Sunday 13 January 2013

Outside the Walls

Another cafe where all seems to be at peace,
the civilised side of the shield of Achilles,
where frothy, caramel-flavoured confections are served
to folk who, nodding, read the words
of one who'd happily see me dead.
They read, they nod and then, well-fed
they trundle off to buy more stuff.
That two boys knife a third? That's tough.

Outside this wall we only skulk in tents,
all of us, not just one. The foe's defense
impregnable. They sit content,
drink cocktails, weave and keep mute score.
What can we do? We never chose the war.
They wage it on us just for who we are.

It always comes back to bloody Troy. And Auden. I've been reading Daniel Mendelsohn's Waiting for the Barbarians this week, and one of his essays, about a new translation of the Iliad, dwells on the fact that, far from having essentially taken place over one wild, out-of-control weekend, as in Wolfgang Petersen's film, the siege of Ilium actually lasted a good ten years, during which the Greeks became progressively more and more disheartened by the lack of the comforts they'd enjoyed before the war, while the Trojans, behind their strong walls, were safer and more comfortable. This idea, of an embattled force fighting an insuperable opponent has been much in my mind both because of that article and because every intervention against the transphobia of Moore et al just seems to have brought even more transphobia from commentariat types who genuinely think making one of their own feel bad is a greater crime than engaging in hate-speech. It's easy to feel as if we're trapped outside a city of people who sit at their ease, safe behind high, strong walls that we will never, ever manage to break down, while we lose our strength and tear ourselves apart. 

Except...every comment I've seen about Burchill's hate-speech on Twitter or Facebook, with the exception of bile from the usual radfem suspects, has been negative. I have never seen as many people talking about not buying the Guardian ever again, or as many people who identify as leftists hosting the post on their own sites to deny the Grauniad - the house newssheet of the British Left - pageviews for its trolling. We used to only do that for articles from the Mail, for goodness' sake.

There are now almost 3,000 signatures on a petition demanding an apology from the Guardian Media Group on its first day of being up. Ninety per cent of those who've voted on a poll hosted by the Independent newspaper's website say that Burchill 'went too far' in her comments. The Observer Readers' Editor - who you can email here - has already said he will look into the issue after the sheer volume of complaints received today. One of the unexpected consequences of this explosion of hate from La Burchill has been the fact that most people have responded by saying, loudly, that Burchill does not speak for them. A trans man I follow on Twitter even said that his parents, who insist on telling him he's 'just a lesbian actually' contacted him to tell him how appalled and disgusted they were by the article. Hell, even this blog's habitual betes noires at the Torygraph have criticised Moore and Burchill for, inter alia, 'refusing to show any grace to a minority that, by all standards, has it pretty rough.' 

Far from demonstrating how powerless we are, how alone we are, and how hopeless our struggle is, the reaction to Burchill and Moore's hate-speech has shown that we are listened to, that we have support from many people outside the trans community, and that, most vitally of all, we have hope. The model for our experience in light of Moore and Burchill isn't Achilles or Odysseus, but Pandora. 

The devils have all been unleashed; hope remains. 

Saturday 12 January 2013

You must be certain of the devil: on anger, art, and supermassive sense-of-humour shutdowns

I said to myself, last night, that I wasn't going to write about the Suzanne Moore thing. Partly it's because Stavvers at Another Angry Woman has written about it much better elsewhere. Partly it's because the whole thing has just upset me to the point where I genuinely feel unable to trust the leftwing press even a tiny little bit: not only was it the New Statesman, a magazine I've loved since I bought their issue about the 1992 Clinton election victory in a flush of teenage lefty pride, that initially gave Moore her platform; not only did the Guardian, the paper I've read the Saturday edition of every damn day since I was old enough to hold a broadsheet - every day except today - give Moore even more column inches in which to keep digging; but I woke up this morning to find Glen Newey, on the London Review of Books blog, making a vain bid for that quality much-prized among compulsive masturbators, 'edginess', by referring to a portrait of Kate Middleton as resembling 'a male-to-female transsexual'. I don't know about you, but the thought that the Holy Trinity of British Left Publishing was now effectively trolling its trans readership really put a dampener on my day. Reader, I almost bought a copy of the Independent, until I remembered it's owned by an ex-kegebishniki.

Then I looked at the copies of A Lady of a Certain Rage that arrived yesterday. And I thought about rage, and femininity, and what I thought was, really, how sad and tawdry the whole affair's been, and how much I wish Moore had had a better editor or, let's be honest about the state of publishing these days, an editor at all.

