[Warning: epically long, includes discussions of mental health and addiction issues, discussion of harmful behaviour, discussion of sex/gender]
I had decided not to respond to the ‘Open Letter’ addressed to me following the youtube stream I participated in with Justin Murphy and DC Miller on 28th Feb (which you can watch here if you want to see 1hr 30 of three people sitting in my office late at night drinking coffee and talking about feminism, free speech and paganism/Catholicism etc.), but I’m still getting messages asking me about it and people are expressing concern for me, both politically and personally, so here goes.
It is tempting in these sorts of situations to opt for a ‘never explain, never apologise’ tactic, to trust that people will make up their own minds, that they will investigate claims, especially anonymous, outlandish and extreme claims, about a person, that they will check the sources, trust their instincts and even if they decide that something has gone wrong, or a mistake has been made, or that a line has been crossed, they will do so on the basis of their own thinking.
Perhaps just writing this response, or even just thinking about doing it, concedes too much ground to the extreme aspects of the response (e.g. the open letter), or makes this minor episode, located somewhere among the British left (or bits of it), the artworld, philosophy and the internet, seem more important than it actually is. Perhaps by searching my name on Twitter and seeing the things written about me I have entered into a weird negative ego-space – is this all some sort of strange exercise in narcissism? What kind of pool is this that I see myself reflected in? Is it even me in the pool? Who is that woman?! Is writing this now just a sort of perversely enjoyable thing to do, to get things clear in my mind, or to divert myself because I have other things to do as always, as everybody does, and maybe I am trying to soothe myself, because writing, and not sleep, and not anything else, unfortunately for me, and also unfortunately for my readers, ha ha, is what works the best?
From the outset, let me be clear, I don’t know for sure who wrote the letter, though I have a strong idea and several people have told me who they think it is. I am generally convinced by an Occam’s razor approach which suggests that the people who are most enthusiastically sharing it on Twitter and that one of the people who made one of the accusations (about the hand gesture) on Twitter a couple of days before the letter was posted is most likely the person (or one of the people) who wrote it. The letter, I feel I must point out, isn’t honest in the sense it doesn’t say who it’s by. The ‘Anti-Reaction Research Group (ARRG)’ don’t seem to exist other than as a Twitter profile with two followers). It could be intended ‘seriously’, or it could be an interesting exercise in art-world reality-hijacking, or someone making a point about left paranoia, social media, anonymity or a whole host of things. If it is intended seriously – and perhaps listing forthcoming events at the bottom might indicate this (for what purpose? So that people can write to the organisers to get me cancelled? So that people can stand outside with signs saying, I don’t know, ‘don’t talk about the sun you big Nazi!’ or ‘I heard internet rumours that you have bad thoughts and now here I am! Rarrrrr!’?) – then why not sign it? As I understand it, though I could have this wrong, at least one established antifascist group were asked to sign it but refused because its provenance and intention is so unclear (plus perhaps because it’s clearly batshit).
I’m not going to say I’m not bemused and indeed a bit bothered by some of the chatter generated by the letter – it’s not the most enjoyable thing in the world to be called a ‘Nazi’, ‘Fash’ or ‘Terf’ by random strangers on the internet, but in a very real sense, this is what the internet *is* – this is how it works, this is what it does. And to respond to the letter or to some of the things I’ve seen written perhaps perpetuates a badly-designed game that would be better put away in the cupboard or given to the charity shop before moving on to a nice cup of tea, or perhaps it will give those who seek to locate the wrong in me more proof of my wrongness. Perhaps it will make things worse, basically. Will people not bother reading this, having already made up their minds, or will they believe this is all written in bad faith, or out of fear of losing my ‘reputation’, such as it is (in tatters no doubt, tatters!)? Am I writing to elicit pity in the other or to attempt to justify myself? Likely this will be perceived by some as unnecessary or silly or gauche or as kind of embarrassing to have responded at all, and certainly in the way I have here. The length of this text alone (you’re adding to it here lol you idiot – ed.) will no doubt contribute to the feeling that I am anxious to defend myself, because I’ve done, or feel I’ve done, something wrong, and that I need to ‘confess’ or ‘atone’, or that I’m just mad (still or again!). But – let me tell you! – I did not need to write it! And no one needs to read it, or read all of it, of course, which fact is, perhaps strangely, a greatly comforting idea. And I suppose now is as good a time, as any, as wild seas of accusation and huge gusts of denunciation crash upon my shore, to account for myself.
In so far as it’s possible to be clear about one’s motives and one’s state of being, let me say that I do not feel anxious, and I am not currently insane, at least not officially. There is, though, always a question about whether one ever fully recovers from mental illness and addiction, and a much bigger question for all of us regarding what it means to be ‘sane’ in a mad world, but let’s just say that I feel alright at the moment, and in fact I feel pretty good! And, certainly, I feel a lot better than I have done at various points over the last eight years.
