Posted in Blog, Personal

New Year, Same Disaster

It feels like just a few weeks since you last wrote one of these letters, but it is in fact a year. As mad as it might make me appear to the outside world, I enjoy sending these letters to you, and I like to imagine me (or you) reading them, back before all of these things happen. I often wonder if you’ll believe me.

This year has been full of ups and downs. As always, we will begin with January.

NFTs were all over the place, and you had no idea what they were. You still don’t. You were starting to write your next album and planned for it to be entirely in Spanish (it isn’t), the nation was hungry for justice as more and more details of misconduct in the Johnson administration leaked, and conflict was brewing as Russia made its intentions clear against Ukraine.

You were angry with your government, but you are almost always angry with the UK government, so I don’t suppose they saw it as a cause for concern. Where Ukraine was concerned, as well as many other things, you would continue to be angry with your government, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the time, you were weeks away from meeting and falling deeply in love with a girl that seemed like she was perfect. She had a whole other relationship, but you don’t find that out until summer. If by chance, you do get this letter in time, tell her to go fuck herself, or to go fuck her ACTUAL girlfriend, instead of fucking with your feelings, because you deserve better.

You’ve never felt that you do, but you do. I say it all the time, so much that sometimes, I get close to believing it. Maybe I don’t even believe it now, but I’m trying.

You do get some great songs out of it though, so maybe it was meant to happen.

The beginning of the Dream Girl era happened around this time. The title track got its first airplay, and it went on to become one of your most streamed songs. Dream Girl was your first loud and public expression of your sexuality, and as you waited for it to be played for the first time, you felt sick, but it went well. More on all that later, for now, we move on to February.

You turned thirty, and the world didn’t end. You felt a little rushed though, so you started going on dates. You’d been putting this off for months. You were out, doing a good impression of being proud and had no reason not to date but it made you anxious, so you didn’t. Eventually, around February, you did, and it was… an experience.

You felt like you’d missed out on a lot, so you said yes to everything, including things that you weren’t really ready for, but along the way, you did learn to be stern with yourself and take things slow. It’s still a learning process, and currently, as I write, you have someone sweet in mind that might become very important, or may be just another winter’s tale. I suppose we will see.

At the time though, there was one girl, after a few that became VERY important. She’s the one I mentioned earlier. You’ll know when you see her, but even with this warning, you’ll still probably dive right in like an idiot, which is fine, I suppose.

February was not just about your love life, and your anxiety about getting old. Russia invaded Ukraine, and the entire world seemed united in their disgust. You have been alive through war (and recall with great fondness your place at many anti Iraq war demonstrations as a child), but never as an adult, and never as close. The war was not happening to you, but you felt lost in helplessness and hopelessness.

Russian tanks ravaged the streets of their much smaller neighbour. Children cried out in terror and families were separated. The people of Ukraine were brave, but they were living in a nightmare. In a rare moment of decency, the UK government stepped up, issuing sanctions against Russia, providing aid to Ukraine and (after a lot of pushing) beginning a programme to resettle refugees from Ukraine to the UK. As I write this, I wish I could tell you that Ukraine was free, but still, they are locked in turmoil. I can only hope that their freedom will come soon, and I wish that there was more that I could do.

March was a special month, because you released Dream Girl, perhaps the most personal album you’ve ever written. The next one is more personal though, but that’s a story for next year’s self indulgent blog post.

April was full of gaslighting from the UK Government as they repeatedly tried to insist that Boris Johnson’s misconduct and criminal behaviour, and Elon Musk was rumoured to be buying Twitter. Increasing political insanity in the UK was frustrating but very useful to you, as the audience for your podcast, “What The Actual F*** Is Going On With This Whole Politics Business?” grew with every ridiculous and obnoxious scandal from the Tories. You finally fell into your destined role, Charlie Brooker in a push up bra. Feels good man.

This was also around the time when you began a weekly stream on Twitch, Storytime Sundays. This was the perfect outlet for you, and something you enjoyed very much. Luckily, it seems other people seemed to enjoy it too, which is always nice.

Summer came along, and you thought it would be a peaceful, chill time for you. That was dumb. You don’t get to have a peaceful, chill time, babe. Not ever.

