Author Archives: Tom Sykes

About Tom Sykes

Tom Sykes is a widely-published writer, editor and journalist whose work has appeared in The Telegraph, The Times and numerous print and digital media around the world. He is a regular contributor to the London Magazine and the New African. He is the co-editor of a collection of political journalism and five anthologies of travel stories. The first, No Such Thing as a Free Ride? (Cassell Illustrated), was serialised in The Times and named The Observer’s Travel Book of the Month. Having lived and worked in India, Malaysia and the Philippines, he is currently Lecturer in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth. His website is

The Perfect Fit: An Interview with Vanessa Craig of Sharpe Suiting

Tom Sykes: Sharpe Suiting makes customised apparel for the LGBTQ community. What sorts of clothing do LGBTQ people ask you to make?

Vanessa Craig: We specialise in LGBTQ clients because they have a hard time finding a good fit whether they’re buying off the rack or going to a standard tailor. A typical tailor doesn’t understand that butch women usually want a more masculine fit and he’ll make the clothes curvy and design them to more closely fit to the body. Sharpe Suiting does understand masculine tastes!

TS: How did you start up?

VC: My business partner, Leon Wu, is a trans guy and we had been talking about the idea of a masculine clothes line for a long time. A couple of businesses in San Francisco had started to offer these products and I thought, ‘Yeah we might be onto something here.’ It made sense because my background is in fashion, I went to fashion school and I’ve always loved suits. So Leon became the business guy and I the marketing/promotions person. We then found an awesome Ukrainian tailor, Oksana Putyatina, who had been working in menswear for 25 years. She really understands both menswear and womenswear and works with our clients to get the ideal tailored fit for them.

TS: Your website talks about your products being ‘inspired by social context’? Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

VC: When you look at the history of queer clothing, it’s always been hard for people like myself who do not identify with her assigned gender role. So if you identify as butch, even now there’s no big department store selling the clothes I want. With Sharpe Suiting we’re trying to meet that demand.

TS: You recently raised $69,000 using Kickstarter. How was the experience?

VC: I didn’t sleep in maybe two months because of the workload! I never realised how much effort fundraising is. We did great and went from $50,000 to $69,000 in just the last 7 days. Our final fundraising event was in Los Angeles on November 12th and it involved a model search, an auction and a trivia quiz night. Kickstarter is kinda like a baby; you have to give it constant attention.

TS: How do you plan to use the funding?

VC: Right now all we do is custom suiting and that’s a very personalised and finely-tuned service. We want to branch out into ready-to-wear so that people can buy our products online as well as in shops. What we’re hoping for with this expansion is that the straight shops will start carrying these more androgynous clothes that we make. We want a situation where anyone, wherever they are in the world, can get the suit they want.

TS: You have some high-profile lesbian clients and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about working with them.

VC: It’s always good to have a spokesperson for your brand who is part of your community and that your specific clientele can relate to. Our models are diverse: trans, butch, femme, every gender, every ethnicity. We try to incorporate them all into our brand because we have friends belonging to each of those subcultures.

Our main model is Kelsey Grace from The Real L Word. She has such a good reputation and the perfect look for the clothes. There’s nothing polarised about her; she’s neither extremely butch nor extremely femme, but somewhere in the middle. This is why she catches everyone’s attention and promotes the suits to all the various markets.

TS: Did you approach her?

VC: Yes. I’m an event promoter in LA so I’d worked with Kelsey on an event before she signed with Sharpe Suiting. Like a lot of celebrities here, she’s actually real down to earth and surprisingly easy to get in touch with.

We approached her, took her measurements and then asked her what sort of suit would she like. What would she feel comfortable in? She said she was going to a wedding and, for once in her life, wanted to look good in a suit so that her family would appreciate it.

At these kinds of events sometimes families don’t like the idea of women wearing non-traditional clothing. For that reason it was important for Kelsey to have the suit fit perfectly. She picked out a blue double-breasted, we had it tailored for her and she felt confident in it. Our minds were blown minds when we saw how good she looked! We’re so grateful to her for being part of our brand.

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TS: What’s the most interesting suit you’ve ever been asked to create?

VC: Recently someone wanted a Boardwalk Empire-style 1920s gangster pin stripe suit for their wedding. It was very flashy and gorgeous and she was so excited. For a woman there is no other way to buy an outfit like this unless you get it made through custom suiting.

Women, Whisky and Not Telling Mum: A Chat with Fawzia Mirza

Tom Sykes: Your new one-woman show Me, My Mom and Sharmila is partly inspired by the Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore. What do you admire about Tagore?

Fawzia Mirza: Firstly, she is from the same era as my mother, so my mother’s look, style of dress and the way she does her hair resembles Tagore back in her heyday of the 1960s and ’70s. Secondly, a there was a song that I heard a lot growing up called ‘Queen of My Dreams’ from the film Aradhana (Adoration). It was a huge hit in 1969 and won the Indian equivalent of the Oscar. While driving through the Kashmiri mountains, her co-star Rajesh Khanna sings this song about the love of his life. It’s so iconic for me and influenced my ideas about romance, love, womanhood and what I felt love should and could be. My play is based on the shared love my mother and I have for this Indian film heroine and I use Tagore as a way of exploring my relationship with my mother, my background and my identity.

