Joseph Cumbo: Full Interview
Interviewed by Jessica Heath
5th April 2019
JESSICA: Hello this is Jessica Heath from West Yorkshire Queer Stories and the date today is 5th April 2019. I am here interviewing Joseph Cumbo from Leeds Student Radio. Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about you?
JOE: Yeah. Hi, I’m Joe. I - I’ve been in Leeds now for, god, four years. Kind of I’ve been doing like, you know… I studied here at uni and then graduated. I’ve stuck around because Leeds is like, kind of, I would say it’s my second home. It’s kind of become my home-home. And yeah, kind of over the years I guess, like, I’ve become more ingrained with Leeds as a city - that led me to sticking around. Like, culturally I just felt more and more involved. A lot of that has been due to Leeds Student Radio which has kind of allowed me to, I guess, originally kind of latch onto something, but over time it’s being, it’s been… it’s allowed me to kind of create something of my own, rather than just sort of being a part of something. I feel like I have changed. I changed – that it’s something more that’s mine – my own little subsection that, which is quite exciting to have.
JESSICA: Can you tell us a little bit more about Leeds Student Radio then? Because I know you’re probably the lead presenter and producer of the LGBT+ show.
JOE: Yeah so I kind of, I feel like it’s sort of disingenuous to say I took over the show because I did from Charlie Smith who ran into quite a while. But I think we had wholly different approaches in how we went about it. What the LGBT+ show was, before I took over it, was a little bit more activism-focused. A little bit more aggressive on some issues and went for a different vibe. And so, when I took over, it was kind of a case of - I decided that you can’t compete with certain things, like I… just the idea of sitting there, I’m competing with someone that writes for the Huffington Post is not something massively that I could do, and sit and do. So I went: what am I not seeing with regards to conversations about queerness? And I slowly but surely, kind of was, like, well: what if I just had a show about… just, that just exists for queer people to speak?
JOE: Not ticking boxes. Not being like, this week were going on about this, or here’s a massive issue, like. It originally started because, in my first year I had to do the show on my own, but I had support from my friend Lance, who is a person of colour, and I think we talked a lot about this idea of how insulting it is to have someone come on a show for you to immediately latch onto their little box-ticks.
JOE: Like, like, it’s rude. That’s not caring about those issues. So my entire issues, my entire idea, was well, if you chat about culture… If you talk about someone’s life those things will come through naturally anyway. And I basically wanted a show where it was a space for people’s life stories to come through and not just their story, but their perspective on the present. Like I think, like, everyone’s presented perspective on music which is a huge part of my show. I only play queer artists. And that’s a huge, huge part of it for me. Like, if we talk about music, their perspective will be different to mine because of their life experience. How they perceive an artist will be different because, while I have experience, I can’t relate to every single artist. They might relate to more - more to an artist than I do, or so on.
Like, it’s basically… I don’t wanna say it’s, it’s a different take on what can often be very political queerness. It’s kind of focusing on the identity and, in some ways, the identity politics of it, but applying it to a more cultural aspect. That’s not always what we do, though. We have tackled more serious issues, which I think is important as well. But I’ve never wanted my show to feel like it’s a space where being queer, or LGBT+, however you want to identify it, is intrinsically intertwined with the idea that we are, like, destined to suffer, or like every single conversation of ours in the media has to be negative.
Like, oh I, I compared it to, um, I used to do an album review show, um, and not to be shady, but I’ll be a bit shady, but my cohost - the way he used to talk about rap music used to make me quite uncomfortable because he would kind of imply that he only cared about rap music when people of colour were rapping about their oppression.
JOE: Or their blackness. Which is fantastic. It’s important. People like Kendrick are doing amazing things. But a person of colour does not have to be rapping about that for it to be worthy of acclaim, all being held on the same regard. And I kind of hate that, with a lot of queer issues, you don’t have to be… I talked about the film ‘Love Simon’ on my show and was saying about how it’s really important that there is an ostensibly shallow teen romcom, made by a major studio, that is queer-themed. Like, I compared it to something like ‘Call Me by Your Name’, which is Oscar-worthy, because it felt grounded and aimed at a different sort of subsect, and I liked that. I liked the fact that the film wasn’t using queer themes as Oscar bait.
