Evicted During a Pandemic: An Artist On the Rocks in LA
Editor’s Note: Is it possible in the midst of a global pandemic that people are still being evicted from their homes? Apparently it is* in southern California, where performance artist Trixie Little has been living, working and entertaining avant-garde enthusiasts for nearly three years. We spoke with Little earlier this week about her vexing plight and — rather than doing a simple story — agreed to let Trixie tell us about her experience in her own words.
Los Angeles — Thursday, 23 April, 2020
Right now, I am sitting at my desk in the back of my 2000 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck in a walled off parking lot of a former kimchi-factory-turned-artist-warehouse in south central Los Angeles. The constant sound of helicopters has returned after a 3 week break and they — along with the drum kit that one of the homeless guys living in a tent nearby acquired and has been learning to play this whole time — give the feeling of being on a battlefield. I’ve been camped out in my truck for a month now, after a falling out with my artist roommates who are forcing me to move out in seven days (yes, even during quarantine*).
I moved in here 3 months ago, believing that after a 2.5 year slog in LA I had finally found my people and a place where I could make my avant-garde cabaret shows and maybe get back to making more of my income through my art. Despite my ongoing search for jobs the whole time I’ve lived in LA, I was only able to get a dog walking job (dogs have been my main friends in LA). More recently, I was working as a receptionist at the legendary Trashy Lingerie, which was fun and gave me lots of free time for reading/writing, but it was minimum wage, and included an hour long commute in rush hour both ways, making it an 11 hour day that didn’t even earn me $100/day. It didn’t come close to covering all my bills, so side hustles were on too.
I wasn’t surprised to be the first one let go from Trashy and I applied right away for food assistance and unemployment, which I’ve never applied for in my life before because I was a self-employed artist and we don’t have those options. For once, I thought I had done it right! I had a legit job and I could get unemployment- it would be ok! I received 2 letters and an email confirmation that my claim was received, but since then, I have heard nothing and have been unable to get through to anyone in those offices. The stimulus money went out, though not to me, and a few of my generous fans and friends sent me some of theirs to get me by, which I am so grateful for. I have kept searching and applying for jobs all the while, using the extra time to build the projects I already had going online- a podcast about artists who have followed their dreams and an online cabaret school.
I melted down hard and early in this quarantine, in the very first week. I felt as if my prison sentence had just gotten extended. I had already been struggling with poverty and loneliness from life in LA for so long, I was crushed. I spent 3 days numb and immobile in bed, convinced I was going to get old and die penniless and single in LA. My life here has been so tenuous that depression is like a wrestler who won’t let me out of the ring and keeps dragging me in for one more round. I know, I know. Everyone already hated LA, even warned me about coming here, but I was naive. I thought “how bad could it be? Surely it can’t be that bad, I’ve traveled the world to perform in shows and every city has an underground artist community, right?” I was sure I’d find a place to fit in.
After about 10 years in New York, a divorce, a car accident and a falling out with my creative community, I had to go somewhere and it just seemed like it was LA-o’clock for me. So, I did it. Showed up with nothing and after 2.5 years, have only managed to make a very meager life for myself. It should be noted here that I only wanted to live in LA to find a new audience for my shows and be around talented artists. I was never trying to “make it” here in any conventional way. I don’t even have a head shot because I’ve always done avant-garde work. I never thought you had to live in LA or NY to have success. I just like being around a lot of other talented artists. It fuels me. So, I gave it a shot.
Now, with only one week before I have to move, a few hundred dollars in my account, and no credit card, I am, quite literally, a mess. I have barely eaten. My nerves are so shot, I have thrown up my morning tea 3 mornings this week. I have been crying all day today because I am going to have to make a video asking for money in order to move. My agony over this is indeed double because I ALREADY have had a bad couple of years and asked everyone who loves me for help already. And not that I wanted to stay in LA, but at a certain point I couldn’t figure out how I’d get the money to leave either.
I can write a whole book on what I learned from my time in LA, but this particular experience I’m having is shocking to me. What kind of a world is it when artists decide to evict another unemployed artist during an international pandemic? It messes with my core belief that we artists are part of the same tribe. I don’t believe I could do that to someone, were the situation reversed. As someone 8–15 years older than the 5 other artists here, I’ve weighed the generational aspects; the fragility of millennials has been a treacherous sea of eggshells on which I’ve been trying to continue walking my path without much success. Though, in addition, there is no denying that proximity to money and power here in LA has a poisoning effect on art and community, which contributes to people being treated as disposable.
