Sunday, 3 October 2010

Typically Trans Ally

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a delegate at a conference on LGBT health. It was a great couple of days and I learnt a lot, not least about trans issues.
I've always flattered myself that I was what's called a trans ally. I've always wondered: If I were 100% heterosexual, would I have empathy with people of other sexual orientations? I like to think so and, as someone who is pretty much completely cis-gender (My physical body is congruent with my mental gender identity - my chromosomes say I'm female, and so does my brain), I like to think I have empathy for those who live with some form or other of gender dysphoria, and who identify as trans.
I've also shouted and screamed on numerous occasions about the inclusion of T in LGBT. Yes, sexual orientation and gender orientation are vastly different things, with different issues, but the L, the B and the G in that non-acronym all have disparate issues as well, but they are part of the same community, and you'd have to be blind, deaf and plain ignorant to deny the fact that trans people are part of that community as well. I always thought that the LGB-not-T lobby consisted of closed-minded LGB types.
But no, apparently, some trans people feel the same way: Why should they be lumped in with sexuality when their issue is gender? what do they want with us, or we with them?

When a trans speaker at this event said that she thought the T had no place next to LGB and got a massive round of applause my mouth dropped open and stayed there for a while. I actually felt kind of kicked in the gut, because there I've been, nagging all and sundry at work to make sure the "T" goes on the end of LGBT and not in that creepy "LGB & T" separate-but-equal way where it's like "LGB...& those other freaks....I mean T", explaining terms like 'genderqueer' over and over, thinking I'm some grand activist standing up in solidarity for the rights of the trans community to be included in 'my' community, and it turns out I've got it completely wrong and they want nothing to do with us? Oh. Well now I feel like an idiot.

Of course, the fact that I happened to be sitting next to my friend Carol, a prominent LGBT activist, who had steam coming out of her ears and daggers coming out of her eyes for that entire exchange, let me know that that wasn't a universal feeling within the trans community but still... I was pretty gobsmacked, and felt that I'd been quite arrogant in assuming that trans people actually WANTED anything to do with the grand and mighty LGB community. I mean... look at bisexuals. They fought to get their initial in there and now, nine times out of ten, they're ignored, lumped in, subsumed.

Perhaps I'd got it all wrong...I'd already used the word 'cisgender' to describe myself in a workshop, and had been met with a sea of blank faces and incomprehension when I tried to explain it, convincing me that I'd made the damn word up and was just being 'trendy' in using it. But hell - the trans women were identifying as 'trans women'. I wasn't just going to say 'woman' if they weren't, was I?

Thankfully, another delegate, also a trans activist, spoke out in response to this. He spoke of his fear that dividing the LGBT community would only weaken the L,G,B and the T factions. And that's the case, if you think about it. Gender and sexuality are separate, sure, but they HAVE to be interlinked.

The whole interplay between sexuality and gender is fascinating to me. I mean take someone like Billy Tipton (the -as it turned out - trans male jazz musician whose female physical gender was discovered on his death). He never publicly identified as trans, or as female - so how do we know how he identified in himself? Perhaps she was a woman who wore a disguise to get further in her chosen field. Perhaps she was a lesbian who got read as a man early on and thought 'what the hell, it's got me a gig, I'll run with this!'. Perhaps he was a trans man but never had the vocabulary to express that.
Look at drag, butch and femme, tops and bottoms etc, etc. Saying that gender identity isn't integral to sexual identity...well it hurts my head.
Me, I'm about as cis as you can get without falling over. If I try to act butch, it comes out camp. I'm the world's lousiest drag king. Still can't walk in heels, though, so I'm not what you might call the ultimate femme either. I am still fired up about trans issues. Do I have the right to be?
I'd love to be involved in more trans politics and activism but am not sure where my place in that is without coming over as patronising or arrogant. I do think it's an LGBT community and that, as an 'L', there's no excuse for not having solidarity with the G, the B or the T. But some of the funny looks I got at the conference when I ventured an opinion on trans issues from outside the trans fold made me wonder what my place was.
I'll work on it. I keep using 'queer' to describe myself - in order to demarcate that I view myself as part of a wider community than simply 'lesbian', but so far I've only succeeded in offending the old-school gays who see that word as an insult. Oh well. Can't please everyone.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Edwin Morgan died.

Edwin Morgan died last week, aged 90.
His poems really influenced me as a kid; they're silly and surreal and straightforward and sensual.
I never knew he was gay until they just said it on the radio. Is it wrong that I retroactively like him even more now?
Anyway, here is a poem which used to absolutely fascinate me in my wordgeeky childhood.

RIP, Ed.


The First Men on Mercury

– We come in peace from the third planet.
Would you take us to your leader?

– Bawr stretter! Bawr. Bawr. Stretterhawl?

– This is a little plastic model
of the solar system, with working parts.
You are here and we are there and we
are now here with you, is this clear?

– Gawl horrop. Bawr Abawrhannahanna!

– Where we come from is blue and white
with brown, you see we call the brown
here 'land', the blue is 'sea', and the white
is 'clouds' over land and sea, we live
on the surface of the brown land,
all round is sea and clouds. We are 'men'.
Men come –

– Glawp men! Gawrbenner menko. Menhawl?

– Men come in peace from the third planet
which we call 'earth'. We are earthmen.
Take us earthmen to your leader.

– Thmen? Thmen? Bawr. Bawrhossop.
Yuleeda tan hanna. Harrabost yuleeda.

– I am the yuleeda. You see my hands,
we carry no benner, we come in peace.
The spaceways are all stretterhawn.

– Glawn peacemen all horrabhanna tantko!
Tan come at'mstrossop. Glawp yuleeda!

– Atoms are peacegawl in our harraban.
Menbat worrabost from tan hannahanna.

– You men we know bawrhossoptant. Bawr.
We know yuleeda. Go strawg backspetter quick.

– We cantantabawr, tantingko backspetter now!

– Banghapper now! Yes, third planet back.
Yuleeda will go back blue, white, brown
nowhanna! There is no more talk.

– Gawl han fasthapper?

– No. You must go back to your planet.
Go back in peace, take what you have gained
but quickly.

– Stretterworra gawl, gawl…

– Of course, but nothing is ever the same,
now is it? You'll remember Mercury.

