When you put on the headscarf, or niqab, or burqa, you become a symbol. In the context of rising Islamophobia across Europe and America, visible Muslim women are reduced to a canvas onto which we project a set of conflicting, insidious stories. Every day, unspoken hostility slips over into outright aggression. In the week following the 2015 Paris attacks, there was a 300 per cent rise in the number of hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims in the UK – the overwhelming majority of the victims were women and girls dressed in traditional Islamic dress. This is a pattern repeated across Europe and the USA after every major terrorist attack, and every bogus poll purporting to reveal ‘What Muslims Really Think’. What does it feel like to bear this burden of representation? And what motivates women to wear the veil today? For Ladybeard's Mind Issue, we spoke to three Muslim women to find out. Here, we share Amani's testimony.
We have drawn a strict dividing line between the mad and the sane in our society. Wary of slipping over it, we work to maintain the illusion of self-possession and perfect happiness. ‘Losing your mind’, we have been taught, means weakness and isolation, and so we try to live on the ‘right’ side of the binary, while really most of us are in flux, or occupying the blurred space in between.
The Mind Issue aims to open up our expectations by telling stories that embrace this complexity. Here are four of nine experiences featured in the magazine that reclaim and reimagine what it means to ‘lose your mind’, taking us through death and breakdown, to infatuation, transformation, and spiritual fulfilment. Some of these testimonies are distressing, and some are joyful, but all show that periods of mental intensity and unrest are a part of life.
The next Issue of Ladybeard will look straight into that great unknown: The Mind. At the heart of human experience, the mind is the means by which we understand ourselves and the world around us. Inevitably, then, it is a site of division: between male and female, strong and weak, mad and sane. This issue attempts to remap and reimagine the landscape of the mind by testing the binaries that have come to define us. Taking in everything from mental health to manipulation, we're looking for writing and art that pushes boundaries, exploring how far the psychological is political, fantasy is reality and the 'self' is really the 'other'. Submissions are now open – send us work that will change our minds.
Please send short pitches, along with a sample of your work, by 20 February.
‘Never underestimate the imaginative powers or depravity of some people. For such a simple, arguably dumb idea, it proved to be very rich.’
PECKER is the world’s largest collection of illustrated penises. The latest venture of designer Jon Bland and copywriter Louie Zeegen, the book is both a homage to the humble phallus and a playful comment on contemporary design projects. Drawn by unknown penophiles and established artists alike – Mr Bingo, Marion Deuchars, Tim Lahan and Mike Perry to name a few – the dick-pics were all crowd-sourced, with people submitting directly to Jon and Louie via the stand they set up at Kiosk publishing fair in London. The results are weird and wonderful, with 480 pages of penai ranging from the textbook, to the more exercise-book variety. And it’s not just prospective doodlers who were drawn to the project; following its launch at the KK Outlet in early December 2015, the book has seen two complete sell-out print runs – Jon and Louie tell me they’ve even sold their own copies. Evidently the world is as desperate as we are to find a design project where the pricks are the work not the people behind it. Ladybeard spoke with the pair to find out more.
We have now officially sold out of The Sex Issue! Thanks to everyone who bought a copy, and everyone who attended our event. Drag, nails, and 'lady garden' decor transformed the space into a kind of queer sweet sixteen and we loved it. The highlight being that cake. There will be a few copies available at selected shops in London. Stay tuned for more details.
*Note on the raffle* One lucky gentleman is owed a session with the legendary porn star and ecosexual Annie Sprinkle. If you know him, or you are him, get in touch.
Clare Groves was one of three contestants at HIV Blind Date on 14 October 2015. Clare was diagnosed in 2007, but she's been living with Hep C since the nineties. At the time of our interview, Clare was waiting, along with hundreds of thousands of other people with Hep C in the UK, for a range of breakthrough drugs with cure rates of over 95 per cent to become widely available on the NHS. When we spoke, only those with life-threatening liver damage were allowed to access new medication.
Since October, there has been a step forward and doctors will soon be legally bound to prescribe the new drugs to most patients. But underfunding by the NHS means that in reality, very little may change. In the course of my research for this article it became apparent that despite the law, only those who have the support and ability to make their voices heard will be able to get treatment.
