Six years to the day after the 1500 v 200 EDL counter demo and the fine welcoming city of Norwich has another small demo, Norwich Against Fascists! Counter demonstration! “There are many many more of us than you” was being chanted by 750 anti-racists and Remainers (mostly) and 50Unity UK pro-Leave Brexiteers shouting back the same and “More of us voted Leave than you” and “you lost”!
The atmosphere was mostly good-natured, carnival-like with drums, whistles, chanting, occasional discussion and the odd rant. One masked protester was led away, possibly anarchist/anti-Fa, certainly a scarf covering their face but there was no violence.
The police, some 30-40 or so, created a thin blue, well hi-vis yellow line, to keep the sides apart, sadly also blocking the dialogue, the lack of which has left us in Brexit impasse land. Initially, kept to opposing pavements, and allowing the traffic to pass, the police eventually surrendered to the sheer size of the counter-protest and even re-drew the line in the centre of St Peter’s Street.
After an hour, they also mostly gave-in to allowing people to cross the street and engage with each other. At times, it was clear some of the police were struggling to keep their serious and professional faces on given the number of humorous moments.
Even the police giggled when Lab Cllr Jess Barnard started playing Benny Hill over the megaphone! Rather ironically, similar chants were echoed on each side of the street:
“Whose streets, our streets”, “No to racism, No to Nazis, no to fascism” “You’re the racists”, “No, you’re the racists!”
Towards the end, it was almost comical as the Remainers remained and the Leavers left, leaving perhaps a dozen Brexiteers facing still hundreds of anti-racists. The larger crowd refusing to depart until their counter-demo had fully seen off the other side. Police remained on site waiting for one side to completely depart but were frustrated when the larger crowd decided to cross the street and swamp the “drain the swamp” protesters. A few of the latter repaid the gesture and also switched sides leading to hilarity and confusion.
At the close, some 2-3 hours later, several protesters shook hands after dialogue, others persisted in their polarised positions.
The Unity UK Leave contingent tried to convince me that their side of the street was more diverse than the Remainers/anti-racists, but that was hard to accept seeing as how they were 99.9% white, and 75% older people, some dressed in 1950s fashion, a time they perhaps wanted to send Britain back to.
I had conversations with perhaps half-a-dozen of the pro-Brexiteers including a passionate but polite chap called Joe, an older woman whom we both agreed were opposed to Theresa May, and several others willing to dialogue. Nothing will change without conversation, communication and, probably, compromise about our beliefs.
* Alleged roots in Ancient Sparta, Plato, and Rome
* Totalitarian belief in the State, order and its Ruler
* Ultranationalism, monolithic unity, racial purity (esp. anti-Semitism, anti-immigration) and ableist idealism
* Ironically, Italian and German fascism both grew out of national socialism but opposed international socialism and communism yet share common antipathy towards liberalism, capitalism, and the individual instead favouring the Party and the State
* Militant strength, masculinity, patriotic rebirth and revolution
* Authoritarian pseudo-democracy, cultic hero worship, national power (Maurice Barrès)
Both sides were a bit confused by the use of the word fascist, both calling each other it. The word really defines those who are totalitarian, anti-democratic and ultranationalist. Along with Nazis – despite the odd mocking salute, it’s a word that didn’t really describe anyone there. One of the Leavers complained about being called a “Nazi” saying “I have an Indian wife”.
Poignant, as it was, across from the city’s War Memorial, the day before armistice day, when we remember standing up to aggression, conquest, fascism, hate, imperialistic ultranationalism, and ultimately, cultural xenophobia in two world wars.
We need to stop fighting and start uniting, build better and common futures, that was why the EU was born, for peace and prosperity, and to end wars.
Norwich’s Hostry Festival 2018 play is Rebecca Chapman‘s “The Boy in the Lighthouse“, a Total Ensemble Theatre Company production that is inclusive in every sense of the word. From the actors it casts to all the various forms of visual and audio art forms it embraces, and to the warning to be careful that the cast don’t step on your toes if you’re in the front row!
“Our focus this year is on inclusion and diversity, and I’m more than proud to announce Total Ensemble Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Boy In The Lighthouse as our festival Central Production. With a cast of over 25 from all over Norfolk.” – Stash Kirkbride, Hostry Festival founder
Some might consider an inclusive production that is mainly movement and music from a cast of all abilities and levels of experience a strange or even risky choice after a history of pedigreed plays and poems at the 8-year-long Hostry Festival. These have included the likes of Jean Cocteau’s “The Eagle Has Two Heads“, Melvyn Bragg’s “King Lear in New York“, TS Eliot’s “Four Quartets“, and “The Night Of The Iguana” by Tennessee Williams.
If the Hostry Festival is willing to experiment and take risks, then Total Ensemble embodies that in extremis.
On opening night there was a packed audience, some even standing, as the play opened to the sound of gunfire or was it fireworks? There was intense movement and music, and several masked cast seemingly playing pass the parcel with a wrapped bundle. Already it’s a mystery wrapped in a bundle of layers just as the parcel is passed around and a layer removed becoming a garment put on by one of the actors.
