Motivation from Mykki Blanco

Photographs by LYDIA GARNETT and LUKE TUDOR GRIFFITHS
Words by AMELIA ABRAHAM

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It’s Saturday night in Kemptown, Brighton, and Mykki Blanco, a 6ft 2in 31-year-old rapper wearing a pastel blue corset, is sitting in the backroom of a chapel. The church’s foyer is filled with a crowd of mostly queer and gender-queer people. Soon Mykki will burst on stage, wearing his trademark wig, and rap about the loneliness of being a HIV-positive man with a drag aesthetic who is grappling with the expectations of black masculinity. But before that he pours himself a Jack Daniel’s — and holds forth about the world according to Mykki Blanco. 

So, how do you like Brighton?
London’s always felt a bit dark to me and Brighton’s always felt more warm. If I knew more people in Brighton I would really like it. I’m from California and when you walk around there’s the same kind of colourful houses here as there are in San Francisco. It feels kind of like home.

Where are you living right now?
I’m living in Portugal, in Lisbon. My boyfriend lives there. It’s more inexpensive right now than other places, unfortunately because of the economy. I haven’t lived in New York for about six years now. Before, in between shows, I was in Paris. People know who I am in Lisbon, but it’s not like there’s any real big Mykki Blanco following there, so I have this sense of normality.

What would you be doing if this were a regular Saturday night in Lisbon?
I’d be with my boyfriend and probably go to dinner and drinks with friends in the evening. In Portugal it’s always dinner that leads into drinks that leads into more drinks and then we end up deciding which party to go to. It’s like a big village, there’s only one mega club to go to that plays techno, called Lux. If you’re gonna go to a party it’s a more underground thing, otherwise it’s Lux.

You’re in your thirties now, what did you do for your 30th birthday?
When was that? Shit, what did I do last year? I was in Paris. My friends did a little house thing. I think I passed out after I burnt my nose on poppers. I remember that happening on my 30th.

Do you feel mature?
I don’t feel mature. But I feel like I know now certain things to stay super vigilant with, like my health and my mental health. I'm really trying not to let anyone fuck with my mental health. One of the greatest things about ageing is you start to figure out what your triggers are.

It’s not about going through life every step of the way being like “this is gonna prevent this” or “this is gonna prevent that”, but really learning “oh, I’ve had enough experience that I should know better”, or how to strive to put myself in healthy situations with healthy people.

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You’ve said before that you didn’t always want to be a rapper, but a journalist…
You know the journalist past comes from being a writer and I was always encouraged that I was a good writer. And actually it’s funny because this summer with i-D I’m about to host a travel series where we go to Johannesburg in South Africa and I’m gonna be interviewing queer creatives that are thriving and making really important work right now. So that half of the equation is finally being realised and I’m really excited about it because people are only capable of knowing what you do when you do it. I want to balance things of that nature with the music, with the entertainment, and sometimes when I talk about that it feels kind of obnoxious because I’ve achieved certain levels of success. And I do think my career is really thriving — because I’ve worked towards it — but no, I did not want be a rapper.

So would you have believed someone if they told you at 15 years old that you’d be a rapper one day?
I wouldn’t have believed them. I was not a little black boy saying, “I’m gonna be a rapper when I grow up’’. I did not start rapping until I was 25. I stumbled into it. I had the idea to rap as part of a video art project. So I was always this artsy kid. I liked hip hop, but I was like “I’m gonna be a performance artist or a conceptual artist”. I always just thought that was cooler. And then, after about a year of doing the Mykki Blanco thing I realised I could still use the platform for that… I didn’t have to abide or be stereotypical, I could do these performance art ideas, or look to someone like Bowie, someone like Marc Bolan or Prince. Although Prince is way more of a musical genius. I realised as a performance artist I could use music. I think it’s cool things ended up this way but it’s an unexpected part of my story.

