Category Archives: wordplay

My year of not reading men

Since November last year, I set myself a challenge: not to read any books written by men for at least a year. As of today, I still haven’t.

What’s perhaps been most notable in this challenge is how little I’ve actually changed my reading habits. I have no doubt that mediocre white men will scoff into their lustrous beards at my preferences, but I like my books to include at least some of the following: mythical creatures, sex, spaceships, lesbians, swearing, poetry by imagined cultures, lesbian sex.

Much, but not all, of what I read this year was completely new to me, even if it wasn’t necessarily new. However, I did also revisit a few old favourites: I reread the Harry Potter books for example, and concluded that Hermione probably wiped her parents’ memories and packed them off to Australia a hell of a lot earlier in the series than the point where she admitted to it; I binged on the Adrian Mole series and wondered on which side Pandora would fall in the rise of Corbyn; I treated myself to my favourite Sarah Waters novel, Fingersmith, which has something for everyone, if what you like is crime capers and lesbians. What I’m including in my round-up list of my top books that I read this year is only books that were new to me, the discoveries I made along the way.

Did I miss reading books by men? Honestly, no. All of the male authors I particularly love are dead, so it’s not like I’m going to be missing out on anything new. Pretty much the only words from a novel written by a man I ended up reading this year was Morrissey’s Bad Sex In Fiction Award-winning sex scene, featuring barrel-rolling tits and bulbous salutations, and frankly literally everything I read this year was better than that. 

If you’re considering trying your own personal experiment with not reading men for 2016, I would definitely recommend it. Fucking do it. You’ll be surprised at how little you miss it, and delighted by how many excellent reads you pick up along the way. You could start with some of these…

Imperial Radch series (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy) (Ann Leckie)- Without a doubt, this trilogy of space opera novels are my books of the year. What Leckie has done here is build a fascinating, compelling world which I could spend forever reading about but definitely wouldn’t want to live in, and a host of characters who are complex and layered, but I definitely wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with. Through the lens of a sprawling space empire (and the eyes of a former sentient spaceship), Leckie examines colonialism and class.

Tiny Pieces of Skull (Roz Kaveney)- This is Kaveney’s semi-autobiography, a romp through the trans subculture in the late Seventies. I wrote a fuller review of it here.

The Companion Contract (Solace Ames)- If you’re judging a book by its cover, this is ebook erotica. However, it’s so much more than that: it’s a book about immigration and identity, a discussion of sex work and other work under capitalism, a story of trying to find community. And on top of all that, it’s also ebook erotica, with oodles of hot sex scenes. In a way, it’s like Lace–a feminist porn novel–except with  more modern feminist politics (i.e. without Lace‘s heterocentrism, racism and transphobia).

The Dispossessed (Ursula LeGuin)- This is about anarcho communists that live on the moon, and if that hasn’t captured your imagination already, we probably have very different taste in fiction and you’ll probably not enjoy any of my recommendations. This was my first time reading what is essentially a classic that I should have read a long time ago. If you’re interested in theoretical physics and/or what an anarchist society would look like under conditions of scarcity, this is a very good read.

Trans (Juliet Jacques)- The only non-fiction text on this list, and for a very, very good reason. You’ve no doubt seen this book listed on every “book of the year” list, and it deserves to be there. I wrote a fuller review of it here.

Scale-Bright (Benjanun Sriduangkaew)- I’ve no doubt that including this book on my list will prove controversial, since Sriduangkaew is a controversial figure, but forget about the author. This is an excellent novel, blending Chinese mythology with queer urban fantasy: it’s sexy, it’s hypnotic, it’s haunting, it’s evocative, and it’s urban fantasy which doesn’t focus on western myths and pantheons.

Kushiel’s Legacy series (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar) (Jacqueline Carey)- If you’re looking for porny medieval fantasy, this is pretty much exactly what you want: follow Phèdre, a woman chosen by a god to experience pain as pleasure, as she uses her unusual gifts for political intrigue and divine purposes.

