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Neither Maid nor Man: In Conversation with Alex Garden

A snapshot in time of English folk music, queer visibility, and gender non-conformity

Alex Garden is a fiddle player, guitarist, composer, and producer with a unique approach as a result of ten years experience performing folk, classical, and improvised music around the UK. Alex uses they/them pronouns. Their projects include The Drystones, Sheelanagig, Tarren, Harriet Riley & Alex Garden, The Terra Collective, and The Longest Johns, and they also produce a variety of collaborative work as a recording artist alongside this. Their longest running project, The Drystones, has been nominated for the BBC Young Folk Award and received an Arts Council England project grant in 2021 for a new tour, with a mission to involve more younger audiences in UK Folk music. 

CJLPA: How were you introduced to folk music, and what encouraged you to pursue your passion for folk music as a career?


Alex Garden: As a child from a Scottish family living in England I was introduced to ceilidhs and traditional songs and tunes. This, combined with a proximity to the incredible Priddy Folk Festival in Somerset and encouragement from an amazing violin teacher, led me to playing folk tunes on the fiddle in my free time. As teenagers at our local comprehensive school, Ford Collier and I discovered an overlapping passion for traditional music and we started playing together as The Drystones when we were around fifteen.[1] Along our journey we were very fortunate with the experiences we had, such as playing at Glastonbury Festival multiple times, appearing on BBC radio programs, supporting our heroes onstage, and producing our debut studio album. The opportunity for young people to have these experiences and to truly believe that they can make a living out of their music is very rare. We were extremely lucky to have been given the space and time to develop as young musicians and it's something I cherish every day.


A career in folk music is not particularly glamorous or financially lucrative. I seem to spend a lot of time in fields, motorway service stations, and the odd night sleeping on hay bales in a barn. However, the community, creativity, and the love it brings me is incredible.


CJLPA: What is your approach to instrumental music? What makes it unique?


AG: My approaches to all music vary from project to project, and day to day. Some projects, like my trio Tarren, are rooted in specific traditions; in this case the English tradition.[2] Others, like The Drystones, are informed by folk music more broadly, and fuse electronic, techno, and prog genres together. Then there are more theatrical shows with Sheelanagig, and a unique duo project with Harriet Riley on vibraphone which brings together folk, minimalism, and jazz through entirely new compositions.[3] Generally, I love writing and improvising new music within a broader view to reworking old material. One constant throughout my work is trying to achieve perpetual fresh perspectives within the living tradition.


CJLPA: Tarren has recently been awarded a grant from the English Folk Dance and Song Society, which you are using to research gender in English traditional song. How is harmful gender discrimination visible in English traditional song and folk music more broadly?


AG: When we talk about folk music we are generally discussing music, dance and text, which dates back to a time where this material was passed on and recycled through the aural tradition. This works a little like the game Chinese whispers, where each time the material is passed from person to person it changes slightly, either by accident or deliberately. The reason many of these songs still exist today is that they were being transcribed and written down by folk song collectors, such as Cecil Sharp, who was mostly active during the Edwardian period. Sharp is a controversial figure often accused of being racist and fascist. However, in order to keep this section about gender and music, I will let you do your own reading around this to form your own judgements. Through the work of these collectors, we see that that a lot of songs, tunes, and texts have a wide diaspora across the country, across the world in some cases, with significant localised nuances and variations.


Gender and class equality issues come into play for several reasons during this collecting process. Firstly, the songs themselves were often collected by men from other men, because both the academic pursuit of folk song collecting and many of the working environments where the songs were sung were inaccessible to women. Many of the songs collected during this time, known as the ‘first revival’ in England, were misogynistic and violent towards women, often mistreating them in a variety of barbaric ways.


The famous Anglo-American ballad ‘Pretty Polly’ serves as an example. The male protagonist, an unnamed ships carpenter, promises to marry Polly and subsequently murders her when she becomes pregnant before the wedding, burying her in a shallow grave. I’ve heard this song being sung in folk clubs many times and it’s often sung with a kind of apathy for the message or meaning behind the text and being glorified simply for being part of the tradition. This is just one example of many songs.


