Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

“What would a less gendered world look like?”

Buzzfeed has a reputation for daft listicles, and deservedly so. But the traffic those listicles generates also pays for long form content like this personal and thought provoking essay by Shannon Keating.

It’s important to recognize when “sex” or “gender” doesn’t have anything to do with the matter at hand at all — that workplace harassment isn’t about sex, but about work; that panic over trans people in your restroom isn’t about sex or sexual predators, but who is allowed to exist in public space. Our task is figuring out when sex or gender do have to do with the matter at hand, what about gender we should be holding onto, and what gender might look like if we’re all empowered to determine where we belong for ourselves.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

“Oh, honey. Who do you think they’ll come for when they’re done with us?”

Photo from Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria via the GLBT Historical Society

I wrote a piece for Metro about the religious right’s wedge strategy to roll back equal rights legislation.

The religious right knows it lost the equal marriage battle. But it thinks it can win the war against LGBT equality and women’s rights by using trans people as a proxy.

Scratch an anti-trans bill, of which there are currently dozens, and you’ll usually find – surprise! – that it just happens to give bigots the right to discriminate against LGBT people of any description, and against women too. Some bills are specific to healthcare; others extend the permitted discrimination to housing, employment and adoption too.

For example, the legal protections for the “religious freedom” of healthcare workers recently announced by the Trump administration (and linked in the Metro piece) would protect the following:

  • Ambulance crews refusing to help trans people who’ve been in a car crash.
  • Nurses refusing to help women with post-abortion complications.
  • Clinics refusing fertility treatment to lesbians.
  • Pediatricians refusing to see kids who have two mums or dads.
  • Doctors refusing to see, let alone treat, anybody who’s LGBT.

This is mainly, but not exclusively, happening in the US. It’s becoming cause for concern in the UK too.

My article is part of LGBT history month, commemorating a history that often featured LGBT people of every stripe uniting against a common enemy. But that history also included some people trying to throw trans people under the very same bus they helped to start, and it’s something that’s become quite the talking point among newspaper comment trolls and right-wing gay men.

Writing in New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan says that the problem [of growing anti-LGBT sentiment] is “a reaction of many ordinary people to the excesses of the social-justice left”. Further LGBT equality is “a battle none of us need to fight. Especially after the real war was won.”

Oh, honey. Who do you think they’re going to come for when they’re done with us?

Categories
LGBTQ+

That’s not really funny

I was chatting with a comedian pal about comedy last night: we both went to see Chris Rock last week, and it turns out we’ve been to a lot of the same comedy shows over the years.

One of the things we talked about was Rock’s rage, where he’d take things out of the audience’s comfort zone: comedy as polemic, speaking truth to power. You’re uncomfortable because you should be uncomfortable. The comedian’s making you think about something too many of us don’t think about. Rock excels at that.

We also talked about Rock’s supports, two of whom made jokes about trans people. This is not unusual: it seems that every comedian has a couple of trans jokes at the moment. But while it isn’t unusual, its ubiquity is pretty tiring. It’s not much fun to have people like you as the butt of the joke at every gig you go to whether it’s a comedy club with 100 people or a hall with 10,000.

It’s tiring because it doesn’t just happen on stage. That particular day started with anti-trans hit pieces in a couple of national newspapers, and involved the usual toxic anti-trans crap on social media. To then have some extra trans stuff on a gig you’ve been looking forward to for ages brings out the Sinister Transgender Agenda, which is: give us a bloody break, will you?

I don’t have a problem with trans jokes. But I hate lazy stereotypes being sold as jokes. All too often, “Haha! Trans!” is the punchline.

Chris Rock’s first support, a man whose name I can’t remember, was a good example of that: he did a couple of throwaway trans jokes where trans was the punchline. Trans people may be topical but these jokes weren’t: one could have come from 1974, and another was about Caitlyn Jenner (who the comedian called Bruce throughout).

