Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paul Soileau and Christeene:
the new Shirley Q Liquor?



White guy Soileau (l) and Christeene (r)

Paul Soileau is a white, gay, self-described performance artist whose main creative outlet is drag. A native of Louisiana, after a stint in the East Village in NYC, he was based out of New Orleans until left homeless by Hurricane Katrina and eventually settled in Austin, TX. His prior best known stage persona was called Rebecca Havemeyer, a white southern woman who looked like "a lady who lunched" but with pretensions to being more hip. A southern Dame Edna. As a drag persona, it was fairly subdued and not overly trashy. But recently, Soileau has performed using a new character called "Christeene Vale" who is what appears to be a crack-whore trans hooker of some kind of non-white ethnicity. It true that some of the earlier Christine videos didn't sound as "black," but in the most recent one "Fix My Dick" he clearly attempts to "sound black."





Soileau's work as Christeene has appeared on the "Funny or Die" site including a video for a song called "tears from my pussy." While Soileau doesn't wear blackface, Christeene sing/speaks in a patois clearly suggesting she's supposed to some variety of a person of color (Soileau himself says says, " Janet Jackson and Mike Tyson inspired the vocal creation of Christeene's childlike nasal whine.") He wears a ratty black wig, smeared makeup and, most often, a cheap secondhand store dress which looks as if it's been slept in for a month. He also uses a crappy, ill-fitting gold-capped tooth to make his teeth rotten. The entire effect is of a trans hooker on the bottom of the sexworker totem pole who's been tweeking for the last year. Think of it as skanky drag with a certain amount of Marilyn Manson mixed in.


trans ridiculing performance artist (l)
person in panda suit (r)

More "Die" than "Funny"
As Soileau says of his character in the Austin Chronicle:
"Christeene is a very strange vagrant creepy woman/man/woman who somehow has a platform to express her-/himself only with the knowledge she/he has obtained from the grocery store magazine racks or word of mouth. Most everyone you talk to is the same way. Nobody knows what the hell they're talking about. And Christeene is calling you on it.

"All my characters are ignorant. Rebecca, she has 'winning ignorance,' as I like to say," says Soileau. "I think Christeene has 'winning ignorance,' because I myself am quite ignorant. I mean, come on, girl, I'm Louisiana-educated. I ain't gonna brag like I know my stuff. I'm not gonna say stuff I don't know. Or try not to, unless I'm in character. Then I can get away with it." (note: Soileau graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans... which costs about 40K a year)
It's supposed to be funny. The joke is, how unsexy can you get, how trashy, uneducated, crack-sleazy and filthy can you look while singing with extremely sexual lyrics and pretending you're horny and hawt. Got it? It's intended as some kind of social commentary. As PJ Raval (one of the team who made Trinidad, a film about Trinidad, CO and Marci Bowers which was shown on LOGO), the filmmaker who works with Soileau said to him:
Christeene is social commentary. That's why I'm doing this. You [Paul] do have a message... Christeene comments on gender, sexuality, media, pop stars, and then flips it all on its head... she's likable, sweet, and sincere.
Although as Soileau himself admits:
There’s a group of people who just don’t like Christeene. It’s usually women, a certain kind of woman, and somehow this Christeene character just strikes them in that feminist way—-that I’m being derogatory or something. But they can’t put their finger on it. Because Christeene’s a man, but Christeene’s a woman, and Christeen’s singing about her pussy and her butthole and getting fucked in both, and enjoying the dick of a man and the pussy of a woman, and enjoying having a baby… she’s a creature. She’s everything.
Interesting how Soileau puts it... Christeene's a man, but Christineene's a woman... in other words, Christeene is supposed to be some flavor of trans. And even though Soileau is of cajun background, the way Chrsteene speaks/sings is clearly supposed to sound non-white. Therefore... the act is really him portraying a trans hooker of color who is massively fucked up and screwing to survive. You may now laugh.


Soileau (l) fantasizes about stroking hairy butts (r)

The question is, what is the real point of Soileau's act? One might say it's about the lowest member of societies raw sense of survival. One might say it's about dignity in the most screwed up of persons. But the reality is, looking at any aspects of Soileau's act, it's really hard to actually find those statements in the performance (nor Raval's claim of her sweetness or sincerity). What much of the act (which often includes Soileau as Christeene revealing his dick) is... fucked up people are good for a laugh. Trans hookers of color are hilarious, especially if they're strung out and living on the street.

