Bruce Rimell: Full Interview

Duration 01:04:54


Visit Bruce’s website to see his art in detail.


Bruce Rimell
Interviewed by Rebecca Brunk
17th November 2018

RB: This is Becca Brunk, I’m here with Bruce and we are recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories. Bruce, do you want to introduce yourself?

BR: Hello, I’m Bruce, m what should I say? I’m 44 years old, I was born in Swindon, Wiltshire, which is down in the south west of England. I identify as gay and also as… queer male. Kind of on the boundary. And yeah, this is kind of a story I have to tell. Which I think is a little unusual, a little holistic, a little bit queer, a little bit artistic and a little bit psychedelic.

RB: So, if you want to start, we discussed starting with your early years.

BR: Yeah, so I want to say something about the early years and realising I was gay at 13 when I was at school. I can always remember, God when I was about 8 years old, seeing shirtless teens on the cricket field, and their bodies looking… correct. Like they were anatomically well-arranged, not like a sexual thing. And female bodies didn’t necessarily look that way to me.

And I was 13 when I saw two guys kissing, and I got really, suddenly, radically turned on in that moment, and I was like, whoa. It was like a cascade of things all came together in that one moment. And I knew, ‘cause this was the late ‘80s, and I knew, there was HIV AIDS, ‘don’t die of ignorance’, you know. Everyone was quite scared of everything, and I just thought,

“Well, this is… this is… yeah, this makes absolute sense. This is who I am, this is what it is". It all happened, it all kind of downloaded in a matter of days.

And, no more than about 3 weeks after my 14th birthday, I was sexually active. I managed to meet a guy at a swimming pool, ‘cause I was a swimmer back then, and he was in his early 20s and he made the move, and I very definitely responded. Now of course that story has some kind of strange implications, because I was just 14, but there was this secret thrill of being different... which was also kind of… there was this parallel track of being... I knew I'd be rejected, so I had this secret thrill of being different and acting on it and doing things about it, along with the fact of, "oh you know, you're a gay boy, fag, whatever... just rejected, get out”. So I had these twin tracks running in my life which was kind of like promiscuity with this guy and his friends... which, you know... I'm 14 years old, this is definitely, from his perspective, definitely not something he should have been doing ... but it was, for me, and I make no claims about anyone else, but for me these experiences were unconditionally positive, they made absolute sense to me. They confirmed so much about me and my life and they set me on a track that was kind of like... not exactly rebellion, but fuck it. If I'm going to be different, I'm going to be as different as possible. You know when you're like 14, 15 and you're like... right, I'm gonna like weird music, I'm gonna like weird art, I'm gonna get into astrophysics. Screw the world, I'm not interested in Kylie Minogue and Madonna and all the pop acts of the time. I'm just gonna get into all this weird shit.

And that's exactly what I did, but I was still running these twin tracks of like promiscuity with this guy and his friends, versus loneliness, acceptance of myself versus difference. And I was just, I mean everyone has the... I think every young gay teen has these twin tracks, doesn't matter what they are, there's two of them. Your private, hidden secrets and you know, what you show to the world and all that.

And I was running these twin tracks as hard as possible. You know, wildly promiscuous and yeah fuck it, I'm gonna be different but also, really really hurting from the rejection and the loneliness that I felt from the world. And I suppose this is the seed of where... I don't want to call myself a rebel because I'm not, but it was like a rebel outsider. The outsider's outsider. From this kind of nascent, queer identity.

I did feel like a rebel, I felt like a double rebel because back then, the sexual age of consent – and I knew this, at the time – and I had [laughs] absolutely yeah, I'm gonna do this before I'm 16 because 16 was the straight age of consent, but back then 21 was the gay age of consent, so I was breaking the law twice. I was like, you know, fuck it. If the law and society says I am to be rejected, then I am going to behaviorally, psychologically – whatever – I'm gonna reject that back.

RB: Is that a legal law?

BR: That was a legal law. They brought it down to 16 to match the straight age of consent in the mid-‘90s. But we're talking about, I must have been, what? I was born in '74, so this was 1988-89.

So I did, it was kind of like a 'fuck you' to the unjust world. I felt it really keenly. What I can't remember is how keenly aware I was of Clause 28, which was the thing where you may not promote homosexuality in schools. I say that because trans people were completely invisible back then, you know, it wasn't even mentioned. Much like lesbians in Victorian times, it wasn't even a thing because it was invisible. I can't remember, I'm sure Clause 28 came in towards the end of my education, but I might be wrong there. But I do remember thinking at school, having sex ed at school and thinking about those HIV adverts, ‘don't die of ignorance’. Here I am being ignorant.

RB: How did that make you feel? As a young person.

BR: Confused. Angry. Wondering what the hell I was doing with these guys, of what this might lead, you know. I do remember he used condoms with me, because he was probably much more well informed than I was. In that respect, I suppose I was lucky. I remain HIV negative now, but first HIV test in my late 20s, I was like, "my God, this could have happened. I don't know, you know".

