Sunday, November 30, 2014


As we come around the corner, and face the final furlongs of 2014, I'm happy to say we will be welcoming Weihnacht with a literary salon at VOGUE FABRICS in London. I shall be presenting some verbatim monologues (how on trend!), some microstories (which I premiered at Hashtag back in March) & of course reading from my yummy, steamy novel "Everything Must Go".

Joining me on the bill, Katherine Angel will share a section from her book, "Unmastered" (Allen Lane).

I'm also thrilled to receive Rupert Smith, who will be reading from his new novel "The Interlude" (Turnaround Books)

Plus, DJ GRAN will make her UK debut after many successful club sets across Europe!!

And Cilla will be there too of course!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lez spend a lil time together this Fall

If like me, you're a busy working Mom to a coupla cute guinea pigs, you'll know that this time of year is full of seemingly endless tasks! There's those Halloween decorations to deinstall, all those spelt treacle tarts to bake, those bonfire parties to supervise, and those Christmas hampers to pre-order. Gee whizz! That's a lorra lorra werk! So why don't you grab some time for YOU this Autumn? Take some quality time out, to relax in the company of your favourite subcultural icon - ME. And as if that wasn't enough, my identical twin brother and occasional lover Alexander Geist, will also be shining onstage all the way through to Hannukah.

Image by Claudia Kent

La JohnJoseph Dates

Nov 6th: Late Supper @ Hoi Polloi (Shoreditch High St, London)

Join me and the long-suffering Jordan Hunt, as we deliver a selection of the finest piano classics, and astute cultural insights, at Shoreditch's most delectable eatery. It's free and you can even come in your pjs (it's a look isn't it?)

Nov 8th: Dyke in the Pit @ Rose Lipman Building (DeBeauvoir Rd, London)

As part of the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival Fringe, Jill Reiter will be showing her unfinished film "In Search of Margo-go", only with the missing scenes presented live by a bunch of misfits, including myself and Oozing Gloop. The look is new wave/no-wave, so sharpen your eyeliner, and your fringe whilst you're at it.

Dec 3rd: Talking Heads @ Vogue Fabrics (Kingsland Rd, London)

Literary luminaries abound as Katherine Angel (author of "Unmastered") and Rupert Smith (author of "Interlude") join me for readings of their yummy steamy novels. I will be reading from my own bonkbuster "Everything Must Go", and maybe even presenting a few new character monologues. I'd say, wear a turtleneck for this one, it strikes just the right balance between intelligentsia and #normcore.

Dec 10th: Schwuz (Rollbergstr, Berlin)

Joy of joys, I will be DJing at Joey Hansom's "PopularMusik" party at Berlin's friendliest pick-up joint. Expect Sheryl Crow remixes and seamless segues between TV theme tunes and rediscovered pop gems. Wear sportswear, smoke too much, lose your jacket and fight with the cloakroom attendant.

Image by Paula Harrowing for BEIGE

Alexander Geist Dates

Nov 19th: The Irrepressibles Afterparty (Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, London)

After the final show of The Irrepressibles' "Nude" tour, Alexander Geist (and MJ Woodbridge) take to the stage to celebrate, with a little night music. The event is free with a ticket to the Irrepressibles gig, but is first come, first served.

Nov 20th: David Hoyles' "Illustration" (RVT, London)

Queer icon David Hoyle is hosting another of his seminal series at the RVT, so expect verbal pyrotechnics and maybe even actual pyrotechnics. It's live art, so who knows? What is sure is that Alexander Geist will be the Divine Mxr Hoyles' special guest, and will sing a triptych of future classics.

Dec 12th: Party Sahne (Schwuz; Rollbegrstr, Berlin)

Gloria Viagra has invited the disco darlings back to her monthly party for more glamorous good times. It's going to be a full-set with a new line up, and outrageously brilliant pelvic thrustings.

Dec 14th: Icky (Ficken 300; Hermmannstr, Berlin)

Rounding off the year with some smooth jazz at Berlin's most elegant establishment, Alexander Geist will be soundtracking the nocturnal squelchings of the demi-monde. There'll be a smattering of Tina (Turner) and a lot of love.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Medea at the National

Maria Callas mockss you from beyond the grave for your bad taste in theatre

I wouldn't normally write up a play like this one, a summer block buster at a prestigious theatre because, well, everybody else does. But everybody else is unfortunately wrong, as usual. Just an hour ago the Telegraph and the Guardian posted four-star reviews (undoubtedly more will follow) of what is quite frankly an entirely missable piece. Not only is the show a dud, but so are the reviews, frothing as they do in a most embarrassing bout of institutional ass-kissing. How anyone could think this production was anything more than passable is quite beyond me, in fact its execution and critical reception is a terrible indication of exactly what is wrong with mainstream theatre. In place of the gruesome, devastating drama "Medea" is, we have a horribly self-aware non-starter, seemingly more indebted to "American Horror Story" than anything else.

