LEFT Magazine ‘February Issue’ 2014 -By Hawthorne.
GYPSY LOVE + THE DIRTY LAUNDRY
Gypsy Love is infectious. When she is performing and moving those hips, time stops. She’s fluid. She’s effervescent. For a few moments, it’s just you and her – and she takes you on a journey. The moves she performs are intricate, subtly flirtatious and wonderfully intoxicating. The art of belly dancing combined with her vocal talent and her raw creativity are inspiring to watch. Whether she’s grooving on a Tuesday night at the LookOut, dancing around people who are tangled in their iPhones, or teaching a class to a group of women, Gypsy Love knows how to get – and keep – your attention. She’s fearless.
Gypsy Love is prepared. She and I used to do a little happy hour thing on Thursdays called ‘RedLight’ at a little spot off Maiden Lane. The Dj booth and the club were never prepared with sound for entertainment. It was an afterthought. On the opening night I was running around trying to find a microphone so Gypsy could perform. Of course, no one there cared – everyone pointed me to someone else. I was beside myself with frustration when Gypsy walked in. I said ‘I’m so sorry, I have to apologize, but I can’t seem to find a microphone.’ She just smiled and said, ‘Oh, girl, calm down. I have one.’ She reached into her purse, pulled out a wireless microphone, plugged that shit in and was like ‘check one, check two’ before she even put her bag down.
Gypsy Love is a professional. I have never seen her lose her cool on or off stage. She has a way of making the best of everything. We used to play to literally 6 people at the bar on Thursdays. It was like she was performing for 6,000 people. She turns it out regardless of headcount. She is never disappointed and she gives it everything she has. You have to admire someone who can put ego aside and make the night special – even when it’s just a handful of admiring faces.
Most importantly, Gypsy Love has a backbone. She is taking this one shot at life and she is making hers matter in so many tangible and important ways. Her generosity is unmatched. She is never about the money — though artists should always be compensated. For her, it’s about so much more. She lights up when she sings – she comes alive when she dances. She can breathe life into any room. It’s always a pleasure to sit down with Gypsy Love to catch up.
Ok. First things first. You’re pregnant?
Oh my God! David, don’t say that! Can you imagine?! Don’t do that to me! Nooo, I am soooo not pregnant. That’s a great opener though! — ‘Hey Mom, I’m in a magazine Guess what?!’
Anyway you are married? How many years?
We just celebrated 8 years of marriage in October. But we’ve known each other for over 13 years.
How long did you wait to get married?
Funny. We tied the knot 5 years after we met, but when we first met it was the law of attraction right away. We met and moved in together six months later.
You knew right away?
I did. When I met him I felt like I had come home. I knew instantly. It was like I knew that I knew him already, if that makes sense? It just felt right.
He’s a scientist?
Yes. Like a real scientist with a white lab coat and everything? Yes. He’s a stem cell scientist. He makes brain cells. Can you believe it?
He’s ok with what you do?
He’s actually my biggest fan. He’s part of the reason that I do what I do.
Wait, you have to tell the story of how you met. You met at a gay bar?
We did! We met at a gay bar. We met at the Rawhide in September of 2000. They had a party there on Saturdays called Staple. I loved going there – I could go with no make up on, in jeans and a ponytail – and not worry about what I looked like. I didn’t have to worry about guys hitting on me. And, wouldn’t you know it, I met my husband there.
Did you think he was gay when you met him?
I had my doubts! I was like ‘what is this handsome man doing in here talking to me?’ He was actually carted along by a friend of his who was there to hit on my best friend. They had met on BART or something. Nothing happened with them, but Cory and I have been together ever since.
You also worked in the corporate world.
I did. For over ten years I was a sales executive for a high-tech consulting firm.
You gave it up? Just like that?
I gave it up in 2008. I walked in on January 8, 2008 and resigned. And on the 15th of January, I went to City Hall and filed the paperwork to start Gypsy Love Productions. I gave it up because I knew it wasn’t my destiny. It wasn’t how I was going to make my mark.
And you walked in to resign in full Gypsy Love costume I hope?
That would have been great looking back! Can you imagine?! Swirling around my boss’s office with my veil. Hilarious. Honestly I had golden handcuffs in that job, I was well-paid and well-respected. All my clients were in the Fortune 500.
But you weren’t happy?
I was miserable. At the end of the day, I was working in a job that went against my moral fiber. I mean, my job was essentially to get the highest rate of billing from the client and then talk the consultant down to the lowest rate of pay.
