MR Have you ever though about doing Duckie Salutes... [whisper] The Osmonds?
AL [Laughs] I should do!
MR Not for me... erm... for a very dear friend.
AL [Laughs] Yeah, right! I'd love to, because I used to be in love with Marie Osmond when I was young. I liked Marie swinging on that swing with all the flowers around her.
MR Anyone else?
AL We're doing some more salutes, like Suede [Britpop band], and we've got Diane Torr [famous for the drag king workshops] coming over from America, she'll be performing. We've got quite a few performers who haven't performed at Duckie before, which is good. What else? We're going to have a Good Ol' Days at Duckie with a huge singalong. We just did a huge thing with Labour, like New Labour New Duckie with Kate Hoey, [Labour MP for Vauxhall], we've had the Liverpool Dockers [workers on strike in protest at loss of jobs and pay rises] . This is stuff that I find really exciting, because we've proved you can combine art and politics and pop music and club culture. People did say we couldn't do it. When we did that thing at the ICA, certain people were like, "You can't have a nightclub at the ICA! You can't have art with a club!" 'cos they think the ICA is all so serious. But if you talk to the women who run Live Arts, they're just... mental, they'll do anything and they're really interested in breaking down boundaries which is why they've asked us back to do other things. They can see it. Other people that come to our club see it and appreciate it and it's amazing. If you treat people with respect and you treat them with intelligence, that's how they respond and that doesn't happen a lot of times on the gay scene.
MR Does Duckie attract people who are converts from techno?
AL I don't think so. There are people who used to stay home all the time, people who have moved from their front rooms... to mine! Just like we did.
MR You mentioned Morrissey and Marie Osmond. Do you have any other heroes and villains?
AL Gosh. Well, yeah a few. I love Marie... She's in the stage version of The Sound Of Music. It's funny when you grow up and become conscious of being a lesbian, and then you look back over your life to when you were five and staring dreamily at a cover of Donny and Marie and you're obsessed with Marie and you think, that must have been a lesbian moment. I used to stare at the cover of the Blondie [US/UK late 1970s band] Parallel Lines album, to try and pick out the sexy parts of Debbie Harry's body. I thought her underarms were really sexy, for some reason [laughs]. I love Doris Day and Joan or Arc and Morrissey. I don't really have a hero or anything. Villains? Anyone... I have this reAL thing, as you can probably imagine, for people who treat me like shit because of my size. It's sort of body fascists, those are the people I really hate.
It's so difficult, it really, really is, and it takes such inner strength to combat that. Let alone in yourself but with people in the street that make comments and things like that. I just feel like saying look, women's bodies are not public property, and certainly not mine, and I just feel like saying to them you have absolutely no right to comment on my body.
MR People I've been with have sometime told me not to say anything, because they reckon it's not worth the hassle.
AL No, it is worth the hassle. It is. It just makes me sick. I was just doing this modelling job and being with an agency like Uglies, you get loads of different kinds of people but a lot of times I have to work with traditional models. One of them was saying how she'd developed this really horrible allergy to wheat and diary and it's difficult for her when she's working because they get lunch for everyone, and it's sandwiches. She can't eat that. This other traditional model turned to her and said, "Oh well, at least you'll stay slim." And I thought, you've totally missed the point. Slimness at all costs, even if your health is in danger. It's still not as bad as America though. Watching television in America, you'll get an ad for fat-free cookies then one for an exercise machine then one for Weight Watchers. It gives such a mixed message. It just perpetuates things, and people have such unhealthy attitudes towards food and their bodies. You can't think that your body is an enemy. You can't think that your body is a casing and your mind and soul are separate from your body. You're all one and you have to love it. I know it sounds like therapy speak...
MR I get fed up going to places where food is sold, I come in here to eat, that's all this place does, it's a fucking restaurant...
MR And I still get shit from waiters! It always feels like such a battle.