Weekend Warriors
Yes, there are many highly homogenized (by appearance anyway) gay men who project desperate fantasies of their wished-for glorious sleaziness onto trans women, drag and persons of color. They love to drone on about their lack of "political correctness" and how they're thumbing the finger at self-loathing gay men and the LGBT establishment who are embarrassed by drag. What's notable however, is how these men don't live "the life", they just use it as performance fodder for a few hours of outrageousness (and making trans people look trashy) only to retreat back to their IZOD shirts and designer eyewear when it's over.

Does Soileau's act (AKA performance art) ever ponder WHY someone like Christeene got so messed up... was she able to find work, or remain with her family or go to an expensive Catholic University? Not really, it's supposed to be outrageously funny and, as with fellow white, gay, southern performer, Chuck Knipp and his character Shirley Q. Liquor, if you can't laugh at it, then STFU. Interesting how southern gay culture seems to be producing a stream of "art" using racism and exploiting trans identities and issues (or at least, done through drag or female impersonation) and using a shield of "humor and entertainment" to deflect criticism. Maybe this is what old racist rebels (and countless cracker country singers) meant when they would endlessly proclaim, "the south's gonna rise again!"



The south's gonna rise again! Yee haw


27 comments:

  1. Wow that guy ought to check himself, not funny ,non of it, and then tries to say he is not educated , that is low. Hopefully he gets shut down , its not a feminist thing, its not a humor impaired issue - its exactly as you call it, people taking a swipe at trans folk because they think they can get away with it - I pity the people who laugh along with him. Its not funny and being politically correct or not has nothing to do with it - His act is transphobic and as described sounds racist to the bone. he can work out his suppressed issues vs. working off of these harmful stereotypes for a really really cheap laugh/ nobody is laughing here Soleau You are right Gina, the guy and those like him really do have issues they are projecting - internalized misogyny and the scapegoating of their own femininity. What a sickening guy. Week End Warriors is right !

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  2. It's the same story each and every time these white gay artists get called out for racism, misogyny, and/or transphobia in their art: they'll immediately start going on about how they actually respect the humanity of those they mock, that their art has some special important message in it, and that the people who find them offensive should just shut up and be less "PC" because ZOMG, they're gay and that magically turns their disdain into support somehow. They'll say this to our faces and act as if we've never heard those same excuses before from every other uninspired gay white male "artiste" before them who got called out for the exact same thing.

    How long do you suppose it will be before Mr. Soileau pulls out the "but some of my friends are POC/women/trans/etc." line as if it will excuse his actions?

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  3. I think your points about Paul's performance as Christeene are interesting here, Gina, but I mostly don't agree. I find it interesting that commenters on the Queerty piece (and here you), call Christeene's affectation out as attempting to perform blackness. It absolutely blows my mind that the parallel performer brought up here is Shirley Q. Liquour, who for, at least this Christeene supporter, presents a host of problematics re: not only the history of black experiences, but of white folks appropriation and misrepresentation of blackness. Beyond emphatic statements in this post telling us that Soileau is donning a kind of cultural blackface, there's not a shred of evidence that points in this direction. The patois you speak of is found in a variety of representations of impoverished ethnicities (incl those at least nominally labeled as white - but as you know in Louisianna whiteness ain't monolithic, Cajuns being perhaps the best example, and funnily enough Cajun is also the ethnic background in-part claimed by Soileau, as far as I can tell).
    More interesting, and perhaps more productive, I think, would be to put Christeene alongside a performer such as Vaginal Creme Davis, whose brand of drag cultural critic Jose Esteban Munoz has branded "terrorist" drag. Davis, especially in her incarnation as (male) white supremacist character Clarence, critiques racist hegemonies, at least as far as Munoz is concerned. Race crossing presents problems here for Davis (a kind of affection for and against the very figure who has become an eternal ghosted presence in the lives of queers of color and Jews, etc.). While Munoz is careful not to collapse the performer and the character, treating each as autonomous (yet interrelated) beings, I’ve noticed you don’t extend the same courtesy.

    Am I asking you to ignore what you find troubling? No. I think your arguments are well-made and fit within a particular lineage of feminist and post-colonial thinking. However, I take issue with the assumption that anyone who finds any kind of redeemable value in Soileau’s performances are at all hoodwinked or are complicit in their daily lives with racist and transphobic behavior. At least for this self-identified queer Jewish feminist, there is much to take away (and not just in opposition). There are many more assumptions – ok, Soileau attended Loyola, but are you aware of the conditions under which he attended that University? It’s assumed here that he had the financial privilege to pay for it – but do you know this for sure? Like his race and ethnicity which is assumed to be white (I suppose phenotypically?). I don’t know the answers to these questions… I haven’t asked him! But it makes me want to know what the stakes are behind knowing the “answers” here.

