Issue Two

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”.

 

 

Circus Chimera — lure and legend

From Hugo, Oklahoma, to Paris, Texas, a photographic odyssey documenting the lives of contortionists, tightrope walkers and aerialists 

Photographs and words by Norma I Quintana

UNITED STATES — On a hot summer’s day I happened across a flyer announcing that a one-ring circus was in town. To my surprise, a tent had been set up near my home in California.

I approached the pop-up ticket trailer on the grounds when it was uber quiet and asked if I could speak to the person in charge. Here I met the circus owner, Jim Judkins. I explained my interest in photographing the circus, and he pointed me in the direction of Douglas and Oliver, brothers who were part of a larger family act, the Rodogels Brothers Trapeze Act. They were insiders, Jim told me, and if they introduced me to the others, I would be in. That’s where it all began. 

I found out that Jim had always dreamt of having a circus and started his career out of Hugo, Oklahoma, in the middle of the country. He named it Circus Chimera. 

Olga, a quick-change artist

Olga, a quick-change artist

That summer I quickly became attached to the circus and spent a lot of time getting to know acrobats, aerial flyers, contortionists, tightrope walkers and jugglers. It felt like being part of a large family with relatives from different countries; Russia, Canada, Mexico, China. I began seeking out a particular member of each family, usually someone younger, to translate for me. I showed up day after day throughout the season, and after a while they got to know me. The children called me the Photo Lady.

After a show, many of the performers ate their dinners together and if there was ever a birthday or an anniversary it was celebrated after hours. Once a month there was an event called “CRAZY CIRCUS!”, a show for the performers themselves. It was an opportunity for them to entertain their families and friends, and it was wonderfully funny, with lots of in-jokes. Even my young daughter took part in a couple of acts. 

I often sat with the artists by the cookhouse tent. The circus offered basic food for everyone; if you wanted something extra you had to get it yourself. I ate a lot of rice and beans. I also spent time with the families in their RVs and travelling vehicles, which was wonderful since it would be so hot outside that I welcomed a place to cool off and rest.

The interiors of people’s travelling homes were simple and I noticed they had bolted family photographs to the walls — photographs of previous generations of performers. Space was limited, but they always invited me to sit with them. Travelling homes came in different shapes and sizes depending on how many people were in the family. Often people would extend their living space to outside with chairs, and of course bits of their equipment, such as hula hoops or aerial straps.

Their lives were so normal off-stage. Even the most beguiling star needs to do their laundry, shop for groceries or see their doctor.

"Ginger fell when her safety rig failed while performing a new aerial act. I thought her career was over, but she is now a premier aerialist with Cirque du Soleil"

"Ginger fell when her safety rig failed while performing a new aerial act. I thought her career was over, but she is now a premier aerialist with Cirque du Soleil"

Most relationships and even marriages were a result of being in the circus. Every season I found out about hook-ups and break-ups. And just like on a movie set, some relationships were seasonal. Many of the children were born on the road because of the circus schedule. One of the mothers told me that her daughter was born in Paris and I replied: “Really, how did you happen to be in France?” She said: “No, Paris, Texas, USA.” 

The younger children would practise with their parents. If they fell they were encouraged to get up and do their act again, as if there was no room for fear. I soon learnt that circus performers live their lives by split seconds. For aerialists, their job depended on being able — twice daily, rain or shine — to turn a triple somersault.

"I met Devanira soon after she had her baby, Doricela — her joy was immense. Her daughter is now a teenager and performs with the family as a hula-hooper

"I met Devanira soon after she had her baby, Doricela — her joy was immense. Her daughter is now a teenager and performs with the family as a hula-hooper

The circus travelled all year round, with December used to visit family and settle in before a new year. Performers went home to Las Vegas, Nevada, Oklahoma or to visit their families abroad. 

After my first summer with the circus, I knew I would return every year. For more than a decade, I would show up whenever the circus came within a hundred miles of my home. I would load my Hasselblad with black-and-white film and travel with them for weeks, often with my two young children in tow. To most, the circus represents the sideshow, the front gate and the Big Top. For me, the circus represented its people and the nomadic way of life. 