AL It is a constant battle, it is. Even just walking down the street. I think a lot of people do underestimate, or don't even think about, the things that fat women do go through. Loads of things, like sexuality is one. Fat women in certain places are seen as great sexual objects. I can walk through Brixton Market [London SW1] and I get African men following me, but then you can turn a corner and you're not seen as having any sexuality because fat women are undesirable, or seen as undesirable. So, of course, no-one's going to want to sleep with you, no-one's going to want to be intimate with you, so you get these really weird dichotomies and it's very difficult to find your one place and be strong. Whenever I see a fat woman walking down the street, I think, right on sister!
MR Did you have more of a struggle with being a dyke or being fat?
AL I think it's all been sort of mixed up, I don't think I could separate it. Going back to the whole sexuality thing, I thought well yeah, I'm fat. There's no way around it. You can't use a euphemism, you can't say oh I'm cuddly, fluffy... I'm just fat. Trying to find your place just being a lesbian is so difficult. I wasn't very successful with guys, I did have a boyfriend in high school but that was more about hormones and getting it over with than anything. Then I thought lesbians must be more accepting, more understanding, but I've learned that it's not necessarily true. In certain instances it is, because most lesbians have more shit to worry about than being fat or whatever...
AL ...I just try and combat it when I can. You can't take the responsibility for every fat woman or every lesbian in the whole world on your shoulders, you just have to sort of respond when and where you can and not putting yourself in any danger either. It helps if you have someone with you because you don't feel so vulnerable.
The other thing is that being fat you're not supposed to enjoy your food. You're supposed to sit at home and repent your sins, not be seen eating in public. Even now, when I'm eating something walking down the street, people just stare at you. Anybody else can walk down the street eating M and Ms or a sandwich.
MR People make me feel like I'm eating a 4-tonne cream cake.
AL It's disgusting, but I've made a conscious decision now, especially with the media, to write letters and complain.
MR I'm sure if people told jokes about black people or the disabled, they'd be jumped on. I always feel that it'll be the absolutely last taboo to go.
AL It's amazing, even in a group of friends, what people think they can get away with. If you're sitting in a group of racially diverse people, you wouldn't sit there and crack jokes about black people. You wouldn't sit there and crack jokes about disabled people. Any sort of socially sensitive person wouldn't do that, but it seems very acceptable to do that about fat people in front of fat people, because it's seen as our own fault, our own weakness which I completely disagree with. People ask me, fat people ask me, if you could be thin, would you? I'm like, no way, no way. I think that it's totally made me part of what I am today and a lot stronger person.
MR So if I was to ask you how much you weigh, would you have a problem telling me?
AL It's funny, you know. Would you ask a thin person?
MR I do, I have done, and they all lie. Everyone lies about their weight.
AL I think part of the way that I am is that I don't want to disappear. I don't want to be one of these fat women that's crouching on the bus, I don't want to have to make excuses for my size. I don't want to have to make excuses for anything that I do. Yeah, I think people do expect you to be funny if you're fat, always the jokester. With some people, if I'm in a particularly bad mood, or sad or melancholy, then they're really shocked. My friends aren't like that, it just certain other people, but most of the people at the club don't make those sort of demands on me at all. I'm not a stand-up comedian, I'm not even funny for Christ's sake! I don't try to be funny. I don't sit home writing jokes thinking, this is really good one! I hate jokes! It's more of a sense of humour.
About the weight thing, I have made a conscious decision not to have a scale in the house. What is a number? It's worthless.
If I had the choice, I would only wear clothes that were pre-1965 but if you go into any charity or used clothing shop, they don't have chubby-girl sizes. I have a friend who makes mine, he just whips them up. I go and find fabrics that I like, draw a picture of what I want and he makes them. Before, I always felt I wasn't expressing how I wanted to be with the clothes that were available in the shops. Clothes are really important for everyone.
MR Where does the interest in pre-1965 come from?
AL I think I feel a strong affinity to the 1950s really. I don't know. I just think it was when women were really stylish. I like the ladylike quality. Now, of course, we have the privilege of being able to re-interpreting that, post-sexual revolution. I'm not saying take it lock, stock and barrel, take the essence of that particular era and re-interpreting it for its days.
MR It more about celebrating femininity than being a femme?
