by MK Scott -
SGN Contributing Writer
STRIKE A POSE
THREE DOLLAR BILL CINEMA
NORTHWEST FILM FORUM
April 5 @ 7pm
STRIKE A POSE
LOGO TV PREMIERE
April 6 @ 9pm
The documentary Strike a Pose was a huge fave at Three Dollar Bill Cinema's Twist (the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival) last fall and this week returns to the Northwest Film Forum (April 5) before its big premiere on Logo TV on Thursday, April 6 at 9pm ET/PT. The film catches up with seven young male dancers - six gay, one straight - on Madonna's controversial 'Blond Ambition World Tour' in 1990 and her subsequent Truth or Dare documentary, as they unwittingly become icons for Gay rights and sexual freedom. Twenty-five years later, the dancers reveal the truth about life during and after the tour and the significance of their courageous but harrowing journey to, as Madonna sings, 'Express Yourself.' The critically acclaimed documentary, from filmmakers Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan and the Emmy Award-winning Logo Documentary Films, was an official selection at the 2016 Tribeca, Berlin and Hot Docs film festivals.
One of the most memorable of the dancers is the gorgeous Salim 'Slam' Gauwloos. Born in a small Flemish town by Belgian-Moroccan parents, 'Slam' made an impression in Truth or Dare by kissing fellow dancer Gabriel Trupin - the first Gay kiss ever to be shown in a major movie. It is only recently that he has come to see what both the tour and Truth or Dare have meant to people around the world: 'We helped the world to come out of the closet!' he has said. In the more recent documentary, Strike a Pose, Slam comes out as Poz. Slam chatted with me earlier this week about his journey and as a Muslim with a green card what he thinks of the political climate.
MK Scott: Hello, Slam, welcome to 'It's Fab.' Super excited to talk to you about Truth or Dare, Vogue, and the new revealing documentary, Strike a Pose, coming to Logo on April 6. I had a chance to see this at the Seattle Gay Film Festival last fall. In fact, Kevin Stea came to the screening.
'Slam' Gauwloos: Oh, to the screening, yeah, that's right. I remember that.
MK: How did you get involved with Strike a Pose?
Slam: Well, I was approached around 2013. I was approached by both directors. They sent us all an email, and I responded pretty quick to the email, and I was working in Vienna, Austria at the time, so I just - Reijer Zwaan, one of the directors, he came to meet me in Vienna, and we talked for a couple hours. And I don't know, I just had a really good feeling about it, and I just - I was pretty much onboard from the beginning. But still, you know, I wasn't sure. It's like, okay, I'm not going to spill all the beans. Am I just going to talk about my dancing career? But I saw this as a really good opportunity for me to really, you know, talk about different things. And so I was pretty much onboard and still to this day, you know, I'm so proud of this. I think I'm prouder of this than I am of Truth or Dare.
MK: Did you talk to the other dancers before agreeing to it?
Slam: Well, I think that one of the last ones was Jose in the end and we were always a bit closer than all of us together. So I think the last one that I kept sending Facebook messages to was Jose, because he - I think Jose was the last one to sign up with the project. But in literally 25 years, I haven't talked to anybody. I saw Jose here and there, but it's been a long time. So it was - it was nerve-racking, but really it was amazing connecting with these guys again, yeah.
MK: In the film, you came out as HIV positive. That was an incredible moment, especially for the audience.
Slam: Yes, yes, yes, yeah, it was incredible for me too and very emotional, but I'm, you know, again, I'm happy I did it. And I think it was right, the right time to share my story, you know, with fans, with the world, just not as a dancer, but as a human being too, you know. Everybody always thinks like, oh, you know, you go on tour with Madonna, everything is all rosy. But you know, there was like a big behind the stage, behind the scene, you know, what was going on there.
MK: Has Madonna approached you since the film has come out?
