When queer nightlife personality Sussi and performance artist Love Bailey make appearances together, they naturally give shows—it's in their blood, with Sussi's towering headpieces and Bailey's scarlet red looks. Though the LGBTQ community welcomes their larger-than-life theatrics, we often forget our surrounding society's oppressive tendencies, which weighed heavily on the colorful pair's recent trip to California's Santa Monica Pier.
What started as a "beautiful day of glamour and self-expression," ended in transphobic hate, when a security guard kicked Sussi and Bailey off the pier "for dressing in costume," Bailey told OUT. "Coney Island and the circus freaks who came before us would have been ashamed at the hatred spewing out of the abyss of ignorance," she said. "As trans mermaids of the Pacific Ocean, we were called to action to conquer shame, find our silver lining and live to tell the tale."
First, Bailey said the Pier's security guard asked her and Sussi to leave the arcade, but as they were sitting on a park bench, he approached her and said, "Miss, you need to close your legs," to which Bailey replied, "What I do with my body is not up for discussion." The security guard then followed them to the line for carnival rides and after Sussi bought tickets for entry, he made the Pier revoke them entirely.
"They told us we weren't allowed in the park because our 'costumes were a threat to our safety,'" Bailey said. "A group of boys were standing watching us, debating amongst themselves which one of us was a man or a woman—to that I replied, 'What does it matter? Gender is an illusion.' Then, we left the pier and went back to the ocean, where we knew no one would harm us."
LA-based photographer David Vassalli was there to capture the scene, which we're unveiling today exclusively on OUT. In celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility, Bailey and Sussi recount their Santa Monica Pier memories, below, which spawned a compelling conversation on safety, identity and liberation.
Love Bailey: What was your experience like at the pier?
Sussi: What [we] experienced at the pier was rude and hateful; the staff escorted us out of the park because we were wearing loud clothing and their reactions to our fantasy were more than negative—the park staff treated us as if we were threatening the safety of the park, but all we were doing was enjoying the day and taking photos.
LB: The moment at the pier took me back to when I was a child growing up in suburbia sauntering off to tap class with my showgirl grandmother, while the neighborhood boys called me "faggot" and flipped us off. I thought to myself, “Wow am I really back here to this place again? Is there really a security guard in my face asking me to close my legs? Is there really a group of boys publicly having a debate on our gender? Am I really being denied entry to a ride because of the way I dress?”
Sometimes as queer artists, we live in a bubble where our friends who love and support us are the only people we see, but to face the reality of society in that moment woke me up to the veils of gender shrouding visions with ignorance. When they turned you away for wearing a costume at the pier, what went through your mind?
S: “I don't feel safe.” Our confidence got us home just fine, but when the people who have "authority" are targeting someone with no explanation and obviously showing hatred, what will other people at the park do in reaction? Right after the park security escorted us out, [the] group of boys questioning what gender [we] were and guessing who was what, publicly, felt really painful.
What hurts the most is that some people just want to blend in and not draw attention, but still get hated on. In situations like those, the best thing to do is not take it to heart and not let it get to you. Own your life and leave the assholes in the dust—not worth your time or energy. How did you rise above the hate?
LB: Sometimes there's nothing you can do to change someone’s opinion, but in that moment I did what any trans woman would do: slathered my fantasy on thick from head to toe, told the haters, ”Gender is an illusion,” and, "My body and what I do with it is not up for discussion,” then kept walking and loved myself through it.
S: Having the confidence do be yourself is one of the hardest things to do. Most LGBTQ people can't control how we look or dress because it comes naturally to us—we are tapped into our inner being and core so deep that it makes some people uncomfortable because they have so much anger built up inside about themselves. What advice would you have for someone that isn't living their full fantasy yet?
LB: Find your magic and slather it up. Whatever puts you in the mood, takes you to your higher place, helps you channel the vortex—do it. Make no excuses, the time is now. I create art to escape; in that moment, I am able to release my fears and be present: mind, body and soul. I've also created a community of inspiring artists called the “Slather Factory” with my friend Edward Vigiletti, where we slather love on thick and dance to whatever sets our souls on fire. How do you place yourself on the spectrum of gender and sexuality?
S: Gender-fluid—my last name is Sussman, but I created Sussi by chopping off the “man.” If you could have learned a lesson earlier in life what would it have been?
L: Suffering does not discriminate. I've been told before that I’m "white passing privilege,” so therefore I don't suffer. I think it’s important for everyone to realize we are all suffering, even the most wealthy to our POC brothers and sisters. We are all in the same boat swimming through this abyss we call life. It is up to us to rise above and help others by being a beacon of light with peace, love, unity and respect. What advice would you give to transgender queers looking to express their creativity?
S: Find your chosen family—they will teach you everything. Go out [and] enjoy yourself; your real friends are waiting for you. Go dancing! Who are your heroes?
L: My heroes are my trans brothers and sisters that fight for their right to express themselves—artists and warriors that go through life living fully expressed no matter what obstacles come their way.