Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Let's Talk About Homosexual Death Drive Baby

Sunshine EP 

Homosexual Death Drive

                                Sunshine cover art

I swoon over Robert Mapplethorpe with a bullwhip up his arse and Vaginal Crème Davis shrimping someone's feet and my sisters Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson fighting in the street.’ – Theme, Homosexual Death Drive

I first saw Homosexual Death Drive perform in a squat in Camberwell some four years ago. I vaguely recall glittering golden shorts, Kayisgay’s Mexican wrestling mask and Charlotte Cooper’s Melodica. I believe there was also a miniature city made of cardboard which the pair terrorised then destroyed. What I remember very clearly is how they blew me away right from the first unholy refrain of their opening song, 'Theme', which goes like this: ‘First we fuck you/Then we kill you/Then we shit you/Then we eat you’. All against the sinister, unsettling, no-fi noise of toy instruments and retro electronica reminiscent of a satanic early 90s’ computer game. I was in love.

Homosexual Death Drive are a force badly needed in contemporary queer culture. They are two fat, older, feminist dykes writing unsettling and inappropriate songs. A disruptive presence in a scene that can be rather young, skinny and safe.
It would be easy to listen to the Sunshine EP from a detached, objective music journalist perspective and describe it simply as ‘disturbing’. I mean, it is, in some ways. And yet I listen to it and I can’t help but feel uplifted. This may seem contradictory given that the title track is a song about childhood sexual abuse with lyrics that do not skirt around the issue: ‘My babysitter stuck his fingers in me/Like a fireball master key/What it means I cannot see’. These lyrics kick in after an up-tempo intro of chirpy but discordant recorders, which continue throughout the track, making it sound like a demonic kids’ party. The track speaks partly of the weight of what happened (‘lifetime on my hands and knees’) but also of ambivalence (‘What it means I cannot see – oh sunshine/If I was there now what would I say?’) before concluding on the survival note of ‘It didn’t kill me/It didn’t kill me/It didn’t kill me’ which is, of course, a relief to hear. But then I think the whole song is about living - the catharsis of telling a story so frankly and unapologetically, uncensored and unrestrained by the way the survivor is supposed to express -or supposed to keep silent about- what they’ve been through. Although perhaps the ending is needed to give both singer and listener a chance to breathe.

The aforementioned ‘Theme’ is an ominous anti-social manifesto of queer nihilism which pours a gasoline over both hetero- and homo-normativity, then throws a match. All the lyrics are wonderful, I pretty much just want to quote the entire song, but you might as well just read them for yourselves. I will be repeating them to myself in front of the mirror every morning as affirmations.
‘Dead’ is my favourite track on the ep because I’m such a soggy biscuit and it makes me cry. Whilst ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Theme’ have a perversely queer carpe diem thing going on, ‘Dead’ has it overtly – it’s a secular hymn to being alive right now and talks about the death of Charlotte’s brother, at 24 (‘Got fucked up, crashed a car/Didn’t crawl from the wreckage’). It concludes: ‘When you’re dead you’re dead/It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been’. Which sort of sounds like a FAGGOT. lyric too so it must be good.

The joy of Homosexual Death Drive is that they are without shame, or at least they keep it at arm’s length enough to make something so beautiful and horrible as this ep (and I mean both those things in a positive way). They make music out of limited resources, they tell their stories fearlessly and in a way that is funny, painful, dark and true. And that is what being alive should be, no? Particularly in a world which would see many of us queers, survivors, freaks and misfits erased from this universe permanently, or at least censored, watered-down and tamed.

Official EP Launch - 22nd November (Launch event details  here -
(HDD are multimediaists. In addition to recording songs for their ep they have done a Beyoncé and made videos for them all. The videos add an extra dimension to the songs, enhancing the disturbing or beautiful elements, much like an acid trip. The video to ‘Sunshine’ is particularly acid trip like and watching it makes the track all the more intense. It’s shot on a disorientatingly shaky camera in a small English seaside town. Charlotte’s incredible Technicolor rainbow dress flaps in the wind and her hair blows wildly against the seafront, whilst a masked Kay makes for a sometimes claustrophobic and oppressive presence, but the feelings of optimism and life pour out at the end, as they do in the song itself. The ‘Theme’ video is pure filth – dirty doodles of spurting cocks and tits and shit and other fun fluids. ‘Dead’ is a very lovely under water video of Charlotte naked-swimming.)

