Transphobia Wins Tropfest

As a card-carrying member of the PC Police, I’m bemused and, frankly, disgusted by the film that has won Tropfest (apparently the world’s largest short film festival). If you take a moment to watch it, you’ll notice that ‘Bamboozled’ is blatantly transphobic and homophobic. As though that wasn’t enough, its punchline involves broadcasting the victim of non-consensual sex on live TV.

Basically, a guy called Peter meets his ex-girlfriend who has transitioned and is now a man called Harry. He’s initially a bit bemused, but they go drinking together, have a romantic evening with lots of booze and kebabs, and end up in bed. So far so humourless, stereotyped and generic. But THEN, when they wake up in the morning, Harry reveals that he’s not actually trans at all and a camera crew bursts into the room with the actual ex, still definitely a woman, and they all yell and laugh at Peter, pull off the sheets and film him naked. It turns out Harry has been the victim of a Candid Camera-type show and his vengeful ex-girlfriend has orchestrated the whole thing. It’s funny, see. Do you get it? It’s funny. You know, like Helen says:


Yes, because a man sleeping with another man is the worst thing that could ever happen.

The director, Matt Hardie, has refused to acknowledge that his film is offensive and plays on intensely dangerous stereotyping, explaining that “if we’re always worried about who we’re offending, we’re never going to make anything decent… ” You know what, Matt? You haven’t made anything decent. This film has no comedic value. The “you’ve been bamboozled” trope is incredibly tired and wasn’t really that funny to begin with. All you’ve done is add a twist that plays on incredibly harmful perceptions of trans and gay people. Incidentally, the Tropfest judges should also have to answer for this.

What you’re telling us, Matt, is that the LGBT community is a joke, a punchline, to be used at will by cheap filmmakers like you. Your film is a big in-joke for all the cis, heterosexual homophobes and transphobes out there who get to laugh together at how terrible it would be to have sex with people of the same gender and, by extension, to mock those who do. If there’s an extra layer of comedic subtlety that I’m missing, please do let me know.

If you want to produce something hilarious and thought-provoking exploring the reality of LGBT experience, I look forward to it. For now, your jokes are bad, they’re harmful, and I’m offended by them. 


On the battleground of modern life

I was in one of my favourite bookshops on Sunday – Blackwell’s Oxford. It’s a multi-storey bookshop with a breathtaking book cave, and is one of those bookshops (like the LRB Bookshop) where the arrangements and suggestions themselves are intellectually stimulating.

However, the day I visited was Remembrance Sunday (which I have written about before) and I was disappointed by the sign below:

Laurence Binyon remembrance sunday veterans day poppy siegfried sassoon wilfred owen

Now, I studied War Poetry in my final year at Trinity College, spanning many of the major figures from 1914 to 1945 and reading extensively about the background of war poetry of the period, and I have only the slightest awareness of Binyon. Strange that they chose to quote him, given that the stand featured the better-known war poets and writers: Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Rupert Graves.

So why choose Binyon? For the same reason people continually choose Rupert Brooke and Rudyard Kipling as the poets of war – their portrayals of war are at best sanitised and at worst romanticised. They represent the kind of remembrance that we crave – a rose-tinted evocation of eternal youth.

Sassoon refuses us that. He rejects any romantic commemoration of the dead of the First World War. He had the following to say about the New Menin Gate memorial:

Here was the world’s worst wound

And here with pride. ‘Their name liveth for ever’, the Gateway claims.

Was ever and immolation so belied?

As these intolerably nameless names?

Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime

Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.

As for Owen, he didn’t live to see any commemorations of the First World War. He was killed, needlessly and cruelly, one week before the signing of the Armistice. But during the war his poetry deliberately opposed the dishonest portrayals of eternal youth of Binyon or Brookes, portraying instead the reality of doomed youth:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 

Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

This is the reality of how we marked the passing of millions of young men in the First World War. We may choose to “remember” them with moments of silence and beautiful music and paper flowers, but they died to choirs of wailing shells, amid the sounds of agony, death and brutality. They weren’t heroes who died for their countries, they were young men who were thrown to their deaths, in service of the military industrial complex.  A painful reality, yes, but a reality we must face for as long as we continue to engage in the brutality of mass armed conflict.

In this article Harry Leslie Smith, a 90-year-old veteran of the Second World War, discusses why he has worn the poppy for the last time, because he cannot tolerate the memory of his friends being exploited to serve the morally vapid ends of the current government:

“I am afraid it will be the last time that I will bear witness to those soldiers, airmen and sailors who are no more, at my local cenotaph. From now on, I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one’s right to privacy.

“Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.”

Online Marketing for Non-Profit Organisations

I’ve been asked me for advice on online marketing several times recently. People who are running non-profit fundraisers, organising public awareness campaigns and seeking sponsorship have all asked if I have recommendations for getting an audience online. 

As an online freelance writer with some background in non-profit communications, this kind of question is at the intersection of my interests.  Here are a few ideas I’ve gathered through my reading and work. First, two essential suggestions:

  • Generate quality, professional content
  • Invest in good communications

Before I get to those though, have a look at this video on the breathtaking growth of social media:

Every communications person or online freelance writer I know is frustrated by those who believe that anyone can manage a successful communications campaign. Anyone can try – and it won’t be as disastrous as a layperson attempting brain surgery – but outcomes will suffer if you don’t seek expert advice or professional help. Blog writing, website design and production, online storytelling, SEO – these are all skills that need to be honed.

To deal with this issue, your first option is to outsource content production. I work for Copify, which is a UK-based content provider. Essentially, you post your project and price and an online freelance writer will pick it up and efficiently produce writing that meets your specifications. This guarantees professional content, but it can also be beneficial to have someone external produce the content, as it guarantees that it’s accessible to external readers. When I worked on gender-based violence issues, I would write blog posts that were up to 1,500 words long, because I felt the need to factor in every piece of important information and every possible qualification. I have no doubt that this was dramatically off-putting to readers.

