Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Goodbye, logic

"The chairman of the Alabama Senate Health Committee said he doesn’t see a conflict of interest between his support for a bill that would require physicians to perform ultrasounds on women seeking abortions and his company, which sells the type of equipment the bill would require."

~ "Ultrasounds before abortions", Mary Sell,

I'm not even going to comment on this.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Growing up and settling down: marriage, I ask you!

I have reached that point in life where an increasing number of my friends are doing things which sound suspiciously Grown Up: the last six months have seen four weddings, one birth - and happily no funerals, so this is not going to turn into a Hugh Grant film just yet. My Gay Best Friend has just proposed to her girlfriend. Some of us not only have jobs, but careers; there have been rumours of mortgages; I even have a pension, for fuck's sake. Life from now on is basically going to be mortgage-babies-haemorrhoids-death.

Which is all pretty lovely, actually. We sit around talking about home decor and planning mini-breaks and wonder when we are going to be exposed as imposters allowed into this bizarre budget-bourgeois lifestyle by a clerical error, given that we're clearly still idiot 17 year olds with no more idea of what we're supposed to be doing than your average daschshund. (Canvassing among the over-60s suggests that this feeling never really wears off.) (Also, after leaving these sophisticated brunches I tend to go home and partake of a fine supper of cereal, eaten in bed while reading the works of Agatha Christie, so, there's that.)

But it does mean that marriage is on my mind more and more. Every one I attend throws up all kind of peculiar feelings: oh, the romance! Oh, the weirdness! Oh, that line: 
"Marriage, according to the law of this country is the union of one man, with one woman, voluntarily entered into, for life, to the exclusion of all others."
At the last wedding I attended, I was feeling enormously mushy, and gained a glimmer of an understanding of the 'why' in my constant thirst to know why it is people get married - usually I'm muttering like a determined toddler, "okay yes tax breaks, yes it is a cheaper way of registering the father of your children as a legally responsible parent than officially declaring this with a solicitor, but the whole "declaring your love to the world" thing? Why does the world care? Why do you care? Isn't this just a really expensive way of saying "this person is mega ace and I want to be with them for ages"? Can you really promise to love someone for ever and ever when you have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow, let alone in fifty years? This might be the result of me coming from A Broken Home, but I'm just saying, no one gets married expecting their partner to get into some weird hippie cult and decide that he is going to be beamed up to an alien light ship orbiting the earth, but believe me: it happens. I'm not saying marriage is bad, or weddings are bad, I just want to know why you think they're good: I understand that you want to, but what I want to know is why you want to. Mummy, how much does the moon weigh, why are magnets magnetic, are star fish actually real and why is marriage? Why? Why? WHY?"

But for whatever reason, I was feelin' the love. It's not that surprising; I'm in a long-term relationship with a very nice fellow, and for all my relentless questioning of social mores (oh yeah, last of the great iconoclasts, that's me) I also have 25 years of social conditioning making it very clear that a relationship between one bevulvaed lady and one dong-endowed man, duly sanctioned by the government and preferably by the church, is The Best.

But then they read out that line. That official line which registrars or authorised celebrants have to say in order to make the marriage valid.
"Marriage, according to the law of this country is the union of one man, with one woman, voluntarily entered into, for life, to the exclusion of all others."
And suddenly I don't feel quite so romantic. I feel thoroughly pissed off. I feel like this entire ceremony has stopped being A Celebration Of Love and turned into A Celebration Of The Fact That We Can Get Married Because We Are Of Different Genders, Ha Ha, Same-Sex Couples! It feels gross, gloating; revelling in privilege. Civil unions are great - and, as far as I can find out, confer the same rights and responsibilities of marriage - but the name alone, as well as the fact that they legally cannot involve any religious content, marks them as second class. Our culture is steeped in ideas of what marriage is, what it looks like, who gets to talk at the reception (every important dude, basically: the bride is the silent centre of attention); "we're getting married!" carries more weight than "we're civilly partnering each other!"

Sure, it's just a name. But we all know that words matter.

