Friday 28 December 2012

Space Station Politics

Posted by Iona (Guest Blogger)

One of my favourite Lashings sketches is their Science Fiction and Fantasy Theatre. What
I love about it is that it's a barbed critique that nevertheless comes from a place of love,
of wanting these stories to be better. I don't believe that the intersection between social
justice activists and science fiction fans is at all coincidental: I think science fiction gives us
the promise of just that, of doing and being and becoming better – the future worlds and
other worlds where things will be different.

And in that spirit, science fiction on television has given us women and non-white people
who are pioneers. I love the old, true story of Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played
Uhura on the original series of Star Trek, being persuaded not to leave the show by
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jnr, because of the role model she offered to young black girls and
women. (Wonderfully, astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African-African woman in space,
reported decades later that she had been inspired to follow Lieutenant Uhura to the stars.)

Alongside Uhura, there was Leia Organa, who was a princess and a rebel; then came Kathryn
Janeway, who brought a crew home safely from the edge of known space; there was
Dana Scully, who didn't want to believe because she knew. And then, Kara Thrace,
Sam Carter, Zoe Washburne and Martha Jones, who were not just heroes but also pilots,
astrophysicists, soldiers and doctors – women who excelled in whatever they chose. (For
a not-exhaustive, but fabulous, depiction of women in sci-fi on screen through history, I
recommend "Space Girl" by Charmax. And Zoe and Martha, who aren't white, strike that further blow. The promise of what's to come is neatly encapsulated in this line from an otherwise rather dispiriting
episode of Doctor Who:

"Imagine it, Adelaide, if you began a journey that takes the human race all the way out to
the stars. It begins with you." 

And Adelaide Brooke, who is the leader of the first human mission to Mars, merely nods: she
knows what she needs to do without the Doctor's help, or anyone else's.

These women play the role that they have always played: they inspire us to greater things.
There are several different versions circulating of King and Nichols' conversation, which in
itself is encouraging to me – the value of the story is such that it has become a fable, told
and retold accordingly – and many report Dr. King as saying, "Once that door is opened by
someone, no one else can close it again."

Is it only white men who can take us into the future? No, and that door cannot be closed

But this post is not about that, exactly. This is a piece in praise of those who build that
future, once we have reached it. Because it isn't just the first steps into a new frontier that
are a feminist act, although of course they are: it is also the building of communities that
dismantles kyriarchies, the structures of oppressors and oppressed. And when we speak of
wonderful things to one another, when we tell these stories, we take another step towards
this total dismantling.

There hasn't ever been a Star Trek captain who is neither male nor white, alas. But let's
take a moment to consider Benjamin Sisko, captain of the space station Deep Space Nine.
In the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who is a
cultured, deeply cerebral archaeologist-turned-starship captain, the star of Star Trek: The
Next Generation
and all-around good guy, meets Sisko, the new commander, to hand
over his new orders. We know Picard very well, by this point; and in his familiar intensity, he
comes off much the better next to the gloomy, uncooperative, positively un-Starfleet Sisko.
Sisko is recently widowed, not concerned with Starfleet's orders or its ideals, nor its lauded
hero standing next to him giving him those orders; he's more concerned with his son, Jake,
and how what remains of their family will survive this grim space station posting. Picard
leaves Sisko unimpressed, and vice versa.

Sisko's second-in-command is Kira Nerys, a self-confessed terrorist and freedom fighter. Kira
(her family name comes first), is a militia officer emerging from spending her life fighting
in the resistance against an enemy occupation. She was fighting battles, killing the enemy,
living as a fugitive, from earliest childhood – and now the resistance battles are over but Kira
is still fighting a war: against the Federation, against the Cardassians, against everyone and
everything standing in the way of her people's self-determination.

Neither Sisko nor Kira is a hero, nor a pioneer: they have not struck out, like so many Star
Trek and general science fiction protagonists do, into the great unknown. Neither has Susan
Ivanova, the woman who is second-in-command of another space station, Babylon 5 –
among the greater wars, Ivanova fights her own battles, born of her history, her family, her
identity as a Russian Jew – and neither is Elizabeth Weir, the put-upon commander of the
Pegasus base Atlantis.

What do they do, then, these people standing outside the dominance of white, male
television sci-fi? They build: they create and build communities, they step forth towards
a better world in the small things of daily life. In part I think this is a happy intersection
of two things: the television series format, the slow progression of a story week by week,
year by year, slowing their character development into almost real time, layer by layer to
a three-dimensional whole; and the space station setting, that by necessity must contain
and continue all its narratives and conflicts, rather than leaving them behind every week in
pursuit of new worlds to conquer.

Michael Piller, one of the writers for Deep Space Nine, commented: "Sisko was a
builder, a man who built things, stayed with projects, as opposed to the driver, the captain
of a starship who went off and moved from place to place." In "Explorers", the main plot
is about Sisko persuading Jake to help him build a replica of an ancient spaceship and fly it
together, but it's not just the building of the ship. The conversations that they have inside
the ship they built – about how Jake has resolved to be a writer when he grows up, how he
thinks his father ought to start dating again – are characteristic of their relationship and of
the show. Deep Space Nine is their home and it's where their families and futures are built.
In "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang", Sisko's girlfriend, Kasidy, attempts to persuade him to take
part in a holodeck heist caper set in 1960s Las Vegas; Sisko is dead against romanticising the
past, noting that in the real time and place, "our people" would not have been allowed – in
other words, two non-white characters are talking about race, and disagreeing. That internal
discord, that plurality of opinion, is the key feature of a real community. The converse
situation where one character speaks for their entire group is tokenism rather than real

And it isn't just Sisko. Kira in her early twenties is learning for the first time how to live
as a civilian, how to live in peace. She's building her own life, day by day through work,
friendships, romance, the things that real people do. In "The Circle", following Kira's
unexpected loss of her job on the space station, she attempts to pack. Dax arrives to return

some hand cream that she borrowed; O'Brien comes to say he'll miss her; Quark comes to
try and throw her a leaving party; Odo wants to yell at her for leaving; Bashir comes along
because everyone else has; they argue, raise a ruckus, drive Kira visibly up the wall, and
when the religious leader Vedek Bareil comes to see her, she says, hugely irritated, for the
first time: "These are my… friends." It's a short scene that does a beautiful job of depicting
a woman who has built a life for herself without consciously knowing it: a life, a circle of
friends, a community. Kira will end up running Deep Space Nine and knowing its people
inside out, but the route she takes to get there, through romances and friendships (notably
with Dax; there is a running joke throughout the show about Dax's various attempts to get
Kira to have fun) is what is fascinating about her, that path from being part of a resistance
cell to running a community of free people, with no regrets on the way for anything she's

