Tuesday, 14 December 2010

'There's so much projection it's in cinemascope...'

Still alive. No thanks to the Scum publishing transphobic crap about trans people being treated with respect in prison. But in a way I should thank Britain's favourite semi-pornographic chip-wrapper, because thinking about the ridiculous, chip-on-the-shoulder way this story has been reported threw something into relief for me about privilege, and how easy it is to tell what the privileged secretly think about themselves.

To sum the story up: new prison search guidelines mean that trans women - like cis women - will now be exempt from humiliating 'squat' searches, and trans men and women will have the right to request a search be carried out by a warden of their experiential gender, rather than that assigned to them at birth. Sensible, fair, and wholly in line with the progressive view of trans equality: treat trans people as members of the gender they feel themselves to be. Not a big ask, not a hard position to live up to. You'd think.

So what the hell are the Sun getting at with this attack? I was musing on this this morning, half-awake and without the benefit of my first coffee, and somehow the whole issue got mixed-up in my head with the general tone of reporting on prison issues - something much in the press lately, as one of the few Tories I like, beer-drinking jazz-afficionado Ken Clarke, has dared to suggest that maybe, just maybe, locking up increasing swathes of our population might not be the way to go. And something about the way the right-wing press report on prisons occurred to me: they always, always, go on about how 'soft' and 'easy' it is in prison. Endless articles, editorials and columns sermonize on what a cushy life lags have inside, how they get Nintendo consoles and food and colour TV in their cells etc, and how prisons are like holiday camps these days and what's the deterrent eh, I ask you...

But it seems perfectly obvious to me what the deterrent is. The deterrent is being in prison. Being deprived of liberty. Anyone with a modicum of nous can get this. Look: I'm sitting at a computer right now typing this blog. But, if I wished, right now, I could leave the table, switch off the computer (and the radio on the sideboard), and go haring off to the local pub, where I could sit skolling back neat bourbon until my fucking face fell off. I'm not going to, but I could.

Whereas if I were in prison, I couldn't do this. I probably couldn't even type this right now - access to computers is restricted in prisons. Sure, maybe I would have a Wii in my cell, but if I'm cooped up in that cell twenty-something hours a day, that doesn't look like as much of a home comfort (though on the plus side I could probably get enough practice in that I might finally be able to beat that ginger bitch Kathryn who keeps whupping my ass at Wii Boxing. But I digress).

Prison sucks because you lose your freedom, and no amount of trinkets can make up for that. Now multiply that suckage by being trans, and you can see how horrific being trans and in prison could be. Imagine you're a cis woman and the law says you have to squat down and submit to being searched, humiliatingly, by a man. Now imagine you're a trans woman in the same situation. There's no difference - except that as a trans woman you have to deal with this crap on top of all the other prejudice and systemic failure you deal with every day. Insults. Violence. Threatened or actual sexual assault. And on top of this the systemically sanctioned violation of being examined by someone not of your gender. It's a horrific situation, and fair play to the prison authorities for recognising that in at least this small way.

The Sun doesn't see it like that, though. Because to the Sun, the trans women are getting away with something. They're getting special treatment.

We see this a lot in right-wing scare stories, don't we? This idea that minorities receive 'special treatment'. It lies behind the never-ending 'Winterval' bollocks, clinicaly dissected by Kevin Arscott, that Christmas is being 'banned' because it offends Muslims - who get special treatment because we don't try to ban their festivals, do we? It's the idea behind the war on benefit claimants - disabled people get special treatment because they don't have to work (even though many can't), single mothers get special treatment because they get housing (when what would we rather do? Throw women with children on the street?). And it's the idea behind the similar war on trans people - the idea that being able to use a shower or washroom that minimises your chance of being raped or beaten is somehow a special privilege.

In reality the only special privileges are those of the white, able-bodied, cis majority. But the mindset of the privileged can never accept that this is privilege, and bought unfairly. So any attempt to put things right - affirmative action programmes, diversity policies, new search guidelines - is sneered at as being an attempt to grant privileges to groups rather than an attempt to redress the effects of an already-extant privilege which disadvantages said groups. And the reason for this is that the privileged person knows on some level that they are privileged, and they fear the removal of this privilege. So they project it onto the Other. The Others are the privileged ones. And us? We're the real victims mate, yerrr, victims of all this 'politically correct' bollocks, innit...

In Freudian psychology (which is mostly just a load of old shite but did bequeath one or two useful ideas) this is called projection. You dissociate from something distasteful about yourself and project it onto someone else. They're doing it. Not you. Them.

You see this with a lot of other things privileged people say about marginalised folks too.

To hear many able-bodied people say it, you'd think disabled people are dishonest and lazy. But what's lazier - battling every day against a condition which makes it near-impossible to function, or not bothering to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people because you can't be arsed? What's more dishonest - hoping that you'll look disabled enough to convince some ignorant, vile little ATOS inquisitor that you deserve the benefits that keep you alive, or deliberately lying about how disabled someone is to get them off benefits and into low-paid 'workfare' schemes which deprive genuinely able-bodied people of minimum-wage employment?

To hear many cis people say it, trans people are 'confused' or 'dishonest' about their gender. But what's more confused - knowing that you're a girl, and dressing, looking and acting in a way that fits with that identity - or releasing ridiculous 'surveys' which equate 'manliness' with the consumption of grilled-cheese snackage  (trigger warning: I think Mark Simpson's article, linked to there, veers dangerously close to body-policing at points, but I still think he makes an excellent general observation that manliness has became equated too much with consumption in our society)? What's more dishonest - accepting who you are in spite of pain and prejudice, or creating a bully culture in which young men (and women) learn to repress their emotions and any expression of gender-variance is policed with violence, because you don't feel comfortable with who you are?

And of course, to hear a lot of white people say it, black people are criminals - but what's a bigger crime, possession of marijuana or...well, you could take your pick, really. Slave trade? Imperialist colonisation of indigenous peoples throughout the world? The British 'famine relief' camps in India which served a smaller calorific ration to inmates than Dachau? Or my personal favourite, the absolutely criminal punishment which Haiti has had to suffer - and continues to suffer - for being the only country to demonstrate what Noam Chomsky calls 'successful defiance' against the European (and later American) colonising powers through history's most successful slave revolt?

It's all projection, pure and simple. The next time you hear some privileged person telling you exactly what's wrong with 'scroungers', 'muzzies', 'trannies', 'queers', 'darkies', or whatever, take a moment - before you rip their face off and shove it down their arrogant throats - to listen between the lines of what they say. They aren't telling you what other people are like. They're telling you their deepest darkest secrets. They're telling you what keeps them awake, sweating with guilt, through the night.

They're telling you about themselves.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Under Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow

Not a lot of posts this week but worry not, Virtual Amherst has not been deluged under the white stuff, I've just been busy with other things.

I wrote a new poem this week, which you can read on my Write Out Loud blog. It's yet more political shoutiness but hey, these are the times we live in.

I have also started a Tumblr as a companion piece to this blog. Photos have been much on my mind lately, and so I've been paging through my Facebook albums, and noticed something quite amusing about how I looked during my short-haired days, and why I shouldn't have been so surprised that having to wear a box-fresh dress shirt and braces for a party last week ironically made me look more femme than my normal androgynous wardrobe.

That's yer lot now, I'm enjoying a weekend off after the travails of trying to get into (and home from) work in this arctic weather, putting my feet up, drinking a pinotage, watching TNA for the first time in a while, and not being entirely surprised that, nine years after the Monday Night Wars, Vince Russo still believes that a run-in is the default ending for a wrestling match. In booking terms, this is the equivalent of me still ending every poem I wrote

with a dangling line as a kind of incredibly wanky coda.

He'll never get anywhere as a writer if he keeps repeating himself like that.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

I watched the news today, oh boy...

...and I saw a lot of nonsense about how two streets in London have been closed to traffic the better to facilitate the annual orgy of rampant consumerism with which we traditionally celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. All this on Buy Nothing Day too. Who says the arse-licking corporate media don't have a sense of irony?

Curious by its absence from the media, however, has been news of the ongoing student occupations of many major universities in protest at the coalition's assault on the right to higher education and their wider cuts agenda. The suppression of free speech can take many forms - one of them is ignorance and concentration on the trivial.

