A Bunch of Fives: films about identity confusion

AUTHOR: THE JT LEROY STORY (Jeff Feuerzeig, US 2016) Author is the story of JT Leroy, teenage truckstop hooker, ingenue and literary genius.

Leroy was in fact the creation of an unemployed mom and her sister-in-law Savannah (who dressed in a wig and shades to appear in public as JT). It was a literary hoax that sucked in writers, filmmakers and musicians, including Courtney Love, Asia Argento and Dennis Cooper.

For ten years, Leroy stunned the US with writing that was queer, biblical, southern and raw. Leroy contributed to films by Gus van Sant and music by Billy Corgan and made public appearances across the world.

Unmasked by a New York Times journalist, the hoax made worldwide headlines, and the documentary explores the story from the skewed and rather bizarre perspective of Leroy’s creator, Laura Albert.

This fascinating and original movie is being shown by the Tyneside Cinema, and it’s not the only cinematic exploration of identity confusion worth seeing.

1. ORLANDO (Sally Potter, UK 1993) The incredible Tilda Swinton stars as the ever changing Orlando, a noble androgyne instructed by Good Queen Bess (played by Quentin Crisp) to live forever. Traversing genders, Orlando ventures through Europe finding happiness in art, poetry and love.

2. I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes, US 2007) A biographical musical drama based on episodes in the life of Bob Dylan, I’m Not There breaks all rules by featuring not one but six actors in the role of Zimmerman. Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere are amongst the facets of this unusual and many-layered movie, which also features a stunning soundtrack (Sonic Youth, Karen O, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Cat Power amongst others).

3. THE IMPOSTER (Bart Layton, US/UK 2012) The true story of Frederic Bourdin, a French confidence trickster who impersonated a missing Texas schoolboy, The Imposter is a complex mystery revolving around child abuse, government power, and secretive small town America, with a real sting in the tail. Recommended.

4. CATFISH (Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman, US 2010) Another documentary, but this time the characters are more sympathetic. Lovestruck Nev builds a relationship with a woman online, to find on further investigation that all is not as it seems. On release Catfish was a timely warning on the dangers of taking internet romance too seriously. That it’s dated so quickly says everything about the pace of technology.

5. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (Steven Spielberg, US 2002) Based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, a con artist and forger, Spielberg’s movie turns an incredible crime story into a breathless chase across the US, as Tom Hanks’ FBI bank fraud agent Carl Hanratty tracks Abagnale while he impersonates airline pilots, doctors and lawyers.

This article orginally appeared at Narc Online in August 2016.

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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

Review: Grayson Perry All Man

Last night I watched Grayson Perry’s new series, All Man, on Channel Four. The series explores masculinity from the perspective of an artist. Who is also a transvestite; the latter stressed throughout the hour-long first episode as if dressing as a pantomime dame makes him something of an expert on ‘blokes’.

I should say upfront that Perry’s not a chap I particularly like, his work less so, but he’s a very good TV presenter, and it’s admirable that he can often get ordinary people to open up. I like what he does on telly.

The first episode, set in our own North East, focuses on what Perry sees as traditional northern masculine values and roles. Coal mining, shipbuilding, and in their absence, as an outlet for machismo, cage fighting.

Scenes set in the MME (mixed martial art) gymnasia and changing rooms are truly affecting.  A fighter talks about his brother’s suicide, and all concerned seem well aware that they have, to some degree, constructed their masculinity, mainly as a shield against pain – emotional if not physical.

Equally affecting are Perry’s encounters with the mother and friends of a thirty-year-old, seemingly happy and carefree young man, who took his own life in 2003.

Suicide accounts for three times as many male deaths in England as it does female. Suicide is also the leading cause of death of men between 20 and 49.  Men from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also ten times more likely to end their own lives than those from wealthier regions.

Unfortunately, Perry does not explore the equally frightening statistics around domestic abuse in the North East (up 43% in the past two years).

The elephant in the room is male violence, not suicide. While men are most likely to suffer violence at either their own hands or those of other men, so unfortunately are women.

Violence against women costs the NHS an estimated £1.2 billion a year for physical injuries and £176 million for mental health support.

Still, I guess you can’t cover everything right? On the other hand you can’t talk about masculinity without talking about women: both men’s fear of women and of their own femininity. Perhaps that’s why the show focussed so heavily on recycling the myths of the dour and brutal Northern male.

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During the making of All Man, Perry and the crew dropped into the Tyneside Bar Cafe for dinner. I was DJing there that night with Lady Annabella. The night was a celebration of the life of Amy Winehouse, linked to the screening of Asif Kapadia’s Amy at the Tyneside Cinema. The Bar was alive with queers, trans sisters and brothers, tough blokes and hedonistic partying women, all giving it up in joy at the legacy of a tiny Jewish songstress from North London.

Perry wasn’t keen to chat that night (I know, I tried). Perhaps the cosmopolitan, open, female-friendly atmosphere didn’t fit the narrative that the first episode of All Man seemed so keen to push.

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.

