This week we are heading back to Bristol to meet Sharifa Whitney James, a Queer, Black activist, footballer, model and facilitator.
Originally from Wiltshire, Sharifa moved to Bristol to take a spot at a football academy when she was just a teenager about 15 years ago. And Bristol was the city where she first went out on a queer scene, visiting clubs like Flamingos, Vibes and Bent. But, those spaces didn’t always feel quite right and weren’t always welcoming… and that’s where Kiki Bristol came in, a night co-founded by Sharifa and created for QTIPOC (Queer, Transgender and Intersex People of Colour) and their friends.
We caught up to discuss homophobia in football, having sex in a tent, and drunken straight male stag parties…
If you want to find out more about Sharifa make sure you follow her on Instagram.
And, she’s also going to be starting her own podcast soon – The Queer Blackity Black Joy Podcast – you can also find that on Instagram
Sharifa Whitney James 00:00
Yeah, we just watching TV and she just kind of walked in Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry. And then walked out again and I was like, she knows you gotta leave, you gotta leave. I kept my girlfriend out. And my mom was like, so. Is that like a girlfriend? Like girlfriend? No, I’m okay. What? No, like just completely like denying it, denying it. And then about 10 minutes later, she was like, you know what she is your girlfriend is okay. I was like, Yeah, she’s my girlfriend. That was the conversation that was kind of the conversation and she’s been fine ever since.
K Anderson 00:39
Hello, my name is K Anderson and you are listening to lost spaces. The podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person, about a venue from their past, the memories they created there, and the people that they used to know. This week we are meeting sharifa Whitney James, a queer black activist and football model and facilitator. Originally from Wiltshire, England, sharifa moved to Bristol to take a spot out of football academy when she was just a wee teenager around 15 years ago. And Bristol was the city where she first went out on the queer scene, visiting clubs, like flamingos, vibes and band. But those spaces didn’t always feel quite right and weren’t always the most welcoming. And that’s where Kiki Bristol came in a knight co founded by sharifa and created for queer, transgender and intersex people of colour and their friends. We caught up to discuss homophobia in football, having sex and attempt no less and drunken straight male stack.
Sharifa Whitney James 02:24
I started playing football when I was eight years old. I went why not when I was at primary school, and I got quite severely bullied at primary school because I was the only black kid and my primary school. And football became a bit of a safe space for me, I play football with the boys. And they were never questioned me about being a girl being black, they just let me play football. So it kind of became the first like, yeah, essentially safe space. And I’ve got quite good, I think it’s actually quite good anyway, and then I kept playing and got better. And so I just kept playing football and and it kind of played in different teams and moved to Bristol and play for the rovers and went to the academy and, you know, has amazing opportunities to play against international teams and play for or have trials for England school girls. So I paid a quite a good level when I was young, but now I’m old and slow. And I just play for fun, basically sides of Penn grassroots football. And
K Anderson 03:21
this is see this is the thing about sports that I find really like sad. I mean, to do a sad day, but like with you know, if you want to be if you want to be a painter or you want to be a writer, or you want to be like a journalist, you can just keep growing throughout your life. But with sports like if you want to be a professional Sport, Sport test, sport athlete sports, like then there’s just such a there’s such a shelf life.
Sharifa Whitney James 03:59
Oh 100%. Yes. To display sadly didn’t do it. Yeah, for sure. Like all the women that I play football with, when I was young have just now started to retire. And I’m like, Oh my fucking god. I am getting old. I’m 33. And everyone I know who I played with and kind of went on to be professional is now starting to retire. Or they’re seen as the elders, the elders of the community, and it’s not what the fuck like mind boggling is Yeah. It’s scary how time flies. I felt like a child inside. And I forget that I’m a big woman. I always forget that. Oh, yeah, I’m like, actually grown up and life’s moved on. Me 33 Yeah, no, it’s young. It’s young to a point. But
K Anderson 04:49
yeah, I mean, there any kind of silver lining I see. And that is like the at least you know, you just kind of you know that like it’s time to just stop on there. Yeah, that’s terrible.
Sharifa Whitney James 05:00
What’s about stuffing? It’s more like, you know, retail sort of shelf life. Yeah, there’s a shelf life if you want to be a professional footballer, but you can still play grassroots football until you’re like in your 70s. Like, I know, a woman who play football and tissue. Yeah. And so she’s in her late 60s 70s. So, you can always keep playing as long property allows you to you can always play the game, but also at a lesser level. So in wave sports go for that
K Anderson 05:23
you can you can keep playing for fun for a very long time. And so when you were at the academy and playing football, was that just your entire life?
Sharifa Whitney James 05:35
Yeah, it was my entire life for three years. It’s funny, because me and my friend, we reflect on Academy days quite a lot, because it was great in terms of footballing stuff and what we learned about self development in terms of football. But there’s like, there’s a group of three of us who got severely bullied. And we want to Lt. 19. And, yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s a lot of like, closeted women in the team, who are just bullies, basically, they will bully us about being gay or not being very good at football. But we were, but it’s, it’s basically it’s a toxic environment, football, and you think this woman, it would be less toxic, but it’s not because the women replicate men. footballers who were also toxic. So it became a really unsafe space, actually, for the three years that we were there. And we often reflect on how horrible and nasty It was a no one ever did anything about it. Because I think in football culture is kind of accepted to be a bit mean. Or like, you know, to bully is like part of the banter
K Anderson 06:41
in just having a laugh. Yeah.
Sharifa Whitney James 06:43
But you get to make it get to being a dickhead. But when you’re older, then it doesn’t get classed as bullying in the same way as it might do if you were younger. So yeah, there’s a lot of like, pros and cons about that time. But I would say overall, it meant to be fair, overall, it was very mixed is it was tough time.
K Anderson 07:01
It’s really, it’s really interesting that you say there were lots of closeted lesbians because, again, with my very limited knowledge, I would just expect everyone to be a lesbian on a women’s football team.
