The past month was a month of losses and disappointment. This month, I am trying to regain my strength, sense of self and trust in other people. Therefore, I am spending it with those who believe, listen, communicate and fight side by side as allies and colleagues.
Last night, I went to see a couple of really good eggs perform Upstairs at the Western. Charles Wheeler and Rosa Fernandez are staples of the Leicester spoken word and poetry scene. So it was really pleasant to see them on their own presenting new and old work for 45 minutes each.
Charles Wheeler successfully completed this year’s National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) challenge in April. He wrote, more or less, one poem a day, partially following prompts but mostly following a main topic. NaPoWriMo happens to coincide with Autism Awareness Month, and Charles is autistic. Thus, the poems are about autism from the point of view of an autistic person. These poems deal with misunderstandings, coping mechanisms, the struggle of survival when the world bombards you through all five senses, well-meaning and ill-meaning neurotypical strangers, researchers who treat the autistic community like lab rats, and violently dreadful puppet shows.
Charles is loud, passionate, and you live – or at least try to — through his words. Wrestling references, science, left-leaning (more like compassionate, I’d say) politics and being “extremely online”. I stand by my back cover quote where I say that he “is one of about five cis men I wouldn’t happily kill”.
Rosa Fernandez is also an outstanding performer and writer. She goes to almost every poetry night in town and charms people from all walks of life with her wit and sass. She has a lot of fun with metric challenges, particularly haikus, and actually released a small haiku scene last year. You can get them from her wherever you find her. She can also deliver sonnets, villanelles and pretty much any other type of metric poem you suggest.
On stage, Rosa is charming and multifaceted. Her show is about her daily routine of “eat, sleep, work (from home, sometimes), repeat”. She plays the ukulele. She reads your future. She gives you biscuits as she sings you a lullaby. She agrees that Jaffa Cakes are cakes and not biscuits, but still brings them anyway. Her slippers are glittery, so I reckon she can walk into the Met Ball wearing them.
David from Upstairs at the Western challenged Charles and Rosa to do a collective piece. So, at the end of the show, they did a round of Cards Against Humanity but change the name to David Against Humanity and the answer to everything was “David made us do it”. So David is guilty of everything, from you losing your virginity to the end of the world. But he is the most guilty (or innocent?) of hosting such excellent poetry and performance art shows in Leicester in such a homely venue.
Something I really, really love about poets like Charles and Rosa is that not only do they speak their truth, but they are still eager to learn and share. Constantly honing their craft, not afraid of asking for advice and not hoarding their wisdom and skills away from others. They are well-rounded people on and off stage, and I am very proud to still consider them friends even after a lot of community earthquakes. They have their head on their shoulders but their eyes on the skies. They talk and they listen. They love a challenge. They have ambitions and dreams, but they still remember who they are and where they come from. A lot of local, national, and international performers could learn from that.
Whenever you can, please read their stuff. Go to open mics and poetry events in your area. Go to workshops and hangouts if you can afford them. If not, ask for concessions. Get their zines in the flesh (in the paper?) or read them online.
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.
About five years ago, I wrote a short story in Spanish and turned it into a zine. It was the first in a series called Buena Vida Presenta, in which I was meant to live my fantasy and write as a career and as the only thing to do in life. A good life indeed. The story was called Santa Belleza, and it was about the way a struggling family of Mexicans in Los Angeles prayed to their favourite film star to cure their child from a terminal disease. Spoiler alert: it sort of worked.
Without even thinking about plots and arch themes, I wrote a very-delayed second story for the series. The first one entirely and originally in English, and the first one to be available both online and offline.
This one is called First Crush, and was created after a conversation with Farhana Shaikh and Ishi Kahn-Jackson (also known as Ishi Kahn-Cancún to the clueless who love the seaside) at Creative Coffee. Someone confessed they had their first celebrity crush well into their adulthood, and someone else told them not to feel embarrassed about it, as “you are never too old to have your first celebrity crush”.
The protagonist in the story knows this, but is still a bit embarrassed. She’s old, she’s been married and widowed, and she has never been with anyone but her husband. Still, one can dream, and that’s what she does while being part of a race against oblivion and obsolescence she has been running all of her life.