TS: Was writing and performing Me, My Mom and Sharmila a different challenge to the other kinds of work you’ve done?

Everything I write is based on a personal experience or on my own political outlook. I write stories I want that I feel are lacking in the mainstream media.

FM: The play was unique because the character’s name is Fawzia and it’s very personal; there’s a lot of real-life stuff in there taken from my own upbringing. The challenge was how to write about my relationship with my mum, which is always evolving, always changing. It can be emotional because sometimes you don’t want to deal with certain issues or revisit events in the past.

TS: What did your mother make of the play?

FM: Even though we love and support each other very much, my work is not something I share with her. That issue’s still evolving too and who knows whether the situation will be different in a year. She’s never seen the show. There are parts of it she would enjoy and other parts she’d find difficult, I think.

TS: You’re probably best known for your web series Kam Kardashian. How much of you is in the main character?

I wanted to create a strong queer woman who challenged the idea of the model minority that you see so much in the mainstream. You know, if you’re gay you have to be rich or funny. If you’re South Asian you can’t be angry. If you’re lesbian you have to have long hair. I didn’t want Kam to fit these moulds.

FM: What’s fun about her is that I get to explore parts of myself and not be apologetic about any of it. She’s gruff, she loves to drink, she gets herself into predicaments. But she’s loveable too. In the series I’m not constantly talking about being gay or brown-skinned, I just am. I don’t have to explain anyone why you are drinking whisky neat – it’s just part of the character. Do I like to drink neat whisky in real life? Yes I do.

TS: The response to Kam has generally been positive. Have you had any criticisms?

FM: Most of the criticisms have been about the Kardashians, from people who hate anything connected to them. The idea behind the show is that Kam is a sort of long-lost lesbian sister to that family. Other viewers think it’s real funny, just as if it turned out that Margaret Thatcher or the Clintons had this secret sibling who was gay!

TS: You’ve also acted in more traditional TV shows like Chicago Fire. How does working on a bigger production like that differ from the web series you’ve done?

FM: Chicago Fire is such a large-scale production and event. There are fire trucks and cars exploding and special FX and jigs and dollies. Everyone’s role is very important, but you are just one small part of a big system. It’s wonderful and I hope to do more, but I love making my own work with my friend and collaborator Ryan Logan. I call him my “Platonic life husband”! We co-wrote Kam and he directed and edited it. There’s something so organic about being there from start to finish – from having the idea to the creation process to production to post-production to the editing phase.

TS: Do you think LGBTs have come to be more accepted within the South Asian community in the US?

FM: I think the phrase “coming out” is problematic. Growing up in an immigrant family that has conservative religious and cultural traditions makes coming out a much more layered, nuanced and difficult process. For example, I remember dating someone who told me that I just needed to tell my mum I was a lesbian. I said that it really wasn’t that easy! When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to date or go to dances or proms. You can’t drink in our family house and nor can you wear certain kinds of clothing. Am I supposed to suddenly say, ‘Hey mum, I know you didn’t allow me to date guys when I was younger, but now I’m having sex with women’? It’s quite a leap. I’m still at the stage where it would be tough enough to tell her that I like a drink or that I don’t really agree with her religious views, much less come out to her.

I look at LGBTs in Africa and Asia and our struggles are different. I’m privileged to live in a country where, regardless of my family dynamic, I can live in a city where I can feel comfortable walking down the street holding hands with whomever I want. It makes all the difference that I belong to the Indian diaspora in the US as opposed to living in India and trying to love a woman there. I can empathise with people in that situation, but their fight is not the same as mine.

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A Chat with Caryn Hayes, Writer / Director who Doesn’t like Labels

Tom Sykes: You have recently released your short film ‘Clean Hands’, which is about a lesbian couple caring for a terminally ill man. Where did the idea for that come from?

Caryn Hayes: I wanted to do a story about a couple who don’t believe in the same things; one partner is pretty religious and the other is not. I was just fascinated by this kind of relationship and the script just kind of ballooned from there. On a storytelling level I thought it would be pretty gripping for an audience.

TS: Does the film explicitly deal with LGBT issues or are you just trying to tell a story? Could you substitute the lesbian couple for a straight couple or any other kind of couple and still tell the same story?

CH: I wanted to write something that anyone could relate to, but at the same time it is important for me to tell lesbian stories. Beyond that, the main characters could have been a gay or a hetero couple and the film would still work, I think.

TS: It was premiered at the 2014 Pan African Film Festival. Is there a kind of ethos behind that festival?

CH: It’s about promoting movies by directors from Africa itself and also from the African diaspora all over the world. It was held in Los Angeles.

TS: On Kitschmix we’ve reported on the growing problem of homophobia in Africa. Did you experience any hostility at this festival or at any other point in your career?

CH: I think that there’s a quite a bit of homophobia in every community including in the African diaspora. With Clean Hands we haven’t encountered any, at least not so far. It hasn’t been released worldwide yet. At the Pan African Film Festival people just really wanted to watch the movie, nobody wanted to come see it just so they could criticise or bash it. So the response has been pretty positive so far.

TS: Before this film you had made some very successful web series – The World of Cory and Sid and Breaking Point. To what extent does Clean Hands build on that work, or has evolved from it? Are there similar themes in those series that you’ve revisited in your latest offering?

