It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop

For me, and for many others, 2018 was a year indelibly marked by the suicide of Frightened Rabbit’s singer, Scott Hutchinson.  Suicide – even the mention of its name can seem daunting to behold, to bear.  To be explicit is not to distinguish it as a unique evil from other kinds of death or passing, but rather the opposite: to neither romanticize it as a salvation from pain, nor to besmirch its victims as callous or villainous.  It is to be forthright, to be pointed about our vulnerability, to render it incumbent on us to discharge shame whilst not countenancing suicide’s inevitability.  I think that’s what Scott would have wanted.  For throughout his artistic work, he embodied this vulnerability, this candour.

One of the most excruciating dilemmas to grapple with is whether this was salve or further bane to his suffering.  Perhaps it was both.  It is necessary to dispel the damaging idea that writing must be a torture, glorifying suffering as a fuel for artistry, but this can elide the very monstrous recesses into which imagination can in fact lead us.  Where is the boundary between catharsis, and bloodletting? Did vividly singing about suicide in Floating in the Forth time after time wreak an anguish in him?  What responsibility did the music industry, the spotlight, the world, have for what happened? Unanswerable questions still plague, frozen in limbo.  None of this seems right, or fair.  How are we supposed to know if we’re doing any of this right, dazed still by the vicissitudes that have come to be petrified in Frightened Rabbit’s music?

Every song can seem now a dirge, a harrowing divination of what has come to pass, a red flag fluttering henceforth in tatters, an ever smouldering flare.  Like he was crying out, and the world did not answer.  I’m sure they did, particularly his family and friends, and it would be wrong to retrospectively map meanings on to his art simply for the sake of desperate consolation.  But horror compels us thus, with stability disintegrated so, eclipsing into maelstroms.  This is especially the case because that desperate consolation coursed through Frightened Rabbit’s songs.  They felt like pleas for hope. Prayers for the fucked.  Perhaps something more could have been done to protect him, as he sang about in It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop.  I wonder what Christmas will be like for Frightened Rabbit without Scott, especially for his brother, how haunted or cold those festive lights might feel for his absence, that it can never be the way it once was.  How all that was enchanting can seem a necromancy, as if there is no respite from pain such as this, and what little serenity remains feels simulated or frail or ephemeral, vitiated by the endless collapse, life itself drowned and halted, spiralling with a screech in freefall.  I wonder what hearing those songs is like for them now, how one possibly picks up the relic of an instrument again after a world is shattered like that, how they might always bear the grievous, strident echo of loss.  He should still be with us.  He could still have been with us.  Bargaining – a consolation, and a torment.  A buffer against the terrible turmoil of the realization that he is gone, and could not be saved; the paralysing despair that sometimes we cannot help when those we care for are most in need.

The key may well be collective agency, but it sometimes feels remote, impossible, formulaic: another layer of helplessness, the social order malignant and crumbling so, material conditions so abject, that it’s entirely inexorable that we feel this way.  How do we thrive, amid cutthroat circumstance, in a context where short-circuited fantasies of individual will are weaponized to morally punish us for not recovering, to perpetuate the vicious cycles of stigma and blame? How do we empathise utterly with the constraints of these conditions, whilst not resigning ourselves to them?  To honour that the gravity of loss is irredeemable, whilst seeking out hope, is the labyrinthine knot of processing grief – a knot we feel most painfully at Christmas, when the mythical joy of intimacy that seems to belong to everyone else can feel most acutely vanished in the comparison.  What does it mean not to simply ‘move on’ or ‘let go’, but neither clutch with bloodied hands to the shards forever?  A prayer can feel more honest, can resonate more, even if it might be a cop-out.  There’s no key when all that surrounds seems to be a void.  Reason is often little safeguard.

And so Frightened Rabbit’s songs were something of a portal, albeit firmly anchored in malaise.  A chance for the rot to stop, if only for a while.  A warm, if draughty and ramshackle, sanctuary, the sticky floors and dazzling lights and inelegant dancing of a dingy venue.  A relief from that wrenching weight that bears down on all our chests, lifted in the surge of the crowd.  A solace, illuminating and resounding through the disquiet that we are a blot on the world in refrains of aching, bruised communality.  Clumsy and brave, wry whilst not as cynical as they would like to believe, wistful but only seldom resentful.  Raw, and tender because of it.  Bittersweet. Vivid meditations on the agony of living with suicidal ideation, forestalled by the affirmation that it was worth persevering.  Beset mercilessly by illness but still declaring triumph against death, still demanding another day, still finding the heart to ask how your loved one’s day was because however strained it feels connection is the balm to grief, because those day-to-day concerns are the most important details in the world, because to go on and to not give up on goodness or kindness or hope is the most magnificent of victories.  What happened to Scott doesn’t detract from that.  I think he would have wanted us to not let it, for us to still chant the chorus of Modern Leper with all the heart and fire we can possibly muster, even through the tears that he couldn’t make it, that he should still be here singing it and never again can.

At depression’s core is an assertion that all happiness is a ruse, an illusion, always feigned; there is something in that which taps into the broader absurdity and dread of the human condition as much as the profound alienation, curated positivity and immiserating ‘prosperity’ of capitalist society.  Frightened Rabbit’s songs resonated at the contradiction all those who have experienced mental illness will be familiar with: happiness is a sham, and it damn well isn’t.  It is a sideshow, and the whole reason everyone stays on the stage to outlast their doubts and fears for just a few more hours, a few more days, the genuine euphoria so many people felt watching Frightened Rabbit on stage, that I only hope he felt too.  It is impossible, and miraculously possible.  A gift, just like their music remains.  With it, perhaps we can all get at least the chance to stop this Christmas, even if it’s a jagged wish, even if joy sometimes feels too much like mere escape.  To continue making those tiny little changes to earth, remembering our capacity to do so was bolstered by the changes he made, that he’s still making, protecting us with his music.  To mourn, and celebrate, and care, as deeply as we possibly can.  These songs have always been attempts to claw out of the abyss, to reach out even with clammy and trembling hands, bashful and earnest embraces wrested from the clutches of decay, clinging on and aching not for death, but life.  They are a reminder of the harbours we can create for one another.


Why We Need a Feminist Anti-Fascism Pt.II

(Part 1 of this series can be found here.)

Patriarchal relations can also be subtler or more obfuscating in their operation, masked under a pretence of non-hierarchy or expediency.  Radical anti-fascist groups are frequently informal collectives lacking proper processes of formal democracy or accountability.  Whilst such horizontal organizing models have merit strategically, particularly in the optimisation of participatory decision making on a small scale, this structurelessness can also diminish transparency and exacerbate the disavowal of active power redistribution, enabling those already dominant to exert control unchecked.  A model that implements horizontalism with the best intentions, to ensure power is not concentrated in the hands of leaders who are likely to already be the more powerful in society, can in practice entrench informal hierarchies of confidence, experience or influence that covertly favour those very people without mechanisms for recall.  This does not necessitate a complete break from the network model locally, but its problems with durability should be reckoned with, and perhaps redressed through the institution of role structures at the very least, alongside a critical evaluation of internal democracy and a more decisive relationship to political objectives.  Of course, the intimation here is not that formal structures are intrinsically more liberatory (the ossification of relations of authority and subordination in these models is indeed a pressing problem) but rather that our organizing models are enmeshed in the power dynamics of a group, and the effects of structurelessness in rendering invisible, rather than negating, hierarchies must be confronted.