So against the silence of the media - who, as we've seen elsewhere on this blog, can be bothered to take an interest in the affairs of marginalised people when it suits them - I figured I might use this blog to link to all the occupations currently going on. Universities currently occupied are:


The University of West England, Bristol

Manchester Metropolitan University

The School of Oriental and African Studies

Edinburgh University

Sheffield University

Many other universities have been occupied, but students have either been evicted by riot police or forced out using siege tactics like denying them access to toilet facilities. A good list of all places where occupations have been in effect is the Solidaritree graphic on the Occupied Oxford site, and there's also a good list down the side of the Newcastle blog. And the UCL occupation, which is in many ways the flagship occupation now, goes from strength to strength, attracting messages and gestures of support from figures like Billy Bragg, Richard Herring and the mighty Noam Chomsky.

All these protests are peaceful, all these protests are ongoing and all are being carried out not by mobs but by students concerned about a government that is actively trying to destroy their future and that of their relatives. They are protesting against a society where corporations like Vodafone can get away with having their tax bills declared null and void, where the bankers who caused the crisis carry on paying each other massive bonuses with no reprisals from the government, where the young are invoked as a reason why 'we need to tackle the deficit now' - and are then made to pay for the deficit anyway as the government removes their right to education.

But because no-one has smashed a window, dropped a fire extinguisher or attacked a suspiciously-positioned police van, the media have refused to cover these ongoing gestures of resistance to kyriarchy. The revolution may well not be televised. But with Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere, it almost doesn't matter. The mainstream media refusing to cover a story isn't the kiss of death anymore. In a variation of the Streisand Effect, even suppression by ignorance doesn't make the story go away. All it does is make it more transparent whose interests the media really serves, hastening the media and the kyriarchal regime's decline into irrelevance.

The truth will out, always. And truth will be spoken to power, no matter how much those in power hate it. Power may try to suppress; power may try to ignore; power may try to punish, with riot police and other kinds of sanction: it doesn't matter. As I put it in my poem Class? War?, published in the Emergency Verse anthology - and which I used to finish my recent, well-received set at the inaugural WordJazz event - 'what we deserve, we will demand; you won't deny us.'

I finished that gig on Thursday by saying 'fight the power', which sounded a little odd in my girly little voice (I'm not exactly Zack de la Rocha, after all), but seemed like the only suitable way to finish in these turbulent times. A strange, jarring way for a poet who looks like a Primark Antony Hegarty , and identifies most strongly as a writer with an ancient Amherst poetess with one of history's most famous cases of the vapours, to end a set, but then, I suppose, these are strange times.

So...y'know, fight the power, yeah?

Friday, 26 November 2010

The PEN is mightier

A little over a year ago I took what turned out to be one of the defining steps in my journey to where I am today as a writer. I accepted an invitation from Anthony Gormley's 'One and Other' project to do an hour on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. I themed my hour around an interactive poetry experiment on freedom of expression which didn't quite come off on the night, but which I later got the chance to do right at Newcastle Library for their Human Rights Day Celebration last December. My back-up plan was to do an hours' worth of material (a pretty scary prospect in a scene where performances usually last about twenty minutes at most), and it was in the preparation of this material that I came to the realisations about myself that have been the driving force behind this blog since.

But there was another motive behind my performance that night, and it was to raise money for International PEN, a fine charity which provides support to writers who have been wrongly imprisoned for the crime of producing work which the authorities find subversive.

Punishing a writer for expressing themselves is a ridiculous and cowardly act which should be beneath the dignity of the pettiest of tyrants, but it happens all over the world far too often. This Guardian article came to my attention recently, marking PEN's Day of the Imprisoned Writer and making me feel a little guilty for not having referenced PEN very much in the year and a bit since I got the customers at the bookshop where I worked to contribute to my plinth fund for them.

Free expression is something I've been thinking of these past few days,  because we've seen how our new Coalition masters respond to it: by sending riot police on horseback to attack defenceless children.

So this is where we are as a society. Any dissent from the neoliberal concensus and the corporate interests it serves is savagely punished - even if the dissenters are the young people politicians blandly enthuse about as 'our future'. And oddly enough they're right, about that part.

The students and schoolchildren who protested this week are the future of this country in spite of all the mockery pampered newspaper columnists have directed at them. They represent the first strike back on behalf of all those marginalised and disenfranchised by this government and the kyriarchal interests it serves. These young people are the ones the Daily Mail warned you about, and they won't be the first.

A culture which fears dissent, a culture which attacks its own children, is a culture that is doomed. But the fault lines which cracked open this week have been present for a long time. They have been present in this culture's attitude to race, to disability, to gender. They have been present in every lie a middle-manager ever told for advancement, every slur hurled from a moving car whose drivers thought a pedestrian looked either insufficiently feminine (or too feminine if they happen to be male-bodied), every heartless little laugh issuing from the beer-swollen bellies of a gang of cosseted cis caucasian males when they watch their Little Britain DVDs. Our culture has been sick for a long time. These kids are the first sign of our culture beginning to recover. The fact that so little about what really happened at the protests has appeared in the mainstream media is a sign that there are many people in positions of power and influence who have a vested interest in keeping us sick. As well they might: like many in positions of authority throughout this society, they owe their 'success' to the sickness.

But the young are the future. Just as the other marginalised people are the future. We are, to borrow Camus' phrase about Africa, 'those shining lands where so much strength is still untouched.'

So much strength - because our eyes truly see the sickness at the heart of this world, and we refuse to turn away. So much strength - because we deal with attacks from the privileged every day. So much strength - because every day we survive horror which would break them if they had to live through it just once. And we don't just survive: we find joy and colour and real laughter and love in the midst of it. We make music, literature and art of unflinching beauty and truth. We live, truly, in a way which the sick, authoritarian masters of this culture could never really understand because it can't fit on a spreadsheet. Strength of this kind cannot be overcome. It can be repressed for a time, but the repressed will always return. Histories, like ancient ruins, are the fictions of empire. While everything forgotten hangs in dark dreams of the past, ever threatening to return.

This week the past tried to fight the future. The world of authority and submission and hierarchy - of kyriarchy - which is slowly passing from the earth, tried to abort the new world yearning to be born with truncheons, fists and lies. It failed. And it will keep failing. And there will be more protests, more marches, more occupations and more creative forms of direct action and protest and dissent, and more and more marginalised people making a noise to drown out the echo chamber of the right-wing press. More and more of us telling our stories, dreaming our dreams, until those stories, those dreams and the life and love and good real anger we put into them redraw the boundaries of this world forever.

Every society in the past which fears dissent as much as ours has fallen. Ours will too. The question is, where will you be on the day when it falls? Weeping in your bunker or dancing in the ruins?

Today's homework assignments for new readers: read Anna Funder's Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, and watch the film The Lives of Others. Think.

Oh, and you could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of one of International PEN's anthologies like Free Expression is No Offence. You'll read a lot of good stuff and contribute to the protection of one of the most important human rights. After all, if you're reading a blog like this, I figure free speech has to be something you consider important, right?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Words and all that Jazz

Hello again, you wonderful flibertigibbets, you, and a great big special tacklehug of a hello to any of those lovely new readers I mentioned in yesterday's post. If you're still reading it means you weren't scared off by all that talk of privilege and how, shockingly, able-bodied white guys with penises they were born with and are happy with are not, pace the British tabloid press and Talksport radio, 'duh reel victums, innit?' and have actually got it pretty easy. Well done you! You've taken your first step into a larger world, as that smug patriarchal git Alec Guinness once said in a film he did only for the money.

[Personally I'm more of a fan of Samuel L Jackson's performance as Mace Windu myself; after all, he killed Boba Fett's dad! Though that fact brings with it the terrifying thought that while we know SLJ will do anything for money (Jumper is proof of that), Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett, and has a less-populated CV than Jackson's, may actually have thought that in episode two he was making art, poor love. But I digress.]

New and old readers of this blog alike may be interested to know that I will be reading (most definitely for art) at the inaugural Wordjazz event at Citizens House, Consett, tomorrow, along with Jenni Pascoe, Steve Urwin and Ira Lightman, among others. It promises to be an excellent night. Things kick off at 7:30pm. So, as always, if you're reading this and you're in the area, do come down, especially if you're new to Wrestling Emily - it really would be delightful to see you!

