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Theresa May Brexit Suicide float provokes mixed feelings in Norwich

Brexit Suicide float arrives in Norwich

Brexit Suicide Float outside City Hall in Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float outside City Hall in Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went

On the eve of BBC Question Time in Norwich, not just one political demo but two protests against the Government took place. One was anti-austerity/Tory and gathered outside The Open where filming was taking place.

The other was anti-Brexit whose centrepiece was a German carnival float with the sensitivity of a French Charlie Hebdo cover in the spirit of Spitting Image satire – how about that for European unity!

French artist but UK resident for 30 years, Laure Olivier Minns, drew attention to the sad state of the satirical statue, in an interview with the Norwich Evening News:

“Look at the state of her head already, it’s a sign that she isn’t strong and stable.” – Laure Ollivier Minns, EDP

Questionable Taste

Brexit Suicide Float in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float outside the Norwich Forum, photo by Katy Jon Went

The humour was not to everyone’s taste, and as someone who has experienced suicide attempts, I found the subject matter challenging. The image of Theresa May shooting herself in the mouth was meant to be about Britain committing political suicide by Brexit. Instead, the image was profoundly personal evoking strong reactions.

Perhaps, it should have been Britain shooting itself in the foot, rather than the mouth, it may even be seen as an own-goal. Some erstwhile Remainers refused to attend the rally as a result, others like myself had mixed feelings.

Brexit Suicide Float in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float going past Open and Anglia Television in Norwich, photo by Katy Jon Went

During the evening I had several conversations with passers-by about suicide but few about Brexit. One car driver stopped and said he agreed with what we were doing and supported Remain but having lost a family member to suicide found the imagery distasteful.

Another person found that it conjured up allusions of male-on-female violence. I critiqued that view and pointed out that male suicide by gun is a much higher figure than female suicide fatalities. Well, it created a debate, but perhaps not the one intended. Much as Antony Gormley’s recent rooftop-edge human sculptures up at UEA.

Laure defended the choice to bring the float to Norwich and use it as one expression among many of people’s feelings about Brexit. She said:

Brexit Suicide Float in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float: Laure Ollivier Minns, Katy Jon Went, Joan Pons Laplana L-R

“The message is clear: BREXIT IS TOXIC. And that I guess is at least something we all agree on. So this May’s float might not be everyone’s cup of tea in terms of ‘bad taste’ for some, however, I truly believe that it is so important for FREEDOM OF SPEECH to be respected and protected.

Visuals such as the float or other creative means like some ingenious cartoons show humour through carrying angry voices and it is a way to soften anger too strong for words and at the same time be totally spot on in delivering a strong message. Humour is so important to cherish and use through tragedies and political dilemmas to also lighten up the atmosphere. Likewise many creative placards that are conveying strong messages through cartoons of sorts, make an important impact in seconds and make people smile relating to that message or/and provoke a reaction. So what? I think it should. It is a way to be heard.

Brexit Suicide Float outside Jarrolds in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went
Brexit Suicide Float outside Jarrolds in Norwich photo by Katy Jon Went

We can’t expect everyone to agree on each of those creative means to carry our voice forward and it does not mean that the placard of Billy-next-door is a reflection on what we all stand for. We all have our own individual way of expression, shared by other groups or not, and we should remind ourselves that we are marching for the same goal: Pro-EU / stop Brexit > which are both about MAKING OUR VOICE HEARD whatever slogan one chose or art form used.”

Nonetheless, the satire also made the point that most provocative art and humour do, that life is sometimes messy and uncomfortable, opinions differ and divide; it was certainly a talking point – whether it was Remainers shooting themselves in the foot with a tactless float, or Brexiters committing political suicide, we’ll have to wait and see…

Düsseldorf Carnival Brexit Suicide Float

The satirical Karneval float created by Jacques Tilly depicts the British Prime Minister with a ‘Brexit’ gun in her mouth first debuted Düsseldorf Carnival in February and was subsequently used by the Unite for Europe campaign and March 2017 events in the UK.

The float is currently on a British tour and arrived in Norwich on the same day as the BBC’s Question Time took place at The Open.

Satire or Serious Message?

Düsseldorf’s Karneval regularly features political satire but this year with Donald Trump, Netherlands’ Wilders, France’s Le Pen, Turkey’s Erdogan, along with Britain’s Brexit, there was plenty of material.

The stodgy stereotypical image of German humour is clearly way off the mark as these floats were right up Charlie Hebdo‘s street and could have walked off the Spitting Image TV set. Humour, like art, both protests and provokes. I hope the conversation shifts away from the rather visible satirical attack on Theresa May and instead remains about the political and personal damage that Brexit may do to European relations and EU nationals living here, as well as threats to Britain’s prosperity and cultural tapestry.

Norwich Anti-Austerity Protest

Vince Laws: Oscar Wilde, "Cripple the System" Quote
Vince Laws: Oscar Wilde, “Cripple the System” Quote

The serious message about austerity and cuts and their impact on the disabled, the poor, and the most vulnerable was also protested outside the BBC filming by Vince Laws, Jan McLachlan, Tim Hughes and many others.

“If the system cripples you, you must cripple the system” – Oscar Wilde

OK, so Vince made that one up, but the #fakenews quote got you thinking and googling its source! What Oscar Wilde did say was – “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit”.

 

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IDAHOBIT Day needs further evolution to combat Non-Binary enbyphobia

IDAHO has become IDAHOBIT Day

Happy IDAHO – IDAHOT – IDAHOBIT Day, perhaps now IDAHOBNoBIT Day! For the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, needs further evolution to embrace the increasingly prevalent eNByphobia (Non-Binary).

In the last few months, I both started a non-binary meetup and discussion group and also witnessed increased enbyphobia – mainly online. That it is coming from people whom you would otherwise expect to be intersectional and LGBT+ allies is worrying.

It has come from the same feminists and others who oppose transgender women (mainly) but also trans men (erasing butch lesbians, apparently), as well as from some 50-something gay men and women, and even trans women in the public eye such as India Willoughby.

