Reasons to Have Pride in 2012, Part 4
Because we know the value of “girlesque”
The cherry-lipped, singing, dancing Pin Up Girls have been performing for years now (a sort of sexier, gayer Pussycat Dolls) on TV (Logo, MTV, Spike TV, Showtime) and onstage in three cities (New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas). The Pin Up Girls’ latest videos (in which they sing, not lip-sync) are “Girl Candy,” a cute lesbian romp starring Elaine Hendrix from Superstar, and “Pretty Things,” a “retro burlesque, dark, and dirty video with a wicked story line” by director Joe LaRue. We caught up with founder Vixen Romeo to talk about butch burlesque, straight audiences, and life on stage. We even got her to reveal her secret identity.
The Advocate: The show I went to a few months ago really had a speakeasy feel to it. Was that intentional?
Vixen Romeo: Yes, we were trying a new format in a new space. It was the first time we danced in window frames, doorways, in choreographed patterns through the room, hopping on tabletops. Group numbers were broken into sections performed on the floor and on a bitty runway stage. It was very different for us!
How long have you been doing this? Did you do this solo before creating The Pin Up Girls?
I started dancing when I was 3 years old. I started teaching dance when I was 16. I've been in dance companies, I've performed solo, then came The Pin Up Girls — which has been a wild unexpected ride!
Unlike a lot of neo-classical burlesque troupes, you also sing and perform in your own music videos. How do you define yourselves as a troupe?
We began as a burlesque, tribal belly dance company with a touch of hip-hop. We made a dance studio out of my bedroom. My roommate at the time, my BFF Russell, was a doll about the whole thing. When you don't have money you improvise but you must always do what you love. We evolved into what I'd define as a burlesque girl group. I never imagined what it would become.
The cast on your website is pretty large. Do you rotate girls in and out of different shows?
We do. Our cast is very large. There is the main cast, The Drag Bois, we have guest stars, we have perma-guest stars, fill-in cast, on-call cast in New York, and returning Pin Up alumni for cameos in music videos and special appearances on stage. I'd have to sit and count all the girls on rotation — it'd take a while. For example, we are currently filming “Pretty Things,” a film noir-style murder mystery music video, so, we have Pin Ups and Drag Bois coming in from all over for filming: Vegas, Detroit, Idaho, Texas. If a pin up cast member has to move for personal reasons, family, jobs, school etc. they simply return for the main Pin Up Girl events. It's a very big family!
How long has the troupe been around? How many women have been with you since the beginning?
The Pin Up Girls started in 2005 with just a handful of girls. The original faces still performing are me, Brown Sugar, Top 69 DeWilde, and Coco Puff. Another early cast member, Kittie Cat, is making a cameo appearance in “Pretty Things.”
Tell me about The Drag Bois. Why bring them in? What do they add to the show?
When I first started casting, I auditioned for what I coined as The Drag Bois, a division of The Pin Up Girls that has been with us from day one. I thought it was very important that I represent for andro-chicks in our showcase everywhere we went — even if the audience was primarily straight. Did it confuse some of our audience members? Yes. Did it bother some people promoters, clubs? Of course. Have I been asked to change it? I have. But I don't and I won't. I used art to make a political statement, as a way to build acceptance and a better understanding of how breaking the mold is beautiful and sexy. It's also always been important to me that I be a strong role model for young people and that I provide good role models within the cast as well; so that young les-girls dealing with, well, what we deal with, can look on our stage, watch our videos, and see a bit of themselves and feel proud about who they are. The Drag Bois are essential to the show, the band, and to the image and vision I initially set out to project. They play character roles on stage and they provide delicious eye candy for the ladies.
You’re here in the heart of Hollywood. Does that affect your audience, your performances, what you do offstage?
Ah, the New Yorker comes to Hollywood! Since we live in Los Angeles this is where we do most of our shows and filming and it's where we do all of our recording with Top69 Productions and producer Jeremy Hinskton. It's home base. LA has been great to us from the start. Everything we became we owe to our fans and the root of that fan base started here. We perform full force every place we go, every audience, every venue, every city.
And when you’re not on stage?
Offstage we always remember that we are representing The Pin Up Girls and that means manners — “pleases” and “thank yous” — and hair and makeup looking pin up lovely on and off stage. Spankings are delivered at home for bad behavior.
