Archive for category: Interviews

Queer Lisboa: 18 Years of Filth

Michael Langan talks to João Ferreira, Queer Lisboa’s Festival Director, about the film festival Queer Lisboa on the advent of its 18th birthday.

This year, Queer Lisboa, Lisbon’s LGBT film festival, is celebrating its 18th year. To mark this coming of age, Lisbon’s oldest – and increasingly most prestigious – film festival is not only giving us the biggest in its history, showing 138 films from 38 different countries, but for the first time Queer Lisboa will spread it wings and alight in Porto, Portugal’s second city, for a weekend in October. As if all that isn’t enough this year is also marked by a book release: Queer Film and Culture, collecting together catalogue essays since 1997, provides an overview of international queer cinema and is the first comprehensive approach to the history of queer cinema in Portugal.

After covering Queer Lisboa last year, Polari Magazine was asked to become a media partner to this year’s festival. Polari was pleased and proud to accept the invitation and we’ll be bringing regular reports, interviews and reviews from the week-long party. I talked to the festival’s artistic director, Joao Ferreira, about this year’s programme, and developments in queer cinema.

I was excited and intrigued to see you have a strand of African Queer cinema, how did that come about?

We were approached by an association that belongs to Lisbon City Hall, Africa.cont, and asked to consider creating a programme of African film. We had many different ideas as to how we could do that but decided it would be most interesting to ask if there is such a thing as African Queer cinema – to consider how different countries in Africa represent themselves and their sexuality. It was quite a task, but it was exciting to be challenged to do this. There are a lot of preconceptions from Europeans and people in the West generally in respect of looking at Africa and we wanted to see things from the inside. We have films from the 1970s right up to today that show different realities from within different African countries.

Did you yourself have any preconceived ideas about what the films would be like?

I was very surprised by some of the films. I had seen many recent documentaries from South Africa, and films from north African countries, but films like Touki Bouki from Senegal, or Dakan, from Guinea, are really amazing with the way they represent sexuality associated with freedom of expression, human rights and liberty. The classic coming of age stories we see in the West are mixed with their own beliefs and culture systems.

As well as this, you have a retrospective of the early cinema of John Waters – pre Cry-Baby.

The John Waters retrospective has been a long time in the planning, but we really wanted it for our 18th birthday. Our slogan this year is taken from Waters: 18 years of Filth. You can see it written on posters all around the city.

The festival is also showing pop videos by Derek Jarman this year, as well as the complete filmography of Ron Peck, and a documentary on Peter de Rome. Figures such as these – Waters and Jarman particularly – are almost like your guiding spirits. You can’t do much better than them but they’re all from a particular period. Are there equivalents of these filmmakers today, or are their modern-day manifestations not needed? 

That’s a difficult question. I would start by saying we need John Waters and we need Derek Jarman today, and not only to help us define what queer cinema is now. In different ways they both helped define that because Waters was a rebel against the gay community itself in his unwillingness to compromise and Jarman was a visionary who brought all the arts into his film making and opened a new direction in film in general, not just for queer film. They are guiding spirits in that sense, but I don’t know if we have their equivalents today. I think Bruce LaBruce is still breaking boundaries and rules, advancing things in art and, consequently, in the way we think and see the world. Guiding spirits are few and far between. 

Last year we talked about what happens to Queer cinema as it becomes more accepted. Maybe now the emphasis is on threading queer characters and gay story lines into commercial mainstream drama, on film and television.

It became a trend for a while and I think it’s important that they exist. Often it’s not very interesting but the fact they’re there is important. What I think is lacking is a response at the other end of the spectrum. We don’t see the really independent, marginal and groundbreaking happening so much these days. It’s become unbalanced and the commercial side of things is silencing us, and this is a problem with the industry. This is why film festivals are still important, because they showcase and promote the non-mainstream. People need to see these films because it’s where the new languages of film come from. We need them for the future, we need them as references for new filmmakers to watch.

Is the expansion of the festival into new territory a sign of confidence?

It’s a mission, certainly. A big city like Porto should have its own festival with its own identity. We doing something small there this year and in 2015 we are planning our first edition of Queer Porto. I’m not anxious about it, I’m curious. We want to reach as many people as possible and, while there are many film festivals in Portugal, we’re the only queer one.

Our book, Queer Cinema and Culture, is not a history of the festival, but a history of queer cinema and culture as we’ve seen it through the festival. We looked at how the festival has represented the evolution of queer cinema and culture.

After 18 years do you feel Queer Lisboa has cemented itself in the culture in Lisbon?

For sure we have a place here, and an audience. We’re respected but we can never lower our guard. It’s good to reach 18 but there’s still a lot of work to do. For me, every year is a new beginning. I don’t like to look back too much – editing the book was strange for me because of that. We have to look ahead and be alert to what’s going on artistically and socially so that we continue to make sense. The festival has changed because the country changed, queer film changed, and we have to reflect that. There are always are going to be new challenges. 

 

 

Click here to visit Queer Lisboa’s official website

Open Hearts: An Interview with Bright Light Bright Light

Ahead of the release of his new single ‘An Open Heart’, Nick Smith had the pleasure to speak to musical wunderkind Bright Light Bright Light, as he embarks on a tour of America’s west coast with Elton John.

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You’re on the road right now with Elton John – how do you find working with him, and how did you coax out that fantastic understated vocal in ‘I Wish We Were Leaving’?

Working with him is a mixture of very normal and very bizarre because we’ve known each other for quite a long time. You know it was just like working with a friend really until you are in the studio and you realise who that friend is! We talked about it a lot before we went into the studio and I played him the song, which had my guide vocals on it, and we just sang it through in the kitchen then went in the studio and he delivered it really softly. He’s quoted quite often as saying he likes singing sad songs, and he’s like a fan of miserable music, so I think he kind of enjoyed the chance to sing something with a bit of a different energy and he just delivered this subdued performance and it was really quite heartbreaking.

How do you feel that living in New York influenced the album?

Beyond words really. Because it was the second album, I wanted to do something different, or at least have a different perspective, and I thought that living somewhere different would be useful for that – you know, having a different take on life, a different energy and a different landscape to tease out a few new ideas. Even for the songs that had been written already it gave a different energy to them and a different tone. I was a little bit out of my comfort zone. I did feel like a different person and I felt rejuvenated and it helped me finish the record. Having the chance to see how my music sounded in a different environment was really quite liberating.

The record is quite a cathartic journey but at the heart is a bittersweet optimism. Was this a conscious step or more of a reflection of our life experiences?

It’s meant to be optimistic. It’s about understanding what you like about your life and what you don’t like, and getting rid of the things you don’t like. I streamlined things that were getting on my nerves and focussed my energy into finding new things that I really enjoyed, which made making the record a much more enjoyable experience. 

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Who would you say are your biggest influences in music?

Kate Bush, Elton, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Depeche Mode – and then weirdly some less obvious American artists, a guy called Duncan Sheik, Joni Mitchell. People that have really strong identities and they are completely themselves whatever they are doing. You can feel their blueprint on their work and you understand that no-one else could have made those songs. 

One of the things I love most about your music is that it’s not necessarily pushing a gay agenda. Your songs are about issues that affect everyone and that’s why they resonate. Is that a conscious part of your blueprint or is it something that just comes naturally?

Well, there’s more to me than just being gay so I guess it just comes naturally. I just think nobody really wants to hear a tunnel vision perspective and I don’t really want to give one – love or relationships are not particularly tied to sexuality or age or gender or race or location. The songs are about people, places and connections with other people which I don’t think are confined to sexuality. A lot of people in pop music love gay artists to be solely gay focussed and that’s fine, but it’s not who I am. There are many different aspects to my life and that’s one of them. When I was growing up, I lacked a gay voice that was linked to a heterosexual world. It was important for me to be a slightly “normal” person who happens to be gay, making music for people in places where I grew up in the Neath valleys. They don’t feel special or flamboyant or different, but they just happen to be attracted to someone of the same sex. They understand they don’t have to be this thrilling, shimmering person to be perceived as gay, it’s just something that influences who you fall in love with. I’m never going to hide any aspect of my sexuality or life really, but I didn’t want it to be the only thing as that’s a bit boring. I think that prefixing things with gay or straight marginalises you. People are tapestries, and highlighting one thing seems like you’re making a point of it and want to be challenging with it. I got berated by one journalist who told me I should be making more of a point about my sexuality and talking more about gay rights – I play at gay pride events, I run a gay night, any tweet or Facebook post that I do has some kind of gay reference, I don’t really think I need to do any more than that. The whole point of ‘Life Is Easy’ is about inclusion really and the people that have influenced me. ‘More Than Most’ is about my best friend and making him feeling included in his surroundings and I don’t want my music to be exclusive or alienating.

