Why I’m homeless and how you can help

So I’m kind of in a fix.

If you follow this blog, you’ll know I haven’t been as productive as planned over the last few months. In June I wrote about atheism and depression—some nights, as I say there, ‘I fight the urge to smash myself to bits’, but my brain has more effective ways of tripping me up. The worst, despondency, has immobilised me all summer long, and I’ve struggled to get much done.

A few factors fed into it. The last bout of drama on this network took the toll I assumed it would—I’m just starting to post regularly again—but more importantly, it was the latest in a series of things that have made 2015 rough so far. Until July I was dealing with a flatmate who made it hard to work from home, and since late last year I’ve been estranged from most members of my family. Although the latter’s done me good, it’s been a constant distraction from work and stripped me of any other source of support. Political despair, widespread among my friends in the UK, hasn’t helped—in short, I’ve been in a rut.

It turns out knowing you’re in a rut is the first part of climbing out. What my mental health needs, I’ve come to realise, is a change of scene—so a couple of weeks back, it struck me the time’s come for me to move back to England. I’ve written this blog from Berlin most of the last two years, and will never tire of the place, but for now, well, I’m tired of the place, and it’s clear to me I need to go elsewhere before I can fully knuckle back down again. On top of that, I’m long overdue for a health checkup in a country where I have access to medicine.

A writer-friend and I are looking at renting somewhere in the New Year, as grown-ups seem to do, and before then I’ll need to sort various things—accounts, application forms and so on—which can only be taken care of while in the country. With that in mind, having sold off what furniture I owned and reduced my possessions to a rucksack’s worth, my plan is to fly into Gatwick in the next week or two. From September 24 through to November, I have friends’ floors and sofas to sleep on, and I’ll find temporary places for December during that time.

I’m getting back to work as is, and drawing plans to finance the next few months. Now that I’m Patreon-equipped and no longer being strangled by Weltschmerz, I’m going to start writing the two posts a week my page on there pledges. (Thanks to assorted patrons’ generosity, I already make $30 per post, more than I earn from adverts in a month.) In addition, I’m going to seek more paid writing elsewhere, and have one publishing house listening to book ideas. Other projects are in the works: I’m currently editing one book, am likely to edit another before year’s end and am looking to take more on. Similarly, I’m finishing work now on redesigned graphics for Miri’s blog Brute Reason, and am in search of other gigs.

There’s a plan in place here—the trouble is, I can’t start executing it until I’ve left Berlin, and right now I can’t afford to do that. A year ago, when I was in monetary meltdown below the bottom of my overdraft, people who read this blog came to my aid, and as a result of projects they hired me to carry out—as a translator, editor, graphic designer—I haven’t been in the red since. I’m pretty proud of that, for the same reason I’m proud to have reached 24 without having had a credit card, and the aim is to reach December 31 having stayed in the black all year. Debt is a trap, and I’m determined to remain responsible with finances—so I’m going to do the responsible thing and ask for help.

If I fly into London next weekend, several friends’ sofas are waiting for me, but for now I’m stuck floating around Berlin, temporary-homeless, on my last £80 following a depressed couple of months. Making that one way trip is much less pricey than finding a new place here, and will enable me to get back to work properly, but without taking my bank account subzero and facing the resultant fees, not something I can do right now.

If you enjoy the things I write—about queer issues, atheism, pop culture, mental health, geekery—or if you’ve never followed what I do, but have been sent this post and want to help, there are four things you can do for me if you feel like it.

1) Tip me

Now that this blog’s Patreon-supported, I rely less on one-off donations from readers leaving me tips. On the whole this an enormous help, and one of the reasons I’m in the black right now—but since I only get paid that way on the fifth of each month, it’s not going to do me any good till October.

If you’re a patron, I can’t say how much your support means, and I won’t ask anything more of you. For everybody else—and in case any patrons actively want to leave a one-off donation too, I’m going to declare my tip jar open. Here it is.


I’m not going to turn down anything I get or set a target amount—every bit helps, and by definition, I don’t know what surprise costs might attack me in the coming month—but if ten people each give me ten pounds, I’ll likely be able to leave Berlin without sinking into the red, and of twenty people do, I’ll have room left for food and public transport.

Here, again, is my donation page—everyone who leaves any amount has my thanks.

2) House me

If you’re in London, or in Berlin during the next week, and have a free sofa or (somewhat long) stretch of floor, and you want to help in some other way, I’m looking for places to sleep before the 24th. (Several friends have already offered theirs, but not such that the whole period is covered, and having a plan B always reassures me.) In return for your hospitality, I’ll be more than happy to cook and wash up for you. Here are some of the things I like to make.

