Sunday, 31 January 2010

Back on the Horse

Tonight I start sorting out a set list and rehearsing for the gig at Black Flame Books in Heaton next Saturday. It's a tricky business. There are poems I've promised people I'll perform. But at the same time, I don't want this gig to just be me dragging out all my personal trauma. That does not make for a good gig. Even if there are people in the audience who share that trauma, and who need the catharsis of hearing someone acknowledge it, it can still bring the audience down. It brings those people down too, especially if you end on the trauma and don't offer hope. You can drag your audience through Hell if you want, and if you're good enough they'll come with you - but if you want them to come with you all the way, you have to show them a little piece of Heaven too. If you want to move people to tears, you have to be willing to make them laugh.

Or, to put it in a less highfalutin' way: a reading is kind of a conversation with the audience. If all you do is moan, they won't take much of an interest. And if you don't spice up your reading with something light from time to time, when you go for something, profound, you'll just fall flat.

Think about Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks did some of the most profound stuff imaginable in his stand-up: but he was able to get there because he could, and did, frequently make people laugh like hyenas. Hicks understood that a good set, like life itself, was a ride, and a ride goes up as well as down.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that, despite having spent several years trying not to do some of the more crowd-pleasing poems in my repertoire, I'm now looking at ways to incorporate those into this set. The newer, more uncompromising stuff will still be there, but the older stuff will be making a return as well. Some of it. Not because I don't have anything serious to say, but because I do, and I don't want to dull it with constant repetition.

Express Columnist Admits To Not Checking Facts

Last night I went out for a night out with my old Borders compadres. It was pretty fun, as these things go, but I made a terrible mistake. We went to Lau's Buffet King on Stowell Street, and I ate far too much MSG-laden Chinese food. I loved it. Sweet & sour pork, cantonese chicken, spring rolls, egg-fried rice, lemon chicken...mmmmm. Yeah, I enjoyed it. Until the MSG gave me horrific indigestion and I had to go home early.

I sometimes think the tabloid papers are a bit like cheap chinese food in that respect. You decide to read one, you enjoy it for a bit, until suddenly it makes you sick.

I was a bit bored this afternoon; I'd just finished watching the England-Ireland rugby game and was toying with what to do, and I found myself flicking through a copy of the Sunday Express, where I found this gem of an article opening from Julia Hartley-Brewer:

'When I heard that a Jobcentre had banned an advert seeking "reliable and hardworking" staff because it would discriminate against unreliable and lazy applicants, I didn't bother checking the date to make sure it wasn't April Fool's Day. I knew it would be true.' (emphases mine)

This annoyed me, because, after seeing Michael Portillo trot this same already-hoary old chestnut out on This Week this thursday, I'd tweeted my opinion that I would bet the story had already been disproved. It took Megan Lucas from Feels Like Going Downhill less than five minutes to inform me that the story had already been disproved, by Tabloidwatch,  here.

It wasn't just the date which Hartley-Brewer couldn't be bothered to check. Less than five minutes' research would have turned up the fact that this particular story was just another crock of 'political correctness gone maaaaaaaaaaad' nonsense.

That amused me. And then I thought, hang on. She's done less research on that column than I do on a typical blog entry. And, as a newspaper columnist, she probably gets paid more money than I earn in a week (well, she definitely does at the minute, 'cause I'm unemployed; but even when I go back to work at my new job next week, I'll wager she'll still be earning more money than me).

And that, reader, is the point at which the Express fail which I found so LOLsome turned on me, and left me feeling sick.

Who's Afraid of Beatrix Campbell?

Here's an interesting idea from sci-fi author Justine Larbalestier: mansplaining. Mansplaining is when men explain things to women which women actually understand better than men. Very often this is men explaining to women why sexist comments aren't actually sexist. Larbalestier points out there are other variants of this, such as whitesplaining, where white people explain to black people why something isn't racist.

It struck me - and this can't be an original thought, I'm sure others have had it before me - that you could also have cisplaining, wherein cis people explain to trans people how something isn't really transphobic. Hmm, I thought, I wonder where I could find a good example of cisplaining to illustrate the point?

Why, in the Guardian, of course! For it would seem that Bea Campbell has decided to bravely leap to Julie Bindel's defense and protect her from those mean people who protested against her on Friday.

Weirdly, I'm actually okay with this. The reason for this is, from perusing her wikipedia entry, I've found that Campbell has  a pretty interesting record when it comes to defending people.

She endorsed the Newcastle City Council report into allegations of child abuse at Shieldfield Nursery in 1993. The two alleged perpetrators of this abuse had already been found innocent in a criminal trial, but Campbell believed the Council report was 'stringent' and had uncovered 'persuasive evidence of sadistic and sexual abuse'.

The two nursery workers accused of this abuse successfully sued the 'independent review team' who produced the report, and were awarded the maximum possible damages, with the judge admitting that the report ' they must have known to be untrue' and that the only likely explanation for this was 'malice.'

Campbell also defended the prosecution of Sally Clark, who was imprisoned for the alleged murder of two of her sons. Campbell based her belief in Clark's guilt on the most stringent of scientific grounds, arguing that 'motherhood...can make some women lose their minds.'

Sally Clark was found not guilty on appeal, and released, after the 'scientific' evidence against her was found to be faulty. (This is not a happy ending, though. Clark emerged from prison a broken woman, by all accounts, and died of acute alcohol intoxication at the tragically young age of forty-two. I would like to think Campbell loses sleep over the thought that her words contributed to the demonisation and eventual suicide of an innocent woman. I would like to think that, but I would like to think I will be awarded the TS Eliot prize on the same weekend I win the lottery and find out Katee Sackhoff really, really likes me.)

