Friday, 25 February 2011

Internalised Self Hate and its baggage

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

And now I'm going to have a rather personal ramble on internalized self-hate and the horrible baggage it leaves. Which, in turn, is why I am slightly obsessive when it comes to demanding decent gay representation in the media (that and the sporks. I hate being spoked I do and it's nigh impossible to avoid if you turn a television on).
When I was growing up I had one series of books that contained a gay character - and they were written by Ann "tent peg" McCaffrey. Television was scarcely much better, the recognisable gay characters being people like John  Humphreys and Lieutenant Gruber - caricatures that existed so straight people could point and giggle at them, comic characters who were funny ONLY because they are gay and simply being gay was just so screamingly hilarious. 

My family didn't talk about anything remotely related to being gay except in the most heavily euphemistic terms (often with strong slants of distaste). The closest they ever came was pouring venom over my uncle Henry. 

I remain the only person in the family who refers to him that way. My great uncle Ralph never married. He lived with Henry for 30 years. The family always referred to him as "Henrietta" though he never identified by that name nor in any way as female. And when uncle Ralph died they pushed him out of the funeral and spoke bitterly about how 'Henrietta' got all of Ralph's money (thankfully Ralph was sensible enough to make a will). I've often wanted to meet him, but after Ralph died no-one kept in touch with him, no-one even knew his last name. 
I've already spoken about some of the badness that hit when I came out/was outed at school. There was a whole lot of negative there and I absorbed most of it. 
In short, I entered the big bad world of dating rather messed up. I hated myself and had a twisted, broken idea of what it meant to be gay. I had no positive ideal of myself or what I was. 

I thought love was impossible, an alien concept, something reserved for others. Gay men only wanted sex. All the time. Any time. And that it was dirty and shameful and wrong and sick. It was unnatural and perverse. I didn't understand or recognise affection even though I craved it - and hated myself more for not being a 'proper' gay man. And I expected various badnesses to be normal and acceptable among gay men. 

Needless to say, this was not a particularly healthy attitude. It certainly didn't lead to many constructive relationships. 

My dating history is a trainwreck of disasters. Decent guys were usually too young, inexperienced and just unable to deal with my subscriptions (I had graduated beyond issues). Some became frustrated and angry which didn't help over much.
Guys as messed up as me lasted longer - and we indulged in a happy fun ride of spirally disaster and mutual destruction. This was not helpful to either of us. And there were guys who were very happy to find a young, vulnerable, emotionally needy, malleable and easy to please and willing to tolerate just about anything. And that wasn't helpful either.
And I didn't look for help. Because I knew what would help. I would have to magically become straight - or live with it. Those were the choices - because the problem simply had to be my being gay. And, of course, there were no shortage of powers that be that were happy to agree with me there - and smugly take any tales of a dysfunctional gay relationship as proof for their own homophobia. To this day, I dislike discussing even moderate relationship issues I have with Beloved, let alone my past trainwrecks. I cannot describe how hard it makes it to find help when you know that any indication that a relationship is less than perfect - let alone outright destructive - then it will be blamed on your sexuality, on who you are. 

It took a lot of work, dedication and love from a lot of good people and great friends and a whole lot of rage to put me back together again, build a sense of self-worth and try to shed some of my gross misconceptions about what it meant to be a gay man - and that that's not a bad thing to be. Well, insofar as I have been put together again. 

Looking back, I have a strong sense of being cheated, of years wasted and lost while I sorted my head out. And I have a whole lot of rage - and no small amount of that against myself for allowing myself to be a victim when common sense and logic should have opened my eyes. (And yes, I know I wasn't working on logic at the time, I don't think anyone is, but knowing that doesn't make it accepted or any less enraging). 

But I'm also angry at the negative message. The negative messages that saturated the world that I absorbed and the positive messages that are silenced, diluted and overwhelmed. I am angry when I see stereotypes and caricatures, I am angry when I see people using "gay rights" to push gay fetishisation, I am angry when I see the life-affirming It Gets Better campaign being gradually overwhelmed by celebrities looking for a higher profile, companies using it for marketing, politicians using it for campaigning and an inordinate number of straight people looking for those tasty ally cookies. 

And I am angry because there's still a vast number of people out there who cry "censorship" every time we protest hate speech. I am angry at the vast number of people who yell "think of the children!" every time we demand that GBLTQ youth see positive representations of themselves. I am angry every time someone says "don't you have anything better to worry about?" when I complain about media depictions or erasure or the near universal heterosexist nature of advertising or the hate speech spouted by religious leaders, by politicians, by celebrities and yes, even high profile nobodies with 10 minutes of undeserved fame ranting off on their twitter feed.
Because - and I say it again knowing I've said it so many times before that I'm not even a broken record any more because a broken record would have worn out by now - the message matters. The message can make and break lives

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Aha! A gay valentines card

In relation to the last post it seems that while, indeed the big card designers don’t give a damn about GBLT people there is one card designer that is after the gay market

With… this. 