If, in the opening scenes, cast and audience both seem lost, with the plot at times needing a light shone upon it, have patience, for that light is eventually shone and the parallel tales of the play knot together like twin searchlights eventually crossing over and finding their quest.
“Living in a remote lighthouse, isolated and forgotten, a young man creates a world for himself with the help of his imagination and the magic that resides in the beam of light that scans the ocean at night. There is a mystery… the solution to which lies within a secret buried deep in the past. Join him as he embarks upon an adventure into fantastic worlds, travelling to find peace in a place where he truly belongs.”
The play is mysterious, a journey, never on the rocks but sometimes in the dark. In fact, it is performed in the round so we all see it from different sides, as this round is a square!
If the performance is a little unclear in the early scenes, then so are the characters’ ideas of where they are heading. This may be in part down to the play’s piecemeal coming together over several years, multiple influences, and a creative democracy where workshops and improv have created aspects of the whole that have been weaved into its final form. Chapman, like a master carpet weaver, has, though, managed the feat of tying it all together and maintaining the story and pace in the packed 75-minute drama that effortlessly sails by.
The seriousness with which the piece is performed is portrayed on the faces of every actor, some smiling, some grimacing, everyone giving one-hundred-per-cent. As Hugh Darrah, who plays the Boy, says “we are super focused” and he was, holding a calm consistent centre to the play whilst all around him is sometimes blowing about like a storm.
The physical set pieces of bodies entwined, contorted, at rest yet like sharp rocks surrounding the base of a lighthouse, appear uncomfortable as a dry stone wall but seemingly at ease, much as their cast do.
Timing is everything and the choreographed coordination of movement with the music is transfixing, at times it is perfect with hands in the air moving synchronously with the sounds and narration.
The soundscape is dramatic and really conjures up the slightly creepy end-of-pier atmosphere as well as the lighthouse seascape. It’s even reminiscent of Twilight Zone or Twin Peaks – a favourite of creator and director, Rebecca Chapman. Somehow Chapman, who created the complex soundtrack and voice over, wrote the play, directed, also plays three roles and clearly takes great care of her cast.
Young actor Lexi Watson-Samuels carried off the role of a crow convincingly with a bird’s inquisitive and alert jerky head movements, akin to an indigenous shaman channelling a bird. She embodied the role very well and even when not the focus of a scene remained fully present and in role.
Real and surreal, magical and mechanical, collide in a tale that is both exterior and inner journey. The eponymous Boy ‘in the Lighthouse’ is lost and seeking something just like another character in the play, the end-of-pier broken fortune teller, who cannot remember the past or predict the future.
We are bombarded like waves upon a ship in a storm with messages of brokenness, loss, loneliness, abandonment, and a search for meaning and release. Looking for answers and needing the light.
As the play notes say, the Boy in the Lighthouse is a “dark story bathed with light” that leaves you asking questions and recognising human inconsistencies much as man-made light or magical fortune tellers.
Peter Barrow, acting for the first time with Total Ensemble, though he has been in many a Hostry festival play in past years, is transformed from curmudgeonly sea dog to sea God by costumery that reminds me of a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who and the Sea devils episode from 1972.
The commitment of the cast to telling this tale is evident in their energy, composure, connection and regard for each other’s space and place on stage. This may be about a boy, a man, a god, set in a lighthouse, or fortune teller box, but in the end, nobody steals the limelight they all share it. The cast is listed in alphabetical order not in order of importance and each get equal say and space on the programme to describe their experience of working with Total.
“The greatest shock joining Total this year was the complete lack of hierarchy to the point that I could not discern between alumni and newcomers. Unlike any other experience of group work the atmosphere of acceptance inspires people from all walks of life to come together in confidence.” – Luke Arnup, ‘Teenage Brother/Son of Sea God’
The finished play is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word, inclusive of all its cast, and its audience on four sides. Truly an expertly produced play that really works in the round. You should go see even if only just to read their 15-or-so words of fame that each has been allotted on the back of the programme, I defy you not to shed a tear at how Total Ensemble has made some of them feel included and more confident in themselves.
The Hostry Festival main play runs from the 22nd – 28th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office). Wednesday and Saturday, like Monday, are sold out.
I loved doing True Stories Live – “Miles to go” on Sunday night at Norwich Arts Centre. What a range of stories from humour to danger, movie, song and dance, pain and health, through nearly punching a Buddhist and being either miles high or grounded.
TSL describes itself as “a lively, moving and unpredictable event where people tell true stories about their lives in front of a warm, supportive audience.”
It’s definitely unpredictable and the audience seems handpicked for its compassion and sense of humour, supporting nervous or vulnerable storytellers as well as rolling in the aisles at the funnier tales. My partner described it as “inspiring, uplifting, and entertaining.”
This was my second time doing it after telling a tale at “Blood is Thicker than Water” in May but at which I cluelessly didn’t follow my own time cues being given me by Lucy Farrant and I proceeded to throw myself off stage after only half my allotted time! On this occasion, I cheekily claimed I had extra time as credit from the previous fail!
I was penultimate of eight on the running order which meant I’d had a double whisky by then for Dutch courage and Scotch calm.