There are also old songs which can be said to promote transphobia, which is surprising as we generally regard trans visibility in Western culture to be something which appears much later on in the late 20th century. The song ‘The Close Shave’ (and various other versions) tells the story of a sailor coming into port after a long time at sea to trade gold. He meets a pretty maid and they spend the night together. When he wakes in the morning, his gold is gone and instead he finds a woman’s dress, a wig, and a shaving kit. The song’s pinnacle is the line “my pretty maid’s a man’ I cried, and thanks be I fell asleep, for I’d rather lose a bag of gold than wake up with that creep’. Here, we see an attempt at humour at the expense of a cross-dressing character which plays into the narrative that men are often unfairly and deliberately deceived into being attracted to trans people, and teaches that it is acceptable to shame them. I’m very much in favour of musical humour and taking traditional material with a pinch of salt, but I’ve experienced this song being sung by all ages and watched as they all sing the line ‘wake up with that creep’ while smiling and laughing.


I think we need to take more responsibility when we are working with older material, acknowledging its shortcomings and educating audiences and performers about the dangerous messages hidden in these songs. They can be sung with better sensitivity, understanding, and context. For example, sometimes the meaning of a narrative can be flipped with a few simple edits. We can learn so much from history and folklore; let’s not simply erase it. Instead let’s use our critical faculties to interrogate the parts of our history we are not happy with.


Unfortunately, gender inequality in the English music industry extends to the present day at gigs and festivals. I have heard so many anecdotes from friends and colleagues where they have been mistreated, patronised, and embarrassed as performers because they identify as a woman, a trans person or non-binary identity. A friend who identifies as a woman was asked by her manager in public whether she has an ‘OnlyFans’ account (a user generated content site which is primarily used by sex workers to post pornographic material). A different woman’s performance was interrupted by a male sound engineer who said that she didn’t know how to tune her instrument, and another friend was sexually assaulted by venue staff.


On an everyday level we see constant micro-aggressions, such as women on stage only being described as ‘beautiful’ or ‘gorgeous’ whereas in the same breath men are described as ‘talented’ and ‘masterful’. This is so damaging to our beloved industry, and to the individuals who make this musical community thrive. If you witness any of these behaviours, please call them out. If you perpetrate any of these behaviours, please stop, retreat, seek help, and learn from your mistakes.


CJLPA: Why did you feel that it was important to use this grant to address gender discrimination in folk music culture?


AG: Folk music in the UK is like a massive extended family. It includes people from all around the world, from every background, and is constantly in flux. It is the community which accepted me with open arms as a young person, taught me everything I know about performing, and gave me the career I have today. The same is true for many of my friends, and I know they hold this community very close to their hearts.


Much like in any other industry, it is paramount that we tackle discrimination in order to keep everyone safe and to continue welcoming new people from all backgrounds. If we don’t do this, there will be no fresh perspectives, no innovation, and no new ideas coming to the fore. The living tradition exists because it constantly interrogates and challenges itself to solve problems and to drive forward into new fields.


Writing in 2023, I am seeing huge changes happening in UK folk. Music is becoming more influenced by other cultures from around the world; it is delving into the world of electronic music and high production value, it is finding its place in gamer and fantasy culture, and it is cross-pollinating into many more disciplines which I don’t have the time to list. It also occasionally flirts with mainstream pop music, and achieves moments of viral, global popularity mostly thanks to social media. It is more important than ever that we address issues around discrimination in order to keep the genre and the community alive and thriving for generations to come.


CJLPA: You have previously spoken about how you chose to come out to wider circles through the article you wrote with Trans portraits. How was this received by your friends and your wider circle?


