Feeling PROUD in Cambridge: “Femininity is the journey instead of the aim”

Golden capes. Smiles; hugs. Rainbow flags. A long line of food vans.

Cambridge’s first ever official Pride event was well underway, despite clouds and drizzle and the fear that not enough people would come. But come they did, from all over the world and certainly around the country, in a celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture in all its forms.

In a small Pride event, the lack of the corporate and the commercial – amidst recent attacks on brands for shameless ‘Rainbow Capitalism’ – was notably absent. Small stalls championed local causes – sexual health, LGBTQIA+ education in schools, and independent businesses.

Examples of so-called ‘Rainbow Capitalism’ have come under fire recently. Image via medium.com

Lizzie, packed into the corner of the heaving Community Tent, of self-started brand Solidarity Not Charity, tells me that it’s the only Pride event she’s been able to sell her t-shirts at. They hang behind her in their many colours and designs – fabulous slogans like “DYKE – Just do it” and a lighthouse with the rainbow flag streaming from it. “It’s a symbolic for a beacon of hope. And you’ve got the gay flag [coming out of the lighthouse], with the black and brown stripes, representing of the QTPOC community – queer, trans, people of colour.”

It was started as a brand a few years ago, when Lizzie worked with refugees on a beach in Lesvos, Greece, supporting migrants. She tells me that she has been working with hundreds of migrants for over a decade, since the first Calais Jungle was started. “People like to say there’s a refugee crisis, but there’s not, there’s a politic crisis. That’s our name, the ethos behind us, Solidarity not Charity – we support people. We don’t believe in having a hierarchy and giving to people.”

Another t-shirt features a loudspeaker. “We’re having a rise in homophobia, so it’s a big shout-out for our LGBT+ communities.”

I ask Lizzie if Solidarity Not Charity will be making a circuit of the Pride events this summer. She shrugs. “A lot of people won’t let me… because I’m anti-capitalist. I’m not part of a corporation. Basically, it’s not for profit, and although people are into not for profit, they want you to be a charity. They want you to be subscribed to something – if you’re just an independent person, giving a fuck about a situation, people tend to not trust you. And I’m like – fuck that, I don’t want to be a charity.” 

Other stalls packed beside Lizzie, inside the ‘Community Tent’, include sexual health stands, support for LGBT+ education, and Sister Act: the Group for Women Who Like Women. On the latter’s table sits a small bowl, labelled “magical lesbian sweets”. Passers-by grin without fail. The tent is buzzing with laughter. I can barely squeeze through the crowds. I’m asked to write something I love about myself on a post-it note. I’m asked to think about advice I’d give to fourteen-year-old me. I’m given a packet of Love Hearts.

In the corner sits an over-50 table, manned by a large group of mature and elderly LGBT+ community members. Next to them are the Cambridge Union Supports LGBT+ table of teens and twenty-somethings, and next to them are the Liberal Democrats. There’s no doubt that there is a somewhat gaping hole where ethnic diversity is concerned, but the Cambridge Pride community varies in ages and backgrounds.

Outside, amongst candy floss, comedy acts, singers and an array of dancers (The Beyonce Experience was a particular highlight), later performed local brass-pop band Colonel Spanky’s Love Ensemble.

An upbeat cover of Dua Lipa’s New Rules blares in the background as I chat to lead singer, Jazz Hansel-Rainbow, after their set. An apt name for the occasion, she agrees. “It’s perfect, I was made for it!”

Colonel Spanky’s Love Ensemble performed a number of well-known tunes. Image via marknortcliffephotography

Jazz does a day job at the university, and is a former student. Colonel Spanky’s Love Ensemble, formed a decade ago by university students, brought Jazz in as front woman in 2012. “It was a bunch of nerds at Clare College in Cambridge who decided they had the same taste in music… And all had brass instruments.”

She describes their genre as, “timeless, poppy fun”. The crowd, compromised in part, although not entirely, of Cambridge students, know the band well. They’ve performed before at the annual Rainbow Ball, the university’s LGBT+ June event, as well as an array of other famous May Balls. They seem to be quite the local celebrities; even whilst we talk, a line of individuals appear to ask Jazz for photos. One is a mother, their child asking adoringly for the band’s Instagram.

Armed with three saxophones, two trumpets and a trombone between them, as well as bass and drums, the group of ten has treated us to cover after cover of popular tunes from a number of decades. Jazz speaks between each song, saluting the dancing crowd. She says afterwards that all of her chatting is off the cuff, claiming that sometimes she doesn’t even know which song is coming next – “but I’m a singer, and there’s an introduction,” she laughs. “It’s whatever I feel like saying at the time. I say what’s in my head.”

After a rendition of Shania Twain, she says to the crowd, as if over a cup of tea, “When there’s middle aged people, and they have a problem with gender fluid identities – I’m like, Dave, you know when you listen to Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like a Woman and you feel like a woman for those three minutes? You’ve understood gender fluidity.” There is a roar-like cheer of praise from the masses sweating and grinning in front of her.

Lead singer Jazz. Image via marknortcliffephotography

Jazz is head-to-toe in velvet pink. A pale pink cap, adorned with an appliqué of Marie, the kitten from The Aristocats, sits on her pink-toned hair. Her leotard is black, but adorned with rosy red flowers. How does she define femininity?

She hesitates very little. “The thing I want more of in my life. And more of in the world. Fun. Just fun. Softness and hardness and everything in between. Something that is your own, and it isn’t a competition or about achieving something, it’s about playing with something. It’s the journey instead of the aim.”

Another fan comes past, gushing praises, and Jazz giggles, lost for a moment in the fame – “I love this, this is great!” she laughs.

Of playing at queer events, she says it’s “so exciting – cause for once it’s like, oh! This is my people! I play for your people all the time. It’s exciting. It’s Pride, and we’re all from Cambridge.”

She also claims that their near-headline act, when the crowd had thickened in the early evening, was simply due to the organisers’ love of the band’s name. It’s almost believable, but perhaps the higher-ups were savvy enough to know the appeal of Colonel Spanky, and their spot-on set list, with a local crowd. “This is a pansexual anthem!” Jazz cries, and they launch into Saint Motel’s My Type.

Image via marknortcliffephotography

The sun is beginning to set. Jazz is as smiley, flushed and pleased as the rest of the attendees of the first ever Cambridge Pride. I ask her for a parting message for those who came.

“Thank you for showing up. I’m so proud of everyone for being here, you know, especially the younger people, the teenagers – you’ve had to tell your parents that you’re coming here and that is such a big deal. And if you’re here and you’re conflicted, and you don’t necessarily feel proud all the time, that’s also fair enough. We live in a world that wants us to feel shit about ourselves, so well done for coming and for finding your pride.”

Wishing you’d been there? Are you going to a Pride event this year? What does femininity mean to you? Send us your creations, questions and thoughts.

What’s your wavelength?

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