My first Rubyyy Jones experience happened completely by accident; I was enjoying my monthly dose of the Boi Box drag kings at She-Soho, when a not-so-familiar face graced the stage. Performing to a pumped up, electro-beat version of ‘F-Bombs for Feminism’, Rubyyy brought the fun and politics (who knew the two words could be used in the same sentence!), that left the whole audience in awe. After that, I was hooked.
Rubyyy previously founded the Family(yy) Fierce, and some of her most recent ventures include running The Queer Collective at the Arcola Theatre, as well as producing her own show: Save Rubyyy Jones.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend Save Rubyyy Jones – Queer as Fuck at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Rubyyy’s show, which she also hosts and performs, is a platform for all kinds of queer performers who want to make their debut, or simply try something new. As predicted, the show was fiercely entertaining, but if you’re hoping for a mind-numbingly good time, you’ll be bitterly disappointed.
Just some of the topics Rubyyy tackles during her shows are mental health, addiction, and gender and sexuality issues. Rubyyy manages to fit all of this, along with a live, interactive breast-check tutorial, into a two hour show. Some members of the audience are moved to tears, some laugh until they cry, but all leave having learned something.
I wanted to learn more, and understand how Rubyyy became the kick-ass feminist performer she is today. Recently, I took full advantage of our brief summer, to share a park bench with Rubyyy in a Soho park, and talk about all things queer.
TL: First and foremost, why the three ‘y’s?:
RJ: “It’s an energetic thing, is the most simple answer. To me Rubyyy with one ‘Y’ is just NOT my name. When you say it, it’s like Rubyyyyyy Jones, so it sounds like someone’s on a really big stage, introducing me to thousands of people, so I like that vibe.”
How did Rubyyy Jones manifest?
“When Rubyyy Jones first started, I was blogging. I would talk about my past of eating disorders and mental health issues, suicidal ideation, you know, really intense things that people feel a lot of shame talking about. I realised what helped me through my experience was when people would say: ‘I’ve also felt that’, so I never felt any shame about putting it out there that I’d suffered with this, or I’m going through that.
“Because of the reaction from the blog, I just thought, well the writing is really effective and people can have that kind of interaction, but when I’m saying it to someone, really having that conversation, it’s that much more potent.”
Your style is nearly impossible to box. How would you describe yourself as a performer?
“I always describe myself as a performer. When I went to theatre school, they’d say: ‘introduce yourself and classify yourself as either singer, dancer or actor’, and I always used to say ‘I’m a performer’. And that is how I am with my work, because I don’t want to have any restrictions on it. So yeah, I do drag, but I don’t do it in a particular way, I do it my way; sometimes I sing and perform, other times I rant about politics, but it is ultimately a queer performance.”
You could argue that all drag performances are inherently political, because of how they go against the gender norms that still exist today, but you make a point of discussing these issues in your shows, and bringing the politics to the forefront. What made you decide to do this?
“Even when I do a more classical burlesque show, at a not-so-liberal venue, I’ll talk about being queer and ‘imperfect’ bodies, and I’ll covertly slip in my thoughts about these things because, to me, being queer is about being vocal. It’s about being political, but not in a passive way. It has to be active right now, and I don’t necessarily have that expectation for anyone else, that’s just what I feel I have to do with my platform. I have a stage, I have a microphone, I have a show and an audience that have paid to come see it, so I’m going to talk about mental health, I’m going to talk about our bodies, I’m going to talk about anything and everything I feel is going to make people feel seen, heard and understood.
“I am really interested in creating community, and cultivating a community that already exists, encouraging them and supporting them. I see you, I hear you, I get what you’re going through.”
You speak about identifying as queer in your shows, what do you like about the term?
“Only 7 or 8 years ago I would have identified as straight, and I don’t want straight people to feel excluded. I think queer is very inclusive, allies can be queer. Even the term ally has a bit of a negative connotation attached, it’s like ‘O.K you’re an ally, you’re over there, and we’re over here’. Ally is great and I understand the term but, again, I’m pushing queer for everyone, then we’re all in it together. I think there’s probably some queer people that have a problem with it, but I don’t really care, ultimately. (Laughing) I don’t want anyone to be upset but… I don’t care.”
Some might say that it is a bit tired, to speak about queer issues in predominately queer spaces. What would you say to that?
“That’s the thing, in a way, I feel my work to be done is more with hetero-normative kind of people, and it’s great that I can perform in these areas, because I want to win them over and help educate them in a way that’s entertaining and not alienating. Like when I’m doing a small pub show somewhere, and I know there are people in the audience who look at my hairy armpits and are like: ‘Eww – why?!’. I can talk about being queer in a charming way, and by the end they love me. And because they love me, they can start to accept that it’s an O.K thing – to be gay, to be fat or to be hairy – because they have seen it in a different way.
“Just learning not to assume someone’s pronoun – ask them, that’s totally O.K. If you say something wrong, that’s O.K, you’re learning and you often don’t mean to offend anybody. There can be a real sensitivity around having these conversations, and I don’t want that, I just break that down.
I think a great way to round off this interview would be to say: ‘You’re welcome’, as you do during your show and after performances:
“Some people say ‘that’s so cocky’, and I’m like: ‘And what?’. So many people feel bad about themselves, for lots of reasons; we all carry so much shame, so much doubt and sadness, and I can appreciate and understand that, but I want to give people respite from that, to show them you can feel a different way about yourself. I’m not perfect – I still feel bad about myself sometimes, but I’m consciously working on it. That’s also why I talk about my personal journey, because I would have been someone who was very binary, still suffering from an eating disorder, with bad cycles of depression. That’s something I learned to help myself out of, by nurturing myself, supporting myself and educating myself. I have no shame in talking about that. People also aren’t going to believe in what you do unless you believe in it, and although sometimes I don’t feel as strong, I know what I do is great, because I’m great, and I bring myself to it.
“Women sometimes don’t realise the social expectations that are attached to their gender, like modesty, and how they’ve also sort of accepted it. The birth of Rubyyy Jones was really realising that I’ve been under many peoples thumbs for so long, and I’m just not going to do it anymore. It was a real rebellion of: ‘I’m going to talk about sex, and I’m going to do burlesque’, and really just let myself be free. It was really a process of saying yes to myself and what I wanted, and saying no to the patriarchy.
“I’ve never felt shy about speaking about my journey, because I know it can do a lot of good and help a lot of people. I know it sounds cheesy, but even if it just helps one person… I don’t want to be like Gandhi, but if I can help people along the way, I will.”
Events to put in your diaries: