Photos of Bebe Huxley by Eva Zar, Makeup and Styling by Love Bailey, shot on The Savage Ranch
As a performance artist, musician, and persona, Bebe Huxley is a force of wild energy. Her shaved head and cleavage are glittered and sprayed in any number of metallic-colored paints, and she’s bejeweled, or clad in black leather and a scorpion’s tail, or in just a bra and panties and thigh-high boots. In any variation, her appearance is accompaniment to an intense, aggressive physical presence, and lyrics that explicitly, implicitly, and scorchingly state: you don’t own me, and “you don’t get a part of me that I will never give.” Indeed, after watching one of her music videos or live performances, it is difficult to believe that anyone would ever doubt that strength.
Huxley, who takes her stage name from her birth initials and famed author, Aldous Huxley, has a complex relationship with this stage presence — something she crafted through more than 8 years of experience in drag and the queer party scenes of San Francisco and Los Angeles. After graduating from UC Berkeley with degrees in Sociology, Theater, and Dance, Huxley began performing at Aunt Charlie’s, a historic San Francisco gay bar. She started her venture into performance art in high-femme drag, but when she first experimented with being a drag king, she says that’s when “the gender game really clicked.”
‘Girl’ was my value in society,” Huxley expressed during one of two Skype interviews. “But when I was no longer selling just sex to get that validation, and I was doing more ‘I don’t give a shit,’ there was something very potent in that. It was a different way to take up space entirely.” When Huxley performed as a king, she wasn’t as “afraid” of offending her audience, and it was a new revelation of how to play with a butch identity. The intermingling of feminine and masculine performance is something that Huxley plays within every music video and performance she has put out, but in Scorpio, her newest venture, that balance is particularly personal.
Scorpio, a production orchestrated by Slather Studios, Love Bailey’s SoCal-based queer arts collective at which Huxley is a creative producer, portrays Huxley’s queer reconstruction. She transforms, quite literally, from a woman struggling in an abusive relationship, to a powerful, unencumbered goddess of experimental pop and breaker of gender roles. Amidst the fantastical imagery, which includes Huxley in a full scorpion tail, wailing to the wind on an electric guitar, there is an evolution for Huxley’s real-life persona, who shaves her head during the video. Huxley said that taking a razor to her hair, both in the video and in real life, was “cathartic,” and a symbol of a new femininity that needed no restrictions or guidelines.
“You know, my dad will ask me about [shaving my head] sometimes — he straight up says ‘you look ugly,’ but I’ve never felt more beautiful,” Huxley said cheerfully. “It’s kind of like I’m still coming out. I’m coming out every day, and the more people tell me that I can’t do something, or that I shouldn’t look like something, the more I feel like ‘well, I’ll show you!’”
This attitude is one that Huxley cultivated through the club scene, and also attempts to maintain in her personal life. Queer establishments like Aunt Charlie’s, and the legendary A Club Called Rhonda in Los Angeles (where Huxley first met Love Bailey) gave her “permission” to experiment with loud, outlandish, and unapologetic ways of being. At clubs like these, Huxley was encouraged to “turn the volume up” for herself, and to be the most passionate version of herself that she could be. She wouldn’t be looked upon as an anomaly, but rather, an appreciated addition to the energy of the room. However, off the dance floor and out of the sequins, she sometimes still struggles with being “self-critical” and the buried idea that being queer is somehow detrimental.
“With a queer mindset, you can often feel like the world is against you, but we have to be on our own side. From the inside, we have to maintain that reality that we are good.” This “baseline” idea of a queer body being good, no matter how you choose to present it, is an act of resistance that Huxley both struggles with and delights in playing with. “If there’s any way to resist these internalized judgments of external voices, we have to. I struggle with being self-critical all the time. But we have to.”
Huxley’s embrace of queer confidence is not only limited to the individual or even her own individual works. “Queer is a big old spectrum,” she said, discussing her embrace of openness in the community, especially when it comes to welcoming new members. “It doesn’t work to shut people with different presentations down. Let’s invite everyone in, and see what they can offer.”
Currently, Huxley is working on more music, which she says is supported by these ideas of community, rebirth, and support, and she hopes to have her next EP out by Summer of 2018. If her new work carries any of the same threads of resilience, resistance, and queer celebration as her existing repertoire, you can bet that its release will be another reason to turn the volume all the way up.
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