Monday, June 25, 2007

On femme lit

Like Son. Felicia Luna Lemus. New York: Akashic Books, 2007.

I feel a little behind the times talking about T. Cooper and Felicia Luna Lemus. Even though I purchased both Lipschitz Six and Like Son months ago, I just got around to them now as the summer reading bug hit me. In the meantime, both authors of this literary power couple have achieved a little bit of well-deserved notariety, exemplified by this interview on Queeerty and a photo spread in Curve Magazine. All of which served to demonstrate to me that these two are one hot couple. Seriously. I want to pin up the Curve photos of them in my room so I can drool. But for all their hotness as a couple, their books each deserve individual attention and not much good is served by comparing them, so I will try to talk about Like Son on its own.

And, independent of all other thoughts and issues, Like Son kept my attention and made me want to keep reading. While it may not be the perfect book, it made me happy because it captured an attitude toward feminity that resonated with me. I didn't exactly love or identify with the main character, who is a disaffected punk transguy. I believe the character is interesting and well-crafted, but somehow he didn't feel right to me. He wasn't the heart and soul of the novel, even though he was the main character, and that in itself is a fascinating literary choice. The power and excitement in Like Son lies in its female characters, the mysterious historical figure of Nahui Olin, a bohemian artist and poet from Mexico City in the 1920s and 1930s and the equally mysterious figure of Nathalie, the protagonist's beautifully femme girlfriend.

For me, the utterly brilliant scene that exemplifies this book at its best occurs when the protagonist, Frank, first meets Nathalie. Within the story, "meeting Nathalie was like being hit by a force of nature" (98), but that held true for me as well. Lemus' depiction of this unique, flawed, creatively glamorous woman seduced me from the first hint of her appearance, foreshadowed by the narrator's revelation that "I can't tell you how many times I later wished I could go back to warn my naive self: Yes, she will be complicated. And yes, it'll be hot. But seriously, fool, brace yourself. Loving her will be the hardest thing you'll ever know"(32). From her first appearance, Nathalie is all colors and scents and textures and layers of femninity: "I smelled her breath as she laughed. Bergamot and peppermint and just a hint of expensive vodka. She had on this wrinkeld vintage Ginger Rogers copper-orange ballroom gown, teetering faux-leopard fur open-toe platform heels, and a rust-colored rabbit fur jacket -- an outfit that would have looked like costumed ridiculous on anybody else, but on her was just right. Her flyaway auburn hair was a tangled mess of a Vargas girl updo. Her perfume was incredibly sweet, almost too sweet, like rice milk about to turn" (99). As the relationship between Frank and Nathalie develops, she somehow remains distant and mysterious, her actions inexplicable but alluring. Thoughout the book, I want to know more about her, understand her motivations, hear the story from her perspective. In many ways, though I don't really identify with Frank on a personal level, I am drawn into his fascination with this woman and placed in his position and that is a beautiful experience.

The thing is, I don't want to be Frank. I want to be Nathalie. Like Son is one of a few books that fosters and inspires my own femininity. As I was reading it, I felt more and more inspired to play up and play with my own femininity. I find myself wearing more skirts and dresses, putting on more makeup for going out, lusting after new clothes. It's the kind of book that inspires me to enjoy femininity, layering on too much glitter and gold nail polish and wacky accessories. Reading this book made me want to be more femme.

The character of Nathalie, with Nahui Olin as her historical referent, is a magnificent femme captured in a way that I rarely find in novels, and I'm sad that it's Frank that gets to do all the talking about her. I'd love to hear her voice more. It makes me want to think, though, about books I've read in the past. It seems that there would be many great novels in which a man (or woman, really) meets and is mesmerized by a woman so that she becomes the center of the novel, though without a voice of her own. But I can't necessarily think of examples. Perhaps Lolita? And are there novels with femme voices? When do you get to hear the perspective of women consciously cultivating feminity? What other books might make me feel femme? Or does writing about femininity instantly devolve into chick lit obsessed with men and shopping? Can a powerful femme character be the center of the novel, or does she become something else when the story is told from her perspective and she can no longer be mysterious? Are there queer femme fiction writers out there I should be reading?

Anyway, I may be missing the point of the book, since it really is also a beautiful and engaging story of a queer masculine protagonist fighting toward maturity and learning to leave his personal and imagined history behind. I loved Like Son and I'm decidedly inspired to find more queer femme writing if I can. I will immediately be reading Lemus' first book, Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, even though I'm highly skeptical about the phrase "dyke princess" which appears in several of the blurbs about the book. But I'll gladly take recommendations of other femme writing. I'd love to find more books that feel as beautiful and resonant and inspiring in queer ways as this one did.