To conveniently download this short story/zine, just click on the image above or click on this text right here. It will take you to the PDF on my Drive, so you can download it, print it, read it and such.
I have printed a few physical copies, and you may probably find them around your favourite Leicester hangouts. Otherwise, just ask me next time we meet in person.
You know how, once the clock and the calendar tell us it’s time to start afresh, people make ridiculously impossible or painful resolutions? Not spending a pound, losing a large amount of pounds, and end up spending a large amount of pounds and not losing a pound. Well, this year, I had a very clear resolution and I wasn’t going to rest until I accomplished it in 2013, 2014 or 2134: LEARNING HOW TO RIDE A BICYCLE.
Let’s jump back in time, shall we? Around the early 90s, you were all probably having bike adventures (bikeventures?) with your friends around the block, or enjoying exquisite holidays exploring the countryside away from your parents, or coming back from school with your gang on your two-wheeled beauties. Well, I wasn’t. I was clumsy, hyperactive, a chubby daydreamer. Because of this, my parents never let me ride a bicycle. When I was four years old, I won a nice mountain bike at the city’s most popular children’s TV show. It just rusted away in the laundry for twenty years until we had to bin it. I wasn’t made for it. My feet were made of butter, and my belly was in the way of my mere right to exist. So I wasn’t allowed to go on a bicycle or else I’d have an accident. Yet, somehow, my parents thought step aerobics were a perfect source of safe and clean fun for a primary school kid. Until I broke my ankle. Then, I had the word ‘CLUMSY’ tatooed on my forehead. That was it. Bye.
Later, I moved to Britain and noticed how everyone and their mums were commuting on their bicycles. Clumsy fat everyone and their clumsy fat mums on bikes. Bros wearing the whole gear, hairy librarians, high femmes on high heels, potheads, nans, children. And they flew like angels, defeating traffic and conglomerations, fast, free and – YES! – safe from harm. I wanted to be like them. I had to be like them. My butter feet were melting for them. My protuberant belly was jumping up and down with butterflies (or any non-Illuminati insect of your preference, say, bumblebees?) dancing inside. I had to do this. The time was now.
So, in 2013, I enquired about bicycle lessons. My city has a programme that offers free lessons to citizens of all ages and sizes. I joined one of those around March. It was a big group comprised of absolute beginners. Some of them, my mum’s age. Most of them, Women of Colour like me – although I’m Latina and many of them were Hindu and Gujarati. Yes, many of us were big and clumsy too! It was great to know I wasn’t the only one in the entire universe. But we got there. Together, we got there.
Our teachers were the Queens of Awesome. One of them, Maryam Amatullah, is the Local Cycling Hero in the entire Midlands. Not just Leicester, but including Birmingham, Worcester, Coventry, Derby and – our very own Shelbyville – Nottingham. She’s married with children, a hijabi Muslim, and a superstar on two wheels. She was the one who pushed me when I had my first cycling ‘steps’, and recorded me on video so I could flaunt it to my family. The other one, Priya Mistry, is one of my fashion and lifestyle rolemodels. A mix between M.I.A. and Haruko Haruhara from FLCL, bright orange hair, the most colourful outfits, and a very Mr. Miyagi approach to teaching. Thanks to her HARD unorthodox method, I can signal left and right. Also, if my stalking isn’t wrong (well, she used to stalk me on the way home to see if I was doing what I learned!), she’s also an actress and contemporary dancer. Queens, I tell you.
Within twelve weeks, not only did I learn how to ride a bicycle from scratch, but I could ride around the park, the neighbourhood, and across the city in roundabouts and rammed roads. Now I live and breathe cycling. I read books on the subject, get the occassional magazine, ogle at bike shops and keep wishlists on eBay and Amazon. I felt so much joy reading zines such as Hard Femme Bike Tour by Elokin and Pamela and On Being Hard Femme by Jackie Wang, knowing I was not alone in my obsession with cycling as a femme weirdo.