In a season 2 episode of Babylon 5, "There All The Honour Lies", various notable things
happen, but central to our purposes is that Ivanova is put in charge of the Babylon 5 gift
shop. This sounds like it will be hilarious and is, in fact, hilarious. There are teddy bears
with "Ba-bear-lon 5" embroidered on them. There are masks of various alien life-forms you
can try on. A number of aliens come and try on "human" masks, whipping them off in front
of a mirror with a flourish. And of course it's delightful, and a sharp piece of satire -
as anyone who has cringed at someone wearing a feather headdress or a sari as a
Hallowe'en costume may have noticed – but it ties into that broader theme. Babylon 5,
that "last great hope for peace", a space station on which aliens and humans live, work,
do business and learn together, is a fictional community that has a lot to say about real
communities: it has its gift shop, it has its leaders, its religions, its trades, its clashes,
its love affairs, its unions, politics and riots. From the starting-point of this community,
Ivanova is working to become a better officer, a better human being. Its doctor, Stephen
Franklin, another man of colour, fights his daily battles with those that stand in the way of
his Hippocratic Oath and, later, with his own addictions. And these are not the first steps
towards an unknown frontier, but they nevertheless are feminist, anti-racist story arcs.
They are about moving towards a science-fictional world where these battles are taken
as seriously and thoughtfully as the battle of the chisel-jawed white man against the alien

We don't yet live in a world of space station politics. Except, of course, that we do: most
of us live in small spaces, with other humans who are different from us, and some of those
spaces are inside our own heads. We cannot be women, or queer, or people of colour,
without knowing that we can be all those things at once, layer upon layer; we cannot live
in discrete blocks apart from one another, and we cannot live as communities of one. Me,
I love science fiction because of the worlds it opens up – and here's to Kira and Sisko and
Ivanova and Weir and all the quotidian heroes, the people like us in the places we hope to

Friday 21 December 2012

Gavin de Becker: The Gift of Fear

kaberettPosted by kaberett

[content notes: misogyny, abuse, violence, rape, murder, suicide]

Gavin de Becker is a security specialist based in Los Angeles; he's the founder of the eponymous private security firm Gavin de Becker & Associates, whose clients include many celebrities and - over its lifetime - an awfully large proportion of US Presidents, Governors, Supreme Justices and other politicians. He's evidently very effective; based on his experiences, he's written a number of books that have made it onto worldwide bestseller lists.

There's one in particular I see recommended all over the place, particularly in anti-abuse activism or counselling. The Gift of Fear is mentioned over and over again, whether it's in comments on the fantastic advice column run by Captain Awkward or in the course of my work at VaginaPagina. There's one name that comes up, over and over, more than any other that I can recall: Gavin de Becker.

And so! And so. I finally got around to reading it.

Before we go any further, I want to say this: The Gift of Fear was first published in 1997. In England and Wales, the legal exemption for marital rape was only abolished in 1991. He (note, please, the irony) was among the first people to get the issue of predominantly gendered violence into the public consciousness. His assertion that "women always have the choice to leave" abusive relationships is horrifying, but he was possibly - possibly - writing that in a context where saying "leave" was radical, against a backdrop of even greater social pressure to "keep working on the relationship". But even if that's true? He's had 15 years to update the book (he wrote a new foreword for the eBook edition!), and the statistics he cites make it abundantly clear that people were trying to leave, all the way back in 1997.

Bearing all that in mind, here is my one-sentence summary of The Gift of Fear: Gavin de Becker makes a fundamentally reasonable point in the shittiest and most self-aggrandising way he can without having it be immediately obvious to everyone.

(Also? he's a misogynist who doesn't understand geology.)

In slightly more detail, have a series of excerpts and my keysmashing about why HE IS WRONG ABOUT ALL THINGS.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Links round-up Dec 18

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

An e-petition has been going around to extend the Civil Partnership to polyamorous relationships. The idea of an e-petition is that a high enough (10,000) number of signatures would force Parliament to table and discuss the issue. This is an important petition not for the number of votes that the petition currently has, but the notion that Parliament could have the potential to recognise non-monogamy in the context of Human Rights, in the background of a relative mainstream invisibility around non-monogamy.

Here is an amazing post all about pre-WWII science fiction and fantasy by African-American and African writers. We want to read them all!

Lashings doesn't always agree with everything that is posted at Shakesville, but this post  about privilege, the stigmatisation of mental illness and the ways in which both are used to shut down conversations about gun control is very strongly-written, and says a lot of things that needed to be said.

Another insightful post from Sikivu Hutchinson: Nice White Boys Next Door and Mass Murder

From the 'Oh, FFS' files: TV Meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired from her job for responding to negative Facebook comments about her natural hairstyle. If you can, please click through the link to sign the petition asking for her to be re-instated.

Here is a very entertaining gif featuring Hilary Clinton.

The Secret Histories Project profiles Dr James Barry: child genius, medical reformer, military surgeon and possessor of a very interesting gender history.

Friday 14 December 2012

The Wake Up Call

Posted by Theodor Bishop

Lately I’ve felt pretty down. Real life has been getting to me and the more I reflect on my life the more I feel out of control, despite everything I have achieved in my life and every personal challenge, I still have the challenge of overcoming judgmental others. I’d like to talk to you about something that I would like to describe as the wake up call.

The wake up call describes the moment in which you realise you are being discriminated against or oppressed in some subtle or non-subtle way. The moment when you realise that despite the successes or privileges one may have; or despite the social and legal conversation about an equal society; there is something about you that other people want to put you down for.

I have had my wake up call. I’ve been in many job interviews where I’ve been asked overly technical questions that are inevitably supposed to trip me up. I thought it was notable when I know that other candidates (after speaking with them) were not asked about when a chi-square test was needed. Instead they were asked more general questions that are hard to ‘fail’. There was time when I was interviewed by a BAFTA winning media company. I applied as a researcher to help make a client list for an arts festival. I was asked about Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason for 40 minutes.

The interviewer who by strange incident had a PhD in the Philosophy of character asked me questions completely irrelevant to the skills associated with the advertised job: organising bookings for an arts festival. The interview thought it might be nice to ask me hard philosophy questions to test my abilities. I just didn’t feel that being asked about the Transcendental Deduction in Kant’s B-version of the Critique tested my ability to make a client list and and organise meetings. It made me feel very unwelcome when I was told that this was an interview for a non existent role as a previous intern with the company had already been selected and shortlisting other candidates was merely a technicality to avoid the appearance of nepotism. The wake up call is when I realise how interview panels treat me with antagonism, and expect me to give ‘better’ answers. The wake up call is when I realise how I’m the only non-white person sitting among the other interview candidates and I’m intruding into their native cultural space. I get the distinct impression of discrimination when the reasons I am given for rejections contradicts what was said in an interview. I’m told I have not enough relevant experience, when I was explicitly told that experience is not essential. I’m told in person descriptions and job descriptions that I’m judged by my ability, and not by the degree to which one assents approval by a hiring panel.