This production brings our heroine to a contemporary world which is admittedly well designed, if anachronistic with its hulking great 80s TV set and its iphones (giving us a wholly cringe-worthy "snap-shot" moment). She swigs so much whiskey (just one of a thousand trite and modish details) that to be honest it's a wonder she's not too plastered to even pick up the knife, let alone off her kids. I'm far from a purist, but modern dress here doesn't bring us any deeper into the world of the play. Rather it exaggerates just how outlandish the plot is, and in a ruthless one-two, sucker punches us with a damp and sardonic interpretation of the text. (I can't help but wonder, if the distance provided by a few centuries might not in this case allow for a certain suspension of disbelief which would in really unleash the terror of the tale).

As it is, believing that contemporary characters turn to sun Gods and witchcraft to avenge unfaithful lovers just doesn't ring true. Especially as Helen McCrory has chosen to make Medea a sort of wise-cracking, cynical TV Mom. Playing the text as a black comedy is an out and out disaster from which there can be no recovery. To make this text work, really work, the audience has to be convinced that Medea is a creature of great passion, temperament and power, from the very beginning. And yet McCrory's big entrance is whilst brushing her teeth, and delivering an address to the women of Corinth as though we were in a particularly dry bit of a Noel Coward play. It is impossible to follow the journey of Medea from rational schemer to child-murderer when it is presented on such an ill-conceived arc.

Clearly an actor of immense talents (but bad choices) McCrory is compelling in two scenes in the run up to her murderous rampage, but never enough to make the whole experience worth watching unfortunately. (Whoever was playing Jason was so atrocious I can't even bring myself to google him). The Goldfrapp score chugs along, occasionally eerie, more often than not subtly suggesting that you ought to have stayed home and watched "The Shining" again. Like the Bausch-lite chorus of thirteen bridesmaids, and the onstage fairytale forest, the score was just another optional extra which could not hide the fact that this piece had nothing to offer. We all know where this is going, nobody has left a production of Medea saying, "Well, I didn't see that coming!" since the Peloponnesian Wars. The magic isn't in the plot but in its unfolding, and if you can't make the text sing in a black box studio then no amount of production gloss is going to help you. It is the curse of the "art-experience", nobody now goes to the theatre to watch theater, but rather to have an experience of going to the theatre; which is to say to get the programme, get the ice-cream, get the selfie, get the cultural-cache. It really doesn't matter what's onstage as long as it looks vaguely artistic, and this does, vaguely.

Laurie Hagen, everybody else go back to Debenhams

When you see work as compelling as the work which is to be seen away from the glare of the Travelex Season, on fringe and underground circuits, on budgets which wouldn't even cover Helen McCrory's eyebrow tints, then you have to question how this system manages to plod on. (Largely I suppose because the broadsheets love a good old rehash, and get chucked a couple of glasses of pinot and a handful of vol-au-vents on press night). Can you imagine what Dickie Beau or Laurie Hagen or Jonny Woo could come up with given a National Theatre budget? Work with vision, work that nobody else could dream up, not work which feels as though it were made especially to please coach parties in town on a theatre and dinner package. This "Medea" is a dreadfully middle class moment, about as thrilling as a lunch time spent queueing in Waitrose, with all the horror of missing the last tube.

Mercifully the pace was sharp, and Carrie Cracknell must be given credit for bringing a racially diverse cast onstage. But when the highest compliment that can be paid to a performance is "The chairs were more comfortable than I remember", then I'd say you were best advised to stream Pasolini's cinematic freak out, and let Maria Callas take you to places this entirely missable production simply can't. Or better yet, go and see what the underground innovators are creating. You might not get a colossal stage filled with infinite, frivolous moving parts, but you will at least get a genuine glimpse into the glimmering future of performance, not a dreary peep into the airing cupboard of focus-groups past.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Of Saints and Go-Go Boys

Gosh, I oughta just take up a permanent pew down at Toynbee Hall - last night I saw PanicLab's Genet inspired sex-cult soap opera, "Of Saints and Go-Go Boys", there. Let me start by asking a perhaps impertinent question (and doing so as an admirer of Genet); Is it ever possible to present his novels onstage without drowning in cliché? Genet's work has become so iconic, in queer culture (via Fassbinder, John Waters and friends), and has moreover has been upcycled out into mainstream culture (via Warhol and Gaultier) that even those who haven't read his work feel as though they've experienced his infamous melange of psychedelia, camp, Catholicism and sexual violence. His novel's have been of such vast influence and importance, that absurdly perhaps, the source material can feel very sophomore. But that is merely an opening musing, in case you were to think "Oh jeeez, not again...", because there is much to be enjoyed in this piece, if one can move through the blasé veneer of expectations which imagines that because one has seen something once, one has seen it all. I wonder, would anyone in their right mind decline the opportunity to gaze a while at The Bar at the Follies-Bergere because they had already seen it as a postcard on a fridge door, as they were stealing their lover's room mate's jam?