The Gospel of Loki (Joanne Harris)- A fun slant on Norse mythology, from the point of view of the trickster god Loki. This novel manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, and doesn’t fall into the trap of turning a bad guy into a woobie: you’ll enjoy the misfortunes of its narrator.

Romanitas series (Romanitas, Rome Burning, Savage City) (Sophia McDougall)- McDougall’s alternate history in which the Roman Empire never fell is a disturbing and often distressing read, with images that stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page. It’s the dystopic speculative fiction where the fascists won that should have been turned into a television show.

Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)/Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)- Reading these two as a double bill is an experience, especially if you do it in that order. While most people likely know the plot of Bronte’s classic, Wide Sargasso Sea focuses on a character who is treated only a nuisance: the mad wife in the attic. The novel looks at her struggle to fit in as a Creole woman, and her madness becomes a natural reaction. I never liked Rochester anyway, and Wide Sargasso Sea validates this.

Happy 2016 reading, everybody!

 


Urban fantasy

Um, so I’m experimenting with writing fiction. Sort of. Enjoy.

He came out of a jam jar which I’d found at the back of the fridge and wanted to rinse the fur out of. It was a nice jar, and I was sick of Lily and Jen leaving things to rot. I wasn’t working that day, and I needed something free to fill the hours. Before I took in what the hell had just happened, I was pleased at how abruptly the unsavoury-looking greenish fluff had vanished.

“Greetings, master,” he probably said, dipping a little bow , his shiny head flashing as it caught the pale fluorescent light. He probably reeled off the whole spiel that he later seemed narky about repeating, but I didn’t notice as I was too busy shrieking and throwing that jam jar at the bald, middle-aged white man in a suit that had just materialised in my kitchen in a puff of smoke, the same mouldy shade as the contents of the jar.

He stood solidly, arms folded, with a patronising smirk on his face until my bluff was well and truly called, and I didn’t call the police because my the battery on my phone was dead.

“That went poorly,” he sighed. “I’m meant to appear to you in the form that your culture sees as someone who makes things happen.”

I looked him up and down. He looked like a banker, a lawyer, a manager, a head of department.

“You do. Just not someone who makes good things happen.”

“Well. Let’s get on with this then, shall we? Like I said, three wishes, then pop me back in a suitable container and they’ll come true tomorrow.”

The lure of anything being possible was intoxicating, and it quite dampened my initial scepticism of this stranger who had manifested in my living room. My mind whirled with possibilities. I could fix everything, be anyone, become rich beyond my wildest dreams and all because I had decided to wash up some of the filth left in the fridge by one of my housemates. That moral high ground alone would be more than enough to keep me flying for months; Lily and Jen would never hear the end of it.

That dissipated quite quickly as I began to think through the implications of any possible wishes, and I began to think of what it was I really wanted.

He stood there, tapping his foot, arms still folded.

“Usually, people know what they want pretty instantly. Your generation is the exception. Wanting everything, wanting nothing. I don’t even know.”

“I’m thinking,” I snapped. “I don’t want to phrase it ambiguously, in case you kill everyone I know, or something.”

Laughter danced in his eyes. “It has to be short. Tweet-length.” He pronounced the words with an edge of amused disgust.

“Fine.” I took a deep breath, and summoned the words I wanted. He might find the idea of Twitter somehow distasteful, but for me it had revolutionised my ability to articulate thoughts succinctly. “I wish for a regular income, enough to live on and buy some luxuries, doing something I love.”

A raised eyebrow. “Really? Nothing more ambitious? You don’t just want billions deposited in your bank account?”

I shook my head. “That’d probably end up with horrible consequences. You’d crash the economy, or I’d get arrested, or something like that.”

For the first time I saw a flicker of something like respect, followed by a wicked grin. “You’re right. That’s what usually happens. Anyway, what next?”

“I wish to live on my own, in London. Securely.”

“And finally? Usually people ask for love finally.”

I didn’t need love; I had that. And if this thing worked out I’d have my own pad in which to entertain Ella. In fact, I had been close to asking for a black Nando’s card, free chicken for the rest of my life, but doubt crept in at the very last moment. I wasn’t entirely sure if such a thing existed. Besides, something better had just occurred to me.

