Gender

Context: I am not a poet. I am not a performer. But I wrote and performed this ‘poem’* as part of Eilidh MacAskill’s Gendersaurus Rex workshop, exploring gender, sexuality and queerness in children’s performance, and thought I would post it here before it became too weird and embarrassing to share.

Gender

Gender is a question without an answer
Gender is two days of discussion and barely scratching the surface
Gender is colour and noise
girls and boys
and everyone in between.

Gender is a princess, a pirate, a polar bear and open to interpretation.

Gender is black and white
and pink and blue
and purple.

Gender is a unicorn, a walking phallus.

Gender is hashtag problematic.

Gender is a performance, a judgement, unconscious.
Gender is a reservoir, a floodgate, a dam.

Gender is invisible to itself.

Gender is empowering.
Gender is harmful, reductive.
Gender is prescriptive.

Gender is complicated, gender is impractical.

Gender is an imaginary rule book that is constantly changing.

Gender is a toolbox.

Gender is yours.

Gender is not something to feel guilty about.

Gender is not your fault.

* there’s those inverted commas again. Because – as a children’s writer, and a TV writer – a poem feels like something a proper writer would write, and I’m still not sure I’m there yet.

But that’s another story, for another blog.

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Parts 4 and 5: The Last Podcast on the Left and But You Cain’t Use My Phone

Last Podcast on the Left

I’ve listened to The Last Podcast on the Left for a few years now, because a bunch of funny, schlubby douchebags talking about witches, ghosts and serial killers is and always will be my jam.

A lot of this year’s Last Podcasts have focused on contemporary, era-defining events that I remember happening, and the standouts for me have been the Columbine and 9/11 episodes. It’s been interesting to hear the Last Podcasters – who’s style is usually snarky but irreverent, never taking any of this stuff too seriously – talking about these things that happened with a sense of gravitas.

The ‘found sound’ of the fireman’s alarm in the first 9/11 episode will stay with me for a while.

The follow up ‘conspiracy theory’ episodes are a good palette cleanser, too.

Other podcasts I loved this year: The Read, The Allusionist; RuPaul’s What’s the Tee? (the Henry Rollins episode is a corker); Pop Rocket.

Erykah Badu – But You Cain’t Use My Phone

11 tracks – some of them songs, some of them scraps of songs, a couple of them covers, and a monologue about bees that ends with a meta-punchline — all of them about phones, including ‘Cell U Lar’, Ms Badu’s funnier, funkier cover of ‘Hotline Bling’. This has been a year of Instagram pop – pop with a filter on it, softening everything, blurring the edges so everything looks cool and acceptable – and But You Cain’t Use My Phone trucking up with a sense of humour was the best antidote to see in a new year.

Part 3: Steven Universe

In my post about Ms Marvel, I said it was important that kids see themselves reflected in the stories they read and see.

Steven Universe has been a revelation, on that front.

You’ve already heard about the super cool gender and sexuality stuff – feminised boy hero, all the superheroes are women, canon queers all over the place, and it’s way cooler than even that – but sometimes what’s missing from that commentary is the fact that Steven Universe is actually a really good television show.

The stories Rebecca Sugar and co are telling in this big, mad sci-fi world are so tiny and well-observed; like all the best stories, there’s often a sense that you’ve seen this before and you know where it’s going, but it takes you off into another direction and does stuff that I genuinely never thought you could get away with on children’s TV (it’s on Cartoon Network, but honestly these stories are more nuanced than a lot of Grown Up Drama).

The series is doing such interesting stuff with mental health and human relationships – the characters are allowed to be jealous, spiteful, detached – in a way that I’ve never seen before on television.

It is hilarious and brilliant, starting in media res and seeding a complex mythology as it goes.

I see a lot of myself in Steven, a feminised boy hero who’s strengths – and weaknesses – come from being empathetic and protective; I wish this kind of TV had been around when I was a kid.

As a ‘big’ person – not just fat, but big – I’ve often struggled with the fact that I take up space, that my body is different to the bodies of people around me. Steven Universe has been a revelation on that front, too, and I’ve found a lot of comfort in its diverse range of body shapes and sizes.

Beautiful, trippy animation, music and voice acting; popstar Estelle as Garnet is my highlight, and Nicki Minaj turns up at one point.

I wish all TV was this good.

9 Things part 2: Ms Marvel

My friend Josh still laughs about the time I said I didn’t like the first Avengers film because ‘it had too many superheroes in it.’

What I meant was: it had too many white guys ready, willing and able to save the world.

For me, the best superhero stories – X-Men, Runaways, Hellcat – have always been about people struggling to come to terms with who they are and what they’re here for. Less superheroics and splash pages, more internal drama with the odd bit of allegorical whacky monster knacking.

There have been a lot of diverse teens with super powers in the last couple of years – and more on the way (I really enjoyed the first issue of Marvel’s Moon Girl) – but Ms Marvel has been the stand out.

With diversity narratives, it’s the done thing to say the character’s protected characteristics don’t define who they are – ‘he just happens to be gay!’, ‘she just happens to be Muslim!’ – but that feels disingenuous.

Yes, stories that feel like after school specials are boring, but those kind of stories tend to come from the point of view that being a minority is a source of constant sadness, that we are all aspiring to be part of the mainstream.

Spoiler alert: we’re not.

For me, it’s important to tell stories that incorporate a character’s identity, something that informs who they are and where they come from. It’s important that kids see diversity in their stories, and that kids see themselves reflected in the stories they read or see.

It’s important that people other than straight white guys ready, willing and able to save the world are celebrated.

Kamala Khan’s identity as a Pakistani American is integral to who she is as a character, and her Muslim faith is front of centre of her journey; a couple of times, she even outright quotes the Qu’oran (‘Whoever kills one person it is as if he has killed all mankind’), which shouldn’t feel as brave as it does in 2015.

Ms Marvel is as interested in exploring Kamala’s identity as a young Muslim and a second generation immigrant as it is her identity as a superhero; it’s not an accident that – after being hit by an alien mist that gives her shapeshifting powers – she chooses the busty, blonde Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel in her old thigh high boots costume.

Rather than obvious slurs, the first couple of issues introduce Zoe Zimmer, a frappe-drinking basic white girl ‘concern troll’, who disguises her discomfort and ‘Othering’ of Kamala and her friends as an interest in her culture.

It’s in these sort of specifics that Ms Marvel finds it’s strength.

Kamala’s constant iteration that she’s ‘Kamala Khan from Jersey City’ is one of the most interesting ongoing explorations.

Kamala is a second string superhero in a second string city, and that informs as much of her story as anything else.

Ms Marvel exists slightly outside of the rest of the glossy, shiny skyscrapers of the rest of the Marvel Universe – this is Jersey, not Manhattan – and Adrian Alphona brings a stylised griminess in his art that makes Ms Marvel one of the most distinctive comics of 2015.