Flo Toch: Full Interview

Duration 24:48


Flo Toch
Interviewed by Alys Duggan
13th December 2018

AD: This is Alys Duggan interviewing for West Yorkshire Queer Stories on the 13th December 2018, would you just introduce yourself?

FT: Yeah so my name’s Flo Toch, my pronouns are they/them/theirs. I’m from Keighley originally but I live in Leeds. I’m, like, trans and queer and I was born in ‘92.

AD: OK, great. Do you wanna just start talking a bit about your activism?

FT: Yeah, so, I first got involved, in like leftie stuff, er, I think I, I think I was around 14, um, or that’s when I started going to meetings and stuff, um like, Bradford is the, was the nearest city to Keighley and the nearest place where things were happening, um so I would just get the train there, and my first kind of introduction to leftie stuff in an organised way. Um like I’d, you know, I’d read loads at home but it was my first like going out into the world, um, was through the CND, like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, that, that, like, was, is, based in Bradford [laughs], um, and they held, held quite a lot of open meetings, and they would do regular demos going up to er, Scotland where, like the, the UK’s nukes are kept.

So I first got involved like going to those meetings and I – and, meeting people that way, and the, at the time, I dunno how it is now, but the CND office was in the same building as a community café as well, called the Treehouse Café, um, and that was, it was like a nice, leftie place to hang out and meet people, um, and round the corner as well was a housing co-op, which, that was also my introduction to housing coops, which later became very relevant [laughs]. Um, but yeah Branches was just round the corner from CND, um, and, yeah through CND and Treehouse Café I met people living in Branches and they became like a friendship group and we did political stuff together and, they, I mean I was dead young at the time and I think they were mostly students, um, at Bradford Uni so they kind of like took me under their wing a bit which was really sweet of them.

AD: So Branches was the housing coop?

FT: Yeah, yeah. Um, yeah.

AD: What drew you to it in the first place, to kind of working with the CND? Cos obviously you were so young.

FT: Yeah. My dad was always very political, um, like he very much encouraged that. I remember [laughs] when – so I went to Faslane on one of the demos and got arrested immediately [laughs] like straight out of the van. I was mortified, um, and, they put me in the cell and cos I was, er, like legally a child they were meant to call my parents, er but they never did and so the whole time I was there I was like, I mean I’d told my parents like, ‘I’m doing this thing, you might get a call from the cops, I’ll probably be arrested but it’s all fine’, um, so I was kind of, I dunno I was expecting when I got back to my phone to like have heard from them or something but, nothing, and then I got home and it turned out they – like the police hadn’t contacted them so they didn’t know what was going on or they just assumed it was all fine, um, and I remember over dinner my brother being like, ‘oh so are you gonna, are you gonna like knock it on the head, you know, you’ve been arrested now like do you wanna just pack it in’, and my dad just laid into him [laughs] and was like, ‘how dare you!’ like, ‘that is unacceptable! we need people to be doing this’, which, like that was so supportive, of me not of my brother [laughs].

AD: What was the Faslane demo about?

FT: Um, it was – so every so often CND would organise these big, er, like direct action protests, um, to, I mean for nuclear disarmament I guess. Um, so the plan – er it was like with people all round the UK like the CND just kind of – um, the Bradford lot sorted out West Yorkshire, um, so, usually we’d drive up the night before the action and then everyone that was joining, usually, er, we’d all like get together and sleep in a big community hall or something that we’d rented out and then first thing in the morning, go and do like a lock-on and try and, try and like shut the place down for the day basically so like workers couldn’t get in or anything. So usually involved, er like lock-on devices with – er, so like a common one was to get a length of pipe, um, and, you can, like, either have like lock-in carabiners, there were some [laughs] very complicated ones with concrete, um, and like hold hands with the person next to you through the pipe so the only way to get – so the idea is that lots of people do that so the only way to move you is to cut through the pipe and then that takes forever and it, they have to be really careful, in case you get hurt, um, so yeah it was just like to make everyone as difficult to move as possible… so yeah [laughs].

AD: It sounds like it’s quite a strong sense of community in that.

FT: Yeah.

AD: What happened after you were arrested?

FT: Yeah, I think… so, direct actions are generally done in like affinity groups, um … so I guess the ideal is you – it’s with your friends or, if not your friends then like people that you trust to do this work together with you, um, so there’s always lots of discussion beforehand about who’s up for being arrested and, like who wants to stay at like base camp almost and do legal support so there’s lots of roles, um, and that also meant for like post-arrest there’s kind of a protocol of like [laughs] someone will be there to meet you at the station, they’ll bring food or like go back to, to the community hall or you know, whatever the place is, um. If it’s late then we’ll stay the night and we’ll go home tomorrow and like check-ins – if you do get charged with something you know like there’s already a team there to support you, so it’s not like you do the thing and then you end up with some criminal charge and then you’re like, ‘oh I dunno’, and, and there is always specific lawyers that we’d work with and that we’d, we’d call and be like look we’re doing this action on this day, you’re probably gonna get some phone calls, that sort of thing.

