Friday, 30 April 2010

Why 'Rapist' Is A Dirty Word

I thank my lucky stars that I have never been raped. I have been assaulted by an ex partner though. Even as I lay there, taking his blows, trying not to breathe, a half-thought passed through my mind. It wasn't fully formed, it was barely conscious, but it was definitely there. 'I hope he doesn't rape me' I almost thought, 'I'd rather be killed'. My heart goes out to everyone who survives rape, and who lives to tell (or not tell) the tale. My heart goes out to all the families, lovers and friends of those who don't survive. I want to honour all those people, but I am not quite sure how.

Rape is possibly the most emotive issue that feminists tackle. It is an understatement to say that the subject of rape makes us angry and upset. In amongst our feelings of anger is a sense of despair. For, unlike many issues on which we campaign, such as the gender pay gap, abortion, gay and lesbian rights, the rights of people who identify as trans gender, we seem to be making no headway at all in our efforts to combat rape.

Feminists have long-since abandoned the slogan 'all men are rapists' (at least I hope they have). But many feminists hold onto the term 'rapists'. They use it to describe specific men such as Jack Tweed, who was recently cleared of rape in the courts, despite compelling evidence pointing to his guilt. They use it more generally, to describe abstract 'rapists', the ones contained in the depressing rape statistics, the rapists who attack their wives, girlfriends, dates, ex-partners on a daily basis. THEM. I am not happy about this use of the term 'rapist'. I will try and explain why.

I believe that all labels that are used as a shorthand to create a simplified, negative image of people are damaging. When we say 'rapist' we turn a verb into a noun, an action or a set of actions into the sole defining characteristic of a person. 'Addict', 'Paedophile', 'Racist', 'Psycho', 'Rapist'. These words all conjur up images of unsavoury characters, motivated by wholly negative impulses, to commit monstrous acts. These terms don't sound like they are describing people at all.

I mean, you wouldn't want to date a rapist would you? You wouldn't fall in love with a racist, a psycho, an addict. You'd cross the street and go inside and lock your door. But many, many, people do fall in love with, marry, care about, live with people who do use drugs, are dependent on alcohol, do hold views that are far from tolerant, do hurt their partner or child, or someone else's partner or child. We can't make this fact disappear simply by giving those people a name, by calling them 'OTHER'. They are you and me, they are your brother and my father, your husband and my brother. They are human.

Is this difficult to accept? Do I sound like I am defending people who commit rape? Does it seem as if I am underplaying the serious nature of the crime? I am not. I am as horrified and depressed as you are, to read about countries where rape is used as a state-approved instrument of torture. I cry when I think about the millions of rapes that go unreported in the world, or that get reported but do not lead to convictions.

But if we are to have any hope of turning things around, of changing the world in which we live, we have to change the way we perceive and talk about rape, and in particular the way we perceive and talk about people who commit rape at some point in their lives. The judicial system in the UK is supposed to enable rehabilitation and reform of the criminal individual. Aside from the paultry conviction rates, when it comes to rape I don't believe it even tries. This is in part because our shared understanding of the word 'rapist' as meaning 'monster', 'other', results in us treating 'rapists' as being unable to reform, as beyond help.

So, we find ourselves stuck in a paradoxical situation. On one hand rape is trivialised in our society, not taken seriously, and hardly punished. On the other hand, we conceptualise the 'rapist' as an evil character, that we do not recognise as being one of us, as a human being.

I thank my lucky stars that I have never been raped. I am sad and angry that I have to feel 'lucky'. It ought to be something I take for granted as part of my liberty, living as I do in a 'free country'. But I know I never will. Nor will I take for granted the language I use to talk about rape. Feminists know that language can be a powerful weapon or a tool of liberation. We should handle it with care.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Help! The New Puritans Are Coming!

Sometimes it seems as if the default position of the contemporary feminist is 'offended of Tunbridge Wells'. There is not a day that goes by without an article, blogpost, letter to a newspaper or a twitter feed in which a feminist tells us of her outrage and horror at yet another 'offensive' aspect of our culture. Pornography, lap-dancing clubs, advertising, fashion magazines, comedians, Suri Cruise's stilettos- there is no shortage of offensive objects and phenomena for feminists to get their knickers in a twist about. I find this particular trait of my sisters-in-arms very disturbing.

