#MeToo: It has shown me I’m not alone.

After seeing this “me too” thing I thought I’d write down some of (not all) the things which I have experience in my 27 years. As a woman, there will be many more to add to this list over my lifetime, but here’s what’s happened to me (I’m no writer, so bear with me).

I’ve had unwanted dick pics (seriously, does anyone actually want to see these?!), and men flashing me in broad daylight.

I’ve had my boob grabbed in broad daylight while walking down the street, had a guy at a bar grab me between my legs, couldn’t see who it was when I turned round which was chilling. I’ve had many other groping incidents, but these two stick out most to me as they left me feeling so vulnerable, and both times I was very aware that going to the police would be futile.

I’ve had two incidents with taxi drivers, one where he started rubbing my leg and insisting my passed out drunk friend and I go to his for a party, and another where my friends boyfriend told me my friend whose phone and bag I had had got a lift home with others (which she hadn’t, he had seen her vomiting in the street and left her), so I got a taxi back to mine with him (he lived near me). Him and his taxi driver friend tried to bring me back to his and kept insisting I go to spend the night at his till I threatened to call the police (again, I should have anyway and I really wish I had now).

I had a stalker for months (possibly longer but I changed my number) who texted me at least ten times a day every day telling me how he loved me and how he had seen me etc. Even when I outright told him to stop, he just messaged more. I later found out he was later jailed for raping a woman.

I had another stalker who appeared to take a liking to me because I’m smiley, and he started following me home from work and turning up at nightclubs. Thankfully this one actually listened when I begged him to leave me alone.

I’ve had unwanted dick pics, I’ve had plenty of unwanted groping, I’ve had my drink spiked (and if it wasn’t for my male best friend making sure I got home okay I’d have lost faith in men!). In this incidence I know who did it, I contacted the bar to ask for cctv so I could go to the police, and the bar told me none had been recorded that night. The guy involved was a regular at the bar. A friend later told me she thought he had also spiked her drink too. I should have gone to the police, but everyone told me I was probably just drunk. I know I wasn’t though. I had specifically only had one drink that night due to a dental appointment the following day, and I have no recollection of anything after handing him my drink so I could nip to the loo.

I’ve felt pressured into doing things I haven’t wanted sexually on too many occasions.

I’ve recently had a man who stares at me so creepily I started dressing in baggier clothes for a while, till I realised it didn’t stop him. He makes creepy inappropriate comments to me and was turning up at my work daily at one point. I’ve been made to feel mean because I’ve said to others that he creeped me out.

I’ve been made to feel stupid for being wary of going to certain places alone.

I have had various men become nasty when they’ve found out I’m not interested in them. I know in these situations I’ve been nothing but friendly and been as obvious as I could that I’ve had no interest, but they’ve seen what they wanted to and then accused me of leading them on.

I had a man actually hit me in the face (thankfully not too hard, but with intent) in front of a bouncer at a club. The bouncer said he was “just drunk” and after letting him get some fresh air, the guy was let back in the club.

I’ve had a very close friend tell me he loved me, and be so entitled that when I’ve said I wasn’t interested he started to become really emotionally abusive and even threaten suicide and say that it would be my fault for not loving him. I am actually livid thinking back about that one, what an entitled piece of shit! He still finds me online and messages me over a decade later. He kept saying he wanted me to have his children and now that I am trying to conceive, I am genuinely scared for myself and my future children due to him.

I deleted my twitter to try to avoid him, i had quite a few followers in the field I am most passionate about, but he knew the username. I have only recently put my own name on my new account, as I really do need it. I deleted my Facebook for years and only recently got it back as I felt isolated (i live in a different country from my friends and family). He contacted me on it immediately. He contacts me then deletes his account so I can’t block him.

What adds insult to that particular one, is that he was the only person I felt able to tell when one of my best friends at the time did the worst thing on this list. This one affected me horribly for years. So here’s what happened…

I was 16 or 17, on a night out drinking in the local park with friends. I was a bit drunk, and I called my friend, M, to ask if I could stay at his that night. When I got to his, I just went straight to sleep. I woke up not long after and became aware that my trousers were down and… (this is hard to type still) he was fingering me. Obviously I was dry so he used vodka as lube, it was horribly painful but I was frozen in fear as to what he might do if he realised I was awake. It went on for ages, and he put his fingers everywhere… I was terrified. He was wanking at the same time and thankfully stopped when he’d finished. I waited awake for hours till I could get up and leave without him knowing I knew what happened. I never spoke to him again.

We were at the same college and his flat mate was going out with a girl in my class. M obviously realised I knew when I stopped speaking to him and was ignoring his calls, emails and texts. He was upset but did not tell anyone what happened. The girl on my course saw I was causing M upset and began to hate me, eventually getting my entire class to stop talking to me. All the while I was scared I’d see him, and I felt like I’d lead him on or something and that it was my fault. I was too shy to tell anyone, and I left my course. I’ve bounced about from course to course since, only now am I starting to work towards a degree I am passionate about again. I will never be the girl I was before this incident. I am painfully shy. I try to mask this, but I am. I don’t know how to connect with people. I have moved abroad and I have made no actual friends there other than my partner. All my friends are back home. I am lonely yet again, but I have had so many bad experiences with friends I don’t even know how to start.

