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Art & Culture — 8 months ago

June Bellebono’s Pride Guide

Writer and editor June Bellebono shares her culture picks for Pride month. 

 

The phrase ‘representation matters’ now has something of an insipid meaning, whereby people holding marginalised identities are conditioned to believe that their biggest aspiration should be inclusion rather than liberation. Nevertheless storytelling remains a powerful tool to spark glee, empowerment or coalition, and perhaps most of all to let us portray our lives in their full individuality. 

 

Today, a refreshing development in queer and trans media has been the shift away from traditional one-dimensional storylines we’d been accustomed to for too long: simplistic coming out narratives, the bully-turned-lover romance, ambiguous lesbian friendships – the list goes on. Instead now, we see more nuanced adaptations of what our lives are, or could be. This is probably largely thanks to a relentless fight to be able to share our own stories, rather than relying on others to do that for us. 

 

This pride, I want to celebrate some recent LGBTQ+ media, from the silly to the existential, which has hit me in unexpected ways and made me grateful to be able to engage with art, books, film and even memes which are centred around us.

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June Bellebono
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Book: Bellies, Nicola Dinan

Nicola Dinan’s debut novel explores romance and transitioning, but also so so so much more. Alternatively narrated in first person by gay couple Tom and Ming, the book tackles their love story and the intricacies that emerge when Ming decides to transition.

Through this flitting first-person narration, Dinan is able to skillfully explore the complexities present in their relationship from both sides, in such a way that the reader ends up struggling to take a side or reach a simplistic conclusion. The lack of straightforwardness in both characters and their actions resonates with the nuances that make up the human experience, and Dinan pairs this with meticulous descriptions of the mundane. 

The story is also much bigger than just the two lovers: Bellies’ expansive characters deal with topics ranging from grief, to class, to masculinity, to eating disorders, to race. This novel felt relatable to me in a way few stories ever have, and not just for its discussion of transness. 

Film: Kokomo City, D. Smith

Kokomo City is a revolutionary film. Released this year, it shares the stories of four Black trans sex workers in New York and, crucially, the film is actually directed by D. Smith, a Black trans sex worker; something still vanishingly rare in the industry.

But that’s not why the film is great. Kokomo City is able to sit with some of the violence and trauma that may be inherent to these women’s living conditions, while also celebrating the beauty of their experiences with humour too. The four deeply charismatic characters share their livelihoods through captivating narration. 

There is also a black and white element to the film which adds a tenderness to the narrative and underlines the archival intentions of this work. After premiering at BFI Flare earlier this year, Trans On Screen is bringing the documentary back to London with an exclusive screening at Brixton Community Cinema. Hitting UK screens on 4th August, you can book tickets now.

Television Show: I Kissed A Boy

Watching reality TV after a stressful day of work is one of life’s greatest pleasures – especially if it has a popstar as a host and a bunch of gay men as its contestants. After decades of heterosexuality dominating the dating show world, 2023 has seen a rise of new queer romance-centred reality TV with For The Love of Dilfs, The Ultimatum: Queer Love and Love Trip: Paris. 

In the UK, we’ve also been blessed with a queer dating show: I Kissed A Boy. Set in a Masseria (aka a countryside mansion) in Puglia, Italy, the show pairs up different couples who introduce themselves by sharing an intimate kiss. A revolving door of newcomers helps to shake things up, with contestants leaving the house each episode too.

While not necessarily the most revolutionary in its approach to queerness, the show explores the transiency often associated with gay relationships, demisexuality and complicated familial relationships, as well as oft-unspoken topics like douching and cruising. To top it off, the show is hosted by Dannii Minogue, who serves gorgeous looks each episode. Her inability to contain her enthusiasm makes for an entertaining watch in itself.

Ultimately, there is something irrevocably sweet about watching gay boys fall for one another as they navigate messy dramas – and I Kissed A Boy promotes that with equal levels of campiness and horniness. You can watch all the episodes here.

