Outburst Queer Arts Festival, Belfast, 2018

You know it's a good festival when you hardly have time for social media. A day off today, so some time to reflect. Outburst Queer Arts Festival delivers so much in a short time, my head is spinning. (That could also be my labyrinthitis...) It’s my fourth time here, many beautiful friends old and new, I’m feeling very emotional. It's like family here, I feel loved, especially as I'm being looked after by my gorgeous friend Claire Hall, aka DJ goddess Venus Dupree. It's also a family in the broadest sense, which means the good bits and the tough bits. It's challenging, and queer art should be – what am I doing with my privilege? how about you? why am I holding back on work I want to make? why are you? It's supportive, complicated, collaborative, tiring, affirming.

This week I’ve seen four Barbara Hammer films (and not quite done with her yet). I’ve been interviewed in a toilet by the divine artist/comedian/performer Gemma Hutton, been to a riveting book launch about political theatre, bought the book, made new friends, and danced for 7 hours. I cried at poetry about the long-gone beautiful boys of the Castro – so many names – and Mark Doty’s ‘House of Beauty’ –‘Propose a new beauty, perennially unhoused: / neither the lost things nor the fire itself, / but the objects in their dresses of disaster…’ I’ve seen ‘Cake Daddy’, a musical/comedy/theatrical parody about the queerness of the fat body. ‘Cut’ by Dr Richard O’Leary was a hilarious low-key health activist’s tale of adult circumcision (the after-care leaflet didn’t have the words ‘penis’ or ‘foreskin’ on it for God’s sake). ‘Love Song to Lavender Menace’ taught the poignant history of a gay bookshop in Edinburgh that empowered a generation. I have seen previews of three new plays, two of which are the actual lesbian dramas I have been praying for. Plus ‘Outlaws’ by UsFolk is a beautiful illustration exhibition bringing Belfast’s hidden gay stories to the surface where they belong. In ‘Headlines’ I saw Jamaican dancer Neila Ebanks use her body to move us through the pain of homophobia in her country, and the pleasures of resistance and community. 

Best of all is the people. I've met people from 11 countries since Thursday. How different our lives are as LGBTQIA people across the world, it never fails to astound me, but it's what we have in common that is so joyful to discover. That we are butch, femme, camp, skinny, fat, queer, creative, trans, cis, binary and not, HIV+, body+, angry, sad, sexy, failing, winning, trying to be ourselves, finding out what it means. Peruvian singer Merian dedicated a song to a friend who survived a violent street attack and was ignored by police and doctors in case she was HIV+. I wanted to scream at everyone who has ever told queer people to "stop going on about it".

What I also see is people in recovery from various trauma, including homophobia, at the same time as they are experiencing ongoing treatment as second class citizens. Being near them – and reading Simon Garfield’s The End of Innocence: Britain in the time of AIDS at the same time – makes me realise that it’s time to face my own experiences, ones that have changed the kind of person I might otherwise have been. I don’t think I’ve ever been willing to fully face it all, purely from shame, but it’s there every day – in my strange repressed speaking voice, my uncomfortable walk, my bitten fingers, my shyness, drinking, nightmares of rage and frustration, my constant asking: Are you listening? Do you understand me? It’s all from the same place.

When I first detected that unavoidable dreaded thing about myself as a kid (and it really was a feeling of disbelief and dread), the bullying had already commenced and I could barely believe the thing everyone was saying about me was coming true. At that point I began to dread the rest of my life and it is a horrible experience for a child to go through. I have been in such denial about that long experience of pain and isolation. I can’t look at it. I knew I was laughable and disgusting because that’s how gay people are. I witnessed and/or experienced homophobia everywhere I went. I internalised it so efficiently I began to experience gender dysphoria. I was confused, upset, relieved to be attracted to both men and women, then felt betrayed when that also changed. This was all happening to a child and to a teenager, not to a grown up. Nobody has ever asked me what all of this was like. Why haven’t they? 

In my childhood I had a feeling that whatever happened to me, I was one day going to get sick and die, because ‘gay’ stood for ‘Got Aids Yet?’ I didn’t know that ‘Gay’ and ‘AIDS’ were two different things, just as I couldn’t tell from my grandparents’ war films that ‘German’ and ‘Nazi’ were two different things. I just read the phrase ‘Got Aids Yet?’ in Garfield’s book and was unexpectedly triggered. Anxiety and shame. I had made myself forget it. I was 6 when someone first asked me, ‘Are you a lad or a lass?’ and everyone laughed at me. I was 11 when someone shouted ‘Faggot!’ at me across a busy town square. I was with my Mum. I was 17 when someone crossed the road to punch me in the face. I made a promise that year I would never tell anyone about my feelings. I didn’t break my promise until I was broken myself, aged 24. When I was 27 I went on a date with someone and when I kissed him on the street, a car slowed and a man shouted, ‘You fuckin’ poof.’ I never hold hands with my partner and I never will. My feverish attachment to anything / everything queer has given me life and pleasure but I know I am desperately looking for some affirmation to undo all this damage. I think there’s a different work to be done that I assumed would be done by coming out. Queer art and queer artists are turning my head to face the truth and it’s painful but I love them for it.

