As debate rages about representation of queer people in the mainstream media one way we fix that is by representing ourselves – BCN is a prime example, while in Salford a new play gives voice to young bi women’s experience as part of this year’s Manchester Fringe. I met up with Paige Gadsby beforehand to find out more.
Paige’s new play Come ‘ere You Daft Cow is focused on friendships between bi and straight women, looking at the ways that women support it each other through relationships and mental health issues that commonly affect young people. The show follows Molly who is heterosexual and Alex who is bisexual, the show takes snapshots from their lives and how they support each other. For BiCon goers it will sadly have just been and gone as it’s on in Salford a few nights before BiCon comes to town, though readers in the North may catch it elsewhere soon after.
We started off talking about the bi ‘angle’ and how you get to represent bi voices.
“It was important to me that one of the characters be bisexual as the characters are based on my own experiences in life also there is so little representation in mainstream media or theatre for any members of the LGBTQ+ community especially for those of us that fall under the B. “
“I am bisexual and a lot of my friends are straight so I talked with them”
The play was developed by “sitting down and asking people – just getting them to ask me the questions they had always wanted to ask – it was hilarious – like ‘is scissoring a real thing? Because it happens in porn.’ And I was like ‘no, not really…’ but she was insistent ‘it happens all the time in porn!’ and suddenly I’m defending like: ‘no, I’m the one who has actually had sex with a woman, my opinion is probably better informed’… but I loved how insistent she was that she knew better”
“Another things was labels, and straight people asking why do we need them – ironic as straight people are the ones obsessed with putting labels on things and are then the ones questioning why we keep mentioning the label.”
Opening yourself up like that can be trying though: “It meant having to sit there and explain myself, defending myself to people. Especially when it was people I was friends with!“
The lineup of plays from production company North South has helped expand the script too: “We’ve been meeting from people for auditions for another production we are doing next year about queer women’s identities so that has helped add to the conversation and material of things that straight people say, and indeed people who are gay or lesbian and say ignorant things as well. You get ignorance from all over!
“So it’s been hilarious and depressing. But it’s been uplifting as well, particularly finding out how many bisexuals there are out there! Even people I’ve known for years and just never knew who say things like: yeah, I just never tell anyone because people just start making jokes or make dismissive comments. But it turns out there are so many of us!”
With a recent wave of bi characters being outed off-screen but lacking in visual representation of their sexuality, does Pagie think there an advantage to labelling, I ask?
“I think there is! People who are heterosexual are accepted just as who they are and labels let society understand you for the rest of us. And having a label helps you latch on to something that says this is who I am and it’s a massively important thing, to be able to claim your own label, especially if you grow up without any representation of who you are out there.”
How does that work then in writing roles?
Representation is a real problem, like some TV shows are now writing characters that are not straight into things and it’s difficult because so many of them are coming out stories.
“It’s great to see them but there is so much more to life, and often they bi erase along the way. Like someone will be married to a woman for years and then in a relationship with a man and it’s like, they must always have been gay – they couldn’t possibly have also loved that woman for who she was. More things need to be done – more stories need to be told.
“I notice on TV shows with actual women, actual queer people, involved do it so much better. Representation comes not just from the characters being portrayed but casting too, as we saw with the Scarlett Johansson story.”
Johansson was all set to play a trans guy in a film – meeting criticism that casting yet another cis actor to play trans reinforces the idea that trans people are really their assigned gender and just pretending or playing a part.
So as a writer, can we at last show bisexuality beyond the coming out story or the confused, indecisive, cheating trope?
“You really can. You can slip it into the conversations characters have with each other, about who they used to date or the like. Or if they are having an affair, the bisexuality doesn’t need to be the plot point – it can just be a thing that happens to exist.
“There are sad points in the play as things happen – I get a bit downbeat as a writer in my plots at times! Although our characters have their trials and tribulations (no spoilers!) it is about this being positive reflection of how women support each other really. All while taking in masturbation, abortion and death, grief, body image and eating disorders. In an upbeat way!”
A remarkable medley of upbeat topics there. Looking forward to it! The first performances are in Salford; the plan is to tour around the North – Liverpool, Newcastle, more venues in Manchester and then see how it goes from there. If anyone reading wants to bring it to their town too and can maybe help with venues – get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org – even if you just want to tell us you’d want to come and see it!
Come ‘ere You Daft Cow will be at the King’s Arms in Salford as part of Manchester Fringe, from 9pm on the 30 & 31 July. Tickets £8, from tinyurl.com/ya4sts4c