The first time I witnessed Betty Grumble perform I was spellbound. With an innate sense of sexual fluidity, she embraced gender ambiguity through her aesthetic in such a powerfully confident way that would cause envy to even the most liberated at her clear sense of freedom. Self-defined as a ‘sex clown’, she proudly lives up to the title, ensuing hilarity with her provocative antics that challenge the audience to disregard their pre-existing notions surrounding the ‘taboo’ nature of sex; to accept our human nature as sexual beings and develop a positive discourse regarding sex & the human body. But that’s not where Betty’s artistic voice ends. Being a multi-faceted performer, she addresses vital feminist and political issues in an often controversial way that is paving the way for a new generation of revolutionary minds – because when did change ever occur from repeating the mundane?
How did Betty Grumble evolve as an alter ego into who she is today?
I have always said I created Betty Grumble as a survival mechanism in a world that wants to regulate and control bodies – especially women’s bodies. She is a mask, war paint and vessel for my shawomanly resistance. Across the years of performing and developing her, Betty has evolved to include more fluid ways of being. From a quite literal relaxing of rules around her aesthetics, to the development of big feeling around sexual liberation and pleasure as a radical act. We have both been doing an unshaming dance together through our practice, and, the more we have both grown as women, the more Betty and I have a desire to commune with the natural world. Discovering ecosexuality and realising Betty’s inherent feminist fecundity has opened our sense of adventure and given our ethos a more complex relationship to our sacred mantra of Love and Anger.
Are there many similarities between Betty Grumble the performer and Emma Maye the woman behind the mask, or are the two personas kept entirely separate from one another?
Betty is the physical manifestation of the laugh Emma Maye emits when experiencing wild abandon or cackling back at the idea that there is only one way of being. They are simultaneously separate and together, different and in union. I’m not sure when the slippage begins or ends sometimes. I’m still reaching for her in moments of fatigue at societies relentless apathy or active destruction of bodies of difference. We invent ourselves as we go along… I think the notion that there are fixed states in any ways of being is arresting to freedom. I want to honour ‘identity’, but it is also something that flows. We are all masculine and feminine, Earth and Water, here and there. The thing that counts is the grace in which we allow the space for change and rule bending.
Your ‘January 26th’ performance received some mixed responses. Did you anticipate that there would be such a negative reaction?
When you play with symbols that are sacred in different ways to different people there is always the danger of a negative reaction, which is valid and important to the dialogue that performance can open up. When we blacked out the Australian Flag on January 26th it was a reaction to a government that continues to ignore the apartheid state we live in. As a non-indigenous woman, blacking out the flag on that day was a physical description of what that day feels like, a day of ignorance, of mourning and a literal ‘black out’ on ‘black history’. I had been asked to perform an act and decided after attending the rally that day that I wanted to instead perform a simple gesture that expressed how I felt about that day and indeed the flag. Blacking out a flag doesn’t erase all the history underneath it, it doesn’t change the people who love this country for its greatness, it is one gesture of dissent against a tidal wave of patriotic misplacement that is continuing to cause immense pain and end lives.
How do you deal with negative feedback?
You listen and you learn from it. I learnt a lot from the conversation that followed that piece. It made me really assess my right to express what I did and when. Commentary of this nature is only powerful when it amplifies and stands in solidarity with the community. It’s difficult terrain because the wound is so open and we have to be up for criticism.
What inspires you as a performer?
I am inspired by resilience and strength. I am inspired by daring acts of silliness that can humanise and rally a room. I am inspired by survivors, by amazons and glamazons, by the transgressive bodies that heave on dance floors, of creativity and sex, nature erotics and the kaleidoscope of human society in all its pain and beauty.
Do you have a pre-performance mantra or routine that helps you switch to Betty?
Yes, I often say ‘Love and Anger’ or ‘Love and Light’ as a little verbal massage. I also visualise powerful and sacred people. Lately I have been visualising Candy Royalle, Annie Sprinkle, Peaches, Glitta Supernova, The Members of Gang of She, My Mother and my Aunt Lynda Gibson. Breathing and laughter are also great lubricators before taking the stage or embracing my fellow show people….and if you are real lucky, touching the soil calms me, glitter helps too.
For the more politically fuelled performances, is there ever a line that you won’t cross, or do you prefer to push the boundaries to the limits?
Hmmm. I probably wouldn’t kill anyone or anything. Although, I shouldn’t rule an assassination out of the equation given the current state of things. The lines are blurring and shifting constantly, we assess as we go. The question though is always, “who has the power?” and we go from there.
If you had the opportunity to perform in front of U.S. President Trump, what would you do?
What makes your blood boil?
The tyranny of the mundane and its tendrils of Entitlement.
You’ve previously defined yourself as a feminist performer. How do you address intersectional feminism within your performances?
Feminism, like so many forms of resistance has experienced commodification. It, in some ways has been bought and sold back to us as a chic and stylish thing. (Society does this to movements that threaten the status quo. Just look at punks, queers, rock n’ roll etc.) Elements of this process are helpful in making Feminism more relatable and inclusive, but the other side of this has meant mainstream Feminism has become somewhat White and somewhat Elite in its commercial presence. Feminism at its core should be about fighting inequality for women wherever it exists. All pain and beauty are connected, so the oppression of people of colour needs to be at the forefront of Feminist resistance, for what we are seeing world wide for all people is the brutalisation of bodies of colour. This is directly connected to the white supremacy of the Western World and our deliberate amputation from the Earth for the benefit of pro-war capitalism. I address intersectionality within my performance by a literal speaking towards it, Betty, in her relationship and conversation with Gaia in ‘Sex Clown Saves The World’ has a frank and obvious discussion with the audience about the plight of human pain on Earth, regarding the world and stating: “War, war, Apartheid, genocide… Normal, yeah? Oh the brutalisation of black, brown, bodies of difference, you’re of colour? Arab? Ouch! Look out babies they are out to get you ain’t they?”. I also reflect on my own wog lineage, my mother’s and father’s experience of racism and how that connects us to a global push back against the whitewashing of history and even, art.
Your level of self-love and body confidence is inspiring. Have you always been so comfortable in your own skin?
I have always been a ‘Sheila’-Na-Gig, an exhibitionist. My relationship to my fleshy self has also become more intense onstage as I react to experiences of having my sexual agency removed from me and seeing it removed from women everywhere. Betty has allowed me to reclaim my wild womanhood in the face of male violence. I think women connect with this energy, the declaration of ‘It’s My Body’ and the rejection of the normalisation of the very boring and non-stop sex shame. Fuck off now with that please and thank you. Our woman bodies align with the Earth body as it is raped and annihilated, so we dance and rub up against each other, we power up, we Grumble. Get down with the sexually liberated divine feminine, as we are all born through woman blood, we are all women. Stop killing us. Stop killing us. Love yourself. Get Free. Matriarchy IS NOW.
Are there any subjects you are passionate about that you haven’t had the chance to cover in a performance yet?
I want to collaborate with more bodies that can teach me new ways of moving and expressing. Bodies of physical and cultural difference, people whose stories and ethos can infect and grow my making and ability to reach beyond my own lived experience.
What’s in store for Betty next?
Betty and I are touring Grumble: Sex Clown Saves The World and are working on a new show. We didn’t save it yet…. So we gotta try… AGAIN.