Monday, 27 June 2016

Pride 2016

I was sitting on top of The Crags, a range of hills in the heart of Edinburgh. I was with a friend, we were having a picnic, and I was wearing unicorn socks and rainbow laces.

It was the day of London Pride 2015. I was hoping to be there, but instead I took a picture of my shoes and socks and posted it on facebook with the caption "Marching London Pride in solidarity from Edinburgh today". It wasn't the first time I'd had to leave London for mental health reasons. Every once in a while there's a panic alarm in my brain that starts telling me I need to go, get out, leave, be anywhere but home. I'm lucky that I have incredible friends all over the UK who are always willing to let me stay a few days. So I make calls, and I pack my travel bag, and I hop on a megabus. I'm never gone for long, and it never feels like long enough, but I'm really grateful I can do this.

I've never lived anywhere apart from London, so I don't know if it's just the suffocation of the city, or the familiarity, or the constantness of it all. It feels like a combination of all three of these things. Last year would have been my first Pride, but I know that if I had been in London at the time my head would have been a mess. I wasn't coping before I left. But in Edinburgh, everything was calm. I went for long walks, wandered the streets of the old town, and hung out with people that I love. Being in a different space seems to do wonders for my metal health. It's almost always an instantaneous fix, like hopping into another dimension where everything is okay.

This year, I attended my first Pride. And it was particularly special because I got to go with two of the people I care about most in the world. I hate how corporate Pride has become, but we marched for what it once was - a protest. And we celebrated queerness and community and the beauty of having so many LGBTQ+ people in one place, standing strong and proud.

In the past month I've attended two funerals - the first was for the 49 victims of the Orlando shooting, the second was for Labour MP Jo Cox. When we broke from Europe on Friday it felt like another tragedy. I spent the whole day listening to the news in sorrow and painting signs for Pride in rainbow colours. It feels like the world has been folding in this past month. Fear and selfishness have reigned triumphant. I'm happy for events like Pride - marches of solidarity, where we remind each other of the goodness in humanity. This weekend we stood together, stood up for love, and it was beautiful. I'm holding on to that.

Monday, 13 June 2016

What happened in Orlando

This is a list of some content on the web written/created by queer people, mostly those who identify as QTIPOC, and Muslims, about what happened in Orlando yesterday. Please read it if you feel you can.

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I don't usually do reactive posts, but I can't really not react to this. What happened in Orlando this weekend was the biggest mass shooting in recent American history - and it happened to 50 queer people - predominantly queer people of colour. Not only did the shooting happen in a queer bar - a "safe" space for the LGBTQ+ community, but it was Latinx night. Yet all over the web the attacker has been branded "crazy", "mad", "psychotic", and newspapers boast headlines like "Isil wages war on gays in west" (The Daily Telegraph). I think we're missing the point here.

I'm only going to repeat what many queer people are saying in this blog. This shooting is not an excuse to:

  • Defend Islamophobia. 
  • Stigmatise the mentally ill.
It is an atrocity - a hate crime. And it needs to be called out for what it is. But as usual, instead of standing in solidarity with those affected, the media continues to use the suffering of minorities to further their own, anti-islamaphobic, racist agenda and to stigmatise the mentally ill. 

According to the FBI, between 1980 and 2005, 94% of terrorist attacks in the USA were by non-Muslims. And according to the Daily Beast, between 2010 and 2015, less than 2% of terrorist attacks committed across Europe were committed by Muslims. And to use mental health as a excuse for murder is disgusting - especially considering queer people are 3 times more likely to experience mental health difficulties. But I shouldn't even have to be quoting these facts - because this attack was not about Islam or mental health.

The killer was not "crazy" and his religion is irrelevant. He was a homophobic man committing a homophobic hate crime. It wasn't anything other than a pure act of hatred.

My thoughts are with those who passed on Saturday night and their loved ones who are in mourning. My thoughts are also with those who are injured and hospitalised, who can't even get the blood they need because of bullshit laws over gay men donating blood. I am sending all the love and solidarity I can muster, not that it can help.