They say God loves a tryer though, in which case ze must be quite fond of Campbell. Unchastened by these past experiences of failure, she went to the mat for paediatrician David Southall, who had testified against Clark and had also been involved in some ethically and scientfically dodgy medical research on Munchausen's by Proxy. With the same level of high-minded scientific reasoning she had displayed in her examination of the Clark case and the Newcastle Council report, Campbell declared that Southall 'established a gold standard in the detection of lethal child abuse.'

In 2007, Southall was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council for 'professional misconduct.' The judgement specifically referred to his role in the Clark case and other legal proceedings involving child abuse, with Justice Blake saying that Southall 'had speculated on non-medical matters in an offensive manner entirely inconsistent with the status of an independent expert.'

So you'll excuse me if I don't quake in my New Rocks at the thought that Beatrix Campbell has decided to go into battle for Julie Bindel, armed with the sword of wonky science and the shield of blinkered ideology. Based on Campbell's past record at championing other peoples' causes, if I was Bindel I'd get the next plane to Tuscany - and not bother booking a return flight.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

So what happened at that Bindel thing, Adam?

I don't know, love, I wasn't actually there, as I was unable to pay a Queen's ransom for an East Coast Rail Ticket.
Fortunately, Helen from Bird of Paradox was, and you'll find her report on it here.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

She Does it to Wind Us Up

A few weeks ago, somebody died. Usually when I write about people dying, it's because I think their deaths were a tragic loss. But in the case of Mary Daly, I couldn't give a gnat's chuff. If Mary Daly wasn't the inspiration for Viz comic's 'Millie Tant' character, then she undoubtedly inspired whoever was. Among other examples of her greatest hits, Daly is responsible for making the pagan movement a laughing stock by starting up the 'never again the burning times!' nonsense that the witch-burnings of early modern Europe were a holocaust-level genocide. This has been roundly trashed by scholars of witchcraft like Ronald Hutton, who've actually done the research, but then Hutton wouldn't count in Daly's view because he has a penis. 'Cause, y'see, despite her outrage at the 'gynocide' (geddit?) in Europe, Daly also said, with, as the Discordians put it, her bare face hanging out, that 'if life is to survive on this planet there must be...a drastic reduction of the population of males.'

Yes - out of one side of her face she wept for a genocide which never frakkin' happened, and out of the other side she advocated genocide against 49% of the world's population. And people wonder why radical feminists of her ilk aren't taken seriously?

Weirdly for a radfem, though, Daly was somewhat coy about advocating genocide against trans women. Oh, she was happy enough to call trans women 'Frankensteinian' (which shows, I suppose, that her ignorance of history was matched by her ignorance of literature - altogether now, Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster...) but she employed a cat's paw to actually argue that they ought to be 'morally mandated out of existence.' This was Janice Raymond, whose PhD dissertation, supervised by Daly, became the anti-trans hate screed The Transsexual Empire. Well, if Master Yoda taught us nothing else it's that there are 'always two - the master and the apprentice.' Sadly for us all, Darth Raymond is still with us.

I haven't even touched on Daly's exclusion  of the voices of women of colour, which Audre Lorde called her out on publicly, without receiving an adequate response.

Mary Daly, then: a historical charlatan, an apalling writer, a transphobic bigot, a racist, and an advocate of genocide. You would have to be the vilest kind of pointless opinion troll to write up a glowing obituary for someone like that, wouldn't you?

Well, guess who's done just that?

She does it to wind us up, I'm sure. It's almost laughable. Except that it's not, because allowing people like Bindel to get away with this crap allows things like this to happen.

I've spent an hour trying to come up with a nice, well-written tie-up for this post. And I can't. No words I write will be equal to the horror of what happened to Angelina Mavilia, and what happened to Myra Ical in Texas last week, and what happens to trans women all over the world.  I can only write a certain amount of words per day and however many I wrote, they could never compare to that suffering. But at least I don't waste those words praising someone who would have supported their violation and murder. Julie Bindel does. And for that reason alone, she should not be given a platform, whether at Queer Question Time tomorrow, or in the Guardian.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

More on the Bindel

Roz Kaveney has posted a link at her LJ blog showing exactly how Julie Bindel's view of the world deviates from that of the reality-based community.  I also recommend reading the comments thread, because there are some good points made there about how the essentially sex-negative attitudes of Bindel and many other feminists of her ilk actively made life more difficult not just for trans or queer people, but even for the cis lesbians who they supposedly represented.

The thing I find most gob-smacking about Bindel, though, is that the usually reasonable newspaper The Guardian employs her. Sometimes she does actually have something interesting to say - she was almost a lone voice in UK newspapers against the treatment of Meredith 'Foxy Knoxy' Knox (though I suspect Bindel would have been a lot less bothered about the case if Knox were trans rather than cis, what with it being a well-known fact in Bindel-land that trans women are really just rape-crazed males going into deep cover to unleash their penises when the Transsexual Empire reactivates them with the secret codeword*) and she has an interesting article up on the Guardian at the moment about research on 'why men use prostitutes' though again I suspect that in her head she's already answered this question with because they're men! They're evil! They have penises! 

But then you come across something like this , which is basically 'What I Did on my Holidays by Julie Bindel.' And what did Bindel do on her holidays, you ask? Well, you or I would probably catch some rays, read a good book, eat and drink a bit too much, maybe visit a gallery, that kind of thing. But Bindel isn't like us. When she goes on holiday, she brings the hate.

I suppose we ought to be grateful that her vitriol here was directed at children rather than trans women, but then again I don't imagine many trans women enjoy the middle class privilege of being able to take holidays in Tuscany in the first place, so there isn't much chance of Bindel being bothered by their presence. Still, deprived of her favourite punching bag, Bindel nevertheless bravely goes into print to lather reams of abuse on, again, a bunch of kids. She dehumanises them, referring to them as 'like locusts swarming on an oasis' and bemoans their terrible, thuggish habit of having fun in a swimming pool. What monsters!

