Meet the ‘queer Victoria Wood’ using music and comedy to survive in a cis-het man’s world
Jessica Rowbottom, dubbed “the queer Victoria Wood”, is helping LGBT+ folk find “strength” using music, dark comedy and cabaret.
She performs as The Bleeding Obvious, of which she is the sole member, as a one-woman cabaret. But what does a one-woman cabaret entail?
“The easiest way of me putting this is that I bang around on a piano, and I sing about being queer,” Jessica told PinkNews. But in reality, her shows are a lot more than that.
“It started out being a catharsis for me, and then turned into something a little bit more important than that, almost activism,” she clarified.
“The whole show is about coming out, about what people say, about finding love, and about generally coping with it. I tend to talk about the gender aspects of it more than the lesbian, gay and bi side of things, because, you know, it’s coming in 10 years since I hopped the fence.”
Jessica’s music and creative journey is inextricably linked to her coming out as a queer trans woman.
She has always loved music, even working as a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, but she said: “It wasn’t until I came out that it sort of unlatched, it was like suddenly the creative floodgates opened.”
Jessica came out at 38-years-old, although she had “known about it for a very long time”, and said that she had a “comparatively easy” journey. Her mother, her children and her workplace were all supportive, and she later met her wife with whom she created a beautiful rainbow family.
What isn’t easy, however, is being a trans person in the UK today.
“It’s fear, mostly,” she said. “I have been attacked… I got attacked by three blokes in a pub in Wakefield when I was in the women’s loo. They came in to kick the s**t out of me.”
“Usually,” she added, “it’s inappropriate behaviour.”
Jessica is premiering a new song at her London show this week, titled “Unwanted Attention (Call Me Dave)”.
“It’s based something that happened at a party last year, which is fairly representative of what happens.
“Somebody came up and started trying to lecture me about gender and sexuality and it being unnatural and all this kind of thing.
“The more drunk that he got, the more forward he got, until he eventually borderline propositioned me, and then his wife came to rescue him.
“That sort of thing happens quite a lot. I think that there’s a confusion that any gender non-conformance is a sexual thing, gender non-conformance is fetishist.”
She added: “When that happens, the biggest worry I’ve got is that they will suddenly work out that I’m trans, and then they’ll get aggressive. Male aggression is the biggest problem… It’s a white, cis, het, man’s man’s world.”
But Jessica’s combination of comedy, music, fun and the dark truth of being queer in the UK is helping her fans find “strength”.
“I use humour an awful lot, I’ve got quite a dark sense of humour,” she said.
“It can lead to one-liners and laughs that have actually got a rather deeper meaning going on.
“I talk about the fact that we didn’t have any role models in the 70s… Any sort of cross-dressing was the butt of a joke. But I talk about it in a fun and humorous way.
“We’ll cover things like Section 28, which affected me quite badly. You see people in there nodding and laughing at it, and without fail, I’ll have people come up to me after a show and say, ‘you just described my life’. Or, ‘I wasn’t going to tell anybody about this, but can I just talk to you?'”
The sheer number of fans who confide in her led Jessica to even take a short counselling course, which has “helped a lot” in knowing how to support them.
She added: “So people come along, you tell the stories and you make the jokes and you sing some fun songs. But people find it hits a chord sometimes.
“Comedy is the best catalyst for defusing your own feelings. If you’re laughing at something and thinking, ‘Hang on, this is me’, people take a lot of strength from that.”
Jessica is performing at London gay bar Two Brewers in Clapham on Wednesday (23 February). Throughout March, she will take her tour to Wakefield, Sheffield, Newcastle and Brighton.
Tickets are available here.