Like, so that kind of concept, I guess, has always sat with me as a weird thing. But yeah, like just the whole concept of maybe… not always being on this weird pedestal, where a queer-themed show is a way of having straight allies feel like they’re engaging in a really strong way. It’s like maybe, rather than sitting there and thinking ‘I’m listening to the show to feel smart about things’, you should just listen to people being themselves. Like you know, and get sense of what it’s like to be friends with people. I think if you listen to my show it feels friendly. Like, I feel like it’s getting into a space where it’s like you’re kind of having a friendly conversation I would have with my friends and about things. Because that’s what I talk about. I think I have very intelligent conversations with my friends but they’re framed in a different way, and I think it’s inviting a listener into that circle – you know, of being, of discussing issues without it being informative in a cold way. I think it’s a warm show and I think warmth is really important. And these things like… And that’s a major thing. There have been moments when I try to make my show an educational space, but I think it’s always been through a sort of lens of trying to be candid.
JESSICA: Yeah, I know what you mean.
JOE: And you know, acknowledging the messy side of life. Like, we all have our moments whether you’re like straight, gay, queer-identifying, whatever. There are moments when we’re all messy. And it’s sometimes like, you can acknowledge that, like, I think one of the hardest things about social liberation movements is this idea that we have to be the perfect forms of ourselves to be accepted. I mean, it’s nice to just sometimes be culturally messy, talk about trash music, talk about sort of content and stuff that isn’t just there to satisfy straight people; but it’s just there because people like it.
Like, pop culture is quite ingrained within queerness. I think it’s important to talk about that. Like my first… It’s actually one of the most important things I always say to people… I’ve had an interesting relationship with my parents about this, because my parents often talk about how they hate the music I listen to. They think it’s this, that, and the other. They think it’s trash, but what they don’t really understand is that, you know, when you are growing up - especially young gay men - I think they grow up and pop culture is the first time they see themselves as presented as positive. And so I think this weird thing where a lot of straight people are very supportive of LGBT rights, but kind of look down on some aspects of things that people like… It’s like, that’s some people’s first exposure. Like, that, you have to acknowledge the importance of those things. When you’re young you just see yourself and you’re happy that you’re seeing yourself.
You hear something like ‘Born This Way’ [Lady Gaga song] on the radio. That is important and, like, I’m sure some deep, underground, Oscar-worthy LGBT movie is really important as well, but you always have to acknowledge that wider discussion, because otherwise we kind of ostracize that younger generation. I think it’s about uniting the conversations. I think that’s why I use music in my show, as a way of saying, it’s a way of being - this sounds like a really bad way of putting it [laughs] - like a gateway drug of like, you know you’re going to listen to those queer artists that are mainstream, and then a way of guiding them into other stuff. Which I think is a good thing. They’re not that different! I think that most people are able to get into new artists, but especially with queer artists, like, we’re not getting the representation. You know, mainstream stuff needs to act as a root to the smaller artists.
JOE: And we are seeing it happen, it’s just about pushing it more and more and I think, not to blow my trumpet, but I feel that my friends have gotten into artists that they wouldn’t [have] because of my show, and that’s nice to see.
JESSICA: Yeah, you do have a lot of people to engage with the show as well, if you compare it to other shows that we have on the student radio, it is quite popular show.
JOE: Yeah, I never realized that. I just one day in a very conceited moment – because let’s face it I am! – thought, ‘Oh, I’m just going to look at my podcast,’ and I was like, wow, people seemingly care. I just think it’s interesting because one my highest-rated shows was talking with the LGBT society about one of their major issues, and I actually realized that there’s a hunger from people to feel like they have an influence on. People cared about that show.
JOE: Because people were being held accountable for things, and I think that’s what, when I sat down and thought like, I’ve always thought my show is about providing a platform for people to speak about whatever, and it was interesting that the biggest engagement about that was a platform people are reacting to, and they took that that platform and used it. I’m still not entirely happy about how that was used, but it was interesting that it could be that, and that it could be used to make a statement on something wider. They said to me that they had like a general meeting about the issue discussed and, I’m not going to get into the issue itself because it wasn’t massively ridiculous, but they said if you wanna hear a more nuanced take on it go listen to the show.
JESSICA: This this was the society talking to its members?
JOE: Well yeah, it’s interesting because I think that’s almost the magic of radio in some contexts. God, that sounds so cringey! ‘The magic of radio.’ But, but there is a thing where, I think conversation is very different to presentation. When you present something, you present one perspective or one idea. Even if you are presenting multiple ideas you are still framing it as your own. If you have a conversation, multiple perspectives are being delivered by multiple people and those perspectives are able to develop through conversation. Like, through the course of an hour-long show I might be talking about this, a topic we discussed this stuff with like LGBT education in schools and stuff. That at the start of the hour, I think a few of my friend’s opinions became more fully-formed as it went on, because it was a conversational issue so you’re kind of - you have to talk about things to evolve your own thoughts.
