There’s a new transgender voice on the mainstream platform; Rhyannon Styles is a performance artist now writing a column for Elle UK. A column in which she reflects on the gender transition she began from male to female in 2012…..
Text JF. Pierets
Je suis une femme fatale
Je suis une animal
Je suis une cathedrale
Je suis asocial
Je suis terminale
Je suis ZU!
Flashback to August 1987. The soon to be legendary club RoXY opened his doors and with house music on the up, things where destined to take a radical change. It’s reputation as a collective, creative stage of self-expression crossed beyond Holland’s borders and the club became famous for it’s excessive shows, it’s insane decorations and daring performances. In 1999, the Amsterdam based cradle of avant-garde meets extravaganza, burned down. Many who experienced the heydays of those unlimited possibilities and libertarian lifestyle talk about RoXY with great nostalgia. ‘We were one big family’ and ‘nobody was a star, we were all the same’ is most often heard. Yet there is always one voice saying ‘yeah right, but I was the biggest star!’.
We meet Zu Browka in Amsterdam in the second hand clothing shop where she works nowadays. Tall, impressive, blond and very sweet; a true bombshell. Born in a small village in Belgium, Zu discovered who she wanted to be at the age of 12: ‘I saw Amanda Lear perform ‘Follow Me’ on television and it was like everything fell into place. I thought: OK! Now I understand who I am! I’m Amanda Lear! So I followed Amanda’s example and became a very beautiful blond model myself’.
Zu first started performing in Berlin at ‘Dollywood’, former ‘Chez Romy Haag’: ‘I started my career as a showgirl, a performer in that cabaret. The place was always filled with celebrities and since Romy was a friend of David Bowie, he also became one of my biggest fans’. Haag, another eccentric underground queen, was one of the biggest names in Berlin’s underground scene. She opened her own kitsch, trashy nightclub, which was frequently visited by artists like Bette Midler, David Bowie, Freddy Mercury and Mick Jagger.
By that time Zu wanted to start her transition: ‘I almost never talk about my operation because in my opinion I’m a woman. I don’t like the word transgender because that’s too much of a box. There is too much moaning on the subject matter’. Her uncle Herman, who was a doctor, provided her with hormones yet Zu got send from one hospital to another: ‘In that time it was very difficult to have a sex change and that’s why I looked for different solutions’. Since Greece was known for easily getting hormones at the pharmacy, Zu and her best Berlin friend Zugar Moon went ahead: ‘In Greece we started taking hormones in order to commence with our transition, yet things quickly started to turn for the worse’. In Mykonos they had to escape from the island because they weren’t able to pay their hotel bill so they went underground, into the clubs and the brothels but finally got busted and spend two years in prison. ‘After two years we got released when Interpol got involved. Two years of rape and torture by the police. I’m planning on writing a book about it since things were beyond the imaginable’.
Zugar Moon returned to Berlin where she committed suicide and Zu returned to Amsterdam in ’86 after a phone call by Joost van Bellen (one of the resident dj’s and the artistic director at RoXY – red.) who told her they were about to open a new club and she could start as a performer: ‘So I became the Roxy Princess! My shows were always over the top but that’s what made me famous. I’ve been yodeling out of my pussy, pulling meters of dirty laundry out of my vagina and putting loads of whipped cream cakes in places where the sun doesn’t shine’.
The list of people Zu worked with during her RoXY days is endless and impressive. She had an instant click with Leigh Bowery, became one of Erwin Olaf’s models and gave birth to a pig in Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books: ‘I have the feeling it all kind of dropped in on me. I never looked for any of this to happen but people saw me, heard about me and that resulted in all those little assignments and performances. I loved doing all those things so one thing led to another. And when I was standing on that stage, seeing people watch me with those ecstatic eyes, I thought; well, it seems like I’m doing a good job.’ The once-in-a-lifetime experience that RoXY aimed for turned out to be a huge success. The interior got changed every six weeks and different artists, and the cabaretesque and extravagant shows gave the place a unique character.
‘The RoXY burned down. Nobody got killed but Zu was the last person to leave the building. She was upstairs, doing her make-up and thinking she had a hot flash. Meanwhile the roof was on fire.’
‘One big family’ is an expression that comes with talking about the club: ‘We all did it for free but we were happy because we could drink all night long. We were all very glad to have a second home like that. It was always fun and always over the top. It wasn’t a place where you could spot your average go-go dancer, no, it always had to be bigger, more colorful, more eccentric’. Zu felt at home, in the company of like minded individuals and lost her heart in the performances – most of the time naked and shameless – she staged: ‘I’ve always been very at ease when it comes to being nude. I used to have an amazing body so it was worth to show off, yet the audience never quite knew what they saw. I didn’t used to be 100% woman so when I was doing a striptease act, there was always something in the way. If you know what I mean’. Zu got her final operation in ’87, in the first two RoXY years: ‘All in all it took me about 6 years before everything was in order so that was quite some time. Luckily that’s all over now so I’m already more than 20 years the most beautiful woman in Amsterdam!’.
Pieter Giele, one of the club’s founders died in the spring of ’99. While celebrating his funeral on June 21st., sparks from fireworks ended up in the climate control system and burned down the club. Nobody got killed but Zu was the last person to leave the building. She was upstairs, doing her make-up and thinking she had a hot flash. Meanwhile the roof was on fire. The burning of the RoXY marked the end of an era and that kind of atmosphere was never to be found: ‘Let bygones be bygones, isn’t that what they say? You have to move on in your life. RoXY was there at exactly the right moment and place, yet times have changed now. Maybe times were more liberated back then and I don’t know why things like that don’t happen anymore. Nowadays everything is so clean and well behaved. Nevertheless, I do think the Roxy was the only place where such a thing was possible’.
Fortunately the iconic Zu didn’t end up together with the club. Music has always been the love of her life so she’s working as a dj now: ‘I won an award for most sexy dj and I made a record with Les deux Electriques called ‘Je suis Zu’. More than 20 years later and Zu doesn’t begin to think of slowing down. She often wonders if people are going to get enough of her, yet they seem to be wanting more. She’s hosting a show on Pinq radio called ‘Tete a tete avec Zu’ and she’s writing a column for RAUW-blog: ‘Let me tell you something, I will always be the Queen of the RoXY, even after all these years. And I never even think about retiring. I guess I’m going to keep on doing things till I drop down dead. Whether they like it or not!’
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