Vanessa Cate

Vanessa Cate

Vanessa Cate is Editor-in-Chief of @THISSTAGE. She has worked with STAGE RAW since its inception as a contributor, Posting and Assigning Editor. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of True Focus Theater and the fantasy dance group Cabaret le Fey.

The Man and Woman in All of Us: A Trans Performer and her Migration From Korea to the L.A. Stage

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By Vanessa Cate

When you hear the name “Yozmit,” it’s not clear whether it might refer to an ancient god or perhaps a popstar ala Madonna. Yozmit is a transgender performance artist who combines multiple mediums to get people out of a conventional mindset, to explore gender, promote equality, and to entertain.

The reprise at month’s end of her show, Do You? The Migration of the Monarchs, comes at the very moment when President Trump has announced his intention to ban transgender soldiers from any kind of service in the U.S. military, which, in addition to barring new transgender recruits, and also threatens to toss over 2,400 already enlisted transgender soldiers out of the military. The rationalization for Trump’s decision is “to avoid disruption.”

“I try not to believe in gender division or racial division any kind of dualistic way of seeing things. . . We made [being both man and woman] cheap and devalued it due to religious, political misconception,” Yozmit notes in the interview below (given before Trump made his announcement).

As described on the About Page on her website, “Yozmit is the V.A.G. (Victorian Alien Geisha): an ancient Korean geisha born in the Victorian era, BUT as an alien abducted Korean man. With the spirit of geisha, she married herself into the Walker family, a lineage of spiritual shamans to pursue a life mission of healing the world.”

Woah. That’s a lot to unpack, or to put together. But after seeing her show Do You: The Migration of Monarchs in the Hollywood Fringe Festival, it actually makes perfect sense.

As I watched the 55-minute piece, I wondered: Was this what audiences felt  who got to see David Bowie before his rise to fame?

Lights up, and Yozmit plays the gayageum (a traditional Korean twelve-stringed instrument) and sings an ancient Korean song. Somehow, the stage of the Ruby Theatre of the Complex on Santa Monica Boulevard transforms into an ancient landscape, the fabric gathered around her like clouds, and she appears as a timeless and ethereal being, summoning art and lamenting it.

The play moves through eight distinct pieces with names like “Bath of Dionysus” and “DICKT8R.. Striking visuals and Haute Couture fashion pieces are used amid song and performance vignette to evoke mental images of masculine-feminine archetypes. Certain aesthetics are recurring, such as Victorian fashion and alien imagery.

Yozmit was awarded a grant from the city of West Hollywood as a part of that city’s “Transgender Arts Initiative.” This funding award dedicates itself to help enable transgender artists and nonprofits engaged in work supporting the transgender community.

I reached out to Yosmit at the time the show’s reprise performance were announced:

@THISSTAGE: What was your inspiration for Do You: The Migration of Monarchs?

YOZMIT: “[The show was] inspired by the seasonal migration of Monarch butterflies in nature, Do You: Migration of The Monarchs is a journey to our “Promised Land.. Like one reggae song, “Promised Land” is a state of mind. This means to me one’s higher self or true fulfillment in life. It reflects my personal journey of migrating from South Korea to Los Angeles to find my voice and freedom as an LGBTQidentified artist. It is a story about a realization in one’s power dynamics through the transformations of the identity and how it can evoke the shift in others and society.”

@THISSTAGE: What was it like creating art and expressing LGBTQ-identified art in South Korea? 

YOZMIT: I never made any art when I was back in Korea and I was still in a closet. I was invited to perform few years ago and it was interesting to go back to my country with the art and persona I developed outside of Korea. It is like showing my children to my family I got separated for a long time.

@THISSTAGE: How old were you when you “migrated”? Was it frightening, liberation, both, or…?

YOZMIT: 19 years old. It was both frightening and liberating…almost like a new birth.

@THISSTAGE: Do you find the Los Angeles theater scene to be supportive, or is it a challenge to produce your unique and trans-focused work here? 

YOZMIT: It is a challenge everywhere to produce trans-focused work, because it is still a taboo for a lot of people and in the society. But nowadays, being a transgender is like a fad or fashion. . . it became chic. This means people are getting more open minded about gender and identity.

 

“In a way, all human beings are transgender if they were born from a mother and a father. That is the divinity in being human.
So I am not interested in being gay or lesbian or straight or trans. We should all connect as human to human.”

 

@THISSTAGE: What was your experience like in the Hollywood Fringe Festival? 

YOZMIT: When I decided to do the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I wanted to do something that will blow my mind and the audience’s mind. [The] Hollywood Fringe Festival definitely provided me with the opportunity to do something out of my comfort zone. … My intention of creating Migration of the Monarchs was an artistic prayer to evoke the power shift from conformity to individualism while embracing all that was, is, and will be, using the transformative quality of gender and identity. Literally, I went through a massive transformation on stage.

@THISSTAGE: Do you have any personal performance idols or artistic inspirations? 

YOZMIT: It is mostly pop stars when I was in high school in Korea. Boy George was my childhood idol especially when I was going through my puberty. He really shocked my world to an expansion. The fact that he was openly gay. And then I admired Madonna, [a] figure of powerful feminine force

@THISSTAGE: Couture Fashion seems to be an imperative part of your piece. Can you speak a little bit more about that? 

YOZMIT: I really love fashion as a visual art. It creates persona and identity. I started my career as a fashion designer when I moved here from Korea. But L.A. fashion was focused on producing and selling mass product, which I really hated and [so I ] left the fashion business.

I like creating one of a kind outfits, so it becomes part of yourself and identity. There is a connection between you and what you wear. But modern fashion is about consumerism. It is wasteful and the fashion makes people lose their identity and everyone looks the same.

That is why I like the old aesthetic of making clothes. One of a kind, specially made for you. now it is part of your skin.

@THISSTAGE: Finally, do you have any advice for young trans individuals, or artists in general?

YOZMIT: I try not to believe in gender division or racial division any kind of dualistic way of seeing things. Being both man and woman is a divine quality. It is something very special and shamanistic., but people and society degraded it. We made it cheap and devalued it due to religious, political misconception. It is [the] same principle as how we repressed the feminine and took power away from it. We created a big lie to ourselves. In a way, all human beings are transgender if they were born from a mother and a father. That is the divinity in being human.

So I am not interested in being gay or lesbian or straight or trans. We should all connect as human to human. Divinty to divinity. This realization is the main spirit of Do You: Migration of The Monarchs project. Humanity into divinity using the art as a tool for transformation.

 

Two encore performances of Do You: The Migration of Monarchs will be held Friday 7/28 at 7:30pm and Saturday 7/29 at 10:30pm at the Complex Theatres (Ruby Theatre), 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. For tickets: www.yozmit.com/dymm