Wednesday, 24 August 2016

a recognition

NB: The poem that follows is a reworking of one written under conditions of near-intolerable belligerence during a controversy around trans participation in sports in which I became involved due to my then occupying a position of sorts in the media. It was a habit of mine, at the time, to take a certain enjoyment in naming the guilty parties in my poetry. This made certain of my poems very popular, to use the hate-watching metric, as both those who hated my chosen antagonist and those who hated me would both involve themselves in viewing with the intention of goading themselves into some sort of frenzy. Needless to say, many such individuals were hardly of the best society: indeed, it was as a result of this whole experience that I was to enjoy the unique experience of being addressed as a 'degenerate' by a man with a conviction for soliciting child pornography, one of the few vices to which I am not partial. 

They say there's never any point in wrestling with a pig, because you both get dirty but the pig likes it, and while it's possible that this, like many of the other censures laid upon swine down the centuries, may well be unfair to the porkers, the old saw rings true when dealing with the longer kind of pig. But I liked the imagery, the rhythms, the odd music of bits of this poem, and I always wanted to come back to it someday. 

Well, I'm still bogged down working on Incidents of Trespass - which, I have reluctantly been forced to concede, is probably some sort of novel; but over the past few days I've written two of the most horrifically violent scenes I've ever written for that novel, and created a pair of characters in the process who are, essentially, monsters, and today, well, I find that right now I lack the stomach to crack on with considering such enormities. So it seemed the right time to re-approach this poem, to prise it lose from the death-grip of the individual who inspired it and to apply to it my current suspicion that in poems where one takes a position of judgement one may also feel the need to indict oneself as much as 'the enemy', whoever that happens to be this news cycle. In which spirit, please enjoy the poem which from now on I will refer to as 'a recognition':

I worked out who you remind me of,
and I know that you might take it as a compliment.
Understand - that isn't how it's meant. You remind me
of Tyson: because you're squat, you're strong
and fast out of the gate, because you're fuelled
by arrogance and rage: and because I'm betting
that you'll end your days

exactly as he has: an Adult Swim joke,
a frat-comedy guest star;
Drederick Tatum, in The Simpsons,
only more of a cartoon. In bad taste, too:
as crude as any episode of Family Guy,
with fewer laughs - and all the gags
are rape gags. Hey, shit happens when you're drunk.

Because, you see, rage can sustain,
but calcifies to hate, and does it smiling,
puts on comic drag, conducts
the low bass rumble
of the we're-all-normal laugh,
barks freak-show patter,
corrects itself
with a vaudeville wink.

It's not Joel Grey: it's Chubby Brown,
it's pandering, it's mugging to the crowd,
it's giving them the beast they want to see,
the beast they want to be, the rock star clown,
the charismatic bully: not the Leader

but the license for the losers
to indulge their worst extremes,
the toast of every boozer in the sports bar
making jokes about Mike Sam and 'special teams'
and boasting that they'd spit on rainbow laces
if their kid should dare to wear them on the field.

That's who you'll be.
That's what you'll stand for:
the burly bully, big bad comic monster,
and you'll draw buys,
for sure, for a while,

but we both know
that you'll get slow
and punchy
and the strategy that balances the rage:
you'll never learn it, 'cause you won't feel that you have to
'til it's later than you think. And then?

Best hope that frat-coms are still playing
in the multiplexes; best hope stoned hipsters
are still pitching ironic cartoons; best hope
somebody still remembers, and they get someone
with class to ghost your memoir,
and that someone like Joyce Carol Oates
is on hand to review it,
and give your sorry life a sense of drama

as you stumble from talk-show to talk-show
walking money leaking from your pocket.
Jake la Motta thought he was a poet,
but I write because I cannot
throw a punch: it's my one talent. Some do both:
we’re not those people.  We may make our mark
on paper, faces, video, the feeds,
may make enough to see to all our needs
­­-  some hope! – may even see ourselves on screen:

but the gifts we barter will not be the authors of our dreams.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

What Botham Believes

'Personally, I believe that England is an island.' - Ian Botham, discussing the EU referendum

