Category Archives: Gay

David Mills, chic gay comic with a nose for pussy, gets chatty about PrEP etc

Next Wednesday, American comic David Mills starts The Mix – the first in a monthly series of chat shows at the Phoenix Artist Club in London.

“You’ve got a bit of previous with chat shows,” I said, “with Scott Capurro and then with Jonathan Hearn.”

“And,” David told me, “I had a chat show with another comic in San Francisco maybe 20 years ago – Late Night Live – with this hilarious woman called Bridget Schwartz.

“She has since given up comedy. A great loss.

“We had big local San Francisco politicians, some of the big newscasters and drag queens – the same sort of thing I’m trying to create here. Not just people from the comedy world, but people from politics and culture and newsmakers.”

“So The Mix will not be all comics?” I asked.

“No. That’s why it’s called The Mix, John. Next Wednesday, we will have comic Jo Sutherland and the writers of Jonathan Pie – Andrew Doyle and Tom Walker who plays Jonathan Pie – and London’s Night Czar Miss Amy Lamé who will be talking about the night-time economy.

“For the second show on 19th April, we are currently negotiating to get a controversial politician and we already have comic Mark Silcox and Daniel Lismore, who is the current reigning Leigh Bowery of the world – like a crazy creature who has come out of some couture closet. A sort of Art Scenester. I don’t want it to be all comics. It’s The Mix.”

“Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?”

David Mills in his photograph of choice

“No. I won’t be playing Edinburgh this year. I’ve been going back to the US a lot – more regularly – so I haven’t been spending time writing a new show. I’ve been gigging in LA, gigging in New York, also I have family out there. Trying to make my way. But it’s a bit of a challenge to make your way in LA if you’re only there for two weeks every three months.”

“You could,” I suggest, “get a position in the Trump administration. He’s running out of people to nominate. Do you know any Russians?”

“There was Denis Krasnov,” said David.

“He seems,” I said, “to calls himself Jack Dennis now.”

“He’s the only Russian I know,” David told me. “He used to be on the circuit in London, then he went to New York. but I don’t think he can get me into government. Well, I don’t want to be in the Trump administration, but I’d work for Milania – perhaps as a stylist or a gay best friend.”

“You are in bigtime Hollywood movies now,” I said. “Florence Foster Jenkins. What part did you play?”

“The gay friend.”

“A lot of acting involved?” I asked.

“It was a real stretch for me, John, because… I don’t have friends. For research, I had to hang around with people who have friends and let me tell you – I don’t know if you know anything about friends, but – they’re a lot of work. There’s a lot of lying involved. Lots.”

“Where was Florence Foster Jenkins filmed?”

“All over. North London, West London…”

“It was supposed to be New York?”

“But filmed in the UK, which is why I got the job. They needed an American gay friend in London. So there’s basically me or Scott Capurro and Scott wasn’t around.”

“Stephen Frears directed it,” I said. “Very prestigious. So you might appear in other films.”

“Well, I’m in the short Robert Johnson and The Devil Man directed by Matthew Highton and written by Joz Norris. Guess who plays The Devil Man.”

“Joz Norris?”

“No. They needed someone with a suit. Who looks good in a suit?… I always get those parts. When Tim Renkow did the pilot for A Brief History of Tim, they thought: We need some guy in a suit… Who?… David Mills! – so I played the part of ‘Guy in a Suit’.”

David Mills & Tim Renkow in BBC3’s A Brief History of Tim

“Yes,” I mused. “Who wears a suit? So it’s either you or Lewis Schaffer. Strange it’s always you that gets the sophisticated parts and not him.”

“That’s because he doesn’t wear a sophisticated suit,” said David. “I love Lewis Schaffer – I’m not tearing him down, right?…”

“But?” I asked.

“…he would tell you as well,” said David. “It’s sort of a shabby suit.”

“Though he would be less succinct telling me,” I suggested.

“…and shiny,” David continued. “The suit. He’s had that suit for about 15 years. I try to keep mine up-to-date.”

“What else is happening in your life?” I asked.

“I’ve got a solo show – David Mills: Mr Modern – at the very chic Brasserie ZL near Piccadilly Circus on 23rd March.”

“Why is it called Mr Modern?

“Because it’s about modern life… and about me.”

“You do have your finger in a lot of pies,” I said. “If you see what I mean.”

“I find myself increasingly on TV talking about cats,” replied David.

“Why?” I asked.

“I did a thing called LOL Cats on Channel 5. They show videos of cats, then turn to a comedian who tells jokes, then they go back to the video and then back to the comedian. It’s a ‘talking head’ thing.”

“Are you an expert on cats?” I asked.

David admitted: “I know very little about pussy…”

“No,” said David. “I know very little about pussy. But I seem to have a nose for it. And LOL Cats went well, so they had me come back to do LOL Kittens.

“The guy at the cafe I go to every morning asked me: What were you doing on TV talking about kittens? And someone at the gym said: Why were you on TV talking about cats?”

