To All the Straight White Boys I’ve Accidentally, Temporarily and Unhealthily Loved Before

Acknowledgements
For TJ, TW, ELB, AS, JM & BP – thank u, next x

 

Oscar Wilde (1891, p.47) once wrote, ‘Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life.’ As a writer who uses their own life and personal experiences as the greatest source of inspiration for their work, I cannot say that I entirely agree with this statement. I see life and art more in the concept of a cycle. Of course my life has been greatly influenced by literature, cinema and music. I have been fascinated by many icons who I’ve been inspired to imitate in life in certain ways but when it comes to creating my own art, the only thing I am interested in imitating is the life that I have lived myself. Although I often weave cultural references throughout my work to enhance relatability with my audience, the themes that recur most frequently in my writing focus on my (often problematic) relationships with others and most significantly my relationship with myself. However, something I do share with Wilde is a fascination with how we portray our identity both in life and in art. In The Decay of Lying (1891, p.39), he writes, ‘…what is interesting about people in good society… is the mask that each one of them wears, not the reality that lies behind the mask.’ This notion of performativity and constructing an identity has had a great impact on my life and has an undoubtable large presence in my writing. I often strive to be a voice for certain marginalised groups and a voice of the generation of millennials. The witty and humorous voice I use throughout my writing to make sense of my own life has become my signature identifier, so much so that it is arguable that my writing is a performance of self as voice itself. Voice is the mask I wear when trying to imitate the reality that lies beneath. Throughout my creative portfolio I have explored these ideas in memoir and diary entries. In this project I will further explain the relationship between these ideas and my creative work, with reference to other writers and artists whose views support my own.

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Andy Warhol is the artist who I believe shares the most similar views, intentions and experiences with myself. Warhol was one of the most infamous pioneers of the Pop Art movement that transformed the art scene in New York in the 1960s. Before the rise of Pop, Abstract Expressionism had dominated the scene for years and brought notoriety to Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock. Expressionist artists produced work that was viewed as an expression of intense soul searching which incorporated the use of moody colours and cathartic marks (Ingram, 2014, p.22). Warhol felt their world was very macho and in his memoir, POPism (2007), he described Pollock as a badly-behaved drunk who was very stupid and unpleasant to be around. Warhol recounted how Pollock would approach a homosexual and ask them whether they had, ‘Sucked any cocks lately?’ (2007, p.17). The robustness of the Expressionist Artists paired perfectly with their tortured, tormented art but to the new generation of artists it just seemed embarrassing. Alongside Pop artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Warhol brought art back from abstraction to reality. When discussing this movement Warhol (2007, p.1) said, ‘Pop Art took the inside and put it outside, took the outside and put it inside.’

As the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, Warhol grew up in Pittsburgh during the post-war Depression years feeling like an outsider. When he was eight-years-old, Warhol was confined to his bed for ten weeks after being diagnosed with St Vitus’ Dance disorder. Whilst his siblings played outside, Warhol spent most of his youth in his bedroom surrounded by posters of Hollywood stars, playing with paper dolls and copying advertisements out of fashion magazines. Everyday his mother would bring him a bowl of Campbell’s soup and a bottle of Coca Cola. When reflecting on what he loved about America in his book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, Warhol (2007, pp.100-101) stated:

 ‘America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and you just think, you can drink Coke too.’

These little things from everyday life made the secluded Warhol feel included and inspired his belief in the mythology of branding: that a simple bowl of soup or a sugary drink could bring him happiness. They made him feel like an insider and that is what Pop Art embodied.

The intensions of the Pop Artist were radical. They opposed the established rules that the Abstract Expressionists restricted the art world to with their exclusive and elitist cultural references. Pop Artists aimed to bring the fun back into the art world and lift it out of the darkness of Expressionism. Their art may not have been seen as complicated or highbrow with the requirement of previous knowledge but it was relaxed and instantaneous. Whereas Expressionists believed that the creative process was an expression of an individual artist’s inner soul, Pop Art could be created by anybody. It was a celebration of everyday modern life. In POPism, Warhol (2007, p.1) explains that, ‘The Pop Artists did images that anyone walking down Broadway could recognise in a split second.’ His art – which included brutally realistic prints of the American Dollar, Brillo pads and Marilyn Monroe – was for the ordinary man and woman. It was inclusive, raw and unedited but the Pop Art movement wasn’t well received by everybody. Warhol’s ‘leave it as it is’ attitude insulted many critics and members of the general public (Ingram, 2014, p.31). Countless people laughed at his work, they believed it was nihilistic and accused him of just copying the packaging of brands. However, those who supported Warhol believed his work to be of a natural beauty. When Warhol created his first Coca Cola canvas he made two versions: the first incorporated the use of Expressionist marks and the second was just an unadorned, outlined Coke bottle in black and white. In Popism (2007, p.6), he recounts how he showed them to his early mentor, Emile de Antonio, who stared at them and said,

“One of these is a piece of shit, simply a little bit of everything. The other is remarkable – it’s our society, it’s who we are, it’s absolutely beautiful and naked, and you ought to destroy the first one and show the other.”

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Warhol’s ideology of creating art that is accessible and intended for the ordinary man and woman is what my writing relates to the most. At the heart of everything I have written has been the concept of reality. Although I mostly write creative non-fiction, even my fictional work is heavily influenced by my real life experiences and the people who have left an impact on me. For me, there is nothing more original than telling one’s own story. We are all individuals; no two people have the same story but as human beings we can all relate to each other even if on the smallest of levels. Through transforming my experience of reality into art, I am able to add meaning to my personal experience and suggest something about life that can be formulated in philosophical terms. Like Warhol, I believe in the ‘leave it as it is’ approach. I keep the context of my writing raw and brutally honest in hopes that I can accurately reflect what it means to be human in this modern day society. Warhol’s films, such as Sleep (1964) (which was a five hour long take of his lover sleeping), were not so much about the content being watched but the act of watching itself. With my own writing, the content of things I experience may also be seen as nothing special or trivial, but the way in which I imitate these experiences through a carefully constructed and performative voice is what I believe makes my work unique.

In his article, Judith Butler: Performativity, writer Stephen Young (2016) states that ‘ordinary language’ philosophers such as John Austin who initiated the study of performatives, ‘tend to collapse the use/meaning distinction (of words) and replace it with the notion that the meaning of a word is its use.’ This supports my view that the way in which we use words derives their meaning. Austin (1979, p.237) defined ‘performative utterance’ as ‘a speech act that creates events or relations in the world.’ Young (2016) states that Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, pairs speech act theory with Michel Foucault’s notions of subject formulation ‘to explain how social agents reconstitute reality through their performance of language.’ These theories support my intentions of using voice as a performance of self in my writing in an attempt to encourage change in society.

Young (2016) states it is important to understand Butler’s notions that ‘performativity is deeply entangled with politics and legality.’ Butler during an interview with Liz Kotz (1992) states that performativity is linked to repetition, ‘very often the repetition of oppressive and painful gender norms.’ Her notion of performativity is associated mostly with her gender views but it can be applied to other construct groups that are marginalised. Like Warhol, I have experienced life as a gay man who comes from a working class background alongside low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. All of these components which make-up who I am as a person give me a sense of duty to share my voice in a way that contradicts the norms of an elitist industry that is dominated by heterosexual, middle class men. In a similar way to how Warhol uses everyday items in his art, I use an everyday voice and vocabulary in order for it to be intelligible and recognised by as many people as possible, regardless of their level of education. Austin (1979, p.243) argues that using ‘ordinary language’ in ‘non-ordinary’ ways ‘can break with discourse to engender insurrectionary potential.’ In simpler terms, I believe this means that through using ordinary language unconventionally, a writer has the potential to rebel against the social norms enforced upon society and encourage social change. This is why I write; in hope that my voice can reach other people out there who are poor, queer or struggling. The people who feel unseen and oppressed by society. My aim is to make them feel included and realistically represented, to let them know that they aren’t alone and encourage them to use their voices to challenge their oppressors too. I feel a great responsibility to use my voice on behalf of these communities as unfortunately their stories aren’t heard enough, particularly the stories of the working class.

