Her Upstairs was a kitschy drag and cabaret bar in Camden, London, which opened shortly after another nearby bar, the iconic Black Cap, closed in 2015, and filled a much needed gap for local queers. Though the bar was only open for two years, there was an uproar in the community when it abruptly closed in 2018.
I caught up with the self-proclaimed #queernuisance Dr J to talk about what the venue meant for them during a very tumultuous period of their life.
Expect lots of chat about drag, language, and how popping candy can be used to spice up your sex life!
Check out Dr J’s podcast It Is Complicated.
Dr J 00:00
I called myself queer, because I didn’t feel like a lesbian. But I didn’t know the words to explain what I felt like. And I didn’t know the words to explain what my gender was. And people started to talk to me about this whole non binary, this binary trans and this non binary, trans or genderqueer, nurse and things like that, and I just went, Oh, this might be the thing that you might want to look into. And it really just became that
K Anderson 00:34
I am K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode, I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories were created there, and the people that they used to know. Talk to Jay is a photographer, occasional producer DJs when they can, and was a performer of, quote, spoken word performance, art, and quote, which is the best description of whatever they did on stage. Their motto for artists statement is, if we are not visible, we cannot demand the world make space for us. They are privileged to be able to be visible, and they’re currently sideling up to the patriarchy to convince it to smash itself. We met to discuss her upstairs, a shortlist that sprung up in Camden, London after the closure of iconic venues, the black cat and ran from 2016 to 2018.
Dr J 02:05
I do weird pronouns because my pronoun is normally they, but when I’m in queer spaces I use she has big Well, it’s she because she gets taken, she usually the people who call me she have taken me from vai from seeing me as a woman in any way, all the way out to queer, and all the way back into that whole drag circle of harkat. Her and that very, she kind of focus so like it’s really weird, and but it feels very comfortable within a queer space to be she. But it’s because people are seeing me not as a woman, but as this kind of strange drag creature that’s gone out and back again. You sound you seem, I’m not sure. Because pronouns because pronouns can be situational as well. Okay, so I can give you an example like having a conversation at her upstairs about in the smoking area about using popping candy during oral sex. A couple of people and we were discussing sex and being quite explicit, and we’re all using she is pronoun all the four people standing around. And then I say to one of them that when Maria used popping candy on me, I basically hit the ceiling. And she’s Maria’s now actually writes a piece called things I broken during sex, which includes my partner’s love of pop popping candy. And Ashley turned around and said, Why don’t you just wear a condom because it feels really good. And I turned and said, I don’t think that would have any benefit on me. And that was the first time that anyone in that group had considered what my physicality was, what my queerness was, what compared to the Aquinas and our expressions of queer, but we all use she as a pronoun within that space, because it’s that kind of very old school camp. Almost she of like, saying, there’s a femininity about us, but it’s, it’s gone out and back again, if that makes sense. Okay, I’m
K Anderson 04:07
not you’re not 100% sound so confused. But is it like so when you’re talking about old school? If you’re like, harking back to that kind of stereotype of the 70s queer man, who would it would use she to describe his male friends? Yes,
Dr J 04:27
yes. How could her Yeah, her reo blah, blah, blah. I don’t do polari very well. It’s almost like but it’s almost like that. That part of the drag scene has taken that and been to TIF and weirder ways as well. So like, you know, I refer to people as she, even when they’re in their boy clothes, because I know them as a drag queen. Okay, yeah. But it’s all about which pronoun people are liking. Yeah, and I don’t and it’s one of those things of I like being shamed within that space. Because of puts me into that group of a feminine masculinity or a feminine, a feminine acy of paying a campus and unexpected a fantasy. Okay, what a feminine I can’t say the right word, right? Should we back fineness? But it’s like, I’m not mask. But um, people don’t see me as quite fair either. But I’ve got that kind of camp. Yeah.
K Anderson 05:34
But so how do people? How do people know? Yeah. How do people know what what pronoun to use?
Dr J 05:44
So at work, I always wrote a little badge that’s got a on Yeah, and I’ve got that on my business cards. I’ve got that at my email, everything like that. So people who know me via work, yeah, know me as they, yeah. People who know me in queer spaces. I’ve generally just use she, I’ve not gone up and go. And if I was at all concerned, I’d say Oh, would you mind using that? And nobody would give a damn. Yeah. So it’s, it’s almost like, negotiated? Yes. Like consent. Although consents, trickier, obviously, then pronouns pronouns is pretty simple. This is a pronoun I’d like.
K Anderson 06:19
Yes, yeah. And then, and then you have to kind of give them permission to make mistakes. As
Dr J 06:27
you know, I haven’t even asked which pronoun you preferred, despite the fact that I spent what, three hours photographing you one. I just never, never even thought twice to ask.
K Anderson 06:36
Yeah. And I, I don’t think I’ve thought enough about what I prefer a kind of, I’m just like, whatever. Like, you know, because I’ve been referred to he for most of my life. Unless people are referring to me directly. Tara Lee, who? To where I can pronounce then, that I’m just Yeah, I’m fine with that. Yeah. Yeah.