“Cats then kittens,” I said. “They will have to diversify into other species.”

“There are still big cats,” David suggested.

“Have you got cats?” I asked.

“No.”

“Too difficult in London?” I asked.

David shrugged. “I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my entire life. 17 years I’ve been here. Sometimes, I have lived in London longer than most of my audience have been alive. Often they are students or other people aged under 22.

“There’s a risk with younger audiences that they won’t get my references, they may only have been in London six months and they may tend to be scared of anything remotely edgy.”

“Student audiences at the moment,” I said, “are very right-on PC.”

“It’s something,” agreed David, “that’s endemic across a lot of clubs where young people are the primary audience. They are very nervous about jokes that touch on any sort of identity issues – unless you are taking the ‘accepted’ position. I always try and tweak my audiences a little bit. Having come from a world of identity politics and having been through certain battles and marched on certain marches, I feel I have some justification to joke about that shit. But these people don’t have a sense of humour about sexuality or gender or race or…”

“Surely,” I suggested, “YOU can do gay jokes in the same way an Indian comic can do Indian jokes.”

“I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now,” says David.

“You can,” said David, “if the target of your punchline is heterosexuality. But not if the target is homosexuality. Even if you ARE gay.”

“So,” I asked, “if I were a Scots or a Jewish comic, could I not safely joke about the Scots or the Jews being financially mean?”

“I think you can,” said David, “but I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now. Particularly around gender. Gay comics invariably wave the rainbow flag.”

“You’re saying they can’t make jokes about,” I floundered, “I dunno, retro jokes about…”

David said: “It’s not retro to be critical, to have a critical take. It IS retro to be calcified in your position and unable to hear any criticism.”

“So you couldn’t,” I asked, “do a cliché joke about camp gays?”

“I wouldn’t want to. What I would want to joke about is the oversensitivity of the gay world and there is not a lot of interest in that at the moment.”

“What sort of jokes would you want to tell and can’t?”

“I do jokes about a drug a lot of gay men take – PrEP. They take it in order to then have un-safe sex – they don’t have to use condoms. It’s sort of a prophylactic for HIV. So I say: Of course I’m on PrEP. I am a gay white man. I demand a portable treatment for my inability to control myself. And You’re not getting your money’s worth on a gay cruise unless you come back with at least one long-term manageable condition. I try to collect them all.

“With those sort of things, people are thinking: Hold on! Are you making fun of people with HIV? It’s as if there is no ability for people to laugh at themselves.”

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‘Queer As Jokes’ – The new LGBT comedy night starting this weekend

Simon Caine, begetter of the Queer As Jokes night

Simon Caine, begetter of Queer As Jokes night

So, this Sunday, I am going to a new monthly LGBT comedy night – Queer As Jokes – at Angel Comedy’s Bill Murray venue in London. The evening is being organised by Simon Caine, who runs the comedy industry Facebook group The Comedy Collective and the interview-based Ask The Industry Podcast.

“You are full of ideas and projects,” I told him. “What do you do in your ‘day job’?”

“It is probably,” he told me, “60% or 70% writing jokes for brands for Twitter and Facebook and then 15% I do stuff for clubs and stuff – helping them out with their social media – helping them, basically, build a community around what they’re doing.”

“Do you work from home?” I asked.

“It depends on the job,” he told me, “but I have an office at home. I have psychological problems which mean I am so used to living in one room that I have put the bed in the kitchen along with a cupboard where I keep my stuff in. It’s a one-bedroom flat. So, in the room that is meant to be a bedroom, I have put a desk in the middle and do my work in there.”

“Why?” I asked.

Simon editing his Ask The Industry podcast at home

Simon edits his prestigious Ask The Industry podcast at home

“I just like having all my stuff in one room so, when I cross the corridor, I feel like I am travelling to work. A girl who came there was a little taken aback.

“She asked me Why have you put your bed in the kitchen? and I told her Because I like all my stuff in one room. She asked me: Doesn’t that get confusing? I told her: It’s more comfortable for me. Why would it be confusing?

“Does this one-room thing,” I asked, “go back to your student days?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “I lived at home until I was at university. I lived in one room at uni and then I moved back to my parents’ house and, when I moved in with my girlfriend, we lived in one of the rooms in a one-bedroom flat because her mum was living in the living room… It’s a long story… And then I moved back to my parents’ place and then I moved out and now I just like being in one room. I’m sure I will slowly edge back into having a bedroom separately.”

“Anyway,” I said, “why are you starting an LGBT night? You are not gay. What do you know about such things?”

“I am,” he explained, “running it with Tom Mayhew, the gay comedian. I put myself down as an ally for LGBT stuff but, no, I can’t properly relate to it, cos I’m not in that and never really been in that. For a long time, I was pansexual.”

Simon performing (Photo by Viktoria DeRoy)

“You are attracted to woodland creatures and play a flute?” (Photo by Viktoria DeRoy)

I asked: “You are attracted to woodland creatures and play a flute?”

