Sunday, 29 August 2010

Toilet Talk Take Two

When you choose to advocate for a particular cause, there are certain things, certain issues, certain tropes, that you find yourself having to deal with again and again. If your beat involves taking on racist tabloid pricks like Richard Littlejohn and his ilk, you will constantly be having to explain that 'some of my best friends are black people' is not a valid defence. When you deal with bad science, you will have to explain the difference between correlation and causation until you're blue in the face. Set yourself against the lies of lying liars like the Taxpayers' Alliance or Migrationwatch, and you'll develop a near-supernatural ability to skewer bad sets of statistics.

If you deal with trans issues, the thing which crops up as often as the Riddler in the 60s Batman series - and is about 200 times as irritating - is the toilet thing. Every now and again, some right-wing, kyriarchal fuck decides to spread the toxic meme that allowing trans people to use the correct toilets will be a green light for any rapist to pull on an unconvincing frightwig and run wild in the ladies' loos like Molestozilla. The fact that this has never fucking happened - that there are, in fact, a number of reasons why it would actually be kind of impossible - never really bothers these people. They run with it because it allows them to trot out the old tropes about trans people being deceptive, not 'real' men or women, perverted, etc etc. It allows them to spread the fear for their own twisted advantage. It allows them to divide and conquer and, because the people they have to crawl over are some of the most vulnerable people in society, they figure they can do it with little chance of reprisal.

I set down my thoughts about all this a while ago, and now, after legal blogger Jack of Kent has ruminated on the issue - leading to some interesting and insightful comments - Natacha Kennedy has also outlined an interesting theoretical perspective on why many people obsess over this issue on her own blog, Uncommon Sense.

What it comes down to, in the end, is that, as always, it's the kyriarchy, stupid. And as Little Light points out, we have to fight the kyriarchy because, basically, the people who support it have already decided they're at war with us. And one of the ways we take on the kyriarchy and its supoorters is by explaining why the 'toilet argument' is bullshit: and we'll do it all again the next time it comes up, same bat-time, same bat-channel. C'est la guerre.

The OTHER Announcement

Readers of this blog may recall me hinting in the last blog, announcing the imminent publication of By Grand Central Station We Sat Down and Wept in October, that I would be up to something else during October as well.

What that something is is taking a trip down to London for a little bit of sightseeing and to do a couple of spots at two open mike nights in the Great Wen: Raw Poetry at the Central Station pub, Wharfedale Road, on Monday 4th of October, and Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden on Tuesday the 5th. I will then be heading up to Hebden Bridge to take part in the monthly Write Out-Loud Read-around at the Hole in the Wall. The London gigs are about having a go at performing somewhere where people aren't familiar with my stuff; Hebden Bridge is about that too, but I've also been keen to do something under the WoL aegis since someone introduced me to their site a while ago. I really can't recommend it enough: it's a fantastic way to find out about gigs or places that are looking for submissions. I wouldn't be able to plan these gigs in London without it. So I figured if I was going to do a bunch of gigs outside the North East, I should try and fit in one of their own events. So I did.

Anyway, that's what I'm planning for October. If you're in the area for any of the gigs, do please come along. I'll probably post a reminder nearer the time. And I imagine there will be a veritable stream of tweeting from both locations for your shallow entertainment. In the meantime I have a rather needy cat to attend to so it's au revoir for now...

Friday, 27 August 2010

A Quickie

Just popping by swiftly to inform you all that I have heard from poet and publisher Kevin Cadwallender that his forthcoming anthology of poems inspired by Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept - which features my poem 'The Smiling Animal at his Appointed Hour' - is due to be published sometime in October. I'll have more news - including details of how and where to purchase the book which, aside from me, will feature work by loads more really fine versifiers - closer to the time.

I do have some other news regarding my poetry-related activities in October, but I'll say more about that later. Important to take a drip-feed approach to the publicity thing...

(the anthology is called By Grand Central Station We Sat Down and Wept, by the way, but you probably figured that out)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Hot Sex Action (there isn't any)

It snuck up on me this morning that it's over a year since my wife and I split up. It then occurred to me that it's been even longer since the last time I had sex with anyone. Which is, y'know, kind of a shame because, to be honest, I'm pretty sure that last time is going to turn out to be, well, the last time.