“One of those Oyster cards TFL employees get. You know, free transport. Oh, except I don’t have to work for TFL to get it.”

“That’s not tweet-length.”

“Yes it is. At my count, it’s 121 characters. I could add ‘you dick’ to the end and it would still be valid according to your specifications.”

“Fine,” he sighed. “Fucking millennials.”

At his instruction, I found a receptacle in which to pour his essence: it was an empty screwtop wine bottle. “Enjoy your wishes,” he said with a smirk as he and the bottle disappeared.

I went to bed that night expecting nothing to happen, the healthy scepticism finally hitting in. I was so, so wrong.

Wishes do come true.

I have a regular income, enough to live on and some luxuries, from doing something I love. I work long hours, and doing things I like in exchange for money sucks the joy out of doing them. I spend more of my time in an office far away, writing content and copy until my brain turns to mush. When I’m asked if I’m happy, I burble enthusiastically, as though I am selling a product, because it’s ungrateful to do anything else.

I live on my own, in London, securely. Sort of. It’s in zone 4. It takes an hour and a half to get to work, and an hour and a half back. I seldom see my friends any more, because none of them really fancy dragging themselves all the way out to Penge. Even Ella rarely stays, so we fuck in her room, a pillow over my mouth and holding still as a statue to avoid the creaking contributions of her mattress.

The oyster card is pretty good, I have to admit. I have few complaints about it, except I wish I had to use it less often. I think about wishes a lot now; and how I’d wish things differently.

I keep my eye out for a bottle, every day. An empty Gallo Brothers bottle, lined with a faint and repulsive-looking green fuzz. And I wonder, if I found it again, would I open it back up, or leave it in the back of my fridge for eternity?

__

So, that work of fiction is semi-autobiographical. 

Fine, that’s a lie, but I am having a bit of money trouble at the moment. It’s nothing serious, but I do need a little bit of money to see me through to the end of the month. If you enjoyed my efforts, please, pretty please can you drop me a couple of quid? In return, I promise I’ll either continue or stop writing fiction, depending on what you prefer.  Thank you so much xxxx

Update 14/6/15- thank you, lovelies. You’ve given me more than enough xx


Kill all men

Well, well, well. It seems the latest thing feminism is fighting about is the phrase “kill all men”.

So, before I launch into this defence, let me point out that nobody is actually planning to kill all men. Not even some men. It’s just a phrase, an expression of rage, a rejection of a system which is riddled with violence.

“Kill all men” is a shorthand war cry, much the same as “ACAB” or “tremble hetero swine” or “die cis scum”. It represents a structural critique, presented in a provocative fashion. While my focus here is on “kill all men”, and therefore in relation to sexist oppression specifically, these points are applicable for all oppressors and all victims of oppression who dare to feel angry.

Patriarchy harms men, it’s true, but it oppresses the fuck out of women, and there are few, if any men who are not complicit in this oppression.  Most men are not rapists or abusers, but many are complicit in perpetuating this violence by spreading rape apologist myths, by failing to stand against violence against women and girls, and by simply not nailing their colours to the mast and acting as allies.

I remember once being at a reading group where we were discussing the SCUM Manifesto. It was a mixed group, and we had loads to chat about. If you haven’t read SCUM, I’d well recommend it, as while its conception of gender is kind of rooted in its time, there’s a very astute analysis of how patriarchy and capitalism interact to produce a system which oppresses women. There’s also some very clever satire of the thinking of the time, flipped and reversed on its head to present a biological argument as to why men are inferior. In fact, the whole thing just inverts this system in which violence against women and girls is endemic, and exaggerates the problem to its logical conclusion. It’s really a very good text, whether or not its author truly believed what she’d written.

Part of the power of SCUM is the effect it has on men. At my reading group, the men present were allies, and I remember vividly one saying “I don’t think she went far enough at the end, letting some of the men live and act as the Men’s Auxilliary”. All of the other men nodded along. They got that this idea is just fantasy, just a satire.