Edwin Morgan

Thursday, 26 August 2010

My Wife Knows Everything

Just something that made me smile on Radio 4 this morning.
Racehorse names that are sentences can really screw up the commentator, if well chosen.
MY WIFE KNOWS EVERYTHING! THE WIFE DOESN'T KNOW!!! Stay with it - it's worth it for the big finish...
Coincidentally, this is the first - and only - racetrack my wife has ever been to. And she knows everything.

Still, we both kind of wish that Little Miss Macho had won.


Monday, 23 August 2010

Wife versus Um...friend Part 2 : The Faux Wives club.

Just when I think I’ve heard every permutation of casual homophobia/heterosexism in modern culture, something happens which proves me wrong.

I’m not talking about actual, hate-filled anti-queer rhetoric here. I’m talking about those little turns of phrase, which aren’t meant as insults at all, but which betray an attitude about non-heterosexual orientations that leaves a lot to be desired.

I’m talking about the people who use ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘crap’ but can’t be homophobic ‘because my best mate’s gay’. Whether you meant to or not, whether your gay friends object or not, you just used somebody’s sexual orientation as an insult. Not cool.

I’m talking about the people who create forms for employees or clients to fill in which do not allow for same sex relationships or non-binary gender identities. When we went to apply for our civil partnership, I had to be listed as the groom! Screw that.

I’m talking about - and I feel sort of bad about complaining about this because the people involved really meant no ill will – I’m talking about people who meet us as a couple, and immediately hug us and congratulate us on our marriage. That’s lovely, really, but we’ve been married over two years and been together for over a decade. Do you congratulate EVERY married couple you meet for being married? Or are you congratulating yourself for being cool enough to know a same sex couple? If so, get a life. Really.

See, it’s rarely meant nastily, which makes it all the harder to challenge. And this brings me to my latest irritation.
Faux wives.

At a recent and absolutely fabulous party (on a boat!), I was introduced to a very pleasant young man as my beloved’s wife. He looked at us both, eyes narrowed, and said to the Missus ‘But is she your WIFE wife, or is she just your “wife”?’ We blinked, but then I remembered how before we were married, people often referred to us as each other’s “wife”. I know other same sex couples who use the words “husband” or “wife” to denote their relationship despite not being married, particularly if they live in countries where same sex marriage isn’t an option. Personally, I feel that as long as same sex marriage exists in any form, the only people using the words “wife” and “husband” should be people who have made that legal commitment to one another. And no, a shared mortgage doesn’t count.

We looked at him a bit funny and showed him our wedding rings. ‘No,’ I said, ‘we’re actually married. Well, civilized.’ (That joke never gets old. Well it does, but I’m gonna keep making it until they change the sodding wording. ‘Partnership’ my arse.)

‘Oh right!’ He said, NOT congratulating us, for which he gained valuable points. ‘I thought you might be one of those straight girls who calls their best mate their “wife”.’

Sorry, what now?

Apparently, there is a new thing where single straight girls who have a particularly close friendship with another straight girl refer to each other as their “wives”. Now that it’s been pointed out, I have noticed it on Facebook a couple of times. And isn’t that cute? ‘I don’t need a man; I’ve got my “wife”! And we’re going to have slumber parties and paint each other’s nails and drink cosmopolitans and dance provocatively with each other in nightclubs! And if that fulfills the lesbian fantasies of any eligible straight men in the vicinity, well so much the better, it improves our chances of pulling! Not that I need a man…’

Total nails down the blackboard time. Sorry. No.

After years of meaningful, valid, loving same-sex relationships being relegated to the category of ‘Um…friend’, I am damned if I am going to accept actual platonic friendships moving in on the "wife" territory. I KNOW they don’t mean it in a homophobic way; they’re just being cute, and therein lies the problem. Two women together who enjoy each other’s company and spend a lot of time together are FRIENDS. But to hear a lot of people tell it, that is the exact nature of my relationship with my wife. No, really.

Gay and bi men get a hell of a lot more hassle than queer women and are much less accepted if they hold hands or kiss in public, (notice how you don’t see straight men calling each other ‘husband?) but the flipside of that is that lesbians and bi women are much more ignored, belittled, dismissed as not ‘real’: after all, we’re just good friends, no matter what we say about loving each other and being each other’s wife – that’s the sort of thing girls say all the time, isn’t it? Really, we just want a man.

Sorry girls, if she hasn’t given you a ring, a marriage contract and at least one orgasm, she ain’t your wife.

She’s your um…friend.

Or if you really, really are more than just friends, but really, really aren’t hot for each other, may I direct you to that excellent Jay-and-Silent-Bob-ism “Hetero-Lifemate”?

Don't take “my wife”. Please. Thanks.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Wife versus um....Friend, part 1

Recently, my Civil Partner* and I were mentioned in a couple of books about feminism, because of the ‘menstrual activism’ (tampon jokes) we’ve been doing for the last five years. One of the books, New Blood by Chris Bobel, mentioned us with our knowledge, permission and collaboration and, best of all, got all the facts right. (I even got my own listing in the index! Yay!) Bobel made particular mention of a recent edition of our zine Adventures in Menstruating in which we talked about our civil partnership ceremony, and, where relevant, she referred to us as each other’s ’wife’.
The other book (the name escapes me right now, update to follow) - whose interest in us was very flattering but somewhat unexpected, as we heard nothing about it until the book was in print - mentioned me briefly as my partner’s ‘friend’.

Now, there could be a variety of reasons for this.

1) Having read the zines (including the one about the wedding), seen the show and/or heard about us second hand, perhaps the writers still didn’t pick up on the nature of our relationship, making the assumption that it was platonic. Fair enough, but surprising, as it’s not exactly something we keep under wraps.

2) Maybe they had an inkling that we were together but weren’t sure, and so stayed in the ‘neutral’ zone of ‘friend’ in order to avoid giving offence. This seems quite likely, but mystifies me. If they weren’t sure, why on earth didn’t they ask? We’re easy enough to track down…

But there’s a third option, and I really want to believe it isn’t the case here, but sadly I can’t altogether discount it.
3) Maybe they KNEW we were a same sex couple, KNEW we had had a civil partnership ceremony, and NONETHELESS chose to refer to our relationship in a way that implied that it was platonic because the lesbian thing was ‘not relevant’ or ‘nobody else’s business’.

They seem like good people, so I’m going to assume this wasn’t the case, because this is something I find highly offensive: the ‘Um…friend’ gambit.