On the issue of expediency, it is worth mentioning that appeals to anti-fascism as a purely reactive or instrumental endeavour of course are not in themselves oppressive, but can deflect from or obscure questions of oppression in practice.  This argument sometimes posits the redundancy of feminism to anti-fascism – thought to function purely as a mechanism of working-class self-defence against fascist forces that can only imbibe, not itself advance, a broader left politics.  But, as aforementioned, this already concedes too much – we rightly justify our anti-fascism under the rubric of combatting the extreme dehumanization and brutal violence inflicted by fascism on marginalized groups.  This is the allure of an anarchist politics in anti-fascism: an absolution from hierarchy itself, a prefigurative assertion against the underlying social basis for fascist ideology.  Anti-fascism, then, demonstrably is not and cannot be presumed as a kind of politically neutral matter: it is a politics of solidarity, and we must orientate it effectively or risk a hollowing out or complacency into which conservative ideas already hegemonic will otherwise seep.  The Kurds are rightly lauded by anti-fascists in their struggle against ISIS, but this struggle is an explicitly feminist revolution.

As such, this is not to diminish the politics of a united front, but to complement it.  It is useful to engage with anti-fascism as a kind of reflexive social impulse of self-defence against terror and tyranny, or a strategic aegis for the assertion of working-class organization, or a common-sense preservation of fundamental freedoms, especially to draw those who are not acclimatized to established leftist codes into radical organizing.  Such a conception can help cut through the class snobbery that frames racism as a uniquely working-class disposition and thereby overlooks the prevailing role of bosses, landlords and the state in racist dispossession.  But we must recognize feminist politics as necessary to developing the broadness and sustainability of anti-fascism, and also be vigilant against a disavowal of anti-fascism’s political dimensions in order to ensure a holistic class analysis.  Feminists have long maintained that arbitrary divisions between the personal and the political, the private and the public, in themselves conceal the exertion of patriarchal authority and oppression across all of our lives.  The arenas traditionally thought to be siloed off from politics, such as the family and the home, are in themselves etched by patterns of domination that become ritualized as natural.  It is these unquestioned everyday practices and relations that feminism has illuminated as politically contestable in response to a chauvinistic opportunism the left has been all too willing to prop up historically, thus hindering its agitation towards freedom and justice.

A narrow economism that collapses racism as a byproduct of economic resentment and thus relegates politics of liberation to a ‘distraction’ can, then, find resonance in reduction of anti-fascism to a unilateral function of defence that ought not or cannot involve itself in broader political concerns.  The consequential, misplaced sense that feminism or queer politics are ‘middle class affectations’ should be further dispelled by an assertive, socialist feminist anti-fascism as much as by an affirmation of the significance of care and affect in binding our lives and our politics together, forging solidarity through struggle and community-building. It is in a context of intensifying bigotry – whether racism, misogyny or transphobia – in parallel with the rise of the far-right that we must double down on our reckoning with oppression, so as to defend one another and not be further prised apart.  Our groups are never automatically exempt from this influence and so must actively and concretely grapple with both internal and external power dynamics – especially to enact our own positive vision against a far-right that is all-too-willing to weaponize abuse for its own sinister (and immensely patriarchal) ends.  Whilst many individual anti-fascists are earnestly committed to liberation, we need, I think, to let go of the idea that the problem is elsewhere and subcultural sympathies are a sufficient answer to oppression, that a liberatory politics expresses itself in simply a vindication achieved through severing our association with orthodox groups like Stand Up to Racism/Unite Against Fascism, that we might only define ourselves in rejection.

Indeed, reactionary political trends within militant anti-fascism historically should be examined in how they cluster together.  For example, the Red Action tendency, a driving force behind Anti-Fascist Action’s prominent strategies of physical confrontation in the 80s, were prone to over-reaching, veering-into-racism rancour over ‘multiculturalism’ as much as machismo-infused projection and signification. This reverberates in a creeping propensity to disguise chauvinism under a nebulous decrial of ‘identity politics’ from an anarchist old-guard – particularly when trying to broach embattled issues such as trans politics.  A critique of this reflex is not to denigrate any and all more comradely circumspection over a liberal identity politics which treats what should be structural struggles over resources and power as instead insular, punitive and sanctimonious competitions over individual piety.  But the role of identity in constituting groups and reproducing power dynamics cannot be eschewed; there is no reason to renounce the absolute necessity of a politics of autonomy and emancipation, which bolster and augment rather than detract from class struggle.  The formation of the Independent Working-Class Association out of the core of AFA, upon the flight of the BNP from the streets to electoral politics, was itself a response to the long-term political limitations of single-issue anti-fascist activity, but it too remained ineffectual, over-compensating in its antipathy towards so-called ‘identity politics’.

Indeed, to transcend a purely reactive model of anti-fascism – which all too often hinges upon a specialized, hardened, clandestine cadre of militants, susceptible to repression and burn out – the active implementation of feminist politics is immensely useful.  Re-emphasis of the reproductive dimensions of anti-fascism, from admin to communication to arrestee support to accessibility of events to alliances with the communities around us, and the equitable distribution of its accompanying tasks, should be regarded as the precursor to inclusive group dynamics and to the sustenance of militant activity.  This is not just to highlight and revalue the hidden work so many women and non-binary people do to prop up anti-fascist organizing, to only then consign the same people to that work once it has been acknowledged.  Rather, it is to recognize that such work is just as crucial as activity on the streets, to enhance all possible avenues of engagement, to proactively contest rather than resign ourselves to the assorted barriers to struggle against the forces of reaction.  It is a demand not for static recognition but dignity and harmony in our relationships with one another, an illumination of the expansive power of care itself and the fortitude of those who predominantly engage in it, an insistence that it be reciprocated by our friends and comrades across all of our lives.  It would be amiss to suggest that such internal efforts of care do not already exist – but we might reassert their centrality through feminist praxis.  This can also perhaps enable us to better resolve the impasse of squaddism vs mass organizing that has long strategically plagued anti-fascist organizing.

Why We Need A Feminist Anti-Fascism Pt.I

Women and those of marginalized genders have always been at the forefront of anti-fascist resistance.  This fact was writ large in the mobilization of a powerful feminist bloc for a counter-demonstration against the DFLA in October, convened under the banner of the Feminist Anti-Fascist Assembly.  Mustering itself from community groups such as Asian Mum’s Network, feminist organizations such as Women’s Strike Assembly, and independent trade unions such as CAIWU, the broad base from which this bloc drew galvanized opposition with a revitalized energy extending beyond cores of seasoned anti-fascist militants.

The FLA/ DFLA and its far-right base seemed to be rapidly gaining ground earlier in the year, engaging in ferocious and riotous demonstrations that mobilized 10,000+ people and frenziedly attacked police and trade unionists.  In the context of an alarming resurgence of the far-right across the world, manifested in fascist street movements as much as far-right populist parties conquering state power, and abetted by virulent alt-right cultures incubated in violently misogynistic online enclaves, the existing formations of anti-fascism thus struggled to respond to a peak of fascist activity in the UK.  Organizing openly, with renewed vigour facilitated by a novel feminist inflection, signalled the beginnings of a push back against this tide, a recouping of lost ground, as a smaller turn-out of the DFLA were halted in their tracks at Pall Mall near the Brazilian Embassy, symbolizing a triumphant expression of solidarity with those threatened by and resisting Bolsonaro’s rise to power.  Propelled by anti-racist alliances with groups such as Brazilian Women Against Fascism, this mirrors the reanimation of feminist struggles globally against gendered oppression and structural violence inflamed by a rising far-right – from women’s marches against the serial sexual abuser Trump, campaigns against femicide in Latin America, and movements resisting the criminalization of abortion, the repeal of protections against sexual harassment and violence, and eliminationist clamp downs on trans rights.

It is worth clarifying here, then: a binary should not be posed between those who engage in feminist activism and those who engage in anti-fascism.  Indeed, the caricatured imaginary of anti-fascism as simply a brutish, macho and adrenaline-fuelled posturing or release is at odds with the central actors and everyday course of anti-fascist organizing, as well as a liberal neutralization of the politics and power through which violence is necessarily exercised.  Such cynical narratives are often invoked to delegitimize anti-fascism as a social effort – to cast those defending themselves from ideologies of genocide as villains and thus normalize the far-right image of themselves as victims and heroes – but also perpetuate the patriarchal idea that feminized people are meek, fragile and unable to participate in militancy.  Whilst we should challenge such essentializing patronisations and vilifications, we should also not dismiss a very real basis for concerns about patriarchal dynamics within anti-fascist struggle.

