Jess Sweet: Full Interview

Duration 43:42


Jess Sweet
Interviewed by Nicola Hargrave
18th September 2018

NH: I’m Nicola Hargrave from West Yorkshire Queer Stories. The date is the 18th September 2018.

JS: I’m Jessica Sweet, my date of birth is 27/2/1991. And I am a queer woman, and I live in Chapeltown in Leeds.

NH: OK Jess, so we’ll be interviewing you about your life in Leeds and shall we start with how you came to live in Leeds. Cos you’re not originally from here…

JS: No, I’m originally from sort of like outer south west London, in a borough of London called Hounslow. And I came to Leeds to come to university, originally, and I stayed in Leeds because I didn’t really feel like there was that much for me to go back for. And I had like, little things popping up. Like, my life was just very much in Leeds. You know, some people come here as a student and they go back for long periods of time to home homes over summer and I just didn’t do that. I got a job here and was just here pretty consistently. Also, my bedroom got taken over by one of the many siblings I have as soon as left because there’s 6 of us. Yeah, loads. [laughs]

So yeah, that’s what I came here to do and I came here to study Performance. Specifically came to Leeds Met because they did a course that was about like, arts, events and performance. The course was called Art, Event, Performance. It doesn’t exist anymore. And it was because I was interested in Performance Art very specifically. I came here knowing that was what I was interested in which is pretty unusual for someone so young, I think.

And then when I finished university I’d already started doing like, little bits of my own curating and stuff like that. I used to live in Woodhouse in Leeds and I had a grimy basement, a lot of those houses do. And I started, well, I assisted my friend in starting this art space called The Hutch which was like a guerrilla art space in my basement. And I was just interested in bringing different art forms together. And that’s pretty much why I stayed in Leeds.

NH: What sort of year was that when you were doing The Hutch? And what kind of things did you do?

JS: That was sort of 2013. Yeah, late 2012, early 2013. I think it started in 2012. And the sort of things we would do. We would do like, a themed night. So, I did a night on sound so there was like some sound art but there was also some DJs, and there was also some live bands. Erm, and one of the first nights I did, can’t remember what the theme was, but I brought two performance artists into the basement who did like, body-based work. So they did some stuff with needles and blood which is like potentially quite shocking for some of the people who’d never really seen that stuff. Ooh and it had fire and pigs hearts and it was really cool. And it blew people’s minds because like, I was friends with a lot of graphic designer-y kind of types and they also came cos they wanted to support me and the stuff that I was doing. And they were, so it was like bringing, it was still very student-y cos I was a student but it was bringing lots of different art forms together. And even if you weren’t exhibiting often, you were an artist that didn’t necessarily work in, it might be that you didn’t know that art form even existed or whatever.

So then I stayed cos I wanted to continue that kind of vibe doing curational stuff. I thought maybe I might continue doing The Hutch but it sort of became quite difficult and intrusive into the space that I lived in. And then I ended up doing little bits of work with my friend Adam. And erm, Adam was a couple of years, erm…

NH: Ahead?

JS: Ahead. That’s the right word! Erm, ahead of me in university and that’s how I knew him through that department. And also, that’s kind of how, but also we were just always at the same stuff. I’d just see him around at things because we were both, like, genuinely interested in the thing that we’d gone there to do. So we were just present and so we ended up going for drinks after and stuff and whatever. And he’d come and get involved in things like, he came and performed at The Hutch for me one time. And I used to, erm he got me onboard to work on some projects with him which was called the Vantage Art Prize. And so it was like, his co, like his assistant curator-y kind of thing. And then Adam started this thing called Live Art Bistro which I attended quite a lot and it was very short lived erm first 3 months where he had a space. It was a temporary space that he got through East Street Arts. And he ran it with three other people. There were two performance groups, duos. So it was him and his performance partner and another performance duo.