I am unemployable because of some perceived ‘otherness’ about me. I absolutely hated when I talked to other interview candidates after an interview with a certain progressive thinktank and heard that the Arts grads were asked simplistic questions such as’ what is your greatest weakness?’ or ‘why do you want to work for us?’. By the same panel I was asked different questions, such as:  ‘can you tell me the relevance of ecological validity on the study of poverty?’ or ‘What’s the best margin of error percentage for a sample size of 500’ for the same role. It’s odd how they ended up as social researchers in a thinktankwithout having to study Quantitative Research Methods in an English Degree. But I’m turned down because of my ‘lack of familiarity’ about a question that wasn’t featured in the job description. These non-transparent hiring processes are a front for discrimination and  I distinctly feel that I’m given harder challenges by employers so that I am meant to fail. It eats at me in ways more than words can describe. It also makes me painfully aware that when I’m going into their office, and seeing the faces of the other candidates, I’m the only non white person there, and I definitely felt that was relevant to the questions they put at me.

As well as being an ethnic minority, I also have a minor disability which I never thought would be a big issue as an adult. I have dyspraxia*, I have vague memories as a child going through occupational therapy, speech therapy and being taken out of mainstream schooling for a day every week. I now realise as an adult how stigmatising it was among my peers and other adults. I realised how different I was percieved when I had difficulty speaking or doing ordinary tasks.

School friends years later told me how they were made aware of my disability when I wasn’t present in assemblies, and that I shouldn’t be treated any differently because I used a computer to do classwork, or had to be taken out of classes from time to time. I must admit that helped with my peers letting me get on when I did school work in ways different to them: when they were using pens and pencils: I had a 90s laptop with a loud dot matrix printer.

I had a great amount of specialist support through most of my education, even when during the mental health issues of my undergraduate years. Many of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) specialists did tell me that I had to be more than what every other candidate had to be in order to get half of their success, and that my ability wasn’t judged. I was told that I would be judged on things like the way I walk or speak, or the way I walk into a room and sit on a chair before an interview panel, or if I have trouble pulling back a table it will be interpreted as clumsiness and a lack of attention. I should have taken that advice more seriously. I also feel a victim to a self fulfilling prophecy, namely that knowing people would judge me harder I have had to work all the more harder in everything I’ve done. As a result many use disproportionately higher standards to rate me negatively than they would for others who are rewarded for less effort. An unintended consequence of the attitude I’ve fostered from the SEN staff’s advice.

My disability wake up call came when I had an interview for a Central Government Department (*cough* Home Office), in which I pointed out on the application form that I required reasonable adjustments in order to do the assessment/interview. I was told that this was acknowledged and I was to write a handwritten test. I made a call to an HR Assistant who dealt with public sector recruitment to clarify if there was a problem with what I told them about my disability. I then reminded the HR Assistant that my disability was related to my handwriting abilities and the individual seemed unconcerned as if I just brought up a non-point or a sentence of silence. The HR assistant was unwilling to make any changes to my application. I asked simply for clarification: “Are you going to put me into a handwritten test when I’ve put on the online form that I require reasonable adjustments because of a condition which affects my handwriting?”. The HR Assistant’s answer: “Yes”.

That was my disability wake up call. This was the moment when all the times when I was told as a child and a teenager about how society’s attitude to disability is changing throughout the 1990s and 2000s to the point that eventually my dyspraxia wouldn’t be an issue. Despite being able to play Bach, despite being able to deadlift my own body weight in Iron; or overcoming severe depression and all my other adversities and achievements; I’ll still always be labelled and made to feel like that kid who was taken out of school to have occupational therapy. At that moment I exploded in anger.

My response was a sense of indignation and my refusal to simply accept this situation quietly. I responded to the HR assistant and said a lot of words that were definitely not safe for work. I said (in cleaned up version): “If you put me into a handwritten test, then I am being discriminated against and you are knowingly doing nothing about this”. It was only after I called their organisation a privatised-outsourced-HR-service-working-for-public-sector-to-cut-costs-hypocrite-organisation-adhering-to-the-farce-of-two-tick-employer-in-the-guise-of-inclusivity-*$*£!!!!!1, that they decided to make some changes to my interview/assessment. Also maybe its more relevant that I threatened to tell his manager and let him know that my smartphone is set to record all my calls and I will find out his name and shame him publically. I can’t complain as to how nice they were afterwards. I’d like to think that their commitment to equality of opportunity (one of the traits listed on the person description for the job I was applying for) rather than their fear of being caught out, that led them to be more amenable to my interview adjustments.

Sometimes my wake up call happens in strange ways, which are less upsetting to me than..bizarre. On some occasions my Indian appearance and long hair with the combination that I have an academic background in philosophy makes some people (notably of the patronising hippie spiritual type) to think that I’m some kind of spiritual guru or mystical wise man because of my ancestry, and bizarrely enough, sexually exotic to certain parties (aforementioned hippie type). I find this patronising that my ethnicity should ever considered a ‘sexy’ thing as if it were to be considered as ‘other’ or a novelty. These things have been less offensive wake up calls but more bemusing when it reveals the kinds of weird assumptions people want to have about me!

Another wake up call I recall was when I joined the LGBT society at university during my undergraduate years. The LGBT soc had a mentorship scheme for those who were opening up more to their sexual identity such as myself at the time. The ‘mentor’ I had was very friendly and pointing out how important it was for homosexuals to be represented in all different areas of society and how wonderful it is to embrace one’s sexuality. However at the moment when he asked ‘you aren’t bisexual are you?’  which followed a disapproving monologue on his views on bisexuality, I felt very uncomfortable about opening up to him and a little bit confused as he seemed so positive about sexual difference. Wake up calls can be weird, and the kinds of oppressions we experience can come from unexpected places.

It’s my uncomfortable truth to realise that I have been discriminated in small ways and large ways. I’ve also experienced privileges which also intersect in weird ways with disadvantage. I’ve heard many other wake up call accounts which differ to my experience. I’ve heard from people who have had wake up calls on things like the prejudice against single parents, non-male gamers, gay airsofters (where homophobic language is commonplace) or religious secularists. When I first heard stories about the antagonism that my friend experiences as a single mother, I had a wake up call about an issue I never really thought about. Sometimes its the casual things that hurt. Sometimes its the institutional things like a lack of role models in our industry or sphere of interest, or a lack of positive media representation of the group that we identify with.  I also recognise that many oppressed people aren’t in a position to take a stand against their discrimination, sometimes that is because they have other struggles such as making ends meet financially, health issues, childcare obligations, or the intolerance of others to listen to an oppressed group.

My wakeup call is unique to me and I realise there are many others who have their own kinds of wake up calls to oppression. Such oppression can manifest in grossly obvious ways while others are more subtle and coded. I also accept that the wake up call can happen within contexts where a person may enjoy relative social privileges in other aspects of their life. I found it really hard to talk about my wake up call, I feel that it might be so much easier to pretend it doesn’t exist or that there are other reasons to explain discrimination. My wake up call was the realisation that decades of disability awareness and real changes in social attitudes have not really gotten far enough, my wake up call was the realisation that the struggle for equality on many fronts is still relevant.

Have you ever had a wake up call? If so, what was it, and how did you react to it? 

