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Leicester Riot Grrrls

By on 23 August, 2016

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Leicester pretty much has everything: excellent food, lovely people from everywhere in the world, high-quality sports, and an ever-growing cultural scene. A significant chunk of this rise in arts, music, performance, spoken word and dance is not funded by the establishment, the government or big corporations. You can find these underground acts whispering in the corner of an open mic event at the pub or exploding on an improvised stage at an independent gallery. It could be considered punk in principles and D.I.Y. in aesthetic: if you want something to happen, make it happen in your own terms and flipping the bird at “gatekeepers”. If they don’t let you in the building, make a raucous party on the streets.

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We would assume that, with such notches under its belt, Leicester would also have a social activist scene. People questioning authority on behalf of certain cultural groups, ethnic groups, gender groups, those who are often unheard or afraid to share their voices even in the independent cultural scene I love and praise so much. How many middle-class baby-booming white men have to spread themselves like Marmite all over workshops, open mics, performances and other events when they could easily knock the door on the BBC and get their own show any time? How many topics are avoided and unquestioned, experiences left unshared, injustices being ignored? For a start, where are the women? The young people, the queer, the unemployed and underemployed, the working class, the cry-myself-to-sleeps, the disabled, the large-and-unashamed, the anarchists?

Where are the Riot Grrrls?

It’s the same thing Gemma Wicks and Meri Everitt were wondering. There have been Riot Grrrl or Riot Grrrl-inspired communities in several cities and countries, either tangent or online, ever since the manifesto was released in 1991 on Bikini Kill’s zine; some of them expanding, updating and improving the lifestyle and the scope of who is allowed in and what to fight for. Today, intersectionalism is key, and all women are real women, all non-binaries are non-binaries. People are what people are. But at least nowadays, there wasn’t a movement like this one in Leicester.

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Leicester Riot Grrrls started as an idea on Facebook. It has its own closed group, a safe space to ask questions and help each other through sorority. There is now a public Facebook page where we share news, pictures and cute/enraging/edifying things. But what would a geographically-specific group be like without – gasp – human interaction?

The group meets ideally once a month. The first meeting was in July, upstairs at Firebug. It was quite successful and people came all the way from Nottingham and Derby to participate and maybe make something like this happen in their towns. So I guess we’re pioneers in the East Midlands? We had a bit of an open mic and I am amazed by the quality and passion of all the performers; some of them regulars in the local and regional circuits, some of them shy and terrified kids who had never done it in public. This is an excellent opportunity for them to practice, share, and keep doing things here, there and everywhere.

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There are a few smaller groups within the group, and they each specialise in one kind of activity or project. The music jammers, the book club, the film club, the zinesters, and anything else that comes by. You’re all welcome to perform, share your writings and your readings.

The next Leicester Riot Grrrls meeting is on the 31st of August at Duffy’s, a very friendly Irish pub just around the corner from Firebug. If you want to be part of it, organise stuff and believe in the ideals, feel free to join! We’ll also be hanging out at that thing called Leicester Pride at Victoria Park on Saturday 3rd of September.

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Culture | Gender | Lifestyle | Nottingham | Poetry | Race | Sexuality | Spoken Word

Cutiepocking Notts Pride 2016

By on 26 July, 2016

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After Coventry Pride, and after all the gross stuff going on with the world, I felt it was my responsibility to get more involved with Pride and speak out as a member of the community. So, going the extra mile, I’ll be performing not once but TWICE at Notts Pride this year.

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First, at the Mouthy Poets Queer Zine launch. The zine was conceived by Dean Atta at his Queer Poetry Masterclass, as a way to show the resulting exercises and similar material. It was a very fruitful experience, and I can’t wait to hold it in my hands. It features work by Atta, Alex Bond, Denise Dee, Petra Mijic, Neal Pike, Barbara Schaefer, Beccy Shore, Milla Tebbs, Joni Wildman and yours truly. The launch and readings will be at Lee Rosy’s Tea on Broad Street, 2:30pm. But please, be there from 1:30pm to enjoy the full Poetry Corner and see regular performers from Write Minds Wiff Waff.