Sharifa Whitney James 07:14
Yeah. And I think that’s the that’s the kind of the illusion, not illusion, I suppose to a degree. That is true. in women’s football, there are a lot more out footballers. But when you’re young, and that was talking about 15 years ago now. So it wasn’t quite the same narrative around being queer being LGBT as it is now. And people were coming from their little hometowns in Wales or from Wiltshire, or from wherever, or coming to big Bristol, I’m playing Semi Pro Football. So it was quite sheltered, or people aren’t really out yet and at discovering who they are. So I think a lot of discovery happened for a lot of those young women who were there, they came to the football team straight. And then obviously, being the team full of women who was summer out summer, not a lot of self discovery happened. But before that happens, the homophobia happens. Because you know, you have a lot of internalised homophobia, often as as queer people. It just played out in really horrible ways. You know, it’s wild, and a lot of racism as well. Like really severely, like racist. Yeah, it’s a mess. It’s really weird. I, when we, my friend talk about it, we just like that was wild, like, I can’t believe we survived that. And it was never picked up by anybody.
K Anderson 08:27
And it’s funny, like I’m projecting here, so forgive me if I’ve done incorrectly projecting, but I suppose when you’re like, it’s something that you’ve dreamed of, it’s something that you really want to happen. So you kind of try to ignore some of those microaggressions or Fallout aggressions, in order not to rock the boat, and then they all just kind of start adding up down 100%.
Sharifa Whitney James 08:49
But also, like, I didn’t have the confidence, or I couldn’t really articulate what was happening really, like now I’m obviously older and wiser. And I know that was definitely x, y and Zed at the time as a young person who just like, Oh, this is a bit weird. You don’t really know how to articulate what’s happening to you, you know, it’s not good. We’re not quite sure what it actually really is. You know,
K Anderson 09:13
I guess there’s, there’s also like, as you said, like 15 years ago, homophobia was more tolerated. And so if you have a problem with homophobia, then you are the problem.
Sharifa Whitney James 09:28
Exactly. Exactly. And like, it’s funny because both of our coaches, we are two female characters, and they were both gay women. They become complicit in it because they didn’t do anything. Because like they’re also their hands are tied because there’s a lot of favouritism in football. So the best players or the favourite players are the ones we asked being mean, can be absolute digs. So they had a tie between they tie them off, they might leave the team and then they’ve lost two good players. So I mean, it’s a lot of politics, football. Politics basically, it’s it’s heavy, and complex and archaic.
K Anderson 10:05
Yeah, that yeah, it’s just really shit. Isn’t that like the people who just have the power can do. Hang on this? This is? This is British politics right now.
Sharifa Whitney James 10:15
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So yeah, wait time.
K Anderson 10:22
So then did you were you able to have a nightlife and anything? Or were you just like getting up at like five o’clock in the morning to train?
Sharifa Whitney James 10:31
Yes, we trained pretty much every day in the week. And then also the weekend. Well, Sundays were football days, on the weekend. So we had kind of Friday night Saturday to you know, have our own time. And yeah, so me and my friend would go gay clubbing in Bristol, but then it was flamingos and vibes and and a barcode bent. And that was our little like, space that we’d go out and have a good time in. and have
K Anderson 11:01
a good time as in air quotes for anyone. Yeah. So and this was a friend from the Academy. Yeah, yeah. And were you just always out and or did you kind of like figure each other out? And
Sharifa Whitney James 11:15
um, it’s weird because I came out a few different times. So I came out when I was 14. But the to a few friends at secondary school, and I came out well, I got found out again at 19 but
K Anderson 11:29
who found you out? My mom my mom. Yeah. pulled out of you. But basically, she she she caught me that’s that’s the story. Yeah. With with another person or
Sharifa Whitney James 11:45
another person? Yeah, I was. I was my first ever girlfriend. I’m just kind of walked in. And we were just we weren’t even doing anything like naughty. You know, we’re very civilised. This lying in bed watching TV hugging. And my mom just stormed into the room to give me to give me my clothes inadequate. And
K Anderson 12:02
what are you watching The L Word?
Sharifa Whitney James 12:06
that have been such a cooler story on the hour, but it’s like really boring. Probably watching like fucking SpongeBob SquarePants. Shit. Yeah, we just watching TV. She just kind of walked in Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry. And then walked out again. And I was like, she knows you gotta leave. You gotta leave. I kept my girlfriend out. And my mom was like, so? Is that like a girlfriend? Like girlfriend? No, I’m not gay. What? No, like, just completely like denying it, denying it. And then about 10 minutes later, she was like, you know what if she is your girlfriend is okay. That’s right. Yeah, she’s my girlfriend. That was the conversation. That was kind of the conversation you can find ever since. But when I went to college for some reason, I kind of went in myself. I didn’t want to I didn’t feel comfortable or safe. to disclose I was gay, even though I didn’t say you’re denying it. But I just wasn’t out about it. It was crazy. Now I’m such a massive queer. So I can’t even imagine myself containing all of this fairness. But it happened. So yeah, I was out to maybe one or two people but not out generally. So this particular friend, yeah, we were we were both kind of out to each other. And B, you know, when you’re young, and you’re in a new city, and you’re kind of you know that you’re gay. And you know, there’s a gay scene. It all seems so exciting, like a new shiny toy. Like, you want to go there all the time. Want to be around it. You want to just like immerse yourself in that scene. So
K Anderson 13:36
so then the first gay bar you went to was in Bristol? Yeah. Do you remember the first time you went out?
Sharifa Whitney James 13:46
That remember the very first time? But I remember the first few times. And it was absolutely. I mean, absolutely terrifying. I was so scared. Like, honestly, I was sweating bullets. Like I was so scared, like, so terrified.
K Anderson 14:07
so and so. And then the friend that you were going with? Whose idea was it? Was it yours? or hers?
Sharifa Whitney James 14:14
Hmm, good question. It might have been hers. And I was always up front in a new adventures and going out. It’s quite an open person and still Um, so I think it probably would have been heard overnight. Yeah, let’s go. Let’s Let’s do it.
K Anderson 14:26
And she didn’t give you Dutch courage. No. Why is it called Dutch courage? I don’t know. Word of the Dutch brave? Maybe? I don’t know. Anyway, so you were shooting yourself?