Would you describe yourself as an activist? What does activism mean to you?
You know, what I would say is this: I think people have put the term “activist” on me. I am vocal about issues and I’ve realised my social media has been a really important place for queer people or gender-queer people to have debates or public dialogues about nuanced issues that are grazed over in think pieces. I realise that’s why I’ve been called an activist. But I think an activist is someone who is out there on the front lines, not necessarily at protests, but physically there. I’ve not physically been there, even if I have tried to be a voice within my own community.

Does it get tiring talking about queerness? Or do you feel a duty to talk about it?
I don’t feel like it’s a duty. I get asked about a lot of things. It’s funny because I’m not a celebrity, but I have been in the public eye for about five years and I did not have to come out as HIV-positive in public, but that was such an intrinsic part of my personal life and was already starting to heavily effect me. Unless you go away and live on a farm or work in a restaurant and decide you’re not gonna do music any more or perform any more — which is something that you love — you realise it’s just gonna be healthy to be open and talk about these things over the hiding or the living in the shadows. It’s like: how could I have a boyfriend that I would also be happy to keep a secret?

What changed after coming out as HIV-positive?
I realised after I came out about that, that it’s always going to be tied to my name. It’s not a chip on my shoulder, but I do know you really have to do interesting stuff to get people to see past it. And I’m aware that it’s something I’ll always have to talk about because I made it public. But I’m a healthier person for making it public. It’s about owning it. That’s also what I’ve had to do with some of the issues I’ve had about substance abuse. There are times I’ve been in public, around people, when I’ve had full-on spirals, and to not come forward about it — about my recovery or the journey that recovery is. That allows people to gossip about you, or to exaggerate or create a false narrative that you have no control over. I’ve made a decision to be in the public eye and I would rather own my fuck-ups and publicly talk about the things I would rather not have people whisper about in the shadows.

 

How linked do you think your queerness, HIV-positivity and substance abuse are?
I think they are very linked. I think it’s kind of unfortunate how linked they are. I think one begets the other. Especially when I found out I was HIV-positive because I was ashamed and trying to hide it. I had substance issues because it was to do with trauma that was unresolved. I think that when you come forward [publicly as positive] it’s no longer this pity party, it’s like “I’m dealing with my shit”. And when I make music videos and do things that make you pay attention to me, well you also have to pay attention to my shit. I’d rather you not pay attention to my shit, but I’d also rather own the shit.

Last year you were on a plane and the person next to you called the cops because they said you made them feel uncomfortable. You called it out as homophobia. Does stuff like that happen often?
I realised that I learnt from this experience. It’s like racism — at first you don’t know what’s going on and then after a few minutes, it clicks. It’s not like the 1950s when someone shouts the N word at you or calls you a faggot. I mean, that does happen, but now it’s more subtle. At first you’re like “Why are these interactions weird? What is going on? And then you’re like, ‘Oh it’s homophobia or racism’”.

How do you feel about your gender identity now?
When I first started performing I was trans-identified. That was my own personal spiritual gender exploration. I was in this position twice; I was a gay male who thought I was a transgender woman and then I came back to being a gay man. I think when I tell people it sounds crazy, but as an effeminate gay man who was fully picked on and harassed I think at certain points I felt becoming a woman would be so much easier. I genuinely thought that for a while and then I realised my truth. And then I took a look at myself and thought, “You know what, maybe I’m more gender-fluid. I don’t have to go all the way as me part of liking myself.”

My final question is, if you could have dinner with three people, who would they be?
It would be the writer and philosopher Audre Lorde. Because of the groundwork she laid out in feminism, activism and queer theory. I just think she’s groundbreaking, you know what I mean? I think Oprah. And then…. Iggy Pop. I swam next to him in Miami Beach once but we didn’t talk. I model so much of my live performance off of him and I knew I could not afford back-up dancers or a showy stage show, so when I first started out I would watch a lot of videos of Iggy Pop. I would have a talk with him about how when he started out there were no other role models for letting go or having that sense of abandon he has on stage. I’d ask what allowed him to do that. 

 

 

 

 

The Accent supper club: May edition

Join Accent magazine for the first in a series of eccentric supper clubs in London.  

