DSM-II

On Monday we released the second Dispute Settlement Mechanism EP, DSM-II. You can listen to it below. I perform on lead vocals, and also play clean bass guitar on our cover of Seven Nation Army.

NHS Vulva may be of particular interest to readers of this blog. It deals with issues of medical malpractice, transphobia in the legal system, and cultures of transition.

Shameless self-promotion!

I found myself in a studio recently with my Not Right bandmates, recording a number of the songs we’ve written together in the last year. The resulting EP is pretty rough and ready, but we feel it sums up pretty well we are as a band right now.

If you like angry female-fronted punk and/or music with trans themes, you might enjoy it!

Dear MRAs: don’t get your knickers in a twist

Dear person who found my blog through the search term “kill all males plan blog feminazis rule radfem“,

Yes, some radical feminists aren’t particularly in touch with reality. Some of them even genuinely appear to hate all men.

But seriously, chill out. What do you think they’re going to do – launch a series of major cyberattacks from Radfem Hub, eventually crippling the world’s telecommunications system before instituting a new matriarchy in the resulting post-apocalyptic chaos?

The vast majority of feminists want to make the world a better place for everyone. They’re not out to get you.

Stay paranoid if you want, but this paranoia really is your fault and your problem. Have fun!

Regards,

A feminist.

Review: the Trans Tent at Notts Pride

Cross-posted from my band’s blog.

I’ve never been to a Pride event quite like the one in Nottingham.

I’m used to large inner-city affairs bounded by concrete, in which ordinary revellers festooned in rainbow clothing rub shoulders with extravagant drag acts, corporate floats, angry activist types, and a whole host of questionable human adverts employed by the big clubs. Vibrant street discos in which almost exclusively male DJs pump out the dance music that’s become synonymous with the scene, lesbian singer-songwriters singing quietly from small tent in a car park, community organisers and charities getting a word in edgeways whenever they can, and that same guy in the flat cap selling whistles on every corner.

I’m also aware that some Pride events are far smaller, less extravagant affairs. Pink picnics in town and city centres, small but powerful marches in areas of tension, and club collaborations between established scene names.

Nottinghamshire Pride was something else entirely. Placed slap-bang in the middle of a massive field, it was more akin to a (largely) family-friendly music festival, albeit one that happened to be really gay. There were many different tents, every kind of act you might imagine, and barely any of the corporate nonsense I’ve come to associate with Pride.

I normally object stridently to the idea of paying for Pride, but at £1 per head the entry cost struck me as entirely reasonable for all. And with an estimated 20,000 visitors, it’s a pretty good way to raise large amounts of money whilst minimising the need for dodgy sponsorship deals.

It was the most chilled-out, friendly and diverse Pride event I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.

View from the Trans Tent.

We spent most of the day at the Trans Tent, so the content of my review reflects this. The very idea of a Trans Tent was pretty exciting given how marginalised trans people tend to be within the wider LGBTQetc community. Recreation Nottingham – a local support and social group – successfully won both the tent and a pot of money for performers after approaching the Pride organising committee, and proceeded to book a wide range of acts featuring both trans people and allies.

Things didn’t quite run according to plan on the day due to various delays, technical hitches and the like, but the Trans Tent was ultimately a triumph. Every performer was brilliant in their own way, and impromptu stage manager Jennifer of Single Bass did a great job of keeping everything running.

And so without further ado, and in (broadly) chronological order, a review of the acts I managed to see

Solo singer-songwriter Single Bass performed a number of short sets throughout the day. Her songs were accompanied by fluid, evocative basslines rather than the typical acoustic strumming you might expect from such an act. The material was gentle but fun, soft yet strident.

El Dia performed feminist poetry and hip-hop that explored her identity as a queer woman of colour. Her powerful, punchy words tackled the complexity of femme power, gender politics and race in a world full of both oppression and potential.

Elaine O’ Neillwas on form, delivering a typically warm and witty series of poems that examined the intricately silly ways in which trans people (and the process of transition) are understood by the wider world. As always, her puntastic take on the relationship between doctors, surgeries, surgeons and hospitals was a particular delight.

