Edinburgh was amazingararagh. Here’s a summary and, for those who came to my show, the results . . .

I’ve had an amazing couple of weeks. I don’t really know how to articulate it – incredible shows, energy, activity . . . the last couple of years I’ve gone to the Fringe and done guest spots, but to actually be involved, with a show of my own, even if only for a week, was fantastic. It made me feel involved in the buzz of everything that was going on – late night cabarets, afternoon comedy, heart wrenching shows at 10 30 in the morning (Daffodils at Traverse, I nearly wept) . . .

 

and people came to see my show! And they liked it and said nice things! And left money! All of which was incredible.

From a room full of thirty to an audience of three friends, I’ve learned so much about how to perform in differing contexts, how to alter, adjust and stay fresh (and in the case of the day my entire family came, a crash course in how not to corpse at my own jokes every time I caught my little sister’s eye). Above all, I’ve felt part of something hugely bigger than myself. I like that feeling.

 

Arriving back in Newcastle yesterday, it felt like I’d been away for months, in a nice way. It felt like I’ve been on constant fast-mode for a month and now I’m trying to come down slowly from that and turn the energy into doing a bit of work on my other show Sticking, rather than crashing completely.

Getting back to find that Neal Pike, a good friend and cracking poet, had sent me his debut book ‘Identity Bike Ride’ helped, as did seeing my housemate again, and the completion of his cosy cultural appropriation corner – we have floor cushions now. I was dubious at first, but actually they’re lovely.

 

I’m itching to perform and write again – I’m heading back up to the Fringe today for a couple extra nights, to see my boyfriend and a few more shows (should help with the not crashing thing . . .) But I’m champing for next year and, hopefully, a full month’s run of a show with PBH Free Fringe.

Performing my own show at Edinburgh’s kinda made me re-understand that I’m doing what I want to do – writing and performing. And I’m looking forward to the next thing and the next thing, trying not to lose the momentum. As someone terrified of feeling like I’m on any sort of conveyor belt, this feeling of almost-contentment with the course of where things are going is a nice break from worrying constantly about what I’m doing, to have reminder that I love this line of work.

 

There are definitely things I learned from this run. Here are some of them, in case they’re helpful to anyone.

  • Book the gig, then write the show. For me, it wouldn’t have ever been written otherwise. I do tend to get off on almost debilitating last minute fear and rush though, and I get that some people are more organised. . . but don’t let not having a show completely polished and ready to go put you off applying, would be my advice.

 

  • Sort out flyers sooner rather than later – I’d have definitely had a re-jig of the blurb and stuck me web address on if I’d left myself time to think.

 

  • See loads of stuff – I was still finishing writing my work while I was up at the Fringe and the temptation was to hoard myself away – but there’s nothing better for ideas than seeing what other people are up to, and no better place than the Fringe to do it.

 

  • Packed lunches are great for the wallet, but pies from Piemaker are more delicious.

 

  • Always warm up before a show. It’s kind of something I already knew, but the days I didn’t stick to it were the flattest days. I basically had a routine which involved getting to the venue at half 11, running through the show, or bits of it at least until about 12 30, then going out to flyer for an hour before heading back to do the show.

A couple of days I got up late and just went straight for the flyering and didn’t warm up or run through. And it was fine, but the jokes and the pacing just didn’t quite land how they sometimes did.

  • Another thing that helped me with that actually was changing the beginning of the show in some way for each performance, which I started doing halfway through – basically the first show went really well, largely off the back of nervous energy. I then kept the same structure for the next two shows. They were slightly flat, so I started changing things a bit to keep it fresh and terrifying, which helped. I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it though. More rehearsal is possibly a better option.

 

 

 

 

 

MILD SPOILERS FROM HERE

 

 

 

 

 

OK, so on with it – for everyone who came to see the show and is interested, the stats are in. For people who’ve not seen the show, if you’re going to, this might spoil things a bit. Or not make sense. Come see the show and it’ll make more sense. Or just don’t read it.

 

Anyway, here we go – the verdict . . . .