“No,” Simon said, “you are attracted to someone personality-wise. You can see their sexual attractiveness but you very rarely find them sexually appealing until you’ve got to know them.

“That was how I defined my sexuality for about four or five years but, in the last three months of last year, I met two girls who I immediately found sexually appealing which was weird, because I hadn’t found that for ages. So that was interesting. I am straight, but it’s kinda complicated. I find men attractive, but I’ve never found them sexually appealing. It’s kinda weird like that.”

I asked: “You mean you find men aesthetically attractive?”

“Yeah. Yeah. I dunno. I’ve got a weird relationship with my gender at the moment. I’ve got a lot of polyamorous friends and a lot of kink friends and all of them say regular comedy nights are very heteronormative and very geared towards straight people.”

“So,” I asked, “that is why you’re starting this monthly LGBT night?”

Simon Caine - Buddhism and Cats

Simon’s comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe

“It’s more because I realised I was bored of the comedy circuit. It’s awful at the moment. There are a lot of straight white men talking about Tinder and their failed dating lives. I’ve got a lot of friends who are in LGBT or another minority group who don’t get booked as often as they maybe should. Why not? And does it mean they don’t get to develop as much as other acts who get more stage time?… How many clubs have you been to in the last two weeks where they’ve had a person overtly talking about their sexuality who wasn’t straight? I just thought I would put on a new gig where I would actively look for new voices I had not heard.”

“But,” I suggested, “is having gay people talking about being gay in an LGBT night not restricting them in their own niche pigeonhole?”

“Everyone,” suggested Simon, “gets pigeonholed at some point when they get to a certain level.”

“So,” I said, “you are going to run these Sunday night LGBT shows every month?”

“We are going to do the first four monthly nights as a charity thing and then, after that, depending on how it goes, we would run them as a monthly pro gig (i.e. paying the acts).”

“They are themed?” I asked.

“Yes. The themes we have down for the four shows are… January – New Years… February – Anti-Valentines… March – Anti Steak and Blowjob Day… And, for April, we will probably do April Fools.”

“Anti steak and blowjobs?” I asked.

Simon Caine strikes me as a glass half full man

Simon Caine strikes me as a glass half full man

“Yes,” said Simon. “Some men got together and said they hated Valentine’s Day because it was ‘for women’ and they wanted ‘a day for men’ so they started a steakandblowjobs website for men. Ours would be an Anti Steak & Blowjob Day night.”

“Ah,” I said. “And, given that you are always full of new ideas…beyond the monthly Queer As Jokes nights… any other projects?”

“I have,” said Simon, “briefly talked to a friend of mine – a black comedian – about starting a black gig later in the year. Obviously, I would not be performing in that.”

“You could black up?” I suggested.

“No,” said Simon.

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Real life in Kenya with Kate Copstick

katecopstick_skype_14oct2016_cutLast Friday, I recorded the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast with Kate Copstick via FaceTime.

She is in Kenya for her charity Mama Biashara.

Mama Biashara gives small grants and advice to individuals and groups so that they can start self-sustaining businesses which will allow them to climb out of abject poverty by their own hard work. 

The charity aims to “give a hand up not a hand out”.

Kate Copstick covers none of her own expenses and 100% of all money collected is spent on the charity’s work. No-one working for Mama Biashara is paid. It survives solely on donations and on sales at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

These are edited extracts from Copstick’s diary over the last week.

Mama Biashara logo

THURSDAY

I am meeting Vicky, Our Lady On The Coast, to get an update on our goings-on down there and do some funding. Vicky has with her a young man who was one of our group of rent boys who wanted to ‘reform’. There is plenty of work for a fit lad on the beaches and in the bars and clubs here. But these lads wanted out of the game.

Their chosen new business was renting what they call ‘floaters’ on the beach. Happily, this turned out to be rubber rings and other swimming type floaty things. Phew!

There was a group of fifteen and they were doing incredibly well. Until some of the other boys in the ‘fun in the sea’ business decided to get rid of them. All it took was a few whispers that they were gay and they were regularly attacked and their stuff ripped to shreds.

Finally, they were set upon by a mob and one of the boys was stabbed and another burnt. Fire is huge here as an expression of displeasure. There is an epidemic of school-burnings. Pupils who are upset about anything simply set fire to their dorms and classrooms. Would never have happened at Paisley Grammar. Anyway, at this point six of the boys decided to cut and run. Well, five ran. One was in intensive care. Now they want to start another group along the coast in Watamu. It is a marvellously liberal town by Kenyan standards. They tend not to burn their homosexuals, for example.

FRIDAY

Even when Mama Biashara has no money for funding, our ladies (Vicky, Purity, Fatuma and Vixen) along with Doris, try to find ways to get women work.

For example, we have had news today that a group of our girls are going to get jobs promoting Tusker Beer and Heineken in bars around Nairobi. They get a uniform, giveaways, basic training and 800 bob a day, which is phenomenal money.