Recently, I did an interview with a wrestler about coming out in sports and my issue right now is that when people do come out, whether it be in sport or the entertainment industry, it’s our own community that kind of rebels against them.

Yes, I find it disgusting, like when Tom Daley came out and you see these snide comments on Facebook. You want him to come out and then the minute he does, you slag him off! I can’t be bothered with that hideous writhing nest of snakes, it’s boring. A lot of people are slagging Sam Smith off, also. It’s his stance and it’s his life, just let people be.

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Your videos are particularly innovative. How important do you think they are in our ever changing music industry?

I think they’re still important. Younger kids go to YouTube to find music rather than Soundcloud. People can use YouTube as a search engine much quicker and they can leave comments, so videos are an important calling card and still the first impression anyone will get of you. You can project a little bit of your personality into a music video so I think they’re really important and a really good opportunity to do something interesting – however, they are very expensive! It’s difficult because not a lot of artists, myself included, have a big budget. You’re trying to do something with a vision and a goal and an identity but you don’t necessarily have the full budget you need to realise visual ideas that you have.

I’ve heard that you went to see Kate Bush recently. How was that experience?

It was really amazing! It was very emotional for me as I have listened to her records more than most people’s records and I never really thought that I’d get to see her live. It was really heartwarming to go to a gig, probably the first I’ve been to where every single person in the room is full of love for this artist. Everyone wanted to see her, no-one spoke in the songs, people weren’t filming and instagramming all the way through it. It was more like a piece of theatre and people giving rapturous applause and it was amazing for her to have created this audience completely in love with her. It was very moving. 

How do you find being on the road?

I really love touring. I think the good thing about it is that you watch your songs connect with people. If you’re in a studio, you don’t really have anything outside of that room, so a song can sound as good as you want on record. But it’s only when it’s out in the real world that you see if it’s had any effect. It’s so nice doing a show in New York where people sing a long and you realise that all the way across the world that people have bought the song, understand them and have embraced the words. If I’m back in London and I do a show and people go crazy it’s amazing! It’s a lot of fun, especially at these Elton shows where I have the chance to tap into an audience I would never had been able to otherwise. It’s really what should be the most fun about the job. It’s kind of hard as an independent artist as it costs a lot of money to do it and hard to explain to fans in places that aren’t easy to get to why you never go there and the simple answer is, it costs too much. And that’s depressing. But touring has to be streamlined when there’s no support or label or funding involved. Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to go to all of these places, so this tour with Elton means I can go to a lot of places I’ve never been to. It’s so amazing that he’s allowing me to do that.

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The new single ‘An Open Heart’ is actually my favourite track on the album, very empowering and euphoric. What’s your favourite track?

I have two. I really love ‘More Than Most’ just because it’s the last song that I wrote about two weeks before mastering the record. It came from a place of real love and I just felt really good. It’s about my best friend who was having a bad time so I wrote it to cheer him up. I love singing it, it makes me feel really happy and positive. The other one is ‘Happiness’. I was having a fucking awful day when I wrote that song and it was just really nice. It’s about two people that I don’t really have a lot of love for and I just wanted to spin it around and make it a little bit more of a positive good-bye rather than a fuck-off! It’s about trying to exorcise some feelings that you have and trying to save a good humour from sacks of shit!

What is your biggest vice?

Working all the time, I think. Partly because I have to and partly because I enjoy it which is a bit of a boring vice really! I can’t think of anything else. It’s a very good vice to have but in other ways its quite dangerous. Not being able to switch off is quite hard.

‘An Open Heart’ is out now and available from iTunes and other music outlets.

 
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Apocalypse Now – Interview with Terry Gee

Terry Gee is the writer, star and brains behind daily science fiction show Apocalypse, airing on YouTube. Bryon Fear spoke to him about its inception and how he has brought the story to life.

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Terry Gee was born was born in Derbyshire but raised in Yorkshire. In year 9 at school he came out as gay, and then to his parents when he was sixteen. Terry has had a very varied career. He began work in television the week after he left school and at eighteen joined a boy band. The year after that he began editing NOW magazine, a gay lifestyle publication (now Bent magazine) and Gameplay’s magazine a year later. He then began work as a professional actor moving between musical theatre, music videos and theatre. In 2006 he moved to London and worked in marketing but was forced to give up work due to a spinal injury.

What began the inception of Apocalypse? How did it all begin?

Apocalypse is the product of a collection of ideas finally coming together. I have been writing fiction ever since I was able to put pen to paper. Age eleven I wrote, cast, directed and starred in a play in front of my school. My brain never switches off and I am regularly lying awake thinking up scenarios and stories. There are four main themes of Apocalypse and I had to carefully write the story arc to creatively incorporate them all without coming across as too preachy. I think that all comes down to how Sebastian delivers the lines. I wanted him to be totally believable and say things without explanation – like we all would. I also replaced the two most common swear words with Shill and Flenn – there’s a reason why I did that and not just to make it U rated! I never explain why but, if you watch it all, you can work out the reasoning behind it.

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Why did you choose to create a science-fiction piece set in the future?

I’m a huge sci-fi buff and most of the fiction I write is set in the future or an alternative universe. I feel science fiction is one of our most important genres as it lets our imagination soar without limitations. For Apocalypse I wanted the audience to be able to relate to Sebastian and the world he lives in, but also be able to separate the two. This is why his story is set in 2046, only thirty-two years in the future. Just look at how much the world in the story has changed in the past thirty-two years – how much will it change in another thirty two?

What made you want to create a one man show? Do you have a television background?

The week after I left school, I started work in television as a runner. Within a year I was researching shows for the BBC until becoming the youngest television director in the organisation’s history at just seventeen years old. Since that time, I have produced many television and radio shows, sang in a boy band, edited two magazines and become a professional actor, singer and dancer. Then a few years ago, I seriously damaged my spine. I was forced to give up work and for a long time it seemed I would end up in a wheelchair. My life was essentially over. But earlier this year, after yet another MRI scan, I was told my spine was repairing and there was hope. I have spent all year repairing my spine through physiotherapy and exercise. I will never be able to dance like I used to, but I am now very much on the road to recovery and can start looking for work again. Being forced into unemployment, when I was always so active, has been devastating and having no money has meant I have a very limited social life. For all those people on the outside saying unemployment is easy, I am living proof that it is not. It’s hard and lonely and I struggle every day to buy even the most essential items.

This is a big reason for making Apocalypse a one man show. It’s difficult to explain to people how isolating living alone with no money is. Strip away the fact Sebastian is in the future and we do share a lot of the same emotions. I sometimes go days without seeing another human being and constantly talk to myself. I have days where I feel really positive about the future and then others when I feel totally lost and devoid of hope. If I feel like this, there must be millions of people who also feel the same.

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Why did you write Sebastian as a gay character?

I am gay. Coming out, age fourteen at school and then to my parents at sixteen was far from easy. Back then I had to fight against many homophobic attitudes in my working class community in Yorkshire. However, I’d known I was gay for a while and I didn’t feel dirty or shameful – this is who I was and I couldn’t change it even if I wanted to. In my lifetime, opinions have changed, and it is easier for someone to come out to their parents now than it was in the ’90s. So, in Apocalypse I wanted to show life in another few generations where sexuality was no longer an issue. We have same-sex marriage now and it is being legalised all over the West. In the next ten years it could be everywhere; in twenty years school kids with never have known a world without gay marriage and in thirty-two years, why would it be a problem? I felt this was such an important point to make and I wanted Sebastian to talk about his late lover like anyone would. There is no shame or trepidation in how he talks about Josh, simply because there wouldn’t be. It might be difficult to imagine now, but in our lifetimes, there is a huge possibly that being gay will be no different from being straight.

The other theme is war. Is the web series in any way meant to reflect the current situation in Gaza?

The key issue in Apocalypse is war and it has a lot to do with what is happening in Gaza. It has a lot to do with every war there has ever been, because they all about the same things: religion and power. There is a huge difference in Apocalypse though; the religious war ended in 2044, two years before Sebastian was forced into his bunker. The war that rages above him now is no longer about religion, but the self-destruction of the human race. I don’t want to give too much away as this isn’t explained until much later in the series but I do feel passionate about the social and global issued raised in Apocalypse and these are seldom discussed.

Are you shooting daily episodes and allowing yourself the freedom to change the narrative as you progress or have you shot the entire series in advance?

I actually wrote Apocalypse as a complete story arc from beginning to end. This means that there was no need for last minute changes and, as it’s set in the future, it was never going to be affected by current events. Amazingly, all thirty episodes were actually filmed in one day. To create the illusion of time marching on, I filmed everything backwards and trimmed my beard throughout the shoot. It looks like my beard is growing when actually no time has passed at all.