3) Patronise me

As I said, Patreon is of limited immediate help—but I’ll still be getting back to writing regularly over the next few weeks, and will still have things I need to pay for during October, November and December—as well as after that. Renting somewhere new in England incurs all kinds of costs, and in the medium-to-long-term future, I’ll still need earn a living. If you like how and what I write and want to support it—examples on my page there—becoming a patron is the most effective way, and as you’ll see, all kinds of perks are on offer.


4) Hire me

And if you want to help me get paid for something else—consider this an advertisement—there are other strings to my bow.

For one thing, I design visuals, including but not limited to ones for bloggers and activists. Here are some of the things I’ve made.

For another, I edit books and writing of all other kinds, and I’m pretty good at it. If you’re a writer or communicator and want to clean up your copy, I’m all yours. In Greta Christina’s words:

If Alex is offering you his services, TAKE HIM UP ON IT. Alex did two extensive rounds of copy editing on [my book] Coming Out Atheist, and he is one of the best copy editors I’ve ever worked with. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Seriously. Hire him.

I also translate into and (especially) from German: the secularist book I spent last winter translating for its US edition goes to print early next year, and was a Spiegel.de bestseller in Germany.

My rates for all these things are negotiable, and I like being employed by friends and strangers equally. If you feel like hiring me or might be interested in doing so, drop me an email.

And if you can’t do any of those things, but want to be of assistance, share this post.

A I said, I’m no longer in a rut—but I am in a fix. If you can help me fix my fix and feel like doing so, this is your chance. With any luck, it’ll be another year before I need help again.

The Doubt: What I Learned From Rape Jokes, And When I Wonder If It’s Foolish To Assume The Best

I used to think I understood rape jokes—then I moved in with someone who laughed at his own. F was young, white and angry at the world, and I met him after he advertised a room. The two of us talked for an hour or two, during which time he spoke more than I did, with the eagerness of a child desperate to make friends but unsure how. Like me F was addicted to TV: the fourth season of Game of Thrones had been the best, I said, except one character being raped despite her pleas and attempts to break free. ‘Come on,’ he said, all jocular. ‘She deserves it.’

It didn’t take my flatmate’s views long to become clear. His favourite authors included Charles Bukowski, who he told me ‘treated women like shit’ (there was no ‘but’), and I once spied Russell Brand’s Booky Wook on his table. My last landlady, he declared, had been a ‘nasty fucking dry old cunt’, and our female flatmate (a ‘silly little girl’) was acting ‘like a total bitch’ when they fell out. He hadn’t had a problem coming onto her—‘I only let girls move in because I want to fuck them,’ F told me once. He was a misogynist, he agreed, but felt he treated his women well.

I took the room looking on the bright side. The flat was comfy, the location neat, the prospect of searching elsewhere uninviting, and F’s response hadn’t been bad when I mentioned I blogged on a feminist site. Living with him wouldn’t, I thought, be the end of the world, and for me it wasn’t. Still, there were doubts. F laughed about his excitement when women online had rape fantasies, not quite sounding as if he knew where fantasy ended. Was rape so bad, he asked another time, quickly assuring me he was kidding. I’m not certain he’d have said so had I shaken my head.

I don’t know if I lived with a rapist, or someone who’d have liked to be. None of these incidents proves anything, but what if that was the idea? Was F, I wonder now, scoping me out the way queer kids scope out their mum and dad, as I’d scoped him out with mention of feminists? Did he laugh about rape because it amused him, or because what might be a joke is always plausibly deniable, like a sexual advance veiled as an invitation for coffee? One’s instinct is to award the benefit of the doubt, but maybe that’s the point.

[Read more…]

Food was my grandmother’s favourite form of abuse

Since the god I believed in died, it’s my mum’s stories I’ve turned to. Her grandmother, one of the last Victorians, schooled her in Roma tradition while she was a child, and although Mum had swapped card readings for hymnbooks by the time I arrived, her touch for oral history remained. Numerous relatives, having wed and bred later than usual, died before I was born, but I met them all in bedtime stories: her father Bill, whose hair turned white when he abandoned ship in the North Sea and swam ashore; my other grandfather Silvestras, who lost a homeland to Stalin and countless shirt buttons to British beef; and my great grandmother herself, whose real name must have been Catherine but whom Mum always called Kitty. Lately, I’m remembering meals with my own grandmothers.