JESSICA: Yeah, definitely.
JOE: And I think that’s really important, to have that. Whenever I say to people who come on my show, I’m always just like, ‘You probably are going to be talking about something you don’t imagine talking about, but you will be happy you did it.’ I’m not saying like, ‘Oh my god, you’re going to come on and have your Oprah deep trauma moments.’ I mean, more just like, ‘Oh, you’re just going to have a really weird thought that will have just crossed your mind and you’ll be like, oh, that’s something I haven’t really thought about. Or a part of my life that hadn’t.’
It, it’s like when I’m on shift at work and I’ll be sat there for like two hours doing something that is not on the till, and my brain will go back to some random bit of my past and analyse it. Like, I think time to talk and actually sit there and organize your own thoughts is really important, and I think it’s a kind of unique way of having it on the radio where you can look back and archive those moments. You know I’m not the commercial radio show. I’m not, not [a] commercial radio show. I don’t really know what it is.
I remember the first time I had to submit for awards and I was sat there thinking: is this a speech show? Yes. Is it a music show? I actually put a lot of effort into the music, but it’s not [a music show]. But it kind of is!
JESSICA: Well it’s like a culture show.
JOE: Yeah. And I think that was like my calling was culture. Culture is what I think shapes the mainstream perception of LGBT in the media, or should do. I wish it did. I think we’re moving away from there again, but that culture is why we have Pride. It’s why it isn’t just… The whole phrase ‘happy to be gay’ - I don’t like it because it ignores that there is this massive culture there, and that culture exists through the shared passion of things. You can choose not to engage with that, and culture obviously, that, that culture, you know, you need to respect, and I think that’s something to support. A quite important thing to me is just spotlighting that I’m saying, you know, when I think about LGBT education, schools - that’s been a hot-button issue, but if I was to show that every week I don’t think I would love the show. I think I would hate, I would resent it. Because all I would perceive my … when I talk about it, would be oppression and negativity. And that’s not to say it’s not happening in the world and, obviously it is, and we need to talk about that, but we live in a society where people are able to constantly engage with that. Like you can hop onto Twitter.
In fact I say there’s a point for the past three years, especially as the generation we have been so switched on - like if you have a Twitter account and you are so aware of what’s going on in the world, and it’s terrifying. Like, it’s horrible. You can’t switch off from the news cycle and thankfully we’re in a generation where we generally have the right opinions. But, like, I don’t know - it just seems impossible to escape from it. And the idea of then going on air and talking about as well… It’s hard. Like sometimes you just want to exist as a community, and cultural way, you know. There are moments when, and the whole ‘Pride as a protest’ thing is interesting in that regard, because Pride probably shouldn’t be as commercialized as it is, but I also don’t think it should be a wholly protest.
JESSICA: Yeah, what did you think of Leeds Pride?
JOE: It’s odd. It’s a smaller one. I was, I was talking about this significantly and, I was very drunk. With some higher-ups in a certain corporation. Leeds Pride is apparently one of their priority strategies. Like, we are viewed as an up-and-coming Pride. So when I was there it was interesting because obviously we have things like Love Muscle and Wharf Chambers are providing site things, and that is a good example of, you know, culture is still being there. I’m also very thankful because Leeds Pride, I don’t think, has really had massive scandals, TERF-y things, which is nice. Like, you can see the commercialization there, but I think it doesn’t feel as aggressively off-kilter as it does with others. It doesn’t feel like, obviously, it’s Pride is also free, which I think changes things. You’re not sat there like, paying to simply be there … like everything is. And it also feels like, I was thinking this actually, Leeds is a really small city in terms of its centre, and the parade route is actually particularly kind of… it really covers the entire central area. Like, you cannot avoid Leeds Pride, and I think that’s really interesting. It is impossible to avoid today. Like, you could say the same about Manchester, that you can feasibly avoid it still. Manchester is also gigantic. You could not be in the centre of Leeds that day not see it.
JESSICA: Definitely not.