The second support, Michelle Wolf, was completely different. When she mentioned trans people in bathrooms I got the familiar sinking feeling, but she used it as the setup, not the punchline: she went into a routine about why it’s not trans women but overly nice men who scare her and then into eye-watering detail about bathrooms, bodily functions and how she deals with unwanted attention.

Still trans. Still topical. But funny. Really, really funny.

It’s the difference between Bernard Manning or Roy Chubby Brown and Frankie Boyle. They’re all incredibly offensive comedians, but Manning and Brown were/are also incredibly lazy comedians. They cater for the kind of people who find the word “poof”, “cunt” or “tranny” hilarious, and their comedy is little more than a ticketed version of drunken arseholes yelling at people in the street. Boyle’s offensive too, but he’s much cleverer and works much harder. In a typical set he’ll cover geopolitics, institutionalised racism, war crimes and how we’re trashing the planet. The offence is there to make these things funny.

Doug Stanhope is one of many comedians that wobbles between the boundary-breaking and the lazily abusive, I think. In a 2011 review, The Guardian’s comedy critic Brian Logan put it very well:

When his scorn and loathing is intelligently applied, he tears away the veil of socialised politesse, revealing the world at its atavistic, carnal purest. But these days, his hatred is often indiscriminately applied, and his intelligence less frequently engaged… Stanhope’s despairing idealism slumps into nihilism, while the many parties worthy of his furious, filthy comedy get off scot-free.

I think context and intent make all the difference. So it’s interesting to think about a comedian whose material didn’t really change but whose apparent intent did, and whose context definitely did: Jerry Sadowitz.

It turns out that my comedian pal and I had been to the same Jerry Sadowitz gigs in Glasgow several years ago. Sadowitz is famously unbroadcastable due to his really offensive act: not caring whether people are comfortable with what you say is a good way to become a pariah in broadcasting, and his truth-to-power routines about Jimmy Savile were not welcomed: people chose to believe in Savile, not Sadowitz.

You can understand why he might be bitter.

The first show we saw of his comeback after some years in the wilderness was phenomenal. Comedy gold. Most of it was horrific, unrepeatable but quite clearly a persona: if you thought he meant it, if you agreed with it, the joke was on you.

A year later we saw him again. Same venue, same horror, same offence. But word had spread, the venue was more full and the crowd was very different. The previous year it had been very student, left-wing, Guardian reading: the kind of people who also go to see Stewart Lee. This time out the crowd was older, more male, more angry. Where previously the laughs were gasps – did he really just say what I think he just said? – this time around people were cheering and shouting “fucking right!” at the very worst things Sadowitz was saying.

Sadowitz didn’t call them on it, or pull the rug from under them. It was one of the most unpleasant gigs I’ve ever experienced, and my comedy friend and the people he was at the show with felt the same. It felt like some kind of EDL benefit gig, not taboo-busting comedy. Neither of us have been to see Sadowitz since.

That wasn’t political correctness gone mad, and nobody’s saying Sadowitz should be censored (he’s playing the Glasgow Comedy Festival this year, if you’re interested). It’s just pointing out that context matters.

Sadowitz is an extreme example, of course. But context is still important.

Back to Chris Rock’s supports. Comedy gigs don’t happen in isolation; they’re part of the wider culture, and of course they’re only a part of your day. So the sinking feeling I get when a comedian makes a “Haha! Trans!” joke isn’t me desperate to take offence (I’m a parent too, and one of the other supports did a fantastically funny routine about dropping babies, quite possibly one of the most offensive subjects imaginable. I howled). It’s because I started my day seeing anti-trans pieces in the newspapers. I spent my day seeing various anti-trans things on social media. And I see anti-trans cartoons in magazines I used to look forward to reading.

Individually these things are minor, but they’re minor in the way Chinese Water Torture is minor. It’s not the drips. It’s that they don’t bloody stop.

