Community Spotlight: Hysteria

In honour of LGBTQ+ History Month we chatted to Mae Diansangu and Hanna Louise, co-founders of Hysteria Aberdeen, to find out how Hysteria are celebrating and how they’ve coped with life in lockdown.

Hanna (left) and Mae onstage at Hysteria, June 2018

Can you start by telling me a little bit about Hysteria, for the unacquainted?

Hanna: Hysteria is a performance space for women, non binary and trans creatives. It’s for anyone who is marginalised because of their gender. We had a performance night which in the good old days was happening once a month at Spin, but now it’s moved online to Zoom, with some success. There have been some teething problems, but we’re getting there! We also have a zine which comes out sporadically, and more recently we started doing workshops, so we’re branching out a little bit more! 

Mae: Over the past two and a half years (since Hysteria was founded), it’s sort of moved past being just a performance night. There’s a really nice community which has built around that. A big part of that is getting to know the people involved, supporting each other and each other’s work. 

Hanna: It’s a safe space, that’s our big thing. When we started, I couldn’t get on stage to host- I wanted to disappear every time I got on that stage! The idea is that there’s no aggro, only support. It‘s a safe space where people whose voices wouldn’t ordinarily be centered, and who might not feel comfortable at your average male-dominated open mic, can come and have a go. 

You’re also doing a project marking LGBTQ+ History Month Scotland. Can you tell us about that?

Mae: Yes! We’re doing an LGBT+ History Month performance night on the 23rd. We’ve got 8 performers; I think they’re all Aberdeen based, or at least have a connection to Aberdeen or Hysteria. We’re publishing a zine as well, it should be coming back from the printers soon. We had put out a call for submissions of art, poetry, whatever, on the theme unsung and we put those together to make the zine. 

We got a little bit of funding from the Equality Network which was really good, and such an easy process as well. We wanted funding so that we could pay everyone who’s performing  (on the 23rd), because we don’t always get to do that… We were a bit concerned before we applied that there would be lots of caveats and conditions but the application process was so simple. That accessibility is I think really important but it’s so often not the case when you’re trying to get funding. It’s sad that that’s not often how it works, especially for communities and projects that could really use money! 

Four copies of Hysteria's LGBTQ+ History Month zine, fanned out over a textured peach background.

How have things changed for Hysteria as a result of the pandemic? And for your communities more broadly- any specific issues you want to highlight?  

Hanna: From what I’ve seen around the Hysteria community, it’s definitely taken it’s toll on people. We are connected with a lot of marginalised people who are struggling for so many different reasons- and all the things people were struggling with before have been compounded by the pandemic. Among marginalised people, and creative people, its just been a horror show. Everyone’s mental health is really badly hit. Doing an online event almost feels like putting a plaster on a gaping wound- it’s not really doing enough. 

It would be good to take what we’ve learned from the pandemic forward- have more events and resources online, keep thinking about different ways to reach people you can’t reach in person. But at the same time, that sense of community that holds people together is easier to build face to face. 

Mae: Especially with Hysteria, it doesn’t translate so well to the online format. You would go to Hysteria and you wouldn’t know anyone there, maybe you’d never been before, but there would be a room full of people for you to speak to. That doesn’t really feel the same online, the interaction and engagement. Something nice about Hysteria is there’s no real difference between the audience and the stage- it’s all just one space. Even if you’re not performing, you’re still part of the event. 

Hysteria is inherently queer because we are inherently queer, but we never initially set out to make it a queer space- that’s just kind of what it’s become, de facto, because we’re in charge and we make everything gay. It’s the most marginalised that are the most affected by COVID, and it’s also the most marginalised that need those real life spaces and places to meet safely.

Aside from being champions of the queer community locally, I know you’re both involved in other activist and community causes- can you tell me about some of these? 

Mae: Well, we actually met at a sign making workshop! There was a protest for Repeal the 8th with Aberdeen Student Left- I wasn’t and never have been a student of Aberdeen University, so it was weird that I was there. A few days before there was an opportunity to make protest signs, and that’s where Hanna and I met. It was obviously meant to be that activism would become a big part of our relationship! 

Recently I’ve been working with Black Lives Matter Scotland, it’s kind of slow going right now because we’re just building the network, connecting people who organised the big protests in June but also people who had been doing work before that. I’ve been meeting regularly with other BLM organisers across Scotland and we’re starting to become a bit more visible now. Hopefully we’ll be doing things like webinars and talks, and taking the work that’s already being done by local activists to a national scale.

In Edinburgh and Glasgow particularly the organisers have been trying to confront racism in schools, and supporting families who have experienced racist incidents. That’s one thing that we’d like to push nationally- holding authorities to account when racism is an issue in schools, because it is a big issue.

Hanna: In the past I’ve been involved in various different causes, kind of starting with Independence, then focusing more on class visibility and disabled representation in the arts. I think the pandemic has really thrown me though- I’m not really as involved with my communities as I’d like to be anymore. Definitely trying to get back into more activist work, though. 

When you have a marginalized identity you don’t really have the choice to be apolitical, because people politicize who you are fundamentally. You either just accept that, internalise the hatred… or you start to question it.

Can you pinpoint anything specific that drove you or inspired you to take up activism and community work?  

Mae: For me I don’t think there was a specific starting point. The first protest I ever went to was against the Iraq War – but I just went because my mum was going, I wasn’t woke as a 12 year old. I think especially when you have a marginalized identity you don’t really have the choice to be apolitical, because people politicize who you are fundamentally. You either just accept that, internalise the hatred and decide you deserve to feel this way; or you start to question it and think actually, maybe this isn’t cool- and that’s politics! That’s political all of a sudden, when you say this isn’t right  and we should change it. 

Hanna: Yeah, just life experience: growing up in a very chaotic environment and having all these various aspects of my identity that are marginalised, a lot of the time I was told “no”. For most of my life I was told you can’t do this, can’t do that, we cont want you here et cetera. If I listened to that, I’d literally never do anything. When you’re constantly being put down and told you can’t participate because you’re disabled or mentally ill or queer or whatever, just getting up and continuing to write and speak even though no one wants to hear what you have to say is kind of inherently political. 

And finally: what’s next for Hysteria? Do you have any projects coming up that we should know about?

Mae: We’re hoping to do some writing workshops at some point soon.

Hanna: Yeah, we want to take the theme of self care, following the initial trial workshop we did recently, and turn that into a series. We would be hoping to get a bit of funding for that, because nobody has any money right now- we usually charge £3 for events to cover costs, but it’s a bit much to ask people to pay just now.

Mae: And maybe we’ll make up a constitution and form a committee, become an official community group. I think we should do that!

Thanks so much to Mae and Hanna for taking the time to talk to us for our first Community Spotlight feature! You can keep up with Hysteria using the social media links below.