Ahhh… you were a pimp?
Pretty much! I was a pimp to engineers and project managers in the world of high-tech financial services. The worst part would be connecting with the engineers on a friendship level and getting to know them – I’d get visibility into their lives. Then I would basically rob them of money that they were entitled to. It was painful to hear about someone who was cramming their whole family into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to make ends meet — and I was orchestrating denying them money that they were entitled to. I didn’t feel very good about it. I couldn’t just look the other way.
You’ll never go back to corporate America?
I never looked back. Oddly, I see some of my old clients in my belly dance classes or at my shows – and that’s a much better experience. I mean, this is how I choose to do my service. I think that’s why we are all here – to do our sacred work. Mine was not pushing high-tech sales.
You’re also adopted.
Yes. I am adopted. I am Mexican, Native American and Libyan and was adopted by a family of Italians. I was adopted when I was nine days old. Nuns took care of me for the first nine days of my life. My adopted parents – and probably my birth parents – met here in San Francisco. I don’t know much about my birth father except that he was an exchange student from Libya.
And your birth mother, I guess, was… a whore?
That’s sooo bad. I do like to say that I was a ‘love child ’of a romantic encounter between an exchange student and an exotic, bohemian girl. It gives me a great back story. It was all a blessing for sure, because my soul was destined to be adopted into this loud, boisterous Italian family that I love so much. I am truly blessed.
Did you always know you were adopted or did they just spring it on you randomly one Thanksgiving?
I always knew. You hear these stories when people find out in their twenties that they were adopted and there’s all this deceit around it. I have these early memories of my mom and dad reading stories to me about it – things like ‘We’re All One Big Happy Family’ and ‘You Were Chosen’ – it was all very much ingrained in my mind from the start.
Do you know your birth mother?
No. I don’t.
Are you curious about her?
Yeah, I mean isn’t everyone curious about their mother? But I did do the genetic testing thing a while back when it first came out and I learned that my maternal grandmother was 100% Native American. When I found that out, it struck a chord in me. Now if there is anything that I most curious about is what tribe my genetics are from. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out.
Oh, girl. Clearly your tribe is the Gays.
Yes! I found ’em! You know, I do feel like the gay community is kinda my tribe! Hello boys, I’m home!
You’ve always loved to dance?
Oh yeah. Dancing is everything to me. It’s my church. When I learned to belly dance, I felt like those moves were already in me anyway so I thought, I just needed to learn some technique. I sort of rebelled against the purist form of belly dancing. I wanted to do it my way. I was like ‘Hey wait, why can’t I do this at The EndUp?’ Looking back, I see how lenient they were to let me sing my disco songs and shimmy around the room. I had to walk away from the pure form and do my own thing.
Where did the name Gypsy Love come from?
Well my friends always felt like they couldn’t place me. I also looked very different from my own adopted family. I didn’t quite fit in anywhere, but I got along everywhere — if that makes sense. I won’t say that I was “popular”, but I was active and engaged in a lot of stuff in school. Now that I think about it, the Latin girls at school always gravitated to me but I didn’t speak a word of Spanish — so I was always on the outside.
You are so connected with the LGBT scene here in San Francisco. How did you find your way to us?
I came up through the drag queen scene — so for me, that is the epitome of expression – despite the fact that maybe in other parts of the world they would be ridiculed and even killed for being who they are – in San Francisco they sell it. And they sell it in such a fabulous and sparkly way that I was hooked from the moment I started. And also I really like the philanthropic piece of it, I felt like I was creating but also doing good for the community and that is what I was ultimately looking to do. That’s how I want to make my mark.
So, you play to packed rooms every single time you perform.
Ohhh yeahhh, I mean, it is standing room only every time I see you. Of course!
Do you get tired of the bars?
No. I never get tired of performing. Ever. But I do have people tell me that regardless of whether I am performing to handful of people, I still give it everything I have. I have been blessed with the opportunity to perform – not only to eight people in a room – but also to 800,000 people. You know? I play smaller venues and huge platforms, like the Main Stage at Pride. At the end of the day you have to treat every performance like it is the Main Stage at Pride. You don’t know how you’re touching someone in the audience, whose heart you might be healing or how you are helping someone. You might be healing someone who is going to pay it forward to someone else. Every heart counts.
How long have you been singing?
