Zee Davine fronts Queen Zee, one of the region’s most exciting punk bands. Called “weird, strange and dirty” by Iggy Pop himself, these fine eccentrics won a victory for weirdos everywhere when they played on the main stage of Liverpool’s Pride festival. Giving us her account of the day, Zee considers the true origins of Pride and whether Queen Zee have a place in what it has become.
Pride is, in and of itself, a beautiful word. Furthermore, LGBTQI+ or Queer Pride, is in and of itself a beautiful concept. To be proud of the person you are, of who you love, of how you love, and the struggle you have had to overcome. Pride began as a protest, when iconic trans activist Marsha P. Johnson threw the first brick at the Stonewall riot (and not a white man, as the film Stonewall suggested). But in recent years, as Pride has become more mainstream, I’ve found myself feeling somehow disgruntled at these events. Performing on the main stage this year with Queen Zee was fun, but it was also an opportunity to watch the crowd from backstage and think about what Pride is and should be about. For the first time, beyond just having a good time I spent Pride thinking about some of the issues we face, questioning everything around me as well as interrogating my own cynicism.
Although I doubt you will find many within the LGBTQI+ community who disagree with the core values of Pride, it certainly feels as if the controversial nature of Pride has shifted from offending the mainstream. This has drawn criticism from members of the LGBTQI+ community themselves. The inclusion of the police, corporate sponsors and big mainstream artists has left many asking how Pride can still be thought of as a protest under such circumstances. This year in London, a group of transphobic hate speakers were allowed to hijack and lead the Pride parade, and a further embarrassing video later showed a Pride in London representative actually welcoming them. With these fractures in the LGBTQI+ community, tensions continue to rise for Pride parades all over the country, with Liverpool no exception. In a similar vein, despite Queen Zee being overtly queer, and transgender and queer politics being the touchstone for our entire existence, we somehow found ourselves out of place in a Pride event. I was reminded of watching an interview with John Walters (director and writer of Pink Flamingos and Hairspray) where he said he was “too punk to be queer, too queer to be punk”, and that he always felt more at home in a punk club than a gay bar. This is the ultimate soundbite for my existence, and Queen Zee’s existence, within the queer scene. We’re too glam, too gay, too pop to fit in with the hardcore boys beating their chests in macho mosh pits. Simultaneously, in the gay club scene of Ru Paul’s Drag Race guest appearances and EDM DJs, there’s no place for something as ugly and angry as me.
Yet, as Liam Gallagher once said about Queen Zee’s music, “only Scousers could make this”. It is undeniably true that there is a vein of individuality running through Liverpool’s culture, and the queer scene is no exception. Liverpool is Austin, and the UK is Texas. It is a small, tight community that isn’t scared to get weird. Despite this, it feels like the mainstream of Liverpool’s population is totally unaware. Eat Me + Preach, Sonic Yootha and Beers For Queers have all established themselves as alternatives to the Gay Town nightclubs, but they still feel like best kept secrets. So, on a rainy day on Tithebarn Street it seemed like the mainstream had happened upon the quintessential strangeness of Pride at our performance. A swathe of Drag Race superfan teenyboppers lined the front row awaiting Courtney Act, and it seemed like Liverpool was just out for a good time. As I peered at the audience from backstage, I wondered how ready they were for us, or whether they were just there to eat up the parts of gay entertainment that have meshed with pop culture. None of them were thinking about Marsha P. Johnson, or the sacrifices that made this day possible. But who can blame them? At 13 years old, I would have joined them. I was obsessed with drag as a teenager; it was my only outlet for my gender fluidity before terms like transgender and non-binary had reached me. As I stood in Central Station that morning, I watched a wave of these young queer kids heading to the parade with their parents, and I couldn’t help myself from welling up. I wish that had been me. Surely – my cynicism and critiques be damned – that is the great take away from all of this? The theme for this year’s parade was ‘All Together Now’ and 20,000 people filled up the front of the mainstage, with the Liver birds perched above them in the background. By the time I walked onstage, I couldn’t see an end to the crowd. That tension had been there all day, but it melted away as I watched the parade passing through the city like a never ending river of rainbow, like the chocolate river from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory but even more gay; two guys pass me on Bold Street in full leather gimp suits, shouting “gay boys!”; I see a placard reading “proud of my daughter”; I see drag queens and kings; I see bears and leather men walking shoulder to shoulder with your average student. The city is absolutely buzzing. Even without its cultural importance, Pride is an incredible feat. The sheer size of it, plus its free entry policy, make it the party of the year. When I arrive side of stage, there’s an acoustic act on covering Mr Brightside by The Killers, but the crowd is reacting as if Jesus was fronting The Prodigy and everyone was on bath salts. They are totally ravenous. I see glitter-painted faces crowdsurfing their way across the sea of colour, and drinks are lashed in the air. The crowd pulses and becomes its own creature just for a day.
One of my biggest hates of all things is old fuddy-duddies forgetting what it was like to be 13. We discuss events like Pride with the dryness and dullness of nothing else. We dissect and intersect the politics of everything endlessly, while forgetting the purpose of it all. And as I walk onstage, I’m reminded of the sheer carelessness of being 13. The absolute beauty of a solitary moment of joy with no strings attached. And how important one moment can be in shaping your identity. There is no doubt in my mind that, every year, people leave Pride happier and fuller beings. The kids in the front row care about nothing other than there being a Pride event for them to go to. That there is somewhere for them to go where they feel welcomed. Somewhere where they’re not bullied, victimised or beaten up. And it’s those kids who are the ones we need to be reaching. We need to remember that, although Pride is a protest and celebration, it is also the greatest community outreach the world has ever seen. I don’t mean this, of course, in the sense of an evangelical gay agenda. But by reaching out, we are welcoming a whole new generation to enjoy the freedom we and our predecessors fought for. Our set that day was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life. To step onto the Pride stage in front of more people than I can see the end of – as a trans person, as a bisexual person, as the person I am proud to be – is something truly special to me. We chose Marsha P. Johnson as our backdrop that day for many reasons: partially because she wasn’t scared to stand up for her community, partially because she symbolises both protest and celebration, and partially because she was a strong trans woman of colour who worked tirelessly to defend our rights and the rights of LGBTQI+ folks of colour. But, ultimately, we chose her because no one better embodies Pride.
“How long has it taken people to realise we are all brothers and sisters and humans of the human race?”