The reason I am so concerned about this 'New Puritanism' is that I think it is based on an individualistic, neo-liberal philosophy, and is implicitly moralistic and self-righteous. Also, perhaps most worryingly, it can only lead to negative action such as censorship and the criminalisation of particular groups and individuals in our society.

Take lap-dancing for example. Recently two feminist groups-OBJECT and The Fawcett Society-successfully campaigned for (and helped design) legislation making it harder for lap-dancing clubs to obtain licenses in England. This change in the law comes as a direct result of lobbying on behalf of those who feel 'offended' by the presence of these clubs in their cities and towns. It did not result from any consultation with those who will be most affected by the new laws: women who work in those clubs.

Another example of the power of the offended comes from advertising. A recent advert placed in glossy home decor magazines was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority after it received only six complaints. The advert showed a geisha, bound and lying on a tiled floor (the product being advertised). The ASA decided the image condoned sexual violence as the woman, in a 'submissive' pose, looked 'upset'. I wonder how the photographer, a Japanese artist, felt, being accused of making images that 'condone rape'.

If we look at this 'New Puritanism' through a slightly different lens, we can see clearly how it permeates our society in many reactionary and damaging ways. Traditional Catholics find abortion offensive, and do all they can to obstruct women's right to choose. Many Muslims were so offended by Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses, they ordered a fatwa. Members of the Christian Right in America find homosexuality offensive, and they promote and act out homophobic behaviours and policies as a result. The fact is that different people find different things offensive, so to turn on that which offends you is, well, impractical, but also, in my view morally wrong.

So while feminists are flicking through Home and Garden, tutting at the objectified imagery of women in adverts for expensive floor coverings, our civil liberties are being taken from us right under our turned-up noses. In 2008 an ammendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act making it illegal to possess 'extreme pornography' was passed without so much as a murmur from most feminist groups. So suddenly people who look at and own images of 'violent' consensual BDSM acts, are liable to be prosecuted and sentenced to up to three years in jail.

What I find most disappointing about the 'New Puritans' is that their approach lacks intellectual sophistication and critical thought. The relationship between representation and reality is complex, the meanings and implications of pornography, sex work and advertising are many and varied, and sometimes contradictory. If feminism is to have any chance of achieving its aim of say, ending violence against women, it has to embrace this complexity and contradiction. I don't want to offend anyone, but the 'new puritans' don't have the analytical or philosophical backbone to do this. I'm not offended by their attachment to Mary Whitehouse style knee-jerk moralism, but I am pretty pissed off.


Thursday, 22 April 2010

A Close Shave

I am sitting on the ledge at the end of his bath. He is crouched below me in the empty tub. We are both naked. In theory, I could be holding the power in this situation, as I am sat above him looking down. I could probably even kick him in the balls if I tried. But it is me who is feeling vulnerable and exposed. He has got me exactly where he wants me, and I am completely at his mercy. Power, it transpires, belongs to whoever wants it most.

Also he is holding a weapon: a small, manual razor, the blade flashing silver in the fluorescent light. I shiver, though it's not cold. He notices my discomfort and smiles. 'Nervous'? he asks but I know better than to reply. Suddenly the cute little erotic story I have been writing in my mind transforms itself into a slasher movie. I see Carrie in her blood-stained prom dress, I see the shower scene from Psycho. I see that Algerian man from 'Cache', slitting his own throat in front of his childhood friend, the blood spurting out from his neck and onto the kitchen floor. I start to think about that short by Scorsese: 'The Big Shave'. It shows a man cutting himself shaving. Only in this mini horror the blood keeps on pouring. The more he shaves the bloodier it gets until the sink is a crimson pool, the man's face the scene of a massacre.

I imagine him taking the razor and slicing me up into little pieces, my blood splattering all over the pristine white tiles, the bath, the shower curtain, his pale body. What the fuck am I doing here? I barely know this man. Maybe I should have asked myself that question much earlier, before we drank all that wine, before he told me to undress, before he put me over his knee and spanked me till my arse bruised purple, blue, black. 'Relax' he says, but I can't.

I try to rationalise my fears. He wouldn't want to mess up his lovely apartment would he? He wouldn't want the hassle of becoming the owner of a crime scene, wouldn't want to annoy his neighbours with the sound of a woman, screaming? No, he just wants to have a bit of fun, like me. Except I am not having fun right now. I am terrified.