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We live in a very immediate world where artists and celebrities are speaking directly to their audience via social media – did you consider using social media to allow your audience to engage more directly with the story?

I welcome any form of communication from the audience. At the moment it is very much still in my friend bubble through social media, and so the majority of messages are from friends and family. I raise quite a few issues and would love to talk to or listen to other people’s perceptions of them. Apocalypse is on all social media platforms and when it breaks into a wider audience, I hope to be hearing from a lot more people.

How many people are involved and was it a conscious decision not to bring on a director on board?

Yes it was a conscious decision to go director-less – the lack of money! Plus, as it is all video diaries, I wanted it to look raw and realistic. I think I made a reasonably good director and, having written the story and starring as Sebastian, I knew exactly how I wanted it to look. My friend James is a make-up artist and so worked on episodes fourteen to thirty with me before he had to leave – it was a long day’s shoot! Another friend David, a graphic designer, created the titles, backdrop and camera icons. The editing I have done myself and I’m self-taught in this area. The only other person involved is my mum, who provides the voice of the computer, Matrix, in two episodes.

What have been the main hurdles to overcome in creating a project like this?

When I first penned the idea for Apocalypse, I didn’t factor in what a huge project it was. Filming everything in one day is one thing, but editing, sound effects, visual effects, the weekly recaps and uploading all take so long to complete. But I find the biggest hurdle is getting an audience. With no money I have no marketing budget so I can only use social media to promote it. I have 400+ friends on Facebook and my theory was that if everyone shared my videos, they would go viral in no time, but of course only 1% of your friends will share your videos. I have released trailers, blogs, tumblr feeds and covered all social media areas, and it is only now finding its feet. I knew it would be harder to sell a sci-fi drama online; but it is good and I kept the videos short so that people could follow it without being too overwhelmed. My hope is that Apocalypse will go viral as it really does deserve to. I am starting to receive messages from people who are not on my friends list too. In fact, former Doctor Who scriptwriter, Chris Bidmead, recently watched Apocalypse and took to twitter to congratulate it, which was a great confidence boost.

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Is there a plan to expand Apocalypse in the future? For example is the web series a pilot for a bigger vision of the story?

I have written a completely unique and original piece of sci-fi set in the not too distant future. This is something that is rarely seen in the sci-fi world. Ideas are copied and plagiarised all the time, but I wanted to write something new but not beyond the realms of reality. The world Sebastian describes is incredibly detailed and ultimately I would like the money to be able to show that world. But to do that, I would need some serious investment and a major studio to distribute it. Is it possible? Yeah, why not? What’s life without dreams and ambitions? I have created something new and exciting and I would love to be able to show that in all its glory.

What other projects do you have lined up for the future?

My immediate goal is to get work. Three years without money is too long; I am too creative and full of life to be stuck inside any longer. I am always writing though and creating videos for YouTube. If you notice at the end of all my videos it says ‘A HydraMedia Production’. Hydra is a screenplay I have been working on for a while and hope to see come to fruition in the not too distant future. It is too big a project for YouTube though.

There is also a second series of Apocalypse planned. I already have an idea and what will happen in the sequel, but I’ve not actually committed anything to paper just yet.

You can watch Apocalypse from Episode 1 on Terry’s YouTube channel here.

Video Exclusive: Billie Ray Martin and Aerea Negrot – Off The Rails directed by Makode Linde

Billie Ray Martin & Aerea Negrot film an exclusive a cappella video version of Off The Rails for Polari …

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  Apostel Paulus Curch, Berlin © Connie Werner (Click images to enlarge)

Since we spoke to Billie Ray Martin and Aerea Negrot about Off The Rails, their new forthcoming duet (which takes two great voices and creates total mayhem and magic with them) Billie Ray Martin has performed an intimate and very special one-night residence at the Apostel Paulus church in Berlin, a fantastic setting for a woman whose passion could raise the roof of any institution and silence the angels.

Then, Aerea Negrot joined Billie Ray Martin in a possessed a cappella version of the song, shot exclusively for Polari by the fabulous artist Makode Linde. Watch the two divas extraordinaire tear up a railway-carriage in a riotous and arch performance:

Billie has also shared with us this fantastic Ray Grant remix of the single:

‘Off The Rails’ be released on October 19, through Disco Activisto and you can explore and download Billie’s back catalogue here.

 
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Going Off the Rails with Billie Ray Martin and Aerea Negrot

John Preston speaks with Berlin superstars Billie Ray Martin & Aerea Negrot about their exciting collaboration, ‘Off the Rails’ and give Polari an exclusive listen to the vocal track …

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  All photographs © Guille Chiprionet (Click images to enlarge)

When Polari last spoke to the extraordinary vocalist Billie Ray Martin earlier in March this year we knew something big and bad was on its way. It already had a title and was going to be a duet with Aerea Negrot (Hercules and Love Affair), that much had been revealed. The incredible ‘Off The Rails’ has now landed and it’s a riot of pop-house decadence, an elegant tribute to the on-going demands of an inexhaustible Goddess. Berlin is just about big enough for the two superstars and John Preston asked its resident chanteuses to explain their outrageous actions.

Donna and Barbra, Rupaul and Elton and now Billie and Aerea – who knew?! How and also why did this dream-team relationship materialise? Are you neighbouring disco queens who just seized what has become an amazing moment? You have very different voices but you sound so natural together. 

BRM: No , there was a lot of planning, failing, planning more … but yes, we live a few blocks away from each other. Not that this made any difference, it just happens to be that way. I don’t know. I hear her voice on her recordings and I felt a Grace Jones moment coming on. I had a song I thought fitted and Aerea agreed that it was a good fit.

AN: Yes. I met Billie in Berlin, having Caipirinhas. We are obviously not the kind of girls that meet with cappuccinos at some theatre! I made a remix for Billie’s The Opiates album; the song is called ‘Dinah and the Beautiful Blue’. In so many ways I felt a connection to Billie, that kind of sexy melancholy with a little Lynch twist. So we decided to embark on doing a duet. ‘Off the Rails’ is an ode (at least to me) of the ever complaining divas, screaming for attention in a world of “one-hit” wonders. We wanted to look chic, but still dig about in the garbage for some food to feed our cats. The process was not easy, once we ended up having a cake in a cemetery talking about the track, another time after recording I ended up in a sex shop having my mobile stolen by an Albanian guy (I was doing him a favour). We recorded at my place and some windows broke. We love music. We are music warriors in our own self-destructive way. We sound indeed natural together, because we took our time to develop the characters. It was my pleasure to also create a remix of the track.

‘Off The Rails’ is hard to define genre wise. It’s obviously a defiant dance record but it incorporates many different styles- it’s not quite disco or house and not out-and-out pop. Was this something that was decided in order to enhance the feeling of losing control, of going off the rails? Through the chaos both of you still maintain this control and elegance albeit the hilarious banter in the middle eight between you both goes someway to breaking the tension!

AN: Billie is a master of posture and structure, totally admirable, whereas I improvise and play way too much with irony. The blend can be heard. The sound elements even though coming strictly from ’90s pop music, have a distinctive 2014 flash. Elegance nowadays is strictly referential, to the ’90s, to the ’70s. Today everything is trash and high definition, no budget yet flashy and with no depth. 

BRM: Waterson produced this track and I added some production to it. So I guess this would be a question for him. I love Waterson’s approach to producing and programming. There is real arrangement, there is a lot going on. Different parts coming in where they should. For me this is the only way to approach a song, so this was just normal to have something structured, yet with enough fierceness to experiment to a degree. But not too much, as I’m German in approach. Write the song, get on with it. Leave it alone when it’s done. That’s me. 

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It has an element of abandoned fun about it and a heightened sense of personality which is in start to contrast to your last single Billie, the darkly throbbing Bowie cover ‘After All’. It is reminiscent of ‘No Breaks On My Roller Skates’ right down to the Syndrum ‘poo – poo’. Is this something that only takes over you once every decade?

BRM: Poo Poo or Boo Boo? (Grinning). There is no reason why one song is a bit more mentalist, the other more subdued. Miserablism is in all of my work, whether fast and furious or slow and moody. Here the lyric I wrote just tells someone where they can go and what they can do . So it is a little more aggressive.

In actual fact the song is inspired by the moment when Grace Jones chinned the Euro star member of staff, for wanting to kick her out of first class. I though the story was a diamond. So that’s what the song is about in a way. Waterson and I felt it was hilarious and Aerea agreed.

What’s the foreign language part and is it Spanish – a crafty homage to Bacarra?

BRM: Vive la Folie? I just needed a line and couldn’t come up with one, so I googled something french. Always works to throw a bit of French in. 