Yarn Car by Tim Klein

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

Photographs by Harrod Blank

OREGON — I’ve always been a left-brained computer guy rather than an artist — I’m a mild-mannered software engineer — but my girlfriend painted with acrylics and she explained that acrylic paint is simply coloured liquid plastic. The next day, while taking a shortcut through the fabric section of a store, I happened to notice the words “100% acrylic” on the label of a skein of yarn. Something clicked in my brain and it occurred to me that yarn could be used as fuzzy paint. That night I dreamed I was driving a fuzzy car. The seed had been planted! 

Within a week, I had bought the biggest, flattest car I could find: a neglected 1967 Chrysler Imperial. I spent several months covering its surface with five miles of acrylic yarn, one strand at a time, in meticulous linear patterns. That was 14 years ago. I’ve had to strip and replace the worn-out coat three times.

I own two cars: the Yarn Car, and a plain black auto that’s so boring I call it the “Yawn Car”. On any given day, I decide whether to drive the Yarn Car or the Yawn Car, depending on whether I’m feeling outgoing enough to talk to inquisitive strangers. 

I wasn’t prepared for the effect the Yarn Car would have on the public. I drive it as a regular car, on road trips or to go to the grocery store, and it’s as if I’m in a parade every day. People are so taken aback at the sight of a yarn-covered car that they forget all shyness and instantly start talking to a stranger about it.

I’ve spoken with thousands of smiling, happy people who I never otherwise would have met. Over the years, the Yarn Car has been seen by millions of people in person at parades and shows and at random on the street, and by tens of millions in the press. I figure if just one out of every ten people who encounter the car gets a kick out of it, then my humble fuzzy creation must have brought several million smiles into the world so far.

Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World

A fancy dress contest inspired by Crufts (a British dog show), established by Andrew Logan in 1972

In the early 1970s, the artist Andrew Logan had an idea for a party. It would not be about beauty, it would be about transformation. The Alternative Miss World would allow anyone to enter: men and women on equal footing: racial parity in a pre-cosmopolitan London; sexuality set free in a million guises. And everyone would be judged on the same criteria as the dogs at Crufts: poise, personality and originality.

Since the first event in Andrew’s flat in Hackney, in 1972, the Alternative Miss World has set the stage for some of the world’s most creative spirits to gather — with past guests, hosts and competitors including everyone from Derek Jarman, David Hockney and Zandra Rhodes to Grayson Perry, Divine, Leigh Bowery and the stars of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Accent Issue Two pays tribute to this long-running celebration of self-expression by unearthing some gems from the photo archive. 

Andrew Logan at the first Alternative Miss World in 1972

Andrew Logan at the first Alternative Miss World in 1972

The Alternative Miss World, est. 1972

1972

Where — Downham Road, Hackney

In attendance — David Hockney, Derek Jarman, Keith at Smile, Hermine Demoriane

Winner — Miss Yorkshire (Patrick Steed) 

Fact — Jack Hazan filmed the party and used a sequence as the party scene in his film about David Hockney, A Bigger Splash

Miss Holland Park Walk (Eric Roberts), the winner in 1973  Photograph: JD Matthews

Miss Holland Park Walk (Eric Roberts), the winner in 1973
Photograph: JD Matthews

1973

Where — Downham Road, Hackney

In attendance — Zandra Rhodes, Ossie Clark, Angie Bowie, David Bailey, Richard O’Brien, Tim Curry and Little Nell

Winner — Miss Holland Park Walk (Eric Roberts) 

Fact — The first AMW crown, made of cardboard and UHU glue, was presented here. The sceptre was wire and tinsel

1975 

Where — Butler’s Wharf, Bankside

Theme — Wild

In attendance — Fenella Fielding, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood

Winner — Miss Crêpe Suzette (Derek Jarman)

