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SISTER ACT

Shane Thomas and Saturn Risin9 are luminous. Tucked into an Ace Suite in DTLA at magic hour, buzzing with a magnetic, conspiratorial energy — plus cunning wit cut with vulnerability — it’s clear the two multi-faceted creators have a direct aux cord to the source — both together and individually.

Shane helms all things Blush!, creating spaces for the queer and trans community to gather and get down (including our very own Palm Springs Pride celebration this year and Upstairs at DTLA), DJs (ps: yes, that was Shane opening for Beyonce on her Renaissance tour), designs jewelry and more. Saturn — who is equally at home performing at high art institutions like the Getty as she is headlining Oakland Pride — is an artist, dancer, performer, DJ and true nightlife icon.

In advance of Blush!’s sure-to-be sickening soirée over Pride weekend at Ace Hotel Palm Springs, Shane and Saturn join us in dialogue and drop in on:

Inner confidence

Shane: I feel like it’s how I protected myself from the outside. Being overly confident at a young age, feeling really different as I said.

I had red hair, a stutter, and was nearly blind — so from the jump, just like, “Well, girl…this is what it’s giving and I live and let’s go. Let’s run.”

Saturn: Well, I always found solace in my friend’s houses because they weren’t going to tell me, “Stop being an F word.” They were going to be like, “Oh, well baby, you look cute. Here, do it like this.” You know what I mean? And then they might whisper it to my mom later, “Hey, just so you know…”

Shane: “She was wearing a dress.”

Saturn: “She was around here in a dress and I don’t know if you like that, but I let her do it. Girl, she puts a little piece of hair on her head too. So I don’t know.” But I just knew that performing was the safe space for that. Because when you know you can’t help it, you’re like, “Well, I have nothing wrong with me.”

Destiny’s Child

Shane: I remember specifically seeing Michelle in Destiny’s Child, and I always related myself to her because she was the underdog. I liked how she sang. I liked Beyonce of course, but I was like, “I’m a Michelle.” I remember just seeing her for the first time. I was probably nine years old and I was just like, “Oh my God, this is it.” I was like, this is it. They have it. This is a dream. They’re living out the dream.

Saturn: I was always into the underdogs. Michelle was my favorite too. And I was always just into those types of people and becoming one myself, because…

I could have just been a shell of what my parents wanted me to be, but I just couldn’t. Because I sensed that there was death of the person or of the soul on the other side of that, and I just didn’t want it.

Saturn

Music

Saturn: I think for me, music is everything. It’s the sun for me. And performing especially it’s just something it’s like my best friend. It’s the only thing I’ve done my whole life that has always brought me joy and been a safe space for me as a queer person, knowing that if I get into that, there is safety for me there. Because I mean, funny enough, we know that there are people who live different identities in public and some are out, some are not. And I just always was so focused on it.

Shane: It’s always what brought it. I said drag is what brought it together, but now I’m realizing it’s music that brings it all together for me.

Saturn: Would you say music makes the people come together, yeah?

Shane: Yeah. The bourgeoisie.

Saturn: The bourgeoisie.

Safe Spaces

Shane: It is strange because that word now, in the community, in a way, I don’t want to say it’s a joke. Because, it’s not a joke because it is real, but it is laughable when some people say the word safe space and that they create safe spaces when they really don’t. 

So it can become laughable, but it feels the same in the sense of the safe space when we were in our rooms at five years old, playing Beyonce and feeling safe in ourselves now to a safe space, say at Blush!. The feeling inside stays the same. I just think now the connotation is just a little different now.

Saturn: So I think it’s weird just navigating it because it isn’t inherently just a safe space just because it is what it is. It’s still a space where varying types of people are in a room. We all have a similar lifestyle or similar political views hopefully, But maybe we aren’t the same kind of loving person.