Do I wear leotards? Heck, no. Priya hates me for this, but I love cycling while wearing skirts. Mini-skirts, mid-skirts, dresses, floaty skirts, pencil skirts. I love it. It’s a really empowering way to assert my hard femme identity. I can like cute things AND tough things. I’m Barbie AND G.I. Jane. I’m fine getting dirty and still looking pretty. I can fall on shrubberies, on the road, flat on the handlebars, sideways, on my backpack like a turtle, and – the greatest discovery in my clumsy lifetime – stand up, get on the wheel and continue.
To be a skirt cyclist you need to be safe, of course. Get a skirt guard for your back wheel. Make your own with a mosquito net and some ribbons or something. If you rent bikes in London, they come already with a skirt guard because they know how sophisticated and/or whimsical you are. Or install a rack on your back wheel, clip a panier bag to and rock on, like I do. Not just safe for my frocks, but good for grocery shopping. Leggins are good if you want to prevent exposure and chub rub. Or wear bike shorts and cream. If you want to, go full blown Queen’s “Bicycle Race”.
If I can’t wear a skirt or I just feel like wearing trousers, I wear red lipstick. To keep the hard femme alive and for a bit of confidence. I want to reach a point where I’m aware that hard femme is in the heart and that I can look like a dog’s dinner and still feel safe and free. Maybe that will be my new year’s resolution for 2014? To embrace ugly cycling?
May you have a wonderful 2014 and may your beautiful resolutions come true!Aquí hay algo que escribí hace pocos meses para la segunda edición del zine Hard Femme de Kirsty Fife. De todos modos tienen que conseguirlo porque está repleto de convincentes cavilaciones sobre su vida como una chica sin dinero, queer, ruda y femenina.
Ciclista en Falda
por Cynthia Rodríguez
¿Ustedes saben cómo, una vez que el reloj y el calendario nos dicen que es tiempo de comenzar desde cero, la gente hace propósitos ridículamente imposibles o dolorosos? No gastar un peso, bajar mucho de peso, y terminar gastando muchos pesos y no bajando de peso. Bueno, este año, tuve un propósito muy claro y no iba a descansar sin cumplirlo en el 2013, 2014 o 2134: APRENDER A ANDAR EN BICICLETA.
Demos un salto atrás en el tiempo, ¿no? Por ahí de principios de los 90s, todos ustedes probablemente estaban teniendo aventuras en bici (¿biciaventuras?) con sus amigos de la cuadra, o disfrutando exquisitas vacaciones explorando el campo lejos de sus padres, o regresando de la escuela con su palomilla en sus chuladas de dos ruedas. Bueno, yo no. Era torpe, hiperactiva, una gordita soñadora. Por esto, mis padres nunca me dejaron andar en bici. Cuando tenía cuatro años, me gané una linda bicicleta de montaña en el show infantil de televisión más importante de la ciudad. Nada más se oxidó en la lavandería por veinte años hasta que tuvimos que tirarla a la basura. Yo no estaba hecha para ella. Mis pies eran de mantequilla, y mi barriga estaba en el camino de mi mero derecho a existir. Así que no tuve permitido andar en bicicleta o tendría un accidente. Como quiera, de algun modo, mis padres pensaron que los aerobics de step serían una fuente perfecta de diversión sana y limpia para una niña de primaria. Hasta que me rompí el tobillo. Entonces, tuve la palabra ‘TORPE’ tatuada en la frente. Ahí acabó todo. Adiós.
Más tarde, me mudé a Gran Bretaña y me di cuenta de cómo todos y sus madres se transportaban en sus bicicletas. Todos los torpes y gordos y todas sus madres torpes y gordas en bicis. Batos portando todo el equipo, bibliotecarios peludos, altas féminas en tacones altos, pachecos, abuelitas, niños. Y volaban como los ángeles, derrotando al tráfico y las conglomeraciones, rápidos, libres y – ¡SÍ! – a salvo de cualquier daño. Quería ser como ellos. Tenía que ser como ellos. Mis pies de mantequilla se derretían por ellos. Mi barriga protuberante brincaba de arriba a abajo con mariposas (o cualquier otro insecto no Illuminati de su preferencia, digamos, ¿abejorros?) bailando dentro. Tenía que hacer esto. El momento era ahora.