I don’t of course like seeing negative things written about me, whether they are truths, lies or exaggerations, but I think this is probably a common feeling, ha ha, and while it is annoying to see misrepresentations, factual inaccuracies, and to read public claims and insinuations made about my life, my mental health, addiction issues and my past behaviour being put to use in the service of various agendas both personal and political, and to see false concern and condescension, and on top of that it is weird and disorienting to see people you don’t know claiming things about you as if they do know you, it is obvious that often this sort of stuff is used mainly to shore up social connection between people, to signal belonging, to perform boredom-with-the-whole-thing, to get in a witty quip, to make a joke, to follow the general line, to manipulate others, to force a position, all that … and at the same time it is kind of funny to know that none of this really bears any relation to ‘me’, whoever I am. In any case, after a moment, the desire to respond, to say ‘oi, that’s not right!’ or ‘f-you, pretending you care about my wellbeing’, or ‘you mendacious careerist arsehole, you were more than happy to use my name when it helped you, until you calculated you’d get more social capital from denouncing me’ and ‘sigh, I see once again you have opted for the cowardly position’ passes. But I name no names! If you read this, you can feel for yourself whether I mean you or not, and, in any case, good luck with everything! No hard feelings…
But this text, my text, I suppose, is a kind of bigger ‘oi, that’s not right!’ tempered with some ‘you have a point there’ and a ‘let’s talk about it’ (which parts I’ll write tomorrow to address the Fascist and Nazi claims specifically), peppered with some disbelief that some people would share the letter credulously, though of course many have not, and, as I said already, I know that some people who were asked to sign it refused to because they did not know where it was from or who wrote it. I would also like to thank everyone who has contacted me to check in and to express their horrified/bemused reaction to the letter and/or to express their confused and upset reaction to some of the responses on Twitter and Facebook – I am grateful.
Names as currency
In many ways the Open Letter reads like a hoax or a parody. In that sense it’s actually quite an interesting document, not bereft of literary merit and investigation – and it has certainly had some destabilising effects on people’s minds and their ability to trust their own intuitions – people are sharing it online on Twitter and Facebook and by email but in the main tentatively I think, which is to say, they think it might have *some* truth to it, but are perhaps put off by the extreme claims it makes – such as that I was secretly making the sign of some pan-Turkish nationalist group, or that by discussing human sacrifice I was invoking the ‘Order of the Nine Angles’. Just to be clear, I didn’t know anything about either group (though I’ve now looked them up on Wikipedia lol), the wolf/devil sign is a cute rock n roll/pagan thing, or at least that’s how I used to think of it until this letter, and human sacrifice is honestly not something I’m into (I was joking about sacrificing Justin Murphy to the sun, I promise! What a sentence to have to write …2019 is wild…lol…) other than thinking about it as an interesting fact and feature of human civilisation – Bataille and Acephale among others have this discussion in the 1930s – and it is interesting to speculate about its relation to the sacred. But to be clear, I’m not planning to take part in any sacrifice (human or animal) to gods or celestial beings of any kind in my flat (or in the nearby park) this year. There are interesting things to discuss regarding scapegoating and groups and what it means to virtually and socially ‘sacrifice’ people without actually killing them. I think Sarah Schulman’s work as well as Rene Girard’s work are important here, but anyway…
As we discussed in the video, I’m very interested – as are increasing numbers of people I meet these days – in what it means to live as freely and honestly as possible, to coincide with oneself as much as possible, to not feel anxious or guilty, or ashamed, to not dwell in negative feelings, or, at least, to recognise them for what they are, to live freely, to not be manipulated as much as possible, and to recognise when someone is trying to do this to you. I have been reading a lot of R D Laing and David Cooper over the past few months and I really like so much of their approach – liberatory, free, deep, experimental, wild. Cooper in The Grammar of Living (1974) describes things like ‘the action of putting the past behind as past and putting the future ahead as future is a present act’. Cooper talks about ‘critical ecstatic’ experiences (such as one might have in nature) and both Laing and Cooper’s analysis of groups above and beyond the family unit remains radical and under-discussed today, I think, though we can see how they influenced Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari and others in certain respects. I want to say though at the start that I don’t think I am necessarily right about anything, or have the correct line on anything. I can only really discuss what I think and know and the experiences I’ve had. I don’t have any political ambitions, lol, and I suppose I think of myself as a ‘philosopher’ whatever that means, and if that is not too grandiose a title. So basically, at the end of the day, I just want to be outside (preferably) discussing concepts. That would be enough.
