Xe Davis Is Working to Make L.A.'s DIY Community Safer and Less Sexist
Xe Davis poses in front of work by artist Ron Kibble at Last Projects, a gallery in Lincoln Heights.
I briefly met Xe Davis when I was booking and promoting parties in Brooklyn, New York in 2012. She seemed exuberant, popular and confident around her friends and in DIY spaces in the community. Later she moved to Los Angeles to continue her journey as a curator, performance artist and musician in the L.A. underground scene. She performs with her alt, experimental music project, Gun/Her, briefly ran her own venue, Honey Trap, and flows through L.A.'s underground music scene in elaborate costumes and makeup that she creates herself.
Davis find L.A.'s scene to be progressive and run by strong women, but also has found shortcomings when it comes to sexism and accountability for sexual assault and harassment in the community. She experienced a traumatic relationship herself, and also witnessed her circle of friends and artists facing the reality of abuse within their tight-knit community. Now Davis wants to bring information and workshops to the community so DIY space owners and supporters have places to go to learn how to deal with predators in their scene. She's also working with the city to implement mandatory accountability classes for bar owners through her embryonic but very relevant organization, Account-Ability.
In the wake of the recent allegations of predatory sexual behavior leveled against Ben Hopkins of NYC queer punk duo PWR BTTM, Davis' lofty ambitions to make her scene safer are more important than ever. I corresponded with Davis via email about the current state of L.A.'s DIY scene, her own firsthand experiences with sexism, abuse and harassment, and what she and other members of the community are planning to do to make both DIY and mainstream spaces safer for all. (Davis' statements have been edited for clarity and length.)
You started out in the underground music scene in NYC correct? What kept you searching for that sort of community when you relocated to L.A.?
Yes, I grew up in upstate NY in Ulster and Dutchess County and decided to move to Brooklyn after realizing the scene mostly revolved around music I wasn't really interested in making.
I moved to Brooklyn hoping to find more punks, more stimulation and a faster pace. I found that momentarily in NYC as I was still growing into myself and my music. I feel like I could have experienced the city and the scene differently looking back now but we learn and grow as we're meant to. I instantly felt at home in Los Angeles when I arrived [here] about five years ago. I realized within my first month here how much I had been struggling to find that comfort in NY for the four years I lived there. My first show here in Los Angeles was at Pehrspace and the warmth I felt made me feel like I could have the space to really spread out and find my sound and myself within this community.
I also found the community to have a very feminine energy which was so incredibly refreshing and exciting for me, it really ushered a lot of growth for me personally as a woman and my relationship and understanding of femininity in general.
When did you first become aware of sexual assault in the community?
My experience began firsthand, unfortunately. I moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles with someone who was already a member of the community here who became progressively more abusive after I moved out here with him. After enduring his abuse for a year I left him while also trying to find my grounding within a new city as an artist with people didn't quite know yet.
I was afraid to tell anyone about my abuse because I was afraid people would just call me crazy and it would totally ruin my chances of existing within this community. After a year or so of healing I found the strength to begin speaking out about it. I found people in the community to be incredibly supportive, but I also found some folks to be very complacent. People were aware of this person's abuse, yet continued to book him and allow him to attend shows and parties.
I have seen the same thing happen to so many other abuse survivors in the scene and it's a really hard thing to endure, especially when you are trying as hard as you can to move past the pain. It came out later that he was abusive to other women and more people began to understand the situation, but there were still some people who I feel allowed him to exist within their spaces for social capital.
That is really the main issue survivors in art scenes in any major cities combat. There needs to be more accountability for the actions of predators and for those who allow them to continue to prey on our community simply because they haven't personally experienced the predatory and dangerous behavior. The discussion of how to handle these situations should happen before [an instance where] continual attacks occur.
What’s your impression of L.A.’s DIY scene when it comes to safety?
I find that the L.A. arts community is powered by a lot of strong women, which makes it a very special place, and with that I think it also makes it a place where predators get dealt with more so than other places. I think when something surfaces, and there is clear evidence regarding sexual harassment, assault or inappropriate boundary crossing, I think L.A. is less forgiving. But on a social and interpersonal level, I think it is hard for some people to digest that people they consider to be friends or peers are capable of these things. So, that’s something I want to work on with the community: being able to spot signs, characteristics and situations that are not OK.
Xe Davis performs at a DIY space.
How do you converge your art and feminism?
I find that the most natural way to let my ideals seep through my art is to not overthink it too much, I want my voice to be earnest more than calculated. I am vocal and honest about my experiences and that has ushered a certain level of vulnerability that I think can be scary as a female artist. To talk about our traumas, our negative experiences and call people out on their bullshit can be a real risk.