Just after Christmas I wrote a letter to Private Eye, a magazine I’ve loved since my teens and subscribed to since my twenties. I’d been meaning to do it for some weeks because it was contributing to the drip, drip, drip: it seemed that every issue there’d be a cartoon, satirical piece or both where the punchline was effectively “Haha! Trans!” It’s not a surprise – the Eye has a giggling public schoolboy persona, and gay/bi jokes sneak in from time to time too – but I think it’s lazy. So I wrote to suggest that being on the same side as Richard Littlejohn, who called trans people “dimbos in dresses” this week, wasn’t a good look and – to use the same lazy punchline many of the pieces had used – I “identified as” disappointed.

I got a reply in the following issue from an angry, self-declared “tranny” – a word most trans people don’t like, let alone use, because it’s usually yelled or tweeted by bigots – who thought I was a hypocrite demanding censorship of a cartoon she thought was quite funny. My letter hadn’t mentioned any specific cartoon (and wasn’t about the one she mentioned) and her reply completely missed the point.

My point is pretty simple: it isn’t 1971 any more.

I’m picking 1971 for a good reason: it’s when the infamous UK comedy programme The Comedians was first broadcast. The series ran until 1985 and simply wouldn’t be broadcast today: very many of the jokes were racist, misogynist or homophobic. And that’s an understatement.

Lenny Henry recalls one of the regular guests, black comedian Charlie Williams:

“Charlie told a lot of ‘darkie jokes’. ‘I’ve been left in the oven too long’ or ‘I’m perspiring a lot, I’m leaking chocolate’ – which were very stupid and very immature. I remember doing a show in Hull and a guy shouting out ‘Oi! You’ve got to do jokes like Charlie Williams. That’s the kind of thing we expect from black comedians up here’. “I would go to see Charlie pulling the house down doing stuff about ‘darkies’ and I thought ‘this is obviously what you’ve got to do if it’s a predominantly white audience – you’ve got to put yourself, and other people, down’.”

Another star of the programme, the aforementioned Bernard Manning, was a self-confessed racist whose material largely involved lazy stereotypes of black, asian and gay people and who repeatedly used words most of us won’t even print today.

1971 is relevant to taboo-busting comedy in another way: while Manning and his pals were peddling racism and Charlie Williams was playing along, on the other side of the Atlantic one of comedy’s genuine boundary-breakers, Richard Pryor, was beginning to move from cosy, family-friendly fare to something much more important and for many audiences, frightening and offensive.

Comparing Pryor to Manning is like comparing diamonds to dogshit (white dogshit, naturally. It was the 70s).

I’m not asking to censor anything. I haven’t cancelled any subscriptions, and I haven’t stopped or considered stopping going to comedy shows. I’m just asking comedians, whether they’re stand-ups or cartoonists or satirists, to consider the wider context of the joke.

Are they comedians, or The Comedians?

Categories
LGBTQ+ Uncategorised

Fight the power

There’s been a fascinating spat between Irish feminists and anti-trans English people over the last few days: noticing that the secretive A Woman’s Place speaking tour was coming to Ireland, the Irish feminists promptly wrote an open letter telling the group to sod off:

We can see from your social media posts about your tour and its contents, that your opposition to the GRA is based on the idea that feminist organising and women’s rights will somehow be harmed through trans inclusivity and organising with our trans sisters. We know this is not true.

The response has been predictably awful, with really abusive posts on social media, jokes about the Potato Famine and other unpleasantness. And while a few people have taken the bait and responded in kind, most of the response to the unpleasantness has been thoughtful, measured and fair minded.

This twitter thread, by Aiofe aka @flyingteacosy, is superb. And so is this one  by Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin, aka @dirtycitybird.

In the first thread, Aiofe talks about the difference between “power over” and “power with” or “power through”:

Power OVER is brittle. It’s the power of divide-and-conquer. The power that is all about ME: my control over you. It about what I can force you to do. It’s the power of patriarchy, class, white supremacy. It’s also the power of the coloniser… [it’s based on the myth of scarcity]…

If the only power you know is power-over, then all you can do is try to get as big a slice of the pie as you possibly can. And then hold onto it with all you’ve got. That’s why it’s so damn brittle: all it wants is to perpetuate itself… You want power-over? You build walls. Kick out everyone who doesn’t belong. Take the pie. Hoard the forks, cause you’re terrified of being the hungry one.