 

 

THE RESULTS:

 

SHOW BURN (%) RETURN (%)
14TH 41.3 58.7
15TH 70.2 29.8
16TH 88.6 11.4
17TH 54.5 45.5
18TH 96 4
19TH 100 0
20TH 55 45
TOTAL 68.7 31.3

 

 

Clear win for burn there. So what have we learned?

A destructive act is best kept to yourself?

A lie, once committed to, must be preserved?

People just like fire? (Or people with money like fire)

Don’t deface people’s possessions if you aim to return them?

 

Loads of lessons. Lots for Rob to ponder. Safe to say he’s had a good long think about what he’s done.

Thanks so much to everyone who voted with their monies or just came along to watch, it means the world!

Eat your carrots. Drive safely. Look out for more gigs in the coming months.

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Edinburgh Fringe Halfway Report

rob show 1 2I’m sat in the Peartree Pub at 6 in the evening of the third day of my Edinburgh run.

Having sat here a month ago to start finalising work on the show with my boyfriend, it’s a very different atmosphere now. There’s a blues guitar trio thumping outside in the garden area, which is packed. The sun is blaring, as is my head . . .

I’m rapidly developing a huge amount of respect for people who do this for a full three weeks. Three days is nothing in comparison and is already the longest run I’ve done of any show in ages. Probably since I was last in Edinburgh in 2013, and that was (only) performing every other day . . .

I’m loving it though. The first performance on Sunday was the most nervous I’ve been for anything in a while and we got a whole room full! Nearly thirty punters in – a mix of friends and strangers, some of whom I’d flyered the hour before, which was very gratifying. The show went well, people seemed to enjoy it and for the rest of the day, to be honest, I felt like a god. How hard can doing this for a month be? I thought. This feels amazing, I feel like a proper professional, ploughing my trade in one of the busiest arts festivals in the world.

I still feel pretty amazing. Today and yesterday we had six people in though, and I’ve begun to realise that I was perhaps spoiled on day one a bit. Not that I’m complaining. Yesterday was particularly nerve wracking as there was someone in whose work I hugely appreciate, and there was a reviewer in. And we were filming it.

But nothing quite compares to first day nerves to carry it through, and I quickly realised how very different the experience of playing to different sized audiences is, and how little I was prepared for that.

In that sense, Edinburgh so far has been exactly what I wanted it to be; a breeding ground for experimentation and learning in the cosy, lamp-lit back room of a pub, a place for challenges, for not feeling I can do it and doing it anyway.

But a month?! I still fancy it, next year. And part of me feels guilty for not going for it straight away (I met Dave Benson Phillips on the Mile, host of Get Your Own Back and rescuer of long afternoons at childminders, and he dubbed my week a gentleman’s fringe, which hit a chord) But another bigger part of me is feeling glad at this point that I’ve dipped my toes in before going the full hog. A lot has been learned in a short space of time.

I’ve learned a lot about the show too, about my character and the other characters I talk about in the show. It feels like there’s scope to expand the show further and I’m feeling a renewed enthusiasm to try and get Rob put on again elsewhere on the back of this.

Who knows, he might be back up in the Burgh next year!

Catch me then or, indeed, now, this week, until Saturday – 14.05 at the Southsider Pub (Venue 148) every day.

rob show 1 sarah

To The Fringe!

14.05 Rob Hobson Needs To Talk

In 2 days, the Edinburgh Fringe kicks off. And in ten days (on the 14th) I’ll be starting my 7-day run at The Southsider Pub (venue 148, if you were eagerly scrabbling for your fringe guide), of my solo show Rob Hobson Needs To Talk.

Rob’s been a character that’s been in my life on-and-off and in various formats for about 3 years now, and he’s really started to find his voice in the last year.

In equal measures painfully honest and riddled with self-doubt, he’s fun to work with. He manages to always think of things from a sideways angle, and shine a light on things that I never could. He knows more about the Power Rangers than I do, is wholly more forgiving, innocent and enthusiastic about the world. It’s a mixed blessing for him.

Though his voice first started appearing a few years ago, last summer he came into his own when I accidentally started taking him along to open mic nights at The Surf Café in Tynemouth. Having arrived to a night run by my friend Matilda without anything to read, Rob appeared, and decided to wing it. He talked about wanting to have a fight with the sea if I remember right. But not, like, in a violent way. Just like when ya love something so much, or ya so over-awed by something that you want it to swallow ya, you know? Like a cuddle fight with the big-dark ocean.