I’ve had ‘um...friends’ before: girlfriends who, in certain contexts, were not at liberty to disclose the nature of our relationship and had to go down the ‘we’re just jolly good chums’ route. Near the beginning of our relationship, the Missus and I had to play the ‘and this is my um…friend’ game with potentially homophobic Catholic in laws who, as it turned out, were anything but (anything but homophobic, that is, they’re still Catholic.).

Now, there is nothing wrong with this. When to disclose the full nature of a relationship is a personal decision that lies with any couple of any sexual orientation. If I choose to call my wife my 'friend' because I don’t want to be seen as romantically involved with her, whatever my motives are, that’s my right. It’s not a right I really make use of any more, but it’s served me well in difficult situations in the past, and thankfully, I haven’t ever really had to make a habit of it.

What really gets me wound up is when other people use the ‘um…friend’ tack on our behalf, in order to disguise our relationship. Great. That's great. I really appreciate the way you’ve just made the assumption that I’m ashamed of my sexual orientation and prefer to keep my marital status hidden. No, really, thanks. Thanks for forcing me to either directly contradict you by screaming my sexuality from the rooftops in order to undo the misinformation you just deliberately sent out into the world, or let it stand and give the impression that I prefer to be in the closet. Thanks so much for knowing what’s best for me and my um…friend.

Of course you have to be careful about outing couples who don’t want to be outed. Of course you shouldn’t make the assumption, in this homophobic world, that it’s always safe for a same sex couple to be open about their marital status, but making the assumption that every same sex couple definitely wants to remain in the closet is, frankly, insulting. It is an attitude informed by an opinion that same sex relationships are inherently something to be ashamed of, and it propagates the culture of silence which makes it so easy for homophobia to thrive.

Don’t worry though, there’s a really easy way around this.
If you’re not sure how a couple prefer to publicly define their relationship, bloody well ask them! Politely! It's really that simple! No matter what their sexual orientation, they will probably appreciate you being considerate enough to check it out with them.

And if you inadvertently offend a pair of 'jolly good chums' with the implication that they might possibly come off as a couple… well, having their homophobia challenged in such a positive and non-confrontational way won’t do them any harm at all.

Stay tuned for part 2 – the faux wife phenomenon.

* We both prefer to use the term ‘wife’, but thanks to mealy-mouthed British legislation, LEGALLY, what we are is each other’s ‘civil partner’. We’re not married, we’re just civilized. Boo.

Monday, 16 August 2010

On Whoopi Goldberg's Defense Of Mel Gibson.

So, this is a little late to be truly topical, but it’s something that’s been nagging at me since the story broke.
Mel Gibson is a bigot. He is. He is. He is.

I don’t care if you know him. I don’t care if you know him and you’re a Black woman, and he has been nice to your kids in the past. I don’t care if he was drunk when he said it.
The. Man. Is. Bigoted.

Sorry, everything I hear about Mel Gibson speaks of a terrifyingly bigoted mindset. I could have accepted the inherent anti-Semitism in the Passion of the Christ, and the anti-English sentiment in Braveheart as valid directorial decisions. I mean, in any kind of historical-ish drama packaged to become a blockbuster, a nuanced and sensitive exploration of both sides of a conflict is unlikely to occur. The side your hero is on will be the ‘good’ and those fighting against him will be ‘evil’. That’s Hollywood. If it makes me feel uncomfortable, well, hey, it’s had an effect on me, so well done. I’ll accept any amount of apparent bigotry on screen or stage if I can be convinced it’s an artistic decision.
The moment the director of a potentially anti-Semitic film drunkenly verbally abuses a Jewish police officer by claiming Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world? Boom. The claim that the anti-Semitism in your film was an artistic decision loses all credibility.

The fact that as an aside, he then called a female officer ‘sugar tits’ - I mean what the fuck? HOW do you explain that one? All alcohol does is remove your inhibitions, so anything you will say when drunk, you would say when sober if you had the guts. Did he say it to mitigate his situation? “Oh shit they seem mad. Seems like my internal monologue about hating Jews slipped into my outdoor voice again. Maybe if I pay the woman a compliment it’ll ease my way…D’oh!”

This all pales into comparison for me, though, when compared to the utterly egregious, stomach churningly awful things he’s been caught saying SOBER, on tape to his ex. The one that stands out is this.
"You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault."

"You look like a fucking pig
in heat,

and if you get raped
by a pack of niggers,
it will be your fault."

Let’s just take that apart for a second, k?
He kicks off with a personal insult, implying a weight problem. Good start, Mel, crass, sexist, unnecessary and woefully inaccurate. Yes, the woman has a weight problem: you can see her ribs and skull through her skin!
He then goes on to imply that a woman comes into season much like an animal, both dehumanizing her and portraying female sexuality as a distasteful phenomenon.

Then he goes on, charmingly, to imply that rape is the fault of the victim because of the way they dress/carry themselves, that rape is in some way a ‘deserved punishment’ because of the aforementioned disgusting female sexuality. That on its own would have had me boiling,

But then the piece de resistance.
Raped by a pack of niggers.

By a pack
Of niggers.

Just pause to take the enormity of this one in.

One, Nigger? Really?
Two, gang rape is an appropriate punishment for female sexual independence?
Three, gang rape is more likely to be perpetrated by Black men and/or it’s worse and more humiliating for a white woman to be raped by a Black man than by a White man?
Four, Black men are animals? Animals that run in packs?

The appropriate collective noun for a group of humans is never, ever, EVER ‘pack’, you racist fuck!

This comes from the same kind of lexicon that refers to a young, sexually mature Black man as a Buck Nigger. I nearly shat myself the first time I heard that one. It’s not even name calling, it’s just allowing your own language choice to betray exactly how much you dehumanize other races in your mind. It’s not using a word deliberately to shock, it’s allowing your bigotry to rise to the surface.

If I were Whoopi Goldberg, and I had known Mel Gibson for many years, and he had been to my house and played with my kids, this would come as a nasty shock.

If I suddenly found out, as a Black woman, that my longtime friend was as filled with hate and bile for women and Black people as all that, well it would take some taking in.

But faced with that amount of evidence, I can't help feeling that by defending him on camera, making excuses for his behaviour, swearing blind he was a good guy really, Whoopi Goldberg has let her own internalized racism, antisemitism and sexism show.