That’s where we come to “power with” or “power through”. Instead of focusing on power OVER you to get what I want, this means: power to create, THROUGH the relationships we build and work we do together.

“Power through” is creative. It’s not about me over you, so your ideas don’t threaten me: they inspire me. It’s adaptable: we can support one another and lift one another up, ’cause we aren’t threatened by one another. And it’s EFFECTIVE.

And in the second thread, Ní Fhlannagáin (I hope I’m using the surname correctly here – if not please tell me!) makes some important points about engaging with people who fundamentally disagree with you and why it isn’t helpful to get angry, no matter how justified.

if all folks are getting on the one side is poison dripped in their ears *someone* has to do the hard education work…

there are people doing the dialog work and anything we say that makes that work more difficult hurts us all in the end. And yeah. We’re not gonna be perfect at that. I’m certainly not. But we can be better at it.

Categories
LGBTQ+

Ask me anything

I’ve been chatting with Common Space editor and Sunday Herald columnist Angela Haggerty about a recent barney in Scottish political twitter: some of it has descended into a trans/anti-trans argument where everybody’s shouting at everybody else and nobody’s listening to anybody. As she wrote on Twitter, wishing people would “please stop ripping each other apart”:

Asking questions, even stupid ones, doesn’t make a person transphobic.

She’s absolutely right, of course. But unfortunately “just asking questions”, or JAQing off as it’s also known, is a known tactic of arseholes such as Glenn Beck and the alt-right. As a result, some trans people / trans allies see a trans-related argument, assume that that’s what they’re seeing and go in with all guns blazing.

As RationalWiki explains:

Just asking questions (also known as JAQ-ing off) is a way of attempting to make wild accusations acceptable (and hopefully not legally actionable) by framing them as questions rather than statements. It shifts the burden of proof to one’s opponent — rather than laboriously having to prove that all politicians are reptoid scum, one can pull out one single odd piece of evidence and force the opponent to explain why the evidence is wrong.

The tactic is closely related to loaded questions or leading questions (which are usually employed when using it), Gish Gallops (when asking a huge number of rapid-fire questions without regard for the answers) and Argumentum ad nauseam (when asking the same question over and over in an attempt to overwhelm refutations).

These tactics are all used repeatedly by anti-feminist trolls, far-right trolls and anti-LGBT trolls too.

The sheer volume of it means that more often than not, when people are just asking questions of feminists, of activists or of ordinary LGBT people they aren’t doing it out of curiosity. The questions are statements disguised as questions, moves in a game that’s been planned and played a thousand times, key words and phrases repeated again and again.

It usually goes a bit like this:

Troll: Why are you silencing women?
Trans person: Er, we’re not. Actually it’s trans people who are be–
Troll: Why do you support women being murdered?
Trans person: Eh? I don–
Troll: Why do you hate women so much?

It’s frustrating and infuriating, not least because if you get wound up by the aggressive idiocy of it all and respond angrily you’re the one who comes across as an unreasonable hothead.

And equally frustrating and infuriating, it can mean you interpret a genuine question as something with malign intent, coming across once again as an unreasonable hothead and this time losing a potential ally.

Maybe the answer is to realise that when the trolls move in, the opportunity to make any kind of sense has already moved on. As Haggerty suggested to me:

Ignore the trolls and bigots, make the positive points, don’t get pulled into arguments, build relationships with people who show a willingness to listen. That’s leading by example and can have a strong impact.

It’s good advice. I have no time for trolls, I mute the JAQ lot on Twitter and I’ve come to realise that arguing however nicely with bigots is the proverbial pig wrestling: you just get dirty and the pig likes it.

But over the last couple of weeks I’ve also had several conversations with people who don’t know much about trans stuff, who knew about trans men but not trans women, who had questions about name changes etc… all of them just asking questions, but genuine questions. Those conversations were interesting, educational (for me!) and often really, really funny.

If you’re a genuine person with genuine questions you can ask me anything about anything. Especially if you buy me a drink first.

