Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender

Really, very good stuff..

Spider Circus (and other stories)

Content warning: Cissexism and bioessentialism

 

Former Reading:

Once again, there are plenty of people who’ve written about this before me, from their own lived experience or from another position of greater knowledge. Please check their work out and don’t just take my word for things!

The Biggest Gamete as Troll-Bait

Bilaterally Gyandromorphic Chickens, and Why I’m Not “Scientifically” Male

13 Myths and Misconceptions about Trans Women: Part One

13 Myths and Misconceptions about Trans Women: Part Two

Un-gendering Sex: A feminist project?

Biological Essentialism: Can We Not?

Biology is not destiny. When I was first becoming interested in feminism, this was one of the truths that seemed to be self-evident. No-one – man, woman, or any other gender – should be socially limited, or classified, by what their body could or couldn’t do, by how their physical form was constructed.

I still hold to this. I thought all feminists…

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Your Words are as Dust – My Response to the House of Bishops

I am a Christian and a member of the Church of England, and today saying that is to acquaint myself with people who do not, or will not, or cannot accept that a deep and committed love between two people of the same gender is equal to love shared between a man and a woman.

The St Valentine Day announcement by the House of Bishops, which manages to both diminish and belittle both our LGBTQ clergy, and supposedly ‘welcomed’ LGBTIQ couples, is causing, and will cause, tremendous pain. It will place an impossible burden on our LGBTQ clergy who are single but long for a loving and committed relationship. It will make the lives of those who are in a loving and committed relationship a needless and painful struggle.

To those outside of the Church, it will again be interpreted that the Church of England do not believe that God loves equally, or places as much worth on, the lives and ministry of all its clergy.

That it did so wrapped up in the context of ‘the offer of [the Gospel] life in all its fullness’ and the calling ’ to love one another as Christ has loved us’, and spoken on a day meant to celebrate love, made the life giving and loving words of the Gospel as dust in our mouths and ears.

So now there is hurt and anger. And bewilderment. Life has not been given. Love has not been spoken. The Gospel has again been interpreted to protect man made traditions.

So to my brothers and sisters in Christ this morning who now carry this burden and this struggle, my prayers and love are with you today, tomorrow and through the many days and months to come until your lives and ministries are treated with equal regard and respect by our church.  You have my solidarity.

Sometimes I am Rage – Sometimes I am Grace: My Feminism and the Myth of Shared Girlhood

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  ~ Vivian Greene

For those few of you who follow this little blog, you may have noticed an inconsistency in what I write (as well as in how I write), particularly about feminism: sometimes I write from a place of grace, and plead to my fellow white cis feminists to listen, to open up our minds and ears to different ideas and perspectives -and perhaps even grapple with the idea that our over loud voices could be stilled in favour of women whom we have helped to silence.

At other times I have been angry, and have felt the need to push back at what has felt like a movement which constricts us all with its demands to conform to a single homogeneous type, which forces a false sense of unity, and that can seem only to celebrate individuality on the surface – which brings me to the subject of ‘shared girlhood’.

It’s sounds like such an innocuous phrase. It’s really not.

My own premise is simple: I do not believe that holding to a notion of ‘shared girlhood’ is required to be a feminist, and feel that my own feminism is the richer for not believing in, or holding to, such misplaced ideology.

It really doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that the lived experience of my girlhood was not the same as the lived experiences of young girls in India, China or a dozen other cultures and countries, and young trans*/transgender girls around the world – and frankly was not the same as the lived experience of most of the young girls I grew up with. Growing up with MRKH I am sure will have meant a girlhood very different for those who have that condition, to my own experiences growing up with endometriosis and adenomyosis. Whilst still at junior school, one young friend struggled with the early development of her breasts, and 9 is a young age to require adult bra’s. None of us knew what she felt – how could we? We were all still at least three or four years away from even needing to think about such things.

The lives of young girls everywhere are rich and varied – each story that these different experiences speak of brings some new, brighter, better understanding of who we are. In the tears, in the joys, in the struggles and the victories of those stories there is an abundance of strength and wisdom, some of which can be shared ~ but some of which should be shared only with those who have a similar story to tell.

The reality of perpetuating some idea of one experience of girlhood shared by all is so easily seen in what happens when someone dares challenge the needless dogma we white feminists so thoughtlessly push. Let me be clear – wanting, and needing to know that we can share our experience with someone is a good and human thing.

Erasing someone else’s experience and trying to force yours on them, is destructive and dehumanising.

A little background. An excellent blog by Black Girl Dangerous hit twitter late last year called ‘The Myth of Shared Female Experience and How It Perpetuates Inequality.’  I really suggest that you read it, firstly because I am not going to quote from it and also have not had permission to do so.

And the first reaction of a white woman to it? Yes, you’ve guessed it – the white woman took upon herself to tell the black woman why her feelings and opinion were wrong. Via the hashtag #sharedgirlhood it should have become clear very quickly that whilst white cis women were saying that shared girlhood was real and needed, women, trans*/transgender and of colour were loudly saying otherwise. And perhaps not surprisingly, those women who would insist that trans*/transgender women should essentially drop off the face of the planet (or at the very least, stop breathing) used the conversation as an excuse to once again abuse and negate those women and their lives.

