Voices from ‘Hear Us Out’ – participant Persia West on reaching a time of balance and contentment

May 9, 2020

Hear Us Out is a new verbatim theatre festival celebrating the lives of older LGBTQ+ people. Over the past year New Writing South has been collecting the stories of older LGBTQ+ people across south east England and is now working with a community collective of writers and performers to turn these stories into pieces of performance.

The project has changed slightly due to the Covid-19 situation. The performances were originally due to take place in residential homes, day centres, Pride events, libraries and museums, with the main production taking place at Brighton’s Sallis Benney Theatre, but all of this is currently on hold.

Hear Us Out is working out how all their meetings, workshops, rehearsals and performances can take place without anyone having to leave their homes – perhaps online or through local broadcast media. A fundamental aim of the project was to tackle social isolation faced by older LGBTQ+ people by bringing everyone together. While we may not be able to get together in the outside world for a while, Hear Us Out hopes instead to bring a sense of togetherness and community to the comfort of people’s own homes as many self-isolate.

If you would like to stay up to date with the project and find out how to get involved, please keep an eye out for the soon-to-launch websit

The New Age:

Hear Us Out participant Persia West writes on reaching a time of balance and contentment laced with unexpected new excitement:

It came as a surprise one day to realise I was now in the third age of life, past both the first age of childhood and adolescence, and the second, middle bit when we work and make careers and children maybe, commute, work too hard and have a life of running round making it all happen. This stage of life might be tiring, but at least we have an identity that people, and we ourselves, can relate to. And it’s great for friendships and the fruit of labour and much more.

Like just about everyone in that stage of life, while I was living it I feared the dark doom of age, wrinkling and sagging, joints aching, descending into futile

uselessness, invisibility and other myths. But just like the myths we LGBTQ+ people are subject to in the minds of others – and ourselves if we aren’t careful – they’re not exactly true.

However, in my long life I’ve spent long periods of time in India, meditating and studying their profound philosophy, and in their traditional culture this third age is a special time, when we have our lives more for ourselves than before. We can stand back and have time to watch the world, and as by this age we’ve seen it all, have a wiser way of seeing.

And, as a meditator, I have time to go deep, move into the spiritual essence of myself in a deeper way than ever. In fact, have more time for everything. I sent a photo of my sunny picnic spot by the flood plain outside Henfield to my son a while ago and he groaned, feeling envious of my freedom as he worked another busy day. Says he can’t wait to get as old as me. Needs no talent at all, kid, just keep eating and it’ll come your way faster than you imagine.

Not that it’s all roses for all of us always. It’s also the time when the way we’ve treated our bodies and minds, and the secret inevitabilities of our genetics and destinies emerge and affect how we move and feel, and how we’ve worked and saved and been responsible reflects in our finances. So I’m physically very fit and well in mind and spirit – most of the time that is – but never did save for that pension so I’m not money fat, but in the modesty I live within have actually more than enough.

When I heard of the Hear Us Out project in New Writing South I joined it with interest. Older people doing something creative and valuable, I thought, can’t be bad. Well, it turned into one of the most interesting things I’ve done in years.

First of all, the people, all older than they used to be, a mix of ages and backgrounds but all queer in some particular way of their own. I just love them, honest I do. There is a creative buzz in the air, engagement and good humour, inspiration… hold on! This doesn’t sound like the crumbly oldies! So we don’t meet the myth – sorry about that. I’ve spent ages listening to the very real humour, the stories with meaning, the wisdom of my friends in our shared space. And I love the open respect among us; whoever and whatever you are is not just accepted, people lean forward and listen.

And I’m an old dog that’s learned new tricks with Hear Us Out. Following the skilled Dinos Aristidou, our artistic director, theatre director and creator of artistic marvels, I’ve actually performed Verbatim Theatre. What’s that, you may ask?

I’ll answer my question by telling you what I did. One evening last autumn, at the Coast Is Queer literary festival run by New Writing South, I was onstage with headphones over my ears, listening to a profound and moving story told by a woman, in our age group, we had recorded in the first stage of the project, and I was repeating her words as they sounded in my head into a mic for the audience to hear. Verbatim; her words, recreated through my ears, brain and voice. It’s oddly powerful, another world, and has to be heard to be understood.

The idea was, and is, to have several of us practiced and skilled in this strange art. The coronavirus lockdown has thrown it in the air, so we will have to see how the changed plans work out. But worth hearing, believe me.

So here I am, over 70, full of interest and new skills, with fine friends. How interesting it is too to have Lee, young and trans, watching and listening, as they write in the piece alongside this one. So age has its challenges, but my goodness it has its sweetness too if we have the good fortune to have decent health, enough money, and friends who count.

And where in the world better to be older and queerer than dear Brighton, sunny outside my window as I write.