Categories
Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+

“Our shared progress toward a more equal society has depended on people standing together”

The Green MSP Patrick Harvie has always struck me as a good man. He was namechecked in an anti-trans piece in Scots newspaper The National yesterday, a piece that dragged up the usual “trans people are silencing women” bullshit and accused Harvie of not listening to women.

Harvie responded on the Scottish Greens website. It’s worth reading in full, but here’s an extract:

Many national media outlets carry relentlessly hostile coverage, turning the argument for human rights and basic respect into a “culture war” to divide people from one another. That tactic has been used to oppose all forms of equality, time and again down the generations. Progress has been made by people standing together, supporting each other and refusing to accept that your equality or human rights are incompatible with mine.

…Or we can do exactly what the opponents of equality always want us to do by trading my rights off against yours, yours against hers, his against theirs. If we do that, we will all lose.

Meanwhile in America, President Trump proved Harvie’s point when his administration announced protection for religious people who don’t want to give healthcare to trans people.

That’s any kind of care: plasters for cuts, painkillers for headaches, saving your life after a car crash.

And it’s not just trans people. That was just the headline. The bill is also about protecting people who don’t want to give healthcare to gay people, to lesbians, to people who’ve had abortions, or to anybody else they disapprove of for any other reason. In Kentucky it’s been suggested that similar “religious freedom” legislation will also enable discrimination against interracial couples.

NPR gives examples of recent religious exemption claims:

a nurse who didn’t want to provide post-operative care to a woman who had an abortion, a pediatrician who declined to see a child because his parents were lesbians and a fertility doctor who didn’t want to provide services to a lesbian couple.

At the press conference to announce the changes, acting Department of Health and Human Services secretary Eric Hargan compared what I’d call religious extremists’ hateful bigotry to the Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust and Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights.

Categories
LGBTQ+

On liking women

I know, I know, another trans post. But this is really funny and packs a pretty hefty emotional punch at the end. 

Some people reading it won’t agree at all, but it really resonated with me.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

The silence of the trans

It’s not easy being trans. Not only do you have to deal with the various unpleasantnesses that being visibly different entails, but you have to balance the demands of everyday life with constantly, viciously silencing people who want to have a debate about whether you exist, whether you’re sick or thick or whether it’s ok to discriminate against you because you’re weird and icky and stuff.

Take poor Katie Hopkins. Silenced, with nobody but her 832,612 Twitter followers, readers of her forthcoming book and readers of her new right-wing blog to listen to her thoughts on trans people.

Have some sympathy for Janice Turner, whose Times columns about trans people only reach 1,835,000 print readers, 80,000 digital subscribers and the paper’s 1,069,719 Twitter followers on Sundays.

Imagine the pain of running Scots indy blog Wings Over Scotland, where your feelings on Trans issues can only be shared with 300,000 unique monthly visitors, your site’s 53,871 Twitter fans and your personal account’s 6,513 followers.

Feel the pain of Jenni Murray, who can only talk about trans people to 3.69 million BBC radio listeners and 40,200 people on Twitter.

Imagine the heartbreak of Julie Bindel, unable to talk about trans people except for on her book tour, in Guardian articles (153,163 print readers and 22.7 million online), in BBC TV and radio appearances that reach millions and to her 19,000 social media followers.

Try to empathise with poor Piers Morgan, who can only be unpleasant about trans people to his 6,301,837 Twitter followers, the 819,000 people who watch him on Good Morning Britain and the programme’s 413,446 followers, and the couple of million people who watch his Life Stories programmes.

Or try to imagine how it must feel to be Sanchez Manning, writing pieces for the Mail on Sunday that might only be read by 1,248,194 people in print and just 29 million more online.

The next time somebody with a six, seven or even eight-figure readership tells you yet again that sinister trans people are silencing legitimate debate and supports it by showing you a Twitter activist with 327 followers, you might find yourself asking a pretty simple question.

Who’s silencing whom?

(All reader/listener figures from sites’ own advertising packs or reliably sourced news stories)

Categories
Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Don’t take nice to a gun fight

I enjoyed this piece by Lindsay King-Miller in Rolereboot.org.

