No White Gloves on Mirha-Soleil Ross
An interview by Heze
published in TRADE: Queer Things, Autumn 2003 (www.tradequeerthings.com)
When asked to interview Mirha-Soleil Ross I have to admit I was a little nervous. I’ve seen her perform and spotted her about town – she always seems to be kicking some ass. When I read through her previous interviews and articles I was intrigued by her intelligence and activism, though sometimes put off by her views. It was a challenge of the pedestal sort. Here is a community figure who has done a lot of important work in areas I care deeply about and have benefitted from. Her work has made me laugh, think, and cringe. I haven’t had a chance to meet her, and our interview was done by email. The experience has been unique, being edited by the interviewee (my questions) was a first. Also being unable to understand her views about some things while finding others thought provoking and nodding my head in agreement. Check it out.HEZE: Your activisms interconnect. You blur the lines between activisms and try to show the strength in their connections. For example the parallels you draw between animal rights and prostitutes’ rights in your performance piece Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts from an Unrepentant Whore. How did the parallels between these movements strike you? Did you find it difficult to bring them together in performance?MIRHA-SOLEIL: Generally I hate this maniac obsession so many anglophone activists have with “making links”. I really dislike the eco-feminist slogan “everything is connected” because most of the time, people “make connections” for their own personal and political benefits and in the process of “connecting everything” end up erasing a lot of the specificity of each problem. Nonetheless, one of the first prostitutes’ rights organizations in the US was called C.O.Y.O.T.E. (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) and we are told that its acronym was chosen because the animal stood as a perfect metaphor for the way prostitutes were viewed and treated in our culture: as threatening intruders, carriers of diseases, as varmints to be eliminated. So when I started working on the show, I felt on the one hand intrigued by this comparison but on the other uncomfortable with once again having an entire nation of animals used as a metaphor so gratuitously, that is without any proper representation or compensation. So I wanted to give something back to the coyotes, show people the brutal reality hundreds of thousands of them face annually –being poisoned, shot, and trapped as part of various hunting campaigns and control programs. And ultimately I wanted to ask the question: Can we really compare what we as prostitutes face in terms of harassment and violence to the mass slaughter of coyotes that has been going on this continent for two centuries? And even if there are some poetic or discursive connections to be drawn between our respective situations, what are the quantitative and qualitative differences? And isn’t it our moral responsibility to highlight these disparities? HEZE: I too have trouble understanding how people ignore/block out the connections between the crazy injustices they face and then go on to perpetuate hate against other people and or animals. I remember working as a cashier and serving this woman who was wearing a floor length fur coat and on its collar, probably the belly of a mink, she had pinned an “Abortion is Murder” button. I wanted to spit in her grocery bag. Although maybe her hates are parallel, no choice for women and no choice for animals. But if she believes one thing is murder why not the other? Is this the kind of energy that fuels your activism and performances?MIRHA-SOLEIL: I expect some non-sense from right wing bigots and anti-abortionists but what disturbs me even more is to see that kind of dangerously incongruent attitudes and rhetoric amongst radical activists. Being conscious of the mass-scale industrial exploitation and abuse of animals for food, clothing, and research (just to name a few!) is something I already find hard enough to live with. But even more revolting is to have so many social justice activists laugh at this form of exploitation, abuse, and misery and go even as far as ridiculing those of us who are determined to do something about it. And then there’s the extent to which they will go to try to legitimize their behaviours, their privileged life-style choices that support an imperialist, neo-colonial, environmentally destructive and inhumane system, the same system they claim to be fighting. We have someone like Starhawk, for example, who travels the world to fight globalization but who then turns around and defends meat eating by saying that the Goddess has never told her it was wrong to kill animals and that cows have made a “bargain” with us humans, that they would allow us to kill and eat them in exchange for being allowed by us to live short “happy” lives. Well could someone please fax me a copy of that contract? I know other people who try to make themselves feel better about eating meat by taking their cheap packages of factory-farmed meat home, lighting up a stick of incense on their dishwasher top and then saying some “prayers” for the animals who have “offered” themselves for their spaghetti sauce. I know another woman who is into S/M and who buys expensive leather gears from some fashionable fetish shop and then “thanks” the cows for their “sacrifices”. She has actually convinced herself that cows are these super spiritually charitable animals and that they really give a shit about her pathetic leather dyke games and pageant contests. So yes these kinds of absurd behaviours that I find even amongst people I have close political relationships with do make me angry. But what has really fuelled my activism around animal issues is not really anger. It is rather the incredible inspiration and hope I get when meeting and learning about activists, artists, and writers who, on every continent, selflessly