To get into it a little…there is something I think, in the work of Laing and Cooper to be learned about groups specifically, how they work, their potentially dangerous and unstable character (I wrote about how philosophy understands groups in my PhD more than a decade ago, and I’ve long been interested in their status as something beyond the individual, the couple, the family unit, how they come together, how they fall apart). Laing and Cooper read a lot of late Sartre (The Critique of Dialectical Reason) and tried to pose the question of groups politically and psychically – as a tool, as an object, as a potentially liberatory mode of being together. But groups are tricky things – who are we in the group? Our everyday roles – daughter, son, father, mother, sister, brother, friend, partner, wife, husband – get troubled by the group setting. Do we act out? Do we withdraw? Do we play the clown, get aggressive, make jokes, remain silent, try to steer the conversation, get sulky, show off, try to be sexy or kind or menacing, hate people in the group, hate ourselves, hate the group as such, try to remain aloof, or get heavily involved? These groups can be more-or-less stable private groups, friendship groups for example, or free, self-sustaining support groups – such as support groups for addicts – church groups, etc – anyway, no need to get into some sort of sociology of groups 101, this is perhaps all quite obvious – but, in any case, ‘the group’ presents us with a series of questions and difficulties that challenge who we are in our everyday life. Groups perhaps at their most difficult to belong to when they are politically progressive, especially when they form reactively, that is to say, in response to injustices, economic, social, personal, because here there is a series of immediate volatilities at hand – the desperate and collective feeling that something must be done, that something must change immediately, that we are running out of time, that people are dying, or have already died, here or abroad, that the state is killing people and causing harm and misery, and that we can and must use the weight of numbers, or any tactic necessary, to prevent more harm.
It is not at all the case, though, that the dangers and difficulties of the group should or do prevent us from setting up groups, being in groups, joining groups, political or otherwise, but rather that we should go in as clear-eyed as possible, aware of oneself as much as of the others, one’s own motivations and desires, with all these potential dangers out in the open, as objects of discussion. Sometimes this is not possible, though, if groups are formed very quickly in respond to political urgencies. I wrote, in a perhaps slightly melancholic tone, a short piece about some of these experiences with friendships and groups on the left here a while back.
I think today, to get along, to think and live and work together, we need a kind of informal, ongoing, ultimately optimistic, though simultaneously fearless collective psychoanalysis or a kind of simultaneous personal/political group therapy that brings to light as much of desire as is possible – though I understand too the power of the unconscious, of the ‘unknown known’s, but I firmly believe it is possible to gain insight here too – to pay attention to dreams, to wonder why a certain feeling – jealousy, envy, competition, lust, hatred, admiration, love, the desire to dominate or be dominated, the desire to punish, fear, belonging and in what sphere, on what level, and so on – occurs, and what it tells us about our psychic formation and our current state of being. I am extremely interested at the moment in ‘hate’ – what ‘hate’ actually is, how it gets attached to people, how one feels it, how one projects it outwards, how self-loathing becomes a form of outwards feeling, how we relate to both the similar and the different, how to recognise hate and by doing so, to work through it and to overcome it as much as is possible. As William Blake puts it in ‘the Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (1790): ‘Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.’
On Being Good and On Being Mad
I am also interested in the particular kind of negative feeling that mutates into a kind of desperate need to ‘be good’ or to ‘help others’. As Cooper says in The Grammar of Living:
One can destroy one’s self or another with all the appearance of profound cosmic compassion. This compassion radiates out to everywhere except where the relevant people are. Further, situations arise according to the homeostatic law of the group, the law according to which one or more persons, regarded as deviant from the group objective, have to be offered up as sacrifices to maintain the integrity of the group that is a source of illusory strength to the other group members.
I have felt this ‘profound cosmic compassion’, and I know others have as well. I felt it after the trials were over and we exhausted beyond belief and heavy with the feeling that none of it should have happened. I felt it towards the people who were around me at the time, the people who came to court, who supported us. I felt, let us say, pathetically grateful. I also felt upset and betrayed, fairly or unfairly, by some friends who hadn’t some to court or sent messages of support. I was encouraged, in this context, to denounce Mark for his Vampire Castle piece, something I did obliquely, but which action I regret to this day. At this time I wanted to reward anyone and everyone who had been there, and to sort of thank the universe somehow for Alfie not going to prison. I gave a lot of money and stuff away, which I don’t regret, but I did so in a weird way, indiscriminately, just to whoever was around. I didn’t realise at the time that people actually really dislike this kind of behaviour, that they don’t respect you for it and they will actually punish you for it when the time comes. My compassion did not radiate out to the relevant people but rather to people who had, at times, somewhat malign agendas. It’s ok. It happens.
So this is all very complex territory to begin with, groups and hate and compassion, and really, various kinds of collective and individual madness. I’ve personally been, frankly, very mad indeed, and it is perhaps interesting, for myself, but perhaps also for others, to reflect on what it taught me, because many people, if not everyone, has probably felt something similar at some point, even if they haven’t had the same experience exactly.