There are also lots of courses out there for social media and digital communications, if you do want to make your own way. Certainly, if you’re setting up a long-term charity project or small business this would be my recommendation. You can pay for these (though sometimes charities will get discounts) or there are free courses online in just about every area of digital media – though they do take time and commitment.  Bear in mind that the field is evolving so rapidly that you will have to refresh your knowledge constantly, through further training or by reading blogs on internet content, which is what I do.

Another common misconception is that online communication costs nothing. I can’t emphasise strongly enough that social media is NOT free.

Yes, online marketing is cheaper than radio or newspaper ads so it does afford unprecedented opportunities for communication to small organisations and dedicated individuals. However, website hosting services and social media platforms are increasingly rewarding those who spend, at the expense of those who don’t.

On Facebook (potentially your most powerful online platform) more money unquestionably equals more hits. Many of us principally disagree with Facebook policy, but that’s the way it is. Similarly, your YouTube, Twitter, website and Google content will be more accessible if you buy ad space and sponsored posts. It’s not essential, but you should bear it in mind.

Pokarekare Ana

New Zealand’s first same-sex weddings took place today. An excellent reason to revisit the breathtaking moment in April when the parliament voted to amend the Marriage Act and the public gallery burst into a Maori love song. I can’t be the only one who weeps uncontrollably whenever I watch it…right?


It’s a tough news week, but the world is often beautiful and people often good. Honest.

Dervla Murphy on gay adoption

Dervla Murphy on gay adoption

While sail-railing from London to Dublin yesterday, I read Dervla Murphy’s ‘The Island that Dared: Journeys in Cuba‘.

Discussing revolutionary Cuba’s infamous homophobia and a recent proposal to extend family rights, including adoption rights, to gay Cubans, Murphy announces the following:

“It must be admitted that I, if Cuban, would oppose the adoption clause. Growing up in the twenty-first century will be confusing enough without having unisex parents.”

Casual dismissal of LGBT rights (for the sake of the children, naturally!) is always something of a kick in the teeth. Coming from Murphy, who was widely criticised for choosing single motherhood in 1960s Ireland, the hypocrisy is especially galling. Murphy was and remains (quite rightly) defiant about her own non-traditional family. It’s so disappointing that she can’t extend so much as understanding to couples facing almost identical prejudice and intolerance.

Incidentally, her daughter Rachel (not just raised by a single parent, but brought trekking in India at five) appears in ‘Island that Dared’, aged 36 and with three daughters of her own. She seems well-adjusted and content with her lot, as the children of loving parents generally are.

Pope washes lady feet. Causes alarm.

Pope washes lady feet. Causes alarm.

This article was originally published in the very wonderful Siren. Illustration by Mice Hell

“Pope alarms traditionalists by washing women’s feet”

I laughed when I read this headline and tweeted “Have they nothing better to be alarmed about?.” I often try to copy the cool responses of real atheists to daft religious prejudice. If I was indifferent to the Catholic Church then I wouldn’t be hurt by it. Sadly, even though I’m not a Catholic anymore, I’m not not a Catholic either.

I find the foot-washing idea bizarre. While walking the Camino de Santiago I stayed in a hostel where every evening a local man washed the feet of the pilgrims. I  was so uncomfortable that I put both my feet in the basin when it was meant to be just one, the washer violently grabbed the offending foot and pulled it back out of the bowl, everyone else laughed and I got (very unfairly) scolded for not respecting the ritual.

All the same, the symbol of the washing of feet is powerful – recalling how Christ washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper, showing that he came to serve and not to be served. What the Catholic Church tells us is that  Jesus (yes, friend to sex workers – that Jesus) came not to be served by men, but to serve men.

This Holy Thursday, the ceremony took place in a juvenile detention centre on the outskirts of Rome, where the Pope washed and kissed the feet of twelve young offenders, including Muslims and two women. As the Papa himself put it:

“This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do and I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”

And the response of Church traditionalists is to express outrage and horror that the Pope has shown himself to be at the service of women. Washing the feet of priests, homeless men or male criminals displays humility and compassion. But washing the feet of any woman in the world sets a worrying precedent. It suggests that the world’s most powerful religious and moral leader might believe that women are equally deserving of Christian love and must be served equally by his Church.

The justification for only allowing men to participate in the ritual is the same as the justification for disallowing female ordination; only men were apostles and only the apostles had their feet washed at the last supper. Other true things: all the apostles were Jewish, all the apostles were middle-eastern, most of them were fishermen and probably had beards.

The Church doesn’t preclude beardless men from having their feet washed, yet it does women. Why? Because it’s an institution riven with the most appalling structural misogyny imaginable and isn’t even bothered coming up with non-ridiculous excuses for it.

A conservative Catholic commentator, Chris Gillibrand, wrote on his blog that “we will see if it is a particular case as Lombardi [Vatican spokesperson] suggests…one can only be concerned that he could be prepared to ordain women.”

I think the traditionalists are blowing this out of proportion. Francis, as bishop and cardinal, has explicitly stated his opposition to female ordination and he remains extremely conservative, despite his unusual eschewing of luxury and conspicuous status indicators. Indeed, his spokesperson has come out saying that they don’t want a theological debate about this issue, that this ceremony was “a specific situation in which excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all.” Ambivalent, at best.

However, despite all of its failings the Church has the loyalty of hundreds of millions of women and through its teaching influences the lives, health and wellbeing of those women. So, for their sake, I’m with the conservative Catholic commentators on this. As a new Church year begins, one can only hope that the Pope could be prepared to ordain women.