A Bunch of Fives: Girl Gang Movies

A BUNCH OF FIVES

GHOSTBUSTERS (Paul Feig, US 2016) This summer’s biggest blockbuster is a reboot of a comedy-horror buddy movie from 1984. Remade with the four main roles played by women, this was a movie that many hoped would fail. That it didn’t is due to the inspired casting of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon as the supernatural sleuths. The addition of a black actress, the amazing Lesley Jones, had chauvinists frothing at the mouth with barely concealable reactionary anger.

This film is a riot, made memorable by the aforementioned female cast, souped up special effects, and a sleazy and believable villain in Neil Casey’s Rowan North. A new classic ‘girl gang’ movie then?

It surely is, and it takes it’s place on a fascinating list of excellent female buddy cinema.

1. THE DOLL SQUAD (Ted V Mikels, US 1973) Schlock king Mikels inspired Charlie’s Angels with this cheap cheapo story of five fantastic female agents, who tackle a mad and evil genius about to release bubonic plague on an unsuspecting world. It’s worth digging around for a copy of this insane romp, not least for a typically camp and over-the-top performance by Tura Satana.

2. FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (Russ Meyer, US 1965) Satana also turns up as one of a trio of over-excitable, underdressed, sports car driving, killer go-go dancers, in Russ Meyer’s most memorable film. Set in the southern Californian deserts, FP!K!K! is a sorry tale of bad behaviour, kidnap, extreme violence, and low morals. Yes, it’s THAT good.

3. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Lou Adler, US 1982) Rarely screened and therefore rarely seen, The Fabulous Stains’ exploration of girl-powered punk rock pre-dated riot grrrl by a decade, and delivers some punchy home truths on the state of the music business and power of the media machine. The Stains wage musical war on rivals The Looters, who, it’s worth noting, feature former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Ray Winston on vocals.

4. WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden 2013) A sensitive and realistic portrayal of the trials of teenage girlhood, explored through the lens of three punk pubescents and their adventures with boys, bands and struggling parents. Friendships flourish and then flounder against a background of guitars and cheap alcohol.

5. MUSTANG (Deniz Gamze Erguven, Turkey/France/Germany 2015) Five orphaned sisters living in rural Turkey attempt to find freedom through rebellion in a conservative village. Swimming with male school friends, attending football matches, kissing older boys and driving cars, the sisters are progressively picked off for marriage. The film has a gloriously positive ending, and despite some brutal and depressing events, is a joyous and unusual example of teenage rebellion (and an important critique of Turkey under arch-conservative President Erdogan).

by SHEENA REVOLTA

This article first appeared in Narc Online

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No Bra: an interview with Susanne Oberbeck

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve been coming back to the music of No Bra again and again.

Formed in 2003, No Bra were created by German performance artist and spoken word performer Susanne Oberbeck and musician Fanny Paul Clinton.

No Bra is a challenging and intriguing concoction of minimalist electronica, in-your-face queer politics and frighteningly astute social observation. Seventies New York No Wave meets Eighties electronic Berlin and present-day East London, while musical references seem to include Suicide, TG, Peaches and the Raincoats.

Visually, Susanne Oberbeck is striking on stage. Performing topless, with long straight hair and hot pants, she’s unforgettable and truly inspirational.

I asked Susanne how she became No Bra.

Sheena: How did you first become involved in music and performance and what were your thoughts when you first decided to appear uncovered?

Susanne: I’ve played music since I was a kid but I always hated practicing and playing classical music, and as I discovered making your own music is actually much easier, so I think kids should be told that!

After being in a few other bands I started No Bra with my friend Fanny Paul Clinton, after we made a short porn film satire together in which we both performed. Later it became a solo project and I became known as “No Bra”.

Playing topless made me feel more confident, aggressive and on edge on stage and it was immediately clear that it worked so I stuck with it.


Some women, including the Raising the Skirt collective, argue that exposing their cunt releases liberating magic and creativity. Do you feel something similar is true of your breasts?

To me creativity involves going against what other people say, having the balls to create something new, and not be afraid to embarrass yourself.

