Identity Politics – Respect, Equality and Justice Is Not Dependant on Biology

Let me start by saying that I have very little experience of trans-gender issues. I do know women for whom this is a direct and daily issue, but this gives me no special knowledge or insight on what it is to be a woman who was born or identified at birth as male. So the only perspective I can write from is my own, but there are excellent blogs and articles out there which will help you understand this issue from a trans-gender perspective. (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-birchill-bullying-trans-community or http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2009/12/cis_feminists_s for example).

So if in writing this I say something which offends, then please point this out to me.

On my twitter timeline this morning were many people who rightly (and for various reasons) found Julie Burchill’s(1) article today to be offensive, upsetting and the kind of bigotry which both the Observer and Guardian should know better than to allow. I like the people I follow on twitter – they care about justice and equality, and treating people with respect. It is why I follow them. So in part, my post today is to say to them – you are not wrong in how this made you feel. It upset you because it was upsetting, they were horrible words, the tone was vile and I know that you all care about getting how we treat each other, right.

There has been plenty written about the Suzanne Moore article (and departure from twitter (2) ) which kick started this. So what I also want to speak to is the central issue of equality and respect – because I want to know why, and when, either one of those things  became so bound up in biology that the giving of it became conditional on whether or not your genitals passed some sort of acceptability test. Honestly, when other women do it too, I want to pull my hair out!

I struggle sometimes with the Left – despite my politics being more than ever-so slightly left wing. I struggle with feminism too (I always have). So when they both – as they sometimes do – very publicly argue within themselves about something so extraordinarily simple (and it is) I wonder if I should say anything at all, or say nothing and hover in the background, perhaps occasionally handing out tissues.

Because to me, it’s obvious. (And if that comes across as being patronizing or arrogant then I am sorry, because I do not mean to be).

It does not matter (not one jot) who you are, where you are, what gender you are, what gender you have been, whether you are religious or not, or poor or not, or a child or purple, with antennae. If you are being oppressed because of the gender you are, or the gender you were, or your race or your class or your age – or your antennae – then WE, the human race, should acknowledge, apologise for it, and stop it from happening again.

I know that it is simplistic to say so. I am not naive. So when the Left and feminists (both movements born from the need and desire for equality) act and speak as though there are better fights to win, or that one person’s injured feelings are more important (as with Julie Burchill today) – I remind myself (both in my day to day life and by checking in with those I follow on twitter) that there are so many good people, who get it. Who actually actively seek to learn about it if they don’t. Who try. And who care. You inspire me.

I remind myself that are people whose oppression has not yet been recognized or respected or heard, and who continue to live their lives as they feel called to – women who became women because that is their identity, yet live with indifference at best (and hate, at worst) from other women. Your courage humbles me.

And to the Left and those well known feminists who fail to see that what has happened or what they’ve done is so wrong, who do not get why this matters – I say this:

It matters because if some of us are not equal, none of us are.  It matters because if we cannot treat all with respect, then we failed to be respectful. It’s important because if victories are won when this is unaddressed amongst ourselves, then the victory is hollow. And it shames us all when one person’s equality comes at the expense of another.

(And if you wonder how as a Christian it can matter at all when so many in my Church fail to get their head’s around homosexuality – let alone trans-gendered women and men – I choose to take some things very literally. The bit about ‘there is no male and female'(3) in Christ for example. And breaking the chains of oppression, because God meant to set us free from it, since oppression is so much the work of man.)

UPDATE:  The Julie Burchill article has been removed from the Observer website and an apology has been issued by the Editor. 15.01.2013

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/13/julie-burchill-suzanne-moore-transsexuals

(2) http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/01/11/guardian-columnist-suzanne-moore-leaves-twitter-following-transphobic-row/

(3) Galatians 3:28

(4) Isaiah 58: 6-12

Pineapple Head – She Was My Sister (Part 1)

A few months ago I was watching Russell Brand and Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens* debating drugs policy on BBC Newsnight(1) .

