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Blog - Sandra Alland

Ten Years of Disabled- and Skint-Led Queer & Trans Art in Scotland: An alternative LGBTQI+ History

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Ten years ago today, on 22nd February, 2009, I was part of the first ever Cachín Cachán Cachunga! As long-time curator of CCC’s cabarets, art exhibitions and community events, I want to share a brief-ish history of the many milestones this anniversary celebrates. I’ll also explain why we’re closing our (non-existent) doors – for a while, or maybe forever.

Who’s Your Dandy? 2007-08, Edinburgh

When I moved to Edinburgh from Taranton/T’karonto/Toronto in 2007, people in Scotland (and much of the UK) didn’t really use the words ‘queer’ and ‘trans’. Besides Scotland being a small place where lesbian and gay visibility was arguably a recent (and not exactly welcome) phenomenon, there was the added political nature of the UK’s generally anti-gay and exceptionally anti-trans sentiment.

Those of us at the margins also know how little the mainstream ‘LGBT’ community invests in the B and the T, or in people who are working-class, skint, politicised beyond ‘equal marriage and gays in the police’, migrant, asylum-seeker, from non-English-speaking backgrounds, racialised, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and/or people of colour), D/deaf, Mad, neurodiverse, sick and/or disabled. These were some of the communities myself and my collaborators were part of, and it was difficult to find any sense of belonging or opportunity. (For those who don’t know me, I’m a disabled, queer, bisexual and mixed-class/working-poor genderqueer of white Dutch/French-Canadian settler and Scottish background.)

This 2010 poster image features Lily smiling as she dances with her guest partner, Alejandro. Lily is a small, mixed-race Cuban with very short black hair, plaid trousers and a black shirt. The poster reads: 'Cachín Cachán Cachunga! Tuesday, 19th October 7:30PM, The Street, 2 Picardy Place, £5/£3, Featuring K Anderson, Evan Greer, Miss Leggy Pee, Lily & Zorras. Queer & trans dance.poetry.film.music.'

2010 ‘Cachín Cachán Cachunga!’ poster featuring Lily.

In September 2007, I started planning a poetry and music series called Who’s Your Dandy?, a queer and trans precursor to Cachín Cachán Cachunga! Unlike the collaborative CCC, Who’s Your Dandy? was solely my brainchild. It operated a bit like a social ice-breaker. I put the call out, and also literally went out searching for folk. Little by little we found each other. I met Lily, a Cuban dancer, where she worked at Sala Café on Broughton Street (remember that place? Lesbian- and Spanish-owned, with amazing patatas alioli). Lily told me about her practice, melding Cuban traditional forms with ballet and contemporary. I asked her if she knew any musicians. (I had my line-up of poets planned, including Bermudian-Londoner Andra Simons and visiting Torontonian Riley Skelton, but I didn’t know any musicians yet).

Lily recommended Y. Josephine, a Venezuelan percussionist and singer who was part of an Edinburgh-based duo called Contrabajo. For the first time, I programmed someone I knew very little about, crossing my fingers she’d be good. Y’s performance at that first event on 12th November, 2007 sparked the beginning of our five-year collaboration in the poetry-music-video collective, Zorras. And through WYD, I connected with other artists who became important to me, including a Northern Irish writer who lived in Edinburgh back then, called Nine.

After two successful events, I sadly realised the free space I was using for Who’s Your Dandy? wasn’t compatible with queer and trans safety (the owners, who were also my employers, enthusiastically hosted TERFS – Trans Exclusionary Radical ‘Feminists’). Nor was it sufficiently accessible (the toilet was down a flight of stairs and there was very little space). So, despite being skint, for many reasons I had to end that employment and put the series on hold.

Cachín Cachán Cachunga! 2009-2018, Edinburgh (+ Glasgow, Dumfries, more)

In early 2009, Zorras were hopeful when Lily came to us and said, ‘Mira, I’ve been offered free space in a bar in the gay area. Les gustaría hacer algo?’ We sat down with Lily, Zorras, and Polish filmmaker, Ania Urbanowska, and planned the first Cachín Cachán Cachunga! The idea was to showcase our works in progress, and invite guests to do the same: a cabaret, but also a workshop. Our inaugural event featured poetry-music fusion by Zorras, dance by Lily, short films by Ania, and a fashion show from Zimbabwean artist, Skye Chirape. Entry was via ‘Suggested Donation £5’, with no one turned away (our suggested prices varied over time, but we mostly settled on £3/£2 or free). Our first poster billed it as ‘a new fucking awesome night of queer dance, film, poetry and music’. It went so well we kept going.

