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BIPOC reading list: Girl, Woman, Other

Posted at 15:00 on 26 Oct 2020 by eilidh

I’m having fun writing book reviews here. It's a great way to connect with you and share some of the reading that stays with me.
So far I've only posted about non-fiction. I shared my top takeaways about ‘White Fragility’, I recently wrote about three books about communication, and I’m percolating my thoughts on two other items from my antiracist reading list, ‘Why I No Longer Talk To White People About Race’ and ‘White Supremacy and Me’, for upcoming posts.
But I've also been reading a lot of fiction. Some of it has been pure indulgence - and some of it has educated me, moved me, and changed my perspective on social issues.
Fiction is a comfort and a joy. It's one of the few pieces of self-care that fits into my current hectic schedule, and I cherish breastfeeding for the opportunity it gives me to recharge by getting engrossed in a good book.
Over the last five years or so I’ve been intentionally reading fiction by women and non-binary authors, which works really well for me - but over the last couple of years I've come to terms with the whiteness of my library, and have started to seek out more fiction by BIPOC writers.
I can't call this part of the "work" of antiracism, but if I'm going to be reading anyway, why not take the opportunity to expand my horizons and increase my empathy and understanding of the lives of people with different experiences than my own? It's barely a fraction of the work required to dismantle white supremacy, but supporting and promoting BIPOC authors and opening my mind and heart to what they have to say is far better than a whites-only literary diet.
So welcome to the first post in a series of book reviews of fiction written by BIPOC women and non-binary authors.
I’m kicking off with 'Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo. It's ranking high on lists and charts at the moment and I'm not surprised. I’ve never read a novel like it. 
 


 

As much as I’m almost tempted to just say “PLEASE go and read this groundbreaking, heartbreaking book immediately oh my god”, I’m aware that isn’t much of a review, so here's just some of the things that struck me about it.
Every chapter is a snapshot of someone’s life. The narrative voice is like a stream of consciousness; we’re taken inside the minds of our protagonists, shown their thoughts and impressions at a specific moment in time. Of course, nobody could be expected to understand your experience without understanding a great deal else about you and your history, so each  chapter is also a potted life story.
None of us stand alone, and we are all interconnected. As well as reverberating through time, the story also connects across social networks, weaving together a big picture that shows the same events from different perspectives. The troubles of a child are seen first through their own eyes, then those of their parent, then via a teacher or friend. Each retelling unwinds layers of nuance and meaning that creates a richness more detailed, complex and humane than most books are able to offer. It shows us how differently the same events can be internalised by different people, and reminds us that every single person we meet has as deep and complex an inner world as we do ourselves.
This is a book about the choices we make, and the thinking that goes into those choices. It’s about relationships, and love, and betrayal. It's about parenting and growing up; it's about being an immigrant, being black, being poor. It's about growing up working class and then going to Oxford and joining the middle classes, and all the complex layers of feeling that throws up. It’s about working hard for your Economics PhD in Nigeria and then coming to London and having to work as a taxi driver. It's about marrying someone whose life experiences have been wildly different to your own, and raising children in a cultural background that is not yours.
It’s about belonging, coming out, assimilation, acceptance and rejection.
It’s about a middle-aged lesbian who works in theatre, lives in London in a polyamorous triad and is a single parent. It’s about the feminist culture wars: the generation gap between the women liberated by second-wave gender theory and younger feminists rooted in intersectionality and trans activism. It’s about a working class non-binary kid from the north of England who isn’t politically active and doesn’t know all the fancy words we’ve made up, but who falls in love online and gradually figures out who they are. It's about rape and domestic violence, and the different ways we process out trauma and discover our boundaries. There's a content warning for sexual abuse, childhood abandonment and child death.
Not all of the characters are likable, but they’re all comprehensible. People you disagree with, people you may be prejudiced against: they're all introduced compassionately, as whole entire people with their own traumas,  concerns and rationalities. 
The story ripples backwards through time. The opening chapters are set in 2019, and each story then delves further into the past, via the ancestors and mentors of the younger characters, until we're reading the story of a mixed race person in the north of England in the late 1800s: and that history sheds new light on events in the present.