    Finally, and perhaps it’s a bit nitpicky, but the heading “more ‘DIE’ than ‘FUNNY’” takes on a certain kind of sour taste in conjunction with the comment made on Queerty’s site that Paul should be shot. I know it’s a play on the Funny or Die website where Christeene’s videos are hosted, but c’mon, it seems that even you would avoid this kind of language! But maybe that's a terrible assumption on my part...

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts...
    ~Andy Campbell

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  4. @Andy:

    No, I don't think it's a stretch to call Soileau's act cultural/racial appropriation at all. How many white "performance artists" have you seen doing black/non-white characters and then performing them for overwhelmingly white audiences? (the answer: a lot... too many). He was the one who brought up black performers when talking about his accent. And I know enough about Cajun-rural white Louisiana accents to say that he is NOT speaking in one when doing this character. Whether or not he went to Loyola on a partial scholarship or not isn't the point...Soileau is attempting to compare his ignorance with the projected ignorance of someone who, (in the real world) would even be attending a community college. Yes, he is using her position in society to make a point and for many of his viewers, I'm sure he's very aware that point will be "OMG, that character/tranny is a funny skank." I do understand your point about using the word die... and you're right about even suggesting violence about this is wrong (even though I truly think Soileau is dehumanizing the Christeenes of this world and making them even more exposed to violence) but I honestly included the word 'die' because so many people who he based Christeene on are exposed to violence. I track and disseminate information about anti-trans crimes and murder and this (or the real life analog to it) is overwhelmingly the social group which gets the brunt of it (and is used to pad "anti-queer" or "anti-LGBT" violence statistics). Where is that fact in his act? Moreover... who is the audience for "Funny or Die?" From what I can tell it's white, middle class, probably mostly straight men... now laughing at a trans person-of-color, absurdly horny, marginalized woman (and yes, I still believe that is what the character is projecting).

    Does Soileau, in fact, think about what his audiences (especially on the Internet) are taking from his schtick?

    So much of the problematic media I discuss on this blog started life with supposedly "good intentions" yet we all know what hell is paved with... right?

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  6. (cont'd)
    I do understand your point about using the word die... and you're right about even suggesting violence about this is wrong (even though I truly think Soileau is dehumanizing the Christeenes of this world and making them even more exposed to violence) but I honestly included the word 'die' because so many people who he based Christeene on are exposed to violence. I track and disseminate information about anti-trans crimes and murder and this (or the real life analog to it) is overwhelmingly the social group which gets the brunt of it (and is used to pad "anti-queer" or "anti-LGBT" violence statistics). Where is that fact in his act? Moreover... who is the audience for "Funny or Die?" From what I can tell it's white, middle class, probably mostly straight men... now laughing at a trans person-of-color, absurdly horny, marginalized woman (and yes, I still believe that is what the character is projecting).

    Does Soileau, in fact, think about what his audiences (especially on the Internet) are taking from his schtick?

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  7. @Gina

    I would guess/assume the same demographic for the Funny or Die site too! Totally right on that count, and I agree. However, I think the folks who attend Christeene shows tend to be a gorgeous melange of people in LGBTQIA communities - at least in my experience - harder for me at least to track the unique views on a site like funny or die (but again I agree that it is completely and visually targeted at that "choice" class-based demographic).

    I agree also that in terms of reception of this character that there will be wide ranging (there already is - look at us!) reactions, and Soileau's stance is ambiguous at best - but most contemporary artists I teach (I'm an art history professor by trade) walk the same line that Soileau does - inciting viewer response and reaction instead of patly communicating meaning. This is almost true across the board for POC artists and white artists. It can be frustrating, at least for me, and sometimes I wish artists would come clean. But I don't think that's their job. And I don't think it should be. One example I use is Kara Walker's work (See it here: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/walker/index.html) which some have found as odious as you find Christeene's work for its use of stereotypical racist imagery- and Walker's refusal to communicate an activist politics in spite of widespread approval of white artworld audiences makes the work seem dubious at the outset. But when examining the work in situ - maybe akin to being present for a Christeene performance - I realize that these slick works intoxicate and repel in equal parts, a kind of structural parallel to a social functioning of racist thought and action.

    Also in my experience the folks who leave Christeene shows most upset are the mid-class gay white men we've been talking about. I'm not sure how that fits into our discussion, but I think it's worth mentioning.

