Friday 25 March 2011

Tomorrow, Life

Tomorrow I, like thousands of others, will be joining the March for the Alternative in London. We will march peacefully, we will assemble peacefully, and we will, peacefully, make the case that there is a better way to cut the deficit than George Osborne's misguided, ideologicaly-driven, economically and politically suicidal austerity program. Forget the scaremongering of right-wing demagogues who bleat about anarchists. These are ordinary people - people of all races, all genders, all sexualities and all social classes, abled and disabled, young and old, gathering and making our voices heard. This is democracy in action, and a more democratic coalition than that cobbled together when Nick Clegg threw away his principles for a chance at a stroll in David Cameron's rose garden.

I'm proud to be a part of this movement, and I hope that, if you're reading this, you are, or will be, too. And to be honest I don't really have a lot of time to do a detailed blog about it, because, among other things, I need to get my nails done so I look as fabulous as always for this historic day. So I'll get off now. I just wanted to let anyone reading here who doesn't follow me on Facebook or Twitter know that I'll be there. And if you do follow me on the second of those platforms, watch for a lot of tweeting over the course of the day.

And now...offski! See you on the other side, fight the power, and I leave you with the deep and resonant political analysis of Rage Against the Machine, fuck you, I won't do what you tell me...motherfucker!

Monday 21 March 2011

Always Outnumbered, Always Betrayed

It's a truism of politics - and of life, of which politics is merely an extension - that you hate your betrayer more than your enemy. This is why there is a greater reservoir of hatred for Nick Clegg than there is for David Cameron. Cameron is a Tory, and we know we can rely on the Tories to be horrible, hateful, bigoted scum, who'll kick crutches away from the disabled and burn babies' prams for firewood. But a year ago Nick Clegg seemed to promise a new kind of politics - seemed to be the personification of Britain's own 'Obama moment' - only to throw it all away for a shot at power, turning his back on the hope he represented and everything he told us he believes in.

So in a similar way, as angry as I am with Peter Kay I find myself angrier at Channel 4 when I read that said channel - which, just last week, to general acclaim from the trans community, signed the Trans Media Watch Memorandum of Understanding - is planning to repeat the very programme in which Kay first aired his transphobic caricature, Geraldine. Yes: on March 26th, a grand total of twelve days after signing the MoU, Channel 4 plans to air a programme featuring a character and a performer universally reviled by trans people.

Let's remind ourselves what Channel 4 committed themselves to do by signing the Memorandum. The Memorandum has four principle aims: to eliminate transphobia in the media, to end the provision of misinformation about transgender issues in the media, to increase positive, well-informed representations of trans people in the media, and to ensure that trans people working in or with the media are treated with the same respect as cis people in equivalent positions.

The relevant principles transgressed by 'Peter Kay's Britain's Got the Pop Factor And Oh For God's Sake Stop the Title We Got the Joke Ten Words Ago You Unfunny Buffoon' are principles two and three. Kay's caricature 'Geraldine' is nothing but misinformation about trans people; and this laughable transface mockery is far from a 'positive' or 'well-informed' representation. So why are Channel 4 doing this?

The only inference I can make from this scheduling decision is that they just don't care. And that in fact they never did. Channel 4 were happy to use Trans Media Watch's good intentions as a way to score a little good publicity (though notably less keen to trumpet their decision on their news programming - a reticence to show solidarity with trans people in the mainstream media thankfully not shared by others, such as the New Statesman's David Allen Green), but when it comes down to it, doing the right thing by one of the most vulnerable groups in society means nothing for Channel 4 compared to the cheap ratings pop a rerun of Kay's godawful talent show spoof will garner in the wake of his charidee single with Susan Boyle.

Should this really surprise us? This is the same channel that broadcast an episode of The IT Crowd which featured, as its comic climax, a cis man beating a trans woman unconscious; the same channel which broadcast Frankie Boyle making rape jokes involving a disabled child. This is the channel which only did something about the Big Brother racism scandal when rioters in India began burning contestants in effigy.