The lack of tradition can be a good thing: it frees couples to make the ceremony mean whatever they want it to mean, shorn of the baggage of veils and giving away and bouquet-chucking. We can pick and choose any of these, all or none, according to who we actually are rather than squeezing ourselves into cookie-cutter archetypes. (As can straight couples, but have you noticed how many weddings get more and more traditional as the planning goes on? It is much, much easier to follow tradition than to buck it.) But it also means that civil unions inevitably seem like second best. Marriage has centuries' worth of cultural clout: civil partnerships have, what, eight years? We can, as individuals and as couples, give social institutions whatever meaning we want - but we're not making that choice in a vacuum.

Mostly, though, I'm just hoping GBF chooses to honour our decade-long agreement that when she gets married, I get to be best man. Without wanting to prop up restrictive gender roles and automatically assume that a best man shouldn't wear a party dress, I would rock a tux.

In which I destroy civilisation: transphobia in the tabloids

You know, I normally do Mail smackdowns for fun. Their preposterous articles and fantastically flimsy foci make for a hilarious demonstration of the fact that Sexism: It Still Exists. It's at a particular point on the sexism spectrum that means it's extreme, yet not hurtful (because it's in the fucking Daily Mail, I really don't care what they think of me and my gender).

But the transphobic stream of bile that has grown from a trickle to a never-ending spunk spurt in the last couple of weeks... I really can't find the hilarity any more.

It started with the delightful headline "I'm a liberal - but a man giving birth is freakish and beyond the pale". Mad props to the sub; rarely does a headline so perfectly sum up the content, tone, and utterly stomach-turning quantities of hate in an article in one short sentence. And the article itself pretty much does what it says on the tin: rather than going the usual mainstream route of just implying that trans people are "freaks", it just straight up says so; instead of hinting that "I find this icky therefore it's wrong", this prejudice is presented as a valid line of argument.

The whataboutthechildrenning is a common thread. Kids are mean. Kids pick on people they perceive to be different. Therefore gay and/or trans people should not have children? Because we all know that the best way to deal with bigotry is: more bigotry!

As for "I'm a liberal, but..." - the whole article reads like a petulant rant that there are just so many people we have to be nice to these days. I mean, GOD, we let women vote, we try not to use racist slurs at dinner parties, we let the gays have Will & Grace, and now some OTHER group starts demanding that we treat them like actual human beings rather than revolting, pitiable peculiarities? Don't they understand it is just so hard not to vomit prejudice all over humanity? Where will it all end? And will extending a modicum of respect to people of all genders, sexualities, races, religions, ability statuses, classes, gender histories and the rest, in fact... DESTROY SOCIETY ITSELF?
Sometimes, removing stigma and taboo can seem to represent an advance in tolerance as well as human rights. Yet we also know (to our cost) how the pushing back of boundaries leaves us with little to shore up the very fabric of our civilisation.
Yeah. Not being a dick: will end civilisation.

We have misgendering galore, we have delightful phrases like "no one said what I’ll wager most thought: if it had a baby, it’s not a man - it’s a woman with a moustache" (oh, you brave soldier, fighting against political correctness with your "it"! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, you're a fuckwit.) We have birth names, we have detailed descriptions of medical procedures (seriously, what's this obsession with the contents of other people's knickers?), we have The Sun exhorting its readers to to EXPOSE the identity of a dude who gave birth; we have "it's just a phase, get over it", and finally, we have an equivalency drawn between being trans and pretending to be a monkey.

Part of why this sudden eruption in brazen transphobia is sickening me so much is that it feels enormously close to home: it's not so long ago I would have subscribed wholeheartedly to a lot of this shit. Being brought face to face with the logical end-point of some of the worst aspects of your own nature is quite a sobering experience, especially when it's printed in a national newspaper.

And part of it is just the luxury of being appalled. As I go "oh my GOD, racism, IT HAPPENS"; as dude friends go "HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS TERRIBLE OPPRESSION CALLED 'SEXISM'??"; so cis people trying to get their ally on read god-awful stuff like this and have the privilege of seeing it as something shocking, something new, something other than the latest manifestation of the deep-rooted hatred and disgust of trans people in this society.