AG: ‘Coming out’ is a process which varies a lot from person to person. For me, perhaps ‘transition’ better defines my process, as it implies an ongoing period of time between one state and another, as opposed to representing a fixed point in time where there was a change. The article I wrote for Trans Portraits UK in 2022 was an opportunity, not only to describe my initial experiences of being openly non-binary, but also to put this into words for myself at the time, early on in the process.[4] This equates to a time of healing and self-education, whilst letting other people know all the fascinating things I am discovering about gender along the way.


In the article I focused on the euphoric aspect of transitioning, and made suggestions for how other people can make life easier for non-binary and trans folk around them. I had very positive responses from friends and the wider music community, and it has helped me form connections with other queer musicians, facilitated some fascinating conversation, and hopefully played a small role in spreading awareness of trans issues within the traditional music community.


As I have travelled from place to place playing music in the wake of transition, I have noticed myself create this kind of utopia in my mind of how things could be made a lot easier for the non-binary and trans community. I refer to this through the rest of the article.


CJLPA: As a gender non-conforming musician, how do you express yourself on stage, both in terms of image and through your music, and how do these forms of expression make you feel?


AG: My overall performance practice hasn’t changed a lot since I transitioned. However, the way I feel has changed a lot. Having fun, getting lost in music, and being playful is what it’s all about when I’m performing now. Everything, from the way I move to the way I speak and dress, feels more authentic now the pressure of needing to conform to a binary identity has been lifted.


The way I dress varies, in correlation with my gender-fluidity and an understandable desire to be physically comfortable on stage. Some days I’m feeling more femme and others more neutral. More often than not I’ll be found at a festival sporting some brightly-coloured dungarees, some mud stains, cat-eye sunglasses, and messy hair.


In UK folk music, I’m proud to be flying the flag for gender non-conforming musicians, and I feel extremely lucky to live in a world where we have developed the language and recognition of non-binary gender to facilitate this.


CJLPA: Did you face any challenges growing up as a non-binary person in a rural area where there were few queer spaces? What spaces should be made for non-binary/gender non-conforming people who are unsure about their identity growing up?


AG: Young people have a lot on their plate. While going through the various ordeals and dramas of education and finding an area in which to eventually earn a living, they also need to work out who they are and what their purpose is, on an existential level. We all go through a lot of experimentation in order to draw conclusions on our identity in an often turbulent trial and error process. We try something, we see how it fits, and either keep it up or lose it, and in order to feel secure in our conclusions we need to have just the right support, space, validation, and encouragement from our peers and guardians. Reflecting now, I have been extremely lucky in this regard.


Something that troubled me is the idea of needing to conform to behaviours and appearances of my assigned gender at birth. It took me until I was an adult to realise that this thing that was giving my subconscious such a hard time was an issue that could be addressed by simply looking at my identity in a different way. I recognised my freedom as a grown-up and met other gender-queer folk pursuing a career in the arts thanks to the creative urban hub in Bristol I now call home. Naturally, this process began introspectively and then became something I decided to present outwardly when I was ready.


Having always had a slight fascination with music and the way we develop as musicians, I have found that there are some gendered trends in terms of who learns what instrument, which is particularly noticeable in young musicians. In broad strokes, my experience is that young boys prefer to negotiate a masculine identity and seek catharsis through music, typically learning guitar, drums, or bass and starting bands with perhaps more rhythm and aggression. Young girls seek a broader range of creative outlets and tend to start by learning piano, bowed strings, woodwind, and vocals. This accompanies a noticeable attitude of self confidence in the former group, who mirror the behaviours of professional musicians they have seen live and on screen, whereas the latter group are sometimes more introverted in their approach, participating for self-development  and social aspects of music.


Although there are many academics who have weighed in with fascinating discourse on why this might be, one sees similarities when looking back to the nineteenth century, when women were excluded from public performance and instead encouraged to participate in music purely in private. The same was largely true for composers, conductors, and many other public-facing roles in the music industry. Perhaps we still carry this bias today.


