Challenging an audience’s assumptions about sex and gender dates back to the earliest days of rock & roll, from the lustful hip-shaking of Elvis Presley to the confident but effeminate style of Little Richard. But a new generation of musicians is pushing the boundaries farther than ever before; on the independent music scene, transgender performers are achieving a new level of visibility and acceptance, and filmmaker Madsen Minax profiles a handful of transgender artists bubbling up from the underground in this documentary. Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance In Music Performance features performances from Systyr Act, Coyote Grace, The DeGenerettes, and Lipstick Conspiracy. Riot Acts was an official selection at the 2010 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.
–Excerpt from the N.Y. Times Review of Riot Acts, by Mark Deming.
Shawna Love has an enviable talent for driving in stiletto heels. On a recent Saturday, she’s driving through a quiet, suburban neighborhood in South Hayward that looks as if it burst out of a Sears, Roebuck catalogue and hasn’t been touched in fifty years: All the houses are squat, ticky-tacky things with manicured lawns, window boxes, and identical American flags hanging in the windows. She squints out her passenger-side window, skeptical that one of these stucco boxes actually belongs to her friend Kari, who fronts the all-tranny-girl rock outfit Trans Central Station — a spinoff of Shawna’s own band. Kari is hosting a barbecue and jamboree, and Shawna is dressed for the occasion: dark, smoky pantyhose, a black sequined dress to go with her heels, lipstick the color of cabernet.
She parks in front of a Pepto-Bismol-pink house whose only distinguishing features are the plastic flamingos on its front lawn. A cat jumps on the roof of the car and climbs through the window onto Shawna’s lap, trying to claw at her stockings. A woman with poofy hair and culottes scurries over to scoop the critter up, apologizing profusely. Her eyes widen a little when she sees Shawna. “Oh, you must be a friend of Kari,” she stutters.
“Judging from their Web site design theme and the title of their debut album, Don’t Tell a Soul, San Francisco’s Lipstick Conspiracy are going for something of an incognito vibe. But we’ve had our eyes on them for a while now, and we think it’s about time to blow their cover. The transgendered rock band features five glamour-pusses and harmony-laden power pop songs with infectious hooks like you might have heard while trolling the dial for Top 40 songs back in the early ’80s. Frontwomen Sarafina Maraschino, Shawna Love, and Marilyn Mitchell switch off vocal and guitar duties, while Tori Tait handles the keyboards and newest member Emme Yarwood lays down the law on the drums (the group recently retired their two drum machines). Lately the sassy starlets have been spreading their gospel of gender transgression and sexual liberation all over town, with recent performances including a spot on San Francisco Pride’s main stage and a July 17 party at Martuni’s celebrating their album release.”