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A Year of PINKWASHED: The Story

Today is exactly one year since the publication of MANIFESTO, the very first issue of PINKWASHED. The full story of how exactly that happened has not been told publicly and I thought today would be a good time to tell that story. I want to make it clear that this zine was created by two people, so this is the story from my perspective. I have tried my best to make this as accurate as possible in all areas where I can.

Awakening

Can you recall a moment, a brief fleeting moment in your life that felt like one glorious explosion? The moment the firework of your life finally shot up into the star-soaked velvet sky above? Slowly moving through the Queer British Art exhibition in Tate Britain in 2017, the fuse of my firework caught alight and, stood face to face with the cell door of Oscar Wilde it burst into the rocket and shot wildly into an expanse of bright pink sky.

I hadn’t really paid attention to the politics of my queerness until that moment. I was mostly closeted, didn’t look particularly queer (at least not to me!) and didn’t know much of our history outside of a few bits and bobs… but that door in that moment became a symbol of everything that had to happen for me to be me, and everything yet to be done. It burned itself into my mind, branding my consciousness with a vision of an inherited struggle. What Wilde had done was one part of a story, and it was my turn to take the helm. I decided in that moment that I could no longer sit comfortably, not until I had done my bit.

But what could I do? My next step was to attend Pride In London; surely that would be where I could be heard? This was my first time in a specifically queer space, and where I met somebody who would profoundly impact my life and become a beloved friend and ally. I had acquired an IRL queer friend. I had someone to talk to, but was dissapointed to discover that the major LGBT pride parades weren’t much more than advertising space for giant faceless corporations. Not something I wanted to be a part of.

Next step was watching Pride (2014), a film following the story of the Lesbians & Gay Men Support The Miners movement in the 1980s. A powerful and moving story. That looked like more my scene. I could do something like that. But how? I almost lost hope.

One Night In Edinburgh

I was lying in a hotel bed in Edinburgh about a year later, in the midst of what I now know to have been the worst depression of my life so far. I got a message from a friend (Crash King) I’d been talking to pretty casually for a while. We had a heart to heart that introduced a strong foundation of friendship and having someone like that to talk to during that dark time made a world of difference.

Perhaps that’s why, sat on the Oscar Wilde bench outside St Martin’s In the Fields, when I had a flash of inspiration to make a regular queer art zine, I decided that Crash would be the perfect person to do it with. Two weeks later, with the idea seeping into a mental backlog deep in my memory, Crash sent me a message asking if I wanted to make a regular queer art zine with them. I was astounded. It felt like destiny. I said yes.

In the weeks following we talked details, we both wanted a hot pink colour scheme. I suggested the name Pink Washed as a joke… Crash liked it. Then I realised it was actually a pretty good name. Here’s a list of names I drafted in a note in my phone afterwards seeing if I could do better:

  • PinkWashed
  • Queer St.
  • Queerzine
  • Trafalgar
  • I’ve removed my last idea from this list because I’ve re-visited the concept. All will be revealed soon. Watch out.

Thunder And Lightning

We started by releasing zines once a month. To quote the Manifesto, our first issue “PINKWASHED will be released as a PDF and sometimes a physical print on the second Friday of every month. If one of the Fridays in a month falls on the 13th, PINKWASHED will come out on the 13th. This is due to the fact Floria thinks it would be cool.” Can you tell this was both our firsts time making a regular zine? This is an unbelievably ambitious level of productivity. We quickly realised this was a terrible idea and switched to every 6 weeks around issue 3 (The Music Issue, whose cover stands out because it’s meant to look like the cover of a music magazine).

The second event attended by PINKWASHED was the first and only attended by both me and Crash. It was also the first time I met Crash in person and the day we realised that every 6 weeks was still far too much work for two people to do, a conclusion reached after a string of people pulling a shocked face when we told them we make a new zine every 6 weeks! We decided there that some major changes needed to happen to ensure we could keep making zines and protect our sanity.

Crash later suggested to me that we make 2 big zines a year instead of 8 small ones. It was in that moment that I started thinking of how to word my resignation from PINKWASHED. I didn’t think it would be possible to maintain the fearsome energy of PW with just one release every 6 months, so I suggested that maybe we do 3. I eventually said I’d stay for the next two issues (Issue 7, a collection of queer art and the now scrapped issue 8, on war) and then we could switch to the new system and I’d see how I felt after that.

The Hot Pink Phoenix

At the end of April Crash informed me they no longer wished to be a part of PW but would stay to complete a zine we had agreed to make for a project I’m involved in called Queerly Departed. I announced their departure and the beginning of a hiatus the next day. The Queerly Departed zine didn’t happen, and I regret things didn’t go well there. Multiple problems mounted up, a discussion was had, and it was cancelled. This is where I began considering the end of the zine, how could I go on alone? I felt that my memory of PW had gone sour because of the difficulties that it had gone through in those last weeks, and I didn’t know how to make a zine like PW by myself. It felt like it was over.

