The falling out of friendships, the always temporal and sometimes temporary nature of activist communities spoke to my own experiences of friendship break-ups, activist relationships forged and broken, miscommunications, flawed politics, exile and exclusion that characterizes my life and work within queer communities in London, Berlin, Montreal and Toronto.
Part two of two on blocked creativity and learning to self-care. In which I share some of the skills I have learnt to combat writer’s block and forming good creative habits.
After living in Berlin for 2 years, it has been hard to move to such an expensive, capitalist city as Toronto. With the low cost of living in Berlin, I was able to just about survive working seasonally in summer camps and doing the occasional editing job. Each day I had the option of how to spend my time.
Granted, then, as now, I often misspent my time. Too afraid of my own power to spend each moment alive and listening. But I feel like I did a lot more listening (and, as a result, creating) then than I do now. This is OK I guess. It’s not OK that I am sad, frustrated with and hating on myself right now. But it’s OK because I know that, any moment, this situation can change. I can sit down, as I am now, and listen. This makes it OK because right now I am listening. Right now I am creating. And now is, of course, where we all live.
It’s amazing how much calmer I feel just writing this. How much more in control of my life I am. It’s this feeling that I am running from. Being present makes me realise I can take control. And if I control things, then I have the ultimate responsibility for my actions. I become responsible for the way I treat others and myself, how I spend my time. A fulfilling job, healthy relationships, a creative life. All of these things become – are – attainable.
The question of time and money becomes even more urgent in an expensive, capitalist city like Toronto. Like London, the struggle to pay rent, buy food – to survive – feels far more urgent than it did in Berlin. When my minimum income doesn’t cover my expenses, I easily stress out. Having low self-esteem when it comes to employment, I spend a lot of time panicking and very little applying to jobs. I feel like I deserve a good job and fair pay, yet find it hard to believe anyone in the media industry will ever see that potential in me unless I sell myself very aggressively. I put a lot of pressure on myself to work hard, which results in me freaking out and running away from my desires and responsibilities – in short, from myself.
I don’t like selling my skills. I do believe that I have a lot of talent, yet my experience in the middle-class world of media has scarred me. Afraid that employers will be scared off by my politics, I undermine myself at the same time as believing I am better than everyone else. It’s this toxic mixture of arrogance and insecurity that leads to a feeling of hopelessness.
In situations like these, where I feel the pressure of survival, being present becomes my most important task. And because of this immense pressure I put on myself, it is also the thing I find hardest to allow myself to do.
When I moved to Berlin in 2010 I was extremely depressed. I was suicidal, on-and-off, that whole year and leaving London felt like my only chance of escape. In London, I felt no opportunity to get better, to carve out a life for myself. Between the 2 rush hours it took me to get to work everyday, the expense of rent and transportation, and no time and money left over to do anything fun, I felt there was no space for me. London invaded all of me. I was lost in an unfriendly sea.
Berlin was never enticing for itself. Berlin was appealing because it was an escape. It was the place I learnt some essential survival techniques and finally began to confront myself.
In Berlin, I learnt that time spent by myself – in silence, nature and adventuring – is the most self-loving, scary and productive gift I can give myself. I learnt that I am infinitely creative – I love drawing, dancing, singing, photography – and I enjoy exploring that. I also learnt that I am, above all, committed to the art of writing. Writing is where I can truly realise my potential. Writing is where I belong.
Two years ago, I followed The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and started writing every morning for half an hour. This stream of consciousness helps me vent and gain perspective for the day. I also learnt the self-love that comes from taking myself on a date once a week. These two tools finally allowed me to start writing on a regular basis, for the first time in my life. It also led me to create a successful blog, zine and write controversial articles for online magazines. Heck, I even wrote some poetry!
Now, living in Toronto, I am once again resisting the revelations (revolution!) that come from using these self-love skills. I use dating and unemployment as an excuse for spending my days freaking out over nothing in particular, rather than engaging in the daily drudge and acute concentration that would actually lead me somewhere – to write, send articles out, submit job applications.
