Thursday, 4 December 2014

Regardless of Consent

I circled it, my truth,
like an opponent
that I doubted
I could beat; or, rather,

one I wanted to give in to,
but would make a show
of putting up a fight.
My truth protected me

when it most seemed to hurt;
when it most seemed I would be broken
my truth held me, with its teeth
beside my ear, biting off

the final consonant of 'slut',
and you could call the noise
I made a sob, could call this
degradation, but

I have seen people,
bound and helpless,
smile with sanctity
I never saw in church,

and I have sat in cafes
looking out onto the street
and feeling Buddha-level love
for every passing face I see

because the night before,
somebody beat me up
the way I like it, and
- how long will this be legal?

Physical or verbal abuse
(regardless if consensual)
is only forbidden on video now,
along with

(and, oh, what I could write about those, 

and as to
penetration by any object
associated with violence
- do love beads count? I mean,

I know they're not exactly weapons-grade,
but when I thought that they'd got stuck...
well, that was scarier than being choked
between a lover's thighs) but

when you enclose desire, things tend
to creep: what cannot be seen
can become harder to imagine,
to explain; once an image in motion

is prohibited, the still frame
becomes suspect, once a photo
is forbidden, illustration
seems transgressive, and when

all image is off-limits
then the words which conjure images
speak threat
and must be censored.

And, yes, there are times
when we agree safe limits
to such violence: but the limit
is consent: informed,

enthusiastic - from the Greek
en theos, meaning
'full of God', and really
there is no better description

of this blessing which will never let me go,
this love which only seems like violence from outside,
this truth I circled, circled, circled
for so long, until the knowledge

that what I thought single combat
was instead a mosh pit carnival, 
a battle royal, a free-for-all,
that I was not alone:

this, you disown,
regardless of consent. 
Three words, that's all:
but all the difference

between defending and denying our existence. 

           *           *          *

So, if you're the kind of person who likes my work - and I'm going to assume you are, since you're reading this blog - you'll already be aware of the ludicrous new regulations on online pornography in the UK. As you'll have gathered from one or two of my poems, I enjoy being dominated and, well, beaten up, frankly, in a safe, consensual setting, so the idea that the government has essentially, at a stroke, declared quite a lot of my sex life illegal is a little worrying. Sure, right now it's technically only illegal in the arena of video-on-demand porn produced in the UK, but it's a slippery slope, y'know? And for me, the scariest part of the legislation is 'physical and verbal abuse' being illegal regardless of whether or not those involved consent. This seems, to me, to carry worrying echoes of 'Operation Spanner' and the bad old days of the 1980s. Anyway, I've been wanting to get my thoughts about this thing down poetically, and this is a first, very rough attempt at that. It's going to need knocking into shape later; hopefully it'll take to that as well as I do.

Thursday, 13 November 2014


Don't call me unstoppable
because of what poisoned my veins;
Don't call me unstoppable
because you maintain that I have a 'male frame';
Don't call me unstoppable
because girls like us all have big hands;
don't call me unstoppable
because I 'used to be a man':
you've never seen deceleration
'til you've seen a trans girl breaking,
asking why she's been forsaken
through a face of running make-up,
defeated and retreating from the space we're told we take up,
anticipating beatings from the moment that we wake up
reeling from repeated sneaky
cotton ceiling break-ups,
Wise up! Size up who statistics really favour,
we're more Miss Elizabeth
than Big Van Vader,
you get away with hitting us
by claiming we're a danger
say our inexistence
should be morally mandated
leaving me inquisitive
on why we're highly gate-kept
through the hospital doors,
slipping past the smokers outside,
bypassing the wards,
who got to board-level
and kissed some corporate arse,
and got to set the obstacles
that we all have to pass?
Do you think I'm paranoid?
Well, call me Shirley Manson,
'cause I've fought with the dysmorphia
that tells me I'm not handsome,
and coped with self-congratulators
who want me to thank them
for using the right pronouns
when they message me one-handed,
AND this, AND that, and a hundred other things,
I've been knocked flat a dozen times with suffering,
called 'bitch', called 'fat', always called that other thing,
everybody and their cat
thinks I could use some humbling,
is it any wonder that
I often feel I'm stumbling?
And I will stumble,
I will fall,
and I will rise up Phoenix - style
and BE unstoppable
and that's not because I'm stronger,
and it's not because I'm hard,
it's not because blunt trauma hurts less
when your tissue's scarred;
it's not that I'm a mutant,
some majestic weirdo freak,
it's not even because I have a flawless rhyme technique,
no: if I can seem unstoppable
it's because of the things I've been through;
if you must call me unstoppable
it's 'cause what tried to stop me
was you.

