A question I got asked today. I’m writing a lot lately (a long overdue distant continuation of this), and well, sometimes I write, and sometimes nameless horrors what fancy themselves to be comedians write me (& cheers to Vass for leading me down the award ceremony trail).
“Tell me a truth time! What’s your porn category?”
“Hot Action Alien Tentacle Sex 6-Way Shemale Gang Bang?”
“That’s very specific.”
“Where all the tentacle suckers are James Franco’s face going ‘Eyyy, how ya doin’?’ in a shite Brooklyn accent.”
“That’s suddenly Category: Not My Fetish!”
“Bait and Switch, child! The Category is…—”
“Aw, steal my punchline, why doncha?”
“Just like Franco steals your award at the ceremony.”
“Tentacles take stage like Kanye at Taylor Swift, ‘Imma let you finish,’ rips Franco’s face off with razor-toothed Franco suckers.”
“Camera cuts to Xzibit in the audience, ‘Yo dawg, I heard you like James Franco Tentacle Suckers…‘”
“Shit just writes itself, eh?”
“It’s not a porn category unless it starts with ‘Hot Action’.”
“Amateur Porn? naah. Hot Action Amateur Porn? Now that’s a category.”
“Now That’s What I Call Hot Action Amateur Porn!”
“Hot moaning and grunting, wet sounds of skin slapping, screams of terror and ripping of flesh, ‘Eyyy, how ya doin’?’”
“Stop. Please. Stop.”
“Won’t stop, can’t stop.”
I swear this book will end me. Six months in and some days I read the first sentences of a paragraph and realise it’s the same paragraph I’ve been on the whole week. And it’s a Sunday. I’m having trouble reading books at the moment anyway. Fiction is out, because I’m in fiction-writing mode and the novels I’ve started are either dissatisfying for where I’m at, or feel like they’d influence my own writing. Non-fiction, well, yes, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, we are still shouting, “Fucking yes!” when we do manage to read a new paragraph (usually on the toilet because that seems to be where a balance is currently found), but I have no cash for the pile of non-fiction waiting for me to pick up. Lemme tell you how long-term poverty as a function of even a moderately ok life as a trans woman / trans feminine person / transsexual is a very real life. (I weirdly want to start using that ‘transsexual’ word again to fuck with cis queers and their ‘gender is cultural’ bullshit. Petty is as petty does.)
So, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, or First Class Spivak, because someone said she only flies first class, and even if that’s not true, I admire that image of her, and she is so so very first class. I keep reading and wanting to underline and quote, and as I haven’t blogged this month, here we go, one quote at least. from The Double Bind Starts to Kick In, p.108:
This much is at least clear: to imagine or figure the other as another self, you need to engage the moving edge of culture as it leaves its traces in the idiom. To reduce it to language—to semiotic systems that are organised as language—was a structuralist dream. But at least, whatever the subject-position of the structuralist-investigator there was a rigour in the enterprise. Its tempo was different from the impatience of a universalist feminism re-coding global capital. From existing evidence, it is clear that individual-rights or universalist feminists infiltrate the gendering of the global South to recast it hastily into the individual rights model. They simply take for granted that colonised cultures are inevitably patriarchal. I will not enter into historical speculation. I will take shelter in a figure—the figure or topos, that in postcoloniality the past as the unburied dead calls us. This past has not been appropriately mourned, nor been given the rites of the dead, as the other system brought in by colonialism imposed itself. There was no continuous shedding of a past into unmarked modernity.
Off for my afternoon training ride, picking through traffic on Reuterstraße, crossing Sonnenallee and there’s a big unit of 4WD behind me. I was feeling sharp after my last ride, first proper interval sprint training since before Ramadan, using the traffic lights turning green as out-of-saddle starts, keeping the pace tight. Heading up towards Flughafenstraße, that turbo diesel behind me, I’m indicating as I pull around double-parked cars, two-finger pointing flicks of my wrists, and just past the pedestrian crossing at Erlanger Str. I hear it gun and pull along side me. I’m thinking, “A’right, here we go, bruv in his whip is flexing ’cos he thinks I’m in his lane.” It’s a pristine glossy white bimmer, X5 kinda thing, and he’s got his passenger window down. I’m all about to pull screwface but he doesn’t give me a chance, looks across at me, beautiful black guy with the biggest smile like he’s experienced the most joyful thing, and shouts over.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
True, I look hectic sikk, I know.
Of course I smiled back, smiled with, of course, y’know, sometimes this stuff is just real. Sometimes it’s like my serious nah not really but nah kinda yeah fantasy actually pulls up next to me in his whip and gives me a look and compliment that is so completely honest and committed, and truth, I am holding everyone else to his high standards, and my heart filled up like the entire theatre, stalls, balconies and all, went off when Kano joined Giggs at the Roundhouse. Real truth, that.
And as I was doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld in the afternoon sun, thinking of all that, thinking, “Yeah perhaps he read me as a bro?” ’cos I’m tall and kinda slender, and people make a habit of reading taller and more physical as ‘male’, and I have this constant questioning around physicality and masculinity, like all women do, but then I thought, “Okay, if he did, then I’m still taking the compliment,” I’m taking it even if — especially if — he read me as trans, ’cos being able to genuinely express joy and emotion and attraction the way he did, flexing his queer self loudly reading me as masc or straight self into trans chicks, fuck yes, I am here for that. I want and need much more of that unequivocal desire and speaking that desire. And I’ve been talking a lot with my grans lately, Aisha and Iwa, and felt very much this was Allah and the universe reading me, seeing me, seeing me.
