(Sing if you’re) Glad to be Voting Yes to Marriage Equality

I’ve been listening to this song a lot in the last week, pretty much any time a ‘No’ campaigner makes one of those comments that feels like a punch in the chest. Loudly singing along not only provides an outlet for unproductive rage, it’s also a valuable reminder of the historical context in which this campaign is taking place.

This is an exhilarating time to be an LGBT person in Ireland. After decades of exclusion, for the first time ever we have the opportunity to reach out to our families and communities, to share our pride in who we are and, together, to stand for a better future and a warmer, more accepting Ireland.

Unfortunately, a month out from the marriage referendum, I think the joy is fading from the ‘Yes’ campaign. I’m not surprised. As May 22nd draws closer, our opponents voices are getting harsher. And as ‘No’ campaigners ask ever more insidious questions as to whether we are abnormal, anti-social, or threatening to children, we are forbidden to defend ourselves with a simple truth: that those who oppose equality for LGBT people are homophobic.

Fifteen months ago, by threatening legal action against RTÉ and Rory O’Neill, members of Ireland’s extreme conservative establishment sent a clear warning to LGBT people and their allies: you are not entitled to the phrase homophobia, you are not entitled to your anger, you are not entitled to speak, or live, your truth. This has been endlessly reiterated since, most recently in the attack that’s been launched against Joe Caslin’s mural on George’s Street. The message, again, is clear: gay people should stay quiet and stop taking up space.

The worst thing is, I think they’ve gotten away with it. As LGBT campaigners we have allowed ourselves to be intimidated, we are running a campaign whose first goal is not to step on anyone’s toes. Terrified by the prospect of losing the support of the “soft middle”, the campaign has become about smiling nicely, saying unthreatening things about love, not being too flamboyant and not, under any circumstances, expressing anger against what Mary McAleese calls “the architecture of homophobia”.

To paraphrase Panti herself, instead of striving to be the being the best gays possible, we’re checking ourselves, trying not to “give the gay away”. And to me, that feels oppressive. What’s more, it loses sight of the concept that has, for nearly half a century, been at the heart of queer politics — Pride.

Right now, all the talk seems to be about what will happen if we lose the soft middle and, as a result, the referendum. But why not turn that on its head? If we convince ordinary, decent voters with an inspiring vision of the society we’re trying to create, we’re looking at a huge victory, a loud and clear statement that — just two decades after homosexuality was decriminalised — shame no longer has a place in our families, our communities, our politics or our society.

There has, rightly, been a lot of focus on today’s young LGBT people and on future generations of children who deserve to know love and acceptance. However, we also speak for another silent demographic, the generations of gay people for whom leaving the closet was never an option, the people driven from the country by violence, hatred and criminalisation, and the hundreds of gay men who should be with us today but fell victim to the AIDS epidemic, often stigmatised by their communities and left to die in isolation.

For me, and for many young gay people, that past is almost unimaginable, but its legacy continues. Just as future generations deserve our hope and our support, past generations deserve our anger and our pride. This is a fight, between silence and speech, between hatred and love, between shame and pride and, in the most severe cases, between life and death.

We have one month left. Let’s make it a party.

Want to show your support for the Yes Equality campaign? Click here to donate or here to find out more about volunteering.

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Ireland, I owe you an apology…

Since leaving Dublin a year ago, I have checked out of Irish politics. My engagement has declined gradually, but it’s approaching the point where I couldn’t cast an informed vote in a General Election and before long it will hit the stage where I would struggle to pass Junior Cert CSPE.

My checking out isn’t purely due to laziness or apathy, though that may play a part. Whatever Michael Noonan says about young people making the lifestyle choice to emigrate, when I realised that Ireland and I were done, I was standing outside Leinster House the night that the Savita story broke, with  a crowd of other people who were devastated at what the country — our country —had come to.

Being Irish is hard. It’s hard to watch government fob off the issues you care most about, because they’re scared, or because they’re prioritising the next election, or because they suddenly need to gather more information, or because everyone’s tired of referendums anyway.

But the outrageous treatment of Rory O’ Neill in the last fortnight has reminded me that the voices that oppose change in Ireland are not only scurrilous and spiteful, they are frighteningly well-resourced and not afraid to threaten, to silence and to intimidate. And the national broadcaster, as it still has the nerve to call itself, has caved and suggested that these are the voices of democratic debate.

So I’m sorry that I left, but now I’m back. Not back in the country, but back in the discussion. I know it won’t have much impact, but surely we need every voice we can get.

Media preview

Homosexual sex is a crime in India. Again.

What a terrible day. An emerging superpower, home to well over a billion people, taking such an appallingly retrograde step. My thoughts are with the Indian LGBT community.

NDTV reports:

The Supreme Court today said gay sex between consenting adults remains a criminal offence, dealing a severe blow to the largely closeted homosexual community in India.

The top court today said that the Delhi High court’s 2009 order decriminalising homosexuality is constitutionally unsustainable.

Activists say the onus is now on Parliament to legislate on homosexuality and repeal Section 377, a British pre-colonial era law that banned “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Conviction carries a fine and a maximum 10-year jail sentence.

Although prosecutions have been rare, gay activists have said that the police used the law to harass and intimidate members of their community.

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:

AND NOW, YOU SLEPT WITH A GUY! Hahahahahahaha

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. 