So after Alfie was badly hurt in December 2010 and then ‘when he had recovered’ a few months later was charged with a serious offence, I became entirely filled with an extraordinary sense of injustice, an overwhelming feeling of deep and all-encompassing pain on behalf of this dear, sweet person who had suffered this unbearable thing that came so close to killing him, that the same state that did such physical damage was now attempting to punish him on another level, publicly and legally. All of this is, I guess, common knowledge and I wrote about it a lot at the time, and described some of the personal impacts here.
All of this filled me with a deep and persistent feeling of antipathy towards the state, which remains today, though I can no longer for my own sake, and that of others, remain in such a deep state of rage. I became angry at the individual officer who struck downwards with his baton (and Alfie was not the only person with head injuries that day, only the most badly hurt), at the police, at the courts, at the entire prison system, at the state and its control of time, of our time, and of time as such. Where anger gets placed in these situations becomes an interesting question – in individuals, in structures, in processes, in categories of finitude, of temporality, in oneself. The state starts to loom everywhere, psychically and in the world.
So it is wise I think to realise that when they want to go for you, they really will. The state probably spent, we think, around a million-and-a-half pounds trying to put Alfie in prison. The police propaganda machine, official and unofficial, swung into full action. Police and media reports suggested that Alfie had been hit by a concrete block thrown by another protester. My flat got broken into on Alfie’s birthday (I cannot of course be fully sure that this was the police, but at the time I couldn’t imagine it was anyone else). Alfie was dragged off of a plane as we landed on another charge after we took part in an immigration raid near my flat (he was later charged with others and acquitted). Anonymous police officers on forums suggested I be dropped into ‘dodgy estates’ and abandoned to be raped after I wrote articles criticising the police. There were three trials relating to the 9Th December 2010, the first ending in a hung jury, the second collapsed for technical reasons and the third saw Alfie and Zak acquitted.
There is unfinished business here, and I am not even sure how many years more it will take to get any kind of admission from the police and the state of the harm they caused. The scales remain unbalanced…
At this point I might say that I can’t really say how this text, whatever it is, will be received, if it will be received, or whether I should be it writing it all, and in a way it doesn’t matter … clear your throat again, Power, let’s get to it, come on! Let’s just say I felt moved to write this partly and not least because I have fallen behind in responding to personal messages (though I will try to respond to those as well later). I have no wish to ‘redeem’ myself here, though, because I have nothing to lose. Take it – or don’t – as you will. It’s a game, or its serious, or it’s a serious game, but I am not a nihilist about words or anything else, and I know that words have effects and consequences, however minimally, however temporarily – I did not always think this way about words, though, partly out of insecurity (‘who would take me seriously?’), partly out of ignorance (‘who can predict what these words might mean?’), and partly out of confusion about what exactly words are – and these are deep and difficult questions, and there are modes of thinking and being, extreme ones in particular, that give, in one’s life, an insight into language as such. This is what I want to try to talk about here…
My Mind 2011-?
There are kinds of limit experiences with language which can be terrifying, there is absolutely no question about it. I’ve been in, and have not forgotten, those states and places I was in where something like ‘the language crystal’ (I don’t know how else to describe it) shatters and meaning becomes like hundreds of shards stabbing at your soul and mind and heart. Where words become excruciating and every meaning of every word and every phrase gets heightened and amplified, and you hear all the meanings at once, clashing and clanging in your head. Where words turn on you, and everything anyone says or writes, even the people who you know love and trust you and who you know you love and trust, are interpreted, and can only be interpreted by you in the worst possible way. And in the name of what? In the desperate attempt to cling onto ‘reality’, to sanity, to make up an explanatory picture, to cope with knowledge, to cope with what you don’t know, in fact, to try to explain the horror you face and the horror you feel, and you feel that you can’t hide from words anywhere, and you can’t sleep, and you can’t eat, and even when you do these things don’t seem real and don’t feel restorative, and all the things, like words, you loved become your worst enemies, and you get obsessed with a single word (I can’t even bring myself to write the word here – it’s not a bad word, but it has a deep hold over me still) and you are, whatever this means in a secular world, in hell. For days, weeks and months on end. And then you are burnt out for an eternity, and you feel like a match that has been used to light a thousand candles. I have never experienced depression, because what happened to me took place at the other end of the mood-scale, as it were, and I profoundly can’t imagine it other than as a wading through molasses made of clouds, and I am sure it is much worse than that, and I feel unbearably sorry for everyone caught in its grips, and I wonder, as R D Laing and Mark and others did, how we can have a different collective relation to mental health and politics. And I don’t know the answer of course, and there are perhaps no individual answers to collective questions like these.