Slam: Yes, she's right here. No, no, it's okay. [Both laugh] No, actually, no, she hasn't. No, no, we haven't heard anything from her. I know Liz Rosenberg [Madonna's now retired, long-time publicist] saw it and I think she got in contact with the Strike a Pose people and said that she really liked the movie and that she was going to forward it to Madonna. But we never heard anything regarding Madonna's team. But it's okay, you know, that's not why I did it, you know. I just did it for a lot of other reasons, not for just for Madonna to see it or not. So, I'm okay with that. Yeah, but maybe in the future, you know, maybe she looks at Logo, I mean. But then she doesn't watch TV, so who knows. Maybe her kids see it, and they can tell her.
MK: Well, it is - it's definitely a good sign that Liz liked it, because, yeah, because -
Slam: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MK: Now, what did you think about hearing about all of your fellow dancers and their stories about what has happened to them, you know, since Truth or Dare?
Slam: It was touching. It was very - it really touched me because, you know, you think - I thought that I was the only one, okay, after the tour, you know, my life is just a big mess, you know, for like all those years and just really dark, really dark times, you know, but then to hear that, you know, literally I mean we've all been through something, you know. So, it was very comforting to hear that, that I was not the only one, but then also to hear, you know, what they've been going through and everything. So it was very healing and very comforting to me, yes.
MK: And also we find out that you had spent years being homeless as well as your drug addiction as well.
Slam: Ah, yes, yes, yes. Yes, I talk about it in the film too, but again, you know, it goes a bit deeper too, because and also not besides just not having a place to live, I mean I thank God I never had to sleep on the street. I always had good friends or other people who cared, but besides, you know, being HIV and then having no place to live, I was also illegal in the country for quite - from like six to seven years. So that was like a whole other thing. It was never really touched in the movie, because that, you know, would have been too much, like, oh my God, another thing. But you know, that had a - that was a big thing for me too. I was illegal, and that's why I didn't get treatment for HIV for 10 years, because I thought I was going to go into the hospital and they were going to just call immigration. And I was going to get deported. You know, so that was one of the reasons why I never really talked about it and never reached out for help. So in '97, I literally dropped to the floor, and I had no choice. They had to rush me to the hospital. But then again - you know, I found out there was all - yeah, I was really bad, you know, but I found out there were all these organizations, and at the end, you know, they just took really good care of me. They didn't call immigration, you know, so at the end, it did work out for me. But now, you know, I was just at the clinic, at my HIV clinic, and my social worker was telling me that, you know, they have a lot of illegal immigrants who get medical care, but now they also - they're petrified, you know, with all these things going on, you know, with the illegal immigrants. We have a new president, you know, so it - I know what it feels like. It's terrible. And this was only in the '90s for me, and I believe in the '90s it could be more invisible living in New York as an illegal alien, you know, but I think now it's much harder. It's different times, you know. You need ID for everything. I thought (dancing Max) Steiner was easier, yes. And then, you know, I came out with it, because, you know, I want people to hear and, you know, at the end, you know, it was like all those strikes against me, you know. But there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, you know. You just - you just gotta keep going, yeah.
MK: Now were you surprised about the HIV statuses of your fellow dancers?
Slam: Well, Gabriel, I - he passed away in '95, so - So very surprised. So we knew that already. I found out after he died that he was HIV, you know, and then Carlton, he wrote a book about it a couple years ago. So he was out of the closet too, yeah. So I was kind of the last one to come out. And I never thought it was the right moment, but when these two beautiful directors came from Holland, I was like, you know, what, I'm going to take this chance and just, yeah, share my story. Yeah, but it's amazing, you know, we were - it's so - I guess ironic too, you know. We were the three dancers on the 'Blond Ambition Tour' who did her song 'Get into the Groove,' and 'Get into the Groove' was about educating people using condoms and all of that too. So she used to do all of these speeches regarding HIV too, and here we are, you know, myself, Gabriel, and Carlton, and we're all standing on stage. And we're all HIV positive. It's something really ironic about it. Yeah.
MK: Especially that moment when she paid tribute to her friend Keith Haring on stage.
Slam: Yeah, ah, terrible - any time she would do a tribute, my heart would just drop, and I would feel like, okay, please. And it looked like I didn't care. It looked like I was all like, you know, proud and I didn't care, but I was petrified.