*   *   *
I know one often loves one's poems a little too much after first writing them, but right now I feel like filming this professionally with some proper music behind it. Anyone up for helping?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Draft: This Woman's War

Something cheerful for you this Tuesday morning. Yes, the title is a Kate Bush reference.

This woman’s war

Digital flare above trenches of sleep,
eyes tighten at the brightness of the screen
bracing for the first assault, the numbers by the bell,
the pixelled envelopes, the blue world
with its warnings labelled red,

the morning’s propaganda, last night’s fallen,
the latest ‘allies’ to go over to the enemy;
the severed ties, the necessary mutinies,
their continuous reprisals, our few victories:

then out the door to meet the tracer
eyes of haters, chasers, taking bullets
on the platform and the train,
no purple hearts in this campaign,

no medical evacuation
when you’re standing being stared at in the station:
midnight or the morning it’s the same.
Get to work and you’re already bleeding.

Now: the next wave, voices without end,
your throat grown ragged, fearing a betrayal,
the mouths that grin at how they’re doing well
in a world which set you up to fail

the moment you were labelled boy
and ushered into life. A battered mess
by five-to-five, you’re praying for the grace
to make the evening run on time,

but there’s almost always one more ring
before the clock ticks over,
always one more little thing
and now the crowds are rougher

somehow, or you’re worn down,
waiting to be back behind
familiar lines: you slip the ‘phones inside
your ears so you don’t have to hear

the laughter, which might not be aimed at you,
but after the day you’ve been through
it hurts to hear either way, and anyway,
it’s dangerous to think you’re ever safe,

dangerous to trust a smiling face,
a word of praise, a pair of eyes gone wide
in what might look like admiration.
Bruises follow from infatuation

in the best-case outcome. No love
in these trenches, no safe rolling
in this mud, no ecstasy of fumbling
in the corner of a club that won’t

end badly for you. Kill the thought
of love before a dream of love
kills you. Love isn’t what we struggle for.

For mere life, we fight a losing war.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Poet of the Republic, Architect of the Month...hang on, wait!

Dear reader: it's certainly the case that a great deal of transphobic, misogynistic, ableist, poor-hating, homophobic crap remains to be tackled in this world - we had David Cameron's Tory Conference speech today, after all - but for the moment I would beg you to turn your attention away from such things and look, instead, at the front page of the Apples and Snakes website. 

And I would direct you there because, first of all, you will find they've named me Poet of the Month. But that's not all! They've also used the film I and Laura Degnan made of my poem 'Letter to a Minnesota Prison' to represent the many excellent films made as part of the Architects of Our Republic project I was involved in last year. Which feels brilliant. It's great to think that something I worked on a year ago still has a life in the world, and it's even better knowing that the piece chosen to represent the project is a poem about CeCe McDonald, a genuine trans heroine. For obvious reasons, I've been performing 'Fallon' a lot over the past few months, and I usually introduce that poem by pointing out that Fallon Fox takes a lot more risks for trans rights than I do - well, that goes double for CeCe, who not only had to defend herself against a brutal, transphobic attack, but was put in prison for doing it. Please familiarise yourself with CeCe's story, and, should you happen to have some spare pounds jangling around in your bank account, you could do a heck of a lot worse than send some of it towards the Free CeCe Documentary, a film created by Jac Gares and Laverne Cox which uses CeCe's story as a prism through which to examine the culture of violence experienced by trans women of colour. 

And if you've came here from the Apples and Snakes site, here's a bit of an easter egg, as it were: the video of me performing the 'unplugged' version of 'Letter to a Minnesota Prison' that I was moved to record after hearing the excellent news that CeCe was to be released earlier this year:


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Poem about Breasts

Pornography, pornography!
You’ve got a lot to answer for.
You’re probably the reason why
I like it when girls call me whore
and grab my hair, and slap my face,
but more than this, much worse than this,
you’ve spread misinformation
on the topic of our tits.

And I don’t mean just the tits of trans girls,
though you’ve got some odd ideas
of how we get them, call them ‘fake’
- but have a feel: no implants here!
Or are they artificial as they
sprung up after hormones?
Well, tell me, please, exactly
how your girlfriend’s girls were grown?

