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Coventry Pride 2016

By on 23 June, 2016

covpride

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.

covpride_crowd
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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Transindia: A Documentary

By on 28 January, 2015

Transindia, by Meera Darji

Meera Darji wants to make a documentary about the hijras, the term used in South Asia for people who don’t consider themselves men nor women but contain features of both genders. Usually assigned male at birth, hijras have effeminate traits and present themselves in femme outfits. In Indian culture, they are/were seen as holy human representations of Ardhanari, the composite of Lord Siva and his partner Parvati. Blessed by Rama in the Ramayana, they to go to weddings, childbirth and celebrations to dance and bring fortune and fertility. They were featured in the Kama Sutra, although a vast percentage of them renounce to sexuality and channel their sexual energy into other sacred activities.

Along came the British Empire and its puritan notions of gender. The hijras were seen as “a breach of public decency” and were included on the Criminal Tribes Act along with thieves and murderers. They had to be registered, monitored and systematically disenfranchised by society. Not even the fight for independence and the formation of the Indian Republic destroyed the stigma. Police neglection and brutality against them has increased as part of the aftermath of the recriminalisation of homosexuality and bisexuality in December 2013; and although they were just considered a “third-sex” in April 2014 granted educational and professional rights, they are still considered a “backward” class in society and economy. Now they live in segregated communities, taking underpaid jobs to make ends meet.

Transindia-acceptance

We have information about them thanks to research, film and audio; but it’s not as inclusive as it should. Many documentaries are made from the point of view of an spectator, someone looking from afar and not entirely willing to comprehend what they witness. It’s appreciated that film makers are interested in the first place, but it’s also primordial to give space to people to speak for themselves. To learn about them while giving them a venue for self-expression. Not pestering them nor treating them with tweezers on a Petri dish, but fully immersing ourselves in the environment and letting it take control.

Meera Darji

To make this happen, Meera is flying to India in February for production. She wants to be part of events, attend blessings and social gatherings, interview hijras and their families. Not as a perpetual Jacques Cousteau voice-over, but as a mere vessel of communication. As a platform to expand their message.

Struggle With Life & Race Against Time

Meera has done short films about life in and out of India. In 2013, she directed Struggle With Life & Race Against Time, an emotive documentary in which her grandfather Surendrakumar Bhagat shared his lifestory and wisdom. He talked about how he went from being a typist and living in poverty, to becoming a bank manager and being able to visit his family abroad. The film was screened at film festivals in Leicester, Stockport and Peckham; nominated for the International Student Creative Award by We are One Japan; and was the Overall Winner at Brighton Youth Film Festival.

In the life of Manilal Kataria

Later, on a visit to Ahmedabad, she filmed In the life of Manilal Kataria, on a worker we could call a jack-of-all-trades: he cleans houses, washes cars, attends a small shop on various errands, and cleans cooking utensils on a shower floor. He believes in hard work and human labour; and while machines could accomplish most of his duties, he does everything with precision, dedication, and above all, soul. It was selected for Leicester’s Short Cinema Film Festival, London’s Thurrock International Short Film Festival, RATMA Film Festival, Croatia’s Tabor International Short Film Festival, and several events in the USA, taking home the Best Documentary award at Idaho’s BoVi Film Festival.

Transindia would be her first feature film. And yes, it’s her final project at Coventry University; just like her previous documentaries were also evaluated in an academic manner. Nevertheless, she makes these movies for more than an undergraduate degree or to merely thicken her portfolio: she makes these movies because they are stories that need to be told.

Transindia A Film by Meera Darji

It’s because of this that she’s looking for funding to make this happen. On Transindia‘s Indiegogo page, you can donate as little as £5 and still get mentioned in the credits. The more you give, the more perks you get — a digital copy of the film, a DVD copy of the film, postcards, posters, t-shirts, a personal video of the community, and the possibility of being included as an Associate Producer or Executive Producer. But the best reward will be the existence of the film itself. 2014 was a big year for the trans* community in Western civilisation, and Darji wants to do her part to make something like this happen to Indian society in 2015. To ignite the conversation and spread it across the community.

It would be amazing if you could help.

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