Molly Naylor MC’d wonderfully with the favourite word of the night clearly being “weird” which featured regularly.
The running order consisted of:
Nicky Turner’s Salzburg movie road trip
Rich Woodall’s I nearly punched a Buddhist monk
Ruth Katra’s hair-raising mountain drive
Quentin Mair’s 1980s Greek Odyssey at Athens airport
Kelly Page’s pilgrimage pain in Spain
Vidura SG’s dancing to mental wellbeing
Katy Jon Went’s Mile High encounters
Angus Dunican’s substitute son shaggy dog story
Molly always wraps up with random assorted snippets from each story and from mine she drew out “I identify as a dragon”, “I lied to get into America”, and “Always share your tacos”. For these to make sense you’d best have some idea of what I actually said. This to the best of my memory and prior preparation is roughly the tale I told:
Miles To Go
“Miles to go” could have been the title of my gender journey, after all “are we nearly there yet?” had been my psychological and gender travel for many years. I think, however, I’ve finally arrived on that particular course, although the destination is not on any map! “Here be boy” and “Here be girl”, I’m more with “Here be dragons!” I identify as a dragon, unicorns were so last year!
I spent my thirties travelling the Middle East and Africa, got interrogated in Israel, bust through a border with a Bedouin in the Sinai, stroked a supposedly sleeping crocodile in Kenya, played pool and drank Guinness with Maasai warriors, flown on a small airline called Orca with bucket seats and without significant seatbelts across the desert (who names an airline after a killer whale?), and had to pay to get off a camel in Cairo (there was no “with” in that last statement). I foolishly hadn’t asked the price before getting on!
My longest journey for nearly ten years though has been getting back on a plane to cross the Atlantic just last month after a decade or so of non-travel exploring my inner map instead.
Two weeks in the US was full of adventures and encounters, often triggered by my Rorschach psychopath ink blot test Dr Martens. Wow look at your boots, people kept saying, with one guy it sounded like “look at your boobs”, I had to check which he meant.
I’ll focus on just one of the journeys of thousands of miles that I traversed to and within America in August.
The last time I was in the US, 9 years ago, I was flying under a male passport and my on-record fingerprints would now link to a female identity, even then I got questioned for visiting too often in a year spent dating a woman in California. So filling out a US visa was a problematic first step. The IQ-challenging questions “are you a terrorist, Nazi or paedophile” are easy enough to avoid but now ask for your mental health status and social media handles – neither of which I revealed since I have half a dozen mental health conditions which also make getting travel insurance nigh on impossible. Being a bipolar bonkers Brit whose last blog entry was about speaking at a Donald Trump protest was not going to go down well either! So basically, I lied to get into America.
I was in the US delivering training for the Human Library in Chicago and had been staying with a Turkish Muslim architect in her 12th-floor condo. Whilst there, I also went up to the 103rd floor Sears Tower, once the tallest building in the world and stood on its glass balcony overlooking the smaller skyscrapers and streets below. If that doesn’t make you feel either like a speck in the universe or on top of the world, I don’t know what would.
The next day I had a 2000 mile flight to San Francisco and a long car journey to Sacramento, California’s capital. First, it was delayed for several hours due to lightning at O’Hare then fog and wildfire smoke at San Fran. So, it was you can’t take off and you can’t land by turns stranding me for 3 hours at check-in on a tank of Starbucks coffee and worried about going to the toilet and missing the much-delayed actual boarding call. I was now going to be very late to deliver a training talk, my anxiety was rising, so I needed a stress free flight. I resolved that I could do nothing about the weather but I could discuss B-plans and C-plans with the Human Library head, also visiting California, and still hold out hope that the A-plan for arriving might still go vaguely according to plan.
Finally, we checked in and with my arthritic leg and dodgy back, I thought I’d change my seat to an aisle where I could get up and wander around more easily – plus empty my coffee-filled bladder. There were 4 vacant seats and with nothing to choose between them I randomly selected the one that matched my bra size, 37D – yes I know that isn’t a real strap size, but bodies don’t always come in even numbers! For some reason this decision-making process made me chuckle internally but it was to prove to be fortuitous!
I ended up with an empty seat next to me, perfect to stretch out on, and in the window seat sat a beautiful young woman in a spaghetti strap vest top and ripped jeans.
When American Airlines came around with food options to buy, as this was super economy, I chose the pair of breakfast tacos. The stewardess asked my seat row companion what she wanted and she answered “the same please”. “Sorry madam, but this lady just ordered the last one”. She looked disappointed, so I said, “Do you want to share?” “Ooh, are you sure, can we? I should get something else between us, how do cheese and crackers sound?” “Perfect, I said, I’m Katy by the way”. “I’m Selda”, she replied.
With the extra seat between us, Selda turned towards me and we began our onboard picnic of strangers, sharing other food, coffee and my water too.
She asked what I was doing in the US, so I described the Human Library and its mission to dismantle prejudice and overcome stigma through dialogue with living books, particularly those that don’t conform to a stereotype or label and make you think outside the narrow boxes of gross categorisation. I said I was here as a trainer and a human book.
She said, “Can we do it now?”
I said, “What, a Human Library reading?”
