Saturday, 13 February 2016

Fat Shame, Fat Solidarity, and The 'You Should Message Me If' Box on OKCupid

Content note: This post is about fatness, about love, and about eating disorders. It made me sad and angry to write it, but it has a happy ending, so I hope you can read through to it.

For years as a teenager I struggled with bulimia. In my early twenties, I stopped making myself sick. As a consequence, I put on three stone or so. Being twenty-one and weighing fourteen stone, is, to put it mildly, Not Very Nice. I couldn't buy clothes that fitted me. I got abuse in the street. I was ignored waiting to buy drinks at bars. My sexuality was a joke. Fucking me was embarrassing: people did, but they definitely didn't talk about it afterwards.

It was shit. And because of this shitness, I worked on the assumption that everything bad that happened to me was because of my weight. If people didn't want to be my friend, it was because I was too fat. If people didn't want to go out with me, it was for the same reason. Ditto jobs: I considered applying to work as a teacher, but thought that I wouldn't be able to deal with kids taunting me for my body.

I'm sure that often this wasn't true. I'm sure that many of the people that I thought looked down on me because I was fat were often simply responding to the fact that I behaved like a puppy that had just been kicked in the teeth, and was waiting for the next blow to fall. Looking back on that time, one of the things that saddens me most is not the shitty treatment (that just makes me angry), but all the friendships that I missed out on; all the nights out that ended in me sobbing hysterically into my pillow because I thought no one would ever love me; all the relationships that I might have had, if I hadn't been convinced that my weight meant that there was something wrong with me.

Fast forward 9 years, and I don't know where I stand on the fat-to-not-fat-scale (where 'fat' is equivalent to 'unacceptable, unloveable, unfuckable'). Weight loss and age have blurred these distinctions. I have worked, long and hard, not to care about this. I have worked, long and hard, to feel in my bones that I am not the problem. I have worked, long and hard, to believe that the problem is people who don't want to fuck women because they're too fat. Whether I weigh 11 stone or 14 does not make any palpable difference to this position.

However, there is now some ambiguity about whether I count as fat or not (where 'not-fat' is equivalent to 'acceptable, loveable, fuckable'), and the space in which this most clearly plays out is on dating websites, one of which I have recently rejoined. However, despite all the things I have mentioned above, I still get The Fear. Do my photos accurately represent what I look like? Will I go on a date with someone only to see their face fall as I walk over to them? It doesn't matter how much I weigh: this anxiety is always with me. Always with many, if not most of us. To constantly be aware that you might accidnetally be arranging to go on a date with a person who believes that they are capable of loving someone who weights 8 stone, or 9 or 10, but not someone who weighs 12, or 13, or 20, is bullshit, full stop.

It's time to SHAME THE SHAME, PEOPLE. It's time to make it perfectly clear that there are many men in the world for whom being fat or not-fat is not a fucking issue. It's time to show that it's not shameful to be fat, but it is shameful to believe that your sexual status is determined by what size clothes your girlfriend wears. Because that belief - you know, the one which says that fat people might be fine, but they'd just be a bit better if they weighed less; that there's always room for improvement - where 'improvement' means 'being a more not-fat' - is what leads to the abuse and the crying and the sense of loss, of a life not properly lived, on the one hand. It leads to the self-starvation, and the sleepless nights, and the hospitalisation on the other. It leads to every kind of heartbreak in between.

We can all do without that. It's time to get these men to question their assumptions, to ask themselves what kind of person they want to be, and which side they're on. So, BIG U.S.A style rant over: what to do? What steps can we take to turn the tables? I've had an idea. It's not a very big one; I don't expect it to dismantle all of patriarchy in one fell swoop, but it might go somewhere. My idea is this:

In the 'You Should Message Me If' box on my OKCupid profile, I have written this: 'You should message me if it hasn't crossed your mind that these photos might be 'deceptive', or that I might be 'tricking' you into wasting your time by going out for a drink with someone who's slightly fatter, or slightly less fat, than these photos suggest.This is not to do with how 'accurate' or not the photos are. It's not to do with how fat or thin I am. It's because if that's how you think, then I don't want to hear from you. It's because I don't want to talk to, or fuck, or be in a relationship with, someone who is a waste of time.'