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Tags: anti-racism, BIPOC authors, books, reviews

1 comment

The Naked Truth Film Club

Posted at 19:56 on 17 Jun 2016 by Pandora / Blake

Last night I attended the second Naked Truth Film Club screening, a new adult industry event organised by Terry Stephens, chair of UKAP, the UK porn producer trade association. Like most of us who organise within the adult industry, he's interested in destigmatising porn and raising public awareness about the realities of porn, combating the myths and misconceptions that percieve erotic labour as exploitative. The film club screens relevant documentaries in Central London, with a panel of sex workers hosting a Q&A after the screening.

The first event was a few weeks ago, and showed UnSlut: A Documentary Film, an American documentary about slut-shaming and teenage sexual bullying. It doesn't mention the adult industry but examines slut-shaming more broadly, looking particularly at the way that it affects young people. The documentary was born out of The UnSlut Project, an internet initiative that invited people to submit their own stories of being bullied or shamed because they were perceived as being slutty or sexual. The project brought people together to share experiences - some who had never told anyone before - and offer support, solidarity and healing.

The documentary follows a number of women telling stories of sexual assault, slut-shaming and bullying. It's a serious subject, and the film is powerful; definitely not light viewing. One girl, Allyson Pereira, was asked to send a nude photo to her ex-boyfriend, who then shared it with the rest of her school without her consent. She was bullied and ostracised by her town as a result of this violation. The most harrowing story was that of Rehtaeh Parsons, who was drugged and gang-raped at a party. Her assailants took photos, shared them, and she was labelled as a "slut" as a result. The subsequent slut-shaming and bullying followed her despite changing schools several times, compounding the trauma of her assault. Eventually, at the age of seventeen, she took her own life.

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Tags: camming, events, reviews, sex work, slut-shaming, stigma

8 comments

Sex workers tell their stories

Posted at 23:47 on 29 May 2014 by Pandora / Blake

The Sex Workers OperaTonight I made a last minute decision (prompted by a friend who had a ticket to sell) to go to the Sex Workers' Opera, and I am so glad I did.

Sex workers are often the subjects (or objects) of stories, but are very rarely given the platform to tell their own story on their own terms. There's something profoundly refreshing about watching a sex work narrative unfold without feeling the usual tension; that fear that sex work will be misrepresented, sensationalised, demonised, glamourised; that sex workers will be objectified; that the narrative will hinge around a worker having her (it's always a woman in these stories) professional boundaries broken, or breaking them herself, for lurrrrve. (Show me a mainstream narrative about sex work which is not about this and I will give you a cookie.)

Sitting in the Courtyard Theatre for the Sex Workers' Opera, for the first time I felt that I could trust that whatever stories would be told, they would carry truth, and they would be told respectfully. It was an exhilarating feeling - as was my fizzing excitement to see the venue filling up and know that both nights of this radical new show had sold out. There's something glorious about sitting in a packed theatre knowing that everyone there is either a sex worker or an ally ... and if they weren't the latter already, they probably would be by the end.

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Tags: gender politics, politics, reviews, sex worker rights, Sex Workers' Opera

9 comments

Women watching porn

Posted at 11:48 on 20 Jan 2014 by Pandora / Blake

Before Christmas I was asked to participate in a feature for FHM on women watching porn. For my non-UK readers, FHM is a "lads' mag", a lifestyle and softcore porn magazine for young men, kind of like a cheaper version of Penthouse. Interestingly, these publications also seem to be one of the few resources for young men which openly discuss sex and relationships, and so they aren't without value - although the quality of the advice varies hugely.

I hadn't met the writer before. When he'd asked for recommendations for "woman friendly" porn I sent him the list of websites nominated for a Feminist Porn Award last year. He'd bought short-term subscriptions to four sites for us to look at: The Art of Blowjob, Bright Desire, I Feel Myself, and X-Art.

I showed up at his North London flat, and he poured me a glass of red wine while we waited for the other woman he'd invited - one @lucyannhancock, another journalist and (I think) a friend of his. When Lucy arrived she joined me in a glass of wine - I think both of us felt that booze would be required to not find this experience weird. Originally, it was going to be Lucy and GirlontheNet, but GotN sadly had to decline when she learned that FHM intended to take photographs, and suggested me instead.

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Tags: Fairtrade porn, Female gaze, feminist porn, media, other pictures, reviews, Sites and studios

14 comments

Justine Elyot, 'Kinky'

Posted at 14:53 on 22 Jan 2013 by Pandora / Blake

Kinky by Justine Elyot is an erotic novella recommended to me by both D and, I think, Adele Haze. I grabbed the Kindle versionlast year but only just got around to reading it. I raced through it, staying up late last night to finish it after only two evenings, and lots of orgasms!