dedicate their whole lives resisting animal abuse and fighting for animal liberation in their own class, cultural, religious, political, and national contexts.HEZE: From the performances I’ve seen you in or read by you something that jumps out at me is that you don’t mince words. Your words are very direct, visual, and could be interpreted as harsh. Do you ever find yourself challenged by audiences on the passionate presentation of the way you see the world? MIRHA-SOLEIL: Perhaps what is perceived as “harsh” sometimes in my tone comes from being raised in a context where people don’t put on a pair of white gloves to say what they have to say. I remember my mom when she’d get upset at another woman in our neighborhood, she’d scream “Ma câlice de tabarnak, m’a t’crisser un bâton d’dynamite dans plotte pis m’as t’faire sauter! – You fucking bitch, I’m gonna shove a dynamite stick up your cunt and blow you up!” So the people in that specific class, ethnic, cultural, linguistic context were not a learned elite who could display wryness through elaborate lectures on important world issues. But the vivid way with which they expressed themselves and cut so vigorously through the shit is something I hope hasn’t been completely erased from my personality and presentational style. Do I ever get challenged? Rarely. I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with public debates and that’s because our egos are trained to worry more about sounding and looking intelligent, articulate, and non-offensive rather than with struggling together to find out what’s right or wrong about a specific problem or issue. HEZE: I remember seeing you perform when you launched your Pregnancy Project at Pope Joan and I know you just received funding to finish this project. What inspired you to do this piece? MIRHA-SOLEIL: At the same time as I turned 30, all my genetic women friends – straight or lesbian – started to get knocked up! While I am not someone who psychologically suffers from not being able to bear my own biological children, I know that pregnancy and motherhood and everything that’s attached to that is a major topic for some transsexual women. So I decided to launch a 9 month performance project during which I appeared pregnant every time I was in public. We took some video footage of that performance and from this documentation, I developed a series of short experimental videos. And I have just received funding to produce the final installment. Basically I’ll travel to different parts of Canada and the US to interview some of today’s most controversial and thought-provoking transsexual activists, artists, and theorists about the issues raised by this projectHEZE: You’re currently working on a collection of interviews with trans artists due out next spring. Can you tell us a little about that project? MIRHA-SOLEIL: It’s an anthology based on the work presented by trans artists at the Counting Past 2 festival from 1997-1999. So it includes texts and images from the work presented as well as in-depth interviews with all the featured artists – about 30 in all. My motivation for this book comes from my frustration with the absence of critical response to the work of trans film-video makers and artists. Since we don’t get adequately reviewed anywhere at this point in time, I feel it is crucial to leave some documentation of the art and programming work we have done as trans people since the early 90’s. That way, in 20-50 years from now, when people compile books about “alternative” art practices at the turn of the century, they will have one less excuse to ignore or exclude us. Just look at most books that have come out about Canadian film, video, and performance art in the 90’s and outside of one book published by Grunt Gallery, you won’t find any references to what we’ve produced during those years. Pick up the recently updated edition of the The Bent Lens: The Definitive International Guide to Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Films and despite a multitude of non-trans Canadian film makers being reviewed, you will not find my name nor that of James Diamond, Boyd Kodak, Alec Butler, Xanthra Mackay, Christine Burnham, or Aiyyana Maracle there even though we all exceeded the editors’ criteria for inclusion. HEZE: You have mentioned that other than these projects you are planning on increasing your Spanish skills and doing Tarot readings for people. Both should increase the amount you can communicate! How did you get interested in the Tarot?MIRHA-SOLEIL: I have very few opportunities to speak French living here in Canada. While this is supposed to be a bilingual country, one I am expected to call my “home,” we all know this is total bullshit. Most anglophones know as much about Québécois culture – and therefore about us as people – as they know about extraterrestrial life in the Andromeda galaxy. So Spanish is for my mental health! I can breathe and think and laugh in that language in a way that is closer to my first language – Joual. Tarot is due to my interest in the occult. Most of my life has been spent negotiating various levels of reality with ghosts, spirits, divinities, and demons. But it’s all knowledge and skills I gained from first-hand experiences, some of which were pure bliss, others terrifying. Through the Tarot, I am learning to use a formal language to hook up with the unseen, a complex language elaborated from very powerful symbolic systems and for me, being so un-mathematical, this is quite a challenge and therefore extremely exciting!
Mirha-Soleil Ross’ show Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts from an Unrepentant Whore will be presented in September at the first National Transgender Theater Festival in New York ( www.stages2003.org ). She has two solo video/performance exhibition coming up in 2004, one at AKA Gallery in Saskatoon, the other at Grunt Gallery in Vancouver. Heze is a cartoonist and writer who will become a certified fruitcake if she gets one more piece of fruit tattooed on her body.