Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Are white men our biggest threat to free speech?

Free speech, free speech, isn't it great? Free speech, free speech, it's really first rate. Free speech, free speech, something else that rhymes with great.

I am somehow found myself, over the course of the past week or two, caught up in one of those endless tedious arguments about a lot of different things, that started as one thing and turned into something else entirely.

At first, it was a feminist outcry over my university producing a statement about why they were celebrating International Men's Day which claimed men experienced sexism in recruitment because there are more female admin staff employed there. They wrote a letter which was published after the university had cancelled their plans to mark the day. Then when the university cancelled it, it became a debate about men's mental health. Then a vile toe-rag known as Milo Yiannapoulos wrote an article linking a suicide to the university's cancelling of the event and called one of our women's officers a murderer on his MRA-jizzstream of a Twitter account, so it became about harassment and safety. And then after Milo was invited to speak at the university, we got embroiled in the issue of no-platforming. Finally - well, yesterday at least - it was announced that Milo's speech had been cancelled, and free speech has now become the overriding discussion.

(I'm not going to go in to all the reasons that this week has been a complete shitstorm, from the university's bizarrely-worded initial statement to their retraction, which implied the letter took issue with issues of men's mental health rather than the other parts of their post. I'm not going to talk about tactics of running to the media with an incorrect version of the story. And I'm not going to talk about the issue of homophobic, misogynistic or transphobic gay men, who seem to think that being homosexual makes them immune from criticism of their views on gender or sexual minorities)

So what I learned this week is that feminists are responsible for ruining free speech. It's now illegal for cisgender white men to voice their opinions without being shouted at. People of colour are threatening our indelible right to say whatever the fuck we want. Trans people are going to get you lynched for saying ~perfectly reasonable~ things, like that they aren't people.

Obviously, I disagree with my political opponents, but they also prove my hypothesis: the biggest threat to free speech is white men.

When oppressed, minority groups threaten free speech, they do it by saying things that the prevailing discourse don't want to hear. We threaten free speech when we talk about the harassment we face. We threaten free speech when we call people out for being racist, or sexist, or transphobic, or giant piles of toxic diarrhoea. We're destroying indelible human rights when we tell someone they're wrong for thinking we don't exist.

The truth is, we are disenfranchised. We have no power, except the power to shout.

No cisgender person has ever been killed for saying hateful things about transgender people, and yet those same thoughts are responsible for the deaths of literally hundreds of women and non-binary people every year.

A feminist society at university complaining about a misogynistic man is not a threat to his free speech, but if the same man incites such harassment and abuse against them, then he is most definitely a threat to theirs.

In Minneapolis, the Black Lives Matter protests don't mean that white lives are therefore insignificant, but they sure as hell can be shot for believing that.

People who think abortion is murder literally murder actual people for carrying them out.

Obviously, when I say "white men are our biggest threat to free speech," I am being polemical. I am exaggerating*. Not all men, not all white people, etc. and so forth. Except for the fact that yes all men, and yes all white people. The power structures in place give the ruling majority the dominant voice, and to deny that is to prove you are incapable of being self-aware of your privilege.

Free speech is about literally everyone being able to say what they want, so long as they aren't inciting hatred or politically charged attacks. That means you have to respect your opponents. And if you think your opponents aren't people, of course you're not going to give them the time of day. You might even dox them in public and think that's perfectly fine behaviour - because if unsavoury people just happen to see them, that's not your problem. It's not your fault if they are sent rape and death threats. From your perspective, their very existence threatens your freedom of speech, so I guess you don't care if your actions threaten their existence.

What one of my Facebook friends wrote seems to ring true now: "I believe in free speech. It gives me a voice. As a woman of colour who identifies as LGBTQ and Disabled I have been silenced numerous times from men in my family, waiters at restaurants I've been at and men at this university."

