Deep n’ Delicious: Nancy Bocock’s Queer Trash Aesthetic – Robin Alex McDonald

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Unapologetically tawdry and crude, Nancy Bocock’s performances combine inspiration from John Waters with everything from shredded garbage bags to McCain chocolate cakes. In this interview, Nancy and I dialogue about the significance of ‘waste’ and ‘trash’ to queer, trans*, and drag cultures while also considering how an “aesthetics of trash” connects contemporary queer visual cultures to their historical roots in punk subcultures and camp. Interpreting trash as that which gets used, thrown away, overlooked, or recycled, we will put this multiplicity of meanings into conversation with Toronto subcultures and nightlife, popular assumptions about femininity and propriety, and the radical potential of a “politics of disgust.”

I met up with the self-identified “filth queen” at the Bell Jar café on a Sunday afternoon, where we sat down together for the first time since our high school graduation (where Nancy herself had delivered our valedictorian speech.) It felt fitting that our ‘catch-up’ discussions didn’t focus on the men we had married or the great careers we were having, but on Nancy’s trashy queer aesthetics and our shared interest in how wonderfully gross bodies are.

Early into the conversation I assured Nancy that I would run everything I wrote by her before it was published, so as not to misrepresent her in any way. But she immediately joked that even if I were to spend the entire interview slandering her, she would still be proud to share it with all of her friends. (After all, trash-talking participates in its own kind of queer dialect.)

Nancy Bocock: Well yeah, for shows me and my sisters will just introduce each other as like, “the most disgusting person I know,” or, “a real piece of shit,” well… especially me. They always introduce me using just… the worst words possible. But I love it.

Robin Alex McDonald: Well how would you introduce yourself? How did you get into Toronto drag subcultures and nightlife?

NB: Hm… I’ve been doing drag for about five or six years now. I started out in the Toronto music scene – in noise bands, actually – and I just felt really sick of having no queer representation in those scenes. So I decided I would just… start dressing up as a woman. And from there I ended up being a party hostess, and then slowly branched into more “traditional” drag performances. But I was never into “traditional,” and I never really liked people just being pretty. People were already being pretty. That had already been done, so I was just… trashy. I decided to go over the top with it. I perform regularly, mostly in the west end. I came in 3rd in the Crews and Tangos drag race, but they never invited me back because I did a bug-eating routine where I also pulled a butt plug out of my ass. It was my big finale for this big, eight-week competition where I had been pulling out McCain Deep n’ Delicious cakes, and giving birth on stage, and putting raw meat up my panties. So for a big finale I did a huge disco number, with a super-trash megamix where I climbed out of a Barbie’s Dream Dumpster – I had made this dumpster out of Styrofoam, and it was bright pink – I had already poured piss on myself, showed up in garbage bags, pulled a butt-plug out of my ass, and then during Christina Aguilera’s “Dirty,” I pulled out a jar of crickets (which I labeled cockroaches) and proceeded to eat the whole jar – while also throwing them at the judges.

RAM: I’m having flashes of Die Antwoord’s music video, where they show Lady Gaga birthing a cockroach. Was it like that?

NB: Ha, yes! Like that. And the best moment of it all – probably the highlight of my performing career – was when I grabbed a handful of the crickets, and they were in oatmeal, and I threw them at the judges’ table, and they just landed in this big pile and like, a big cloud of smoke erupted and everyone started screaming and the judges immediately jumped onto their chairs. My brother was there, and he came up to me afterward and said he had never been so proud of me.

RAM: Well my next question was going to be asking about your favorite performance memory, so I guess that would be it?

NB: It’s certainly up there. But also, once for Hot Nuts – which is this crazy queer costume party that happens semi-regularly in Toronto – they asked me to headline, so I ended up doing a cake number. And it ended up being me pissing on this cake while live-singing the Donna Summer version of “MacArthur Park” by Richard Harris, which later transitioned to this audio of cake-farts mixed with Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake.” And all the while I just kept bringing out more and more cakes. I sat on cakes, I fed cakes to other people, I put cake in peoples’ faces… When I started the performance the crowd was absolutely packed, but by the time the performance finished there was just this huge vacant area around the stage. It was totally empty.

RAM: Well with the exception of a graveyard of cakes…

NB: Yep.