There's also a nice bit of 'I'm not middle class even though I live in a middle class area and holiday in Tuscany' which, frankly, isn't fooling anybody, and, hilariously, Bindel bemoans people 'raising their children without teaching them manners or a sense of consideration'.

That's right. Julie Bindel, who believes 'a world inhabited just by transsexuals...would look like the set of Grease', Julie Bindel, who considers queer-identifying people to be akin to devil-worshippers and who believes that how gay men have sex with each other is somehow part of an evil conspiracy to oppress women, and who uses a column in a national newspaper to rip the piss out of families of people enjoying a little relaxation while on their holidays, thinks people should have more manners and consideration.

I think we can all see, at this point, that Bindel is just another paid troll used by the papers to fill column inches with some 'controversial' opinions. Whatever her opinion of herself as a political activist, she's wound up filling the same niche as Liz Jones, Rod Liddle, Tanya Gold and even - the daddy of the Vile Opinion Troll Squad - Richard Littlejohn. And so we shouldn't be surprised if people from her milieu defend her - after all, people are defending Liddle even after it was revealed that he spent time on Milwall FC's website making racist comments that, as far as I can tell, amount to hate speech. These people have a good thing going: they get paid to troll, essentially, and like all people running a racket - especially one increasingly under threat from a bunch of new, more clued-up and genuinely idealistic operators - however much they may dislike each other, there's a tacit principle of protecting their own.

At the risk of flaunting my middle class privilege in the same way as Bindel, I should mention here that I have a Blackberry. And I use the Guardian's Blackberry app to read the only two pieces of that paper I never want to miss - Charlie Brooker's TV review on Saturdays, and his G2 column on Mondays. And, since I started doing that, I've stopped buying the paper, and felt a little bit guilty about it. After all, by reading those bits of the paper free online, I was robbing the paper itself of money. I felt a little bad about that.

Then again, now that I know that some of that money goes towards paying for Julie Bindel to go on holiday in Tuscany, I find I don't feel guilty at all. Not even one little bit.

(also - it's a long shot, but just in case any of the kids who annoy Bindel so much do happen to be reading this - next time she's out there, don't bomb into the pool. Gather 'round her and do that humming thing, you know the one where you hum at the same time so she doesn't know who it is. That'll piss her off right good an' proper.)

*The secret codeword is, of course, 'Execute Case Orange.' They're massive Battlestar Galactica fans.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The arc of the moral universe

In a couple of entries this past week I've written about how some people, whether newspaper opinion columnists or comedians, create a climate in which the murder of trans women (One of the most vulnerable groups in society, remember) is considered acceptable and justified, and which thus directly causes harm to those women.

So it gives me great pleasure to see that, in two separate cases reported today, one in Turkey and the other in San Francisco (trigger warning: transphobic statements in SF article comments), people responsible for attacking and in one case killing trans women have not only been found guilty, but have also been punished to the full extent of the law. A particularly interesting and relevant point is that in the Turkish case, the defendant tried the craven 'trans panic' defense and this was rejected.  Western courts, and western juries, should thus take note that on this issue, a court in the supposedly 'backward' Muslim nation of Turkey has in fact taken a more enlightened approach than many western courts would by rejecting that defence.

This doesn't mean the struggle is over by any means, and it doesn't even necessarily show the tide is turning - some of the comments on the San Francisco case show there's still a lot of work to do - but I think that when victories happen, it's as important to mention and celebrate those as it is to rage against the setbacks.

Thanks to Helen at Bird of Paradox and Andrea Plaid from Racialicious for those links. 

In other news, I myself have had something of a victory today, but more on that tomorrow...

Monday, 25 January 2010

I'm waitin' for my man (well, A man. With a pizza.)

I just ordered a pizza. I know. Why are you using a blog to tell us about the food you're about to eat, Adam? That's what Twitter's for! But no. Bear with me. I'm making a point here.

I ordered a pizza because I've spent the last six or seven hours or so in a kind of bizarre fugue state, triggered by the tectonic grinding of my anorexia against the fact that I really ought to eat something. I think of anorexia as kind of like alcoholism - a disease which you always have, even if you've been clear of it for years, because the thought patterns that can lead to a relapse are always ticking away in the back of your mind, like lines of junk code which, every now and again, get garbled into the main stream of information and bugger up your mental hard drive.

Today was, for reasons I don't really want to talk about at length here, kind of distressing. And I chose to deal with this by going up to Newcastle, as I often do. It's a bus ride away and there's a world of ways to distract myself from the chaos of my life. In this case, what I chose to do was go for a coffee, do some writing and then meander around town.

At about half three, I figured there would be no point getting a bus for about an hour, because the buses would be packed with noisy, annoying schoolchildren. So, I figured, I may as well go and get something to eat and, because I was in town and, what the hell, it hadn't been the best day, maybe a nice draught beer as well.

And that's when the junk code struck.

Suddenly I found myself completely unable to bring myself to enter any restaurant in town. I walked almost a complete circuit of Newcastle, considering different eateries and finding reasons to reject them. Wetherspoon's? Nah, Wetherspoon's food is rubbish these days. O'Neill's maybe? No, it's usually full of gits. The Forth? Full of wankers. The Salsa Cafe? A bit fiddly, and no beer on draught.

I kept this process up until I found myself at the Tyneside Coffee Rooms, a tremendously nice venue which I've always enjoyed dining in. Their beer isn't draught either, but they do a killer bacon, brie and cranberry sandwich and they have San Miguel. Should have been a no-brainer. Except when I got there I found, like an uninvited vampire, that I couldn't cross the threshold.

I couldn't go in and buy food. All my reasons from earlier, it turned out, had just been empty rationalisation. I didn't want to eat because, on an emotional level, I found the idea disgusting. Sickening. Shameful.

I made a few half-hearted stabs at going elsewhere, but ran up against the same problem. Even when I eventually made it home, I sat for half an hour in the kitchen fighting back an avalanche of sheer bloody curl-up-on-the-floor depression at the thought of eating anything. Eventually I gave up, went upstairs, and took a nap.

