We here at Dangerous Minds generally steer clear of the “cute.” It’s not that we’re actively anti-cute or anything, it’s just that “cute” rarely intersects with our curation filter of “dangerous.” The kids in Lindsay Morris’ photography however, manage to be both dangerous and adorable. Morris documented children aged 5-12 attending a camp where children are free to express their gender. They call it Camp “You Are You” but that’s actually a pseudonym to protect the campers’ privacy and all children were photographed with parental permission.
For many of these children, their perceptions of their gender are misaligned with their bodies. They may later identify as gay, transgender, or somewhere in between. This is just one way of being that has always existed, but only now are we developing the ability to say it’s OK not to put everyone in a neat little box. It will require all of us to break the habit of assigning individuals a gender label and to start thinking of gender on a broader spectrum. I know how lonely, and at times traumatic, life for an LGBT child can be. Looking over your shoulder and navigating your way through curious classmates and the occasional bully can be exhausting. That need to explain one’s self does not exist at camp. Pure freedom of expression is a compelling and emotional thing to witness.
Lindsay Morris is publishing a book in October, a resource for adults working with queer youth and she’d like to eventually travel with a multimedia show of the project. Her biggest goal is to start a fund for the kids who can’t afford the camp so that every child can have access to a safe space of their peers.
I ended my first Notes from the Niallist column by mentioning the collective I am a co-founder of, and performer with, called Tranarchy.
Frankly, it’s Tranarchy that has been taking up most of time, and distracting me from mining the cultural coal face for Dangerous Minds. But that’s the trade-off I guess, as Tranarchy is helping to create the diamonds people discover under all that dust.
As the name would suggest, Tranarchy is a drag-and-trans-heavy collective interested in subverting, and commenting on, normative gender roles. I know that all sounds very serious, but Tranarchy is dedicated to putting the fun first, and letting people discover the message for themselves, without having it rammed down their throats. There’s just too much hectoring in this world already, and not enough people willing to lead by example, i.e. living the life they want to live regardless of what society says. Sniff all you like at the supposed frivolity of drag queens and the “feminine” aesthetic, as historically has been the case with male-dominated, straight society, but always remember how much guts it takes to flaunt your otherness in public.
Besides the political aspect, however, there’s something almost magical going on with Tranarchy. And I mean “magical” in terms of seeing dreams and desires become a reality. We started the collective just over a year ago, and as we have grown at a surprising rate, we have managed to put on events and happenings that, just 18 months ago, we (literally) could only have dreamed of.
So far, we have hosted Manchester’s first ever vogue ball, called Vogue Brawl (now into its second year.) We’ve held a number of interactive film screenings in the style of the legendary Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass in San Francisco (Showgirls, Zoolander, Mad Max: The Road Warrior with Empire Drive-In and Abandon Normal Devices.) We have created promo videos and photos shoots for our events that show off much of Manchester’s untapped talent, and these are beginning to get attention in the States and further beyond. Our most popular film so far is the promo for Vogue Brawl 2: Pride Is Burning, which can be basically summed up as “The Warriors in drag.”
The collective is very aware of gay and trans history and we want to celebrate that. We’ve held a few outlaw parties inspired by the original New York club kids James St James and Michael Alig, and documented them in the style of the sadly-missed pioneering NYC videographer Nelson Sullivan.
This is where it gets interesting, though. Our first outlaw party was a reclaiming of the Manchester tram system, which, as anyone who has ever used public transport will know, can get pretty hairy if you stand out in any way. Our last outlaw party was even bigger, in terms of execution and impact. It was an invasion of, and statement about, Manchester’s annual “Pride” festival of gay culture and awareness.
Every year, Manchester Pride is held in the city’s Gay Village and attracts up to 40,000 people, making it one of the flagship gay Pride festivals in the UK. However, the amount of money raised for charity as opposed to the amount of money raised for personal profit has been a major, running issue for a while, as has the fact that a festival celebrating gay visibility, and interaction with the wider, local community, is held in a walled-off compound that charges people to enter.
However, the one thing the Manchester Pride organizers don’t have control over is the large canal that runs right through the Gay Village, and along side Canal St, where much of the festivities take place. So, as a bit of a lark, Tranarchy took a barge down to the Village this year, and crashed the Pride party to perform a few numbers and make a basic point.
