Finishing up our Queer+ Voices series for the month, here's an interview with Tori Roze, multi-talented artist, actress, writer, musician, model, Reiki practitioner, and performance coach who proudly identifies as a pansexual (“not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity") queer (“an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual and cisgender - cisgender denotes or relates to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex") womxn (“an alternative spelling of woman, used especially in intersectional feminism a to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary womxn").
LBP: Tell us a little bit about your coming out experience(s). How has life changed for you since being “out”?
TR: The 1985 film Just One of the Guys, starring Joyce Hyser, was my initial queer confirmation. Her androgyny spoke directly to my little heart and gave me butterflies. I watched that movie, on repeat, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, maybe even earlier. I recognized something in her that existed in me; as I have always felt a strong sense of both my masculine and feminine sides despite the onslaught of societal pressure to exclusively “be a girl.” I’m magnetized to androgyny because it lives in the “grey area” of visually defining someone – it’s revolutionary. Androgyny is my favorite visual human expression because it neither denies nor confirms what is an acceptable gender performance. It just is.
In realizing my attraction to alternative forms of gender expression, I kept my hair short from the age of 8-15. When I was 12, I began to walk around my neighborhood in broad day light dressed as a boy. Baggy pants, loose shirt, backwards hat, super short hair, and skate shoes. My boobs hadn’t fully developed yet, so I felt like I could get away with it. The whole thing was part experiment and part comfortability: I wanted to see if anyone would even recognize me, to be honest (they didn’t). And since theatre was so prominent in my upbringing, I didn’t even question the fact that I liked dressing up in what some might consider “costumes” regularly. At some point I realized that we were all wearing costumes and performing in our own daily lives. And when you realize that, it’s yours to take advantage of so that you feel authentic in your own outward expression. I am not attracted to gender, either: I am attracted to the person and their heart, one hundred percent.
I found myself seeking out others who felt the same as I did towards gender expression. That’s when I discovered high-school theatre. The thespians (theatre-related peeps) at my school were extra in all the right ways (myself included). We were like a tight-knit family of intelligent weirdos who didn’t care what anyone thought. We needed that mutual support in order to find out where we wanted to fit into the world, not where we were being forced to. We are all still friends to this day. But high school is formative, and two specific things that brought to light my own sexuality happened in tandem, when I was 16 years old: Angelina Jolie in the movie Gia – who she played was vulnerable and gritty; full of fallibility and intrinsic beauty. I adored her reckless abandon to love and wanted such a passionate person in my own romantic life. The second thing that would change the trajectory of my future
was being kissed a friend of mine, who happened to be a girl.
High on the internal magic I felt after “the kiss to change all kisses” occurred, I ran to my high school sweetheart and disclosed the whole event...in detail. As someone who knew me extremely well and genuinely cared about my well-being, he suggested that I break up with him to explore this idea of dating womxn. He was my perfect mirror. He not only knew, but he embraced and accepted that I was interested in the same sex. Sometimes I can’t believe how mature our relationship was for a couple of sixteen-year-olds. It wouldn’t be until I was 21 years old that I would officially come out, though. I was only in serious relationships with men up until that point, with the occasional sexual encounter, lady-style. I knew I was bisexual in the physical sense, but I didn’t know how deeply homoromantic I was until I had experienced a real relationship with another womxn.
I was directing The Vagina Monologues at University of CA, Santa Cruz, where I was surrounded by 34 sexually-liberated womxn for several months in a row. There is nothing in the world that compares to that amount of awakened femxle energy – it’s electric. It was at this time that I finally took it upon myself to explore dating a femxle. It felt right and was supported in my current environment. At 21 years old, I couldn’t hide my new girlfriend, nor did I want to. I was elated to have found love and wanted to shout it from the rooftops! Love is SO beautiful, it’s a shame to have to hide that joy from anyone.
My younger sister was the first person I told. All of a sudden, things from our childhood started to make sense to her and she lit up with excitement. My parents and I are performers, meaning our lives are filled with creatives and people from different walks of life - so I was welcomed and accepted after a short period of time. My parents had to lay to rest the person who I’d been in their eyes for so long and the loss of those whom I used to be with. But something I love about my parents is their ability to grow and evolve. Once they saw my true happiness, they shared in that happiness by fully accepting who I was – and that’s really lucky.
Honestly, when all was said and done, it came as no surprise to anyone that I was queer– which is my personal identifying word of choice – it covers it all for me because there’s more non-specific room within it to move about because I feel like I exist within the fluid grey area. I know I am very fortunate to have been so well received. Personal authenticity was always encouraged and my upbringing supported that type of self-discovery. I’ve been a part of the queer community peripherally since I was a child; I’ve never felt so at home as I do here.
