The lovely folks from Leicester LGBT Centre invited me to judge their latest poetry contest for members of their social youth groups First Out (13-15 yrs), T Party (13-18 yrs trans kids) and Jump (16-18).
The topic was Pride, Progress & Change, inspired by work by Dean Atta and Musa Okwonga as published on the anthologies Proud(ed. Juno Dawson) and A Change is Gonna Come(ed. Mary Bello).
The “baby queers” from the centre are so close to my heart, as I have mentioned before when talking about the times I’ve given them workshops. They did not disappoint at all. Everyone’s work was powerful, honest, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but packed with a lot of soul and determination.
It was so, so hard to choose only five winners out of nine excellent entries to be rewarded with books supplied by Category Is Books (the best indie library in Britain!) to keep reading for inspiration and encouragement. I was relieved the runner-ups wouldn’t go empty handed and would get some nice notebooks to keep honing their craft.
To read all the entries, go to Leics LGBT Youth’s Instagram (cw: slurs, LGBTQ+phobia, but kept PG-13 and optimistic). Wonderful stuff.
The first Young Adult verse novel in Dean Atta’s catalogue, feels like a warm hug to my inner child, inner teenager, inner baby queer.
We grow through over 300 pages (over three hours as an audiobook — you must listen to the poets read their work whenever you can) along Michael’s journey of self-discovery within his family, his school(s) and university, and the world we share together. Through friendships, heartbreak and ignorance from the people surrounding him, and our own ignorance, as he is the sole holder of his ever-shifting truth. A fabulously proud miracle of melanin in a sea of pink.
Between the narrative verses of his story, there are poems within poems, textual conversations where the unspoken speaks volumes, user manuals for drag, performance, gender, race, origins, destinations.
Michael (and Atta) never forgets who he is and where he comes from, regardless of occassional turbulence in his flight, and always takes the opportunity to give a shout out to other black queer pioneers and trailblazers, from Beyonce and Audre Lorde to Jacob V Joyce and Chardine Taylor Stone. The last two, people I am blessed to know in person as influential figures, colleagues and friends. I have also been honoured to have taken workshops under Atta’s guidance in the dearly departed Mouthy Poets collective, the Pangea Poets project, and the MAC in Birmingham. It is amazing to see him thrive and reach audiences of all ages across the world, hopefully inspiring them all to write their stories, their guides, their truth.
Waiting for the sequel, to see Michael grow through the rest of his university years, drag and poetry career, and life. What happens to his friends, to that one cutie from the London hip hop gay club, and that no-so-cute person at the end. Not going to give out any spoilers, but Michael is fierce, beautiful, handsome and brave. Leventis, as those girls at the beach say. Leventis indeed.
On Thursday 12th September, I’ll have the privilege of opening for fabulous, kaleidoscopic, multimedia British-American performer La JohnJoseph. They will bring their show A Generous Lover to Attenborough Arts Centre.
The true, and very queer tale, of one soul’s journey through the wasteland of mental illness, to deliver their lost love. Selected as one of The Scotsman’s top 10 pick of Edinburgh Fringe 2018. La JJ has presented performance work across the UK including the Royal Opera House, Bristol Old Vic, HOME and the Southbank Centre, as well as internationally.
“Both campy and moving, this story of love and insanity mixes humor with pathos.” – The New York Times
“Elegant, incisive and intoxicating …powerfully mobilises the distinctive forms and sensibilities that make them such a rich, compelling artist” – The Scotsman
“Horrifying and funny and defiantly beautiful” – Frieze
La JJ has presented performances at the Royal Opera House, Deutsche Oper, Bristol Old Vic, Barbican, Schaubühne (Berlin), Art Basel Hong Kong, MoMA (SF), Dixon Place (NY), Martin-Gropius Bau (Berlin), Fancy Him (Tokyo), La Java (Paris) & MAC (Rio). They have also joined such luminaries such as Justin Vivian Bond, Taylor Mac, Arcade Fire and Paloma Faith onstage.
La JJ is the author of five plays, including “Boy in a Dress” (2012) and “A Generous Lover” (2018) which will be published in a joint volume by Oberon in Sept 2019. La JJ’s book, “Everything Must Go” was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. They are currently writing the follow-up.
Last minute, I gave a poetry workshop at Leicester LGBT Centre on Thursday, in order to commemorate the National Poetry Day. It was oriented to teenagers from the First Out group, including members from the lesbian, gay, bisexual an trans community who are currently doing college, sixth form and first year of uni. Something I wish existed back in my days, back in my hometown, where a lot of us were stuck in the closet or else we could get extra bullied because somehow, sometimes, everybody knows you’re bent. Everybody knows but you.