Piers Morgan

Good Morning Britain‘s Piers Morgan seems to be the go-to bigot/Kelvin Mackenzie on all things offensive these days, despite saying he accepts trans people and their rights – so long as they’re not non-binary. Last week, he mocked Emma Watson after she accepted MTV’s first ‘gender neutral’ acting Award. This week it’s non-binary trans persons Fox Fisher and Owl Stefania who he argued were just talking gobbledygook and he could just declare himself a black woman or an elephant and demand elephant rights to be given a room at the zoo.

Piers took to mockery, yesterday, too:

“It’s an all girls’ school in this country and in one year, there are now eight non-binary students who do not identify as girl,” he said. “I think that’s dangerous. It’s creeping and it’s creeping fast. I don’t think that’s right.” – Piers Morgan, describing his friend’s daughter’s school

Non-Binary “not a thing”

The irony that some feminists who oppose gender roles and see it as a social construct would turn round and say that non-binary doesn’t exist, “it’s not a thing”, there are only two sexes and gender is social, seems somewhat biologically essentialist and reductive. Not to mention, only true to a limited extent. Yes, most babies take 2 differently sexed parents to be conceived, although 3-parent babies are now possible. 

Some people can also be intersexed, as many as 1.75% of people. These can include dozens of chromosome and endocrine variations producing differences in primary and secondary characteristics. Genetic sex chromosomes are far from limited to X and Y, since around 20 viable combinations from XO to XXXXY and XYYYY can occur.  Perhaps, the ‘I’ in IDAHOBiT should be for Interphobia and not Biphobia?

I’ve done a lecture at SOAS and UEA universities titled “Around the World in 80 Genders” looking at non-Western interpretations of “third gender” identities. Afterwards, I often get asked, “just how many genders are there?” My usual reply is, “around 7 billion”. Gender, and even sex, is more dissimilar than it is stereotypically binary. 

Non-binary people don’t know their sexuality

Just this week, I’ve been told that as I’m non-binary or even wrongly misunderstood to be genderfluid, there’s a small chance that I may be heterosexual, either all the time or some of the time. As a result, I should not be invited to speak at LGBT events. The same surely applies to trans people – who can be non-binary too. 

Surely, our issue is a common oppression, not an identical gender or sexuality identity? We are intersectionally united by not being a part of cis heteronormativity and the freedoms and rights that brings but which those who are different may not enjoy to the same extent.

When it comes from binary LGBT folk it is especially galling that our brothers and sisters are engaging in intra-community division and discrimination.

International Day Against Homophobia

The annual, since 2005, IDAHO Day celebrates the 1990 removal of homosexuality from the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD). That it took 17 years from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) initial tentative removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) demonstrates how long change in these areas can take. Aspects of gender dysphoria including autogynephilia (sexual arousal by thoughts, images of self as a female), autoandrophilia, and transvestic disorder, “unwanted” same-sex attraction, and even asexuality remain in the DSM and ICD.

May 17 was first known as the “International Day against Homophobia” and mainstreamed through its acronym “I.DA.HO”.

In 2009, Transphobia was added explicitly in the title of the name, in the recognition of the very different issues at stake between sexual orientation and gender expression. “IDAHOT” became another popular acronym used alongside the initial one.

Since 2015, biphobia is added to the title, to acknowledge the specific issues faced by bisexual people. A new acronym, IDAHOBIT, has started to be used by groups in Australia and the UK mostly. To acknowledge this diversity, we use increasingly all three acronyms in our communications.

Wherever we can only use one acronym, we favor the acronym IDAHOT, as being the one most in use at global level*

To ensure even more inclusion and reflect the diversity of sexual and gender minorities, we have created at global level the baseline “A global celebration of sexual and gender diversities”. This is probably the only “solution” to the issue of inclusion and reflection of other diversities, such as Queer, Asexual, Pansexual and regional identities such as Hijras, Weres, Two-Spirit, etc. – IDAHO

Read more about IDAHO day: 2015 | 2014

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State sanctioned sexism & murder in High Heels to continue

Ban on sexist forced workplace dress codes abandoned

High Heels padlockThe Government has backed down from enforcing a review of the law regarding workplace dress codes where they discriminate on gendered lines, such as requiring makeup, skirts and high heels for women but only clean shaven, suits and flats for men. 

“Forcing women to wear high heels at work is medieval – and no better than calling us witches” – The Daily Telegraph

Instead, the Government says that existing equality legislation is sufficient to the task so long as men are required to dress to an “equivalent level of smartness“.

Equivalent level of smartness

A Government spokesperson said:

“No employer should discriminate against workers on grounds of gender – it is unacceptable and is against the law. Dress codes must include equivalent requirements for both men and women.”

Men in High HeelsEquivalent? What would that look like in reality if applied in the workplace or tested legally? Men in ballet pumps, cramping their feet and allowing them to stand en pointe to reach the tallest shelves at work? No baggy suits, only tailored ones to every pectoral muscle, firm behind or indeed bulge, looking like someone from the Chippendales before the striptease music begins? Perhaps, the phraseology should be an “equivalent level of sexualisation”.

Nicola Thorp, PwC and Piers Morgan

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) briefly employed Nicola Thorp as a front facing receptionist temp, but sent her home when she came to work in flats not heels. It set off a petition attracting 150k signatures. When it came to her being interviewed by Piers Morgan on ITV’s Good Morning Britain she acquitted herself brilliantly against the sexist Piers Morgan who said:

“If you’re the gatekeeper to meetings and you’re taking very important clients with besuited guys (oh and er women and whatever)…is it actually sexist for the company to say ‘we’d like you to look fantastic as well and to look glamorous and wear heels and set a kind of whoah'”.

“Certain jobs, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them (the employers) to say we don’t want you in flats showing visitors around.”

Thorp replied “High heels are designed to make women look sexier not more professional. Piers was rightly slammed by viewers after his sexist suggestions.

Piers donned a pair of silver high heels for an appearance on Loose Women afterwards, to which Twitter responded again:

High Heels Healthy?

