II. Representing Queer Love
Queer hosts Niamh and Maia talk about their first date, queerbaiting and lost cats. Joined by poet Troy Cabida.
Queer hosts Niamh and Maia talk about their first date, queerbaiting and lost cats. Joined by poet Troy Cabida.
Please note this episode contains explicit language, references to homophobia and sexual references.
Niamh Haran (they/them) is a queer non-binary poet/writer from North London. They are a Roundhouse Poetry Collective alumnus with poems in Bath Magg, Perverse, The Interpreter’s House, The Babel Tower Notice Board and Ink Sweat & Tears among others. They are currently doing an English BA at King’s College London. Twitter @niamhjerrie Instagram @niamh.haran
Maia Yolanda Wagener (she/they) is a Dutch/Indian writer and student living in London. An English major, Maia enjoys writing poetry and plays, and hopes to combine academia and playwriting. You can find Maia on instagram, @m.wagener.s, and twitter, @maiaywagener.
Troy Cabida is a Filipino poet and producer for open mic night Poetry and Shaah. His pamphlet, War Dove, was published by Bad Betty Press in May 2020 and can be found at: https://badbettypress.com/product/war-dove-troy-cabida/
Produced by Arden Fitzroy (they/them) @ArdenFitzroy
The RISE Collective
Arden: Everybody welcome! You’re listening to the AMPLIFY podcast, brought to you by The RISE Collective. We champion creatives and build collectives at the forefront of social change. I’m Arden Fitzroy, Lead Producer, and this is Queer Joy, the second series of AMPLIFY. This series was created by the next generation of creative leaders and changemakers. These are our own stories, on our own terms.
Maia: Hello everyone and welcome to AMPLIFY's episode of The Niamh and Maia show where we, Maia—
Niamh: and Niamh—
Maia: will be talking about queer love, more specifically, we'll be looking at queer relationships, with both other people, and with our own queerness.
Niamh: I like the sound of that.
Maia: The word queer is actually a new one for us, isn't it.
Niamh: Yeah, it definitely is, I mean I love the word but some of my families can't seem to say it yet because they still think of it as an insult, we only started using it relatively recently because it just became more apt for us I think as individuals, and I believe in our relationship. For me it started to bridge the gap between gender and sexuality.
Maia: I definitely agree. I think the word has become more suitable I definitely feel a lot less restricted using the word queer despite having uncomfortable feelings about it in the past, I think link to like you said, people haven't previously used that as an insult, maybe.
Niamh: Yeah, I mean personally I rejected the term for quite a while, but in the last year or so, I've been engaging with people who embrace the word so much. It just gives me some sense of relief when some days I don't know what I am because it allows for that uncertainty that not knowing, and the potential for movement and experimentation without what feels like the same level of emotional consequence.
Maia: Yeah I definitely agree, despite all the uncertainty, we are going to try and make this podcast as positive as we can. Most representation is so focused on the difficulties of navigating identity and relationships and we really want to offer something a bit different, with a bit of joy.
Niamh: Yeah, I mean I think we're a bit tired of talking about the hardships, queer love is something that deserves to be celebrated and holding on to that joy is so important, and shouldn't be overlooked.
Maia: Absolutely, who thought you'd be so sentimental Niamh!
Niamh: Well I wouldn't push it.
Maia: Well, yesterday we were singing Maroon 5 together so don't try too hard to play cool.
Niamh: Well those lyrics needed some updating, instead of saying she will be loved we were singing, they will be loved. I think it feels very empowering to share queer love in all its forms sentimental or otherwise, with other people, with our listeners.
Maia: Which is why we'll also be interviewing our first very talented guest today, Troy Cabida, poet and producer whom we both have the pleasure of knowing. We’ll be chatting with him about the relationship between queerness and creative work feelings around representation and what inspires him.
Niamh: We will, which is really exciting. We will also be chatting about some fairly recent queer representation and our thoughts around it. So we will also be talking some more about ourselves, most likely.
Maia: And we're at least semi qualified to do so, we are in a queer relationship after all, with each other.
Niamh: I hope so, at least I think we are. I wonder how many times we're going to be saying the word queer in this podcast.
Maia: Many, many times Niamh.
