Exclusive: Chris Sutton on being publicly genderqueer

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Chris Sutton talks exclusively to PinkNews about being genderqueer in the public eye, after their brother Stephen famously raised £5 million for charity while battling incurable cancer.

Stephen Sutton inspired people with his incredible positivity, and desire to use his limited time left to make a difference. He hit headlines around the world, and countless people wanted to pay tribute to him.
After his death, he was honoured with a string of awards. Chris went to collect them, and appeared on television in a heels, a dress and looking, as they describe themselves, “offensively queer”.

Chris said some of the best parts of the whole experience – apart from “Fangirling over Peter Capaldi, being there in front of me, and having a very nice chat with him” – were people’s positive reactions to the way they dressed and presented.

“At some of the awards it was quite nice how some people would come and say, ‘I know it’s great what your brother’s doing, but I want to say I’m inspired by what you’re doing, standing up there being yourself’.

“I remember one woman said ‘My husband usually doesn’t like girly gays and all of that stuff, but when he saw you on stage he was like “no, fair play”.’ Mixed, that one, but I’ll take it!”

Inevitably, though, not everyone was so positive. Chris didn’t notice any negative reactions at the time, but a few months later they decided to have a look on twitter at what people had been saying during the Pride of Britain awards.

“Some people were like ‘what is that?’ – I mean, grow up!

“Some said: ‘Couldn’t their mum have made them wear a suit for this one occasion? Why did they have to do this, taking the attention away from Ste?’

“It’s that strange thing where just being myself, presenting my gender the way I want to, is a political act, whether I want it to be or not, and it’s going to be seen in that way.

“By my very nature, me being me, people are going to see me as taking attention away and – no! It shouldn’t be that way. I’m not doing this to make it about me, I’m doing it because this is the way I am and this is what makes me happy.

“I wouldn’t be being myself if I wasn’t stood on that stage in heels and a flouncy top.”

There was however once occasion where Chris felt they had to make a compromise: “Collecting the MBE from the Queen, I was made to wear a suit. It was an amazing day for my mum on two levels. First, meeting the Queen and collecting Ste’s MBE. Second – seeing me in a suit. I think that was the only one I ever did think ‘OK – yeah, too much hassle to go against the establishment for that.’”

If things had happened differently, Chris would not have wanted the spotlight on them. But they hope that simply being themself in public will have made a difference.

“I think it’s important for people, who feel able, to be visibly queer in mainstream environments and media. There’s generally a very narrow range of queer identities that get exposure, and similarly a narrow range of narratives presented and I did think it important that given the chance, I could present a different narrative.

“People like me aren’t usually stood on a stage receiving rounds of applause because a family member has become a national hero, or having news stories written about them because they’ve passed their masters in mathematics.

“Non-binary people aren’t usually anywhere in the media. I thought it was a good thing I was able to show that the same household that produced my brother also produced me, to people who, if they didn’t know anything about me, would make negative judgements based on my appearance.

“It’s easier for people to dehumanize others when they’re a total stranger. I hope it’s a bit harder to mock someone whose dead brother raised £5 million for charity.”