Tag Archives: misogyny

Chris Fountain: Misogyny is not acceptable, shock or not

Coronation Street likes its drama to take place on the famed cobbles.

However this week the drama has taken place off the cobbles. Actor Chris Fountain who played Tommy Duckworth in the soap has had his contract terminated after posting a series of highly misogynistic and derogatory videos online wearing a Halloween mask under his rapper alias ‘The Phantom.’

The media understandably went into a frenzy of outrage and condemnation. Fountain released an initial statement when the clips came to light and then a further  statement after his sacking in which he expressed regret at “the hurt caused to many people including those in a vulnerable situation.”

I think ITV were absolutely right to sack Chris Fountain. As a soap actor  he is in a position of responsibility and notoriety. Every move he makes is scrutinised by the public and Coronation Street as a television programme has a largely female fan base.

The lyrics were stomach churning; about raping a b***ch on her birthday and stabbing her with a used needle, as well as punching them. The fact he was doing it under a pseudonym suggests abject stupidity. This is not some teenager in the back of his bedroom trying to be cool. Instead this is a 25-year-old man in the public eye who should know better.

Like it or not the public eye brings with it responsibility and life under the spotlight In Fountain’s case he clearly knew what he was doing was wrong. Hence he used a pseudonym. It was almost like he was escaping his public profile and this was his naughty devil may care side of his personality coming out.

These videos sadden me greatly, especially when you consider the impact of Carla Connor’s storyline with Frank Foster. Coronation Street has always had a sense of justice and truth towards women. It is hard to of another example that could be more at odds with that sense.

You have to wonder to yourself what Chris Fountain was thinking when he uploaded these videos. Did he genuinely think it would be possible to conceal them from the public gaze forever?

We need to look at the wider context of this as well. There is no doubt we have a cultural problem with misogyny right now. Stories of journalists receiving abuse and even bomb threats on Twitter have dominated the media over the past few weeks and rightly so. What we are dealing with is a group of men who absolutely see women as lesser beings to themselves, maybe even not human at all. I have no doubt that Fountain’s video is a by product of that and somehow relevant to that discourse. We need to show perpetrators of such vile acts that this is not acceptable, in wider society, or when in a high profile television soap opera.

Nobody is beyond reproach when it comes to misogyny, and violence against women. Nor is anybody exempt from the potential to commit it. However we can all try to do better and we must. Also; what about what women think themselves. A caller to LBC 97.3 this afternoon talked about rappers rapping about “a certain type of woman.” But oddly enough, women do not get a say. They are objectified in the worst way, and de-humanised. That is unacceptable. There is no gradation of woman; one who deserves abuse and violence and the other who does not. No woman deserves it.

The producers of Coronation Street did exactly the right thing. They are to be applauded for their swift action. If they hadn’t sacked Chris Fountain they would have been open to accusations of condoning or being ambivalent to misogyny. They have shown real leadership at a difficult time for them with criminal allegations facing two of its stars Michael Le Vell and William Roache who play Kevin Webster and Ken Barlow respectively.

The most chilling aspect of this is that it makes you wonder what the person is really like and whether views such as that expressed by Fountain in the offending video are their own views or whether they are for dramatic or artistic purposes. One thing is beyond doubt; whichever of the two it is Chris Fountain will now have plenty of time to reflect.

Just as there has been an upsurge in the amount of misogyny in society, there has been a tandem upsurge in people fighting back against it. At every turn society is showing that misogyny is not acceptable. That gives me hope.

Unfortunately for Chris Fountain, this is not soap acting. This is reality. He has paid the ultimate price with his career. Something to think about.

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Why I Went On a Summer Trolliday

 

In a recent discussion on the phenomenon of big data Jim Messina, David Cameron’s new election assistant makes an interesting admission. He points out that during the 2008  Presidential election campaign only one Tweet was sent as Twitter and Facebook were still relatively small platforms.

It seems almost laughable thinking about it now. Facebook has 61 8 million active users, whilst Twitter has 200 million regular users in figures publicised in The Daily Telegraph in March this year.

So they really are the behemoths of the social media landscape. And well done to them. But this week has been a low point in Twitter’s history in particular.

