Killjoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House exposes the true horrors of modern society

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This weekend in Los Angeles is the final weekend of Killjoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House staged in West Hollywood’s Plummer Park. The free experience is a queer take on hell houses, or haunted houses that are put on by Christian churches and organizations that warn patrons of modern-day terrors like homosexuals, abortions, drugs and raves. Killjoy’s, put on by artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue, turns that idea on its head, scaring passers-through with the menace to society that is a butch lesbian in the Daddy Pen (look how terrifying she is, opening the door for you and saying hello!), and the graveyard of dead lesbian ideas and organizations (RIP The Lexington Club, The Lesbian Tide, Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, The L Word).

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Allyson and Deirdre first put on Killjoy’s in their hometown of Toronto last year, and brought it Los Angeles, in conjunction with the ONE Archives, with a few additions, but largely the same aesthetic. Attendees are greeted at the door by a dead Valerie Solonas, the infamous lesbian who wrote the misandrist S.C.U.M. Manifesto and is known for her attempt at killing Andy Warhol. She is blunt, rude and un-welcoming. The horrors begin.

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Inside, musicians like Two Nice Girls and Phranc (classic, legendary performers from our community) sing womyn’s ditties about doing away with men and the patriarchy. The whole thing is tongue-in-cheek, as the very performative nature of Killjoy’s is to subvert what lesbianism means and truly functions as in contemporary society. Are we as horrible as the outside world believes we are? Can we be horrible to ourselves in other ways? These questions are posed through the rooms attendees are then led through by demented women’s studies professors.

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It’s impressive how many facets there are to Killjoy’s, the amount of rooms dedicated to ideas as accessible as the scary women who are obsessed with their vaginas (warning: actual vaginas involved!) and more esoteric for the dedicated literary lesbian such as the roomful of feminist and queer tomes such as the works of Diane di Masa, Eileen Myles and Audre Lorde. While some of the experiences are as bloody as a true Haunted House (one of which including an overflowing diva cup), others are centered around the all-too-present terrors of misogyny, racism, capitalism and transphobia.

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There are, of course, witches, but there are also new kinds of monsters, such as the dreaded internet troll, straw feminists (Lena Dunham, Oprah, Liz Lemon, Beyonce) and ball busters, using a hammer to break up ceramic reproductions.

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In true lesbian form, the end of the tour is a room filled with queer feminists who want to ask about what you just went through in Killjoy’s Kastle. What was the most striking? How did it make you feel? And why did it make you feel that way? It’s not long before you’re engaging in a discussion about what you’ve been involved in for the last 20 minutes. But soon you’re leaving because another group is coming in right behind you, excited to have a processing session of their own.

Outside, the musicians are still playing while Rachel Berks of Otherwild sits with her gift shop, hawking wares from lesbian artists, some special to the event itself. A memento from the Kastle? Who wouldn’t want to remember this forever? We’re destined to.

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As with anything that is referred to specifically as “lesbian” these days, Killjoy’s has received some complaints for being non-inclusive. The ball-busting, use of Valerie Solonas and signs about severed penises upset some trans women who said they did not feel safe within the confines of the Kastle. Deirdre and Allyson responded on the event’s Facebook page, writing:

The house is meant to be trans inclusive. We have created specific installations for LA that highlight and critique LA histories of intersectional trans oppression such as “the Daddy Pen” and the “Crumbling Pillars of Society Room.” We hold space for trans women, trans men and gender queer people (specifically POC) to perform in the house and we have many roles to fill. 

In the LA iteration we have taken great strides to respond to feedback from the Toronto exhibition. We have added portraits of women of colour to the straw feminist hall of shame, we created more gravestones for dead (but still haunting) lesbian feminist ideas like cisterhood and womyn born womyn, we have edited the signs, nuanced our script, and we have held more space for performers of colour and we have added the intersectional activist and 4 faced internet troll. That said, this is a project that will always be in process. It is not a celebration of lesbian feminism – but a nimble attempt to think through ghoulish stereotypes and monstrous histories from Valerie Solanas to Straw Feminists. Our intent is to refuse the simplicity of one story about queer/feminist art and activist histories.

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As with most things presented subversively, the intent and the message does not always come across in an obvious way. So while Allyson and Deirdre are hoping Killjoy’s is educational and thought-provoking about the lesbian’s place in society, it ultimately proves that we can often be vilified by the mainstream and the greater LGBT community. There will always be missteps that spawn conversation about how we can work to be better for each other, but as the curators said in their statement, Killjoy’s very objective was to consider these very things. What is it to be a lesbian? What is it to be a feminist? A killjoy? Are these things not mutually-exclusive, or are we products of a world that celebrates neither women, lesbianism, feminists or anyone who has claims to any or all of these identities? The answers are almost too horrific to consider. 

Killjoy’s Kastle is open tonight and tomorrow from 6:30-9:30pm in Plummer Park.

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