Wednesday, 29 April 2015

This is Worcestershire builder Ian Merrett. I'm going to dedicate a performance of a poem to him. Find out why here

You're f***ing dead LOL J/K! (show version)

Check this out: a new version, recorded at JibbaJabba, of the central poem from my forthcoming Edinburgh show. You did know I'm doing an Edinburgh show, right?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

I won't call you a goddess

I won't call you a goddess, because that exoticizes you;
I won't call you an amazon, because that fetishizes you.
I don’t want to say too much about your skin
because I don't want to seem like someone who has a black thing,
but it is beautiful because it is your skin,

and I'm unqualified to list
the things that beauty must resist,
like French cartoons, or bitchiness
from so-called feminists:
and I won't call you brave for fighting this

because the choice lies with the system you must fight,
which uses words like nude and natural for white,
and minority to mean most of the people on this Earth.
You are no muse: your beauty's independent of these words,

and that would be the same whoever wrote them,
and it's not my job to speak your truth:
my job is just to signal boost
so more people can hear the truth you've spoken.

This didn't actually start out being about Laverne Cox's Allure photoshoot, and Meghan Murphy's ridiculous, clickbaity attack on Cox, but, as I've been thinking about that a lot this week, it found its way in there; as indeed did the racist cartoon about dead migrants published this week by those fearless speakers of truth to power, Charlie Hebdo (who I've written about before).

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Do you think Eton gives a fuck about league tables?

I've had something on my mind all week - for longer, in fact - and I feel I have to get it off my chest. It relates to something which has been in the news lately: the teenage girls from Bethnal Green Academy who, the news tells us, have travelled to Syria to join ISIS.

Don't worry: this isn't going to be a Grace Dent-style racist rant. What I've been thinking about is something I saw on one of the news reports about the story: a bit of background detail, literally. A banner, displaying the school's latest A*-C pass grades: '80s-themed, because the pass rates were in the 80s. Pictures of students' faces photoshopped onto the bodies of '80s movie icons: the Blues Brothers, the Terminator. I've been trying to find a picture of the banner as it appeared on the news, but the best I can manage is this Google Streetview image, via HuffPo, showing the place where it hung, but with a different banner:

The '80s banner got to me because it reminded me of the similar 'morale-boosting' posters I've seen in the 'target-driven environments' where I've worked: jolly little boasts about sales goals met, staff suggestions acted on, awards won, long-timers congratulated. Even the jokey eighties theme was the kind of thing someone in an office would come up with - a try-hard, too-desperate attempt to inject some fun into the statistics, to try and mask, with cheerfulness, the horrible truth behind them: that these are the numbers by which you are judged. You can dress your pupils up as Jake and Elwood for a laugh, but you won't fool them into forgetting that those passes, in an education system obsessed with results, could decide their whole future - and the future of their school, as well.

And I thought: I bet they don't have banners like that at Eton or Westminster, the schools our coalition leaders attended. They don't need them. Kids who grow up at those schools grow up knowing that the world will soon be theirs. And kids at schools like Bethnal Green Academy? They grow up knowing their worth will be counted in numbers, figures, targets, and that failing to hit those targets knocks them even further back in a race that's been rigged from the start. And their teachers get stressed when those targets aren't met, because what will the league tables say? And the kids pick up on that stress, and they worry more about hitting those targets - or go off the rails in a bid to escape.

In my adolescence, after finishing sixth form and waiting to go to uni, I tried to run off and join the Newbury Road Protest. It was a cack-handed attempt, and I came back when I realised I had no real plan to get from Hartlepool, the furthest south I could get by public transport, to far-flung, exotic Berkshire: but it wasn't really the protest I was running to. I was running from the problems in my life: my anorexia and bulimia, my gender dysphoria, the pressure to succeed, to make something of a life I was barely managing to hold together. And this was in the late nineties, those halcyon days when things could only get better: how much worse must things be for young women struggling to find their place in the world in these times, when we're told loudly that there is no alternative, and the weak go to the wall?