To understand my gran, you have to understand how she used food. Like many children born after the war, Mum spent her first holidays in the north, including in Blackpool. In my twenties, I heard about the aftermath of one such trip: on coming home, her mother approached a small boy who lived across the road, offering him a stick of Blackpool rock with a smile. On unwrapping the gift, the boy found only a long and thin stone disguised with left over wrappers, and so began to cry. Loath as she was to acknowledge her older sister’s birth in a vardo, Gran was a storyteller too: even in her nineties, fifty or sixty years later, serving the greedy boy over the street his just dessert was a favourite of hers. ‘That boy,’ Mum once replied with laser eyes, ‘was four years old.’

I wrote about my family at Medium. This is how the post starts. Read the whole thing.



This blog has Patreon – support independent content and help it go ad-free

A click or two ago when you opened this page, there’s a good chance my entire blog got shunted to the right, jolted across to make room for an advert on the other side. Depending how long you’ve been reading, you may have known immediately how to get rid of it – or had to faff longer, clicking the wrong ‘Close’ sign and getting a white box instead of a readable post. By the time you nixxed it, or just refreshed, you could have been half way through this intro.

Maybe you were less lucky still and got landed with a pop-up or pop-under advert – or one of the bastards that pops up and then pops under, making you switch windows to defeat it. (Did it have sound? The worst have sound.) It’s only thanks to FTB’s tech guys, who found a way for us to outwit our own ads, that you don’t normally see one of these mid-post:

Look at it – look at its horrendousness, great orange baboonarse sticking obscenely out. Unlike a real anus, there’s no way to avoid seeing it, centred, unclosable, without the text so much as wrapping tastefully around. Normally, through html magic, I can banish it to the end, but even then, it appears in all my old posts from the last two years, flotsam in an absurdly wide text field. Don’t think it doesn’t madden me.

You hate the ads, and so you should. To be honest, we hate them too – in fact we hate them more than anyone, because we are their hostages. Bloggers must eat, and adverts have long been our only hope of doing so off the back of our posts. They are the burly kid at school with trigger-happy fists, the big, obnoxious bully with whom you had no choice but to be friends.

This is why I’ve set up a Patreon. [Read more…]

Belief and doubt after the Charleston church shootings

There’s a Carole King song I first heard as a child, which tells of a deranged man’s arrest and now makes difficult listening. Smackwater Jack, he bought a shotgun, ‘cause he was in the mood for a little confrontation. He just let it all hang loose, he didn’t think about the noose. He couldn’t take no more abuse, so he shot down the congregation.

You can see why Jon Stewart had nothing. In a kinder and saner world, the Emanuel AME massacre would be a joke: satirists like Stewart would ask, incensed, what racists in the US had to do for their motives not to be whitewashed. Demand apartheid? Mourn the Klan? Shoot black people in church? Even then, they’d maintain, someone like Dylann Roof would be labelled ‘unbalanced’ and ‘disturbed’. Audiences would cheer, knowing the punchline to be true – and now it is. The joke has sprung itself, and nothing about it is funny any more, just forcefully, sickeningly absurd.

Unlike the subject of King’s song, Roof was not just deranged. With Charleston now home to that collision of US anxieties, a racist gun crime in a church, small wonder conservatives are scared to discuss it honestly, but nothing Roof did was random. It’s one thing to attack a church, another to assault a black church in the USA – another still to shoot worshippers at Emanuel AME, known for its role in civil rights struggles. ‘I chose Charleston because it is [the] most historic city in my state,’ writes Roof in a summary of his views, and you can be sure equal thought went into selecting Emanuel.

At its most radical, black Christianity in the US has always seemed to me more drawn to the second coming than the resurrection, songs promising that come the day, the oppressor will have nowhere to hide. If tacitly materialist, it’s a liberation theology, suggesting that until chained or handcuffed bodies are free, the soul’s release is meaningless. Perhaps this helped make pastors so crucial in Ferguson and Baltimore, and perhaps it’s what Clementa Pinckney, murdered this week, preached after Walter Scott was killed – certainly it was this promise of ultimate justice, as well as Emanuel’s congregants, on which Roof opened fire.

The whole thing is a nightmare of belief and doubt. Judging by his statement, Roof believes white people are the real oppressed – otherwise, perhaps he’d have sensed that after the last year, black Americans (Christian or not) didn’t need another shooting for belief in salvation to be challenging. The right refuses to believe racism deserves to be talked about after a neonazi gunned down black people he sees as animals, thinking instead that he must just be the unbalanced sort, while like Jon Stewart, those of watching from far off feel it’s ventured beyond a joke. Charleston presents an unbelievable atrocity, yet I can believe every word.