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The incredible and surprising visuals for the single are quite aggressive and sexual but there is a camp sensibility underlying the intimidation. It certainly looks as though you had a great time inhabiting these characters and will we see a live reincarnation and did you record more tracks together which have yet to see the light of day?

BRM: We only did this one. It took us ages so complete and me ages to edit and mix (with the help of Waterson and Steve Honest). So I guess that’s it for now. No idea at this moment if we will perform live as well.

Billie you have been readying more material that will form an album of songs that are more country and soul based and have worked with these with producer extraordinaire Jon Tiven. Is ‘Off The Rails’ a reaction to that in some way, a way of letting off steam and throwing your wig to the wind before the heavy stuff starts?

BRM: The album with Jon Tiven, which is half mixed, will be finished as soon as I find someone to give me a budget to do so. To be honest, not having money stops all my mixes and projects all the time. So there is no point for me to start many more recordings. I do however have bits and pieces that can be used either for collaborations or new EP’s etc, but again, not unless I get a budget to finish them off.

And who is each of your favourite female duo?

BRM: The Reynolds Girls. Only kidding. I don’t know really.

AN: We Love Tina and Cher … but yes sir We can Boogie!

Here is the exclusive vocal track of ‘Off The Rails’ – only on Polari magazine. Next week we have another exciting exclusive from Billie Ray and Aerea…

Off The Rails Billie Ray Martin Aerea Negrot

‘Off The Rails’ be released on October 19, through Disco Activisto and you can explore and download Billie’s back catalogue here.

 
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Breeders: Ben Ockrent Interview

Ben Ockrent’s play Breeders explores what it means for same-sex couples to become parents. Laura Macdougall talks to him about the nature of modern families, the genesis of the play, and the state of under-funded British theatre.

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In the last week, two landmark rulings concerning so-called ‘alternative families’ have been passed in Italy and Switzerland. In the former, the first same-sex adoption has taken place in Rome, when a woman was legally allowed to adopt her partner’s daughter. In the latter, two men were recognised as the legal parents of a child born to them through surrogacy. There are now many options available to those who want to have children, whatever their gender or sexual orientation – though we should remember that in the UK we have certain advantages that those living in other countries do not – and it is arguably getting easier (yet not necessarily cheaper) to have a family by non-conventional means. We are questioning the hitherto accepted norm of two-parent families, made up of two adults of different sexes, and discovering many ways in which different types relationships can come together to create what we would describe as a family.

In his latest play, Breeders, the writer Ben Ockrent explores this question of modern parenthood and what it’s like for same-sex couples who want to start a family. The inspiration for the play came from his best friend, a lesbian, asking him a few years ago if he would donate sperm so that she and her partner could conceive a child. I met with Ben a week before the play opened, during a break in rehearsals, to talk about the nature of modern families, the genesis and development of Breeders through writing and rehearsal, the state of British theatre in face of massive cuts in the arts sector, and much more.

How did you approach the idea of families and parenthood in the twenty-first century, when prospective parents of all genders and sexual orientations now have many more options in how they choose to conceive a child or create a family? 

Are we the first generation to question the assumption that we should have kids and start families? It’s not true of everybody, but certainly this generation is questioning whether that’s right for them. It’s less of a taboo to not want kids than it once was. I watched a TED podcast recently in which they were saying that whereas we once needed kids to work the land and look after us in our old age, there isn’t that practical need anymore. We just want them, which is funny in itself given the damage they wreak on the planet, how expensive they are, how hard they can be to come by and how biologically difficult they can be.

I think it’s interesting to interrogate why we have kids now, and what the situation of the play does – given how difficult it is for lesbian couples to have kids and the specific challenges that situation poses – is create a great shorthand to asking the bigger questions about family and pose different questions about the responsibilities of parenthood.

I spoke to some lesbian friends about the issues they’ve been grappling with in thinking about parenthood. There’s a challenge between what would be easiest for them and what would be fairest on the child. It would be easiest for them to use an anonymous sperm donor; there wouldn’t be a man over-involved and complicating the upbringing of that child. Yet they were also concerned over a selfishness of denying a child the opportunity to know its father and have a relationship with its father.

This leads to the question of how we identify ourselves, how much we associate with our parents and how important that is to us. It asks much bigger questions about how we self-identify.

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Ben Ockrent – photograph © Anton Belmonte

Do you think that’s because it’s not particularly easy for same-sex couples to have children, they ask these bigger questions? Heterosexual couples can get pregnant easily, or by accident. There’s also a sense of growing up in a society where marriage and kids is still very much the accepted progression that heterosexual couples perhaps don’t often question.

Yes, historically the taboo in a straight relationship has been to not have kids. But we’re breaking that taboo now.

At one point in the play the lesbian couple explores whether it’s right or wrong to have kids. But there’s a difficulty in assuming that you shouldn’t because of the environmental issues; the extremity of that argument is the human race should stop. The play raises lots of very different challenges, which is really fun. In fact, it’s most important to address those questions in a humorous kind of way so there’s some humanity to it, and it’s not abstract or intellectual.

Breeders is described as ‘a hilarious new comedy.’ Was it your intention from the outset that the play would be a comedy, or did that humour develop as you were writing?

I think when we interrogate a subject with humour it’s more accessible. People lower their defences a bit more when they’re laughing and are able to engage with something more effortlessly. I also enjoy watching comedy, and it’s much more fun to write and rehearse.

The idea actually came about when I imagined donating sperm myself, and what the practical implications would be for me. Maybe I’m immature, but I found it inherently funny, trying to do something as profound as creating human life through the action of going into a room and masturbating. It’s a funny existential idea that you can create life and interrogate such profound questions about what we’re here for through something as socially awkward as the rigmarole involved. But if you push that too far in one direction, it becomes not funny at all. It becomes quite unpleasant.

In the play the couple end up finding it quite difficult to conceive, and going about having a kid in this way is physically quite gruelling; injecting a syringe into your uterus is quite painful. It’s definitely not sexy. I thought it was a potentially interesting context for a play, and one that could develop tonally from profound to embarrassing to unpleasant. There’s an emotional range you want the audience to go through when they’re engaging with something like this.

Given that you also write for a lot for television and have also written short films, as well as plays, did you know that you always wanted to explore this particular question through theatre?

Yes, that was always my assumption for it. Because of the nature of the story it was so focused on the relationships between these four characters and, once I came round to the idea of setting it in this new home they’re building together it became very intimate. So I concentrated on that. This lent itself really well to the stage and to the kind of focused work you can do there. The stage affords you some room to really let a situation breathe and to draw out a moment or an experience. Television and film tend to be faster paced and dispersed physically and geographically. Part of the joy and the humour of this idea is the awkwardness of this set-up. The audience needs to feel present and share in that sense of humour and fun, but there’s a degree of detachment that comes from looking through a screen. I felt this idea might have lost something through that. It felt like all the elements were right for a play and I wanted to explore that first.

Recently there have been quite a few brilliant plays showing in London dealing with important questions relating to the lives of LGBT people: last year’s revival of Beautiful Thing, My Night With Reg which is currently playing at the Donmar Warehouse, and the absolutely brilliant new play Di and Viv and Rose which played twice at the Hampstead Theatre. Have you ever had any second thoughts about how the LGBT subject-matter of the play might be received?

Only recently did it occur to me that at no point does the play question the issue of gay parenting. It’s about a gay couple having a kid but at no point in the play is the issue should gay people have kids; instead it’s how and what is the best way. I’m aware that there are potentially conservative audience members out there who might object to it. You have to be aware when you’re staging any theatre that you probably have a relatively older audience who may have slightly more conservative sensibilities, but you can’t write for a specific theatre’s audience, you have to write what moves you and what you’re interested in and hope that you do a sufficiently good job to bring audience along the journey with you, whatever their background or sensibilities.

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Angela Griffin, Tamzin Outhwaite, Jemima Rooper & Nicholas Burns – photograph © Anton Belmonte

I noticed recently some amusing twitter exchanges recently between you and the plays’ director, Tamara Harvey, referring to quite a few script changes. How much has Breeders developed during rehearsals?

Theatre is a very collaborative process. The play is completely unrecognisable from the first draft. I think we’re now on draft nine or ten! There have been a number of total rewrites followed by detailed work looking at lines. The priority is always clarity, humour and a truthfulness. Once you have story shaped there, you can focus on character and relationships, which are the tools you have to engage an audience: people want to respond to what they see and on the whole that happens through recognition and surprise. 