Fact — Miss Holland Park Walk threw Molly Parkin in the pool

Luciana Martinez de la Rosa, 1978  Photograph: Robyn Beeche

Luciana Martinez de la Rosa, 1978
Photograph: Robyn Beeche

1978

Where — A circus tent, Clapham Common

Theme — Circus

In attendance — Divine and Molly Parkin (hosts), Duggie Fields, Michael Fish, Joan Bakewell

Winner — Miss Carriage, Miss Linda Carriage (Stevie Hughes) 

Fact — AMW goes public. A film of it landed Andrew in court

1981

Where — The Grand Hall, Kensington Olympia

Theme — Imperial fantasy/royal imperial

In attendance — Janet Street-Porter, Fran Fullenwider

Winner — Miss Aldershot (Michael Haynes) 

Fact — Just before the Falklands War. The winner, in military dress, was accompanied by the Massed Band of the Irish Guards

1985

Where — Brixton Academy

Theme — Water

In attendance — Billy Connolly, Naim Attallah

Winner — Miss R.O.S.A.B.O.S.O.M. (a robot built by Bruce Lacey) 

Fact — Andrew’s brother Richard designed its waterfall backdrop

Fat Gill and Leigh Bowery in 1986  Photograph: Robyn Beeche

Fat Gill and Leigh Bowery in 1986
Photograph: Robyn Beeche

1986

Where — Brixton Academy

Theme — Earth

In attendance — Leigh Bowery, Koo Stark, John Maybury

Winner — Miss National Geographic (Jenny Runacre)

Fact — The local paper in Chislehurst, Kent, protested against the event being held there, claiming it would “bring AIDS” 

Andrew Logan and co-host Rula Lenska in 1991  Photograph: Robyn Beeche

Andrew Logan and co-host Rula Lenska in 1991
Photograph: Robyn Beeche

1991

Where — Business Design Centre, Islington

Theme — Air

In attendance — Rula Lenska, Brian Eno, Nick Rhodes

Winner — Miss Gale Force Wind (Burnel Penhaul, “the Transformer”) 

Fact — Held in daytime in the year the museum opened

Kinky Gerlinky Cabaret, 1991

Kinky Gerlinky Cabaret, 1991

1995

Where — The Grand, Clapham Junction

Theme — Fire

In attendance — Anita Roddick, Andrey Bartenev

Winner — Mademoiselle Jean D’Arc (Molly Burnel) 

Fact — The year the Russians came, led by Bartenev. “They are particularly supportive,” says Andrew

1998

Where — 291 Gallery (a converted church), Hackney

Theme — The void

In attendance — Janet Turner, Maggi Hambling, Rajeev Sethi

Winner — Miss Pani Bronua 

Fact — This time the Russians won it. Pani Bronua, a woman in her seventies, wowed the crowd with her personality

2004

Where — The Hippodrome, Leicester Square

Theme — The universe

In attendance — Amanda Barrie, Patricia Quinn, Julian Clary, Matthew Glamorre, Michael Kostiff

Winner — Miss Secret Sounds of Sunbird Rising, CCCP 

Fact — The show was dedicated to Andrew’s parents

2009

Where — The Roundhouse, Camden

Theme — The elements

In attendance — Ruby Wax, Ken Russell

Winner — Miss Fancy Chance (Veronica Thompson) 

Fact — The run-up to the event was recorded for Jes Benstock’s 2011 documentary, The British Guide to Showing Off

2014

Where — Shakespeare’s Globe, the South Bank

Theme — Neon numbers

In attendance — Grayson Perry, Angela Flowers, Daniel Lismore

Winner — Miss Zero + (Sasha Frolova)

Fact — Andrew’s sister, Janet, competed in her 13th pageant. She hasn’t won — yet

The Alternative Miss World will return in 2018

The solars of Cuba

Photographs by Carolina Sandretto

HAVANA, CUBA — A tumultous history over the past half-century has created a shortage of new housing in Cuba. While the regime provides education and food for its citzens, people are forced to live in the same houses as their families because they lack the means or permissions to build new ones. 