I often feel like there’s something about me that causes all of this. I am not pretty. When the worst of these incidents happened, I wore very baggy unflattering clothes. Many of these incidents have been while in sober. The only correlation between every one of these incidents is that I’m a woman and they are all men.

Some of these incidents should have resulted in police involvement. I was bullied at school for my appearance, something I cannot change. My mum and I spent years trying to get the school to deal with it and they never did. They always blamed me, it was my fault I was being bullied. Even when a guy pushed me against a wall and threatened to beat me up (which thankfully never happened) nothing was done. I have also seen the media reporting of how sexual assault cases are dealt with. The victim is blamed so often, and mainly nothing gets done. So I have no faith in authority to protect me, or to give me justice.

This is why the “me too” thing has got to me. It has shown me I’m not alone. I don’t know what other women have gone through. Is this amount normal? I have no idea, but since posting “me too” on my Facebook, others have spoken to me about their experiences. We’ve started a dialogue. It’s a tiny thing really but it’s given me hope that things will change.

#MeToo: a selection of the times I have been assaulted, by Anonymous

1. When I was twelve a man flashed at me and wanked off infront of me.

2. At seventeen I was sitting in a corridor at a well known university awaiting an interview. A fellow candidate sat next to me and proceeded to grope my breasts and tell me that he wanted to fuck my arse and finger my Cunt. Nice right. Obviously the response from the university when reported and followed up on by my school was to say it was only my word against his…..

3. At university a man I studied alongside waited until I was too drunk to fight back and raped me. During a drinking game weeks later when I was now being much less relaxed with how much I drank he made a statement during a game of “I have never… fucked (insert my name)”. I had told no one. I just stood up and said “I have never had consensual sex with (insert rapists name)”.

4. whilst travelling a local asked me to come over and then he tried to throw his cum on me. He had in Retrospect been wanking as I walked towards him but it was very dark so I had missed what he was doing.

That is by no means all. Just the ones which happened when I was younger really.

 

#MeToo: a text called “Pain”, by Anonymous.

I’m responding to this because I have had several experiences that are difficult to deal with. I have talked about some of them but not all. My way of dealing with the most serious things that have happened to me and fall under the category of sexual crime, has been not to touch it and not to think about it. I have been in tough situations as a teenager, but always having felt responsibility of bringing myself to those situations (visiting a bar at the age of 15, and there getting drugged and raped by the owner) and thus have had hard time getting angry at them or telling my parents because of the guilt and the feeling that they will not be able to respond in a good way that would make me feel safe. Because of those suffocated feelings the situation was escalating for a while, but at some point my life took a turn into a better direction when I got my first boyfriend.
The things have happened in the past and have blurred, but they still resurface on certain occasions. I have had the feeling many times that I would want to let out that energy what I’ve captured inside of me and would actually want to talk about it without having to fear of getting stigmatised or that it’s too much to others to bear.
The day before the Facebook campaign I wrote a text to a shared online blog called The secret diary of somebody else. It was about something that happened in the past and I had decided to let out in a text form. I was surprised how much blockages I felt writing. I did not want to say too much, not to go in too much detail. I felt strongly the need for it to be not that bad even if it was. I felt ambivalent in trying to reveal something I wanted to hide at the same time.
The simultaneity of the Facebook campaign and publishing my text was not a coincidence, I think. The need of wanting to end a certain loneliness is strong in me and I’m grateful of the opportunity of sharing my experience in the form I have chosen. Yesterday, writing #me too made me feel heard. I felt that finally I can say what I need to say and that it’s ok to have had those experiences. Finally someone asked. I was shocked when I started recalling of all the things I have experienced, but at the same time when so many other people also wrote #metoo, felt like I didn’t have to carry that burden alone, because the common opinion, the Facebook choir, that felt soothing like a parental voice, was now defending me and telling that I had been treated wrong.
Anyway, this needed to come out. The title of the text is “Pain”.
“Pain”
No I cannot, tonnacion,
to tell it to you nore to anyone else.-why?The people who were there have vanished. They are out of my plane, nonexistent, and without them there is no story.
All I have is a vague memory, like a dream that one tries to remember in the morning in vain. Nothing to tell about.

-I wonder. I wonder how it affected you, and how it affects you today. Maybe the fact that we are here together now is a signifier. I think it means that we have to look at the landscape of your life more in detail.

Everything is in pieces around that night which was,
even if I can easily live my life pretending it didn’t happen,
a tsunami.
A tsunami in the sense that it happened under the surface, on a hidden layer of life, where parents and not even best friends had access.
A tsunami in the sense that it broke something: a narrative, a life story.

-To recall things that happen when being in an alternated state of consciousness are complicated. You have certain sensory memories and maybe you know what was happening, but all feelings are gone. A numbness that is totally inappropriate in relation to the nature of the event is the only thing you have for working with, and you know you are not going to get further like that. Instead, you only get more confused. You are dealing with an alienated version of yourself, asking if it was really you because you know it was not. It might have been your body but it was not you, not the same you who is trying to go back in time and talk to that girl. To put life in her. To hug her.