Tamara is a generous and gracious director and she has been running all proposed changes past me. Writers are very defensive of their work; we choose every particular word. But the actors also have loads to bring to the script. As a writer you’re trying to maintain an overview of all the characters, but the actors are just focussed on their character and are able to interrogate it better than you as a writer; they’re able to ask more complex questions through inhabiting that role. It’s not just words on the page for them, and different kinds of emotions come out than you might have anticipated yourself while writing it. It can be challenging if you feel ill-prepared to answer questions; you want to always feel like you’ve interrogated it all yourself and you’re in control, but it’s kind of exciting. Trust and humility are necessary in the rehearsal room, and you need to be able to respond and be flexible.

Speaking of the actors, the cast of Breeders is incredible; a real wealth of talent, with Nicholas Burns, Angela Griffin, Tamzin Outhwaite (excellent in Di and Viv and Rose) and Jemima Rooper, Were you at all involved in the casting process?

In theatre the writer is often slightly more involved in casting than television – unless you’ve also created the show. The cast of Breeders are people who were on my wish-list. I feel really blessed that they responded to the text and were free and up for it. But even then you don’t know what the chemistries will be like. In some auditions you get people together in a room to see what the chemistry is like before casting. But not this time. But we felt so fortunate to have them on board, and with that level of talent you assume you’d be able to make it work in one way or another! But you can’t anticipate how well it will work until you’re there. In this case that wasn’t until the first day of rehearsal when the cast sat down and read through the parts.

They really are remarkable together; so funny and utterly truthful. I’m buying into all their relationships entirely. It’s really exciting to watch. You reach a point as a writer where you have to step away and let them get on with it. It’s a bit like empty nest syndrome, being sat at home knowing they’re rehearsing without you, exploring and discovering new things within the play that you’re not a part of anymore. It’s hard to remove yourself from it.

Speaking of your role as the writer, and having to eventually create some space from the finished work, what is your attitude to reviewers and critics? Do you read your own reviews?

I wish I could say that I wouldn’t let a bad review affect my experience of the work I’ve done. You don’t set out to have any of your creative output denigrated or disliked. So to that extent I wouldn’t want a bad review. You hope that, so long as your work is moving people in one way or another, critics can either take it or leave it. But of course from a business perspective, good reviews help bring in an audience so to that end it’s vital to get good reviews if you want to raise attention for the project. The actors work so hard and are so brilliant that I would hate for them not to get an audience.

I actually really respect the opinion of a lot of reviewers; there are some out there who are very insightful. Some reviewers are a real authority on theatre, they really respect and love it, I really value their opinion and insights. It’s a massive skill. It’s hard to write a decent short, condensed informative interesting piece. I think that, if you’re going to have your work analysed, and a criticism of your work broadcast, that the person doing so has the experience to do it properly and sensitively. When criticism becomes very personal then something’s wrong. Artists in whatever medium should feel free to create work without feeling that they’re being personally attacked for it.

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photograph © Johan Persson

There’s a lot of talk at the moment of ‘new writing’ and there are some young writers around – including yourself – who are having some really exciting work produced, to great critical acclaim. Would you agree that British theatre, despite government funding cuts, seems to be in particularly good health at the moment?

There has been a brilliant run of plays this past year. I don’t remember ever having such a consistently great time at the theatre. There have been so many good plays by young writers and new writers. Annoyingly it should have been the case that with the arts funding cuts the arts should have suffered. They have suffered, it’s just that the talent isn’t lessened with those cuts. People find a way. It’s frustrating because you don’t want Osborne thinking it’s all fine and that British culture has benefited from these cuts. I’m not sure why theatre is particularly good at the moment. Maybe it is the threat of lost funding, encouraging people to raise their game, work harder and prove something more.

There’s also a great community of young writers who know each other and support each other. I’m not aware of any jealousies or petty rivalries; it’s so subjective and personal. You simply can’t have the output another writer’s had. It does seem to be a good time for new writing, but credit for that must also go to theatres taking a punt on new writing or young writers: investing in them, giving them the commissions and dramaturgical support, nurturing relationships. It can be really hard when you’re sat alone at home, trying to reach out to people, trying to find the impetus or reason to write when it’s so hard to get work produced. Theatre really needs to keep providing those opportunities for experimentation. 

Finally, what is your main motivation when writing a play? Is it simply to entertain the audience, or do you also want to encourage them to think? 

It depends on the project, but ultimately both. Though there’s an arrogance in assuming that you have any new insights that will challenge the audience to question what they really think. I wouldn’t presume to make them revaluate how they figure out the world. All I can do is be interested in things myself and create a context for people to engage with things. Entertainment is what it is. It’s not a lecture. I want people to have a good time and to leave thinking.

I remember seeing Habeus Corpus starring Jim Broadbent at the Donmar Warehouse [staged in 1996]. It was absurd, diverting, ridiculous. It was then that I appreciated what the magic of the theatre was like, being in a darkened room with other people. Someone once said that when you go to see a piece of live entertainment you go as an individual and leave as a member of a shared group of experience. It’s incredible. Just as if you’re at home on your own watching television you laugh less than when you’re with other people. There’s something delightful about sharing laughter with people. I don’t know what else we should aspire more to in life than just enjoying an experience with other people. To be able to live in a culture where we can access that and to do a job where I can at least aspire to be a part of that experience for other people, that’s the inspiration or the dream.

 

Breeders opens at the St James Theatre on 3rd September, and plays until 4th October. You can book tickets on the website here.

 
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Jane Badler Sings

Jane Badler is a legend in the history of television sci-fi. Nick Smith talked to her about her iconic role in V, and the release of her debut solo album.

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As part of the Sci-Fi week here at Polari Magazine, Nick Smith had the great pleasure to speak with the Alexis Carrington of the genre, Jane Balder, who played the maleficent lizard queen Diana in the original series V as well as in the recent ABC reboot, and is releasing her debut solo album in September.

The album has a wonderful feel about it, so many different styles, how did the concept come about?

Well, in life nothing is very easy. I had a record company in Australia and they wanted me to do a covers album after the two albums I did with Sir. I declined and said I wanted to write my own album and they dropped me thinking how can she write her own album, she’s never written before! It’s been 3 years and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it’s so rewarding to have come from me.

Did you write all of the tracks?

I didn’t write ‘Black Dove’. I LOVE that track and that was written by Byron St. John. He originally recorded it but my version is completely different, and I changed some of the words. It’s the whole idea of returning to the spirit world to find someone you have lost. It’s a very spiritual track. Also, ‘Volcano Boy’ was written by Matt Thomas who has won awards in Australia for his songwriting, but everything else is mine.

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Of all of your acting, why do you think people remember V and remember Diana so much?

Well without a doubt it was the most popular thing I did, as far as viewers go. Even though I did Mission Impossible and Falcon Crest, they never had the same numbers. Also, science fiction is a genre that people just never forget. Once they love you, they love you forever. The fans are wonderful and very loyal. Either that or I’m the first crush!

Well you were probably one of my first crushes, I have to say!

I love that!! Now, I have to say, at my age, I have become a really good actress. I’ve really done the hard yards, I’ve tread the boards in Australia, had a one woman show. I’ve just finished a Spanish comedy, a big silly Spanish comedy which was wonderful. It’s about a group of young, beautiful lesbians and I play a woman who is obsessed by a young woman. This is a big funny comedy.

Is music, writing and recording something you have always been interested in?

Not really. I’ve always sung, since I was 5 and always performed at school and in bands but I was like a cover singer. Then I stopped to concentrate on my acting. About 12 years ago, I took it up again doing jazz and cabaret and I was approached by Sir and they wanted me to be the singer for their first album. And that started it all and I became like a bulldog, like a fucking Rottweiler!

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You can tell with the record that the passion is there. Every line you sing is from the heart. Some of the lyrics are just brilliant. My favourite is ‘Fame’.

That song I pretty much wrote myself and it came from going to a fashion show with my friend, being pushed aside so they could take her picture, getting the 8th row in the back! Fame is really fucked up and I’ve tried to get in touch with Jean-Paul Gaultier and he ignores me, so I decided to just say “Fuck You!” It’s definitely the song that’s most out there!

The general mood of the album is quite dark, themes of loss, revenge and redemption. Was there any reason for that?

Well, I won’t go into personal details but yes. I had a big crisis in my life a few years back and I think the doors just suddenly opened, the pain, but then ultimately the power. Am I going to be a victim or am I going to be a survivor.

The video to Losing You is really rather exquisite. It’s got a very Sophie Muller/Shakespears Sister feel about it. How did that concept come about?

Everything to me is about collaboration. I worked with the extremely talented Jesse Davey and his great gift is post-production. All I had was a door and a floor and all those weird extras, everything else was created in post-production.

What do you think the main differences between the TV/movie industry and the music industry are?