So, what it did do, again this twin track, I just rejected any and all norms and laws religions or cultural practices which demanded – what I would now call – my dehumanization. Back then, I was a teenager, it was more like, "hey, fuck you". You know, I wasn't out but I was acting on my sexuality and it was something that's evolved in later life, almost with a boredom of such, "oh come on, this stuff's not difficult". You know we've got the trans debate right now, and it's like... why is this even a debate about these real human beings with actual, factual things going on in their lives. It's not even anger anymore, it's like – ugh this again. Yeah, and even sometimes contempt for that hetero-moralistic, "Oh, won't someone think of the children?" viewpoint. Let's do it with more trill, "Ohh..." Just yeah.

On the other hand, at school and at college, I was working really hard ‘cause it was a small town, Swindon, Wiltshire, little town. Small town attitudes, very conservative and I saw university as my ticket out of there, so I worked bloody hard at school. And you know what kids are like, “eh swot”. So there was that as well, but it's not really relevant to my queer identity, but it’s relevant to my kind of cultivated outsider.

RB: Which I think is also relevant to your queer identity.

BR: I suppose, yeah yeah. So I mean, I ended up going to university in Birmingham, so getting into city life and my small town life, and I met a friend in the first few weeks of university. A friend at the time who was in her 30s said, "You're gonna meet a friend for life in the next few weeks". She said that just before I went away to uni. She was right because I still know my friend Dan, we're still very close, what 25... no it's more than that, nearly 30 years ago now. I can't be arsed to do the maths, but anyway. And we both, within a few weeks, we sat down and we were like, "Hm, I'm having doubts about my sexuality. I'm thinking that maybe I'm not straight", and neither of us actuality had the guts to say, "Yeah, no we're queer as fuck, we're as gay as anything", you know? And I felt particularly bad for myself, because I needed to hear it from someone else. And even though, because I had been sexually active, but actually I still didn't know what gay meant. You know, these guys I'd been with when I was 14 and 15, it really was meet up, go for a swim and have sex afterwards. It wasn't any, what? What's this? There was no kind of... mentoring from this older people, so I suppose when I say it was unconditionally positive, you know actually there were things missing.

It must have been after 8 months of Birmingham city life and I was secretly going to gay clubs, I wasn't even telling my friend Dan that I was going to gay clubs. ‘Cause for me at that time, being gay was about having sex. I had to constantly confirm that because the world wasn't telling me anything.

RB: How did you find the places you were going to?

BR: Oh, super exciting! It was like glitter in my eyes, ohhh big world. But actually, on the back flip, on the flip side, I kinda knew it wasn't going to be enough.

RB: And how did you find the establishments? Was it open at that time?

BR: It was open in Birmingham. Yeah there was a place called Tin Tins, and I think I heard about Tin Tins because some of my mates were taking the mick, you know bantering each other going, "Oh, you're a bit gay. Ohh send you off to Tin Tins", and my ears picked up and went "Oh, what's that?" and that’s how I found it. Um, and it was a lifeline when it wasn't out, but the gay scene very quickly became... ah a hinderance, once I did start to come out. I can remember, within eight or nine months of living in Birmingham and going to university, I came back to visit my parents. It was actually my 19th birthday and I went back just to see my parents, and I was like, "Right, I'm doing it. I'm coming out. I'm coming out to my family, and then I'm gonna tell Dan and then fuck it, I'm telling everyone. People can love me or hate me, I don't care. I have to do this now. I just can't live like this anymore". With these twin tracks, you know, I kind of need to know.

And then I got sexually assaulted in a toilet in Cheltenham by a very old man, which just sent me on a wild spiral. It wasn't rape, but it was pretty full on as a sexual assault. And oh my gosh, I mean that delayed things for about six months, um... and did kind of fuck me over for a bit. I stopped going to gay clubs cause I was then really ashamed – is that my destination? You know, accosting young guys in my 60s and 70s in toilets? I'm just, oh God. I can't cope with that idea, you know?

Well anyway, I did come out in the end, and my mom cried. And the reason why she cried was remembered what she said to me when I was about 14. She set out you know, a moral life for me, "I don't want you to... you know, be disrespectful to people. I don't want you to be a thief, I don't want you to do this. I want you to always strive to be the best person you can be, I don't want you to be gay because I think that's wrong", and she remembered saying, and I remembered her saying and my heart broke at that moment. Um, so I think that was not long after I'd become sexually active, so I think on some level she kind of knew. So she cried ‘cause she was like, "I'm so sorry I said that". And she coped with it by telling the whole family, and the whole family were kind of like... their reaction was kind of like, "Meh, well you were always a bit different Bruce. Maybe that's why?"

RB: Did that feel like acceptance?

BR: I'm always happier... you know, if someone doesn't accept me, I get feisty. If someone's homophobic, I can get feisty. If someone's a bit too much... my friend Dan – check this out for a reaction. His mum was fully accepting, Christmas at home, the first- because he came out to his parents not long after I came out to my parents. He was upstairs in his room, the entire family in the living room, "DAN? DAN?" She's screaming up from the foot of the stairs, "DAN, come down. There's a naked gay ballet on television!" And he's just like this 18-19 year old guy going "Oh God, shut up". I mean, it was a really, it's a fond memory for him now.

I think my favourite reaction is, "Well okay. Anyway, what are we going to have for dinner?" You know? For it to be simply a thing. When push comes to shove, yeah you know, celebrate it. Be proud of it. But, in normal everyday life, it's just a thing.

