How did it happen? That is the question on my mind today. How did it come to be whereby we have a situation where trans women are excluded from conferences, where gay people are told that civil partnerships are enough for them, and where telling someone “you look like a transsexual” is just a bit of fun. Yes that’s all. No less, no more. Just a bit of fun.
Being in three minorities, I see myself as part of a larger whole, or a continuum if you like. It gives me three points of difference from the majority, but by the same token, three different levels of understanding, and insight that others do not have.
Frankly, it is that across the piece insight which informs everything I do, everything I think, and everything I am.
As alluded to in yesterday’s piece, it can be tempting at times to view minority positions as a trade off. People have asked me in the past whether one minority group membership affects me more than the other. My answer is always no, because the truth is, they all interconnect and interrelate with one another.
If we imagine, for example that the three minority groups are three faders on a mixing desk, of course, we know it is possible to turn a fader up or down. And so it is with minority group membership. Sometimes one group is more turned up than the other, meaning that it affecting me more.
Being in minorities you also bear witness to the stupidity of the world on a regular basis. Thinking about Rad Fem 2012 again last night, I realised there were two fundamental flaws. I wondered if any of the conference organisers had seen Doctors or Coronation Street recently. Doctors has featured and Coronation Street is featuring currently a storyline on the taboo subject of domestic violence against men. Therefore, it is an oversimplification of the truth for any minority to claim ownership of an issue, as though it exclusively belongs to them, and for it all to be dismissed as only down to misogyny. A very outdated and inaccurate view as well, a bit 18th century if you like. For in order to make radical misogyny stick, you have to believe that men are all born wife beaters. I want to be abundantly clear that I hate any form of abuse towards anyone. People say that hate is a strong word. I would suggest to them that strong words are required for disgusting things. I am merely suggesting that all sides of an argument ought to be represented.
When I was at University, we had to analyse and discuss the poem Leda and the Swan.
Now in terms of gender, there was a 50/50 split amongst the group. The poem is an allegory of rape. The lecturer, asked us which of us found it erotic and which did not. Please be careful and do not read further if you are triggered. The boys found it erotic, whilst the girls found it disgusting. This would have been a very cut and dry discussion for Dr Tiffany Stern, had it not been for a small spanner in the works, me of course. I was in the disgusting camp. Tiffany managed a feeble, “oh! an enlightened man”. However though, I think it definitely wrongfooted her and took her by surprise.
Looking back though, it does seem a little absurd. Enlightened thinking is not the province of a gender, it is the province of a person, or a group of them. To suggest otherwise is a falsehood.
Just because one group of men on one day found it erotic, does not mean that all men are misogynistic perverts. Let us remember – men suffer abuse too.The second flaw is one about what RadFem as a collective, claim to offer and stand for. They claim to offer;
“A revolutionary politics for the liberation of all women from male domination. Radical feminists neither seek ‘equality’ with men within a fundamentally oppressive system, nor simply to extend women’s range of choices whilst leaving that oppressive system intact. Radical feminists are engaged in the struggle to end all forms of male violence, and for the liberation of all women from patriarchal oppression. In short, we are engaged in a struggle for total social transformation. In Catherine Mackinnon’s phrase, radical feminism is ‘feminism unmodified’. “
Well sorry Catherine Mackinnon et al but I think quite a bit of modification is needed. How can politics be revolutionary, or even evolutionary when you exclude people intentionally from that debate, because they were not born women. They are not doing your cause any harm, nor interfering with it in any way. What if this oppression does not resonate with women, ergo, that it is something they do not experience in their daily lives. I agree with adding my voice to the scourge of domestic violence against women, and men for that matter. However, my question to RadFem is this. What is their end goal? How can they claim to be supporting all women when they will not let a trans woman, with a disability attend their conference. Let me ask a more baseline question too. How do they check? Pull down your knickers, French knickers or thong?
Furthermore, let us suppose they did achieve their very fuzzy, vague, fancy lexical objective of total social transformation. What on Earth would they do then? Are they not oppressing women themselves by telling women they are oppressed and only their way is the right way? All points worth considering. Finally, if they achieved these vague objectives, would their movement, as a vehicle not be redundant.
I want to turn to the subject of gay, or equal marriage. Nick Herbert, the openly gay Policing and Criminal Justice Minister told the London Evening Standard that he is rather ‘fed up’ with people suggesting that civil partnerships are enough for gay couples. He said this.
“How would they like it if I jabbed a finger into their chests and said they should put up with a civil partnership instead of their marriage?
In my view it’s not acceptable to say to a group in society, ‘You should put up with something that is a second order institution to something that everybody else is entitled to, because we say so’. I think this is about nothing more or less than a fundamental issue of equality.”
