On The Comedy of Marginalization and the Empowerment of Camp
Lynn Breedlove won the Lambda Literary Award this year in the Trans category for Lynnee Breedlove’s One Freak Show (reviewed here for Lambda Literary), the published version of his comedic, punk-infused stage show of the same name.
Perhaps best known for his time in homopunk powerhouse Tribe 8, and secondly for his high-octane queer novel Godspeed, Breedlove is currently touring One Freak Show around the country, sharing his brand of humor, politics and punk rock ethos with the world.
I caught up with him over email to talk about language, community, and what’s next for this edgy performer.
RM: Can you talk a little bit about how One Freak Show is different from your previous projects, namely your band Tribe 8 and your book Godspeed?
LB: One Freak Show is a page version of a stage show: seven years of touring a comedy solo show on gender. It’s a non-fiction, personal-is-political commentary on our community and my place in it.
RM: How has it been going from being a member in a band to a more solo performer?
LB: It’s cheaper and easier. There’s nothing like yelling your guts out with a full band of hotties, but there’s nothing like standing alone onstage and getting laughs for an hour either. So it’s an even trade.
RM: How do you feel about using the word “freak” to describe stories related to transgender issues? Why did you choose that word? Has it influenced the reception of your work?
LB: I’m a language and identity reclaimer, as well as a comic, so my brand of queer theory has always been ironic. I use humor to discuss marginalization.
I like to wake people up by turning concepts we take for granted on their heads, with goofy takes on what we like to analyze to death. So if people call me a freak, I’ll use it and defuse it just like we do dyke, fag, tranny, queen, queer, cunt, bitch, whore, and other phobic epithets. And then I’ll appropriate and spoof straight white male culture too, like I did in Tribe 8 by getting blow jobs onstage, especially from straight white non-trans men. That’s how I roll.
I did have one guy try to console me by telling me I didn’t have to call myself a freak; I don’t need consolation! They can’t laugh at me if I’m not taking myself or them seriously. Camp is an empowering tradition.
RM: What do you see as the major issues facing trans performers and writers? Who is your audience—are you talking to other trans and genderqueer people about our experiences, or are you “educating” straight audiences, or those unfamiliar with trans issues? How do you walk the line between “explaining yourself” to those who might not understand and saying things that are relevant and meaningful to our communities?
LB: Gays and lesbians seem to be making big money in entertainment, but you have to be Eddie Izzard or Ru Paul to make it in genderfuck.
I don’t see many trans men on the big screen. Dickless guys and trans women who don’t pass don’t do so hot off the college circuit.
Straight and queer audiences seem to be able to laugh at what I say, as I am poking fun at all of our assumptions, but it’s not hugely marketable to the mainstream yet because anything beyond the gender binary is still threatening.
Comedic theatre inherently refutes explanation because you’re showing the audience—whether they’ve experienced it personally or not, with sight gags like duct tape, rubber dicks, and standing up pissing in a bucket—the ridiculousness of situations like public restroom trauma.
RM: Coming from something of a riot grrl background, how has it been doing trans work? I feel like our communities often don’t talk about the losses and struggles we face when changing gender identities. Have you had to cut ties with your past?
LB: Sure, there are times when I’ve been invited to or questioned whether or not I should be at an all-girl event. Sometimes the curator will change the title to include me as a female-bodied person. Then I can seize the opportunity to expand the community and not just bring coals to Newcastle.
Lesbians and non-trans people need to know what trans people experience. After years in segregated environments, I feel ready to move beyond identity politics. I haven’t been to Michigan for years, after trying for a decade to facilitate communication between lesbian and trans communities. It’s a thankless job, and I’m too self-centered to perform for neither love nor money.
So I just integrate the discussion into the content and do it wherever I will get a little of both. Comedy is supposed to be fun, god dammit.
RM: “GLBT” politics is skewed toward marriage/assimilation these days. How do you feel about that? What do you think is important to trans people politically? Where do you think we fit in the current political climate?
LB: We used to say “no assimilation ever!”
I’d like to see a world where everyone got the same rights regardless of gender, sexuality, marriage, race, class, etc. Meanwhile, I’ll keep telling stories of all those who came before fighting to make that happen, and I’ll try to make it funny.
RM: Do you feel like there are conflicts between the genderqueer and “more traditionally” trans communities? What does it mean to you to be genderqueer?
LB: I can’t keep up with my own labels; I identify as trans but I am seen by most people as genderqueer or as a dyke, so I accept those labels too.
That’s why I use the word “freak:” When I get tired of trying to find the appropriate definition that won’t offend anyone, I just give up and pick one that offends everyone.
RM: What other projects are you working on? What’s next?
LB: I’m working on a mother-child memoir, starting with my mom being raised in Nazi Germany and Communist Germany and how it made me, her queer kid, an American anarchist punk.
We’ve already written it: she wrote hers and I wrote mine in Paris last year. All I need to do now is edit it and write a book proposal.
My mom had a stroke in October 2009, and I’ve been busy taking care of her, so it’s been on hold until now. Fortunately, she already wrote her memoirs before she lost her faculties. I’m looking for a publisher.