Late July was a weird time. I got a voice note that would define my entire summer, in the worst way. I was friends with Laura Blake. We had been friends for a while, but got close during Covid (Christ, remember that?). We’d worked together, hung out, made plans for holidays and days out. It was a great friendship.

She sent me a panicked voice note, after being off the grid for a few days. Laura had just attended Twitchcon, so that didn’t seem unusual. It’s normal to be a bit quiet after a weekend of travelling and partying, right? Except something bad had happened.

I won’t tell the story of what happened at Twitchcon, because it isn’t mine to tell, and those involved have already shared what they feel comfortable sharing, but my involvement began with the voice note.

Laura told me that she had been accused of assault by another streamer, but that she had no memory of it. She was distraught, disgusted with herself and what she may have done when drunk. At first, she said she couldn’t remember, and then she said that she could remember but had just misread the signs, and then she said she couldn’t remember again. It went back and forth, but with one common aspect. She said that she was suicidal.

I am not a trained mental health professional. I’m not even in control of my own mental health, but I did what I could to help in the situation. I tried to keep her from doing anything stupid, but as the days went on and more details spilled out, things spun out of control.

I was trying to keep Laura from doing something regrettable while also trying to support Laura’s own fanbase and community who were panicking at her absence and the whirlwind of accusations being levelled against her.

I was arguably going through the least in the situation, and would never seek to compare my experience with the victims, but I was overwhelmed. I was getting messages all day, every day from concerned fans, as well as people urging me to speak out against Laura, while also playing the role of “emotional support lesbian” to Laura who was still spiralling and regularly discussing self harm and suicide.

I encouraged Laura to make some kind of statement to at least reassure people of what was happening and to calm some of the uncertainty, but she deleted her social media profiles and instead asked me to post a tweet, not quite on her behalf, but reassuring her own audience, many of which were also my audience due to our shared projects, that she was safe.

I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with it, but did it anyway. This is one of the big lessons you learn this year, Hunnybee, you learn (very late) to start putting your own comfort first.

I didn’t feel comfortable with it because the details that were coming out made me doubt Laura’s story, and I felt as if I was being manipulated. Every time I expressed some doubt or that Laura should try to take accountability, she would begin talking about harming herself, or would talk about how I was her only friend left in the world, and so, I’d keep trying to guide her back down the right path.

It just went on and on. More details came out as those involved felt more comfortable sharing their stories and Laura watched from the sidelines, through a selection of burner accounts that seemed deeply unhealthy as the whole thing played out.

I still get messages about it now, despite being incredibly uninvolved, as does my friend Mersadist. Mersadist also received a number of transphobic and abusive messages from people who believed her to have been involved in or supporting the assault, as well as abuse from Laura’s fans who were angry that she did not support Laura.

I reached out to Laura one last time and pleaded with her to make a clarifying statement, just to confirm that Mersadist was innocent, but she wouldn’t. I explained the threats and abuse she had received but Laura still refused. I begged her to finally do one small thing to make amends in some part for the hurt she was still causing, and she simply said that she couldn’t.

It was hard to take.

On a happier note, this was a year in which you got very close to the aforementioned Mersadist. She has been a beautiful, shining light in your life, and someone who will be a huge part of your life for much longer.

July was also the month when things fell apart with the aforementioned “special” girl. The one, as they say. She wasn’t. She never could have been. You just really wanted to be in love. Sorry to be harsh, but you spent several months crying over it and if I can get you to the point of feeling better with a bit of tough love, I’ll take it.

The next few months were spent crying, writing concerning things, eating a lot of ice cream and crying a bit more. The world went on around you, and you were appalled, because… well… you were heartbroken and nobody bloody cared!

This went on until September, when you decided to try and do something productive, instead of being an emotional wreck. You wrote a cheery and optimistic Christmas song for lesbians, you wrote a ton of content for Halloween in preparation for Spooky Season, and you had the idea for another new podcast.

Yes, you’ve got another bloody podcast. You decided to take the short stories you were writing for Storytime Sundays and expand them into little audio podcasts for the weekly show, The Unearthly Library. It’s one of your favourite projects from this year and something you’re excited to work on in the new year. The Tories did more messy shit and swapped Prime Ministers, so you picked up some new listeners and got to share your angry, sweary rambles with more people.