Because the fact is that if an editor - perhaps one who'd read the style guide available from Trans Media Watch - had wielded their blue pencil and changed 'transsexual' to, say 'swimwear model', I'd have been reading Moore's article and agreeing with it. I think female anger at oppression is an amazing, beautiful thing. I think all anger at oppression is an amazing and beautiful thing. There's a reason you will always find me moshing out if 'Killing in the Name Of' or 'Head Like a Hole' comes on in a club where I happen to be. And that's the same reason you'll also see me going crazy if 'Just a Girl' comes on, and that's because female anger includes me. Or it should. If you're a woman in this society, under this government, you damn well have a lot of things to be angry about. If you're trans, you have a whole lot more. Not the least of which is the idea that in order to 'pass', in order to satisfy the medical gatekeeper system - a system which, as this week's other, unfairly-neglected big trans story, pointed out, massively abuses its power - the one thing you should never, ever, ever do as a trans woman is allow them to feed you after midnight get angry.

Sod that. I'm a heavy metal kinda gal. Anger is an energy. Oi, bondage, up yours! I listen to Diamanda Galas for kicks and I'd rather have a Francis Bacon atrocity picture above my fireplace than a lovely landscape by Constable or Gainsborough or Thomas bloody Kincade. All the art and writing I admire is as angry as Hell, and that's the mode in which I choose to write, and perform, because, let's be honest, it's a messed-up world, and if you're going to do anything as an artist you may as well remind people that's what it is in the hopes that maybe, maybe, if you shout loudly enough to grab their attention, and make them laugh with you at the absurdity of it enough times then maybe people might get off their comfortable butts and change something. It's not that every single thing I write is written in anger, but I think anger deserves to be honoured. Especially in a world where so many of us are forced, day in, day out, to plaster on a Big Fake Smile and 'delight' people we've never met with our Customer Service skills in the hope that they might buy a donut/magazine/novelty Jubilee dildo.

The dark has to be honoured, too, otherwise it breaks through in weird, bad ways. A real artist accepts every side of themselves, and the world, and makes art with and about them. That's the bargain.

The problem is that this is very much a Devil's Bargain, and you have to go in it with one eye open and the fingers of one hand crossed tight behind your back. You need to keep enough distance from your anger to keep it controlled and in perspective. This is where humour comes in. Humour, and its near-neighbour in the dictionary, humility. The fatal overstretch when you make art from anger is that you identify too much with the anger itself, that you begin to take yourself too seriously. It's no accident that many times the best humour comes from the groups in society which have most reason to be angry, the people who've had horrible shit done to them. Everyone thinks humour is a survival technique, and it is, but the thing is that the humour helps you survive the anger, not just the initial bad situation. It's not so much that you have to laugh or else you'd cry, more that you have to laugh or else you'd kill a bunch of people and never stop until somebody shot you in the head.

And humility, too, because you will fuck up. That's what should have been carved over the portal of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and if they were the Stoic Mysteries instead it damn well would have been. None of us is a Paladin of Ultimate Right, none of us gets things spot-on all the damn time, none of us is perfect and we need people to point this out. That's why the Romans had a guy who whispered memento mori to the Emperor during triumphal parades, for goodness' sake.

And that's what upsets me so much about Moore's Imperial, de haut en bas reaction to criticism, as detailed  herein. It's a supermassive sense of humour failure. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Moore to admit she fucked up and try to learn and try to write better stuff. But that, she won't do. The bland, bland praise of fandom and the commentariat circle-jerk have convinced her she is above criticism. And she lacks the humility to see this is what's happened, because she's spent so much time angry, so little time leavening the anger, that righteousness has decayed into its qliphothic form, self-righteousness.

It's a cautionary tale. It's an example of why you must be certain of your rage, as you must be certain of the devil. Because none of us are as beautiful, as righteous, as terrible as angels. But some of us do burn like stars exploding, and some of us die in gutters and are buried under names we never wanted, and when you forget that those people matter every bit as much as you and maybe more, when you allow yourself to be seduced into disregarding justified criticism because you're a Big Important Writer...that's when you've lost it.

And you deserve every bit of the rage directed at you. And, as much as you might like to paint yourself as one, you are not a victim.

And that's all I have to say on the matter.

UPDATE: Actually that's not quite all. Judging from this piece by washed-up fake-punk has-been Julie Burchill, the Grauniad really is deliberately trying to troll their trans readers just to get fucking pageviews. I knew Alan Rusbridger was desperate to stop his paper collapsing, but I didn't know he was desperate enough to copy the Daily Mail's business model.

Today was the first day I didn't buy a copy of the Saturday Guardian. Last Saturday, it turns out, is the last time I ever did.