I want to let good news be good news.

Today it was announced that Australians have voted in favour of legislation allowing same-sex marriages. That’s good news.

Roughly 62% of Australians voted ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage. 6 in 10 people therefore agree with me that if my sister is allowed to marry a man, then I should be too. I was never asked to vote on her rights, but let’s leave that alone.

4 in 10 people, for various reasons, believe that I should not be allowed to marry a man, because I am one. They believe that I belong to a specific sub-category of people to whom marriage should be forbidden.

I take that personally because it is literally an opinion on the quality of my person. It is very explicitly stating that I am somehow inferior, less worthy, unqualified or incapable of enjoying the same rights as they are.

I don’t seek to deny the 4 in 10 their opinion. They’re well entitled to it.

…but it still hurts.

I’m grateful to those who took the time to vote ‘yes’ and I’m relieved to know that they are a majority. I’m disappointed that they are not a larger majority, but perhaps that says more about me than anyone else.

Today it was announced that Australians have voted in favour of legislation allowing same-sex marriages. Let good news be good news.

Yes, that’s my bum on a carrier bag

For the second time in as many years, I am standing at the entrance of a fetish shop staring at myself. It’s not my reflection. The entrance has been covered with an image of me: life-size, naked and poking my tongue out. Seeing myself here was not unexpected, but still a surprise. I do a lot of modelling for artists, but not much commercial work, so I’m not accustomed to seeing myself frozen in large format in public spaces. I’m amused to find out that I’m also on the carrier bags.

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The image that graces the entrance to Gear London (now open!) was taken from a particularly fun, but somewhat risky, shoot on the London Underground. It was risky because Transport for London doesn’t like photographs being taken at the best of times. They are even less enthusiastic when the model is completely naked.

Neither the entrance nor the carrier bags have a full frontal image. My bum is on the carrier bag, and I’m holding a well-placed jacket in the entrance. Still, there I am, for the good folk of Shoreditch to see, with nothing more than a cheeky smile and some good lighting.

The texts have been trickling in since the store opened. For the most part, people have been delighted to see me. Which is flattering. Then I was amused to discover that some people were concerned. Did I know the picture was there? Did I give my permission? What if someone from work saw it? The enquiries were invariably well intentioned, but somehow left me a little nonplussed.

I’m often naked and I’m often paid for it. It’s a perk of having a healthy lifestyle and limited inhibition. I don’t broadcast that fact to everyone in my life because it’s not usually relevant. I also don’t bother to hide it because I don’t see any reason why I should. The implication from the concerned texts, that I’m doing something unscrupulous or unseemly, is at best misplaced, and at times outright hurtful.

For starters, if I were in the window of a fashion store, nobody would question the legitimacy. One would assume I had agreed to a photo shoot, been adequately paid for my time and efforts, and that I had given some kind of formal consent. The fact that Gear sells fetishwear shouldn’t render any of these assumptions less valid.

I am involved in sex the same way I am involved in science and the same way that I am involved in story telling. I use these aspects of my life to communicate and to express myself. They are not destructive. They are not exploitative. To be clear, exploitation can exist in sex-related industries (as in all industries) but it is a problem independent of the sexual nature of the work.

People who know me should know that the integrity of my work is important to me. I don’t allow my scientific output to be misrepresented or plagiarised. Similarly, I don’t allow my image (clothed or otherwise) to be used without my consent or in a way that promotes an agenda that I don’t support. The only difference is that anything I do that involves sex and sexuality is often undermined by a pervasive and condescending moral viewpoint.

Anyone with access to the Internet can learn pretty much all there is to know about me. I’m not one for secrets or confessions. The same month that my image appeared on the doors of a fetish boutique was the same month I submitted my thesis in cognitive neuroscience. I do more than one thing in my life.  I am proud of everything that I do.  I am only one person.

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Brighton City Airport – my piece for Atlas Obscura

I’ve been a fan of Atlas Obscura for a long time.

For the uninitiated, Atlas Obscura is an online guide to curiosities and oddities found around the world. Bookmark a few places when planning your travels and I guarantee you will enjoy some truly unique sights.