In 2015, Paul McVeigh struggled to get his novel The Good Son published, as it told the story of a working class Catholic boy who lived in Belfast during the Northern Ireland conflict. The big publishers were put off by the working class language and McVeigh said, ‘I knew if I toned down the voice and made the book less honest and less representative of the lives of children growing up in poverty, it would have been a much easier and financially rewarding journey to publication’ (Waal, 2018). In her 2018 article for the Guardian, Make room for working class writers, Kit de Waal offers an explanation for this. She shares the findings from a 2016 paper that revealed publishing to be the least socially diverse of all the UK’s creative industries. The paper identified that people from middle class backgrounds make up 43% of the publishing industry in contrast to the 12% who come from working class backgrounds. As a result of the middle class dominating the publishing industry it is also estimated that 47% of all writers come from middle class backgrounds and only 10% grew up in the working class. Waal (2018) quotes Chirs McCrudden, a communications planner, as saying ‘Publishing is an upper middle class industry whose output caters to the upper-middle class tastes.’ Waal explains that in order for working class people’s stories to be heard they need to be told with a middle class audience in mind and confined to stereotypical stories such as the misery memoir.

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As Warhol did with POPism (2007), I chose to share my life experiences through the genre of memoir in my creative portfolio. When writing the memoir my main focus of the piece was the discontent I felt as a child due to pressures and demands forced upon me by my parents, teachers, religion and everyday life itself. Through the writing I ironically discovered that although the depression and oppression I experience in everyday life inspires me to create art, they also leave me feeling burned out and unable to work. Warhol (2007, p.96) echoed this feeling in his book, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol:

 ‘I suppose I have a really loose interpretation of “work” because I think that just being alive is so much work at something you don’t always want to do. Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery. People are working every minute. The machinery is always going. Even when you sleep.’

This interpretation is something I share completely. For me just living is a full-time job. At times I feel that I should be paid a minimum wage for just getting out of bed in the morning and brushing my teeth, overtime rates if I brush them again in the evening. My writing repeatedly reflects this dark view of reality and although I lace my signature humour and pop culture references throughout it, these often serve as a coping mechanism and distraction from the reality of my depression. I perform a light-hearted version of myself in order to protect my true self.

In his book, Not Working, psychoanalyst Josh Cohen explores the paradox created when we stop working and experience both exhaustion and an openness to creativity. As a psychoanalyst, Cohen regularly listens to patients who have become withdrawn from the world and long to feel nothing and be free from the everyday mental labour of just being alive. They will express how they don’t intend to commit suicide but would like to be dead, even if just for a while. Cohen (2018, p.4) states:

‘They suffer an all too human predicament: their impulse to live, to expand their presence in the world by participating in and contributing to it, also begets the opposite impulse, to contact and withdraw into the indifferent neutrality of a rabbit.’

Cohen uses Warhol to represent the archetype of the burnout, one of the faces of this paradox. The term ‘burnout’ was first used in in psychotherapy in 1974 by psychologist Herbert J, Freudberger to describe a state of, ‘physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress’ (Cohen, 2018, p.4). Throughout, Not Working, Cohen analyses the work of the many writers who have been influenced by the burnout paradox. In Graham Greene’s 1960 novel, A Burnt-Out Case, he compares the mental and spiritual burnout of his protagonist, Querry, with the cases or leprosy he witnesses in a leper colony. Believing he’s ‘come to the end of desire’ (Greene, 1960, p.42) he awaits death in a fatigued state of indifference, comparing his cut-off emotions to the amputated limbs of the lepers. Cohen (2018, p.5) states that, ‘…as long as he’s alive, Querry cannot ‘come to an end’. There will always be something or someone to disturb him.’ Here Cohen suggests that it is impossible to live a life of nothingness, pain and pleasure will always stir our desires. He refers to John Keats’ (1997) poem, Ode on Indolence, to express his belief that beneath the pursuits of our desires lies a yearning for their extinction. Cohen (2018, p.8) questions whether our greatest desire it to put an end to desire itself and states that this only leads to another wearisome paradox of human experience, ‘that even the wish for nothing is still a wish.’

In a brief memoir, Japanese Buddhist Kamo no Chōmei (2013) captures the paradox of the ‘desire for non-desire’ (Aulagnier, 2001, p.17).  He shares the story of a time he withdrew from all attachments and built a ten-foot-square mobile hut on Mount Hino where he lived peacefully until realized he had ironically become attached to his withdrawal. Cohen (2018, p.8) uses this example to support his argument that. ‘You can’t seek non-desire without getting caught up in the snares of desire.’ He states (2018, pp.8-9) this is why humans envy the existence of animals, without awareness they live without aims or tasks, but for humans, ‘even living without projects had to be a project’ and ‘to renounce all desires is very different from never having had any in the first place.’

During the early 1990s Saitō Tamaki, a Japanese psychiatrist was overwhelmed with requests from parents of young adults who had become chronically withdrawn. Through clinically and theoretically researching the phenomenon, Tamaki discovered an epidemic of social withdrawal or shakakiteki hikikomori which was affecting millions of people in Japan. In Tamaki’s book, Hikokomori (2013, p.48), he states, ‘In reality, they are spending their days assaulted by feelings of impatience and despair over their inability to participate in society.’  Cohen (2018, p.22) argues that the hikikomori desperately long to start again but when they fail to achieve their new beginnings they are once again:

‘…caught in the hellish non-place of the burnout, unable to attain either the peace of the zero state or the gratification of the active state…condemned to repeat the same sequence of resolving to go and not moving.’

Cohen (2018, p.23) concludes that what keeps the hikikomori condemned to this cycle is the pressure of the Japanese education system and the consumer capitalism which gives the hikikomori the illusion that they have ‘infinite possibilities’. Overwhelmed by the choice to do or be something, the hikikomori cannot accept the loss of the freedom to do or be most other things. Cohen (2018, p.23) states that, ‘The hikikomori can preserve their limitless freedom only by placing themselves in prison.’ Finally he poses the question (2018, p.23), ‘Is the culture making hikikomori of us all?’

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The concept of the burnout can be related to the concept of biopower in the essay, Right of Death and Power over Life, by philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault. Foucault (1978, p.780) states that in the seventeenth century, power over life could be seen in two forms with one, ‘centered on the body as a machine… the optimization of its capabilities, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility…’ and the other ‘focused on the species body, the body imbued with the mechanics of life and serving as the basis of the biological processes.’ He states (1978, p.781) that this biopower, ‘had to have methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes and life in general at the same time making them more difficult to govern.’ Foucault’s concept supports my argument that the things in life that inspire me to make the most productive use of my voice in my writing are also the things that can make it more difficult to do so. Foucault (1978, p.783) adds that:

‘life more than law became the issues of political struggles… the “right” to life… to happiness … and beyond all the oppressions or “alienations”, the “right” to rediscover all that one is and all that one can be.’

 I relate this to the struggles in my own writing and life itself in the sense that I constantly feel a pressure to perform the best version of myself, as evidenced in the context of my memoir, but in reality this consistency of self is impossible to achieve. My body is not a machine and chasing this unrealistic desire is what causes me to burn out repeatedly and redirects my desire towards becoming nothingness.