The chain of events began when Caroline Criado-Perez achieved victory in her campaign to put a woman on British banknotes. Soon after taking office the new Bank of England Governor Mark Carney announced that Jane Austen would replace Charles Darwin as the face of the £10 note from 2018.

Very cruelly though Caroline wasn’t allowed to bask in her victory for too long as the ugly side of Twitter emerged. In her own article here you can see just how disgusting the original threats were.

In the days following, the trolls continued, trolling the timelines of Stella Creasy MP and Claire Perry MP and also sending bomb threats to several female journalists.

The positive news is, the police have acted and swift arrests have been made, with more I am sure to follow.

The head of Twitter in the UK Tony Wang has apologised to users for what he called “threats which were simply not acceptable.”

Today however a bomb threat has been sent to Professor Mary Beard, a classicist at the University of Cambridge

So in light of recent events, I feel pretty angry at Twitter. I feel pretty angry too at the people who have made these vicious and vile threats under pseudonyms from the relative safety of a computer screen.

 

Alongside other women, there have been many discussions around how best to register to respond and keep the issue in the limelight for as long as possible. In the end the feminist campaigner and journalist Caitlin Moran came up with the idea of a trolliday, an ingenious neologism borne out of the word holiday. The idea of trolliday was that women would not Tweet yesterday for 24 hours in protest at the recent threats and misogyny directed at women. After all there are people located behind this strange swirl of hashtags and 140 character dialogues. Where there are people there are feelings and many people’s feelings have been hurt over the course of the week.

The essential message which I hope trolliday conveyed is nothing to do with buckets and spades, ice cream or a suntan, although all of those things are infinitely pleasurable.

 

I have seen nothing that has convinced me that any of the men this week has a valid grievance against women. All I have seen is genuine hatred of, and directed towards women by men

The positive good side of social media is of course that barriers are eliminated. The fact I can’t walk doesn’t matter on social media. My followers don’t judge me by my ability to run the London Marathon. They judge me by their interest in my tweets. It has been really good to meet a whole bunch of like-minded people via Twitter. It is because there are so many positives around the use of social media that the negatives are even more accentuated.

I took the decision to take part in trolliday because I do not want the kind of Twitter where women feel unsafe, and where they feel reluctant to express themselves for fear of misogynistic, prehistoric and puerile reprisals. Threatening a woman with rape, or threatening to bomb their house is not cool. If I could ask these trolls one thing it would be this. How would you feel if it was your relative, your mother or your grandmother who was targeted? Saying they wouldn’t care because they’re not feminists is not a good enough argument. I bet if they were sufficiently scared and frightened you would go to their house as fast as possible and protect them and reassure them.

Just because people in public life like MPs and journalists may seem remote and at a distance it does not mean that humankind should not afford us courtesy and compassion. We are people, and we have feelings too. I love Twitter for its argumentative and discursive nature. I may disagree with people but I never ever hurt them intentionally, and rape threats and bomb threats are something I could never in 1 million years envisage making to fellow human beings.

I’m silent today on Twitter not because I’m scared or afraid of Twitter. I’m silent because I want a better Twitter and a safer one, although not one lacking in robustness or personality.

In a discussion on LBC 97.3 last night with presenter Olly Mann, amongst other things he posited the question to me of why I felt Twitter needed to apologise. He playing devil’s advocate I think suggested that Twitter was only a platform and it was up to users to take concerns to the police.

I put it to him though that Twitter also has responsibilities to its users and that the corporation need to be seen to be caring. Twitter are culpable. It’s their platform. They need to show they will come down hard on those who disregard its rules with impunity.  The laissez-faire approach to social media hasn’t worked. We need a better Twitter. At first they seemed remote, slow cold and distant. Now with the apology from Tony Wang they seem to be getting the message.

Another caller said that if people couldn’t deal with Twitter, they should get back to the kitchen. Twitter should not be an endurance test. Rape threats are not something anyone should have to deal with in any arena, let alone from strangers at high volume over a sustained, merciless period.

I said that Twitter needs to show it cares.I was silent yesterday to show the affected women I care about them too.

Has any good come out of Savile?

 

So, International Women’s Day has been and gone for another year. Yet, at the moment, every day seems to be International Women’s Day. Every day, a new horrific story involving women, breaks and comes to the forefront of the news agenda. In this article, I want to address three things. How that happened, where it happened, and why.

