If it’s the first Friday of the month, you’re going to see a line snaking out of Berlin that extends past the entrance to the Belmont CTA station and sometimes around the block. It’s populated by people in leather miniskirts and mesh crop tops, disco bambis and alien centaurs, club mystics with lashes so long you can bounce fantasies off them, and other creatures of the night. They’re on a pilgrimage to experience Strapped, the gender-inclusive dyke night founded by drag queens Siichele and Irregular Girl, a performance artist who will grace the Steppenwolf stage later this summer.
“I really believe in the power of nightlife as a place where people who are marginalized—who aren’t of the status quo—are able to meet and celebrate one another and live out fantasies turned realities,” she explains.
That Shit’s Trans: Live!
Wed 7/20, 8 PM, Steppenwolf 1700 Theater, 1700 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650, steppenwolf.org, $15
Irregular Girl is the Live Laugh Latina of clubland, and her body of work highlights her range of irregularities as assets while refusing to hide how remarkably ordinary she is. When she’s not onstage welcoming the city’s hungriest children like a hot witch in a gingerbread house, she enjoys spending time with her husband and parents. She tans at the beach and bops to Britney Spears, plays video games and watches Real Housewives. Wait, I thought we were describing an irregular girl. What’s so irregular about this one? And once we know, how do we let that information shape our behavior?
Since cis womanhood is the cultural default of womanhood, one of the things that makes Irregular Girl “irregular” is being trans; thus, much of her persona is built on embracing what makes transness and especially trans womanhood unique and beautiful. Her drag is one example of this, but another is her talk show, That Shit’s Trans!, where she connects with local trans artists to discuss their work as well as popular media that’s shaped their trans experience—for instance, Sailor Moon finding a compact that completely transforms her. After filming a pilot episode for OTV last year, she performed a live version at the Logan Theatre in November. Now she’ll be joined by dancer and choreographer Darling Shear for a live show at Steppenwolf on July 20 (part of the theater’s ongoing LookOut series).
By touching on “regular” media, she allows audiences into her and her friends’ worlds without letting onlookers decide the terms of discussion. But why should that bother anyone? Would you interrupt the coolest girl in the room after she’s invited you to eavesdrop on conversations with some of Chicago’s most groundbreaking artists? (And if so, uh, do you have something against cool people? Wait, are you saying Irregular Girl is TOO exceptional for your tastes—that she’s not, dare I say, regular enough? It’s in the name, people: She is IRREGULAR!!)
Irregular Girl—or Regina Rodriguez, as she’s known when the makeup comes off—moved with her family from Peru to Chicago when she was seven. Raised mostly in Edgewater, she attended an arts high school where she concentrated on sculpture, then continued her studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she focused mainly on fibers and performance art. As her arts education evolved, so did the questions she was asking herself about her gender, what it was, and how she was manifesting it in both her work and her everyday life. If gender is a performance, how do we define sincerity? What separates art and artifice? In what ways can and do these ideas live in harmony? What’s fun about the discord?
Meanwhile, she was drawing inspiration from people such as Ana Mendieta, Tania Bruguera, Carolee Schneemann, and Billie Zangewa. She was exhibiting and performing in places like the Art Institute of Chicago, MCA, and Queens Museum in New York as well as a slate of local galleries, including Mana Contemporary and Zhou B. She’s had an assortment of fellowships and artist residencies, including as a project curator for the A.I.R. Gallery in New York. It was there, in 2016, that she started doing drag.
“I’d just turned 21 and had just started going out,” she says, laughing, “and I noticed the drag queens always getting free drinks. I was like, ‘OK, I want free drinks.’ That’s literally why I started doing drag. Just broke in New York. But I was able to express my gender more outwardly there because I wasn’t around my parents or anybody I knew. I was able to experiment and experience my gender by myself and for the first time figure out what I liked just for me.”
Her initial drag persona was Mason Jar. But when she decided she wanted to undergo medical transition in 2018, she adopted the name Irregular Girl.
“As Irregular Girl, I don’t perform positivity as much as hope,” she says. “It’s really, really heavy to live as a person of color. And with all of this anti-trans legislation, it’s really, really difficult to wake up every day and feel the reality of living in a country that doesn’t value you, see you, respect you for what you know is your truth. It’s heavy and hard, but I’m trying my best to share the parts of myself that I hid for so long in hopes that other people will want to share that of themselves, too. . . . It’s heavy and a lot of work, but it’s what keeps that hope alive inside of me to continue to free myself and other people’s minds of what they think they know. And to give people an example—or even just a friend. Just being a friend to others is really important to me.”
To experience Irregular Girl is to revel in someone exceptional who’s exceptionally down to earth: the perfect micro-celebrity for the diffuse communities who emerge at night.
A fan named pb tells me on Twitter: “One of the most compelling things about Irregular Girl is the way she talks about the divine light that trans people possess—how we are conduits of change. She truly embodies it, and it makes her merch feel like a rallying cry or a badge of solidarity that we are able to transform anything about ourselves and the world around us until we reach the utopia shining out over the horizon.”