I know also some of you reading this, some of you cis women and afab people are gonna wanna tell me how this is objectifying and tell me shit like I don’t already know this, like I haven’t lived this since my early teens, like I would only think and write this if what? I’m seeking validation in misogyny? ’Cos I’m trans? And you think you need to educate me? What can you tell me about anything of what this means, in itself or to me?
A compliment. A compliment is sometimes just a compliment, just reciprocating the joy someone else causes in you, and when I’m receiving it from a source way too an accurate read of what I vibe strongly with, yeah, that’s part of it. Maybe I was that for him too, lighting up the streets of Neukölln, deep in my physicality, and we both looked at each other and laughed in recognising that too perfect moment. Remember that. Remember that beauty. Remember that truth in all what he said.
Last Thursday at the press conference for Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s new exhibition in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Fighting for Visibility – Women Artists in the Nationalgalerie before 1919. Best thing: free entry and waved through with my fancy ‘Presse’ sticker on my left boob, also leisurely photographing of Art. Not so good thing: real journalists have a ‘Press’ card — like everything in Germany, authenticity through official validation — I have a blog. Much hilarity ensured trying to get to the press table. Not great at all: an exhibition on women artists, and the panel was two men who talked for almost half an hour before letting the sole woman, who was the curator, have a word. She reclaimed her time, was heaps more relevant, and let’s pretend I didn’t notice the menz not paying attention to her.
It’s been a while since I went to a museum. I got burnt out on editing too many images, and from July last year was working 60+ hours a week (which, had I not been getting paid 70% of what men do, could have worked 42 hours for the same euros — actually I was getting paid even less, keeping the narrative simple here), and been in slow time recovery since June, so … art. It’s a thing I remember.
I have a lot of issues with this exhibition. I want to be all cheerleading from the sidelines, buuut … problems. Problems I think are structural in the museum and SMB and Germany, which, had I seen this same exhibition in London or Melbourne or New York, would have been twenty or thirty years ago in its current context and appearance, or a contemporary version that had built on three decades of representation that Germany’s national museums have yet to have. As it was, it felt hella anachronistic and patronisingly “something for the ladies also #MeToo”.
None of that is a criticism of curator Yvette Deseyve, however. What is a criticism though (which may or may not have been covered in the catalogue, but bitch here is poor and isn’t throwing around 30€ right now) is structural intersections of gender, femininity, heteronormativity, class, whiteness, racism, colonialism, imperialism, which were well in play by the time even the youngest artists were born, and shaped all of them across the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a missed opportunity, and one I continually question whether white, heteronormative feminism is ever going to recognise. This really struck me with the replacement of one of my favourite works in the museum, Osman Hamdi Bey’s Der Wunderbrunnen (Ab-ı Hayat Çeşmesi) with Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Kniende Mutter mit Kind an der Brust. Choosing a painting of a naked white woman nursing a baby as the figurehead of the exhibition in the entrance hall, without critically engaging (again, outside of whatever is in the catalogue) with Germany’s history of motherhood, family, race, and religion reads as a tacit condoning or passive acceptance of this cultural history, as well as one of those, ‘this wouldn’t have happened if there was real, working diversity in the room’ type situations. And seeing how many young women were working around the exhibition … yeah, awkward.
Go and see it? If it’s included in the ticket price for the whole Alte Nationalgalerie, then yeah but don’t expect to be blown away. But if you gotta pay extra to see women artists who should be hanging in the permanent collection since — at the latest — the early ’90s, when the previous two decades’ demands for representation had filtered into these big, old, slow institutions and there was no valid excuse for them not being there besides entrenched misogyny? Fuck that noise. Let’s have 100 years of only women artists in the SMB museums and 100 years of men getting paid 30% of what women get. Also let’s have a conversation about what ‘woman’ denotes in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and now.
When I was in Krakow a few winters ago, I went to Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie and was slapped for pointing a camera at the paintings in the Olga Boznańska exhibition. I was thinking of that when I walked through this one, and the previous large one I saw in the same place, which took up the whole floor instead of what felt like a few side rooms and one main room, Alte Nationalgalerie: Impressionismus – Expressionismus. Kunstwende. The Olga Boznańska exhibition took up about the same space as Impressionismus – Expressionismus. For one woman.
Anyway, art. Art I liked (and some I didn’t but here we are), art I could photograph, art it transpired I’d photographed adequately enough to be able to edit into something passable.
On the street by the slab of Berlin Wall at the northern gates to Invalidensiedlung Frohnau is one of those orange pillars marking where someone was murdered trying to escape across the Berlin Wall from East Germany. This one is for Marienetta Jirkowsky, who was murdered in 1980 at the age of eighteen, shot in the stomach.
In ten years of Berlin, I think I’ve never intentionally taken a picture of the Berlin Wall. Other things Wall, yes, but the Wall itself still feels oppressively commodified on top of oversimplified significance. Up in Invalidensiedlung Frohnau, about to turn south for the last 40-something kilometre stretch to Neukölln, having a food stop and telling myself it’s not so far, this solitary chunk way out where no tourists would spend an hour just to get get there, it seemed appropriate on the day to take this one photo.
The farthest northern point of the Berlin Wall, the site of Invalidensiedlung Frohnau. Whether coming from the west via the Stolpe fields or east via the cobblestone tracks of Waldgelände Frohnau (and the delightfully named Jägersteig), arriving amidst the brown brick houses and tree-lined streets, like a quiet town is a calming moment and one of those uniquely Berlin creep-outs. The north gate has these parallel troughs rutted into the concrete, which confused me the first time I rode through, then realised they look like the gouges of metal tank tracks.