This world is a scary place to be LGBTQ+, particularly for those who identify as QTIPOC. All we can do now is take time to mourn - and then pick up the fight. Let's stand together for all the queer people in history who died too soon at the hands of prejudice.

* * * 

This is a post that will be updated as we know more about the victims. Say their names.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Drag and the potential to fuck with the binary

I'm an *unofficial* drag king. Unofficial because I've never performed on stage before, only dressed up in front of my bathroom mirror. I'm also a queer woman - more specifically, a butch, non-binary woman swaying towards androgyny and confused as fuck about gender. It's easy for me to understand why I like to do drag: I challenge the notions of gender, drag challenges the notions of gender. It makes sense to me to paint on a fake beard and try to pose in a "more masculine way" whilst taking selfies of a face that isn't mine anymore. I like to be in character. It's fun and challenging. It pushes society's binaries, and it pushes my own binaries.

Drag has been around for centuries: this idea of dressing up as another gender, performing the worst stereotypes of that gender with satire and wit. It's nothing new, but in the past few years it's been having a resurgence in the UK, particularly in London, and particularly when we talk about drag kings. With nights like Man Up and Bar Wotever and Boi Box attracting drag kings, and Kings - the UK's first drag king bar - opening in Manchester, drag kings are becoming "mainstream" in queer culture in a way I haven't witnessed before. I am very young, so this just takes into account my experiences, but I do sense a general growth and acceptance of drag culture. And I really do think drag king culture is on the rise.

So what's so great about drag? For me, it's great because it challenges traditional notions of gender by taking the piss out of traditional gender roles/expectations. Drag has a distinctly comical element to it - its purpose is to poke fun at what we expect when we think of gender, and challenge traditional ideas with humour, exaggeration and wit. It's really freeing for someone like me because it allows me to explore and experiment with my own gender identity. I've always loved painting my face and putting on a costume, and drag let's me do that - and more. It helps me play with my own gender identity and expression through performance, and that helps me understand better how I feel about my own gender when I'm not performing too.

Aside from the personal reasons, I really do believe that one of the most important things about drag is its queerness. Drag is a staple of queer culture, a celebration of queer culture, and a queer bonding exercise. When I go to drag king nights now, the audience is predominantly made up of queer women, and non-binary people. And a night like Bar Wotever - for example - gives people of all different genders a space to laugh, dance and socialise, whether they are performing drag or watching it.

However, even though I've just said all this positive stuff, I think it would be wrong for me to write a post about drag without talking about the problems too. I think historically drag has been quite problematic - especially the notion of drag queens. For male-identifying people to dress up as, and ridicule women, in the context of a patriarchal society, has never sat comfortably with me. When considering the structural oppression of women, is it really okay for guys to act out all the worst stereotypes about women as a bonding exercise? Is it really okay for men to put on the costume of "woman" without evoking any male privilege, only to shed it at the end of the night? I'm not suggesting that drag kings shouldn't exist - I'm just saying that maybe we need to have discussions within the drag community about how we can mess with ideas of gender without reinforcing sexist stereotypes about women.

And then there's the problem of reinforcing the gender binary - drag has always traditionally been men acting as women or women acting as men... but where does this leave non-binary folk? Are we reinforcing the gender binary by suggesting there are only two "takes" on gender? I think we are. And I think this is something that needs to change. How can we celebrate queerness through drag - the very aim of which is to "queer" ideas of gender - if we're still doing drag in such a binary way?

Luckily, there are signs of drag reshaping itself and becoming a more inclusive, more reflective force. In recent years, with the resurgence, comes the beginnings of a drag model for the future. The rise of the king is a part of this, so is the rise of women as drag queens. We're looking at moving towards a new kind of drag: one that accepts any gender to dress up as any gender, with the purpose of ridiculing notions of masculinity and femininity. This is the future of drag. This is the drag I want to see, and I think so many people want to see. And more importantly - it's a drag which is necessary. After all, how can we challenge the gender binary if we actively reinforce it?