From those ashes rose an idea. PINKWASHED started in two minds. I had already been wanting to make a queer art zine by the time Crash suggested it to me. I named PINKWASHED. The concept and the title were both things I had independently come up with anyway. Why not carry on, making the zine I had originally envisioned as a new phase of PINKWASHED’s life? So that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I believe in this zine too much to give up on it and there is nothing that can stop me from my mission to give the queer community a place to speak the words the major outlets refuse to hear and to share their art together. This zine isn’t a hobby to me, it’s a vocation and that means I’m going to keep going through thick and thin. At the time of writing… there are four people working on this zine.

  • Floria Lundon

Pinkwashed Quarterly: Volume One

Coming twentieth of October, twenty-nineteen

The revolution will be beautiful

On My 1st ‘Tranniversary’

WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of suicidal thoughts.

Today is the first anniversary of my very fast coming out as transgender, but that was only part of a life long story. Here’s some of that story.

PART ONE: PUBERTY

Puberty is difficult for all of us, but being trans turned the entire process into something like hell. I saw myself changing in ways that made me sick to my stomach and had no idea why. Surely, it’s normal to wish you could be a girl instead? Surely, it’s normal to not want to be associated with other boys and to feel like an outsider in the changing rooms before PE lessons? Apparently not!

As most of you who know me will know, I had significant trouble with Generalised Anxiety Disorder in school and spent a lot of time alone on trains and at home instead of at school. I used the time not taken up by constant debilitating fear to learn. I read about politics, I read about literature, I read about social issues. I read about social issues. I read about social issues. I read about social issues.

Gender is a social issue, and in 2014 some great steps were made in the trans liberation movement that brought information into the public consciousness like never before. So… it turned out there was an explanation for why my totally flat chest made me uneasy and any association with maleness made me feel alienated and generally weirded-out. I remember reading about what being trans was, and that gender doesn’t always fit neatly into one of the two options given by contemporary western society. Apparently, it’s actually quite normal and we know trans/nonbinary people have existed throughout history. Many cultures actually ascribe certain spiritual properties to trans people.

PART TWO: THE GOLDEN ANCHOR

The summer of 2015 played host to one of those moments we look back on as ‘coming of age’ moments, a five-day school trip to Naples. This was a regular thing at my school, we’d have a week abroad every year and those of us who either couldn’t or didn’t want to stayed back and school days were replaced by school trips. I had always done the latter, but me and my mum knew that my mental state meant this would likely be my last opportunity to do something like this for a long time. It ended up being a much-needed break from life and a chance to start working out exactly who I was.

One night, myself and two people I was sharing a room with were out in the town and I had a realisation. I lost my earring! Being worried about the piercing closing up, I decided to find somewhere to get a replacement. We ended up outside what is essentially Italian Claire’s Accessories, where my two masc-y friends stayed, and I went inside.

This was liberation. I had free choice, truly free choice to decide how I want to present myself without fearing judgement or having to perform plastic masculinity. I found a pair of sparkly gold anchors amongst a wall of cheap mass-produced jewellery, picked them up and bought them. I don’t know whether the shopkeeper looked at me funny out of prejudice for my gender expression or my being a tourist. Probably a bit of both. Either way, nothing could shake me from the euphoria of this moment of genuine self expression.

A teacher who came on this holiday took a photo of my two friends outside that shop because she thought they looked funny standing outside a women’s accessory shop. I thought it was funny that she thought it was funny, it is just a shop after all! I haven’t seen that photo since that holiday and I’m not sure anyone else has. I hope one day I’ll get to see it again. I do still have one of those earrings though and it remains a constant source of happiness and comfort.

This was the first time I started expressing my gender, as subtly as it was. It also confirmed to me that I never was male. When the euphoria wares off, the dysphoria plummets.

PART THREE: TRANSGENDER DYSPHORIA BLUES

2016 to early 2018 were the years that coming to terms with my gender in detail became a necessity, a process that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies (I use that phrase despite not having any ‘enemies’, at least I don’t think I do!). Going into yourself and deconstructing your deepest insecurities and measuring each and every gender related feeling against the euphoria brought on by a tiny expression of femininity is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do, and I did it whilst also juggling mental illness and doing my GCSEs in not just a new school, but a school in a hospital just for those of us unable to attend traditional schools.

I knew I was nonbinary since around the summer of 2014, but a trip to my childhood oasis on the 7th of May 2017 radically changed my understanding of gender. I was on the bus when the realisation began to bubble up inside me but wasn’t able to describe it. The dysphoria was different and highlighted a lack of femininity, whereas I previously had only noticed trouble with too much masculinity.

I was messaging my then partner as I found my way through the gates of Kensington Gardens, talking about it in vague terms. What if I wasn’t nonbinary… what if I was actually a girl? The question sparked a spiral of panic in me, and I knew this wasn’t the first time I’d asked myself this question. The walk lasted some time and involved a lot of quiet inward reflection. What terms are comfortable? I liked neutrality, I liked femininity… I wasn’t sure. The conclusion I came to then was that I was slightly feminine of centre.

I decided not to delve any further into it and, instead of having the confidence to tell my partner I might like to experiment with neutral pronouns, repressed it all.