War raged on in Europe as Putin’s cruelty continued, the public screeched at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle about something that has nothing to do with them, Liz Truss was a few days into her short reign of tyranny. It was starting to feel like a normal day, but then, on the 8th of September, rumours began to spread, newsreaders changed into black outfits, and shit got pretty real.

The Queen died. To be completely honest, you weren’t particularly upset by it, beyond finding it sad that a person had died. You’re not a monarchist, but you’ve never wished them any ill will (besides Andrew, for obvious reasons), but it did feel like the end of an era, as they say. It was uncomfortable to watch her family’s final moments with her essentially playing out on 24 hour news coverage, and you felt a lot of sympathy for her and her family as the obligation to display their lives to the public became disturbingly difficult for the viewer to consume.

There were a number of awkward and weird tributes from brands that became memes, and a strange ritual of national grieving that you didn’t know how to navigate. You’re still not sure how you’d handle it if you had the chance to do it again. I don’t know that you will ever know.

Life did go on, once the national mourning period was over, and Autumn seemed to slip away quickly. Christmas approached, the tories swapped Prime Ministers again, and you headed to London to film a music video with Mersadist for the single Red Motorcycle. It was a lot of fun, and she looked as stunning as ever. You looked back on the year with a strange fondness, because, well, it hadn’t been too bad.

You learned a little more about yourself, you found new ways to be creative, you branched into new platforms and you survived it. You say it every year, around about 11:30 on New Year’s Eve, and you did it again this year. “I survive everything.” and you do.

Here’s to surviving for another year, and maybe, if you’re feeling up to it, let’s really live.

All my love,
J x

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Personal, Writing

Everybody Out!

Sell me a space in the shadows,
let me live behind a locked door,
surrounded by the sweetness of unspeculative silence.

I care for the kind of quiet that doesn’t guess,
a lush loneliness,
moonlight serenade of stillness.

I am sleeping in the dreams of somebody else tonight,
littered with letters,
sewn onto my skin,
because I stopped being convincing, somewhere in my second act,
according to some of my harshest critics.

Now, the stage is bare.
I sleepwalk as the audience screams,
so many crossed voices and contradictory phrases.
All of the things I was supposed to be to all people,
spill around my shaking legs,
and I am submerged.

Who am I?
What am I?
What I am, is “not ready”.
Is that an option?
Can I find that on a form that I can fill in and pass to the furious crowd?

Is that such a crime?
It there a set time in which I must be presented,
centre stage, ready to be torn to pieces with a smile?

I am not ready,
but they are waiting.
Sell me a space in the shadows,
let me live behind a locked door,
surrounded by the sweetness of unspeculative silence.

They storm the stage,
accusations and assumptions circling angry expressions,
and all I can do is stumble towards the back of the bare stage,
begging for mercy,
because I am not ready,
and I don’t know what they want from me,
but they are so… hungry.

Posted in Blog, Personal, politics, Pride Month 2022

Can Dartford’s First Pride Heal The Wounds Left By The Shame of Sandy Bruce-Lockhart?

After decades of keeping the LGBT+ community a secret, the town I live in is having it’s first Pride. Organised by the Orchard Theatre in partnership with Dartford Borough Council, the event is much needed, and long overdue.

I live about twenty minutes away from the tiny village I spent much of my childhood in, Horton Kirby. Just a little drive from Dartford, Horton Kirby was somewhere that I absolutely hated living. There was nothing to do, and so the fascination was gossip. Everybody wanted to know everybody’s business, and as someone harbouring a deep, dark secret, this made it the worst place in the world to live.

Casting my mind back to my childhood, when I’d spend the weekends and summer holidays listening to mixtapes full of ballads in Dartford park, tormented by the secret that lived inside my soul, I often wonder what that lonely, torn up teenager would think about Pride happening just a stones throw away from the place she used to haunt.

Every Pride month, there’s a lot of discourse about Pride having roots in protest, and Dartford, along with the rest of Kent is no stranger to LGBT+ related protests.

