Men at work
Actor Slash Model uses film and music to illuminate trans life.
Madsen Minax and Simon Strikeback are workaholics. So it’s ironic that they came up with the name of their multimedia collective, which includes film, music and live performance, while loitering. According to Minax, while “dicking around” at a chic boutique where Strikeback’s girlfriend worked, they happened to overhear someone describe themselves as “an actor slash model.” The fitting name stuck: The multitasking Minax and Strikeback are filmmakers slash musicians and performers slash advocates.
Madsen, 25, a Michigan native and videographer, met Strikeback, 29, a Skokie native and graduate student at the University of Chicago’s humanities program, four years ago in Tennessee at a queer, rural arts community where Strikeback was living. Both are FTM trans-identified, and both grew up playing music. When Strikeback returned to Chicago, they soon found themselves jamming together. “We decided on bluegrass because it’s easy,” says Strikeback, who sings and plays ukulele (Minax also sings and plays upright bass). “I had come from Tennessee where everything is bluegrass or country. That’s how I taught myself how to play.”
Released in 2007, Cheap Date, the duo’s debut album, was hailed by local music critic Gregg Shapiro as “the most impressive album debut in recent memory” in Chicago Free Press. More importantly, it gave Madsen and Strikeback an opportunity to vaunt the onstage aspect of Actor Slash Model, which mixes gender-bending with old-time vaudeville. “We’re really into the idea of spectacle and creating a freak show,” Minax says. “It’s drag, but it’s not gender drag. It’s about creating something that people can’t deny looking at.” That includes dressing in leopard-skin leotards or wearing hair-band costumes. “We make fun of everything,” Strikeback says.
But Cheap Date has yet another raison d’être: Proceeds from the album benefit the Actor Slash Model film project (working title: Me Neither); slated for a summer 2009 completion, the documentary explores the lives of 15 transgender musicians. It began with a desire to network with other trans people. “We knew there were other trans musicians out there,” Strikeback says. “We knew that the reason we didn’t know very many is out of lack of resources. Trans people don’t have access to a lot of things networkwise.” Madsen and Strikeback also wanted to discover the different ways in which trans people negotiated their musicianship, especially as it related to their performance styles. “Your gender identity is a lot different from your sexual orientation when it comes to presenting your body onstage,” Minax says.
What the film is not meant to be is a transgender pity party. “It’s only in the past two years that you could see a trans person on film and have them not be dead,” Strikeback says. Instead, the film focuses on trans people just living their lives. “A lot of what our music and our movie is about is creating this kind of three-dimensional idea,” Minax says. “This is not about my gender identity. This is about me being a human being in the world and making music. This is not a tragedy story.”
In the meantime, Strikeback and Madsen continue playing live shows and hosting fund-raising events for the film, like the “Dirty Thirty” birthday party for Strikeback November 28 at Jackhammer. They hope to submit Me Neither to film festivals by late ’09 but with an unusual goal: “If we can be on Netflix, then awesome,” Minax says. “Some bum-fuck kid in their basement who’s like, ‘I don’t fit, what’s wrong with me?’ can see it.”
Actor Slash Model plays Dyke Mic 2.2 on Thursday 13. The National Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil happens at the Center on Halsted Sunday 16.