Niamh: Yeah I'd say being in a relationship, we know a thing or two! But more on that in a minute.
Niamh: Welcome back listeners. As I was saying, Maia and I are in a relationship, and have been for about a year and a half I think. I literally lived in Maia's uni accommodation for this time, got free food, so I'd say it's been alright.
Maia: It's really crazy to think year and a half ago we just met.
Niamh: I know. We met in Camden for our first date on a very rainy Tuesday, Maia had already eaten and made me eat alone which was which was quite a stressful experience.
Maia: I was just really nervous, I don't think I'd have been able to stomach anything anyway. I think Niamh will say I was mean but I was just trying to be cool, I think it's really daunting trying to impress someone you already know you like, we've been speaking already for a couple of months. So it was just all very overwhelming. I even tried to pretend I didn't want to go on a second date to seem cool, you know, go with the flow, we can guarantee I'm not, but Niamh was so cute and drank from a straw like a cat drinks milk, and brought out my sentimental side straight away.
Niamh: We actually tried to adopt a cat recently but the shelter was ageist and said we were too young.
Maia: Makes no sense but I guess we've got more important things to do than clean the litter tray.
Niamh: Like what?
Maia: Like watching Grey's Anatomy.
Niamh: That is true. We have been binging it for a couple of months now. Maia is basically a surgeon, I'd say I'm getting there, but not quite.
Maia: Maybe not now, in a past life. I did used to try and figure out what was wrong with patients on Grey's, but I didn't get very far.
Niamh: To be fair, sometimes I do wish I was an architect, I'm just obsessed with looking at converted shipping containers that have now become literally kind of every other suggested post on my Facebook feed. Takes up a lot of my time!
Maia: Well there's always a way Niamh, but we're not surgeons or architects, we're students actually.
Niamh: Yes we are. I'm Niamh, my pronouns are they/them, I'm an English undergrad in London at King's, I'm also a poet and musician. I play Irish traditional music specifically the flute, and Uillean pipes. I'm also interested in theatre, and just seeing where life takes me I guess.
Maia: Yes you are. I'm Maia, I'm doing a liberal arts degree majoring in English, I play music too, as Niamh mentioned. I play some Maroon 5 tunes here and there. If you need a two-person band to make everyone cry at your wedding just shout us. I also write, I've been lucky enough to work with the Kiln Theatre in writing a short play for Out in March, but I'm also interested in poetry, but my pride and joy will always be my Spotify playlist. I curate the best you have ever heard.
Niamh: I have to agree I have to agree, I am your most loyal Spotify follower, I believe.
Maia: I think you definitely are.
So now that you know who we are. It's time for you to meet our fabulous guests Troy Cabida. Troy is a Filipino poet and producer based in southwest London. His debut pamphlet War Dove was published by Bad Betty Press in May 2020, which for any of our poetry and non-poetry lovers, you should definitely check out. I first met Troy at the Roundhouse poetry collective last year, when we were figuring out who we wanted to feature Troy was definitely one of the first names that came to mind and we're super excited to share his work with you.
Niamh: Hi, Troy, thanks so much for agreeing to be our first guest ever.
Troy: Thank you for having me. I didn't know I was the first guest.
Maia: So nice to meet you properly.
Troy: You too Maia, hi.
Niamh: So to kickstart things, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Troy: Hi my name is Troy Cabida. I'm a poet, I'm a producer, I'm a university student, I'm currently at Birkbeck University. Well, online, but I'm at Birkbeck and I'm doing. Psychosocial Studies. My first year. I'm also working as a library assistant for Wandsworth libraries, and I have a another part time job in a shop called Wild Ones it's a crystal shop in Chelsea.
Niamh: That sounds very cool. And yeah, like that online uni stuff.
Maia: But it's yeah, it's so cool to speak to an emerging poet when we kind of, we really need some creativity at the moment.
Troy: Thank you for saying that.
Niamh: So before we hear you, reading a poem of yours. We're very interested, I guess, how you feel that queerness intersects with your writing or, you know, if it doesn’t, like that's cool too.