Dr J 07:03
I think it’s, I think it’s one of those funny, weird, queer things that I know that at work when people use, there’s a difference between using shift for me when people aren’t seeing me as queer. You’re not seeing my gender announcing the queerness of who I am. Yeah. And that annoys me. Whereas when people use she, and it’s used, where I know that they can see all the queerness and all of that, that I am in the using she in a kind of strange reflection of that. Yeah, it makes me feel comfortable.
K Anderson 07:35
But it’s that you making assumptions about people at work?
Dr J 07:37
No, because I think you can tell when people are doing things. Yeah, deliberately. Like, you feel it in the, in the bottom of your belly, you feel that microaggression you feel that push against you, you feel that I’m trying to get under your skin slightly, kind of thing of like, and, or sometimes people are saying it without even thinking twice. Yes, yeah. And there’s a difference in their tone of voice, there’s a difference in how it looks, and also the rest of the sentence. It’s not just that word, it’s the rest of the sentence, and things like that. And it’s funny at work. I’ve got a couple of new people on my team, one of them had a little bit of problems at times of remembering my pronouns, they, they, I’ve now she or sorry, they, which is really sweet. And I know that eventually it’ll sort out. Yeah. Whereas for most people at work, they’ve gotten really used to using knife.
K Anderson 08:31
Yeah. But how do you feel about Queer as a word because I have noticed, like, I’m quite comfortable using that word now, because of the like spaces. I mean, and since it’s been kind of reclaimed and become used more frequently, but I’ve noticed around non queer people, when I say queer, they can bristle a bit, and they feel maybe that they don’t have permission to also use that word.
Dr J 09:02
Yeah. Um, so before I came out when I was a small child, in the 70s, and 80s, and museum, my dad used to refer to me as being queer as a three quick note. So I think my dad had me well and truly labelled a long, long time before I did. But it’s kind of one of those things of it’s always been, it was the word that I used when I started to describe my gender and sexuality, or it started to describe my sexuality. It just seemed to be the one that fitted even if it didn’t, quite the history of the word, but I’ve never had it apart from it’s slightly humorous and 10 from my father, had it used as like an epithet. I’ve never had anyone use it to swear at me. I’ve never had it used in anger at me. So I understand why there are some people who when I use it, especially older people, bristle and kind of go, I’m not so comfortable with it. We’re normal. I totally understand I’m comfortable with it, but I want to find a way of describing myself and then I Talk about what it means about being non normative, being that far outside of the normal. And I kind of like that description of it. I’m comfortable with that. When people bristle, I’ve had some people bristle, and go, I thought that was an offensive term. And it’s like, yeah, it used to be an offensive term, allow me to talk to you about the history of queer and the history of identity and why being outside of this normative structure is called queer. And most the time people like oh, and then I refer them to books were people who could actually write about queer in a sane and sensible way. They can read about it. So I send them off to MJ Barker’s book, the graphic history of queer. And there’s a couple of others that I can think of, I mean, translate me by See, and Lester is also another one that really explains queer, and a really good comprehensive way. I mean, but when you’re sitting in big corporate offices, and trying to get people to understand that, if I use the word queer, you know, I’ve got my friend Joe has a tattoo on his arm that’s got kind of looks like a mother with the date of heart and the dagger and the, and the scroll old style tattoo with the word faggot on it. And because he’s reclaiming it, because he gets called it so often. And that, to me is really powerful. But it’s also not a word that I can use. It’s not a word that I could use to describe me. Because it’s not ever really been used for me. In any kind of serious way. It’s never been used, I’d doesn’t get yelled at me in the street. Yeah, people don’t tend to yell at me on the street, they tend to go, why is the children’s TV entertainer bouncing around with a huge grin on their face and dancing? This part of like a flash mob of one person or something silly like that? See, eventually, when you get the balloon animals out there? Oh, absolutely. It’s the adventure of having bright blue hair and wearing like every single colour under the rainbow. Like, I’d become somebody else’s problem. When I used to do dungeon, well, when I did dungeon dragons back in New Zealand, we used to have this joke called somebody else’s problem field of if you’re so outrageous, you’re so out there, you become somebody else’s problem. Because everyone looks at you and goes, I’m not, I’m not even going to go and approach that person and ask why they’re there. Because it’s somebody else’s problem. And I’ve discovered it, it’s like, I used to have a floor link flip and print code. And when I wore that on the buses in and out of town on a Friday or Saturday night up to the Masters Club or something like that. I could stand there at the bus stop at nobody, nobody would approach me even last people would look at me. And then they’d walk to somebody else and ask for directions. And even and then I’d step over and offer them directions. And they’d look horrified. And I realised that I was so loudly dressed. Everyone was like, how can you wear clothes like that in public? and talk to people? And it’s like, because you become somebody else’s problem. You’re so out there, nobody’s going to have a go. Hmm, this is part of my whole being visible thing. Because if you have that visible, and you’re confident with it, nobody sees things. Whereas if you’re trying to look like everyone else, and you’re not able to be confident people spot the chinks. Yeah. And that happened to me a couple of times, where people would say things like, oh, what do you expect being dressed like that? What do you expect being like that in public? And rather than melting down more, because I was being yelled at on a bus being called Betty boy and die Can I love the fact that those two words could be used by the same person or change about me, kind of says that my gender and people by gender so confusing, people can’t even figure out what I am. Enough to abuse me correctly. But it’s just and then when, when you look around for help people say, What do you expect being persuaded on about, you know what to expect? And it’s like, I just went now be that louder. But that takes a lot of energy. That takes a lot of being stable and a lot of the rest of your life.