Anyway, that's almost all for now. However, in keeping with this blog's newfound devotion to the Big Society and my dogged desire to educate my followers, I would recommend new readers check out the wonderful film-length interview The Mindscape of Alan Moore, Diamanda Galas' fierce double-album Deifixiones: Will and Testament, and Osip Mandelstam's 'Stalin Epigram.' Class dismissed.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Hello, you! Let's talk about privilege, shall we?

It seems, from reading my blog stats and other news that's came to my attention, as if this blog may recently have enjoyed something of an increase in reader numbers. Of course, in the great ocean of blogging these are little more than tiny droplets, but it's still nice to know how many of you lovely people are out there reading. Still, an increase in readers brings with it the responsibility of bringing said readers up to speed on what's going down.

It occurred to me that it might be worth doing a few introductory posts to allow these fresh and fragrant darlings the chance to understand exactly why I do go on so about the things I talk about herein. So settle in new readers, because today we're going to talk about the big one, the issue without which Wrestling Emily would be nothing more than a chronicle of the adventures of a slightly socially inept poet with a fondness for mascara and the films of Patrick Keiller. I speak, of course, of that most important issue in modern activism, privilege.

Privilege is one of those words which often gets misunderstood by the average, non-ofay cat when one describes another person - or even said cat themselves - as 'privileged', because the average person assumes that when I say 'person x is privileged' what I mean is 'person x lives in a giant castle made of Aztec gold and commands an army of zombie servants who constantly do their bidding.' This is, of course, a category error. Being wealthy is a form of privilege - and certainly, in a society as economically unequal as ours, an important one - but it isn't the only form of privilege by a long shot.

Privilege literally translates as 'private law' (you see, new readers? Not only do you get the ranting of a marginalised person, you get fascinating Latin trivia too! I'm too good to you, really I am.). A privileged group is a group which operates by a different set of laws to the rest of society - a law that exists for their benefit and to others' disadvantage. Of course, as a supposedly democratic society we theoretically no longer have laws which operate to advantage one group over another - though if you actually believe that, dear reader, I suggest that you pay a visit to an impoverished, largely black inner city area of London and ask some of the young men how they feel when they see a policeman. You may well be astonished to find that, unlike you, they do not immediately wonder whether they should ask him the time.

The fact is that there are shedloads of privileges which make it easier for some groups in our society to succeed than others. The classic work on privilege is 'Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack' by Peggy Mcintosh, which explores White Privilege - the vast and invisible network of privileges which accrue to caucasian people purely by virtue of our pallid complexion. And I say 'our' because I will willingly cop to the fact that I have caucasian privilege. I may lose out on the axes in a lot of other areas, but I do have the Great White Advantage. This even modifies how badly I feel the effects of other areas in which I'm not privileged: as a nonbinary trans person, I lose out in a lot of ways - but as a Caucasian trans person rather than a trans woman of colour, I have a much lower risk of being murdered or being forced to engage in survival sex work. White Privilege is one of the reasons I get really annoyed when white people accuse people from other races of 'playing the race card' - because white people, without realising it, play the race card every single day and get away with it.

Are you white, new readers? My sympathies. I am too. And I know how hard it can be to acknowledge the privilege you get just because you have a lack of melanin pigmentation. Deal with it. I do. Robert Jensen did too. Let his example school you.

We touched above on another form of privilege - cis privilege. Sorry. Am I going too fast for you? I forget how hard it can be to come to grips with all these strange new words. Of course that itself is another aspect of many forms of privilege - you assume you already know everything and thus resent it when marginalised people start talking about things about which you have never heard. But anyway: cis is essentially the opposite of trans, when it comes to gender. A cis person is someone whose gender identity is in accordance with the gender assigned to them at birth. And while it may not be immediately obvious to you - it often isn't - the fact is that being comfortable in your assigned gender identity brings with it a whole load of privileges. Check them out.

Hopefully you're getting the point at this stage. There are, as the Native American character in Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josie Wales might put it, 'all kindsa privileges' (and if you're a quick study you'll have twigged that there's a problem with the Native American character in that film, in that he is the creation of a writer with white privilege - the character is never given an inner life, he only exists to explain the mystical significance of Eastwood's character to Sondra Locke. And if you're a really, really quick study you'll also realise that the fact that a Mystical Native American is required to explained the mysteries of Outlaw Manhood to Sondra is an equally problematic example of male privilege - this is called mansplaining, and is a topic to which we shall return in later blogs which cater to you, the new reader).

White people have privilege over black people, men have privilege over women, straight people have privilege over gay people, cis people have privilege over trans people, abled people have privilege over disabled people - there are, indeed, many kinds of privilege and they all intersect. The new reader may at this point be suspicious that this blog is moving in the direction of political correctness - and I would not disabuse said reader of this opinion, because I don't think there is anything wrong with political correctness. As Stewart Lee has pointed out, all political correctness consists of is 'treating people fairly'. What a sickening idea.

The vast and interlocking tapestry of privilege is called the Kyriarchy by those of us who strive to dismantle it and create a world in which its toxic effects will not ruin life for generations the way it has so far. Kyriarchy is a word invented by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, who realised that the traditional feminist characterisation of society as a patriarchy simplified things too much by reducing things to a (cis) male/female binary.

You should care about kyriarchy because it's a web in which all of us are caught. Unless I've badly misjudged my new readers and this blog is now being followed by Donald Trump, I'm going to assume that you, like me, benefit from some axes of privilege while losing out on others. So what's the right thing to do about this kind of tapestry of evil?

That depends. It depends on whether all you care about is your own advancement or you genuinely want to make a fairer world. If all you're interested in is advancing your own shallow interests, then you'd follow the 'kiss up, kick down' strategy: kowtow to people above you in the kyriarchal pyramid, while ruthlessly suppressing those below you to curry favour with your superiors and show off your aggressive, dominant kyrio-cojones. But that way doesn't work in the long run.  The annals of Greek tragedy and the crime columns of tabloid newspapers are full of people who have licked the ass above and kicked the ass below until they reached some supposedly comfortable point in the hierarchy, only to have it brutally taken out from under them by someone who lacked their advantages. Remember the end of Carlito's Way, where Al Pacino survives the climactic shootout only to be murdered out of the blue by John Leguizamo's character?  That's the logical end-point of that strategy. But there is another way.

The path to making a fairer world is no less risky and a lot less comfortable than the path of mud-wrestling the marginalised for relative advantage. You'll face bigger obstacles, greater hardship, more humiliating losses and ultimately run a greater risk of dying early than the kiss-up, kick-down scum. But you have one advantage. And that is that, because you yourself are opposing the web in which everyone else is trapped, you show that, in the ancient activist proverb, another world is possible. You show that we don't have to buy in to a never-ending battle royale in which no-one ever ultimately wins. You show that it's possible to imagine a world where, pace Marcus Aurelius, life is more like dancing than wrestling. And, even if the worst happens, if you lose out on your position in a hierarchy - if you die - then you don't lose or die like Al P in Carlito's Way; you lose or die like Alec Guinness playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: if your enemies kill you, they make you more powerful than they can possibly imagine; because the fact they've had to kill you shows that the one thing they fear more than anything else is someone who doesn't fit into their sad little world. And that example, and that reminder of what they truly fear, serves as an inspiration to the rebels who'll come after you; and eventually, through your taking a stand, a better world might be created and, in the immortal words of Bill Hicks, something like heaven might dawn.

It's up to you really, readers. Maybe, as my analytics tell me, you googled this site using the disturbing phrase 'women pee after wrestling' and stuck around because you were trying to work out if I could possibly be for real; maybe you saw me at a gig, explaining why I apparently switch genders in poems describing my adolescent years, and were intrigued enough to look me up; maybe you encountered me in some other, more everyday context, and something about me intrigued you enough that you decided to go looking for my online presence. Who knows? All I know is you're reading this, you haven't been here since the get-go and, like those who have, it's time for you to make the choice. Do you want your actions to drive the world further to the brink; or do you want to join me in trying, in our fumbling and ineffective way, to make a better world?

The choice is yours. I hope you make the right one.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

TDOR 2010

Black background on the blog today to mark the 2010 Trans Day of Remembrance.

In my last post I mentioned 'The Smiling Animal at His Appointed Hour', a poem I'd written about the murder of Andrea Waddell. But it could just as easily have been about the hundreds of other trans women who are murdered every year, just as she was. . And it would be nice to say that those victims are murdered only by the people who commit the immediate violence against them, but that would be a comforting lie. Trans people - overwhelmingly trans women - are subject to such violence because of a system that discriminates against them, disadvantages them and makes them outcasts.

