Essential Amsterdammers: Fya Hopelezz
Essential Amsterdammers every expat should know: Fya Hopelezz - Fighting with fire for freedom
How do you combine glamour, activism and fire-eating performance art? You do it by being the dynamo that is Fya Hopelezz.
I first came across her when attending a protest she had organised against anti-gay violence, culminating at the Homomonument by the Westerkerk. Fya stood before the crowd, brimming with attitude and a passion for the truth. She delivered her message powerfully: "We're here, we're f***ing queer, get used to it!" A minute later, the crowd sang the words back to her, in echo of their uncrowned queen.
Activism is just a part of her Amsterdam life: Fya is also a glamorous performer who creates a unique look for herself, as well as flashing with fire and light.
Meet the indefatigable & incomparable Fya Hopelezz
Coming out as a lesbian became possible when I moved here. The gay community is such an important part of the city and I hope Amsterdam will always be a safe place for anyone who is different, in whatever way.
I was born in Alkmaar, 60km to the north, yet I always knew I would come here. When I was four years old, my parents used to take me shopping in Amsterdam on Sundays, and I loved to see the punks with weird hair and piercings, the odd and unusual people - I was captivated by all that even then.
This was the first city in which gay people could get married and former mayor Job Cohen was the first person in the world to marry gay couples [YouTube video]. That helps the perception of Amsterdam as a gay capital, as did the gay community taking to the streets in the '70s and '80s. They fought really hard for their rights.
Strong and Resilient
Amsterdammers have always said, "I'll do what I want, I'll let you do what you want - and if I don't like you, I just won't talk to you." They have a profound sense of "I want to be who I want to be" and that is the real essence of this city - strong, resilient characters. It does not matter what the buildings are like, Amsterdammers make the city what it is.
People are much more radical here than in the smaller towns. I sometimes have this crazy idea that Amsterdam should be a state with its own political system. New Yorkers are the same - they do not feel American, they feel like New Yorkers!
My first drive for activism was sparked when my girlfriend and I were beaten up.
Sadly, even in Amsterdam there are some people who cannot accept difference, and it made me furious that I could not be safe in my own city.
In a strange way, that made me love Amsterdam even more. I felt this need to say out loud, This is my city, this is who I am. I opened a lesbian place called Sugarbar, organised some lesbian parties and wrote some pieces for various gay magazines. When I started performing, I often added a message to my show - like arriving naked wrapped only in a gay flag.
The protests I organised in 2010 were a response to a worrying growth in attacks on gays in Amsterdam. Thousands of people hit the street under the banner The Right To Feel Safe, and I think it had an impact. The recent Gay Pride week passed off without any serious incidents, and perhaps people are realising how valuable and fragile safety truly is - especially when you consider what happened in London recently.
Playing with fire
I’d booked acts at the Sugarbar and I’d watch thinking, I’m paying these guys and I can do better than that! I began with a simple dance show and it just developed into fire and light [YouTube video] when I tried it and found people liked it.
I think you have to consider all aspects of your performance - there is no point in looking like everyone else. My costumes are all my own handmade designs, put together quite cheaply because I find stuff that I can sew myself and combine to create a new image. The make-up? Well, I picked up all kinds of tricks from the drag queens, darling!
New York would be a great place to live for a while, but there are some really special places that will always bring me back to Amsterdam. Westerpark and the Westergasfabriek are the future of the city for me; big concerts, lots of restaurants, three clubs, the Ketelhuis cinema and the Pacific Parc café.
My dream is to make it as a performer, which is why I work damn hard at it. Hopefully it looks natural when I am onstage, but I train at least four hours a day because the only way to make it great is through practice - and I never stop!
Photos by Joost van Manen