“Political Camp, Dominated by Drag”: Marsha P. Johnson

Rupaul’s Drag Race came into my life later in high school via a friend and their personal obsession. Half of this friend’s witticisms stemming from the show, rendering us all into constant fits of laughter, paired with them constantly showing me photos of men done up as women looking way prettier than I ever felt… I found myself shook, completely intrigued, and tumbling down after my friend in their rabbit hole of a Drag Race obsession.

When I tell you that I live for the queens’ epic one-liners, the sass for days, the looks being served, the rawness of personality and vulnerability unabashedly being displayed, and the LOVE literally EVERYWHERE… girl, I truly live for it. Drag is an art form. I’ve always loved musicals, live music, performances in general, anything where people just get up on stage and express themselves, no qualms about it. And upon my first taste of Drag Race, I immediately felt that drag is just another facet of the performing arts – it’s the same magical world of comedy, confidence, pure talent, and so much more.

Honestly if you don’t vibe with drag, fine but…

Circa 2012, I was deep within the Drag Race labyrinth, my friend at the helm, us both with no desire to escape. I vividly remember being shocked when we found out that not only was Drag Race not new, but Rupaul wasn’t some underground secret queen locked away for high level fiends. No, no – Rupaul was someone our parents had heard of, jammed out to her music in the 90’s, in other words, a freakin’ star.

Why were we ignorant of this whole world until we were nearly 18? One could speculate that it’s one of the many side effects of growing up between the cornfields of Indiana, but that’s a whole other gift to unbox later down the road.

To this day, when I think I’m a bit more well rounded with the drag world, that I know what’s up, I still get surprised by incredibly important figures whom I had no clue existed. The more recent person that crossed my line of discovery is who Rupaul considers the very mother of drag, Marsha P. Johnson.

Image result for marsha p johnson

Marsha ‘Pay it no mind‘ Johnson

Marsha’s story begins in Elizabeth, NJ where she was born on August 24, 1945 (making her a charismatic Virgo) and she was one of seven children. She was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and remained a devout, practicing Christian for her entire life. Her parents were not particularly accepting of homosexuality; and after graduating high school, Marsha booked it over to New York City with $15 and a bag of clothing. By 1966, she was waiting tables, engaging in sex work, knee deep in drag, and living on the streets of Greenwich Village.

“I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville until I became a drag queen. That’s what made me in New York, that’s what made me in New Jersey, that’s what made me in the world.” 

Marsha P. Johnson

. . .

Marsha had always been an activist for LGBTQ+, but she garnered her fame with the rumor that she sparked the Stonewall Riots having allegedly shouted, “I got my civil rights!” and subsequently throwing a shot glass at a mirror. Some said this — the “shot glass heard round the world” — was the moment that kicked off the riots.

While this is admittedly a largely disputed story, even by Marsha herself… how freakin’ epic does it sound, though?

To further build on Marsha’s bad-assery, in 1970, she and her friend Sylvia Rivera founded STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries) — an organization that provided community support for gay, trans, and gender nonconforming youth. STAR was the first LGBTQ+ youth shelter in North America, the first trans woman of color led organization in the USA, and it was the first trans sex worker labor organization. STAR later expanded to other cities, before unfortunately collapsing in the mid-1970s.

Marsha was also involved with the Gay Liberation Front and participated in the Christopher Street Liberation Pride rally that commemorated the first anniversary of Stonewall. During a rally, Marsha was asked by a member of the press what they were protesting for, to which she shouted famously into the reporter’s microphone, “Darling, I want my gay rights now!”

Throughout Marsha’s activism, she was still living it up performing in drag utilizing her earnings to fund STAR – aka pay rent for those under STAR’s care. Periodically she performed with the international drag troupe, Hot Peaches, which caught my eye for obvious reasons! Hot Peaches was a drag theatre company, founded by Jimmy Camicia in 1972, that would put on a play a week up until the 1990’s.

The work of these Hot Peaches has been described as “political camp, dominated by drag” and was instrumental in the development of the WOW Café as the Hot Peaches performed there frequently and set the tone, culture, and aesthetic of the space.

During her Hot Peaches time, Marsha was also performing with various other drag troupes, a muse for Andy Warhol, and was an AIDS activist working with ACT UP as an organizer and marshal.

She was a revolutionary.

Tragedy struck on July 6, 1992 when Marsha was found dead in the Hudson River. The police and coroner ended up rapidly ruling her death a suicide, despite pressure from the community and the blatant wound in the back of her head.

