Monday 27 June 2011


As you might surmise from the relative silence on this blog in recent times, I've been busy. June has been a hectic month, with lots of gigs and, more importantly, a lot of preparations for gigs as well, so most of my downtime has been spent chilling out recently. This entry is mainly just a round-up of the recent gigs for people following this blog who may not also follow on Twitter or Facebook.

The first major gig in June was the Jibba Jabba Showcase at the Leazes Fringe of Newcastle Green Festival, held at the Trent House. This was the first gig for which I was billed as AJ McKenna instead of my non-writing name (on the flyers at least), but initially it was a gig I wasn't keen to do on the day - not for any big reason, just because I was feeling really tired the day I had to do it. I forced myself to go though, and I'm glad I did because in the end I did an absolutely blistering set - no major surprises, just the usual stuff - Tension, Eggshells, A Short Course in Suicide Writing and On Looking Back into the Mosh Pit - but delivered in a really vigorous, exciting way that went down really well with the packed audience - many of them new attendees who'd came because of the Green Festy connection. I left on a massive high. The lesson here is that, unless you're really, really, seriously bad, you should always, always force yourself off your comfy sofa and out to gigs. It's worth it.

Later in the month came Take Ten at the Cumberland Arms, just this past Thursday. This was a really special gig for me because I performed two new poems - Other Peoples' Things, which I'd written for Monkfish Collective's 'Hand Me Down' extravaganza at Stockton Arc, and My Revolution Will Not Be Trivialised, which I wrote just recently. I was really pleased with the reception both these poems got, particularly the latter, which I was very nervous about reading - but again, I'm glad I did. The feedback was uniformly positive, and the room was pretty much blown away. My only criticism was that in the heat of the moment I altered my set after reading it to finish on Mosh Pit again - I had originally planned to finish on The Secrets, Almost Silent, that We Sang, which I think was a better thematic fit, but I was worried that more strident trans activist poetry might be laying it on a bit thick, so decided to go with something more universal. Probably a mistake, but to be frank after reading Revolution whatever else I read that night didn't make much difference.

But the main reason I've been busy was last night's gig at the launch of Spill Culture Club: a half-hour, curated group performance with other members of Apples & Snakes' Tyneside Scratch Club which featured two poems from me, one, Criminally Fragile, done reasonably straight (or as straight as possible given I was wearing what I now call my 'fuck with gender' outfit of white shirt, black tie, trousers and braces teamed with fabulous make-up [AJ McKenna is brought to you by 'Electric Plum' lipstick from Rimmel London - this concludes this brief word from our sponsor]), and then NSFW, done as what I suppose I ought to call a multimedia performance piece with guitarist Matt Harrison and dancer Angeline Lucas. This was a frankly awesome performance, and the reason I, a usually shy person not much given to the blowing of my own trumpet, french horn, or indeed euphonium, can get away with saying that is that Matt and Angeline did such a good job of bringing the piece to life for me, and for the audience who watched with rapt attention as Angeline literally writhed her way around the words, and around Matt's sumptuous, serpentine guitar riffs. An awesome spectacle, and one I feel privileged to have been part of.

So it's been a busy month! July will be a little quieter, with fewer gigs & rehearsals, as the local writing scene goes into its customary summer break. But I'm really pleased with the way these June gigs have gone; and, as all three gigs have been filmed, I hope to be able to provide followers with links to the performances so you can see them too as soon as I can!

Thursday 16 June 2011

Wrestling with Timelords; or, how I learned to start worrying and doubt Steven Moffat

One of the nice things about blogging is that you don't always have to keep to your beat. So while this blog mainly concerns itself with trans issues, poetry and politics, I can occassionally indulge myself by wittering on about some of the more minor subjects on which I waste cognitive capacity, such as sci-fi, professional wrestling or, in this case, both.

(It ought to be pointed out that from this point on the reader must consider the phrase 'Spoilers, sweetie' to have been uttered in the husky tones of Alex Kingston.)

First, some context. After reading a chance link from a friend, I came across Lawrence Miles' Dr Who Thing, wherein quondam Who-scribe Miles voices, among other things, his concerns about current Who-showrunner Steven Moffat. Now, Miles clearly has a little bit of an axe to grind, but that's understandable: an intellectual property he takes seriously and for which he used to be fortunate enough to write has now moved decisively in the direction of a kind of sci-fi he can't stand. But it did set me pondering what I thought about the reign of Grand Moff Steven, and particularly how it contrasts with the Russell T Davies (RTD) run, which I enjoyed a great deal.