I was inspired to write this essay today after reading this New York Times article by Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner of the E. Village restaurant Prune, a place I am very familiar with. In it, she said: “the coronavirus did not suddenly shine light on an unknown fragility. We’ve all known, and for a rather long time. The past five or six years have been alarming.” She goes on to recount the slow demise of civility caused by instant gratification consumerist culture, while navigating rents rising like glaciers along the way. As a live entertainer, my heart ached with the familiarity of that story. The real, the quirky, the spontaneous, the innocent and un-packaged experiences that were full of synchronicity and poetry, seem like a distant memory. To me, artists (and other eccentrics, which I would consider Gabrielle to be) are like tree frogs in the rainforest. When the tree frogs start dying off, it’s a reflection of the health of the whole ecosystem. And this frog has been struggling to stay alive for a long time now. This situation is just exposing a problem that was already there.
Artists are also bringing comfort to everyone right now, as we all gorge on Netflix, books and music to make sense of things, distract or to inspire us. Many people, some of my family included, believe it’s indulgent, bordering on insane, for me to follow this path. In the past week I have been told that I am too old to try be sexy anymore, should give up performing, that I’m delusional, that I should sell/throw out all my costumes, that pursuing my creative career is like an alcoholic chasing booze, that I should give up and “get serious.” Practical advice from people that are close to me, but even they don’t actually understand what I do.
Artists are pioneers, explorers, shaman. We live on the outer edges of society in order to dream outside of conformity and social conventions, in order to keep us from buying into all of the systems that oppress us. Someone has to stay free, so we all remember how to. After college, I started a non-profit that made synchronized swimming and rollerskating shows in public parks. I intentionally experimented with a non-hierarchical power structure to organize big community shows that were truly inclusive: all you had to do was show up to the rehearsals. Artists experiment with alternative social structures and ways of organizing that free the spirit, that are less about rules and more about environments where everyone can be their weird self without judgement.
As I moved from community shows in Baltimore on to my acrobatic-burlesque career in NY, I wanted to be a strong, sexy bad ass. I wanted to make populist entertainment that poked at taboos, but in a fun way with sex and humor — a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I believed I could also fight ageism and boring standards of beauty by becoming the change I wanted to see. I worked my ass off at nightclubs, theaters, festivals, you name it — to deliver my subversive message of individuality to the muggles! I have had a scrappy career as a maverick artist somehow for 20 years now. I know I’m lucky for that, and, as most sensible people are telling me now, it might be time to give it all up for good. Even though I’ve only been making my art on the side (and not as my income) since I got here, I may not raise enough money to bring my life’s work — with me again. I just have a lot of stuff, all of it what I consider my “creative babies.” I may not pull this off. My artist friends, however, know the existential anguish and soul-loss that “giving up on my dream” would entail. A true prison of the heart.
I agree with Gabrielle, that things have been “not-right” for a long time and everyone has been accepting the march of endless consumerism and corporate fueled technology without really looking clearly at what kind of culture that it has been spawning. Small communities have been turning hatefully on each other over any perceived offense for years now by “canceling” people out with public shamings online, or setting rigid “boundaries” that are in themselves incredibly intolerant.
I had my own run-in with “cancel culture” and public shamings on Facebook in 2017, back in NYC. The thing about public shaming is that it really works — it really does destroy people’s lives — no one wanted to work with me, I lost friends I had had for 10–15 years and was effectively kicked out of my chosen family (a feeling of loss greater than anything I’ve ever felt). All because I was saying then the same thing I’m saying now:
This is not the way we want to go.
Gavin Haynes recently wrote a stirring article about how “cancel culture” has also played out in a progressive knitting community, which gave me reassurance that it wasn’t just artistic strippers being catty, but actually a phenomenon that was happening in many creative communities all over the world.
Blaming, shaming and the inability to tolerate differences of opinion, are all very immature reactions. That is not a world I’m going to participate in. Stand in your truth, be brave enough to speak it with conviction, risk thinking for yourself, dare to be passionate. NO MATTER WHAT. I learned that from the greats: Gandhi, Emerson, Lou Reed, Jesus, Prince, Martin Luther King, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Oprah.
A few years ago, as influencers started to take over roles previously reserved for real artists, it felt as if audiences didn’t even know the difference anymore. It was like there was a “deadening of the senses” to what is real and true. I even took a year off of Instagram, but because I was so lonely in LA, I wound up going back to it. But instead of chasing “followers” (a gross word to me), my response was to double down on quality, believing that if I made the work well and did it to the best of my ability, I could find a small niche audience again. I had always done well just setting out in a direction and then I could move mountains, but my super powers have felt powerless these last few years.
Generational differences, technology addiction, ageism, corporate capitalism, cancel culture, not to mention the 3-ring circus of US politics…the myriad forces at work on my life that have conspired to keep me in poverty are huge. And sure, I should’ve planned better for disaster. I’ve been trying to remedy that since my divorce to no avail. Jobs are also very scarce and incredibly competitive. No joke — in November 2019, I applied for a job at Trader Joe’s. They told me they had over 1200 applicants and even after THREE interviews, I didn’t get the job.