Lashings of Ginger Beer Timeare always a lot of fun, and their three sets during the afternoon were no exception. Highlights included the cabaret act’s tuneful skewering of of Gok Wan, and the sight of Margaret Thatcher performing the Evil Charleston. Unfortunately the orientation of the stage and less-than-intimate environs of an open tent meant that the group’s performance had considerably less emotional impact than I’ve experienced on previous occasions. Nevertheless, they rose impressively to the challenge.

Dieselpunk singer-songwriter Dr Carmilla forsook her normal electric instrumentation for a compelling set of originals and covers on a very shiny ukulele. The dark, evocative tone of her tunes translated surprisingly well to the bright sound of her instrument. Notable moments of genius included a re-imagining of Radiohead’s Creep (“Because I’m a crip…”) and a thoroughly original Rickroll.

Exciting items on the merch stall.

Our own performance was meant to take place near the start of the afternoon (following Elaine’s poetry) but for various reasons we had to rapidly re-arrange everything, and ended up playing two sets.

The first took place around mid-afternoon. We rapidly set up the stage, performed the world’s fastest line check, prevaricated a little over whether or not to swear in front of a potential all-ages audience during our cover of Repeat, and then blasted out a wave of messy noise.

It went pretty well, with an additional benefit of the increased noise drawing in a larger audience. Some got into it; others others seemed to stare in a state of mild confusion. We couldn’t have asked for much more!

We originally assumed that we’d be taking to the stage again shortly afterwards and effectively play the second half of our set. However, it turned out that a whole bunch of acts had to leave early, so we agreed to stick around for the rest of the afternoon and effectively provide the stage’s closing performance.

Sadly we missed a few acts whilst grabbing a much-needed bite to eat: amongst them was the Sensational Sally Outen, who has always made me laugh hysterically whenever I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her live. I could hear her inhuman dinosaur shrieks emerge from the tent in the distance as I queued for jerk chicken.

We returned in time for an astonishingly powerful poetry reading from Roz Kaveney. She opened with an epic account of the Stonewall Riots, reflecting upon the motivations and actions of those who were there and those who might have been there; expounding upon the context of lives both known and unknown in a more difficult, more brutal world. Roz then read a couple of poems about her cunt (and to think we had a brief moment of concern about swearing…). She explored the feeling of feeling, the very experience of living through radical surgeries before growing into your remoulded skin.

A later, second set from Roz was more relaxed, more comedic, as she performed a number of delightfully dirty poems about sex as seen largely through the prism of age. I was familar with much of the material, having previously read many poems on Roz’s LiveJournal, but it was a delight to see it performed live.

George Hadden played a good acoustic set, tales told with feeling. His music was great for a sunny afternoon, and a relief of sorts from the heavy material on offer from some of the other acts!

Fellow punk band Trioxin Cherry also took to the stage in acoustic format as a stripped-back two-piece. Their material was a lot of fun, and certainly a lot more polished than our own! Of note was their cover of a song by The Creepshow, a band favoured by Snowy.

The final performer prior to our second set was Jessie Holder of queer feminist opera group Better Strangers. Now, opera really isn’t my thing, but I’ll readily admit that this was a very special performance. Singing to a backing track, Jessie explored the inherently queer complexities of classic roles, bringing an appropriately different performance to Pride.

We then dived back on stage for our second set. We decided to treat it as an entirely separate performance, writing a new setlist and bringing back a couple of songs we’d played earlier that day.

We were more relaxed than earlier and I think we benefited from this, with our playing more cohesive and direct. Particular highlights for me included a well-received performance of new song This Revolution, the collection of stereotypically lesbionic ladies who turned up to dance during our cover of Rebel Girl, and the amused reaction of the police officers who wandered over during Tory Scum.

There was also this gem of a comment from a friend:

‘Lady at Nottinghamshire Pride walking away with her 6/7 year old son: “So what have we learnt today darling? Tories are scum.”‘

As we packed away our equipment we got a taste of the variety elsewhere on the festival site, as furious folk-punk fiddling erupted from the nearby (and somewhat inaccurately named) Acoustic Stage. The culprits were the incredible Seamus O’Blivion, who I wish I’d had the time (and energy!) to see properly. I’ll certainly be looking into their music.