And then after the first 3 months of LAB the other three kind of changed direction and did other things and he continued the LAB name. And I was always, like, present in that. In fact, he used to do this thing called LAB Out The Van and I performed out of a van one time in front of [laughs] We did this, it was very short like cabaret-y piece, but kind of spoken word-ish kind of thing when I ended up taking off my kit which I do. Often. So unlike me! [laughs] And at the end of it I turned around and realised there was this vicar in the audience because it was for LS14 Trust which are like a community group [laughs] And I was er, I didn’t really know how to deal with that because I was like, so I just said to him ‘Was that alright for you?’ at the end [laughs] Afterwards when I was just talking to people and he was like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that before’. And I was like, ‘Cool’. It was very funny.

And then I carried on existing in Leeds and I sort of did some arts, carried on doing some art stuff but I was struggling to get by so the art stuff stopped happening so much because I focussed on my career and I started working in my friends pub. And got really into that scene. Also, I had relationships that I think probably I… that took a lot of work. And I focussed on those quite a lot. Which probably wasn’t the best idea. But, yeah I did that and I moved in with my partner. And then I split up with my partner and I had nowhere. Like, I mean I had friends but I had nothing. And it was a really hard break up. He was really distraught and it was just like, not a good time. And so I made myself homeless and then I lost my job as well. So for 6 months I was between Leeds and London because I didn’t have a place in Leeds but I could always go home to my pare, well actually I went to my Grandpa’s house cos my parents didn’t have any room for me. So I was between those places a lot. And what I found was I was getting a lot more work in Leeds. Just like ad hoc stuff, things were popping up. And because I was in London, when I was in London I was like desperately searching for jobs anywhere over the country that were to do with the arts. Like, admin roles in organisations that I probably would have ended up hating cos it’s no different to doing an admin role in anywhere else really. Once you sort of get to it, I mean maybe there’s more opportunities actually but still…

So I just decided to go on Jobseekers and move up, back up to Leeds. And I moved into a house with some people that I knew and I said to Adam, ‘I feel so out of the loop. Please let me just come and help at LAB.’ Cos by that time he’d been given another space and he’d started running it with Matt, Matt Allen. So they were running this thing together and I was like, let me just come and be your volunteer bar manager. I’ll just come and help. And I wormed my way in! [laughs] I became, I made myself indisposable. Because I think what they needed was someone who was organised and just a bit, just thought a little bit differently to them. I mean, sometimes that’s not true of us I suppose but like, yeah, I just… I just came into help when they just needed it, like they just needed an extra pair of hands and I was willing to give my time. Because there was no money floating about still. So I just went and volunteered and within 6 months I was on an equal pegging with them and they were like ‘You’re a Director’. Like, I remember the day that happened. He was showing someone, an artist, around the space and he was, he introduced me, he was like ‘This is Jess, She’s one third of LAB’. And I was like, ‘Am I?’ [laughs] And then er, so that was 2015, September 2015 and then by April 2016 we had formalised as a company and we all had shares on the company. Well, you know, there’s no money. 1 pound worth of shares or whatever. And we started to manage to pay ourselves. Very minisculely. Like, very much under paying ourselves for the amount of work that we did. We were just building it up and slowly, slowly, building it up and bringing amazing work. Like performance work to the region which just otherwise wouldn’t have existed. And that’s, that’s… by bringing work from artists from outside of the city into the city made quite a big name for ourself. Outside of Leeds. And now slowly, we’ve made a name for ourself in Leeds as well by having, partnering with lots of different organisations. We get quite a lot of different people though the doors.

NH: So in terms of LAB being this space that you’ve built up, actually in quite a short amount of time. I didn’t realise it was so short an amount…

JS: It started in 2012 but we had our, the first space that was next door to the one you know now, from 2014.

NH: So did you want to, I know you started off as bar manager, and wormed your way up. But did you have ambitions to turn it into a space that was so queer friendly. And also driven by wanting to bring queer artists there.