K Anderson 14:11
Yes. Yeah. You know, so Well, yeah. I mean, because even you know, going back to the beginning of our conversation that explaining words to people and explaining their use, I find that really exhausting. So going that step further and being that bold version of yourself. I find that
Dr J 14:37
it is it is exhausting, but it’s also um I joke Well, I don’t joke about it. I’ve, I’m lucky in that. I can be visible because I am vulnerable at anything. Like my job supports me. My partner supports me. My housing isn’t dependent on my identity. My immigration status is fine. You know, all of these things, if one of these things was a bit of a bit more of a problem, I would want to step away from it, I wouldn’t want to be that visible. But because I’m, I’ve got the privilege, I’m really lucky that I can actually be that visible, I can just be out there. And it means you bust open the doors a little bit. You know, I sat in a room with a senior partner, senior partner from a global law firm, talking to them about what it means to be genderqueer on Thursday, Thursday afternoon, because we met at a Christmas party, and they invited me in for coffee. And I sat and had a conversation, and we’re going to continue that conversation. But they were like, I didn’t, I’d never met anyone that I could ask these questions of, but you were there, in T shirt. And everyone out, you can imagine what the Christmas party was like everyone was power dressed. Everyone was in business suits. And that stuff. And I turned up in jeans and a jumper that had a loud Tiger print on the front and bright green hair. And was just chatting to people as if that was complete as if I looked like them. And he found that really interesting to have that much confidence to be that the front. And I was like, yeah, it was a good mental health day. It wasn’t a good mental health day, I probably wouldn’t run away after 15 minutes. But that’s the price that I pay is there are some days where my mental health is just like, No, I’m not gonna do that. I’ll just stay home or I go into work. And I’m just like, I’ll just message people just go. Not not having a good day. And people at work like okay, what can we do to help you? Oh, if you could do this talk rather and or if you could run the session, and I’ll, I’ll back you up. That’s all that I need today. And it’s like, yep, we can do that. Yeah. But you’ve got to be really lucky to be able to be that vulnerable with people. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Because not not many workplaces allow you to be that vulnerable and that kind of play around. Yeah. Yeah. It costs a cost to be a customer as well. Actually. I say it costs look this good. I’m wearing essentially my pyjamas. Well, no, it’s just dressed up for me. Yeah. Oh, it’s my scruffy house clothes. You know, I would I am about to go out in public wearing this. Because I’ve got to go back up to work and pick things up. But I really am. Wow, this is the least put together. I’ve been in weeks.
K Anderson 17:24
Well, it says a lot that you feel this comfortable to. Alright,
or I am just had this little about me. This exhausted. Okay,
K Anderson 17:34
so shall we talk about her upstairs? Yes. But just a bit of clarity, because you’ve been talking about block bar.
Dr J 17:43
So yeah, it’s one of those things that they blended. To me, they blended together because it was the same people. Okay, so. So I did that. That big festival, the cost of the queer at the end of 2015. And after there, I was broken. I was broke and broken, because it did many fabulous things. And many, not quite so fabulous things. And it was kind of sorting all of that out. And at the time, the black cap had either just closed or was closing. Yeah, and then block bat open just up the road. And myth and Joe and family fears moved from the black cap up to the blockbuster. So went to blockbuster quite a lot because they had the same the same people who I knew they were my friends. It was a new space. It was relatively quiet, I could go in and catch up with people. And then I had a look at it that was about the start of 20, the end of 2015. And then by the end of 2016. Meth and Joe and a couple of others had created her upstairs, which was in the top half of the block bar. And then about nine months later, they got the lease on the downstairs as well. So you had her upstairs and then downstairs. Okay, yeah, so you kind of had this multi level space so Okay, so so we went through three so if
K Anderson 19:20
we started off is just the block bar upstairs and then above block, became upstairs and then blocked by disappeared and then became them downstairs.
Dr J 19:33
Yeah, yeah. And so her upstairs and them downstairs became the one venue. Yeah. But they had kind of two spaces and they loved the the names that they came up with. Were just so brilliant for them, you know her upstairs and then downstairs is just really fair and had a smoking area out the back. That was like the social hub and had really good performance space upstairs and downstairs was more of a dance. Ice with a little bit of performance space, a long fit and performance space was upstairs. I think this is due to myth and Joe both working and as academics. Well, Joe working as an academic and performance and myth doing stage design and things like that they crafted really good performance space within the space that they had upstairs so that there was lots of ways you could see the stage, you could use the stage in different ways. And it was really cool. And it was easy to decorate.
K Anderson 20:32
So shall we just circle back quickly, right? Talk about Queer as the queer. Oh, God.
