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Some Preliminary Thoughts About Difficulty and Performance

Although Homo Monstrous has maybe grown into a Real Band, we started out as (and still are) performance artists. Truth be told if we had started this project with the goal of being a band and making music we would’ve given up. There just isn’t any real hand-holding and encouragement happening for transgender folks in music scenes (let alone other tangible forms of $upport) and the moment you call something music, bros will pretty much line up to tell you all of the ways it’s not because you aren’t good enough. By framing what we were doing as performance art we were able to mentally sidestep having to directly engage with a lot of unmeaningful critique. We have mostly stopped regularly incorporating performance art elements into our live sets for pragmatic reasons – the amount of set up/preparation time required isn’t really feasible when you’re opening for another band and playing what amounts to a 20 to 30 minute set – so we were excited to revisit performance in a limited capacity during our summer tour. We will also be presenting a new work at Performatorium: Festival of Queer Performance at the end of January, 2015. Performatorium will be an opportunity to perform in a controlled space where we won’t have to worry about set lengths, sound bros messing with our gear, or clean-up. We’ll be able to pretty much do whatever we want so we are taking some time to try to figure out exactly what that is.

The theme for the 2015 instalment of Performatorium is “Making It, Difficult.” From the call for submissions:

… Making It, Difficult will present work by performing artists whose work is challenging and difficult to perform and watch – physically for the artist and visually/aesthetically/emotionally and perhaps ethically and politically for [the] audience. The festival will address how art and performance can be cathartic, personal, controversial and demanding for its creators and those experiencing live performance.”

But as someone who has been living with mental illness(es) for over a decade with fluctuating levels of chronic pain and fatigue for the last two to three years, I feel like difficulty is a difficult framework to work within. Which difficulties come across to other people and which remain invisible? Will anyone get it? What does difficult mean/look like when you struggle to get out of bed on the regular?

I’m also conscious of how difficulty (and much of performance art) is linked to risk. Artists are encouraged to sacrifice more and more for their art because the assumption is that a bigger degree of risk or more suffering always means more of a reward at least in terms of notoriety and social capital. This framework leaves a lot to be desired in terms of creating a sustainable art practice. It also fails to acknowledge that performance artists are people outside of their work who have to answer for and live with the decisions they make in performance.

Although Homo Monstrous continues to be, in part, about subverting and claiming male-dominated spaces through feminist and feminine means, the stakes – in terms of how our performances impact my everyday life – continue to rise. Artifice is both a theme we’ve explored and a tool we’ve made use of to call into question the notion of Real in terms of anything from being a band or performance artists to bodies, sex, and gender. However, as a non-binary trans woman, I have to be careful not to put my entire identity on the chopping block. It’s a fight to maintain or regain my agency. It’s not worth doing something if the audience decides I’m a man afterwards.