**You can learn more about dyspraxia here

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Links round-up 11th Dec

Lashings of Ginger Bee Timer
Posted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

Foz Meadows at the Huffington Post hits it right out of the park on the topic of Sex, Desire and Fan-Fiction:
These aren't just strangers we're perving on purely because we like their bodies (although that can certainly still be part of it); they're characters to whom we feel a strong emotional connection and in whose relationships we're invested, such that watching them have sex, regardless of the quality of the prose, is guaranteed to be about a thousand times more arousing than the sight of yet another anonymous blonde get screwed by some faceless, grunting goon on the internet. Sex in fan fiction matters because it's a glaring representation of everything that's missing from mainstream porn, and because it stands as evidence of the wealth of female desire -- and particularly young female desire -- that's barely being acknowledged elsewhere, let alone catered to.

Recent conversations in the Lashings tour bus have included sign interpreters at scientific conferences - and whether that's something that could really happen in the same way that major fannish conventions increasingly have interpreters on stage. And then we found an article about developing new signs to facilitate scientific discussions!

This is an old link, but a useful one: Did you know that legality/illegality actually has remarkably little effect on the number of women who obtain abortions? (What legality does strongly affect, of course, is how safe those abortions are...).

This just in for the Poly History files: Amelia Earhart insisted that her second marriage be open.

And finally, don't forget... LASHINGS OF AFTERNOON TEA TIME this Sunday afternoon! 3.30pm, East Oxford Community Centre, £5/3. Meet the new Lashers and see old and new acts, plus enjoy tea and cakes lovingly baked/bought by Lashings (or please feel free to bring your own food if you'd like!). 

Friday 7 December 2012

The self-definition problem

Posted by Ganymede

A version of this post originally appeared in two parts at

Ganymede here, a newly-acquired apprentice Lasher, and very excited to be on board. I'm a kinky, andro-romantic, trans-masculine asexual who's thrilled to become part of such an awesome queer feminist collective...

That's a lot of labels for such a small sentence, isn't it? And if you've hung around this blog for a while, you'll have noticed that we're rather keen on matters of labelling and self-identity. In this post, I'm going to give my take on why they're so important: the problems they can cause when they don't work, and why, when they do work, they're so liberating.

Consider this interesting situation: as the notion of asexuality is gaining ground, so too is the need to find a word for people who aren't asexual. This is a controversial subject, where all of the possible candidates have unfortunate connotations (which is, of course, almost unavoidable when coining or using labels). But, whatever word we settle on, we still find ourselves with a fascinating problem: when faced with the concept that asexual people exist and therefore by process of elimination they belong to the group described as "sexual", or "consexual", or "allosexual", some people suddenly realise that they're not comfortable with the way their group - the majority group - is portrayed in the media.

Usually this only happens with minority groups; one parallel is gay men in earlier decades potentially feeling dissuaded from coming out because of media-based assumptions that all gay men are ridiculously effeminate. But... you can't not come out as experiencing sexual attraction, because the default assumption is that everyone experiences sexual attraction. And the default portrayal of, well, everyone in the media is that they're really rather obsessed with sex. And if you don't define as asexual, explicitly rejecting this portrayal, does that mean you're implicitly accepting it?

That's one reason why I'm incredibly excited to see asexuality being discussed in the mainstream media. Those who wouldn't self-define as asexual will be prompted to think more deeply about their orientation, and perhaps start to question the way sex is dealt with in the media, and perhaps feel less ashamed to speak out as "different" the next time they're stuck in a game of nervous, exaggerated, face-saving sexual one-upmanship with friends who worry that not thinking about sex every seven seconds will make them look "gay".

But for every label, there will be lots of people who feel discomfort with using it, because of the people they're then implicitly associated with. Some deal with this problem by calling themselves something new (like "equalist" instead of "feminist"), which doesn't have the baggage of the past, but will never have the weight of history. Some react by declaring themselves to be "real" or "proper" [insert label here]s, not like those other [insert label here]s who shouldn't be allowed to use the word; that never ends well. Another way of dealing with it is to sub-categorise yourself: if you're not sure you're asexual but you don't want to associate yourself with sex-obsessed media portrayals, you can co-opt a term like demisexual or grey-asexual to help you narrow down your potential network of peers even further. Or, just don't label yourself at all... which works fine, until you find yourself labelled by implication ("if you aren't asexual, you must be sexual/allosexual/consexual").

Fact #1: people will always try to label you. Fact #2: whatever label you end up with, you'll always be sharing it with a certain proportion of dickheads. In my opinion, the best thing you can do is choose your labels with care, and then BE AWESOME so loudly that you drown out the dickheads.

For every "label" you can think of, there are a million people using it who come in a million different shapes and sizes. Our society is starting to recognise inter-group variation to a much greater extent than only a few years previously (adding and accepting new labels like "asexual", "heteroromantic", "genderqueer", "neurotypical"), and this is frickin' awesome, but it's just the beginning. The much-needed next step is to come to recognise intra-group variation: whatever labels we take, we flavour them with our own uniquenesses.

But then, are labels still needed at all? A friend of mine commented that ey thought the world would be better all round if people spent less time banging on about What They Like To Do In Bed (or similar), and more time just doing it.

Ey has a point. It prompted me to wonder why so many of these self-identification labels do revolve around What People Like To Do In Bed (bisexual, asexual, pansexual, panromantic, aromantic, polyamorous, monogamous, sex-positive, kinky, vanilla, heteroromantic, gynesexual...). Why should What One Likes To Do In Bed be of anyone else's concern apart from the other person[s] in the bed?

The ones that don't (genderqueer, transmasculine, butch, femme, neuro-atypical, cisgender, feminist, neurotypical...) seem to have the broadly unifying characteristic of describing What You Are Like. Presumably, if these labels describe What One Is Like, one spends most of one's time being like that - so why should one need to wave around a label proclaiming that One Is Like That?

The answer I came up with:

Actually, the sexuality labels don't just tell you what the person likes to do in bed. They tell you how ey negotiates some of the most intense and complex relationships someone can possibly have with [an]other human being[s]. They tell you, through eir choice of label (pansexual over bisexual, gyneromantic over homoromantic), how ey views these other human beings, on what levels ey chooses to interact with them, and how ey responds to the ways eir sexuality is perceived in society at large.

In short, they tell you an awful lot about the most intimate facets of the person's character. In this way, they're just like the What You Are Like labels. If someone chooses to identify as genderqueer, ey's making clear the angle from which ey approaches interactions with other people, the way in which ey responds to the pressures and perceptions of society at large. If someone identifies (positively) as cisgender, ey's sending a message to other people that ey recognises the diversity of human experience and identity, and is willing to engage with them on a deeper level than would, say, Simon Hoggart.

It's funny that these issues of (largely) gender and sexuality are, essentially, the last great taboos - in that even in These Enlightened Times TM, the vocabulary to describe them is mushrooming year on year, as people finally find the courage to try and express who they are. And, no, they shouldn't need to, it should be obvious from "what they're like". But it's not. If people don't stand up and wave their labels around, their true personalities will be ignored, drowned out by the default white noise of Everyone Is A Monogamous Heterosexual Man/Woman Who Behaves Exactly Like This [In Bed].

