So I first heard of Tamsin and Rudy about 7 years ago. I knew of them as the people behind the extremely succesful Unskinny Bop, a London club night in which it didn’t matter how you looked or who you were there was something for everyone, it was like going home…and I consider myself extremely lucky and honoured that I’ve gotten to know them a little bit better and to be able to feature them on my blog.
So, you run unskinny bop which is one of my first experiences of diy culture in london and body positivity which I remember blew my mind! What made you start it and what does the future hold?
Rudy: We wanted to create a space where people could come and dance their hearts out and not hide in a corner, and we wanted to actively encourage fat people to come and take up space and feel great about it.
Tamsin: We started our night in 2002 as part of Ladyfest London. For the last nine+ years it’s been a monthly queer disco in Bethnal Green. We only play music we love and we revel in odd juxtapositions. My personal favourite in recent years was Boyfriend by Ashlee Simpson into My Generation by Patti Smith. We play everything from country classics to r’n’b new and old, quite a bit of recent pop, 60s garage and soul, a bit of rap, disco, riot grrrl, punk, power ballads.
When did you first know you were queer and more on the masculine/genderqueer spectrum?
R: I knew I was a homo aged about 15 I think. The masculine thing is more difficult to pinpoint. I used to dress frequently in boys clothes as a kid and had a regrettable mullet hairdo etc. but I also wore dresses and make up sometimes right up until my mid 20s (never ever heels tho, obvs). Now I wear almost exclusively “men’s” clothes, and I can’t really imagine myself wearing a dress or like shaving my legs or anything. It seems like the right thing for me now. I guess I gradually realised that I feel way more comfortable when at a complete and obvious remove from femininity. Not to say that I have anything other than love and respect for the incredible femmes of the world who are actually a constant inspiration to me. It’s just that “femininity” for me always felt like a constraint rather than an expression. I’m thinking about reclaiming the somewhat unfashionable “butch dyke” identity for myself, keeping it old school!
T: I knew I was queer around the time of adolescence. I had enormous girl crushes on my schoolmates, teachers and Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. In terms of my gender presentation, it has fluctuated between boyish and less boyish throughout my life. I was a tomboy as a child and played a lot of football. At university I rocked the spiky crop, baggy jeans and white Nikes – it was Bristol in the late 90s… Then, in preparation for moving to London after university and trying to get a job and become a bit more grown-up or something, I grew my hair below the ear and wore a lot of twin set cardigans and polo necks in an attempt at librarian chic. But as I approached 30, I got my hair cut short again and felt it really suited me. I’ll never go back. Since then I’ve deliberately cultivated a more butch look and I’m much much happier in myself as a result.
T: It was about seven years ago I think – our friend Xtina Lamb drew two matching swallows for me and Rudy which we got a few months apart at the now defunct studio Tusk in Covent Garden. Since then it’s spiralled into a bit of an obsession and I’ve now got about 15 tattoos, eight of which were in the last year! My favourite is probably my panther by Mark Cross or pheasant by Philip Yarnell. The panther signifies strength, and the pheasant is for my dad. I haven’t really got a least favourite – even the rubbish ones are special.
R: I was in my late 20s by the time I got round to getting tattooed, which means I was wise (/square) enough to be quite fixed in my taste. As a resullt I don’t have a least favourite – they are all my beloved babies, even the red heart on my arm which is based on a Tegan & Sara album cover (seriously) and was once mistaken for a birthmark. My favourite one changes day to day, but for today let’s say the best one is my gay sailors – two super cute faggy sailors in classic outfits with moustaches holding hands. It was done by Stefano at Frith Street Tattoo and the reference for it was a couple of paintings of sailors by Evan B Harris, whose work I love generally but especially his images of very tattooed super masculine but also really soft and cute looking sailors. Mine are called Rudolf and Thomas, and they are basically alter egos for me and Tamsin.
How has your tattoo style evolved and are they at all influenced by you lot leaning towards a more masculine spectrum?