Monday, 30 May 2016

The self-care post

Content note: mental health, mental health services, CAMHS, mental health slurs

When I told the pastoral care team at college that I was having auditory hallucinations, one of them said to me "it might not be that, it might just be earwax." I spent weeks laughing at how ridiculous it was for somebody in a position of care to say that to me. It wasn't funny. The bottom line was, I knew that I was ill, and I knew that I needed help, and I knew that she was wrong. So I laughed to get through.

It was the first time someone thought they knew better than I did what was going on inside my own head, but not the last. When I was 17, I was referred to CAMHS - the Child And Adolescent Mental Health Service. I can't name the number of counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, who have not listened to what I feel like I know about my own condition. The problem with telling people that you're mentally ill is that they don't believe you. We have this stereotype with mental health that one of the conditions of suffering is not knowing that you're suffering. We associate mental health with being unaware, out of control, "crazy". But this stereotype is just another way of dehumanising people with mental health stuff - taking away our ability to say for ourselves how we're feeling and what we think is wrong.

It's always seemed like a bit of a catch 22 to me: if you tell people you have mental health stuff, they don't believe you, because awareness of your problems is a sign of "sanity". If you don't tell them anything, and say you're fine, they prescribe you with mental health stuff, because making a judgement that you're okay when other people don't think you aren't is a sign of "crazy". It's ludicrous when you think about it - just like when I broke the bones in my foot, I could feel that something wasn't right, I can also feel when things aren't right in my head. I might not have been able to diagnose broken bones, and I definitely can't diagnose my mental health conditions - but I know that something is wrong.

When I talk about mental health, I can see how people's reactions differ when I'm calm and rational about it, compared to when I'm in a state of anxiety. But just because I'm calm about it a lot of the time, doesn't mean that it's not happening. And just because I panic sometimes, doesn't give people the right to then take away my autonomy and place their own judgement on "what's best for me." Yes, I have mental health stuff - but I also should have the ability to decide what is best for myself, just like any other person would. I don't need everybody suddenly jumping to tell me what I should be doing and how I can "fix" my head. i don't need someone to save me from myself.

Last week I made a decision as to what was best for myself at the time - and I took a week off from writing this blog. I was feeling messy, and I decided to look after myself, because self care really is radical in a society that wants us to "keep calm and carry on". The thing is, sometimes I can't keep calm. So I took time out, and I wrote myself a list of things I like to do for self care.

1) Take a bath
2) Climb some trees
3) Go for a walk
4) Read something (non-feministy!)
5) Chat to someone I love
6) See friends
7) Play guitar/uke
8) Write it all down
9) Talk to my cat
10) (In mental health emergencies) Leave London for a bit

This is my self-care post, and a reminder to myself that I need to treat myself like I would treat a friend or family member that I loved or cared about. It's a reminder that I don't have to always be happy, and that everything I feel is valid and okay. And it's a reminder that nobody knows more, or can know more, than I do about what's going on inside my head.

I'm not saying that therapy doesn't work, just that it didn't work for me at that point in my life, and being able to do these things did. I can't always take care of myself, but I try to when I can. And when I slip up, I need to remember not to punish myself - and just go back to this list again. It's as big a part of activism as anything.

Monday, 16 May 2016

I wore a suit to prom

In the summer of 2013, I overheard some girls talking in the school toilets.

"You don't think anyone would wear a suit to prom do you?"
"I was thinking about wearing a suit, but I would look like a complete lesbian"
"It would be quirky, but it's not worth it"
"Yeah you don't want anyone thinking you're gay"

I stayed locked in the cubicle, my back against the wall, until I heard the bathroom door click shut as they left. A few minutes later, I pulled back the latch, marched over to the sink, and stared confrontationally at my reflection. I prodded my jaw and run awkward fingers through my boyish hair.

