What’s your full name?
Madison Mae Goddard Gianfrancesco, but when I see that name, I don’t see myself. People always see my name and start talking to me in Italian, but I’m not Italian at all! My step dad’s father was Italian, and now he and my mum aren’t even together any longer… I’m changing it soon to Madi Goddard Fortune. My sister and I are taking our grandmother’s maiden name (Fortune).
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
Born in Sydney. Lived there until I was four and then moved to Norfolk, where I grew up. Moved away when I was eighteen.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a trainee mental health social worker. I’m also a drag king, but I’m too lazy to proactively seek out gigs so I don’t make much money from it, so I guess I wouldn’t call it a ‘living’.
What’s your ethnicity?
My mum was born in Hackney to black Caribbean parents (from Dominica and Trinidad). My dad is white Australian.
How did your mum and dad meet?
They were working together in TV back in Australia.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I spent the first few years of my life in Australia, so pretty early on. When my dad and his wife Chrissi (who I adore!) used to take me out I’d shrug them off when they tried to hold my hand. ‘People will think you’re both my parents and get confused!’ I would say. ‘What’s wrong with that, Madi?’ darling Chrissi would say. ‘You’re both white!’ I would hiss back self-consciously.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
Sometimes it’s as weird and confusing as not feeling like you fit in with the group of black people, so making friends with a bunch of white people, or people of other ethnicities, and then feeling weirdly guilty about that. Also just various times when childhood friends would say stupid stuff like ‘oh but I don’t think of you as being black’, and it was meant to be a compliment…
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
Nope. My white Australian step dad wasn’t equipped to deal with this, and my black mother, who had always been surrounded with white people anyway, always told me things she thought were helpful but can be quite damaging, like: “You have to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good”. Close black relatives gave me conflicting messages about embracing and being an ambassador for my blackness, whilst also being told that things associated with black culture were ‘ghetto’ or tacky. It makes me angry to think of it now. It’s taken a lot of unlearning.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
I didn’t hear any growing up because there weren’t many people of colour around, in Norfolk. When I moved to London I heard stuff like ‘lightskin girls are stuck up’ and ‘lightskin girls are promiscuous’.
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
There’s no homogenous mixed-race experience.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
Increasingly so, yeah! I do worry about fetishisation, though. It’s weird seeing yourself represented and having a really positive reaction, and then worrying that ad execs see your identity as a ‘trend’.
Back in the late 19th century/early 20th century being mixed race held a stigma, as it was clear proof of interracial relations which was seen as an affront to society’s morals. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to be mixed race or is it more that racism has become subtler?
I’d say it’s definitely easier but the racism’s still there. And it’s not always subtle. I find that I have stupid comments about me being mixed race, but then on top of that I also get the horrific racism that comes from having black blood. There’s a lot of talk about lightskin privilege, which for sure exists – look at how many lightskin singers are storming the charts versus equally talented dark skinned singers, who are unfairly overlooked. But I still get followed around shops by security guards. I’ve been told to ‘go back to where I came from’. One of my clients called me a nigger, right to my face.
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
Both and neither! I find that I don’t fit neatly into a black box or a white box, which can feel quite lonely at times. But I love being a person of colour. And while I grew up distanced from black/Caribbean culture, I’ve had a wonderful time connecting with my extended family in Trinidad, and delving into black/Caribbean culture.
Have you felt a struggle with your identity? If so, how did you deal with it and if you are now at peace with who you are, how did you come to a place of self-acceptance?
People often choose a side for me. I’ve been referred to as black, but never as white. I think over the past year I’ve started to really explore and embrace the middle ground that I live in. Being neither black nor white, gay nor straight, and alternating between presenting as femme and butch, you have to try to get comfortable in the middle ground. I’m a lot more at peace with it now. I think that linking in with queer spaces for people of colour has helped with this.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
DO. NOT. LET. MUM. TALK. YOU. INTO. GETTING. A. CHEMICAL. RELAXER. Leave the fro alone.
Is there anything more you would like to say?
I think that, no matter how difficult it can be, we mixed race people can cultivate our own identities, borrowing from our rich heritages and creating something beautiful.