Over a year and half, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! gathered a community of English-, Spanish- and Polish-speaking queers (and non-queers), people of colour, disabled people, Mad people, skint people. We showed films with captions, for D/deaf and disabled audience members and/or those learning English. We had DJs. During these early events, Zorras met Argentinian artist, Ariadna Battich, and began collaborating with her on filmic aspects of our work. Over the years, Ariadna made invaluable contributions to CCC, and to my personal growth as an artist.

The space was free, but far from ideal. It didn’t have level access and was in a pub (and one frequented mostly by middle-class white cis people). Despite being in the gay ‘community’, we and many of our audience members felt uncomfortable leaving the room our events were in, even to go to the toilets or the upstairs bar. But several of our lead artists were undocumented, most of us were disabled and Mad, and all of us were skint or un(der)employed. So we worked with what we had, while actively searching for somewhere else we could thrive.

This 2011 poster image features a large photo of Zorras, Sandra with megaphone and Y with guitar, plus smaller photos of other performers and a handsome puppet. It reads: Cachín Cachán Cachunga! Queer & trans cabaret! Saturday 2 April, Door open 7PM, show 8PM, Forest Cafe, 3 Bristo Place, Free! BYOB! Wheelchair accessible! Performances by Anna Le, Diane Torr, Lily, Ste McCabe, The Insecurity Font, Zorras and Scragfight. Short films by sharlene bamboat, The Paraffins and Miss Leggy Pee, RM Vaughan & Jared Mitchell + DJ Fuk You How Do You Do. Poetry. Music. Film. Theatre. Dance. Drag.

2011 ‘Cachín Cachán Cachunga!’ poster featuring Zorras and guests.

From 2009, I’d been collaborating on and off with disabled artists, Nathan Gale and Robert Softley-Gale, as well as other disabled LGBTQI+ folk in Scotland. Though CCC found ways to get some of our friends into the space, we knew it was untenable. So, in 2010, we dedicated ourselves to a no-stairs policy. By the end of 2011, all our events had not only level access (including toilets) and captioned films, but also BSL (British Sign Language) interpreting. We hosted performances and screenings less often, because of growing costs and lack of spaces we could use. We tried out locations we got for free or cheap, like the (sadly gone) working-class LGBT pub on Leith Walk, Priscillas, and the ground floor of the social enterprise, Forest Café, on Bristo Place (also gone).

[Captioned video of CCC’s 3rd Anniversary at Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh, 2012. Featuring CN Lester, Robert Softley-Gale, Miss Leggy Pee, Nathan Gale, Lily & Y & Yamil, Dr. Carmilla, Jacq Appplebee, Glasgow Glam Bangers. Not in video: film by Ania Urbanowska, performance by Zorras, BSL interpreting by Lisa Stapleton. Content Notes: reclamation of transphobic language, discussion of scars, strong language, descriptions of sex. 9 minutes.]

By 2012, CCC committed to only using locations that had gender-neutral and properly-accessible toilets (with support bars, emergency cords, lowered sinks, etc.). We finally featured our first three wheelchair-users onstage, at Wee Red Bar. We did small satellite events and workshops in Dumfries and Toronto.

Though both Lily and Y left Scotland in 2013, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! continued to grow and diversify. We hosted a large-scale cabaret at Glasgow’s Mono. We ran the Giant Queer-ass Trans*tastic Picnic in 2013 and 2014, queering Edinburgh’s Meadows and connecting with Barber Gabriel for onsite haircuts and massages. New collaborators came onboard in droves. We began to operate as more of a fluid collective – with Ania and Ariadna still making regular appearances.

[This video has some captions and BSL of performances, but is mostly footage of the visual art on display for ‘SEEP II: Mirrors and Mires’, September 2014. The show included work by visual artists and performers Karen Miranda Augustine, Ariadna Battich, Liz C (pictured), Alec Herbert, mihee-nathalie lemoine, Tiu Makkonen, Li Moran, Chris Red, Sad Little Man, M. Sage, Andra Simons, Alison Smith, Steadfast, Mary Trodden and Del LaGrace Volcano. 4 minutes.]

