Article, Statement, Statements in Support

What matters now?

It matters that Pulse was an LGBT+ club.
It matters it was Pride.
It matters it was a Latinx night.
It matters the headliners were trans and of colour.
It matters that the shooter got an assault rifle so easily.
It matters that 53 people are injured.
It matters that 49 people are dead.

It matters the Christian right introduced 200 anti-LGBT+ bills in the 6 months before this.
It matters, the same week, someone bombed a Target restroom.*
It matters a white man brought weapons and explosives to another Pride event the same day.
It matters the media neglected to say it was a gay club for hours.
It matters the media suddenly remembered when the shooter turned out to be Muslim.
It matters we don’t know the shooter had any motivation beyond queerphobia.
It matters we do know he had a history of toxic masculinity and wife beating.
It matters this may be the 2nd or 3rd worst US mass shooting after Wounded Knee and very possibly Tulsa.
It matters that AMAB queers and their partners aren’t allowed to donate blood.
It matters that straights are highjacking the discourse, whether into “All Lives Matter,” or somehow into anti-selfie culture, stonewalling dissenting LGBT+ and queer voices at every turn.

What matters is that the lives and  deaths of queer people of colour don’t matter to them.

None of the people crying out about the queerphobia of Islamic extremism care about dead queers – much less dead queers of colour. Trump and his cronies have spent the past number of months talking about “building a wall” to keep out Latin@ people – just like those who were killed on Saturday. Disgusting and exhausting as the Sky News video was, Julia Hartley-Brewer was wholly astute when she said that, if people weren’t moved enough by the slaughtered children at Sandy Hook to do something about gun control, you can bet dollars to donuts that news of 49 Latinx queers isn’t going to affect any change at all. Rather, the media and pundits will continue to deflect, continue to divide and conquer. Yesterday, queers and above all trans women were dangerous threats to public (esp. bathroom) safety. Today, we are victims, held in binary opposition to Islam, for conservative political point-scoring. It suits white-centric, neocon queerphobic powers-that-be to imply that there are no queer Muslims, currently feeling sickened by someone who may or indeed very well may not have committed an atrocity in the name of their religion of peace, feeling frightened by yet another display of violent queerphobic oppression experienced, as per usual, by trans/femme queer people of colour first, and feeling dread in the face of reprisals enacted upon the homogenised orientalist Dutch cartoon image of Islam the media remain desperate as ever to portray.

These people have no understanding of what a space like a gay club can mean for we who are not yet out, or who are finding exactly who we are. The one secret girl in an all boy’s school, the club scene was where I first began to discover and negotiate my sexuality and gender. It was where I was first able to put on a dress, and hear nothing apart from “nice dress.”  It was where I gained enough of a community to feel safe enough in coming out to be prepared for the negative consequences. Everyone with power, taking advantage of the outpouring of grief since Saturday night would have liked nothing more than to see Pulse shut down and replaced with shops or high-end apartments. Some of them haven’t even bothered to mask their utter lack of sorrow in the face of queer deaths at all. I have spent enough time attending and, since last year, hosting Transgender Day of Remembrance to be aware of the wide margin between numbers of murdered queer people of colour and murdered white queers to know that the pronouns “we,” “us” and “our” in relation to white queer solidarity with the victims of Saturday’s attack are deflections of the whole truth: whichever way you look at this thing, people of colour are the primary victims, both in and outside of the club. We must not allow queerphobic racists to incite queer racism. The atrocity of Saturday night can hardly be said to be the work of a “lone gunman” in a society that promotes hatred and bigotry at the level of both public policy and social ostracisation of otherness every single day.

What matters is that we acknowledge our similarities, address our differences, support our most vulnerable first and respond from the grassroots. We cannot trust politicians or the media to respond morally, or to have our interests at heart; that is not their purpose. We must not simply stand, but act in support and solidarity of those lost and those who remain. We must fight the ideology of hatred that inspired the Orlando shooter, whom I shall continue not to name on social media, but we must also realise that it is very nearly the same hatred that inspires our politicians to make our lives harder for our genders and sexualities, our ethnicities and abilities. What matters is that 49 people with hopes, dreams, pasts and futures didn’t deserve to die for who they were, but they did. What matters is that we fight for a time when nobody will. Rest in Power to the victims of the Orlando shooting. Recover in Power to the survivors.

 

 

*debates are ongoing as to whether this was for transphobic, ideological reasons, or drug manufacture gone awry.
Please consider donating to the Muslims United For Victims of Pulse Shooting fundraiser.

Lexi Turner is a soon-to-graduate 3rd year Film student at King’s, who held positions on the iFemSoc committee as Events Organiser in 2013-2014 and Trans Rep in 2015-2016. Ze is available to message via the iFemSoc Facebook group or via hir personal Facebook.