In You Can’t Kill Racism with Kindness, King-Miller writes: 

“My goal is not to create a country where everyone tolerates each other, agrees to disagree, and goes about their business. I cannot agree to disagree on whether poor people deserve medical care, whether black people deserve safety from police brutality, whether my queer family deserves equal legal protections.

These are matters of right and wrong, not questions of opinion.”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot given the recent moral panics over LGBT* people and trans people in particular: I’ve been very loath to call people exhibiting bigoted behaviour or espousing bigoted views as bigots, because that’s not nice. But I’m doing so as not to harm the feelings of people who are actively trying to stir up hatred against particular minorities.

King-Miller again:

“Calling a racist a racist might make him sad, but it doesn’t oppress him in any way.”

When I posted the link on a forum I hang out in, another poster quoted French feminist writer Christiane Rochefort’s comment that oppressors don’t realise you have a grievance until you pull out the knives. I’m in a less militant mood so I’ll talk about Karl Popper instead.

In 1945, Popper described very well what has been happening with far-right arseholes on Twitter and what’s happening in certain sections of the UK media right now. He called it the “paradox of tolerance”.

The paradox of tolerance is what happens when you tolerate the intolerable: neo-nazis, for example, or bigots.

“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant,” Popper wrote, “if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

He wasn’t arguing that we silenced the intolerant, however, provided that “we can  counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion”. However, “we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.”

This is inevitably caught up with the issue of free speech, which some people seem determined to misunderstand. Free speech says that nobody can stop you from having particular views. But it doesn’t say that you have a right to have a platform for those views.

You can make a painting that’s really anti-semitic but you don’t have the right to have the Louvre replace The Mona Lisa with it.

You can write a book about how lesbians are just awful but you can’t force Diva magazine to review it.

You can write a song about how you really hate working class black people but you can’t force Stormzy to cover it.

And so on.

This is where the controversial topic of no-platforming comes from. No-platforming started off as an anti-fascist tactic, with universities refusing to give a platform to the likes of the National Front and the BNP. We can’t stop you being big old racists, the students said. But we can stop you from being big old racists here.

In an ironic twist, some vocal former no-platformers such as feminist writer Julie Bindel now face no-platforming themselves, from the same kind of angry students that used to no-platform the NF and the BNP. I say “same kind” but thanks to tuition fees the students are also paying customers now, with expectations of what their money should and shouldn’t be spent on. Some of those students, the trans ones and their allies, don’t think it should be spent on giving people who say awful things a platform to promote their book or raise their media profile at the expense of other, more vulnerable people.

We can’t stop you saying awful things, the students are saying. But we can stop you from saying awful things here.

It’s not silencing people. As if. The people being no-platformed reach a collective audience of many millions through national newspapers, BBC TV and radio and social media. Some, like Katie Hopkins, seem unaware of the irony in campaigning against our supposed tolerance for hate speech and then whingeing when people try to no-platform them. As she said on her LBC radio programme:

“Why do we pride ourselves in being a tolerant country when being tolerant seems to mean that we give these individuals free reign to say what they like?

Hopkins’ bosses at LBC clearly agreed, and when she posted a tweet suggesting a “Final Solution” against muslims she lost that particular platform (although it’s sad that the end of her Daily Mail career wasn’t because she called foreigners cockroaches and other repellent things; it’s that her losing-libel-cases habit was too expensive for the paper to stomach. Like a cockroach, she’ll be back).

There’s a great XKCD comic about this very thing.

XKCD free speech

It’s not silencing. It’s just saying not here.

I’m okay if that hurts some bigots’ feelings.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Music

“I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am something that you’ll never understand”

Dig, if you will, the picture. It’s 1987. You’re fifteen, trans — although you don’t know that’s what it’s called yet — and you live in Scotland, home of anodyne pop singers such as Sheena Easton.

You turn on the TV, and there’s bona fide musical genius Prince. And there’s… Sheena Easton?

