It’s February. I’m sitting on a lawn chair in the graffitied back room of Tattooed Mom. The room is crowded, people intermingling on sagging couches and in the backseats of bumper cars. The drag queen known as Little Piece steals French fries from the basket in my lap, flipping the curls of their pink wig. There is no stage, no barrier between the performance and the audience. High-heeled queens strut a narrow walkway, lip-syncing and collecting dollar bills. In one burlesque number, a performer throws peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into the sea of outstretched hands. This is what performance art is, at its core— unpredictable, unrestricted, and sometimes hilarious.
Turn Up the Trans*mission is unlike any performance art show in Philadelphia. Staged monthly at the long-established South Street punk hangout, it aims to combine trans* advocacy with live performance. The acts include burlesque, drag, singing, spoken word, and any other imaginable performance style. The show serves as a platform primarily for transgender and non-binary artists, and is inclusive of both new and veteran performers. I sat down with host and producer deadb0y IX, as well as a couple of the local performers, in the basement of a coffee shop in the Gayborhood to talk about the mission and future of the show.
deadboy started performing three years ago, and noticed pretty quickly that there were limited opportunities for trans or queer-specific artists. New performers find themselves jumping through hoops, barred from shows that require pre-requisites such as having several years of experience or the right network of connections. deadboy was given the opportunity to develop his own show through Philly LGBT Art Initiative, teaming up with co-host Vyvyan Sassafrass. “We wanted to put on a show that was advocacy and performance art, and to get rid of the gatekeeping rituals,” says deadboy. “I don’t really understand the whole, pay your dues and work for free until you get recognition thing.”