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

 

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Article, Guest Post, Mental Health and Disabilities, Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s not manly to be gravely ill – ‘Fake it Till You Make It’ review

 

Depression cuts across the genders, let’s get that straight first of all. But our society has shut off for men many of the methods and opportunities to seek help that are more readily available to women. It is not manly, apparently, to be gravely ill. Sharing with others your personal struggles and anxieties is not something that men can do easily, at least not without feeling that they are compromising themselves in the eyes of their peers.

Fake it Till you Make It (Soho Theatre, 23 September – 17 October) explored this problem. Written and staged by the performance artist Bryony Kimmings alongside her partner Tim Grayburn, a marketing consultant. The play is a biographical performance piece about Bryony and Tim, or perhaps about their relationship. Instead of viewing depression through the individual fighting an illness, the depression is seen in the shape through the destructive effect it can have on a relationship with family, friends, and in this case, partners. Bryony does not ‘take care’ of Tim as a pseudo-nurse, neither does she try to push him to get better one way or another. Instead, the play shows her struggling to keep on living as a mentally healthy individual in a relationship buckling under her partner’s illness, and for them to function normally as a couple without hurting Tim more than the depression already is.

Bryony offers the opposite experience. Raised with the cultural encouragement to open up and talk, combined with her career as performance artist, Bryony made a performance piece aimed to translate Tim’s feelings and for her, as well as an audience, to understand his illness better.

For those who feel like this might be, again, a story about a man and his various problems, perhaps it is important to consider that the narrative is a lesson in the harmful aspects of the stereotypical behaviour that men are pushed into. The main criticism on our culture’s treatment of depressed men comes in the lyrics of a song, “tell him never to talk about his feelings”.

Luckily, there were no stereotypical gender roles in this play. Both Bryony and Tim have full time careers, both carry on, for worse or for better, in those careers as the illness takes its toll.

Even so, I have to agree that it is a pity there is no counterpart to this play where a woman can narrate the effects of her depression. Although I do  agree with the observation made in the play that women have an easier time getting help. But then again, maybe getting help itself has a different impact on the life of women than on men: A woman taking time of work to take her mental health seriously could be at risk of losing a lot more momentum in her career, and damage to her reputation, than a man might. Taking time off from work is in general more harmful for a woman’s career. Also, women are taken less seriously in their ambitions.

The flip-side to the idea of people caring less if a woman gets ill and needs help, is how it shows that people care less if a woman gets ill and needs help. It illustrates how society underestimates the opportunities that are missed for any woman’s life and career to the time and energy spent on getting well again. A play looking at how a someone deals with this situation, maybe with the help of a caring and supportive partner of her own, would be interesting.

Mental health is increasingly becoming more of a point on the public agenda, and hopefully we will see more artistic attention to this issue from both male and female creatives.

This review was written by Saskia Rombach, an ex-King’s student in politics & an avid iFemSoc contributer. Fake It Until You Make It was shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well Soho theatre, and has plans to return to the stage again this year. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

 

 

 

 

 

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Article, Guest Post, Sex Work, sexuality, Worker's Rights

I Criticised the Porn Laws – and Was Targeted For Censorship.

Pandora Blake is an award-winning feminist pornographer, sex worker, activist and sexual freedom advocate.

[Discussion of consensual kink/BDSM activity and the efforts our government has gone to suppress it]

Last November my friend Nimue Allen and I got together with our partners for a week to shoot some porn. We’ve both worked in the BDSM porn industry for years as performers and producers, and we were ready to delve deeper. We spent three days shooting a feature-length explicit documentary about our queer, kinky, polyamorous sex lives. We filmed interviews, video portraits, narrative sequences and hardcore sex scenes, capturing the intimacy and affection of BDSM play between people who love each other. The scenes were spontaneous and unscripted, a natural representation of the sex we have in private, and in the natural course of events they ended up including facesitting, fisting, squirting, caning, needles, breath play, dominance and submission and plenty of hardcore sex. It was authentic, caring and beautiful.

A week later, full of happy excitement about our new project, we learned that every scene we had filmed had just been criminalised under new UK porn laws. It would now be illegal for us to publish any of them. These honest depictions of our sex, pleasure and intimacy had been deemed so extreme that even informed, paying adults couldn’t legally watch them.

Furious, Nimue and I both decided that we wouldn’t do the censors’ work for them. We refused to change the content on our existing sites, Dreams of Spanking and Nimue’s World, to comply with the regulations. Instead we spoke out about the unjust and regressive nature of the new laws; particularly the way they disproportionately target marginalised forms of sexual expression, including fetish play, female sexual dominance, queer sex and unfakeable female pleasure. I debated porn censorship on Newsnight, and gave interviews to every journalist who asked.

In January, sensing the need to strengthen our stance with some cold hard cash, I a organised fundraiser to raise money for Backlash, the non-profit organisation doing invaluable work to defend sexual freedom in the UK.