I think and suspect that maybe a lot of people have had an extreme mental health experience like this at some point, to greater or lesser degrees. The paranoia and terror I felt during particular periods (after about seventeen weeks of poor to no sleep in 2011 being the worst) was beyond recounting in some ways. I was tipped into a seriously ‘twilight’ world, a grey zone with great jagged flashes of revelation and colour, a kind of exhaustion combined with the desperate attempt to make sense of things, while also lacking the ability to do so. Your mind in this state takes shortcuts, you come up with bizarre explanations – for example, I believed for a period that there was a ruling class conspiracy, involving everyone who had gone to private school, which included and continues to include many people close to me, regarding Alfie’s trials. That everybody knew they were a game, except me, and that I was being manipulated and played by this group of people, for sport.
I saw, felt, heard and experienced some truly, unbelievably awful things at this time, and it took me a long time to recover from it, and drink and drugs seriously did not help at all, no surprise there, and perhaps I will write up these experiences up in more detail at some point, because I cannot forget them, and perhaps it will be of interest and even comfort to others who have experienced similar extreme states. Delusions always take their material from somewhere not a million miles away, I suppose, and one way of looking at this for me in retrospect might be about coming to terms with a certain kind of resentment I (and no doubt many others!) long felt about the kind of posh education I somehow always wanted – in my mind, it would have involved Latin and Greek and classics and history of art, and being taught grammar, and being trained in how to speak and how to have confidence, and I am quite sure not every private school is like this! And I know that many people have a terrible time at these places, but this was the fantasy – and then the law (which is in your face and in your life) seems to require and reflects all these skills, and when you see it up close, this intensely clever machine operating at the heart of the city, this major city that you live in, and how it is designed to prove its point by punishing ordinary people, and you see people pushing the levers, and you see people you know being able to speak in certain ways, and how they seem to understand this thing called ‘THE LAW’, it’s not that surprising that this all gets wrapped into a mad theory, and you feel, despite the pieces of paper from universities with your name on them, like a person from the countryside with no grip on things who just read too many books because she just couldn’t sleep, and that there must be some kind of explanation that goes beyond everyday mendacity, when actually there isn’t, and all of it does make sense, but not the kind of ‘sense’ you’re looking for, and there it is – you’re caught and held between the teeth of a horrible idea of your own making.
It turns out, then, that there is an extremely fine line, between useful paranoia (along the lines of be careful with yourself, particularly when you are up against the state – and I think it would take too long to explain here what ‘the state’ means, and you will hear whatever you hear and see whatever you see in this couplet in any case – and the state comes for you), and the total and utter madness that emerges when you haven’t taken care of yourself, and everything around you stops working, and you scrabble around like a demented burrowing creature looking for the scraps of reality you buried during the summer and now mental winter is here and you can’t find your sanity carrots – and as they used to say ‘just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!’ We could have said during this period that ‘just because they are out to get you, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a massive f-ing difference between understanding what bad stuff is going on, on the one hand, and, on the other, completely losing your mind, you absolute lunatic! Go and see a Dr immediately!’
What I can say from these experiences is that if you are anywhere near these kind of thoughts and experiences, get help, don’t stay stuck in paranoia. I would say that I had roughly three such periods or episodes. I don’t know really what to call them, and where the line falls between them, though, to be honest, between 2011 and maybe 2016, each diminishing in intensity, and after the first time, when I didn’t realise what was going on until I was really crazy, I got help at an earlier point, when faces began to swirl and words started to feel like weapons. I suppose I would say, don’t let paranoia get in the way of asking for help from your friends or the doctor, and you have to trust, even when it seems absolutely impossible to do so, in people who tell you they love you, and try to see the kindness in nurses, who are overworked and tired themselves, and yet are there and are real, and there are kindly women and men in the world, strangers and people you know, and even when their faces are sliding about and seem unreal, other people can see you’re in trouble, and other people are good and kind and not everything is part of your delusion, and there are gaps in knowledge and that you don’t need to try to explain everything, and in any case, you can’t. And you really, really, need to get some sleep…
In any case, I suppose as a result of this experience, or series of experiences, I no longer take words lightly, or them to be meaningless, even though it is at times it is necessary to adopt a lighter, more humorous, tone in order to take a step back from the void…tragedy/comedy, the melancholic/the beautiful, the intense/the less intense, to laugh with friends, to look at the sky, to get out of your mind gently and not to obliterate oneself…to stay alive, to breathe…but what are the words we are talking about here?
Given how these social media things work, people have likely already moved on from the (lol) ‘Nina Power scandal’, four-letter-words safely tucked in their back pocket so the next time someone mentions me or links to something they can say ‘oh I heard she was a Nazi now, or wasn’t there that dodgy TERF stuff? Anyway, it wasn’t good and you probably should steer clear’ or ‘she used to be alright, but now I heard she’s gone a bit right-wing’ or ‘she’s a drunk and/or mad’ or a combination of these things. Just as a note for future reference for anyone reading this who’s done this – to say, faux-nobly that you’re not engaging in ‘personalised’ critiques of someone and then do exactly that by hinting at ‘bad behaviour’ that you (you who have never met me!) somehow ‘know’ or have heard about – is a bad look. You look bad. You look unkind. It looks like you are trying to manipulate people into accepting whatever line it is you want to push by going after the person who you see – evidence or no evidence! – as your enemy, or your rival.