Troy: Yeah. So, so my poetry. I really started getting published in 2013, and that was way before I formed an understanding of my sexuality, and I came out in November, no sorry October 2017, it was a very stressful time, and I had been in my second year of the Barbican Young Poets, which is a programme at the Barbican where it's a workshop, community as well of poets that come every other Wednesday and learn poetry and from each other and stuff like that. And that, that whole period of coming into terms of my sexuality understanding that oh I like women, I like men. Sometimes I don't like anyone sometimes I like everyone. And it's, um, that, that whole experience would have been a lot harder. If I didn't have poetry in the community, it's more about the community that I had at the time, I had a lot of friends who were just able, were just listening, and they allowed me to just vent, and to offload and to just let me feel things. And then at the same time whenever I did end up writing something about it, they would, you know, be constructive about it but they were also very warm about it. So, I think that made my relationship with poetry a lot more intimate and a lot more trusting because I had that sort of image in my head that there will be warmth and there will be support and there will be trust and there will be community. And, again, alternatively speaking that, without me understanding my own sexuality I wouldn’t have experienced that community from poetry, which I'm very thankful for.
Niamh: Yeah, really powerful poetry community isn't it.
Troy: Yeah, because poetry in itself is already a very intimate art form, like to sit down in front of a screen and to just write something down and then you have to look at what you're writing afterwards, that's scary like I always forget how scary that is, but you know like you, we were in the same community space where that was encouraged and to mess up, or to be scared or to you know to write something that you're never going to want to look at again and make that okay, that for some reason, for me that spilled into my relationship with my sexuality. That's the best way of thinking is very, very thankful, and thankful, yeah.
Maia: That's, that's really beautiful it's really yeah it's amazing to hear something like that and to know that that kind of space exists. Yeah, you can put that into your writing and like love for yourself at the same time, kind of owning who you are, and like you were saying you know you have to look back at your work you have to, you know, you have to read everything again.
Troy: There's also this thing where I would write poems that, you know, were about a really distressing time. And, you know, I see poetry in two ways: it's a creative thing and it's also like a business thing, you have to think about it as a job a lot. And a lot of the times the poems you're writing about are very emotional, but at the same time you have to think back at them think, okay, Well I'm going to have this publish I'm going to have to perform I'm going to have people like consume this in a way and I have to think about it quite critically. So, that means I have to keep editing them all the time. And I remember when the pamphlet got signed for publication, I was really scared because I had to look back at these poems, over and over and over again for like a year before they came on and then have to keep promoting them and then I have to keep reading them. So, my relationships with the poems that were dealing with those really stressful times kind of affected my relationship with myself as well, and my experiences with them because I kind of had to deal with them in a way which was productive. I'm not gonna say it was fun, but it was very productive.
Maia: It's really interesting I'm writing a short play at the moment, a monologue, and it's pretty much about me and that's been a really interesting process characterising my life and making that like a persona and really having to look at myself.
Troy: And then you have to remember that oh my god I have to get this published I have to send this email, it's a submission, all of a sudden it’s now a passage of emotions, it becomes something you have to send over right.
Maia: It's like, is this how I want people to see me, is like a part of myself, like, is this what I want to show the world.
Troy: Yeah, I remember just before I came out, I had a poem accepted into a journal and I had to like take it back, because I was really scared of what people were gonna say like, I never want a poem published, and then me not promoting it and not sending like ‘check it out!; because that's a shame I don't want to let the journal down, but that poem was a little too personal for me at the time and I remember feeling really terrible was like oh that's a shame because I really wanted to publish. But at the same time emotional, I don't feel like I can handle the questions, because there will be uncles and aunties asking me on Facebook!
Niamh: Yeah, that's the thing as well.
Troy: Exactly like why did you write that poem like what's happening right now? I'm not ready to tell you yet!
Niamh: Yeah, I guess another thing that we are kind of interested in discussing is representation. Do you feel that romantic relationships, then yeah, TV/film are presented, accurately, or healthily even?
Troy: Interesting, when I watch movies or just sort of like drown out, but the first the first movie that I remember from what you asked me was the Old Guard which came out last year on Netflix. Charlize Theron and this gang of immortals, who fight crime basically on this on, like, in silence. And there's this couple of guys who the movie never talked about the relationship until they get kidnapped and they were like, oh, I can't remember scene but basically just randomly told, the movie that they’re together, and it was no, it was never a spectacle, it was never like oh my god they’re gay, oh my god I can't believe that! It was more like, you know, of course, they've been together for years. Why would that be a problem. So that's a very powerful and positive form of representation for me, because the movie never made like a profit out of them being gay, it was just, yeah, they are a couple and anyway, we've got to beat these guys up!
