Saturday 20 March 2021

So where the Hell was I?

It occurred to me that some of you may have been wondering what I was up to while this blog was on radio silence for a few years. Probably the best way for you to get up to speed would be to get yourself a copy of England is the Enemy, a collection of my post-Brexit poems, essays, rants and, in some cases, accounts of bizarre ritual activities undertaken to try and undermine the Tory party. It's currently only available on Kindle, because soon after the ebook launch the lockdown began and I had other stuff on my mind:

Probably the best place to get an idea of what I was doing during lockdown would be my YouTube channel, where I posted most of the poems I wrote responding to the crisis, the ineptitude of the government's attempts to manage it, and the propaganda we had shoved down our throats to try and cover for that ineptitude. 

And since this is rapidly turning into a check-out-what-I've-been-up-to post I may as well include my album Jolie-Laide in this list. Recorded back in 2016, myself and my producer, Natalie, didn't get around to doing anything with the poems from these sessions until last year. It's a good snapshot of where my head was at at the time, and I really love what Natalie's done with Ms Beast

So that's what I've been up to. What am I working on now? Well, 'stay tuned' is kind of a cliche, but let me give you a little hint...

Thursday 18 March 2021

Caveat Coda: an inadvertent masterclass from Julie Burchill, of all people

I wasn't planning on writing about the situation which arose at the weekend again, but sometimes the universe drops something in your lap which is too good not to use. And so it was yesterday, with a demonstration of the correct way to respond to your publisher being exposed as a bigot coming from Julie Burchill of all people. 

Now let me begin by saying that I do not usually consider Julie Burchill a moral exemplar, and most of the time my rule in all things is to try and behave better than she would in any given situation. Burchill is a massive transphobe, and she was recently successfully sued for damages by Ash Sarkar after she tweeted Ash with the same kind of Islamophobic shit I've had screamed in my face when I've gone on demos against neo-Nazis. The fact that the book Burchill is shopping around publishers bears the thuddingly witless title Welcome to the Woke Trials on its own ought to be enough to establish that generally speaking, she's not someone to emulate. 

But having said that, when Tabitha Stirling, the sole director of Stirling Publishing (who had stepped in to publish Burchill's screed after Little, Brown dropped it as a result of Burchill's Islamophobia), was outed as a member of the fascist group Patriotic Alternative, Burchill withdrew her book from that publisher. 

 Now, I don't have any doubt that Burchill only did this because of the optics - she had previously described Tabitha as 'just like me', and Stirling's husband had ran for Edinburgh Council on behalf of the definitely-not-fascist-sounding For Britain party in 2018, so the clues were there - but the fact remains that, when informed of links between her publisher and a bigoted organisation, Burchill took material action even at the cost of inconvenience to herself. 

I never thought I would find myself saying nice things about Julie Burchill, even if only in comparison with someone else. Because remember the poet I mentioned back at the start of Saturday's article - the guy whose poem written on the back of the murdered body of Sarah Everard was so rubbish I felt forced to intervene? Well, I made him aware of what I discovered about Valiant Scribe after he posted so happily about them agreeing to publish said poem. And did he do what Burchill did when the fact he was being published by a bunch of bigots was brought to his attention?

Reader, he did not: 

I don't know about you, but I would like to think that, when it came time to make a choice (even, perhaps, a 'choice of life', though my being trans certainly wasn't something I chose), I'd behave with more integrity than Julie Burchill, but there you go. Poets, eh? 

Monday 15 March 2021

On not naming names

So predictably enough, after my post on Saturday exposing the links between Valiant Scribe and some homophobic, transphobic religious fundamentalists, some people are focusing on the least important part of that whole story - specifically, the poet whose story I briefly recap in the opening paragraph as a way of explaining how Valiant Scribe came to my attention. 

It is suggested that it is terribly unfair to the poet in question to not share his name. Personally, I see it as a courtesy. If I had shown my arse like that I would be grateful people weren't spreading my name around.  Still, some, losing all sense of proportion, speak darkly of 'whispering campaigns' and even, ridiculously, 'McCarthyism'. So, as Obama would say, let me be clear

I have no interest in being respectful towards people who conflate the destruction of lives and livelihoods by bigots like Joe McCarthy with a few people warning each other about the behaviour of someone they mutually know. Where some see a 'whispering campaign', I see a whisper NETWORK, and such networks have been absolutely vital in keeping women, queer people and others of marginalised identities safe. Here's a story for you: a few years back, when I was a lot less broken than I am these days, I seriously considered expanding into the continental European spoken word circuit. When I asked a friend for advice about this, one way she offered to help was by giving me one of the Lists so dreaded by our soi-disant defenders of free speech - specifically, a list of all the European spoken word promoters I should not share accommodation with, because based on their behaviour towards other female poets, they would probably try to sexually assault me. There is a reason such lists exist and are kept secret from the people who are on them: Britain's toxic combination of a massively imbalanced, unduly punitive system of libel laws, and a prosecution (never mind conviction) rate for rape and sexual assault cases which is so low as to effectively make rape legal here.

