Five myths about people other than men and women…

April 21, 2014 § 11 Comments

…that I’d like to kill with fire.

Or, failing that, seek to correct in some small way with a blog post.

Genderqueer, genderfluid, bigender, agender, neutrois, androgynous – those are just a few of the words people would use, who can’t use woman or man, in whole or in part, to describe themselves. And yet the myths about who we are seem sadly consistent and lacking in diversity. And just so bloody wrong.


1. We were all assigned female at birth

I don’t know if this comes out of a misogynistic notion that women are ‘more fluid’ (less stable?) (see bisexuality), an idea that no man would want to ‘trade down’ in terms of gender, or the fact that the most popular media image of ‘androgyny’ is one of a conventionally beautiful woman in a man’s shirt and phallic….cigar. Maybe a side order of Western cultural fixation on the ‘passing’ or cross-dressed woman in both low and high art (not to mention gossip and folklore) for the past couple of hundred years?

I’m sure there’s enough material behind this trope to furnish a rather fabulous PhD – but not, in my experience as an organiser of trans community events, a huge amount of evidence.

Let alone the fact that it’s both presumptuous and rude to try to bind someone to the sex/gender they were assigned AND COULD NOT LIVE WITH (I wouldn’t usually capitalise, but seriously, that’s awful) – it’s just not accurate. I’ve met people of all backgrounds and experiences who have come to live outside of a socially-mandated binary – not one deserves to have their story erased.


2. We all look like we stepped out of a fashionshoot

Mainstream fashion magazines inevitable showcase young, white, thin, tall, apparently able-bodied models for all of their looks. It’s no surprise, then, that their paltry attempts to subvert a strict gender binary play by exactly the same limiting rules. What is surprising is that that depiction is taken as an accurate one by so many people.

Not that pictures of skinny boys in eyeliner and skinny girls in suits didn’t have an impact on me when I was trying to find a way to express who I was – any port in a storm – but it’s as far removed from our actual lives as a ‘Winter wonderland’ photoshoot is from an actual December day.

Some people have bodily dysphoria – others do not. Some people will seek to make their bodies one combination of sexed characteristics, some another, some none at all, some all at once – there’s no one standard at play. We are every conceivable type of shape, colour, size, style, physical embodiment. If there is a rule at play, I feel it should be this – nobody gets to decide what a body/presentation of that body means unless the body in question is theirs. You can’t tell by looking how someone would describe themselves – not for women, not for men, and not for people who are both or neither.

Is there racism, fatphobia, ageism, ablism in the trans community that means that people who do conform to a fashionable notion of androgyny get more attention? Absolutely – and I’m one of the people who has benefited from that. But that should be a spur to examine our preconceived notions and change them, not a confirmation bias of supposed validity.


3. We’re just angsty teenagers/it’s a university thing

Claiming that something came out of/is the sole province of over-educated, ‘politically correct’ students and teenagers is a popular way of trying to discredit it. And not a particularly effective one. First off, it’s patently untrue – offline, online, I’ve been privileged to meet people of all ages who aren’t/aren’t solely women or men – often in the least likely of places (operatic audition panel, I’m thinking of you). A lot of people come to explore, to know their gender in their teenage years or throughout university – and a lot of people don’t, or started earlier, or keep going.

Secondly, even if it was the case – why would someone’s gender, the names they give themselves, be less valid because they’re young? Because of the scornful notion we have of ‘it’s just a phase’? Because we expect teenaged rebellion against conformity, and devalue it as a way of protecting that conformity? Fuck that.


4. We’re all really ‘just’ gay or lesbian

Not agender, or bigender, or genderqueer and gay or lesbian. Rather, hipster gays and lesbians who want a fashionable new word to describe ourselves. Because butch is so over. Or something. Hey – ‘genderqueer’ just goes better with my undercut.

I came out as androgynous at fifteen. I’ve felt an affinity for that word through good haircuts and bad ones, through being painfully nerdy to surprisingly cool, covered in acne, covered in tattoos, when I’ve been with women, when I’ve been with men…it didn’t make me fashionable, and it certainly didn’t stop me from being bisexual*.

