Salt Lake City group of drag queens is changing the scene

Story and photos by MADELINE SMITH

Klaus von Austerlitz isn’t your stereotypical drag queen with fake breasts, high heels and glamourous makeup. Instead, he takes the stage with a chalk white complexion and black designs drawn on with eyeliner, a red wig topped off with his trademarked black mouse ears and moon boots.

“I take the stereotype and flip it on its head,” he said. “We make the idea of what women should be gross.”

Von Austerlitz is Tanner Crawford’s stage name. Crawford is a junior at the University of Utah working on a bachelor’s degree in performing-arts design. He specializes in lighting, makeup and wigs and aspires to be a wig master for a professional theater.

Growing up, Crawford felt foreign living in Ferron, Utah, and developed von Austerlitz’s character during high school. It wasn’t until 2011 when Crawford began doing drag that von Austerlitz, a German man, came to life. The foreign roots stem from Crawford’s feelings of being different in his hometown, he said.

“[Klaus] is my idea of what a boy can be,” he said.

He uses his performing-arts design experience in von Austerlitz’s costumes. He said even if the look isn’t 100 percent great, he still has a solid idea and a full design.

During the U’s Pride Week drag show on Oct. 4, 2012, von Austerlitz performed to a remixed version of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” He mixed the song to transition from the original to a version with ghoulish vocals and a darker sound, and he performed accordingly.

Von Austerlitz pointed to his hand and the numbers 666 every time Carly Rae Jepsen sang, “Here’s my number…,” in her song “Call Me Maybe.”

Crawford said the Pride Week drag show attracted an audience he typically doesn’t see elsewhere. He was unsure how people would react to his performance.

“I was out of my element,” he said. “I just wanted to show what I’ve got.”

Crawford said his strange style stems from his concern about the drag scene being too homogenized. He doesn’t like the idea of drag entailing only dressing up like a woman and lip-synching.

“[It’s] sexist. It’s men putting on what women should be,” he said.

Doing drag is a form of catharsis, a more intimate means of art. He said he uses it to express dark messages that people don’t want to think about. For example, he utilizes revered symbols such as painting an upside-down cross on his forehead and dousing his clothes in blood to inspire people to question societal norms.

Crawford strives to make people more open to being uncomfortable. He also puts himself in unusual situations, including watching disturbing documentaries that force him to learn how to react.

“I try to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” Crawford said. “It makes me more open of a person.”

He said a lot of his costumes are inspired by Japanese horror films such as “Ju-on” and “Ringu.”

Crawford tries to incorporate multiple cultures, such as Japanese and Native American, into his costumes by utilizing dominant symbols like a cross, feathers or culturally-influenced makeup.

Despite using important symbols, he takes precautions not to stigmatize any one group of people.

“I try not to be racist or demeaning,” Crawford said.

He also gets inspiration from the movie “Party Monster,” a story about the original club kids in New York City in the late 1980s who wore flamboyant and bizarre costumes.

The Bad Kids

The movie also inspires Crawford’s friends, a group of five queens who met at Miss City Weekly on June 2, 2011. They discovered a shared interest in challenging the standard image of a drag queen and formed The Bad Kids, named after the famous Lady Gaga song.

Cartel Fenicé, as Scotty Phillips is known on stage, is Klaus von Austerlitz’s drag sister.

“We try to be a collective, all-inclusive group,” Phillips said in a phone interview.

They encourage people to join them, be themselves and express who they are. The Bad Kids don’t follow the rules like traditional drag queens, Phillips said. They don’t portray themselves as women on stage and they’re trying to change the idea of what gender is.

“It’s disrespectful to women,” Phillips said. “It’s like we assume all women have big breasts.”

Instead of wearing fake breasts, The Bad Kids bear messages scribbled on their bare chests with eyeliner, or Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets on their heads with their bodies covered in blood and feathers.

However, The Bad Kids aren’t all about gore. They use the stage to make statements that they feel strongly about, such as abortion and greed.

Phillips dressed as a gypsy for a performance at Metro Bar during the themed show “Politics are a Drag.” He danced to a mash-up of Shania Twain’s “Cha Ching,” “Money” by the Flying Lizards, and “Money, Success, Fame, Glamour” from the movie “Party Monster.”

“[I was] the mystic woman trying to tell the world that what everyone is doing in America is filthy,” Phillips said.

He ended his performance by ripping off his dress to reveal dollar sign pasties covering his nipples and throwing Monopoly money at the audience.

Despite the sometimes-political meaning behind their performances, The Bad Kids never take themselves too seriously, Crawford said.