Whoopi, please. Think about it. This man is no friend of yours. Don't be an Uncle Tom (Aunt Tommie?) about this. He doesn't deserve your defense and, by defending him, you sully yourself with his opinions and attitudes.

If I were you, Whoopi, I'd re-examine the motives behind Mel Gibson's friendship with you, and if he turns up at your front door again, I'd set the dogs on him.

See Whoopi's baffling defense of Mel here.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

OK Julie, you're not a dyke.

Warning, personal, bitchy rant ahead.

Lesbian feminist* commentator Julie Bindel was on Woman's Hour on radio 4 yesterday, talking about how offensive, as a 48 year old lesbian, she found the word 'dyke'.

Oh, Julie, Julie, Julie. You never disappoint, do you? Even though, as you yourself pointed out, 'dyke''s been no more used as an insult than 'gay', 'lesbian', 'queer' etc, you still seem to assert that this word is special. That it's inherently insulting just because YOU don't like it.
Another lesbian on the show, Diva and Lesbilicious writer Kaite Welsh, explained that she had never found dyke offensive, the insult of choice when she came out having been 'Lezzer'. Kaite being 26, the generation gap was cited as the reason for this. So, we might surmise, using the term of abuse which was applied to a specific lesbian when they came out may come over as somewhat insensitive. On the other hand, given that ALL words associated with alternative sexualities have been used as insults in the heteronormative world at one time or another, perhaps we should all just reclaim and move on, taking care that we within the queer community, never use those words negatively ourselves.

Now, Julie, you often refer you yourself and to lesbians like yourself as 'lezzers' in your columns, (usually when bashing other kinds of women of whom you do not approve, most notably femme lesbians and bisexual women, whom you appear to have conflated, but never mind)
That's fine. Variety of language and the reclamation of homophobic slurs is right up my street, (well the bashing's not, but...) But when you then get on your moral high horse about a word that YOU don't like, claiming that it has SUCH negative connotations for YOU that you can NEVER see it as positive, you kind of lose the right to throw the others around willy nilly.
Like Welsh, I am of the generation that got called a 'Lezzer' at school. So yeah, that term has a little extra sting to it and I personally don't choose to use it. Of course it doesn't help that the one writer who DOES use it does so in such offensive contexts.

I shouldn't have been surprised, I know. I mean, you're not overly known for your sensitivity or open mind when it comes to other aspects of the LGBT/Queer community, but really? ON a programme where you have come to attack a homophobic reviewer over his use of the word 'dyke', to THEN use the word 'lezzer', which your fellow guest has identified seconds ago as offensive to her, without acknowledging this, even when the person you just insulted audibly winced?... Julie, that's crass even for you.
As it happens, it wasn't the word dyke that was a problem in A A Gill's review, it was his use of it as a derogatory term which proved him to be a bigoted fool. Kinda the way you used the words 'bisexual', and 'genderbender' on Woman's Hour, Jules.

But if you don't like 'dyke', Julie Bindel, that's all to the good, because when I think of you, there's another word that leaps to mind. The word I'm thinking of tends to spout fountains of pointless and sometimes harmful drivel into women, and it does begin with D and end in an E.
And Julie, it suits you down to the ground.

*There's more than one kind of feminism. Personally I think the kind that bashes men, feminine women and the bi and trans communities at every opportuntiy is doing it wrong. But it's A feminism, certainly... *seethe seethe*

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Just for a change, a poem.

It's a bit long and a bit ranty to perform comfortably, so I thought I'd give it a home here. It was a handy repository for many of my 'angry queer' feelings at the moment.
This poem is dedicated to all the people I know who, like me spend half their time being accused of being too radically feminist and the other half being accused by feminists of not being radical enough.
I'd also like to address it to Julie Bindel and all the other anti men, antitrans, antifemme, antistraight, antisex bigots masquerading as feminists.

A/typical Feminist Rant

I am atypically feminist
I’m radical alright, but with a twist
I know that shaving off my body hair
And wearing hello kitty underwear
Implies that I have never gone through puberty.

And women’s bodies must be bald for nudity
Conforming to a false standard of beauty.
But do I ever do it? Absolutely!
Because it pleases ME to be a cutie.
But if I want to flaunt my hairy bits
Not THOSE ones, I’m referring to my pits.,
I’ll do it, and somebody will insist
“Oh, that’s so typically feminist.”
No! I’m atypically feminist
I’m radical, it’s true, but with a twist.
To smash the patriarchy would be mad
For surely matriarchy’s just as bad?
If sexual inequality’s a crime
It’s not ok to say ‘all men are swine’
And yet I often come under attack
By people that you’d think would have my back
Apparently I’ve come across a schism:
There is a certain kind of feminism
Which says that women can’t be prostitutes
Unless they are disturbed or destitute.

But if a women WANTS to earn a wage
By selling sex, it fills them all with rage.
And honestly I haven’t got a clue
How judging working girls for what they do
Can make a feminist of me or you.
And when a crazy cleric puts the blame
For earthquakes upon girls who have no shame
And someone tries to mock this sexist oddity
By actively encouraging immodesty
(Oppression overwhelmed by ridicule?
Myself I think that Jen McCreight is cool.)
You’d think that feminism would support her
Instead she’s like a lamb into the slaughter
She’s treated like a naughty, foolish child
With ‘boobquake day’ compared to ‘girls gone wild’?
Now can you see why this has got me riled?
When feminists say “cover up your boobies cos
It’s too much for the guys “ I think its dubious
Because, and please excuse me being candid,
Is that not what that cleric in Iran did?
Such feminists are found in certain places
That they call ‘safe’ or ‘women only’ spaces.
I see the point when changing after swimming,
But ever heard of ‘women beware women?’
What’s safe, then, about being segregated
With women who have just discriminated
Against the planet’s male population?
It makes no sense and fills me with frustration
True life example of discrimination:
A woman with a feminist agenda
Facilitates discussion groups on gender
But says that letting men in would offend her.