Accent supper host club Ned Alderwick at the Madonna Inn in California

Accent supper host club Ned Alderwick at the Madonna Inn in California

Each month, Accent will host an intimate evening of food, drink and performance. See the magazine brought to life with live performances and talks from stars from the magazine's pages — as well as some of Accent's biggest inspirations — over a candlelit dinner with friends. 

Tickets include welcome cocktails, a three-course menu of global-inspired vegetarian cuisine by The Little Cooking Pot, and front row seats to an eclectic show. 

The first supper club will take place on Sunday May 14 at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London.

Accent May supper club
Sunday May 14, 2017
7-10 pm
£38

Servant Jazz Quarters
10A Bradbury Street, Dalston
London N16 8JN
 


ON THE MENU IN MAY

Main course of kala chana curry, coconut rice and flatbread from The Little Cooking Pot

Main course of kala chana curry, coconut rice and flatbread from The Little Cooking Pot

Tanqueray Mojito
Tanqueray gin, mint leaves, fresh lime juice and sugar syrup
 
Canapés
Panipuri with potatoes and kala chana, mint chutney, nigella and pomegranate
Cheera
 
Starter
Mini masala dosa
Cauliflower and ginger samosa with fresh green chutney
Mini roti with smokey aubergine, toasted coconut flakes & coriander chutney
 
Thali (main course)
Coconut and cinnamon dahl
Aubergine and kala chana curry topped with toasted seeds & spring onions
Tandoori roasted broccoli with sesame and mint chutney
Coconut sticky rice with okra, lime, peanuts and black sesame
 
On the table
Green chilli pickle
Mint raita
Flatbread
 
Dessert
Fig and cardamom kheer with pistachio chikki

The menu is fully vegan, and catered by The Little Cooking Pot


PERFORMERS

A ticket to the Accent supper club includes a front-row seat to an eclectic show.

Here is the starry line-up for May . . .

ACT ONE
Performance artist Liv Fontaine

ACT TWO
Songbird Sadie Sinner

ACT THREE
Reba Maybury reads an extract from her new book, Dining with Humpty Dumpty

OUR HOST WITH THE MOST
Ned Alderwick

Andie

Reflections from an ‘in-betweeny’ on a double life lived at the weekend. With photographs by Jack Davison

 

LONDON — I used to work in an office. One day I was expecting a visitor. Somewhat bewilderingly, when he got to my floor he asked for ‘Julie’. “He’s only Julie at the weekends”, declared a female colleague, so that everyone could hear. I had not divulged to, and had deliberately kept hidden from, anyone at the office, that I was, indeed, (not Julie) ‘Andie’ at the weekends, and my colleague’s joke was, therefore, pregnant with hidden irony, or, possibly, my cover had already been blown: the hair long enough to be en chignon, the mascara not having been completely erased by Monday morning?

But yes, she was right: I am ‘Andie’ at the weekends (a ‘genuine’ girl’s name in France and America). A very part-time tranny, dancing Saturday nights away at the Way Out Club in Aldgate, or sometimes Wednesdays at the Shadow Lounge in Soho: two popular transgender venues. People of all ages, all backgrounds, all races, dressed and made-up magnificently differently. Many are part-time, like me; some have undergone anatomical and chemical change to move more convincingly into the realm of the feminine: boys, girls and in-betweenies. Some of the more convincingly and biologically transformed can look askance at we ‘in-betweenies’: we’re not the real thing, we’re merely playing at it. I heard one such belle of the ball — rather spoiling the graces lent by her most admirable physical beauty — complain about the smell of testosterone in the Ladies, because, she animadverted, of all the trannies there.

Such girls could never undergo the purported ignominy of being ‘read’. Me, I don’t mind that much if I am taken for a man in a dress or a rather ragged or bizarre form of female in a dress. Being a ‘man in a dress’ — because of the artificiality of the ‘disguise’ — tends, ironically, to afford you more attention, even admiration: having one’s photograph taken by strangers in the street, questions about where you got your shoes or costume, advice from girls on make-up, etc. On the negative side, this artificiality is occasionally an invitation for aggression: I was hit on the head on the night bus home by a man who evidently found my appearance offensive. Some young men, full of their own self-importance and booze, can evidence a strident reluctance to include me easily within their heretofore imagined view of the world, suddenly and rudely interrupted.

