The Nest (2021)

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The Nest is a film I’ve been excited about watching for a while. It’s directed by Sean Durkin, whose arthouse movie Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), about a girl having escaped from and trying to recover from immersion in a cult, effectively helped launch the career of the mesmerizing Elizabeth Olson and is one of my favourite indies. The Nest is a slicker, bigger budget affair but the psychological menace reappears in its own distinct way. Instead of the claustrophobia of a cult cut up into non-linear reflections and refractions as in Martha Macy May Marlene, we have a trans-Atlantic crossing from an idyllic U.S. setting into a Gothic fairytale. The film transposes us and the family in the film to a mansion in a brooding English countryside, and its fragmentary, isolating impact operates to the destabilizing backdrop of the late 1980s of the Thatcher-Reagan years. Capitalism and heteronormativity intertwine to strangle a seemingly happy family: the husband Rory, played by Jude Law, is increasingly revealed as a bullshitter and a bluffer whose self-esteem comes from being the ostentatious provider for his family; the wife Allison, played brilliantly by Carrie Coon, provides the Female Gaze and participative witness trying to keep it together as things begin to fall apart. The strains of violins increasingly signify a family pushed to breaking point, but also the illusory quality of a marriage exposed for its transactional nature, in a Thatcherite world where transactions are rarely to be trusted.

I took the atmospheric, cracked mirror vibe with me when I left the cinema. Stepping out into warm sunshine, I craved the shaded sanctuary of my home and wanted no one to look at me: I can’t remember ever feeling such dysphoria after a film before. I’ve missed visiting the cinema these past few years, I realize, with much of my transitioning previouslyt taking place in dark auditoriums while I fixed vampire-like on flows of empathy to help make sense of my upheaval. Yet watching a film by an indie director is also a dangerous game, it seems, when you’re empathizing with the perpetrators and victims of a sham social order, and I left their world to one that hardly seems more stable.

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Graduation 2021

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 The idea of life as a transit point has never felt more relevant. I attended my PhD graduation at Edinburgh Castle with my partner in crime, Valentina, last week (see picture, on our front lawn before the taxi arrives to sweep us off to the ball). You probably can’t tell from the photograph but the dress I’m wearing is so tightly bound to my body that on trying to remove it one time in London as I attempted to go to bed in my hotel room, I nearly died of suffocation. I’m glad it didn’t happen last weekend too, after getting a PhD and then walking through the streets of Edinburgh with dreams of a glittering career, it would have been quite the anti-climax to that career. I imagine the gravestone: Dr Gina Gwenffrewi: died of auto-asphyxiation while getting stuck in versatile officewear.

They say the PhD is an achievement, but there’s always the immediate aftermath of finding the job that fits your new skill-set and qualifications. You’re more than you were, but also, materially, just the same as before, which in my case can be characterized by the words 'temporary contract,' 'minimum wage,' and 'Amazon.' That gap can lead to sleepless nights, and I'm not talking about the nightshift work I recently ended at Amazon. I was thinking today about how I once thought coming out as trans would make me happy. But I realize now that coming out was just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle in which happiness is about being the best version of yourself. Will the transitioning never end?

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Paris Lees: What it feels like for a girl

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What it feels like for a girl by Paris Lees

UK: Penguin Random House, 2021

Trans memoirs today are a world away from the 20th century genre that gave us the Born In The Wrong Body narrative and a conforming middle-class, middle-aged respectability, shorn of incriminating evidence to the contrary. Let’s not be too judgemental: while today, there is transphobia, back then there wasn’t even a trans movement in the UK to attract the phobia. Isolated, bewildered and afraid, the trans people of the past appear to have made their way past medical pathologies, shaming families and freak-show news coverage to attain the Holy Grail of a bearable existence while the famous few pleaded their normality (though of some of these things, I’m uncertain how much has really changed).

Today, though, we have trans media figures who write reflections with humour, sassiness, and a discernibly greater candour, partly because they can afford to. With Paris Lees’s memoir What it feels like for a girl (2021), the writing is, in addition, exuberantly the hallmark of a wonderful writer taking risks. This is partly with the deft handling of the dark subject matter, including in relation to the violence she encounters and the sex, drugs, and disco life that increasingly gives her an escape during adolescence from hometown homogeneity and drudgery. Yet the risk-taking is also shaped by an authorial voice in a regional, Hucknell (or ‘ucknell’) accent that makes the text a gritty, funny, unsentimental trans-genre story, blurring bio with Irvine Welsh storytelling at its best. Seemingly toying with a readership that might expect transness to explicitly be at the heart of everything, Lees personalizes her story away from such a convention as well as the current media’s misconceived idea of some urban ‘gender ideology.’ Reminiscent especially of Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness (2014), What it feels like for a girl captures in flecks of colour the original nebulous feeling of Otherness of a young trans person in an economically impoverished suburbia. Like Mock, Lees becomes aware of her transness not by ideology but through instinct and a gravitation to those who will understand. As with Mock’s testimony, Lees reveals how being trans is first and foremost an awkward, individual awakening over many years, even as it reflects the surrounding environment. But because of its uniqueness, Lees’s account, like Mock’s, is also distinctly her own.