MK: All right, and one epic scene from Truth or Dare is probably the most talked about, and that was your kissing scene with Gabriel.
Slam: Yes, yes, still to this day.
MK: And most people have credited that as being a really big moment during their own coming-out process. How was that kiss -?
Slam: The kiss was amazing. [Both laugh] You know, but it was - it's amazing, you know, it was such an innocent kiss too, you know. We already had a little crush on each other during the tour, so then they decided to play Truth or Dare one night, and you know, there with us, you know, it's like - and it was just innocent, you know, just a compassionate, innocent kiss. I think, I guess one of the first male kisses, passionate too, not fake, on the big screen too, you know, and even 'til today, you know, I get emails from people just saying how it made them feel normal, you know. And this is in 1990, you know. Nobody was out of the closet, you know. It wasn't cool to be gay. Now it's like everybody is gay now, you know, it's cool now to be anything. But it feels really nice, especially not knowing that it was going to have such an impact on so many people's lives, you know. It was just an innocent kiss. That's where it started. So I think it even makes it more beautiful that it turned into this big thing. I'm really proud of that, but I can't - at that moment, you know, social media wasn't available, none of the outlets were available, so we never really knew what people were thinking, you know. The tour was finished, so we were like, okay, this is it. This is done, you know. She's going to go on another tour, and nobody's ever going to remember us. So it's nice to know that they still do. It really makes me feel nice.
MK: Now, when I had decided, okay, who from the group did I want to interview, I asked my good friend Matthew Rettenmund, who actually wrote the book about Madonna, The Madonna Encyclopedia, and he said - Slam because he's the nicest, he has the most intriguing story, and of course, who could forget your nice, beautiful long hair at the time, and ah -
Slam: Oh my God, that's so sweet, thank you. I know I miss my hair, too.
MK: All right, and did you have any mementos from the tour?
Slam: What's a memento, like a -
MK: Like a souvenir.
Slam: A souvenir, yes, but I lost all of them. Yeah. I lost all of them because I moved so many times and had nowhere to go. And listen to this, oh this is so tragic, but I mean if I say everything, I should just say everything. I sold my tour jacket, because I was so desperate for money. I sold it for $150. Can you believe that? $150, you know, in 1990 - early '90s, that was a lot of money. Now, it's like nothing. But yes, I lost everything, and I sold my tour jacket.
MK: I also read that your mother was Catholic, your father was Muslim, from Morocco - How did that shape your life as a gay man?
Slam: Well, my mom - I mean, my mom, she said she was Catholic because - but I mean, it was never really - we never went to church. We used to walk by the church, and she said that's enough to just walk by it. So she was not really a practicing Catholic. And my father, he was just around - he came into the picture probably when I was like five, six, and he was just around for a couple years. But yeah, yeah, so when he came around - because I was - I could do anything at home. That was the great thing, you know, so long as I wasn't having sex, you know. But I could do anything. I could dress up like a girl, I - creative expression was always like available in my house. And that was really beautiful. Then my father came for a couple years, and that changed everything. So I had to like put the Barbies away or play with my Barbies when he was gone. But then he only lived with us for like four years, and yeah, my mom had enough from him, yeah. But I think what I learned, you know, what I have from my father, I think, is spirituality. Yeah. He was a very spiritual man, yeah. So I think I have that from him, and probably from my mom who recently passed away, I probably have her strength. That's what I get from my mom, yeah. Yeah, and you know what's so beautiful in Strike a Pose film is too, it's like how important everybody's moms are, you know. All of them - I think we all are who we are because of our moms, you know. Look at Jose's mom, look at Sue's mom, you know, they really - they are queens almost, you know.
MK: And of course Madonna herself, she truly was like a mom to everyone.
Slam: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, she was, yeah, but still, you know, it's like I just got away from my mom, so I was like, look, I'm not looking for another mom. I want to breathe for a little bit. But to a certain extent, yes, yes, she was.
MK: Now, tell us about your husband, Facundo?