Apparently our set was filmed, so I’ll see about linking to that when it appears online!

New title for this blog

I’m re-titling this blog ‘Trans Activist’. This has been coming for a while because – whilst I’m still rather young for an ‘out’ trans person – I’m now in my mid-twenties and no longer such an active part of the UK’s trans youth communities.

I’ve updated the header accordingly and intend to also update the “about” page soon, but ultimately it’s the same blog. Don’t expect anything much to change any time soon!

Whilst I’m writing more generally about the blog, I’d like to thank everyone who has started to follow me or has shared one of my entries over the past couple of weeks. A lot has happened and I, like so many others, am very cross about it all; I’m therefore really glad we can come together and discuss massive media failures in a productive way.

Finally, massive kudos to those who have been piling pressure upon everyone from the Press Complaints Commission to The Sun in the last few days! You’re my heroes.

Passing as human in “Buffy”

I’m currently re-watching Season 5 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and it got me thinking about how trans people are perceived by others. The link isn’t a particularly obvious one, I’ll grant you, but bear with me.

In Season 5 of Buffy, a new character is introduced: Dawn Summers, Buffy’s younger sister. Dawn quite literally appears during the first episode of the season, artificially inserted into Buffy’s life by some desperate monks. She is (or was) the Key: a ball of pure energy capable of granting access to a demon dimension. The other characters’ memories are changed to accommodate the idea that Dawn has always been a part of their life, and everyone perceives Dawn as a normal teenage girl.

Everyone, that is, other than those see things differently. On a number of occasions Dawn is approached by men driven mad by demon god Glory. “You’re not real,” they tell her. “You don’t really exist.” Buffy discovers Dawn’s “true nature” in a trance, and even Joyce (the girls’ mother) see that there’s something “wrong” with one of her daughters whilst suffering from the dehabilitating effects of brain cancer.

I thought about this just the other evening after I wandered into the ladies’ to check if a somewhat inebriated woman (who’d been in there for a while) was okay. It turned out she was fine and just about to leave, but she gave me a funny look as I walked in. “This isn’t the men’s, is it?”

I don’t think there’s a single trans woman who hasn’t had this experience, or something very similar. Many have to endure being misgendered every day. I’m very lucky these days: I suspect that I “pass” as a cis woman around 99% of the time. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m always gendered correctly: now and again, there are always those who mistake me for a man.

Those who misgender me are usually either drunk adults, or children. Some might think that sober adults are more likely to figure I’m trans and gender me correctly out of politeness, but I’m not convinced this entirely accounts for it. I’ve been misgendered a number of times in front of people who don’t know I’m trans, and they always greet such incidences with incomprehension and amusement. How could anyone be so stupid as to think I’m a man, they wonder? After all, I’m obviously a woman.

I figure that once you’ve assigned a gender to a person in your head, it takes a lot to overturn this. This is one reason why coming out is so hard for trans people, but it also tends to make life a lot easier for those who wish to successfully pass as cis women or men. Once people have got it into their head that I’m a woman, they tend to think that anyone who sees me as a man is mad.

In “Buffy”, people with mental disabilities perceive Dawn as different, as non-human. Buffy initially dismisses such people as mad and deluded. Drunks and kids aren’t (always) so harsh, but I do think that different ways of thinking affect the chances of perceiving something (or someone!) in a particular way. People who think differently seem more likely to see something in me that others can’t.

Here’s the catch. Dawn is percieved is non-human, but in actual fact she isn’t just passing as a teenage girl: she is a teenage girl. The monks altered memories and created a personal history for Dawn, but at the same time they made her flesh and blood. Buffy reassures Dawn that they are sisters: they share Summers blood. Dawn may not always have been human, and some can see this, but she now is human.

Similarly, the people who perceive me as male are misguided. They’re right in believing that there’s something about me that’s different, but they’re wrong in assuming that I’m therefore not woman. They see my transness, but can’t comprehend this. Sometimes I’m asked “are you a man or a woman”, but far more often my appearance is translated into “effeminate man”. To people who have always known me as a woman, this is very strange!