"I think it’s great to have two selves, to run two wardrobes, two persons, and be a citizen known completely differently. It’s boring being Andrew all the time"

I can’t get very worked up about being ‘read’. God has distributed his gifts unevenly; and I am disinclined to get political on the subject of men in bras generally, as perhaps we are invited to do when embraced, mostly unwittingly, by the LGBTQ community. Given that we are fighting against Nature, against the incredulity of family or friends, we necessarily find ourselves out on a limb. From this state of affairs it is but a short step, I think, to find oneself putting up a finger to society at large, in however vague or disorientated and meaningless a manner: we find ourselves manoeuvred into the position of rebels. Which is curious, really, when all we’re doing is wearing a skirt. You wouldn’t think people would be so sensitive: the fact that they are makes rather attractive, to me, an outcome which is more than just frivolity.

It is suggested that of all the deviations, transvestism is the most philosophic or aesthetic — as against being purely sexual in motivation; even that our primeval or ancestral gods and progenitors were androgynous and possessed of a wisdom that the subsequent human declension into male and female has vitiated. According to this view, your humble tranny reclaims and becomes the inheritor of a divine authority: a shaman, a priest-like sorcerer, a visionary! Try telling that to the man on the night bus back! (Or any of the girls at the clubs, come to that.)

Is one more in touch with one’s feminine side? It’s suggested that dressing-up can be an amelioration of the demands of an over-harsh super ego, instilled by a male-dominated society. When I look around me at the clubs, I’m intrigued to think that almost everyone there is actually a man. Although the male ego is never far below the surface, I think there is a certain softening of the personality: if only a more genuine sensitivity to the aesthetic. Which, in fact, is rather academic because the clubs are a carnival, showtime, bravura, and being someone different for a while — a place where everyone is a star.

I think it’s great to have two selves, to run two wardrobes, two persons, and be a citizen known completely differently. It’s boring being Andrew all the time.

And anyway, think of the health benefits: all that dancing! Plus, there’s no way one is going start putting on weight, if one is still to get into those size 10 dresses. And finally, why should women have all the fun of the many transformative and deceptive possibilities afforded by make-up and dress? A ‘star’: repeatedly burnt to incandescence and continually reliving its genesis—at the weekend.

Andrew Logan — in fractured mirrors, light

Words by Matthew Ponsford with photographs by Elliot Kennedy

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“He is like a huge open eye. An incredible open eye. You can see every detail in his eye and you can see how our world is transformed into something new — something magical. 

“You stand in front of him and it will change you . . . and give you . . . incredible power . . . I . . . I don’t know . . . how. It’s beautiful.” 

— Experimentalist Andrey Bartenev 

BERRIEW, WALES — Andrew Logan is a beacon of light. Everyone will tell you so. David Hockney, Derek Jarman, Leigh Bowery, Vivienne Westwood, Duran Duran, John Waters, Rula Lenska, Adam Ant — they’re a glimpse of the characters who have inhabited the fairytale world that Andrew has built from scrap. 

The artist has always had passion for the “unusual people”; the “creatives”, the extraordinary lives — and so it’s hardly surprising that some of the people arriving at his door happen to be famous. But it’s not about that. 

For the past 40 years, Andrew has been best known around the world for an anarchic party that envisioned a better future. His Alternative Miss World is a fancy dress contest inspired by a dog show, which — in thirteen instalments so far — has embraced a world that hasn’t always been welcoming. 

Andrew, a willowy 70-year-old, remains the Pied Piper, according to those who share his life. He inspires celebrities and misfits alike to follow. 

