“I can’t get deep in the way I want to”: Killing Midgitte Bardot and becoming Tammy Reynolds
Tammy Reynolds is contemplating killing off Midgitte Bardot, the drag character that she has performed since 2017, when she became involved with Liverpool’s legendary queer drag dinner cabaret and club night EAT ME + Preach.
In just a couple of years, Reynolds has evolved as an artist, moving from performance poet, to drag queen to live artist. In that time, Midgitte Bardot has served as a vehicle for Reynolds to subvert the narrative of female disabled artist through her innate humour, but Reynolds has a lot more to say as an artist and the visually camp persona of Midgitte Bardot is giving way for Reynolds to explore a wider set of ideas in her own right as a live artist.
Reynolds created Midgitte Bardot after a period of hosting open mic nights at The Pilgrim and performing political poetry. After a performance one evening at The Everyman, where a volunteer from the audience read out her old birthday cards while she cut a dress to fit her size, a commentary on society not fitting her, a friend told her she had just made a piece of live art, “I was like – what? No, live art’s like cutting yourself on stage or sitting in a museum.”
Soon after that, Reynolds got involved with EAT ME + Preach, and created Midgitte Bardot, “this very rude, cruel, narcissistic, rich woman. She doesn’t know what a dwarf is, she doesn’t identify as disabled she doesn’t know what disability is. The world adores the very essence of her.” The creation of Midgitte Bardot coincided with discovering the social model of disability, which says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. “I spent most of my teenage years in that internal state of hating myself because of this and because of that. If I’d had the social model of disability, I don’t know how that would have been. I think I would have got all my rage out then. I would have been a punk.”
Instead she became Midgitte Bardot and used the persona as a vehicle to explore her physicality, “I started getting creative with it and I started seeing how my body is represented in the media and, in turn, then treated by other people. I think there is a culture there, a freak culture has been bred out of discrimination.”
At a recent drag pageant she competed in, the judges kept mispronouncing her name and calling her ‘midget’ to a point where towards the end, when the audience were chanting for the performer they wanted to win, Reynolds found herself on stage in front of 250 people chanting ‘midget’ at her. Her friends were concerned, but Reynolds reflected, “If I could tell my eleven-year-old self that that was a positive experience, I wouldn’t believe it. I utterly felt like I had reclaimed that word for myself.” As she explains, “It’s very derogatory and a lot of people with dwarfism really fucking hate it and are triggered by it. I am very aware that people with dwarfism might hate me because my name is Midgitte Bardot. I think it makes people uncomfortable. Everyone knows that it’s not right and the reason why it’s not right is because it’s funny. So, when someone is in front of you seriously saying, ‘my name is Midgitte Bardot’, it gets very confusing about how you’re supposed to use that word. The joke’s been taken from you and the person who is the object of the joke is in control. It’s very disarming.
Despite the success of Midgitte Bardot, Reynolds doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a representative for a community, “I’m at risk of being representative for people who I don’t have the voice of and I’m always very aware of that. Now, as a performer, the things that I am talking about in terms of just actual politics and queer stuff aren’t anything to do with disability, and I think that’s why I’ve started thinking of killing her. I’m happy with what I’ve done with her. She’s also going down this cabaret route. I can’t get deep in the way I want to get deep and so I’ve started doing that as Tammy Reynolds.”
Getting deep in the way she wants to get deep involves exploring the very deeply personal. Reynolds recently performed at the Live Art Development Agency where she played a recording of herself reading her Department of Work and Pensions disability assessment over a distorted soundtrack while she drank prosecco. On a screen behind her, she projected the Facebook page of the DWP employee who had written the assessment as she commented on what she found on his page. He lived in Blackpool, had been in the army and had a photo of his face photoshopped onto a Mexican donkey. She added him as a friend and then left the stage. This is not a performance she could have delivered as Midgitte Bardot. It was too nuanced and very personal.
Afterwards, a number of audience members came up to her to tell her she was brave, something she is ambivalent about. Being ‘brave’ in the disability community is contentious: “It’s political. This is the kind of thing that I think a lot of female disabled artists especially come up against, but also, I would argue female artists, people of colour and intersections like that. I get bored of it because I don’t want to be political all the time. It’s a political act to leave the house for a disabled person, especially a physically disabled person. I would say that the things I’m doing aren’t vulnerable, but they’re vulnerable because of the body that I have. The reason why the things that I write do seem vulnerable is because they are probably coming from a deeper place of vulnerability because I’m being pushed there by society.”
Reynolds expects live art to be a more introspective practice, but it won’t be any less political, “I’m experiencing chronic pain now and that is something that’s even effecting my ability even to do drag. So [live art] would be a much more internal, deeply self-explorative thing. I like to go against the grain, but I think I want to be kinder this time. Before, I was a bit aggressive, which made sense because they fucked me up the arse and I wanted to fuck them too. Now I want to do stuff that I want to do. I am a slightly aggressive, fiery person at times but I’m also loving and nice and caring and I’d like to stick to that more.”
Tammy’s upcoming events:
DaDaFest Scratch, Liverpool, 27th February, Unity Theatre