“Yes. Can I go first?”
“Perhaps I should go first so you can see how it’s done then you can have a mid-flight training, and I can read you after…”
“Cool, so what’s your title?”
“Well I’ve gone by several: ex-missionary, transgender, suicide survivor, anxiety, bipolar, asexual or non-binary.”
“Can you do transgender, please”
“Sure, you’ll get some of the others thrown in for free too, as bipolar always makes an appearance and my transgender journey is none too typical”.
The conversation was a true dialogue as I discovered she was a hospital nurse in Chicago and so understood much of the medical and paediatric side to my story. The passengers a row in front and behind must have been glad they had headphones on listening to the in-flight movies.
We also navigated Donald Trump, and not in the same breath – love, relationships, trust and jealousy, as I shared I’d just visited my ex-fiancé of 9 years ago in Madison, with my current partner’s knowledge and blessing. But that’s a whole other story (and my partner is in the front row tonight)!
When we switched the roles of book and reader, after explaining more about how and why the Human Library works, I found out she was of Turkish Muslim heritage but more spiritual than religiously observant. She was also on her way to Nevada’s Burning Man. Not a typical Muslim destination, perhaps. It’s a dusty temporary utopian, artistic and sometimes hedonistic festival commune in the desert.
I remarked that the person I stayed with in Chicago was also coincidentally a Turkish Muslim on her way to Burning Man. I explained I’d been staying in a condo plaza on N Sheridan Road, She said “No way, which one?”, I gave the number and she said she lived in the next door sister building. I described my Chicago host and she said, “Yes I know of her and have seen her around”. What’s the chance of that I said, about one-in-three-million, the population of Chicago?
And so we flew across America together by more than a lucky roll of the divine dice but a bra cup seat change and shared breakfast offer and broke down stereotypes of each other, of transgender and Muslim, British and Turkish, and more, in our amazing conversation. We ended up navigating the airport egress together, hugging, and staying in contact since. We’ve become new friends now and offered each other to stay in our respective cities and homes.
The moral – talk to strangers, always share your tacos, and seize the day, because there’s no such thing as a coincidence even thousands of miles away, we are all connected.
When sharing this story at the True Stories Live event in Norwich, the first speaker of the night came up to me afterwards and said one of her best friends lived on the same street in Chicago as the two in my story! It really is a small connected world.
After ten years of Norwich Pride, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk saw their first LGBT+ Pride with 1200+ people parading (double the expected numbers) through the shopping streets and weaving their way to the Walks for stalls, music and talks. There was a great community atmosphere, a same-sex marriage proposal (she said yes!), a solid presence by Norwich-based venues, organisations including the Catherine Wheel, Mature Gay Community, Proud Canaries and more, and people from other Prides.
Ely Pride had taken place the previous week (historically, the cathedral flew the Rainbow flag), Colchester the same day. East Anglian Prides are growing and our communities are changing. We need more rural and regional Prides like this, away from the mega city Prides in order to reach counties and communities that may not experience the level of LGBT+ acceptance that other places may currently enjoy.
To paraphrase Audre Lorde, “We are not free until every LGBT is free” to live authentically, without stigma or prejudice, love whom we love, and be who we are without impediment or challenge.
Allies outnumbered protesters by hundreds and thousands to one. Christians marching with Pride, in clerical vestments or other identifiable ways also exceeded by at least 10:1 the solitary protester with a cross – who at least consented to a photobomb by a drag queen and head-to-toe rainbow me chanting “love is love” and giving him a hug.
The tide is turning, history keeps being made, and society is changing.
There were talks from Julie Bremner of Norwich Pride about why we still need Pride, another person spoke eloquently of our history of protest and activism to gain equal rights, and then after one of the organisers spoke, I was asked to say a few words – and “a few” is not in my vocabulary! It will always be a tad preachy and political, occasionally irreverent, but hopefully not irrelevant.
Speech given at #KLWNPride
“Ten years of Norwich Pride from the original 500 expected to 2500 plus that turned up and quickly three to four times that is a sign of what can be achieved; mighty oaks from small acorns grow, as the saying goes – no wood jokes please 😉
Norwich Pride this year made me realise how much harder it would have been coming out for a decade without a local Pride to transform my city, my community, the bars, streets and shops to LGB and Trans positive places. To move from suspicion, persecution and opposition to tolerance, acceptance and welcome.
The growth of Norfolk LGBT visibility and services over the years has been primarily Norwich based. Our 10 trans and non-binary support groups, dozen LGB+ groups, half-dozen venues, are mostly Norwich-based, though they dwarf what is available in neighbouring counties let alone other parts of Norfolk. We had a North Norfolk Pride 9 years ago, Ipswich one year, Colchester for the first time last year and again today, Ely for the first time last week. Who would have thought ten years ago that Ely Cathedral would be flying the Rainbow flag.
Supporting rural and regional Prides and solidarity with distant persecuted ones such as Pride Uganda has always been a part of Norwich Pride’s hope and vision.
Supporting other places, other Prides, supporting each other is critical.
