Monday, 19 March 2018

Instructions on Confidence

I'm Lydia, and you might know me from such Facebook posts as "I'm spiralling" and "I fell in a hole".

Outwardly I scream confidence, but inside?

Put it this way, I am what happens when you put armour on a jellyfish. My armour is my wit, my empathy, and my smile.

A warning to begin with; this blog jumps around a bit. It’s not linear because I’m not linear.

My parents have always raised me to be confident. There are numerous videos of me singing, dancing, holding court with my aunts and uncles, and generally being the centre of attention.

Little Confident Lydia
(Author's Own)

Before we go on, I must talk about privilege. I know that despite my brown face and femaleness, I am extremely privileged. I have a wonderfully middle-class life in Manchester with my wife and our two cats. I’m university educated with two degrees, and I’m in fulltime employment. This is how and why I am able to exude faux confidence when I'm depressed. It's a long learned skill.

When I was 10, a girl in my class decided to bully me.

What followed was 15 years of victimhood and my confidence was knocked at every turn. People who didn't like my confidence picked on me, chipping away at my armour.

In 2007, I started the long road back to some semblance of confident me. I applied to appear on How To Look Good Naked with Gok Wan. I was selected and went down to London, a few times a week, for 6 weeks to be pampered, preened and polished. They told me I was great. I needed to hear it.

The 6 weeks culminated in a nude photoshoot and a catwalk show at The Trafford Centre.
And then everything was ok!

Of course, I'm kidding! I was filled with pseudo-confidence, bravado. Despite the joy of doing How To Look Good Naked, I was plagued with the spectre of mental health. I am PROOF that you can be destroyed by mental health problems and STILL appear to be confident.

My depression started at around 15 years old when my parents moved away for work and I went to live with a family from church while I did my GCSEs. I was 15 so I thought I knew everything, but in reality, I had compartmentalised. I was being bullied, I was just discovering my sexuality, and I was, at times, not able to see my parents when they came to visit me.
Supporting Behind the Mask Mental Health Charity
(Author's Own)
The trickle of sadness started there and grew into a looming, snarling black dog over several years until medical intervention.

After the show, it took years to work out what confidence actually was. At this time I was still being bullied, by a so-called friend. I was taking months off work unable to get out of bed and I was miserable in my job. 

So how did I get it back?

Lesson #1

Make changes.

I left my job at the Council in 2008. It was a job that consisted of speaking to mostly vulnerable people to get them to pay their council tax arrears. It was a toxic environment where, again, I found myself bullied. I was also being micro-managed, belittled, and disciplined for just existing.

I think it was my brown face, queer haircut and outspoken desire for change within the department that she hated. But who knows?

So I went back to university! I did a teaching degree and took a break from myself.

Lesson #2

Find your passion.

Around the same time, I started working for Chorley FM (yes it's real) on their LGBT show. It was a revelation! I could talk to my heart's content, be politically engaged and outspoken, and play music, following in my dad's footsteps. From there I moved to Gaydio, did a spot on BBC Radio Manchester, and then joined the Gay Agenda team, guesting on a weekly radio show (now a lively podcast). 

When I'm presenting, or guesting, I am unashamedly outspoken and confident.

Lesson #3

It's OK to be someone else for a bit.

In 2010, a friend asked me to take part in a drag king competition. It wasn't my first foray into drag, but I hadn't done it in many years. I got through to the final and ended up leading the Pride Parade as Our Kelly, just behind Sir Ian McKellan. 

Since then I have done drag all over the country. I have performed at Pride festivals, hosted burlesque shows, and even have my own night "The Boi Zone". I'm never as confident as I am when I'm in drag behind a literal mask, and that's OK.

Lesson #4

Find confidence in the bad stuff.

It's easier to be confident when you're happy and healthy. But the place I found the most confidence was my depression. Coming out loud and proud about my depression and anxiety about my suicidal feelings and hopelessness, when to others it seemed like everything was great, helped immensely. 

When you tell people, they tell you and you find confidence in the sharing of those dark secrets.

