As the audience enter the auditorium at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the four storytellers are already on stage: poet Janette Ayachi, powerhouse crime author Val McDermid, burlesque artist Tom Harlow and producer and host for the evening Turan Ali. Tonight is a celebration of queerness, otherness and full on sluttery.
A note perfect evening filled with warmth and queer joy
Ali steps up first in a fabulous velvet jacket and tartan trousers and announces that we’ll hear eight queer stories – two from each guest – as well as some shorter, micro stories. This introduction puts me at ease and sets the tone for the whole evening. It’s apparent that Ali is so incredibly proud of this night. It’s a genuine pleasure for him to be here with us tonight, sharing these tales.
After the first micro story of the night from Ali, a failed hook-up with a slutty sailor, our first storytelling is introduced – the magnificent Janette Ayachi. Her two stories over the course of the evening track her love life from university to the present day and the discovery of her queerness. The sections from Ayachi are unapologetically vulnerable and fresh. There’s something hypnotic about her vernacular. It’s almost as if the audience needs to take a few moments to properly tune into the way she expresses herself. However, once we’re on that frequency, Ayachi becomes a presence that when speaking, everyone is quiet – not out of politeness but out of fascination.
Next up is Tom Harlow who presents himself as “a culmination of all his father’s failures”. Dressed in wonderful leopard print that would put Kat Slater to shame, his first tale is an intimate story about identity which involves a lot of Disney films (mostly The Little Mermaid), trauma and his parents. It’s a story that really touched me, as another gay man in his early thirties, and I’m sure many of the audience members based on much of the marvellous reactions he received. His second story was a brave tale of combating the anti-trans trolls on Twitter and how that led him to attempt to become the gayest thing at Disneyland Florida. It was both hilarious and touching.
Turan Ali is our next storyteller. Titled Freefalling and Flushed With Success, his stories are incredibly well scripted and thought out. When he’s not producing this evening or shows for the BBC, Ali is a stand-up comic, and you can tell. He understands comic timing and how to tell an effective story. The audience hangs on his every word in his first story, as he describes his Austrian friend, an “assertive insertive” literally hanging on to a hunky hook-up for dear life. His second story, one of ‘discovery’ shall we say, includes a hilarious section about a teenage Ali attempting to explain some adult content to his puritanical Austrian mother. Much like the best stand-up comedians, this material has been tried, tested and perfected for an audience by Ali. It was a joy to watch.
Val McDermid tells our final stories. Her first tale was a love story rooted in 1980s Sheffield but ending up in the far away regions of New Zealand. The second was more personal and turned out to be more of something that we would expect from a McDermid novel: a story of betrayal and revenge as she reminded us that we can be blinded by love. Even though McDermid initially admitted that she was out of her comfort zone with this form of public speaking, it was still a masterclass in storytelling and the audience was wowed.
Queer Folks’ Tales is a note perfect evening filled with warmth and queer joy. There’s also a wonderful realisation that everyone in the space, no matter who they are, is accepted for being themselves. The audience was celebrated for being themselves as we heard some individual micro stories from them after the interval. The night is not about status, it’s about togetherness. This was further solidified after Tom Harlow’s first story when he turned to Val McDermid and said “I can’t believe I’m on the bill with you.” She responded with “No – I can’t believe I’m on the bill with you!” For me, this was the moment when the evening turned from being a show to a shared experience. This is the type of evening that I wish I had growing up as a queer person and I can only imagine it will go from strength to strength.