Andrea Waddell was murdered by a client she met as a sex worker. But she became a sex worker because, despite her being a Durham University graduate, employers rejected her from other jobs. If the transphobes who rejected her hadn't done so, she wouldn't have been murdered that night. Like all the victims of anti-trans violence, Andrea's murder was as much the fault of everyone who discriminated against her because of her trans status as it was of the cis man who murdered her.

This is why I get so angry with scumbag 'comedians' who make transphobic jokes or venal little newspaper bastards who write dehumanising, misogynistic reports about trans women. That kind of behaviour legitimises the discrimination and exclusion that create a climate in which so many trans women are murdered. Those jokes, those reports and that attitude have a body count.

Today is the day we remember all those who have died as a result of that ignorance. You can find out more here and  find a list of the dead from the past year here.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Is....*crackle* is...is this thing on?

Forgive my absence, darlings, but some kind of internet outage has left Stately Fish Manor without broadband for the past couple of days. To compound the problem, yesterday night my Blackberry died and for the past eighteen hours I have been forced to use the browser on my Kindle, which may be a great device for reading (and purchasing [and driving yourself deeper into penury each day by purchasing]) e-books, but which felt marginally worse for browsing Twitter and Gmail than it would have been were I to try and browse those same social networking sites by using the green screen PCs I first learned to use e-mail on at Northumbria Uni in 1996.The Kindle browser sucks, basically, and frankly I deserve counselling or medication or a massage for having had to suffer through using it. Jeff Bezos can lick my bits.

Anyway. The bitch is back. And the bitch will be reading at Newcastle's glamorous Centurion Bar on the 6th of December at the launch for By Grand Central Station We Sat Down and Wept, the new anthology of poems inspired by the writing of Elizabeth Smart which is being published by Red Squirrel Press. My poem 'The Smiling Animal at His Appointed Hour', which is about the murder of Andrea Waddell, will appear in the anthology. A small press poetry anthology isn't exactly the cenotaph, but I feel proud to have gotten a small acknowledgement of the injustice of Andrea's murder down for posterity, especially this close to the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It isn't much. It isn't enough. But it's something.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

He was some kind of a man. And then she was some kind of a woman. Then he was some kind of a man again. What else can you say about people?

Well, if they're Charles Kane, you can say that they're frankly the most ridiculous waste of column inches since...well, the last piece of transphobic, misogynistic bullshit the Mail foisted on its readers.

Who is this Charles Kane? Sadly, he doesn't seem to be being played by Orson Welles (who played his near-namesake Charles Foster in Citizen Kane, his most famous film - and whose later film Touch of Evil provides the quote I've paraphrased for the title of this post). Instead, he seems to be played by the kind of publicity-hungry right-wing anger-parasite we usually see getting their faces in the paper with a 'Christians are the real victims' story. It seems that Charles used to be one Sam Hashimi then, in 1987, he underwent gender reassignment surgery to become Samantha Kane, before deciding that the life of a woman wasn't for him and deciding to transition back and become Chuck K.

So far, fair enough. I'm genderqueer. I like fluidity and mercuriality and messing with the binary and girls who are boys who like boys to be girls who do girls like they're boys et cetera et cetera. Trouble is, Charlie-boy has made a classic logical error - from his own particular experience he has generalised that trans people are 'in my opinion, completely deluded' and deduces from this extensively-researched position that the NHS should not assist trans people in transitioning. And, as A Very Public Sociologist observes, he has form for this.

Basically, Kane appears to be a stooge for the Mail's hatred of trans people (a subset of its hatred of anything different). It must be tremendously nice for both him and the paper: they get to spread their message of hate and he gets to be photographed making love to the camera with his pretty young trophy wife. But it's tremendously hurtful and dangerous for trans people at a time when the APA is considering harmful changes to the DSM-V entry on Gender Identity Disorder, and Britain is in the grip of a government with a deep vein of hostility to LGBTIQ people.

I've been racking my brains all night to try and work out who Charles Kane reminds me of. It's not the main character in Orson Welles' greatest film, as it turns out. He actually reminds me of Glyph, the character from Alan Moore's The Ballad of Halo Jones who undergoes a series of sex change operations but is never ultimately satisfied and eventually becomes pretty much genderless. I like Glyph (obviously), and I always feel a bit sad at the end of the episode in which ze tells hir story. You see, because people find it hard to perceive a character who has no gender, Glyph inhabits a sort of Somebody Else's Problem Field which means that people tend not to notice hir - a field temporarily interrupted when the perceptive Halo does notice hir but, by the time ze finishes, even Halo and her friend Toy have stopped listening to hir and are ignoring hir again.

In Glyph's story, that's a sad ending. But if everyone stopped listening to Charles Kane and the poisonous , half-baked narrative about trans people that he endorses, I wouldn't mind one teeny tiny bit.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Scrape, Scrape, Scrape the Shame (or the gender-variant person's fear of the five o'clock shadow)

I hate shaving. I cannot stand it. It's an embuggerance. Faffing around with scrubs, razors, shaving oil, styptic pencils and aftershave balm, going both ways with the blade, cutting the same bloody spots on my chin every time. Kate Bornstein, in My Gender Workbook, refers to it as 'scraping the face', and it's a pretty good description.

As a genderqueer person, though, I find shaving an essential ordeal in maintaining my androgynous look. There's only so much you can do with mascara, nail polish, clothes and accessories if you have more stubble going on than Ralph Fiennes' character from Strange Days.

But it isn't just a matter of how I look to other people. I find shaving regularly to be necessary for my own mental well-being. The hairier I am, the worse I feel (this applies to other parts of my body than my face as well: I often shave or otherwise remove the hair from my arms because I hate being able to see forests of forearm fur. In fact, as soon as this blog is put to bed I shall be off to shave them again, and I find myself taking regular breaks from this to tweeze out particularly annoying follicles.) It bugs me.

To paraphrase Jane Siberry, however, I can't shave all the time. For one thing, my facial hair goes through cycles of growth. Thankfully, I don't generally need to shave every day, in fact it tends to take two days after a shave before the hair is shaveable again. But this isn't the same as spending two days walking around clean-shaven. All the time between shaves the stubble, the shadow, is growing, underneath the fingertips with which I obsessively feel my cheekbones, underneath the eyes I can feel on me. Sometimes, if I leave it for a third day, I feel like crap, like some horrible bearded trucker shambling around with stubble you could use to sand down wood.

But sometimes I wind up having to leave it for three days. There isn't time; I haven't got the energy. Whatever. Things slide. And it's at times like these, when the thought that I should shave really preys on me, that I'm at my lowest ebb. My confidence drops. My sense of my own attractiveness plummets. I feel like crap.

And I'm not even trying to properly pass, for heaven's sake (though, to be honest, it would feel more as if I was trying to pass if I wore a lumberjack shirt and started challenging people to arm-wrestle). Yes, I like confusing people; yes, it was cool to get called 'Annette' by a caller on the phone to work yesterday, and yes, it felt good to be sized up by a fierce-looking butch at the bus stop this morning; but the stakes for a genderqueer like me are not as high as they are for a trans woman going through her gender transition. For someone like that, having stubble is likely to be mortifying; and for anyone dealing with such a woman to bring that stubble to the attention of others, to dwell on it, would be an act so vile and mean-spirited that it could only be the province of absolute scum.

Which is why I am seriously pissed-off with two separate reports from the mainstream press today. First, that Blackshirt-endorsing rag the Daily Mail decided to refer to trans woman Nina Kanagasingham - who seems to have caused the death of another trans woman, successful human rights lawyer Sonia Burgess, in what may, for all we know, have been a genuinely horrible accident - as 'Unshaven Nina Kanasingham, 34' in a report which displays so much misgendering and prurient thigh-rubbing under the guise of moralising over Sonia's supposed work as an 'escort' that it merits a severe trigger warning; and then we also have this piece, fisked by Helen at Bird of Paradox, in which the reporter thinks that Mikki Nicholson's 'hint of stubble' is germane to her victory in a Scrabble contest (do scroll down to the end of that report by the way, for one of the best conclusions to a blogpost I've read in ages).