Nimue and I put our bottoms on the line and volunteered to take one hard cane stroke for every ten pounds raised, to a maximum of 50 strokes each. The pledges poured in. In the end we had to recruit eight additional bottoms to take a total of 383 cane strokes, raising £3836 for Backlash. Each of the canings was filmed, and the video released online under Creative Commons, including interviews and statements from the performers about how why they felt it was important to take a stand against the new laws. Publishing protest films of banned acts, and raising money to fight censorship in the process, was a deeply satisfying act of resistance.

In February at the Women of the World Festival, I debated the social impact of porn on BBC Woman’s Hour in front of a large live audience. That same month I received a letter from ATVOD – the new UK internet porn regulator – regarding my website Dreams of Spanking. None of the other UK spanking paysites – all clearly linked from my site – received a similar letter. It was clear that my outspoken criticism of the new regulations had singled me out as a target. ATVOD CEO Peter Johnson, speaking to The Independent, said quite clearly that sites are more likely to be investigated if they appear in press reports. Does this mean that speaking out against the laws makes you ripe for censorship?

“Peter Johnson, the CEO of ATVOD, said that the organisation has published “clear guidance” on how to comply with the rules. He added that most services are investigated after complaints or “if a service comes to our attention through other means – for example through press reports.”

Let that sink in for a moment: I talked about the porn regulations, and I was singled out for censorship.

My spanking site Dreams of Spanking is unlike any other. It centres female fantasies and the female erotic gaze, shooting performers of all genders without prejudicing one type of body as more deserving of sexual attention than another. The site includes all gender pairings – including male/male scenes, which are often ghettoised into separate physical and virtual spaces by the heteronormative BDSM community. My cast includes trans and non-binary performers, and my films show people of all genders as equally capable of consensual dominance or submission, removing any sexist or misogynistic implications from erotic power exchange.

All of this is underwritten by a strong ethos of fairtrade production, including equal pay for all performers (regardless of gender or body type), and a performer-driven shoot process that centers the preferences, sexualities and informed consent of the participants; particularly of those playing a submissive role. Communication with performers is my first priority on set, limits are always respected, and no-one is pressured to do anything they don’t want to. I started out as a performer, and I still love to get in front of the camera, so I know what it’s like.

I’m constantly aiming to learn and improve my process. I also urge viewers not to take my word for it – I’m only the director – and, if they want to check out my production ethics, ask the performers themselves, or check out their blogs, twitter feeds, unscripted video interviews and out-of-character behind the scenes videos, which are published alongside every scene. Dreams of Spanking aims to be a safe space and an online community promoting acceptance, self-expression and inclusiveness, which affirms and empowers performers and members alike.

So it’s interesting that this site is the one ATVOD targeted for censorship, under the guise of cracking down on “harmful” porn and making society “safer”. It’s interesting that this site – which was doing visible and innovative work to raise the standard of ethical porn production in the UK BDSM industry – was the one ATVOD decided to make an example of. Is their aim to reduce harm – or to stifle free speech?

After a gruelling seven month investigation, ATVOD ruled that Dreams of Spanking was in breach of the new regulations. Firstly, they objected to the transparent site structure, which aimed to destigmatise my kink by making certain materials visible to non-members (behind clearly signposted links) and therefore did not put all explicit content behind a credit card paywall. Secondly, they found me in breach of the regulation against publishing material that is too ‘extreme’ to be classifiable, even as R18, by the BBFC.

Personally I love receiving a hard spanking from the right person, and I fantasise about it even more. As such the majority of my videos include spanking or whipping that leaves welts, bruises or red marks. However, the new regulations ban any material showing BDSM that results in marks that are not “transient and trifling”. It was impossible for me to comply with this rule without removing the vast majority of material on the site; and attempting to do so would go against the core principles of honesty, self-acceptance and kink positivity that underpin my work.

As a feminist pornographer, I aim to make films that authentically depict consensual adult sexuality, with an emphasis on female pleasure and desire. To comply with these regulations would be to become fake. I couldn’t do it while remaining true to myself.

So I didn’t comply, and with the help of Backlash and the inimitable Myles Jackman, I fought ATVOD every step of the way. They made their final decision regardless, and on 27 August I was obliged to take Dreams of Spanking offline. I appealed to Ofcom, and will be waiting many months before they make a decision.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Berlin Porn Film Festival awarded a Dreams of Spanking film which is banned in the UK the first prize in their Short Film Competition – showing that in some EU countries at least, BDSM porn that includes welts and bruises can be held to have have artistic and cultural value.

I still can’t publish the beautiful, intimate film I shot with Nimue a year ago. We have recently learned that ATVOD will be folding next year, and Ofcom will be taking over primary regulatory oversight. So now ATVOD are stepping it up while they still have the chance. More and more brave, beautiful, authentic erotic projects, such as husband-and-wife owned bondage site Restrained Elegance, are coming under investigation. It seems that ATVOD intends to go out with a bang, and Ofcom shows no sign of calling for the regulations themselves to be overturned.

