It was 2007 and I was about to graduate from college with a B.A. in hand. I actually skipped the traditional cap and gown for a 50s inspired red and white polka dot dress and a pair of sunglasses but that would happen a few months down the line from one of the biggest collegiate staged queer shows in the country. The “Queer Fashion Show” had actually started out when some gay men decided to host a fashion show to show off their designs. Well, one thing led to another and soon the it became a blowout extravaganza with a cast exceeding 100 and an array of dance, film, song, spoken word, skits, and maybe one fashion entry a year. It was where you wanted to be if you were out in the redwoods of Santa Cruz.
I had been part of previous casts. I danced in a queer retelling of “The Taming Of The Shrew” rebranded as “The Taming Of The Gay” in which a homophobic king reigns over the land with “gaygents” who always entered and danced to Prodigy monitored the kingdom for gay activity, including that of the young prince. In a stunning turn of events, one of the “gaygents” was actually the superheo (and director and choreographer of the piece) SUPERGAY who leads a team of rainbow clad freedom operatives to take on the gaygents, free the prince, and then marry him in a double ceremony with his lesbian sister.
I was also in a piece titled “Drag King Divas” where a huge gender queer cast performed in ruffled tux shirts, oversized bowties, and superfag dance steps to Motown hits. For my time on the catwalk I went to FU Tattoo and got myself a corset piercing by Pat Blackstorm who was a great piercer and willing to work with my weird situation. Another project was about body image and I was in a cast split into those of nearly naked and covered in trashbags thrown out onto the catwalk and ripped out of the bags to be shamed for our obvious flaws and adorned with giant signs before we revolt and tear everything up in an act of self-love and teamwork. That piece was the subject of a parody the following year which was a source of needed humor.
I hadn’t expected to be a part of the giant Queer Fashion Show my senior year. I was trying to finish a double major, coordinating an HIV test program and overseeing 13 volunteers, interning for the chancellor, and working retail downtown. It was an insanely busy year and I still have no idea what the hell I was thinking. I did see a lot of beautiful sunrises from working all night, that’s for damn sure. I smoked like chimney and I was permanently stressed out about everything. A super sweet and shy queer woman I knew approached me with a script she had written. Most of the QFS pieces were light on the dialog, heavy on the ‘dance to save the world’ mentality. It was titled Dawn Of The Dykes.
The script concerned a young, innocent, and hopelessly naive girl from the midwest with an ankle length floral dress and long curly hair who comes to college and meets her roommate who is a seasoned veteran of niche queer social groups. The stage is set: the naive girl opens the door on the midpoint of the stage. On the other side, “Polly” is wearing a daring outfit with loud colors and tight corset. She has a boy and a girl on a leash and all three are going through a giant collection of sex toys. The naive young girl is surprised by tries to be polite. “You must be my new roommate! This is my boyfriend and this is my girlfriend. We’re all pleased to meet you. I’m Polly!”
I had to laugh because I was being asked to play Polly and it felt like typecasting. I had a reputation for being a serious sexual explorer who tried to have as few obstacles like ‘gender’ ever get in the way of a good time. I had been the president of a campus BDSM club, I ran around hosting safer sex workshops with HIV testing, I taught workshops on bondage and sex toys for the broke. When I made a joke about the similarities the writer didn’t beat around the bush. “I’m really glad you accepted the role. I actually based the character on you.”
Dawn Of The Dykes was a commentary on cliques in the queer community. As I show the new girl around campus and take her to the cafeteria, she spots the GF of the leader of the “power lesbians.” Dressed in similar styles and always hanging out in a herd, the leader of the power dykes had no problem throwing her weight around and commanding the posse of the socially powerful. When the new girl has a moment of falling in love with the leader’s GF, I decide to take the young thing under my wing and teach her all she needs to know about becoming a “power lesbian.”
In the next scene, the new girl has a whole new look and it matches the “power lesbians” perfectly. She stands on stage to the Theme From Rocky as I quiz her on the details and icons of power lesbianism. She’s pumped up and confident like a boxer ready to go in for the kill when she makes her debut, but the leader of the power lesbians is so impressed she saddles right on up and the new girl becomes the new girlfriend. Polly (with her boyfriend and girlfriend still on leashes) stands with the ex-power lesbian girlfriend who is unceremoniously discarded for the new, shiny, and powerful. The four watch the posse go by as Polly calmly spells it out, “Looks like the alpha dyke got a new dog.”
It was short and it was fun. The entire cast was actually made up entirely of more ‘B-list’ dykes. We were composed of marine biology lesbians who always wore hunter green gamer shorts, cynics, pedantic theorists, and other queer women who look and feel awkward and the dance floor and thusly avoid them and parties with flashy lights. I don’t think I ever gave the script writer full enough kudos for her really broad analysis of what was happening around her. It was an astute commentary. Moreover, she had my number pretty good, too. She had me pegged for someone who enjoyed sex and went after it directly, maintained a bevy of lovers, but still on the social outskirts. It was a great snap shot of what it means to have confidence and social capital.
This would all be nostalgia were it not for the recent Sex Summit. After the days talks there was a cocktail hour at the hotel. As the night wore on a woman approached me from the crowd. “I don’t know if you remember me but I was your girlfriend in college.” A few seconds passed before I realized that I was talking to my “girlfriend” from Dawn Of The Dykes. Nearly five years later I’m still “Polly” in many regards. The hyperbole had been in fun but when I spend so much time making movies with my queer porn posse, we do wind up leashing one another and creating ridiculous scenarios as a pretext for filmed sex for pleasure and profit. It was serendipity to see her.
After reveling in the memories, I had a moment of regret for deleting my Facebook a few years ago. (And you should too!) I want to get in touch with the people behind this skit in an undergraduate massive sold out show about pride, confusion, clashes, controversy, and intersections. I remember faces but I’m horrid with names leaving me to wonder how people are doing.
It also reminds me of the vital importance of groups that work with and for queer youth. After feeling so isolated in my sexual identity and ideas about what gender meant I needed to know that I wasn’t totally alone in the world. Just because you’re queer doesn’t mean you get along with everyone’s that is queer but it’s also really healing to have arguments with someone when your sexual identity isn’t the root of the problem so much as who your favorite member of a given band. This is why I support places like LYRIC in San Francisco and the Ali Forney Center in New York. It’s important to have queer clubhouses, physical spaces for queer youth that are ready to just put on some TV and pop some popcorn as well the training and support to get in touch with crisis counseling, shelter accommodations and healthcare that is supportive of gender identity and sexual orientation.
***In unrelated news, I want to extend condolences to the loved ones of Stalking Cat. The piercer who did my corset with jewelry for QFS once appeared in a documentary with Stalking Cat whose body modifications represented not only transpeciation to a totem animal but also transgender core elements. In researching this post I discovered that Stalking Cat died as a result of suicide. Stalking Cat was a famous “freak” that many people had heard about or seen in pictures or body mod documentaries. Despite becoming a famous face, Stalking Cat never found much money in their life or transformation. A family member is trying hard to raise funds to prevent Stalking Cat’s belongings from being sold at auction. It is with profound love for freaks, queers, body modders, gender delinquents, and other weirdos that I pass the link along. It takes so much courage to chase your identity and dreams. It is tragic that we are so antagonistic to those who steadfastly pursue themselves without bothering any others in their efforts.