Lesson #5

Be an imposter

Whatever I'm doing, I feel like I'm faking it. So I embrace that. I behave the way a competent person would. This is how I push myself forward, by just doing the thing I think I can't.

Like sharing this.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Notes From the Queer Ghetto

Across the world, "Gay Villages" provide a safe-space for LGBT people who have struggled for many centuries (thanks colonialism)! From San Francisco's Castro District (arguably the first "out" LGBT Quarter) to New York's Christopher Street, these are important historical areas. They should be recognised as such (what's the step down from a UNESCO heritage site?)

I live in Manchester, and grew up in its suburbs. Our Gay Village - Canal Street and its surrounding areas - brought me up and out. By today's standards, I was a late queer bloomer. I came out a little bit, at age 17, and fully by age 20. I came out fully thanks to the safety and support of my university LGBT society (Edge Hill 2002-2005). I was a self-labelled banner waving dyke. My first trip to Manchester's Gay Village was in 2003. I had, of course, seen the marvels and mystery of this magic street on television in the '90s. But actually visiting for the first time, my eyes were opened. I'd never seen so many LGBT people in my life! Later that year, I attended EuroPride and my love for the area was cemented.

Canal Street looking West from Minshull Street
By Parrot of Doom - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
I have learned about its history and significance to the LGBT community. It was the scene of the Aids massacre in the '80s, it was the hope of the community at a time when you would be gay bashed if you went anywhere else; and it was home to many protests against discrimination and hatred (and still is). In the winding back streets of the Gay Village (known to those in the know as simply "The Village"), you'll find the remnants of this once booming community - support services, a local football team, the Gay Gordons, all coming together.

Recently I have seen so much outrage and horror about the developments within the boundaries of Whitworth Street, Portland Street, Princess Street and Minshull Street. There has been talk of residential property for - shock horror - families set to destabilise the status quo. But I have to ask a question of the LGBT community - what is it that you want? A non-viable ghetto where business people can’t keep their businesses open? Because that’s what we have now (it would appear). The number of businesses that have shut down in the past 10-15 years is reaching double figures - Bar Risa (standing empty for over 10 years), Essential (empty for 4 years), Villaggio, Eden (now Delicatezzi), two short lived restaurants in the space next to Richmond Tea Rooms, Sackville Lounge, Bandit (now replaced with the fantastic No.1 Canal Street), Coyotes.
Canal Street looking West from Chorlton Street 
By David Newton, CC BY-SA 2.0,
I would love to see the area become more like the Castro district in San Francisco - with shopping, living, and entertainment - maybe even a bakery! Right now it is only clubs, bars and hotels, along with LGBT charities. I support The Village as much as I can - I run a monthly karaoke night, I sometimes work on the doors, I occasionally go out drinking, I frequent the restaurants for Sunday Lunch. But I very rarely go 'out out'. Let’s be honest, the current village is catering for a demographic that is on the decline. It's on the decline for good reasons. The kids don’t want to be ghettoised. They want to be out, proud and fierce in the NQ, Deansgate, the suburbs. They don’t have the reverence for the safety of our village because they’ve never needed it - and please remember, this is a good thing!

Everything changes. Gentrification is fucking awful - but so is a 15 year stagnation and decline. Every year it gets harder for the bar owners and business owners to keep running. Overheads are high, custom is spotty. Queer people don’t want to pay to get in anywhere (not even £1). They want their drinks cheap, and their entertainment high quality. They complain if drink prices reflect the prices across Manchester (I pray they never drink in London!)

So what am I trying to say?

Things need to change. Those changes can be positive. But if you really want the Village to stay as it is - then you’re going to have to start using it! Not just once in a while, not just at Pride, not just once a month. You need to spend your money there every week and not elsewhere.
You have a choice of where to spend your money, and if you choose to spend it outside of the Village, then you can't really complain when the city decides that something needs to change, nor when you look around and find are no LGBT people there.

I will end with a conversation I’ve had many times over the years.
“Canal Street is getting too straight” someone will say...

