April 16, 2018 § Leave a comment
There’s a reason why there was no blogging for the rest of 2017…or for the beginning of 2018, and I think it’s a good one: I’ve been on book tour, on album tour – and writing and speaking everywhere else but here. Only so many hours in the day – and a lot to try to remember – but I’m finally remembering to fill everyone in on the blog.
2017 was UK based: book festivals, community events, training days, university conferences, scratch nights and book shops. The kind of things I’ve been talking about – trans lives, gender, change and hope – are all featured in the BBC Radio 4 show below – and in the accompanying article.
For the Photographer’s Gallery, I wrote about the challenge of the cis gaze – in the street, and backwards and forwards in time:
And for the Barbican: the struggle to understand other trans people without collapsing their realities into our own.
The highlight of 2018 so far has to be the trip to Sydney to speak to the All About Women feminist festival as part of a trans panel featuring Sally Goldner, Jordan Raskopoulos, and Eddie Ayres. I’m still processing how transformative the whole experience was – but the panel is on YouTube for all who want it:
And I had the best interview experience ever with SBS…
The rest of 2018 is shaping up to be just as full: shooting an art project with Daniel Barter, recording the audiobook for Trans Like Me in May, getting ready for American publication in June , preparing for the most ambitious Transpose ever in December, and gigging/speaking around the country. And trying to finish my PhD.
Twitter and Facebook are best for more regular news – but I’ll try to update here more often. Enormous thanks to everyone who’s read this far – and in particular the people who’ve been reading for years, and the book besides. Onwards and upwards. And, finally, in white tie and tails…
July 5, 2016 § 1 Comment
There are some blog posts you start knowing exactly what it is you want to say and what it is you need to accomplish with those words.
This is not one of those blog posts.
Like the majority of Remain voters in the UK, I’m still struggling to come to terms with all that’s happened in the last twelve days. Like a great many of us living in the UK, regardless of how we voted, I feel like I’m trapped in some kind of satirical version of my own country: we have no prime minister, Labour politicians are eating their own at the expense of forming a genuine opposition, the mainstream media is awash with rumours, innuendo and scaremongering. Official police reporting shows a fivefold increase in racist hate crimes: community reporting suggests that the true number of attacks is far higher. Many industries, including those in which my partner and closest friends work, are considering divesting from the UK and moving their offices elsewhere. Without EU funding, and in the environment of another likely recession, I don’t know how the music industry here will survive unscathed and without major changes for the worse. Cuts to contemporary, fringe and classical arts have already taken a toll – selfishly and unselfishly, I fear for what will be destroyed next. Like many trans people, I’m pessimistic about what will happen to funding for trans-specific projects, and about the future of transition-related care in the NHS. I’m white, middle-class and a Londoner – luckier than most – but I fear for my loved ones, my interlocking and divergent communities, my students, and myself.
I was hesitant about writing this post because, in the face of what we’re facing, what do I have to offer? But, thinking through a few things which have helped, seeing what’s helped friends, benefitting from advice from those friends – I thought that anything, no matter how small, would be better than despairing and staying silent.
These are five things which have helped me over the last week and a half, and which I hope have helped me to support others. I hope they might provide some small help for you too.
1.Use social media/the internet for a specific purpose only
I put this first not because it’s the most important, but because I’m incapable of doing anything else without this foundational step. My manic depression is not usually situational but, in this instance, it most definitely is. I know I’m not the only one. Does this sound familiar: wake up, check the news, keep checking the news, check reactions, check conflicting reports, check in with your social circles, check back to Twitter, become increasingly hopeless, look up and realise that three hours have gone by, and that you’re now too low to move? I realise that this might sound hyperbolic and ridiculous to those without the tendency to this kind of cycle – but there it is. Greater connectivity to the wider world in some ways – and a greater sense of being trapped in our own heads, overwhelmed with information that feeds every anxiety and nihilistic impulse.