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Later, the end (or the beginning?) will be near at the QTIPOCALYPSE, an open mic for Queer Trans and Intersex-Identified People of Colour (or like you can pronounce the acronym, Cutiepock). It’s organised by QTIPOC Notts, a group that was just set up last November and aims to give space to people of colour with diverse genders and sexualities who may not feel comfortable in the average mainstream LGBT community. Allies are welcome to watch and listen. Hosted by the grand Dr Angela Martinez Dy, better known as El Día. It will be upstairs at Rough Trade Nottingham, also on Broad Street, 7pm.

So yeah, come to one. Or the other. Or both. I recommend both. Also, everything else at Notts Pride. Marching, listening to music, making music, looking at pretty things, getting pretty things, celebrating our identities and fighting for recognition with words and glitter.

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VIDEO: How to Leave the House in Times of Trouble

By on 15 July, 2016

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The world sucks sometimes. You’ve read on “Craig David” about a lot of the boogers that happened in the world, and that was just for ONE WEEK. The following weeks kept getting worse and worse in small and great scale: police brutality, terrorist attacks everywhere, your parents damning this country to hell and validating those who hate us to be more outspoken about it, horrible people inside and outside taking sneaky pictures in the changing rooms and laughing at those who don’t exactly please Grandpa Hugh Hefner’s rotten standards, etc.

It can be awful daring to step outside with the piercing fear of being attacked one way or another, but then there’s also the fear of ourselves that, if we stayed indoors all the time, we might never be able to come out and our voice will be muffed and lost. The fear of not coming home alive, the fear of not leaving house alive. This is for you, for us.

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It’s a poem/film/guide thingie called “How to Leave the House in Times of Trouble”. For those of us trouble by agoraphobia, being members of one or many “minority” groups and seeing our worst fears come through every day. There’s still a world outside, and this world still needs you. So get ready and earn some courage however you can, if possible.

The poem was written as an exercise at a Writing Poetry Google Hangout Workshop with Dean Atta. He gave the queue of making a how-to poem on any topic of our “expertise”. Later, I turned it into a short film for the Pangaea World Poetry Slam, who organised said workshop. It was lovely to merge three of my loves — writing, filming and sharing — and use them for a good thing.

Here comes the fun part: click, like and share with as many people as possible. Particularly people who would benefit from the message. You never know the ordeals someone could go through just to live a “normal” day. If I ever make money out of the streams, shares and likes (LOLS), I’ll give it all to a mental health organisation, particularly one which helps queers, POC and/or people who may not speak English and need someone to advocate for them. It comes with subtitles/captions if you don’t understand my accent, and I’m working on a Spanish translation. Subtitles in any other language are more than welcome. <3

There are a couple of things that might be misunderstood. The “wear something that doesn’t attract negative attention” is not slut-shaming. We should be free to wear whatever we want, but some people don’t know or don’t want us to know this, so they attack. On low “spoons” days, you don’t even feel like fighting or defending yourself, so you keep your energy levels to a minimum and just try to roam by in a way that attracts as few bigots as possible.

Also, the “you’re still a woman on trainers, you’re still a man on stilettos” bit includes cis and trans people alike. A lot of trans people I know fear wearing items that are associated more with the gender they were forcibly assigned at birth. They don’t want to be “read” as “impostors”. A trans woman is still a woman on her Nike Air Force Ones. A trans man is still a man on his Louboutins. An NB is still an NB on whatever they want. Also, the fear of fragile masculinity or the fear of not being “seen as a woman” even if you’re cis because your exterior doesn’t match the “desirable standards” (women of certain colours not recognised in feminininininity, fat chicks like us seen as “one of the boys” by our crushes, et al). So yeah. I love you. If you find any fuckups in my work, let me know.

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Arts | Coventry | Culture | Gender | Lifestyle | Sexuality | Zines

Coventry Pride 2016

By on 23 June, 2016

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On Sunday, two ideas/stereotypes/internalised misconstructions were torn apart out of my mind forever: the idea that Pride festivals are now mainstream bacchanals far away from their original meanings, and the idea that Coventry died after the Blitz and that since then it’s been nothing but — The Specials dixit — a ghost town. Coventry is, in fact, more galvanised than ever, and Coventry Pride is queer in every sense of the word. Weird, open, beyond the norms.

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Image: Coventry Pride.

Coventry Pride took place last Saturday and Sunday at FarGo Village, a comfortable hip area in Far Gosford Street recently devised as a creative hub where young and/or alternative people can hang out, exchange ideas and establish connections. It is a bit like a compact version of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, but more focused on startups and independent stores. It seems pretty cosy, and offers anything from American sweets to books, comics, clothes and pop culture collectables. With a coffee shop and a tap house almost next to each other, I think I would spend a lot of my waking hours in this area if I lived in Coventry.