Almost as if the karmatic activism that Marsha put in the world was now circling back to carry on her legacy, in 2012, Mariah Lopez convinced the police to reopen Marsha’s case as a homicide, in 2017, Victoria Cruz conducted her very own investigation of the murder, and in 2018, Marsha P. Johnson finally got her obituary in the New York Times.

Her legacy even further lives on through the Marsha P. Johnson Institute (MPJI).

MPJI MISSION STATEMENT: “Protect and defend the human rights of BLACK transgender people. We do this by organizing, advocating, creating an intentional community to heal, developing transformative leadership, and promoting our collective power.”

“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

Marsha P. Johnson

. . .

According to research from the 2015 US Trans Survey – Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents: Black trans and gender non-conforming people report experiencing the highest levels of discrimination of all transgender people based on the combination of anti-transgender bias with structural and individual racism.

Marsha pioneered the fight at great length, she made a difference, but it’s our responsibility as a society to push for what is an evolutionary change. It is such a systemic discrimination taking place that it isn’t a change that can take place over night, but it is a change that can happen through meticulous desire and collective grind.

It’s important to get familiar with how to make a difference. Admittedly, this is perhaps the hardest part. As a straight white woman who grew up in a predominantly white corn-shuckin’ town in the Midwest, I struggle with this. How can I make a difference? As you could clearly tell from the beginning of this article, I’ve watched every season (nearly) of Drag Race and thought I knew all there was to know about drag and ‘the story of.’ Laughable.

I want to make a difference but to do that, I still have a lot of unlearning and learning to do.

As someone, somewhere, roughly once said, “You have to understand the system in order to break the system,” so here are some starting points if you want to travel down a compassionate road with me:

“How many years does it take for people to see that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean how many years does it take for people to see that we’re all in this rat race together?”

-Marsha P. Johnson

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Everything in this article barely scratches the surface of Marsha P. Johnson and the discrimination of black trans and gender non-conforming people. Please peruse my sources and do your own research to learn more.

SOURCES:

World Queerstory, MPJI, Stonewall Foundation, NYC’s Hot Peaches, The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), New York Times, BTAC, Vanity Fair, NY Daily News, WOW Cafe Theater, History on the Stonewall Riots, Biography on Sylvia Rivera

Remember the Fifth of November

I have a list of films that I always recommend to people and V for Vendetta has been at the top of that list for over a decade. I watched this film for the first time in junior high, just a few years after its cinematic release and was immediately moved by how timelessly poignant this film is. Released in 2005, this dystopian film takes place in 2028 – 14 years after a horrific virus outbreak ravaged London. Following the story of protagonists Evey and vigilante ‘V’, the audience watches as a tyrannical government is overthrown. Every year on the fifth of November, I watch this film. But during a recent viewing with a friend, I was startled to see the unfortunate and uncomfortable similarities between this film and the hellscape of 2020.

How could a film from 2005, based on a 1980s graphic novel, so accurately depict our current misery? Let’s break that down.

**DISCLAIMER: This film is controversial, graphic and deals with a multitude of sensitive subjects including pandemics, LGBTQ+ issues, homophobia, medical torture, kidnapping, etc. Please watch at your own discretion. SOME SPOILERS BELOW – BE AWARE.


The Setting

Set in modern day London, the country is run by a hyper-conservative, tyrannical government that took control following the explosive ‘St. Mary’s virus’ that consumed the lives of at least 100,000 citizens. Freedom of speech is nearly non-existent, nightly curfews are in place, roving ‘finger men’ police the residents with complete ruthlessness and surveillance vans roam the streets listening in on citizens.


The Villain

The first and most obvious villain is dubbed as ‘V’, the vigilante who demands justice from those who wronged him. V is modeled after Guy Fawkes, a failed rebel from the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 who was immortalized by the British tradition of Bonfire Night. However, the true villain is the government, and more specifically, High Chancellor Adam Sutler, the reigning fascist power in the country.


The St. Mary’s Virus (SPOILER)

The St. Mary’s virus is credited for what brought the tyrannical government – Norsefire – to the ruling party. Showcased publicly as a horrific, random virus, St. Mary’s was later revealed to be a biowarfare created by the very government supposedly protecting citizens. Released in three separate locations – a water treatment plant, a primary school and a hospital – the majority of virus victims were those that the government deemed ‘undesirable’.


So why is this film so impactful?