So yeah, I was still running those twin tracks though, because now I was out. I was out on the gay scene and turns out the gay scene is all about sex and hedonism. And I love sex and hedonism, but I don't want to run my whole life around the idea of sex and hedonism. Now, I've come out. Now I've shown who I am, this life line is no longer enough for me. Um, and I didn't know how to solve this problem. I was still very promiscuous and still completely... no moral attachment to that whatsoever, I still celebrated that, but it no longer had the meaning it had which was this lifeline. It was still pleasurable and enjoyable, but... I mean, I've got to have a life's meaning and purpose, right? This can't possibly be my life's meaning and purpose.

So, I'm still lonely, I'm still... turns out my family are wrong. I am a bit different and being gay wasn't the answer. So, okay. What am I gonna do with that? And this twin track just went harder and harder and harder, and it started to break me. It started to go up and up and up and more and more intense. That's when I discovered with my straight friends back home in Swindon – what an irony – I'm discovering the answer back in the place I really want to escape from. There's a life lesson for you, if there ever is one, and I discovered LSD, acid.

Um, I don't know what to tell you about LSD, except to say that I think it probably saved my life. I mean, quite literally, I think those twin tracks, it might not have happened straight away and those twin tracks would have gotten more and more intense, I would have never resolved them, and I did ideate quite strongly about suicide quite strongly throughout my teens. And I think I might well have done it. And it was the effects of acid that provided me with the basis where I could integrate these two twin tracks – I thought the problem was to get the twin tracks to go into one. No, the answer turned out to be that these twin tracks were part of a much larger holistic living environment – if you know what I mean. I don't really know how to explain that. So, I mean the effects of LSD in general are to extend time and to blur the perception between what you see and its reference. To unhinge the idea that the... the symbol or the reference in language is the thing itself – you kind of unhook from that. They call it "the menu is not the meal, the map is not the territory". And you can play with it, and it happens very fast – once you get this unhinging, people who are listening to this, who have taken psychedelics will understand exactly what I mean straight away. People who've never had any psychedelic experience will be going, "uh, what? I kind of… yeah, in theory, in a very abstract way... maybe I get it?" But it's not experienced in an abstract way, it's experienced in a directly experiential – and it becomes centrally psychological, emotional, even spiritual.

And so you realize all these social realities, all these cultural norms, these laws, these moralities, and my own personal identities and the twin tracks themselves – even notions like I am gay – well, when am I gay? Am I gay sitting here right now? Or am I only gay when I'm being shagged by someone, when I'm in bed with someone, you know... is that when I'm gay? And suddenly, the whole idea becomes absurd. Is gay just a latency in the brain that expresses itself through behaviour? No, it all just unhinges and you realize the identity you really have is the seer and the doer and the experiencer of these seeings, doings and experiences. And your first reaction to that unhinging, usually, is that it’s really really funny. It's fucking hilarious, because you see the absurdity of the entire world – and yourself. Everything you've constructed just looks stupid.

And I really really needed to see that, as these twin tracks were going up and up and harder and faster and burning me up. Unfortunately, in one sense, what it did was it burned up my recognition that the norms and theories behind gay society and the gay world, you know sex and hedonism and nothing else, were also just as absurd. So it kind of ruined me for gay life, and having a GAY identity – you know, in capital letters. I was developing this beginning identity as queer but I rejected queer theory and post-modernism as equally absurd. I don't know, I was looking for something more indigenous and human and not ideological, because ideology was just another construction of symbols and I've already seen that constructions of symbols look and feel real but they're absurd. Um, and you can imagine cause I have ADHD one of the advantages of ADHD is that you have no boundaries. You can imagine how far I went with this with no boundaries. You know, how far I pushed this absurdity of human life. Um, and then I discovered MDMA, which kind of does something different. It's ecstasy. I discovered it at the time when there was a big fear about ecstasy, you know ecstasy death, and all the people dying from ecstasy, don't do it, it's really dangerous for you and you know... it just took away my fear. It took away any kind of anxiety. It made me a deeper human being, I think, whereas LSD took me on these wild psychedelics tracks.

And so, later on I became an artist, but really, I want to show you this piece here, which is called "The Night I Discovered My Bones". Which is an experience I had with LSD and MDMA where I put my hands up in the air, and I saw, physically, my body tear away from the bones and no, it didn't hurt. I knew kind of it was an illusion, but I went with it and I really physically saw it and I'm dancing skeletally, and it was simultaneously absurd, wild, psychedelic. It was like even my body, the construction of my body, is subject to this same ridiculousness of the notion of reference... and it was also really homoerotic. Really homo-erotic. So, this was kind of the first clue that I could get that you know... these twin tracks, a queer identity for someone like me might not be possible without a hundred other holistic things going on.

And the twin tracks just died. They were just too absurd to continue, I couldn't take them seriously anymore. And so, I needed to kind of... I realized I had to live holistically. I couldn't be... gay. I couldn't be... an artist. I couldn't be an astrophysicist. I couldn't be a psychonaut, you know someone who does psychedelics. I had to be human, with a capital H. This massive bubble and I had to find out everything possible about it.