Everything stops. I feel a sudden freezing sensation on my skin below my belly. I flinch and breathe in sharply. Looking down I see I am covered in blue shaving gel. It looks so clinical, like the stuff they put on a pregnant woman before an ultrasound. I sit still as a stone. Then I watch transfixed, as he takes the raxor and slowly starts to shave, scraping off little clumps of pubic hair mingled with the gel. The sensation is not entirely unpleasant. I am in awe: nobody not even me has done this before. His expression is one of complete concentraion. He holds his hand steady as he pulls those flaps of my skin to one side to get to the hardest to reach hairs. when he has finished and rinsed me with the shower I examine the results. I have not been this naked since I was about eleven years old. It is weird: I can't remember actually acquiring pubic hair. It is as if I went to bed one night a child and woke up the next morning a woman. But now I am a child again, no, more like a mannequin. It feels strange, but also horny. 'I am the first to do this to you' he declares, staking his claim. 'You belong to me now'.

Later, in the safety of the darkness, I finally let myself go. He plays with his new toy, licking and prodding it with his tongue, stroking the smooth skin with his fingers. He whispers in my ear as he holds me down, telling me what a beautiful cunt I have. As I lie back, preparing myself for the tsunami that is about to wash over my shores, I cannot help but agree.

When I finally fall asleep I dream of naked flesh, of cold metal cutting through skin. And blood. These days my dreams are always soaked in blood.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Sex, Lies and Videotape

I first saw Steven Soderberg's Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989, soon after it won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. I watched it with my boyfriend in a cinema in Paris. We were 18 and in love. Being on holiday in the most romantic city I knew, I felt a certain degree of pressure to match up to it.

I wanted our own acts of love to emulate 'La Cite d'amour'. I thought we should try to embody the sensual beauty of the Parisian streets, grey and green in the sunlight, to become the pink blush of the rose in our glasses, amidst the gaudy neon signs of Pigalle. But I knew we never would. So I was glad to escape from this slight feeling of inadequacy, into the comforting darkness of the cinema, together but separate from my lover.

Sex, Lies and Videotape is a love song to sexual repression. It's a film about the crap we talk to our partner, when we should be discussing our love life. It tells us how sometimes it takes a 'fucked up' individual (James Spader), wanking to videos he has made of women talking, to bring out the lifeblood and sexuality of a lonely woman (Andi McDowell). The film resonated with me so strongly, that I thought I might orgasm out of sheer relief. 'Yes, oh YES!' I wanted to scream, 'That's how I FEEL!'. Instead I just squirmed in my seat.

I must have sensed, even then, that there was something incredibly kinky about the main premise of Sex, Lies and Videotape. But I was so young, my repression so complete, that this feeling was mainly subconscious. It took me a long time for it to fully dawn on me just how horny I find it, the idea of a man videoing women talking about sex. The fact that some of those women masturbate as they do so just adds to the horniness. It is so clinical, so distant, so removed from the actual, carnal act of fucking. And distance, as Lacan and I know, is hot.

But at the time I thought I was simply identifying with another woman's sexual inhibitions. I'd never heard of Andi McDowell the actress-this was before she found fame (or infamy?) in classics such as Groundhog Day and Green Card. To me she was just an uptight woman who couldn't reach orgasm, who could barely finish a ... sentence. I saw myself so clearly in her character. It felt as if she was forgiving me for some unspoken sin I'd committed long ago.

I don't remember what happened after the lights went up. I expect, knowing the 18 year-old me, that I kept quiet about my views on the film, so partially formed they were, so closely they related to my secret, innermost 'self'. We probably went back to our hotel room and had sex, in that awkward, respectful, sorrowful way we used to do. I know one thing for sure. I most certainly didn't come.

Twenty years on, Sex Lies and Videotape remains amongst my favourite films. Now I fully appreciate both its beautifully perverted core and its psychological depth. I'm happy to say I'm no longer that girl who identified so strongly with McDowell's character. As you are aware, dear reader, I'm not scared to talk about sex anymore. And these days when I fuck, I tend to make sure I come, and come hard.