Our culture objectifies and judges females (not just females!). As a female one’s actions and opinions are constantly being questioned. To be an artist you have to block all of this out, or tell people to fuck off but that’s exhausting.

Getting my tits out clarifies things from the start, that I don’t care about that stereotypical kind of judgement. I haven’t experienced this cunt related “magic” some people talk about – to me its more about overstepping the line from an expected female position to one that I can control myself. – without hiding or altering my body. Changing society not myself – at least in the image I’m presenting on stage.

Your live work is a kind of non-performance. You’re very still, intense and focussed on stage. Was this a conscious decision?

Of course. I tried moving and it felt fake so i didn’t do it. It makes it easier to hold people’s attention. Not saying this can’t change!


Your video work is very confrontational and challenging. Do you consider yourself as more of a musical or visual artist?

I don’t really see it as being that confrontational or challenging. I can see the video with the penises [Munchausen – see above] is challenging to some, but I see it more as a comedy. It was also about my fascination with body doubles and editing to create an illusion that a star has a really hot ass etc, so I wanted to try the same technique to make it look like I have a big dick.

I love making films and videos, but working with music and vocals and live performance is much easier and natural for me.

What’s a good place to start for newcomers to your work?

I would start with the song Munchausen most accessible and the first album, Dance and Walk.


Your work is very ‘urban’. It’s seems to be it’s very much about life lived in the modern city – Berlin, Paris, New York, London. What do you love and hate about modern city life?

I just think that so called weirdos, queer people, have always been drawn to the bigger cities because people are a little bit more tolerant, and it’s easier to find like-minded people.

So that’s what I love about it, but also the diversity of people and cultures, the speed etc.

You can find out more about No Bra on her excellent website, featuring videos, radio shows and interviews. No Bra will, with any luck, be performing in Gateshead later this year.

Photo by Rebecca Thomas

How I knew I wasn’t gay

I recently ran into a woman I’d known at university, some 25 years ago. She was performing a one-woman cabaret, and it wasn’t until half way through the show that I realised who I was watching.

She was someone I’d dated at college, pre-transition, when she (I’ll call her K) had been A.  And male. We both operated under an entirely different set of assumptions in 1991.

Meeting her again, I was sent back to a miserable time in my life when there seemed far fewer possibilities and I was deeply unhappy about my life.

“You’re C” she said, as I walked towards her after the show, recognising me immediately. We talked for a while of our lives together at Middlesex Poly, studying fine art and art history.

“You seemed really repressed in those days” she said.

No, I thought, I wasn’t repressed, I was depressed. And as lovely as A was back in the day, (and he was) he was part of why I was depressed.

In those days A created high-camp screen prints of Joan Collins, and his room in Turnpike Lane was decorated with colourful Bollywood prints and an enormous pink Elvis rug. Although we dated a few times, hanging out at the Scala Cinema (where I attempted to impress him with screenings of Pink Narcissus, Kenneth Anger and possibly Fassbinder), our planets were not aligned.

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As a cross-dressing punk-rocker, I had few effective role models. Most of the people I looked up to were gay men – Morrissey, Marc Almond, Denton Welch, Derek Jarman, John Waters, Jean Genet. All exciting and transgressive figures. On the other hand the gay men I actually KNEW were rather conservative and mainstream … they seemed obsessed with soap operas and fifties Hollywood movies.

Mainstream gay London life wasn’t my London life.  I didn’t know at the time that both A and I were dressing in drag, living large parts of our lives as women, enjoying the freedom that living in the capital gave us. But we weren’t enjoying the same parts of London in the same ways. And I wasn’t gay.

Not being gay was problematic. At the time ‘gay’ seemed like the only option for someone whose culture, politics and aesthetic were like mine. But this was before I knew about ‘queer’, a term with which I soon became acquainted and which changed my life.

In 1991 I was truly trapped by terminology. My life and A’s life, although similar in some ways, were miles apart in others. While I presume he was looking at gay life, I was looking in another direction altogether.