Either way, it’s nice to see how these kids have freedom of learning, expressing themselves, seeking guidance and expressing themselves.
They did a few exercises on the past, present and future of poetry. Writing about being themselves way back in the past. Even using their imagination to imagine they’re gay dinosaurs. Writing about their favourite shows, books, music artists. One of them wrote an excellent puny poem called “Eastbenders”. As an EastEnders fan, it made me cry with laughter. These kids are great at their memes, love Steven Universe and American Horror Story, and relate to the same colourful and painful stuff we relate to. They’re basically pint-sized versions of ourselves and we should respect them and let them speak, learn, live.
And like back in the days, some of them were really into yaoi. But instead of imagining threesomes in Inu Yasha, they have very real canon queer stories on Yuri on Ice. Like when Ranma 1/2 made us realise we were trans, and Revolutionary Girl Utena and Madoka Magica made us aware that we were sapphic af.
But you know what else I really loved? Remember in the late 90s/early 00s that all the kids said that something was “so gay” to mean it was a bad thing? It was so common, Hilary Duff made a PSA ad asking us to “knock it off”.
Well, now the kids say something is “so gay” when it’s something good. Which now means that top is not gay enough. Maybe if it were the skirt-as-top’s colour? Either way, it’s good that kids are growing up with a sense of pride in themselves and not afraid of being fabulous.
They still have to deal with t e r f y hags who behave like massive toddlers having more power on the GRA consultation than them tho. So please, speak up and stop bullying them from your positions of power if you can. Think of the children. REALLY think of the children and let them be the happiest, free-est version of themselves.
The world sucks sometimes. You’ve read on “Craig David” about a lot of the boogers that happened in the world, and that was just for ONE WEEK. The following weeks kept getting worse and worse in small and great scale: police brutality, terrorist attacks everywhere, your parents damning this country to hell and validating those who hate us to be more outspoken about it, horrible people inside and outside taking sneaky pictures in the changing rooms and laughing at those who don’t exactly please Grandpa Hugh Hefner’s rotten standards, etc.
It can be awful daring to step outside with the piercing fear of being attacked one way or another, but then there’s also the fear of ourselves that, if we stayed indoors all the time, we might never be able to come out and our voice will be muffed and lost. The fear of not coming home alive, the fear of not leaving house alive. This is for you, for us.
It’s a poem/film/guide thingie called “How to Leave the House in Times of Trouble”. For those of us trouble by agoraphobia, being members of one or many “minority” groups and seeing our worst fears come through every day. There’s still a world outside, and this world still needs you. So get ready and earn some courage however you can, if possible.
The poem was written as an exercise at a Writing Poetry Google Hangout Workshop with Dean Atta. He gave the queue of making a how-to poem on any topic of our “expertise”. Later, I turned it into a short film for the Pangaea World Poetry Slam, who organised said workshop. It was lovely to merge three of my loves — writing, filming and sharing — and use them for a good thing.
Here comes the fun part: click, like and share with as many people as possible. Particularly people who would benefit from the message. You never know the ordeals someone could go through just to live a “normal” day. If I ever make money out of the streams, shares and likes (LOLS), I’ll give it all to a mental health organisation, particularly one which helps queers, POC and/or people who may not speak English and need someone to advocate for them. It comes with subtitles/captions if you don’t understand my accent, and I’m working on a Spanish translation. Subtitles in any other language are more than welcome. ❤
There are a couple of things that might be misunderstood. The “wear something that doesn’t attract negative attention” is not slut-shaming. We should be free to wear whatever we want, but some people don’t know or don’t want us to know this, so they attack. On low “spoons” days, you don’t even feel like fighting or defending yourself, so you keep your energy levels to a minimum and just try to roam by in a way that attracts as few bigots as possible.
Also, the “you’re still a woman on trainers, you’re still a man on stilettos” bit includes cis and trans people alike. A lot of trans people I know fear wearing items that are associated more with the gender they were forcibly assigned at birth. They don’t want to be “read” as “impostors”. A trans woman is still a woman on her Nike Air Force Ones. A trans man is still a man on his Louboutins. An NB is still an NB on whatever they want. Also, the fear of fragile masculinity or the fear of not being “seen as a woman” even if you’re cis because your exterior doesn’t match the “desirable standards” (women of certain colours not recognised in feminininininity, fat chicks like us seen as “one of the boys” by our crushes, et al). So yeah. I love you. If you find any fuckups in my work, let me know.
