Zines, Scenes, Squats, Anti-racism, Gender Everything and the Kitchen Table by Raju Rage


Zines, Scenes, Squats, Anti-racism, Gender Everything and the Kitchen Table: Queer Culinary Community Conversions in the 2000s by Raju Rage. Part of the department of Unruly histories by Meera Shakti Osborne.

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Audio transcription:

Meera: This audio is titled “Zines, scenes, squats, anti-racism, gender everything, and the kitchen table. Queer, culinary community conversations in the 2000s by Raju Rage.”

This work is part of the Department of Unruly Histories which is a project initiated by me, Meera Shakti Osborne. This work documents a London that feels almost like a different city, but was less than 20 years ago. Raju described this project as time travelling, which I think is the perfect intro.

Raju: Hey, Meera, good to hear from you. In terms of your request. Yeah, your project sounds great. I think I understand. Yeah, it sounds great that you're interviewing people and that's, yeah. That's cool. And I think, I think I understand what it is, but I'm not a hundred percent sure.

Meera: The conversation with Raju Rage on dissident communities in London and beyond in the 2000s.

Raju: What I know from the pattern of gentrification is that a lot of it is about, you know, these property laws about what the local council kind of have arrangements with the government about, you know, the relationship to the place. So, you know, Hackney was really gentrified in the sense that there was this, this corridor, you know, that goes…the financial from the city, the financial district downwards. So it was very, very close, right to Shoreditch, to Liverpool Street, to that, that, that city of London. And that's the main reason why it was heavily gentrified in that way. Mm-hmm. . But I also know that, you know, Hackney has been one of the most impoverished councils and neighbourhoods.

Meera: Still is.

Raju: There was corruption in the government. They had always been slums. Then there had been slum clearance, you know, this is way back, like in the 18 -19th century. So, you know, all of that kind of was happening before. And, you know, a lot of immigrants, I guess all the kinds of marginalised immigrant communities had moved there in terms of who came first? The Huguenots., the Orthodox Jews, the Irish came in the 1940s. Turkish community, Kurdish community in the 1930s and also eighties and nineties, the Vietnamese community and then Africans in the 60s and also in the 80s. and sorry. And, Caribbean communities came in the after with the wind rush and then South Asians in the fifties and sixties, and then Eastern Europeans more recently. So there has been a huge migration coming to the area. And so, yeah, you know, the, the, they always wanted to, or the council got all this funding to create these residential properties that would allow people to commute to the city of London. You know, so it was really kind of focused on this kind of access to that sector, that area. And, yeah, I mean, I'm just trying to think, you know, in terms of like, okay, the squatting community was really against kind of property, property laws and like trying to engage with that on that level. But at the same time, our communities were probably a little like a bubble, like in terms of, we didn't engage with, we, I guess we wanted to, but we didn't... How, how much did we engage with those local communities, those immigrant communities that live there? You know, and I know there's also barriers because I know there's a lot of stigma around squatting, like, and, and people consider it dirty and, and, and, and also dissidents are considered dirty or like disgusting or whatever. So there's barriers. 

Meera: There's also a lot of pressure. Of like immigrant communities, especially like

Raju: Yeah

Meera: Black and Brown immigrant communities. To be .. 

Raju: To be respectable. 

Meera: To be respectable. Exactly. And it's like, there's so much pressure to do that and Squatting is like the opposite of that.

Raju: Exactly, exactly. So there were always gonna be these, these kinds of barriers. I think they were, we, in many ways, we did try to engage with those communities.

Meera: Mm-hmm. ,

Raju: you know, and in, in many ways, In some ways we did, but, but in terms of like, them becoming, being very much, us being a, a wider community to get together, I don't think, you know, I'm, I'm thinking about the story that Parastou mentioned about Spirit and, and his shop and, and people squatting there, and so there were these moments, there were these solidarities, they were happening. But on a bigger scale, I don't think they were as much as they should have been. And I think, you know, Parastou mentions also that when Mark Duggan was murdered by the police, I think there was a lack of solidarity coming from, from the, the , white queer anarchist community. 

Meera: So it's like with the riots? Really?

Raju: Yeah. Yeah.

Meera: Mm-hmm. . 

Raju: So I think, you know, I'm not saying that that didn't happen, that, you know, I can't speak, I can't generalise. There probably were people and, but there were also people who weren't. So I think that was quite disappointing for some of us, you know? 

Meera: So I think, and that exposes class, doesn't it? That squatting community...

Raju: it's class, but it's also that sense of like, oh, that's not, we're not part of. So then it really you, that means that you really separate yourself, you know, from the area, from the neighbourhoods, from what's happening, you know? And that's what I think is, and maybe because also, like I said, a lot of people were coming from Europe or whatever. Maybe they didn't feel this sense of like being from here, you know, so that maybe they didn't feel that connection that maybe we felt were like, we grew up here, we're born here, whatever.

Meera: Like we.. we're part of these communities . 

Raju: Yeah. We're part of these communities. So I think, yeah, and in some ways, and in terms of the kind of gentrification. I kind of think, well, yeah. I mean, the squatters didn't make it desirable for people to come and to move into the area. But what happens is in these poor areas, in these impoverished areas where housing is affordable, or people move in like squatters, like artists, you know immigrant communities. It becomes.. people move there because it's affordable, cuz it's easy to live there.

From what I know, it's kind of more the artist community, the creative community that creates this culture, but also the immigrant culture that exists there that people desire and then they move there, right. Because of that

Meera: mm-hmm. 

Raju: But then they also don't engage with that. Yeah. So, you know, there's, there's a lot of interesting history there.

But yeah, I, you know, I do think that the squatting community were definitely having this kind of anti gentrification and like trying to practise that on a day-to-day level. But I think there were also failures there.