About half an hour ago I woke up. I felt hungry again, properly hungry, not disgusted-hungry or ashamed-hungry. Hungry because I really, really, really feel like having something to eat.

So. Pizza.

Are we the baddies?

An update from Bird of Paradox about the Queer Question Time event featuring everyone's favourite bigot, Bindel.

It would appear the organisers are playing the victim card, and arguing that people protesting the inclusion of Bindel - who really has no business whatsoever being on a panel of this sort (aside from anything else, she's said she regards queer-identifying people as akin to devil-worshippers and that she wants nothing more to do with them, so why go on a panel for them?) are the evil forces of censorship which is evil.

Bindel herself has advanced a similar line about those who 'persecute' her, of course, a line which I deconstructed here. But this line of thinking is actually more widespread than Bindel, and probably needs a more serious debunking than my snark-heavy efforts. Fortunately, there's an excellent critique of that mindset to be found here.

There are people who think that when we protest giving a platform to people like Bindel, it's because we're offended. And it's true that we are offended. And, undoubtedly, they are equally offended by what they see as us trying to 'censor' them. But that's not the reason for the protests. The reason for the protests is that giving Bindel a platform where she can spout her bigoted BS causes harm. I explain below how media attitudes help to create a climate in which, where some women are concerned, people can get away with murder, and that's a climate which Bindel, with her dehumanising remarks about trans women, has helped to enforce again and again.

It's very hard for people like Bindel to understand this, of course. One of the reasons it's so hard is that they haven't really grown up and got used to the world we now inhabit. As an old-style feminist, Bindel hasn't got used to the degree to which the struggle's moved on. She's stayed behind on the curve and, as often happens, has gone from radical to conservative without apparently changing. But more than that, as an old-style newspaper columnist, she's not used to the degree to which the web makes it easier for her opinions to be challenged. Anton Vowl at the Enemies of Reason has a good post on that here.

What this all comes down to in the end is Bindel taking offence at the fact that her spurious authority as a 'leader' is being challenged by people who can bring attention to the harm done by her words. We live in a world now where it isn't enough to inveigle yourself into a safe position at the Guardian and rest safe in the knowledge that any critical opinion of you will be thrown in the bin and never make it into the letter column. We live in a world where, if you fuck up, if you act badly, if you write words that get people killed, you will be called out on it, and, if you fail to properly apologise and make amends for what you've done, those bad deeds will follow you no matter what you do. And when people take the chance to remind others of what you've done, and why it was wrong? Those people are not the aggressors and you, no matter how aggrieved you feel, are not the victim.


Good golly gosh, I really am all about the bloggage tonight. Just a quick links thread before we go.

First of all, it would seem that Julie Bindel, whose thoughts on trans folk and indeed queer folk in general tend toward exclusion if not outright genocide, has, perhaps because drug use has become endemic in society, been invited onto a 'Queer Question Time' panel in London. I cannot imagine which god alone would know who thought this a good idea, but, fortunately and quite rightly, people are protesting. More on this at Bird of Paradox.

Fortunately there are places which take a less bigoted view of gender identity. I'm heartened to see that a zine called 'Femme Means Attack' are calling for submissions from all people who identify as radical femmes, whatever their gender. This information - which I heard of, again, at Bird of Paradox - is the kind of thing that gives you hope. Because the people promoting Bindel are mainstream media like the Guardian and Standpoint magazine, and the mainstream media are falling ever more behind in the race to adapt to the realities of the new media age (one noteworthy thing about the Rod Liddle affair is that all the running on this has been made by bloggers and Twitter activists, while 'old-school' journalists have cravenly defended Liddle's crass, thuggish behaviour).  The people promoting Bindel and her ilk are the past. The people organising things like Femme Means Attack are the future, and that future is inclusive, welcoming and, in the words of Louis Macneice, 'incorrigibly plural' and full of 'the drunkenness of things being various.'

The abolitionist Theodore Parker said that 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. And I believe that that arc will continue to bend toward justice in spite of the bigotry of people like Bindel, and the ignorance of those who promote her.

And now, before I turn in, I have submissions to prepare.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Defragmenting Sappho

One of the great privilges of this weekend was being asked by the poet Kevin Cadwallender to help with the editorial process for his forthcoming book Defragmenting Sappho. This was a really interesting manuscript to read, and I'm really excited about the thought of this book being published.

Kevin was one of the best poets I encountered when I was starting out in the Newcastle scene. The first night I met him I became enraged on learning he was a vegetarian, and threw the contents of a bag of ham sandwiches in his direction. I haven't repeated this process on anyone else, so there's no scientific evidence, but on the basis of the one time I've ever tried this I can say that it's an excellent way to start a friendship.

In those days Kevin was mainly known, I'd say, for his performance poetry, which was astonishing, amusing, exhilarating and life-affirming in an endearingly cynical way. Kevin used to be a clown (in one of his poems he talks of being the only person to run away from the circus) and he has a clown's range of expressivity which, of course, encompasses both the comic and the tragic.

But there has also been a more serious, reflective and literary side to Kevin's poetry,  which he has chosen to foreground in recent years, especially following his move to Edinburgh. And I think Defragmenting Sappho marks the apotheosis of this process.

These new poems are based on the fragments we have of Sappho's poetry, and particularly the translations thereof by Anne Carson. These poems are far from the crazy, shouty, declamatory poems I first heard Kevin perform all those years ago. They're not small, they're not slight, but they are spare, some of them, and many of them have the pellucid sheen and depth of the best haiku. These are poems about love, and death, and aging, and loss, and they say things about those subjects which are exciting and sensual and heartbreaking and true. If you'd told me ten years ago that these poems were by the same person who wrote Red Dalek Loves You, I might not have believed you.

I might not have, but I would, because I would know that that person was Kevin.

Third floor: shoes, boots and haberdashery

I have never actually worn high heels. Obviously, being MAAB, I was never really socialised to wear 'em and what frightens me away from the things now is the absolute certainty that were I ever to wear a pair I would injure myself halfway through my first step. Last year I tore a ligament in my ankle trying to mount the smallest step in the world, and on that day I was wearing very sensible shoes. Heels would, literally, kill me.

However. Observe, if you will, the sheer awesomeness of the heels produced by the people at Iron Fist. Specifically, the one at the top right.

It's got a frakkin' zombie on it.

If I was going to overcome my lifelong fear of having my ankle further off the ground than my toes, a shoe like that would do it. And I can't be the only biologically-male-bodied person who thinks that. I mean, come on, zombies. And the one next to it has a feckin' werewolf. If Iron Fist were to make those in larger sizes, maybe not in massive quantities, it's a niche market admittedly, but the point is, they'd be coining it in. I don't hang out in fetish clubs anywhere near as much as I used to* these days, but pretty much every body I knew back in the day who wore heels, male or female, would have literally killed for one with, I say again, a muthafrickin' zombie on it.

Now. I'm not the fastest learner in the world, but I've picked up a few bits of useful knowledge here and there, and one thing I've found is that a good heuristic for converting men's shoe sizes to women's shoe sizes is to add two - i.e. a male size 8 is about equal to a female size ten. Guys with size 12 feet are statistically quite rare (and this is where I open myself up to a torrent of abuse from the hitherto silent yet vast following my blog weirdly enjoys in the tall persons' community, no doubt), so let's assume most MAAB feet are a median 9-10. I'm a bit smaller, clocking in at about an 8.5, though it varies from shop to shop and make of shoe to make of shoe (the Airwalk sneakers I wear currently, for example, are actually an 8). But let's assume a 9-10 median to be the average. So, if Iron Fist were to unlock the profit-making potential of selling shoes with frelling zombies on them to people with larger feet than the average girl, they'd have to sell them in a size 11 or 12, rather than...

Seven? They only go up to about a size seven? Wow. There are cis girls those shoes won't fit. Astonishing.

There are a lot of things, readers, for which I fight. And this issue, cool as it is, has to be somewhat low on the list. But consider this, if you will, the equivalent of a manifesto pledge on my part: I will not consider my work on this earth done, I will not cease from mental fight nor, indeed, shall my sword sleep in my hand, until it is enshrined as a basic right that there should be shoes with zombies on them for all. And frickin' werewolves too. Because, in a very real way, until such a state attains, none of us is truly free.

(* this is a way of saying I never hang out in fetish clubs at all these days which nevertheless suggests that I may do, thus allowing me to look all cool and interesting. But you guessed that.)

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Some People Died. You Didn't Hear.

Via Helen at Bird of Paradox, disturbing news of the death of Myra Ical in Houston, Texas. Disturbing not just because she had to 'go down fighting for her life' but because every news report has (a) characterised her as a cross-dressing man and (b) they've pointed out the area where she died was 'known for drugs and prostitution'. This despite the fact that the detective in charge of the case (and the US police aren't known for being friends of trans people) said there is no evidence that drugs or prostitution had anything to do with her death.

Not that that's news, of course. As Anton Vowl at Enemies of Reason has pointed out, the media have form for distorting reality to fit an agenda. So reports of aid distribution in Haiti talk about machete-wielding mobs even if no-one on the ground has seen a machete. Similarly, a trans woman has been murdered? Has to be about drugs or prostitution. Because, y'know, trans people, they're all druggies and perverts. Sure.

This thought process has a long history though. It's called dehumanisation. It invariably lets the worst kind of privileged people, who only see themselves as fully human, off the hook. So vulnerable people in Haiti become machete-wielding savages and suddenly we don't have to care if they're dying of hunger and lack of proper medical treatment. Marginalised trans women become drug-crazed cross-dressing perverts, and suddenly we don't have to care that they spent their last few minutes on earth kicking and scratching to try and fight off some sick, evil piece of shit that wanted to kill them just because of who they were.

More than that, though, it enables a climate where those killings can flourish. In Honduras, a year ago this month, trans human rights activist Cynthia Nicole was murdered. Disturbingly, she seems to be one of many. There are reports that there has been an ongoing trend of violent harassment of trans people in Honduras of late. Why is this?

Undoubtedly it's because some people lack a properly-nuanced understanding of gender issues. Undoubtedly it's because some guys don't like to find out that the hot chick they've been making eyes at all night was born with, and may still have, a set of genitalia different from what they were expecting. But it's more than that.

People kill women like Cynthia Nicole and Myra Ical because the media dehumanises those women. Because it encourages the view that they're 'not real', that they're 'deceptive', that they're 'perverts', that they're not like us. They kill them because the culture tells them it's okay.

This is why, when I get angry at pricks like Letterman or even generally stand-up guys like Stephen Fry repackaging transphobic bullshit for an audience of millions, it matters. It matters because that sort of attitude fosters a climate in which some people feel it's alright to kill trans women. And that, it shouldn't need saying, is wrong. And, as Recursive Paradox points out at Genderbitch, it doesn't matter if that wasn't intended.   It still causes harm. It still kills people.

A woman died this week. Her death wasn't widely reported, because it didn't fit a pre-existing mainstream media narrative, and because the media knew a lot of people wouldn't care that she had died. But her death matters. Her life matters. And we cannot, and should not, connive with a culture that says that that isn't the case.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Changes Happen, As Promised

So, no sooner do I throw open the field to suggestions for new blog titles than I wake, at 6am yesterday morning, drag myself out of bed, brush my teeth, apply my cleanser, my toner, my spf-15 moisturiser and my eye-reviving stick when I'm suddenly struck, quite unbidden, by the thought that 'Wrestling Emily Dickinson' would be a pretty good new name for the Fishblog.

