“The Gay Villain Rides Again: The History of A Queer Biker” by Migueltzinta C. Solís
Performance lecture, 16 April 2021
Co-presented by the University of Lethbridge and Queer/Disrupt (UK)
By Lauren Gabrielle Fournier
TW/CW: Mention of residential schools
“I love a sloppy archive,” Migueltzinta C. Solís says during the Q&A of his recent performance lecture. There is power-to-be-harnessed in the mess, in the slop, in the spaces that resist sanitization and homogenization, that resist ossification. There is power in the sour spaces, the spaces where one can harness the possibilities of art practice, including performance and parafiction (art and literary work in which fiction is presented as fact), in history-making, in the resisting of the power of singular status-quo narratives that uphold those in power and protect them from being questioned. And at a time when the very grim aspects of Canada’s history are being revealed—with the unearthing of the remains of hundreds of Indigenous children at the former grounds of a residential school in Kamloops and, more recently, Manitoba—the urgency around Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups having agency in the telling of history is resounding. These events remind us of the consequentiality of history and how it is told—what is included in historical stories and what is left out. While coverage of recent news events can make it look as though these horrors are outlying events, marking singular “sad days” for Canadians, Indigenous folks will point out, rightly, that these horrific, genocidal events are at the heart of the very founding of Canada—a colonial country on stolen, Indigenous lands, with very long histories for thousands of different Indigenous groups.
With the colonialization of lands comes other colonial inheritances, including the University. Academia and its rituals, methods, and languages are another impact of European colonialization, and we are experiencing a moment of reckoning right now. Challenging and subverting colonialist academia from Indigenous, BIPOC, and queer perspectives is a worthy endeavour. In Mestizx artist Migueltzinta C. Solís’s recent performance lecture “The Gay Villain Rides Again: The History of a Queer Biker,” we get what the artist himself calls an “academically-subversive performance.” In it, Solís tells a story from queer history that he happens upon and in some senses discovers; through personal experience, archival research, interviews, reading, and embodied reflection and deduction. As an artist with a background in performance art, Solís experiments with how research can be presented to academic, art, and non-academic communities, and in this way his practice can be said to ‘queer’ academic structures—which includes bringing more depth and breadth to the archives recognized by academic institutions, and “queering” the very methodologies recognized as legitimate and worthwhile in those spaces.
The turning toward history from one’s personal and research-based art practice seems particularly generative in a present moment where issues from “history” are urgent and still being processed and uncovered—including the aforementioned news about Canada’s residential schools, and the challenging of the names of many Canadian universities, including Ryerson University, named after one of the architects of the so-named Indian residential school system. The tendency for queer artists to engage with history and the archive is common, often as a way for queers to find their “ancestors” and better understand their own selves and sense of belonging in history. Other queer artists working on the colonized lands of so-called Canada, like Cait McKinney and Hazel Meyer (their collaborations at the Toronto Reference Library and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archive in Toronto, for example), have used the performance lecture format to present their embodied findings as queer settlers engaging in the writing of queer histories and interventions in the archive. Solís extends the performance lecture from his perspective as a queer artist, Indigenous to Mexico but situated today on Treaty 7 Blackfoot territory, to reveal the changeability of history as a story. Indeed, the telling of “history” is always the telling of a story, from a particular, subjective perspective, even as there might be rhetorical attempts at objectivity by those who self-identify as historians.
The artist’s presentation centers on the story of a figure named Solitaire, a mysterious spectre in the background and fringes of gay and lesbian (queer) motorcycle clubs of the mid through late 20th century. Before he begins the story, Solís apologizes preemptively for his “treatment of history:” he is not trained as a historian or a sociologist, he notes, but is an artist “dabbling” in history and the archive. While I take his point, I have a feeling that his “dabbling” is going to be much more than what it sounds like. After all, this work emerged after nearly a decade of lived experience, research, and practice tied to the topic at hand, and demonstrates rigorous academic research alongside oral storytelling, imaging, and parafiction. The fact that Solís feels compelled to make this statement in his opening points to the urgency of decolonizing what constitutes legitimate methodological approaches within universities and who can do what kind of work, especially when it comes to the understanding, interpretation, and production of history—itself wrapped up in often violent colonialist, hetero and cis, Eurocentric biases.
The story begins in San Francisco in 2012, when Migueltzinta lived in Oakland and was cruising on the Castro and shopping in consignment stores, before finding a leather jacket that fit him almost “magically.” He found a single playing card with handwritten inscriptions in the pocket, and this moment becomes the engine driving the narrative that ensues. It is this card as a cultural object which launches Migueltzinta into a practice of historical research, him comparing the card’s design to playing cards from the 1900s onward, and ultimately coming to the Satyrs, a Gay Motorcycle Club from the 1950s. Coincidence, happenstance, lived experience, all become drivers in what Migueltzinta researches and what questions he asks.
The artist tells the story in the first-person “I,” moving between the autobiographical/anecdotal and the historical and presenting this in the form of a lecture: a Powerpoint presentation enlivened by Migueltzinta’s dynamic, live narration. Solís’s bridging of gay motorcycle clubs and Dykes on Bikes was a nice way of cultivating queer solidarity across differences—specifically gay male versus lesbian difference—with Solitaire as a figure being the figurative bridge between the two. Solís learns, through interviews and archival (specifically image-based/photographic) research, that Solitaire rode a bicycle which they called the “Gay Villain;” they put playing cards in the spokes of their bicycle to make it sound like a motorcycle, the cards loudly flapping in the wind. Contemporaneous historical events are discussed, including the Occupation of Alcatraz, an occupation of Alcatraz Island by Indigenous students and other Bay Area Native Americans from 1969 through 1971.
Grounded in historical research and more traditional academic methods, Solís also engages in speculation as part of his process of forming hypotheses. As he works to uncover the “real story of Solitaire,” nearing a conclusion, he engages in a practice of “a theorizing of what Solitaire might have looked like,” and “a theorizing of what a female-presenting Solitaire might have looked like,” and a theorizing of a timeline of Solitaire’s life. And when he finally came to a place in the work where he felt he had a solid theory of Solitaire, Solís was presented with new evidence—photographs of Solitaire wearing what Solís lovingly calls the “vajacket” (jacket with a slit that resembles a vagina), and which radically changed what Solís had thought. “Had I been tricked?” Solís asked, aloud. “Had I somehow tricked myself?” Solís devises two solutions, which move the performance into the realm of parafiction: Solitaire might be a time traveler.
Solís does not stop there but goes on to auto-theorize his own parafictional move: “The act of longing for an idea of the past turns desire into a time machine.” Thus, the lecture concludes on the note of collective queer desire and the ways this drives what questions we ask.
By bringing in his own queer, trans, Indigenous perspective alongside varied forms of research and writing, Solís shows the potential for autotheoretical modes of art practice in the present-day university. He brings in “queer evidence,” both forms of evidence that lie somehow outside of traditional, colonial, academic structures, but also queerness as itself a form of evidencing—an idea that Dr. Suzanne Lenon, a Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Lethbridge, brings up in the Q&A after the talk. There, Lenon and Solís discussed academic methodologies and what it means to “queer” evidentiary support, as well as ideas of the “bad academic” and the politics, aesthetics, and ethics of engaging “unreliable” forms of knowledge and narration. The artist describes this performance as a “project of self-envisioning within a history;” here, he as an Indigenous and queer person is envisioned alongside and as part of the history, now present and speaking within and about contested histories that are changeable.