It all begins with the familiar tale of Section 28, a piece of legislation that banned the promotion of homosexuality, introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980’s. The damage of the legislation to LGBT+ youth was clear from the outset, with LGBT+ kids facing bullying, mental health challenges and years of struggle with accepting themselves, which is why the legislation was repealed by Tony Blair’s Labour government at the turn of the millennium.

Brave protesters who fought back against Kent’s Section 28 legislation (Image: Paul Prentice)

It was a turning point for the LGBT+ community in the UK, and represented, the beginning of the state making up for the harm caused, at last, for the LGBT+ community, unless of course, they lived in Kent.

In the early 2000’s, the Conservative controlled Kent County Council voted to introduce legislation that mimicked Section 28 and banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools managed and controlled by the local authority. The legislation insisted that children should be taught that homosexuality was not equal to heterosexuality, and that teachers should not allow children access to material or information that could give children the idea that homosexuality was positive or even normal.

Council leader at the time, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said: “What we are saying is that we want to give reassurance to parents in Kent that the county council will not spend taxpayers’ money on purchasing material which intentionally promotes homosexuality. That is a bad use of money.” It was framed as a money issue, but the council’s actions over the next few years made it clear that it was a homophobia issue.

He later repeated this justification for the legislation in a letter to the president of The Queer Youth Alliance, David Henry, adding that the council would encourage children to lead a healthy, fulfilling and meaningful life in which they respect themselves, but for LGBT+ children who were unable to find the answers to the burning questions about themselves, that was difficult to do.

The councillor who started it all, Sandy Bruce-Lockhart (Image: The Telegraph)

Sandy Bruce-Lockhart went on to be celebrated for his contributions to politics, being made a Knight Bachelor on the New Year’s Honours List and being given a life peerage. The students that suffered under the legislation he introduced have not been so fortunate.

In 2004, the legislation was amended, now stating that heterosexual marriage was the only firm foundations for society. This was in place and having a profound and damaging effect on LGBT+ students until the Equality Act of 2010 was introduced by the UK government.

Protests began at council buildings in 2004, with older members of the LGBT+ community, including the chair of Canterbury Labour Paul Prentice joining student groups to raise their voices against the damaging legislation. I have been going to protests since I could walk, but I was not at any of the protests by LGBT+ groups against our council.

At first, I didn’t know the legislation was in place, and I wouldn’t find out until I was about sixteen. When I did, I was still far too deep in my shame spiral to actually do anything about it, but there were people, turning up to council buildings and town halls repeatedly throughout the 2000’s to stand up for kids like me, because they knew the damage that was being done in those schools.

Shoutout to Hilary Duff for attempting to end Homophobia. Stream What Dreams Are Made Of for good grades and clear skin! (Image: Youtube)

Part of me, after years of indoctrination believed that the councillors must have been right. They were hiding homosexuality from us, because it was wrong. At the time, same sex marriage was still illegal, and there were very few visible LGBT+ role models, and barely any lesbian representation, beyond fetishised porn clips that the boys swapped with each other on their phones. Gay and Lesbian were still used as pejoratives, and the one girl I knew that came out as a lesbian was relentlessly bullied while teachers looked the other way.

There was no way for me to come out, amidst all that. Knowing about the legislation didn’t make it go away, and it didn’t erase the damage that it had already done.

Things have changed in Dartford, but things have also stayed the same. We have a gay bar now, The Huffler’s Arms, which is a wonderful and inclusive space (with amazing drinks deals!), but we also have Winners’ Chapel, just a few minutes away that was exposed for conducting gay conversion therapy by ITV News in 2018 and has claimed that gay people are controlled by the devil. They give out leaflets on the road that leads to Dartford’s one and only gay bar regularly, and it’s hard to believe that their decision to leaflet there is a coincidence.

At last, a home. (Image: The Hufflers Arms)

Council buildings fly the Pride flag in February and June but Conservative councillors are not willing to acknowledge or truly make amends for their party’s antagonistic history with the local LGBT+ community.

Kent County Council’s LGBT toolkit mentions Section 28 several times but does not acknowledge the council’s own part in continuing the legislation for a decade after it was originally repealed by the UK government.

Dartford is now having its first ever Pride, and they’ve gone all in, with a three day calendar of events, featuring performances from Drag Race UK stars Baga Chipz and River Medway, as well as Pop Idol star Gareth Gates and ITV’s Starstruck finalist Keeley Smith. Teenage me would not have been able to believe it. Adult me can’t really believe it either.