Warhol too felt great frustration as the result of his desires in relation to his career, his relationships and his sexuality. In 1963, during an interview with Times magazine he said, ‘Machines have less problems, I would like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?’ (Bockris, 1998, p.163). Warhol didn’t just express his desire for the non-desire throughout his art, he performed the paradox as the very core of himself.  Writer Steven Shaviro (Ingram, 2014) suggested that Warhol’s greatest work of art was perhaps himself and the vacant persona he curated. Warhol knew the power of silence, he often referred to himself as a mirror, reflecting society back onto itself. In POPism (2007, p. 52) he expressed how he wanted to mold his life into, ‘Plastic. White-on-white’. He was fascinated by the concept of nothingness. He referred to his work, his life and himself as nothing repeatedly. In The Life and Death of Andy Warhol (Bockris, 1998, p.390), Warhol is quoted as saying, ‘Everything is nothing. From making love to making art, the most exciting this is not doing it.’ However, Cohen (2018, p.48) argues, ‘Warhol’s investment of his whole self in doing, feeling and being nothing was also an expression of his prodigious productivity’ and like the Buddhist monk Chōmei, Warhol’s manifested person and robotic neutrality was repeatedly interrupted by human desire (Cohen,2018).

In art and in life, Warhol’s principal philosophy was to take the unbearable feelings and sufferings we experience as humans, ‘pass them through the looking glass’ and turn them into an artistic embodiment of a silkscreened reality (Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, 2006). He wanted to create something beautiful out of the ugliest parts of life in a similar way that writers had before him, such as Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey (2006). This ideology of transforming ‘garbage’ into something of value is exactly what I set out to imitate in my diary entries which are inspired by the unraveling of a relationship which triggered aspects of my own most unbearable suffering. However, it is perhaps these unhealthy relationships developed throughout life that are the most important exercises in this transformative process.

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At the center of Warhol’s mythology was his legendary silver factory, the warehouse where Warhol made most of his art (Ingram, 2014). Warhol filled the factory with a community of artists, drag queens and musicians. Cohen (2018) suggests that these extroverted characters contrasted Warhol’s embodiment of nothingness and therefore his persona was also influenced by the creativity and emotions of the people he surrounded himself with. As Warhol’s fame increased, new and exciting artists would be drawn into the Factory where they would become the main attraction of Warhol’s attention. He would use these unknown faces in his art and make them famous, if only for a short time. This is how Warhol invented the term superstar and one of his most infamous phrases, fifteen minutes of fame. In The Philosophy (2007, p.5), Warhol refers to his superstars as the Bs to his A, “B is anybody who helps me kill time. B is anybody and I’m nobody. B and I. I need B because I can’t be alone’.

To me a superstar is any ordinary person who seemingly navigates life and the sufferings they encounter without letting themselves become completely lost in the process. This is why throughout my diary entries I repeatedly refer to characters by their full names, like Andy did with the many superstars he encountered in The Diaries of Andy Warhol (Hackett, 2010). These characters become embodiments of consistent selves that I desire to be. However, throughout the diary entries I never refer to my protagonist, based on myself, by name. The reasoning behind this anonymity was a way for me to represent my desire to be no one. Subsequently, in allowing my protagonist to be no one this allows them to become anyone. My hope was that any young gay man who reads these diary entries could relate to this tale of unrequited love on such a personal level that they could then explore themselves as the protagonist of their own story.

Warhol himself has successive relationships with his superstars which repeated the same sequence of intense bonding and infatuation and ultimately always ended with a hasty disentanglement of cold indifference and rejection. Cohen (2018, p.36) refers to these relationships as:

‘…interminable rehearsals of our most basic predicament: to love and be loved…If love promises gratification, care and protection, it also puts us at perpetual risk of exposure to indifference, neglect and cruelty.’

He believes Warhol found this double bind insufferable which led him to compulsively fluctuate between rejecting his desires and surrendering himself to them. As I document in the diary entries through the protagonists’ on-again-off-again companionship with the character TJ, I too have found this fluctuation insufferable.

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Warhol’s most notorious muse and infamous superstar was Edie Sedgwick. Sedgwick came from an incredibly dysfunctional family: her father sexually abused her and two of her brothers committed suicide, one as the result of homophobic abuse from their father. Initially, Warhol saw a lot of himself in Sedgwick.  They both desperately desired love and attention and hid their intense vulnerability behind extravagantly manifested personas. In This is Warhol (2014), Ingram states that Sedgwick became paranoid and miserable during her time as the goddess of the Factory. When reflecting upon this Sedgwick said:

‘Everything I did was really underneath, I guess, motivated by psychological disturbances. I made a mask out of my face because I didn’t realise I was quite beautiful. God blessed me so I practically destroyed it… All those little manoeuvres I did out of things that were happening in my life that upset me…I was a good target for the scene; I blossomed into a healthy young drug addict.’ (Stein and Plimpton, 2006, p.302)

The affection and protection Warhol once offered Sedgwick soon diminished and he redirected the contempt he felt for himself towards her. In David Dalton’s (2006, p.48) biography of Edie, Edie Factory Girl, he says,

 ‘Andy wanted to be Edie, would’ve liked to have been everything she was. A beautiful aristocratic girl, someone so self-possessed that people’s heads turned when she entered the room and whom everybody loved on sight’.

Truman Capote (Dalton, 2006, p.48) said, ‘He would have liked to have been anyone but Andy Warhol.’ As Judith Butler (1991, p.959) states in her essay, Imitation and Gender Insubordination, ‘any intense emotional attachment thus divides into either wanting to have someone or wanting to be that someone, but never both at once.’ Whereas my writing has imitated my own self-destructive behaviour, Warhol captured Sedgwick’s demise through his films which subjected her to further public humiliation. In POPism (2007, p.155), he recounts the moment when Sedgwick finally confronted him and said:

‘Everybody in New York is laughing at me! I’m too embarrassed to even leave my apartment. These movies are making a complete fool out of me! Everybody knows I just stand around in them doing nothing and you film it and what kind of talent is that?’

Warhol (2007, p.156) responded, ‘But don’t you understand? These movies are art.’ Four years after parting ways with Warhol and The Factory, Sedgwick died of an overdose. Cohen (2018, p.45) reflects on her death in Not Working, and suggests that ‘her tragic end was the result of her helplessly low self-worth. Standing around and doing nothing, once the unique basis of her creative achievement had become a humiliating burden.’ At times when I am overwhelmed by the desire for non-desire, I too see my own work as a source of humiliation. The greatest hindrance I have discovered in the process of performing the self as voice is that when you lose trust in that voice it becomes impossible to use it with conviction.

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Warhol alternated between long periods of celibacy and abrupt periods of passionate, often hopeless desire. Gerald Malanga, a frequent collaborator of Warhol described him, ‘as if he was sexless’ (Bockris, 1998, p.185). In The Philosophy (2007, p.44) Warhol wrote, ‘sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets anyway…Personal love and personal sex is bad.’ Cohen suggests that to love someone personally would contradict Warhol’s robotic neutrality.  As Brockis (1998 p.93), expressed, ‘Andy was frightened of going to sleep alone but was unable to sleep with anyone else.’

When Warhol did seek out love he would chase the unattainable. In the 1950’s, he fell in love with several beautiful, inaccessible men including socialite Charles Lisanby. He lavished Lisanby with extravagant gifts but he was only ever offered companionship in return, not sex. When Lisanby took up a female lover, Warhol was enraged. In The Philosophy (2007) he alludes to this meltdown as triggering his desire for indifference. As Cohen (2018, p.41) puts it, ‘Measuring himself hopelessly against the ideals of male beauty everywhere surrounding him and conducting serial affairs which culminated in his painful rejection, he became more morose and resentful.’