PART 4: NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DYSPHORIA, MADE GLORIOUS SUMMER BY THIS DAUGHTER OF LUNDON

Later in 2017, in the Autumn, I went to an LGBT youth group for the first time and it was the first time that everyone in the room knew I was nonbinary. We went to the park afterwards and shared names and pronouns in a circle, and I said I liked they/them but was fine with he/him because that’s what I was used to. They weren’t having that and insisted that they’ll use what I like rather than what I’m used to. It was the first time anyone had done something like this for me in person. I wasn’t used to my identity being so explicitly celebrated and I desperately wish I could express how it felt. In the train station on our way home, I heard myself referred to with a neutral pronoun for the first time. From that moment onwards I felt empowered to use the pronouns that fit instead of just putting up with ones that don’t for the sake of simplicity.

On my way home from the youth group I had a moment while crossing a bridge. I’d never felt so accepted in my life, I was feeling like myself for the first time. I couldn’t conceive of a time or place where I’d feel so free again. I was so happy then, but the thought was heart-breaking. I thought about stepping over the barrier and into the darkness of the river below, about going out happy instead of having to suffer any more. I thought of the hatred that would come with coming out and I didn’t see a future where I could be happy. I didn’t jump.

Around then, I also came to realise that my name was always going to be associated with maleness, and the fact that I liked the name made getting rid of it exceptionally difficult. I couldn’t bare the thought of someone looking at my name and an image of a man appearing in their head.

One night I was out walking through Covent Garden with my then boyfriend, and while walking down the dimply lit alleyway beside the London Transport Museum, he became the first person to speak my name aloud. I was dabbling with the name Florian, but everyone who knew about it went with flori as a nickname and it was that nickname that he used. I still smile thinking of that moment. I soon discovered the name Floria and have used that name since.

One thing a lot of trans people do is refer to ourselves in the third person, because when nobody around you uses the right name or pronouns even your own usage of them can be a big help. I was in bed one night texting the same boyfriend mentioned above, and took the plunge I’d built up in my head since that day in Kensington Gardens. I called myself a girl. He asked no questions and instantly started using she/her pronouns and I cried my fucking eyes out. I cried the happiest tears I’ve ever cried. I later explained to him that my experience of gender seems to fade between almost nothing at all and about 90% female, something that’s not easy to understand unless you yourself have similar experiences.

In that winter I came to these conclusions:

  • My name is Floria Lundon (I had used the surname Lundon since April 2017 as an expression of being identified with the city that shaped my worldview and my personality, drawing on the Anglo-Saxon city Lundenwic, now called Aldwych, rather than one or both of my parents’ families.)
  • My pronouns are they/she
  • I am transfeminine (female end of the gender spectrum) and nonbinary (neither entirely male nor entirely female)

PART FIVE: SOAPBOX BLUNDER IN THE PALACE

In November 2017 I was having a meeting in Kensington Palace with the other Heritage Lottery Fund Dust Kickers, putting down the initial plans for a heritage sector networking event designed to teach the sector about how to do worthwhile and effective youth stuff. We decided to go with the idea of a soapbox as our stage and that led to the event being laundry themed! “Airing heritage’s dirty laundry” was the phrase if my memory serves me right.

I suggested that if we had name badges, then we should have pronouns on them too. The following is a paraphrased piece of my internal monologue immediately following the suggestion.

“Fuck. Oh GOD that was bad what the FUCK am I going to do?”

I wasn’t out!!! There would be cameras there to capture a name badge with my deadname and the wrong pronouns on it and I’d spend the rest of my life terrified that someone might see any photos of me at an event I consider one of my proudest achievements! I spent a lot of time thinking about what I might do, and decided I had to come out earlier than I wanted to.

PART SIX: COMING OUT… AGAIN

I knew I couldn’t come out to everyone in person because that would result in huge travel costs and more emotional turmoil than I can cope with. I decided I’d have to come out to the people I see the most in person and then do the next best thing. On the 13th of May, a friend of mine came over as I needed her to force me to record a video I could use to almost simulate an in-person coming out.

After putting it off for quite a while, we recorded it. Later that day, I watched the video and almost cried. I was visibly petrified. All of my anxious tics came out, my eyes were darting all over the place and I was stumbling over my words constantly. I then thought… “Well, if I can’t do a video I’ll just have to do a text post. It’s not perfect but it’ll have to do because I need to be out in time for the soapbox event.”

On the 17th of March, after trying to build up the courage all day, I came out to my mum as she was about to go to bed. I had planned to do it that day so that the next day I could tell other family. She accepted it instantly, not a beat was missed. Step one complete.

On the 18th of March, I spoke to the family I see the most and had a similar reaction. Acceptance. Admittance that adjusting would be difficult, but acceptance nonetheless. I went home and checked a text post I’d drafted in the days leading up to it. I sent it to the Dust Kickers group chat and posted it on all of my social media. I was out, no going back now!

PART SEVEN: THE TEXT POST

One thing you might notice about it is its simplicity. Coming out is hard, but harder when most people don’t already understand how nonbinary genders work. I only included the neutral pronouns here because I was afraid of confusing anybody. I also said I fall near the middle of the gender spectrum, a sly way of saying I’m not agender.

