This Sussex Life: John Giannini, Student Recruitment Assistant: “We don’t do as much as we could”
John Giannini, a Sussex graduate and currently a Student Recruitment Assistant, is taking part in Brighton & Hove Pride’s parade on 3 August.
On the surface, Pride is a really good opportunity to highlight the importance of LGBT+ equality. But increasingly for me it has a different meaning. I was a drama student at Sussex and my final performance and dissertation project was about the shortcomings of Pride and whether or not we could celebrate ‘shame’ as an alternative. It was based on Pride’s increasingly commercial, corporate elements, such as letting companies join the parade even though they sell products made in countries where homosexuality is illegal.
I’m carrying a sign that says ‘Queer Liberation, not Rainbow Capitalism’. Rainbow Capitalism really benefits people like me – white, middle-class men. It encourages homosexuality as long as it’s “palatable”. So a white, middle-class man who’s in a monogamous relationship with his partner and is masculine is easier to digest [in our predominantly straight culture], rather than queer people who are a lot more likely to be on the periphery, such as ethnic minorities, trans people, gender non-conforming, non-binary – people who don’t fit into those moulds, and shouldn’t have to.
I was super passionate to march with the University because of my role in student recruitment. With issues such as climate change and Brexit, students are a lot more politically engaged than I was when younger. They want to know what Sussex’s perspective is on issues such as feminism and LGBT equality. I want to stand with them and be part of that conversation.
I came out when I was 15. My parents were fine with it, and so were my extended family. I had lots of support from friends. I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer, so from the age of three until 20 I did that. It was a very accepting environment, and a great world to grow up in, but it was like a bubble. I wanted to be a dancer, but I also wanted to go abroad and study. I knew there was a whole world to see.
I wanted to come to Brighton because it was seen as the most liberal city in the UK. When you walk through Brighton and see rainbow flags everywhere it’s easy to forget that we still have a long way to go. But Brighton could be guilty of “pink washing”, which means promoting LGBT+ equality in order to excuse political shortcomings when it actually comes to equality. We say we’re so open here, but don’t actually do as much as we could.
I also sometimes I feel that the University steps back for fear of being too politically engaged rather than just really indulging that and saying this is where we stand. That’s what would benefit Sussex, because it’s what students are asking me all the time. They want to be somewhere that’s not afraid to go with those politics.
The Drama department at Sussex is really small but it’s led by some fearless people – Jason Price, Lisa Peck, Arabella Stanger. They created a space that allowed me to go head first into that political argument. And because Sussex is built on interdisciplinary foundations, what I loved about my drama degree was that most of the time I was researching hard-core psychology.
The arts is one of the best ways to communicate to people as a whole, and to governments. That’s the reason why in a dictatorship the first thing that gets shut down is the arts, because that’s the birthplace of political thought. The biggest issue we have with LGBT is government inaction, because they won’t do anything unless they know they have people asking them to do it.
I am interested in the political elements of theatre, particularly experimental dance theatre, and I’m hoping to do a Masters in Advanced Theatre Practice, perhaps in Berlin or New York. My reason for wanting to combine politics and dance is that my ballroom background is very gender conforming. It’s a man in a tail suit who leads a girl in a beautiful dress, which is kind of like the opposite of what I have come to believe in politically. So for me it will be about ripping that apart. There is so much dance theatre that’s politically engaged – whether that’s exploring gender in the body or using non-trained dancers to perform stuff. I find it interesting it has so much scope to tell you about human experience.
This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.