The Valerie Mason-John Interview: methods & muses

Valerie "Queenie" Mason-John InterviewFeaturing the vocal stylings of Mike "Turtle" Reiff and Jessica "Danger"Francis

The Lamron: So, today you're going to be performing as "Queenie." Can youtell us a little more about her?

VMJ: I'll be performing as Queenie in a couple of the pieces because I'm also reading from my novel. But in terms of Queenie, how did she emerge? I suppose I've always written and when I came out of University I started as a journalist and I was an international correspondent and I covered Aboriginal land rights out in Australia. I also covered the Nicaragua struggles out in Nicaragua then and struggles in South Africa and also back home in Great Britain. I was quite a hard-nosed political journalist and I was given talks with people like John Pilger and when Maggie Thatcher was about to come back into power, she agreed to an interview with me and it would have been the first time she would have been interviewed by a black paper but then she withdrew and I've still got that letter. So I was a very high profile journalist. But when I came back from Australia I was somewhat disillusioned. I think it was because I had just sort of realized I couldn't tell the truth of what was happening really, and I still carried on writing but my heart wasn't in it as much really and I felt like I wanted to be able to write what I wanted to write. I just really fell into performing and I went and trained in mime and physical theatre. I started devising and improvising plays and started working on the stage and I couldn't be Valerie Mason-John who's doing stuff on stage because it was completely different really. So I'd been given the name "Queenie" by gay men in San Francisco. So when I started working on the stage I thought that I'd be "Queenie" and that way people would be able to make the transition. That's how Queenie came about really. And I think that when I did my show, "Brown Girl in the Ring" it was a big hit and people just connected that with Queenie. They saw it as one of the personas of Queenie. I also use it when I work as a trainer in anger management and conflict resolution and I work with a lot of street kids and a lot of really dysfunctional young people and Queenie works in the training room and in the classroom. The kids get it. So I have that persona really. Yeah.

The Lamron: How did you get into the anger management field?

VMJ: Really though performing. As I said I trained in mime and physical theater. My training was for 15 months. A lot of people think of mime and physical theatre as being all illusion work and really to do illusion work it's something that you have to practice everyday like if you were an athlete. The other big part of mime and physical theatre is emotions. You explore emotions and so for me that was just really fascinating. Part of our training was that we had to become chimpanzees, we had to observe chimpanzees and we learned some moves, how to move and eat like a chimpanzees and that would take us into child, going into that inner child and exploring all those different emotions. After my training I was devising and writing shows with a theatre that was producing some of my shows and they had a call from the schools in that area who wanted a program to work with difficult children. So the theatre, the education department, looked at the people they had been employing and selected four of us to put a program together and I was one of those people. So we put this program together working with challenging behavior. I can always remember when we first started doing it and I turned to one of the other people doing it, my mate, and said "Oh god we don't know what we've let ourselves in for." But it was successful and it got money. Three or four boroughs actually gave us money to continue the program. From that I did some training and then it' gone on from there really and I work with both professionals and with young people. In my book Detox Your Heart I address the idea that half the problem is with the adults. You may have the opportunity to work with teachers and social workers but to have the opportunity to work with parents is very difficult. And so I thought if I write a book then a parent could pick that up in a shop and buy it. They might not come to an anger management workshop but they might read a book.

The Lamron: What does it mean to you to be considered "Britain's Black Gay Icon"?

VMJ: It's an interesting one because when I wrote my first book which was Making Black Waves, documenting African and Asian lesbian history I remember saying to my co-author "Oh, we'll always have to be lesbians now." It's interesting that I said that because at the time it was just tongue in cheek but on a particular level that's actually been true. What happened was I got commissioned to write that book and then commissioned to write the next book and you know I was a very high profile journalist and it was almost as if people were a bit weird with me you know like "oh my god, she's a lesbian" and it was almost dropped in a particular level but it didn't matter because I was young but actually it did. People stopped taking me seriously and it's taken a long time to recover. It was really the novel, I've had full recovery since the novel came out. I suppose I acknowledge that I have been one of the builders of the Black lesbian community for instance I've just been nominated for an award actually from the black lesbian and gay community. I feel like yeah, I've written and produced the only books that document African and Asian lesbian history in Britain, there are no other books that document that history and some of the work I was doing at the theatre documented the community and I ran a successful nightclub in the community. I was also the artistic director of Pride and Mardi Gras in England. If people want to say that I'm an icon and that's iconic then fine but the way I see it is that actually I'm one of the people who have taken risks because there are many lesbian and gay people but that's a side thing and they go for their careers first but there are those of us who have actually worked in the community but yet we have other lives but our other lives have suffered because we've been out and worked in the community and it's only now that I'm recovering from that. I don't play up to being an icon, I mean, what does that mean? I acknowledge though that I have been one of those people who has put their career on the line and has suffered for it.