“BLUE NOW” is a series of live performances and six pieces of writing inspired by quotes from “Blue,” British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s seminal 1993 film, created as he was dying from AIDS-related illnesses.
Author and poet Joelle Taylor began with the Jarman quote above. Here, she explores how the alliances formed during the AIDS epidemic can inspire us to turn compassion into action.
When I first found my people, it was a door on a bar that made the difference between exile and belonging. I opened it and the whole world opened up too. The long years of solitary adolescence combined with the weight of being made outcast and ugly, were finally over. I had opened the door to an otherworld of love, and friendship, of resilience and solidarity.
We are a people of multiple histories: the dykes queuing to give blood during the first wave of gay men infected with HIV, the bravery of a held hand, a shared coffee cup. The Blood Sisters as they were known were ordinary lesbians who answered the call to donate blood to our brothers. They volunteered in hospitals and hospices. They took out rubbish and brought in food. They took out rubbish and brought in compassion.
We are the multitude of courageous gay men who fought for our right to basic equalities. And when Section 28—the UK law brought in in 1988 that banned the “promotion of homosexuality”—was proposed, the disparate parts of us came together like poetry. Long lines of marching queers; lesbians invading the BBC or abseiling into the House of Lords; irreverent foul-mouthed nuns or saints like Derek Jarman making the whole world before us somehow holy again. We have always had each other’s backs. We are each other’s backs.
The drive to divide us will fail. We know this because we all look the same under the club lights. We all wear our bodies inside out. We all speak with each other’s tongues. The gun does not care about acronyms or pronouns. The project to divide us will fail because we know: when the gun speaks it will say all of our names. We know that if we do not stand together then we will be buried apart.
We are plural. We are legion. Butches, queens, queers, femmes, enbies, and transgender people occupy the room behind the door. They make everything they touch real. Life remembers itself behind the door. Gender outlaws, sexual dissidents, wrong walking women, gentle men, and seditious dykes. The room is bright with understanding, with unspoken amity, with languages learned in secret and finally spoken aloud.
I still don’t fully understand how an older gay man—silver-backed and beautiful, clothes walking ahead of him—could mean Father to me. But I suppose it’s got something to do with ancestry. It’s got something to do with bravery. I still don’t know why a young enby could mean Child to me. It might have something to do with descendancy. It might have something to do with bravery.
We are each other’s tender inheritance. We are inside one another, a lemniscate handshake, a loop infinite. Difference is our commonality. We find doors inside each other and push them open too. We rescue each other from locked rooms at the centers of ourselves, we teach each other to dance.
This is how a girl climbs out of the body of a girl, how a boy learns to read tears as though they are crystal balls. How the future reflected in the crystal ball shows a ceaseless pull toward one another: demonstrations, lock-ins, chains across bridges.
Sometimes the sky is heavy. Sometimes it is blue. It needs all of us, our combined strength, our histories, and our futures, to hold it up. That’s why they call us the rainbow. We are what comes after the rains.
Joelle Taylor is a London-based author and poet whose work explores butch lesbian counterculture. The recipient of the 2021 T.S Eliot Prize, she is also the co-curator and host of Out-Spoken Live, poetry and event series at the Southbank Centre; a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; and the founder and former artistic director of the SLAMbassadors championship for young poets.
Each year, WePresent invites a creative to be its Guest Curator. In 2023 we are very proud to collaborate with brilliant actor and podcaster Russell Tovey on a handful of very special art-related projects on themes close to his heart. "BLUE NOW" is the first in this series.