So I’m trying to limit myself to using the internet – any part of the internet – for a specific purpose only. This doesn’t mean ignoring what’s going on – on the contrary, I think we have a duty to keep ourselves informed and ready to act – but that there has to be an underlying reason and a goal. Writing to your MP? Check for facts and figures. Joining a campaign? Research your options. Wanting to support your friends? Check for guidelines and methods. But that endless clicking, that downward spiral of despair, serves no one. Deliberately exposing yourself to additional pain is not virtuous, and reading more and more about current and potential suffering is not, on its own, a way of combatting that suffering. Go in with a game plan – to learn, to comfort, to support, to act – and then get out.
2. Listen to those most affected and follow their lead
This one should go without saying, as should its reverse – those most affected should have no qualms about putting themselves first. But for people like me – white, British, not perceived as an immigrant (though I am) – it’s more important than ever to listen, learn and follow the lead of those who know best. Essential resources:
Media Diversified – start here
3. Break out of the echo chamber
As a trans person who frequently needs to retreat from the overwhelming ignorance and cruelty of the outside world into spaces full of like-minded people, I’m not knocking the need for ‘echo chambers’.
What I am attacking is the way in which people with more societal privilege, myself included, frequently put our own comfort over the need to reach out, communicate and challenge. Sometimes, yes, it’s too much – too dangerous, or too damaging. But not always.
When white people (again including myself) shy away from a colleague or a relative’s racism, because we don’t want an argument and we don’t want to make our own lives harder. When a difficult conversation starts, but we avoid it because we don’t want the heartache. When we boast about blocking xenophobes and racists on facebook, even though they were our friends once and we might be able to reach them over the course of an evening, offline and over drinks, if we really tried.
It’s not that you can magically change someone’s mind overnight – changing opinions takes time, exposure and, often, the sense of being self-directed. But when we abdicate this responsibility, what is it that we’re doing? Leaving the mess for someone else to clean up. Someone who has a lot more to lose than we do.
So please – have that difficult conversation. Talk to your racist aunt. Listen and talk and challenge. This is the best advice I’ve found on the topic so far. But don’t keep yourself ‘pure’ at the expense of other people’s misery.
4. Join something
In the past few months I haven’t exactly been subtle about the fact that I joined the Labour party as a Corbyn supporter. Nothing to do with a ‘cult of personality’ – simply because he’s the first mainstream politician I feel able to invest in, in an anti-Austerity, pro-peace kind of way.
That might be the right choice for you too, or it might not be – but we’re all needed, whether that’s in the main political parties, on the fringes, or in combination. In the same time it takes to send a string of tweets, we can send an email to an MP. Small campaigning and activist groups are always in need of donations and support – no matter how small, in time or money. Amnesty International always needs support for their letter writing campaigns. In you can march, march – it you can’t, there are hundreds of things you can do from home. But (terrible saying ahoy): you have to be in it to win it. There are the main political parties; there are groups like Sisters Uncut and The People’s Assembly. We all have different needs, and views. But we can all find a place to do our bit.
5. Make use of these feelings, and make them count
It’s easy to remember when the feeling has passed, and far harder to do when in the throes of depression: every emotion can be fuel for the fire of change. Even depression, even the kinds of lows that seem the very definition of stasis, can be something, can help us to change, to make change, if we want them to.
I can’t pretend to a sense of optimism, and I can’t yet begin to see a silver lining. But I know that those feelings – despondency, hopelessness, enervation, rage – can engender the kind of action that can create something to be optimistic about. They don’t have to be end states – they can be beginnings. They can be ways of being cut off, and they can also be ways of forging ahead and bridging divides.
I find that easy to remember when it comes to the personal, and hard when it concerns the wider world. But my friends have reminded me of that, post-Brexit, and have given me goals to set those feelings towards.
I’m writing this to remind myself of the fact – and in the hope it will remind you too.
Good luck – to you, to me, and to all of us.
May 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
* I have never learnt how to stop worrying.
* There are times when working feels like squeezing blood from a stone. Those times will always be with us. I am in one now.
But I have to admit – having this recent “if I don’t look at it then it doesn’t exist” moment with a project made me realise that, strangely enough, I seem to have managed pretty well with the twin demons of self-loathing and procrastination (they combine forces to form the ultimate move – FEAR OF FAILURE). It’s a bit of a surprise.