Slam: Yeah, Facundo Caba. He is from Argentina. And he is - I locked him in the bedroom so I can really focus on our interview. We met each other in 2000, and he was really the one because even in 2000, I had no working papers. But he was the one, you know, we got a lawyer, we did all of that. So it was like, I mean, you have to be able to get your, you know, be legal. And then he was like, show me like the newspaper clip from Madonna, show this, but I was like, I don't have anything. So he went to the library and looked through all the files about Madonna, got all the press that I did, and from there we started my immigration case, yeah, and I got a green card. And now I'm an American citizen. Yeah, and I never thought I would. So that's the amazing thing, you know, never thought I would be able to. Yeah. But he's a beautiful man. I'm happy to have him in my life.
MK: All right, and speaking of that, what are your thoughts of the travel bans as a Muslim and with a green card?
Slam: Ah, I don't know. I mean of course it's wrong. I mean, I think it's wrong to deny anybody in any kind of country, you know, to enter any kind of country. But you know, I am an optimist, you know. Things will get better, you know. We always, you know, gay people, minorities, you know, at the end we always prevail, you know. And I just - if we just keep fighting and keep talking up and keep talking about this too, you know, I think things will change, you know. We always prevail as gay people and as minorities in the end, you know. It might take a little bit longer, but I think we will, you know. And look how many, you know, so many evil things are going on, but look at the same time, you know, how many people it has brought together too, you know. When is the last time there's all these protests against one man, you know? It's been a while ago. So I always try to look at the good side of the whole thing. Yeah. But it will change. I know it will change, like everything always does. But even in, you know, they give me a hard time in airport, because, you know, my name, I have a Middle Eastern tattoo, Arabic tattoo on my arm. It's a Salim. And my real name is Salim Hamid Gauwloos, and I have an American passport and European passport, but they - they've always given me a hard time in the airports because of my name. It is nothing new.
MK: And what was it like to reconnect with your fellow dancers, because I know that that incredible scene at the very end of where you guys all had, were reunited for the first time after so many years, what was that like?
Slam: It was great. It was emotional, it was nerve-racking, it was just a beautiful moment, yeah, because it is, you know. It's like you don't see these people for 25 years, and it's like, what are we going to talk about, but it just, you know, we were all wiser. We're all grown up, so it's like we never really left each other, you know. And everybody still has their kind of different humors and everything. So it was a really nice experience. Yes, yes. It was very nice.
MK: Yeah, and finally, this is my last question, which I usually call my burning question, In 2010, there was an American TV show called 'Glee.' And so in it, this one episode of where it was devoted completely all to Madonna. It was the Madonna episode. Okay. Well, what they did was it was really, really awesome. Jane Lynch, you know, she portrays Madonna, and they do frame by frame completely, you know, re imagined the entire 'Vogue' video.
Slam: Oh wow!
MK: In fact, Jane Lynch won an Emmy from that episode. Because it was so - it was so pitch perfect. So, of course, my question was of course if you had seen it and so forth, but I guess you have not. So -
Slam: No, no, no, I - yeah, I don't have a TV. Can you believe it? I got rid of it a while ago. It just - I was just too consumed by the TV, so got rid of it. So I can't even watch my own documentary on the TV, because I don't have a TV.
MK: Yeah, we're also promoting the screening, which is going to be this week, here in Seattle. And then of course - the big Logo premiere as well, so.
Slam: Very excited about that. I can't wait.
MK: I can't either.
Learn more about Slam as well as Oliver, Carlton, Luis, Kevin, and Jose when Logo TV premieres Strike a Pose on Thursday, April 6 at 9pm ET/PT.
On Wednesday, April 5 at 7pm, as part of Three Dollar Bill Cinema's first Wednesday Queer Film Series, you can catch a public screening of Strike a Pose at Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Avenue). (Free for Three Dollar Bill Cinema members and $12 for nonmembers. Advance tickets available at Stranger Tickets.)
Hear the full interview on MK's podcast at podomatic.com/podcasts/itsfab
MK Scott is a Seattle-based arts blogger. Check out his blog at outviewonline.com
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