Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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%

Continue reading

Isn’t grey hair just the first light of a new dawn?

To make sure I got to Tegel on time, I set my alarm for 6:45am, attempting to grab a few hours of sleep on the sofa in Ursula’s kitchen after my leaving party. I had, predictably, reached that point of the night known as Oh Fuck It, Sure I’ll Drink Some Vodka Now, Because I Am Invincible. I had already Tetris-ed most of my stuff into my rucksack; now I just needed to put on clothes, brush my teeth and say a quick goodbye to Ursula and Franzi, too bleary to convey sufficient gratitude to them for making me feel so welcome. Trams rumbled past the open window, sounding like low-flying aeroplanes.

I got a lift to Berlin with a German, a Hungarian and two Iranians. Wind turbines sped by as we talked travel and life. Two of them reckoned they could maybe use my help editing their academic work, and I handed out my new home-made business cards. (As close to home as I’ve been in a long time, anyway; I can say now that I live in Leipzig twice a year.)

The last time I flew out of Tegel airport, I was basically a wreck. On the outside I was keeping it together – I maybe looked physically drained, but at least I wasn’t a sobbing heap, which was what I felt like and what I had been for most of the preceding week or so. I was actually on the brink of a big adventure, except I didn’t have the energy at the time to even consider things from that perspective.

Yesterday Tegel airport was just another place I was passing through, except there were hundreds of police around it, which turned out to be because the Pope was on his way and not, as I had somehow decided, because someone was filming a music video. But I bypassed all the action to queue up at the check-in desk. I was listening to I Am Nothing by Withered Hand.

it’s a victory just seeing out today

And suddenly I was thinking back to a Withered Hand gig in an art gallery in 2009. While the rest of the audience stood dutifully to attention, Neill was sitting on the floor eating beans and complaining loudly about every band that wasn’t Withered Hand. He was accompanied by his sidekick, who he referred to as The French, a notoriously wretched twentysomething with low standards of hygiene. The French didn’t think much of me for a while until I offered to break a drug dealer’s legs for him, which apparently scored me some points. There was the time, also, when the three of us went to the Edinburgh Mela and I watched The French absent-mindedly take out his pocket knife and hack away at some dead skin on his thumb, while he reminisced about the time he didn’t wash for two weeks and got the most action he’d ever had. He was last heard of taking an excess of drugs at Roslin and chasing people around with a dead goat or some such, before running away into the hills. At least that’s how Neill tells it.

Edinburgh had its moments, you know? Before I had to get out. I want to see Neill again, and others too, but I can no longer comprehend going back to a place that’s so familiar. Why settle when I can keep moving? For all I know I could change my mind two months from now, but at the moment I can’t see it.

I’m insignificant, that’s my size
in the greater scheme of things I am nothing

play Withered Hand – I Am Nothing

The greater scheme of things makes it so much easier to bear everything: the petty, transient bullshit that bugs me for an afternoon, or the genuine pain, whatever its source. Maybe the song wasn’t intended to be uplifting, but it works for me.

On the plane, I sat next to a Puerto Rican living in Berlin (“yet another artist,” he said) and reluctantly paid five euros for a glass of orange juice and a box of vegetable chips with excessive packaging. We circled Barcelona several times before landing.

play Withered Hand – New Dawn

Check In: A tl;dr* special

The story so far
I set up this blog with the intention of writing about my New Exciting Life In Berlin, which was just sort of okay, and then Berlin fucked up and I started travelling instead. It is now a year since I left Berlin, a year of just me and my rucksack and whoever I met along the way. And there are quite a few things I want to address in this blog post. Therefore, here is today’s agenda:

I. Where I have been and what is going on
II. The importance of balance, which I will attempt to outline without sounding overly self-helpy
III. Stuff that is good

I
Listing all the countries I’ve been to since July 2010 feels like a pointless exercise, because who really cares besides me (there are a couple maps in the sidebar, anyway), but the new ones were Lithuania, Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In addition to these I pinballed around quite a bit. It’s all about cheap flights and creative overland solutions and whatnot.

I think it’s about time I mentioned that I’m not actually a wreck any more, okay? I mean with regard to the whole break-up angst that prompted my departure from Berlin. That episode left me with a couple of issues, such as: reduced faith in humanity (oh, the melodrama!) and newfound fear of rejection, but those have faded somewhat with time. However, it’s hard not to tell my story without referencing it to some extent, since it was the impetus that caused me to begin travelling.

Berlin remains kind of a no-go zone for me for the foreseeable future, apart from its airports, which are handy for Leipzig purposes. But I’m okay with this. A big reason why I left Berlin was because I didn’t have a support network there to help me cope with the break-up. Some people opt to endure unpleasant situations to prove they can do it, in order to ‘win’. Whatever. I won by taking back a little control and getting the fuck out. Berlin still makes me feel kind of weird and uncomfortable to think about, which is why I don’t want to revisit it, rather than for fear of running into my ex or something. But that’s okay. Other people can have Berlin. I have the rest of the planet.