I am wary of making commitments to stop or start doing something forever. If I promise myself I will never binge eat again, the next time I do, I’ll just beat myself up even more. I really don’t need any more self-loathing in my life. So, for now, I’m not going to say I’m going to write my morning pages every day and do my artist’s date once a week. I’m not going to say I’m going to work on my creative writing for 2 hours every morning, or post on this blog once a week. Because I know that if I don’t keep that promise to myself, I’ll end up hating and blocking myself even more. Sometimes self-care is just letting myself be.
A good friend once said to me she had stopped promising herself she would never self-harm again. Because then, when she did self-harm, the compounded disappointment and guilt made her feel even worse about herself. Every night, when I go to sleep, I don’t say I will always be OK. I say, right now, in this moment, I am breathing, I am alive and I am OK.
This Saturday is Queer Zine Fest London, the best place to get queer zines in, like, London (and the UK). So attention all you UK fans, not only is this your opportunity to check out some hot people and eat something vegan, it’s also a way to get your mitts on the new pink edition of Dressed Like That, my community zine. My wonderful friend ‘riotmade with love’ with be hawking copies at their stall, so make sure you get there early to get yours.
Queer Zine Fest London 2012
Saturday 8th December
Hey kids, hows it hanging? Everyone in NYC all right? Hope so. So, as many of you Berliners know, this weekend is Zinefest Berlin 2012! Following the festival’s amazing debut last November, Zinefest continues, bringing self-published radical content to the world of Berlin’s underground. I was very lucky to be in attendance last year, along with my very popular vagina (or, more correctly, vulva) cupcakes and feminist zine. My awesome friend riotmade with love is selling my zine and all proceeds will go to a local queer project, because we are that nice. So go along and read!
03-04 November 2012
@ SFE Gneisenaustrasse 2a
Before I go ahead and publish my post of the week tomorrow, I wanted to let you guys know that I will now be publishing new content every Thursday. This is a (potentially self-defeating) to be more organised and provide you, the reader, with a more consistent service (blah blah blah). I could make a graph to prove this theory to you, but I can’t quite be bothered. So yeah, Rock on. Thursdays are now your favourite day of the week!
Sitting here on my last morning in Berlin, I am trying to remember all the things that have made these past 2 years monumental for me. This blog is one of them. I have, finally, started to write on a regular basis and I am so much happier for it. I also organised The Femme Show 2012 and conceived and edited a collective zine about sexism. Berlin, you have meant so much to me. Berlin, you have driven me crazy and helped me get sane. Thank you.
A few people asked me if I intend to keep blogging here, and I am happy to say yes of course! I will be travelling into new patriarchal territory in Canada and I am sure there will be stuff there to blog (bitch) about in witty detail. Do keep checking in for updates on what I’m doing and thoughts about sexism. Who knows, this might even turn into a book.
As I sort my clothes and do all the tiny annoying things you have to do when you move country, I am surprisingly sad. I thought I would be so happy to leave; so happy. I have been waiting for this for years. To return to Canada. To leave the place of my depression and grey Winters, foreign languages and foreign customs.
Talking with a few friends who thank me for the femme activism I have done here, they remind me that I have made more connections than I expected. More connections than I wanted, even. I never wanted to be here. I never wanted to stay here. I always hated here.
That is one of my biggest problems; I never want to be now. I always want to be in the future. Then, when I live in Canada. Then, when I have a girlfriend. Then, when I am happy. I am getting better at learning the only time to be happy is now.
I am so sad to leave. I have more friends than I expected. I have loved more than I expected, despite stubbornly trying not to. ‘I’m not going be let them in, I don’t want them to know me.’ Sticks head under cover. This stubbornness competes with my real desire, hidden behind the defensiveness, to be loved and understood and to love back. I have always understood. Have you understood me?