I think they’re both very hard. This music industry is changing at a ridiculous rate! Much more so than the movie industry, although in the music industry you can pretty much do a lot yourself, the problem is just money. Record companies don’t tend to have the money anymore to promote you that they once had. I’m really lucky that I can hire PR people that respect me and my vision. For the first time, I feel like my product warrants good promotion as it’s something I’m very proud of.

Jane-Badler

Nowadays, in the TV industry, there’s a lot of reality shows and I have twice been invited to appear, but declined. I was very much thinking of it because that is the allure of those shows, but the exposure you get can really backfire. When I perform ‘Fame’ though, I dress up as one of those housewives! And I am so over these talent shows too, because these people have not lived! They might have a nice voice, but there’s nothing else!

What led you to the title of the album?

We deliberated a long time with various ideas, perhaps Diamond Crimson Blood, but I thought Opus is a great tongue-in-cheek title, as it means my greatest work and I thought that was cool, like wink wink, but maybe not!

Any plans to tour the album?

Well, I’m a little tired from the PR from this film and I’m going back to Los Angeles and probably going to just sit back and see what happens with the record.

 
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Lives No Longer Hidden: An Interview with Carol Steele

Carol Steele is a pioneering activist who runs the transgender support group Transfigurations. Christopher Bryant talks to her about the questions that face transgender people in 21st century Britain, and the obstacles they’ve yet to overcome.

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The representation of trans people, and consequently their visibility, has changed in many ways since the UK Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2004. On the one hand there have been positive representations of trans characters in the press, film and in British soap operas. And on the other there has been a backlash from writers who identify as feminist yet seem to hold to the contradictory belief that while biology is not destiny for those who are born biologically female, it is for transwomen. This point of view is used as a polemical shortcut to treat transwomen as little more than men masquerading as women, to unjustly dismiss their beliefs, ideas and identities.

The T in LGBT is not always visible, and more often than not tacked on to the end rather than being understood, or even accepted. On a rudimentary level, sexual orientation – the LGB part of the acronym – defines your preference, whereas the T defines your gender – a far more complex psychological, physiological and social fusion. Yet because sexual orientation is social, and our ideas about gender are learned and applied socially – blue or pink, trousers or skirts, home economics or sports – any sexuality that deviates from the norm throws the issue of gender into confusion.

Gender, like sexual orientation, is not a constant. And like sexual orientation it operates on a wide spectrum. The term transgender refers to a section of the spectrum. Traditionally, if someone is transsexual they have had surgery or hormones to realign the body with their gender identity, yet there are many ways that gender dysphoria can manifest, and the trans experience varies from transsexual to genderqueer.

Carol Steele is a pioneering activist who runs the transgender support group Transfigurations. She formed one of the first support groups in the UK for transsexual people in 1972. Carol started her transition in the early 1970s. I talked to Carol about the support work that she does, the questions that face people who are transgender in 21st century Britain, and the obstacles that trans people have yet to overcome.

How long have you been running Transformations, and how did you first get involved?

My first transgender support group was started in around 1972/3 when another transgender woman and myself started the Manchester TV/TS Group. It was started because back in those days the only real group for transgender people was the Beaumont Society – and they refused to accept transsexual women (and they honestly believed that transgender men did not exist).

Transfigurations is the group that I started about 18 months ago in South Devon and we welcome transgender and gender variant people of all ages to join us – as well as giving support to parents (or guardians) of transgender children and youth – and the partners of transgender people. There are a few restrictions which apply to transgender youth and children in order to protect them and their families. Our online forums also have special sub-sections for transgender children which are only accessible to the people in that age group and their parents (parents may only access those forums if they have a child who is a member there). Likewise we have sub-forums for the partners of transgender people so that they can discuss their feelings and emotions without feeling pressured by their partners or other transgender people.

The formation of the group came about after working with the Independent Advisory Group for the Devon and Cornwall Police when it became apparent that some sort of support group was needed in the Torbay area. There is a high level of distrust of the police by the trans community, and they were worried that transphobic hate crime was very much under reported. Working with and incorporating transgender people onto their policy committees starts to break down those barriers so that the police can actually do their work properly in protecting those special characteristics groups. I was later asked to go onto the Torbay and South Devon Healthcare Trust’s Equality and Diversity committee who were working on their policy document regarding transgender staff and patients as part of their commitment to their Public Sector Equality Duty work.

What’s the range of those who use the group across the transgender spectrum? Has that changed over the time you’ve been running the group?

The people who actually come along to meetings tend to be transgender women who are at various stages of their transitions. Our forums contain a mix of people ranging from post operative transgender women, transitioning trans people, those who are confused as to their gender and also a few genderqueer people.

It seems that trans visibility, and the understanding of what it means to be trans, has changed in the last decade alone. Do you find that’s the case? How has that informed the work that you do, and the experiences that people bring to the group?

It changed slowly in the 1970s and started gaining momentum in the ’80s and ’90s, and then with the coming of the Gender Recognition Act in 2004 it did seem to explode and take on a life of its own. I think this is down to a number of factors, not least the Internet and Google, so now people can explore how they feel about themselves and seek friendships and understanding from like-minded people.

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Carol, 1976

This last decade has seen a growing number of people, especially from the younger generation, who are identifying as other than m2f or f2m transgender. This can be seen in the number of people who identify as non-binary or genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, bi-gender or others. If we accept that gender is indeed non-binary and a spectrum, then these categories of self-identification should have been expected – and the fact that these people are now emerging proves that gender identity is indeed a spectrum.

It has also changed for the good in that it is now much easier to find out about gender dysphoria because of the large number of support groups that exist around the country and the sheer number of specialist web sites and Facebook groups which are there to help transgender and/or gender variant people explore their feelings about themselves, but its one drawback is that because the general public are far more aware of transgender people this has led to far greater amounts of transphobia and transphobic hate crime in our society. Many years ago, people might think you are a masculine looking woman, but that was that generally because the transgender people were not being constantly written about and reported on in the media, which is generally quite hostile and derogatory – with just a few exceptions (and even those can occasionally get it badly wrong).

Once media attention starts to wane over the reporting of people undergoing gender reassignment, not doubt they will start to target an even smaller minority within the transgender spectrum – those who self identify as genderqueer, gender fluid or bi-gender.

Quite a few years ago I had a conversation with Fay Presto about the difference between gay and trans politics, and she said that gay politics is about standing out, whereas trans politics is the opposite. Do you think that’s the case these days? Or is even asking the question too simplistic, and that it’s a case of language failing us?

I think that perception is now changing as more and more transgender people start becoming trans activists and start pushing for greater understanding, greater acceptance and greater protections for transgender people. We are now starting to form pressure groups in much the same way that CHE and the GLF did in the late ’60s and early ’70s and pushing the government and other bodies for reforms. We are now starting to get our voices heard – and perhaps more importantly, listened to. This is evidenced in the way that public bodies such as the Police and the NHS are inviting transgender people onto their committees so that we can have a dialog about understanding and inclusivity.

How do you feel about the place of the T in the LGBT acronym?

We do have one major difference – our problems arise out of how we perceive our gender and not our sexuality. Transgender people can be straight, lesbian, gay or bi in much the same way that cis-gender people can be straight, lesbian, gay or bi – but we do have one thing in common with all cis-LGB, we have all suffered from persecution. Stonewall did nothing to help transgender people despite often gaining grants under an LGBT banner which deprived important funding for transgender groups. It is extremely ironic that Stonewall derived its name from the infamous Stonewall Riots which were started by women who fall within the transgender spectrum.

There is still some resentment amongst the gay community towards transgender people and I have often heard gay men disrespecting our identities, for instance, repeatedly mis-gendering us, using the wrong pronouns and using expressions of derision.

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Mum & Carol

What you’ve written about your own childhood experience of gender dysphoria is really open, and very touching. Do you find that trying to get people to understand the idea that gender as separate from biology is still a struggle?

I do think it is becoming more widely accepted by people these days – as evidenced by the huge increase in young people being seen by the UK’s only Gender Identity Clinic for children, The Tavistock and Portman Institute in London – however I think that we are in the early stages of this particular battle. It is also important to realise that not all children who express feelings of gender dysphoria when they are very young will want to continue with transition once they hit puberty. A significant proportion do not, according to the Tavistock. However, whether these children who do opt back into living as their birth gender then go on and transition later, only follow up studies will tell. It could be that societal pressures to conform result in some of these children deciding that it is simply too difficult for them at that age.

Unfortunately, some parts of the media have picked on this as their next battle with transgender people. One recent front page headline screamed “NHS to give Sex Change Drugs to 9 Year Olds” despite knowing that hormone blockers would not bring about the development of secondary sexual characteristics even if taken for a 100 years. What was also untrue is that no 9 year old had ever been given hormone blockers as a precursor for giving cross-sex hormone therapy when they reached 16.

