Everything I Wrote In November 2015


You might have noticed that since June, I’ve been using Patreon to get paid for the writing I do. (Patreon, if you haven’t heard of it, lets readers pay content creators a sum of their choice per post, up to a monthly maximum—for example, $3 per post up to $15 in any given month.) When I first started using it, one of my pledges was to post at least twice a week, or eight times a month. For lots of reasons, including homelessness and a bout of ill mental health, it took me till November to make good on that, and now that I’m being as productive as I want to be, I’d like to do some self-promotion again.

One thing I’ve found with Patreon is that it pushes me to write longer, more serious posts I might not have otherwise: getting even a few dozen dollars per post from a small group of patrons has focused me on content I really care about. I mean to keep going in that vein, and for this blog to continue to grow—November was its biggest month ever, largely due to me getting paid enough to concentrate on it—I need to keep up the momentum, so I’m going to try and get into the habit of advertising. In case you missed any, this post is a recap of everything I wrote last month, and I’m hoping to publish a compendium like it every month, partly as a portfolio, partly to motivate myself.

‘Modern Homelessness: Privatisation, Policing and Public Toilets’

There’s nothing like carrying everything you own to make snails seem nobler. It’s 3am, and having put my life into a rucksack weeks ago, I’m plodding homelessly across London without a place to crash. Pints of coffee are catching up with me, and unlike a snail, I don’t have the option of seeping fluid as I go. There are toilets, I realise, back at Charing Cross, but because I hate u-turns more than being illogical, I decide I’m bound to bump into some. I know I’ll regret it even as I make up my mind, and sure enough, by 4.30, my kidneys are in full revolt.

By 5am I’ve managed to find a hostel whose receptionist takes pity: after bursting my banks behind an unlockable door, I head back to Victoria. In two hours places will reopen, meaning food, heat and a replenished supply of caffeine, so I opt to rest my legs in the station until then. By the entrance, a woman my own age asks for spare change, hoodie pulled balaclava-tight around her face. I reach for coins, only to realise a card’s all I have, and apologise, trying much too hard to sound honest. From her lack of layers, she can’t have been on the street long, but her face says she knows that line.

If you haven’t discovered Novara Media, you should—it’s probably the best source of left wing online journalism in the UK. Wire, their growing text platform, recently introduced a ‘Sunday long reads’ series, and I had the pleasure of writing the first one: it’s the story of a night I spent in London without a place to go, and how Thatcherism shows up in contemporary urban planning. Read it.

‘Paris/Baghdad/Beirut, November 2015’

When guns go off, people fall silent. Some fall silently.

Silence takes many forms. There is the silence of the dead, that of the living who see death, and in between, that silent half-second when gunshots are first heard.

Sometimes you feel compelled to say something, but it’s hard to know what. (I felt similarly after the Charleston church shootings in June.) After the bombings and gun massacres last month, this post was an attempt to acknowledge both those feelings. Read it.

‘The Rights Of Muslims Don’t Rest On Islam Being Sacrosanct’

It’s possible to be terrified by attacks on refugees and fire-bombings of mosques without thinking religious violence is ‘nothing to do with’ religion; without treating religion and ‘extremism’ as non-overlapping phenomena, or applying arbitrary and inconsistent tests for which kinds of Muslim count as ‘real’; without saying silly, ahistorical things about religions being ‘perverted’, or that believers who murder people are wrong about their own motives, and would behave the same in a world without religion — because shut up, they just would.

We don’t need bad apologetics to refrain from collectively dehumanising believers. Muslims don’t deserve to be treated as human beings because their religion is a squeaky-clean monolith of peace and love that never produces anything bad — they deserve to be treated as human because they are, and because no amount of harm a religion might cause makes all its followers responsible. If that’s not obvious, it’s because we’re used to debating brown people’s humanity.

When the Charlie Hebdo shootings happened at the start of this year, I never found time to post my thoughts about it. One of the boons of Patreon is that I no longer have to choose between writing and doing other work, so—because, like the last time Paris was attacked, many reactions troubled me—I wanted to write down the things I did feel I could say. Read it.

