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



Monday, 16 February 2015

Science? Fiction?

'And the really WEIRD thing,' said Du'thuen, 'was that we were actually on the verge of making first contact with them a number of times, but they kept getting hung up on gender.'
'WHAT?' Spluttered Hnngal. 'How in the stars could an advanced species get hung up on THAT? What's to ponder?'
'Well, incredibly enough, it seems they spent most of the centuries after becoming a type 0.5 part-global civilisation believing it was possible to assign gender at birth, based mainly on secondary sexual characteristics.'
'That is...that's almost inconceivable, Du'thuen! Even the thought-herders of Nagesh-3 weren't *that* foolish! '
'You're vibrating at the mufulon here, Hnngal, believe me. As best we can figure out, the problem derived from industrialisation occurring in precisely the one planetary culture not sophisticated enough to handle it. I mean, the sheer number of wars alone...'
'Yes, one of the Remnants I spoke to on the Star Sanctuary said much the same thing. He said the problem was the...pale person?'
'"The white man" was, I believe, the term, but yes. We wanted to intervene at Vorthruk/Naaal criticality but they just could NOT get over this gender thing. Eventually some factions in the Council began advocating more drastic measures, there was even a breakaway group...'
'Ah, yes, the...Schwanian League?'
'Quite. They actually took to forcibly abducting members of the population and subjecting them to increasingly odd pranks in an effort to break them out of their conditioning.'
'Did it work?'
'Look around you,' Du'thuen sighed, as the mist subsided and hir dorsal talons cleared a space out of the bones underfoot. 'Does it LOOK like it worked?'

Monday, 19 January 2015

Dear M Hebdo,

One of the author's earlier forays into hard-hitting SATIRE

I understand you have a vacancy for journalists on your satirical magazine. I wonder if you would consider letting me write for you? I have many funny and satirical ideas about UK politics which would, I think, be a perfect fit now that your magazine is internationally famous. For example:

1) In the wake of the attack on your magazine, a man called Eric Pickles has written to all the Mosques in England asking them to tell Muslims that terrorism is a Very Bad Thing. No, this is not the silly and satirical thing! Mr Pickles really did that. No, the satirical thing is that we can make a joke about an Imam writing to the Tories to tell them to stop letting Pickles go to pie shops - because Mr Pickles is FAT, you see! Tremendous satire. Feel free to make the Imam as much of a bearded ethnic caricature as you like, obviously.

2) A man with a squeaky voice who had a hit song about stalking a woman on the Tube a few years back has also written a letter about how upset he is that people think he's posh just because he was born in a mansion and used to ride about on a horse with a sword. No - again, that's not the satirical bit! The satirical bit is that he has a surname which sounds like a rude word!  Obviously once again the amazing satirical potential is endless. I'm not sure how you can work a horrendously Islamophobic cartoon jihadi into this one, to be honest, but obviously I am just starting out in the satire business, you have more experience in that area than I.

Anyway, thanks for your consideration in this matter and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any other ideas for things you'd like me to satirise, I'm sure there are plenty of British political topics just crying out to be skewered with some fearless gallic racism.

Je suis
AJ McKendoNagasaki

Saturday, 17 January 2015


I've just finished drawing up a submissions spreadsheet. I'm determined that this year I am going to Be Serious About This and Actually Submit to Magazines, something at which I'm notoriously bad. This means that there will be fewer poems uploaded to this blog, which means, if I'm to keep it ticking over, that I am going to have to write more non-poetry stuff for it.

For now, however, there is one more poem I want to put on here, because I'm interested in people's thoughts about it. I wrote this last night: I was thinking about the events in France a little over a week ago, and the issue of reacting to religious fundamentalism in general. In particular I was inspired by this very moving blogpost by Sam Ambreen, which set me thinking about my attitude to God. There is something about men shouting about the greatness of God while murdering others which is chilling, whichever God they claim to worship. And of course 'great' does not necessarily mean 'most exceedingly good': it can simply mean big. Containing multitudes.

So I started from that point, and the following poem is what I came up with. I'm posting it here, despite my newly-professed commitment to word-hoarding, because I'm not entirely sure it's finished. What I'm not trying to do in this poem is be another white, Western poet condemning Radical Islam and striking the agreed posture: as anyone who read the entry preceding this one ought to be able to grasp, je ne suis pas Charlie.

I hope this poem reads like what it is - a tentative, throughly-lapsed Catholic attempting to try and understand what drives someone to strap on a kalashnikov and kill people for religious reasons. It isn't meant to be an answer, or a speech. It is meant as a kind of response.

You say your God is Big

You say your God is big, and you’re not lying:
your God’s a God who throws His weight around,
from one side of the planet to the other.
Your God takes heads, sends towers crashing down:

my God – the God they brought me up to worship -  
my God can’t make me ditch the booze for Lent.
I’d like to say my God is almost spent:
but I’m not trying to terminate a pregnancy

in Texas. That’s Him, too, my God:
a heavyweight, like yours. A clubber.
Tremendous overhand when punching down,
but slow in footwork these days. Getting old.

Gets to us all. But your God:
oh, He’s strong, and big: so big
you just see part of Him: the fists,
the snarling jaw, quick to avenge

an insult, like Whitman’s American:
you never see the hands untaped,
without the gloves, cupped
to cradle children, all unmartial,

almost feminine: or do you?
Was it a hungry baby’s cries
your wages couldn’t satisfy
that made Big Daddy God seem so appealing?

Did a life of smiling at the men who killed you slowly
make you avid for the day you would bark orders
from the barrel of an AK-47?
Did you ask yourself my God, what have I done,

when you first saw what bullets did to bodies,
or were you hardened by a life lived under guns,
in rubble, at the sharp end of the flattened world?
We cannot know, of course. We have the words

that you recited to a camera
in another holy warrior’s hand. A truth,
or catechism? Form of words
or credo from the core?

What would you tell us without the camera,
the foreknowledge of the act
that you would justify on film?
Without the act, the headline – would we listen?

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Charlie Hebdo attack is terrible. Let's respond like adults.

It shouldn't need to be said, but it does.

I believe that it is possible to be against hate speech while also believing that people do not deserve to be gunned down for saying things that I consider hate speech.

I believe in criticising fundamentalist religion without attacking the fundamentals of a religion.

I believe that one can object in the strongest terms to the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and yet find the idea that the way we protest this is to 'republish the images the killers want to suppress', as Johann Hari urges, morally troubling.

Do I have to explain why? Do I have to talk of shouting fire in a crowded theatre? Do I have to get tactical, and talk about the strategy of tension? Must I paint you a picture explaining how the best way to convince more angry, alienated young Muslim men that the West is full of juvenile, spiteful Islamophobes is by uncritically defending a magazine which ran a cartoon captioned with the phrase 'The Koran is shit', showing that book being literally shot full of holes?

Do I need to say two wrongs don't make a right?

And do I need to point out that this attack wasn't today's only act of terrorism?

Do we need to think about that?