I’m Bryony Kimmings. I’m a performance artist. But don’t let that make you hate me. It’s not all bleeding in galleries and shouting “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit” with Dennis Pennis (only die hard Spaced fans like me will get that reference.) Imagine me somewhere between Dave Gorman, Dawn Porter and David Attenborough. I am someone who uses their own autobiography, fascination with the planet and ability to express myself honestly to create theatre and film work that is accessible, raw, funny, honest and fucking fun.
I am writing this blog post for the Vagenda birds because I like their gutsy rip-roaring attitude and although I don’t agree with everything they say I find THAT is the joy of this blog. It goes there. It evokes lovely, lively, livid debate. So I wanted to choose something that has really been grinding my gears to fire at your eye holes.
Something. Came. Up.
In 2010 I wrote a one woman show called Sex Idiot. It was my first solo work having spent my twenties in an addled daze, making work in clubs. I was asked to write something on a commission. I was 30. I had just found out I had an STI (a very common, curable one) and I’d NEVER had a sexual health test. I was raging (mostly at my stupid self) so I proposed that as my topic to the venue wanting to commission me. The venue screwed up their nose and said “EW!” because ewwwing about a STI is, let’s face it, the bog standard reaction. Yet nearly everyone I know has had one. What the fuck did that mean?! Double standards and slut-shaming rang in my head and I knew I had to make a piece of work about it. Retracing my sexual footsteps to the source.
The show was a hit. I have done it over 100 times, in the UK, Europe, America and Australia. It’s a rampage through a woman’s sexual past. An unabashed confessional of the things most humans have experience of doing: breaking hearts, crying under windows, sleeping with strangers and forgetting to call. It involves condoms and speculums and jokes. It also infamously includes my song “The Fanny Song” and a rather daring audience even made pubic hair moustache. People like that show, it makes them happy.
But every time I do the show I am also faced with a perplexing and unchanging degree of sexism. It’s subtle. It’s that ingrained, lazy type. I am faced with the artist’s dream-joy of the press and the people in the places I visit actually enjoying the show. Tweeting, celebrating in a “thank god she finally said it” kind of way. YET the other endless aghast faces I still see in the crowd and the “Oh my god I can’t believe she did that” articles are always so disappointing.
“Yeah yeah I get it. That’s the fucking world we live in. Get over it. The show does it’s bit… Blah blah”
That, I would have accepted until a few months ago, when I heard that C4 had a cracking new idea for a TV show. An ingenious little concept about a human being who discovers they have an STD and goes on a colourful journey of 12 x 30 minutes episodes to retrace its existence. Sound familiar? Before you get too excited, it’s not my show. This one has A HUGE GLARING difference. The protagonist isn’t a mouthy, happy to talk about sex like an adult, warts and all, feminist superhero but a sad bog standard slut-shaming weasel of BLOKE. Even the title is a beard stroking, 80′s film fan wet dream-a-thon… It is … Wait for it…
Genius! You bellow.
Hilarious! You guffaw.
It’s a good title. Granted. But for one second let’s break down how this actually reads through a sociological and political lens. I am casting aside the fact that retracing your footsteps as entertainment is a well trodden path – it is (Broken Flowers, to name just one example) but my spin was (until now) unique (I bothered to check my references!) and I’m also shrugging off possible Cryptomnesia (the act of hearing an idea, forgetting and then completely believing it is your own) as the writer and I share the same agent. AND my work has featured in every paper in the land.
So from this I will directly take the following things:
1) In order for a story about sexual health to be palatable as an idea on a mainstream platform it MUST come from the white, heterosexual male view point. We just aren’t ready for Sex Idiots yet.
2) If the main character is a man we once again have the problem of women being painted as secondary citizens in sexual relationships. They are short term stories. They don’t get longevity or equal footing.
3) We are laughing at the opposite of what we laugh at in Sex Idiot. We aren’t laughing at our own awkwardness and liberation at a taboo being rugby tackled into submission and all the wonderful things this unearths but rather a reinforcement of the natural order. Blokes are in charge.
4) The Television (British not American – thank the lord for Girls and Orange is the New Black here) is NOT a feminist. In fact it is inherently super-charged towards perpetuating gender inequality. Because THAT, ladies and gentlemen, sells advertising space. Insecurity and anxiety are the means by which beauty products are sold to us lasses. Keep us down. Keep us buying.
5) Channel 4 has gone to the dogs (yeah like 10 years ago).
I know I’m generalising, mud-slinging, even… I know I sound angry. I am. Less about my ideas being nicked… I’m over it. I am a fucking fountain of ideas each more resplendent than the next. But more about the fact that we live in a world where the story of a girl getting fucking chlamydia is still shocking. Still a taboo.
SO. I am doing Sex Idiot at the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love this week as a loud protest against the likes of Scrotal Recall. I wasn’t planning on doing it in the UK ever again… but I realise that while we still have to dig around for ages to get these these sexual viewpoints exposed it is still a necessary thing to do and an important story to tell.
Hopefully I will see some of you lot there.
- Bryony Kimmings