Category Archives: Journal

Drinking rum with Bowie’s ghost

Drinking rum with Bowie's ghost bowie-4I am drinking rum with a ghost. He’s sitting over there with all my memories beside him. He wrote the soundtrack to my life and now he’s gone. Now he’s just a ghost, a phantom. A collection of sounds and images, words and memories. But the real artist that he was has gone.

He was the starman and we are all stardust. Now his physical form has returned to the dust that he came from, the Mother Earth, waiting to be recycled. But his ghost lingers on in the words of his songs, the many songs I know so well that I won’t be able to sing again without crying. Goodbye David Bowie, you gave me something I can never repay. You gave to us all.

David Bowie was perhaps the greatest artist of the late 20th century. It’s hard to think of a greater. Very early in his career he realised that gallery art was dead, defunct, a bauble of the privileged elite; not the medium for a creative talent such as his. He was not about to sell the jewels of that creativity to the dry grasping hands of the Saatchis or the horrors whom they procure for. He would not be pimped out by shysters and charlatans to become the whore of the privileged elite.

In an era when gallery art became completely worthless, David Bowie towered. When art became the equivalent of Facebook warriors posting trite motivational slogans — ‘YOLO’ and ‘Eat the rich’, he never lost sight of what art actually is. He never succumbed to the cult of the mawkish visual pun that has become the standard of gallery art today.

Over twenty years ago, that great writer and educator Camille Paglia observed that gallery art was redundant; she proposed cinema as its contemporary successor but the fact is that cinema is corrupted by another disease, split between crass commercialism and obscurantism. There is no contemporary director able to rise above this dilemma; all are impaled on one or other of its horns. There will be no more Casablancas.

Bowie never made either of those mistakes. He avoided the dilemma, both in his music and his cinematic outings. He was not George Lucas, nor was he some art house director whose turgid oeuvre would be fawned over by the same pseudo-intellectuals who drool over Turner prize nominees. Bowie was real. Bowie was true. Bowie was never compromised, nor did he compromise, even in the dark parts of his life. He remained himself and did not give up and in doing so was an inspiration to so many. Bowie said we could be heroes and he was right; and the greatest surprise of all, perhaps, was that this hero, this giant, was such a sweet, gentle, unassuming and private man.

What we knew was not the man behind David Bowie; he was a performance artist and what we saw was what he wanted us to see. David Bowie was a work of art, an artistic conception. Right from the moment when he killed off Ziggy Stardust, Bowie masterfully directed the production of his own life, up to and including his last album and the supporting videos, which we now can see, with the chill of reality, were a dying man’s paean. Not a word did he say in public and nobody outside his immediate family knew that he was a cancer victim whose days were numbered. It is only now, after his death, that we see the last of the facets of this most surprising and multifaceted artist.
David Bowie took art, dragged it out of the navel-gazing mire of the gallery, and made it into something relevant. He proved that great and gallery do not go together. He proved that to be a significant artist in our era meant walking away from the ghastly introspection of the art school, the grasping clutches of Saatchis and their likes. He proved that to be an artist you had to be real. I owe him greatly for that. We all do.

There will not again be his like, not in our lifetimes, anyway. David Bowie was a product of the most surprising and exciting cultural revolution of the 20th century, the 1960s. That astonishing era was itself the product of other massive social initiatives, which the forces of regression have ever since tried to suppress. The moralising ayatollahs of state and church that seek absolute control over the minutiae of life have fought hard to get the genie of freedom back in its bottle and they have largely succeeded. There seems no hope now, at least in the West, for another explosion like that which projected David Bowie onto the world stage.

And therein lies the real sadness, the real reason I am drinking with his ghost. It’s not just David Bowie who has gone, it’s the ideal that he, without ever meaning to, represented: of the truly free, independent artist who could make a whole generation laugh and cry with him. Of the dream that an ordinary, weird-looking kid could spit in the eye of the rich and the greedy and make them dance to his tune. Of the notion that maybe, just maybe, we could smash through the chains and shackles that the patriarchy placed on us, of the soul-destroying conformity it demands, of the grey ugliness that it imposes. Of the notion that we all could be heroes.

When I finish this bottle of rum, the ghost will take his leave. I will never see him again. All I’ll be left with is the echoes and flickering images he left. Goodbye, David Bowie. So many of us loved you. You were our hero, not just for one day.

Why are transgenders so evident in Asia?

Why are transgenders so evident in Asia? IMG_1388
A transgirl performing a traditional Sinulog dance in the Philippines. Pic: Rod Fleming

Almost all credible authorities, according to GIRES in the UK, now agree that the baseline minimum for gender non-conformity as ‘at least 1%’ and this has been borne out, again according to GIRES, by recent studies in New Zealand, The Netherlands and Belgium.

Now ‘gender non-conformity’ is a broad church and by no means all of these would identify as transgender. However, research carried out by Professor Lynn Conway and also by the Williams Institute for Law, part of the UCLA, suggests about half of these are, for a prevalence of around 1:200. This is supported by census results from Malaysia, which put the incidence there — a country that is officially very hostile towards transgender — at 1:170 of male-born individuals.