Sharifa Whitney James 14:42
Oh, shooting myself. Yeah. And I don’t really drink at that time. I mean, I’m not a drinker. Now I’ve just never really drunk but at the time. I remember having a few alcopops as you did back then. Classic Alcoa,
K Anderson 14:56
Sharifa Whitney James 14:57
blue. It was always blue. But it’s just like that’s the thing. Everyone’s Just like having a Blue Tongue and frickin blue alcopops on is the thing to do. But yeah, so I remember walking in my first image I can’t really remember was like walking in. I think it was walking into vibes which is like one of the biggest gay clubs in Bristol back then. And seeing lots of older women who were looking really hungry. Yeah, look people give you that like such a hungry that they want to rip your flesh off your bones right there and then I was young, and I was tired. Yeah. Yeah. But like walking in and just this sense of like, Fuck, I want to get ripped apart here. So looking Believe me. Come on. I was really scared. I was very confident. But everyone was walking around so confident. I was like, how are they doing this? How was this conference coming from? I don’t have this confidence. They all seem to have. But it’s my remember that looks people were giving me like they were absolutely hungry. Like, you know, fresh, fresh meat on the scene. She’s young. She’s just like, it’s terrifying. Yeah.
K Anderson 16:05
Did anyone talk to you? Or were they just just too busy ogling you?
Sharifa Whitney James 16:09
I think people tried to kind of like did the whole flirty. I the 30 I dance that you do when you go to gay places like we’re both gay. I kind of like you but it’s like all talking from the eyes. So not like overtly say anything but like a lot of like flirty I stuff with lesbians love to do with but at the time I didn’t get I didn’t know what that was. Okay. I didn’t get the language or
K Anderson 16:34
give me a little bit of a tutorial. So I’m, I’m terrible at flirty I stuff, too. I need to do.
Sharifa Whitney James 16:42
I think there’s a lot on the eyebrow a lot about staring people down slide. Oh, that sounds pretty me. It’s so intense. It’s so intense. It’s like really like keeping the eye contact and being quite smouldering and a bit overconfident.
K Anderson 16:59
Okay, and there’s some mouth action then as well. So it’s like a bit of a person,
Sharifa Whitney James 17:04
a little bit of a person, but it’s more in the eyes of the keeping the contact for that person. I like not not averting your gaze at all. Keep holding that gaze.
K Anderson 17:14
See, this is why I’m really terrible at flirting because I always try and act aloof. Like that’s going to be like, on the same or alluring somehow. People are like, Oh, he’s not interested.
Sharifa Whitney James 17:24
That is like totally my label. Like I am so aloof. I don’t have any flirt vibes at all.
K Anderson 17:31
Yeah, I freak out. If someone wants to stare too much. I can’t I just happen. I freaked out. I freaked out. We need to like come up with a new way of flirting and try and make it try and make it a thing.
Sharifa Whitney James 17:44
I feel like it’s evolved, though. I feel like floating has evolved since like,
K Anderson 17:49
Sharifa Whitney James 17:50
Well, that’s exactly. I feel like yeah, nothing has evolved now. People will seem to be more overt in their flirtation flirtatiousness. So they’re more a bit bit more direct. Maybe if they like you. And I would say yeah, generally come back to that. Yeah, he is ago, I think I think it has changed how people flow. So yeah, that was that was that my first kind of time going on the scene was apathy. And it was terrifying. For months. It didn’t get any easier. Like I would say, for probably a year it was terrifying. And
K Anderson 18:24
I guess like you’re not always able to explain why you’re terrified about something. But do you know what the factors were that contributed to that feeling?
Sharifa Whitney James 18:33
So really good question. I think fear of the unknown. I didn’t know the etiquette, I didn’t know what the rules were to being an LGBT space. Everyone seemed to know the rules. And I was kind of I didn’t know what the rules were unwritten rules, the politics of the space how we move in the space, how we take up space, I didn’t know any of that. And so I was so new to it. But I think I felt I felt stupid I felt like I shouldn’t really be here didn’t know what to do ever seem so like, you know, sorted out I have no clue how to be in this space. So I felt like a bit of a fraud I think for a long time.
K Anderson 19:11
And had you been to like regular bars a lot at this stage?
Sharifa Whitney James 19:16
No, because I didn’t I grew up not you know not not drinking and I grew up playing sport a quite a high level so always really sporty and quite sensible. So I didn’t really go out and get smashed. You know, that wasn’t my vibe as a as a youngster. I was very, like, had my vision on being a footballer, so I just didn’t Yeah, so for me that that will really was my first kind of intro into going out and drinking.
K Anderson 19:35
So there was the kind of regular layer of like figuring out how to be in a bar and then there was the extra layer of how to be a queer bar
Sharifa Whitney James 19:44
of navigate.a queer bar. Yeah, it is daunting.
K Anderson 19:48
And was there women only venues in Bristol at that time, or were they all mixed?
Sharifa Whitney James 19:54
Um, they were all mixed. There were some places that were they be slightly more leaning towards women, and slightly more lean towards men. But there was still quite mixed. I think there was actually one gay man bar or two. But all this but all the other spaces were mixed, but maybe slightly leaning more towards women. So I would say flamingos back in the day was maybe it was very mixed but often more lesbians were there. And flamingos was better in a way than the vibes because vibes was like older seen gays was Flamingo was like younger seen gays. So I kind of fit it in kind of a slightly more than as a younger crowd. But again, terrifying cuz everyone’s just taking drugs and just being wild. And I wasn’t really I wasn’t really a drinker. I didn’t take drugs. And so it was again, like really terrifying. seeing everyone off their face on poppers and passing out from poppers and like passing off and being so drunk or causing drama and fighting. I thought what is this word I’ve gotten into? It’s like, it’s why.
K Anderson 21:02
What So what was the best fight you witnessed?
Sharifa Whitney James 21:05
As always, teen gay boys, like gay boys had the best fights because they did not like hold back. They went in. And you know, a lot of the time it was twinks that would have the best fights. Because I think they had to almost prove themselves maybe in a fight. And it
K Anderson 21:20
was a really aggressive.
Sharifa Whitney James 21:22
Yeah, like I literally was one fight. I remember. It started it started in the smoking area, and then led out into the road and cars having to swerve around them clematis going hell for leather, like not holding about at all. Yeah.
K Anderson 21:38
Do you know what it was about?
Sharifa Whitney James 21:40
They may be 100 boyfriend, and one was flirting with somebody else that often was the case they got they got as a couple. Someone’s flirting or someone like looked at them. And that was it. It was just like health a labour that was not okay. And chaos.