Yeah, y’know nothing says romance like an anti-gay slur. And such a “witty” play on words. “Hey, let us celebrate our love with a witty little word game about the bigoted things people say about us while discussing hurting and killing us. Awww, how sweet.” And it’s not like this same word game hasn’t already been done a thousand times

Forgive me if I don’t rush out to buy this to send to Beloved. He’d probably book me in for more therapy sessions

Oh yes, and it was designed by a heterosexual.

And on Valentines Day

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

Valentines day has swung round again. And words cannot express how much I hate this day (though I am looking forward to the much more fun holiday – cheap chocolate day!)

Not just because it’s so commercialised that cupid should have a Clinton Cards logo branded on his arse.

Not even because I think greetings cards are the biggest con since people started trying to sell London bridge

No, my first annoyance is just how empty it is. To me Valentines day means “society has told me I should give you this card and this sanctioned gift. This is no indication of my feelings – it’s required on this date.” Nearly every couple around the country – and more, will be doing the same thing, probably even the same gifts and maybe the same cards. It’s very impersonal…

And if it’s impersonal, how can it be romantic? I’d much rather Beloved surprise me with a gift that is meaningful to me, on a date that matters to us (or just randomly because he wants to…. well, depending on his surprises anyway. Beloved has a bad track record with surprises). A gift given on the 14th February feels like a duty gift – something you are obliged to do, words you are obliged to say – because that’s the way “it’s done.”

That doesn’t mean that loving couples don’t celebrate, and it doesn’t mean that people can’t make genuine romantic gestures on this day (*and hey maybe it’s a reminder for people who don’t to actually do so) but it does feel a little contrived – and more than a little like the greeting cards industry saying “there are no damn holidays in February?! Let us exploit their loooove/guilt to make them buy shit!”

But the second and main reason I hate it? Well, is there a holiday on our calendar that is more heteronormative than this one? Is there one holiday that is more overwhelmingly straight? For the weeks leading up to it and the day itself, it’s one giant het-fest – even more so than daily life.

I’m glad I don’t watch much television, because the weeks of adverts of lots of straight folks celebrating romance would quickly drive me up the wall. I mean advertising is usually wall to wall straight folks anyway. It’s absolutely everywhere you look, in every media you consume and it’s all straightness all the time. Well now we get to throw in the emphasis on love and couples blaring from every direction and the omission is glaring. “It’s the time of year where we all celebrate romantic loooove! Uh… but not yours. No we don’t want that. Yours doesn’t count. We mean real love. And by real love, we mean man/woman love – the only love there is!” What’s with that Milk Tray man?! Am I not worth James Bond rip-off stunts to bring a box of poxy chocolates too?!

If I go shopping I am bombarded “straight love! WORSHIP THE STRAIGHT LOVING! Anyone not in a straight loving relationship right now is sad and lonely in a desolate empty life!” (can you tell it bugs me?) Signs and banners, packaging and jingles. And don’t even get me started on the music. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Girl sings about losing boy. Boy sings about wanting girl. Boys and girls sing together about how wonderful the opposite gender is. Gods, if they do a cover of a song that was sang by the opposite gender they change the damn words to desperately avoid THE GAY! *crash of thunder* *lightening strike* *maniacal laugh*

And it’s a damn good thing I do think cards are just a con because if I did feel the need to buy Beloved a Valentines day card I’d have to trawl past acres of straight cards and hope I could find something suitably generic that will hide the fact it’s meant for a man to send to his girlfriend – or vice versa. Actually finding a card for gay men to celebrate out love? Yeah, that’s going to be a specialist supplier there. Major greetings card companies just don’t cover same-sex love. Hallmark is “thinking about it.” and taking  “baby steps” It’s a card for crying out loud. You need a 10 step plan to make a card?! And Clinton Cards in the UK? They’re producing THIS vile thing

So yeah, cards? Probably not even if I were willing to spend that much on a piece of paper.
This holiday is a constant barrage It’s 99.9% man/woman man/woman, man/woman THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE! MAN/WOMAN!!!! The Hetero-holiday has spoken!

So to those who celebrate – happy Het-fest!

To the rest of us, let’s buy cheap chocolates, lots of booze and snark at things. Bah… hmmm… what’s the valentines equivalent of ‘humbug’ anyway? “Bah Garage Flowers?”

Friday, 18 February 2011

And another Tory bigot opens his mouth – about marriage equality

Tory MP and bigot (but then, the two do tend to go together to such a degree as to make that a redundancy), Edward Leigh is looking at all the talk about marriage equality and has lost his little bigot head over it.

He doesn’t understand why we need marriage equality because only a tiny minority of us gays wants it. Well, that kind of conflicts with Pink News polls and I do wonder why he thinks he knows the mind of gay people up and down the country. After all, this is a man with one of the most stinking records on anti-gay legislation there is – I can’t imagine he has a legion of gay friends. (And if he does pull the “I have a gay friend” card I am going to break something). Who is this straight man who presumes to speak for us?

