Transcript: Gay and disabled

This is a full transcript of 'Gay and disabled' as presented by Emma Tracey and first broadcast on 22 September 2017

Ouch Talk Show 22nd September 2017


Presented by Emma Tracey

Disabled Drag Queens

EMMA - Disabled drag queens, that's what we're talking about this week on Inside Ouch. I'm Emma Tracey, and with me is actor, writer and director with cerebral palsy Robert Softley Gale. Hi Robert, how are you?

ROBERT - Hi there, good thanks Emma.

EMMA -Robert's play about three older disabled drag queens trying to reignite their careers with a version of the 1962 classic movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is touring Scotland at the moment.

Robert, are there disabled drag queens, like outside of your play, are there actual disabled drag queens?

ROBERT - In the real world?

EMMA -In the real world.

ROBERT - There are some. There's a couple in New York that we managed to find. So, there are some but not many. It's quite a rare form to take.

EMMA - You're a drag queen in this play, you're one of the characters, are there specific challenges around being a disabled drag queen? You've got cerebral palsy and I'm thinking tights and things.

ROBERT - Yeah, my pre-show costume routine is quite a bit longer than most other people's might be. It takes quite a while to put on when you've got cerebral palsy. But I make a thing of that in this show.

EMMA -Let's hear one of the songs from Blanche & Butch, The Real Me.

SONG: You see you in me, you see you in me. You project all of your own insecurities. You imagine my existence tough or weird, but in truth my presence isn't to be feared.

EMMA -And another thing, I guess while we're talking about sort of tricky things when you've got cerebral palsy, and something that you've explored a lot in your previous work, because you've been in the disability art scene and the art scene for a long time, is speech and the speech of people with cerebral palsy.

ROBERT - Yeah.

EMMA -And obviously people will recognise that you've got an interesting speech pattern. And something that is - I can totally absolutely understand what you're saying - but I guess if you weren't tuned in or if you weren't bothered or if you were actually discriminating you could say you just didn't understand at all.

ROBERT - It all depends on where you are. So, we only get small stages because that makes it easier. In that massive theatre where we're having to project it becomes more difficult to be understood. But then you look at what can that bring to the party; so because of my speech people quite often listen to me a little bit more intently and they focus a little bit more on what I say. When you're on stage you want people to focus on what you're saying. So, yes it can be a barrier but it can also be quite a bonus as well.

EMMA -It's a question that I'm a bit wobbly on asking but it's something that we've talked about in the Ouch office for years and years and years, and maybe it's just the people that we come into contact with but - I'll get to my question eventually - it feels like there's a higher percentage of LGBTQ disabled people than in the general population. Is that just because we're in arts and media? What's your thinking?

ROBERT - There's a great story. A friend of mine, Garry Robson, who also runs Birds of Paradise, was working on the London Olympics, the opening ceremony, and they had hundreds of disabled performers and they brought in a lot of new people into that field. And one guy at one point said to Garry, "What is it about deaf people, are they all gay?"

EMMA -Deaf people?

ROBERT - Yeah, specifically deaf men, there's a high proportion of camp gay deaf men. So, yeah I don't know why. I think people in the arts actually we're a bit more open to more diversity.

I think there's something else. I think this idea that disabled people are so de-sexualised, a lot of people assume that we don't have sex and we don't have a sexuality, so therefore in some ways perhaps we try to assert our sexuality even more than non-disabled people. And I wonder if that's why.

The minute I come out and say that I'm queer people go, "OK, so you have a sexuality." Whereas if I just stay quiet and appear to be a random heterosexual person then it's much easier to de-sexualise me.

EMMA -So, if you've got any thoughts on that please get in touch. You can email us ouch@bbc.co.uk, tweet us @bbcouch and you can find us on Facebook at BBC Ouch as well.

A friend of mine she was having a chat with her mum one day about the fact that she was seeing a woman, so she had been straight and then she was seeing a woman, her mum said: "I kind of get it, you're - to paraphrase, totally paraphrase here - you're sort of widening the pool of suitors to include women. And I totally get that: you're disabled; it's difficult to find a partner." Can disabled people's families be a bit more accepting because again they've already had the disabled thing to work with? Often it's about: as long as you're happy, thank goodness you're happy, you've had such a tough time, blah, blah, blah.

ROBERT - Yeah.