K Anderson 21:53
I am. I mean, I’m not a drinker either. So, so maybe this is why I can’t really figure this out. But like, I just I have too much shame to fight in front of people. Yeah, I can’t imagine like having a brawl like that.
Sharifa Whitney James 22:09
No. Like, I like I said, like, I never. I wasn’t really a drinker. I didn’t do drugs. So I didn’t have the licence to like, just when I was drunk. I had a fight. I just I just would never fight like that in public. I would be mortified. Absolutely mortified. But also not a drama queen. I didn’t kind of I would never cause drama publicly that I would probably embarrassed by because that kind of drama, where the whole club was watching. The entire club came outside was watching the fight. It was like,
K Anderson 22:36
and the thing is, like once you were over the shock of ephi they’re really, like, comedic to watch. How uncoordinated the people involved in it’s like a perform
Sharifa Whitney James 22:50
better on a Friday night
K Anderson 22:52
basic, proudly sponsored by blue alcopops. And yeah. And so once you get into the swing of things, and once you got used to it, were you doing like bar hopping or was there like a standard Friday, a standard Saturday night?
Sharifa Whitney James 23:08
I think, as I got used to it, I started to realise that I hated the music. I’m not I’m not really a pop fan. I’ve never been a pop fan. I’ve always loved r&b dance, or garage, that kind of genres. And I was always confused why all the gay club plays such like shit pop music, and like, we’re all we’re all gay. Yes, but we don’t all like the same music like play variation. So I remember someone saying Birmingham is better for that Birmingham, Birmingham has a better mix of like genres. And they have more black queers up there. So it’d be a better night and I was like, okay, so basically me my another friend of mine that I met through the scene. We love dancing. So we would drive up to Birmingham on a Friday evening, like seven o’clock, get a cheap hotel. Or sometimes we just drive up to Birmingham. And go to nightingales and enjoy about the same like the same day. Just to go to like an RV night.
K Anderson 24:05
How long is that drive? I don’t know, huh? Oh, wow. That’s commitment.
Sharifa Whitney James 24:12
We’re desperate. We were absolutely desperate to for any kind of like a sense of decent music. And we found that 19 girls that we loved that we would go regularly, great nights there. Also seeing other people of colour. Other queer people of colour was like such a rarity in Bristol. Like, it was me that’s the people yeah, like that’s another that is probably the main reason why I started to leave the Bristol scene because there’s a lot of racism on the on the on the scene. A lot of overt racism, but it was just so normalised no one ever called out, and as me and three other black people. And so
K Anderson 24:48
just for people who don’t know. And I don’t think I know. I mean, Brazil is a fairly mixed city and has quite a big Caribbean population, doesn’t
Sharifa Whitney James 24:58
it? That’s the thing. I think. Western has this illusion. In some ways, it’s very, very diverse. And we’re all mixing together and having a fantastic time. But Bristol is diverse, but it’s very, very segregated in the city. So actually, you can you can live in. So Clifton, probably the most affluent part of Bristol, you can walk around Clifton for a whole day and not see a black person.
K Anderson 25:21
Oh, okay. Oh, wow.
Sharifa Whitney James 25:23
You know, you might see the odd one, but you don’t you don’t see black people in Clifton, really. So there’s arrows across so you can go to a Nazi black people. Or you can go to a different part of Bristol and only see black people. So it’s very, it’s very separate. And when you’re black, and you’re queer, or black and LGBT, there’s not many of us, is that many of us? So like I said, there’s three of us three or four altogether, but all of the scenes and all of the clubs, like maybe five maximum that I would see. Oh, wow. on a regular basis. Yeah, it’s I felt very isolating.
K Anderson 25:56
Yeah, yeah. And I suppose when you are different in in any way, you’re either fetishised by people, or disregarded by people.
Sharifa Whitney James 26:06
Exactly. Let’s say I had a friend. This is like to give you an idea of how fucked it was how racist people were, but they weren’t even aware of it. I had a friend and air quotes who said to me, so this is like my first maybe six months of going out on the scene. I had a friend say to me, Oh, God, I’ll never date a black girl. Oh, that’s so weird. Oh, no, send that to my face. I’ve never dated a black girl. So for me as a young person going on the scene. I was just Oh, that must have. That must be how everyone thinks I would never date a black person. Now we will talk about dating. I think she just said out of the blue in my presence to my face. Like,
K Anderson 26:47
that’s your shirt. And then again, it’s one of those situations where it’s like, you’re so shocked. You don’t really know how to respond in the moment.
Sharifa Whitney James 26:55
Yeah, I was young and naive. And just like, well, she’s my friend. So you know, it’s not. She’s not being racist. That’s just her preference. Me being so naive and just not getting it. And I’ll just be thankful to have a friend who was like, you know, happy to go out with me and go clubbing because people were so distant with me. And I it’s hard to say whether that has to do with race or something else. But yeah, the energy was not good. In terms of being black and being LGBT back then. It wasn’t wasn’t good. Oh, that’s
K Anderson 27:28
really shit. It’s Yeah, there’s really hard things. Like, obviously, I don’t have any experience with racism. But there are times when I felt in my gut like that someone’s being homophobic. But I can’t, like I have no evidence. It’s just this kind of, sort of like, there’s something going on here. Yeah. And the way that you’re conditioned, the way that we’re all conditioned as part of society is to repress that voice and to be like, exactly. I must be wrong. I must be wrong. Yeah, certainly, really in the last few years when I’ve started to be like, Oh, no.
Sharifa Whitney James 28:09
Absolutely. Yeah, I was I was a very basic gay back then. I am an activist now and I’m really on my on my shit now. But back then I didn’t you know, I like I said, I’d come from a small village very sheltered. I didn’t have a really a clue about the world and what was going on. So when people will say overt racist things to me, it didn’t always clock immediately. But when I reflect back, there’s so many occasions so many. I’m like, Damn, that was racist Domino’s this time like Yeah, but the time I was a little kid like I didn’t I was just a dumb bent had no clue. I had no clue at all. Like literally
K Anderson 28:49
Okay, so you’re gonna just have to break down some terms for me dumb bent. Yeah. What is that? Is that the same as the basic gay? No, I
Sharifa Whitney James 29:01
think it’s a it’s a sharifah ism. I say lots of random. A bit I didn’t know I’ve been is a bent is like, I don’t even know. Someone who’s a bit stupid. That’s a stupid, you know, stupid woman. Yeah.