I know it sounds slightly mawkish to say so here (and in fact I had been toying with submitting this to Arwyn's series Naked Pictures of Faceless People over at Raising My Boychick until I thought no, sod it), but I've been feeling increasingly that I'm fundamentally not ready for a relationship with someone else that goes beyond friendship (although to be honest, when you don't conform to normal gender standards, have a bad case of social phobia and tend towards bouts of misery if not abject depression, just making friends on its own is hard enough). A serious relationship would entail entirely too much. Too much opening up, too much letting people in, too much exposing the vulnerable parts of myself to someone while giving them the kind of access that means they can really, really hurt you.

It's ironic that the prospect of opening up in this area should be so frightening, because I'm only beginning to get used to how liberating it is in my writing. As I've written recently, it's only at the last couple of gigs I've done that I've started to do some of the poems I've written, but always feared to read. And I've found that to be an incredibly powerful experience: it makes me feel more honest as a writer and, strangely, more connected with my audience - probably because they get to see the real me, rather than the front I put on for so many years. It feels good to tell the truth in public.

But as liberating as that can be, I worry that opening up in private will be too much of a high-stakes gamble. On the page, on a stage, there are rules and limitations. If it's just you and someone else, alone...No. Too much risk. And too many practicalities to be negotiated. It sometimes seems to me that explaining to someone what I want out of a sexual relationship would simply take too much bloody time to explain. Heck, some days (this is one of them: can you tell?) I'm not even sure I can explain it to myself. Factor in a similar amount of time coming to understand what a partner wants, where their lines of desire intersect with mine, and what things to keep off-limits...who needs all that meshugah?

And so you get used to it: the terror of potentially romantic interaction; the pain of seeing people that you think you'd be so right with when you know that in all probability you're wrong, and that's a mistake you can't afford; the fact that you will spend your life watching other people enjoy a happiness you'll never feel again. You get used to it, and you hope that one day you can even make your peace with it, and you work as hard as you damn well can on making sure you never let the experience turn you into some horrible, shrivelled up old puritan arsehole who hates the thought of anybody having fun.

Oh, I don't know. In the grand scheme of things 'not being able to have the sex' doesn't really figure in the top 100 in a world where you can have your house blasted to shit by people who will then give you a pamphlet about Jebus; and it isn't as if there aren't many, many pleasures in life besides the old thirty seconds of squelching noises (I'm listening to one of the most orgasmic non-sex-related things I've ever experienced, John Adams' 'A Short Ride in a Fast Machine' even as I'm typing this). Besides, given the way my life keeps twisting itself into odd new shapes at the moment, for all we know next week will find me desperately trying to type out a blog entry using only my big toe, while being thrown brutally around some kind of sex-dungeon by a posse of Amazon Love Titans. Hope, as they say, springs eternal; though on the other hand, hope can be crueller than resignation. And , on that vaguely Soviet note, goodnight for now. My next blog entry will be more of the usual ranting, I'm sure. I just felt a need to get this off my chest. You can make up your own joke about me doing that in the absence of someone wanting to get on it.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Why do the spacemen always have guns?

Lazy day today, mainly spent watching old episodes of Babylon 5 with a friend. FX seem to be running the series on permanent loop, which can be disorienting. Last time I saw any of it, I caught a snatch of an episode from the disappointing last season. This time, we were lucky enough to come across a bunch of eps from the end of Season 4, the whole 'liberation-of-Earth' thing, which was much more enjoyable, even if I did find myself trying to remember whether or not this occurs before or after the defeat of the Shadows, but it set me thinking about an odd thing about sci-fi TV shows. Specifically, why are so many about the millitary?

Think about it. There are a few exceptions - Firefly, Dr Who, etc - but most sci-fi TV shows tend to concentrate on the adventures of some millitary or quasi-millitary organisation. Star Trek is obviously the big boy among this bunch, and an interesting exampe in that the Federation try very hard to come off as a kind of intergalactic peace corps but, essentially, they're a great big space-navy: uniforms, heavily-armed warships, culture of obeying-the-captain (which becomes vital to the plot in First Contact) - they can go on about the Klingons being a weird warrior-race but they aren't fooling anyone: the Federation are at least as heavily-millitarised as the funny-forehead brigade, maybe even more so: the Federation are all about the discipline, whereas whenever the Klingons appear they always seem to be more like crazy space pirates (with a healthy interest in BDSM if what little we ever see of Klingon mating rituals is anything to go by). At least the Klingons know how to have fun.

