Photography blogs are boring and make me want to go on a terrible spree. Welcome to the antidote.
You’re probably right. It may well be a foolish endeavour, but I wanted to explore my thoughts on my experiences of the incredible Save Rubyyy Jones Revue – a venue I’ve photographed twice now – and why I enjoy it so much. Admittedly, the last thing the world needs is another opinion piece from a white, western, cisgendered, heterosexual man, seeing as we’re as common as krill; imagine if every single krill in the ocean inherited the brain of a straight white man, and thought that their opinion was the most important and correct. Just swimming the fuck about, omnidirectionally ejecting their awful fluids and shouting about how brilliant Jason Statham is. Imagine if they all looked like Jason Statham when you put them under a microscope. That’d be bloody awful. Don’t worry, there will be light relief in the form of a selection of my recent work at the end.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m stuck. On one hand, I’m terrified of sounding idiotic or offensive by attempting to write about a subject that, although I have every interest in, I couldn’t possibly begin to claim to be knowledgeable about. On the other hand, I am similarly worried about this sounding like some unbearable humblebrag about how I’m so enlightened because I’ve been to a couple of queer cabaret and burlesque events. I’m not sure where the middle is, and this has turned into a three hundred word disclaimer.
The art forms of burlesque, neo-burlesque and cabaret are all fairly new to me, and Save Rubyyy Jones is the first show I’ve seen with a specific LGBT angle. The show is entertaining, inventive, incredibly creative and a lot of fun. It has piqued my interest in acquiring a knowledge and appreciation of the history and roots of drag and queer cabaret, in particular what has shaped and typified the nature of the performances. For me, the best point of entry is through photography. Cabaret, particularly drag, feels like a whole performance art that has remained hidden to me until recently. Through talking to various people, I began to realise that this was because, on the whole, very few heterosexual people, particularly men, ever show an interest. Everyone is and has been friendly, pleasant and accepting and fellow attendees thought it was great that a heterosexual father of one would attend, get drunk and cheer along.
If that last sentence irritates you because it sounds like a brag, then I’m afraid you’ll just have to hate me. I have made several redrafts of this article, attempting to write around the issue so it doesn’t sound like I think I’m desperately brilliant for attending a social event with people who aren’t all heterosexual and cisgendered, but however I word it, I can’t shake that feeling. Why is that?
If anything, I find it depressing that it could be considered enlightened, liberal or in any way applaudable for me to be at or express an interest in a show like Save Rubyyy Jones; it suggests that I have mentally overcome some great difficulty or disparity between myself and those who perform. There’s almost an implication that, even though some of these people are differently gendered or have alternative sexualities to mine, I can look past that like some great, noble, straight hero. Surely, that shouldn’t even be notable. I can completely and utterly fucking assure you that I don’t think I’ve done anything remotely brilliant or liberal. What I’ve done is the bare minimum to be a decent human being; that is, to go to a show that looked like fun and not be put off by the gender and sexuality of the attendees and performers.
In fact, you could argue that I have even failed to achieve this in a satisfactory way: I came to know of the show through photography, and through meeting people who work there via my photography, so my initial interest has been a photographic one. I am a portrait photographer and, as such, I focus on and attempt to depict the personalities of the people I photograph. Photographing people allows me to better understand who they are and, in turn, it offers fresh perspectives on my own life. If I am being honest, it is unlikely I would have found out about and come to see Save Rubyyy Jones if I had not chosen this career path. I am, however, confident that it would still have been something I enjoyed.
This suggests to me that the problem is one of perception, there exists these mental barriers to entry, propagating the idea that “it’s not for us”; heterosexual couples, toddling through Soho, taking a “wrong turn” and thinking “oops, we’ve gone off-road here”, hastening through or making an abrupt turn as if they just wandered into the wrong sex toilet. Groups of giggling straight girls dropping into Canal Street to visit a gay bar. Even with the best intentions and without prejudices, they treat it like a tourist activity, attending for the experience as opposed to just because they think it’s a good bar.
I respect the craft, attention to detail and amount of thought put into the performers’ art; I see myself in them. Maybe I have an opportunity here, to use what I do best to depict and convey to others what I enjoy about the show. It’s a shame that such social distance exists between people.
The main thrill of the night is the trangression, the rule breaking which kicks against the supposed norms that are routinely stuffed down our throats like big, suffocating wads of newspaper on a daily basis from all angles. I can’t possibly begin to imagine what it feels like to live with the difficulties and prejudices that gave birth to these acts in the first place, but it makes me happy to see people expressing who they are; loudly, brightly, fearlessly and defiantly.
The Save Rubyyy Jones Revue has a catchphrase, which is “you’re fucking welcome”. And you are. All of you. Queerness is a celebration of the colourful panoply of human sexuality and gender, in which open-minded, heterosexual, cisgendered people are included. I think “acceptance” is the wrong word, it suggests that “we” are the norm and that we’ve accepted that other people are not normal but we’re cool with it. The word we should focus on is “integration”. Let’s all mash our bodies together into one big lump in a pub in East London, whoop and have a good time.
You’re fucking welcome.