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No Virgins Lie Here: Butchlalis Rock the House with Panty Splash Hour

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The gender-bending, genre-melding performance art of the Butchlalis de Panochtitlan is hard to define, but it's fun and very funny to watch. This foursome of queer butch Latinas uses video and sketch-driven performances to explore sex, sexuality, race, romance, community, identity and growing up brown and butch in greater L.A.

If that description makes you cringe because (like me) you've sat through a few too many evenings of performance art that's so pretentious and boring you’ve considered chewing off your own limbs to escape, the BdP is the exuberant antidote. "We're trying to create characters that speak to our different experiences as brown butches. We try to see ourselves in a way that's true and funny and relevant and experimental and not preachy," says Raquel Gutierrez, one of the ensemble's co-founders.

On Saturday night the Butchlalis will be rocking a show they've dubbed The Panty Splash Hour as part of the Aqui No Hay Virgenes exhibit that showcases the work of queer Latina artists. The event is (I think) loosely affiliated with WACK!, the retrospective of feminist art that's on view at MOCA until July 16.

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Gutierrez, who serves as the assistant director of the Center for Feminist Research at USC, says that when she was approached about organizing Aqui No Hay Virgenes she knew exactly what she didn’t want: anything that had virgins or goddesses, hence the show's title. "I didn’t want to operate under a strict rubric of identity. And I didn't want to do the typical Latina identity show… I wanted to feature people whose work speaks to a certain kind of visual radicality when it comes to Latinas. I don't want to say [the show] is half gay and half straight. I just want to say that it's artists who are willing to do anything."

Despite what may seem like a fierce exterior, the BdP foster an inclusive vibe. "People ask us, 'Who's your audience?' And we're like, 'Who have you got?' The show isn't just for people of color," says Gutierrez. "This show is for anyone who's willing to come to the table and eat with us.

The BdP have been active since 2002, when Gutierrez and Claudia Rodriguez, who had worked together on Tongues, a bi-annual magazine by and about queer ladies of color, decided it was time to spread their wings. "Working on Tongues was an interesting experience, but it eventually kind of imploded under this strict rubric of identity politics," says Gutierrez. "We wanted to do something where we could explore identity and sexuality in a way that wasn't so vanilla."

They kicked around some ideas, eventually began performing under the BdP moniker then brought in two more collaborators, Nadine Romero and Mari Garcia. All the women had met years before at a support group for queer Latinas at Bienestar in Montebello. "When you look at us visually, we're pretty jarring," Gutierrez acknowledges. "We all look kind of the same: same height, same hair, same eyes, same skin color. We look like four different visions of the same person. But we all bring different experiences, different talents and a different spread of damage to the table."

Though plenty of queer Latino/a performers are spread across the country, the Butchlalis de Panochtitlan somehow seem so quintessentially Los Angeles, it's hard to imagine them springing up anywhere else. Gutierrez, whose immigrant parents met at El Mercadito on 1st and Lorena in East L.A., is a native Angeleno. Baptized at Our Lady Of Angels church she grew up in Huntington Park and then Bell Gardens, where she logged long hours on the freeways as she criss-crossed the city. "As I got older and started driving, I would try to create an identity where I could be myself," she explains. "I had to kind of traverse the city to be able to have that fantasy happen."

The experiences of all the BdP members growing up in Southeast Los Angeles have shaped not only their identities, but their outlook as well. "All of us in BdP have kind of grown up in the armpit of L.A. It has taken us a long time to feel like we love the city, which has often been more a site of danger and desire and disaster," says Gutierrez.

Last month's debut of BdP Get Ugly at Highways in Santa Monica included a short video about the joys of fisting, a skit about the tumultuous romance between an MTF transexual and a butch-identified woman, a tender documentary about butch maternity that was made by one of the Butchlalis whose partner had recently given birth to the couple's first child and a one-act play titled The Barber of East L.A. Though the pieces varied wildly in style and theme, the show managed to maintain a sense of cohesion amidst the ecclecticism.

"We're exploring contradiction as a site of true liberation," says Gutierrez. "Once you start to accept your contradictions, that's where true liberation begins."

Though Gutierrez proudly describes herself as "born and bred in the 213," she remains vigilant about not being a nativist. "I feel like maybe I just know about some stuff that other people don't know about," she says. "One of the things I try to do as part of this ensemble is take this unknown-ness and make it tangible and touchable and knowable. I may not have been there, but wouldn't it be great to imagine it? There's so much we don't know. I'm just here to kind of recuperate this memory."

To that end, the BdP recently learned they were selected to participate in a Luis Alfaro-led workshop where they will develop The Barber of East L.A. into a full-length work. The play, which will debut in the spring of 2008, will span 20 years of East L.A. history as the Butchlalis de Panochtitlan explore their hometown, internalizing, interweaving and disentangling the histories they know. "And if we don't know them," says Gutierrez, "we're going to create them."

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WHAT: Butchlalis de Panochtitlan: The BdP Panty Splash Hour
WHEN: Saturday, March 31, 2007 at 8:00 p.m.
WHERE: The Renberg Theater at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza/LA Gay & Lesbian Center
1125 N. McCadden Place (1 block East of Highland, just North of Santa Monica Blvd.)
Los Angeles, CA 90038
COST: $15 (buy advance tickets here)ADDITIONAL:
Aqui No Hay Virgenes: Queer Latina Visiblity
March 15 - April 26, 2007
The Village at Ed Gould Plaza/LA Gay & Lesbian Center

WACK!, Art and the Feminist Revolution
March 4 - July 16, 2007
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA