Posts Tagged ‘london’

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London Tales

October 29, 2011

In 2006 my first novel, A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep was published. A combination of material from my website and new writing, it was an odd novel, without much in the way of plot or characters. I liked it. It sold reasonably well for a first novel, particularly since the publishers The Friday Project were a new company, without a huge about of clout in the literary world. In 2008 the Friday Project went into administration (not my fault) and not knowing quite what to do, I bought up 300 copies of my book. (I could have bought 2000 copies but I had no idea where to store them or how to sell them). By chance, a few weeks later I stumbled upon The Big Green Bookshop, a local bookshop in Wood Green, pretty much where I grew up. I became friends with Simon at the shop, and we decided to sell A Year in the Life... through the shop, splitting the profits. It gave me a headache-free way of selling the book and gave them free stock and an exclusive grip on the all-important Stekelman market. Thanks to Twitter, there was a new-found interest in my writing and the book sold steadily, to the point where late last year we ran out of stock (I did make enquiries as to what happened to the other 1700 copies – apparently they were pulped).

Simon had been toying with the idea of setting up a small publishers, and he proposed that the first book be a reissue of A Year In the Life... I wasn’t sure. There was enough wrong with the book that I started totally rewriting it, which was taking ages. And I wanted to add new material, which meant that after a while it started to feel like a George Lucas revision of Star Wars, in which all loveable errors are erased and replaced by bad CGI. It didn’t feel right, so I stopped.

At about the same time, I started doing a little art project online. I was taking photos (mostly of myself and bits of London), screwing around with them in Photoshop, drawing on top of them and adding text.

They were stark black and white images, and they worked well. I put them on Facebook and Twitter and people liked them. Hooray. After a few weeks, a couple of people suggested I collect them all together in book form. Simon thought this was a good idea. I wasn’t sure, but decided to play along.

It was agreed that I would produce 100 images and we would collect them together in book form. The book wouldn’t have a story as such – it would be a moody collection of words and pictures.I had already produced about 40 images, but most of these were very low-res images – fine for the Internet but unsuitable for print. So I spent months writing and reworking the images, getting friends to take photos of me looking quizzical (thank you Matthew Carrozo). Finally, in July this year all the images were ready. End of story, right? Not quite.

Normally, when you publish a book, the author does all the high-faluting artistic work and some poor schlub does the technical side of laying it all out in print form. But in the case of Timeline Books (Simon had settled upon a title for his company) it was just Simon and I, and it fell to me to do all the layouts, including designing the cover. Now, when it comes to drawing stupid pictures I am good at Photoshop. But I’d never had any formal training in design and I’m notoriously lazy when it comes to details – and in design details are important. I got a trial copy of InDesign and with a bit of help from a graphic designer friend (Thanks Lee) I started laying out the book. I worked slowly and it took ages. I was constantly convinced I was doing it all wrong. In late August I finished, and had even designed a cover that looked pretty good.

Some early cover designs:

 

The final cover design:

Simon and I had discussed how we wanted to release the book. I knew from my experience with A Year in The Life... that I do not have a particularly high-profile as a writer but I do have a dedicated and loyal set of readers. It seemed silly to print thousands of copies of London Tales, particularly since my experiences selling my previous book had not been easy. It was decided that we would print 250 luxury hardback copies of the book, all signed and numbered. Rather than pitching it as a regular book, it would be a deluxe object of desire, accordingly priced. This made me a little nervous; I am cheap. I get my jeans in Primark. I own nothing worth more than £500. I was worried that no one would want to spend £40 on a book. I consulted the good people of Twitter and they gave me solid advice on pricing and told me to stick with £40.

Next came the challenge of putting the book together – selecting paper types and binding options. Again, this was not something I had ever considered before. Every few weeks Simon would present me with the latest samples from the printers and I would ummm and ahhh and bite my lip. I was sure it would be a disaster. Finally, having set aside my neuroses, we proceeded. Simon called the printers and told them to fire up the presses. I waited. And last week I finally got my hands on a finished copy of London Tales. And to my relief, it looks amazing. Even my mother, who normally responds to my work with a pat on the head and a sigh, was impressed.

Simon, being a marketing genius, started selling the book on pre-order earlier this week. We agreed that the first 50 orders would get a London Tales postcard, on which I would hand draw a little sketch/doodle (that will be fun!). To my relief, it is selling well. I must remember to put more faith in Simon. We’re also talking about doing a central London launch if we can find a sympathetic venue.

I suppose I should mention the content of the book itself. Despite the title, it’s not really about London. Or at least, it’s not about anyone else’s London except my own. It’s mostly my own wanderings around the familiar streets of north London suburbia – hence the cover showing a pollarded plain tree, rather than an iconic view of the city. There are lots (too many) pictures of me – but I’d like to think it walks the right line between self-analysis and morbid narcissism. Most of my writing walks a tightrope between silliness and self-pity. I try not to fall off.

As has been pointed out many times, I am a terrible salesman of my own work. My natural talent for self-deprecation means that whenever someone asks me about my writing I shrug awkwardly and list all the reasons they won’t like it. And yet, despite knowing that London Tales will not be to everyone’s taste, I think it’s good. That’s the most you’ll get out of me.

You can pre-order a copy here.

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I’m not Gandalf or Magneto

September 29, 2011

Oh, the Internet and its memes. You cannot stop them.

About a year ago, Sir Ian McKellen took part in a Stonewall protest march in London. He was protesting against the pope’s visit to Britain and the homophobia of the Catholic church. He (and many others) wore Tshirts that proclaimed “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It.”

I saw a photo (by Dhruti Shah) of Sir Ian wearing the shirt and with my lightning wit, I decided to photoshop the tshirt so that it read “I’m Gandalf and Magneto. Get Over It.” It took me 15 minutes. I didn’t do it as a piece of political satire or to attack either Stonewall or the Pope. It was just me being silly. I put it on Twitter.

Then people started retweeting it. A lot. The comedian/actor Simon Pegg didn’t realise it was a photoshop job and retweeted it to his hundreds of thousands of followers, giving the impression that Sir Ian was actually wearing a Magneto-related tshirt (he later realised it was a fake and correctly attributed it to me. Thank you, Simon). The Internet went crazy. Most of my twitpics are viewed 300-600 times. In two days it was viewed over 250,000 times. Amusingly, people loved the tshirt and thought it was great that Ian McKellen was wearing it. I tried to make it clear that none of it was real, but by this stage it was out of my hands. The picture was no longer merely on my Twitpic account – it had been copied onto thousands of blogs and tumblrs. A cursory google of Ian McKellen Gandalf Magneto tshirt reveals page after page after page of pics.

Then, as these things do, it all died down. Some months later I was amused to read an interview with Sir Ian in Vanity Fair in which he talked of his disappointment with the tshirt and the fact that it undermined the serious issue of homophobia. I don’t blame him. (also, it is a dreadful, dreadful interview. The guy asking the questions is absolutely clueless)

And then all went quiet until this week. Because someone else has photoshopped Sir Ian McKellen wearing a Stonewall tshirt that reads “I’m Gandalf and Magneto. Get Over It.”

Here it is:

Now, when I first saw the pic I thought for a brief second that it might be genuine – that Sir Ian had seen the funny side of things and decided to wear a shirt of his own. But a cursory check on TinEye reveals the original pic:

And now this pic is sweeping the Internet. I’ve seen it across Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and once again people seem to think it’s real. And those who know it’s fake have tweeted me to ask if it’s my work – it isn’t. I can’t see the point in doing the same joke over and over (unless someone missed the joke in the first place. And in this case, they didn’t.)

The odd, and somewhat frustrating aspect of this is why someone would bother to photoshop Ian McKellen with a slogan that isn’t even their own. I half expected my photoshop job to turn into a meme in which everyone inserted their own slogan, which at least demonstrates some creativity. But why someone would go to the trouble of repeating my “joke” with a different photo, I just don’t know.

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with me. Now, as with so much on the Internet, it belongs to history and to excited Brazilians leaving enthusiastic comments on Twitpic. The eerie thing about all such memes/phenomena is how quickly they spin out of your own control. You just have to sit and watch it blow over.

UPDATE: It’s January 2012 and the meme has mutated. Over the last day or so people have brought my attention to a photo of Harrison Ford that is sweeping The Internet.

“I’m Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner. I’m Fuckin’ Over It!”

Unless there’s a hidden side to Harrison Ford and he has an unexpectedly nerdy sense of humour, I assume it’s a Photoshop. Also, the fact that it has three roles in it (Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner) as opposed to two in the Ian McKellen pic means that eventually these spoofs will be like IMDB entries, with full lists of every actor’s roles, all in chronological order.

Given the way these things go, it’s inevitable that one day in 2015 a minor celebrity will wear an actual tshirt based on the Gandalf/Magneto meme. (I’m betting on a haggard Steven Seagal wearing a “I had a ponytail. Get over it!” shirt.) I may have to strangle them with my bare hands.

UPDATE: Here’s the original Harrison Ford pic. It was a grey tshirt all along! Thanks to the people who commented on my earlier blog and pointed me towards this pic…

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Poppy Dinsey interview

June 3, 2011

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I thought I would revive my ill-conceived attempt to interview people from the Internet who I find interesting.

I started following Poppy Dinsey on Twitter a few years ago (drawn to her attractive avatar) and it turned out she was funny and interesting and made me temporarily interested in fashion. So we met up in London and ate burritos and it turned out she was just as lovely in real life.

Poppy runs a site called What I Wore Today, in which she takes a photo of herself every day and shows the world what she’s wearing.  

Armed with a hangover, I decided to interview Poppy on Skype chat. This meant a lot of typing and that odd overlapping thing where you’re both typing at the same time and nothing quite makes sense.  

Poppy Dinsey

Greg Stekelman: I’ve been following you on Twitter for a couple of years. How did the WIWT blog start? (that is a boring question, but necessary) 

Poppy Dinsey: It’s quite a nice story. I was sat on a beach (Newport or Huntington or Laguna, I should probably try and remember which one it was exactly so that I don’t tell the story differently every time I say it) and was thinking about New Year’s resolutions as it was a few days before NYE. And I just decided to see if I could photograph every outfit I wore every day for a year. 

There was also a side reason, a more sinister reason, but that’s the PR friendly version and 90% true. 

GS: Ok. We all have sinister reasons. Very few of us decide to splurge our lives all over the Internet simply to make the world a better place. 

PD:  It’s one of my most self-indulgent projects to date. 

GS: If I did what you do, I would run out of outfits after about a week. How do you manage to not wear the same clothes over and over? That is a terrible question. The answer is probably that you have loads more clothes than me. 

PD: By owning lots. I have wardrobes, drawers, external rails, suitcases… There are cases in my bedroom, office and bathroom. I also wear a lot of the same stuff repeatedly, but ‘in different ways’. 

GS: Yes. I do that as well. Sometimes I put my shoes on my head. 

PD: Do you ever wear high heels? 

GS: No. I quite like the idea of spending a few days dressed as a woman, but I have a beard and I find that beards and high heels don’t really mix. 

PD: I have always wanted a beard. And a penis, if I’m honest. 

GS: There’s still time. Technology is moving at an alarming rate. 

PD: Yes, I am wondering if I will choose the sex of my baby. And make it blue eyed and brown haired…

GS: Right. I was thinking about how exposed you are on your site. I post occasional photos of myself on Twitter but ultimately I quite like hiding behind anonymity. How does it feel having so many photos of yourself on the net? 

PD: I hate it in some respects. 

It can feel hugely unbalanced, people know a lot about me (or think they know a lot about me) and that’s not true the other way around. It can be weird when people tweet that they just saw me somewhere and I have no idea who they are, but they can recognise me because I constantly bombard them with pictures of myself. So I was asking for it really. I’ve ended up on a porn site (although I haven’t appeared on porn star facts). And I have some weird stalker people. It scares my Mother. 

GS: Oh dear. That’s quite unpleasant. I know what you mean about being spotted in public. I’ve had that, and in theory it should be flattering but in reality it’s quite alarming. It’s also odd because it’s like being famous without having any of the advantages of fame and fortune. I’m still mostly unemployed and skint. 

And I sometimes feel like without thinking I put a lot of myself on the Internet and then wonder if there’s anything left for my private life. 

PD: Yes it’s a bit weird. But generally people are awesome, I’ve been moved to tears by lovely emails from some people. (Cue sob story music) 

GS: I generally don’t get lovely emails from people, but I suspect I project a less approachable image than you do. 

PD: Well I like that people have decided I’m a bit short tempered (my FAQ/general rants imply that) and now start emails with huge apologies about being sorry to bother me. It’s quite nice. 

GS: Yes. Your FAQ is excellent. More people should write similarly comprehensive guides. Back to the questions. High fashion tends to be all about size zero women. You’re not size zero and you don’t look like you want to be, which pleases me. I hate the idea of women feeling constantly pressured into being stick thin. 

I realise that’s a statement, not a question. 

PD: I don’t know, I’m beginning to get a bit paranoid about that for the first time ever. I’m nowhere bloody near size zero and at certain fashion things I feel really self-conscious. I know fashion quite well, but that doesn’t mean I can always wear it well. I could style someone else to look amazing, but my options are more limited. 

I am spending more and more time wanting plastic surgery and wanting to stop eating though. I was never like that before.

GS: That’s my fear. Almost every single woman I know has some kind of fairly serious body image issues. Whereas as a man there are loads of things about my body I dislike, but I’m fairly accepting of it. 

PD: I’m extremely self-conscious about the fact I have braces. To the point where I decided before they were put on that I wouldn’t date anyone for the next two years. 

GS: I think women think about their bodies in the same way that men think about their cocks. In that a woman wants to be thin even if her bloke likes someone curvy, because it’s important for her to show other women that she’s thin. And men want to have big cocks, even if their girlfriend hates big cocks, because they want to show other men they have big cocks. 

That last statement reads like a load of sexual gibberish. 

PD: But it’s true. 

GS: I think it must be quite difficult for a woman operating in the fashion world and maintaining some semblance of mental health. 

PD: You can get disillusioned, when you’re around models a lot you can feel like shit. Then you can go to Sainsbury’s and realise most people are normal. And normal is fine. Most people aren’t that hot. Most fashion people aren’t ‘hot’ anyway, they’re beautiful. Classy. Untouchable. Scary. 

GS: Do you feel like you’re a role model for teenage girls who are into fashion? 

PD: I wouldn’t say I feel like a role model but I get more of a kick from emails/tweets from younger girls. That sounds fucking dodgy. 

GS: No. It sounds sweet. If it was me getting emails from young girls it would sound dodgy. 

PD: If I could speak at a school every week then I would. My cousins are my favourite girls in the world to hang out with and they are 13/14. Shopping with them is still exciting and fun. 

GS: Are you more interested in catwalk fashion or high-street fashion? Or both? 

PD: Nothing compares to the fun of watching live catwalks, I absolutely love it. It gets me very excited. But I can’t afford high end (generally), so high street fashion is where it’s at for me realistically. 

It’s always interesting to see which trends actually make it off the catwalk, because we’ll watch the shows and make assumptions but not every trend gets picked up

GS: I used to be quite interested in fashion. Not catwalk stuff. Just clothes because I was a teenage indie kid, and every musical genre had its own tribal uniform. Indie kids/rudeboys/goths/metallers/grebos etc. That seems to be disappearing. Everyone shops at Top Shop.

You can see someone in tight trousers, a leather jacket and a Stooges t-shirt and they’re actually a JLS fan, but Top Shop/Primark sells these looks to everyone. 

PD: Has it changed? Or are we older? I’m not sure. But part of me really hates how strong the trends are on the high street now. You can’t get simple clothes. 

And I don’t like people who purposely dress dishevelled when they’re rich. That probably sounds awful, but this faux-punk idea of privileged kids makes me gag. People that make an extra effort to look shit, ya know? 

GS: It feels like the high street incorporates underground fashion so quickly now that within a month of some weird trend, Primark are selling a copy for a tenner and everyone is wearing it. 

PD: Yep, definitely. It’s very, very fast. 

GS: But as you say, it’s also about getting older. I’d like to dress cooler, but that would probably involve me having the figure of a skinny 21-year old. And that isn’t me. 

PD: I have no idea why men wear skinny jeans. It makes me feel ill. 

GS: I think it’s so that people can admire the shape of their mobile phones in the jean pockets. 

GS: How many proposals/sexual overtures do you get per week? 

PD: Many a day. Some are becoming police matters. 

GS: Your FAQ mentions people offering to pay you for sex. Does that really happen? 

PD: It comes back to what we were talking about earlier though, if someone emails me asking to take me out why would I *EVER* say yes? They know so much about me (supposedly) and I know nothing about them. 

And yes, I get emails from married men and men offering to pay. Again, why someone would email from their work email address with their real name is beyond me. I could phone their boss. Or their wife. 

GS: Wow. That’s weird. Also, I’ve been on the Internet for about 15 years and no-one has EVER offered to pay me for sex. 

PD: How much would you charge? 

GS: That depends what people would want. I would offer a sliding scale, to take into account people on lower incomes who might want to sleep with me. 

I worry enough about what to charge people for my books, let alone for sex. 

PD: I’d worry someone might ask for their money back. 

GS: So, tell me about your obsession with Dustin Hoffman. 

PD: It’s pretty bad. I don’t watch Dustin movies because it upsets me too much. I haven’t seen most of them. It started with Straw Dogs, which is one of my all time favourite films.

GS: As a short Jewish man, your obsession with Dustin Hoffman comforts me greatly. 

PD: Do you like his voice? 

GS: I find it a bit nasal. To be honest, I haven’t thought about his voice very much. I like him. I love The Graduate and Tootsie but he’s been in so many rubbish films recently that some of the shine wears off. 

He’s an odd actor for you to obsess over though. In the sense that he’s not a conventionally handsome man. 

PD: I recently dated someone who was conventionally handsome, it was strange. I like older men generally, 40 plus. Although I am trying to be a bit more sensible about that… 

GS: You’re now going to be inundated by offers from older men. 

PD: …As older men generally come with a bit more hassle 

GS: Yes. Incontinence and prostate problems. 

PD: Well that’s another problem isn’t it? When I’m 50 they’ll be 70. But 70 years olds can be fun. (I haven’t slept with one) 

GS: When I meet someone who is flawless and conventionally beautiful, I struggle to envisage myself going out with them. I assume they are in a different league to me. I like beautiful people but they have to have a flaw, like a glass eye or a terrible skin condition, for me to consider going out with them. 

I think it’s interesting how we can have a veneer of confidence but underneath it’s just a mass of flawed assumptions. 

PD: My main pre-requisite is the ability to work hard and to not be bamboozled by menus in restaurants. 

GS: That rules me out. I do not work hard. My brain never stops working, but that rarely translates into physical activity. When I complete an 8 hour day in an office I genuinely believe I deserve a medal. 

PD: I have dated people who work less than me and it doesn’t work. 

GS: Before being a fashion blogger, you worked in tech. How was that? 

PD: It was amazing. And I still consider myself to work in tech really. I’m working on a new site and an iPhone app, things that I wouldn’t be confident to do if my background wasn’t in tech. 

I like working in start-ups and like working with developers, there’s a lot less fucking around. You just do stuff. 

Well you do piss around but it’s not like being with artsy types. 

GS: Careful. I may be an artsy type. 

PD: I like artsy types, but I wouldn’t go into business with them.

GS: My experience with tech people was that they were full of energy and ideas but were often sociopaths. 

PD: Yes but that can be quite nice, just getting on with things in silence. A lot of that is a stereotype, but if we’re going to go down the stereotype route then I prefer working with cold/direct/socially awkward people to OTT/fake/loud people. 

GS: Yes. I like a bit of both. To be honest, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to work with other people. Most of my work is done from a small room, with only woodlice and memories for company. 

PD: I keep my blinds down because I don’t want to be reminded of the outside world. 

GS: I find the sunshine outside my window a constant torment. 

PD: People who think you and I tweet a lot forget how much we are just “in a room”, to quote yourself. 

GS: Yes, indeed. 

PD: We’re devoid of human contact.

GS: It’s true. Sometimes I talk to people at bus stops, just to feel alive. 

PD: The postman can’t figure me out. 

GS: Let’s talk about something else. What books are you reading at the moment? 

PD: I’m reading The Upgrade by Paul Carr, Anger Management by Giles Coren andMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. 

And I feel like I’m always reading The Saturday Times and Sunday Times, they last me all week. 

GS: Ok. Hmmm. Paul Carr. I remember Paul. He set up The Friday Project, who published my book. He also brought down The Friday Project, although he did have some help with that. 

PD: He signed my breasts recently. I love his writing. 

GS: I think he’s very good at being Paul Carr. I quite like him but I wouldn’t work with him again. He gets things done, but he leaves a lot of corpses behind. 

PD: Is it bad to love Giles Coren? Because I do love his wordmanship.

GS: No. I never know what to think of Giles Coren. On one hand I think he’s a smarmy, smug journo who only got the job because of his dad. On the other hand, I think he writes well, is provocative and doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think I’m a better writer than him, but that’s based on ego not evidence. 

PD: I adore him. And Victoria. I fucking love The Times full stop. Is that weird? I’m a bit paranoid that I love it too much. 

GS: No. Not at all, before it went behind the Paywall, I would read The Guardian and The Times online in an attempt to get a reasonably balanced view. I couldn’t exclusively read either of them. The Times offers a very comforting vision of a forgotten England, but it feels a bit detached. And right-wing. 

PD: Is Caitlin (Moran) a friend of yours? 

GS: Not really. We both used to post on Popbitch many years ago, and I’ve met her once or twice in the pub but that’s it. I think she’s a really good writer. I like her sense of humour and how irreverent she is. And the fact that she does it in The Times, so she’s not playing to her natural audience. 

PD: Yes I love her. I love them all. 

GS: I was about to write a long thing about ME and the media and then remembered that this is about you, not me. 

PD: Hah. Yes, it’s me today. 

GS: Do you have any secret plans to conquer the world through TV, etc? 

PD: Not through TV…well, maybe TV, but those aren’t what the plans are. I am building a new site and app and they are my focus for the next couple of years. They’ll be launched in July (I hope). And I would like to finish writing a children’s book that I have started. 

GS: Hooray. Do you have any final plugs or statements you want to make? 

PD: Please visit http://wiwt.com/ and tell your friends and email me if we can collaborate in any way and please help me meet Dustin Hoffman. Thank you x 

GS: Thank you.

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Allanah Starr interview

July 8, 2010

Since I started the blog I’ve been interested in interviewing different people, and I thought I would seek out people who live other kinds of lives, or who perhaps have skirted beneath the mainstream radar – or just people I like or find funny. My first interview is with Cuban-American transsexual model Allanah Starr. I had hoped to interview Allanah in person as she is currently in London, but in the end we settled on me emailing her a series of questions, which she answered beautifully.

Anyone with a passing interest in porn probably recognises Allanah, even if they don’t know her name. She has her own website, has appeared numerous times on American television, hosts parties, has made a career in porn and filmed the first ever sex scene between a male-to-female and female-to-male transexual. She has also modelled for artists such as Marc Quinn in an exhibition at White Cube.

You were born in Cuba and then your family moved to the US? Did you feel like an outsider? Did you grow up feeling different?

I believe anyone who flees to a foreign country in search of exile initially feels like an outsider. We did not leave Cuba by choice; my father was a former political prisoner and we were in danger in Cuba. I was four years old at the time and I can only imagine what is what like for my parents moving to a foreign country without speaking the language, completely impoverished and having to somehow care for my brothers, sisters, and grandparents. As a child it was difficult because at the time I spoke no English and back then there was no assistance for non-English-speaking student immigrants. They basically put you in whatever grade level you were in and expected you to perform. It was sort of sink or swim and I sank for a long time. I had no idea how to even ask how to go to the bathroom in English, so there were many times when I just ended wetting myself in class because I could not hold it in any longer. And then of course I was highly feminine and different than the other kids and that of course set me up for the usual harassment and bullying one experiences at the hands of their peers when one is different. I learned that very young and I learned it the hard way. I never felt different until the other kids pointed it out. I was just being myself and I suffered for many years for just being me.

When did you decide to make the transition? How did your friends and family take your decision? Were they supportive?

I started playing with androgyny, make up, and gender bending when I was 14. I started doing drag when I was 18 and my transition began when I was 21. I don’t remember when there was a moment that I just decided that I was going to transition. I think it was more an evolvement of my femininity and consciously becoming aware of who I was. In hindsight, I now know that I this was who I was supposed to be and all of my thoughts and ideas when I was much younger finally made sense. Mine was never really a defining moment of sorts, it was just becoming self-aware. As anyone who has been in my position knows, there is always a moment of shock from those close to you as to your decision. I can’t say that my friends at the time were supportive. In fact they all pretty much discouraged me from doing so, except my early mentor India Brooks, who really believed in me. For her, I will be forever grateful because she really was an inspiration and gave e the courage. As far as my family is concerened, they believed at first it was a phase and then gradually they came to terms that is wasn’t and  just got used to it. My mother since has been wonderfully supportive and she is really my best friend. I am quite lucky in that respect.

You went to art college. What were your artistic influences? In some ways, it seems like you are your own greatest artistic triumph, in that you’ve had over 60 cosmetic surgeries. You’ve totally transformed who you are. Is that your art?

Beauty and glamour have always been my artistic influences. I have spent the greater portion of my adult life in search of beauty , glamour, and to be surrounded by beautiful things. If I were to pick my beauty ideals I would have to say Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich , Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor and Marylin Monroe would be at the top of my list. Those carefully constructed beauty icons I admire greatly because it takes so much discipline and effort to be those women. That is lost in today’s culture.  I am also a great fan of women like Grace Jones  and Diana Vreeland because they define a different type of beauty and are supreme definitions of style. Fashion has always played a big role in my life as well. I am very much into dressing for a purpose and not comfort. Clothes are my armor and a reflection of how I am feeling at that particular moment. As far as my cosmetic surgery, they definitely have been a means to obtain a certain look and maybe, yes, an art form. Marc Quinn told me that he thinks that I am an artist and that I am my own art work. I think that was a great compliment from a great artist. 

Your look is very glamorous and over-the-top, almost a burlesque of femininity. Some transsexuals just want to blend in and look like the “average” woman. Did that never appeal to you?

No, it never appealed to me to blend in and look like the average woman. I could have gone that route and I think in many ways that does make life easier for some. I respect everyone’s opinion to define what they wish to look like, so if that is what someone chooses, I am certainly not critical of it.  I am a person who shies away from conventions and am definitely not afraid to stand out. As Truman Capote wrote: “I have always lived the life I liked. I have never skipped a pulse beat over what others thought”.

In terms of looks, who is your role model? You seem to go for a very curvy, retro type of glamour – more Jayne Mansfield than Kate Moss. 

I think Kate Moss is beautiful but my aesthetic definitely reflects Jayne Mansfield much more than Miss Moss. I was always attracted to that kind of explosive beauty. Bombshells who were formidable women and took no prisoners along the way. I definitely molded my body that way. A femme fatal of sorts – though Miss Mansfield always played the sex bombshell who really wanted to be a housewife.

Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling low and just wanting to be anonymous – to walk down the street without being noticed? 

Yes, I have days like that, but unless I wear a burqa I know I will get noticed. That is the only drawback to being over the top. There are times when you don’t want to be bothered or want any attention and it always is there one way or another. Those are the days I don’t leave the house unless I have to. And If I must,  I put on my tunnel vision and don’t pay attention to anyone or anything.

It seems that there is greater public acceptance of transsexuals, but that there is still a pressure for male-to-female girls to “choose one side or the other”. That is to either live as a man or have a full gender-reassignment. Have you ever felt that pressure?

First of all, I certainly don’t think choosing not to have full gender reassignment surgery means you are living as a man. There are pre-operative transsexual women and post-operative transsexual women and the choice to have genital surgery for anyone is very specific and the reasons why or why not to are very individual.  Society is always trying to dictate others on how they should live their own lives and what they should or should not do with their bodies. I am a fierce opponent of that. You only have one life and one body so you should do with it whatever the hell you like to. I have heard post-op transsexuals criticize pre-op transsexuals and vice versa, and they both make me angry. From a personal point of view, yes it is something I have thought about it but something that I obviously have not done yet. And if I ever do, it will be a personal decision that will only concern my feelings.

You made the move into working in porn. Do you enjoy it or is it just a job?

It’s a job like any other. And like any other job if you don’t enjoy doing it, you will hate it. When I was actively involved in porn I enjoyed it.

You filmed a sex scene with Buck Angel, who is a female-to-male transsexual. How was that?

It was amazing. It was the first time ever a sex scene had been filmed between a female to male transsexual and a male to female to male transsexual, so it was porn history in the making. I am very proud of it because I think it transcended a sex scene and  became a commentary on gender and sex today and it’s interchangeability. Plus, I love Buck as a person. He was the one that got me involved in the Marc Quinn project, and I will be forever greatful. 

In general, do women accept you or do you still feel resentment or jealousy?

I think jealousy and resentment can come from anyone. I  think I am accepted by anyone who is well evolved and open minded and non-judgmental, whatever sex they may be.

How many times a day do you meet guys who say “I’m straight, but I’d love to sleep with you.”?

More than I care to remember. The ‘am I straight’ card is the most annoying thing I hear because I hate when a man has to validate his masculinity if he is attracted to transsexuals. The one thing I loathe in a man is insecurity and that to me represents insecurity. The kind of sex you enjoy does not make anyone any less than a man or a woman – what you do in bed is not a testament to your masculinity or femininity.

Would you ever like to have children?

No. I think that is a very difficult and selfless job and one that I am not cut out for. I commend anyone who does the job of a parent well because it is a very hard job to do well.

Does size matter?

Of course. I am not sure which size you are referring to, but isn’t size and measurements everything in life :)?

What is your favourite David Bowie song?

Heroes

What’s your favourite book?

Currently it is Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, but I mostly read biographies of people I find interesting-mostly the Hollywood stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

When was the last time you fell in love?

I am immune to that disease.

You have to spend an evening with Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie. Who do you choose?

Angelina Jolie, because she seems the most interesting and dangerous.

If you were having a date over for dinner, what would you cook?

I would go to hungryhouse.co.uk and order food. I can’t cook, darling. Cooking is not one of my talents.

You’re currently living in London? What have been your highlights so far? What’s been the biggest surprise/disappointment about living in London?

I love London, I always have. To me it’s like a marriage of European capital and New York City (the only relevant city in America in my opinion, because everything that is of any importance culturally happens in New York). I do miss my social life in New York City because in a sense I was very established socially in New York and here it seems like it has been harder to meet people here in London.  Also, I find London a tad bit more conservative than New York but I love the style of the people here. Nonetheless, I am happy being in between here and Paris. It’s a nice change to New York but I love all three cities equally. 

Tell us a joke:

If I did so, I would have to charge you.

Allanah Starr will be hosting her birthday party at the Way Out Club in London on July 17th. Click on the flyer below for further details.

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Don’t cry for me, Argentina

July 6, 2010

The last couple of days I’ve been “getting in touch” with my Argentine roots. On Friday evening I went to an nice event/talk about Argentine comics and then on Saturday I went to a bar where 200-300 Argentines watched the national team getting trounced 4-0 by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals. That was fairly disastrous. Still, I got to practise my Spanish and pretend I knew the chants everyone else was singing.

My dad is from Argentina. Born in Buenos Aires, he lived in London between 1969 and 1989, when he moved back to the city of his childhood. He visits Europe when he can.

I was born in London, England. I am English. Growing up, we didn’t speak Spanish at home, except for a couple of words. I remember feeling very English throughout my childhood, even if my name is Gregorio and my father is Juan Carlos. Nowadays I speak pretty fluent Spanish, but that’s thanks to years at university and recent trips to Argentina. My Spanish accent is still a mess of English, Argentine and Castillian Spanish (and American, according to one person).

When we were little kids it was too expensive (and probably too painful for my father) to visit Buenos Aires. I made my first trip there with my parents and sisters, when I was about 12 and from then on I visisted there every 2-3 years to visit my father and see family. There was a period between 1993 and 2000 when I avoided going. I’m not quite sure why. I’ll ask a shrink.

I call myself half-Argentine, but the reality is that I don’t know Argentina, I only know Buenos Aires and of that, mainly the barrio around my father’s place and microcentro. When I am in Buenos Aires I am there to see my father, not be a tourist. There are friends who spend 2 months doing the whole of South America who have seen more of Argentina than I have in my countless visits. They know Cordoba and Mendoza and Iguacu and Bariloche. I know the Linea A subway line. As a teenager my Buenos Aires was wandering the streets of Corrientes and Callao in my leather jacket, smoking cheap cigarettes and hunting through the book and magazine stores for comics and pornography. I loved it.

When I was young, Argentina was an impossibly distant, exotic place. There were few Argentines in London. There was no internet, so contact with my father was limited to occasional letters and phone calls. No-one went on holiday to Argentina. And I liked it like that. Buenos Aires was my playground. It was my Narnia. My secret world.

Now things have changed. I know countless friends who have visited Buenos Aires. It’s a staple part of the middle-class-traveller-seeing-the-world route. I know English people who have fallen in love in Buenos Aires and stayed here. And since the economic crisis of 2001, there are an increasing number of Argentines in London (as evidenced in the bar for the World Cup match). The barriers between England and Argentina have crumbled. I should be happy, but I’m not. It’s like the gates of Narnia have been flung open, and what was once my secret refuge (my secret identity) is now just another place in the world. The world is getting smaller.

Sometimes I’ll be chatting to a stranger and I’ll mention that my dad is Argentine and they’ll say: “Oh, I’ve been to Buenos Aires. It’s amazing, isn’t it?” and I’ll nod and agree, but part of me – a selfish part of me, admittedly – resents them walking through the streets that were once mine alone.

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My video review of 2009

February 24, 2010

It’s a bit late, but here it is:

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Hong Kong

April 1, 2009

I sit here typing this with a strange jetlag hangover from my trip to Hong Kong. It was an odd, testing trip, but probably worthwhile.

Travelling for work is always a challenge. On one hand, I the trip is paid for by others, and I get put up in a better standard of hotel than I’m accustomed to, but on the other hand, I can never quite shake the feeling that I’m totally owned by work – that I can’t just switch off, run away and go home. They own me, body and soul and that depresses me. So, as a rule, I avoid travelling for work, but I couldn’t really turn down the opportunity to see Hong Kong.

I was staying a massive corporate hotel, adjacent to a new, curvy chrome business park in the middle of nowhere. Everything about the place was modern, streamlined and stylish. It made me feel quite ill. There were no flaws, no dirt, no character. There was no sign of anything human at all. It was like walking around an abandoned space station. Actually, the worst part of the hotel were the arty soundscapes in the lift and corridors, as though silence was so unbearable that we needed piped pseudo-muzak 24/7. I have noted down the name of the ‘composer’ who wrote the soundscapes, and I do intend to hunt him down.

The trip was really divided into two phases. Night and day. By day, I would do my work or explore the city, and I really enjoyed myself, taking buses, trams and trains and doing all the things I promised myself I’d do. By night… oh dear… I would eat on my own in the various hotel restaurants, and then bed would call. Except I couldn’t sleep. I lay there, sweaty and confused. When I did nod off, I would wake at 3am, wide awake, feeling displaced and isolated in my hermetically-sealed air-conditioned room. The rest of my life… my girlfriend, London, my family, all seemed like fictitious fantasies as I slowly went mental on my own in a distant, silent room. And then I’d fall asleep just before my alarm woke me. This routine continued most of the nights, until I started taking sleeping pills. By the end of the trip, my sleeping had improved, if only slightly.

The city itself was amazing. It’s a strange collision of East and West, with Marks and Spencers sitting alongside wet markets where the still-live fish flap around on slabs. I ate, I shopped, I even went drinking with a load of Flemish Belgians. And I took lots of photos, because enjoying things is not as important and recollecting them afterwards…

Some things I noticed:

  • On the tube, they played a bad Chinese girlband version of You Really Got Me, by The Kinks, every time the train was about to pull into the station.
  • The streetfood absolutely stunk. Maybe my Western tastes weren’t up to the task, but a lot of stalls just reeked of hot, sweet piss. I had to hold my breath as I walked past.
  • There are lots of 7-11s in Hong Kong.
  • I saw quite a few mixed couples, but it was only ever white man/Asian woman. There were no couples where the woman was white and the man was Asian.
  • Instead of Oyster cards, they have Octopus cards. You can get your money back off them if you don’t use it.

I’m sure other pithy observations will come to me in time. Just as I was about to board the plane back to London, my glasses snapped in half at the bridge. I tried sellotaping them back together in Duty Free, but to no avail. I did have my contact lenses on me, so I tried wearing them for a bit, but the air on the planes is too dry and after 30 minutes I had to take them out. Which meant that most of the 13 hours of flight was spent in a state of almost complete blindness. I had to virtually press my face against the screen to watch the in-flight entertainment. No wonder I have a headache.

Now I’m probably going back to bed to see if I can sleep off the jetlag and fever.