Paper: Am I a scoby now?
[A presentation never given. 13 June 2019]
Part One / Preface
The dire state of affairs in UK trans literacy prompts me to this paper. I just don’t know what people know anymore. Even leftists. Even artists. Even other trans women. Looking into the canyon of potential citation I catch a few scraps of tissue on the wind that say I’m not isolated, my knowledge doesn’t come from nowhere.
Advocacy has always pained me because you’re often speaking to the most oblivious or hateful person in the room. I have patience but I’m also like, chop chop. I will approach a wide open face and say whatever I can to swiftly close it. But perhaps, with this paper, I’m less callous than I let on. Catching feelings is still possible. Maybe it’s the estrogen ; )
Anxiety-compromised immune system. I’m not a scientist or a doctor but I know my body – I know it better than them. And sometimes I know it worse than them. But some improvisation is necessary when there are knowledge gaps, indifference, befuddlement. Slides of fear. Some people just know.
I find myself compulsively changing nappies, ugh. This is including my own. Rashes. After I slather on the canesten it’s necessary to have something light and breathable to put on. I can’t help myself with this midwife shit. A child comes up to me and asks for my number. At daycare later another hands me a prescription, illegible handwriting. At uni the head baby’s nearly falling over, placing a half-formed hand into the overhead projector. Compelling silhouette.
Philosophy of art and psychoanalysis after fingerpainting. We have just progressed from the anal stage to the vaginal stage, due to NHS cuts. There is a cavalcade of policewomen, journalists, abstract lolita admirers, and murderers crowding around the front lawn, making sure no illegal child hormones pass the threshold. For our protection, the headmistress baby distributes Kristeva, Derrida and Irigaray, suitable texts dealing with animals and wombs.
She has been dressed in 90s rave pants, and is very charismatic.
She digresses into my approximate quote:
I remember that moment in the 90s when abject art started being a thing and it was all exhibitions with big signs that said: “ABJECT – ART” quite a self-defeating containment. And then the next thing was “the uncanny” and it was like… ~dolls~
Body fluid art was a moment where everyone was asking where are they? where are they? and then spraying them across the gallery walls: There they are!
But after a while I feel a stop, and play time is over.
All these bubbies but what is being birthed. ?
The thrush happens when I have something due. Not a period, but maybe my body heats up in deadline anxiety, and the bacteria multiply. Maybe I just start washing and scrubbing more. There is a deep confirmation that I have some STI – sometimes I’m promiscuous – maybe it’s a demographic fear – blood-borne disease – skin manifest stains, smells, outcrops – a wetter urethra. It’s always wet. I always feel the vulva. No, it didn’t get any smaller darling. But some homologous parts darkened, like toast, raised, the wiring moved around, somehow. Ghost anatomies. Please, look for that in a textbook…
I’m nervous when I write and yeast flies in with a draft in the library and infects the hood covering my extremely long clitorus.
Part Two / BS lecture
The context for the paper is an article entitled “Human Thrush Entanglements” I had to present on for class. It was written by this artist from Perth, Tarsh Bates, who made sourdough bread from a culture of her vaginal thrush and presented it in a gallery. She draws on Donna Haraway’s taking up of Lynn Margulis—a microbiologist and proponent of the Gaia hypothesis, which posits the (feminized)world as a single operating organism. Bates offers the bread as a microcosmic Gaia; woman as more-than-human assemblage, but also perversely, petridish, condimented staple. So, plurality, and finality. Haraway’s structure for a thought is strings held between fingers, a cat’s cradle.
Queerness comes into the piece when she notes how thrush bacteria can “change gender” and also reproduce non-sexually through budding. What is this cultural (pun intended) enrichment of the larger structure of the cis woman’s body? In the article, and the framing of the work, there is no recourse to non-cis, and non-intersex for that matter, morphologies. This body remains unchanged in hosting a seeming multiplicity of difference. Thrush becomes representative of quote, “women’s leaky and abject bodies.” A catchcry which has become synonymous with blinkered white feminist perspectives.
I don’t know, I brought up some of these things with the two girls I had to present with.
They were really confused.
like, where does it say that?
then they were like, OK
but at least it has these bacteria
and it’s more than just identity politics.
This is just my bad experience where everyone in that room
was literally turning away from me for weeks
whenever I started to bring up trans stuff
like silent panic
once the class ended early, or felt like it.
grouping the things that were said to me
and let it be known that I am not that person who sits around keeping a tally
but I do have a striking memory, and an ear for subtlety:
disciplinary (when I’ve raised a point)
little asides while these bitches are playing centre and periphery with me!
The groupmates proceeded through the presentation, going into raptures about the work and article, showing related examples. I didn’t give one… but I always think about this piece written by Vincent Silk, with whom I worked on the text for this exhibition, Tender Rip. Vinnie’s piece was called “Pushing Aside Vulvic Doily Art,” but I somehow remember the title as “Coming Out From Under the Shadow of Vulvic Doily Art.” Like the doily is a large install, eclipsing the regime of the visible by acting as a sundial, or a canopy. A cat’s cradle? This was like that. The bread was huge in the projector, high in the nineteenth-century vaulted ceiling.