Another good year of Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat. ODC Theater. 6/15/07.

Fresh Meat once again delivers a fabulous collection of performances by transgender artists. The show was well organized (except for the obnoxious bit where they sold out, had a huge line, and started the show about 15 minutes late) and, for once, didn't feel too long. It was heavily dance-focused with performance of Afro-Colombian dance by Columbian Soul, aerial acrobatics by Michael Chernus-Goldstein, and hip hop by Freeplay Dance Crew in addition to an extensive new piece entitled "Bully" by the festival's artistic director, Sean Dorsey. In the realm of music, the fabulous Shawna Virago performed delightfully provokative rock 'n' roll and Triple Threat Taiko were adorable and extremely powerful. But I'll focus on the performance art/theater type pieces, since that's what I know best.

I was impressed by Imani's Henry's performance of single monologue that was an excerpt from a larger work about slavery. I believe it's a scene from "Living in the Light" but I seem to have misplaced my program during the trip home from San Francisco, so the information I have is less accurate than it should be. The piece Henry performed was beautifully self-contained and coherent, while opening up to and suggesting the longer work. In it, he referenced himself as trans briefly by talking about himself as a young black girl, but that was in no way the focus of the performance. The excerpt was intellectually dense and engaging and definitely made me want to see the Henry's whole show.

ryka aoki de la cruz debuted a new piece of performance art called "≤1" (less than or equal to one). It was a piece that I look forward to seeing ryka perform again - it was intensly emotional and complex and funny at times and I think it will evolve in performance in good ways.

Sean Dorsey's "Bully" may have been the highlight of the evening for me. It's a lovely, poignant new work about bullying and queer friendship that will eventually be performed as part of a longer work called Untold Stories. Dorsey performs this piece with two other men, which I found interesting because I had only seen him partnering with women before. His work continues to employ lifts and mirroring to eloquently express the ways that people interact. The bullying felt most violent and violating to me in one moment that the dancer playing the bully character touched Dorsey's chest and hips, drawing attention to the feminine parts of Dorsey's masculine body. While the narrative of the piece describes much more dangerous violence, it was this move early in the performance that emphasized the sense of physical violation created by bullying for me. Dorsey's combination of music, choreography, and narrative continues to impress and engage me and I highly recommend this powerful work.

Overall, I had a highly entertaining evening at Fresh Meat, and I'm very glad I attended. Look for more great work by all of these artists throughout the year.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Family parts

Cooper, T. Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes

"Some parts are true, others are made up. Still others are made up, but from entirely true events" (429)

It took me a long time to fall in love with this book. The first 300 pages are a fascinating historical fiction family saga, reminiscent of Ragtime. The blurbs compared it to Middlesex;, though that wasn't necessarily the first thing I thought of while reading it. What didn't immediately come to mind was T. Cooper's first novel, Some of the Parts. Some of the Parts was a beautiful, angry, frustrated novel that I loved and admired even when it was painful. Lipschitz Six has all of that amazing craft and persona in it, but it has something else as well. It's extremely literary and feels more mature than the conflicted angst of Some of the Parts. It builds an entire story of family history and intricately flawed characters before introducing the queer craziness of the T. Cooper literary persona.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Out of Town

After an extremely busy and eventful week, I find myself in San Francisco. Arriving in the Bay, into the home of friends and former roommates, always feels like coming home, and I'm glad to be here taking some time off. My plans for the day include taking a walk and reading in a coffee shop. In fact, that is really my plan for most of the week. There may be a street corner barbecue or some drinking at the local dive gay bar, but that's about it until this weekend.