Just tell me how you question gender when
You first define and then exclude the men?
But surely I am safe, I thought, I know it
What feminist would hate a woman poet?
But no, apparently I’m off the list
Of virtuous and holy feminists
Because my poking fun at menstruation
Endangers all of women’s liberation!
I never thought that Feminists would slam me
For being as creative as I can be.
But when I do not toe the party line
Apparently I’m guilty of some crime
Oh tell me, Sisters of the Second Wave
Just give me all the answers that I crave:
If you’re so keen on my emancipation
Why all this handwringing and consternation
When women who are not the same as you
Are doing what the hell they want to do?
The sad thing is, women are still oppressed
And treated as subordinate at best
A movement advocating women’s rights
Should not be hampered by internal fights
But with our culture’s sexism we’re cursed
We’ll always blame another woman first
But those who castigate their ‘sisters’ when
They happen to get on alright with men
The same men they’re accusing of unfairness
Oh ladies, do you have no self awareness?
Yes I’m atypically feminist
I’m radical alright, but with a twist.
Please, spread the word, and tell it to your progeny
Misandry is as sexist as misogyny.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Let's Get A Tacko

Recently, in the pub with two Americans (one of whom I’m married to, the other of whom is about to move down to London), a (edit, sorry Albert: I meant to say Catalan) Spanish guy and a Scouser, a heated debate arose about the correct pronunciation of ‘Taco’. The Scouser and I called them Tackoes: Short, broad ‘a’ sound, and ’oes’ to rhyme with ‘hose’ (sorry – I don’t know the phonetic vocab). When the Spanish dude said it, the t was slightly more like a d, the ‘a’ was something between the ‘a’ in ‘pass’ and the ‘au’ in ‘taught’. The ‘o’ was shorter and the ‘s’ was ‘hissier’.
The way the Americans pronounced it was like an approximation of the Catalan pronunciation, but the ‘t’ was English. Thrilling, this, isn’t it?
So one word for a tasty Mexican fast food, pronounced a variety of ways but, apparently, the English way was ‘wrong’. Every time the Scouser or I said Tacko, the Americans would visibly recoil. “No! No! It’s Taacoh!” They yelled. These are people who don’t blink when I say tomahto instead of tomayto, who might giggle a bit when I say “garrij” instead of “g’raaaajzh” for garage, but generally deal with it. Taco? All. Out. War. Interestingly enough, the Catalan guy didn’t seem to care either way.

There is a sort of sociological difference between Brits and Americans when it comes to words that are borrowed from other languages. Brits do their best to make the word their own, removing the word as far as possible from its original pronunciation. Take Government. In French, that’s got to be something like goove-airn-monnn’. In English? Guv’ment. I think this is a combination of island mentality ‘If it’s worth saying, it’s ENGLISH!’ and our classic national self consciousness ‘if i try and recreate the correct pronunciation of this funny foreign word, I’ll only make a fool of myself and possibly sound racist’. When I say taco the way my American friends think I should I am overwhelmed with embarrassment. Where, after all, do I get off pretending to be Mexican? Unlike many Brits, I do say Torteeya and Kaysadeeya instead of rhyming tortilla and quesadilla with gorilla. I used to say it the ‘English’ way, but, after gasps of horror from my American spouse, I re-educated myself. That’s different, though: that’s a spelling difference. Spanish uses ll the way English sometimes uses y, and anyone who can’t be arsed to learn that is treading close to xenophobia.
(On a side note, another time I was talking food with aforementioned Catalan guy and he made a reference to Paella, which he pronounced with an L sound. I was starting to get really confused about the rules until i realised that he probably pronounced it the English way so I’d understand. Mortifying. I apologise for my countryfolk.)

If I were speaking Mexican Spanish, I would do my best to pronounce taco the way Mexicans do. But if I am in an English speaking country, I’ll speak in a slightly neutralised version of my own accent. I’m not going to walk around Scotland saying, “Och aye hen , ah wouldnae say nay ti a wee plate o’ mince and tatties!” Because I’d sound like a twat*. Similarly, I’m not going to come over all Reservoir Dogs when I suggest acquiring a foodstuff more popular in the Americas than in the UK. There is no Taco Bell here, but if there was, it would be pronounced Tacko Bell, I guarantee it.
Americans, on the other hand, celebrate the rich ethnic diversity of their culture by having a fair crack at the original pronunciation of any word that comes their way. Garage is g’raaajzh – not ‘garrij’, Fillet is fil-lay instead of ‘fill-it’, If a sausage tastes German enough, it’s a wurst. Naturally ‘tack’ (drawing pin) is pronounced differently than ‘taco’. One’s a Mexican word, the other isn’t. Of course it sounds dodgy in a Yorkshire accent. (But then, how would a Mexican pronounce ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ or ‘Bakewell Tart?’ Not the same way I would, bet you anything.) America prides itself from being different to the English, and I suppose taking on as many pronunciations from its other linguistic influences as possible is a way of doing that. Also, Tacos are an American rather than European foodstuff. I can see why there’s a sense of ownership over the word, leading to a righteous indignation when us Brits ‘say it wrong’.
(This, though, from a people who pronounce 'Notre' to rhyme with voter and 'Dame' to rhyme with game.)
So Glenn, this post’s for you. Before you permanently leave the blunt vowels of Sheffield for the harsh drawl of London, let’s get a tacko.
WG xx
*Or a ‘twot’ if you’re American

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Linguistic identity.