People seemed to like him. He went back a few times.

Then I took him to ARC Stockton to do a 20 minute set, about falling in and out of love.

He even did a few guest spots at the Fringe last year.

And now he’s got his own show. 45 whole minutes of it.

Building something up from what was originally a character who could manage a ten minute turn to being able to sustain a whole show has been challenging, nerve wracking, but massively exciting. And now, having opted for 45 minutes because I didn’t know if there’d be an hour in him, I’m kinda wishing I had the extra 15 minutes. He’s got a lot to say. He’s sorry if he says it a bit too fast sometimes. He just likes talking. He needs to talk. He’d love you to listen.

Come along if you’re free.

Here’s the listings 🙂 – THE LIST – ROB HOBSON NEEDS TO TALK

Facebook Page – Rob Hobson Needs To Talk

Manchester’s the place to be this Saturday. . .

If you’re in Manchester on May 7th (this Saturday!) and looking for theatre, you’re spoiled for choice.

 

2 Magpies Theatre will be performing their new show ‘Last Resort’ at The Lowry, a show, exploring ‘the imagined future of a deeply troubling past’ Guantanamo Bay –

 

http://www.thelowry.com/event/last-resort

 

I’ve seen all of 2Magpies previous projects and all have been entertaining and deeply thought-provoking – well worth a watch.

 

Over the other side of town, Josh Coates is performing his show ‘Get Yourself Together’ at the Royal Exchange – a show which examines the line between depression as a clinical and a political issue. http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/whats-on-and-tickets/get-yourself-together
I haven’t seen the show yet myself but have heard nothing but good things, including this, by Zoe Murtagh  –  http://zoemurtagh.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/some-thoughts-on-get-yourself-together.html – and if that doesn’t make you want to see the show, what will? It made me annoyed that I’ll be busy this time round!

 

Busy because. . . (smooth segue . . .)

 

I’ll be performing my first solo show ‘Sticking’ ON THE SAME NIGHT! It opens on Saturday at Contact Theatre in Manchester – http://contactmcr.com/whats-on/50692-fs2016-matt-miller-sticking/

 

It’s a show about moving away from home, the power of music to trigger memories, and the ups and downs of trying to forge a concrete identity in a short space of time. It’s a show for anyone who’s felt lost in a new place before.

 

I realise that it’s arguably a bad idea to promote events that are clashing with my own, but it makes me feel giddy and excited to know that so many incredible things will be happening on the same night, and that I can be part of that.

 

I wish a little bit that I could be in all three places at once, but knowing that other people I know and respect are doing their thing, across the same city, at the same time as I’ll be doing mine, is something that I know is going to give me energy.

 

Have a look at all three of these shows though, have a read about them. They’ll all be on again. I’d recommend checking them all out at some point. And if you’re in Manchester on Saturday, come see one! Whichever’s closest, whichever takes your fancy. You’ll not regret it. It’s going to be a good night to be in Manchester.

 

xx

 

PS – ‘Get Yourself Together’ and ‘Last Resort’ will also be on in their respective venues on May 6th. Mine’s just the 7th.

 

 

Christmas Cracker Number One

Tonight was a Christmas Cracker. It got pulled open by fantastic organisation by Live Theatre and inventive, creative writing directing and acting by everyone involved ( I was gonna name people but I haven’t got a program and I’d miss the people whose names I didn’t know) and if that seems twee, well its Christmas so its allowed alright?

I got to be involved in Live Lab Christmas Adventures and again got to write with Matilda Neill and Rowan McCabe, which continues to be a joy. We came up with a tragic little Christmas number together which seemed to go down well. I’ve been really enjoying writing in partnership with people and it feels like it’s taking off and building as a relationship.

It makes me happy and, as it always does when something makes me happy, my head finds a way to hold me back and say ‘well what about this?’ and in this case this takes the form of people I’ve previously written with and don’t so often anymore and pining for those creative relationships. I know I’ll get to restoke them at some point in the future but for now that’s the heart-tug.