Unity does not mean we have to agree, but how we disagree and engage is seen by all, especially the cishet public and allies that have been a part of creating a city and a county that increasingly accepts and welcomes LGBT+ customers, residents, events etc
Division such as TERF v Trans, the online backlash against genderfluid queer lesbian Ruby Rose for not being lesbian enough to play Batwoman. The number of times I’ve been called the wrong kind of trans, not LGB enough, or witnessed pain or surgical point scoring in disabled, intersex and other communities. We shouldn’t be playing oppression bingo or privileging one discrimination over another.
Feminist Transphobes, Black Homophobes, Gay Racists, Disabled sexists, Transgender misogynists all exist. Love is love has no room for hate.
Unity is our strength against the tyranny of the majority but healthy diversity, united in our difference not monochrome uniformity is what makes us even stronger.
I was torn between wearing my trans colours outfit, Dr Martens, and flag, as I did at Norwich or the rainbow one today. I think the Rainbow symbol is more important than ever.
I mean it’s been great to see a dozen identity flags at Norwich Pride and here today but the Rainbow flag will always remind me of our history and unity.
The rainbow is our symbol because of its diversity. Red and blue, orange and purple, green and yellow, the whole gay, queer and minority sexuality and gender identity spectrum together. The rainbow is not just 6 stripes nor its original 8 colours, it’s all of us together. A common humanity, mutual respect, and human rights for all.
So, today, is a day to celebrate our diversity, but not accentuate our disagreements, to join together to get better respect, rights and resources, to fight together but not each other. Tomorrow we can discuss those things, today we Pride!
I’ll end with a quote from former United Nations leader and Nobel Prize winner Kofi Annan who died this morning.”
“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there”
Trump’s improving national 41-47% and among Republicans 90% approval ratings suggest he may even get a second term! Right now, he is comparable to Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama in his ratings and that’s with what ought to be a ratings-dive-inducing separation of children from their parents at immigration assessment and removal centres, and being hapless in their attempts to reunite those families.
Shockingly, many people agreed with him. It’s not just Trump we’re dealing with, he’s tuned in to a generally right-wing working class feeling among many that they are losing their white culture, that their jobs and housing are under threat from immigration. I mean 53% of US women voted for a misogynist President.
That Donald Trump chose to do an interview with Britain’s leading political media, sorry, I mean the Sun, shows the level he is at and aiming at – and sadly it works, that’s why he got elected. Instead of appealing to people’s higher instincts, he’s appealed to the lowest base instincts of fear and self-serving protectionism. That was how Hitler got elected – democratically. Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times calls it a “trial run for fascism”. It’s happening in Italy with its Roma census and in Hungary criminalising aid to migrants, testing the market to see how much xenophobia they can get away with.
Now I’m not really comparing Donald Trump to Hitler, however, my issues with Trump are that he is part of the past. He is a throwback, part of the resistance to progressive social and global change. He has halted and, in some instances, rolled back LGBT rights in the US, he is anti-environmental protections, he has stereotyped, ostracised and scapegoated everyone from Mexicans to Muslims. He has joked about pussy-grabbing, and dating his own daughter. He wants to make abortion illegal and to punish the women having them. If this man is the so-called Western “Leader of the Free World” then it’s a different century he’s living in, rebooting a cold war and the language of nuclear war, including the sexist values of the 1940s and 50s.
He has taken America back decades in terms of internal and external foreign relations, with Muslims in general, and people who are or were immigrants. Whilst Trump, Putin and Kim Jong Un may appear to be friends now, his Twitter foreign policy pronouncements that involve bragging about the size of his… erm, nuclear button, are lunacy not diplomacy. This is not the Obama and West Wing White House we grew to love but One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
A friend pointed out that in psychology terms a cognitive bias called the Dunning–Kruger effect, where people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is, seems to be affecting Trump’s beliefs in his own genius, something he reiterated this week: “I am a very stable genius”… “I am more popular than Abraham Lincoln” (there wasn’t polling in his day!), “I feel unwelcome in London” but “the people of the UK love me“… His favourite words this week are “Very”, “Amazing”, “Strong”, and especially “Great”.
Steve Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology, at the University of St Andrews says:
“To be contemptuous of Trump denies his power and diminishes him. Contempt and derision are excellent mobilisers of collective action. So… use satire and wit… Create a carnival of resistance. Reaffirm core values of humanity over inhumanity, inclusion over exclusion, hope over hate”
It’s time to dump the Trump before Western diplomacy and values retreat any further into the dark ages where hate and lies are legitimised, Islamophobia is rife, racism and xenophobic nationalism become ingrained once again.
“the toxic ideologies of ‘Trumpism’ are flourishing around the world” – Caroline Lucas
He has bragged that he has property everywhere in UK, that people love him and think him great. That an “honest” UK poll would show that Brits love him. The pro-Trump demo, not surprisingly being co-promoted with “Free Tommy Robinson”, had 700 down to go, compared to the 70,000 for the anti-Trump one, at which three times that showed up, whereas pro-Trump saw just a few dozen!
The level of Donald’s denial is despotic and delusional. For him MAGA is more like Make Trump Great Again – the alternative reality TV show. Better to see him as a participant on The Apprentice – special President’s edition, and collectively say “You’re FIRED!”
