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Inside LA's Lesbian Feminist Haunted House

Confronting our most enduring fear with the demented women's studies professors and "riot ghouls" of Killjoy's Kastle.

by Alison Stevenson
30 October 2015, 9:28am

This article originally appeared on VICE US

Feminism sure is "in" right now. Long gone are the days when celebrities like Lady Gaga refused to identify as a feminist because the term had a certain association with hating men. Now, pop culture has become so inundated with self-labeled feminists, the word has almost completely lost its edge, its countercultural appeal. We know that feminism isn't about hating men—it's about #leaningin and having super hot, empowered sex.

The only segment of feminism that's still taboo is the kind that does hate men, or at least refuses to sleep with them: lesbian feminism. Queer feminism hasn't quite made it into the mainstream in the way that, say, Beyoncé Feminism has—which is why Toronto-based visual artists Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell decided to turn the concept into a haunted house.

Located in the community center of Plummer Park in West Hollywood (Los Angeles' "gayborhood"), Killjoy Kastle is a queer feminist house of horrors, created in collaboration with ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California. While it's definitely got a Halloween-bent to it, it's actually more of an art installation made to look like a haunted house. Mitchell and Logue first launched the project in response to the truly terrifying Christian Hell Houses—those performative attractions run by church groups that are designed to scare people out of having abortions and engaging in other sinful behavior.

I expected Killjoy Kastle to be similarly scary, so I was surprised (and relieved) to find that the scene was more like a John Waters film than one of John Carpenter's.

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When my photographer and I arrived around 7 PM, there was already a decent-sized line to get in. Groups of ten were being ushered inside and given a spiel by a woman playing the role of Valerie Solanas, the lady who infamously shot Andy Warhol. When we finally entered, our group stood around a chalk outline of a cat's anus as Valerie laid down some ground rules. Then she told us to come up with a group name. One woman quickly suggested "canus" (a clever melding of cat and anus). No one else cared enough to protest.

Upon entering the Kastle, we were told to sit in chairs facing a stage and listen to lesbian folk singers playing songs with names like "Pussy Manifesto." It was up to us to decide if this was heavenly or hellish, Fake Solanas quipped. I went with hellish.

Afterward, we met our guide, a self-described "demented women's studies professor." She gave us a trigger warning about the experience we would have inside, mentioning something about a "paradigm shift" and "consciousness-raising." This professor was a perfect representation of every liberal arts professor I've ever had to deal with, which is to say that I no idea what she was talking about but I totally agreed with her.

We entered through a doorway called The Emasculator. This wasn't a man-hating thing, Mitchell later told me, but "more of a loosening or shaking up of gender roles that allow us all to live more free and open lives as humans."

Then we were led through a dark hallway. Illuminated signs covered the walls, with words and phrases associated with lesbian feminists. One sign introduced me to the word "clubby," which our professor-guide taught us is the cis-female version of a "chubby." I made a mental note to use this new term for my own clit, instead of saying it's "engorged" or "hangry."

After that, we were led through several different rooms. In one, we watched an intersectional activist high-kick the pillars of society, portrayed as giant rotting tampons with words like "capitalism" written on them. Through the pillars was a dark room where we watched 1950s housewives discover their own vaginas, repeatedly moaning the word "orgasm" over and over.

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In another room, a four-faced internet troll scrolled through her iPad; there was a room filled with "riot ghouls" and professors shouting about critical theory. On our way through the house, a menstruating trans man stuck his arm out from a bathroom door and asked for help emptying his overflowing Diva cup.

Another room, called the "Straw Feminists Hall of Shame," was filled with portraits of zombified celebrities like Lena Dunham, Sarah Palin, Beyoncé, and Tina Fey. Our professor-guide told us that there were three types of fake feminists here.

The first, she said, are "monsters concocted by popular culture as characters that name themselves feminists." These are almost always ugly, unloveable shrews—women meant to scare the rest of the sex out of identifying as feminists. The second, the professor explained, are those faux-feminists "who happen to be named 'female' at birth and then rise to power through capitalism and politics." These women, like Sarah Palin and Condoleezza Rice, are feminist only because they are women who hold power in a traditional patriarchal system.

Finally, she concluded, there's the kind of "fucked-up feminist who would point a finger at anyone and say that their feminism is the 'wrong' kind of feminism or that they aren't doing feminism 'right' because they are traditionally pretty or sexy."

Obviously, there's something incredibly hypocritical about explaining that third archetype in a room called the Straw Feminist Hall of Shame. Our professor-guide was quick to admit this. Unlike fervent Christians whose Hell Houses are hellbent on scaring children into a life of loyalty to Jesus, feminists are able to admit the are flaws associated with the ideology, which is essentially what makes them #flawless.

At the end of the tour, we passed through one final hallway where we were instructed to partake in "lesbian processing," which is also known as "having a discussion" about our experience inside the Killyjoy Kastle. We sat on period-stained stools and each summed up our experience in one word. I chose "informational," which I knew was a lame word, but someone had already said "comical."

The house was indeed funny, with plenty of jokes made at the expense of lesbian feminists (who ever said they can't take a joke?). The Kastle managed to create a caricature of the things associated with the lesbian feminist that society deems fearful, and in doing so, proved that there is nothing to fear.

"Humor always makes art with an edge more accessible," Mitchell told me in an email. "There is a long tradition of the use of satire to reflect back cultural values and show them for the constructions that they are."

When we left the Kastle, I noticed the line outside had tripled since we'd arrived. Feminist art is nothing new, obviously, but even I was surprised to see the interest. As Mitchell explained, "artists are creating spaces outside these institutions for their own production and the general population is being encouraged to participate in art projects and they are more used to see expressions of some kinds of queer culture."

Since it opened last weekend, Killjoy Kastle has hosted over 2,000 visitors. But if you want to see it, you should go soon: I asked Mitchell and Logue if the Kastle would be back next year, and they both said, definitively, "Hell no."

Follow Alison Stevenson and Megan Koester on Twitter.

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