“Babe, if the place was full of Queers right now, there would be no room for other straight people now would there?” I reply.

But it's not.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

WOMANchester - Female DJs are KILLING the scene

DJ Nickie B, DJ Easy Tiger & Gina Breeze
Manchester has long been known as a hotbed of musical talent, and the DJ scene is no different. The list is long - Dave Haslam, Hewan Clarke, Mike Shaft, Graeme Park, Mike Pickering, Irfan Rainy, Simon Nicks (Nicksy); and Manchester’s scene is thriving with venues like Albert Hall, Sound Control and Suburbia to name but a few.

But while male DJs often have top billing in this great city, the women are often unknown, operating in smaller venues, working bloody hard and travelling the length and breadth of the country to share their talent.

Gina Breeze
Gina Breeze
Gina Breeze (Miss B) was given a residency early in her career at the legendary SpeedQueen club and her love of House Music blossomed, Gina gained great support culminating in an invitation to play on the G-Stage at the world-famous Glastonbury Festival.

In 2013, Gina beat off over 300 entries to win the Parklife Festival Producer Competition with her own killer track ‘Don’t Stop’. The track was snapped up by Layers, an Italian Record Label who are focusing on infectious house beats.

In 2015 still producing under 'MissB' - Gina had her 1st E.P released with NYC's Get Up Recordings!
Gina is probably best known for her work with Homoelectric spinning her sizzling beats to sold out crowds. You will find Gina playing regularly at Manchester’s newest and most stunning hotspot, The Refuge.

Additionally, Gina is producing original music in the studio and her latest E.P is out now on Classic Music Company.

Hazel O’Keefe

Hazel O'Keefe at the Northern Power Women Awards

Hazel, known as one of the hardest working women in Manchester’s club scene founded Dulcet Sounds, an award winning not-for-profit event management company in 1998. The company encompasses popular Manchester brands, all developed by Hazel with the commitment to nurture female talent, not only in the North West, but internationally (Hazel has big ideas and the work ethic to fulfil them!) – The Women in Comedy Festival, Club Feminista and Laughing Cows Comedy, to name but a few. Her work has been recognised by Manchester City Council who awarded her ‘Women of Arts and Culture.’ and commended by the Northern Power Women Awards in 2017 as an Agent of Change.

‘Hazel’s work has nurtured and empowered hundreds of female performers to explore their talent by providing a supportive space.

Hazel has achieved a unique way of supporting women in Manchester and has created a legacy for women both at a local and international level in an art form where women are still under represented.’ Manchester City Council.

Hazel is resident DJ at Club Feminista serving up a melting pot of guilty pleasures, soul, rnb, funk, disco, deep house, reggae, indie, rock, pop and plenty of goodies that don’t fit into any category, not to mention the old MADchester favourites!

Her latest venture at TriBeCa Manchester is to bring more arts and culture to Manchester's gay village.

Screw the DJ

DJ Screw
DJ Screw (or Caroline Wright to her friends) plays Funky Vocal House and specializes in Retro House.

Screw, so named as she worked in the prison service, like many djs, started developing her talent as a hobby at home. She bought a home mix from Argos and, in her own words, didn’t have a clue what she was doing! She is completely self-taught. Her first public performance came after she was asked to DJ at a friend’s 30th birthday party, about 7 years ago. Steph Kay, the owner of Vanilla Bar in the Gay Village, was at the party and asked her do a retro set at the bar for that year’s Manchester Pride. Her success built from there, with a residency at Vanilla.

Two years ago, Screw entered a competition for all of the village DJs for which she had to produce a 30 minute mix. She beat all the other DJs, mostly men, winning a half hour set on the Pride main stage.

Since then she has opened Manchester Pride’s main stage, worked at events with Hazel, DJ Nickie B and the other Dulcet Sounds DJ, performed at SLD (S**t Lesbian Disco) and the national women’s festival LFest, to name but a few.