I want the people who look at my profile to know that regardless of whether they think that I, personally, have an acceptably shaped human body, if they think that way, they can Fuck. Right. Off. I urge you to do the same, whatever your size, whatever your gender. This horseshit affects all of us, and good God, I am bored of it.

Solidarity for ever! Shame to the Shamers! Thanks and goodnight!

Blackstar: The Life, Death, Art & Abuse of David Bowie

I originally wrote this post for the Gendered Lives Research Group at Loughborough, my home institution. Have a look at the website!
The first thought I had when I was asked to write a blog about David Bowie in the wake of his death was this: ‘how can I possibly contribute anything at all to the thousands upon thousands of blog-posts, articles, tweets and status updates that have come about in the wake of his death? How can anything I write attest further to his importance to the queer community, to transfolk, to those who simply identified as oddballs, to the people who were not sure if they were a boy or a girl (or were both, or neither); also to those who had felt miserably, woodenly, certain of the gender that had been assigned to them; to those who never felt particularly circumscribed by their gender, but loved his music? 
My own relationship with Bowie is both intense and somewhat precarious. I barely listened to his work as a teenager – I worshipped at the altar of David Byrne – but made a project of familiarising myself with his music in the last year or so, partially as an exercise in self-improvement, and partially because I became possessed with the video for ‘Be My Wife’, from Low. The project turned into a love affair (surely this is how everyone who pays attention to music hopes that their self-improvement projects will end), and thus I was still in the obsessive, burningly desirous stage of art-crush when he died. This is perhaps why his death hit me hard – I felt as if someone that I was in the process of getting to know had been cruelly snatched away from me, snatched away before I had a concrete notion of how far this exciting new relationship could go.
It was a day or so after that the thought struck me: ‘please God let there be no horrible revelations about his sex life’. By coincidence, that was also the day that the details of his abusive relationship with a fourteen year-old fan, Lori Maddox, hit my radar; a few days later, a rape charge filed during the Glass Spider tour came to light (the charges were dropped, but as the blogger linked to here says, this doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen). Thus, it became clear that to talk about, to mourn – even to think critically about – the Bowie legend is not simply a problem of how to contribute to the iconography of a pop-star, but to engage with the complexities of responding to the death of an idol without betraying the people that he hurt.
The issue this raises for me is how to think through abuse in the context of both an oeuvre and a genre that deliberately troubles the boundaries between the work of art and the person who makes it. In my own discipline, English Literature, using biographical material as the basis for an interpretation of the work of art is frowned upon: we may know a great deal about the circumstances of an individual writer’s life, but it is considered gauche to base an interpretation of an individual text on biographical material alone. It’s a habit, along with comma-splicing and substituting ‘the subconscious’ for ‘the unconscious’, for which I mentally use the hashtag #firstyearproblems. Ideally, as I explain to my students every year, we should judge the art, not the artist (sadly but unsurprisingly, ‘ideally’ in this context usually means that you’re not allowed to judge misbehaviour too harshly if the miscreant is dead, white, male and right-wing).
As I discuss shortly, however, Bowie’s oeuvre, and particularly his last album, demonstrates precisely how precarious this distinction is. Thus, the problem of how to respond to his abusive behaviour becomes not just a problem of how to respond to the man, but of how to respond to his work. Blackstar draws attention to the different deaths that Bowie’s personae have undergone; furthermore, its aesthetic power depends upon an awareness of the difference between the figurative deaths of his characters, and the bodily, factual death which he was confronting while recording the album. The title track’s video stages the different iterations of Bowie’s creative life, as the spacesuit with which the video opens clearly recalls Major Tom. The trope is reiterated elsewhere on the album: the black and silver outfit in the ‘Lazarus’ video is similar to the one he wears on the sleeve of Station to Station, and the final track, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, samples the harmonica opening of ‘A New Career In A New Town’. The play of previous identities becomes most prominent towards the middle of the ‘Blackstar’ film, in which Bowie appears to be moving through the singing voice and stage mannerisms of each of his personae in turn, beginning with the fey sincerity and cockney treble of his pre-Ziggy hippy phase, before assuming a wild-eyed parody of the cocksure confidence developed in tracks like ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘The Gene Jeanie’. As the video cuts away from the star’s face to a long panning shot of menacing, extraterrestrial farm country, the synth sound becomes reminiscent of ‘Warszawa’ or perhaps ‘Weeping Wall’; although his voice at this point is less noticeably an affectation of his previous styles, this fits with the overall thrust of the video, as it was at this point in his career that Bowie dropped his various disguises and began to use David Bowie as a persona in his own right.