No – this breast-based boondoggle  is a bane to trans and cis,
and the thing that really bothers me is this:
ask a fella if he’ll draw a dame without her vest
and see what shapes he uses
for the front part of her chest,

and what will you see? Beach-balls! Spheres!
That white thing from The Prisoner
twice over, faceless back-up heads
too big for any milliner!
But, just as perfect circles
aren’t found anywhere in nature,
I’m afraid I have to tell you boys
there’s far more variation

in the contents of our bras than are
allowed for in your narrow chest-aesthetic,
that reduces what’s near-infinite
to mere dialectic
between ‘pert’ and ‘buxom’. But:
no blame. It took me time to get it,

and if I’m honest, guys,
I never really got it ‘til
I rubbed gel on my thigh,
and found that, where I used to glance,
I couldn’t keep from staring:
only now I wasn’t ogling or perving
but comparing,

seeing how I measured up,
and I won’t lie: I’ll tell you
from the bottom of my B-cup,
I’m not on the winning side.
I’m still a noob to boobs! A chestal virgin! Not well-versed
in how to lift and separate
or generate
a cleavage, I’m
when a bosom’s heaving,

and I envy women who are blessed with great big
aurioles, while mine just skirt my nipples
like a pair of poxy holes...
but knowing mine aren’t perfect
has made me much more aware
of all the imperfections I
and other women share.

We women feel the same way
when we’re checking out each other:
the girl who’s firm and perky knows
that she will never smother
faces underneath her chest:
while the one who’s more endowed,

that that lass reckons favoured,
is wishing for the freedom
of a bra less engineered,
a back that aches less, and that guys
might maybe, just occasionally
look her in the eyes,

or at least, if you must look
so clearly at her chest,
then don’t let the sole criteria
by which each breast’s assessed
be where her pups are placing
on the Jordan-Moss Continuum,
and whether, in a centrefold,
they’d excite your residuum,

but look at them! Just look at them
as if you’ve never seen
the inside of a strip club
or a line of beauty queens,
we’re not one shape,
we’re loose and tight and pointy,
a variable phenomenon
to baffle Merleau-Ponty,
some bounce around Space Hopper-style,
while some are far from jumpy,
(and whatever shape they are,
be sure to check them if they’re lumpy)
spheres, ellipsoids, cylinders, and I will even swear
that I’ve seen some whose strawberry creams appear
to be square – and that’s alright! It’s great!
Don’t you boys dare to be disgusted,
because, sirs, I implore you to recall what Cornershop said,

and if you accept the premise the best pillow is a bosom,
look at a woman’s bed and you’ll find every kind of cushion,
because we know that sleep is better
when there’s comforters and bolsters,
and you’ll find as much variety here in our boulder-holsters,

so let’s hear it for the wobbly ones, let’s hear it for the tubes,
let’s hear it for the loners, and the chests with both removed,
and let’s hear it for the pot-pourri, the glorious plenitude

the motley mammary miscellany, the majesty of boobs!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Even beasts will break and fade

Let me see your wound again: I feel I need the laugh.
Walk me through your injuries: I want to feel them bleed,
your followers, I want to see you suck
their sympathy, I want to hear you play it
like a treated violin. I want to watch you
claiming you're not in this for the pain,
because I love to see a monster turning babyface for bigots;
I love to see the taming of the far too proudly vicious;
and I know you're looking in my eyes
and calling kettles black:
perhaps I'll walk you through my injuries
and listen to you laugh.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

After the dust has cleared, after the wounds are stitched: reflections on Fox, Brents, TERFs and poetry

I'll tell you another secret about poets: we're mercenaries, but we're also soft fucking shites. Or at least I know I am. It's at the core of my practice: I have to make myself vulnerable, expose myself, take risks, say things about myself that may sometimes put me in danger, sometimes social, sometimes psychological, sometimes physical. It's one of the reasons I'm surprised I've done so well in slams, because I associate slam poetry with confident, braggadocious delivery, and with me - well, if it isn't hurting me somehow, I don't think it's working.

Sometimes, the danger is that people might laugh at you. Sometimes, the danger is that they might pelt you with rocks, or come and try to find you in the toilets after the gig. And sometimes, the danger is that a trans woman who you consider a coward, a Quisling, and a sycophant towards TERFs will misgender you on Facebook, and engage in a deliberate, bad-faith misreading of one of your poems:

I'm going to pass over the allegation of butchphobia, as anyone aware of the kind of women to whom I tend to be attracted will find it as ludicrous as I do. In fact, on that note, it really ought to be said that as far as it goes Tamikka Brents is more my 'type' than Fallon, physically (the dog-whistle transphobia and refusal to repudiate transphobic fans were a turn-off, though). As to the charge of racism - well, this, this and this, basically.