‚Don’t step in that car!!!!!‘
That’s what I would tell her. I wonder if she would listen.

I remember the grey shapes, darker than the smoky air inside of that large room with a high ceiling, on the second floor of a building made out of red bricks, in the middle of an abandoned railway yard.
The night was turning into dawn.
We walked up the narrow, humid and dirty staircase.

They are not individuals but a group. A group of seven or six, for certain five. All of them are like shadows to me, unidentifiable.
I didn‘t ask for names and they did not ask mine.
It was a random encounter. So random that I doubt its existence. I doubt it’s genetics, it’s parents, it’s ancestors. I put everything under question but it doesn’t help me to get further.

I was there.

I wonder how I should interpret that fact. Was it karma? Was it numerology? Was it a tangent on my path which was there to challenge my logical brain, or did my guardian angel just then got knocked down by an attack of an evil spirit? Was it just fluctuation of and energy flow? A temporary hole in my protective shield? Or is it a part of me that I still don’t want to say hello to, after walking down the same streets for so many years?

When I think of it I want to scream like Laura Palmer. I want to wake up from that laconic state. I want to introduce a breaker: a sound so hard that it transcends each atom of that locality and temporality. I want my scream to break all the windows, I want that whole building to rumble down and bury those gray ghosts under its thick concrete dust.

I want daytime.

On #MeToo and my article on a crisis in masculinity: an excellent critique I received last night.

I received an excellent critique last night, following the publication of my piece about Harvey Weinstein and a crisis in masculinity. The message arrived on Facebook, and I have copied and pasted it below with the author’s permission.

——–

Hey Musa, long time, I hope Berlin is treating you well, and and sorry to get in touch with you in this way and about this thing, but… the Me Too stuff has me furious for a ton of different reasons, and I kinda felt like since you have a significant platform through your blog, this might have been one of those moments where you could’ve offered that to a woman. I’m sure it wasn’t your intention, but I’ve seen a dozen ‘woke’ men get clap clap clap today and it’s complicated because I’m not saying ‘don’t demonstrate alliance’, but I’m not sure getting accolades, intended or not, is what is needed. I’m having a go at you because you have a larger platform than the rest, but ALL have got more comments/likes/whatever than the women I know who’ve bravely shared experiences of trauma as a result of this bullshit Hollywood engendered meme. Anyway. I hate all of it – seeing the raw hurt from the women, and the tiredness we all feel, and the cheers for the ‘good guys’. So you got picked on. My bad there. Hope life is good, I am glad these conversations are happening. I’m just really pissed off it took mainly rich white normatively beautiful women fingering a rich successful dude to make them happen, and that it’s mainly men who are getting attention as a result. Peace! xxx


—-

Following my friend’s suggestion, if any women want to share their experiences under the #MeToo hashtag they can do so using my blog at http://www.okwonga.com/. They don’t only have to share their stories, they can share however they are feeling about the hashtag too.

They would be welcome to do so under their own names or anonymously. Anonymity might be an attractive option – there might be women who would really appreciate the catharsis of just typing out some of the trauma and posting it there. Women who can’t speak out for legal reasons or because the situation is ongoing and just want somewhere to flush out some of the pain. As my friend points out, I have a sizeable public platform and it would be good to make it available for women who would like to use it and who might need it.

I have a female administrator, Andrea Scheibler, to whom I am paying a fee, so that women do not have to concede their privacy in order to post on my blog. Please send her a private message on Facebook if you have a story you would like to share.

The only thing I would need is that identifying details of the perpetrators were not revealed (lawsuits, argh) but otherwise I would be more than happy for that.

 

Harvey Weinstein, and the crisis in masculinity.

Content warning: sexual assault. This article may contain details of a disturbing nature for those who have experienced sexual assault.

Emma Thompson used a phrase in her excellent Newsnight interview that I can’t stop thinking about. She said that there was “a crisis in masculinity”. I don’t know why her words resonated so much – well, not at first. But then I realised why. It’s because it was the sound of a fire alarm going off in your own house.

We men can talk and we can tweet all we like about Harvey Weinstein – and I think that, so long as we are finding ways to keep pressure on those who enabled him for so long, we need to. But we can also do something much more difficult, which is to look closest to home, and to our friends.

I think that men are afraid of calling out misogyny for a couple of reasons. One reason is that they fear they are misogynists themselves. Another reason is that they are worried about holding themselves out as beacons of virtue, and so when they fall anywhere short of these publicly announced standards they will receive a firestorm of criticism. These reasons are connected, in that they both relate to how men view themselves, or want to be viewed. In other words, they have nothing to do with the horrors that women are currently enduring due to misogyny. Those fears are keeping the scaffolding of misogyny firmly in place, and it’s time many more of us overcame them, or at least tried to.

I will pause here to acknowledge that men get far, far too much credit for speaking out against misogyny. It is an absurd state of affairs and only proves how little is expected of us; it proves how grave the situation is. I only wanted to say that before telling a quick story, for whose contents – distressing as they may be to those who have been subjected to sexual assault – I apologise in advance.

