Coming out tale 'could help Black gay boys to accept themselves'
- Credit: Mollanda Burke
Growing up Black and gay on a Hornsey housing estate, Dior Clarke hid his sexuality until he could no longer suppress it.
He has used to experience to write a film and now a play. Batty Boy was a 10 minute film made for Sky as part of a drive to find writers with no experience in screen writing. Now, Passion Fruit expands on the coming out tale and the homophobia his character experiences from his own culture and the wider world.
"After Batty Boy I felt I had more to say," says Clarke, who performs in a cast of three at The Glory in Haggerston.
"Batty Boy starts in a club where someone puts on a song with homophobic lyrics and everyone dances to it because it's what we grew up with. Whereas Passion Fruit starts with me saying 'Mum I am gay.' But coming out isn't telling the world, it's accepting that what you are isn't wrong. So it's a love story, a self love story. The play is a deeper insight into what this character goes through, what his brother mum and dad have experienced. It's not just a gay story."
Passion Fruit touches on domestic violence, a brother caught up in gang brutality, and the gay urban scene.
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"In the Jamaican culture the music can be very homophobic. It was hard growing up around family members - or the boys on the estate - where there were homophobic slurs. But I am not bashing these characters, it's from a place of love."
Dior attended St Mary's Primary then Alexandra Park school and talks of navigating both racist stereotypes about Black men and toxic messages about masculinity.
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"If you are gay in one ear you are called racist things by police, and in the other ear your community is calling you a batty boy. I knew I was attracted to men but I suppressed it because I believed it was wrong and there was no option to be it. From a young age there's a rough culture around being a man, be physical, be aggressive, be abusive to your partner, so I had a lot of pretty girls around me and played that role of Black bad boy that I thought I had to to survive."
When his brother suffered a serious attack, his family briefly left London. "My brother was stabbed and nearly lost his life and we moved to Essex for six months. It was a completely different culture, and my mum decided to go back to London."
Returning to Highgate Wood School, a drama teacher encouraged Dior to audition for the London School of Dramatic Arts and he "fell in love with the arts world."
"I ended up leaving with 3 A Levels, I did National Youth Theatre got an agent and theatre work and started working my butt off."
He credits that world with helping him to come out. "It was the first time I had stepped out of my community and was around people who said 'be yourself, embrace yourself'. One day while rehearsing a Romeo and Juliet monologue he broke down, admitted he was gay, and resolved to tell his family.
"I went home after the lesson walking and crying to say 'this is who I am and if you don't accept me you can all eff off,' but my friend was there and said: 'we always knew'. I thought I was doing a good job of hiding it.
It turned out that Dior's mother had overheard the confession and her support has been crucial - she even played herself in Batty Boy.
"My mum is my best friend. She's been my rock and superwoman. I have so much respect because it wasn't easy as a single mum with four of us. She went without so we could have and pushed me to follow my dreams, to be bold and not frightened to tell a story like this. I am very lucky, my family who are very working class Jamaican accepted me with open arms, but I know boys who are hiding it or have come out and been disowned.
"We often see stories where the character comes out and it ends there, but the biggest journey starts afterwards. Trying to find your place in a new world is not always easy because the Black gay urban scene is a pool of beautifully broken people, it's a place to have fun and express yourself but it can be a toxic culture of drink, drugs and sex and you need more."
Dior hopes to "build an artistic community and create other projects" but first he wants Passion Fruit to tell a little heard story that might help others to accept themselves.
"I've ripped myself open and said 'here I am.' It's very personal and I had to block my inner voice saying 'is anyone going to care about this story?'
Ultimately he doesn't want Passion Fruit to be just about trauma but about hope and achievement.
"It's packed with the beauty and the hope of look what happens when you love yourself and don't allow the world to demonise you."
Passion Fruit runs at The Glory September 26-28.https://www.theglory.co/#whatson