I bet there was not a single woman, or man who was not repulsed, disgusted and shocked when the dossier of allegations against the one time television presenter Jimmy Savile was made public. Savile was a television personality, who to all intents and purposes, enjoyed success because of children. The Jim’ll Fix It badges, with their red ribbon and iconic slogan “Jim Fixed It For Me” became synonymous with Saturday night must see TV.

However, it has become all too apparent that Savile broke, not fixed many people. He was the ultimate master of deception, and left his victims with a lifetime of sorrow, misery and trauma to contend with.

The current revelations from the recently published report into the scandal reveals a Pandora’s Box of missed opportunity to see Savile convicted, and for his victims to see and feel justice being done. Had the police acted more swiftly, more lives could and should have been saved. There was also an overlooked chance to convict in the 1960s because he was “a celebrity.” My feeling is that no one, celebrity or not, should ever be above the law.

That said though, the Savile allegations are not a moment of panacea for the ongoing problem of misogyny and violence and abuse perpetrated against women and girls.

It is a psychological issue too, with even the former Editor of Newsnight dismissing the allegations made as being those of “just the women.” Would we ever hear a similar remark made about a man? I think not.

I meant that this is a psychological issue in terms of how such issues are perceived in wider society, and that the wider structure of it is unashamedly patriarchal.

Social mores have meant that over the centuries we have grown up with, and to some extent embedded the notion in our minds that women are weak and feeble, and that men are big and strong. Also, that men are rational and sensible, whilst women are angry and hysterical. Such tropes, though populist are misguided and should be avoided.

The effect of such tropes though cannot be avoided. They are what give rise to the notion, in a patriarchal society that women’s accounts of abuse and violence should not be taken seriously and are being over-exaggerated.

In a sense, this is hardly surprising. It is what one would expect those who feel comfortable with the status quo and those who defend it to say.

But the truth is, Savile is merely the tip of the iceberg, and we are told by the CPS to expect a new wave of high profile arrests over the next few weeks.

The Savile allegations were closely followed by those against Lord Rennard, although apparently some think a bit of light knee touching is OK.

So that is how it happened. But I strongly believe that this story does not begin and end in the world of celebrity, nor with the celebrity culture and subsequent power relations that run deep within it. It begins and ends with the everyday women in the UK; the women who are fighting back.

To my mind, there is no doubt in one thing, women in this country, are annoyed, not just a little but a lot. It is as if Savile acted as a catalyst, for women to stand up and be counted, in essence that they have had enough. Too often, wimmin’s problems are perceived as exactly that. Wimmin’s problems, cooked up as a scheme by the “bloody feminists” to annoy men and make their lives difficult and demean their reputation.

But the best thing about the current crop of visibility around feminist activism is this. It is not a Government initiative. It is not a charity. It is activism generated by women, for all women.

One of the best known agents of such activism currently is the Everyday Sexism website, founded by Laura Bates.

A fair criticism made by many feminists is that often, we don’t name the problem; we dance around it, alluding to it but never quite name it.

Well the website very much names the problem, and holds it up clearly for the world to see.

The most fabulous thing about Everyday Sexism is that it is not dramatised fiction, but real life experiences that are happening right now. Through the medium of Twitter and emailing the website, women are telling their own stories from their own souls. Nobody is asking them to do so, they are absolutely making that choice.

From a quick scan of the Twitter account, it seems that something as innocuous as walking to the laundrette with a pile of washing can provoke a disgusting slur, or that being pregnant can prevent you from managing an account in your company as your long term commitment is not guaranteed.

So Twitter and the Internet are powerful mediums. Whilst men seem to be frantically flailing around trying to find ways to justify patriarchy, women are fighting back, and fighting back hard.

There is also the painful stain of violence against women and girls. It is a sad indictment on our society that this is such a problem. Women and girls live with the trauma of rape and violence for a lifetime. Interventions like counselling can help but it never fully leaves you.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer yesterday issued a report showing that false accusations of rape are extremely rare, and he appealed to police not to develop an over-cautious attitude, since this may deter victims of rape.

BBC Radio 1 the BBC’s youth station, whose primary target audience is 15-24, ran a report on Newsbeat that directly contradicted the findings of the DPP. They suggested, to outrage across the Internet, that false rape allegations were a common problem with a “devastating impact for those involved”

This kind of reporting is irresponsible for two reasons. Firstly, it falls far below the normal high standards of journalism one would expect from the BBC.