Doris had sent a letter to Tusker some weeks ago and the guy had heard about Mama Biashara and so we got in through a sort of back door. Fantastic opportunity which we are hoping will be available in other cities soon. Purity and Doris had also managed to get 18 of our ladies in the Limuru area trained up as vaccination health workers, trained to go out and give polio vaccine as and when it appears. Work like this on their parts keeps Mama Biashara going and punching well, well above her financial weight. Even the baby care in Mombasa – ladies now number in the hundreds – is almost free to run.

Today Purity came with some new groups that want funding. There is a group of ladies who have found a supplier of pepino plants. This is a South American fruit that is purported to have amazing effects on high blood pressure and is much in demand. It is part of the solanum family, grows fast and sells at premium rates. They already have customers keen to buy.

Vixen has also mobilised our groups of sugar cane juice sellers. This has turned into a huge business for us right across Kenya. She has been approached by someone on behalf of a group of fifteen young women – all HIV+ – on a place called Lusinga Island in Lake Victoria. They are sex workers because they know how to do nothing else and because there is not much else to do. But Vixen thinks they could make a really good living from sugar cane juice and has found a good, sturdy second hand machine. The ladies have also asked for as many condoms as I can send.

VIxen is lesbian and has not had an easy time. Like many many lesbian girls, she has been a commercial sex worker. You dare not show your fondness for the flatter shoe (as Zoe Lyons says) or all hell will break loose. And, talking of hell, the current educational trend is interesting…

Across Kenya, girls in their hundreds are being excluded from school, expelled, on the basis that, generally without any substantiation, the Head Teacher denounces them as lesbians and so – as we all know – worshippers of the devil. I kid you not. Worshippers of the devil. They are then expelled with a letter stating their devil-worshipping lesbian tendencies, which ensures that no other school will take them in.

It recently happened to Barbara, the daughter of my lovely friend Janet who died last year. Doris has a pile of letters from parents asking for our help and enclosing the pages of written bile. There is no appeal. We are one step away from flinging the girls, bound, into a river to see if they float. I am not quite sure what to do.

SUNDAY

Currently, the Somalis have taken over almost all the viable farms in Meru, buying them from the older farmers, or, more easily, from their widows. This is the heartland of miraa (khat, jabba, call it what you will) and it is now monoculture.

The Somali growers get the young locals to pick it. But this is picking like no picking since cotton picking in America – complete with bullwhips and sticks with which the pickers are beaten. If any of the pickers is seen eating even one single leaf of the stuff, then the overseer takes that person’s hand off at the elbow. And if it happens again, the other forearm goes. Apparently the idea is that just losing the hand is insufficiently crippling. And the local police and other authorities are simply paid to look the other way.

MONDAY

Julius brings some great news about a boy Mama Biashara set up in a water carrying business in Kawangware about two years ago.

He was bought a wheelbarrow and some jerrycans and he would go to the water point, fill up and then go around houses selling water door to door. He has now given that wheelbarrow to another young bloke and started him in a water business while the first young man now owns and runs two motorbike taxis and is in the process of getting one more. This is huge. And makes me very happy.

CONTINUED HERE


Mama Biashara survives solely on donations and on sales at the Mama Biashara shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London.

You can donate HERE.

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Now screening: a gay porn film with no script not written by Sir John Gielgud

Producer David McGillivray at Soho Theatre yesterday

Producer David McGillivray met me at Soho Theatre yesterday

“So what we are talking about here,” I said to David McGillivray in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday afternoon, “is a script that you filmed – a sleazy, gay, hardcore porn film and you have conned some very respectable performers like Nigel Havers and Barry Cryer and Julian Clary into appearing in this filth.”

“Yes,” said David McGillivray. “Mea culpa. Up until very recently, I did maintain that this was a gay, hardcore porn film and it got us a lot of publicity, for which I’m very grateful. I have subsequently admitted that it could now be passed with a U certificate.”

“Was that always the case?” I asked. “Or have you edited it?”

“The script that I saw ,” replied David, “did not have any indication that the author wanted unsimulated sex in it and therefore we didn’t have any. The possibility is that, when the unknown author saw Peter de Rome’s films, a lot of them would also have been soft core. So this is the kind of film we think that the unknown author would have wanted to be made.”

“And can you confirm,” I asked, “that the unknown author was Sir John Gielgud?”

“Of course I can’t,” replied David. “The author is unknown.”

“Can you confirm,” I asked, “that the author was NOT Sir John Gielgud?”.

“I can’t,” said David. “No. I have to accede to the Trust’s demands not only that Sir John Gielgud, for example, did not write the script but also that the script in all likelihood does not exist.”

David and I talked about the film for a blog last October headlined:

BEING EDITED NOW – SIR JOHN GIELGUD’S GAY PORN FILM WHICH YOU MAY NEVER SEE.

Trouser Bar

Faithfully filmed word-for-word from a non-existent script

“People are perfectly at liberty,” David McGillivray said yesterday, “to conjecture who the author may be, but I couldn’t possibly comment.”