Audio: *quick moving sound, perhaps the metro*

Raju: I really wanted to write into the archive, or put into the archive this kind of moment in time, which was the early 2000s. Well let's say 2000 to 2010. Around that decade. The naughties, the, you know, I just felt like there wasn't, there were some things that hadn't been archived in this kind of formal sense, but even in an informal sense, I just know that having conversations with maybe younger gens or other peers my age, maybe who, who didn't have they, they just didn't have a clue about. What was happening around that time that I felt was an important time, you know?

Meera: It feels a little bit like that time created a lot of foundation. 

Raju: Yes, exactly.

Meera: For a lot of people. And I know for me, like I remember our initial conversations about this over WhatsApp voice note. 

Raju: Yeah.Like, 

Meera: I remember thinking about you and QTPOC spaces in relation to like the spaces that exist.

Raju: I was gonna say, it's a tricky thing though because you don't really, you know, you must, like, there is this knowledge that what came before definitely has impacted, but we don't really know how exactly and how much or whatever. But I just feel like there's some traces when people say certain things that I'm like, Definitely I like, for example, just things around even identity, you know non-binary identity. And I can see the kind of the beginnings of those things before us. I can see how we were impacted by them and then how we might have contributed to like, what's happening now, you know? So I think it's just a very tricky thing to really pick apart, to say, yeah. This definitely had a, you know, a consequence, but then there are more tangible things like, you know, things like spaces closing down, gentrification of areas and things like that, that, that do, that you do, you can see. Okay. That really impacted, you know, the fact that we don't have maybe these community kitchens or certain spaces that exist anymore. You can, I can see that that definitely has an impact on, on what's happening now, you know? So, yeah, for me it's a tricky thing, but I, I think it's still important to know, I think it's interesting to know what happened before.
I know some younger gens don't really, or other people who are not from this context don't, not interested. They don't know. But I think it's still important to, Hackney is also such a kind of, well known kind of place, neighbourhood. There's a lot happening there, so I think it is important, you know, to kind of know 

Meera: mm-hmm.

Raju: what was going on. . So yeah, as I said, it was kind of this period of time. I moved to Hackney in the early two thousands and yeah, it was for, you know, kind of on the surface of things I didn't really know that some things were happening, but I kind of soon figured out that there was a big squatting community in the neighborhood.You could kind of just tell that from also walking around, you know, the neighbourhood. But it was also through going to events and that's how I got involved. So, yeah, I thought it would be nice to kind of share a little bit of, yeah. The feel, to get a sense of like the different squatted spaces that were existing in the early 2000s that I, that I either was involved in organising or were, you know, attended or knew the people, you know, it was a community. So we kind of all knew each other whether we and, you know, we sometimes also got involved in other people's events, like the Behind Bars. Like I used to go and DJ there, but, you know, I wasn't.., I was hugely involved in the organising, but because I was friends with some of the people, I also knew about the organising side of things. 

Meera: Mm-hmm. 

Raju: and what things needed to be addressed, like, you know, security or safety within the events. So yeah, you know, it's kind of like to get the sense of like there was a bigger, wider community in the different squats and even if you, because people were living collectively, you know, you would hear about all these different things that were happening.

Meera: How did you. , how did you do security? 

Raju: Oh, so basically in Behind Bars, what was,.. So Behind Bars was this event; it was a fundraiser. They were like big events, big squatted events, and they would usually be like raves, you know, like all night raves that would have like a whole series of DJs, sometimes they would have performances, so people would be doing piercing performances, like kink stuff, you know, like those kind of things.

I used to love going, but at some point I kind of was like, hmm, you know, it was a bit too much. It was a bit overwhelming sometimes. . So yeah, you, these are the things that, you know, when you are in a dissident community and you're trying to do, yeah, organise things that go against the system or whatever, like the way that you would usually do it in a venue with, with all these rules and regulations with the police, you know, security, that kind of thing. You kind of, you have to be responsible, you know? That's the thing. You have to create all of those infrastructures.. And I think that's the thing about dissident culture, it's not just like you are outside of the norm. It's that you have to create all of these structures for yourself.. . So I think that was difficult, you know, and what happens is that when you fail or things go wrong, or you are responsible, you are, you have to be accountable to that. And you, and you know, you. You can't just blame someone else or critique the system or, and say, oh, the carceral system is violent.

Meera: Is violent. 

Raju: Yeah. Do you know what I mean? It's something that you have to kind of address and deal with. They would move around and I remember with the behind bars, the crew would have to like sometimes build the floor. You know, they'd have to like, fix things up because the squats always wouldn't always be in the best condition.So there was a lot of labour and a lot of work going on. And with Wank we kind of did the same thing. We were, we were moving around, you know, depending on the squats. Sometimes we stayed in, in one place for a little bit longer, like the China man and Ramparts . We were all setting places like the Boys Club. But yeah, we would kind of move around in different kitchens, which meant, you know, we, you would have to, everything was like specific, you know, whether you could cook, or not, or cook raw or make raw food, or it would just really vary with the space. You know, everything was kind of dependent on, on the space we were using. I guess that also meant that, you know, it was a, you know, if it's something's not regular in, in one place. That limits who can come and who does come, you know? And I think when we did Wank at Ramparts, because it became a regular venue towards the end, like for a long period of time, people knew and people came and it ended up becoming more and more popular. When we were doing it in shifting in other places, it wasn't, it was like this close-knit kind of community and it would've got around word of mouth and like other, other kind of forms of like flyers and things that we were, we were putting out. But, generally it would be a smaller closer knit community.


So yeah, I think the spaces really influenced what it could be. But also in terms of the self-organising, you know, we had, we could do things with agency because they were squats, I think when Wank tried to do or did something at Passing Clouds in Hackney, which used to be a squat actually. And then, and then it became Passing Clouds.There was a lot more regulations, there was a lot more negotiations with the management and things like that, you know. So it was always tricky because I remember when I started I was also DJing with my partner. I used to also DJ at Club Whatever, and Bar whatever.

Meera: What, what was your DJ name?