The first time I got in a recording studio was back in 2001. I was working in high-tech and I had a friend who sort of dabbled in music production and they brought me to Concord Records, which is better known for jazz. They were doing a project where they needed a soft voice – and at the time I hadn’t really found my voice, so it was pretty soft. Now, of course, I am more loud Anyway I tried it and got a taste of it and I loved it. I immediately wanted to do more.
In 2003 I met Claytoven Richardson, who helps to support the Grammy’s every year and he’s brilliant. That’s the first time I walked into a studio and saw gold and platinum records on the wall. He had worked with Whitney Houston and had done a lot of work and won awards for the Bodyguard Soundtrack. He and his partner, Larry Batiste, were so warm and welcoming to me.
Claytoven taught me the ropes of being a recording studio artist, something that was very new to me. He showed me how to hold the headphones, where to stand in proximity to the microphone. He taught me all the necessary skills.
Basically he showed you how to NOT make a fool out of yourself?
Yes! Exactly, and that is true! And if you do these certain things – and behave professionally, you’ll have a long career and get asked back. He even wrote a book about it and he teaches classes at SF State. But that is when I started thinking ‘hey, you know, I could do this as a profession’ – but ultimately I was still too scared of abandoning my career in high-tech. You have to remember, I went to CalPoly in San Luis Obispo, I grew up in Silicon Valley — we were born and bred to work in the high-tech industry. From the time I was 18 years old, I was interning at Apple for 40 hours a week, went from there to Silicon Graphics and then to a start-up and finally landed on the consulting side of things. I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do. I was on the path that I thought had been laid out for me. I was being very dutiful, I was dutiful back then – but I was dutiful to other people’s visions, and now I am dutiful to my own vision.
You want to have babies?
Yes. I do.
I think you and Cory would make really good babies, he’s very cute.
Thank you and yes he is! He makes my mouth water. One thing I need to say is that even after 13 years, I have a man that I am still very attracted to and very inspired by.
But you guys have your problems.
Oh yes. Like every couple.
What are some of the hardest things you have faced together as a couple?
I think that both of us are really dedicated to our careers and we’ve chosen careers that require a lot of hard work and faith for not necessarily a lot of immediate return. When I say return, I mean money — I mean monetized returns. But I’m lucky in my business, for me I get paid with every smile and every time I see someone dance to my music. I get that immediate gratification. But when it comes time to pay the bills, well, you can’t pay your rent with that.
PG&E doesn’t take smiles? Smiles don’t go very far at PG&E.
No, they don’t. But when I started Gypsy Love Productions in 2008, he was my biggest motivator – he still is my number one fan and very motivating in many ways. But after four years of really giving it my all and not being able to bring home the money to pay my fair share of the bills, and after having that high paying, reliable corporate job – we both got a little scared. And that fear seeped into our relationship. A lot of our problems were fear-based – but we sought therapy and it was the best thing we could have done.
Oh, wow. So you recommend therapy?
OMG, I highly recommend therapy. You have to find a therapist that works for you. We did it for over a year. In my opinion, you get caught in a vacuum when you are with someone for a long time – and 13 years is a long time – so when you are in this vacuum you have your ways of communicating (or not communicating as the case may be.) And we would both retreat to our labs – my “lab” was the recording studio and the stage; Cory’s lab was, well, a lab – like with brain cells and stem cells. Trying to make it on a scientist’s and an artist’s salaries is hard. I mean it’s rough out there. Especially in a City like this when costs are skyrocketing.
I think all couples out there should realize that when you are getting further apart instead of coming closer together – because communicating is too difficult – that’s when you need to call in a mediator. It’s unhealthy when you are retreating to your respective camps and the communication has broken down. We were lucky to find a great lady who saw both sides and helped us compromise and get back on the same team. Because for a while I didn’t feel like we just weren’t on the same team.
One of the lowest points was when I was singing these love ballads and preaching about love – and I just felt like I was missing that love at home. The ‘Gypsy of Love’ single was tough to get through sometimes. I released that song with Hit Save Music – but it’s one of the few songs I didn’t write; it was written by Michael Cerchiai (also known as the infamous Tweaka Turner!). I felt the words I was singing – I mean, I believed in them and they resonated with my heart – but I just couldn’t apply them to my own life. The performances felt fraudulent. Inauthentic. But we sought help and therapy really forced us to look at ourselves honestly and prioritize communication.
Your families are both supportive of you and your careers?
Do you think it helps?
Yep. Because I have been in relationships where my family did NOT like the guy I was involved with They were like ‘Umm… where did you find this guy?!’
Your family loves Cory?
