Sunday 31 October 2010

Bisexuality for Colonels: a Telegraph Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 29 October 2010

Stonewall: Captured?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A man, in short, who has been captured.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Politics Is Not Actually Wrestling...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 25 October 2010

The Self-destruction of Nick Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 24 October 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 19 October 2010

We're Number One, So Why Try Harder?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 17 October 2010

Planet of the Arseholes (Part the Second)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly the same. Obviously.

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

Planet of the Arseholes (Part the First)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 8 October 2010

Poetry Tour: Track Listing

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

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


Fear and Loathing on the Calder and the Tees: from London to Middlesbrough via Hebden Bridge, in the company of drunken poets and a motley crue of lesbians

Reader, I am sorry. I am sordid. I am cheap. I am a tease. For I ended the last post with the tantalising phrase 'what could possibly go wrong?' suggesting, of course, that something terrible was on the point of occurring. A come-uppance, perhaps, for my smugness following my Covent Garden triumph. Alas, this was not to be. I may as well tell you that my Hebden Bridge gig, under the auspices of Write Out Loud, was as much of a success as my second London gig. Some jeopardy was involved, though, as, on arrival in Hebden Bridge, I found myself held hostage by a gang of notorious lesbians...

As a fan of Alison Bechdel's brilliant graphic memoir Fun Home, I had long coveted a copy of  The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, the only UK collection (to my imperfect knowledge) of her syndicated comic strip following, in that turgid soap-opera phrase, 'the lives and loves' of a group of lesbians, gay guys, guydykes, trans dykes, trans guys und so weiter in a city which may or may not be Minneapolis. And so, while in London, pootling about on my second day, I found myself in Foyles bookshop. I had mainly decided to go for a coffee in their excellent jazz cafe, but I was consumed with guilt over my purchase of a Kindle, which, many of my book trade friends had told me, was tantamount to me sticking a knife in their hearts. I resolved to show my commitment to the bound codex by purchasing some books at this cathedral of the UK book trade - and besides, the Kindle is not well-served for graphic novels, so a trip to that section of the bookshop seemed the best bet.

It was a toss-up between Dykes and the new, hardcover edition of the Morrison/Quitely Batman and Robin series, and I would probably have got both if Foyles' ridiculously well-stocked LGBTQ section hadn't had a copy of Julia Serrano's Whipping Girl, but in the end I found hanging out with some lesbians more appealing than spending time with a guy in a leather batsuit. Almost too appealing, in fact, because, after making myself a cafetiere of the Taylor's of Harrogate coffee so thoughtfully provided by the landlady of the apartment I'd rented in Hebden Bridge, I found myself devouring page after page of Bechdel's strips, unable to tear myself away. There is a lot to be said for the one-page strip in graphic terms: it's incredibly moreish and, because of the built-in need for cliffhangers, the temptation to say 'I'll just read one more, and then go out' is almost impossible to resist.

Resist I did, however, and I did a fine job at Write Out Loud's regular gig at the Hole in the Wall. I did the tried-and-tested trio of 'Tension', 'Eggshells' and 'Suicide', and, during the second half - when everyone is invited back to perform another single poem - I did 'NSFW', a poem about sex and sado-masochism which caused a bit of a stir. It needn't be said that, of course, I'm the girl in the poem, but in fact it did need saying to one audience member who kept referring to it as the 'schoolgirl-strangling' poem while simultaneously saying how much she'd enjoyed it. Huh. Some people are always looking for an entirely different sense of transgression in your work than the kind that you're trying to convey, I guess.

Speaking of transgression, I drank a lot more than I'd intended to at the Hebden Bridge gig, and was very hungover when I departed for Leeds the next day. I knew that some Middlesbrough poets were planning a National Poetry Day event at the Writers' Block in their town, and was keen to go, but wasn't sure a ticket from Leeds to Middlesbrough would fit within the budget for my trip. As it happened it did, so I buggered off there and read at this excellent, free-form event organised by PA Morbid, was pleasantly surprised when the Crow King Andy Willoughby, who I knew from my Hydrogen Jukebox days, swung by, and generally had a nice old time there and at one of the local hostelries afterwards. Oddly, for an incredibly scary man, Andy has an ability to set you at your ease, and, even though I didn't know any of the other poets there (which made me feel impossibly old), I found myself talking to them like an old friend (I suppose I might grudgingly admit that two plastic cups of wine and three pints of Kronenbourg may have helped here...). Anyway, Andy and co saw me off onto a train from Middlesbrough to Newcastle, but not before entreating me to send poems for various magazines and presses, come back for other gigs etc etc. It was all quite wonderful, and sustained me very well during the bum-breaking 90-minute train ride back to Newcastle on a knackered old pacer that seemed hell-bent on stopping at every butt-fuck of a town between the Tees and the Tyne.