These repeated references to Bowie’s many iterations stand in tension to the refrain of ‘Blackstar’:
in the Villa of Ormen
stands a solitary candle
At the centre of it all
Your eyes
The syntax here is ambiguous, leaving us wondering if ‘the centre of it all’ is the ‘solitary candle’ or ‘your eyes’. The candle is a well-known symbol for a discrete, individual life, for the immortal soul, the holy ghost, and, in phrases like ‘hiding your light under a bushel’, the individual talent. However, if ‘your eyes’ is the central image, (whose eyes? Mine? The eyes of the audience? A lover? A child? Bowie’s himself?) then the ‘centre’ from which Bowie is speaking, and to which he is addressing himself, seems to be constituted through recognition by the other. In this reading, the song is a comment on how the life of a star, black or otherwise, is dependent on the eyes trained on them throughout their career. What appears to be staged, then, is a tension between two different notions of identity. One, suggested by the candle, is of the individual life as continuous and coherent, but under imminent threat of being ‘extinguished’ or ‘snuffed out’; the other suggests that there is no such thing – that the ‘solitary candle’ of individual existence is actually constituted through a relation to a perceiving and perceived other. However, the tension is resolved outside the text, precisely because the aesthetic effect here is hugely intensified by the fact of the artist’s death: it is not the case that the centre is merely the eye of the other – Bowie is dead, gone in a way that no amount of scrutiny or observation can repair. Thus, the meaning of the album depends on a real world referent: it would be a different (and lesser) work of art if Bowie were still alive.
The question that this leaves me asking is about the relation between reality and myth, imago and man.
However reprehensible you may think the allegations against Bowie are (I mention this because the precise extent of his culpability has been hotly contested) it’s clear that many of his actions were… bad. We also know that his best art (Blackstar, surely, is among his best releases) depends not on the separation of man and work or image and reality, but on the destabilising of the distinction between the two. How, then, to deal with the violence of the narratives that have surfaced in the wake of his death? Is there any ethical way of understanding Bowie’s abusive behaviour in relation to his art? Is it even ethical to attempt to do so? I think the answer to this question is simple: it’s no. It would be profoundly wrong to attempt to aestheticise his nastiest, darkest behaviour; it would be equally wrong to ignore it, to pretend that it didn’t happen. And yet, I can’t dismiss his art because of it. The irony is that the confrontation with death staged in Blackstar confirms Bowie’s status as a great artist, yet the revelations following his death also show the extent of his meanness, his capacity for selfishness, and his contempt for those around him.
This behaviour gestures towards aesthetic limits in a totally different way to the grandeur of his death statement: it speaks of the things that can’t or shouldn’t be accommodated in the acceptable narrative of the artist, or indeed of anybody else. It is undeniable that he succeeded in making art from his own death in a way that pushed the boundaries between art and reality, a way that is both grand and admirable. Equally, there is nothing grand or admirable or glamorous about fucking women who can’t or haven’t consented. It’s the behaviour of a bully, or a coward, or both. Precisely because Bowie was an artist who was so invested in unsettling the boundaries between art and life, we can’t, even from a purely aesthetic perspective, divorce his bullying and cowardice from the art he made. And, for all the reservations I’ve just articulated about the aestheticisation of his abusive behaviour, isn’t there something about the notion of death and rebirth, of the occupation of different roles at will, that allows for an evasion of personal responsibility? This is the crux of the matter: because if this is the case, is there not something about the enjoyment of such art that begins to look suspiciously similar to condoning his behaviour?
The paradox, though, is that I don’t want to end this piece by writing about the very worst aspects of the man. Instead, I want to think about the image which heads this post. It’s the opposite, I think, of what we’re meant to like about Bowie. The artificial swagger of the imaginary pirate here is obvious; the whimsy offset by ordinariness. His hair-dye looks like it was done in the bathroom sink, the teeth are still wonky, that blouse seems cheap and nylon-ish. He looks old, too: more middle-aged than the sleek ‘plastic soul’ stills taken perhaps a decade and a half later. It’s as if he is momentarily inhabiting the dream of a persona we rarely see in Bowie’s performances, although sometimes we can hear an echo of it in his lyrics – the dreams of an unglamorous, middle-aged woman. And it’s this imaginative landscape that I am particularly drawn to, of all the worlds that Bowie created – the defiant consciousness of shabbiness, the swashbuckle there is in cheapness. This is particularly true of his earlier career, when his gender identity was at its most fluid and ambiguous. What I love about Bowie’s work is the way that he saw the mundane and quotidian as full of wonder and excitement. What I hate is that this sense of potential in his work has been so radically compromised.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Matthew and Moley at the Movies 1: Jurassic World