Dr J 20:39
So we did a festival. This was I woke up one morning and said, I know let’s run a festival. And everyone went, Okay. And I mean, let’s do it. At the current it, and everyone went, yeah, sure. And then I said, um, let’s do it across 12 hours. There we went, yeah, that sounds fine. And I said, I must have had about five stages, because it’s five different performance bases. Everyone went, that’s brilliant. And I said, well, to do that we’re gonna need about 80 artists and nobody said no. At any point in time during this have no, that’s a little bit mature, a bit insane. How are you doing? So we ended up with Latrice Royale as our headliner. We had Johnny Wu and his band, we had a box around here somewhere with everyone who performed and if I forget anyone, I’m just gonna end up in so much trouble. So and on top of that, we had 80 other artists, it was Rob Maurice on stage. So the whole idea was as a photographer, I’m was at the time running around London. And I realised that I was seeing all this amazing performance. But the crowds were different. And they were never mixing and even the performance will never make sense. So I would see performers at bar whenever I’d see performers at Bethnal Green workman’s club at some of the different nights, I was just out most nights of the week, and I would see all these different performers, but they never seem to see each other. And those crowds never seem to see each other. And one of the things that I realised listening to people is everyone felt quite isolated, that they had these little pockets of community. And most of the spaces only hold maybe 100 people. So you only see those same people. And you don’t realise how big the actual queer community is in London. So that was the entire idea, get it all together, mix it up, in one space across 12 hours, with five stages and 80 artists, but I was the one managing everything, making sure the money went in and went out and went out and went out. And then then I woke up, and when, oh, my God, how much money do I owe to who? And then when? Okay, well, HMRC and they are chasing me. So you cannot just stand in line. And it took me about about a year about 18 months to clear everything out. Oh, okay. Oh, wow. So that’s when I say that I was broken, broken. I was I woke up going. Okay, so that was a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant event, and it did so much of the stuff you wanted to do. How do you get out of this mess? Yeah. without declaring yourself bankrupt, and ensure that everyone who works got paid. And that was one of the big things that I totally have, because so much of what we do, as performers. And as producers net relies on goodwill of people, and I see big events that can get a lot of money, but don’t pay that many people, they rely on volunteers. And that means that there’s a lot of people who want to get involved who just can’t. So I everyone who worked for me, I think there’s one person who had a bit of a raw deal, and I felt sorry for them. But everyone else with what they signed, they pretty much got paid minimum wage for everything that they did, because I realised that I was competing with the minimum wage, jobs in bars and cafes and everywhere else. So if I paid them, they could come along and take part in it. And that worked for the most part. So everyone, everyone ended up being paid HMRC ended up being paid and didn’t take me to court. But yeah, crystal clear. Great experiment. But it’s clear in Queensland got money and no matter how cheap how much we tried to cut things we just couldn’t we just couldn’t get enough and to to make it float in any way to do it again. So yeah, crystal clear. Yeah. ambitious, ambitious fun. But what does it even now when Maria describes that she’s she’s like we ran a festival was 12 hours, five stages. 80 plus artists insane. And I think if I ever suggested doing anything like that, again, there would be at least three people who would just tackle Well, actually four people I know of who would just take me to the ground and go No, seriously, please don’t even try anything like that again.
K Anderson 25:20
Yeah. Capita at 60. artists. Yeah, yes. Oh, absolutely. So, so that was a difficult time in your life. Yeah. And around that time is when blackcap. Close. And yeah, and block bar sprung up to fill the
Dr J 25:37
gap. I think they kind of took advantage of the fact that some of the good performers and the people who could organise performance from the blackcap were available to hire so bought them in and basically did that. And then, you know, I had the amazing family fears, I kind of had a group of people I was going to, I was trying to think of how to describe them. And I was gonna use the word find out and then realise, nobody, very few people, other than the New Zealanders will go, I know what that means. Yeah. And it’s kind of your people, it’s kind of the people who you connect with. So it’s so is it about Mario, it’s Mario Glade. And it’s to me, which may be slightly not quite getting the interpretation perfect. But it’s about not just blood, family, but chosen family, that logical and biological family mix as you’ll find out, and because I don’t have any biological family here, it’s all my logical family. And essentially, there was a logical family, there was a group that I could go along and be worth while I missed this brocade and trying to figure out what I was going to do. Trying to get a job again, kind of Fortunately, I was working freelance. So you know, I just picked up the job that I’d put down for a couple of weeks. And they were fine with that. But it was very much just trying to find where I fit it in that space. And, and, you know, they were everyone who I met there was just so welcoming and lovely. And, you know, didn’t hear that I was sitting in the corner going another email. And they were like, Okay, so what did you think of the performance? And you know, then we’re talking about photography, or I’d capture what was going on on stage. And just yeah, enjoy the people who were there. And so had
K Anderson 27:25
had you been a regular black cap,
Dr J 27:27
not so much. So I was irregular down at the RVT a lot. And I’d gone to some stuff at the black cap. But it’s that north south south divide I love south of the river. And then, just with people, I just moved up. I ended up socialising more open that up in that North London corner. And that became not quite my manner, but it was when I changed jobs that was not quite on the way home, but I could get there quite easily and that that made a difference. Okay.
K Anderson 28:00
Did you meet the family fee is through the venue or prior to and we should say what the family fee is, is a drag family drag troop? What? What What am I supposed to call it?