Visit the Merry Cemetery of Northern Romania, where the deaths of the interred are depicted as comic illustrations on brightly coloured tombstones.

Marvel at the Immovable Ladder on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Discover secrets in your own backyard, like Archie, the Giant Squid or the stuffed remains of scholar Jeremy Bentham

Oh look! Here’s a rather eloquent and charming article written about Brighton City Airport.

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HIV & World AIDS Day & you

Originally written 1st December, 2016 (World AIDS Day)

World AIDS Day is incredibly important. People who believe themselves to be forward-thinking and open-minded may be surprised that some of their opinions are at best hurtful, at worst dangerous. This could be you.

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These guys get it!

I don’t have HIV, but I’m not afraid to say that I very easily could have, given decisions I’ve made. I am and always have been very careful, but I’m not perfect.

It is sometimes said – more often believed – that people who contract HIV somehow deserve it. This is an illogical and unpleasant twisting of a simple truth, which is that we are all responsible for the decisions we make. Given the probability of infection, contracting HIV is almost always ‘unfortunate’ (if you disagree, I’d be happy to discuss statistics with you in a few months when I’ve finished my PhD). If you’ve ever participated in extreme sports, drunk so much that you’ve passed out, or even spent too long in the sun, then you have also participated in risky behaviour that could have had ‘unfortunate’ results. The only difference is a pervasive (and to my mind out-dated) attitude about sex.

If you feel that HIV is a fair punishment for behaviour that you consider ‘promiscuous’, ‘sleazy’ or ‘stupid’, then that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. Please at least consider that your opinion may be based on lessons that were handed down to you from a parent, a teacher or a church. If you have never questioned these lessons before, please take a moment to do so now…

The veneration of chastity and the condemnation of promiscuity are values we have inherited from medieval society. You may think they are values worth keeping. That’s fine. However, please remember that they are man-made conventions, not self-evident truths. Simply being in the majority does not make you right (or wrong). Personally I think it’s time to think a little differently.

I’ve taken the time to write this because the stigma associated with HIV is real and it prevents people from living the best lives they can. It clouds debates about which treatments and preventative methods should and shouldn’t be made available. It reveals hidden prejudices that should have been buried decades ago. It reminds us that we are far too quick to place lifestyle choices on a spectrum of good and evil – and if we haven’t learnt what dangers that brings by now, then we’re really in trouble.

World AIDS Day isn’t just to make you aware that AIDS exists. It’s asking you to be aware of and consider your own thoughts and feelings about AIDS and people living with HIV. You might be surprised what you learn.

 

Babies: optional

Reflecting on Ian McKellen’s recent comments about being too selfish to have children: Choosing not to RAISE a child that’s been born would be selfish…. choosing not to HAVE a child is neither selfish nor selfless. A not-yet-conceived baby doesn’t exist. You owe them nothing. You also do not owe the planet, the species, the nation, your religion or your family, despite what any of them may say. Young women, this is especially important for you to remember: don’t be bullied by people who say that one day you’ll change your mind. Plenty of people live full and happy lives without children. You do not owe the world a baby.

One More Time with Feeling

‘One More Time With Feeling’ – the documentary about the making of Nick Cave’s new album, Skeleton Tree …is rather extraordinary. It’s not perfectly paced, or structured, but as the film reminds us, neither is life. It IS exquisitely filmed in (mostly) black and white, and the unexpected, yet skilful use of 3D provides some surprisingly intimate moments.

There are laughs, but ultimately you’re watching a talented group of people assemble what was already a melancholy album in the wake of unanticipated tragedy.

As consumers of creative work, we are often selfishly curious about their creation. We want to know everything: where it was made, by whom, and where… and why. This film gives you everything, right down to the dust on the piano. Every button, switch, light and cable gets a feature.

Then it gives you more. It gives you the uncertainty, the frustration, the lost pens, the awkward conversations and the heartbreaking silences. At times it gives you more than you you feel you have any right to see… and yet, somehow, it feels like the best response to such a generous exposure is not to say “I’m sorry” but “thank you”.

Go and see it if you’re a fan of music, or cinema, or stories, or darkness, or light.

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