Matthew, a 30 year old with Downs Syndrome, and Moley, his intrepid P.A. whiz whiz whiz,  go to the cinema every week together. Today, they discuss Jurassic World. 

Moley: Well, this could have been way, way, worse. My main concern was that the film would completely ruin my enjoyable relationship with Likeable Chris Pratt, but fortunately his innate likeability more or less remained intact, so I can continue to watch re-runs of Parks and Rec unencumbered by the annoying slightly embarrassed feeling I now get when I see Kit Harrington in anything.* The basic conceit of the franchise - we probably shouldn't fuck with DNA, especially when such fuckery involves dinosaurs - remains unchanged - but in this iteration The Big Question it addresses itself to is the ethics of the human commodification of animal life. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Clare, the Park's operation manager (oh, oh, oh, for a Jurassic Park managed by Leslie Knope. You wouldn't have to worry about Corporate Interference in a Jurassic Park run by Leslie Knope.) a hardass corporate type, as we can all surmise from her immaculately dyed and untenably pointy Bob. We also know that she works too hard and probably has neglected ovaries because, unlike Likeable Pratt, she doesn't have a suntan and wears Impractical Items, such as shoes, when she's in the office. As Bob relaxes its iron grip on her scalp and also her soul, Clare learns important life lessons such as animals are people too and also don't fuck with Dino DNA. By the end, Bob has softened into a becoming feminine wispiness and Clare practically takes some of her clothes off so then in a completely unrelated turn of events Likeable Pratt thinks she's hot. The film closes with Clare realising that she has underestimated the Importance of Good Old Fashioned Family Values and that she better do some breeding with Likeable Pratt in double quick time, because even though she has been using the excuse of her 'career' or 'interest in Science' as an excuse to avoid UVB rays it's clear that the Biological Science Clock is a-ticking and if she doesn't have children soon she will probably TURN INTO a dinosaur.

Basically, there's a *lot* of annoying gender-essentialist nonsense in this thing, but dinosaurs are cool and Chris Pratt, the kids, and Clare are pretty watcheable. The plot isn't ludicrously involuted, and Colin Trevorro does a pretty good job of maintaining tension throughout, so despite my snottiness above, it's actually a pretty fun thing to see. I will admit that in some of the scenes where Big TechnoDino has interactions with Little TechnoDino I was reminded of the Bear-Pit scene between Baxter the Tiny Dog and The Big Bear with the Unpronounceable Name in Anchorman, which I'm fairly sure was not the intended effect, but this is not an entirely bad thing. In fact, the last 15 minutes of the thing felt as if they were moving towards the kind of kitschy overblown ridiculousness that it should have been trying for all along, so I retain hope for the next in the franchise too, especially if Likeable Pratt doesn't get so Likeable that he accidentally turns into Facebook and stops making films or something. The terrible politics were ignorable for about 70% of the time, and you did get to see an amazing three way fight between a TechnoDino, a T-Rex, and a Giant Shark. It was annoying that throughout the film makes a point of dwelling on the crassness and cruelty of using animals as a form of entertainment (in fact, this was probably the best made and most politically aware part of the film) but then didn't really seem to notice that it was doing exactly the same thing itself, but then how much self-awareness can you realistically expect in a Summer Blockbuster, eh? Sadly, not all movies can be Spy or Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and seeing as I'm being paid to be there I suppose I shouldn't look a gift TechnoDino in the mouth. All in all: 6/10.

Matthew: A Masterpiece! Especially the scriptwriting and the growling! RAAAAAAAR!

*Spooks is probably the worst film I've seen this year. The only thing I remember hating more was Dumb and Dumber To which might actually be the worst film ever.  