But, y’know what? Even if only a few of us same-sex loving types wants to get married – we should be able to do so. If only a quarter of a minority wanted the vote it wouldn’t be an excuse to deny the whole group the right! Access to a right is not dependent on sufficient number wanting to exercise it. There are inordinate number of religions with a tiny following in the UK, we can’t stomp on their rights because we decide there just aren’t enough of them to make it worthwhile – this stinks of the same bullshit muttered around that damn ONS farce.

And you know what? It doesn’t matter if only one single gay person in the entire country wanted to get married and he couldn’t because no-one wanted to marry him. The law STILL needs changing
Because when you have a law that has a two tier system for marginalised people then you are legally enshrining inferiority in law. Even if I didn’t want to get married I would want this law changed – because as it stands the law of Great Britain says I am an inferior person. Under law, I am a lesser person. Legally, I am not due the same rights and considerations as straight people.

Let me say that again – my lesser status as a citizen is currently enshrined in law.

And that bothers me. It bothers me that the highest authority in the country has officially declared my inferiority, my unworthiness, my lesser status. And don’t tell em that doesn’t have an effect on how we are treated, how we are viewed or how we view ourselves – you can’t legally impose inferior status without there being repercussions

I want to be equal before the law in all instances. I have and had no intention of joining the military, but I wanted the anti-gay military ban dropped. I have no immediate plans to have children, but I refuse to accept different standards for us in the adoption system. I hate Bed and Breakfasts and would rather eat my own foot than stay in one – but that doesn’t mean I’m indifferent about the spate of bigoted hoteliers turning us away.

Because these things mean something above and beyond the specific right they are protecting,. They are statements of equality, of worth and of value and respect due.

And as for the rest of his screed? – well standard bigot talk. “Mangling marriage.” “Redefining what marriages mean” really? I thought marriages meant people loving each other – I wonder what HIS marriage means if it’s not about love? (Of course the whole love thing is a very recent definition of marriage which *gasp* has been redefined quite a lot).

I wonder if Cameron will reprimand him for being a bigot? I doubt it.

Prisoners and the Vote

Anyone following British politics will see we’ve been having a drama llama about giving the vote to prisoners. Currently, while in prison you have no voting rights. A prisoner took this to the European Court of Human rights that has turned round and said “that’s wrong. Fix it.” Parliament has voted against fixing it – again showing that our system of no judicial overthrow of rights violations is a broken and dangerous one.

I think prisoners should have the vote, for several reasons.

Firstly, democracy is a fragile thing (it’s also not a perfect thing. The will of the people is all well and good, but far too often the people are bigoted, foolish and down right self-destructive). There are many ways you can break it – with fear, with ignorance, with prejudice, with a media that is unfit for purpose and failing in its duty and with ridiculous electoral system that makes “will of the people” an almost comic claim. But one of the prime and classic ways to break a democracy is to disenfranchise people.

If you want the will of the people, then you need to allow the people to vote. All of those capable of doing so need to be able to do so.

Now I know many people are saying “I don’t want people like that deciding who runs the country” and I have to say, firstly, that they could hardly do a worse job than we do. Secondly, that their few and widely spread numbers are hardly a massive demographic. And thirdly – that argument has a very poor precedent.
There are a lot of people I’d rather have no say who runs the country. I don’t want ignorant fools who have done no research voting. I don’t want bigots voting. Heh, I’d be quite content if Tory voters didn’t vote.
Not letting people vote because we don’t like them is… nervous-making. Even if dislike of a group is universal, even if dislike of a group is reasonable – it’s still nervous-making and not exactly ideal for a democracy.

In addition I think we have to consider that prisoners are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. It seems odd to claim, but it’s very true. The general populace does not care whether prisoners are abused – in fact, stories of prisoner abuse are regarded with malicious glee far too often. We relish in the suffering of the incarcerated. Every aspect of their lives is subject to the whims of the government authorities in a way that the non-incarcerated cannot even imagine. They are utterly controlled and helpless before it.

This isn’t a campaign against imprisonment – but, like any vulnerable group (I’ve said before that I vote because, as a marginalised person, who controls the government is a serious matter if I want my rights upheld) prisoners have an extreme vested interest in having their views heard and listened to by the powers that be. We cannot successfully have a prison system – let alone a just, ethical and moral prison system – run by people who have no reason to listen to the prisoners themselves – or who are driven to listen to the “make them suffer” right wingers but not those who will live in those conditions.

Some people will argue that losing the vote is part of the punishment of committing a crime. As I have previously said when talking about the death penalty, I do not see the point in punishment for the sake of punishment.

If you are going to deny someone of their rights then I want a reason why. Because they’re RIGHTS and should be treated with respect. “They deserve it” isn’t a reason. It’s meaningless, a buzz word and part of the desire for revenge Vengeance isn’t a reason – not an ethical one. “We want them to suffer because we hate them” is not moral position, no matter how justified that hate may be. Nor can hate be a position on which we base our laws or legal system – making people suffer because we want them to hurt cannot be a defensible legal position.