On the other hand, it’s pretty difficult to mention SCUM (or indeed just cry “kill all men”) without the misogynists crawling in, crying misandry.

And this is because misogynists completely fail to understand how power works. They miss the fact that in this society, violence against women and girls is rife, that it is an everyday occurrence which is seen to at best utterly unremarkable and at worst funny or aspirational. Saying “kill all men” and violence against women and girls are completely different. There is no serious threat of the women rising up and actually killing all men, all the while the hum of background noise of another women raped, murdered or beaten by a man. That this culture of violence is gendered, and the system is set up in favour of keeping things that way.

So is it any wonder that sometimes women are angry enough to express a wish to see their oppressors dead? And that this violent revenge fantasy remains just that–a revenge fantasy?

I suppose it is hardly surprising that utterances of killing all men draw such ire, even from feminists. Under patriarchy, violence is the domain of men. It is no coincidence that when women fight back, it is seen as disgusting: it allows the system to thrive. This is why more column inches are given to women who kill their partners who have abused them every day; this is why we see such sexualised depictions of women being violent in films, defanging the raw aggression; why patriarchy freaks the fuck out over Rihanna or Christina Aguilera singing about vengeance. And it’s why even merely uttering “kill all men” is seen as so shocking: we’ve internalised this sentiment, and the idea that women are not violent or angry. It is unthinkable that we can think violent thoughts.

So no, we’re not actually advocating killing all men, but what we need is for men to understand why we might. A secondary function of this powerful little phrase is to seek out allies. Some men simply cannot fathom that we might be this furious. And they cannot help us as allies, as we need.

And of course, all men are not deserving of death. In fact, most of them aren’t. I can think of a fair few I do wish painful, violent death on, although this remains but a fantasy. Patriarchy would destroy me were I to ever touch a hair on their head. Patriarchy already tries to punish me for merely expressing these thoughts, because they are unbecoming of a woman.

Remember, we are born and socialised into a culture of violence. Is it any wonder we may entertain violent fantasies against our oppressors at times?

Further reading:
Red Terror and #killallmen (Riotstarz)- An absolutely brilliant series of tweets on the topic.
Why can’t we kill all men? (Fearlessknits)- An alternative take, well articulated.

 


This is the bestest briefing on intersectionality ever- with added description

Miriam Dobson has made this brilliant little infographic on intersectionality. Description beneath the image. If you liked it, you can find Miriam’s work here.

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Description:

This is an infographic featuring text and descriptions

TITLE: INTERSECTIONALITY: A FUN GUIDE

1. A drawing of a triangle with a smiley face. The triangle is two shades of blue striped. A speech bubble comes from his mouth saying “Hi”. It is captioned “This is Bob”.

2. Caption: “Bob is a stripey blue triangle AND SHOULD BE PROUD.” Bob has a speech bubble saying “YAY ME”.

3. Caption: “SOME PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE BOB. BOB FACES OPPRESSION FOR BEING A TRIANGLE AND FOR HAVING STRIPES” Image of Bob with a sad face, positioned between stick figures holding a sign saying “Down with stripes” and another set of stick figures holding a sign saying “Down with triangles”.

4. Caption: “LUCKILY THERE ARE LIBERATION GROUPS! BUT THEY AREN’T INTERSECTIONAL. SO THEY LOOK LIKE THIS” An arrow points to two rooms, separated by a barbed wire fence. A room with a sign saying “welcome triangles” with triangles inside of many different solid colours. A room with a sign saying “welcome stripes” featuring many different shapes with stripes.

5. Caption: “BOB CAN’T WORK OUT WHERE TO GO”. Bob has a sad face. His thought bubble says “Am I more of a stripe, or a triangle?”

6. Caption: “THEY DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER. IN FACT THEY COMPETE”. A solid yellow triangle with a cross face is next to a pink striped circle with a cross face. The solid yellow triangle says “I’m more oppressed”. The pink striped circle says “No! I am! I deserve more!”