A couple of years ago, I was reading an article where the author, Soraya Chemaly, described violence against women as “a global pandemic”. Like the phrase “crisis in masculinity”, it put the problem of misogyny in startling focus. As I read more of the statistics around the issue, I then had an unsettling epiphany: that I must have friends who have sexually assaulted women. The numbers are just too high for me not to; I must have. I mean, there was the statistic, right there:

“It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

35 per cent. That’s got to be someone I know, I thought. Maybe even someone I’m friends with, who I hang out with. A few months later, I was sitting down for a drink with a couple of friends, and we were talking about who we were dating. One of my friends was seeing a woman in his apartment block, who was busy with her kids and her career, and so she simply dropped by on him whenever she wanted a quick hook-up – an very convenient arrangement for both parties, and of which we were instantly envious. My other friend was seeing someone he’d met on his travels – there wasn’t much of a future in it, he said, but they were enjoying it for what it was. I talked about my adventures in the world of online dating, and how – perhaps in subconscious preparation for my move to Berlin – I had had a joyful fling with a German woman who had just arrived in London.

The conversation was all pretty innocent; so much so, that we moved on to sharing stories of hookups we’d had in the past. People we’d met abroad were discussed with particular relish – there seemed to be more of a thrill to the short-lived holiday romance. And then my friend, the one seeing a woman in his apartment block – I will call him Mark – started telling a story from a few years ago, about a woman he’d met at university.

Mark and his flatmate had met her in a club, and she had taken a liking to both of them, kissing them at different points of the evening. Over the course of the night, she had decided that she had a preference for Mark, and so the three of them returned to Mark’s flat. She was keen to sleep with Mark, he told us, but he was a bit knackered from hours of drinking and didn’t really feel like it. She went up to Mark’s bedroom, either to wait for him or to crash out – I don’t quite remember now. Mark’s flatmate, in Mark’s words, was “feeling horny”, and wanted sex; so Mark had an idea. We’re both about the same size, he said. Why don’t you put on the shirt I was wearing tonight, and if you go and climb into bed with her, she’ll think it’s me. Mark’s flatmate agreed that this was a great idea, and so he did as Mark suggested. He went upstairs, and into Mark’s bedroom.

A little later, the woman came downstairs in distress, and she was furious at Mark. She couldn’t imagine how someone could have done something so sick. It was 2am, and she was some way from her student accommodation, but she couldn’t stand to be around Mark and his flatmate any longer. She wanted to leave immediately. If you want to go, then go get a taxi, said Mark, shrugging with bravado and smiling as he recounted the story.

Neither I nor my other friend were smiling by then. We were trying to figure out what we had just heard. A friend of ours – someone I had got to know and grown very fond of in the previous few months, who I loved going drinking with, and hanging out with – had helped his flatmate sexually assault a woman. And now he was sitting in front of us, fourteen years later, still grinning as he told the tale.  

I would love to tell you that I then delivered a coldly furious speech about sexual assault and how he had enabled it. I would love to to say I fought that fight. But I can’t lie to you. I didn’t. I was too shocked, we both were. We sat there dumbly with our pints. And all I could think was my mate Mark helped someone to sexually assault someone and he still seems fine about it. And Mark’s behaviour didn’t seem to make sense. He had never shown any signs of being entitled to a woman’s attention – or had he? Maybe we were so oblivious to that side of him because we were so used to hearing similar things?

Mark wasn’t stupid. He knew the mood had immediately changed, and the stories stopped. There was nothing innocent about any of this now. Somewhere out there, there was yet another woman who had experienced something horrific at the hands of a man, and our friend, our mate right here, was responsible. God knows what trauma she had been through in the intervening years, how her life had been adversely affected. We finished our drinks soon after and left. I haven’t seen or spoken to Mark since. He doesn’t know anyone else I know – I checked via our mutual friends on Facebook, before removing him – or I’d have warned them away from him in a second.

I don’t think I had the perfect response to Mark. Nowhere near, and I’m not proud of it. And that is what this article is about, in a sense. It’s about not waiting to be perfect, it’s about doing the best work we can right now. It’s about drawing a line, and acting – about trying to make sure that men like Mark feel that little bit less entitled, so women can go about their lives in a little less danger. Since then I have tried to be better.  And I am not naturally confrontational, so if I can do it then I am sure a lot of other men can too.

And I want to say this to men too – and I speak from painful experience here. You are going to get stuff wrong. There are times when you will find yourself mansplaining. Look, I have a big mouth. I say a lot of things, I am rarely short of a comment. As a result of having such a mouth, the probability that nonsense will come out of it at some point is extremely fucking high. That has happened twice in the last year alone. On both occasions, in attempting to improve a situation where misogyny was involved, I made mistakes that made the situation worse. Nothing malicious – but that doesn’t matter. What mattered was that I was ignorant, and I have to own it. I acted rashly because there were things I did not know, dynamics of which I was unaware. It is something for which I will in time forgive myself, but I will never forget. Next time, I will ask carefully how to engage with the issue. My God, I have learned.

We are men so there will be times when we think we are tiptoeing delicately through a situation, when in fact we are as elegant and alarming as an hippo lumbering towards a flowerbed. We will get criticism for that and we will have to take it, as painful and as insecure and bereft as it makes us feel. (My solution, if you ever find yourself in that predicament, is to have a pizza, a beer, and maybe a little cry. Works wonders.) The only thing we can resolve to do is not to make the same mistakes again. And that is something which, in my personal and professional life, I pledge daily to do. 

