No to dirty energy. Yes to renewables. Climate jobs now. Justice for people. A superficial run around the Anarchist Bookfair, its gender-neutral toilets having migrated to CSM, King’s Cross. Civilised behaviour begins on the can. I didn’t go to any lectures, heavy after a week of insomnia (a vague Gestalt feeling of ‘unfinished business’) but it was interesting to look for fresher concerns amongst the struggle. Fuck Shame posters. ‘How to organise a workers strike in China’. A copy of the Christian-anarchist crossover, Catholic Worker, who see the weakest and most destitute as God’s ambassadors. Ecosex. No Borders No Nations posters next to ‘Free Palestine’. Protest and history, hugely important, but I’d love to see some liberation in flow, some love in action, for which one seems to need art.
I am handed a pair of handy keep-and-refer-to cards by a women’s survivor network, who run day courses for men who want to become better men (peeling apart the Dominator, the Persuader, the Headworker, the Badfather, the King of the Castle and the Jailer. After a light lunch, the Sexual Controller and the Liar). Book me in. It is heart-breakingly isolated stuff (isolated by the underlying potential of male threat) but is only the male personality ever disfigured? Perhaps the menfolk here are too busy discussing Syria and Edward Snowden to unpack reciprocated fears. Perhaps gender isn’t their jail. Perhaps their ‘safe space’ is escape into, well, Syria and Edward Snowden. I pocket the cards in case.
Washing my hands in the gender-neutral sinks, I can’t help but check to see if I’m Mr Wrong. Look at him, seething red and alone, standing with his grumpy fists plugged against his fuck-you hips. What does Mr Wrong do (and do or did I do it too)? According to the card he — shouts (no), sulks (yes), smashes things (twice), glares (no), calls you names (no, even if requested to), makes you feel ugly and useless (no, but I find people differ in their reaction to flattery), stops you working (never), never admits he is wrong (I explain my position, and can apologise), blames drugs drink etc (this implies that male issues have no background or cause, which I’m not keen on), turns the children against you (never had the opportunity but it sounds fun), uses the children to control you (does being bombarded by soft toys count?), never does his share of the housework (no), never looks after the children (I’d prefer it), expects sex on demand (a hotspot because being in a sexless relationship is also damaging. Perhaps they should teach the importance of open relationships in schools), controls the money (ha), threatens or wheedles you to get his own way (no to threats, probably subterranean microwheedle), seduces your friends/sister/anyone (no), expects you to be responsible for his well-being (expect not to be hurt, but generally independent).
Or am I Mr Right? Mr Right is safety green, a hand-holding ‘good dad’ (normative gender role allocation ahoy). Mr Right is— cheerful (was, people tell me I’ve changed), consistent (privately, yes. Publically depends on trust), supportive (yes), tells you you look good (historically I think I’ve been more love-demonstrative than people have been to me), tells you you’re competent (might find this patronising but I suppose I feel it’s implied in loving someone), uses your name (odd one, but yes, gag-making pet names aside), trusts you (not lately), trusts your judgement (depends), welcomes your friends and family (circumspect about obligation to embrace a family when I hardly spend time with my own. I did try), encourages you to be independent (never an issue. Rarely met these mythologically dependent women, and usually find that jealousy means you’re with the wrong person or one of you has changed), supports your learning/career (most have been more ambitious than me), admits to being wrong (see Mr Wrong), is a responsible parent (chance would be a fine thing), is an equal parent (ditto but would be), does his share of the housework (yes), accepts that you have a right to say no to sex (generally but if it becomes systemic one can’t cry ‘adultery’ or trap another person into one’s own sexlessness. Perhaps they should teach polyamory in crèche. These days I’m more likely to be the one saying no), shares financial responsibility (yes), takes responsibility for his own well-being and happiness (when I work out how, I will).
I dry off a pair of non-binary, trans-inclusive hands, and conclude. Whilst not an out-and-proud Wrong’un I seem distrustful of Mr Right. Too many niggles which might render me an over-questioning slice of man-trouble. Sceptical about love as an unsupported system, or my ability to live up to very simple expectations. It should be the simplest thing in the world. As simple as a little silhouette on a refer-to card in your wallet.
On the 390 bus Dorothy Day, a tall and beautiful tomboy in her youth, and founder the Catholic Worker, explains “Many in this world have old or sick or sinful people with whom they have to live, whom they have to love.” Many have a hard life to live, and it’s easy to see how someone stuck under a duvet with Mr Wrong could turn into a patron saint of masochism. Easy to say ‘go’ when you’ve got nowhere else but fantasy. Day even believed in a life of voluntary poverty. Steal her coat and she’d hand you her shoes, saying “You need them more than I do.” I wonder if there’s a day course in how to hand people your shoes.