“I’m a bitch, and I want you to know it now,” Saturn Rising sings during his New Year’s show. His set begins at midnight, ushering in 2018 for those of us at Traición, the most popular queer party in Mexico City. Saturn stands center stage on a platform with metal bars that frame his physical form, flooded in blue and green fog. By the end of the set, he’ll have used most of those bars as his personal playground, swinging and stretching and occupying as much physical space as possible.
At more than 6-feet tall, with his long blonde braids swinging and his chiseled abs undulating beneath his crop top, Saturn’s energy on stage is as palpably kinetic as it is esoteric. His movement is hypnotizing, and the crowd, myself included, is going crazy for the reggaeton-inspired remixes he’s performing from his Darkest Dream EP.
As his name may suggest, Saturn is a cosmic force.
After enjoying a career as a popular go-go dancer all over the Bay Area — at so-called “gay” and “straight” parties alike — Saturn’s since emerged as a recording artist, opening for Azealia Banks as well as touring Korea, Mexico City and the U.S. last year.
On stage, Saturn emanates a pop aura reminiscent of Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. It’s no surprise then that he considers these women, TLC, and most especially, The Spice Girls, among his biggest influences. In fact, the morning after Saturn divulges to me not only how important The Spice Girls are to him, but also how controversial his adoration of the women was at times within the Christian community and family he grew up in, The Spice Girls announced their new comeback tour in what we both considered a grand display of synchronicity.
Also among the things we discussed — his dad setting all of his Spice Girls albums on fire, the challenging relationship he had with his parents overall and why he believes the country would be much better off with a black trans woman as president.
There’s an expectation for entertainers occupying certain marginalized identities to also be activists. Do you then consider yourself an activist as much as you do an entertainer?
The self-love I have despite the way the world has treated people like me is an act of resistance. I’ll always rally for what I believe in, and entertaining is my way of doing that. As an artist, I want to inspire other people to do what they need to do for themselves. I practice self-love everyday because I need to make sure I have what I need to be who I am and share that with other people. Because I felt like I didn’t have that, I want to give it.
Did your family not support your ambition to dance?
I started dancing when I was about eight, or around the same time I started going to therapy for issues related to all of the homophobia I experienced as a little boy. At the time, I couldn’t understand why people, even my mom, didn’t like me dancing. Through therapy, I learned to focus on my feelings and focus on how I felt about myself, versus what other people thought of me. So in elementary school, I put on little concerts at my school and would make my friends pretend we were the Spice Girls. I’d teach them the parts at recess, and we’d perform at lunch.
The Spice Girls were my heroines. My mom would give me money for hot lunch, and I wouldn’t eat so that I could save it for Spice Girls CDs. I was advanced. At seven or eight years old, I’d call Borders or Tower Records and ask for them to order the import CD, because the import CD had a B-side, and I wanted the B-side.
I loved how the Spice Girls all hung out with each other — the black one, the bougie one, the dumb one, the hypersexualized one, the sporty one. They were all united, crazy and having hella fun. Those were the girls who saved me, seeing how they behaved and got along. I wish I’d had more access to gay male heroes and influencers over the years, but they were removed from the narrative I grew up with.
Did you get flack for your Spice Girl obsession as a kid? Even today, boys aren’t really encouraged to have female role models.
My family always says I didn’t learn how to read in school, but that I learned how to read so I could learn more about the Spice Girls — tabloids, magazines and biographies. But one day, my dad was just like, “Okay, I’m sick of this gay shit. I’m really sick of it. Give me all of your Spice Girls stuff.” He took all of it and burned it. The memory I have of this happening is him putting it all in a car and setting it on fire. But he definitely didn’t set the car on fire — that’s just my child’s mind. He definitely took my shit away and burned it up though.
Even then, I understood that he was evil and crazy for doing that, and that what I was doing was innocent and not something that deserved that kind of reaction. Luckily, at both of my grandmothers’ houses, I could still dress up and perform as them.
My mom is homophobic too. Not in an extreme or violent sense, but it’s definitely something that troubles her. I see her changing though, and I tell her, “Your homophobia and my queerness are working together. They’re making me tough for this world and they’re making you accepting.”
Have your parents become more accepting over time?
My mom called me the other day and said, “You know babe, I was just talking to my coworkers, and I shared how when you first started performing as a kid, you were killing it. You were the best little dancer up there, but I couldn’t enjoy it back then. I wanted to know why you were twisting so hard. You were just showing me who you were and what you were here to do.”
When she told me this, I had to take a moment and receive what she was saying because I had so much anger and hurt from all of those times growing up when she didn’t appreciate my talents.
Dancing is only just now becoming something that’s light and fun for me. Before, I was a really angry dancer. I was dancing out of anger and pain, which I still tap into sometimes, but it’s no longer my whole story. I’ve released a lot of trauma dancing. I’d be on stage like, “Nobody in my life, or in my family, wants me to do this, but now I’m on stage and people are believing this.”
I feel like a lot of people interpret your tall, strong physique as masculine, but I’ve heard you identified by just about every pronoun. Do you feel connected to your masculinity, or do you feel genderless sometimes?
I personally feel genderless, but I often feel gendered by other people, and that depends on their context. Like, this is a men’s magazine and I’m sort of being talked to as a man, but I use whatever pronoun. As a performer, I don’t ever want people to be concerned about my gender. Either you like my music or you don’t. You like my look, or you don’t. But I don’t want you to try to confine what I do to any single gender or gender expression. What I do doesn’t need to be confined to that.
Since you mentioned that MEL is a men’s magazine, and you told me your new roommate is this heteronormative dude, what advice do you give men today who feel unsure of how to adjust to a world where generations of masculine violence is being exposed?
My roommate is amazing. He’s straight and white. I say things to him all the time like, “You know it’s over for you right?” He’s like, “What?” And I’m like, “Being a man. It’s just over. At least as you know it.” Masculinity is so flawed, and the heteronormative man thing is ending — not yet at the institutional level, but the cultural sentiment.
Men have to start from scratch. You have to let go of it all. Anything you consider as essential to your masculinity has to go. Men need to question themselves and ask, “Am I fucked up? Do I really think beliefs or behaviors different than my own are lesser than mine?”
Men need to learn that they don’t come first. Nobody wants men to die off, we just want you to internalize that you don’t come first. Your existence, your safety and your well-being doesn’t come first.
Today’s men need to understand that other existences and life experiences are just as important, if not more, than yours. Men, ask yourself, “Why do I think I know more?”
Intersectional identities, on the other hand, make for some of the smartest people in existence, because as our minority experiences intersect, we gain more insight and experiences into many aspects of society. You know who the real geniuses of the world are? Black trans women. Make a black trans women president; she will be better qualified than our present options. Black trans women have the whole world stacked against them and they still survive, they still flourish. That’s intelligence.
Men need to address this before they pass it on to their male children. Ask yourself what kind of dad you are, but also what kind of dad, husband, cousin, friend and brother you are, if you’re not willing to undo some of this misogynist thinking before it negatively impacts your kids. “Deal with your child Papas” — that’s the message.