CH: Clean Hands is very different to what I’ve done previously. My most recent series, The World of Cory and Sid, is a dramedy about relationship break-ups amongst roommates and the awkwardness that goes with that. Breaking Point is like a soap opera, a light drama, where there are murders the characters get away with. The only similarity with Clean Hands is that both works have a parent who is not accepting of her daughter’s bisexuality. But then again I wouldn’t say Clean Hands really builds on previous work because we don’t spend so much time on the mother-daughter relationship in the new movie. With Clean Hands I wanted to create a heavier, more serious kind of drama.

TS: Do you prefer writing that heavier dramatic stuff to writing comedy?

CH: It really depends on my mood. In general, I prefer dramedy because I can go wherever I need to go, but in the future I want to do more drama that’s rooted in real-life experience.

TS: You also write fiction.

CH: I’ve written short stories and started novels which I’ve never finished!

TS: How does the process of writing a short story differ from that of a screenplay?

CH: I approach them in the same way. The difference is that you have to do more describing and explaining in fiction whereas you spend more time on dialogue in a screenplay or teleplay. I started writing fiction when I was young and then later on I fell in love with the idea of writing for the screen. Then again, I do want to complete at least one novel and one day I’ll take a vacation and get it completed!

TS: Do you have a routine you follow when you write?

CH: I write best in the mornings. When a deadline’s coming I set my alarm to go off three or four hours before I need to wake up. I have a little playlist, so whatever I’m writing I try and match the mood with the music. If I’m working on something dramatic then I put on film scores, that kind of thing.

TS: What kind of artists do you listen to when you’re writing comedy?

CH: It would depend on what comedy it is. If it’s an “angry chick movie” kinda thing – because I’ve written a couple of those already – it’d be someone like Pink as I find her lyrics just so funny. ‘Like So What’ is a great song. It tends to be more poppy stuff when I’m doing comedy.

TS: You’ve been described as a ‘shining example’ of a lesbian who has made it in Hollywood. How was the journey?

CH: I don’t like labels, but with that said it’s true that I’m a lesbian and an African-American. I wouldn’t have said that the journey was more or less difficult because of my sexuality. It’s difficult for everyone. Being a black lesbian didn’t make it harder of course, but it didn’t make it easier either.

The journey’s been long because I’ve been on it for a long time and I’ve been creating my own content for 5 or 6 years now. That may not seem like such a long time comparatively because it takes other people a lot longer!

America’s Greatest LGBT Jeweller: An Interview with Rony Tennenbaum

Tom Sykes: You’ve been making jewellery for LGBT couples for some time now. How did you get into that world?

Rony Tennenbaum: I’ve been in the jewellery business for over 25 years. I  worked for various companies doing every kind of job, from back-end manufacturing from the ground up, to sourcing the gold and the diamonds, to putting jewellery together, polishing it and finishing it. Then about 7 years ago I took all the  knowledge I had acquired and decided to go it alone. I saw a niche because nobody else was catering to the LGBT community, which was my community. So I started my own line that would fill that niche.

TS: How is it that LGBTs’ tastes in jewellery differ from straight people’s tastes?

There’s definitely more trend awareness amongst LGBT people, especially with respect to fashion. I keep telling people that 10 years ago, when we didn’t have marriage equality, everyone thought the norm in wedding jewellery was a man going out and buying a diamond ring for a woman who he would then propose to.

The dynamic has changed now that we have so many LGBT marriages. All kinds of questions have been raised in my community. Do we both propose to each other? Do we both wear diamond rings? Do we both have to wear the same ring? Nowadays gay and lesbian couples will propose to each other and both wear jewellery. So there is a difference in taste and in attitudes to getting married. My experience with LGBT couples has taught me that they’re not looking for the traditional engagement and wedding rings that you find in your typical stores.

TS: What are the pieces you’ve made that you’re most proud of?

RT: My pride and joy is my LVOE trademark collection. The letters of the word LOVE are deliberately jumbled around to signify that love is love no matter how you spell it or define it. Love is love no matter who the people in love are. The LVOE line always resonates with people because the statement is so strong. It has a powerful sentiment and meaning beyond your usual rainbows and triangles and gay symbols. If you are going to wear a wedding or engagement ring then it must be very special and unique to you.

TS: You’ve been described as a ‘sought-after authority’ on LGBT wedding ring fashion. What’s exciting you right now?

RT: A couple of things. My community is not accustomed to the whole practice of getting engaged. We’ve been so enthralled about the changes to the law allowing us to get married in the first place that few of us stop and think about the practicalities of how we should get engaged and married. So there are all these new demands on jewellers like me. Gay men want to buy engagement rings and lesbians don’t want to wear the old-fashioned crown-head with a diamond sticking out of it, they want to buy a ring based on other criteria such as durability and wearability. In the LGBT wedding world we are moving away from traditional styles towards something more comfortable and distinctive.

TS: During the dark days when LGBT marriage was illegal across the whole of the United States, did you ever get into any trouble or feel threatened with regard to the work that you were doing?

RT: What is so great about the present day is that tolerance is growing fast. When I started out 7 years ago there were only something like 3 states that were pro-marriage equality and now we have reached almost half the country. There has been such a huge wave of acceptance of people like me.