Since I’ve been pretty honest to this point, let me be more honest still. I know very well what it’s like to feel that, as a man, you don’t amount to much of anything. I know what it’s like to see men around you refer to women in such disparaging terms that, by the time you start dating women, you are terrified. You are frightened that you have absorbed so many bad lessons that you have become a monster. I have seen men who are so overwhelmed with the pressure of being responsible men that they just sack the whole thing off, and become the worst men they can possibly be, going about their self-destruction with the grimmest resolution. Men who rage and fuck and flee and do anything just so that they don’t have to feel. Men like that seek excuses for their behaviour, but they can only ever offer reasons, not justifications.

But, anyway, none of that – none of that feeling of being a shattered, useless man – none of it matters in the face of what we are seeing now, what we have long seen but have chosen not to acknowledge for a very long time. Because while we sit bewildered in the centre of our wreckage, we fail to see the women we have crushed beneath it.

To address misogyny, it’s not about patting ourselves on the back and calling ourselves good guys. And let me talk about “the good guy” for a moment – because, God knows, enough of us have had low enough self-esteem that any measure of approval from women can subsequently act as a life-giving force. As boys, many of us saw older versions of ourselves treating women with contempt, and we secretly feared we might grow up to be them too. Many of us are still scared that, to use a popular term, we are trash. If you are one of those men, I can relate to you.

If you care about women as actual human beings, and not just as extensions of yourselves – that is to say, if they are not just your daughters, your sisters, your mothers – then it is heartbreaking whenever you let them down. But you must remember at such times, as I have, that this is not about our feelings. It’s not about that fragile inner child in so many of us wanting to be assured that, at some level, he is a good boy. It’s about having the self-reflection and the sensitivity to keep coming back each week and doing the work, even though there will be those we disappoint in the process.

What form does the work take? Well, it differs for all of us. But there are a few men in my life, men who are true feminists, who show me a better way every day. There’s one guy who is so supportive of women’s sport at every opportunity. Sharing their match reports online, providing encouraging tweets, watching their games whenever he can. There’s another guy I know in the field of electronic music who promotes women’s work on his podcasts, his mixes, in his live sets, at the festivals he attends, making sure they always have the best representation they can. Small, beautiful things, for which they never seek credit. Just regular guys who are conscious of women as human beings and stop to think: “wait, are women really being involved and respected in this space as they should be? And if not, what am I as a man doing about it?”

These men are my inspirations as I go about my own work. And what I am saying here, what I have said in the course of this somewhat rambling piece, is nothing new. From one perspective, it’s actually basic as hell, and it’s embarrassing that it took me till the age of thirty-eight to set it out in this fashion. Still, maybe that’s just how long it has taken me fully to process the crisis in masculinity – wait, let me own that phrase, the crisis in my masculinity – and try, from now on, to make significant progress. I hope that some men will find it useful.

This is about more than Harvey Weinstein, or Hollywood. It’s about finding the courage to make sure that fewer men – including ourselves – grow up like Mark, and that we speak up to their faces if and when they do. It’s everything from refusing to laugh at the sexist joke in the canteen to asking why there aren’t more women on your company’s board or why the funding for women’s refuges keeps getting slashed left right and centre. It’s about not reacting in sustained disbelief when women tell us that harassment and assault are way worse problems than we imagine. Yes, we can all feel a little shock  when it is pointed out that the world is much more brutal than we thought. But to remain too long in disbelief is a luxury, and after a certain point it becomes not only offensive but dangerous.

This is how men end the crisis in masculinity – this is how I have tried to end the crisis in mine. By having the guts not to go along with the flow for fear that you might not be one of the lads. Because, frankly, who wants to be one of the lads when the lads are cowards? And yes, it’s exhausting trying to work all this stuff out, and confronting those closest to us – including ourselves. But – as a very dear friend reminded me last night – my God, women are exhausted too. So we must try, even though we may fail time and again. We must try.

 

For the middle-class Trump voter, this must be glorious.

As a middle-class Trump voter this must be glorious. You’ve got your regular income from your job and possibly your buy-to-let, and your liberal neighbours and colleagues are going wild with despair or fury. You’re quietly delighted – this is the time of your life, isn’t it? Being, as you are, comfortable enough to sit back and watch the bonfire. It probably feels as Great as the good old days your grandparents talked about. Trump promised this, and he has absolutely delivered.

What has surprised you, though, is how thrilling the sensation has been. The hurt on the face of your fellow worker when Trump aims another cannon at their existence produces a surge of euphoria in you, almost erotic. And Trump is relentless, isn’t he? You knew he’d be this bad, or this good, but you never knew the hits would be so constant, almost daily, and you’re addicted. It’s worse and therefore better than you’d hoped. By the time he’s done, whether that’s months or years from now, he’ll have shattered the happiness of millions of people you don’t know, and – more importantly – the happiness of dozens you do.

