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Bearded ladies and borscht

Gay Rights

This season it looks like my kitchen garden is going to be overrun with, among other things, beetroot. So I’d like to make some borscht. The thought of this (funny how a solitary garden vegetable can set the mind adrift to contemplate global politics) gets me thinking about life in Poland, and reminds me of an encounter I had with a Pole at one of my first gigs outside London a few years ago.

The gig was for a Pride event in Bradford, a city once famous for its thriving wool economy. There was a fantastically rich audience from all backgrounds and walks of life enjoying the show; there was also a slightly drunk heckler, shouting inappropriately at me in a foreign language.  

I politely asked where he was from. Poland, he said. I said it was a shame that he had come to England only to act as such a bad ambassador for his homeland, which had had an equal age of consent (15) for both gay and heterosexual couples since 1932.  Was he, perhaps, overwhelmed by this sudden burst of community diversity in a foreign land, or was he merely expressing his suppressed desires to be a glamorous bearded lady? His lack of respect, his ignorance and, most importantly, his own missing pride was what concerned me most.

In Poland, following a long period of progressive leftwing ideas, there has more recently been an increasing shift to the far-right. This always surprised me, given the effects of the far right on Poland during the Second World War. I can’t say that I was entirely unhappy when I heard about the plane crash in 2010 which killed one of those delightful Kaczynski twins – he was the president who, as a previous mayor of Warsaw, had banned two gay pride events. (His equally conservative twin brother had served as Prime Minister). Poland is one of those countries which, like Russia, both fascinates and terrifies me. I realize this has to do with my own ignorance; what I do know is based on what I see in the media and come across in London, rather than being based on real life in Poland, which I don’t see, and have not experienced.

While I won’t be visiting Russia after what they have done in St Petersburg and elsewhere in terms of severely restricting free expression amongst the gay community, I rather think I should consider a trip to Poland. As well as the obvious reasons of fine food and liquor, they’re very organized, have some beautiful cities and they now have Anna Grodzka who, as far as I am aware, is Europe’s only transsexual Member of Parliament. Furthermore you can also pick up a very reasonably priced smallholding in Poland… And there we are, back to the borscht. All I need now is a friendly Pole to show me how to make it. I wonder what that young heckling chap is doing now?

Timberlina is the alter ego of artist/performer Tim Redfern, whose work aims to challenge the status quo of mainstream consumer culture whilst championing sustainability, craft and frugal living – all while looking fabulous. Tim is also a curator and facilitator of museum events around sexuality and cultural history. www.timberlina.co.uk

Timberlina will be appearing in ‘I Love You, But We Only Have 14 Minutes To Save The Earth’, a creative collision of cabaret, live art and film conceived by award-winning director Nathan Evans  Described by the Guardian as ‘A happy dose of queer cabaret’, it serves up serious subjects such as ecology, spirituality and politics with a shot of anarchic humour and a dash of radical glamour

4-7 July Soho Theatre, London W1D 3NE www.sohotheatre.com
14 July Latitude Festival www.latitudefestival.co.uk
For national tour dates this autumn please visit

Text copyright Tim Redfern 2012. 

Photo of Pride flag by essygie under a CC Licence

Photo of Timberlina copyright Justin David

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