To the Grace Dents of this world - those rewarded by the system with a space in the media from which to pontificate - the choice those girls made is simply a matter of wickedness, or religious fanaticism. But I think it's at once more complicated and simpler than that. And it isn't the fault of the Qu'ran, or a preacher on YouTube, or Jihadi Tumblr accounts: it's the fault of banners covered in numbers, and what those numbers represent, and a society that reduces young people in their formative years to nothing more than the sum of those numbers. And, until we stop doing that, I fear we'll see more people seeking an escape in something deeper than a league table boast, and a photoshopped Blues Brother.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What no-one is saying about The Danish Girl

The web is filled with wonder at the news that Eddie Redmayne is to follow up his Oscar-winning turn playing a disabled man (in The Theory of Everything) by playing a trans woman in the forthcoming The Danish Girl. Many sources have got very hot under the collar at the thought of the pretty young fellow dragging up (which is what it is - Redmayne is a man playing a woman, after all). The Huffington Post went so far as to declare him 'unrecognisable' in his make-up for the part:

Nope, that's definitely Eddie Redmayne (image © Universal Pictures)

Like, we get it, HuffPo: seeing Eddie made up like that turns you on, and that's okay - but do you have to sound like such a chaser about it?

Predictably, however, the main buzz about this has come from trans people pointing out that, you know, trans actors do exist, so why not cast one? And of course the answering chorus of cis people saying surely it doesn't matter who plays the part as long as they're a good actor, and what about hormones and blah-blah yadda-yadda must we? We know how this argument goes.

And that's why I'm not going to make it here. I'm less concerned with who they've cast in this story than whose story they're telling. And that story is the story of Lili Elbe:

Lili Elbe painted like a total fox by Gerda Gottlieb
And why would Hollywood pick Lili Elbe, of all the historical trans people they could have chosen? Because of how she died. You can't make a Hollywood movie about a trans person without there being a tragic, Oscar-baiting finish, after all. And forget Brandon Teena being beaten to death, The Danish Girl has an even better tragic trans ending: because poor Lili, she died of transplant rejection - after a uterine transplant.

Isn't it just too perfect, people? She tried so hard to be a real girl but she died in the process - because her body rejected the womb. It isn't hard to work out the subtext in telling that story, is it? That Lili could never be 'real'. That all trans people can achieve is artificial, a fantasy brought to a crashing end on the harsh blocks of 'biological reality'. Never mind that a cis woman would also have died after uterine transplant surgery given the technology they had back then; never mind that such technology was properly developed only recently: we all know what the takeaway from this movie is. They're not telling it as the story of a woman: they're telling it as the story of a man trying to be a woman, and ultimately failing. You can tell that because all the publicity stuff refers to Lili by her dead name, Einar Wegener. You can tell it from the way Redmayne uses that dead name to refer to Lili even as he patronisingly says how 'brave' she was.

TV  has featured trans women playing trans women in Orange is the New Black, Cucumber, the forthcoming  Boy Meets Girl and perhaps even, according to producers, Eastenders pretty soon. But Hollywood seems to prefer to remain conservative: trans women in the movies are still men trying to be women, not women ourselves.We're still Jared Leto and Eddie Redmayne giving themselves a bad make-up job (gotta get that mirror shot in, natch) and dying tragic deaths offscreen like the cautionary tales that we are - but whose sacrifice isn't in vain because, by God, playing us can win these young men Oscars.

Well, fuck that. I'll watch a Hollywood film about a trans woman when they cast a trans woman, and tell a story where she doesn't die at the end. Because, hello, we are already dying out here, in numbers: the last thing I want to see at the cinema is a movie telling me I'll have a tragic end when the news does that just fine already, thanks. Give me a story whose hero survives.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Who can say "I'm being SILENCED!!!!" loudest?

Last night, I went to a public meeting about the demonstration being planned in Newcastle to oppose a rally by UK supporters of German far-right group Pegida. This Pegida rally was supposed to be an actual march, but it has since been reduced to a static protest in the Bigg Market - it seems that the Master Race's representatives hadn't allowed for the fact that (a) Newcastle United - whose fans aren't keen on a bunch of fascists coming to town to cause trouble - are playing at home on the 28th, and (b) the event is scheduled to take place at 10:30am, and the fash need their beauty sleep. No, they do, they really do - I've seen them. I saw them back in May 2013, when the EDL marched in Newcastle, and I was forced to walk past a bunch of them getting tanked up at a really shit local pub on my way to have IPL treatment (oddly enough, at 10:30am, though that day's march was scheduled for later - I guess the EDL can drag themselves out of bed when there's a chance of going for a piss-up):

