May 9 17

AJ McKenna


AJ McKenna is a fat trans lesbian known mainly for shouting at people about death threats, hair removal cream and public toilets. A multiple slam-winning performance poet, journalist, educator and LGBT rights activist, AJ uses her unique combination of humour, passion and vulnerability to tackle prejudice head-on.

AJ has performed extensively around the country, headlining events like Jibba Jabba, Forked and Jawdance. Summer 2014 marked her first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, where she performed to full houses at Other Voices and Outspoken. The first act to perform in both the Women’s and Trans Zones at Newcastle Pride, AJ has also performed well-received sets at Bar Wotever, She Grrrowls and Transpose, the UK’s biggest event for transgender performance, music and film. She has also performed at conferences and events outside of the traditional poetry circuit, including gigs for Skeptics in the Pub, the Gay and Lesbian Humanists Association, and Britain’s largest teaching union, the NASUWT.

In 2013, AJ was one of only five poets chosen from around the UK to work with Apples and Snakes and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to create a poetry film for Architects of Our Republic, a project to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. AJ’s contribution, Letter to a Minnesota Prison, filmed by Laura Degnan, told the story of CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman imprisoned in the US for protecting herself from a transphobic, racist attack. The film was premiered at the Royal Festival Hall as part of a day-long event culminating in performances from Dizraeli, Zena Edwards and rap pioneers The Last Poets, and has been shown at festivals and events around the country since. AJ’s work has also been featured on Basic FM, at the BBC Free Thinking Festival, and on Pride Radio North East.

AJ has published two pamphlets of poetry, A Lady of a Certain Rage and names and songs of women, and a spoken-word album, …the gunshots which kill us are silent. An active and prolific YouTube user, AJ’s videos have appeared on sites including Guardian Witness and leading feminist blog The F-Word. Her poem ‘You’re F*cking Dead LOL J/K’ was selected as one of the first contributions for Banter Kill, the magazine of feminist campaign Dismantling Lad Culture.

‘Spoken word is a field often better titled ‘accidental activism’, with the power to change the way people think about things. AJ McKenna is an intentional activist, one of those rare writers capable of making even British audiences launch to their feet with an ever so polite “f*ck yeah”. Her intelligence is rare, her eloquence is almost unparalleled, her poems are crucial.’ – Sophia Walker, BBC Slam Champion

Her first one-woman show, Howl of the Bantee, premiered at the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh this August. She is currently working on a follow-up show, Feeling Helpless, Safely, which will explore issues of BDSM, power and consent. She is a former Deputy Editor of the online LGBT magazine So So Gay, and regularly reviews film and television for feminist pop culture blog Clarissa Explains Fuck All.

When not writing, performing or editing, AJ witters on about politics, trans issues, and whatever else is bothering her this week at her blog, Reenchaunted, and tweets probably more than is strictly sensible at @Anathemajane

To contact AJ McKenna for gigs or publishing opportunities please email and I will pass your message on. Please note that all poems included here are the copyright of AJ McKenna and may not be reproduced without permission.

art brut

I love your body’s sense of being ashlar and marshmallow,

your musclefat, your ripple and your meat;

your tender brawn, the size-up of your squint:

your attitude, your fluency in aggro.


I love the fact your hands can cover mine,

the way you twist my arm behind my back,

the torque with which your muscles wrench my neck;

the way that you, divinely, take your time


before releasing: how your sweat can shine.


I love the way your eyes flash when we fight,

the enormities you whisper in my ear:

dyke, bitch, she-male, faggot, tranny, queer;

the way you bring my vulnerabilities to light,


the capacity your thighs and concrete share,

of standing mute and dramatizing fear.

I love your violent vertu, your brute art:

the way you have me beaten from the start.


Jesmond Dene

The thing you need to know about this place

is this place is a beautiful wound:

that waterfall was blasted

out of rock and out of river

at the whim of some rich man. He’s dead.

We still enjoy the view.


All things are wounds in time:

there’s screaming at our birth,

and blood, and terror;

fear, shit and stink

at both ends of the line.


Rough beasts, who think their hour approaches,

have multiplied themselves in screen-lit rooms,

circle-sucking on each other’s saccharine, caffeinated rage.

