Tuesday 29 September 2015


You will be allowed to form the impression that there is something called ‘closure’, and that this is something you can somehow ‘get’. You will chase this impression and you will do stupid things. You will confide in the wrong people. You will confide in the right people, but you will confide in them to the point where your confidences become a wearying burden, to the point where even you will be able to identify the micro-expressions of tiredness and tension that ghost across their faces when you open your mouth after taking your third drink. Gradually you will find yourselves not winding up at the same parties, and you will wonder if they are avoiding you. They will assure you they are not, but things are really taking off for them right now and they’re so busy and it’s a shame.
You will tell them you know how that feels! But you will think things are not taking off for me.

You will post things, in the middle of the night, that will lead people to send you messages asking if you have people around who can help. You will think if that was the case, would I be saying this here, asshole? You will think that’s code for ‘people other than me’. You will reply oh I’m fine really, just venting. My flatmates are sleeping. They’re here but they’re sleeping. I promise I won’t do anything stupid. You will feel that you have, in fact, just done something stupid.

You will form the impression that the way to get closure is not to surround yourself with Negative People. You will prune your friends list. You will be relentlessly upbeat. You will stop being invited to parties but you are okay with this because your body is a temple and alcohol is a poison. You will stand in front of your bathroom mirror repeating words and you will go to work and hit targets and smile and laugh at the jokes your line manager makes. You will focus on attracting what you want. You will start sharing photos with inspirational sayings on them from sites with vague titles. A friend will send you a long email, with links, explaining that one of the photos you have linked comes from a site which opposes vaccination for measles, and which by a conservative estimate is responsible for a global uptick in deaths from this disease. You will delete them. You will not surround yourself with Negative People. Another friend will send you a message explaining that one of the inspirational messages you have shared is actually a quotation from Mein Kampf. You will delete them. You will not surround yourself with Negative People.

You will go out to a party with the local Positive People you surround yourself with and at this party you will have your first drink in months. Three drinks in, the Positive Person whose album ‘Beach Pictures 2014’ you have committed to memory will start talking to you about how jet fuel cannot melt steel beams and you will realise that you have spent six months of your  life surrounding yourself with Aggressively Delusional People. You will suddenly realise that you are utterly sick of angels, love languages, changing profile pictures to spread awareness of colorectal cancer, betting your mother you can get 5 million likes and teaching your kids lessons about how quickly nudes can spread on Facebook. Five drinks in you will tell the Positive People how sick you are of all this, and ask them if they, honestly, aren’t sick of it as well? Don’t they know about measles? Don’t they know about the Hitler quotes? Have they ever thought of checking? Do they never think that okay, maybe it does take more muscles to frown than it does to smile but maybe those are muscles you might one day need, and if you can do Kegels every day then surely to God you can allow yourself to frown?

The party will wrap up halfway through your sixth drink. In the morning you will have fewer friends on Facebook. They do not surround themselves with Negative People.

Friday 25 September 2015

Thursday 24 September 2015

Sometimes I call you mine (content note: contains discussion of sexual assault)

Sometimes I call you my rapist,
and that feels wrong somehow,
but I cannot keep saying the woman who raped me
every time I mention you,
and cannot say your name

I only know your first name anyway,
and in saying even that I turn accuser
and am too aware how easily my case could be undone,

an accuser who’d been drinking when it happened;
an accuser who’d consented, at the start;
an accuser who, at the time, was presenting as male:
an accuser who’d be bound to fail, in court.

So I, out of need for variation, name you mine:
My rapist. It feels wrong. Too intimate
somehow, suggests collusion, a joint enterprise
between us. It takes two,
they say. Two, babe: me. You.

It smacks of going steady and those creepy ‘50s love songs:
Every night, I hope and pray
this fear will go away,

but I cannot say your name, and
the woman who raped me sounds clunky and anyway
is legally someone who can’t exist:
English law defines rape as an act
committed only by the male. It’s sexual assault
when women do it. As if the two are easily distinguished,
but the woman who sexually assaulted me
is clunkier still than the woman the law calls impossible,

so, sometimes, you are my rapist,
and I wonder if, in some sense, that is true:
was I the only one? You seemed surprised
that I said no. Was it shock that spurred you on
as much as malice? Or instead of it?
And do I want that? Does it make you better,
or me special, if it was only the once?

It doesn’t matter if I’m one or one of many.
I may call you my rapist but we know that isn’t true.
Whatever law or rumour says, whoever else there was,

you were never mine. You were the rapist I ran into.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Tell me the truth about love...

