Interview - Sirena
Most people can put themselves into categories and those who don't like categories are those who don't fit. So you're kind of outside and it's harder to find people to relate to because it's easy to relate to people if you are just one secure identity, you can just find people similar to you. If you're not really similar to anyone, it can be quite isolating.
Lou Stoppard: Can you talk me through your look and where your aesthetic came from, the way you dress, your tattoos, the way you present yourself?
Sirena: I've liked piercing and tattoos since I was really young. I started piercing from when I was 12 and tattoos from when I was 14. I don't know why I did it, I just liked having it done and it just progressed into other things.
Lou Stoppard: I heard from Bea that you're inspired by burlesque? What interested you about burlesque?
Sirena: The clothes, the dancing, everything really. The history of it, the comedy...
Lou Stoppard: Do you do burlesque yourself?
Sirena: No. I know people who do but I don't do it myself.
Lou Stoppard: I read quite a lot on your blog and you seem quite comfortable with yourself and your sexuality. When did you become aware of how you wanted to be defined and how you felt in yourself?
Sirena: I came out when I was seventeen, so I think I’d been thinking about it for maybe a few years before but thought it might have been a phase. But then I had a relationship with a guy and it didn't work out for me, so I thought I should explore that side, so I did and it was fine.
Lou Stoppard: So it wasn't a difficult for you? Was the whole coming out process something you found quite natural?
Sirena: It was difficult, I just couldn't really hide it anymore so, it didn't feel like a choice. It was difficult because I didn't think my friends would agree with it and I didn't know anyone else who was gay either. I didn't know about the clubs or the magazines or anything like that. I didn't know how I was supposed to go about it, was I supposed to be gay on my own now? But then I just met people naturally and started going out with then. I'd say my life started improving from that point I think.
Lou Stoppard: So would you say the clubs and magazines, that social side, is quite important to you now?
Sirena: Not the clubs really, I don't really enjoy them. If I want to go to a club I’d go to a straight one, the music's better. The magazines, well, it's good to know about them so you can talk about them to other gay women but I don't enjoy those things anymore. I just enjoy being secure in my identity, going to certain events like Pride and stuff I enjoy.
Lou Stoppard: You do seem passionate about communicating with other women and being quite inspirational and inclusive in the way you talk to other women and particularly in your blog, what made you want to pursue that?
Sirena: My blog? I was really bored of the other lesbian magazines. I didn't think a lot of the articles were interesting or represented my experience of being a lesbian. I don't think the regular gay press are very inclusive, so there's a lot of issues within the Black gay community or the Muslim gay community or the Indian community that's never really touched the norm. So I really wanted to be reflective of the diversity; what you wouldn't or can't really tell by opening Diva or G3.
Lou Stoppard: You talk quite a lot on your blog about racism and issues of race - is that something you encounter quite a lot?
Sirena: No, I haven't encountered a lot of racism. I know it exists but a lot of people I know have and would like me to write about it. I just think I have a really strong identity as a black lesbian and that's always going to come out through my writing but. I mean I’ve had racism before but nothing major.
Lou Stoppard: I'm interested in what you say about your experiences as a gay woman and how that differs from other peoples. What has your experience been?
Sirena: It's quite difficult to define, but I guess, gay, young, black and I’m a parent as well, so that's sort of where I see it from. Coming out as a mum and the issue of coming out through that.
Lou Stoppard: Your view of being a woman - has that affected how you bring up your girls? Because you have two daughters, do you think a lot about gender and their sexuality?
Sirena: Not really. My daughter actually said, 'I might grow up to be gay, I don't know, I’m too young to have a sexuality now.' I think I’ve just been open about my sexuality so it gives them freedom to think about these things and talk to me about them, so it's quite normal in my house. I’m gay and I’ve got quite a lot of gay friends, so it comes up. I think that in itself is great, an open environment.
Lou Stoppard: Is that quite different to the environment you felt when you were growing up?
Sirena: Oh yeah definitely, the opposite.