At the time I was living in a flat with the NME journalist Paul Moody, a member of pre-Britpop mod combo The Studio 68 (you can hear their excellent album of demos, singles and rarities here).

I was writing for another music paper, Sounds, and wrote a queerzine, Brown*Star (much influenced by the great queer writing coming out of the USA and which I heard about via Factsheet Five magazine).

I spent four nights out of five at small gigs around London, watching bands I’ve come to love in cute little pubs. PJ Harvey’s trio at The Dome, Manic Street Preachers at The Falcon, Thee Headcoats/Headcoatees at the St. John’s Tavern in Archway.

It was peak Riot Grrrl, and I saw and loved Huggy Bear, Bloody Sausage, Bikini Kill, Mambo Taxi, Voodoo Queens, L7, Hole, Babes in Toyland, Stereolab, Daisy Chainsaw, Curve, Silverfish, Sun Carriage …

While A was dancing to S-Express in lycra catsuits, I was bunking into women-only gigs in Camden wearing a ratty nylon wig, and badly dyed Littlewoods petticoats bought for 10p in charity shops. In this way I saw Courtney Love play her first solo gig, and fell into an argument with one of Huggy Bear, who accused me of ‘trying on oppression as a lifestyle’.

Acceptance of trans lifestyles had a long way to go, even (or especially) amongst the riot grrrl community, but it was feminist art history and riot grrrl politics which formed my queer world view.

My art life was all about Guerrilla Girls and Barbara Kruger, Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer. The influence of Diane Arbus and Lisette Model began to inform my photography. I wrote about Madonna for the Modern Review, and my art history thesis was a feminist critique of televised football.

I was living, without really being aware of it, a very queer life. It just wasn’t a gay life (and it certainly wasn’t a straight life).

Another friend who had a huge influence was Mona, guitarist and songwriter for punk-trans queens Six Inch Killaz. This is a band you really need to know about. A drum machine, a couple of junkies, two street ‘girls’, deranged and beautiful, Six Inch Killaz were years ahead of their time and bound to lose.

Mona was the only person I knew who cross-dressed AND loved punk, comics and trash culture. Mona was the first queen I ever met who thought guitars were sexier than soap stars.

I don’t know if it’s easier for young trannies nowadays than it was then. It’s always been difficult, and it’s pointless to make direct comparisons.

But the advice this old drag queen would give to young queers is this. There are other lives, other cultures, other role models. Use RuPaul’s Drag Race as a gateway drug, but make sure you end up mainlining your own culture.

Drag is a drug, but use it responsibly and to open up your mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen, tonight Hilly Kristal will be played by Mr Alan Rickman

The problem with making movies set in the recent past, especially when they concern infamous landmarks such as CBGBs, is that there are people who went there and bands that played there still walking the asphalt.

If you didn’t actually go there to see a band (and I didn’t, despite working in New York when it was still open), you’ve probably read a hundred reviews of gigs being played there, or heard live albums recorded there, or seen Roberta Bayley or Bob Gruen’s photos of bands gigging there.

So Randall Miller’s 2013 movie (currently available on Netflix) had it’s work cut out ahead of time, and it seems nobody involved, least of all Miller, felt like making much of a job of it.

Metacritic gave it 30 out of a hundred based on 17 reviews, while Rotten Tomatoes gave it 3.4/10. The LA Times called it “a mess of caricatures” while The Village Voice (who should know) said the film’s “biggest problem is that it’s taken such electrifying source material and done absolutely zilch with it.”

But don’t let that put you off! It’s hilarious!

There are one or two excellent turns, the surprise package being Hogwarts’ own Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome, while Stana Katic stands out as Genya Ravan, and someone called Caleb McCotter has a crack at being Jayne County.

Much of the casting however, verges on the farcical, particularly Malin Ackerman’s Debbie Harry. One thing you can say about the lead Blondie is that she had charisma in spades. Not so Ackerman, I’m afraid. Too tall, too busty, too plain, too miserable.