Almodovar “Life can be murder in high heels”
Almodovar “Life can be murder in high heels”

Health and Safety alone would ban High Heels in continued usage, as indeed the NHS does. Evidence suggests that wearing them can lead to osteoarthritis.

“Wearing high heels when you go out in the evening is unlikely to be harmful. However, wearing them all week at work may damage your feet, particularly if your job involves a lot of walking or standing.” – NHS Preventing Heel Pain

“High heels aren’t glamorous, they are physically damaging and requiring women to wear them is sick” – The Daily Telegraph

Theresa May’s Kitten Heels

Theresa May’s footwear has long been noticed, and she is no kitten as her predatory early election calling has shown. 

Even when paired with skirt suits and high cut tops, the Daily Mail‘s “Who won Legs-it” headline focus shows where the eye, the attention, and the comment goes…

Daily Mail LegsIt not Brexit
Daily Mail LegsIt not Brexit

Well heeled History

High heels were originally worn by men and women – of status, hence the expression “well-heeled” indicating wealth, and in Europe, at least, can be traced back to the 16th century. In the late 17th century “King Louis XIV of France decreed that only nobility could wear heels, and that only members of his specific court could wear red ones!” Christian Louboutin eat your heart out, or perhaps your ‘sole’.

Oppression or Empowerment?

High Heels bondageWhy are high heels such a simultaneous symbol of oppression, femininity, power and domination? Can high heels be reclaimed as empowerment, not oppression?

Like anything, it’s about choice. Feminism is about choice. Equality is about men and women having similar choices. Wearing high heels should be a choice – except on a hospital A&E ward or a building site. 

 

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“No turning back”, Theresa May calls snap UK General Election, 8 June

Theresa May calls snap General Election, 8 June 2017

The lady’s not for turning” became a catchphrase of Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister, in her 10 October 1980 speech to the Conservative Party Conference. Theresa May, who said on 30 June 2016 “There should be no General Election until 2020“, and again 3 weeks ago on 20 March, has just called a snap election on 8 June, just 7 weeks away. May is a shrewd political player but clearly not one to be trusted after half-a-dozen times she said “no” to an early election, this is her u-turn, her moment of political triumph or tragedy.

From Remain to Leave, from a 2020 election to a 2017 election, from the Fixed-term Parliament Act to PM’s whim. This Prime Minister is for turning.

Theresa May - "Better off in the European Union"
Theresa May – “Better off in the European Union”

Markets have reacted to uncertainty as usual with the FTSE-100 down nearly 2.5% but the Pound also jumping over 1.5% against the Dollar.

Polls and Psephology

Psephologists and pollsters suggest she is odds-on favourite for an increased majority and mandate. Polls suggest a 15-20% point lead over Labour, a collapsed UKIP campaign as they’ve no longer Brexit to call for and many UKIPpers returning to the Tory fold as May goes for Hard Brexit or broke. 

Be in no doubt this election is to crush Brexit (and any internal Tory) opposition – the very opposition she said at Easter didn’t exist because the country was united behind Brexit:

“a sense that people are coming together and uniting behind the opportunities that lie ahead” – Theresa May, Easter message

Hijacking a religious festival for a political message? Will she stop at nothing?

Theresa May Brexit 12 point plan speech
Theresa May Brexit 12 point plan speech

Falsely describing the country as united but Parliament, as divided, is disingenuous and erasing of the 48%, of the tens and hundreds of thousands who continue to turn out for pro-EU/anti-Brexit rallies.

“At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

She is referring to the SNP, LibDems, Labour and even the Lords, vowing to fight any bad deal with the EU. Surely, their opposition is in all our interests, even Leave voters, as nobody wants a bad deal. Again, it’s suspect since Article 50 was passed by Parliament, despite the narrow 52% EU Referendum majority and MPs being denied a free vote. Meantime, an election is the one surefire thing to divide the country afresh!

Hard Brexit?

Whilst some may want an end to Leave-Remain bickering, some are opposed to a “hard” Brexit and may also vote against giving Theresa May a carte blanche to withdraw from the EU so drastically. 

“Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

A Second Referendum?

Inadvertently perhaps, Theresa May has just called a second EU Referendum:

“So I have a simple challenge to the opposition parties, you have criticised the Government’s vision for Brexit, you have challenged our objectives, you have threatened to block the legislation we put before Parliament – This is your moment to show you mean it.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

Single Issue Politics

Despite Audre Lorde saying, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives”, nevertheless, this may well be a single issue election. 

Remainers will be tempted to vote LibDem, even many students with memories of betrayal over student loans or concerns about Tim Farron’s evangelical Christian faith and opposition to abortion and gay sex – that said, he has been quoted as saying he will follow party policy on the matter. 

For the SNP, too, it will be about Brexit and a Scottish second independence referendum, because of it. 

The LibDems – who gained 1000 new members an hour after May’s announcement, and Tim Farron are trending on Twitter, Labour are not. Labour MP Alan Johnson is trending, but that’s because, along with others, he is standing down.

Strategic Voting

Perhaps it is time for strategic voting as June will be seen as an ironclad Brexit mandate and a 5-year window to negotiate with EU pre- and post-Brexit. Labour are down but also voting for the early election. Greens and LibDems are slowly rising in support and membership since the EU Referendum. LibDem marginals winning back seats from Tories in pro-Remain areas are the likely possible cause of an upset. As a past Labour voter, conceited statements that the choice is between the Tories and Labour ignore the possibility of a third pro-EU force emerging, backing Greens and/or LibDems or independent candidates. Anyone with an EU partner, like myself and many friends, will be thinking this. We’ve had 40 years of integrating EU people, policies and partners into our society, and they remain a headline issue in this forthcoming election campaign.

Betting odds on the next leaders to replace the current batch are Labour: 4-1 Keir Starmer, 6-1 Clive Lewis, LibDems: 4-1 Norman Lamb, Tories: 4-1 Boris Johnson. Odds on the next PM: Theresa May 1-10 and on Corbyn 7-1. Tim Farron was 50-1 now 25-1. 7-4 odds on Labour losing 50 seats and LibDems gaining 10-20. Either way, doesn’t look good. Plan A is still strategic voting for the best opposition party/candidate in each locale. (Ladbrokes | Paddy Power | OddsChecker)

LibDem Remain win 2017 election
LibDem Remain win 2017 election?