They do. They love him. And his family has been so welcoming to me. We are very lucky. A lot of people aren’t lucky in that respect.
True. A lot of gay couples struggle for that support and validation. I mean, I’m gay but I never dreamed of asking my family to come to my ‘big gay wedding.’ For me, it would be a lot to ask of them. They couldn’t handle it. So, like a lot of gay people, I just try to get by without that support – and I think relationships suffer when they don’t have that internal support system.
Oh! Absolutely! I mean, even in our relationship I feel like we are asking a lot for them to accept me – I mean, your son married this woman, who straps on the fishnets, slips into some booty shorts, covers herself in sequins and goes out to shake her booty for a living. It takes a lot. But my mother & father-in-law are really supportive — I think you’ve met them at my show.
I did. I feel like they are big fans – they see that your performances are more cabaret and theatrical. Most importantly, they see that you’re not a stripper.
Yes! I am not a stripper – I’m definitely not a stripper! Not that there is anything wrong with that. But you know there is this fine line in our culture. We’re misguided as a culture. I think we’re sexually dysfunctional, especially when it comes to female empowerment. I mean to ‘own it’ is a sign of weakness in some cultures – and maybe in many cultures it’s true. To show your features and your curves and to really relish in them, it makes you a target. For me there is strength in my breasts and there is power in my hips. And that’s what I try to teach the women in my classes.
Yes, you’re a teacher.
I am. I teach at Metronome Dance Collective and do workshops all over San Francisco. They’ve been very good to me allowing me to teach belly dance as well as Bellyfit® – which is a holistic fitness program that incorporates all sorts of dance.
Did you create that?
No, I actually was certified to teach Bellyfit® and learned about them when they licensed one of my songs, ”Wish,’ for their commercial. They used it in an ad campaign.
So you made millions off that, right?
Oh. I did! Millions! I used it to buy that used Honda Civic parked out front. But seriously, I love the feeling I get when I can help a woman not ask permission to walk into a room. You know? Really hold her head high – regardless of her size and shape. It makes me feel good to instill that confidence.
Do you think you will always teach?
Yes. Always. I mean, it’s my duty – it’s my responsibility. I think this is the service of my life and I need to pay it all forward.
Was it in the stars for you? A lot of people don’t know this about you, but you actually do read the stars and do charts for people, right?
A lot of people don’t know that about me, but I started doing this long before I was belly dancing. When I moved away to college – well, you have to understand that I went to private Catholic school my whole life until college – so I was just used to saying dumb things like ‘what are you doing for Christmas vacation’ assuming that everyone was Catholic.
Oh?! You’re not Catholic?! Weird.
When I went to CalPoly, I was like ‘Wow!’ I mean, I was meeting all these different kinds of people with all these different backgrounds and I was able to get further out from that sheltered network that was my hometown. I was always addicted to reading horoscopes – and I still am. I am always looking for answers I think. I’ve taken workshops and done mentorships with all sorts of astrologers. Really, what astrology does for me – it gives me a road-map. It helps me navigate my life through self-actualization. It helps me break free of expectations that I was buying into by taking a look at what I believe – examine my own spiritual quest. It helped me – then I realized, ‘oh, I can do this for other people – and I could actually help them and heal them.’ I surprised myself. I would do these charts and people would be like ‘holy shit no one knows that about me.’ And it would freak me out. They would ask ‘How did you know that?!’ and I would be all ‘Girl, I’m just a map reader – I am just reading what it says here on the chart.’
Do you read the Tarot cards?
No. I don’t do cards – I cast the chart based on their birth information and then look at the stars today. I can then gather information on challenges and talents and patterns. But the magic happens when you look at the existing stars in comparison with their charts. And it really helps people to understand why they are being pulled in certain directions. I write an article for the SF Bay Times and I do personal readings and star parties. It’s fun. I mean, I get to exercise my cerebral muscles.
It’s cool. It feels very scientific. Absolutely. In fact, when I met my husband, he was like ‘what?! that’s not science. Astrology?! Please. I’m a scientist’ But then slowly and surely, I would see my books in the bathroom! I would be like ‘Dude, what are you doing with all my astrology books?!’ But now when people come to visit he always asks ‘hey, what’s your sign?’ Of course, he laughs at me because I have the worst sense of direction. He’s like ‘Really?! You can’t find your way out of the grocery store but you are reading the maps in the sky?’
So what is happening for 2014?
