So, I was at a gay bar in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon, talking to this young ‘boy’ with stubble on his chin. I did not ask his name and we went into an alleyway beside the Vue cinemas in Leicester Square where he asked me: “Do you want me to take my penis out?” then stuck his hand into his trousers and started rummaging around.
But more about that later.
I was in another bar a couple of weeks ago – the Soho Theatre bar – and Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott told me:
“I was in this film and one of my teeshirts was a little bit shorter and I was thinking Oh no! What if they’re really upset? and I was walking round the set trying to cover up the fact that I’m a woman with armpit hair, when it’s actually like a matter of pride for me. I was thinking What if this is unacceptable for this character?”
“But you were playing the part of a killer,” I said. “A homicidal female psychopath.”
“Exactly,” said Nelly. “Why would she be shaving her armpits? – When would she have the time in between killing people?”
“Why are you so proud of your armpit hair?” I asked Nelly.
“I love it,” she told me. I love the texture of it. I like stroking it. I like how it keeps my arms warm. And I like my own smell. That’s another bonus. I would wear it as a perfume.”
Last night, I went to her always extraordinarily bizarre weekly Lost Cabaret show in Stockwell which she comperes as Zuma Puma. Somehow the sight of Michael Brunström standing in a bucket of water passionately reading a random article from a Yachting magazine seemed quite normal in the context of Lost Cabaret.
After the show, Zuma Puma and Sharney Nougher showed me their armpit hair.
I was very grateful.
It was a fairly ordinary day.
I am always grateful for small kindnesses.
So back to my gay afternoon in Soho yesterday…
The young ‘boy’ I met asked five men in the gay Ku Bar if they fancied him. Three did. Well, two did and one said: “Only if you are in the process of transgendering.”
A shrewd observation, because yesterday was Day Five in performer Juliette Burton’s week of shooting partly-hidden-camera video inserts for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Look At Me (co-written by comedienne Janey Godley). It is about how people’s external image affects how people perceive them as people.
“Each day has been challenging in different ways,” Juliette told me yesterday.
Juliette dressed as what, merely for understandability’s sake, I would describe as ‘tarty’.
“It had the biggest reaction from other people,” she told me. “I was dressed in a costume that was inspired by The Only Way Is Essex, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Jordan before she became Katie Price. I started at King’s Cross, then got on a bus to Soho Square and walked through to Covent Garden. Wherever I went, people stared at me and some of the looks I got – we’ve looked at the video we shot – were so disdainful and so scornfuI. I did not do anything tarty. All I did was walk past dressed in a particular way.”
Juliette was made up to look like an old lady.
“That was more liberating in some ways,” she told me, “because I was less noticeable. But, in some ways, it was more emotional.”
“How?” I asked.
“You’ll have to come and see the show,” Juliette said. “It was a sad day.”
Juliette wore a ‘fat suit’ and was made-up to look fat.
“That was very difficult for personal reasons,” Juliette explained, “because there were some emotional things going on inside me that I hadn’t anticipated. The prosthetics were very good and the character was confident and bold and bright. I was about a size 18 in the prosthetics. I wanted to reclaim my experience when I had been that size, because I used to be a size 20. I wanted to reclaim how I felt about myself back then.”
“I thought this was going to be my hijab day,” said Juliette. “The hijab is what Moslem women wear when only their face and hands are exposed. The niqab only exposes their eyes and hands. I thought the hijab I had ordered online had a headscarf and a black dress but, in fact, it actually had niqab headgear as well.
“So sometimes I dressed in a niqab, sometimes in a hijab. That was very interesting because most people don’t bat an eyelid if you walk round London like that, though there were some experiences I had that were quite shocking.
“What I hadn’t anticipated, again, was the internal journey. There’s stuff that goes on psychologically that I hadn’t anticipated.”
“But, to find out, I’ll have to come and see the show in Edinburgh?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” laughed Juliette.
“Well,” said Juliette, “That’s today. I’m dressed as a man and you say I make quite a good man.”
“You look like a rather effete South American boy,” I told her. “You could maybe make money selling yourself in Rio during the World Cup.”
Make-up artist Sarah-Jane Lyon had given Juliette a false Adam’s apple.
“And I’ve got a bulge,” said Juliette. “A foam penis. Do you want to see it?”
“No,” I said.
“Don’t you want me to take my penis out?” Juliette asked.
“No,” I said. “Not down an alleyway in Soho. I’ve seen too many real ones on stage.”
“So you’re bored with penises?”
“I’ve been too close to too many pricks,” I said. “I worked at the BBC.”
“It’s a foam penis,” said Juliette.
“I would prefer to see Martin Soan’s singing and dancing vagina,” I replied.
That was yesterday in a Soho alley.
Today Juliette is in Stoke-on-Trent shooting extra footage for her pop video to promote Look at Me.
And, on Sunday, she is back in London, to shoot more hidden camera reactions to her superficial appearance.
“I will be wearing pink underwear,” Juliette told me, “and fishnets, a wig, flippers, snorkel, body paint, absurd make-up and I will have a giant glittery purple peanut on my head and be carrying a bright pink dog. A real one.”
“What will the dog be wearing?” I asked.
“The dog will be wearing a tutu, of course,” said Juliet matter-of-factly.
“Of course it will,” I said. “Do you have armpit hair, Juliette?”
There is a promotional video for Look At Me on YouTube.
and also one for Zuma Puma’s Lost Cabaret shows