In 2014, CCC presented two visual art exhibitions and performance projects, ‘SEEP: Fluidity in Body & Landscape’ at Media Education, and ‘SEEP II: Mirrors and Mires’ at Patriothall Gallery. We added audio description, Braille programmes, and scent-reduced environments to our access provisions. Although it had mostly been the case for years, we also made a formal commitment to only using level-access stages. We hosted London’s Open Barbers for haircuts, and had our first writing workshops and community potluck brunch. We even brought back Who’s Your Dandy? with accessible multimedia performances and screenings at Edinburgh Filmhouse.

[This video has captions and BSL. It features live performances by Lake Montgomery, Andra Simons and They They Theys at Who’s Your Dandy? in May 2014. Plus footage from films by Erica Cho, Francoise Doherty, mihee-nathalie lemoine, Sophie Norman and Tina Takemoto. BSL interpreting by Gordon Newton Wylie-Black. 4 minutes.]

In the next year, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! committed more formally to providing quiet space, relaxed performances and projected text, as well as detailed online access like audio info and photographs of the spaces we used. Our time was filled with open mics and community discussions at Edinburgh’s Media Education. CCC hosted its first POC-only and disabled-only group meetings. Matson Lawrence led a discussion on class in LGBTQI+ contexts. In 2017, we were invited back to Filmhouse for another Who’s Your Dandy?

I’ll take a quick moment to highlight some of the artists not already featured in the above history, posters or videos. There are too many to mention, with over 50 events in ten years, but here’s a taster! Other scorchingly hot local co-conspirators include: AB Silvera, Claire Cunningham, Jayne Kennedy, Yasmin Al-Hadithi, Kristi Taylor, Etzali Hernández, Matthew Kennedy, Leah Francisco, Elenor Einhorn, Ioana Poprowka, Bel Pye, Cate Lauder, Evi Tsiligaridou, Seafield Foxes, Lola Sparkle and Elizabeth Veldon. Amazing artists visiting from England or abroad include: Sally Outen, Jay Bernard, Julie McNamara, Donna Williams, El Día, Rebeca Pla Yanguas, Ebony Rose Dark, So Mayer, Teo Vlad, Eli Clare. Plus the many whose stunning work appeared on screens or walls, including Tourmaline, Miss Major, Sins Invalid, Dickie Hearts, Alec Butler, Matthew Hellett, Juli Saragosa, Shelley Barry. And our lovely BSL interpreters: Lisa Stapleton, Yvonne Strain, Gordon Newton Wylie-Black, Yvonne Waddell, Lisa Li and Anna Spence. We’re so grateful to everyone who’s given so generously of themselves.

Disabled and D/deaf LGBTQI+ Pride, 2018, Glasgow

Last year, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! presented Scotland’s first-ever Disabled and D/deaf LGBTQI+ Pride. Besides our usual access info with photos, captions and audio, we provided advance information in BSL. At The Space in Glasgow, we featured free film screenings, zine-making, poetry, music and comedy. The wonderful Bea Webster also led a D/deaf community discussion on LGBTQI+ terminology in BSL. It was a raging success, an oasis in a desert of inaccessible and mainstream Pride events.

[Captioned video of Bea Webster promoting Disabled and D/deaf LGBTQI+ Pride 2018, in BSL. Bea is Scottish-Thai. Her long black hair in a ponytail. She has a nose piercing and wears a burgundy shirt. 3 minutes.]

Our Future: the challenges of marginalisation in terms of funding

Throughout our existence, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! became dedicated to only producing events when we could pay people, including artists, technicians, and access providers like interpreters. Because of this, our programmed events became fewer and fewer. We did a GoFundMe to fund the access and performer payments for our 2015 season, but our community just isn’t a middle-class one where everyone can chip in £25. We got by, but we strongly felt it wasn’t our audiences and community members who should be funding this work.

LGBTQI+ artists, especially those who are multiply-marginalised, rarely have access to sustained support or funding – with only small pots of ‘specialised’ money available from time to time (if at all). In ten years, CCC rarely received a suitable level of funding (or in most cases, any funding). In 2017, Who’s Your Dandy? was lucky to receive £1,000 via Filmhouse and Film Hub Scotland for a large event. Besides that, there were a total of four events in ten years (most during LGBT History Month) where charities gifted us between £300 and £2,800 (the latter for a very large event seven years ago).