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

On Football, Feminism, and Not Giving a Fuck

This post was originally written in summer 2014, but I got self-conscious (cos patriarchy innit) and didn't publish it. Also, the whole Ched Evans shitstorm hadn't reached Peak Silage at that point, and when it did I was a bit reluctant to write about football - even to think about it, frankly. There's a lot more I could say here: about football operating as a self-enclosed masculine fantasy, about watching football with a man who has obvious disabilities, about the form of comradeliness you find playing team sports, about the notion of being 'sportsmanlike' - but they'll have to wait for another time. 

I started playing football recently. With some friends, mainly boys, some girls, in a local park. This post is about doing that; about inhabiting what is undoubtedly, even in the world that I move in, the most man-dominated space I've been involved in. I thought that I might write a bit about this, because I've seen a lot recently about other male dominated-environments - hardcore punk, the music scene more generally, antifa groups, the left in general, cycling - but I've not seen anything about football.

So: the first thing I notice is that, with the possible exception of cycling, football is by far the most *visible* world of this kind that I've ever participated in. Unless you and your mates are pretty serious, prepared to spend money, and to commit to playing two or three times a week, you play in a park. In public. You walk down there in your jogging bottoms and your trainers or, if you've got a bit more serious, your football boots. You realise that even though you're a committed feminist, you don't shave your legs, you post about fat-activism on the internet - you can't remember the last time you went outside without thinking about what you looked like. You're thinking about it now. Intently. And you can't shake the feeling, even though you're trying with all your might - that everyone else is too, and not in a good way.

This feeling is quadrupled when you actually start playing. You're not very good. You know that, and so do all your team-mates. Even when you're playing with a group of dudes who largely identify as feminists, who are all delighted that you're playing, who are all rooting for you from start to finish, you know that you're not very good. You're not very good because you didn't spend every lunchtime, or a few afternoons a week, or even once in a while when everyone else was - kicking a ball about to pass the time. It never once, ever in all the years of childhood and adolescence, occurred to you that you could stand in the middle of a field with a football and say 'This is mine. I am playing here.' Not once. So you didn't play, ever, and you didn't learn.

And, miraculously, you learn not to care that much. You learn to stop apologising every time you fumble the ball, every time you make a dud pass, every time you let an open goal go to waste. You start to learn that other people make mistakes too. You learn that running into people doesn't hurt them as much as you worry it will. You learn that being run into doesn't hurt as much as it looks like it would either. You learn that it hurts for a few minutes, and then you stop caring. You learn that when you start to play football, your legs change shape - your thighs are thicker, the calves chunkier, more muscular. You trust that at some point you'll stop caring about that, too. You learn not to care if every fucker walking past the pitch can see how poor your ball skills are.

But you can't help but know that, because you're the only girl on the pitch, it shows. You might not even be the worst player on the pitch (in fact, one of the ways you keep yourself playing is by pushing yourself to not be the worst person on the pitch) but you still know that any mistakes you make show three times as much. Even amongst people who you know full well passionately wished that they didn't. Maybe especially amongst them, because you can feel them willing you to succeed, and maybe because people willing you to succeed makes you worse, not better. You don't know yet if that feeling ever goes away, if you ever do get to a point where you can truly play a game of football and really, genuinely, feel that being a woman doesn't matter. But you really really hope so. And you think more than anything else that the only way that can ever happen - if not for you then at least for your children, if you have any. At least for my cousin, who's nine now and already neurotic about her weight, already neurotic about how her body looks to other people - is to keep fucking doing it. To keep going out there and making yourself visible, and learning not to care, and learning that this stuff is actually really *fun* - and to take those spaces back.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Jealousy and gender in poly relationships.

Editor's note (and by 'editor', I mean 'me'): I wrote this some time ago and looking over it, it does seem very heterocentred. Apologies for that - I've tried to make it more inclusive, but it does still read very much as a piece focusing on hetero poly relationships.


So the point of this post is to try to think through some of the issues thrown up by a workshop I did on polyamory at the Sheffield LaDIYfest all-dayer a few months ago. In the run up to the event, I had a number of conversations with different women about poly.What I got out of them was primarily anger and pain. They made me wonder why it is that women tend to be less enthusiastic about poly than men, and often find the practice of being in non-monogamous relationships so much more difficult. It also made me think about my position as a woman who, although bi or queer or whatever terminology you prefer to use for it, tends to have relationships with men, and particularly men who are in relationship with other women. This post is about the things that I - and anyone else who is engaging in these kinds of relationships - can do to ease some of those pressures.