Like Warhol, I see the loss of the relationship that inspired the one imitated in my diary entries as perhaps one of the most significant triggers for my desire to hide behind the mask of voice. The pain of rejection I experienced created an unforgettable sense of not being enough that has haunted me ever since. When I lost this companionship, I felt as though I had lost myself. However, Butler (1991, p.900) argues that, ‘…the self only becomes a self on the condition that it has suffered a separation, a loss which is suspended and provisionally resolved through a melancholic incorporation of some other.’ Perhaps the loss of this relationship didn’t erase who I was, it in fact helped me to define who I was. For better and for worse, this experience shaped the person I am today and most importantly it forced me to confront the idea of accepting myself as a transgender woman currently serving a sentence in the body of a gay man. This loss of love didn’t kill me. As the protagonist in the diary entries discovers when he wakes up the morning after a potential drug overdose, clutching a lighter that he believed signified his life or death, I survived.

*

‘We are in a society of ‘sex’,’ Foucault (1978, p.784) states in The Right of Death and Power over life. In this society the mechanisms of power speak, ‘of sexuality and to sexuality; the latter was not a mark or a symbol, it was an object and a target’ (1978, p.785). Foucault goes on to add that sexuality became, ‘the stamp of individuality’ (1978, p.784). In Imitation and Gender Insubordination, Butler (1991, p.955) states that as young queer people we are told that who we are ‘is a copy, an imitation, a derivative example, a shadow of the real.’ Butler argues that heterosexuality, ‘sets itself up as the original, the true, the authentic; the norm that determines the real’ (1991, p.955) which implies that homosexuality is merely an imitation which we hopelessly attempt to realise in order to participate in the ‘phantasmatic plenitude of naturalized heterosexuality’ which will only ever lead us to failure. Butler (1991) argues that the idea of heterosexuality as the ‘normal self’ consigns ‘gay life to discursive domains of unreality and unthinkability’ (p.957) and that ‘acting out of line with heterosexual norms brings with it ostracism, punishment and violence’ (p.958). The views of these two theorists reconfirmed the exact purpose of my writing. For as long I can recall, societal norms have consistently led me to believe that I am unnatural, that I am ‘wrong’; a mistake of a human that is not supposed to be here. The most powerful tool I can use to rebel against this idea is my voice, to make myself heard in my own words and to take control of how I am portrayed. My voice allows me to regain the power of my identity, to overpower the noise of society dictating who I am and permits me to speak for myself. As Butler (1991, p.969) puts it, ‘identification and desire can coexist.’ Who I am and what I want are both valid. My voice is valid. My self is inconsistent and unfinished but it is real.

To return to the argument of whether art imitates life more than life imitates art, I still do not have a definitive answer for that question. What I do know is that I have lived a life that I deem worthy of documenting. My life has been complicated, I’ve experienced a lot of loss and great sadness but also a lot of love and great joy. The imitation of my life in my art may be quite sombre but what I hope it shows and helps me to achieve is a sense that I am doing something productive and worthwhile with my life. That everything I have experienced: good, bad and otherwise has been for a purpose. And at the end of life itself, beneath all the humour, pop culture references and the voice, all I really want to be able to say is that my life had meaning. That it wasn’t all for nothing, that I wasn’t nothing. To me, the greatest form of art is life itself.

¡Ay de mí!

I’m awake. The room is cloaked in darkness but it will be some time until I’m ready to pull the shutter up. I don’t need to see the suitcase on the floor, overloaded with unwashed clothes; I can smell it already. I check my phone and the brightness of the screen hurts my eyes. It’s one o’clock in the afternoon. Like yesterday and the day before, I haven’t quite managed to make it into work today. No-one will bother me. The first time it happened a few frantic phone calls were made. When I saw Alba the next day, she expressed how scared she was that something might have happened. She didn’t specify what that something might have been, but she didn’t have to. Now Alba and all the other teachers handle me with extreme caution. Like they’re scared that if they ask me too many questions, that I’ll shatter into pieces in front of them and they won’t know what to do with the shards. Perhaps they just don’t care anymore. It’s kind of sad because Alba was a really good friend to me for the first sixth months of my time in Manresa. But at this point I don’t blame her. I’m surprised they’re still paying me to be honest.

Moving carefully through the darkness, I feel for the door handle and step out into the narrow corridor that leads to four other rooms. It’s dark here too. Sami’s bedroom is the furthest to my right. She’ll be at work and won’t be home until at least six. I wonder whether she tried to wake me this morning or just didn’t bother. The days all blur into one. The door to my immediate right leads to Cuca’s bedroom. Cuca is the eleven-week-old kitten that Sami entrusts me to look after whilst she’s at work. She must have heard me because now she is crying from behind the closed door, begging me to let her out. She’s been alone for hours but I’m not ready to deal with her just yet either. I go into the bathroom and shut the door behind me.

 As I sit on the toilet I try to remember the last time I had a bowel movement that wasn’t diarrhoea. I can’t. I’m pretty sure I have piles. I’m pretty sure they hurt, but these days it’s difficult to distinguish which pain is coming from which body part. After using a ridiculous amount of toilet roll, I wash my hands and catch sight of myself in the toothpaste splattered mirror. My hair hasn’t been cut in over two months. The dark brown dye has faded. My greasy, auburn roots have been left to grow for far too long. In a way I use them as a reference point. A measurement of how much time has passed since it finally dawned on me that he was never going to love me. The point where the auburn darkens marks the exact place in time of when I accepted it. Or at least tried to begin to. You can’t escape from your roots. They’re always there, beneath the surface of your scalp, just waiting for the time to pass so that they can reveal themselves. So that they can reveal the truth. I want to shave it all off but that would only draw too much attention to my face. My gaunt face and my spot infested chin. I’m not sure they are technically spots anymore, they’re more like scabs. Wounds. I know I need to leave them alone. If I don’t stop picking at them then they’re never going to heal. But I can’t resist. I’m picking at them right now. Pick. Pick. Pick. I don’t stop until I draw blood and the scabs lay discarded in the sink. If Sami was here I would stick pieces of tissues to my face to absorb the blood. But she isn’t so I let the blood trickle down. A reminder that surely if I can bleed then I am still technically alive.

It’s boiling inside the bathroom. I’m only wearing shorts but I’m sweating. I clasp my hands around my minute waist. I’ve always been skinny but I’d never considered it a problem until now. When I lay down at night I can feel my ribs almost protruding from my body. If I was to inhale too strongly I wouldn’t be shocked to hear something crack. When I returned home for a week in March, my skeletal figure shocked my parents and for the first time in a long time they showed genuine concern about me. When I tried to pick up my two-year-old niece I felt excruciating pains in my arms, shoulders and neck. I’d never felt anything like it before. I had to put her back down, terrified that I was going to drop her. The one family member I care about more than anyone else.

It was freezing back in Liverpool. The cold has always bothered me but this was unbearable. In a moment of desperation, I dragged the living room couch away from the radiator and sat with my back pressed up against it. The bars burnt against my spine but still the rest of my body shivered. When my mother walked into the room she just stood and stared, I don’t think she knew what to say. Before I returned to Manresa, she made me promise that I’d bring my five months of vegetarianism to an end. My dad asked if I was sure I was ready to go back. This was extremely out of character. I felt like I didn’t have a choice, and though I did, I was incapable of making it. I find myself calling them most nights. I don’t know what I’m hoping to achieve. Most of the phone calls consist of silence until my mother reinforces my earlier belief, “I just don’t know what to say.” Then she hangs up. I can’t help but resent them.