Of course there are always going to be people who are ignorant about the facts, who don’t know LGBTs and who have misconceived notions about us. We need to confront those people and let them know that LGBTs are just as normal as anyone else. I had a store front for several years and a lot of my customers were straight couples. So there’s nothing about my jewellery that is exclusively LGBT, but my work comes from my heart and I do try to imbue it with symbols of love and tolerance.

TS: You’re also very passionate about charitable and philanthropic causes as ways of giving something back to the LGBT community. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

RT: I have a soft spot for the youth and especially young people who get bullied for their sexuality. There’s been a real increase in that in tandem with the growth of the internet; cyber bullying is so often targeted at LGBTs. One of my collections, called LVOE Life, is about learning to love who you are, no matter what your sexual persuasion is. Through my work, I want to help as many young gay and lesbians to understand that there are role models out there. I didn’t have that; I grew up in a time when there was no one to aspire to.

I’m so excited and proud to live in a time where I can say that I’m an accomplished gay businessman. I want others to be able to say the same thing; it’s a real passion of mine.

Tell Your Truth and Don’t Be Afraid – A Conversation with Rolla Selbak

Tell Your Truth and Don’t Be Afraid – A Conversation with Palestinian-American Filmmaker Rolla Selbak

Tom Sykes: You’re releasing a new web series called Grrl’s Guide To Filmmaking in which you interview a number of women involved in the film industry. What insights did you get from these interviews?

Rolla Selbak: The interviews are candid, intimate and fun. We visited writers like Jill Soloway, who’s behind the Amazon show Transparent, Cathy DeBuono (Star Trek and Chicago Hope actress) in her backyard and Guinevere Turner (American Psycho screenwriter) at her home. The idea was to interview these women in their creative spaces. To give our audience an idea of what it’s like on a film set, I went undercover as an extra on a movie being co-directed by two women. I also share my vlog before and after the interview. I usually explain how I met the subject or how they inspired me. I think this gives the show a personal feel.

TS: You released the series through Tello, the internet TV site. What are the advantages of working with them?

RS: Tello are a subscription-based site and for a small monthly payment you get access to tonnes of beautifully created, high quality content that is LGBT-centric. Their profit-sharing model is generous to filmmakers and the more views per month you get the higher percentage you receive. I get better compensation than if I was working with YouTube or an ad revenue site. Tello’s system is based on unique views, meaning people can’t rig it by putting your stuff on replay and make it seem more popular than it actually is.

In this industry it’s hard to find straight-up, honest people who don’t want to screw you over, and the guys at Tello are nothing like that: their support of independent female filmmakers has been phenomenal so I’m really happy to be working with them. Not only do they distribute, they also produce. They’re open to hearing new ideas and pitches. If they go with a project they’ll offer the filmmaker up-front finishing funds in return for a smaller share of the revenue once the movie is released.

TS: Does Tello have exclusive rights over your work?

RS: Correct. For a few months at least it will only be available on Tello and then we’ll put it on YouTube.

TS: Is there anything to stop people pirating it and putting it on YouTube during that first few months?

RS: No, nothing’s stopping them. Then again, folks who use Tello respect the content and the filmmakers and I haven’t had any of my previous work pirated. But you know, this is always a risk an artist faces. I’m just happy to have an audience.

TS: You’ve been described as a ‘triple-minority in the filmmaking world: queer, Arab-American and a woman’. How does that identity affect your art, your approach to filmmaking?

RS: It’s true that I’m all those things, I can’t deny it! If you’re a woman you are definitely held to different standards because the industry is male-dominated, first and foremost. Some would argue that if M Night Shyamalan (Indian-American director of The Sixth Sense) was a woman he wouldn’t still be working because every other movie he makes loses a tremendous amount of money. But he keeps getting projects. If a woman made five flops she would be seen as a pariah! That’s just my belief.

As for my other minority backgrounds, I write a lot about my own experiences, the communities I know and the characters I come across. I’m always thinking about how to represent myself and people like me in everything I do. It’s important to have that balance between mainstream and minority characters.

TS: You’re of Palestiniain origin…

RS: Very proudly so.

TS: And you’re from a Muslim background. Since going into the film industry have you suffered any Islamophobia, either directly or indirectly?

RS: Yes. I wrote a Huffington Post article called ‘Brown Girl Passing for a White Guy’ about how, in the industry, I will often be treated as ‘just one of the guys’ because I don’t look queer and I don’t really look like an Arab. Because I’m kind of ‘undercover’, I’m privy to so many unconscious and unthinking racist comments. The perpetrators never guess that I belong to one of the minorities they are disrespecting. It’s a little sad, but it does at least give me an insight into what people feel. Whereas if I wore a hijab or had darker skin, nobody would want to make those comments to my face.

TS: Do you think you would hear this sort of prejudice if you were from a different ethnic background?

RS: A lot of people who identify as Westerners think that they have the right to put down Muslims or Arabs due to this blanket idea of “good versus evil”, in which the evil in that equation is Muslims because, you know, ‘they tried to kill us on 9/11’. That word “they” is used to lump together billions of people – most of them peaceful and respectful – into one extremist faction. In Gaza right now the Israelis are saying, ‘They want to kill us, what are we supposed to do but fight back?’ But the question is, who wants to kill you? In fact, it’s a tiny group of extremists who live in the same region, which you cannot lump together with thousands of civilians who just want to live in peace.