JOE: And I think that’s kind of... It’s that … satisfaction that you have to see this. Like, you can’t avoid, and no parade is perfect. I think Leeds has a way to go but it was nice that it felt more intimate than maybe larger cities where… I exist in social circles, well, it - nearly everyone I know knows how to get to a safe, queer-leaning night out. That’s really special. Also, we’re in a city where, I think, we’re able to kind of have that small scale that allows things like that to exist in the first place - like we are getting DJs, collectives that are hitting those notes. And really want to be successful. Like, we’re getting, you know, places like Flamingos that are opening, which is great. And aren’t just scraping by. They’re thriving because of directly engaging with the city’s queer culture.
JOE: It’s not… We are able to actually, as a community, access spaces, access our culture, and develop ourselves within that culture, get opportunities within that culture, and it’s not because a few stray people have decided we’re worthy of it now, or they’re pandering to us now. Here’s our opportunity now. It’s been built by the community itself and that’s really special. I don’t think that’s something that should be taken lightly because, as a culture, its mainstream permeation starts at the bottom. I had spoken about it numerous times; about how like student radio is really important because that is another example of where grassroots begins. Mainstream radio and what it plays, and when it respects has massive issues with women, ageism. Queer exposure - they’re there but they are not there, there. Like, I have done research on the numbers of, especially in American radio, but it’s not particularly great over here, about the percentage of women versus men played on air, across the lot, and it’s something that is, like, 70 to 30 in favour of men. It might be worse, I can’t remember exactly, but stuff like that. And it’s okay, student radio is where it starts. So, I guess for me, going back to my show, if that helps to change a culture, or at least tries to change a culture at the bottom and then, you know, lots of those things exist and it can go up towards the top. I, I sometimes feel like a bad smell hanging here because I’m not a student anymore, but like, I will not stop doing that show until someone can take it over.
JESSICA: Has that been an issue?
JOE: Yeah. Yeah. Not an issue of lack of queer people, more just people thinking they can do it. I think it scares people to be a voice. I think it’s scary. When I first started doing my show, I think the scariest thing was feeling like I didn’t represent anyone. Like, I don’t. LGBT is four letters, throw in a plus, or a Q, or whatever, you just open the floodgates. Which is a good thing. Then you add in intersectionality to every single letter – you can’t represent everyone as one person. I’m a middle-class, white gay man. I don’t talk for everyone. I represent a small subsection. There are specific parts of my life where I may have been through things the other people haven’t been through, but they’ve not been as a result of my privileges or lack thereof. They’ve just been circumstantial, largely. That’s when you have to provide a platform.
JESSICA: Do you get, like, a lot of different people on your show then?
JOE: I have to ask. Yeah. It’s hard to ask. I have spoken about - I’ve spoken to a few people about this. It’s actually really difficult to, like, if you think about, you know being a public platform; and especially I do emphasize putting students on my show, because I think we don’t give enough voices to young people, ever. Somebody came on my show year and a half ago. He messaged to me and said, ‘Hi, I really want to come back on because my views have developed, like, I changed as a person and I think that’s a really interesting… an important thing for me to show that change.’ I was like, yeah, sure, come on and we can talk about anything. There is this thing like. But it can be hard, say, as a trans person, to come on the show, as they might not even be out to half their family. Like, that’s a tricky thing. You’re constantly having to respect boundaries and stuff. I have a very regular guest who literally is from a country where it is illegal to be gay. So, like that is an area where you have to tread carefully.
JESSICA: How do you navigate that?
JOE: I let them navigate it.
JOE: Like, it’s their space to talk. I like to talk a lot, to be fair, but like, I’m never going to ask: what is it like to be in the country where it’s illegal to be gay? It just feels wrong. Is it wrong? I don’t know. It’s not a question I want to do. Maybe it’s a question I don’t want to ask. I think that’s another thing. I don’t have to ask every question. Which I think is part of the development. If I do my absolute best to represent as many people as I can, who want to be - not force someone on my show. If I try my best and let them talk about what they want to talk about I’m probably doing the best I can. Which is just about what anyone can ask. That’s the most anyone can ask for - is ad attempt at representing your best shot. I think a lot of [the] problem in the world is that people aren’t even attempting that. I try. I think that’s how I just navigate that. I tell myself, like, do the best you can with the platform. Let them talk about whatever they wanna talk about. Whatever that is because it’s better that platform is there, and you know, it’s better. It’s nice that it’s got its own platform. When we held our event…
JESSICA: I was going to ask you to maybe talk about that.
