Wednesday, September 29, 2010

We own you... yet another gay male comic gets big trans laffs

Left: Serrato... Right: Heaven

Michael Serrato, an LA-based former member of the Logo network program "The Big, Gay Sketch Show" is a gay man who, yes, occasionally performs as a "tranny hooker" character called "Heaven." Most recently, Mr. Serrato, as Heaven, has come out with a video for a song called "I Though You Knew" about a player who finds out his lover (a transsexual former prostitute) is "really a man." As with my previous post about Paul Soileau, Serrato is yet another gay, non-trans performer who is trying to get mileage out of laughing at the world of trans sexworkers.

I Thought You Knew perpetrates the trope of trans women "tricking men" and how many of the men linking up with them have no idea the women they're attracted to have a trans past. In reality, the vast majority of men who have perpetrated violence against trans women knew very well who they were involved with and even sought out those women specifically for a sexual connection with a trans woman. He writes (as Heaven), "It's pretty much autobiographical, It's real sad. But don't worry my babies, I'm all good now, I gotta a real big vibrator.") In other words, men breaking up with trans women is a big joke, not a situation which is rife with abuse both emotional and physical as well as violence and even murder. In the real world, Serrato is a gay man who doesn't in any way actually live even part time as a transgender person. It's a schtick.

Previously, Serrato had another video called "Heaven" about his trans character transitioning and hooking to save up for "her fishy" (aka vagina). It's all done with a lot of ghetto patois even though Serrato makes no direct attempt to "black up." It has lots of jokes about "lady bits," giving oral sex, trans-related surgery and how she's going to be a lady rapper when she gets a pussy. There don't seem to be any actual trans women in the video which goes a long way to make trans sexworkers lives into a joke. The term "tranny" is repeated ad nauseum, at one point Serrato saying "look bitch, I'm a tranny... t.r.a.n.n.y."

While Serrato is a comedian first and there's little question the videos are not made as serious social statements about the lives of trans sexworkers, it's also true that he falls into a category of "gay-themed" entertainment which laughs at the supposed trashiness and marginality of trans women involved in the street economy. Moreover, this genre of humor seems to overwhelmingly be done by white, non-trans performers for overwhelmingly white, non-trans audiences willing to laugh at the hi-jinx of trans women of color. Note that in "I Thought You Knew" the boyfriend being referenced is clearly supposed to be a black man and, at one point, there are what sounds like white men trying to imitate the voices of black trans women. It is a kind of aural blackface, albeit without the greasepaint.

Left: Serrato... Right: a real gay man

Why a rather preppy gay man feels he can only get big laughs when dressed as a take-off of a trans hooker is a question which needs to be asked. Is his own life too flat and colorless to be the source of the outrageous humor he's trying to express and market? Why do so many gay performers feel the need to objectify and even ridicule trans women to live out their own transgressive dreams? How is it non-trans men feel they possess the entitlement to make highly personal and even dismissive observations about trans women's bodies, transitional struggles and life experience? I'm aware chubby gay men can feel marginalized and unappreciated in their own communities, but why is this an invitation to make complex and difficult trans lives into cartoons?

Serrato and gay buds explaining the realities
of tranny hookerdom.

In none of the performances of this genre have I ever seen an expressed appreciation for what trans women, especially those from low-income communities of color, actually go through nor, the very real danger those women are exposed to as the group with the highest seropositivity rates, horrific rates of rape and domestic violence and the worst murder rate of any group. No, that's not the stuff of laughs, but it might give a depth of portrayal and empathy to what is now little more than crass minstrelsy and lazy cultural appropriation.

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