Sure, it saves time and effort. You're more than welcome to go with it. But personally, I prefer my interactions with other human beings to be more intense, complex, and rewarding - cos, y'know, people are fascinating!

Friday 30 November 2012

Lashings' Icons: Gail Simone

JenniPosted by Jenni

Welcome to the first post in a series of irregular Lashings posts about people we think are awesome. Whether they're an activist, an artist, or a little-known historical figure, we ove them, and we'd like to introduce them to you. So, without any further ado, let's take a look at our first icon - Gail Simone, a comic book writer.
This week, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite people. Gail Simone is a comic-book writer, who has worked for Marvel and DC, as well as helping out on smaller independent projects like Womanthology. Why is she an icon of mine? Well, let's take a look through the things she's done, shall we? (Most things discussed in this blog entry will have links at the bottom of the post for clarification).

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Links round-up

Lashings of Ginger Bee Timer
Posted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

Lashings will be performing outside The Women's Library in London at 7:30pm on Thursday as part of an event organised by Save The Women's Library.

In 'Transition as Transaction: 'Passing' and the Commodification of Womanhood', trans feminist Natalie Reed examines how "the primacy of 'passing' as the implicit goal of transition is hooked up to extremely narrow, culturally-rigid standards of female beauty and feminine dress, appearance and mannerism… which are each in turn inseparable from commerce, commodity, transaction and the beauty industry."

Katie Barker at Autostraddle presents a primer on appropriation vs appreciation, with a focus on Native / First Nations cultures in North America. (Some of the comments are also worth reading.)

Yolo Akili discusses how sexism and male privilege can play into interactions between women and gay men. (See also: our "How To Look Good Naked" parody).

Glosswitch at The New Statesman refutes James Dyson's derisive comments about studying "French lesbian poetry" at university instead of the sciences:
"We gain from having people who reshape our cultural landscape and put things in new contexts. People who don’t use “lesbian” as a shorthand for irrelevant. People who challenge bigotry rather than flippantly reinforce it. Engagement with feminism and queer theory – when it’s done properly (ie not as disastrously as I used to do it) – can change people’s lives far more than a modification to a vacuum cleaner and the fact that it’s made one person very rich. While I have never owned a Dyson, I still have feminism. And yes, one cannot live on feminism alone, but that’s why I’ve bought a cheap Tesco model, complete with bag."

Nadya Lev at Coilhouse profiles the growing visibility of people of colour (particularly women) in the goth and alt scene.

Sparky, guest-posting at Womanist Musings, outlines how the use of dictionary definitions can function as a silencing tactic in the context of social justice and marginalised people.

Chloe at Feministing outlines the differences in heart-attack symptoms (and outcomes) between men and women - while the symptoms of heart attacks in men (and presumably all AMAB people) such pains in the left arm and tightness in the chest are considered the 'classic' ones, common warning symptoms in women (/AFAB people) include pain in the back or jaw, lightheadedness, and nausea. Reading this article could save someone's life.

And finally, on a lighter note, a 72-year-old becomes an internet sensation by modelling the women's clothes made by his granddaughter.

Friday 23 November 2012

The Friend Zone

Posted by Jenni

The 'Friend Zone'. *cue dramatic music here*

Let's face it, most of us have heard of the friend zone. It's a big enough part of internet culture that it's hard to avoid. If you've been lucky enough to avoid it, take a quick look over at for a bit of background. But why write about it now, you may ask? Some of you may be aware that I did an article a while ago for the BBC on being asexual (find it here: Why's that relevant? Well, once again, this article has been used to make a meme, saying that being in an asexual/non-asexual relationship is 'the ultimate friend-zone'.*

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Links round-up

(Content note: All of the posts linked to in the section below contain discussion or depictions of violence against trans* people and/or medical gatekeeping)

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. From Transrespect vs. Transphobia, here is the list of trans* people murdered from November 2011 - November 2012.

A number of remembrance events are taking place this evening: ones in the UK and Ireland include Belfast, Brighton (unlisted but here) Bristol, Cambridge, Coventry, Croydon, Cumbria, Dublin, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, and Southampton. If you are able to attend one, please consider doing so - the details are in the link above.

Natacha Kennedy on the problems of organising the 2011 TDoR.

Since the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1998, the violent deaths of trans women of color, have unfortunately come to dominate the yearly event designed to remember and celebrate the lives of those that are victims of transphobic murders. This year is no different as events around the country are set out to mourn recently deceased trans women of color, such as Brandy Martell, Coko Williams, Paige Clay and Deoni Jones–all black women whose only crime was daring to live openly.
Monica Maldonado offers an impassioned critique of the 'political grand standing' around TDoR and a vision of real change:
It’s a day where trans women of colour have greater value dead than we do alive... We should gather to mourn the dead, not conscript them into a battle they never had the privilege to fight while living. It pains me to stand here and remind you that these deaths, of our brothers and sisters and wives and husbands and daughters and sons, that these deaths are senseless tragedies that remain a black mark on society. These deaths are signs of a systemic, institutional, social, economic, and political failure to care for our most vulnerable and marginalized populations. But what may be worse, is the crude politicising of these deaths serves no cause more than that of the same vanity we decry. The currency of liberty, civil rights, and equality does not reside in death, but in our lives, our histories, our bodies, and our spirit. [...] Remember trans people today…but remember us tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. And never forget that fighting for trans justice is fighting for social justice. And just the same, fighting for economic justice, disability justice, and racial justice are fighting for trans justice.

(end content note)

In happier news:

On the webcomic Questionable Content, a character models one way of being a good friend to a person who's coming out as trans*. (QC has a mixed but largely positive history in its treatment of LGBT characters, disabled characters, and women - so we're cautiously optimistic!)

Andy Marra: 'The Beautiful Daughter: How My Korean Mother Gave Me The Courage to Transition'. This made most of Lashings cry -- in the good way.

In very fluffy news indeed, Horselizard has written "Enlightened 23rd Century Guy":  a fix-it fic for the trans-fail in a recent episode of Red Dwarf.

Friday 16 November 2012

The Beauty Debt


Posted by Galatea

Horrible joke I remember from high school: 

Q: Why do women wear perfume and make-up?
A: Because they stink and they're ugly. 

Why don't men wear perfume and make-up?
A: Because they stink and they're ugly and they don't care. 

I've been noodling around this idea in my head for quite some time now – in fact, this is a version of a post I wrote lo these many years ago, about the time of the Great Fuss Over Susan Boyle Being On National TV in 2009. It’s about a concept that I think I want to call ‘the beauty debt'.