Raju: DJ Rocket. And my name at, at the time that. Because it wasn't Raju it was Mr. Scratch. So that was, that was like my, my name, the term that I was using. And I was DJ Rocket. And so, yeah, I remember later on in kind of I was also, we would, we were kind of DJing in these kind of bar already existing queer, gay bars and clubs. And there was always, it was always a nightmare with management because management always had a, you know, their own agenda. They wanted you know, people to buy drinks and, and our crowd that we were drawing in were bringing their own drinks or on drugs or did not, did not want to buy drinks, didn't have the money to buy drinks. So, you know, it was always this tensional conflict. So I think the squats in contrast were, we could do what we wanted. People could bring their own drinks, people would bring their own drugs, but they would also provide drinks and food and, and things as one, it was affordable. The food at Wank which was two pounds or on donation. So if you couldn't even afford two pounds, you can have free food. So that's the thing that was the great thing about this squats. It was a free space that you could go and hang out in. Anyone could really come, I mean, I guess Wank was limited in terms of like this identity kind of centred group. But yeah, the squats in general were like, yeah. Kind of spaces that you, you could just be, you know, you could be yourself.. ** Yeah. I think it's so different now, like going into spaces and security, you know, the door people and all of that kind of violence that happens with..

Meera: Entering into a space that's meant to be fun.

Raju: Yeah. And you know, especially as gender and sexual divergence, you know, it's like you want to be/feel safe going into a club. I mean, I remember going into many clubs that you know, if you're in Drag or whatever, it would be cheaper or free, but when you got there, you'd just be harassed. You know, you'd be sexually harassed.

Meera: Mm-hmm. . 

Raju: So it's like, well, what's what, what's the cost that, what's the price that you're paying? , you know, you're getting in for free. But then, so yeah, I think, but at the same time, as I said, the squats, because anyone could come. No one was monitoring safety in many levels, right. You know, there were these issues of like addictions that existed. Right? And so, yeah, how do we deal with, how do we bring care into the, the, these events? And I think at that point we weren't really thinking about those things. You know, we, 

Meera: I mean these questions are still very much Present. Present, yeah. 

Raju: Exactly. But yeah, I think we were, we were young, we were kind of just out to really have a lot of fun trying to create, you know, we were political for sure. You know, that that's the thing about that, that kind of community. We were very kind of queer, queer anarchists. So we, we definitely had like a, a politics about what we were doing Behind Bars was raising money for, you know, solidarity projects. Wank was about, you know, women movements and feminist movements. Q&A cafe was about allowing a space for, for queer people who I, I guess Q&A cafe came about maybe just after Behind Bars. So it was kind of like, yeah, people who wanted to be in social space but didn't wanna go to parties. Maybe people who were recovering from addictions, maybe people who were sober, maybe people who just didn't wanna be in loud spaces.So the Q and A cafe. And that's what I really appreciated, that we had all these cafe spaces, which were social spaces. So that was really nice. And, you know, Q&A cafe was a cafe space, but I think there were DJs as well. So it was kind of like, you can still have that, but it's not a party and it, it kind of sober spaces.**

Meera: In the article, you and Parastou talk about the Q&A cafes, the place that you met. 

Raju: Yeah, yeah. 

Meera: But you were both like at the morgue..?

Raju: Haha..Oh yeah, . So there was a squat. There was an ex, it was a morgue. It used to be a morgue. 

Meera: It actually was a morgue. 

Raju: It was a morgue. 

Meera: Wow. Okay. 

Raju: So that was the morgue , and that was at the end of Dalton Lane the back of Ridley Road market, when you go all the way to the end of Ridley Road market, it's there. But yeah, so that was the morgue. And yeah, you know, it had a really cool kind of, Yeah, story or name to it. Which I think also was quite, quite funny. But yeah, it was, it was quite a small space, you know, really intimate, cute, small space.You know, me and Parastou kind of the thing of like, we, we were crossing over in different spaces. I definitely went to Pogo and used to hang out there and, you know, you, if you were on going on a date or you're meeting someone you know, to hangout the Pogo was a good space, and also Pogo was kind of, in some ways, even though it was, it wasn't a squat necessarily, it was like they had an arrangement with the landlords, but it was like this autonomous space and cooperative. It was kind of like a, a nice, safe space to go with someone who wasn't from the squatting community, you know, like you could meet people there and it would still be affordable.

Meera: Mm-hmm. 

Raju: But, and same with Bonnington Cafe, which was kind of a, a space where they were intentionally charging much more money for the food.

It was like gourmet vegan food for kind of middle class prices. . But that was because the people who were working there. They wanted, it was about generating income, you know, and an economy. So, so the people were working, there were sometimes illegal immigrants, sometimes you know, were poor squatters and they basically were working there and, and generating income.

Meera: Mm-hmm. , 

Raju: you know, I did a Drag King waitering there as well. But then I think the trajectory, it kind of shifted and changed. I don't know the demographic who works there now, but it kind of shifted and changed over the years. So, yeah. Bonnington's was also another one of these spaces, but Bonnington's wasn't a space that we would go and hang out and eat at. You know, cuz the prices were,

Meera: it wasn't for you guys

Raju: weren't affordable, actually I would eat. My friend, my, my housemate was working there. and I, that's how I got into doing the Drag King waiter job. But you know, we would eat the leftovers that they would bring home or whatever, you know, if there were leftovers or I would help them make the food that they were gonna then prepare there.So it was quite interesting the Bonnington's, cause they had different chefs coming in different days, which was really also really nice. I think. Yeah, they probably have had some definitely similar ethos I think, I think have just changed in terms of property and landlords and all those kind of things. Like they've had to adapt to those kinds of, yeah, those kind of legalities. But I think the ethos of it. And I don't remember the guy who was running it. I'm terrible, I forgot his name, but he passed away. So I think then, I dunno who was taking it on board. 

Meera: Mm-hmm. . 

