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Helping International Students Navigate London: the fantastic work done by the Mexican Society.

 

Being an international student at any British University is not an easy deal, between increased fees, bureaucratic visa hurdles, and being treated as a cash cow by the institution, it is unsurprising that so many student unions have turned their focus to international students issues.

At King’s one of the front runners in providing support is the Mexican Society. In the past year they have created countless guides and support for students, work completed on their own time and focusing on the needs they have learnt through lived experience as international students at King’s.

This blog post’s aim is two fold: 1. To highlight the commitment intersectional feminists should make to our international siblings at University, as they are often hit hardest by the financial and bureaucratic burdens leveled at students. 2. Point you in the direction of two fantastic guides written by our own iFemSoc member Paulina on how to navigate living in London & being an international student.

Navigating the NHS: All-in-One Guide for International Students

The first is a fantastic break down of British healthcare and the NHS. The guide is incredibly comprehensive, stressing the importance of registering with the NHS, as well as many of the questions that are specific two being an international student here in the UK.

“Given that most students are relatively young people, it is frequent for us not to worry too much about our health. However, this is a mistake. One of the first things that you should do when you arrive to the UK is to register with the National Health Service (NHS), the British “public and free” healthcare system, even if it is just to be on the safe side. It is important to register soon for two reasons: many universities and dorms require it and private healthcare is extremely expensive. The lowest fees that a private doctor will charge you will be £80-100 per appointment, if you’re lucky and don’t need any additional test or procedure. Finally, in case of an emergency – yes, we all say it won’t happen – everything will be speedier and better if you know how to use the system.

Just as any other public healthcare system, the NHS is bureaucratic, complicated, and sometimes exasperatingly slow. However, if you know how to navigate it and use it smartly, you’ll get exceptional, quality care which will be nearly or completely free. This is something students in the US can’t say, having to subject themselves to expensive, private health-insurance companies that don’t necessarily cover everything, even if they can be tax-deductible.”

*hit the link above, and on that page will be a gateway to a Spanish version of the guide if that is more useful for you.

I’m an international student moving to London! How do I find a flat?

Housing in London is incredibly difficult for all students, however most home students don’t realise that added loop holes that international students are forced to jump to just to find somewhere safe to life while studying. The guide follows a step-by-step procedure of what Paulina & her housemate did to find an apartment, noting complicating factors & useful sites that they found on the way.

It’s important to note that this guide is slightly more geared towards Mexican students, however in general the advice is very useful for all students.

*The second half of the article is in Spanish, this is just a duplicate translation.


 

To sum up: for feminist societies to truly be considered intersectional they must redouble their efforts to include and cater for international students. In this mind, KCL iFemSoc will aim to be hosting some international students feminist meet ups this semester, and maintain our support of student campaigns that hope to better the experiences of international students here at King’s.

If you have any worries or advice that the society can do to aid international students, do get in touch.

This blog post was written by kcl iFemSoc blog editor Natalie Faber, and references articles written by Paulina Guerrero Gutiérrez, KCL Mexican Society President and iFemSoc member. 

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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Getting to Know Our Trans Officer

Hello, do you feel like introducing yourself?

 Hi! So, I’m Lexi: I’m in my third year of Film Studies BA, with my fingers crossed to carry on here at MA level, and I’m the Trans Rep for the Intersectional Feminist Society here at King’s.

Gender-wise: I identify myself as a transfeminine genderqueer person with ze/hir pronouns (pronounced as in “nothing to ze hir”) when in a space in which I can expect the majority of people to understand the language, and I identify myself as a girl with she/her pronouns in every other space.

Non-gender wise: I identify myself as an ex-goth, as a musician and DJ, as a person in recovery from – but not in absence of – mental illnesses, as an anarcha-queer feminist, as a fur -parent and as a raccoon enthusiast, to name but a few.

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(Lexi’s hair colour can change a lot but is at present this colour if you’re looking for hir on campus!)

There is absolutely no doubt that iFemSoc – and any society really – should have a Trans Rep. However, I’d like to know what the iFemSoc having a Trans Rep means to you.

 Perhaps one of the most depressing things I’ve come to realise over the past few months is how wary I often find myself whilst entering self-advertised “Feminist” spaces. For example: a friend and I recently went to an event that was part of the London Feminist Film Festival and then immediately afterwards went to a club, the majority of the space dominated by cis-het men. I realised that I was actually much more comfortable in the latter situation, and the night bus home, than the former. Largely because Feminism as a movement to this day retains some ugly and unaddressed skeletons in its closet, relating to issues of class, race, and gender status, to name but three. In this event, as in many others, I saw deference shown to perpetrators of hate speech and allies of those who have incited violence against children. Both the film shown and the panel discussion that followed gave an insight into a selective memory and a blinkered perspective that we as modern Feminists just cannot afford.