Ramones in CBGB

The four wack jobs playing The Ramones (see above) are just five blokes in leather and wigs, but completely hilarious. I’m imagining an excellent sitcom starring these four chancers permanently at war with the film’s Dead Boys – also completely laughable and loveable. A weekly thirty minute laugh-a-thon featuring the fake Ramones and Dead Boys might even be an idea I’ll steal myself.

And don’t even get me started on the Iggy, Lou and Patti characters. They could have been played by Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howard and Fenella Fielding for all the difference it made. The film would have been better for it.

By the way, my CBGB comedy theory is leant some weight by the presence of real gag-show royalty, in the form of Mrs Costanza herself, Estelle Harris (as Hilly Kristal’s mom, Bertha), and a decent part by ex-Rosanne alumnus and Big Bang Theorist Johnny Galecki (as Terry Ork).

CBGB-Alan-Rickman-www.whysoblu.com_So how about the recently departed Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristal (above)? I’ve never been much of a fan of Rickman. I never forgave him for Truly Madly Deeply, but it seems he was a truly decent bloke. Labour supporter, state school educated, raised by a single parent.

When all else is collapsing around him he brings this rootedness to the role of Kristal. Joey Ramone only knows how Miller got him to take the part, as a cursory glance at the script would surely have had the Shakespearean rolling around on the casting room with stomach cramps. But there you go.

Hilly Kristal was said to be good to his musicians, appreciating that they needed good sound, promotion and payment. Punk Magazine’s obituary was kind to Kristal and honoured his legacy, and I think the same could be said of Rickman’s portrayal of the club owner.

The greatest tribute to Rickman is that in a litter tray of a movie, his performance lifts it out of the ordinary. It’s still a comedy, but it has a heartfelt and memorable dramatic execution at the heart of it.

David, Vi and me

I don’t remember when I first came across David Bowie but it was probably on Top of the Pops, as it was for most of my generation.

This would have been in the very early seventies, and in order to understand the impact Bowie had you have to know a little bit about my life and those of the people around me.

suedeheadsI lived on a large council estate built to house the bombed out overspill of blitzed towns like London, Glasgow and Portsmouth. Our heroes were often footballers, but more often football hooligans. My first memory of wanting to achieve a specific ‘look’ was wanting to be a suedehead (this being the end of ‘skinhead’). I wanted monkey boots, a denim jacket, a feather cut and red braces.

My father was a no-nonsense, ex-forces, manual worker, who I’d followed around the world with my mother until illness forced him back onto Civvy Street and a council house.

I went from a good junior school to a bad comprehensive and everything changed for the worse. I got bullied, my clothes didn’t fit, I had few friends. My comprehensive was staffed by disinterested teachers, and less interested children. We weren’t being schooled to succeed in anything other than staying off the dole queue.

After five years of comprehensive education, a tenth of my school mates ended up doing time, a third joined the Army, Navy or RAF. and the rest were employed in the Naval dockyard.

Top of the Pops was a programme I was both desperate to watch, and anxious to avoid be noticed watching. My father used Top of the Pops as an opportunity to vent his homophobia at every opportunity, while my mother seemed only interested in whether bands wore suits (she therefore approved of The Jam, just).

To my Dad, Marc Bolan, Steve Harley, Freddie Mercury, and especially David Bowie, were ‘poofs and weirdos’. My Dad hadn’t even been a rock and roll fan. His music was Frankie Laine and my mother liked the Light Programme on the BBC.

On the other hand, although I was rather excited by my suedehead and bootboy friends, it was not a world into which I fitted. I liked drawing and singing, dressing in my mother’s heels and putting on make up, reading books and listening to a huge stash of sixties pop singles on a Dansette record player given to me by my aunt (who was only a few years older than me).

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Because my parents both worked several poorly paid jobs, I was often left in the care of my Grandmother, Vi, who was, compared to them, liberal and understanding. Not only did she teach me to knit and sew, but she knew Harvey from the Glitter Band (who she’d served as a teenager in the Coop) and Adrian Street (right), the outrageous, be-glittered wrestler.

She’d take me to see wrestling bouts at the Theatre Royal Portsmouth, or the Guildhall.