Now, in the twenty-first century, we see the music industry progressing towards more even distribution of roles with regards to gender, race and class. For example, many orchestras have adopted blind audition processes to eliminate discrimination based on anything other than musicianship. However, there is still more work to be done to change our core beliefs and attitudes, particularly for young people, which result in stark imbalances in some parts of the music industry. For example, there are fewer women with jobs in percussion than there are men called David with jobs in percussion.[5]


Not everyone wants to learn music, so speaking more broadly, I will talk you through a few ideas and scenarios which may amount to safer and more encouraging environments for a young queer or questioning person.


Having a lack of queer role models as a young person can lead to them feeling hidden themselves, as they have no-one to show them that queer can also mean successful, happy, and empowered. This, combined with a culture of transphobic and homophobic language from peers, can amount to an extremely hostile place. It is important that we prioritise diversity in our educators, and expose young people to gender non-conforming people or cis-gendered people in roles which traditionally would have been taken by another gender. For the purposes of creating our fictional utopia, let’s have more male textiles teachers, female football teachers, and a couple of non-binary history teachers for good measure.


Spaces with gender allocation are very important too. Changing rooms and bathrooms can be hostile environments for those who are experimenting with gender or transitioning, particularly young and vulnerable people. I would love to see more allocation of safe, gender-neutral spaces alongside separate gendered spaces, and an attitude shift which seeks to educate young people about gender and encourage acceptance and safer behaviour.


The UK government has recently made two very dangerous moves with regards to this. Firstly they have said that the ‘rise in gender neutral toilets’ creates privacy issues and unfair disadvantage in a fairly obvious attempt to draw false equivalences between women’s rights and trans rights, as part of an ongoing anti-trans agenda (more on this later).[6] Secondly, Rishi Sunak said that new government guidelines will include rules about when schools must inform parents about children questioning their gender. Triggers for this are vaguely defined at the time of writing, but can include a young person experimenting with or changing their name, pronouns, or uniform. This is a very dangerous move from a safeguarding perspective, as it will effectively see teachers being forced to ‘out’ trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming pupils to their parents or guardians without their consent and without the time or space to safely develop their identity. Even if a young person simply wants to experiment with their appearance, play in a different sports team, or try different pronouns, this leaves the door wide open for systemic abuse, restricts the young person’s autonomy on a basic level, and can lead to homelessness.


According to the AKT youth homelessness report (2021), half of LGBTQIA+ young people said they feared that expressing their identity to family members would lead to them being evicted.[7] Research from Stonewall shows that almost one in five LGBTQIA+ young people have experienced homelessness in their lives, and those rates climb to one in four amongst trans people.[8] Schools are meant to be safe spaces; in many cases the time a young person spends at school is the only time of the day when they are safe. We need to challenge the government on these guidelines, and we need to ensure that young queer or questioning people are protected and treated with the respect they deserve.


CJLPA: Have you faced any challenges as a non-binary musician and, if so, how do you think these challenges could be addressed?


AG: In terms of the intersection between my gender and career, I feel very lucky to admit that I haven’t faced many specific challenges as a musician so far… other than being mis-gendered a lot. The issues I face day-to-day are most likely ones that are shared by all non-binary and trans people when they are out and about. Working in music means that I have the advantage of working in a wide variety of hospitality settings each year, seeing a lot of different approaches to LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in those spaces, and opening up conversation about it with people who work there. This includes everything from fancy modern arts centres, to barns, city venues, sticky clubs, wedding venues, and, of course, festivals. I see a lot of different types of changing rooms, public toilets, and green rooms, and always breathe a sigh of relief when there is a dedicated genderless space for people like me who experience dysphoria in binary gendered environments.


The main issue I face, and I am sure all my other trans or non-binary friends would echo this, is being constantly mis-gendered or misunderstood. Despite my efforts to speak publicly about issues non-binary people face, to send over information to relevant parties in advance, and to kindly remind people, where relevant, I still get referred to with the wrong pronouns in public while at work. Often this is simply a compère not having enough information, a missed opportunity to ask a question at the right time, a basic slip of the tongue, or another entirely forgivable mistake. However, it does matter. Back to my gender-inclusive utopia, I would love to see a music industry in the UK which champions inclusivity and diversity in every way by working on the language it uses and the questions it asks.


