My Halloween with SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque

SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque - Fanny Suicide in a Cleveland graveyard CREDIT Fractal Suicide

This month marks 15 years since I toured the US with the SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque show. For over six weeks, I travelled all around America with six other SuicideGirls, performing in 25 different cities across the country. So how exactly did I end up doing this? And what do I remember the most about this experience? Well, let me tell you this rather epic tale.

📸: me in a Cleveland cemetery. CREDIT Fractal Suicide

Who are the SuicideGirls?

Portland photographer Selena Mooney dreamt up SuicideGirls in 2001. She started shooting classic pin-up style photos with friends who were divergently different from the Pamela Anderson beauty standard of the time. Selena then collaborated with Sean Suhl to create a members-only website with photos of and blogs by the models as well as message boards for the members.

The site’s remarkable name was inspired by Chuck Palahnuik’s book SurvivorSelena chose the moniker to describe “girls who chose to commit social suicide by not fitting in.” Each model would choose her first name and then be bestowed with the last name of Suicide, to show her status as a SuicideGirl, with Selena herself becoming Missy Suicide.

SuicideGirls grew rapidly in the early noughties, both as a social networking site for alt erotica and as an underground brand. Models suddenly popped up in music videos with Lemmy and Dave Grohl, plus the pages of The Face and Rolling Stone magazine. In 2003, the SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque live show launched in the US and would end up supporting both Courtney Love and Guns N’ Roses on their tours.

Photos from Slit Magazine CREDIT Penelope Benton
Photos from Slit Magazine I used for my SuicideGirls application. CREDIT Penelope Benton

How I became a SuicideGirl

Before I moved my life from Sydney to London in early 2004, I used to model for my friend Penelope who shot photos for Slit – this incredible (sadly now defunct) magazine for queer women that was all about art, sex and politics. I was keen to keep doing photoshoots like this so when a friend told me about SuicideGirls, I sent them across a bunch of my photos and they responded straight away, inviting me to shoot for them.

Penelope shot my first SuicideGirls set, Cherry Bomb before I left Australia. I burnt it all on a CD (because that’s what we had to do back in 2004) and popped it in the post to SG HQ. By the time I arrived in London a few weeks later, I had an email confirming that they would love to invite me to become an SG. My first set went live later that year.

I was around the 450th SuicideGirl to join the site but one of the first from Australia. I struggled to come up with an SG name because there were already so many models on the site. What name could I come up with that wasn’t already taken? I decided to go with something amusing and campy, like me, and Fanny Suicide was born.

SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque - Fanny Suicide CREDIT SuicideGirls
Photos from my Fanny Suicide sets. CREDIT SuicideGirls

How I ended up touring the US

A few months after my first set went live on SuicideGirls, there was talk about a possible European troupe of the SG Blackheart Burlesque being created. The US troupe (in various incarnations) had toured very successfully for a year or two by this point, so this was a very exciting prospect.

One of the founders of SuicideGirls, Sean, came to the UK in mid-2005 to audition performers for this potential tour. Typically on-brand for me, I did a gender-bending burlesque performance to Nancy Boy by Placebo (I know, bless) and landed myself a place in this European troupe. 

However, we’d only started tentatively doing rehearsals when we were told that this tour was now unlikely to happen (and it never did). I was at work one day when an email landed in my inbox from Sean asking me if I wanted to join the next US tour instead. At first, I didn’t understand what this meant but it quickly became clear I had been cherry-picked to become part of the main burlesque troupe.

Things moved pretty quickly after that. I gave notice on my job in London and by mid-September, I’d packed my bags and jumped on a plane for LA. I remember getting off that 11-hour flight and going straight into a full day of dance rehearsals. Thankfully, I had already visited Los Angeles the previous year, so I was ready for what a surreal city it is. After about a week of intense rehearsing, we all climbed into a minivan and headed out on the road.

Content warning: NSFW. Nixon Suicide from ‘Suicide Girls – The First Tour’ DVD.

Which SuicideGirls did I tour with?

On the line-up for our tour was Nixon and Reagan (yes, dead presidents were very popular SG names), who had both toured with SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque before. The new additions, like myself, were Chloe and Odette.

There was also a professional dancer, who joined the tour at the last minute and ended up becoming Reno Suicide. She usually worked on shows in Vegas (which fulfilled all my Showgirls fantasies) and at one point was in The Pussycat Dolls, back when it was a burlesque troupe before Nicole Scherzinger joined. Suffice to say, I thought she was a lot of fun.

Also on tour with us was Fractal Suicide, who didn’t perform but worked the merch desk (I had quite the crush on her), plus the very lovely tour manager Ryan and his girlfriend Jesse. That was a lot of people for one little van. The support act for our whole tour was TsuShiMaMiRe (つしまみれ), a punk-inspired indie rock band from Chiba, Japan. They did such an incredible show every night and seemed incredibly lovely, even though we had no shared language. 

SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque 2005 CREDIT Minka Guides
Our name in lights. CREDIT Fractal Suicide

Where did we go on tour?

I spent over a month on the road with the SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque tour. Thankfully, I still have one of TsuShiMaMiRe’s tour t-shirts with all the dates and locations listed on the back. I recall some extra dates to these line-up towards the end so that we would end up performing in Portland, Oregon on Halloween. This was quite contentious as we’d been invited to perform at Danny Elfman’s annual Halloween party in LA but couldn’t because we were still on the road.

We started out on 30th September 2005 in Phoenix before continuing through Arizona into Texas where we did shows in Denton, Austin and Houston. Then we headed through to Charlotte, North Carolina and on to the East Coast. Baltimore, Philadelphia and two nights at New York’s iconic Knitting Factory were followed by a string of dates through cities like Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minneapolis. Then we headed west again, through Kansas City and Denver, before reaching Seattle. 

After this, we headed down the West Coast. It was prime Halloween time by then and I revelled in the week-long celebrations. Every night in the lead-up, people were dressed up in full spooky attire. It was an amazing experience being on tour at the time of year. We travelled down through Portland, followed by two nights of shows in San Francisco before closing the tour in the first week of November at the El Ray in Los Angeles.

SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque tour 2005 CREDIT Fractal Suicide
Reagan, Odette, Chloe, myself and Nixon CREDIT Fractal Suicide

My SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque memories

You’re probably reading this for all the rock ‘n roll tour moments, right? Like the time Fractal found me asleep in San Francisco with my feet in a toilet. The post-show party we had in a Cleveland graveyard. The man who drove next to our tour van for 10 minutes, wanking furiously. Listening to Courtney Love’s inebriated messages on Sean’s answering machine. The fan who showed up with a handmade suede flogger for each of us as a gift. There were countless moments like these but, if I’m honest, a lot of this is long forgotten.

The things that have stayed with me the most were the experiences of America itself. Each area brought me a new perspective on that enormous country, some of which were charming, others that were quite terrifying. I remember the character of each city more than I do the people. I have always felt that seeing so much of the US in this way was what truly ignited my passion for travel.

The second show we did was at the historic Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona. Multiple rooms here are considered haunted (especially room 242), possibly by people who were never able to check out when the hotel caught fire 1934, as Dillinger and his gang tried to escape the authorities. The whole place a seriously spooky, Twin Peaks vibe about it.

When we finally crossed the border between Arizona and Texas, a truck stop Dairy Queen was the first place we pulled into. As our van spewed out six tattoo-covered girls in black hoodies, all looking slightly dishevelled after the long drive, a bunch of cowboys stared at us like we were the curiosity. Finally, one of them drawled “Y’all not from around here” in possibly the slowest, most drawn-out way I have ever heard a sentence uttered.

The tour was originally supposed to include many more stops in the south, including New Orleans and Florida. However, only a month before opening night, Hurricane Katrina tore through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and beyond, decimating the area and leaving millions of people homeless. 

With these locations sadly no longer an option, we ended doing an epic two-day drive from Houston, Texas to Charlotte, North Carolina. Our route took us to the edge of some of the affected areas and the images of what I saw have always stayed with me. An eerily flattened forest. A gigantic roadside motel sign snapped in two. An outdoor pool, full of mud. This was only a glimpse of the destruction.

SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque - Fanny Suicide signing merch CREDIT Tex Suicide
Signing merch before a show CREDIT Tex Suicide

On this long drive, we stopped overnight in Birmingham, Alabama. I think it was late Sunday afternoon when we arrived because I remember everything being closed. I found it quite weird to suddenly be in a city that was so fundamental to civil rights history, here I was visiting it simply as a rest stop. I spent an hour or two wandering the streets around our hotel, trying to get my head around this.

Baltimore and Philadelphia were both cities that I have very clear memories of because there was so much tension about our safety. The thing about performing at alternative music venues – from dive bars to huge rock clubs – is that they aren’t always in the best part of town. In both these cities, we were instructed not to step foot outside the venues because the area was so dangerous. 

I remember on van driving out a tunnel early one evening and suddenly being met with the most incredible panoramic view of Pittsburgh. It was the most unexpectedly amazing skyline on the trip. The next morning, I got up at 6am (after only a couple of hours sleep) to do my washing before the tour van left for the day. The Wash N Dry looked like it was in some 70s time warp and I sat there watching people go about their everyday lives, wondering if this was perhaps the same laundromat out of Flashdance.

I had a bit of meltdown in Chicago when my exhaustion from weeks of touring intersected with my PMS. It all got a bit too much for me that day. I ended up down by the edge of Lake Michigan, which really confused me. This Great Lake is so unbelievably huge that I was convinced I was standing on the edge of the sea – except, we were 2,500km inland. This was a bit too much for my brain to handle. 