Fine words are all very well, but Channel 4 have shown again and again that they only do what's right when people put pressure on them to do so. Perhaps this is what Channel 4's head of creative diversity, Stuart Cosgrove was alluding to when he said that Trans Media Watch needed to feel free to 'shaft us' now and again (as reported by Chrisine Burns at Just Plain Sense).

Sadly, it isn't people like Cosgrove who wind up getting shafted, but trans people, again and again, when cis people act as if we don't really matter to them, as if we're not as important as profits or ratings or their own smug peace of mind. We may be a minority, but I'm sick to the back teeth of being betrayed by people and organisations I admire.

That's why I've started a petition to ask Channel 4 to live up to their promises and not air Peter Kay's transphobic comedy special again. Please sign, and send a message to Channel 4 that fine words and big parties are not enough: that we expect to see them act on the promises they've made, and that we'll judge the extent to which they really value and respect trans voices by their actions, not their PR.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Faithless Bodies

One of the things that really hurts about negative portrayals of trans people, particularly those that are made in the name of lowest common denominator 'humour' or just plain old mean-spiritedness, is that they're something we have to deal with on top of the problems the trans experience brings with it already. Two links I've seen recently have really brought this home to me again, in a way that moved me and made me think a lot about my relationship to my body.

The first was CN Lester's heartbreaking post about the relationship which s/he, as a trans singer, has with hir own body. As a classically trained singer, Lester finds hirself in a position where s/he feels s/he cannot take testosterone due to the effects it would have on hir vocal range. As a result, s/he finds hirself estranged from hir body, regarding it, well, as an 'it', an entity separate from hir self, an entity s/he has to work and negotiate with to achieve her ends. I've had this experience as well: the constant little ways in which my body won't do what I want it to; the moments when I think, no, that isn't me, that doesn't look like me, do I look like that? And the pain that brings.

The only way to stop that pain is to try and take measures to make your body align more with your sense of self. For example, recently, after deciding I'd finally had enough of the constant nightmare shaving was for me, I opted to start undergoing laser treatment to permanently remove my facial hair. And that has been great: I already have less of a five o'clock shadow after just one session. I would recommend it to anyone.

But when you're young, you have fewer tools available to you, and you can use less healthy methods to try and express the gender you feel. I was reminded of that by a line in another post about trans issues I read this weekend, on Questioning Transphobia:

The emphasis there is mine, and the reason is that that was my experience as a teenager. During my late teens, I became anorexic and bulimic (yes, I know you wouldn't think it to look at me now, thank you...) and that eating disorder was intimately related to my gender issues. I used to look at pictures of girls in 'lad-mags' and the third page of the Daily Star (I know, I know...) and note the way their hips jutted out at an angle...then I would feel my own hipbone, rubbing my hand on it and trying to decide if it was as visible as theirs. I used to watch Gladiators on a Saturday night and obsessively compare my weight to that of the female stars. I was overjoyed, once, to find that I weighed less than Panther and Lightning; though I never managed to get to the point where I was lighter than Jet or Nightshade. Probably just as well; getting down to their weight would've killed me.

What does all this have to do with stuff like transphobic comedians and conferences, you might ask? Well, it's simple enough: this pain is what we are already dealing with. We don't need anymore. Some of you may be aware of a meme doing the rounds on Tumblr about bullying, the essence of which is that people who get mocked for their supposed 'imperfections' are often struggling with things which their tormentors can't conceive of. As trans people we struggle with mental health issues, addictions, eating disorders, and all manner of troubles as a result of the dysphoria between the gender assigned to us by society and that which we feel ourselves to be. So having people drag up as caricatures of ourselves to get cheap laughs, or writing newspaper articles which call into question our bodily integrity - our right to bring our bodies closer to our selves - really does not help.

I want to end this post with two things. The first is Criminally Fragile, a poem I wrote last year which represented a real breakthrough for me, as the first time I'd been able to write something which worked about where my head was at during those mixed-up teenage years, and which is one of the poems I've written about of which I'm most proud; and, secondly, a song which got me through that dark period, and which I was reminded of today, reading CN Lester's link: 'Salva Mea', by Faithless.