It’s not any one of these things,
each of which is a veritable hole to fall into
– but the cumulative effect.
My groupmates paused once, turned to me, and were like, Do you want to say your thing now?
and course I didn’t, to the class of fifteen
freezing awkwardly though all I wanted to say was cunt feminism.
In Goldsmiths leftist artist haven the phrase stuck in my throat.
It was a half-baked protest on my part—which is what I tried to carry it off as later.
trying to keep it together
a girl came up to me and was like,
“I was watching you up there.”
I thought she would say something in solidarity whatever.
“ You’re really pretty,” she said, “like gorgeous.”
wallflower, fake flower
What does pretty mean in this sentence?
SPIRAL MINI PRESENTATION ON THE ORDER OF YONI
An example my classmates brought up was this beer “Order of Yoni”.
I find it soo interesting.
It’s not an artwork but this Polish start-up that got going with the help of a GoFundMe, lol. The analogy with the bread is that they’re both made from vaginal thrush, albeit with different audiences in mind.
The sourdough is self-consciously feminist performance art, where gallery-goers are invited to partake of the bread (body of the he-christ etc), commenting on the power and fecundity of women’s bodies, tackling vaginal stigma, and the knife-twisting, if tragically misplaced gesture of “making men literally eat your thrush”.
Order of Yoni is a pornographic beer with promotional images of thin white women’s bodies, in black-and-white, with bottles between their smooth, robotic thighs. It is seductively beaded with perspiration, occasionally appearing alone with a bright pair of red panties strewn across the bottlecap.
It’s deliberately marketed to men who want to drink the “essence” of women, idly consume a drop of pussy juice harvested from the various supermodels listed on the company’s website.
Formally, the feminist thrush bread and the fetishistic yoni beer are extremely similar.
Their manifestos both cite the life and fecundity at the heart of the vagina and its bacteria. The Order refers to its models as Goddesses, and charts a generalised world constellation of deities associated with yonic fertility. The logo, for example, is problematically lifted from an ancient Vietnamese fertility sculpture. In their promotional materials, the Masters of the Order of Yoni also posit a literal Gaia hypothesis, linked to the one that weirdly shapes the genesis of Bates’ theory. Lynn Margulis via Haraway.
SO Bread and beer speak to this an unchecked assumption of essence and budding power at the heart of womanhood, located in the vagina. Both produce this essence as an edible thing, fodder for men, full of richness. Chains of value locate a source that is gut, natural, irrevocable, but is also articulated as novelty first and foremost.
World-firsts, buzzwords, consciousness-raising.
All this takes place through the highly cynical hipster-economy signifiers of:
a craft beer
a sourdough loaf .
Part Three / am I possibly in process of becoming
I write an essay for this subject and it’s weirdly easy, but only after having been through a warped grievance process with my 90s radical lecturer.
Which I feel guilty about.
But I’m trying to get this thing under control and my stomach to settle.
It’s not so bad and I can ignore it most of the time.
I go to Boots and buy all these things.
The cashier gives me a look in solidarity as she hands them over.
Then a letter for a scheduled pap smear comes in the mail, automated from the NHS. I have to laugh.
A group of older cis women appear on the news, saying they had to ask their doctors hundreds of times just to get menopausal hormone therapy.
The doctors are obsessed by risk, budgets, and an idea of nature…
excretions of true Goddesses…
But maybe it’s chlamydia?
I go get STI checks to make sure. UTI?
I go on antibiotics and it gets worse oops.
I drink on the weekend and same thing, fuck.
A bodybuilder I have sex with shrugs
and is like, isn’t all of it risky?? he’s on T
But I have no positives in the tests.
He tweaks my nipples like he’s playing with a radio,
my mind is elsewhere.
I relax for a bit and it comes back.
That week I eat Fluconazole
smear myself with Clotromizole,
Hydrozol for the itching.
all those promises they gave of infertility, I swear
Greek yoghurt, raw garlic.
A lil buttermilk scone, and a joint.
I see a girl from my class in a floral dress and red lipstick
when I’m walking home.
We smile at eachother in the warm sun.
Why won’t this thing die?
I finish the essay quickly, then write two more.
Then I write this.
Somewhere a tingling falls out of my periphery…..
I have entered a more astringent space
but of course I expect her again.
possibly though something I inadvertently eat.
So I get a handle on the discourse:
Am I scoby now?
Image: Wet things dry, dry things get wet, Spence Messih (2019). Installation view in Tender rip, a collaborative project with Jos Charles, Brian Fuata, Adrien Hester, Sidney McMahon, Spence Messih, Real Madrid, Prem Sahib, Vincent Silk, Ainslie Templeton at Auto Italia, London (2019). Photogtaphy; Rob Harris.