Reading: Olivette Otele — African Europeans: An Untold History

The only thing I’m not enjoying about this book is its high expectations on my reading list. Twenty pages in and I’ve ordered four books mentioned in the notes.

Where did I hear about Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History? No idea. Maybe someone on Twitter, or, more likely what I’d been reading circulates around this subject and one of the authors mentioned it.

Obviously very much here for her writing on Saint Mauritius, and shoutout to Dom zu Magdeburg St. Mauritius und Katharina and that statue of him. And for the bibliography, ’cos there’s been a heap of new stuff specifically on Germany / German-ish regional history that is totes my jam. Probably going to be one of my Books of the Year. If I was still doing that. And it’s making me miss my rando trips to small German cities to gawp at mediæval art something huge.

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Flughafen Berlin-Tegel TXL: March 31st, 2018 Melbourne to Berlin

My favourite orange hexagonal airport is closing this week, almost a decade after the original date, making way for the highly blah, much delayed, extremely suss new airport south of the old Flughafen Schönefeld which opened in the middle of a pandemic.

Leaving Naarm / Melbourne after a month working with Onyx / S.J Norman on my first trip back to Australia after ten years. Flying back through Hong Kong at night and wishing I could take the bus to Hung Hom, spend a couple of hours in Tsim Sha Tsui then get the train up to Guangzhou for a week. Instead, finding a quiet place and stretching for the couple of hours stopover, then on to Helsinki and from there back down to Berlin, coming to land in lightless damp grey like it was closer to winter than spring.

I realised as I was blogging my favourite TXL flights that this was my last one arriving or departing at Flughafen Berlin-Tegel. Two and an half years ago. I haven’t flown much since then and it’s all been at Flughafen Schönefeld. Which is a crusty old airport no one has love for.

Remembering my favourite airport this week as it comes to a close.

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Flughafen Berlin-Tegel TXL: March 1st, 2018 Berlin to Melbourne

My favourite orange hexagonal airport is closing this week, almost a decade after the original date, making way for the highly blah, much delayed, extremely suss new airport south of the old Flughafen Schönefeld which opened in the middle of a pandemic.

This time flying back to Australia for the first time in ten years to work with Onyx (S.J Norman) at FOLA (all of March 2018 and some of April). Early flight from TXL up to Helsinki, seeing the ocean iced over as we came in to land, me running to make the connection, suitcase and panda not making it. Stopover in Hong Kong and the last half all the way south into late-summer night heat.

Pretty much no snow at all that year, the normal now for Berlin. It was so sunny and blue departing, seeing Berlin and Germany laid out flat below. This, and the return flight were my last departure and arrival at Flughafen Berlin-Tegel.

Remembering my favourite airport this week as it comes to a close.

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Flughafen Berlin-Tegel TXL: Jan 1st, 2014 Berlin to Bologna

My favourite orange hexagonal airport is closing this week, almost a decade after the original date, making way for the highly blah, much delayed, extremely suss new airport south of the old Flughafen Schönefeld which opened in the middle of a pandemic.

These are a few of my favourite flights into and from Flughafen Berlin-Tegel TXL. First flight was to Brussels for the Roméo Castellucci opera Parsifal, and this flight was to Bologna, four years later for the same. This was one of the first winters with not much snow. Four years previously Berlin had been under layers for weeks.

Remembering my favourite airport this week as it comes to a close.

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Flughafen Berlin-Tegel TXL: Dec 23rd, 2010 Berlin to Brussels

My favourite orange hexagonal airport is closing this week, almost a decade after the original date, making way for the highly blah, much delayed, extremely suss new airport south of the old Flughafen Schönefeld which opened in the middle of a pandemic.

Living in Wedding, we could get to the airport in a few minutes by bus — even quicker for the taxi drivers who knew the tree-lined shortcut along the canal. Yeah, it was old and creaky, but drop-off to boarding was the quickest and chillest of any airport I’ve been in. Coming in to land from the east across lakes and city I’d read the ground finding Wedding and Uferhallen as we descended. Even getting to the south of Berlin was lazy easy, bus to Hauptbahnhof and M41 to Kreuzberg and Neukölln.

