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Sex and Subversion

Female Deviations: Autobiographies of Desire - Anita Loomis

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Female Deviations:

Autobiographies of Desire

Anita Loomis

at the Neo-Futurarium, through April 27

By Justin Hayford

Anita Loomis stands onstage in a dark gray man's suit, black tie, and wing tips. With her severe brush cut and open-book face, she's a dead ringer for a 12-year-old boy stuffed into dress-up clothes. But when she pulls a shock of red velvet from her fly and announces, "I have the most vivid dreams when I menstruate," she's someone else entirely.

Loomis embodies the transgressions that send a large sector of the American population into apoplectic fits. Despite Hollywood's aggressive attempts to neutralize (read "de-gay") the subversive potential of drag, America remains a land of pathological gender insecurity; how else can you explain the cultish popularity of Julia Sweeney's "It's Pat" sketches on Saturday Night Live, designed with no other objective than to ridicule someone of indeterminate sex? Though mainstream pop psychologists are getting rich detailing the skirmishes in an imaginary war between straight men and women, in reality normative masculinity and femininity occupy adjoining penthouse barracks in the well-fortified bastion of heterosexuality, from which endless salvos are fired at those who prefer to go without the rusty, clanking armor of traditional gender roles. The stain of homosexuality on the body politic threatens to dissolve our culture's most cherished and fundamental self-concept: gender. Gays are threatening because, as "feminized" men and "mannish" women, they demonstrate that the terms "man" and "woman" come not from nature but from a centuries-old patriarchal coercion campaign.

Loomis will have none of it. In her 45-minute solo piece Female Deviations: Autobiographies of Desire, she wages war on traditional notions of gender and sexuality, using her body the way an enraged peasantry might use a battering ram to level the palace gates. As the piece progresses and she leads us through various erotic landscapes from adulthood to nursery school, she sheds her male costume only to reveal the physiological "maleness" beneath: a dark line of hair from navel to crotch, hairy and muscular legs. On a huge video screen a close-up of her breast appears, the nipple circled by a ring of dark hairs. A hand plucks them out one by one until, "corrected" at last, the breast becomes fully female. An on-screen text reassures us, "It's a girl."

But Loomis's rebelliousness isn't self-congratulatory. Unlike California performance artist Tim Miller, who habitually portrays every boy-boy fuck as an act of spiritual rejuvenation and political liberation, Loomis finds no solace in the imagined safe haven of lesbianism. In Female Deviations lesbian sex is the unsettling, sometimes brutal, always eroticized inversion of a particularly repugnant brand of heterosexuality, with one dominant, uncaring, even abusive partner working over the other, seeking nothing but self-gratification. Sex between women is always "fucking," whether with a fist or a dildo. In her stunning opening monologue, Loomis confuses matters even further by calling her lover "daddy," superimposing on her the image of her father, an elusive man who does little but teach the adolescent Loomis how to drink scotch.

In essence, Loomis seems to be asking what happens to lesbianism when it eroticizes patriarchal power relations. Loomis and her lover are not "real" lesbians, at least as mainstream gay culture would define them (a lesbian performing fellatio on a dildo?). Yet these "unreal" lesbians are not "real women" in the eyes of mainstream America either, because real women are heterosexual and feminine (whatever that means). Loomis and her lover become double ciphers, stranded on a cliff of their own making where culturally accepted signifiers cannot get a toehold. It's no wonder that, in one of her menstrual dreams, Loomis finds herself sleeping in a bed on a swiftly flowing river, longing for solid ground.

Loomis packs Female Deviations with deliciously subversive potential but at times struggles to unleash it. By her third description of quasisadomasochistic lesbian fucking, she's not subverting anything anymore but beating a dead horse. At other times, her confused symbology becomes positively opaque. During the dream sequence she pulls three pink juggling balls from her fly, "discovering" each with an unconvincing expression of delight. She sets them onstage in a line, later referring to one as her childhood home and another as her nursery school. Later still, in her final monologue about living in a cramped studio apartment, the balls become mirrors she must cover in order to avoid seeing herself everywhere. The balls' symbolic progression seems forced, almost arbitrary, with the artist imposing meaning rather than discovering what's inherent in the objects.

Still, with so much gay performance art mired in mere flattery, as gay performers reassure gay audiences that if it weren't for homophobes and retroviruses we'd be darn near perfect, Loomis's irreducible and at times disturbing conundrums are refreshing. While too many gays imagine that chanting "We're here, we're queer, get used to it" to one another is an act of insurrection, Loomis suggests that "getting used to" sexuality--gay or otherwise--means ignoring its complex uncertainties.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nancy Andrews.

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