Something I saw on the internet, (God alone knows where: somewhere Cheezburgerish most likely) sparked a realisation in my mind last night. The English word 'enough' is the same as the German word 'noch' meaning 'still' or 'yet' - which in turn is the same as the word 'jetzt' -which means 'now', which itself must be from the same root as 'new', or 'neue'. The two languages have diverged enough that the words now have different meanings, but they are certainly cousins. This made me ridiculously happy and I posted it on Facebook. Some of my most intelligent fb friends were like 'well duh...'. Nobody else cared. It really is just me.
When I was 13 I thought I must have been reincarnated. I decided that I had been German in a past life, because I couldn't understand why I understood spoken and written German before we'd covered it in class. Our teacher asked us to guess what the word 'bekommen' meant. Obviously we were expected to assume that it meant 'become' - the point being to teach us about German false friends. (Not, as I at first feared, an outmoded 1940s era assumption that "those bloody Krauts" couldn't be trusted, but a warning about German words that sound like an English word but mean something different.) However it did not even cross my mind that "bekommen" might mean "become". It wasn't an English word, it was a German one. It means to acquire, to receive, to get. This was a no-brainer to me, so I called it out, and thus completely sabotaged my poor teacher's point, and showed myself up as a smartarse. To this day I don't know where I picked up the correct translation. It just seemed to already be in there, like some kind of race memory. In my 1990s hippy teenage mind, this was evidence enough of a Teutonic past life giving me an unfair advantage in my GCSEs.
These days, I'm not so sure about that, but I certainly have a very strong emotional response when I notice something germanically interesting about language. I can't exactly call it spiritual but it's not just interest, it's actual incredulous joy.
When I went to Sweden it was like total ear porn. Swedish sounds like Yorkshire when the people speaking are too far away to distinguish actual words. Malmo sounds like Huddersfield. It's because we're all Vikings up here. Who couldn't LOVE that? That I grew up with a Norse accent and never even knew it? AWEsome. Better yet, there are quite a few Scandinavian words that are recognisable to many northerners. Laikin', or Lekkin' - a dialect word for playing which I grew up using, comes direct from a Swedish word for playing: 'leka' - so when I "lekked" out with my mates, I was playing like a Norsegirl. Streets in Sweden are called 'gata': Fargate in Sheffield, Briggate in Leeds and Glumangate in Chesterfield are Viking streets! I mean, Glumangata! How gorgeously Viking is that? I love it.
Now, I know that there are a lot of French/Norman words in English as well. Parliament, government, beef, mutton, pork, crepe suzette, malaise... but for some reason they just don't do it for me. Unless of course there's that link to Germanic languages. The absolute high point of my trip to Sweden - and bear in mind that I performed on a proper big stage with my wife, got to hang out in the green room with Kathryn Williams and met some really awesome swedish feminists at Ladyfest Malmo- the actual high point was in the airport, when I saw the sign for security. There it was, in all its Indoeuropean glory. "Sikkerhed, Sicherheit, Securite, Security". The same actual word, Four languages, thousands of miles, and nothing but a bit of creative spelling dividing them. That noticeboard, to me, was more beautiful and breathtaking than any fjord.
I am not a reincarnated German, but my linguistic heritage is Germanic, Norse, Viking. Maybe that deep, almost spiritual joy is not past life memory, but racial identity. Viking Pride!

Friday, 4 June 2010

I Am Not Alone!

It's not just me! Other people watch Doctor Who, love it and then get into huge involved feminist rants. Well I say 'other people' I actually mean the delightful and talented Emma Davies. Check her out!

Plus she references the Bechdel Test, which makes her undeniably rad.

WG x

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Galifreyan Gender Politics, continued.

Inspired by the incredibly talented Robin Vaughn Williams’ comment on my previous post, pointing out the the Doctor Who companions are often shown as being very brave, resourceful and independent in comparison to their boyfriends. Rose and Amy both follow this model, with Mickey and Rory presenting, at first anyway, as clownish, cowardly but lovable dolts. Both these characters develop, Mickey finding his inner courage after meeting an incredibly driven version of himself from an alternate reality and Rory, well, he undergoes an undeniably permanent change at the end of the latest episode.

However, as RVW pointed out, seen next to the companions, they are, at their respective introductions, poor specimens indeed. Is this a technique by the writers to accentuate the strength, intelligence and courage of the lead female, just as her presence serves to accentuate the brilliance of the Doctor? Well. Perhaps that’s a part of it.

I’m not sure though, that it’s the companions that the boyfriends are there to be compared to. Let’s assume that there is a sexual charge between Companion and Doctor(arguably more the case with Rose and Amy than with Donna – who loved the Doctor totally platonically, or Martha – whose love was unrequited).
OK. So they are alone together in the Tardis in high-stress situation and both are somewhat interested in getting into each other’s pants. A complication is needed, both to prevent or delay the consummation of this sexual tension leading to frenzied ‘will they or won’t they?’ speculation and, crucially, to be a comical rival with the doctor for the lady’s affections. The Human Suitor must be everything the Doctor is not. Unadventurous, cowardly, predictable, but also attractive for his sheer human frailty, which of course is missing in the Doctor.

So has this become entirely a Doctor Who Blog? No, but at the moment it’s the current series that’s got me thinking about language and gender, so here we go.

In my previous post I talked about women being socialised to compete with one another for the attentions of men. Potential sexual partners are talked about in the possessive, (Stand By Your Man) but, to me the power dynamic is very much about survival. As I said, we live in a patriarchal society which encourages women to undermine one another for a better chance of a high place in the oppressor’s esteem.
(I am not saying that all men are oppressors. I am saying that we are conditioned to treat them as such and it takes mindfulness from men women and others not to fall into the oppressive male/female power dynamic that our culture propagates.)
So when there’s one bird and two blokes, why is it any different? Doesn’t that blow holes in my logic? I don't think so.

Look at the relationship between Mickey and the Doctor, and the relationship between Rory and the Doctor. It develops from defiance and mistrust to a sort of mentoring relationship. There’s rivalry, sure, but hatred? Bitching? Backstabbing? Any of the behaviour we associate with two women after the same man?
Because as men, blokes - “bros”, if you like – the Doctor and the Human Suitor are in the SAME TRIBE. Their success or failure in ‘getting the girl’ dictates their status in the pecking order, and once that’s sorted out, they can go back to a relatively peacable, even strenghtened, relationship with one another.
In Cold Blood, Rory, poignantly, says “ I trust the Doctor with my life” shortly before, well, you know. Is that something you can imagine a female character saying about another female character who has snogged her fiancĂ© and is constantly tempting him into a world of adventure and danger with no real place for her in it? There’s no way. But Rory knows his place. He knows that Amy loves him but he also knows just who the Alpha Male is in this set up. Bros before Hos, dude.
Women competing for men are about survival, about cunning, about removing the competition. Look at Helena and Hermia in a Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the claws, quite literally, out for one another. Look at, well, the women in every soap opera going! There’s no sisterhood there. Men competing for women are, I think, more concerned with what their sexual conquest says about their status. The girl is a trophy, a prize. “Faint heart never won fair maiden” “She is woman and therefore to be won” “Was ever woman in this humour won?” It’s all throughout our culture.

A complication arises when you apply these cultural ‘rules’, which reflect a heterosexual model, to non hetero relationships. You know, the old gay dilemmas. Who pays for dinner/holds the door/wears the trousers/has the babies/does the cooking? With those comfortable, familiar rules stripped away is it any wonder so many same sex couples end up aping the gender roles they have grown up internalising? Wha I have noticed is that in the same sex relationship rivalries I’ve witnessed, the gloves are absolutely off. Once again that oppressed and defensive mindset comes into play and the bitching begins in earnest. However, when the battle is over, that ‘tribe’ thing kicks in. I can’t think of a single gay person in my social circle who does not have an incredibly firm friendship with at least one ex, no matter how messy the break-up was when it happened.

