At the time, Swinton was first making her name in acting circles, starting out with roles in queer filmmaker Derek Jarman’s movies such as Caravaggio and The Last Of England. She says, “In 1994 alone, the year Derek died, I attended 43 funerals.”
It was also at that time that the Thatcher government enacted Clause 28, an insidiously homophobic piece of legislation that banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, but which in reality didn’t just stop the ‘promotion’, but banned almost any mention of it.
Swinton says of it, “When many of our friends became, often mortally, ill, and then the reactionary right wing started their ominously oppressive campaign of violence on the culture, well-being, and civil rights of the LGBT community and the wider diverse life of the entire country, we joined the vanguard of a resistance movement that needed to be highly active.
“This is an extremely defined time in my memory… The Thatcherite Clause 28, which sought to prosecute and suppress queer culture – against which we campaigned in outrage – was an attack on the civil liberties of us all. My grandmother, born in 1900, who lost two brothers and most of the boys she had grown up with between 1914 and ’18, counted the funerals and listened to the rhetoric from Parliament and said, ‘But, my darling, you are at war.’ That’s what it felt like. She got it.”
The actress, who will next be seen in Marvel’s Doctor Strange, also said, “We are also still looking forward to our first gay Marvel superhero, naturally. Let’s hope that’s only a matter of time.”
She also says of her own ‘queerness’, “I have lived for my entire adult life closely integrated into a queer aesthetic, occasionally in situations where I may have been—for months at a time – either the only cis woman present or the only person in a heterosexual relationship, without particularly questioning why it might be strange for me to be included.
“The issue of sexuality is a secondary one to the issue of spirit. My analysis is, as my grandmother would say, ‘Horses for courses,’ meaning, each to their own. Queerness is an attitude that, when acknowledged as shared, can bring more people together than could ever be divided by it being used as a term of rejection.
“I think this attitude is what I carry above my head, without any effort or influence. I think it is a form of semaphore that my colleagues recognize as a homing beacon—and I am proud to say I think it was probably blinking away even in my cradle.”