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OPINION - Beyoncé’s gender neutral bathrooms move brings sense to a truly mad debate

Beyoncé launched her Renaissance tour in Stockholm  (Beyonce.com)
Beyoncé launched her Renaissance tour in Stockholm (Beyonce.com)

At 8pm on Wednesday, a social media floodgate opened onto my screens, straight out of Stockholm. Beyoncé, the global pop star who most intuitively defines her times, had kicked off her Renaissance tour.

But it was not what was going on centre-stage that first caught my eye but an Instagram post from the public passageways of Stockholm’s Melody Arena. “And this is why we love her,” read the caption on my friend’s post, below a picture of a sign printed in the semi-legendary Renaissance font. It read, ‘Gender Neutral Restrooms Renaissance World Tour’.

Two years ago, it was this same friend who’d first made me aware of the real world consequences of an infuriating thunder cloud hovering over what public toilets transgender women should and should not be allowed to use. This ‘debate’ added the bladder to the many individual body parts which have been ritualistically sequestered off to be weaponised against them, from Adam’s apples to shoulders to hand and shoe size to, yes, genitalia.

We’d arranged to meet at Westfield Stratford for a catch-up. “I can give you an hour and a half, maximum,” she said, before adding that she’d rather go home now than use a public convenience. The noise gathering meant she would have to subject herself to shifty looks at the wash basin from people who’d been told by an increasingly hostile media to see her presence as a threat to their safety.

This is why Beyoncé’s Gender Neutral bathrooms, a touring edict which will follow the artist around the globe, matters. It may be gestural. It might be commercial. Who wants less audience when you can have more? It may just be a stroke of clever PR, prompted by a fleeting LGBT+ backlash to her dedicating her Renaissance Grammy win for best Electronic album to “the queer community”, two weeks after playing a blockbuster show in Dubai, where homosexuality is illegal.

Regardless, this practical help has actual repercussions in real time to her real audience. It sends out an unequivocal message on progressive gender politics by a cis-gendered artist at the absolute peak of her powers, furthermore by one feted for her indomitable street-level feminism. It works as a catch-all embrace, saying everyone is invited, unimpeded, no matter what your gender expression happens to be. For all three hours of the show. On May 29, the Renaissance tour makes its way to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

As it reaches the US, the Renaissance tour will pass through states politicising a gender non-conforming minority and currently legislating hard against teenage healthcare, school placements and the rights of children to play games together.

London is a free-thinking city, by instinct. Nobody will blink an eye at the reconfiguration of toilets in Tottenham. But in Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and Arizona, they constitute a civil rights win. The Renaissance tour gets to honour its name in full.

Campbell Addy’s stunning exhibition

Beyoncé is just one of the many subjects photographed by the wonderful fashion/art photographer Campbell Addy, who this week launched his first major solo exhibition deep in the basement of 180 The Strand.

The editorial cover springs from the first display wall, before reaching into the recesses of Campbell’s brilliant visual reserve.

Some of the pictures have their retouching annotations embellished, drawing a curtain back on the smoke and mirrors of fashion photography, a smart touch.

It’s only five years since Tyler Mitchell made history by becoming the first African-American in history to shoot the cover of US Vogue. Through that door inched open, a wealth of brilliant black talent has become the vanguard of fashion image-making.

Campbell’s brilliant show is a sublime reminder of how and why that needed to happen.