An unscientific poll in a Facebook 48% group has 75% of them voting LibDem. If that were translated to the 16 million national Remain vote it would equate to over 12 million votes – more that the Conservative Party at the 2015 election. Who knows what that would look like, perhaps with the Tories 50 seats short of a majority or even the LibDems 50 short?

“So, tomorrow, let the House of Commons vote for an election, let everybody put forward their proposals for Brexit and their programmes for Government, and let us remove the risk of uncertainty and instability and continue to give the country the strong and stable leadership it demands.” – Theresa May, Election call [full speech text | video]

Snap General Election 8 June 2017 not 2020
Snap General Election 8 June 2017 not 2020
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Protests continue at Chechnya Homophobia, Gay-Bisexual Torture & Killing

Chechen Gay ‘Concentration Camps’

The Chechen Republic is a Russian autonomous region that is around 95% Muslim. Reports over the last week or so have continued to come in that around 100 men suspected of homosexuality have been sent to a detention facility in Argun, and that allegedly 3 have been killed. Calling them ‘concentration camps‘ may be a reach, but as we don’t know what is going on there it may be appropriate.

Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest
Clive Lewis MP speaking at Norwich LGBT Chechnya protest

The last few nights have seen protests in London at the Russian Embassy and around the country because of the 100 detainees. Norwich held its protest with around 50-60 attendees last night on the City Hall steps. The supporters were addressed by Norwich Pride’s Nick O’Brien, Labour MP Clive Lewis, Green’s Lesley Grahame, Katy Jon Went, Julie Bremner, Andy Futter, and Di Cunningham. (Gallery here)

Decriminalisation of homosexuality

Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest
Norwich City Hall LGBT Chechnya protest

We can keep the victims in the media eye, gain diplomatic and human rights traction by our voices, standing up for those who’ve lost their liberty because of their sexuality. This is poignant coming, as it does, on the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

Sadly, over 70 nations worldwide still criminalise homosexuality and male on male sex which includes bisexuality, so let’s not forget that those imprisoned and beaten, even killed, may include gay and bi men, and trans – anyone who is an affront to the macho traditional image of Mother Russia and the two major religions in its regions, the Russian Orthodox Church and Islam.

What is happening in Chechnya?

One victim described how Interior Ministry SOBR police officers:

“stripped me naked. One filmed me on his telephone. Three of them beat me. They kicked me, broke my jaw. They said that this is a gay and that there shouldn’t be defects like this in Chechnya.” 

Rounding up the “defects”, the “abnormal”, speaks of sexuality eugenics and group genocide.

These are not just rumours, the Guardian spoke to two victims who were “subjected to torture on a daily basis” and activists report this is happening in multiple towns across the region. Helplines have been set up to help LGBT people leave the country and journalists who have reported on it are also fearing for their lives after threats and considering that the rare independent voice of Novaya Gazeta has had several of its staff murdered.

We have no Gays!

Denial that is happening is part and parcel of how this kind of abuse works. Spokesman, Alvi Karimov, for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov described the Novaya Gazeta report as “absolute lies and disinformation”, saying also that there were no gay people in Chechnya:

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

According to the Guardian, Chechen television is reporting that thousands gathered at Grozny’s central mosque to pass a resolution against the “lies and libel” in the Novaya Gazeta stories – “chiefly for suggesting there are gay men in Chechnya”!

“The centuries-old traditions of Chechen society, the dignity of Chechen men, and our faith have all been insulted, and we promise that those behind it will face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.” – Chechen Resolution

This is similar to during the Sochi Winter Olympics, when “The mayor of Sochi, said there are no gay people in the city.” 

Why ban what allegedly doesn’t exist?

Famous Gay or Bi Russians

Why forget and erase the history of your own great LGBT+ persons?

From Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, probably Stravinsky, the son of Rimsky Korsakov, Gogol, numerous artists, dancers like Nijinsky and Nureyev, to Ivan the Terrible with 7 straight marriages but a preference for cross-dressed men. Not to mention dozens of counts and princes of Russia’s past who were bisexual, open or closeted gay Russians.

Legal Prohibition of Homosexuality

Apart from religious condemnation of homosexuality in orthodox Christianity and Islam, I’ve encountered a secular Russian traditionalism that also condemns being LGBT on the basis that it destroys the family, the national image, and is just plain “abnormal”. 

In June 2013, Russia brought in a law banning the “propaganda of homosexuality among minors”, not unlike the UK’s Section 28, but given the street-based homophobia much more dangerous. Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act stated that councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”.

Homosexuality “in private” was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, but plenty of discrimination and prejudice remains. Actually, it was decriminalised in 1917 but re-criminalised in 1933. That’s a stark reminder that equality rights won can be lost again, just look at India and Uganda too. Russia is at least 25 years behind the UK on LGBT rights.

The law banning spreading “non-traditional” sexual propaganda to minors is so loosely worded that almost anything could be seen as illegal. Locals say they fear even holding hands or kissing in public for the risk of attracting a £100 fine or worse. Prides in Moscow (2006-2011) have been beset by homophobic violence and since 2012 banned for 100 years by Moscow courts.

Russia’s second-largest and hitherto most open city, St Petersburg, has seen a deterioration with city council members since 2012 pushing Putin to harder lines on LGBT freedoms. Marked homophobia and transphobia worsened in 2016 with LGBT persons and their supporters being hounded out of their jobs, attacked in the street, and denied civil freedoms. 

Vladimir Putin, himself, has linked homosexuality to paedophilia and stated strongly that Russia needs to “cleanse” itself of gays if it wants to increase its birth rate.  The tagging of population growth on the end of that statement in no way minimises the echoes of a homosexual holocaust that was part of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ in “cleansing” 1930s Nazi Germany of Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, and non-conformists, alike.