But nobody completely sheds their adolescent skin. I remain repressed in some important and deep-seated ways. I am able to enjoy sexual release, but it's often with men who are practically strangers to me that I feel most free. I still find it difficult to talk about sex and to lose myself in sex with someone I love. So Sex, Lies and Videotape still speaks to me like a friend who knows me intimately, maybe even better than I know myself. I will always love it for that.

Post Script

It is also recently that I have come to appreciate the real significance of the scene when McDowell takes the camera and turns it on Spader, transforming the male gaze of the film into a female one. If ever we do meet, and the conversation turns to sex, which it most certainly will, I suggest you check all my gadgets first before you open your mouth, to see if I have pressed 'record'.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Geisha: An Essay On Orientalism in Three Parts

Part One: Servant

Some hipster boys in Parkslopes, Brooklyn, are planning a party. It is springtime in New York City, and they are celebrating the arrival of the cherry blossom, Japanese style. They love the way the delicate pink flowers scatter on the sidewalk like silk confetti. It contrasts with the dark slabs of the brownstone buildings where they live. Actually, they don't really give a fuck about the cherry blossom, but it makes a good enough excuse to get wasted and chase women. One of the hipsters thinks they should hire a 'geisha girl' to serve drinks and greet their guests. It would add some Oriental authenticity to the proceedings. He saw a Geisha porno a while back, and couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful porcelain face, painted exquisitely with make-up, eyes down as she 'served' her master. She was so goddamn ... compliant. So the boys put up an ad on Craigslist, asking for an actress who wants to be a Geisha girl for the evening. They are hoping she will be Asian, but a white chick could probably do the job just as well, if she dressed and acted the part. They offer cash, plus a free photoshoot, sit back with some cold beers and wait for the replies to flood into their in-box.

Part Two: Whore

He rings the little handbell and she silently appears. Her head is bowed but he can see how beautiful her face is, painted like a china doll's. He tells her to kneel and she does. Her hands fall instinctively behind her back. She clasps them together and looks up at him, her crystal eyes shining. He returns her gaze and takes it over, fixing her in his stare. 'I have you' his eyes say. 'You are mine for the taking'. Slowly, he places his hand on her head, gently touching her hair, pushing it to one side. Suddenly he pulls his hand away and she gasps, anticipating what is to come. But he is not going to hit her. Not now. That will come later. In this moment he is satisfied just to stand there,to watch intently as she holds herself still, offering her body for him to do as he pleases. Soon he will take the rope piled on the floor and bind her, Shibari style. The rope will tighten round the silk of her dress, showing the curves of her perfect form. He will notice her nipples, poking through the thin material and he will take one between his thumb and forefinger, pinching it hard. She will gasp again, this time in pain. 'Does it hurt?' he will ask. She will nod slowly. 'But you like it, you little whore-your nipples are like bullets'. Then he will lift up her dress and shove his hand between her legs, roughly pushing them apart to find his quarry. She doesn't wear knickers on these visits, and her juice will already be dripping down from her cunt towards her thighs. 'Good girl' he will say. 'My good little geisha girl'.

Part Three: Wife

I used to be friends with a couple, Josh and Midori. Josh was an academic, something in social science. Midori was Japanese; they had met at university. She worked in Market Research. I was fascinated and a little in awe of Midori. The way she would write her name in Japanese, as if it was a painting not a word. She was so tiny that she had to buy children's clothes, or get them made specially for her. Josh always went on about what a great cook she was: and Midori was a great cook. It was one of the reasons I hung out at their place so much. So when she came to stay with me on her own, I was worried she wouldn't like my food, but she was happy with vegetable curry. She taught me how to add a dash of fresh lemon juice, just before serving, to give it an extra kick. We stayed up late talking, about books and life, suddenly free from the constraints of Josh's domineering presence. Midori asked me about feminism and I told her my stories. When she'd gone I sent her a book: 'Introduction to Feminism'. The next time I saw Josh in the pub he told me he'd taken the book and thrown it across the room, saying 'fuck that'. We laughed but I think he was serious. I haven't seen them in years.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Sex For Sale

I chatted to him online for a while, before we arranged to meet. I agreed I would stay at his place; I had friends and family in London I knew I'd have somewhere to go if I bailed. When I got to the bar in Islington it came as no surprise to me that he bought me a drink and then swiftly started to eat my face. His hands were warm, but a bit too small for my liking as he dragged me across Upper St to his flat on the Canalside.