But wounds don’t smell

as clean and sharp as cans of Mountain Dew.

Your shock, my learned traitor, was exquisite, when it came.


Some secrets fat girls know

That the wrong size is the right size.

That a curve pleases more than a line,

that landscapes must be more than just horizon:

that’s a secret. That’s a secret fat girls know:


that the hungering eye which fastens on abundance

and justifies such feasting with a sneer

will be putty when he’s parted from his buddies.

His secret is a secret fat girls know.


That the noses you look down on as we cut a slice of cake

can smell the buttercream and frosting we’ve got piled up on our plate

and are wishing we’d be good enough to let you have a taste

in secret. That’s a secret fat girls know,


like our sidelong sizing-up

in station, sidewalk, mall and club

of how, our mutual masses clutched

we’d feel as each the other crushed

– but that’s a secret only fat girls know.


No Compromise

for Ava Rowell


I never thought I’d compromise. Never thought I’d change my mind

about us: always thought we were the consolation prizes. Second best.

I knew that they were better, unadulterated girls. It would be settling to settle down

with someone like myself. What changed? You kissed me,


and I thought of how, like me, you’d hate the hair around your mouth,

invisible but there to touch, and kissed you harder for it, hoped my lips

could tell you I know what it is to feel like this, I know

that you will not agree with this, but trust me: you are beautiful,


you will be given love, and you can trust

the quarter that it comes from, because I’m not here for ally points,

to satisfy a fetish, for a trans friend who can sanctify my Jenner jokes.

I’m kissing you because right now your lips are like the sea


I never knew I’d want to swim in during all my landlocked years.

And when I pulled away from you, not wanting to but knowing

that I had to let you breathe, I knew that you saw you reflected

in my eyes without distortion just as I saw me in you, and knew


I’d never settle for refraction not reflection.

Knew I’d never compromise again.


Sapphic 08/09/15

What, of all things beneath the sun, is fairest?

Thousands on foot or the ships sent to take them

to some other island, city or border,

unsettled, dispersed?


Perhaps you think a fence the fairest thing seen,

A thing of razor wire and steel, sun-gleaming,

its check-points manned, all processed in good order?

Perhaps bolt-cutters,


a dinghy to go over water to land,

papers – who, this desperate, cares if they are forged

or genuine? Hope lights on what it can:

to bombs, what’s law?


Perhaps, to you, an antiseptic kill

a drone’s Hellfire payload, deployed cleanly

by a joystick fondled in an air-conned room

in Lincoln – better?


I say the hand that reaches for another

is more fair than marching troops or battleships.

Light work, it should be, to make this plain to see:

would that it were,


but people call, in the name of drowned children,

for bombs; people say our empty land is full,

and praise our leader when he kills by fiat:

Wham. Bam. Thank you Cam.


(this poem contains elements of Sappho Fragment 16, ‘The Anactorian Poem’, as translated by Richard Lattimore)


But why are you so angry?

Do you ever have one of those moments

when you catch yourself in the mirror

and think I have become the kind of woman

I would fuck? I know I have:  I don’t know if

it’s just a dyke thing but I know I have seen flashes

of the women I’ve desired in my body

and my face, and seen that body and that face

reflected in the bodies I have thrilled and thrilled to


and I cannot have this conversation with you,

because I know the line your brain is quoting

from The Silence of the Lambs, and the difference

between us means we do not see that reference

as a bomb our shared good humour can disarm.


To celebrate my body as a thing

worth being attracted to

is to risk crankish diagnoses:

autogynephilia, porn fatigue;

to see yourself as fuckable

is a right you will still find contested, true:

but I will face a harder fight than you.


You Said

You said ‘I touched myself in the shower

and tears came to my eyes,’ and I nodded,

in a noncommittal way,


but wanted to tell you about the time when I got high

on weed smoked through a tinfoil pipe

and worked my dick like it was being shoved inside

me by someone fucking me as if it were a fight

they had no chance of winning on points,

and came so hard that, that moment, I thought I would die:


sometimes, the forces which make you feel joy

will hit you so hard that you cry.