JS: So, yes but not in such like a dominant way. Like, not dominant, dominant’s the wrong word. Like, obvious way. So cos we support live art. That’s our top priority. That’s the thing that we seek to, that’s the thing that drives us is live art, and presenting that and like facilitating that. And making sure there’s provision for that in Yorkshire altogether but definitely Leeds. And that art form because it brings in, its about sort of working with what you’ve got. It’s very DIY attitude and sort of bringing in all the different types of art forms really into one live space a lot of the time. It does just end up being that people who are marginalised end up going to it because it, it’s easy to obtain in some ways. But like still, quite highly skilled. Yeah, it’s an interesting one. But then also Adam was particularly interested in supporting queer work because that’s the sort of stuff that didn’t have a voice I think so I just followed in on that idea.

NH: So you’re now at a point of LAB being somewhere that people know and that queers flock to. And you’ve said that wasn’t the plan. What do you see as the future of LAB, where’s it going?

JS: Oh wow. The thing is the future of LAB is a like, a really interesting question. Because what people see LAB as is a venue but actually what LAB is is a programming team because the venue itself is not secure by any means. We have a contract for the space but at any point within three months we could be kicked out. And if we didn’t have the space we would still be - that’s how it kind of grew. Although it started with that very temporary space it grew in that we went into places and took over, well Adam not me, took over other institutions like we took over the West Yorkshire Playhouse and stuff like that during their festivals. Occasionally. And so I think that the thing that we really want is to grow the presence of live art and create more provision for that in any way that we can. And that means, like doing takeovers and things like that. Like, what we really want is to get out of our four walls. And we are slowly doing that actually we’ve put a plan in place.

I mean, also the other thing, the other direction in which we could go in is to have a more secure venue and be a space for live art and marginalised artists. Cos we made a name for ourself in terms of the queer stuff that we do and support because there weren’t other places that queer people felt safe. That’s why that happens. People flock to us for that reason. Not because we pushed it hard really. Erm, yeah so it’s not… it’s really interesting… people, other people, cos there’s another space in Leeds that is pretty queer friendly as well I mean I know it goes through, it has its problems, but Wharf Chambers is probably the place that like, really, really does champion and support queer folk. And people kind of, they’re a bit like our sister venue in some ways and people pair us up quite a lot together but they’re actually a co-op. And they have like a safer spaces policy and they have like all these remits that they need to sort of tick because they’ve got members and they have to serve those well. We’re not that. We don’t have that. Er, we’re just three people tryna do a thing and trying really hard to make sure that we do it well and right. Or whatever that means.

You know, in the good faith that we’re trying to do it as best we can for the people that come and get things from it. But like, we’re not a queer venue, and we’re definitely not a safe space because the thing that we champion is risk. [laughs] So its actually quite interesting that people see us a s safe space and it’s just because they feel safe there. Which is, its actually amazing and I’m really proud that that’s true.

And actually for me, Matt and Adam, like LAB does a lot of things for us. It like, in that way like. So when I first started at LAB I would probably not have described myself as queer. I have a really… I’ve had a difficult relationship with identifying as a queer person. And because of LAB, because of the people I met through LAB and the communities that I became intrinsically linked to because of the work we support its kind of gave me the, well it means that I could meet loads of other queers so that I could actually exist with them in romantic situations. But also just gave me the confidence and like knowledge that I have gained over the time that I’ve been doing it to be able to call myself queer.

Yeah so when I was very young, like 16 or something like that, I kind of had an inkling that I was like interested particularly in women or as far as I knew at that point cos you don’t really understand gender at that age. Well, I definitely didn’t. And I dared to tell my best friend that I was in love with her and she told me ‘No, you’re not’. [laughs] And it was, I was just like ‘Oh yeah, you’re right’. I think she thought I was being attention seeking. And kind of told me that’s what I was doing. And so I was like ‘Oh yeah, you’re probably right.’ And cos I was quite shy-ish kid, surprisingly. I know it’s a surprise! [laughs] Well I was sort of under-confident cos I was like, fairly plain, not particularly erm. I don’t even know what. I don’t even know what it was. But, I wasn’t hugely confident. I grew confidence obviously.