Of course, this is not to suggest anti-fascism is uniquely culpable – power dynamics course across all our lives and all our movements and should be contested everywhere.  But its more frequent exposure to violence undoubtedly imbues its implication in those power dynamics with specific dimensions.  Violence can be and is practiced for emancipatory or feminist ends: absolute moral judgements cannot be meted out in a vacuum.  But a proximity to violence under patriarchy will always be fraught; violence is not itself liberating, nor should it be valorised as a strategy or end unto itself.  The conduct of violence in our context is not only predisposed to harbour and channel impulses of domination, then, and could intensify such impulses if we are not careful; the question of violence is inherently difficult to square for those seeking a society that resolves its social relations in care rather than force.  Even if for just progressive or strategic ends, it can tend uncomfortably towards a tempting yet blinkering rage, a destructive catharsis, a bloodthirsty vengeance. It can render politics in terms of annihilation rather than transformation.

Whilst a politics of mass direct action cannot always be inclusive, and this should not detract from its necessity or overwrite the risks marginalized groups do consistently take to confront reactionary violence, nor should we eschew an attendance to more pronounced threats of force experienced by such groups and the exclusions that this might generate in our struggles. I think a feminist politics inculcates a wariness to violence because its repository of lived experience is all-too-attuned to the systematic nature of violence deployed as a tool for cruelty and subjugation.  Fascism is the very epitome of patriarchal violence; feminism, then, containing a vast legacy of strategies on how to survive and contest such violence, an essential source of inspiration for anti-fascist praxis.

Similarly, the deployment of anti-fascist techniques in the resistance of pro-life bigots on the streets and outside abortion clinics gestures towards the deep reservoir of strategies of confrontation utilized by anti-fascism that feminism can equip itself with.  The sustainment of militancy in the arena of anti-fascist activity, even as this militancy has generally declined in other trade union and social struggles in the UK, is laudable.  A contemporary feminism too often defanged by its recuperation into frameworks of neo-liberal, individualist ‘empowerment’ on the right and a secessionist politics of safety on the left thus has much to gain from interaction with the combative orientation of anti-fascism: the stakes of social violence are becoming ever more grievous, and to not equip ourselves with mechanisms of collective self-defence would be a perilous oversight.

The far-right’s duplicitous appeals to reinforce border controls to ‘protect women’ reflect a broader securitisation of society and state institutions that only transfers and perpetuates violence, rather than eliminating it, promising that we will be liberated from gendered oppression through the criminalization of sex work or more ‘bobbies on the beat’. A socialist feminist conception of violence reckons with its structural nature, enforced by the abusive force of police and prisons against marginalized genders, as much as an everyday, more insidious culture of micro and macro aggressions extending from the home to work to the streets, that can be better intervened in at its roots through proactively cultivating strong community self-organization.  Radical strands of both anti-fascism and feminism necessarily assert that the state, in its overlapping authoritarian and paternalistic forms, cannot be the agent of our emancipation.  The combination of a politics of care, support and solidarity with a focus on inclusive and bold direct action, as embodied by groups such as Sisters Uncut, also provides an urgent riposte to the deadlocking notion that care and struggle must be binaries in radical politics. They are instead interdependent.

As such, the feminist bloc can be understood as a response to the weaponization and co-optation of sexual violence as a problem uniquely concentrated among racialized men as well as a counteraction of intra-movement power dynamics.  This, then, reflects a broader question over the purpose of anti-fascism itself, which has conventionally understood itself as a reactive instinct seeking to counter fascists’ control over the streets and communities rather than explicitly committed to a broader political project.  But even on its own terms this has always been something of a muddled aim: in order to disrupt the fascists ideologically one must advance a different framework for understanding society that restores the blame for the problems of immiseration to capitalism rather than scapegoated minorities.  Anti-fascism draws its energy from the power of a broader left and thus naturally reflects and in turn moulds its politics: a call for instrumentality is not a voiding of politics, but rather to grant a license to lowest-common denominator conclusions.  It can act as a disavowal of political responsibility, at best a hinging of faith that the culture of a group will have obtained inoculation against oppression from other radical struggles, at worst a forbearance to not actively foster more emancipatory social dynamics because that is ostensibly not anti-fascism’s role.  Where anti-fascist and socialist organizing begin and end then becomes a very blurred boundary.

Indeed, many anti-fascist groups rightly recognize that our movements replicate hierarchies and power dynamics from the world at large and often affirm guidelines or principles of conduct to safeguard against this.  This, too, is a kind of broader politics, if somewhat vague or amorphous: the difficult question is also whether a purely instrumental anti-fascism is even possible, even if it were desirable for the temporary strategic purpose of a united front.  It could be contended that this casts groups somewhat adrift: with cobbled together political identities as substitutes for robust process or real guarantees of efforts to redress oppression.  This is, perhaps, the fundamental nexus of contradiction in anti-fascism: how to present an immediate, united front against a vicious ideology that everyone in society, regardless of political disposition, should feel inclined to resist, whilst also articulating a more long-term strategy for addressing the necessarily political and material roots of fascism (some permutation of this contradiction also inevitably exists in most radical groups, and it is an important given that no politic is perfect or without tension).  The mobilization of many behind such radical action should be commended as an immense success of contemporary anti-fascist organizing; but the dilemma of reproduction in anti-fascism should also be confronted.

It is in this context that the feminist bloc interjected: very much advancing its own set of autonomous politics whilst operating in a broader front.  A feminist conception of anti-fascism might posit that rather than anti-fascism simply inheriting the tendencies of a wider left ecology, we must also reckon with how existing forms of anti-fascism act upon, create or entrench patriarchal ideas in this ecology, and how that might be overcome through a feminist orientation.  Within such a conversation, the presence of overt bigotry must be recognised as only the thin end of the wedge.  Many women, non-binary and gender diverse people will have a plethora of experience to attest to such dynamics, ranging from being spoken over, dismissed and belittled by domineering men in meetings to outright abuse and its attendant apologism, from the frustration of continually feeling compelled to bite one’s tongue over belligerence (out of a sense of protective emotional and political duty, or for fear of being branded ‘divisive’ or ‘disruptive’) to a sense of utter alienation and dejection over oppression that even results in departure from groups.  The consequences of these patriarchal harms – both personally and politically – are profound, and should not be underestimated or sidelined.

Restless Dream

The festivities precociously blossomed

Whilst the air was still crisp with a waning autumn.

Tired, sighing streets faded hurriedly into darkness,

Lambent with the neon patterns of fairy lights;

Market stalls sprung up, cobbled together

From wood blanketed with evergreen

And adorned with luminous arrays:

Makeshift abodes that, nestled against stony chill,

Chimed through with restless dreams

Gathered from the ashes of fireworks displays

And hewn from the architects of blushing leaves

That crackled underfoot with the memory

Of raw and playful childhood rhapsody.

Some stumbled over the ice of security barriers

Apologizing, promising, that they had arrived

With nothing.

We foraged in divine strains, and illuminated

Beyond majestic pillars crowned with emblems

And pristine arches bedecked in garlands

Which cloaked over the brutal hoots of arms

Were spectral, furtive glimmers of another life:

Refuges, or consolations, of shattered faith

Incarnated in wistfulness.

They flickered as if the shadows of candlelights

Kindled in muted mourning

Coalesced in the frost and fire of fearful ardour

Like embers aching for grander lights

Yearning for some fabled comfort

From the smog of loneliness and defeat –

Longing to be a part of something

Sowing fragments of scattered contentment

In mired snow beneath

The cascading caresses of constellations

Just to try not to remember

And to try not to forget.

