askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Some time ago, I wrote this after hearing the person who made the documentary Crazy About One Direction speak (in an academic context). I've had it set to private for ages but in the context of my continuing participation in Manics fandom, and all that it has given me, I wanted to post it now. 

I watched Crazy About One Direction when it aired last year.  I also watched the enormous twitter fall out where the girls who were interviewed were attacked by other fans and expressed their regret.  I watched the film maker apparently bait fans on twitter to greater response and outcry.  I talked to two of the girls who appeared in the documentary on twitter about their responses to seeing the finished film and the twitter response they endured.

My conclusion was that the documentary was about exotisizing and laughing at the 'obsessive' fan performances of devotion. I felt the girls who contributed were hung out to dry.

I asked her today about a comment she made in her presentation that all the girls were happy with the film and pleased to be in it given my interaction with one contributor which was to the contrary - I suggested that perhaps we could understand it within a framework where outrage was a performative act of belonging to the fandom.  She suggested the girls who said they were angry about their portrayal were not being entirely honest because of the pressure they felt to hate the film.  I think that's a neat and plausible explanation but I don't feel it completely deals with the ethical issues raised by the film's airing and the backlash online.

She spoke about how she felt she had made an affectionate portrait of the fans and admired and enjoyed the culture they created and their experience of being in a fandom. She felt she could never win at making a film about the fans that they would enjoy.

Here's the issue, as it stands for me: if you haven't lived a fandom from the inside you can't talk about it.  If you 'admire' the cultural practices and creation of a fandom then you already miss the point.  If you think being inside a fandom would be wonderful and wish you could be - but aren't - then you are never going to represent that experience correctly because you cannot understand it.  There were a lot of shitty documentaries made about Manics fans, a lot of shit articles written about how we were obsessive and insane and impenetrable.  None of them understood why we were those things, none of them acknowledged how and why we came together and why we protected our borders so vigorously.

Manics fans got to understand the media, we got to understand you have to check credentials if someone wants to interview you.  We got to understand we needed to laugh at ourselves and doing so would help us, as well as take the venom out of the bite of the media when they tried to make those same jokes.  Most music press articles on Manics fans these days have a begrudging respect -  we stayed the course, we learnt to be media savvy, we made the jokes first, but we never sacrificed our passion for the band and our protection of one another. 

I tried telling the One Direction film maker I believed that a lot of the anger the One Direction fans felt was experienced by Manics fans in the past and that we had learnt to negotiate the stereotypes about what a Manics fan is - and that One Direction fans were too young a fandom to have got there yet.  She seemed to understand - but then she made comments that suggested she didn't understand at all.  She linked the threats of suicide and murder One Direction fans levelled at themselves and her respectively after the documentary aired to Manics fans cutting themselves as a performance of belonging.  I explained to her that she was confusing cause and effect - that, yes, perhaps belonging was coded in the Manics fandom by performance of self hatred, but perhaps - more likely -  it was that the Manics provided a space to talk, an outlet, and a siren call to those who were already hating themselves.  Perhaps, I told her, One Direction fans were not expressing self hate and feelings of ugliness because One Direction had a song on that topic (as she suggested), but rather because they felt that way and suddenly, finally, had a channel to express that.

She nodded with interest - this seemed to be the first time an alternative reading of that action was offered to her.  'But!' she countered, 'Manics fans are a very different demographic to One Direction fans.' I nodded in agreement.  'One Direction fans are working class' she said.  I hesitated - Manics fans are almost universally from working class families in my experience -  as conversation around us interrupted I lost the opportunity to correct her on the ways in which I felt they were different demographics.  'There's more than shared music for Manics fans though,' I said 'we have a shared political position'.  She nodded; 'yeah, suicide'.  I boggled.  'Suicide is not a political position', I said.  Conversation of people around us overtook us again and I never got a response from her beyond a laugh.  I was talking about socialism and political leftism.  She was talking about performance of emotional trauma.  She doesn't understand my fandom - she sees only the sensational in a fandom which has negotiated a new media relationship away from sensational representations of our fandom.  For that reason it's perhaps inevitable it was only the sensational, the disembodied, the abstract that was represented in what she believed was an 'affectionate' portrait of One Direction fans

I got talking, later on this evening, to a friend about my experience of being in the Manics fandom.  We talked about what it meant to me and what I understood the fandom as.  Family.  Family is what it is.  Manics fans understand me deep down and I understand them, we share a common cultural knowledge, a social and political position, and, perhaps sadly, a shared trauma in relation to family or mental health or society, or all three.  We skip the basics, the introductions, and we go straight to acceptance and understanding and compassion.  And we sustain one another, look after one another, forgive one another.  We offer each other all the things my friend gets from her family or origin.

I wouldn't dream of making a documentary about what it means to be in my friend's family.  But the cultural availability of fandom, the public construction of it, the apparent accessibility of it, means people feel able to talk, with authority, about what it is we are doing and why.  The jokes we make about what being a manics fan means - about self harm and self loathing and suicide and disappearance - they are funny because we live them.  They aren't funny because they are abstract or because they are excessive.  But those are the reasons people outside the fandom, including this filmmaker, laugh.  We laugh together, they laugh at us.  We laugh or we'd cry, they laugh because it seems strange and incomprehensible, because it is Other.

Ethically though? Nightmare.  I maintain her documentary was fundamentally unethical because of how it offered up her representation of those girls to a hostile and paranoid fandom.  And after speaking to her I strongly believe it fell down ethically because she was sure she understood their fannish experience and refused to listen to them telling her what it felt like from the inside.  She fetishised the experience of being inside fandom and that creates an insurmountable distance in story telling. My family is the Manics fandom, I find it hard to articulate what that feels like - but I don't want someone else to tell my story for me, to judge me by their standards, to point and say "isn't this weird, how they communicate and organise and live?! Isn't it novel and different?! Let's all look and stare!"

And that, I think, remains the fundamental misunderstanding of the filmmaker which means she can't quite see how inevitable the response to that documentary was.  And it made me feel misunderstood, as I tried to illustrate my point with my own experience of fandom because she got side tracked with what she thought she knew about Manics fans and stopped listening to me.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Representation matters.  It matters to me and, I'm gradually proving in my doctoral research, it matters an enormous amount for a complex collection of reasons to a lot of other people too.

In itself 'representation matters' will seem fairly uncontroversial to my mostly leftie readers.  But some left leaning, centre left, centre types, will agree it matters, pay lip service to that idea, support it in principle, not put any road blocks in the way to things changing, but the moment you point out that diversity of representation is missing? They get pissed off.  The moment you ask why people are missing in the representations they make? They get angry, they ask why it makes any difference.

I complained aloud, to nobody in particular, the other day that every single chef shown in the Morrisons' Christmas claymation/animated advert was white and male.  "Does it matter?!" exclaimed my Mum as she passed through the living room, more than a little exasperated.

Does it matter who is shown on tv? Let's, for a minute, say it doesn't.  Let's start by stating it doesn't matter who is represented in television adverts.

If it doesn't matter, why did the animator create 11 little white male chefs? Wouldn't it have been as easy, given the characters differ slightly from one another, to have made some of them female? Surely the computer filled in their skin colour? It would have been just as easy, would it not, to colour some of them in a darker shade of peach? Perhaps even break out the brown colour palette?  If it doesn't matter whether they are white or black, male or female or genderqueer, then why are they all white and male?  Someone made that decision, someone designed that, someone animated that, someone signed off on that.  Lot's of someone's.  All of them.  

But perhaps the animator could only find the peach felt tip that day.  Perhaps the character designer can't draw long hair, or boobs.  Perhaps they don't know how to illustrate any gender markers for women, or for anyone other than men.

Tesco's Christmas advert this year compressed decades of Christmases observed by one family into a minute and a half.  Parents, children, grandchildren.  Tesco's don't feature their products in their advert like Morrisons do, instead they seem to say 'if you share the same emotions around Christmas as these people, maybe you should share a supermarket. Come to Tesco and buy a lifetime's Christmases!'  But the Christmas you have to share, the identification of 'just like us' to make?  All [apparently] white, all [rigorously shown to be] heterosexual.  But of course, we're arguing the representation doesn't matter right? So what we're buying from Tesco is not just Christmas cheer and food and drink and trees, but we're buying being white, and we're buying making our parents happy by having children ourselves (or our children are making us happy by having children). And we're buying being straight.  Come to Tesco this year! Get a better sexuality! Get a better turkey! Get a better ethnicity!

Someone hired those actors.  Every person was dressed and directed.  That advert was scripted and edited. There were choices made about what to represent.  