And then so I just sort of stopped ever really engaging in that and just never really tried to pursue relationships with anyone but men. But like, always had really bad relationships with men and actually, majoritatively didn’t really enjoy them. Or enjoy like, didn’t really feel attracted to them. [laughs] But I didn’t know it! Until I started seeing women cos I was like ‘Oh this is what desire is! Amazing! Like I actually fancy you’. I would get things from my relationships with men because I’m a people pleaser. I really like to please people. [laughs] And I would love doing, like I don’t mean necessarily in a sexual way, but also that, doing things with people and like I got joy from seeing other people get things out of me. And that’s still true. That’s never not gonna be true I don’t think. But, until I started going out with my current girlfriend, basically I didn’t really have physical, like burning physical attraction for anyone.

NH: This is Louise?

JS: Yeah, Louise.

NH: So what age were you? Do you wanna talk about something this personal?

JS: Yeah, yeah.

NH: So what age were you when this happened? This great revelation.

JS: Well I did see some other girls before Louise and that was like definitely better than any relationship I’d had with men. But not really, there weren’t like, it wasn’t, they weren’t important relationships. They were like good people and I really enjoyed my time with them but it wasn’t, they weren’t like, pivotal moments for me. I must have been 26 when I met Louise so it’s only, we’ve only been together under two years now. Erm, and I met her through LAB, I guess. She’s an artist that tours to LAB, or used to tour to LAB. Yeah, she still tours to LAB. But she er, [laughs] We were down in London and there’s a whole live art community in London that I’m like pretty good friends with. And we had been down to London for an event with Live Art Development Agency representing at something. Then afterwards there was this big party, it was like the 21st anniversary of Duckie which is a cabaret organisation. I think that’s how they describe it. And she just turned up [laughs] at this night and we were like sort of friends but not like super good friends. And the rest is history really. I mean there’s nothing that fantastical about the way we met but like, we, I, I… [laughs] I led her into a toilet. And showed her a really good time. [laughs]

NH: At Duckie?

JS: Yeah! Yeah, yeah yeah. Erm, and then we came out really happy. And then could not stop. Actually, that’s not true. We, I didn’t speak to her after that straight away. Cos I fell asleep cos I’d been partying for three days straight. So, we’d had Franco B in Leeds which is like one of our biggest ever events and then I’d gone to Birmingham for a party, like a party that was run by Fierce Festival. And then I’d gone down to London for another party and I’d just barely slept the whole fucking weekend so I don’t know what on earth, I don’t know how I, any of this ever managed to manifest because it’s ridiculous. So I, we all went to an after party somewhere in Bow and I fell asleep. And when I woke up she was gone. And I was gutted. But also I was like, wah. I thought she was like, she’s part of this performance art duo called Shit! Theatre and they’re like pretty well renowned. And so I was like, oh she’s obviously not interested in me. Why would you bother? And also I lived in Leeds. It was just a nice thing that happened this one time. Maybe it will happen again when we see each other but we see each other maybe 3 times a year. So like pfft, I’m not like, nothings riding on this. It’s just a nice thing.

And then she was, that was on the beginning of December and then at the end of December she was coming up to LAB to perform A Muppets Christmas Carol Singalong that they do [laughs] as part of our Christmas party. And she came. And erm, I was a bit nervous about seeing her but also just was like, well it is whatever. And, we, she, we stayed up partying al night again at LAB and we slept on the sofa’s at LAB [laughs] And it like, nothing, we cuddled, it was cute. It was sickeningly cute, actually. That’s kind of like, epitomises our relationship. And then, again we didn’t speak for ages. Until like a week or something. And then she messaged me on Christmas Eve and I was in, on holiday with family because my mum was determined to take my little sisters out of London for Christmas so they couldn’t play with their wayward friends. And she asked me, she asked me how I was and did I succeed in pushing my sister down a mountain? And since then there’s not been a day when we haven’t spoken.

NH: Ah, that’s lovely.

JS: Yeah, it is nice. And she moved to Leeds for me! She lives in Leeds now so she’s a Yorkshire artist.

NH: You said that through LAB you discovered your queerness so would you say that it’s changed you as a performer, as an artist? Did you go from being Jess who didn’t quite know who she was to being Jess who’s a little bit more knowledgeable about who she is and therefore that’s changed how you approached your art?

JS: I think possibly. I think yes. Probably that’s true but that’s not necessarily how I look at it. I think that, considering I got through 26 years of life not really knowing how to identify or realising that I could, that I was a queer woman makes me think that anything is possible at any time actually. And I think that as an artist or as a curator or, whatever is that I feel like I’m identifying as on that day, my queerness definitely helps me because it helps me connect with art that engages with that. So that’s really useful but I think luckily for me I was quite confident in my personality and it was like a really nice add on. What it has done is opened me up to a whole new world of enjoyment which is amazing, actually. It means that I can like, enjoy and understand things in a different way than I could before. And I really appreciate that.

NH: You spoke a little but about your family. Are you out to them?

JS: My family it’s an interesting one. Never really, still don’t, still kind of figuring out the coming out thing. As in like, I don’t really know what that means because my family are quite like, I’m… I am from originally from a single parent family. And then my mum met a man when I was 10 years old and now I have 5 siblings. So, like I have both experience of being part of a really big family and also being part of a really small unit. My mum was very young when she had me, she was 19. And so we’re very close but also she’s quite a young mum comparatively. She’s, oh that’s embarrassing, how old is she? She’s not 50 yet, oh she’s 47. She’s 47. Yeah, so that’s quite young comparatively to people that I know, anyway. I would imagine that most of their parents are at least in their 60’s. And I sort of didn’t really have to come out because I just sort of said that I was seeing a girl. And they were like, and they just had to deal with it on their own. I mean, the fact that I don’t live with them maybe is a different thing, they don’t have to see it. Not that I think that they’d have a problem with seeing it but like they don’t, it’s not like, in their faces all the time so it’s just a fact that’s been given to them. And that’s that. I mean, my family are quite, we have an interesting history because I grew up when it was just me and my mum in pubs.

So, my mum had a best friend and the best friend used to manage pubs and my mum used to just travel with her to the pubs that she used to manage. And they were all in the borough of Hounslow which is a pretty rough area. It’s like really, really diverse area but in terms of like, the pubs it’s very white working class kind of demographic. And I, and that’s the kind of people I grew up around. When I didn’t live in pubs anymore then moved back to the council estate that my mum originally had a flat in. And that was like a whole, I’ve had lots of different existences, little pockets of like, social communities as it were. So, which is a really enriching thing, actually. I’m really grateful for it in lots of ways.

But, in those pubs I met my first transgender woman. There was a lady who used to come in and one of the bar maids who used to look after me and, actually this was in the 90s as well, so there’s like a lot of lack of, there’s a lot of ignorance going round in the 90s. Particularly with transgender politics I would imagine. I know we were kids and don’t remember that much about it but I remember talking, there was this customer used to come in – maybe her name was Lena? Anyway, can’t remember. And I used to hang out with this customer. I liked her a lot. And then, [name redacted] came and said to me, she was like ‘Jess, come here’ and she was like ‘I think he’s a man. That lady’s a man’. And I was like so confused and I was like okay I don’t care. Do you know what I mean? Cos I was introduced, cos it was London and there was like, whole, huge capital city of different people and different experiences I was quite lucky to have some quite interesting experiences quite young. So that was good. But also like in quite a working class environment. So, in a way that was very matter of, I think that’s a working class thing, things are very matter of fact aren’t they? People, it’s just a thing that’s happening and it’s not until, it’s not until you face some kind of adversity in a working class environment that things start to become like, particularly prejudice, which is what can become prejudice. Like, that lady who used to come into the pub all the time was friends with everyone, just one of the customers. Do you know what I mean? It wasn’t like, there wasn’t any transphobia or anything against her, as far as I was aware. I mean I was child so am sure her life was filled with it at that time cos it was the 90’s. But in the environment that I knew her in I didn’t experience that.

NH: Yeah, that’s lovely.