I digress.

The three performers are strong, notably Zachariah Fletcher as Divine who modulates between vicious, hilarious and devastating with uncanny grace. The text is used beautifully, and imaginatively, with each performer having their own language; Divine has her microphone like a love-lorn Sartrean nightclub singer, Our Lady of the Flowers is pre-recorded and played back on an archaic tape-recorder, Darling speaks unamplified and direct. The third is perhaps the least successful, placing him as both the emcee and our guide, as well as the remorseless, cruel master of this world of ecstatic exploitations. It doesn't quite ring true, though perversely it does lead us to perhaps the most brilliant moment. Darling gestures to the naked and leashed Our Lady of The Flowers who kneels before two dog dishes (one full of peaches and cream, one full of dog food) and asks a member of the audience which bowl he wants to see this beautiful, naked, terrified boy eat from. There is a palpable moment of shock as we collectively realize our culpability as on-lookers. The selected audience member takes a while before saying, "Dog Food," quite definitively. Heavily reminiscent of Pasolini's Salo this scene (more even the moments of blood letting and ass-shaving) was a challenge to watch and by far the most provocative image presented.

The carnal comradeship between the three characters sometimes failed to catch light. Though there are several graphic moments, a few lacked the attendant intimacy to make it real, as witnessed in one tender kiss between Divine and Our Lady of the Flowers, which had more of the genuine eroticism and familiarity that marks physical connection between lovers. That's not to say it's not sexy, there's sex appeal in spades, the three performers ooze physical appeal in a triangulation of different ways; it's just sometimes less is more.

That's hardly the ethos of the piece though, as scenes overlap, the characters come through the meandering crowd across a set strewn with rose petals, projections, disco lights and discarded gowns. It's not minimalist theatre, and it does achieve some pretty great things owing largely to the fearless nature of the performers and their inquisitive, relentless search for new alchemical elements. Of particular note is a spasmodic sequence in which all three thrash around on the sofa to throbbing techno, in a tina tableau after party situation, an awkward skull-fucked threesome presented as tanz theatre. (Though the dance elements of the piece were for me some of the weakest, in this moment it was pitch-perfect). Here the modernization of the text worked wonderfully and gave it both a new relevance, and cause for revisiting the original.That is the highest compliment I can perhaps give, that the show made me want to get back to reading Genet.

So what do we have? A piece which is perhaps uneven in parts, yes, but one which does achieve some startling moments of the kind I have only experienced in truly exceptional work. The weaknesses of the piece gave birth to its most powerful images, which is a radical and exciting proposition for theatre. These moments that struck me so, startled me (and I suppose forced me to write this up) sit alongside a mouthful of blood being spat at Fiona Shaw in Mother Courage at the National, and Michael Clark's dancers jumping into the orchestra pit in Come, Been and Gone. I'm not being quite so bold as to suggest "Of Saint and Go-Go Boys" belongs in that canon, but I don't see why PanicLab shouldn't be capable of producing something that is before long.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Sissy's Progress

Yesterday evening I saw Nando Messias' extraordinary new dance theatre promenade piece, The Sissy's Progress. Returning to the site where he was beaten in a homophobic hate crime, Ms Messias delivered a brave and brilliantly performed meditation on identity politics and the dynamics of power.

The first half could well be described as an a cappella dance piece, in that the movement is not choreographed to music. Ms Messias, naked and statuesque puts on his red dress, lets down his hair and seductively swirls around the space, in a transfabulous reverie, overseen by his singing manservant. The day dream is broken by a chorus of handsome, suited fellows aggressively singing football chants and startling Ms Messias into the corner. What unfolds is a strange oscillation of power as they handle the body of our hero as both sacred and abject matter, in their arms Messias becomes both Goddess and victim, part Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and part virgin sacrifice. Interestingly, in eliding these two images we see the concealed proximity between the two tropes.