At the centre of his story are spaces he has filled with light and the people who have been bathed in it. He built the Glasshouse in Southwark, London, his home and studio for 25 years, and packed it with creations assembled from jumble sale finds and glitter: collages of bric-a-brac, jewellery made from coloured glass, sculptures of Pegasus with wings outstretched, colossal eggs glistening with shards of fractured mirror. There he lived beneath a glass ceiling designed by his architect partner, Michael Davis, so he could gaze out into the infinite and fall asleep under the lights of the universe. 

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In this article, the people closest to Andrew — Michael, Brian Eno, Grayson Perry, Zandra Rhodes, friends and family — reflect a little of the glittering glow that he gives off. 

We meet Andrew in rural Mid Wales, at the Andrew Logan Museum of Sculpture: the only museum in Europe dedicated to a living artist, and Andrew and Michael’s temporary home. 

In the village of Berriew, Powys — halfway up Wales, and a few miles from the English border — there are artists in the hills, apparently. Michael, who has been with Andrew for 45 years, says the couple started journeying here in the Eighties, when friends of theirs were caretakers for Julie Christie, who breeds sheep up the road. There’s a long history of artists arriving from the big city, but, as a scene, it never really came together. 

Berriew is made up of a few country lanes that converge on a gurgling river. There’s a church with a tower, two pubs, a Spar shop with stale sandwiches, and a sign listing those glorious years when Berriew was recognised as the best-kept village in Wales.

And then there’s Andrew, across the road, hat-to-hems in shining pink, beaming — a man from a distant planet. 

They get on well with the locals — mainly farmers — he thinks. But he can’t get through to them, really, about the museum or his art. “Impossible”, he says, quickly. “Only through the schools: the children.”

In the early days, it took a day to get to Berriew from London: “It was exciting, you’d get lost, it was fabulous.” He’d always dreamt of having his museum and, when he and Michael found some abandoned squash courts near the river, they built it. It opened in 1991. As you walk in the front door, almost filling your line of sight is a 10ft Cosmic Egg — a giant oval covered in mirrored glass that reflects everything: the light through the doorway, the artefacts lining the walls, the strangers around you. Andrew glows. Being so remote amplifies its effect, he reckons: “It’s a double shock: you walk in and think ‘Oh my goodness, where’s this come from?’ ”

Buy the issue to read the full article

 

Vietnam, They Ask, So What Was It Like

Wartime photographs by Vietnam veterans, with words taken from the poem, Vietnam, They Ask, So What Was It Like, by Sgt Clyde B Canny of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment
From an exhibition curated by Marissa Roth

Vietnamese fishermen heading out in their sampan to the South China Sea from the port in Nha Trang, Vietnam Michael Olson — U.S. Army, Specialist 4, 981st M.P. Sentry Dog Nha Trang, Vietnam 1969-70

Vietnamese fishermen heading out in their sampan to the South China Sea from the port in Nha Trang, Vietnam
Michael Olson — U.S. Army, Specialist 4, 981st M.P. Sentry Dog
Nha Trang, Vietnam 1969-70

Vietnam
They Ask
So What Was It Like

I felt so young

I felt so old

I felt so hot

I felt so cold

sometimes wet

sometimes dry

Joe Kempt, 1st Squad machine gunner from Louisiana, East of Tay Ninh, Vietnam July 1969 Bill Noyes — Sergeant E-5, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Regiment, 25th Infantry Division Vietnam September 1968 – September 1969

Joe Kempt, 1st Squad machine gunner from Louisiana, East of Tay Ninh, Vietnam July 1969

Bill Noyes — Sergeant E-5, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Regiment, 25th Infantry Division
Vietnam September 1968 – September 1969

still can hear

the choppers fly

a weapon fires

someone cries

some would live

some would die

the still of night

till cannons roar

knock mighty trees

to jungle floor

the smell of life

the smell of death

a newborn baby

draws first breath

it don’t mean nothin’ *

but that’s a lie

now there’s time

to stop and cry

take the hill

let it go

we still ask why

do any know

 

*This expression was commonly used to defer painful reactions to battlefield experiences to a time when they could safely be processed.

