By Angie Hoover
The performance room at Three Clubs is, in essence, a side closet in a straight bar. But it is not the closet of shame and doubt that imprisoned LGBTQIA individuals during The Gay Dark Ages; it is a new closet with cocktails, performers, celebrated sex positivity, and the opportunity for queers and their allies to convene without fear of judgment while enjoying a variety show called Cabaret Con-Sensual.
To be wholly candid, “safe spaces” such as these are something that I tend to criticize, even as a member of the queer community; the obsession with politically correct language, the vigilant and angry exclusivity, the hypocrisy of gathering oppressed people who ultimately wish to oppress their oppressors — it all feels like a recipe for stagnancy. And after all, a closet is a closet. But after speaking with Bitsy La Bourbon, founder of sexual assault activism group, More Than No, and producer of Cabaret Con-Sensual, it is plainer to recognize how difficult it is to play a part in increasing queer visibility, and how any attempt to gather the community can inspire projects for more focused systemic change.
Open about her past as an assault survivor, Bitsy offers insight that is highly motivated by personal traumas, giving her a powerful relatability and strength. Despite her status as an icon of openness, however, she approaches questions about her work with a sort of restrained professionalism, and in many ways it is this reserve that revealed to me the internal conflict queers feel when they must be both empathetic and forward-thinking. Also illuminated, was the pressure leaders feel to build outlets for emotions that are sometimes discordant: namely aggression and acceptance. There is a need for forceful momentum when it comes to increasing visibility and fostering respect for queer people, but there is also a need for cautiousness when dealing with a large group of traumatized people. But when a single person tries to be both the voice of catharsis and the voice of revolution, progress is complicated.
Personally, Bitsy desires more spaces for anger and more uproar among allies who sometimes seem complacent, but as a producer, she wishes to create a respite from those types of negative and sometimes painful emotions. Together with spaces where anger and retribution are central, she believes her event can catalyze the healing process and provide clarity of purpose, and she acknowledges that the lack of other perspectives is problematic. She remarks: “Cycling through emotional stages is essential to moving forward. It allows for a full scope of reflection, and that helps us know what progress looks like.”
Although More than No and Cabaret Con-Sensual champion survivors of sexual assault regardless of how they identify, Bitsy felt it important to dedicate a select night to specifically queer performance art, and always gives careful consideration to diversity and representation in the realms of gender and race for the monthly show. As she explains, “Sexual assault survivors are a minority group unlike any other because any person can all of a sudden become a part of it, and there are certain minorities that experience violence at a much higher rate. The odds of our community experiencing assault is very high — assault is experienced at the highest rate among trans and bisexual people of color, so representation is extremely important.”
Potential friction is avoided by directing attendees toward consent and open discussion about kink and other unconventionalities. Using provocative performances in the genres of storytelling, burlesque, music, spoken word, performance art, and stand-up comedy to challenge widely held ideas about sexuality, pleasure, and intimate connection, the cabaret not only informs, but endears its audience to the kinds of issues that are ignored even among friends for fear of inciting conflict. Closeness is cultivated easily and quickly in such a comfortable and inviting space, and although this queer utopia doesn’t directly galvanize people to envision clear, direct goals, it provides what many more hostile iterations of Queer Pride cannot achieve: unification and hope for progress.
More Than No is a non-profit organization, an outreach and educational group, which believes in open dialogue about rape, sexual violence, and consent. They offer educational workshops, peer support groups for survivors and allies, and produces the monthly Cabaret Con-Sensual, which “provides survivors and allies a space to express themselves through the performing arts.”
The next Cabaret Con-Sensual will be held on Saturday August 11th at 9pm at Three Clubs, 1123 Vine Str., Los Angeles CA 90038. For tickets, click here.