For me, I didn’t get charged, so, they arrested me, they kept me in the cell, I dunno if it was 12 or 24 hours it’s all like – but it was, I remember it being a long time, um, or it seemed long I guess cos also when you’re in the cell you don’t know how long it’s gonna be [laughs] before you get out, um, but they just released me without charge, which is quite common for that kind of thing cos it’s such a – they basically want to, get as many people out of the protest as possible to stop it [laughs], um, but the amount of paperwork and hassle for charging people with like breach of the peace which is, it’s like low-key, you know, it’s basically just get you out so you can’t cause trouble, release you later. Um. So on that front it was, it hasn’t had any like long-term kind of impact or whatever.

AD: And how do you think that your identity or your queerness ties in with that, would you talk about that a bit?

FT: Yeah, so, I kind of, er, I came to my queerness through a, like, a very politicise-, in a very politicised way, like, it was through meeting those people in Bradford and learning about housing coops, um, which is, for me, and I think for a lot of people, at least these specific housing coops, a ver-, like, an explicitly political way of organising housing, um, and, through there, through like those things I started to meet trans people and queer people, um, and for a while I was like, ‘oh how interesting, how intellectually interesting’, which I hear is common among, er, among us folk, er, and then, as I like made more friends and began to feel comfortable with … that there were people like me you know, um, because prior to that I didn’t – you know I knew one gay person who was super closeted [laughs] and that was it and I wasn’t about to, like I couldn’t even look at those bits of myself, um, so I started to kind of open up in that way and that like very slowly got the wheels turning of like, ‘oh, oh I think I’m, I mean I’m definitely not straight, ohh I’m also trans right OK’. [laughs]

Eugh, um, yeah I, like, as far as like common narratives about transness go, I came out quite late in that I was around 18 or so, um, and when I first kind of came out to myself and close people around me, and then, since then there’s been various kind of milestones in terms of physical transition that like when I first came out I was like, ‘I don’t wanna do any physical transition stuff’, and then a few years later I was like, ‘oh, oh no, we need some surgery’, and you know, um, but I often wonder how much later it would have been if my, if my life had gone differently, um, in my teenage years, cos I think, yeah, coming – and I guess as well, um, kind of parallel to that, is, coming at it from such a politicised point of view, there was already, um, less shame, I mean still a significant amount of like shame and all of that, but I didn’t, I was already in an environment where, as far as other people are concerned anyway [laughs] it was fine, um, and I think that would have been harder if I weren’t in those kind of environments… yeah.

AD: So was that mainly through, could you talk a bit more about the housing coops? Is that what you’re referring to?

FT: Yeah, so, I learnt about housing coops through hanging out at Branches um, and in Bradford and, er a few years after that, um, I ended up moving to a housing coop in Leeds actually through someone that I’d met in Bradford, um, and they were living in Leeds, they were studying in Bradford and then a few years later we kind of kept in vague touch and still saw each other around at events and things, um, and then a few years later I was looking to move out of Keighley and they said, ‘oh there’s a space in my housing coop why don’t you apply to live here’, um, so I did [laughs], and moved to Leeds, um, and I ended up living there for, I think it was about 5 or 6 years it was quite a while, and it…

Yeah, it’s kind of tricky with housing coops because there are some, some coops and some housing coop organisations that see it as like a… almost apolitical um. kind of like – oh what’s the word I’m looking for – like housing association type situations whereas the place I was involved in was a member of Radical Roots which is a UK wide network of coops and it’s, um, like, it’s very political and the, the housing coop that I lived in was explicitly set up in the ‘90s so that people could, um, live in such a way so that they didn’t have to work full time so everything was much cheaper and communal, um, so that they would have more time for activism, um. So yeah it’s kind of a tricky thing to talk about in some ways in, like through blanket statements, I guess like anything, um, cos I know for some people housing coops aren’t political, but, the bunch that I was involved in it was very like, we think this is a good way to live and it’s as anti-capitalist as you can get, um, and it means we can all have lifestyles that are like – that, allow us to be lifestyle anarchists basically [laughs], um, yeah.

AD: How do you think your connection with the LGBT or queer community has grown from that?