“We’re like clowns,” he said. “We make people have a fun time.”

The Bad Kids perform on the last Thursday of each month at Metro Bar, located at 540 W. 200 South. Crawford encourages other queens to join the group to ensure fresh, creative performances at the club, and can be reached by email at klausxoxo@hellokitty.com.

Even when they’re not doing drag shows, The Bad Kids dress up and go out for a night on the town, regardless of the public’s reaction. Phillips said this is how they perpetrate their vision and make their presence in the community known.

Philips said some individuals they encounter wonder why the queens don’t wear fake breasts. Others think it’s a bold thing to do in Salt Lake City.

“Some see it as unique, some people expect us to embody what women look like,” he said.

Phillips said being out in the community also creates awareness of the group. Individuals who are interested in doing drag are invited to  connect to The Bad Kids through each of the queen’s Facebook pages.

Crawford said the group tries to be friends with everyone, in part because the drag community in Salt Lake City is so small. Since 1976, the local drag scene has been dominated by The Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire, a nonprofit organization that is made up of high-fashion drag queens who perform to raise money for Utah charities.

The Bad Kids want to create a spectrum of queens to break away from the standard, Crawford said.

Klaus von Austerlitz waves to the crowd after the crown was given for the best drag queen at the U’s Pride Week drag show, held at Sugar Space on Oct. 4, 2012.

Phillips said The Bad Kids want to do bigger shows in larger venues with a variety of performances.

And Crawford said the group hopes to film videos and post them on YouTube.

“I’m being myself!” he said. “Come do it with me!”

Bullying, stereotyping must give way to acceptance, say Asian-American women of Utah

Story and photos by KAREN HOLT BENNION

No one realized that when she entered the room, this petite 5-foot-2-inch tall frame would pack such a powerful punch.

Linda Oda grew up in Ogden’s “Red Light District.” It was known for being the toughest and most violent section of town. At an early age, she learned how to protect herself from bullies and thieves. When she was 12 years old, she stood up to a potential thief (called a “dorobo” in the Japanese culture). He pressed a knife against her stomach and told her he could kill her. She then flashed a knife she had been using to trim heads of lettuce and said, ” I could kill you too.” She was unhurt. Even more tragic was the death of her father. One day, he came upon a “dorobo” robbing the store. The thief took $100.

Then he bludgeoned her father to death.

These experiences were some of the many that toughened Oda on a daily basis and drove her into survival mode. In elementary school, Oda soon found out that fighting back was the only way she could endure. “A lot of times I had to fight for my life,” Oda said. Name calling and being driven apart from the “white kids” was her way of life. It was yet another element that motivated her to eventually stand up and walk away from being labeled as an “other” by students with racist attitudes.

Oda said that during the 1940s and 1950s, Japanese-Americans who were not sent to internment camps were relegated to the lower-income neighborhoods. They were ignored and made to feel invisible. For her, it was all a matter of having to prove herself and to break out of the tightly-woven stereotypical mold of being a soft-spoken, passive Asian-American woman.

She admits that her hard childhood was the key motivator for her to succeed as an adult. Right after high school she headed to college and eventually earned her doctorate at Weber State University. She has been an elementary school  teacher, a middle school principal and a dominant figure in helping new refugees adjust to life in Utah and find well paying jobs.

She is now the director of Asian Affairs for the Governor’s Office of Ethnic Affairs. Although she has made a name for herself, she admits that even today she still feels that she must constantly prove herself in the “white man’s world,” as she calls it. Her optimism overflows as she speaks of communities in Utah helping the growing number of minorities and immigrants feel included, especially women. She is driven to bring positive changes to her community. For example, Oda is currently working on bringing young Asian men and women together for an Asian Youth Leadership Summit. The conference will teach teens to overcome feelings of doubt and offer them tools to be successful in education and in leadership roles after high school graduation.

Today, the number of Asian-Americans in Utah is steadily increasing. According to both the U.S. Census Bureau and The Utah Minority Bar Association, the Asian-American population is second only to the Hispanic population. Asian-Americans make up 4.1 percent of the state’s citizens.

Another advocate for the Asian-American community works at the University of Utah. Tricia Sugiyma works at the Student Center for Ethnic Affairs and is the adviser for the school’s Asian-American Student Association. At the AASA’s first meeting of the fall semester, Sugiyama’s face lit up as more and more curious students entered the room. Soon, more than 40 students filled the room. Their families had come from places such as Southern China, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Korea.

Chaw Wguyen, left, and Ming Lam attend AASA's first meeting of fall term.

