As we say goodbye to January and hopefully to the worst of the winter weather, I feel a sense of excitement about the month ahead. February is LGBTQ+ History Month and it’s a moment to stop and look back at queer culture and a chance to learn about the struggles, but also the progress. C-J, our guest on the R&G Show last night (29.01.23) spoke about the 60 events taking place in York and the surrounding areas over the next few weeks. It’s a very good job it’s a history month, otherwise however would we fit it all in?
Ginger has given me the opportunity to bring to fruition several life ambitions I believed had already passed me by. These include achieving my dream of pop stardom, as this year I have danced in front of excited audiences to the SPICE Girls hits whilst wearing big platform shoes in both York and Sheffield . I’ve been able to talk openly about my life experiences on stage, as part of some fantastic open mic nights. I get to co-present a weekly talk show at Jorvik Radio and of course, I get to write my monthly column here at Mag North.
Most of these ambitions are personal and whilst hopefully entertaining, they circle entirely around myself; yet as part of this month’s activities in York, I get to shine a light on something much bigger and much more interesting than the subject of Ginger Slice. The Over the Rainbow Café (a wonderful queer space in York) has kindly agreed to let me put together a book reading hour as part of their program of events. This will allow LGBTQ+ performers to highlight several children’s books with alternative narratives, including one that I hold very dear to my heart.
Hello Sailor, written and illustrated by Andre Sollie and Ingrid Godon was originally published in the Netherlands in 2000 and later released in the UK in 2003. The book for many represented an optimistic wave of new thinking for the new millennium, welcoming the idea that a friendship between two men is as natural as any other, which of course is correct and as it should be. The book is a charming and heart-warming tale that centres on a Lighthouse Keeper called Matt and his friend Sailor, who is away at sea and whom Matt misses greatly. Matt daydreams about escaping the solitude of his life and plans to sail around the world with Sailor once he returns from his travels. Despite being convinced by his friends Felix and Rose, that Sailors return is doubtful, Matt keeps the faith and eventually Sailor does return. They are reunited and as planned they set sail to travel around the world together. Now let’s be clear this is a children’s book, the wording and content like all children’s books is innocent and age appropriate. At no point do they get naked, oil up and have a chat about threesomes and the prospect of an open relationship, anymore than Cinderella suggests that come midnight her and Prince Charming nip upstairs for a quickie.
Fast forward to 2006, Hello Sailor and several other similar books were removed from school curricula in response to the Christian Institute's complaint, arguing that these books promote homosexuality and coercion. Now this is of course a sensitive subject, however I’m going to apply my best logic and common sense and see where that leaves us. My gran read countless children’s books to me as a child, and then I went on to read many more myself and having watched countless adverts, movies and TV shows, not to mention watching the relationships within my family and the world around me, all seeming to depict, and if I may mirror the word back ‘promoting’ heterosexual relationships. Despite this, I never cottoned to the ladies, not even a little bit. What this did do however, was to tell me what I felt didn’t exist, it also made me feel uncomfortable about who I was all through my school experience. It taught me that I didn’t fit in or belong anywhere in the landscape of my existence, which in part pushed me towards my first thoughts and several half-baked attempts at suicide between the ages of 11-13. It’s important to note that back in the early 90’s, queer children didn’t get a guidebook, advice, or any explanation about how they were feeling. I wonder, if an occasional story with a narrative that I may have related to amongst the mountain of mainstream stories, might have quietly sparked the very beginnings of some self-representation. This would have affirmed to my younger self that it was ok to be myself, and that my truth existed somewhere out there in the wider world.
Coercion – noun – “The practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.” I come back again to the story books and media of my childhood. Even at age 7 when watching the Little Mermaid on the big screen, I didn’t view Ariel and Prince Eric’s wedding as a threat to follow suit. I remember being entirely entranced by Eric’s square jaw and dark eyebrows and realising that though he possibly wasn’t the sharpest thingamabob in the drawer, I could easily forgive him for that. Should I have taken the movie as a form of coercion? It seemed to be a story about love, defiance and singing groups made up of multicoloured sea-life.
Even at that age I understood that this was a story, but I was also aware that this was not going to be the fit for me, so I think the suggestion of force gives little credit to children, suggesting that they cannot understand the subtleties that I had most certainly picked up on and even if I hadn’t, would it have pushed me to go against my nature? Is the argument really that droves of schoolboys would suddenly stop liking girls, and they would all decide to develop a love for horizontal stripes and navy uniforms, I think not.
To touch upon the most sensitive spot, and I will tread carefully here, despite my big sparkly shoes. To suggest that Drag Queens are reading to children to either A: push them somehow into becoming a Drag Queen or B: to lure them into an abusive situation - is barely worth touching upon, as it’s too ludicrous for comment. My name is Ginger Slice and I am a Drag Queen. I do drag to be able to get on stage and dance to the anthems of my youth. I love to write/read books and I love to talk, both in life and on the radio, to be able to express myself and bring some colour and joy into the world. I can no more defend myself as a drag performer against being a child abuser, as I can defend myself against being a murderer, terrorist, footballer or double-glazing sales person, as neither one has any relationship with the other.
The Over the Rainbow Café in York is such a vital space for the city's LGBTQ+ residents. Drag culture has come up out of the shadows over the last decade. The Family Shambles drag nights, along with several other regular hosted events, are bringing awareness to an artform in York I have learned is as varied as anything else in life. Regarding Over the Rainbow, this month we lose Jamie (they them), the manager of the café, as they move on to Bonnie Scotland to continue their life’s journey and adventures. Jamie is an important part of the community, and a dungaree fashion icon! My best memory of them is one night after a late show in York, Jamie kindly gave me a lift home back to Sheffield, and we sang to instrumental music tracks completely uninhibited. I sounded awful of course, but the journey was so much fun and a great example of the wonder of this unsung hero of the York community.
For information on upcoming events during LGBTQ+ Month in York, please visit: https://www.yorklgbtforum.org.uk
Find Ginger Slice at: Instagram - #GingerSliceDrag
Catch the Robynne & Ginger Show on Jorvik Radio: listenagain.jorvikradio.com/TheRobynneGingerShow