Even less surprisingly, the receipts from the ensuing mess were collected by a woman of colour – in this case the excellent Flavia Dzodan: you can read that on her blog here.  (Oh, and whilst you are there, read the rest of her blog too because it is brilliant and you’ll get an education).

We cannot ignore that women are saying that they do not feel their girlhood is shared with all girls everywhere, we cannot watch how it inflicts pain and hurt on other women – and yet still insist that shared girlhood is both real and vital to the dismantling of the patriarchy. It’s exactly like sticking your fingers in your ears and going ‘la-la-la’ at the top of your voice.

But there is something else too – as I was scrolling down through the conversation there was this from @Artemissian.

I’m personally deeply troubled by how some seem to define “girlhood” in terms of oppression? Does this mean that w/o oppression…

we’re no longer women? No! We still are. I feel that when #sharedgirlhood comes to mean just & only #sharedvictimhood we might…

…be internalizing the definitions of womanhood that the kyriarchry enforces, & give up our right to self-define who we are?

It articulated some of my other mis-givings, and  highlighted a further problem. Some white cis feminists push the idea of shared girlhood because they believe we all in some way share the experience of living under patriarchy, and by treating our girlhoods as a shared experience we are stronger in the face of it against the patriarchy.

When in fact the opposite is true – n0t just for each of us as women white or black, trans or cis, able bodied or differently abled; shared girlhood is just another tool to take away our right to self define.  And as a movement, that does not make us better or stronger, but weaker. A movement that is incapable of celebrating the individuals within that movement will founder. A movement that does not recognise the individuals within that movement will not succeed in empowering and improving the lives of everyone it seeks to support.

Oh… the frustration! I can see how glorious it could be.

And so oft times I rage, and also love with all my heart. And in the midst of the storms that occur as we struggle to understand, and grasp, and better and change – I will embrace the thunder. And dance in the rain.

I would like to thank both Flavia Dzodan at Red Light Politics and Alicia (@Artemissian) for allowing me to link to, and quote, them.

Confessions of a Borg Drone – Shedding My #liberalwhitelogic

Seven_of_Nine
Seven of Nine from Star Trek Voyager

Here’s the thing about The Borg (and if you’re not a Star Trek fan or a sci-fi geek and you don’t get the reference, here’s a link to a nice little précis) which I have lately been pondering on – they are a pretty decent parallel for Liberal White Logic.

Liberal White Logic has many sects and many schisms within those many sects – in the secular variety there is Conservative Liberal White Logic (sometimes self-referred to as ‘compassionate Conservatism‘); there is ‘Liberal’ Liberal White Logic; there is Feminist Liberal White Logic; there is Social Justice Liberal White Logic.  You get it in religion too – the Everything-Should-be-Nice-for-Everyone-Have-Cake-and-a-cup-of-Tea-Anglican-Liberal-White-Logic is the one I am most familiar with of course (and I’m really am going to have to find a shorter name for that).

Whatever the superficial differences, certain key traits mark out Liberal White Logic in all it’s guises (and vices):

  • Magical Intent
  • Colour Blindness
  • Self-Delusion
  • Assumption
  • Appropriation
  • They are bloody everywhere

The Borg had all of these things (and I realise that with at least one of the above points I am likely to be considered stretching it a bit but hey, it’s my blog and I’ll stretch the point if I want to).  You see the thing is, in the context of Star Trek the fictional science fiction programme, the viewer looking from the outside in has no problem in distinguishing The Borg as the ‘bad guy’, even if you feel a degree of pity for the individual drones whom you know are often there against their will.

The Borg do not merely invade other worlds – they eat them up and absorb that world in to itself until there is nothing left of the world that you might recognise of it. The Borg absorbs, assimilates, those who were once individuals until there is nothing of the individual left and there is only the collective Borg. The Borg want everything because The Borg assumes all things belong to it – because The Borg seek ‘perfection’ (and in some implicit way must therefore be perfect).

The viewer sees this and knows that it is wrong. The viewer has no problem recognising this as evil.

In a feminist context, let’s consider Eve Ensler for a moment – and purely for the purposes of this post, cast her in the role of the Borg Queen. No doubt some might consider this a bit harsh, but it seems a reasonable way to illustrate the point, particularly in the light of the whole appalling ‘Congo Stigmata’ thing. (For a whole host of other reasons why Eve Ensler is such a good example of the worst kind of Liberal White Logic, I would suggest you read Lauren Chief Elk, Mikki Kendall and Prison Culture to get to grips with what I am referring to. In fact, read those first because these are the voices of the women most directly harmed by all this).

Ensler is quite possibly the pinnacle of the worst that our collective Liberal White Logic ends up producing, although she is certainly not unique:

Magical Intent:

Like many ‘charitable’ white people, Ensler has (or appears to have) good motives: she wants an end to violence against women in the Congo, and has spent time with these women. She seems to have concern for their welfare. Her intent seems good; and because her intent is good, this surely means that she is beyond reproach or incapable of anything that might be deemed colonial or racist?