NB The phrase "the luxury of being appalled" - or definitely the concept - is from something I've read.. on some blog.. somewhere. (Maybe Womanist Musings?) I did bookmark it for future reference but Firefox decided to delete my entire history. Strenuous googling has failed to give me the post I have in mind but if it rings any bells please let me know so I can add an attribution.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Ken Livingstone and the benefit of the doubt

One day I was walking down my local high street on a busy Saturday afternoon, and came face-to-face with a chap walking on a direct collision course. There wasn't room on the pavement for both of us and someone was going to have to step into the road. He blinked first.

Ten seconds later, I thought, "SHIT, that was a bit like in Apartheid South Africa when black people had to walk in the gutter if there were white people on the pavement, WAS MY PERAMBULATION SITUATION RACIALLY MOTIVATED?"

Ten seconds after that, I burst out laughing and decided I should write to the Daily Mail: "Now that is political correctness gone mad."

Which is to say that I think about this stuff a lot. I think it's a depression thing as much as a 'political correctness' thing: the constant inner-monologue of "did that joke sound racist, am I accidentally propping up regressive gender roles, was that an okay thing to say to a gay lady and am I working hard enough beating down my own transphobia?" is just one facet of everything else I worry about, all the time. Am I doing enough, well enough, trying hard enough, while looking effortless enough, and also hot enough, and most importantly does everyone else think I am enough enough? (Though obviously their opinions are worthless becausee they don't know how rubbish I really am. Welcome to CrazyBrain!)

But this doesn't mean a fucking thing. I know that I spend an awful lot of time and energy trying not to be 'ist, but the Indian guy I've been working with for a few months has no way of knowing this - and even if he did, that doesn't mean he automatically has to excuse the potentially-racist-sounding joke I made on Friday. And I could have let it go, hoped it hadn't annoyed or offended him and moved on, but I realised I had absolutely no right to assume that he had seen and accepted my Anti-Racist Credentials. No right to assume he would give me the benefit of the doubt. (I apologised; he laughed at me for apologising; we're good, I think.)

When someone does or says something that tingles your 'ism antenna, you're not assessing that action or comment in isolation. There's no way you can: the brain really doesn't like to compartmentalise.* So reading that "Ken Livingstone says the Tory party is 'riddled' with homosexuals" awakens all the information I've got stored on Ken, on Tories, on gays, on ringworm... and I can't analyse the incident without putting it into the context of that information. I can't unknow that Ken set up a register for gay couples who had no other way of officially declaring their commitment. I can't unknow that the Tories are dragging their feet on gay marriage and have historically done pretty much shit-all to enable GLBT equality, or that Boris Johnson compared a man marrying a man to a man marrying a dog. (I don't actually know anything about ringworm, which is handy, because it's irrelevant to the discussion; it just sounds a bit like 'riddle'.)

(For the record, he meant that the Tory party is riddled with closetedness. Which is very different.)

When somone I'm close to says anything that sounds a bit off, I tend to assume that they phrased it badly, or I misunderstood - not that they are A Sexist/Racist/etc. It works differently on a public stage - I don't have a relationship with Ken Livingstone, so I can't assess whether he's genuinely committed to fighting LGBT prejudice, but I can look at his actions.

This tendency doesn't always work so well: it's a kneejerk response to assume that people we like aren't prejudiced, and try to explain away anything which belies that assumption rather than dealing with it head on. If he's on Our Team, he must be okay really (literally, in the Suárez case). If the story had been "Boris Johnson says something homophobic", I probably wouldn't even have read the whole story, because his past actions make that entirely believable (and because I have a pathological aversion to the Conservative Party). But it sounds out of character for Ken, so I read around, found the full quote, and decided in his favour. (Which I'm sure was a great relief for him.)

No one 'deserves' the benefit of the doubt in these cases. It's something we can decide to bestow, or not, according to whatever criteria we choose. This episode has made me think a little harder about who I choose to give it to, and why.