DJ Sandra D

DJ Sandra D has recently returned to Manchester from the bright lights of the capital. She has been linked to many successful venues and nights. Here are just a few: Ruby Tuesdays, GrlWld, Tribeca Manchester, Ku Bar, Candy Bar, Scala, Miss-Shapes, Popstarz, Ghetto.
2011 was a monumental year with the TV show Candy Bar Girls, following the lives and loves of London lesbians and myself in my new role as DJ and Promoter of Candy Bar.

She first made a name for herself on the gay alternative scene as a popular, lesbian DJ at Popstarz and Ghetto. Having played at some influential nights on the gay alternative scene, she moved into promotional roles at those clubs after gaining experience in the role of Promotions Manager of Candy.

This Saturday, 10th March 2018, Sandra brings BICCY to TriBeCa Bar on Sackville Street. Biccy came together because of a love of partying. Who doesn't love a great night out with your mates? So combining their dedication to letting your hair down and unpretentious tunes, comes a Saturday that isn't serious. Dress up, dress down, wear whatever. Just be fabulous.

DJ Nickie B
DJ Nickie B

Nickie’s lifelong passion for music, particularly house and glitterbox, has shaped her performance. On their wedding day, Nickie’s new wife gave her a set of decks as a wedding present, and a new passion was born.

Self-taught using YouTube videos, and refined under the support and tuition of Hazel O’Keefe, Nickie has now been DJing professionally for 5 years. In that short time she has built up a dedicated following through her work at TriBeCa Bar and Club Tropicana. Starting her work as a DJ on the Burlesque Circuit in 2013, she soon became the resident DJ for several burlesque events in Manchester.

Not long after this, she joined Dulcet Sounds, an award winning, not-for-profit, Manchester based event management company who produce around 800 events per year.

Her DJ CV includes; The Village's newest bar, No.1 Canal Street,  the prestigious Sparkle Ball 2017, the highlight of Sparkle, the transgender celebration, Birmingham Pride’s Women’s Stage and LFest. She will be back at the Sparkle Ball in 2018.

Gemma Torr

Gemma Torr
Not your typical mobile DJ, Gemma Torr has the ability to bring the energy of 1000 Duracell Bunnies to any event. An ex-youth worker and teacher, Gemma fell into DJing when she realised that running kids parties was a far more enjoyable way of working with kids!

Originally from Rotherham, Gemma started DJing part-time whilst working in sales after the economy collapsed and the job she was made for (teaching adults) no longer existed. Her first gig was DJing in a dive of a Rotherham pub next to the football stadium playing Northern Soul on a touch screen system!

She landed a residency at Rotherham’s 3rd busiest pub, where she stayed for 6 years covering gigs as diverse as birthdays and weddings, and fisherman’s club meetings!

Gemma moved to Manchester in 2016 when she met her partner, and was immediately offered a residency at playing singalong Madchester, 90s indie, Britpop, cheese and retro rock to the punters at the Lost Dene on Deansgate. Hazel got in touch shortly after she moved to Manchester after hearing Gemma’s awesome Prodigy vs Spice Girls mash up, and since then she has worked for Club Feminista and other Dulcet Sound led events and even brought her partner’s Silent Disco venture to TriBeCa for their killer Chechnya Fundraiser in June 2017. This year Gemma is set to DJ at LFest for the second time.

DJ Easy Tiger

DJ Easy Tiger
I couldn’t complete an article about Manchester female DJs without mentioning DJ Easy Tiger. Although no longer based in Manchester, she started her career here in 2015. In just two short years she has won the Mixmag x Coors Light DJ Competition (2016) and has DJ’d all over Europe in Ibiza, La Manga and of course Manchester!

Her DJ sets include original versions dropped alongside sneaky re-edits and her passion is for playing house – of all kinds, classic, funky, soulful, deep, tech – there’s something for everyone!
She has worked with well-known national brands such as London Sound Academy, Meat Free, Urban Cellar, LFest and is a resident for Halfway House. Easy Tiger has also curated her own events ’Like a House on Fire' and ‘Back Room Disco’ and is a proud member of The Magnificent Seven Club spinning 7’ vinyl at the monthly party.

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