It's not long; in fact I think it's just the right length for the story. The narrative is well crafted, with no gratuitous or unnecessary scenes. Each sex scene is integral to the story, and the overall plot is entertaining, and doesn't feel "pasted on" like in some erotica.

The story is set in Shoreditch (an area of London I know rather well) around a fictional underground club/venue called Kinky Cupcake. (These are apparently really a thing. Who knew?) It follows the adventures of two newcomers to kink, shy marketing professional Rosie and adventurous Russian traveller Dimitri. I found myself caring about them and wanting to know what happened next in the story of their relationship, as well as being keen to get to the next kinky sex scene we're promised in each chapter. Overall, this made for a page-turny read. It helps that it's well-written, wry and unpretentious. Elyot's prose is compact and engaging with a light touch.

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Tags: books, Fantasies, Gender politics, reviews

16 comments

Curvy Girls

Posted at 10:52 on 31 May 2012 by Pandora / Blake

Curvy Girls is a new erotic anthology edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, dedicated to stories about big, sexy women. I was very happy to be invited to join its virtual book tour: from the moment I heard of it I thought this book sounded exciting.

This is an issue I'm passionate about. People want to see themselves in porn, and erotic protagonists should represent the diversity of their audience, including all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities and physical abilities. Video and photos are limited by the availability of performers, but in literary fiction you can do anything. Which is why I love Jacqueline Applebee's work so much, and why I find so much written erotica frustrating. When your characters can look like anything, it's a shame that so many female erotica protagonists look like skinny lingerie models. It's a damaging and wholly unnecessary self-imposed cultural limit. Porn teaches us about what's sexy, and all of us deserve to feel sexy.

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Tags: Body positivity, books, Female gaze, Gender politics, Politics, reviews

10 comments

A bona-fide procrastination cure

Posted at 22:03 on 10 Oct 2011 by Pandora / Blake

Northern Spanking have just released an unusual new film called The Travelling Disciplinarian and the Novelist. This film is remarkable in a number of ways.

  • It stars the now-retired Niki Flynn in footage that has never been released before. Ms Flynn also co-wrote the scenario.
  • Adding to the "spankee gaze" credentials of this scene, the other writer was Amelia Jane Rutherford, who also produced and directed it for Spoilt Ladies Spanked, a project which never went live. After this shoot, Amelia decided she wasn't suited to having executive responsibility of a spanking site and far preferred to work for other people.
  • In a testament to how very lovely Amelia is, she donated the footage to Northern Spanking after their troubles a couple of years ago when they were maliciously "outed" by a local paper and Paul lost his job as a result. So we get to see it anyway, and Northern Spanking got some awesome extra films to help relieve the pressure in their time of need. How brilliant is that? You can read Paul's comments about this geneous gesture here, and I think it speaks volumes about the supportive and open-hearted example Paul and Lucy themselves have set.
  • The Spoilt Ladies Spanked project seems to have very much been a reaction against the schoolgirl-tastic state of the spanking film scene, and an attempt to add a bit of diversity, sophistication and elegance. I was really looking forward to seeing the fruits of this endeavour, and The Travelling Disciplinarian and the Novelist does not disappoint.

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Tags: Amelia Jane Rutherford, cane, consent, Elegance Studios, Hwyel Phillips, Niki Flynn, Northern Spanking, Performers and producers, reviews, Sites and studios

17 comments

Review: Amelia's Sunday Spanking

Posted at 21:00 on 10 Sep 2011 by Pandora / Blake

When I first heard that the Restrained Elegance team had launched a separate studio for ambitious, feature-length spanking and bondage films, I wrote an excited post to let you all know. I was particularly keen to see their first and only spanking movie. In my opinion their production values, photography and cinematography are the best you'll see in our BDSM niche, and while respecting Hywel's preferred genre, I've always been somewhat disappointed that they were using their powers for evil bondage, rather than the hard corporal punishment scenarios that get me really hot.

Well, I've been lucky enough to end up with a review copy, and on Wednesday Tom and I sat down to watch it. (NB. Neither Restrained Elegance nor Elegance Studios has an affiliates scheme, so I have no financial interest in this project.)