Raju: And I think that kind of probably changed the dynamic. But he was very involved in the squatting scene as well, you know, so what was happening in Hackney that I remember was the Wank cafes the Q&A that came a bit later Behind Bars and then maybe just someone-off, you know, 

Meera: Pogo 

Raju: and Pogo and one-off parties that were happening. Pogo was different cause it was a fixed site. And I think lots of different people came to that space. People from us, from the squatting scene. But other people, I think Parastou mentioned. From all over came because it became this famous vegan cafe.

Meera: Because it was, what was it called? It was called Pumpkin. 

Raju: It was called Pumpkins before. Before it was Pogo, 

Meera: which my parents used to.., 

Raju: yeah, exactly. That would've been like before our time. Yeah. A little bit. The generation maybe above us would've gone to that. Although Caroline, who organised a Wank, had known it as Pumpkins and I think as I, when I just got there. I think 2000's, it just kind of maybe stopped. I think it was like in the nineties it was Pumpkins. So, yeah. So yeah, all these spaces had a slightly different kind of function, you know, in some way. And the squats that were, the residential squats, like 54 and yeah, 54 was the queer squat. And I pretty much think I was very much going to 54, even though for some reason I didn't see Parastou. Parastou was living there. Yeah.

Meera: I think she said she lived next door, the queer squat.. That wasn't, that was more chaotic one or something…

Raju: there was two queer squats. But I, I, I, I, now, I'm trying to figure out, I'm trying to remember because I'm pretty sure I went to that squat , because I remember whenever we went there, it was like the more rundown squat you know, so I think it was 54. . But then I, I also remember, Because there was 56 and there was also the 56 A, which is in..

Meera: South London. 

Raju: In South London, which is the where, so basically Caroline, who is part of the Wank cafe, was also running 56 A

Meera: Really? Which still exists now. 

Raju: Yes, exactly. And so that was also associated and connected as well. . 

So these were the main spaces. I'm trying to think if there was anything else that was going on. But what we're saying was those squats, those residential squats were also, were quite social, especially 54 and 56, let's say 54 / 56 were social. So we would, you know, we would ask, go there and hang there as a little hub. They had this cute garden that Parastou posted. Cuz yeah. When Parastou shared that photo, I was like, oh yeah, that's the one I used to hang out with. So, yeah, you know, we would, that's where a lot of the conversations, and I think the discussion we mentioned around terrorism or whatever happened in that garden.Yeah. These were the kind of social spaces. There was this big squat that I kind of, kind of mentioned in the article that was on the, almost on the corner, which is now where those big, where the first like big flats came up on, on the, the corner of Dalston. So Dalston Lane and, and Dalston Road. There's like, on that corner, there's like these big flats. Yeah. So there's a squat that was there, a massive one that I think existed from the nineties where my bro used to well he used to go to raves there or whatever. That was also a social squat where,, when I first arrived, but I don't remember what was happening and it closed pretty soon. So yeah, that also existed around that time. . So there was this cafe called the Wank Cafe, the Women's Anarchist Nuisance Cafe. And yeah, I kind of heard about. I'm not exactly.. I don't exactly remember. It could have been a flyer in one of the Turkish cafes that I was going to have breakfast. It could have been in the, in the Hackney Gazette. I don't think it would've been in the Hackney Gazette, 

Meera: but it's so interesting to think like, how did we know things before the internet? 

Raju: Yes. Exactly. And I think it was a, it must have been a flyer or I just remember, maybe it was, yeah, it was some sort of either flyer or magazine that maybe was kind of like more produced, I don't think it would've actually been in the Hackney Gazette. So, and yeah, from that I kind of was like, oh, I wanna go and check this out. But I can't really get in my head state now because it's not something that I think at the time. Would it be necessarily something I was looking to go and find, or to see?

So yeah, it's something in it spoke out to me and I think it's probably was something around kind of gender, you know, gender and sexuality. And I kind of was identifying as lesbian at the time. But kind of, yeah, realising it wasn't really fitting me in my situation. So I think it just appealed to me.

 And also I've moved to the [e]8 neighbourhood. I wanted to kind of make friends, meet people, see what's happening. But actually I didn't go when I saw that, I kind of was nervous and a bit too shy to go. And I think it was just maybe I don't remember time. I'm really like, my memory about time is just really bad.

But yeah, I plucked up the courage, maybe a few months later. I guess I heard about it again. And I went to check it out. And then I just I really felt embraced by that space, the community, the people I met there, started hanging out with people became friends. I'm pretty sure I went when it was at the Chinaman, which was a squat on Dalston Lane.

There was a whole kind of row of squats in that, on that road. And Chinaman was an old Chinese takeaway restaurant. So I went there. But when I first saw the flyer, it was at the Radical Dairy, which was another space in more of Stoke Newington end. I think there were some other spaces.

Cause I think after the China man, we kind of moved around like one off kind of different squats and different spaces. Yeah. We were in some other places. I don't remember where they were or what they were called. I think one might have been.. We even did one in a church space at one point. But then the next place after that was Ramparts Street, which was actually not in Hackney, it was next door in White Chapel. Yeah. The time period, I can't remember exactly, but I know I started kind of getting involved I think like 2004. or 2005, let's to be safe, say 2005. And I carried on kind of there till around 2008. I did come back briefly in 2011. But yeah, so that was my trajectory there.

I was one of the core members. I was skipping the food and as well as kind of cooking the food, 

Meera: was it? So Wank cafe makes it sound like a cafe. . Was it, so was it like a cafe? You could like go there, get lunch? Like

Raju: it's a cafe. Yeah, it was a, basically it was, and it wasn't. It wasn't a cafe in the same sense that Pogo was a cafe that Parastou speaks about Pogo because Pogo was a fixed site. It was always there. You know, and people kind of knew where it was and could come and drop in and stuff. So Wank wasn't. Wank kind of worked more as an event basis. So it was kind of like, and that's what made it difficult. Because we were working with the precarity of finding locations and spaces to do it in, but that also kind of limited who could come. Do you know what I mean? 

Meera: Mm-hmm. 

Raju: because it was always changing and you'd have to be in the loop and you'd have to be in the know. And we only had an email list. I think that's how people found out. And we put those flyers out. Right. And so I think, I guess how, that's how I find that about it. 