Yes, I know it hurts to see someone have what you think you want – an academic job, writing work, whatever it is – but you will only improve in these things, if that is what you want, by thinking and writing carefully and seriously. I mean, I can’t stop you if it gives you a warm feeling to say nasty things about someone, but if you want to attack someone properly, go for their ideas, go for what they’ve said – it takes more work, and yes, there are always shortcuts available, and you can always destroy a man or woman in three lines if you need to! It is very easy, we know, on the basis of extraordinarily little, to make anyone sound like the world’s worst human being and in the interests of honesty and transparency I will outline some of the bad things that some people online are invoking I did that I can remember, or was told about, between 2011 and maybe two years ago, hopefully without upsetting again in the details anyone who was unfortunate enough to be at the receiving end of such things.
All this should be prefaced by the fact that I – with help from a surprising source – well, it would surprise those of you who think it’s easy to categorise people as ‘good’ and ‘irredeemably suspect and evil’ I suppose! – finally managed, after a major health crisis, to stop drinking last year. While it is foolish to make grand pronouncements, particularly in the first year of giving something so self-destructive and highly addictive up (or let’s say addictive to the addict, but not of course to everyone, I suppose, particularly when we are talking about alcohol, which is legal and widely available, lest it be said), I have no desire to ever drink again (even in the midst of being denounced I don’t feel like it). I have changed my life radically in several ways: I have tried to get fit and to go outside much, much more and I feel utterly grateful, and somewhat surreal and happy all the time that I was given this chance at another way of living, another go, another life.
After I came close to an utterly serious, what-would-have-been-life-changingly-bad medical emergency, I had to choose: carry on with this destructive, terrible thing that had taken over of my life, or just…stop. I chose, with help, the latter. Since this period of crisis, I have spent a long time since the summer outside, in nature, just walking everywhere, feeling calm, feeling joy, simple stuff. If I talked a lot about nature and ‘paganism’ on the youtube show, it’s because of this. I think that the sun and the moon and the sky cannot be taken away from us, that they belong to everyone, and whether you are religious or not, this feeling of being in and of and with nature is one of the most incredible things we as human beings can experience. I think about this all the time. I do not think we should shy away from thinking about nature, about sacred places and experiences because right-wing people also talk about these things. The sun belongs to no one, which is to say it belongs to everyone. Nature belongs to everyone. I think there is a shared and collective and joyful experience of the outside – and an exit, however temporary, from misery, from capitalism, from the trouble and anxiety of modern life – to be found here. I think we see this in the recent film Arcadia, which uses archive footage to present a history of folk traditions and a joyful relation to nature that is not the right-wing nationalist image of ‘blood and soil’, but a left-wing proposition of freedom alongside nature that doesn’t try to pretend that concrete blocks and shopping centres are all we should settle for. This is a simple, hippieish point perhaps, and probably, people worked all this out ages ago, but nature and the sky in particular have been a revelation to me in sobriety.
What’s in a Name: Names as Currency
It is – of course – much easier and simpler to attach a negative word to a name, or tell a sad but simple story of intellectual and mental decline, or to write someone off for a perceived ‘mistake’ or multiple ‘mistakes’ than it is to accept that life, the world, ourselves, other people, and situations, are more complicated than we might want them to be, or that go beyond a simple negative word. This way of attaching bad words to names is a lazy kind of poor magic, a kind of hex, a sort of ‘begone!’, it’s a very common tactic, and most of the time a lot of people just want a simple story, or really just want an excuse not to have read or listen to someone anymore, because we are already flooded with too much information all the time, and besides, they are old and boring now!
Names operate as a kind of currency, clearly, and operate online in a particular way, divided from presence, and my particular name has some weight for sure, though what it’s worth is, for me, as it is for anyone, ultimately, an unanswerable question. Who knows what we will all ultimately have to answer to and for what. At the level I’m talking about here, though, we are dealing merely with the question of circulation on the internet, this vast and strange anthropological experiment whose impact and consequences are quite unclear. My name is in and of itself quite strange, for sure, a weird coin. People often ask me if Nina Power is my real name, and it is, insofar as it’s the name my parents gave me. It’s, well, a powerful and mildly absurd name, but in any case, who cares, it’s a little dull to talk about oneself like this, but nevertheless, here is a name, and here are some bad words you can put next to it. Nominative determinism aside, names don’t tell us much about what a person is like, but, particularly in written form, they have a force, you can use them to open doors or close them, to conjure up all kinds of feelings, to conjoin them. To have a ‘public’ name, in however small a world we are talking about, is to court, invite and run the risk of attack, ridicule, conjecture: if you speak in public you are always up against this risk. I know this, and accept it.
My sins, 2011-?
