The international performance artist makes a rare trip home and takes inspiration from family, community – & a crisis of faith.
La John Joseph is the Merseyside-born, self-confessed “fallen Catholic”, an international performance artist whose stage name happens to have been christened by the alt drag queen, Jonny Woo. He is back up North this spring for his “Boy in a Dress” tour, a trilogy of his solo shows that plays at Contact in Manchester and Liverpool’s Unity Theatre – we caught up with the “Transdrogynous Transatlantic Tramp” to find out what we can expect to see.
Oly Bliss: Are you happy to be back up North?
La John Joseph: I really am; I rarely get to spend time here other than doing shows. There’s a compact team of us travelling like a little family, my boyfriend will be documenting the tour, and it’s exciting to do it together. Boy in a Dress is a very intimate show with 20 costume changes and ten songs. There’s a dress designed by my friend Faye Michelle Turner when we were in art school together – most of the clothes come from previous performances I’ve made. They’re all very personal, and the show pays attention to “fashion” in the broadest sense of the word, in how it helps you structure your sense of identity.
OB: Your Twitter handle reads “Transdrogynous Transatlantic Tramp” – how did you come to identify yourself in this way?
LJJ: “Transdrogynous” is just a word I made up. It points to something that isn’t just transsexual, transgender or transvestite whilst also bringing in androgyny as a way to describe my own identity. I want to be a person of my own creation; I don’t want to be held up by other people’s assumptions. “Transatlantic” is there because I spent a lot of time in the States, and “tramp” because of its double meaning: it can describe someone who is a bit of a tart or someone of no fixed abode.
OB: You clearly have an eye for style, so what do you consider to be truly beautiful?
LJJ: A person who has a clear idea of themselves, how they want to express themselves in a realised form. Even if it’s something that is in process, that is what I consider beautiful. Personality, individuality, integrity; it’s not something material.
OB: Your show is explicitly autobiographical. What can audiences expect?
LJJ: I grew up in the late 1980’s in Liverpool in a single parent family with seven siblings – very Catholic and it wasn’t really my scene so I ran away to join the circus. I travelled around, met some really demented people and that helped me find out who I am. The show is very challenging, heart-warming and funny. It’s a show that demands the audience keep up, and it’s about finding out who you are and standing up for yourself. It’s about family, home, community and having a crisis of faith.
OB: Who has influenced your work?
LJJ: Definitely Penny Arcade. She came to the show and gave me a load of feedback. She was so straight up – she gave me three pointers, which were entirely on it. I mean, who wants just fluffy feedback? On stage, David Hoyle, Taylor Mac and Justin Vivian Bond are all political influences. And Jonny Woo really started something. I remember being in London and he just appeared and everything changed. Everyone started doing this really mad drag, the energy he brought got so many people on stage expressing themselves. He’s the ultimate mother figure; he’s how I got my name La John Joseph. I was going on stage and he said, “I can’t just call you John Joseph, how about La John Joseph?” I was like “okay, sure,” and it stuck. What I found about all of these artists is that they’re very entertaining but they don’t pull any punches. There were many times when I felt I was witnessing a revelation.
OB: So who are you a role model for?
LJJ: I’m for everybody; I think it’s a real poison chalice to be a role model. I’m for people who want to think critically, not in a negative way, for people who are engaged with life and want to understand more than their own sexuality and gender. Those who are prepared to discuss economic disparity, be a part of the larger struggles that impact on ethnicity and genders, into one struggle against the wretched people who run this joint.