FT: Um, it’s… it’s kind of interesting actually, um… I don’t often take part in much larger community things, um, like I consider my community to be the people that I’m close to and like, on a personal level, um, but also those people are almost, they’re all queer and almost all trans um so it’s, it’s what I consider to be like a queer community and it’s also, you know there’s all these links, kind of, goes outwards to larger community, um, but definitely I have a, like a very close friend who, um, is also like a transmasculine person and we met through er, like he moved into the housing coop that I was in at some point, um, and that – like that relationship in particular allowed me to realise my queerness in a, safe way, um, and he introduced me to his friends and you know there’s like, it starts growing and –

Yeah I think I also, there was a time when I was only involved in, or like not only but primarily, involved in environmental activism, um, and… kind of realising my queerness and getting involved in more queer stuff, it really opened, opened me up to non-single issue politics [laughs] um, yeah, or at least getting involved with, with more political things that were a broader range and like thinking more about class and race… yeah.

AD: Are you still involved in activism now?

FT: Um… if by activism you mean direct action, no? Um, it is a thing that I periodically have an existential crisis about, um, because I think a lot of my, like, earlier activist stuff was fuelled by really negative things, like I wasn’t having a particularly nice time doing any of that, um, and I’m much happier these days, and my activism is more, like, taking care of my friends, and making sure that we’re all like, safely housed and that, we emotionally support each other and like materially and financially if need be.

Um it’s kind of funny, I’m at music college at the moment and it’s such a, there’s such a contrast between the way I live my life and then like I show up at music college and it feels very different, um, but kind of related to that as well like, a lot of the, music stuff, that I have done and, want to do in the future, at the moment I’m like largely playing in other people’s non-queer bands, like I’m just the drummer you know, um, but has been very, it’s been explicitly queer and, um, deliberately focused on like, queer stuff and, like playing at queer venues and community spaces, um, so I kind of see that as a type of activism but it does look hugely different to yelling at cops, um, yeah.

AD: So, do you play in queer bands as well or you mean you play in bands with straight people who are at queer events? Sorry I didn’t quite get that!

[Speaking over each other, unclear]

FT: [Laughs] Um, so I’ve, for a long time my main band was, we were a queer band, like a queer punk band and that was our thing, um, at the moment I’m, setting up a new queer thing but also playing in bands that having nothing political about them, I mean, I know you can dig into that a lot but you know, um just being a drummer in some peoples bands, you know, so kind of a mix…

AD: Do you feel like being queer in itself or your involvement in music is a political act? How does your queerness link into your music?

FT: It’s kind of inseparable in that, I think with any art, like you can’t, you can’t separate yourself from it, which also is a thing I’ve been thinking about like with all the recent, er like mainstream sexual assault stuff and, yeah a lot of that coming from like musicians and actors and film directors and stuff um, but that’s kind of a different [laughs], a different subject, um, but in terms of it being political, I go back and forth on it, on the one hand yes, well because everything is, and also, like queer people making lives for themselves is, like, I mean we have to do it ourselves because no one else is gonna [laughs] so it’s, it automatically becomes a queer thing, and a political thing, like I don’t think you can separate queerness and politics also, um, but I, I also have qualms with how self-indulgent it seems, which is another thing I think is common for artists you know, er, but what can you do? [laughs]

AD: What do you mean by that, self-indulgent?

FT: Like… like I should be studying law, or, you know, I dunno, doing something that I personally wouldn’t enjoy and would be completely unfulfilled and miserable but would be having a tangible and measurable effect on the world, but I guess it’s that doing, like if you, are in a position of privilege that allows you to do the thing that you love, um, which I am which is great, er… there’s no point not doing that and populating, like therefore populating the world with more miserable queers that aren’t, like, yeah, you can’t pour from an empty cup you know, that kind of thing.

But it is a thing that I think is, it takes on an extra layer of kind of vagueness for me, especially being an instrumentalist, um, and, oftentimes playing in other people’s bands, cos I think it’s true that like the world does need out, queer artists, um, and that is a very political thing but also, when, who’s gonna hear a random pop song, and then how are you gonna know that the drummer is queer [laughs], from that. But things work on lots of levels don’t they, it’s not so, not so black and white.

AD: OK, so, if you just bring it back round to what we talked about at the beginning, how long were you actually involved with the CND for?

FT: I think it was about 3 or 4 years, I moved away when I was 17, um, so yeah, something around that, 3 or 4 years or so.

AD: And what did it involve, other than the specific demo that you spoke about, what else were you doing there?

FT: Er there was a lot of meetings [laughs]. Um, I volunteered with admin stuff, so also lots of envelope stuffing and things like that, um, we did quite a lot of stalls at community events, um, so there was some of that as well, um, and yeah like it’s not, not directly related but I also volunteered in the Treehouse Café which, is next – or was next door, um, and there was often crossover between the two organisations.

AD: And this was all in Bradford?

FT: Yeah, yeah.

AD: Ok, that’s great, thank you very much.

FT: You’re welcome.