Sorry we don’t have rooms for foreigners
When I was a teenager in the mid 1970s I received a scholarship to attend a posh boarding school in Switzerland. My mother cried for three weeks begging me not to go. She insisted that blacks were not welcome in the famous land of neutrality and that I’d wind up a human pastry baked to perfection in a large toaster oven, or filthy gas chamber. If that wasn’t enough she said Dr. Mengele would perform exotic operations on my genitalia and knee caps or whatever was still left of my body after incineration.
In 1993 when I was invited to Hamburg to perform at the Six Sex Weeks Festival at the Schmidt Theatre my mother went into cardiac arrest. As the paramedics were taking her to the hospital she kept screaming, “oh baby, don’t go to Germany, Mr. Hitler will kill you!” My mother seriously believed that Hitler’s disembodied head was somehow kept alive in a jar somewhere in Argentina, barking commands to followers worldwide. Mother confused an Oliver Stone fascist conspiracy theory with the schlock movie classic, They Saved Hitler’s Brain.
For many years I wondered if this was the same reaction that my idol Angela Davis’ parents had when she decided to study Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. But even so, I’m sure her mother wasn’t a hissy neurotic, prone to outlandish histrionics, as was always the case with my recently deceased matriarch.
American blacks rarely travel to Europe, unless they are entertainers or in the armed forces. The standard black stereotypical notion of any German speaking country is as follows: hedonistic blondness, or humorless stern authoritarians. As sophisticated as Angela Davis was upon arriving in Frankfurt in 1964, I’m sure it still caused her some concern when she went looking for housing in and around the university and was repeatedly told, “Sorry we don’t have rooms for foreigners.”
I was 16 when I decided to change my name to Vaginal Davis in sexual homage to Angela Davis. I was studying film through a program for disadvantaged youth with Los Angeles Film Exposition or Film X, as it was called at the time. My teachers were legendary Hollywood filmmakers like King Vidor, cinematographer James Wong Howe and writer Oscar Saul who adapted A Street Car Named Desire to the screen in 1951. I was shown films from around the world, and had my first exposure to the sick and twisted genius of directors like Fassbinder and Pasolini.
After seeing Angela Davis in a bootlegged copy of the Soviet documentary Our Friend Angela where she visits the Soviet Union and is presented with flowers, awards, and a tiara that keeps falling out of her giant Afro, I became mesmerized by her image and had to read everything about her.
It was very naive and petulant of my weenage self to declare myself a Marxist, and on top of that, a self proclaimed communist leader. Did I have any followers? No, just a strong and abiding need to fashion my own myths. I figured if communism was good enough for Angela it was good enough for me, and besides didn’t Russians have really big penises? Not as big as Israelis’ or Germans’ but still mighty hefty.
In my deluded state I was determined I would lead a new utopian movement. Knowing all about Angela Davis wasn’t enough. I had to also read everything that she read. I started with the Pre-Socratics, and then moved to Plato and Aristotle. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason? I drank it all day. What I couldn’t borrow from the downtown or UCLA library I stole from a ritzy chain bookstore in Beverly Hills. I pilfered Eros and Civilization by Herbert Marcuse along with texts by Adorno and Horkheimer. I was on a roll. Of course I didn’t understand most of what I read. But that didn’t matter. Having grown up poor in the notorious housing projects and ghettos of Watts and East Los Angeles during the late 1960s, I was taught protest chants and empowerment dances by black national activists. My favorite chant from this period came directly from George Jackson and the Soledad brothers. I later adapted it into the repertoire of my post punk political performance art troupe, The Afro Vaginal Davis Sisters. Starting in 1982 we would begin each performance by singing in unison:
“All we meet, walking down the street,
with nothing to eat,
and shackles on our feet,
don’t get any sleep.
Black power! black power!
destroy, white boy.”