The Arts and Social Reproduction

A few months ago I started properly committing myself to writing professionally. This was for a number of reasons: it was something I’d always wanted to pursue, I was struggling immensely to find any kind of formal work upon leaving Coventry (not to mention the prospect of returning to retail work being quite soul-destroying), there was a flux around whether I would have any kind of stable home over summer and it was something I could do on-the-run whilst crashing with friends. In this context, and with the majority of my writing income flowing from patreon, it’s worth emphasising my colossal gratitude for the everyday practices of solidarity that continue to sustain all of us. Without that support, I may have given up already. Thanks also must be extended here to institutions like Novara Media that grant chances to writers who don’t have those elusive opportunities to broach the mainstream.

I’d been writing for years and years before this shift. Informally since I was very young – high school age – and as a more serious endeavour for many years now. For all the platitudes and structural barriers to creative pursuits that should be dismantled, it is nonetheless true that success in this or any other arena is no serendipitous miracle: you have to fail and struggle a lot before you locate a unique identity and niche for your writing and wade your way to something good. Now, a predilection for self-deprecation all too hackneyed and fine-tuned is willing to concede I’m still just not that good, but the fact also remains: it should not be this hard.

For some perspective, I work literally hundreds of hours a month on writing – on research, background reading, social media, promotion, admin, pitching, internal and external editing, failed attempts, writing, poring, whatever. The array of mostly invisible background work entails that you are toiling constantly and unremittingly – some of which, like embellishing your social media ‘brand’, are the most time-consuming, dissonance-inducing and pointless aspects. This is absolutely salved somewhat by the fact that you are engaged in a pursuit you find fulfilling (but, then, that renders the worry over quality because it is so important to you all the more agonizing) – however, unfortunately, love and goodwill do not pay the rent or bills. If social relations were very different, and the provision of fundamental resources much more just, I would be all for labours of love, but in a context where those material pressures and power dynamics do exist, the hegemony of that gesture only conceals and intensifies such inequities. Capitalist, patriarchal society does not value that which nourishes us emotionally, psychologically, interpersonally.

This becomes something of a feedback loop: due to underinvestment and precarity creative pursuits become more of a luxury that those with significant disposable income can afford access to and engage in, and then such pursuits are decried as middle-class ‘inessentials’ by those very powers-that-be to justify the cuts to creative institutions they are meting out. Decimating cuts to theatres, libraries, reading clubs, local art projects, cultural spaces have become ubiquitous, with the Arts Council England noting an acute, staggering funding reduction of 1/3rd to the sector in the past decade. This reveals the deep inhumanity of these regimes: constricting our existence as much as possible to the bleak machinations of ‘earning a living’, eviscerating the worlds outside work that imbue our lives with meaning, purpose, community, inspiration, expression.

Indeed, it’s been in the course of trying to pursue writing that the importance of such local services has been reaffirmed to me. My local library has been indispensable since moving into a new place in Leeds – as a sanctuary on often isolating days when I wasn’t otherwise leaving the house, a recourse because my laptop broke and I’ve had little additional means to subsidize the repairs, a harbour of separation between personal life and work. On the noticeboard was pinned advice on accessing benefits, times for drop-in sessions for support around immigration difficulties, information on language classes and kids’ sessions.

Just the other day I was there whilst one such of these kids’ sessions was ongoing, various mothers and their young children dropping by after school to joyously sing nursery rhymes, embark on extraordinary adventures through collective reading, laugh and jaunt and play games together. There is so much that is precious and sweet in these moments: struggling mothers finding community and solace with others similarly strained by the oftentimes isolating, exhausting and un-remunerated work of tending to the every need of another human being. Kids forming friendships, tentatively and jubilantly discovering the wonders and passions of this sublime gateway into the multitudinous worlds of imagination that books and song open. Their jumbled, messy choruses shimmered with the kind of grace and euphony that could thaw all the cynicism in the world. Their voices evoked reminiscence of similar experiences from my youth, memories that reverberated with tenderness and ease and warmth still. It is in this kind of enchanting safety that people and worlds are made, rejuvenated.

How we value the infrastructure for this safety, then, places a mirror up to the values of a society itself. The calculating callousness of austerity that ruptures such chances for affirmation should be reckoned with as just an egregious injustice as cuts to healthcare or jobs: such cuts inflict scars across the collective spirit of a society, wreaking a sense of desolation in communities. Every person deserves not only unconditional subsistence, but the chance to belong to something, to feel safe and nurtured, to dream. We are so ground down by the miserable routines of capitalism that we sometimes, understandably, forget the importance of this – to our everyday lives, to our humanity, as much as our political projects.

Indeed, for the hundreds of hours of work I instil into writing a month, I earn usually around 150 pounds, maybe a little more at a push, which entails a shortfall even for just paying my rent and bills. I’ll be the first to admit that it is only because of (very limited) reserves from the student loans I saved over the years and the advantages of attending Uni (the most recent letter from SLC chased me up with my ever escalating 40 grand debt) that I can begin to contemplate devoting myself to writing, and it remains a struggle, beset by ceaseless worry. For all its hardships and frustrations – long hours, the warpings of dwelling on awful iniquities, writer’s block, feeling like you’re not getting anywhere and only those already commanding masses of capital (social or otherwise) really will, garnering more traction for that hot-take on twitter than a piece to which you’ve committed many tireless weeks, the compulsion to always have something interesting to say (most writers don’t want to admit that the vast majority of our thoughts are quite mundane) – it is also sometimes magnificent.

And we need to hold on to that, let go of any idea that only certain people in more noble stations should be doing this, that it should be mediated by nepotism, or who can court and inveigle the largest audience through social media promotion and vacuous scandal, that it’s either the immiseration and uncertainty of self-employment or the coercion toward group think as an interned adjunct in mainstream publications. We’re so consigned to inhabiting the margins of despondency, trying to live between the shadows and cracks of work and debt, that wanting more than this can seem like greed, or indulgency, or even an affront. But it’s not, and I repudiate any snobbish idea that arts or culture is the preserve of elites. It’s from the margins that the boldest, most fearless stories have always emerged. With more and more people turning to communal funding for their art, we are beginning to create together, in increasingly innovative and exciting ways. We all have a stake in paving the roads for these adventures.

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Socialism or Barbarism?

I read a post the other day about the Pittsburgh massacre, in which 11 Jewish people were slaughtered in an abhorrent fascist attack, that was utterly chilling. It was about the fact that some of those who were killed were survivors of the Holocaust. Elders who had endured through one of the most harrowing atrocities of global history, escaping genocide and extermination, only to be shot many years later in their place of worship, in their sanctuary against the very darkness that history casts.

It is an odious indictment of our current juncture, that such violence still plagues our world, that marginalized communities must still weep over the lives of loved ones plundered by the malevolence of a resurging far-right, that such vicious tragedy re-enacts itself on those who have already inherited so much terror and grief.  The horror of it can seem inexorable, with a military demagogue endorsing torture, the violent subjugation of minorities, women and the left, and ecological destruction assuming the Brazilian Presidency, specifically courting and tailing the rise of Trump under which this insidious white supremacy has been re-emboldened. Trans women of colour in Brazil have already been brutally preyed upon and killed, in a context where the violence inflicted upon them was already abominably routine.

These stories punctuate the reels of our news feed, framing this kind of violence as a lurid spectacle to be consumed and then shifted in a nightmarish, frenetic succession of flashes, a macabre theatre of catastrophe without interval, ghosts of lives shorn in bloodied statistics. Desensitization, nihilism, cynicism – a numbness of distant, ubiquitous, cacophonous shocks – prevails. The veil is torn, and reinforced, all at once. Perhaps we shut ourselves off entirely, convince ourselves with desperate denial, pray, perhaps, against all odds, that things will be okay. But the foreboding – unremitting, abyssal – lingers.  Tempests of fire rage through forests, as we try to douse them with only blankets.  Tsunamis of reaction crash upon the world, and we try in vain to swim against the ferocity of the tides.