TS: I guess it suits certain political agendas to make out that every Palestinian is an extremist when in fact most Palestinians and most rational people around the world just want there to be a free Palestinian state that exists next to a free Israeli state. Is there anything that you and other artists and filmmakers can do to make any kind of difference to a terrible situation like Gaza?

RS: Recently there have been such powerful and beautiful artistic voices coming out of the region: films like Paradise Now, Omar 5 and Broken Cameras, which was nominated for an Oscar. Even though they’re not directly addressing the politics of the conflict, these movies show what it’s like to live under the Occupation. There’s a brilliant new documentary coming out soon called Speed Sisters, directed by Amber Ferris. It’s about the first female Arab racing driving crew, and they happen to be Palestinian. You get to view the Occupation through the eyes of these women who are, at the same time, just trying to be who they are and do what they want to do with their lives.

I hope these artists make a difference; this is all we have. It’s better than not doing anything at all, and at least people are trying to express their own truth. It’s difficult when you’re up against so much power and money and such a strong lobby. It’s hard to say how much effect these documentaries have but I’m grateful for them because they keep me in touch with my homeland, given that I now live in the US.

TS: When did you move to the US?

I was 13 when I moved here from the United Arab Emirates. I never actually lived in Palestine. Before I was born, my mum’s family left Palestine for Lebanon then moved to Kuwait then Saudi Arabia. My dad grew up mostly in Lebanon where his family were all refugees.

TS: Would you like to make a film that focuses specifically on the Palestine question?

RS: Absolutely. The problem is, going back there would just be too painful for me at the moment. I need to be in a better state of mind so that I can observe, connect with people and come back with true stories that I can hopefully turn into stories or films. It’s such a deep, personal issue for me, in terms of how my friends and family have been affected by it, that it’s all too raw and emotional just now.

TS: You also made a film, Three Veils, about the difficulties facing women within Muslim-American communities. What can women in those situations do to improve their lot?

RS: Just standing up for yourself of for friends, voicing your opinion and letting others know they are not alone in feeling this way – all that is extremely important. Be vocal even when it’s dangerous. For instance, when Three Veils came out I got death threats. I was so worried, not about myself but about my family, because if these extremists had my name they could have found my family. I considered changing my name for that reason.

TS: And these extremists are operating inside the US?

RS: It’s hard to know where they come from because it all happens on the Internet. I think the Internet makes people feel bolder; they believe they can throw abuse around and nobody will come after them. I was left hanging, thinking is someone going to come to my house and hurt me? In the US there are definitely extremists who may not be violent, but they do things like try and boycott my fundraisers.

I decided to deal with this stuff head-on and keep my name on the film. If you’re telling your truth then there’s nothing to be afraid of. The time to be afraid is when you’re hiding or lying. I figured that, if something happened to me then at least I would have told my truth; at least others would see the film and be empowered by it and then make their own films about their own experiences.

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Interview with SCISSR Creator Lauren Augarten

Tom Sykes: You’ve made a pilot for a drama series called SCISSR about the trials and tribulations of four lesbians living in New York City. How did you come up with the idea?

Lauren Augarten: I came out later in life and there wasn’t a lot of lesbian TV or film I could identify with at the time, apart from The L Word. In other shows, the characters were in their thirties and lived these charmed lives. I couldn’t relate to this, as a twenty something living in Brooklyn struggling to make ends meet.

I wanted to create something that reflected my community and that’s how SCISSR happened. I invented some characters but wasn’t sure how to connect them. Then Taylor Blakin – the actress who plays my best friend in the show – told me she had joined an online community of women and they all decided to meet up in real life. That inspired me to write about an iPhone app that would bring together my characters.

TS: What are your hopes for the pilot? Where would you like it to lead?

LA: The pilot we’ve made is for a web series and it’s nine minutes long. I’ve now written a half hour pilot which we’re pitching to networks in the hope they’ll produce a full-length TV show. If the networks aren’t ready for that then I’ll produce the rest of the web series myself.

TS: What advantages would an online show have over a TV show?

LA: When you work on the web you don’t have a network telling you what you can and can’t do. It doesn’t matter whether the actor is unknown or not, you can cast whoever you want to. My first job as a sixteen-year-old was assisting a casting director in Sydney. That experience has really informed my approach to acting and film-making – I think casting is vital to a successful production.

You get to pick your own team as well – director, cinematographer, editor etc. You have to be really lucky to be in that position when you’re employed by a network. That world is so much more business-oriented and you are answerable all kinds of people.

The downside of making a web series is that you have to do so much for yourself. Right now I’m not only writing the show but managing the publicity, while trying to hold down my day job. I’m working from six in the morning till midnight almost every day!

TS: Is your day job related to film-making?

LA: Yes. I’ve just moved to LA and am evaluating scripts for a couple of production companies. I’m also doing some acting.

I come from Australia originally and moved to New York to attend acting school. When I graduated I didn’t like the auditions I was getting. They were all essentially for a “hot brunette woman in her twenties, surprisingly intelligent”. I quickly got sick of roles like that!

I started volunteering at production companies. I’ve worked in almost every department imaginable and that wide experience has really helped with making SCISSR .

TS: You have promoted yourself widely through social media. What impact is it having?

