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Gender troubler
An interview with Del LaGrace Volcano

Del LaGrace Volcano is a filmmaker, photographer, theorist, and "gender terrorist," whose work unravels conventions of gender and sexual differences and the social hierarchies that enforce them. His recent photographic projects include Sublime Mutations (2000), and The Drag King Book, co-written with Judith "Jack" Halberstam (2002), which represents over 20 years of work engaging with difference and its modes of embodiment. Of his work Del writes: "Some photographers are documentarians, simply recording what happens as it happens. My approach is to create the space for the photograph to become an event in itself. And to blur as many boundaries in the process as is possible ó within the two dimensions of the medium. Oh yes, and sexy, too."

On April 14, heíll be at Bates, and on April 15, Del will give a free public lecture at the Maine College of Art as part of its Visiting Artist Series. The Phoenix caught up with Del at his home in London to talk with him about his inseparable life and work.

Phoenix: I wanted to start out by asking about the relationship between the role of gender terrorist and healer. Your Web site (www.disgrace.dircon.co.uk) entitles you a gender terrorist, and in the first lines of the introduction you write: "I heal through disruption and visceral pleasure." In a historical moment when the word "terrorist" gets mobilized anytime the privileged wish to vilify activities that threaten the enforcement of the norms they have generated, and knowing that those who choose to call themselves terrorists often practice violence against forms of power (forms which often represent more insidious forms of violence), nevertheless it seems difficult on the face of it to reconcile terrorism and healing. How do they operate together in your practice?

Del: First of all, letís be clear that my form of "gender terrorism," although disruptive to the status quo, is entirely nonviolent ó at least on a physical level. I started to call myself a gender terrorist long before September 11th, when that term became problematic for obvious reasons. But I have begun to use it again because of experiences which confirm my belief that most people are terrified by anyone who either wonít or canít conform to gender norms and because itís becoming increasingly important to visibly resist heteronormative cultural and political dominance.

A recent example: Iím traveling through Euston Station in London, about to visit a woman-only members club, the Glass Bar, at the request of the owner. As I am a bit anxious about going into a woman-only space, despite having been invited, I make a quick pitstop at The Body Shopís make-up counter to put on some lippy and femme myself up. A middle-aged woman shoves into me, pushing me away from the mirror. I politely say, "Excuse me, Iím using this mirror." Which unleashes a very loud tirade of homophobic and genderphobic abuse: "Youíre a fucking geezer! Youíre not supposed to be putting on make-up you freak! Fucking homo! Piss off back into the gutter where you belong!" Well, thatís me told. I doubt she would understand my rationale for being there. I donít respond with anger. I donít respond at all. I simply slip away with my tail between my legs. You see, the fight has been (temporarily) knocked out of me. A few days earlier I was attacked on the No. 19 bus by a gang of 10 teenage boys. For being a homo, a queer, a freak. That time my only crime was wearing red trousers and a funny hat. Who is terrorizing whom?

So you ask how do I reconcile my gender terrorism/activism with my desire to heal the wounds created by centuries of compulsory gender conformity? I try to employ multiple methodologies and have developed multiple personalities to assist me in this task. Dr. Del holds open heart surgeries for those in need of support. Tess Tickle entertains and educates. Del LaGrace Volcano creates visual images that provoke and delight, depending on your point of view. Delboy impersonates his attackers in an attempt to beat them at their own game. Basically through humour and love I hope to begin a process of re-programming our knee-jerk responses to gender variance that will create new forms of being that are seen as no more or less valid than anyone elseís.

Q: What projects are you currently working on and most invested in?

A: I have a number of long-term projects running concurrently. I have been collaborating with my partner, Indra Windh, on a spoken-word performance as well as running Drag King and Criss-Cross Gender Workshops in Slovenia, Croatia, and Sweden. Recently I have been in Spain, photographing gender variant people I meet there and also working in collaboration with Beatriz Preciado and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona, in a Post Porn workshop that is investigating into what might lie beyond commercial representations of the sexed and gendered body. I am continuing to photograph my own intentionally mutated hermaphroditic body, this time incorporating water as a metaphoric medium. I am working on a book about queer femininity and I am studying the flying trapeze.

Q: What interests you most about coming to Portland, Maine?

A: Iím always excited to see how my work translates in other contexts. I was in Maine for the first and the last time in 1987. Iím always open for a new adventure!

Chris Thompson teaches at the Maine College of Art. He can be reached at xxtopher@hotmail.com

Del LaGrace Volcano speaks at the Maine College of Art, in Portland, April 15. Call (207) 775-5098 x23.


Issue Date: April 9 - 15, 2004
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