I cannot fathom what - beyond a grotesque sense of arrogance as a result of cis privilege, and a desire to pander to the lowest denominator of humanity which has caused them to forego their last inch of integrity as both journalists and human beings - makes these people think it is perfectly acceptable to describe these women, people who are in a marginalised group, during a fragile enough time already, now stressed out even more by external events - one through triumph, one through tragedy - as 'stubbled', 'unshaven' caricatures. But I know how it makes me feel. It makes me feel sick, and disgusted, and ashamed to live in a country where thoughtless, insulting crap like this gets published.

But I don't want to end this piece on such a sour note. Instead, please read this thoughtful obituary for Sonia Burgess by Stephen Whittle. Some of us care, some of us won't put up with this kind of transphobic crap from the mainstream media anymore, and we will succeed in the end. Because we have to put up with this crap and survive, and that means we have a strength that the kind of slime who obsess over the stubble on the face of a trans woman, whether in the dock or on a podium, will never understand.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Bisexuality for Colonels: a Telegraph Guide

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I have a low opinion of the alleged British 'newspaper' The Daily Telegraph. Aside from a peculiar blip when it, inexplicably, was the paper which broke the MPs' expenses scandal early in 2009, the 'Torygraph', as people call it, is usually derided as 'the paper for retired Colonels', constantly serving up a diet of misinformation and right-wing vitriol.

When we last encountered the Torygraph in this blog, they were engaged in whipping up ill-informed hatred against the Trade Unions, with a biased report on the cost of 'facility time' which  just happened to coincide with David Cameron announcing plans to cut the public sector. This week, as Cameron plans to fill Margaret Thatcher's shoes and excite certain old guard Tories by 'getting tough with Europe', his loyal supporters at the upper-class chip-wrapper of choice have clearly decided they need a good old 'Brussells gravy train' story to get their teeth into, to show how Those Bureaucrats At The EU are Wasting Your Hard-Earned Tax Money.

And what are they wasting it on? Those damned queers, of course! You can practically hear the Colonels spluttering into their kedgeree (got a taste for it in India, don'tchaknow, last days of the Raj, MEEEEEEHHHH) at the thought that the European Commission has spent a whopping one-hundred-and-twenty-four thousand pounds on a 'gay activists conference'. How dare they! Did we fight Hitler so that gay people could live their lives free of hatred and intolerance? The very idea!

Like all the best right-wing scare stories, this one starts unravelling almost from the first paragraph. First of all, as we learn early in the article, this is not just a 'gay activists conference', it's for bisexual, trans and intersex activists too. This is important because the Telegraph has already shown its hand, and the degree to which it is ignorant of LGBTIQ communities, by subsuming all these disparate identities under the 'gay' label.

Recently at work I took a survey which had the usual 'diversity' section tagged on the end. This section didn't have a category for gender identity, but instead stuck 'transgender' in as a single option tacked onto the end of a question about...sexual orientation. This pretty much gave the game away about the surveyors' real commitment to diversity: they were sort of aware that trans people existed, and they had an idea that they would have to include a trans box for people to tick...but they hadn't gone to the trouble of educating themselves - because if they had, I dunno, looked for five minutes at the wikipedia article on trans gender identities, they would have seen in the second paragraph that trans is not a discrete sexual orientation of its own, but that trans people can be gay, straight, poly, pan, bi or asexual. But they couldn't be bothered to educate themselves. 'Stick a 'transgender' box on the end of the question about poofters, Ron,' says the lazy survey maker, 'I know we're both normal an' that, but we gotta do stuff like this to keep the bloody politically correct brigade happy.'

It's the same deal with the Torygraph and their headline writers. If you've been following the recent furore over Stonewall, you'll be aware that the LGBTIQ community is one in which there are divisions and issues of controversy. But none of this matters to the Torygraph. They subsume the entire range of LGBTIQ identities into the catch-all 'gay' category. Remember: these are people who call themselves journalists. Their job is to convey information about the world to their reading public. So when they indulge themselves in a little sloppy thinking about LGBTIQ people, that ignorance and arrogance gets passed on to their readership. But the Telegraph isn't really that bothered about this, because the Telegraph doesn't really care about gay, bi or trans people. It just wants to use them as cannon fodder in its assault on the EU.

If they don't care a lot about gay, bi or trans people, they care about intersex people even less. You can tell that by their disgusting use of scare quotes around the word 'intersex' itself. With those deceitful little punctuation marks, the Telegraph is telling its readers that all this 'intersex' business is just made-up nonsense. A little over a year after intersex issues exploded into the mainstream media because of the IOC's disgraceful treatment of Caster Semenya, the Telegraph is implying to its readers that intersex people don't exist. I can't imagine how it must feel to be an intersex person reading a paragraph like that. Not only do you have to deal with being marginalised since birth, now a major UK newspaper is denying the validity of your experiences - of your existence - and saying that a conference that attempts to deal with your experience (along with those of other marginalised groups) is a waste of money on 'politically correct twaddle'.

It isn't the paper saying this, you understand: they're just summarising the words of critics like Philip Davies MP. Who he, you ask, dear reader? Well, from what I can gather, Philip Davies is a time-wasting little creep who, rather than representing his constituents in Shipley, prefers to spend his time harassing Trevor Philips with meaningless letterstelling Muslims to 'fuck off', and acting as a rent-a-gob for a whole host of right-wing pressure groups like the Taxpayers Aliance, and the Campaign Against Political Correctness. Wee Phil - a man so odious that fellow Tory John Bercow referred to him as a 'troglodyte' over his opposition to equality legislation, and who also allegedly likes to let rich men steal food from the mouths of babies in the third world - turns out to be the son of Peter Davies, who gave us all so much amusement when he was comprehensively schooled by a local radio DJ about how ill-thought-out his plans to shut down Doncaster Pride were. Clearly, all Davies fils yearns to do with his right-wing demagoguery is impress daddy dearest. How pathetic.

And how much more pathetic of the Torygraph to wheel out this kind of rent-a-quote to comment on this story in the first place. Again, their reliance on him as a source shows their intent to distort the story from the start. By flagging up Davies' position as an MP - and not informing the reader of his past ridiculous, obsessive behaviour - they present him as a figure of authority expressing a view, rather than the odd and rather odious little man he is.

Perhaps the biggest sign of how biased and twisted the article is, however, is its pearl-clutching horror at the lavishness of spending a whopping £124k on a conference. £124,000! What an unthinkable figure! Except it's not, really. From speaking to people I know involved with Trade Unions, and contacts on Twitter, the general feeling is that paying only £124k to organise a conference actually represents tremendous value - especially given that 200 delegates will be attending, and it lasts five days. Despite what the Torygraph are trying to imply, this is a lot more than just a big nosh-up and a few workshops.I talked to someone attending a one-day conference for a local organisation where hotel costs alone will come to £15000 in total for a hundred delegates. Multiply that by five days and the cost becomes £75000. Double that to allow for 200 delegates and you get £150K - which is £26,000 more than the ILGA conference, and remember this is just for accommodation - the real costs would be far higher. Frankly, £124k for a conference is a bargain. But again, the Torygraph don't want to set the costs in context - they want to scare their readers with a big, huge, expensive-sounding number which is being wasted, frittered away I tell you, on a conference for a bunch of pinko commie sexual deviants.

Now, £124k is a big number. But I'm pretty sure - and I can't be sure of this, I only got a B at GCSE maths - that SIX BILLION POUNDS is a much bigger number. This number, of course, was the amount of the tax bill that HMRC recently let mobile phone company Vodafone off without paying, leading to protests around the UK yesterday. Protests which - along with the original story - I can find no mention of on the Telegraph website. Funny that.

So the Torygraph is ignoring a real story about broad-based opposition to the unfairness of Coalition cuts, and instead trying to foment manufactured anger about a conference in Europe which actually won't cost a great deal of money in order to placate the Europhobic wing of the Conservative party. But that isn't all they're doing. The effect of their article is to reinforce the bigotry and prejudice which says that LGBTIQ people don't deserve even this relatively small sum of money to be spent on our concerns. That we shouldn't have our voices heard, or our views taken into account. That we don't matter - and, in the case of intersex people, don't exist.

