Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Interview with Fay Presto

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Fay Presto, aka Letitia Winter, a British premier close-up magician, voted The Magic Circle Close-up Magician of the Year 2012, former Tatler 'Party Entertainer of the Year, Gold Star Member of The Inner Magic Circle.
Her first job was as a lab assistant at an atomic energy research company. She had to leave The Magic Circle when she began her transition, regaining the membership in 1991 when The Magic Circle voted to allow women members. Her main interest is close-up magic; she is known for her "bottle through the table" trick, which was ranked as one of the greatest magic tricks of all time by Channel 4's 50 Greatest Magic Tricks. Hello Fay!
Fay: Hello Monika!
Monika: According to Wikipedia, magic is a performing art that entertains audiences by staging tricks or creating illusions of seemingly impossible or supernatural feats using natural means. Why do people need magic?
Fay: Magic, my kind of magic, is part of the entertainment industry. People have a fundamental need to be entertained, after air, water, food, and shelter, comes entertainment; be it folk tales, shamanic dancing, or cave paintings that flicker in the firelight.
We go out, kill the mammoth, bring it home, skin it and cook it and then gather in the cave behind the fire and tell tales to help us forget the sabre-toothed tiger on the other side of the flames.
That is why today we have books, cinema, television, and theatre. We need the entertainment to distract us from the horrors of everyday life.

Her first 10x8, 1985.

Monika: For many centuries, magicians were associated with the devil and the occult. The profession of the magician gained strength only in the 18th century to enjoy popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. What is the status of magic in the 21st century?
Fay: Until recently in England, magic has had a status a little below that of a tax inspector singing off-key. It is enjoying a little renaissance at the moment. There has been a rise in the popularity of a clutch of ‘David Blain’ tattooed young men.
English people are not very good at releasing their inner child, they won’t go to a theme park without taking the children along, and there is a long-standing feeling that ‘one grows out of believing in magic’.
If you can construct a scenario where they can let go, they have a wonderful time. 
Monika: You have been personally requested to entertain HM The Queen on no less than six occasions. Do the royal family members give in to your magic?
Fay: It turns out I am quite good at creating a situation where English people can let go and give their inner child a moment out in the light. If you remember that even elevated and famous people are just that, people, then we can all have some fun. As a jester I am allowed to metaphorically bop the Queen over the head with the pig's bladder………… so long as it is funny.
Monika: Channel 4 voted your "Bottle Thru Table" trick the 37th Greatest Magic Trick of All Time. How do you invent your tricks?
Fay: Having recreated myself to ‘get the hair all lying along the grain’, I have created very little. I suppose I did create a ‘style’ of performance that did not exist before I came along and saw the potential. I have taken pretty standard effects and powered them up a bit. 
Bottle through table; a rather odd thing to be known for, pushing a bottle through a table, is a case in point. I saw the trick on the shelf of a magic dealer at a magic convention in San Diego.

A publicity shot from the late eighties.

I got it back to my hotel room, read the instructions, and realized it was quite unperformable in the working environment I operated in. It sat in the ‘magic cupboard’ for about three months, until one day I realized there was a ‘handling’ that could and did work for me.
The rest is history, as they say. Last night in front of five hundred people, as part of my stage act in a Theatre near London, I pushed a bottle through a young member of the audience lying on a table ... and the table. The trick was never intended for that kind of performance, but it was very well received, and that potential was there, locked inside it since it had been invented. There is a little lesson there for many of us I think.
Monika: You were the subject of a BBC2 documentary, "Illusions of Grandeur"...
Fay: "Illusions of Grandeur" was a documentary in the BBC ’40 Minutes’ Series. I did not want to do it and agonized about it for several years. I really believe our ‘gender’ is our own affair, but if it had to be done, and I made sure I trusted the team implicitly, it was a worthwhile thing to do. There were some moments of the film I was very proud of.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Fay: No. I was allowed to believe I was the only person in the world with these ‘disgusting desires.’
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Fay: When I was eighteen I was caught ‘inappropriately dressed’ riding my motor scooter around Abingdon, and found myself in court.

Queens of Magic 2010 Blackpool pleasure beach.