Secondly, it is irresponsible on the part of the BBC due to Newsbeat’s young, impressionable target audience.

Is it truly the sort of message we want to be sending out to our young people? That we want to tell girls if a boyfriend does something inappropriate, that it would be better for them to keep quiet, as no-one will believe them anyway?

Or to boys, do we want to send the message that it’s absolutely fine to rape, because they will probably get away with it?

These may be the consequences of Radio 1’s unusually baseless reporting, in actuality. It sets a dangerous precedent and that is why I thoroughly endorse and appreciate the stance of Keir Starmer, on this issue.

It is important that all victims of rape, whether female, male, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or non-binary know that their allegations of rape will be dealt with seriously and sympathetically. By broadcasting such a report, the BBC did nothing to assist in this aim.

In terms of my own situation, trans people are subjected to misogyny too, with some traduced to mere objects of fetish for the enjoyment of men. This too is unacceptable.

However, we as trans women, must stand shoulder to shoulder with all women in their struggles. To be a separate side dish is not appropriate in my view is not appropriate as that is not why I transitioned.

I transitioned to be at one with myself and the sisterhood. Food for thought.

So has some good come out of Savile? Through organisation, of women, by women, for women, it has brought issues that are normally special interest into the public gaze, and into sharper focus. It has made women stand up and say enough is enough, which it is. It has shown women they are not alone. It has allowed women to take the power back from the patriarchy, and to gain strength.

Above all, through the pernicious medium of social media it has allowed women to control their own narrative, and share it with each other.

You know the best thing is this. When I ask myself the question, who brought this change about, there is one clearly answer. Women themselves. That piece of knowledge is so beautifully empowering.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Need Feminism…….Why We All Do

I don’t remember much of my academic life. In all honesty, looking back most of it is a blur. But three things stand out for me. Reading, creative writing, and feminism. I loved them all. Two quotes stick in my brain. The first from one of my A-Level Sociology lecturers, Marilyn, which was;

“Women are a sponge to soak up all men’s inadequacies”

And secondly an accolade I am still proud of to this day.  My English lecturer Helen dubbed me as “the only male feminist she had ever taught.”

I admired Helen and Marilyn, because they were both women of passion and conviction, impact notwithstanding. The fact that I still remember their musings to this day is a compliment to them. I am proud to know, and to have known some wonderful women in my life. Women who I have cared about, loved, been inspired by, cried with, laughed with, and empathised with.

If women are a sponge for men’s inadequacies, then I have been a sponge for women’s strength. Despite never having had siblings of either sex, I have always gravitated naturally towards women, they have been my heart, my soul, and my rock when I have needed support too.

I have never looked at what I can take from a woman, but instead, what I can give to them, in the sense of  solidarity and support. Helen also said she had never met a man like me before, and doubted she ever would again. That is because the construct of a man was alien to me, and I did not, and still would not want to live up to.

Womanhood then, is not about the clothes on your body. Feminism, is about the clothes on your soul. Whether you stand up and be counted as a woman , or well, you choose to do nothing.

During my University days another thing I did was to find the poem Leda and the Swan by W.B. Yeats disgusting. Even now when reading it back, it still turns my stomach. The reduction of a female, to her mere body parts for the delight of a man is patriarchal to the extreme, and when you see it written down in the cold light of day, it makes it even more vile.

The radical feminist Catherine McKinnon argues that;

“Understanding free speech as an abstract system is a liberal position. Understanding how speech also exists within a substantive system of power relations is a feminist position.”

What this quote suggests is that speech and writing in the first instance do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a patriarchal context to subjugate women and other minorities too it has to be said. We in the UK are a culture which privileges misogyny over mindfulness, and pornography over pragmatism. 

This is not surprising though, when a 9 year old child was subjected to a disgusting slur after the Oscars, and we are told in a week where a sex scandal is embroiling the Liberal Democrats, we are told, with all the empathy of a toilet roll, “well, he only touched her knee, it’s hardly Jimmy Savile”.

Oh. So that makes it OK and I can stop writing then? No chance! I will not be silenced now, nor ever! It is preposterous, not to mention   mocking and silencing to categorise the experiences of abused women and men, and to judge them in a quantitative, tokenistic, and insulting way.

