Tag Archives: australia

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.

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.

Some people I met as I arrived in places

Kuala Lumpur
The man sitting next to me on the bus from the airport was thirsty and struggling with the heat. I took a sip from my bottle of water and then told him he could have the rest. I was going through my coin bag of foreign currency, digging out ringgit, and he made me a little origami shirt from a Maldivian banknote that depicted a fishing scene. In the spirit of cultural exchange, I gave him an Iraqi note which he refused at first, reasoning that 1000 dinar must be worth too much, but I explained that it was equivalent to about a dollar and anyway I didn’t anticipate many money-changers taking an interest in it.

He seemed kind and jolly, but he had a sad smile. I thought he said that his wife had died, but I wasn’t sure, and I felt too awkward to press for more details. I do this thing too often where I act like I understand everything that’s been said when actually I don’t.

I’d spent the night in the 24-hour restaurant in Colombo airport, trying to doze through muzak renditions of Danny Boy, the staff nodding off on the sofas next to me. The subsequent flight had passed by in a confused blur. I think I broke with tradition and slept a little.

A million encounters with friendly men had taught me to proceed with caution, no matter how nice and agenda-free they seemed. I engaged with the man from the Maldives, I enjoyed talking to him, but I did not give him my contact details. He said if I ever go to the Maldives I should get in touch. I accepted his e-mail address. I don’t know if I can still find it.

Wellington
My flight got in around midnight. The immigration officer asked me to name the people I’d visited in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, and then I collected my rucksack and walked out into the rain. Contrary to the claims of the guidebook I’d browsed in Brisbane, there was no bus, because it was Easter or something. I’d arrived in New Zealand on a visa run, because otherwise I would wind up overstaying my welcome in Australia. And I also kind of needed to just move on somewhere, because Australia Phase One had been defined by all this bullshit going on in my head that I didn’t really need, lots of feeling mopey and anti-social and out of place.

I shared a taxi into the centre of town with two Norwegians; one of them was studying in Sydney and the other was visiting him, and they were going to rent a van and drive around New Zealand and do things like camping and hiking. They asked about my travels, and “Iraq!” echoed through the cab, making me feel kind of like a phony but on the other hand I was only performing the requested recital. Maybe I should just save Iraq as a trump card for when I find myself in the company of oneupmanship travellers: the ones whose chat is all “Where have you been to? Oh, while you were there did you do this interesting thing and that interesting thing? Did you go to this really obscure part that I’ve been to? No?” and then they tell you all about their superior experiences because yours are never good enough.

The Norwegians seemed pretty nice and I almost wanted to ask if I could hitch a ride in their van, but I didn’t want to impose. Anyway I seemed to be on a roll here, being all interesting and independent and stuff, and part of me was kind of amazed at how quickly I sounded like I had my shit together, after spending the past few weeks with the words What The Hell Am I Doing ricocheting around my head. We pulled up outside my accommodation for the next few nights, which was a radical social centre covered in murals, and I said goodbye to the boys and got out all happy and confident, to be greeted by tea and cake by activists who’d stayed up waiting for me. Maybe the encounter with the Norwegians slightly influenced the idea I had the whole time I was in Wellington that it was kind of like Norway; somehow my arrival and the rain that barely stopped and the hills and the harbour and the wooden houses reminded me of Bergen, and hey, it was cold enough.

Melbourne
The white German boy with the dreads had been sitting in the row behind me on the flight from Wellington to Melbourne. As we started to disembark he leaned across and asked me about my Užupio Respublika badge. He’d been in New Zealand for the best part of a year and now he had arrived in Australia without a place to stay for the night. I regretted that I was unable to help him, but there was something about him I didn’t entirely take to. All the same, he suggested we go for a drink and I figured why the hell not – I had time to kill and we were both travellers.

This is the updated version of the many times I’ve thought “hey, you look like a punk, we must have stuff in common! Oh, wait, we totally don’t.”

“Yeah, I was travelling with a friend of mine,” he said as we waited for the airport bus, “but I’m not gay, so living in a camper van with another guy for three months was too much.”

I didn’t know how to respond to this.

“These guys I worked with invited me to Vanuatu,” he said as the bus moved off. “They’re black guys, but they’re nice.”

I thought about whether he might have said this to me if I hadn’t been white. I thought about the white Canadian neighbour about ten years ago who told me she was moving in with some black South Africans and then offered, “They’re awfully nice, you know, Nine, some of them. The blacks, I mean.” I wondered if there was something about my presentation that made people feel the need to explain things like this to me. I wondered if the German boy had considered that I might not be straight.

Instead of going for a drink with him, I packed him off on a bus to St Kilda, confident he’d find a suitable backpackers’ hostel there. I took a train to my friends’ place out in Northcote and sat on the steps outside their place, reading zines and The Day The Raids Came for a couple of hours until Alex came home and plied me with wine.