Last night I got made a Dame because of my work as a fat activist.
I was at this place called Bird Club, which is a wild club night in East London, run by a woman called Bird la Bird. This sentence doesn't come anywhere near describing the world that Bird Club represents; specifically, an amazing mixture of politics, performance, old and new school homosexual women-ish people, mixed with saucy comedy, which itself is part of a lively, offbeat, often queer, clubbing culture in East London. Okay, that comes closer, but Bird Club is really unique too, thanks to Bird's vision, organisational powers and artistic sensibility. What can I say? It's a hoot, and one of the few places where I get cruised by hot fatty-loving dykes when I'm out and about.
So onto the Dame thing. People who live in the UK will probably know what it means to be a Dame. People outside, or beyond the British Empire's grasping claws, might not be so clued-in, so I'll explain. Basically, a Dame is a woman who the Queen, or King, but essentially the British establishment, has decided is a brilliant person. It's a rare honour to be made a Dame, it means you've really made it.
Sounds great eh? The only problem is that the Queen is the head of the British class system, as well as the figurehead for a power structure that ensures and enshrines privilege for the few at the expense of the many. Often this privilege is hereditary, you don't earn it, you are born into it. You don't have to be upper class to be a Dame, but it helps. The other thing is that titles such as Dame or Knight or whatever, which sound like they've jumped out of a jolly fairy tale, are related to British colonialism. If you don't know anything about the British Empire, I advise you to find out about this vile system of global oppression that the UK (but mostly England) spawned, because the values and symbols of its heyday still influence the British character and landscape today. So Dames and royal honours in general: not such a great thing. The Queen and all she stands for, not such a great thing either. I would love to see the Royal family disappear down the dumper, though there are probably monarchists reading this who would disagree.
I will never appear on any honours list produced by a British monarch and I wouldn't want to. I don't want people who uphold a system I hate to champion my work, such support would be an insult, it would be appropriation. I respect people who refuse to accept the honours when they are offered. But being made a Dame at Bird Club is a different matter. I'm thrilled beyond belief.
Back to the story. Part of Bird's genius is that she's managed to create a universe of her own, where things make sense even though they're quite strange. You may have read her manifesto in the sublime Femmes of Power (and look, there she is on the cover with Maria Mojo), and Bird Club is a living manifestation of that, and more. One of the things that Bird Club does is honour people who are worth honouring. Bird and her co-organisers do this by making people Dames. This is not a Queen-establishment-colonial type deal, it's a parody of that. Parodies are critical. Bird declares a hatred for the Empire, and although being a Dame at Bird Club is an honour, it's also acknowledged as an excuse for a bit of arse-kissing.
Last night I got called up to the stage in front of a couple of hundred of East London's finest dykes (and queers, trans'es, heteros, and friends... sorry for the erasure and thanks for the reminder Finn), cheering, to receive my honour: a golden budgie statue with a plaque that declares Dame Charlotte Cooper. I jumped for joy! I pushed people out of the way to get to the stage! Sorry! I got my arse kissed! It was brilliant. My investiture was shared with Dame Lindsay River and Dame Lois Weaver, two incredible and inspiring femmes whom I was proud to be among.
Whereas becoming a 'real' Dame would be like sucking the devil's teat, my new title feels like a beautiful blessing from the extraordinary community I come from. I'm not going to pretend I'm some rock hard character, I worry sometimes that I'm being too obsessive about fat, or 'taking it too far,' or believing in things that make no sense to most people. It can be hard to say things that don't win you any friends or which make people uncomfortable. But as a Dame I feel so encouraged, it makes me feel validated, and I'm totally grateful, and I'll keep doing my fat work with renewed determination. Thanks Birdy!
Bird Club Photos via the fabulous skull_bone's Flickr stream.