There are very few civilians in the Star Trek shows...Deep Space Nine has a few but, with the exception of Quark the barman and Garrack the tailor, they tend to stay in the background (and the extent to which Garrack is actually a civilian is debatable... he's technically retired from espionage but...) Voyager pulled an interesting variation by making terrorists as well as boy scouts part of the crew, but non-state-actors are a far cry from your run-of-the-mill civvie.

Babylon 5 does have civilians, and indeed many of the main characters fluctuate between employment in the armed services, politics and more shady lines of work; but the main thrust of the plot is a massive Manichaean war between good and evil, fought with starships and PPGs.

Perhaps the most successful sci-fi series of recent times, the Battlestar Galactica remake, does  manage to strike a good balance between civillian and millitary affairs, largely because that balance - the way you manage to keep all the elements of a civil society going in conditions of near-total war - is one of the main drivers of the series in terms of plot.

The point is that all three of these series, to whatever degree they balance millitary and civilian elements, feature a large millitary component - and that is even more bizarre when you consider that, generally, in most non-sci-fi shows that concentrate on millitary themes don't succeed. Most mainstream TV-shows tend to be either comedies, soaps, or police procedurals: all genres which, with a few exceptions, tend not to work in a sci-fi context on TV. It actually annoys me that there has never been a properly successful TV sci-fi crime series (don't talk to me about fucking BUGS), perhaps because two of my favourite sci-fi films are Blade Runner and Strange Days - two films which, while they take place in a futuristic sci-fi context, are basically films noir.

I'm not really sure if there's a massive point to this, except to say that...well, why? Why is it that we can have a variety of sci-fi concepts on the big screen, but most small screen sci-fi tends to be millitary space opera? Why does it mostly have to involve spaceships, for god's sake? There isn't a single spaceship in Strange Days and it's still - despite being set in a 1999-era world which has virtual reality which runs off fucking minidiscs - one of the best sci-fi flicks I've ever seen. But TV sci-fi needs to have spaceships, space navies, intergalactic wars...even Doctor Who very often degenerates into Big Spaceship War storylines. Why can't we have a sci-fi detective series? Why can't we have a sci-fi soap? I'd watch a sci-fi soap. The elements of most of the sci-fi TV shows I've enjoyed are the soapy ones: Ivanova's lesbian relationship in B5; the odd-couple friendships between G'Kar and Londo in that series, and Odo and Quark in DS9; the general organic sense of a community growing, living, adjusting, finding its way.

Let's face it, Quark's bar and the Zocolo are basically the Queen Vic: why can't we have a sci-fi show that does away with all the COSMIC WAR bollocks and just deals with normal people, in the future, getting on with things, getting into situations and getting out of them? You can still have futuristic technology; you can still have aliens; hell, you can still have spaceships - 'The Ballad of Halo Jones', one of the soapiest (and best) sci-fi comics of all time, set it's entire second series on a spaceship - except that said ship was a cruise liner, not a warship - so a whole range of issues regarding class, race, age, love, and the human/robot thing (a major sci-fi theme) - could be explored without anyone having to point a raygun at someone else for the very future of humanity.

Well, of course, Alan Moore could get away with that in Halo Jones - that was a comic. No-one's gonna commit to watching one hour of teevee sci-fi a week unless there are space battles, explosions, a massive conspiracy and threats to the very future of reality itself every fucking week. Right?

Well, I don't know. I mean, I would. And I don't think I'm that atypical. So in all the hours and all the channels available...why isn't that niche being filled?

Monday, 16 August 2010

'Between violence and silently seething, between my fist and my Polyanna flower...'

First things first. Check out the magnificent Laurie Penny's newest blog over at the equally magisterial New Statesman website.

Next, familiarise yourself with the points about status made in this Wired Article about the effects of stress on the human immune system and life expectancy (curtsy in the direction of Lilith von Fraumench, who first brought said story to my attention on Twitter.