In a marvelously energetic, burst of narrative the suited chorus jostle for a microphone into which they attempt to tell inane dinner party stories, only to be silenced by the overzealous cheering of their colleagues. This moment seems indebted to Pina Bausch, in no way a bad thing, and in fact Bausch is just one of the artists whose work is summoned up by the piece. When the chorus pick up their instruments and reform as a marching band, the audience follows, through the courtyard of Toynbee Hall and out onto the very street where Ms Messias' was attacked. This promenade is packed with the sinister humor of a (good) Terry Gilliam movie, absurdity cut through with a certain fear, as the neighborhood kids (as if on cue) abuse the balloon laden brass band from across the street. Ms Messias' manservant (played by no.1 Garfield Jordan Hunt) at a certain point mutates into a creature of malice. Perhaps feeling the peer pressure from his suited genderpatriots, he leaves Ms Messias' service to become a baton wielding villain. With horrible precision he conducts the band as they harass and intimidate Ms Messias with bursts of distressing and confrontational sound. Reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange the climax if full of a terrifying abstract violence, especially chilling in our time of drones and Baudrillardian virtual reality.

When finally his attackers leave him in peace, Ms Messias is left sitting on a low wall, in his red dress, looking like a shell-schocked couture model. A wave of confusion, and then realization passes over his face, and then ripples out through the crowd as if we have all collectively come down, or woken from a hypnotic trance. Ms Messias looks about, we look about, and realize that we are standing in an unremarkable East London courtyard, next to a road jammed with late rush-hour traffic, gawped at by a string of intrigued spectators. To lead an audience through such an ordeal as the vicious street harassment we collectively received during the promenade is a remarkable thing, but to take them so deep into a performance that such a reality seems like a distraction, is little sort of shamanistic. So much more powerful,and infinitely more genuine than any of the other examples of the "performance experience" genre currently enjoying such popularity, The Sissy's Progress is in short a wonderful piece that deserves wide exposure.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On that photography

Last November I sat for this portrait by Merja Hannikainen in Berlin. It was the artwork to the single, "A Woman's Right to Choose", released last year by my male-alter ego, Alexander Geist, and dedicated to Chelsea Manning. In the picture, Alexander Geist, is seen lounging on a leather therapist's couch, dressing gown open exposing scars on his chest. The image generated a certain amount of discussion, it provoked some very strong responses, both negative and positive, as I had expected. I have never before given an account of the image, wanting to let it speak for itself and be interpreted by whoever saw it, however they saw it. Now however I feel compelled to discuss it, not to explain it or justify it, but rather to talk about where the image came from and what it means to me.

Primarily it is a very intimate picture, of my own personal gender identity. I have never felt comfortable identifying as a man, and have spent significant periods of my life living with an identity much closer to female, and at one point I very seriously considered a physical transition. (I imagined that I would most likely have top surgery ie breast implants though I had also decided against have genital surgery). A combination of finances, relocations and personal misadventures postponed the process for me; in the interim period my feelings about my body had changed, so I in fact retain my male body. I began to feel that for me personally, my identity was better reflected in walking the line between the two apparent gender options, developing my own language of presentation, and I think that has been the right choice - though often a hard one to carry. Now I'm not trying to be all boo-hoo-hoo-poor-misunderstood-me, about this but it's no easy thing to find yourself the object of semi-permanent scrutiny, with people on the tube sizing you up, nudging their friends to collectively figure you out; are you a boy or are you a girl? On one hand I'm glad when they ask, at least there's some hope of dialogue or expanded consciousness there, but jeeeez it gets boring, having to explain that, yes and no, I'm both and neither. Likewise romantically and sexually, it's a minefield. I have in fact had the distinct pleasure of being told by one lover that I "didn't smell enough like a man", and by another that he was only interested in getting serious with "real" girls" - both in the same week! Good grief.

I could not in good faith "become" a woman anymore than I could "remain" a man, as I felt I would in fact be copping out of my truth. Lord knows how jealous I have felt, watching beautiful transwomen friends blossom, get breasts, become the superbabes they always were, and how stupidly I have have thought to myself, "Oh if I just bit the bullet and went through with it, things would be so much easier for me." AS IF those women didn't have a whole other mountain range of obstacles to deal with! At those moments, I remember sitting on the beach with my dear pal Brittany, both of us in floral swimsuits, she smoking and me telling her that if I had have been born a "real" woman I would have found love and happiness and acceptance. She brilliantly replied, "Yeah JJ, a vagina and your life would be perfect."

