Wednesday, 24 February 2010

If you are privileged, then you don’t understand

This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

There are many things I could say about privilege – but most have them have already been said and in far more eloquent manner than I ever could. I sometimes think the “Invisible Knap Sack” series and “Privilege 101″ checklists should be required reading for the populace.

One of the things all these posts have in common is that they try to teach people how to understand privilege – understand and acknowledge it’s existence, which is vital.

But I’m going to address a different element of privilege:

Being privileged makes you ignorant. Not only does it make you ignorant – it makes you IRREVERSIBLY ignorant. When you are privileged, there are some things you simply cannot understand – no matter how much research, how much effort and how much work you put into this. The mere presence of privilege makes it impossible to understand some of the aspects of marginalisation. No matter how much of an ally you are – it doesn’t mean you are not privileged and it certainly doesn’t mean you are immune to privileged ignorance.

Recently there was a statistic (isn’t there always?) saying that 36% of people in the UK think homosexuality is wrong (which you then have to factor in to “36% of people in the UK are willing to ADMIT they think homosexuality is wrong.”) It was another depressing statistic in a long line of depressing (and likely meaningless, skewed and inaccurate) statistics, but it came back to me while I was in town doing some emergency lunch break shopping (because, y’know writing milk down on the shopping list when you empty the bottle is apparently such a challenging and taxing task – but I digress) and it hit me that I was surrounded by scores of people, nearly all of which would be straight. And I thought “a third of the people around you think your love, you life, your very being is wrong.”

And I was scared. I had a moment of panic. I checked my reflection in a nearby shop window to see if I had somehow sprouted rainbows or some other clear sign of gayness, tucked my hair into my jacket and hurried back to the office to come to my senses – and to wallow in shame at succumbing to the instinct to hide yet again.

I discussed this with my friend, a straight ally. And he told me how foolish I was and how silly gay people were to hide. He told me at great length how he thought homophobia would end tomorrow if all closeted gay people were to come out and reminded me repeatedly that I had sworn not to hide anymore and how stupid it was to be scared all the time.

Basically, a classic case of privilege blinkers, even from someone who tries to be an ally. He knows that gay people are attacked and abused, but he’s never lived it, he’s never been attacked, he’s never known the fear. He doesn’t understand the need to be on guard or what it’s like to be so very careful all the damn time. He has heard of, but doesn’t understand the risks and personal costs of coming out.

In another incident, I was discussing various marginalisations and was told, “you’re ok, gay people can hide.” In one simple sentence, the whole destructive and toxic element of the closet was glossed over and ignored – even lauded as a good thing. The endless lies and acting, the repression and self-hate, the legacy of trying to “change” gays were all happily brushed away.

And, going back to my university days, where our local GBLT society was overrun by well meaning but almost comically clueless straight “allies.” They spent an unbelievable amount of time lobbying the university to move our discreet, relatively out of the way office, to a larger more prominent location – all the while the actual GBLT people were saying “some of us are closeted. Some of us need the privacy, some of us appreciate the discretion.” but they didn’t listen – they were too busy telling us what we wanted. They were all allies, people I’d call allies (well, maybe not the university gang. But they tried to be) they all spent a lot of time trying to reach out to GBLT people; however, they still didn’t understand

So what does this mean?

Aye I actually have a point – not just rambling away (though I do so like a ramble). My point is that this ignorance is important and no matter how much of a friend you are, how intense an ally or how hard you try – that ignorance will remain. And that’s not a bad thing, but it means that you will always be an outsider and never truly get it

This means that you don’t know better than we do about what does and does not offend us – or what should or should not offend us. Sure, marginalised people can make mistakes – but they’re more likely to be right than privileged people.

That means that if a marginalised person is hurt or angry or sad by prejudice – and even if you don’t know why – they probably have a reason. Belittling, questioning or demeaning or minimising their hurt is not ok – and certainly unworthy of an ally. Questioning their reaction is unfair, demanding they act or react a different way is grossly wrong. You do not know the cost. You do not understand how difficult it is, the courage it takes.

That means that you have to tread hellaciously carefully if you have a criticism of the marginalised community as a whole (and, y’know, probably better not to. Because you’re in severe danger of sweeping statements there) or their fight for rights in particular. No-one needs to hear what a white person thinks all black people need to do. No-one is particularly eager to hear what a straight person thinks gays are doing wrong. That doesn’t mean there can’t be legitimate criticism – but there’s a very very good chance that you are stomping big ignorant boots all over someone’s sore spots.

That means don’t tell them what they need or want (or should need or want). They know.