But perhaps it's a coincidence!  Perhaps only white actors turned up for an audition that day.  Perhaps the people who wrote the script have never met a gay or lesbian person, or a genderqueer or nonbinary or just plain androgynous person, so they couldn't even imagine that couples may not be made up of rigidly gendered men and women!  Perhaps they 'wrote what they knew' and not a single person involved in the casting, costuming, producing, filming, directing, editing, or release of that advert was anything other than straight and white and cis with only white straight cis friends.

Aldi managed to find one black person to put in their Christmas ad. And a parrot.  They don't say much about family, or sexuality.  John Lewis also went for animals (although in previous years they've been lovers of the white hetero, rigidly normatively gendered family at Christmas) Asda had snowmen. No, I'm not going to suggest they should have been snow people.  Debenhams' had what might have been a lesbian ball, but it was the girl and the guy gazing into each other's eyes and skating off together that we 'wished for'. M&S had a bad trip but they have at least been consistent for some years now in using Black and minority ethnic models in every advertising campaign, even if they do, inevitably, play the small roles in this ad.

If who is represented on television adverts doesn't matter, why is it, so often it's white, hetero, cis gendered people being represented? It's either an enormous coincidence that this keeps happening or perhaps...

Perhaps, then, representation does matter! [the unsurprising conclusion - aha! here it is].  And perhaps it matters to the people who get to pick which representations we see, who pick which ideals we are supposed to buy into.  Perhaps we should be surprised that in 2013, in the United Kingdom most of the major brands are still dreaming of white, straight, cis Christmases.

Unfortunately, my Mum didn't hang around long enough for me to give her this answer to her exasperated question.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 So I wrote a thing and then the place that I wrote the thing for published the thing!

There's Nothing Mild About Cyclothymia over at Mind's blog.

Despite the content and thrust of my article, I was bemused to see that the 'info box' at the bottom of the blog on 'cyclothymic disorder' also includes the word.....mild!

I've said it before, I'll say it again; depression is not mild if it results in suicidal feeling, impulses, or, suicide.  And guess what? Cyclothymia results in those feelings. So saying it is, is bullshit.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 There was a show on channel 4 tonight and I have more thoughts about it than I expected - particularly as I'd resolved not to watch based on the adverts - and certainly more than fit on twitter.

My main objection is to the basic premise of the show; disclosing a mental health problem to colleagues.  I'm not a big believer of mixing home life with work life.  I think they *do* mix, but you shouldn't push it to.  The biggest question is why; why open up a private matter to the scrutiny of colleagues - people who are frequently not people you would be friends with or even come into contact with outside of work.

The stated aim of the show is to breakdown stigma by asking people to do this.  I disagree that this is the way to break stigma.  I'm not sure the natural response to receiving this information is to go "oh, huh, now I will revise my views about what having a mental health problem means" it is to say "how should I relate to this person from now on?" and, later, it will result in the actions of the discloser being judged through the lens of the symptoms of the condition they've disclosed.  

I know what it means to have a disorder on the bipolar spectrum but if a colleague told me they were bipolar - by way of an announcement to all and sundry and not in confidence/as a friend - I guarantee I would begin to privately interpret their behaviour in relation to my knowledge of bipolar symptoms.  I know that at certain times of my mood cycle it's possible to really clearly identify something is 'off' about me but I would much rather people think I'm being annoying/loud or a 'moody cow' and treat me as such for two reasons. 1) trying to hide it and being forced to deal with negativity from colleagues pushes me to do everything I can to behave 'normally' which helps me keep myself together.  2) Sympathy smiles/understanding/sickly sweet fake responses to me being an arse is patronising and harms relations between colleagues - nobody enjoys making special allowances for people.

By way of comparison of what we're talking about here; there are many invisible illnesses which affect people's day-to-day lives.  Do we need to know about them? Is it relevant to know that your colleague has IBS? It may affect how they behave (time away from desk) and cause higher than normal levels of abseentism. A friend of mine has childhood onset diabetes, she tells me she gets a lot of crap from people who think they know better than her what she can and can't eat/feel it is within their rights to lecture her on what she eats and when. That's diabetes, something that is relevant to share with colleagues in case of medical emergencies.

This is what it comes down to; take away the stigma and you're left with arrogance.  One piece of personal information leads so many people believe they not only know *everything* about your illness or disability, but that they can and should tell you how to deal with it and inform you of how you are going wrong.

I think the show left me mostly feeling a bit judged; "you want stigma to end? Tell your colleagues your medical history, or shut up complaining".  Well actually, hai, I want my personal life to be personal in all the places I choose.  I don't want knowing nods and patronising smiles just because I, like everyone else does, am having a grumpy Monday.


Apr. 26th, 2011 12:51 am
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 There was a post, on a friends facebook, it included a link pertaining to an upcoming election in a country which isn't this one which advised feminists and people who respect women alike that one of the candidates had potentially damaging views regarding reproductive rights.  There was a reply from someone I don't know suggesting that the real problem was that abortion was available at all.  I tried not to reply, I really did.  I went away from the page TWICE.

I got drawn into an argument where the commenter actually engaged with what I was saying and responded to my points - unexpected in itself - but in each of his successive points revealed more and more abhorrent opinions.  The friend on whose wall this was taking place contributed once and then, after a particularly odious comment which I managed to reply to with the one line I could type out through the red mist of rage and shaking hands ("Rape is not about "permissive attitude to sex" it is about power and it is about violence"), she deleted it.  A fair choice because I would have gone all night against that ignorant hate.

Anyway, I'm a little shell shocked to come across someone like that on home turf, as it were, and now have a stiff rum and coke and a desire to articulate something resembling a mantra - in the hope it somehow cleanses my brain of the hateful bilge I have read tonight.

  • You will not make me ashamed of my body, my sexuality, my sex and my desires
  • You will not succeed if you try and convince me that sexuality and it's expression has any kind of inherent moral value
  • Your ignorance about the reality of sexual violence and the continued abuse and oppression of women (and men) both in the home and out of it will not prevail against the voices of those who suffer and the actions to end it of those people who are well informed and open minded to the reality of oppression.
  • I know that the multiplicity of family forms, relationships and love which are expressed in thousands of homes across the country and millions across the world will grow in visibility and strength and year on year we will show, merely by continuing to exist, that our worth is just the same as the monolithic representation of family you blindly recognise as 'viable'
  • I will articulate, encourage others to articulate their sexuality without shame or fear. 
  • These are our bodies, our choices are ours to make and ours alone.  You will not succeed in inscribing your narrow notions of morality upon my skin and my flesh or that of my brothers and sisters.
  • You, and your victim blaming, misogynistic, sex-shaming opinions will not triumph against the voracity and volume with which we speak and share the truth.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Cyclothymia is not a gift.  It is not a tool that allows me to see the world as it 'really' is.  It is not something that should be nurtured or cultivated.  

Years back, when I was tentatively living with a diagnosis of depression I met a girl who told me we were special - that we saw the world more clearly, lived more honestly and thought more deeply.  I was 17, she was 19, and I believed her.  We sat, watched our classmates and we pitied their naivety.  A year on from this, I was on my third anti-depressant at a much higher dose than either of the first two, I'd taken my first overdose and I was merrily cutting my arms to ribbons every night.  She was voluntarily in psychiatric hospital for an indefinite stay.  Our classmates? They were happily, 'naively' getting on with their lives.  

There is no secret to see, there is no truth to discover, there is just living your life and you get to do that the hard way or the easy way - your choice.

There can be advantages to living with cyclothymia - highs which breed productivity, confidence and inspiration are certainly enviable.  But given that thousands - nay, millions - of people get through their lives without such chemically unbalanced highs and still manage to create works of great beauty I suspect that I could live without them.  Indeed, those same millions feel quite satisfied with a life which does not include manic highs - a relatively small proportion of them seek out artificial means to create those moments of pure ecstasy and confidence; cocaine is popular, but it's not every-single-person-in-the-world-popular.

I am accepting of my brain chemistry - it is counter productive to be anything else - so I make allowances in my life to cope with mood swings which I choose not to control with medication.  I am not being sold a lie by the psychiatric profession - you probably aren't either - I know this to be true primarily because I got a diagnosis and a suggested treatment regimen after I sought out help for the unbearable mental unease I found myself experiencing.  Unless you were forcibly hospitalised and medicated by court order it is unlikely that you fall into the camp of the maliciously medicalised outsider - indeed even if you were forcibly hospitalised and medicated, that is still no guarantee that going without medical intervention at that point in your life would have resulted in brilliance, creativity and continued existence.  In fact, it tends to result in death. 