And so I got home, went to bed, and slept in until 1pm today. Sorry readers. I know it's not the end of Easy Rider, is it? Still, count yourself lucky it's not the neverending end of the Lord of the Rings films, or the end of the Sopranos, I mean what the hell was that, finishing up in mid-sent-

Fear and Loathing in Camden and Covent Garden: a Savage Tale of Minibar Booze, Audience Combat, and Grim Temperature Fatigue in the Deep Bowels of London

Well, the mini-tour is over, and I can report that it went brilliantly! The first night at RAW Poetry in King's Cross was a good if unremarkable gig. The second London gig at the Poetry Cafe was much better, enlivened not just by the presence of Helen from Bird of Paradox but by a much bigger, better, more poetry-focused crowd - for my money, RAW suffered from the bar having a clear divide between people there for the poetry night and the normal bar regulars, so there was a sense of having to fight the room quite a bit during the gig. I managed this, largely because 'Eggshells', the second poem in my set, is a pretty heavy piece which essentially bludgeons the audience into submission. But even I was frustrated in my attempts to end the set on a high with 'The secrets, almost silent, that we sang', precisely because there was still too much cordite in the air from the previous piece. I went off to respectable applause (even from some of the disgruntled regulars), but with the knowledge that there was more I could have done.

Later, back at the hotel room, over a bag of Minstrels from the Tesco Express and an overpriced bottle of Stella from the minibar, I dissected this. I had been reading Stephen Fry's new memoir on the Kindle earlier that day, and fry reports a meeting he and Hugh Laurie had with his agent during which they were asked who they most admired, so he would have a sense of how to model their careers. This seemed like a useful gedankenexperiment from the artistic point-of-view though, not having an agent, I was forced to put the question to myself. The obvious answer, tragic though it is, is that I have always, as an artist, wanted to be like Tori Amos. I cannot help this. At gigs and events where I talk to cooler, savvier types, I mention Cohen, Dylan, Bowie etc, but the fact is that what I really, in my heart of hearts, want to be is a kooky little elf-maiden who sings songs about pain and voodoo and faeries and being in the wrong band with a tear in your hand. Tori was the first contemporary musician and songwriter who really marked me, who spoke to me (prior to hearing Under the Pink I was the sort of horrible little prig for whom it was classical music all the way, I'm ashamed to say), I was hers before I was anyone else's, and hers I shall remain. Despite my occassional brutal immersion in the soundworlds of Diamanda Galas or Nick Cave, deep down I have always been and will proudly remain an ear with feet, and so it seemed to me that it was time to think about how Tori would have played the gig I'd just done.

I thought about Little Earthquakes. Said album contains some of Tori's most heartbreaking numbers, but it would be unlistenable without the leavening influence of more humourous ditties like 'Leather' and 'The Happy Phantom'. I leafed through my folders. Did I have something that might fit that bill? As it happened, I did: a poem called 'A Short Course in Suicide Writing' that, while staying in a dark area, deals with its subject matter with levity and wit, and would fulfil the task of what ritual magicians call 'banishing with laughter', in that it would lighten the mood after 'Eggshells' and leave people feeling better.

Well, I tried this at Covent Garden and - even though I didn't finish 'Suicide' due to Poetry Unplugged's rigorous 'five minutes max' set rule - I went down a storm. Many people came up to me afterwards asking when I would next read in London, including the fantastic and clearly insane genius Kevin Reinhardt of Vintage Poison, and one woman who told me in very cross tones that the fact I didn't actually live in London was no excuse, and that if that was the only thing stopping me I had better jolly well sort that out. Helen and I were even stalked on our way to the Tube by another performer that night who expressed similar sentiments. All of these enquiries I dealt with using the wit, grace and aplomb which are typical of me, i.e. I mainly repeated the words 'er', 'um' and 'well', giggled, looked down at the floor, said 'thank you' and 'oh, now' and tried as hard as possible to divert the conversation back onto the subject of their work and how much I liked it. Still, even I, in my diffident way, could see that I had, to use a particularly modern, urban form of litotes, not sucked.