This should tell us two things: transgender is innate and appears in all populations at roughly the same rate; and that as such it is a part of normal human variation.

Of these transgender populations, the vast majority are what is called by science ‘Blanchard HSTS’, ‘Early Onset Androphile’ or ‘transkids.’ These are almost always, uniquely, attracted to men. They appear as transgender very young and frequently begin dressing as girls, wearing their hair long and, in recent decades, taking feminising hormones, in their early teens. They should not be confused with another, much less frequent type of MtF transgender, known as ‘autogynephiles’. These latter are fetishistic transvestite men, for whom dressing and pretending to be a woman is a sexual thrill: think Bruce ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner. (We will deal with these elsewhere; they are almost entirely restricted to white, middle-class Western men and globally are a tiny population.)

But why are MtF transgenders so obvious, and so open, outside the West? Continue reading Why are transgenders so evident in Asia?

Je suis Paris

Je suis Paris je-suis-paris-300x300
Je suis Paris

I was out on my Ducati on Friday; you know, Friday the 13th. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and mild, and I was thinking how nice it was for what would probably be the last time I venture out on a motorcycle this year. The sun struck low across the landscape and the trees, which are already mostly bare of leaves, filtered its rays. But they were still strong and sometimes it was hard to see, even though I had cleaned my visor before venturing out.

The contrast in light between the sunny parts of the road and those under the trees, especially those grouped together where they still have their leaved, was huge. It was like switching the lights off as I passed onto the shade.

I’ve been riding motorcycles for four decades now and you don’t do that without learning a thing or two. I was  reminded of one  on Friday: watch it! It may be beautiful and sunny with perfect dry tarmac out in the open, but under the trees the road will be wet.

This happens because the dew that forms overnight does not evaporate off as it would where there are no trees to insulate it from the sun’s warmth. And Friday was a very good example of the case in point; under the trees it was not only so dark it was difficult for my eyes to adjust, but also it was lethally slippery with damp, and to make matters worse, there were many fallen leaves on the road, just waiting to catch a careless back tyre and flip me over.

I reflected on this and thought it might make a nice philosophical post, you know, Reverend Rod, the atheist minister, droning on somewhere forgotten in cyberspace. But I just noted the headline idea and got on with the day’s work.

The next morning, Saturday, I was wakened by a stack of messages on my phone from my girlfriend, Crissy. It’s quite usual to find one or two, which is sweet, but this time there were many and they were urgent. ‘Are you all right?’ Half asleep, I wondered what she was on about, and messaged back a generic ‘What up?’ To which she responded. ‘Paris. Have you seen the news?’ Continue reading Je suis Paris

Jenner: not the face of trans women

Jenner: not the face of trans women caitlin-jenner-media-strategy
Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. Not the face of trans women

If you’ve been anywhere near a media outlet over the last few months you won’t ave been able to avoid noticing that transgender women are getting a lot of attention. If you have seen images of Caitlyn, formerly Bruce, Jenner, and then Paris Lees, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox or Jai Dara Latto, who was  crowned Miss Transgender UK 2015, you might be forgiven for being a bit confused. You might be struggling to figure out what the connection is between an ageing sports jock who looks like a man in a dress, and a glamorous woman who looks like — a glamorous woman. If you’re at all liberal or PC, you might have just accepted that these are the same, but, you know, because time and stuff.

But you’d be dead wrong. There are two completely distinct types of transgender woman and there is no connection between them at all. The conflation that is going on is wrong and potentially lethal.

Jenner: not the face of trans women caitlin-jenner-media-strategy
Keisha Jenkins, 22, an HSTS recently murdered. All of the trans women killed in the US (that we know of) in the recent spate were HSTS like her.

This is important because one type — which comprises the overwhelming majority of trans women in the world today — is the  subject of deadly and repeated violence, while the other colludes in it. Now I will show my cards here: my girlfriend is transgender. But she’s not like Jenner. And because she is — being of the other type — a potential victim of violence, I have to stand to the wire. Political Correctness is all very well until people start dying because of it; and that is what is happening. So let me explain. Continue reading Jenner: not the face of trans women

Keisha Jenkins: Say Her Name

Keisha Jenkins: Say Her Name kiesha
Keisha Jenkins, 22. RIP

Say Her Name. Go on. Say it. Keisha Jenkins.

According to Philadelphia Police, Keisha Jenkins, 22, was ambushed by about five men who began to pummel her moments after she exited a car around 2:30 a.m. She was then shot twice in the back and later died in a hospital. Keisha is the most recent in a wave of killings of trans women in the United States.

Keisha’s brutal death brings the total of trans women murdered in the USA — that we know of — to 21 this year. While the USA is not the most dangerous place in the world for trans women — that’s Brazil — the US  has undercurrents of racism and sexism that are not apparent elsewhere and which are conspiring to make matters worse.

The underlying cause of these killings is the patriarchy’s misogynistic premise that women are worth less than men. This powers the killing of both trans women and trans men as well as rape and ‘honour’ killings of women. These phenomena are all closely related and a symptom of the patriarchy, which is not an organisation but a parasitic disease that feeds on people. Continue reading Keisha Jenkins: Say Her Name