Reflections from an ‘in-betweeny’ on a double life lived at the weekend. With photographs by Jack Davison


LONDON — I used to work in an office. One day I was expecting a visitor. Somewhat bewilderingly, when he got to my floor he asked for ‘Julie’. “He’s only Julie at the weekends”, declared a female colleague, so that everyone could hear. I had not divulged to, and had deliberately kept hidden from, anyone at the office, that I was, indeed, (not Julie) ‘Andie’ at the weekends, and my colleague’s joke was, therefore, pregnant with hidden irony, or, possibly, my cover had already been blown: the hair long enough to be en chignon, the mascara not having been completely erased by Monday morning?

But yes, she was right: I am ‘Andie’ at the weekends (a ‘genuine’ girl’s name in France and America). A very part-time tranny, dancing Saturday nights away at the Way Out Club in Aldgate, or sometimes Wednesdays at the Shadow Lounge in Soho: two popular transgender venues. People of all ages, all backgrounds, all races, dressed and made-up magnificently differently. Many are part-time, like me; some have undergone anatomical and chemical change to move more convincingly into the realm of the feminine: boys, girls and in-betweenies. Some of the more convincingly and biologically transformed can look askance at we ‘in-betweenies’: we’re not the real thing, we’re merely playing at it. I heard one such belle of the ball — rather spoiling the graces lent by her most admirable physical beauty — complain about the smell of testosterone in the Ladies, because, she animadverted, of all the trannies there.

Such girls could never undergo the purported ignominy of being ‘read’. Me, I don’t mind that much if I am taken for a man in a dress or a rather ragged or bizarre form of female in a dress. Being a ‘man in a dress’ — because of the artificiality of the ‘disguise’ — tends, ironically, to afford you more attention, even admiration: having one’s photograph taken by strangers in the street, questions about where you got your shoes or costume, advice from girls on make-up, etc. On the negative side, this artificiality is occasionally an invitation for aggression: I was hit on the head on the night bus home by a man who evidently found my appearance offensive. Some young men, full of their own self-importance and booze, can evidence a strident reluctance to include me easily within their heretofore imagined view of the world, suddenly and rudely interrupted.

“I think it’s great to have two selves, to run two wardrobes, two persons, and be a citizen known completely differently. It’s boring being Andrew all the time”

I can’t get very worked up about being ‘read’. God has distributed his gifts unevenly; and I am disinclined to get political on the subject of men in bras generally, as perhaps we are invited to do when embraced, mostly unwittingly, by the LGBTQ community. Given that we are fighting against Nature, against the incredulity of family or friends, we necessarily find ourselves out on a limb. From this state of affairs it is but a short step, I think, to find oneself putting up a finger to society at large, in however vague or disorientated and meaningless a manner: we find ourselves manoeuvred into the position of rebels. Which is curious, really, when all we’re doing is wearing a skirt. You wouldn’t think people would be so sensitive: the fact that they are makes rather attractive, to me, an outcome which is more than just frivolity.

It is suggested that of all the deviations, transvestism is the most philosophic or aesthetic — as against being purely sexual in motivation; even that our primeval or ancestral gods and progenitors were androgynous and possessed of a wisdom that the subsequent human declension into male and female has vitiated. According to this view, your humble tranny reclaims and becomes the inheritor of a divine authority: a shaman, a priest-like sorcerer, a visionary! Try telling that to the man on the night bus back! (Or any of the girls at the clubs, come to that.)

Is one more in touch with one’s feminine side? It’s suggested that dressing-up can be an amelioration of the demands of an over-harsh super ego, instilled by a male-dominated society. When I look around me at the clubs, I’m intrigued to think that almost everyone there is actually a man. Although the male ego is never far below the surface, I think there is a certain softening of the personality: if only a more genuine sensitivity to the aesthetic. Which, in fact, is rather academic because the clubs are a carnival, showtime, bravura, and being someone different for a while — a place where everyone is a star.

I think it’s great to have two selves, to run two wardrobes, two persons, and be a citizen known completely differently. It’s boring being Andrew all the time.

And anyway, think of the health benefits: all that dancing! Plus, there’s no way one is going start putting on weight, if one is still to get into those size 10 dresses. And finally, why should women have all the fun of the many transformative and deceptive possibilities afforded by make-up and dress? A ‘star’: repeatedly burnt to incandescence and continually reliving its genesis—at the weekend.


Accent SS16

Issue one features the famous faces of 80s punk London, a young vogueing superstar from the House of Labeija in NYC, the street kids of Mexico City’s Alameda Central park and a yuppie-hating bachelor from Philadelphia who spent 30 years as a photographer’s muse.

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Los Niños

One-hour photo prints of Mexico City’s street kids in the summer of 1999. By Tyler Hubby

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MEXICO CITY — In the summer of 1999 I was in Mexico City working camera on a documentary film about the homeless and orphaned children who live around the Alameda Central. As we began shooting, the children were leery, having been exploited countless times by the local media. We eventually gained their trust by putting the video-camera away and taking photographs using only my 35mm SLR. It occurred to me that we could develop the pictures at a local one-hour photo shop and return to the park to give copies to our subjects. This was hugely successful.

When the kids realised that we wanted to give them their own image — something that, apparently, no one else had — they warmed up to us immediately. They went from being hardened, suspicious street creatures to children again, with all their innocence and wonder exposed. Gone were the scowls and jeering laughs; they began to mug and play in front of the camera. We were welcomed into their tribe.

Many of these kids had been abandoned by their already impoverished families — too many mouths to feed — and were just surviving in the streets.  They slept in stairways, sewers or anywhere they could.  Almost all of them were huffing glue and the smell of it was strong. At the time these photos were taken, only adult homelessness was criminalised in Mexico City; the kids were free to roam around, often shooed away by the police like stray dogs. The teens in the group were very worried that they would be taken to jail upon turning 18.

When we returned for subsequent shoots the kids proudly showed us their pictures, which they kept in dirty pockets or tucked into waistlines. They even traded pictures among themselves. I was struck by the powerful validation one must feel when being able to own one’s image for the first time.

When I look at these images now I wonder how many of them are still alive; they would be adults now.

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Kia Labeija


NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES — Our issue one cover star is Kia Labeija, a 25-year-old vogue ballroom dance superstar, artist and HIV activist from New York City. After training in classical dance as a youth, Kia got pulled into the ball scene by chance when she was working at New York’s Webster Hall: “There was this one beautiful drag artist called Soso who would always come and see me at work and we would just kiki. She became my mother, the one who brought me into the house.” Now Kia is a self-proclaimed “voguing ballerina” who takes part in ball competitions with the legendary House of Labeija, the Harlem drag house founded by Crystal Labeija in 1967.

Born HIV-positive, and having lost her mother to AIDS-related illnesses when she was still a child, Kia uses her platform as a dancer and artist to raise awareness of the realities of living with the virus – an experience that is widespread in the ball community but seldom talked about: “I needed to talk about HIV because I felt so weird seeing the same voices and the same narratives portrayed.”

Read Kia’s full story in the print issue with an interview by Bwalya Newton and photographs by William Hacker.