Next, equip yourself with a copy of Mind Bombs by Garrick Alder, a book I heartily recommend for a variety of reasons, one of which is this gem of a fact based on a survey by Mary Shaw of Bristol University:

'The suicide rate is higher in deprived areas than in prosperous ones. For some inexplicable reason, the poor seem to suffer from fatal depression...Herefordshire reported only four suicides between 1991 and 1996, compared to 208 in Manchester during the same period.' 

The facts are in and the facts are these: kyriarchy kills. Wherever there are disparities in status, those inequalities make the people on the receiving end sicker, weaker, and fatally miserable.  They shorten lives either through the slow attrition of stress effects on the nervous and immune systems, or by making it more likely that someone will be pushed to the point where they see no other option but to kill themselves.

Conversely, more equal societies save lives - a fact amply demonstrated by The Spirit Level, a book which, by an astonishing coincidence, has came under sustained attack by right-wing demagogues just at the precise moment when a government that seems hell-bent on increasing inequality to Victorian levels is fucking the country without benefit of butter.

I'm going to say this: the only reason you could possibly have for opposing greater equality (and here I'm not talking merely about equality between economic classes but between abled and disabled people, people of different ethnicities, people of differing gender identities, sexualities, etc etc), given the fatal consequences of an unequal system, is that you're doing alright from it. Other people may be dying but hey, you're alright, Jack (a phrase which was often used by right-wing moralists to bash union members in the fifties - how bitterly amusing that modern exponents of the attitude are exactly the type who huffed and puffed when it was poorer people who were doing okay). And if that's your attitude, then I find you morally and, frankly, physically repugnant.

And I'm brutally aware that I do okay from this system. I'm white, I'm reasonably able-bodied (though mentally often crippled by low self-esteem, depression, social phobia, and a history of self-harm and eating disorders), and, while I might occassionally court harassment for my genderqueer antics, I run nothing like the kind of horiffic risks faced by trans women, or a lot of cis women for that matter. But I am trying, in my own way, to make a more equal system; and I'm not engaged in defending the tapestry of fuckery just because, from where I'm standing, it looks kinda pretty.

The kyriarchy kills. If you defend it, you have blood on your hands. And more and more people are realising that, and getting sick of suffering at your bloodstained fingers.

You know what happens next.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

'What goes up must come down, all that swims can also drown...'

And so to the Trent House, Newcastle, for my second appearance at Jibba Jabba, that bar's new spoken word night. Jibba Jabba is shaping up to be a good venue, attracting a decent crowd and striking a nice balance between newcomers and regular performers. I'm not sure which of those categories I fall into at the moment: I wasn't sure if  I was going to perform last night - having planned to go just to discuss dropping some books off for a charity regular JJ attendee Amina Marix Evans works with - but planned a set anyway just in case.

In the event this turned out to be a good strategy as I wound up performing third in the set. I like performing fairly early (for one thing it gives you the chance to relax with a couple of post-performance beverages instead of spending the whole night sober, jittery, and waiting to go on) but I worry about going on first - I'm not the most cheerful of poets, and I worry that sending me on to plough through my tragic tales of gender-incongruity might kill off the room. Equally, the last spot is tough, because you need to provide the exclamation mark to the evening. Inadvertently I wound up doing just that last week at Cellar Door in Durham, and, given that I was in a rage after the cisfail that had been waved in our faces earlier in the evening, it was a weird kind of ending. So it was nice to nestle comfortably in among everyone else's performances, where I could do my thing without too much worry.

I was still kind of worried though. Not only was I doing 'Criminally Fragile' for the second time ever, I also decided to challenge myself by reading 'NSFW' a sort of sister poem to Fragile which is about...well, it's about sex, and desire, and particularly the experience of having desires that are kind of kinky. I figure if I'm going to start performing stuff about my gender identity more openly, I may as well come out and admit to being a bit of a pervy little bitch as well.

Or at least that's what I told myself. I was still bricking it when I got up. Why not junk the planned set? Just do some funny, silly stuff, set people at their ease, don't take risks. On the other hand I'd pretty much outed myself, gig-wise, a week ago, so...

