You won’t find this week’s performer on Cosmo Queens. You won’t see her in rhinestoned gowns, big blonde wigs, or feminine body padding. In fact, she’s very much the opposite of the RuPauls, Dame Ednas, and Trixie Mattels of the world. No, Christeene’s bio describes her as “a human pissoir of raw unabashed sexuality; a gender-blending, booty-pounding, perversion of punk fully equipped with an arsenal of ferocious music intertwined with raw moments of strained intimacy and fiery stank.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
Christeene’s signature look is lipstick and eyeliner smeared across her face, torn-up clothes that hardly cover her body, lots of bare skin plastered with bruises and dirt and grime, a stringy black wig that falls limply past her shoulders, and a rotted front tooth. The entire ensemble is quite frankly difficult to look at, bringing the label of terrorist drag to a whole new level.
Before you get too concerned, terrorist drag queens aren’t those who dress up to commit violent crimes. Queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz first coined the term in relation to Vaginal Davis, a radical punk drag queen who ‘terrorized’ audiences with her shameless disruption of societal conventions and hierarchies. Christeene fulfills and elevates this definition of terrorist drag: She’s not just provocative; she’s a literal eyesore.
When Muñoz first wrote about Davis (“‘The White to be Angry’: Vaginal Davis’s Terrorist Drag”) in 1997, drag’s popularity was steadily rising. Drag queens were slowly becoming a larger part in pop culture, and films like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Birdcage helped mainstream the performance style such that it could grow to what it is today. RuPaul has an Emmy; reality TV is littered with examples of drag; queens have become celebrities. In his influential essay, Muñoz argues that commercial drag is often so easily marketed to the masses because they eliminate all the elements of drag that make it so radically queer. More often than not, Muñoz suggests, the message of acceptance is ultimately closer to one of assimilation.
So where do queens like Christeene fit into this evolution of drag? You’ll certainly never see her on Drag Race or in a goofy blockbuster. According to Muñoz, they don’t. Rather, she practices “terrorist drag”: drag that performs the scariest threats to the dominating social structure and heteronormative culture. Such drag brings to life the greatest anxieties of those in power. Terrorist drag isn’t so easily marketable because its very purpose is to embrace otherness, to create social panic, to revel in disgust. That’s not to say that terrorist queens aren’t popular in their own right–Christeene has quite a following–but their art doesn’t easily translate into something that’s palatable for general audiences.
Christeene is a drag terrorist in that she destroys what makes us feel safe. Quite literally, her live shows create “an unsafe space,” she says in an interview with The Guardian. “There’s danger everywhere. I might spit on your face or jump on top of you.” Take that as a warning if you’re thinking about attending one of her many performances around the world. Don’t expect lip-syncing and death drops to songs by pop divas. Do expect incredible, exciting theatrics, confessionals, and highly sexual performances. Do expect an emotional and joyous adventure of connection with the creature that calls herself Christeene. After all, as Paul Soileau (the man behind Christeene) tells Westword, “Christeene will die on stage for you. And she does, every time.”
Maybe that’s why, in the same interview, Soileau calls Christeene’s performances “more of a punk thing” than a drag show. “I turn music into performative art,” he adds. True to this statement, Christeene’s latest album, Basura, was designed to mimic the structure of her live shows. The name means “trash” in Spanish, which is, of course, fitting for Christeene’s sewage-creature persona and sound. Like a garbage dump, Christeene’s album is an eclectic mix of bits and pieces. Of course there’s punk but there’s also electro and hip-hop influences. All of that is topped off with Christeene’s signature slurry singing, bizarre lyrics, and ‘fuck you’ attitude. You won’t be able to help dancing to it.
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I distinguish between interviews with Christeene and interviews with Soileau because they are two very different reads. In a conversation with Dangerous Minds, Soileau describes his first encounter with Christeene: “I met Christeene in the dirty backyard of a shit stack coffee shop…Christeene was wearing, only, a very messy black rabbit fur coat and a pair of pink junked out high heeled boots. It was love at first sight.” Before Christeene, Soileau had been performing in drag as Rebecca Havemeyer, but Christeene was born out of a need to do something angrier and more powerful with his art. Havemeyer still exists, taking on a separate role in Soileau’s live alongside Christeene.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Christeene–as opposed to Soileau–is her unusual dialect. Listening to her is almost like listening to Billy from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Her voice is high-pitched, a little girly, and cartoonishly stupid. Her way of speaking adds to her trashy, transgressive persona as well as highlights the innocent childish joy she replicates in many of her videos, juxtaposing her otherwise sexed-up aesthetics.
One of her music videos, “Workin’ on Grandma,” is a wonderful example of the childlike personality that accompanies her unusual dialect. Depicts Christeene in all of her hilarious, stupid, and strange glory, “Workin’ on Grandma” pays tribute to K-Pop in its bright colors, cutesy feel, and Korean subtitles. In it, Christeene meets a dog, meets the devil in her ‘pussy hole,’ and waits for ‘grandma.’ We can speculate all we want about the video: For example, maybe it subverts oppressive heterosexual definitions of family. But however we want to try to interpret it, we can’t really figure out “Workin’ on Grandma.” It’s just that weird. Either way, you’ll get a kick out of the zany, in-your-face video.
From her live shows to her looks to her voice, Christeene’s “unsafe spaces” obliterates conventions in which we allow ourselves to settle and feel comfortable. She disrupts traditional notions of beauty while celebrating all the truly gritty stereotypes of queerness. That is, Christeene turns homophobia on its head. She’s messy, dirty, and downright grotesque in everything she does from her looks to her live performances to her extremely NSFW music videos. She twists the disgust associated with sexuality—especially queer sexuality—into something to be lauded rather than shamed, something revolutionary and glamorous, something laughable and exciting.
Take her music video “Butt Muscle,” a filthy tribute to gay sex. Rather than try to make gay sex palatable for the masses, “Butt Muscle” features Christeene and designer Rick Owens engaging in various sexual acts: Kissing, fisting, and beyond ensues. In one scene we even watch Owens stick his long hair directly into Christeene’s asshole. As I said before, extremely NSFW. “Butt Muscle’s” not just explicit for the shock value though. It’s not porn either. It’s something closer to a John Waters film: campy, funny, and full of joy. In fact, it’s liberating to watch Christeene’s sweaty, mostly naked body happily writhe around with her sexual partners in mud and…whatever else. Talking to Dazed about the project, Soileau notes, “when we see “Butt Muscle,” where people are laughing and having a good time — fuck the scary, and fuck the fear and vulnerability and start to tap into the enjoyment of it and the exhilaration of it and the freedom of it.”
So yes, Christeene is vulgar and dangerous, but there’s more to her than that. Hearing her unique, childish way of speaking or her ecstatic laugh and observing the exuberant femininity and kindness nestled in every performance of her punk persona, one cannot help but find love and joy and humor in Christeene. She terrifies and shocks, but she also charms and amuses. She shines light on the beauty in places we would normally find shame be it in our sexuality, appearances, or desires.