Today, those thoughts crystallised with the news that in 2012, we won't get a full series of Dr Who, but a series of 'specials', rather like the awful 2009 run of the show, in which lazy, overly dramatic foreshadowing replaced the things that had made RTD's run up to that point so much fun: good forward continuity and a drip-feed approach to foreshadowing which was far more effective than 2009's 'have someone say something dramatic at the end of the episode' strategy. What worked really well in the RTD series was the way that mentions of Bad Wolf, Torchwood, or Mr Saxon would be scattered throughout the series in a way that piqued the viewers' interest and kept them guessing. Think about how subtly some of it was drip-fed as well: Bad Wolf in Series 1 was used as the name of a power plant, for heavens' sake. Sure, they lampshaded the fact they'd hidden the clue by the end of the episode; but if you knew Welsh and had been paying attention, you'd have spotted it from the start.

Compare that with Moffat's way of introducing his big unifying plot-point in his first series, and the beginning of his second: to have characters constantly shout 'The Pandorica will OPEN! Silence will FALL!' at the Doctor during dramatic moments. Not exactly subtle, that.

About the only half-interesting thing about Moffat's Motifs was the fact that they both meant the opposite of what we assumed. The Pandorica opening was, we assumed, some kind of container that would unleash ultimate evil. In fact, it was a prison for Matt Smith's Doctor. The dangerous thing wasn't the Pandorica opening, it was when it shut. In fact, when it opened the second time, that was actually a good thing.

How 'Silence will fall' panned out was, if anything, even more ridiculous. Instead of the Doctor being silenced, we were instead treated to a new alien race called THE Silence...which fell. Boneheaded literalism at its worst. But from a  certain point of view it might seem cool, because it wasn't what the fans expected. It was a swerve.

And that was when I realised what worries me about Steven Moffat. The thing about Moffat's writing which really worries me, more than budget cuts on the show, more than Lawrence Miles' musings, more than anything else.

What worries me about Steven Moffat is that he is Dr Who's Vince Russo.

Let me explain. Vince Russo was chief booker (a position roughly analogous to Moffat's show-runner position, though dealing with steroid cases drenched in baby oil rather than RADA graduates, so probably a slightly more pleasant working environment on the whole) in the WCW wrestling promotion. And he gradually destroyed said promotion due to his obsession with throwing swerves into storylines. Used sparingly, this can be a good tactic in a wrestling promotion: a large part of your audience has seen how most storylines pan out before and thinks it knows what to expect; so throwing them a curveball once in a while, as long as it adds something to the storyline, keeps things fresh. Russo's problem was he began to use swerves all the time, and he would throw in swerves which made no sense in the context of the storyline, just because they were swerves. Russo became obsessed with booking in such a way that the expectations of smart marks and internet wrestling geeks would be confounded. This pissed off the geeks because they saw through it, and it confused and upset the more mainstream wrestling audience because stuff was happening which made no sense whatsoever and was also kind of ridiculous and what in the crap was David Arquette doing with the Championship Belt, for Hogan's sake? It was a complete mess, but in Russo's view, it was working brilliantly, because, hey you didn't expect that, didja?

And that, to be honest, is what I fear in Moffat's epoch. Let's face it, 'The Silence' should have been a big clue. Moffat, seeking a way to make a swerve out of a phrase with such obvious implications as 'silence will fall', was forced to invent an entirely new alien race, with a convenient amnesia-inducing superpower, purely to service a pun. The existence of the Silence is hard to square with other elements of Who mythology, and the way the Doctor deals with them is out of character on a number of levels - but ha ha, do you see, the Silence fell! You didn't expect that, didja?

And this leads us, inevitably, to the revelation that River Song is Amy Pond's daughter. Does it make sense chronologically? Just about, I guess. Does it make sense emotionally, in terms of Amy's character? Or in terms of River's arc? I'm not so sure about that. How old is River? Does she age at a normal rate? Does she regenerate (and if so, why doesn't she regenerate when she dies at the end of the Silence in the Library two-parter?)? How does a human parent deal with a baby who's part timelord? How will this be dealt with when Karen Gillan finally leaves the show? What about the rather horrid emotional aspect of River's revelation - the exploding Amy, the exploding baby, the whole damn women-in-fridges ickiness of the origin? Has any of this been thought through?