Unfortunately, for some, that time has yet to come.

USO performance at Fire Base Rawlins, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, November 1969 David Fahey — Spec 4, US Army, 25th Infantry, 4th Battalion, 23rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

USO performance at Fire Base Rawlins, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, November 1969
David Fahey — Spec 4, US Army, 25th Infantry, 4th Battalion, 23rd Mechanized Infantry Brigade
Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Sergeant Burgie, my best buddy in Vietnam, Cambodia, May 1970 David Fahey —Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Sergeant Burgie, my best buddy in Vietnam, Cambodia, May 1970
David Fahey —Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Mortar batallion, Cambodia, May 1970 David Fahey — Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Mortar batallion, Cambodia, May 1970
David Fahey — Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Boy with his little man, Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, November 1969
David Fahey — Vietnam and Cambodia, September 1969 – September 1970

Oh my God! by Harrod Blank

From the Art Cars series — one man’s obsession with America's mobile masterpieces

Photographs by Harrod Blank

ARIZONA — In 1977 I was a freshman at Santa Cruz High School, a place where the kind of car you had, if you even had a car, was a big deal. I really wanted a Mustang but all I could afford was a $600 white 1965 VW Beetle. Embarrassed to drive it, I painted a rooster on the passenger’s door — I was raising exotic poultry at the time. My popularity rose quickly after that, so I was encouraged to keep decorating. I covered the entire car in objects until it became known as “Oh My God!” — the number one response from people who see it. 

What I like most about riding an art car is seeing people totally blown away. They can’t believe what’s before their eyes. For years I tried to take pictures of their reactions, but as soon as they saw a camera, they would act differently. Then I had a dream about a car covered in cameras, and the next day I woke up and thought, “I’m going to do a camera van”. It took me two years to figure out how to make it. It has more than 2,500 cameras on it, ten of them functioning film cameras, and it really works — it takes pictures! It’s like I’m on a spaceship and everywhere I go people are staring at me. I have the time of my life driving around taking pictures of people’s expressions as they see it. 

I’ve spent my life documenting art-car culture. I’ve made a calendar, two books and two documentary feature films on the subject. In 2005, having three art cars of my own as well as a few collected from friends, I was having trouble finding parking. I opened up a museum in Douglas, Arizona, called Art Car World. We now have 21 cars on show. It’s still under construction, but when the building is finished there will be a replica of “Oh My God!” on the top with a beacon of green light and a hot tub inside.

When I was photographing art cars, I always focused on individuality. It wasn’t just the art car that was of interest; really it was the person who created it. The product is this mobile, 

Lucia Lucas, a modern diva

The transgender opera star on life as a female baritone

Photographs by Alice Neale
Interview by Lucy Nurnberg

Coat — Givenchy

Coat — Givenchy

When I'm on stage, I can gather all the feelings that build up throughout the day or week and let them all out. 

My deep voice often has me playing angry characters, so the screaming that I hold back in response to intolerant people on the street can be released upon the audience. 

I enjoy playing the villain, because there is a stillness and elegance to them. I recently sang the 12-minute aria of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer, completely naked, at The Glory, Muse and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London. The Dutchman is an outcast and misunderstood; I can very strongly relate to his journey. I made the performance a story about my transition. It wasn’t fetishised, it was about me and my body and getting comfortable. 

Afterwards, I got a letter from someone in the audience who is intersex, presenting as female. They assumed that I was like them — they saw my naked body and saw a woman’s body, not a trans woman’s. That was very gender confirming.

Six shots of coffee a day is normal for me, and I have an energy drink about an hour before I go on stage. I like to think about my performance as having the right energy. Usually I have too little. If I need it right away, I’ll jump up and down. If my heart rate is too high, I’ll do breathing exercises to lower it. 

At university, when I was about 18, I worked with an opera singer who was 45. I said: “I really like opera, what should I do?” He said: “Get a day job until you’re 40.” If you have a heavy baritone voice, like I do, you usually don’t start professionally until you’re at least 30. I would have worked in computers if I didn’t pursue opera — but I’m not yet 40 and I’ve done a lot in my career. 