7. Caption: “BOB WISHES TRIANGLES AND STRIPES COULD WORK TOGETHER”. An arrow points to a red striped circle with an open mouth, and a solid blue triangle with an open mouth. The red striped circle says “Oppression of one affects us all”. The solid blue triangle says “No liberation without equal representation”.

8. Text, in red: “INTERSECTIONALITY IS THE BELIEF THAT OPPRESSIONS ARE INTERLINKED AND CANNOT BE SOLVED ALONE”.

9. Text, in black: “OPPRESSIONS ARE NOT ISOLATED! INTERSECTIONALITY NOW”.


What it means to be pro-choice

Imagine, if you will, that the revolution has happened. It’s happened, and, in this scenario, it’s gone really fucking well. 

Suddenly, everyone is free. There’s no more poverty, no more working every hour imaginable just to survive. There’s no more capitalism, no more class system. We’re all equal, with time to spend at leisure as machines labour for us. We have everything we need to survive and live a good life. And this delicious standard of living is open to absolutely everyone. Inequality has been abolished in all forms. Racism is dead, the class war has been won, we’ve made our society accessible for people of all abilities, ensuring everyone can live in dignity.

Yes, even gender inequality. That’s a thing of the past. It’s such a thing of the past, the word is meaningless except to historians. All those intersectional problems have gone. Rape, abuse, harassment. They’re words that pop up in great art made about the Before-Times, but nothing relevant to modern life. They just don’t happen any more. Like I said, the revolution went really fucking well. 

The idea of family has changed, because how we conceptualise gender itself has changed. The rainbow of gender and sexuality is fully accepted, appreciated, embraced. Families come in all forms, children have any number of parents of all sorts of various genders and relationships with each other. And they’re raised with love, because everyone’s so fucking happy all the time. And every child is wanted, because contraception has been sorted the fuck out. It just works whenever the user wants, with no ill-effects.

Everyone’s well-educated in this beautiful, impossible future. They know what they’re doing. It’s all the necessary ingredients for making a choice that is free.

Now meet Qarmin, a character who lives in this world with a suitably futuristic name, and has been created to make a point. Qarmin has a female reproductive system. Zie lives with hir partners Xargrob and T’lara, whose names I made a little less effort with because they’re less relevant to this. Together, the three of them decide they want to have a child. Qarmin stops taking hir contraception, as does Xargrob (who has a male reproductive system), and soon Qarmin falls pregnant.

A few months into the pregnancy, Qarmin changes her hir mind. Zie doesn’t want to be pregnant any more. Hir body is changing, and zie doesn’t want it to do that any more. Zie visits an abortion clinic for advice.

Should Qarmin have an abortion?

If your answer is anything other than an unequivocal “none of my fucking business”, you might want to re-assess your pro-choice credentials. Ultimately, it rests on bodily autonomy. Even when you take away every single economic and social factor, and perfect foolproof contraception, the pro-choice position should–and must–rest on the right to do whatever the fuck you want with your own body. Abortion is something that must always be an option; no matter how perfect the world, there’s always going to be a reason for it to exist.

And along the way to building a perfect world, abortion must be available. safely and legally, always.


The police are just ordinary workers, we shouldn’t be too harsh on them

“We are still investigating your complaint, madam, rest assured.” I try not to crack up laughing as Derek makes eye contact. “No, we’re not considering a product recall at present. Have a good day.”

“It’s totally unsafe, it just exploded for no reason whatsoever,” Derek says in a singsong voice. “What was it this time? Left it-”

We are interrupted by a low growl from Simon’s desk, a guttural cry of soul-wrenching frustration. “FUCKING PAPERCLIP!” he ejaculates.

I turn back to Derek. We’re all pissed off at Excel, nothing new. Simon has more of a temper than most of us, and is more easily irritated by that shit, but we’ve all smashed up a few computers when our formulae wouldn’t calculate before. Once, the patronising little fuck from IT ended up with a mouse lodged up his rectum for sneering that sometimes the chart function needed manual axis labelling in that awful supercilious manner of his.