Increasingly I believe that mental illness is less delineated than the discourses of medicine and society would have us believe - we are all born with a genetic code which will determine our brain chemistry and whilst substances can alter that chemistry both temporarily and permanently there is a degree of pre determination.  Life experiences and situations leave two people with the same brain chemical balances in different positions - one might work in an office and take anti depressants and be in and out of hospital whilst the other lives a life which permits great periods of inactivity without loss of earnings - as a writer or musician perhaps - or lives in a close and well developed social group where a style of communication as open and honest as therapy is typical can help them through bad periods without turning to outside agencies.  The second hypothetical person here may never come into contact with a mental health professional - is their depression any less real than the first person? No.  Is the decision of the first person not to dedicate their life to 'cultivating' their depression in order to avoid reliance on pharmaceuticals and allow for a realisation of the true potential of their misery the wrong one? I'd say categorically not, but apparently that is not a universal view.  Moreover, whilst I'd say this example merely shows that 'madness' is a sliding scale applicable to all of society which is only labelled when it becomes a problem, certain factions would prefer to believe that yes, there is a clear line be 'mad' and 'sane' but that, contrary to what modern medicine says, the 'mad' should not be cured but raised up as desirable and enviable.

There are, undoubtedly, thousands of people walking around with thought processes who engage in activities which could see them easily diagnosed with mental health problems - I've met them. But the existence of unmedicated cyclothymics/depressives/whatever does not mean that those diagnosed have been sold a lie/tricked into selling their magic beans for an incontinent cow.  Primarily, this is because they didn't have magic beans to start with - they just had erratic moods which impacted on their ability to live life in the way they wanted to, unlike the undiagnosed cyclothymic on the street, whose moods have not infringed on the fulfilment of their lifestyle.  Organisations and individuals who point to the increase of diagnosis rates of mental illness as support for the argument the medical establishment have gone power MAD and are attempting to homogenize the world are equally mistaken.  The reports which suggest there have been a 43% rise in the prescribing of anti-depressants in the last 5 years seem to me to merely suggest that the de-stigmatising of mental health difficulties, as a result of the hard work of organisations such as Mind, has been successful and people are now daring to approach their GP with problems they previously thought would see them laughed out of the doctors office.

I have shared that infamous habit of many mental health patients of concluding I WAS NEVER ILL when medication and therapy get me to a point I feel 'normal' and subsequently rejecting all the methods employed to normalise my brain chemistry.  Funnily enough, I got ill again.  A lot of people would argue that sort of hypothesis-test-proof loop was enough to support the psychiatrist who made the original diagnosis.  Few people would argue that my returning to a state I call 'ill' is merely the internalisation of an oppressive narrative when in fact I was 'realising the mad gift' the universe has given me.  Fewer still would go further set up an online community propagating this opinion as a valid medical alternative.  

The opposition to pro-ana and pro-mia sites is well established - I'm scared by how little opposition there is to pro-psychosis websites.  I feel as though the mental health lobbies have been so busy (quite rightly) fighting stigma in wider society they have been completely blind-sided by those who want to share faulty thinking - who want to rubbish a system which helps more people than it hurts.  How much more good work could they do as patient advocates working within the system as it stands? How much more good work could they do by having a dialogue with the medical profession about not becoming a factory and treating mental health patients like a simple machine to be inspected, repaired and pushed back out into the world all shiny and new?  Yes there are problems in healthcare as it stands but it is still a whole lot better than nurturing mental instability into bigger and more monstrous things.  I think the NHS could save itself money by offering stricter guidance on how GPs respond to first presentation of mild depression and anxiety in patients, I think they should offer more training to their senior employees - consultants for example - on alternative lifestyle so they can recognise the difference between 'alternative', 'abnormal' and 'problematic' so that they only offer corrective steps for the latter.  I think money should go back into health promotion campaigns and I think we need more patient advocates and advisers - such as those provided by Mind - to ensure the medical establishment doesn't lose sight of the individual in favour of 'cured' statistics linked directly to pharmaceuticals.  

I am all for self determination in mental health care - I practice it; I worked out a way to get off medication and live without too much unpleasantness a year ago.  But I'm also for informed choices - telling people you are an advocacy and advice organisation aiming to end stigma and help people overcome the alienating effects of mental health labels is all well and good, but when, in reality, you are pushing a non negotiable model for living without medical intervention you are deceiving and misleading those you claim you aim to protect.  On the face of it, the Icarus Project sounds great - offering hope of 'normality' through inaction rather than the world of hit and miss drug therapy offered by the medical profession for example - in reality they are pushing an unproven, potentially dangerous anti-cure on vulnerable and often desperate people whose judgement is impaired by mental instability.  This is the blind leading the blind.

Also, just a final thought - Icarus crashed to earth after ignoring advice not to fly so close to the sun, and died.  For the shining moment he was soaring up to the sun he certainly was glorious, but his ignorance and arrogance killed him.  Did The Icarus Project chose him as their namesake with an awareness of that irony or did they stop reading after bit when his ambition took him up into the sky?

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
In response to some persistent themes being expressed on various platforms of late, or, the 'feminist' return of body fascism;
I shave my legs because I want to.  I like the way skin feels against skin. I like the way clothes feel against skin. I do not like the way hair feels against skin or clothes.  I shave my arm pits because as clean as you are, you'll never find an anti perspirant that works as well when it is applied to hair covered skin.  All the hair removal and trimming I do is because I like it.  Society has not compelled me to do it.  My bare legs are not representative of my subjugation to pervasive beauty narratives.  My clean shaven armpits are indicative only of what I find to be aesthetically pleasing and what gives me confidence regarding my personal hygene.  Do not assume differently without asking me, or any of the other women you are battering with your rhetoric.  Thank you.

On queer liberation;
It is no doubt the proliferation of mediocre to poor dramas on tv of late centring on both fictional and real life gay men and their lives and loves, but increasingly I recognise and understand why lesbians wished to campaign for gay lib separately than gay men.  I also feel the strong tug of obscurity as the voices of queer women throughout history go largely unrecorded and so the obsessive bio-pic making so recently in vogue has no material from which to draw.  I sense also that - in the programming directors minds - the 'edginess' of making a film about men having sex and putting it on at 9pm on BBC2 would be lost were it instead about two women.  Female sexuality is, after all, neither urgent nor insistent nor selfish.  Women do not fuck but make love.  Or so social norms would have us believe, and to counter those ideas is to shoot too often over the head of the viewers,  How to explain that urgent sexuality and sexual satisfaction is not an exception to femininity or characteristic only of lesbianism?  On the occasions strong representations of female centred sexuality occur it is, more often than not, presented cheaply and sordidly - the atrocious scripts and production values on both the Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet serve as excellent examples.

I cannot think of a single film which concerns a lesbian relationship as it's primary focus which is either beautiful or moving.  I can think of plenty which are trite and poorly executed and a hundred more which have only sold because queer women are so desperate for filmic representation they will buy and watch any old crap - I count myself among that desperate majority.

I have lost interest in stories about gay men struggling in historically-hostile times; they speak to me no more than a mediocre romantic storyline in a heterosexual drama does.  I always felt that LGBT history was a shared discovery, that hearing from one group can tell us about another/our own, but I see now that was naive.  I want to know about the lives of the women who have brought the world to the point it is at now for me - as a queer woman.  My social ancestors are silent - or at the very least silenced - in the current trend for period dramas about minority groups.  

On the ignorance of youth
I was in STA Travel today with a friend from work; we are probably going on holiday for a fortnight in July/August.  The travel agent was suggesting modifications/changes to the route I had in mind, after she mentioned Prague and I rejected it as I have already been there and she went back to furiously tapping away on her computer I turned to my friend, pointed to a photo from the old square in Prague and showed him the hotel I had stayed at for 2 nights.  I commented, in telling the story of how we ended up there and not in the hostel we had booked, that 'and they were also lovely there; they didn't bat an eyelid at the fact we were gay and sharing a double room".  He replied, shocked "is that something that happens then - is that a problem?".  "Yes," I said "indeed, in Paris we were initially refused the key to the double room we had booked (at a major hotel chain no less) until another member of staff intervened".  I watched the information processing on his face; I'm not sure he really believes the world is like that, even now.  Maybe another day I'll tell him about my friends who got beaten up by some thugs in a gay bar, for being gay, whilst the bar staff looked passively on.

On what my life is like of late;
I wake up every morning before my alarm goes off.  I trudge to the bathroom to shower.  I cry as I wash, dress and eat before leaving the house.  I pass through my days like a zombie and I am ready to go back to bed and to sleep at 3pm. I force myself to stay up until 10pm.  I cannot sleep.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
With things like this, I rarely write in the heat of the moment, I prefer to check my sources and reference thoroughly. But today? You don't need references. Turn on the tv, have a look at news sites. It's happening.

