Our latest installment of Talk Toxic focuses on one of the finest faux queens in the biz – a woman with more charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent than your average RPDR favourite. The Hawaiian punch, known, as HOKU MAMA SWAMP!
Dis) Let’s get a little background, how did the vision that is Hoku Mama Swamp begin?
Hoku) The creation and evolution of “Hoku Mama Swamp” has many roots and influences. I’ve always been a performer. I did a lot of musical theater as a kid and teen. I would put on shows for just about anyone who was willing to indulge me… family members, my piano teacher Mercedes, Cha Chi the lunch lady etc…I think it has something to do with being the youngest of four children, I was a glutton for attention!
In high school in the late 90’s, I borrowed my older sister’s ID and snuck into parties like “Cherry” and “Make-up” in Hollywood, where I first saw the likes of Russel, Mz. Alana, Big Momma, Jackie Beat and Candis Cayne. I fell in love with drag, and a few drag queens too (I like a man in a dress, what can I say)! They were talented, funny, clever, smart, brave, unapologetic, fierce, and often times gorgeous! I’ve just always had a deep respect for what they do. It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco in 2000 however, and later saw an amazing performance by Fauxnique at Trannyshack that I realized I could (and wanted), to do it too! I had heard many drag queens describe what they do as “honoring” women they admire, so, if drag queens were paying homage to women, I wanted to pay homage to drag queens. It was sort of going to be my way of saying thank you. Also, it just looked really really fun! So, I spent a lot of time doing my drag homework (Stonewall, Wigstock, The Cockettes, Klubstitute, The Queen, Paris is Burning, Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, Trannyshack, Til Fridays, Marlena’s, Finnocios, Drag Strip 66, Leigh Bowery, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, Holly Woodlawn, Boy Bar Beauties, The Fishtix, Glamamore, Juanita MORE!, International Chrysis, Nelson Sullivan archives etc etc etc) and performed for the fist time at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in 2003.
D) Your makeup style blends a childlike quality with exaggerated and aggressive or theatrical imagery – What inspires this mash-up maquillage?
H) My makeup came about for a couple of reasons. Being female, I felt I needed a face that would “twist” drag makeup in the same way that my gender was a “twist” to drag performance, if that makes sense? I felt like “girly”or “fishy” makeup on me was going to be redundant. Also, I’m attracted to bold, dramatic, and graphic shapes and colors. I tend to see things in black and white, I don’t always find the grey, therefore, I’ve never been into blending and pastels, it takes a skill and sensibility that I don’t posses. I needed a makeup I could execute on my own, that was simple yet bold. I played around with many looks during my club kid kinda phase, but found the lashes pretty early on and stuck with them. I liked looking a little cartoon/clown/doll like.
Personally, I’m pretty vanilla. I was a girl scout, I was an honor student, I didn’t drink or experiment with drugs or sex until college… I drive the speed limit… I mean seriously, bring a book! So I really appreciate the childlike innocence of that face in juxtaposition to some of the filthy songs I perform and the skimpy costumes I wear. It’s a mask, but it still represents a piece of the everyday me, even if I am humping a trash can!
D) Performances veer wildly from strip tease and over-sexualised hip-hop to Elizabethan disco revenge fantasies – How do you plan your routines and where do you derive your inspiration from?
H) I really appreciate celebrating the ridiculous in life. I like the idea of “living the dream” no matter how bizarre or tragic that dream may be. Take the ‘Peter Pan Man’ for example. A grown man who dresses like Peter Pan at every opportunity and who releases pretty awful (yet amazing) music recordings of himself singing songs about pixie dust and faeries. It’s weird, almost creepy in a way, but it’s also totally awesome! It makes him happy and it entertains me to no end. (http://pixyland.org/peterpan/ ) I love Mariah Carey because I think she’s in on her own joke, and that makes me happy. I like being a parody of her parody. I like satire. I like camp. I like politically incorrect. I like making people uncomfortable sometimes in hopes that maybe it will help them to eventually feel more comfortable. I do things that make ME uncomfortable, in hopes that I will eventually feel more comfortable. I like shock value. I like downright stupid in the most brilliant way. I LOVE RETARDED. I honestly perform songs that are a celebration/triumph of some kind for me. I perform songs that I love. The inspiration usually comes from turning something on it’s head and making a joke of some kind, and usually the joke has some kind of social or cultural commentary buried beneath. I take my clothes off a lot because we live in a culture obsessed with being super thin and which uses sex and primarily the sexuality of women to sell stuff. I like to use my size and nakedness as a way of saying “fuck you” to that ideology. Because I’m not model thin I’m not sexy? I can’t sell sex? Watch me… and I’ll do it in an over the top, retarded, almost grotesque way, and it will STILL be sexy. Eat it! It’s basically like starting off as the butt of a joke, but ending up on the other side of it. I love doing that!