For many minorities – including but not limited to trans people – a space being labeled as Feminist is not enough to allow them to relax their guard in the knowledge they are safe. I certainly hope that seeing an increased number of people who share something of their experience on their society’s committee, striving to represent their community’s interests first and foremost, and ensure that the discourse within and without that society is inclusive and welcoming to them will allow trans students the ability to feel safe in these spaces.

Having spent 2 years at King’s already, I can without hesitation attest to the fact that the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society is a fantastic and safe space, committed to diversity and I consider it a privilege to be part of its committee. When I first came to King’s, even before joining the Film Society – in fact, quite possibly, even before enrolling – I joined the LGBT Society and the Intersectional Feminist Society. It is not inconceivable that the Trans Reps of these two societies in particular may be the first (out) trans people many students will have met. Considering just how isolating and insular being trans can feel sometimes, there simply being a name next to the words “Trans Rep” in the “About” section of a society can be a huge deal in and of itself.

 

How then do you see your role as the iFemSoc’s Trans Rep?

 Put most simply: I am here to be whatever any trans kid walking through the doors of the KCL campus (all my classes are on Strand campus, but I’m always willing to travel!) need me to be. Whether that is as the first port of call following a transphobic incident, or advice needed regarding informing the university of detail changes as they progress through transition, or simply introducing them to more people and spaces, I’m anxious to help. Being a little older than some other 3rdyears, with over ten years of experience as a born-and-bred London queer, I certainly like to think I have enough resources near hand to help out with any issue a student might have.

We create the events we need and I’m currently in the process of asking trans and gender variant / non-conforming peers what they would like to see in the coming year, and I am yearning to hear any ideas! In the autumn semester, I was proud to host a successful, albeit intensely ad hoc and last minute multi-faith alternative to the official London service for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when I and others grew concerned about its apparent liberalism/commercialism. That was an exceptionally moving moment for me as I saw both  trans and cisgender people of faith step up to the plate when asked a matter of hours before the service if they’d be willing to say the most poignant and beautiful of prayers for our lost.

I was also super happy to be able to host the London date of independent by/with/for transgender publishing house Topside Press‘ first ever UK tour, “Never Mind the Hormones,” with international names like Casey Plett, Imogen Binnie and Aisling Fae reading their material to an almost exclusively trans and/or queer crowd of students and non-students.

On a more daily basis, though, I check in with the iFemSoc facebook page and, where necessary, assist the tireless moderators ensure that trans voices and perspectives are heard on relevant topics, that language used in discussions is inclusive and the general tone within the page and the society consistently avoids cis-centric and/or transphobic bias.

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Other than having a trans rep, what do you think societies can do to make their spaces safer for trans individuals?

 Trans liberation is only going to get so far if the discourse is consistently informed by the belief that there is a thick line drawn between cis people and trans people, and the best we can all do is afford trans people rights to establish equality between the two parties. Gender identity, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender oppression are phenomena in which we all of us participate and, from whatever side, we all of us experience. Thus, when we discuss an abstract concept like safety, we need to realize that we can put as many trigger warnings in front of posts and advise against whatever slurs or outdated terminology we want, but if the foundation layer’s ideology remains “these are weird people, but we have to treat them nicely,” we’ll have failed before we begin. Viewing transness as being inextricably and eternally linked to dysphoria, depression and victimhood will forever be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A uni society is a small community and, as such, it behooves any society to show its community spirit when a member’s gender, or right to a space, due to a perceived disconnect between their gender and their assigned-gender-at-birth, is challenged. Honestly, extending common courtesy and allowing the dignity of all your members, including the trans ones, is generally all it takes.

 

What would you say to (or, what advice would you have for) new students who are at uni and just starting to explore their gender identity?

Most importantly the nature of gender is not a journey from A->B. There should be no goals with the exception of self-acceptance. There is no need for pronouns that don’t sit right with you, dress styles that don’t best express who you are, or tailoring yourself to meet society’s expectations of how your gender should be expressed; doubtless, you’ve already done that, plenty long enough, again. Your transition is first and foremost about becoming your own true self. There is no original “man” or “woman” model upon which you need to model yourself, and there is no such thing as “failure” in this situation. Your true self is worth working towards and becoming, and your gender or lack thereof is as big or small a deal as you want it to be.

 

This interview was carried out by Natalie (our online welfare officer) & Lexi (our trans rep) with the aim to improve visibility of iFemSoc having a Trans Rep and for Natalie to pick Lexi’s wonderful brain. We are both available to message via the iFemSoc Facebook group or via our personal Facebooks. 

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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