We’d have front row seats, and after the bouts she’d take me backstage where Jackie Pallo and Kendo Nagasaki would shout “hello Vi, is that your little grandson?” and pat me on the head with hands the size of baseball gloves.

She let me watch Top of the Pops without comment, and saw glam rock for what it really was – good old British variety with great tunes and humour in spades. She laughed when she watched ToTP, but she did it in an affectionate way.

After nagging her about David Bowie, Nan who took me to a record shop in Southsea to buy Space Oddity. It wasn’t the original release but a maxi-single released in 1975, with two songs on the b-side; Changes and Velvet Goldmine. The three songs on this record changed everything.

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Those three songs led me to a greatest hits album; ChangesOneBowie, and to a second hand paperback copy of The Man who fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, and every interview with Bowie in every magazine I could find.  Bowie seemed to represent and vindicate not only my confused sexuality, but also my feelings of alienation in terms of my gender and personality. If Bowie didn’t fit in then it didn’t matter that I didn’t fit in. In fact it made it cooler.

The interviews I read with Bowie in the music papers (and there were six of them published EVERY week in the UK in the seventies) were like recommended reading and listening lists. So I was introduced to the work of Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and the Velvets, Andy Warhol, Nico, Kraftwerk, Iggy and the Stooges, New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Eno and Fripp.  And from there to punk, krautrock, disco and beyond.

Later, when Bowie dressed as not one but three different women in the Boys Keep Swinging promo video, I knew I was correct to follow and keep following Bowie.

Outside my family, Bowie is the ONLY constant in my life. Outside of people I actually know, Bowie has been the most important person in my life.

Interestingly I never saw him play live. I was always too frightened that he’d disappoint. And I had my own Bowie and I was happy with that. I didn’t want to share him with anyone else in some sort of mass worship experience.

Anyway, I’m going to miss him, though I have him with me in the person I am. Bowie runs through me like my own blood.

My books of 2015 … the rest

#2 Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham
LenaDunhamI shouldn’t like this book, but I do, just as I love Dunham’s TV series Girls, and her movie Tiny Furniture. What’s that all about?

I’ll be open about one thing. I do find Lena Dunham particularly hot. Is that wrong? She’s funny, intelligent, politically liberal (and engaged), interestingly dressed, frequently naked.

Of course I fancy her!

But I also loved the book because it was recommended to me by real-life girlfriends who had found it inspiring and said it reflected their own lives. As much of Dunham’s work, it’s about that period between leaving school and starting your adult life. And the friends, and the shit ushering jobs, and the attempts to write something meaningful. Going to your friends’ piss poor drama performances, or derivative art exhibitions. Their bad bands. Their poorly attended club nights.

I laughed out loud a lot when I read Not That Kind of Girl. Because I recognised my own life and that of my friends at that stage of our development. And that, more than anything, is why I love Lena.

Check out her blog, Lenny, by the way. It’s an excellent daily reader.

 

#3 Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture by Carol Queen
CarolQueenA delightful treatise on queer life, and a book that offers another way of living, one that is about self-definition, personal autonomy and pleasure.

Carol Queen managed to put into words something I’d been struggling with my whole life – why, if my culture is queer, my politics are queer, my friends are queer and my art is queer, I am defined by who I’m sleeping with at any given moment?

 

#4 King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Essays on rape, gender, sexuality, and punk rock by the writer of Baise-Moi.

Despentes seemed to take these issues back from the realm of theory, and positioned them anew against the backdrop of her own experience.

She’s one of the freshest writers I’ve read for years, and her anger shines brightly and offers hope, not least because she embraces the act of sex and the practice of sexual choice. She doesn’t hold it at arms length.

 

#5 Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band by Andrew MathesonThe_Hollywood_Brats_5
Even though I’d adopted the lifestyle of punk towards the end of 1976, I’d never heard of the Hollywood Brats.

That’s hardly surprising as their ‘career’ had come to an end by 1975. They were possibly Britain’s first punk band, our own New York Dolls.