Before this terminal was built in the ’60s, before it was a military airport and one used during the Berlin Airlift, it was home to the Royal Prussian Airship battalion. And before that, the artillery range when the Exercier Platz der Artillerie got pushed west into the Jungfernheide forest from near what’s now the corner of Seestr. and Iranische Str. (which had a different name back then).

Unlike the beautiful Tempelhofer Feld, which has so far avoided necrocapitalist property seizure and ‘development’ and remains an open field like it’s been for hundreds of years, Flughafen Tegel has had the money class salivating along with the government. And being Berlin and Germany, we know they’ll ruin it like they did Potsdamer Platz or the new Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg. It’s what money does.

I first flew from TXL in late-2008, I think, going to London and Whitstable. No photos of that except a grainy one of me returning at night, and I remember hating coming back to face a hard winter and poverty. A year later, Dasniya and I flew early morning to Brussels to work with Roméo Castellucci on the Wagner opera Parsifal. Deep geologic layers of frozen snow and air cold as sharp knives.

Remembering my favourite airport this week as it comes to a close.

Ms. Monica Roberts

I have to get the emotional part out first. I just want to swear a lot. Around 1am last night finishing my day and heading to bed I saw Raquel Willis’ on Twitter saying Monica Roberts had died.

I’m just fucking gutted and pissed and angry and sad and hurting. And I don’t have words the way other people do who speak so eloquently of a loved one’s death.

Monica Roberts was one of the original bloggers, starting TransGriot way back in 2006, Transistahs-Transbrothas organisation in 2004, and keeping a record of and speaking for trans women and people being murdered. Even then she’d been active as a Black trans woman since the early-’90s and was a strong voice in the blogging community contributing to Pams’ House Blend, The Bilerco Project and other early sites, got on Twitter in 2009, and never stopped doing the hard work of proper trans representation and advocacy in cis space — Black trans representation and advocacy in white cis space.

I’ve been reading her that long, fourteen years at least, and she has been one of the very few constants in my online life and my trans life.

And I wanna say her love of Houston and NFL was always there and as much a part of her and important to her, and I can’t find a place for that so I’m sticking it here.

She was important to me because she was Black, because she was a Black trans woman. There were fuck all trans bloggers or writers or journalists back then, and even fewer of those visible trans people were anything other than white. It was way before 2014’s ‘Trans Tipping Point’ with Laverne Cox on the cover of Time, trans people — especially trans women, and especially Black or Brown trans women — were far from welcome in ‘LGBT’ spaces and pretty much didn’t exist in the cis world.

She was always there.

She did the work.

And like so many Black and Brown and Indigenous and migrant trans women and femmes, she faced unemployment poverty and homelessness.

Every young Black trans woman or femme who has a voice or visibility or presence in 2020 has that because she never stopped. All us older ones are here and seen because she never stopped. There is no speaking our trans history which does not recognise the monumental, tireless, ceaseless work she did.

I loved when she’d come no fucks given for some fool. Her Shut Up Fool Awards deserve a monument. I loved too when she named other trans people who brought racism and homophobia and even, yeah, transphobia along with general piss poor behaviour into the room, especially white trans women riding on their privilege. She never punched down but watching her maul someone who deserved it was as terrifying as it was hilarious.

Every photo I see of her with other trans people I see love and joy for them in her eyes. And every photo with trans women, again especially Black trans women and children, they are looking to her with love. She stepped hard for trans kids for decades and we all saw that.

She was a mother and a Mutha to so many, and an Auntie and a sister and Sistah. And now she joins our Ancestors.

Pose Was Straight Up Robbed Right Here

I rewatched both seasons of Pose the other day. Fuck the Emmys and fuck cis people.

It’s not about the awards. It’s about the awards. Even being nominated opens up possibilities for better pay, working conditions, opportunities, longevity, recognition, not only for the person or show nominated but for everyone involved. Not just for them but for those in the audience who need to see themselves or people close enough to themselves to feel seen in return for once.