After hearing the story about Oda, a small group of freshman women said they hadn’t experienced the same type of bullying that she did. They said their families and friends are supportive of them and have encouraged them to get a good education. Chaw Wguyen and Ming Lam, both 18, said the U is already pretty diverse and so far they haven’t noticed any kind of outward bullying. However, others in the group said they have noticed a more subtle type of disdain arising from various comments they hear. One student said because she is Asian, people automatically expect her to be extremely smart. “I’m really not; I have to study hard like everybody else.”

“I know,” said another student. “I get so sick of complete strangers coming up to me and telling me how silky and smooth my skin looks, like I’m some sort of a doll or something.”

Sugiyama said the definition of bullying has changed since the days of WWII. “Taunting of Asian-Americans still exists,” she said, “just in different ways.” “Cyber bullying” is a real danger, especially among young girls. Other methods of intimidation aren’t as extreme; however, the impact can be felt just the same.

“Asians-Americans are viewed by many, especially in the media as perpetual foreigners,” Sugiyama said. She believes that many movies and televisions programs portray Asian women as exotic looking seductresses, or passive subservient women who make good wives. Men don’t fare much better. They are depicted as warriors and Kung-Fu fighters.

Talking with peers is a good way to feel secure about oneself, say Linda Oda and Tricia Sugiyama.

Sugiyama’s parents were born in Japan, but she grew up in Sandy. She was raised and assimilated into the prevailing culture of that area. It was when she was in college that she realized much of her family’s culture had been forgotten. She now maintains a balance of being “Americanized” as she puts it, and still celebrates her family’s heritage while helping other young women find their own place in today’s society.

Both Oda and Sugiyama feel all young women need a support system. Becoming involved with clubs and organizations is a good way to secure and build confidence. Sharing feelings of being left out with a trusted peer or mentor can also help students realize they aren’t alone, they aren’t invisible, they don’t have to be an  “other.”

Stuck in the middle: Some bisexuals struggle to overcome stereotypes

by MISSY THOMPSON

They are called fence-sitters, undecided or confused. Generally they are not accepted by straight or gay people, although the straight community lumps them in with the LGBT community.

Bisexuals have been marginalized for many years because they are underrepresented within the LGBT community. Stereotypes surround them like a cloud.

One misconception is that they are promiscuous because they are attracted to both sexes. However, many don’t fit this stereotype because they believe in monogamous relationships, whether it’s with a man or woman.

“There is not a lot of respect for bisexuals,” said Bonnie Owens, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the campus LGBT Resource Center. “Some people believe it’s just a transition period.”

Bisexuals are included in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) acronym that has become the most widely accepted term for describing members of this population. But, the problem with bisexuality being part of the LGBT acronym is that they are not accepted by either gays or straight individuals, Owens said.

“There’s a saying: ‘Bi now, gay later,'” she said, referring to the misperception that bisexuals will eventually become gay or lesbian.

Owens and LGBT Resource Center Director Cathy Martinez are working to reaching out to misrepresented LGBT communities — including bisexuals — by making them feel as if they are part of the community. Although no definite plans have been made, Owens believes they need to be included considering they are part of the acronym.

“We are bringing bisexuality into a light of inclusiveness,” Owens said. “[The media] have sexualized bisexuality.”

But making bisexuals feel included in the LGBT community will be difficult because they are looked down on by gays, lesbians and straight people.

“Female bisexuality is more acceptable,” Owens said. “For males it is more of an issue of if you are [gay] or aren’t. A man is questioned more and thought of as testing the waters. It’s much less accepted.”

Bisexuality in younger males is questioned even more. Tom Campbell, 17, a senior at Tooele High School in Tooele, Utah, has been out about his bisexuality for a year. He has seen some people be completely supportive of his lifestyle, while others are less inclined to treat him the same as they did before they learned he is bi.

“There are a lot of people who treat you different in high school,” Campbell said. “Kids give you a lot of crap [for being bisexual]. My doctor even put me on anti-depressants.”

Campbell believes it’s difficult for people, especially high school teenagers, to understand that having equal interest in males and females is normal for him.

“I’m asked if I’m gay a lot and I say, ‘No, I’m bi, there’s a big difference between the two,'” he said. “I have a strong attraction to both [men and women]. I like variety.”

He has also seen the difference in the way bisexual women are treated compared to bisexual men.

“When you’re at a dance club and two girls are dancing together in a cage it’s OK,” Campbell said. “But when I’m up there with another guy, it isn’t.”