Hence the writing, the performance, the activism. I have literally taken my clothes off on stage. My therapist explains my clumsy metaphors; you’re playing with your sexual boundaries, you have control [burlesque link]. I take centre stage. My unrealised performance of boxing my way through cardboard boxes, fighting to get free. Metaphor of being boxed in. Using my boxing training to break free.
I’ve aired my most secret thoughts, published them in a zine and here, and dared you to attack me. Femmephobic, transphobic? I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, and I know I am none of them. I push back. I cause deliberate controversy. I test the ground.
Berlin is a great place to experiment and learn new skills. The comparatively low cost of living here means that lots of bright young things from all over the ‘Western’ world have come to work. Studios are cheap, skills workshops are often free. People are willing to share their skills. New collaborations are continuously forming and dissolving. Writers become burlesque dancers become event promoters become bloggers. So many possibilities. Thank you Berlin.
I always knew this wouldn’t be the place for me to settle down, and I guess predictions are self-fulfilling. I never wanted 100% to be here; I’ve always had my heart somewhere else. Although I am glad these years are past, I am surprised by how much they have contained. There has been The Berlin Femme Show 2012, Dressed Like That zine, this blog, workshops on femmephobia in Copenhagen, Leipzig, Goettenberg and Hamburg. Friends that have passed through the city, leaving a little bit of love behind. A tiny bit of sugar left on the candy apple.
It’s been a really hard two years, and I’ve learnt a lot. And despite trying to live in the future too much, I am excited about my thirties. I turn 30 on the day the Mayan’s predicted the world would end. This will be two months after moving to Canada. I am hoping this new era will mean a change in consciousness for me, and for the planet. Maybe we’ll realise we’re living unsustainably and take care of the Earth? I am such a cheese bag.
I’d like to pretend this is an Oscars acceptance speech for one minute and thank all my lovely friends, old and new, for believing in me. I am blessed. I often forget that, but I am. I’d like to thank everyone who supported with kind words and actions and helped out with The Berlin Femme Show and Dressed Like That zine. I am sorry we never got those goodie bags to you. That’s what happens when two over-achieving femmes try to take over the world. Our desires can exceed our time-management skills. Don’t forget we still love you, despite this forgetfulness.
I also want to thank my good friend Rosebutt for believing in me as a performer. I still don’t really believe in myself, but I have tried to accept the praise from an artist I admire so fucking much. Trash Deluxe and its other organisers Kay P. Rinha and Nicopatra have created a great space for aspiring performers to test their ideas. My close friends for believing in me, and for scraping me off the floor when I needed it. Other Nature for selling my zine and Maedchenmannschaft for linking my posts.
It’s been a momentous two years, and I hope you accompany me into new blogging and geographical territory. Bye bye Berlin, hello Canada!
Part 2 of 2 on parties: norms in straight vs. queer spaces, how to create a safer atmosphere and is there such a thing as unspoken consent?
Last week, I was really enraged at the sexist dynamics of a party, which had advertised itself as a respectful, erotic place for people of all persuasions. I felt like the lack door policy, and the permission of cameras, led to a sexist dynamic of straight men in casual clothes ogling women dressed-up in erotic wear. I was frustrated that the organisers hadn’t reinforced their door policy and allowed people in who were not on the guest list. I thought they needed to take responsibility for the atmosphere of the parties they create and acknowledge where they go wrong.
The vibe of this party got me thinking about the difference between this, a mixed party for straight and queer people, and queer parties for queers. My experience of mixed parties is, sadly, that I often feel the ‘freaky queers’ are being objectified by the ‘normal’ straight people. I get angrily defensive of my people when I feel we are put on display for the titillation of straight people. When we are just expressing our freaky selves in an atmosphere that we assumed would be safe.
