“I’ve felt unwelcome in gay bars for years, now Dibby is helping me tell my story”
Updated: Jun 13
This Pride Month we're launching our LGBTQ+ Community Arts Fund that supports our ambitious LGBTQ+ inclusive talent development and community outreach programmes we have planned for 2022-23.
In this blog, First Dibs participant explains why creating spaces for intersectional and intergenerational dialogue is so important
To donate to our Crowdfunding campaign click here.
Susan has been DJing in bars and clubs around Manchester for years, but despite this, has faced racism, lesbophobia and has often felt unwelcome in LGBTQ+ venues and events. Often one of the very few people of colour at LGBTQ+ venues and events, Susan believes this reflects LGBTQ+ people of colour’s reluctance to engage in mainstream LGBTQ+ life.
“I thought that as a queer person if you have experienced discrimination yourself, you understand that negative attitudes and stereotypes are hurtful and damaging. I thought translating this to racism would be easy, but I’m often left disappointed by the LGBTQ+ community. Micro-aggressions, hearing stories of racism from friends, even just being the only woman/lesbian/Black person in the room all contribute to a feeling a space and place isn’t for me.”
In 2021, Susan joined Dibby Theatre’s First Dibs, an LGBTQ+ inclusive talent development programme that supports creatives, producers and backstage crew. The course allowed a safe space to open up about past experiences through playwriting.
“There was this moment, it wasn’t ground-breaking, but it felt like pure magic. During rehearsals for the short play I had written, we had this moment – three incredible Black female actors, a Black queer director and me, as the writer - here was a story we all could relate to and wanted to tell. It was exhilarating seeing my words and passion brought to life by people like me.”
Susan says internalised racism and the pressure to not ruffle feathers in LGBTQ+ spaces has previously led to self-censorship of her creativity.
“I have always written, but it was always private. I previously feared failing because it reinforced internalized racism that the colour of my skin made me inferior. I was terrified that was true. Stories of racism are full of stereotypes or angry Black women. I didn’t want to be judged as such. I felt immobilised.
“But I found real support from Dibby who demonstrated they were willing to listen. They looked me in the eye, and I believed they understood. They reassured me they were committed to promoting the raging voice of this Black queer woman. They personify what an ally can look like; solid and willing to put their hearts into advancing change.”
Creating spaces where LGBTQ+ people can connect and foster understanding about one another away from clubs and bars is important for Susan, especially for the most marginalised.
“I recently attended a lesbian book club. We read Sula by Toni Morrison, a book that delves deep into the pain and trauma of racism. As the only Black woman in the group, I was excited to hear how the other women would respond to the book. But their responses were vague and felt superficial. I think they felt uncomfortable talking about it with me present. But how are we ever going to know one another if we’re too frightened to speak?”
“Through my writing, I want to create opportunities for connection. I want to have a chance to write my version of my story, one that I recognise as the truth of my experience, and that challenges you to think again about who I am.
“The privilege of being white means you don’t see or hear the injustice Black people face daily. The play I’m writing highlights the time when one of Manchester’s gay venues asked a Black man for his passport to gain entry. It’s just one story of many. Documenting these things is important, but it’s equally important to create spaces where we can heal and come together to fight racism. Dibby’s courses and workshops do just that.”
As Dibby Theatre launch a Crowdfunder to raise vital funds for the future of the First Dibs programme, Susan is hopeful that creativity will help support others like her.
“Dibby were integral in providing a platform for me to explore, experiment and to dare to find my true voice. I’m excited to see how their programmes develop and benefit more people.
“Being judged solely on the colour of my skin for years has generated fear, frustration and rage. I used to lament: ‘When you look at me, what do you imagine me to be?’ But working with Dibby has changed my approach. Now I can find spaces to say, ‘You no longer get to define me, this is who I am.’ Theatre gives me a chance to tell my own story, to redefine myself in the eyes of the viewer – and that for me, is life changing.”