LBP: How do other aspects of your identity intersect (or perhaps clash) with your sexuality?
TR: I am white, curvaceous, and femme (feminine) looking, which often gives men and womxn alike the idea that I am a straight cis woman (meaning female, heterosexual, and heteroromantic). This assumption allows me to go into spaces where “others” are not normally permitted – which I see as a sort of personal rebellion on behalf of the queer community. And since I appear to be “straight” to the general public, there is usually a verbal or written instance where I publicly acknowledge that I am, in fact, queer. I have come out every single day because of the way I look.
One of my favorite things is to dismantle people’s assumptions of who I am based on how I look. These moments serve as short-hand educational lessons where my very existence begs for one to “not judge a book by its cover.” Because of my shape and the way I dress, I’m automatically sexualized. Because of how I present, I don’t market myself in a sexy way on purpose. The stereotypical mainstream beauty that prescribes to the male gaze – no thank you. I’m more of a funny girl full of conviction who wants you to actually listen to her words, not a girl who wants you to want her.
Music has allowed me the room to fully realize and express myself as an artist more than any other art form that I practice. Music isn’t based on what you look like. My foundational roots will always reside in the full-spectrum production realm of musical theatre, but music has my heart. I work and live in the fields of music, theatre, healing, body-positivity, and the arts. I very well might cease to participate in everything if I wasn’t allowed to find solace in each of these respective circles where I feel seen, heard, and truly understood.
The Diversionary Theatre in University Heights (San Diego) is one of the oldest queer theatres in the nation. When I graduated college in 2005 from the extremely forward-thinking and liberal-minded University of California, Santa Cruz; I moved back to San Diego to do productions there for a few years. I wanted to immerse myself in the queer theatre scene. It was nice to not only be cast for my talent, but for my queerness too – that finally counted for something. And because that counted, I felt like I was actually being seen as a whole person.
Conversely, there were always roles available in the mainstream theatre for me because my queerness didn’t walk through the door before I did. Not to mention that the shows being produced didn’t even include a role like that – it was too taboo. It saddens me that there are not nearly enough theatres or playwrights producing shows including queer femxle roles. I haven’t had many opportunities to play a role that resonates with a large portion of my identity unless it’s being offered specifically at a queer theatre. It’s still not ok to be queer, unless you are a male, in mainstream theatre. The theatrical art form seems to be an endless work in progress when it comes to relating to the current moment: continually striving towards it and rarely delivering…Which is why I have spent the majority of my time almost exclusively in music for the past twelve years.
Alignment with my personal beliefs is a big deal in all of my endeavors. I try to put forth a positive representation of queer culture any and everywhere I go by helping to highlight (through performance) the varying identities within our community. These spaces are sacred to the protection of otherness. “When you know better, do better” (Maya Angelou).
Image description: Square graphic with yellow background and large white quotation mark at the top. At bottom of square, large black text reads: "queer voices." In the middle, in black text, is a quote from Tori's interview. (Fifth paragraph of question 3). Under the quote, in bold black text reads: "~Tori Roze"
LBP: Pride is a celebration of liberation but also an acknowledgement of struggle, resistance, and revolution. Where do you see yourself in that celebration? Where do you see yourself in that struggle?TR: Pride means having integrity and standing up for what you believe in. Pride means we see and acknowledge each other. Pride means love wins. You love who you love and it’s not a choice. To be able to love whom my heart wants to without being persecuted or exiled is a big deal. That’s why I choose to stay in the United States – the pursuit of freedom. Although in this political climate, it’s sad to think that after all of the years of fighting for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, that the government could so easily exploit humanity’s current vulnerability. Every single person in the world deserves to feel free to love whomever they want without fear of judgement. The only time anyone should concern themselves with who I am sleeping with is if I’m trying to sleep with them. In other words: if I’m not going to bed with you, move along and mind ya business.
As it stands, activism is an every-single-day endeavor. On the NYC Subway, there is a saying that goes, “if you see something, say something.” This saying resonates with me. I care deeply about equality and fair-treatment of my fellow humans, whether we personally agree on things or not. Maybe that can be chalked up to my life-experience, because my circumstance is quite different than many others, but we each have our point where we were moved to engage in politics.
Childhood definitely shaped me as both a lover and an activist. I have a sister with special needs. That in and of itself has placed a beautiful filter over the entirety of my life. Because of my sister Autumn, compassion is at the forefront of who I am. Being protective towards those without voice or those who cannot protect themselves is how I unapologetically live. My parents didn’t have much to give us in terms of money and material possessions, but we did have love and support. That is the proud torch I carry with me wherever I go, no matter what the cause.