Hmmm, this is longer than I expected (and didn’t include nearly as many digs about Beloved not putting milk on the shopping list as I intended. Which he didn’t. And ruined my coffee) but ultimately it comes back to the first rule of allydom:

Listen more than you talk and follow, do not lead.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

M/m and slash debate rambles on - a tour of derails

I have been trying to follow as the women writing m/m fiction/slash debate developed, but increasingly it has left be more and more depressed and negatively inclined towards both. The Lambda fail had already left a gross taste in my mouth but this has left me despairing and enraged with vast swathes of both genres.

And what has got me is the utter lack of respect showed to gay men in any

From nearly the very second of opening, the whole debate has hit such an immense and almost co-ordinated derail that it was almost shocking to see if we haven’t seen it all before. Most of the posts quickly leaped into endless “what about meeee?!” posts. Women who were so shocked and appalled and wanted to talk about how hurt they were. How hurt this post made them. How hurt this person made them. How upset they were. How it wasn’t THEIR writing like that. How it wasn’t THEM. How it was all so mean to them. The straw man of “men are trying to ban me from writing” was quickly raised and the discussion was quickly moved from “gay men are offended and troubled by appropriation and objectification and would like to consider this” to “what women can write and how wrong it is to criticise them for doing so.“

Gay critics were quickly accused of sexism and the vast majority of the debate quickly ran down discussing sexism and patriarchy - important topics to be discussed, but having the added bonus of moving the subject to more comfortable ground. A large number of lesbian/bi/queer/trans women spoke up to add their own “what about meeee!” completely ignoring the issue of appropriating gay men that is happening in the genre to focus on who is doing the appropriating. We then had a brief run around playing with drag apparently (which struck me more as a lash out at gay men and an attempt to run away from the comparison of f/f in het porn) and generally leaving the original topic so far behind that it had not only been derailed but the tracks were no longer even in sight.

Over and over I have been left with the feeling, from reading the derails, the distractions, the straw men, that for a depressingly large number of people in both of these genres gay men do not matter. Gay men do not exist as people for so many of these commenters. Gay men are objects. We’re things. We’re subject matter. We’re not due respect, We’re not due consideration. Our voices are unwelcome, we have no right to criticise and we are trespassing and being unreasonable when we do.

I cling to those who do understand and do try, but increasingly I am fearing that these are the minority, it’s depressing it is.

I’m going to address some of the points raised. I’m in two minds about this. Part of me is angry and insulted and wants to respond - and since I don’t need much excuse to put fingers to keyboard, I’m going with that./ But part of me thinks acknowledging the derailment is yet again making the derails the topic - letting it be derailed. But then, it has already been so heavily derailed, what’s the point now?

So to address some of the derailing points.

These men are trying to stop us women writing!

If anyone is actually talking banning books or stopping anyone writing (like we have that power!) then they are the tiniest most ridiculously tiny part of this whole debate. Because 99% of everyone commenting on this have NOT said that. Criticism =/= banning/telling you not to write. It’s not SILENCING to criticise what is written and how we are treated in these genres. This straw man must be out of breath because he’s been running all over the place.

99% of everyone in this does NOT WANT WOMEN TO STOP WRITING M/M OR SLASH. But I, for one, and doubtless many others, would REALLY appreciate it if, when using gay men as characters, you treat them respect, sensitivity and acknowledge that there are real people, real gay men out there who can be hurt, stereotyped, .

Is that unreasonable? Apparently so.

The majority of women writing slash and/or m/m are bi/lesbian/queer

I don’t know. I’ve seen posts about both that say different things. But this is yet another derail because it isn‘t really relevant. This is about writing the Other. What are we writing? Gay/bisexual men. If you are not a gay/bisexual man then a gay/bisexual man is the Other. If you’re a gay/bisexual/trans/queer woman it may not be AS Other to you as it would be to a straight woman - but you’re still writing the Other with all that implies and all that means. You can still hurt us. You can still disrespect us. You can still use the straight world’s stereotypes on us, the straight world’s tropes on us, the straight world’s insults on us. The only thing is, I kind of hoped you’d know better.

Straight men objectify women

Yes. And? Is this being presented as justification? As an excuse? As a reason? What? Because the only relevance I can see to this is to say “yeah, objectification sucks and we should work together to stop it” and, y’know what? I really don’t think that’s what is intended.

Women are using men because of sexism in the media/society that makes portraying women hard/feel wrong/otherwise not gel properly. It’s an easier way to express female sexuality

I entirely agree with these points and understand them, sympathise them and accept them. BUT. And yes, there’s a but.