Dr J 28:14
family I think would be the one that’s closest
K Anderson 28:17
is in the name of
Dr J 28:18
it’s in the night. Yeah. And so, myth is the mother. Joe is hashtag boyfriend Joe, but it’s now hashtag husband, Dr. Joe. Or, or Dr. Husband Joe. I don’t think we’ve quite figured out which way to do it. There was Ruby Wednesday, I’m gonna forget somebody. This bourgeoisie. This Maxim more low, low brow. scollard Oh, hora, Lily, snatch dragon. I think that’s who was the core group that I ended up meeting most. And I know that there were people who were in and then we’re out. And I said we’d be reinstated. Yes, yeah, just having that blank of trying to remember who’s the who pressure pressure of remembering the names of the family. But I’d met so I’d known myth for a while, a long time and then we would been circling around different because they were performing under another name on a more boylesque burlesque scene and then they got slightly more into drag and performed at a couple of spaces. And then we’re at up in Manchester together for a couple of gigs. And I ended up some photos of them up there. This all came out at the 30th so we so I actually bought the pitches a long time for on which nothing like knowing somebody long enough to bring out the bring out the baby photos. And then They, they were doing some more interesting stuff, they did some brilliant pantyhose at the black cap. And that was I had two or three years of pentos that I took of them doing it at the black cat, which I really, really enjoyed. They were different. They were. If I say, their sense of humour, matched wine, their sensibilities match mine, I didn’t have to have that moment of going that jokes tiny little bit on the writer side or as an assigned female at birth person. I found that comment just a little bit. Yeah, that’s not to say, oh, hashtag all drag. But this still sometimes those moments where you go along to something and just say hashtag or hashtag, hashtag novel drag? Hashtag not repulsive drag? That this things that sometimes happen from stage? Yeah, and especially with some of the stereotypes that can Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you see things done, and you’re just like, I can get that you’re trying to make fun of it. But you’ve just played a stereotype and lazy ism, and it just doesn’t feel that good. Or you’ve made, you’ve made a comment, and it just feels really bad. And I don’t see a lot of that, so to see, say, places where I haven’t seen it is the glory, bar, whatever. And anything that was happening at Black Cap with Meth was doing it lock bar and her upstairs thing downstairs. Those were the spaces where I didn’t feel that there was that moment. Oh, and show at the glory. So the stuff, the stuff that happens at the glory that feels on that right space. Yeah. And there’s occasionally a show was something and I might II but not at the glory, but it will be another space as you see something here. But like, oh, all that joke didn’t quite land. Yes. Yeah.
K Anderson 31:58
Yeah. And we’re suddenly back in the 90s.
Dr J 32:00
Yeah. 70s or the 60s. And that’s, that was also one of the interesting things when they did not another drag competition. And some of the end, we headed at times about whatever the open mic. It’s not. What said from stages, what said afterwards. So if somebody says something, or ad lib something, or does something that in your dislike, seriously, did you get anyone who wasn’t white to look at this? Or seriously, did you get anyone that wasn’t a sis man to look at this and just think about it. And it’s not. It’s that that happens, but it’s how you how the people respond to it. And I think it’s an important lesson. And I think we had to learn it a little bit aggressive on the clear. It’s not that first blow, it’s the second blow. Yes, your response to that. That’s really super important. You can try and be as good you can brief people, you can make sure that people understand sensibilities, and I wouldn’t say woke but are as woke as possible. But and not in a bad way. But in that being aware of their privileges, being aware of minorities. If you don’t address it when it goes wrong, that’s when it’s wrong. That’s when it’s really wrong. Yeah, yeah. And it’s how you address slips up. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of stuff that happens occasionally from stage where you’re trying to do three or four things. And you try to ad lib or you try to respond to a question or you say something, and your brain just comes out with something you like. Okay? And it’s how you respond, and how you it’s how you turn that around. And it’s how you as a promoter also turn that around. And you as a producer of our show, turn that around?
K Anderson 33:52
But it’s kind of that thing, isn’t it? Like our conditioning, not allowing us to say ops? Alright, I did the wrong thing. Yeah. And to just be defensive, and to double down on that thing.
Dr J 34:05
Yeah. And it’s about turning around and saying, I and my partner, I know there’s a picture of stormzy up behind you so so people who don’t know there’s a really great artist called wears who does these brilliant prints of stormzy on wallpaper and found materials and things like that. And I’ve got one which I totally love because he’s got like this pink and blueness about him. What I one of the reasons I’m, I have so much affection for stormzy is when those homophobic tweets from when he was 1718 popped up. He owned up and apologised, he didn’t double down he didn’t do the JK Rowling lay bla bla bla bla. Yeah, I know. He said, I shouldn’t have said those things. I was dumb. They were wrong to say then they’ll be very wrong to say now, I shouldn’t have said those things I apologise for, for I apologise for the offence that I caused. Not that you felt offended. I apologise For the things that I caused, and, and then goes out of his way to be a bit of a role model, and I’m like, that’s exactly what you need, rather than this either doubling down or saying, Oh, no, but it was fine to say that then. Or it was a different time or Yeah, you know,
K Anderson 35:16
it’s like, or even just what you’ve just said, like, I’m sorry, if you were hurt. I’m sorry. Have you reacted to this? You know, not like, my actions were my actions. And so what, but if you were hurt, I’m sorry.
