By: Amanda Sandström Beijer
Photos: Lukas Viar
They say that if you want to see the change, so be it. Something that Jay is a great evidence of. As the founder of ’Drag Energy Catwalk’ - they lead a cat walking workshop across Tempelhofer Feldt - as a way to share their message of unity, strength and acceptance.
Jay was born in Perth, Australia but never felt at home there. After moving around for a bit they settled in Berlin.
”I moved to Melbourne, then London and now Berlin. I love the freedom that Berlin can offer, to be naked in a park in the middle of the city is revolutionary to me and sits beautifully with my free spirit.”
”Later I became very connected to a queer community and space through Stretch Festival, hosted by The Village, after one of the festivals I thought ‘I could just not go back London.’ This feeling of belonging coupled with the oncoming Brexit was enough for me to make the move.”
The first time they visited Berlin wasn’t a very pleasant introduction to the city, however.
”It was in 2008 in the winter and I was sick with pneumonia. It was the first country I visited on my own where I didn't speak the language. To be honest I was scared and I really didn't like it. I hadn't found my groove. Then I came back many many times over the years to exhibit my art and became determined to figure out what the allure of Berlin was. Eventually I did!”
Meeting with Jay gives you an impression that they’ve had some time to live, trial and error. Today they are sober, vegan and successfully execute all kinds of creative projects.
”BABE, I have been around! Yes”, they laugh. ”My life started with a lot of experience and it’s been an ongoing wild ride ever since. I exhibit a lot, but there is so much more. I am currently trying to find outlets for what I feel is really important to share. Life experiences shared by others with me personally or through LGBTIQ history and my own trial and error shaped me more than anything, because being an independent, queer, creative, activist meant that mainstream culture didn't offer enough.”
”I definitely found ways to articulate emotion, trauma and now joy and connection in Berlin through sharing art, going to amazing workshops and now doing my own embodiment workshops. There is a lot of potential energy available in this city.”
Jay means that even if the switch to a sober lifestyle does change your whole lifestyle, it doesn’t have to change your interests and can be integrated in the life you already live.
”There’s a wonderful sober community here in Berlin, I have to say I’m not super connected with it but it’s there if you need it.”
”I still go dancing in clubs for two days but I just don't wake up feeling bad after it anymore. I have experienced Berlin sober and as a recreational drug and alcohol user and I much prefer the sensitivity I have now to discover the world without needing substances. If you can moderate your use that is fantastic, unfortunately I am very all or nothing and the negative affects eventually outweighed the positives. You never regret waking up feeling amazing, knowing, where you are and not having spent all your money.”
”I like that people don't question my choice here, I don't feel that people pressure me at all. People in Berlin are very much on their own journeys and there is room for me to be me. I just keep on dancing like a crazy ass machine! It gets tricky when it comes to dating but that is not a priority for me,” they laugh.
And the energy doesn’t stop. Jay founded ’ Drag Energy Catwalk’ and if you haven’t already seen them marching Tempelhofer Feldt down, you will want to, or be part of it yourself.
”It’s my baby and I love it! It started because I missed drag and didn't have space to prance around in heels at home potentially inciting the ire of my neighbors while punching holes in the wooden floors so I thought why not try it outside. I went to Tempelhofer Feld to ’WALK THE RUNWAY’ literally, since it’s an airport. I wanted to feel free and alive, I also wanted to claim my space in Berlin and not feel shy or ashamed of my queerness and interests.”
”Fortunately Tempelhof is a space for everyone with diverse interests and I love being out there with kite boarders, skaters, yogis and picnickers. Then I realized that the power, confidence and self-love I was generating from this process could be shared, I wanted more options of fun things to do in a sober setting so I formalized my methodology by writing a manifesto and invited people to come down and play.”
”It’s been very well received and we get so much love from ourselves, each other and passers by. I get to share my message of unity, strength and acceptance while having a fabulous time!
Only a few times have I been threatened by straight cis men when I’m training in my heels there and that only emboldens me in my conviction that this is my right and the simple act of walking becomes political as it has many times in history from the BLM, civil rights movement, feminism and LGBTIQA Pride. Everyday out there is a mixture of personal development and public protest!”
It may feel intimidating if you yourself hesitate to join in, and have only watched the confidence on the catwalk from afar. Although, as a teacher Jay quickly helps out with tactics to let go of the idea of perfectionism.
”Honestly I’m not the best catwalker, I mean I can stomp about in a heel but I really try to let go of perfectionism, this is about the feeling. I always tell people who come to my workshops, to get lost in their delusion and create the illusion. Don't film it and photograph it until the end because the experience is much more powerful than the ’how it looks’. You don't need to walk in heels in the workshop, people do it in trainers and barefoot as well.”
”I give a little tutorial on some technique but it’s really about conjuring Drag Energy. This energy comes from oppression transformed into expression and that is a special kind of magic that can change the world.”
Taking up space even if it’s not given to you takes confidence which is not given for any oppressed minority. Jay recently did a photo sketch from their investigation about the impact of the queer experience on trauma.
”I discovered throughout my whole life delving into my queer experience as an artist that trauma is given to us as LGBTI people and it’s a life of unlearning to let that go or transform it. Through that process of learning, investigating and unlearning we can make real changes to ourselves and by sharing that journey we can really help others and the wider community. We live in a very heterosexist world and I simply want to normalize our existence and feel safe.”
Creating safer spaces doesn’t exclude the environment - as a Costume Designer Jay doesn’t see an alternative to creating sustainable fashion.
”If you are creating anything in this contemporary context you must commit to sustainability or I feel your work is void of opinion on any subject and completely based on ego and capitalism.”
”It’s hard to work more sustainably sometimes but those restrictions breed change and that is essential for our survival. I love making things but no matter how incredible it is, it is just another thing, so make it count and lower its impact on the environment or there will be no more resources or people to costume anyway.”
Speaking of, we’ve been having a long year and may sometimes have to remind ourselves that it’s summer and things are slowly coming back to what somewhat resembles normality. Jay’s perfect summer day in Berlin may be what you should look into doing on your next day off.
”My perfect summer day includes waking up early with the sunrise, meditating, then cooking a stunning vegan breakfast with organic produce from the local street markets and package free supermarket. Packing a picnic and cycling to the lakes with friends where we can lay naked in the grass and swim feeling free and connected to nature.”
”Jumping back on our bikes and heading to Templehofer Feld where I host a Drag Energy Catwalk workshop. We pump up some music and dance and catwalk the runway at sunset waving at the passers-by and sharing the joy.”
”After that we’re grabbing some pizza and sit on the canal chatting about life and all its wonders. Heading home to my peaceful haven and reading until I fall asleep knowing tomorrow I wake up to this fabulous city once again.”
• Favourite restaurant: Magic Johns Pizza, Mitte. Frea, Mitte.
• Favourite lake: Schlachtensee for the rope swing, Teufelsee for the nudity and queers.
• Favourite clothing store: UY
• Favourite park: Tempelhofer Feld
• Favorite summer activity: Stretch Festival by The Village or Dose of Pleasure by Alvin Collantes
• Favourite (Berlin based) musician: Mikey Woodbridge
• Favourite hidden gem: Unverpakt the package free supermarket
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