K Anderson 29:15
Okay. And the basic guy is just someone who’s like, drinking alcopops and dancing.
Sharifa Whitney James 29:21
That is really good. I mean, effective effectively, yes. But there’s like, I still call people basic gays now because it’s like, there’s basic gays like LGBT beat people who aren’t queer. And then there’s queer people. So I always put them in two categories, queer people and LGBT. Interesting. And LGBT people tend to be more basic.
K Anderson 29:43
And is it a Venn diagram? Or are they two separate circles?
Sharifa Whitney James 29:48
For me that two separate sir, very separate, separate separate? There’s people I know who are like, straight gays, do you know straight gays?
K Anderson 29:58
Well, like just Trying to assimilate to a heteronormative system. Yeah,
Sharifa Whitney James 30:02
they’re very hetero. But even though they’re gay, so I call those basic gays. It can it can be used as a slur. also used to distinguish between LGBT people on quiz.
K Anderson 30:14
I think it’s just a slur. That’s super interesting. Yeah. So you would never refer to yourself as LGBT?
Sharifa Whitney James 30:26
No, not anymore. I used to be I get older. I mean, kind of our politics change, maybe my politics have changed a lot. And my, my idea of myself has changed a lot as I’ve gotten older. And I feel that queer, better suits what I’m about, and what I stand for, and how I know where I sit in the world.
K Anderson 30:48
And it’s, is it more about like, your politics and your activism, as opposed to? Oh, I guess they’re, they’re interlinked, but the way you perceive yourself?
Sharifa Whitney James 31:00
Yeah, yeah, I think it’s a combination of those things. I think it’s about being intersectional. Within that I kind of felt restricted if I ever if I refer to myself as lesbian, which I never do anyway. But, you know, if I had to call myself a lesbian or a gay woman, it feels quite restricting and quite binary. Whereas queer has a broader scope of what that actually means. Because, you know, I’m attracted to different to different genders. So I’m not necessarily attracted to women as a whole, or rape people with another I would find attractive. But yeah, it kind of definitely falls into politics, what I believe in, and we fight for falls more on the line of being queer, and not being conventional. I’m quite an unconventional person, like I’m polyamorous. And so that doesn’t often happen if you’re an LGBT. I mean, you know, obviously, LGBT people can’t be polyamorous, but generally, being poly, and, you know, my activism more aligned with queerness. And it does being LGBT.
K Anderson 32:02
It’s interesting. It’s so fascinating, the way that word queer is just evolving. Yeah. Over the last decade, I suppose. And I just love hearing the way people relate to it. Yeah. So you’re talking about racism on the same? Yeah. Did you see things? shift at all? Um, have you seen things shifted?
Sharifa Whitney James 32:31
I have seen? Yeah, I mean, at the time, no thing didn’t really shift from from my perspective. So this is what kind of things get better and the story.
K Anderson 32:41
Boy, let’s not get better. Yeah, let’s, let’s say in this shit, and then we get exploited. And so I guess there’s kind of two ways you could respond to it in that, like, you can try and assimilate and try and be like, Oh, you just don’t mind me. I’m just here. Like, don’t don’t perceive me. Or you can kind of take up space. What was going on for you?
Sharifa Whitney James 33:05
I assimilated 110%. Again, I didn’t have the confidence, or the knowledge or the tenacity, I didn’t have it about me to be the change. I just went with the majority because it was easier. And that’s what I kind of knew at the time. So yeah, I definitely assimilated. And I kept going out on that scene for two or three years, because in some sense, it was like, the only space I had in Bristol to go to to be around other LGBT people. And I want to go out dancing, so I kind of had to go. Yeah, but when I was there, I didn’t really enjoy it. But I just kind of went through the motions of being there.
K Anderson 33:42
And then so were you like canoodling with women. So
Sharifa Whitney James 33:48
I really wish I would have such a short story. I was I was such a little like, quiet. Not a nerd. But I think for me, I got on my head I got in my head from that comment from my friend about how she didn’t find black black women attractive. And so for me, because most women on the scene were white, they were the only woman to you know, go out with flirt with. Yeah, I’ve got in my head about I’m not attractive, so people won’t fancy me. And that comment kind of proves me right because people didn’t flirt with me. People didn’t. People, no one that ever asked me out. I hardly got I didn’t get any attention.
K Anderson 34:29
But way when we were talking about the first night and everyone just being like, smouldering in your direction, was that was that just an anomaly?
Sharifa Whitney James 34:38
That was like the first few months when it’s like, oh, fresh meat. But even so even people people will that’s the thing like people will look but they wouldn’t approach
K Anderson 34:50
okay. And you were too timid to approach as well.
Sharifa Whitney James 34:53
Exactly, exactly. Yeah, I didn’t I didn’t feel competent, but Oh, how about it? That wasn’t my style. So Yeah, like I didn’t give anyone at all for the three years I was there ever. Yeah. Ever Ever. Yeah. And I really wanted to like oh no I saw every one of my friends get with somebody and I never ever yeah got up anyone
know rocky was such suck
K Anderson 35:32
When did you become a practising queer women?
Sharifa Whitney James 35:37
So basically I had to force the issue so basically Hi. I went to Brighton pride in 2008 so that Brighton probably was my was my first ever pride I said to myself, right, I need to fucking get laid. This is a second guy not not meeting people I need to get laid. So I went to Brighton pride on a fucking mission literally on the mission was going to come home and today dad got laid basically. So my friend and we camped in the massive field because back then you’d come out and you know you’d go to prize and we met some friends from Academy who were there with their partners and their friends we kind of joined forces like a little Ganga bustle together Brighton pride. In in that group, was my first girlfriend basically turned out to be my first girlfriend. But yeah, let’s go in that group. And we did we did the thing. Got to own it. And attend a Brighton pride. That’s that’s like.
K Anderson 36:41
And this was on the This was on the there was only one night, right? This wasn’t like a skanky third day of the festival.
