Sometimes you just can’t describe a person better than they describe themselves. When former Tribe 8 front person Lynn Breedlove sent out an e-mail about his upcoming travelling show, it read like this: “Lynn Breedlove’s One Freak Show is queer, homohop, punk rock, standup comedy on transgender bodies, feminism, family, and community. His plan for world peace includes gender nesting dolls, cross-dressing stuffed animals, and a new edition of Our Bodies Ourselves for men. It’s really all about the love, and the easiest way to get there is to be able to laugh at ourselves.” Amen sister/brother.
As a good old-fashioned gendernaut, Breedlove requested all available pronouns be used in this piece including him, her, shim and herm.
This artist’s modus operandi has always been to push buttons and work his way out of societal straightjackets, but humour is interwoven throughout her art. From Tribe 8’s first CD, 1995’s By The Time We Get to Colorado; through to their last, 1998’s Role Models for Amerika, the band was well-known for laying down the Tribe 8 tirade.
Tracks like “Republican Lullaby” and “Barnyard Poontang” got the laughs, but the group was most well-known for a little ditty entitled “Frat Pig,” the live performance of which included a simulated gang castration in response to a gang rape.
Breedlove has never taken the easy road, but this front woman, novelist, performance artist, and former bike courier has always spiced up his world by mixing politics with his own left-of-centre humour.
Breedlove created the play, One Freak Show: Less Rock, More Hilarity as a way to discuss her gender evolution and revolution.
Breedlove describes his defining “aha” gender moment as something she’ll never forget. “I was at Camp Trans [a protest site held outside the Michigan Women’s Festival] in 2000 and a friend said, “Oh, you missed this really great workshop for no ho, no low trans which is what you are! No hormones, no lower surgery, you’re trans and it’s okay!” I thought, “Shit, yeah! That’s it!” I felt like suddenly this community created the opportunity to reclaim who I was when I was three, before anybody started putting their constructs on me.”
Breedlove admits that her dual-gender journey “took a lot longer because of the feminist dyke identity that I had in place and my deep personal resentment towards men. I’ve been raped. I’ve been told I can’t have power. I don’t have a dick, so I’m not a man by definition…. Fuck you! So I’m a man-hating man… that’s what I came to.”
She admits that much of her journey has been helped by her recovery (15 years sober) and through “a lot of therapy and working with things like Buddhism and all kinds of spiritual practices that help me be able to hold two opposite ideas at the same time. I’m a feminist and I’m a dyke and I fucking hate men and I’m a man. I identify as a dyke and as a guy. People are pissed off about that because they want you to pick a side. Really, my choice isn’t about you. I don’t tell you to lop your tits off, and you don’t get to tell me that I can’t be a dyke and a guy. That is just as repressive as any of the bullshit that we’re rebelling against.”
Gender debate notwithstanding, there’s no question that longtime Breedlove fans will want an update on his music. What has Tribe 8 been up to? The group played two final shows this year at two seemingly opposing places: the first at the Trans March in San Francisco, and the second at Michigan Women’s Festival, a site that has hosted contentious debates because of their antitranswomen policies. “Yeah, that was a great way to straddle the barbed wire fence,” she laughs. True to form, Breedlove and the band took the main stage with the intent of pushing people’s boundaries. The group opened with the trans-focussed song “Breasticles” and Breedlove said to the audience, “Look, we’re all in this together, it’s all a fucking gender revolution! Why don’t you go over to Camp Trans and talk to some transwomen, maybe there’s a real live one sitting next to you and you don’t know!”
“I got a lot of flack for that,” he recalls, “but I would never keep my mouth shut just because I’m on the land. I’m gonna open my mouth, upset people, push envelopes…. They wouldn’t have invited us there if they thought we were well-behaved. That’s not our role.”
As far as the rest of Breedlove’s future, he plans to continue touring, turn his novel, Godspeed, into a movie and put out more books. For the present, however, it’s all about bringing One Freak Show to the world. Says Breedlove: “I want all the different people in the audience — straight, queer, trans, lesbians-to come up and say ‘Oh my God, I really loved when you did that. I loved what you said about the other group. You gave me permission to laugh at them and I’ve been wanting to laugh forever.’
“If I’m doing it right,” she explains, “there’s gonna be some release.”