JS: Yeah, it’s really good. Erm, so yeah coming out I don’t really... Do you know what? The only time I’ve ever felt like I was coming out was when I posted something, I posted something that contained the word lesbian in it. On Facebook. And it was more about, cos my family are pretty like, down to earth, and they all met Louise, she came to my grandmother’s funeral with me so she’s met like literally all of my family. And there was no like, it didn’t feel like a big deal. It was just like a part of my life that I was introducing them to. But what did feel like a big deal was like, using a word that I feel like puts me into a very specific box. So, like I wouldn’t necessarily, I like the word lesbian, I wouldn’t necessarily know that I identify as that. [laughs] I find that having to identify as one particular thing consistently is actually really limiting. And I don’t find it that useful. I understand why people would want to and that’s fine. But like because I’m in a relationship with a woman I like referring to myself as a lesbian sometimes but I don’t even know really if that’s true.

Who knows what the future holds. Hopefully, this relationship forever, but [laughs]. But that’s, you know, that’s my sort of bone of contention with being labelled I guess. And I found it difficult to put that out into the world as something that specific. And I think that’s what I struggled with. And the people who are on my Facebook are gonna be people who I went to school with, the people I grew up with, and people who don’t know me anymore so would assume maybe things about me that wouldn’t be true anymore. And that’s what I really struggled with. The fact that that label would be paired with that person I used to be. And I didn’t like that feeling but also I like that word and didn’t want to not, I didn’t want to subscribe to the pressure of feeling like I didn’t want to say that in the world cos that is living a lie. I don’t wanna do that. And I can be quite bolshy [laughs]. Quite a bolshy person. And so I just did it. But there was an anxiety there.

NH: So it wasn’t a post about coming out. It just happened to be about…

JS: No, it was this amazing meme account called Punk Sapphics or something like that [laughs]. And it was just about, like cos I’m quite feminine person. I have long hair and I like to wear dresses and I’ve always been quite, well, maybe that’s a push, but I’m often quite feminine and I present quite femininely. And so I put something out, there was like a quote about the lesbian femme and I loved it. I thought it was really funny and interesting and so I posted it I was like, I think the quote was like, ‘flutters eyelashes’. So, it was clearly I was saying it about myself. That was the point. But it was more about being feminine and queer, really, than it was about being a lesbian. But just cos it had that word in it. It felt very pointed.

NH: You felt exposed.

JS: Yeah, exactly. Very exposing. Yeah, that’s exactly it.

NH: Was that a while ago?

JS: No it was like literally a couple of weeks ago.

NH: So you still feel like you’re on your journey?

JS: Definitely. And I don’t know when that won’t be true to be honest. I can’t imagine a time when that won’t be true because, like I’m not… I can sometimes think that I know everything. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone has the capacity for that. But, I’m not like arrogant enough to think that I’ll ever stop learning about myself and that could be within a framework of queerness or it could be within a framework of like, gender. I mean, I don’t know if I’m ever gonna keep wanting to present as femininely as I do cos I’m very aware that it is, it is… Like, being a femme queer can be quite… you feel slightly erased sometimes. And I, there’s, I have a problem with myself anyway where I lack validation. I find it difficult to find ways to validate myself. And even when it’s being shoved in my face sometimes I wave it away. But also I spent like, 26 years up until now constructing this feminine identity that I really enjoy so I don’t want to give it up to prove to someone that I’m queer. And I would find that difficult to do anyway. But I do think I do struggle with it sometimes. I find a lot of the time it’s straight men that I struggle with it with. But I mean there’s a lot of things with straight men that I struggle with [laughs].