The histories of gender and sexual dissidence are long, complicated and hopelessly entwined. And that doesn’t mean that you can tell who someone fancies by what gender they are.

And it never means that people who reject binary appellations are traitors to the world of cis homosexuality.


5. This is just a passing trend

To the library!

Gender-sexual dissidence reading list

Seriously. There’s nothing more I can say to that. Too many people have said too much before me.


I get so sick of saying it, but will continue to say it until it’s no longer needed – the first step to not being a dick is to not  make assumptions about anyone. Cis, trans, male, female, something else entirely  – if you start off with a stereotype, with a trope, with trying to force an identity onto someone from the outside, you are going to be wrong. More than being wrong, you are going to be causing harm.

And, besides – not assuming anything is so much more exciting. Real people are inevitably more interesting that the inaccurate reductions we’d make of them.






*My issues with that word/classification are a lengthy blog post in themselves, but used for clarity/political purposes when necessary.


Why we’re all non-binary…

April 14, 2014 § 21 Comments

…and that doesn’t stop people from being women and men.

A rewind, and a few words of explanation. I’d just finished writing an article on gender plurality for a feminist website, and was browsing my twitter feed, simultaneously talking to a friend about people labelling their genders ‘binary’ and ‘non-binary’. Twitter was full of people debating the differences between ‘binary’ and ‘non-binary’ and that, and the article, and the personal conversation – left me feeling somewhat sad – and also angry and in fear of misrepresentation.

Increasingly, I’m seeing an oppositional standpoint develop between people who call themselves ‘non-binary’ and people who call themselves’ binary’. Sometimes with an awareness of the problems of dichotomy – sometimes nearly indistinguishable from the ‘women are like this/men are like that’ sophistry. And, as I have said before, and will say again – if my gender, my self, has no name in a binary system – if a binary system does not allow for my existence, and the existence of people like me, then either I cannot exist or that system cannot exist. And, as much as any human can be sure of it, I’m fairly sure that I exist.

That is why I would say that all genders are ‘non-binary’ – not in the slightest because that means that all people should or could describe themselves as ‘NB’ in the way it’s used as a gender marker and identity label – but because, to allow for people with genders other than male or female, we cannot have only two options. In this plural model, all genders are ‘non-binary’ in the same way that a rainbow is ‘non-binary’ – because it is more than red and blue, not because red and blue are not valid colours within it.

A non-binary universe means that there is space for everyone – and that everyone is equally valid within that space. When a binary system is set up with ‘allowances’ for people like me, for ‘exceptions’, then I am denied the universality that comes through our common humanity. My gender is not an optional extra. How my body and my mind and my words travel through this world is not something to be tacked on at the side because it couldn’t be slotted neatly into an available system.

And, yet, it is more than this. Because I don’t want to dismantle the binary gender system for my sole benefit, or only for the benefit of those nominally like me – it needs to be dismantled for all of us. I am not more unique in who I am and how I could be described than a woman or a man. I am no more deserving of the freedom to define myself to the world, and back to myself, and explore what I mean. How can a system with only two options capture the infinite variety expressed by the words ‘men’ and ‘women’? Let alone a binary, each of the those words is constantly exploding with new categories, new definitions. I don’t know how to respond when someone calls themselves as ‘binary’ man or woman – because what are they referring to? Which period of human history, which culture, has such a categorical definition of womanhood or manhood – and nothing else – that we could use that term in that way?

My mother is a woman, and I am androgynous – and yet our genders are just as rich and complex, and dynamic, as each others’. We share similarities, we share differences – we are both constantly growing and changing, and the language we use can only ever signpost the richness of who we are. I don’t want to be set in opposition to her, or anyone else I love – I want to exist in a framework that allows us all the space we need for difference and the connections we maintain in sharing, empathy, likeness of spirit.