How can I change the world, when I can't even change myself? I plan on doing both, to be honest. I do what I do in the hope that, in the future, some young trans kid like me won't have to worry about changing the world on top of everything else.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Comic Relief's Garlic Bread-heads Need to Show Some Damn Respect

First, the good news. This Monday, UK broadcaster Channel Four signed up to a historic memorandum of understanding with Transmediawatch, pledging to handle trans issues sensitively and respectfully. I can only welcome something like this, given the amount of times on this blog that I've raged against disrespectful and insensitive coverage of trans issues in the media. Trans Media Watch are to be commended for their excellent work in getting Channel 4 on board, and I look forward to seeing the new approach in action on that channel.

Sadly, however, it would seem that one of Channel 4's competitors, ITV, literally didn't get the memo. Because, in the same week that 4 made this historic step in trans representation, it was announced that next week, ITV's lunchtime ratings hit, Loose Women (note to American readers - basically a British version of The View) announced that they would feature their first 'transsexual' panelist. Who would it be? Roz Kaveney? Natacha Kennedy? Well, both those girls are a bit intellectual, a bit too removed from the celebrity, Heat magazine world  for Loose Cis Women...maybe Dana International would be more their speed?

Alas, no. Because it turns out the 'first trans panellist' on Loose Cis Women will not be any of these women, will in fact not be a trans woman at all, but will be...washed-up funnyman Peter Kay trotting out his tired old caricature of trans womanhood, Geraldine McQueen. But don't worry! It's all in aid of Comic Relief - because Kay is releasing this year's annoying Comic Relief novelty single as a collaboration with Susan Boyle. That makes it okay, right?

Well, no, not really. In fact frankly it makes me wonder what Comic Relief are playing at. In 2007, they literally wheeled Kay out, for another 'comedy' duet with his fellow bigoted 'comedian' (and previous target of this blog) Matt Lucas, this time making fun of disabled people with their 'hilarious' wheelchair-user caricatures Brian Potter & Andy Pipkin. And now here we are again, with Kay given free reign to mock some of the most vulnerable people in society - people Comic Relief ostensibly sets out to help.

It does make you wonder who Comic Relief exists for, doesn't it? Is it really about the charidee, mate, or does it exist to boost the careers of pointless, desperate, laughter-hungry failed humans like Kay and Lucas? What's Kay done on telly lately, besides those rubbish John Smith adverts? Well, he showed up looking off his face on the One Show...and that's about it, really. I know he's doing a series of shows at the O2 arena because he's now too up his arse to tour like a proper stand-up - and let's face it, sod the charities, that's what Kay is doing this single and his run on Loose Cis Women to promote. So why are Comic Relief indulging him with all this free publicity?

It's a legitimate question because, even leaving aside his transphobia, Kay is disliked by many in the comedy world. Channel 4 had to compensate an innocent man from Kay's hometown after one of Kay's shows apparently slandered him; he screwed collaborators Dave Spikey and Neil Fitzmaurice out of the credit for Phoenix Nights, the show which brought him to peoples' attention; he rubbished a routine by Noel Fielding - a comedian who, at his worst, is ten times more interesting than Kay - purely to court the affections of a single heckler in the room.

Anecdotally, people talk of him tightening mike stands as much as possible when he comperes shows, just so the acts who follow have to start their set fighting to get the microphone to their height; of other comedians refusing to speak to him backstage lest he steal their gags; and of him introducing performers by saying 'don't worry if the next act's shit, I'll be back on in a minute'. His autohagiography was so badly-written and contained so much chip-on-the-shoulder score-settling that sales for its sequel tanked so badly it was cited as a factor in the decline of the UK book industry; and his 'ecological' approach to DVD releases - endlessly, cynically recycling the same old material - has became an old, unfunny joke - much like the ones that litter his routines. Little wonder that, when he appeared to receive an 'outstanding achievement' award at the 2009 British Comedy Awards (I suppose spinning twenty minutes worth of stand-up material into a ten year career is some kind of achievement), the assembled comedians pointedly refused to give him the usual standing ovation.