R: I honestly don’t think they’ve evolved that much, I think I have two quite specific strands – one very old school traditional sailor type tattoos in black and grey, and the other a more cut and paste type of look like you would find in a zine. I don’
t think they are influenced by masculinity, they are all either just images I like looking at and/or have some deep tortured emotional significance, ha ha.
T: Yes, being tattooed definitely is part of the whole masculinity thing but I wouldn’t be able to tell you which came first – becoming more butch or the tattoos. Initially I got a lot of Unskinny Bop imagery, designed by our amazing friend and collaborator Alex Creep. I’ve got tattoos of several drawings by Alex from Bop flyers, zines and posters. Alex’s drawings were in turn based on artwork by another of our amazing friends and collaborators, Bill Savage. In the last couple of years I’ve also developed a bit of an obsession with traditional American old school as well as precise, antique style black linework, and have started collecting tattoos by my favourite artists.
Lets talk about style-who influences you and how do you put outfits together?
R: Hmmmm, influences would be: teenage skater boys, Elliot from E.T., all the super cool queers of my acquaintance, various music based subcultures, Tamsin telling me my reds don’t match, whatever I happen to be thinking about on the day I get dressed. Putting outfits together…I try and figure out my mood and which me I want to project that day I guess. I am not the most dedicated of people when it comes to fashion though, so I usually just throw some clothes on and if it looks ok go with that.
T: Hmm. This is an issue for me as I love a whole bunch of different looks but I find them difficult to achieve on my actual body. Dressing masculine tends to require a flat or flattenable chest, which I do not have and the upshot is, I own a lot of black t-shirts.
Favourite item of clothing or accessory?
T: Now this is a hard call as I collect trainers, mainly Vans and Jordans. I have many many pairs that I spent a long time tracking down — but I would say maybe my black OG Jordan 3s are my favourite. They are the only pair I’ve doubled up on, at least… Clothes-wise, this summer I wasn’t seen out of a pair of H&M men’s jersey track shorts in a pleasing charcoal marl.
R: Dill pickle boxer shorts, they are just so pretty and funny without being gross. They are light grey with green pickle pattern. They were a gift but I believe came from Old Navy in America. Also my original Zombina & The Skeletones band t-shirt which I think I got the first time they played in London at the Bull & Gate in 2001. It’s a black t-shirt with a winged skull logo and looks like something a hell’s angel would wear. Sadly, it now has a hole under the armpit but I won’t stop wearing it until it falls apart.
How does dressing the way you are and having ink make you feel?
R: Um, well I look much more obviously like a freak now than I did a few years ago and I am really happy about that. I feel like having lots of ink, and presenting as very visibly queer has really helped me to feel comfortable in my own skin and actively take up space in this world as myself. I am so so lucky to have the resources at my disposal to be able to present myself in the way I want to, and that I have enough security in my job to get away with being able to do that pretty much all the time.
T: I am very pro all the infinite varieties of queer presentation and embodiment of gender. For myself, I don’t identify as trans so I guess female masculinity might be the most appropriate term for how I want to present. I consciously decided a few years ago to mark myself out as queer. Before I got tattooed and cut my hair short I would pass as what we call ‘normaltone’ on the street, and I just had this horrible feeling whenever I was out that (cismale) strangers (a) assumed that I belonged in their sexual universe and (b) perceived me as a failure within it. For years I felt undermined, mistaken. Now that I look more queer, I get less unwanted attention, and at the same time I experience an active allegiance with other queers on the street, and I feel very happy, liberated even, about both of these things.
Top: American Apparel
Shorts: Cut-off old Cavaricci jeans from Torrid
Shoes: Vans Chukka x Dave’s Quality Meat
Top: vintage (pop up vintage store on Berwick Street in Soho)
Jeans: vintage Lee Rider from eBay
Shoes: Vans Authentic (red rouge speckle)
“chubby” badge” : from Scottee’s Hamburger Queen event 2013