My atheism isn’t joyful or meaningful. Thank fuck for that

000Something like once a year, I spend a night wanting nothing but to curl up and die. It’s not that I think of killing myself, though way back it did come to that – just that those nights, under what feels like the crushing weight of conscious thought, I long not to exist. Some hungry pit in my chest drains all colour from the world, refusing to swallow the rest of me, and being awake hurts. Social contact becomes like prodding a cracked rib, everyday tasks an uphill slog: I sit for what feels like an age trying to find the will to tie my shoes, fall apart making tea. These are, I’m acutely aware, insane things to find hard – because I am insane.

At twenty-four, the dark spells come and go quickly. When the worst hit, I fight the urge to smash myself to bits – to skin my knuckles on the wall, claw at my forearms, beat my head against the window pane till either cracks – but nowadays those fits of self-loathing happen years apart. (The last, in April, was my first since university.) Most days I’m fine, and it feels like yesterday the urge to self-destruct lasted months rather than hours. I was ten when I first wanted to die, fourteen when I decided how, fifteen on first attempting it. Nine years and counting without incident, it seems to me, is a good run.

For the short time I took them on the quiet, antidepressants only did so much, but atheism has helped me no end. You might expect me to report that as a churchgoer, being called a sinner in a hopeless world did my head in; actually, hope was the problem. As a believer in the risen Christ, it can be hard not to feel ashamed of existential gloom, as if the grace of salvation has bypassed you through some fault of your own. There must, I felt, be some turmoil in my soul if being saved didn’t make me feel any less wretched, some failure in my faith that warranted further self-punishment. As an atheist, I feel differently. [Read more…]

Support the Burning Bridges Blog Network

If you’ve hung around on this network long enough, you’ve probably bumped into certain regulars.

  • Sally Strange is a feminist, environmentalist and journalist in the original sense.
  • Alex and Ania write about (among other things) skepticism, ethnicity and disability.
  • Dori Mooneyham’s blog is about gender, pop culture and being a trans lesbian.
  • Dirty Nerdy has depression and writes about it, as well as being queer.
  • Angie Jackson is an antitheist raised in a cult who live-tweeted her abortion in 2010.

You may also know Sunflower Punk, who’s a homeless single parent ‘from NYC by way of Puerto Rico’, and Kassiane, who tackles ableism and neurodivergence.

These are seven formidable members of our community, who – by and large, like this community – combine a take-no-prisoners atheism with fierce, compassionate social advocacy, an approach we don’t see enough. Now they’re doing something exciting, and setting up their own site. Writes Sally:

This past winter was rough for me and many of my friends. I was fired from my last job essentially in retaliation for whistleblowing, though I was not in fact the whistleblower. I was commiserating with my friends, many of whom also experience poverty on a regular basis, thanks to being laid off, single parenthood, escaping abusive relationships, disabilities and chronic illness, mental health issues, and societal bigotries such as racism, trans-antagonism, and misogyny. We all write regularly and have many other talents and skills, and we were wishing that we could translate our regular output on social media and our private blogs into regular revenue which, if not sufficient to pay the rent, would at least help tide us over during the rough times. And so the idea of Burning Bridges was formed.

The name comes from the idea of lighting your way with the bridges you burn, rather than fearing the flames. And maybe next time using a better, less flammable design, if a bridge is really what [you] want. We want Burning Bridges, the blog and the publishing company, to further the trend of marginalized people gaining a voice through the horizontal structure of the Internet.

I want to see this project succeed. The Indiegogo campaign is at just under $500 (15 percent of the way to its goal) with three more days to go: while they’ve already raised the minimum needed to launch the site, there’s still a way to go. Thankfully, crowdfunders like this often get a late surge just before the deadline – so if you can, chip in or spread the word.

We need more secular writing with a social context. Let’s help make it happen.




Smoke, fire and recognising transphobia

It’s not the case that where there’s smoke there’s fire – nonetheless, the two correlate strongly. The more people smell smoke, the wiser it is to investigate; the more you spot, the likelier you are to find something alight, and anyone so fire-agnostic they refuse to make enquiries till presented with a room in flames can reasonably be suspected of anything from ambivalence on fire safety to being a furtive arsonist.

Misogyny has been the great fire of atheism. 2012 saw a pitched fight for smoke detectors to be used at cons, in which, as thick plumes billowed from every window, DJ Grothe said TAM was totally fire-free, no one having caught so much as a whiff of smoke, and women shouldn’t assume too much from the sky high column of it over the building. Later, Reinhardt et al decided piles of soot and ash wherever some male skeptics went didn’t conclusively prove fire damage, and so there was no reason at all to check for any.