I was talking about it with friends and colleagues on social media, and they suggested that I share any tips and hints I’ve found that work for me – so here you go. Nothing particularly original here, but they just might help. And distract me from what I’m meant to be doing? Yes.
June 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve been wanting to do a companion recipe to the ‘terribly butch chocolate cake’ for a while and this week went and presented the perfect opportunity. After Thursday’s question to the panel, femme things have been on my mind – and then I realised that I’d be making cakes for the birthday party of my oldest friend in the world on Saturday – and she’s the biggest femme I know. We had matching princess fairy dresses when we were little (hers was yellow, mine was pink), and we were convinced that we were going to grow up to be mermaids. I’m still holding out for that eventuality, but it turns out that she grew up to be a kick-ass engineer, travelling around the world having amazing adventures – complete with long blonde hair, perfect nails, and one of the most impressive dress and shoe collections I’ve ever seen.
So, in her honour, the ‘ever so femme chocolate cake’. It’s sweet, rich and full of vanilla – but never saccharine, and totally packs a punch – hope you like it.
First off: make this cake. It’s the best vanilla cake recipe I know – dense, moist and with the creaminess of texture that baking with yoghurt gives. I’ll admit, I find high femme style incredibly sexy – and nothing sexier than the brief, tantalising scent of someone’s perfume on the air – which is something vanilla never fails to remind me of. So vanilla it was. If a cake ever came close to the memory of kissing someone’s neck, this is that cake.
Once the cake has cooled, get to work on the frosting – which is exactly the same as the frosting for the butch chocolate cake – only with colouring added, if you like. I went for a very pale antique rose, because it blended perfectly with the last and most important ingredient.
Raspberries! Loads and loads and loads of raspberries. The tartness is a perfect foil for the sweetness of the frosting, and gives you three distinct textures in each bite. I think that might also be a metaphor. Plus they’re pink – and, somewhere deep inside me, is a little person who never stopped loving things which are both pink AND glittery. That little person is very excited about this cake.
If you’re not a fan of white chocolate, simply make a dark chocolate ganache – frost, add fruit, sprinkle with edible glitter, enjoy.
May 15, 2013 § 1 Comment
I realise that I’ve been doing an awful lot of posts about trans issues lately and, while that’s in no way a bad thing, it leaves me with less time to prattle on about the other important things in life – music, books and coffee. Before heading into the series of genderqueer answers (two weeks time) I thought it was important to have a coffee break. A proper coffee break, that only a real coffee snob would appreciate. So, fellow Londoners, check these places out, if you haven’t already – and recommendations in the comments most gratefully received. I’m not going to comment on the quality of the coffee at each cafe, because they’re all wonderful – just try them and see.
Pros: Attached to an incredible (and affordable) restaurant and free gallery, beautiful environment, friendly staff who give you extra marshmallows in your hot chocolate when you’ve been caught in the rain.
Cons: Only really accessible by bus, but worth the trip for combined art/coffee/cake/brunch good times.
Try: The cortado if they’re doing them, otherwise a flat white.
Pros: French ice-cream and viennoiserie! Perfectly placed to combine with a long walk on the Common.
Cons: A little too noisy and yummy-mummy-ish at the weekends.
Try: A cafe au lait, and an eponymous macaron – they’re gorgeous.
Pros: A great place to work and to chat to baristas about tattoos/body art, amazing selection of tea for the people who don’t like coffee.
Cons: Sometimes the music can be a little loud.
Try: a double espresso if you like a strong citrus/floral note in your coffee – a cappuccino if you don’t.
I’m slightly hesitant about sharing this one, as it’s my favourite coffee shop in London and where I go to get most of my work done – that childish thing of ‘MINE!’. But, ultimately, it’s too good not to share.
Pros: Gorgeous little garden, open to the early morning at the weekends, friendly resident dog, proper Aperol spritzes in the evening.
Cons: A bit too hipster for its own good, the only food they serve is cake (obviously not a con for all of us…)
Try: An Americano – very strong and sweet – and the Italian hot chocolate that you have to eat with a spoon.