“As I understand it,” I said, “last year the John Gielgud Trust were saying that the script they saw was one you could not legally film because they owned copyright on it. But now they are saying that the script they saw did not exist.”

“We are getting,” said David, “into the realms of Alice in Wonderland because, when we spoke last for your blog, I assumed that the film would never be shown, because the Trust had accused me of infringing their copyright.”

“And,” I checked, “at that point, they had seen the script.”

“They saw the script in 2012,” said David.

“This is the script that they say doesn’t exist?” I asked.

“Yes. And I can prove that they saw it, because it’s all in writing. But then, after you and I spoke last year, there was a most extraordinary volte-face. After a considerable silence and having seen the film, the Trust maintained that Sir John did not write the script and that it did not exist.

“My lawyer wrote back and immediately conceded everything and told them that the film would be released unattributed. We re-edited it – we put a caption on the front, we removed all references to the author who was previously alleged to have written the script and…”

“What does the new caption at the front say?” I asked.

“It says that this film is being distributed on the condition that its screenplay is unattributed. It is now credited to ‘a gentleman’… and that is the version that will be screened in London this Sunday at NFT1 if we do not get an injunction served on us.”

“You feel,” I asked, “that you might get an injunction for illegally making a film from a script that does not exist?”

“Anything is possible, John. Every time I switch on my computer I expect another surprise.”

“Why have you not credited the script to Alan Smithee?” I asked.

“It’s probably a copyright name, isn’t it?” asked David. “There were lots of possibilities of who this film could be credited to.”

“The Sunday screening,” I asked, “is during a gay film festival at the NFT?”

Trouser Bar

Trouser Bar – gay porn – coming soon

“Yes. And I want you to be the first to say that it is so appropriate that a film called Trouser Bar is playing at a festival called Flare. We will also be screening one of (director) Peter de Rome’s shorts – one of his most beautiful, called Encounters –  and we will be showing an extract from a film I made about Peter in which he talks about the script that doesn’t exist. The film will then go on tour in the UK in the Spring and I have just had a request from San Francisco. Ultimately, it will come out on DVD.”

“Will some of the cast be at the screening on Sunday?” I asked.

“Barry Cryer has said he will come.”

“Steady,” I said. “Steady.”

“I am very grateful to the Trust,” said David. “Although they have caused me so much stress, if it had not been for them, I would have been faced with trying to sell a soft core sex film written by somebody today’s audience has never heard of. But, thanks to the Trust, thousands of people now know who the alleged author is and they want to see the film. It is what is known as the Streisand Effect.

“If the Trust had done what I wanted, which was to support me, I would have paid a substantial amount for the rights and there would have been no controversy. Now it is a scandal and I think I have been very lucky.”

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Bras, a drag king, lesbians and the IRA

A bag of bras - Charmian Hughes

A bag of bras

Just after twilight yesterday, I was rushing to catch a train and was carrying a bag of bras destined for, in my imagination, bemused bosomy women in Kenya.

If you don’t know why, you should have read my blog three days ago.

Crossing a busy road in Borehamwood, I bumped into a lady about my age or older and knocked her over. I didn’t see her; she didn’t see me. Queues of cars in both directions had their bright white headlights on in the black air. She ended on the ground; I dropped my bag. Fortunately the cars were not close enough or travelling fast enough to hit her or the plastic bag.

I would not have liked to explain why I was carrying a plastic bag of bras, though I do try to be supportive in general.

Especially as, after delivering the bras to the Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, I was then going to the Admiral Duncan gay bar in Soho.

LoUis CYfer performed to dancing men last night at the Admiral Duncan

LoUis CYfer had the Admiral Duncan crowd dancing last night

I am not gay. This blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith had persuaded me to go along with her to see drag king LoUis CYfer host and perform her (LoUis CYfer’s) regular Wednesday night act there. Well, OK, I did not need any persuasion, having met and blogged about LoUIs CYfer just over a a month ago.

I don’t know why I have never gone to gay clubs, as I do like a bit of OTT kitsch and camp.

In the mid-1980s, when I was researching TV shows, I did go a few times to a lesbian cabaret at Oval House in South London, but it was all a bit too cliquey for peaktime Saturday night television.

IRA songs and lesbian cabaret seemed to share something

IRA songs and lesbian cabaret seemed to share something…

In Dublin, in the 1990s, I bought a collection of IRA songs to see what they were like and was surprised because so many of them were obviously designed to reassure their listeners that they were not losing.

The Oval House lesbian cabaret seemed ro me to have much the same psychology – inward-looking – We are not alone. We are a marginalised, prejudiced-against group and we should huddle together for reassurance. We are not losing! A sort of covered-wagons-in-a-defensive-ring mind-set. Everything was self-referential and inward-looking to try to build up reassuring self-esteem.

LoUis’ support act last night - Elvis in a cardigan

Elvis in a cardigan – LoUis’ support act last night

So the Admiral Duncan last night was a very enjoyable surprise. Not an enclave. Not a meat market. Relaxed. I guess (I hope) it is a sign that gay times have moved on since the 1980s.