What’s been more enjoyable, so far? The fearless words of a gay acquaintance, beneath whose defiance you detect that she is drained by it all? Or seeing that anxious black family on the school run the morning after Charlottesville? How deeply have you drunk of their terror? You’ll vote for him again, of course you will. Because each day has been a victory – for you, each social interaction with those you loathe is a zero-sum game, where their pain must directly result in your pleasure. This is the greatness you craved, and now it is manifest; for you, as fervent as you are furtive, this is the true American Dream.

The far-right AfD have won 13.5% of the German vote. What to do next?

So the AfD, a far-right party, have become the third-largest party in Germany, with 13.5% of the vote. They are the true winners of this election. They ran a campaign that was often chaotic, and always characterised by racist, explicitly Nazi rhetoric. Not neo-Nazi, really; Nazi. Millions of German citizens looked at all that they represented, and thought, “yes, I’ll have some of that”.
 
Despite all this, I am pretty calm about the news. It’s not a shock to me. It’s disappointing, I’ll admit that, because it shows that too many people have refused to heed the warnings of how bad the AfD will be for this society as a whole. Too many people think that the AfD are fine so long as they do unspeakable things to non-white people. We saw this with Trump, we saw this in the UK, we saw this in Holland and Austria and beyond. After a while, you build up something of an immunity to it. I was saying to a friend the other day that it’s a little like when your ears pop on the plane – you become accustomed to the new pressure.
 
13.5%, that’s a lot of people. Still, it’s a confirmation rather than a surprise. If it affects anything in the immediate future, it will be the speed and the focus that I give to the projects that I most care about; it will be the time and the care that I give to people in greatest need, both those I know and those I do not. I have said many times before that I find racism irritating, frustrating and hateful in the extreme because I am too busy trying to make a life for myself. So I’m going to do the same thing I did when Trump was elected – get my head down, and go for it. It’s the only approach that’s ever worked against racism, and it’s the only approach that ever will.

Racism breaks my heart. #JusticePourAdama

Racism breaks my heart. I am writing this directly after reading the official confirmation that Adama Traore, a young black Frenchman, died of asphyxiation after being detained by police. I am writing this right now because the feeling is raw, and I need to express what this is like – this helplessness. Racism doesn’t always break my heart. Sometimes it is just an inconvenience – like 4am last Sunday morning, when listening to music on my home from a great night out with my friends (once again, I must thank the legendary bar that is Krass Boese Wolf), and my journey was interrupted by a tourist who leaned into my path and asked me for drugs. I can shrug these moments off. Yet they accumulate until I can’t ignore them, and then a tide of sorrow rolls through me, so deep and wide that I succumb to it.
Two nights ago a friend of mine stepped off a train in Berlin and three white Germans serenaded her with a chorus of “nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger”. Yesterday I saw a video of a 48-year old Nigerian man who was dragged off a train in Munich by two inspectors – though he had paid for his ticket, he had not presented his ID – and, howling, had his face pressed to the concrete. The journalist who posted the footage, for her trouble, received a hailstorm of threatening phone calls from the far-right. Today, I read the news about Adama Traore.
Racism breaks my heart. There are days you look in the mirror and wonder how you can negate it. If you can dress more smartly in certain settings – if you can avoid certain areas. But then you realise that you can’t. To the racist, a monkey in a nice set of clothes is still a monkey. There are days you wish there was an app on your phone that allowed you to travel through the world on stealth mode.
Racism humbles you. You can be as successful as you like but there are still those – so many of those – who will not see you as fully human. It’s a strange world. Some would advise me to concentrate only on those who are enlightened, who are not prejudiced – but I am not convinced that the majority of people in our world are like this. From London to Rio to Bratislava to Cape Town and elsewhere, I have seen too much severe social and economic inequality of which racism was the root. We daily tell ourselves that most people are good, but I am not even sure what that means anymore. What use is being good, what use is being the decent silent majority, if deaths like those of Adama Traore don’t cause that majority to roar? What use is outrage at injustice if it is never spoken?
I’m not writing this post to ask for solutions. I don’t know what those are right now. I’m writing this because now and then, in between my favourite selections of Berlin’s finest cupcakes, my smug enjoyment of the city’s often spectacular summer, it feels important to talk about the monstrous things that are still happening as we go about our lives. I’m aware that when I write about racism, many people may tune out. To those people, I would like to say this: I wish I could tune out too. I wish I could hang my dark skin on a line somewhere, and carry on with one less problem like the rest of you. Because life’s hard enough already, isn’t it? Life’s hard enough trying to hold down that job, and trying to keep your partner happy after all those years, and mending those ailing ties with your family. Life’s hard enough without walking the streets of different cities, fearing that you may be too big, dark and dangerous for people’s comfort.
Of course this isn’t how I approach every day. It’s just that there are some days when you find your soul heavy with grief at the death of a sibling in prejudice you never met – last week her name was Bianca Roberson, this week his name is Adama Traore – and, on those days, your eyes brim with tears as you type, because in that moment being black is an almost unbearable burden. Days, I am sad to say, like today.

Thank you, Unicorns. X

On Saturday I played my final game for SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale, the football team I joined shortly after arriving in Berlin in late 2014. SFCF Inter, or “The Unicorns”, have been and will continue to be a huge part of my life. The team, as its name and nickname suggest, is a unique and diverse group of very special human beings. The squad is about twenty-strong, and features people with almost as many nationalities; in that sense, it is the essence of Berlin. It’s not the kind of gathering you readily leave, but my increasingly brittle left ankle and right knee have had other ideas.

