Tag Archives: drag king

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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