The same-sex love rival is at once hyper-aware of the pecking order and, like many oppressed groups, willing to fight dirty to survive.
Don’t believe me?

Three words

Captain. Jack. Harkness.

WG x

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Flaw in Feminism: Conclusion.

Bloody hell: months of blogger apathy and uninspiredness and now two posts in a day. What's t'world coming to?

Before I go any further I'd like to make something clear. I don't AGREE with separatism, or the kind of feminism that criminalises sex workers, as the Icelandic goverment did, pre volcano, but I accept them as forms of feminism. I'm just keen to point out that they are not the only or indeed empirically best feminisms out there, and that the other feminisms often get dismissed or discounted both by some enemies of feminism and some feminists.

That said, back to Dr Who. When Russel T Davies regenerated the series back in 2005, it was with some amusement that I noticed that the term 'assistant' had been ditched and replaced by 'companion' when referring to the women who travel with the Doctor. It's totally acceptable that the power dynamic between them is anything but equal. It's not because of their respective genders that the Doc is superior, but because of their respective species. He is from a more advanced race, so it CAN'T be sexism when he patronises them and orders them about. But 'assistant'? That's an insult. I'm not knocking the doctor/companion dynamic and all credit to Russel T for mixing things up with a couple of male pseudocompanions. It was just something that made me smile.

The companions have a tough time of it though. They exist for bad shit to happen to them so that they can be rescued. It's ultimately a very passive model - although on Doctor Who it is quite often challenged with the Doctor placed in the role of distressed damsel from time to time. Still, it's there. Rose/Martha/Donna/Amy are there to be a bit stupid and need saving. No hiding from it.
There has been talk of the Doctor regenerating as female. Never going to happen. You know why? Because as soon as they do that it looks like an overtly feminist gesture. It becomes an ISSUE. A woman Doctor would be like the one ethnic kid in all early 90s school textbooks: A patronising and insulting piece of tokenism, which, because of the ridicule it would draw, would ultimately do the cause of equality more harm than good.

What I suppose I'm getting at here is that Doctor Who is an incredibly long running series and when the rules of the Whoniverse were first laid down a more sexist mindset was in play. We can't change that without changing the nature of the show itself so far as to be unrecognisable, so a lot of those old sexisms remain, under the guise of tradition. Kind of like real life, when you think about it.

There's one sexist Doctor Who tradition which I would love to see discontinued, though, and that’s the wholesale fanbashing of each new female companion the moment they show up.
Billie Piper? She’s a bimbo, she’s stupid, she’s got big teeth. She’s rubbish.
Freema Agyeman? She can’t act, she only got the part because she’s black. She’s rubbish
Catherine Tate? Good god the sheer venom that was spat at this woman for daring to be a comedian-turned-actor.
Now Karen Gillan is getting the treatment. The consensus seems to be that she’s the show’s weak point. What utter bollocks. Have you SEEN the woman act? She’s fab. She’s just a companion and as such to be hated.

My lovely wife - who actually likes the companions - suggested that this is because, regardless of our gender and sexuality we all fall in love with the Doctor, and thus see the companion as a rival. She’s not good enough for him. We would be so much better. She’s got a point there, I think. A woman in an enviable position always gets clawed at. There’s never a sense of “good for her”. It’s always “who does she think she is?” or, a personal favourite expression of mine “she’s no better than she should be”. Unless she dies, at which point she’s randomly a saint. See Princess Di and Jade Goody for concrete examples of this.
I’d say the venom aimed at companions comes from both sides of the gender divide. It’s not that women are bitchier than men. Some of the nastiest comments I’ve heard about companions have been from blokes. A straight, male acquaintance of mine publically advocated burning Ms Tate. In jest, I presume, but still, a very impassioned and violent reaction. However, there is a gender thing at work here. You see it all the time on reality shows with a phone vote.

This is how it breaks down:

Men will support other men out of a sense of tribalism. Male bonding and friendship are made much of in our society. The Carling ‘belong’ ads tap into this, as does the incredibly sexist expression ‘bros before hos’- i.e. loyalty to your male friends is more important than loyalty to your sexual partner, spouse, or indeed pretty much any woman in your life.
The problem with that is that women tend to do the opposite. Given a choice between supporting a man and a woman, most women stand by the nearest available man, and will criticise, undermine and judge a woman any way they can. For all the songs and slogans about sisterhood, somehow, it’s never really worked that way. ‘Women beware women’ is a far more accurate appraisal of cultural dynamics among western females than ‘friends foreva, boys woteva’ or indeed ‘zig-a-zig ah’. So why? Why is this?
I think it’s because women have been viewed as weak, as inferior, as property, as morally flawed for millennia. And when you are oppressed, one way to survive is to keep the oppressor sweet. We are, as women, socialised around making men happy through either nurture or sex. There’s an element of survival of the fittest as well. We are told that we have to ‘keep hold of our man’, that ‘man eating’ women will ‘steal him’ from us. (It is, of course, never the guy’s fault). These ideas run so deep in our society that we completely internalise them. I do it all the time. If a male acquaintance offends me I’m either long suffering or indulgent. If a female does the same I find myself pouring bile on her behind her back. I have to make a conscious choice not to do that. Sisterhood does not come naturally – there’s a lot of self hatred to unlearn.

So when a new assistant/companion takes her first steps into the Tardis, the male fans, on the ‘bros before hos’ model, compete for the affections of their Galifreyan ‘brother’ by slagging off his girl. The female fans want her out of the way so they can fantasise about taking her place. And all the hapless woman can do to become beloved by her public is suffer some godawful fate, because we can only allow ourselves to love a martyred woman. A happy one is far too threatening. Same with hookers, it would seem.