Reader, I read the kinky sex poem. I did the set exactly as planned. And I wasn't shunned or stoned or anathemised by papal decree. In fact, the poems seemed to go over quite well. It still took a while to decompress after coming off-stage (those post-gig drinks came in very handy) and making it back from the gig through the stag-and-hen apocalypse that is Newcastle on a Saturday night was the usual exercise in pure fucking terror, but overall it turned out to be a good night. Particularly because - once I was over my nerves - there were fine sets from Jake Campbell, Jeff Potts, Radikal Queen and many other excellent local poets to enjoy, plus excellent material from co-hosts Karl Thompson and especially Jenni Pascoe, who actually performed and compered in spite of having a bad attack of labyrinthitis.

So Jibba Jabba is shaping up to be a rather excellent night, even when I'm not airing my dirty lingerie in public. Do get along to the next event if you can. As to moi, it's looking like the next time I'm going to be getting my words out will be at the next of Steve Urwin's poetry slams at the Lamplight Arts Centre in Stanley, which won't be until the 21st of September. So in the meantime, fans of the pissed-off ranting which results from the usual blend of boredom and sheer teeth-grinding frustration with the kyriarchy which powers this  blog will, doubtless, have much to look forward to. As to what I have to look forward to...well, I'm wondering about that more and more. But that's another entry, for another day.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Be Advised!

Okay. I'm going to lay down a little truth about writing poetry here. A point that is often overlooked, but is very important. It is not the kind of thing that necessarily makes one popular with other writers - writers being a somewhat narcissistic breed - but I feel it needs saying. You may want to sit back for this one.

If you are going to write a poem about something, do some fucking research on it first.

This goes double if the poem you are writing is about the experience of someone from a marginalised group.

Because there is nothing worse than being at a gig, hearing someone say 'And now - Transsexual Builder!' and then cringing as you hear some well-meaning but fundamentally ignorant cis person publicly fumble their way through a poem which manages to be partly a decent stab at imagining what it might be like to experience harrassment and abuse from people for not conforming to gender expectations, but then arses it all up by constantly referring to the rather complex procedure of gender reassignment surgery as 'having your willy chopped off.'

This kind of mistake has never been easier to avoid, people. You see, there is a magic machine called the internet, on which is stored the sum total of human knowledge, and a sizeable proportion of the sum total of funny cat pictures. Finding out the truth about what surgical treatment for gender incongruence involves might, in the past, have required you to wade through long and complex tomes in university libraries, but now, a mere few minutes' googling will provide you with all the information you need. You don't even have to have your own computer - you can get down the library and use the PCs there. Admittedly you will have to have the guts to be seen in public looking up information about GRS ops - but if you haven't got the basic writer's courage (and professionalism) to research your goddam material you shouldn't be writing anyway.

And it should not be the responsibility of gender-incongruent people to educate your privileged ass on the things you should be researching yourself in order to be a decent fucking writer, but because I am a helpful little Willow Rosenberg tribute act, sit back, strap in, and join me for a thrilling whirligig ride through the incredible world of knowing what the fuck you are talking about.

The two most common forms of gender reassignment surgery are phalloplasty, the creation of a penis, performed on trans men who undergo surgery, and vaginoplasty (NB: link NSFW if you work somewhere that doesn't like vaginas), the construction of a vagina, performed on some trans women who undergo surgery. The latter of these procedures does not involve something as simple as 'chopping off a willy.' It is in fact a mystery to me how any adult human, with a basic understanding of how plastic surgery works in general, could imagine this is all that's involved. What, do you imagine it functions as a straight swap? Do you think trans women have their bits removed, and those bits are then put in a sling and carried, by the magical gender reassignment stork, to the nearest trans man's place of residence? 'Look, darling, a penis was left on our doorstep in the middle of the night! Now we can fuck!' Jesus wept.

Like most plastic surgeries, gender reassignment surgery involves the repurposing of the existing tissue. It would be a fucking incredibly wasteful procedure if it didn't. A few moments' thought and a layperson's understanding of the basics of plastic surgery would lead one to realise how obvious this is. A few minutes' googling, as pointed out above, would actually help you find out what's what. But hey, who cares about that when you've thought up soooo many funny little rhymes about people having their willies chopped off? Oh, and that hilarious bit at the end of your poem about the leftover bits of willy being used to make Big Macs? Ha ha ha ha ha ha that's not funny either, you big pathetic failed human you. You stay classy, there.