You are still using gay men. It may be a different reason why you are using them - and it’s certainly a better reason than “rawr, mansex is hawt!” But the motive and reason - no matter how well justified or necessary or important - doesn’t change that you are STILL writing the Other. Again, I need to emphasise that that doesn’t mean “don’t do it!” it means there is still an ethical duty to be respectful, sensitive, careful and understanding when you do it. Your having an important, entirely justified and extremely vital reason to write m/m and m/m slash doesn’t change that you are appropriating - with all the damage and problems that can cause. Again again again, that doesn’t mean don’t write. But don’t assume that this justifies not considering, respecting or thinking of gay men in your writing and portrayals.

It’s a female space/it’s all for women/it’s a woman’s genre/this genre was made by women.

The strong implication here is that men - even gay men, should have no say in the matter, that we should be ignored and, indeed, that we are being presumptions and trespassing for commenting and certainly for criticising. Some have even gone far further than to imply this - some have outright said that they don’t need to consider gay men because it is a woman’s space. We are the outsiders. We are not important here. We are violating them by thrusting ourselves rudely into their place.

This isn’t derailing - this is just pure silencing. It’s also grossly disrespectful. This is a genre about us. Not just some of the time, not just occasionally. M/m fiction and m/m slash is all about gay or bisexual men. To say it is a female space or that we have no place to comment or criticise is not just arrogant - it’s dehumanising. This really does emphasise how degraded gay men are to some of these commenters - gay men are presented as objects. We are characters, we can be used and claimed and appropriated - but real gay men are not considered or even welcome to many of those commenting.

Arguments that just defy logic and are outright deceptive

There have been several of these, too many to list really. I don’t know what depresses me more, that people may be that clueless or that they are wilfully trying to deflect. Two of the worst include:

Not recognising the difference between a pseudonym used to protect privacy/protect against prejudice and a pseudonym used to deceive the reader. For example - comparing a woman pretending to be a gay man in the m/m genre to George Elliot.

Arguing that all authors appropriate - and appropriating the experiences of marginalised bodies is TOTALLY the same as writing about the privileged majority. Sociology 101, we need to teach it, really.

I really don’t believe anyone can be truly ignorant on these points - that must be an active, wilful act of foolishness.

I just... don’t understand. I don’t understand why a simple request for respect - to realise that no, it’s NOT just “making shit up” to realise there are consequences and people here - was met by such a concerted, fierce distract, derail and objection. It depresses me muchly to think that maybe it WAS too much to ask

Do we have a duty?

One of the side topics that has been touched on through both the m/m imbroglio and the cover fail battle is the common theme of “does an author have a duty to their readers?” It’s an interesting question – but I don’t think it’s the right question.

A better question, I think, is do we have a “duty to others?”

And the answer is yes. Oh, not a legal duty. No-one will come around to your house and force you to acknowledge it except in limited legal terms. No-one should either for that matter.

But an ethical duty? A moral duty? Yes. I believe so.

I have a number of ethical and moral duties that aren’t FORCED upon me but I feel exist nevertheless.

I think I have a duty to the planet to do as little harm as possible and heal what I can.

I think I have a duty to my fellow human beings to cause them as little distress as possible.

I think I have a duty to my fellow human beings to alleviate distress when it is within my power to do so.

I think I have a duty to society to try and make it a little better before I die – or at least strive not to make it worse.

I think I have a duty, as a privileged person, to work through my privilege and do my best to limit the harm my privilege causes.

I think I have a duty, as a person born in a society stained by prejudice, to take steps to avoid perpetuating that prejudice and to expunge prejudice when I am capable of doing so.

I think I have a duty, as a thinking, feeling being, to recognise my actions and my words have consequences – and that I need to be aware of them, considerate of them and responsible for them.

I think I have several duties, this list is not even remotely conclusive, just some of many.

No-one is ever going to force me to uphold these duties. There are laws that will cover aspects of them, but few none that will cover them all – nor should the, for the harm such a law would cause would far outweigh the benefits it would bring. But these are, I feel, ethical duties I have.

So when I read someone say “I don’t have a duty to anyone but myself,” or a writer say “I don’t have a duty to anyone but my publisher” well, I can’t help but double-take. To only have a duty to that which benefits self and that which brings you money seems a very… limited ethical code as well as being rather self-absorbed.