So it’s always something to navigate because you just don’t know what you’re going to get. But I still bring the same level of passion and love to any room I’m in, and I hope it spreads. And I think being intentional in a queer space is the best you can do. It is to be caring for everyone else. Even if that doesn’t come back, it’s still good to always give and have that intention. And I only operate that way. I do nothing if I can’t be positive about it.

All that and more in our full conversation, below.

All photography of Saturn and Shane by Zach Stahl.

Ace: Why don’t we start at the beginning — will you tell us how the two of you initially met?

Saturn: I would say the sistering happened last fall.

Shane: The sistering, it sounds like a horror movie. “The Sistering”.

Saturn: Considering some of the subjects, it could be considered a horror film, some of the external subjects.

But I think the beauty in that is that it happened over time. I hate how nightlife makes people want to be instant friends. I’m like, “I don’t know you. You could be a detriment to society, but because you look cute tonight, I’m supposed to hang out with you?” And I’ve been in it, like I said for so long that I’m always like, when we connect, we’ll connect. And we connected.

Ace: When we were talking earlier with Shane about your creativity and themes within that, something rose to the surface, which was — it feels like a lot of queer creatives express themselves in multiple ways. Does that resonate? What exactly about music really speaks to you? What about film speaks to you?

Saturn: I think for me, music is everything. It’s the sun for me. And performing especially it’s just something — it’s like my best friend. It’s the only thing I’ve done my whole life that has always brought me joy and been a safe space for me as a queer person, knowing that if I get into that, there is safety for me there. Because I mean, funny enough, we know that there are people who live different identities in public and some are out, some are not. And I just always was so focused on it.

And I think as I’ve gotten into it professionally, the diversification of the job title and adding different skills to it just made sense. One, to do something else because you could just obsess over a show all the time. But adding DJing has really helped me think about my music differently and think about the kind of music that I want to make now that I’m in control of the sound for the audience outside performing. Because performing, you’re supposed to sit and listen to what I tell you to, but DJing it is like, “No girl, play some fun stuff and pick it up.”

And so you collaborate with the audience in a spiritual way more so than performing because performing is my curation and you can tell me nothing about it. Whereas DJing, you do want to service the audience a bit.

And filmmaking, it was just a natural progression of my music. I grew up with everyone making videos of their performances. And then with Beyonce making films, it really made sense to tell the full story and not have to decide which song is a single. And which is funny enough, acting is the only thing I’m trained in.

Music — dancing was something that I got into because I love to dance and I’m really good at it. And then music was always the thing that I wanted to do, but filmmaking now is leading me back to acting. So it all just plays in this, what are those two diagrams that go together sometimes?

Ace: Venn diagram?

Saturn: Yeah, Venn diagram. Thank you. Who likes those, Kamala?

Saturn: She loves the Venn diagram.

Shane: She does love those.

Saturn: But yeah, I just think it all ties in and you can’t really control it, once your eye is open to one thing. I mean, even party throwing, right? I’ve been in nightlife, the first time I ever went to a party in San Francisco, someone said, “Oh my God, let’s put you to the front.” And made me a nightlife superstar in San Francisco. But I never thought I would be a party thrower. And then when I got into the LA party scene and started throwing parties, I was like, oh, that makes so much sense to add to what I do.

Ace: Right, right. A natural extension. Yeah.

Saturn: I’m all about natural. I’m a California girl.

Ace: Completely. That’s beautiful. And for you, Shane?

Shane: I think it’s always just what I’m drawn to in that moment. When I was a kid, it was fashion. I made clothes for my toys and dolls when I was, I can’t remember what age, but I have a memory of cutting up foam packaging for a Barbie’s outfit and made her this little sickening asymmetrical foam look. It gave Project Runway, what’s the challenge, where they have to make stuff up in unconventional —

Saturn: The toddler edition.