Well, 2014 is a transformative year for me. I am feeling more confident creatively. It’s going to be a year of collaborations. I am an excellent writer and performer, but I am not an engineer or musician – so I partner with people who are. I also feel really strongly that we’re going to have a family soon. I am finally feeling my subconscious allow me to embrace the idea of having a family. For a long time I shut that out. Now I see babies and I am like ‘OMG, I felt my cervix tickle a little!’ I have a lot of nieces and nephews so I have insight into how this is all going to work.
Well you’re only 22, so you have plenty of time.
OMG, I wish! I asked Cory, ‘Can you just create something in the lab. Grow them in a dish or something.’
You’ve had two experiences with Pride, what did you learn?
I am involved every year with Pride. I think it’s important to participate. I am not sure if the main stage is in the stars for me this year. Last year was an epic experience – the year before however, was not. Well It was epic — but in a really bad way.
That’s the case with Pride, it’s a tough gig. I warned you that first year. I said ‘Don’t put too much into this.’ You did! You said ‘You’ll see’ And boy did those words resonate in my ear when I fell off that stage in tears. But I have a lot of faith in the direction that pride is going – my first experience was disappointing, but it was also a tremendous learning experience. Wait, should I say what happened? Well, you might as well. It’s no secret. We all saw it, I have it on video.
Oh gosh, so I was delighted to receive an email accepting me onto the main stage at Pride in 2012. I thought ‘I’ve made it, this is my moment.’ It was a dream come true. I am going to gather everyone who helped me get here and we are going to put on an incredible show. So that’s what I did. There were about 25 of us – dancers and musicians. We rehearsed for hours on end and I felt like my whole life had led up to this moment. I was scheduled for the 5:45pm slot and at that time it was made clear to me that at 6pm the show would be over. I thought ‘oh, wow, I am closing out Pride and I can do it in a way that really honors the spirit of Pride.’ I was excited. The theme was ‘Global Equality’ that year and I was like ‘This is my year! I am a teacher of world fusion dance music and I have this team of artists from every walk of life.’ The stars seemed to have lined up for me. So we get to the stage and at 5:45pm and there are three or four acts ahead of me that hadn’t performed yet. I don’t know what happened – I can’t even pretend to know — but they were running behind. 6pm rolls around and then 6:15pm. Then they tell us that at 6:30pm, the City is going to pull the plug.
I had to shorten the act right then and there . I told everyone on the spot. I had 20 dancers and these were all younger kids and this was their dream too. Pride stage managers finally come back to me and say ‘We’re sorry, sweetie, but it’s not going to happen for you.’ Of course they say that when something like this happens you go to a place of denial first – and that’s what I did. Before the rage, there is denial. And all I could say was ‘No, No, No.’ They all felt for me but they also felt like their hands were tied. Then they were like ‘we have 30 seconds’ – so I grabbed the microphone from whoever was holding it and I walked out on stage, lifted the rainbow flag and I said ‘We were supposed to perform for you, but life happens – so I am just going to close this out with a wish’ – then I sang acapella one line from my song ‘Wish’ and they pulled the plug on the sound. I was devastated. I walked off the stage and fell in tears. That was a hard night for me because I felt like I had let down so many people who really wanted it as much as I did.
Thankfully, Audrey Joseph told me later ‘You know, they pulled the plug on Lady GaGa too.’ So then I thought, ‘well, if it happened to her and it happened to me — this might not be such a bad thing. I need to regroup. Well, sure enough, the next year – I applied again. I picked myself up and reached out to my dancers. And the 2013 experience was beautiful from beginning to end – Prop8 was lifted and DOMA was shot down – it was the best time to be on that stage. I had my moment. I had to wait a year, but I think that was part of the beauty of it. The struggle made it all worthwhile.
I think I really got to experience what Pride is about in some small way. The struggle of not getting what you worked so hard for – being knocked down, but not giving up. You just keep working until you get it. I didn’t throw in the towel or give up.
I understood that Pride is not just about gay, straight, black, white, Latin, Asian, but it’s about the human experience. Sometimes we all have to endure something hard to appreciate it when we get to the end. That bitterness in the beginning makes it all so much sweeter in the end. And that can be a beautiful thing.
Gypsy Love’s Singles ‘Beautiful Thing’ and ‘Wish’ can be found on iTunes. Visit GypsyLoveProductions.com for videos & more!
Photography by Jesse Caylor / Production Assistant Jenee Bryant
Hair & Makeup / Gypsy Love needs no one for that bullshit. Be clear.
February 03, 2014 /David Helton