But often they’re like people in like a service positions that I find. Like, taxi drivers? Always really wanna question and they’re just trying to make conversation a lot of the time. I’m not, it’s not really, it’s a societal problem. I’m not necessarily like blaming these individuals. But, often they’ll ask me about my, they’ll ask if I’ve got kids. They always start with, ‘have you got kids?’. ‘No’. ‘Oh, right, have you got, are you married?’ ‘No.’ ‘Have you got a boyfriend?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh, right so you’re single’ ‘No.’ [laughs] And they’re like so confused. And they’re like ‘what?’. And I’m like ‘I’ve got a girlfriend, a partner.’ And they’re like ‘Oh, cos you don’t look’ [laughs]. I’m like, yeah, you know. And it can be exhausting. It can be exhausting. And also like because I look feminine and sometimes we go through that process often it feels like if they’re trying to find out if they are allowed… if they’re allowed to have a go, almost [laughs]. It’s like, oh can I? Am I allowed? And actually, that’s not the way to find out. That’s not the root of, like, the answer to all those questions is not gonna give you the answer to question that you’re trying to ask. And that’s what I find quite frustrating about those questions. Because if they would just come out and be like, are you single? I would just be like, no I’m not interested. And that would be enough. Would it though? I don’t know.

NH: Do you think that’s possibly cos you working life in an environment where people don’t necessarily look at you and assume anything about your gender or sexuality? So then when you’re out in the ‘normal’ world like a taxi or a shop, the way you present is more of a surprise. It’s contradictory to a queer space.

JS: Maybe. I mean, I’m quite aware that, like I know that I’m very feminine. And I know that people will perceive, and you know sometimes, sometimes I wouldn’t not enjoy it, either. And like, I know that comes with its own problems but you know like, still being found attractive by men that isn’t necessarily something that I dislike. It’s just erm, just like, a societal problem with assuming that someone’s straight. There’s a word for that. There’s a phrase for that but I can’t remember what that is. Like compulsory hetero…

NH: Heteronormativity?

JS: Heteronormativity, yeah. People just assume that that’s the one way of existence. And I guess because I did as well about myself. And it’s so frustrating. Cos like, I could have been having the best time ever. Since I was 16. [laughs] But I chose not to explore that part of myself. Cos I don’t think it’s even like I hid it away. Cos I’ve always been quite open about, you know when I was in secondary school, people would, we would talk about stuff like this and I was just like, well, if I fall in love with whoever I fall in love with. That’s what my stance was when I was even a child. Like, if it’s a woman, it’s a woman. If it’s a man, it’s a man. So, I kind of always have known that I was queer. But I didn’t have the language to support it. And I didn’t feel valid cos I didn’t have relationships with anyone but cis men. So, I didn’t have that validation. So, I think it’s just my own like, battle with that experience with like, cis, straight men that encapsulates my, the lack that I had in my life up until now, I guess. I think a lot of people cos they see me in LAB and they see me as like a, I mean I don’t know…

NH: Outgoing?

JS: Yeah, outgoing, but also just like a pinnacle of queer culture in Leeds I suppose. Not me specifically because I’m not really a performer but I mean like what we do, LAB, and so vicariously that is me. People are quite surprised to find that I, that this is still quite new for me. And also I just threw myself into it, wholeheartedly. [laughs] As I do with most things. And so I guess that’s probably another reason why people would be shocked. That this is still fairly new for me. But yeah, it’s interesting.
I have, one of the things I have often thought. This is turning into a therapy session. One of the things I have thought is that if I ever met my biological dad again what he would think. Cos he’s from a real working class background as well and he is… yeah, I just don’t know him. I don’t know what my, what his thoughts on it would be I kind of hope that he hates it. So, I can just like rub it in his face. Cos I don’t really like him.

NH: I think that’s just about everything. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

JS: Just that… I think being queer in Leeds is a really special thing. I think it’s a really special thing cos I think there’s a really, really nice community here. It can be really supportive and like, one of the reasons I love LAB, one of the reasons I love it so much is because the kinds of events and things that happen, often they’re not even the ones that we put on like even the Queer Film Festival parties and stuff that’s nothing to do with us. Apart from we host it and we’ve got some pretty lights. But, like those spaces are so, so special. And I think it’s because it’s not just a queer space, it’s inclusive so it means that people who are allies, people who would never have thought that they would enjoy that kind of space feel welcome there as much as anyone else. And it means that it is genuinely inclusive. And like, the people in a less community minded way, but just like a social group way, the people that are around me keep me on the bent and wide [laughs].