It’s about representation for us. For queer and straight cis people it’s seeing trans people – especially Black, Indigenous, Brown trans femmes – as something other than sex workers, drug addicts, corpses, and things to be laughed at, seeing us as people with full lives and communities and love. For the majority of cis people – queer and straight – they don’t have any trans people in their lives, let alone Black, Indigenous, or brown ones. What they do have, if they even think of us, is cis people talking about and representing us and portraying us, standing in our places like we’re not good enough, like we don’t exist.

Billy Porter being nominated twice while none of the trans women and femmes in front or behind the camera have ever got a look in, that’s a lesson right there in who’s valid, who’s seen as real and legitimate. Similarly, Zendaya being nominated while Hunter Schafer wasn’t. And straight up, I love watching both her and Billy and yes, they deserve it. But if they deserve it, if Euphoria deserves it, so does Pose, so do Indya Moore, Mj Rodrigiez, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar, Angelica Ross, so do Janet Mock, Our Lady J, and saying their names so do Trace Lysette, Bianca Castro, Cecilia Gentili, Leiomy Maldonado, Brielle ‘Tati’ Rheames, and so do the hundreds of other trans women and femmes in front and behind the cameras.

Almost every day I see another Black trans woman or femme murdered in the US and another white cis man pushing to legislate us out of existence. That’s one country, and don’t think it’s not the same or worse in your other countries. Season 2, episode 4, “Never Knew Love Like This Before”, where Candy is murdered and the aftermath of that, fighting to claim her body, scraping money together for a dignified funeral, her parents misgendering her, the grief and loss and anger, all that is way too real. And let’s not forget, Pose is a fantasy, it’s a story where the reality of trans women and femme’s lives is not shown like a documentary, we don’t need to see that brutality when we know and live it. If it was doing realism, it would have scared you straights and cis queers right off, and there wouldn’t have been a Season 2 ’cos most of the cast would have died between 1987 and ’90.

You all want RuPaul’s Drag Race, you want Yaaas Queen Slay! and you want Shaaade! but you don’t want to learn anything. You want LGB but only when it’s palatable and the T ain’t that. You want the glamour but not the politics. You want the glamour but only on cis men’s bodies. You want women but not when they serve like Pose does. Seeing Black and Afro-Latinx trans women and femmes living for themselves, centring themselves, defining femininity on their terms, defining queer and LGB for themselves, you can’t accept this. You can’t reward this. You need to deal with your discomfort, and yeah, your racism and femmephobia and transphobia and transmisogyny and misogynoir. You don’t even know how amazing these women and femmes are off-camera. We celebrate them for all they they are because of all this.

A Pile of New Books I’m Reading so far in 2020 (and late-2019)

There was a big gap this year when I had a little money for and no way of getting books. All that talk on social media of supporting artists during pandemic quarantine by buying their books hit up against furloughed supply chains.

Completely off topic here, I discovered yesterday I’d been using the entirely wrong word, furlong instead of furlough (and lifetime usage of either is in the single digits). And then I discovered furlong is 1/8th of a mile, so now I have Vin Diesel, or rather Dominic Toretto in my head going, “I live my life two furlongs at a time.”

Back to buying books. And no, e-books are not an option. I like paper, I like the feel and smell and aesthetics of books, I like how line lengths, page size, fonts, typography, layout, margins, the density of ink on paper, all that, I like how it creates a specific way of reading. So, no new books for some months and a rapidly dwindling pile of that variety which take months or years to read (Spivak, I’m looking at you.)

And then my favourite bookshop let me know books were available again and damn did I go hard. First, the Jhalak Prize announced its 2020 long and short lists and the winner, and I’m doing that thing again where I’ll end up throwing cash at about half the long list.

What is the Jhalak Prize (’cos clicking links scares me or something)? It was started in 2017 by Sunny Singh, Nikesh Shukla, and the sadly defunct Media Diversified and is an annual award for British and British resident writers of colour in any genre. And it’s consistently a banger. If I had the cash, I would without question by everything on the long list as soon as it’s announced.

