House of Trannies
Text JF. Pierets Photos Ki Price
‘Out with political correctness! Tranny is an endearing and loving term used amongst the drag, lgbt and queer communities to describe anyone who is transvestite, dragqueen, or does not identify with any set gender role.’ There you go! House of Trannies is a collection of photographs, exciting tableaux, which explore the most colorful individuals and the families within the East London tranny & drag community. A unique collaboration between acclaimed artist Ted Rogers and celebrity portrait photographer Ki Price.
So no worries about the word Tranny?
Ted Well, this question comes up a lot. I think it depends on how you use the word. It’s the same way as when you say ‘gay’. When you call me ‘gay’ in an affirmative way, it’s perfectly fine. But if you say ‘that’s so gay’, in a negative way, it’s not. It’s very easy to turn a word into a negative affirmation. When I started this project, ‘tranny’ was a very positive word. It’s a loving word. For me and my friends it means ‘brother’, or ‘sister’, or ‘my non-gender descriptive friend’. It’s not offensive. And it’s also not something to use as a slur against transgender people. If the word ‘tranny’ would be offending all over the world, then I wouldn’t be out to distress anyone. But for me it’s still very widely used and there shouldn’t be a problem. And it shouldn’t be made into a problem either. If the rest of the world is going politically correct than maybe we should just fuck it. Just go against it and have fun.
You call yourself a Tranny.
Ted I call myself a Tranny because it’s an ‘in between’ word. You can also call me a dragqueen, yet I don’t quite do what is considered drag. I don’t always wear a wig and I leave on my facial hair. So you can call me a lazy dragqueen, or you can call me a tranny. My aim is not to look like a girl. My aim is to express my feminine aspects. I like to show them. Why shouldn’t I float around, show a leg or wear lipstick if that makes me feel sexy? Tranny is a word that goes beyond the box.
Isn’t it quite an unusual collaboration, the two of you?
Ki Yes and no. As a photographer I come from a documentary news background so I used to do a lot of social issues, a lot of stuff that had to do with drugs. I grew up with bohemian parents in a druggy environment, so it was kind of natural. You photograph what you see, what you know. I’m massively into sub-cultures and I do understand the principle of being looked at differently in life. Ted’s an old friend of mine, and a tranny, and we wanted to do a shoot together.
Ted The two of us, it’s indeed a weird combination. But it works! We met via mutual friends and since we seem to have quite a few affinities we started to chat, hang out.
Ki, you are working, amongst others, for The Times and Vanity Fair, you won the Canon prize for Best Image of London Fashion Week and your is work featured in Vivienne Westwood’s Memoirs. How was it to shoot a project like this?
Ki Well, it’s probably the best thing I ever shot. And I felt both greatly privileged and humble to be involved. Initially I’m an outsider, but when I shot Ted in the safe shop with the dog, we knew that the pictures would stand out. We knew that what we were creating was good. We believed in it and we were certain that other people would get involved. And the feedback I got was that they liked working with me, that they felt the love on the set. It wasn’t about trannies. It was about catching people’s emotions.
Ted It was about home, about a family.
‘Family’ means the people from Sink The Pink (themed London-based party collective made up of dancers, drag queens, colorful club kids and fashion trannies. Ref.)?
Ted Sink The Pink was my birth. Literally. I got asked to do a job for them as a dancer. Later they asked if I wanted to join the rehearsals and do drag with them. Now I’m doing it all the time. It’s such a colorful crowd of people. If you can go to a place where it’s encouraged to be loving and to be positive, than that’s the place you have to go to, to be yourself and to be free. You don’t have to be rich to be part of the East London club scene because you can be rich in creativity or imagination.
Ki So the idea behind the shoot was to celebrate that particular scene. Because of its overall positivism and loving experience.
You both particularly talk about the East London club scene. Is it a fairly new scene?
Ki The club scene always moves in waves. Living in London for so many years, the tranny scene wasn’t new to me. It’s almost even like it became trendy again. The interesting thing about the East London club scene is that in order to really indulge in it, you have to have courage. It’s a bit rawer than other drag groups. It’s very sexually liberated and not everybody has the guts to endure the insinuating looks that are thrown upon you. You have to have the imagination to go out and do it.