I was sentenced to two years in prison or electro-aversion therapy. I managed to talk my way out of either, but the cost was high and I had to ‘bury’ myself for ten years. When I did emerge into the light it was a long journey back. I went to my parents' home and explained things as best as I could.
My mother said we love you dearly, but perhaps it would be better if you did not come home in the daylight. I won them over in the end, but that one phrase still hurts and I can recall every moment of the conversation even today.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in British society?
Fay: I have a big problem. My problem is with the word ‘Stealth.’ It implies something underhand and deceitful. If it is at all possible I think living without exposure is probably the best place to be, and should not be seen as aberrant. The jury is still out on this and others should decide, be allowed to decide, without such slanted words coloring their decision.
I believe that there is a deeply and genetically ingrained revulsion against us in many men. This increases the casual everyday prejudice against us and is probably best dealt with by not proclaiming it. There is a sort of wicked pleasure, especially when we are new, attractive, and yes, a little excited about our situation, in the ‘shock horror expose’ of hearing people say ‘you would never know!’
It is not unlike the quick fix of ego in revealing how a magic trick is done. As with revelations about the method behind a trick, you realize it is actually better to keep the secret. The long-term comfort of anonymity is a better triumph to have.
Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back, we should be encouraged to think about this very carefully, and do not trust any journalist anywhere…ever. Do not trust any journalist anywhere…ever. Do not trust any journalist anywhere…ever. They will destroy your life.

What does magic do; A sick bay in a Theme Park.

We are, I think our own worst enemy on this. We need role models, Oh God, do we need role models, but we should also really interrogate ourselves about the in/out debate and supply balanced guidance to help people decide for themselves. With the huge strides being made with puberty blockers and so much better prognoses and outcomes, this needs addressing more than ever.
The journey we are on is similar to the gay community. We may be on parallel tracks, but our ultimate destination is different. We have both been fighting for protection from persecution, but the gay community is fighting for the right to be visible but treated as equal by society. I think some, maybe most of us, are fighting for the right to be invisible and treated as equal by society.
I am not sure about the catch-all GLBT handle. Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual are definitions of sexuality; Transexualism is a statement of gender. Sure there are Gay Transexuals, Lesbian Transexuals, and Bisexual Transexuals, but where do the Heterosexual transsexuals go in all of this.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Fay: A frontier, for sure, but not the frontier, there is no end to the ghastliness of the treatment mankind, (I use the term advisedly) can visit upon mankind, but we are definitely a frontier. The way a society treats those on the fringes of that society is an important barometer of the health of that society. We all need to play our part in nurturing the society we all live into better health. 
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Fay: Not so much these days.
I was the president of a college Students Union and stood shoulder to shoulder with Jack Straw, then The NUS (National Union of Students) President and now an ex-Home Secretary, on the steps of the Endsleigh Street NUS H.Q. We were defending it against a takeover sit-in (the heady political days of the late 1960s) by some radical students from Oxford.

What does magic do; A sick bay in a theme park
20 minutes later.

I was involved with an organization called ‘Shaft’, yes really; it stood for Self Help Association For Transexuals and was run by an ex-military type called Judy cousins.
We transmuted it into TAG, the Transsexuals Action Group and we marched, lobbied parliament, and met with Alex Carlisle, now Lord Carlisle, who has done so much for us. We ran a self-help group in Islington, ‘personned’ a switchboard offering completely unqualified telephone support for, etc.
I was once asked to be a prospective parliamentary candidate. I am currently fighting a small skirmish against the casual sexism rampant in the magic community, but I don’t see myself as a ‘political animal’. 
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Fay: I wish!
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Fay: My performance clothes are high glamour, or as high as a ‘superannuated granny woman’ can aspire to. I like smart functional clothes the rest of the time, and this is being written in jeans and a sweatshirt.

A table in Langans this year.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Fay: I have had quite enough rejection for one life. If someone came to me with a concrete proposal and a fairly guaranteed outcome I might consider it, but I am not about to commit to hours of work only to be told ‘There is no requirement for this’.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Fay: Trying to stay solvent.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls, thinking about the entertainment career?
Fay: Think. Think very, very carefully, and only proceed if you are really good at accepting rejection and disappointment. There are very few who can make even a modest income from this industry, and it is one of the most reactionary industries there is. I have been told I cannot get booked on a cruise liner because ‘they will not know which toilets I will use.
Think about it and… Do not trust any journalist anywhere…ever. Do not trust any journalist anywhere…ever. Do not trust any journalist anywhere…ever. They will destroy your life.
Monika: Fay, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Fay Presto.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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