I rather think not. To be honest, River's Revelation doesn't really seem to be something thought-out and planned. But it's a swerve, and I worry that, to Moffat, that's all that matters.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

My revolution...

With Gil Scott-Heron having died recently, I think it's inevitable that most poets will have had their thoughts turning to ripping off one of his poems doing a tribute to his effect on poetry. I considered it for about two minutes or so, then rejected the idea on the grounds that, while I love The Revolution will not be Televised, I Think I'll Call It Morning and Lady Day and John Coltrane, doing a 'tribute poem' would be, well, kind of a wanky, sophomore thing to do. So there I left it.

And then...

Browsing through a dating site (because I am, ah, I may have pointed this out on occassion, available), I came across a woman with one of the most bile-filled dating profiles I've ever seen. A profile which - on a site supposedly known for open-mindedness etc - she waxed at great length about how she would not date, and I quote, 'TGs, TS's, CDs and TV's' because she only dated women and 'no matter what you do to your body you weren't born a woman etc etc'. Because nothing will endear you more to prospective dates than a rant about how you hate a minority group.

Same old same old, really. Trans people are used to this kind of attitude. But what got me was the sheer dehumanising effect of that parade of initials. TS. TV. CD. TG. Not trans people. Trans labels. Trans categories. Externally imposed. The stuff of porn-mag back-page adverts; the brand of the oppressor used to differentiate each particular category of untermenschen from the real people. And it hurt, and it got me angry, and so I found myself ranting away to myself in the shower and started repeating the phrase 'I am not a TV, I am not a TV, I am not a TV...' and some associative faculty was triggered and I began exploring that metaphor of not *being* a TV and so, well...that's how we got here:

My revolution will not be trivialised

I am not a TV:
I am not available in flat-screen
Sony Widescreen hi-definition 3D
I am not something for you to gawp at
from the comfort
of your cisnormative settee
I do not pour forth bile at
people like me nightly
I am not a TV

I am getting ready for a
but it may not be
in 2012
and it will not be digital
at least not initiall-y:
I am not a TV.

I am not a CD:
I am not exactly
long enough to hold
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony;
I contain so much more.

I am not a CD
though I am allowing a lady
with a laser to unlock me
firing her beams into my pits and grooves
re-editing my data
remixing me
into what I want to be

but I am not a DAT
a Minidisc, an MP3,
a DVD, a PS3 or Nintendo Wii
and I am not a CD.

I am not a TS:
my life is not a waste land
waiting for the touch of fisher kings,
though I have seen death undo so many:
Andrea, Brenda, Mariah, Estrella,
Myra, Faith, Amanda and all those with no ID,
sweet ladies who were never bade goodnight
and had time called in spite of how they hurried;
but who were more, in their time, than Eliot’s tired seer,
more than his reingold borrowings and Sosophistries,
alive, undoing death with every step
across the bridge from one state to another.

I may wind up measuring my life
by each dose of HRT
but TS is not a label
that you’re gonna pin on me.

I am not a TG:
I am not a droid, a replicant, a Nexus-3,
I am not a minor character from ST:TNG,
I am not a space oddity:
there is nothing futuristic about me.

Those who lived like me
are found throughout your history:
Herculine Barbin, the Chevalier D’Eon,
The Priests of Attis, Elogabalus, the Amazons,
Moll Cutpurse, Jan Morris, Lili Elbe, Christine J,
Nong Thoom, Wendy Carlos, Lea T,
Lynn Conway without whom I couldn’t type on this PC,
but there’s nothing futuristic about me.

I am not a label,
I am not a category,
my only initials are AJ
and you will respect that about me,
but if you come for me
with labels intended to dehumanise,
to delegitimize my trajectory,
project your own lack of humanity on me:
I will change your channel,
make your tracks skip,
rewrite your past, and your future
the way you want to edit me:

so, if you please, respectfully,
hear and acknowledge me:
I am not a TV, CD, TS or even TG:
I am me.