(Note: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on television. When I'm talking about the surgeries involved in gender-reassignment here, I'm simplifying a vast and complicated body of knowledge. There are other procedures involved beyond these two basic ones, there is the whole business of hormones, which I haven't even gone into, there's the fact that not all trans people choose to have surgery on their genitals - there's a massive, massive load of other issues, procedures, and aftercare stuff involved. But you know how you can find out about all that stuff? Google. Or whichever search engine you prefer to use. The internet exists. It is your friend. Use it.)

(Other note: aside from 'Transsexual Builder' and a similarly witless poem based on the oh-so-relevant Cher vehicle 'Mask', the gig was okay. In fact, listening to the douchery kind of spurred me on to finally get around to reading Criminally Fragile, which I've been wussing out of reading at gigs for aaaaages. It is not 'all good', though. I came this close to walking out, but figured an alternative view was needed. Ooooh, look at me being all brave and that. Yeah, right.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Welcome to the Occupation

Here is a picture I took at Newcastle's Star and Shadow Cinema during their recent seaon of gender non-conforming films and events:

I was very impressed to see signs like this, not least because earlier this year the politics of bathroom use were very much on my mind. I was proud to be involved with the Katrina Harte campaign, especially on the night when, waiting for the bus after another day at work, I got a Facebook message from one of the organisers confirming that the pub which had refused her access to the proper toilets were going to give in and let her use the ladies', after our campaign of letter-writing, contacting MPs, setting up a Facebook group, and generally causing a ruckus.

Ensuring that trans women are able to use the toilets which accord with their gender-identity is not some right-on, theoretical thing. It can, literally, be a matter of life and death. Make a trans woman use the male toilets and you're exposing her to potential abuse and violence from cis male toilet users who - let's be honest - are not the most enlightened and pacific people at the best of times, never mind when they've got three pints of cooking lager inside them. Having a trans-only toilet would be just as bad: you're essentially outing someone in public who might otherwise have 'passed', again exposing them to potential violence from users of your premises.

I can understand this and I'm assuming, dear reader, that you do too. So it boils my piss to find that the people responsible for implementing the Equality Act 2010 either can't grasp this point or don't give a fuck, as Helen from Bird of Paradox points out.

I feared that the Coalition government would roll back some of the great progressive pieces of legislation introduced under Labour, including the Gender Recognition Act 2004. It never occurred to me that they'd do it using a piece of legislation crafted by the very 'progressive' administration they'd replaced.

Right now, I honestly feel as if they ran a game on us. We spent so much time during the election focusing on issues like the Tories being in bed with people like Philippa Stroud, and Christopher Grayling's opinions on the bed-and-breakfast trade, and feeling that if we could just get the Tories to commit to honouring Labour's equalities programme, we'd have held their fucking feet to the fire. But all the time, at the heart of the very policy we were trying to have honoured, the bomb was ticking away. The transphobes, the radfems, the family values mob, the sort of scum who write that trans people should be 'morally mandated out of existence' were going to get their special little a piece of legislation which purports to be about equality.

Now, in the name of equality, it will be legal for businesses to exclude trans people from the right facilities. It will be legal to bar them from employment on the grounds that their presence might offend cis people. The 'equality' act will force trans women out of the public sphere, even more than they already are.  The 'equality' act will force them out of legitimate work, into the murky demi-monde of the sex trade, where they can work alone, from their own homes, where they won't have to go out and face a world that can now, legally, exclude them without facing any sanction.

And where they can be picked off and murdered by scum.

An 'equality' act which disenfranchises a whole group of people, legitimises prejudice against them, and increases the likelihood of their being prey to harassment, intimidation and violence, isn't worthy of the name. Please, if you're reading this and truly believe in real equality, do everything you can to ensure that these provisions of the act are repealed as soon as possible.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

'...from the skyscraper, the world turns out of sight.'

Having ragged on the papers a little in my last post, I suppose in the interests of fairness I ought to highlight a more worthwhile journalistic endeavour, already mentioned in passing below: namely, the Independent on Sunday's latest annual Pink List, the list of the most influential LGB (no T sadly, which we'll get to very shortly) people in British life.