Essentially, what I’m thinking of when I say ‘beauty debt’ is the idea floating around in modern culture that women owe a certain standard of attractiveness to those who 'have' to look at them, and that if a woman's 'natural' beauty is not sufficient (and it very rarely is), she must perform a certain amount of beauty work in order to rectify the problem, to 'pay the debt' as it were. This work might involve shaving, waxing, dyeing, surgery, food restriction, exercise, straightening, lightening, tanning, all according to individual situation, sub/culture, race, class etc. It almost always involves paying money, and quite often involves physical discomfort or pain. I probably don't need to list here what happens if she fails to perform this work or fails to perform it to a sufficient standard, but what's interesting is that often the undercurrent is we don't want to see that!; she's hurting my eyes!, how dare she make us HAVE to see that!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Links round-up

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

A TV series about a trans dude's experiences of life has been greenlit. The press release itself is kind of skeevy, but given that the producer is also responsible for Transgeneration we have tentative hopes.

"mental illness is a tower. or a well. or an island. or an ocean." A very short piece of writing on living with mental illness. [Content note: discusses death]

Forgiveness is a luxury, and some of us can't afford it. [Content note: references to abuse in many forms.]

"She knelt to the ground and she pulled out a ring..." Literally seconds after the passing of same-sex marriage in Maryland is announced on the night of the US election, couple Keesha Patterson and Rowan Ha provide the best-ever re-enactment of the Lashings version of 'Love Story'. All the <3s.

Kate Hart offers a series of infographics on the representation of non-white ethnicities on the covers of Young Adult fiction published in 2011 - which, surprise surprise, were white-dominated.

On a more positive note, Renee Watson discusses her new picture book "Harlem's Little Blackbird" - based on the forgotten story of singer Florence Mills, a daughter of former slaves who became an internationally-acclaimed performer during the 1920's.

With Remembrance Day just passed, the Secret Histories project reminds us that some are remembered more than others.

Fantasy artist/author Ursula Vernon - eternally beloved by Orlando for "Elf vs Orc" (and accompanying art) - offers up some thoughts on C. S. Lewis, the didactic narrative voice and the "problem of Susan" and follows it up with "Elegant and Fine" - a fanwork that shows the cracks and cruelty in Aslan's world.

Friday 9 November 2012

How Visual Kei taught me to Be a Man

Posted by Zim

Hello all! It's me, Zim!


Hello mystery parenthesis person who I almost certainly didn't make up! Now, you may be thinking, "oh gee, it sure has been a while since Zim posted anything. I wonder what they have to talk about today?"

(No, I really wasn--)

Don't sass me, you.

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, I'm here to talk about my feelings and whatnot. You see, I'm a dysfunctional human being who only seems to be able to talk about their feelings when putting them on display on the internet for millions to see as if somehow this were a remotely private affair, and I've been thinking a lot lately (read: since my last post,) about the labels I use to describe myself and how I feel about them. Recently I've come especially to think about a term I previously shied away from: Transmasculine.

I previously came across this term and avoided reading anything about it because - for a number of reasons - I don't think I could bring myself to ever medically transition. I won't go into my reasons here, but let's all just accept that that is a thing that will never happen and move on. It'll be better for all of us.

BUT. Having read up a bit on it recently, I realised it's pretty much a perfect term. It's - as I understand it - all about identifying with 'masculine' traits and expressions without fully identifying as male! It's perfect. It's exactly how I've always felt, but...

Let's put a cut here and then you can do that clicky thing if you want to read more and if not then you can just move along and get on with your day.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Links round-up

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

What else should we be reading? Leave your own links in the comments! :-)

Give Sexy Actors Sexy Wheelchairs: one awesome meta-essay (image-heavy, with some video) on the ways in which Hollywood representations of wheelchair use are terribly, terribly wrong, and some advice on how they can be better.

Street Harrassment Fashion (TW for harrassment!) is a new tumblr that's been set up, where people document what they were wearing - and what harrassers said or did to them.

A conversation on Google+ between hearing people about ASL and BSL as methods of communication includes this fantastic anecdote: ... I did a scuba course once, and one of my instructors told me that he had once taken a group of deaf children down. He had never felt so inadequate in his life, he said. Standard scuba sign language could say 'go up', 'go down', 'I am running out of air'. They could say 'look at that fish over there, no not that one, the red one'. The Atlantic has a more detailed explanation of exactly what Lydia Callis' "animated" translation into ASL (which started this whole conversation off!) means.

In New York City, the Ali Forney Drop-in Centre, which provides housing for homeless LGBT+ youth, was completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. They are requesting donations to help them get back up and running as quickly as possible. Less specifically, the Red Cross is holding an appeal which actually mentions Sandy's effects in the Caribbean.

In response to some truly astonishing fail on the part of the BBC, The Women's Room has been set up as a database of women with experience and expertise. The excuse that it's "too hard" to find female experts is old, tired and sorry, and we all know that, but once again it seems to fall to the oppressed group to do the hard work. It will be "interesting" to watch resistance to use of this resource...

littlebutfierce brings us a linkspam all about self-care, from looking at self-care as a vital part of activism to suggestions for ways to do it.

Friday 2 November 2012

Tales of Being an Apprentice Lasher

Posted by Sasha Rocket

As you may have noticed, Lashings are currently on a recruitment drive to swell our ranks with awesome people who enjoy dismantling the kyriarchy through the medium of songs and the occasional bad pun. As the very newest full Lasher, I wanted to write about my experience of joining Lashings to give potential apprentices an idea of what to expect.1

Let's get the technical stuff out of the way first: currently, the process starts with a trial period to give you a chance to get to know the collective, and current Lashers a chance to get to know you. During this time, you'll be known as an 'apprentice Lasher' and will come along to rehearsals, learn acts and basically be involved in the community until there's a general agreement that you've spent enough time2 on probation and move on to the next step. At this point, you'll pick one or more Lashers to lead a 'feedback chat', who will ask other Lashers if they have any comments or issues arising from your probation and will then discuss them with you (along with any comments or issues you have about Lashings in general). After your chat, you'll put together a document, possible along with whoever was in charge of your feedback, about your thoughts on your apprenticeship and full Lashers will then vote on whether you should become a full Lasher, your probation should be extended (rare) or you should be asked to leave Lashings (rarer still).

Well, that's that taken care of, so here's my Lash-story.

A long time ago3, in a galaxy far, far away4....


Oh, no, sorry, got carried away a bit there. What actually happened was that, wide-eyed and innocent, I entered my first ever Lashings rehearsal. I knew quite a few of the Lashers through student drama (and I use that term in the loosest sense) and had been complaining to Robette that I wanted to do something a bit less...frivolous. But still fun. And definitely still silly. Something that was silly AND serious at the same time. Something that could be an outlet for my Opinions On Things. Incredibly, such a thing did indeed exist, and right there in that far, far away galaxy we call Oxford! I was somewhat nervous the first time I went along (what if people don't like me? What if I can't sing well? What if I'm not 'activisty' enough? What if Lashings is secretly a cult of alien-monsters in radical-queer-feminist-skinsuits just waiting to pounce and consume my brain?) but everyone was very friendly and welcoming and really made me feel like it was lovely to have me there. Sebastienne told me a bit about how Lashings works and explained that they were currently in the middle of putting together their Alt Sex Ed show for Edinburgh and really needed someone to do the music for it. After much reassurance that all I'd need to do was push a button at the right time, I agreed to do it with a warning that I would most probably screw it up somehow. I'd always considered anything involving sound and electricity to be pretty much beyond me but I actually found myself working the sound desk by the end of it, and saying things like “the levels aren't quite right” and “maybe if I lower channel 4...” and “here, I have some gaffa tape!”

