COVER STORY

Mythical bis, threesomes, and fingers in pies - with Victoria Falconer

We chatted with Victoria Falconer during the photoshoot for our 1st issue of UNICORN. Here’s what happened…

First of all a big thank you for taking the time to chat with us today.
We’re all big fans, especially after seeing you at our Bi Pride event!

UNICORN – Can you start with telling us a bit about yourself and what you do?

VICTORIA FALCONER – So I’m currently trying out the phrase ‘renaissance femme’ instead of my usual ‘performer and hustler’, although it’s kind of the same thing! I’m a bit of an all-rounder, as an art maker. As most of us are! But most people know me as a cabaret artist, a musical director, a multi-instrumentalist and a composer. I also emcee shows, facilitate workshops, produce, curate festivals and … let’s just say that I have a lot of fingers in a lot of tasty pies!

U – That sounds unhygienic?

VF – Not if you use the right antibacterial gel. Always clean your fingers between pies, creative or otherwise.

U – The theme of our first issue is ‘Myth’. As a bi woman, what myth or myths have you faced?

VF – As a kid I loved reading myths and legends, but I didn’t know I was going to transform into one!

I realised that I was bisexual at a young age, like 12ish or so. The realisation was coupled with another identity intersection, of being mixed race (half-Filipina, half-English). Growing up in a very small, remote country town in Australia, it can be a pretty uncomfortable fence to be sitting on… you don’t know quite how high it is until you’re up there, and there are people either side of it, asking you to pick one.

- whilst secretly acknowledging my burgeoning sexuality, I simultaneously noted the accepted notion of bisexuality being "made-up", a somehow unbelievable thing

VF – I understood my attraction to more than one gender in theory (and in private fantasy!), but knew that my circumstances (growing up in a very traditional, conservative family and community) wouldn’t allow me to practice it. It was too hard. I was unconsciously protecting myself. And this is how I’ve post-rationalised it, how I justify why I lived within this “grey area” for so long. But I also allowed it not matter to me, as I knew that the people around me were unable to acknowledge my bisexuality without consequence, in the same way as some people found it easier to mis-name my racial heritage (and mostly cloaked in a joking, friendly way) to help erase my difference, my otherness from them.

I erased myself before anyone else could. Made myself smaller in that way, but bigger in other ways – being a performer, a show-off, a serial extra-curricular nerd… it distracted me (and everyone around me) from any potential feeling of “otherness”. And regardless of how far we think we’ve come, sometimes I still feel like I’m that weirdo kid in that country town. I still have to come out as bi again and again, every time I have to justify who I am dating, justify my femme-ness, explain that there are certain ways I can’t (or won’t) exist. For many reasons – tradition-based prejudice, or an inability to identify or accept – my bisexuality is unpalatable for certain people. So it is ignored – and therefore invisible.

But all good myths are based in truth, in ‘humanness’, in stories which we need to share in order to communicate, to learn about our own emotions, relationships, our world. And now I’m in a place to retell and redefine the myths, and bring them back to reality.

U – What’s the most common myth you’ve heard about being bi?

VF – HA! I did a section in a show that would rattle all of them off, and there’s a million. That I’m bisexual because I’m greedy, that I’m “only doing it for attention” or cheap thrills, that I got off the train to GayTown one stop too early, that I can’t sit on chairs properly, or that we all have incredible hair (although I’m fairly certain this is based in truth).

So, when I left my home, I moved straight to London, and ended up studying at art school, at Goldsmiths – and of course you would think “great times! Everybody there is liberal and wonderful and ready to be accepting and it’s a woke paradise”. Then, I would go to parties where I was constantly hit on by unrelenting couples, who assumed that I’d definitely be up for having sex with them, for the word had got around that I was bi. And the hilarious, disappointing thing is:  it’s ALWAYS the couple that you don’t want to be hitting on you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG fan of a threesome, and there have been many times where I’ve used the myth to my benefit! Je ne regrette rien, dammit. But when it’s taken as a given, or you’re berated for not being down with it, that’s not okay. That thirsty couple is like that creepy guy at the orgy, the one on their own, leering at everyone else for their own pleasure, and you wonder ‘how did you get in here?’ So yeah, the myth of the bisexual person (particually us femmes) is that we are desperate to have sex with any couple, simply because it’s a couple. PLUS it’s generally a cis-man/cis-woman couple, buying into that two-women-gratifying-one-hetero-man’s-problematic-lesbian-fantasy scenario. BIG. YAWN.

