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"New Kids on the Block: Performing as a Boy Band at Ladyfest". An interview with Tina and Melita at Ladyfest Amsterdam

Queer feminism
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Ladyfest is a festival mainly by women, for women. And sometimes those women come as boys. Hark the wonder of New Kids on the Block at Ladyfest Amsterdam 2008. Tina and Melita discuss queer feminism, DIY, and looking hot in leather jackets.

Is this the first Ladyfest you’ve performed at?

Tina: Yes. We did the performance especially for Ladyfest; we only started practicing a week ago. And we really sucked a week ago!

Melita: We were unintentionally girlie a week ago...

Tina: Yeh. We learnt how to be men – we learnt how to move manly. The first video we saw of each other, we were just wriggling our hips a lot. Our friend who had been studying dance and gender studies, taught us stereotype-genders. It was really interesting to learn it. Leather jackets help, a lot.

Do you see your performance as drag, or do you see it as something else?

Tina: I don’t know. I just think in general it’s nice to play with gender roles. Not particularly drag, but just being something else and acting a bit more the male side you also have. I think I have it anyway. I like over-extending it, being more extreme with it.

Why New Kids on the Block?

Melita: Because they have very cool dance moves.

Tina: And they rock. Nah, because we wanted to do a boy band, and they were like THE boy band, the first real boy band that we all know when we were children. We hated them back then; I was into punk and alternative things. I thought they were super-mainstream and they suck. But now we watch them and they are amazing dancers.

Melita: Yeh, now we watch them 15 years later and we can look back and say they were cool. They had cool dance moves. I wanted to do East 17, but they all just stand there and touch their chests…

Tina: Like super-macho. New Kids on the Block were a bit more queer, in the way they move.

Growing up straight, girls had boy bands. But there wasn’t really the queer equivalent. But now being older and revisiting teenage desire through watching your performance as a boy band…it’s really sexual in this nice, adolescent way. Do you feel that from the audiences? Do you feel the love?

Tina: I was feeling pretty mellow. I like my leather jacket. The lights are bright, so you can’t see the audience….but we got the bras that people threw at us.

Melita: I was like, “Oh bras – that’s really nice, I hope I don’t trip in them.”

Tina: It’s a nice queer thing – girls are throwing bras at you, and you are actually a girl. I like it.

Sweet! On the Ladyfest front – why do we need these events?

Tina: For lots of reasons. It’s nice to organise something just with girls. Even though I’m not about separatism and feminism, it is a different feeling when you organise something together with girls than if you organise in a totally mixed group.

Is it more fun?

Tina: It’s just a different feeling. For me it’s a different experience because I’ve never hung out with girls so much, until I got into the political scene where there’s girls who are not so stereotypical girls. I don’t identify with a stereotypical girl role. It’s only recently that I’m actually meetings girls where I’m like, “They’re Cool. They’re not girlie girls; they’re not trying to impress guys all the time.” There’s actually some kind of female affinity that you feel, not being super in your gender role. Even in political structures, sub-cultures, whatever – there’s still the whole thing of boys-club existing.

Melita: I had this conversation with this young punk boy from somewhere in Eastern Europe the other night I was here, just doing door for my friends. I was telling him about Ladyfest and that we were going to perform on Sunday and that it will be really fun. He was like, BUT WHY DO YOU NEED THIS…WHY IS THERE THIS WHOLE FESTIVAL FOR LADYFEST? I DON’T UNDERSTAND. And then he went on this huge rant….like, “feminism from 20, 30, 40 years ago has come really far and has actually gone very extreme in the other way. There has been so much feminism we all know about feminism. I come to Amsterdam and there’s so many girls around that I see and WHY do we need a festival just for women? It’s totally fine the way it is in Amsterdam.” And that kind of attitude….I know that punk, or any kind of subculture, is bullshit anyway, because it’s always very stereotypical, and there’s ways that you can conform to be punk without even really challenging yourself. But the things that he said, I was just really shocked. That he was like, “Yep. Feminism has been overdone, why do we even need a festival for ladies? There’s so many women around and everything’s fine”. And I was realizing that the smaller details of feminism [are still needed].