Meera: So say I was going there to get lunch. Do I pay? 

Raju: No. So, so usually there were nighttime events, so it would be a dinner. And I think we did once, it wasn't so often, so I think it was like once every two weeks or once a month, you know, it wasn't so regular. It wasn't really a cafe, it was like, it was an event with food and there was always some,,, something associated, whether that was a speaker, whether it was conversation, whether it was a screening. So there was a theme, there was always a theme. And sometimes that theme was just really playful, like the mobs and gangsters which kind of people would dress up, drag up and stuff like that sometimes. And the rollerblading. Sometimes it was more yeah, focused on feminist kind of legacy spirituality goddess. Goddess kind of worship or whatever. And sometimes it was about some political situation that was happening, a fundraising, you know, situation or it kind of just really depended. And Caroline was kind of the helm of it really, even though it was this collective project. Caroline was kind of like, I guess, the originator of it, and it was her project, her baby. She would mostly kind of organise the themes with input from, from the core membership. Anybody could be part of the organizing team if they wanted to, but it just ended up being this network of people who were really committed to it and wanted some input into that. But yeah you would come there free. It was open, you know, in that sense that anybody could come and it didn't matter who you were.

Meera: All genders?

Raju: No. But that in reality, that's exactly in reality. The one kind of limitation or what the one kind of focus or center was that it was women-centric.So it started off as being this women's cafe. So it was, that's what it's called, the WANK. But then it was soon, 

Meera: great name . ..

Raju: It's a great name. And that's the tone of it. It was very tongue-in-cheek it was this very playful. We're political, we're dissidents, we're anarchists you know, but we're serious about politics, but we're also had to have a good time.

Meera: I feel like the 2022 name for that is a Baddy haha..

Raju: Yeah. But yeah. You know, so it was kind of this women's space and when I went there, I guess I was still identifying that. Oh, I don't think I ever really identified as a woman. That's the funny thing. But I guess in some part I kind of was because I was in that space.But then it soon became clear that I wasn't a woman. There was also other squat events happening at the same time. Other things that I was a part of and involved in that weren't women only. And it became clear to me that I wasn't a woman. I wasn't lesbian and I was trans. And so yeah, that came into the space in terms of like few of us who were core members or partners of the crew who were coming or, you know, lovers or whatever. Friends, family, whatever. You know we're not identifying as women, but we still had this kind of connection to women's issues, women's politics, women's movements.And so there were these big discussions about. Opening up the space , what that would mean. How we would do that, you know, resistance to that. I think as a core team, we really didn't have any issues with that. We wanted to do it, but we kind of recognised that there were some difficulties around it.

And also just stuff around language and concepts like, you know, this kind of womxn – Which was a big thing that actually came about, kind of quite unproblematically. People were just like, yeah, that makes sense. Let's put the X in it. It's only right now in hindsight that we look back and we have these critiques that, Hmm, actually that doesn't quite work. It doesn't fit. I think some of us kind of knew that at the moment, but we also knew that this is mainly a women's space, like it's a women-centered space. We kind of knew the limits of that space and what, what it entailed, you know? what it was about.

Meera: Mm-hmm. , was it a queer? Queer space. 

Raju: It was queer. Definitely queer. It was very queer. And to be honest, going there, you wouldn't be like these are women, you know? In a sense, like people were expressing their gender in many different ways. There was a lot of Butches there, there was like just different variations of gender. And then I think, yeah, it kind of like 2006/2007, yeah.There was kind of more trans people being more visible, more people transitioning and, it just made sense that we don't wanna exclude these people. And you know, I was one of them. So, yeah, it was only in 2011 where I can see that the language kind of is very considered. So it says it's for cisgendered women, transgendered women, transgendered men, and non-binary who still have links to women's movements.That seems the most clarity. And that was 2011 when I was kind of, I came back for this, this cafe, but I'd kind of left in 2008 because I felt like there was some discrepancies around that. And you know, how you use language, but how that really, what really manifests, you know? In terms of like, how does a space that's diverse, kind of, how is it represented, you know? And I think the thing, the problem in some ways is that, you know, the name was such a good name. Wank was such a good name, that people were just really reluctant to let go of that name, you know? And then the first part of the name is women's.

So it wasn't just about keeping the name, I think. Yeah. It was also about, I mean, there are some overlaps with TERF narratives of the fact that if we remove the woman from the name or if we make it, make it open, That's a threat to women in some way. You know, like it couldn't be both things. Mm-hmm. because it would, it would marginalise or silence women and there was that fear. So there was this kind of, we weren't using the TERF term at that point, or even trans exclusionary, but those things were playing out for sure. . So I think there were these discrepancies there. I think I felt more comfortable in the Q&A than the Wank in some ways because the Q&A was just like all genders. All genders or sexualities, you know, and it was more mixed.The Wank cafe was very instrumental to me and I was really involved in that. But it was this kind of women only space, and then it became this women and trans space. And then it's, it was very womanist centered. 

Meera: The woman in the title is a bit, it could be a bit jarring, I imagine.

Raju: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's the thing is like, I get, you know, and this is the thing, there's been a lot of critiques since that about, you know, women and trans and, and what that means. And, and yes, trans people do have connections to women's movements. But yeah, it's limiting because we are not only just part of those movements, we're also part of other things, you know, and then those other things kind of get left out.

So it's kind of like you can't be fully present really, you know? In, in a full sense. It's kind of like, in a way, you can only be here if you Yeah. 

Meera: You have to center trans people.

Raju: Yeah. Exactly. 

Meera: And then, and then it kind of makes more sense.

Raju: Exactly.

Meera: If you don't do that, it doesn't quite ..