The most glamorous Dalek.
The most glamorous Dalek.

This is the second year in a row in which Coventry Pride takes place, last year being nominated as Best Live Event 2015 in Coventry Telegraph People’s Choice Awards. It is organised by people intensely active in the local LGBT+ community, a registered charity since October 2015, and it has kept organising events in preparation for every Pride all year long. I was originally invited to perform for ❤ Music, Hate Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in May, but times were complicated. It looks like it was an amazing event full of quality music, poetry and performance in general. Would love to go next time they do something like this.

Source: Sarah Beth.
Source: Sarah-Beth Gilbert.

On Sunday, I was part of the Spoken Word Open Mic event at the Urban Coffee. I was kindly invited by Jessamy Morris-Davis, organiser extraordinaire, whom I met thanks to Joe from Deathsex Bloodbath (heavily involved in the Coventry music scene) and his wonderful partner Sarah-Beth. We happen to share friends like Kerrie Sakura, who I finally got to meet that afternoon after ages of talking online; and apparently Joe also knows Charles Wheeler from the wrestling circuit. Small world! Small beautiful world!

Nim Chimpsky. Image: Andy McGeechan.
Nim Chimpsky. Image: Andy McGeechan.

Outside, we had the Phoenix Stage, with tons of mind-blowing queer music acts. Yes, even indie rock and electro noise. This was really, really important, since a lot of the times I’ve been in Pride festivals/LGBT+ events, the musical offer was rather one-dimensional: from ABBA tributes to busted Butlin’s “comedians” in drag to straight pop divas who recorded that one song about being yourself and treat the queer community as a cash cow. Stagey McStageface in the Market Hall had more cheesy pop/mainstream acts, but it was not everything the festival had to offer, as it happens in other festivals in bigger cities. This one recognised the possibilities of noise/experimental music as the epitome of all things queer beyond the “that sounds gay” label. I performed in the small silence gap between Duck Thieves and Nim Chimpsky. CHECK THEM OUT, NOW.

Duck Thieves! Image: Andy McGeechan.
Duck Thieves! Image: Andy McGeechan.

While we’re at it, please, please, please read “Noise Music as Queer Expression” by K Surkan. Print it, download it, read it on the bus, highlight stuff on it, share it, shout it.

Image: Andy McGeechan.
Image: Andy McGeechan.

Another thing I adored about the festival was its inclusiveness, its grassroots and its DIY ethos. As I’ve said before, the organisers were queer themselves and way beyond the White Gay Man with Disposable Income. Trans, Lesbian, Bi/Pan and Non-Binary folks crafted this with so much love and dedication you could feel it. On Saturday, there was a Body Positive Catwalk and I’m really gutted I missed it. People of different abilities and identities were very welcome and felt like home. As everything was at a ground level, it was wheelchair friendly, and since FarGo is so compact, people didn’t have to walk/run/rush/be dragged from one extreme to another to get to the next event. It was not crowded and it was not overwhelming; and if it was, you could go to the Info room and relax on the couch. And no, this Pride was not brought to you by Absolut Vodka, and you would not untuck in the Interior Illussions lounge.

Trans goth pride. Image: Andy McGeechan.
Trans goth pride. Image: Andy McGeechan.

(I’m still as obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race as usual but hey! The indier, the better!)

The community and info stalls — or what I managed to see from them on Sunday — were welcoming and friendly, with leaflets and material for queers and allies alike; offering help for old people, young people, people with disabilities, people of faith, victims/survivors of abuse, or even just having a laugh at the Lady Go-Diva Comedy Stage.

Gizmo Pride.
Gizmo Pride.

This event was so exciting it inspires me to get more involved in all things queer and underground. I’m tired of being read as straight just because I happened to fall in love with a dude (someone I adore regardless of gender) and it feels a bit lonely sometimes. The Coventry queer arts community seems warm, friendly and united; and I would love to keep attending their events and even just hanging out with my mates over there. If Leicester Pride were something like this, back to its roots, less corporate and more connected to punk and DIY (a bit like Anerki, but more queer-focused and with a lot more indie stalls), it would be perfect.

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