Since being offered that list, I've since been made aware of people in the UK scene who are equally unsafe to be around, which means that for me, practically speaking, there are some venues I do not go to for my own safety. Because these people are tolerated by the scene, and because openly exposing them would (a) leave me open to allegations of libel and in some cases (b) break the expressed wish for privacy of the people who confided in me, the number of venues at which I can perform is lessened. Funny how this never seems to factor into the discussions of how this stuff impacts 'freedom of speech'. Where's mine?

And, sadly, as with sexual assault, so with transphobia: both are rife in the UK poetry scene, and both mean that there are venues some trans people do not feel safe performing in, effectively alienating us from the scene. And once again, the perpetrators are protected by the draconian libel laws of this country - I've witnessed with my own eyes a poet and promoter use libel threats to suppress public acknowledgement of their transphobia.

So excuse me if my desire to protect myself and other trans people from harm upsets your respectability politics. I stopped caring about whether I hurt cis people's feelings a long time ago.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Caveat Poeta

 Until today I hadn't heard of Valiant Scribe. I might never have heard about it at all, if a poet acquaintance of mine hadn't publicly boasted about them publishing a rather underwhelming piece of verse he'd scribbled in response to the murder of Sarah Everard. Like most of my poetry friends on Facebook, my initial concern was that this kind of self-promotion, on the back of a murdered woman, would have been distasteful if the poem had been a brilliant piece of writing - which it decidedly wasn't. It didn't occur to me to look into who Valiant Scribe were until I'd spent most of the day going back and forth with this guy and his sycophants over whether one ought to adopt the idiom of William Topaz McGonnagal in writing about a woman's murder. 

When I did finally look, something seemed a little, well, off about the enterprise. It was a little too slick, a little too bland, a little too obviously something with money behind it. So I did what I used to do back when I called myself a journalist: I started digging. 

The obvious place to start was the magazine's editor, Debra Eyis. The information about her on the Valiant Scribe website described her as the co-leader of a group called the Redeemed Writer's Group, and a contributor to a Christian site called Our Daily Bread (abbreviated to ODB - Big Baby Jesus in the muthafuckin house, yo). This made sense in terms of the Scribe's emphasis on 'faith' (helpfully parenthesised as 'Christian'), but what kind of (Christian) faith was this? I know a few Christian poets who combine their faith in God with social liberalism, but something about the Scribe's website made me suspicious. There was something they weren't quite being open about. 

There was a pattern here I was familiar with: a main organisation throwing up groupuscules like chaff, which all, when examined, seemed to consist of the same people. This was the modus operandi of the group which formed about the always suspiciously well-funded 'communist' periodical Living Marxism, which would go on to form the Institute of Ideas and Spiked magazine. And it's a pattern you also see cropping up in the ranks of organised anti-trans bigotry, where the same dozen middle class former Guardian columnists endlessly proliferate astroturf 'LGB' and 'feminist' groups to further their agenda of marginalising trans people. And sure enough, transphobia would rear its ugly head in connection with Valiant Scribe, but we'll get to that in a moment. 

Investigating the Redeemed Writers Group threw up yet another religious outfit, the Center for Faith and Work. The CFW had 'founded' the RWG, according to the 'who we are and what we do' page on the latter's website, but I was assured that the writers' group was 'now operating independently'. Not that independently though: the Resources page of the RWG website makes it clear the CFW were actively seeking pieces from group members on topics such as 'Cultural Renewal'. 

I don't know about you, but when religious types start talking about 'renewing culture' I get a little antsy. It tends to be the case that the first step in these plans for renewal usually involves at the very least curtailing the liberty of folks like me. And that unease was confirmed when I learned the parent organisation of the Redeemed Writers Group was Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a house of worship criticised by the New York Times in 1998 as 'being full of fundamentalists and zealous, newly-converted Christians pushing hard-line views'. The church pastor, Tim Keller, objected to this hardline label, though - and anyway, this was 1998. Perhaps things had changed since then?

They haven't. In keeping with the now-familiar pattern of obfuscation on the part of Redeemer and its literary satellites, it takes a bit of digging to find out their current position on The Gays. Fortunately, the website Church Clarity had done that digging for me, establishing that while no open, public statement of an LGBTQ inclusion policy can be found on the site, a 2015 'Redeemer Report' from Keller establishes their position: 'that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity ... and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.'. 

And ditto for trans folks. Remember I mentioned the other group Eyis is affiliated with, Our Daily Bread Ministries? Their publishing arm produced a book in 2017 called God and the Transgender Debate, by a rat-faced little fuck called Andrew T. Walker, which was described by ThinkProgress as a tract in which, despite 'the way he sugarcoats his condemnation in love and compassion', Walker, relying on the discredited research of psychologist Paul McHugh (who reckons trans people are mentally ill) produces a manual 'to help evangelical Christians reject transgender people in exactly the same way' their church has rejected gay people for decades. 

So that's the Valiant Scribe, then: a magazine associated with a homophobic church, whose editor also produces content for an evangelical ministry whose publishing arm demonizes trans people. One to avoid, I think, and a reminder to do your research before submitting your work. Caveat Poeta, one might say.