It isn't Dada. There's logic behind it: a while ago,on Twitter, I found myself holding forth on what, I think, is my central dilemma as a poet: on the one hand I feel strongly about a great many things, and wish to write about them and share those thoughts with others, but, on the other hand, as a perennial piece of childhood bully-bait who in consequence developed masses of low self-esteem, I find this duty constantly at war with my urge to 'do an Emily', retire from the literary fray and hide away from it all, writing purely for posthumous publication if any. If I'm to stand any chance of saying what I want to, though, I have to overcome my inner Emily, and that's the force that I wrestle with here. The archetypal Emily Dickinson, the little voice that says don't go out there, it's scary... I certainly mean no violence to the real Ms D, who - as you can probably tell from the amount of time spent dwelling on her example - is kind of a poetry icon of mine.

There's also - from my perspective as a genderqueer individual - something quite delicious about the fact that this title also refers to that of the film Wrestling Ernest Hemingway. That's deliberate. I hate the cult of literary machismo which Papa Hemingway has, rightly or wrongly, came to embody, the idea that it's necessary for a male-assigned-at-birth (MAAB) writer to be tough, hard and two-fisted in order to be cool.

I'm not tough. I'm not hard. And, while I can definitely curl my girly little hands into fists, I'd hardly call them deadly weapons, no matter how much time I put it on the Wii Boxing. But y'know what? I have one weapon that, when it works right, is unstoppable. An ace-in-the-hole that can stop anyone in their tracks, knock the wind out of their sails and leave them reeling. That weapon is language, and it's powerful when I use it not to conform to other peoples' tired narratives, but when I use it to articulate my truth. Even if the responsibility of using language to tell that truth scares me.

My Inner Emily says: write, but don't share. Stay out of it. Don't get involved. But something else inside me looks around, looks at a world that still fails its most marginalised people on so many levels, looks at a world that punishes those that stand outside its carefully-policed boundaries and says: no. I have to get involved. Even if it does scare the shit out of me - which it does, on an almost-daily basis.

And so, perhaps against my better judgement, I fight my inner Emily, and I speak out.

All in all, then, it seems like a pretty good title.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Gonna Be Some Changes...

I'm thinking of making a couple of alterations to this li'l old blog.

First of all, the title. The Fishblog originated as basically a review blog, a place where I could sharpen my critical muscles by writing (often essay-length) reviews of whatever books, film, music or other media had in some way got my dander up in any particular week. It's a cliche (and often untrue) that critics tend to be people who can't write themselves, but I admit in my case that that was part of the reason for setting up this blog: I was, at the time, lacking confidence in my original work, so decided to indulge myself in a spot of criticism to keep my hand in, so to speak, and to stop my aesthetic senses getting dull.

However, having allowed myself a space in which to express myself, I quickly reverted to my default state of using this opportunity to harangue the passerby. Very soon the idea that this was solely a review blog, or even a review blog at all, was abandoned, and I began using it to unburden myself of my opinions on the media, the BNP, gender issues, publishing, bookselling, gender issues, the problems of managerialism, kyriarchy, gender issues and why you shouldn't start fights with Tori Amos fans. I may also have written one or two posts about gender issues as well.

At the same time, largely following the senses-shattering announcement that I'd decided to cancel what was to be my second collection of poems, something seemed to free up in my writing and I found poems coming to me again, I started writing poetry again in earnest, I started performing again and I essentially got better in both senses of the word: I recovered from my writers' block, and I started writing better work than before. So part of the point of the blog became promoting my writing and the performances I was doing, especially around the time of my fourth plinth appearance and the recent Newcastle Human Rights Festival gig.

At some point during all of this gubbins, I jettisoned the name 'To Praise and Blame' and rechristened this as The Somewhat New and Allegedly Improved Fishblog, a title which is increasingly redundant really. I still think the blog has improved - and, while I still only have a small number of followers compared to the juggernauts of the blog world, the fact that that number has risen exponentially since this site stopped being a review blog is proof of that - but it's no longer really even somewhat new. So, I'm thinking we need a new title. This is where you come in.

If you're reading this, you've probably read this blog before. If someone asked you why you read it, you could probably sum it up for them in a sentence. You could tell them what interested you about the blog in the first place, what it is that makes it unique, and why you keep coming back. So - with all those things in mind - if you had the responsibility of thinking up a new title for this blog, one that reflects all of those things - what would you call it?

Answers on a metaphorical postcard please, either in the comments field below or via my Twitter or Facebook pages if you want. Best suggestion will be chosen as the new title for the blog. Get thinking!

Monday, 18 January 2010

There's Always One...

First of all, check out the banner to the right of this entry. Thanks to Jamie Sport, who runs the mighty Daily Quail and who also works in social media for the British Red Cross, there is an even easier way to donate money to the relief effort in Haiti. So please do click the banner, and give what you can, if you haven't already (or even if you have already and are feeling extra generous).

Second of all - it was a dead cert that as soon as I'd sent off the manuscript I submitted to the Grievous Prize, a poem would show up that would have been perfect in that collection. At first I thought I'd only let her out on Twitter and Facebook, but it seemed unfair to let her languish unseen while all the other poems at least had some potential chance of being published, so here she is. So she's a straggler - not everyone's punctual.

Rainy Breaktime

Sat on the bench, sheared off from the others,
legs crossed, Tupperware lunchbox discarded
beside me, reading something they say
is too old for me; she is too old for me,

two years above, short hair, a nose that juts
out like a challenge, leaning her long body
all arms and reach, back
with a come-on-then cockiness,

asking me questions - what's that you're lookin' at?
Who wrote it? Funny name...What's it about?
and shy me is flattered to answer this girl
with her bad-boy looks, her eyes locked on mine,
drawing closer, hand sliding behind me

- and if the dinner lady hadn't came
I would have found out, painfully,
that hand was cocking a lighter.