December 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
So, wow – it’s nearly the end of the year. I’m just about to retire into hibernation – possibly involving a cupboard under the stairs and a whole bunch of shredded newspapers, possibly not – but I just wanted to say an enormous thank you to everyone who made this such a great year. Shattering, but great.
One alternative album, one classical album, learning how not to run my mouth off in interviews (hopefully), a photography project I never thought I’d have the courage to do and finally handing over my novel to a literary agent. And working on the next novel, Transgress/Transcend and Aether.
But aside from a general thank you to everyone who reads this blog and shares it, and the previous ENORMOUS thank you to everyone who made Dark Angels happen – I just wanted to add two more. Because, apparently, it’s the kind of thing you’re allowed to do at Christmas. First, to everyone I’ve met gigging around the country this year – Brighton, Manchester, Norwich, Edinburgh, Dumfries, Cambridge, Oxford, and London, as always – not only for being amazing audiences, but for just being awesome, in general. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations, and received so many kindnesses – transport, places to stay, and more than a few pints – and it’s meant a lot.
Second – this Christmas night will mark the five year anniversary of my brother’s death from brain cancer. It’s not something I like to talk about much in public, though it’s the reason why Ashes exists. But every year I try to raise as much money as possible for the hospice that helped us care for him in the final months – and this year I thought it was time to exploit my genuine terror of heights for a good cause. It’s hard to find words that don’t sound trite or insincere – but I really am grateful, so very grateful, to every person who donated and publicised the fundraiser – so many of whom have only heard my music, or seen me perform – we ended up raising just over £1000. I’ll have to think of something truly horrible to do next year to top that.
I hope everyone reading this finds some degree of peace over the holidays – I advise a large helping of Handel and Bach x
October 1, 2012 § 6 Comments
Sometimes I forget that I’m allowed to write whatever I like on my blog. That it doesn’t have to be all trans issues or music. So.
You might well have worked this out already – I love to cook. With the emphasis on ‘cook’ – nothing of the chef going on here. I know that molecular gastronomy brings great happiness to some people, but if I can’t forget what I’m doing and sing along to unsuitable opera while I’m stirring then I’m really not interested. Life is hard enough already.
Obviously, just as one of the pleasures of reading is the recommending of books to read, so too recommending recipe books is an intrinsic part of the joy of food. And when people keep asking for recommendations? Impossible to resist.
I could probably make a point about cooking and necessary self-care here – cooking as activism. Let’s all imagine that I did, in a touching yet humorous way (if you have an actual blog on said point then do please leave a link). Now, onwards!
Vegetarian Planet – Didi Emmons. The cookery book that had the biggest impact on me – and so it gets to go at the top of the list. Imaginative and intense – so many fusions of so many different styles – high vegan content. Favourite recipes: tomato and lentil chili, goat cheese burritos, portobello mushroom burgers, sweet potato latkes, wild rice and coconut risotto.
Big Mama’s Old Black Pot – Ethel Rayson Dixon. The wonders of the internet – I picked up a copy of this ten years ago in a tiny museum in Louisiana – and now you can get it online. Not only a collection of gorgeous soul food recipes, but a treasury of family and community history. If you’ve ever been to the Deep South and gained weight, then you have to buy this book. Favourite recipes: hotcakes, buttermilk biscuits, Sally Lunn bread, Ros-a-nears, Southern fried chicken, fig cupcakes.
The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook – Tarek Malouf. I really didn’t want to include this one, as it’s so popular – and then I realised that that really would make me a despicable hipster, so on the blog it goes. Obviously, I think my brownie recipe is better…Everything in this book is almost unbelievably tempting. And reliable, which isn’t often the case with cake recipes – and the lightness of the cupcake batter is something else. Favourite recipes: strawberry cheesecake cupcakes, lavender cupcakes, lemon and poppy seed cake, pumpkin pie, raspberry cheesecake brownies.