This is a vile, inhuman, twisted piece of propaganda which doesn't deserve to be dignified with the label of journalism. To my mind, it isn't far removed from hate-speech. The Telegraph should be ashamed of themselves for printing it - but I doubt they will be. Privilege, after all, means never having to say you're sorry - even when you bloody well should be.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Stonewall: Captured?

Next Thursday, I'll be performing as part of the Finnish poet and artist Anna Puhakka's 'Tales Told at Dusk' event at The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle. And I'm looking forward to it, because Anna is an amazing person, and I'm always glad to have a gig...but I had been toying with hopping a train to the Smoke and attending the Why the Silence? protests against the Stonewall awards instead...at least until Stonewall, after being shouted at, browbeaten, and protested against on the web for ages, finally agreed to do what its actual members wanted and support same-sex marriage.

This decision comes hard on the heels of Stonewall nominating Bill Leckie, a transphobic journo who has been criticised by Stonewall Scotland, for an award - and then swiftly being forced to withdraw his nomination after a storm of protests by trans groups; and producing an 'educational' film for children in schools designed to prevent LGBT bullying and which yet says, with a straight face, that 'tranny is short for transgender' - an assertion akin to arguing that the N-word is 'informal slang to describe a person of Afro-Carribean origin'.

How did it come to this? How have we reached a situation where the progressive wing of LGBT activism is protesting against Stonewall, and not side-by-side with them? Part of the explanation for that may lie in the fact that many cis gay people have followed an assimilationist 'we're just like you!' strategy in the last two decades, but despite that I know that I, and, I'd guess, a lot of other gender-variant people, can say that I know a lot of cis gay folks who are more inclusive and radical on trans issues in their sleep than Stonewall are at their most on point. I think there's a more worrying explanation for why Stonewall has became more and more conservative (and more and more removed from the orginal spirit of the Stonewall riots, at which, let's not forget, trans people were front and centre).

There is a phenomenon known to people who study the intersection of politics and business as regulatory capture. It occurs when a regulatory agency begins to make decisions in the interests of the industry it supposedly regulates, and stops acting as a check on the practices of that industry. It's one reason why the Western economies are now in such a terrific mess: the agencies who were meant to regulate the markets wound up being seduced by the 'masters of the universe' whose powers they were meant to keep in check, and so the hedge funds, the banks and the rest of the financial industry were able to get away with what amounts to economic murder.

Now. Here's an interesting thing. Have a look at the Stonewall site, and in particular the list of 'Corporate Partners' whose names scroll along the bottom. Seem familiar? Yep: banks, financial companies, insurance firms...Exactly the same kind of companies involved in the regulatory capture of the financial watchdogs. These people are the experts when it comes to subverting outside agencies to their own ends.

I would suggest that Stonewall's increasing conservatism, and its refusal to walk the walk when it comes to trans issues (a refusal which extends to Stonewall stubbornly referring to itself only as a gay, lesbian and bi organisation, when just about every other gay group has at least added a 'T' to the end of its acronym, if nothing else), is the result of a desire on their part not to alienate these powerful sponsors. We can actually see this in the justification Ben Summerskill gave when he originally said he would not be 'jumped into' support for gay marriage - he believes introducing it would be 'too expensive.' This is not the argument of someone who believes he is fighting for a noble cause. This is the argument of a CEO who fears his shareholders will revolt if he damages their bottom line. And those 'shareholders' - who include people like JP Morgan, Barclays, Aviva and American Express - are, it seems to me, not exactly groups whose interests are best served by genuinely trying to dismantle the kyriarchy.

It looks, now, as if there won't be as much of a protest as there would have been on November 4th, now that Stonewall have given in and decided they will support the right of cis gays to get married after all. I still hope there's some level of protest, because the transphobia which their 'educational' film displays is something they still need to do something about. But I have to confess that, now I think about it, it would perhaps be more interesting to actually go to the awards themselves. Not to witness the orgy of backslapping and congratulation - or even to pour a bucket of champagne over some of those 'corporate partners' in a Chumbawamba-style act of protest - but to see Ben Summerskill's face up close. And, in particular, to look in his eyes.

Because I can't help but feel that those eyes are the eyes of a man who's beginning to realise that he may have compromised too much on the ideals that made him an activist in the first place. A man who knows he may have to choose between pandering to the corporations whose money supports his £90,000 a year salary, and making his organisation a joke in the process, or standing up for real equality (including equality for trans people), and running the risk of alienating those corporations and being forced to live a slightly less lavish lifestyle. And a man who only realises, now, with dawning horror, that it's the big salary and the life of not rocking the boat that exerts the greater pull.

A man, in short, who has been captured.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Politics Is Not Actually Wrestling...

...despite the silliness in my previous posts. A point which many might not think worth making, but which seems to have been lost on the crowd of Tea Party supporters who, in this video, decide to express their commitment to the ideals of America's Founding Fathers by beating up an innocent young woman.

This, it need hardly be said, is the action of a pack of scum. What makes it worse is that it turns out one of the people involved is a co-ordinator for Tea Party candidate Rand Paul's campaign. And it turns out this piece of across-the-pondlife was following the examples of some primate higher up the chain of command who jokes about liberals getting 'curb-stomped' (and I have to say, I always thought the word was 'kerb'...then again, these right-wing arseholes have never been great at the spelling).

The most worrying thing about this is that there are scum in this country who are trying to export this kind of politics to the UK. Today we've seen reports of US-style 'Christians' intimidating vulnerable women at abortion clinics; and, surprise, surprise, the nearest thing Britain has to a Tea Party Candidate, self-confessed liar Nadine Dorries, has written clagged together a simpering blogpost in support of these creeps.

I don't like the Tories, as anyone who's read this blog for any length of time will attest. But compared to Dorries, even someone like Michael Gove or George Osborne comes off well. The Tories may be lying about the justification for their cuts, but at least they don't lie about their lying by saying that when they were lying they were lying about lying in a forum which is only about 70% true anyway...and then expect you to take their views about a woman's bodily autonomy any more seriously than a man in a psychedelic kilt farting the national anthem through a kazoo.

What I'm saying is, most of the Tories respect us enough to try and run at least a half-decent con on us. Dorries genuinely believes we're naive enough that we'll fall for anything she says - and also believes that ignoring her critics proves that she's won the argument. Or, hey, if that doesn't work, she can always accuse people of stalking her.

I will cheerfully admit that every time I hear Margaret Thatcher has been admitted to hospital, I make a mental note to run out, get some champagne, and put it on ice; but Dorries and her ilk are a more virulent contagion than Thatcher ever was. And whatever side of the issues you come down on, it's a contagion we have to stop in its tracks. Because as much as we might sometimes want to knock our opponents' heads together none of us wants to knock their heads into the kerb. And that's the way it ought to stay.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The Self-destruction of Nick Robinson

Further to yesterday's post comparing the operation of the Coalition to that of a wrestling promotion, it suddenly occurred to me that one of the Tories' pet journalists is beginning to display behaviour remarkably similar to that of one of the WWE's most troubled stars.

Don't believe me? Well, take a look at this classic example of former WWE champion the Ultimate Warrior on one of his trademark rampages around the backstage area.

Now, compare this video of former Young Conservative (and chief cheerleader in Dave Cameron's personal media Spirit Squad) Nick Robinson hulking out and destroying a peace protester's sign.

Now, alright, you may argue that, compared to the one-man rage-tsunami that is Warrior, Robinson's anger-gasm is kind of insipid and pointless, but that just shows you that the bland ecstasy induced by finally seeing your whey-faced poster-boy standing at the despatch box and repeatedly wittering on about the deficit will always be a poor substitute for the white-hot intensity brought on by years of steroid abuse and a rabid, sub-Nietzchean philosophy. The difference is one not of kind but of degree.

However, now that Robinson has opted to work the 'ranting scenery-destroyer' gimmick, he's going to have to try hard to stay in contention, especially now that political journalists with a much better workrate, such as Jo Coburn, are coming up the ranks by using the devious tactic of not allowing privilege-monger Michael Gove to mansplain all over them. I therefore suggest that, if Robinson wants to keep his spot, he shows up for his next piece-to-camera in neon face-paint, refers to everyone watching as 'all the little Robbiors out there', and repeatedly calls the anchor in the studio 'Mean Gene' regardless of whoever they may in fact be.

