This is the second part of a selection of archive audio that tells the tale of the power of creative cultural activism, from paint on bridges, drag cabarets, fictionalised memoir, transgressive theatre and groundbreaking photography.
Hosted across Manchester, ‘Queer Up North’ was a staple of the international queer arts scene from 1992-2010 and attracted many of the world’s most celebrated figures from literature, visual and performance art, such as Kate Bornstein, Sandra Bernard and Justin Vivian Bond. An oral history project was developed in 2007 (supported by Heritage Lottery Fund as it was known at the time) where visiting artists were interviewed about their work and time at the festival. Recorded on the now-obsolete medium of Sony minidisc, UOSH (Unlocking Our Sound Heritage) has been ripping files to preserve them for future audiences.
‘It’s Queer Up North’ queerupnorth theatre festival poster, Sep 1994 (GB127.M800/3/3/1/27) Archives+ Flicker: https://www.flickr.com/photos/manchesterarchiveplus/5340878118/
The author, poet and activist Maureen Duffy is asked in this first clip about being considered the first ‘out’ lesbian in public life the UK. Duffy discusses lesbian invisibility, in particular within the period between the 1957 Wolfenden report and the 1967 legalisation of ‘homosexual acts’ that were ‘consensual, in private and between two men who had attained the age of 2’ (Sexual Offences Act 1967):
“That wasn’t much use to you if you were working on a petrol pump in Clapham”
Duffy carried out research for her novel The Microcosm (1966) by interviewing a community of women who frequented infamous lesbian club Gateways. She was writing as an insider of this community herself and even included characters in the novel in memoriam of real people in her life.
OH-3238_MaureenDuffy_E02 – Duffy explains how she interviewed with women from the London club Gateways and that this community and her close friends were fictionalised in her novel. (transcript / download).
Before the growing popularity of her writing, Duffy considered that there was only two types of lesbian literature: the upper class worlds of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set, and pulp fiction designed for for male titillation. Of note within this category is the much latterly praised pulp fiction writings of Ann Bannon, but Duffy’s argument stands that there wasn’t much representation within literature of real lived lesbian experiences, and she believes this is why people connected with her work:
“Subjects that have a voice”
Del LaGrace Volcano was interviewed as part of the festival oral history initiative in 2007. Del is an internationally renowned photographer and visual artist who was invited to Queer Up North as part of their collaboration with the writer/performer Mojisola Adebayo and her one woman play ‘Moj of the Antarctic.’ The play, written and performed by Adebayo, was inspired by the real life story of the escape of Ellen Craft and her husband from slavery by ‘performing an act of triple passing, as white, as a man and as disabled.’ Del LaGrace Volcano travelled to Antartica with Adebayo and collaborated on the creation of a series of striking images and films shown within the play.
Collaboration is integral to Del’s work; they follow a queer and feminist methodology of making images with, rather than taking photographs, a vital distinction which gives agency to queer and trans lives:
From Gateways to Rebel Dykes
In the following clip, Del discusses their groundbreaking book ‘Love Bites’ (1991). In this series of photographs Del documented and collaborated with the subcultures they were a part of, making links with San Francisco subcultures in Scott’s bar – described here as a ‘bad-girl lesbian bar’ – and the underground culture of late 80s/early 90s queer London, including the ‘Rebel Dykes’:
Underground lesbian clubs like Gateways and The Picador (see part one of this blog) offer a through-line of communities from the 1950s to the present that were built around safe and celebratory spaces of acceptance. Del LaGrace Volcano features in the forthcoming documentary Rebel Dykes ( Directed by myself and Harri Shanahan, produced by S. Fahey) and gives insight into some of the people featured in ‘Love Bites’ who in 1987 created a notorious underground clubnight called Chain Reaction. The film focuses on this community and the wider story of how a bunch of anarcha-feminists and punk activists grew from the training grounds of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp to unite others through protest and methods of direct action in AIDS activism and the fight against Section 28.
You can watch the trailer here:
All these works form a creative record informing a vital personal queer chronology of family, home and safety within small groups and subcultures within LGBTQ+ society. Mapped out as a whole these individual artistic works are acts of protest, triumph and radical collaboration that continue to drive progress of a much wider political movement for LGBTQ+ rights and equality.
By Siân A. Williams
Mojisola Adebayo 'Plays One'(2011) (Oberon Modern Playwrights)
Jill Gardiner 'From the Closet to the Screen: Women at the Gateways Club, 1945-1985'(2003)
Del LaGrace Volcano 'Love Bites'(1991) https://www.dellagracevolcano.se/gallery/love-bites-23196221 Both out this Summer featuring Del LaGrace Volcano: Rebel Dykes (2021) and the Rebel Dykes Art Exhibition.