Getting to know the ins and outs of the show was actually really helpful because I was able to learn the acts by osmosis (not that I didn't have to spend quite a while properly learning lyrics and choreography). My very first performance in a Lashings show was incredibly last minute, due to other Lashfolk being ill and I actually had to learn some of my lines on the night! I've performed in two other Lashings shows since then (both with some actual rehearsing beforehand!) but that first one is still probably my favourite, simply for the excitement of Not Forgetting The Words the first time I went on stage! Performing with Lashings is awesome, partly because the acts are great, partly because performing is fun but largely because the audiences and the rest of Lashings are so fantastic. What I've seen Lashings do, both as an audience member and during my apprenticeship, is create safe spaces with a real sense of community which makes getting up on stage a really positive experience – it really does feel like you're up there with family. Plus, being able to make people laugh and think at the same time is brilliant.

As great as the performing aspect of Lashings has been, probably the best bit of my apprenticeship has been getting to know so many wonderful people and becoming a part of the Lash-community. I've felt really welcomed and lucky to be able to do this stuff with so many awesome, kind, funny people. So, at the risk of getting too mushy, to my fellow Lashers, thankyou, and to the new apprentice Lashers, congratulations! You're about to enter one of the best communities I've ever been a part of and have loads of fun!

1Also, check out kabarett's post about a Lashings rehearsal
2This is dependent on lots of things and so will probably be different for everyone (ish)
3About last May.
4Well, in East Oxford Community Centre. Probably.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Links round-up: winter warmers

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

The nights are getting longer and the days are getting shorter. Much, much shorter. We don't know about you, but over here in the LashLair we're feeling pretty worn out. This week's round-up is correspondingly largely warm- (if not light-) hearted.

A recipe for instant hot-honey-and-lemon. Even more instant than that. Give or take thirty minutes of prep time.

Speaking of, Smitten Kitchen has put out some absolutely amazing recipes this week: roast pear & chocolate scones, and warm roasted squash & wholegrains salad.

A GeekFeminism post on meritocracies is not terribly cheerful, but well worth a read.

The Secret Histories Project is now underway - a series of very short introductions to 'fifty people you never met in Year Nine History'.

Kendra James on race and fandom, and when Defaulting to White Isn't An Option. Link contains images of Avengers cosplay and kindergarten students that may lead to dangerous levels of squee. 

Friday 26 October 2012

Trans identities and essentialism

Posted by OrlandoOrlando

“Gender is socially constructed.”

“Trans identities are real and valid.”

So. I’m a feminist and a trans person, and I believe both of the above statements. These two positions are sometimes held to be in opposition, whether by feminists who believe trans people are buying into patriarchal gender roles or trans people who denounce non-binary trans identities as ‘transtrenders’ (have a look at the ‘transtrender’ tag on Tumblr if you want to see examples - I’m not linking because some of the stuff on there is really hateful). In this post, I’d like to show how an understanding of gender as socially constructed and a recognition of trans identities are not mutually exclusive, starting with some analogies.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Taster session reminders

Lashings of Ginger Bee Timer

Posted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

A couple of weeks ago we made a post mentioning that we're looking for people who are interested in joining our group.

We've now finalised the details for the venues.

Oxford - West Oxford Community Centre. It's around 0.6 miles from Oxford bus station, and 0.3 miles from Oxford train station. The room we're using (Seminar Room One - round to the right as you approach the centre) has flat access all the way in. The only potential access issue we're aware of is that you need to go outside and in through another door to reach the toilets; but please get in touch if you have any other access concerns. The room has automatic lock, so if it is closed just knock to be let in.

London - from 7pm in a venue in north-west London, near Queens' Park. The venue is free, there are gender-neutral toilets, tea will be provided and there's step-free access. There's a tube and train station with step-free access ten minutes away, and a bus stop five minutes away. We'll send full details to proto-Lashers who email and tell us they're coming to the London session.

Cambridge - Meeting in Caffè Nero on Market Street between 11am and 12pm, before travelling to the nearby venue together. (We can't put the venue details online, but it's close and has step-free access). kaberett will be downstairs in a blue wheelchair with a blue toy penguin on the table for identification.

Please remember to email us on if you're planning on coming to one of these sessions, and to bring a two-minute rant (on any topic) if that's your thing.

Oxford taster session
Saturday 27 October, 2.15pm
West Oxford Community Centre
(enter through metal gates at the right-hand-side of the centre)

London taster session
Monday 29 October, evening
7pm in north-west London, near Queens' Park

Cambridge taster session
Saturday 3 November, 12pm (meeting from 11am)
Caffè Nero on Market Street (actual session elsewhere)

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Links round-up: art, language, medicine

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

The Backbone Zone's 2012 campaign materials include a fantastic set of posters calling out sexist and heterosexist language - in a way designed to make you laugh, then make you think. They're bright, engaging, and beautiful.

"Your Veil is a Battleground examines the lives of young Iranians, with a strong focus on women. The project explores the 'veil' in the literal sense of the word, the Hijab, as well as the curtain that delicately separates public and private lives of Iranians." Adapted, very gently, from her bio: Kiana was born in Tehran in 1988; aged 17, she moved to Toronto, where she studied photography. Her art tells stories with a social message: focussing on young women, she works to document her culture - in Iran and abroad.

Greener Grazing crunches the numbers to explain why living on benefits is not an attractive prospect, despite all the rhetoric around 'benefit scrounging'.

Sex Scribbled on my Skin: body politics and sexuality, on intersectional experiences of being treated as sexual or asexual beings.

This week, there's been an awful lot of debate on the depathologisation of transsexualism - specifically, whether we as a community should be working to get Gender Identity Disorder removed from mental illness classifications. Against removal, we have for example transmedic, Zoe O'Connell and Sarah Brown [1|2], who argue that (a) the already-immense difficulty in accessing appropriate treatment will be worsened if we are not recognised as ill, and (b) that while being trans* isn't a mental illness, experiencing severe gender dysphoria is. On the other hand is the argument that one doesn't have to be ill to require medical assistance - parallels are being drawn with pregnancy - and that that's a better way to frame trans* issues: for more detail, see Consider the Tea Cosy, Jane Fae in HuffPo, and Maxwell Zachs in the Independent (please consider Zoe's concerns about the petition linked from Zachs' article when deciding whether to sign). Unfortunately, this second line of argument frequently veers into Othering people who identify as having mental illnesses. In summary: what's easy on an individual level turns really, really difficult the moment you try to generalise, and especially once you get bureaucracy involved.