The baby-oil's in your court, Nick...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Politics of the Heel Turn: or, Nasty Nick and the Kayfabe Coalition

2010 has been a strange year for British politics. Perhaps the biggest shock of all is the speed with which Nick Clegg went from being the British Obama to being, essentially, a stooge for a government which, as we learned from the Spending Review this week, wants to cut housing benefit for the under-35s, throw people off disability benefit left, right and centre, make life harder for women and old people, condemn young trans people to even more years in the closet than they put up with at the moment, deprive people in care homes of mobility aids, kick thousands of public sector workers out of their jobs and generally reduce Britain to a condition of neo-Dickensian misery (I suppose we should be thankful that Henry Mayhew's guide to the kind of world in which we'll all soon live has been reissued).

Many people were shocked by this change in Clegg's persona - none more so, I imagine, than the quartet of bright, breezy, cheerful young Lib Dem girls who I saw perform an impromptu 'I agree with Nick!' song and dance routine at Newcastle's Greys Monument in the week after the first televised election debate. I have to admit that I was less shocked than many people were by the speed with which Clegg dropped his principles at the promise of a ministerial limo, largely because, growing up in the 1990s, I had a ready-made model which I could apply to the situation. I've written before about my affection for the garish pesudosport that is professional wrestling. And in wrestling, the transformation in Clegg's character would be what's referred to as a heel-turn.

Profesional wrestling is a narrative form with a very odd attitude to continuity. Week-to-week continuity is important, but continuity in the longer term is subject to near-Stalinist levels of revision. The longer a character has been a heel or a face, the less chance there is that their previous status will be referred to. It is simply the case that they have always been 'one of the bad guys'. Through constant repetition, a narrative is generated that the fans buy into, and booing the dastardly villain becomes as easy as it was to cheer for them six months ago, when they were the crowd-pleasing hero.

Interestingly enough, the way the coalition have approached the economy has pretty much followed the same process by which professional wrestling creates its alternate reality. In much the same way as the WWE pretends that it was never called anything else, that Madusa Miceli wasn't the same person as Alundra Blayze, or that there exists a specific place called 'Parts Unknown' (whose inhabitants have an unusual fondness for face-paint and heavy metal; if it did exist, it sounds like it would actually be kind of cool), so we've been spoon-fed a series of egregious lies by the Coalition (whose name actually even sounds like a heel wrestling stable, albeit a slightly crap one; I'd have more respect for our new overlords if they took a leaf straight out of the WWE's book and started calling themselves the Corporate Ministry).

We've been told Labour left the country with an unbelievable deficit - in fact, before the recession, we had the 2nd lowest level of debt of any of the G7 countries.

We've been told that George Osborne's savage cuts to the benefits system are needed to wipe out '£5bn of benefit fraud'. In fact, benefit fraud costs only £1bn.

We've been told that desperate measures of the kind announced by Osborne are needed to save the economy. In fact, economists all over the world believe the Coalition is on the wrong course, and statistics show that these measures will plunge us ever deeper into recession.

There are more - many more - myths about the deficit, the cuts and the economy which the Coalition want us to swallow as uncritically as the marks at a wrestling match who will chant 'U-S-A!' during a match between a Candian face and a Mexican heel, but fortunately there are sites like Liberal Conspiracy, who have posted a handy myth-busting guide to the economic arguments here, and there are a host of blogs regularly deconstructing the lies told by the Tories' friends in the media. The point I want to make is that, while I enjoy suspending my disbelief if all it involves is a bunch of people jumping around in silly spandex outfits, when it comes to politics I would rather see a little more focus on what one of George Bush's aides (disparagingly) referred to as the 'reality-based community.'

Alternatively, if we are going to live in a world where our politicians treat us like a bunch of marks, then I demand that, during the next Prime Minister's Question Time, someone runs in and hits a hurricanrana on David Cameron. We may as well get some entertainment out of this bullshit.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

We're Number One, So Why Try Harder?

It would seem that I myself am greatly privileged in a way I did not expect, because apparently, according to the kind of bullshit survey that occassionally makes the local papers, the place where I work is the best place to work in my entire region.

Hmmm. Well, I suppose these things are a matter of opinion, and I suppose for the (privileged) majority, a workplace like mine is pretty good; but personally, there are a lot of aspects of the place that make me, personally, more than a little uncomfortable. But I have my generous hat on right now, and I'm going to assume these things are more a result of the bullshit work culture that currently prevails in this country, rather than failings specific to my place of work.

Who knows? Your workplace may well have won some award or other in its own region. Hell, it at least has to have Investors in People status, right? Although, in my experience, any company that doesn't actively dismember its employees can get that one, and even if dismembering did occur they could probably scrape through as long as they only did it to a certain percentage of staff and made sure it was done in a caring way. Put it this way: I've worked in some shitholes, and they all had Investors in People status. Go figure.

Whatever awards your place of incarceration  work has under its belt, you can bet it touts them proudly, because endless self-cheerleading is one of the more nauseating features of the modern business culture, from the executives repeating their affirmations to each other as they brush their teeth in the morning to the press releases explaining breathlessly how Fuckthepoor.com (a division of PlanetRape Incorporated) is proud to give something back to the community by sponsoring the First Annual Bjorn Lomborg Greenwashing Prize. If you want a thorough overview of how this relentless positivity has fucked everything up, I can't recommend the sobering wisdom of Barbara Ehrenreich's Smile or Die enough.

But if you want a quicker, more bracing hit of cynicism to go with your morning cornflakes before you head off to the salt mines of late capitalism, you could always check out the new entry on my Write Out Loud blog.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Planet of the Arseholes (Part the Second)

One of the classic defences used by privileged people when called out on the ways they abuse that privilege is the 'reverse prejudice' move. This basically attempts to argue that, by criticising a privileged group, you are actually discriminating against that privileged group. Criticise white people and you'll find yourself accused of reverse racism; criticise men and you'll get accused of reverse sexism - and so on and so on, world without end, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. You're doing nothing of the kind, of course: racism and sexism are large-scale structural systems which privilege one gender or race over all others, and as such cannot be 'reversed' in any meaningful way. But this doesn't stop people in privileged groups from inventing new ways in which they're discriminated against.

I've seen some Christians - who are, as any fule kno, the real victims - claim, with their bare faces hanging out, that they are the victims of 'Christophobia', presumably because they're jealous that those naughty Islamics get to have a special word, and they want to muscle in on the action. Of course, any intelligent examination of the evidence reveals that this 'Christophobia' stuff is nonsense: in Britain, Christianity is the state religion, and the only religion whose Bishops get to vote in the House of Lords; in America, these supposedly-persecuted Christians have wealthy mega-churches and a vast, active and millitant political lobby; and the Vatican, which increasingly loves to pose as the victim of gangs of anti-Catholic bullies, is usually on the receiving end of criticism not for its belief in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the miracle of transsubstantiation, but for its policies on birth control in the developing world, and the footling matter of covering up an institutionalised culture of child-rape for half a century.

Recently, m'colleague Helen from Bird of Paradox had a bit of trouble over her (entirely justified) response to having her identity erased in an article about the death of American trans woman Stacy Blahnik Lee. The upshot of all this was that despite protesting about something which she had every right to be angry about, she was accused of, and I quote 'spread[ing] cisphobia in trans spaces'.

Because yes, that's right: now there's apparently a thing called cisphobia! And all us naughty, naughty activists who remember what the 'T' in LGBT stands for are apparently to blame for spreading this nasty contagion. Oh, who will defend them, these poor cis people? Who will stand up and protect these disadvantaged, embattled, beleaguered mites who make up a mere ninety-odd percent of the population?

As you can probably tell, I think 'cisphobia', as a concept, is as nonsensical as 'Christophobia', 'reverse racism' and all the other 'you're just as bad in the other direction!' bollocks which the perennial 'real victims' are forever trotting out. Speaking as a genderqueer person I have to say that I don't hate cis people - and even Helen, who, God knows, has reason enough to do so, doesn't either (she says she doesn't trust cis people - but it's worth remembering that, when trusting cis people can, and often does, get trans people killed, this is a healthy and realistic attitude, not a product of bigotry).

If I hated every cis person I met because they were cis, I would be dead by now, because my blood pressure would have gone through the roof from the rage a long, long time ago. For any trans person, cis people will be the vast majority of the people you deal with all day, every day. There will be some you will hate, yes; but most of those people you will feel at best indifferent about; perhaps a few of them, you'll even like. The idea that trans people feel prejudiced toward and discriminate against cis people is laughable, and is a complete failure to understand the issues confronting trans people who, too often, have to deal with a world full of people who at best ignore us, and at worst feel they have a right to kill us just for existing.