Ted For me it’s more or less a new scene. I’m quite young – I turned 23 just yesterday – and I only moved to London 2 years ago. There’s really not much for gay people in the suburbs of the UK. There are maybe some parts, on the outside of London or any mayor cities there, but there is really no gay scene at all. When I first came to London I went to Soho because I was told that it was the gay capital of the UK. I went on my own because I didn’t know any gay people nor did I have any gay friends.
Ted Well, courageous or stupid. Anyhow, I didn’t always enjoy Soho because I found it a little bit old-fashioned. Not hugely, but a little bit. The first East London club I went to was the Joiners Armes, which is recently shut down. It was the first gay club I’ve ever been to, where I felt like….happy. People wanted to talk to you, wanted to dance with you and they didn’t want to fight with you. That was my experience when it comes to the difference between East and West. Yet if that same group of people would move to the North, than it would be called the North London club scene.
Ki, you said the tranny scene is becoming trendy again. Can you elaborate?
Ki It can become trendy and people can come and watch it, but it will never become mainstream. It’ll always have that raw edge to it, and when something becomes conventional, it usually gets boring. I don’t think the East London club scene is ever going to become boring. It might have a wave of becoming less trendy, but it’s so full of designers, artists, musicians, producers that it’s always going to have that new creativity flowing through. I think it has the potential to last forever. And even if it shifts to another part of London, that kind of scene is always going to be there.
Ted Anytime something good happens, it’s going to become trendy. Things don’t become trendy because they’re mediocre. Like I said, I’m fairly new to all this and the way I look at it, it’s a response to the overall perception that society has on certain things. I genuinely believe that if there’s a powerful force that shows people who are having fun and expressing themselves in an attractive way, that it can change the world. It really has the power to liberate people.
‘If you can go to a place where it’s encouraged to be loving and to be positive, than that’s the place you have to go to, to be yourself and to be free. You don’t have to be rich to be part of the East London club scene because you can be rich in creativity or imagination.’
The Joiners Armes recently shut down, like many other gay clubs in London. What’s happening?
Ki They’re making place for .. new flats. London is rapidly changing and a lot of the gay clubs are closed because of expansion. It’s getting quite ugly. When you go to Soho in the future, you’re going to stay in a hotel in the middle of Soho. But the hotel where you are going to stay has knocked down all the culture that is around you. Soho is a mix of everything that is vibrant. It seems pointless to stay in a hotel, where you’re supposed to be seeing culture, but where nothing is left. Don’t you think? What’s the point? Where’s the thinking and the intelligence?
Ted I have two views on this. One is that it’s a natural thing. Areas will always become popularized, money will always take over and they don’t care about culture anymore. But two is that it’s actually very sad and there should be a preservation of culture. It’s not that I’m against money, it just can’t be the primary focus. It’s really sad that all these clubs are shut down because they need to build new flats. New flats that no-one can afford anyway. My generation, people my age, might as well give up their dream of ever owning property unless you are really, really successful. And I would like to have property but you’re supposed to accept that you shall never get a house. It makes me a bit angry that they shut down the places where we feel safe to go. Just because of money. But unfortunately the world is not as liberal as it thinks it is.
Do you have the feeling that by shooting ‘House of Trannies’, you made a time document?
Ki Definitely. As a photographer, I call myself a social anthropologist and I wanted to take portraits of real people. When you’re looking at drag series you often see some incredible stuff but you see quite some flat stuff as well. For me it wasn’t obvious to do this because I’m not gay nor was I part of that particular scene. But I knew that we could both make a very stylish shoot, and be realistic in the people we portrayed. Of course we made up a setting, but the people aren’t made up. It’s who they really are.
Ted And it’s not a fantasy world. It’s the real world. For me the emphasis had to be on celebrating people. Not about creating an image and using the people as Barbie dolls. That’s another thing I like, yet not what we wanted to do with this project.
Ki Ted kept on saying to me that the pictures had to show the love.
Ted For me it’s one of the chances to give back to the people who have given me a new life, really. I mean, I was so bored. So bored of life and it was so hard to live in London and then last year I get to do this job for these people and six months along the line I’ve been everywhere. With these wonderful, colorful people who totally changed my perspective on life. Totally reintegrated my hope, my faith in creativity and fun. People who are not afraid to have and express their emotions and feelings. That’s why it was so important that the series was real. Trannies are out worldly creatures, they are next level beings, beyond what you would ever expect. I think it’s a privilege for anyone to be able to even become a part of it.
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