What an astounding number of people don’t realise, of course, is that this bone-deep internalised sexism affects feminists too. And, as such, feminism has a huge hurdle to overcome. As feminists in a patriarchal culture, we have to challenge the sexism ingrained in our own mindsets before we can even THINK about changing the world.
And just a note to all those feminists jumping down the throats of women like Brooke Magnanti, Jen 'Boobquake' McCreight, Penny Arcade and all other women who make an assertive and conscious choice to use their sexuality as a means to an end... Those women scare you because, deep down, you think they might be sexier and more loved than you are. You see them not as traitors to their sex, but as competition, and you feel the need to take them down any way you can. It’s not our fault, We're socialised into it. Just don’t pretend it’s not happening, otherwise it can never, ever change.

WG x

The Flaw in Feminism. Parte ye firste.

I'm on one about feminism at the moment. My little brain is ticking away all the time with a combination of righteous indignation at the inequalities that women still have to face and just pure head-in-hands embarrassment and frustration at how bloody self sabotaging the whole movement is.

It's like in this week's episode of Doctor Who, Cold Blood, the Doctor assures the Silurians who live beneath the surface of the Earth (turns out the wacko Hollow Earth Theory is right on the money. Nice touch) that Humans are peaceful, noble, highly evolved beings who are worth negotiating with, and you just know he's deliberately stretching the truth to give humanity a chance to be all he sees in them, and you also just know that humanity is going to let him down. Again. And they (we?) do. (By the way, if you're not a DW fan. well, I'm sorry. Doctor Who is guest starring as the frame story for today's rant. Deal with it, and go and watch some - it's right good. But I digress.)
Anyway, that's what feminism's like for me. I try to live my life according to feminist principles, advocating for women's rights and being aware of - and challenging sexism in society. I also advocate for feminism to people who think that it is a redundant/outmoded/hostile/sex-negative/sexist/hypocritical bitchfest. No it's not, I tell them. That's a misconception of what feminism means. Of course you'll meet hostile, man-hating, humourless women who claim to represent the women's rights movement in its entirety but there's so much more to it than that. there are male feminsits, sex positive feminists, funny feminists, genderqueer feminists who REALLY render the separatist argument null and void. Do one of these lovely, atypical feminists come along to illustrate my point? No. Instead, a "typical" feminist - some hostile, man hating, humourless woman - will come along and tear a strip off me for not being a proper feminist. Total Doctor Who facepalm time.

Example. When Billie Piper somewhat inexpertly interviewed Brooke Magnanti following the revelation that she, (Brooke), an intelligent, assertive and sane scientist was the mysterious Belle de Jour - previously believed by many to be either fictional or a tragically damaged and deluded victim - I leapt out of my seat and actually cheered when she linked her decision to go into prostitution to feminism:
"One of the main tenets of feminism is a woman actively choosing what she's going to do." she said to a blinking and uncomfortable Piper. i.e. it was her RIGHT as a woman to CHOOSE whether or not to be a prostitute, just as it was her right to stop when she was ready. If a woman has a right to say no, surely she has a right, just as inalienable, to say "yes, and that'll be three hundred quid, please."
So, great. B de J (snigger) is a feminist. You can be a feminist and be paid for sex. It's nothing to do with wearing dungarees and shouting at blokes, any more than wearing pink and having limp wrists makes you gay. It's a state of mind which says 'don't tell women what they are and aren't allowed to do based on their gender: that's ridiculous'. Done. And on international TV. Really. I was just so happy.
And then, oh the humanity, this. Brooke Magnanti renounced her feminism. I actually cried.

But who could blame her? In the absolute vile shitstorm that rose up in the comment boxes and internet forums following her 'coming out',who had the most faeces to fling? was it the religious right? Not really. Was it sexist arseholes making comments such as 'I wouldn't pay £300 for that'? Well they came close, but that, sadly, was to be expected. No, the stinger was that it was self proclaimed feminists who lined up to put the boot in. I, for one, genuinely did not see that coming. Naive of me.

Apparently, feminists who want to 'protect' women from the nasty side of the sex trade don't want voices FROM the sex trade that are off message. Voices saying "Actually, I've done this and might be able to bring my experience to the table when fighting for the rights of sex workers and women." They want broken and vulnerable women who will illustrate their point and strengthen their argument. They want, genuinely, to help and protect and rescue these women from the evils of sex work, because they, not the sex workers themselves, know best.

A noble and laudable goal, sure: as well as all the happy, well paid, safe-ish call girls out there, There are millions of unhappy, vulnerable sex workers in dire need of support and rights. But do just explain to me again how speaking FOR sex workers but verbally attacking them when they speak for themselves is feminist. Wasn't that the argument against giving women the vote? "We will speak for you. We know what's best. And if you disagree we will drag you through the mud."

And so, as usual, we're down to words.
Is a feminist a) A person who believes that it is a woman's right to choose her own lifestyle, her job, her value system, whether or not it is considered too dangerous and irresponsible for a woman to do, or is a feminist, b) a woman who, in the name of feminism, seeks to dictate what is or is not acceptable behaviour in other women, because an anomaly (if such Belle de Jour is) in the grim picture of sex work simply cannot be tolerated?

I know which one I think it is. It's the one who doesn't call herself a feminist anymore.

But that's oversimplifying things. Sometimes it feels like the meaning of the word has been hopelessly lost and only the destructive, self-hating culture that has sprung up around it remains, but that isn't true: the dichotomy above is not an accurate portrayal of all feminisms.
The problem, in the UK more than any other country I've visited, is that the feminists who don't fit the stereotype have stepped away from the label, lending credence to the myth that feminism is indeed nothing but a redundant/outmoded/hostile/sex-negative/sexist/hypocritical bitchfest.
Ladies, gentlemen and others who feel excluded by the 'members only' culture, take heed; it is our right to own our feminisms. Reclaim the label. (And the night, of course).

WG x

There's more to this. I want to talk about WHY it is women put the boot into women, even under the guise of fighting for women's rights. Why men will band together against a woman out of a sense of brotherhood but nine times out of ten, women don't.

In short, why 'Bros before hos' but never, particularly in the case of Brooke Magnanti, 'Hos before bros?'

I've got more to say about Dr Who as well. I'm sure you just can't wait.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Let's give this another go then, shall we?

I am a bad blogger.
If my blog were a goldfish, or a puppy, or even a bonsai plant, it would currently be dead from neglect, and the RSPCA (or bonsai equivalent) would be knocking on my door.

As it is, I am going to have a bash at resuscitating the poor thing and see if I can get back into the habit. Discipline! Routine! Focu...ooh! iSketch... Back in a bit...
Well. we'll see how it goes.