2013: The year in cats

Okay, so I haven’t updated this blog in quite some time. I’ve been more focused on writing things elsewhere, and reporting on life as it unfolds hasn’t appealed so much. If you’re interested, I’d be happy if you’d check out my website for up-to-date info on my articles, zines and whatnot; and I’m on the Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway, I hear the internet is rather fond of cats, so I hope sharing the various cats (also, dogs) I’ve lived with in 2013 might go some way towards making up for my silence here.

I began the year, as has become customary, in Lyttelton, a small village (population 4000) next to Christchurch, looking after three cats and two dogs.

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Sex Industry Apologist #2, and other zines

I launched my new zine Sex Industry Apologist #2 at Sticky Institute a week and a half ago, as part of their Paper City zine festival. A whole bunch of people crammed into the shop and I read an excerpt from Taking Ideology To The Streets before handing over to a panel of local sex workers, including members of the Scarlet Alliance and Vixen Collective. An audio recording of the event might show up on the internet in a while.


picture from Sticky Institute

The zine includes a couple recent articles I published online, as well as background on sex work and feminism in the UK, with a focus on the effects of the Swedish model and ‘end demand’ approaches. It has a few reviews of sex work themes in films, books, and theatre, and a quick guide to spotting media bullshit. It’s also illustrated by the very talented Kazimir Lee Iskander.

Also currently available is the first issue of Sex Industry Apologist, which was originally published in early 2010. It kicks off with my essay Belle De Jour Is The New Pretty Woman, before sharing a bunch of reflections on harm reduction, feminism, and the media, all from my perspective as a former staff member at a sex work project. It also includes a list of resources on various issues related to sex work.

For ordering info, see jinxremoving dot org.

Hidup Rakyat: Bersih 3.0 in KL


Soalan ditanyakan. Jawapan disediakan
The question has been asked. The answer is ready

I live in Kuala Lumpur, currently. My 32-hour stopover in February wasn’t enough, so seven weeks and six countries later, I came back. I’m here temporarily, but for a longer period of time than I spend in most places. I’ve been exploring the city, learning Malay, cooking and eating epic food, following lizards around, and waking up next to someone I’m completely smitten with. And last Saturday afternoon I found myself in front of the Lotus Hotel in the city centre, surrounded by protesters who had just been tear gassed.

Behind me, two young women were crying “Allāhu Akbar.” I got out of the way as a trampled body was carried into the hotel. Bottles of water were thrown to the street from the upstairs windows, and eventually a couple of emergency fire hoses were aimed from them as well, to cheers from the crowd down below. Protesters offered salt and water to each other. Riot police paced at the corner of the street, so I figured I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Masjid Jamek LRT station was closed, but its metal shutters had been broken by people desperate to escape the gas, and police would later follow them in to beat them.

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Outside the Syrian embassy, Kuala Lumpur

Burning Assad

I had 32 hours in Kuala Lumpur and my principal interest was finding the Syrian embassy. I couldn’t deal any more with the disconnect between the atrocities documented every time I checked Twitter and the conversations I had with people around me when I surfaced from the internet: “What, there’s something going on in Syria?”

7800 martyrs, 500 children, 400 female

I didn’t know if there would be a protest and I didn’t know how to find out anyway; I just went, hoping that showing up on a Friday might increase my chances. I was right. Riot cops hovered around the periphery while flags, fists, placards and voices were raised. I caught only one or two keywords from the mainly Arabic speeches, but the pain, horror and outrage was clear. I had come here not only to show solidarity, but because I had reached a point where I desperately needed to be among other people who cared about what was going on. The attendees were mainly Syrian students, people directly impacted by the violence. A Somali who had just moved to Malaysia after twelve years in Syria told me of his classmate, Sardasht Ali, who was shot dead in the street, eighteen years old. He hoped to return to a Syria free of Assad. Insha’Allah.

All of Somali people with Syrian revolution

As the demo drew to an end, we headed back the way we had come, before a large group of Malay Muslims passed us by, heading too for the embassy following Friday prayers. A second protest, this time with locals showing their solidarity.

Malay Muslims demonstrate

And I wonder what it will take for white Westerners to pay attention and get angry now that there are no prominent fictional lesbians in the movement. Is the name Hamza al-Khatib as familiar to my peers as that of Amina? Hamza’s body was returned to his parents last year after he had been detained for protesting; they found that his jaw and kneecaps had been smashed, he had three gunshot wounds, he was covered in cigarette burns and his penis had been cut off. Whenever I see a photo of him, a smiling thirteen-year-old, my heart feels shattered. This is what the Assad regime does to kids. As one of the signs at the demo read: “The regime is committing massacre while the world is watching silently.”