I was not alone in falling foul of the five-minute rule, incidentally. Another fine poet whose work was cut off just as it was getting interesting was the wonderful Sabrina Gilbert, who finished her set with a poem about sex which was, ahem, prematurely concluded, and who cannily turned this to her advantage by informing the audience that they could hear the end of it on one of the two CDs she had brought with her, 'The Family Album' ('As in,' she informed the gasping audience, 'music for makin' families...'). I of course bought the other CD she had brought with her, because (a) *koff* I have no wish to be thought of as prurient *koff* and, (b) I had been tremendously impressed with a poem Sabrina had read about Darfur, and she told me that the other CD had more of her political stuff on it. Her work really is amazing, and she reads it with the level of professionalism you often find in American, hip-hop-influenced poets, and which I wish to Godess more poets from other backgrounds would employ. You really should go and check her out, she's awesome.

(I would also recommend that, if you are in London, you attend an event at the Poetry Cafe, which is a fine venue, but with this proviso: the basement in the cafe, where the events are held, gets very hot very quickly, and after about two or three hours any event there turns into a grim endurance trial for the audience and, I imagine, the performer. I was lucky enough to go on during the first half, but as audience alone for the second I have to admit that I often found I couldn't applaud as much as I wanted to, purely due to fatigue from the overpowering heat. Helen avers, and I agree with her, that a key focus of the Poetry Society's fundraising in future should be getting some decent air-conditioning installed in the basement. I realise this may be a difficult one to get past a lot of poets, many of whom are very right-on when it comes to environmental issues: but I predict once they are told it may mean louder applause towards the end of the night, they'll fall into line. The whores.)

And so, after bidding goodbye to Helen at Gloucester Road tube station, grabbing a six-pack of Heineken from the Tesco Express for roughly what it would cost me to have a single bottle from the mini-bar, ordering some room-service nachos and sitting down to watch The Best of Rudetube (perfect post-gig entertainment: a programme entirely composed of silly clips off the internet, demanding absolutely nothing of the attention span) on the telly, I congratulated myself on a successful assault on the Capital. Tomorrow I would play Hebden Bridge, a tiny little town in the North of England. What could possibly go wrong?

Friday 1 October 2010

Only Built for Hyper Linx (this joke TM & (c) pretty much whatever actual day http was invented)

Trying to keep the blog ticking over prior to next week's busy travelling, during which I will probably be Twitter only. So it's time for that standby of the blog world, the links roundup.

First, via Helen at Bird of Paradox, disturbing reports of Transphobic attacks being carried out at the 3rd European Transgender Council. A reminder that even in progressive places like Sweden, you still get cisfail. And of course I'm sure there's no connection between these racist, transphobic knuckle-draggers feeling emboldened to throw eggs and the recent increased profile of the far-right Sweden 'Democrats'. This is yet another reason why you have to oppose right-wing bollocks wherever you come across it, even - especially - when that right-wing bollocks is wearing a respectable suits and talking to you in a reasonable and patrician voice about how cuts are necessary and we're all in this together.

Or indeed putting together badly-written blogposts in a pathetic attempt to slander people who oppose your policies, as Tory MP and oxygen-thief without portfolio Nadine Dorries tried to do this week. Dorries' juvenile dig at disabled Tweeter Humphrey Cushion, which Dorries launched on her delightfully retro blog (designed in the style of a rubbish turn-of-the-millenium geocities page), helped along with an underhanded little assist from inexplicably-popular right-wing life-fail Paul 'I masturbate wearing a Guy Fawkes mask' Staines, has so far had the effect of...getting the Talented Ms Cushion a shedload more followers and causing Dorries to be pulled from tonight's Newsnight, presumably on the grounds that anyone who thinks that's a good blog design is clearly incapable of reasoned discussion and probably shouldn't be allowed near electrical equipment for reasons of health and safety. Fine work there by the Dorries/Staines tag team, who on this showing are the worst male/female combination since Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire. Great work, guys!

In happier news, it was lovely to see that my friend Angela Readman has had a story accepted by Metazen: read it, it's good. Then buy her books, because they're even better.

Finally, while trying to motivate myself to get on with preparations for the Cheap Date Poetry Tour, I youtubed John Adams' classic piece 'A Short Ride in a Fast machine', and uncovered a number of versions of it, most notably two intriguing animations, and a nice bit of speeded-up video of Paris. Interesting in particular to see how each of these different pieces handles the unusually slow part of the piece, that brief pause in which it gathers strength for its final assault and its final leap into musical hyperspace.

And speaking of brief pauses to gather strength, today has been mine. I probably shan't be in touch with you again until I manage some breathless blogging at the end of next week's exertions, so until then, goodbye my dears *curtsies, waves, accepts bouquets* Until then, mwah! x