The stench of sweat clings to my body. I should shower but I like to space things out to minimalize the amount of time I have to just think. I’ll do it before Sami gets home. I run the tap to flush my scabby remains down the plughole. Ignoring Cuca’s cries I return to my bedroom. It’s just as hot in here so I’m finally ready to pull up the shutter and open the window. The light is harsh. I think I prefer the dark; it makes me feel less guilty. With the room illuminated, my eyes are drawn to my few possessions scattered across the storage cabinets to my left. Textbooks that have been left untouched for days. A framed drawing of Edie Sedgwick that a friend gave me as a gift for my birthday; the glass shattered in the move over here. A makeup bag containing various beauty products including several bareMinerals application brushes that I purchased after the Christmas break. Back when I was inspired to make a lot of effort with my appearance. Some days for me, most days for him. None of these items will be necessary today. On the days that I do manage to make it into work I either use my fingertips to frantically rub foundation over my scabby face or wear none at all.

Reaching into the bag, I search for what I’m looking for. I pull out a small tub of unopened anti-depressants. A doctor prescribed them last month when Alba accompanied me to a hospital to find a cure for my persistent diarrhoea and recent body aches. They only cost forty-five cents. I don’t trust them. They aren’t what I’m looking for. I try again and retrieve the herbal anxiety tablets that Alba recommended. I take two and wash them down with water from a half empty bottle that has been lingering in my room for a while. They taste like Weetabix. So I guess they count as a reasonable breakfast substitute.

Unable to supress the guilt any longer, I decide to set Cuca free. She darts out and paws at my bare feet, whining for attention. Her room smells as bad as I do. She hasn’t quite mastered how to use her litter box yet. Like the children at work, she could do with a better teacher. There are two solid, kitten-sized faeces next to the box. I should probably clean them up and open a window. I should probably do a lot of things.

Cuca follows me through the fourth and final door of the corridor. The living room is filled with light due to the glass doors that occupy an entire wall. They slide open to allow access to a balcony. There isn’t a lot of furniture, other than a second-hand couch that I purchased for ninety euros on the Spanish equivalent of Gumtree. In front of the couch stands a chair with my old, battered laptop open on top of it. The laptop only works when it’s plugged in and it’s barely holding itself together. The screen has detached from the base in the left corner and any day now it’s going to completely fall apart. On the floor there is a large jar, it was filled with olives but now only the brine remains. My current diet consists solely of olives, ice pops and Aldi pizzas that cost one euro and ninety-nine cents for three. The pizzas have a texture like tomato purée covered cardboard but I can’t stomach much else.

Cuca is gnawing at the lead of the laptop charger. I pick her up more roughly than I should and drop her on the couch. Sami brought her home when she was only five weeks old, it seemed too soon for her to be separated from her mother. She’s a beautiful little creature. Her fur is striped like a tiger and her blue eyes have a look of pure innocence. She deserves so much love and care but I’m just not able to provide it. Sometimes I just want to pick her up and shake her. To scream at her. To ask her what she wants from me. To explain to her that I can’t possibly look after her when I can’t even look after myself.

The need to smoke overwhelms me. I step out onto the balcony and light a cigarette, instinctively sliding the door shut behind me. The flat is on the fourth floor and Sami would murder me if Cuca ever got out. Little does Sami know, that every time I’m out here I peer over the edge and acknowledge that the drop is as a danger, not to Cuca but to myself. So far the thought of Sami coming home to discover my blood splattered across the courtyard keeps me safe. I don’t want her to have to deal with that trauma. I don’t want her to have to spend the rest of her time in this small town known as the girl whose friend jumped from her balcony. I don’t want my parents to have to pay for what remains of my body to be shipped back home. I dread the day when these consequences no longer hold me back. Every day that I wake up here is a risk. My selfish desire for nothingness is growing too strong to subdue. I honestly believe that I’m going to die here. One jump and it could all disappear if I wanted. The uncontrollable thoughts. The never-ending misery. The insufferable pain. Him. He’s killing me anyway. This would just be quicker. But not today.

I finish my cigarette and slide open the balcony door. At first I don’t notice Cuca waiting for me on the other side. She does this often. She waits with her face pressed up against the glass, her eyes fixated on me, ready to dart out the moment the door is opened. My paranoia tells me that she’s doing this on purpose, to test me. To see if I really am capable of keeping her safe. Something else tells me that she just doesn’t want to be left alone inside this flat. She longs to go outside, but it’s just too dangerous.  Just as her tiny paw is about to touch the balcony tiles, I spot her. I scoop her up gently and step back inside, sliding the balcony door shut behind me.

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What’s the T? – RuPaul’s Drag Ignorance

I discovered RuPaul’s Drag Race when I was twenty-three. The competitive reality show had premiered seven years earlier but I’ve always had a habit of being late to the party. One hungover day, a Vine of one of the most beloved members of the Drag Race alumni, Alyssa Edwards, caught my attention. Alyssa was wearing a blonde, bouffant wig and rolling around on the floor holding a prop gun. The Ariana Grande song Dangerous Woman played over the five second clip. I was sold. I called in sick to work, blaming my IBS rather than the consequences of cheap wine, and watched all seven episode of the latest series, All Stars 2.  Within a few short months I consumed every episode possible.

What I found in Drag Race was a sense of belonging that I had never felt before. I had never witnessed such a positive representation of gay men before.  These men weren’t being stereotyped or solely used for comic relief, they were being celebrated. Watching them share their talents, stories and struggles gave me hope. Hope that maybe things do get better. I could relate to these queens. Queens like Katya who, in her own words, ‘is riddled with crippling anxiety’. Queens like Nina Bo’Nina Brown who struggles to silence her inner saboteur. Queens like Jaidynn Diore Fierce who isn’t fully accepted by her family. These queens made me feel less alone.

Inspired by the queens, I decided to lose my drag virginity. I made my drag debut at a noughties themed, fancy dress party as the ultimate noughties icon: Paris Hilton. I paid homage to her look from the first season of The Simple Life and my attention to detail was exceptional. I wore a denim corset and mini-skirt combo. All night I carried around a Beanie Baby Chihuahua to represent the heiresses’ beloved Chihuahua, Tinkerbell (rest in peace sweet pup). I even had a real Louis Vuitton handbag that I borrowed from one of my middle class friends. It was without a doubt one of the best nights of my life, made perfect by the fact that Princess Paris left two comments on my Instagram photos. The messages may have been short and sweet, “Yas” and “Loves it” (with a starry, heart emoji) but they validated me for life. I felt grateful to Drag Race, more specifically to the Queen of Queens herself, RuPaul.

RuPaul is many things: a gay icon, the most powerful man in drag and America’s untraditional sweetheart. His career has been ground-breaking and he has used his position of power to launch the careers of over one hundred other drag queens. He provides each and every queen with unconditional love and support. He isn’t just a judge to the queens, he is a mentor and mother. However, in the past week RuPaul became something that his supporters didn’t think was possible: flawed.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, RuPaul shocked the LGBT community. He announced he wouldn’t admit transgender queens onto his show if they had already started gender-affirming surgery. Understandably the outcry that followed was deafening. Former Drag Race contestants (including those who went on to transition after the show), fans and trans performers all came forward to express their disappointment in RuPaul and state how strongly the disagreed with his decision. He has since retracted and apologised for his discriminatory comments in a poorly-received tweet.

RuPaul’s apology tweet was met with valid criticism. However, while some people engaged in debate and questioned RuPaul’s stance, others decided that the conversation was over, along with his career. Tweets declaring ‘RuPaul is dead’ circulated. Anger and disagreement are worthwhile reactions, but shutting down conversation when you’re met with opinions that aren’t the same as yours is counter intuitive to progress. Despite what we would like to believe, there isn’t a single person alive that hasn’t been guilty of being ignorant. If the punishment for ignorance is death, then the entire human race would face extinction any minute now.  Conversations challenging ignorance need to be informative and compassionate, especially when challenging transgender discrimination which until recently people knew very little about.