Lou Stoppard: I’m interested in the way you classify yourself - as a Femme - is that correct?
Lou Stoppard: Do you classify yourself in a certain way?
Lou Stoppard: Do you think those terms are not very useful?
Sirena: Not for me anyway. Because I present myself differently all the time, I’m not one thing really, I’ve got quite feminine qualities and masculine qualities as well, it's a mish-mash of the two and I’m trying not to put a name to it really. I do find it unhelpful that you're pigeonholed into that and if you want to do anything different then suddenly it's a topic for discussion and people can say you're not genuinely this or that. If I’m nothing, no one can accuse me of being insincere about nothing. I can just be me.
Lou Stoppard: Do you find people are quite keen to classify you?
Sirena: Oh yeah but they can't. I’m difficult to do that with.
Lou Stoppard: That must be liberating.
Sirena: Yes. It is, in a way. It’s positive in that way, it feels more free and liberating. I guess the negatives are that most people can put themselves into categories and those who don't like categories are those who don't fit. So you're kind of outside it and it's harder to find people to relate to because it's easy to relate to people if you are just one secure identity, you can just find people similar to you. If you're not really similar to anyone, it can be quite isolating but apart from that I'm quite happy with it.
Lou Stoppard: The way you write on your blog, you talk about all colours of the rainbow and all spectrums of people - do you find that's quite a healthy thing to do, to look at people from all different angles?
Sirena: Yes, because I'm a writer that's interesting to see things from all angles. I talk a lot about my own experiences and how I see things going on in my life but for other people it’s just completely different. I find that fascinating.
Lou Stoppard: Why do you think people, all over the world, are so scared of people who are different and unique and who don't want to classify themselves?
Sirena: That could be for many reasons really. I mean 'different' is viewed as scary, people feel safer with people who are predictable, you can say that's this person and you're going to get this. If you go against the norm, you just put unpredictable in the equation and people are more mistrustful of that. Naturally people are more trusting of what they know. What they don't know is scary, it takes understanding and it takes extra effort to get your mind around something you don't understand. I think it might bring out insecurities in them as well. There could be so many reasons, loads. A lot of people feel that something that is different to them is a direct threat to their lifestyle, to their values, to the way they lives. If they don't understand, it's much easier to dismiss something than take the time to learn about it.
Lou Stoppard: Do you worry that your daughters will get pushed into categories and they'll have that same experience where people try to define you?
Sirena: Oh no I’m not scared of that. I absolutely know it's going to happen, it’s just about giving them the tools to deal with it when the time comes. They’re going to be teenagers soon and there's going to be peer pressure and people are going to want to try this and that, and people are going to want to go against what I’ve taught and they're going to be put in situations where they're vulnerable and for the first time, they're going to have to - without me - think of what they have to do and make the right choices. So I’m just trying to give them as much info as I can so hopefully they’ll make the right decisions. I always think I teach them to think independently, not go with everyone's opinion, even if they're in school and lots of people don't like a girl, you've got to really think, has this girl done anything to me, little things like that, to try and help them become good people. I just want them to become good people really.
Lou Stoppard: Sometimes I feel like especially in popular culture, female sexuality is treated very differently to male sexuality. People are very accepting of gay men but not women. I think that is changing now - do you find that?
Sirena: Yeah absolutely. Definitely! I think lesbians are portrayed as strange cat-loving types, you know, looking like men. I don't know. I think definitely there's a higher acceptability of the Femme-presenting lesbians, they're more acceptable and they can be fantasies and things like that, but largely I don't think that's what most lesbians are like. I do think it's changing slowly, there are different programmes coming out, even like the recent shoot that just happened, that's going to make us more visible.
Lou Stoppard: Do you often feel quite separated, like you don't really have a voice or feel represented?
Sirena: Yes I often feel unrepresented but I don't often complain, I just do something about it. Like I thought I was underrepresented by gay media so I started a blog. It makes you more creative. Always take the positive.