Hag In A Black Leather Jacket, John Waters, 1964

From The Believer:

Throughout most of the 1990s my evenings were split between working at a nonprofit call center where I bummed money off strangers for good causes, and getting drunk and dancing at any of San Francisco’s queer punk clubs. I didn’t know the town was a hotbed of these two particular and generally separate subcultures—queer and punk—and I didn’t know how badly I needed this particular hybrid in order to discover myself, but when I walked into a club called Junk, housed in a gay bar called Paula’s Clubhouse, it was like I had walked into my own best-case scenario of life. Up in the DJ booth, a scrawny punk with a bright blue Mohawk spun Nina Hagen. Soon enough she would be my girlfriend, but that night I made out with a different girl entirely, when the centrifugal force of a broken mosh circle sent us flying into each other. I never saw her again, but no worry. The Mission District in the ’90s was a promenade of fierce young dykes, each more shorn, more intriguingly pierced, more gender ambiguous than the last. Reigning over all, at least to my starstruck eyes, was a motley crew of surly twentysomethings resembling Peter Pan’s Lost Boys if the Lost Boys were girls, the sort of girls who look like the sort of boys who might break a beer bottle over your head at a club. Many of them would transition to male later in life, but back then they were youthful and sweet-cheeked, their tender faces topped with hair matted into dreadlocks with spray adhesive, or glued into a Mohawked plank, or dyed black as coal and worn to the waist not in the way of a maiden but in the way of, like, Lemmy from Motörhead. I’m talking about the HAGS, and if you were alive in the Mission during this era you saw their tags everywhere, at bus stops and in bar bathrooms, on phone booths and brick walls. HAGS SF, HAGS IN YOUR FACE, in a black Sharpie scrawl. You knew a HAG was a HAG because they moved in a pack, as all wild animals do, and the backs of their motorcycle jackets and denim vests all proclaimed their affiliation. HAGS. More than the presence of a women-only bathhouse soaking with lesbians, more than the women’s bookstore selling Dorothy Allison novels and feminist newsletters, even more than the Bearded Lady, the dyke café that hosted late-night art events attended by Kathy Acker, the HAGS were evidence of the mad freedom to be found in San Francisco. The city was plagued by fag bashings and other antiqueer hate crimes, but if this was the place this group of magnificent and terrifying dykes thought best to call home, it was where I wanted to call home too.

The HAGS were formed by Tracie Thomas, a queer Colorado punk who followed her band, Feminine Deodorant Spray, to the Bay Area at the start of the decade. A photo from the era shows Thomas posing before what looks like a fuzzy, zebra-striped wall. Her Mohawk is as stiff as plastic, her denim vest covered in studs. She wears a bullet belt and a Misfits T-shirt and a handkerchief knotted around her neck. There’s a tattoo on her forearm and her head is slightly tilted as she looks warily into the camera. She seems to be trying to radiate classic outlaw toughness while simultaneously wondering if the photographer is going to kick her ass.

Sometime after this photograph was taken, Thomas was grieving a breakup by flinging plates out the window of a friend’s fourth-floor apartment down by Fisherman’s Wharf. She was not alone. “I had a couple of friends who were like, ‘Let’s hang out and support each other,’ and it was a kind of tough, get-your-energy-out, girl-support togetherness thing.” The inspiration to codify the energy struck Thomas. Influenced by filmmaker and misfit icon John Waters, she dubbed her posse the HAGS, after the auteur’s obscure black-and-white film Hag in a Black Leather Jacket.

“Hags in Your Face”, Michelle Tea, The Believer