This International Womxn’s Day, Boshemia is considering the womxn who inspire us. Above image: Alok Vaid-Menon by Eivind Hansen.
Alex — his English Teacher
When I think of the people who have inspired me the most, one person always comes to mind: an English teacher I had at the age of fourteen. Prior to high school, I’d never engaged with the subject and the educators around me pushed “practical” subjects – sciences and technologies – but this was a teacher enthused about the arts. One of the first homework assignments she set us was to write a short story from the perspective of a minor character in a novel, and when I turned it in she was actively excited about what I’d written – she discussed it with me and encouraged me to write in my spare time. It turned out that my first year in that school would be her final one – but in that time she started a drama club (when it wasn’t even an option to study drama) with student-written and lead plays, and I took my first star turn as Claudio in a very abridged version of Much Ado About Nothing. She was always looking for ways to nurture talent, and provide real education – and not just to me. When our PSHE class had questions about sex and drugs, she found informative ways to answer them. When students desperately needed to get through an exam, she would find the best way to help them do that. She demanded that the drama club have space to change into costumes, and set myself and friend up to gain an extra GCSE (we were abandoned in this when she left). One good teacher changed my whole trajectory – I probably wouldn’t have studied English and Creative Writing at university or have my plays performed on stage or create content for Boshemia, if it wasn’t for her genuine encouragement. I am so thankful for her inspiration, and there’s not a moment it’s not with me.
Robbie — the artist Alok Vaid-Menon
I’m inspired by Alok Vaid-Menon for so many reasons. I was lucky enough to see them perform together with Travis Alabanza (also a huge inspiration) in Bristol last year and it was so special. Alok is a formidable performer and writer, but what I find most engaging and inspiring about them is their commitment to challenging the status quo and furthering the conversation around trans identities and in particular highlighting the experiences of non-binary and non-conforming folk and trans femme PoC. They speak so openly and with such integrity that their voice is able to outshine the negativity, one-dimensionality and misinformation with which the media so often portrays the trans experience. I’m grateful to them because their work and their tirelessly genuine presence on social media makes me feel seen as a non-binary person and also highlights the diversity of trans identities where race, gender and class intersect with our richly individual personalities and histories. This artist is at the forefront of this all-too-necessary conversation and holds their position with more poise and fierceness than most of us could dream of. Oh, and you can bet your life they know how to turn a look. Okay, enough gushing, but if you don’t already I cannot recommend enough that you follow @alokvmenon and listen to everything they have to say. —Robbie
Eileen— her first boss, Kendra
During my final year of university, by a stroke of luck I got hired at an independent bookstore — Four Seasons Books. Growing up, this shop was something of an icon to me and so to get the chance work there as a young adult was very special. I’d had a few jobs before this, but my manager, Kendra, was my first Substantial Boss.
In the year or so that I worked there, she instilled in me such guidance and direction for my life. She was patient, kind, and open-hearted to the worries of my 20 something self: I was rubbish at the cash register, often late, and honestly not great at alphabetizing the stock. Besides patiently encouraging me to perform better at work, she gave me the time and space to become who I am today. There were many Saturday afternoons stood behind the till together where I leaned on her for guidance. I miss those dearly. The stuff of life was never off the table for discussion. She talked me through grief — I had just lost a family member. I was anxious to leave my hometown after that had happened, but was dragging my feet about leaving. But she encouraged me to chase my passions, to be a writer. On the precipice of womanhood, Kendra pushed me to go, to create, to enter the world. From the work counter of her bookshop, I jotted down ideas to begin Boshemia.
Kendra gave me my first real job. She also taught me to give myself permission to live fully and without fear. She carries herself with inexhaustible grace, good humor, and much joy. She has a butterfly tattoo on her shoulder and loves red wine. (She is definitely the reason I drink red.) She has a soft spot for children’s literature. She taught herself to drive. The bookstore she managed? Now she owns it. When I think of the sort of woman I want to be, I think of Kendra.
Sarah L— Mrs Stewart and her Grandma
I’m going to cheat and have two.
When I was six years old, my year 2 teacher said to me “Sarah, if you don’t go to university to study English when you grow up it will be such a huge waste of remarkable talent”. Now, almost 20 years later, I have two English degrees and a successful magazine. She set me on my path, chartered my course. Mrs Stewart was to many students something of a tyrant – old fashioned, irate, short-tempered – but she was the first person outside of my mother and Grandma to see my spark of raw, early talent and passion, and to gently blow on the embers until it caught flame. I was advanced at reading but the school wanted me to follow the plan of books mapped out for my age group; Mrs Stewart sent me into the upper school each week to pick out chapter books. I wanted more writing work to do in class, so she set me my own special assignments. She encouraged me to be bold and be proud of my achievements. She was the first outside person to make me feel as though I could do anything, and that my success lay in my own talents. She is responsible for my ambitious and tenacious nature.
My second inspiration is my maternal Grandma. She is exceptional in so many ways, and over the years has supported me directly in almost every way imaginable, unconditionally. She has rebuilt her life multiple times; first having a baby at 16 years old in the early 70s, then divorcing in the early 90s and forging her own path of independence, becoming a grandmother at 36 (to me!), and remarrying and beginning a brand new life once more year only 18 months ago. Now, at only 62, she has 17 grandchildren and a new husband. She is the benevolent, encouraging, no-nonsense matriarch you imagine in a young grandmother. She exists authentically, generously and unapologetically. She also fostered my love of reading early on; encouraged and indulged my love of reading and writing before I even started school, pressed flowers with me and read Roald Dahl books while I was still only three or four years old. She is woven intrinsically through all my earliest memories, and her influence is forged immovably in my personality.
My mum and I lived with her for a while after I was born, and recently our lives came full circle when last year I found myself living with her again during my Master’s degree. Living together as adults gave me a renewed and reinvigorated sense of appreciation and respect for her. Coming home after a day in the library and talking to her about her day at work over a glass of wine, recommending each other books and watching light TV together was just the tonic a wayward mid-20-something needs. If you ever needed proof that you can begin again as many times as necessary and still thrive, she is it.