Raw emotion and raucous humor at Trans-Q Live! at Warhol
Instead of staying in and watching Netflix on Friday night, I decided to venture out to find some of Pittsburgh’s culture. I had been invited earlier in the week to Trans-Q Live!, “a queer evening of performance, dance, poetry, comedy, resplendent fantasies, music, and so much more,” and I was not disappointed with my experience.
The atmosphere at the Warhol Museum set a perfect mood for a night of queer stories. Pop art by the openly gay Andy Warhol adorned the walls, and house music was playing through the lobby. Upon entering the theater, every audience member received a gift. Given out by the night’s emcee, Joseph Hall, they were 35 mm slides of various scenes: landscapes, abstract art, landfills, bulldozers, houses, and more. Joseph made everyone feel welcome and brought a number of audience members up on stage to dance before the scheduled programming began.
The transition into the main events happened so smoothly that I did not notice it happening. Joseph was interacting with the crowd, which filled the entire theater and had quite a number of Carnegie Mellon students, and led us all in a series of affirmations, including “Yaaaaaaaaa -breath- aaas, I am everything.” After we were properly affirmed, he brought up Kai Hunter to guide us all in singing the classic, “This Little Light of Mine.” However, we were encouraged to replace Satan in the last verse “I won’t let Satan blow it out” with any of our oppressors or a generic term that covered all oppressors: “I won’t let assholes blow it out.” And with that, we were off.
The next act was a performance piece by choreographer Jasmine Hearn and filmmaker Alisha Wormsley. Against the back wall, a film played with various repetitions of the word “black,” as though it were on an old television screen. Rickety projector noises and mournful music provided sound as the image switched on and off. On stage, Jasmine and Alisha performed a haunting dance in sheer white tops and long black skirts. Their movements were spastic and rigid, and their facial expressions gave a clear indication of inner pain despite the outward appearance of needing to perform well. The final moves were in the front of the stage, eyes looking out into the audience, as their arms twisted behind and they struggled to maintain composure.
As the lights dimmed on Jasmine and Alisha’s performance, a new film started up. Entitled “Sloppy Kisses,” it contained a cheerful song listing off what the singer didn’t like, with each verse culminating in “I like your sloppy kisses.” The visuals were a combination of the singer dancing in fields while wearing a frilly dress, a wig, and makeup, and silhouettes of two sloppy kissers, including some intense tongue-on-tongue action. Overlaying the whole film was a series of brightly colored, glittery filters, often looking as though glittery fluids were being dripped onto the screen. The transition from the previous performance’s seriousness to the light-hearted cuteness of “Sloppy Kisses” was an abrupt but welcoming emotional release.
Following in the same vein as “Sloppy Kisses,” Cindy Crotchford was our next delight. She came on stage in heels and a rainbow-sequined strapless dress, while lip-syncing “Walk Like a Man.” After struggling to keep her dress up for a few verses, Cindy eventually drew it down and stepped out, revealing a beaded bra and panties to the crowd’s delight. As “Walk Like a Man” ended and “Trashy” started up, Cindy pulled out false breasts from the bra with a wink and shrugged it off, as well as tossing off her blonde wig to reveal a head of long, black, natural hair. By the end of her performance, the underwear had gone as well, leaving only a small grey thong covering her body.
After Cindy strutted off the stage, another film was played. Beginning with a quote about body worship, the film was a more serious look at our obsessions with the human form. With an aesthetic reminiscent of Warhol’s work, “Neo Joe Pop” incorporated a series of stills and short clips of one nude male body in a variety of poses. In all of them, the model seemed to be striving to meet a certain look or expectation, and there was always shading or color blocking done over the top in a pop art style.
Rounding out the first half was singer and songwriter Bell’s Roar from Albany, New York. They performed a handful of songs with a guitar and a strong, deep voice regarding race, gender, and sexuality. Initially there were a few hiccups, but once they got into a groove, things went smoothly. “I’m still getting used to singing and playing at the same time,” they explained with a sheepish smile. “I usually just pre-record the instrumentals.”
Intermission offered a chance to speak with some of the performers and discuss the acts with friends, but it was almost uncomfortably long. We were excited when our emcee stepped back up to the stage.
This time, however, Joseph was not introducing anyone. Instead, he read a story about his own childhood, focusing on his relationship with his parents in particular. One question was a motif: “Do you know that moment when you realize your mom is not the person you thought she was? Well, maybe you don’t.” After describing his childhood through various anecdotes, it became clear that Joseph never knew his father. He got in touch with his biological father just before he died and thought about going but wasn’t ready. The story ended with the same motif: “Do you know that moment when you realize your father is not the person you thought they were? Well, maybe you don’t,” making it clear that Joseph’s mental image of his father was never shattered by reality.
Up next was an act that made “Sloppy Kisses” and Cindy Crotchford seem tame. “BLOWJOBgif” was a dance performance in front of a film explicitly illustrating men engaging in all sorts of sexual acts. The single dancer and background music gave vivid impressions of the intensity and pleasure in the filmed experiences. This was not the first time full nudity had been presented in the show, but it was the most serious and sexual of all the visual depictions.
After the solo performance, a male-female pair took the stage. Wearing long headcovers, they began dancing in synchronicity before pulling off their veils and splitting ways while still performing together as a pair. Their intensity was palpable, and their shirtless performance gave clear view of the beauty of the well-trained human form. Similar to the first dance piece, the pair evinced a sense of struggle, ending sprawled on the floor while fading out to black with the phrase: “Can’t go back.”
Although “BLOWJOBgif” may have been the most visually explicit act, visual depictions are not the only means of portraying graphic materials.The penultimate performance was spoken word from Bekezela Mguni. Many of Bekezela’s poems resonated strongly with black feminist power, but the last poem was my favorite, which described encounters with her lover. The words spilled from Bekezela’s lips in a reflection of the bodily effects being described, and the powerful poem had many shifting in their seats, whooping and clapping at the more arousing portions.
To round out the night was an act that continued on the sexual theme but strayed into the humorous side. The Bang Gang performed a little skit and song, aptly titled “Psychedelic Cowboy Moon Dance.” Nudity, pig people, and sexual acts ensued. As another theater-goer remarked, it wasn’t particularly artistic, but I didn’t mind. The refrain of the song, “Men and pigs are often mistaken, but you won’t find me fuckin’ bacon,” offered a comedic end to the evening.
Trans-Q Live! billed itself as a night of queer fun, and it lived up to its promise. From serious art to raunchy comedy, there was a little something for everyone’s tastes. The event is a non-regular but repeating occurrence, so keep your eyes out for the next opportunity to explore performances regarding all things queer.