Continue reading

Armidale, New South Wales

I spent six weeks in a country town that claimed to have a population of 25,000, although I suspected it could be fibbing. I made two friends and I had a couple glasses of wine with the next door neighbours. I was looking after a small dog that was a Jack Russell crossed with a chihuahua: ponder that for a moment. She had these spindly legs and sometimes she’d just stare at me and kind of tremble and once in a while she’d get mopey and emit a heavy sigh like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. But she was cute and she couldn’t get up on the sofa by herself so I felt like a giant elevator sometimes. Other times I’d open the sliding door and she’d race into the house, scrabbling, sort of rabbity, and we’d play chase around the dining table. I called her Pickle.

I did some writing and some editing and some audio transcription. I began to structure my days around my 4pm fix of Roseanne, and sometimes my evenings around The Golden Girls and M*A*S*H, and I wept predictably over Go Back To Where You Came From. In one episode of Roseanne, Darlene has a friend round and makes out with him on the couch, which is her first kiss, and plus she gets felt up, and I remembered this episode from when I was fourteen or whatever and how it gave hope to people like me who were being subjected to advice like “if you’d just tie your hair up and wear a little make-up (and look more feminine) then you’d be really pretty and everyone would want to go out with you” and I was all: hell no, these are not my terms and conditions. Also, like all right-minded people, I totally had a crush on Sara Gilbert.

I remembered how whenever I was watching the show my mother would invariably walk into the living-room, pause, and then go, “I can’t stand that woman.” Every time. And I would be like: Shut up, Mother! Let me watch it in peace! I already know you can’t stand her! And it occured to me now that maybe I started calling her “Mother” because Becky does that on the show when she too is exasperated. And on the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death I didn’t know what to do so I just sort of sat out on the deck with a mug of green tea and tried to be peaceful and then went back inside when I was done, but watching Roseanne and hearing my mum’s voice in my head each time the show was on was kind of nice.

I went to the pub twice. The first time, a caged hen farmer in his early twenties took a seat at our table without invitation and began to chat up a vegan. “If you ban eggs from caged hens they’ll just import them from China,” he insisted. “What would you rather have, eggs from Australia or eggs from China?” “I’m a VEGAN,” she reiterated. His bleary drunken eyes swivelled in my direction, as if I was going to back him up. “If the eggs aren’t free-range I don’t want any at all,” I explained. “Where are you from?” he asked. Oh, don’t you derail me. “Who gives a shit where I’m from, we’re talking about chickens!” He seemed confused, turned back to the vegan, got a bit table-thumpy, and eventually went away.

One day I went to the post office and then I got back into the car I’d been lent and sobbed for a few minutes because things hit you at unexpected times. I sobbed for my small family with two members missing, one due to death, the other due to an impasse to which I could see no solution. I sobbed because my refusal to engage with someone who’s hurt me, who has continually demonstrated an absence of respect for me, means that I get to be the one who’s seen as being difficult. I sobbed for a few minutes and then wiped my eyes and drove on, vaguely recalling that someone had maybe said once that I never especially look like I’ve been crying after I’ve been crying.

I located the fruit market and the supermarket and the bakery. I took some clothes out of my rucksack and put them on shelves for a change. I read A Wedding In December by Anita Shreve. (“What’s it about?” asked Holly. “GUESS,” I told her.) It made me think about school reunions, teenage expectations, and who I’d thought I would become. I got to know my surroundings: unfamiliarity dissolved as I discovered shortcuts and worked out where the streets joined up. I got in the car and drove about fifty kilometres to Australia’s second highest waterfall, singing along to mix CDs with the volume up loud, enjoying that the speed was measured in kilometres rather than miles so it looked like I was going faster than I would at home. I saw a peacock-like bird, and another bird that made noises that sounded like a spaceship, and I saw a dead kangaroo by the side of the road. And the sunsets were pretty epic in this part of the world, spreading dramatic colours across big skies that made it feel as if you were driving into a painting.

I heard these scrabbling sounds at night and I thought it was possums but then two nights before my departure I was going through a bottle of wine for no good reason (I woke up the following morning with the hangover of the soul and decided not to do that again) and I heard the noises coming from a cupboard. I opened it. “Oh, hi,” I said out loud, “you’re a really big rat.” For want of any better ideas I closed the cupboard again.

David Byrne’s voice got into my head every so often, that line from Once In A Lifetime: “And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?” I recalled the dramatic departure from Berlin almost a year ago, the hurt and the sadness and the bewilderment and the whole goddamn mess. And then all the countries between then and now, all the different experiences, and how unavoidably cliché it feels for the phrase “change in direction” to apply both literally and metaphorically. I thought about loneliness and how it’s ceased to be an issue, and how saying goodbye doesn’t faze me any more because I’m always moving on. I thought about the last time I had stayed in a place for a month or more: that was October, which meant I was getting two autumns in one year, in two different regions both known as New England. I counted how many places I’d slept in the last year: over sixty. Was that all? It didn’t really sound like that many to me, except it averages out to more than one a week which apparently is maybe a lot. I no longer make plans the way I used to; the only time anything is set in stone is when I book a ticket. I may be a year into this way of living but I don’t think I’m anywhere near done with it yet.