If you work in the music industry, here is a little list of things you can do to make some positive differences to gender non-conforming folk:

  1. Practice pronouns. If you don’t already know, simply ask politely;

  2. Ensure that information about artists, staff, and crew which is passed on to other staff is accurate, up-to-date, and includes everyone’s pronouns; and

  3. Avoid saying ‘ladies and gentlemen’ when addressing a crowd. Say ‘they-dys and gentle-thems’ instead, or ‘ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between’. If you say it confidently and quickly I promise the only people in the crowd who will notice the difference are those to whom it matters the most.


CJLPA: What are some common misconceptions about non-binary people?


AG: There are a few common misconceptions I hear regularly about non-binary people that I would like to address.


First, we are all androgynous. This is simply not true, and doesn’t work as a way to identify someone and make assumptions about them. Some of us play with androgyny, some or all of the time, but there are also plenty of cis-gendered people who present androgyny too and don’t identify as non-binary. The best way around this is to remember it is never wise to make assumptions about anyone based on appearance, even if you may have heard others do this before without consequence. It’s dangerous and can cause harm even if you don’t intend it.


Second, we’re offended every time you refer to us with the wrong pronouns or salutation/title. We are all human; we make mistakes and move on and that’s totally fine. Most non-binary people get mis-gendered quite a lot and won’t have a problem as long as you are trying your best, offer a correction, and you don’t make a fuss about it. The worst thing for me sometimes isn’t the act of being mis-gendered, it’s the aftermath of having to reassure and re-inflate someone’s slightly bruised ego after a barrage of disproportionate apologies from them. Just acknowledge the mistake and politely move on; it’s ok to make mistakes. That said, deliberate mis-gendering is an act of violence and should never be tolerated under any circumstance.


As a side-note, in my experience, words like ‘man’, ‘dude’, ‘guys’, and ‘mate’ are usually not seen as particularly gendered by most people these days. It’s often the tone and the context in which you use these words which is likely to cause someone dysphoria—we just have to make sure we’re vigilant with our language and if we’re not sure of something, ask.


Third, ‘cisgender’ is a slur. The Oxford English Dictionary defines cisgender as ‘describing or connected with people whose sense of personal identity and gender is the same as their birth sex’.[9] It’s as simple as that; nothing more, nothing less. No matter what you might have heard Piers Morgan say, this word is not intended to divide or insult people. Rather, it is necessary as part of the terminology which allows trans and non-binary people to exist, enabling us to define everyone fairly in reference to their assigned gender at birth. If you find this word offensive, I’d suggest this is due to an internalised transphobia which you may have picked up from TV, films, newspapers, and social media. Don’t worry, we can all become better allies no matter where we are coming from and there’s never been a better time to access the resources you need to self-educate about gender variance.


Fourth, we all use they/them pronouns. Wouldn’t that be nice and simple? I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that. There are a plethora of gender-neutral pronouns which folk use (like ze/hir, xe/xem, fae/faer etcetera), and many people use a combination such as she/they, where multiple types of pronouns can be used to refer to that person. Some people, whose gender is more fluid for example, will constantly vary the pronouns they use in accordance with their experience. The point is, all pronouns are equally important as part of our language. We all have them and we can all use the correct ones when referring to others if we make the effort.


Fifth, pronouns are a preference. Whenever you see ‘preferred pronouns’ said out loud, written on a form, or on a list of options, politely call it out. ‘Preferred’ implies that they are optional and that others can choose which pronouns they use to refer to you (usually he/her). This is not correct. Pronouns can only be decided by the individual, and it’s important we reflect that in the language we use (for example, I do not prefer they/them pronouns, I actively use they/them pronouns).