November 20th-27th is European Testing Week. This year, for the first time, testing week has expanded to include hepatitis and is now named European HIV-Hepatitis Testing Week.
On the 14th of October Cilla Black was reincarnated as an HIV+ gay man. Blind Date is back, and it’s brilliant. The old format remains: three contestants compete for the affections of one lucky questioner – but in this version, the questioner is a gender- queer boy named Tom, and the contestants are all living with HIV or Hep C.
The brainchild of ACT UP (Aids Coalition To Unleash Power), HIV Blind Date set out to celebrate the people living with HIV and Hep C, whilst exposing the devastating erasure of the services they need. More people than ever before are living with HIV in the UK, but, nonsensically, this government has cut HIV support, prevention, and education by 50 per cent. Hep C services are in a similar state of crisis: it is estimated that over 216,000 people live with Hep C in the UK, but a range of new drugs with cure rates of over 95 per cent remain unavailable on the NHS, except in cases of cirrhosis; this means that patients are made to wait until they have life-threatening liver damage before they are allowed access to a cure. Following final recommendations made by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) last month, doctors will soon be legally bound to prescribe these new drugs to almost all patients – the ongoing problem, however, is that the NHS has failed to allocate enough money to provide treatment for everyone who needs it, and so people living with Hep C will continue to face unequal access to medication.
Charlie Craggs is not a woman who backs down. She is a 23-year-old, self-declared “council estate girl done good”, and one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. Charlie founded Nail Transphobia, the campaign that is “fighting transphobia, fabulously” through a travelling pop-up nail salon. From her council estate to the V&A, Charlie tackles trans issues with strangers while decorating their nails, creating powerful connections over pink decal hearts. As long time fans, Ladybeard are thrilled that Charlie will be dishing out truths and nail transfers for anyone and everyone at our launch party this Saturday 14 November. Before the big day, Ladybeard met up with her to talk about class, transphobia, and the power of playful activism.
Shirley is a beautiful man-eater, Glamrou is a 44-year-old sexpot, Chrystal’s a Republican glamour nana, and Aphrodite’s immortal – she’s a goddess with 24 kids. Together, they are Denim, the drag extravaganza breaking down gender binaries with their erotic, chaotic comedycabaret. Partway between a club night and a cover band, Denim blends activism with pure hedonism, transporting its audience into a world where categories for gender and sexuality dissolve. The trick? Everybody comes in drag.
Drag has made an art form out of marrying contrarieties, but even by these standards the DENIM story raises eyebrows. Alter egos of Hugh Wyld, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Tom Rasmussen, and Charlie Parham, the Denim girls were born in Cambridge University. “I really believe in positive revolutions,” says founder Amrou (Glamrou) Al-Kadhi. Amrou was excited by the idea of using drag, with all its irreverent queerness, to subvert the university’s straight male tradition. He wanted to get people to associate the feelings of euphoria and joy they experienced on the night with Denim’s political message – “that gender isn’t fixed, and that identity should be explored”. The first event was a roaring success. All the boys in Cambridge bought all the dresses in Primark, and the university became a hotbed of gender-anarchy and defiance. Since then the show has just got bigger. The Denims are now sponsored by MAC, and in the last year they have performed at Mario Testino’s birthday party and joined Florence Welch onstage at Glastonbury. But despite all the commercial success, their motivation remains ideological: “The problem with society is that people don’t respect the ‘other’”, Amrou tells me, “Drag helps us to recognise the ‘other’ within ourselves”.
It’s taken us two years and over 70 contributors but it’s finally here! To celebrate the launch of The Sex Issue we’re throwing a party. Join us for a night of drag, bubbles, and jelly boobs!
Our expectations of sex have been distorted. As a society we have shrouded sex in myth, narrowing down the vast spectrum of sexual experience into something straight, cis, slick and penetrative. When, inevitably, sexual reality doesn’t live up to the collective sexual fantasy, everyone is left feeling abnormal.