Once, dystopian landscapes were a far fetched idea used as propaganda or science fiction to entertain the masses, but now it’s different. For me, it feels like we are teetering on the precipice of something major in the United States. Never before, at least in my lifetime, have we been more divided as a nation, although I understand that the generations before us have watched as tyranny ruled countries and have witnessed first-hand the wrath of wars, totalitarianism and fascism. As a pre-teen watching V for Vendetta for the first time, I was astonished to see how a country could change overnight after one incident – one virus – and that so many innocent lives could be lost.

But now, in 2020, I can fully see how that can happen. I hope that there will never be an end of V’s or Evey Hammond’s or Inspector Finch’s, those who strive to find the truth and fight for a better world for us all.

“He was Edmond Dantés… and he was my father. And my mother… my brother… my friend. He was you… and me. He was all of us.” – Evey Hammond, V for Vendetta.

You Should Watch Orphan Black and Here’s Why

Cult-hit from BBC America, Orphan Black, is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, hands down (& I watch a dumb amount of tv). I purchased the first two seasons on a whim at Target one day and binged them the very same weekend. Most importantly, after a five season run, the show ended in a good way, which is a lot to say since most long-running shows usually end in a dumpster fire that pisses off fans and critics alike. I continually return to this show, year after year, to rewatch and fall in love with the characters all over again. It also the first show I recommend and loan to friends looking for something new. Here’s why you should give this sci-fi series a chance (explained without spoilers).

1. Tatiana Maslany is the HBIC

Orphan Black’s lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays a whooping 14 different characters throughout the show, oftentimes appearing in the same scene with multiple versions of herself. Not only that, but the characters will pretend to be other characters in the show which is a major mindf*ck. For example: Sarah will pretend to be Rachel and it’s obvious that it’s Sarah’s character. Thanks to a great continuity coach that assists on every episode to make sure that the movements, speech patterns and overall character vibe is correct, this show is mind blowing. When watching the show, you forget that it’s just one actress playing all of the parts because Tatiana is so unbelievably talented. From accents to voice pitch to style and characteristics, she is hands down one of the best actresses of this century.

MIC DROP.

2. Endless Twists and Turns

This show, while an emotionally heavy investment, has an endless amount of twists and turns. The first episode starts with a bang and that momentum carries all the way through five seasons. Orphan Black is hard to describe because it deals with almost every theme including: cults, religion, science experiments, cloning, infertility, LGBTQ+, familial bonds, body modification, nature vs. nurture, military, drugs, body autonomy and most importantly the idea of a family, created by choice. OB does not shy away from hard topics like rape, abuse, self-harm, substance abuse or miscarriages – which controversially or not – can make this show emotionally hard to watch at times.

3. #Feminism

While there are male characters in the show (S/O Felix, Art and Paul), the show is heavily female led. The protagonist is Sarah Manning with the story following her life as she tries to make amends for her dark past. The main villains also are primarily female, which is an interesting dynamic to see. Sometimes the female villain trope is too played out; too emotional, too vengeful, too easy to understand and defeat. Each of the female characters in the show are unique, strong, defiant and not bound by cursory design.

4. Realistic Characters with Realistic Reactions

So often nowadays, everyone has a super power or extra something to help them through hard situations. This show only has one character that is a little unordinary – Sarah Manning’s daughter Kira. Everyone else for the most part is utterly normal. Allison lives a suburban soccer mom life. Cosima is a scientist attending university. Rachel is a career woman. Sarah is a single mom trying to win back her daughter. Beth was a police officer. Normal people in the face of something absolutely horrendous and abnormal – yet they surpass the circumstances regardless. The character arcs in the show are a sight to see. Paul, a character you love to hate from the beginning, has one of the best character arcs of the entire show and it is heartbreaking. Over the course of five seasons, each character grows in their own way.

5. Cinematic Techniques

One of the most incredible things that Orphan Black does is stitch together scenes involving two characters played by Tatiana Maslany. And I’m not talking just having two of them in a room together utilizing jump cuts like The Parent Trap (1998). These scenes have the characters fighting each other, dancing together, comforting each other and singing together; which again, as one woman playing all of the characters – that’s a feat. Tatiana did have a stunt double to work with in the scenes, who she often referred to as the unsung hero of the show – Kathryn Alexandre. Cinematically, this show would have been so much different without the use of the Technodolly. Technodolly’s memorize a scene and its own movements so that a scene can be shot multiple times then stitched together. OB’s use of the technodolly paved the way for other sci-fi shows like What Happened To Monday (2017).