LoUis CYfer had to battle slightly against a distracted Christmas pub audience. But that is normal in any British pub and club. And she succeeded.

So I guess things are progressing OK.

CYfer so good.

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Drag king LoUis CYfer: “I was afraid of men and didn’t identify with femininity”

LoUis CYfer, drag king of London

LoUis CYfer, erratically-capitalised drag king of London Town

“You are happier being called… what?” I asked

“I don’t care what people refer to me as. I disassociate from this whole… Are you male or female? – No. I’m fabulous! – If you can inspire people and that’s your job and you get paid for that and you can live on that, what an honour!

“I play Soho every week and I’m off around the country every two weeks. We’re booking in a spring tour ending in Edinburgh next August – 27 nights at the Fringe.”

“What’s the show?” I asked.

Joan Retold – about Joan of Arc, but as if she was a Northerner from Sheffield. She’s a gender warrior in the modern day. We make the story of Joan of Arc a bit more centralised round the idea of being who you are. She keeps flipping back into the story and making comments about things like pottage.”

“And frottage?” I asked.

“Oh yes.”

“Why the name CYfer?” I asked.

“The name comes from my gay shame days. It created a lot of anxiety. I saw myself as something really bad. So, when I was coming up with a stage name, I thought Lucifer, then I masculinised to LoUis CYfer so he could behave really badly. I get people coming up to me saying: Now I know what the capital letters are for in your name: it spells LUCY.”

LoUis CYfer - Joan Retold

Lucy Jane Parkinson/LoUis CYfer reborn as Joan of Arc

LoUis CYfer’s real name is Lucy Jane Parkinson.

“When did you start performing?” I asked.

“I did my first proper show in the last year of junior school: I was probably about ten. It was Alice Through The Looking Glass and I was Alice. I wasn’t really a girly-girl. I had to wear a dress for the show and have a pet rabbit, so it was a challenge.

“It was my first standing ovation and I could hear all the clapping and I said to myself: Oh, this is definitely what I want to do. Just to see the smiles and know they’d enjoyed the whole show and, when I came out to take my bow, there was this really loud clapping and I was like: Whooaaa! That sense of acceptance and adulation. It’s addictive. It becomes addictive but then, as you get older, it becomes secondary to what you’re actually doing. Now I don’t do it for people clapping. That’s a nice added thing, but there’s so much more politics underneath my work now.”

I was in London’s Soho Theatre Bar yesterday, with this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith. We were talking to drag king LoUis CYfer. She was first mentioned in this blog in April this year.

LoUis won the Drag Idol Championship in Texas in 2014.

LoUis CYfer (left) with Sandra smith yesterday

LoUis CYfer (left) poses for photo with Sandra Smith yesterday

“So where,” Sandra asked LoUis, “are you on the trans spectrum?”

“I don’t identify as female,” LoUis replied, “even though biologically I am. I don’t identify as the social female or the social male. I don’t wish to be either one of them. I just wish to be more androgynous than anything.”

“I always thought of trans,” said Sandra, “as either male or female – one wanting to be the other… a woman wanting to be a bloke…”

“I don’t see it as being ‘a bloke’,” LoUis told her. “That’s how a lot of people see it and I think that’s where they keep going wrong with it and I think that’s why the suicide rate of people post-op-trans is 85% right now.

“Some people pin all their problems and all their social anxieties on the fact of them changing gender. They think, if they change, all-of-a-sudden they will fit in. They go through all this big massive block of their life to get just there and do it… and then nothing’s different. All-of-a-sudden, they’ve got this body that’s been medically butchered – all their hormones have been changed – their mind is struggling and none of their problems have been solved.

“If you have struggled to get through life as a female because of what’s happened with other females pushing you down because you don’t want to be a beautified woman… or if you’ve had some kind of difficult encounter with men… I don’t think the problem is gender.

Louis Cyfer

“Don’t live in binary. There’s no either/or”

“I don’t believe that transgenderism – fully-post-transitional – is the right thing to do for some people. They think if they flip over and become male that will fix their gender issues and it won’t.”

“With them,” I suggested, “it is a psychological problem not a physical problem, so a physical change won’t change the psychology.”

“Exactly,” agreed LoUis. “We don’t live in binary, so there is no either/or.”

“I have heard,” I told her, “people say: I always felt like I was a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body. But it sounds to me like you are saying, in the words of the song, I am what I am. We have established you don’t want to be a man as such: you do not want the operation.”

“Though,” said LoUis, “I think I will do top surgery. That’s where the breasts are removed. I’ve never felt a relationship to them and, with my job, it’s very difficult to keep binding them and keep binding them. So having them removed is more like an investment in my manifesto. For somebody to look at me and not know what I was – I would prefer that.”

LoUis CYfer (chats to Sandra Smith at the Soho Theatre

LoUis CYfer chats to Sandra Smith at Soho Theatre yesterday

“What do you feel like,” Sandra asked her, “regarding the outside world?”

“I don’t really know,” replied LoUis.