The major relationship of my life, I felt eroded to a large extent my feminine expressions. It became a source of frequent conflict if I wanted to wear lipstick off-stage, or high heels to a dinner, or grow my hair. A little eyeliner was acceptable, at parties, but to overstep those conventions allowed to a fey gay boy, to which I was sectioned, was not. The image Alexander Geist is in one way, mourning the loss of his femininity, as demarcated by his mastectomy scars, the removal of those breasts he never actually had. It is a deeply gendered image, yes, but it has other sources of inspiration.

A dear friend of my Mother's, who in fact became a friend of mine, survived breast cancer but lost both of her breasts. As much as the physical sickness of her illness, she suffered from what she felt as the loss of her womanhood, having always been a very beautiful, sexual woman, and something of a noted beauty. This was sadly compounded by her husband's very insensitive comments about her post-illness body, some of which were frankly unforgivable. If breasts are the mark of a woman could either she or I claim to have a stake on femaleness? So the portrait is for me, also a defiant tribute to her, though it is most often read (and this is where conflict has arisen) as being an image of a transman showing his top surgery scars.

Being biologically, if not ideologically, male I wanted to use my body to resist categories that other people constantly want to impose on it. I wanted in a single, simple image to express the very complex nexus that is my gender identity. If I was being read as a man, if at times I was presenting as a man, I wanted to make it clear that I was not a cis-man; I did not identify as a man who was born as a man and had always lived as a man without complications. If I was any kind of man, I was a man who had been a woman, and that is what I wanted most of all to say. (That is not to say transmen are "men who have been women" but rather a statement exclusively regarding my own gender)

Transbodies are so obviously fetishised and objectified. The original set up for the shot, was a straight-on long shot of Alexander Geist, sitting in a chair with a bookcase behind him, with the scars as a more subtle detail, something that would not be immediately noticeable upon a casual glance. The concept was to create a picture in which this Tom Ford/Hugh Hefner playboy invited you into his library (shorthand for the status quo of power and wealth and masculinity) which became complicated with a more considered viewing, when the viewer perhaps noticed the scars and thus had to re-evaluate the scene. It was a question of playing with prejudices, and doubly destabilizing the gendered image. However after shooting this set-up for a while, Merja felt the image was too cold, too "confessional", and I had to agree that of the majority of the images of trans people showing their "real" bodies to documentary photographers do feel like apologies. So, Merja suggested the set-up you see above, this more sexualized, pin-up shot. It took some persuading. We spoke about going to extremes of ambiguity and of knowingly sexualizing a irrevocably contradictory body (ie my male body, returning to maleness via gender realignment surgery which obviously would not be a physical necessity for a biologically male body).

Yves Saint Laurent fragrance ads

I think the image succeeds in both ironizing and complicating that constant objectification and exoticization of othered bodies. It is such a ridiculous pose, it's so over the top it looks almost like an ad for aftershave! I was very self-conscious doing it, I felt very exposed, but of all the shots and set ups we tried this was the one which was closest to saying what we wanted to say. I thought it was the perfect response, to every drunk fool who staggered up to me at a party, and gave me a line like, "Punish me with your womanish beauty." I thought it was the correct retort to self-assured straight dudes, who like to say, "I'd have sex with a man like you, because you're not really a man - I think of you as more of a girl." I thought it's a ripe riposte to every stranger who decided to share with me such treasures as, "My mate thought you were a real woman, but I knew you were a man because you had too much hair on your arms, but I still reckon you'd be well hot if you waxed." If you live with a variant gender identity, it seems then surely you must do this solely for public recognition and to attract insistent, and a often deeply inappropriate, borderline offensive, running commentary on your personal appearance, how it fails and succeeds to excite passers-by. This image is satirizes that, and complicates it, as if by stripping down to almost nude the "truth" of the body beneath the clothes becomes ever more elusive.

It was not a flippant image, made to be sensational or to suggest a transidentity is a "costume", but rather a portrait Merja and I talked about for a long, long time, one I spoke to other artists about, one I felt incredibly nervous about making, one I showed to people I trust before I shared. The initial response to the photograph was positive, with a lot of excited, intrigued feedback from my immediate circle and from people who follow my work. Even further a field, from people who came to the image in ways unknown to me, the echo I heard back was heartening. I had a message from France, from someone who wrote, "I know you're like me, even though I know you are maybe not." What he meant, he later explained was, that he was trans and the image had suggested a connection and kinship to him, even though he realised my transness and his were not identical, I really felt the image has worked.