My favourite show of the tour was Denver, Colorado. We’d driven eight hours across from Kansas City that day and it would be our last stop before a gruelling 20-hour drive to Seattle over the next two or three days. It was also five days before Halloween and we were performing at the suitably named Gothic Theatre to over a thousand people.

I remember bursting out on stage to do my first number and being met with the most overwhelmingly excited audience. Everyone was dressed in their spookiest attire and having the time of their lives. Standing on stage at the end of my performance as the crowd exploded with the most incredible roar of appreciation was one of the best feelings in the world.

What it felt like on tour

I was lucky that so many of the people I was on tour with were incredibly lovely people. You spend 75% of your time inside a van, travelling from one city to the next. Sharing bedrooms, meals and performances together. Everyone was, for the most part, decent human beings let alone fun, silly, sexy creatures, which made the experience a lot less gruelling than it could have been. Touring is often boring and rarely glamorous.

Things were tough some days, of course. Occasionally, there would be a high school bullying vibe to the tour van or backstage. In retrospect, the younger SGs were barely out of their teens so they were probably projecting their insecurities when they acted this way. Having experienced some intense bullying during high school (I was a dorky queer loner), this was quite triggering for me. I remember feeling quite isolated and anxious on the tour at times.

However, this also had a lot to with me generally feeling like a bit of an outsider. I was the only non-American on the tour, plus I never really felt that I fit in very well with the SuicideGirls brand. I’m too camp to be hardcore and too queer for the predominantly cis straight male audience. I remember spending most of the tour listening to my Tegan & Sarah and Belle & Sebastian CDs (yes, this was before my first iPod), feeling like I was a bit too twee for all this. Thank goodness I left my Kylie CDs at home.

These conflicting feelings did make it a much more interesting experience for me, though. Being on the outside looking in meant that I saw the tour from a unique, almost anthropological perspective. This was the era just before smartphones became a thing, so I soaked up everything around me. It was possibly the last time I was so present with myself and my surrounds. What an incredible thing to have experienced at such a time in my life. 

SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque - Fanny Suicide passed out in San Francisco CREDIT Fractal Suicide
Me passed out in my San Francisco hotel bathroom CREDIT Fractal Suicide

What happened after the US tour?

Only a couple of months after we toured the US, I was back on tour with SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque again – but this time in Australia. Yes, I returned home for the first time on tour, which was understandably a surreal experience. Personally, it was great timing as I had been gone for two years and needed to return to get a new UK visa. I was also able to see so much more of my home country than ever before. My favourite thing about this tour was becoming friends with the incredible Christina

Within a year of finishing this second tour, I decided it was probably time for me to leave SuicideGirls. As I mentioned above, I’d always felt a bit too camp and queer for a site full of badass babes and primarily male subscribers. Plus, after three years I felt like I had acquired as much out of the experience as I was ever likely to.

Things had also begun to change on SG, with models being strongly encouraged to tone down their creative make-up, clothes and shoot concepts, for a subtler look. This was a savvy business move for SuicideGirls, as it no doubt helped the site endure and shift more towards the mainstream. However, it also made the brand something I no longer had any interest in.

A few years ago, I saw that the current Blackheart Burlesque troupe was touring through the UK. I reached out to Sean and he invited me along to see the London show at Koko’s and meet the performers. It had been over a decade since my tour at this point, so it was lovely to immerse myself back in that world for a night. I was quite amazed by how much more polished and professional the tour is now – the performers were all very impressive.

Doing drag - Fanny Minka at Agent Provocateur party CREDIT Sink The Pink
From international burlesque star to fabulous drag queen

Where is this SuicideGirl now?

Despite everything that has changed in the past 15 years, SuicideGirls is still going strong. They now have over 3,800 SGs (and counting) from around the world and over nine million followers on Instagram. Like all things, what was once alternative is now very mainstream. Women with tattoos, piercings and colourful hair are pretty normal now. Ain’t that nice.

As for me, I remember someone pointing out in rehearsals that I kept lipsyncing along to my performances and reminding me that I was, in fact, doing a burlesque show, not a drag show. Quite funny because I did indeed go on to become a drag queen. I even kept the name Fanny as my stage name – which was partly necessary because I’d tattooed it on my ass.

I didn’t stay in touch with any of the SGs from the tour, even though some of them were lovely. In fact, I’ve only stayed friends with a couple of the other queer SuicideGirls, such as the fabulous Kate and Phinn. It was, all in all, an incredible experience being a SuicideGirl at the height of its fame and going on these international tours. It was hardly the peak of my life though – that craziness just keeps on going. But what fun to stop for a moment and look back on it after all these years. A truly iconic way to spend Halloween.

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SuicideGirls Blackheart Burlesque tour | Minka Guide
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