I stayed there for three nights and he never once let me pay for anything; not even a cup of coffee, not even a pint of milk. The sex was good, I think I screamed once. I remember he had a film poster in his bathroom. He looked after me. I got the train home and never saw him again.

I recall this vignette, now, as it serves as a backdrop to the realisation I keep on having lately, some kind of epiphany if you like to be dramatic about these things. My realisation is this: sex work is everywhere and we all are involved. That's why when I write about feminism and sex, or feminism and pornography, or feminism and prostitution, it feels personal. I may have not worked as a sex worker, but I have exchanged my body for something: a bed for the night, a drink and a meal, a boost to my ego, a momentary escape from some pain or other.

I am a feminist and always will be. I know women get exploited, trafficked, murdered, in the 'sex industry'. But women get murdered by their partners too, and nobody talks about 'marriage' or 'love' as if it was a dirty word. I don't have a burning ambition to work in a lap-dancing club, I am wary of the concept, suggested by the sociologist Catherine Hakim, of the profitablity and power of 'erotic capital'. We can't all be Madonna or Belle de Jour.

But when I talk about sex work I include myself in the picture. And I include you too. If we don't talk about it as participants, then we are 'othering' the women who overtly exchange sex for money. We are still thinking of them as whores. Whores who need rescuing (Pretty Woman style), maybe, but whores all the same. I prefer to think of sex workers as people. I feel ashamed that I haven't always thought this way.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

I Can't Even Think Straight

I've been heterosexual for as long as I've been sexual, openly since I was about 14. I don't think too much about what went before. I do remember playing some pretty weird games with my Barbie Dolls. But that is another story.

By heterosexual what I basically mean is 'I like boys'. I like the way they move and talk. I like the way their bodies bulge out of their clothes in different ways from how girls' bodies do. In recent years I confess I have developed a shallow but refined respect for the athletic male form. I dated a climber for a few, giddy months. I suffer from vertigo. But I would march up hills and stand with him, peering nervously over the edge of the rock to examine the route, because it gave me a chance to see that beautiful torso in its natural habitat. The upper body of a fit male climber is a kind of perfection in my eyes. Once you find it it's difficult to go back to the more common, flabbier, less defined variety of the species.

So, despite my aesthetic appreciation of beautiful women, and my are there some beautiful women in the world (Monica Belucci anyone? Scarlett Johannson before she went all Hollywoodised? Sandrine Bonart, Jenny Lewis, that redhead I saw on the tube the other day) I am straight. Except I can't bring myself to identify as 'straight', not really. I'm not a prick. I wouldn't insult my lesbian and gay friends by claiming the political status of being 'bi' or 'queer'. I know I enjoy all the privileges of a straight, white middle class woman living in a heteronormative society. This is not a coming out letter. But I don't feel straight. I don't think straight. I don't do the things many of my straight peers do.

Perhaps this is becoming more of an important issue to me because of my age. I am 39 and I don't have kids. I don't have a partner or a mortgage, or an interest in talking about kitchen design. I feel alienated from some of my friends who do have those things, and who seem to gain some comfort from them, some kind of identity. I can't open a newspaper or magazine without reading about the habits and desires of 'people like them', people with townhouses in Dalston or Clifton or Chorlton. People with pushchairs that have a place where you can put your capuccino while you're on the move. People who see themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, in the media, in politics, in the farmers' market on a Saturday. I don't see myself any of those places. I am not even sure who I see when I look in the mirror.

Then there's sex. I am not very 'straight' when it comes to sex, apart from the gender of the people I tend to have sex with. My longest relationship was with someone who would have been gay, if it wasn't for the fact he had a girlfriend (me). We liked anal and doggy style, we both lusted after River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho, we both looking back on it were probably submissive, which wasn't exactly a recipe for fulfillment. Many years later I've explored that submissive side of my sexuality, and that hasn't felt very 'straight' either. I know everyone is supposed to be experimental these days, but in reality, in my reality, that does not seem to be the case. I have only had embarrassment and misunderstandings when I have tried to discuss some of my pecadillos, over a nice cold glass of sauvignon on my straight mates' patios.