Like, when you’re walking down the street and all of these very subtle things are happening all the time, like people talking to your tits instead of your face. Or seeing your hairy legs or your hairy armpits and then all of a sudden taking one step back – still talking to you, but like Instant Judgement. It’s still the same, but on a very under level now. Because there’s this façade that in the Western world now, feminism is fine, gay rights are fine, and we all are in a multi-cultural society. But it’s just like this programmed thing that a lot of people have, in these minor details [sexism] is still so apparent in everyday life. I really notice this.

Okay, I’m going to ask you the question everyone hates. Can you explain what queer is, for you?

Tina: For me, it means not defining yourself as one gender in a particular way. I have a lot of friends who have grown up in this strict feminist way. I always found it a bit restricting myself, having to identify myself as a woman and having to put myself into a position as a woman, in opposition to a male. There’s two stereotypical things – male being the tough ones who are better at building or whatever, and women who are supposedly the more sensitive ones, or the understanding ones, the ones who show emotion, or whatever. I don’t understand the approach of feminism to say, “You have to be more male than the men themselves, to be a feminist.” Because I also see myself as an anarchist, and I think the stereotypical things that women are considered to be, like more understanding, caring or whatever – if it’s not applied in a patriarchal society, but on a more equal, non-hierarchical base, then it’s a much better way of dealing with each other, because the males are always super competitive. With being queer you can take things from both sides and don’t have to define yourself in any way; you don’t have to prove yourself. Because a lot of times I think it’s about proving yourself, as a woman. And I don’t want to prove myself to be tougher than men. I just want to be myself. I don’t consider myself so much a woman, I consider myself in a lot of ways. In the stereotypical ways I’m very male in a lot of my behavioural structures, and I’m fine with both of it and I want to find different expression. I want to criticize myself and get to a point where I’m actually relaxed in the way I deal with other people. That has a lot to do with queer for me.

And what is the political potential of DIY? What does it allow?

Melita: For one thing, it is completely not in the capitalist structure that all of the Western countries here have. All the bureaucracy that is involved, it often takes power away from yourself. Because you’re like, “I can’t do it for myself, just make it happen, because I first have to go to this power structure and get consent from this power structure, to then get consent from this power structure.” On the psychological level of just having to wait, it really numbs people. So, of course, DIY is actually like, “What the fuck do I need this whole system, I can do it myself right here and right now.” And it’s also building community and bridges, which capitalism has completely destroyed. I even see it in Australia from the 80s when I was growing up; we would have much more neighbourhood things. Now our neighbours don’t really talk anymore. It’s so much more like telephones, and internet, and much more isolating. This also causes depression and insecurities, with what the system and media is telling you on things. As human beings, we need community. We really fucking need it for general well-being. We need it for support and friendships and all of this. With capitalism, we’re not talking to each other anymore. And we’re not talking to neighbours and people on the street. So, we’re relying on the system for this. Because we have needs. Everyone has needs. And to access this, we can’t rely on each other by just going to the internet and everything. DIY is completely breaking all of this down, and going “We don’t fucking need any of this”. We’re very competent human beings. Actually, we can really fucking do a lot and we can even destroy systems. Not only don’t we need it, we can completely fuck it off and just have power within ourselves. As well as to do with gender stereotyping, and racism, and all of these fuck things which also become part of people’s mentalities. DIY means talking to each other, and talking about our true feelings and thoughts – and then we can go, “Oh! Actually, do you think you’re just feeling insecure about this, as opposed to you being prejudiced?” And just talking to each other, rather than what’s fed to us.

Tina: For me, it’s the only way of being able to live. I couldn’t imagine living on another base, or whatever, because it’s a completely different way of engaging with each other, and it creates so much more solidarity. People just act on a different level with each other. It’s also about trying to actually work together and see what kind of structures you still have, and see how you can abolish the conditioning that has been going on for everyone for I-don’t-know-how-many-years in this society. And actually being able to live together and trying to achieve something together. I don’t think I could live on a different level now, after living like this. People are so isolated and alienated from everything.

So, what’s the future for your performance troupe?

Tina: We are already booked!

Melita: As soon as we walked off the stage, a lady was like, “Do you do parties?” We were like, “Yes! Yes! Sure, we do parties!” We’ve been together a week, but – yes! We already have another boy band in mind.

Tina & Melita
Affiliated organisation: 
Ladyfest Amsterdam 08, /
Red Chidgey & Debi Withers
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