Then there’s the other side of the story, where I’d go to other university parties and suddenly I’m ‘not queer enough’ because I’m too femme, too ‘ladylike’ – always surprised at being accused of that one! One of the experiences I remember really vividly, in my early days of being on the cabaret scene in London, exploring my queerness and trying to find my place in the world, was being cornered by a well-known lesbian performer. Now, I want to hope that the interaction was not about menacing me, but it felt like it. She basically asked for a blow-by-blow account of my sexual history, as in, how many women had I slept with? Is it just part of the act? All done in a very jokey, but intimidating way. This was at an industry after-party, so it seemed very much like a power play in a world that had (up until that moment) been very welcoming to me. It was the first of many moments where I felt like I had to be accountable for claiming to be queer, or whip out some sort of Sex C.V. It was horrible. Quite scary, as I didn’t know what to say and also very discouraging – like maybe I didn’t want to be a part of a scene that was so exclusive, one that demanded your personal information before letting you cross the threshold.

However, I since shared that experience with other people that I love and trust, and it turned out I wasn’t the only person who had been asked to prove I was a certified bisexual. And it’s all part of that toxic, gold star gay ethos that is very outdated, yet still unfortunately still holds cache for a lot of people across the queer spectrum.”

Then, there’s the myth that bisexuals are sex-addicts, that we ‘must just want to have sex all the time, with anybody’. So of course this is a myth, however I also find that a lot of bisexual and pansexual people are quite vocal about sex, as they are very in touch with their sexuality; they know what they want and they’re not worried about asking for it, directly and unapologetically. So, perhaps that makes us appear a lot more highly-sexed than we really are, simply because we advocate the importance of conversation as part of deal! Again, this is not all bisexuals. But I would theorise that many of us are talkative about it, simply because our sexual attractions are so often questioned, denied and/or shut down.

So, the more visible we are, the better it gets. For everyone, in, out or questioning. And if we are able, we should be vocal in dispelling the myths. Bisexual and pansexual people should not be the invisible, silent majority of the queer world!

U –  How does your work incorporate your queerness?

VF – In my first cabaret show, my character was a draggy half man, half woman. Straight down the middle. I was obsessed with old-school freakshows, travelling circus in olde world Europe and Coney Island. When I found out that historically, those half-men half-women were mainly portrayed by cis-men, I wanted in. And at the time, I wouldn’t have said that it was about my queerness, more that it was an aesthetics thing. Like, ‘what, this half-moustache? Why yes, it is a costume, completely removed from my sexual identity, I don’t know what you’re talking about?!’ But obviously, it was not. It was a way of me putting that aspect of myself on stage, when I wasn’t interested in being deeply personal. I wanted to be fun, I wanted to be funny, and very sex-positive. I wanted to draw people in, but in a funny, accessible way. 

I wanted to be fun, I wanted to be funny, and very sex-positive. I wanted to draw people in, but in a funny, accessible way

My Victor Victoria persona was a super heightened character. A visual representation of how ridiculous a gender binary would be, if it existed! The Telegraph (I know, can you believe it) said that I was “part commedia dell’arte character, part cartoon, all sex-fiend”. Pretty dead on. But during the show, there was a sense of knowing that I was owning my so-called freakiness, accepting it and revelling in it.

U –  Do you find you draw inspiration from your queerness and use that in your performances?

VF – The next big project I worked on was Fringe Wives Club, which is still touring now! And on our first show ‘Glittery Clittery’ I was much more focused on approaching and including my queerness. The three of us that created the show (myself, Tessa Waters and Rowena Hutson) wanted this feminist show to be intersectional and inclusive. We work hard to not alienate anybody, particularly people who didn’t self-identify as feminists.