Peter Kay used to tell jokes. Now he is one. When the laughs he could get by endlessly repeating the phrase 'garlic bread' dried up, he did what far too many rubbish comedians do and went to the endless well of transphobic gags. So far, so par for the course: regular readers will know transphobia in comedy is no rarity, and in fact this blog has gradually turned into a kind of Trans Comedy Watch, so often have I been forced to lay into yet another pointless funnyman for spreading prejudice with a liar's smile on his face; but what is special about this case is the support Comic Relief are giving Kay, and the platform they are giving him to ponce about doing his hateful caricature of a trans woman.

Trans women are one of the most vulnerable groups in society worldwide, as this blog and many, many others have documented time and again. Comic Relief claims that it exists to help the most vulnerable in Britain and throughout the world. That is a laudable aim. But it sits uneasily with providing a platform for a turgid little man like Kay to mock those very vulnerable people it claims to support. I had hoped they'd learned their lesson after the disgusting ableism of the Kay/Lucas video. Clearly they haven't.

This Friday, Comic Relief will squat on the Friday night schedules in its usual bloated manner, interspersing variety turns and almost-funny skits with tug-on-the-heartstrings real-life bits and asking, again and again, for our money. The money they raise does a lot of good. But let's be brutally honest: there are lots of other charities out there, and I can and do donate to those charities. I do charity gigs and I use my poetry to engage in activist causes as often as I can. I'm no Scrooge: I believe in standing up for the vulnerable and using my money to help them improve their lot in whatever way they can.

I'm a charitable person. But this Red Nose Day, Comic Relief will not see one red cent of my hard-earned cash, and they won't see any again until they stop allowing their shindig to be hijacked by hateful, transphobic 'comedians' like Peter Kay. Because transphobia is just not funny. Ever.

Sunday 13 March 2011

...because the bad things never went away

Microaggressions. A word I mentioned on here the other night, which led me to looking up the brilliant microaggressions blog on tumblr, which in turn led me to this brilliant blog about the kind of microaggressions trans people encounter on a pretty much daily basis. It's a concept - like cisgender, and kyriarchy - with which I think people should be much more familiar.

Which makes it more galling that today has been another day of having to deal with aggression and othering from a very familiar source.

Julie Bindel, like the trans toilets topic, seems to be an issue that one has to deal with on a regular basis as a trans activist. However much we make clear, again and again, how much of a transphobic bigot she is, people keep inviting her to give out with her views on trans people as if she's some kind of expert - whether it's the Guardian, Standpoint magazine, Queer Question Time or, most recently, The Royal College of Psychiatrists, who have invited Bindel along as the only non-psychologist to attend a conference on, allegedly, 'the most recent academic, clinical and contemporary thinking on transgender issues'.

Quite why Bindel has been invited, given this brief, is something of a mystery. She isn't an academic. She isn't a clinician. And, far from being 'contemporary', her views on trans issues are rooted in an outmoded, second-wave feminism with which fewer and fewer women - cis or trans - identify today.

Bindel has in the past written a fawning obituary for Mary Daly, calling her 'the world's first feminist philosopher' (take that, Mary Wollstonecraft!) but glossing over her racism, and her genocidal views that we should leave only ten per cent of the men on earth alive. That is quite some evil. Reducing a population by ten per cent is called decimation. I don't even know what the word for reducing a population to ten per cent is, besides genocide. Even the Nazis only managed to kill about 67% of Europe's Jewish population. Daly dreamed about genocide on a scale beyond even Hitler. But, to Bindel, she's a stand-up gal.