But you know, things have changed since Marilyn’s sponge. The abuse and violence haven’t, but with the advent of social media, women are being able to voice their anger across the Internet, and to gain support, and kinship from other women, who have suffered similar pain.

Why am I angry too though? Why do I feel the fire of womanhood burn inside my heart? Why do I need feminism, and why do I care?

I never really knew my biological father well. I w0uldn’t recognise him if I saw him on the street. My mother brought me up as a single parent, and we were always so close. Mainly I think because of my disability, I depended on her for personal care. I was born in an incubator, and was lucky to survive the first few days of my life.

My father bought me with with toys  and gifts, but as for any moral or indeed financial contribution to my upbringing, it was never forthcoming. I loved my mum. She was my role model and friend.

But things changed in 1989 when she met Mike. He was horrible to her and me. Two experiences stick in my mind. He emotionally abused me relentlessly, branding me useless, and a disappointment, and a vegetable. He would never do any personal care for me. On a Saturday, initially, mum had a job in a pub as a chef. If I needed anything in the way of personal care, I would have to wait until she got home. He also wanted me to toughen up and be a man. His behaviour to me and mum alone demonstrates that patriarchy is alive.

Two more experiences for you. My grandparents bought me a gift of my first motorised wheelchair, in order that I could get about and have more independence. However they bought me the newest model of this particular wheelchair, and the wheel was prone to falling off.

One night we had been to a barbecue with mum and his friends, and on the way home the wheel feel off. What would be the natural response? To offer help and assistance perhaps. No! Not that pathetic excuse of a human being. He got angry, yelled, screamed and shouted, flexed his patriarchal muscles  and went home. Moreover, this meant my mother had to get me, plus this piece of heavy machinery home. She did it though I do not know how.

The second time that sticks in my mind was when Mum had to go to hospital and the scumbag refused to let me see her. He told me she wasn’t allowed visitors. When she got home, the one thing she told me was that she wanted to see me, and she was. She also had to give me a shower just after coming out of hospital, with an open surgical wound.

So firstly, I need feminism as a counterbalance to help dismantle male power structures in my mind that were drummed into me as a child. I need feminism to help me articulate my fears and feelings, as well as my oppression as a woman with a disability. I need women as friends for mutual support, love and kinship. Even as a trans woman, I need to help all women not to fear these power structures Mackinnon speaks of, or to farm the power out to men, but to take that power back for themselves, and to cradle it wholeheartedly, as if it were a newborn baby. The power of the collective female conscience is a wonderful thing.

Secondly I need feminism because it is a narrative for the oppressed and marginalised. I was marginalised and oppressed from birth as a person with a disability. People for the most part, can be selfish or uncaring and this shines through, and perhaps this is why I have an affinity with the female struggle, be that with such issues as rape, eating disorder s, or self injurous behaviour. Men experience these things too of course. But the first two are borne out of a search for perfection, a perfection which is idealistic, flawed and unattainable. Every woman is beautiful in her heart and soul.

Throughout my life, my friends have been women. I have grown up with them, lived with them and learned from them, hence the sponge metaphor at the top of the piece is appropriate. Feminism came for me long before transition, friendships with women came long before transition, and my studies of  feminism were deep-rooted in me long before any gender transition. The thing is, I didn’t want to toughen up and be a man. It felt alien to me, and toughness just phallogocentric.

Now to address the elephant in the room. Rad Fem 2013 is a conference taking place in London, with amongst others, Julie Bindel,  Cathy Brennan and Sheila Jeffreys. 

In the trans community, they are renowned for thinking that trans women are men, for wanting an end to gender, and are in a continual quest to abolish patriarchy.

By contrast, the trans community label them TERF’s (Trans Excluding Radical Feminists) and counter protest at most venues they speak at, and organise autonomously at.

Now I have wrestled and wrestled with my conscience over whether this post would be written, for the thoughts I am about to express may seem  like a revolution to some.

Radical feminism, at its core, is a narrative 0f pain, of trauma, and of hurt as a result of extreme violence and abuse in many cases. Furthermore, it  is a narrative of damage, and damaged people. That’s why in this feminist school of thought there are no shades of grey, only black and white.