The Offbeat Empire started a conversation on liberal bullying - specifically, on privilege-checking and language-policing as "sport", used to score points and show off how progressive the complainant is. The discussion has spread and become more nuanced: Boldly Go, Consider the Tea Cosy and CN Lester have all written essays on the same theme, taking explicit looks at problems in the original essay and at "the perfect ally", among other points.

Friday 19 October 2012

What's in a name?

Lashings of Ginger Bee TimerPosted by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time

This week's blog post is something a little different - below, a number of Lashers share the story behind their Lashings names! We figure that regular readers might find it interesting, and that potential new Lashers might be find it useful when it comes to thinking of their own stage names...


When I’m feeling particularly dangerous, I perform under the full stage name ‘Galatea Gorgon’. I acquired the first part of the name from an appallingly creepy story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which we’ve performed as a dance piece from time to time -- the sculptor Pygmalion, disgusted by the lewdness and crudeness of human women, decides to make himself a perfect girlfriend out of ivory and sleep with that instead: a bit like an Ancient Greek version of a RealDoll. He ends up falling in love with this beautiful inanimate statue which never talks back, and eventually the goddess Venus makes it come alive so it can marry him. Bleargh. I think that in 21st century culture, a lot of women are encouraged to be our own Pygmalions, shaping ourselves into perfection for other people’s benefit while keeping as quiet as possible; shoving any inconvenient messiness or imperfection out of view. The Gorgons, meanwhile, were completely the opposite -- they’re female monsters from very early Greek mythology, and so outrageously fierce and ugly that one look at them will turn you into stone! Put together, I think these two names speak to a really interesting tension, particularly since most of my performance is dance-based and I rarely speak directly to the audience. I like the idea of playing around with the gaze, looking and transfixion -- when I dance for you, is it about beauty or about horror? Who is being brought to life, and who is being turned to stone?


This is a name I’ve been using for at least ten years, now. It’s a feminised form of Sebastian, as in Saint Sebastian, who’s been a site of deeply queer and kinky imagery for some centuries. He’s generally portrayed bound at the wrists and bleeding, pierced by phallic objects. Ahem. Anyway. After leaving prison, Oscar Wilde used the name ‘Sebastian Melmoth’, in what I’ve always considered to be a nod to posterity - to the idea that he might be (as he now is) considered a queer martyr. “Sebastienne” was only ever meant to be one half of my psyche, the other part being designated “Alia”.. but we don’t hear from her much, any more. (That’s not quite true; I’d say there’s been a reintegration. Alia’s still around in my gender identity and my politics; but I have Sebastienne’s sexuality and sense of style.) The divide was a necessary consequence of my adolescent inability to reconcile my belief in social justice and the importance of truth (Alia) with my Wildean conviction that “pleasure is the only thing one should live for” and the importance of artifice (Sebastienne). Lashings is where I learnt that it is entirely possible to embody both these things.


at some point in my anorexic early 2000s, i dropped to 2 1/2 stone and ended up in hospital, in starvation psychosis. seeing my reflection in a hospital mirror in my delirious state, i thought i was a goblin. And then, as i recovered, it kinda stuck - still, a significant proportion of my friends call me Goblin. Like a number of anorexic girls, i used to adore the symbolism and images of angels and elves, their effortless perfection - for me, referring to myself as Goblin, implying all my skinny gawky pudgy glory, is part of embracing my many imperfections instead of striving for impossible perfection. Also, it suits me, and i think the ears are cool. ;-) 

I’m a singer; my first language is German; and I’m decidedly political. And the deliberate misspelling of the German “Kabarett” - a word that is suggestive of cabaret as political satire? Well, that’s for reasons to do with my wallet name & a slightly unhealthy love of anagrams: so my stage name comes from the handle I invented for commenting on political blogs. In news that will surprise no-one who’s ever met me, I am indeed entirely too delighted by my own cleverness, at least when it comes to multilingual puns.


I took my stage name from the eponymous hero of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando. It was actually CN who suggested I use it, after reading an essay I wrote about the novel, but it fit so perfectly that I now can’t imagine using anything else. The character Orlando is born a boy in the Elizabethan era: the book follows them through a surreal and dreamlike version of history, during which they age very little over several hundred years, undergo a mysterious change of sexed morphology, and begin presenting as female, male, and neuter in different contexts. Orlando is openly gender-fluid and bisexual - they ‘changed far more frequently than those who have worn only one set of clothing can conceive… and enjoyed the love of both sexes equally’. The book has a lot to say about the cultural construction of gender, and I feel that the gender-fluidity of the main character speaks a lot to my experiences, despite the fantastical nature of the story.


I turned my surname, Valentine, into my stage name! Valentine came from my looking for something that sounded awesome that also went with my blog’s name, Silicone Valley, and is extra-excellent because it’s also the name of the villain in Mortal Engines, which is basically one of the greatest books ever. Yay! My name rocks.


This is my full real-life name. Natch. I’ve almost never used it in English-speaking day to day life, it feels a lot like a best Sunday dress, too much for everyday use. Plus, it’s a mouthful. (In GREEK it sounds fine.) I’ve wanted to be on stage for basically for ever and at some point my best friend and I coined the idea of keeping my full name for a stage name, so when people started telling me to pick a Lashings name there was never really any other choice. (Plus, I am a Classics nerd so it has that going for it too. Galatea was rooting for Patroklos based on this. ;))

Nigel Newt
I'm a
Nigel - that friend, relative, partner or other close acquaintance, who seems to understand enough of the principles of feminism to not be completely unbearable.  I make some contribution for the easy stuff, like the housework, or generally progressive causes.  But I also get something of a free pass - I'm shown more patience when I inevitably show my privilege. Newt is a female character in "Aliens", who gets to talk to Ripley (another female character) about monsters - fulfilling all three requirements in Dykes To Watch Out For's "The Rule" .  As my first role in Lashings was the increasingly grumpy recipient of all the token female roles from popular sci-fi & fantasy, this seemed an appropriate aspiration.


   It has two famous uses as a name for characters in classical music. First, it is the surname of heroine, Leonore, and her imprisoned, starved husband, in Beethoven's opera Fidelio. She disguises as a man (called Fidelio) and rescues her husband from political prison. I like having a name that belongs to both male and female, being somewhat genderqueer, with the female displaying strength. 
   It is also a name used by Robert Schumann, a brilliant composer who experienced quite complex mental health issues in his short life. He often wrote words and music signed with the names Florestan and Eusebius, who represented contrasting aspects of his personality. Florestan was the exuberant, passionate and - in my imagination - slightly out of his own control side.
  So we have a heroine/boi, a man she saved (both all-singing), a fictitious wisp of borderline personality disorder and a source of wild, imaginative music and musical philosophy; Florestan.

... so there you have it! Readers who have chosen their own names, whether for the stage, the internet, as a new legal name, or in any other venue: is there a story behind yours? We'd love to hear it!