JOE: We had an event in March called Liberation Live. I name it that because I thought it sounded like Live Aid and I thought it was fun. That was one of my central ideas around it - that it had the campy tone of like Band Aid and Live Aid. And I thought it sounds really naff - I love it. Like, I think that there’s… it’s adorably retro in my head. I don’t think it actually is at all, but in my head it sounded really retro. And it had a certain, because we were raising money for Terrance Higgins – the massive charity that deals with HIV and AIDS – it felt like a weird, half-connection that I thought was kind of cute, I guess. And that was kind of interesting, I guess, because it had been gestating for about two years, and, erm I’d wanted to do it. I’d kind of, in terms of the origins, it largely came from me and then it developed to include everyone else. When it got to the point that I was, like, I can’t do this on my own. I’m not a logistics person.
But yeah, one of the most interesting things with that was organising an event where we also included the Woman’s Hour and BME show. They had a panel each to talk about things. I was like, I can’t tell them what to do. A young white boy cannot tell them all what to do – that’s just unfair and not right. So I had to kind of let go of it and just let them do what they want. I gave them one piece of advice, and it was what I was doing with mine and that was: don’t feel beholden to talk about what everyone else has talked about. You’re not, you know… platform who you want, but think about what we don’t talk about. Think: is this too small to talk about? No.
JESSICA: What did you talk about?
JOE: Well we talked about, it’s something that I’ve always… Well, I kind of joined an online forum called Pop Justice in 2013, I think. Like, that’s an interesting case of a community that self-policed itself. That is not a forum that has massively had issues with racism, or sexism and stuff. We’re not even allowed to say certain words. It’s like completely blanket-banned. You look at it now and we call it a pink hell-hole but you look at it and you’re like, no, wow, like, people genuinely are nuanced, intelligent and people are actually having discussions about these issues. There is a safe space online. Might not always be a hundred percent right, but it’s getting there.
And so, kind of, ours was about the internet and growing up on the internet and how important it is for queer people in particular, because it is probably the average queer person’s first exposure to their own existence being correct, allowed and normal. Um, so we kinda touched on that because it gets talked about. But I wanted to talk about the internet and it not be ‘social media is bad; the end’. I was just, I just was kinda bored of the conversation. Let’s talk about the positives. Let’s talk about the internet in a more nuanced way.
I think because that conversation is often led by an older group; their experiences and handling of the internet is a lot different to our generation’s. You look at people, how old am I, twenty-two? I look at my sister, who is nearly thirty, and the way she posts online is so completely different to us. Like, that’s a seven-year gap and there is like a gulf in approach. Like our generation specifically I would say like twenty-five, maybe twenty six-ish down to our age. Maybe down to 18. Even down to younger teenagers, to be honest, when I look at them nowadays. Our approach is very different and I think we are much more aware of the faults of the internet than people think we are. And I think we’re much more committed to shaping it better. Not across the board, but we’re trying. Um, and so yeah, it was of case of wanting to have a conversation about that focused on young people. Like everyone who spoke was my age or younger. And hey, it was a conversation that was largely positive and I’d like to think probably had a lens along the lines of ‘we probably need to make sure it’s not too demonized’ and instead focus on getting the bad bits good, rather than focus of telling people to run away from it.
The Woman’s Hour did one on female DJs which I think was… It was non-(kind of)-male DJs, who didn’t come from a privileged background, so we went with equalized with that, which you know was a very unique angle. It was also a very uniquely Leeds angle which I think was really special.
The BME show had one that, you know, initially focused on the idea of being [a] woman of colour, but that went into depth. And I think they… That was another which speaks to the power of conversation being a developing… that went in directions that I didn’t expect it to go. It took. They were talking about makeup and food and stuff. And I love that. I think one of my favourite cultural touchstones will always be food. I could talk about food forever. Um, I think it’s the one area where LGBT culture is a bit weird because it doesn’t have any food culture, which BME culture does, and I think that fascinates me.
But yeah, you have this thing where, um, they were talking about stuff like that and it was like oh, this is natural, this is normal, this is like conversational and we’re talking about these things as signifiers of culture, and it’s a sort of an almost mundane, benign conversation. But it’s not mundane or benign if you belong to a culture where that sort of thing can be looked down on or frowned upon. It was just another unique perspective, and I think it - once again it was hearing young people speak about things that matter to them. It was hearing people’s friends talk about stuff that they cared about, which I think is really special. To be fair, I’m lucky with a lot of my friends that they feel comfortable and they feel, you know, strongly about things that they, plenty of times, talk about things that they care about in the world and stuff, and I think that’s special and really important. But, with that event it was nice to see people’s friends kinda shocking their friends a little bit, and talking about stuff that they really cared about. I think that’s really special.