LA: A web PR firm gave me advice about writing press releases and approaching the media. SCISSR  now has 20,000 views and only 2 dislikes. I’ve been surprised at quite how positive the response has been. I didn’t think any of the lesbian media would be interested, but they have been. Later on I’m doing a live web-chat with the Huffington Post, a major news website.

I think my team has to take the credit for the success. At the time, some of them were based in Philadelphia, and during filming they all moved into my apartment in Brooklyn. We were like one big family!

TS: You’ve talked before about the lack of lesbian characters in popular film and TV. How can greater lesbian visibility in the media benefit society?

LA: I think there are two different phenomena: shows that are made for mainstream audiences that contain stereotypical lesbian characters (the ultra-femme or the ultra-butch, for example). They don’t necessarily show the full spectrum of people who identify as lesbians. Then you have shows that are aimed exclusively at lesbian audiences – a great example being Lip Service.

There hasn’t been a show yet that has covered both of these bases. I see SCISSR as a series about lesbians that can be enjoyed by lesbians and straight people because its cast of characters also include gay men, straight men and straight women.

My aim is to show this world that I know and am a part of. I’m not trying to reflect every lesbian in the universe, but the more voices out there from different walks of life, the better.

TS: You’ve said that ‘living in New York as a twenty-something is a daily struggle, sexuality aside’. New York is a very tolerant and diverse city, but is there still prejudice towards LGBT people there and if so is this an issue how does SCISSR tackle it?

LA: I want to tell stories, not to make some overarching statement about lesbianism. If there are prejudices within those stories, then yes we will tackle them.

For the most part New York is such a fantastic place. For the most part NY and LA LGBTs aren’t made to feel different or afraid.

Having said that, I do get sick of certain myths about my community. The mainstream media can overtly sexualise lesbianism, and telling stories about more than just this aspect of being gay is important to me. We tried to deal with this in the opening scene of SCISSR where these straight guys want to go into a lesbian bar. Of course they’re welcome to come in and have a look but it becomes problematic when they turn it into a raunchy, “how hot is this?” experience. I mean, none of the women in there are being intimate for their benefit!

A more diverse array of lesbians in the media helps mainstream society to become more tolerant. It’s always great when you see something on TV that you identify with. My aim with SCISSR is to try to tell my own story and the stories of the people around me in a way that is entertaining, realistic and honest.

Watch SCISSR: Pilot

Be Who You Are For the Weekend | An Interview with L Fest’s Cindy Edwards

KitschMix’s Tom Sykes recently spoke to Cindy Edwards, Director and founder of L Fest. Read on for the lowdown on Britain’s coolest lesbian festival and what their new event in Spain is all about.

TS: L Fest has been going strong for three years now. What’s the philosophy behind it?

CE: It’s a festival that offers a safe and fun environment where lesbians can bring their families and just hang out. We try and pack as much into the weekend as possible and aim what we do at a broad spectrum of ages and interests. We have outdoor music stages – one for acoustic music – and an arts stage. There’s cabaret, a comedy stage, a cinema, fun sports and a wide array of workshops too. We have an attitude of ‘if it’s not been done before, let’s try it!’

TS: What is it about L Fest’s facilities and atmosphere that makes it so lesbian-friendly? Are there things that L Fest does that perhaps other festivals don’t do?

CE: I don’t know whether we do things that other festivals don’t. The amount of girls who come to the event tells us that we’re doing a good job. Every festival – whatever it is – has a target audience, whether this is based on the genre of music or a particular location. Our target audience is obviously lesbian but we are not exclusive about it. Anyone else who wants to come along and support what we’re doing is absolutely welcome. We’re very very open and, for example, we have boys on our festival crew.

It’s just nice that an L Fest crowd is 99% women there and everyone can feel free and united in a relaxed environment. There’s never going to be a problem with homophobia or prejudice and you can just be who you are for the weekend. Some people arrive on their own or they come in from rural areas where the gay community isn’t very big or visible. For them, it’s a hugely important experience to come to L Fest and make new gay friends and share their experiences. It’s not just a festival, it’s so much more than that now. It has become a community both offline and online, because we have a big presence on Facebook and so on.

TS: This year you will be doing an event in Spain as well as one in Uttoxeter in England. Why’s that?

CE: My background is in selling Spanish property so I know the country really well. It’s something I’d been talking about for a long time and then we came across the ideal venue, with a Ibiza Cafe Del Mar type theme. It’s a wonderful beach club that holds 300 people, so it’s a little different to L Fest in England. We’ve got fantastic DJs playing there from the UK, Spain, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany and all over Europe.

TS: How did you first come up with the idea for L Fest?

CE: Back in 2011 I was running an event called Stanstock 7’s which is a female football event and we had 400 women involved with that. I noticed that a lot of lesbians were turning up and playing football and people loving it so much. I thought there must be other girls out there who may not like football but would love to go to an event that had the same sort of atmosphere as Stanstock 7’s

We planned the first L Fest to be a small affair with a beer garden, a stage and multi sports, but it started getting bigger than that even before the first event took place. In the development stages I met some people from Springout, (a lesbian arts company) that brought in the arts aspect of L Fest and helped set up our cinema. We hadn’t even thought of that stuff for the first L Fest, but it was all part of it by the time it happened.

The line-up keeps growing and growing, year in year, out because I try to say yes to as many things as possible.

TS: What kinds of cabaret performers do you have at this year’s L Fest?