We were grateful to have these funds to provide better access, pay artists and develop our craft. Several of these experiences were fundamentally important for us. Yet, the majority seemed no more than opportunities for non-diverse LGBT organisations to place their logos onto our work and take credit for our ‘diversity’. Even when funded, we were still only covering the bare minimum in artist and technician fees, and rarely paying our core organisers sufficiently (while charity employees earned regular salaries). Plus, there was no ongoing support or commitment to our communities. We ended up feeling drained.

A photo shows four people in front of visual artworks hanging on a wall. One person lights the work with a hand-help lamp, to the right and left two people audio-describe the artworks. In the centre, a man interprets what they're saying for the tour audience.

Audio and BSL tour of the artworks as part of the live visual art exhibition, ‘SEEP: Fluidity in Body & Landscape’, Media Education, February 2014. Left to right from bottom: Ania Urbanowska on lighting, Chris Red on visual descriptions and sound, Gordon Newton Wylie-Black on BSL, Sandra Alland on visual descriptions and sound. Photo by Tiu Makkonen.

In all this time, Cachín Cachán Cachunga! was never successful in attaining a grant from places like Creative Scotland, Unlimited or Awards For All. Attempting to get this funding was so draining on us physically and emotionally (and often shockingly inaccessible, classist, racist and cissexist in design) that we won’t try again. (Huge props to Nila and AB for all their work this last, failed time with CS). Wealthy festivals and individuals often imitate work such as ours, and get extensive funding to produce and lecture all over the world. Of course funding is competitive, but we’ve watched middle-class, white, cis and/or straight organisations become fully-funded by CS within six months of starting their events. Most of them were not vaguely accessible or ‘diverse’ (and certainly not queer-, trans-, skint- and disability-led). They weren’t even particularly innovative artists with distinguished track records. But we’ve watched long-standing and radical places like POC-led Transmission Gallery, and disabled-led Scottish companies, lose funding. We’ve watched POC-led queer festivals last only two seasons. We’ve gotten tired.

CCC has demonstrated both ‘high quality’ artworks and public interest, with sold-out shows and rave reviews. But none of these responses came from the ‘right’ sources to get us grants. Review sources were usually queer, trans, feminist, activist and/or indie (and *awesome*, but that’s not the point here, sadly). In ten years, not a single mainstream publication has touched us. Despite professional press releases and kits, we’ve never been featured in The Scotsman, The Herald or any newspaper apart from The Skinny. Only Diva Magazine and The List have covered our work, the latter only twice (of course, only in the LGBT section) and not since 2014. We can’t help but consider the impact of lacking the right kinds of connections, having ‘queer and trans’ in our description, and being disabled-led.

Our communities live with constant anti-trans, anti-disabled, anti-poor and anti-POC sentiment from the UK government and media. We’re also striving to make art in a particularly restrictive and Christian Scottish context, where councils like Glasgow’s still label LGBTQI+ exhibitions at major galleries ‘adult-only’. (And where some local cis women’s groups have a long history, and some a decidedly hateful present, of trans and non-binary exclusion.) Discrimination is more than an abstract feeling.

We’re reflecting on how a culture of ‘meritocracy’ and ‘hard work’ is a mirage, a promise that never delivers. We’re reflecting on being said no to, and on saying no.

So, on the tenth anniversary of Cachín Cachán Cachunga!, we’ve decided to press ‘pause’. Ours is a messy and beautiful history of resistance and invention, of celebration and stunning creations. But it’s also a history of rejection and burn-out, and not being able to thrive in the political or arts climate of Scotland and the UK. We so want to produce Disabled and D/deaf LGBTQI+ Pride again this year. Especially because so many have asked us to, saying it was the first or only time they felt welcome during Pride. But we refuse to ask our worn-down communities to work for free, or donate much-needed cash, in order to do so.

So, for now, I’ll leave you with our call and answer, and a hint of sadness mixed in with the joy of all the precious moments we created together over these ten years:
‘Cachín!’
‘Cachán!’
‘Cachunga!’

A wheelchair-user photographed from behind as they wheel over an artwork affixed to the floor. Their arms are held out behind them, as if wheeling with force or enjoyment. The artwork they traverse consists of life-sized black and white photos of many people.

Photo of Nathan Gale wheeling over Tiu Makkonen’s interactive artwork at ‘SEEP II: Mirrors & Mires’, Patriothall Gallery, September 2014. Photo by Tiu Makkonen.

With much love and endless gratitude to all my co-conspirators,

San

More info:
blissfultimes.ca/cachin
facebook.com/CachCachCach
CCC on YouTube
CCC on Vimeo
Twitter: @CCC_Arts

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