.
When I went to see the movie last night, a couple of people had clearly come to see it expecting some hetero porno flick and left when they realized what the film was about, which I thought was excellent because it means that people who wouldn’t seek out this kind of film are being exposed by surprise to something that can potentially change their way of thinking, even if they initially reject it. Was this ambush part of the plan or just a serendipitous byproduct?
I suppose it's bit of both! We knew from the beginning that we were not intending the film to "preach to the choir," and that it was not meant to be simply a portrait of a queer artist, but to actually touch and hopefully change people. I think surprise is a very important part of creating the moment of change. I think that if, as an audience, we know what we are going to see, we preset ourselves for it, and then we see primarily what we have preset. The serendipitous part is that we didn't really know what we'd end up with on film, so we couldn't design the ambush - except the ambush of my body, which has been at the heart of my work for the last 6 years.
Your performances are simple, but very powerful and effective. Do you think you’ve managed to make people stop thinking in terms of binaries through your performances?
I think and hope I've managed to get people to lose the idea of binaries for periods of time. And I think that's the most we can shoot for, and the most of what I want. Binaries are everywhere, built into our language. It's nearly impossible to speak without them. What I am looking for is not to get rid of anything, but to find the way to play with things, to not take them so seriously. That's where subversion lies. Thats where revolution and freedom lie, in rejecting oppressive ideas of "TRUTH," in refusing to collude with oppression by trying to fit oneself and anyone else into those very oppressive ideas. Our culture is asking, requiring, coercing us to do this at every moment. We need the rupture moments, the breakage of the binaries in order to understand, to feel, that these requirements are not the only options.
The movie is also very sexy. Is titillating your audience one of the aims of your performance? Can we broaden the mind through sex?
I am all for luring people in. Enticing them, tickling them, making them laugh, making them wet, making them hard. It is seduction. When are we the most open to be outside our own boxes? When we are turned on, in one way or another! I think sex and humour are two of the most effective methodologies for this. And they are two of the most anarchic.
In the film, you often appear in front of a mirror when you are speaking. What is the significance or symbolism behind this?
Ah, mirrors allow for theatrical (and literal) self-reflection (and good camera shots!)
How do you feel about the term trans? Should we be aiming to get rid of the cis/trans binary?
I believe labels should be simply and solely the property of those who want to use them, and also to abuse and fuck with them. On the other hand, I do use the term trans to describe myself, primarily when I want people to understand, in a shorthand way, that I do not have the background (or the present life) that they will probably assign to me, particularly if they have not seen me naked. If I want someone to know I have not been enculturated as a man, for instance. Since I do believe that gender is largely culture, I do think the cis descriptor and the trans descriptor carry information (although of course, they also are performative!). But do I care if anyone uses them? Not for a second. Play as you will. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
Feminism has always had its leaders: Mary Wollstonecraft, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis... Do you think the queer movement needs to have its leaders as well?
I am enough of an anarchist to say no, in leadership there is too much the possibility for blind following. What I do think is important are philosophies and theory. The thoughts of (some of, many of) the people we have called leaders. As I mentioned I have found much inspiration from Judith Butler, and also Michel Foucault, Guy Debord, among others. I read them and I find back up and encouragement for my own modes of thinking, for my politics, for my creative processes. I think people should be exposed to thought, should have the opportunity to assimilate ideas and be enhanced by them. And these thoughts may come from people who are seen as "leaders." But I do not believe in "following," except for short distances when they are perhaps in front of us on the same road we travel. Follow them until our paths diverge, and then let them go.
Your 2002 short, Unhung Heroes, is full of film references. If you could remake any film in the history of Hollywood using only FTM actors, what would it be?
I'd love to finish what I started in Unhung Heroes and do a complete remake of Resevoir Dogs - or some really turgid Shakespearean drama, or perhaps something really classic like Casablanca...I' have to play Bogart myself, though - one more fantasy checked off the list!
Do you have any projects in store for the future?
Lots! None I can give dates for yet, but think 2011 will be a very interesting year! I have an interactive project I'm very excited about, which will involve philosophy, creation and performance around the idea of faking, with whoever wants to participate, so people should contact me if they are intrigued about that one.....
Finally, have you ever faked an orgasm?
Hmmm...um, ah, ah, ahh, oh, oh, ohhh, ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... ... .... now, that would be telling, wouldn't it?