Poem: Ghosts of Flesh and Blood

Am I ghost that haunts itself

spirit lost, like dust upon a shelf –

am I real

or

ethereal?

oh for a day to feel

solid

real

not some strange creature

half concealed

are you there

too?

or are we ghosts of flesh and blood

that haunts

where living still?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Poem: camouflage

hidden, yet still craving light;

do i convince myself at night?

or are these whispers who I am,

or will be, when light at last relieves.

 

hush! shush! do not speak it loud

but whisper quietly in the crowd –

but when, oh when, can i begin

to speak, at last; oh tell me then.

 

– till there, I must discreetly hide;

please, chide me not

if I should pray, and sorrowfully weep

to God, and beg forgiveness where i have not

 

forgiven self today;

 

i ache to speak the truth of all of me;

out loud

out loud

not hidden, still, away.

 

 

 

An Open Letter to My Sisters and Comrades in the Labour Party: We Must Have ZERO Tolerance For Transphobia.

Dear Sisters

The years of Tory Austerity have been hard on us, and as our election manifesto in June made clear, it is our BAME, LBTQIAA, working class, single parent, disabled, older and refugee sisters, who have borne the worst of the ferocity of that fiscal ideology.  The body count we can barley comprehend – in domestic abuse victims who might have got out sooner, had there been enough refuges – and their children, whose lives have yet to bear the bitter fruit of abuse; in disabled women and WASPI women whose bodies have been worked to within inches of their graves; in refugee women and asylum seekers, criminalised without trial and locked into a brutal prison-like system such as we see at Yarls Wood; in our LBTQI youth, in their homelessness and isolation.

These are just some of those who desperately need an end to Tory austerity, its patronising lip service to feminism. Poverty is sexist, and the Tory party declared war on the poor a long time ago.

We desperately need refuges so that victims of domestic violence can get away from fatal violence safely. We urgently need a properly resourced, properly funded NHS to address issues like the lack of resources for people with chronic illness’ such as MeCFS, Fibromyalgia and Lupus, which disproportionately affect women – and pre and post natal care that leaves those with post-natal depression so isolated. Womens’ basic, simple needs are actively being removed, leaving an ever growing list of need and damage in its wake.

We need humane responses for women refugees; we need to tackle the sexism and abelism that is systemic in our responses to disabled women and the financial poverty that is killing them.  We need to respond to the sexism and homophobia that LBT girls face, and talk about why the suicide rate for teenage girls is up. WASPI women deserve and need pension equality.

For women vulnerable for infinite reasons, and suffering much of the worst austerity has to offer, there is already so much work to be done, to roll back the damage and the violence of Tory policies. And yes, many of those women, who need some of these things too, and more, are trans.

Some of us believe that proposed amendments to the GRA – which would make the process of self-identification easier for trans people – is bad for women. So virulently do some believe this, that trans inclusivity is leading to a small but vocal minority among us, to go so far as to leave the Labour Party and work with more Conservative/conservative politicians to prevent those amendments going through, and to encourage the same from other women. Previous alliances with conservative press saw a barrage of anti-trans hit pieces in the Times and the Daily Mail.

Maybe you have never had to consider the needs of a trans person – or never needed to think about it. Maybe you look at these ‘identity’ wars and think that it has no bearing on everyday life. Perhaps even, hopefully, you see the active inclusivity of trans people that the Labour Party is modelling (often imperfectly, and we must be prepared to own to those times), is simply the humane, socialist, obvious thing to do.

Or maybe you really do believe that we should pathologize and ‘other’ trans people; maybe you really do believe a ‘trans cult’ is ‘transing our children’, and believe trans children should be subject to conversion therapy, to ‘re-train’ them to a more hetronormative identity.  But do you really believe that so much, that you would be willing to actively prevent women from having a government that would seek to redress some of the very great harm that Tory austerity has done us? Just because some of those sisters helped out of poverty are trans?

I am sorry to see that some think just that – so strongly, even, that they would advocate working with those whose political ideology is actively harmful to women.  What price then, that hate?

Let us always stand in solidarity with each other: cis or trans gendered, Black, brown, white, Muslim, Christian, atheist, gender non-conforming, gender fluid – we are varied, we are limitless, and we are women: and we are always much stronger in solidarity together, than we are apart.

Let us always have zero tolerance for all forms of hate, and reject any narrative that would demand us be afraid of some of our sisters.

We have more that unites us, and we are for the many, and not the few.

Thank you.

 

 

Poem: On meeting the poet

It is better that some meet me

written down;

In person I err on

slightly wonky,

apt to wear a frown –

for space is oft repleet

with tumbling of thoughts

that spin around,

and I’m told that lost

in space

i have not grace

(only a frown)

 

It is better that some meet me

written down;

for there are those

whose heart could map,

that lost-in-space

not-worried frown;

 

and those, who might suppose,

whilst briefly

hanging round;

how well I wish thee

is not for me

to quantify;

 

Nor can I guess

why you only briefly

came on by.

