Friday 13 January 2012

This Song Is Not About You

GalateaPosted by Galatea

As shocking and startling as it may seem to you and me (she says, only somewhat facetiously), Lashings does get a bad review every now and then. Personally, I tend to pay much more attention to these than I do to positive feedback: as a nervous perfectionist, I like tweaking the corners of our shows to try to make them the best shambolic journeys into QUILTBAG anarchy that they can possibly be...

There is one line of critique, though, that gets not only my goat, but my chickens, my Shetland pony and my small herd of heritage-breed long-horned cattle, too. It's the variations that we occasionally hear on the theme of 'Awww, their hearts are in the right place. But it's 2012 (or 2011, or 2010...). Is there really a need for a whole cabaret show about gender and sexuality?'*.

*  [Unspoken subtext: 'You ladeez and queers is equal now, plz to STFU about teh oppresshionz']

Tell you what, boys and girls and everyone else: I would take this criticism so much more seriously if I'd ever heard it come out of the mouth of a queer person.

Hmm. This post is going to get really bitter and snarky really quickly if I let it run away with me. Let's see if I can put things another way...

On Wednesday, Annalytica and I went to see Ani DiFranco in London. Her songs were as good last night as they were the first time I heard them: it's also no exaggeration to say that a litttle part of me has been in love with Ani for over a decade now, and probably always will be.

Allow me to set the scene: it's the late 90s. Little seventeen-year-old Galatea is a miserable closet-case who stands by and lets the homophobic bullying happen around her at school; who drinks too much and does stupid things with boys she doesn't really like in order to prove an increasingly dubious point about her sexuality. In her room, late at night, listening to the too-cool-for-school underground radio station that she loves, the following comes on:

Video description: A fan-made slideshow to Ani DiFranco's 'Little Plastic Castle'. Song lyrics available here.

That moment... that moment when the brass kicks in and the singer's voice whoops and swoops up and out and away. That's the moment when something broke and melted inside me; when something was freed. And the lyrics! Girls with shaved heads, drinking coffee and lazy-sweetly flirting with other girls. The singer's contemptuous rejection of the idea that her intellect and character should be judged by the things that she chooses to do with her appearance (Young Tea: "You mean... it's okay for feminists to wear lipstick? And make jokes about 'the girl police'? Why was I not told?"). And yes, I'll admit it, the mention of 'leather bras and rubber shorts' just may have piqued my interest too...

I sat glued to the radio until the announcer told me the name of the singer and the title of the song, and a week later I'd gone out and bought the album. Six months later, I owned every import CD I could get my sticky little hands on. And a year later, I was out and loud, lynch-pinning my University Wom*n's Department, telling homophobes where to go, and a completely different person in terms of levels of raised happiness, reduced anxiety, and newly-discovered pride.

(Some years later than that, I joined a Radical Queer Feminist Burlesque Collective, but that's another story for another time...)

That's what real queer art, created by us and for us, does when we're lucky enough to meet it at the right place and time. It tells us we're not alone; that we're okay (or that we will be, if we can just hold on and fight through the bad times). Before the It Gets Better Project was born or thought of, there was Ani, and the bright out-held hope of a brave fierce non-box-dwelling bi woman that I might one day grow up to be.

For a whole lot of reasons, I don't want to compare Lashings and what we do with Ani DiFranco artistically. And yet. And yet. There's a line, from another, much less cheerful, Ani song: 'I just write about what I should have done / I sing what I wish I could say / And I hope somewhere some woman hears my music, and it helps her through her day.' It did, is all I want to tell her, and one day if I ever get to meet her, I will. It did, it did, it did, those three minutes of music gave me exciting news from a place I didn't yet know existed: notice that a queer woman could be liked and personable, that a feminist could wear lipstick and joke about it, that there might be room in a queer woman's life for cynicism and silliness and lazy coffee-morning joy. Space to see a part of myself that I'd never been allowed to see before, and to realise that it might not be scary and terrible. To realise that it might be beautiful... (or at least 'by far the cutest!').

Getting to pass that feeling on is the number one reason why I do what I do with Lashings. And a number of you have been kind enough, over the years, to come up to us after gigs, or send us emails, or post online, to tell us that that's what we've managed to do. Don't get me wrong, it's really, really nice when straight people feel that they've been eye-opened or have learned something from the show. More allies are always wonderful, and introducing ideas about privilege or fatphobia or asexuality to new audiences is always something we want to be doing. But ultimately, dear straight allies, as much as we love you... this song is not about you. What I'm in it for is the possibility that our songs -- 'I'm Queer', 'Love Story', even 'Consider Yourself' -- or Sally and Robette's stand-up, or Lilka's spoken-word, might make someone feel a little of what I felt that night: recognised, represented, included, seen. Maybe even wanted, maybe even welcomed, maybe even loved.

(And by the way: if you genuinely think that it isn't a rarity to find a whole night of comedy where the queers, the ladeez, the transfolks, the fat people, the drag kings and queens and the kinky people are the ones telling the jokes instead of the ones being the butts of them -- then darlings, a) what colour is the sky in your world? and b) how soon can I come and join you there?).

If anything I write has the slightest chance of doing that for someone... some woman, some queer, some non-kyriarchally-approved anybody, then I'll know that Ani reached through the radio that night and rescued me for a reason.

And if you have to ask whether or not that's necessary, then trust me, you'll never know. 


  1. This. This is what it's all about.

    For me it was a path through Rocky Horror -> Velvet Goldmine -> Oscar, Bowie, Hedwig, RENT... but I recognise so much of this post.

    The more I delve into literary/sociological critiques of popular culture, the more I realise that it's basically a miracle that anything non-oppressive makes it into mainstream film & TV. I think I need to resolve to spend less time circumlegating kyriarchal bullshit, and more time seeking out radical non-oppressive performers in the first place. Thank you for reminding me why it is important.

  2. <3 This blog post gives me warm fuzzies.

  3. @ Sebastienne -- Thank you very much, dear. I wrote this in part because it's what I think I need to remember the next time I'm up to my ears in line-learning and ripped costumes and pulled muscles and needing to pull another ten pages of script out of my poor knackered brain before nightfall... as up the wall as it can drive us at times, I believe so hard in what we do.

    @ Cathryn -- Thank you! The world needs more of those, it does.

  4. Galatea: much respect for being brave enough to tell this story; it made me cry :)

    Also; first time I'd come across the QUILTBAG acronym; I like it!

  5. Wonderful post. I'd say if you've had that impact on just one queer person, and made them feel accepted and understood for the first time in their life, you've done something great. Anything beyond that is a bonus.