I think sometimes we hang out with our friends and we talk about the mundane and what we don’t realise is that we have our own opinions and anxieties and stuff and... It’s nice to platform them and let people have their world view be talked about with their peers, not with… That distance isn’t there. You’re not watching someone doing a lecture on YouTube or a TED Talk. You’re watching your friend, or at the very least someone your age you see yourself in talking about those issues. I think it’s really important, I think it’s relatable or intimate in a way that you rarely get, um ironically online because there is that distance. It’s nice being that close to it.
JESSICA: With Flamingos then…
JESSICA: Is this a collaboration or relationship that is going to continue then?
JOE: It kinda started as a slightly conceited fantasy about, of me wanting a sponsor, which is incredibly ridiculous but, there’s something, I don’t know, I used to listen to podcasts and they always used to have adverts in the middle. And I thought, god, that, it sounds professional. It’s a sign-off on the content you’re doing. And I think they’d only just opened at this point as well so like, it just seemed natural. And I thought, well, if I’m going to seek a sponsor I want something close to my - I want an alignment. And this sounds ridiculous but I basically just sent an email. I think I marched in and asked for a business address.
JESSICA: Oh right.
JOE: And asked for, and then sent them an email. And what started was kind of a back-and-forth that, to be fair… I’d say it was between the station and them, would be more accurate it was between me and them, because… and yeah, we sort of set up the sponsorship, um, so we could use their venue for our event. He offers it free for a lot of people, but ours was a little more logistically challenging. Um, so it was nice that they got something out of it because we were demanding a fair amount and a fair amount of support in that case. So yeah, we got that done, and it was just a fantastic relationship because, kind of, there was a respect there that was mutual. It was like a: ‘I trust you to do your thing’, you know, and it was really nice. And another thing for me it was nice to say, I have a local business that was LGBT-friendly saying that this show matters. It was nice to mutually agree on the importance of an LGBT space that wasn’t a club, that wasn’t drinking. Which mine is, I do think mine is, I do think mine is a space. To talk about those issues.
JESSICA: Is that something you feel quite strongly about?
JOE: I’m not as obsessed with the idea that LGBT spaces need to be sober as some people. But, I’m not, I do think it’s really important. I just think it’s hard to do. The reason I don’t genuinely obsess over it as much as some people is because I genuinely think that it’s hard to do. I think it’s difficult for anyone to do. You look at the number of university societies who try to do sober socials that just absolutely fall flat. It’s a greater cultural problem if anything than explicitly queer-specific. Although, yes, there are certain aspects of it that kind of intercept a bit more with our culture.
But yeah, um, it felt really special to have that collaboration and it felt really special to support something up-and-coming as well. Like, I think that’s important. Like our advertising actually has a decent amount of clout apparently. Like it was nice to support something and to show engagement with the wider city. Yeah, it’s really cool. In terms of going forward I will do everything in my power to keep that relationship going because … it’s a foothold in town, which is important, like, for the station itself it’s a massive boon as a venue. But like, I just think in general like, it’s really special to have a show and a local place have a connection. I think, you know, it’s special to let, um, let those sorts of things exist and grow and not be just left on the wayside. Like I feel like, because of the way LSR has operated, um, by having a different sort of leader and different committees, there has occasionally been this sort of graveyard of lost collaborations that haven’t really been followed up on. Which is a big shame in my opinion. You know, you look at them and think, god, that is a thread we should have pulled and gone further with and stuff. I don’t want it to be that, like, if it can go for another year that is probably enough to keep it going. So yeah, I think it… I would love to see something like my event happen again, because I think, I don’t wanna say it outperformed my expectations, but it did as well as I wanted it to, and I am generally quite ambitious. Like, the engagement I saw, I remember being told no one was gonna pay for it. Everyone paid for it.
JESSICA: How much money did you raise in total?
JOE: We raised two hundred pounds. And that was in like a 35-person venue. I don’t mean this like in a shady way but I know one of the local LGBT societies - I think the Beckett one had something similar where they used a much bigger venue, and it was a club night and they raised like fifty quid less. And that’s really special. It’s not about raising more money than anyone else or anything, but it’s really special to know you create that engagement. Or are special in fact to do something off-kilter, i.e. not doing a club night, doing something a little bit more leftfield, doing something a little more what we’re told people are not interested [in]. Something like that can raise that amount of money, that’s really special. And it shoes there is an audience for this sort of thing.