Vital statistics

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Tags: Amelia Jane Rutherford, belt, cane, dominance and submission, Elegance Studios, funny, hairbrush, Hwyel Phillips, otk spanking, Performers and producers, Restrained Elegance, reviews, strap

25 comments

Live blog: What Happens in Vegas

Posted at 01:01 on 27 Apr 2011 by Pandora / Blake

I'm just watching NSI's film What Happens in Vegas, which they filmed at the Shadowlane party last September. I was drawn in by the exceptionally pretty photography - the colours and lighting in the accompanying stills are just gorgeous - and, of course, by the tempting prospect of Zille Defeu and Bailey Sullivan in black lingerie. It's worth writing about, so I'll blog in real time as I'm watching it.

Technically speaking, the film definition is very high, but the audio does suffer from the fact that Northern Spanking were filming out of their suitcases and were presumably limited in terms of microphones - it's a bit hard to hear the dialogue unless you turn it right up, at which point there's a lot of rumble. Audio is one of the hardest things to get right, especially if you don't have a separate boom mic, so I have every sympathy - I've had the same problem on more than one occasion. Mostly, I'm just glad this film exists at all despite them being away from their standard setup, so I'm not inclined to complain too much. And the light in the film is almost as lovely as in the stills.

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Tags: Bailey Sullivan, cane, F-F, Marcus Black, Mf, Northern Spanking, paddle, Performers and producers, reviews, Zille Defeu

27 comments

Fetish clubbing in London

Posted at 13:08 on 7 Oct 2010 by Pandora / Blake

A couple of people have asked me for recommendations of fetish clubs lately. I'm also looking for a new club that suits all my requirements, and have just spent an hour or so looking through listings of active clubs to see what might fit.

I didn't think my requirements were that picky, but I can't seem to find anywhere that ticks all the boxes. I'm looking for a club which:

- Has a strict fetish dresscode. I don't mean that spending lots of money is mandatory, but I go to fetish clubs as a voyeur/exhibitionist as well as a player, and I like to feel that the other attendees are as keen to express themselves creatively in their outfit as I am. If everyone has put lots of effort and imagination into looking interesting and sexy, it makes for a better atmosphere and a more exhilirating, otherworldly experience.

- Permits sex. Kink and sex are almost indistinguishable for me. I very very rarely play with people I'm not interested in fucking (roleplay and performing in films/photoshoots are the exception here) and the type of play I enjoy at clubs is intrinsically sexual. Moreover, a lot of my D/s experience is explicitly sexual, and I like being able to explore and enjoy that when I'm at a club rather than having to suppress half my kinky sexuality; it feels artificial and kind of prudish.

Other boxes it would be good to tick include: stylish, glossy venue; culture of good etiquette; no "wanky men"; good dance music (by which I don't mean electro or funky house - I like to dance to hard house, happy hardcore, trance and psytrance, drum and bass).

So what are the options if you're going out in London? I'll start with listing the clubs I've actually been to:


Torture Garden
The biggest, glossiest, most expensive fetish club in the UK. I've been to this more than any other. It's not a play club so much as a voyeur's club. People go to look and be looked at, and the outfits are amazing. But they always overfill venues and sell too many tickets; it's overcrowded, takes ages to move between rooms, and is full of people who are there to stare and aren't scene kinksters who understand the etiquette. I've never gone to a TG and not been groped by a stranger, normally in the press of bodies as you're trying to move between rooms. The overcrowding also makes it almost impossible to play - there isn't space in the dungeon to swing an implement, even if you can manage to get to a piece of furniture, and there are usually a frustrating number of people sitting on fetish furniture rather than using it. I've had some fantastic sex in various rooms of the club, but the couples room is often overcrowded. Still, the performances are worth watching, and it was my club of choice while it still played decent dance music. Unfortunately the music policy changing to favour dirty electro has tipped the balance, and these days I have less patience for the crowds, the wanky men, the pushy drunks, and the people who have no concept of scene etiquette.

Club Subversion
I'm very fond of Subversion even though it doesn't permit sex. Mostly this is because of the atmosphere: it's extremely relaxed and friendly. Everyone there is a real person, there to play and participate, and I've always found it a great place to make new kinky friends. It's well-equipped and the standard of play is high, people dress up and I very rarely have any trouble with people breaching etiquette. I've never danced there, but it's more of a social experience for me anyway. I do get frustrated by not being able to conclude sexy scenes in the way that feels most natural, though. I don't intend to stop going to Subversion, but I want to find a more pro-sex club to complement it.