“When you were a kid?” asked Sandra.

“I felt,” said LoUis, “like I was a boy growing up in a girl’s body. I felt like I should have been a boy. I never felt like a boy, but I felt I should have been one.”

“So there was,” I said, “an element of that I felt like a man growing up in a woman’s body?”

“Yeah. But now I’ve become more intelligent and I understand gender a lot more, I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s a social construct that I’ve been open to. I think it was the people around me when I was growing up. I watched how they believed what gender was. It was very suppressant of females, very liberating of the power of masculinity. I didn’t agree with that, so I went off on a journey to find my own way and now I think now I’m surrounded by people who are quite like-minded and don’t judge me because I’m a female.”

“Did you have a sense of belonging as a kid?” Sandra asked.

“No. I felt very odd, very different. It was weird. I felt very special but rejected. I felt: I have something in me that needs to come out, like a little gold fire. It feels very very lovely, but I feel I can’t communicate properly with people.

“It made me terribly unhappy. I felt no-one understood me, no-one got me. I felt a bit alienated and rejected except by my grandma. When she found out I was gay, she didn’t mind. She would ask: Have you got a girlfriend? Have you got a friend?”

“When did you come out as gay?” I asked.

Louis Cyfer

LoUis CYfer – “Now I am not afraid of men”

“When I was 13. But I don’t identify as a lesbian now. I think you just fall in love with who you fall in love with. I think I backed myself into a corner with the lesbian thing, because I think I was afraid of men and didn’t identify with femininity. I was attracted to women, but I should have just stayed on that line of I’m exploring my bi-sexuality. Because now I look at people very differently. Now I am not afraid of men.”

“What made you afraid of men?” Sandra asked.

“I had some really bad experiences. I was raped when I was younger.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“It was two weeks after my 16th birthday. Growing up, I had some bad experiences and that was what really made me very afraid of men. I don’t think I went with women because something bad happened with men. I think I found softness and solitude in women and the femininity and the caring and the Mother Naturing – I loved that. It made me feel warm.”

“If,” I said, “you thought you were gay at 13 and got raped at 16, it has got no connection.”

LoUis CYfer strikes a pose as herself

LoUis CYfer strikes a dramatic pose as herself

“I was actually about 6 when I knew I wasn’t straight. I remember being in the car with my mum. I was sat in the back of the car and said to my mum I think I should have been a boy and she said Oh, don’t worry, everyone feels like that. So I said: Did you feel like that? And she said: No. And I never spoke about it again.”

“What,” I asked, “made you think at 6 you were gay? – You were not pubescent yet.”

“I knew something was different and I knew I didn’t like to be like they were on television. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want a family and a car and a this and a that.”

“Being trans,” I said, “is becoming terribly trendy now.”

“It is,” agreed LoUis. “And I think that’s bloody dangerous. People will start making the wrong decisions.”

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The American female performer who may play Quentin Crisp in London

PennyArcadeWebsite

On Monday, American performer Penny Arcade starts a 20-night run at London’s Soho Theatre of her Edinburgh Fringe show Longing Lasts Longer.

Her mother was abusive and her father was mentally ill. Aged 13, she ran away from home and spent a summer homeless. She was sent to a reform school. They released her when she was 16. She left for New York City, with money stolen from a sandwich shop where she worked. In New York, she changed her name to Penny Arcade after an LSD trip.

When I met her yesterday, the first thing I said was: “I read somewhere that, when people first meet you, they always ask how old you are.”

“No, they don’t ask me,” she said. “I force it on them.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she explained, “while my age doesn’t define me, it certainly in some ways explains me, because of what I lived through. I have been on my own, forming my own analysis, for 50 years.”

“I also read,” I said, “that the phrase ‘performance art’ was invented to describe you.”

“No,” Penny told me. “I am one of the people who invented what has become known as solo performance art, text-based performance art.”

“As opposed to improvisation?” I asked.

“No. I’m a great improviser. It’s one of my most salient attributes. Most people are not improvisers. Text-based performance art as opposed to visual work, where somebody walks around with a bucket on their head for an hour. Text-based performance art is high content. It’s about real stuff. I don’t make work for the same 300 art school cripples that go to everything. I make work about things that affect me that I know affect other people.

Penny Arcade in Soho yesterday

“I am different from other people” – Penny Arcade yesterday

“I am different from other people. I’ve had a different life from most people. I have been an outsider and rejected by my family and society with a velocity of impact so profound that it was not until I was in my fifties that I could really get my head above it. I’ve had a very very long time of understanding or trying to understand what it means to be an outsider, what it means to be rejected by society.

“When you have this kind of profound and painful reality, it makes you very sensitive to other people. I think pathos is a cornerstone in my work and my work engenders empathy. That’s the goal of my work. To make people feel what I feel or feel what other people feel – by being very very honest and very very very revealing.