And I got to see them again yesterday night, when a bunch of them turned up, predictably, to try and disrupt the meeting. I have to say that in my opinion the meeting's organisers, among them Councillor Dipu Ahad, showed a great deal of patience in tolerating the dozen or so EDLites who continually tried to undermine the meeting with what teachers call 'low level disruption' before the poor little things finally decided to have a full-on tantrum during questions from the floor and got themselves thrown out. What interests me here is their tactics, and who they remind me of.

One of the most interesting things was the way the EDL constantly strove to present themselves as the victims, and to appropriate the discourse of rights and democracy to try and serve their entirely undemocratic ends. To repeated reminders that their monsyllabic interjections needed to be kept to a minimum, they invariably responded by curling their Aryan lips and moaning that 'this is a public meeting, isn't it', then claiming that the organisers were interfering with their cherished freeze peach.

Not only were the people who want to beat up brown folks fearless free speech warriors, they were also, it seemed, zealous defenders of the right to privacy. When attendees at the meeting started taking pictures of the fascists, as evidence should they need to be charged with anything later, one woman separated from the main EDL group  - clearly a plant - began to complain that she didn't want someone 'tekkin pictchas of us, like'.

It seemed they were even ardent campaigners against hate speech, too - one man behind me who seemed inordinately upset that a speaker on the panel had referred to Ukip as racists - now, why might anyone think that? - complained to the police and to meeting security that a gentleman in the same row as him had uttered an unconscionable slur against his person. The terrible slur? This man - who seemed remarkably like a man I saw in ex-military drag, drinking pints with the skinheads leering at me as I walked to Central Station - felt deeply hurt that he had been called a fascist! 

It reminded me of another group who've been very vocal this week: this group has claimed that their free speech is being suppressed, has complained about how simply ghastly it is that people refer to them using slurs - and if they haven't been as at pains to accuse their critics of invading their privacy, that's probably because even some of their ideological allies would see that as being a bit rich, given the frequency with which they doxx and harass their targets - targets which have included a sixteen-year-old girl.

Yes, the local fascists reminded me of no-one so much as the TERFs, the so-called 'Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists' - I say 'so-called' because while they certainly are trans-exclusive, I don't consider them either radical or feminist: Alex Gabriel, in the blog linked above, suggests we start using the acronym TEF-LON, to take into account the fact that the UK's trans-exclusive 'feminists' are mainly a London-based clique, while Zoe Stavri at Another Angry Woman prefers the phrase 'violent transmisogynistic bigots'.

Powerless victims of horrific slurs march  in 1930s Germany.

I think I like the latter term best, capturing as it does the similarity which I've seen, first-hand, between these folks and the violent fascistic bigots who tried to throw their weight around on Wednesday night. And to return to that night, it might be worth noting that a member of the audience from Newcastle University Students' Union informed us that they're currently trying to get Pegida added to their no-platform list.

I look forward to seeing Beatrix Campbell bravely defending the rights of Islamophobic German fascists in the Observer this weekend.

Melissa, she was trans

Inspired by this story.

Melissa's roommate hit her, but the cis
arresting officer thought she was the
aggressor, 'cause Melissa? She was trans.

And then the women at the shelter got
Melissa in the shower, and assaulted
and ejected her, 'cause they knew she was trans,

and if you're listening, and thinking
that my record must be skipping
'cause I'm still listing injustices to people who are trans,

then think how I feel! My reality
is the conditionality of my right
to exist, and you insist you've heard this script

before, and try to stifle yawns
because I'm spoiling your enjoyment
as you practise fact avoidance

but the poisonous thing is
there are Melissas in this city
as we speak, and the aggressors

the arresting officers think victims?
Well, they, too, are in existence
in this city, and you know that this

is true, because the kids who bullied you?
Well, they were cis: the kids
who hit you in the playground, brick by brick

tore your esteem down 'til you wished
that you could leave town,
scream the shitting, pissing scheme down?


So, if this seems a bit repetitive?
It might be worth reflecting
on just exactly where