They say 'the personal is political' and I'd say the opposite is also true: 'politics is personal'. My politics separate me from some of my closest friends and potential 'comrades': people who on the outside look just like me, whose resumes would read like mine: white, middle class, heterosexual, feminist, left-leaning. But it sometimes feels like there's a chasm between us that will never be crossed. I don't even try to have the discussions because I know where they would lead. But I know from their comments and throwaway remarks, that most of my straight feminist friends don't share my interest in supporting transwomen, or sexworkers, or people (including me) who wish to enjoy pornography without feeling dirty or ashamed, or people (including me) whose sexuality sometimes means they prefer a bit more 'slap' than tickle.

I love reading and talking about sexuality, and in this I find great solace and what? comradeship? sisterhood? a sense of belonging? I don't know. But if you like Foucault, Todd Haynes, and Del LaGrace Volcano, if you read Anais Nin and Melissa Gira, Bitchy Jones and Christopher Isherwood, there's a good chance that we will get on.

A very dear friend of mine, who does get where I am coming from, said one day 'you'd make a good lesbian'. I would that were true, but unfortunately I'd make a crap lesbian. I like cock too much. And the lovely cockerels that provide me with it. But maybe you could think of me as a gay man trapped in a straight chick's body, or a gay chick that fancies gay guys. Think of me how you like. I may be straight on the surface, but underneath I'm definitely some kind of dyke.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Losing My Edge

Yeah I'm losing my edge

I'm losing my edge.

The suits are coming up from behind.

I'm losing my edge to the suits and the non-doms.

But I was there.

I was there in 1979

I was there when Thatcher was still 'the milk snatcher'.

I'm losing my edge.

I'm losing my edge to the geeks with the i-phones whose footsteps I can hear

when they walk into starbucks.

I'm losing my edge to the internet seekers who have 4,000 songs on their i-pods

the hipsters who wear suits for their day jobs

I'm losing my edge.

To all the kids who can't remember John Major: with his underpants outside his trousers.

I was there in 1992 when he was superman.

I'm losing my edge.

But I was there in 1983 when Michael Foot preached socialism,

and some of the kids still listened.

I was there in 1986 when Red Wedge played Birmingham Odeon.

Billy Bragg and The Communards, paying tribute to El Lissitsky.

I was the kid with the back-combed hair and the CND badge,

singing along to My Ever Changing Moods with The Style Council.

I was there in 1987 when Kinnock fucked it up

By kicking out Militant and LPYS, the socialists, the cool kids and me.

But I was there.

I've never been wrong.

I used to march on Whitehall,

I remember Bruce Kent and Tony Benn.

I taped General Public's benefit for the miners at Birmingham University

I went to Glastonbury before anyone. I saw Ian Dury and the Blockheads there.

I woke up with a hangover in Sheffield in 1997 .

Blair was staring with his wild eyes and grinning: 'Things Can Only Get Better'.

But I'm losing my edge to richer, better-groomed people with no ideas and no talent.

They tell me they are really, really nice.

But I don't believe them.

I remember the Falklands. I remember the Gulf War. I remember Afghanistan and Iraq.

I've never been wrong.

I'm losing my edge.

And I was there in 2001 when I gave up on politics and turned to music instead.

Suddenly I was hanging out with the the cool kids.

I listened to Original Pirate Material in my bedsit in Meersbrook.

I argued with my friends about'Stories from the city, stories from the sea'.

I said it could never be better than Rid of Me. I've never been wrong.

I saw Pulp's farewell gig at Magna in Rotherham.

Jarvis was God for one night only and we all missed the tram home.

I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at Brixton Academy,

I saw Low and The Dears and Ambulance Ltd. I thought I was in New York.

But I'm losing my edge.

I hear that you and your crew have sold your decks and bought i-pods

I hear that you and your crew have sold your i-pods and bought decks

I hear that everybody you know is more powerful than everybody I know.

But I'm losing my edge.

The suits are coming up from behind.

It's 2010 and I don't know what's hip anymore.

When I was a kid I knew the words to The Internationale.

Now the kids quote Justin Beiber as if he was Gramsci.

I still have The Pixies, Bonny Prince Billy, Gillian Welch, New Young Pony Club, Le Tigre,

L7, I still have Blondie and LCD Soundsystem, The Beat, Hot Chip, Lambchop, Jens Leckman.