Play: Sundown Kiki Reloaded

Allow me one speculative recommendation. Though I haven’t seen it yet, Sundown Kiki Reloaded is a play I can’t wait to watch. After attending the sold-out run of its predecessor Sundown Kiki in 2021 at The Young Vic, I was thrilled to see it come back, revised for this year. 

The theatre show, directed by UK ballroom pioneer JayJay Revlon, follows two rival ballroom houses and their members’ stories and relationships. Featuring the same cast as its first run, all Global Majority LGBTQ+ young people, Sundown Kiki Reloaded is coming back much bigger and with a new set of intentions. Blending voguing and theatre, the show aims to celebrate queer culture without diluting it for a theatre audience. The production is set to be both a party and an elevated artistic experience and tickets are on sale now

Visual Artist: Richie Nath

I have been following (and gagging at) the work of Richie Nath for many, many years. The Paris-based Burmese queer artist has long depicted sexy and chic homoerotic scenes embedded in Buddhist and Hindu mythology, and has recently also centred his work around political narratives tied to the civil war happening in Myanmar. 

A Burmese babe myself, I can’t help but admire Richie’s bravery in portraying such explicitly queer scenes – coming from a country where homosexuality is still criminalised – as well as being openly political in his work, aware of the risks that can incur. But, above all of its political relevance and power, Richie’s art is also just really stunning. The rich colours, minute details and strong portraiture results in remarkable pieces that I could look at forever. 

Podcast: But Also Get Therapy

I LOVE friendships. I love listening to people in deep friendships talk about anything and everything. I love being able to witness friends gossiping, disagreeing, laughing, opening up, crying, unpacking, processing, and taking part in all the beautiful actions that make friendships what they are. But Also Get Therapy is a podcast between Mel and Halima, two childhood friends from West London, whose conversations span mental health, love, work, family, desirability, identity and a million other things. 

But listing what the two talk about does a disservice to the podcast itself, which is so much more than the topics they discuss. Mel and Halima constantly provide smart and vulnerable points of views, directly yet implicitly tied to their racialised and gendered identities, which make for great listening for all. What feels refreshing about this specific podcast is the radical honesty with which the two approach one another: whether that’s in the way they call each other out, fondly appreciate one another or in their shade. Treat yourself to three seasons of But Also Get Therapy here.

Meme Account: czech.hunter.schafer

One of my new year’s resolutions was to work on my phone addiction, but halfway through the year I realised I just really love wasting time on my phone as I scroll and cackle to myself. A constant source of self-cackle is meme account @czech.hunter.schafer.

T-girl humour has stormed the internet over the last few years with niche yet universal jokes about what some of the common experiences of being a trans girl in the city in the 2020s involves: demanding guestlist to all queer nights, having to deal with socially inept transamorous men, and partying a bit too much. The anonymous account is clearly a common presence in queer East London nightlife and is able to depict some of the very particular experiences that unite all of us in the scene in an ingenious and hilarious way.

Magazine: Oestrogeneration

It can feel cringe to celebrate our own achievements, but in a landscape which is still so much against us, it’s also important to rebuke that cringe narrative. 

oestrogeneration is a magazine platform I founded in 2021 to platform the voices of trans women and transfeminine people in a transphobic media climate. Last month, we released our first print issue, co-edited with my partner in crime Harietta, on the theme of tenacity. The glossy magazine is a display of tenacious transfeminine voices from a wide array of perspectives. Amongst the many gorgeous pieces, Maysa P shares the story of Iranian trans rights spearheader Maryam Khatoon Molkara in a beautiful tender essay; andCarly Yvoty Fernandez interviews two Paraguayan community organisers in a tear jerking feature. 

The final result is an invaluable treasure that’ll forever remind me of the importance of our voices and the strength that they hold. You can purchase a copy of our first issue here

Read More: A Magazine Can Shift The Narrative