Things I read this year: My favourite books of 2016

2016 has basically been a left-up toilet seat of a year, but it wasn’t all terrible. Some great books were published that I gobbled up like a little library gremlin. If you haven’t read these books yet, I strongly recommend you resolve to do so in 2017. Get in quickly, before the world ends.


The Good Immigrant (Edited by Nikesh Shukla)- This collection of essays from black, Asian and minority ethic writers in Britain explores what life is like. Some are funny. Some stir up fury. Some will make you cry. They are all beautifully-written, smart and moving. Shukla has done a jaw-dropping job in assembling these voices and putting together a collection of must-read meditations on living on this rainy fascism island.

Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain (Edited by Kate Harrad)- A collection of writing, interviews, essays, poems and commentary on bisexuality and its many intersections. It examines the challenges bisexual people faces, and honestly examines bi activism–the good, and the things that we need to work harder on. It’s a great introduction for would-be allies and those who think they might be bicurious, yet also an important read for hardened bi activists.


Virus (Linda Stupart)- I honestly can’t really explain this novella, so I’ll quote from the blurb: “WHAT TO EXPECT IN THIS BOOK:* tentacle sex * Kathy Acker * the violent deaths of male genius artists, philosophers and theorists * zombies * sirens * biohacking * rampant plagiarism * cop killing * spells you can use at home”. You get all of that, and more.

Everything Belongs To The Future (Laurie Penny)- Penny’s debut long-form fiction is a dystopian near-future where time is a commodity which the rich hoard, and a ragtag gang of scruffy anarchos want to change this. It’s a terrifyingly plausible dystopia, and the characters are highly recognisable if you’ve ever moved in activist circles.

An Accident of Stars (Foz Meadows)- This fantasy novel is a revival of everything that was enjoyable about your classic portal fantasy novel, but without the stuff that made them annoying (e.g. being all about a bunch of white men). It’s great fun whether you are usually a fantasy reader, or whether you’re new to the genre.

The Turning Tide (Dr Brook Magnanti)- If you’re a fan of thrillers, this is one for you. It’s got grisly murders, political conspiracies, and also, queer rowers, just to sweeten the deal. I also really enjoyed the fact that this is a thriller which actually understands the social media age, rather than just parps it in as a plot device without getting what’s going on.

Happy reading, friends. If you got book tokens or money for Christmas, I strongly recommend buying all of these books, and there’s only six of them, so you can probably burrow through them quite quickly.

This is probably my last post of 2016, so 🖕🖕🖕🖕 to the year!


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Making fists with your toes: Towards a feminist analysis of Die Hard

Content note: This post contains spoilers for the film Die Hard, which you will have probably seen already since it came out in 1988. It discusses death and guns.

It gives me life when a certain sector of thin-skinned Nazis get sad about films I like. From Fury Road to Star Wars, their tears bring me joy. Since, like many other people, my favourite Christmas film is Die Hard, it is my intention to highlight how this film is in fact a celebration of femininity, and perhaps one could even call it feminist, for a rather Eighties value of feminism. Am I trolling? I don’t even know any more.


Our hero John McClane is more of an Ellen Ripley than the Roy Rogers he insists that he is when talking to other men. There are some explicit parallels between Ripley and McClane: both deal with their terror by talking to themselves, and both have formative traumatic experiences in air ducts: arguably, both heroines are born within the air ducts. For the most part, the similarities are more subtle, though–John McClane, like Ellen Ripley, is a somewhat more feminine action hero. And, of course, the badass and the feminine are not mutually exclusive.

John begins the film estranged from his wife due to his stubborn insistence on having things his way. He is resentful, domineering, and basically a bit of a shitlord. Meanwhile, Holly Gennero/McClane, is a smart, successful, adaptable woman who has risen to a high point in her career with her negotiation skills. It is only in adversity that John learns just how valuable Holly’s skills are, and deploys them to great success and saving the day.

Yes. That’s right. Throughout Die Hard, feminine problem-solving tactics are shown to be demonstrably more successful than more masculine approaches. In cinema, and in society, masculine problem-solving is constructed as very direct and action-oriented, sometimes deploying physical aggression. In contrast, the feminine technique involves communication, negotiation, is less direct and typically non-violent.

From the moment a hostage situation begins while John is on the toilet, he embarks on his journey towards femininity. As John realises that something terrible is occurring, he makes a very smart choice: to run the fuck away, observe what is happening and seek help. He even tells himself that this was the right approach, and that to have gone for the (more manly) option of running in and intervening, he would have got himself and others killed. And he’s right.