In performances, I play men about 90 per cent of the time. My singing voice hasn’t changed since I transitioned. I try to step into my character every rehearsal and performance. I wouldn’t want a member of the audience to think a woman was playing the character unless they looked down at their programme. 

Home is wherever my wife is. We met and fell in love 13 years ago at California State University, where we were studying opera. We got together when she crashed my Halloween party; I was the devil and she was a fairy.

We have a home in Wuppertal, near Düsseldorf, but because we’re both freelance artists we’re always on the road.Thankfully we live in the age of Skype and global communication. 

It wasn’t until I was five or six that I learnt that boys and girls were different. I was an only child and I played with Lego and educational toys, so my first exposure to a gendered society was when I went to school. I was told I was not a girl, but I knew I was not a boy. 

The advice I would give to trans kids is to be insistent in what you know to be true. Let the professionals diagnose you, but don’t let the corrections of conservative society tell you who you should be. If you have a bad home life, get good grades so you can move to a big city for college. From there, you can make anything happen. I hope that every trans child can get puberty blockers if they need them, but they should know that transition after puberty is possible. I didn’t begin my transition until the age of 33 and I am still very happy. 

I came out in May 2014. I knew for sure that I was transitioning in late October 2013, but the medical journey, especially in Germany, is heavily regulated and I had to wait till that was well on its way.

I came out to the opera community at a ball with my wife — she wore a tux and I wore a dress. People didn’t recognise me at first — they recognised my wife, looked at me and eventually they figured it out. Being able to see their genuine reactions was helpful; I came out the next week. I told the intendant that I liked my job and hoped I could continue to do it, but this was something I had to do for myself; it was something I’d been putting it off forever. He said: “OK, how does this was something I had to do for myself; it was something I’d been putting it off forever. He said: “OK, how does this work?” I replied: “Well, nobody’s ever done it before.” 

People at Karlsruhe, my opera house, were shocked. I ended up telling my story a lot. I went to the canteen every day for about a month and basically hung out there for hours. I talked with anybody who wanted to talk and tried to be really open. I could never be stealth at work — there was too much internet history under my old name — so I decided to be in advocacy. I write articles for anyone who wants to know more. 

Jacket — model’s own, jewellery — Bill Skinner, cane — stylist’s own (Alexander McQueen)

Jacket — model’s own, jewellery — Bill Skinner, cane — stylist’s own (Alexander McQueen)

I am proud of my gender and trans status, but people on the street don’t need to know. Never out a trans person because you could be exposing them to someone dangerous. Since presenting as a woman, the biggest change is my awareness of danger. I take more taxis now when before I felt safe to walk alone. 

Knowing that sexism exists and seeing it clearly is very different from having it turned on you. I expect trans misogyny, but the first time I was called into an office and yelled at, and then told not to be emotional, I was very disturbed. 

A masculine face typically has an angular jaw line, a protruding brow bone, a downward-turned nose, an M hairline and no Cupid’s bow on the upper lip. I had surgery to bring the dimensions and appearance of my face into the female range. In my consultation, my surgeon noted that my nose was upturned and that I lacked an Adam’s apple so I wouldn’t need surgery to alter them. It was lucky because both could have interfered with my singing. Since having the surgery, I can go in public with little or no make-up and be read as female.

Right now, I’m most comfortable with my body when I’m wearing no clothes. I love the shape of my body since transitioning. Despite being about 6ft tall with a large bone structure, my fat distribution is clearly female. I don’t need to play tricks with fashion to balance out my shape, my body is shaped well without clothes. I also love how soft my skin is now.

Reactions to my transition have been polarising. Some conservative opera critics have gone so far as to tell me not to transition so I will stay in the industry. 

In mainstream opera they’ve been queering it for a long time. Lots of productions will switch the genders of roles or drag up performers. But when you have a trans person doing it, all of a sudden some people’s heads explode. The same people who wouldn’t care if it was a man in the dress, suddenly freak out when there’s a trans woman playing that role. 