So that’s one thing that I remember. In poetry there is a lot more diversity, which I am very thankful for, and I think poetry is more advanced in that way. I can’t say the same for TV! I remember one of my best friends recommended me the show Grace & Frankie. I love that show very much, but my friend was like, can you just watch the first season for me and see if it's appropriate, because they show the two guys as like, you know coming out and then they get married.
And I watched the season, it's like, I don't want to be offended, but I see why people would be, because the way the relationship was portrayed was. This is normal, but the hate and the jokes and the, and all this sort of funny bits, is valid and we get to make fun of them and stuff like that but, so it's a double-edged sword for me. I don't know if I'm answering your question. But yeah!
Maia: But yeah, yeah, you definitely are. I think that's really interesting about Grace and Frankie, because I love that show. Yeah. But even in the shows that we love, I think there can be a lot that's quite problematic. And, I mean it's interesting because the woman who plays Frankie is a lesbian, like would she have said something about the way that it was scripted and the way that the gay couple were angled towards the audience, like, yeah, would there have been a conversation about that?
Troy: Because I feel like that show, as progressive as it wants to be, I feel like that show whenever it talks about the gay relationship is always in the service of straight audiences. It's always in like, you know, they don't want to get too intimate. They don't want to get too absorbed in whatever the relationship is because it might alienate the straight audiences, but it's like you're alienating another form of audience though, because I'm watching this here and I'm thinking, poor them, poor Saul and the other guy, I can't remember the name but yeah!
Maia: Is it Robert?
Troy: Robert. Yeah! Robert and Saul yeah, and it's like poor them, but then the jokes are like, oh I bet they're gay, so it's okay, but like no it’s not, you have to be a little critical of this.
Maia: Yeah, even in the kind of small things like their interests, they like musical theatre and Barbra Streisand, and all these kind of stereotypes that cater to the audience that want to see Jane Fonda, who will be most likely older, like my grandma loves it. So you know, to her it's really funny. Yeah, you know, progressive. But there's a lot to pick apart.
Troy: Yeah, that reminds me of Love Simon, the Nick Robinson film, which came out in 2018, and at that time I was in shambles personally because I had just come out of the closet. A lot of my friends, they were homophobic but in a way that's like, I don't understand why you're crying. Why are you crying like it's okay like it's legal, you get to you know be whatever you want, but they're not seeing the emotional turmoil that's happening inside of you, you know what I mean like, they don't get it. And then the movie came out and everyone loved it and I really liked it as well. But in my head I'm thinking this is what straight people must think about what it's like to be queer, that it’s just one incident of, I come out of the closet and then Whitney Houston plays.
Maia: Liza Minnelli pops up out of nowhere.
Troy: Exactly, exactly like rainbows everywhere which is not the case. I always say when I, when I start my sets, understanding your sexuality and coming to terms with it doesn't end the story, because that's one of the few things that you can control, because after that, there's a lot of things you can’t control, and these are the things that people don't notice. Or they don't validate.
Maia: Someone had said that people who are kind of homophobic in like a big way like will use horrible language towards you are easier to handle than the people who are like, ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ kind of people. Yeah, that is really hard to navigate, it's really hard to feel just anger, there's a lot of sadness there. Whereas if someone's like being aggressive you can kind of use that anger to protect yourself. But in those closed environments, handling that can be really really difficult.
Troy: Yeah, because if you see it like a someone on the street, you know, calling your names. That's just like a one-dimensional experience. But if you have someone who who you have a more intimate relationship say that say that, ‘Oh I accept you, but at the same time I don't believe that that's right.’ Where do you fit yourself emotionally like—well, can I still tell you things? So there's that double-edged sword. I totally hear you there.
Maia: Yeah, definitely, I think, I mean, terms can put you in a box, sometimes. We said in our introduction to this podcast, that the word queer for us is probably the most suitable because it's broad, and it doesn't need to be anyone's business, what the specificity of that is, you know, it kind of allows room for those who understand, for kind of, acceptance of your whole self, and not just your sexuality or your gender but the whole thing.