Now, the commonplace reasons for us imprisoning people is to:
  1. Deter both the criminal specifically and criminality in general
I think we can all agree that “ooh I lost my vote” isn’t going to stop anyone committing crimes
  1. Protect society from dangerous criminals
Hence why we incarcerate people away from the population at large. Again, a vote is not the most lethal weapon ever devised.
  1. Rehabilitation
Hah, I don’t know why I include this since it’s usually a gesture at best. But, again, denying someone the vote doesn’t seem to be a good way to get people on the straight and narrow – quite the opposite in fact since it means people likely to vote for various half-way schemes etc, cannot.
  1. Ensuring someone doesn’t profit from their crimes/gain advantage through criminality
A somewhat nebulous, philosophical reason. Basically, someone should not have an advantage due to breaking the rules. Punishment exists to ensure they are not advantaged in anyway by their criminal actions. Again, vote? Doesn’t really fit here

I could go on but I think I’ve made a point. The practical reasons for punishments don’t really justify denying the vote as well. I still await a concrete reason why I should be happy about the disenfranchisement of prisoners.

On a practical level we also have to consider the very real fact that the prison and justice system are both very prejudiced. They couldn’t be otherwise since they are products of an already prejudiced society. Marginalised people are far more likely to be convicted of crimes, are far more likely to be targeted by law enforcement and are far more likely to receive longer and more severe sentences. Even crimes themselves, we’re usually far more lenient with regards to traditionally “white collar” crimes than we other crime.
Denying the vote to prisoners inherently helps to disenfranchise the poor, the lower classes, minorities and the marginalised – because the system already disproportionately targets these people for imprisonment.

So, prisoners with the vote? Sparky says yes.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Gay Marriage in the UK

News reports have come out to all and sundry that apparently we’re going to get gay marriage at last over here!

I blinked in shock because, damn that was a bit out of the blue!

Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be quite the case, we’re dealing with some sloppy reporting. To understand this, you need to look at civil partnerships – that not-really-marriage-because-you-homos-aren’t-good-enough-for-it provision.

One of the interesting provisos of civil partnerships is that religion is banned from them. You can’t use a religious building, can’t have a preacher, can’t have religious readings. Religion is verboten!

And this INCLUDES if the religion in question WANTS to be involved. So if you’re, say, a Quaker or a Reform Jew (two groups that have been most irritated by this law) you cannot have a religious civil union EVEN IF YOUR CHURCHES WANT TO.

This is, of course, a rule in the name of religious freedom. And by religious freedom we mean stinking bigotry.
Now we’re looking at removing the restriction. NOT forcing churches to include us, oh-no. But allowing those churches that DO want to bless our unions to do so.

This change was originally put forward by the last government, though it faced fierce and vehement Tory opposition. It’s actually part of the Labour made Equality Act and an Amendment pushed by a Labour peer. We were actually furious with Harriet Harmen for caving to the Tories over this when their opposition was so fierce.

And Lyn Featherstone – the figleaf and supporter of Theresa May, the woman who already hand waved away all our legal protections and is one of the reasons why I would never return to the Lib Dems – seems to be trying to claim credit for this? Really? They’re going to claim this as a coalition victory for our rights? What a manipulative, disgusting prejudiced move – and I expect no better form her or her government.

That’s even weaker than claiming that the convictions of gay men who were convicted for having sex when our existence was criminalised. Because they’re not – they’re counted as “spent.” They’re still there, they’re still viewable.

And to add to this post

BBC FOR FUCK’S SAKE! Stop presenting our basic human rights as a matter for fucking debate! Enough already! Why the hell do I pay this license fee again? So beyond sick of this shit.

Spark of Wisdom: The Blinkers of Privilege

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

Humanity confuses me at times. With this bruiser on my face I think I’ve had the following conversation several times.

Person: *gasp* what happened to your face?

Sparky: Someone hit me.
Person: *disapproving look*

Yes, they appear to disapprove of my face being in the way of someone’s fist. Yes yes they do.

Maybe they disapprove of my inability to dodge?

Maybe everyone around me secretly believes I am a secret agent or a trained martial artist – maybe I look so cool they can’t imagine anyone could possibly lay a finger on me without me ripping them limb from limb while delivering terribly witty one liners?

Or, as it occurred to me, we live in very different worlds. They haven’t been attacked. They’ve never been the victims of violence. They’ve never, really, face the actual threat of violence, it’s so alien to them that the reality of it catches them out – it can’t happen randomly, the world, their world, just doesn’t work that way. I must have been an instigator, I must have done something I shouldn’t have – not necessarily “asking for it” but at least doing something foolish or silly that put me at risk.

Either that or they’ve never placed me in their mental picture of a victim. For whatever reason, I don’t fir the profile of someone who has to be careful of someone who has violence enter their lives. I wonder if I should take that as a compliment or be vexed by their blinkered vision.

And, well, neither mind sets are ones I can picture. I’ve pretty much absorbed the idea that violence happens, happens to me and happens any time. I’ve accepted the idea that safety is pretty rare and you have to be on guard (though, clearly, this is a lesson I need to practice more). It’s not the first timer. It’s not the 6th time. It’s not the 9th time. It won’t be the last time.