Monday, 6 October 2014

Gone Girl and the Joys of Marriage


Poor heterosexuals aren’t having a good time of it at the movies lately. The gays got ‘Pride’, a film about solidarity, activism, youthful exuberance and courage, with characters you’d be hard pushed not to cry over the fate of; the heteros -notwithstanding getting most mainstream films the rest of the time forever and ever- got ‘Gone Girl’, a film about the most horrific marriage imaginable, in which none of the characters are even remotely likeable. But hey, Trent Reznor did the music!
I had no preconceptions about the movie by the time I went to see it, but when I first saw the posters I was concerned that given the title and aesthetic and fact that Ben Affleck was in it, it might be a sequel to Affleck’s shockingly bad directorial debut ‘Gone Baby Gone’. From what I can remember of GBG, a cute blonde girl with an evil neglectful slutty ‘white trash’ mom (film’s way of framing her, not mine) goes missing and a decent, hard-working, handsome, rugged cop, much beloved by the community (proven by the fact that the opening credits show old people, disabled people and black people smiling at him gratefully) must go on the hunt for her. At some point, a marauding paedophile kidnaps and kills a Latino boy, but that’s just to show how tortured the decent cop is, for he tried desperately to save the innocent young plot device. At least that’s how I remember it. There might have been some twist or a deeper message I missed or I might be remembering it wrongly but never mind. It was reminiscent of (based on?) the Madeline McCann case and displayed the exact same level of saccharine sensationalism and  lack of self-awareness the media had, and still has, around her. Of course that case was tragic but the way in which the cute blonde girl became a conveniently marketable figurehead for innocence, whilst the marauding unknown paedophile was a convenient figurehead for evil was pretty vile. What happens then when the victim isn’t cute, blonde, conveniently marketable, or innocent?  
Anyway, ‘Gone Girl’ was far from the po-faced shite of GBG, although it was a completely ridiculous film and probably one you’ll only watch once but that doesn’t mean it was without merit. ‘Gone Girl’ also features a missing blonde, but a grown-up, and much of it is a send-up of the media sensationalism ‘Gone Baby Gone’ embraced, and a take-down of marriage/family. I found it a bit disturbing, but also gripping and at points wrongly hilarious.
Essentially Nick (Ben Affleck) is a writer who marries another writer, Amy (Rosamund Pike). Amy was made famous by her creepy media-savvy parents who detailed/cashed in on her life throughout her childhood (when she was a cute blonde girl) via a well-known picture book series called The Amazing Amy. The first two years of Amy and Nick’s marriage are blissful but then shit happens such as recession and the illness of Nick’s mother, which means they both relocate to his home state of Missouri to care for her. She dies but they remain, unhappily. They have money troubles and Amy’s enormous trust fund starts to waver, they begin to resent each other. Nick is a pretty useless human being and completely unmarketable to the TV-watching public, so when Amy disappears under what look like violent circumstances and the media begins its personality-driven circus of a campaign to find her, Nick’s wooden lack of charisma, and the news that their marriage was extremely unhappy, means he is believed by all to be an abuser and a killer. My favourite character in the film is the bitchy Southern Belle news reporter who revels in gleefully diagnosing Nick as a sociopath in an incestuous relationship with his sister, on the basis of one photo. Nick’s character doesn’t win any hearts and his apparent confusion in the first third of the film is interspersed with excerpts from Amy’s diary which describe him as violent and abusive. It seems like it really is him. Having built up all that we cut to Amy, who it actually turns out is insane and has set up her husband to look like he killed her so that he will be charged and get the death penalty. She employs several methods to do this such as writing over two hundred phoney diary entries, meticulously studying internet web sites related to crime scenes and murders in order to stage her own, befriending one of the gossipy suburban locals (whom she actually has nothing but contempt for) and convincing said suburban local she is pregnant and Affleck is dangerous. Amy intends to commit suicide by throwing herself in the river eventually, with the blame firmly on Affleck, so deep is her hate. Things don’t go entirely to plan and, after a real murder and some more setting up of another deluded, highly strung, ex-boyfriend, Amy eventually returns to her horrified husband who has by this point worked out what she’s been up to.
With the media in the palm of her hand Amy makes it so that her husband can never leave her, kind of the most terrifying bit of the whole movie for me is that realisation. My favourite part is when Affleck’s character implores Amy they should get divorced after she has returned, stating that if they stay together they’ll only make one another’s lives a complete misery and destroy each other. She turns to him without missing a beat and states, ‘That’s marriage.’ It made me so glad to be queer and single.
Of course, like absolutely everything, it’s problematic. I mean, Amy frames the loserish but essentially average dudes she dates not just for murder, but for rape and domestic violence as well. The reality is that it’s usually the case that rape and DV are excused and covered up, particularly in the sacred realm of ownership that is marriage. BUT the film is so trashy and far-fetched that it does not hold itself up as credible. The only parts which really ring true are the send-ups of media scapegoating and small-town gossip, rather than it being commonplace for there to be Amy-like characters motivated to do what she does and capable of doing so. It also takes shots at the sentimentalising of certain types of woman, and the factors which get women deemed virtuous and worthy. Amy pretends she is pregnant which makes her instantly beloved by the nation because -of course- the true destiny of all women is to breed. All this is ridiculed with dark humour of which I am a big fan.
                So yeah, a pretty unsettling film, but very funny in parts, and also a total movie equivalent of a page-turner (unless you read this first, in which case it’s RUINED) and one that cuts through the sanctity of marriage, monogamy, nuclear family and heterosexual relations. Also, everyone who suffers the most in the movie is a cis white straight man, so that’s fun, given what movies and the world are usually like. It’s pretty special too, the way it keeps you gripped without having a single likeable character in it, though I did love the news reporter because she was so shamelessly evil and vacuous.
Not bad for a cheap Sunday night! Even if I never did get to see Ben Affleck’s junk, allegedly featured for a fraction of a second in the shower scene near the end.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Monday night

Whenever I see my parents I feel like a failure.

The other night I met up with my mum and dad and brother and my brother’s partner. His partner is pregnant and they are about to buy a house. Mum and dad are staying in London and we go out to dinner with them at a restaurant. Both my brother and his partner have successful jobs and my parents did have pretty successful middle class jobs too, from which they recently retired. I lie to them about still having a job as a part-time apprentice gardener. I was doing that for a while, but like most of my attempts at wholesome employment it didn’t work out. I’ve spent most of my twenties and early thirties unemployed or under-employed. In fact I do have a part-time job as a sex worker but I don’t tell them that, not because they are moralistic but because I know how much they worry.
I don’t believe success should be measured by the type of work you do or how much money you make or whether or not you own property, as this ridiculous system of economic exploitation under which we live says it should. I don’t believe it’s any better or worse to be a sex worker than a gardener or an academic or a cleaner or anything else. I don’t even think my parents really see me as a failure, but there’s no mistaking the fact that somewhere I’ve absorbed the guilty feelings social norms of success and failure and my nice middle class upbringing have instilled, and I spend a lot of time feeling like a disappointment.