The Lib Dems have betrayed us. The promise they made - the reason so many of us voted for them - is that they said they would not introduce higher top up fees, they promised us they would protect the right of every young person in this country to be able to go to University no matter what their income.

The current fees are expensive, difficult but not impossible. I campaigned, along with my fellow students back in 2004/2005, against the introduction of top up fees - they should not have happened but here we are. However, they are manageable; whether that be through grants or savings or loans. The new fees will literally make it impossible for everyone who wants to go to University to go.

Yes, the rich will still go. Yes, the poor may well get full assistance; but that pot of money is not unlimited so there will be stiff competition and firm cut off points - cut off points which will leave a gulf between the have lots and have not-so-muchs/have-littles. I got full financial assistance from my Local Education Authority to go to university but I still had to have a student loan in order to pay rent and bills. As such, I came out of university with a £12,000 debt.

Contrary to the government's claims that student loans are interest free, I am charged a phenomenal amount of interest every year on a loan I have yet to start paying back (I have, 4 years after graduating, still not attracted a large enough salary to meet the minimum threshold for repayments). The idea that these debts do not worry graduates, the idea that this is not a burden IS A NONSENSE. The question of whether I would have gone to Lancaster with a £9,000 charge for learning seems an easy one; without a full scholarship? definitely not. How could I? The resources my parents had to help me through university would have been laughable in the face of fees of that size.

Police Commisioner just said "any right minded person will condemn the violence, if they saw it, they will condemn it". I saw the violence, I don't condemn it - not with a broad sweep I don't. I feel that anger; and I wasn't standing amongst a group of protesters, contained by police and charged by police horses - provoked and scared - I wasn't there and I still completely understand the anger that led to this violence.

I agree wholeheartedly that the protest was hijacked by trouble makers- in particular the later pictures from the protest show people who seem to fit certain profiles associated with violnce for violence's sake - but to say all the violence was the result of that is a sweeping dismissal of the anger and chaos which the government and police caused.

Video of mounted police charging the crowd and clearly trampling some protesters who simply couldn't move out of the way fast enough was available at the top of this article on the BBC website for several hours today, it has since evaporated. [ETA: And been reposted here]

Protesters report, on twitter, that those who were smashing windows and doors at the Treasury were shouting "we want our money back". The police say it was criminal damage and not protest. I think it was both.

I'm disgusted that the majority of news stories are now leading with the fact the Prince of Wales and Camilla had the car they were travelling in were attacked. This is not an indictment of the incorrect expression of the protest, but of the uncontrollable, justifiable and absolutely AVOIDABLE rage of protesters. A friend just said the following of this incident;
"The living embodiment of inherited privilege gets hassled by people who just had their futures taken away. He's just lucky this aint France"

The police stated "protesters have failed to stick to the agreed route", one twitter user quipped "to be fair, so did the Lib Dems". How horribly true.


I cannot imagine a country in which I will ever vote Lib Dem again.

I'm sitting here crying over what we have become, what our government is doing to our education system and absolutely sobbing for the anger I feel at the betrayal of the Lib Dems and my empathy for the angry chants and actions of the protesters today.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I like Stephen Fry, I really do. I liked him in that well meaning 'he's always there' sort of way for years, then I was given Moab is my Washpot for Christmas a few years ago and I liked him even more. Then there was the wonderful Secret Diary of a Manic Depressive where I felt a deep love and respect for this man. What a hero! Then I stopped watching QI because I rather lost faith in it after an offensive episode with the theme 'gender' where Stephen didn't stop a potentially offensive conversation at the usual point he does when things get out of hand. But I shrugged it off, watched a few more episodes and felt the programme/Stephen/Alan Davies had lost their edge; such is life.

This year for my birthday I was delighted to receive The Fry Chronicles. I have trudged through 150 pages of it in a flagging, fatigued sort of manner and sighed as I wade through dropped name after dropped name. Who are these people and why are you listing their names instead of telling me about how you and Kim became lovers and what that relationship meant to you?

When the story broke on twitter that Stephen Fry told Attitude magazine that he believes straight men envy the easy informality of gay sexual relationships and that they all wish there were straight cruising grounds whilst women don't enjoy sex and use it to trap men I was depressingly ready to accept the reality of that claim. Then Stephen huffed off twitter in a blaze of drama only deigning to say it was 'untrue'.

Today he wrote a 4 page rebuttal of the claims. Except he sort of didn't...

At some point we chatted about gay sexuality – well, you would wouldn’t you, for a gay magazine? – and as part of that conversation I repeated the old canard about how men, unlike women, were cursed with their uniquely pressing and annoying libidos. Straight men I have known have often (of course mostly in a kind of bitter jest) said how much they envied gay people the simplicity of their erotic lifestyles (cottaging and cruising and so on) and I vamped for a while on that theme. I do not believe it as some kind of eternal gender truth, I was simply taking a thought for a walk.

The problem here, for me, is that this is not a thought which needs or should be taken for a walk. It's a sweeping generalisation which offends 99% of the people it so neatly ties up in a bow. He didn't say, at the time, that he didn't believe it to be an eternal gender truth, he just trotted out an old stereotype (I know exactly 1 gay man who has EVER gone cottaging. ONE) because he thought it would appeal to his gay audience? There is no part of that which isn't a problem.

At a time when morale is low in the gay community (a chronic rise in homophobia, teenage suicides, gay bashing and religious intolerance) I thought it worth making the light enough point that in some ways you could see the male gay life as a lot easier than the male straight life.

The urge to respond to this merely with "oh thank god Stephen Fry is here to raise out spirits! Our noble leader!" is...overwhelming. Nonetheless, I'll delve a bit deeper. Comparisons of the 'ease' of life based purely on sexuality are problematic. If we want to talk about how society structures power then gay men will always win out on the 'short straw' game against straight men. There are piles of evidence, research and life experience to support that. Stephen Fry; rich, famous, working-in-entertainment Stephen Fry is in no position to comment on who has it 'easier'. The final problem here, as I touched on a moment ago, is that commenting that one persons life is harder or more comfortable than another's because of their sexuality, in this country, in this day and age, is a nonsense. Social, personal, health and economic factors - to name but a few - mean that one gay man's life has nothing in common with another's because, get this!, being gay doesn't give you an identity, it gives you a sexual predilection and possibly some oppression. Beyond that, it's up to you.

It is perhaps sad to think that [women] are as pathetically in the grip of a base and humiliating need to get their rocks off as men are, but if that is the case then that is the case

I think this reveals so much about the place all of this has come from.  Stephen Fry apparently views sex as man's greatest weakness and that women share it is to be regretted.  Here's the thing, as one of the many women on twitter who reacted with outrage at the suggestion that we don't enjoy sex, I'm actually more offended at the suggestion that my enjoyment of sex is a "base and humiliating" urge.  

One of the many fronts on which queer people are dismissed, hated, demonised and marginalised is because we have, throughout history, refused to apologise for wanting to have sex in the way we want to.  Society was reminded by those awful queers that sex didn't have to be functional; it could be about passion and enjoyment and 'base' desire.  The 'death drive' of non reproductive queer sex is the spectre against which many of the transformative social battles have been waged.  It's not about sex, it's about love.  I want to have children to, I just don't want heterosexual sex to do it. etc etc.  And those things are true.  But queer is, also, about sex.  And our continuing liberation is a sexual one as well as a social one.  Glorious, sensual, violent, transformative, forgettable, passionate, animal, unthinking, intellectual SEX.  And that there is any kind of unified distinction between the relationship of persons of different genders and sex is ridiculous.  That all men are 'gripped' by the need to have sex is insulting.  That women sharing that impulse devalues some vague sense of superiority Stephen Fry previously associated with women devalues only his opinions, not us.

All in all, I am saddened.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
To whom it may concern

During the reporting of an attack on an armoured van and the injuring of the security guard driver (, the report on East Midlands today consistently refereed to the injured person as "woman security guard"

Aside from the grammatical unpleasantness of that phrase ("female security guard" is surely preferable) I simply cannot understand why the presumption was that 'security guard' was such an inherently gendered term that we needed to be reminded at least 5 times that this particular security guard was a woman.

Furthermore, the result of repeating this person's gender was to imply that the attack was somehow of greater significance/violence because it was perpetrated against a woman! All violent crime of this type is to be regretted and condemned, we - society - and you - the BBC - should not be straying into such value judgements, much less the sensationalism of "woman hurt! woman hurt whilst in man's job!"