The primary point I wanted to address here was made by a woman who had been in poly relationships before but opted out because she felt that it wasn't for her. Her sense of the response from partners was that this was HER failing alone - that she was 'too insecure' to 'take responsibility for her own jealousy.' This was echoed in a number of the conversations I had.

There are two points I wanted to make about this. The first is simple, so it can go first:

It's probably best, in general, to be aware that preferences about the way that you organise your sex life really are just that - preferences. They don't make you cleverer or cooler or funnier or better in bed. They mean that some people like to run one relationship at a time, and some people like to run more. And some people like to not be in any relationships at all, and some people think the whole sex issue is a bit icky anyway and they'd rather be looking at the internet (not the sexy bits.)

The second point is this:

Jealousy is *not* simply the problem of the person who feels it. Feeling like shit about whatever your specific issue is is not a result of your relationship(s). It is the result of a system SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to make people feel like shit so they buy more stuff. It may be the case that this stuff surfaces more quickly if you're doing poly, because your own insecurities are harder to ignore or deny when the situation you're in invites you to comparing yourself to someone else more directly than you might otherwise, but it is almost never the root cause.*

Jealousy, gender, and some things we could do about it:

Lol. Insecurity being gendered? Specifically insecurity about one's attractiveness to members of the opposite sex? Well, gosh. It's almost as if for thousands of years all financial and material and spiritual and economic security for women depended on the good will and approval, particularly the sexual approval, of men. It's almost as if historically, women have been considered less significant than men. It's almost as if we are still living with the effects of that ideology. It's almost as if there's... some kind of power imbalance in the relationships between men and women, and that a concomittant effect of that is that women tend to care more about how men respond to them than vice versa. Once you recognise that this is a thing, the notion that jealousy is something that people (which in hetero poly relationships disproportionately means women) should work through on their own, becomes highly, highly suspicious. Jealousy and pain is the responsibility of *everyone* in the relationship(s) - to varying degrees, to be sure, but the idea that there is *ever* a relationship in which the one person's jealousy has nothing to do with the other people involved is clearly so much b/s.

So, here are some suggestions about how to deal with this:

THE LESS JEALOUS PARTY: Try being nice, yo? Not just being nice as in 'pretending that it's not a problem and hoping it all goes away.' Being nice as in putting some effort into working out what the shit is that bothers the people that you're with. Telling the people that you're with that whatever their shit is, it doesn't matter to you. Working through your own shit. Trying to understand how jealousy is gendered - how much more crap some people will have to deal with than others - and that just because you don't have to deal with it directly, doesn't mean that said crap isn't relevant to you. Recognising that you can choose to perpetuate such crap, or try to challenge it. Recognising that doing so involves asking questions about your own behaviour and assumptions that may be a little uncomfortable. Recognising, ultimately, that this is not just someone else's problem.

THE MORE JEALOUS PARTY: This is harder. I think being aware of your own insecurities helps, and being aware that this is not just - or even primarily - your own shit, but a structural problem. Trying, as far as you're able, not to contribute to that shit further. This means not bitching about other people for the stuff that you're insecure about yourself. It means trying not to compare yourself to other people, even if that's really, really hard. It means trying to respond to your partner's other partners with good will. It means cutting yourself some fucking slack now and again, and if that's not possible, at least cutting yourself some slack about it not being possible.

Oh, hang on a minute. It's almost like this stuff is relevant to ALL heterosexual relationships. In fact, it's probably relevant to ALL relationships. It's almost like... being poly isn't that damn different to any other situation, you guys!

I'll just give you a minute to pick your mind up from the floor where I'm sure it's been blown.

More mind blowing insight into the wonderful world of sleeping with more than one person at a time at some point in the future when I get round to writing it! 

*NB: My most pressing insecurities centre around body stuff. This does *not* mean that I think that thin = good. HOWEVER, I have had and still have all sorts of shitty FOOD STUFF that I will go into at another time and I feel that if I did not mention this, which is the primary way in which I feel inadequate about EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME, I would be a LIAR AND A FRAUD, which is kind of the exact opposite of what this blog is supposed to do. I plan to write about this more at another time, but here is not the place.