D) As a faux queen you occupy a unique space within contemporary drag as you have been embraced by the outsider or alternative drag community as well as the mainstream gay and straight audiences. How has being a ‘biological woman’ impacted on your performance
H) I don’t feel like being female has ever been too much of a big deal, either positive or negative, in my experience of the drag world. I think that is largely due to the fact that I did most of my performing in the magical city of San Francisco. San Francisco drag connoisseurs are often other artists and performers who care mostly about the performance itself and little else. There aren’t many “rules” to follow. You can have three heads, one arm, a hunch back, and look like Barney Rubble in a dress but tear the house down with a great performance and San Francisco will love you. The performance is THE most important thing- over looks, gender, or anything else. If you’re a good performer, you’re a good performer. Period. I’ve always believed that, and so I try to give performances that audiences will enjoy so much that they don’t give much thought to my having a vagina. So far so good, I’ve always felt accepted and treated equally by both other performers and the audiences we perform for. Also, I’m not necessarily a pioneer. There were great faux queens before me that paved the way and gave us validity before I came along… Sweet Pam, Ana Matronic, Patty O’Furniture, Windy Plains, Crickett Bardot, Dea Dazzler… Fauxnique caused quite a controversy when she won Miss Trannyshack in 2003, but people couldn’t deny that she absolutely deserved it and that she’s an amazing performer!!! I wouldn’t be here with out them.
D) You have shared the stage with an incredible variety of performers including Midnight Mass hostess and creator ‘Peaches Christ’ as well as Trannyshack founder, Heklina. What has been your favourite collaborative effort so far?
H) That is very difficult to answer because I’ve enjoyed it all. The Trannyshack Kiss of party with Heklina was one of the greatest nights in my drag life. I’m so lucky and happy to have been a part of it. Working with Juanita MORE! and Glamamore over the years has taught me more about drag, friendship, and just life in general than I ever would have imagined. The house of MORE is EVERYTHING to me. Working with all the girls at Aunt Charlie’s was a huge honor and dream come true. That bar was my second home for a long time and those girls were my family. Cockateila, Holotta Tymes, and Suppositori Spelling introduced me to the truly retarded and hysterical side of drag…and working with them is always madly inspiring and great great fun. Peaches Christ and I also have a special relationship. She invited me into the Midnight Mass Players as a young and rotten baby queen and I had the time of my life. Drag Queen roller derby, mother daughter mud wrestling, this was all the kind of stuff my dreams were made of! I made a scene one night… a giant hot mess of a scene, and really offended her and pissed her off. We had a mini feud for a little while. She sent me threatening emails which stated “You’re swimming with sharks” and I sent her cards that said things like “There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.” It was super dramatic and hilarious, though I was the only one laughing about it at the time… but today we can both laugh about it. I was young and obnoxious… she was old and tired (totally just kidding). Peaches is truly one of my favorite people ever. I love her and respect her endlessly. I’m thankful that she gave me a second chance and got to know me once the brat phase was over. Love you Ghoul! I’m really lucky to have worked with so many different and wonderful people in San Francisco. They’ve all shared their knowledge and talent with me and I’m grateful for them all.
D) What makes a great performance for you?
H) A great performance in my opinion is one in which you make people feel something. You take them on some kind of ride or journey. You tell a story. You make it “believable” and the audience connects with you. It’s genuine. It’s done with your audience in mind and not just some form of selfish masturbation or a direct remake of someone else’s art. And for heaven’s sake… KNOW YOUR WORDS! PLEASE! 🙂
D) You’ve relocated from San Fran to Hawaii, what prompted your move and will you be continuing to perform on the drag circuit?
H) I moved to Hawaii a year and a half ago to help my family take care of my 80 year old Tutu (grandmother). She needed a 24 hr live in caregiver and my family asked me if I would do it. How do you say no to Grandma? You don’t. Right now she’s thriving and doing so well that she may not need me in this capacity for much longer. I definitely miss San Francisco and the drag community and hope to return soon for good. I don’t do much drag here. The scene is just different.
D) Finally, where can we catch you next?
I will be back in the city for two weeks around Halloween to DJ and perform at Some Thing, Mahogany Monday’s, Booty Call and more! So come party with me and say hi San Francisco! I miss you!
A massive thank you to Hoku for taking the time to Talk Toxic with me today! Make sure y’all get your asses to San Fran and pardy hardy with her at her up coming gigs!
Bile and Bruises