Photo by Suzi Corker for Apples & Snakes

So today sees my entry in a series of blog posts on the Apples and Snakes website concerning Public Address: The Soapbox Tour. I've used it to highlight something which people who've been following this blog for a while will know has been much on my mind lately: the idea that performance poetry was once something often mentioned in the same context as performance art and now, well - it isn't. I want to try and bridge that gap, to see how far you can add performance art elements to spoken word gigs until they become...something else.

There are various ways in which I'm doing that. Some involve me handcuffing myself to microphone stands, or stripping, while reading certain poems. And the piece I'm doing for Public Address, which Apples and Snakes describe as a 'fierce but fun poetry/live-art crossover' involves something else again. And it's something I need your help with.

Regular followers of this blog will know that one of the topics that has been obsessing me for the better part of the past year is the mercurial nature of romantic love. How do we define it? What behaviours constitute it? How well do these match up with the idealised version of said emotion which dominates our culture? What, with apologies to 90s one-hit-wonder Haddaway, is love

It turns out to be kind of hard to define. And that's why I'm asking you, readers, to define it for me, and to define it operationally. I don't want definitions of love in terms of feelings or vague abstractions: when you've been in a loving relationship, what has your partner done to show they loved you? 

And on the flipside of that, when you've been in a relationship that's gone terribly, terribly wrong - what did your partner do that proved it wasn't love? 

I've been asking people to provide answers to those two questions for months now. I'm using the answers I've got so far in the piece I've prepared for Public Address, 'Shotgun Wedding'. But I need more. And I want you to give me those answers.

The Public Address ensemble, plus guests: l-r Henry Raby, Justin Coe, Jasmine Gardosi, AJ McKenna, Shagufta K, Helen Seymour, Ingrid McLaren and Keisha Thompson. Photo by Suzi Corker for Apples and Snakes.

There's a twist, though: I don't want you to tell me which question you're answering. 

I'm asking for you to give me your answers via Twitter (my handle there is @AnathemaJane) using the hashtag #becauseyou... I want your answers to be concrete, to be specific, and - ideally - to be provocative. But I don't want you to tell me whether they're acts of love or acts of violence - the audiences on the Public Address tour will be deciding the answer to that. 

To get you going, here are a few submissions we've already had. Which side do you think these fall?

#becauseyou said you would sing at my funeral
#becauseyou say you love me in your sleep
#becauseyou taught me self-mutilation doesn't always need a knife
#becauseyou squeeze my shoulders
#becauseyou got me strawberries and nothing that I asked for

You get the idea, I hope. I'll be asking for submissions every day between now and the end of the tour. The answers will be randomised and will form part of the final piece. I'll also be tweeting a random reason from the list every day, and asking what you think. 

So please, spill it - how did you know it was/wasn't love? Because...

Friday 11 September 2015

Pattern; Recognition

(Content note: this post is a sequel of sorts to an earlier post concerning an incident of sexual assault, and as such discusses the same topic.)

I've been rereading Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother? recently. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of how important reading Bechdel's previous graphic memoir, Fun Home, was to my decision to come out as transgender. While I love both books, I admit the later memoir is not as effective as the first, not as immediately gripping. However it has, in its own way, led to another revelation.

Are You My Mother? suffers from a sort of Difficult Second Album Syndrome: quite a lot of the book is devoted to Bechdel trying to work out how to write the book, and this means it isn't as immediately gripping as Fun Home. Bechdel spends a lot of her time in this book visiting various therapists trying to solve the problems caused by her upbringing, and trying to fit in a lot of material about a particular (long-dead) psychoanalyst who fascinates her, Donald Winnicott. Fun Home handled its allusions - to Proust and Joyce mainly - with a lightness of touch that seems to elude its sequel. Yes, there are long digressions on Ulysses or In Search of Lost Time, but these are mere dressing to the book's main concern, Bechdel's reconciliation with her father. In the later book, a lot of the Winnicott stuff, the therapy stuff, seems to overwhelm the text. We are denied the same immediacy in witnessing Bechdel's relationship to her mother.

On my most recent pass through the book, however, it occurred to me that this is only a problem if you assume that Bechdel's mother is who the book is about. Taken on its own merits, and not judged by the standard of Fun Home, it quickly becomes clear that the plot of this book is Bechdel trying to work out the plot of the book. Are You My Mother? is a book about a woman trying to write a book called Are You My Mother?, that being the book you, the reader, now hold in your hand. It isn't quite metatextual game-playing on an Italo Calvino level, but it was enough to really lift the book for me, and give it a feeling of, well, yes, jouissance et plaisir et tout le jazz. It felt a little like striking the right note on a tuning fork and finally working out exactly what key the instrument ought to be tuned in (does music work like that, exactly? I'm a massive musical bluffer. But you know what I mean).