So – this bad behaviour that some people are hinting at – I am not going to justify it, because I can’t: I did behave badly at points, there’s no getting away from it. Poor mental health and alcohol addiction do not excuse it – I am the person responsible for not getting help earlier and also the person that choose to drink, often to blackout, I am the person that drank to bring on the total obliteration of awareness, who was self-destructive and bizarre and unkind and socially and sexually inappropriate. There are states of drunkenness that I put myself in where I had no idea what I was saying and doing, but was not, unfortunately for everyone, myself included, yet unconscious.
These were these weird intoxicated states where you cannot form memories in the present, and where you are basically a kind of zombie at the mercy of whatever madness comes upon you, whether it’s turning on someone in a conversation for no reason, getting hysterically upset, ranting about things, trying to kiss people, forgetting how people would like to be addressed, saying bizarre and intense and inappropriate things, becoming desperate for company, or whatever. Again, this is not an excuse – I was and am still the person who put myself in that state repeatedly, and I am responsible for that, and also for the things I cannot remember (I have since met people who have been sent to prison for things they cannot remember doing. I was myself arrested once for ‘drunk and disorderly’ behaviour, after trying to stop the police strangle a guy in King’s Cross station – I don’t regret trying to intervene, but it wasn’t great waking up in a cell with no water and extremely hungover). I want people to know that I know that I am completely responsible for the hurt and the harm caused by being that person who was mad and drunk and who did not stop being mad or drunk for a very long time. Please understand that I feel shame and guilt about some of the stupid things I did and I would like to make amends wherever possible, where it would not cause more harm to do so.
I would maybe like, though, people to know that they could, if they wanted to, think about this tactic of invoking behaviour they saw, or heard about, against me in future in the name of some other agenda. I understand that you want to let other people know not to listen to me and one way of doing that is by pointing to the ‘bad’ things I’ve done – it’s a powerful temptation and I can’t stop you, of course, but I hope if people see this they will know that I’m not going to behave in any of these ways again, that I did indeed get help eventually, and that I am aware that I hurt and disturbed people. So I’m not going to deny the things I did, I own them, and I will, as I said, as kindly and carefully as possible, speak to anyone in person or by mail and apologise to anyone who would like me to. So you can try to shame me or smear me if you like, it’s always possible, and some people already have, but I have nothing to hide today: I understand that harm is real, and that I caused harm. We are all, in fact, capable of causing harm. We have all made mistakes. I think it is possible sometimes to address the shame and guilt we feel before it destroys us – it is possible – and if you’ve never done anything to feel bad about, then I am happy for you! I haven’t read as much literature on addiction as I would like, but it strikes me as a deeply complicated topic, one that crosses over moral and medical lines multiple times – is an addict ill, or are they just a bad person trying to cope with their ‘badness’? What made them an addict in the first place? Is it genetic predisposition or cultural conditioning or personal circumstance, or a mixture of all of these? I don’t know, but it’s interesting…
Back to the topic, though, it undoubtedly makes us feel better to pretend that people who have done or said something we don’t like just can be ‘cancelled’ and should lose income and recognition as punishment for their sins or transgressions. I am personally opposed to tactics that involve people losing money and jobs, and I find this a strange mode of operation from the left, because impoverishing people is generally what the left is against. Of course, the moment you decide that someone is no longer ‘of the left’ and is actually a ‘TERF’ or a ‘Nazi’, then of course you will see them as fair game for violence and economic punishment – they are no longer your friend or ally but your enemy, and you worry and imagine that they will say things to others that you cannot bear to hear and do not agree with. On the TERF thing, while we are there, you’ll notice that no one is linking to anything that ‘proves’ that I hate trans people. There isn’t anything there, because I don’t hate trans people at all, and I’ve never written anything as far as I am aware that expresses hateful views. I don’t, in fact, hate any group of people. In so far as it is possible, I don’t even hate any individuals, even the people who hate me! This will sound naïve and totally unlikely, but I am so grateful for being alive and sober that I don’t want to waste any of my time hating anybody, myself or anyone else.