Beyond the rhetoric and name calling, the conference will discuss sexual violence and will allow women a safe space in which to share their stories. Don’t forget, abuse is very VERY isolating and lonely, and for all I know, RadFem2013 may be the only time these sisters will have the chance to make friends on their terms.

Autonomous organisation seems to have annoyed people. Women do have a right to organise freely. I am not saying that in terms of permission, I am stating it as fact. Trans people are however, being excluded from this conference.

However, if one is organising an event, one sets its parameters. Remember what I said earlier? Radical feminism is a narrative of pain, and women are coming together to share.  

Being frank, the p*s is a male organ, and represents trauma and pain to many women. Perhaps they find trans people triggering, in the same way as they would find a man triggering, whilst at the same time having no particular beef with that person’s character?

I’ll be damn honest here. I find some straight men triggering. Due to the wheelchair, I am lower down than they are so am always looking up. Mike was tall too so this can be frightening.

I always protected my mother though, and hated it when he shouted and screamed at her, and at me.

We need feminism to allow space for such things to be aired. Another problem I think the radical feminists have around trans people is that they have entered their space, and taken on their identity, whereas they were born into that identity of struggle from time immemorial. In  a way, I understand that grievance. It is hard to see identity changing around you, and to see people claiming an identity you thought was exclusively yours, then in come the trans people, snatch it away, and parade it around like a trophy, and never mind all the years of abuse and trauma you’ve suffered. I get that, truly. But I don’t want to erase you, nor reinforce patriarchy, nor am I interested in  power. I have very little anyway, since I rely on others to accomplish most tasks of daily life. I do have personal power inside me though which ensures that I can guard against being subjugated again.

We also need feminism as a response to misogyny, as an angry response to “women being reduced to c*nt” as Kate Millett would have it.  According to the charity Rape Crisis joint statistics from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics reveal that 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year. Similarly, they show that over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted every year. Finally they show that 1 in 5 women, aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence.

These are sobering and cannot be ignored. For behind each number is a person, and behind each person, a life scarred. But hopefully through kinship, love and support scars can heal. 

Frankly though, that’s why I am a feminist. I got sick of hearing stories over the years from women who’d been touched up in clubs, to having men saying, hmm lesbian,I bet I can turn you.

This was brought home to me vividly, when I started going to my local gay club. All the women there had stories, that is why they too are fragile and vulnerable sometimes. I can assure you though, I want to defend their interests. I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them whilst respecting their boundaries. Women deserve respect for they are beautiful, kind, caring and compassionate. I don’t know where I’d be without my sisters. So thank you all of you.

So why do women need feminism? For support, for a bridge where once before there was a deep chasm. Why do I need feminism? It gives me a voice, in a male dominant culture. It speaks to me and for me. When I hear feminism expressed it speaks to me and for me.

Before I conclude let me say this. Many trans women suffer abuse too. But there is nothing to stop us opening our own autonomous discussions about that. Julie Bindel is a campaigner against domestic violence, which to me is a laudable occupation. Sheila Jeffreys Kate Millett lecture got me through insomnia last night. I also found this interesting having spent a long time studying feminist literary theory at uni. 

I need feminism because it means I can live with pride, confidence and self esteem (recently discovered) in a world plagued by ableism. Most of all it enables me to stand with and for the people I love the most – women.

I wish RadFem 2013 the best of luck, and I hope it helps the women who attend. Meanwhile, I’ll do as Cathy Brennan suggested and be me.

 

 

 

So How Did It Happen?

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.

The Burden of Proof

So Facebook really is much of a muchness. There is a wide breadth of comment, analysis, moral support and anything else you may find in the context of human life. 

But that includes the negative shit of life too, sadly. Imagine then, my disgust and anger when I read the following status update.

” Why dick head men at mcdonalds feel the need to tell me to prove i have a girlfriend or that i love her makes me laugh …. Fuck you she is mine and i am hers …. I don’t need you to make me know that! TWAT!”

Now firstly, I have never heard anyone go to McDonalds and ask  for a Big Mac, and fries with a large portion of misogynistic homophobia please. Nor do I think this is what my friends Aimee and Charlotte expected either. 

I was actually shocked when I heard about it which is why I was motivated to write about it. Nobody should have to justify or explain themselves to anyone, unless they are discriminating, harming or bullying others in some way, whatever that may be.