I changed my name five years back to something more male and a few years ago I requested my mum and dad call me by that name. They occasionally forget but on the whole they do pretty well at it. I haven’t actually told them I’m trans; I know they wouldn’t disown me but it feels too exhausting and uncomfortable to explain. We don’t talk about personal things, apart from when I occasionally bring them up because of the ten years of therapy I’ve had which of course bewilders everyone else who hasn’t been in therapy and is apparently still more emotionally well-adjusted. For the type of relationship we’ve always had I wonder if it’s worth the effort.
I usually make the effort around trans stuff. Even with people I don’t expect to understand. I exist, as perhaps all of us do, in separate worlds which I often wish weren’t so polarised. There’s what I once would have described as the queer community, now the world of queer discourse, mainly played out on the internet rather than face to face, and even when it’s the latter it’s not unusual for the internet to dictate how face to face stuff will go. I find the world of radical queer social media pretty depressing. Whilst I do want identities to be recognised and respected, I don’t want to live in a world where to make a mistake or to not keep up-to-date and in agreement with the latest assessments of art, language and the world as stated by the most right-on tumblr post (often typed in North America), could result in permanent ostracism and a much re-tweeted character assassination labelling your very being Unsafe (who is safe?) or Bad Forever. Most of us came to the queer community fleeing a dogma which said we weren’t good enough, I can’t help but feel that’s continually being replicated in many queer and trans networks now. Then there’s the rest of the world I socially inhabit which I can’t help but notice none of the queer internet discourse have even remotely touched, such as at different jobs I’ve had, university, most gay bars, the library, the gym, the GUM clinic, the doctors, Weatherspoons, etc. When I’m not passing as a twelve year old boy in these spaces, it’s not uncommon for me to tell someone I’m trans and male sixteen times to have them look at me like I’ve just declared I’m Michael Jordan or demand to know when I’m going to have ‘the operation’ (the mystical single operation which will change my every physical characteristic into that of a Real Man) and referring to me as female every time we meet subsequently because I still don’t have a beard and haven’t reminded them what I am in the last five minutes.
Of course I’m generalising like the bitter old man I am - not everyone in the queer/trans networks of which I am loosely a part, or the world I live in outside of them is like that and I understand the reasons behind both when they are. The queer internet culture of character assassination is often responding to genuine injury and sometimes to legitimate rage and sometimes the wish to fight oppression, it’s just the way it’s done which makes me despair. I used to partake in scapegoating people myself before I couldn’t ignore the fact I was no purer than anyone else. The people who aren’t of that world and can’t get their heads around the queer/trans stuff are often baffled by a concept completely alien to them which they have gone their entire lives without hearing of. I try to be as giving as possible to those who know FA about trans stuff because I don’t want to lampoon someone just for not knowing, then again I also don’t want to be eternally passive forever submitting to other peoples’ definitions of me. I often sink into myself and go silent when things are too hard to explain, similarly the internet makes me want to withdraw.
The other night with my family I disengaged for a bit and played with the sugar sachets on the table of the bar. They were in a little white pot. My mum noticed what I was doing and pulled them out of my reach, like when I was a teenager probably.
My brother and his partner know I am trans and refer to me as male usually, but they know my parents don’t officially know, so I think they’re a bit stuck as to what to do at dinner. I’m sure my parents would love me whatever, even if it’s in that stiff English way where it’s almost impossible to express your feelings.
We meet in a bar and the barman ID’s me. I feel ambivalent about getting ID’d but it means I am being read as male rather than female, which is progress, even if it’s as a twelve year old. I know a lot of trans guys get pissed off about being infantalised and sometimes I do feel quite patronised when being read as super young (when I’m not perversely getting off on it). But actually the more times I don’t get ID’d the more I long for it, because the choice for me is to be read as either a twelve year old boy or thirty year old dyke. (Disclaimer: I love dykes and I have been one and that history is part of what I am today, but boy is more me now).
I know the IDing is likely to happen so I have my only form of ID -my passport- at the ready. The barman cannot believe I was born in 1983. Dad laughs for ages as he finds the IDing hilarious, particularly as I am older than the barman. I don’t find it funny because to me it’s just normal. I wish my parents understood what was going on so I wouldn’t have to explain.
We go to the restaurant and the waiter gives everyone wine except me. He addresses me as ‘young man’ and asks if I’d like a soft drink. I don’t know if my parents hear the young man bit. I’m so happy when I get called this, who cares if he thinks I’m not old enough to have a glass of wine with a meal? I tell him I’m 31 and he thinks I’m joking. I show him my ID. My mum talks to him about me and refers to me as ‘she’ which bothers me so I decide I’m going to have to tell them. Soon. I want to say it there and then – say it’s because I’m a transgender guy and a lot of us look really young.
My mum remarks that she doesn’t understand why he thinks I’m so young, I do look young but not that young. It’s because she’s looking at me as a woman I suppose. I want to tell her. I drop hints, ask my brother’s partner when I’m going to become an Uncle and of course mum and dad must know something’s up, but then I figure now isn’t the right time to come out again. There isn’t a lot of material out there accessible to the mainstream around trans people who don’t go down the medical route, and even the stuff about those that do is dire, predominantly essentialist media tropes about trans women such as ‘oh my god! she’s really a man!’ or, if more liberal, ‘oh my god! she used to be a man!’ There’s nothing to differentiate me from a butch dyke to most people so I decide spitting out a trans identity-politic spiel when drunk to those of a different generation and world who would probably just be confused by it isn’t the best way to go.
  They must think we’re terrible parents, mum says, remarking on how every time I go to a restaurant or pub with them I either get ID’d or stared at by someone who wants to ID me. Like I said, sometimes I get off on being read as a twelve year old boy, sometimes I wonder whether it’s helped me absorb this image of myself as a kid who can’t quite reach adulthood and be courageous about the stuff I want to be courageous about. The term trans man always felt wrong for me, trans boy felt more right, but I think that’s because I have trouble feeling grown up. And by grown up I don’t mean to succumbing to all that social conventions demand of me, but perhaps not feeling like a kid who can’t stand his ground.
There’s meant to be this story where you grow up out of your oppressive biological nuclear family and find your ‘logical’ family, but sometimes queer and trans networks just feels like another set of parents/school peers and I feel just as uneasy about expressing my difference there as I did growing up or do in conventional spaces. I doubt I’m special in this respect.
When I get back home I want to drink more but I’m trying to cut down. I go to the supermarket opposite my flat and buy alcohol-free beer. I’m so into alcohol-free beer, it’s the only thing I allow myself to drink when I’m alone, otherwise there would be nothing to stop me. A few years ago I used to spend my days lying around in my pants at home drinking cider - I was depressed all the time, now I lay around in my pants drinking alcohol-free beer and only being depressed most of the time. And I can start drinking beer as soon as I get up!
However, the alcohol-free beer has 0.05% alcohol in it, so once again I get ID’d.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Briefs: The Second Coming

I felt moved to write a blog post because the other night I saw Briefs - all-boy, all-drag, all-faggy, acrobatic, burlesque cabaret from Brisbane, and I can’t get the image of the final solo performer, Mark Windmill aka Captain Kidd, out of my head. 

The whole show was wondrous fun from the very first underwear-and-feathered choreographed disco number, through the array of stripping, burlesque, acrobatics and all-round camp humour and subversion. 
Drag was used in its widest possible sense and animal drag featured prominently. Acts included pet-inspired drag, with a John Waters-esque gross out moment; Evil Hate Monkey, who was very fond of his phallic banana and sticking it in the face of various male members of the audience, encouraging them to take a bite (whilst I don’t want to speculate about anyone’s sexuality, let’s just say he didn’t go for the guys you would obviously read as gay); and a movie-inspired performance which included a re-enactment of the Serial Mom ‘Is this the cocksucker residence?’ prank calls. It’s all hosted Fez Fa’anana aka Shivannah, a Samoan-Australian drag queen of glorious wit and presence. 

There are political aspects to Briefs I think, but in a way that eschews the monotonous earnestness of many supposedly radical queer performances I have seen over the past ten years. The Southbank is of course uber white and middle-class, so the humour and politics are pretty refreshing for both a queer show and a night at Southbank.  The Briefs boys dress in spangly, torn-up Australian flag outfits for the final group number, but with the Aboriginal flag prominently spangling over the top of it. Fez at one point jokes when two of the white performers are cleaning the stage after Mark’s performance (which leaves it soaked) ‘Finally, I’ve made it! I’ve got a couple of white boys cleaning up after me. My people have been cleaning up after white people for years. All I can say is we did a damn better job of it!’ as well as shouting, ‘FUCK TONY ABBOTT!’ and saying all proceeds from the evening will go to feed starving children in poor third world countries ‘like New Zealand’. Above all it was refreshing to see a queer performance which incorporated politics, where the performers and audience were actually enjoying themselves.  

As one of the friends I went with pointed out, Briefs is a big fuck you to straight white masculinity, the ease and strength and stage presence of the performers make macho norms look as weak, contrived and pathetic as they are. I have often felt despair at the idea that as a trans guy I should aspire to dominant ideals of what it is to be a man, which I find gross and fucking boring. Briefs is an excellent antidote to that.