Chechen Laws and Attitudes

Chechen Republic, Chechnya FlagChechnya, in 1997, implemented Article 148 of the Criminal Code punishing “anal sexual intercourse between a man and a woman or a man and a man”. The punishment was caning but upon a third conviction, the death penalty by shooting, stoning or beheading. Since 1996 and repeatedly reaffirmed, Russia under pressure from the Council of Europe has had a moratorium on the death penalty despite a persistent majority of the population wanting its reinstatement. The death penalty thus remains on the books but not enacted since 1996.

In 2011, the Chechen president, Ramzan Kadyrov, is quoted as saying: 

“I have the right to criticise my wife. She doesn’t. With us [in Chechen society], a wife is a housewife. A woman should know her place. A woman should give her love to us [men]… She would be [man’s] property. And the man is the owner. Here, if a woman does not behave properly, her husband, father, and brother are responsible. According to our tradition, if a woman fools around, her family members kill her… That’s how it happens, a brother kills his sister or a husband kills his wife… As a president, I cannot allow for them to kill. So, let women not wear shorts…”

With these kinds of archaic gender stereotype attitudes is it any wonder that LGBT people are ostracised, given up, locked up, with little internal national complaint?

Freedom House included Chechnya in the “Worst of the Worst” list (2009) of most repressive societies in the world, together with Burma, North Korea, Tibet.

Toxic intolerance of Homosexuality

From the Russian Orthodox Church to Conservative Islam and extremist Islamism, religion, tradition and ideology are involved in the toxic intolerance of homosexuality in Russia and Chechnya.

We must support open-minded inclusive faith and practice, but not the closed-minded homophobia of secular and religious pronouncements and laws.

Keep Chechnya in the public eye, and don’t forget everywhere else we turn a blind eye to, like Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Uganda and the other 70+ nations that deny human rights to LGBTI people.

LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protest
LGBT Concentration Camps Chechnya protes
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Your voice is your identity – Coming home to yourself

Your Voice is Your Identity

Rick Riordan, the author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series uses this line in The Blood of Olympus. He goes on, “If you don’t use it, you’re halfway to Asphodel (Hell) already.” I have friends who’ve been scared to transition so as not to lose their voice or desperate via hormones or surgery to change their. I made the opposite decision, to keep my voice, but not other things. I had several partners who actually voiced their nonchalance with regard to my genitals, but said, “keep your voice, it’s part of who you are”. And so I did. 

“Your Voice is Your Identity”

I guess I’m renowned for talking, ad nauseum sometimes. I blame being born briefly silent for 7 minutes, making up for lost time since, and my mother, from whom I inherited an insatiable desire to both read, engage, and talk, much to my father and her husband’s chagrin. Yet, he too, has a lovely voice, as an actor and when doing poetry readings.

Speech Therapy

I remember in the Christian Union at UCL, long distant left behind days, that three-quarters of the members were women, and three-quarter of them were speech therapists. I went to innumerable post-college weddings, was even the photographer, best man and groom at some, but also one funeral, of a young Uni friend – a speech therapist. 

Katy Went Transgender Voices NHS NSFT photoshoot
Katy Went “Transgender Voices” NHS NSFT magazine photoshoot

Speech therapy is available to some MTF/AMAB trans women, others augment with vocal chord tightening and Adam’s Apple shaves.

I’ve continued to go to demos, deliver speeches and interviews, or appear on the Radio – can one appear? Surely, one announces and is heard but not seen.

There lies my dilemma, I did a lot of Radio work and still do but as Katy Jon, as that saved the explanation of why Katy had a deep voice – because she/they was also Jon, but at the same time. I still get the shocked apologies when Radio presenters introduce me and are not sure of the gender to go with the voice or name.

People say it’s all about the breasts or the beard, the skirts or the trousers, the long hair and makeup or shaved hair and stubble. It is, until you open your mouth. 

On aeroplane flights I’m frequently offered a “drink, madam” as they approach from behind, only for me to request a Whisky or red wine with a deep voice and them to say, “so sorry, I meant, ‘Sir'” and I reply, “No, you were right the first time”. They’re more embarrassed than me.

What irked me about the speech therapy for trans was training you to talk like a female cast member of Neighbours, allegedly, “because women’s voices go up at the end of a sentence”. 

Women with deep voices

Some, maybe, but I googled singers and “actresses with deep voices” and realised there were plenty from black jazz singers to husky female actors appearing in everything from the African Queen (Katharine Hepburn) to Star Trek: Voyager (Kate Mulgrew). In fact, google that same thing now and one of the top entries is a feminisation secrets blog page about the “Top Ten Women with Deep Voices“. Maybe Google knows I’m trans.

For some women, smoking and even the menopause and the resulting decrease of Oestrogen can lower one’s voice. For others, it’s a record of their life. I remember the before and after versions of Marianne Faithful’s voice, I actually liked the latter “whisky soaked” version.

“The rough, cracked, even scarred instrument that Faithfull possesses is as responsible for her legendary status as is her sordid past. Her voice is testament to that past, a lifetime of self-destructive behavior that included years of drug abuse and heroin addiction. The smoky rasp Faithfull now wields is hardly recognizable from the gentle, lilting teenage soprano that first put her on the charts in 1964, at age 17, with her rendition of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ ‘As Tears Go By.'” – abc news

As a teen, suffering from an endocrine condition that meant a delayed puberty I was teased and bullied for my high pitched voice. I was still paranoid about it in my 20s, so I practised deepening it, and slowly grew a goatee beard to pass better as a man. I noticed deeper older voices got listened to, got treated with respect. Indeed, studies show this to be true.

The irony was that I didn’t feel what I was pretending to be, certainly not the stereotyped version of manhood. Nor would I end up its polar opposite either. So, I am both “my voice” and “not my voice”.

When I think of singers whose voices are part and parcel of their identity and yet they make me question and reflect on that inner and outer journey of identity, I think of Antony and the Johnsons, Lady Gaga and several others besides, “I am what I am” by Gloria Gaynor but sung by John Barrowman, or even “She’s Not There” by The Zombies. Their songs so often give voice to my inner voice or like Lola by the Kinks perpetuate the confusion of myself or others.