The 'comparing Brents to a rapist' thing? Well, that is technically correct, I suppose, in that I compared her to Mike Tyson and Tyson is a rapist. But that doesn't necessarily imply that that's the equivalence I was making. One could, for example, say that Janice Raymond is like Adolf Hitler in that both wrote books identifying an enemy (trans people in Raymond's case, Jews in the case of the Little Colonel) who they felt ought to be 'mandated out of existence'; but if I made that comparison, it wouldn't necessarily follow that I was also saying Janice Raymond would undertake a land invasion of Russia in winter.

Similarly, to say that I consider Brents and Tyson to have similar fighting styles, and are similarly driven, doesn't necessarily mean I want to imply that they have similar views on rape. Goodness knows, I should hope they don't: a lesbian with dodgy views about rape would be much, much worse than one with dodgy views on trans people...

...and as it happens, there are lesbians out there with decidedly dodgy views about rape. They happen to be members of Gender Identity Watch (a group which vocally supported Brents when they hoped she was going to beat the shit out of Fallon Fox) and their views on rape are extremely depressing. See, in the world of Gender Identity Watch, only men rape. Which is, to put it bluntly, a load. As CN Lester points out, sexual violence by women against people of every gender is possible; Rape Crisis includes the idea that 'women cannot rape' as a myth which they debunk on their website; Our Bodies, Our Selves take the same view. None of these are exactly Men's Rights Activist sources: but as far as GIDWatch are concerned, they may as well be, because in their world only men rape. If you catch them on a good day, they might admit that women can be guilty of 'sexual assault', but they will scream blue murder to defend a nice, legalistic division between the two crimes. I wonder why, sometimes. I've always been suspicious of people of whatever gender who try to minimise the crime of rape. I tend to agree with Stavvers about it: you have to wonder, with some people, about why they're so desperate to say that rape is always X and never Y. I've noticed that when people draw such nice distinctions, it's because it helps them sleep at night.

Maybe that was why the TERFs were so offended by 'You remind me of Tyson, Tamikka'. I wrote it as a kind of free-associating riff on something which had occurred to me that morning, and it zoomed out pretty swiftly from being a poem about Brents to being a poem about the way her fans reacted to Fox, about some of the most icky, nudge-nudge-wink-wink he-oh, sorry, she comments that they'd made, it included what I thought was a fucking brilliant line about Joel Grey and Roy 'Chubby' Brown, and I even managed to cram in a Joyce Carol Oates reference. But all the TERFs saw was a simplistic, 1:1 mapping of everything about Brents, MMA fighter and poor lesbian advocate, onto everything about Mike Tyson, phenomenally succesful boxer, convicted rapist and, in my view, a horrible human being. And - because this was a heresy on an unimaginable level in their dogma - it made them livid.

Well, much good their lividity did them. Last time I checked, the video of me reading that poem had passed 400 views on my YouTube channel, making it my third most-viewed video ever. It had easily surpassed the previous third most-viewed vid, 'Specially Formulated for Sensitive Skin', and was gaining rapidly on the second most-viewed video, 'Resume', my screed about Caleb Hannan, who I decried for publishing a report which led to the suicide of a trans woman in a quest to drive eyeballs to the online sports magazine, Grantland: 

In a funny way, the TERFs had been good for my viewing figures. In less than a week, that one poem had racked up a quite amazing amount of views compared to the other videos on my channel. Some of which I actually thought much better poems. It appears, for example, that the number of people impressed with my use of the word 'enormity' in its correct dictionary sense to mean 'outrage', in the title of this poem,

amounts to a twentieth of the people energised by me ranting about a cage-fighter I considered to be complicit with transphobia. It's depressing, really. And this brings me back to my point, at the start of this piece, about being a soft shite.

See, Brents lost her fight to Fallon Fox this past Saturday, pretty decisively as it happens. And the usual, tedious Fox-is-a-monster backlash has begun, once again illustrating the classic double-bind I wrote about here: if Fallon doesn't win, she's a no-mark who only gets publicity because she's trans; if she does win, she's an unstoppable beast who can't be beaten because she's trans. Much has been made of the injuries that Brents suffered during the fight: as far as it goes, I agree with MMA Jam that the responsibility for those injuries lies with the frankly appalling refereeing. The match should have been ended much earlier than it was: in my view the ref was intimidated by the vocally pro-Brents crowd, and didn't want to be seen to give up on their fighter too quickly. That was a poor, and dangerous, decision: a ref who's afraid of the crowd shouldn't be officiating.