I believe

that England is an island

that Europe is a planet

that space is a country

that black hole is something you
can't say these days

that all holes matter

that Britain is a rocketship
disguised as a dropping balloon

that flags are magic

that sometimes you just don't see
another white face

that my black friends
don't secretly say I'm a racist

that women don't roll their eyes
when I say no-one loves them more than me

that there is no smoke without fire
but two sides to every tango
depending on how well I knew the accused

that we all know what 'flamboyant' means

that they would say that, wouldn't they

I believe
that England is an island

I don't believe
that global warming means the seas will rise

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

From the archives: Bashing Back on Biggins' Biphobia

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. I see Christopher Biggins has once more made an oaf of himself by airing his weird, icky opinions about bisexuals in public, this time via the medium of moribund Endemol reality show format Celebrity Big Brother. This is not news: the following piece was written in 2014 (for the now-defunct So So Gay) in response to a previous incident of Biggins letting it all hang out in regard to his snide opinions about sexual diversity. Of the journalistic work I've done, this is one of my favourite pieces, so I'm delighted to present it to you again - as I will whenever I hear that Biggins has made his mouth go about one of the most vulnerable parts of the queer community. 
Bad news for anyone who’s enjoyed my last few posts on here: I don’t exist, apparently! That’s the considered opinion of noted commentator on human sexuality Christopher ‘Rentaghost’ Biggins. In an interview with Britain’s top guilt-purchase magazine, The Big Issue, the former Wolverhampton’s Aladdin Pantomime star said that ‘the world is full of bisexuals’ who ‘ruin a woman’s life’ and ‘lead a double life, so how can you be a real person?’
Ontologically, this is quite the puzzler. The world is full of people who aren’t real? Has Biggins discovered the key to the Matrix? Is he The One? And, as a pansexual trans woman who’s attracted to people of all genders and none, who is this woman whose life I, along with all bisexuals, am responsible for ruining? It can’t be my ex-wife, with whom I get on quite well, to be honest. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the ex-girlfriend who came before her, either. I suppose as a trans activist I have been responsible, collectively, for stopping Julie Bindel getting some gigs, and I did perform at the Bar Wotever show where Cathy Brennan tried to claim, stood beneath a giant poster of Amy Lame’s face, that she was being thrown out of the building for being a lesbian rather than for being a massive transphobe: but I’m pretty certain that isn’t what Biggins is on about.
Okay, I’m being facetious: but is there any better response to Biggins trotting out a chestnut that’s older than one of the jokes in his pantomimes? Seriously, we’ve been here before: this is the ever-popular canard that bi people don’t exist: that at best being bi is ‘just a phase‘ and at worst we’re all just gay men and women in denial. A familiar one, that: as a trans woman I’m used to dealing with the surprisingly common assumption that the reason I take dihydrotestosterone-suppressants, constantly assault my body with a variety of hair-removal products, and am engaged in a seemingly never-ending to-and-fro between my GP and my Gender Identity Clinic, is that I want to find a way to feel more comfortable about fancying men. Which, given that my primary attraction seems to be towards feminine-identified individuals, is always something of a surprise to me.
What Biggins is doing here is projecting, basically: the behaviour he describes, gay men in denial marrying women, then having to divorce them when they realise that a wedding ring is not a magical get-out-of-gayness card, is actually something he’s done in his own life: from 1971 to 1974, Biggins was married to the Australian actress Beatrice Norbury. As Biggins himself admits, ‘I met a girl and married her because I thought that was the thing to do…I hadn’t thought it through and of course it didn’t work’. Perhaps it’s Biggins’ guilt over this failed marriage which leads him to make the category error of accusing bisexuals of ‘ruining women’s lives’.
Because a category error is what it is. I don’t know how horrible it is for a woman who believes herself to be in a heterosexual marriage to discover her husband is gay: certainly it’s never nice to feel your partner has concealed something from you, but I suspect this is very much one of those your-mileage-may-vary situations. Some women will take a revelation like that in stride, some will be devastated by it. But however painful such an experience may be, it really ought to be pointed out that ‘bisexuals’ and ‘closeted gay men who marry straight women in an attempt to conceal their true sexuality’ are not the same thing. Nope. Nuh-uh. Nah. Degree of overlap in that Venn diagram? Not a heckuva lot, to be honest.
Does this matter? Well, on one level, maybe not so much: BIGGINS WRONG ABOUT ISSUE is something of a dog-bites-man headline at this point: he criticised the ITV sitcom and McKellen/Jacobi vehicle Vicious on the grounds that it would stoke homophobia (rather than on the more formidable grounds that it was just a bit crap really), and he is a supporter of the Conservative party. More seriously, in an interview with the Gloucestershire Echo (who actually used the phrase ‘flamboyant actor’ to describe him, in 2013 – bless!) he argued that celebrities accused of rape and sexual abuse – such as, say, Max Clifford – were victims of a ‘witch hunt’, with ‘people claiming to have slept with celebrities because they think they’re likely to get money out of it.’ He went on that in his opinion ‘celebrities should be given privacy like the accusers until the accusations are proven’.
Well, you know what a bad idea I think that is – although it needs to be said that Biggins is actually advocating an even more bizarre position than Nigel Evans. Evans’ idea that all rape defendants should be granted anonymity is a staggeringly bad one – but the former Deputy Speaker is at least in favour of anonymity for all defendants, while the man who co-starred with Danny Dyer in the 2012 remake of Run for Your Wife  believes a special exception should be made only for ‘celebrities’. Civilians accused of rape would apparently still be named under the Biggins Code. Good to know.
However, celebrity opinions – as vacuous as they might be – do not actually happen in a vacuum. Biggins’ opinions about people claiming to have been raped by celebrities in the hopes of getting a big pay-out (and on what basis are they supposed to think this? Can you remember a case of someone sexually assaulted by a celeb making a huge wad of cash out of it? Because I can’t) play out against a background of rape culture; similarly, his stance that bisexuals are simply gay men in denial plays out against a culture in which bisexuals are far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than monosexuals, far more likely to report feeling suicidal, and also more likely to suffer from economic oppression too.
It’s not hard to work out why this is the case: not only do bisexuals experience the garden-variety homophobia all of us in the LGBT community have to put up with, we also get to deal with put-downs from monosexual gay men and lesbians who criticise us for being ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish’, for not being ‘gold-star lesbians‘. Not only do we have people from the straight world dissing us, we have people who are supposedly on our own side having a pop too!
And that’s bad enough when those opinions are coming from some drunk, bitter old queen propping up one of the local gay bars and wondering why no-one wants to have sex with a catch like him; when those opinions are amplified by the megaphone of celebrity it’s worse. I was being sarcastic about the guilt-purchase nature of the Big Issue earlier: whenever I buy the magazine (which isn’t every week because some weeks I don’t have the money to afford a magazine sold by homeless people - ha ha ha, seriously do not go into poetry, kids) I’ve always enjoyed it. But I’m glad I missed the issue with the Biggins interview, because I would have been really upset and angry to see a magazine I like and respect running a piece in which someone says people like me don’t exist and accuses us of ruining women’s lives. And – finances aside – I’m in a pretty good place right now. I’m not suicidal. But I have been, at times. And, while I’m not sure the opinions of a former Surprise, Surprise co-host would be enough to push me over the edge, they certainly wouldn’t do anything to help. Especially a couple of years ago, when I was a closeted trans person, afraid to come out because I feared what people would think.
Rather like Biggins back in the seventies, actually, when he married to try and shore up his heterosexual credibility. Fortunately, society has changed a lot since then. Things have progressed, and got better, not just for monosexual, cisgender gay people but for those of all genders, all sexualities, and none. We live in a more progressive society than we used to. And, as a man who lent his support to the celebrations of the passing of the Equal Marriage Act, Britain’s best-known panto dame no doubt likes to think that he is in the forefront of that progressive trend along with the rest of us. But – as his biphobic comments make clear – oh no, he isn’t. He’s behind us.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