Raju: Yeah, exactly. You just get connected. And I think, you know, from my experience, and this happens all over the world, you know, these things kind of manifest in different communities all around the world that I, in my experience, it always ends up being this women and trans. But it's kind of like you can only be trans in that woman's space if you kind of passes. It passes kind of as, as as women. If you have facial hair and you look more like male. When you walk in, people are like, oh, you're a cis man. No. So it's like, it really decides what trans means on a womanist term. So that's a difficult thing. I was in a space recently where someone got a kind of assigned male at birth, feminine person was told to leave because someone didn't feel comfortable. So it's like these kind of negotiations, you know, these kind of difficulties. So I, whenever I see women and trans, I never know if I'm allowed there. 

Meera: Yeah. ..

Raju: I'm always like, well, am I allowed there? How are they gonna read me? . I grew up in a women's refuge. I'm very connected to like, you know, these kind of women centered politics, but I also know that they, those issues don't only affect women either. So it's like, but if I go there, I'm gonna be read in the way that I look more than what my experiences are. So that's why those spaces are, for me, are really problematic. Especially because there's a lot of policing that goes on. And if you're a woman and you walk in that space, you're not policed. But if you're a trans person, then walk in that space. Space might be, yeah. You might be policed. So, yeah. So I think even though we did have really good conversations, like when , you know, it was never, we were never debated, our existence was never debated. It was very clear that many of us who were involved were trans, were either kind of going through that journey now, or had, or already existing as trans people. We were connected, you know, we were friends. There was, you know, it was really a kind of a very intimate relationship within our community. Or we had lovers or partners or whatever, right? So it was never a question of like, but it was more of like, how are we gonna do this in a way that isn't violent, isn't harmful, that is done in the right way, or whatever?

And obviously mistakes were made. At the time, people were like, oh yeah, women and trans. And it was like this thing that you know, that was the kind of the progression. But yeah, I think, you know, the more politicised I got, the more I kind of realized actually I'm feeling less and less comfortable in this space.

You know? And even though the crew were really sound with each other, people who came weren't necessarily right. People who came who thought, oh, this is a womanist space and wanted that. So there was kind of like these, some of these TERF politics coming in or cultures coming in. So, you know, I would be like, well, I have to deal with them when I go. It's not just the crew or people who are organising,

Meera: it's just like added anxiety.

Raju: Yeah. I kind of grew up in Brent not only in Brent, but for a big part of my childhood was in Brent. We were a majority at school, South Asian and Black, the minority were white people. Even though I know at school, even though the white people were a minority, they were actually still more dominant.

Yeah. So, you know, whiteness plays out in this way of like, even as being a minority, it's still something that's that's dominant. And it's desired as well.. But I came from that, you know, and then when I went to art school and went to college actually outside of London, and that was predominantly white.

I think I was one of two people of colour there. And that was a whole other situation issue. So when I came back to London and came, you know, to Hackney, I think at some point, I mean I, at some point I started to realise that this is a bit odd because this white anarchist, punk community was very white. It wasn't only, there was a lot, also a lot of non British white people there. European people, there were, you know, there were some people of colour. What I would say is people of colour, it was quite diverse, but it was still, you know, it just kind of played out in this way of like the whiteness was centred, the white culture was centred. I mean, I feel like Wank was kind of one of these spaces that was also embracing a kind of paganism and other beliefs and practices outside of Christianity. So, you know, there was this kind of anti-colonial aspect to it, but it wasn't really. It wasn't really spoken about in that way for a start. And also, yeah, it was kind of dominating and at some point I had to look around cuz Hackney's not like that. Right. So I think, yeah, at some points we started to be a bit more critical about it. And I think as someone who was a person of colour, there was also this point where maybe as being objectified in some ways in this community, because I was one of few people of colour. Right. You know, I felt that happened in terms of like what happens with Asian culture, you know, in terms of people being very fascinated and interested in South Asian kind of culture.The kind of the exotic spirituality. Exactly. All those kinds of things. And I had my own relationship to that where I was like, I'd actually kind of really separated myself from South Asian culture at that point. Like I said, I came into this community. It embraced me. I had been completely unbraced before that from my own culture, from my, my South Asian culture because I didn't fit in, you know, being transgender and all these things and my queerness and not fitting into these typical roles. But, you know, I was embraced by this. But then at some point I start to become more and more politicised. You know, whiteness and microaggressions, and how that violence plays out. You can't ignore that. You know, it's there. So whether it's intended or not or whatever, it manifests and it was very clear. So, yeah, at some point we start to get more and more politicised. See, I was reading a lot of kind of political texts like Audrey Lorde, and meeting other poc who were very, who were politicised. And they really changed my, that changed for me. And this thing about being politicised, once you see it, you can't unsee it. So then I was seeing it everywhere and then I was like, this is not right. This is not okay. So we were very, very critical at that point. And I think to the point where we just wouldn't. , maybe we should have kind of tried to, I don't know. I don't wanna do the shit of whatever it happened, but I feel like we weren't prepared to kind of like negotiate or pander to that white defensiveness. We felt like, no, we, we just really need to say our peace or whatever. Now, in hindsight, I can see that that just breeds more conflict. We were really agitating, we were really critical. Defensiveness was a response to that. I feel like some of these things can't be resolved at all. Like they, they need to happen in the way that they happen and that's it. So I feel like there were really great moments. There were really great things. The fact that I came to my identity through. These spaces and through organising and activism, rather than just taking that, that label and then claiming it in a sense. I feel like there was more richness to that in a sense of like understanding, understanding myself, but understanding other people. You know, I think there is, you know, these private spaces or private moments where you can have conversations within your own safe, safer spaces. And that's also what that kind of led to is we didn't wanna be part of these spaces anymore.

Meera: Mm-hmm. 

Raju: you know, even though they were foundational to us and in some point our, our socialisation, we also realised the harm they were causing and we just wanted to organise on our own as people of colour in, we started to have our own QTPOC spaces, and do that for that reason of like, yes, some of these things have to be private conversations as well.. We started this project called Racism remixed. So all the kind of racist stuff that was coming out, we would just remix it and it was hilarious. Like we just,

Meera: where did, where like,

Raju: I think we put it on blogs, tumblr or something.