John’s instinct to seek help from those in a position to help is a sound one. And yet, in an experience familiar to any woman, he is repeatedly not taken seriously. His first attempt with the fire alarm is ignored and his initial attempt to contact the police is completely dismissed. And yet he does not give up, he simply escalates to something which men tend to call “attention-seeking”, which is usually motivated by frustration at not being heard. It is only by acting out of frustration that he finally manages to communicate the seriousness of the situation. John’s own form of attention-seeking is dropping a body on a cop car, but hey, it fucking well works. Better than yelling or crying, so next time men aren’t listening and I’m getting irked, I’ll remember that trick.

Later on, John learns to communicate better, moving from brusque police telegraphing to conversing, rapport-building, and yet still, always, supplying vital, actionable information. Unfortunately, he is still not taken seriously. This is because most of the men in this film are absolute worthless pieces of toxically masculine shit.


Let’s start with the “goodies”. We have a police force who stubbornly predictable and utterly unwilling to deviate from their standard script, believing themselves to know it all. We have the FBI, who are all of what the police are except even worse. The FBI guys whoop and cheer, comparing their helicopter ride to the campaign in Saigon, and we as the audience cannot help to whoop and cheer when they get blown to smithereens for not fucking listening to John McClane.

This stagnant, stubborn, insistent masculinity is also the downfall of many of the villains, most notably, Karl, the baddie with the long hair who has a hateboner for John because John killed his brother. Karl is obsessed with killing John himself, to the point that this allows John to escape and survive the film. Karl’s textbook masculine desire for revenge is what keeps John alive. It is detrimental to the goals of the baddies, and Karl is a massive liability.

There is also that dickhead Ellis, who embodies that gross Eighties business masculinity. Unlike Holly, who has been shown throughout the film to be a talented negotiator, Ellis is shit at his job. Yet, like many men, Ellis is convinced he’s a lot better suited for the job than the woman who is manifestly good at it. He absolutely blows the deal, to the point of getting himself killed. Ellis, too, is a massive liability.

Hans Gruber, Eddie and Theo are by far the most useful of the bad guys. Eddie successfully manipulates and deceives law enforcement, delaying intervention. Theo is a gifted multitasker, cracking locks, playing lookout and making sure everyone has the information they need, coordinating the escape. We never see Theo acting through direct violence, and yet almost every action Theo takes is completely successful, right up until the end, when he is taken out by Argyle. Even then, arguably Theo has done better than any of the other baddies as he is only knocked out, not gruesomely killed, and the guy is probably capable of negotiating a plea bargain. Hans Gruber himself is also not afraid to deploy his “feminine wiles”: he attempts to (metaphorically) seduce John by pretending to be a hostage, and deploys a feminine style of management. It is clear that he has listened to and processed Theo’s assessment of what is necessary to open the vault, and he has factored this into his plan. Perhaps if the team of bad guys had comprised of more baddies like Hans, Eddie and Theo and fewer like Karl, they would have pulled off the heist.

Is the title Die Hard a warning? Does it mean that hardness could get you killed, while softness leads to success and survival? That interpretation certainly makes more sense, since none of the characters are particularly “die-hard” about any of their beliefs. The “terrorists” are charlatans, and even John has a pretty hard time explaining why he wants the one thing he keeps putting his foot down over (staying in New York), as though he isn’t highly committed to the idea. We are not shown many die-hard commitments, yet we are shown many men dying hard.


When one tries to imagine a still from Die Hard, it is often perhaps John McClane, brandishing a massive fucking gun–the ultimate symbol of masculinity. John McClane is lauded for his direct, “just shoot them” approach. And yet, in John’s hands, the primary function of the gun is not as a weapon. There are more instances within the film of John using the gun as some sort of tool than as something to kill or hurt people with. Of the kills directly attributable to John (eight, by my count), only four are from his firing a gun (the others are: one broken neck, two from an exploding lift shaft, and one by defenestration). And in most of the instances of shooting, John doesn’t “just shoot them”, he offers them an out first. We could perhaps attribute a ninth death to John, by his wielding Al as a weapon. It is only from John’s (feminine) emotional support and nurturing of Al that Al regains the confidence to shoot. We will not count other deaths for which John could be indirectly responsible, those of men who died from not listening to him (some cops, the FBI guys, Ellis), because that was their own fault for not believing a survivor.

For the rest of the time, John is far more creative in his use of firearms. In his hands, a gun becomes a multitude of useful objects as he displays the kind of creative thinking that neurosexists like to term feminine as opposed to the logical, analytical male approach. The gun, wielded by John, is a device for allowing escapes as a rig and a thing to get back into the building, as well as jamming a fan. It is also repeatedly used as a last-resort communication device, shooting to make noise and draw attention, shooting to direct a crowd away from explosive death.