What can I tell you about my two friends, Aimee Sherriff and Charlotte Forster? Apart from the fact they are very much in love which is patently obvious to know them, Aimee has a ghetto bum, loves N-Dubz, is crazy, loyal and supportive and drives my chair more badly than I do, when drunk (and sober in my case). Charlotte is a drama student, very arty, and we share a mutual but geeky love of showtunes. Like the Sherriff she is also very kind and supportive of me.

But on a serious note the level of misogyny here is disturbing, and in a sense has parallel echoes with the debate around gay marriage. There is also a distinct lack of equilibrium in this encounter. Since when has a straight person ever been asked to prove that they have a boyfriend, and moreover that they love them. Excuse my French, but what the actual fuck?

What I am trying to say, is that if they were straight, this would never be an issue in a million years. But their lesbian status, it seems makes them some kind of object of interest and voyeurism. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It is a question that would never be asked of a straight person, and is humiliating and demeaning, especially for a committed couple.

Lurking beneath this event though, I believe is something more sinister. Namely, this something is an issue of culture, and respect.

There is a cultural problem in this world too. There are people, indeed many thousands of them, who are quite happy to air their lives on The Jeremy Kyle Show. Coupled with that though, there are people whose involvement with a show like this, who would never dream of going on a show like this, either because they would be scared to go on television, or because they have other outlets for resolving this.

But how is this relevant to what Aimee and Charlotte experienced?

Well firstly, their dilemma is exemplified by the scenario. Their sexuality is a private non issue for them, however, anything which is separate to the self (in this case McChicken Sandwich man) and the other (Aimee and Char). Some people just cannot handle the fact, that there are people different to them. Others meanwhile, see it as an advantage, whilst others see it as a threat.

Difference is not bad, difference is good. However, in the case of difference, ergo minorities, it becomes a problem for those who live with it, live inside it, and get down with it on a daily basis like me.

There is a gulf between what is acceptable and unacceptable, when you are different. I know for me, since I have put myself out there on this blog, plus in everyday life too, some of the questions I have been asked make my mind boggle and my curls stand on end.

However, I am choosing to put myself out there, because of personal objectives I have, and goals I want to accomplish. However, Aimee and and Char are doing no such thing.

I do not think that ordering a meal in McDonalds translates as putting yourself out there.

Let me look at the statements the men made. Firstly, proving you have a girlfriend. Wave a magic wand, and magically your girlfriend, avec ghetto bum will appear. But the second one. Prove you love her!

How, by engaging in full on cunnilingus on the table to indulge a heteronormative fantasy which is an epidemic in classic stereotypical male narratives? Oh please! I wonder if the men would be just as turned on by two heterosexuals fucking? I somehow doubt it.

But people have their sense of identity buried within them, and that is where it is comfortable for most people. It should not be revealed to someone at the click of a finger. As I suggested earlier, lesbians do not HAVE to prove anything.

However, constantly being asked to prove anything, whether it be your sexuality, gender identity, or indeed any one of a number of things, can be stressful at best, and humiliating and dehumanising at worst.

Though, let us not be deterred from celebrating ourselves around those who support us. For our identities, each one of them unique and wonderful and we should always celebrate them when we want.

For even sexist voyeurism can never take away our freedom to express, which is buried deep within our soul and self.

But proof is a burden. It was a burden for Aimee and Charlotte. It changed a fairly regular experience into an unpleasant one. What is heartening though is that Aimee and Charlotte are both confident enough in their sense of self not to allow their love to be diminished by idiots. 

I join them in saying fuck you to that man. He crossed a line. That of the heteronormative double standard. It is what makes a lesbian erotica to a straight man, but the idea of sex with a gay man makes him “uncomfortable”.Whilst also he is quite happy to perv at a woman’s boobs. Don’t we have a right to boundaries and things that make us uncomfortable too? Patriarchy is to blame. Pure and X-Rated.

I would never ask someone to prove they are straight, so do not use your straight privilege to ask me or my LGBTGQ friends  about their sexuality, genitals, who they love, and whether they love. If you are straight, proof would be a burden for you too. Just be thankful you do not have to experience it. 

Charlotte left with scarf. Aimee right with orange and pout.