How many of you in the troupe are full-time performers and how many have day jobs outside entertainment?
Oh lordy, let's see, I'm in the UCLA writing program in addition to running The Pin Up Girls. Top 69 DeWilde produces music, does improv, and is assistant director of The Pin Up Girls. Brown Sugar dances full time and does volunteer animal rights work. Coco Puff dances full time and is constantly on the go. Cherry Bonita has a day job — her secret alter ego can be found on our stage — and Rosie Reform dances full time back and forth between here and Las Vegas. We share Porcelain Venus with the acclaimed Belly Dance Superstars. Ryder Quinn is a security guard. Lucky 7 Denver is a full time heart breaker. Scarlet Mae is a designer — oh, this could go on and on forever. Eliana Thain, well, she's only 6-years-old, so she doesn't have a day job yet, but she is playing baby Vixen Romeo in “Pretty Things.”
Tell me more about “Girl Candy,” your latest video.
We wanted to do something fun. “Girl Candy” was musically playful and a blast to film. We wanted to record something with a little trendier sizzle and a little less retro flare than “There She Goes...She's Real Fly.” We added actress Elaine Hendrix because we adore her cool chick flicks, especially Superstar, and she's a natural born pin up. With “Girl Candy” we went very cute and light, which is the opposite of what we are filming now with director Joe LaRue. “Pretty Things” is retro burlesque — dark, and dirty with a wicked story line.
Who are some of the stars you’ve shared the stage with and who’s had the most impact on you?
Margaret Cho is an amazing person; she opened her arms up to The Pin Up Girls early on. We shared the stage with BETTY and they essentially put our band on the map by playing our music on Showtime’s The L Word. Performing at Music Box with Jane Lynch and Uh Huh Her was awesome — all such inspirational down to earth women. There have been so many that have impacted us, that's just to name a few.
What’s next for you?
More music, more live performances and more filming— short films, a webisode, who knows?
Yeah, an audience in New York is different from LA, LA is different from San Francisco, San Francisco is different from Arizona and so on. In NY and Vegas girls get kind of rowdy.
How many women in the troupe define themselves as lesbian, queer, or bisexual?
Lesbians, there are quite a few; bi girls, there's a bunch; queer, a good handful — pun intended — and we have two straight up straight girls. Or, ahem, or so we think. [Laughs]
Do you see differences when you perform for other women that you do when you perform for men?
Women vs. men is the eternal question. We've had rowdy women, observant women, straight women, bi-curious ladies, and we’ve made some women cling to their significant others for dear life. Men are usually like whoa, whoot, yayah — especially the gay ones! We've had to bounce straight guys off the stage more than once. Both sexes pop out cell phones, other recording devices, occasionally trying to sneak on stage or pull one of us off the stage. That's rock and roll! The show is fun for all so we perform for lots of mixed crowds.
You have a lot of fans that follow you, but I hear you have someone you adore.
Yes, I live for my class with author Claire McNab; she a brilliant mentor, she tells it like it is. I'm officially a McNab groupie. I spend a lot of time writing. I’m currently editing my fiction novel; it’s a young adult, paranormal, queer love story that takes place in the Pacific Southwest in the 1950s. I'm planning to get my masters degree in literature, if I can ever find the time.
You are famously tattooed. Tell me about your tats.
Most of my tattoos have meaning — important dates, words I love: On my forearm, I tattooed part of a text, one of my best friends, Joe Lauria, sent me the night before he died. It reads, “In the midnight hour she cried.”
You paid homage to Joe elsewhere, too, right?
Yes, if you look carefully there's a retro design Joe Lauria poster on the wall in Girl Candy.
What doesn’t the world know about Vixen Romeo?
My stage character is outgoing but in real life I can be very reclusive. I have two cats, a dog, and a fish. Family is very important to me. I'm loyal as all heck to my friends. I have an obsession with Old Navy PJ pants. I have an obsession with Top 69 DeWilde —luckily it goes both ways. I love Robert Smith. I have an entourage of boys, in New York, my best friends — I often call them at strange hours. Black is my real hair color. I'm nocturnal by nature. I rearrange my furniture often.