Non biased, non discriminatory language is easy to employ. Until all reports on male security guards start referring to "man security guard" it is wholly unnecessary, offensive and erroneous (I am quite sure her job title merely reads 'security guard') to describe a person as a "woman security guard"
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Why oh why do I continue to get embroiled in online debates? In my defence, this time I genuinely thought my opponent was a reasonable political observer. Some backwards research on his twitter stream after the debate reveals him to be an obsessive of the 'Britain is not a democracy, we're all slaves' variety.

His twitter feed is here; Tony Lawrie

This is the tweet which prompted my first reply to him (advising he reread the BBC article as it clearly states the reason Nick Griffin's invitation to Buckingham Palace was revoked was because he politicised it; unlike all the other MEPs invited, including another BNP party member)

I eventually said I believed his 'Britain isn't a democracy' agenda had coloured his assessment of the event, he leaps on this turn of phrase and then keeps saying my opinions on the BNP coloured my opinions - having not expressed any opinions about the BNP of late on twitter, or passing any kind of negative comment on the BNP MEP who did attend the garden party I can only assume he decided the only person who could disagree with the crux of his argument must be anti-BNP. Which admittedly I am, but I never said I believed Nick Griffin should be turned away from the garden party because of his views - I don't believe that.

Some time ago, after repeating my points several times I decided nothing was to be gained by continuing I tweeted this;
Already stated BNP member attended, did not express any feelings about that. Your repeated choice to ignore my previous statements leads me to believe you are not considering, engaging with or even reading my comments so I will conclude this discussion now.

How many replies did I then receive from him? Seven. At which point I again became embroiled when he claimed he had answered my points and my dislike of the BNP did not allow me to recognise democracy was undermined. I responded with the following;
I have made no expression of dislike for the BNP. Their policies are not the crux of the issue. Furthermore, you have not engaged with my hugely valid point that another BNP MEP was admitted to the garden party with no queries. Finally, your choosing to ignore my statement this discussion was at an end is hardly respectful or necessary. We will not agree because you are not willing to abandon your no democracy agenda long enough to judge this event solely on the facts surrounding it.

His further replies again state democracy was undermined, the BNP MEP who attended was weak in agreeing to be gagged (which surely pre-empts content which the Palace wished to deny, absent given it wasn't a political engagement) etc etc.

I tire, no, I have long tired of hearing nonsense of that sort. Travelling the world gave me a glimpse of countries where democracy is either new or non existent. Passing through as a white British tourist obviously did not give me a real understanding of what it is like to *live* there but the fierceness with which Argentinians defend their democracy (PROTEST!) gives an good indication. Meeting fellow travellers from across the globe we often fell to discussing the differences and similarities of our respective countries and cultures. It would be fair to say that I have never so absolutely appreciated the liberties and freedoms so willingly given to me as a British citizen.

No, our democracy is not perfect. Show me a democracy which is. But to claim we are suffering through an authoritarian nightmare is not only wholly erroneous but positively insulting to those persons living under a dictatorship with few or none of the freedoms some would so gladly dismiss.

Update! I think Tony Lawrie's true political allegiances are showing through in his final desperate attempt to embroil me again;
Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how can you ever then season it? Don't agree with Nick Griffin or BNP particularly but at least Griffin still has 'salt' many politicians 2day don't anymore!

Hard enough to ignore that bizarre, presumably inaccurately recounted analogy but praising Griffin for being abrasive? (hard to guess what salt represents really) Not going to be the match point winning play.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Day 4: Your favourite song.
My god, this is a hard one. I think it's probably wrong to pick a cover so I won't put Red Sleeping Beauty - which, vocally, is one of James' best - but, err....

You're Tender and You're Tired.

Unexpected? Maybe. I think it is understated and quite, quite beautiful.  And frankly, I never get tired of hearing it.  It isn't a hit-you-round-the-head sort of song, and the emotions it elicits are slow burning and subtle.  But somehow, to me, it's all the grander for it.


Drama seems at hand over on twitter this evening. Alan Davies just posted that;
"My wife,despite her FlyBe EconomyPlus ticket,has been turned away from the lounge at Cardiff Airport because she's carrying a baby..." (here)
and goes on to say;
"Cardiff Airport said my wife could go in the lounge but the 7 month old baby in her arms could not..." (here)

At which point Cardiff Airport apparently set up a twitter account and responded thusly;
"@alandavies1 We regret your wife’s disappointment but no children under 10yrs are allowed in the executive lounge" (here)

Responses? What you'd expect, lots of people puffing and spluttering in outrage. And me, and a minority of others;
Frankly, I'm behind @Cardiff_Airport's ban on kids under 10 in the Exec lounge. Why should everything be geared to families?
I mean it's bad enough being on a plane with screaming child,much worse them being in th relaxing pre-boarding environment you pay extra for
Just because you think little johnny's screeching, vomiting, defecating & dribbling is charming doesn't mean I should have to put up with it
As far as I'm concerned there should be child-free parks, restaurants, buses, trains, lifts and beaches.Everywhere.Carry on @Cardiff_Airport
(Those are all me)

And the others I've found so far;
@Lufferov @alandavies1 Not allowing children in the executive lounge seems perfectly reasonable to me. I agree with @Cardiff_Airport! (here)
@IanSDavidson @alandavies1 Can you not just accept that it's impossible for @Cardiff_Airport to please everyone. Many of us appreciate a child free lounge (here)

I genuinely don't understand what is so offensive about an airport, who charge for a specific service, which is sold on the basis of it being relaxing and conducive to doing work - in short, an executive lounge - enforcing specific rules to ensure that service remains all the things it is expected to be by the majority of the service users. I am constantly enraged by the unending pandering to families and making what would otherwise be communal or adult spaces into an anarchic crèche (oxymoron?).

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate kids, AT ALL. I adore volunteering with the Brownies and my nephew even changed my opinions on babies from unadulterated hatred to occasional adoration when he was born back in 1997. What I do hate is the idea that opining that "screaming children impede my enjoyment of the cinema/restaurant/flight/bus or train journey" is somehow a sin worse than murder and you are treated as though you just defecated on the coffee table over which you're having the conversation. Ironic really given the child(ren) you are complaining about may well defecate on a coffee table but instead that act would be received in a circle of doting, insane mothers*.

Adult space matters. Why has protecting that become synonymous with destroying The Family, Society and The World?

I'm going to go and read Edelman's No Future/my dissertation again.

* Who are absolutely different from some mothers I know to be out there who do not lose control of their intellect the moment their child first pees in their face.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (conor)
So someone linked to this article on facebook, and I hate it.

The couple says they've grown closer over time, but like any marriage, two people can have differences -- including sexual orientation. Christine Winn is straight, and she has been supportive of her husband, who is openly bisexual.

"I don't think about it [his bisexuality] as a part I have to accept," she said. "It's just a part of him like any other husband who loses their socks on the floor or doesn't take the trash out"

My sexuality is something to be celebrated, embraced. It is not something to be grudgingly tolerated as a bad habit.

Winn realized then there was an unexpected upshot of bisexuality."I always had this heterosexual relationship to fall back on," he said. "I could choose to ignore the rest and put it on the back shelf."

That is exactly the argument made by the homophobic heteros - "you're just indulging a peversion you could resist" and the biphobic gays - "you could avoid prejudice any time you want, just go straight" Are we supposed to by sympathetic to Winn? Because he is shooting himself, and the rest of us, in the foot. There is no choice when it comes to sexuality because there is no choice when it comes to who I fall in love with. If I fall in love with a woman, and then endure prejudice and attacks because of that it is, according to that quote, my fault, I could avoid it all if I simply but my desire for women on the 'back shelf'.

It's either you're in the closet or out of the closet, and it's not that simple," David Malebranche, a physician and professor of medicine at Emory University

Well actually, in the common use of 'closet' - as opposed to whatever definition David Malebranche is holding it to - it is that simple. You have either decided to publicly announce to the world your sexual orientation or you have decided to work to disguise the fact of your sexual and romantic attractions from friends, family and anyone else who matters. In the case of Ali and I, I was out of the closet as a pansexual/bisexual woman, and Ali wasn't. So yes, for bisexual persons it *is* that simple.  We had different relationships with what out sexuality meant in the world around us as a result.  Our experiences were different.  In and out of the closet *means* something.

The idea that bisexuals are somehow half in and half out of the closet is another biphobic notion, we must dismiss the idea of that bisexuals are a half-sexuality and we accept that bisexuals exist; in effect, it *is* that simple.
It's [female bisexuality] something that's tolerated because sometimes men see it as entertaining and exciting for them," said Denise Penn, director of the American Institute of Bisexuality

Tolerated? Try appropriated.  Try attacked, try turned into something which leads female bisexuals to be attacked as faking it to get men.  Try always having to defend your relationship as real rather than 'the best thing you can do until a man comes along'.  Try being told the only reason you're with a woman is because you can't get a man - because who would choose to be gay?  Try having a man come up to you and your girlfriend, dancing in a club, asking if they can take a picture or trying it on with one of you.