The Book of Jewish Food – Claudia Roden. It feels wrong to call this a book – I’d go with “tome”. A tome just overflowing with amazing facts, stories, voices – corny to say it’s an obvious labour of love, but it really is. Make a recipe, read the chapter while it’s cooking – it’s genuinely everything a foodie bookworm could ever ask for. And it’s Claudia Roden – of course the recipes are fabulous. They always are. Favourite recipes: Alsace onion tart, hallah, apple cake, aubergine caviar, khachapuri, all the tagines, tzimmes and soups. All of them.
Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes – Caroline Jeremy. What can I say? Most people love chocolate and, if you’re like most people, you need to have this book in your life. I would say it’s not necessarily for people just starting out – not all of the recipes have worked for me without tweaking cooking times/ingredient amounts – but it’s an incredible source of inspiration, and when it works it WORKS. With capital letters and everything. Favourite recipes: chocolate biscuit cake, chocolate chip cake with cinnamon stick topping, chocolate courgette loaf, chocolate flapjacks, tiramisu and the Sunday chocolate cake.
May you have many glorious cooking times. And listen to my music while you’re doing it.
August 30, 2012 § 2 Comments
Ok, it’s a horrible stereotype – it’s also totally true. If you run in progressive/arty/queer circles you’re going to need a reliable dairy-free dessert recipe – for vegans, for people with allergies, for a kosher finish to a meat meal.
Unlike a lot of sweet vegan recipes I’ve tried, this doesn’t call for any hard-to-find ingredients or equipment. I’ve adapted it from a recipe in this book (which I highly recommend – simple, easy, good times).
So – put on the music and gather together:
- 200g dairy-free spread
- 200 g soft brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup/maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 300g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 300g roughly chopped, dairy-free chocolate
Note: If using dairy-free ‘milk’ chocolate, reduced the amount of dairy-free spread by about 20/30g – otherwise the cookies will be a little greasy.
Additional note: Also amazing with oats/raisins. Swap 100g of the flour for 100g oats (give or take – see how the dough looks, you may need to add a little more flour). Then add sultanas/raisins to taste – instead of the chocolate – or in addition to 100g chocolate.
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
2. In a large bowl mix the dairy-free spread with the sugar – just kind of schmoosh it together. You don’t need to use a whisk.
3. Add every other ingredient but the chocolate and schmoosh some more. Then add the chocolate and mix well.
4. Roll the dough into balls and space evenly on baking trays. This recipe makes around 20 cookies. Into the oven they go.
5. Bake for 10-13 minutes, depending on your oven – until the cookies are a light, golden brown. Take out, allow to cool a little on the trays, and then flip onto a cooling rack.
6. Serve with coffee and fabulous conversation.
April 28, 2012 § 9 Comments
A proviso, before I write anything else – this post doesn’t come with any specific goal in mind, or an agenda beyond the broadest ‘let’s keep talking and try to make things better in a general kind of way’ – so, the usual one. With that said – trigger warnings. Shall we?
I’ve come fairly late to the concept of trigger warnings – the areas of the internet I tend to frequent (JSTOR, I’m looking at you) aren’t exactly overflowing with them. But the more I avoid my paperwork the more I read blogs recommended by friends – and the more I’ve noticed them. For the most part used, it seems, as red flags before pieces detailing assault and abuse, particularly of a sexual nature. Increasingly, perhaps (?), to point out instances of bullying and general cruelty – “trigger warning for fatphobia”etc. The condition being triggered usually left unstated – the few bloggers I’ve seen go into detail have discussed PTSD – particularly PTSD brought on by abuse.
So far, so useful – and, loving and having loved a fair few people with PTSD resulting from rape and abuse, it seems eminently sensible to signpost content that could bring on an attack. But, more than that, the words “trigger warning” call to mind something far broader and, also, even more personal. The symptoms of other conditions/states that can also be triggered by something posted by a friend or a stranger, how exceptionally varied those triggers can be, and the question of what we’re meant to do with it all?
