Author's Note: "Wild Things" tells the story of my marriage to Venus de Mars, artist and front person for the band All the Pretty Horses. Most of the book's events happen during the years when the kind of knowledge and terminology we now have about being trans didn't exist. With Venus' blessing, I have used her old name (Steve) and old pronouns where using them best depicts the reality of our lives at that time. This excerpt takes place relatively early in our marriage, before Venus' transition.
Steve was now doing performance art and band shows on a regular basis. We gravitated to Patrick's Cabaret on 24th Street, created by Patrick Scully, a six-foot-eight-inch-tall, exuberantly gay dancer and performance artist. I was writing poetry but still hadn't found my audience. Performing at the Cabaret was an option, but I worried my work would come across as dull. Who would want to listen to me? I asked Steve if he'd be willing to do a performance piece together about our relationship — we'd only have to fill fifteen minutes. I was starting to think of it as our queer marriage, in all senses of the word. He agreed. We got a date on the calendar and put together a script with several of my poems, some of his writing, and the two of us in wedding dresses.
But on the morning of the first show, Patrick phoned with unwelcome news. The fire marshal had shut down the venue. It would be months before they could make the needed changes and reopen. My performance-art debut had been squelched, and I was crestfallen. But soon we had a solution: we would do it in our living room. We called everyone we thought might have planned to attend to alert them to the change of venue, and someone put our address on the Cabaret door. One or two other artists who had also been scheduled that night came to do scaled-down versions of their performances. We did our piece in front of a packed living room, maybe thirty or forty people, with most sitting on the floor and some peering around the corner from the front hall. Everyone applauded at the end, and my heart swelled with the sound of it.
After the show, a friend asked why Steve's wedding dress was nicer than mine. Her question caught me completely off guard. I was wearing the dress I'd gotten married in, the one I'd sewn myself from a Vogue pattern. Yes, it was nostalgic-looking, vaguely Victorian, and Steve's dress was a castoff from a bridal shop where a friend worked. That dress had a more contemporary design with satin and sheer lace, where mine was just cotton and lace, but there was a section in the back where something had obviously been hacked off. I didn't like Steve's wedding dress as much as mine — how could it be better? The question nagged and made me wonder if I saw things accurately. I could rationalize that my friend was reacting to the shine and more expensive material in Steve's dress. But I also wondered if he just looked better than I did in a wedding dress — tall, slim, almost gamine, with great legs. I'd never felt comfortable with the shape of my body, but having Steve fall in love with me had assuaged that insecurity. Now it flooded back, and I was again thinking of clothing as camouflage. He also did his makeup better than I did, with shading and contours. I felt that anyone looking at the two of us together would find me dumpy by comparison.
Eventually we repeated the performance for a Cabaret benefit at Bryant Lake Bowl, a trendy bar and restaurant with an eighty-five-seat theater on the side. To promote the show, we appeared on Write On! Radio, a community radio program that highlighted local and nationally known writers. The show was hosted by J. Otis Powell!, a Black man with a lion's mane of dreds and a voice to match. He worked at the Loft as outreach coordinator and in that capacity coordinated the radio show, but the exclamation point he added to his last name (which would later change to an interrobang) signaled that he was much more than an administrator.
J. Otis liked my poems and the sound of my voice and asked if I'd like to come back to be a regular volunteer for the show. It was like getting an invitation to the prom. I had worked at my college radio station deejaying a jazz program, and before that I'd read the student announcements in high school. I knew how to modulate my voice for a mic. I said yes, of course.
The radio show led me to a vast community of serious writers. Each Thursday I would be at KFAI reading the calendar of literary events. I attended many of them and began to invite writers I met to the show, where I interviewed them about their work and creative process.
After learning that I liked improvising with words and music, J. Otis invited me to take part in some of his larger multimedia shows that added film, music, and dance to the poetry. One of his improvised shows had me playing violin while Patrick Scully lifted me off the floor and spun me around like a child's game of airplane.
Wild Things: A Trans-Glam-Punk-Rock Love Story
By: Lynette Reini-Grandell.
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 319 pages, $29.95.
Event: Book launch, 7 p.m., March 16, Hook and Ladder Theater, Mpls., followed by All the Pretty Horses concert, free but tickets required. Must be 18 or older. Tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com