The motivation behind the Sex Issue was to substitute airbrushed depictions of sex for honest reflections on the experience(s) of intercourse and sexuality. Here are four of the ten testimonies we collected about sexual experience that liberate us from the homogenous, heteronormative ‘ideal’. These writings attest to sexual difficulties and transformations, to obsessions and habits and passions. They are real experiences, and with their variety and their honesty they expand our definitions of sex and sexuality.
The Sex Issue is finally here, get yours now!Read More
With only one day to go till the release of the Sex Issue, here is our final teaser before the big reveal. Petra Joy champions the female gaze in her films, taking us 'Beyond the Cum Shot' and into the world of feminist pornography.
The hardcore porn boom of the 70s and 80s initially turned Petra away from pornography and it took 25 years for her to transfer her energy from fighting sexist commercial porn, to creating alternatives to it. She made her first film Sexual Sushi in 2004, an experimental film featuring a real-life couple. It was one of the first in a wave of unconventional pornos that paved the way for further ‘authentic’ forms – like the hit site Beautiful Agony (also launched in 2004), where individuals upload videos of themselves orgasming filmed only from the shoulders up, and, more recently, MakeLoveNotPorn (launched in 2012 by Cindy Gallop), showcasing homemade porn. Since her first film Petra has made five more feature length films. She believes there has always been a desire for feminist porn, but nothing on the market that catered to it.
“The truth is that most of us are flexible and fluid and are interested not just in playing with different genders depending on the situation, but also playing with power. Maybe sometimes we want to be submissive, maybe sometimes dominant. All of that should be available to us at all times. We can choose to do it or not to do it, but the more often we see it, feminist porn might empower a woman to think, ‘I’m NOT weird or ‘perverted’ if I fuck a guy with a strap-on.’ That’s why pornography is so important and so political, and why I don’t understand feminists who exclude porn from their agenda.”
Petra’s work is inherently political. By denying the representation of certain desires, we implicitly condemn the individuals who have them. Society as a whole suffers, as a large part of it is deemed unhealthy, perverted or wrong. We need open and frank discussions about sexuality in order to defuse years of accumulated sexual repression and personal distress. This comes back to the ‘humanist’ aspect of Petra’s porn: “It’s about all genders learning from each other – all of us having more and better communication and ultimately more and better sex.”
We are two days away from the release of our Sex Issue and sharing teasers from some of our favourite pieces. Our second extract comes courtesy of the inspirational Rebecca Gomperts who founded Women on Waves – the abortion ship that brings safe, medical abortions to countries where it is illegal.
“Every year, according to the World Health Organisation, 42 million women have an abortion. 21 million of these are unsafe. Every year approximately 50,000 women die from unsafe abortions, whilst 5-8 million suffer lasting health consequences –
infertility, chronic pain, and any number of other things. But abortion figures are always underestimated.
These are only the official figures.”
Why do you think that making sure that women have access to medication despite the law is more important than protesting and working to have the laws changed?
Both are important. You need to change laws because they create fear, self-censorship, and discrimination. When abortion is illegal it creates a taboo. You see this in countries like Poland where abortion used to be legal: the moment it becomes illegal it is no longer normalised and it becomes something totally different. If women have access to the right medication, they can do it quietly in their own homes. This will also change the reality – it makes it less of an ordeal. If it’s illegal, women have to find somebody who can help them, which it makes it a dangerous and scary experience. With medicine available, it’s not like that anymore. It has become something that, while not legal, is safe and that you can do yourself. Access to the right medication and making sure that women have the right information normalises abortion despite the law.
Read the full interview in The Sex Issue.
1000 copies of Sex Issue are landing on the Ladybeard door step in just three days! To get geared up for the release, we're sharing a sneak preview from three of our favourite pieces. First up, a snippet of our interview with Alex Cowan on the endemic asexualisation of disabled people.
You have written that the denial of disabled people’s sexuality is dehumanising. What is the connection between humanity and sexuality?
Sexuality is a drive, a desire, a feeling that every human being has in some way. Even if you are asexual, you have considered your relationship to sex and sexuality. So it’s intrinsically linked with humanity. It’s how humanity goes forwards, increases and multiplies.