However as the image found its way into the wider world, was reprocessed, reblogged, recontextualized and eventually made its way back it started to generate less positive responses. One concern raised was that I had made an image that suggested a sort of X-marks-the-spot, where my breast implants would go, which was apparently making fun of transwomen who were crowd-funding for top surgery. One person wanted to know what I was trying to say about breast cancer. I was happy to discuss all of this with those who wanted to know my motivations. The main discontent however arose specifically around issues of transmaleness. Was I appropriating narratives that didn't belong to me? Was I pretending to be trans in order to get some cultural cache? Was I trans-enough to even be allowed into the forum? I can't say I didn't expect this, but what I certainly didn't expect was the manner in which they were delivered. People gave me their judgements on the image (entirely their right of course) in such a aggressive way, never asking, "Excuse me! But WHAT exactly are you trying to say?" Rather presuming they knew what I was saying in its entirety and finding it woefully misguided (again their right). I sought out some of the men of trans experience I am close to, friends and lovers, and asked them if I had in fact committed a horrible faux pas. But, again, the responses were most definitely positive. People liked the picture, they thought it was funny or sexy, refreshing and even that I had something potentially interesting to say on what it is to live outside of fixed frequencies of gender.

Still I felt I ought to try and offer a more general insight into what I was doing when I collaborated with Merja on this portrait, not to explain it but rather to make it clear what I was not trying to do.

Fundamentally, what I wanted to express with the track "A Woman's Right to Choose", is that it is any person's right to choose their identity, and to have that identity respected, socially, legally and interpersonally. I wrote the song in response to writing from people like Julie Birchill, who had decided amongst themselves that transwomen were not women but just "big blokes who'd cut their cocks off." I was horrified by that sort of transphobia, as well as the situation in which Chelsea Manning found herself in a men's prison without access to the medical treatment she needed for her transition. I felt that personally I had actually received a lot of unfair flack from bio-women who thought it was inappropriate of me to present as a woman when I had "no experience" of living as a woman. I didn't however want to disavow feminism just because Birchillitus was giving it such a bad name. Instead I was hoping to work towards a transfeminist manifesto, a political statement that strove towards an equality of all people's gender identities, whilst recognizing that that would never be possible until patriarchal oppression was made redundant. So, yes it was more than a little painful to be told I was transphobic and appropriationist. I suppose I'm in good company as I know both Penny Arcade and World Famous BOB have been accused of transphobia, though they have both been resolute sources of encouragement to anyone and everyone, going exploring their gender and their sexuality, both person-to-person and in their work. Likewise I can't help feel that (like with the word "queer" before it was reappropriated) the more messy identities are the ones which are wilfully eradicated as an oppressed community wins its struggle for social acceptance, tolerance and respect.

The major issue that unsettles me, is the appearance of a sort of trans-hierarchy, in which you are only "really" trans if you are living as the "other" gender in your daily life, with (at least) the aim to physically transition from A) to B). Everyone else, be they gender queer or androgynous, bigendered, or just themselves, are apparently just joshing around with dresses or breast bindings, as if their transexperience was not a valid thing. But it is. The obvious comparison is with bisexuality, how bisexuals are not "really" queer, how they're either seeking attention, confused or just have yet to prove themselves. I have bisexual friends, and lovers, and even family members and have always empathised with their frustrations, how they were told they weren't really queer; how they felt excluded from queer spaces, for not being gay enough, and also (obviously) from straight spaces. What's really ironic and most horrible about being either bisexual or non-op trans (amongst all of the really terrific stuff obvz) is the futile nature of the infighting. Not to suggest that everyone's story is the same, we are however inescapably more similar than we are different.

It was pointed out to me a few months ago that I actually wasn't trans, rather I was gender fluid. But you know who doesn't give a shit if you're transgender, a transvestite, a drag queen, transdrogynous, post-op, pre-op or an androgyne? The people who insult you in the street, and the people who try to stick their hand up your skirt on the bus, an the people who tell you you're using the wrong bathroom. If someone is about to throw something at you, they are really and totally not going to give a fuck if you to tell them, "Oh it's okay, I'm not trans, I'm just genderqueer!" They will not apologise and tootle off quietly if you say, "No, silly, I may be kissing this girl but I'm actually not a lesbian, just bisexual, so you don't have to chuck that beer bottle at me."

The picture, the video, the single were all made with love, compassion, intellectual curiosity, respect, experimentation and a genuine desire to circulate a beautiful, unusual, challenging image which spoke to a multitude of experiences, in order to resist absolutely any essentialization, to revel in queerness and gender queerness, and to gently mock the excessive fetishization of othered bodies. I can't say if I failed or succeeded or to what extent, but that was my intent, and I hope I have made it clear with this text, as best as I can with such a complicated and personal image.

"A Woman's Right to Choose" music video, directed by Imogen Heath for NowMomentNow

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I'm dazed

In a wk my debut novel "Everything Must Go" is published by ITNA.