The Danish Girl

It’s taken me a while to get around to discussing The Danish Girl, in part because I was so flummoxed by it’s sheer ordinariness.

The Danish Girl, for those of you who aren’t aware, is the story of Danish artists Einar Wegener and Gerda Gottleib. Wegener was one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery, and died during experimental surgery to implant a womb and create a vagina. It’s an extraordinary story of love and bravery.

Some readers might expect me to be immediately critical because because The Danish Girl features a cis-male actor playing a trans-role, and perhaps because (being something of a socialist) I generally have a problem with toffs.

The latter is certainly true. I’m unhappy at the way in which Eton-educated posh boys are running both our country and our culture. Being old enough to remember when great actors went to comprehensive schools and studied drama at good polytechnics and regional universities, this is devastating news for our dramatic and cinematic arts.

As to whether trans-actors are better qualified to play trans-people, I generally agree, but in this case Redmayne is playing a man coming to terms with his gender, and deciding it’s been wrongly assigned . He’s a man playing a man and one can hardly use a second actor when the pre-op Einer Wegener becomes the post-op Lili Elbe.

But first let me tell you what I did like about The Danish Girl. The costume designer Paco Delgado and his wardrobe department have done a marvellous job (with the notable exception of Ben Whishaw’s beret, which looks like it fell onto his noggin from a very high building as he walked past).

An important part of the story revolves around clothing (and we’ll come to that later), so they simply had to get it right. The costumes are so well thought out that they command you reach out and touch. There’s an entire article on the subject here.

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Sets are generally threadbare, theatrical backdrops, and are slightly unrealistic for that, but do draw you back in to the action. Costume drama often threatens to overwhelm you with awesome and majestic scenery, but that’s not the case here.

Finally, Alicia Vikander. A rather excellent, if slightly overtanned Swede, she creates what little dramatic tension exists and does it with the subtlety Redmayne lacks.  She’s utterly convincing when demonstrating her love for, and commitment to, the confused Einer/Lili, as the latter comes to the razor sharp conclusion that she is female.

Redmayne’s acting skills (or lack of) are what really sinks this movie. “Film acting is, in large part, reacting and listening” said Michael Caine, who knows a thing or two about the trade, but over-reaction is Redmayne’s dramatic default.

Watch as he cradles his beautiful head in his manicured hands throughout the movie, as if he’s the most precious little rosebud in the world. I wonder if Redmayne had spent any time observing women in the real world … if he had he would have noticed that women do not spend their lives trying to give off ‘pretty’ … they eat, swear, smoke, laugh, fix cars, solve crimes, write novels, paint, fuck etc etc.

In short, women do stuff, and that’s hardly any different now than it was 100 years ago in Denmark.

Redmayne plays Lili Elbe as a woman who exists only to be looked at, when the truth is surely that Elbe was a woman of action. She put herself under the surgeon’s knife at very high risk. She was a warrior, not a mannequin.

Which brings us back to the costume. In The Danish Girl, silk and satin are gateway drugs which lead to full-scale transgenderism. It takes little more than a half-remembered male/male childhood snog, and an increasing taste for lingerie, for Redmayne’s character to realise that he’s neither a man and nor does he find women attractive.

About a third of the way through this mess of a melodrama, Vikander is preparing soup in the kitchen, and brings her knife firmly down on a rather juicy carrot. Yes, we get it, thanks for pointing it out.

As far as Redmayne and director Tom Hopper are concerned, The Danish Girl is about a man getting his cock chopped off.  Pretty much says it all really.

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.

My book of 2015

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#1: COMING OUT LIKE A PORN STAR: ESSAYS ON PORNOGRAPHY, PROTECTION AND PRIVACY (Ed. Jiz Lee)

I’m proud to call Jiz Lee a friend, and although they’re ‘only’ a Facebook friend, they’ve been a Facebook friend for some years. If you haven’t seen Jiz’ work, treat yourself. Jiz (see photo above) is an extraordinary adult performer who just smashes everything you thought you knew about porn.

This book (which was published by an excellent new publisher called ThreeMedia shares intimate personal ‘coming out’ stories from porn performers of many genders, races and ethnicities. Coming out to family, friends, partners, lovers, and community, the writers open up about far more than their personal relationships.

But what this book was really about for ME was ownership and autonomy.

Who owns our bodies, who has a say in how it’s used, defined or displayed? It goes beyond fucking and sucking. It’s political.

These amazingly open writers talk, sometimes unconsciously, about the way powerful coercive forces – government; churches, temples and mosques; the local community; big business – have literally taken ownership of our body rights, where reclaiming them has become a revolutionary act. Which is why the act of ‘coming out’ is dangerous, and why this book is so important.

I’d say it changed my life. 2015 was a year in which I decided more than ever that it was important to define myself, and to own and live that self. And this book inspired that in ways I’m still becoming aware of.

PS: it also serves as a primer to a list of simply amazing queer performers. 2016 will be SO much more interesting as I work my way through that list x thanks Jiz.

PPS: you can order the book here. Do NOT use Amazon!

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.