But it’s Sheena Easton as you’ve never seen her before. Her face was, as Prince put it, jammin’. Her body was, as he also put it, heck a-slammin’. Ever coy, Prince suggested they should get together for some, ahem, rammin’.

 

I’m scared to rewatch it in case time hasn’t been kind, but I remember it as one of the most astonishingly sexual pop videos to make it onto prime time TV. It sounded astonishingly sexual too, the grinding, stabbing synths and distorted guitar blending in a way I can’t describe without sounding like a pretentious arse.

Not only that, but there was role reversal too. Prince was going through his androgynous Camille phase, and in U Got The Look it was clear that he was (at least role-playing as) submissive with Easton very much in charge. And when Easton hit the ecstatic high note of “bay-behhhhhhhh!”…

Oh. My. God.

Feminine man with gorgeous woman? The bit of my brain responsible for identity and sexuality must have looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise when under alien attack.

I don’t know if Prince was trans, although he famously sang “I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand” and wrote the astonishingly beautiful “If I was your girlfriend” — a song where he fantasises not about getting close to her for some “rammin’”,  but washing her hair and just hanging out. Obviously it’s Prince so he does end up naked by the end, but it doesn’t come across as predatory or macho. It’s sexy as hell.

Trans or not, Prince was an extraordinarily feminine man. As his own song put it, he was a sexy MF — and he was a sexy MF in a period where that was very weird indeed.

Writing in Fusion magazine, director Dodai Stewart writes⁠1:

The year is 1980. Many states still have sodomy laws. The radio is playing feel-good ear candy like Captain and Tennille and KC and the Sunshine Band. TV hits include the sunny, toothy blond shows Three’s Company and Happy Days. There’s no real word for “gender non-conforming.” But here’s what you see: A man. Clearly a man. Hairy, mostly naked body, cock bulging beneath a satiny bikini bottom. But those eyes. Rimmed in black, like a fantasy belly dancer. The full, pouty lips of a pin-up girl. Long hair. A tiny, svelte thing. Ethnically ambiguous, radiating lust. What is this? A man. Clearly a man. No. Not just a man. A Prince.

[On MTV] A man. Clearly a man. A black man. Slight of stature, narrow of hip. Rising to global popularity in the 1980s, at the same time as another major American export: Hip-hop. A genre in which many black male artists releasing music on shelves alongside Prince’s albums—Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Ice Cube—projected an urban toughness. Leather jackets thick as armor, heavy gold chains, bold aggression. But Prince was a flirtatious, peacock pastiche made of diamonds and pearls, a dandy in paisley and lace. Some rappers’ personas aligned with the age-old oversexed, “primitive,” mandingo stereotype invented by white slaveowners. Prince defied stereotypes, period.

…Black men don’t wear makeup. Straight black men don’t wear makeup. And women aren’t attracted to a straight black man in makeup. But he did. They were.

Oh, Prince. You sexy motherfucker.

 

Some of Prince’s femininity was for shock value — the trenchcoat, stockings and heels of his early career were primarily about pissing off the prudes, something Prince took great delight in doing: his “Darling Nikki”, in which he described the eponymous Nikki as a “sex fiend… in a hotel lobby, masturbating with a magazine”, prompted the wife of a US Senator to create the Parents Music Resource Center, whose “Parental Advisory” stickers would appear on records until people no longer made records; more importantly, it’s a hilarious, cheeky, sexy and wonderful piece of perfect pop music — and his heels were handy for a man who was famously petite.

 

Nevertheless, Prince blurred gender roles, preached sexual freedom (let’s skip over the opposition to gay marriage after he became a Jehovah’s Witness) and nurtured the careers of many extraordinarily talented women. All that and writing Nothing Compares 2 U for Sinead O’Connor.

I never saw him live — bastard touts robbed me of that opportunity when he played Glasgow in 2014 — and regret that deeply.

When he died aged just 57, it felt like the universe had lost a colour.

Guys? Be more like Prince.

1 https://splinternews.com/on-prince-blackness-and-sexuality-1793856349