Me and my Afro Sisters, a mixture of biological Anglo women and a Latin man, who I gave the names Clitoris Turner, Urethra Franklin and Fertile La Toyah Jackson, were the first performance artists based in Los Angeles to mix punk DIY aesthetics, the all-girl R&B group dynamic with the rhetoric of the black power movement. This was all taking place in the early 1980s, long before retro 70s chic came into vogue. In 1970 Angela Davis was on the cover of Life Magazine and on every post office wall, as America’s Most Wanted criminal. My low art performance parody project could never reach such illustrious heights. How was I to make a difference and stay true to the teachings of Angela Davis?
In early 1999 I was taken to lunch by a young fan named Chessler who I’d kept in contact with over the years. He first became enamored of me when he was 15, and had begged his society mother to take him to see one of my underground performance pieces satirizing Patty Hearst and The Symbionese Liberation Front. In my version, the Afro Sisters and I masqueraded as the Sexual-Eaze Liberation Army. Chessler reminded me of my fractured manifesto:
“Immaculate children of WASP wealth, become a supporter of the black power struggle. Embrace your inner dinge. Destroy the evil white Satan Lucifer Devil Man and his corporate multi-national power structure. Watch your nipples harden and skin magically darken as anarchy reigns. Rejoice in a frenzied state of sexual abandon, and you’ll never get old and wrinkly, like an appledoll or burn when out in the sun. Put your penis where your mouth is and suck the milk from my large black breastage. I will sustain you, and provide you with proper nourishment, so kill your mother and father. I am your new and improved parental figurine, who will set a high standard as I teach you my filthy, dark native jungle dances.”
My call-to-arms was a half-baked meshing of the SCUM Manifesto and Helter Skelter. The actual rant also involved a process for white children to atone for the sins of their ancestors against the black nation by helping place me at the center of a new power order. I would become the charismatic leader of a newly created black centered state, where only the most attractive Caucasian boys would be used for breeding purposes. As the queen mother bee I’d use these boys seminal nectar to spawn a new generation of sexy mulatto babies. All this really wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, but Chessler’s fifteen-year old straight white boy with black Moses complex mind, was impressionable and he found my fantasia titillating.
After Chessler graduated from Brown University he took a position with a multi-national entertainment conglomerate. Not because the business fascinated him, but just to sabotage it from within. He and his large circle of friends have all become successful power players and captains of industry. They formed this secret organization while still in college called The Madame Defarges. I had long forgotten that in one of my written diatribes I gave out before performances I mentioned that I wanted followers to become my Madame Defarges armed with very sharp knitting needles ready and willing to pluck out the eyes of thine enemies.
Never in a million years would I imagine that I’d become some post-Ivy League version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with me substituting for Kevin Bacon. Actually Chessler’s Madame DeFarges are more like The Ellen James Society from the John Irving novel The World According To Garp except they don’t mutilate themselves. The Madame DeFarges are intent on wrecking havoc in the entertainment world. They’ve been very successful. The recent turmoil in the music world that has commercial artists revolting against their record company masters is due to their subtle manipulation. Soon there will be no more EMI, Sony Music Corp, Warner Bros, Capital or Universal/MCA. What a blessed event that will be. And its not going to stop there.
But what about me? Do I really want to become a not so benevolent despot and symbol for political and sexual fulfillment? Well I’m really flattered and I admire that the Madame DeFarges are trying to escape the mediocrity of white middle-classism, but latching on to me as a savior, is only going to bring them discontent and disillusionment. Angela Davis would be the better choice.
My mother always said I’d wind up in prison. So if I survive an assassination attempt I wouldn’t mind going to prison. I like prison. You don’t have to pay rent, and drag queens get the best-looking, most virile convicts as husbands.
1 Dinge literally means dirty, dark, soiled or black, but it is also an olde school derogatory gay term for black men. It refers to white men who are only sexually excited by black men and nothing else will provide them sexual solace. White men who only desire black men are called Dinge Queens.
Vaginal Davis, the doyeanne of punk rock drag is a cultural raconteur whose medium is her own whimsy. She is a frequent contributor to LA Weekly, Dutch, New Music Express, and Lingua franca. Look for her first novel Mary Magdelene sometime in 2003 and a worldwide tour of her next performance piece Orifice Descending in the fall.