If we allow for a system in which we are all valid, all equals, then you don’t need to use the word ‘binary’ to defend yourself again me. My refusal of the words ‘men’ and ‘women’ is not an insult directed at your usage of them – but I will not reify your centrality with my supposed outsider status. And I will not take one man’s definition of manhood’s over another’s as ‘more real’, ‘more manly’ – or vice versa.  Each person’s usage is precious to them, as mine is to me – and it can genuinely be as simple as that, if we want it to be.

So, I suppose, more accurately – it’s not so much ‘we’re all non-binary’ as ‘we all exist in a non-binary universe’ – the possibilities are endless, increasing exponentially which each new person in the world. I don’t want to deny or police or suppress anyone within that – I want to dismantle our current enforced binary system until we reach the starting point of everything and nothing. And then the rest is up to us.

Trapped in the wrong body

April 8, 2014 § 4 Comments

{This is a shortened section of the monologue I gave at Transpose: Tate Modern on April 6th – a meditation on Miro, dissolution of the body through art, the universality/exclusion of bodies and ways of seeing and being seen. More on that theme features heavily in my upcoming book “Transgress/Transcend” but this is what I wanted to salvage from my notes today – with sincere gratitude to everyone involved that night – it was exceptionally special.}


Being a trans artist, a trans activist, in a public and professional way – I feel so often the weight of expectation to utter that traditional line “I feel trapped in the wrong body”. One of its variants, as a shibboleth of understanding: “I was born in the wrong body” – that I’m an accident of nature.

It’s not that I don’t sometimes feel that sentiment, deeply, reverberating through me – as a personal sorrow – as a way of making sense of all the times I tried to meet my own eyes in the mirror and couldn’t see myself. But that’s the thing – that pain that I bear, because of the mismatch between my body map and the physical presence of my body – it is something personal, and isn’t what I want to talk about here.

Because I am trapped in the wrong body – constantly, consistently – but by society, not nature. It’s being looked at and appraised by eyes that consider me solely through the light of their own experience. It’s being physically examined by doctors who map the meanings of their labels onto me without my consent. It’s acquaintances, colleagues, strangers, carving me up and dividing me out and presenting myself back to myself as lacking, and in need of their interpretation. This is how I’m not trans enough. This is how I’ll never be masculine enough. This - my voiceis too feminine – these – my eyes, my lips, my chin – can only ever be those of a woman. 

I am not a boy trapped in the body of a girl – my selfhood is not something divided against itself, swallowed up by and choking on itself – but it is something suffocated by the weight of the body imposed upon it by society.

The claustrophobia of that is hard to manage – as a performer, particularly – to go out before an audience and know that what they see is not what I know is there. And fear that, if that’s what they see, that maybe it’s enough to overwrite what I feel, and set itself up in my place.

Our accepted narrative of trans experience tells me that I should change my body so as to be freed from its inborn ‘wrongness’ – to bring myself into alignment. Well, I’ve changed my body – I’ve changed it for myself, to be able to live in it and with it, to ease my dysphoria, to give myself the care I needed. I continue to change it – because my body is a dynamic entity, and I have personal compromises to make. But, again – that change is personal to me, and it’s my business, not that of strangers. The bodily change I want to see is in the images and meanings imposed upon our bodies by each other.

If you see me with eyes clouded by a lifetime of false assumptions, tropes, stereotypes, lies – it’s not really me that you’re seeing at all. The body you’re placing on me is of your making, not mine – and I want you to take it back, and let it go.

I don’t want us to stand facing each other, pushing outwards, each trying to impress the other with the singular view we have. I want you to stand next to me, and me to you, and share with me what I see with you, and what you see with me.

I am trying to see you. Please try to see me.





And still my shaking…

April 4, 2014 § 3 Comments

…the astonishing beauty of Lester’s vocals – DIVA

Aether is an album that demands your attention with the kind of songwriting and arrangements that truly reach into the deepest part of those lucky enough to have discovered it. Compelling, sometimes utterly disarming, Aether is a profoundly personal offering that needs to be heard. – So So Gay


Aether is one of those albums where you want to turn all the lights off and just let the music wash over you. You can drown in it. – Cheryl Morgan

Three more gigs and the preview tour for Aether will be over. Lying in the ocean at night, performing for film festival crowds, cars and trains and cars and trains and swimming pool shoots and sleeping under the piano in the studio – I’ve gotten a little lost and wrong in the making of this, but in the most wonderful way.