You will get somebody who might be a right wing member of an anti-abortionist ‘family values’ group wheeled out to condemn hormone blockers as being child abuse – but my argument would be that it would be child abuse if the parent(s) deliberately made their child suffer the torment of going through puberty and then when they transitioned at a later date have to undergo painful and extensive treatments (eg laser/electrolysis to remove facial hair) and quite complicated and often dangerous surgeries (eg Facial Feminization Surgery etc) in order to become the person that they define themselves as.

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Carol, 1975 / 2012

This last year has seen a certain amount of controversy with feminists like Germaine Greer, and journalists like Julie Burchill and Julie Bindel, seeming to turn back to the idea that biology is not destiny – but only when the subject of trans is raised. How have these high-profile altercations affected your work, and you personally?

Personally I think those articles can do a lot of harm as they start to portray us as objects and not as people – and once we are perceived merely as objects this dehumanization plays into the hands of people who then see it as OK to commit physical acts of violence against us. I would have thought that they, as women, would have realised the consequences that dehumanization brings and would have been more understanding. Fortunately the vast majority of feminist groups have decried those outbursts and have, as a result, become more trans inclusive and stand with us against this type of oppression. In a way they have shot themselves in the foot – which might account for the fact that they have been a lot quieter over transgender people in their more recent articles. Plus, following the outcry and condemnation that ensued following those articles, perhaps editors are less inclined to publish this type of rhetoric now.

Then we come across another genre of feminists who call themselves Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERF’s) and include such figures as Janice Raymond, author of the infamous The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-male, Sheila Jeffreys, author of the anti-trans book Gender Hurts and Cathy Brennan. They have postulated theories about gender that transgender people do not simply fit within – so as pseudo scientific writers, rather than go back to their theories and try to find another theory that fits the facts, they attempt to eradicate our existence by simply denying it – a little like the flat earthers or the Roman Catholic church used to do when they held fast to the idea that the Earth was the centre of the universe and everything revolved around it – before Galileo proved otherwise.

To read Carol’s story, and find out more about the support work that Transfigurations undertakes, click here.

 
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Discovering Big Joy: The Spiritual Legacy of James Broughton

James Broughton was a pioneer of experimental film as well as poetry. The wonderful documentary Big Joy celebrates the legacy of this true revolutionary.

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When I started to make my first film, it was to a large extent, to see what my dreams really looked like, to make them… very real.

Before watching Stephen Silha & Eric Slade’s Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, I must confess I had no idea who James Broughton was. Broughton reveals early on in the documentary that he wanted to be a dancer, but was not light enough of foot to realise that dream and so, “I had to take up poetry, because that was one way I could make pictures and it’s very musical, because for me poetry is very much rhythm and melody and dance – dancing with words”. Broughton became a key figure in the San Francisco Renaissance which paved the way for, and gave birth to, the Beat poets. Broughton took his poetry of pictures to the next level and in 1946 made his first ‘poetic film’. His films were very quickly critically acknowledged and celebrated with invitations to international film festivals in Europe, a journey whose final destination was the Cannes film festival. There his film The Pleasure Garden won the special Prix de Fantasie Poetique, a prize presented to Broughton by Jean Cocteau, one of his cinematic heroes.

Broughton, in spite of his success, led a dual life, beneath the surface lay a darker more troubled side to the ambassador of Big Joy. In the documentary his friend the poet Jack Foley notes, “the darkness and the early suicidal impulses haunted James, you must understand that as much as he was a positive person, a cheery person, a great big joy bringer – and that’s all true – all of that is engaged in a dialogue with a sense of himself that he’s no good, that he’s moving towards death … there was a dark side to him that stayed with him his whole life.” This duality is detailed in his own journals which he kept from a very young age, he himself notes that the first films gave him a ‘new life’ and that, “making films saved my life”. It is also in his journals that we learn about Broughton’s struggle with his sexuality. Although he freely had relationships with both men and women as a young man, he comes to a very definitive conclusion much later in life when he meets his soul mate Joel Singer and on April 1, 1975 he writes, “and then something happened which has been building up for a long time, Joel showed me his film and then it happened – a very close embrace, with passion, with desire, very touching, very dear … all this opens up an arena that may be dangerous, it opens up what I have kept lidded.”

Polari met with co-director Stephen Silha and producer Max St Romain at the BFI’s Flare to discuss the documentary which was as much a process of excavating the inner life of the man as well as his work:

Big Joy the Adventures of James Broughton is an unusual project in that it is more than just a film isn’t it?

SS. That’s right. We like to do cabaret screenings where we not only show the film but have people read poetry or do some kind of performance. When we kicked off our theatrical in New York we had performance artist Jason Jenn who did a seven minute piece of his Ecstasy for Everyone – A Theatrical Celebration of the Poetry and Art of James Broughton, a one man show that he’s developed.

We always thought of it as a multimedia project. We started the website in 2009 and invited various performers and dancers read James Broughton poetry and dance to his poetry. We launched a video contest in 2010 to see who could do the best video of James Broughton poem and gave away Adobe Creative Suite as the prize – the woman who actually won that just released a film, which is about the first rivers in the US to have the old dams removed.

The film has a life beyond itself. Was that always the intention?

SS. It was always the intention to do something that would inspire creativity because Broughton was always about that – he really honestly believed that if you followed your ‘weird’ that you could create art that no one else had seen, which is what he encouraged his students to do and what we tried to do when we made this film. Ours is not an experimental film it is a documentary, but we tried to infuse it with the spirit of his work.

MSR. He was a unique voice, and he always encouraged other people to find their own unique voice. How that manifests is completely up to you, but when you find that unique voice it will manifest in your work in ways in which you never really expected, especially when they are natural to you but unnatural to others. He did it through the written word as a poet, he did it with the moving image and also as somebody who found away to be in love with the human body. And that’s what happened in the 1960s when he was doing his films, especially The Bed, which featured a very large amount of naked people.

It was before the sexual revolution and at the time was problematic –

MSR. Right. With that film and with subsequent films afterwards he focused on filming the naked body. It made him and influential voice affecting how filmmakers from that point on approached the naked body.

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The Pleasure Garden  (1953)

How did you discover James Broughton.

SS. I first encountered his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1979. I heard this interesting poetry coming out of the theatre and I went in and sat down and it was his film The Pleasure Garden. And then 10 years later I happen to be assigned to the same cabin as James Broughton at a Radical Faerie gathering in Oregon. I think it was my fourth year of going to Faerie gatherings and I had discovered a kind of spiritual home for myself in that community. James was very much involved in the early days of that movement in the late ‘70s – in fact he had had an affair with the founder of the Radical Faeries, Harry Hay in 1933 when they were both students at Stanford. But anyway we became friends and he became a sort of mentor for me.

So the project is a very personal one. When did the idea of it begin?

SS. After he died in 1999. I was present at his death and I thought, “somebody has to do something to bring this work back into the world”. His books were out of print and the movies won’t been seen any more. Originally, I was going to write a book but when I began the research I realised it had to be a film.

What was it about the research that made you decide that it should be a film?

SS. He was much better known for being a filmmaker than a poet and his work was so visual I felt that to tell his story adequately it really had to be a film. I had seen Eric Slade’s film about Harry Hay called Hope Along the Wind from 2002, and I really liked what he did with recreations and use of archival footage. So I called Eric up and asked him if he would be interested in working with me.

James-Broughton

When you began the documentary, did you have a narrative in mind or did it find its own way?

SS. We started interviewing people because his colleagues were already in their 90s and needed to be interviewed as soon as possible. My instinct was to find the story rather than to go in with my construction of story. So I dived into interviews as well as his archive at Kent State and found he had journal he kept from age 13 until he died. So we had access to the inner life of the artist. Some of what he had written in his journal disagreed with what he had written in his autobiography, so I chose to go with what was in the journals! (laughs)

Very Wise!

MSR. I thought it was a wise call to turn it into a film project. At the beginning we saw that we had a massive amount of information and we didn’t know where to start. We began to discuss out the story could be told, how it could be structured, in the most important thing was getting those first interviews. Things started falling into place. We realised we had the dots to connect and start to create a story that would take us through the decades.

It is a very chronological film.

MSR: It is. When you have a story that spans 85 years, how do you pick and choose? We chose to look at each of the main decades. We focus in general on his childhood into his early adulthood, then we go by decade, and we focus on the key words that represents that whole period. That tells us where he is at his life. We show the work, get a taste of what happened in the life, and we get a little slice of what is happening in the United States, in the culture.

The archive footage is intrinsic to the whole project. Was it difficult to source?

SS: Yes.

