When I was little, and growing up in the trailer parks of borderland California, my grandma used to tell me, “J, if only everyone knew that they were sittin’ on their fortune.” At six, this manifested in a literal way—for weeks, I looked under chairs, bus seats, couch cushions, and diner booths for the hidden treasure that was my birthright. The world was a labrynthian and generous place, full of secret lairs that edged upon the delightful, the uncanny, and the fortuitous. The trailer park I lived in was central to some of California’s agricultural cash crops—onions, cotton, and cabbage— as well as ample canal fishing, where men (and sometimes hardier womenfolk, of the which my aunties and grandma were included) would sit on the banks and tell stories about the land we (unfairly) occupied: the desolate soil ruined by decades of crop-dusting, the sulpheric water that came out of the faucet yellow, and the who-bies (make-believe desert creatures that lived along the Colorado River) that made their homes near ours. Even as a precocious child, I took most everything my elders said at face value, and put much stock in the sayings of my grandparents. Naturally, the concept of hidden treasure that resided somewhere beneath my derriere was both appealing and feasible.
It wasn’t until I started considering a life in sex work that I began to realize the secular wisdom my God-fearing grandma had been trying to ration out like canned bush beans: my fortune lie not in some magical space I occupied, but was indeed my curvaceous silhouette. I began to pose for pin-up sites, putting myself through college, and then picked up phone sex operation to continue my education into grad school. Without this illustrious livelihood, I wouldn’t have been able to supplement the grants, scholarships, and student loans I had received, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to walk the halls of my schools in the Clara Bow fashion to which I preferred and was accustomed.
There are many reasons to go into sex work and performance, many avenues to explore and consider, and many backstories to each of the entertainers you find here on Slixa, as well as on burlesque stages, domme houses, and strip clubs. Sex work and performance are truly forms of art, with the same levels of discipline, craft, and hard work that accompany other artistic endeavors, such as music, writing, painting, storytelling, slam, or fashion design. My story is only one star in the entire universe of sparkling beauties out there, so I decided to reach out to some of the mind-blowing and brilliant workers I know in my own community to ask them about their roots, tales, philosophies, and processes. Who doesn’t love a backstory, especially the backstory of fiercely beautiful people?
Today we are going to be talking to Creatrix Tiara, a brilliant femme performer from my own community. Creatrix Tiara grapples with intersectionality and liminality, working across forms to present the personal life and politics of being a queer gender-variant female South Asian migrant minority. (http://creatrixtiara.com/)
JULY: What got you started doing sex work? What do you consider your backstory?
CREATRIX: I’m not sure whether what I do counts as sex work – I started off doing burlesque performance in Brisbane, Australia and in Queensland law there’s this interesting distinction about erotic art for “artistic merit”. Also in Australia burlesque is generally seen as an art thing rather than a sex work thing – people get government grants for it.
I started off doing burlesque mostly because I got cast as the dominatrix in Vagina Monologues and wanted to learn more about erotic performance. I loved the form and fell in love! Various personal and political matters have made my work more performance art based rather than straight up burlesque, but it’s still really informed by the erotic and the body.
I’ve also done some erotic modeling and performance, though not enough to have that be considered a job or career.
JULY: What do you feel is your artistic process? Do you have any rituals/routines?
CREATRIX: A lot of it is me being inspired by some idea or being really passionate about some issue and feeling the need to express it somehow. A lot of my performances start off with a song – I pick a song or two that fits the story I want to tell and then work everything around it.
I don’t really have any rituals or routines per se – I’m too undisciplined, haha
JULY: I understand that we are all beautifully multi-faceted creatures who have lived entire lives full of incredible and sometimes horrible things. When a tough moment comes up for you in your work, how do you take care of yourself?
CREATRIX: I use the work as a way to channel my tough moments! Without my art I would fall apart more, I think.
Or I talk about it with my loved ones, or rant on FB, or do some other things to take some space from my work.
JULY: Who do you count in your performance lineage?
CREATIRX: Oh goodness, this is half my MFA coursework, haha. Anyone who has to deal with being the Other in whatever situation they’re in. I’m really inspired by QPOC burlesque performers around the world who have to deal with a lot of BS for doing what they do. Annie Sprinkle, Carol Queen , and various people who started the sex-positive movement have been personal mentors to me which is awesome. Darren Hayes is my idol and while we do VERY DIFFERENT things he’s still one of the big reasons I even perform at all. Mostly I am inspired by and draw from my peers – people also working with identity, Othering, liminality. People who may not be household names but who deeply touch me in so many ways.
JULY: What is your relationship to disclosure about your work? Do you, for example, talk to your given family about what you do? What about partners?
CREATRIX: I have tried to tell my parents about it and it’s been touchy. Usually I just use “I’m doing art” as an euphemism for “don’t ask”. My sister is more aware though I know she’s had trouble dealing with it – mostly because I’m her little sis and I’m supposed to be a kid blah de blah.
My partners past and present have been very supportive. One in particular is pretty passionate about sex work activism and has been long before we met!
JULY: Where do you feel your identity and your work intersect? Where do they split apart?
CREATRIX: I express my identity through my work. Sometimes I take on a persona, but the persona is usually an intensified version of me – someone who gets to get away with things I couldn’t do as just my regular self.
JULY: You’re so talented and brilliant! Do you perform regularly at any venues? When are your next shows? Where can we see you do your thing?
CREATRIX: I don’t have a regular venue per se – I tend to just volunteer for anything that looks interesting I am putting together Polyester Girl Army, an adjunct show to Altered Barbie in SF this November. PGA is a cabaret directly challenging femmephobia, misogyny, and the idea that there’s such a thing as an unworthy woman.
JULY: Oh, fascinating! Can you tell me a bit more about Polyester Girl Army? The creation of it, what other arts groups it is in conversation with, artistic statement of purpose, etc?
CREATRIX: Polyester Girl Army was originally a poem I performed at Altered Barbie’s poetry reading in 2012. It was in response to the song “Polyester Girl” by Australian band Regurgitator, which was about a guy basically gloating over his passive blow-up doll. I was frustrated that that song got more critical acclaim and hipster cool because it was indie rock, while Aqua’s Barbie Girl (which came out the same year) was dismissed as fluff even though Barbie’s speaking for herself. So I wrote a poem about it, performed it for Altered Barbie, and got a strong positive response.
Altered Barbie is about 10 years old and is a primarily visual arts event that showcases the work of repurposed Barbie dolls turned into art, usually as a form of social commentary. The cabaret is a new addition. Based on the original poem, it’s meant to challenge ideas of femmephobia and misogyny that are apparent not just in mainstream society but even in activist or queer circles – that if you’re interested in makeup or fashion or whatever you must be a worthless slutty airhead. Hell, why are some body mods (piercings or tattoos) cooler than other body mods (plastic surgery or implants)? Why do we need to don the Queer Uniform and Alternative Lifestyle Haircut to be read as queer? Why do we scapegoat princesses, models, sex workers for the problems of the patriarchy?
I’m not sure if it’s directly in conversation with other arts groups asides from it being an adjunct event of Altered Barbie. I have strived to make the cast as inclusive and diverse as possible – which involved tapping into Q/T/POC circles and asking for involvement. It is the first cabaret for AB, and my first show production in the Bay Area (I’ve done some shows in Brisbane) so it’s all new to me. But people are really excited about it!
JULY: Thank you so much, Creatrix!
For more information about Creatrix, her work and where she performs check out her website. For more information about Altered Barbie, and to see Polyester Girl Army perform in November, check out the Altered Barbie website.