Reviews are coming in. Interviews are beginning. I have a handful of comp tickets left for Tate Modern on Sunday, and the video is out.


I have quite a number of exciting plans stuffed up my sleeves for the summer. Do keep your ears pricked for news of the next music video call out.

But, most of all, thank you.

Aether is available on iTunes and Amazon now.

Four things about men and women I’ve learnt from being neither

March 30, 2014 § 52 Comments

I think part of it is a family trait, of being treated as a safe person to talk to – several relatives have had similar experiences – but part of it is most definitely being publicly genderqueer. Since I came out, nearly half a lifetime ago, I’ve found that so many of my interactions with women and men* have been marked by them designating me as something like safe territory. Someone they can talk to about gender, sex, sexuality, identity, who will both understand where they’re coming from and give them another perspective – like a gender translator and diplomat – and, crucially, listen and respond without judging them along strict binary lines. Because I’ve already transgressed those boundaries, and won’t try to punish them if it turns out that they’re transgressed them too.


This isn’t anything more than anecdotal evidence and personal experience – in generalized, anonymous terms and without personal details – but I wish we were having these conversation in public, as loudly as possible, and could have done with them and move on. Maybe this is too obvious for words – but if there’s anyone out there reading this who’s worried about any of these points – worried like the people who’ve opened up to me have worried – then I think they need saying.


* Most often this has been in relation to cis men and women – not because I believe that trans men and women are somehow less ‘natural’ or ‘real’, but because most of the trans people I’ve met have been forced to untangle societal ideas of sex and gender in a way that most cis people haven’t.



1. Most people don’t fit common gender definitions

I say ‘most’ people to be safe – in my own life, I don’t think I’ve met a single person who could fit themselves perfectly into the templates our society has given us of ‘men’ and ‘women’. Not without cutting out crucial parts of who they are, not without pretending, in whole or in part, to be something that they aren’t. Some have an easier time than others – and some who look, from the outside, like they’re having the easiest time of it are actually having the worst. So often the face presented to the world doesn’t correspond comfortably with the person behind the face – and, yet, so many of these people think that the fault lies with them, and not with a definition that fails to include the people nominally included under its auspices.



2. Most people keep secrets

Whether it’s how often they cry, or how they’ve stopped themselves from crying for so long that they can no longer let go, how they feel about their bodies, how they’d want to be penetrated, or be the one penetrating, how they’ve wondered about being transgender, how they felt when they were first punished for not being a ‘proper’ girl or boy, how they can’t even remember how to be angry because good girls are never angry, or forget how to count calories and hide it because that’s not what men do…


If a system can only exist because people can’t tell the truth then I think that tells you all you need to know about the authenticity of that system. I think if we could, collectively, tell the secrets we keep about what our selves are and are meant to be, it might go a long way to knocking patriarchy down entirely.



3. Most people worry

How could you not worry, when faced with a culture that presents two (and only two) options, allows little to no dissent, failure, divergence – and pretends that it should be natural, easy – because to find it unnatural, or difficult, is proof of failure, and failure (as previously stated) is not allowed?

The standards of manhood, of womanhood, we’ve been presented with are, in my experience, impossible. Not just impossible for me, as a genderqueer person, but impossible even for cis people who suffer no bodily dysphoria – because they don’t allow wholeness, exploration or freedom.



4. The binary gender system hurts everyone

It doesn’t hurt everyone equally – that should go without saying, but still probably needs repeating – but, again in my experience, I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been hurt by it. Even people I’ve met who benefit most from the structural benefits of the kyriarchy, and the binary gender system that goes with it – the secret hurts they carry, which cis men are not meant to carry under patriarchy – which, by definition they cannot carry – it astounds me, how much hurt there is. The number of cis men I’ve met who want to talk about their experiences of eating disorders, of child abuse, of being raped (by women as well as men), of bullying, of depression, of street abuse. It shocks me how we could, collectively, allow a system to continue when it hurts us so badly. It saddens me to think of the reasons why we do.