6. Found Families

One of the biggest takeaways from Orphan Black is the sense of family. Sarah starts out as a misguided single mom, formerly an orphan, who is just trying to run her next scam. She falls into a wild crazy situation which she has absolutely no reason to get involved in – but does anyways. A once lonely-forgotten shit of a person becomes a sister, a mother, a lover and friend. Perfect strangers come together under circumstance to create a true family – something that they never had before. I am a firm believer in found families – families that you create based on your own needs and a shared sense of community which this show emulates perfectly.


Orphan Black can be emotionally heavy and may not be a good fit for everyone, so please watch at your own speed / emotional ability. All seasons can be streamed for free on Amazon Prime Video or you can rent them if you do not have an Amazon membership. It could also be streamed on Netflix EU, as of fall 2019.

What Biphobia Looks Like

Bisexuality: romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females, or to more than one sex or gender.

BIPHOBIA: THE DISLIKE OF OR PREJUDICE AGAINST BISEXUAL PEOPLE

-*-*-*-*-*-

I grew up thinking I had a firm grasp on my own sexual identity.

I didn’t really know much about sexuality in the first place. I did know (or thought I knew) that a person was either straight or gay. I also knew that I wasn’t a lesbian, because I was attracted to boys.

But-

I was also attracted to girls.

I won’t go into detail about my coming out journey, but it took many, many years of denial and swearing up and down that I was totally straight to finally give up and come out as bi when I was 23.

The feelings of confidence and liberation I was given after coming out seemed to be endless. Then, I realized how many people were so deeply biphobic that they couldn’t even realize it. Biphobia can appear in so many different ways, and just because you aren’t homophobic does not mean that you aren’t biphobic!

Here are some offensive biphobic opinions that I’ve encountered:

  1. You’re bisexual?? No you’re just (insert shitty opinion).

I have heard different variations of this so many times in the last 3 years of my life. When I tell someone I’m bi, it’s difficult and uncomfortable. THEN, just to spice up my already awkward, honest and vulnerable state, I’m told by the other person that I’m “probably not bisexual.”

Some reasons people give me to talk me back into the closet are:

“you’re just sick of dealing with men.” I hate the bullshit that men throw into my life as much as the next woman, but first of all, women suck just as much as men do! It’s not the gender of the person you’re dating that sucks. It’s dating in general that sucks. Secondly, let me ask you this: if you were SO fed up with men that you could no longer take it, would YOU (as the 100% heterosexual being you say that you are) decide to solve that problem by sleeping with women? If your answer is yes…you might be bi too.

“you just want to be different.” Look, I’m very happy as a bisexual woman, but this happiness has nothing to do with what other people think about me. In fact, the reactions I get from most people about my sexuality is what makes me unhappy. Sure, who doesn’t want to let their freak flag fly? But also, who would come out of the closet to be judged and questioned for “attention” alone? Ridiculous!

“you’re not different from anyone else. All women are attracted to other women!” This one is favorite because it’s actually comical. Just in case you were wondering…no, not all women are interested in women the same way that they’re interested in men. Again, if you are, you’re possibly batting for both teams, like myself.

2. If you’re bisexual, you’re more likely to cheat on your partner.

This is another biphobic stereotype. Since bisexual women and men are interested in either gender, they’re unfortunately assumed to be hyper-sexual creatures. Just because we can be attracted to a man or a woman, doesn’t mean that we are attracted to all men and women. It also doesn’t mean that we are destined to a life of infidelity.

3. Bisexuality isn’t real.

It’s not only aggravating to be told by someone else that your own sexual identity isn’t correct (see #1), it’s even more frustrating to be told that your sexual identity doesn’t even exist. Yes, there are many people out there that believe it is completely impossible to be attracted to men AND women. These people also consider bisexuality to be made up for attention (also, see #1). Oddly enough, this seems to apply more to bisexual men. I assume this stems from the same homophobia that tells people that lesbians are hot, but gay men are terrifying (I grew up in a red state, so these opinions are ones I’ve heard far too much).

Anyway, for those of you who still sort of think bisexuality is made up, remember that sexuality is a SPECTRUM. There’s even an online quiz to see where you fall on the scale. Also–just because YOU identify as only seeing one sex as a potential mate, does not mean that everyone else feels the same way. Thanks for attending my Ted Talk.

-*-*-*-*-*-

In summation, wherever you land on the Kinsey Scale is 100% acceptable and it’s what makes you, YOU. Anyone who considers themselves a part of the LGBTQIA community can tell you horror stories of their encounters with stereotypes, confused straight people and even downright bigots. However, 2020 is already bad enough! Now’s the time to be comfortable with yourself and just allow the haters to do their jobs.

Let yo freak flag fly.