Today marks a significant confluence of anniversaries. It is 90 years since Maya Angelou was born and it is also 50 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated. Two dates, two greats. Both worked for human rights, dignity and respect. Indeed, they worked together in the 1960s when Angelou worked as a coordinator for MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Maya Angelou became a poet and writer after a childhood rape, teenage pregnancy, and sexuality doubts, indeed her range of occupations is rather enigmatic and curious: “Angelou drives cable cars, cooks, pimps, does exotic dancing, turns tricks, and sleeps in abandoned cars, all the while poring over serious literature.” – New Republic
She was a touring cast member of the opera Porgy and Bess and through hooking up with a South African freedom fighter moved to African becoming an editor-journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the early 1960s, the years of decolonisation.
She had a life of adventure and yet seemingly overcame adversity at every turn by luck, love, and self-belief. Nonetheless, she seems to have spent a lot of time in her life and her writing still searching and exploring herself.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Her words, worn of experience and yet polished to be poetry, if not a little preachy, remain timeless, and she is one of the most oft-quoted people on motivational memes.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”.
She lived with many loves, had many lives, and published no less than seven autobiographies. The most famous, remains, her first autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”
In 1972, she penned the first screenplay written by a black woman.
Receiving dozens of honorary degrees in her lifetime and a full-time professorship, despite no college degree, she was someone who succeeded irrespective of background and didn’t see “can’t” as a word in her extensive vocabulary.
From her time in the 1960s with MLK and Malcolm X to 2008 when she witnessed the inauguration of the first Black President in Barack Obama, though she backed Clinton, equality made limping progress. Angelou uttered then, that:
“We are growing up beyond the idiocies of racism and sexism.”
Growing up, but not yet full-grown or mature. We have a way to go.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King was ever the optimist, preaching love over hate, peace over war, forgiveness over resentment.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
It was a belief that may have cost him his life, and not a little opposition from other members of the civil rights movement. After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, King said to his wife, Coretta:
“This is what is going to happen to me also. I keep telling you, this is a sick society.”
Five years later, he did indeed suffer the same fate. Fifty years ago today.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals…Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
United in their attitude to hate
Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou, alike, defied their haters. Their responses of love, resilience, and determination, remain inspiring after their deaths.
“You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.” – Maya Angelou
Maya spoke about being a blessing, of being a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. MLK’s words I take as inspiration every time I speak about our response to hate, violence or bigotry:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King
There’s still much to fight for
We don’t live in a post-civil rights era, we are still fighting for equality, still needing to celebrate diversity and be welcoming and not merely tolerant of difference.
We still need twenty-first-century visionary leaders, pacifist in intent, passionate in expression, powerful in action, and political in achievement.
To the Martin Luther Kings and Maya Angelous being born today we celebrate you. To those being cut down in their prime (two teens yesterday in London), we commemorate you.
Whether you live to 39 (MLK) or 86 (Maya), make a difference, and be memorable by removing the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and choosing not to be limited by your education, sex, colour, age, or any other social categorisation. You are the difference, you are the change.
My emotional spoons are spent. Defending oneself against attacks based upon ignorance of both fact and zero personal acquaintance seems a futile endeavour. Were it not for my inner justice and defence mechanisms I might just let it lie. I would probably be better off was I able to bear the injustice of false accusations and insinuations floating around. I could never be a full-time media glare person for I’d ever be fighting off the slings and arrows of bigoted hate and sharp criticism. My anxiety and sensitivity couldn’t take it.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me“
Online ad-hominem attacks are like playground bullying without the sticks and stones. The difference on social media is that when one is surrounded by bullies, it’s not a class or year-group but potentially hundreds and thousands or more. It is that much harder to just turn the other cheek and not seek to defend yourself.
“A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword” – Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621
“To love words. To take account of their power. To stand in awe of their beauty. To splash and swim in the rivers and tributaries of thinking they make possible; going where they take you; trusting them to guide; knowing that the waterfalls they bring you to will leave you stronger, not drowned.”
Sadly, I feel drowned and not stronger by a torrent of online abuse, caught between Scylla and Charybdis or the clashing Symplegades, between a rock and a hard place.
The reason? Trying to steer a middle course between hardened opinions, polarised politics, and the victim-centric anger and hate that comes from suffering and oppression and yet leaves little room for gentleness, patience, or understanding, let alone benefit of the doubt.
It’s not the first time by a long chalk. I’ve been hammered by the gentle folk of Mumsnet and other feminist forums. I’ve been falsely accused of terrorism, rape and paedophilia online just to get me in trouble with the police in attempts to ruin my reputation. I’ve received death threats for being political and opposing Brexit or standing up for migrants. I’ve been attacked in transgender forums for being open-minded, moderate and willing to listen to those who oppose trans rights, some of whom are labelled quite accurately TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists).
“The dash of a Pen, is more grievous than the counterbuff of a Lance.” – George Whetstone, An Heptameron of Civil Discourses, 1582
Keyboard warriors seem to have become just as vehement and sometimes venomous as their real world counterparts. Discourse is rarely civil. It is easy to lash out first and think about the impact second, if at all. Distance in argument or debate makes personal attack easier, the things we wouldn’t say to each other’s faces.
