“It was the summer, it was still light, a beautiful day. I stopped and walked part of the way home, and I decided to take a short cut, which was down a street that’s not very safe basically, it’s wasn’t very busy, and that was in hindsight a bad decision”.
The situation in which Nando Messias found himself in several years ago was to be subjected to a violent attack: “I was met by a gang of young men, they circled me, and I had no escape really, no way of turning back. I was in not really flamboyant clothes, wearing makeup, wearing heels and a hat. I suppose not conventionally dressed, but that doesn’t mean it should warrant an attack. They started pushing me first, shouting abuse and then physically attacking me.”
His reaction was to create a captivating performance based around empowering himself and others who have gone through similiar attacks. Having been through the struggle, Messias was incredibly open about the event. “The psychological damage was a lot more difficult than the physical damage, I wasn’t hurting much, but it took me about three months to build up the confidence to go back outside again”. From this awful event spawned the idea for the new show, empowering audiences across the country. “It was a long process, I started reading a lot about hate crimes. Realising that there was a rise in numbers reported in this area, realising it was something that was happening to other people. It wasn’t just an isolated event, and I slowly realised I had the tools to do something. This is when the performance kind of started to be conceived in my head.”
The Sissy’s Progress has been a working progress for the last few years and it is just about to set off on the second half of its tour, not a conventional show to say the least. “I wanted to understand the energy in my body, what it was that attracted those men to me. Then I realised, if I take away the make-up, take away the high heeled shoes and take away the hat, what remains is my body. How I walk, that’s what they saw, they saw me walk in an effeminate manner. I tried to understand if I could walk in public without drawing attention, then I realised that I couldn’t, but more that I didn’t want to do that. It felt violent really to try and correct the walk, not be who I am.”
After identifying the issues and motivation behind the attack, Messias went about setting the performance up. “My solution was, instead of trying to hide it, was to make it more visible, to turn up the volume. That is what the performance does, it’s the progress of visibility. It’s about enhancing my differences, becoming more visible on the streets.”
More importantly, this show shines a light on a growing problem in society, last year homophobic attacks had risen by a third in London alone. “That is what the piece does, it brings awareness to the issue which is still very much part of our daily living unfortunately”.
Messias has also been running groups to offer help along with the show. “I teach people who have gone through things. To help turn around situations like that and to empower themselves to go out into the world. Because that was my experience, I couldn’t go out because that would happen to me again, and the actual making of this performance has allowed me to be more proud of myself. It has empowered me, it has giving me back the right to occupy the streets and that is what I hope to do when I teach.”
The Sissy’s Progress is touring in London and Brighton Fringe between the 17 March and 12 May.
Image credit: Loredana Denicola