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Cute Eggs and Cenobites

“DIZZY AND THE RAVEN’S HEX”

My first full creation of the new year – another PC game, with a theme both retro and Wiccan …

RavHex1

The Dizzy games were well known to 8-bit computer gamers in the late 80s and early 90s: a series of object-based puzzle platformers following the adventures of the eponymous Dizzy the egg as he solved mysteries, escaped dungeons, and rescued his friends and family in a tongue-in-cheek fairytale world. This is my attempt at a 3D version (compatible with fairly low-end PC hardware but not Mac, sadly).

GAME MANUAL / INSTALLATION

GAME FILES / SETUP

SOUND FILES

STORY

The new factory town of Morgenholt, located deep within ancient fay woodlands, has recently been troubled by a mysterious and baleful haunting. Squire Whateley, leader of the town and owner of its factory, has sent for the most daring and resourceful hero in the kingdom to investigate and put an end to this menace. Which is where a certain familiar ovoid steps into the scene. Has boxing gloves, will travel …

Programming and graphics by me, soundtrack by Lost Radikals.

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“ASSIGNMENT – LAMENT”

An ongoing, though somewhat less family-friendly project is my latest fanfic, this time combining the world of “Sapphire and Steel”, “Hellraiser”, and classic “Doctor Who”. Currently four chapters in (probably aiming for a total length of 5-6), this story features fairly graphic scenes of violence, mental manipulation, and pseudo-domination of beloved TV characters, in case anyone would prefer not to subject themselves to that …

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SUMMARY

The abduction of a journalist by ruthless extra-dimensional forces leads Sapphire and Steel back onto familiar territory. Meanwhile, deep within the Labyrinth, the Cenobite High Priest has a disturbing encounter of his own with an old wartime comrade, leading to a bizarre alliance. Can the operators find a way to successfully infiltrate Leviathan’s domain, sabotage this plan, and rescue the hostage before reality itself becomes a war casualty?

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9

Masquerade

Curious how old obsessions can suddenly resurface… I was recently scouring my thoroughly disorganised CD collection to find something I had not listened to in a while to help me through my shift. Work, alas, continues to be demoralising, that warehouse environment being typically loud, laddish, sweary, and mansplainy, so I tend to rely on music that takes me out of it as a psychological prop. The one I rediscovered on this occasion was the soundtrack to “The Phantom of the Opera” (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe, 1986).

Incidentally, bearing in mind this play has now been showing more or less solidly for thirty years, I will assume general familiarity, but nevertheless, DEFINITE SPOILER ALERTS.

My first encounter with the show was, as seems all too bizarre and rather sad to me, a whole adult lifetime away: late 2000, during an abortive study venture in New Jersey. A friend of mine at the same university with theatre connections was able to get me good seats, and I was determined to take in Broadway before my inevitable going back home in failure (America being an expensive option for ill-prepared ex-pats without work visas). I doubt I opted for seeing “Phantom” on any stronger justification than the fact that I was even more of a soppy Goth back then then I am now, though this was violating my general rule of never seeing the adaptation before reading the original book.

Still, as I left the Majestic Theatre in tears of purest Hellenic catharsis, I felt it was a rule well broken…

Sarah Pfisterer and Howard McGillin were at the time performing the roles of Christine Daae and the Phantom, and I sometimes wish I had had the temerity or the technical know-how to have pirated their performances, as I have never seen that bizarre relationship more effectively realised. McGillin’s edgy, psychotic portrayal was unnerving to a fault, notwithstanding all of the thickly-applied romance and pathos… not that there is anything wrong with that, although I was glad of the refusal to “pretty up” a character who is, in essence, extremely abusive. Pfisterer, by contrast, portrayed Christine as the sanest character in the show, taken in neither by the elaborate manipulations and relentless gaslighting of her “teacher,” nor by the petty dramas of her co-stars and managers, yet responding to every situation with intelligence, dignity, and compassion. This comes to a head in the final scene in which her would-be heroic rescuer Raoul de Chagny (Gary Mauer) totally botches his rescue attempt and ends up in the “damsel in distress” role himself, as the Phantom attempts to use his life as a bargaining chip for Christine’s “love” (the Phantom having very unfortunate ideas about what constitutes meaningful consent). At which point, Christine completely wrong-foots him by showing compassion. What emerges is a far more haunting if less “dramatic” resolution than than obtained by the 1925 reworking, in which the Phantom is beaten up by a mob and hurled into the Seine, and Christine’s active agency and intelligence is pared down to preferred Hollywood standards, thus making her less of a protagonist and more of a damsel in distress herself… though not even this manages to conceal the fact that Raoul is a pretty useless hero.

Christine lingered on my mind, and when I eventually got around to reading the original novel (Leroux, Gaston; 1911) I was pleased to see that she was much as the play had depicted her: intelligent, independent, worldly-wise (she is not above using deception to resist her abuser), principled, and compassionate, and in every sense outclassing her vapid love interest – Raoul, in the book, being little better than the Phantom, albeit whiny rather than psychotic. It was disappointing the author felt she had to end up with either of them, mind.

Of course, there was another, very visceral reason why this play affected me so much: for its depiction of a character who feels their body to be a hideous prison / “loathsome gargoyle” / “repulsive carcass” etc, and who consequently spends their whole adult life hiding away, wearing a mask, trying to make their art a vehicle for the beauty they felt their life itself could never express. I was very glad the play finally gave the Phantom his moment of redemption, as walking out of that theatre feeling such painful empathy for a totally unredeemed character of moral equivalence to Hannibal Lecter would have been disturbing to say the least.

Soppy little Goth that I was, I cried. Soppy old Goth that I remain, I cried again on hearing it nearly sixteen years later, but not quite in such a melancholy vein. Back then it was a painful dramatisation of where I was, and felt that I was trapped for good. Today, it is a reminder of the fact that I have, albeit after a very long time, finally taken off my mask and climbed out of my basement. At times I still feel like a freak, but it has dawned on me finally that I what I see is a lot worse than what the world actually sees (Indeed, in typical performances of “Phantom” the antagonist is played by a fairly attractive actor with some nasty gashes on one side of his face, or in the case of Gerard Butler in the 2004 filming, a downright handsome actor with a bad sunburn. Either way, as Christine points out, “It’s in [his] soul that the true distortion lies”).

Still, weeping over sad musicals in the middle of a Royal Mail depot full of sweary blokes is probably not the best survival strategy for the long term, so wish me luck with the job-hunt…

7

Mutant Musings

JudiBmini

(Judi Bowker as Mina Harker in “Count Dracula,” BBC version, 1977)


A good friend of mine recently declared her intention to draw back from the depressingly polarised, prejudiced world of social media activism and instead express herself through her own dedicated writing. This seems an excellent idea to me, having myself spent far too much time and energy in activist circles, to no avail. The main difference being that my comrade will be devoting herself to serious writing on transgenderism and psychoanalysis, while I will be writing about vampires.

This is not my first try. I did bang out a short vampire novel in 2007, to pass the time during my year of ESL teaching in Beijing, but it was a pretty sketchy attempt. This time I am aiming for a longer work, and one that will be much lighter on romance elements and put more emphasis on the twisted parental aspects of vampirism. I am hopeful when complete that it will have a strong female protagonist (though not for me to be the judge), a convincingly depicted setting (Romania, circa both World Wars), and nevertheless a clear fairytale ethos. As C S Lewis, whom I shamelessly namedrop in chapter 12, expressed it…

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

(From On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature)

…which sentiment, to give it its due, also helps me to feel a lot better for being so inexorably drawn to a trope which has produced no end of prose and film of dubious artistic and moral quality.

What is it about vampires that keeps drawing me back to the genre? One pretty obvious answer would have to be the theme of change, and that the change is often depicted as a release from some debilitating state, be it fear of death, fear of age, powerlessness, repression, etc. Of course, nine times out of ten this release comes with an appalling catch in the small print. Vampires, by and large, are not welcome in society, which may also be a factor of my empathy / interest, although the reasons for this exclusion are of course pretty solid… Lestat and Louis may add a touch of decadent class to one’s party, but no-one would wish to be stuck with the task of cleaning up after them. Irredeemably evil depictions are not the be-all and end-all, however. Although the preeminent mythos established in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and massively popularised since depicts vampires as demonically reanimated corpses, the trope of more sentient and sympathetic vampires is older. Theophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse (1836) is particularly ambiguous, depicting its vampire anti-heroine Clarimonde as an emotionally complex being who is deeply hurt and embittered by the eventual betrayal of her lover – a young, morally conflicted priest; who survives his attempt on her (un)life; and who subsequently abandons him to the life of celibacy and regret he has chosen.

But this, of course, leads to another massive moral caveat: in general, the depiction of women in vampire fiction is less than inspiring, and has a nasty tendency to focus on misogynistic, medieval tropes of carnality and sub-humanity versus the reason and morality generally represented by male heroes of the Van Helsing mould. This is occasionally presented in a deconstructive or satirical way – the ironic coda of La Morte Amoureuse makes clear that the life of priestly repression the hero has chosen will not bring him peace – but the sexist dichotomy remains (and to make it even more unnecessarily blatant, Clarimonde is depicted as having been a courtesan in life). One of the most famous, squicky, and totally unsubtle examples would have to be the oft-depicted turning of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. Her mutation from cloying, girlish sweetness (which is seen as a positive state) to unbridled sensuality and sadism, and her bloody redemption-by-staking at the hands of her former fiancé, ironically depicted in the same year the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded, has to be one of the most distasteful and untimely subplots in English literary history.

But Dracula almost redeems itself in the character of Mina Murray / Harker, who comes into her own in the latter half of the novel. Film versions have a bad tendency to underplay her agency in the story, and make her into a damsel in distress or even worse into a love interest for Count Dracula, neither of which is actually faithful to the book. A middle-class intellectual, Mina is an independent, employed woman, although sadly disdainful of the Suffrage Movement. Nevertheless, she emerges as one of the most pro-active and clued-up characters in the book, being the one who actually collates and makes sense of all of the diary entries and newspaper clippings that testify to Dracula’s evil intentions. In spite of thus being the main provider of intelligence, the male characters then decide to sideline her for her own safety while they set off to heroically kill the monster. This backfires hideously, as Dracula just takes the opportunity to drop in on Mina while they are all gone, mentally and physically abuse her, then infect her with his tainted blood to inflict a slow and humiliating mutation. This is the scene which has, in film, got into the unfortunate habit of being a big romantic moment…

This, however, backfires even more horribly on Dracula, as Mina has now become telepathically privy to his movements. Having now learned from their mistake and having fully included her in their hunters’ cabal, the heroes start doing much better, making use of Mina’s insight to track the Count’s movements, destroy all of his London-based sanctuaries, and follow him back to Europe. Mina’s mutation progresses to the point that she can no longer eat, sleep normally, or cross spiritual wards, but she holds onto her personality, and memorably chides Van Helsing for his ill-timed gallantry when he nearly steps out of a warding circle to drive some minion vampires away from her. As she sagely points out, there is not a whole lot more they can do to her.

Dracula comes a cropper soon afterwards, although not, alas, at her hand. The decapitation scene in the 1992 film version is its own invention, although it certainly did not pioneer the highly dubious romance between Mina and Dracula – Universal’s 1979 version was there way before it. She does get to wield a rifle and shoot one of Dracula’s goons in the BBC’s 1977 adaptation, which probably captures the spirit of the novel’s character more than any other: her morality, her intelligence, her courage, her being undervalued by the male characters, and the wretched injustice of her fate. Notably, it is the only version I know of that includes the scene where Van Helsing attempts to bless her with a host wafer – shortly after her contamination – and in spite of the fact that she has neither consented to her mutation nor succumbed to evil, the talisman burns and scars her. The sense that the whole of patriarchal existence, right up to its God, is out to get her for no good reason at all is starkly apparent. One can only conjecture if Stoker wrote more into this than he was necessarily aware of.

I suspect there will be quite a bit of the original Mina in my next protagonist, albeit without the disdain for her contemporary feminists. Nobody’s perfect.

10

Sort Him Out

imitation

(Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, “The Imitation Game”, Black Bear Pictures, 2014)

Being a librarian, Cal often brings DVDs home, and no prizes for guessing what last night’s offering was…

I can definitely recommend this film, though it plays fast and loose with actual history something awful. One could almost call it the “Braveheart” of computing and cryptography, though any association of ideas between the ultraconservative Mel Gibson and the tragic, inadvertent gay rights icon / martyr who was Alan Turing seems all too ironic. Still, strict accuracy does not seem to be the point. It is the more emotional significance of Turing’s life (and death) that the film-makers were clearly eager to emphasise, not to mention the gross injustice of his fate.

To anyone unaware, Alan Turing (1912-54) was a pioneering computer genius whose work at Bletchley Park enabled the British to finally crack Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma cipher, thus providing intelligence that substantially shortened the Second World War and probably saved millions of lives. He was also homosexual, in a time when that was illegal. Though he managed to keep that fact secret throughout the war, it was discovered by the police in 1952, and Turing was offered a choice of two punishments: prison, or hormonal “therapy” to “cure” him of his tendencies (by crudely and dangerously diminishing his libido). Two years later, he died from cyanide poisoning, though theories abound as to whether or not this was suicide or accidental. At all events, the UK government only got round to apologising for this miscarriage of justice in 2009, with a royal pardon being issued in 2013. However, as the end sequence of the film states, Turing was only one of an estimated 49,000 gay men convicted under those laws before legalisation (in 1967).

Possibly it was that grim statistic, and the extreme belatedness of the apology, which brought Cal to angry tears as the credits rolled:

“It took them all those years to apologise,” he declared, bitterly, “and in 2015 GPs are still saying they need to ‘sort us out’!”

Confused now, I asked him what he meant. He explained that last month, when he had visited the gender identity clinic in London for a workshop event, one of the specialist doctors there had told him of a referral he had recently had for an MtF transsexual patient. The patient’s GP had worded the referral thusly:

This man thinks he ought to be woman. Sort him out.

I didn’t really have a reply to that.

Some days, though, I am very glad I cannot read minds.

7

Love for the Freak

Today commenced on what is fairly described as a low-key note, as in sifting through my spam on Facebook I came across the following stream of messages received over the last few months from a stranger…


15 June 11:39

omg your a fucking freak Anthony burns..your poor poor wife *****…well she looks like a bloke anyway

14 July 14:04

FREAK…

22 July 17:46

r u for real..freak freak freak..omg

28 July 17:46

https://www.facebook.com/groups/675487022551799/

11 August 11:14

attention seeker

18 August 10:24

your an embarrassment

29 September 09:44

dirty stinking freak


However, the group to which she was “kind” enough to refer me – entitled “dirty freak eleanor antony burns” – is no longer visible, as when I told Cal about it, he immediately shared the information with his friends at AFP Patreon Patrons (Cal being a huge Amanda Palmer fan), who immediately responded by reporting the page en masse and posting a hundred-odd messages of support for us. For comparison, the hate group had two members… one of whom was its founder. Small fry, one might well say, but I feel it was worth playing the censor as the group had started targeting another trans friend of mine, it was using my pictures without permission, and all the love we have subsequently received from the AFP Patrons has completely restored my faith in humanity.