The AVMS guidelines ultimately derive from the Obscene Publications Act, a 56 year old piece of legislation that dates from a time when it was illegal to have homosexual sex, or depict any explicit sex on film. The new list of banned acts isn’t even up to date with the case law on the OPA. It’s a lazy and arguably illegitimate piece of lawmaking that doesn’t affect current social standards in the UK. British consumers can still access material banned under the AVMS by viewing porn published offshore, and so these regulations have no impact on UK society except to close down UK independent businesses, stifle free trade and halt the flow of funds from overseas customers into the UK economy.

We must not give up this fight. The internet has been an invaluable resource in helping my generation come to a more open and accepting view of our own sexuality, and feel more empowered to seek out pleasurable experiences that affirm and fulfil our natural erotic desires. Let’s not undo that good work by accepting these out-of-date regulations that stigmatise sexual expression and stifle free speech.

We must continue to fight for our right to express ourselves sexuality, to enjoy kinky play between consenting adults, and to make porn that reflects our authentic erotic selves. Censorship never succeeds: it only serves to make the banned material more exciting, and young people know better than any of us how to get around online age controls. Instead of censorship, we need age-appropriate sex education that teaches young people about consent, pleasure and porn literacy.

Please write to your MP, write to your local paper, support Backlash and Myles Jackman, and continue being your sexy, kinky, uncensored selves as visibly as you can – until our legislators realise the tide of public opinion is against them, and these regressive, unjust and draconian laws are overturned.

 

 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

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Article

Reflections on Philip Seymour Hoffman By a Fan in Recovery. (TW: drugs, self harm, addiction)

submitted by An Anonymous Student of KCL

(Posted in the spirit of intersectionality covering those suffering from mental illnesses and the stigmatisation of said illnesses)

I still remember days when I marched around and around my bedroom, just to speed up my heart after shooting too much dope and then, once I finally felt back to normal, shooting up all over again. I remember the times I gave up on carefully searching for a vein and just started randomly stabbing myself in the arms and legs.. I remember the time my paranoid hypochondria convinced me that my heroin was anthrax-infected and I figured that, since I already had it, I might as well keep right on using it ‘til the next day when I’d see the doctor (I never saw the doctor but thankfully I hadn’t contracted anthrax either). I remember one time where I didn’t have any works so I just cut myself and rubbed the dope into the wound.

Above all, I remember all the times I swore I’d never let myself end up back in that position and then, I ended back up in that position. Every time I was certain I wasn’t as stupid this time, I knew the warning signs, I was more responsible, I had a live worth not fucking up now, I was just going to do a bit every now and again, just to take the edge off. I still ended up using again and again every single day, tripping over the lies, watching my money dissipate, along with my self-worth and confidence and relationships and future. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I never meant to hurt anyone. I didn’t even mean to hurt myself; I just wanted not to feel so sad. I work a program of recovery that could best be described as daily. An iPhone app informs me that I am currently 521 days clean. This is only partially true. Correctly put, I am 1 day clean, 521 times.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had 23 years of sobriety before he relapsed. When I was born, he got clean. Not long after I got clean at the same age he originally did, it seems he relapsed. It seems he started back on prescription pills and then moved onto heroin. I don’t know if those pills had been prescribed to him by a doctor or not, but I know that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, least of all himself or his three children who now no longer have a father.

Generally speaking, my relapses tended always to have honeymoon periods. Sometimes it’d be a week, sometimes a month, sometimes just a day, but there’d always be a period of time where I was getting high on a drug to which I wasn’t physically addicted and it felt awesome. It was an intense spring in my step. I think, when I first started doing heroin, it may have taken me 6 months of doing it every single day “without being addicted to it” before I realised that doing heroin every single day tends to mean you are addicted to it. In my darkest and most wiped out moments even now, I desire relapse, just to get that extra boost of energy. Call it addictive emotional quantitative easing. I don’t know how long he’d been using again before his death, but he’d been to and left detox less than a year before. The first year is often really tough. And, sometimes at some point in early recovery, there’s a moment. It’s the moment where the fear kicks in, you aren’t sure what you’re going to do with yourself and, even with 23 years of sobriety in your still recent past, your using feels more recent still and you opt for what feels most familiar. Trouble is, our tolerance thinks our using wasn’t all that recent and so, when we use an amount that once seemed modest, our face turns blue. That’s how we junkies usually die.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was quite possibly the greatest actor of his generation. Certainly in the West. I adored his films. Every one I’ve seen. From Synecdoche, New York to Mission: Impossible 3Happiness to Boogie Nights. As a committed cinephile, I considered not only the world, but my world richer for his presence and, beyond the poignancy I feel as a fellow sufferer of his disease, I feel a huge gap, knowing the incredible work he, at only 46 years old, still had yet to do. Not that they’re worth all that much, but he certainly had at least a couple more Oscars in him. More than that, though: he had his children to watch grow up. He had books to read. He had jokes to laugh at. He had tears to shed and songs to sing along to, badly, and arguments to have and friendships to renew and toes to stub and curtains to hang and remote controls to lose and ice creams to taste. Apparently his kids’ favourite was peanut butter swirl. People talk constantly about the “chaos of addiction.” That’s nothing! The chaos is in sobriety. Life is SO complex, you wouldn’t believe. And, my gods, it really is worth it. It means everything and nothing and it’s all we have. I became a Feminist in recovery because, for the first time, I valued life. I wanted to see it improve for others as well as myself. I saw the word through unfiltered eyes for the first time in a decade and I wanted to change what I could about what I saw.