The extremely personal – I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder when I broke down at the age of thirteen. It could be an aspect of my bipolar brain – it could be its own special thing. It’s certainly integral to my character – but a monstrous shadow side to the main event. I don’t use the word “monstrous” lightly. Having OCD doesn’t mean checking the front door is locked three times before you go out. It isn’t a funny meme you circulate, or the exclamation “I’m being so OCD!” when you catch yourself being a little anal-retentive. Like a great many people with OCD, the compulsions that manifested to “deal” with the obsessions were to do with cleaning – some of the very worst triggers anything that reminded me of just how very unclean this world is. Without years of CBT, psychotherapy and drugs, these are the symptoms that could be triggered by something as seemingly innocent as a dirty joke:
- A continuous panic attack lasting up to forty-eight hours.
- Washing with bleach.
- Having to stay in the shower for several hours.
- Not being able to leave the house for several days, due to panic and sickness.
- Washing until my skin broke up and bled.
- Retching, sickness and collapse from sheer disgust.
- Gargling with soapy water.
- Not allowing anyone to touch me (easily months at a stretch).
- Getting rid of every item of clothing I was wearing when I was triggered.
I’m not overly fond of writing those down, and I could write plenty more – and not one of them is out of the ordinary for someone suffering from OCD – one of the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses. The reason for writing them down isn’t to try to throw my own special pity party – but to share the gravity of what being triggered means to someone with OCD.
And to share the fact that, though I am now able to control the compulsions (the obsessional nightmares are always with you, though practice has made them easier to corral), there’s probably not one person in my life who hasn’t set off my triggers. And not one social networking site – and most of the people I interact with online. From random tweets about digestive health, to details of people’s erotic practices – I’m glad people are able to share their lives without shame, but it’s not something I could even encounter in passing without the aforementioned years of CBT, psychotherapy and my lovely, lovely drugs.
Again, this isn’t to revel in self-pity – and nor is it to try to make people feel guilty. But it is to make the point that triggers are incredibly diverse – triggers that set off serious and painful symptoms. And that not one of us, no matter how kind, how empathetic, how thoughtful, is likely to get through the day without triggering someone, if we move beyond the smallest circles of those we know/know us the best. Among people I’ve known, and some I’ve loved, these have been the triggers that have set off serious symptoms: any mention of death, any mention of disease, certain (random) words, consensual sexual acts that could suggest nonconsensual acts, positive mentions of something that was personally sad (for example, prochoice writing about abortion), mentions of certain films/directors/writers/artists…if I asked you to add to the list in the comments I’m sure we’d never stop. Not once have I seen a trigger warning relating to any of these. Where’s the cut-off between ‘worth warning’ and ‘not worth warning’? By including some warnings and not others, do we tacitly condone the idea that some forms of anguish are more valid than others? But, if we tried, how could we hope to find a list extensive enough to allow us to warn everyone away from what could hurt them?
I don’t think that trigger warnings as they stand are a bad thing – knowing what being triggered has done to me, what it does to those I love, I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through something similar. But I don’t believe that the discourse surrounding triggers and trigger warnings has been wide enough, has counted enough experiences – or has reached to the roots of the problem: how do we communicate in public spaces that maintain the air of the confessional box? How do we conduct quasi-private conversations when we can be heard by so many, and cause accidental pain to those listening? Ultimately, how do we explore our myriad problems, adventures and joys in a way that continues to challenge, while providing a way out for those who need it?
Personally, I’m not close to knowing. But I think every issue could stand to have a multiplicity of voices raised in discussion, so here’s mine.
April 5, 2012 § 1 Comment
If you know me, even a little, you’ll know that I’m easily bored. And taken to making up – well, not so much ‘tall tales’ as ‘meandering, inconsistent tales of whatever caught my eye last’.
So, I was avoiding my paperwork, and thinking about Tesla, and how much I miss Paris, and may have rambled on about living in the 19th century with said scientist. And the wonderful Lyman Gamberton, also knowing of my adulation of Holmes, put pen to paper.
Episode One: “CN Holmes and Nikola Tesla VERSUS The Disapproving Victorian Pod People”
Episode Two: “Holmes and Tesla VERSUS The Manarchists of Montmartre.”
If we beg them really sincerely they may make this happen. Mr Gamberton – more procrastination, please? This world needs a little more fancy.