Since Caitlin Jenner’s transition, the conversation surrounding trans people has moved to the fore. The L, G and B members of the LGBT community have experienced progress in recent years, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage across all states in America. However, transgender people have not been afforded the same treatment. Under new congress trans people have seen their rights consistently threatened and retracted. As one of the most prominent figures of a marginalised group, RuPaul should be well aware of just how damaging exclusivity can be.

RuPaul was the voice telling me that who I am is good enough, louder than all of the other voices telling me that I wasn’t. Trans people desperately need to hear that voice right now. RuPaul has a responsibility to be that voice. We all have a responsibility to be that voice. We need to speak loud and clear. We need to reinforce that the T stands for so much more than truth. We need to do better.

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Call Me by Your Name Review: Two (Straight) Stars

Call Me by Your Name tells the story of seventeen-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) who experiences the inimitable euphoria of falling in love for the first time and the inevitable heartbreak that follows. The summer romance he shares with another man lasts only six short weeks. Directed by Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love and A Bigger Splash), the film is an adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 coming-of-age novel, translated for the screen by James Ivory. This stunning, arthouse film is set in the early 80’s in an unspecified location in Northern Italy. Much like Moonlight, 2016’s success story for gay cinema, Call Me by Your Name earned numerous nominations from some of the most prestigious film awards, including four Academy Award nominations. On paper, the film is everything that a young, gay man would expect to capture and break his own heart.

Italian-American Elio is a musical prodigy who speaks three languages. He spends his summers in Italy reading profound literature, transcribing classical music and composing different styles of Bach on piano. He had a loving relationship with his parents, they are a family of intellectuals. Elio states they are the only Jewish family in the region and they keep their religion discrete. Every summer his father, Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), selects a graduate student to come live with the family and assist him with his research. This particular summer the indisputably handsome, self-assured Oliver (Armie Hammer) is selected. Oliver is an archaeologist with an incredible academic and philosophical mind and a habit of leaving conversations with a dismissive “Later.”  It is Oliver’s arrival that awakens something inside of Elio. Oliver breathes life into his summer and awakens his dormant sexuality. It is unfortunate that the introduction of Hammer’s Oliver has quite a different effect on the viewer.

From the moment Oliver steps out of a car in his billowy shirt with exposed, never-ending legs, it is apparent there is something jarring about the casting of Hammer. Though Hammer’s performance certainly captures the cockiness of Oliver, it isn’t quite powerful enough to distract viewers from the fact that once again a film with a same-sex couple at its heart has decided to cast two straight actors in the leading roles. Oliver is the third character that Hammer has portrayed in a same-sex relationship, like fellow actor James Franco he has been accused of queerbaiting LGBT audiences to prove himself as a progressive actor.

On top of this Hammer’s age raises an issue. He is thirty-two-years-old playing the twenty-four-year-old love interest of seventeen-year-old Elio. Chalamet is twenty-one-years-old. The love story already faced criticism for the age-gap between the two lovers with critics arguing that it reinforced the harmful predatory stereotype that members of the LGBT community face. However, through casting actors with an even greater age gap between them, the film only draws further attention to this issue. This is supported by the striking contrast between Chalamet’s boy like figure and Hammer’s Greek godlike physique, which are constantly exposed as both actors spend the majority of the film wearing only swimming shorts.

Chalamet accurately portrays the vulnerability and relatability of falling in love for the first time with another man. Every movement and sound he makes is believable, from his stolen glances at Oliver to the crack in his voice when he calls his mum to pick him up after Oliver’s departure.  There is no denying that his performance is breath-taking and as a result, his nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars is well-deserved. However, this makes Chalamet approximately the fiftieth straight actor to receive an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a gay character. As Sir Ian Mckellen has previously pointed out: no openly gay man has ever won the Oscar for Best Actor. Despite being openly gay himself, Guadagnino’s casting choices leaves Call Me by Your Name in the company of other critically acclaimed LGBT films (Brokeback Mountain and Milk) that have highlighted the perceived discrimination LGBT actors face.

As a result of the poster they chose to use to market the film (a still of Elio and a female love interest paired with a quotation about the intensity of the romance in the film), Sony has once again been accused of trying to straight-wash a gay film. Call Me by Your Name is unmistakably a queer love story. There are very specific factors of a love shared by two men, such as the rejection they face from their families and the secrecy society forces them into, that are not present in a straight relationship. These factors would be even more prominent when their love develops at the same time of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. However, the film seems determined to establish itself as more than just a gay love story in a bid to appeal to a wider, more ‘general’ audience. It’s desire to be regarded as more a coming-of-age story is clear and disappointing. The relationship Elio explores with Marzia (Esther Garrel) whilst struggling with his feelings towards Oliver is given a surprising amount of screen time. The way in which the camera is framed and lingers on the sex scenes involving Elio and Marzia, harshly contrasts the filming style applied to sex scenes between Elio and Oliver. The moments shared between Elio and Marzia are more brightly lit, show more skin and are shot much closer up. Though there are several tender moments shown between the two male lovers, such as when Elio places his foot on top of Oliver’s and when Oliver first touches Elio on the shoulder. However, when it comes to the much anticipated sex scene, Guadagnino pans the camera away to focus on a tree. In Aciman’s novel, there is a very graphic sex scene involving a peach, the scene in the film depicting this was rewritten and downplayed. Sony have faced criticism several times before for their choice of film stills used to market their films. Carol, the 2015 film starring Cate Blanchett told the story of a forbidden love affair between two female characters. Sony marketed the film with a romantic shot of Cate Blanchett and male co-star Kyle Chandler.

Despite its flaws, Call Me by Your Name is a beautiful film. The final scene is haunting: a three minute close up of Chalamet staring into a fireplace, tears falling down his face as Elio begins to process the loss of his first love. The song that plays over this scene, Visions of Gideon, is one of two harrowing songs that singer Sufjan Stevens produced specifically for the film. The other, Mystery of Love, was nominated for Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. The film alone may not leave you with your own broken heart but the overwhelming sadness of these songs will. Stevens words reach deep inside your chest and bring to the surface the excruciating pain that never quite went away after losing your first love. Saving Visions of Gideon for the film’s final moments is perhaps the wisest decision made in the entire production.

Life’s a b**ch.

Most people seem to worry about how little time they have to make their impact on the world. I worry about how much time I have to leave no impact at all. Beyoncé once sang about wanting to leave her footprints on the sands of time and like most self-absorbed millennials I like to relate all Beyoncé lyrics to my own life. It’s as if I went to a beach when I was sixteen years old, accompanied by all my friends and the boy that I loved. We had a great time. We drank cheap vodka, smoked Richmond Superkings and listened to MGMT on repeat. I was content with the way things were. Things weren’t perfect, the boy I loved didn’t love me back in the way that I wanted him to, but in some ways I was happy. We were all together and that was enough. Well, I thought it was. As time went on my friends decided they wanted to explore the rest of the beach and see what else was out there. I volunteered to stay and look after the bags. Eight years have passed and I’m still here, standing on a towel. My friends’ footprints cover the beach for miles and miles, some of them have ventured onto beaches in different countries, some aren’t even on the beach at all anymore. They still come back to visit me and we hang out like we used to but it just doesn’t feel the same. They talk about parts of the beach that I’ve never been to before and I find myself withdrawn from the conversation. The boy I once loved visits very rarely. He hugs me from behind and presses his left cheek against my right one and I wish that he wouldn’t. They all have new bags, filled with bigger and better things than the ones I volunteered to stay behind with. There’s no point in me guarding their old ones anymore, yet I remain stuck on this old towel. Nothing is physically keeping me here, there have been plenty of opportunities for me to leave and follow my friends along the beach and occasionally I take them. I walk for a while taking careful steps, beaming at the footprints I leave behind, but then night falls and I get scared. I realise I have no idea where I’m going or how I’m supposed to get there and the comfort and the familiarity of the old towel waiting for me, in the same spot that I started from, always calls me back. So I return again and again to my self-made prison. And I just don’t know why I can’t bring myself to leave. I do know that it’s dark, it’s cold and I fucking hate the beach.

