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.

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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?