HARRY JOESPHINE GILES: DISSENT REVOLUTION POETRY
Poet, performer and game-maker, Harry Josephine Giles, is lead singer of Fit to Work – a quasi-autonomous, non-governmental punk act. They talk to REEK about equality, dissent and the importance of words.
Who are you, Harry Josephine Giles?
I’m a writer and performer. I’m from Orkney and I live in Leith. I do poetry, theatre, games and now punk. I love it all. I never saw an art form I didn’t want to try.
What makes you a feminist?
Um… I desire the complete destruction of an oppressive global system of gender hierarchy? I think the practice is more important than the identity. People claim the identities they need, and that’s grand, but it’s what you do with it that’s most important. I’m always trying to do feminism better.
What equality campaign is most important to you? Why is dissent important?
You know, I don’t really like the word equality. There’s a site,againstequality.org, that I highly recommend. ”Equality” implies some authority certifying it, or legislating it, but I want something we can take. And I’m not interested in equality between groups of people within a system of oppression. I’m interested in the destruction of that oppression. I want the end of a gendered system of being.
As for dissent: well, freedom comes first through learning to say no and being able to say no to things. No, I don’t want that; no, you can’t have me. And once you’re good at that can you find freedom through saying Yes. Yes, please. Yes, do that. Yes means nothing if you don’t get to say No.
What does all that look like to you?
I wish I knew. It’s probably revolution. Let’s be revolutionaries. I guess it looks like mutual support and community and organising in a way that doesn’t rely on hierarchies of power. Trying to overturn power, and trying distribute resources equitably (not necessarily equally). And justice, justice is a more exciting word than equality. Justice, equity, transformation. It also looks like being accountable to our peers, lovers, communities – and them being accountable to us. Mutual accountability is revolutionary.
What has been your personal experience of gender equality?
I’m still figuring out what feels possible there, or even liveable within the system of gender we’re currently stuck with. I’m still in that process. I’m friends with a lot of trans people who find some kind of stable gender identity and others who welcome the instability. The trans umbrella encompasses a lot of different ways of living. It’s an adventure and it’s also hard – terrifying actually. I am quite public about that journey, but it’s fraught with risk and pain. All that means I’ve had different experiences. I’ve spent a chunk of life being seen as male and trying to live up to that, and then a chunk of life trying to understand the psychological wound of masculinity, what bell hooks calls “the first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males, psychic self-mutilation”, trying to critique and recover from that. Now I’m spending a chunk of life as something Other, and that’s different again.In practical terms, that means that, while my wardrobe all comes off the “Women’s” rack, some days I pass as male, if a little queer, and some days I’m clearly something else. If I’m in a dress and leggings, or have done my full hair and make-up, I get a lot of sir-ma'ams (or, in Scotland, hen-pals), because people don't know where to place you. And then, if you go out with any obvious masculine features and, say, you’re wearing a dress, you will be harassed. I get that at least 50% of the time, just as all women face daily risks of harassment. So my current experience of the lack of gender equality is of being indeterminate and that being a source of both pleasure and danger. Sometimes I enjoy it, and other times the daily violence of that is impossible. And that’s just clothes and self and street harassment. We haven't even started on economics, social exclusion, mental health, border control, the carceral state…
What inspired you to create Fit for Work?
I didn’t! A couple of friends of mine who are professional musicians and who I went to school with asked me to do vocals for their punk side-project. I said yes immediately, obviously, cos it sounded fun. Thinking through what I wanted to do with that, I decided I wanted to put an aggressive femininity into that very masculine space of punk. I strut around in my thigh-high boots and my knee- high dress and bring to the stage a feminine energy into that the refuses to be boxed in. That is inspired by the long history of Riot Grrl – women’s punk music. Femininity can be furious, violent and resistant too.
Do you feel there are big changes happening right now? What words are important in that?
There are always big changes. In one way history moves really fast and it can be astonishing how quickly some things change and at the same time how slowly other things change. For example, I grew up and went to school under Section 28 (the most destructive imaginable law – the law that banned even discussion of anything LGBT in schools) and not only has that now gone, when I do workshops in school I see posters for trans youth groups – meeting at lunchtime. That took only 20 years. It’s an enormous change. But, on the other hand, it we had hundreds of years of feudalism, and now we’re only a 150 years or so into capitalism, and even though some of the dynamics have changed it’s still the same destructive and immiserating system it ever was.
What people do you most identify with from history?
Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, Catullus and Sappho.
Is smell important to you? Which smells and why?
You’re in the best place to fight if you’re centred. So my favourite smell is the smell you get when you are halfway up a mountain and the wind is blowing and you get the freshness off the top of the trees and the freshness coming down off the snow. You can’t smell the city at all. That’s when I feel most calm.
Then there’s rotting seaweed and silage and manure – the overpowering smells of living on anisland. They take me right home.
What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch?
I’m damned – I’m definitely going to hell and I’d be disappointed if I weren’t. I grew up with hellfire sermons, so though I don’t actually believe in hell my gut is still convinced that’s where I’m headed. I’m a rebel cos it’s in my bones. I have never got past the stage when a two-year- old kid first learns to say No. I’m still there. And I don’t know if I’m a bitch yet – but I aspire to be.
Tell us what kind of bitch you’d be, then?
A problematic bitch.
All images by Void Works Photography.