 

It’s not as if I’m truly leaving them: I’ll still train with them whenever my work schedule allows each week. But this moment briefly felt a little poignant, as it’s the first time that I’ve had to admit that my days of regularly playing 11-a-side football are over. At such times, being a poet by disposition, I tend to get a bit misty-eyed and reminisce. I’ve been part of several clubs since the age of nine – first Golden Eagles U10 B, the reserve side so poor that when we lost only 4-0 we were delighted, and who were once defeated 35-0 in a match lasting only an hour and during which the ball entered their half just once. Then there was the all-conquering Sunningdale School 1st XI, which was my redemption for Golden Eagles having been so terrible; a few years playing for various school sides at Eton College, but sadly never once playing for their senior first team; the 105 Club; St. John’s College, Oxford; Mansfield Road; Ferry Hinksey; Brasenose Old Boys; Lovells; Stonewall; and finally, of course, the Unicorns.

 

Of course, it was never ultimately about the football; because I never played well for a team where I didn’t love those with whom I shared the dressing-room. Love is a strong word, and still not one that many men are comfortable using about one another: and that’s why I use it. I loved all those team-mates from my favourite teams, and I still do. It’s a delight to see them all on Facebook, on WhatsApp, or during the odd visit to any city where they might be living now – Barcelona, Dubai, Shanghai. Many of them are fathers now, and far stiffer of joint than they were when we all first met. But their passion for the game remains the same, as does their affection for each other. At various points, in a world so often brutally unfair and cruelly complex, the simple joy of chasing a ball around the field has been a rare form of solace.

 

Of course, it was about the football to some extent, which is why I’m not playing any longer. I only really play for teams where I feel that I can make a consistently strong contribution, and I don’t think that’s the case anymore. German football, at this level, is just as quick and physical as it is in the UK, and it is technically far superior too – there are people doing things in training and in matches that were almost unimaginable in the UK. (Alexis Lannoy, my God. You are not fully human.) Playing for the Unicorns has been very humbling, in that sense. When I was playing in the UK, I would often take the field confident in the knowledge that I was one of the quicker and more skilful players there. By the time I came to Germany, that was not remotely the case. I had lost pretty much any acceleration I had ever had (some will laugh, at this point, that I never really had much pace at all) and I found it almost impossible to dribble past players. As a result, I can now admit, I was sometimes very worried when matchday came around: doubtful that, in my greatly diminished state, I would be good enough to deliver what my peers needed.

 

That’s been the beautiful thing about playing for the Unicorns, though. For the overwhelming majority of my time with them, I relied not upon speed or skill but upon hustle and guts. I have never gladly chased so many seemingly lost causes, hunting down centre backs as they passed the ball gleefully between themselves. I now know what Harry Boyle, one of the first and best captains I ever had, meant when he ordered me to “play this game for as long as you can”. The ritual of matchday is a profound one: the arrival at a ground so alien and hostile that it may as well be the surface of Venus, the Deep Heat searing through your nostrils, the clatter of studs in the hall.  

 

During that time – over those many hundreds of matches – I’ve played in conditions from sub-zero to tropical, and in all manner of different positions. I’ve worn several shirt numbers; 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 14, 17. I started out as a striker, a traditional centre-forward; then I was a number ten, a left-wing and a right-wing, a defensive midfielder (no, seriously, ask Rory da Costa and Peter Nedd), a left-back, and latterly even a left wing-back. I was never deployed as a keeper, but that’s probably best for all concerned. At first, I was obsessed with scoring goals – there was nothing that gave me greater pleasure – but, after a while, I lost the hunger for that. As a striker, you’re oddly distant from your team-mates, often as proud but isolated as the prow of a ship. Playing in central midfield for Stonewall, in a team of gay and bisexual men competing against a league of heterosexual teams, I learned just how wonderful it could be to do all the small things that went unnoticed but which were utterly vital to your team’s success. If Golden Eagles was where I first found my love for playing football, then Stonewall was where I rediscovered it.

 

But this post is getting long – what was meant to be a short piece has now tumbled on into over a thousand words. I have started this with the Unicorns, so I will finish it with them. After my last game, a 4-2 defeat to Traktor Boxhagener, I ended up being the final person out of the dressing-room, which was as fitting and melodramatic as it sounds. It’s a good thing no-one else wandered in during the few minutes I sat there, because I might have welled up in tears if they had walked in. Somewhere, almost thirty years back, there was a much younger me scraping the mud off his boots. Now, with a grey-haired goatee, I was gazing at the chalkboard where Andrew Weber, the most inspirational of coaches, had scribbled that game’s starting line-up. I had to take a picture of it all: the firmly-worded tactical instructions, the deserted space, the sacred enclave. I took a selfie in which I tried to smile, but didn’t quite manage it; and maybe that was fitting too. You can’t quite be euphoric at a time like that. I packed my things, took one last look round, and turned off the light. I then headed out to the club’s bar and a post-match beer with my friends, before going off to play a seven-a-side football tournament on the other side of town, where I was one of the younger players taking part. This game has been one of the greatest journeys of my life, and it always will be.

