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TransNation: Wrecked Truth

TransNation: Wrecked Truth

'Truth Serum has been digging me a huge hole of debt and tapping out my energy reserves,' Aliza Shapiro discloses about the Boston-based production company behind the popular, reoccurring, all-gender, all-genre performance cabaret, TraniWreck.

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“Truth Serum has been digging me a huge hole of debt and tapping out my energy reserves,” Aliza Shapiro discloses about the Boston-based production company behind the popular, reoccurring, all-gender, all-genre performance cabaret, TraniWreck.

In the six year she’s been running the business, Shapiro’s Truth Serum has successfully produced some of Boston’s most entertaining queer and trans events.

But it has come at a price. Now she jokes, “It sucks the life out of me, but I don’t feel alive without something in the pipeline. I came to this from my love of producing cultural events,” Shapiro acknowledges. “Not any business smarts.”

Shapiro identifies as genderqueer, and says, “When people ask what pronoun I prefer, I say whatever. I don’t have a preference. My intimates switch between she and he and I like that. I appreciate when people recognize my personal expression of masculinity, but I’m not hung up on the language. I understand that people who aren’t close to me might not get the complex nature of my gender…[and since] I'm not intimate with the public— ‘she’ is cool.”

After studying architecture at Rhode Island School of Design, Shapiro briefly worked in construction, carpentry before stumbling into a position managing a record label. When the label folded, Shapiro continued connecting with bands and organizing shows.

But she quickly tired of producing shows for “mostly straight” bands where few queers were in attendance.

“I realized I was hanging out in straight clubs with lots of straight folks,” Shapiro recalls now. “And I was missing the queers. I wanted…to work with performers…who were into creating community the way I was. The people I ask to be on stage are people I feel should know each other so that they can expand their worlds.”

“This might seem obvious now,” Shapiro continues, “but before online social networking was de rigueur…I’d see bands play and leave and not interact with [anyone]. That wasn’t the kind of show I wanted to replicate. The spaces created are supposed to be re-energizing, nurturing and inspiring so that we can go back out into the world and keep on living. Which isn’t so much a queer or straight thing…it’s just that queers [get] the short end of the stick a lot and some [LGBT] activists are tired and could use an injection of affirming culture.”

Shapiro formed Truth Serum to “expose people to entertainment that they might not otherwise have access to;” and to create venues enabling queer artists, performers, filmmakers and musicians to reach audiences. “For me,” she says, “There’s something about connecting people through artistic expression.”

With no club of her own—and no full time dyke or trans bars in the Boston area—Shapiro has to be creative in locating venues for Truth Serum’s shows, including this month’s TraniWreck, which she describes as “an evening of trashy glamour and challenging content,” and says audiences at the December 14th event can expect gender-defying performances, dance, music, comedy and lap dances from drag queens, gender bending performance artists, and Shapiro’s own alter ego—Heywood Wakefield, who emcees the event.

As Wakefield Shapiro claims, “I’m the straightest thing in the room, sexually and conceptually speaking. I’m everyone’s straight man, the butt of every joke, and the guy who can’t ever get a date. The queens love to bicker with me, the gender-other performers like to befuddle me.”

A divorced father trying “to keep up with the ever-shifting gender and sexuality landscape” to stay close to his lesbian daughter, Wakefield hangs out “in queer bars singing broken hearted love songs,” because his daughter “books all of his gigs.”

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Wakefield sprang to life in the late 1990s, a time when Shapiro recalls reading about gender, attending drag shows and thinking about “the difficulty of presenting a masculinity that didn’t depend on the stereotypical super macho construction guy.”

The December 14 event also features Wreckage: The Contest Show, the annual drag competition Shapiro has hosted for three years. Regular TraniWreck performers and a few special guests judge the Wreckage contest, and each has their own criteria for picking a winner. “Queens tend to not judge the king performances very high,” Shapiro maintains. “I think it’s because it’s so hard to camp masculinity and that’s what they value, camp, over the top expressions.” For that reason, Shapiro says, they add audience reaction into the final decision.

Personally, Shapiro prefers “off-the-charts gender confusion. I love when a body is completely transformed on stage through costume and performance. When you [think], I don’t know who or what that is, but they’re amazing or Oh my god—they’re so hot! and it’s someone dressed as toast.”

Shapiro teaches drag king workshops, Strap it down, Pack it in, that attract a diverse mix, Shapiro boasts. “And that’s…so thrilling. I’ve had trans guys and women of all expressions who want to perform as kings or genderfuckers; people who are questioning their personal gender. There are lots of trans people who have come to understand their gender through performance. And, sometimes it’s not so much about performance as it’s about living life trans. I definitely differentiate between drag for performance and dressing to pass as trans.”

Shapiro’s Truth Serum also sponsors, CineMental, a monthly screening of radical, queer, fringe and experimental films. Shapiro and her CineMental cohort James Nadeau have both helped program the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film/Video Festival for years, but created CineMental to offer more challenging, avant-garde fare.

In these economic hard times, Shapiro divulges, “Truth Serum events aren't necessarily money makers.” She’s intent on changing that, by finding someone who can help her write grant proposals and consider other business possibilities.

In the mean time Shapiro has some odd jobs and has created UtiliTies (truthserum.org), her own DIY hand stenciled ties, hankies and t-shirts she sells at craft fairs, art shows and online. “They make great holiday gifts!” Shapiro hints.

Trans writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall co-hosts kboo.fm’s Gender Blender radio show and co-authors the Blind Eye mystery series; the latest edition, Blind Faith comes out this month. For more information visit BlindEyeMysteries.com.

© 2008 Jacob Anderson-Minshall

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall