The flamboyant and bubbly Pride’s got talent finalist, and activist Andrea Di Giovanni, talks Trans rights and reminds us all that it’s great to be Queer in an interview with Ray A-J.
STANDING outside a London café, with busy people buzzing about the place, it hit me. We’re so lucky.
As I walked over to meet, and receive a warming hug from, the bubbly Pride’s got talent finalist and dark pop musician Andrea Di Giovanni in Soho (or the gayest part of London, as she tells me), I saw a barrage of wonderful rainbow flags dotted about the streets. Along the roads were cheery LGBT+ people out in the world boldly being themselves – being free, and as i walked past them, I thought of how lucky we are. Here in the UK, us LGBT+ people are slowly being given the platform to be ourselves, mostly. With events like Pride and a sudden movement of gender neutral clothing, we’re beginning to be welcomed into the mainstream society. Yet this isn’t the case for everyone in the world, or even all of us in the LGBT+ communities. But with the help and activism of people like Andrea, it could be.
“I want to make people uncomfortable,”
“We need to be allies,” Andrea tells me, reclining in a Soho café with a determined look in his eyes. “We need to support each other in the LGBT+ communities. It’s finally being brought to attention how awful the treatment of trans people of colour is. Especially with, no T no shade but, the horrible handling of The Vixen on Rupaul’s drag race, and, I love mama Ru, but that tweet…we really need to be allies for trans or LGBT+ people of colour too.” Andrea is referring to a rather controversial and arguably transphobic tweet that popular veteran Drag Queen Rupaul put out recently. Much to our surprise (Andrea is a great fan of the drag Queen’s work), in the tweet Rupaul stated that post-op transgender Queens were not allowed to compete in his show Rupaul’s drag race. His reasoning? They would have an unfair advantage, and aren’t as ‘dangerous’ or as full of anarchy as the image of a cis Drag Queen. “I don’t agree with him at all,” Andrea says. “But i get that the show is just that – a show. It’s an edited and produced version of reality and drag; it’s not a real representation. I say if you’re a fan of drag race, you’re not a fan of drag. You’re a fan of a show. But to be a fan of drag, you have to go out and support local Drag Queens. We need to support local Drag Queens more, and trans people of colour too, and I mean more than just say you support them and say you’re an advocate, but offer them the platform to talk about their issues themselves,” she says with an infectious enthusiastic energy that bounces about the otherwise ordinarily calm cafe. “If you see someone in the street being hassled, stand up for them. Go over there and help them out, because sometimes people need that extra support because they’re too scared to stand up for themselves,” she advises. “Or you don’t have to go out and protest or anything to show your support. Even if it’s just sending a tweet to an LGBT+ performer or person, saying ‘you really inspire me’, or saying how good they are, that will help them out. It doesn’t matter if they don’t retweet you or send you a message back, they would have definitely read your tweet and that will make a difference to them; it will have a positive impact.”
Sitting across from me, in his denim dunagrees and mesh black top, complete with what I can only describe as fabulously purple acrylic nails, it is clear that Andrea loves fashion. “It sounds really stereotypical,” she laughs “But the first time i had my nails done, i really felt like my authentic self. As soon as they were painted, i was like honey, I’m here.” But the importance of her look is more than just skin deep. Andrea explained to me how he uses his appearance in his activism. The bubby musician’s extravagant and unconventional image is impart inspired by the genderbending of the late David Bowie, borrowing his use of gender non-conforming clothing. “My friend asked me about my look before, they said ‘you always look so fashionable’, and i was just like ‘i shop in the women’s section, mostly’,” she laughed. “I embrace both the feminim and masculine qualities in myself and my identity, and because of that my image can make people uncomfortable. But that’s what i want to do, i don’t want to be put into a box of ‘you’re a male artist or female artist so you should look like this, or you should be muscley’. I don’t want to look like that, i want to make society uncomfortable. The only way you can create change and acceptance is to make people a little uncomfortable. That’s sort of what Bowie did, and I’m really inspired by his look too.” But the Gay Genderfluid artist understands the often suffocating effect the industry can have on an openly gay artist’s free expression. “The industry likes to say they support Queer artists, and they will sign us. But, to quote Tatiana, What you see isn’t always the truth. Once you’re their artist they want you to be less gay, less flamboyant, less extravagant. They want to control our queerness. And I mean me, less flamboyant?” she jokes.
“I think Queer and Non-binary people are the future,”
The Italian born musician’s passion for activism and standing against social injustices is gripping; she has a fierce loyalty to the LGBT+ communities that is heartwarming to see. But the dedicated artist wasn’t always so aware of the issues clouding the community. “Being brought up in Italy… by a loving family and being white, Iwas bathed in privilege. I wasn’t really aware of the difficulties faced by trans people of colour, or really aware of the gay communities, because I wasn’t introduced to anyone from the community then; there wasn’t really much LGBT+ communities in Italy. It wasn’t till recently, with people like Travis Alabanza and Marsha P Johnson, that my eyes were fully opened. I watched the documentary about Marsha P Johnson and my mind was blown. I wasn’t sure of Drag Queens either, when Iwas younger. I didn’t understand them because i wasn’t around any. But then i watched Rupaul’s drag race and i got it, i love it. I actually considered doing drag before, but then with it’s popularity now, I thought I’d better not,” she laughs, before returning to more serious words. “I admit it, Iam privileged, there’s nothing I can do about that,” she continues, with a bright glow in her eyes. “But it’s what you do with that privilege that matters. I could have sat home and done nothing, and just gone on to expand my career in Italy with the TV show [Amici Di Maria De Fillippi] I was in, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; not everybody has to be an activist, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to use my privilege to help people and be a sort of activist. I didn’t want to ignore the issues that were going on in the world. But, being white and privileged, I don’t have a right to try to explain or educate people on LGBT+ people of colour’s issues. It’s not my place, and I don’t want to do what some people do, no T no shade, and make my activism all about myself. That’s why I try to offer a platform for those people to talk about issues they face, and explain it themselves.”
The young enthusiastic musician actually moved away from his home in Rome at the tender age of 17, in favour of London – a place where she could grow, she tells me. “I just said to my mum one day, I want to go, I’m moving away. And then in the space of two weeks I got into BIMM [British institute of modern music] and moved to London. It was that quick,” she explains. As it turns out, Italy wasn’t the right place for Andrea’s music career to flourish, or her personal life either. Due to the rich history of Italy and its ties with Catholicism, attitudes towards LGBT+ people are not always accepting. Andrea herself was subjected to harassment and bullying throughout school, and went through a tumultuous journey to discover her identity. Being from a strongly Catholic orientated family, her parents too were apprehensive of her identity. “Everyone knew, but it took me a long time to come out fully,” she laughs when i ask about their reactions. Despite her father’s aloof attitude towards Andrea being gay and feminine, he has since changed his tune for the better, even going so far as to fully support the funding for her work now. “It was the first song of mine he bought,” she says regarding her song Hold me once more. “I actually messaged him the day before its release, telling him that i have a new song out and it’s about him. It’s about the mess he had back home with my mum, and the tumultuous relationship we had, it’s not hidden in the lyrics at all. I mean, I say it all with the line: ‘And when I needed you were never there, probably f*cking in a hotel bed’,” he laughs. “It’s actually his favourite song now, because i said all that i wanted to say to him in the song, and he realised how I felt. He understood me more.”
Even Andrea herself saw her identity and sexuality as something terrifying (as we all do when we first come out), because of the Catholic Church’s ‘demonising’ of gay culture. All of this unfortunately resulted in a concoction of anxiety and depression, Andrea tells me, suddenly solem. “I had some suicidal thoughts…” he confesses, “but I’m too much of a selfish b*tch to go through with it,” she half quipps, changing the subject to brighter tones. “That’s what my song Drowning is based on, it goes into the depression and confusion i went through, during the process of coming out.”
“We need to support local Drag Queens more,”
Despite the deep and serious nature of our conversation, Andrea has a very cheerful and uplifting atmosphere about her when she speaks. He cares so intensely about the issues and struggles us LGBT+ people go through, far beyond the point of just researching and passing on the information, and well into the depths of doing something about the problems we’re presented. Yet, when he is discussing how to navigate through the often tumultuous forest of prejudice and hatred we receive, she has an unshakeable optimism. And this carries through, even when he’s faced with abuse. “When you get shouted at with abuse or comments, you feel this sort of shame. You feel insecure and it really gets to you. That’s what i talk about in my song, that’s out next year, Shame Resurrection. You have that resurrection of negative feelings and insecurity being brought up, every time someone shouts homophobic comments at you,” she explains, suddenly deeper in thought. “But when that happens, when someone is shouting across the street at you, you immediately want to shout back at them or hurl abuse back, right? But sometimes that’s worse. Things could escalate and become violent. So you know what I do? I smile at them. I’m polite or i say ‘oh, bless you’ or something, because then the tension is cut off. They’ve got no response, nothing to bite at.”
“I watched the documentary about Martha P Johnson and my mind was blown,”
The Young dark pop musician and alumni of the British institute of Modern Music, recently headlined London Pride festival, along with other Pride’s got talent finalists, and was hurt by the controversial events that happened there last weekend. “It was so lovely to see all of the people there being themselves and showing support for the LGBT+ communities. It was so inspiring to perform there and I felt so honoured to share the stage with such great performers, and singers like Mzz Kimberley [whom recently performed at Brighton’s own Golden Handbag awards, and acted as a judge at Pride’s got talent]. But the anti trans protest that happened there ruined all of that a bit; it put a bad turn on all the good that was done, and unfortunately creates a bad impression on the community. To me, trans women are women, and I know lots of lesbians that are really supportive of trans women, but that one group of anti trans protesters that happened to be lesbians could create a negative view of the whole community. It’s awful.” Despite the crushing effect the protest had, it’s imperative that we encourage change, rather than dwell on the negativity created by the event, Andrea explains. “I really think black pride is a good idea, even though it kind of goes against the idea of unity and everyone being free to celebrate pride with each other, by just having an event specifically for black LGBT+ people, black pride would be a good because LGBT+ people of colour are being treated unfairly and unfortunately that’s not just by Cis Straight people, but by those in the LGBT+ communities too. It would offer them the chance to celebrate freely, and will give the LGBT+ people of colour the platform they need.” She clearly cares deeply about this injustice, and is well versed in the history of our community. Her passion for fighting against transphobia ripples through her with a fierce energy, as we discuss the famous activist Marsha P Johnson, particularly. “Without her, we probably wouldn’t have all the things we have now; we wouldn’t have Pride or any of the basic human rights we now are allowed. She started the original Pride, and her and two other trans women of colour were directly involved in Stonewall. And yet she still hasn’t received justice, and trans women of colour are still treated unfairly.”
“If you’re a fan of drag race, you’re not a fan of drag,”
“Bi’s are treated so badly too,” she exclaims with a look of disbelief, as we discuss the divides in the LGBT+ communities. “They’re excluded from the straight community, but they’re rejected by the gay communities, so they’re just like ‘where do we go?’. They’re caught in the middle.” Unfortunately, this seems to ring true with the bi community at the moment. We seem to be pushed out of the community in a way, especially with the handling of bi characters on TV in shows like The L word (one of many faults with the show). And we’re not alone, the Non-binary community are also seeing mistreatment. But Andrea swiftly brings back a wave of optimism for our community. “I think Queer and Non-binary people are the future,” she smiles. “Because, in Latin and Literature studies I did at school, we found that in the Greek and Roman era homosexuality and gender fluidity was everywhere. It was normal. And maybe we’re headed back to that.” Hopefully it can return to this state soon, and Andrea is keen to help that process as much as she can. The warm artist is happy to help any other Queer people going through tough times. She tells me that she’s always up for answering any questions they may have, or helping them through the stages of accepting their identity. “If someones struggling and wants any help, they can contact me on social media or we can meet up in person. I’d love to help if i can,” She smiles. “I’ll answer questions a straight cis person may have, if they’re respectful and are genuine. But I’m not going to answer if someone just comes up to me on the street, or if it’s something like ‘how does it feel to be gender fluid’. I shouldn’t have to explain my identity. That’s disrespectful. That’s something they could Google and research first. We know all about the straight history and culture, we’re brought up with it, but they know nothing of ours. We research our culture to know more, so why shouldn’t they?” I’ve got to hand it to Andrea, she’s right.
After our engaging afternoon, deep discussions, and run around London for a cheeky picture, I come away feeling enlightened and somewhat hopeful. Maybe, with people like Andrea, the world that persecutes LGBT+ people, and the mistreatment we face on a daily basis, will crumble away. And just maybe, the future really will be gloriously queer.