We have issued an official Tranarchy statement detailing some of the problems with Manchester Pride to accompany the YouTube video, and here is an extract from that:
Freeing Pride is not an attack on Pride as a party, and it is not just about the fences and the ticket prices. Its about setting Pride free from the businesses and individuals who seek profit before the well-being of our community. It’s about asking what the event is really about, who benefits from it who should pay for it, and remembering why we do it in the first place! Its about asking whats more important; extra cash for an organization reaching out to the most vulnerable among us, or getting to see Steps [90s pop band] one last time before they slip into room 101?
In short, we were all incredibly nervous about pulling this stunt, but it turned out better than we could have hoped. Check out the old voguing queen we encountered at the end of the video, in the Piccadilly basin, which is a well-known cruising ground:
Our YouTube video channel is here, and for regular news updates, subscribe to Tranarchy on Facebook.
Meet Ssion, the gender bending electro-punk dance band from Kansas City, led by front person Cody Critcheloe. Is Cody a man or a woman? I’m not completely sure, but it’s not important - s/he can be whatever you want hir to be. And as with other current queer artists like JD Samson, Cody likes to play with people’s traditional perceptions of style and beauty - witness the trademark combo monobrow and mustache, a pretty risqué fashion move in these anti-hair-biased times
Ssion (pronounced “shun”) are a full on audio/visual/performance-troupe well known for their live shows and support slots for the likes of Gossip and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Critcheloe has been making a respectable career as a video director on the side, working with Peaches, Liars and Scream Club. Ssion formed in Kansas in 1996 and released their first material in 2003. The band released their last album Fools Gold in 2007 and with it the full length feature film Boy which compiled all their music videos and has been described as a “gay, punk rock equivalent of Forest Gump.” Ssion have taken the step of releasing their new album Bent as a free download for a limited time, and it’s definitely worth downloading. As with Tyler the Creator’s first album Bastard, it’s surprising to hear music released for free that is of this high quality.
Make no mistake though - Bent is pop music. It’s party music, it’s designed for dancing - for those moments at a friend’s house when the sun is coming up, you’ve had a ball, but you’ve got that melancholic feeling that to quit now as it’s can’t get any better. There are shades of very early Madonna here, coupled with the classic mid-80s synth driven sound of the Pet Shop Boys and Eurodisco, all refracted through early 90s NY dance pop like Deee-Lite. Bent is basically the album the Scissor Sisters should have made by now, classy dance music stripped of the chintz (and Elton bloody John references) and honed to a sharp electro-pop point. It’s pretty damn good. So my advice to you dear readers is to let a little bit of Ssion into your life - get Bent.
Ssion - “Clown”
Ssion - “Psy-Chic”
Ssion - “Luvvbazaar”
Ssion - “Credit In The Straight World” Excellent cover of
What the hell?! How has this sailed under my radar for so long? And more to the point, how come nobody thought of this before? Tarantino and Rodriguez, I’m looking at you…
As the title may suggest, Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives is a very low budget exploitation flick about a group of transgendered, transvestite and cisgendered ladies who suffer a brutal trans-phobic bashing one night, and decide to take matters into their own hands. Knives, revenge and sheer-black catsuits ensue. Because it takes balls to get revenge. Of course, this isn’t some kind of modern masterpiece-in-waiting, but dammit, it looks like A LOT of fun! The premise is neat, the direction looks good, and the cast is very spirited. What more do you need out of an exploitation flick? Planet of Terror blog has this to say:
I know we all need another retrosploitation movie like we need a hole in the head. But writer/director Israel Luna is genuinely gifted and he has a knack for both the comedic as well as the over the top insanity which is needed to make these types of films work. ... It’s bloody, it’s gory, it’s howlingly good fun.
More on Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives at the official website (including DVD, screening and Netflix info)
Thanks to Dean Birkett for the tip off!
San Francisco disco diva Sylvester James’s appearance at a dance party in a subterranean SF Muni station in the Castro district in 1979 couldn’t have been more fraught. The neighborhood had just been shaken to the core the previous fall with the shooting death of Harvey Milk, SF’s first openly gay supervisor. Ahead lay the AIDS epidemic, which would eventually take Sylvester himself 22 years ago this week at age 41.
But on that night, Sylvester was at the peak of his success. He was just about to release his 5th album, Stars, the follow-up to 1978’s Step II, which had hit #7 on the American R&B charts and included one of gay America’s legendary anthems, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” After his first taste of mainstream success, and after nine years of the official Gay Pride parade in San Francisco, after coming this far, perhaps it seemed fitting for the community to get back to its roots and and take the party underground again.
Thanks to Erica Green for bringing this to my attention…