Wildabout in conversation with Ade and Xana, two London based black queer creatives, on making community, survival and resistance, and gentrification. They were both involved in the creative process of the play ‘We Raise Our Hands in the Sanctuary’, running at the Albany theatre the first two weeks of February 2017.
Wildabout: Can you tell us about the play you were both involved in?
Ade: The play focuses on two black gay men in the 80s living in the UK and being black and being gay in a time where people aren’t talking about intersections as much as they are now. As well as dealing with the period of AIDs and HIV crisis. Being able to see these people’s lives on the stage it’s so nice and affirming.
Xana: One of things that has been important to me is not just the visibility on stage but within the creative team as well. Its important to have the right voices in the room, when you have white writers writing about black characters, you can have an interpretation which isn’t nuisanced or representative of the experience. The play tries to show a relationship between two people who happen to be black, who happy to be gay, and seek to build a space for themselves and within the play references to issues they face come up.
Ade: There’s a history around LGBTQ+ people and we often focus on it as trauma and AIDs… but we’ve created these wonderful spaces for ourselves to be individuals, to be unique, to be weird or just be average.
Xana: I went to an Opening Doors event, a group which supports older LGBTQ+. A lot of the time in our community we’re not considering in 50 years, how I going to support myself? Its hard to think future when you are surviving with a hostile government. It was important for me that while doing the show I went and interviewed gay men who lived through the 80s, especially black gay men. We always only have a two-dimensional side of history, but there were and are so many other parts of our movements. Looking at archives you can see there’s a value placed on whose history is the most important. It was amazing to know that there were these spaces created by gay/black people. Sometimes you think you just appeared and there’s no history behind you.
“We will always react, we will always resist, we will always be able to build up and provide a space for ourselves.”
Wildabout: Why choose that period of time the 80s and do you think anything has changed for queer black people?
Xana: The 80s was a time the writers related to and was also when the AIDs epidemic started to sweep through like a plague. When AIDS came people didn’t really understand what it was. Listening to all the stories at Opening Doors they said the gay community saw itself as invincible. Now, I think in someways yes and no, yes because there’s so much power in the spaces we’ve created, no because we are constantly fighting for agency over our bodies. Has anything changed for black people? I feel I am in the right time as this new wave of resistance comes in, but policy wise shallow progression. Its not wanting people to be able to afford a proper standard of living and access to services. There’s this complete farcical idea that multiculturalism has saved us and we are in a melting pot of bliss. To believe social evolution has happen and so try to press in oppressive policies. We will always react, we will always resist, we will always build up and provide a space for ourselves.
Wildabout: With the situation of more and more clubs closing down in London, do you feel there’s a similar need to create these spaces for LGBTQ+ people of colour?
Ade: Yeah absolutely. I was away for a while, looking at the city’s landscape it’s very different to what I was used to. Where we have capitalism being so rampant, not only in the physicality of money, but space. No more room in the shopping centre? We’re going to give you this piece of land on the pavement and you’re gonna give us money for it. Looking at that kind of taking ownership of what used to be public space… you realise how serious of an issue it is. How are those of us who are already systematically marginalised and under-resourced going to be looking at getting permanent spaces where we can do long term organising? We need spaces where people can gather and form community. That physicality is closing down.
Xana: The way gentrification has happened it’s so rapid you wonder how is it these buildings have been able to go up in the space of 6 months? Because people have pushed through paper, pushed through policy for this to be able to come to your neighbourhood. The same thing is threatening LGBTQ+ venues across London, it’s this thing of divide and conquer. They make the homes expensive so people can’t afford to live in the city and are dispersed on its fringes. You cut off their language, their ability to connect, its the fabric of colonisation.
Wildabout: How important is it to have positive or nuanced narratives of LGBTQ+ youth of colour out there?
Xana: There’s a very stereotypical version of what it is to have a black experience in the UK. There’s no cohesion in me not having a voice. In having a voice meaning there’s a proper representation of myself and my experience on television. That’s why I love the show Chewing Gum because it shows that ‘weird black girl’ who doesn’t always get to be weird. It’s really important for black creatives to be able to make their own work. It’s difficult because you do have institutions and the only thing they really understand is capital. They’ll say to you, I don’t think this idea is going to sell because its too weird, there’s no audience for this… That means it’s not for you! Once we try to break past these money driven processes in theatre companies and art spaces, then we’ll be really able to show a representation of stories from so many different angles and voices.
Ade: Talking about black creatives, if you’re having shows where you have LGBTQ+ youth of colour on stage, dancing, making money you can be like, it’s not that deep. I can just go to dance school now, I don’t have to go to uni first. Unfortunately, sometimes in these organisations it doesn’t even reach the people who can be inspired by it. That’s why it’s so important that we support each other.
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