* * *
It's a poem I've been trying to find a way into for a while, this one. At least since over a year ago, when I tried to write up an account of this incident (yes, it really happened, the me in the poem is me) in a dreadful attempt at memoir which, if it had ever existed on paper, would have been one of the pieces I'd asked my literary executor to burn but which, thankfully, now only exists as junk code in one or another of my memory sticks, if it hasn't been airlocked in a bulk delete already.
But it's an incident I was thinking of again, recently, after a conversation about bullying which I had on Facebook with Ira Lightman. It occurred to me in the course of the conversation that most of the bullying I had to deal with at school came from (cis) girls who, in my experience, can be a hell of a lot nastier than boys. Boys will punch you in the face, sure, but we tend to raise boys not to be particularly emotionally literate, so that's about all they can do (and the domestic violence statistics are an indicator that we ought to stop raising boys who can only express themselves with their fists, but that's another rant for another time, petit furets). Girls, however, are raised to be incredibly emotionally literate, which means they have a whole set of tools with which to hurt you far more deeply than the meatiest of knuckle sandwiches.
I don't think a boy would have formulated a strategy as subtle and twisted as the girl who did this. Find a mark who's obviously shy and socially-inept, talk to them, express an interest, make them feel flattered by all the attention, then, just when they're thinking hey, wow, she really likes me, set fire to their blazer. I'm pretty sure no major conflagration would have occurred, but I'd have jumped up shocked and made a fool of myself in front of everyone, which was probably what she was aiming for. And of course, what really hurt wasn't the fire and embarassment that didn't happen, but the sense of being used, of being toyed with and being so easily manipulated purely for someone else's sadistic amusement. Which meant the plan worked even when interrupted. Sick, undoubtedly. But you have to admire the technique.
Anyone wishing to admire my reading technique, scattershot as it often is, should be aware that I will be performing at a gig at Black Flame Books in Heaton on February 6th. Come along, if you're interested. But don't bring lighters.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Just don't be a dick, Stephen

I did something today which makes me a little bit more like a Mail reader. I complained about a programme on the BBC. Seriously, I went on their complaints page and filled out the form and everything.

What stops me transforming into the kind of person who sticks pins in a doll of Jonathan Ross and compulsively writes 'Harperson' in the mistaken belief that it's a genuinely hilarious pop at polidigob corridigibob gawn maaaaaaaad, rat-fans, was the fact that I was complaining about this.

I'm ashamed to say that I held off on complaining for a couple of days, rather than getting after it straight away like I did with Brooklyn's champion gurner Letterman, because I actually quite like the BBC, I'm aware it's under threat from the Mail-reading brigade and the Murdoch family and their mates in the Tory party...but feck it: they fucked up, big-time, and they aired a segment which reinforced the bullshit 'trans panic' defence and made fun of one of the most marginalised groups in society. That's a major, major fail, and the fact that it comes from an organisation I generally, genuinely, trust, love and respect is no excuse to go easy on them. If anything it's a reason to be more strict with them because we know that the BBC can be, and has been, held to account, so we can actually make a difference, rather than the fart-in-a-force-10 which complaining about the Daily Mail is, given that it's editor is the chair of the Press Complaints Commission.

So here's that complaints page link again. Please do contact the BBC, tell them they've fucked up, tell them why. And with any luck - while we've still got a national public service broadcaster which does pay genuine attention to us - there's a chance that the BBC's insensitivity in this case might lead to an apology which becomes a teachable moment in letting the vast audience QI enjoys know that mocking peoples' gender identity and reinforcing prejudice which harms the most vulnerable people in society for cheap, schoolboyish 'humour' is not OK, no matter who you are.

Some Lovely Links

Here, in no particular order, are a few links to things I've liked this week.

Kate Fox did an interesting blog post about the Tories' ludicrous idea that arts funding in future should depend more on philanthropy. The bit about The Secret Millionaire is particularly good.

Via Arwyn at Raising My Boychick, I was introduced to one of the best-written blogs I've seen yet, by Little Light. I particularly recommend her New Year's Day entry, and consummation, though the second piece especially should come with a trigger warning: if you consider yourself a writer, and you read it, you will probably, like me, spend the rest of the day gnashing your teeth and muttering why can't I write anything that good?

Five Chinese Crackers aired the frighteningly plausible idea that the Daily Mail's coverage of the Haitian earthquake was researched using only 'DVDs of The Serpent and the Rainbow and Live and Let Die, and a Papa Shango action figure.'

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Fucking Palmer announced their engagement.

And - yes! You, too, could make your house look like Moomin Valley!

Weeks like these will happen to you (2)

I promised some more updates on what this week was like for me, and it's nearly over now, so it's probably about time I did that. From my vantage point here at the arse-end of Saturday morning, it doesn't actually seem like I did a lot this week, but the major achievement, the thing that really came to a head, was that I finally finished editing and sorting out the manuscript for what will now be the second collection.

The impetus for this was the Grievous Prize, which my fellow poet Sarah Coles informed me about on Facebook after I ranted, recently, about my annoyance when looking at the web pages of publishers who claim to be producing 'edgy, contemporary, risk-taking etc' stuff but whose lists are endless parades of photogenic cis caucasian Oxford graduates. That was not a night I'm proud of: not because I said things I shouldn't, though I probably haven't done myself any favours in some parts of the poetry community by calling some publishing houses on their BS, but more because my emotional reaction to this overwhelming onslaught of the Stepford Bards was to metaphorically curl up in the corner and whimper. To be fair, it was an onslaught: every tastefully shot picture of a fruity post-graduate cis girl, or neatly-coiffed young man looking deep in rimless spectacles, every sentence containing the phrase 'read literature at Oxford and went on to study creative writing at UEA', every little logroll-quote from another similarly clubbable poet, and, most of all, every bland, vacuous, and completely unengaging poem to which all these things were appended, was like a punch in the gut.