“The tongue is mightier than the blade” – Robert Graves, quoting Euripides, Claudius the God, 1934
Self-defence involves verbal justification, reporting, blocking, or just taking time-out. When I was repeatedly attacked online, dozens of times in a week, the Police simply said “come off social media then”. Apparently, sharing your opinion online means you are not entitled to fair treatment.
“The toll and troll of online aggression hits deep into real-world emotions and mental health.”
Take care how and whom you debate or challenge online. Being gracious, courteous, offering the benefit of the doubt, costs little extra, but makes the world a better place to achieve common aims.
Choosing between self-defence and self-care does sometimes mean taking a break, but it would be better if we lived in a world of greater care, that was more considerate in how we argue, comment, respond, or challenge.
In the end, I will, of course, return to the fray, to countering hate and injustice with love and understanding, but when the spoons are replenished.
The Gender Recognition Act (2004) aided that for some but not for all since it was not relevant to many transitioning people being mainly a requirement for pre-Equal, well Same-Sex anyway, marriage legal innovation. It is now front and centre of the new battle within feminism(s), the so-called “War on Women”, discussion of who or what is a woman, access to single-sex spaces and support services, and updates to the GRA.
“United We Stand, Divided We Fall”
We divide and misrule at our peril. Surely, to stand on the right side of history is to be on the side of progress towards human rights for all, not resisting them. Fourth-wave feminism understands intersectionality and trans sisters far more inclusively than second-wave feminism. This unfortunate fight is as much a battle within feminisms as it is between genders. Interestingly, just 59% of Mumsnet users call themselves feminists yet many have joined the trans resistance, i.e., are resisting the extension of gender-identity rights.
That said, there are peaceful cooperative ways to discuss legal provisions among those that are affected by the laws. Though, to be honest, since the majority of trans people don’t even bother with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and have been accessing the most appropriate spaces and services to their gender or stage of transition for years, it hasn’t been a ‘problem’ until now. Equally, over half-a-dozen countries have introduced gender self-ID since 2012 to no known problems.
The UK seems to be unique in perceiving it as a massive attack upon the rights of and risks towards women. It is also tearing the Labour Party apart, much as the current discussion of alleged anti-semitism within it is. The vitriol of calling both trans activists and ‘TERF’s (see below) ‘Fascists’ is laughable since the majority of those fighting each other are Socialists, Marxists, and generally people on the Left of British politics, several of whom have been suspended or ejected from the Labour Party over this issue.
Visible Transgender History
One vocal opponent (aka ‘TERF’ or a Radical Feminist who opposes the inclusion of trans women in female spaces and a term considered a slur by them despite its reasonably accurate abbreviated description) said this week that “Transgenderism wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist 30 years ago.”
You will of course notice it was only lesbians and gay men. No trans. Transgenderism wasn’t a thing. It didn’t exist 30 years ago. I marched and campaigned against Section 28 as a young lesbian. #WarOnWomen#WarOnLesbianshttps://t.co/U2LtwA9532
The willful ignorance of the history of transgender, third gender, and gender non-conforming individuals, is astonishing here. Not to mention, the nearly 50-years-ago trans-washing of the Stonewall riots (1969) and the numerous trans women and transvestites involved in protesting police violence and state criminalisation of LGBT people.
“people have been crossing gender boundaries for millennia and in all kinds of civilisations” – Christine Burns,History Today
All of these transgender people (a third of whom are trans men) and thousands more clearly existed 30 years ago and had surgeries more than 40 years ago:
“Respectful, calm debate is necessary. How society and medicine deal with gender requires critical review in terms of the potential for unintended harms, even if there are no easy answers.” – Dr Margaret McCartney:Medicine must do better on gender, BMJ
Ongoing research is clearly needed and continues to show a biological/nature more than social/nurture origin of gender identity without it being a question of respecting people’s self-identity, whether part of gender dysphoria or not – something I struggled with for years.
“Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity. Individuals may make choices due to other factors in their lives, but there do not seem to be external forces that genuinely cause individuals to change gender identity. Although the specific mechanisms guiding the biological underpinnings of gender identity are not entirely understood, there is evolving consensus that being transgender is not a mental health disorder.” – Endocrine Society
We sorely need a message of mutual respect and inclusion not trans exclusion, but the way it is being discussed in a verbally violent polarised way is making it a debate about people’s identity, human rights, legal protections (I admit these go both ways within the EA, but not the GRA) and making it seem as if trans women don’t care about natal women’s rights to freedom from abuse.
We should be fighting abuse together
Violence towards women is something that should not be projected onto the vast majority of trans women as if it were some kind of demonising 1980s homosexual moral panic.
We need to fight and protect against Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (DASV) together not apart.
No transfeminine person is trying to close down the discussion of the abuse of cis women and girls we are simply saying we need an expansion of that discourse to accommodate our experiences too – given that its the same men abusing us all often its in our shared interest!