It was in the evening - no one drank and it was fine. No one noticed that, from what I’m aware. But like I said it to a few people, what I thought was really interesting was… Hey, if you don’t ban alcohol from anything, people don’t notice. If we’d had it at like Hyde Park book Club and said we’d prefer it to be dry, then we look like we’re banning fun. If it’s inherent, it’s not gonna be questioned because it’s not ever in the mission statement. And I think maybe that’s kind of, maybe that was kind of a success of it that I was really proud of. And I think yeah, I’d love for it to happen again. I’d love for it, like, not to just have new conversations but develop those conversations. I’ve said, this was a slight tangent.
I’ve done it for two years now and I’ve been able to have a second year where we don’t just have to just do the base level anymore. I feel like the BME and the Women’s Hour kind of had an entirely different team for both of them, so they have had to cover certain issues again. It sounds kind of odd, but the basis you know, intersectionality, cultural appropriation. That kind of thing all came up again. I’ve been able to take a step into the weirder. Be more specific, be more odd. I’m planning on doing a show on, um, how gaming has LBGT characters and issues, as well as the online issues there is with that culture. Like, stuff like that which is off-kilter and a little more leftfield, and that’s the excitement of being able to do things again. You get to be weirder, you get to try new things and develop new ideas. Polish it, but do it again and see how far, see where you can take things. See what people wanna talk about, which I think is ultimately getting back to the philosophy, everything I have done with my show. See what people want to talk about, and people want to talk about a lot of things, but ultimately they don’t always get the chance to, so I think going weird is good.
JESSICA: Just in terms of a more personal experience then, how do you think being a part of the LGBT+ show with radio has kind of shaped your own experiences - how you interact with Leeds as a city?
JOE: It’s kind of encouraged me to – cause, kind of, I took over the show the year after we’d collaborated with Wharf Chambers on like an exhibition that was showcasing queer artwork. So I had this grounding in that culture, um, and that - I don’t wanna call it underground because that sounds a bit facetious and weird, but we have a, like, a side route. We have our mainstream queer clubs, but they’re gay clubs and they’d fine. I’m glad they exist. They’re a good night out. That’s fine. But I’m glad we have this side route where people can become artistic. I think it’s interesting because I go on nights out at Wharf Chambers and you’re seeing people perform, you’re seeing people be themselves, you’re seeing something really stunning. I… I think that’s really special. There’s really this odd thing where I’ve found myself being introduced at the LGBT societies as the person who does the show. That’s a slightly weird thing. I don’t think my show’s that important. But, it’s a fun moment. It’s given me the confidence to reach out to people in Leeds. Like to reach out to things like Leeds Fostering Services and stuff and be like, hi, I want to talk to you. It’s nice to kind of have this firmly-planted foot, of having a platform that allows you to engage on a more professional level with that side of things, which I think’s really exciting.
JESSICA: What did you do for the Leeds Fostering Services?
JOE: Um, we had a local councilor in because they were having a fostering awareness week, because LGBT couples often don’t necessarily feel… ‘capable’? Not ‘capable’ - they don’t see themselves in the fostering adverts a lot of the time. It’s not a thing that’s ever presented directly to them. And I think it was kind of a way of promoting that awareness and saying: you are an archetype, you deserve to be in that archetype, and you can foster as well. And for me it was a thing presenting that to people of my age who haven’t really thought about that for the future, but it is an option. You know, kids are a really complicated thing. So I was glad to be able to provide an option for that.
I’ve recently reached out to an LGBTQ pastor to talk about things on my show. Like, and it’s a - being able to say hi, like, I’ve got a platform. In a way I guess it’s giving something to them as well. But I guess in a wider way in the city. I’ve been able to with, with, via a few different things, numerous… I’ve worked with a charity, I think they’re experiencing difficulty at the moment, but a charity called Angel Abuse. We had a rally regarding what was happening with Chechnya. I worked with them a few years ago. That was fantastic. I worked with a lot of people from different groups there. And I remember like, they, there was a real kind of sense of support there and just like a sense of trying to change a younger culture, which was really exciting. It felt… That felt like finding a way of bringing everyone together in a certain way, and this kind of disenfranchised youth… It felt like they were all there but positive; it wasn’t an angry place. I remember us siting there and going through what went wrong and what went right, and it was like a family who I’d known for a day. It was really special.