When it came to cis men, Daly's genocidal dreams were on a hiding to nothing. When it came to trans women, however, Daly was much more successful, as her apt pupil, Janice Raymond, with her views about 'morally mandating [trans people] out of existence', was able to influence US policy to ensure that federal and state governments would not fund surgeries for indigent and imprisoned trans people. I referred in my last post to the suffering of Rebekah Brewis, who is not receiving adequate help with her transition from the Oregon authorities, in whose mental health system she is currently incarcerated. Janice Raymond is a big part of the reason why; and Mary Daly is a big part of why Janice Raymond thought the way she did.

And now we have Bindel trying to carry on Daly and Raymond's work by addressing the Royal College of Psychiatrists about trans issues - issues she has no experience of. Issues she has, in fact, been dismissive of. And yet of all the people outside psychology they could ask, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has asked her to be the one who lectures to them on trans issues. Would the RCP ask Fred Phelps to be the only non-psychiatrist to lecture them on gay issues? Would they listen calmly to a lecture on Islam by Geert Wilders? Or would they rightly refuse to give a platform of academic respectability to bigotry?

It is exactly that kind of respectability which allowing Bindel to speak at this conference confers on her views. And by bestowing such respectability on her, the Royal College of Psychiatrists are delivering a clear message that they do not care about trans people. They are legitimising the transphobic views that drive the kind of aggression described by Asher Bauer in his blog above. They are conferring legitimacy on discrimination against trans people in healthcare, in housing, in employment, and in the streets where, year after year, trans people lose their lives to the violence bigots like Bindel enable.

As clinicians, the RCP are subject to the medical principle of primum non nocere - 'first do no harm'. By giving their imprimatur to Bindel, they cause harm to one of the most vulnerable groups in society. It's fortunate for them, I suppose, that they can prescribe tranquilisers - because if I was doing what they're doing, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

Saturday 12 March 2011


It's two in the morning and I'm awake. Don't rush to comfort me. This is actually a good thing.

It's a good thing because the reason I'm awake is a burning need to write. To get something down. To express something I haven't felt in a long time. Anger. And that I feel angry is a good thing, because for far too long I've felt, if not exactly depressed, then certainly worn-out. Beaten down. Burnt out.

It started with a little local difficulty at work. I won't go into details here - this blog has always prided itself on being as unspecific as possible about where I toil to earn my handful of scraps from the capitalist table. Confidentiality is one reason for this, but another, very important reason, is universality. I believe the problems I encounter at work - the problems most of us encounter in the warped work culture of the kyriarchy - are pretty much the same anywhere. When I blog about some aspect of work, it isn't because I want to have a dig at a particular employer: it's because I'm painfully aware that the issues I deal with at work are the same or very similar to the issues others deal with. It's an entire culture we're dealing with, a sickness that has metastasized through the entire body politic: and I need to describe the symptoms of that sickness in a way that's as depersonalised as possible. It can never be fully depersonalised, because suffering under such a sick system wounds me, as it wounds so many others, as it causes such a terrible psychic cost to our society as a whole; but adopting a 'no names, no pack drill' position allows me to sidestep the accusations of sour grapes that would doubtless be forthcoming if I were to get more specific, while at the same time allowing what I say to resonate with others. And the fact that it does resonate - that the responses I get when I write a poem like, say, Employer of the Year or Collude to Exclude, are expressions of weary familiarity rather than shocked incomprehension - rather suggests that this is a universal experience I'm writing about. Yemaya knows I wish it wasn't.

So, reader, you will understand why I don't wish to dwell on the problems at work that started off my downturn. After a certain point they became immaterial anyway. If it wasn't work it might well have been something else: certainly the kyriarchy showed no inclination to soften up during my own period of relative inactivity. Trans women were still being murdered, and misgendered in newspaper headlines. Disabled people were still subject to the vilest witch-hunt we've seen in politics in recent times. The Coalition still seemed hell-bent on turning Britain into a third-world nation to satisfy their big financial backers. All was fucked, all was fucked, and all manner of things would be fucked. But I lacked the anger to effectively deal with this. I was, as I say, burnt out. Like many of us from time to time, I felt as if I was repeating the same things over and over, banging my head against a wall and achieving nothing beyond throwing up the tiniest scattering of brick-dust and giving myself a concussion.

