When the EU Referendum began I decided that I had to sell my house in London and move away, I ended up in the mountains in Southern Spain, in the middle of nowhere.
I live in a small, very small farming village which survives because of collectivism. Water, harvest and the work is carried out cooperatively and often fruits are shared. I frequently find bags on my doorstep and have become good at making a range of jams and chutneys. The harvest is sold at agreed standard prices and these apply across the board. There are no richer or poorer farmers. Fiestas are always a time of celebration.
I didn’t end up here though because of some strange, but wonderful, middle class desire to live off the land, far from it, I adore shopping and still spend far too much of far too little in Duty Free coming back to work in London. I didn’t end up here because of some romantic notion of meeting a beautiful Spanish person and like Ms Durrell ending up married and rescued.
I am HIV, transgender and I don’t believe in fairy stories or pray. It can be tough being here and feeling ‘other’, it can be tough feeling ill here and being isolated. I’m a very long term thriver with HIV and that means I’ve been on very strong drugs for many years so life generally knackers me out now. I reel from bouts of oral thrush, ulcers and different infections to just feeling exhausted. But every day I thank my lucky stars that I am alive. I walk in the mountains close my eyes and feel the sun on my face. It sometimes makes me cry good tears, happy tears, content tears, Joni Mitchell tears.
But I didn’t sell up and come over for the mountains or the great collective-collection of fruit. Nor did I come here looking to join an ‘expat’ community. In my local area there are very few English people, it’s old and Spanish and intensely quiet.
Nor did I come here for the quiet but I relish it every minute of every day.
No I came here because I was running away, I was running away from the rising feeling of racism in England. From the tensions that were being stoked by the rich-press, by the far right and by the moderate left. By the ‘everyman & everywoman’ in the street, by the people worse affected and the people not affected at all. I was running away from my family and friends and colleagues. I was running away from anyone who talked about wanting England to be great again, about blaming groups of people, the Polish, the immigrants, the migrants, the Eastern Europeans, the Africans.
I was running away from them all, because I couldn’t stop pleading with them to stop talking about groups of people as if they knew them, or blaming groups of people for the inequality in England whilst arranging a street party for the Queen. I couldn’t live as part of a society that at its core is rotten but constantly seeks to blame others.
I couldn’t believe in Punk as a reaction when these structures had followed.
I was raised in a typical working class white British family who had aspirations but felt these aspirations were fragile and could be taken away at any minute by someone with more or someone with less. It’s a peculiar British trait borne out of a ‘small island mentality that insists that to survive you must be bigger than the biggest, that you must own as much of the world as possible but stay deep within your green and promised land. It is an impossible feat that the working class have had to burden for many years. As the rich fly to every corner of the globe taking, stealing, borrowing and gloating the poor are told that they should beware of the ‘foreigner’ coming to get them.
We even did it with the American soldiers during the Second World War. I was raised in the late sixties and seventies with sayings such as –
“Overpaid, oversexed and over here,” our closest ally seen as a sexual danger in our rolling bucolic lands.
I was raised by a father who thought he knew best about Africa and Africans despite having never been there or knowing an African. The seventies were littered with people who knew how best the world should be run and were still mourning the loss of the Great British Empire. We were still taught it at school.
The Great Britons; Richard the Lion heart, the Bulldog Spirit, Boudica the Great Warrior Queen and of course Churchill.
When I was at school lots of our teachers were ex-army, ex-Second World War Heroes. My history teacher was revered in our school because he’d flown a Spitfire.
We were told, even as the lights went out and we read by candlelight that the problem ‘wasn’t us it was them’, the foreign them. I remember (much to my humour now) seeing Germaine Greer on television, on one of our three channels, when I witnessed my families reaction to her ‘otherness’ I felt akin to someone for the first time in my life. Ironically Germaine saved this trans women from being drowned in a sea of British Imperialist thought.
But that was the 1970s. The 80s felt almost the same and the 90s, although by then my personal had overtaken the political and I found myself ‘othered’ by ‘otherness’ and selling what I could of my personal to pay for an addiction to drugs.
Over the past few years I have felt horrified, depressed, intensely saddened and shocked at the re-emergence of a language defined by isolationism, xenophobia and racism. I felt that somehow the rise of groups like UKIP would only be a splinter and a fractious reaction to a clash of embittered right and left politics that just doesn’t fit anymore, maybe it is.
But it’s grown worldwide, fascism and dumb imperialism, from ISIS to Trump to Farage. From Briton First to the Evangelic Far Right groups across the globe, politics is becoming defined by hatred and blame like it used to be in the fucking bad old days. I’m old enough to remember signs in pubs saying NO BLACKS, NO GYPSIES, I’m old enough to remember people defining ‘whiteness’ as a goal, as a pinnacle of aspiration.
And there is an acceptance of this position now dressed up as ordinary people feeling ‘shut out’ and ‘forgotten’ by society. And poor people have been. By the rich and the ruling classes and mainly by men.
When I left England I felt weak, I felt like I the campaigner was running away, at that point I had no idea how the debate would escalate but I felt that the tide of hatred was rising and that I was tired of people telling me that I didn’t understand, that I was an idealist, that I was unpatriotic, that because I was different that I couldn’t understand and that because I was HIV I should be grateful for all that my country had done for me through the NHS and that I should be scared that the immigrants would run the NHS into the ground and leave me ill.
I was just really angry that governments and pharma companies weren’t making drugs cheaper and more available, I was pissed off at notions of profit and capital build up that meant people could die when drugs were available.
I found myself literally worn out.
I left because a hopeful, bright England I had always tried to love was again becoming consumed by racial hatred driven by a few men who are seldom affected by politics because they are rich and rich people have money-freedom. I am left feeling guilty because I should have had the strength to stay and keep fighting and arguing but I’ll be honest it feels like a lost cause and I felt like I needed to have a sanctuary.
This past week we have seen crimes, murder, mass murder committed across our world borne out of isolationist fears that ‘others’ will take over. Meanwhile the very people who caused all of this – Farage with his absurd smoking and Trump with his spiteful plans for a wall are getting off scot-free because their narrative, the one we allowed to be created, one of ‘telling it like it is’ is no different to other insidious past narratives that pit people against people under the guise of seeking to balance and redress truth. They are spiteful men who are creating reams of hatred and anger, frequently in the most dispossessed but there cannot be an excuse anymore, we should have learnt and we should know better.
UKIP and other far right groups should not be able to exist in a just society.