Generally I support the idea of the Pink List. I think it could stand to have, well, some trans people in it somewhere; but I could be persuaded that, if we're talking about influence, it's a sad fact that trans people in British life don't have a lot of that (if it were otherwise, then maybe David Cameron would have said more about the ongoing campaign of murder and harassment against trans people in Turkey during his recent visit to that country). And I'm very happy to see Gareth Thomas topped the list, along with Mary Portas: I think it's important for young gay men to have strong role models, and I wish more sportsmen (and women) in general would come out of the closet (actually I'm also really pleased Mary Portas came in first as well, though this is mainly just due to wishing I was her girlfriend). I think a list like this highlights the increasing visibility of LGB people in society, and that's a good thing. But. There is always, always, a but with these things. So I'm just going to come out and say it:

Why in the name of all that is holy is Julie fucking Bindel on the list? Admittedly she came in at 98, a mere hop-skip-n-jump away from X-Factor warbler Joe McElderry and expenses-fiddler David Laws, but I contend that her being on the list at all  is an insult and actually undermines all the good work the list does.

Gareth Thomas himself has written eloquently on his Twitter feed that he would like his being awarded the top spot to stand as an example to other people like him that they can feel comfortable in their own skin. Julie Bindel, who is allowed to share the same list with him, has written articles which are almost deliberately designed to make trans people as far from comfortable in their own skin as possible. From her contention that all trans women are just gay men in denial (because we all know lesbian trans women don't exist, right?) to her sick joke that a world populated entirely by trans men and women would be like a remake of Grease, Bindel has engaged in the kind of prejudice and distortion that legitimises negative attitudes to trans people in exactly the same way the homophobic language discussed below legitimises anti-gay prejudice (you could argue that Bindel's ilk actually contribute more to anti-gay violence, as an awful lot of homophobic violence is directed at gay men who don't conform to standard male gender norms).

In that sense, perhaps, you might say that she does have influence, though it's a malign kind of power, and far from the positivity the Pink List aims to celebrate. But even if they were absolutely desperate to put Bindel in their supplement, the perfect chance was there in the attached 'Rogue's Gallery', a list of gay men and women who, while out of the closet, aren't exactly putting the hours in as ambassadors for tolerance. The Rogue's Gallery rightly includes people like nemesis of reason David 'women can't write history' Starkey, and Elton John (for accepting rather more than thirty pieces of silver to play Rush Limbaugh's wedding)...and also has a go at Sam Fox, because...well, because Sam Fox's last record was a little bad.

So, yeah. I set out to write a positive post about the Pink List here because, in general terms, I think it's a good thing. But, as happy as I am for Gareth and Mary, I really can't stand by and allow people to compile a list in which they apparently believe that making a shit record is a crime, but helping to legitimise a climate in which one of the most vulnerable minorities in society face violence and intimidation on a daily basis  is no bar to inclusion.

'Goodnight silver star, goodnight angel eyes...'

I always feel a little ambiguous about taking the 'what I did yesterday' approach to blogging. For one thing, it seems to me that it intrudes a bit too obviously into the kind of territory better covered by Twitter; for another, I think it incumbent on bloggers to give a certain amount of bang for their (metaphorical) buck. True, I follow quite a few blogs by established writers which do simply give the reader an insight into the mundane details of their lives; but the reason for that is those writers are already people whose work I follow in other fields. Finding out what a novelist or poet I like is up to when they're not writing the books I buy is an easter egg, not the main point of my following them. I'm under no illusion that this blog is in a similarly comfortable position: anyone reading these words is presumably here because they like the blog itself, so I feel honour-bound to give them something more than an update on my activities when they come here.

Having said all that, I'm going through one of those phases in my writing life when my urge to stay in and write long complex posts, or labour away at poems for hours, goes into abeyance, and I instead revel in the opportunity to get out of the house and either perform myself or watch other people. My writing always seems to function in this in-out cycle: stay at home, internalise, brood, produce; then get out, talk, mingle, share. Of course, because I am actually going out more, and spending less time brooding, this means, I suppose, that the kind of lengthy, impassioned rants which readers are used to tend not to get written. On the other hand, given the all-encompassing nature of the kyriarchy, it's inevitably the case that if I myself can't get it together to skewer the injustices, I'll always be able to point you in the direction of people who can. Time, then, for another edition of that perenially popular feature, The Week in FAIL.