 

 

Poem: Songs of Raggedy Praise

There are Sundays when all I can bring, God

are the cries of a broken heart

a voice that is sore from the weeping

a mind that is flying apart

 

And I wish I could give you something of value

but its all that I have to bring

these songs of raggedy praise 

for my God, who is brother and king

Some of these tears are so bitter to taste

Can I give them to you God, please

I want to give more, but please take them away

for it’s all I have and can give you today

 

Oh I wish I could give you something of value

but its all that I have to bring

these songs of raggedy praise 

for my God, who is brother and king

God takes all these tears, now not bitter to taste

and these raggedy prayers straighten seem;

and the feeling suffice, so much warmer my heart

still raw from the ice, let it not make me hard

 

How I wish I could give you something of value

but its all that I have to bring

these songs of raggedy praise 

for my God, who is brother and king

Poem: cister, sister

You say hello to someone

and they say hello to you

You ask them what their name is

– and they tell you.

Why do you shake your head and say

“No I refuse to use that name,

I think I have a better name for you”.

 

Excuse me whilst I say this

But that’s really very rude,

for I’m sure that you would much dislike

the same thing done to you.

 

 

Now captors language you do speak

and most often too, repeat

when you justify the right

to segregate these ones from you –

“separate but equal” is fake news;

why choose you, now, to disbelieve

that this indeed, was always true?

 

It has always been identity –

seeking dominance and primacy –

that drove us, as it drives us

to the depths of cruel brutality,

White toxic patriarchy with which

we sought equality;

and now the captors tools are gripped,

tight gripped by both our hands –

this is not where we should be,

or where truth stands.

 

Though you would have some of

my sisters be transgressing nasty misters

and some brothers be

some poor unthinking fools to be relieved –

 

I’ll not keep my hand

where this harm be left to stand,

nor seek to keep

that separate state

we seek to leave;

 

No, saviour I am not

and will not be,

but liberations’ maiden I’ll embrace –

and fear not to speak loves name

or show God’s grace.

 

 

 

The Feminism and Queerness of Jane Austen (1): Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice

This is the first of two essays about the feminism and queerness I find in two of Jane Austen best loved novels – Sense and Sensibility, and in this one, I will be exploring the character of Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice. I write this because apart from one 6 year old tumblr post which notes it, I have never found a discourse on her character that fully recognises that Charlotte Lucas is aromantic and asexual, and, therefore, queer. However, I must also own that I am neither aro or ace (aromantic or asexual), so if you are, and you are reading this and I’ve got something horrendously wrong – comments are open for correction!

 

‘Oh, Lizzy!  do anything rather than marry without affection.’ – Jane Bennett

Pride and Prejudice is a story about marriage, and the business (the social and financial contract and exchange) of marriage. In telling the story of the Bennett sisters, and Elizabeth particularly, it examines a society largely dependent on mens choices, the ramifications of their choices, and how those choices affect women’s ability to be married well (within that context), and married safely. It is set in a society where ideas of romantic love are at odds with the reality of the business of marriage.

As with Sense and Sensibility, it is also a story of the relationship between sisters (both filial and by friendship): but whereas the Dashwood sisters in the former lose their social station with the death of their father, the Bennett sisters social station was lower than it might have been; not because of their Father (for their Father was a gentleman) – but because of their mother who whilst not poor, was not of equal rank to Mr Bennett.

The Bennett sisters lived in the tension of a rigid class system, and their options for marriage were defined accordingly. On the one hand, despite their Father’s rank, no male heir meant no financial status. Inheritance laws meant that their Fathers estate would be entailed away. On the other, they were socially defined by their Mothers’ lower rank and status, and, therefore, of very little social worth.

The situation of Charlotte Lucas is very little different. She is the daughter of Sir William Lucas who, whilst titled, earned his peerage after becoming mayor – he was ‘new’ money, too new to be considered in the same class as sons of historical inheritance. Whilst he has amassed a respectable amount, his fortune is not a large one. Unlike Mr Bennett, however, he has a son to leave his estate to, but his fortune is not large enough to leave a dowry for his daughters. Charlotte, who is around 6 years older than her friend, has limited options: she must marry, or she will otherwise be a burden to her parents, and then her brother. She is respectable,  but she has neither dowry, nor handsomeness enough, to tempt men of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy’s class.

By every measure, she is the match of her friends’ wit and intelligence. She is jovial, wry and not averse to chiding her friends sometime heated convictions:  she teases Elizabeth in front of Mr Darcy, goading her into playing the piano and singing. And she scrutinises Elizabeth’s thinking, eliciting from her headstrong friend an admission that it was Mr Darcy’s comments on her appearance that set her mind against him. She is remarkably self possessed and resourceful: she actively and cognitively chooses Mr Collins, recognising an opportunity in her friends refusal of a man neither holds in particular esteem.