It is a favourite tactic of people on the right (and on the left, too, whenever people further to the left of them) to cry "you're threatening my free speech!" whenever their views are challenged. Bullying, threatening and coercion in response to holding specific views is terrible on both sides of the table, but only those on the right make a point of holding views which actively want to damage and limit the freedom of speech. If what you say makes other people feel too scared to speak freely, then you are the biggest threat there is to free speech.

*This week, I was accused of having no sense of humour, and of being unable to see exaggerations, hyperbole or irony. This was levied at me after Milo Yiannapoulos was invited to talk about men's mental health and the problem of male suicide at my university, and I screen-capped and posted a tweet in which he suggested people not following his Instagram should kill themselves. Apparently I did not understand it was a joke. Funnily enough, I knew it was a 'joke'. I just thought it was tasteless and ridiculous for anyone who claims to care about the epidemic of young male suicide to make suicide jokes on his Twitter. Is that such a controversial position?

Friday, 23 October 2015

The missing transmen of TV.

Tatiana Maslany, I love you. You are wonderful and gifted, a charming and charismatic actress and the star of one of my favourite television shows. You're the heart of Orphan Black, which is consistently such a fantastic and intelligent shows... and yet, I have a complaint. Not about you, per se, but about the clones in your television show.

I have a complaint about Tony Sawicki.

Tony is a fantastic character. He's got a criminal record and seems far less trustworthy than our morally ambiguous heroine, Sarah Manning. He's feisty and flirtatious, and wields his crooked smile like a weapon. And he's trans, bucking the trend of his family of clones by not being mirror images of the others. The girls can freak out over their identical faces whenever they meet each other, but not Tony. Strong and stoic, he's already different from them, and he wears his difference with pride.

My problem is not with Tony: it is with the absence of him. For Tony only appears in one episode in Season 2 of Orphan Black, Variable and Full of Perturbation. That's the lowest appearance count of any clone who isn't currently deceased, and so one of the only transmen on television is cut out of the show entirely except for one token appearance, which could cynically been seen as existing just to highlight how inclusive and progressive Orphan Black is. Tony appears in a whirlwind, shares a brief kiss with Felix, then disappears from the narrative and is promptly forgotten about.

I won't even make my usual gripes about a cisgender actor portraying a transgender character, as Tony's status as a clone means it makes sense for him to share an actor with the others. That's how much I appreciate Tony. He's an example of positive representation of a transperson who actually has a character that revolves around something other than his gender: he's not a patient saint whose presence makes others better people, nor a walking ball of angst. He's Tony, transient and flighty, and we're just getting to know him when he leaves.

Tony's absence from the show is symptomatic of the missing transman characters in the rest of television, and pop culture at large. Our representations of trans* people are Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner. In the UK we have Rebecca Root, Bethany Black and Paris Lees too, beautiful women who don't or can't speak for whole swathes of the community.

Non-binary or genderqueer representation in the media isn't much better: I can think of Jack Monroe, Laurie Penny, Miley Cyrus and Ruby Rose, all AFAB people with fabulous stories but whose stories and struggles are still not the same as the AMAB people who don't connect with their gender. The only one I can think of is Andreja Pejic, who first appeared in fashion magazines presenting as a male model in the women's fashion industry, though obviously this is a false recollection as she is actually a transwoman.

So what I want from Orphan Black is for Tony to come back, to be more than just an interlude in the tightly woven plot. And from the media in general, I want more transboys, and kids who are neither male nor female. Give me a Project Castor clone who wears dresses and identifies as they; give me men cross-dressing as women with no shame or transmisogynistic jokes; and please, for the love of all that is holy, give me a transman portrayed by a transgender man actor.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gender trouble.

(Oh look, a "sneaky" allusion to the famous Judith Butler book of the same name! How many people would have got this reference without me pointing it out? It's too late now, your time to shine is over, yes my blog post is using the name of a book published four years before I was born. Think of it as inter-textuality. So post-modern!)