I won’t use any names, but I know there are people who didn’t take me seriously because it was a Facebook post. To these people, I say that it was impossible for me to come out to you in person and I wish I could have. I would also like to ask that you ask me about it instead of pretending it didn’t happen, because every time someone does that it feels like a dagger plunged through my chest and trust me, I wish I was exaggerating. The very core of who I am is not something you can brush off, it’s not trivial and your avoidance of it hurts. I am open to questions, I always have been. Please talk to me, I don’t bite. Send me a message, ask to meet me for a chat. We don’t need to be close, I just want us to be on the same page.

PART EIGHT: THE LAST YAER

My life has been far better since coming out a year ago. I’ve met new people, had new experiences and been happier than I thought I ever could be. I’m thankful for everyone who’s been there for me on my journey, past and present. No matter how situations change, I know the things I’ve written here are things I’ll never forget and will treasure for the rest of my life.

Life only gets better.

“I’ve decided it’s better to live as my true self than pretend I am what I was led to think I should be. I am Floria, my pronouns are they/them and theirs [also she/her/hers] and I am transgender. All I ask is for this to be respected. Thank you.

– flori”

– Final note on my coming out post, amended.

GLOSSARY OF RELEVENT TERMS:

GENDER: Gender develops at around age three and is largely rooted in brain development in utero and then how environmental factors influence that in early childhood.

SEX: The physical and genetic characteristics used to divide a species into male, female, intersex categories. These include chromosomes, gonads, levels of oestrogen and testosterone produced in the body and secondary sex characteristics like vocal range, distribution and thickness of body hair, breasts etc.

GENDER DYSPHORIA: The feeling of disconnect between one’s gender and the gender assigned to you by others. Often leads to serious emotional turmoil.

BODY DYSPHORIA: The feeling of disconnect between one’s physical sex and gender. Often leads to serious emotional turmoil. Often but not always treated by hormone replacement therapy and/or any number of gender-affirming surgeries.

On The Nature of Hell

Architecture

The dusk of the second world war left a mountain of rubble and dust behind; a mountain that offered an opportunity to a group of architects whose sole ambition was to take a great steaming shit on every European street they could get their hands on. From the ashes of the old, the grand, the inspiring, grew a toxic, poisonous garden of flat brick walls, concrete, and primitive buildings.

These are the buildings we still use and still build. Their walls bear no resemblance to anything that came before, choosing instead to axe every architectural development of the last two thousand years. They sometimes appear in unappealingly asymmetric shapes that don’t compliment their environments and don’t inspire any sense of beauty whatsoever. This is only the beginning of the story. Once you pass through a pair of plain glass doors, you find more levels of hell than Dante could have ever imagined.

Fluorescent Fucking Lights

I have never encountered a worse way to light any room. First off, they’re notorious for triggering eye pain, headaches and migraines! These lights cause physical agony to 14% of the population. Why do offices use lights that cause actual harm to real people? They’re cheap. Money matters more than safety it seems. This is a theme that you’ll see reverberating throughout this post.

Secondly, they’re unforgiving in their influence on our appearance. Nobody in the entire history of humanity has ever looked good in fluorescent lighting and it’s a disgrace that it’s become the norm to use the least flattering lights possible in our places of work. Looking our best makes us feel good and being surrounded by people looking their best is a massive mood boost, it’s why we enjoy portraiture and fashion models. We are all beautiful in our own ways and should embrace it. Fluorescent lights are an attack on our collective beauty and therefore on our self-esteem.

Now, some places have started to trade these out for LEDs. It’s a noble action, but they make one mistake that I cannot forgive: BLUE/WHITE LIGHTS. There are hundreds of colours available and you still choose the one that makes everyone and everything look like shit? It’s not a hospital, cut it out.

Furniture

A flat, whitewashed desk is never an acceptable choice. To begin with, it reflects the hideous white light like a mirror in the dessert into your very sensitive eyeballs. Secondly, beauty inspires creation. If your desk doesn’t inspire you, it’s hard to ever do anything inspirational yourself. Work done on a beautiful wooden desk will always be superior to that one on a desk so flat and white a hipster could drink it with their wet green mush on toast.

Then there’s the creaky old chairs that should never have lived past 2005. Chairs don’t need wheels, plastic doesn’t last and if we used proper desks there’d be no need for them to be height adjustable. It’s unnecessary and ugly. The fabric on them often looks like someone’s sicked up a kebab on it too which is frankly disgusting.

Floors are the same story. It’s either barf-like sandpaper carpets or lino that resembles the rotting skin of a dead lizard in the rain. We all know a good floor when we see one; when our foot sinks into the warm embrace of a cushioned thick carpet, when the heel of our shoes snap on the wood in an almost musical way, when the pattern bounces off the walls in warm swirling harmony with the room around it. From roman mosaic floors to Victorian carpeting, Britain has a long history of beautiful floor design, a long history that modern offices have thrown out of their flat, plastic framed windows.