Firstly, I have much respect for Nick Herbert for talking about this so openly. I think some of the problem here is cisgendered ambivalence, amongst some sections of society, who it does not directly affect. So therefore you may get the usual tabloid-esque tropes trotted out. “PC gone mad. It’s all about political correctness you know”.
Secondly, the general public are aware of civil partnerships and perhaps sometimes think well they’ve got that, what’s the fuss about?
Constructing battle lines is the worst thing we can do. We should all work together. But this is what the fuss is about.
Cisgendered people would not like it if they were forced to put up with civil partnerships.
It is hard, I grant you, if you are not in a minority to understand how demoralising putting up with a seemingly indestructible status quo. But the sands and mood music, I believe are shifting, but more to the point, shifting in an encouraging direction.
It is about equality and about rebalancing inadequate legal provision. I have two lovely friends Claire and Jess. They want to get married. Jess said to me once;
“I want to marry Claire, not civil partnership her”
Being trans myself I am a pretty open minded soul. I have to say, I cannot find any reason why they should not get married.
I tell you that it is simply not fair for this inequality to persist, and I am saddened that the private lives of the LGBTGQ community have entered the political arena. To the naysayers though, I say this.
Politics and legislation evolves. This whole debate reminds me of the mechanic of Jane Elliott’s brown eyes, blue eyes experiment. Those who want to get married, like Claire and Jess are the ones whose privileges are being witheld, constrained by a legal system that is not of their making nor design. The heterosexual community continue to enjoy those privileges freely, and it is my firm belief that gay marriage can co-exist alongside them, and will not damage or undermine the institution or value of marriage in general.
I dealt with Snog, Marry Avoid and its airing of a transphobic comment in some detail the other day, so forgive me if I do not retrace old ground, and politely ask that you read that entry instead.
However, I think that an account of Paris Lees meeting with Jonathan Ross is a telling one. He told her that he did a supposedly comedic item about ladyboys “because he thought he could get away with it”.
This is the kind of attitude we need to reverse off a cliff never to be seen again.
You see, as a minority, you need to set your boundaries, both as an individual, and a collective, of what is acceptable to you and what is not.
Also, in a minority you have to be one jump ahead. When you are trying to replace an old, accepted discourse with a new one, you have to know what the older discourse is.
For the most part, people resist change. This ilk of radical feminists, those who oppose gay marriage, and those who think that bullying someone by using the word transsexual as an insult is okay are resistant to change. But you see, I am resistant to them too. No matter how many conferences Sheila Jeffreys and her mob organise, I will still be here as a thorn in their side forever. No matter how many MP’s oppose it, if Nick Herbert is to be believed, David Cameron is very much in favour of gay marriage. Finally too, no matter how many more episodes of Snog, Marry, Avoid are transmitted, this will remain as a blotch on the BBC’s copybook.
Why did these things happen? Well put simply, the conflict in each scenario arises as a result of new thinking coming along to challenge the old. Historically, slightly before I was born but not much (I am 31) minorities were ambivalent, passive and submissive. You can’t beat the system was a common adage.
Well hey presto, now in 2012, people are realising you can. For the first time, people like Sheila Jeffreys, opponents of gay marriage, and blatant transphobia on TV is being challenged as never before. Through the Internet and social media, minorities are mobilising to create a collective force.
You may have seen an acquaintance of mine, Louise Hickman on Channel 4 News this week. She was charting the difficulties faced by passengers with disabilities on the London Underground in the run up to the Olympic Games.
A key plank of the bid was good accessible public transport links. As it was, Louise was unable to leave the train at many stations due to them having no step free access.
Sure, TFL came out with many platitudes, but the prevailing image viewers will have been left with is Louise stuck on the tube train, and how de-personalising that must have been.
Through my experience in three minorities, I not only realise how the world feels about me, I realise how I feel about it. I do not want to live in a world where gay people cannot marry. I do not want to live in a world where Sheila Jeffreys and RadFem 2012 can disguise hate speech as credible theory, or where transsexual is an insult.
We have to show wider society than insulting a transsexual is just as bad as calling a disabled person a spastic, or a retard. We have to show them, and show them now.There is no spectrum here, where one insult is worse than another. All are bad.
I suspect that the reason Sheila Jeffreys and others are feeling so oppressed is because they are being challenged like never before.
My title for this piece was, so how did it happen? How “it” happened is simple. In each of the three scenarios, people thought it was acceptable to talk down to, de-humanise, and patronise and bully the relevant minority groups.
In other words, they thought they could get away with it.They did not detect or anticipate the new mood in the trans community, and others. Put simply, we are helping them, without malice, to realise they cannot. That then, is one of the reasons why I am happier today than I have ever been.