Hans Gruber, too, understands the power of the gun as more than a simple weapon, as he traps bare-footed John by instructing his bad guys shoot to break glass. Both of these men, in traversing the traditionally masculine relationship with the gun as a weapon, are far more successful than when they use guns for their intended purposes.

Even John’s costume may go beyond its face value of showing of his masculine physique. He begins the film fully dressed, is stripped down to his vest when the hostage situation begins, and bare-chested for almost all of the final act. We see one other bare chest in the film: a woman’s chest on a porn poster right at the beginning of John’s heroine’s journey. Again, we can most readily compare him to Ellen Ripley, who ends Alien in her vest and knickers. Perhaps John is sloughing away his masculine conditioning with his masculine clothing. [EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that I missed another bare chest in Die Hard. It’s another woman’s chest, though…]


The still above shows what is one of my favourite scenes in the film, and it is (in my opinion) the emotional climax of Die Hard. John has realised that he is unlikely to personally survive his predicament, his only desire now is that Holly survives. Bare chested, with bleeding feet, he talks to Al through his walkie talkie. And it is here that he finally showcases what he has learned throughout this experience. From the inception of the hostage situation, we are witness to John’s emotional side. We see his terror: far from being a gung-ho action man, John McClane is a man who is scared shitless. We also see that he cares about others. After throwing a bunch of TNT down a lift shaft, successfully removing some explosives from circulation and killing some baddies, his first question on reestablishing communications with outside is a concerned “Is the building on fire?” And yet, up until this moment in the bathroom, he does not explicitly communicate his emotions, nor demonstrate much understanding of others’ emotional needs.

It finally clicks for him. He says to Al, ‘She’s heard me say “I love you” a thousand times. She never heard me say “I’m sorry.”‘ In this moment, John gets it. He gets what is wrong with his wife, why she’s pissed off at him. He gets that love isn’t enough. And he also opens up and shows his vulnerability to his new friend, being metaphorically as well as literally mostly naked in this scene.

Maybe John’s newfound understanding came from spending a few hours acting like Holly, problem-solving with communication and trying to understand what other parties want, rather than acting like his hero Roy Rogers. While Holly is not in the film as much as I’d like, when she is, she is nothing but competent with her feminine skillset. I get the feeling that if Holly had been in the toilet at the beginning of the hostage situation rather than John, the film probably would have been about ten minutes long because she has far more experience in using these techniques than John. John’s direct acts of aggression do little to contribute to his ultimate success–when he attacks, it is in immediate self-defence. The day is saved, instead, through John’s developing communication skills, his asking for help, and relationship-building.

The end of the film, in light of all of this character development, is therefore somewhat jarring. It kind of ends with Holly publicly announcing she is taking back John’s surname, and that’s all. One would expect, given what was foreshadowed, that John would apologise, as he learned he needed to, and perhaps move to join LAPD and partner up with Al. This does not happen. Maybe the crew realised they had just made a chick flick and felt that they needed to masc it up. Or maybe they suddenly realised they wanted sequels and couldn’t possibly do that if John didn’t repeatedly estrange himself from his family to end up in predicaments where he needed to reunite with them. Sadly, John didn’t learn the lessons he had just learned, and ultimately lost Holly and became a deadbeat to his children. It is a warning to us all.

Ultimately, the Nakatomi Plaza was not the cocoon in which John McClane entered a cuck and emerged Feminine, but had its lessons truly stuck, it could have been.


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Things I read this week that I found interesting

For once, this is actually weekly. Enjoy these links.

All politics is “identity politics” (Maya Goodfellow)- This should be required reading for everyone.

Statement on the endemic sexual violence perpetrated by police officers. (Sex Worker Open University)- A necessary analysis of police as perpetrators.

“San Junipero” Is A Beautiful, Haunting Queer Love Story With Mixed Messages About Disability (Valerie Anne and Carrie Wade)- A conversation about the good and not-so-good in the best episode of Black Mirror.

Smear Fear (Annabel Sowemimo)- A black woman’s perspective on cervical smear testing.

The Chicken Connoisseur – On The Exploitation of Black Creativity (Everliving Roots)- The problems with going viral, and white exploitation of creativity from black people.

For the love of God, stop donating canned goods to the food bank (Tristin Hopper)- This warning is important. Always ask your foodbanks what they need–cash? Specific items?–rather than just donating whatever is in your cupboard.