Back to Mark Windmill’s performance, in which he is suspended, holding on with various parts of his body to a ring above a gigantic champagne glass of water, occasionally splashing the audience as he performs acrobatics from above. It doesn’t sound as amazing as it looks, and I doubt a video could do it justice, because although what he does physically is amazing, there’s something in his presence which makes it doubly compelling. Watching this beautiful boy, covered in glitter and tattoos, so at home in his body, defying traditional norms of masculinity, yet so totally strong and connected that you see every individual muscle move I actually felt like crying. I think it would have been moving whatever the case, but I guess as someone who at times feels confused about my own body, often not in the way I’m expected to, but as someone who often stresses about my gender and presentation…to see someone so comfortable, so at home in their body, so unbothered about the constraints of gender, made me feel like crying. It wasn’t just the trans stuff of course, it was that level of comfort and ease the performer seemed to have within himself. Imagine feeling that! Even for a moment. Of course I have no way of knowing what was really going through his head, but it was so powerful to watch.

Now I’ve made it sound serious. It was actually totally innuendo-packed, full of hot boys and many a call-to-arms for the casual alcoholic. Shivannah got one shy young audience member to drink tequila off super cute new twenty year old performer Louis Biggs’s body, zealously anouncing: ‘You can either go for the cheap salt we got from the fish and chip shop or the snail trail left by all the wanking he did last night and hasn’t washed yet, the dirty twenty year old!’ Girl from the audience looked mortified.

Acrobatics, burlesque, subversion, humour and snail trails of cum. Being queer is fun again. 

Captain Kidd

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

I don't care if forever never comes

Neko Case has been in my head a lot this week, particularly the album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, from which the above track comes. It reminds me of the last few years I spent living in Leeds. I unashamedly love That Teenage Feeling, even if it’s acoustic and the title is beyond cheesy, even though there’s pretty much nothing romantic about being a teenager -but maybe that’s why the brave friend Neko alludes to is still holding out.

As a teenager I hated nature and the countryside - I associated it with claustrophobic middle class car journeys and family day trips where there was an atmosphere of tension before one or more of us exploded or imploded. I aspired only to clubs which I was never let into, boys who didn’t fancy me (and I didn’t really fancy, but thought I should) and getting drunk on cheap vodka. I don’t believe in teenage innocence, everything matters too much at the time, at least it did for me, everything had to be analysed and compartmentalised until it was meaningless. I’ve spent much of the last few years trying to unlearn a lot of my ways of thinking since then and since before.
I moved to Leeds when I was 18, for University, I stayed until I was 24. During this period I changed my mind about nature. When I lived in Leeds I also spent a lot of time in the nearby Yorkshire country towns of Hebden Bridge and Todmorden. Working class towns, although increasingly gentrified, where many a permaculture-happy hippy, queer or lesbian migrated. Unsurprisingly several friends of mine either lived in those places or liked to visit. 

I first visited Hebden Bridge when I was nineteen, with my girlfriend at the time. She took me to Sylvia Plath’s grave as well as Hardcastle Crags and all the other places which had inspired Sylvia Plath’s and Ted Hughes’ poetry. A few years later -after that girlfriend and I had broken up, then got back together again in some fraught polyamorous arrangement- we were introduced to a place near Hebden called Lumb Falls. It was a small but impressive waterfall, with a plunge pool below it. It was surrounded by woods, so fucking idyllic you’d want to cry. We told all our friends about it and Lumb Falls soon became a top Leeds queer summer hangout; we’d all leap in from the waterfall. This was unnerving and we felt like we were being so brave; then we’d see fourteen year old local kids who’d find spots to jump from double that height who put us all to shame.

I went back to Hebden Bridge last week, visited the friend who I used to go out with as a nineteen year old then had the fraught poly relationship with. I don’t even think of her as my ex now; when we went out it was such a completely different period in both our lives. Anyway, she lives in Hebden Bridge now and co-runs a market garden there. Before I came I said I was looking forward to helping her out with it but one of my main contributions was almost chopping my finger off with a scythe and then getting irate about the possibility of losing said finger. There was so much blood I wish I’d taken a picture. Everyone else thought I was being a drama queen and it wasn’t that bad and they were probably right. I still have all my fingers and they all still work. 

Scythe incident aside -or maybe that adds to it!- it was so great to revisit Lumb Falls and Sylvia Plath’s resting place and see some of my friends again. Whilst back there I felt inspired to write something early one morning when possibly still a little drunk. Enjoy. Or call me a hippy. Or both.

NB Damage and fear are actually mine alone, the ‘we’ is just conjecture:

Full of damage and fear we climbed into the pool at the bottom of those falls, where the waterfall plunged. Despite some warmth from the now low sun, we shivered in the cold water. We slipped in on the green rocks as we entered, but soon got to the point where our feet couldn’t touch the floor. Where there was darkness. I still always get the initial fear at those points, fear of a hand or a crocodile or some monster lying beneath that will come for my leg and pull me to the bottom. No, there are no crocodiles in Calderdale, the mind isn’t rational.
We got used to the temperature of the water, swam around for as long as we could. When I got out I looked at my hand - the skin had gone from pink to white and the burn on my finger had turned purple where before it had been red.
We climbed into the water, scrabbled over the rocks. We didn’t jump in over the waterfall like we used to when we came here in our early twenties, before it was ever featured as a ‘must see’ place in the Guardian Weekend supplement. Now we've got The Fear -at least with waterfall-jumping- but even so I’m happier now than I ever possibly could have been then, the things that stalk me aren’t over with, but I have come to a point where I can see the slow beginnings of feeling at ease with myself.
From the falls I looked down across the river, surrounded by woods. That night we walked through the town and I found the hills that surrounded unbelievable, the big sky, all that space. I know it’s all the time spent in London; it was as though I’d never been to Hebden Bridge before. I must have been there nearly a hundred times.
When the sun set the sky became a shade of blue that signified night, blue but not black, as it was a couple of days before the shortest one of the year and didn’t properly get dark. As the sun was setting, what was left of the clouds turned orange. I kept thinking about the first time I went here with you, when we were going out, when I was nineteen. I can’t believe I lived until 31.
We sat on the bench near your house sharing a bottle of cheap red wine, looking out across the valley, and I kept repeating how happy I was. I tried to tell you all my thoughts on writing but I couldn’t articulate them properly and sounded like one of those eighteen year old Philosophy students we'd overhear in the bars in Leeds and laugh at from the wisdom of our vantage point of 23. I guess in writing terms, I am still the equivalent of one of those people. You told me about the things you were doing, how it was a struggle to keep afloat, but you read blogs by queer nomads who were hiking from Mexico to Canada and you told me about how they would write about being in the desert, their water and food having run out and they just had to keep hiking until they got somewhere with food and water. And you said to me, well, this is hard but at least I’ve got water and food and a roof over my head. And because my mind is drawn to dark things, I thought of The Road by Cormac McCarthy, a book which I instantly related to, the doom and the horror of it. I feel like I’ve lived that in my own head throughout so much of my life. In the book they just carry on because that’s all anyone does.  
I remember phoning my dad a few years ago. I was slowly trying to claw back my brain after experiencing an inevitable breakdown, something which most of my life had been building towards. I could eat again, that was something. I wasn’t back at work and I couldn’t stand being alone with what I saw as the terrible things inside me. I’d do better for a morning or an afternoon or an evening but the rest of the time was still fraught. I wasn’t sure it was possible to go on living with the horror in my head. The day I called him was a few weeks after the breakdown and I was sat on the grass of Islington green, waiting for a friend to go to a gig with, and I felt myself falling again.
I almost never talk to my family about anything personal, I called out of desperation, I was scared I had drained everything from my friends over those weeks and maybe I had sapped every reserve of empathy from them. I was scared to talk to most people anyway, scared to make myself that vulnerable.
I told my dad on the phone I was going crazy. The first thing he said was, ‘Don’t be daft! Of course you’re not going crazy’. Maybe that was the dismissive white male logic of a man whose motto of ‘just grit your teeth and get through it’ enraged me at the time, but for once I was grateful he’d said it, because I am gullible and part of me believed him. I don’t remember the second or third things he said, the last –which he admitted was cheesey- was that life is the greatest thing there is and even in a life of pain there are moments of light and it’s those moments a person has to live for. I was surprised my dad had said all the things I needed to hear at that moment. I realised that even though things aren’t always perfect between us and we will never truly understand each other, our relationship had become so radically different from how it was growing up, as to be barely recogniseable.
I don’t know if life’s the greatest thing there is, it’s just the only thing. Like writing is the only thing I feel driven to do no matter how frustrating and unrewarding it is. No matter if what I write is any good or not.