Sharifa Whitney James 36:48
Well, I was like four days campaign. I think I think it was maybe the first or second night. Maybe the first. Maybe the first night of pride. Oh,
K Anderson 36:59
wow. Interesting. Because I always find like, whenever I’m like, right, I’m on a mission tonight. It’s gonna happen. I give off desperate vibes. And then no one’s interested.
Sharifa Whitney James 37:11
I think I probably gave off desperate vibes as well. But she was just like, she was tired. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s funny because I remember we had the lovemaking in the tent. And then the next the next day, we woke up and got out of the tent and the entire campsite was clapping. Because obviously, we had been quite loud. And the entire camp I was like, smiling and cheering it was being so mortified. So mortified.
K Anderson 37:45
Well, I mean, most people is first times really clumsy and awful. You got applause. I mean, yeah.
Sharifa Whitney James 37:54
Yeah, I suppose it’s kind of flattering, but also that really embarrassing that everyone heard every single thing?
K Anderson 38:01
Yeah, yeah, that’s near advice. I can really give. That’s not that’s not nice. And then, like so did your experiences of going out change after you had a girlfriend?
Sharifa Whitney James 38:16
Wow Of course because then what happens? You fucking shackle up Don’t you you shackle up. We don’t see the light of day ever again. So
K Anderson 38:24
discuss adopting a cat. Yeah,
Sharifa Whitney James 38:26
a car many kids, you know getting a mortgage you know, wedding all that within about a day of me of knowing. So what happened? I fucking I literally I moved to Bristol. I was living at home at the time. I moved to Bristol to live with her. would wait, wait. So we left Brighton prior to getting the train back from Brighton. She was like hey, do you? Yeah, basically. And if you live in Bristol Island, Alison Trowbridge and a member on the on the way back from prior kind of talking about it but like yeah, this is quite slow for lesbians To be fair, but yeah, kind of talking about it but like kind of joking. But I took it seriously. I was like, I’m moving out now moving in. Say I would say you happen probably within
a couple of months. Wow.
K Anderson 39:19
Yeah. And then there’s just no need to go out right?
Sharifa Whitney James 39:22
Exactly. I just I just unless you didn’t see the light of day for months. I was just in the house. But it didn’t last few seconds obviously. I moved in did me know her. I moved in. I moved out two weeks later I moved back home. Oh no. And that was the end of this fastball. Yes. Yeah, that was my first initiation into the lesbian world.
K Anderson 39:50
And then so after after that, like once you Chino got your groove and you’d figured out like how to come on strong. How to make funny noises in attempt where you like,
Sharifa Whitney James 40:03
or I think ultimately what I’ve realised is that I’m not a flirty person. I’m not a flirty, like, sexy person I just awkward me awkward, aloof me. And that kind of seems to work on just myself. I’m not gonna put on this like persona of being sexy and flirty and like, I’m just not that.
K Anderson 40:27
Like, are you? Are you good at being upfront with people like, Oh, hey, by the way, fancy, you know, okay.
Sharifa Whitney James 40:34
I’ve only asked two girls out my entire life. Most people ask me,
K Anderson 40:40
how are you? Okay? You just wait for them?
Sharifa Whitney James 40:42
I just wait. Yeah, I still quite shy and I think people can call a confident person not very confident, very self assured now, but people are quite shocked that I’m a little bit shy around that kind of stuff. I’m really I’m really awkward. If someone likes me, and they’re very overtly into me, I was like, oh, what to do get really sweaty and a bit like, you know, I’m just not. I have no cool basically, I’m not a cool queer. I might awkward and quite shy and stuff like that. Do
K Anderson 41:10
you do that thing? Like, just sometimes getting swept up in if someone likes you? And you don’t really like them? You’re like, yeah, I’ll just I’ll just go along with it.
Sharifa Whitney James 41:21
I used to when I had no, like, confidence in myself. Yeah, like, of course, it’s flattering. If someone likes you, you’re not keen on, I would say my first four for me, my first five partners or lovers. That was the case. I was just kind of in not very secure, didn’t really know what I liked. And so I’ll just go along with it. But they were kind of into me. So it took me to find my first love was like, Oh, I like her. And thankfully, she did like me. But before that I didn’t have enough self confidence to believe that I could actually find or have a type or whatever so nicely fancied. Yeah, it’s been a real journey with that real.
K Anderson 42:01
It’s fascinating. It’s fascinating when you’re just like, I don’t really understand what this person sees in me, but Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah, definitely. Anyway, so making a change in the same
Sharifa Whitney James 42:17
that probably came many years later, many, many years later. So when the point where I met my first love, I stopped going out. I didn’t, I didn’t really go out on the scene. But in essence, it was his decision to like, it wasn’t my scene. It wasn’t for me, I just, I just didn’t go, I realised it wasn’t representing me. And it wasn’t a safe space for me. So I just stopped going. So I just used to hang out for the football girls and just go to the pub. And there’s quite a nice pub, where I live where it’s quite inclusive. And we all just kind of go there and you know, having a nice inclusive time.
K Anderson 42:53
And so you were going out to this pub. You were like, you’ve just stopped going out on the scene altogether. Yeah. Well, yeah. When did you notice a change? or How did it change come about?
Sharifa Whitney James 43:06
I think yeah. So I was getting kind of sick of going going out and Bristol and not seeing Still, this is like, almost 15 years on 10 years are still not seeing many or any black queer faces out. And not understanding why what’s going on. Like, you know, there’s a lot of black people in a city, there’s a lot of black queer people, but not kind of going out anywhere. So I voiced that concern to somebody else in the city. And then they tell somebody else, it’s a basically a little group of about six of us came together. And we’re like, we need to create a space. That’s for us. That’s a safe space for us. And that’s when Kiki Kiki Bristol was born. So I’m one of the cofounders of Kiki, Bristol. And yeah, lovely, okay came together. Like I said, because we were tired of a lack of space that kind of saw also represented us. And so our first couple of nights, we were quite low key about where our location was, because we wanted to make it a safe space for anyone to come to here as a black or brown person. We didn’t want any kind of you know homophobes coming in and kicking off or any of their family knowing where the venue was, we didn’t advertise the venue at all, we just said get in touch if you want to come. So we kind of like carefully disclose to individuals where the location was, and we’d have this a really lovely chilled evening, we’d have open mic, we’d have a little bit of food, we have some music, without some like deep conversations around what it’s like to be black and queer in the city. And so that’s kind of when things start to change slightly in Bristol, but we began for about four years now so it’s quite new still really. And
K Anderson 44:52
this is gonna be I guess one of those dumb questions because you don’t probably don’t have enough distance from it in order to answer this with with enough perspective. Hmm, how have you seen that change? play out?