And second, a bunch of weird old books I’ve been hitting my bookshop up for availability and prices for absolutely years turned up. A couple I’ve been asking about for five years. No, I cannot say no.

Some of these books have been sitting on my reading shelf since last year; some of them I finished months ago. I’m not doing that way too intense essay per book and annual Book(s) of The Year thing anymore, pumped the brakes on that. I still want to remind myself and celebrate a pile of authors who, all of whom did that indescribable magic a book can do. Some of these (’cos that’s my tendency) are hard, painful reads. Even these have beauty and joy and hope in them, and I reach for that. All these authors are my teachers and I’m grateful beyond words to have enough space in my life that I can read and appreciate and celebrate them.

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‘I know the Muslim religion by how [my grandpare…

‘I know the Muslim religion by how [my grandparents] reacted and how they did things, so all [my knowledge] is from seeing and hearing; I knew nothing about the Qu’ran or anything. All I know is that my grandparents were Muslims, and this is how they behaved and what their belief system was.’

[…]

Evidently, kin-based identification of this kind differs sharply from that associated with the formal embrace of the tenets of Islam. Based on cultural affiliation rather than a dramatic spiritual transformation, it represents a form of identification that sociological studies of conversion rarely recognise. In the context of the long, tangled history of Indigenous exposure to Islam this is particularly unfortunate as it has the effect of devaluing that historical association. In contrast with conversion – which at least in its classical formulation involves turning one’s back on the past – kinversion is an act of turning towards the family history and respecting the memory of the ancestors. It is, among other things, the phenomenon widespread among people of Indigenous-Muslim descent of invoking Islam as a marker of family continuity and identity. An identification with Islamic values that is not formal but familial is the result of long-term and widespread contact between Muslims (almost invariably men) and those (almost entirely women) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background. To invoke the term is to resist the dehistoricisation of the Indigenous-Islamic experience and to remind ourselves of its persistence across generations, genders and state boundaries.

Islam Dreaming — Indigenous Muslims in Australia, Peta Stephenson

I had Islam Dreaming on my list for a long time and suddenly it turned up. I didn't expect it to be so personally relevant, to read these pages and how simply and matter-of-fact this relationship was understood. It's something I've struggled to understand for myself for so long, and once again, it's Indigenous knowledge and life that helped. Different continents and I'm not Indigenous Australian, and trying to be careful here in not selectively appropriating a specific historical and geographic experience. I read these two pages over and over, recognising similarities to myself and my family's history in this.

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One Year Anniversary Facial Peel

One year ago, June 13th 2019, I went into an operating theatre in Marbella, Spain and came out half a day later. Or so. I still think I’m missing a few additional hours there. As I write this, one year ago I was there. This is the photo I took after having my face peeled off. A facial peel (thanks, Onyx for that accurate and true description. I laughed.). Tubes all over the place, and no idea how the getting through of those hours and following days in Spain and then back in Berlin in a heatwave would become months and now a year.

And it was a year before, also. A year of smashing 60–70 hour weeks, moving house in that, keeping up with training, just not thinking about it all, hardcore endurance and eyes on the finish line. Finish lines. Fourth attempt at making that cash. Going at it so hard this time ’cos I knew I could do it if I used all of myself up. Making that final 2,000€ payment which coincided with getting fired, not really caring ’cos I’d stacked up 22,000€ in 2/3 of a year and got to not give a shit about worrying how I’d make cash those next three months up to the flight to Spain. Just keeping eyes on being there on June 13th. Making that flight. Sitting in my hospital room playing the game of telling myself seriously, “You can always stop here. You don’t have to do this.” Me laughing, nah fuck nah, fucking bring the anaesthetic. I am fearless in these moments.