Walls and Decorative Features

White, white, white, leafy plant, white, white, white, corporate-esque ad or sign, white, white, breadcrust wooden door, white, white etc, etc, etc, etc. There is no way to describe these as anything other than drab. It’s the misery of 1970s new wave synth without any of the artistry that made it enjoyable. It’s repetitive, flat and frankly depressing. There is no room for stimulation, no room for inspiration. It’s like being in a hospital ward that’s done the bare minimum to not utterly destroy the mental wellbeing of its terminal patients, and it has a similar effect. It encourages repetition, order, and conformity.

I understand the usage of decorative plants, it is pretty well known now that being around nature does us a world of good. I’m not against it, what I want to say is that office plants aren’t satisfactory. I understand that people have allergies to many flowering plants and so they can’t be placed in communal areas, but that doesn’t mean natural decoration should be restricted to greenery! Creativity is key here as is the case in all decoration and it will be specific to every individual space. For example, Oscar Wilde famously placed peacock feathers in the plastering of his walls as an alternative to wallpaper. Other options of course include… wallpaper!

White walls are not good for us, they offer us nothing in terms of beauty or excitement. Plain colours are tacky, so the obvious conclusion is that, if there is no wood panelling, in which case cream is ideal, wallpaper must be used! Warm colours, mint greens, flowers, art nouveau, repeating patterns; anything but minimalism! I am certain that our grandchildren will look back on minimalism as the death of beauty if we allow it continue at this rate.

One office-y place that I’ve had the pleasure of using is the boardroom at The British Museum. This room is fortunate to have been designed by people with functioning eyes, so is pleasant enough to get away with a few particularly nice decorations. On one wall, the one closest to the (dark wooden with a leather writing top), is a series of portraits of the directors of the museum. They look over the table, with warm colours and plenty of detail and an air of importance transforming the energy of the room. They connect everyone to the museum’s history and respectability. Unfortunately, the two most recent ones were clearly painted without consideration of where they would be hung, as they’re flat, modestly unfinished, and pastel. They’d work elsewhere but here they’re a bit of an eyesore. The room also contains an upright piano, which I imagine was intended to be played for light entertainment in meetings, something I think we could all benefit from as a relief for the chronic solemnity that’s lodged itself into our work lives.

Closing Notes on Beauty at Work

Sadness and ugliness go hand in hand, there’s a reason miserable weather is associated with things like murder and corruption in fiction. Beauty is universally revered and aspired to, because beauty is directly related to happiness. Beauty is related to happiness and happiness leads to productivity and efficiency, so it’s common sense that no workplace that doesn’t necessitate clinical design should ever look like the offices we’re used to.

I’m afraid that, if the current state doesn’t change, I’ll either have to pluck out my eyes with teaspoons or get so disgustingly rich that I can just pull the lot down and build replacements worthy of our glorious historic cities. Glass towers can fuck off too.

DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that these are simply opinions and that I am by no means an expert in anything. This blog is observational and not a personal attack on anyone but those responsible for the restrictions currently forcing such disgusting design to pass as the standard.

Queerly Departed: The Best Cemetery Tour In History (to me)

(Featured image: Queerly Departed poster featuring Sacha & Sheldon of The Cemetery Club)

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

The fog was so thick that morning that buildings which usually dominate my view seemed to have completely disappeared, a fact that helped distract me from the anxiety slowly piling up inside me about the day’s plan. It was the morning of the Queerly Departed tour of Brompton Cemetery, this was the day I’d spent a year dreaming of. The fog soon cleared, I put on my bright pink jacket, and stepped out into what was a surprisingly sunny and warm February day.

The bus journey is one I know well, having taken the route to get to my final years of school. Incidentally, it was my school’s proximity to the cemetery that began my current love of the place. I didn’t have the attention span to read the book I’d brought with me (Richard Scott’s fabulous collection of gay/sex-themed poems, Soho) and I left my headphones at home in the hopes that would encourage me to read. That collection had a massive influence on me, but clearly my mind wasn’t ready to settle just yet.

I got there about 45 minutes early and walked around the cemetery for a couple minutes before joining Dan (Royal Parks PACE officer), Sacha, (The Cemetery Club), and Dan Vo (our extraordinarily skilled photographer) in the famous round chapel, which sits like a crown atop the green-haired queen that is Brompton Cemetery. We were soon joined by Sheldon, also of The Cemetery Club.

First order of business was getting the speakers working without hurting anyone and without being too loud in what those who’ve been there will know is the most echoey room in London. This was also time to have the obligatory Gay Fashion Talk, going through each other’s looks like the style icons we all are. I won’t bore you with details, but everyone in the room was looking absolutely fantastic. Don’t let my talk of clothing fool you though, this is a team like nothing seen before. Every member being uniquely dazzling in intellect, in humour, in kindness of heart and in their determination to make our crazy ideas come to life.

Next came the performers; Claire Mead (drag king extraordinaire), Keith Jarrett (a poet whose name is sure to join the ranks of Thomas, Owen and Ginsberg), Toni Dee Paul (whose story telling carries the ancient tradition into the modern age with barrels upon barrels of heart and northern charm) and Virgin Xtravaganzah (legendary drag queen soon to knock our socks clean off). After a quick walk through, we all made our way through the already gathered attendees and into the chapel office, our green room for the day.