Matheson’s book is a riotous carry-on, instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been in a crap band. It’s about bedsits and cider and fag butts. It’s about falling out with a succession of bass-players and managers, and about all the times you nearly have ‘made it’; but for your own ignorance, pride, pig-headedness and stupidity.

Mathewson is the punk Withnail, and it could make a fabulous movie. As long as they don’t cast Noel Fielding, Russell Brand or Bill Nighy, it could even be a great movie.

 

#6 Wreckers of CivilisTGation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford
Leant to me by artist Juli Watson (who has become something of a partner in crime this year), Wreckers of Civilisation was an excellent introduction to the story of Throbbing Gristle.

With a very few exceptions I still prefer reading about TG than listening to their music (this is an exception).

But TG were as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols, Crass or the Ramones. In both art and music, their impact has been enormous. Many people have had their lives opened to incredible possibility by Cosey, Chris, Sleazy and Genesis. I’m one of them.

 

#7 Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson
FC St. Pauli are the adopted German football club of punks, anarchists, hippies and larrikins, supported across the globe by those who feel excluded or morally corrupted by the ManYoos and Real Madrids.

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I used to make a living writing about sport. There are times when I still do. I’ve written extensively about the politics and culture of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and wrestling. This book as a reminder of why I loved sport in the first place, and what was missing from so much of the sport we have access to via television, print and radio media.

St.Pauli are run by their fans, and make collective decisions. They’re based in the inner suburbs of their city, Hamburg, and fans still stand up at matches.  To understand why that’s important you probably have to be a football fan. But to understand why football is important, you just need to pick up a newspaper.

 

#8 Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert G. Maier
robert maierI’m a huge fan of the work of John Waters. I saw a double-bill of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at the old Scala Cinema off Tottenham Court Road in the late seventies, and it was as much a turning point as hearing United by Throbbing Gristle or the first Swell Maps records. I thought – I could do that!

Maier was an insider on all of the early Waters’ films, mostly as Waters’ production manager.

He sheds a harsh light on Waters’ single-mindedness, selfishness and meanness in making his movies. And while Waters also comes across as self-obsessed myth maker, often at the expense of his friends, he also comes across as kind and thoughtful, generous with his gifts, a man who likes to surround himself with those he trusts the most, supporting them in their endeavours and personal trials.

 

#9 Carsick by John Waters
ct-watersfrontis1-jpg-20140529On the other hand there’s this.

Probably the most disappointing read of the year. While it had it’s moments (most of these being the factual interludes where Waters enjoys the company of ordinary drivers who pick him up as he hitch-hikes across the American continent), at least a third of the book, perhaps more, is given over to Waters’ sexual fantasies.

These, perhaps inevitably, are about being picked up and tortured by truckers. I love a good sexual fantasy, particularly when they’re being shared by famous people I admire (I LOVED Madonna’s SEX!), but John W’s wet dreams are tiresome and repetitive.

He’s always fun, but this time I was laughing less than usual. Got a signed copy though, courtesy of my gorgeous friend Elspeth.

 

#10 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
AudreLordeIn early summer I asked my friends for a list of great books by women.

The amazing Ami Nisa suggested this book and was then kind enough to lend it to me.

It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in Harlem NYC and her growing awareness of race, sexuality and intelligence. It’s about her writing and her education, and it’s powerful stuff.

She was a contemporary of the Beats, but her story is the flipside of that macho, homo-erotic, misogynistic culture. While the Beats deified ‘negro’ culture (and jazz in particular), Lorde was living with the reality of actually being black in pre-civil rights America. Being working-class, female and lesbian added suffocating layers to her daily struggle, but Lorde is an inspiring figure, tackles life with gusto and triumphs as a writer and as a person.

One of the great autobiographies.

It’s Sheena Eve!

Why I should start writing on Christmas Eve, I have no idea. I guess because it’s my first afternoon off for some weeks.

Check back soon. I think this will be a place I can write about and talk about the things I find interesting and the things that take up my time. Punk rock, film, pornography, feminism, roller derby and the world of queerdom.