Meera: It's funny cuz it's not that long ago. Mm-hmm. . But the way that we share things and platform things has changed completely. 

Raju: Yes. Yes.

Meera: Because like you didn't have a smartphone?

Raju: No, we didn't have phones.

Meera: Did you have a computer?

Raju: I think we had computers, but it wasn't like laptop computers, right? Mm-hmm. , you'd have a desktop, but it wasn't so common for everyone. You know, it was dial up internet. It was stuff like that. You know, the platforms were MySpace at the time, and I think blogs like Tumblr and stuff just started to come out. So I think we put racism remix on, on a. Like Tumblr or Tumblr form platform. And we were connecting through MySpace, a lot of us, so we were connecting that way to meet each other.

And, and, yeah, we had phones from like 2005 onwards, I think. But they were like, not like smartphones. They were like, you know Nokia's so it was like texting, you know, we were texting each. So there was those, that's the ways that we were communicating. So yeah, we created this racism remix cause like, what are we gonna do?

There's so much racist bullshit out there. So we just, were really, you know, like we had, we are using, treating it with humour. So I also felt like I was facing this kind of defensiveness or like hostility actually from other people of colour in London, or at least some people in London. So I just felt like, what is it? What's going on in the UK where it's like,

Meera: it's too many battles? 

Raju: Yeah, so I left. I was like, this is not the place for me. And then when I came back in 2011, So I was gone from like 2008 to 2011, but I was continuing to work to, to organise in Berlin until 2016 we started to form something in the uk.

So I was connected to other people who were similarly wanting to organise in qtpoc spaces. I met a bunch of people from Brighton who were like, were tired of living in whiteness in Brighton, and they moved to London and we hung out and we started to just form this QTPOC. We decided to form this QTPOC London group, and then we decided to make a group online on Facebook. And that group started from maybe like 30 people. And it just kept growing and it got bigger and bigger and bigger. And then I think the next thing we knew was like 300 people and I dunno how many people now. So, you know, it just kind of grew and built and there was just more and more people who were like, yeah, this is what we are dealing with. This is what we're also going with. 

Meera: Was that Facebook group, like a space to talk about things? Was it an organising space where you'd meet up? 

Raju: It was. First when it was smaller, it was organising a meeting up. . We would hangout and we would meet up. The Facebook group, because remember it was like the late two thousands, people weren't really using social media in a sense to really, it was used as a organising tool mostly. So we would use it to post, to say, we're hanging out, we're meeting up, you know, rather than to use that space as a socialising space. So we were having these meetings, we would hang out. I think at the Southbank in Southbank Center cuz it's a free space and accessible and had toilets and stuff like that.

So we would meet there. And yeah, through those kind of meeting ups and hanging out, they, I guess some of us really got along together and started to also organise things, you know, and I then hung out with Evan and we decided to set up this QTPOC art group kind of as well. There was a QTPOC art group with me, Evan, Zinzi and Rebecca and another person who's passed away now.

And yeah, we started to also do that within the kind of art side of things. , but, but yeah, QTPOC London was kind of an open thing. It wasn't specifically an arts thing and we were just kind of meeting up and hanging out and I dunno if we really organised anything on a, on a, in a big way, the only thing we had in common would be people of color. And that caused its own problems and tensions because it also. We realised through that some people just weren't clicking and getting along and some people more. And there were these kind of little pockets of you know, we didn't all get along. We all had respect for each other. We all had, you know, we were on good terms, but we were, like, some of us were closer and some of us had much, had more than just identity in common. So it just kind of, that's kind of how I also see is like, kind of like this honeymoon, romantic phase. We were all hanging out, we were all getting along, but then we kind of, it that phased out and we all did our little different things. 

Meera: Were there people from the like Black or POC people from the squatting scene? that came to the QTPOC?

Raju: Some . Some. Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, and I think everyone kind of dropped in at some point in some way, like whether it was an event that was organised or something. But things shifted, you know? It's like things really shifted for people post the squatting. It was really clear that a lot of people who were squatting were some were now in institutions, some were in academia, some, you know, I think probably, maybe there were some people who were still hardcore squatters and wanted to be only in that kind of community. But I didn't see that. I saw that everybody had to adapt and shift to a different way of being in London, which was becoming more and more impossible and hostile to be in those spaces.I also think that we, we talk less and less about that. We talk less and less about, you know, this commonality of being people of color and being marginalised became the focus rather than where we lived.. What our income was, who, what our parents did. You know, all of those things weren't talked about. And again, see, I see that as something like, yeah, we should have had those conversations as well. You know,

Meera: we still should.

Raju: Yeah, we still should. You know, it's like those things don't get talked about, but actually we, we are not, yeah, we all have some commonality, but we all have different entry points. Some of us wanted to organise together, you know, what's, what's possible. The thing that's different, I guess, than in, than in the US and in Berlin and in India and the places that I had contact with, was that it was still really difficult to have community space here - it was becoming more and more difficult to have community space. So we became really quite limited. And also as the group blew up, everything got more and more institutionalised, you know, and so I think people's politics ...we weren't necessarily aligned in politics. So I think it's great that we were en masse in some way because we've, we all felt supported and we felt like there's a big mass of us. But then what the realities were that we realised what the things that we actually had in common with was, would be a smaller group that we wanted to be a part of or organise. I don't know if there were enough spaces to have these conversations. And I think also when we had these conversations, they became really difficult because we don't, we didn't have someone to mediate. We didn't have, you know, everybody's so implicated by it all, and you know. So I think we tried to have these conversations. It probably didn't happen in the best way, I think on reflection and on growth and getting older, you know, you realise more things that happened and, and maybe you would've approached 'em differently. There's, there's more compassion. With these things, but I also know that things happen in the way that they needed to happen. Like people organised with the people they felt safe and comfortable and most you know, resonated with and that's the way and, you know, these whole kind of things around inclusion now and diversity, I find a little bit troublesome because I don't always think it is possible to do that and to make that happen. If you think about how communities come together and organise, and a lot of immigrant communities come together around, Religion and culture, you know, and those spaces become social spaces and how they build and do that is through this very insular community. So I don't know how we manage to do that completely open, completely inclusive, and deal with all of these kind of issues that come up around kind of,

Meera: there's too many, there's too many things. 