There is an exclusive extract up on Dazed right now, and next week there will be an interview too! PLUS I'll be having a few lil launch events over the next few weeks in my home cities:

March 25th at Dixon Place, NY (via Skype) with Chris Stoddard and Slava Mogutin - hosted by Bruce Benderson.

April 2nd at Vogue Fabrics, London, with Bertie Marshall and R. Justin Hunt - hosted by Ben Walters.

April 17th at ST George's Books, Berlin, with Sally McGrane and Ambika Thompson - hosted by Liza Minnelli.

I hope that's enough to tide you over until the book makes its way to your sticky hot little paws. You can get a copy from me at one of the upcoming readings or in fact order it from the publisher direct of course :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Andrea Del Castagno, 'Our Lady of the Assumption with Saints Miniato and Julian'

I went to Mass today, for the first time since I was on tour with my dear brother Alexander, and our dear friend Matthias. I went because it was Ash Wednesday and I observe Lent each year, in my own confused way. This year I thought, I would step up my religious observance game, and start as I mean to go on, at Our Lady of the Assumption, in Bethnal Green. It was not a densely populated service, though much more diverse than I had expected, and with responses from the congregation which differed to the ones I learned in Liverpool all those years ago. All said, it was a quietly moving affair, calming if slightly dour, but throughout it I felt hot-wired to thousands of years of culture and devotion. As the sirens wailed along Bethnal Green Rd and a thirty-something local resident ran in twenty-minutes late, replete with a carrier bag of her daily detritus, to nudge up to her dear old Mum in that millennia old building, my thoughts wandered back to the days when the pews would surely have been packed. I mused on how this church had stood through two world wars, through Thatcherism, gentrification, and vandalism. When the ashes were applied to my foreheads in front of the altar my mental landscape was purely medieval I had visions of serfs and pious ladies alike spanning centuries, awed by the penitence and mystery awaiting them during the month of Lent.

My family come from that part of the country which remained resolutely Catholic during the Reformation, the civil war, the Jacobite uprisings and on. The persecutions of Catholics in the UK is well documented but not the point of this piece (though worth looking into from a historical point of view if you're that sort of dork). I was raised very much in the belief that the faith had been defended at a great cost, and that I was a part of that history and the process of both keeping it alive and passing it on. To who? Well, maybe you lover.

I don't think I have the evangelical impulse or the urge to call for conversions, if only because all of my travels and studies and "life experiences" have led me to believe that God reveals Himself to everybody in different ways. If you find your way to enlightenment, to an understanding of the universe, to peace and love and well being, through yoga, the Torah, poetry or psychoanalysis, well, that is just marvellous I'd say. Because that is the nature of God, infinite and compassionate and dare I say it, appropriate to your needs.

Have I gone completely mad? Well, maybe, but that's another story. People ask me how I can seriously believe in God, seriously have religious or spiritual convictions - almost as if I had a choice. I've know since I was a child that there universe was far beyond human comprehension and that a higher power was at work, and yet I still do not claim to know exactly what that power is, only that it moves through everything. Catholicism is my gateway into the infinite, and also a way of honouring the poor downtrodden people who spawned me. It not only gives me a cosmological curriculum from which I can move into independent research, but more over it gives me, in this frantic time of international corporate horrors which serve the heinous lies of globalisation, a place. As soulless monoliths plaster their inane logos over every square centimetre of the horizon, and transform us all into minimum wage cartoon-book goons when we're on the clock and thoughtless, ravenous consumers in our "free" time; as we're reduced ever more into one giant stew of human remains and instant gratification, one contactless paypal transations at a time; as all local, cultural traditions are steamrollered by ever larger television screens collectively lobotomising us with news reports on Miley Cyrus' instagram feed; it's all a person can do to stake a claim on their own histories and narratives and not become completely convinced that they're just one year and a set of veneers away from reality TV fame and a Broadway transfer. Dusty O once put it nicely when she said, she'd rather have the Queen on a plate than a plate of McDonald's; and though I am decidedly not a royalist, the sentiment holds true. I want to know where I came from and I want to use that knowledge to resist the suffocation of a rabid tabloid press, a corrupt government and the endless worship of American cultural imperialism. If we can remember that we were not in fact born in the queue for an iphone 5, and that the sum total of life is not getting regrammed by Nicki Minaj, there is some hope we can resist our slow death march towards becoming full homogenised, genetically modified perfect prisoners of an artless world ruled over by despots who tweet in real time.

Dance Break!!!!