Charlie Peck singing “Home”

My decision to keep my voice, as an unchanged part of my identity, is mine alone, and not a comment on those who transform theirs. My reflection, on this, in fact, came about because of seeing a YouTube video of a trans guy Charlie Peck who recorded their voice before and after 9 months (apt, the period of pregnancy and giving birth) of Testosterone. 

I cried at this, twice, three times, ok I’m still crying.

Contrary to this video, other parts of me changed, but I get the coming “Home” to oneself, and being both different and yet the same. This is something non-trans people may never get, but transitioning for most of us is like coming home, finding ourselves, doing what we have to do to accept ourselves, be ourselves.

Charlie writes:

“This video is a true ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. I am singing a duet with myself where one voice is recorded my first day on testosterone treatment (16th of May 2016) and the second voice 9 months later (16th of February 2017). The song is a tribute to the trans* community, but also to myself. It is a reminder that things actually do get better.”

Here’s another beautiful singer’s pre and post-T voice comparison, Nikolas Lima:

Voice has [no] Gender

The Greek musical composer Yiannis Chryssomallis, aka Yanni, said, that:

“There is no gender to my music. There’s no male or female voice, no trite lyrics or poetry. It’s much more abstract, so it lives with you longer.”

And yet, also:

“the human voice too can be the most expressive instrument known to man. There is power to it.”

“the voice is the netherworld, the darkness, where there’s nothing to hang onto. The voice comes from a part of you that just knows and expresses and is.” – Jeff Buckley

A Voice for the voiceless

I prefer to ignore the gender in my or other voices, I know trans men who haven’t taken a drop of T yet, meanwhile, I’ve never seen or heard them as anything other than male, and often their voices match that perception even without the aid of hormones. The same goes for many trans women, I don’t notice the pitch of their voice, rather I concentrate on what they have to say. That should be true for all of us.

In addition, the most powerful thing we can do with our voices is to speak up for those without one. Don’t be silent, don’t be afraid of your power, whether yours is a voice of creation or assent, let it be for good, whatever its pitch.

 

 

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Kurt Cobain, RIP 23 years on; On Being Yourself and too much Empathy

Being Yourself by Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain - the Day the Music Died
Kurt Cobain – the Day the Music Died, 1994

Kurt Cobain, was born in 1967, and died 23 years ago today. He flitted between narcissism, empathy, love and pain, trying to enjoy his life and simply be himself, but not feeling it, instead feeling everything else instead. He’d have been 50 now, just a month older than me. 5 years ago, I also attempted suicide, after a lifelong struggle with identity and feeling too much.

Whilst Cobain is in nirvana now, where are we 20+ years on? Still struggling for identity, as individuals, and a generation? Cobain struggled with being seen as the voice of a generation. His band, Nirvana, was labelled “the flagship band” of Generation X, and Cobain himself proclaimed as “the spokesman of a generation”, something that did not sit well with him.

Faking it, Being Someone Else

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you are.” – Kurt Cobain

Cobain was trying to work out how to be himself amidst the pressures of fame, parental divorce, love and loss, and mental health conditions including bipolar mood swings between depression and mania, as described by his cousin, a nurse, who noted his childhood diagnosis of ADHD and as an adult Bipolar (unconfirmed?). Several relatives had also committed suicide in the same way. 

He struggled to feel what he thought he was meant to feel or enjoy. He couldn’t fake the enjoyment of fame, or life itself.

“I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it” – Kurt Cobain, suicide note

“The worst crime is faking it.” – Kurt Cobain

Empathy and Fame

Kurt Cobain suicide note
Kurt Cobain suicide note

He mentioned empathy four times in his suicide note, and the struggle between feeling too much and yet not feeling anything – or what he thought was the right thing, at all. 

“I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus, man, ‘Why don’t you just enjoy it?’ I don’t know!” – Kurt Cobain, suicide note

Nirvana sold over 25 million albums in the US, and over 75 million worldwide, but fame and success do not fill the void. He hated the fame, and was envious of Freddie Mercury and how he seemed to relish it.

“We’re so trendy we can’t even escape ourselves…I really miss being able to blend in with people.” – Kurt Cobain

Reading, Writing & Lyrics

Cobain “occasionally took refuge in the counter-cultural writings of authors such as William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Samuel Beckett and Charles Bukowski”. Yet, described himself as having the “tongue of an experienced simpleton”, and hating the Freudian analysis that people subjected his lyrics to. Another reason, to explore him in his own words, not the interpretation of others.

“I’m not well-read, but when I read, I read well.” – Kurt Cobain

“I like to have strong opinions with nothing to back them up with besides my primal sincerity. I like sincerity. I lack sincerity.” – Kurt Cobain

Sexuality

Kurt Cobain was seemingly bisexual, though gave mixed interviews on that side of his personal life, calling himself “gay for a while” yet “more sexually attracted to women”. As a teen he was arrested and fined $180 for graffitiing “Homosex Rules” on a wall. He once said, “I started being really proud of the fact that I was gay even though I wasn’t.” It is not clear if he ever consummated this part of his persona, despite saying:

“If I wouldn’t have found Courtney, I probably would have carried on with a bisexual lifestyle.” – Kurt Cobain

Whilst Generation Y, born early 80s to 2000, followed Cobain’s Generation X, we are now on the Gen Z cohort, born since the Millennium. A group happy to be neither gay nor straight, to question gender and express it fluidly.

Women’s Rights

Cobain wrote about women’s rights in his songs, including concerning the rape of a 14yo girl after a concert (not one of his). 

“I definitely feel closer to the feminine side of the human being than I do the male – or the American idea of what a male is supposed to be.” – Kurt Cobain

“He was himself”

Canadian musician and writer, Dave Bidini, in an article for the National Post entitled “Kurt Cobain, who died 20 years ago today, wasn’t a hero, martyr or vampire. He was himself” ended with this comment:

“He looked like he didn’t care (because he didn’t) … His arms hang down and he turns sideways from the crowd, as if he’s trying not to be seen, even though 20 million people have their eyes trained on him. In a society where ‘bringing it’ and ‘all or nothing’ and ‘going for it’ are sicknesses pumped by fools who aspire to drive people apart rather than draw them together, Cobain’s sense of oblivion was, in a way, brave and confrontational, and that’s why he cracked even the hardest edifice and ate through misplaced pop culture like a creeping disease. In the end, he made an enormous impression for someone who wasn’t even there.”  – Dave Bidini, National Post

Cobain did escape, “Rather be dead than cool”, others need not take that route if they can follow his other wisdom, to be yourself and find someone you can be yourself with and talk to.