Addiction is not about wealthy people with too much money to burn. It’s not about epic, operatic tragedies, built around tormented geniuses. It’s not about lacking willpower. It is not about idiocy. It’s about an illness that permeates all levels of society and kills many of us but can be fought and overcome.

The fact that I have thus far made it and he didn’t means very little, much in the same way that some people survive cancer whilst others don’t means very little. It doesn’t mean one didn’t fight hard enough or had a worse illness or lived a better life; to apply such judgements would be ridiculous and despicable. It just means that one died and the other hasn’t. Each time I hear about someone dying with a needle in their arm, all I can think is “they’re that thing I was a hair’s breadth away from being.” I wouldn’t dare assume I have 23 years of sobriety ahead of me, followed by 23 more; that sounds utterly daunting and alien to a junkie like me. All I can do is work to be clean today. Tomorrow, I’ll hopefully do the same.

For at least 10 years, I knew that I was never going to stop using drugs for longer than a matter of days. I knew that I was going to die by suicide, murder, drug overdose, or some combination. I knew that I wouldn’t make it to 21. Look at what I know today. Imagine what I’ll know tomorrow.

To anyone suffering from addiction or any mental illness that is destroying their life: you do not know your own value right now, but believe me when I tell you that you are worth getting help. You are worth being sober to find out who you are. You deserve to give yourself that chance. If you think you have a problem, there are people who can help and places you can go. You need not be alone.

My love to anyone who is reading this and my sincerest condolences to Philip’s friends and family right now.

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Article

It’s Complicated: On Being “Academically” Transgender

by Lexi Kamen Turner (1st year Film Studies BA student, KCL iFemSoc Events Organiser)

“Are you gay?”
“No.”
“Straight, then?”
“No.”
“So, you’re bi?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that.”

I don’t miss those conversations. Trying to explain that, as well being queer/pan/omni/whatever, my attraction to women was in a way I could only describe as lesbian, before I had discarded completely with the old name and pronouns was an uphill struggle of Sisyphean proportions. Whatever percentage of my last post on here I spent deriding the easy-for-cis-people-to-swallow and utterly normative story of “always feeing like an X trapped in a Y’s body” (pardon the pun) and playing with these toys instead of those toys etc etc, I couldn’t help but desire a narrative as concise as that. I imagine most other trans* folk probably feel the same, too.

That said: in some ways, my story is very simple. I didn’t feel right, I tried different things to feel righter, many of them disastrously self-destructive, and then I aspired to be the very truest to myself that I could manage. I still fall victim to the desire for “simplicity,” but that is largely because I cannot help but still occasionally fall victim to the cisheteronormative society that dominated so much of the misinformation I was given about people like me in my younger years, and what most people throughout the world accept willingly. Speaking only for myself, the swirling grey mass of malaise and confusion that filled my head and heart for the first two decades of my life was more complex than any written or spoken word on the issues of gender identity ever could be: whether it was the warm, welcoming grooviness of Kate Bornstein’s books on gender outlaws, the smokey sexiness of Justin Vivian Bond, the analytic discourse of Judith Butler, the impassioned and visceral battle cries of Sylvia Rivera, the profoundly important activism and comedy of Riki Wilchins, the documentaries of Susan Stryker, the cutting relatability of Julia Serano and Natalie Reed… I took it all in and, for one of the first times in my life, gained a sense of nigh-ecstatic clarity to know that I had no obligation to live according to the stipulations of a birth certificate, the signing for which I distinctly do not remember being around to witness; that other people had transitioned before and had achieved fulfilment from it, no matter the resistance society gave them.

As such, discovering and engaging with all discussions of gender and Feminism and liberation relating to it was like oxygen in contrast to the suffocation of dysphoria and I did not stop to consider any sort of order in which I should read all this literature; certainly not one relating to the “academic” level of the work. As I shared videos, recordings and literature related to transition and Transfeminism amongst my cis friends, the people who engaged with the material were not defined by their education but by their willingness.

So, when Lisa Millbank of RadTransFem left this comment underneath our Reading List,
readinglistcomment

(NB: I have of course changed the reading list since)

I was given pause for thought.