RAM: So do you feel the need to out-do yourself with each subsequent performance?

NB: Always. With bugs, I just keep eating more bugs. But I push my limits in other ways too. I do things that I’m uncomfortable with on stage because I know if I’m uncomfortable, the audience will be uncomfortable.

RAM: What is it about that state of feeling uncomfortable with something – either within your own self or with something that someone else is engaging in – that you’re drawn to?

NB: Well when I first started doing drag it was about the costumes. But now it’s just about going the distance. The “pretty” has been done. There are tons of “pretty” drag queens. They know all the words to their songs, and they lip-sync so perfectly… but honestly, unless they’re doing it really well and it’s a song I really happen to like, I find it boring. And women aren’t just “pretty” things that are going to dance around for you. We’re all disgusting human beings. And I like to show that side in my performances. Just because I’m performing as a “lady” doesn’t mean that I have to have manners or act in a certain way.

RAM: I also find that I’m very drawn to artists, or filmmakers, or thinkers that engage with the body’s materiality and ideas about abjection. Bodies are these weird, often gross things that can break down and fragment and it’s interesting to talk about that aspect of objectification, especially in relation to feminine bodies, or bodies that get called ‘female.’

NB: Exactly. And when I see drag queens who are so pretty and so poised, I sometimes feel like they’re ignoring what a woman is, or what a person is. We’re all interesting, complicated people. We’re not just parodies. I don’t identify as a single gender, and I like to keep all things fluid.

RAM: Is that desire for fluidity partially why in some of the photos I’ve seen of your recent performances you’re wearing a full face of make-up paired with your big, red beard?

NB: That’s been a newer thing for me. I used to shave my entire body completely. I liked the idea of having this very “feminine” appearance and then doing some very disgusting things. Even within queer communities there is so much femmephobia, and there are a lot of men who only desire other very-masculine men. So that ‘masc-for-masc’ thing is something that I’m disrupting or challenging with my beard. I never really fit into the mainstream gay scene on Church Street. Queers do more than wear tank-tops and listen to Top 40, and I’m trying to get all of that across in my performances.

RAM: I actually just finished reading Sarah Liss’s community biography of Will Munro, Army of Lovers, and some of the interviewees were talking about how that was precisely the ethos behind setting up a scene like Vazaleen.

NB: Exactly, and in a lot of ways, performers like me are carrying on his legacy; a legacy that really helped to break things down, and to establish the west end. Parties like Hot Nuts and Bad Tuck are part of that.

RAM: Right. And that scene can also be a nice alternative to upper-middle-class ‘gaybourhoods.’ Which kind of nicely brings in something I wanted to talk about, which is trash’s connections with class.

NB: Well, I love white-trash. I love those cultures. Growing up, I wasn’t well off. You don’t always have things readily available to you. I like the aesthetic of fishnets and a Hooters t-shirt. People look down on sex workers and strippers and those are my friends. Those are people I have so much respect for. So just to be in public spaces, wearing those outfits and signifiers helps to break down those barriers and shake off negative connotations about clothes and what they mean about a person. So while my performances are heavily influenced by John Waters and Divine and I relate to that so much, they’re also dedicated to all the so-called trashy women that have influenced me – like Pamela Anderson.

RAM: Anyone else?

NB: Well, also the people around me. I have an amazing circle of people around me. My sisters are Judy Virago and Igby Lizzard and we’re always pushing each other, making fun of each other, giving each other ridiculous ideas. It means a lot to me that I’ve found people who support me and what I’m doing. Because I wasn’t going to find it on Church Street.

Images courtesy of Mitchel Raphael

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Nancy Bocock is a Toronto-based performance artist and self-identified “filth queen.” A 2014 Dora-nominee for her role in Sheila Heti’s All Our Happy Days Are Stupid and a member of the House of Filth, Nancy has performed at Videofag, the Beaver, the Henhouse, the Steady, the Drake Hotel, the Trash Cabaret at Toronto Pride, Crews and Tangos, Woody’s and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

Robin Alex McDonald is a writer, independent curator, and Cultural Studies doctoral student at Queen’s University. Their scholarly and artistic interests span queer and feminist theories, relationality, collectivity and “being-with,” and collaborative forms of queer and trans* artistic and cultural productions.