Anne Bonny and Mary Reed and inexorable art of the anger of women
get in here Queenslayer we're telling war stories
Inexorable by Amanda Cotton is a commissioned public sculpture of pirate dykes Anne Bonny and Mary Reed. the sculpture is of two blobby figures side by side where the only real features are hips and hair. this is because the artist doesn’t want to focus on what they look like but on their personalities and lives. great i should be saying. Maggie Hambling could never
but smth about this still has me unsure
unlike the the statue of Mary Wollstonecraft i’m not filled with total hatred, just discomfort. and discomfort isn’t always a bad thing and is often more of a personal thing than an issue with the artist. so lets take a look at why i’ve got such mixed feelings about this statue to commemorate two bad ass pirate dykes.
Ok so first of all, most of the articles i found on the sculpture talk more about the Audible podcast about Anne Bonny and Mary Reed and its clear from that that the statues in large part are gonna commemorate more about the podcast than about the women in the lovely capitalist way our histories are so often gatekept (yes honey commodify that ancient tradition of oral storytelling *clicks fingers in Gay*). Aside from saying they were women who were pirates and possible Gays we don’t really get told anything cuz Audible has staked its claim on their story
i also want to mention there is this one article proclaiming it as the “UK’s First Non-Binary Sculpture” without qualifying that in any way at all and its so weird cuz a) its definitely not the first and b) women wearing trousers doesn’t make them non-binary ffs
anyway capitalism aside these blobby statues sum up some thoughts i’ve been having for a while about what Feminism™ takes from me and allows me ~as a trans woman~
will i be remembered for looking like the first brick that got thrown at stonewall or for being some ethereal beauty?
what ppl remember about me is my anger (righteous or not) and that like Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle i’ll happily wage war on anything if it sits still for too long
that anger is the tool of my de-gendering and misgendering - in one breath i’m too aggressive and i’m being painted as an angry man in a dress and then in the next breath i’m being compared to Grace O’Malley and called a she-wolf and i’m a #GirlBoss. that anger is never mine, as soon as soon as acted on it becomes every fucker else’s business and becomes this ultimately gender neutral thing (is that why its a non-binary sculpture???) and even other trans ppl will decide what gender to assign my anger depending on if it’s being aimed at them or if they can weaponise it (i have srsly watched other trans ppl and allies suddenly use masculine-coded language for me if i’ve been annoyed at them or if i make a mistake and there is fuck all i get to say about it cuz ultimately i reinforce that i’m just an Angry Tranny™)
i can’t help but wonder how much the influence of Feminism™ robs me of, in terms of gender and personality and legacy. the ballad of my anger and my actions when righteous gets told beyond any of the gentle care work i’ve done, as does the ballad of my transgression when done in anger or in traumatised states (the latter being the more likely), as is the case with all trans women and trans femmes. my legitimacy as a woman or as a dyke rests on how i perform that anger as does whether it becomes the only thing i’m known for
the story of me stopping the leeds pride march so the 150+ trans ppl could shout at the terfs that were protesting us will go down as a local legend passed along from those who saw it as will other activisms and angry fb rants. the heroism and righteous anger that a community of ppl need to believe in will be what i will be remembered for, having the mess and fat neatly trimmed to fit into Strong Female Archetype or Strong Independent Woman so that ppl can see me as Grace O’Malley or Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space 9 or, the more complex but still only read on her surface level, Granny Weatherwax.
what does this have to do with Anne Bonny and Mary Reed?
well just google their history. Largely overlooked and erased, as most pirate women are, by men for their anger and for dressing as men to be taken seriously (or more likely just wearing trousers cuz more practical when ur trying to fight and do other sea-faring stuff), but that anger also translates into being Bad Ass and is being neatly packaged into the archetypes so we can understand them. 18th century women translated nicely into 21st century archetypes to make use feel comfy and give us smth to believe in.
the artist has used Anne and Mary’s anger as part of that representation. fire and earth and that when those angers are combined they were unstoppable, the title Inexorable literally means impossible to stop. Anne’s fiery red hue, a universally accepted symbol of anger, draws u in before ur gaze drifts to Mary’s cool tones - the cold anger of a frosty ice queen, another trope women’s anger gets categorised as. the artist’s determination to remove the focus from their looks, however admirable, has shook off the basics of visual communication (i’m a simple northern lass, i’d have been happy with statues of women in pirate costumes) and boiled them down to their anger cuz Feminsim™. and thats not wholly or solely bad or good, its just what it is
all of this made me think about that scene in game of thrones where Robert Baratheon calls Jamie Lannister in to share his war stories and then asks him about murdering the previous king who was a mad tyrant. he is known and named for that anger and the action that it lead to, no matter how weird a grey area that is, he is marked for it. it makes me think about how irl we are marked for our anger and it becomes us wholly and becomes the representation
my mixed feelings and discomfort aren’t a bad thing here or a thing Amanda Cotton has done that’s bad either. in fact its probs more accurate to say that i vibe with the statues cuz i too get reduced to anger, so did Marsha P Johnson and Silvia Rivera (throwing a brick and invading a stage to shout at ppl are what they’re respectively most known for. Think about why they’re most quoted for acts of anger over acts of care) and countless trans women who have gone before just like most women in history. my discomfort is knowing that i share their fate of being known for my anger, righteous or not
the figures of these two unstoppable women are cast in marine concrete and sunk into the beach at Execution Dock which means that eventually they will become part of the environment and a small reef for coral and the various water-based wildlife of the area. they will be allowed to settle, take on a new life and become more than their anger.
this gives me hope that one day i’ll be allowed to be a blobby woman with a shark bite (a new name for GRS right there) on a beach and heal and become more than the anger i’m remembered for. maybe i’ll even sing fun sea shanties about not needing men that my partner sends me