There are some people who think celebrity is fiddle-faddle (a technical term not nearly used often enough) and who instead believe that science and science alone has all the answers. Now, I don't even have the questions, so I marvel at those who claim to have it all figured out, scribbled on the back of a copy of "The New Statesman". I believe in science, I am not a fundamentalist or a literalist, I do not believe the world was actually created in seven of your actual Earthling days. I understand religious texts to be philosophical and illustrative of certain principles, and in many cases are in harmony with those texts, evolution being the obvious example. The theory Darwin (who btdubz was both a religious fellow AND a scientist if you can comprehend THAT) presented to the world follows, as far as I know, the steps of Biblical creation. I think that's wonderful because I am not actually calling for any scientists to be burnt at the stake, not even the ones in the horrible high-waisted pants, that is how understanding I am, in spite of my irrefutable Catholic blood-lust to destroy and condemn anyone who does not believe as I do.

I am told that religion is the source of all evil and that rational thought has liberated us from the dark ages. I cannot, and would never care to, defend the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion; the Inquisitions, witch trials and concealment of child sex abuse cannot ever be called anything but tragedies brought about by power hungry criminals. In that respect, science and religion are not so far apart, hasn't science amongst its multitudinous gifts given us the atom bomb, zyklon b and drones? Religion and science have both frequently been highjacked by bloody minded individuals, and merciless cabals in order to control, manipulate and oppress - but that was never their original intent, nor should it mean that either is now invalid.

Religion and science are both tools which humankind can use to learn about the universe, art (Nietzsche's fave) another, philosophy another, and so on. To believe that science is the only thing which can tell us reliably about the world is deeply misguided, because it is born of the human brain, and that I am afraid to say is painfully finite. Worse yet, by insisting that science is the one way forward, we find ourselves in a dictatorship as defunct as anything the Pope might insist upon. Science can show us a lot, but the problem is that it denies everything it can't explain, and when we are well aware that a huge part of the human brain is left unused, that is surely a nonsensical position to hold. Every culture in the world has spiritual practices, creation myths, often sharing archetypes, there's no getting away from those truly universal longings, and for science to relegate them to the realm of projections and delusions, does no justice to the great minds of the labs. Likewise, religious believers who insist every word of the Bible and decline to see it as abstract thinking are missing the divine gift of inquisitive intelligence almost entirely. The universe and the life within it is a complex harmony and we must understand it as so in order to sing its song.

I find that song wherever I go, even when I'm not looking for it. I find it in Shakespeare, in The Birth of Tragedy, in Jung's memoirs, in Still Falls the Rain, in the Bangkok Museum of Contemporary Art, in Walt Whitman and in Lupita Nyong'o's speech at the Essence awards. This song illuminates me, and comforts me, it connects me and consoles me, enlivens me and corrects me, I'm hoping it will educate me and even show me how I can use what I have to make this war zone of a world more beautiful, kinder, compassionate and cognisant. But that is all to come - for now all I have to say is that life is a miracle I am happy to participate in, though I may not fully understand it, and I welcome all paths to wisdom.

Gay Saints

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mine eyes dazzle

"Cover Her Face" opening London Feb 2014. I'm playing The Duchess herself, in this late '50s gay gangster revision of John Webster's Jacobean masterpiece, "The Duchess of Malfi". The writing is so deathly brilliant, the cast assembled so strong, and the vision of the piece so bold, I just cannot wait to get it onstage.

Theatre is not really my background, I'm from the gutter of performance art, and this is my first attempt at a role in a legitimate play. As opening gambits go, it's a stark one, taking on one of the most iconic English dramas and in such a sweeping reinterpretation of the text. When I was asked to audition I thought that there was absolutely no way I could take such a role - which is exactly why I'm doing it. I don't want to be ruled by fear or insecurity, I want to stake a claim for myself on the world; I think this is what will make me a great Duchess, as the play itself centres on her tragic quest for selfhood.

That's not to say it's not terrifying, it's a part that requires love scenes, double-bluffing, and a psychedelic death, no mean feat even for a seasoned, trained actor. But I think I'm ready for it. I'm channelling Novak, Gardner and a little K.Hepburn, the less bubble-gum stars of the era, and trying to create a Duchess who has a lot of poise and elegance, but a clear, strong will and no little temper. My Duchess will not be a push-over or a prisoner of her fate, and most of all she will be a sexually engaged woman. Not only does the Duchess chose her own lower-class lover Antonio, in spite of the very obvious dangers, but there's a most definite charge between she and her twin brother, Ferdinand, which I want to riff on.

Most of all, I want to give the Duchess a real note of dignity and bravery, to make the role a suitable tribute to gender nonconformists of all presentations and epochs.