“Wait…they expected STRIPPERS?” The glares from the audience confirm that whatever they expected, this North Carolina lesbian bar audience is not happy with our fully-clothed arts. In the middle of touring the first Heels on Wheels Glitter Roadshow, my annual all-queer-femme performance tour, we got an education in the social expectations applied to queer people who display femininity: just shut up and take off your clothes.
As a co-producer and co-founder of the Glitter Roadshow, I had a vision in which queer folks anywhere on the feminine spectrum — fey fags, high femmes, hard femmes, dandy genderqueers & more — could present high-quality interdisciplinary artwork that people would listen to and be inspired by that was not writing or burlesque, which have their own tours and niches. As working-class folks we knew we’d have to find a way to get this work into the world on our own, so like punks we started independently booking and touring the US in 2010, the year of this eye-opening encounter. We couldn’t figure out why the venue and audience at this one gig was acting so strangely to us until we examined the poster we’d sent them a few weeks earlier and saw that Lesbian Strippers was written on it, and then crossed out.
Some of us on the tour have been strippers in our lives, and I support all sex workers, but that’s not what we’re touring. That’s not what we told the venue we were touring. The simple fact that we sent a nice poster that featured four polished, conventionally “pretty” folks announcing a show was enough for a whole bar staff to assume that we would be naked at some point and write that on our poster. This pervasive attitude, called sexism, is why we tour, why we made this show in the first place, and enough to keep us going into what is about to be our fifth tour this April. Sexism shows up in all communities — queer and otherwise. Making art that replaces sexism with complicated and awesome displays of queer femme/ininities can confront and shift sexist assumptions into spaces for more kinds of people to be comfortable in. And that, my friends, is called social change: our Secret Gay Agenda, covered in glitter and grit.
The Heels on Wheels Glitter Roadshow emerges from an active anti-oppression, intersectional, liberatory standpoint boldly asserting: art can change our world. Sure it’s a fabulous and fun art extravaganza that combines multi-media, literary and performing arts, music, participatory art, and fierce looks onstage. But make no mistake, we are intentionally troubling the question: what and who are queer femmes? We make art and organize in our communities to build power for historically-marginalized LGBTQ stories and people. We use live performance to examine intersections of race, class, trauma, grief, and other topics that can be difficult to discuss casually. The Glitter Roadshow is curated to celebrate, complicate and query what it is, looks like, sounds like, and feels like to be in the world in a queer, feminine body.
Creating and touring a DIY/grassroots art tour isn’t easy. Most of the work done to make it happen is volunteered, and since our door fees are always sliding-scale to make the events financially accessible we don’t pull in a lot of money. But, that one awkward show aside, every single one of the Glitter Roadshow events we’ve done so far — all 39 of them, all across the entire USA — have been gorgeous, raucous, spirit-lifting, community-building, thought-provoking acts of resistance that I’m incredibly proud to be part of making happen.
This year’s tour is one I’m especially excited about. DJ/musician Shomi Noise plays guitar and reads from her zine series “Building Up Emotional Muscles,” the story of her journey as a Bolivian immigrant navigating U.S. culture and finding herself through alternative music scenes. Heather Ács’ “Welcome to the Waldorf Hysteria” uses multi-media high-femme drag histrionics to reach beyond language and ask, what do we gain when we lose control? Angel Nafis’ poetry celebrates the everything and everywhere of her world, of love and divinity, of her black girl brilliance in its vastness and depth. Alvis Parsley‘s heartfelt confession draws on their experiences as a genderqueer Asian while questioning the roles of institutions, authority, and the ecosystem of the arts with both humor and tenderness. Sabina Ibarrola melts down and melts hearts in a pop culture performative exploration of breaking up and breaking through with the help of karaoke and Carrie Bradshaw. Myself, Damien Luxe, am presenting “Femme Footprints In The Sand” and use mermaids and powdered milk to explore dreams and thriving past poverty. This year also includes video art by Celeste Chan & Nomy Lamm, Ellie Beth Krnich, Jacqueline Mary, Louis Chavez & Demian Diné Yazhi’, and Kristin Li.
By actively complicating what it looks like, sounds like, IS like to shamelessly and lovingly represent femininity, dandyness, fey, femme and queer, this tour confronts misogyny and sexism. We use cultural works to sabotage the status quo of gender, sexuality, and “feminine” appearance, replacing it with many visions and ideas of what thriving and surviving as femme folks can be. The tour is working class-led and multi-racial, and our performances include cisgendered and trans folks, QPOC, mixed race folks, sex workers, immigrants, survivors: all fiercely political feminist queer artists who come together in a wild stage show of radical extravagance and thought-provoking glamour.
Come see the glitter and grit for yourself: don’t miss the fifth Heels on Wheels Glitter Roadshow, April 11-20, 2014 on the East Coast and in Canada. And don’t assume anything except that you’ll have a lot to take in.