The majority of the victims are indeed women (including trans women) and the majority of the perpetrators are men – 90% of whom are known to victims, so the idea of ‘stranger danger’ and men using female self-identity to access women’s safe spaces is an extreme rarity and not indicative of real trans lives.
One of the first records I bought was Imagine by John Lennon and like him, I’ve always been a dreamer. I’ve always believed the world could be a better place. His life like other great dreamers was cut short by violence.
“Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” – John Lennon
Martin Luther King had a dream, was also shot dead, and whilst he precipitated change in his country, yet the work goes on. Black Lives Matter shows the need to keep at it, that progress is not instant but builds a head of steam and gathers momentum. It took 46 years from MLK’s “I have a dream” speech until Barack Obama became the first black President.
Eight years before MLK’s speech Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus back in 1955. Nine months before Parks, a 15-year-old teenager, Claudette Colvin did the same. These women had had enough of being pushed around and treated as second class because of both the colour of their skin and their sex – double discrimination and oppression, because “we don’t live single issue lives” – Audre Lorde.
The Tipping Point
The 1969 Stonewall Inn riots that kicked off the LGBTPride movement were actually the third resistance event in a US city against Police homophobia and transphobia (LA, 1959; San Francisco, 1966), but the tide had turned. The people fought back.
Other movements like #MeToo, #GenderPayGap, and #MarchForOurLives – one of the biggest youth protests since Vietnam, create momentum and a tipping point when people say enough is enough.
What inspires me to keep going in my activism is both the history of past examples: Lennon, MLK, Rosa Parks, and Audre Lorde:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
But also the role models of now. Like Parkland, Florida’s amazing Emma Gonzalez or Malala Yousafzai:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”
We haven’t arrived, there is more to do
We haven’t yet reached the tipping point on, for example, FGM, for which there’s not been a single successful prosecution yet in the UK.
For a supposedly developed, civilised world we are in a mess. There remains so much more to be done on people trafficking, on equality and diversity, on mental health compassion and advocacy, on welcoming refugees and migrants, on giving everyone similar educational opportunities, on ending gun violence.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Be different, be the one and not the many, and make a difference
Being able to reflect on history means I know that change can and does happen, and each time it began with one person. A past relative of mine wrote the speeches for William Wilberforce in the UK to end slavery, another worked as a spy and interpreter alongside Tito in Yugoslavia with the resistance against the Nazis.
We can make a difference, and it begins often with a small act of resistance and others then joining you. Be the person who says “enough is enough”, and “now is the time”.
We can be the change:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
And we should not wait:
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
Stephen Hawking, a fellow alumnus of my adolescent alma mater, St Albans School, has just died, over 50-years after he was forecast to by doctors upon his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease. Stubborn and resilient to the last, he also added humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges.
“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” – Stephen Hawking
“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humour.”
Even in his older years he still regarded himself as a “child, who has never grown up”, maintaining his curiosity till the end. Best known for A Brief History of Time – on many people’s shelves but less often read, we were lucky to have had his challenging mind and courageous heart on this planet and in this universe for so long.
“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
Hawking was a profound thinker who found women more complex than the universe, questioned religious and scientific views alike, but for all his deep wisdom and intelligent theories, I like his saying that –
“It matters if you just don’t give up.”
At school, apart from traditional studies, he messed around manufacturing fireworks and building computers, the latter inspired and aided by his British-Armenian Maths teacher Dikran Tahta, of whom Hawking said:
“…behind every exceptional person, there is an exceptional teacher”.
Although intelligent, Hawking was initially not very hardworking nor academically successful and used risky tactics in both his studies and when coxing an Oxford University boat crew resulting in a few scrapes and crashes. Too busy “enjoying himself” rather than working, he spent an average of just an hour-a-day on his degree.
“I was never top of the class at school, but my classmates must have seen potential in me, because my nickname was ‘Einstein.'”
He described himself as essentially an introvert yet needing the stimulation of others. Speaking on Desert Island Discs, Stephen Hawking said:
“I need discussion with other people to stimulate me. I find it a great help in my work to describe my ideas to others. Even if they don’t offer any suggestions, the mere fact of having to organise my thoughts so that I can explain them to others often shows me a new way forward.”
He did not see progress as inevitably leading to utopian improvement, instead, he cautioned that greater inequality could result.
“Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” – Hawking on Reddit
Given that the announcement of his death came on the same day as the reigniting of Cold War tit-for-tat expulsions between Britain and Russia, and sitting alongside the incendiary dialogue between North Korea and the US, one hopes that Hawking was wrong that:
“I believe alien life is quite common in the universe, although intelligent life is less so. Some say it has yet to appear on planet Earth.”
To most people, it is Stephen Hawking’s mind that inspires or his positive attitude in overcoming disability. To me, it was his attitude to life and his mental health that encourages me.
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
His changing health being the biggest adaptation he had to choose to deal with. He recognised that you could not be angry with the world and be a part of educating it.
“People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.”
Focus on the good, on what you have, be a glass-half-full person:
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
Not only intelligent but wise Stephen Hawking used humour to help overcome his physical and mental health challenges, his legacy is his spirit as much as his mind. He chose Je ne regrette rien, on Desert Island Discs, and that is as inspirational an attitude as all his writing.