In particular, my friend Josh Judson and I will create wonderful things together at some point I’m sure. He’s based in London and I’m up in Newcastle and we can bat ideas back and forth but I look forward to the day that we live in the same city again and get to put some of them into practice.

Writing with other people is fab. Writing with Rowan and Matilda is endless fun and such a learning curve in how ideas work and shift in collaboration and I look forward to making lots more things with them, starting with the re-boot of Red Is The New Blue at Live in February.

As someone who’s often seduced by the lone-genius-in-a-garret myth, moments where I appreciate creativity with others feel like a genuine high. Tonight was a one of those.

Residency at The Witham Centre, Day Two

So after leaving The Witham after my first day yesterday, I was bouncing along the pavement, all bright eyed and happy and full of purpose. It was half four, the day had gone very well, I was still buzzing and there was still an evening to keep on working.

I got to Margaret and Angus’s lovely house and made my tea and did yesterday’s blog.

The aforementioned wonderful Margaret and Angus in their living room
The aforementioned wonderful Margaret and Angus in their living room

Aaaaand then I went on Facebook to tell people that I’d written it. And then I was on Facebook. By eight o’clock, I was annoyed, head fried and no work had been done. Suddenly everything I was doing with my entire life was stupid pretentious nonsense again.

So tonight I’ve come to the pub to write about the day, and I’ve not asked for the Wifi password.

I’m in the Old Well, which is a proper pub pub with floral red carpets and everything. It’s the pub where, some time ago, a group of friends who met to play Chirades formed The Castle Players – an drama group that makes shows in Barnard Castle.

Pub pub1

Pub pub, where the Castle Players met
Pub pub, where the Castle Players met

I got to hang out with The Castle Players today (they’re fab) and join in their warm up, which was great because I get self-conscious doing warm ups on my own. They’re currently working with the RSC and will be playing the Mechanicals in Midsummer Night’s Dream in March. The BBC are following their progress and a cameraman was filming our warm up.

Again I was struck by the vibrant community engagement of The Witham Centre. It seems to have turned this town in an artistic hub. (I mean I don’t know what it was like before, but a lot certainly seems to happen at there now, and because of them.)

The day’s been productive for me too.

At 4 o’clock I shared back the work I’d been doing over the weekend. A few of the Players were there, as well as Angus and Margaret, my lovely hosts, Katy and Maddy from the Witham, and Tom who generously filmed the showing for me.

I church that I liked on the walk home
I church that I liked on the walk home

I was nervous – on the pendulum swing of this work is good vs. this is going nowhere, I’d reached a bit of a low going into it, but it went really well. I got some great feedback, positive, encouraging and constructive and feel like I’ve become a new part of the Witham Family –

and it does feel like a family. From getting a lift from the station, to being put up in a gorgeous home, to being invited to pop my head in to other peoples’ rehearsals, I’ve felt welcomed and involved.

I feel like the Witham is amazing for this in a way that other more central artistic centres just can’t be – it is established around the idea of supporting artists, building new audiences and making new links wherever they can, and they’re doing a bloody mint job of it. My show for one has been propelled to a new level thanks to their help.

A bin that I also liked
A bin that I also liked

Today’s been busy so I didn’t manage to make it along to The Bowes Museum to see their mechanical swan that swallows fish. Which is a shame. I’ll make sure to see it next time I’m back here, which I’m hoping will be very, very soon.

Residency at The Witham Centre, Day One

I’m currently sat in the spare room of a lovely couple who live in Barnard Castle – Margaret and Angus – who’ve agreed to put me up for two nights while I complete a two day residency at The Witham Centre in Barnard Castle for my solo show, ‘Sticking’.

Today has been day one of working at The Witham, which is a wonderful arts centre, with a very strong community focus.

It was an early start – I caught the bus from Ryton into Newcastle in the half dark for a train from Central at half 7 to Darlington – as the bus came over the river, the sky was just lighting up with streaks of red behind the Tyne Bridge.

At Darlington, Katy who runs The Witham met me at the station. From there a twenty minute drive into the countryside to reach Barnard Castle, a beautiful market town and, so says Margaret, the only town for about twenty miles around.

