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*