So there it is. “Passing” trans people are sort of like Dawn: the few who “read” us as trans tend to wrongly leap to the conclusion that we’re therefore not real (real women, real men, real humans, whatever)…but they’re so very wrong.

Trans/queer rock music (Part 2)

In my first entry about trans themes in rock music, I concentrated on music created by cis bands and artists. In this post I’m going to be exploring the work of a some trans musicians, and comparing the themes explored in music by trans as opposed to cis rockers.

Trans rockers don’t tend to reach any kind of large audience. There are plenty of bands like All The Pretty Horses out there with trans members (who may, or may not, choose to write songs dealing with trans themes) but they tend not to gain even a significant underground following, let alone a mainstream one. In one sense, this isn’t too surprising: even if there’s a lot more trans people in the world than is commonly thought, there’s still only so many of us. Still, on top of that there are various reasons why trans people wouldn’t necessarily want to get involved with a band (fear of transphobia comes to mind) and why trans people might have problems gaining a significant following or getting signed to a record label.

It’s not surprising therefore that those trans rock musicians who do gain a certain degree of success tend to be forgotten, if not erased from popular conciousness altogether. An interesting example of this can be found in the case of Jayne County, a trans woman who was a key figure in various pioneering punk bands.

I came across Jayne’s story completely by accident whilst reading an article about the early punk movement in Viviane K. Namaste’s Invisible Lives. Namaste writes about how Jayne was sent to jail after defending herself from a queerphobic audience member at a gig. After she was released, a fundraiser event was held in a prominent punk venue to cover her legal fees. A whole host of bands played, including Blondie, The Ramones, The New York Dolls and Talking Heads. Like these bands, Jayne herself was an influential part of the New York punk scene, as a live musician and DJ. She also appeared in The Blank Generation alongside various other iconic punk groups.

Why, then, has Jayne been broadly forgotten? You have to wonder. She still has hardcore fans, but I’ve never read about her in the mainstream media or seen her alongside some of the pretty obscure groups you tend to find on compilations of oldschool punk, despite the fact she seems to be pretty talented. Namaste argues that Jayne’s absence from modern punk discourse is part and package of the erasure of women and LGBTQ people in general – and trans people in particular –  from the discourse of punk following the explosive success of the genre (and the impact of the Sex Pistol’s media image) in 1977. I’m inclined to agree with her: the mainstream media’s portrayal of musical sub-cultures can have a significant impact on the predominant attitudes of their fanbases. You just need to look at how the meaning of emo has changed during the last couple of decades to see how this happens.

Reading about all of this made me curious about Jayne’s life…and her music. It seems like she’s been everywhere and done everything…she’s an American who took part in the Stonewall Riots, performed live and recorded albums with numerous bands in New York, London and Berlin. She’s still active as a musician and artist, and has a blog which seems to consist almost entirely of obscene rants directed at the “Republikkkan” party. Awesome.

Most of Jayne’s songs seem to be about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but she’s written a few tunes about being trans. “Transgender Rock ‘N’ Roll” is pure celebration, whilst “Man Enough To Be A Woman” explores self-assurance in the face of bigotry:

I got a transexual feeling
It’s hard to be true to the one that’s really you
I got a scandalous feeling
It’s hard to be true when they point and stare at you
Conditioned to portraying the mask of masculinity
Another blend of different shading
I am what I am
I don’t give a damn

This personal take on trans experiences is something that, understandably, simply can’t be found in cis portrayals of trans issues. As demonstrated in my previous entry, even the most trans-positive songs by cis artists tend to feature trans characters experiencing “issues” (or featuring as objects of sexual attraction) and hence can’t offer a first-person perspective. By contrast, trans artists have the advantage of being able to share deeply personal experiences of shame and internalised transphobia, coming out, dealing with experiences discrimination and the sheer messiness of gender. Of course, there’s a lot more in the world to sing about, so most bands I’ve come across with trans members or lyricists tend to just have a handful of songs that deal explicitly with trans themes.