Gender sucks. This is an opinion but also kind of a fact. As my non-binary squeeze asked me a few days ago, "what is gender?" And I kind of floundered and offered a few responses - it's a set of social behaviours, it's to do with human conditioning, it's innate, it's learned, it's a spectrum, it's all performative actions - but none of them seemed to really work in the face of their gaze, their cool almond-shaped eyes looking up at me, ringed with delicate eyelashes and deep thought.

I have to have some notion of gender, right? It's something we all have, but not something that gets critically considered unless you or someone you know isn't cisgender - that is, having your gender identity and your physical sex match up. I am not cisgender. I am a demi-girl, which is one of those "tumblr genders" that people seem to think doesn't exist. But also being pansexual, I'm used to erasure.

Being a demi-girl, to me, means I have some level of detachment from being feminine or female. As much as I am female, I am also not-female. This element of not-female isn't male, either: it's just not really anything, maybe agender or genderqueer (i.e. having no gender, or being somewhere in the middle of the indiscrete mass of gender identities) but not specific. Being a demi-girl, for me, means some kind of disconnect between my XX-chromosone, supposedly 'female' body and the expectations placed upon me for being a girl.

For all my behaviours - my empathy, my need to please but also challenge authority figures, my rebellious streak, my wanderlust, the Maths papers I bailed on - I worry whether they were truly my choices or made by the environment I grew up in, which necessarily includes the patriarchy. I am good at remembering names, but is that because of the burden of femaleness impacting my thought processes and others' expectations of me since I was a kid to the extent that it's become part of my personality?

I have too many unanswered questions about this, so identifying as not-a-cis-girl helps me with it. Being demi- helps me feel more secure in my skin, helps me challenge notions, helps remind me that acting typically feminine does not make me a stereotype, that girly is not synonymous with weak, that internalised misogyny is not my fault but that of the system I was born into. (It's like one of my agender friends commenting how accepting her gender identity as agender helped her be more comfortable wearing dresses and skirts: to paraphrase, once she accepted she had no gender and thus nothing to lose from not being 'feminine enough', the act wearing feminine clothing didn't carry the same problems and was liberating.) I have no problems with the undeniable womanly curves of my body, as a binder would probably damage me too much without doing anything to sort out my hip-to-waist ratio that proves I endured female puberty - but being unhappy in your body is not a prerequisite of any gender identity whatsoever. Dysphoria is not essential to the trans or non-binary experience.

You may feel this exact way and yet still identify as cisgender, but guess what? That's your prerogative. Like not every person who is attracted to people of more than one gender has to identify as anything other than how they feel, nobody's going to try and make you have a gender that's not what you identify as. (Shout-out to all the straight guys in the back I've slept with! Guess what? You've fucked a non-binary person! If that makes you feel uncomfortable then that's your problem.) At the same time, there are options.

Gender isn't a fixed construct. We get to make up our minds ourselves. There are more words than there used to be, but there's also much more awareness and discussion of feeling like this. Feeling confused over my gender isn't a new phenomenon for humanity, and not for me - I've been a conflicted tomboy all my life, stealing my brother's girls but pretending not to like pink to keep my brand consistent - but I have the language now to express it. Technically I am trans, in that I am not-cis, but I don't see myself in that umbrella. Rather I am in the non-binary camp, of people whose gender is not either girl or boy, yes or no, pink or blue. How is increased language and awareness a bad thing?

And because of all this, and because of understanding gender as a spectrum before I even worked out where I was on it, I define as pansexual. I am attracted to people, and their gender is irrelevant. Call me bisexual and prepare for a long discussion about this.

I still don't know what gender is. For my enbie beauty (whose non-binary label they wear as a hesitant badge of pride), it's freedom to dress as they feel on any given day without giving a fuck. It's not worrying about not being served in Betty's for wearing a skirt and not having their identity questioned on the days they wear combats. It's something that makes them happy in a world full of insecurity and uncertainty: the knowledge that they are not boy or girl, and that it's okay and really most people don't care other than to compliment them on their banging Hello Kitty dress.