Language We Use, Prejudice We Practice

I read a terrific article on Women Under Siege this morning, on the appallingly high levels of sexual crime in Egypt, which are predominantly reported as sexual harassment or street harassment, but should be described as sexual assault or rape. Is the distinction that important?

“Well, yes, actually”, Bates argues.  “It matters because there are such clear links between the language we use and the prejudice we practice.” 

This has been a big issue for me lately. So many of the phrases we thoughtlessly use are deeply patriarchal. I use many of them myself. There are more of these kinds of sexist linguistic ticks than any of us could list or explain, but I’m going to discuss three glaring and particularly bothersome examples here. If there are others that particularly bother you please feel free to discuss them in the comments.

1. Having the balls: 

See also: Grow a pair, grow some balls, ballsy.

People use this phrase all the time. Congratulating Andy Murray for having the balls to win a tennis match, criticising Nick Clegg for lacking the balls to take strong political stances. Horrendously enough, I was recently asked if I’d ever have the balls to commit suicide. The world and its mother is mocking Naomi Wolf this week for bigging up the vagina and its emotional and spiritual significance. But none of us really seem to question that in our language and so in our culture strength, nerve, daring and power depend on having testicles?

There’s no evidence of the veracity of the following Betty White quote, but I’m going to use it anyway. And by the way, I will be reviewing ‘Vagina: A New Biography’ in the next few days.

2. Man up:

See also: Don’t be such a girl, be a man.

I have used this phrase far too much, for far too long. I liked to believe I was using it ironically, but what does that even mean? I used the phrase to tell people that they should be less feminine, less emotional, less childish. More like men. Those tough folk who don’t feel pain. The strong half of humanity.

This one feeds into a social narrative that’s hugely harmful to men and women alike. In Michelle Obama’s DNC speech (which I loved overall) she told a clearly heartfelt story of her father, who struggled through MS to provide a better life for his children than he’d had for himself. Why?

You see, for my Dad, that’s what it meant to be a man.

Not a good parent, not a good American, not even a good man. That’s what it mean to be a man.  Moments later she told an equivalent story about Barack Obama’s grandmother and the adversity she faced, in the form of systemic sexism:

Barack’s grandmother started out as a secretary at a community bank…and she moved quickly up the ranks…but like so many women, she hit a glass ceiling. And for years, men no more qualified than she was – men she had actually trained – were promoted up the ladder ahead of her, earning more and more money while Barack’s family continued to scrape by.

It reminded me of a great story I heard from a friend. Her parents got married in the late sixties (after her Dad came back from Vietnam) and quickly became very comfortable financially. Why? Because her mother earned more than her father, so when they got married his employer significantly boosted his salary to ensure that he was the primary breadwinner in his family.  They recognised that the attitude was wrong, but took the money anyway and as an impoverished young person I can’t blame them. But he got that extra money ahead of someone else, someone like Barack Obama’s grandmother.

Michelle Obama is not sexist. And I’m sure that her speech was exhaustively tested and they factored in that a few feminist bloggers somewhere would take issue with the use of the word man and decided it was worth the hit. But I think it’s really important to recognise that the “being a man” rhetoric reinforces the glass ceiling. Men got promoted above Obama’s grandmother because of what it meant to be a man, because they had to be providers and head households so they needed to be paid more.

It takes a huge amount to actually dissemble that particular prejudice, largely because so many people still believe in the manly ideal. However, I can stop casually using a phrase that encourages it.

3. Suck it:

See also: Suck on that, suck  my balls, suck my dick.

I cannot count the number of times that these phrases have left me close to tears. They are horrific. At best, they make it degrading and a sign of weakness to perform oral sex on a man, which is outrageously sexist and homophobic. At worst, and far more often, they are sexually violent expressions used in angry, threatening contexts. This phrase is used so frequently that I’m sure people will want to tell me to calm down and not make such a big deal of it (or they would if those kind of people read my blog!) In fact, I’ve spent the last few days delighting over Tina Fey’s wonderful memoir Bossypants and she uses the phrase twice in the book. I also heard it used in the final of an all-female, very feminist-orientated debating competition and seemed to be the only person who responded negatively. What that suggests is that we have been frighteningly desensitized to the use of these absolutely horrific expressions.

Let’s look at why they’re so horrific. Someone does something to offend you. You angrily suggest that a fitting punishment for them would be to suck your penis (whether or not you have one) because that would be a demeaning and painful thing for them to have to do. That’s an invocation of sexual assault as deserved punishment. That’s a frightening manifestation of rape culture.

In a previous post about language I quoted Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals and the quote is so perfect that I’m going to use it again.

“…the limits of my language which are the limits of my world fade away on every side into areas of fighting for concepts, for understanding, for expression, for control, of which the search for the mot juste may serve as an image. Everyone, every moral being, that is every human being is involved in this fight, it is not reserved for philosophers, artists and scientists. Language must not be separated from the individual consciousness and treated as (for the many) a handy, impersonal network and (for the few) an adventure playground. Language, consciousness and world are bound together, the (essential) aspiration of language to truth is an aspect of consciousness as a work of evaluation.”

“There are such clear links between the language we use and the prejudice we practice.” Changing the way we speak in small ways is simple, we can all do it, and it will change our political, social and lived reality.