The housing shortage has led to the creation of buildings across the island known as “solars”. Originally designed to house single families, these crumbling 19th-century apartments have been divided into single-room occupancies where entire families — spanning different generations — eat, sleep and live together. 

Southern Cavalry

Devence, Dwayne, Jessie, Rob and Little Shorty — the young urban cowboys of New Orleans.

Photographs by Akasha Rabut
Words by Sam Feather Garner

The Game Changers and friends before a New Orleans second line parade 

Early on a Sunday morning in New Orleans, the street cleaners arrive on Bourbon Street and the last stragglers leave the bars. Some families are dressing for church, but others are primping themselves in a different sort of Sunday best, in preparation for the day’s second line parade. They are putting the finishing touches on elaborate bright costumes and applying make-up while brass bands assemble. Across the Mississippi river in Bridge City, the Game Changers, a group of twentysomethings wearing boots and white T-shirts, are at the stables to groom their horses. While most of the city thinks about brunch, they load the horses into trailers to drive to the twelve o’clock second line.

Second line culture is deeply rooted, and can be traced back to New Orleans’ funeral traditions. To afford a brass band, procession, and burial, black families would pool resources, forming social aid clubs. Members paid dues and paraded together; in turn, when their time came, they were ensured the same dignified procession and a proper burial. These clubs exist today as pleaure clubs. Every Sunday during the season, one of the clubs, with names like the Young Olympians, Zulu, and the Sidewalk Steppers, dress in flamboyant colours and parade through their neighborhood with a brass band, throwing a slow moving dance party that stops at members’ and friends’ businesses as it winds through the streets. This is a second line.

Devence, left, and Dwayne at their stables in Childs Arena, Bridge City

Devence, left, and Dwayne at their stables in Childs Arena, Bridge City

A horseman at a trail ride

A horseman at a trail ride

Hundreds of people join in, greatly outnumbering the pleasure club. The gatherings are free dance parties, informal fashion shows, and neighborhood networking events — central to the social lives of many black New Orleanians. People dress to impress: it’s easy to find men in three-piece suits, women with 2in fingernails, elaborate sculptural hair and custom RIP T-shirts. Motorcycle clubs assemble; shiny muscle cars and vintage Cadillacs roll by. Certain people become local celebrities, such as the snake man or the kid with the penny-farthing bicycle. They are famous without anyone knowing their name, and the Game Changers are no different.

Unlike a motorcycle or a fabulous outfit, however, horses need to be fed, stabled and groomed, and trained to behave in the hectic environment. The responsibility of keeping the animals is enormous. The Game Changers embrace the work as a part of their lifestyle, along with riding at second lines. People expect them; they are part of the attraction.

Every October, the Game Changers travel west for a trail ride. Ten thousand people gather from all over the South for camping, zydeco music and socialising. On the final day the cowboys ride together, following behind a truck pulling massive speakers. Thousands of horses jostle through the woods with their tipsy riders shouting over the music. The Game Changers ride to represent New Orleans and their urban, less traditional approach to being a black cowboy. Their horses are used to commotion, and aren’t spooked. For Devence, the de facto leader, and fellow cowboys Jessie and Dwayne, the scene isn’t so different from a second line.

Devence grooms his horse, Cane, before a Mardi Gras parade

Devence grooms his horse, Cane, before a Mardi Gras parade

The Game Changers are young men, but they have inherited a black cowboy tradition of entertaining. Ask, and Devence brings up his idol Bill Pickett, a famous black cowboy and rodeo rider born in 1870. Nor are they the first to show off horses at second lines, a practice that has been in slow decline for decades. As a fixture at second lines, the club hopes to spark youth interest in horses. Families photograph them, pose with them in selfies. Skittish children are urged by parents to stroke the animals’ necks. With every Sunday that passes, the Game Changers are keeping a culture alive and helping define it.

 

 

Jessie with Dream

Jessie with Dream