How does one not unravel, at the crush of it all? Because we must? Some instinct of collective survival, rallying to the defence of beleaguered bonds and lives? A desperate clamour of protest, chasing the shadows of guilt and conscience? A fevered, anxious urgency of revenge? A rage that rapidly exhausts itself, cauterizing the wounds and calamities of circumstance? Despair, that the battles are too relentless, the indignities too terrible, the foes too merciless to be overcome? An immobilizing desolation, that it is too painful to try, that nothing can be done anyway? A complacency or naivety, that monsters such as these would not find a foothold here, whilst their venom besets our streets in ‘Free Tommy’ chants, haunts our homes through domestic abuse, enchains itself in shackles upon those wrenched with suffocated cries to deportation?

There is, then, quite a universally human impulse inflecting the traditional liberal response to fascism – a sense of comfort in neutrality, a melancholy for a stable equilibrium, a wistfulness for the idea that things will be okay. That is, to deny it any purchase in our imagination, to conclude that it is entirely in the past, to answer its dread with only vague thoughts and prayers.  To console us paternalistically that the values of enlightenment of our representatives would never let that happen, that even with such sinister, murderous bigotry we must engage in a civil dialogue lest we ourselves become tainted.  To maintain that the checks and balances of liberal democratic compacts will restrain any such impulse, whilst absolving its own complicity in accommodating, abetting and stoking the systems and crises that incubate fascism; eliding the fact that fascism organizes itself exactly to strong-arm its way into arenas of democracy through exploiting the frailty of these checks and balances so as to eviscerate them from the inside out.  Those who practice fascism are simply monsters – but, then, don’t monsters have to be created, animated?

Liberalism posits with it an individualist conception of morality to justify its political framework, to naturalize its hierarchies: fascism is then accounted for simply by an amorphous evil. In response, radical retorts maintain fascism is the morbid symptom of capitalism in decay.  This framework recognizes that business weaponizing its resources to propagate ‘red scares’ and fake news through What’s App groups in the run-up to Bolsonaro’s election is not an aberration: it is consistent with the mutually beneficial relationships corporations and industry have established with fascism throughout history. Stocks soar, Canadian news speculates on the investment opportunities Bolsonaro’s presidency might beget, business flocks and rejoices whilst fascism seizes hold and the threat of a return to military dictatorship looms. In a context where liberal democratic states have ceded entirely to the despotic whims of neo-liberalism, to the very forces plunging the world into social and economic crises fascists exploit to co-opt anti-systemic resentment into a shoring up of bourgeois power through authoritarian means – those same forces are now cashing in. The monsters have been lurking all along. They do not emerge from nowhere.  They are not just sown, but permeate the very soil of a society rooted in conquest, white supremacy and colonialism.

Indeed, for all the interminable platitudes of ‘economic anxiety’ being responsible for fascist sentiment, Bolsonaro’s rise was overwhelmingly owing to the rich and upper classes, who eagerly preferred fascism to even moderate redistribution. There was no genuinely socialist alternative around which the working class could rally, and so, amidst that vacuum, the counter-revolution prevailed. In a context of systemic crisis and upheaval, society polarizes: hence, socialism or barbarism. This is the thing about neutrality: it omits the fact that the tide is shifting in a particular direction, and you can get swept up, wherever your personal principles might align. It’s why the ‘centrists’ in Brazil’s election refused to endorse a social democratic candidate over a fascist after participating in a right-wing coup against the Workers’ Party leader, why the media shifted ever further right after promoting the ‘red scares’ and platforming far-right politics in the context of the corruption scandal, and why the centre-right vote collapsed to the far-right. These views aren’t mitigated by ceding ground: their advance is simply encouraged, legitimized, normalized.  And it is an advance, one that indulges and exalts violence as its intrinsic political purpose, that revels in it for its own sake.  One must not negotiate or compromise with that: one must confront it, stop it.

Indeed, we should not suspend our visceral bewilderment or revulsion or shock at the sadism of crowds baying for and celebrating fascist triumph in the wake of Bolsanaro’s election.  The underside to this jubilance is egregious violence – a mandate for police engaged in already routine murders of poor black and brown and indigenous people to be vested with almost unbridled power.  Though this is a continuation, then, of business-as-usual, it is also something of a break: we should not neutralize the two when lives are at stake.  We cannot become numb to it, but must actively grapple with the horror of it, honour rather than extinguish our vulnerability. We cannot turn our backs, become resigned to cynicism, resort to dejected acceptance.  Injustice thrives, more than anything, on the banal motions of thoughtlessness, self-preservation and passivity.  This is something of a bind: we would destroy ourselves in the pursuit of restless war with these injustices in every thought and action, which we feel ourselves politically obliged to do, whilst our humanity requires us to screen at least some of it out even as this defence seems to erode some of that very humanity. Indeed, whilst we must wage active struggle against the forces of the far-right, we cannot forego that it is care for one another, objectives of freedom, hope and compassion that are the very guiding force and backbone of that struggle. Abstract declarations of ‘love trumps hate’ only serve to insulate us from the political conflicts that contingently exist and must be intervened in, but we must not forgo an aversion to the logic of war itself. In response to the liberal illusion of ineluctable progress, we must not nihilate ourselves to an absolute despondency that nothing has changed or can change.

The radical response asserts the political and structural dimensions of fascism so as to transcend the idea that it is simply a matter of individual wickedness or misguidedness, some extension of simply the immutably dark component of human nature.  It is instead a violent project of the right, not just a product of the inherent backwardness or ignorance or misunderstanding of the masses, not merely a story of abstract villains. Thus we repudiate its inevitability, and may better position ourselves to dispel a creeping nihilism over the human condition, contextualizing the political shifts and social logics in which agency transpires. But this is insufficient to grief: no formulation resolves the unconscionable pain such violence inflicts in the present, nor should a structural analysis overwrite agency and its corollary of moral judgement. We can and should change the underlying conditions that spawn fascism: but that can be little succour to the anguish of its terror in the here and now.  We are all subject to and compromised by impersonal, sprawling, monstrous social forces of exploitation and oppression: we are also participants in them, such that we can and must refuse, defy and resist.  Our humanity, our political project, then, depends on a great reckoning with loss and alienation, a coming to terms with our collective grief, the debilitations of which must be salved through care for one another as much as struggle against capital.

Fascism, therefore, does not only impose itself through morbid, total violence: it first has to seep through, relentlessly scapegoat and demonize the marginalized, manipulate a moral panic over internal and external ‘enemies’ as responsible for systemic failings, reframe those failings in terms of ‘degeneracy’ and ‘moral degradation’ of a once proud national order, glut itself on the fantasy of a golden age of empire that then sanctions terrible violence as a form of eliminationist ‘purification’ of ‘undesirable’ or ‘criminal’ elements of society, exercised through totalitarian ‘law-and-order’.  Their repugnant political vision is of an ethnically cleansed isle, the marginalized – indigenous people, migrants, disabled people, LGBTQI+ people – rendered as ‘monsters’ to be banished or imprisoned or purged, fortressed from any ‘outsider’ by a militarily enforced set of borders.  There are some who extol and glory in such a heinous vision of the world, where a national supremacy and absolute control over any weakness or insecurity consoles the absence of freedom, strong-arms through any real answer to exploitation. These are nightmares that parade themselves in a nativist, strongman facade of sanctity. However twisted and delusional, fascism projects its own ‘utopia’ of resentful nostalgia: one founded in the death-drive. It both can disavow consent due to its instinct of totalizing coercion, but also must incite a noxious furore to initially drive its wedge into democracy. Some will say here that this verifies the intrinsic danger of utopia: it also proves its political necessity, because we cannot yield a terrain that ought to be oriented around hope, yearning and joyful belonging to domination, rancour and fear. A vision of some greater meaning, a unifying and grand and radical project, are preconditions of galvanizing disenchanted populations at junctures of crisis. Our lives are comprised of dreams.