Syria, Homs, the regime is committing massacre while the world is watching silently

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Gumboot

Jennifer the snail

I

Cobwebs are everywhere here, and spiders with ugly bodies and long legs. They hang curled up like closed umbrellas, then reanimate to trek across walls and blankets. The house is a rickety old thing that sits on a hill. The door is never locked. When the big earthquake comes, I don’t fancy this place’s chances, but last week’s shaking and rumbling didn’t bother me. Maybe I adapt too easily to my surroundings. The people who live here find the earthquakes scary.

The wifi password wishes death to the multi-millionaire landlord. The people who gather here talk about protests, stick and poke tattoos, dodgy hitch-hiking episodes and sex work. A collection of bangles conceals the words SLUT LIFE. Terms like genderqueer, fatphobia, cultural appropriation are known and used. Clothes come from op shops and chance discoveries in the street. Peggy Lee makes frequent appearances on the stereo. I drink vast quantities of genmaicha, make grilled cheese sandwiches and read Sexuality And The Stories of Indigenous People.

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Leave it to the men with the weapons

I went back to Europe for a date last week. We were meeting in the McDonald’s in Taksim Square – really? Is this some kind of joke? – and I arrived in a dolmuş from Kadiköy, too early, having been unsure how long the journey would take. So I sat in front of the Republic Monument for half an hour, wishing I had worn my hoodie. I listened to Parlovr and FantomenK. Parlovr made me think of Saudi Arabia, the backdrop to the story behind Hell, Heaven; of Malden, Massachusetts, where I was based when I discovered them a year ago; and of Belfast, where I sat in a bar at sixteen or seventeen and considered the relative safety, or not, of my location were gunmen to enter.

play Parlovr – Hell, Heaven

Some men were shouting as they headed down Istiklal Caddesi carrying a giant Turkish flag over their heads. 22,000 Turkish troops had entered Iraqi Kurdistan that morning but the world seemed to have reacted with its customary disinterest, and anyway Gaddafi's death was the big headline that day. I recalled February in Leipzig, wondering where I could find a 'Gaddafi's dead' party when the time came. He was still in charge back then, his presence causing more to die every day, and the immediacy of the situation made me believe that his death would allow the Libyan people to live. In the end, he was dead not because of self-defence but revenge. I could understand why it had happened this way, but I didn't feel like a party any more.

The following day, I was afraid I would miss my flight. I threw up intermittently through the afternoon and spent long periods of time sitting on the floor, activities like standing up and walking upright having become excruciatingly taxing. I hadn't drunk all that much – at least, not by the standards of a million other nights out – but maybe it was bad wine or maybe I simply hadn't eaten enough before I started drinking. At least it had been a good night: I recalled conversations about sex work, Islam and Defiance, Ohio; a blurry recollection of kissing in the street (how did this come to pass?); the tattooed former sailor who ran Zurich, the metal bar. The aftermath, though, formed the worst day I'd had all year.

Zurich; blurry

Eventually Asli came home and took charge, insisting that I eat some bread while she prepared medicine. “I don't feel like eating bread,” I said. “That isn't really the point,” she explained. I sat on the sofa and ate the bread painstakingly slowly, eventually zoning out so I could chew mechanically without being too conscious of the horrific act of eating. The medicine was a big cup of lemon and mint tea, which sounded and smelled appealing but was less than appetising. But now I felt able to take an illegal taxi to the airport, saving me from being around crowds, and I no longer had to consider wasting 70 euros by delaying my departure.

Georgia had been on my mind for more than a year, ever since I left Berlin. At the time, I had been wandering aimlessly, sad and tired. I didn't know where I wanted to be, and was feeling pretty suggestible when Murdoch recommended Tbilisi; I appreciated that somebody had stepped in to give me a lead, any lead. I had never even met anyone who'd been to Georgia, and my knowledge of the country could be summarised quickly: Mariam Romelashvili represented it in the 2007 Junior Eurovision Song Contest; it was bombed by Russia in 2008; there were eucalyptus trees in the breakaway territory of Abkhazia; and Georgian wine was really, really good. Murdoch knew someone who had a room available for absurdly cheap rent, and I emailed her to ask about it. While I waited for a reply that never came, I found myself reading guidebooks in shops, picturing a new life. Berlin had been a false start; maybe Tbilisi was what I needed. Having failed to unlock the next level of German, I would turn my attention instead to learning a new, curly script. My basic Polish and recollection of half the Cyrillic alphabet might bridge a gap or two while I found my bearings. I would live cheaply and quietly and far from anyone I knew, and if I was still sad I would just fucking deal with it.

In the absence of a response from Tbilisi, I held on to the city in the back of my mind. My plans and locations started to change, but I needed to at least check out the path I might have taken.

It was almost 3am when my flight landed.

Somos los de abajo

Around 200,000 people (estimates vary, as always) demonstrated in Barcelona yesterday. Since I didn’t know anybody there, I focused on taking a lot of pictures. Blame me for any clunky translations.

Mi vida
My life is not your Monopoly board


I would not be able to look my children in the eyes and tell them they had to live like this because I did not dare to fight

Rise up!
Rise up! We are 99%

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