There are lots of trans singers out there, but way more are in the closet than out. I’ve had friends who I’ve sang with for five years who assumed that I was done with opera because I was transitioning. I’m like, “Did I say I was quitting?” No, I’m going to keep doing it and I’m going to do it better than I’ve done it before. 

On the brighter side of things, my supporters have been very enthusiastic and lots of directors have been excited to work with me. This autumn I’m working on a production of The Tales of Hoffmann with four directors, in which I’m playing three of the four male characters as female. As soon as you change the gender of one character it switches the dynamic of all the other characters. It plays games with the entire production. I’m also part of a new group called oedipa, where the end goal is forming a queer opera company. 

I look forward to singing at any house that is ready for world-class opera. 

It’s very powerful to take your identity into your own hands — most people don’t ever get to choose a name for themselves. My last name now was my first name at birth. It was given to me because it was my great-grandmother’s maiden name and would have been the end of that line. I chose Lucia because it’s the Italian, feminine form of my old name. I’m proud of what I have accomplished in my life even before I transitioned and I’m not trying to erase any of that history. Now, if someone slips up and calls me by my old name, I can say: “Why so formal? Just call me Lucia.”

Credits: Assistant: Hannah Burton; styling: Rachael J Vick; make-up: Naomi Serene; retouching: Signe Emma

Pantsula, Pantsula, Pantsula

Photographs by Chris Saunders
Words by Daniela Goeller

“Pantsula is everything to me and everything is pantsula: I dress pantsula, I walk pantsula — I even talk pantsula”

Sello Modiga, Real Actions Pantsula, Orange Farmsula, Orange Farm

In the late 1970s, a new subculture took shape in the townships of South Africa. Young fashionistas began dressing up in expensive American and European labels and parading through the streets, treading carefully along dusty dirt roads to preserve their immaculate white socks and fine leather shoes. The subculture became known as “pantsula”, supposedly derived from a Zulu word that describes sticking out one’s buttocks or waddling like a duck.

A decade later, in the late 1980s, pantsula emerged as a powerful dance style, inspired by the gestures and movements of these stylish youth. A blend of traditional and modern dance combined with exaggerated everyday gestures, pantsula is an entertaining form of storytelling that includes mime, clowning, acrobatics and magic tricks. Some of the core movements referenced the fashionista’s walking. For young people growing up in the final days of apartheid, pantsula became their main form of expression in a time of great political instability.  

According to its dancers, pantsula can trace its roots back to the 1940s and Sophiatown, a multiracial suburb of Johannesburg known as “little Paris”, “little Harlem” or the “Chicago of South Africa” that is renowned for its international heritage and being home to elite writers, jazz musicians and some notorious gangsters. With these influences, and its connections to Marabi music and the illicit shebeen drinking bars, pantsula became known as the “dance of thugs”.

Via Vyndal, a pantsula crew from Alexandra, chose their name (a distortion of “vandal”) with reference to the bad reputation that sticks to the youth of their township. When performing, they adopt the same dress-code as the gangsters, because they like the style, but do not associate with violence. As Sandile Nqulunga explains, “We want to show people that dressing in a certain way doesn’t make you a bad person: we are artists and we like to entertain people”.

Pantsula is a culture of hustling, engaging wit and skill. “Pantsula is about survival,” says Vusi Mdoyi, a dancer from Katlehong; “like when a cat falls on its feet from high up, absorbing the shock in its body and in its bones.” The dance is fast, highly energetic and extremely challenging. It requires long hours of training and daily practice. Becoming a member of a crew provides many talented and unemployed young people with a structure in life, as well as some income. The leaders of pantsula are respected in their communities for taking the youth off the streets and giving them a sense of belonging. As the dominant urban dance form in South Africa, pantsula has reached theatre stages and street-dance festivals around the world. Online, the catchphrase is PANTSULA 4LYF — with LYF standing for “Live Your Freedom”.