I went looking for Corbyn but found Christ and Coca-Cola: a report

The Blue Carpet has seen better days. Thomas Heatherwick’s  Blairite folly outside the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle still curls up wittily when it brushes the corners of the buildings that surround it, but the blue chips which gave it sparkle have worn away over the years. Increasing footfall to the gallery has eroded the artwork outside it, as people step over the fading tiles to see Isabella and the Pot of Basil or John Martin’s Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Newcastle is a city at war these days, a city of conflict between the incoming and the established, the old and the new, the haves, have-nots and never-wills. War is written into the fabric of the city, in the names of streets and tower blocks, the plaques on buildings, the collective memory.

Ride through Sandgate, up and doon
There you'll see the gallants fighting for the croon
And all the cull cuckolds in Sunderland toon
With all the bonny blew caps cannot pull them doon.

It’s all there, even the use of ‘cuck’ as an insult.

I came to the carpet to report on the war, but by the time I got here the troops had moved on. Difficulties with the Metro ticket machines mean I am forced to entrain without a ticket and disembark at Jesmond, the nearest station to the City Centre where I stand a decent chance of getting out without having to remonstrate with an angry revenue inspector. From there I have to walk to the Carpet via the campus of Northumbria University and John Dobson Street. By the time I arrive the carpet is empty. An old couple sits on one of the curving branches used as ramps by skateboarders, but the Keep Corbyn rally I was planning to get a look at has already decamped – to Leazes Park, I’ll find out later, but my initial instinct is that they must have gathered at Monument, the City’s main contested space.

At first I think I’m on the right track. I pass by the new Central Library, the glass and steel building that replaced the old Brutalist fortress, the black knight’s visor lowering over Princess Square, with a structure which makes a fetish of openness, a viewing platform with novelty Big Brother chairs, the stacks hidden away in a white cube halfway up the building and the bookshelves tucked away at the back of the ground floor.  I can hear noise, groups, chanting. 