Club Antichrist
Antichrist is a good laugh - it's half goth/industrial dance club, and half fetish club. As such, it can be a bit weird if you've spent time on the London goth scene bumping into acquaintances you aren't used to seeing (and may not want to see) in a kinky context. The dresscode is pretty broad - goth jeans and trainers are permitted - but most people make an effort. Sex is permitted, but most people don't. The play area is quite small, and the feeling that half the people are there for the music rather than the play can make you feel a bit self-conscious.

This morning, D and I have been looking through clubs we haven't been to in search of one that appeals. Here's what we've made of the choices so far:

Festival of Sins
This is hosting an event this Saturday, which is what put it into mind. It looks interesting, but we were put off by the small play area and description of the dungeon:

"Rather than a traditional dungeon, we have the Tales of Sin. In the middle of the Tales of Sins room, there is a sinful play area equipped with luscious dungeon equipment. This is surrounded by intimate booths themed around each of the deadly sins. You can explore these delightfully ever-changing corners of fantasy to create your own tale of sin."

I don't know about you, but I imagine those booths as full throughout the night with drinkers, and nowhere left to play. They don't permit sex, either, and the music policy seems to be similar to TG's.

Club Decadence
Penny went to this recently, which was what put it in mind; she spoke highly of the erotic shows and performances. It has a couples room and dresscode. There isn't much info about the music (although it does seem to lean towards funky electro), but it might be worth a try at some point.

Club Hades
People describe Hades as a serious play club. The emphasis is on play and more play, with a very free dress code and less in the way of decor and dancefloor than other clubs. Etiquette is strictly enforced, including silence if you're watching scenes in the edge play room. This is a club I would go to with Tom, I think, or someone who would be interested in going out just to play rather than as part of a bigger clubbing experience. They don't permit sex, though, so maybe not.

Club Rub
Club Rub initially looks very promising - the Lightbox is an extremely shiny venue, the dresscode seems similarly glossy, and I've heard good things about it. Unfortunately, it disappoints on music ("sexy house", which has never ever described anything I could actually enjoy dancing to) and on prudishness (their NO SEX rule is very strongly worded). It might be worth a visit at some point, especially if they do something similar to last month's British Empire and CP theme in the future, but it looks unlikely to suit D and me.

Fetish Swingers
Hard to tell whether this could suit us or not, as the website is hopelessly out of date. The old venue included a spa and sauna, but there's no information on the site about their new venue or future events, and I don't know if it's still active.

Club Pedestal
This is heavily focussed on female domination, and as such isn't quite the right scene for me and a male dom. I might go with Penny sometime, but I'd be concerned about both of us being overwhelmed by pushy male subs.

Club Spectacular
This has a very goodlooking venue and dress code, but no information about whether sex is permitted. The website is remarkably thin on information, in fact, including about future events. I'd appreciate any info from anyone who's been to this.

The F Club
This was recommended to me by Amy Hunter and Leia Ann Woods, who have both enjoyed it. It's a membership only club which runs fetish and swingers nights. There's no clear guidance on the music policy, or whether sex is permitted at the fetish nights (although it seems likely in context). The membership fees are somewhat high - although less if you're buying as a couple, and they seem to be reduced for Fetlife/LFS/IC members, so this might be worth investigating at some point.

Kinky Salon
As recommended by Filament Magazine. This looks damn near perfect: overtly queer and trans-friendly (most fetish clubs are, but I tend like the atmosphere of the ones that make a point of it), focussed on artistic expression and creativity, fun, a bit different, with safe sex explicitly permitted and a sensible code of conduct. I don't know how much spanking or BDSM play there'd be, but it seems like it would be fun to find out. You need to introduce yourself before you can buy a ticket, and unfortunately D's last attempt to begin this process met with no reply. It seems worth pursuing, though, so I'll chase them and let you know how I get on.

This post is intended as an information resource (albeit limited!) to interested people, as well as a call for help finding something that suits me. So if you have any recommendations to make, fire away - but it would be awesome if you could also comment with your experiences of any of these clubs you've been to, to help others make an informed choice.

Anyone interested in fetish clubbing in London but who doesn't know where to start looking should sign up to the London Fetish Scene website (if you can get past the prohibitively difficult captcha!) and spent some time on the forums there. It's also a good round-up of current fetish clubs and forthcoming events.

Keep reading »

Tags: Fetish clubbing, making a scene, reviews, those crazy kinksters

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