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In other news, the film I have been shooting with Jason Marsh has finally been graced with a short trailer…

Editing on the existing reels continues, and hopefully we will have a first instalment soon. Knowing that my transition is likely to take a long time, perhaps even years, I suggested that we wrap the whole thing very soon, but Jason very adamantly said that he would like to continue to document the whole story, so “Imago” is likely to be a very long work in its final form. Hopefully quite a unique one, though, and certainly a fulfilling one for me. This freak is well supplied with supportive friends…

12

Return of the Living Dead Name (but bearing good tidings)

It may not seem much, and if you follow blogs such as this you may well have seen enough of the things for a lifetime, but…

Annoyingletter

…my letter from the Gender Identity Clinic in London has finally arrived, telling me I can probably expect an appointment within thirteen months of the referral date (May 5). Whilst that is hard to get too excited about, at least things are definitely moving forwards again, and I can (hopefully) stop fretting so much. Though knowing me, I probably won’t.

They used my old name, rather irritatingly, but one takes the rough with the smooth.

In other news, I have finished writing the steampunky novel “Gloriana’s Masque” that I started last october, which did its bit in bringing my gender dysphoria to a head, after it became apparent to me how much my female protagonist was a shameless self-projection of my unrealised dreams (She is also a scientist, which is what I always wanted to be until I met my high school science teacher…). Not a clue how I shall go about publishing it yet, but a friend who generally detests fantasy fiction has dusted it off in one weekend, which I will take as a good sign. Just a shame he isn’t the CEO of Random House…

Unfortunately, having resumed my internet usage (which I successfully cut down on during the last phase of writing), I find my net addiction is as strong as ever, so in order to get a handle on it I intend to only allow myself use of the internet every other day. Intermittent fasts seem to be the only option, as when I get online – meaning to spend little time – it always ends up extending… This will mean I will be checking this blog and others less frequently, but I will do my best to keep abreast during the “on” days. I do feel, though, that being an online transwoman is starting to become my whole life, and awesome as that is, it is only one facet of me.

Finally, a few more screencaps from the “Imago” film I am doing with Jason Marsh. These are the parallel “female” scenes to the “male” scenes I posted on earlier, and will depict transformation through the use of reflections and dream-like imagery. Though with that letter finally in hand, one dares to hope that we are getting well beyond the stage of merely dreaming and fantastising in prose…

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Gorsedd Girls

Finally having made some progress with this stubborn and long-overdue novel, and having taken the time out for another quick shoot for the “Imago” film project, I figure I can spare the time to post some of the stills. This sequence was shot in Gorsedd Gardens, Cardiff Civic Centre. The bronze statue “Girl” / “Merch” is by sculptor Robert Thomas, who also crafted the statue of Aneurin Bevan in Queen Street. We attracted a few stares and curious questions from the homeless people at the Salvation Army Bus Project, but no hostile attention. I am feeling a lot more comfortable in public than I used to, and being able to change into a skirt was particularly welcome on this swelteringly hot day. Jeans + humid heatwave = walking around like a sticky and irritated robot…

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The inspiration for this sequence is, very loosely, the story of Lili Elbe (1882-1931), one of the earliest recipients of male-to-female transition surgery, and one of its earliest tragedies, as she died of translant rejection following an attempt to surgically implant a uterus, in the hope she might bear children. This had followed a previous operation and rejection, in an abortive attempt to implant ovaries, yet in spite of that failure and the grave risk it placed her in she was undeterred in her ultimately fatal quest for biological motherhood. This rather inclines one to suspect that Professor Greer did not do her homework all that thoroughly when she wrote the following…

“No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight.”

(Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman, 1999)

If Cal and I could simply switch bodies a la that dreadful and misogynistic last episode of “Star Trek”, the alien ruins of Camus II would be our first port of call. Sadly, the NHS is the closest we can manage, not that we don’t appreciate the tactlessness…

All photos by my usual image genius, Jason Marsh.