Tolerated? No. Stolen, turned into something else? Yes. Having a sexuality, or in some cases the physical body of a man, thrust upon you? Yes.

Who is worse off? I don't like playing this game.  But at the end of the day, patriarchy exists, and a woman will always be lower in the hierarchy than a man, bisexual or otherwise. 

Do not tell me to be glad I'm bi because I can play straight when the going gets rough, do not tell me to be grateful for a partner who tolerates my sexuality rather than celebrates it with me.  Do not tell me it's not possible for me to be out of the closet - that for bisexuals the closet is too simple a metaphor; coming out was hard and I did it, being out as a bisexual, exists.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 It’s odd, sometimes, the ways you end up thinking about queer identity and queer spaces.

Tonight [ profile] bipboppingdays  introduced me to ‘The Aquarium’, a cabaret theatre bar.  It is populated entirely by ageing gay men who enjoy a good show tune.  Last night it also opened its doors to me, a young pansexual girl who enjoys show tunes.

My first and overriding impression was that it shared a lot in common with Kampus, the one, and only, gay bar in Lancaster.  It effectively operated a closed door policy – heavy curtains at the windows, no advertising and an attitude which meant you could only hope to be served if you were known to the bar staff as a gay, or accompanied by a regular – who must, be definition, be gay. 

One of the things Ali and I most liked about Brighton when we moved down here was that Brighton seemed to dispense with the ‘we know you as a gay therefore you may enter’ but pretty soon we learnt the elitist door policies which made Lancaster and Manchester rather tiresome in the end still existed in Brighton.  The PV and the Marlborough did not readily open their doors of their bar to the likes of us – both Ali and I were easily read as not dykes.  What we were  was irrelevant, if you’re not a dyke you’re not welcome.

Being bi, or pansexual puts you in an undefined non-space, and god forbid you are a bi or pansexual person in what is read as a heterosexual relationship because you can kiss goodbye to your identity – you are not welcome in queer spaces.

The trouble of course is that queer culture has spent centuries being repressed and appropriated by the hetero-insiders so the automatic response to anything that is other to the gay/dyke/lesbian/bear/et al status quo is hostility, rejection, distance.  And, history considered, that’s fair, but when you are a 25 year old queer woman going into a bar which just happens to feature show tune karaoke sung by 50+ gay men the instant feeling you have is defence (I whispered to bipboppingdays that I wished I was wearing a “I’m gay too!” t-shirt) and the immediate reaction you get from the regulars in said bar is suspicion.  [ profile] bipboppingdays  tells me she has become relatively well known in there by frequenting it with her boyfriend, I quipped that the same positive reaction would not be due to me had I frequented it with a female partner.  A male accompaniment allows for many gestures of inclusion in such a bar.

In Manchester there was a lesbian bar which only admitted women .  The unwritten but well acknowledged modifier being that women who the door staff deemed to be straight would also be turned away.  Ali and I would always have a moment of worry at the point of admittance because despite being in a relationship we were frequently read as heterosexual, indeed on more than one occasion we split up and accompanied dyke-identified single friends in order to ensure smooth admittance to the bar.  In Lancaster, Kampus, and it’s dark cornered clientele would actively attack those who appeared not to be gay – once I had two of my good friends visiting me from home and Ali and I sat at the other end of the pub talking with friends whilst they played pool, after about 10 minutes they hit problems as locals tried to get them off the table, and then out of the pub by making up “in this establishment x is the rule” rules, in the end the barman stepped in and told the locals to leave them alone but by that time they felt uncomfortable and unwelcome and surrendered the pool table mid-game to come and join us, and our group of queer friends sitting and drinking.  We left about 10 minutes later.  There was also a big dyke circle in Lancaster, despite Ali and I being in a publicly monogamous, long term relationship we were absolutely not invited to join certain alliances and social groups.  Indeed one of the key players in the small Lancaster dyke scene explicitly asked me whether I was a lesbian and then interacted with me a significantly less after I answered in the negative.

I think the main issue for me is that such exclusivity only really works to further marginalise an outsider group.   I never get read as gay – except by other bi/pansexual women and so I never get a blanket invitation to gay culture.  Indeed, since I have been single I tend to avoid gay clubs and bars, when I go with my male friends I get labelled a faghag and when I go with my female gay friends I get suspicious looks.   Brighton, happily, offers a range of alternative ‘attitude free’ bars and clubs where sexuality is ignored and in-betweeness is actively celebrated (please see Dynamite Boogaloo and PopKraft) but what I really want is for people to stop imposing a certain reading of my sexuality on me and to be welcomed as an ally or a friend in any of the many exclusive or closed clubs and bars.  I have several good friends who are straight who I absolutely want with me in the queer scene – they are allies and friends, and why should they be excluded from a bar because the clientele have been excluded from ‘their’ bars?

I’ve always flirted with the idea I’m non-scene, but in all honesty that is inaccurate.  I love gay culture, I adore the nuances of it and I like the sense of belonging and history one can gain from it in an often hostile world.  What I really mean by non-scene is that I don’t wish to exclude our heterosexual friends and I see no advantage of dismissing anyone who crosses categories – like a bisexual girl who likes show tunes – simply because they cannot be safely assigned a box.  Why fight prejudice with prejudice? Why turn homophobia on its head to combat it? Why scowl at girls who might be straight? Why dismiss boys who aren’t camp, or flamboyant? Why demand all girls who love girls wear a uniform of cropped hair and jeans? Why dismiss a person who identifies as queer the moment they enter a heteronormative relationship?

What are we gaining with those attitudes?  Or, more compellingly, what are we losing?  I think the answer to that is too much.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So aside from the fact what is essentially female circumcision is effectively still happening in Western medicine, now we learn some genius doctor is proving how awesome he is by stimulating the subjects he has hacked into until they can report they are experiencing sensation.

He's taking a vibrator to the clitorises of young girls, after unnecessarily operating on them so they are 'normal', and asking them to tell him how it feels.

Yes, really.

I'm just disgusted and horrified; join me won't you, read Bad Vibrations

Amusingly, I came to this link via a twitter account, namely, FEMINISTHULK, who is well worth a follow, tweet gems include;
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So, as the interwebz is well aware, Janet Street Porter is a class A prick. Her article in the Daily Mail (aka the Daily Hate, Nazi Daily and Toilet Paper) today is entitled 'Depression? It's Just the New Trendy Illness!'. Personally, I prefer to call it I'm Janet Street Porter and I'm a massive knob

It's hard to know where to begin when responding to an article so utterly motivated by ignorance, intolerance and downright stupidity, but I'm going to try.*

My family isn't so much 'touched' by mental illness as saturated in it. I try and count up the number of grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, siblings and cousins afflicted with anxiety, stress, depression or any of the myriad of other mental health issues and I very quickly run out of fingers. It's pretty much
all of us.

Janet Street Porter may be interested to hear, however, that my family are working class. They *are* shelf stackers, cleaners, care workers, caretakers, administration staff or simply terminally unemployable. Is their experience of depression, anxiety or stress any different to that of the middle class Street-Porter so doggedly condemns? No. Or, in the longer answer, yes. They don't have the ear of the media inclined towards them. They do not have the education of the people who write books (what's that, Janet Street Porter, you've written two books? Goodness, aren't you clever!) that sell thousands, they do not have the high flying careers that afford them the opportunity to talk about their depression/anxiety/stress on tv, radio and in the paper, but they do have the shared experience of insurmountable despair, blackest depressions, unmanageable stress and ultimately, the horrific isolation that is being diagnosed with one or all of these conditions and having to work through it; speaking to as few people as possible in order to minimise the outpouring of intolerance those words provoke.

I was delighted to read that depression didn't exist until just a few years ago. Presumably what I, and my relatives had been suffering until then was some sort of general malaise, perhaps a touch of ennui. Indeed I found it remarkable to discover, from Janet Street Porter's article, that depression didn't exist
at all in the sixties. I'm sure my Mother, whose first husband killed himself at the end of the sixties, will be most relieved to learn he wasn't suffering from depression as it didn't exist, no doubt he was just testing the strength of the tree branch with the rope he tied around it.