“She left it plugged in,” I tell Derek. He rolls his eyes.

“When are they going to learn? We give them all this advice on how to prevent things from blowing up and it’s still ooh excuse me, I expect you to do something about this, I used my modem for an hour and it exploded.

“It’s women,” I say. “Always expect us to do something for us…”

“Oi,” pipes up Laura, the token woman on the team.

“Present company excluded.” I give Laura a wink. We’re mates, it’s just banter. She’s the best at handling the hysterical women and we all know it.

The cleaner creaks in; it’s getting late and we’re all tired. It’s still not the end of the shift, though. We work in silence, filling in endless reports of things whiny customers expect us to do something about. Keys tap, and Simon makes noises like a couple of dogs fucking. Before the end of the shift, we’ll see the innards of his PC, I suspect.

Laura answers the phone, politely making soothing noises at someone bitching about how she urgently needs our help because her modem has exploded and it’s killed her cat. I look up to Derek to wink, but something behind him catches my eye.

Simon has leapt out of his seat. He snatches the handle of the hoover off the cleaner, and, with almost superhuman speed, beats her head in with the stand-up Dyson. Blood splatters. It’s all over Simon, it’s flicked on to Derek, it’s all over the fucking walls, and who’s going to clean it when the cleaner is now a messy stain on the carpet?

“What the fuck, Si?” I ask.

He points at his monitor. His shoulders are heaving from the exertion, his face puce in anger. At first, all I see is a pink smear of brain material sliding down it, but then I understand fully. Simon’s conditional formatting has gone to fuck.

The supervisor walks in. “What the fuck, Si?”

“Conditional formatting,” Derek, Laura and I say in unison.

The boss takes off his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Simon,” he says. “I know just how much of a complete cunt Excel is. I get it. I really do. But the customers keep getting arsey about our conduct, and this is going to be a complete cunt to sort out.”

“Can’t we make it look like an accident?” I suggest. I am reminded of the time Derek got pushed to his limits in the post room. The dickhead clerk just wouldn’t give him his fucking parcel, which Derek needed to continue with his work. In the end, we managed to convince the higher-ups that that dickhead had been so tired of his miserable life he’d ended it all with a letter opener and a franking machine. “She tripped over the wire.”

In our line of work, we’re fairly familiar with the horrible catastrophes that can befall people who don’t adequately follow advice about safety with electronics.

“Could work,” the boss says. “But listen, boys. We’ve got to try and control our tempers. We’re not going to be able use that excuse forever. It’s already a bit hot after Tony blinded that bitch in the canteen who tried to serve him fish fingers.”

A moment of quiet contemplation. We all completely understand what happened to Tony. He was hungry, and missed all the good food because he was stuck on the phone to a customer. He fucking hates fish fingers. What else was he meant to do?

“Whatever. We’ll give it a go,” says our supervisor. “Si, I hope I can cover your arse. Don’t fucking do this again, OK?”

After this harsh dressing down, Simon looks like a deflated balloon with tragic little sad-dog eyes. It’s kind of pathetic, but I sympathise. We’ve all done shit like this before and usually we don’t get chewed out like this. The supervisor leaves, looking pleased with himself. Again, I get where he’s coming from. He’s the one who has to field all the shit.

Derek steps over the bloodied corpse on the floor and pats Simon on the arm.

“It’s OK, mate. You’re tired. Tell you what, you go home and we’ll finish up for you.”

Life comes back into Simon’s eyes. “Thanks.”

“We’re all behind you, mate,” I add.

It’s a tough job, ours, and we get far too much shit when we fuck up. Could you do it?


How to banter (without being a nasty little prick)

This is one of those posts I can’t believe needs writing. Moving in the social circles I do, among intelligent and sensitive people, it’s easy to forget that unpleasant, obnoxious individuals exist in the real world rather than merely popping up in the pages of the Daily Mail.