So yeah, it's fair to say I threw myself a little pity party. Thanks to everyone who chipped in with their thoughts and replies, esecially the many, many poets and writers whose work I admire who've talked about the same thing. And a very big thank you to Sarah, for posting the link to the prize, which gave me something to shoot for. Even if the manuscript turns out not to be what they're looking for, working towards this competition, and its deadline, gave me the impetus to pull together the poems I've been working on lately, along with a bunch of older work on the same themes, into what I think is the strongest selection of work I've done yet. Flicking through it, it becomes clear why I had to cancel All Haste is from the Devil: if I hadn't done that, if I hadn't forced myself to write more honestly, to throw out all the posturing and the parody of myself that I'd become, if I hadn't came to the conclusion that I had to write about what I feel instead of what I thought people would accept, I'd never have written this.

And I'm not saying this is a better collection, I'm not saying it'll blow people away, just that it had to be written. Sometimes, the writing dictates what you do, and you only realise it's dictating after the fact. It's only when the poem's been written that you realise you had to do certain things so you could write it. And that's the feeling I have now, as I look at this collection.

The Grievous Prize manuscripts are submitted anonymously, so I'm afraid I can't tell you the title until I know if they want to publish it. I'm hoping they will, because there aren't enough poetry publishers doing stuff that genuinely takes risks, and it would be nice to be associated with some who are. But even if it turns out not to be what they're looking for, and whether I have to edit it or not, I now have the shape of the collection. Hopefully, in whatever form it finally gets published, you'll get to read it and see for yourself why it had to turn out this way.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Weeks like these will happen to you (1)

Crazy times. For one thing, I seem, largely as a result of my goddam insomnia, which kept me up way past any normal person's idea of bedtime, involved in the efforts on Twitter to draw attention to the Haitian earthquake, the ways that people can donate, and the reasons why rich, privileged, white people like us should donate as a result of the horrible history of colonial interference in that country's history. Haiti is the one country in the world which had a successful slave revolt, and, as Noam Chomsky points out, colonizers have to punish successful dissent pour discourager les autres. So, despite the failure of a variety of European powers, including both Britain and Napoleonic France, to conquer the Haitians, they were eventually starved out and forced to submit anew to our dominion, and - in one of the most twisted moves in the sordid history of colonialism - made to pay reparations to the French for the 'crime' of daring to revolt against slavery.

During the twentieth century, as a country in 'America's backyard', Haiti was a battleground in the Cold War, and the US, pursuing its interests, supported the monstrous regimes of 'Papa Doc' and 'Baby Doc' Duvalier , and undermined more democratic governments. The constant interference, terrorism, and atmosphere of coup and counter-coup destabilised an already-weakened country, and created the conditions which have made it hard for the country to deal with this disaster.

Haiti is our problem. The wealth that we, in our privileged nations, enjoy, is based in part on the fruits of colonization, slavery, and the economic terrorism leveraged against the Haitian people. That's why I've been telling people as often as I can, via Twitter, to donate using sites like the British Red Cross site here. There are other places to give. Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Foundation and Medecins sans Frontieres are doing good work too - I gave to the British Red Cross because I know they have people on the ground there, and I could donate in pounds. But please, whatever you do, visit one of the sites, or some other, and give what you can. I gave, and I'm poor and unemployed (though that's 'poor' in the sense of 'spent stupid money on skincare stuff today' and 'unemployed' in the sense of 'had two interviews this week', so...).

I don't want to go all 'white man's burden' here. But I don't think that's what I'm doing. We created this problem. We are complicit in a system which keeps countries like Haiti poor, and badly-placed to weather disasters like this. It's not paternalism. It's not white guys knowing best. It's privileged people making up for the shit they created.

In fact, y'know what? It's not even that. It's being a good person. It's not passing by on the other side. It's doing what we can 'cause, really, but for an accident of birth, we could be sleeping outside tonight, surrounded by the wreckage of our country, wondering if tomorrow we'll see the corpses of people we know piled up by the Canape Vert road for identification. It, like everything I pull people up for not doing on this blog, is being a good human being.

So...if you've been good already, then thank you. If you haven't, yet, then go be good. You don't have to give money, if you can't afford it. Just tell people there are ways they can give. Throw your weight behind ideas like granting Haitian refugees temporary protected status, or cancelling Haiti's debts (the modern-day equivalent of those reparations). Just keep going on about it - that's all I'm doing here, really. Keep it trending, keep it in the media, keep it before the eyes of the powerful and the privileged. Keep it going.

And...I'm done. I had intended to talk about other stuff in this post. I finished the manuscript for what might be the most important book of poems I've ever written yesterday. Today I had a fun day in Morpeth attending an interview and doing a lot of other stuff. But this isn't the time for that. I will talk about that, but not now. Not today.

Today is the day that we think about Haiti.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Just don't be a dick, David.

I'm back, and unfortunately people continue to act like pricks and show no sense of maturity, intelligence or social awareness, thus requiring me to dress them down via the puny medium of my pathetic little poetry blog.

The latest candidate for my gnat-sized attack is concertina-faced woman-exploiter David 'people still watch me' Letterman, who decided this week that Barack Obama's historic decision to appoint a trans woman to a position of office was a suitable subject for a cheap laugh.

This 'joke' is pretty unfunny when you consider that trans women are one of the most vulnerable sectors of the US population, and that people who murder trans women often invoke the bullshit trans panic defense and by making a joke like this, Letterman helps to create an environment in which freaking out over the fact that a woman is trans is acceptable.

Fortunately, CBS have a feedback page where you can complain about the negative effects of the fast-fading funnyman's failure to understand how proper jokes work. I've done it, and I urge you to do so too. As the pathetic Sachsgate affair in the UK proved, TV companies do have to listen to complaints: and I'd argue that helping to create a climate which normalises violence against marginalised people is a more serious crime than taking the piss out of Manuel from Fawlty Towers.