Campbell is a member of the Tooele High stage crew where he helps build and design scenery for the plays the school produces. Some of the crew members who know he is sexual orientation have treated him differently.

“It’s funny because when you’re with [stage] crew it’s like your family, but I’m not myself,” he said. “It’s the people you’re around that make you feel comfortable and OK with your sexuality.”

Although lesbian and gay have overshadowed the ‘B’ in LGBT, it is a lifestyle that bisexuals accept despite pressure from both the LGBT and straight communities.

For instance, Wendy Lynn, 43, an environmental studies student at the U, never questioned her bisexuality and has embraced her lifestyle.

“I didn’t realize I was different,” Lynn said in the Ray Olpin Union building over a cup of coffee. “I thought it was acceptable if men were with men and women were with women. I reasoned this as an 11-year-old.”

Lynn was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and during a
Primary lesson — a Sunday school-like teaching session for children — challenged a teacher who couldn’t give her the answers she wanted. She was taken to the Bishop, who told her not to vocalize her thoughts.

“I didn’t realize I was voicing an anti-opinion,” she said. “I stopped attending church at age 12.”

Her sexual orientation didn’t come up again until after she was married at the age of 18. When she was driving with her husband one day, Lynn saw a woman who she believed was beautiful. Lynn didn’t think twice about telling her husband that they should ask the woman to go out to dinner with them. Later, she wondered, “What was I thinking?”

“I was in a marriage and at that moment [of seeing the woman] all I wanted to do was spend time with her,” Lynn said. “A time came when it was clear to my husband that I was different. But I didn’t plan on pursuing it.”

Lynn and her husband divorced after three years of marriage. Eventually she began a 10-year relationship with a woman. Lynn said they would still be together if it weren’t for her partner’s alcohol abuse.

The only time Lynn felt accepted by the LGBT community was when she was with a woman. Her life revolved around this community while she was with her girlfriend. She hung out at bars that her friends frequented. But, once she began a relationship with a man, Lynn lost the majority of her friends.

“[Gays] have their own social network,” she said. “It was my social life. When I chose to be with a man [my life] was gone and now I have very few friends. [Bisexuality] is not a choice for most people,” she said. “Because it was for me, people can’t accept that.”

Lynn has been in a relationship with the same man since 1998. They were married, then divorced. Now, they are living together again, but are no longer married.

“For me, I grow more spiritually when I’m in a committed relationship,” Lynn said. “You don’t learn enough about yourself when you’re not. You have to find a partner who mirrors you, it’s easier to survive that way. I commit everything I can to one relationship, otherwise I get lonely.”

Since she has been with a man, her parents have been more supportive about her sexuality. Because they don’t see Lynn with another woman it’s as if they can pretend she is straight.

“I can be honest with who I am,” she said. “My boyfriend doesn’t care what [other people] think. He will always support who I am.”

Ultimately it doesn’t matter to Lynn whether her partner is male or female.

“I will never stop being attracted to men and women,” she added.

Lynn’s philosophy is that in any population, 10 percent are gay and 10 percent are straight. Everyone else – mainly bisexuals – fall in the middle. That large gray area is where she, and many others, fit in.

“Some people who are bisexual may just be experimenting,” she said. “Sexuality is fluid and more people are deciding that it’s OK to be different.”

Because Lynn is older, she has seen many of the hardships bisexuals have faced over the years. Most of the time, she said, they weren’t necessarily persecuted, but definitely had a hard time fitting in with both the LGBT and straight communities.

Lynn has lived in Utah, California and Montana, but the only time she felt her life was threatened was in Wyoming where LGBT individuals have been killed because of their orientation. On another occasion at the gay club, Sun, in downtown Salt Lake City, a group of men surrounded the exit. Lynn, unaware they were there, nearly walked out but was pulled back inside before she could get hurt.

“I look conservative, I’m never dishonest,” Lynn said. “I’m not one of those in-your-face people. I feel safe sitting here in the Union when a few years ago, I never would have.”

Nevertheless, bisexuals still have to fight for approval from society.

For instance, the Utah Bisexual Support Group was only recently allowed to hold meetings at the Utah Pride Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

“We are viewed with as much suspicion in the gay community as in the straight,”
Lynn said. “Bisexuality for me has very little to do with who I choose — whether male or female. I don’t take sex seriously, but there has to be a serious attraction. In that case I don’t want to limit myself.”

Campbell and Lynn are just two of many bisexual individuals living in Utah who don’t feel at home in the gay and lesbian or straight communities. Until one, or both, sides decide to accept them, bisexuals will continue to live in limbo.