Open for two years, The Witham is a bustling artistic hive in Teesdale
Open for two years, The Witham is a bustling artistic hive in Teesdale

Katy drove me about town before we got to the theatre so I could get my bearings. There is a huge, purpose built 19th century Museum, Bowes Museum, which was built, Katy tells me, by the illegitimate son of John Bowes, 10th Earl of Strathmore (I might have got the title of Wikipedia just now) for his girlfriend, who was a French actress and Countess. It’s quite a building, and also apparently has a secretive little library in one of its turrets, that I’ll not be able to get into this weekend, but maybe next time. I didn’t get a photo of the museum today but will try and mooch out tomorrow and get a couple.

The Witham Centre itself is in a gorgeous renovated Georgian building. Though it’s only been used as a theatre space for two years, it has a full and bustling program of Music, Theatre, Comedy and Art and the building itself is packed with history.

The renovation of the building has incorporated original features with new design
The renovation of the building has incorporated original features with new design

The main Music Hall – a spacious room with a high domed ceiling and removable raked seating – has the feel of a village hall and, opened out fully, has a small raised stage like the one my secondary school had. However, with black curtains pulled across, the space transforms into an intimate black box space with a sprung wooden floor.

Painted plaques above doors to each side of stage date the hall at 1860. Katy tells me that, during the Second World War, this was the only venue available for soldiers stationed in the area – all the pubs had barred them – and so they’d fill it with dances and the local girls would come along for a bit of rough and ready – when they took up the old floor, they found packets of Woodbines and bottles that had been stored away.

Upstairs, there is a second space, used variously for weddings, tai-chi and spoken word performances amongst other things. A bare rectangular, high-ceilinged room with a fireplace at one end, set with famous Teeside marble. Across from the door, a wall of windows look out onto a very English looking pub, a Superdrug, a florist with a wonky door, and beyond them, the hills and fields stretching away into the distance.

My workspace for the afternoon and my sharing space tomorrow
My workspace for the afternoon and my sharing space tomorrow

From this window, back in the 19th and early 20th century, announcements would be made to people who would gather on the cobbles below. From here, the death of the king was announced, Katy tells me. I didn’t ask which king. But this is also where the victory of Arthur Henderson, the first Labour candidate to win a local election against liberal and conservative opposition, was declared in 1903. It was a momentous event, and amongst those gathered on the cobbles for the announcement were reporters from Norway and Moscow, picking up on this advance in the new wave of support for the common working man.

I worked in this space til half four, by which time, there was a stunning moody sunset to be seen above the shops across the way.

Sunset
Sunset view from the window of The Witham Room

Then back to stay with Angus, Margaret and their lovely dog, who as I write has come to visit and demand belly rubs.

I've forgotten the dog's name and don't want to ask
Lovely dog. I’ve forgotten her name and I don’t want to go and ask. I’ll find out tomorrow

Being at The Witham feels like a proper treat – a space away. Everyone I’ve met here is lovely. It’s a venue with a real, genuine community feel and outlook.

After a day working here, I’m renewed with faith and excitement in the work. Tomorrow I’ll be doing a short share back in the space at four, and I’m looking forward to it.

Poetry Jam

This was orignially posted on October 1st 2015

I went to Poetry Jam in Durham for the first time tonight and it was wonderful. Hosted by Steve Urwin, the night consists of special guests interspersed with free jamming poetry – no announcements, no introductions, people just jump up from the audience and do a poem, take their applause and sit down again. Most poets weren’t even introducing themselves, which I quite liked. It felt like a sort of frenetic and awe inspiring Quaker meeting. (I’ve never been to an actual Quaker meeting, so this might be wildly inaccurate, but it was a frenetic and awe inspiring version of how a Quaker meeting goes in my head based on the little I know.)

The event takes place in the Waddington Centre in Durham – a smallish room with plastic chairs, arm chairs, perhaps one sofa, a little side kitchen and a coffee bar – it feels homely. Like the communal room of the sheltered accommodation my grandma lived in for a bit. The seating is arranged on three sides, surrounding a performance space in front of said coffee bar. The effect is a fairly intense environment, which Steve Urwin stepped into beautifully at the start of the night, walking into the space and commanding an expectant hush before launching into some fantastically gritty poetry. He then proceeded to briefly and enthusiastically introduce the night and open the floor.

