The ghost of lesbianism past lurks in West Hollywood. Near Plummer Park's tennis courts, a one-of-kind art installation blends horror and comedy to evoke queer nostalgia. Created by Toronto-based artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue, and sponsored by the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, "Killjoy's Kastle" is a lesbian feminist haunted house where herstory and Halloween collide.
And menstrual blood abounds.
Pop culture's renewed interest in feminism and the sea change in political and social attitudes towards queers make lesbian feminism relevant. Phenomena as seemingly disparate as Beyonce's reclamation of the F word to Kim Davis' refusal to issue queer marriage licenses are tangled up in the complex genealogy of lesbian feminism. The haunted house illuminates these historical roots in such a manner that doesn't allow them to escape criticism. It is not a self-congratulatory endeavor. It is a strangely reverential lampooning.
Mitchell and Logue recruited Southern California artists and academics to vivify their spectacle. One of these performers is Raquel Gutierrez. She is the author of the chapbook "Breaking Up with Los Angeles" and a co-founder of the now retired performance ensemble Butchlalis de Panochtitlan. Gutierrez performed as a mad women's studies professor leading tours of the kastle. She describes the space as, "immersive theatre, an experience that invites participants to witness a labyrinth of the trappings and follies of lesbian feminist theory and practice."
To enter this labyrinth, we travel through a fanged doorway, stepping into a hellish courtyard. A faux campfire warms an AstroTurf lined stage where dead lesbian folk singers torture their audience with acoustic music and tales of womynly woes. I recline on a hay bale as a performer introduces herself as "Valerie Solanas' Number 1 undead fan." She recruits an audience member to hold up the feminist writer's song lyrics, which are lines from Solanas' SCUM Manifesto -- a 1967 screed inviting women to fix the world that men have ruined -- scrawled on cardboard. This interactive introduction to an alternative reality ruled by lesbian ghosts sets a gleefully sardonic tone.
A tour guide calls my group to the kastle door. We tinkle through a beaded curtain framed by the word "EMASCULATOR," and our guide, Kraft Monster, a masked Mitchell, points at warning signs such as "Danger, Lesbian performance ahead!" and "Giant Bearded Clam!"
Creeping towards the Paranormal Consciousness Room, Kraft Monster announces, "We are about to enter a sacred space! Consciousness raising was borrowed from the Civil Rights Movement, but the practice of women's consciousness raising probably evokes the idea of a white woman alone in the suburbs staring at her vagina!" Ghostly sheets hide torsos of performers splayed on a carpet. They hold mirrors to their crotches and chant, "My genitals are my pleasure! They don't define my gender!"
Kraft Monster leads us into an adjacent room where giant tampon punching bags are labeled with oppressions. She introduces the rainbow-clad creature boxing the Capitalism tampon as the personification of Intersectionality, the practice of examining the ways oppressive institutions interact with one another. "Come," urges Kraft Monster. "You must walk through the pillars. You can't go around! You gotta deal, bitches!"
For the first time in my life, I'm hit in the face by a tampon bigger than me.
Leaving oppression behind, we file into the gender studies professors' home. Bookshelves filled with canonical feminist texts are inscribed into the walls and twisting riot ghouls dance to the music of riot grrrl rock group L7. One thrusts her face close to mine and shrieks, "Problematic! PROBLEMATIC!"
We move through a hairy doorway, escaping into the Daddy Den, which Kraft Monster describes as "a place where the LAPD used to put masculine women and transgender folk!" A denim-dressed daddy shepherds us through his hash marked cell. I'm the last one to pass through the doorway to the next exhibit, and the daddy sidles up beside me, hissing, "No straggling. You know what happens to stragglers..." He shuts the door.
I find myself surrounded by tombstones bearing the names of defunct lesbian spaces, publications, and causes. One memorializing The Lexington, the bar where I went on my first date with the woman I eventually married, rests near my feet. Bittersweet nostalgia bites me. I am in the midst of a gay divorce.
Kraft Monster leads us through a gynecological porthole, and we stumble upon a three-headed Internet troll hunched over an iPad. Kraft Monster explains, "By day she's your friend on Facebook. By night, she's a f-cking d-ck!" The troll rises from its chair and squeals "#pubichairforpresident!" As we move past the troll, I lean towards its screen. Its finger scrolls through a gallery of cats wearing pantyhose.
I step into a room adorned with yarn cobwebs. A sign reads, "Just not married." Kraft Monster says, "This is the home of the polyamorous vampire grannies." One sits in a rocking chair, too busy performing cunnilingus upon her inanimate partner to talk to us.
We shuffle through a bathroom with a blood-streaked sink. A hand reaches out from behind the door and foists something near my hand. A disembodied voice moans, "Empty my diva cup!"
We emerge in a gallery lined with portraits of women who are sometimes labeled feminists. Oprah. Lena Dunham. Sarah Palin. A low-talker seated on a hay bale invites us to listen. "Lean in! Lean in!" urges Kraft Monster. We listen to the straw feminist, often trotted out during straw man arguments against feminism, spew her gobbledygook.
Kraft Monster asks, "Do you hear that pounding? Step into the next room and see what it is!" We follow her instructions to find a young woman with a hammer standing at a table. She tangibly smashes patriarchy, pulverizing white truck balls-style sculptures into nothingness.
Doubling back through the Daddy Den, we step into a sewing room occupied by witches. After we sip "witch's piss," Kraft Monster delivers us to the processing room. Killjoys, or processors, urge us to sit on period stained stools. They invite us to do the most horrifying thing of the evening: talk about our feelings. Among the processors is Chris Vargas, the executive director of MOTHA, the Museum of Transgender Hirstory & Art. I lean in and ask Vargas what people have been most eager to discuss with him. Vargas answers, "Vaginas. That there are vaginas. That they're too hairy. Or not hairy enough."
I empty out of the kastle and into its gift shop, which is organized by Echo Park's Otherwild. An undead lesbian oversees the wares. Shoppers scoop up mugs, totes, and tinctures. On one table, souvenir pins announcing "THE FUTURE IS FEMALE" gleam in the kastle light. Their gleam, in this simultaneously nostalgic and irreverent space, radiates the past, present, and future of lesbianism.