Dating my enbie (non-binary person) brings its own string of challenges: it's made me aware of how I use language so much more, the arbitrariness of gendered clothing, the constant weighing up of whether to confront catcallers or not, and the total shittiness of men in women's clothing being a "joke", like femininity is funny and shameful.

Wearing female clothing brings you into a female space regardless of biology, and on the streets that can mean harassment and danger as others feel entitled to look at you and make comments. My enbie happens to be 6'2" and wear stubble with their flowing red and brown locks, which raises even more confusion from passers-by. There's not been much actual street harassment, but there's so much whispering and confusion, comments to friends, wolf-whistling. I ignore it, burning to confront harassers and educate them about gender; I can't imagine how it makes my other half feel.

Neither of us are out to our parents, and there's something depressing about that. If we can't be who we really are round our families for fear of them not understanding - or worse, laughing about it, or reacting badly, or cutting us off - then living authentically gets that much harder,

Maybe we all have gender trouble. But if you learn anything from this, it's that your cheap laugh at the expense of a muscled dude in a red dress in the Fallout 4 E3 previews is a bullet shot to the hearts and souls of gender non-conformers around the world. Laughing at a man wearing a dress says you think women's clothing is embarrassing, and any feminist worth their salt can see why that's problematic. So, I will fight tooth and nail to keep my non-binary friends and kin safe, even if that sometimes means the best way to fight is through stony glares and silence as we walk on in our swishy blue skirts.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Be happy, go think about your ex.

In continuation of my perfectly contradictory way of being, the happier my relationship is, the more I think about my exes. For possibly the first time ever, everything is functional. There's no communication issues, no co-dependence, no unequal states of affection or distance that tests commitment. What this proves to me is that my sadness over past loves is unrelated to my current relationship. It's not that I am "not over" my exes: it's that I will always be sad about the way things ended.

I think part of the reason we can become so bitter to our exes is that, for a time, they were so important to us. The gap remains between what they were and what they are now. Once, they were close to us. They slept next to us, spoke to us over every little thing, held our hands and occupied our heads. But after you break up, they can become strangers.

While I've never had a shouting-till-dawn break-up, there's been a mix. The ones where you stop responding, the ones where you promise to stay friends, the ones that distance tempers into being not quite so harsh. My exes are all on my Facebook, but I wonder if they remember. When we pass by without making contact, do we both think back to the days we said we were happy? Were we really?

None of this can be verified against another's experience and we are all different. Even though it happened more than two years ago, I can still get sad about being broken up with over dessert after going to London aquarium together. I feel guilty for dumping a long-distance girlfriend over text when I was 16, and it makes me sad we don't talk any more. Clinging to the past is toxic, but there's a melancholy in realising these people that were so close once are now nothing.

Losing touch scares me, How easily we can be forgotten, If we are nothing but the sum of the relationships we make, what does it say when they can be forged and broken so quickly? We are all fragile. And I guess that goes for friends, too: the people I know who are graduating used to be so close to me, and are now gone. Yes, when we became friends they were sweet, and perhaps they became less so the better we knew each other, but that doesn't stop them from being close.

We forget too many people. Getting left behind is awful. This is all stuff we know, but don't want to consider. Maybe that's why I think so much about the people I had so much almost-happiness with. Things aren't meant to last: all things end. But it's not really so bad to think about the relationships that did. They had meaning too, and their status as passed doesn't negate the value they had at the time. That is not to say I react healthily: I bottled up my angst at someone who hurt me which ended in wanting to punch them. How are you meant to respond to that, when you also know their own ex had physically abused them? I compete with others on arbitrary scales to measure happiness, and I am aware of my bizarre jealousy over who moves on first and how easily exes seem to get over things. My best friend is technically my ex: he has moved on, and I think I'm losing him now to a girl the year below me. That hurts more than anything, as our friendship survived my multitude of inadvisable relationships and torrid flings: it's upsetting that one person can decide to curtail things and they just end.

Whatever. I think and write about this well-trodden ground far too much. Go stroke a puppy or something.