The biggest and most noteworthy FAIL of the week came from Sunday Times columnist and occassional baboon-murderer AA Gill, who demonstrated his trademark wit and savoir-faire by referring to horse-racing pundit and lesbian Clare Balding as a 'dyke on a bike.' Balding, not unreasonably, took offence at this legitimisation of a rather hateful slur, and complained: whereupon she received a staggeringly ill-mannered and boorish reply from Sunday Times editor John Witherow saying, essentially, that because Balding hadn't been lucky enough to have been born straight, she should basically shut up and take her lumps. At which point Balding decided to go public and allow everyone to see the hatefulness of Witheredcock's response for themselves (I'm sure Witherow won't mind my little jape with his surname. What with him having such a bang-on sense of humour and all. Oh, and having a penis so tiny and shrivelled it looks like a sun-dried tomato that's been left to go off on the windowsill of a house by the sewage works over the course of a particularly torrid summer. Still, serve him right for not having a privileged status, eh?)

Witherow's defence of Gill's unthinking homophobia suggests to me that, whatever David Cameron might say in his foreword to the Independent on Sunday's new Pink List (of which more in a coming post), there are sections of the right in this country who feel empowered, now that an essentially Tory government is in charge again, to behave towards those who lack their privileges with a staggering lack of basic decency and cloak it as a bold stand in defence of the misunderstood white male and Jeremy Clarkson's god-given right to wear badly-fitting trousers and have shit hair. One swallow doesn't make a summer, it's true; but then, as the Tabloid Watch blog points out, Gill's gaffe forms part of an ongoing trend of legitimising name-calling towards LGBTQ people in the media.

Despite what people like Witherednob might say, this is not about political correctness. It is not just an academic matter, and it is not about creating 'non-jobs' in council diversity departments. This stuff matters because it affects people at street level, and makes their lives a misery. The most moving thing I read this weekend was this blog from Helen at Bird of Paradox, about the suffering caused by being referred to as a 'tranny' and dehumanised as an 'it' rather than a real person, by a couple of people who probably eagerly lap up the Sun's homophobic headlines. If I had the power to do so I'd like to get those fuckwits, and the pricks who come up with headlines like 'Bender it like Beckham' and think calling Louie Spence 'Louise' is the height of sophisticated wit, into a very small room and bang their heads repeatedly against a stone slab engraved with Helen's words:

'It’s happened to me so often that it’s gone beyond being just upsetting. It fucking hurts. It hurts like hell. It makes me want to lock myself in the house and never leave it again. It makes me wish I lived somewhere I never had to interact with another cis person ever again. Increasingly it feeds my gathering depression and yes, I’ll say it: it makes me wish I was dead.'

There you have it, laid out in black and white. I doubt if Jeremy Clarkson goes home after yet another joke about his bad fashion choices and feels like locking himself in one of his big shiny penis substitutes, running a plastic pipe from the injection-moulded exhaust, turning on the powerful V6 engine and going from consciousness to cadaverdom in less than sixty seconds. But that's precisely because at the end of the day Clarkson can go home to a big house full of ridiculous overgrown boys' toys, to a relationship that is accepted by society, and to a world where he is the majority, and where any abuse he receives in the streets is hardly going to make a dent. But for those who lack Clarkson's privileged status, every slur is like a bullet, a reminder that you do not belong, that you are not in the majority, that there will always be people who hold you to a misogynistic ideal of femininity or a heteronormative form of masculinity; that there are people out there who will try to kill you because you don't conform; that, worse, there are people who won't give a shit; and, worst of all, there are people who will defend the people who make you feel this way because it's just a joke, innit?

My primary school teacher used to say that it isn't a joke if you're the only one who's laughing. It used to amaze me that an awful lot of people in the media still don't understand that. These days, it only disappoints me. And it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, the death of the English newspaper and the kind of professional scum who make a living writing for it might not be such an awful thing.