Writer Shon Faye takes centre stage in a short film that’s equally as heartbreaking as it is hilarious – we premiere it online here
In April the first exhibition dedicated to queer British art opened at Tate Britain. Entitled Queer British Art: 1861-1967, it aims to amplify the existences and expressions of LGBTQ+ identities. Part of this vital collection of voices is writer and Dazed contributor Shon Faye, who debuted her short film, Catechism, as part of this project, created in partnership between Channel 4’s Random Acts and the Tate.
“Let’s reflect,” Faye says, appearing among broken fragments of mirrors that provide a visual metaphor for her deconstruction of labels against her as a trans woman. Twisting this clichéd object (problematic for its suggestion that “we’re narcissistic and secondly, that our bodies are some kind of performance”), Faye uses the mirror instead as a device to explore the sense of “distress and dysphoria” it is usually a source of. Wondering how she could “turn that mirror into something else, something that reveals and doesn’t mock,” Faye and her director, Emily McDonald, create the perfect background for a scathing monologue that exposes the hypocrisies of how society chooses to perceive her.
“You cannot change your reality overnight but if you can make it funny you can take the heaviness out of it as a temporary respite when you’re able to – and that gets you through to the next day and the next...and one day, things aren’t as terrible” – Shon Faye
Channelling Nancy from cult 90s classic The Craft, with a touch of Elizabeth I – Faye delivers a poignant mix of humour and dark subject matter that demonstrates how she’s survived the confrontations (or just as damaging passive non-confrontations) that have shaped her life. “Without humour, I would be dead,” Faye reveals, “I mean it’s all so heavy – you cannot take it all as seriously as it truly is – the weight would crush you.” Instead, she chooses to use the playful humour and flippant, camp culture embedded in queer communities to reclaim this pain caused by others, or her perceived place in the world: “You cannot change your reality overnight but if you can make it funny you can take the heaviness out of it as a temporary respite when you’re able to – and that gets you through to the next day and the next...and one day, things aren’t as terrible.”
This irreverence shows when we ask her why she decided to take part in Queer Art: “I suppose the simple answer is, at heart, I’m a slag and will say yes to anyone who offers me something interesting!” But don’t let that make you think this isn’t a serious reaction to the “grossly misrepresented” portrayals of trans womanhood in British media Faye has observed. Inspired by performance artists such as Black transfeminine Travis Alabanza and their discussion of transphobia, misogyny and racism in their work, this is Faye’s own powerful attempt to reflect the worst of society back on itself – to flip the question of “why am I like this?” back on the people who feel so entitled to ask this of her. Not wanting to rehearse so that her reactions to the material would be genuine, this is an authentic and important expression of what it means to be queer in the world today. The revelation? “The question has never been about me,” she says, accurately observing the privilege of those that judge her – “it’s always about you.”
Queer British Art: 1861-1967 runs until 1 October 2017 at Tate Britain. Follow Faye here