I’d come with something to read and shortly decided I wasn’t going to read it. This allowed me to enjoy fully listening to the poets as they came and went, rather than sitting with half my head on what I was going to do, which was lovely. Later in the night I broke this small self promise and read a piece I’d written that morning (that morning being at point of writing this morning, unless we’re counting the last 50 minutes as this morning, which technically they are, but it always seems pedantic not to think of ten to one as night time.) It seemed to go down well and I was able to devote proper attention to other performers pretty soon afterwards again. Often I’ll find this difficult as I’ll be playing over what I did, what I should have done, things I should have changed, but the atmosphere here was too grounded for that, too loving, too focused.

I was told that I’d come on a particularly good night for my first outing – the room was heaving – but regardless of usual turnout, this was and is a special poetry night with a simple format that I’ve not come across before.

I’ll definitely be going again and so should you

Poetry Jam takes place at The Waddington Centre, 3 Waddington Street, Durham, DH1 4BG.

All poets from beginners to veterans are invited to attend and share their work with a friendly crowd.

Response to Joshua Jones regarding Germaine Greer

This is an invited response to an blog post made by Joshua Jones, which can be seen here – http://sanitys-cove.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/of-transphobe-bruhaha-rapists-and.html

OK, so first off, some background information for anyone who reads this – Joshua and I know each via mutual membership of a Nottingham based poetry collective called the Mouthy Poets. Our periods of regular attendance at this collective overlapped and we are consequently Facebook friends. Last night, I caught onto the now widespread internet debate concerning transphobic comments made by Germaine Greer. I was upset because bigotry is upsetting and also because I have experimented with gender fluidity and transvestism myself, and have huge admiration for people who make the decision to transition. I responded to the following comment by Greer –

“Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel.”

with the following post –

“I think if Germaine Greer really wants to identify as a cocker spaniel then she should be allowed to do so, and her doctor should give her all the help that they can”
This comment is referenced in Joshua’s blog post. Joshua, prior to writing his blog post, invited me to write a reply to it once he had done so. I agreed.

I’ll admit, initially I was nervous. I worried that I had made a knee-jerk response to the debate, influenced by my own liberal minded bias. I have read a few things recently, notably an article by Andrew Doyle – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/andrew-doyle/germaine-greer-cardiff-university_b_8388502.html – which made me think twice about whether I’d jumped too soon.

Then I read Joshua’s blog – not only did it reinforce my view that the viewpoints expressed by Greer need to be challenged, but as a line of argument it has veered wildly and, I think, deliberately away from the original debate over whether people with potentially upsetting and certainly hateful views should be allowed platforms to speak.

As I have been invited to respond to Joshua’s blog post, that’s what I’m going to do. Joshua, I’m going to address you directly now. I think there’s a lot to be challenged in your post and I’m going to take it bit by bit.

You begin, in your first paragraph and initial meme, by disputing whether transphobia means what people thinks it means. The basis for this is that ‘phobia’ directly translates to mean ‘fear’. Your argument here seems to be that, while many people are uncomfortable with the idea of trans people, nobody actually fears them, and the term ‘transphobia’ may therefore be dismissed. Firstly, there’s the question of where discomfort stems from in those people who experience that feeling towards trans people and whether that discomfort does, in fact, stem from feelings of fear (not necessarily of the trans person themselves, but perhaps of the challenge to the observer’s perceptions and the implications of that).

Secondly, and more pressingly, I would argue that, in a social context, hateful comments towards any minority group warrant the suffix ‘phobia’ as that is what the term refers to. As a side point, beginning your argument with grammatical quibbling seems to be sidestepping the point slightly – we are dealing with hateful comments, no matter the term we use to describe them, and they are not to be dismissed on grammatical grounds.