BUT FIRST: THE BACKSTORY

I first met Dan at the Friends of Brompton Cemetery Volunteers’ gathering back in November but had already been arranging to meet her properly via Laura Mitchison, of On The Record, with whom I’d been volunteering since April. We had a chat on our way out about various queer issues but left the serious work until we could meet properly.

On the 21st of November 2018, we sat together in the delightfully homely South Lodge, which I must say is homely because it is literally a bungalow built to be lived in by the cemetery manager. This is where Dan told me she wanted to do something to mark LGBT History Month in the cemetery. Now, I had started volunteering in and around the cemetery with On The Record in April and around that time is when I started thinking the same thing. I wondered why a place that so obviously has a massively queer history, in one of the queerest places in British history hadn’t thought to ever mark it. I realised quickly that the reason was the overhanging shadow of prejudice that still plagues our glorious sector and our society as a whole. The local council had deliberately cleared out many important queer venues in the 1990s and much effort had gone into stopping us using the safe space of the cemetery to privately and consensually meet each other. The heritage sector, whilst it has come a very long way, in part due to the Heritage Ambassadors and the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s efforts in the Kick The Dust programme, does still have the lingering stink of prejudice and bigotry left over from the days of western Egyptologists who would hack off statues’ noses for looking ‘too African’.

Needless to say, Dan’s suggestion had an instant feeling of gravity and importance that I haven’t yet been able to accurately describe. We talked about some ideas; ‘maybe an exhibition?’ ‘Some kind of performance?’ ‘A guided tour? Maybe an area tour too?’ The ideas rose like bubbles from the bottom of a champagne flute, filling the tiny sunlit room with sparks yet to find their firewood.

As the months went by, the ideas evolved and a few gradually moulded together into what seemed a strange and wonderful idea; ‘What if we took queer performance into the cemetery?’ ‘What if it were part of a tour?’ ‘Have you heard of The Cemetery Club? We could see if they’d want to do this!’ ‘There’s these drag performers I’ve seen, what if we put drag shows on in the cemetery?’ With ideas as bold and unique as this, how could we do anything other than put them all together into one big spectacular day?

The Cemetery Club were interested, and so were our top choices for performers. A name was thought up, research was done, discussions were had, a poster was made, more ideas were explored, and Laura agreed to do more oral history. This is the birth of what became Queerly Departed.

QUEERLY DEPARTED

Sacha and Sheldon emerged from the green room and greeted the first of two crowds of attendees in their fabulously animated and colourful way; Sheldon sporting a supernova of purple around each eye and Sacha in a pair of cowboy chaps and a waistcoat, recalling the fashions of historical gays from the wild west, through the dandies and into the irresistible pop tunes of The Village People. The anticipation began to bubble amongst our guests in much the same way the bubbles of this idea first rose only a couple months earlier, and the event began.

Virgin Xtravaganzah waltzed out into the chapel with all the confidence of Sinatra and all the glamour of the Earth on her tail, announcing herself as the ‘holy mother of Christ’ and kicked the tour into action through the wit of her song and the sheer power of her voice. It struck me that the chapel seems to have been built with her in mind, like the architects building it over a hundred and forty years ago anticipated the day Virgin Xtravaganzah would blow in and explode into action.

Filled with the energy of Virgin’s performance, we all snaked out through the chapel doors and into the sunlight. First stop on the tour was by the gracious white cross that marks the grave of the actress Nellie Farren, where I was to deliver a short talk on her gender-bending, het-confusing career in Victorian musical burlesque. Of course I was first, giving me the task of weaving my way through the seemingly never ending stream of tour guests making their way to the gravesite. On the second tour I remedied this by running along the other side of the promenade and awaiting their arrival after me. I made it to the grave, stood myself up on the raised platform beside the stairs and told the tale of Nellie Farren, which happened to be the first time I’d presented like that in a few of years! Sheldon jumped in after my little talk, which of course involved a lot of hand-waving, and told us all about a couple of other actors buried nearby.

One of the many peculiarities that made this such a unique experience was the roses. Each guest was given a single pink rose before leaving the chapel, the purpose of which was not revealed until now. “Would any of you like to lay your rose on Nellie’s garve?” Sacha asked the attendees, unveiling a simple but ever so sweet plan to lay flowers for each of the graves we visit.

Next was the unassuming stone urn that tops the grave of one of history’s most influential fashion icons and most extravagant members of Italian and British society: Luisa, Marchesa Casati Stampa di Stoncino. Otherwise known as Luisa Casati. Here, Sacha shared with us the scale of her opulence, the drama of her presence and the unfathomably ridiculous nature of her clothing, including a live snake as a necklace and an elaborate water fountain costume. Sacha did the best anyone could do at describing this monolithic figure in such a short time. Even if you were there to hear this story told that day, I encourage you to look her up for yourself. ‘The Bisexual Countess’, as she’s sometimes known, is one of Brompton Cemetery’s greatest treasures.