It feels intolerant and cruel that I am being kicked out by a group of younger artists during such a confusing international crisis. Though this is consistent with my experience in LA, it feels related to what happened in NY too. There has been a growing phenomenon of communities being torn apart by the “purity spiral” of hyper-vigilant politically-correctness and “too-much-woke-ness.” In my case, at this warehouse, I was too passionate, “too intense” (something I hear over and over again in LA) but ultimately I was causing too many problems because I don’t agree with the extreme behavior policing being enforced in what was supposed to be a creative community.
Frankly, these are not people I belong with and I do need to go, but the forcefulness and lack of kindness with which my eviction is being done is mind boggling. Just yesterday I was told I wasn’t packing fast enough and if they didn’t see more action on that front by Friday, they would start doing it for me. It’s not enough that I’ve been living in my truck in the parking lot for 4 weeks and they took away a giant rack I had all my stuff on, which rendered my rehearsal space useless, now, I’m not packing fast enough. Hell, I might take them up on it, because, I am kinda busy trying to find a home in a new city, raise $3–4000 and not throw up. So, some help packing would be SWELL.* (*this is sarcasm, for those that still appreciate it.)
So, here I am now, under a barrage of helicopters, terrified about what is going to happen, not just to me, but to all of us. Especially if we start shaming and blaming artists for not having a better safety net and “conforming” sooner. We are all co-creating this world together. How we treat one is how we treat all. Sharing my quarantine experience is humbling, bordering on humiliating. Asking for money ranks up there with mammograms and pap smears to me. I struggle with my pride a lot and I’m sure I have made things harder on myself for it, but integrity matters a great deal to me. But so does survival.
Just take a minute to imagine the world where all the odd ducks are stamped out by behavior police. This sadly reminds me of the history of German cabarets in Berlin just before the rise of the Nazis. What was once a flourishing, inclusive, boundary-pushing scene was at first co-opted by conformists who made the artists write propaganda shows and then it was decided to be morally bankrupt and shut down entirely. To me, it doesn’t matter who is doing it, when a vibrant art form like cabaret (comedy has also suffered a lot) is being censored and threatened, society should take notice. It’s a red flag. And now, artists are self-censoring out of fear of backlash, which is even worse.
What we choose to support right now matters a great deal. There are going to be a lot of losses for people who don’t deserve it. Small businesses will disappear and we may be left with mostly big box stores for a while. Artists will be absorbed into the “normal” world and those of us who were trying to dream a just world into reality will have to shelve those plans indefinitely. I don’t know why our culture only values artists after they make money (or after they’re dead!) but you might find that you need more of us around, a few of the “real ones” — the actual artists who can anchor you in what’s actually important when everything else falls away — which is really just love.
Many people have a “see, I told you so” attitude towards me. And if you believe that life is about acquiring a house and working so you can vacation in retirement, then I understand why you might choose to see me as an aging showgirl who delusionally ignored responsibility my whole life following a whim. But I have also traveled the world, lived and loved with my whole soul and made a ton of brilliant mistakes. Perhaps, I’ve been winning at life?
I can’t control the lens with which people choose to judge my circumstances. But here’s another option: you could choose to see me as an outlier on the edges of our society who is walking her truest path, so you remember how to walk yours. You could also choose to see me as someone who has been sounding a bell, trying to alert us to the fact that we have been going the wrong way, for many years now. When we choose to divide over unite, isolate over connect, or evict rather than reconcile, we don’t grow. Life isn’t about feeling good, it’s about growth. I do believe we can make the hard parts fun (and sometimes even funny!) but, really, we are here to grow and love and we can only be stronger together.
With an impending recession, I will be blessed and grateful to get any job at all. I am already preparing myself for what I might lose in the next week alone:
-If I am unable to afford to take my life’s work and tools of my trade, I will have to let them go.
-If I am unable to raise enough money for a move, I will likely have to go back to Baltimore.
-If my old truck breaks down on my way across the country, I guess I will walk.
I will simply continue putting one foot in front of the other until I die. I just wish there wasn’t so much extra difficulty being added to an already horrible mess.
As for my roommates, I am gutted by the treatment I’m being given. I believe it’s more valuable to build systems of mutual flourishing than it is to enforce strict rules and codes of conduct. Rigidity is punitive and it tends to break people. By contrast, I have a lot of experience with creating successful systems of mutual flourishing, if only I could find others interested in doing things differently and not this same old, tired way. I feel more like a political dissident than anything right now, which seems crazy for someone who really just loves dancing naked and making dick jokes. I just can’t find the people who speak my language anymore. I’m having trouble finding my tribe and we need each other. I need you, wherever you are.
My fate is, literally, in your hands. If I can find a home outside of LA, if I can raise the money, if I can get out of here peacefully, with all that I hold dear — it will be a miracle.
*Apparently, it is legal for them to kick me out because I was only offered a trial 3 month agreement to begin with, not a year long lease. They are choosing to enforce that agreement.
(Those wishing to help Trixie at this time are encouraged to do so via her gofundme page)
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