I pass the MakerSpace and bookshop on New Bridge Street, the basement theatre where, almost a year ago, I asked my friends to throw rice and fake blood at me while I stood on stage and talked of love. The noise is louder now but it seems wrong. No megaphone, no samba bands, no sound system, no they say cut back we say fight back. The voices seem different. And here’s why: this is not a political crowd but a confessional one, a crowd of black people, probably from some evangelical outreach initiative, hallelujah-ing while stalls emblazoned with the red and white banner of Coca-Cola distribute free samples. As far as I can tell the coke and Christianity are not officially connected, but it sure looks like a land grab to me. I wonder if the ticketing problems on the Metro were deliberate: not just to stop me, but to thin the numbers of people coming in for the rally. But why? What’s the motive? Cui bono?

Try this for size: the Metro is a German-owned company these days. Corbyn has said we need to invoke Article 50 as soon as we can. Thinning his crowd is a bulwark against continental financial catastrophe. Or this: the Metro recently had an industrial dispute with its cleaning staff. Corbyn wants to stand up for the workers. Thinning his crowd is industrial relations by other means. Or: Corbyn is Christ and the Devil Himself fucked the ticket machines up out of spite. Or Corbyn’s the Devil-turned-Roundhead and in protest the Metro will only accept payment today in tiny pictures of the Queen.

It’s ludicrous, but we know conspiracies exist. The existence of the plot against Wilson was once thought colourful fantasy. We moved on pretty damn fast from the general threatening a coup if the current Labour leader was elected, but I’ve seen bumper stickers emblazoned with Support the Troops – we’ll need them to get Corbyn posted online. The Deep State abides, shuffling personnel as needed, sweeping BoJo into office at the moment the banks all collapse, a handy man for Diamond Bob to have inside the system.

The square around Monument is overlooked by bastions of conspiracy. Here: HSBC, the bank that broke bad, laundering Mexican drug money to bolster its liquidity. There: Pret a Manger, the chain whose management impose a Maoist cult of good cheer on its staff, surveilled by mystery shoppers, the secret policemen of consumerism, lured in by the promise of free goods. (Full disclosure: I’m partial to breakfasting on a Pret filled croissant, but I’ve never received one of the free coffees the staff are empowered to give. Come on, guys, I compared your management to Mao!)

And here, in what used to be a bookshop, Byron burgers, the company which recently conspired with the UK immigration authorities to deport 35 workers it had employed for years, working 50-70 hour weeks. The company asked no questions and enjoyed its lowered overheads, but turned grass to dodge fines and branch closures. Staff were invited in for ‘training’ on the dangers of cooking rare burgers, only to find out it was their goose that was cooked. A ‘quirky’ toy cow sits on a shelf behind the counter; a sandwich board outside advertises ‘The B&A Burger’. They need to add ‘UK’ to that, I mutter. 

Saturday, 30 July 2016


‘Fucking grotesque’ – message on dating site from ‘marcus69shh’

Grotesque does not mean
ugly: it means hybridity, incongruence,
the sickening in league with the sublime,
the jolie laide, the Baywatch-bodied mantelpieces,
manticore, chimera, cockatrice;
means beautifulmonstrous

and I do not know

which              which

part                  part

of                     of

me                   me

you                  you

find                 find

beautiful          monstrous

but I hope

everyone          everyone

that                  that

you                  you

find                 find

beautiful          monstrous

treats               is treated

you                  like

like                  a

a                      beauty


and you learn the hard way what the word embodies
while never finding just the word:

a champagne bucket serving as a pisspot;
a quick douche between clients
in a bathroom at the Ritz.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


I met a traveller from an antic land
who said: 'A solitary baseball cap
lies in the crater. Near it, on the ground,
the wreckage of a portrait lies, whose frown,
absurdist wig and perma-blasted tan
show that its painter caught well how grotesque
life has become, when such unlifelike things,
mocked as they were, beguiled us to elect
this squamous filth which fattens on our fear.
The psychopath we welcomed as our King
brought ruin to his kingdom in a year,
and with it went the world. No things remain:
on every side the line of sight lies bare.
Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair.'

(after Percy Bysshe Shelley, fairly obviously)

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Second Coming (2016)

(fairly obviously after W.B. Yeats )

Turning and turning in the media cycle's
Discordant broadcast vortex,
things fall apart; the centre has to fold;
evil banality at large within the world,
the Trumpblessed tide unleashed, and everywhere  
the sometime sense of decency  is drowned:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
surely the Second Coming is at hand.  
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert  
a shape with sealion body, head of man,  
gaze blank and pitiless as the Sun,  
is moving his slow thighs, while all about him
reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.  
The darkness drops again; but now I know  
that twelvescore years of mission creep
were hexed in primetime by a Shepard’s fable:
What rowdy zeitgeist, des Zeit nun gekommen
Kreucht, um geboren zu werden, Bethlehem zu?