Local rising techno DJ Miss Twink USA, who was one of the guests on the pilot episode of That Shit’s Trans!, describes working with Irregular Girl: “Years ago, I met Regina back in the clubs. She was doing these insane club-kid looks, and the impression she left on me was purely impeccable. Fast-forward to 2022, Regina is a household name, and her magic and craft are growing stronger and stronger. I went to Strapped in April where she pulled out a sword while performing to a new Florence & the Machine track. It made me feel possessed! Struck and transfixed by her every move and glorious storytelling. The way she invites us into the world she sees for herself is fascinating, and it makes me want to be a better artist each day. Irregular Girl is one of the most talented and powerful artists here in Chicago.”
Drag performer Sangria Whine writes: “Irregular Girl’s show Mom Jeans was my first ever show in Chicago, so to say she’s important to me is an understatement. She’s not only a talented performer but such a humble and caring individual. She always makes me feel welcomed and like I have a space in the scene. I look up to her so much, and I truly hope one day I can be at her caliber of talent.”
“At art school, I learned a lot about image-making and holding attention,” Irregular Girl says. “The performance art that I was doing at SAIC was very, very image based. There’s such an immediacy to performance art, like your body is right there, almost like there’s no metaphor. I mean, it’s all a metaphor, but you have the physicality of yourself, right there. I think that’s where my energy comes from in my performances now, because, as a trans person, I’ve had to learn to grow love and rejoice my in truth. I really value the freedom that my life gives me and the freedom that I feel when I’m onstage. I have to be 100 percent there and take my audience with me.”
But she doesn’t hide the ways she’s vulnerable on her path. Last summer, she was one of five Chicago trans women who shared stories with Them. about experiences sporting bulges at the beach. Recently, she appeared in Cook County Research’s PSA for a campaign called PrEPárate: PrEP for You & Me. Latinx nightlife luminaries like herself and Bimbocita share how PrEP, an HIV prevention medication, creates more opportunity for safety and comfort while enjoying nightlife. Any of these stories sound like you? Try PrEP! In 2014, a study by Kaiser Family Foundation found that gay and bisexual men accounted for 2 percent of the population but 66 percent of new HIV transmissions. Latinx people of all genders are four times as likely to get HIV as white people. On paper, it feels like numbers, but the weight of the myriad ways HIV complicates life as a queer trans Latinx person is very real—and it’s especially palpable in the community right now.
On June 7, Berlin celebrated the life of Simon Sin Miedo, a trans Latinx staple of industrial goth nightlife and BDSM scenes in both Chicago and Minneapolis. Earlier this year, they’d been diagnosed with HIV and spent months raising money on GoFundMe to cover relocation and treatment costs to manage it. When Sin Miedo passed, they were publicly drowning in needs created by a lack of social safety nets exacerbated by their HIV diagnosis, a disease whose systemic denial has caused gay genocide. Why do we tolerate a system that encourages these outcomes, especially for some people and not others? Why is that so normal? Maybe it’s a badge of honor to be irregular in a world that normalizes such cruelty.
“The goal of my drag and creativity is to uplift and inspire others to claim their own narrative,” says Irregular Girl. “The world around us is really unaccepting and hateful of trans people and people of color, and my focus is to give hope. There’s so much uncertainty about the future, and we’re living through some really fucked-up times. That is what we need right now: to recognize each other’s truths and have each other’s backs.”
But her level of visibility doesn’t come without its challenges—for instance, living up to people’s ideals of her while enduring the everyday state violence and interpersonal cruelties that come with being trans. Irregular Girl feels grounded most by her strong relationship with her family and especially her husband Oliver, who she’s been with for four years. People in the community call him “world-famous wife guy” for his widely known and wildly flawless commitment to the bit of a man completely enamored with his partner—a partner who shares many qualities with this particular man’s favorite diva, Mariah Carey. If you were married to your teen fantasy, how would you show up for her? That’s the trans narrative Oliver manifests daily.
“As someone who’s a quote-unquote public figure,” says Irregular Girl, “there’s a huge amount of stress and pressure that comes from other people. None of it is ill-intentioned, but a lot of us suffer from these neuroses where we have to be perfect and always on. My husband and family all remind me that I’m just a person, like anybody else who’s just trying their best and sharing their art.
“Oliver has been nothing but supportive of my career. My relationship with him helped me discover more of myself. I started taking hormones around the time that I met Oliver because it was something that I was really struggling with. Oliver never pushed me or urged me. He just said, ‘If it’s something that you’re thinking about, try it.’ And that’s what he’s always reminding me: I’m really just another girl out here trying it. That’s all any of us can do.”
It’s a common story amongst trans people: if you’re curious, just try it. Try being a sculptor, a performance artist, a diva—or all three! Want to know what kinds of doors open on hormone replacement therapy or other aspects of medical transition? Try it. There’s a lot of freedom to being irregular.