Sex and sexuality are two different things. But sexuality is something that can pervade and influence not just your feelings about sex and yourself as a sexual being, but how you understand your position and place in the world, your interactions with other people, and your idea of yourself as a viable, valuable human being. When your sexuality is ignored, as it is with disabled people, it makes you feel less than. That’s really dehumanising, to have an important aspect of yourself completely negated. It’s as though sexuality is something that you are not worthy of.
Ingrid Bittar creates collages that are at once playful and sinister. Bright colours dominate: sometimes distracting from, sometimes illuminating the more controversial images embedded within the frame. Born in Brazil, she studied design at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, finding collage, her chosen medium, almost by accident – a friend asked her to display some work, and for efficiency’s sake, she “decided to give the huge box of images [she had] collected for over ten years a purpose”. After that, she was hooked: “It was complete freedom and whenever I had time I’d sit down and make more.” It is this desire for freedom that most often plays out in her work: the struggle between chaos and order, sobriety and silliness, movement and stasis. She approaches recurrent themes – sexuality, domesticity, and identity construction – and recently has begun embroidering sex organs, playing with ideas of expectation and technique. Her approach is frank; looking head on, and then to the side at a subject, making her work both funny and refreshing. From graphic encrusted penises, to abstract assemblages of the female reproductive system, she moves deftly between the gauche and the reflective.
“It’s not really about sex, it’s about the study of sex, the science of sex”, says Kate Forde, one of the curators. The first UK exhibition to bring together leaders in the study of sex such as Magnus Hirschfeld, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, ‘The Institute of Sexology’ at the Wellcome Collection shows us how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go to understand human sexual response and identity. It explores the work and collections of these sexologists in their different sites of research; from labs and classrooms, to libraries and living rooms.
The labyrinthine space is filled with note books, incredibly detailed hand-drawn charts, manuals and complex diagrams. There are over 200 objects ranging from ‘Anti Baby’ Condoms from the 1980s, to 1920s hair dryer-esque vibrators and rubber diaphrams, and alarmingly spiky anti-masturbation devices from the 1880s, to decorative vessels and drawings depicting couples just enjoying the act. My favourite was a beautifully painted porcelain fruit which opened to reveal a couple copulating, blissfully unaware. Interspersed amongst the film, ethnography and medical artifacts, there is a really beautiful selection of fine art, ranging from Jonathan Stezaker’s androgynous collages to activist Zanele Muholi’s moving black and white portraits of lesbians in South Africa. Even Woody Allen’s comic sci-fi film, Sleeper, in which the ‘Orgasmatron’, an elevator-shaped machine, is used to rapidly induce the frigid couples of the future to orgasm, has its own rightful place. Brought together, these items show us how our attitude towards sexual behavior is evolving, and the remarkable diversity within the study of sex.
In the run up to Ladybeard’s Sex Issue, we spoke to the artist Neil Bartlett about his inspiring sex survey entitled ‘Excuse Me, Would You Mind If I Asked You a Few Personal Questions About Sex?’ Refiguring the traditional dynamic between audience and exhibition, visitors are invited to pick up a questionnaire, comprised of 24 unapologetically intimate questions about their sexual life, and post it into a box in the gallery.
London-born, New York based artist Nicola Tyson is best known for the unusual, psychological figures who stalk her stark, brightly-coloured canvases. Wonderfully distorted, these otherworldly creatures are mesmerising, transfixing the spectator both in alarm and adoration.
Alongside her arresting artwork, Tyson has produced innovative literary work. She is the author of Dead Letter Men, a series of letters that invert the literary tradition of male authors writing to their dead predecessors. Tyson’s own letters to deceased male artists, from Pablo Picasso to Max Beckmann, sit alongside photographs of the artist and portraits of her male influences. Thought provoking and immensely funny, these satirical letters give voice to her (and our) frustrations with male artists of the past, examining the divisive sexual politics of art. The book was published in limited edition by her New York and London galleries, Petzel and Sadie Coles HQ, with only 800 copies printed. Ladybeard was lucky enough to get our hands on a copy and we have chosen our favourite letter to share with you!