“That said, Longing Lasts Longer is a bit of a different kind of show. The point of Longing Lasts Longer is basically to present a kind of manifesto of how I think we got to where we are right now, how it’s affecting the younger people. It’s a warning to younger people. People have said the show is critical of younger people but I’ve said: No, it’s critical of what’s being done to younger people. The biggest trouble in the world, of course, is the fact the world is filled with stupid people.

“Thinking is difficult. That’s why very few people do it. In order to think, you have to create a new groove in your brain that is deeper than you knew before, which is why most people don’t think. It’s hard work to think. It’s a very exciting show. There are over 100 sound cues in the 60-minute show. It’s very hard-hitting, unrelenting and it’s very funny. And it’s really about the human condition.”

“You’ve just come back from Poland,” I said. “Did you perform Longing Lasts Longer there?”

“No. I did Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! which is my sex and censorship show. It was very well received there and it’s 20 years old. We did 48 performances of it in London three years ago and the London Times called it “the smartest, most quotable party in town”. So I’m an aphorist, like my old friend Quentin Crisp.”

“When did you meet him?” I asked.

“I met him when he was about 77. He died in 1999, shortly before his 91st birthday. I had wanted him to live to be 100, which made him quite angry with me.

Quentin Crisp with Penny Arcade

Quentin with Penny – “I had wanted him to live to be 100”

“He called me in 1996 and asked me: Miss Arcade, I know that I’ve always promised you to live to be 100 years old, but I was wondering if I could get a dispensation from you and only live to be 90. “I said: What are we going to do if you die? What am I going to do? He said: I’m going. You’re staying. I feel sorry for you.

“And he was quite right. Although I don’t think anything would have prepared him for what has happened since 1999 in the world. The level that we’ve gone overboard into since 2001. The terrorism, the corporate and political disregard for the truth and integrity. Quentin liked evil to be cosy, like in an Agatha Christie book. Not the levels that we’re dealing with now.”

“Has it really changed that much?” I asked.

“Well, the world’s a horrible place filled with horrible people. That hasn’t changed. I’ve watched squatters who were supposed anarchists and, as soon as they got their floor in a building, there wasn’t room for anybody else. I mean, it’s human nature. It’s something I struggle with: my own human nature, my own greed, envy, self-absorption. But I notice these things. A lot of people don’t notice them in themselves.

“I was very close to Quentin in the ten years before he died. He was a phenomenal study in ageing and I learned a lot about ageing from him.”

“What did you learn?” I asked.

“Society tells you that the last 40 years of your life are inferior to the first 40 years of your life. But that is not true. The last 40 years of your life is how you complete your character. And you have to complete your character in order to be a complete person.

“I learned what real individuality means. I learned what real integrity is. I learned how our values are not something that we purchase or download, but something that we pay for over time on the instalment plan. I learned the benefit of being curious.”

“Had you not learned that earlier?” I asked.

“When I really started spending a lot of time with Quentin, I was 40. I was still in the throes of a lot of post-traumatic stress from my childhood and my early life. First a lot of bad things were done to me and then I did a lot of bad things to myself and it took me a long time to climb out of that. I met Quentin when I was still quite un-formed. I was really in a process of becoming and that made me very similar to him I think. I think he recognised that quality in me – that I was someone who was committed to becoming, not to pretending and being something I wasn’t.

“Watching him and being with him and his ruthless honesty – with himself as well as with everybody else – I also saw his foibles and his conceits and his vanities. Which all human beings have.”

“What were his foibles?” I asked.

“Well, he never really stopped being the middle class person that he was born. The middle class couldn’t contain him, but he couldn’t uproot it out of himself either. He never really forgave the brutality of his younger life, even though he seemed as if he did. But he had very little pity for anyone. He had very little empathy. He used to say to me: People have no rights, Miss Arcade. If we all got what we deserved, we would starve to death.”

“What’s next for you?” I asked.

From Edinburgh to London to Oz to NYC

From Edinburgh to London to Oz to NYC

“I’m going to be in Australia with Longing Lasts Longer from February 1st till May. Then I want to go back to the Edinburgh Fringe in August, because I love to be in Scotland and I would love to bring another show there. Then I’m going to be doing a larger version of Longing Lasts Longer in New York in November 2016.”

“With even more music cues?” I asked.

“Yes. And a lot of video. And I’m also going to be writing a script about Quentin Crisp.”

“A stage script?”

“Yes.”

“You could play Quentin,” I suggested.

“I could. And I told him that I would. But I don’t know if I’m quite ready. It might be…”

“It might be too emotionally raw for you?” I asked.

“I don’t know…I can channel him, that’s for sure.”

“You have to write the play,” I said. “And you should play him yourself.”

“It’s an interesting idea. Penny Arcade is Quentin Crisp. He and I always said that I would eventually play him, because he saw me play people that he knew. I used to be known in the 1980s for character work, before I stumbled down this cultural criticism. I used to do the cultural critique through characters and then I got rid of the characters.

“If I played Quentin Crisp myself, the first place I would do it is at the King’s Head Theatre, because that’s where Quentin Crisp first performed.”

There is a promo for Longing Lasts Longer on YouTube.

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