So I'm telling this story as kind of a queer focus, but I could tell this story with a psychedelic focus or a human focus or whatever. It's all the same to me. And it's then that I found out about the Native American idea of 'two-spirit'. There's loads of gay people in non-native American cultures who go, 'Oh, two-spirit. Finally, something I can be and of course... you can't do that because it's really culturally specific. Um, so I used to... [laughs] funnily, and this is kind of psychedelic, I used to say 'I am not two-spirit', which was a way of acknowledging that I understood that two-spirit was this thing... this really integrated cultural phenomenon in Native American life.

RB: Can you explain what it is?

BR: Two-spirit is the idea that some people... every human being is born with a spirit. There can be a male spirit and a female spirit. Some people are born with more than one, and those people fall into... in many native North American cultures, they fall into third and fourth gender categories. And the word two-spirit comes from, I think it’s the Ojibwe and its... ah [tongue clicks] ‘ Niizh Manidoowag’, and it’s really important because ‘manidoo’ means anything beyond. It can be a little forest spirit, it can be anything mysterious. It can be anything you can't quite put your finger on. It can be something profound and sacred or it can be something liminal or unusual. So yeah, ‘Niizh Manidoowag’, I think but ‘manidoo’ means this thing.

When I found that out, I was like, ‘oh my gosh. Yeah, I resonate with that’. But to be two-spirit, you have to be confirmed as such by the elders of your community, so it was very clear to me that I am not two-spirit, but oh my gosh do I get that.

The Zuni have a great word, it’s ‘Lhamana’. L-H-A-M-A-N-A. ‘Lhamana’, and it’s derived from the word ‘Lha’ which means important or much. But it kind of has the meaning of too much, too important. Like you've supposed to be born with one spirit, but you've had too much loaded in there. And somewhere between the ADHD and the queeritude... [sniffs], I really... yeah, ‘lhamana’. I'm not Zuni, I'm not ‘lhamana’, but my gosh do I really get what they're trying to say there. And I get it in a blood, bone, guts, kind of sense. So yeah, sometimes... I went through a period of saying I'm not two-spirit, because I really can't be, but I really get the idea. I don't want to pay lip service to cultural appropriation, I'm really not two-spirit, but man, that idea really really... yeah, absolutely. I can feel that kind of thing in the centre of me. So, the only solution I've got, in the absence of this in my own culture, is to construct one for myself that’s like that. That's holistic and integrated into the wider world. And that was really um... yeah, that was, it was kind of boundary breaking and this realization that my ADHD could actually be advantageous in achieving those kinds of breakages, the absurdity with the LSD, this kind of not being two-spirit... [laughs] which is just a paradoxical thing to say.

Um, and encouraging as much possible life and no filter. Um, yeah and eventually it started to dawn on my family. 'Bruce, never mind about being gay, I knew when you were just a small boy, you were going to be different’. So, my family were even starting to resonate, you know, on my difference, gay wasn't the answer. It was something much more fundamental about me that was driving this difference.

And so, I kind of went around the world a little bit, and ended up living in Japan for a couple of years. This is kind of incidental to the story, but while I was there, I was like 'okay, I need to become an artist.' One winter’s night, sitting in my apartment in Japan, hearing the Siberian... the winds from Siberia whistle past the window and I was like, 'I'm going to do this. I'm going to become an artist'. Uh, and I don't really think at that point, I was 23 at the time, I don't really think I'd made the connection between being an artist and answering these holistic questions. Um, so I ended up doing ten years of self-teaching as an artist. I'm internationally exhibited now, but I'm completely self-taught. I got thrown out of an art class when I was 14 for being too rowdy. That's my last formal art education.

What's weird is when I started to show my work to other people, and aside from the 'wow, that's amazing', 'really? It's just a little something I've done', [siren] realising that my work is actually holistic. It took me six, seven or eight years to realize that. My work is actually holistic, it unfolds visions, psychedelia, dreams, archaeology, ethnography, cognition, and it turns out, queer experience. My friend Dan pointed this out to me with this piece, 'Shot by Eros' And this is what, 2011. So, a long time after I decided to become an artist and he said, 'Yeah, this piece is about the radical healing of love.' You know when I did fall in love with my husband, when I met him at age 29, I really did feel like it was a thing that was burning me up. True ecstasy, in the genuine sense, in the original Greek sense of getting you out from where you are, beyond pleasure, beyond pain. And Dan, into this vista where pleasure and pain are just the same kind of thing, again... trips into the LSD thing where, oh yeah, pleasure and pain are just absurd. You know, hit me or love me. It kind of all feels the same [laughs], it’s still a sensation. You could go quite dark with that, but you know, ah... and he looked at that piece and he said, 'you know, what I really like about your work is it’s about so many things, but it’s also really homoerotic', and you know, the piece, you could argue that artwork is about gay sex even, from the way the guy is being penetrated through the heart with an arrow. You could argue that is the same kind of ecstasy that many gay people, myself included, feel by being the receptive partner in gay sex. You know? Which is a theme I'm going to come back to [laughs].