In her fine book Whipping Girl, Julia Serrano repeats the point made by bell hooks that privileged people only truly understand what it's like to be privileged, and can't understand the world of a marginalised person; whereas people on the margins understand both what it means to be marginalised and what it means to be privileged, because every day they see the ways in which the lives of the privileged are safer, more accepted and better off than their own. And there is no more telling illustration of the difference between the privileged and the marginalised than the insulting attempt,  by those who have privilege, to claim that having their failings pointed out from time to time is exactly the same as the prejudice marginalised people face all their lives.

Transphobia means that, if you're a trans person, you have a higher risk of unemployment, a higher risk of being homeless, a higher risk of being subject to domestic abuse, sexual assault and murder.

Cisphobia? 'Cisphobia' means that if you're cis you might be made to feel a little bit bad about all the privileges you enjoy for having an experiential gender identity which matches the gender you were assigned at birth.

Exactly the same. Obviously.

(Edit, 20/10/10: Blog corrected to remove a couple of ableist words/phrases that had slipped past my internal quality control process [curtsy to Lilith von Fraumench for that] and also to correct Stacy Blahnik Lee's name, the third part of which - along with the rest of her identity - seems to have been lost in the MSM reports of her death [and thanks to @metalmujer on Twitter for alerting me to this error]. My excuse for the name thing, crappy as it is, is that I don't check out TransGriot, whose author was the only person who did get the name right, as often as I should because the browser on my mobile phone tends to mangle the crap out of it in a way that makes it unreadable, and so I missed the post giving Stacy's full name (hey, I did say it was a rubbish excuse). My excuse for the original ableism in this piece is simpler: I didn't consider the words in question to be ableist, as a result of my own abled privilege, and so I'm glad Lilith pointed them out. Although in doing so, I am sure I am giving in, in my cowardly liberal way, to reverse ableism, because of course it's the abled people who are the real victims, innit, guv?)

Planet of the Arseholes (Part the First)

If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know I have a pretty big problem with the kyriarchy. I hate pretty much anyone in a position of authority which they didn't, and don't, earn. And how do you earn a position of authority? You earn it by ensuring that you're worthy of it. You earn it by showing you deserve it. You earn it by not being an arsehole with your authority. You earn it by being a decent human being.

Of course, being a decent human being seems to be pretty damn hard for a lot of people. Especially those in positions of authority. Most people in these positions can't resist the temptation to abuse them, and in the process prove themselves unworthy of the position they're in. They enjoy the benefits of authority without doing anything to deserve it; they enjoy privilege.

The latest privileged idiot to prove himself unworthy of the authority invested in him by his money and the adulation of a society of idiots is one Duncan Bannatyne. If you live in the UK, you will have been painfully aware of this smug, ugly, pathetic, self-publicising little man for far too long. Bannatyne runs a chain of overpriced health clubs catering to pathetic narcissists, and has a second 'job' appearing on the charmless and deeply naff BBC TV programme 'Dragons' Den' in which he and a trio of similarly miserable-looking twits in suits sit in judgement on ordinary men and women who have came up with inventions for which they seek funding. It's a kind of variant of the X-Factor/Britain's Got Talent format, only the judges have even less charisma than Piers Morgan, which is some achievement. The whole programme is narrated in tones of breathless adoration for the dragons' bulging bank balances by Evan Davis, a man who used to be a serious business journalist before he became an ego-fluffer for these corporate idiots.

You can probably tell it's a show of which I'm not a fan. That's because I get sick of the pathetic, sycophantic adoration our society bestows on so-called 'entrepreneurs'. So they've made a pile of money in business? So what? We should adore them for being more successful at exploiting the labour of their staff than people who've made less? Stuff that. The usual defence offered by the grunting, forelock-tugging idiots who do adore these people is that they've 'came from nothing' and 'made something of themselves', to which I say: if you believe that, I have a lovely bridge I can sell you at an absolute song. Most 'self-made' men are anything but: they owe their positions to an invisible network of privileges which people never take into account. For one thing, they usually are men; they're always cis, they tend to be straight (and most of the few who are gay tend to be gay men); they're able-bodied and usually don't suffer mental illness (or if they do they don't talk about it); most of them are caucasian; and they all tend to have the sort of swaggering, cocksure, one-of-the-boys confidence which business culture - mistakenly, as I've pointed out before - regards as a prerequisite for success. Show me any self-made man and I'll show you a list of ways as long as your arm in which kyriarchy and privilege helped the lucky bastard get to where he is.

Now, some people in positions of authority are self-aware enough to be conscious of this on some level, are self-deprecating and even humble about it, and try to behave with a bit of class towards people who haven't had their luck. Not so Bannatyne. This Friday, a young woman made an innocent joke about Bannatyne on Twitter, and Bannatyne's reaction was to threaten to sue her, then unleash his legion of moronic fans, some of whom called her such delightful things as 'blonde slag cunt' and threatened to kill her. More details of the event can be seen here.

Bannatyne's attempts to position himself as a 'victim' of 'bullies and haters' are laughable: here is a man who has vast reserves of wealth, who is adored by millions (millions of idiots admittedly, but those idiots have disposable income), and who has a variety of media platforms in which his every brainfart is treated as if it's an outpouring of genius, threatening to use his wealth and the courts to silence someone for making a joke - then refusing to intervene when his acolytes begin a hate campaign against the woman he's persecuting? Bitch, please. The victim here is the woman who made the tweet, who has had to put up with vicious abuse and threats all weekend, while Bannatyne sheds crocodile tears about 'protecting my family' while pleasuring himself in front of the mirror with yet another ivory-handled backscratcher.

A lot of people say that deference is no longer a feature of British culture. When they say this, they're referring to the culture of deferring to authority figures from the old-fashioned upper classes who reached their simultaneous zenith and nadir with the likes of Sir Alec Douglas-Home. But many privileged people in society still expect deference as a right from those they see as 'below' them. I've seen this close-up when I've dared to criticise the transphobia of privileged cis people, and we saw exactly the same type of behaviour from Bannatyne this Friday and, indeed, over the course of the weekend. These people are happy to tell the less-privileged that they just have to buck up their ideas, knuckle down and take it - sometimes with horrific consequences, as Ian Birrell pointed out in yesterday's Guardian - but as soon as you challenge them, it suddenly becomes the most important thing in the world that they have been offended, and how dare you say such a thing to them - just as Bannatyne was blind to the offensive and intimidating way he blundered into his exchange with the woman on Twitter, and yet was hypersensitive to the offence this had caused him and which he imagined it might possibly cause his family.

This kind of behaviour, of course, creates a climate in which people feel afraid to make jokes because they are afraid it might offend people. And weirdly, Duncan Bannatyne was keen to say this was a Very Bad Thing in the context of the Equality Act (and my bringing this up should in no way be construed as support for that act - as I've pointed out before, its effect on trans people is likely to be very negative): and yet as soon as he's on the receiving end of a little light-hearted banter, he threatens to take the person responsible for court. And why? Because the Equality Act (generally) protects people who lack privilege; and in Bannatyne's moral universe it ought to be okay to joke about such people. But joking about people with privilege? In Bannatyne's universe, that's unthinkable - as Karl Webster at The Ugly Truth points out hilariously.

In summary: Duncan Bannatyne is an arsehole and has proved himself comprehensively to be an arsehole, and a load of even more pathetic arseholes who worship Bannatyne proved themselves to be arseholes as well. Fortunately, the internet makes it more and more easy to point at and mock these people for the arseholes that they are. And by crikey do they hate it. But they're just going to have to toughen up and take their lumps - because if they really earned their authority, they wouldn't be in this situation.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Poetry Tour: Track Listing

For those wanting to see the poems I performed during the recent tour...

Tension (performed at all gigs)
What are you afraid to say? (performed at King's Cross & Middlesbrough)
Eggshells (performed at all gigs)
The secrets, almost silent, that we sang (performed at King's Cross only)
A short course in suicide writing (performed at Covent Garden, Hebden Bridge, & Middlesbrough)
NSFW (performed at Hebden Bridge only)
On looking back into the mosh pit (performed at Middlesbrough only)