We talk a lot about sex, body confidence, communication and consent in the show, but as two of us identify as queer, we didn’t want to just talk about it in a hetero- and/or cis-context – what’s that media-friendly phrase? ‘P and V’?! P in V sex is great, but I wanted to make sure we had the full spectrum of sexual possibility included, acknowledged and encouraged. I began telling stories about my own sexual quirks, fails or frustrations, about being bisexual (both the highs and the lows!). It was terrifying in the beginning, but ultimately more rewarding than I had realised. It solidified my own identity, for myself – and the feedback from the audience was incredible. People would reach out to us with their own stories, finally comfortable to share these secret parts of themselves. And women of south-east asian descent would say to me, “I haven’t seen anyone that looks like me, talking that way on stage or in public”. I can believe it. It was like nothing else I had done. And whilst we were all sharing our own, very personal experiences, the themes were universal. In doing this, we make space for these conversations, where nobody feels excluded.

I also have a solo show which talks about my queerness, and it’s mainly me talking to the audience, telling stories rather than playing music. It was very much an exercise in learning to talk about myself on stage. Workshopping my thoughts on identity, in real time, with an audience. There’s always been art about this. ‘Minoritised’* people have made art about themselves because it’s a way to express ideas that you might not be able to fully explore in regular conversation. You can centre yourself in  your art, it’s direct and purposefully personal. It doesn’t need to be layered in metaphors or myths to get the message across.

U –  How important do you feel queerness in arts & culture is?

VF – For the person who’s creating it, or the person who’s consuming it? It’s as important as you want it to be.

I know plenty of performers who identify as queer, but they don’t make it a huge headline of their practice. Personally, there’s always going to be an element of that in my work as it’s such an important part of my identity, and I feel driven to be a visible voice and body in the human landscape. I don’t think anyone should feel that it’s intrisitic to art making, that there should be a pressure to include it, somehow. We don’t need every bisexual musician to theme their album cover in blue, purple and pink! I mean, I’m glad there’s a lot more art being made about queerness and identity now. It can give a sense of belonging to those people who haven’t yet found their community, or any way to interact with the queer world, yet. Music in particular is pretty easy to find even if you’re isolated, whereas experiencing live theatre or cabaret is hard when you don’t live in a city, or in a town where it tours to you. I didn’t see a mainstage, professional theatre production till I was 15, let alone anything with queer themes – aside from secretly watching films like Rocky Horror and Cabaret on late night TV. There was definitely no obvious queer representation at our local Agricultural Show! Although thinking back, it was pretty camp – competitive giant vegetable growing? Bareback bull riding? Beauty pageants with farm-themed home-crafted outfits? I feel a new show idea coming on…

U – If you had one piece of advice for your younger self (looking back now) what would it be and why?

Go forth with courage and trust your instincts

VF – I do trust my instincts – now. It took a while, and I feel very lucky to have arrived at this place. I wouldn’t take back any of my past experiences, good or bad. I mean, I certainly made some questionable decisions in my late teens and early 20s, fashion, fucking and otherwise – let’s just say J-Lo style white denim and khaki prints are NOT for me, and neither is a boyfriend that “allows” you to cheat on him with women because it’s “hot”, but not with men because of course, “that would be wrong”! A very valuable lesson in blinkered, patriarchal morality. But I wouldn’t take any of it back.

U – If you had to sum up the wonder that is the bi community in one sentence, what would it be?

VF – Inclusive, colourful, joyful. A place to feel like you are welcome, that you belong – no matter who you are or what you’re into.

It is totally the “one of us” (a chant nicked from Todd Browning’s film Freaks) mantra! I think as so many of us have felt invisible or out of place for so long, it seems that as soon as people know you’re part of the bi/pan community, you’re brought (consensually) into its warm embrace! Nobody questions who you are or are not attracted to – it’s not the point! I was gigging at the RVT the other day (with the excellent LADS show), and I gave a shout out on stage for Bi Pride, which was coming up. A woman approached me afterwards and said she hadn’t know about it, but she’d definitely attend, and that my talking about it onstage made her felt seen and included. Gorgeous. Then, her friend came over, and he said the exact same thing to me. And in that moment, they looked at each other with new eyes and were both like ‘wait, what?’ and she said ‘you’re bi?’ and he was like ‘I thought you knew babe?’. They had this incredible moment hugging and acknowledging each other and it was so beautiful!

