Blog: Kate O’Donnell

The founder of arts festival Trans Vegas on this year's line-up. Plus: Jamie Hale, the disability activist and non-binary artist, whose CRIPtic Cabaret is part of the festival

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If Trans Vegas had existed 20 years ago, I would have had a much easier time as a trans person, because I believe if you can’t see yourself you can’t be yourself.

Manchester has been my home for nearly 30 years. I arrived as a gay man in the early 1990s (Madchester/Gaychester years) and found like-minded people mainly on dance floors. When I transitioned in 2003, sadly I couldn’t find a trans community or a place where we could come together to celebrate, create and be visible. So I kept my head down and tried to pass, meaning to not look trans, because 20 years ago it wasn’t safe or much fun being trans. It was a dangerous place for us, and sadly it still is.

In 2015 I nervously stepped back on stage and became visible in the only way I knew, with a show premiering in Manchester. It was called Big Girls Blouse – an insult I was called every day at home as a child. I was joined by a choir singing Stand by your Trans, which became a hashtag campaign and was emblazoned across t-shirts worn by proud allies – and is still selling strong. That year was a key year for our community. It was a turning point globally known as the trans tipping point. Although we had no idea what we were tipping into.

What I did know was the need for a place to tell our own stories here in Manchester. At that time our stories were being told and played by non-trans people on TV and film. So Trans Creative was born and with the help of Arts Council funding and a lot of love and support from Manchester.

Over the last six years it’s grown into a vibrant hub for local, national and international trans artists to tell their stories and is now the largest trans arts festival in the UK. As well as the festival we created a trans social club now boasting over 400 members, which had a recent boost with Lottery funding.

During the pandemic we got the festival online, reaching over 18,000 people, then last year we returned with a mix of live and digital performances and made our presence known, putting trans fashion activists on the city’s billboards just to let everyone know we were back.

Cut to this year: following our sellout summer programme and opening Manchester Pride we give you the Trans Vegas Autumn Programme, with its trans tour of Manchester City Art Gallery’s Dandy Style exhibition, a live recording of the Pervert’s Podcast in Manchester’s most historic queer meeting place, the New Union, and showcasing the best of North West trans disabled cabaret artists with CRIPtic Cabaret and Jamie Hale’s beautifully dark show Not Dying, at Home’s theatre (see below).

Trans Vegas is now firmly part of Manchester’s cultural landscape and something me and Manchester can be proud of.

Come and support us and enjoy this year’s lineup.

For more details go to

Jamie Hale: love letter to life

Disabled people are increasingly taking up our space in artistic spaces – and doing it in our own way. The CRIPtic x Trans Vegas Cabaret, followed by my solo show, Not Dying, is another piece in that tradition.

This line-up is entirely created by deaf and disabled trans people. In taking up a place at a venue as renowned as Home in Manchester, we are showing the arts world the extent to which our work is innovative, important and exciting.

Often existing outside the mainstream, deaf and disabled creatives make work that is refreshing, renovative and distinct, and that concept was core to my curation of this line-up of artists.

It looks back to the time that brought the disabled rights and disability arts movements along together in the 1990s, through Dennis Queen’s protest music. Kit Knight performs from simultaneously ancient and modern vibrant folk traditions. Cutting edge comedy comes from Sam Serrano and there’s the poetic art of Ashleigh Wilder. We have curated a line-up of disabled trans artists that reflects a broad spectrum of talent, diversity and approach.

The second part of this cabaret evening, Not Dying, written and performed by me and directed by Athena Stevens, draws on my experiences of life-threatening illness and progressive disability to write a love letter to life.

I luxuriate in my queer, crip sexuality and the joy I find in every daily moment, but frame it in the constant spectre of care assessments from the bodies that have the power to – in a moment’s decision – trap me in my house.

Jamie Hales: I luxuriate in my queer, crip sexuality and the joy I find in every daily moment

It moves from the suffocating environment of a hospital to the freedom and joy accessible in the outside world, “if only, if only you’d let me seize it”, and in doing so becomes a manifesto for the changes we need to see in the world for disabled people – from access to attitudes.

This night is at the heart of the work CRIPtic Arts produces. I founded it to build spaces across the country that centre and celebrate deaf and disabled people and the work we create.

Coming from what the award-winning disabled artist Yinka Shonibare called “the last remaining avant-garde” movement, deaf and disabled artists have defended our right both to our own artistic traditions and spaces, and to putting that work on major stages for mainstream audiences. This is thanks to venues such as Home, and Trans Vegas, the broader festival of trans art of which this is a part.

What we have put together is the love letter I mentioned – to disabled and trans bodies and minds, and the art we can create in community. Now, the invitation to audiences is open – to come in, to experience something new, different and refreshing, and to bathe in the past, present and future of art.

For more information go to the Home website or

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