Much has been said, including by big strong MMA men who really ought to know better, about Brents' injuries being 'career-ending'. And when you list them, they do sound severe. 'An orbital fracture, a concussion, and seven head staples' sounds pretty grim - but orbital fractures have a high rate of recovery, with no long-term complications, concussion is similarly an eminently survivable injury if treated fast (I should know - I've had concussion in the past, from banging my head against the steel edge of a reinforced concrete step, and I'm okay), and while 'seven head staples' sounds severe, here's a dude with eight: 

None of which is intended to make light of Brents' injuries: as I say, I've had concussion before, and it fucking sucked. But you do get better. Brents will get better: she's announced her intention to come back from the injury on her Facebook page, and she has form for making comebacks, having fought her way back into competition following a severe knee injury back in 2013.

The people who are all over Brents' Facebook page now saying she'll never recover from her injuries are doing her a disservice, and doing so deliberately, because the fact is there is nothing those people would like more than to see her forced to walk away from MMA for good because she lost a fight to Fallon Fox. Because then they would have - in their eyes - incontrovertible proof for the Fox-is-a-monster hypothesis. It's the same reason why many of the same people who were urging Brents to 'show Fallon who's boss' before the fight are now bleating that she never had a chance.

Well, of course she had a fucking chance. I'm not in the habit of comparing people who can't punch their way out of a paper bag to Mike Tyson. I genuinely thought that Brents stood a good chance of beating Fox, and that was why I was so exercised about her refusal to call out transphobia from her fans: I really didn't want to see someone who, in my view, had failed to act as a true advocate for the trans community having her hand raised in the arena last Saturday. But the fact is that is that I did see Brents' hand raised...

...because Brents herself raised Fallon Fox's hand. The hand of the woman she had said only got publicity for being trans; of whom Brents said she would 'derail that shit quickly' if they ever fought; and who. she said, distracted attention from 'the female fighters who deserve it'. Tamikka Brents said all those things about Fallon Fox, and, after they fought on Saturday night, she raised Fallon Fox's hand.

Tamikka Brents styled herself an LGBT advocate while at the same time saying those things, and I objected to that: but that gesture, one cis, lesbian fighter raising another trans, lesbian fighter's hand, is a more powerful act of advocacy than anything I could do.

And that's worthy of respect: and telling a fighter that they never had a chance, and that they can never come back from their injuries, is far from respectful. But equally, I feel bad about leaving 'You remind me of Tyson, Tamikka' up online while Brents is recuperating from serious injuries. Hey, I told you I was a soft shite.

So, I've decided to take the video down. I realise nothing I can say can stop the TERFs seeing this as a victory: if so, it's a pyrrhic one for them, because that video wouldn't have had half the views it got if it hadn't been for them working themselves into a good frothy lather over the sight of me being so, dammit, so, ooooooh, so disrespectful, oooooh, someone really ought to teach me a lesson...(you see what I'm getting at here, but hey, if a hate-fap helps someone make it through the day, who am I to judge? God knows the TERFs don't seem to lead very full lives...). If I were all about the viewcount, I'd have left the video up and basked in the disgust generated by my perceived enormity (do you see? Do you see how much cooler it sounds when you use it to describe an outrage?), but I am not all about the clickbait. That's the very thing for which I castigated Caleb Hannan, and I stand by everything I said back then. Including the long riff on comic-book journalists.

While I've actually been writing this piece, I've fielded a number of attacks on Twitter from TERF accounts, and part of me thought, y'know what? Sod it. Leave the fucking video up there. Piss them right off. And if this were just about the TERFs? Yeah, I'd leave it up. Fuck those people. But it isn't.

This is about Tamikka Brents, who I really wanted to respect, and who said things, and tolerated things, that caused me to lose that respect. And Tamikka Brents has, after Saturday night, regained my respect, to some extent.  And she doesn't need a bunch of people telling her she never had a chance, and she doesn't need a bunch of people telling her she can't come back from her injuries, and, in my opinion, while she's recovering, she doesn't need to see a video of me dissing her. So, she won't. The video will go down. And the third most-viewed video on my channel will once again be me ranting about a popular hair-removal product.

I hope Tamikka Brents recovers quickly from her injuries. I hope she gets back to fighting soon. And - now that all this is over, and she and Fox have left it all in the cage - I think, frankly, that next time she fights, she should wear the damn flag.