It’s morning as I write this. I make another coffee, prepare to climb to Heptonstall, make that obligatory pilgrimage to Sylvia Plath’s grave. And I feel all the shaken-upness in my body and heart and head I felt a few years ago when I could bear it no longer, when I was certain the only place it would take me was insanity, despair, death, and I feel OK.

Saturday, 3 May 2014


I strongly believe Peckham Library is the best place ever and if the entire world was destroyed but they left that square in Peckham which contains the Library, the gym and the notorious discount brand pub that sits ironically next to the gym, then things would not be so bad. I mean for me at least, soz if you didn't make it to the square, these things happen. That is Peckham for me, that and Rye Lane and Burgess Park, those are the places as yet undestroyed by gentrification where everyone in the community hangs out, the best places. OK, maybe the destruction of the world could spare Rye Lane and Burgess Park. Oh alright, Nunhead Cemetery too, but anymore and we may as well not destroy the world at all. 

I always feel such a sense of satisfaction going into Peckham Library. I used to work for Camden Libraries and I think all are great places, but perhaps I didn't feel the same sentimental attachment to Camden because I didn't live there. But attached I still felt. When I first started working there I was mostly at Highgate/Archway, young kids would come in from local estates and play in the children's library, they were all very interested in me and would try and work out whether or not I was a boy or a girl based on a series of carefully thought out questions and clues they'd collated. We'd have really fun chats about gender and whether or not it mattered and I introduced the idea that you didn't have to be one thing or the other, it felt a lot more honest, worthwhile and enjoyable than most chats I have about gender with adult queers.

Occasionally the Librarian would ruin it by trying to enforce gender roles on them. There'd be some after school craft thing and the kids would be making model people: 'Are you going to make that one a boy or a girl?' he asked one of the kids. She replied a girl. 'A girl? Well why don't you give her long flowing blonde hair?' he suggested. Like many of the kids who came into the library the girl was Somali and did not herself have long blonde flowing hair but that hadn't occurred to the white librarian. Sometimes a parent would come in and tell the kid what my gender was, or rather what they thought it was. Kids are way more astute than adults though, adults have been told how everything works so many times we believe it and cling rigidly to ideology, plus we've been told not to question, we can't be honest with each other because we've learnt that so many things about ourselves are wrong and we don't want to be further rejected by daring to be forthright, with kids stuff is still possible.

Anyway, a bit of a tangent there..I was originally writing this blog to talk about the last three books I read, all of which I got from Peckham Library but then I got distracted thinking about how great it was.

THE LONELY LONDONERS - SAM SELVON. Written in the 1950s, still completely relevant today and one of the best and most astute novels about London I have ever read, as well as race, migration and class. Narrated in the third person in creolized English, LL tells the stories of 'the boys', all of whom are young Caribbean men recently arrived in London. Amongst the things they come up against are the 'polite' but actually devastating racism of the UK, the internalisation of that (at one time a character angrily addresses the colour Black as the cause of all his problems: ' not he who causing botheration...but Black, who is a worthless thing') and the hardships of trying to survive in London in the 1950s as a Black working class immigrant. But it's not all Dickensian bleakness, moralising and 'issues' - it's told with warmth, wit and humour. Towards the end of the novel, one of the characters, Cap (most characters are known by their nicknames), struggles to feed himself by attempting to trap seagulls outside his window. This is soon after another episode when poverty drives 'Sir Galahad' to hunting pigeons in the park only to be screamed at as a 'monster' by a passing white woman who rushes to locate a policeman. The novel touches upon many of the absurdities and hypocrisies of the UK, which are of course always most visible to 'outsiders'. The novel also talks a lot about the inexplicable lure of London:

What is it that a city have, that any place in the world have, that you get so much to like it you wouldn't leave it for anywhere else? What it is that would keep men although by and large, in truth and in fact, they catching their royal to make a living, staying in a cramp-up room where you have to do everything - sleep, eat, dress, cook, live. Why is it, that although they grumble about it all the time, curse the people, curse the government, say all kind of thing about this and that, why is it, that in the end, everyone cagey about saying outright that if the chance come they will go back to them green islands in the sun?

The conclusion you'd have to draw from the book, and possibly from living here, would be it's something to do with summer. But then 'Lonely Londoners' is pretty short, read it for yourself why don't you? 

THE ROAD - CORMAC MCCARTHY - Holy fuck. This book destroyed my mental health. At least for a day or so. Not because it's disturbing, which it is, but because I couldn’t BEAR to leave the characters and go to sleep. I had to find out what happened to them, it was completely impossible to close it without knowing. It’s the story of a father and son, but don’t let that put you off, it's set in some horrible dystopian future which is of course a definite possibility, some kind of enormous environmental catastrophe has struck and most of the world’s resources have been destroyed, nature itself has been ransacked and all trees are burnt out, charred. Few people have survived and of those that have, many become cannibals capturing and eating (and worse) their fellow survivors. There is a constant sense of danger and fear of capture but the father and son must keep moving, though seeing as nowhere has been spared the devastation their chances of finding any sort of happy ending at their destination, the coast, are pretty slim. It’s such a brilliant book. I read it because it was on Oprah's bookclub. Not really (although it was on the bookclub, it was even made into a film), I read it because someone told me it was the one book they’d save if their house was on fire and I totally understand why. 
There’s an obvious metaphor which I doubt the author consciously intended because it’s maybe a bit trite, but I was reading the book and thinking, why the fuck are they even bothering, it’s hopeless? But that could probably be applied to most peoples’ lives even when not in such a grave situation. You could also read it as all our lives are pointless if you wanted to be more cynical, but you'd have to be a bit of a jerk to not feel at least in some ways moved by the plight for life. I see it as a defense of living, no matter how hard.