In that kind of headspace it can be hard to see the signs of hope. I saw the news finally start paying attention to groups like UK Uncut and The Broken of Britain; I saw Transmediawatch make progress signing media organisations up to a Memorandum of Understanding about trans representation; I watched as the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya did the impossible and stood up to their oppressive, western-backed elites. Intellectually, I could see that progress was being made; emotionally, it failed to register. I would see a story and think 'I should blog about that' or 'there might be a poem to be made about this' but beyond a sluggish recognition of that fact, I couldn't stir myself much further. Just this week, for example, I found myself moved by the plight of Rebekah Brewis, a trans woman being brutally treated by the Oregon authorities, whose case I learned about on the eve of International Women's Day, of all times, and thought that here was something I needed to speak out about, and here was a time when it mattered to say such things. But it didn't happen because, still, I lacked the fire.

To be fair, I was partly to blame for this lack. I had planned, during my week off in January, to take some time to simply relax. However, the discovery of a cheap rail ticket offer in a local paper set me off planning to do a gig in London, and then - since I had the week off - to do a bunch of other gigs elsewhere to take advantage of the situation. At a time when I should have been replenishing my strength, I pushed myself to my final reserves, desperate not to waste time, to get out there and get my message heard. And I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed those gigs and, without going to London, I'd never have encountered the brilliant work of Anna Chen, but the net result of all that gigging, all those late nights and long train rides, was that when I returned to my day job I was running on less than empty. I needed time out. I needed space to think. I needed to sleep in late and spend whole days doing nothing more strenuous than taking a shower and putting a DVD in the machine. I needed to fucking relax.

Fortunately, this past week, I've had that time. Another week off work coincided with a friend being away for a week and needing someone to look after her cats. This gave me the opportunity to take time off away from work, away from my parents and - because I couldn't travel - away from gigging. It was, in fact, a way to force myself to relax. I could go out during the day - and I have, to attend a fantastic gig by local women poets for International Women's Day, and to check out the John Martin exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery, to acquire nice things using a money-off voucher for the Body Shop and to mark what seem the first tentative stirrings of spring by buying and drinking my first bottle of Rose of the year - but I had to be in by the evening to feed the kittehs. Wild nights were out of the question.

So, for a week, I've been forced to chill. And, tonight, my friend came back. And, lying in bed, I found myself turning things over in my head. Thinking about things like the March for the Alternative later this month. Thinking about what I'd say at the gigs I have lined up next month, when I'll have longer sets to work with and more time to make my points. Thinking about the government, reflecting on stories my friend had told me from the union conference she'd been on, pondering cases like that of Rebekah Brewis, mentioned above, and the shameful reporting of the changes to clothing regulations for trans women that I've seen in the papers this week, and the efforts I've made, and continue to make, to shift my own gender presentation to an identity with which I feel more comfortable, and the microaggressions (and, lets be frank, risk of macro-aggressions) I have to deal with as a result.

And suddenly I didn't feel burned-out. I didn't feel beaten-down. I didn't feel tired and weak and useless. I didn't feel spent. I felt a whirl of emotions racing through my brain. I felt a desire to engage with those emotions properly again. I felt my fingers twitch to touch the keyboard. I felt my synapses trying on sentences for size. I felt - for the first time in months - angry. And anger, as John Lydon once pointed out, is an energy.

So. I am angry. I am shouty. I am ranty. And I am going to be ranting about a lot more things on here in the weeks and months to come. If you're reading this and you like that - and I'm going to assume, if you've been reading this for a while, that you do - I'd like to bid you hello again. If you're new to this blog, I'd just like to bid you hello. And if you don't like the thought of being ranted at by an angry, poor, left-of-centre trans poet? Well, you could probably stand to learn the most of anyone from this blog but, y'know, if the thought of acknowledging the opinion of someone who lacks your privilege really makes your guts churn and your eyes bleed? The back button is your friend, chum. Jog right on.