Hair grew back. Hair fell out. Hair grew back. Feeling came back. Swelling went down. Scar settled down. Face looked like me. Looked like who I’d have been if I hadn’t had to go the long, hard way ’round. Scar is still a bit lumpy and indented. Scalp and forehead still get tight every few days and need plenty of massaging. Hair is still growing back, me and my slow, delicate curly hair, all grey now ’cos I haven’t dyed it for a year. Most of the second half of last year just recovering from the previous year, trying to align myself. Most of this year dealing with the poverty of having that very necessary, non-optional pause. Wrote most of a novel in those months.

It was Ramadan that led to the job where I worked out almost immediately I could smash this fucker finally. It was Ramadan that finished a week before I flew to Spain. It was Ramadan that almost marks one year out, three weeks earlier now, sliding those couple of weeks away from the date. Still, it always felt to me like all this moved around that month of fasting, “It’s a big offering you’re making,” said Onyx. Not expecting anything in return for it, but still.

There are two questions we ask ourselves which come with being trans; both of them come from an immediately preceding question: “So what are you gonna do about it?” The first one is, “Hormones. Yes?” We might reply, “Nah,” or not be able to or allowed to reply, “Fuck yes!” but once we understand our selfhoods being framed in the context of ‘trans’ that’s our first question and answer and waypoint. The second is, “Surgery?” Being trans, living trans, especially in the last thirty years or so means having realistic conversations with ourselves and others about having major surgery. Surgeries. It’s part of the deal. We might never be able to afford it or be able to undergo such intensely physically demanding processes or even want it, but once we’re aware of who we are and what possibilities exist, we always come to this question. For cis people, normal life experience makes major surgery only something scary and grave, meaning illness or injury, or maybe ‘cosmetic’, ‘elective’, superficial and frivolous and spoken about in the way even cishet women depreciate femininity. For us, we have a very different relationship with the process. Scary, yeah, expensive and fucking huge commitment of time and energy and self before and after, yeah, but every time I’ve woken up from surgery for this, I’ve been smiling.

Life-changing and No Regerts.

There’s a heap of sadness and joy bound into all this. Sadness at how growing up I never had the family support to have had an easier time of it. And still don’t, and just accept it as something permanently missing. Sadness that even now I’m always dialled up ’cos cis people — especially white cis women — refuse to do the work, refuse to care and it’s like being back in the ’80s and ’90s with all that radical feminist and lesbian separatist absolute hate of us, wanting to literally erase us from the world entirely. Sadness every time I see a sister murdered, and far, far too often she’s Black and far, far too often her death is a literal execution, an erasing from existence.

Joy. ’Cos we are so fucking beautiful and we live in a universe cis people can’t even imagine. We are so close to gods and goddesses and deities and spirits, we walk hand-in-hand with them, with the land and water and sky of this Earth and always have and always will. I love all my sisters and brothers and siblings and niblings and aunties and uncles and elders and Muthas — especially Muthas, who saw me when I was a young, very fucked up child and who burn brighter in my life the older I get. And especially those who needed to do hormones and have surgery to live their truth. This is the hardest path, the most dangerous one, we all lost so much to go this way. Even the rare ones who had the love and support of their parents and family who put their selves and bodies and lives between the world and their children and fought. Even those ones lost so much.

Crossdresser, transvestite, transsexual, transgender, trans with or without the * or -, trans woman, trans feminine, tranny, t-girl, shemale, chick with a dick, sex change, shim, heshe, it. Not even a word, just laughter and “It’s a man!” and a fist in the mouth. Homelessness, poverty, fucked mental health. I’ve paid to survive this long, far more than that 22,000€ I’m a year out from and what it gave me.

Donate & protect Indigenous and Black trans femme futures ✊🏿✊🏿✊🏿

Cis people, queer or straight, I expect this of you: Do the work. Educate yourselves. Donate. Find community-based organisations in your city and country who explicitly, primarily support Black and Indigenous and Brown and Migrant trans femmes and commit to protecting our futures.

And if you think by my highlighting of trans femmes and trans women I’m forgetting about, ignoring, making invisible, erasing trans mascs and trans men, non-binary people and anyone else not totally cis? You’re not paying attention. And if you think as a cis person, queer or straight, this doesn’t affect you? Again, you’re not paying attention.

Step the fuck up.