It's 2010 I'm not going to vote.

The hipsters in suits have got blood on their hands.

You don't know what you really want.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Resurrection

When you came to after the operation, you looked just like a newborn baby. Your hair was plastered to your face with sweat, as if from the heroic exertion of pushing your way out of the womb fully grown. So what if the blue nylon hospital gown made an ill-fitting swaddling robe? Or if the drip by your side was pumping you with morphine, not milk? I wanted to hold you in my arms all the same as if I'd delivered you myself. Some midwife I would be, though - all I could do on this joyous occasion was to sit on the side of your bed and weep.

I thought that the Easter story was all about how Jesus suffered and died for our sins, so that we could go on being flawed mortals without too much hassle. He did the hard work for us, what with the cross, and the thorns and the dying and all. According to your precious Bible (Romans, 6): 'as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in the newness of life'. But it didn't work out like that for us. Anyway, noone asked Jesus what life is like the second time round; I'm betting it isn't much fun. Nobody can erase what has gone before, not even the Messiah.

Ulcerative colitis is a bastard of a disease. I won't go into too much medical detail here. To be honest, I can't face going back over the definitions and diagnoses. Basically it involves the colon becoming infected and ulcerated so food can't be digested properly. It comes in varying degrees of severity, and in your case almost the whole damn thing had to be taken out or else you would have died. The operation that saved your life also left you with a bit of your inside poking out, pink and tender - a lonely sea anenome washed up on the beach. The doctors put it into a bag and sent you home.

This was the moment where I was supposed to rise to the occasion; to be a devoted disciple. I think Mary Magdelene would have done a better job, but I was all you could find at the time. I wanted to run. To tell you I'm sorry but this wasn't what I signed up for. That beautiful blue-eyed boy with the floppy fringe, the Bruce Springsteen collection and the love of Joyce, I want him back. Instead I bit my lip and tried to pretend it was all ok. Maybe there was something of the martyr in me after all. A martyr in a sulk. 'It's not fair!' my inner teenager cried.

Inevitably our sex life suffered. We transformed ourselves overnight, from a pretty adventurous, amorous pair, into a Victorian married couple. Lights out, barely a word from either of us. The rustle of clothes coming off in the dark. The embarrassing elephant in the room that we didn't speak of; we just heard it the slap of plastic against flesh and the slooshing of waste products inside. I think I used to hold my breath. I know I caught myself counting in my head: one, two, three, four... it never did last long before we turned over and went to sleep.

Sometimes life was kind of like how it used to be. We would drink endless cups of tea in the living room, or get pissed with your brother. I always had to shout to be heard over your voices and the wonderful but too loud music: Bonny Prince Billy, Nick Cave, Kraftwerk, The Fall. I've never met anyone before or since, that can hold forth on Derrida's theory of difference, whilst simultaneously enjoying the might of 'Leave The Capital' or 'Bengali in Platforms' at full volume. But the night can't last forever. In the end we had to make the long march upstairs to bed. Once you told me you were glad I was there, because nobody else would want you. What was I supposed to do with that? I locked it away in a box marked: 'suppress'.

We broke up. But our relationship resurrected itself, only to die again, for good this time. I'm pretty sure Jesus is living for eternity as a single guy; I don't know about you, or me for that matter, maybe this is our stint in the wilderness. I haven't seen you for a few years and I don't know how you are. When I bumped into your mate Ed at that folk festival a while back, he told me you'd had the 'reversal' procedure. I think that means you don't need a colostomy bag anymore. This worries me a little, as you could get sick again, with your insides in instead of out. But there is a part of me that is purely curious, that wants to see what your body looks like now. Is it back to its former lithe glory I wonder, are you getting the girls and the boys like you used to? Show me, I want to see! Goes my inner five-year old.