Finally, you can infer someone’s sexual orientation by the fact that they are trans/non-binary. This feels really obvious to say. However, I’ve seen so many examples of this assumption being made and it causing someone dysphoria or putting them in danger. Gender and sexuality are not the same thing and are not inherently linked in any way. Any person can experience a gender and a sexuality at the same time and there are no useful correlations. Never assume someone’s sexual orientation, full stop. It’s pretty rude, you can cause genuine harm, and most of the time you’ll probably get it wrong.


CJLPA: How can friends or allies of non-binary people support you?


AG: There are plenty of ways in which friends or allies can support and actively make life better for gender non-conforming folk. I’ve made lots of suggestions elsewhere in this article, so in order not to repeat myself I’ll go into more detail on three main areas which I feel require some work.


Firstly, feeling understood. If you want to be a better ally as a part of modern western culture, one of the simplest things you can do is go and learn about the incredibly diverse and fascinating history of gender variance around the world and gain an understanding that, despite much of this language being fairly new to us at the moment, gender-variant identities are an ancient and wide-spread practice for humanity. For example, learn about the Hijra communes in South Asia whose origins go back to 400BC and still exist today, indigenous North American Two-Sprit people who traditionally, but not exclusively, fulfil a gender-variant identity, and the Ancient-Egyptian Sekhet which refers to a third gender that does not include men or women and dates back over 4000 years. This is just scratching the surface. Along the way, you’ll read some harrowing stories of how western colonisation has attempted to misrepresent, erase, and exterminate many of these communities, and discover how important it is that we learn about these amazing people. Be aware as you read, lots of the research you find will have been conducted through the western lens of binary gender and you may come across cultural appropriation too (for example, someone wrongly referring to themselves as these identities despite not belonging to these cultures and ethnic groups). Noticing this is an important step in the process. As an outsider, the hope is that when we see and start to understand the hundreds of cultures who have accepted gender-variance successfully before. This gives hope for western society becoming more accepting too.


Secondly, feeling seen. Through a little healthy pedantry we can help a marginalised group in society feel more seen by using the right language. This is so important to building a world which not only validates but celebrates those groups. Be pedantic when it comes to pronouns (they, he, she, etc), salutations (Sir, Madam etc) and honorifics (Mr, Ms, Mrs, Mx etc). Never make assumptions, and if you’re not completely sure (and you actually need to know) ask, don’t assume. In case you were wondering, I use the honorific Mx which is often not included on forms. Similarly to the common honorific Ms (the modern understanding of which we have to thank those brave, pioneering, early twentieth-century feminists), Mx has developed for a reason in order to allow a group of people access to basic things. I’ve made it my mission to call out each and every instance where this is not an option on a form, and have generally been met with companies and institutions happy to change their process once I’ve explained it. There are a few disappointing exceptions I’ve encountered, such as energy giant British Gas, who have still not even responded to me after a year of emails about the matter. In these cases, when Mx is not an option, I’m slightly reluctant to admit in an academic journal, I use the honorific Dr as it’s often the only gender neutral option. My degree is a BA but maybe British Gas could pay for my doctorate one day by means of compensation?


I find it bizarre that, in the UK, companies will often provide options for honourifics like Dame, Lord, Lady, Admiral, and Excellency, without a simple Mx. They also commonly include Christian honorifics such as Reverend or Father, whilst not including them from other major religions such as Islam or Judaism. Call this out. It may seem very insignificant to you, but it will mean a lot to someone out there if we can create options for everyone. Take note if you happen to work designing a form for anything other than medical reasons; perhaps don’t ask for someone’s personal information you don’t need to know. The number of times I’ve been asked my gender for no reason whatsoever is astonishing. Most of the time it is simply irrelevant; we are just taught and accept that we can know someone’s gender without questioning why.


Finally, challenge the government on systemic transphobia. The UK government have recently announced that trans people will be banned from gendered wards in NHS hospitals, claimed that ‘they know what a woman is’ and said that the ‘rise in gender neutral toilets’ is a problem and have issued regulations ensuring that all new public buildings will have ‘separate male and female toilets’. [10][11] Whilst I agree that having separate toilets for men and women alongside gender neutral spaces is probably the way forward for now, there are several things about this I find very disturbing.