And it has had me somewhat torn in emotional response. Do I envy them for living lives so… sanitised, so insulated from some of the harsher aspects of reality that violence is an alien concept to them? Be irritated at their ignorant naivety? Be angry because they are so ignorant and dismissive and almost doubting of my experiences?

But it also makes me think. It makes me think how hard sometimes it is to bridge the gap of people’s experiences. How hard it can be for people to understand a marginalisation who either do not live that marginalisation or just cannot see you within the context of that marginalisation (either because they have bought into stereotypes or preconceived notions). Part of this relates to my previous post on how if you’re privileged you don’t understand.

But I think it’s more. First a reminder to privileged people that they’re looking at the world through a different lens. But I think it’s also reminder to the marginalised that, no, maybe the privileged people genuinely don’t understand . Yes maybe they are shocked, confused and bemused. Maybe we do have to stop, take a few steps back and let them catch up with the conversation. Not that we need to put up with fail, wilful ignorance or general arseholery, but at least be aware that we may have left someone behind. Remember the nuance or assumptions made me lost (or completely different ones made) and maybe some gaps need to be filled.

Do I know where I’m going with this? No, it’s something of a ramble as is my wont. But it’s something to think about.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Tories, still the party of Section 28

So I’m looking at some of the Toryness news and I’m having some chilling déjà vu.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, February is LGBT history month in the UK and many things are planned for it. One of these by the organisation Schools outreach is to provide GBLT themed lessons in schools. By adding a slant to basic. There’s a great summary of the issues around it in this excellent article that in can’t really add to. I’ve already written about the Daily Mail’s bigoted comment on the subject

But there others are objections and I am chilled not just for the bigotry of them but for the echoes of them. Not only have the usual suspects at the Daily Mail opened their prejudiced mouths, but Tory MPs have spoke up against the children being exposed to the gays!

We are exposing children to “questionable sexual standards!”

Saving gay kids from suicide is “nonsense” and shouldn’t be in schools

And a Tory govt advisor thinks homosexuality is linked to paedophilia But can we expect more from Theresa May, our Equalities Minister and Section 28 champion?

Now, where did we hear such rhetoric before? Why… this is the same language the Tories used when they fought against Section 28 (3 times no less). This is the same language that Theresa May and Cameron and Baroness Warsi and William Hague (all of these champion bigots are still high ranking Tories) and all the rest of them used to keep section 28 law

Which leaves me cold. They’re using the same language. They’re nurturing the same attitude. The party of Section 28 has not changed and is still a haven for bigots and homophobes.

Of course, there is no shortage of other bigotry
We have yet another Tory MP calling the Equality Act a waste of money
And yet another just completely doesn’t believe in homophobic discrimination

In addition to one hotel appealing a decision that found them at fault for denying a gay couple from staying, they are not only appealing but are joined by another hotelier that wants to hang “straights only” signs on the door.

Ex-Tory Lord Chancellor rallies to defend homophobia so long as it waves a cross (thereby enshrining anti-gay bigotry as lawful) joining MP and ex-shadow home secretary Chris Grayling in insisting that discrimination against GBLT people should be legal

And of course the Daily Mail has something to say about it with this cartoon. I’d complain to the PCC, but it’s clear that the organisation is steeped in homophobia and not fit for purpose so it’s hardly worth it.
Oh and you’ve got to love the new Tory bait & switch with the “we’re going to delete past convictions. Except, by the wording of the Act  this is clearly not the case. They assure us it will be deleted – but the wording is clear. So even though this has been forced on them by judicial review, they still can’t do the right thing by us.

And, let us not forget that when a Chrstian “Therapist” was struck off for trying to “convert” gay people to straightness , a Tory MEP was there to defend them

David Cameron didn’t feel the need to criticise any of these people, despite being urged to do so. I am not surprised.

We’ve had a disturbing upswing in homophobic rhetoric from the Tories. But at least it will combat their rainbow-washing. Our enemies haven’t changed. The Tories are massive bigots and always have been – and they need to do a hell of a lot more than they have to convince me otherwise

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Some things that get on my last nerve

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

Do you know what? There are some things that are repeatedly said to me, that really set my teeth on edge. They really really annoy me, to a point where one day I am sure my head will explode out of sheer irritation. It will be messy. I must remember to bring plastic sheeting. 

They annoy me beyond reason. I mean, even more than Beloved seasoning food after I’ve cooked it?
Even more than him putting things away while I’m still using them.
Even more than door-to-door annoyers knocking on my door at 9:00am on a Sunday morning.
EVEN more than the damn 10 feet of snow (possible exaggeration) that has kept me housebound and made me miss a holiday (and, to make matters worse, certain Canadians aren’t snowed in despite my frequent comments about polar bears, igloos and wintry wastelands).
The following is a list (that will be so non-inclusive, because I’m remembering more, as I write this), of some of the things that people not only say around me – but say around me so often, that I may carry little cards around with answers pre-written. Or maybe engraved onto the head of an axe. Yes, I think I’ll go with axe.