Um, I love going to Wharf [Chambers]. I always love going to Wharf, but it’s interesting because I did a show where we had a talk about Wharf’s ‘Safe Space’ policy, so it’s interesting that I love it there but I have also critiqued it live on air. But, you know, I think it’s important you have those conversations. You can’t just be grateful that a space exists; you also have to hold that space accountable. I’m never just going to be grateful for something because it exists. It’s a bit patronizing to people like us.
The UK’s LGBT history is a little bit disparate in how it’s presented in some ways. America has very clear historical iconography and it’s a little bit less clear here. Like, America has Stonewall, you have the Reagan protests, um, regarding the history of, um, you know the AIDS crisis and stuff. And admittedly, of course, we can definitely say that America’s LGBT+ historical iconography is heavily rooted in New York, you can’t get away from that. That is in itself flawed. But, with the UK, it’s just a bit wishy-washy. Like we have stuff like, um the miners having their own kind of LGBT aspect like that, but I wouldn’t say it’s iconic. The overall miner’s strike is iconic as part of our history, but we’re just a part of it. But it’s hard to get a really strong… it’s been more subtle.
I would argue that one of the most iconic images of LGBT history in our country is Margaret Thatcher’s speech about Section 28, which is bleak. But I think if I was to think about a significant part of the history, it’s that, because I think we’re quite ignorant in the UK, at times, of that oppression. I think a certain generation think that it’s fixed. Like we exist because people had those stories, because people had to live in hiding, because people had to wait to finally deserve – quote/unquote – to exist. You don’t just one day magically become queer; it’s a developmental thing. I’m always changing my views on it, I’m always changing where I feel in the world and where I sit in it. I think it’s so important that we are giving those stories a chance to actually exist and, like, let people learn from other people how they became the people they are, you know. Living in hiding is so much different from being yourself. It’s just different, everything is different. It’s important we have those conversations.
And I think it’s nice that, like, as time has gone on, like I was saying before about how we’re having more, like, collectives and things able to bring themselves up. It’s exciting when I see friends of mine… A friend of mine who used to do a show on LSR before I was really around properly - they do like a club night at Wharf [Chambers] now, and it’s really successful and, like, is… it’s really special to actually see quite a few people I’m friends with getting to just showcase their art and stuff. And for me just to be like, ‘Hey, I want to perform’; and someone be like, ‘Sure, we’ll pay you for it’. That’s amazing. It’s amazing to have that opportunity just based off of wanting to do something, and your friend just going ‘yeah, sure’. We’ve got the ability to do that. And yeah, it’s not the biggest thing in the world, but it’s, it’s - people are getting the chance to… People are getting the chance to start somewhere, I think. I think there’s nothing that you can really do in the bigger cities to get a foothold beyond - not luck or knowing the right people. But it’s very special that there’s this sort of weird thing in Leeds that it’s big, but it’s not cramped. I think there’s room for people to breathe and for art to flourish, and for people to develop and grow and get a good foothold in certain things. If you’re good, people will notice.
JESSICA: What are you going to perform?
JOE: I don’t really know if it’s a hundred percent drag yet. I feel like it’s a middle ground. I don’t… I think drag’s so vague now that it’s fine for it to be that middle ground. It’s still drag. It depends on budget. I was just sat there and it was like, yeah it’s, it’s nice to think that. I was like, yeah, I’m just gonna do a little Madonna number, which escalated into me being like I wanna do this, I wanna do that. I don’t know. It’s exciting. I just feel like this is baby’s first time in drag, which leads to a horrible addiction to it. Oh hey, I don’t have any money for bloomin’ clothes normally… and I can’t sew. Yeah, I guess it’s exciting to be that kid. That kid who when I was, like, eighteen used to turn up to the clubs and just absolutely go for it. I’m a great dancer, I’m not gonna lie. I used to do all that and, like, it’s interesting. We always used to say you need to perform, you need to do that. I never even knew how. I think it’s actually only in the past two or three years in Leeds that I have seen there are ways for me to do that. And I get to do that now. That’s really cool. That’s exciting. And from just being myself, that’s from other people seeing something, not something else. As a community I think Leeds in general is supportive of art. And wants to foster it and grow it. And I think people see potential and I like that, and I think, like, we’re seeing everything moving up North, with TV and things. I think that is - I think it’s going to be the start of something huge. I think we’re going to be a big city someday; culturally and beyond what we are now. We’re not just going to be a festival city. We’re going to be at the centre of something incredible.