Dr J 35:29
Yeah, yeah. And that, that, to me, is the best non apology I’ve been there is a total non apology. I’m sorry for it. But when you say I’m sorry for any offence that was caused, you’re apologising for the fact that somebody has reacted to what you said, you know, it’s not that it’s just wording it the right way around. And being mindful of those different sensations of your offence being seen, or your hurt being seen. And you’re hurt not being seen. Or you’re hurt being dismissed. It’s like when when you’re asking about the Miss pronoun thing, and how that feels it’s my hurt in that is sometimes dismissed of like, Oh, no, well, they didn’t mean that seriously. And it’s like, no, they did. Yes. I can tell. Yeah, I can tell the difference. Yeah. And it’s that minimisation of hurt that this this whole snowflake idea, yes. Which is so untrue. Yeah. Because people, people are still hurting. Yeah, you just you need to own up to the fact that you’ve heard somebody.
K Anderson 36:33
Yeah, yeah. And it’s the just because you’ve grown up in a world where it’s been okay to say this, it’s not wrong for someone to point out that it’s not okay.
Dr J 36:47
Oh, absolutely. I mean, oh, my mother’s never going to Google this. I grew up in a culture of systemic racism. And I didn’t really appreciate it until about three or four years back. How racist, not in a class clown way or anything, but how systemically racist my upbringing was, and I feel very guilty for that. But I also can’t go back in time and change it as much as I’d love to be the doctor and a Time Lord, I can’t go back in time and change that. But I can change how I act now. And I can turn around and say, Yeah, I used to think like that. I understand how you’re thinking like that. This is the way to think about it. Now, you know, I get oppressed for so many things. I’ve never been oppressed because of the colour of my skin. I’ve never been oppressed because of the country of my death.
K Anderson 37:43
So one of the things so we will we will we will land on talking about the venue eventually. Let’s let’s do away. Yeah, yeah. I’m really interested in talking about what you’ve said about drag. I know I’ve had quite a few conversations with people about how drag is anti feminist. And you’ve just been talking about the drag that you avoid when it’s misogynistic, or or, or in any way. racist, race phobic, or there is the x Yeah. All the X. Like, how did you get into drag? Um,
Dr J 38:32
I loved it because it’s a performance. And performance for me is everything. Like we perform. Judith Butler, I’ve never read, I just love her. Because I perform gender all the time I perform who I am. I’m a massive fan of Quintin crisp, even, I know that he went a little bit down slightly. But his early stuff is brilliant, because he has stuff from the 1970s really spoke to me as a queer kid. When I say queer kid as a queer in my 20s and 30s, struggling to understand what that meant to be having somebody go, you can live on your own you can you can go out into the world and be dramatic and be this quiet person who your houses your backstage where you prepare for your entrance into the world and things like that. That sensibility that everything was a performance really, really struck home. And when I came to London, I started to watch performance and I really really fell into a love of different styles of performance. And one of the things that I found interesting was drag takes gender and does when it’s good does amazing things with it. It’s misogynistic when it’s fishy when it when they when people are using the word that the words fishy when people are using the terms that were Put down any woman in the audience, or anyone who is assigned female at birth in the audience with make them feel lesser than anyone else in the room. It’s misogynistic when it’s like women can’t do drag. Or if you’re assigned female at birth, you can do drag I just described or if you’re, if you’re a trans person, or if you’re trans people can’t do drag, or people with beards shouldn’t do drag, or people without beard shouldn’t do drag or all of these different things. And it’s like no, drag is drag should be open to anyone who wants to try it. And it’s about performative gender. Yeah. I’ve seen Cheryl perform as a best burlesque best lists have no agenda. I’m sorry, that was just trying to think of a really good example of non misogynistic drag. And I’m like, well, Cheryl, Cheryl Hall, performing the bescot at a Harry Potter night basically writhing on the ground, like escalus Oh,
K Anderson 41:02
it’s okay. This is a Harry Potter,
Dr J 41:04
Harry Potter reference and Harry Potter. And literally, you’re screaming with laughter. And this is one of the best one of the better dance best dancers in the business. rolling around on the floor being escalus in your display. This is more insane than insane. This is crazy. This is beautiful and wonderful. And playing around with what it means to do drag. I know. Ken, disabled people do drag Of course they came. Can What does it drag syndrome?
K Anderson 41:35
Dr J 41:36
I love the fantastic. I love the fact that drags performance style that they’ve gone. Yes, I can do this. I can I can. I can see this. And I can use this to tell stories about me. And stories about the world as I see it, which is important. Yeah, I love all performance. But drag has been the one that just captures my heart. But I don’t like it when it’s the I don’t like the reports drag race strike that much. Because it’s stylised, and it’s American. And it’s not about the performance. It’s about the look. And it’s about and it’s also people are told that they can’t do it. And I’m like, no bollocks. Everyone can do it.
K Anderson 42:19
Yeah. Yeah, it’s Yeah, it’s interesting. That hasn’t shifted. yet.
Dr J 42:25
Yet, yet. Yeah. Well, well, yeah. The belay brothers. they’ve they’ve started to move the dial. Yes.