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” – suicide note

Remember him alive though, here’s an awesome unplugged hour-long Kurt Cobain MTV concert in NYC November 1993 just months before his suicide, my favourite line of which was “like this is my third cup of tea already” – how Rock’n’Roll!

I will remember him, as much for the angst music of a tortured soul, as the desire to find and be himself, a journey I am also on, aren’t we all to a degree?

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain

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Brexit double standards, imperialistic hypocrisy, my top ten

Brexit means…

Having your cake and eating it:

1. Leaving the EU and complaining about not having the EU’s backing on Gibraltar anymore. Oh and apparently “Theresa May would go to war with Spain” over it, says former Tory leader. It’s like the Spanish Armada all over, in a week that has seen Theresa May also compared to Elizabeth I by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a comparison she once made herself.

2. Marching against multiculturalism (EDL & Britain First) and not getting the irony of bemoaning Halal ingredient sourcing in Tikka Masala – seeing curry as British and Christian!

Following a recital of the Lord’s prayer, Golding warned his audience about east London’s Brick Lane and its apparent “mobs”, telling supporters he was also finding it impossible to eat tikka masala now because of the preponderance of halal meat. Golding added: “We are the face of the future.” – The Guardian

3. Wanting £350m back for the NHS but not the Europeans that staff it.

Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim
Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim

4. Beating up an asylum seeker in Croydon – a place that evacuated its own children during WWII because they were being bombed.

5. Demanding the right for the UK to leave the EU but not for Scotland to leave the UK.

6. Wanting cheap food (Aldi and Lidl – German supermarkets), wine (usually French, Italian and Spanish) and clothes, yet not acknowledging the labour and sources that go into making them, whether in Lincolnshire fields at 5am, Eastern Europe, or further afield.

7. Loving foreign holidays in countries whose nationalities you spew at when back home, and expecting them to speak English in England, AND English when you visit them as a tourist abroad.

8. Wanting more money and jobs but not the endeavour, hours, productivity and wages that go into building a business. Immigrants are more likely to start self-employed businesses, contribute more to the economy, create employment than nationals.

9. Opposing immigration but not one’s own genes and forebears who are probably part Norman French, German Saxon, Norse Viking, Flemish-Dutch, Irish etc.

10. Add your own – the list could go on…

It’s an imperialistic (Great) Britain First attitude that takes what it wants from the world but does not give back or support the world from which it has taken. That, to me, is not Great Britain and the United Kingdom, but Lesser Britain and the Broken Kingdom.

We need to remember our roots, celebrate cooperation and community, discover disparate cultures and diverse expressions, and learn to share our resources with our European and global neighbours. Not to mention stamping out hate, xenophobia and bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.

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Brexit Britain triggers Article 50, Leave & Remain the new political forces

I remain pro-European & all that entails

I love EU, placard at Norwich Stays EU rally, 7 July 2016
I love EU, placard at Norwich Stays EU rally, 7 July 2016

I voted Remain and I still feel more European than British, a global citizen, part of the forward thinking age of inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism. I try to take the best human parts of globalisation from its worst capitalist components. BBC Look East interviewed me today about Brexit to go out on the evening news tonight, unlike the poor BBC coverage of the 100,000 march in London last week, at least local news are covering people’s views about Article 50 and concerns for their fellow Europeans living locally who feeling like political pawns, now entering 2 years of uncertainty for their families and jobs. 

A new politics

As Britain triggers Article 50, Leave & Remain are the new dividing lines tearing up the old political party Left & Right rule book. Nationalism (good and bad), and broader consensus politics that is pro-internationalism, pro-migrants, more concerned about others than self, believing in the need for a rainbow coalition rather than party first electioneering. Being pro-EU has become a new political movement, just as UKIP was anti-EU. When Tory old guarders like Michael Heseltine are on the same side as Labour and LibDem remainers, you know something has shifted. 

Article 50 “the biggest sacrifice of British sovereignty and self-interest that I can remember…losing control over the conditions in which British companies trade and operate in our biggest market…all the stuff about gaining sovereignty, putting ourselves in charge, will be exposed for the hypocrisy that it was…” – Michael Heseltine

New Europeans

Norwich, which voted 56% Remain and feels like more because of its welcoming attitude to foreign nationals who quickly feel at home here, is also home to Archant newspapers and their New European newspaper launch. A paper for the 48%, for those anti-Brexit, anti-Trump, anti-Le Pen and the direction some politics are going. 

Europeans at the Norwich Stays Rally, 7 July 2016
Europeans at the Norwich Stays Rally, 7 July 2016

Old Britains

The resistance to change, not only from Remainers not wanting to seemingly go backwards, is evident in the unexpected 52% who voted Leave, who had many reasons for their decision. Among them, legal sovereignty, immigration, and yes some xenophobic racism, but perhaps for many a preference for traditional Britain, without too much further integration of diverse peoples, cultures, languages and the changing landscape that comes with it. The Remain campaign emphasised economics in their failed “Project Fear” advertising and yet just 2% of Leavers cited economics as the reason for their vote. Vote Leave had its own issues around false advertising – we’re still waiting for that mythical £350m a week for the soon to be lacking EU workers NHS. Both Leave and Remain campaigns were riddled with lies, damned lies, and statistics that led to project fear of immigrants v project fear of economic loss.

“We’re going to build a stronger, fairer Britain” – Theresa May

Fairer to whom, Britain first? Stronger for whom, against those who are already weak?