CE: This year the cabaret is over two nights because it went so well last year. It’s a whole mixture of different things. On the Friday night there’ll be music, poetry and comedy. On Saturday night we have a theatrical production called Mis Les, which is a lesbian adaptation of Les Miserables. It’s very very good!

TS: Forgive me if this is an awkward question to answer but if you could recommend just one act or attraction at this year’s L Fest what would it be?

CE: I can’t answer that, as there are far too many! We’ve got approximately 25 music acts, about 20 authors and poets and 10 films showing at the cinema. We also have about 25 workshops. There’s so much to see that I could never single out just one act.

TS: is running a competition for our readers and tickets to both the British and the Spanish festivals are up for grabs. Is there anything you’d like to say to our readers to encourage them to enter the competition?

CE: Lots of our fans are very proud that they’ve been to all of our events in the UK, but this year is our first event out in Spain, so it’s a great opportunity for your readers to be involved in something new and really special.


We’re giving away 2 tickets for L Fest Del Mar.

Simply sign-up for your chance to win. To enter our competition please – CLICK HERE

For more details on L Fest

Website: – Tickets £99 L Fest 2014 or £95 L Fest Del Mar


Kristen Henderson, Outspoken Bassist of Antigone Rising

The bassist of openly lesbian alt-rock band Antigone Rising talks to us about hanging out with the Rolling Stones and kissing her wife on the front cover of Time magazine.

Q: You have two new EPs coming out soon: Whiskey and Wine Volume 1 and Whiskey and Wine Volume 2. How would you describe them?

KH: They capture our typical Antigone Rising sound, which is a country rock sound. The thinking behind releasing two separate EPs came from my view that the music industry is in such a state of chaos. The industry just seems to be about releasing this constant stream of content and so much music nowadays seems to get lost because no one listens to it. Most fans are only interested in downloading a single or one track off an album.

We thought it would make sense to put out the CD in two parts over the course of the year so there’s a big splash in the early part of the year and another big splash later on. We’ve made videos for all the songs on the EPs in order to try to make an event out of each and every song. There are artistic reasons for our decision, but it also makes sense from a marketing standpoint because by December people might have forgotten about an album that came out eight months ago, so short are attention spans nowadays. So come October or November when part 2 comes out, it’ll be a brand new CD and will have a new relevance.

This time we wanted to take a different approach to putting out our music. At first we considered digitally releasing one song at a time every month and then at the end of the year putting out a CD containing all those songs. But because it’s been a couple of years since we made a CD, we decided that we needed a physical product to sell while on tour.


Q: Where will you be touring this year? Any plans to come to London?

KH: As of now it’s all in the States, but we’re definitely looking to go to Europe and Canada as well. We don’t have anything on the books for Europe yet, but we’d love to get over there.

Q: What was it like supporting the Rolling Stones? Did you get to meet them?

KH: It was awesome! The Stones are like this huge roaming city unto themselves, setting up new restaurants and shops and facilities in a new city every night. The production that goes into a Rolling Stones tour is mind-boggling.

The crowd’s reaction to us was also great. I remember some years ago seeing U2 in a big arena and the Kings of Leon – before they had broken through – were the support act. The audience wasn’t really paying attention to them. The lights were on and the stadium was relatively empty, well there were maybe 5 or 6000 people as opposed to the 20-30,000 that would later come see U2.

By contrast, when we opened for the Stones in Chicago, there were 30,000 people, the lights were on and it was a full-on show. I couldn’t believe it. I had told myself that in arena shows nobody comes to see the opener, but on this occasion the place was packed!

The Stones themselves are totally gracious and they made a point of meeting us. We spent a lot of time with both Ron Wood and Charlie Watts over the course of the tour. Keith Richards would hang out on the side of the stage while we played. Eventually we did get to meet Mick too, although he was a little less accessible. Given the show he puts on each night he has to lay low and rest. We had a really great time on that tour with the Stones.

Q: Do you prefer playing smaller or bigger venues?

KH: We’ve gotten to a point in our career where we know how to tailor our sound to whatever room we’re playing. I just love the response from an audience, wherever it is. Even if you’re playing a 200-seat venue – if it’s packed then the energy you can get off that is so intense. I can’t really compare or contrast one venue over the other, I just love playing live. When we have played in front of 20,000 people it feels intimate if people are into it, if they’re cheering and enjoying the music.

Antigone-Rising-08Q: Last year a photo of you kissing your wife appeared on the front cover of Time magazine. What sort of effect were you hoping that would have on public attitudes to same-sex marriage?

KH: The whole point of that was to come out, be vocal and hopefully change people’s hearts and minds. It was less controversial than we or Time expected. Time was gearing up for it to be this big scandal and had prepped us for attacks by the conservative media. But instead the most right-wing commentators – people like Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera – said that they didn’t know what the big deal was. So it was sort of a non-event. I guess that, on social issues, these conservatives are not so repressed any more.

Q: Do you think that represents progress? That people across the political spectrum are becoming more open to same-sex marriage?

KH: Absolutely. The landscape has changed pretty fast. In 2009 my wife Sarah and I wrote a book about our experience of being LGBT mothers and before we did press for that we were advised by GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), an organisation that Sarah is now the chair of. They prepped us for a hostile reaction and they were right – a lot of the interviewers were opposed to same-sex marriage. They asked us questions like ‘What about the poor kids?’ and ‘Don’t they need a father?’ Then two years later my wife and I are kissing each other on the front of Time magazine and I was pleasantly surprised that the reaction was very different.