Niamh: Yeah, bits of you.
Troy: It gives you space to just sort of be like, ‘Ah!’ [relieved sigh] And I really, I've learned that lately, as well.
Maia: Well, now that we know more about you. Why don't we get on to talking about the poem that you've recorded for us. I'm really curious to know what exactly inspired you, either for the poem or the pamphlet as a whole.
Troy: So the poem I am choosing is ‘Interviewing Marilyn, 1955’, and I wrote it in response to this television interview that I watched on YouTube of Marilyn Monroe with this television host Ed Murrow. So in 1955 Marilyn left her contract with 20th Century Fox like against her contract, she breached it, and she went to New York City to study acting and be an actual creative artist rather than celebrity, and these people came in to like okay, well, why did you do that, we miss you in Hollywood. Why are you in New York City, it's like oh I kind of want to reach out, I kind of want to do my own thing, and like you know be an actual artist. And I really found that really profound because when you think of Marilyn, you just think sex bomb and, you know like, very one dimensional character, even in poetry, she's still quite one dimensional and almost in an objectified way. I couldn’t find any poems that sort of humanise her, I sort of, I was like, that's not cool. I wrote this poem to give space for that side of her where she wanted to be herself.
Maia: That sounds really, really interesting. Yeah, that sounds amazing.
Troy: She even wrote poems herself as well, she never got them published and someone published them after her death, and not a lot of people knew that about Marilyn.
Niamh: I didn't know that. Yeah, you learn something new every day.
Troy: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Niamh: Yeah, that sounds fascinating. We're really excited to hear your poem. We feel very honoured to have had you on here, and everybody makes sure to keep an eye out for Troy, in the future.
Troy: thank you again for having me. Niamh I miss you so much.
Niamh: I know!
Troy: The last time we saw each other was like in Hawkwood college and like February last year, it's crazy.
Niamh: Nearly a year ago.
Troy: Exactly. So my Twitter and my Instagram handles are @troycabida and I have a debut pamphlet, which released last year in May, by Bad Betty Press called War Dove which my poem is included in, so thank you for having me.
Troy: Interviewing Marilyn, 1955. Her expressions, like a body of water. Her words, feather offerings to the wind. She’s wishing for no more heavy jewellery, airplane rushes, and midnight arguments that spike upon landing. She’s going to treat people as she wants to be treated. Her new form of prayer. Awkward, at first, but the plan here is to seek freedom inside a chrysalis, heal from butterfly to caterpillar, sure and solid of self. The brim overflowing with all kinds of tomorrow. Thank you, that poem was called Interviewing Marilyn, 1955, and it’s part of my debut pamphlet, War Dove, which is available now with Bad Betty Press.
Niamh: So that was Troy, and a beautiful reading of Interviewing Marilyn, 1955.
Maia: Very beautiful. I also really enjoyed hearing about his take on creative community and queerness and having a safety net in that space while you're kind of delving into yourself, I feel like he really communicated those thoughts in a very beautiful and concise way.
Niamh: Yeah, it was a very wholesome and honest conversation. So on the topic of representation that we discussed a little with Troy, why don't we talk about that episode of Soulmates we watched last night.
Maia: Oh gosh yeah that that was really something. It was episode two, called Little Adventures of the Amazon series Soulmates, starring Laia Costa, Shamier Anderson and Georgina Campbell. For those of you who haven't seen the show yet, or don't know what it is, each episode explores a different couple and the consequences of taking or not taking a soulmate compatibility test, that has kind of taken the world by storm, so they can find out if their significant other is their soulmate or find out who their soulmate really is via this test.
Niamh: Yeah I had quite high expectations, because the trailer showed that it was created by the people who made, I think Black Mirror and Stranger Things, it was one of the two queer episodes in the series and I instantly became very sick from it like one minute I was fine. And then suddenly I had a really bad stomach and felt very fatigued, it was a very strange experience.