I believe we have a duty to others. I believe we have a responsibility not to hurt or harm people when it is possible to avoid it. That doesn’t mean I’ll get it right (hey, look at my Light & Dark story. Shiny Sidhe from Britain that rule a vast world wide empire of fae they consider beneath them? The cluelessness abounds in that one) but it means I will try to think and consider and do the best I can.

And yes, I think that is a duty.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

What about OUR children?

This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

What about the GBLT kids and teens?

Homophobic and transphobic bullying is toxic in the playground. Stonewall reports 2 in 5 PRIMARY school teachers witness homophobic bullying. 2 thirds of GBLT kids in secondary school are bullied - and 40% beaten up. Homophobic bullying is second only to weight in terms of frequency and 9 out of 10 secondary school teachers have witnessed homophobic bullying.

Outside of school GBLT kids grow up in a world that demonises homosexuals and trans people. Even with the best family in the world, the homophobia and transphobia and the cis/heteronormative world is presented everywhere. On television, in books, in games, in the playground, from the pulpit (ye gods, definitely from the pulpit) and from the seats of government. 'Gay' is one of the most common pejoratives there is, especially among the young. It seems hardly a week goes by without some celebrity merrily letting the word 'fag' spill from his lips. Ministers and religious leaders don't pause for a second in spouting the most virulent homophobic bigotry. Nations around the world think it's acceptable to kill us - and the BBC think it's acceptable to debate whether we should be killed or not.

The message of hatred is always there. It's poison that seeps into kids, corrodes them, damages them, destroys their sense of self worth, self-esteem and even will to live.

And they are ALONE. Unlike many marginalised groups, homosexuals, bisexuals and trans people rarely grow up in a house with people who share their marginalisations. Their parents are cis-gendered and heterosexual. Their siblings, their grandparents, the vast majority of their family - they're all cis-gendered and heterosexual. There's no support net. No understanding. No advice. No experience. Nothing to counter the constant poisonous message that they're diseased, broken, wrong.

And we're not allowed to counter the message. Teachers receive next to no training in dealing with homophobic bullying - and the mere mention of homosexuality in schools is considered so taboo it's nearly impossible to counter the bullying, the prejudice and the language of hate. How many kids are told how damaging using "gay" as a pejorative is? How many are even told that "fag" is a grossly unacceptable slur? How many are told that "tranny" should never pass their lips? How many kids are taught that anti-GBLT hate is NOT ok? They grow up in a world that is saturated with anti-GBLT prejudice and straight and cisgendered privilege and no-one ever tells them it's wrong, no-one tells them the damage it causes - even educating them on the hurt is considered immoral. They will absorb hate unless we work to counter it - unless we're allowed to work to counter it.

Is it any wonder our kids hide? Is it any wonder we closet ourselves? But then, that makes for even less chance to seek help. How can you connect to the GBLT community when you're terrified of being outed? How can you complain to your parents or your teachers that you're being bullied or assaulted or abused when it would mean outing yourself to them? How do you go to the police when you are afraid of anyone finding out?

Is it any wonder so many of our young are depressed? Is it any wonder so many of them self-harm? Is it any wonder so many of them are homeless? Is it any wonder so many of them turn to drugs? And we can't even begin to imagine the full scale of pain they fall to - how many resort to destructive relationships because they think they're worth no better? How many live empty, hollow lives pretending to be straight and/or cis-gendered and hating every day?

Is it any wonder that so many of our young kill themselves?

So, righteous homophobes - you want us to think of the children? We are - and we'd appreciate it if you'd stop killing ours!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Pope Benedict - please feel free to stay away.

Yes, he has opened his mouth again and - surprise! - homophobia spilled out. Seriously Benedict, change the record once in a while.

The pope has looked upon Britain’s Equality Act and he likes it not

Because, of course, it lets us live. It stops people firing us for being GBLT (been there, didn’t like it), it stops people refusing goods and services to GBLT people. It stops them denying us housing or jobs or places in schools or any of the squillion little things that privileged people take for granted but for GBLT people relied on the whims of an often homophobic society. In short, it let’s us exist in society without bigots trying to ruin our says.

This act - and its previous foundation - is a lifeline to us. Of course, the Catholic Church hate it - can’t have GBLT people being treated as decent citizens can you?

You’d think for 5 minutes he could stop attacking us. It’s unrelenting with this man. but then, what do i expect from a church where a dioscese is now lecturing new STRAIGHT couples for longer before it marries them because of the dreaded threat of homosexual marriage!. It really is a disturbing obsession

The Pope is due to arrive in the UK in 2010. Really, if he doesn’t like our laws, he’s welcome to stay away. Personally, I’d rather not have the bigot polluting our soil.