So – onto paragraph two. Here you make the assumption that your view is “the view of the majority of us who live on planet Earth”. Which it might be, and might not be. You don’t know that. I don’t know that (and resent the implication that I’m implicit in your assumption by use of the word “us”). Let’s assume for a minute that you’re right, and that most people on planet Earth are transphobic. Are we there? OK. That still doesn’t make what you are saying right. It makes you part of a majority. That doesn’t make your views less harmful and is a terribly weak excuse to endorse them. And then just at the end of this paragraph, before we move on, we have the term “LGBT-jihadies” – there are so many implications in this I’m inclined not to go too deeply into it, but will only point out that this could be seen as further evidence of a latent disrespect for an entire community, if only in the attempt to paint everyone within it as immediately reactionary.

In paragraph three, I’ll quickly dispute the idea that allowing ‘self-identity’ is ‘radical’, but let’s continue to paragraph four:

“If I sincerely feel that I am a feline born in a human body, should I have the right to be recognised by society as a cat?”

 

Joshua, I would say, yes, you should. I feel we may disagree here, but essentially, yes. In terms of comic effect, you’ve got me – I was partly playing for laughs with my Facebook post, but I stand by it nevertheless. If you sincerely feel that you are a cat, that you want to be treated as a cat, referred to as a cat, then I will fully support you in that. I think that if there is comedy in this, it comes via the exaggeration:

Women are people. Men are also people. People are people. Gender, in terms of fashion, behaviour, power structures and countless other things, are social constructs. It would therefore strike me as far less surprising that someone born, biologically, as a man, would want to be, or feel they were, a woman, or vice versa, than that someone born as a man or woman would want to be, or feel they were, a cat. But, as I’ve said, if you, Joshua, sincerely want to be a cat, then go for it. I’m with you all the way.

Paragraph five is interesting. Should someone be able to self-identify as the opposite race? I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. I saw a poetry show recently called ‘Soapbox Tour’ (see it if you can, it’s great, I think). In it, one of the poets, a black girl, performed a poem about self-identifying as white. Midway through the poem, it became apparent that the piece was a satire of, I’m assuming, the case you’re referring to. I believed her at first. I was shocked. It was challenging. I thought ‘bloody hell, this is brave.’ I don’t know, maybe I’m just naïve, and I imagine a lot of people would disagree with me on this one, but I think a world in which self-identification based on race was acceptable, even to the extent that gender-identification is now, would be a better world than the one we have. I’ve read the other article that you linked here and agree with you on the point about the perception of mainstream media towards identification seeming inconsistent. I’d rather see full individual choice in all areas, rather than a re-curtailing of choice, which I think is where we differ. Correct me if I’m wrong. The issue, really, I think, is what makes you most comfortable, provided that your actions cause no intentional and forcible harm to others.

Which leads us on to paragraph six, in which you, Joshua, directly equate trans people with rapists. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that this wasn’t intentional, but that’s essentially what you’re doing here. You suggest that the delusional nature of rapists who feel they’ve done their victims a favour can be equated with your assumption of delusional tendencies in trans people. For obvious reasons, this is angering, but I’m just going to point out plainly what the difference is – rape causes immediate, deliberate wilful emotional and physical harm to other human beings. Identifying as a particular gender doesn’t. In my opinion, that’s as far as that one goes.

The next paragraph brings in the Science argument. Men are biologically men, women are biologically women. A man who transitions to become a woman does not have the history of other women, right? No, she has her own history, her own life, her own events that have shaped her to become what she is, and if she wants to be a woman, why is that wrong? Again, she isn’t harming anybody. She’s made a decision. She may feel that she’s always been a woman and that she was trapped. We should celebrate her bravery. Personally, I have experimented with Transvestism. It’s been a long process of slow incremental steps. I’ve debated with myself whether I’d be more comfortable identifying as a woman. I’m undecided, and it’s confusing.

Nevertheless, growing up male, I still very much dealt with “vulnerability before a world of teenage boys.” Didn’t you? ‘Putting on make-up and a dress and shooting oestrogen into (my) veins” will not give me the life experience of the woman, or women, to whom you are referring. In that you are correct. It would be part of my life experience and background from there on in, and that’s what matters. I would then be able to share that experience with others, as myself, openly and honestly.