There are, of course, some who may end up moored in this draconian, bleak, bunkered world of resentful nostalgia after an unwillingness to rock the boat, after ‘just doing their jobs’ or ‘following orders’, after getting swept along by the tide, with ‘centrists’ already lamenting how the world strayed so far from the liberal ideal after years of arrogantly toeing to such a doomed course. After all, militarized borders, refugee camps, migrants drowning outside Fortress Europe, violent displacement of indigenous people from their land, imperialist war, pervasive racist attacks, colossal expansion in surveillance apparatuses and state brutality – in the liberal reality we inhabit these are not unfamiliar features.  They are undercurrents, but the deluge will beckon soon enough, unless we swim.  Collectively, with every fibre of our being,  Not simply with a pessimism that far-right politics increasingly saturates our reality, fuelled by some desperate martyrdom, but with the hopes of empires toppled, civil rights won, the far-right repelled by mass movements again and again.  For one another, for the promise and necessity that the world can be better than this, for lives that champion dignity and bravery and liberation and justice and kindness, for the memory of those stolen by hatred, and to safeguard all that is good in this life – we struggle.  With the faith and resolve that a better world is not only a dream but a reality insistently and earnestly forged by ordinary people despite terrible torments, already illuminating and flourishing in the cracks of a crumbling order, ever fortified in our solidarity, our mourning, our organizing – we swim.

Our actions, here, and now, are the only buffer between us and barbarism.  We must make the hard choice to grieve, and the harder choice still – to fight.

Some notes on the GRA consultation

The consultation on GRA reforms closes tonight at 11pm (EDIT – the deadline has now been extended to Monday the 22nd). I’d urge you to fill it in here if you haven’t already, and thought I’d share some thoughts below:

1) First and foremost, solidarity with my trans siblings at this time. The backlash to these proposed reforms has been unrelentingly cruel, with attacks waged and campaigns driven by those who profess to be ‘feminists’ as much as the reactionary and liberal press, entrenching the widespread hostility and abuse that was already such a mainstay in our everyday lives. The suffering incurred by this has unconscionably decimated our well-being. I finally managed to complete the consultation last night after months of not having the heart, but only through a fever of upset and burn out. I’m sure many trans people have experienced the same, and I’m sorry for that. By definition, this is a process reckoning with the fact that our humanity and autonomy over our bodies, identities and lives is in limbo within existing legal procedures.  Proving ourselves against that to the state, its facelessness epitomized by such consultations as these, as we have to prove ourselves to a society that brands us deluded and deceitful every day, is immensely wearying.

2) This gestures to the broader problems around consultation – both in form and content (a substitute for meaningful democratic forums of deliberation, generally acting as rubber-stamping processes for the powers-that-be, focussing more on narrow, cumbersome technicalities than real problems, how the lines of questioning are micromanaged to foreclose anything but the most limited possibilities, mediated on the terms of the powerful with only the most tokenistic input from ordinary people and little oversight over the decision-making process, etc). This was especially clear in the introduction to the consultation, with an unbidden and absolute assertion that the Equality Act would not change and that the consultation had no bearing on this. Somewhat paradoxically, the consultation then enquired extensively about the effects of the GRA on the provisions in the Equality Act: forcing respondents into a quagmire of disavowing any potentially positive effect of broadening legal recognition on the Equality Act so as to not conflate the two or exacerbate anti-trans narratives that have fearmongered through misinformation about access to gendered spaces. This keeps us on the backfoot: the provisions in the Equality Act are deeply limited and still perpetuate discrimination and, whilst a positive progression in our rights, should not be exceptionalised as perfect. As such, parts of the consultation felt not only loaded to cleave to prejudiced pressure groups, but also convoluted, confusing and misleading.

3) Further fault lines are exposed here: the question about statutory declaration, for example, exemplifies the fraught nature of contracts with the state. Through streamlining access to gender self-ID, we might be wary of ever novel forms of bureaucracy that might unfold from its extension: the state itself is a multifaceted, complex power structure of management, regimentation and force. We know little of how it collects, records and utilises our information, with ‘outings’ in court processes and disclosure of GRC acquisition in arenas from this to social security to healthcare distressing, uncertain and largely unaccountable. These problems are exacerbated for those encountering the most draconian barriers with documentation such as migrants. The question of the state – its privacy violations, the interaction of its institutions, its punitive dynamics – cannot be eschewed here, particularly with authoritarianism re-ascendant in global politics. From the very start, such implications have grated up against the necessary amelioration of state compacts (the state should not have control anyway but under current circumstances it does, how do we deconstruct identity itself whilst reckoning with its social prescription, etc).

4) The question of intersex and non-binary people is especially relevant here – only very superficially addressed in a consultation which admits our existence but does not reckon with the absolute dearth of any legal accommodations or provisions to safeguard our well-being. It can, then, seem fruitless to be nominally recognised, but not have substantive legal protection, because the consultation forbears any intent to strengthen the Equality Act – especially when the majority of institutions in society do not formally recognise us either. It was especially frustrating to complete this consultation from a perspective of being non-binary: it belies any real commitment to even legally improving our lives, reminding us of the contingencies and exclusions of state compacts.

5) And here, the core contradiction: the GRA reforms are both insignificant and profoundly important. Insignificant because it doesn’t materially improve the circumstances of dispossession of trans life, because it is more liberal, tepid tokenism from the state to deflect attention from its authoritarian record and absolve responsibility for real change, because it has no bearing on Equality Act provisions anyway. And profoundly important for the emotional affirmation it provides for a marginalized group who are not currently guaranteed legal equality, for the cultural shifts and triumph over TERFs and the forces of reaction it signals, for the fact that maybe legal recognition is necessarily the foundation of legal protection.

One thing is for certain – this is not the be-all-and-end-all. The distress and exhaustion we have experienced in the period of this consultation has been undoubtedly compounded by frustration with the trajectory of the institutional turn it embodies; firefighting for a particularly narrow reform alongside institutions like Stonewall is in some degree of tension with much of the grassroots political work we might otherwise be engaged in, and a foreboding over impasse and co-optation lingers. Our solidarity and our offensive, then, must extend to the pressing injustices wracking trans life under capitalism – housing struggles, the labour movement, healthcare provision, combatting transphobic social violence, and decarceral justice should be where we set our horizons next, hopefully emboldened by this victory. Damn, how we all need a victory right now.

Everyday Transphobia

I was transphobically harassed whilst wandering into town again a couple of days ago. It compounds and compounds, each instance haunted by the last, echoing like a recurring cacophony in the press, shading each interaction with fear, shame and anger, as they sadistically strip the fabric of your reality and wrest control of it. Often it starts with interrogating glares and escalates into full-on aggression, derision disintegrating into disdain, even the banal warped into something enclosed by pain and humiliation, punishing any transgression of these rigid boundaries, triggering a kind of permanent vigilance.

I turned around as they sniggered and jeered with simulated chicken noises, intended to target what they perceived as the cowardice of my ’emasculation’ as well as to dehumanize. I had finally had enough, and a retort of ‘fuck off’ trembled from me in rage, emptied by fatigue, all too spent to fight back. Shaken, I could not distinguish much more in the siege of scornful shouts apart from it pitching into a clamour for physical violence. I hurried on, not daring to look back again, clinging to my partner’s hand (it could have been so much worse had I been alone), their hostility plaguing and hunting on behind me, the kind of vitriol spewed forth on far-right demos becoming an all-too-everyday experience. Still braced I trudged on, numb and fumbling to recompose myself, maintain those outward shields, all the while my head bowed, leaden poison seeping through the cracks, their scowls and sneers lingering like a blight.

And then I wandered to WH Smith just to get some goddamn pens, and saw the chorus of transphobic scaremongering screeching from the front page of every newspaper, the fact of someone being trans advanced as the defining reason for their predatory behaviour, by media institutions that have never given a damn about the horrors inflicted by the prison system on women and marginalized people until they could weaponize it to serve their bigoted agenda. These events felt inextricable from one another – inescapable.