I banter with my wonderful, intelligent, friends, and it is a hoot. Banter is fun, it’s lively, it’s an art form in and of itself. Outside of this bubble, though, it is something else. It’s used as nothing more than a word to add a veneer of acceptability to bullying, to oppression, to being a witless tosspot who fancies hurling a bit of abuse around without being called out on it. This is most obvious in the recent Unilad fiasco, where banter translates as threats of rape and violence for its braying mob of fans, though it has also been used as an excuse to cover for unacceptable language from pointless oxygen-bogarts Jeremy Clarkson and Ricky Gervais, to name but a few.

And it’s not on. Were banter-masters Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare alive today, they would wince at the sorry state of their art form. It’s time to reclaim banter. It’s time to kill the popular perception of banter as nothing more than bullying.

What is banter?

Numerous dictionary definitions of banter exist, and all fall on the same two crucial characteristics. Surprisingly, UrbanDictionary manages to sum up the meaning of banter rather well.

Supple term used to describe activities or chat that is playful, intelligent and original.

Banter is intelligent. It is witty wordplay, a game of verbal jousting. Banter is also playful: it is harmless, fun and pleasant. Vast swathes of the “banter” that the gaping chancres of lad culture struggle to preserve fall completely short of both of these goals.

Banter and wit

Most of the population believe they are more intelligent than everyone else. Statistically, almost half of them must be wrong in varying degrees of magnitude. It is due to this effect that grunting nincompoops tend to believe that their banter is worthy of Shakespeare himself. Chances are, you are nowhere near that level of greatness. You would probably find your arse intellectually handed to you by Stephen Fry and wander off thinking you had won, because that’s how your brain is set up.

Be aware of this; be wise to the fact you are probably not as clever as you think you are. You will be less likely to defend your banter tooth and nail if you consider every word to pour from your mouth to be a fecund fountain of foetid faeces.

A rather useful heuristic for checking if your banter is in the slightest bit witty is to imagine a six year-old child saying it. If you are faced with an amusing mental image of a precocious child saying something incongruous, then you might be on to something. If that hypothetical child sounds right at home speaking what you believe to be a blistering comeback, you probably lack the art of banter and should accept defeat.

Playing safely

The point of play is that it is fun for all involved. In some scenarios, there can be a fine line between play and abuse, wherein one person is having fun while the other is not. Banter is one such scenario. Sex is another. We can learn rather a lot from how to play safely in a sexual context and apply these insights to our banter.

The key thing here is enthusiastic consent from all parties. Some people don’t like to banter. This is fine, and you shouldn’t inflict it on them: it doesn’t mean they lack a sense of humour. For those that do, some topics are likely to be off-limits. If your verbal sparring partner appears to be upset by one of your remarks, apologise. Again, they do not lack a sense of humour. You (probably) unintentionally upset them, and most decent human beings do not revel in hurting others.

In short, exercise sensitivity and don’t be a cunt. I cannot believe there are people out there who do not understand this very simple matter.

Topics to avoid

Let us remember that humour hinges on something unexpected. It is therefore completely unacceptable to drag everyday oppression into your banter. Avoid misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and class hatred, for example. People from oppressed groups experience derogatory language and treatment throughout their lives. It ceases to be funny fairly quickly.

In a few select instances, it may be all right to use such topics in your banter. In general, it tends to go down better when your jests are about oppression itself rather than the colour of your banter partner’s skin or their genitals, e.g. Ultimately, make sure it is all right with your banter-buddy. If it is not, then, once again, they are not at fault.

Public banter

The internet age has pulled banter from the parlours and pubs into the public domain. Other people are now party to your banter. Your banter may not take the form of a conversation at all, but a piece of writing. Even the conversations are visible if you are bantering through Facebook or Twitter. In this case, be super-mindful of all of the above. Perhaps the person you are tweeting at doesn’t mind you joking about rape. This does not mean that the whole world doesn’t mind you joking about rape: you may be called out on this by a complete stranger.

Once again, don’t be a dick. It is not their fault for being offended. Take this criticism with good grace.

Banter is an art, and it is one I would like to see survive. By not acting like a prick and by exercising intelligence, banter can be saved.


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