It's also been a delight to learn that 15 years ago that when my Father was forced to retire from the Police force - a job he had aspired to throughout his teens and was passionate about during it's execution, due to stress which he simply couldn't recover from whilst continuing to do the same job - it wasn't in fact stress that forced him to leave. No, as that particular condition is only an invention of the last 5 years he was in fact suffering from hypochondria! The wife and child under 10 who he placed in financial straights by his 'illness' were in fact callously endangered! If only he'd decided not to be friends with the people who were upsetting him, that would have fixed

Finally, it has been reassuring to see that had my eldest older brother been successful in his suicide attempt Janet Street Porter would have attended his funeral encouraging us, his mourning family to laugh! Because the world being rid of yet another misogynist bastard, another 'man [who has been] in charge of everything'. After all, the miserable mental state he was in, the continued non-existent self esteem that frequently prevents him leaving the house for days on end? All of that is, in her words, "
karmic revenge" on mankind.

But of course, my brother is gentle, and kind, and loving and, unfortunately, deeply unhappy. He is not a misogynist, he has never been in charge of anything, on account of being working class. He deserves none of the things the world has thrown at him. He does not deserve the chemical imbalance in his brain that foils his every endeavour. He does not deserve to die by his own hand.

And yet Janet Street Porter believes he does. And she believes I should be happy about it, she believes I should laugh.

The thing that perplexes me is why stop with a critique of depression, anxiety and stress? What about the incidence of OCD? Are all those sufferers just being pathologised for being a good housewife! What about schizophrenia? It's nothing if not an attention seeking wilful neglect of reality! Indeed, if we're going to argue that every disease that doesn't have the same rate of occurrence as a Brazilian slum isn't real then we better add anorexia to the list. Those skeletal boys and girls are just a bit too keen on exercise and attention seeking in their rejection of food aren't they!

It's perhaps rather reflective of my intrinsic belief in human compassion that I thought ‘articles’ like this were a thing of the past. I’m so, so unhappy to learn that they aren’t. Indeed the only positive I can seem to find is that I wish I was as lucky as Street Porter that neither I, nor my family or friends had been touched by depression, anxiety or stress and I could be so ignorant of it all that I could simply write it off as the new yuppie malaise.

*There have been lots of responses already in the blogsphere and in the press, all of them condemning Street-Porter as far as I can see, with this in mind I have decided not to tackle her on the 'facts' she presents, but rather the reasons the article enraged and saddened me, on a personal level
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Ellen K. Feder, 'Imperatives of Normality: From "Intersex" to "Disorders of Sex Development"' in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 15 (2009) 225-247

This article examines the reasons behind the conflation of intersex identity with homosexual identity and the inherent inaccuracies of the same.  It considers the possibilities allowed for by the endocrinological societies decision to abandon the use of the term hermaphrodite and intersex in favour of 'disorders of sexual development' or DSDs.

Feder argues that whilst both intersex and homosexual identities were 'an invention' of the medical establishment; essentially sharing an origin, their current position has been mistakenly conflated.  Their difference is, to Feder, clear: intersex has an underlying medical condition which can and does require medical intervention in order for the individual to flourish whilst homosexuality as an identity is an entirely cultural construction.

Intersex has, of recent years, become something of a cause célèbre of the Queer liberation movement.  The acts of medical normalisation practiced on intersex bodies epitomises the psychological and social normalisation of queer persons.

However, the nuance which Feder expounds her theory upon is that intersex should not be considered an identity.  Rather it is a word which signifies a range of physical, hormonal abnormalities which frequently require medical intervention.  The change of terminology to reclassify intersex bodies as having a disorder rather than inserting the individual into an identity based on physical markers is, Feder argues, an important step forward; by disentangling genital presentation from identity it is hoped that doctors will increasingly view the individual only in terms of conditions which need medical intervention in order for the patient to live a long and healthy life.  Doctors will no longer see a person who is intrinsically part of a group who need to be normalised in order to be reinserted to society

Feder identifies an essential anachronism of the current treatment of intersex/DSDs: "originally surgical correction of genitals to conform to sex assignment was thought to be essential to the development of a healthy gender identity", while this rationale was challenged and discarded, there has been  no change in treatment.  Doctors continue to 'correct' genital 'ambiguity' which can be understood as an act of 'punishing' abnormality as expounded by Foucault; conformity to social norms is so well imprinted in the brains of citizens that the only acceptable action to take in the face of difference is to enforce conformity; to exercise the same methods of normalisation on another as have been exercised on you.

By redefining intersex as a disorder the terminology no longer encourages the medical profession to view the indivdual as a non-conformist whose actions and body needs to be normalised - a patient suffering a condition like no other which justifies procedures and treatments which would be considered beyond the ethical scope of a doctor's position for any other condition - but a person whose genitalia and hormonal balance is incidental unless it is causing physical discomfort or threat to their wellbeing.  In short, encouraging them only to treat those aspects of physical health which are disordered, rather than any and every aspect of the body/identity which needs normalising,


The co-opting of intersex by queer activism as being the utopian body of a queer, gender delimited future is an interesting one, and the argument that Feder makes against this ellision of aims is certainly compelling but the arguments made through the example of the medical treatment of intersex persons are important ones.  The medical treatment of the intersex person is the physical expression of the exercise of normalising power of heteronormativity over sexuality, gender and the acts one chooses to engage in with one's own body.  Queer activism gains a nice, neat, clear demonstration of its arguments against the power structures of society although it certainly appears that in so doing they are erasing the individual experience of what it is to be the person subjected to necessary and unnecessary medical procedures in the name of 'curing intersexuality'.  The places where this merging of experience is accurate is how it reveals the way in which power works and can alter an individual's interaction with the world so completely:
"We must cease once and for all todescribe the effects of power in negative terms; it 'excludes', it 'represses', it 'censors', it abstracts', it 'masks', it 'conceals'.  In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth." (Foucault from Discipline and Punish)
Looked at in these terms, working via the powerful institution that is the medical profession intersex activists are producing intersex anew as neither identity nor pathology, but a collection of physical quirks and anomalies, some of which require targeted, impartial medical intervention.  Contrastingly, the homosexual activism has nto sought to change the essential production of homosexual as an 'other' but removed the association with it as a pathology in favour of making it an idenity.  Homosexual remains caught in the dichotomous relationship of gay/straight, outside/inside, other/normal.  One wonders how the world would look now if the core principle driving the liberation campaign of queer persons was to discard the notion of 'different' sexualities rather than request acceptance of the difference.
Feder seems to conclude that the notion of intersex as an identtiy should and will evaporate with the change of terminology in the medical establishment but then goes on to describe how the invented identity of 'homosexual' (a term, if you don't know, that came into usage 11 years before 'heterosexual' and was created exclusively to pathologise a sexual practice) has become a positive rallying point which has created powerful organisations which have a positive influence on the lives of those who fall under the umbrella identity 'queer'.  I wonder, and have no answers at all to the question, whether there is anything lost by those who have conditions associated with intersexuality by not having a shared identity anymore.  The Intersex Society of North America has shut its doors and reopened a few houses down as the Accord Alliance, maintaining the notion of a shared experience through 'Alliance' but abandoning a convenient umbrella term which people can gather beneath. Queer groups provide shelter and support from the prejudices invitied to queer folks by that 'invented identity', Persons with DSDs will doubtless suffer similar prejudice at their non-conforming bodily sex appearance and in some cases the disparity between gender identity and gender presentation.

In many ways the effect of these changes to terminology on the individual, social (not medical, I fully agree with the positive potential of the change there) level is likely to be slow to take effect, medical conditions associated with DSDs will affect gender presentation of affected individuals and whilst gender and sexuality are policed by the structures of normalising power of society variations in any individual will always be subject to negative attentions which can hinder the development of an integrated and confident identity so it seems the intersex/DSD fight is far from won although certainly the shift in the arrogant assurance of doctors forcing cosmetic surgeries on DSD cases is a great leap forward.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
A very dear friend just blogged about his response to heteronormativity and the heteronormative male ideal. It was a jolly good post, which you should read. Being just that kind of person I took one comment and blew it out of proportion, because it interested me. Instead of hijacking his blog, I decided to post it here. Apologies if this is a little jumbled, I wrote it in a remarkably short space of time and only had the ideas I express as my fingers were hitting keys, I intend to revisit some of what I've said at a later date.

"Taken on stereotypes alone, I want to veer away from heteronormative male as much as I can; it physically disgusts me."

To say one wishes to avoid a certain, stereotypical way of being implies that there is a clear and well defined 'other'. And if that is lacking, there is at least a clear way of knowing what it is one is distancing oneself from. Whilst heteronormative gender performance and relationship forms are common, and in being common feel easy to deconstruct, there are nuances which can be erased by the broad stroke of a queer agenda.