City-Lights-Books-James-Broughton

MSR: We had two types of archival film. They were his films and there was stock footage and newsreels. We ran into a problem, which I am sure many film makers face when you are working archival film. How do you work with old archival film and not make a film that feels old? We made sure a lot of the elements that didn’t exist, such as the journal entries, and the poetry, were in a more modern style so that it did not feel like a film that was made in the 1940s.

SS: By the time we started editing the film, we realised we didn’t have the archival footage we needed. And it was expensive.

When you say you were realised you didn’t have enough archival footage, did what was unearthed become part of the jigsaw of were you looking for specific footage.

SS: Both. We had very specific things we were looking for, some of which we never found, such as footage of Cannes film Festival where Broughton won his prize. We found some of the festival when someone won a Prize, but it’s not Broughton but it doesn’t matter because it looks like it is. (laughs)

In terms other challenges, what was it like getting people to talk?

SS: We were very fortunate that Joel Singer gave us the rights to all of the films and all of the poetry. If he hadn’t done we wouldn’t have been able to make this film. And of course he was willing to talk because he wants James’ story out in the world. He still feels very much that James is his soul mate.

Getting Suzannah [Broughton’s wife] was a real miracle. His daughter Serena said she didn’t want to be interviewed but I asked if she would ask her mother. It was our first interview. We looked at each other afterward and said, “this is a gold mine”.

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The Bed  (1967), Erogeny (1976)

What has it been like to take the film on the festival circuit? How important is festival culture to a film like this?

SS: It’s really important. We’re really fortunate to have been curated by gay festivals, international festivals. We were part of the United Nations festival because their theme was “individual to universal”, and they saw our film as the perfect manifestation of that.

MSR: The experiences are very varied, just like the cities. We go to some places where people are fighting over the tickets and some where there are about five people in the audience.

SS: It’s a mixed bag, but I think it’s really important to go to festivals because having that contact with the audience is so interesting, and for us it has been so gratifying because we made the film not simply to tell the story but to inspire people. The feedback we have been getting is that people come out of the theatre feeling inspired to live a bigger life, to be more creative, and that was our intention.

James Broughton was a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence. We’ve had the sisters bless the film in many cities. He was Sister Sermonetta of the Flying Phallus. I was humbled to be presented with the Flying Phallus award when we premiered the film in New York.

What do you feel is Broughton’s greatest legacy?

SS: In terms of film making, it’s his depiction of the human body, his loving depiction of the naked body, is an amazing legacy. But as far as the poetry and the spirit of “following your weird” goes, he said it’s more important to live poetically than to be a good poet. He did live poetically. So his legacy is people like me who have been inspired by him to go out into the world and say you don’t have to live in your little box, you’ve been given gifts, so use them. The whole idea of his evolution into big joy, he made a journey and became big joy by the end of his life, but big joy is who he really was when I knew him. I felt that his story really needed to be told in the 21st century.

MSR: Like Armistead Maupin says in the film, Broughton knew how to get to the serious through the silly. I think that’s an amazing talent that only an idealist can have. I think that idealism, like any form of extremism, can be really polarising. It can be someone you love or someone you hate. You need them, you need that extreme point of view, because you need that point of inspiration, of viewing things as an artist to then create different routes. For me, what James’ story really means, is this command to follow the life of your dreams. Although the most important duty in life is to be your self it doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with a price. That’s how I see it.

James-Broughton

Sport’s Hidden Lives: Ben Cicchetti

Coming out as a sportsman has always been a complicated affair. Nick Smith considers what this means, and talks to wrestler Ben Cicchetti, aka The VIP, about his experience of coming out in the world of professional wrestling.

Ben-Cicchetti

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A few weeks ago, Ian Thorpe, an Australian swimmer, decided to tell the world he was gay. This was preceded by a rather tasteless “will he-won’t he” cliff-hanger advertising campaign from the interview with Michael Parkinson in which this was revealed. It’s so not 2014. Of course, there were the usual ignorant comments from the heterosexual peanut gallery, one particular gem was, “I am not letting my children swim in the same pool as Ian Thorpe because I don’t want them getting HIV or AIDS! #IanThorpe #GayIsWrong”. Fellow countryman Matthew Mitcham faced a similar reaction when he came out prior to the 2008 Olympic games, although social media was not quite as ubiquitous then. What is most disconcerting, however, is the lack of support from within our own community. There were those bemoaning his multiple denials, those saying that it doesn’t mean anything and those simply saying “duh!”. I think it’s very important to have people in the public eye come out and what people easily forget is that coming out is a very personal experience. Every one of us has a different story, some of brilliant acceptance, others of ignorant disapproval.

Tom Daley seemed to get an even rougher backsplash when he decided to come out in a YouTube video. Some of the comments about him saying he still liked girls, meaning that he was inferring he was bisexual – thus not purely gay – were particularly insidious and lent further credence to the bitchy-gay stereotypes.

If we think back to when Martina Navratilova came out in 1981, it must have been a very lonely experience. She lost millions in endorsements, but battled to keep her integrity. Because of her, other people have had the courage to renounce the closet in the locker room. That is not to say that attitudes changed in the way, or at the speed, we would have wanted. When Amelie Mauresmo came out some 18 years later, she suffered some dreadful criticism from her peers – a bitter Lindsay Davenport saying it was like “playing a guy”, particularly ridiculous and ironic as Davenport towers over her by six inches and has a much bigger frame. The insolent and childish Martina Hingis was quoted to say Mauresmo was “half a man”, but such levels of ignorance and jealousy are really quite unparalleled. The women’s tennis circuit has always had a narrow-minded view of what is feminine. At the time, we could thank our own Andrew Castle who stated, “She is the perfect antidote to the way women’s tennis is going… …we care about Amelie, because we feel as if we know her.” Annabel Croft reshifted the focus back to her tennis saying, “Her game is beautiful to watch. It’s full of artistry and variety.”

 Ben-Cicchetti

Ben Cicchetti, who has performed for years in the world of professional wrestling/sports entertainment under the name The VIP, decided that he could no longer hide his sexuality. Beginning his career in August 2006, he travelled around Canada, Australia and the UK, playing the villainously arrogant character. One of the highlights of his career was being one of the stars of Pyramid Productions television show, World of Hurt, which was broadcast across the Cave Network in Canada and Trace Sports in the UK.

Was there a particular trigger to you coming out or was it more of a natural thing?

For me, the main trigger for choosing to come out to my peers in the world of professional wrestling was a desire to no longer live a double-life. In a world of social media, having to be constantly aware of everything that was posted about me became incredibly exhausting. I was (and still am) in an incredibly happy relationship and felt secure enough in myself to know that I would be able to handle the reaction.

Did you face any scrutiny from your peers or people from the LGBTIQ community?

I was very fortunate to receive huge amounts of support from not only my peers, but also the LGBTIQ community as a whole. The only scrutiny I faced was from people’s stereotyping of professional wrestlers as oiled up men in spandex. On the day I decided to “come out”, I received tweets of “well of course he’s gay, have you seen wrestling on TV?”. I was very conscious throughout this to protect the wrestling world, so these sorts of messages were somewhat frustrating.

What advice would you give to someone facing the same issues?

My advice would be simple, only do it when you’re ready to do it. You should never feel pressured by those around you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. But let me assure you, it’s never going to be as bad as you think. Professional wrestlers are not the most politically correct group, but the messages of support I received from my peers were incredible. When you are ready and feel the time is right, you will feel a huge weight lift from your shoulders and will be able to enjoy just being you!

Ben-Cicchetti

Do you think it’s important for people in the public eye to come out?

I think it’s fantastic when people in the public eye choose to come out publicly. They have the opportunity to be an inspiration to people out there who may be struggling with acceptance for who they are. Last year, WWE superstar Darren Young came out as gay, and has received incredible support from WWE. He serves as a huge inspiration for wrestling fans young and old. We can only hope, however, that we reach a time when members of the LGBTIQ community won’t need to “come out”, much in the same way that members of the heterosexual community don’t have to come out as heterosexual.

It’s a real shame that the focus is often on a person’s sexuality and being defined in a one-dimensional fashion with labels. I like to think that there is much more to me than my sexuality and that I have a lot more to offer and I certainly do not view others solely in terms of their sexual proclivities, no matter how they identify. This is not to say that I am conceited and that I am not an advocate for equal rights and diversity; I just like to think there is much more on the table. There are some “militant” gay men that believe sexuality is finite; in fact I have often been defined bisexual because I have slept with a woman. An ex of mine once said I was not a “thoroughbred” which is a particularly small-minded and absurd view of sexuality. I identify myself as a gay man and have done for the past 14 years. I spend far less time pondering my sexuality than I do travelling, reading, writing, cooking or, in other words, opening my mind and continuing to keep it open.