The opening sets the tone for this approach, the author referring to her former name and namesake, the Romantic poet Byron who apparently comes from the area:

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An androgynous orgasm: Fashion Beast by Alan Moore

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An androgynous orgasm: Fashion Beast by Alan Moore The images of this story become like memories of another life, maybe what's to come, Gina making do in a fascist state and looking good in spite of everything, a version of me, a cosmic cousin. Like the time I wrote about Cloud City in a film from my childhood, the cosmos conjures certain plac...
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Retreating from gender-critical feminism: my reflections

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Retreating from gender-critical feminism: my reflections Some months back, I reached out to the people who were meant to be my enemies: gender-critical feminists. I was worn down and had had enough of the media attacks and the hate, the JK Rowling furore and GRA reform, the weekly articles questioning our intentions and validity. I was worn down by...
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On being a trans woman in Scotland in 2021

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On being a trans woman in Scotland in 2021 In the onslaught of negative visibility that is now par for the course for the modern trans woman in Scotland, I watch floating before me in my Twitter stream, the The Times' latest attack pieces on the highly respected Mridul Wadhwa (19 May 2021). I've met Mridul once and she was lovely, a figure of ...
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When Renata Carvalho spoke at Edinburgh Transgender Intersectional/International (2019)

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In 2019, I was part of a conference that invited the travesti actress and activist Renata Carvalho - star of Jo Clifford's 'The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven' on its touring production in Brazil - to come over from Brazil as our keynote speaker. We originally uploaded the speech on our conference website, but with that w...
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Lacanian Icarus: when Gina flew too close to the sun?

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On the recent experience of nearly being no-platformed There are two identities in one when it comes to being part of a disempowered minority. The first is for yourself: all your failings, your insecurities, your doubts, and connected to this, your curiosity and quirks. Let's be Lacanian analysts for a moment: what we're talking about is the transg...
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Trans Hell-thcare

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The picture accompanying this post is important to me. I took it yesterday, 16 November 2020, unsure what I'd find. It's been nearly eleven months since I came off oestrogen for reasons I'll get into in a moment. Undoubtedly this has had an effect on me, bodily and therefore psychologically, but the accompanying selfie gives me a reassura...
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Silenced by The Scotsman

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On 11 June 2020, The Scotsman published a deeply hostile article against transgender rights and activism in an opinion piece about the JK Rowling furore by its deputy political editor Gina Davidson. After much distress, I wrote a counter article which The Scotsman quietly ignored, after they had offered to pass it on to their Comment Editor. I expe...
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The Book of Queer Prophets, curated by Ruth Hunt

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 The Book of Queer Prophets: 24 Writers on Sexuality and Religion The historically fraught relationship between Abrahamic religions and LGBT+ identities provides the backdrop to The Book of Queer Prophets, a collection of twenty-four meditations by public figures who identify as both religious and LGBT+. The book's curator, the forme...
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Queer/Transgender short film: Mesmeralda

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Joshua Matteo's short film, Mesmeralda, merging horror with esoterica, is now out on youtube. As with his previous work Metanoia, we see youthful trans actors racing through the empty streets of a moonlit New York, haunted by symbols and stalked by a masked figure of violent intentions. Mesmeralda, as described by Matteo, is the companion piec...
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My 2020 Vision

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My 2020 Vision I've been away for so long from these postings, don't be offended. I used to write three times a week, because I needed to, in the maelstrom of early transitioning. Now, things are calmer, my gender feels more normal, we've reached the point where it's all about finishing my PhD in Trans Female Representations in the Americas this su...
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Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare

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Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare Summer, 2016: Gina's Big Bang, as transitioning begins A bureaucratic question in a sun-lit room. My medical practitioner asks me if I intend to have children. The question lingers, but the self-loathing is instant. No, I won't be having children. The practitioner nods. She moves on to the n...
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General Election

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General Election 12 December 2019 I spent the last election in an office, alone but for the company of a colleague. We watched the BBC's coverage while I drank wine, downbeat and expecting austerity and the absence of hope to triumph. Then we saw the exit poll and hung around, disbelieving at the sight of the kindled embers and lukewarm glow of a f...
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Joker

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Joker The trailer did its work, flashing images of anomie and fury perfectly pitched for these unstable times of precarious working conditions, grievance and institutional indifference. For these same reasons, Joker, directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist, has attracted pre-release criticisms like few other recent...
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Resisting Whiteness event 2019

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Resisting Whiteness one-day event, Edinburgh Returning for the second consecutive year, Resisting Whiteness came yesterday to the Pleasance Theatre in Edinburgh, providing an intense and inspiring series of panels, as well as a wonderful spoken word section, and a final segment based around the documentary short Invisible by internationally-acclaim...
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Hearty by Emma Frankland

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Hearty by Emma Frankland Raw and dripping with punk aesthetic, this one-woman-show's one-woman emerges in ripped tights and a T-shirt that paraphrases loudly the words of anti-trans theorist Germaine Greer: Lop Your Dick Off. My first impression of Emma Frankland is edgily uncertain and in awe, her Lady-Gaga-looks combined with Heath Ledger's mesme...
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Pronoun, Pass, & Amnesty International

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Transgender drama: Pronoun To be clear at the outset, this was the production of a youth theatre group, not a highly resourced team of experienced, professional career actors – although some of the performances left a powerful impression, and the show as a whole achieved some remarkable moments. Pronoun, written by Evan Placey, follows the transiti...
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Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem

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Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem It starts with a heartbeat, the dancer-directors Lizzie and Ayden in slow-motion entry, setting the scene of a nightclub featuring two young transgender bodies who are in fact multiple. Sound Cistem is theatrical dance set to a series of pulsing, dance-floor rhythms and the voices of several trans interviewees projec...
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