In an effort to not repeat myself, I’ll jump ahead from here to the same moment in the second tour. You will soon see why.

The almost setting sun guided us back through the graves and onto the central avenue, the great aisle that spans between the entrance arch and the chapel, and to the top of the steps that lead down to a pair of decorative green doors that lead to the catacombs. Sacha stood, steps behind him, speaking on the subject of Brompton Cemetery’s most notorious piece of queer history… cruising. The height of the cemetery’s career as one of the most popular cruising spots happened whilst gay sex was still partially illegal, and so stories are rife of what were known as ‘pretty policemen’. These absolute wanker scum were police officers who would wander into known cruising hotspots to illicit gay sex, with the intention of arresting anyone who consented to it. We now know this tactic as entrapment, and of course these historical charges have since been pardoned under the Alan Turing Act… but it’s not so simple for many. If, whilst being cruised by a pretty policeman, you ‘exposed yourself’, the charge of public exposure still stands. There are people alive today living with the fact that they have a criminal record related to being gay.

After being asked to turn around, we stepped down onto the steps to the catacomb. Above the door is part of the promenade, bookended by two stone columns. In this moment, the catacomb entrance became a theatre, as Keith Jarrett stepped out on the promenade, with his legs covered in silver sequins that shone out like jewels in the golden-hour sun. Out from his lips poured the words of a poem, written on a walk through the cemetery one November day a few years earlier, which details the cemetery’s cruising history and reflects the often liminal experience of a walk through. The amber gold of the evening sun blanketing us, the reading became the world and the world became the words. (The poem in question is titled Ventriloquism and can be found in Jarrett’s 2017 collection ‘Selah’.)

From here, we travelled on through the trees and amongst the headstones, hearing twice from Sheldon. The first was Ernest Thesiger, one of the early 20th century’s brightest and gayest acting stars. Sheldon’s stories ranged from Ernest joining the army on the basis of thinking he’d look good in a kilt, to knocking a knife from a homophobic thug’s hand with the line “It’s rude to point!”

Second was Barbe Sangiori, the co-founder of Kettner’s restaurant buried in perhaps the campest grave in the entire cemetery. The tales told remained as explosive and scandalous as ever, with stories of Edward VII’s rendezvous with his mistresses and Oscar Wilde’s use of the restaurant as a place to pick up boys.

The incredible Toni Dee Paul took the Hitch Memorial, a grave that takes the form of a prettily decorated porch, as her stage for the performance of a spoken word piece about those voices we can never hear. She spoke of lesbians, gays, gender-non-conforming people who don’t have the acceptance of their families, who society views as strange or other, whose names we will never know and whose memory will not live on in cemetery tours or history books. I know I wasn’t the only one to shed a tear by the pain in her words.

After a controversial stop, the grave of the first judge to work on the trial of Oscar Wilde, this band of merry queers found our way to Brompton Cemetery’s most famed resident. The grave of Emmeline Pankhurst stands, in all its deco glory, amongst a shrine of flowers, gifts and ribbons left by admirers of the feminist icon. Here Sacha discussed the way lesbianism was used as an accusation against the Suffragettes and how we recognise that as well as celebrate the very real presence of WLW within the movement. He also discussed the gender identity and sexuality of the sculptor who created the headstone, Julian Phelps-Allan. Given what followed, you’d be forgiven for not remembering the details.

The king of fragile masculinity and only feminist in the village himself, Eugene Delacroissant (played by the delightful Claire Mead), like a bull in a china shop, commandeered the discussion of Emmeline and feminism. After a collective jab at all of the men present and their lack of tights, Eugene proceeded to burst into song. He pranced around, rainbow umbrella twirling in hand, dancing across the paving laid before the grave and twisting the lyrics of a pop song I don’t know well enough to give a name to into an anti-TERF, pro-gay anthem. This absolute gem of a show left us with just one final stop.

After a quick telling of the life story of a godson of Charles Dickens who is believed by the family to have been gay, Sacha presented an emotional epilogue to the tour. He implored the guests to not let our gay culture die in the same way that Earls Court did, to not let there be a day 200 years from now where a tour guide tells of the days where Soho or Canal Street were once hubs of the LGBT community. A fond farewell followed thanking of everyone involved and, after a round of applause, the group disbanded. Queerly Departed was an undeniable success. The dream came true. The revolution began.

THE REVOLUTION

The walk back to the chapel was one of pride and triumph. We strode down the central avenue with smiles and laughter all round, with an air of achievement in every step. The chapel was locked up and, outside the gate, said our goodbyes to Keith, who was catching a bus to another performance. I left the group with hugs and thank yous soon after as they made their way to the pub for celebratory drinks, and I to a local café to unwind with a friend.

What we did has never been done before, in more ways than one. It is the beginning of a plan to revolutionise the relationship between Brompton Cemetery and the LGBT community who have been so closely entwined with its history. Queerly Departed was the fabulous, the beautiful, the radical beginning of a story that will hopefully go on for many a chapter. You’ve seen nothing yet.