You will of course have scars. But then so do I; it's just you can't see mine. They say that even after 2000 odd years, Jesus still has marks on his hands from where the nails went in.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Crush! some random notes on desire

My first crush left me reeling like a punch in the stomach. I was fifteen, an awkward mix of mature for my age and completely innocent. Warren Chapman was a few years older. He played bass in my mate's band: 'Blind Alliance'. Tall, dark, troubled by acne, he was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. The crush began in autumn, on a coach journey to a demo in London. My friend Lizzy and I were sat at the back, playing tapes and giggling. When Mirror in the Bathroom came on, Warren turned round from further down the vehicle and asked me to turn it up. So I did and I was smitten. Later on he took off his top to reveal a red t-shirt, thinly covering his perfect torso. I thought I was going to be sick. Amazingly, over the months that followed, I got to snog Warren a couple of times. Drunk and dizzy, I was too overwhelmed to really enjoy it fully, and the next morning it always felt like it was a dream. Once he walked me home and I invited him back for coffee. He said 'no'. This wasn't like the movies. In the end, I put myself out of my misery and found myself a boyfriend my own age. He wasn't nearly as attractive as Warren, but at least I could speak to him without wanting to faint.

'Crush' is the perfect word for what it describes. It's not quite onomatopeia-but its sound is evocative of the feeling: the way your insides turn to mush and start swishing around, making it difficult to stand straight. Also in the word 'crush' lies the clue to the inevitable outcome: your hopes will be crushed; the story won't have a happy ending. But it can suggest something more optimistic: a sunny afternoon, daydreaming, youth: raspberry crush.

Crushes on people you know and have to face in your daily life are horrendous; the potential for embarrassment and pain is too great. After pursuing a number of these, long after I lost the excuse of adolescent naiivety, I can honestly say I hope I never have another one again. My preferred forms of crush are on popstars, actors, even fictional characters. They possess an unreal quality, distant, unobtainable, working their magic up on the screen or stage.
Jarvis Cocker, John Cusack, Martin Donovan, 'Mike' from My Own Private Idaho. I'm not so deluded to think these beauties will return my feelings. I love them all the more for that.

Being the type of person that has to excavate everything she experiences, I have uncovered some interesting analyses of 'the crush'. Lacan seems to get to the nub of it when he says that
'the first object of desire is to be recognized by the other. (Lacan, 1977 [1959], p. 58)' According to psychoanalysis, desire is subconscious, and is actually quite simply our need to be known (and loved). So it is kind of irrelevant whether I am lusting after Warren Chapman, Vincent Cassell or Chloe Sevigny. What I am really doing is looking for recognition of my own self, my worth, my place in this world. 'I am human and I need to be loved'. Morrissey got it.

Lacan tells us that desire is always to do with what we lack, or feel we lack. You can't desire what you already have. This I find a little bit cruel, because it goes some way to explaining why actual relationships are so difficult. I'm an expert at mooning over a half-formed figure in my mind. Faced with the flesh and blood reality of someone who loves me and knows me, and wants me to love them and know them too I buckle under the pressure. I also, sometimes, lose my mojo in truly intimate relationships. I find it a regretful irony that my ex and I probably spent more time discussing Lacanian 'desir', than we did actually fucking. I often need distance, mystery, lack, to get my juices flowing. 'I want the one I can't have, and it's driving me mad' . Morrissey got that too.

Enter The Internet, stage left. Online communities are the perfect breeding-ground for the postmodern crush. Everything I learned so carefully, from Warren, from Lacan, from my own self-analysis, I managed to forget when I first ventured into the labrynth. Virtual reality gives us that perfect heady mix of the unknown and the tantalisingly available, the distant and the intimate, the real and the imaginary. I think I have a crush on The Internet itself. One of the reasons my desires are so fuelled by online communication is that I am a lover of words. And when it's just you and someone else, typing away in your private worlds, the words take over. There's no distraction from a noisy bar, an unexpected facial expression, or someone's bad choice of jumper that day. And if the words are good then that's it, I'm a goner.

I've met a few of my internet crushes, and inevitably have felt disappointed. Not necessarily by the individuals themselves, but by the depressing mismatch between my colourful imagination and the greyer reality. These days though, my appreciation of electronic desire is a little more sophisticated. Most of us realise we are playing, exploring the creative potential of virtual reality. And I still find it quite a beautiful thing when I stumble across a fellow 'explorer' on the internet. Someone who will share their words with me, offer a sexily fragmented, hazy, unreachable image of themselves. Let me get to work with my romantic, inaccurate, inventive imagination. I've got a bit of a crush on one of them at the moment as it happens. I wonder whether I should ask him back for coffee. I'm the one holding the keyboard so I call the shots. In this mini-super 8, he definitely says 'yes'.