And the final Bruce Wayne question…
My real name is Julia Diana.
The former president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, Nina Jacobson was notoriously fired over the phone in 2006 while in the hospital where her wife was giving birth to their son, William, and her father was in the ICU. But the former Disney chief — long called the most powerful lesbian in Hollywood — started her own production company, Color Force, and this spring released a little movie called The Hunger Games. Now she’s laughing all the way to the bank.
When lesbian filmmaker Tanya Wexler heard about the treatment for female hysteria (i.e. orgasms) she says, “I knew it was a story I had to tell.” Her film Hysteria, which opens May 18, is a romantic comedy wrapped around the surprising story of the first electro-mechanical vibrator, invented in 1880 by happenstance, at a time when Victorian prudishness coincided with the dawn of the electrical age. It has Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in key roles and out actor Rupert Everett as the eccentric and wealthy Edmund St. John-Smythe (who was reportedly so passionate about new technology that he had a telephone installed before Buckingham Palace did), and lots of women getting orgasmic.
This is the first film in 10 years for Wexler, who took time off to help raise four kids with her partner of 17 years, actress Amy Zimmerman. Wexler, who’s also half-sisters with actress Daryl Hannah, says being a lesbian helped her understand the material. “I have been on both sides of table, so to speak,” she says. “So I know the situation from both the doctor and patients’ point of view.” The hardest part was making sure that it was a “thoroughly British” film: “I was interested in the fact that in what can be a very proper — some would say repressed — culture, such ideas and inventions [as the vibrator] were possible. I think that is where the comedy comes from, that contrast. So, in many ways, the more authentically British this movie felt, the funnier!”
Because we’re the stars of the science fair
Gay science writer Jesse Bering’s new book, Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? And Other Reflections on Being Human, is brainy and hilarious, and at a time when federal funding for sexuality research is at stake, Bering makes the case that sex is a deeply crucial aspect of science and humanity for us to understand. Maybe someone should send Bering’s collection of essays to some of our more prudish Congress members who don’t believe the science of sex and gender should be studied. As he writes, “Data don’t cringe; people do.”
Because the next freshman congressional class may have some new LGBT faces
Barney Frank is retiring at the end of the current term after more than 30 years in office, and Tammy Baldwin, America’s first openly gay congresswoman, is in the political race of her life for retiring Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl’s seat. When both lawmakers leave the House of Representatives, the number of out gay members could drop by half. Or it could grow: LGBT people from California to New Jersey are seeking congressional office in November, and many of them have a good chance of winning. They include Kyrsten Sinema (pictured), an Arizona state legislator; Mark Takano, a Democratic candidate for Southern California’s 41st district; and Richard Tisei, a Republican vying for a seat in Massachusetts. All have been endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
When activist Richard Noble announced his plan to carry the rainbow flag all the way across the United States, skepticism was plentiful. After he alerted the media, just one local photographer showed up in San Francisco for the send-off in March 2011. Noble spent the next month walking from one end of California to the other, and he kept on walking all the way to Louisiana, where he arrived a year later. Soon he’ll reach Florida. All along the way, Noble has met with lawmakers and pressed the case for a comprehensive federal equal rights bill. Now transgender man Mikal Chall is following in his footsteps with a plan to walk from California to the District of Columbia on behalf of all “second-class citizens.”
Because there is a more perfect score
Even with more stringent criteria in the latest Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign, 190 corporations achieved perfect scores. The new rules require companies to offer comprehensive health care coverage for transgender employees and take into account corporate giving: no more donations to antigay political causes allowed. For the first time, the HRC found that gender identity is included in antidiscrimination policies by 50% of Fortune 500 companies. In 2002, the first year of the survey, only 13 businesses got a top score. Check out the full list here.