Sharifa Whitney James 45:04
I think from what I’ve seen, since we’ve, since we’ve existed to other co producers are like, ah, we need to get our shit together and be more inclusive. Because there were, there were queer spaces that felt more safe than than LGBT spaces, but they’re very white. And, and they could be quite problematic at times. And so I kind of feel like it’s made other groups in the city, maybe reflect on how they’re not being inclusive, and working on being more inviting to people of colour. So there’s a there’s a night in Bristol called Sony, when I was an investor called Sony. And they would, they’d have a fund raise money, or they had a pot of money to give people of colour a car ride home. So you know, for safety safety reasons. For me, that was quite a big Oh, wow. Okay, they’ve actually thought about how to make it safe for people of colour to come to the space. And that’s kind of like the turning point. So people now are kind of trying to consider how to bring in PRC people to their events. Or once they’re there, you know, how to make them feel safe. They feel like we’ve kind of, in a way, started a conversation in Bristol, on the queer scene about how to be more inclusive. And it’s given the people who were in Bristol, who were black and queer, it’s given them a space to go to a meet as a black queer people, because it’s not, you know, if you didn’t see yourself, you don’t know who else is out there. So we didn’t come to a safe space and meet other people and talk about what’s going on. It’s, it’s so liberating and freeing. And I’ve been here 13 years, and I’ve never had a space like this. So to hold an event. And we’ve had event, buried events, we’ve had music events, we’ve had events and art spaces and having dialogue around being black and queer. One of the last things we did was overly posh, our exhibition in Clifton, etc, that one of the nicest parts of Bristol, and we had an entire exhibition around African, being African and being queer is beautiful. And we held a big talk there about being black and queer, basically. And I think about how it had about 100 people come great. And I was mixed, you know, mixed black and white, but it was, you know, I would say probably probably more more black. So we had some really good talk as well, a really rich and lively debate about being black and queer in general. And I think that’s the first time that’s happened in that kind of space in Bristol. So we’re, we’re kind of taking over spaces now that we haven’t seen ourselves before, which feels again, really liberating and important, important to do that around, you know, during this time. I think, yeah, we’re just kind of making people stop conversations, and making people feel uncomfortable. Like we’re just taking over spaces. Now. We don’t care. We’re here and you can’t ignore us. And that’s something that’s not really been the forefront of Bristol before. So Phil, it was quite a game changer, you know?
K Anderson 48:00
Yeah, it’s really fascinating, like, so through doing this, I overuse the word fascinating, I’m sorry. And doing this podcast, like I talked to like lots of different people about queer venues, and what makes us a space safe. And so sometimes we’re talking about like a venue that is only used as a queer space. And sometimes we talk about like nights or things that are held in what what do I call non queer spaces, and non queer space, and non queer space, like nights that are held in non queer spaces? Yeah, that become queer just because of the people that are running the show the way that the rules everyone’s agreeing to in order to be there. And it’s just really fascinating those elements that can just shift a space, just shift the way that you perceive that space and the way you feel welcomed in that space. And the way you feel able to take up room in a space because of that unwritten contract that everyone has signed up to you in order to come along. And there’s something as well just, yeah, about having meeting other people like you having those conversations, and being like, oh, it isn’t just me who thinks this, and then having that confidence to go and be like, I’m gonna have this conversation with someone who doesn’t think this?
Sharifa Whitney James 49:32
Absolutely. I think there’s pros and cons, in technical spaces that aren’t originally for us. So there’s quite a few art places in Bristol who were trying to be more inclusive and how people like Kiki and they’re running our events. But the issue that we come up against is no, we might might want to run an event in a space. That hasn’t often been for us, let’s say so. When we advertise, we’re going to be in the space, we get messages from people who are black and queer saying, I don’t feel comfortable going here. I don’t, this is not a space, I feel comfortable going to because I have not ever been a space for me. So we have to try and break down. The idea of like, if we keep saying that, although they’re their feelings are obviously valid might and I hear what they’re saying. But we keep saying that, we won’t take over places to make them to make them be ours. So that’s like the bar that we’ve had a few times we’ve had events in certain spaces that haven’t been for us. Normally, people don’t feel confident or comfortable to go. Because they’re so white. They’re so why they’re so old and crusty. People don’t feel confident, or safe to go.
K Anderson 50:45
So just to be clear, white equals old and crusty, right? Well,
Sharifa Whitney James 50:51
in the context of like spaces, and who, who leads and runs those spaces. Yeah, it’s often not necessarily crusty, but it’s also white men, and often an often older, older, older white men who rule and dictate who, what’s there and who’s there.
K Anderson 51:08
It’s hard to navigate that kind of feedback as well, isn’t it? Because like, for every one person who shares that feedback with you, there are maybe 10 people who don’t feel like they’re able to say, like, how do you navigate that. And
Sharifa Whitney James 51:23
I think it’s really important to listen to the people that we’re trying to serve. You know, it might not be pleasant to hear those things. Because no, we’ve had lots of not lots, but we’ve had some negative feedback about what we do. And when it’s people from our communities, and as black people from our community, we absolutely Listen, we take it on board, you know, we can’t be perfect. And we can’t serve everyone, but we must serve definitely listen to make real change. So now we’ve had comments about our spaces being too white. And this is the thing, right with Bristol, because in a way, like one of the first LGBT Pac spaces in Bristol, it was like, Oh, my God, this is really cool. And everyone wants to go, but everyone is mostly white people. So events can sometimes be taken over by white people being really intrigued. I wanted also to support Kiki, they want to support us and be there when I mean, so. But sometimes it’s more white people than black people. And we’ve had comments around that people that feel safe to go because often too many white people. I mean, you know, that was hard to hear. But you got to you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to be you can’t be arrogant, but this is my event. And it is what it is. Like you have to listen. And so you know, we had an event where just for black people, black and brown people. Yeah, it’s hard if you’re a good producer. And if you’re a good community worker, if you’re really about serving the community, you’ve got to listen to the heart to the heart feedback. You can’t be arrogant, and it can’t be so small minded tonight, ignore some of the negative comments. And people do you know, I know people listen, he didn’t listen to comments. And you know, it’s a shame because everyone’s points are valid, whether whether you believe it or not. Everyone’s points everyone’s view as valid as their perspective. So
K Anderson 53:06
yeah, and I guess like a lot of it comes down to what your drivers are for during the night and to in lots of instances, queer spaces, gay spaces, lesbian spaces have popped out. But with the background motivation, not being I’m going to make a tonne of money off these people. But being like, I’m going to create a space where people feel safe, and then they’re able to come. And so that’s why those spaces, like become so special and so loved because they’re not driven by a commercial means, obviously, that’s an element of it. And you know, everyone’s got to pay their rent. But when you’re, when you’re doing something from a place of love, or from a place of community or driving change, then there are different things that you need to be paying attention to.