I’m not sure what I imagined my life would be like as a young adult. Maybe the problem was that I didn’t imagine it at all. I don’t mean that in a grim death kind of way, though part of me is still convinced I’ll die young. I’m not cool or accomplished enough for the twenty-seven club, so if I do die young it will probably be the day before my twenty-seventh birthday or the day after my twenty-eighth. Death doesn’t scare me, I’m a firm believer in reincarnation. I don’t believe in any of that ‘if you’re a bad person you’ll come back as a dung beetle’ nonsense. I just believe that when you die your soul leaves your body and goes into a new-born baby, or maybe it drifts up into a womb and latches onto an embryo. I’m not sure about the logistics. I refuse to accept that this is the only life I’m going to live. I like to think of it as the free trial that I’ll forget all about once I’m re-born and living the middle class dream. I swear if I’m not reborn middle class then I’m not coming out at all. Some poor working-class girl will spend the rest of her life with her cervix dilated to ten centimetres and the words “Not today Satan” projecting out of her vagina. Death doesn’t scare me at all, but life terrifies me.

I guess I thought that things would just fall into place. I probably read too much into one too many of those inspirational quotes that went viral on Facebook. Quotes like “If you don’t know where you’re going then it doesn’t matter which path you take; you’ll get to where you’re supposed to be in the end.”. Well fuck you, Lewis Caroll. My life hasn’t felt like a path at all, it’s felt like one of those rides at those gypsy fairs that pop-up in unused carparks every summer: cheap and faulty. The safety barrier is broken and I’m not just screaming because I want to go faster, I really want to get off. I specifically remember feeling #woke when I was seventeen and Robert Pattinson quoted Gandhi in the 2010 film ‘Remember Me’: “Gandhi said that whatever you do in life will be insignificant. But it’s very important that you do it, because no one else will.”. I’m going to feel pretty disappointed when my soul is just about to leave my body and Gandhi doesn’t appear to tell me how important and original he found all those hours that I wasted, lying in bed till four PM hating myself. In the remixed words of RuPaul Andre Charles: “If you can’t sabotage yourself, how the hell you gonna sabotage somebody else? Can I get an Amen up in here?”.

Whatever I did or didn’t imagine, it certainly wasn’t this. Twenty-four and still living at home with my mentally unstable mother and the dad I have no relationship with at all. Sleeping in a bare room that had its carpet ripped out and wallpaper stripped after my fourth failed attempt at fleeing the nest. Stacking shelves in ‘Home and Bargain’ for minimum wage, envying the school kids who come in to buy snacks at lunchtime. The ones who attend the same prestigious grammar school that I once did. Wanting to whisper, “Don’t fuck it up kids, let the uniform I’m wearing be a warning to you all”, as I hand them their change without receiving a thank you. Disengaged and disinterested with my university studies. Not making the most of the opportunity and beating myself up over it relentlessly. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

But what if I don’t want to feel bad about it anymore? What if I’m not actually meant for anything more than stacking shelves? What if I’m not actually worth more than minimum wage? Maybe if I finally accepted these things then all of the guilt, the frustration and the regret would just go away. I used to describe myself as being depressed or as having depression, but what if I’m just a miserable person and that’s just who I am and always will be? Maybe this whole time I’ve just been grieving a life that I thought I was entitled to and its finally time to take the seventh step: acceptance.

In a sick way I think the thing that I miss most about being sixteen was being in love, specifically being in love with someone that never loved me back. Because then at least that’s sort of a confirmation. Confirmation that I’m just not good enough. Someone else believes it, so it must be true. It’s like definitive proof. But without someone else here to confirm it, then maybe it’s not true and I am good enough. And I am capable enough. And I’m strong enough. And I’m smart enough. And I’m pretty enough. But then if I am all of these things, then why do I feel so bad? Why can’t I get off the fucking towel? Why can’t I just take responsibility for myself? Because I don’t want to. Because if I am in fact good enough to get to where I’m supposed to be, what if I get there and I’m still not happy? What if enough is never enough?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ariana Grande Concert.

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To describe the terror attack on the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester as heartbreaking would be an understatement. No words could describe the atrocity of what has happened. How any human being could calculate a plan to target and murder a mass number of people, including such young, innocent children, is something that we will never be able to understand. We live in a world where a person can wake up one day and decide that today is the day they are going to take lives. To take childrens’ lives and futures away from them. To take children away from their parents. We live in a world where any sick fuck can take everything away from us at any time. It’s sick and it’s incomprehensible but it’s a fact.

Ariana’s fan base consists mostly of teenagers. The arena will have been filled with teenagers. Music plays such an important part in all of our lives at any age, it is with us consistently throughout our lives, but music for teenagers is vital. In our teenage years we are constantly looking for things to relate to as we are going through the confusing time of discovering who we are. Teenagers latch on to their favourite musicians whose words and voices are now, more than ever, accessible 24 hours a day thanks to social media and streaming apps such as Spotify. Their music can make them feel part of something and understood at times when they’ve never felt so alone or misunderstood. Pop Divas are often latched onto and have some of the largest, strongest followings of teenagers. As a teenager, I latched onto Britney Spears and Rihanna. For the current generation Ariana has proven to be an extremely popular choice.

Thinking back to my teenage years, all of my best memories were made at concerts and music festivals. The excitement of these events wasn’t just about music, it was about the freedom. Nothing provided me more joy than rushing home from school to secretly make a customised ‘I kissed a boy’ t-shirt, then meeting my friends at Lime Street to go get the train to Manchester for Katy Perry’s first tour. Leeds Festival 2010 remains the best week of my life. Concerts and festivals are the escape every teenager needs to step out from their parents’ shadows and go to these events with the people that they love to just be themselves and have fun. That’s all these events are meant to be. Fun. Music is made to bring people together.

This is what I don’t understand. Did this vile murderer attend the full concert? Did they stand in the audience alongside everyone else? Did they watch the joy on these innocent childrens’ faces and hear them sing? All the time knowing, they were about to take their lives, their joy and the joy of their loved ones away from them. I just don’t understand. How you could witness this and feel their energy and still carry out this unforgivable act? How could someone get to that point where they have absolutely no humanity or empathy left inside of them? It’s absolutely terrifying.

A lot of music snobs will only know Ariana as the girl with the ponytail who looks like a child trying to dress sexy and that she licked a doughnut that one time. To her fans she is so much more. Ariana and her music have a very simple message; a message of acceptance, empowerment, equality, liberation and love. Ariana is a strong, opinionated young woman who consistently uses her voice to call out bullshit. She attended the Women’s March in Washington. She paraded the LBGT flag on stage. She incorporated all forms of love in her music video for Everday.  Yet, she is still often criticised for not being ‘the perfect feminist’. Who the fuck is? She is an activist in her own right and to many of the people who attended her concert last night she would have been a positive role model that brought them so much joy.

This tragedy is not about Ariana. The guilt she is probably feeling, due to drawing these innocent people into the place where they have so devastatingly lost their lives, cannot compare to the pain that the victims’ families will be going through. Or the pain of the survivors. Just to make it very clear, Ariana is in no way responsible for the tragedy. Full responsibility lies in one person and one person alone. However, people are still taking the opportunity to take a cheap, vile shot. Boston ‘journalist’, David Leavitt, saw it as the perfect time to tweet, “Last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too.”. Blinded by the opportunity to make fun of a woman, his tiny little mind probably didn’t even consider the victims, their families or the wounded survivors. Take a look at your surname David and fucking leave it. It’s not the time and it never will be.