ANTWERP – ROBERTO BOLAÑO. I love Roberto Bolaño but I have to admit I didn’t really follow this novel, perhaps because it's told in fragments and I kept putting it down and then picking it up a few days later. This is one of his early efforts, written in 1980, 22 years before it was published. A few things jumped out at me though, but actually mostly the intro where he looks back on his situation at the time of writing:

My sickness, back then, was pride, rage, and violence. Those things (rage, violence) are exhausting and I spent my days uselessly tired. I worked at night. During the day I wrote and read. I never slept. To keep awake, I drank coffee and smoked.

Thank god there was no Facebook to distract him!

Seriously I really recommend Bolaño. I read ‘The Skating Rink’ and his short stories and I want to read more by him but I honestly couldn’t make a critical comment about ‘Antwerp’ one way or the other, I've heard it's good from other people, so it may be more my poor concentration skills than Roberto himself. One day I’ll give it another go maybe.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Golden Age of Hustlers

I remember when I first heard the wondrous Mx Justin Vivian Bond performing this song in a grotty faux-squat in Oval not long after I moved to London six years ago. JVB was covered in glitter and accompanied by the equally sparkly, angelic-looking Nath Ann. The song cut through everything else I saw that day because JVB imbibed it with such warmth, rawness and emotion. Originally 'Golden Age' was written and performed by transsexual punk chanteuse Bambi Lake and was about the Polk Street hustler scene in San Francisco in the 1970s. I got it in my head today because I was reflecting with sadness upon how much division there seems to be amongst so many trans people at the moment, queers as well. Of course we have differences and we aren't going to agree all the time and the 'can't we all just get along?' thing can be used to silence those with already marginalised voices, but recently I've seen a lot of queer and trans blogosphere discourse, particularly with gender, which has involved pretty strong lines being drawn around identities that for many of us are quite blurry. Of course we're gonna disagree on stuff but I worry when arguments become dogmatic and try to speak to an assumed shared experience which we don't all have, even if we use the same words. I identify as a trans boy but I know many people who ID the same with a completely different idea as to what that means. Julia Serano recently wrote a blog cautioning against generalising about the experiences and positioning of all trans women and all drag queens. 

For me personally being queer was supposed to be about throwing the rule book out the window, but the more time I spend around queer public discourse (the internet) the more I find it has become a total protocall fest. And no one is even sure what the protocall is, hence we're all terrified when we take to our keyboards lest we say the 'wrong thing'. Theory is fine, disagreement is fine, but when arguments try to prove there is a correct way of actually being, living one's life or identifying, or ascribes a universal meaning onto the experience of a particular group we have a problem.

I feel really over judgement, dogma, censorship, us and them.

Anyways, I was thinking about this song today and how it evoked a sense of unity between trans people, hookers, drag queens, gays, queers and other awesome outcasts, so I looked it up and only discovered that they'd finally made a blooming video of it directed by Silas Howard (formerly of Tribe 8, who also made a pretty decent film for Valencia: the Movie/s) and Erin Greenwell. Vid is totally intergenerational and multi-gendered and features people like the amazing transgender activist and writer Kate Bornstein as well as the Brooklyn drag queens Merrie Cherry and Untitled Queen. Me being me, I missed the premiere two months ago and am only now discovering it. Oh well.

There's a good intro to it and discussion with the directors here but I really really like these two things Silas said about it which got me a bit emotional so I will quote them:

'The song takes place in the mid-1970's, an era Bambi describes as an innocent, "golden age" of hustling in a pre-AIDS San Francisco. Yet she side-steps romanticizing the era, honoring the loss of many in a community living on the edge of social acceptance. In this way I feel the song is timeless, speaking not only to the AIDS epidemic but also the crises of a diminishing landscape and the collateral cost for certain creative rebels.'
"I'm obsessed with the idea of queer and trans lineage and how the past and future can live in the same room. Perhaps it's in part due to coming of age in the midst of loss from AIDS, that I feel a kinship to the mentors gone too soon. Though Bambi wrote the song in the early '90s, in a community of "misfit" queers, sex workers, transsexuals, queers and punks, it speaks to a modern time in that many of us still look for places where all parts of ourselves can find home. I'm grateful to Justin Vivian Bond for carrying Bambi Lake's legacy forward, allowing us access to learn from Bambi as a performer and a punk transsexual icon of an older generation, who prevailed and created art that represented an experience of living outside the "mainstream." I think of the music video as a kind of love letter from our past to the next generation."
A FINAL NOTE: if you like Mx Bond, you will like prob like this cover of the Bahamian musician Exuma. I just remembered seeing them doing it live in Soho and it was pretty great.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Benny Lava

I am not sure how many times I have watched this video now but I can tell you it's a lot. Song used, rapping and ostentatiously high budget video are all top notch, much like are Heems and Riz's dress sense. As usual I didn't watch this till a week ago and it's been out like a month or something but just in case you're as slow as me...

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Shit they say to sexworkers

So the 'shit' meme surely died an over-saturated death about two years ago but I only recently came across this one and it is pretty funny and spot on. The questions 'But what do you really do?', 'What do you do? I mean apart from this?' and -as in the vid- 'This isn't a job, it's just something you do to make money' come up again and again in some form or other posed by therapists, friends and other random people I've told about my work. Some people try to come up with better career options for me without asking whether that's what I want. They ask me what is it I really want to do because they assume I couldn't possibly be happy being a sex worker. These questions have been asked of me an amazing number of times since I started doing sex work.

I watched a predictably annoying documentary about sex work the other night (though by no means the worst - it at least interviewed workers and critiqued the bizarre UK laws around brothel-keeping) where some uncharismatic hipster who used to work for vice went round asking various sex workers (though all cis women) about their work. Though the uncharismatic hipster got a range of answers she still drew her own conclusions and spouted off something earnest about the risks of sex work being high at the end. I won't pretend there are never any risks and of course this depends very much on a worker's particular situation (and laws that criminalise and stigmatise workers or clients, along with police harassment, definitely make working riskier) but to just round off with such an oversimplified single line which actually didn't reflect the experiences of all the workers she spoke to was pretty meaningless and not very useful or informative. In any case risk does not mean that we should have our agency denied us or that we're just victims to be pitied and rescued as some people seem to think (who if they actually cared about sex workers would listen to what we needed or support sex worker initiatives around safety and organising rather than trying to criminalise us and our clients).

One of the most infuriating attitudes is that if a sex worker doesn't enjoy the sex all the time then this is proof of victimhood. Though many of us do enjoy our work it's important to remember that in any profession NO ONE enjoys their work all the time and few people enjoy it most of the time.  Generally speaking having sex with someone you're not attracted to and not particularly enjoying the sex isn't the end of the world for a lot of people and does not feel worse to everyone than doing any other job you feel so-so about, particularly if the hours are better. It seems to boil down to some weird out-dated moralistic idea that sex without love will kill your soul. But whilst most people can cope with the idea of one night stands/fucking someone you barely know it's harder for  many to get their heads round someone being paid for it. Sex work is the best option for some people, it certainly was for me, but it seems like the hardest for so many others to respect. There are no exit programs for nine to five office jobs and surely this is where some of the greatest human misery accumulates. Of course sex work is not for everyone and if a person felt violated and traumatised every time they see a client then that is a very specific scenario but even so if a person who felt that way still chose to be a sex worker their choice should still be respected and rather than pathologising that person those with a saviour complex would do well to look at the impact of cuts, austerity measures and capitalism instead of assuming the worker has a false consciousness.