Sharifa Whitney James 53:57
Yeah, and I think Yeah, like, we all came up with this idea, because we had a real passion, a genuine passion to try and create a safe space and a city that is very white. And so, you know, I think because we came from such a place of genuine nurse, and were marginalised twice over, I think we were just more open to being critical or having critical feedback. You know, if your drivers are more around making money, then of course you you, it’s easy for you to ignore the negative feedback. You just want to get people out the door to make money. But for us, it’s all about community. And, you know, that is the heart of what you’re doing want to try and serve and support our community
K Anderson 54:41
and not playing basic pop music.
Sharifa Whitney James 54:45
I mean, that is the key. Yeah, we’ve had we had such a sick night. We had an amazing night, last year, where we had a collaboration between this amazing DJ collective caputi bass and they played it booty shaking music, you know like dancehall r&b. Like, yeah, you kg all the stuff that I love. So we did a Kiki booty bass collaboration. And we brought the house down I tell you it was
K Anderson 55:15
still talking about it.
Sharifa Whitney James 55:17
Yeah, literally people are though people are because, you know, although Yes, the music was fantastic. What I love about Kiki is that we really go out of our way to make everyone feel safe. So we’re quite particular about who we let in. If we feel that you’re going to come in and not get our vibe, then we’re not gonna allow you to potentially harm the space. So how do you have people on the door? manage that? Yeah, it can be hard, but I’m a pretty good judge of character. So I was on the door last night, as I’ve got quite a funny story about that. So I was on the door that night. And there was four or five white guys, five white straight guys who were absolutely pissed, right? And like I’m stumbling over like, oh, what’s going on here, though? What’s this? What’s this? And I explained what we were I was like, we’re Kiki. And we do this? And I Oh, okay. Why can we come in? And in that moment, I had to go my gut, right? I think I don’t think Are there going to be decks or come in and cause havoc, or they’re going to come in and be respectful. And they might go, I thought they were going to be respectful. I let them in. And I tell you what, we had a fantastic night together. We were dancing. We were talking about what it’s like to be black and queer. Because they were on a study from there were four white straight guys from Devon, right? had never even seen black queer people before. And they were asking they were as they were asking questions, but in a very respectable way. And they were like this the best I’ve ever been to. This is so good. You’re all great. And it was so lovely. I can’t say how lovely and nice and respectful they were. They just stayed in the corner. They dance, they bought drinks, they they over they overpaid. So they have more money like they were just so lovely. So I think you have it’s a it’s a you have to judge it. It’s not always easy. But in that moment, I think I went with my gut and they were so sound and they were so thankful he goes on a stag do to Bristol, does that happen? Yeah, the fallout from Devin crystal is quite big.
K Anderson 57:08
Sorry. That’s that’s not my that shouldn’t be my takeaway from the story.
Sharifa Whitney James 57:16
But yeah, it can’t be hard to judge we’ve had other times where we’ve had tickets come in, you know, coked up white guys. From Clifton, he just walked stumble on it. And then so we’re running an event in Clifton, one of our first events actually, where it was like, invitation only effectively and we had it on a door don’t do not come in. And he’s three coked up white guys came in acting, being really rude to everyone really rude. I’m going to kick them out. So yeah, we’re trying to have security in the door. Are we trying to have someone on the door who’s going to be going to be judging who’s coming in? You know, we walk around to make sure I was having a good time. And people people can report people who are being assholes on the dance floor to try and keep it as safe as humanly possible. Once you’re in that space.
K Anderson 57:58
It’s a tough, I mean, I haven’t done it. So this is just like from, you know, me imagining rather than me doing it myself, but it just feels like it’s a really tough kind of balance to strike in terms of like letting people have fun, but also making sure that no one’s disrupting.
Sharifa Whitney James 58:17
Yeah, it is a it’s a very fine line to cross. But I think we do it very well. I think we’re very loving and compassionate and thoughtful and self aware people that we let people have a good time. But at the same time, if people are going to file we’re kind of just, we’ll keep an eye on it. You know, we’re not gonna stumble over straight away, but we’re just kind of keep an eye on things and keep an eye on the space. And unfortunately, the people that come to Kiki are just lovely people. We don’t get our souls that come to come to Kiki. But honestly, it was such a beautiful moment of seeing, you know, white straight guys and black queer people starting in the same space. We’re having a bloody good time. Oh, yeah, I will always cherish that night. And that moment is so gorgeous, so gorgeous. I mean, what more of that we want more of that.
K Anderson 59:03
If you enjoyed this episode, or want to suggest a venue to feature on a future episode, then reach out and let’s have a chat. You can find me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with the username K Anderson music. And whilst you’re there, make sure to follow sharifa on Instagram. Her profile is gold underscore for love spaces is not only a podcast, but a concept record as well. I have been writing songs about queer venues and the people who used to live their lives there. And we’ll be releasing songs over the coming year. You can hear the first single well grown boys, which is also playing underneath my talking right now on all streaming platforms. If you liked this episode, I would really appreciate if you subscribed left a review on your podcast platform of choice or just told people who you think might be interested in giving it a little listen to. I am K Anderson and you have been listening to lost spaces