It was a few weeks earlier that I'd been shopping with my best friend for our prom outfits. We'd gone to Oxford Street, of all places. I already had a suit I'd bought years ago. I found a £6 shirt in New Look, she found a dress, and we spent the rest of the afternoon trying on designer clothes and sarcastically putting on posh accents, laughing at how ludicrously expensive bits of fabric could be. 

Then it was a few days before prom, and I was in the toilets, having an inside battle over other people's words. I glared at my tearful reflection, thinking that maybe if I hated myself hard enough I would change my mind. Those girls made me ache like they were scraping a spade down my insides. I never wanted to be "normal" for them. But I wanted people to accept my "abnormal". I wanted to go to prom in clothes I felt right in. I didn't understand why that had to be so painful. I still don't.

I felt like prom was a bit silly. I think a lot of people felt like prom was a bit silly. This whole palaver of finding a date, and spending money, and getting dressed up. I just wanted to spend time with my friends and I didn't want to have to consider the social pressure that came with it.

I was the only girl in my year who wore a suit to prom. It was nothing fancy, just a grey suit with a white shirt, black tie, and converse shoes. I stuck with my mates, they made me feel safe and unextraordinary, and completely appreciated and loved, which was everything that I wanted, and needed. I worried that everyone else looked at me like an anomaly - that girl. That lesbian who didn't fit their tick box of what a woman "should" wear to a special occasion. They probably didn't think any of that - but it didn't stop me from worrying that they did.

I thought, everyone here probably thinks I'm a lesbian. I wasn't out at the time - I was asexual, although I didn't have a label for it. I didn't think that I liked girls, and at that point I genuinely don't think that I did. But why was I so scared of people thinking that I did? Why was I so scared of a judgement that was never a negative thing?

At the end of the night I was grateful. I had friends who loved me and supported me and didn't treat me like anything was wrong with me, or even different about me. I was lucky. But it sucks that my story is the exception. My friends were wonderfully supportive, but there are still too many queer girls who are only confronted by those girls in the toilet. And that's not fair. Because us girls who look ourselves in cubicles and wear trousers even though we're not supposed to - we can be beautiful too.

Monday, 9 May 2016

I want to be a drag king

I'd never worn make-up before today. I've worn face paint, but that hardly counts - I mean real make-up: foundation and blusher and mascara and a load of other things I can list the names of, but have no idea what they actually do. Earlier this week I decided I want to do drag. Naturally, I turned to youtube, like most of us now do when looking for tutorials to support our life choices. They were all talking about real make-up, and I was really confused! So I've started off with face paint, and this is what I've got so far:

Drag King no.1: Big brows

This was my first attempt ever at doing drag. I used black paint for the facial hair and for the shading (I think that's called contouring?!). I added shading along my jawline, around my eyes, along the sides of my nose, on my temples, under my chin and under my lips. I quite like the facial hair arrangement, especially the little moustache. I definitely need to work on the eyebrows.

Drag king no. 2: 90s throwback

I basically did the same as attempt number 1, but this time I changed the facial hair up. I'm not the biggest fan of the goatee, and I think I look like one of the Backstreet Boys. I thought I'd made the eyebrows smaller, but from the pictures they look even bigger! I rubbed dark paint into my lips to try to make them less red, but it doesn't look like it's worked. I also put gel in my hair, but it only made me look like tin tin!

Drag king no.3: The hipster

I felt like a beard. Looking back, it probably wasn't the most aesthetically realistic choice. I finally sorted myself out with some dark brown face paint, the eyebrows are looking much better. I also used *real* make-up for the first time ever. I put concealer on my lips to make them paler. I think overall this is a better look, but I need to lose the hipster facial hair and go harder on the shading.

(My normal face for reference):

So there it is, my first attempts at drag. I don't think I'll be entering Man Up at The Glory anytime soon, but I might go watch it as a king, who knows...

Monday, 2 May 2016

Coming Out

"I know," he said, and we stood and hugged. I cried so hard I made his jumper soggy with tears and snot. And afterwards I kept switching between crying and smiling.