Tag Warner on the key to queer storytelling
Ahead of his event at 180 House, the Gay Times CEO discusses the power of LGBTQIA2S+ representation in modern media and why it’s so important
Wednesday 5 July 2023 By Yasemin Celepi
Pride Month brings an opportunity to reflect on the LGBTQIA2S+ community, from recent achievements to work that still needs to be done and how progress can still be made. Plus, a great deal of celebration and partying, of course.
Having dedicated his career to the inclusivity and representation of the LGBTQIA2S+ community in modern media, Gay Times CEO and Soho House member Tag Warner has a breadth of wisdom and considered insight when it comes to queer storytelling.
Ahead of his In Conversation with Aiwan Obinyan at 180 House on Thursday 6 July, we met with Warner to discuss the value of true representation in queer media, the potential of this space, and the impact that these stories can have on all of us.
What made you get into media and queer storytelling?
‘When you want to do something different with your life, you often try to step into something where you weren’t seeing yourself represented. When I was growing up, I used to read Gay Times and Attitude, and although I had a great respect for those titles, I wasn’t seeing myself represented as a queer person. If anything, I saw these magazines holding up heteronormative ideals as the pinnacle of how you should exist.
‘They talk about masculinity, and what it is to be a man as if that was the aspiration, when actually there were many parts of my identity that I didn’t feel were, quote-unquote masculine or “manly”, and actually there was a fullness to me that wasn’t being represented. So, I felt like I could at the very least start to reflect more parts of people like myself, and I hoped to understand and represent other people as well.’
For many in the LGBTQIA2S+ community, it may be difficult to tell their own stories; perhaps they don’t know how, have some trauma or maybe don’t even know where to begin. How would you encourage queer people to share their stories?
‘Because of social media (in particular), we live in such a connected society, so there is a lot of pressure to share stories in a public domain. I would encourage people, as a first step, to share stories with those around them. From a human perspective, there’s something so powerful about talking about who you are with the people who surround you and are in your day-to-day life.
‘Some of the most valuable moments I’ve had in my whole life have actually been sitting with one of my siblings driving to the supermarket and talking to them about something that I’ve experienced as part of my queerness.’
So, why is it so important to tell these stories?
‘Ultimately, it really helps in progressing society, because when we see stories on TV or TikTok, it’s easy to think about otherness. It’s easy to look at that person and think, oh wow that’s either interesting or shocking or whatever it may be, but that has no relation to who I am, so you can “other” them more easily.
‘If you’re in the car with somebody that you know or having a conversation over breakfast, or in your family living room, that’s so personal and it’s challenging for people to dismiss or “other” you.’
What did you want to achieve when you started working at Gay Times?
‘Breadth and depth. I really wanted to change Gay Times into an organisation that, as best as we could, reflected the breadth of identities and perspectives, and the intersectionality of LGBTQIA2S+, because so often you would see something missing from the conversation.
‘I wanted to create a media company that had an active role in the community, where people would not only see themselves represented, but also working with us. A company that was there for the people, one that was part of the fabric of the community.’
How would you like to impact the queer media landscape in the future?
‘We created Gay Times Honours, a big awards show, as an accessible space where more people are being celebrated, and it’s free for the community to attend with a donation to a charity. I’d like to continue impacting the queer media landscape by expanding that notion, having more spaces for people to come to and more accessibility across different parts of the community. So, instead of growing and becoming more inaccessible, it’s growing laterally and becoming more accessible.’
Why did you choose to have your In Conversation with Aiwan Obinyan?
‘Being the founder of their own production company as a queer Black woman, Aiwan is really inspirational to me, because they’ve taken up a space in production that has often been very white and cisgendered. They realised not only is there a huge missed opportunity from a storytelling perspective, but also the importance of their role in helping other queer Black people come into an industry that’s often very white dominated.
‘I wanted to have this conversation with someone who had a very different lived experience to me, so we can both bring something different to the table.’
Why should we attend your In Conversation event?
‘For anybody that identifies as queer or LGBTQIA2S+ and you’re interested in media or anything creative, it would be an amazing thing to attend, because you’ll hear from two people who have worked in that space for years. We have unique perspectives, but we do know how to build and create opportunities for ourselves and others. So, I think if you’re a freelancer or someone working in-house, then it will be really relevant.’
As a queer member, how do you feel supported by Soho House?
‘I’ve seen Soho House make a considered effort to include the LGBTQIA2S+ community in their events and outreach. I recently saw that Soho House Nashville has been doing events supporting queer performers in Tennessee – a state that’s now banned public drag performances. This is a state that’s really doubling down on LGBTQIA2S+ people, and I think Soho House is doing an amazing job of finding ways to create space for queer people, and especially queer performers to showcase their art in a safe environment. That really does make a difference, both to the local community and how everyone is seeing LGBTQIA2S+ people in society.’
If you want to grab the last few tickets to Tag Warner’s In Conversation with Aiwan Obinyan, you can book here.