“You’re so cute together!”

Kids playing dress up are cute.

Small, fluffy animals are cute.

Maybe your children going on their first date are cute.

Couples that have lived together for the best part of a decade? “Cute” (or “sweet”) isn’t the adjective. It’s demeaning. It’s diminishing. It’s reminiscent of patting a kid on the head who has learned a new trick.
“You’re just like a married couple!”
You’re just like a clueless person! And that’s because you are one! Just as we’re just like a married coupled because we ARE a married couple! Shocking isn’t it?

Saying we “look like” what we are tells me you think we’re imitating, faking. It irritates me, it does.

“Married? What.. oh you mean civil partnered!”

Damn, you’re right! Y’know, I totally forget all the time that real marriage isn’t for the likes of me, thank you for reminding me.

I know that ‘legally’ we’re not married, ok. But I really do appreciate not having that rubbed in my face (which, btw, as an acquaintance reminded me the other day – your Hen Night in a gay bar does strike me as rather tasteless. You’re merrily celebrating something that most of society deems the inhabitants of that bar are unfit for. Maybe it’s because you have a lot of gay friends, then cool – but if you’re coming to ogle the gay guys? Um… yeah)

If I’ve said “married” then I’ve said it for a reason – and that reason isn’t because I need someone to teach me.

“I bet I could turn you!”

Noooope, pretty certain if a decade or so of familial pressure didn’t do it, then your boobies really don’t have that kind of power

Look, I know it’s meant as a joke, and gods know I’ll flirt with anything with a pulse so long as they know that it’s a game, I’m incorrigible like that

But, y’know there are a whole lot of forces out there that do try to “turn” me and mine… and it’s not a happy fun process. You can’t turn me and all you’re doing is reminding me of those who have tried – and those who would try.

“You’re one of the girls” 

Well damn, my husband is going to be real disappointed about that and it’s really going to ruin our sex life, him being gay and all. Oh wait, nope, I’m still a man. I’m a gay man, not a girl. Don’t assume being gay makes me female. Denying that gay men are actually men or that lesbians are actually women is pernicious, annoying and a very narrow definition of both gays/lesbians AND gender.

“Oh you’re the woman, teehee!”

No, still no. Do I have a sign on my head that says “not a man” or something? Not only am I female here, but I’m “the” woman – is that like the only woman in the world ever or something?

Related to the age old question “which one’s the woman?”which is always most annoying (because no relationship can possibly work if it doesn’t imitate straightness), this goes a step further and decides outright to put one of us in the box (ok, me. Because it’s always me) based on… what? Stereotype? My hair? My height? My build? Messages from beyond, magic 8 ball, what?

“You two kissing is so hot”

Well… thank you. Because I really needed another reason to be uncomfortable about PDA. Not only do I get to worry about people throwing bottles at my head (advantage of them throwing bottles at the head, though, is out of several dozen, I think only 3 have ever hit) but now I also have to deal with the drool puddles and the vague need to shower afterward.

“Kiss for us”
Gods no. Go rent some porn if you want to get off. I’m not your performing porn monkey – and I don’t care if it’s a gay bar (in fact, I take issue with this crap happening in what is supposed to be our safe space) or pride and I’m perfectly safe (ha! For a given amount of safe). I know when I’m safe thank you, and even if a legion of gay commandos were stood ready to protect, I still prefer to kiss Beloved only when I want to, not on command for an audience.

Now were are my gay commandos, I like a guy in uniform I do.

“Can I get a picture?”

What is this, the zoo? Come see your Greater Spotted Gay? Go photo the bonobos if you want to get a pic of exotic primates. No, I do not want an entry in your scrap book. And, again, doing this in safe spaces is more offensive not less so – apart from anything else, do you not realise how rude it is to take random photos in a gay bar? Not everyone here is out, not everyone here can afford to be identified as being here. 

“Can I get a picture of you kissing?”

Yeaaah, do I even have to say how wrong this is? As an added bonus, this is not just from a complete stranger, but from several complete strangers! I’d say it’s worse coming from a stranger than a friend, but only because my friends have a clue. And even use it on occasion :P

I will never understand how people cannot see that finding gay people hot and sexy – and expecting a performance – is a positive thing – let alone how they can present it as being pro-gay. Being a fetish is better than being a victim, but being a person is much better than both.

“Let me tell you lots of details about personal problems I expect you to give advice on!”

Dear Jane, I’m a gay man and for some reason people I barely know expect me to give advice on their personal problems despite my not caring even slightly. How does one inform people that gay =/= agony aunt?
Does it involve axes? Tell me it involves axes.

See, I love feeling I can help my genuine friends (and even family on occasion). I love talking through their problems with them and either helping or at least being a friendly ear/shoulder and sympathising and working through the rant with them. And I’ll be first in line when it’s “we’re going to eat a full cake/tub of ice cream and rip into someone” time. I’ve even made the cake. And it was good cake.