The main Pride event on Saturday July 2nd unfortunately does clash with the much bigger London Pride event, just a quick train away in the capital, but the events on other dates shouldn’t run into the same issues, and as a whole, the events happening is significant.

This is a town, still struggling to accept parts of itself. I am a woman, still struggling to accept parts of myself. After decades of trying to change myself, and present an acceptable image, it is only in the last few years that I have accepted that I am a Lesbian, and that there’s nothing I can, or even should do about it (beyond seeking a wife for the end of the world), so the town that I call home, finally showing up for me is an emotional moment.

Baga Chipz is stunning. Baga Chipz is class. KCC teaching LGBT+ kids to hate themselves is not. (Image: Dartford Pride)

Would I have hidden myself for so long if the legislation had not been in place? While other factors were part of my decision (see yesterday’s poem for details, and stan my amazing mother for being an accepting icon), I do still believe the legislation was the largest aspect, and I have spent a long time imagining how different my life would be, if I’d gone through puberty and discovered my sole attraction to women while going to school in another part of England.

I have reconnected with people that I went to school with, that are, like me, late bloomers, and have spent a long time trying to run away from who they were, primarily due to years of our schools having no choice but to hide the truth of our normality from us. We are normal. There is nothing wrong with us, but in our formative years, we were made to feel like freaks and deviants. There is a lot of pain, and a lot of anger, and I wish I knew when that would fade.

My hope is that the first Dartford Pride will be a success, and will continue year after year. I hope that it will help heal the divisions between the LGBT+ community and a local authority that played a part in sowing the seeds of self hatred in so many of us, but it’s important to be honest about the power of Pride, and how it has its limits.

Finally being able to be myself, openly, while I sip drinks and watch our home county hero River Medway is nice, and I’ll enjoy myself, as I’m sure others will, but Dartford Borough Council, along with other councils across Kent has a long way to go if they ever hope to repair the damage of their shameful homophobic history.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Personal, Writing

A Letter To The Girl From 365 Days Ago

Hello beautiful,

You’re not dead, yet, and that’s a good thing. You also haven’t wished for it in a long time, and that’s also a good thing. Would you like to know why?

I’ll tell you, in time, but first, we have some other matters to discuss.

We’ll start with January. It is just about to start for you, and it begins the way that December ended, in lockdown. You are bored of all this pandemic business, as is everyone else, and as I write to you, I regret to inform you that it is not over yet. We aren’t quite in lockdown, but it might happen. The upside is, you are no longer afraid of it.

The thing you feared the most about the lockdown was that your boyfriend would go wandering and forget about you, and during the first lockdown, that did happen, but you manage to grab another one pretty quickly, just in time for the next lockdown, and the worrying began again, but this time you won’t be afraid of that. Not because you have found an intensely loyal man, or because you grew as a person and stopped being so insecure, but because you grew as a person and addressed why a man slipping through your fingers scared you so badly.

Oh, you are as impatient as ever. I was going to tell you about everything else first, but I suppose you deserve to know.

This was the year that you accepted the truth. You know exactly what I’m talking about, and I know for a fact that as you read this, you have a racing heart and a tight throat. It’s the same mix of guilt, panic and shame you feel when you think about that girl from school, or that girl you wrote White Wine about. It’s the same shame you feel when you watch the Scottish Affairs Committee (not giving any further context there, if you know, you know). It’s the same way you feel every time your family asked about your love life and the same way you felt when you were fifteen, writing (admittedly, quite good) poems about Carol Ann Duffy.

You know what I’m about to say, and you are staring at this letter, trying to rearrange the words or shove them back into my pen, but you can’t (primarily because I typed them lmao). I’d go back to the girl you were two years ago, or five, but I know they couldn’t take it. I know that they weren’t strong enough to take this journey, and if I’m honest, I don’t think you are, but I know that I was not strong enough for you not to.