Así que, en el 2013, pregunté por cursos de ciclismo. Mi ciudad tiene un programa que ofrece lecciones gratis para ciudadanos de todas las edades y tamaños. Me uní a uno de ellos por ahí de marzo. Era un gran grupo conformado de principiantes absolutos. Algunos de ellos, de la edad de mi mamá. La mayoría de ellos, mujeres de color como yo – aunque yo soy latina y muchas de ellas eran hindi y gujarati. ¡Sí, muchos de nosotros eramos grandes y torpes también! Fue genial saber que yo no era la única así en el universo entero. Pero allá llegamos. Juntas, allá llegamos.
Nuestras maestras eran las Reinas de la Genialidad. Una de ellas, Maryam Amatullah, es la Héroe Local del Ciclismo en todo el centro de Inglaterra. No sólo Leicester, sino incluyendo a Birmingham, Worcester, Coventry, Derby y – nuestro propio Shelbyville – Nottingham. Casada y con hijos, musulmana con hijab, y una superestrella en dos ruedas. Fue ella quien me empujó cuando di mis primeros ‘pasos’ en bici, y me grabó en video para presumirle a mi familia. La otra, Priya Mistry, es una de mis modelos a seguir en cuanto a moda y estilo de vida. Una mezcla entre M.I.A. y Haruko Haruhara de FLCL, cabello naranja brillante, los atuendos más coloridos, y una manera muy Señor Miyagi de educar. Gracias a su método DURO y no ortodoxo, puedo señalar a la izquierda y a la derecha. Además, si mi espionaje no se esquivoca (¡bueno, ella solía seguirme a escondidas en el camino a casa para ver si estaba haciendo lo que había aprendido!), también es actriz y bailarina contemporánea. Reinas, les digo.
En doce semanas, no sólo aprendí a andar en bicicleta desde cero, sino pude andar por el parque, el vecindario, y hasta el otro lado de la ciudad en rotondas y callas conglomeradas. Ahora vivo y respiro ciclismo. Leo libros sobre el tema, compro revistas ocasionalmente, babeo en tiendas de bicis y tengo listas en eBay y Amazon. Sentí tanto gusto leyendo zines como Hard Femme Bike Tour de Elokin y Pamela y On Being Hard Femme de Jackie Wang, sabiendo que no estaba sola en mi obsesión con el ciclismo como una rarita afeminada.
¿Que si uso leotardos? Claro que no. Priya me odia por esto, pero amo andar de ciclista mientras visto faldas. Minifaldas, midifaldas, vestidos, faldas esponjosas, faldas lápiz. Me encanta. Es una forma realmente empoderadora de afirmar mi identidad hard femme. Me pueden gustas las cosas bonitas Y rudas. Soy Barbie Y G.I. Jane. No tengo problemas ensuciándome y aún viéndome linda. Puedo caer en arbustos, en la calle, directo en los manubrios, de lado, de espaldas sobre mi mochila como tortuga, y – el mayor descubrimiento en toda mi torpe vida – levantarme, subirme al volante y continuar.
Para ser ciclista en falda necesitas estar segura, por supuesto. Consigue un protector de faldas para tu rueda trasera. Haz el tuyo con una red de mosquito y algunos listones o algo. Si rentas bicis en Londres [o en la ciudad de México], ya vienen con protector de faldas porque saben que tan sofisticada y chiflada eres. O instala un portaequipajes en tu rueda trasera, abrocha una bolsa panera y a darle, como yo. No es sólo seguro para mis vestidos, sino que es bueno para el mandado. Los leggins son buenos si quieres prevenir exponerte o que se rocen tus muslos. O usa shorts y crema. Si quieres, vete como en “Bicycle Race” de Queen.
Si no puedo usar falda o sólo siento que tengo ganas de andar en pantalones, uso labial rojo. Para mantener viva a la hard femme y para un poco de confianza en mí misma. Quiero llegar a un punto en el que esté segura que ser hard femme está en el corazón y que puedo parecer comida para perros y como quiera sentirme segura y libre. ¿Quizás ese sea mi propósito de año nuevo para el 2014? ¿Abrazar al ciclismo fodongo?
¡Que tengan un maravilloso 2014 y que sus hermosos propósitos se hagan realidad!