"I'm lewd, I'm rank, I'm downright malicious, I'm a hag!" A lesbian in leather, chains, and Jell-O red hair is shouting. Her pants are down, exposing a giant dildo. A male "slave" sucks away after carefully unrolling a condom. All this to the cheers of the mostly paired-off female audience.
It was a Sister Spit kind of night.
Re-Bar, September 8
The audience was eager for these all-girl spoken-word gangsters from San Francisco, who promise to issue forth "all the shit that's fit to spit." The background music—the Go-Gos' "Our Lips Are Sealed"—set the mood by insinuating an inside joke, something shamelessly vaginal.
"There was a creative explosion of the dyke scene in San Francisco," says Spit's co-founder Michelle Tea, explaining how the group got started. "A lot of girls were itching to have a stage."
Co-founder and Chicago native Sini Anderson, a former heroin addict, agrees that women weren't getting heard. "I wanted to start an environment for chicks that was more supportive, more comfortable." The rotating troupe has now evolved into a grassroots touring company. It recently returned from a second cross-country experiment, which left Spit members exhausted but with a record deal, I Spit on Your Country (Mouth Almighty/Mercury).
The Sisters count on several things to capture their audience. First of all, the MCs see to it that a rapport develops with the crowd. In a matter of seconds, Tea and Anderson score an invitation for the whole group to have a sleepover martini party at the MTV Music Video Awards.
Then, one by one, the seven "chicks" do their thing. "It's a little different every single time, which is probably why we're still doing it," says Anderson in a recent phone interview. "The individuality of the performers holds the show, and we've been lucky with the mix of people we've put together."
The Sisters all but ignore the usual, gentler modes of confessional performance poetry in favor of tough individuality and "fuck it" self-preservation, with a little dose of silliness. With maybe minor exceptions, their words radiate intelligent humor. Opener Ellen Maybe deadpans, "Everything is alive and everything is sort of adorable/I gave the bathtub a hug, I freed all the rubber bands." University of California-Santa Cruz student and formidable wordsmith Shoshana von Blancknsee smirks through the line "I was just scratching my cervix," while Anderson shrieks, "You'd better wake up and smell the urine, butch girl!"
Dyke-punk band Tribe 8 member Lynn Breedlove's simulated queer sex act brought together, in a seemingly basic way, disparate social commentaries, all of which are integral to Sister Spit's collective, if not sarcastic, middle finger in the air. The dildo scene is provocative and uncomfortable, but comic in its exaggerations. Breedlove is not the first to come up with this; even the ancient Greeks liked to wield their props onstage.
How do you follow a blow job? Bring on the bearded lady. The startling wisps on "Renaissance chick" Harriet Dodge's chin were in fact real and actually helped transform her into the men she pretended to be in two monologues. In a dusty black suit, Dodge used her body to reinvent herself. Even her voice, distinctively squeaky "like a lazy, buzzy bee," could have been mistaken for a boy's on the cusp of manhood.
These women don't want, or even seek, approval. Nor do they get stuck in the easy trap of emotional self-indulgence. It was hard to miss the fearsome, defiant sexuality surging through Tea's "Chelsea Whistle": "When you want things so badly it shows on your body." Another line that reverberated powerfully: "We all survive differently. She rolls up her sleeves to show."
The voices that shot into the dark were tender, raw, and had the power to persuade—or make you cringe. The night had been about art—the kind of art that frees up notions of expected female behavior, language, and movement. For almost four hours these performers reached out and made sure they were heard. The sequence of bodies and personae and words made you stop and think, as though you were watching a parade of all the women in the world wander past.