As a sex worker you can't talk publically about having a bad day at work without someone trying to exit you, where else does that happen? Rape/abuse are not the same as prostitution and conflating the two things together as many moralists (some who think they're feminist) do just adds to the whorephobic and often sexist myth that if these things happen to a hooker they are asking for it and they deserve it, therefore legitimising the behaviour of perpetrators when they commit these acts against a sex worker or someone they perceive to be a worker.

As I'm a trans guy who doesn't pass a lot as male I get the additional back-handed rhetoric where people feel the need to ask 'how's that going because you're quite niche aren't you?' or when I was telling someone things were quiet they responded by letting me know they had a friend who was a sex worker who made loads of money 'but she was really conventionally good looking'. Of course society's conventional ideals about looks/gender presentation are favored by a lot of clients and you can't exactly go work in a parlour if you look like me but comments like that are still pretty annoying, though sometimes I say them myself about myself so I don't even know exactly where I stand on people saying stuff like that. But I think it's still annoying. After I told someone I knew about a bad experience with a client they told me that when I have surgery and start taking hormones I'll get different types of clients and I can start to charge more and I avoid situations like that in future. That may be true seeing as the world is transphobic and sexist but it's still fucked up and to me it felt like she was saying, 'in your current circumstances you can't expect to be treated any better than that'. I think it's great for people to care about you if something shit happens and support is awesome but she didn't think to ask how I might strategise to deal with that stuff in the future it all came down to whether I would pass better as male. What if I didn't want to take hormones and have surgery?

Anyways if I ever get it together to make trashy queer hooker comedy youtube sketch show I will begin by having an earnest white middle class woman's voice overdubbing a scene in an office, reeling off some made-up statistics and talking about the terrible conditions in which these poor people have to work, how many of them came from abroad to the UK dreaming of starring in West End theater productions yet now they are temping eight hours a day for less than the living wage at a well-meaning if dubious and soul-sucking not-for-profit.

If I'm honest though I'm actually a bit bummed no one's ever asked me what the weirdest thing I've ever done was.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Having a deep love of operatic dark indie electro pop with bonus points if it's made by queers I instantly fell in love with the Canadian band Austra when I saw them supporting a terrible band (I'm way too nice to name names) in a half empty show at Brixton Windmill four years ago. Understandably they have gone on to be relatively huge since then whilst still being sickeningly young and talented and attractive, the kind of people who make me go oh shit my youth is over and I've achieved NOTHING. But I forgive them because their music is so good and my life would be worse without it. They also make amazing videos such as the lo fi dirtiness of the Beat and Pulse video and their latest one for Hurt Me Now which is like a david lynch inspired acid trip complete with a monster beheading.  One I have been watching over and over again recently is their video for 'Forgive Me'.