So, yeah, I had this question and art was another answer. So here we are again, twin tracks. A big holistic question and this expanding art bubble – they're more like bubbles now, than twin tracks but they haven't coalesced yet. And one of the things I kept doing with my artwork to produce artwork was drawing from experiences where I would go into the darkness and somehow come back stronger, this kind of U-shaped journey, down into the underworld, into the hell and come back out to the light, but the light is new. The light is deeper. Uh, and every time I did this, and I did this all the time, I would be more of an outsider. So, I became the outsider’s outsider outsider, do you know what I mean? It just, the rebellion had gone. I was now following these tracks that had... you know... I don't quite know how to put it into words, but you know... just...

RB: I think there's always a sense of loneliness when you become more and more self-aware.

BR: Yeah, yeah. I would agree with that.

RB: Because you're doing work that most people don't end up doing.

BR: Yeah, and then you do the work to such an extent that it becomes intuitive and then you're like... 'how on earth can't you see this very basic simple thing?' and then suddenly you're like, 'Oh, no that's contempt'. That's almost arrogance, catch yourself there. You can't really think that. You have to own that you did this process. But I did this process without... [sigh] I didn't do it as self-development. I did it because I wanted to become a better artist. I didn't even realize it would help answer the holistic bubble question. So, I don't know. [Laughs]

RB: Mm, that's sometimes how it happens.

BR: Yeah. And meeting my future husband at 29, which is what brings me to West Yorkshire because by that time I was living in Bristol. I had a job that was... meh, it paid well. Let's leave it at that, it paid well. I had lots of dreams about what I wanted to do in my future life relating to art, and various other things, but you know. I gotta pay the bills. And I got made redundant, and he was one of the team coming to take my job back up to Leeds. Hell with it, I don't want to know these people. Not interested, not interested. And he was the only one I wasn't introduced to on the first day, and he was this cute kid in the corner there. 21 years old, and I'm like, 'Who’s that? Ah, he's quite cute'. I'm just gonna go, really I thought, you know, my promiscuity was driving that one. It was a bit of lust, momentary lust and then it was, almost literally, I don't know what it was, love at first sight, it was. We introduced each, each to our, ah um... we introduced ourselves to each other. We will successfully navigate that sentence [laughs], um... so we met on the Monday. A week and a day later on the Tuesday was our first date. A week and a day after that, on the Wednesday, we are in bed together in tears saying how much we loved each other. ‘Cause it was supposed to be a six-week thing, ‘cause he was going back up to Yorkshire to do the job. So, he was only there for six weeks. I had this whole life in Bristol, but it was dissolving, and I was smart and psychedelic enough to know when dissolving things happen, it might be time to turn everything upside down. I'd done that before in my life, you know with traveling the world, it might be time to do it again.

And we fell in love so fast and so hard, it just wasn't possible to finish. Um, and to this day, we haven't. And I remember on New Year’s Day, we rang each other up ‘cause this was in October we met, so you know, he'd gone back up and we were still calling each other every day and seeing each other every few weeks and in the end I was like, to hell with this. It's gonna happen isn't it, you've got this job up in Leeds, and I've not really got a job. I've got a, you know a temporary job, they want to take me on permanent, but it’s just another shitty job. It pays well, but maybe it's time to overturn it.

And he'd seen my art, and the first time he'd seen it, he was in floods of tears. So, there was a kind of deal going on where, eventually, when I got to the right place artistically, he would support me in being an artist. Took a few more years, I moved up here in 2004, June 2004. We bought a house together in April 2005, it happened really fast. I always say, when you know, you know and it’s ecstasy. Real love is ecstasy, it's not pleasure, it's not pain. It's beyond that. It hurts so good. and it’s bliss and it’s joy and it’s sorrow and it’s pain and pleasure, I just... it’s beyond all that. So when you find your life on ecstasy, it kind of sticks. If you can ride it out, it’s really really tough to ride it out. It's stormy and wild. It's the beginning of the world. It's... you know… yeah.

So, about 2010, he made good on that vow to support me and my work, and he is always now the solid ground from which I can make my artistic flights. Something I'm not going to go too much into is around 2010, we also decided to be polyamorous. This is relevant for the artistic story, because it was then I was able to run these... you know, get my... we were faithful for almost 7 years. I gotta say, that was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I did it. 7 years I was monogamous. From 14 to the age of 29, I was not even remotely monogamous, so it was a really tough thing to try to pull off. But yeah, we both started to stray and we both kind of found it funny. Ah, so yeah there was that. And that then fed into my art, I was able to get my promiscuity back, which was a gift. ‘Cause, I was missing it almost, but I didn't want to cheat on the man I love more than anything else in the world. And who I, quite literally, would die for. Um, so yeah. This idea – your work is intensely homoerotic without being pornographic cause it’s about many things all at once. Your work is definitely queer, someone in Leeds said that to me, a non-binary person who runs... who used to run several exhibitions but now runs um... a queer artist group. They said, 'your work is definitely queer'. 'Really? I mean I can't quite see it.' 'Yeah, your work is definitely queer'. But it's not in such a clear-cut way like a queer artist, it's kind of... it's not harder to spot, but it's different.