Although I have many criticisms of the dynamics of queer communities, I do think there are some things we do well. Although our attempts to talk about hierarchies and prejudices are flawed, at least we are trying to talk about them. I don’t like imposing a blanket ban on straight men from spaces, because there are some straight men I would like to flirt with. But last week reminded me of how blessed I am that I can sometimes go to a party where I can dress like a pretty slut, and feel safe doing that.
Last week I promised I would answer the tricky question, ‘is there such a thing as unspoken consent?’ Hmm. I really do set myself up for challenges, don’t I? I don’t really want to discuss sexual consent here, but I do want to discuss the norms of queer parties. I appreciate queer scene attempts to cultivate a respectful atmosphere where people feel safe. I have seen this a lot in Berlin around the treatment of trans folks at FLT (Women, Lesbian, Trans) parties. In our invitations to events, such as on Facebook, we use the space to lay out rules; how we imagine the space is going to be. We suggest what kind of atmosphere we are trying to cultivate. There is a leaflet that sometimes circulates on Berlin toilet doors that is a guide to the respectful treatment of trans folk. For the alternative pride march in Berlin, a group of femmes also made a guide to respecting femmes for the Berlin community, which has a history of not being so hot in femme respect.
When organising The Berlin Femme Show 2012 I got annoyed at how fussy people were about photographers and wouldn’t let people photograph them, but now I understand it a bit more. I hate to feel put on a stage, my freaky femininity, eroticism or queerness there for the entertainment of ‘normal’ others. I feel this especially when I am not performing. I expect and want attention when I do burlesque. I also want sexual attention from other queers at parties. But I see now that things like a ban on cameras helps to create a respectful atmosphere where no-one feels like they are being the freak and non-consensually performing for others.
Two days ago, a pretty shitty incident happened outside a mixed queer/straight club in Berlin. The party offered free entry to Queens and Kings, and because I couldn’t afford the entry fee, I decided to get changed into my Queen outfit on the street. This involved taking off my jeans to reveal stockings, putting on high-heeled boots and taking off my top so that all I was wearing were sparkly tit tassles and a net cardigan. A Queen indeed. Unfortunately, some drunk teenage boys took my near nudity as an excuse to come right up to me and stare at me, make some rude remarks and try to grab hold of me. My reaction to this was violent. I told them to fuck off and went to kick them. They left me alone after this threat, but I entered the party feeling angry with them, and guilty at my own violent reaction. Luckily, a friend was with me and escorted me to the door; otherwise I would have been afraid I would be attacked outright.
Perhaps I was naïve. Getting changed on the street and not expecting any unwanted attention. I had just come from being on a drag and burlesque stage, where I performed topless and was treated with nothing but respect by the audience. I think sometimes I forget that Berlin isn’t this big happy queer play space and that some men, when faced with a half-naked woman, think it’s their lucky day. A perfect opportunity to … what? I have no fucking idea what goes on in their heads at that moment. I pride myself on my empathy – my ability to understand others’ points of view, especially when I don’t agree with them – but I can’t imagine those teenage boys’ thought processes at that moment. I think it’s something to do with being macho, being in a group and wanting to show off to their friends. I don’t think they are thinking clearly. I think they are being drunk, and hyper and talking about girls and then they see a sexy girl and they do something really fucking stupid. I hope they feel bad about what happened. I bet, on some level, they do.
These two recent experiences have left me feeling exhausted by the fight for my bodily autonomy in straight spaces, and grateful that queer spaces do exist where sometimes, just sometimes, I can be who I am and not expect to be attacked for it.
I would also like to talk about violence as a response to sexual harassment. My instinctive reaction when attacked is to yell, swear and hit back. I have beat myself up about this but found it affirming to hear two feminine, queer lady friends of mine talk about their own violent reactions to being queer bashed or sexually assaulted. One told me she will kick and fight back until she sees understanding in their eyes that they have done wrong.
I would be interested to hear about your own reactions to sexist, homophobic or transphobic violence. How do you react and are these reactions deliberate or instinctive? How do you feel about the way you react?