I generally love anything that's shot in the woods in the middle of the night but particularly when combined with cruising, public sex, FEELINGS, neon and forgiveness. I like anything that has a dirty surface and hints at something more tender going on underneath although the video makes sex seem anything but dirty. I particularly liked that the starring role was given to a trans woman, Judy Virago, and it apparently shows a story of a sex worker who isn't being judged (although the director, Claire Edmonson, insists she's actually a bored housewife). When the band released the video they quoted Judy Virago's comments on it which really struck a chord with me:
"As a trans woman, the story of this video resonates pretty strongly with me. Society expects trans people and sex workers to apologize for their deviation from the norm and to explain themselves. Being cisgender is meant to be the default. So when a trans person is dating someone there are a lot of questions asked "does that mean your boyfriend is gay?" "how do you have sex?" ...the kinds of questions that most women don't get asked. This video asks no questions about the transgender woman featured and asks for no apology. She is loved, and she forgives."
I've identified as trans for a long time, since before I had the language or world around me where people like me would say 'I identify as trans'. I'm in a pretty privileged position in the queer/trans communities of which I am a part being masculine/ftm-ish, white, middle class. I actually get really bored going to trans or queer events and listening to people in a similar boat as me going on and on about their gender as though nothing and no one else in the world ever dealt with any shit. I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking can't we talk about something else for once? The thing is I'm also used to being referred to as 'he' etc in those environments which is completely right for me but when I get outside of there and try to address the rest of the world they invariably decide I'm female at least once I start talking and they hear my voice which grates on me and I find that I myself end up going on and on about being trans. At the same time I completely understand how people outside of a certain context only understand transgender in terms of hormones and operations because they've never heard of anything different but it's still annoying.
I study Creative Writing which has been a life saver for me in many ways. It keeps me focused on something I'm pretty good at and determined to improve upon. My course mates are really awesome and supportive but when you are writing about something based on your personal experience as a trans person or as a sex worker you instantly come up against a wall trying to explain stuff that you just know to those that aren't trans or sex workers.
Let's first deal with the trans stuff. If you want to write from the point of view of a trans person who hasn't taken hormones or had surgery and you want it to be understood in a mostly cis/straight environment you have to constantly reiterate that that person is trans. This is a little easier than being a trans person who hasn't done those things in such an environment because at least you get to write from inside the head of the trans person with them viewing themselves as whatever gender they are rather than whatever everyone else decides they are. You can't use words like 'cis' and 'genderqueer' if you want to write something that will be understood outside particular trans/queer communities because most cis/straight people won't understand them but actually a lot of trans and gender variant people don't use those words either; when I talk to trans people outside the very particular trans/queer vaguely lefty/activisty/anarcho community Ive known in the UK and US that becomes all the more apparent. Similarly the word 'queer' doesn't resonate with a lot of people who are in no way straight and this of course doesn't mean they are less politically enlightened. I don't think it's entirely fair to say these words are elitist, because although the queer scene can be very dominated by white, middle class, transmasculine types, people from all backgrounds/identities use words like queer/genderqueer/etc not just the super privileged, but we should still not start to assume this language is universal even amongst trans people. Anyway, when I write I want it to be understandable even by people who are so cis and straight they don't even know they're cis and straight because they've never had to think about those things. Or at least I want to aim for that, but I don't want to write specifically for them either, certainly not moreso than other trans people who I also don't write for specifically because my experience will invariably betray someone else's. Everytime you write something about being trans someone else is pissed off because now all the cis people think you have told the definitive story because they want to know the answer to what your particular brand of oddness means without understanding that there is no single answer just as there's no definitive experience of being cis or black or white or working class or gay or straight but everyone whether under-represented/willfully misrepresented/wiped off the fucking map by mainstream culture should be just as entitled to their own subjectivity in creative writing as cis straight white guys who never have to worry about representation. 
I wrote a story for class recently which featured a guy (cis) who came up to the narrator (trans) and one of the first questions the cis guy asked the trans guy was 'have you had the surgery?' which is really typical, people ask that shit all the time after you tell them you're trans. The narrator responds by asking the cis guy what's in his pants and how his genital area has changed over the years which is the way I wish I'd responded whenever a complete stranger asked me that question, I mean apart from by a client because at least then it's relevant to the job. As Judy Virago says in her quote re the Austra video trans people are expected to explain themselves all the time. Some people in the class really liked the genital discussing bit but some also thought it signaled an over-reaction on the part of the narrator and evidently everyone whose ever asked me very casually as soon as I tell them I'm trans about surgery thinks it's an appropriate opening question when getting to know people. It's not enough for me to say I'm trans, they must work out WHY and identify the exact specimen and find out what I've got going on under my clothes because if it's not what they think it should be and it conflicts with the over-arching narrative in their head of the trans experience (usually they can understand a person only as medically transitioned transsexual) then it does not compute and surely I owe them an explanation.
With stories I write they only usually work if the narrator is very similar to myself (lack of imagination perhaps) so I've spent about a year and a half on my course finding different ways to explain how you can be trans even without medical treatment. I also emailed my class and asked them to refer to me with male pronouns because I want to insist on the same things outside of the trans community as I would within it even if people have trouble getting it and I also want people to know that hormones and surgery aren't the only way of being transgender. I want that to be common knowledge. But still I have to have really irritating conversations with the odd coursemate who tells me they don't see such and such as trans because 'she' (possibly the wrong pronoun) hasn't had hormones or surgery like it's the cis person's choice to say who's trans and who isn't. Like we have to have a medical seal of approval, like the only way to be a man or a woman if you were born otherwise is to pass as much as a cis person as possible. I'm not attacking those who choose hormones and surgery, I'm on the waiting list for hormones myself and I wouldn't rule out ever having surgery but I hate this idea that there is only one trans narrative and only one type of body which makes an authentically trans person. Justify why you have this body and if you're not going to change it justify how you can be trans. Someone from the course commented that the thing with questions about surgery was like people of colour getting pissed off by being asked 'where are you from?' They thought that in both cases people getting offended signified an over sensitivity (they were cis and white themselves if you hadn't already worked that out). In truth both these questions often mean something else. I remember a friend once pointing out, having been asked the question 'Where are you from?' a ridiculous number of times despite his English accent (and the asker wasn't referring to London or Manchester but where he was 'really' from), that when asked purely because someone's a person of colour that question is generally a code for 'Why aren't you white?' even if the person asking the question hasn't thought about it enough to realise that's what they're saying. 'Have you had surgery?' means something like 'Are you properly trans? Have you followed the correct procedures?' Of course if I knew someone well and it came up in conversation I wouldn't care about being asked about surgery/hormones, I've always been pretty open about that stuff, I mean I've just told the internet, it's on my OK Cupid profile, both of them, but what annoys me is that a person believes it's their god-given right to know.
Sex work is pretty hard to translate as well. I wrote a story based on a really bad experience I had with a client in very acute detail and I knew it would play into the whore-as-victim narrative no matter how much context I gave it. I understand people being freaked out by the story, it was pretty traumatic when it happened and I wanted to convey how it felt, also the people on my course aren't necessarily anti-sex work, but it didn't explain the whole story which was that overall sex work is the best option for me and I'm way happier now than when I was in full time work. Apart from the fact I sincerely doubt I can earn a sustainable living off it I would prefer to be doing this than any 9 to 5 stuff. I don't think under capitalism there's really such a thing as free choice, that we are obligated to work for synthetic currency in any capacity is ridiculous, if we're lucky we make the best of different options -where there are options- at a particular time. I spend a lot of time in environments where there are lots of other sex workers and it's self-evident sex work shouldn't be criminalised or abolished but that workers should be able to work as safely as possible and without stigma and be able to continue working or leave if they wish to but coercion either way is wrong. With that shared understanding it feels ok to talk about sex work, including bad experiences, without having to justify why be a sex worker. Writing about it for the rest of the world sometimes feels like a betrayal, as writing about trans sometimes feels like a betrayal. You have to spend so much time explaining yourself you are reduced to an identity and you reduce yourself to one because you are forever explaining. And you can't ever translate properly what you've been through, not even to other trans people or sex workers although you can try. 
A friend of mine who works as a translator told me that when translating across languages you often lose something from the original text because there are simply is no words for a particular concept in the language it's being translated into. Maybe here the act of translation can be the act of building something new but the full original meaning remains obscured. I'm tragically mono linguistic and yet I feel like I'm always trying to work out a way of translating experience into something someone else will understand and sometimes wonder why bother explaining anything at all? If the whole work of telling a story involves trying to translate rather than telling the actual story why not just leave the translation altogether and if whoever reads it is lost, let them be lost. But I don't know, maybe it's that thing where everyone dies alone but it doesn't stop us spending our entire lives reaching out for other people.

Friday, 3 January 2014


So I don't usually make new year's resolutions but this year I made about 16. One of them was to give up drinking which lasted until my 1st January Bloody Mary but I figure it's OK to break that one because I didn't really mean it. I mean cutting down is perhaps a better idea because I enjoy being drunk but I know  it fuels my anxiety and depression if I drink for too long a period of time in a row. But anyways this Bloody Mary had several different types of vegetable in it so I feel the nutritional value outweighs any ill-effects that may come from the vodka. This was in the Castro in San Francisco and then my friends and I went to Dolores Park and drank cheap wine from brown paper bags (illustrative pictures to follow when I get back to the UK). Gotta be done right? Anyways that wasn't the most important resolution.
I'm not one for traditions but as aforementioned I have the good fortune to be in the US right now (currently on Ocean Beach in San Diego in a hippie coffee shop - their wifi network is called 'World Peace') nearing the end of a West Coast road trip and even on the plane on the way out here I was mentally plotting changes I wanted to make, but having really wonderful conversations with old and new friends here has made me evermore determined with some of this stuff.
Hearing the minutiae of other people's existence can be pretty boring so I won't go into all of the resolutions. I fear writing about any of this stuff is pretty self-indulgent but one of the things I resolved to do was start blogging again just so I know I'd be writing something at least once a week and it would be up for public consumption to get over my fears that what I write or express about myself is never good enough. This links on to an even bigger resolution which was to attempt to try and feel less shame or at least limit the impact it has on my life. One of the reasons I stopped writing a blog and one of the reasons I write a lot less than I want to is the fear of judgement. Traditionally I start blogs and then delete them or drop them because I think what I write is embarrassing/self-indulgent/bad/wrong/not good enough. I think this is probably a common theme with most bloggers and writers. Knowing what to share and what not to share about yourself is a tension that exists for everyone, particularly writing, particularly in an age where everything is accessible by everyone on the internet but, at least for me, if I don't attempt to do something with my writing there's no point.
This blog is coming from someone too dazed from long road trips to have a proper conclusion, so I'm gonna sign off and wander the beach some more before I go back to London and my broken boiler in a few days time.