Maia: For those who don't want spoilers, it may be best for you to skip ahead a few minutes. In short, it's about a couple, Adam and Libby, who are in an open relationship, and are confronted with the depth of their trust in one another when Libby reveals that she has taken the test, and her soulmate turns out to be, Miranda. The boyfriend agrees to meet Miranda and the three of them spend a week together but nothing really happens until a few weeks later Libby receives a phone call from Miranda who needs her. They sleep together and end up deciding to pursue a relationship without Adam. The relationship is rocky and Libby really misses Adam. So it turns out, Adam is about to meet his soulmate too. Cut to the end—Adam’s soulmate arrives to Adam, Miranda, and Libby proposing a polyamorous relationship where they can all get what they need, instead of seeking it all from one person.
Niamh: That was a lovely synopsis.
Maia: Thank you. I wrote it myself.
Niamh: Yeah, I just felt that episode affected my body very physically, and I had to get into bed afterwards and tried to sleep it off, I think it was because I was a bit disappointed with how queer love was depicted. For the first while I was very scared that they were just queerbaiting. I'm happy they weren’t but for some reason it still felt like queerbaiting. And that made me feel very stressed. I think maybe it annoyed me that there had to be a cis heterosexual sex scene, in one of the only queer episodes, like you know let us have more screen time! I was hoping for something a bit more like San Junipero, which is that queer episode of Black Mirror.
Maia: Yeah it definitely did feel like queerbaiting. I think the image of this cishet guy sat with three women around him made me feel really annoyed, and kind of perpetuated the stereotype that queer people aren't suited to monogamy. And also, I don't know, it made me feel like queer relationships are still being viewed through the male gaze, and it felt very much like a patriarchal representation of like female sexuality and like queerness is kind of something to be observed by men.
Niamh: Yeah, yeah, it's definitely become way more difficult to watch relationships falling apart on TV now that I'm in one, that still affects me, if the relationship aren't even queer, which is which is quite interesting for me. I think the show was quite testing though. We were both sitting here asking each other, and then confirming that if something like a soulmate test actually came out that we wouldn't take it because it wouldn't matter.
Maia: Yeah, I don't think I would take it I think we're as much soulmates as we need to be.
Niamh: Of course I wouldn't take it either. I just don't believe it anyway, and that anything like that could really happen. It would well, maybe it will I don't know, it would just match you though in terms of compatibility and compatibility isn't enough.
Maia: It isn’t, there's obviously so much more to it, I mean there's an element of being in a lasting happy relationship that requires much more than just getting on and being suited to each other, you really have to wake up every day and make a choice, and like I choose to be with you and live with you, if that makes sense, although not that I believe in it, our costars are crazy similar.
Niamh: Yeah, they really are. We're both. We're both rising Sagittarius. Moon Sagittarius, and obviously, our Sun is in Taurus because we're May babies.
Even though I don't totally believe in that stuff. It feels good when they're so similar. I was so shocked actually when I found out my friend was also working it out for us at the time and couldn't believe it.
Maia: Yeah, I remember you very early on, what's happening, like, what's your time of birth, and I thought, oh no, here we go. But I think it's that extra validation, maybe.
Niamh: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think you figured out quickly what it was up to, didn't you, yeah.
Maia: But anyway, something's working, still together, going strong.
Niamh: Exactly, so to complete the episode, it turns out that there's some hope. We're proof of it. So our friends and fellow creators, we’re so proud to share other queer people's work and get some insight into what it means to them.
Maia: So, so proud, I think we can all agree that queer love needs to be represented as leading to beautiful things as it so often does in real life.
Niamh: Oh yeah, I mean, you know, beautiful poetry we've witnessed, nourishing conversations with each other, with our guests, and community.
Maia: So thank you so much for tuning in everyone we're so grateful to be here. Don't forget to tune in to Amplify regularly and hit that subscribe button!
Niamh: And share, like one of those early secondary school email chains. Seems like most of those people ended up coming out as queer!
Niamh: True, true so share! Share for the queers!
Arden: This podcast was brought to you by the RISE Collective. Thank you to Mahla Axon, Amy Parkes, Kyle Blackburn, Sarisha Kumar, Max Sanderson, and Claude Barbé Brown. Music by Pembroke. We would also like to thank the Young Londoners Fund for making this series of AMPLIFY possible. If you’d like to find out more about RISE and support our work, visit our website www.therisecollective.org.uk, or follow us on Twitter @RiseAmplify or Instagram @therisecollectiveuk. See you next time on AMPLIFY.