But you are no doubt wondering by now why I have this reputation as a TERF. It is true that I have said things in private disagreeing with the current understanding of gender (as innate) in favour of the second-wave feminist idea that gender is imposed upon sex, and that gender roles are generally damaging and harmful to boys and girls and men and women, and I hold in general, as many feminists and some trans activists also do, a gender abolitionist position, i.e., that I would simply like everyone to feel free to be, wear and love whoever they would like without fear of or actual social punishment or internal shame. To feel unfree because of expectations that one must behave in such and such a way because one is a girl or a boy, or a man or a woman, is, it seems to me, a core diagnosis of the second wave feminist project, and this insight is reflected in those periods of history where feminists and gay rights come together to oppose stereotypical expectations. It is obviously not good for anyone, or for society as a whole, to feel ashamed about their body, who they are, or who they love. We could wonder collectively how to address very widespread feelings of bodily self-alienation, particularly among young people – when I was at school in what I am sure was a common experience for many, girls would cut their arms and legs and lots of girls and a few boys had eating disorders. We can ask a general question about why do human beings often feel so separated and distanced from their bodies? How can we reunite people with their bodies? Is it possible or desirable to attempt this? If hormones and surgery are the only way of doing that, then that’s one answer, but maybe there are other ways of dealing with dysphoria and bodily and mental suffering. I know as I write this, though, that this will be read as a denial of or even a hatred for trans people, and people will say that I couldn’t possibly understand how others feel, and that I am denying the existential specificity and material reality of trans lives. I wish it were possible to somehow have a conversation that didn’t look like I or others were doing this. Is it possible? I don’t know. Do I want to cause harm to anyone? No. Would I say these things out of sheer bloody-mindedness? No. I say them because they are real questions, and because I believe in the collective power of humanity and thought to come up with solutions that will keep everybody happy.
It seems clear that there are multiple social, philosophical legal and personal questions raised by major shifts in how we collectively understand sex, i.e. there are things that affect us all if we change the definition of men and women from the classical ‘adult human male’ and ‘adult human female’ to mean anyone who says they are a man or a woman is a man or woman. It has implications backwards (what is women’s history then? Were a number of people treated as a class called ‘women’ on the basis of biology or on the basis of how they identified?) as well as forwards (what is the future of sex? Will technology render biology irrelevant? Will we all be liberated from embodiment? What role will drugs and surgery play?). I am not against us collectively as a society deciding that we all want to go for self-identification, or meeting all the demands made by trans activists, but it just seems obvious that while we are working out the best way to ensure that everyone is as safe and recognised as possible, it is important to address everyone’s concerns – cis women, religious women, men, parents, etc. – and to do so together.
I once said in a private conversation, while very drunk, unpleasant things about one trans woman who had said what to my mind were misogynist things. This conversation was reported to her, and she made it public. This was about a year and half ago. As a consequence I lost a lot of friends, was called a TERF in a few places online and no doubt in private and, although I can’t quite remember the sequence of events, because I also posted something a little while later on Facebook about the Labour Party suspensions and expulsions of women in which I attempted a more reasonable approach, but anyway, as a consequence of all this, a trans action group wrote to a university I was due to speak on my work on the pre-recorded female voice in public spaces, then the organisers wrote to me, and I pulled out, rather than face any protest that might have happened. I also pulled out of a writing job from a magazine that had heard that I had posted something on Facebook on the topic and were worried about it, so I said let’s leave it. Around this time I also went to a Women’s Place meeting in London in which questions about the proposed changes to the GRA were raised by lots of women, trans and cis, in what seemed to me to be a clear and considered way. The meeting was picketed and as we left, our photographs were taken. I later got a weird online ‘wave’ from a trans activist the next day, I suppose just to let me know that I’d been seen there. So that’s it. I have no doubt that writing this will confirm the accusations of ‘Terfiness’, and I feel deeply sad that this has all become so incendiary, and I am sorry for my role in that. But this is the situation as I see it, and this is a record if people want to know why some people are putting this word next to my name.
At this point, I have to say, I don’t at all mind if people don’t like me, or have heard enough from me. I probably have, quite frankly, done too much. My alcoholism was combined with workholism, in a classic and boring sort of way, where which I would use the guilt and hungover anxiety to mobilise myself to work and then ‘reward’ myself with booze, and do this over and over again. If other people want the opportunities offered to me, I would be happy to give them up and share them – I’ve done this in the past and would be happy to do it again. My work email address is easy to find.
For now – because this is way too long and I haven’t even addressed some of the most important political questions about the show and the letter, which I will do tomorrow – I just want those people who want me to be no-platformed and to lose my job at the university, and who think I should no longer write about music for The Wire, or to be listened to at all, to know that I don’t mind. I am not afraid of losing my job or losing work. I am not afraid of you using personal stories against me, and I am not afraid of anything you can do to me, because I am no longer afraid of anything at all. You can shout at me in the street, you can physically attack me, you can make up lies about me or tell others things I’ve told you in private. You can do whatever you like.
There is, I must tell you, an absolutely unbelievable freedom in no longer worrying about what people say about you, and a glorious release in no longer feeling guilt-tripped or manipulated into a holding a particular line. There is profound joy in realising that the internet is just one tiny sliver of ‘reality’, and even then this reality is pretty questionable, and might be just a weird blip in the long history of humanity. I’ll post this text online, of course, which seems like a contradiction, perhaps, but I want you – whoever you are! – to know that it is possible to have a life that is so vastly, unimaginably different from one in which you fear being denounced, this life where you are anxious all the time, this life where you feel bullied and coerced and told not, at any costs, to know your own mind. The internet is not the world!