Waking up jarred to headlines like these often presages some of the worst days, but then the nightmare of it all blurs, stalks a trail, like nowhere, no day, is safe. The trans people in your life right now are probably desperately scared, distressed or lonely. They need your solidarity now more than ever. They’re tired of talking about this, thinking about this, enduring this.

The Gender Recognition Act, Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists and Trans Politics (Part III)

(The first and second parts of this series can be found here and here respectively).

Any reflection on trans rights can easily lapse into fatalism.  This is understandable: the moral panic and vicious backlash in the wake of proposed reforms to the GRA did not emerge without precedent.  Rather, they embody an intensification of the currents of oppression that have long coursed through society, economy and culture, subjecting the LGBTQI+ community to institutionalized discrimination, virulent scapegoating, and pervasive social violence.  Advancing the frontier of gay rights, for example, engendered a similar backlash in defence of traditional mores, and this conservative history inflects and reverberates through the current political crisis.  This may seem like cause for despair, as if we are doomed to a perennial re-enactment of cyclical, self-perpetuating battles, casualties on the peripheries simply a matter of course.  But it is also cause for hope: though in varying permutations, similar ghosts continue to haunt us, and the future has been wrested from them before and can be again.  The contingency of historical affairs can seem daunting, for its uncertainties, defeats and deteriorations – but it is also a buffer against the static of capital’s ever-fracturing feedback loops, an affirmation of the possibility of human agency and political intervention.

Regardless of this fact, the crisis – of a vicious neo-liberal regime, a pernicious and venal media, a decay into authoritarianism and far-right barbarism, manifested as much in Hostile Environment policy as a decimation of the public sphere – can seem all-encompassing, insurmountable, and utterly crushing.  Days such as Trans Day of Remembrance remind us acutely of the brutality waged upon trans life, with transness always conceptualized necessarily as in proximity to abjection, cultural disgust and social death.  The familiar condition of despair and helplessness – informed by the trauma of dispossession, attacks in the streets, poverty borne of housing and job discrimination – can then seem simply a grittily realistic reflection of the impossibility of trans flourishing. To assert this frame of reality can, as much as anything, be a desperate provocation to overwhelming callousness and demonization: a response to a social, political and cultural derision that portrays our lives as fanciful sideshows at best and deviant abominations at worst.  To reaffirm trans access to healthcare, for example, not as a luxury but a necessity so systematically withheld – a matter not of frivolous fantasy but life-or-death conciliations of devastating dysphoria – is important in a context where our lives and needs are belittled and debased.

This, indeed, treads the difficult tension of not collapsing the politically contextual interests of marginalized groups within the limits of socially prescribed, siloed and stigmatized identities, ossifying those limits as if they were innate.  To transcend a purely negative reaction to organized contempt and oppression, to not ensnare ourselves in dejection and worthlessness, we must envisage positive and robust visions of liberation, rather than simply individualized, competitive aspirations of comfort in identities assimilated by inequitable economic and political structures.  We must assert the possibility of trans life, a future beyond degradation, inspiring and inspired by combative mass movements that insist on both the autonomous and the broad-based.  We must transform isolation, alienation and fear into collective anger, power and hope.  We must redirect the shame we have internalized on to the structures that oppress us.

But the question, then, is how?  The TERF-dominated Woman’s Place UK’s rampant transphobia in collaboration with union officials railing publicly against trans activists are cautions to trans people who ought to be able to seek recourse in mainstream left apparatuses: that, when politically expedient, we are disposable, and the forces arrayed against us close in at all sides.  Such dynamics of marginalization are not without precedent, but resemble more entrenched problems in mainstream unions of corporatization, bureaucratization, managerialism, collaborationism and chauvinism, as personified in the cynical old-guard still dominating their ranks.  Indeed, for every instance of internal prejudice still prevailing in the sphere of the left – informed, it is worth stating, by a formation of contemporary trans identity that has not experienced its own unique civil rights movement to shift public consciousness –  there is solidarity.

This is the solidarity of CLPs hosting progressive discussions around trans politics, the rank-and-file of unions opposing the craven and opportunistic impulses of the Labour aristocracy, lesbians openly and proudly uniting with trans people at Manchester Pride.  This is the solidarity not of nebulous, abstract or quixotic faith – that progress is an inevitably forward march conjured out of some shared epiphany of mercy or pity – but of collective struggle, material interests, even common foes.  This is a solidarity rooted not in the obviation of misery but a recognition that we can act together to change our conditions, that reckons with but does not resign itself to pain, that forges something greater than ourselves out of shared adversity and the potential for a better world.  Far from a distraction, the struggle for trans rights is central to what labour and social movements have always strived towards: the promise of more dignified and fulfilling and contented lives together.  These movements must proactively adopt the mantle of trans rights if we are to win and conquer transphobia structurally.

As it stands, the nature of the backlash against trans rights, the ailings of the organized grassroots left, and the despondency inflicted on trans people have forced us into a defensive posture, reliant on impotent advocacy organizations and charities like Stonewall alongside scattered, informal networks of mutual aid.  We have been mired in the incessant defence and justification of our identities on a distorted terrain of ‘debate’, set by bigoted frames of reference on an inherently uneven footing, whilst the real and pressing problems of our lives are eschewed.  Such dynamics have only intensified our sense of shame, legitimizing and normalizing the common sense that our transness renders us deceitful, delusional and maleficent.  It is worth dwelling on the abhorrence of what having to relentlessly grapple with the official assumption that you are a predator simply for being trans does to a person psychologically, the kind of disempowering impact that vilification and aspersion has on a vulnerable group already struggling with so much doubt and guilt.

Through this reactive posture, we have also become entangled in the technicalities of tinkering with the GRA as a substitute for more radical horizons, so as to ward off this backlash and not cede ground to sections on the left that seek to claim hegemony for their arguments through deliberate, bigoted myths around the proposed reforms.  This is important, and I do not wish to pose a zero-sum reform or revolution binary here, but we cannot define ourselves only in reaction or wariness.  We must also formulate a strategy for an offensive that insists on concrete, radical policy pledges and legislative change as much as agitating for emancipatory demands within labour and social movements.  These movements must be combative, transformative and multifaceted in their orientations: empowering marginalized people to resist exploitation as much as offering a sense of cultural belonging that traverses social division and engages practically with social and material needs.

Thus battles against NHS privatisation and cutbacks must integrate trans liberation into their campaigns, fighting against gatekeeping, invasive practices, and lack of provision, recognizing that Hostile Environment policy and structural transphobia are as much a threat to universal provision as neo-liberal reforms.  This will require trans people to be at the forefront of these campaigns – and it should not be omitted that many of us already have been, especially through groups such as Actions for Trans Health – but the broader movement must actively centre our liberation to bestow us with the confidence to participate and fight.  We have enough enemies – there must be a concrete and deliberate cultural shift in the left to accommodate those who feel neglected by its dynamics.  This applies as much to trans people as it does to other marginalized groups such as migrants.

Similarly, battles for public education – that is, battles insisting on the infrastructure for creativity and flourishing unbounded by the dictates of a market that instrumentalizes us as merely consumers and employees – must reckon with the trials, bullying and barriers trans students experience in accessing and persevering through educational institutions.  Whether additional pastoral support for trans students struggling with dysphoria or neglectful family, developing a curriculum and training programmes inclusive of trans experience, or ensuring the availability of trans-inclusive facilities – there are multitudinous sites of struggle in this context.  Schools are often battlegrounds for trans students, and these early experiences of persecution are often formative in problems with lasting trauma.  The evisceration of funding for our social reproduction by neo-liberalism only further exacerbates discriminatory patterns of discipline and exclusion – also deeply tied to racism – against students that most rely on these services.