** I appreciate this is often more difficult than I'm making it sound.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Sometimes you don't even know that you're searching. And then sometimes you do.

So this is the newest incarnation of a blog that I started writing four years ago and never really put much work into.  I was really using it as a kind of sounding board: I was in the process of radically re-evaluating my political principles (insofar as I had any, which was not terribly far), experimenting with polyamory, and gingerly testing out the possibility of taking some kind of meaningful control over the things that I spent my life doing. To give you some idea of how alien those ideas were to the kind of life I lived, I should probably tell you that it took me about two years to even articulate to myself what I was doing. I'm sure that this is not an unusual experience, but it feels to me like I spent the first quarter century of my life more or less believing that the world was set up in a way which was ill-advised in spots but fundamentally not too bad, and that being a bit bloody miserable all the time was mainly a product of my own inadequacy. It didn't help that I was (and am) white, middle-class, cis-gendered and spending most of my time around that section of society whose sociality largely comprises of eating humous and reading The Guardian.

Anyway. I was lucky. I met people who had thought about this stuff, and thought about it a lot more than I had. What's more, they wanted to talk about it. And what's more more, they wanted to DO things about it. I thought about things like feminism and Marxism and anarchism. I thought about what the word 'privilege' meant. And at some point, these big, abstracted 'isms' ceased to be things that happened in books and I started to see the way that this stuff actually worked in my own life. I started to recognise that a series of unhappy relationships in my early 20s did not mean that I was unattractive or unloveable or mad or wrong, but that the structures of the way men and women relate to one another makes loving relationships, even if they are entered into with the best will in the world, really bloody hard. I started to recognise that 'feminism' and 'washing-up' are intimately related to one another. I started to recognise that when people talked about things like 'dialectical materialism', they didn't just mean the revolution was definitely going to happen and you should therefore join the SWP - they meant that there is a really basic relationship between questions like who has the money to buy a computer that works and people whose voices end up being heard in public.

And when you start to notice that stuff, it becomes very difficult to unnotice it.

So, I started trying to make some changes.

One of those changes was becoming polyamorous. Like many, if not most, of the big decisions in my life, this was partly contingent and partly a political decision. The decision to become poly was a big, scary deal for me, and I very much doubt that it would have happened if there hadn't been someone that I wanted to be poly with. But it did. That stuff has been part of my life for a long time now: this blog is at least partly a space for me to think about what it means, and to help other people think about what it might mean too.

One of those changes was the decision to become involved in class struggle. I'm now a paid up member of the industrial union the Industrial Workers of the World. This means that I go and stand outside over-priced winebars embarassing the customers for something to do on a Saturday. I carry membership forms around in a bag that says SMASH PATRIARCHY on it and regularly get accosted by religious fanatics, apparently because in me they recognise the kindred spirit of a fellow leaflet-giver-outer. This blog is partly about that commitment: about tactics, about direct action, about the way that gender operates in left-wing spaces - ultimately, about the pleasures and frustrations and anxiety of going out and interposing one's body between a fellow worker and the operations of a system that is out to fuck us for everything we're worth to it. Which is, I suppose, a more lyrical way of saying that if you want to know what it actually feels like to be one of those bedraggled looking maniacs standing on the ever-more-frequent picket lines you'll have noticed popping up about the place, you should read on. 

Lastly, a huge change for me has been to involve myself with DIY feminist organising, particularly around the LaDIYfest movement. My intention with this blog is to talk about the ways in which my experiences of organising around gender has deepened and inflected my understanding of how we deal with organising around class, and vice versa. It seems to me that there  is a central and worrying division of organisation in the ways that these spaces are run: feminist spaces for the girls, class struggle and antifa ones for the boys. We are never going to smash patriarchy without some dude feminsts, you guys! And if we're going to fight capitalism, we damn well need some women on our picket lines. So, this blog is about sharing my experiences in both of those environments in the  hope that it will make it easier for some people to think of ways to make the world a bit less shit.

When I was younger, I didn't really know that I was looking for anything. I know that now; and although I don't know what precisely, I think - think - that one thing I should be doing is thinking about how to search, and to search well.