The funny thing about coming out / transitioning – much like being someone in recovery from trauma, a professional artist, a writer or, for that matter, setting up a society – is that within almost no time at all, you’ll discover that someone else is wondering how you “managed it.” They want to know what resources you turned to, which figures you venerate, what sort of support network you were able to find/establish. Then answer for me, and everyone else is a very simple “whatever I could get.” As such, the concept of starting with the “simpler” texts and moving on to the more “advanced” ones later struck me as something only someone with a limited degree of investment in understanding the plights and issues related to Transfeminism and gender theory would have the desire to do. This also of course ignores the horses-for-courses aspect of all of these pursuits: there may well be people who find themselves experiencing too much of a personality clash with the writings of Kate Bornstein or Julia Serano or Natalie Reed, but feel right at home, following Judith Butler on a journey through Beauvoir, Wittig and Lacan.

As Lisa Millbank has since Monday posted on the subject of “simple” vs “advanced” writing:

The way I see it, our different “worlds of sense” (María Lugones) are closer together or further apart, and a journey to a distant world of sense may be an “advanced” journey for me, but not-even-a-journey for someone else for whom that world is one of her homes. So in naming some journeys more “advanced” than others, we’re de facto measuring their distance from a “centre” of thought/sense, a centre which corresponds closely to cultural defaults.

I have more thoughts around the fact that pieces of writing aren’t just passive reflections of “worlds of sense”, but acts in themselves, acts which may be designed to make the reader feel small, bore them, liberate them, immobilise their thought, enhance the writer’s access to power, demonstrate loyalty or disloyalty to different thought systems, etc. But “advanced” doesn’t seem like a good, direct way to name journeys/worlds which differ in those ways.

The term “academic” has a problematic ambiguity, considering its second meaning relates specifically to the concept of theoretical/hypothetical existence, with too much of an emphasis on “understanding.” As far as I am concerned, trans* folk rarely need the understanding of cis people. When one’s recent history is one of anarchy and protest, there is only so far to which one is willing to be assimilated into public consciousness. Rather, our existence as people is regularly forgotten by people who would put a majority of texts relating to our existence in the “advanced/academic” camp: we are made problems to be solved at some stage, but no rush if you don’t feel like tackling the subject.

The lexicon relating to this problem-solving approach to trans* people is one of the most easy-to-spot signs of the permeation of cissexism into even the most allegedly close and well-meaning people. Tonnes of trans* folk are ejected from their family homes, from bathrooms, from shelters, from hospitals purely because it is too “difficult” for the cis folk to “understand;” where cis women are celebrated for their mystique, we must be dissected, one way or another. (I should perhaps stress that this is a “celebration” only in official name only; cis women are discussed horrifically and regularly but most respected talk show hosts stop short of asking them to describe in detail their genitalia. Whilst a tabloid is not above showing the world what a cis woman looks like without makeup, an interviewer would rarely expect to get away with that to the point that she would then still be expected to give the interview after, unlike trans* people who are forced to put up with “before-and-after” shots almost every time.)

Disgusting charlatan Dan Savage stated that “Tumblr-enabled debates about sexual identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual interests take on the flavor of those how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin debates that obsessed theologians in the Middle Ages.” Although he was, in my opinion, as per usual, trying to silence any voice at risk of proving his sexist transphobic, bi-erasing, racist (etc) “activism” to be as irrelevant as it truly is, he might have had a point when it comes to the presentation of these issues when done so for the benefit of cis / non-Queer eyes to read. I regularly find myself simplifying my own identity for the benefit of those who struggle with the very concept of transfemininity on the most basic of levels. Too often do we find ourselves either simplified out of existence or disregarded as being “too complex” to be bothered about right now, when everyone in the world has an idea of what a gay marriage might look like. The demands placed on trans* people to make information about them palatable, having spent so many years in a society where the information on trans* people was rendered obscure by design is a frustrating task. It was cissexism that taught us to hate ourselves and we should not be talked over or pigeon-holed in our desire to make information about us available. But, please understand, cis folk: it is not for you. It is the trans* youths who are at risk of ill-health and self-destructive behaviour if they are not given the tools to understanding what it is to be transgender. Cis people should be able not to attack us without ever having read Leslie Feinberg, one would hope.

Regardless of whether our societal status is a monster or as a thought experiment, we are dehumanized via this process. As Susan Stryker writes in her breathtaking piece My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage

[Transgender] rage itself is generated by the subject’s situation in  a field governed by the unstable but indissoluble relationship between language and materiality, a situation in which language organizes and brings into signification matter that simultaneously eludes definitive representation and demands its own perpetual re-articulation in symbolic terms.

If we are not people first, we are nothing at all; no lived human experience is academic.

 

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Article

Ever Open Season: Queer Identity and “Public Interest” [TW: transphobia, violence /death in some links]

by Lexi Kamen Turner (1st year Film Studies BA student, KCL iFemSoc Events Organiser)

“No qualifications should be placed on the term “trans woman” based on a person’s ability to “pass” as female, her hormone levels, or the state of her genitals—after all, it is downright sexist to reduce any woman (trans or otherwise) down to her mere body parts or to require her to live up to certain societally dictated ideals regarding appearance”

– Julia Serano, Whipping Girl

Have I had, or am I getting, The Op?

