"I attempted to kill Andy Warhol. The worst crime in life is that I missed," says a woman dressed as Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist who wrote the famed misandrist SCUM Manifesto. She then beckons us into the courtyard of KillJoy's Kastle, a "lesbian feminist haunted house" that emphasizes the scary and absurd aspects of the feminist movement.
For a bunch of people maligned for being, well, killjoys, the feminists at KillJoy's Kastle have a sense of humor about what they've undertaken. "The only light that you're going to be using in there is the light that emanates from your cunt," Solanas says, to delighted laughter, when discussing the rule against flash photography. The feminists are confrontational too, with Solanas warning us about the nudity we'll see inside. If that's not our bag, she says, "Leave, I don't really give a shit."
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That defiant attitude is no accident. Artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue installed KillJoy's Kastle in Toronto in 2013 as a response to evangelical Christian hell houses. (Hell houses are designed to scare people about the horrors of abortion, sex before marriage, suicide, and the occult.) Mitchell and Logue's installation is a fun but provocative counterpoint, designed to "pervert, not convert." They don't care if your sensibilities are upset. That's the point, in fact.
The first exhibit is a concert from Solanas's undead superfan. In valley girl speak, the superfan explains that she committed suicide when her high school class wouldn't put the SCUM Manifesto on the syllabus. She sings portions of the manifesto while playing the ukelele. Sample lines: "Destroy the male sex, destroy the male sex, destroy the male sex" and "the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage."
Then, a demented women's studies professor takes us inside KillJoy's Kastle, through an entrance called The Marvelous Emasculator. "You will be triggered. This is your trigger warning," the professor tells us. True to her warning, she leads us into a small room where a cluster of masked women hold mirrors up to and hold open their unshaved vulvas. "My yoniiii," they chant, over and over. We watch in polite discomfort as our guide says, "I want everybody to inhale deeply…Smell that? Intoxicating."
While the rest of the rooms aren't as shocking, they're clever about how they blend what's scary about a haunted house with what's scary about feminism. There's the "den of the gender studies professor and riot ghoul dance party," where the ghouls all dance around, wearing t-shirts with the titles of seminal feminist texts written on them. They cackle when they see us, and yell such taunts as, "Problematic!" and "Read some theory!"
Another nice touch: the disembodied hand groping around in a narrow passageway, holding a full Diva Cup as we squeeze by to get to the next attraction.
KillJoy's Kastle isn't all about self-deprecation and provocation, though. There's a lot of sincerity, too—for instance, when we attend a debriefing at the end of the tour to discuss what we saw and how we felt about it. Another moment comes at the beginning, in our women's studies professor's introduction, which I'm not sure is scripted or reflective of this particular actor's perspective. "I don't know what it's like for people here in LA, but there is less and less actual space for queer women to go," she says. "Let's think of this space as our bodies creating that space together, even though it's ephemeral." Hearing that, I wonder what it would've been like to see KillJoy's Kastle in a city where Hell Houses are common: Would it would feel more bold or profound to attend there? Today, we're in a park in West Hollywood, the center of LGBT life in LA.
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When we leave KillJoy's Kastle, there are two women in zombie makeup on the courtyard stage, singing a country-ish song with the lyrics: "I spent my last 10 bucks on birth control and beer. My life was so much simpler when I was single and queer." The audience happily sings along, finding humor in what they and other women have gone through at the hands of men and society. At this point, I realize that it's hard to imagine stumbling upon a safe space like this, even in West Hollywood. Thankfully, KillJoy's Kastle has created it for us.