Mia Johnson is a 27 year old London based black queer poet from Nottingham. I first came across Mia via social media the day after she had performed her first show Pink Lemonade at Camden’s People’s Theatre late last year. Pink Lemonade explored female masculinity, lesbianism and gender identity. It’s focus was on how society can impact the way we see ourselves and its effects on same-sex relationships.
I recently caught up with Mia to discuss what inspired her to start writing poetry, her experience of being a masculine identifying lesbian and what living in London has been like for her.
How would you describe yourself and your poetry?
At the moment I’m interested in audio and movement and poetry and kind of like performance art as well. Pink Lemonade was my first solo piece and I am very interested in exploring identity and the difference intersections, race, sexuality, gender, class as well sort of unpicking that. I am inspired by different organisiations that are centering women and non-binary people, there is a lot of literature that I have been reading recently that’s been really inspiring, different writers like Audre Lorde and Reni Eddo-Lodge, I’ve been pulling my inspiration from things like that and my own experiences as well.
I identified as being mixed-race but identify now with my blackness as well more now, that’s my growth as a person, being more aware of the world. How people perceive me, sometimes I feel like you’re done an injustice in ways whether that’s through your childhood or school, sometimes I think you feel a bit lost in that, it comes with growth. I refer to myself as black sometimes but when people ask me specifics I’ll say that I am mixed race.
Growing up in Nottingham, queerness is next to non-existent there and actually I go home and talk about queer people are thrown off and assume that it’s an insult. I find that I have to do a lot of educating which I find can be a little tiresome and most of the times, there’s so many books and information, there’s Google. We live in this century and world where people can look up information. I feel like there is no excuse for people not to educate themselves. I think it was navigating in Nottingham, there wasn’t a community, especially of black women, again next to non-existent. You can feel like an object because there’s not a lot of black queer people, that’s how it feels sometimes, you’re a fetish or the token in that way. To leave and come to London I have been in spaces with a lot of black queer women and it’s a beautiful thing. London is relentless, it’s completely different to Nottingham, artistically it’s the best place for me in this moment in time. Whether or not I stay I don’t know. I have had a lot more support and opportunity here, which is sad but there’s more people here.
When and why did you start writing poetry?
I was part of a young actors company in Nottingham which actually the majority of the people participating were people of colour. We would have workshops with different practitioners, I did a poetry workshop and I guess I always wanted to rap in some way but not identifying as being a rapper but the poetry can weave between having that rhythm and telling a story and getting a point across more clearly. You can be playful in the way that you use language. I guess I wanted to paint a picture with that, I guess that’s why I like to write in that way. I guess it’s great to be able to play around with the rhythm and the delivery depending on what I’m writing about the show in particular I guess I had a concept, I think about a situation or a memory and I kind of take that and start to write about it.
Why did you choose to centre your show Pink Lemonade around lesbianism and female masculinity?
I’m writing from my own experience as well as pulling things from other people, I feel like someone who identifies with being a lesbian and being more masculine I feel like there is a lack of visibility in the arts in general and so I think that is important that these stories are talked about and explored. I think that representation is key in any artistic area and within the queer community we do all have similarities but again we also have different experiences especially being black, there’s a combination of being black as well. It was just something I really wanted to get off my chest and share and sort of bring in an audience that can relate but also an audience that can’t relate and can be educated and take something from whatever it is that I am performing.
What kind of misconceptions do you think people have of masculine identifying women?
That we are aggressive, that we only want to be with straight women, I guess that we are just there to give and not to have a real a relationship or bond, that it does not work two ways. Men just want to presume that we are also men and want to engage in sexism and misogyny just like they do and that isn’t the case. I think it is scary because you can get pulled into that and you don’t know where you fit. Do I have to act this way because I am more masculine?
Straight people ask me a lot if I’m the man in a relationship but I don’t identify as a man so it’s a no. There’s a lot of problematic things that come with being masculine centred. Men sometimes feel threatened by you as well. Black men tell me its a waste and I haven’t had the right this and that but that’s not how it works.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I don’t really have any rituals but I guess music is a great tool to use especially if it’s connected to the concept I’m writing about. When I have writer’s block sometimes I time myself for 10 minutes and I just write, even if it’s bad. Just to get your mind ticking. I also like to read, books are inspiring.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Kate Tempset’s new poetry collection which is called “Running upon the wire” I’m also reading Malcolm X’s autobiography and Jazz by Toni Morrison.
This is a hard – I feel like specific poetry, I’m guilty of not reading that much poetry. There’s a poem in “Running upon the wire” called “The first weekend away”, that’s really stuck with me. The whole thing is about ending a long term relationship and then sort of being single and meeting somebody and this new relationship with a new partner. This poem is about them being intimate for a long weekend. It’s really beautifully written.
Follow Mia on Instagram
Photos: Shakeena Johnson