I also happen to be in San Francisco in the middle of the Queer Arts Festival, an amazing collection of queer performances. There are always many more shows than I could possibly attend and last time I was in SF during the festival, I only made it to one show. This week, I will be attending Fresh Meat on Friday (I already bought my ticket, because they tend to sell out!) and Michelle Tea's Slumber Party Cabaret on Saturday night. The Slumber Party Cabaret is a whole night of queer femme performance, which should be super fun, but I'm totally anxious about what I should wear considering that the wardrobe I brought with me to SF is limited and I will be in the presence of many fabulous and interesting queer femmes. Sigh. It's a good problem to have.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Transcend at LA Pride

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Transcend at LA Pride: Lineup

If you're looking for something queer to do in LA this weekend, come to LA Pride! I know many people have excuses for not attending pride, but instead, I'm trying to make it better. We're putting on 2 really fabulous shows at the Empowerment Stage (next to the Abbey) . Here are the shows with artists in the order they will be appearing

Saturday, June 9th 8-10pm
with Hosts Ashley Love and riKu

Lavonna Marie
Imani Henry
Talia Bettcher (performance art)
Vanesa Camara (dance)
Kale (performance art)
Ryka Aoki De La Cruz
Imani Henry (he's doing 2 short spoken word sets)

Sunday, June 10th 2-4pm
with hosts D'Lo and Ashley Love

Kali B. as Mr. TuffnStuff
Tuesday (music)
Solidad Decosta
Max (performance)
Vanesa Camara (dance)
Shawna Virago
Ariana (comedian)
Stephan Pennington and the Tritones (music)

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Town Full of Elvis

All Shook Up. Orange County Performing Arts Center. 5/31/06.

All Shook Up is a goofy little musical and it isn't exactly good, but it is fun. I actually enjoyed it. It's the story of a random small, boring town in the 1950s (which is, mysteriously, VERY integrated racially). Everyone's sad and bored until an Elvis-like rock and roll musician rides up on his motorcycle. He brings music, love, and excitement to the town and everyone goes a little crazy with the excitement. Hijinks ensue.

This play didn't exactly have an original plot - it was sort of Footloose meets Bye Bye Birdie meets As You Like It. But it was fun nonetheless. It started out slowly with "Jailhouse Rock" and "Heartbreak Hotel" before the plot really started, so those two songs didn't make a lot of sense or seem particularly relavant. But once the "Roustabout" rode into town, the integration of the Elvis songs with the plot was actually pretty interesting. And I even enjoyed the weird musical theater arrangements of the Elvis songs. It's interesting to see them adapt Elvis's music for a large black woman, an older 'unhip' white man, and a Buddy Holly-like sidekick.

My biggest problem with the show was the As You Like It plot in which the heroine does drag to get closer to the boy. Up until that point, I kind of like the heroine. She was a tomboyish motorcycle mechanic who never wears a dress. And I appreciate that putting on the dress didn't automatically get her the guy. But, her attempt to pass as a guy was, easily, the worst drag I've ever seen. It included a profoundly ugly hunting hat and soot on her face to imitate a 5 o'clock shadow. It was hideous. Why couldn't they have given her a haircut like Triumph of Love or even a wig? The fact that I had to watch her in that outfit for half the play made me actively angry. Why couldn't they have made her look like a cute little baby dyke? At first I thought it was homophobia - musn't have our lead appear at all unfeminine, but there was an absoultely brilliant unhomophobic plot twist at the end, so why appear so stupid at the beginning? Grrr.

Other than a few pet peeves, though, I actually really enjoyed this show. It may be my own current interest in retro nostalgia, but I thought this was a fabulous glorification of a loosening of the boundaries of race, sex, and gender through rock music in the late 1950s. While not exactly historically accurate, it's a fun idea nonetheless.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Do you know: What is Genderqueer?

This is one of probably several upcoming posts related to LA Pride.

Performers wated: GenderQueer Revolution on the Empowerment Stage at Los Angeles Pride, June 9 and 10

GenderQueer Revolution, as part of an unprecedented agreement with Christopher Street West, will be presenting at the Empowerment Stage at CSW Pride this year on June 9 and 10th. We are looking for genderqueer performers with presentations/performance pieces with a uniquely genderqueer feel that will enliven, entertain, energize, and also, educate the wider world about genderqueer at one of the largest Pride events in the world. Those selected will have the opportunity to promote their art and their uniquely genderqueer selves by performing before a vast and diverse audience at Pride (including the throngs of people in the entertainment industry) and by selling art and merchandise.

Interested? Then we need to hear from you ASAP!!!! Our selection committee will want to get a feel for you as a performer/presenter as well as your performance. You must provide video of the EXACT performance piece you would like to submit, preferably before a live audience (or reference past GenderQueer Revolution events at which you have performed). Your performance piece/presentation should fall between 10-15 minutes in length. We will have access to microphones, equipment to play audio CDs, and guitar amplifiers.

Send links to video to

Also: Don't forget Transcend: Transgender performance at LA Pride