Why Do Innocent Women Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit? (Amanda Knox)- Highlighting an often-overlooked aspect of examining false confessions.

A simplified political history of Big Data (Flavia Dzodan)- This accessible history of data is vital.


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Why I’m not supporting individual associate EU membership

One of my short twitter rants, which I’m linking here because honestly I can’t be bothered individually having this argument with everyone who supports it.


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We must be able to talk openly about our rapes without an unsolicited police investigation

Content note: this post discusses rape, child sexual abuse, the police, and rape apologism

MP Michelle Thomson did something very brave and highly unprecedented recently: she spoke about her rape in the House of Commons.

Sadly, however, I’m concerned that this courage might have negative consequences–for Thomson, and ultimately for other survivors. Police Scotland have announced they are now investigating Thomson’s rape, with no evidence whatsoever that Thomson requested, needs or wants a police investigation.

I’ve written before about how a lot of survivors do not report their rapes, and this is a perfectly sensible option that is best for them. As hard as it might be for people steeped in rape culture but with no experience of being on the wrong end of it to believe, many survivors do not want a police investigation. 

I keep thinking of the experience of the survivor in the Ched Evans rape case. This young woman never reported a rape to the police. She simply called because she was concerned her drink had been spiked. Yet from the moment she called the police, matters were taken out of her hands, and it spiralled into a rape investigation which ultimately became a rallying point for rape-enabling misogynists. The survivor has had to change her identity several times due to the harassment she has received.

I wonder what would have become of her if the police had allowed her to have a choice in how the case proceeded, to follow her lead and her wishes rather than just treating her as a witness. Would she have chosen a court case? We shall never know.

I think about how the mental health of those who report historic sexual abuse is scrutinised, evaluated and discredited by a media deeply invested in protecting old white men (and likely to include more than a few nonces itself; it’s unlikely the problem was confined to the BBC).

There is no mention that Thomson wanted the police to investigate her rape. She didn’t tell them 37 years ago when it happened, and let’s face it, it’s astronomically unlikely that a conviction would be possible now. So did Thomson consent to a police investigation? I don’t know, and therefore I cannot cheer that the police are finally pulling their hammy fingers out and doing something: because the something that they’re doing could make things worse for the survivor, and they may well be acting without her consent.

The idea of police acting without survivors’ consent is something which doesn’t just necessarily dissuade survivors from contacting the police. It also shuts us down from talking openly about our experiences. It’s pretty fucking terrifying that we could be dragged into all of the scrutiny that survivors must undergo if taking the police-court route, without choosing it. It’s frightening that the police might force this upon us simply to look like they’re doing something, in a lazy PR move.

As survivors, we must be able to talk openly about our rapes without the threat that the police may disempower us. It is vital that every step of dealing with a rape is done with the consent of the survivor.


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Things I read recently that I found interesting

It’s that occasional round-up again!

Same as it ever was, only much worse (Dykes To Watch Out For)- In our hour of need, DTWOF returned after eight years hiatus!

Oral History: In 1985 Mr. Snuffleupagus Shocked ‘Sesame Street’ (various)- A really sweet oral history of how the decision was made to reveal Mr Snuffleupagus as real, and how it tied in to teaching children being abused that they would be believed.

Juridified Dispossession: Brexit, Migrant Workers and the Law (Gracie May Bradley)- What will Brexit mean for workers’ rights? Bad things, very very bad things.

Prejudice, “Political Correctness,” and the Normalization of Donald Trump (Julia Serano)- Theorising about the rejection of “identity politics” and what we can do next.

Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy (Moira Weigel)- A history of the myth of “political correctness” and fighting this imaginary enemy led to Trump’s election.

The eroticization of abusers: from jizz in the face feminism to dapper white supremacists (Flavia Dzodan)- Examining and unpicking a particular strand of fuckery within white feminism.

From inside Colnbrook: my drawing is my feeling (Jay)- A young man in detention talks about the impact of detention and shares art he has produced.

Five Tropes Fanfic Readers Love (And One They Hate) (Flourish Klink)- Analysing preferences of fanfic readers and presenting massive survey results.

‘I knew I was home’: a trans woman’s journey through porn (Nadika Nadja)- A side of porn we rarely talk about.

It’s Time To Retire the “No Blacks, No Asians” Topic (Angry Black Hoemo)- Why discussions of racism in the gay community are limited in scope and unlikely to bring about much change.

No One Makes It Out Alive (Casey Plett and Morgan M Page)- Developing a trans reading of Little Shop of Horrors.

And finally, ever wanted to see a capybara farting in the bath to the chagrin of some ducks? Of course you do.