Common is often synonymous with unthinking. Understandably so when you look at the most vocal proponents of the status quo; the [hated] Daily Mail and it's readers is an example which rushed to the forefront of my mind. One also cannot neglect to mention the culture of the 'lad' and the associated press of lads' mags, the page three girl and football related sponsorship and advertising. In short, we glance at a culture which evolves without moving forward and grows via the insidious ooze of repetition and we feel we know it, absolutely. The moment we see the dragon for what it is, we believe we have seen the route to slaying it; produce a counter-culture founded on the same principles of social interaction and familial structures but subvert each of these on the individual and group level. In short, we try to queer it.

The logic behind this seems sound at first glance: why are heteronormative relationships and gender roles so common? Because the model of heteronormative relationships and gender are baked right into our culture and society, they are numerous, they are supported by every fibre of society. One of the most common, if not the most common narratives in our culture is boy meets girl. Boy meets girl. Not boy meets boy, not girl meets girl, not boy meets girl and they then meet another girl. Not any other permutation.

The effect of this narrative on the individual level is shocking when you pause and look at your own life. At the moments of uncertainty, the moments when you feel like a social retard and cling onto whatever model of social interaction you can find, you will most likely find that model is a heteronormative one. Years and years of repetition mean that heteronormativity is not just common, it just *is*. We do it because....because we do it. Heteronormativity is self legitimating; if we follow those rules things will work out. Recently, when I found myself single and entering intimate relationships with men for the first time in 6 years I reverted to what I knew; there exists, in my head and I'm sure yours, a complex list of dos and donts for interactions with the opposite sex. We may reject them, we may belittle and ridicule them, but we can all identify and perhaps describe some cardinal rules for romantic interaction. They are there, baked right in.

So, the little voice of dissent suggests, reject them! Turn them on their head. Ignore that prudish voice which tells you girls should be girly, shouldn't be assertive, shouldn' But where does that leave us? Rejecting heteronormativity surely only achieves one thing: we aren't being heteronormative. But the relationship to heteronormative remains a dichotomous one: we either do, or we don't. Furthermore, by prescribing that gender roles should be delineated, as the front line of queering culture often does, we run into language which starts boxing people up again - yes there are now more than two boxes, but are the boxes still there? It's hard to fight against a system unless you propose an alternative, it's easy to get people on side when you show them an alternative which is clearly expressed; "don't expect everyone to fit into a girl/boy binary! Let people choose their own gender identity, like bigender, or intersex, or trans, or cis, or fluid!" People can understand that, we're presenting our argument in an contained and quantifiable manner. It seems to be a step in the right direction to say "don't say two genders, say many! And here are some examples" but are we in fact aiming for the middle ground before we've tried to achieve the ideal?

To me, the place we should be going, the place where heteronormativity does not exert influence is comparable to anarchy. To present queer family models as an antidote to heteronormative family models is still to present a model. Whilst making our campaign intelligible to those we are attempting to liberate is important, we need a clearer sense of purpose. Why aim to remove heteronormative models of being only to replace them with more delineated, but still fairly concrete ones?

We need to view heteronormativity as continuous with non-heteronormative behaviours and identities. The binary of queer/heteosexual was established by a heteronormative society, why are we still playing on their terms? Let me elucidate my point of view with an example: my brother is in a heteronormative relationship, but his performance of gender is sometimes very queer. Is he playing at being non-heteronormative or is he non-heteronormative? This seems like a logical question, and one which encourages us to question what it means to be a heteronormative male. But what I propose is we don't question whether someone's behaviour is inherently heteronormative or queer, rather we ask 'why ask?' Am I a heteronormative woman? In some respects; yes, in others; no. A better question is "am I compelled to act in a certain way depending on my surroundings?" And the answer to that is 'sometimes'. In this way we can identify the places where a prescriptive, restrictive force suppresses a natural expression - and there we can target society.

In short, what if we were to fight it, not flying the opposing standards of 'heteronormative' and 'queer' but by proposing absolute freedom of expression and creating narratives about the instinctive and impulsive expression of ways of relating to each other. With a broad stroke we sweep away the dichotomy and create through imaginative desire the new system in which there is only a spectrum. Instead of the deification of the twin pillars of 'heteronormative' and 'queer' we level the ground. We don't distance ourselves from heteronormative as though it were an infectious, terminal condition but we embrace it and engage with it, forcing it to look in the mirror and see that whilst we can choose to live that way, we can choose to live slightly differently to it, or dramatically differently to it. As long as heteronormative ways of being do not continue to hold unchallenged power then there is surely no harm in associating with it, we can resist it's normalising force without needing to demolish every single brick of its edifice.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Edited to add: The verdict has now been announced and Amanda Knox has been found guilty.  Which is, I'm sure, a result of compelling evidence.  The thing that concerned me, and which prompted this post, is the fact the papers found her guilty purely because of her sexual activity - there were little to no reports of the evidence which prompted Italian authorities to prosecute her, which I assume - hope - was more constructive in the beginning than the newspaper reports would suggest, and certainly it was must have been a more comprehensive body of evidence by the end of the trial.

Has anyone else been following the Amanda Knox trial in the papers? And by the papers I mean the gossip rags.

From what I can see, the most important argument of the prosecution is that Knox enjoyed sex, was openly sexually active, perhaps even promiscuous and kept a private diary about her activities and feelings surrounding sex.  Whilst this is relevant in as much as the murder of Meredith Kercher was supposedly sexually motivated it is horrifying to see a woman's character assassinated because she had a vibrator in her bag.

I've got several vibrators.  And a load of condoms.  And some lube.  And a few other sexually weighted items in my bedroom.  Sometimes, if I'm going out dancing I take condoms in my bag.  Does this mean if someone I know or am connected to is killed in a sexually motivated crime I am likely to be implicated because I am sexually self aware?

I know finding the footing I need to be saying what I want to is very difficult on the uncertain ground of there not yet being a verdict on the case, but headline after headline proclaiming 'Foxy Knoxy' was 'always thinking about sex' or selfishly keeping condoms in the bathroom she shared with Kercher even though it made the latter 'uncomfortable' is beginning to concern me.  In what way is it relevant that Kercher was uncomfortable with Knox's sexual activity and openness? That hardly proves Knox is a cold blooded, hard arsed killer, it just means that she, like a thousand other young women, had a flatmate with whom she didn't get on and whose values differed significantly from her own.

There are, undoubtedly, a lot of peculiarities in Knox's behaviour which quite logically led the shadow of suspicion to fall on her, but owning a vibrator? Having a stash of condoms? - a stash of condoms whilst in a relationship with a man, no less. The tabloids dubbing her 'Foxy Knoxy' in the most obvious assignation of femme fatale status? Impossibly anachronistic.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
So Caster Semenya is making headlines and the internet seems to be abuzz with chatter about whether 'she is a he'.

What a horrific way of phrasing it.  In itself it immediately reveals the bias which most of the news stories seem to have baked right in.  A quick google reveals prolific use of the word 'real' and a near universal tag line beneath Semenya's name of "Man or Woman?".  The sensationalism simply oozes from the screen.

Let's talk about the real issue here: international athletics officials demands an athlete take a 'gender test' (inaccurate in itself, her gender is evidently female, what we're talking about is a test to verify whether her chromosomes are xx, xy or xxy) because she is very good at her sport and, more importantly, does not 'look' female by a heteronormative standard of femininity (A key argument in many of the articles springing up this evening).

One blog rails about the South African Athletics Federation 'failing' in its duty to verify whether Semenya was 'really' a woman.  The SAAF, however, states confidently that they were "'completely sure' that the 18-year-old Semenya is a female."[1]  'Ross' states that as the SAAF did not do a genetic test/examine Semenya's chromosomes it is "laughable" to say they were completely sure of her sex.  This argument can only ever be partially successful on the grounds that 'Ross' is not also accusing the Athletics Federation of every other country with athletes in this competition of being lax in their duty to verify the 'real gender' of their athletes. 

Athletics does not require routine chromosonal screening of all competitors.  Given the high incidence of intersex it is not impossible to imagine that there are currently, and have been in the past, many intersex athletes.  That only some are 'discovered' (and by 'discovered' I mean dragged through the papers with offensive and life changing judgements passed down on them) is not down to a fair and universal ruling of international athletics bodies but oppressively heteronormative, reactionary and deeply flawed value judgements of the 'appropriateness' of the physical appearance of individuals in relation to their gender.

This is not a blog about whether Caster Semenya is 'really' a woman or a man.  It is a blog how this particular story has revealed the broader failure of athletics in failing to include comprehensive and inclusive rules on the verification of biological sex for all competitors and the deeply flawed system (underpining this as a necessary investigation) which effectively denies intersex individuals from competing in sex segregated competitions.



askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

August 2017

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