So, yeah. This set me on the artistic track, and this is what made those two bubbles coalesce, because I started to think, you know what? We are not our struggle. No, no, there's a pristine, sacred jewel of queeritude, of queerness within me. I say that to some queer people, because you know, many LGBTQ+ people are, myself included, are walking wounded from religion. So many different reasons. So, I say there is this sacred, queer, pristine jewel and they go, 'what? I'm not sacred man, I'm dirty. I'm broken'. They don't say it in so many words, but I'm like, I'm proud of my broken'. 'Nah, I'm my struggle. I'm dirty, I'm nasty'. 'Yeah, I can be all of those things, but let's get back to the absurdity of reference that I learned from acid, I know I'm not those things'. But that sacred, pristine queer jewel within? Yeah, I could get absurd, acid about that as well, but no. I'm committed to that one. I really feel that one in my blood, in my bone. So i started doing artistic quests to try to look for it and express it and it just keeps getting deeper and stranger and wilder, more sexual, more whatever.

So, I mean really I mean the rest of this is to go through a few pieces where I ex... ‘cause I reckon, I don't know for other people, maybe sign posts on the road. When I say sacred, pristine queer jewel within, how many people are going to go, 'huh?' and how many people are gonna go, 'Mm, I kind of smell that on the breeze', and how many people are going to go 'Ha', they're going to sit up and say, 'I need to hear this, I really, really feel that'. [Hits legs excitedly].

So, yeah, my first really expression of that was a piece called ‘Xochipilli’, and I have a poem, which I would like to share with you now. And so ‘Xochipilli’ is the Aztec prince of flowers, um and he's... being gay in the Aztec empire, homosexual behaviour was punishable by death. But they had a prince of flowers who was the lord of all psychedelic plants, the man of dance. The lord of poetry, and the lord of homosexual acts and male sex workers. Cause there were many of them in the Aztec empire, and they served the soldiers. But it's punishable by death... and you have this, Xochipilli was really central to the Aztec pantheon. Why would you have a patron saint for something that’s illegal? I found this fascinating, and it’s because he was just... beyond. and I found this hymn to Xochipilli, which was written in like 1500 something, which was a native Aztec hymn and I thought I would write a queer version of that hymn. [Clears throat] so here it is.

Song for Xochipilli
I will sing for you Xochipilli
Fivefold liminal Macuilxochitl

I will go to your house
And lay flowers upon your alter
I will place them upon me
I will drink of your sap
And I will envision you

I will go to your house
And dance movements of love
I will caress the air
Your hands guide my body
And I will entertain you

I will go to your house
And chant flowers and song
Leaves of poetry in the air
Your mouth and mine entwined
And I will kiss you

I will go to your house
And lay naked upon your inner sanctum
I will be taken, you and I as One
Penetrated by your vision
And I will become you

I will go to your house
And shed tears on your grave
I will become a butterfly
Our souls singing again
And I will die with you

I will sing to you Xochipilli
Fivefold liminal Macuilxochitl


I was born on the day Five Flower,
I live under you and I die under you,
I love under you and I fuck under you.
Through you I can become, can go beyond:
Oh Xochipilli, I am your house!

And for me, this was the first time I really got that other bubble. You know? That other bubble, wow this is like a holistic queer psychedelic artistic poetic ... construction of identity. Um... so yeah. I don't really know what to say about that except that it’s probably one of the most clearest expressions of being queer, being me, that I can really put together. Which is why, you know, I don't know if you've had a poetry reading in one of these recordings before, but there you go.

So that got me on the track, I decided to do a piece called ‘Luceat Lucifer Libertum’, which is Latin for Shine Lucifer Free, cause it occurred to me that Lucifer, God's chosen angel, suddenly cast down into the depths of hell, rejected, cold, lonely, gazing up to the human world with envy... that’s really a queer experience. Especially if you're a man, because in the patriarchy, BEHOLD, I'm a man. Oh right, no I'm just falling. You know, I'm rejected, I'm worthy of murder. You know, um... I really get that. And this was the thing where I started to realize, I think I'm a queer male. Yeah, I'm a man, I'm cis gender, but I'm on the liminal space between... you know, it's not so much that they are blurry edges, I'm in that place where male is not, but I'm definitely a man. and, um, yeah. There's something... I call myself a queer male, because that's... I'm sufficiently ambiguous as a man to not be a man. [laugh] There's that psychedelic paradox coming in again. Sometimes I think, wow, how privileged are you in your cis-gender hood that you can blur and make ambiguous, oh well done you. But it is what I am, and still be cis-gender. Oh well done, you know. Some of us really have to make the whole journey, and take the hit for it, and I recognize that. Um, but it is how I feel in that respect.

So, my queer maleness was really expressed in this piece from 2014 called The Dream of Bellerophon'. Now Bellerophon is the ultimate Greek hero, he takes his sword out and pacifies the landscape and everything in it – dragon slayer, chimera killer, if you're not going to sleep with me as a woman than I'm going to kill you cause Ahh! hack slash. Bellerophon literally means something like killer of enemies. But the night before he slays the chimera, he in the myth, he sleeps in Athena's temple. and I thought, I'm gonna queer this. I'm going to imagine what Athena really says to him in my dream psyche. So, another poem, I'm afraid [laughs].