Most people don't like to hear that their behavior is toxic, and you never really know how they will respond. For years I had withheld my experiences of abuse from a musician that circulates within the Los Angeles music scene for fear my band would never get booked again or that I would only be seen as a victim instead of a survivor. Our voices as women can be used for so many things but society has tried to turn down the volume on the perspective of women for centuries.
It's a matter of pushing past that fear of victim blaming that women are so familiarized with in this society and choosing to instead create from a place of power that I feel like only women can summon. Sending that energy into the world knowing that it can be carried on like a torch to other womyn who carry the same power within themselves, to see it as a laser beam of energy of sorts that carves through the bullshit.
Tell me about your short-lived DIY Space, the Honey Trap.
Three other artists and I decided that we wanted to find a warehouse space to throw shows. We found a space in downtown L.A. that was seemingly perfect. We soon found out that the place wasn’t perfect because the landlords started threatening us. It was a bad experience having to deal with them. They were constantly harassing us ... so I found myself feeling burnt out. I was just answering a lot emails and was fighting with the landlords, and it started made me feel out of touch with my community. And I didn’t have time to make my own music. It was a good lesson. I’m glad we did it, but when people tell you it is a lot of work to run a DIY space, that’s an understatement. There’s a lot of anxiety knowing the cops can bust in at any moment and also having to make sure everyone is safe and not acting a fool, and being respectful of each other.
What was your goal when starting Honey Trap?
I started Honey Trap with three other community members with the goal of opening up a safe space that had a hands-on approach in ensuring that all who walked in those doors felt safe and welcome.
We wanted to be really present for POC, queer folks and women and let them know that we had their backs and that they could book a show with us and be totally free in their art and in themselves within our walls. To be present as a community key holder is so important I feel, for those who are coming to shows to know that if for any reason they feel unsafe that they know who runs the space and can come up to us and tell us and know that the situation will be dealt with. We also wanted to make it clear that the focus wasn't solely on partying, but more so the spirit of creating and expression and one cannot fully reach that if they don't feel safe.
We had some really powerful shows there, and I am incredibly grateful for my time spent cultivating the space. I learned so much about my community and about artists and myself in ways I never would have if I hadn't seen it from the angle of someone who is hosting and cultivating within the scene, not just participating within it.
What was the moment you realized there was a grave problem with sexism and sexual assault in the L.A. music community?
Within about a three-month span there were two predators in the music scene that people had been saying for years were not safe. Their survivors finally came forward, and many things came to light along with evidence, screenshots, letters, and this all happened in two different pockets of communities I am a part of. Both groups of people held meetings, which was great, and decided that the people who hurt the survivors should have been excommunicated and not able to be a part of the community anymore. That was great, too, but no know really knew where to go from there, and how to deal with things while they were happening. It was very clear to me that there needed to be action taken, or even a guidebook on how to deal with these situations.
I recently began working on an organization that is very much in the beginning stages with two other women in my community called Account-Ability. Deseret Rodriguez, Leanna Robinson and I began work on this after one of many discussions of "what now" after another predator [who] had been allowed to linger within our community went too far.
We decided we were tired of having the same discussions over and over again and action needed to be taken. Right now, the concept is that we would like to create a certification for venues and galleries within the Los Angeles scene (both DIY and major) to create legitimate safe spaces through educational courses venue owners would have to take to learn how to properly handle issues such as sexual assault and harassment, and how to make spaces truly POC- and queer-friendly. We want to essentially open a much broader discussion among the key holders of this community about how to properly protect and maintain our thriving art scene. We need to have the hard discussions, and we need to stop pretending there isn't darkness lingering within our community for the sake of partying and profit.
We also want to host workshops for the community and open discussions to usher growth and to educate those who might need help better understanding the toxic things that can hold a community back and can be harmful. Obviously the two biggest perpetrators being the patriarchy and white supremacy, both of which are absolutely present even in a liberal scene like Los Angeles. It's a matter of exposing the darkness to break through to the light. I think Los Angeles is a vibrant and beautiful place but we can't shine unless everyone feels safe and equal within it.
How do you want to see the scene evolve?
I think we are all working in different capacities right now to be better as individuals and community members. Things feel far from stagnant. I think we just need to organize our thoughts and our desire for change in a more regimented way. People are screaming their personal truths and pains and struggles, and their concerns are hard to hear and digest, but I feel everyone is really trying and that's a good place to start.
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