Gender isn’t a exactly new frontier for queer people, it’s always been a frontier. The law that got to be too damn much at Stonewall – as we should know by now but as Laverne reminds us – was that all patrons must wear three items of clothing ‘appropriate to their gender’ otherwise the police would crack skulls.
Gender and its multiple expressions are deep in the heart of queer history and art. It wasn’t long ago that homosexuality / drag / transgenderism were talked about as a continuum of expression. You encounter it in contemporary accounts of the Stonewall era, right up to Paris is Burning. The scare queens, butches and femme queens of yesteryear might not necessarily connote cis or trans precisely the way we think of those terms today. Our connections to one another as queer people of all genders are deep and abiding and vital.
Timely as ever, this year’s Queer Contact Festival puts together a broad and exciting programme where gender is frequently at the artistic frontier. Transparent has been one of the most radically queer mainstream shows ever created, winning dozens of awards as it interrogates ideas about sexuality, history and identity. It’s something of a coup that one of the writers and series advisors, Our Lady J, is appearing at Queer Contact 2016. Her original musical show ‘For the Love of Gospel’ will help demonstrate why she has worked with everyone from Sia to Debbie Harry, via Antony Hegarty, Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper and Scissor Sisters.
Next, from high-femme to bold and butch, Eilidh Macaskill’s ‘STUD’ puts a queer woman’s perspective on the traditional gender binary as she performs a series of hyper-masculine tropes, exercising her ‘penis envy’ with full comedy intact.
For a more local perspective on the performance of gender, Jez Dolan and Chris Hoyle’s ‘Life’s A Drag’ is the beginning of a year-long project that celebrates Manchester’s drag culture and its deep roots with performance, oral history and maybe even some participation, so get your foundation right.
If the Pet Shop Boys are ‘The Smiths you can dance to’, Erasure are the Pet Shop Boys you can really camp it up to. Singer Andy Bell’s Contact show will take him on a somewhat different route as he explores the vexed polysexual character of ‘Saint Torsten’ through a song-cycle written especially for him and lately performed at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a chance to see and hear a legendary gay pop voice as never before.
Another Queer Contact highlight is the return of Debs Gatenby, star of the much-loved Hi, Anxiety, whose new solo show looks at those journeys, inside and out, in search of ‘A Place Called Happiness’.
A dose of raw comedy can be had in the Comedy Playground where seven stand-ups battle it out for your love and lolz, including Bethany Black of Cucumber/Banana fame, Suzi Ruffell from telly and a familiar flamboyant host...
As for me, I’ll be throwing a Queer Contact launch party in the shape of A Queer Revue! at Band on the Wall, featuring international and local trans, gay, lesbian and queer talent, including contemporary dance, singing drag queens, Kate Bush and Bowie tributes, poetry, pop videos, comedy and a big old party afterwards.
As for the rest of the programme, you can tuck into the full listings here, or use my handy taster guide below…!