I remain worried about the narrative of “Britain First, make Britain Great again” which echoes Trumpism, and its anti-migrant, xenophobic language, building walls not bridges, pulling up the drawbridge and retreating to an island mentality, pre-WWII, pre-globalisation’s understanding of this internet and fast travel age.

I remain concerned about the new dividing lines, of Leave and Remain, instead of a unity that was continentally broader than our small sceptred isle. We are now fighting among ourselves to keep the Kingdom United. Scotland has every right to leave, as we have voted to leave the EU. I’d rather Scotland stayed, I’d rather the UK stayed within the EU, but I’ll support Scotland’s right to leave, does that make me a hypocrite, perhaps, it certainly makes Theresa May one for pushing through Brexit but blocking and delaying #IndyRef2.

“We are one great union of peoples and nations” – Theresa May

Wasn’t the European Union?

Social Values

The majority of Leave voters want the Death penalty brought back, and 42% want corporal punishment back. the time warp is more like 1565, if Jacob Rees Mogg is anything to go by, as he’s just hailed Theresa May as a 21st century Elizabeth I in Parliament!

At a recent ComRes polls Brexit Britain data event it was revealed that of those that thought the following were negative factors for ill in society, the majority were Leave voters:

Feminism 74%
Globalisation 69%
Green Movement 78%
Immigration 80%
Internet 71%
Multiculturalism 81%
Social Liberalism 80%

When 70-80% of the people who essentially oppose diversity and equality, and the modern global movement and communication age, are Leave voters, you can see why age, education and tradition factors were so prominent in voting intention.

Once in a lifetime decision

Age, education and rural versus urban dwellers, were the demographics most prominent in those that voted Leave. Take the vote again in even 5-10 years and the majority would probably vote Remain. Sadly, Article 50 is a once in a generation vote, although nothing is stopping us from applying to rejoin in the future, it would never be the great economic deal we once had. 

Interestingly, whilst the majority have held firm to Leave v Remain, YouGov’s latest 21 March poll puts each camp level on 44% with 12% unknowns. 

European benefits

As much as World War One and Two, were drawn up along divided national lines, the European Union provided the opposite. A unity of nations bringing prosperity and preserving peace from once warring nations. Indeed, Winston Churchill had called for a “United States of Europe” although did not see Britain as a part of it. The Council of Europe (1949) in turn led to the European Coal and Steel Community (1952) and to the Treaty of Rome forming the European Economic Community (1957).

I’m pragmatic about the future and still believe that at an individual, local, and national level we can speak positively to the benefits of European and international freedom of movement, exchange of ideas, culture, education and the arts.

Business will always find a way to make the best of it, we’re a nation of entrepreneurs and shopkeepers (as Napoleon or Adam Smith once said), my concern is for the people, the students, partners, migrants, artists, and the leavers – ironically, many of whom may be the worse off for Brexit.

 

 

 

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Westminster attacks, Lone Wolf Home Grown Terrorism or ISIS Radicalisation?

Adrian Ajao/Elms aka Khalid Masood

The EDL, UKIP, Britain First etc blame Muslim immigration for last week’s Westminster terrorist attack. Yet Adrian/Khalid was middle-class Kent-born, with a white British mother, well schooled, popular, sporty until he turned violent down the local pub – you know that breeding ground of foreign national terrorism – the British pub. His parents live on a farm in Wales, and his mum runs a craft business. 

Actually, it seems he was radicalised after custody for a violent knife attack when imprisoned at HMP Wayland, Norfolk.

Violence is the problem, not nationality.

Immigration

Masood was not Syrian, nor a migrant or refugee; not on Trump’s country flight ban list. Nor were all the perpetrators of the 7/7 London terrorist attack, they all grew up in diverse liberal Britain. Even in America, just 0.0006% of refugees have been convicted over the last 40 years or terrorist attacks.

Extremism is the problem, not immigration.

“We fret, rightly, that Isil is at war with Western civilisation. It is. But it is also at war with Muslim civilisation.” – Daily Telegraph

Islamist Terrorism

Adrian Elms’ conversion to Islam in a rural category C British prison was probably further narrowed in ideology during 4 trips to Saudi Arabia and its Sharia-supporting Wahhabism

In a study of country origins of terroristsSaudia Arabia, UAE and Egypt topped the list.

A disproportionate number of terrorists are adult converts to extremist Islam. 2-3x more likely. Zealotry, “evangelism”, recruitment, conversion.

“In the UK between 2001 and 2013, 12% of “homegrown jihadis” were converts, but less than 4% of the overall Muslim population were. In the US, the total in 2015 was 40%, against an overall level of 23%.” – The Guardian

Fundamentalism is the problem, not flags of origin.

Homophobia

Listening to BBC Any Questions and Douglas Murray, a Spectator editor and regular newspaper writer, talking about British Muslims wanting homosexuality to be illegal, ignores the facts that so too do a minority of British Christians. Whilst surveys point to something a shade over 50% of Muslims opposing homosexuality and just 20% having no problem with it, those proportions were equally true of Christianity a few decades back. Indeed, surveys of Anglicans showed that 50% opposed homosexuality until around the year 2000.

Hate and fear are the problem, not faith

I don’t support any religious opposition to LGBT freedoms. I also know LGBT Muslims and Christians. They are not incompatible, it depends upon your interpretation and ideology. I will always challenge the ideology that is homophobic but not the person with peaceful, inclusive views. The fewer exemptions for Faith Schools from experiencing and encountering diverse, liberal cultures and education the better.

As we are not born with hate, it is clearly taught and caught, it stands to reason that it can be untaught and uncaught. 

Education is the answer, not bigotry.

Not in my name

Among those of religious affiliation, even Muslims, #notinmyname is the more likely response to terrorism. Again, surveys point to around 1-4% of Muslims supporting terrorism. The actions of one person or even one per cent do not a majority ideology make. The more moderates, however, that do stand up and say “Not in my name” the better. You only have to listen to a range of news sources, rather than just right wing tabloids and far right political parties to realise that British Muslims were just as condemning of last week’s terrorist incident as the non-Muslim population. Indeed, surveys point to a majority of Muslims feeling more British than other indigenous or immigrant populations here. 

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