On Sunday, two ideas/stereotypes/internalised misconstructions were torn apart out of my mind forever: the idea that Pride festivals are now mainstream bacchanals far away from their original meanings, and the idea that Coventry died after the Blitz and that since then it’s been nothing but — The Specials dixit — a ghost town. Coventry is, in fact, more galvanised than ever, and Coventry Pride is queer in every sense of the word. Weird, open, beyond the norms.
Coventry Pride took place last Saturday and Sunday at FarGo Village, a comfortable hip area in Far Gosford Street recently devised as a creative hub where young and/or alternative people can hang out, exchange ideas and establish connections. It is a bit like a compact version of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, but more focused on startups and independent stores. It seems pretty cosy, and offers anything from American sweets to books, comics, clothes and pop culture collectables. With a coffee shop and a tap house almost next to each other, I think I would spend a lot of my waking hours in this area if I lived in Coventry.
This is the second year in a row in which Coventry Pride takes place, last year being nominated as Best Live Event 2015 in Coventry Telegraph People’s Choice Awards. It is organised by people intensely active in the local LGBT+ community, a registered charity since October 2015, and it has kept organising events in preparation for every Pride all year long. I was originally invited to perform for ❤ Music, Hate Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in May, but times were complicated. It looks like it was an amazing event full of quality music, poetry and performance in general. Would love to go next time they do something like this.
On Sunday, I was part of the Spoken Word Open Mic event at the Urban Coffee. I was kindly invited by Jessamy Morris-Davis, organiser extraordinaire, whom I met thanks to Joe from Deathsex Bloodbath (heavily involved in the Coventry music scene) and his wonderful partner Sarah-Beth. We happen to share friends like Kerrie Sakura, who I finally got to meet that afternoon after ages of talking online; and apparently Joe also knows Charles Wheeler from the wrestling circuit. Small world! Small beautiful world!
Outside, we had the Phoenix Stage, with tons of mind-blowing queer music acts. Yes, even indie rock and electro noise. This was really, really important, since a lot of the times I’ve been in Pride festivals/LGBT+ events, the musical offer was rather one-dimensional: from ABBA tributes to busted Butlin’s “comedians” in drag to straight pop divas who recorded that one song about being yourself and treat the queer community as a cash cow. Stagey McStageface in the Market Hall had more cheesy pop/mainstream acts, but it was not everything the festival had to offer, as it happens in other festivals in bigger cities. This one recognised the possibilities of noise/experimental music as the epitome of all things queer beyond the “that sounds gay” label. I performed in the small silence gap between Duck Thieves and Nim Chimpsky. CHECK THEM OUT, NOW.
While we’re at it, please, please, please read “Noise Music as Queer Expression” by K Surkan. Print it, download it, read it on the bus, highlight stuff on it, share it, shout it.
Another thing I adored about the festival was its inclusiveness, its grassroots and its DIY ethos. As I’ve said before, the organisers were queer themselves and way beyond the White Gay Man with Disposable Income. Trans, Lesbian, Bi/Pan and Non-Binary folks crafted this with so much love and dedication you could feel it. On Saturday, there was a Body Positive Catwalk and I’m really gutted I missed it. People of different abilities and identities were very welcome and felt like home. As everything was at a ground level, it was wheelchair friendly, and since FarGo is so compact, people didn’t have to walk/run/rush/be dragged from one extreme to another to get to the next event. It was not crowded and it was not overwhelming; and if it was, you could go to the Info room and relax on the couch. And no, this Pride was not brought to you by Absolut Vodka, and you would not untuck in the Interior Illussions lounge.
(I’m still as obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race as usual but hey! The indier, the better!)
The community and info stalls — or what I managed to see from them on Sunday — were welcoming and friendly, with leaflets and material for queers and allies alike; offering help for old people, young people, people with disabilities, people of faith, victims/survivors of abuse, or even just having a laugh at the Lady Go-Diva Comedy Stage.
This event was so exciting it inspires me to get more involved in all things queer and underground. I’m tired of being read as straight just because I happened to fall in love with a dude (someone I adore regardless of gender) and it feels a bit lonely sometimes. The Coventry queer arts community seems warm, friendly and united; and I would love to keep attending their events and even just hanging out with my mates over there. If Leicester Pride were something like this, back to its roots, less corporate and more connected to punk and DIY (a bit like Anerki, but more queer-focused and with a lot more indie stalls), it would be perfect.