Battles for affordable, secure and publicly-owned housing must also combat the institutionalized discrimination perpetrated against trans people by agents and landlords, ranging from refusal of applications for renting, revenge evictions, and sexual harassment.  The vulnerability of trans people – of all ordinary people – to this kind of exploitation is in large part a product of a drastic power imbalance between landlords and tenants, with both the lack of trans-specific housing protections in the existing Equality Act and the evisceration of tenants’ rights exemplifying the disastrous de-regulation of the housing sector that exposes people to deplorably poor and unsafe conditions and unconscionable profiteering.  Without organizations like ACORN – who have organized with domestic violence survivors to demand housing after shelter closures, an issue disproportionately affecting both women and trans people – we will be consigned to individually risk ourselves in repelling oppression by those who control our resources, rather than developing the necessary collective power to support one another and enforce sustained and substantive change.  Homelessness is endemic among trans communities, especially within the context of a broader housing crisis, and universal, communal housing provision is essential in counteracting this.

With the recent news that UVW – a militant, member-led, independent union that has triumphed consistently through its primarily migrant women cleaner membership – will be organizing with powerful sex worker collectives, we can discover a microcosm of the kind of infrastructure and organization we need to challenge social hierarchies.  Indeed, the disproportionate confinement of trans people to sex work – as much a product of cultural fetishization of our bodies as material privation – renders this kind of organizing for the decriminalization of sex work, workers’ rights and protections, and the redistribution of control away from abusive bosses to workers themselves, especially essential to our liberation.

Other legislative change and policy pledges might thus include: strengthening of the Equality Act with the protected category adapted to ‘gender identity’, a massive bolstering of non-punitive welfare provision to offset the effects of widespread unemployment for trans people, patient-led participation in the provision of healthcare and properly ring-fenced funding for all elements of the NHS, a reversal of cuts to and additional funding for trans and LGBTQI+ specific social services, prison reforms to prevent the state-sanctioned atrocities of trans women dying in male prisons (orienting models of justice towards community care rather than punishment of the marginalized), etc.  In order to enforce these changes, and enact a more fundamental shift in resources and power that transcends a model of reclaiming a marginalized identity to supplicate solely for rights and representation, we need movements, unions and organizations that are both constructive and militant, fighting to abolish all forms of exploitation, oppression and violence.

From Act Up significantly accelerating the provision of AIDs drugs through mass, targetted direct actions in the context of colossal state and private neglect, to international struggles overthrowing colonially-enforced criminalization of homosexuality and forcing the implementation of radical trans rights policy in Pakistan, to the very roots of the LGBTQI+ liberation movement flaring in the Stonewall riots instigated by trans women of colour who also organized shelters for homeless LGBTQI+ youth – we have models, a legacy, and reason for hope still.  Trans history is already firmly embedded in struggles for LGBTQI+ liberation, our demands and militancy coursing through these movements from the very beginning, overwritten but not forgotten.  The fact that LGBTQI+ rights have progressed so far is because of that legacy – but the fact that even full legal rights for trans people are still not in place, that only recently was the received wisdom that transness is a psychological disorder overturned, attests to the scale of trans oppression, the gravity of the ongoing fight, and that no simple reclamation will be sufficient.  Without pushing further through an active incorporation of trans politics into the organized left and labour movements, we cannot arm ourselves to fundamentally alter the fabric of society.

With LGBTQI+ oppression manifesting in both familiar and novel forms – overtly through social conservatism, as much as more subtly through economic liberalization which has re-entrenched oppression through material precarity, whilst selectively sublimating LGBTQI+ subjectivities into its elusive promise of freedom and prosperity through curated consumption and professional advancement – we must reclaim as much as adapt the techniques of civil rights and labour movements to wage struggle at our current juncture.  Indeed, this is not the kind of struggle that can simply be won through recognition in Teen Vogue, or puritanical and rancorous hand-wringing over privilege, or banks duplicitously displaying trans bunting during Pride (whilst shutting down the bank accounts of trans people because ‘they don’t sound like their self-identified gender’).  This is not to undermine the importance of cultural acceptability – but rather to recognize that only through a reassertion of political power can we meaningfully and permanently alter dominant social relations.

Ultimately, this needs to be the kind of struggle of communities providing refuge to trans people who have been disowned from their homes, as much as incendiary noise demos quaking through prison estates so that trans woman who has lost all hope, forsaken by society to the torment of a prison cell among men who threaten her well-being, might feel the promise finally of something beyond those forbidding walls.  The kind of struggle of gritty hope, joyful rage, militant care, radical courage, fervid and patient yearning.  A kind of struggle that transforms shame into Pride – not that of just parades, but riots, too.


Departures/Casting Lines Pt.II

A sense of déjà vu ebbed and flowed
With the heat that rampaged through the windows
Containing us as if in a greenhouse where little grows.
Rootless, the roots were twisted and shriveled
Like vines that, in provision, infringe and bind
Or a wall of thorns, punctuated with flowers
That welcome as through wards
Like a river corralled through the ravine of mountains
Until we are strangers, and no tacking or tending
Could recover the distance
Or till the gravel of separation
Like all the pollen was trapped, suspended
In the straining, stinging air
Through which we careered to backwater marshes
Of decrepit factories and plundered schools
Lurching and hurtling from tollbooth to tollbooth
Whilst they stream further away
And the lack takes its toll.

My reflection was murkier, and clearer, in the water and glass
As when I first nursed bruises upon return from this escape
Richocheting from conflict to conflict, a stage
To push back against wars in homes surreptitiously waged
Through some scorched earth subterfuge
Wherein avarice and cowardice disguise themselves in martyrdom
And the rotten glory of leaving;
What phantoms still possess this helm?
Powerless, with the chance to finally play the part of a hero,
I ended up on my own, in a dismal station
Disoriented, the departures boards blurred, because a baton
Had shattered my glasses beyond repair
And seized my belongings
For these sacred shields are wicked weapons
Clad in the serrated iron of nightmares
And all the world was aflame.

The emergency exit on the coach’s ceiling
Was, to little avail, unlatched
So a draught could jar through, conspiring
With the rattle of the air conditioning
To subdue the oppressive heat.
And I still ached from the crises
Where I’d desperately had to break the glass
But I couldn’t salvage anything at all
And now I’m still caving in;
The wreckage was strewn within crumpled hospital walls
After an ambulance suffered a head-on collision
Around the corner from where we used to live
Obliterated on its way to save someone.
I always braced myself at the tail-lights of that turn
Where the Common was almost another tomb.

And the plane flew so low whilst the rain began
As if it were plummeting towards some canyon
A piercing wail through the air, then it was gone
Everything veering towards disaster and destruction
Because aren’t we all just passengers, in the end?
I was sure that I’d let you down.

Driftwood scattered a road shaded by twilight
With the political insignia on my bag detaching
And lost to some crevice beneath the seats.
I couldn’t even remember the name of the street
Where I needed to disembark
From the bus I once knew so instinctively
Pungent with alcohol and memory
Empty bottles clattering between bulwarks
Like remnants of nights forsaken in the wilderness
Near that park of bonfire naivety
Searching for some retreat
Steeped in the sap of regret and bitterness
Those noxious, bleak recesses enlightening us
That every offer of berries is an acerbic deceit
And we are all just lunging and grasping for scarce light.

But the river still courses, and ripples, and meets
The shimmering splendour of the sea.
Suddenly, an old soul song floated through like a casting line
Weaving through, drawing together and rethreading memory
Into patchworks of letters that reframe and resound across oceans
Reaching beyond distance and circumstance and history
And I could still hear the echo of the gently lapping waves
As they embrace and etch themselves into the sand
For we write to listen, as if each poem
Were a seashell nestled amongst the rocks
Remembering the symphony of the sea
Tender with all the music of the world, freely
Surging, and entwining, and radiating in harmony
Rapturous to rediscover the wonder of this home
Among winds fluttering through interlaced ties of docks
Sweeping the pollen that lingers like a trail in the air
To breathe the world into bloom.

For to be apart is to be a part of one another
And on a crystalline, serene day of summer
The ocean and horizon almost stitch together
So I’ll be rooting for you, even if it’s from afar.