I do not find Russell Brand very funny as a comedian – I think he is over rated and bland. But when he is talking about addiction – that’s a whole other kettle of fish.  This guy is a recovering addict and knows what he is talking about. He’s been there, in the corner of the room, shooting it up, smoking it up and drinking it down in a decade of addiction –  and a decade of recovery. Whilst his evident intelligence might often be missing from his comedy, when he talks about drugs and drug addicts, it shines through.

Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens, on the whole and particularly on the subject of addicts and drugs policy, is a moron, and I cannot quite decide if this is because he is simply wilfully stupid on the matter, or just plain heartless. To him, addicts are simply selfish people making bad choices, unworthy of any consideration.  They choose their misery, so he chooses not to care.

I cite the debate (a generous term) between these two men back in August because, after almost 2 years, I am starting in some small way to come to terms with the death of my sister – the ‘Pineapple Head’ of the title of this piece. She was 37 years old when she died, the mother of 2 beautiful girls; she was in possession of the dirtiest laugh, with a filthy sense of humour to match it. She was generous, her temper mercurial, tactless yet filled with compassion with those worse of than herself and desperate to be loved and to give love in equal measure.  She was gorgeous and unpredictable, loyal to a fault and nobody, before or since, has ever held me to the standard to which she held me – often angrily, but always with love.

She was also a morphine addict and had been for the best part of 2 decades when she died.

My sisters’ particular addiction was prescription opiots – she was chewing down up to 15 Oxycontin tablets a day when she died, her brain so ravaged that she was suffering seizures several times a day. Her bodily functions had become so severely affected that she needed help to get out of bed and be taken to the toilet. She looked as though someone had blown her up with bicycle pump, and her speech was no longer intelligable. She dribbled.

I won’t pretend that she was easy to love at the end; she was a bitch as often as she was a pitiable child, frequently savage and frightning when conscience, manipulative and sly. The nerve shredding, distorting fear that we were losing her often sank in to anger – anger at the addiction, at Pineapple Head for being an addict, for making our lives revolve around the addiction too. And then, when death claimed her at last, there was relief.

Yes, relief. The sudden release from that endless vicious fear is like opening a door on to a sudden rush of cool wind after a long, hot day. No more drama. No more nights waiting for a call from the police because Pineapple Head had been picked up from some hospital or chemists in some other part of the county in her endless search for the drug that claimed her. No more carrying her urine soaked body up stairs to the bathroom to get her clean, and get her to bed.

Release for her – peace at last. No more fear. No more misery. No more of the prison that is addiction.

Her favourite scripture, (for she had a faith – though ill defined) was from 1John 4:18

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (NRSV)

Towards the end she would ask me to read that over and over again. At the heart of it all, you see, was fear – fear drove her, fuelled her addiction, distorting everything, her view of herself most of all.

My sister – she of the filthy laugh and the generous heart – was not the person Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens would tell you that she was because he never knew her. He passed his judgement on one part of her life and without a thought would have cast her down still further into the fear which ate her away.

It may have been some months since Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens made his savage, judgemental, insensitive, thoughtless, stupid, crass, ill-informed, idiotic, moronic comments on Newsnight – but I think I have calmed down enough now to tell him where to shove it (in a relatively diplomatic way).

 

*I will only allow Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens to be referred to at home in this manner. It is mandatory, and failure to use the qualifying ‘Bloody’ results in a fine.  Or at least the withdrawal of cake.

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lvd7f (10/08/2012)

Emily Dickinson – Engima and Expression

Poem is often a balm to me – whether it be the in the poetry of well crafted song lyrics, the sonnets of Shakespeare or the quirky off-kilter world view of the wonderful Emily Dickinson, who has long been one of my most favourite poets.

She never saw the world the way she was expected to, and never underestimated it either.  Poetry has always been the most intimate form of self-expression, yet there is a glorious engimatic quality to Dickinsons’. She created her own language of expression, was secluded yet dramatic, and her perceptions were as sharp as they were colourful. And she never, ever conformed. This is one of my favourites:

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity. 
Emily Dickinson