K Anderson 42:31
Dr J 42:33
Yeah. Because I mean, was that Landon cider winning it? Yeah. And that was sorry, if that’s a spoiler to any. Seriously, please watch the below, watch watched regular and just fall in love with.
K Anderson 42:47
But even like, in the first episode, you’re like, yeah, Landon.
Dr J 42:54
But it’s also you see the different bodies and the different stories that they have on Intel, is the time telling similar stories to what’s being told through the casting on repo stragglers, they’re telling stories about the mental health problems, the drug problems that fall from those mental health problems, the problems growing up and different styles of house household, the being able to come out at 10 or 12, that never been able to come out to your parents and 30s kinds of stories, they’re telling those and those stories are still being told, but they’re being told not just by stereotypical bodies in a stereotypical way, they’re being told in a different way. And you know, some of the stuff from the especially from the last season of Dragon, I was amazed at how open and honest people were about with it being within mental health and taking them to and that to me is really powerful as well. It’s saying to people, you don’t have to try to be normal. You don’t have to try to look like you’re coping when you’re not coping, if you’re not coping, tell people you’re not coping, because we should be the sort of community that can stand up that can not stand around and ignore somebody, but can stand around somebody and help them and protect them and support them when they’re going through that sort of stuff. And those are the best communities I mean, those are the communities that you build in spaceflight her upstairs then that was the community that I bumped into. So you’re
K Anderson 44:23
bringing it around, I was gonna do so so Okay, so let’s talk about that. So, so safe to say not the best time in your life, pretty much emotionally, emotionally, mental health wise. And you see us dumped you made you made the journey from South London to Northland. Because Because of that connection with family fears, or because
Dr J 44:54
of that connection with the family fears because of that connection with meth and Joe and Ruby, and Low, low and pretty. Yeah, pretty much all of the family fear. So I’ve got a conviction with them. And they’re also that love of seeing them do different things, seeing them try different things. I mean, yeah, just seeing them. Try different ways of being from the stage as well. Talk about different experiences. Again. Sometimes it wasn’t for me, if that makes sense. So the performances, one of the best nights that I went to, or one of the best comedy nights that I went up there was films of colour or foc. If Okay, if I say it’s predominantly people of colour on stage, oh, it is always people of colour to predominate people of colour in the audience, I don’t get about a third of the jokes, that doesn’t worry me in the slightest, because it’s not for me. I’m not the intended audience. I just happened to be along there and really enjoying it, and being a supporter, but I’m not who the night is for. And that’s a difference as well, of just being where sometimes the performances aren’t for you. So you might not get all the references. That’s okay. It’s
K Anderson 46:09
partially over Harry Potter. No, I mean,
Dr J 46:11
I don’t know. I’m enough of a geek, if it was a Lord of the Rings, and I had them all completely nailed.
K Anderson 46:20
And so what did that at that time in your life? What did that space represent to you?
Dr J 46:27
a refuge, a place where I belonged. That wasn’t just my house. Like I would go from home to work home to work home to work, and couldn’t really socialise very well at times. And then this was a place where I felt like I belonged. And I would go along, and even if I didn’t know, people, I could talk to people. So I’ve met, you know, met amazing people up there, and I’m staying in touch with a lot of them, because of the connections that we made. Because it was somewhere where we would meet up. And it might be once a week might be once a month, we had, we’d bump into each other up there, and we just catch up on where life had been. And if you weren’t in a good space, or be somebody there who would just go, Oh, you’re not in good space, Jin, Jin dance, laugh, feel like you belong to something. Um, it’s that I called it living room, a space where you can go, where you could be yourself, where you didn’t have to have walls up, where you didn’t have to, you could just live. And that’s rare to find no spaces where we as queers can just live, because we’re constantly having to be something else, or fighting against a corner or feeling isolated. Whereas this is a space where you could go and be with other people, and you could live and you could be with other people who were just living and for those couple of hours, you’d have that space where it was like, Yeah, what out there, man, it’s gotta be a bit weird. It’s gonna be a bit crazy. willdan here, we’re all just living, or just getting through it, where, but we’re seeing each other, we’re seeing who each other each other is you’re not having to pretend to be so straight or less clear than what you are, you’re not having to hide the mental health, you’re not having to hide all of that stuff. You can just being yourself. And that’s such a rare thing. And you find that occasionally, and I found that again up in that space. And you know, some nights it was there more than others. It’s never a permanent sensation. But when it’s there, it’s there. It’s those moments that just allow you to go, yeah, this is where I can live. I’m not having to shock.
K Anderson 48:57
This space. Yeah. Um, so it was it was quite short lived, isn’t it? Yeah.
Dr J 49:04
Yeah. It was, I think it’s about just I think it all including the black berets. It’s round about two years, just around just that over two years, I think. And when you were talking about spaces to talk about, I was like, to me that’s important that it was a space that is really short. But within everyone’s, I say living memory, it’s a space where I bump into people and I remember you from from her upstairs, and we can start talking. Whereas if you talk about things that are maybe 1520 years old, you don’t quite have that same connection or you end up with this sense that the younger queers don’t lose spaces. But a lot of the spaces are still pop up spaces. It’s nice to have had a s face that lasted just long enough to really build on an audience to build a culture to build a way of being here. And it’s sad that it closed, but it’s also all of that all of those ideas have spread out those ideas of how you run a space as a legacy, how you bring people into it, how you how you create spaces, how you make space for people, has all been spread out. Which is, which to me is really an important legacy of it.