And you, Bellerophon – [speaking] so Athena's speaking here

The Dream of Bellerophon
…and you Bellerophon,
Dreaming upon my alter,
Sword failing in your hand,
Body melting into earth
What now…?

…when liquid essence
Of volcanic Chimera,
Writing like serpent tails,
Formed of starry shimmer,
Has seeped into your soul…?

…when subdued earth,
Shouts of battle turned to ash
From your heroic posture,
Whispers to me on breezes
To deliver a subtler dream…?

…when we hover before you
Among glowing moonbeams
Just beyond your horizon,
Blessing with shifting magic
What you once opposed…?

…when we plant a wild seed
Embodying within you
A moment of hybrid union,
A vision that turns you chimeric
And invites you to step beyond…?

…then, Bellerophon, what image
Of manhood will you then forge
And wings and goat-horns
And your face upon your enemy,
What name will you bear…?

So, really that comes down to what happens when the dragon slayer drops his sword and realizes he, as a man, has to become the dragon. Has to make union with the dragon, and there are several pieces I've done with this. That, really for me, is something really deep and personal and really queer. The dragon is not to be slayed, but to be... not merely embraced, but to be become. The dragon... [stammers] there's a visionary artist of mine, there's a Latin phrase, I can't remember what it was. ‘Non draco’, something rather – [‘non draco sit mihi dux’ – let not the dragon be my guide] Oh, do not let me be fooled by the dragon, and I just said right back, Oh, ‘draco mecum ambula’ - dragon walk with me, guide me. And he looked horrified, and I thought, 'yeah, you're really not going to get this'.

BR: What happened then in 2015 was, I was invited as an artist to contribute to an encyclopaedia called ‘The Encyclopaedia of Fernal Affairs’, where we decided to create an imaginary parallel world that was filled with... all the things that the world rejects. Let's make those sacred, so naturally queer things had to come in. Um, there's a lot of art here, but... and a lot of the next bits of art really are about that. We made a queer... not a lord or a lady, um... not really non-binary, perhaps transgender lord of the underworld. [Fernal Underworld Garden] Transgender host of the underworld, that's the right word c host. And in this world, the underworld wasn't a hell, or a dark place but a vibrant world of magic and transformation and wellbeing. Just the opposite of what the patriarchal, angry human world of the moment thinks of as hell. I've written mythology and songs about this, I'm not going to go into them, but I'm going to put it in the archive.

We made a... ha, I painted a menstrual paradise. Now, I'm a gay man, what the hell am I doing addressing menstruation, but you know, the menstruating cis-gender woman goes through that same queer process get out from the world, get from the community of human beings who reject you, go and live on the edge, don't go swimming. You know, hide it, don't – oh God, you're having your period? Ew, God too much information. Man, no. It's the same kind of thing. For every society that believes that menstruating women will cause a flood if they touch water, there's an intolerant preacher who will say gay marriage is inviting God to cause hurricanes which you know... floods. We seem to have the same magic [laughs]... in the patriarchal world of changing the weather [laughs louder]. It's menstruating women, queers and vampires.

RB: [Laughs]

BR: Not quite sure what that says about us, but you know, we can go, 'oh fuck you', or we can own that magic and say, 'yeah well, you know I use the word queer which used to be an insult, yeah I'm gonna own that magic'. There's something holistic in that wonderful... pristine jewel of queeritude that is... magic. And there's a song I wrote [laughs] relating to that painting.

And then I wrote, [stammers] and I don't want to go into this too much, but I just want to put it in the archive, I wrote, as part of this project and funnily enough, it didn't make it into the encyclopaedia but I still needed to write it. My queer hero Lucaion, I even invented a language for this encyclopaedia. We did so much work. Lucaion is the Fisher of the Stars. He's a fisherman who creates the planets, and he makes the planets by... by having sex with the sky god. And then he goes around all the fernal, parallel dimension cause the planets all fly away and hide and he has to gather them up. Um, and if you're queer and you hear the call of this pristine jewel, it might be worth reading my song of Lucaion, which is a very long poem. Even the summary here is three pages, so I'm not going to read it out, but the point is, he goes... well, he goes around the whole fernal cosmos, this parallel paradise world, gathering up the planets. For each planet, he has a task to complete, which demonstrates his skill and cunning intelligence, but it’s an interactive emotional intelligence, rather than, 'hey, I'm going to take my sword and pacify and destroy everything'. And I kind of wrote it, almost like it was going to be some kind of Sumerian or Babylonian religious ritual to be recited. So, it's very repetitive, but here is my icon of Lucaion, who is a queer hero and it turns out he's pansexual. Now, I... I suppose you'd call me homosexual, I don't really know anymore but... um, he ends up... his emotional intelligence and lack of boundaries drives him into the arms of women, transgender and non-binary people, because his love is for everyone.

And that's another thing I think about being queer, I think we have to be... you know, we have to be... for me it's about you know, universal love in some respects. Which again, sounds kind of hippie shit but you know, my foundation in all of this is with acid, you know? [laughs] so yeah, I'm gonna pick up the um... the LSD 60s hippie shit.