Raju: Yeah, there's too many things. There's too many things. So I think there were gonna be these tendencies for smaller groups to kind of work together. And you know, there, I know that with collective creativity, We've done a lot and we've managed to do a lot because based on the trust and intimacy that we have with each other and friendship that we have with each other. That becomes difficult and bigger collectives, for example. . So what I would like to speak about is that, yeah, I had come from art school. Into this community. And I realised when I left art school, I didn't wanna be an artist, so I decided not to do that. I got into arts and education and teaching. I was teaching in Waltham Forest next to Hackney and stuff. So I was still kind of involved in arts, but wasn't really practising as an artist, and I was organising in these communities. , I guess in some senses, kind of creatively. Like I organised a trans film fest in 2008, which was at the Brixton in Ritzy. And I co-organized that with, with another white trans guy, Cole, Cole Cruz. But yeah, you know, , this kind of moment was, was I think now I'm an artist, right? So I'm from, I guess 2014 onwards, I kind of went back into art. But yeah, you know, this was quite instrumental in that time for me to kind of organise in a way that wasn't in this kind of hegemonic art school kind of way that's tied to institutions and so on. And this kind of allows me to bring these things into my practice. This other way, this expansiveness that's like, not necessarily anti-institutional, it just ends up undermining the institution, right? , because it's something different. Something else I see that as a really important instrument of time. I put out a zine in the early, in the kind of mid 2000's that time period that I was talking about called masculine femininities. And that also really connected me to people. So like we said, you know, there wasn't really internet happening much at that time. You know, zine culture was very much kind of like in that phase of like, you know, you would exchange zines, you would post zines, you would go to zine fairs. Or you know, I used to drop them off at Pogo or different kind of community spaces, right? That's how people would pick them up or you just meet people, you know, to kind of exchange. And yeah, you know, those, I actually went, I know when I did put them online, they went also kind of global as well. And so I got connected to communities in India, in Berlin and met, you know, other places in the States and Canada. And, you know, that was really important for me that doing something kind of with this creative outlet that was kind of political in this sense of like, I wanna meet other, Trans people who are similar to me, you know, or where, where are we? You know, because I remember growing up in school, you know, and feeling very much like a misfit and not finding my people. I think it's different now going through school. I think it's much, I think personally it's maybe easier to be a LBTQI person.

Meera: There's more language. 

Raju: There's more language. And I think people are more confident about saying that if I was, it was just like, not there was one person that I could identify or, and then another one who I was friends with who I late and bumped into in soho, and they were like, we just didn't even say anything, but we're like, Hey, we're both queer. You know

Meera: I think about that sometimes, whether it is easier because my initial feeling is, yeah, of course it must be and in some ways it is. But then I wonder like, can you be mandem and queer? can you know, like, 

Raju: yeah. It's not easy for some, that's not for everybody. 

Meera: Are you allowed to be queer without performing this type of queerness?

Raju: Yeah, exactly. And that's really important cuz I think, you know, maybe in that time there was a bit more diversity about how you could express your queerness. And I think now maybe, maybe you're right, maybe there is kind of like, because of media representation, there's these kind of ideals of what being queer and what trans, what trans is, right? I think we were kind of like gender queer. We were kind of using this term gender queer which kind of felt a bit more free and a bit more open, you know? I don't know. But at the same time, I remember making jokes about how lesbian haircuts and, you know, how people end up, I think people gravitate towards each other in, in the sense of like, you know mirroring or whatever. So there was that, you know, in terms of like what it means, what it means to look like a punk or whatever. But yeah, I don't know. I just feel like in that moment I was trying to reach out and find my community, and I managed to do that through making the scene and connecting with people. And that was really empowering for me, you know and it created a lot of connection, across kind of context, which was also, you know, a lot of kind of knowledge for me to like, learn about how things are in India, or learn how things are in Berlin and, and organise with people in that way, you know, like taking supplies to India or teaching about self-injecting or running a workshop in Berlin or a conversation or whatever. Those were really yeah. Kind of moments that I really kind of celebrate. 

Meera: That must have been very like affirming as an artist. 

Raju: Yeah, totally. 

Meera: For your art to be able to have helped you create those kind. 

Raju: Yeah. 

Meera: If you hadn't made that zine, how would you have made those connections?

Raju: Yes, and I didn't need an institution to get through it. Now, institutions are creating zines when they have, they have a lot of money, they don't need to be making zines, but now they're really interested in zines. It's just interesting how these subcultures have become so desirable as well within kind of more mainstream institutional spaces. And yeah, maybe there's a conversation about appropriation and commodification there as well. Yeah. I also don't want to, like, there was a lot of problems within the squatting community in the 2000's. There's been problems with the QTPOC communities. Like, it's not like, oh, people are better than each other. It's like, you know, we all make mistakes. We all..

Meera: Learn lessons,

Raju: learn lessons. We all cause harm in some way. And yeah, I think now we see a lot of people of colour part of the Tory government and, and things like that. So it's kind of like, we also know now that people of colour can also be white supremacist.

Meera: Yeah. 

Raju: So, you know, or patriarchal, whatever. I think there's a lot more to discuss beyond identity.

Meera: My name is Mira Shakti Osborne. I am the editor and curator of this work. I am responsible for the shape this piece has taken. . Part of the process of creating this work has been exploring ways to tell stories, make an archive that feels generative and inclusive. Everything you have heard is what the participant and myself have chosen to share with you.

We welcome feedback and encourage you to visit www.duh.world to see the rest of the archive and to get in touch with us. This work has been funded by Arts Council England Project Grant. Thanks for listening.

Transcription by Sarah Maher

Audio Mixing and Mastering by Alex Sushon