Lesbian and bi women skipped the TV networks and took programming straight to the Internet, where tons of original queer-girl series top what’s on must-see TV. The Slope (pictured bottom right), McManusLand, Cowgirl Up, Girl/Girl Scene, Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden, B.J. Fletcher: Private Eye, and The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else are just some of a diverse array of shows. While a bisexual man produces Stephanie Reibel’s A Rose by Any Other Name, it’s one of the best representations of bisexual women in history, and
Because Suze Orman is helping individuals and families across the country dig their way out of the recession
Because StoryCorps is putting LGBT lives in the Library of Congress
NPR’s partner phenom StoryCorps is recording 30-minute conversations with LGBT people for posterity. So what is StoryCorps? Only one of the largest oral history efforts ever. It’s a nonprofit project that seeks to record, share, and preserve the stories from the lives of everyday Americans. Since 2003, more than 50,000 people have interviewed family and friends and made their conversations part of the American Folklife Center collection at the Library of Congress — including transgender parents, lesbian cancer survivors, Stonewall activists, and ordinary folks.
“Whenever people listen to these stories, they hear the courage, humor, trials and triumphs of an incredible range of voices,” says Dave Isay, StoryCorps’s founder. “By listening to one another, we can illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive.” StoryCorps actively recruits LGBT folks all year long in cities across the U.S. Each participant gets a CD of the interview, and their pieces are sometimes aired on National Public Radio, as some segments air each week on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Dykes have been describing Tello Films, created by Christin Mell and Nicole Valentine, as “the Hulu for lesbians” for years now. Tello’s films and Web series are all iDevice-friendly (meaning the content is compatible with iPods, iPads, etc.), making the company the leader in mobile queer-girl content. An upcoming Tello series, the teen LGBT homelessness drama The Throwaways (TelloFilms.com), should reinvent the formula for a wider audience. Meanwhile, founder Shirin Papillon’s One More Lesbian is a power aggregator of the Web’s best lesbian and bisexual video.
Because there’s a new reason to think before you pink
Pink Ribbons, the much-lauded documentary by Canadian lesbian filmmaker Léa Pool, exposes how some companies have reaped huge profits and visibility by selling products associated with the fight against breast cancer, though those companies actually do little to advance research, treatment, or prevention. What’s more, Pool finds that some corporations may even be contributing to the disease by releasing carcinogens into the environment. She also notes that breast cancer awareness campaigns seldom portray minorities, including lesbians, who constitute a high-risk group. She says she wants audiences “to be more critical and more politically conscious about our actions and to stop thinking that by buying pink toilet paper we’re doing what needs to be done.… I don’t want to say that we absolutely shouldn’t be raising money. We are just saying, ‘Think before you pink.’ ” The film opens in the U.S. in June.
Because tawdry fictionalized tales of our lives are hungered for around the world
As soapy and sensational as it could be, the American version of Queer as Folk was a brave endeavor for Showtime and a thrilling viewing experience for LGBTers of the 2000s hungering for any form of representation. Its enduring legacy is evident in its rabid fans, who pushed for the show’s first full cast reunion, taking place at the Rise ’n Shine fan convention in Cologne, Germany, June 8-10. (Ads for the event hilariously call it “the greatest reunification in Germany.”)
Because we teach America to dance
Choreographer Jamie King orchestrated Madonna’s Super Bowl performance, has served as her creative director for 14 years, has choreographed tons of other tours, and helped launch the Latino reality TV series ¡Q’Viva! The Chosen with J.Lo and Marc Anthony this year.
Readers everywhere have fallen in love with Amelia, a very cool mom whose Huffington Post blogs talk about her life with her family, including her already out gay 7-year-old son. Amelia demonstrates that love and support don’t mean you have all the answers, simply that you’re willing to let your kid guide you on who they are becoming as it happens. In her blog Amelia explains how she has dealt with friends, family, and school officials as her son (who claims his boyfriend is Glee’s Blaine) bucks gender norms and expresses same-sex affinities. This spring Amelia’s husband even chimed in, to extinguish any readers’ concerns that dad’s not on board. He is.
In her historic December speech before the United Nations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear America’s commitment to the world’s LGBT population. “You have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people,” she said to the gay, bisexual, and transgender people who live in countries that outlaw their very existence. A few weeks earlier, British prime minister David Cameron had threatened to withhold foreign aid to countries that persecute gays. The Obama administration has taken a more subtle approach, factoring LGBT human rights records among other criteria when considering aid in such multibillion-dollar programs as the Millennium Challenge Corporation. If the president’s global mandate on LGBT rights has any weight in the coming years, countries that arrest, imprison, and abuse their LGBT citizens are on notice: The U.S. will not be silent.