It is however the time to do what we always have to do and do so well in these times. Unite. As of 9 minutes ago, people in Manchester have already donated enough blood for the victims of the attack. Taxi drivers turned off their metres after the attack to transport people to safety, free of charge. The people of Manchester opened their doors to the concert attenders.  People on Facebook are frantically trying to reunite families through sharing their posts. Everyone is doing their best and that’s all we can do.

Unfortunately, we can’t rid the world of the vile people who commit these despicable acts and we can’t promise something like this will never happen again. But we also can’t live in fear. We’ve got to carry on doing the things that we love. Concerts, and their security, will obviously now change forever but we can’t not attend them out of fear. Just like we can’t avoid the London Underground forever. Or LBGT night clubs. Or Paris. We have got to carry on living. Living and remembering the 22 who had that opportunity stolen from them last night. Evil will always exist but so will love and strength.

Also, now is not the time to voice racist opinions. Keep them to yourselves. A time of fear does not make it acceptable to use a whole community as a scapegoat. Regardless of the race/gender/religion/sexuality, whatever this murderer may have been, they do not define every other member of the community that they may have belonged to.

Keep singing. Keep dancing. Keep living.

Missing People < click the link for a Telegraph article including details of missing people –  Share.

Greater Manchester Police Emergency Hotline: 01618569400

 

 

Best thing about March? Frank Ocean released Chanel.

Let’s talk about March shall we?

I began March in Lille, a city in the north of France. Lille is very close to the Belgium border and it’s pronounced like eel if it began with an L, who knew? I certainly didn’t when I walked into the International Hub at university and announced I wanted to go on the mini Erasmus trip to ‘lily’. It was basically a trip to give us students a taste of what it would be like to study abroad. Whilst at the university in Lille all 17 of us found out that none of us could actually study in Lille for numerous different reasons, e.g. they didn’t teach Psychology in English. Upon returning to university in Liverpool I discovered I actually can’t study abroad at all because there is nowhere that matches the credits required for Creative Writing. Party. Never the less the short four-day trip to Lille was fun despite a rocky start.

I got absolutely rotten on the first night and my friend and her new French lover had to take me back to the hotel in an Uber.  You know when you’re really drunk and the room is spinning? Well it was that level of drunk but the room was a tiny hotel room and it was also upside down. I woke up at 5am extremely dehydrated and distressed because my phone was not in its usual spot – my hand. I tore the room apart and came to the conclusion I must have dropped in the Uber. In my still drunken state and with the aid of my friend I managed to use the ‘Find my phone’ app to leave a message on my phone informing the phone-napper of my whereabouts and a number to call to reach me. I also navigated the very complicated uber website to the hound the driver, Adel, with several unanswered calls.

Fast forward 12 hours and I was in bloody Belgium having one long anxiety attack. There had been no update and no one was answering my phone which was still turned on. According to the ‘Find my phone’ app it was being held hostage in an apartment block on some street with an Aldi on it. To add to the stressful situation no one had given me a heads up we were leaving the freaking country for a day trip, apparently we were supposed to know from the fact some museum in Flanders was on the itinerary but Geography has never been my strong point. I recently found out Cyrpus is a country and not the capital of Greece. That would be Athens. We spent the whole day in Belgium museums learning about some war and visited a graveyard where a load of soldiers were buried.  It must have been very sad but I wasn’t mentally present and as far as I was concerned the war was in the past and we all needed to focus on present problems by calling the local Lille emergency services and news stations to help me get my phone back.

Just when I had given up all hope that I would ever see my phone again because it had been stolen by a psychotic uber driver that was going to upload my nudes to my Facebook, my friend convinced me to call it one more time. An angel answered. Sarra was a beautiful French girl who spoke fluent English, she found my phone in the uber and didn’t want to give it to the driver because she didn’t think he would return it. Adel must have looked shifty, apparently he kept asking if I was going to throw up when in his car so I never really liked the sound of him from the beginning.

We eventually returned to Lille and I ordered an uber to go and pick my phone up from Sarra’s house. For some reason everyone was convinced Sarra was a murderer luring me into a trap so one of the university staff had to accompany me. We passed two really bad car crashes on the way so part of me did think that maybe I was going to die but I didn’t really care and well here I am so I obviously didn’t. Sarra and her boyfriend were both absolutely gorgeous and they wouldn’t accept any money as a thank you. I got a bit emotional and hugged them because I was feeling truly #blessed. Also grateful because I really needed the €20 for myself.

It was a traumatic day but it had a happy ending. I learnt a lot about myself, like I really do have an unhealthy attachment to my phone that probably developed when I was depressed and living in Spain. Oh well, I could have an unhealthy attachment to heroin so I guess it could always be worse.

I returned from Lille optimistic about life. That optimism probably lasted about 5 minutes. Whenever I go on holiday I don’t think I’m particularly bothered about the place I’m in, it’s the 24-hour company I enjoy. When you’re on holiday you’re not worrying about work or real life problems, you’re just hanging out with people you like all day and all night and that is literally the only thing I’m good at. I just love telling people stories and making people laugh. Laughter is instant gratification and works wonders for my self-esteem. On the train from London to Liverpool it sunk in that I was about to lose that constant gratification and the only person I would be spending the next 24 hours with was the person I hate most in this world, myself.

Shit has really hit the fan in March. I’ve quit my stupid, fucking job in the call centre. I had a mini meltdown in a return to work meeting with my manager. I was honest, I told him how depressed I was and that the job was only making me feel worse. Then I cried. I am the type of person who moans constantly about their problems yet doesn’t actually do anything to fix them, but I am not the type of person to cry about them. I just don’t cry ever. Maybe it’s true that boys don’t cry or maybe I’m just too scared to cry because I don’t think I’ll ever stop if I start. Either way that was the sign I needed to say enough was enough.

Please don’t ask me what I’m going to do moving forward or give me your unwanted criticism about how I need to get in ‘the real world’ and hold a job down because right now I couldn’t give less of a fuck. Plus, Diane and Ray will be on hand with enough unwanted criticism to cover everyone when they eventually find out. I’ll drop the bomb when I’ve finished working my notice which just so conveniently is around the same time as Mother’s day, the one-year anniversary of my nan’s death and Ray’s birthday. Happy birthday daddy! P.S. congratulations on raising an absolute fuck-up xxxx

Uni has kind of fell apart too. I’ve pretty much lost all interest and motivation. I have six assignments due in in four days. Have I started any? Nope. Have I filled out the forms for an extension? Nope, but to be fair they are very overwhelming and like 10 pages long. I’m not sure what evidence to supply for being depressed as fuck either. I guess I could get one due to my physical health. Due to some ongoing health problems I recently got Eiffel-towered by two cameras in a hospital in Warrington, not a hospital in Walton which is an easy mistake to make. A mistake that will make you over an hour late for your appointment. Well maybe it would only make you half an hour late if you don’t hold the phone you’re using for a map upside down. It was a stressful yet hilarious situation that I feared was going to drive my driver, a.k.a. my six-month pregnant cousin, into an early labour. It didn’t. Praise the freaking lord.

Getting a camera up the booty was no problem, let’s be honest it wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. The one down the throat however was horrendous. I choked and I cried (again!) and once it was over I could only manage to utter four words, “That was so gross.”.

How have I coped with all of March’s shenanigans? I haven’t. I’ve distracted myself by investing in a boy. Classic.  A pretty boy who before we even met showed very little interest in me, kind of ignored me and generally made me feel a bit shit. You can only imagine how shocked I was that after we met he continued to show very little interest, ignore me and make me feel even shitter. Gasp! Where were the warning signs!?

Well that’s been March. I look forward to the fresh hell April and May bring.

Deuces.

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I appreciate this image may be perceieved as insensitive. As was playing shag, marry, kill with their photographs. I am sorry.