CALICO DIVA. A youthful dream about being kidnapped by terrifying alien women helped put Miss Kitty Galore, social activist, author, housing worker and burlesque dancer, on a racy road to revolution. (Image by Paula Wilson)
BODY POLITIC / Social justice never looked so glamorous
Story by Samantha Sarra / Xtra October 14, 2004
Housing worker and children’s author by day, burlesque dancer by night — welcome to the wacky world of Miss Kitty Galore, the gutsy and glittery hostess at numerous bar events about town. Before the clock strikes 12, she’s known as Kristyn Dunnion, but don’t let the jeans and T-shirt fool you, there’s a diva in there.
She can mix Jesus and stripping, eye shadow and anarchy and, given the chance, will continue to shake her fanny until we are all shaken awake. There is meaning to the madness, a message in the makeup.
Leave it to Dunnion to write a children’s book centred on the plot of a missing child. Published in fall of 2003 by Red Deer Press, Missing Matthew is a novel for eight to 12 year olds, and features the exploits of “the rebel rescue squad.” Although the characters are fictional, the setting was inspired by the one-stoplight-town where Dunnion grew up.
She may be brazen and bold on stage, but when it comes to her age or sheltering her parents from shame, Dunnion is remarkably bashful. In keeping, she won’t disclose the name of the town, because her folks still live there. She will however let it slip that it’s in southwestern Ontario and is billed as the home of the Goose, a goose statue in the centre of town.
So picture if you can, young Kristyn, growing up in Gooseville, sitting up late at night, ruining her eyesight by reading Nancy Drew and Little House On The Prairie under her covers. When finally she does read herself into a precious slumber, provocative little thoughts start to percolate.
“As a youngster, I had an erotic dream that I was held captive on a UFO filled with terrifying and sexy women who force fed me something from a makeup compact, cream blusher. And this substance weakened me so that I did the dirty things they demanded,” recalls Dunnion. “I woke up and thought it was a good dream. And that’s when I wondered if maybe I liked girls.”
Dunnion describes the rest of her formative years as, “playing dress up, detective, Charlie’s Angels and other outdoor femme sports.” She announced to her mother as a child that she was either going to be a writer or a rock star.
Eventually, the little gosling flew the coop and migrated to Montreal to do a BA, and later a masters in English at the University Of Guelph.
Her writing began with zines, a comic strip she called Mud Flaps, and soon Miss Kitty Galore would be born. “I got the name from a feline companion I had who was 15 years old,” says Dunnion. “I started using her name as a tribute to the calico diva. It also comes from the Bond girl.”
Dunnion was first seduced by burlesque by watching old movies, saying she was drawn by their “feminine expression of power. And I had an appreciation for that type of fashion.”
So it may be no surprise that her bedroom is riddled with fake leopard print, feather boas, wigs and a lot of sex toys. To catch a glimpse of Miss Kitty Galore in all her glory, eager eyes can head to the Gladstone Hotel on Sun, Oct 17 for Canzine.
An explosion of Canadian zinesters, this all-ages event also has an erotic cabaret starting at 4pm. Hosting will be the feline diva herself and undoubtedly the audience can expect thoughtful red light romps.
So who is this woman behind the mystique? When asked for her worst nightmare she replies, “Global annihilation.” Her ultimate fantasy? “Global domination… in high heels.” Does she believe in God? “I believe in dog.” What does she pray for? “Rain and revolution.” In her fridge: “Beer, organic produce and no animals!” Rules to live by: “Don’t follow rules and don’t hurt anybody unless they ask you, nicely.”
Dunnion belongs to many collectives, including the one organizing the upcoming Toronto Anarchist Bookfair on Sat, Oct 23 from 10am to 4pm at the 519 Community Centre. The fair will house books as well as free workshops. “We have to make sure that radical books and information are available to people.”
Even sassy crusaders need to pay rent and Dunnion works in housing with adults who have severe mental health issues. “Activism is important to me because I have a feeling of wanting social justice,” she says. “It’s important — people are entitled to it no matter what.”
A self-described “punk/anarchist, anti- consumer, anti-capitalist,” Dunnion doesn’t believe that marriage and kids are where queer politics needs to go.
“We need to be examining the culture we live in; it is a cruel, capitalist system. We need to look at the bigger picture, global trade and international relations. I don’t think it’s in many corpor-nations’ fiscal plans to imagine, work for and/or establish peace. Instead of fighting over crumbs that fall off the table, we need to be taking the table apart.”
Dunnion lives with her current girlfriend of three years who is studying to be a lawyer. “Which is good, because I’ll probably need a lawyer one day,” jokes Dunnion.
“I don’t say I’m a lesbian, because my focus isn’t just who I’m sleeping with. Queer is not only a different identity but a different take on the world.”
Dunnion’s second book, a punk rock novel called Mosh Pit, is about to be released by Red Deer Books. She studied with editor Peter Carver, and credits him for her success as a writer.
Dunnion describes the book as “a queer punk rock love tragedy. It will never make it on the school list; it’s got the mandate of sex, drugs and rock and roll.” The book will be launched on Sun, Nov 7 at Nicholas Hoare Books.
Mosh Pit includes scenes of girl-on-girl action and one character becomes addicted to crack. It is also a book about relationships. “The drugs are not the main point,” says Dunnion. “It is just one type of poison. Toxic relationships are just as bad.
“The book is about developing your own autonomy, being responsible for yourself. It is the celebration of one character who figures that out.
“The idea for the book came from me wanting to make a female version of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders,” says Dunnion. “A rough, raw, nurturing alternative family. In the book they live by the pirates’ code: It’s okay to steal from a bank, but you can’t steal from your best friend.”
Dunnion, who loves punk, has written in a soundtrack to the story, featuring all her favourite music. When asked why punk, she quotes one of her role models Wendy O Williams of the Plasmatics who said, “So young, so bad, so what?!”
Dunnion compares her writing style to that of Irish storytelling, which she says she gets from her father’s side of the family. “It’s like laughing at a wake or crying at the dinner table.”
Not all tassels and twilight, this diva wields her pen with much might working to advance the plight of humankind. Whether answering to Miss Kitty Galore or Kristyn Dunnion, you can count on fun, fantasy and fearlessness. “I feel like a teenager and I live like one but I certainly am not one,” she boasts, still not revealing too much about her age.
* The free Canzine fest is open from 1pm to 7pm on Sun, Oct 17 at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St W). Miss Kitty Galore’s erotic cabaret starts at 4pm; for info, got to Brokenpencil.com. The Toronto Anarchist Bookfair runs from 10am to 4pm on Sat, Oct 23 at the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St); for info, go to Ontario. indymedia.ca/twiki/bin/view/Toronto/ BookfairHome.v