Q: 5% of the royalties from both volumes of Whiskey and Wine will be donated to GLAAD. Could you explain what GLAAD do?

KH: They primarily focus on the media’s representation of the LGBT community. In any instance where they feel like there’s been a misrepresentation they try and correct the error or educate people about the truth. I truly believe that the equality movement in the United States has largely been won because of the work GLAAD do and the way they have helped to change public perceptions of LGBTs.

A lot of Americans don’t realise that same-sex marriage is illegal in many parts of their own country or that LGBTs do not have equal rights to straight people in, for example, the workplace. They are not equal when it comes to health benefits or the right to adopt children. But people are at least now seeing positive images on TV of LGBTs on shows like Will and Grace and Modern Family. I feel like we are winning the war by using the media to change people’s minds. I’m not saying it’s won yet – there’s still a lot more to do.

Q: And the Time cover was a big step forward.

KH: Absolutely.

Q: Country music has traditionally been associated with conservative values. Is homophobia a problem in country music today and have you or your band ever been the victim of prejudice?

KH: Antigone Rising started out as a rock band and we’ve shifted slowly towards a Southern Rock sound and now, I guess, we have a country sound. I wouldn’t say that we’re part of the Nashville scene and in a sense, I think we’re flying in the face of Nashville, and I kinda like that. No one in the business has ever said anything negative to me, but I do sometimes wonder what the real reasons are for not getting booked in certain venues or not being asked out on certain tours. We certainly aren’t being embraced by country artists or country labels, but there are plenty of LGBT country fans who appreciate artists like us who they can identify with.

Q: Do you make a conscious effort to put political messages into your music?

KH: Not really, it’s never intentional. There may be moments in a song where we might allude to our lives – being out or not being out or making certain political choices, for example. For the most part, just by showing up and playing and being out and being who we are – this is a statement on behalf of women because we’re an all-female band and it’s a statement on behalf of LGBTs because we are all gay and out.

It can be a little divisive if you try to pound a message into people. I just like to play music. A producer once said to me, ‘Like the music, like the man.’ He told me that he never used to care for Bruce Springsteen’s music and then he worked with Springsteen, got to know him and found him to be so nice and generous that he learned to love his music. So I think by showing up and allowing people to get to know us, we win them over to who we are and what we believe. I think that’s more effective than making some bold statement. I’m not opposed to people doing that, of course, but it’s just not how we roll.

3/2/14 Antigone Rising

History and Heritage in the Bahamas

If you’ve never been to the Bahamas then what images do those words conjure? Palm trees bowing over immaculate, honey-hued beaches. Cool blue waves lapping at the rough of a world-beating golf course. A waiter on a luxury yacht lifting the silver lid off a sumptuous lobster dinner. Divers exploring a whole new world of intricate coral reefs and eye-popping sealife.

What you might not think of is a stunning range of heritage attractions that chart the history not only of the Bahamas, but of the Caribbean and of the wider world. These intriguing sights cover everything from the earliest arrivals of Amerindians by dugout canoe, to the Golden Age of Piracy, to the nation’s pioneering of mass-tourism and high finance in the 20th century – and plenty in between.

Here’s our pick of the best.

A House That’s Seen So Much

Built in 1806 after the ‘cotton rush’ of American Loyalists to the Bahamas, Government House is a beautiful hybrid of imperial and local styles. The neoclassical columns are typically European, while the vibrant pink paint and louvred shutters are Bahamian all the way.

For good reason has this building been described as the finest in the Caribbean.

Even a brief tour will reveal how radically history has altered Government House. Extra wings were added in the Edwardian era, only for the entire roof of the east wing to be torn off by a hurricane twenty years later. Restoration included the building of a new domed roof for the gallery, modernistic touches to the interior and an entire room painted the same colour as the then Governor-General’s wife’s favourite facial powder.

As a quirky bonus, you can take tea with the current Governor-General’s wife in the opulent dining room.

A Repository of Riches

The Bahamas Historical Society Museum is without doubt the best repository of artifacts in the country. You’ll be blown away by the replica Taino canoe, the Loyalist-era clothes, tools and weapons, and the scale model galleon Santa Luceno. The antique documents on slavery give you a unique insight into the social attitudes of that turbulent period.

The exhaustive research library contains books, journals, pamphlets and monographs on more recent events such as the post-war tourism boom and the sinking of the SS Yarmouth Castle in 1965.

Time Travel to the Golden Age

During the Pirate’s Republic era, legendary buccaneers such as Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach were based in the Bahamas. The Pirates of Nassau is an innovative ‘living history’ of that time – you’ll wander amongst flintlock-packing sea dogs through a mocked-up 18th century quayside and pirate ship. Listen out for the creaking masts, drunken ‘Arrrs’ and squawks of the seagulls. This is fun – and education – for all ages.

Located on Marlborough and George Streets, The Pirates of Nassau also has a true/false quiz trail to follow, biographies of real-life pirates on info boards, and such period pieces as cannons on show.

There have always been many good reasons to go to the Bahamas. Now there’s another one: to bring history alive!