Non-Results Day

“Failure”

If you were to go back in time and meet me 5 years ago, you’d find someone with a plan. They’d tell you they’re going to do A Levels and that they’d take Drama, Religious Studies and History. If you went back and talked to me then, you’d find me daydreaming about the day I finally get the A in history I had always wanted and being on the path to succeeding in the Heritage sector. At that time, I was very private about my writing and would never admit that I secretly wanted to be an author as much as I wanted to be an historian or tourist guide. You’d find a kid with a goal.

As you can most likely see from my tone, the plan didn’t work out. This is a good outcome.

I have one C or above GCSE, which is in English Literature and I’m proud of it. My reason? I was always supposed to fail. In year 9 my mental health took a sharp and jarring turn for the worse, when my generalised anxiety disorder and depression began effecting my ability to go to school. In the year and a half leading up to my first GCSE exams I was almost never at school. I got an English Literature GCSE because reading and deconstructing literature filled me with a pleasure which overrode my fear. I didn’t need to go to my lessons because I loved it enough that I could do it without that. I would have gotten my Drama and RS GCSEs too if it weren’t for you meddling increasingly intense mental illnesses forcing me out of school.

This is where my joy in lack of A Levels started. After leaving mainstream schooling I attended a tiny little school in a hospital with other kids who weren’t able to go to school for their own personal reasons. It was mostly mental illness related. This is where a series of events unravelled that led me to today. Three things happened:

  • A friend of my mum’s sent her a link to the Museum of London’s website, a page talking about how they were doing their first work experience programme. I applied.
  • Ben, the careers advisor at the hospital school, found a pilot youth volunteer programme at The British Museum called Take PART (I never asked why ‘part’ was written in capital letters).
  • At The British Museum, I met Jess. She was one of the people running the volunteer project and, during as well as after, sent us volunteers other projects she’d find out about.

Film-Making & Ambassadoring

Two of the things Jess sent me propelled me into the Heritage sector faster than I ever thought possible. Myself and two other young people made a film for Museum of London, which was in an exhibition. I was also a Heritage Ambassador (or Dust Kicker) at the Heritage Lottery Fund, meaning my voice had an effect across the country. I was part of the team that gave young people all over the UK the opportunities they needed to get into this sector. I was on the life-changers team and I am proud beyond the bounds of language of what I’ve done.

From there, we come to me today, A Level results day. I’m sat in a café in Putney preparing myself to attend a film screening where I’ll be representing the zine I co-create with a friend and working on a novel. I’m also thinking about my career, I’m still a volunteer. I volunteer with On The Record in Brompton Cemetery, researching the cemetary’s deep LGBT history.

Unqualified Success Story

I beat the system. Well… no, I didn’t. I didn’t beat the system, I defied the expectations of people who believe in the non-existent system. I took the path the education system fails to tell us about because education was making my life a living hell. I’m doing what I dreamed about all my childhood and I didn’t need school to show me how.

This is why I’m happy to not be opening my results today.

– floria

Reject Luck

Today was like most days have been recently; I spent my afternoon in an out of the way cafe above a bookshop, drinking an oversized coffee and writing poetry. The day was going as usual, I was walking home and stopped to note down an idea I’d had when I heard an “Excuse me!” Through my headphones.

I turned to see a man about my height, who asked me if I could spare a cigarette. He raised two of his feeble looking fingers up to his lips, drawing my attention to his crooked, yellowing teeth. This man had a face you could stare at for hours. His skin was lightly tanned from the summer sun, his stubble grew like grass from a pot which had been left without a gardener and his eyes showed the fatigue of many lifetimes of work. This man has had quite a life. Naturally I assume said life is strained by poverty or even homelessness, given the situation which led to our meeting and the wilderness across his chin.

I said to him “Ah, sorry mate but I don’t smoke.” He thanked me, tapped my shoulder and turned to walk away. As he turned I said “Good luck!” Referring to his attempt to get a cigarette, something which for some is all that can offer them some comfort at the end of a tiresome day. This is where my day changed.

Instead of walking away as I would expect, he turned around and looked me straight in the eye in much the same way a teacher does to a pupil they wish to figure something out for themselves. Then he told me “Luck doesn’t enter into it.” He tapped the centre of my chest, as if he were a friend about to share a secret with me and said “When the time comes, be free.” He then walked away and I thanked him in quiet confusion and walked the other way.

“When the time comes, be free.”

I replayed the encounter over in my head as I walked home, going over every detail to figure out exactly what he meant. This is what I came up with:

Don’t trust luck. He didn’t hang around hoping some passing stranger might drop what he wanted at his feet, he asked me directly. His first words were telling me that you get what you seek.

“When the time comes, be free.” Is in a similar vein. What time is he talking about? I decided he didn’t mean a specific event I might encounter, this wasn’t a conversation with God. This advice is general. When there is something you want, throw chance out of the window. Reject luck and embrace your freedom to act on your desires. Don’t hope that you might meet someone, that you might stumble on an advert in a newspaper. Go out and seek your best life, you’re a free individual and you have the power to choose if you embrace your freedom.

I couldn’t help but feel this was advice he wished somebody had given him long ago.

– Floria Lundon

Twitter: @florialundon

Instagram: @floria.lundon