And it was this notion of finding the right key which led me to my own somewhat meta-textual revelation: almost everything I've written this year has actually, on some level, been about the experience I wrote about recently on this blog, of being sexually assaulted by another woman in my early twenties. Almost every word I've written and, indeed, the words I've had others write on me.

The Duke of Burgundy sequence is obviously heavily influenced by my attempts to work through that event, as is the odd, thematically linked series of poems about how fucking terrifying I find the concept of romantic love (quick update: I no longer find love quite so terrifying, but this is because - as part of the piece I've prepared for Public Address: The Soapbox Tour [which, you'll be entirely unsurprised to hear, was also heavily influenced by what I experienced in 2002] - I've had to interrogate my thoughts about romantic love very heavily. The conclusions I came to, which involve the idea of emotional and libidinal cathexis which Bechdel explores in Are You My Mother?, as well as my own interpretation of the concept of Relationship Anarchy, will be dealt with in another post).

My review of Peter Strickland's film was, it seems obvious now, massively influenced by me reliving that event: in fact, it seems pretty clear at this distance that both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness as a review is the fact that I wrote it in the aftermath of feeling full-on triggered by the moment in the film where Cynthia violates Evelyn without her consent. Incidentally, this is why I have very little time for the line of right-wing bullshit which maintains that because of trigger warnings we will create a generation of people unable to appreciate the Great Masterworks of the Literary and Artistic Canon: I believe The Duke of Burgundy is an incredible cinematic achievement, and it triggered the living shit out of me the first time I saw it. The two aren't mutually-exclusive propositions.

I mean, I liked it enough to get the safeword from the film tattooed on my arm. The safeword that is, crucially, ignored during the very scene that triggered me the first time, the scene in which Evelyn essentially tells Cynthia to stop and she...doesn't. At this point, I don't think either of us need to page Dr Freud to see the significance of that piece of body art.

"If only we could all just say 'pinastri' to end our torments..."

And so on, through everything else I've written since this Spring (well, maybe not everything - my Magic Mike XXL review doesn't seem to have bore any traces of the crime, which is probably why it was the thing I've enjoyed writing most so far this year). Candour, which was written after a creepy online encounter with a woman who reminded me far too much of the woman who raped me; Clarkson, which starts out as a poem about the quondam Top Gear host but very quickly becomes an anguished rant about consent and rape culture; Hell, even my post-election rant ('Morality is what we do in the dark. What we do when no-one's watching.') is probably coloured by my decidedly untranquil recollection of that experience.

Admitting what that experience was has been difficult, but I can see now that it was where a Hell of a lot of my work this year was leading. And that realisation is the tuning fork sounding, the sudden revelation of the key I need to tune to. I'm not quite sure what I do with this artistically yet but I can now see that doing something with it artistically is what I'm trying to do. And bits of that will feed into Public Address, and it will massively inform what I do with my Howl of the Bantee follow-up show, Feeling Helpless Safely - which is, it's now dazzlingly obvious, a show which is all about consent, in terms of text, structure, and staging - and it'll probably be a major part of the slightly weird thing I'm working on that might just be a novel, and for all I know it's something I'm going to be addressing in my work for quite some fucking time...

...but I'm addressing it. That's what this story's about.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Upcoming Performance Dates

Your periodic reminder of where I'm performing in the next three months!

12th September: Queer'Say at RichMix, London, 8pm
17th September: The Stanza, Chillingham Arms, Heaton, Newcastle, 7pm (this is a benefit gig for refugee aid. All performers are donating their proceeds from the door split to support refugees in Calais. Do come, do buy tickets, do donate for the free books from Borderline Books, do chuck money in the bucket).
18th September: Trans*Figurations 2, Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, London
14th October: Public Address: The Soapbox Tour at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle, 7:30pm
17th October: Public Address: The Soapbox Tour at The House, Plymouth University, 8pm (part of the Plymouth International Book Festival)
25th October: Public Address: The Soapbox Tour at Bloomsbury Theatre, London, 7pm (part of the Bloomsbury Festival)
26th October: Public Address: The Soapbox Tour at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, 7:30pm (part of SO:To Speak)
29th October: Transdimensional Space Goats, Manchester
13th November: Public Address: The Soapbox Tour at Hexagon Theatre, Birmingham, 7pm
19th November: Stand Up Tragedy Presents...a double bill of What About the Men? Mansplaining Masculinity by Dave Pickering and (oh yes) Howl of the Bantee by AJ McKenna. Dogstar, Brixton 19th November.
Yes, folks, Howl of the Bantee is coming to London...