Shane: …materials. Right. And then, yeah, I also have an early memory of listening to No Doubt in my garage when Tragic Kingdom came out, so I was probably eight years old or something, and going sick, jumping up and down, shaking my head, and my glasses flew off and they broke. They flew under the refrigerator. But from a young age, I always felt so much power in fashion and music. That’s kind of always what it was and just art in itself.

And then as I got older, I was scared to have that as a career. I didn’t know if that was realistic for me as a career choice. So I chose culinary — in case my art career fails, people have always got to eat. So I chose that.

And then in San Francisco I started to do drag and performance art. Coming out of a traumatic split within an ex of five years.

And then when I started to do drag, I realized that it brought together all the pieces of the things that I loved. It was fashion, it was art, it was music. It was like, I can make my costumes, I can make my hair, I can do the songs. It brought everything together that felt like the missing link for a while. And then kind of helped me heal this traumatic experience and helped me support myself as a queer person.

It felt like a monumental moment where I was like, okay, this was always it, was this kind of performance artistry. And then COVID kind of changed that. I moved to LA and became a DJ, which was something I always wanted to do. But in San Francisco I was so immersed in the performer side of things. And also when I asked people to teach me — the few people I knew weren’t interested.

Ace: So it’s really just been in the last few years?

Shane: Yeah.

Saturn: That’s crazy to hear. It was even right now, I was like…

Shane: I started performing 2018, and that’s kind of when I started. The company I was private chefing with kind of went under and that’s when my breakup happened. I was performing a lot more and then also performing to survive.

I’d perform on a Tuesday in the Tenderloin and go home with 20 bucks, get Jack in the Box on my way home, that’s 10 bucks, and then have a suitcase of cash of all these ones. Just so many ones in a suitcase under my bed. I’d throw it in the bag in my studio apartment with three cats.

So I was like, okay, take off the wig. And I’m like, all right. And that’s how I was surviving for a little while. Not for a long, long time, but for a little while. Then I was able to start private chefing again because I got my own clients and came back together again. That was the San Francisco life. That’s what I was doing.

Ace: Right. Before you moved here?

Shane: Before COVID. Before I moved here. But I still always wanted to DJ and make music. My brother was the musician of the family and it’s not like there has to be one. But he was the genius musician of the family. Graduated at top of the class, a guitar player, composer. He was the music. So I was like, “Okay, I’m the fashion, I’m the art. I’m that side.” Because my dad is super creative. So he gave us that —

Ace: He must be, yeah.

Shane: …brain. And his two sons have that from him. So I was like, “Oh, I don’t know if this is for me. can’t sing.” But at that time, I didn’t realize, really, you’ve got to sing to make music. I didn’t know club music as much because I was still… A lot of performers do know club music now because it’s more popular I feel. But at that time I was just so immersed in performing and songs that I could lip sync to and it’s all I listened to all the time. And then when I moved here [to LA], all my friends were DJs and I would play a playlist at a party and they’d be like, “Girl, you should get a USB.”

Saturn: Mix it up a little bit.

Shane: And then this one day I was with my two friends who taught me how to play, Kian and Mez, and they were playing a game on the TV, a PlayStation game. And the song on the CDJ stopped. And I was like, “Oh, the song stopped.” And they were like, “You go, why don’t you go press it?” And I was like, “What do I do?” And I chose a song, I think it was an Azealia Banks song, naturally, and played it. And then it almost ran out. I was like, “It’s almost over. What do I do?” And they were like, “Mix it together.” And then, ever since then it’s been music, DJing.

Ace: Amazing.

Shane: It’s always what brought it. I said drag is what brought it together, but now I’m realizing it’s music that brings it all together for me.

Saturn: Would you say music makes the people come together, yeah?

Shane: Yeah. The bourgeoisie.

Saturn: The bourgeoisie.

Shane: And if you’re listening to this, can we have tickets for the tour, Madonna?

Shane: So yeah, definitely, it was always that. I also realized the power was always in my hands. Like DJing, jewelry, photography, food. It was always here. But music kind of just brings it all together.