At the age of six, I was a lower-class white kid being bussed into primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods for elementary school in order to attend the magnet programs they had. These programs, specializing in different subjects like marine biology, physical education, performing arts, etc., brought kids together from all over the county, creating a mixed salad of culture and ethnicity. This provided my life a strong backbone wherein I honor and appreciate the difference between myself and the person next to me. I revere that difference; life would be so boring otherwise. And because I revere that difference, I protect that difference so that someday a little kid like me can fall deeply in love with their fellow humans all over again. Black Lives Matter. Brown Lives Matter. LGBTQIA+ Lives Matter. Those who are different than me matter. We are equal.
Speaking of equality, I’ve been married to the person of my dreams for the past three years. I’ve never been as happy and secure in myself as I am now. I fought for the right to marry by attending rallies and protests, voting, writing, calling, and by showing the eff up for years. To have a right (that I actually wish to exercise) bestowed upon me within my lifetime is astonishing and that’s called progress.
Happiness is infectious and contagious. This is what pride is promoting – the right to be happy and live in your personal truth. When people refer to living authentically, this is the exact thing to which they are referring. Do you find it a strange coincidence that the definition of the word “gay” literally means happiness? I sure don’t. Hate takes up a lot of energy and poisons the internal functioning system of a human. My belief is that you cannot truly hate anything that you have come to a level of understanding with (ex: you’ve spoken to people who have experience with said thing, or read about its contextual/historical point of origin). I’m here to continually promote mutual understanding and the abolition of hate at every turn I can.
LBP: As an artist, how does your “queerness" or sexual orientation show up in your creative work?
TR: Queerness is peppered throughout my creative life’s work. UCSC was a hotbed for queer life and expression, so it really began there for me. I’m stoked that being queer was so well- supported – enough so that I could come into my own both personally and creatively.
When writing lyrics, I typically like to use the word “you” when referring to someone – it leaves the song open to be universally relatable. There are a handful of times where I’m intentional about the fact that I like/love someone of the same gender. It’s a lot more-rare for me to do so, but when I specifically want the listener to take that in, I refer to her/she. Essentially, I want to perk the audience’s ears up to make sure they are paying attention in those moments. I also want to take the personal vulnerability a step further by essentially outing myself in those songs to prove that you can create a sound like mine (funky-jazzy-neo-soul) and be queer too. We come in all kinds of packages, y’all!
Songs where I allude to queer relations (whether or not I use she/her) are: Fibbin,’ Sweet Drank, Do You, I Try, She Does Not, Animal Instinct, Love Heroin, Bad Half, Selfless, Show Me, Oh Lord Please, Slow Down, Irish Coffee, Hiccup, and Just Say No. Just Say No digs into queer relations of all sorts, as it touches on the subject of one-night-stands and ulterior motives between all of the sexes. You can check out these tunes firsthand on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Bandcamp, Rhapsody, YouTube, etc. by searching for Tori Roze and The Hot Mess.
LBP: What queer-centered artists, shows, films, podcasts, authors, etc. are you into right now?
Authors/Playwrights: Roxanne Gay, Florence Given, Dr. Faith G. Harper, Kim Yaged, Patricia Cotter.
Books: Unf#ck Your Intimacy by Dr. Faith G. Harper***this book will change your life!
Shows/Films: These Thems (YouTube), Rupaul’s Drag Race (VH1), POSE (FX or Netflix), Legendary (HBO max), The F Word: A Foster-to-Adopt Story (www.thefwordseries.com), We're Here (HBO), Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO), The L Word (Showtime), Vida (Starz), Lip Service (Hulu or Netflix), Sense 8 (Netflix), Dragula (Netflix), Straight Up (Netflix).
LBP: What are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ organizations or businesses you'd recommend our readers look into, buy from, donate to, volunteer for, etc.?
Building Allies – learn how to be an awesome, informed, and impeccable ally for anyone who needs it.
The LGBTQIA+ Center, San Diego – a place for resources and programs specifically designed to benefit and aid those in the queer community.
We Are WildFang – gender non-conforming clothing.
Bindle and Keep – bespoke suits for all genders and body types.
The Marsha P Johnson Institute – support for black trans lives.
LBP: Is there anything else you'd like to mention in closing?
TR: Queer Folx Making Music, a night full of queer live original music, will be continuing with livestream performances. We had an incredible premier evening of performance back on March 5, 2020 at Gossip Grill and will be shifting the format online via livestream on September 3, 2020, thus expanding our reach and participation (Instagram Profile for viewing - @torirozebutt). Performers include Lindsay White, The Extraordinary Gentlemen, Abby Posner, and Lillian Lefranc. Tune into Instagram Live on September 3 at 6-8pm PST!
To connect with Tori Roze, visit http://www.torirozeandthehotmess.com/! We hope you enjoyed our Queer+ Voices series!
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