AL Yeah. I have this problem that a lot of people would define a femme in relation to a butch, saying you can't be a femme unless you are with a butch or seeking a butch, which I completely disagree with and think is a load of rubbish. If people want to call me a femme they can, but as long as it's very clear that they stand on their own. I think femmes have got the fuzzy end of the lollipop for a long time and have been seen as pandering to the way heterosexual men want women to look. I think the strength of femmes and feminine looking women has really been underestimated. I really want to challenge the notion that a femme can't be a femme without a butch. I refuse to wear trousers. I do want to celebrate the feminine, that's a really important part of who I am. I'm not interested in masculine things, or boys games or pandering to straight or gay men.
MR Do you sometimes think people can't quite get it square in their head that you're celebrating femininity but you're fat as well? Not only can't they sort out the femininity because you're a lesbian, but because you're fat?
AL Oh completely. I mean, the stares that I get on the street with some of my outfits, people just think, what is she? Is she like a circus exhibit or something? [laughs] There's a lot of issues there, but I think, what the hell? All I know is that I'm living my life the way I want to live it, I'm being true to myself, that's all I ask for, that's all I can want.
MR And you couldn't do that in the US?
AL In the States? Forget it! I couldn't even do the work that I do, let alone be a lesbian, let alone be a feminine lesbian, let alone be a fat feminine lesbian!
MR You're breaking too many rules, right?
AL They should just kill me!
MR You've laready mentioned good reactions to your femininity and your sexuality. What's the worst reaction you've had?
AL One was when I first started doing Cum Manifesto and I thought, it's going to be a bit tricky doing this show because it's a lesbian getting on stage talking to gay men about their sex lives. I did loads of research, I ingrained myself with every bit of HIV information and stuff about gay men's sex lives that I could so I felt I had this protection. If anyone asked me any question, I could answer it. I did a show at the Two Brewer's in Clapham, which is notoriously one of the hardest audiences ever. The show was still in its early stages, and this gay man came up to me afterwards and said, "You really shouldn't be doing this. You're just wasting your time, you're no good at it, you've got no right to talk about that. Why don't you just go and put on a fluffy little costume and be a club hostess?" as if I didn't have a brain, as if the only thing I was good for was being fluffy and camp! That really hurt, because doing that show came from me seeing real need for it. It didn't come from wanting to make money from gay men, it didn't come from me wanting to be famous. It came out of love for my gay brothers, you know? I've always had loads and loads of gay male friends. My godfather's gay, my uncle's gay, I've got gay cousins. And it rally hurt 'cos I felt like I'd really done my homework and really tried, but when people say things like that, I think whatever, you're entitled to your opinion.
MR You don't consider yourself famous?
AL It's in a little bubble.
MR And the name?
AL My mom gave me that name. I'd said I really need a stage name, and she just turned to me and said "Amy Lamé, of course!" but this a mom who fed me a steady diet of musicals. It's nice when people recognise you, of course it is, I can't deny that. It's nice when people come up to me at Duckie and say, "You changed my life. I never used to go out on Saturdays." Of course you feel good, because you think, I'm doing something right. But it's not about me. What I'm trying to do doesn't come from a really self-centred place, it comes from having a laugh with my mates and wanting other people to come along, and if they have a good time, that's great.
MR Just one question about Muff Match [lesbian sex video]: Why?
AL [Huge laugh] Yeah, I say why as well! The low point of my career thus far. It could have been good, but the scenes went on too long. The problem with that was they wanted to make it a certain length so it got counted as a feature film so we could get into different film festivals. The cut off is 50 minutes and any shorter, it's deemed a short film which makes it more difficult to get it seen.
MR Is that all it was, 50 minutes?
AL I know, it felt like 3 hours! I also think it's difficult... lesbians are still shy about getting their kit off and having full sex in front of the camera. I don't blame them. I certainly didn't want to do it. They asked me, I said no way, you've got to be joking. You don't want to put yourself in a vulnerable position like that.
MR So if there was Muff Match: The Return...?
AL I don't think so!
MR And how long will Duckie continue?
AL Well, I think once it starts going downhill or something then we'll probably shut it. I'm not adverse to closing it if I think it's becoming repetitive.
MR Thanks for your time.
AL Thanks. Do you want another muffin before you go?...
©Megan Radclyffe Millivres Publ. 1997
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