Artist Diary: October 2018

A little look at some highlights in a month of being an arts freelancer and creative odd-bod.

 

Tuesday 9 October

Took part in a podcast interview with the fantastic Rebecca Swarray of RebeccaNeverBecky, who is storming ahead with her creative projects right now, a joy to witness. Fellow podcast guest was dear Oskar Marchock and the three of us chatted creativity, queer culture, inspiration, life goals and more. Can’t wait for everyone to hear.

 

Wednesday 10

Last appointment for a while with my myofascial therapist / guru, Christian Platts. My body is as out of line as my mind so good to have chance to attend to both. Have been considering some major changes lately but worried about what I will have to leave behind. The tarot indicated that letting go is part of moving forward and is to be appreciated as a facet of life, not feared. So let’s see.

In the evening, co-hosted an event with George House Trust called ‘Positively Speaking’ at 53Two in which people living with HIV in Manchester shared their stories and experiences with an audience, showing the diverse face of HIV in our city. Felt newly inspired to help fight HIV stigma. It has cost some people more than the disease itself and there is no excuse for ignorance any more. One of the best events I’ve been involved with. Wished I could have cultivated a larger audience for them (attendance anxiety will actually be my undoing – 45 people registered, 18 came) but I have to let those kinds of worries go or I risk overlooking the specialness of what we shared.

 

Thursday 11

Rent Party at The Klondyke a 5 star theatrical experience. Black Gold Arts are a force to be reckoned with, cultivating diverse queer POC projects. Saw the scratch version of this a while back. New version is utterly transformed, expanded, interactive, hard-hitting, musical, hilarious.

 

Sunday 14

Manning the stand at The Manchester Contemporary / Buy Art Fair for Islington Mill. Not selling any work this year so have the chance to roam around, chat to people at their own stands, and recline on our sofa talking about Salford, studio spaces and 20 years of Islington Mill. Our stand is the nicest by far with bespoke typographical wallpaper and a TV screening a show-reel of Mill art . Nice weekend. Saw lots of art that blew my mind, one way or the other…

 

Monday 15

Start of a long week of meetings to discuss, amongst other things, a queer film festival for Manchester, a new public engagement project around sex & drugs, the future of the Manchester Pride festival, a tour of the revamped Waterside Theatre in the Gay Village, and loads loads more. Head is spinning by Friday. My work pattern tends to go like this: Initial project excitement > Develops into task list > Overwhelmed by enormity of things > Stagnate, procrastinate. Shame at ‘doing things wrong or badly’ has prompted me to begin seeing a work coach and have had some initial success already. She talked me through my worries around making a writing application and helped me see things from a more positive persective. I applied straight after our session and got the job. In January I begin writing for the new magazine pubished by PAPER Gallery. More to follow!

 

Friday 19

‘The Pride’ at Hope Mill Theatre by Alexi Kaye Campbell, a very good decade-hopping tale of gay desire, both near-contemporary and from half a century before. Two central characters are taken on by Simon Hallman who is excellent at teasing out distinct versions of a thematically ‘reincarnated’  character. Sat on the panel afterwards to talk ‘pride’, queer theatre, and the play. Such a relief that it was a good piece of work, being panellist for bad material is the worst and I am sometimes too tired to be a diplomat.

 

Sunday 21

To Mayfield Depot for MIF show ‘Everything that happened and would happen’. Exactly my cup of tea. Grand, abstract, postmodern, loud, ambitious, political. Perfect use of the space but audience was a bit more stationary than I was led to believe. Still, as a taster for forthcoming Factory ambitions, a v good omen.