K Anderson 50:31
And so you So are you saying that they that, that was done differently in this venue.
Dr J 50:37
Um, I think so. As a producer, putting the putting the disclaimer on, there are different ways of bringing minority people into your performance nights and into your nights, and into your events and into your spaces. And there’s different and it’s almost different ways of ally ship, as well, or support tourism. I don’t like ally ship, I don’t mind the the notion of allies because it’s got a transactional, I’ll be your ally, as long as you’re not too angry, or be your ally, I would love to be, you have one of the things that’s been said to me. I really, really admire your passion and your ideas, but the way that you represent them, really takes away from your message. Wow. And that’s from an ally. And that’s where I find ally ship breaks down, because it’s not about allowing you the space to do the things that you need to do and to be the thing that you are, it’s saying, ally ship is if you if you fall within this box, yes. And this is what can happen. Sometimes as a producer unintentionally, you bring you bring people in to because you want to give people space, but you don’t bring them in in a way that gives them the autonomy and agency and allows them to build their skills. So this is, was an idea that I did with Chris to the clear, and I know, talking with Joe, that they did with her upstairs of giving people the space, not just as the performance, but as the technicians as the people organising the space. Just provide the building, provide the bar, and they’re responsible for everything else, you’ll help them they want your help. They’ll go How do I make this technique work? And you’re like, Okay, volume, this way, that way to move between the two decks, remember that if j is DJing? Because I’ll suddenly go Why is this not playing and they’re forgotten to slide it from one day to the other, the bad DJ. But it’s it’s those little, it’s those things, which allows people to become technicians allows people to become producers, that allows people to figure out how to build a night. How to programme a night, who do I put on first? If I just say, if I tell somebody how to programme an AI, it doesn’t help them. You know how to programme Yeah, it doesn’t end it also doesn’t allow them to have the voice of saying actually, I think it should go this way around. Because I, as I think that these pieces work better this way around. And I think this is the thing that should happen before the end of all, and this is the thing that should be the finale. And this is the bringing people back in the room. That’s giving people the ability to try that is super important. And if you say, as a producer, I’ve got to have two people of colour at this night. And you literally just put them into your lineup in various spaces, that’s not allowing them to grow. In the same way as if you say, Hey, would you like to produce a night for me? here’s here’s the sort of things that you’d need to do what you feel comfortable doing that I can provide you any help that you need. And that’s the two different models and I think that model of allowing people to grow their skills has meant that even though her upstairs closed, its effects are felt everywhere. You know, I see films of colour popping up in different venues. I see. Some of the nights that used to run cocoa butter club has gone from strength to strength to strength. Now say it was already a fantastic performer, but they’ve been able to build crews and build people and build those support things to make nights happen. Because they had the space to try things out. lads also doing the same. You know, it’s about allowing people to try this stuff.
K Anderson 54:37
So do you remember hearing that it was closing?
Dr J 54:41
Yeah, it was a real shock. When it closed. It was totally unexpected for for pretty much everybody, I think for most of the people involved.
K Anderson 54:52
So how did it feel?
Dr J 54:54
Awful but it was also awful because I know, Mithun, Joe I know how much pain they were in. And that made it even worse of seeing people, you know, love being in so much pain and being incapable of doing anything to, to help to sue to do anything other than offer texts and platitudes, and which is what you do, but it was awful. And it was one of those moments. And it wasn’t just the two of them. It was everyone else who I knew who was working there who was up there, who was it was just bereavement. It was an I had to say was like a sudden death, but it was almost that, that whole thing of like use, you still turn around and go. Oh, yeah, that happened. And it did take a while of grieving. You know, it was a place where I saw people get married, it was a place where I saw people being celebrated. It was a place where I met people. You know, some of the significant people in my life. Now, I met there. And that hurts that there isn’t just that same space, I won’t walk in and walk across the room and see them sitting or standing in that particular physical space. Yeah. With the wonky with the very wonky floorboards. But I know that I now see them in other spaces. Yeah.
K Anderson 56:36
And what do you think London has lost?
Dr J 56:41
Its lost a young space, a space that was very queer identified. It’s lost a space that was really intersectional. And I’m using that in the crypt in that way of like, different, all different identities. We’re rocking up there and trying things out and testing things out. And sometimes those identities don’t get along that well. And it was about negotiating the space. I think it’s also at last, I mean, the fact that it was open. By the end, it was open seven nights a week. And there was a space for queers to perform seven nights a week. Like in 2005. When I arrived here, there was one queer night, queer queer night, a week and maybe one club night a month. And then with the glory VFD. Dalston superstore her upstairs sub nights at the IVT you’re talking five things potentially happening seven nights of the week. You know, that, to me is Oh, and then you’ve got all the other smaller venues as tiny pop up venues and things like that as well. But to lose somewhere that was just unashamedly queer, seven nights of the week that would literally put on stuff that not that it didn’t seem to matter how it went, but it had a very queer sensibility about it.