Ace: Yeah. It sounds like for both of you, when you talk about any of the art forms that you’re doing, it pours out of you in an almost involuntary way. And I’m curious to hear about when you first had an inkling that that was going to be a part of, it’s something that you can’t control generally, it just starts to come to the surface. But how young or how old were you when you recognized this?

Saturn: I was definitely two or four. I date myself, but I don’t know if I discovered the album when it came out or years later. But I remember loving TLC. And I found their first album, I think I liked the second album already and I didn’t know they had a first album. And seeing T-Boz be this androgynous person with this low voice but identifying as a film person was really cool to me. Because I always knew that the queerness was there and music was this thing that just fulfilled me.

It was just this thing that brought me so much solace because I didn’t feel like there was a lot of space for me to express. So a shut door with music blasting and me in my own concert was literally the first safe space I ever had.

Saturn

And I remember it from so young, and I remember in that moment thinking, this is what I’m going to hold on to as my thing in life. And I hid it from everyone for a really long time. They would know I would go in my room, but I wouldn’t show them my dancing. I wouldn’t let them hear me sing. I wouldn’t do any of it because my family’s really critical in, they’re very normal.

Ace: Wow, that’s incredible. And for you, Shane?

Shane: I think at a very young age, I was always aware that I wasn’t like other people. I had red hair. It was curly. I had a speech impediment. I was cross-eyed with a strong prescription with what makes your eyes look huge.

Saturn: Awwww.

Shane: Right. So I was always aware that I was different. And then as I got older and discovering myself, and luckily my parents were open to just allowing me to play with dolls, whatever toys I wanted, I’ve discovered myself through that. And then seeing TRL and all these shows on MTV and Beyonce and Destiny’s Child, I think was kind of the first, my mom took me to the TRL tour, which was Destiny’s Child Eve.

Saturn: Dream.

Shane: Dream, Nelly, 3LW, just all the girls. But I remember specifically seeing Michelle in Destiny’s Child, and I always related myself to her because she was the underdog. I liked how she sang. I liked Beyonce of course, but I was like, “I’m a Michelle.” I remember just seeing her for the first time. I was probably nine years old and I was just like, “Oh my God, this is it.” I was like, this is it. They have it. This is a dream. They’re living out the dream.

Saturn: I remember the first time my mom saw me dance in a play. I was like, did you like it? And she was like, “Why are you dancing like that?” Because I was tearing it. My hips were moving and they were putting me in the front. I didn’t have any speaking roles in this play, but every dance I had a part. And she really didn’t like it. And I think that was a part of me keeping everything private because I was like, you’re a hater. You don’t get it. I’m sickening, and you just don’t get it.”

Ace: Where do you think that inner confidence came from if you weren’t receiving it at home? Both of you have touched on that now.

Shane: I mean, my parents allowed me to be whoever I was and they were okay with it. I always felt love from them. But I don’t know. I’m trying to think.

Saturn: I come from hellcats.

Shane: I feel like I just had it. I just was just always confident at a really young age. I remember one year for Halloween, I dressed up as Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror in the full Geish. I was in full Geish. And I was a little anxious at first. I walked to my friend’s house with pants on, but then when I got to the house with pants off, I was in drag. I was like the drag.

Saturn: Well, it was easy to, I always found solace in my friend’s houses because they weren’t going to tell me, “Stop being an F word.” They were going to be like, “Oh, well baby, you look cute. Here, do it like this.” You know what I mean? And then they might whisper it to my mom later, “Hey, just so you know…”

Shane: “She was wearing a dress.”

Saturn: “She was around here in a dress and I don’t know if you like that, but I let her do it. Girl, she puts a little piece of hair on her head too. So I don’t know.” But I just knew that our performing was the safe space for that.

