Four years ago, two beautiful friends told me that they loved each other and in the safe space of our friendship they tentatively invited me to some stuff that was inspiring them, introducing them to people and generally helping them feel safe, have fun and hold hands. I went along and I loved it all – I discovered this world of out of the box ideas, creativity & good old fashioned fun – for someone who has often felt outside culture here in Northern Ireland this was a place where being different or outside for any reason was ok, interesting and not a barrier, if anything it was an introduction.
This ‘stuff’ was Outburst – Northern Ireland’s first and only queer arts festival – I understand now (much more than I did four years ago) about queer and queer art (not that it can really be pinned down/defined) – in fact, I’ve probably got some opinions of my own about it, but initially it was about getting to go to something fresh, thoughtful and welcoming.
So, Friday night finds me at the opening night of Outburst – queer cabaret – a lesbian, hairy bear belting back. Taking the audience through a list of things that have annoyed, inspired or moved him over the last year, the whirwind force that is Ross Anderson-Doherty sings, mutters, shrieks, glares and struts his way around stage in a black leather skirt inspired by and made especially for his Whitney Houston tribute medley, combined with criticism of Glee & a call for a revival of feminism in the wake of the Malala Yousafzai tragedy. I met Ross years ago and never forgot him because he’s the guy that sang Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid to himself in between activities, in a beautiful (baritone!?) voice.
Opening night is a little bit about Ross (I’m sure he will be disgusted to hear that it was only a little bit about him) but it’s mainly or a lot, about how awesome Outburst is, to me, to Belfast and the love, hope & revolutions that art and queer holds for the world.
Ross: there’s me at the end of the night, on my back covered in fairy lights… as I am every night!
The Black Box is full of people you don’t see at activist or social events during the rest of the year, the room smells good and the anticipation is mighty. The festival director stands up and emotionally declares with the buzz and tension of all that has happened around the world this year, balanced with the experiences of oppression that so much of Outburst is inspired by that she is declaring a festival of love & revolution. Outburst is a festival that holds a thousands stories and a thousand truths; daily acts of resistance and revolution and invites everyone there to take part and be a part of the love & revolution.
As the lights go down the ‘cast’ stride down to the stage with teacups, teapots and buns and launch into their first musical number, Ross raises his arms and declares with a big grin “It’s Outburst motherf*****s!” and receives a huge roar (and yes I would say roar) of applause and cheering.
This is it, this is the moment that I get goose bumps and tears in my eyes, sure it’s a slightly offensive word, but it’s a delighted cry, a celebration, a declaration and I think Outburst is full of Truths & Beauties:
- This festival creates moments for listening, looking, saying & touching in spaces where there are very different norms, boundaries and ‘rules’; and we will all feel a little bit happier because of this time in our year.
- This festival will probably make us cry and laugh at some point because we’ve really really needed this.
- This festival is part of this big (global) movement that does things differently, accepts people, love & bodies as they are; says the things we’re afraid to and uses the beautiful, the broken, the funny and the songs to declare love & revolution.
- I like to think it offers some possibilities and fuel to the fires of change and alternatives – and it just feels a little bit gospelly – I have to say.
So if Outburst is a revolution that looks like women loving women riding motorbikes, clad in denim & singing Whitney Houston to Stormont instead of all the silliness that goes on up there…
Then Outburst as a gospel… I think would be saying (to me anyway): come all who are tired, thirsty and weary . If you don’t fit, if you’re different, if you are scared of your voice, if the world brings you down; we will come and tell you some stories and truths because we’ve known this stuff too and because of it we’ve laughed, loved, danced and resisted – and it really has set us free.