People who defend sexism tend to think there are only two ways to handle complaints: either with absolute credulity, treating women’s claims as infallible, or with absolute agnosticism, throwing out anything short of airtight legal proof. Women who file reports are said to want their word taken as law, but complaints are supposed to prompt investigations, not foreclose them. In the first instance, all most plaintiffs want is for their claims to be looked into – something an all-or-nothing epistemology prevents.

The agnostic response to bigotry says we can never know enough to act. If we don’t have all the facts, we have none; if not everything has been proved, nothing can be, and if the curtains haven’t yet caught fire, no amount of smoke is cause for action. Claims with mountains of evidence are dismissed before any can be sought, responsible parties painting requests for them to find things out as demands for unquestioning belief.

I bring this up because of late, I’ve seen Ophelia say similar things. [Read more…]

Ashley and Dana need your help

Last autumn I was in a fix. This network saw me through, for which I’ll never stop being grateful. Two of our number who lent me a hand could now use one themselves, and I’m not going to let that pass.

A while back you may have seen the banners I made Ashley F. Miller (note the ‘f’). Ashley hired me to create them when I needed work – I took far too long – and is now in a tight spot of their own, having lost their job and been diagnosed with debilitating illness in the last week, meaning they now face ballooning medical bills and loss of income simultaneously. To make their writing, art and other talents pay, Ashley now has a Patreon so readers can send her regular tips. I could tell you why, if you can, you should support their work – could point to the million views their blog just reached, their courageous writing on harassment and how their name has been printed with Gloria Steinem’s and Maya Angelou’s – but if you really want to know why their three years of near-unpaid writing deserve your dime (beyond the available perks), listen to this.

Then there’s Dana Hunter, who writes at En Tequila Es Verdad. Dana is one of this network’s more unsung talents – in the last year, she quit her job to start writing full time and has since released her first book, Really Terrible Bible Stories Volume I, which you can and should buy on Amazon. Unlike Ashley, Dana is seeking one-off donations via PayPal, meaning if you want to help someone out but can’t commit for the long term, her fundraiser might be the best option for you. While her writing career was more or less on track, illness and ejection from her current building have plunged her into dire straits. Getting Dana through this matters especially to me, because when I was in ‘one of those horrible financial dry spells that happens to freelancers’, she was one of the very first people to have my back. I’d like to do the same for her.

Ashley and Dana have given so much to our community. This is where we give back.

(And yes – if you were wondering, I’ll join Patreon soon.)




Caitlyn Jenner is a mathlete at prom

When Lindsay Lohan is declared homecoming queen in Tina Fey’s Mean Girls – a film about how beauty standards, inter alia, tear women down – she uses her speech to tell all her classmates they look nice. Jessica Lopez, who uses a wheelchair, has an amazing dress; plus-size Emma Gerber must have spent hours on her hair; Regina George, queen bee before a bus hit her, is wearing her neck brace like a rock star.

If complimenting women’s looks on dressed-up occasions is sexism, a patronising well done for being acceptable, Fey suggests it can also be a gesture of solidarity, acknowledging the girls’ efforts to navigate beauty-policing’s impossible demands. (The ‘plastics’, it turns out, are more afraid than anyone.) When Lohan tells her peers they all look like royalty, breaking her tiara and dividing the pieces equally, it’s a statement of affirmation and sorority. I see you, big girls, butch girls, girls on meds. I see the best-and-worst-dressed culture and the pressure and the fear and how you’ve handled them. Here’s to us all for surviving.

000Not unlike Lohan’s character, Caitlyn Jenner is a mathlete at prom, negotiating for the first time the fraught terrain of acceptable public femaleness. Prior to her profile in Vanity Fair, featuring Annie Leibovitz’s photographs, Jenner was called an unconvincing imitation of womanhood. Post-bustier, having presumably sped through the goldilocks region of femininity sometime during hair and makeup, she will almost certainly be called an offensive parody of it. And so my guess would be that when someone at Jezebel wrote ‘You look great, Caitlyn! Can’t wait to see more,’ this – not the adequacy of her attractiveness – was the context.

With all the surgery, beauty treatments and airbrushing her millions can buy, Jenner certainly meets standards of gendered beauty few trans women can; it’s also true that lauding her for being pretty rather than brave displays a wide array of bigotries, and that trans activists may just have better goals than inroads with the GOP. Meeting an expectation, though, doesn’t make it less smothering. If feminist media is complimenting Jenner, my guess is that the aim might be to put someone agonisingly self-aware at ease, letting the anxious nerd at the spring fling know she looks nice when she arrives: not ‘You look great’ as in ‘Well done’, but as in ‘Don’t let them say otherwise.’ [Read more…]