This isn’t a ‘what about teh menz’ – but it does amaze me, that an oppressive system supposedly in service of some people manages to damage even those it most benefits.


This isn’t to say that everyone should give up the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ and call themselves ‘genderqueer’ instead – but it is to say that the ways we’ve taught people to use those terms, what those terms supposedly mean, does not cover the totality of what people actually are.


Maybe this is simply the verbal equivalent of throwing up your hands in frustration.


A lot of the trans activistism I do is about the specific rights of trans people – the fact that we’re still unequal under law, that we’re frequently punished by mainstream society, that, all too often, we’re not treated as fully human. But, for myself, there’s a broader point I want to make about trans activism, about gender and selfhood and cultural systems – and that’s that in helping the people most oppressed by harmful gender norms, we’re in fact helping all of us. I want cis people to care about trans activism because they care about trans people – because transphobia and cissexism are terrible things.


But I also wonder why more of them don’t care about it from a selfish place – because, from where I’m standing, being a man or a woman in a binary gender system is not half an easy as it seems.

These are not the allies we’re looking for

February 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

If you’re a trans person with access to twitter, odds are you’re up to speed with Piers Morgan’s gross rudeness to Janet Mock, and subsequent tantrum when called on it. Cisphobia, people. Cisphobia. If you know any trans people on twitter, same deal. I don’t have anything to add to the excellent summaries of the situation already making the rounds – but I was interested (in that ‘oh god, here we go again’ way) in the wider response I saw, when the news was shared by supportive cis people – and then commented on by cis people who consider themselves supportive.


As a Londoner and a Private Eye reader, I’m not convinced that Morgan believes a word of his “but I’m an ally” routine – beyond the desire for it to make him look like the good guy – but it’s the inevitability with which the people agreeing with him resort to the same tactic: “hey, I’m open-minded”, “I’m an ally”, “but I support people like you”. The shock they express when told that no, actually, they’re not being very open-minded, supportive, allied to a movement, a concept, a group of vulnerable people.


I’ll admit up front – I’m angry, and I’m ranting. But if you’ve ever caught yourself saying or thinking these things to someone you claim to be helping – well. Maybe you should have a nice long look at your ego, and where it needs to step down.



“I’m just being objective”

Funny how ‘objective’ allies claim to be able to see how an unequal world can affect the lives of others – but never them. “To every action is an equal and opposite reaction” – except of course not, because while an oppressed group might have their minds clouded by the experience of oppression, these allies would never have their rationality influenced by the experience of privilege. Because that’s not a thing. It’s just how the world works. Like the fact that people are ‘born’ men and women, and there’s a definitive standard of ‘male’ and ‘female’ that we can all adhere to, and these totally aren’t cultural sophistries to cling to without active investigation, and trans people have certainly never had the wherewithal to think things through for themselves, or start with the same inculturated assumptions but move to a different place based on greater wisdom – no. “Objective” enough to parrot widely held myths about bodies and minds, but not objective enough to consider why they came to hold those views, what they mean, where they came from, who they serve. Fancy.


“Why aren’t you grateful?”

I think my favourite part of Morgan’s vitriol was his apparent shock and disappointment at Mock’s failure to be suitably grateful for everything that he’d given her. A washed-up sleaze of a hack invites another media professional (a current, interesting one on the rise) onto his show for an interview – and she failed to shower him with praise for his largesse. Is there often an element of selfishness in acts of kindess? Fuck yes. This much selfishness, for so little kindness? No points. And no cookie.



“You’re telling me not to contribute/fuck you, I’ll contribute without you”

A favourite way of flouncing out of the conversation – or, if you have the power to do so, of continuing a monologue on your own terms. Some people use it to shut down a debate – Morgan used it as a chance to call a panel of other cis people to discuss whether or not they should act with basic decency towards trans people.