Shane: I feel like it’s how I protected myself too from the outside. It was just being overly confident at a young age, feeling really different as I said, red hair, stutter, blind, blah, blah, blah, blah. So from the jump, just like, “Well, girl…this is what it’s giving and I live and let’s go. Let’s run.”

Saturn: Because when you know you can’t help it, you’re like, well, I have nothing wrong with me.

I had therapy, that helped too. My school that I went to in Kensington, Madera, they sensed that there was a bit of tension in my soul, and they sent me to a therapist when I was eight.

And I have just been so emotionally intelligent since, and I recognized that, “Oh, the world is full of dummies and people who use people.” Because I was big in church. I came up Christian and I just was like, “Oh, everyone is using these things in life to make themselves feel safe, but they’re all lying. They’re not good people. People aren’t really protecting each other.”

My decisions are to help others and to be kind and to share my warmth. And I think that confidence of knowing that and relating to those characters on television too, I was always into the underdogs. Michelle was my favorite too. And I was always just into those types of people and becoming one myself, because I could have just been a shell of what my parents wanted me to be, but I just couldn’t. Because I sensed that there was death of the person or of the soul on the other side of that, and I just didn’t want it.

Ace: You both have touched on safe spaces in terms of when you were coming up and what that felt like for you then. What does it feel like for you now?

Saturn: Strange.

Shane: It is strange because that word now in the community, in a way, I don’t want to say it’s a joke. Because it’s not a joke because it is real, but it is laughable when some people say the word safe space and that they create safe spaces when they really don’t.

So it can become laughable, but it feels the same in the sense of the safe space when we were in our rooms at five years old, playing Beyonce and feeling safe in ourselves now to a safe space, say at Blush.

Shane

Ace: Right, exactly.

Shane: The feeling inside stays the same. I just think now the connotation is just a little different now.

Saturn: That’s a beautiful way to put it. I was going to be slightly messier. Well, it was a weird transition from bedroom to public, especially with art that I created. And even with spaces that I create, sharing that with people sometimes is a little anxiety inducing for me because I’m allowing you to have an opinion on something that I hold so dear. But that’s a part of it.

And there’s something that I believe too, that when I was getting called F slurs or all these other things that were happening when I was young, now when people are like, that was amazing, or like, “Oh my gosh, you look amazing.” Or, “Your show is amazing.” It still triggers that fear of being seen.

 And maybe in addition to, but separately, queer people are just people. So just because we’re all in a space together doesn’t make it safe. Because there are people who aren’t nice and who aren’t going to say the nice thing to you, or they’re going to hate, they want to do it. And like I said, normie is a decision and you could decide to do it.

So I think it’s weird just navigating it because it isn’t inherently just a safe space just because it is what it is. It’s still a space where varying types of people are in a room. We all have a similar lifestyle or similar political views hopefully, But maybe we aren’t the same kind of loving person.

So it’s always something to navigate because you just don’t know what you’re going to get. But I still bring the same level of passion and love to any room I’m in, and I hope it spreads. And I think being intentional in a queer space is the best you can do. It is to be caring for everyone else. Even if that doesn’t come back, it’s still good to always give and have that intention. And I only operate that way. I do nothing if I can’t be positive about it.

Shane: It’s like what even is a safe space? A safe space is an individual experience if that person themselves feels safe. And that’s kind of…

Saturn: That’s true too. But I think the word is meant to say that we are creating it, but it’s not always like that.

Shane: Exactly.

Saturn: Because you can’t really control your audience. But I think it’s all worth the cause. It’s always worth the cause because taking that on, something we learned at the, I felt like I learned at the Renaissance show, it’s just like, she actually really curated a safe space.

People were being so nice to each other, and I don’t think people go to other concerts and think like that. I think there was a, “Mother’s watching, be nice to each other,” and I wish that everyone had that thought everywhere they go, someone, you’ll be reprimanded for being horrible. So don’t do it. To be continued on safe spaces.

Shane: To always be continued.

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