    You're also right about the "accent" of Christeene's speech as non-Cajun - but in (perhaps falsely) assuming whiteness the claim that Christeene is yet another example of white folks appropriating POC cultures falls a little flat (at least for me). And equally troubling is the alliance in the original post between impoverishment, lack of education and blackness. Could the character of Christeene be a comment on impoverished identities beyond black identities? I totally think so. Is there a certain amount of projection in the character? Yeah, I think so too. Can it be both and messy and complicated? Yeah.

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  8. My view of this is probably more simple, as I am not trained in any capacity to discern the deep and complex meanings of this form of "art."

    This doesn't make me feel anything other than that it is a bland attempt that claws and grabs at the hanging vestiges of the kitsch from whence it came.

    To say that this performance art "isn't my cup of tea" is to put it lightly. Also, to hear the above commenter say that they don't think that it is the artists "job" to think about what types of responses they illicit from viewers when performing just seems lazy (I'm sorry if what I gathered from your post is faulty). I understand that it's the interpretation of said piece to be done by the viewer but in my opinion, if you are going to throw some kind of bait into chum filled waters, you have to be prepared for the types of bites you are going to get back.

    A lot of this just seems like the artist in question just points their finger at anything else (largely the viewers that dislike these works) they can other than taking the responsibility for creating this.

    There are other ways to create social commentary other than at the expense of POC & other maginalised persons. It just seems like going for the jugular when dawning whatever affectations you think are going to "rile" up the ones you are trying to empower in a tawdry attempt to "tell us how it is."

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  9. @Bovine: I'm in total agreement that artists have responsibility for the messages they put out (just as I think media is responsible for the messages they perpetrate) and that art isn't some magic sphere which isn't permeated by small-mindedness and oppressive social assumptions.

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  10. Ahhh, Gina, I can't find your e-mail address anywhere! so this is my weird attempt to get in touch with you...I'm trying to get in touch with people who have been working with Nastaran Kolestani on her case in the Idaho prisons....if you get this and are able to chat, I'd love to e-mail: dani_bananie@yahoo.com.
    Thanks,
    Danny

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  11. "While Soileau doesn't wear blackface, Christeene sing/speaks in a patois clearly suggesting she's supposed to some variety of a person of color."

    I disagree with this. I watched her live last night, and I assumed the character was white with quite a bit of grime, contacts for blue eyes, smeared makeup, dyed black hair (well, a wig) - a Marilyn Manson-esqe freak show pushing the boundaries of vulgarity. Just because the voice is a hybrid of persons of color doesn't mean the character is.

    I didn't find much of a social commentary going on in her act (granted, I could only understand half the lyrics), except maybe to parody the complexity of sex, power, and filth... I didn't think of her as representative of any sort of person. I didn't come away with reinforced stereotypes of black people, transfolk, or the queer community. To me, she is simply her own character, with the characteristics of dressing in drag, being disgusting, very sexual, and multi-gendered.

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  12. "Just because the voice is a hybrid of persons of color"

    PJ, look at Soileau the man and look at Christeene and tell me he's not trying to be more ethnic or "of color." The blue eye contacts aren't an attempt to look white, they're an attempt to mimic the blue contacts some sexworkers of color wear. Why does he use the voice he does if the character is intended to be white (as he is)?

    Being "disgusting and sexual" are two of the tropes put onto trans women of color. Trans=freak show is one of the ways trans people are ridiculed and kept down. Whether you get the message or not, it IS how trans women of color are portrayed. Saying it's her own character is like saying Vanilla Ice invented rap.

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  13. Maybe the problem is that it's too soon for an act like this...
    There's a Nigerian author named Chimamanda Adichie who gave a great talk about what she called a "single-story" or the single perception we have about an individual or group that allows us to generate stereotypes about them. After so many generations of racism and segregation, we're JUST now able to laugh at ridiculous stereotypes like the korean grocery store owner or a crackhead and his "wacky" antics. It's not because we're growing more racist or because racism is disappearing. It's because more people see the characters for what they are: stereotypes that represent a single-story and nothing else. Poking fun at these stereotypes doesn't take away from the seriousness of crack addiction or cultural assimilation, and it doesn't define an entire group.
    With the queer community and especially the trans community and most especially the trans community living in poverty, we don't have very many "stories". Most people are hardly even aware of the Trans community at all, and the idea of Christeene possibly being their first impression is horrifying.
    While i don't think Paul himself is transphobic, homophobic, racist, or sexist, he can't control the prejudices of his audience, and it sort of comes with the territory when you're portraying a stereotype.