* This might not be true of brains on the autism spectrum, but I don't know enough about that to go into it, so bear that ignorance in mind.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Sex in Southampton: Sex & The City it ain't

It is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent providing certain criteria are met, according to the principles set out in the House of Lords case Gillick vs. Wisbech Area Health Authority. An entertaining aside: the term 'Gillick competent' is used to describe a person under the age of 16 who is deemed to understand the risks and benefits of medical treatment, and make decisions independently of their parent or guardian. It is named after Victoria Gillick, who unsuccessfully campaigned for minors not to be able to make these decisions (but only where contraception is concerned, because OMG TEEN SEX). I don't think that's exactly how she wanted her name to go down in history.

Once again: It is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent providing certain criteria are met. Those conditions are as follows:
  • the young person will understand the professional's advice;
  • the young person cannot be persuaded to inform their parents;
  • the young person is likely to begin, or to continue having, sexual intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment;
  • unless the young person receives contraceptive treatment, their physical or mental health, or both, are likely to suffer;
  • the young person's best interests require them to receive contraceptive advice or treatment with or without parental consent.
So: if one is capable of reasoning as an adult, one should be allowed to make decisions about one's own body without having to get a parent's permission.

In all the brouhaha about GIRLS getting CONTRACEPTION at SCHOOL - a complete and utter non-story, whipped up by our old friend Nadine Dorries in her never-ending mud-slinging campaign against anyone having any sex ever - the fact that it is lawful for doctors to provide contraceptive advice and treatment without parental consent seems to have been forgotten. We've fought this fight before, and we won.

I went to school in Southampton, where The Outrage is centred, and which boasts one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country (go team!). Three girls in my year dropped out before taking their GCSEs because they got pregnant. By the time I joined Facebook in 2008 - a year after I finished uni - I discovered that I was one of three girls in my year who had yet to give birth. The number of girls who'd gone on to sixth form was average; the number who went on to uni was low, and the number who graduated was lower still, as motherhood overtook academia or career progression. (Sex education at that school was pretty woeful, by the way - I'm really not joking when I say that everything I know about contraception was gleaned from reading Sugar magazine religiously from an early age.)

Which is not to say that theeir lives have been blighted by their children - they all seem thrilled about their families, and it's none of my fucking business to judge their choices - but having kids before you finish your education does limit your options in life, at least for a time. And the ratio of 'happy accidents' to planned pregnancies among my contemporaries is... high. How many of my classmates could have got degrees, cemented themselves in a profession, improved their financial situation, had this service been available back in 1998? If they could have obtained advice and help and free condoms and contraceptive implants/injections on school grounds, with a cast-iron guarantee that your parents would not find out?

And the confidentiality issue is absolutely vital. While Dorries et al wail about the supposed "violation of parents’ right to protect and nurture their children", they're deliberately ignoring the fact that, if these girls aren't certain that their medical information won't be divulged to their parents, they won't go to the clinic in the first place. (Think about it: if you don't tell your parents, they might find out that you're having sex. If the clinic notifies them that you're asking about contraception, they'll definitely know you're having sex.) The great lie is that if we can dissuade people from accessing contraception, we'll dissuade them from having sex. This myth has been comprehensively exploded time and again, but it bears repeating: with contraception, they'll have sex; without contraception, they'll have sex anyway. The second way is just more dangerous.

And like thirteen squillion people before me have pointed out, it's the attacks on easily accessible contraception that demonstrate anti-choice campaigners' true agenda: if you really think abortion is that bad, the best way to get rid of it is more contraception, not less. Viewed as a whole, Dorries' agenda is plain anti-sex: she seems to want The Consequences to be as big and as bad and as shameful as possible, in the desperate hope that people will just. stop. fucking.

Monday, 6 February 2012

On swearing

The thing I love about English swear words, as opposed to their American counterparts, is the fact that you could never imagine them being uttered as "dirty talk" by a bleached-blonde Barbie-shaped perma-tanned Porn Star™.

"I want you to touch me on the fanny."

"I love your gigantic hairy bollocks."