Why Pip is #AgeingWithPride
“I sometimes feel guilty – that I am still alive and some of those wonderful, talented, sexy people aren’t with us anymore. I will raise a glass to those good friends.”
To mark Pride Month 2021, Pip, 58, talks about his old job as a female impersonator, marching for LGBT+ rights, and the AIDS epidemic.
I used to work as a female impersonator in London and Manchester. We used to have to get ready in the loos, or if the venue didn’t have a decent bathroom, then we’d park outside, and I’d get ready in the car – which is very much a skill in itself! I adore the corset, absolute agony, but does wonders for the posture.
It was the late 80s and to get into many of the clubs you’d tap on a window and give the passcode to get in. And oh, they were dingy, dingy places, but the atmosphere and music were fantastic, because you could be who you were. On the way back out though, going home, I had to be back dressed as me. It was a paid job, not fantastically, but we didn’t care.
A short time after I met my current partner, I was with other volunteers and female impersonators lined up the stone staircase. He came up the stairs and went straight past me – he’d never seen me in that persona. ‘Don’t speak to me then!’ I said, and he stopped in his tracks! Really, really fond memories.
There are two programmes lately that I’ve really enjoyed that remind me of back then, Pose and It’s a Sin – wow, that really hit home. I lost so many friends and acquaintances. They were there one day and gone the next. I know it’s a cliché, but you did kind of get blasé about going to ‘another’ funeral.
Sometimes, with things the way they are, I think, ‘stop the world, I want to get off’. But it’s worth fighting to stay alive, to appreciate the small joys... I don’t know what the future’s got in store, but I’m bloody going to enjoy it.
I could quite empathise with the main character in It’s a Sin, Ritchie Tozer. It was hard, but we were young, we were immortal. We knew that eventually this game of Russian Roulette might catch up with us – it caught up with me.
Luckily by that time we started to get proper HIV treatment, and I’m still here. Treatment has improved, and my viral load is undetectable, which means the virus is untransmissible.
What annoys me about this last year or so is how quickly they’ve managed to find COVID-19 vaccines, yet we’re still waiting for a cure for AIDS – and how long have we been waiting? Nearly 35 million people have died since the start of the epidemic in the 80s, and that’s probably an underestimate.
Sometimes, with things the way they are, I think, ‘stop the world, I want to get off’. But it’s worth fighting to stay alive, to appreciate the small joys. I am fighting to still be here, and I don’t know what the future’s got in store, but I’m bloody going to enjoy it.
I’ve been on so many marches, for Pride, for our rights, against Section 28… all that walking! I’ve never been much of a walker. I’d say can you not put me on something glamorous and wheel me around? One Pride parade, my friend had a little sports car. We bust his suspension, there were too many of us sitting in it and on it! I needed a rest, I wasn’t walking all those miles, I’d already done that!
But it had to be done, and we had to do it. And luckily, we made a difference – I think we made a difference. I still don’t feel totally comfortable, I certainly wouldn’t walk outside hand-in-hand with my partner, but we fought for the young ones to be able to be who they are and do what they can today. That’s what we wanted, and I want that to be remembered.
I’d tell my younger self: ‘Go for it! Just go for it!’. I don’t regret anything. I’m proud of having the courage at the time to get up on the stage, I loved that. Once the slap went on, I was a different person, and I could say and do what I wanted!
As time goes by, I like a quieter life and to just be allowed to be me. Today what I’m proud of is what I’ve achieved at the local park and with the community there.
I volunteer for Alexandra Park in Whalley Range, Manchester, and have done so since 2002. In 2012, after a successful funding bid, the team began a multi-million pound restoration. The park now has an Information Point, Heritage Centre and Gift Shop in the original restored Lodge, as well as a community orchard, play areas and a café.
I personally tend to do more on World AIDS Day than Pride. I sometimes feel guilty – that I am still alive and some of those wonderful, talented, sexy people aren’t with us anymore. I will raise a glass to those good friends. To all of those who fought the battle, and to growing older disgracefully.