You have been carrying this alone since you were a child, but it’s over now. I know that you know what I’m about to tell you, and I know that you are hoping that I won’t. The funniest thing is that your dearest friend in the world is just like you, and you have loved him, just the way he was, but for so long, you couldn’t love yourself in the same way. You accepted him, genuinely but you saw yourself as a freak. I guess it was less acceptable if it was two girls, to you? You celebrated him, but you kept yourself a secret, because you thought you were different, something shameful and terrifying, but much like the angel in the nativity, I come to you and I say “Do not be afraid, because we have missed out on so much life already, and we don’t have time to be afraid anymore.” Perhaps the angel of the lord wasn’t so abrupt, but you know me, I’m no angel.

It all started on a date with a man. He was crazy about you, and you thought you could do what you always do, act crazy about him and hope that he married you and gave you the child that you had always wanted. He probably would have, had he not guessed what you were. I still don’t know how he did, mind you. He asked you, directly to your face, and you felt like you were going to die on the spot.

“Are you a lesbian?”

It seemed like an unfair question. You had been willing to give him what he wanted. You would have been loyal. He would have been happy. He just didn’t need to ask questions. It was a good deal, really, but I suppose he couldn’t take it, because he knew it wasn’t what it appeared to be.

Truthfully, it wouldn’t have been a good deal, after a while. You’d get burnout from having to get through the sex, just like you had before and you’d start recoiling at his touch, he’d feel rejected, you’d get depressed. It would be the same as it always is. You’d cling to it desperately, because you wanted to be anything but what you actually are and it would slip away from you, because as it all turns out, men are not stupid, and they can usually tell when their partner doesn’t want them.

You told him that you weren’t “like that…” but you knew that you couldn’t hide much longer. You also knew that nobody was buying your “Shy bisexual” persona either. It was starting to become really obvious that you were just not built to be with a man. If a man who was a stranger could figure it out, then there was no more hope of deceiving everyone else.

I tried to pretend I was just thinking about it, like it was something I was considering for the first time but I had always known, and eventually, after several years of keeping it a secret, I told the truth for the first time. I wrote a bunch of angsty poems to tell the audience and I recorded an angsty voice note to tell the family. As it all turns out, lots of people apparently knew and were just waiting for me to say it, on my own terms, so… you really have nothing to worry about. You could do it, today, if you want. It makes no difference to the people that love you. Your mother still loves you, I promise.

Now that’s over with, we can talk about some other news. As I mentioned, Covid-19 is still very much a thing. You are very bored of it now, mainly because the British government is making a mess of preventing another wave and you long for the safety and competency of a Nicola Sturgeon or a Mark Drakeford, but, alas, you only have Boris Johnson to rely on.

Speaking of all of those people, you finally launched the politics segment of your podcast into its own podcast and you’re having a lot of fun doing it. It does your mental health a lot of good to pretend to be Emily Maitlis once a week.

Your birthday absolutely sucked because you spent it in lockdown and you were really sad, all day. That is why it was important for you to treasure your 28th birthday, but, noooo, you didn’t want to listen… I can’t tell you how the next one will be, because it hasn’t happened yet and nobody knows what the British government will do from one day to the next, but I hope it will be better. God willing, I would like to go to Toby Carvery for your next birthday, but we will see what happens with restrictions.

You will write a lot of things that you love this year, but your favourite is a song called Widow, that you released to raise money for Terrence Higgins Trust. You’ll be donating the royalties every year from now on and I can’t wait for the many years of fundraising ahead.

You currently have a duolingo streak of 506 days. You finally opened up and tried to make friends outside of the internet. You’ve written songs that have been played around the world. You went on a date with a girl, on purpose, in public and you didn’t bail on her or insist on it being a secret. You hit a million streams on Spotify. It’s been a much better year than you are expecting, and I’m proud of you.

You spent a lot of the year being confused and scared. Scared of the virus, scared of your secret, but as I write to you, on New Year’s Eve, staring down the barrel of 2022, I am so happy to tell you that the fear has less of a grip on you now.

I don’t know if it will ever go away entirely, but we’re getting closer to living with it, day by day, and for once, I am actually excited to stay up until midnight and say goodbye to a year full of difficult but necessary lessons.

I wish you all the best for 2022, and not just because I have an interest in what happens to you, but because at last, I am ready to accept that you deserve it. You deserve the absolute best, and you’re going to get it.

Love forever,
J x