Charlotte see’s the same vanity and pomposity in Mr Collins that Elizabeth does, she also sees what Elizabeth would never have found: an opportunity to be herself; for though Jane is Elizabeth’s’ social conscious, it is Charlotte who is Elizabeth’s intellectual ally and female mentor.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”

There is an essay in the New Yorker by Joshua Rothman from 2013, on the ‘problem’ of Charlotte Lucas’ choice of husband, which I found whilst looking for essays on this subject. It explores the idea that Charlotte Lucas does not seem to get the happy ending in marriage that Elizabeth and Jane do. It examines some of the many layered reasons for Charlotte’s decision, giving a nuanced look at both her pragmatism as well as the economic and social context in which the characters lives are led. And it respects how crucial Charlotte is, not just in the context of the relationship with her friend, but how critical she is to the narrative of the story. However Rothman, like Elizabeth, see’s Charlotte’s choice through the lens of Charlotte’s intellectual intelligence, and in relation to her husband’s stupidity. He concludes:

There’s something miraculous in people—a resilience, an infiniteness—which can survive constraint, transformation, reversal, and anything else imaginable. The thread doesn’t have to be broken. This never-ending pulse of personality is what gives Lizzy and Darcy the courage to change, and it’s what makes it possible, I think, to hope for Charlotte’s happiness. People, Austen seems to say, are not so easily dominated by their own lives. Charlotte will always be a little apart from her circumstances. Her life will go on. – Joshua Rothman (emphasis mine)

In ascribing Charlotte’s choice as Elizabeth does, he sees only what Elizabeth sees – a constraining circumstance, albeit one that her abilities and capabilities would undoubtedly allow her to survive. But it is not this that sets Charlotte apart, and it is not this which allows Charlotte to see what her friend – and Rothman – cannot. Charlotte does not view marriage to Mr Collins as a constraint – indeed nor does Elizabeth find her friend constrained when she eventually goes to visit her now married friend. She finds instead that her friend is building for herself a life where she can spend the majority of her time most contendly.

Charlotte, who had once declared that it would be better not to know very much of a spouses faults before marrying them, knew completely what Mr Collins faults before making her decision.  Unlike Elizabeth, this did not prevent her from seeing marriage to Mr Collins as an opportunity. She is older, wiser than her friend – she has learnt the value of reflection.  Charlotte is thus able to use all the faults of the man to her advantage; his obsequious devotion to Lady Catherine de Bourge, and his vanity: Elizabeth finds these being actively, yet carefully nurtured. So that whilst being “Mrs Collins” brought certain obligations – it also afforded ample opportunity for the quietness and solitude that Charlotte sought.

“I see what you are feeling” Charlotte says to Elizabeth: and she does – she see’s her friend’s perplexity. But she is also 6 years older, and that age gap is crucial; Charlotte has already seen friends of her own age navigate the same system as they and their parents sought the best possible contract – and men sought out suitable wives, and preferably ones with money. Charlotte is older than Elizabeth, because the disadvantage of having neither dowry or looks has left her behind. Yet she has forged a close relationship with Elizabeth and in no sense considers herself superior. When she says that happiness in marriage is as much, if not more, to do with chance, those words are borne of experience, of seeing other friends whose romantic hopes had come face to face with the reality of marriage.

“I am not romantic you know. I never was. ” Charlotte Lucas

Charlotte is far too honest to say that to her friend simply for reassurance. She says it plainly, without excitement, for she is speaking a truth of herself she might otherwise not have voiced: she simply does not harbour romantic longings. She enjoys, indeed revels, in her friendships where there is intellectual equality, but has no need of romance to satisfy her emotionally. She, alone of her friends, can see more clearly that for all the emotional longings for romance that are satisfied in marriage, there are as many are not: yet she is never disturbed by this. She knows it as simply as she knows that the sun will rise each day.

And whilst Jane is chosen by Mr Bingley (who was then dissuaded by his sisters and Darcy), and Elizabeth is chosen by Mr Darcy, (whom she initially rejects) – it is Charlotte who is able to create the opportunity to make her own choice.  Charlotte does not choose Mr Collins because she aromantic and asexual, but being so affords Charlotte the opportunity to choose marriage, without sacrificing her sense of self. She does not encourage Mr Collins to be away from the vicarage because she is aromantic and asexual, but because she has no need of romantic or sexual intimacy, she can create space where she can live very much as she chooses. Indeed, in a world where women have no real autonomy, Charlotte is a compelling character: one who is able to create space to live according to her own needs.

In understanding Charlotte as aromantic and asexual, we meet more fully a remarkable woman – and we are no longer perplexed, as Elizabeth was, by her choice. Instead we find someone whose choice neither constrains, nor defines, her; and in a world where men’s choices dominate, we find a woman who chooses for herself, and remains herself without compromise. And instead of the hope of a happy ending for her – we have the assurance of it.