Have you read those articles yet?  If you have, can you see the problem? Can you see the appropriation, the centring of herself, the consumption of these women’s lives for her own benefit?

Colourblind:

I don’t doubt for a moment that Ensler would tell you that she doesn’t judge someone by their skin colour and would certainly tell you she is not racist. But when she is appropriating and consuming Native women’s struggles, the pain and horror of the women of the Congo – do you think she is recognising their individual and communal histories and cultures? Do you think she is respecting these when she takes it upon herself to ‘speak’ for them? Do you think a white saviour is not racist?

Self-Delusion:

Okay, I will admit that I am not convinced that Ensler suffers from self-delusion: call me a cynic but given how much and how many have questioned her methods, her tactics, her language, her approach and her overall behaviour (and have done so directly), I am not convinced that Ensler is at all naive about what she does.

But if she really is that naive, if she really does not understand the impact her actions have upon the women who must deal with these things – the she fools herself to a massive degree, and in order to continue to do so has to shut out not just the voices of those who seek to question her, but her own voice too.

Assumption & Appropriation:

These two really do go together – as I have already touched on, our White Liberal Logic is as imbued with colonial assumptions of superiority as the right wing demagogues we more normally fool ourselves in to associating with such thinking. The only difference is, we think we have to ‘save’ People of Colour, directed by the narrative that People of Colour are too starved, war-torn or poor to save themselves.

It is barely a step from that to the appropriation of the cultures (honestly do you, or does someone you know, have a ‘dream catcher’ in their home?), and the consumption of their heritage and their lives.

photo of Eve Ensler from the Guardian.(photo from The Guardian).

Honestly, if we – if Eve Ensler – were fully recognising the humanity of People of Colour, would this be happening?

They’re Bloody Everywhere:

One Billion Rising is almost upon us, again. There really will be millions (though maybe not a billion) ‘dancing for justice’. Millions who have not questioned Ensler’s organisations Liberal White Logic – millions who think that getting up and dancing is what justice will look like for the indigenous women whose own day of vigil and remembrance for the missing has been appropriated by ‘V-Day’. Millions who have perhaps bought into Ensler’s assertion that her own cancer was the result of Congolese women ‘entering her’, who have not questioned her desire to watch a Congolese woman’s surgery and then talk about that anonymous woman in terms of ‘holes’.

But this is the thinking I was spoon fed and weaned on, like every other white western woman: this seemingly well meaning, liberal ‘hippy’ thinking which is as guilty of the colonial, oppressive, self-centring racism that those right wing bogeymen of old are.

We white liberals look at them, and pat ourselves on the back for not being them. 

But we are. And we are everywhere. We are the Borg – resistance is futile and you will be assimilated.

Or maybe not. Maybe we will question ourselves more closely – maybe we will take a long hard look at what we’ve believed without question before, maybe we will stop thinking it is always about us and step back. And listen. And hear. And recognise – and learn.

On Philip Seymour Hoffman and Addiction: If You Don’t Know, Don’t Speak – A Plea.

Yesterday evening, news came through that Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor who brought Truman Capote to life in 2005, was found dead in his apartment. The cause of his death was immediately widely circulated due to the insensitive and careless behaviour of one person and consequently, because people who know nothing of the horror of addiction seemingly cannot help themselves, there poured forth with stupid and callous comments about it.

Those who know don’t speak; those who speak, don’t know.  This is so often the case:  people who do not understand the pain, brokenness and fear which drove the addict to partake of that first drink, or stick that first needle into their vein, or swallow 1 more painkiller than might have been otherwise necessary find it too easy to conflate this with the drink, the needle or the pill to which the person is addicted.

For my family and I, because we have lived the reality of this, we will be avoiding the news and social media today. It will be a necessary act of self care – 3 years ago today my sister died. She too was an addict.

I am not planning on re-visiting that day, in words here on this blog, not for a while – whilst the difficulties of her life and the grief and sorrow caused by her death are wounds which continue to heal every day, the day itself is something I am not ready yet to re-visit. But it means that I have some appreciation of what Hoffman’s family will be dealing with – and for them, it will be in the glare of the public gaze, surrounded by a thousand hungry paparazzi.

For their sake, I ask only this: if you do not know about addiction, or choose not to know; if you have not fought that battle or stood alongside a loved one as they have done so; if your opinions will blame and shame the addict and their family, or if you would even have the temerity to stand before an addict and their loved ones and tell them that there is no such thing as addiction – please, I ask you in the name of mercy and compassion: don’t speak.

Keep your thoughts to yourself, save your opinion for a different time and another place. You do not and cannot what Hoffman’s family are dealing with right now, or what they have already lived through. You cannot know how your words will pour acid on their gaping wounds and deepen the pain that was anyway coursing through their hearts. You do not understand how your ignorance stamps upon their already volatile sense of themselves, nor grasp how your foolishness is like a bouquet of nettles thrust upon them, where only the most soothing oils should be poured.

In the name of mercy, in the name of compassion. Don’t speak. Don’t say a word. Please.