‘What If James Bond Fucked Men? Sex, Violence And Genre In London Spy

Today’s conservatives have nothing, heavens no, against the gays—they’d just prefer not to be reminded they’re anatomically correct. The novelty of lifelike queer characters is such that realism feels unrealistic: it must be due to a quota, the Telegraph suggests, that in all of spy fiction, one queer lead role now exists. Whether despite or because of the number of gay historical spies, espionage is a fiercely heterosexual genre, and after half a century of straight secret agents in dinner jackets getting laid, the fury London Spy’s premiere drew with one sex scene shows just how overdue it is. This never happened to the other guy.

When I’m not being godless and left wing—at least, when I’m not talking about it—I sometimes write about TV. (Two of my most popular posts are about Doctor Who and In The Flesh.) London Spy, which stars Ben Whishaw and which concludes next week, is an espionage show well aware of its own genre. It nods constantly at its lineage, but never feels quite like a spy show—instead, it invites us to think about why, despite commentators saying otherwise, James Bond could never be queer. Read it.

‘To The 17 Year Old Who Got Cut Off In The Guardian

I read your uncle’s letter to you the other day — the one he addresses ‘my dear godson’, before calling you stupid and selfish; in which he says he doesn’t want to demean your parents for not being middle class enough, but still does; where he admits he’s ‘a difficult person at the best of times’, then cuts you off for not being sufficiently adoring. I thought of writing a direct response, but decided I should drop you a line instead.

To quote one Twitter user who spoke for the crowd, your uncle sounds like a pompous, arrogant shit; he also sounds abusive. It wasn’t enough that you were always polite to him — you had to be warm too; it wasn’t enough to answer his texts — you had to answer them immediately, and not, shock horror, the next day; it wasn’t enough that you thanked him for his cheques — you had to pay him back by being however affectionate he liked. This is possessive, entitled behaviour, and you didn’t deserve it.

Last week an anonymous writer in the Guardian disowned his seventeen year old nephew in an open letter. Some it sounded familiar, all of it manipulative, so I sent the recipient a note of my own. Read it.

‘What Happened On The Back Channel When Ophelia Benson Left Freethought Blogs’

It’s one thing to leak private information from the list, another to leak misinformation. For those of us who take the rules and our own privacy seriously, this isn’t just one security breach — it’s a set of claims we can’t counter without publishing what we did say, and eroding our privacy further. I’d tell Ophelia to stay classy and get on with my life, but I believe she’s had too long to monopolise the story of what went on here, so that’s what I’m going to do. (Please note: because I actually care about this, everything reprinted from the back channel here is quoted with its author’s express agreement.)

Despite what’s sometimes said, I don’t much enjoy writing drama posts, but there are times it’s unavoidable. Since Ophelia Benson left this network four months ago, there’s been both speculation and outright deception about what went on, which this post addresses. (This post flagged up some confusion about what the wording of our rules meant. For the record, that confusion has been resolved.) Read it.

‘On Being Sick And Tired’

You might be sick of reading about this, and so am I—but I’m writing this because, mainly, I’m tired of reading things that aren’t true.

An addendum, in which I vent my last remaining thoughts on the issue, then draw a line under it. (This isn’t something I’ll discuss further. Leave it alone please, commenters.) Read it.

‘Thin Skins And Male Tears: The Tragedy Of White Atheism’

Geek culture’s white male insurgencies are united by their emotional incontinence. Dawkbros, MRAs, Sad Puppies, Slymepitters, Gamergate: these groups rant about a cult of outrage, yet they know nothing else. They have no imagination, no sense of irony or history, no real political philosophy and nothing of their own to say, no reading skills, no writing style, no humour more advanced than a small child’s — no long term goals, no sense of what it is they want, no clue why they’re even angry, except that damn it, they are angry, and progressive culture is to blame.

There’s a reason Dawkins’ fanboys are hostage to emotions they barely notice, why he and Schierbecker dwell on being aggrieved yet fail to empathise. These men have never had to check their feels, or even to acknowledge them — never had to fear sounding unhinged, hysterical, blunt or angry, never been told to remain calm by officials with guns, or that it must be their time of the month; never grown used to non-confrontation under someone else’s power, or unused to telling their story in the third person, convinced reality is however the world feels to them.

This piece has had a huge response since being going live on Friday, fast becoming one of my most widely read posts. (In a few days, it will likely be the most widely read.) I’m glad I wrote it when I did, and that it seems to have helped some people. Read it.

That’s all for November  — I’ll write another post like this on January 1, and hopefully at the start of each month. In the mean time, if you feel like patronising my writing, relevant links are below.

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Everything I Wrote In November 2015