Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interview with a Clown: Charlie Vázquez/Spittles the Clown

A few months ago, my partner, artist David Berube, was wandering through the blogosphere and came across queer Latino writer and performer Charlie Vázquez's blog. David found Charlie on Facebook and told me that I should hit Charlie up. Since then, I have come to respect Charlie as a writer, performer, and fellow progressive queer lookin' to bust open this here world at the seams...look at the ugliness...and plant flowers in the mess.

When Charlie announced he would be doing a show at Dixon Place as Spittles the Clown, I was tickled. After a Facebook exchange, I decided that I would love to do an interview with Charlie/Spittles. And here it is:

So Charlie....Spittles the Clown....born shortly after 9/11....what is the connection between Spittles and that tragic day?

You know, I didn’t give it conscious attention at the time, but around the time of 9/11, I was babysitting my best friend’s toddler son and caught myself acting like a moron to entertain him many, many times. I’m the oldest of five kids, so I have a natural way of clowning and making them laugh. In terms of that horrific morning, Spittles became a symbolic “phoenix” if you will, a satircal survivor of horrors—thus his fascination with gore and all of the stuff people who are afraid of clowns associate clowns with. He definitely helped me laugh during a time when I didn’t laugh very much.

How does Spittles (a “straight” clown—whatever) intersect with your own sexual identity?

Well, the “straight” part about Spittles’ sexual identity is part of the comedy. He likes to remind people he’s “straight”, especially after he catches himself doing something really sissy, like putting his hands over his mouth and screaming like a cheerleader. But this is just a statement on the complexity of sexuality and how homophobia extends beyond same-sex preference. Spittles will often mention his ex-girlfriends (he never has one “right now”), but he knows who to go to when he needs to make a quick “buck”—if you know what I mean. That aspect of him I borrowed from closet bisexual friends I had in the past—hustlers. I really felt bad for them—bisexuals get unfair coverage and I can even admit that I endured a very short bisexual phase myself, as I made the transition to male queerdom from failed heterosexuality. I been there, mm-kay?

In a time that is, I hope, just re-emerging from a decade of sexual do you see Spittles, an openly fetish-focused character, pushing against the last ten years?

Oh honey—I could write a book on this one and don’t have the time, as I’m working on two—but—I’m very suspicious of sexual puritanism, on all levels. It’s just not natural—worse things are the result. Sex is a natural pleasure that we ought to be combigning with our intelligence (tall order, I know) to forge a healing tradition that reduces tension in our society. Looks what happens when people suppress their sexual curiosities—torture, murder, crime, etc. The Bush administration condemned queers and championed torture! What the f**k? This has to turn around—and as an unapologetic queer Latino pagan, I’ll even go as far as to say that churches need to start being “audited”, if you will, for encouraging negative treatment toward anyone. This is complicity, plain and simple. These ministers in question, and that horrible witch (The Pope) inspire violence and murderous behavior against queers. This era of patriarchal Christian hegemony must end and I will do whatever it takes to topple the church. If you want to get a driver’s licesnse, you have to take a test right? I think that all Christians should have to read the Bible (after they learn to read, if they can’t) for their own perspective on the scriptures. They ruin it for the nice, peaceful Christians, the real ones. The level of hypocrisy that sexual conservatism brews is devastating. People need to be educated sexually—this should reflect in less unwanted pregnancies and STDs. It needs to be discussed, not swept under the rug.

Spittles started off as a children's clown...and then transitioned into the leather/fetish did that come about?

Well, my first children’s party was a bomb, a disaster, and after the kids decided they hated me, I entertained their parents in the lounge. It’s also part of the show, so I can’t say too much about it. When two martini-swilling babes hit on me, I decided that my market was a more mature one. Then my “very gay” friend Mark suggested I seek out men with strange fetishes who were willing to pay top dollar for their fantasies. I was sent to a BDSM “master” and was trained. The rest I can’t say right now…(smiles)

You will be doing your show at Dixon Place...tell me why Dixon Place is an important venue to the queer community and to you as an artist.

You know, I just went for the first time last week, for a production meeting. It’s important for a lot of reasons—it’s a high-fi environment dedicated to the fringe, to queers. There are lots of divisions in the queer community—where we live, work and play. But I dare say that we have many things in common we hate to admit—I’ve always been a punk/subcultural-identified artist and writer and discovered underground music and crazy queers in the East Village during the 1980s when I was very young. Thus, where I spend my social time. The downtown performace scene needs an audience, plain and simple. We have become so accustomed to sitting in front of monitors that bring information and entertainment to us, that planning and going to an event can seem almost inconvenient. Dixon Place hosts a lot of burgeoning queer performance productions: movie screenings, photography exhibit slideshows, live music acts, spoken word culture—it’s important for people to support these things because we artists are writing our—and YOUR—history. No one else will do that for us. Attending a performance is participation in that event, it’s participating in queer history.

I mentioned before that I have an “alter-clown-ego” named Bubbles, who seems to be Spittles’ saintly twin brother. What role does Spittles play in opening up personal space for you to say and do, that you can't/won't/maybe would do as Charlie Vázquez?

I look at performing as Spittles as being “mounted” by a spirit if you will. It’s been a while since this has happened, but I know the chick is about to hatch soon. As Charlie I don’t call people “ugly” or sit in strangers’ laps! Spittles has been, and I hope will become again, a detour away from me—I’m a very regimented, driven person, so it’s nice to get into a freeform space and negotiate ideas and impulses differently. As an artist it’s different as well—I’m a manic perfectionsist when it comes to editing fiction and I try not to stray from my “tightrope” act in prose: I like to write things that are precarious and precise. As Spittles though, I compose a summary sequence of acts, bullets, if you will, which I have the liberty to stray from for improvising, which a live audience catches in “real time”.

How can the peoples see Spittles in person? And should Spittles arouse their can they see Charlie Vázquez the performer?

Spittles will be performing for the first time, in like a year, at Dixon Place, Lower East Side, Saturday May 30th. I’m part of a show called “Lips Like My Sugar Walls”, which has a very overt queer and sexual feel to it. There will be live music and multimedia entertainment. I’m one of two spoken word acts—the other is my hermana en palabras Karen Jaime. As for what Spittles will do for the audience—may that be a surprise! I hope he makes them laugh, though. It’s the best thing for the soul ever. Now Charlie is more visible these days—my PANIC! reading, which features queer fiction and poetry, falls on the last Wednesday of the month, at Nowhere. Wednesday May 27th will feature queer Latino/a readers and I’m hosting a queer writers of color reading, DOUBLE PRIDE PANIC!, which will be featuring you Brandon! I’m very excited about things right now. Interested parties can go to my blog and register to receive it to their email. I use it for reading annoucements and book review postings.

Info and tix: Dixon Place

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