But having a whole lot of TMI dumped on me by someone I barely know the name of bemuses me in the extreme. (I’m especially amused by straight guys asking me advice about their wives/girlfriends. Why they expect me to have more experience of intimate relationships with women than them bemuses me in the extreme. But then… buying her a washing machine for Christmas? Really, man? Really?). I don’t know where this stereotype came from, but between my job and my sexuality I could start my own advice column.

“This is Sparky, my gay friend.”

Has Ms. Manners introduced a new etiquette convention? Does one normally introduce someone by their sexuality? Is this to prevent stealth gayness? Or is it a form of bling, now? Here’s my prada handbag, my gucci shoes and lo, my gay friend?

Well at least you establish to people I’m a token from the very first introduction, saves them having to work it out. They might actually start talking to me as if I were a real person!

“What do you think of my shoes?”

I don’t. They’re shoes. Does anyone actually think about shoes? Actually in this weather I think you’re going to slip and fall and break your neck or your toes will get frostbite and then you’ll get gangrene. They are death shoes. They are trying to kill you. Put them down and we will destroy them in a controlled explosion before they murder you.

This concludes my full knowledge and interest in fashion – especially shoes. If it’s fashionable, it’s trying to kill you.

“But are they sexy?”

They’re SHOES! Except to shoe and/or foot fetishists is it actually possible for a shoe to be sexy? And they cover feet! In my books feet are on par with ears, nostrils and back hair on the body-part-sexy ladder
I am astonished at the number of people who expect me to care about their footwear (and why is it always shoes? Honestly I get asked about shoes more than every other article of clothing put together. Is there a secret shoe code no-one’s clued me in on? Is there a manual?)

Despite these answers, I still get asked for fashion advice. Even when advocating controlled explosions for footwear. It’s almost a compulsion. Even Beloved gets asked for fashion advice – have you seen what he wears?! If he started going out in a hessian sack it’d still be better than half of what’s in his wardrobe!

“But you’re like SOOOO gay.”/”But you’re not gay-gay”

No, I am a new category! UBER GAY! Gayer than the gayest thing ever!

See, this one always bugs me, the idea that being gay is somehow an analogue state. You can be sorta gay or very gay or too gay or not gay enough… or… I don’t know, I manage to be all of them at the same time. And my gayness levels always seem to be a problem.

Maybe I should install a dial? Hey, straight folks, adjust dial for the correct amount of gayness for the situation. I mean, don’t you just hate it when you introduce your GBF and he’s just totally not gay enough? There you are, expecting sparkles and rainbows and at least one comment about the bloody shoes and he goes and talks about politics or the stock market or the mating habits of bonobos (curse those dirty dirty bonobos) But then you’re walking through a normal bar or down the street or something and he’s being such a complete homo and it’s embarrassing you could just dial it down again couldn’t you?

Maybe we could get a remote control for advanced usage? Fabulous moment needed! Pump up the gay! Oh, no, boss in sight, quick turn it down turn it down!

Ok this is getting longer than I thought. Wow and there’s so many more. I shall have to write them down, I shall.

I’m generally not mortally offended by these (GENERALLY), but I am perpetually irritated. What especially frustrates me is not just how often these are repeated (over and over and over and over again) but by the fact that they’ve all been said (repeatedly) by people who would vociferously call themselves the proest of pro-gay allies. Heh and maybe it’s a huge your mileage may vary issue and others love them massively  (repetition with someone who clearly isn’t impressed is, however, still annoying).

But I want axes. Big ones.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A book review – L. A. Banks – The Minion, The Awakening

As anyone would guess given what I have spoken about reading in the past, I am something of an Urban Fantasy addict. Yes yes I am. I devour them at a great rate of knots, especially now I have my Kindle (loves this thing sooo very much). From reading (Laurell K Hamilton, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, Ann Rice – yes, even Stepheny Meyer. I read it, I love some of it, hate others – and snark about it all) to watching (True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Lost Girl) I have a love of the fantastic, the cheesey and the fun :) Yes I admit it. In fact, every week Renee and Tami and I gather together every week to ramble (and snark. Oh yes and snark) about what we’ve been watching and reading lately (and, of course, analysing from a social justice standpoint. Because it matters). There are months upon months of archives :)

And in our endless daring and recommending each other what to read next – I was advised (by Tami. BLAME HER!) to read the Vampire Huntress Series by L A Banks.

I have read the first 2. The Awakening and the Minion. I feel the need to rant before tackling more….
I wanted to like these books. I heard good things about them, they were praised highly and I was looking forward to them. They were especially praised in progressive circles. And was sorely disappointed as I struggled through them – and struggling was the word, these books were damned hard work.
There could have been a good plot there, there really could, but it is so poorly written and put together that it’s lost in the great waves of Do Not Care.

And I think that can really sum up these books: “Do Not Care.” LA Banks makes no real effort to forge a connection between the reader and the story, so there’s no investment in the characters. The reader is not encouraged to empathise with the character’s lives or to care about the plot – it becomes a dry reading, like an especially poor history teacher lecturing you.

Allow me to ramble:
The story opens to the main characters stressing. They do this for several pages, just sitting and stressing. It’s not even clear why they’re stressing, Damali is just on edge about something. And we get to hear about it at length.

The problem is not only is a vague sense of unease something that is rarely ever due several pages to describe – but we don’t know enough about these characters to really give a damn about them being uneasy.
And then the monsters attack. Woo. Monsters. And they battle for their liiiiiiives.

Except, of course, we don’t know these characters. Most of her entourage is a name at best. So while they’re fighting to survive the most pressing thought I have is “yay some of this excess cast could die off and I’ll have less names to remember!”

It doesn’t help that the fight is pretty poorly written. Vampires attack, they get shot. There’s a distinct impression that 2 characters engage them in melee (including a 50 year old woman with a walking stick. Want to make your vampires threatening? Don’t have 50 year old women with walking sticks be able to kill them. While outnumbered.) and the rest of the team shoot at vampires that are advancing very slowly or are stood there waiting to be shot.

And then, DRAMA! One of the vampires is the dead girlfriend of one of the entourage! Horror! Grief! Sadness!

Except for the big ocean of Do-Not-Care. Because again, we have big emotional angst from someone we have zero emotional connection with. It’s like sitting next to someone on a bus who insists on telling you about their bad breakup. The character now spends the next TWO BOOKS in a corner wasting away from magical grief – that’s 2 books of comatose Do-Not-Careness.

And this is a major theme of the books, we never get to know the characters, there’s so little actual characterisation that their emotions, pain or potential loss are all so very meaningless. You can’t have drama or angst or pain or fear or tension when the reader doesn’t care whether the characters kill the vampires or get noshed on.

In fact let’s have an insert here to look at Damali’s entourage since they’re constant companions throughout the book – and I still can’t remember how many there are without going back to re-read. Because they have no character – they are names, a couple of quirks and done. They’re constant characters throughout the whole book and they have ZERO personality.

Marlene: Condescending maternal figure, she exists to be wise and knowing and then protect her brood by keeping all that wise and knowing hidden and annoying to be doled out in grudging lumps for their own good. (Which means she exists to be annoying and secretive with a side order of angst and grief about the shit she can’t tell us about) She also has a tragic past. I Did Not Care.

Shabazz: Muslim who plays condescending paternal figure who aids and abets Marlene’s constant “I won’t tell you everything so I can drag out the info dumping section of the book even further!” Occasionally takes his turn doing the infodumping as well

Big Mike: he’s big and he’s called Mike. He may engage in banter, it saves him actually having a personality
Rider: Snarks and whines and makes wisecrack comments. Probably supposed to be the comic relief. Is neither comic nor a relief, alas.

Jose: His girlfriend is dead and this upsets him. This is his character.

JL: JL is… um… well… there. Yeah he’s in the books. That’s it.

One interesting aspect from a social justice point is that all of these characters (except Rider) are POC and most of them are over the age of 20 (even over 40) except so little time is spent on them as characters that there’s nothing portrayed. Oh and they all act like teenagers to Shabazz and Marlene’s stern parenting.

Which comes to the next problem. Not only is there character drama without characters, there’s lots and lots and lots of info-dumping world building. Seriously, it feels like half the scenes in the book involve characters sat down explaining vast amounts of the plot to each other. I think there’s a room in their hideout that should be called the “Long Winded Exposition Room” because all they do is sit around it and have lectures.

And again, Do-Not-Care syndrome strikes. We have no characterisation, very little actually happening (except for the odd random attack, pretty much not connected to anything) and now we’re being given vast amounts of superfluous information about a world in which nothing happens to characters about which we know nothing and care less. Again, it’s like an academic lecture, someone sitting down and telling you all about the chief imports and exports of Laos. I feel like I should be taking notes in case I am tested later.

Worse still (and yes it gets worse) the world building is not even presented in an interesting and clear manner. Every lecture is pulled out of the lecturer (nearly always Marlene) is like ripping an honest answer from a politician. And every word is accompanied by angst, reluctance, tangents, side tracks, interruptions and random expletives from Rider (which seems to be his only real purpose) from the gang. This makes it not only a series of dull and unnecessary lectures – but a series of dull and unnecessary lectures presented as a stream of conference exercise performed by a team of bickering alcoholics.

There’s a couple of other aspects I’m not keen on. The powerful religious themes in the books and the idea of “sexual purity” (as in, don’t have sex you dirty dirty sinner. Have a holy chastity belt) and the fact all the badness and evil has been caused by a woman believing her husband was having an affair with another man (*GASP* I mean she was hella pissed about it being another woman – but another man? Oh hell no, vengeance demon time!) add in that all the male vampires are creepy and evil because they’re all sexual and making with the sexy thoughts around the straight mennnns (exacerbated by these being the only remotely semi-hemi-kinda-GBLT related issues in either books) and I raise my eyebrow at the progressives who were waxing lyrical about these books.

But in the end the biggest indictment of these two books is one simple thing – they’re boring. They’re poorly written, poorly paced and generally just poor.