This is a question I have been asked by peers, strangers, my own family, the majority of my partner’s work colleagues… having had a solidly successful 20+ year stretch of never having a conversation with me about my genitalia, even my 89 year old grandmother asked me a question that is really only acceptable to ask if you are my partner or the Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic.

When Katie Couric asked Carmen Carrera whether her “private parts are different” a few days ago, and then tried to double down on it with Laverne Cox, neither Carmen nor Laverne were unused to this question, though they may have been unused to this question being asked in front of an audience of a show whose peak ratings thus far have been 3.8 million. To be honest, though: nobody transgender watching was in the least surprised to hear that question. You could tell it was coming by the way Katie condescendingly told Carmen “you’re beautiful!” (which Carmen bravely deflected with a “so are you” response. Katie referred to her twice as having once “been a man” and, for all the smugness with which she tried to imply to everyone that this was SO not the Jerry Springer Show all over again, and she was totally not being prurient in asking a guest about her genitalia, but it was just that so many “other people” wanted to know… Well, let’s just say I knew it was coming.

A wonderful quote that arose from the Leveson Inquiry was the phrase: “it may be of interest to the public, but that does not make it of public interest.” Whilst very nice on its own when dealing with, say, the sex lives of abominably rich white cis-het men like Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant, it takes on a new meaning when dealing with trans* people – particularly transfeminine, particularly of colour. You see, “public interest” means very little to someone who is taught through hard-won experience that the public are to be feared. My transition made me re-think wearing gothy clothes, it made me re-think dyeing my hair because, all of a sudden, I didn’t want to be “interesting” as I walked down the street. Not when all I needed to do was read the paper to see what happens to t-girls to whom people take an interest. Carmen and Laverne did not need to have it cisplained to them that many people were interested – they’ve had their fair share of that interest made aggressively clear to them out of car windows as they’ve walked home many times before, I’m sure.

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The above comment found on a Huffington Post article relating to this situation espouses a view shared by many on the right wing, it seems. But what does “this is all new” mean? Gender variance has been noted in cultures dating back to Ancient Egypt at least and SRS has been on the cards since 1921, entering firmly into the public consciousness in the 1950s, so what can possibly be “new” about any of this?

Apparently, what’s new is that we are now starting to be seen, demanding to be seen for more than the surgery we may or may not choose to have. What’s new is that we are starting to be seen, demanding respect and being vocal about the problems facing us. Of course, none of this is true, either: Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall were over 45 years ago and I hope they forgive me for saying this but Riki Wilchins, Kate Bornstein, Susan Stryker, Leslie Feinberg, Judith Jack Halberstam, Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark and Julia Serano are not the springiest of spring chickens (that is a wide range of ages, of course, and that is the point).

The trouble with the talk show format is that it is so regularly exploited as an opportunity to present the guests as petitioning for mainstream acceptance (which was regularly denied to us on such programs as Jerry Springer) as “real women” and indeed, “real people,” that the format has not changed. Trans* folk have been doing interviews since forever; we just got tired of doing the same type that we always have been made to do live on air, because we have to do them anyway.

Is Lexi Kamen my real name? No, like the name I was born with. Where does it come from? How long have I felt this way? Why didn’t I say anything till now? How could I have expected you to know? Oh, I mentioned it seven years ago huh? How does my partner feel about this? Is she a lesbian now? Am I planning on changing my name legally? Hormones, huh; what’ll those do? I’m not planning on having the operation, am I? Do I have any pictures of me before I changed? Wait, I’m only female some of the time?! What the hell is genderqueer?!

Before anyone asks: I did play with Action Man, growing up. A bit. I was more interested in playing with the 53 cuddlies I kept on my bed, all named, and literally anything with the prefix “Bat-“. I wasn’t terribly interested in girl’s toys because, as I remember, they often sucked. And, no: I did not know that I was trans/genderqueer at age 6. Why on Earth would I have that kind of vocabulary? I did know, however, that, whilst playing with “the other boys” at my all-boys (and me) school, I was blending in. Eventually I stopped, and now I’m me. I’m not transitioning to become like cis women; I’m transitioning to become the realest me I can be. The realest me seems to be female some of the time but a girl all of the time, ze likes Religion dresses and would commit ritual homicide if it kept hir in Tom Ford perfumes. Ze has long, purple hair right now. Ze likes Batwoman comics and listening to Burial and Les Rallizes Dénudés and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and has a genuinely impressive fossil collection. Ze and hir band Lillian Gish are releasing their third album sometime soon, ze was once almost killed by a llama at sunrise in Machu Picchu and, in Brazil, there are two characters in a musical based on hir. I like to think I’m a kinda interesting girl and I find it personally insulting – I believe anyone would – if the most interesting question you can think to ask me, to define me, to summarise who I am for you is have I had The Op. I think it is doubly insulting for Katie Couric, someone whose job it is to ask pertinent and relevant questions to her guests to ask not only such an invasive question but such a dull one, too. In asking this question of Carmen and Laverne, Katie proved to us that this was not an interview, as far as she was concerned, with a model or an actor or a human rights activist but with two tr***ies who needed to give the weepy confessional to be accepted as “real women,” displaying since-birth certainty of liking chocolate and pink glitter and Brad Pitt and a burning desire to have heteronormative PIV sex with cis men, pronto.