Thank you for everything, Unicorns; and I’ll see you all down the pub, or in that WhatsApp group, where I hope you will lovingly and mercilessly mock this sentimental post as fully it deserves. I won’t mind, though. From start to finish, it has been the greatest pleasure.

On the movie “Get Out”, and my experience of inter-racial dating.

I watched Get Out last night. It’s only recently reached cinemas here in Berlin, the benefit of which is that it has allowed much of the surrounding hype to die down. I was thus able to assess it on its own terms. And haha, my God. It’s outstanding.

 

I’m not going to do a review here or recount the facts in any great detail, because – quite frankly – that’s been done countless times already. What I will do is set out my reaction to the film; I’m not sure how long or how structured these reflections will be, since I am trying to type them as freely as they come. Put it this way, though – this film really affected me, so much so that I was up until 2:30am this morning discussing it with a friend. It’s the kind of art that makes you want to discuss it with everyone.

 

I am very public about many aspects of my life, but the one area where I am furiously private (till now, haha) is that of dating. I think that’s because, since I spent much of my working life in in a state of some visibility, I like to keep some part of my life secret and sacred. That desire for privacy means that there are some setbacks that I just don’t discuss. But, wow, Get Out brought so many of those back to the surface.

 

We often talk about black people suffering the adverse effects of severe immigration policies, but, of late, I have been thinking a great deal about the supreme version of border control: that is to say, whether you are welcomed into your partner’s family. It’s one thing to allow a black person into your country; it’s quite another to let one of them marry into your bloodline. I have been very fortunate in most of my longer relationships. The first woman I ever loved was a black woman, so no problem there (if you read this on your occasional visits to Facebook, then thank you, thank you, for being such an amazing introduction to the turbulent world of love. I am still so grateful). I went out with a wonderful white British woman whose family were lovely to me; her grandmother had never met a black person before and was an absolute joy to be around. I dated a white German woman who had two very right-wing brothers but I was lucky enough not to have met them before that romance came to a close (with a spectacular abruptness, but that’s a story for another time, if never).

 

There is the bad stuff, though. There’s the women who you’re on dates with who, out of nowhere, come out with comments that make you realise that you’re little more than a black cock inconveniently attached to an extra few feet of flesh. You’re having a great chat, and then a couple of drinks in you’re suddenly *that* glance to the crotch, you’re chocolate. There’s the white men who want nothing more than to be overwhelmed by a black man, any black man – the stereotype that Keith, in Six Feet Under, described as “Big Black Sex Cop”. There’s the woman I went on a date with who spent much of the evening describing the types of black men she had dated – African, British, African-American – sorting us into behavioural groups like Herman Melville explaining the different types of whale in that chapter in Moby Dick.

 

Ha, my God. It’s all coming back. There’s the woman I dated who was really nice but not nice enough for me to be comfortable with her revelation that, if her parents knew she was dating a black man, they’d be horrified. There’s the woman who walked across the dancefloor in one club to inform me that she wanted to dance with me – only dancing, nothing more – because black men were good at dancing. “Only dancing! Nothing more!” she ordered. (It’s okay, I have dignity, she didn’t get any dancing.) There’s the woman I was dating who was very pleasant but who said of her best friends that “they really like black guys…they’re just not sure how to go about it.” Go about what, I asked, we’re just regular guys. We’re no different to white guys. What are people afraid of?

 

Well, the black penis, for one thing. Time and again I have been reminded that the black penis is a thing that some white people talk about or think about much more than I ever thought possible. Some of you won’t believe me – if not, please ask yourselves why that is, it’s not like I enjoy talking about this stuff – but here we are. They really talk about it. I dated one woman who said that white men, having heard she’d dated black men, couldn’t stop asking about their penises – our penises. “How big were they?” they asked her. “What were they like?” (To which, come to think of it, she probably should have replied: “Get one of your own.”) The black penis is a curiosity. A land beyond maps. An object of terror and desire, often both at the same time.

 

I don’t want to stray too far from the original point here, which is how Get Out made me feel – but maybe that is the genius of the movie, in that it has brought so much of this to the surface. I was talking to a very handsome black friend of mine – the type of man who women stop and openly gawp at in the street, I’ve seen it – and he talked about how so many non-black women seemed to crave him but never dated him. They would express interest but ultimately never follow up on anything – it was as if they wanted to be with him, to try him out, but the taboo of doing so was just too great. For all his brilliance as a human being, for all his physical beauty, he was an object, an oddly unfuckable monolith. 

 

In Get Out, I could identify so much with Chris, the protagonist. So often it feels as though, as a black man, you are expected to prove that you are human – superhuman, even – just to be accepted.  Of course, I am long past the point where I want to be “accepted” – because even if I pass all those invisible and absurdly harsh tests – if I have the right education and the right background and the right demeanour – then it means that the people who have accepted me are still judging all those black men who don’t pass them. Basically, life is too short to date racists. Thank you, Get Out, for reminding me of that; and, if I ever go into the countryside with a partner whose relatives are suspect, then you can bet I’ll be packing a spare phone.