It is exactly this that I love about the bi/pan community. It doesn’t matter where you are on the journey, when you find someone else on the same journey, there’s so much love and affection and immediate affirmation of who you are, without question. I’ve never not experienced that. This is why events like Bi Pride are so important.

U – Do you have a favourite Bi role model? If so who & why.

VF – So many!

U – You can’t say yourself! Hahaha

VF – As if I would! But also – I totally would. Always hustle baby! Let’s get #Bicon trending and see what’s what…”

Okay, so as an artsy youth of 13, the first person I was super excited to find out was bisexual was Frida Kahlo. She was absolutely, unapologetically biconic. Commitment to art plus a bridge to separate your house from your partner’s? Yes. And that biopic starring Salma Hayak? A constant source of sex-dream material in my teens.

Marlene Dietrich was my next bicon revelation, when I began discovering cabaret – a genre-defining voice, a powerful presence on film, went to secret drag balls in the 20s and trained herself to be a boxer, and also the reason I started to learn the musical saw. Marlene used to play her saw for the troops in WWII – sadly no footage ever surfaced. I put the saw into most of my projects, it’s so versatile! Just working out how to incorporate it into the musical (Insane Animals) I’m working on at the moment – written by infamous cabaret legends Bourgeois and Maurice. Come see if I succeed at HOME Manchester in March. Marlene also coined the euphemism “sewing circle” for her inner group of (mostly closeted) bisexual and lesbian actors and artists. Way to find a cute way to deal with society’s stigma.

In fact, the cabaret world is a very rich tapestry for historical bisexuals who were out and proud, during their lifetime. My final favourite, Colette, is a French writer who wrote lots of semi-autobiographical fiction in the early 1900s, and was also a cabaret performer. Her husband used to publish her books under his name and they were hugely popular. Her first few novels centred on Claudine, a school girl, coming-of-age (including lesbian sexual experiences) and becoming a libertine who ran her own art salon in Paris. She’s just incredible. Colette’s husband was this notoriously controlling older male journalist (who constantly used her intellect and talent for his own gain) but she also had some very high-profile, almost celebrity love affairs with women, which were subsequently reported in the french newspapers. So scandalous, so decadent and exciting! At 19, at uni, I was in awe. I was hooked. I still am. Read her!

U – That was all our questions but would you like to tell us a bit more about your upcoming project R.O.A.R.?

VF – Yes! It’s just been announced! R.O.A.R is a feminist, queer, loud, joyful, femmes-to-the-front festival taking place in Sydney at Darlinghurst Theatre in May 2020, and I am the Festival Director and curator! It will feature performers of varied disciplines, creating work that engages with the audience on an entertaining, dynamic and intimate level, with a political or social activism twist. I’m particularly thrilled to be amplifying voices and stories on a platform that is both of high production value and in a supported, supportive mainstage theatre. This is my chance to bring established international performers together with fringe-dwellling or emerging local artists who are just fucking GOOD and making work that is challenging and important, and making these shows accessibleto a wider range of people who might not have seen it otherwise.

Its our first year, and the team at Darlinghurst Theatre Company are this coven of strong feminist womxn (and a few excellent male allies) who are super powerful art bitches, keen on empowering artists who create sustainable social change through theatre and performance.

U – How do people find out more about roar?

VF – Get online! Go to the Darlinghurst Theatre website. You can buy tickets to some shows already. We’re also throwing an Opening Gala and a gender-as-a-social-construct-themed Closing Ball featuring the most amount of drag kings Sydney has ever seen… the programme is not all released yet but trust me – it’s a really fucking good lineup. Come to Sydney and join the party!

*  Which is a useful term that I learned from my friend and stunning performer in Australia, Mama Alto*. They said that referring to yourself as a  ‘minority’ is outdated and wrong. It’s a phrase that is often put upon queer and POC folx, a term that comes with baggage that is handed to the descriptee. Whereas ‘minoritised’ is what the descriptor is doing – an active word, to minoritise somebody else.

Photos by Ana Pinto for UNICORN

VICTORIA FALCONER

She/her

Badass disco feminist performer and musical director
Australia > London > Manchester > London > UNICORN