The transphobic cis people (serious, serious trigger warning for both the article and the comments – if you do read it, read Zinnia Jones’ comeback to feel better, after) who have been offended by the gratifyingly large response to this interview have all clearly been offended by the notion that maybe cis people are in fact not the best judges of what is and is not appropriate to ask trans* people. That by us objecting to them putting us in boxes like “pre-op” and “post-op” (binary boxes which ignore the countless people who don’t want to have surgery or are unable to have surgery due to medical issues, as well as ignoring the enormous, regularly prohibitive, cost involved in such a procedure), we are biting the hand that feeds us in allowing us to have our stories told at all. The trouble is though: it’s not our stories. It’s their stories. To quote Natalie Reed:

“[I’ve watched] so many trans women edit their life stories into “well I was always a girl” from the same basic substance that every human being has in their history. I’ve known this all along. And I’ve known this, definitely, in the constant pressure to Tell My Story: the confessional model of “coming out” and “speaking your truth”. The lie that this is what heals the survivor when it’s always the AUDIENCE who wants it, and demands it conforms to the genre conventions that make them comfortable. We are, collectively, demanding that one another’s traumas, our darkest moments, our genders, our sexuality, conform to the GENRE we expect.

It’s about stories. It’s about narratives. It’s about myths.

How do you tell your story when you know that’s exactly what your oppressor wants? But how do you tell your story when you know stories are exactly the battlefield on which it’s all being fought? But how do you tell your story when you know stories are exactly the tools your oppressor employs to maintain the cultural status quo? But how do you tell your story when the story’s power is defined exactly by the same standards of its complicity in the oppressors power? How do you tell your story knowing it’s the oppressors tool but the only means through which the oppression is maintained?”

The answer to this question is one we trans* people and, indeed, queers at large are still trying to work out exactly, because it is incredibly difficult to express yourself on your own terms in a society established on cis- and heterosexist privilege. A queer girl who some time ago cut off contact with her abusive parents remarked to me that, when it was revealed to people who’d not known them that she was no longer in contact with them, the initial reaction was invariably “is it because they’re homophobic?” Whilst this might, to non-queer (and non-survivor) eyes and ears sound like a gesture of legitimate concern and caring, it is very much the same as asking “is it because you’re lesbian?” This makes the assumption that, until she was out, her parents were utterly faultless and that it was her sexuality that instigated a sea-change and, by extension, queers are inherently leavable. Returning to my 89 year old grandmother who asked me whether I was planning on getting The Op for a second: she has been telling me recently what a “happy little boy” I always seemed to be and has been telling me that, actually, my parents didn’t throw me and my partner out of my family home, 6 weeks ago, as if she were there, and that my parents and I used to get on so well. If only this damn acceptance of my true self had never happened, we’d all have been happy…

It is forever open season on queer identity and history, it seems. My partner and i were thrown out of my family home – where we had both moved to from Brighton to try and recuperate from some of the awfulness that had been thrown our way over the past few years – because I “refused to listen to their point of view.” Apparently cis-hets’ right to a “point of view” on trans* and queer lived experience is not only relevant but trumps all.

Interestingly enough, i’ve had a large number of people asking me why I would self-identify as queer and why there’d be such thing as Queer Studies, not grasping the extent to which this term has been reclaimed and yet almost in the same breath expressing genuine surprise that I consider the word “tr***y” to be a slur. Transphobes trying to bar us from using bathrooms in accordance with our gender and cannot make up their minds if this is because we aren’t “real women” or in case they are victims to cis men pretending to be transgender. Either we are the deceiver, the psycho, the tragic clown, the sassy sidekick to rival even the effeminate pet homosexual, the “undercover MRA” or the occasional “empowering success story” to be cooed over and patronised. We all watched Katie Couric tripping over herself, unsure of which bit of the cis/heteronormative public to interest first and I think it’s time we agree that the public that still wants to hear Transgender 101 in 2014 is too stupid for us ever to assume they’ll be ready for so much as Transgender 102. I back any bill that fights for our protection. I am not interested in fighting for our understanding. I do not need to be understood to be respected. Indeed, cis-het people never need to be examined to be “understood” and nor do we.

And if the price we must pay to be understood is for you to pry into the details of our genitalia, apparently not understanding that we find that objectionable, insulting and clearly for the benefit of those still choosing to view us with an eye of salacious fetishisation…

That’s a price paid with diminishing returns.
Y’all can stay in the dark.

 

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