A character transforms her life stories into the rooms of a house; another becomes a bin; others become a dream, a soft stud, a super lover and a gun who transforms into a camera... The characters are the creation of Oreet Ashery and twelve lesbian women who fled Nigeria, Uganda, Angola, Gambia, Jamaica, Barbados and other countries after suffering traumatising discrimination against their sexual identity and orientation.
Each card that was created alongside the publication, portrays a character that was developed through a series of creative workshops with twelve lesbian women who have come to the UK to seek sanctuary. The workshops explored alter egos as a way of talking about traumas; overwhelming memories; specific experiences with the legal system in the UK; and pressing questions around sex and relationships. The characters are presented here as a series of archetypes intended to promote and facilitate discussion.
Below are several excerpts taken from the publication and cards from a selection of the characters. The complete publication and cards are available to download here.
TreeMan's character is half-tree and half-man. The tree is strong, energetic and resourceful. The man is weak; he does not know what to do or how to act because the man in power crushes him. The strong and the weak, both embodied in one person, continuously negotiate a series of challenging life circumstances.
I hate men or women in power. It's not just men, it could be a woman, like Jaqui Smith. It is very hard for them to understand people like me. They don't care about people.
So you see, there is The Man, the man in power, and there is the man in me. This is the man who does not know what to do. The weak part of me is because of the man in power, but the one in power is weak themselves, you understand? They are weak because they cannot understand us, people who are on a lower level, you understand? — TreeMan
Image: Character interpretation: TreeMan, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
The character of the Bin represents a social structure, a metaphoric space into which gay people are thrown in like trash. The bin, unlike the gay person inside it, is not a victim; it is just a container. This makes for a more empowered statement. The Bin is written in places like script for a play. It is fullwith potent rage.
Why categorise another human as trash because they have different views on sexuality? Why look down your nose on another because of who they want to share their intimacy with? If I can see it, why can't you? — Bin
Image: Character interpretation: Bin, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
The CD s not just about being a singer and a songwriter or about the healing power of music. The CD combines it all. The CD is inspiration: the sound of trains, of rain and other people's conversations. The CD is about production: performing with a partner and the discipline of being a musician. Is is also about a belief, believing twice - having twice the belief, seeing and unseeing, dying and rising again.
When I sing along to a live performance, fire explodes in me, leaving the CD hot. I then secrete sweat which is part of the water in me. We all know that water is life and I have a lot of life in me. We all live once forthose who believe, without seeing. — CD
Image: Character interpretation: CD, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
The Cloud finds ways to cope with whatever life throws at her without losing hope. The Cloud is grey, low, penetrable, porous and changeable, but it can also be dominated by the power of the sun and can disappear at any moment. In everyday life whenever she finds herself negative and fearful like a cloud, she remembers that the sun will soon come and break through the greyness. The sun is probably a lover, but also represents Cloud's inner warmth.
As a black lesbian woman in the UK, I've changed so much over the years from being afraid of myself to being able to express myself and being comfortable with who I am.... It's much better. I am light. —
Image: Character interpretation: Cloud, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
CameraGunMan is born out of a childhood spent having to fend for herself against physical, psychological and verbal forms of attack at home and at school. On arriving in the UK the violent Gun slowly becomes a hard-working Camera. It is not that there is no bullying here, but it seems that the environment is less anarchic and more ordered and so lent itself to other solutions. It is also about the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, of growing up, calming down and having space for new aspirations.
The way the Home Office dealt with my case was so wrong, unfair and deceptive to me. For this reason I decided to become a filmmaker and show the world the reality of migrant peoples lives and the way they are treated in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world, as so many migrants think that those countries are paradise on earth. The Home Office is a stressful arym upon all asylums: gay, lesbian or heterosexual. Beng a lesbian does not help your case.— CameraGunMan
Image: Character interpretation: CameraGunMan, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
House is an image of a corridor with doors leading on to many rooms. Each room represents another time in her life and another aspect of her life. There is a door into a difficult childhood; another door leads into the process of making sense of her sexuality; another door is into a room where she had to pretend to be with men as an act of survival. Later, there is a door leading into real love and happiness with a woman. And ow her hom is in the UK, and this is another room altogether. House's question throughout is whther her search for love in women is also a search for a mother's love.
Eight years passed by and it was so sweet, freedom was great until I made the mistake, I had to start dating guys [...] The guy was fine until it was bedtime, no stories were told, no filling of the holes that were left inside of me by my community. — House
Image: Character interpretation: House, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
Dream is about a premonition that comes true. A recurring dream that seems to come out of nowhere, yet feels so real. In Gambia she dreamt that she was in handcuffs, but why? She had never done anything wrong; she is not a criminal. On arriving in the UK, she is taken in handcuffs and the dream became a reality, a reality as surreal as the dream itself. She came over to the UK to be in a counrty where she could be herself, to be openly gay; she could not continue with her life back home, and she had to leave her son behind. Dream can just about cope with the handcuffs, but the loss far harder. The dream fulfilled its role: the role of preparing her for what was to come, now it can leave her and new dreams can take its place.
Sometimes when you go into depression and you come back, you're just trying to grow stronger. Well, this dream is a dream I still have today. It's one of these dreams that will [always] be with me because I don't know about asylum. — Dream
Image: Character interpretation: Dream, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas
From the Urban Dictionary: "A somewat masculine, gay woman with just a hint of a femme in her, ie, she may look like a guy one day but look like a girl the next. She may be a bit more feminine than most studs or wear makeup. A soft stuf will usually have a femme for a girlfriend but may also date another stud that is more masculine than her'. The character of the Soft Stud is caught up in what she feels women expect from her because of how she looks. Soft Studs are expected to be like 'studs': though, take drugs and treat women badly. But our Soft Stud wants to have an equal relationship and fall in love with someone who can motivate her.
Women are attracted to me thinking I'm a heartless bitch but they're surprised when they get to know the real star. I'm expected to act like a bitch, fuck without emotion, act careless and smoke skunk, but I'm not all of that. I'm different, different from all studs... at least that's what they say after the madness... — Soft Stud
Image: Character interpretation: Spoft Stud, created during Staying: Dream, Bin, Soft Stud and Other Stories Oreet Ashery, 2010. Photograph: Mariana Arribas