EMMA -I have all these theories, Robert.

ROBERT - [Laughing] Theories are great, aren't they! That's one possible perspective, but I think also for a lot of disabled people they are brought up with parents who are very involved in their care and they're looked after, and therefore there can be a little bit of infantilisation going on. And then when you come out they can be a bit, "No, that's not what I want for you" or, "You don't know your own mind; how can you know that you're gay or queer or whatever?" I think there's a whole range of perspectives.

And the whole thing about, you know, gender expression, if you are a young disabled person who doesn't get to pick what they wear then how do you begin to look at how you express your gender and how does that play into coming out? There are all sorts of things in there that I think can make it very difficult.

So, I think there used to be the idea that the gay community would be very accepting of disabled people because they were already open-minded. And then there's also the idea that disabled people are more accepting of gay people because they're already open-minded. And in some ways that's true but I think also in a lot of ways it cannot be true; it can be just as hard if not even harder. In any minority group there can be a desire to not include other minorities.

EMMA -Is that something you've experienced in the community yourself? And I know you've done some work with Regard which is the organisation, or has been the organisation that looks after disabled people in the LGBTQ community. Is that something that's a real problem?

ROBERT - Absolutely, the specific issues that affect LGBT disabled people.

EMMA -So, what are those specific issues?

ROBERT - They are obvious things like physical access. So, gay, queer spaces, pubs, clubs, events are not always that accessible, be it physical access or BSL or audio description, they do not make that accessible. So, if you're not part of that space how can you become part of that community? That's one of the big barriers.

EMMA -And you took a gay club to court around accessibility and won.


EMMA -So, you're doing your bit to try and help in that area.

ROBERT - Yeah.

EMMA - OK what else?

ROBERT - Yeah, what else? [Laughter] Great, deal with it!

EMMA -It's fab. It made two small newspapers at the time, but it was something that the disabled community were talking about for sure when it happened.

ROBERT - Yeah. I think the other thing is our perception of what is, we used to talk about the body beautiful, this idea of perfection. And certainly within the gay male community, this idea that you have to be a certain size and be a certain weight. If you wobble and you spasm, which I do, you don't really fit into that body beautiful image.

EMMA -Here's another clip from Blanche & Butch, and it's from a song called Intersectional Intercourse.

SONG: It's intersectional intercourse. You say, "You in?", I say, "Well of course". Fornicating when you're normal is so blasé. Why not take it…

EMMA -You don't have to have seen Whatever Happened to Baby Jane to watch Blanche & Butch, but where did the idea of bringing that film into a play about disabled drag queens come from? Why is it of interest to you?

ROBERT - OK, so Whatever Happened to Baby Jane obviously had Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was the first, in some ways the only gay iconic disabled film to star a disabled actor or, sorry, a disabled character.

EMMA -Yeah, there's a big difference!

ROBERT - Yeah, yeah, take that back. [Laughter] So, because of that I remember when I was 18 the minute I went out into the gay scene people would start calling me Blanche. So, the film is very vaguely based on a gothic horror film where it's two sisters, one who is called Blanche, a young child star and she's got a sister called Jane, and when they get older an accident happens, possibly an accident where Jane ends up disabled in a wheelchair and Blanche has to look after her at home. Basically the film was about all the resentment, it's about bickering sisters. Jane feels she's looking after Blanche because she's disabled. So, that resonates with me in terms of you can look at a lot of resentment issues amongst disabled and non-disabled people.

Also, as you say, because it was this iconic gay film that had a disabled character that felt quite powerful to put that on stage.

EMMA -OK Robert, your play Blanche & Butch is touring Scotland in lots of really small towns, which I guess feeds into your way of wanting to talk about this in different spaces.


EMMA -I'm going to see it. Plug the show.

ROBERT - We're touring Scotland from now until October 14th. For all of the dates go to boptheatre.co.uk/blanche&butch.

EMMA -So, that's boptheatre.co.uk/blanche&butch. Thanks very much for talking to me, Robert Softley Gale.

This has been Inside Ouch. I'm Emma Tracey. You can get in touch with us by email ouch@bbc.co.uk, find us on Twitter @bbcouch, on Facebook we're BBC Ouch as well, and for all the other stuff we do, all the other disability stuff from around the BBC as well you can go to bbc.co.uk/disability. Bye bye.