And so we come to the end. And here I find your most upsetting paragraph. And that’s because, in all my own inner debates surrounding my desire to wear women’s clothes (and believe me, I am not equating my experience with that of people who have transitioned, that’s a level of bravery and certainty I don’t have), the nagging negative voice in the back of my head has always been “why are you doing this? Are you running from something? What are you trying to achieve?” That you would tap into that fear, not by yourself, but with the aid of a theistic belief system which you then by proxy impose upon me, is awful. Shall I tell you how I get over those nagging voices? I remind myself that I often feel more myself while wearing women’s clothes. I remind myself that peoples’ reactions tend to be positive, that I feel less scared, less out of place, and that I can interact with people more comfortably. I remind myself, also, that it doesn’t matter, hugely, what I wear. This is my perception, and I don’t mean to assume this applies to anyone else. But on a day-by-day basis, I am getting better and better at making decisions on what I want to wear based on what’s going to make me comfortable and happy, rather than what is going to satisfy bigots. You describe me in your post, Joshua, as a “friend and fellow poet”. Having read your blog, I must deny the first and put the second down to coincidence. I find your views abhorrent.

I’m not perfect. I have caused harm to people, certainly emotionally. It may be that in expressing who I want to be, or experiencing the uncertainty of that, some of this harm has been caused. But I do not see this as reason not to continue to attempt to find my most honest, open expression of myself, and I certainly wouldn’t deny anyone else that. To some extent, I envy you. I imagine your mind is set and there must be some great comfort in having a strict set of social rules to follow. That’s fine, but please, don’t impose your own codes on others. They are yours. Not anybody else’s. Love people Joshua. If you want to help Caitlyn Jenner, love her for the person she has chosen to be. Don’t patronise her. Refer to her with the pronouns she would like to be referred to with. Don’t attempt to control her behaviour. It isn’t hurting anybody.

Shakin’ That Assonance

is a poetry night held monthly at The Surf Café in Tynemouth by Matilda Neill. It’s rather wonderful. The Surf Café does what it says on the beach-straw awning – there are surfboards on the walls, bicycles hanging from the ceiling and an aeroplane with a spotlight in its nose. Behind it is the sea, and in the beginning of September, which it is, the sun is setting over it at half 7 when the gig starts. There are boats out there. Big boats. When it gets dark they are just strings of light out in the waves and the lighthouse illuminates the cliffs. I like the sea. I like that Shakin’ takes me up there.

Tonight was the first night I shook my assonance as myself – I’ve been three or four times before but have always performed as a character (a character which has been invented, aired and honed at Shakin’, too which I owe thanks for a large role in creating him). But tonight it was me, doing poems I’d written as me, which is to say poems I’d written when I wasn’t trying overly hard to be entirely someone else. I was very nervous about this because I’d not done a fifteen/twenty minute set as me in quite a while.

I wasn’t sure how it’d gone but a couple people after told me they liked the stuff – I’d tried doing stuff that I wasn’t completely sure was good. I did this because when I watch spoken word one of the most appealing things about it is the element of risk – I like to see people taking risks and saying things they want to say rather than things that they know will please an audience – and a lot of the time I do the audience pleasing thing – I have my favourites that I know will usually work – so this time I did some brand new stuff and some old stuff that I wasn’t sure would work so well on stage (and one tried and tested one cos no-one’s perfect) – but the set felt scary, which I liked. And people said they liked it, which was lovely. In particular a couple who had just been passing by and seen a billboard advertising a poetry night and just popped in loved the whole night and that’s one of the best feelings in poetry for me. People popping in and enjoying themselves.

Shakin’ That Assonance is one of these poetry nights with an unshakeable atmosphere. This is largely thanks to Matilda’s casual but attentive hosting and the clear love and ownership she feels towards the event. Tonight there were fab sets from James McKay, Your Aunt Fanny and Finn Oak (and a guitarist whose name I’ve forgotten who did an unforgettable cover of Common People by Pulp) and all the sets, regardless of their tone or content slipped into the warm, friendly feel of the night. Like a living room, with mates, entertaining each other, but well. But you don’t know everyone. But it doesn’t matter, cos everyone seems just about on the same page. Or else that’s how it felt. I don’t want to speak for other people.

But yes, it was lovely. Go to it if you can at some point. Go and watch poetry by the seaside.