 

Thursday 25

Hosted a Conversation Circle with my friend, the artist Rosanne Robertson, at the end of her ‘To The Ground’ solo show at AIR Gallery, Altrincham. The collection has some of Rosanne’s best work to date and we talked in a comfortable and, I hope, unpretentious inclusive way about her practice, how her identity informs the work, what she is learning as an artist, what she is expressing when she puts the work together, and loads more. Our buzzwords were lesbian, working-class, labour, queer, piss, power, gender and ART. White vests, bricks, house dust, charcoal, breeze blocks, soil, Sure deodorant cans, soap, menstrual blood, bomb shells and other gorgeous tactile and suggestive materials are all in the mix. Imagine a kindly alien came across a bombed-out house and tried its best to reassemble the pieces with no notion of what a house was. The domestic, queered and turned inside out in some ways. We had a full house/gallery and a great conversation emerged including everyone present. I managed to get the phrase ‘James Dean with a clit’ in so I was happy. For me as a curator, it was flattering to be asked to do this work because it suggests a degree of trust from Rosanne, a belief in my engagement with the work, which I fully had, and all of that then meant I could choose to be challenging. Plus it’s just good news to hear two clever people like us talking about art in public with Northern accents, so there.

 

Friday 26 October

To Liverpool Biennial for a one-day whistle stop. The party was well and truly over by the time I got there. Venues were hard to get into, scruffy, art was thin and the usually helpful Liverpudlians seemed a bit fed up. Twice I had to ask where the art even was. Am I standing on it? The Agnes Varda’s left an impression, one of them was from 1982 though. I liked Inci Eviner’s ‘Reenactment of Heaven’ too, a highly-detailed panoramic moving film and sound collage projection that was more like the bedlam of hell than heaven. I’ve forgotten most of the rest already. Heavy on video and most of it long. Highlight was getting a deep cleansing facial treatment while the artist told me a story and I got ASMR. She made a ghostly cast of my face. I love one-one-one performance and would like to see more and maybe do some.

 

Saturday 27

Trans Creative Board Meeting to discuss Kate O’Donnell’s action packed year, and an ambitious year ahead. I was acting Chair for first time, think I did okay. Lots to do and all of it exciting, and I think so necessary in current transphobic climate. Would like to see more venues and organisations proactively championing trans artists and making space for them (as opposed to charging venue hire for example).

 

Activist goings on…

Stewarding sessions outside Marie Stopes clinic offering visible support/resistance against local church ‘vigilantes’ harassing clinic users.

Peaceful vigil outside Quakers building while group of anti-self-ID feminists met inside. The scowls some of them gave to trans people as they passed us by chilled me. The week leading up to the consultation was a nightmare for everyone, well done for surviving it.

Trans solidarity meeting in Todmorden, again where the GRA consultation has divided communities. Trans positivity needed!

 

Reading…

Finished Kathy Acker’s Blood & Guts in High School after a tortuous relationship with it. See my Goodread for more…

Finished Recollections of my Life as a Woman by Diane di Prima and am reeling, what a beautiful ride, such a grand life of adventure and art and sacrifice.

 

Watching…

Skate Park (2018)

It Follows (2015)

Marnie (1964)

The Babadook (2014)

 

Listening…

The Read, podcast, so hilarious.

Happiness, with Gretchen Rubin, podcast.

You Must Remember This, podcast: Jane Fonda & Jean Seberg, Bela Lugosi & Boris Karloff episodes especially.

Alice Coltrane, Natalie Prass , Ryuichi Sakomoto, Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (seriously on repeat for 3 days).

 

Thinking…

I want to manage my addiction to caffeine.

Proud of myself for getting back to the gym despite crazy undiagnosed leg pain.

Excited to have the chance to show ‘A mile of black paper’ again soon.

For Samhain I set fire to the things I want to let go of. ‘Fear of success’ and ‘Fear of failure’ both went in the flames.

 

Orlando

In 2016 I did a performance for Instigate Arts at HOME. While I was putting the piece together the Orlando shooting happened and made me rethink everything. It was a terrible shock, and yet ... not. It would be even less of a shock now, in the terrible age of mass shootings that America is in the thick of. We assumed then that it was a hate crime, even though it turned out he might not have even realised it was a gay club after all. But we were ready to believe that it was, because it simply makes sense that the homophobia you see or feel or witness more or less every day in the world would one day inform a mass killing. (In fact, it already had, at the Admiral Duncan in Soho).

I meet and work with a lot of LGBT people and some of them have had their ambitions crushed before they have even been given a chance. That's what makes me especially sad and angry about Orlando, that people's ambitions and hopes and opportunities to do something wonderful in this life are wrenched away for literally no reason. On this remembrance day, I give love to the dead and to the living, and I am angry too.

At my performance, I had written the names of the youngest Orlando victims onto the backs of fortunes taken from fortune cookies. I read their names and read the various fortunes that they would never ever experience now, then gently blew the fortunes off the palm of my hand, and off they fluttered, into the air of the gallery.