Firstly, the government is actively choosing to allocate space for binary genders, whilst diminishing responsibility for planners and architects to allocate spaces for gender-nonconforming people. If there was no anti-trans agenda here then why would they not simply allocate for all three? Most public toilets come in threes anyway.


Secondly, the government has said very little on the matter of allocation of toilets for disabled people who face a basic lack of access and provision in most public spaces. Many public disabled toilets currently don’t have safety rails, hoists or even ramp access. If they wanted everyone to benefit from reviewing public toilet regulations, surely this is the area which needs the most work.


Thirdly, the research on which this decision was based directly contradicts it. You can read the study for yourself on the government website; their call for evidence presents that 83% of responses are in favour of non-gendered toilet provision whereas 12% are in favour of separate gender toilets only.[12] It also shows that safety concerns for trans or non-binary people using public toilets outweigh those for any other group. Their plan to ‘protect public toilet provisions for men and women’ is a purely political move which uses coded transphobic language and draws a false equivalence between trans people existing freely and the removal of protections for cis-gendered women. If 48% of trans people feel unsafe using public toilets (again, the government’s own research) then why is the government putting forward regulation which harms them? In addition, policing these spaces and promoting this mentality has, and will, also affect cis folk through beauty and behaviour standards, encouraging them to self-police and requiring them to look and dress in certain ways to access those spaces.


The bottom line here is that trans rights do not take away cis-gendered peoples’ rights, and we can challenge the government on this through petitions and well-informed, high-quality journalism. For example, fighting for all women’s rights against the larger issue (the patriarchy) helps all women. More rights for trans and non-binary folk does not equal fewer rights for cis women and men.


CJLPA: Where are your favourite queer-spaces and venues in Bristol?


AG: There are plenty of safe spaces for queer people to enjoy in Bristol and it’s one of the reasons I am so deeply in love with this beautiful city. Strange Brew is a venue I talk about a lot as it has one of the best examples of how to do toilets. Three options are provided—urinals, gender neutral cubicles, and women’s only cubicles. I have never felt unsafe with that system, nor have I ever heard anyone take issue with it. I’ve never seen any queues, even when the venue is sold out, because everyone is catered for based on what they actually need. Take note venue architects! They also host amazing jam nights, live gigs, quizzes, drag, comedy, the lot.


Other great spaces include Lost Horizon, Jam Jar, The Gallimaufry, Old Market Assembly, St George’s, and my local pub, The Greenbank, where I run a twice-monthly inclusive folk session which anyone is welcome to attend.


This interview was conducted by Abi Dore, a Legal Researcher for the Human Rights Volume of CJLPA 3. In addition to her role at CJLPA, Abi is currently working as a Trainee Lawyer and will qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales in February 2024.


[1] The Drystones <> accessed 17 October 2023.

[2] Tarren <> accessed 17 October 2023.

[3] Bob Fish, ‘Harriet Riley & Alex Garden’ — Sonder III’ (Folk Radio UK, 13 October 2023) <> accessed 19 October 2023.

[4] ‘Alex Garden’ (Trans Portraits UK, 2022) <> accessed 19 October 2013.

[5] Emily Gunton, ‘Bang the drum for change: why do orchestras have so few female percussionists?’ Guardian (London, 8 March 2021) <> accessed 20 October 2023.

[6] Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and The Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch MP, ‘All public buildings to have separate male and female toilets’ (, 4 July 2022) <> accessed 20 October 2023.

[8] Chaka L Bachmann and Becca Gooch, ‘LGBT in Britain: Trans Report’ (Stonewall) <> accessed 20 October 2023.

[10] Aubrey Allegretti, ‘Trans hospital patients in England to be banned from female- and male-only wards’ Guardian (London, 3 October 2023) <> accessed 20 October 2023.

[11] Badenoch (n 6).

[12] Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, ‘Toilet provision for men and women: call for evidence—analysis of responses received’ (, 13 August 2023) <> accessed 20 October 2023.


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