    I think most of your frustration though stems from this idea that Paul is a white, privileged man exploiting poor trans people of color with his character and is being called a representative of the trans community for it.
    While people have been wrong to claim Christeene represents that community, I think the character is just another example of transgressive art. Paul may be white and privileged, but I don't feel like he's exploiting anyone.

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  14. Hi Bethel: Actually my exact point is that one person's hipster 'transgressive art' can be another person's exploitation and even humiliation. And that often, when audiences watch transgressive art like this, they are actual unaware of how/why they're laughing at, not with, the stereotyped version of an oppressed community. In his case, I don't think his purpose is to get the audiences thinking about trans/racial oppression... it's to entertain. Maybe at some point I'll be cool about a cis-white man getting laughs with a crack-ho, transgender person of color character... but I doubt it.

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  15. Word. That makes sense. I guess it's too easy to stereotype people who don't have a voice. No voice to speak out against the stereotype and no voice to educate the audience about their community. I never really thought about the implications of the actual character. I just liked the ridiculous music.
    At this point, Paul should probably use Christeene's popularity to at least generate some positive awareness.

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  16. I will say again though, that I don't think Paul is transphobic or racist. I think the only thoughts that went into this character were "ghetto" and "trashy".

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  17. I take a completely different stance on Christeene and Shirley Q. I don't think Paul or Chuck went through a completely intellectual process to create these characters. I really feel it was more of a spiritual/artistic process. They found these characters, not with their minds, but with their hearts. Neither character seems to have the smallest bit of hate in them. They are honest, real people/spirits who don't happen to have bodies (Christeene couldn't be trusted with one! She'd be dead by now.) so they found their way to people with the physical faculties to be able to express them sufficiently.

    This may sound completely ridiculous to you, but I have gone through this personally. I slip into other characters/people at times that I shouldn't know anything about. I approach them with no judgment and just let them flow. This is probably why I enjoy these characters so much.

    I look at Knipp and Soileau as mediums that are channeling these very real people. There is no room for transphobia or racism in this process.

    To me, looking at them from a political stance is not really appropriate. It's like looking at chicken soup from an ornithological standpoint. Yes, there's CHICKEN in it, but the context makes that mode of thinking very obsolete.

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  18. Art isn't separate from the society which produces it. That's not a political stance, it's a sociological stance. The questions I'm proposing about why gay men feel the need to create characters like this are wholly appropriate ones to ask. "Channeling" IMO is assigning some hocus pocus to the artistic process... 'art' is processing and reconfiguring experience. If one's experience includes transphobic representations, then ones art might well contain those images if the artist isn't really attuned to what they've been exposed to. And, yes, if one is discussing chicken soup, it's totally fair to ask a chicken what they think about it.

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  19. Hocus-pocus, eh?

    How are your phobias, judgment and intolerance of this process acceptable?

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  20. It seems that you felt it acceptable to insult my spirituality because you were being taken outside of your comfort zone.

    You didn't want anyone to think you were crazy enough to believe my mumbo-jumbo, so you used a disparaging remark as a way to put a stake down in relation to this subject.

    I imagine it's much like that for any homophobe or transphobe.

    I guess you have to fully understand something before you rail against it.

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  21. You've pretty much ignored everything else in my response to you. No, someone hiding behind 'channeling' representations of transphobia (or in Knipp's case, racism) deserves no respect as an artist. Both men are performers who sadly chose to use minorities (to which they don't belong) for an easy laugh. That speaks volumes of where they're coming from.

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  22. I'm going to ignore your intentions and your efforts and choose to just skip right to being offended by what I'm calling your "artphobia".

    My superficial understanding of what you're doing is more important to me than what you're actually doing.

    It's just easier for me this way.

    Besides, victimhood suits me.

    How does that make you feel?

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  23. And NOW you understand how Paul and Chuck feel. :)

    my work here is done

    <3

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  24. "And NOW you understand how Paul and Chuck feel. :)"

    So I take it you're their official spokesperson? If so, then shame on you for working for people exploiting marginalized communities for profit. *smiley*

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  25. You're excellent at jumping to conclusions and then reacting to your false impression. I think that's all you've done on this page.

    Find a way to get paid for it and you'll be golden! :)

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  26. He is brilliant and hilarious and I love his crazy shit. Go on Miss Christeene!!

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Any posts found to contain transphobic, homophobic, racist or sexist content will be deleted. Personal attacks will not be tolerated.