Fearless activist Jamie Wildman – who came out as non-binary aged 69, proving it’s never too late – dies after cancer battle

Non-binary activist Jamie Wilman at PinkNews' office

Jamie Wildman was the butch elder we all needed. Coming out as non-binary at 69 in a PinkNews video interview we did together, Jamie was bold and fierce but reminded us all that it’s never too late to explore and embrace who you are.

I first saw Jamie at London’s Young Vic theatre back in April 2019 in Carnation for a Song. Performing on stage in a play about the lives of older LGBT+ people, Jamie stood out as boldly, proudly, fiercely butch.

With tattoos, a leather jacket and a powerful line in the play about the right to own your own body, Jamie made me laugh and cry before we had even met. Jamie was also – very rightly! – the poster image for the show and I put the flyer up on our bookshelf afterwards as their portrait is so powerful.

Jamie Wildman holds a flower in the play poster

Jamie Wildman in the poster for Carnation for a Song

I was blown away by Carnation for a Song and got in touch with the Young Vic to see if I could track down this amazing butch and ask if they’d be interested in doing an interview. I knew Jamie had a story to tell and was someone we rarely get a chance to see in the media – but whose voice could help a lot of people.

We were put in touch via email and Jamie said: “I’m intrigued.” We met at the PinkNews office, which almost feels a distant memory under lockdown, and there Jamie was: looking pretty damn cool, to be honest.

Jamie and I spoke for nearly two hours – an unusually long time for an interview in our little studio – talking about everything from that first time you realise you’re queer, to religion, misogyny, creating community and defying gender norms.

Jamie was also such a character – telling me in detail about wild, sex-positive parties at London lesbian clubs back in the day, dyke nights in all leather, and how important it was to educate the community around consent.

Jamie Wildman at a protest

‘OUT PROUD AND ANGRY’: Jamie Wildman on a march

Besides sharing that they are in the process of coming out as a non-binary, Jamie was also incredibly open with me about cancer treatment and was never afraid to be vulnerable. We even found a way together to hide their hospital blood test marks, tying their (very cool) bandana round their arm for the camera.

They were very fearless talking about cancer, which was already in the later stages at the time of our interview, and was clear about using their time left to help the community.

Jamie told me “I’m very proud to call myself a trans ally” and explained plans to set up a martial arts defence class for trans people so they feel less vulnerable on the streets.

Jamie also wanted to bring back Carnation for a Song for a bigger, bolder re-run that included more minorities within our community. I know Jamie was also very involved with helping LGBT+ homeless charity, The Outside Project.

Coming out as non-binary was a later realisation for Jamie and they showed us how it’s never too late to go on a journey of self-exploration or to come out.

Jamie Wildman being butch and proud

Butch and proud: Jamie Wildman

Jamie said in the interview: “For people that have their preconceived their ideas of what a 69-year-old person should look like – ‘it’s wrong to be gay, you’re this, you’re that, the other, don’t have tattoos, you look like a criminal’ – oh lordy, just let me be myself.

“I think we need to be satisfied with who we are and if not, change it.”

After we finished filming, we both said how much the conversation had meant to us. I’ve filmed with many amazing people as a journalist but having such a deep connection with someone is quite rare. I had really learnt from Jamie, and they said they had felt heard and safe speaking on camera, which felt a relief that I’d been of help.

When Jamie’s interview went live on PinkNews, it reached more than two million people on social media. I was so happy to know that millions of people would also get to hear this amazing non-binary activist speak.

We stayed in touch after filming and I emailed about the video going live and to say how much I enjoyed meeting. We both shared how important the conversation had been to us, and I emailed again just a week ago to see how Jamie was doing but never heard back.

Then I saw the news on The Outside Project’s post at the weekend and cried. We’ve lost a special soul.

Tributes have poured in from many in the community – including Rebel Dykes, and individuals who were moved by Jamie’s warm personality and unique character.

Rebel Dykes have also shared the link to the original cast recording of the play Jamie performed in, Carnation for a Song.

Jamie had something special that resonated with me as a butch lesbian – be brave, be proud, never be ashamed to tell the world who you are, but also never be afraid to question (no matter your age or time left here).

Jamie showed us that butch strength is in the kindness we show ourselves, our loved ones and our community.