Probably the most high-profile of these bands are the Manic Street Preachers. During the group’s early years, bassist Nicky Wire and lyricist Richey Edwards had an androgynous, glam-rock image. “Stay Beautiful” celebrated being a “mess of eyeliner and spraypaint“, whilst “Life Becoming a Landslide” declared”I don’t want to be a man”. The band’s music became a lot darker ahead of Richey’s disappearance (and probable suicide)  in 1994, whilst their lyrics maintained an ambiguous attitude towards gender. The troubling “4st 7lb” reflected Richey’s struggles with anorexia and – like the vast majority of other Manics songs – is sung by the straight, cis James Dean Bradfield, but appears to be written from the perspective of a teenage girl. Meanwhile “Yes” (a song about prostitution) proclaims “here’s a girl / you want a boy so chop off his cock / tie his hair in bunches / fuck him / call him Rita if you want“. A similarly messed-up take on gender variance can be found in “Daddy’s Little Girl” by Cretin, a death metal band fronted by a trans woman.

Although the Manics became a lot less “glam” after Richey’s disappearance, bassist Nicky Wire continues to cross-dress on stage and in his personal life. Interviews seem to indicate that he’s perfectly comfortable living as a man, but it would seem that he’s dealt with significant gender issues in his life. This is powerfully portrayed in “Born a Girl”:

Do I look good for you tonight
Will you accuse me as I hide
Behind these layers of disguise
And the mirrors of my own happiness

I’ve loved the freedom of being inside
Need a new start and a different time
Something grows in the space between me
And it’s twisting and changing this fragile body

And I wish I had been born a girl
Instead of what I am
Yes I wish I had been born a girl
And not this mess of a man

The censorship of my skin
Is screaming inside and from within
There’s no room in this world for a girl like me
No place around there where I fit in

A more light-hearted approach is taken by Bitesize, an indie band featuring trans feminist extraordinaire Julia Serano (the author of Whipping Girl) on guitar and vocals. “Surprise Ending” tells the amusing story of a sexist fellow who hits upon an attractive woman, only to realise (to his shock) that he used to bully her in school for being feminine before she transitioned.  Meanwhile Coyote Grace are a duo more folk than rock, but deserve a mention for also delivering brilliant, fun songs that deal with the experiences of guitarist Joe Stevens. “A Guy Named Joe” and “Daughterson” deal with his coming to terms with being trans and the reactions with others at a young age, whilst “Girls Like Me (Summertime)” is written from the perspective of a woman who falls for a trans man.

By contrast, The Cliks – who are probably the best-known contemporary rock band with a transsexed member – don’t seem to have any songs that deal with trans themes, explicitly at least. I view this as a positive thing: there’s no reason why you should have to write about trans issues just because you are trans. Lead singer, lead guitar and principal songwriter Lucas Silviera deserves serious kudos both for being out as a trans man and standing by his decision to transition on his own terms and at his own pace, having decided not to take testosterone in order to preserve his singing voice.

Finally, some thoughts on a well-known song from a well-known musical. “Sweet Transvestite” (best known from the musical’s film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) really annoys a lot of trans people I know. Rocky Horror has a deliberately nonsensical story which puts off many, whilst the idea of an insane transvestite doctor from Transsexual, Transylvania gets a lot of complaints for appearing to conflate cross-dressing with transsexualism. Still, let’s be fair: the Rocky Horror Show is intended to be very, very silly. Despite that, some of the lyrics to “Sweet Transvestite” (written by Richard O’Brien, who identifies as transgender) are pretty damn positive:

Don’t get strung out by the way I look
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover
I’m not much of a man by the light of day
But by night I’m one hell of a lover

Roundup of awesome songs:

Jayne County – Man Enough To Be A Woman, Fuck Off

Manic Street Preachers – Born a Girl

Cretin – Daddy’s Little Girl

Bitesize – Surprise Ending

Coyote Grace – Daughterson, A Guy Named Joe

The Cliks – Dirty King

Rocky Horror Picture Show OST – Sweet Transvestite

If there’s any cool trans rock bands or artists you’d like to share, please do comment!