The thing is – we’re not telling you not to contribute. We’re telling you that your contributions need to be better. If the only things you have to give us are the same tired lines and responses we hear weekly, if not daily – then why do you think they have any value left? Would you be proud of bringing something mouldy to a pot-luck supper? Would you insist on everyone eating it just to make you feel valued, and telling you how clever you were to have made it at all?

We need these conversations, these dialogues – but they have to be dialogues – and they can’t happen when one side refuses to catch up with the other. You can’t get to the end of the ensemble piece when one musician keeps fucking up the first bar – and then refusing to practice it until they get it right, because someone else should do that for them.



If you know me, or are a regular visitor here, you’ll know how much I value and respect those who genuinely support others in their work towards equality and justice. But I’m getting heartily sick of those who want all the advantages of seeming like a nice, progressive, “tolerant” sort of person – without having any of the attributes that actually make an ally.




Why I’m asking for your help

January 28, 2014 § 2 Comments

Aether for blog 2


So, there are two weeks left to go for the funding campaign for Aethertwo weeks, and half way towards the goal.

I find it desperately hard, asking people for money – even though I’m asking in exchange for goods and services – even though I know that the product is worth it – even though (without claiming to be a woman) I think that some of the fantastic argument here could apply. 


Hard not only because of cultural conditioning around money, but hard specifically because it feels like admitting that I’ve failed in not being able to do it without the help. And pretending that that’s not the case can feel a great deal easier, because there are things I’d rather forget, about why this industry is so difficult, not just in general, but in particular.


I don’t know any artist from a marginalised group who isn’t wary of being accused of playing the ‘…..’ card – but I have yet to meet an artist from a marginalised group who hasn’t been affected by the bigotry of the mainstream in some way. It’s certainly been the case for me – and, yet, I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t want to be accused of being weak, I don’t want to be accused of using it as an excuse, I don’t want people to think that I lack the talent to make it and, therefore, seek to blame a struggle to be heard on others. I know that I benefit because I’m white, because I’m thin, because my disabilities aren’t visible. But, to be honest – my alternative work in the last three years in more mainstream spaces has been hard.


It’s the managers telling you they’d love to work with you – you’re so talented – but you’re too different to sell. One manager in particular was very keen – until I refused to go down the ‘sell sob story with before and after pictures to tabloid’ route. It’s being asked to pretend that I’m a girl. It’s the constant misgendering. It’s the deliberate cruelty of certain MCs with something to prove. It’s knowing that there are performance environments it’s not fair to ask my fans to come into, because they’ll  be misgendered, insulted, ill-treated. It’s being ignored as a musician, because being trans negates everything else about me, in the eyes of people who still see being trans as some kind of unfortunate freakshow.


It’s one of the reasons why I organise so many events on my own, with artists I respect, enjoy, admire. It’s the reason why performing in more alternative spaces is so much more comfortable. But, and this is the point that feels almost impossible to say – it does mean that I make a lot less money from my alternative music than some people think I do. Most gigs I play are for travel expenses only, if that. I try to play as many free and low cost gigs as possible, because god knows our community faces terrible problems with both employment and benefits. I organise fundraisers. I give away music.


I’m not trying to say that I don’t love doing that – I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone, or claim that my life is a terrible hardship – it’s not, and I love my career, my audience, with a deep passion. But, I guess, what I am trying to say is – I can’t do this on my own. And I would really, really appreciate your help.


I know that money is tight for any awful lot of people – it’s tight for me, and I’m luckier than most when it comes to economic security. But if you have valued the work I’ve done for free over the past couple of years – if you read this blog, or my other articles, or come to Transpose, or download my songs – I would be so grateful if you could lend me a hand – in return for more music, or a gig of your own, or some beautiful artwork.


I’m prouder of Aether than almost anything else I’ve ever done – I just hope that you’ll share it with me, and let me keep making music for the people I care about (which, to be fair, is most people).


I’m now I’m going to disappear, and feel embarrassed somewhere else. Thank you.


Aether for blog 1


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