And then in 2016, someone walked into a night club in Orlando and shot 50 queer people. And of course it hit the world really hard, and I thought I would respond to that with a piece that I call 'Queer Spirit over Orlando'. It was intended for healing, but it also expresses adequately... my holistic sense of who this queer, pristine jewel within, what they... cause it's non-gendered, what they look like. and feel like, within me.

Relevant to that is a selfie I took about three or four days later. It's a picture of me shirtless, with the words ‘queer as fuck’ on my chest. and I think at this point, the rebellious ‘fuck you world’ kind of came back, because I was like... I think for me, and I'm mindful of my privilege living where I am, white cis-gender, mostly male. I'm very conscious of my privilege there. For me, the call of Orlando was to be more gay. More lesbian. More bisexual. More transgender. More queer. More intersex. More asexual. More of what we are, fearlessly. and if someone wants to shoot me in the face because of it, fuck it. I will have lived without fear. And that's really now, so it's like... Orlando brought back my teenage, 'yeah, fuck the world' kind of thing, you know it brought it back.

Um, ...’Boy Under the Earth’ here is a piece I did in 2017 I did for fun. It really shows what I mean by queer and psychedelic. How psychedelic and queer, how visionary and queer can fit together. I don't want to say too much about that, if people look through this archive and hear this recording, I want them to just look at that and... have a question of what this pristine jewel looks like to me? What’s it look like to you? Does it look like this? Probably not. What's it look like?

Um, and I want to finish with the future [chuckles], if I may. Because this is turning into a bit of an artist's talk, but you know... I got no boundaries. This piece is really not safe for work [laughs]. One of the things... I think Orlando kicked off in me was this rebellion, and I'm like... you know what? Even within the gay community, and I mean the gay community, the community of gay men... I'm quite, openly promiscuous and I will be quite cheerful in openly admitting, yes I'm a bottom. I'm the receptive partner in gay sex, yep, love it. I am in charge of my own ecstasy. You know? But that's shameful, because even within the gay community, someone like me is shameful. You gotta be a top, you gotta be a bit of a man – hey I'm gonna grow a beard, just to show how much of a man I am. You know? Even though... whereas for me, I'm like... seriously, I'm in charge of my own ecstasy and I think someone needs to stand up, and in a really really blunt way, say that.

So, I'm going to make a series of seven artworks, six of them in the colours of the rainbow flag and one of them multi-coloured, which are self-portraits of me, being fucked by different guys. and I want to explore the ecstatic, mythic, sensual, emotional, wildness within gay sex for the bottom guy. The boundary breaking, blow the top of my head off... ah ah [moaning] scream the place down wonder. And, purity of this act – cause everyone knows gay sex is dirty right? You know, I'm fine with you being gay but just... man, don't put it in my face. We'll do it in an alleyway, close the curtains. We'll do it in our bedroom, but we don't want the neighbours to see.

Well, this is me saying, 'Yeah, fuck that.' This is as truthful, stylised but truthful... um, expression of how I feel when I'm being fucked. And I've called it ‘Fuck me, Love me, Take me to a world of Stars’, cause that is actually what happens, I hallucinate stars. If the guy is good, I will hallucinate stars. I will have a visionary experience. I will go into a mild, sometimes not mild, altered state of consciousness. The title is intended... this is the first piece in the series, the title is intended to say, 'what do you see?' Fuck me, do you just see the porn? Do you just see this as a pornographic image? Love me, can you see the emotional content? Take me to a world of stars, are you someone who knows what I'm talking about here? Have you seen that space? That ecstatic space?

And I made that, I sketched it up for a Pride exhibition that never happened. Um, because... here in Leeds, because the venue were being awkward to the curator. And, because it was publicly funded and there were going to be underage queer teens in the space, they wouldn't even let me use that one. So, I was kind of doubly rejected, and it just made me want to make it even more. And then in November 2017, here's where the polyamory comes back in. I had an amazing ecstatic experience with a guy I just met, he literally made me scream the place down. You know, just could not speak afterwards for... you know a very long time. And I'm going home, and I'm like... yeah, we need to do this. So, the rule of this series is that I'm not going to make another one until I have a similar ecstatic experience. So yeah, it pushes me into polyamory. One of them, I hope, with my husband’s agreement, will be about the first time we made love. One of them will be about the only time I did gay porn, in a... British porn studio. I was a total tourist, but I had my eyes opened and the things I saw and experienced were just... utter madness. But that's for a whole other time. One of them will be about Ganymede, reclaiming this queer Greek icon from the increasingly homophobic world, you know people like Rembrandt.

So that's my future. So, I don't know if I've adequately explained or explored this holistic, queer, psychedelic... pristine queer jewel, twin tracks, holistic bubble in any way that's satisfactory, because it’s an ongoing story. I haven't come to any conclusions, there's no grand moral. To say, AND THIS is the meaning of my life – there's nothing like that. There's just still an ongoing, deepening question that I never answer but just continue to experience, which is... this jewel, this sacred, pristine queer jewel within... what is it? What's it all about?

And everything I create, everything I live, all the mythology, the poetry, the art, it’s in pursuance of deepening my experience of that question. So, I throw it back to anyone reading or listening to this, do you have this sacred, pristine queer jewel within? and if so, I invite you to go look [laughs]. What is it? What is it?