An Open Letter to My Sisters and Comrades in the Labour Party: We Must Have ZERO Tolerance For Transphobia.

Dear Sisters

The years of Tory Austerity have been hard on us, and as our election manifesto in June made clear, it is our BAME, LBTQIAA, working class, single parent, disabled, older and refugee sisters, who have borne the worst of the ferocity of that fiscal ideology.  The body count we can barley comprehend – in domestic abuse victims who might have got out sooner, had there been enough refuges – and their children, whose lives have yet to bear the bitter fruit of abuse; in disabled women and WASPI women whose bodies have been worked to within inches of their graves; in refugee women and asylum seekers, criminalised without trial and locked into a brutal prison-like system such as we see at Yarls Wood; in our LBTQI youth, in their homelessness and isolation.

These are just some of those who desperately need an end to Tory austerity, its patronising lip service to feminism. Poverty is sexist, and the Tory party declared war on the poor a long time ago.

We desperately need refuges so that victims of domestic violence can get away from fatal violence safely. We urgently need a properly resourced, properly funded NHS to address issues like the lack of resources for people with chronic illness’ such as MeCFS, Fibromyalgia and Lupus, which disproportionately affect women – and pre and post natal care that leaves those with post-natal depression so isolated. Womens’ basic, simple needs are actively being removed, leaving an ever growing list of need and damage in its wake.

We need humane responses for women refugees; we need to tackle the sexism and abelism that is systemic in our responses to disabled women and the financial poverty that is killing them.  We need to respond to the sexism and homophobia that LBT girls face, and talk about why the suicide rate for teenage girls is up. WASPI women deserve and need pension equality.

For women vulnerable for infinite reasons, and suffering much of the worst austerity has to offer, there is already so much work to be done, to roll back the damage and the violence of Tory policies. And yes, many of those women, who need some of these things too, and more, are trans.

Some of us believe that proposed amendments to the GRA – which would make the process of self-identification easier for trans people – is bad for women. So virulently do some believe this, that trans inclusivity is leading to a small but vocal minority among us, to go so far as to leave the Labour Party and work with more Conservative/conservative politicians to prevent those amendments going through, and to encourage the same from other women. Previous alliances with conservative press saw a barrage of anti-trans hit pieces in the Times and the Daily Mail.

Maybe you have never had to consider the needs of a trans person – or never needed to think about it. Maybe you look at these ‘identity’ wars and think that it has no bearing on everyday life. Perhaps even, hopefully, you see the active inclusivity of trans people that the Labour Party is modelling (often imperfectly, and we must be prepared to own to those times), is simply the humane, socialist, obvious thing to do.

Or maybe you really do believe that we should pathologize and ‘other’ trans people; maybe you really do believe a ‘trans cult’ is ‘transing our children’, and believe trans children should be subject to conversion therapy, to ‘re-train’ them to a more hetronormative identity.  But do you really believe that so much, that you would be willing to actively prevent women from having a government that would seek to redress some of the very great harm that Tory austerity has done us? Just because some of those sisters helped out of poverty are trans?

I am sorry to see that some think just that – so strongly, even, that they would advocate working with those whose political ideology is actively harmful to women.  What price then, that hate?

Let us always stand in solidarity with each other: cis or trans gendered, Black, brown, white, Muslim, Christian, atheist, gender non-conforming, gender fluid – we are varied, we are limitless, and we are women: and we are always much stronger in solidarity together, than we are apart.

Let us always have zero tolerance for all forms of hate, and reject any narrative that would demand us be afraid of some of our sisters.

We have more that unites us, and we are for the many, and not the few.

Thank you.

 

 

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Poem: cister, sister

You say hello to someone

and they say hello to you

You ask them what their name is

– and they tell you.

Why do you shake your head and say

“No I refuse to use that name,

I think I have a better name for you”.

 

Excuse me whilst I say this

But that’s really very rude,

for I’m sure that you would much dislike

the same thing done to you.

 

 

Now captors language you do speak

and most often too, repeat

when you justify the right

to segregate these ones from you –

“separate but equal” is fake news;

why choose you, now, to disbelieve

that this indeed, was always true?

 

It has always been identity –

seeking dominance and primacy –

that drove us, as it drives us

to the depths of cruel brutality,

White toxic patriarchy with which

we sought equality;

and now the captors tools are gripped,

tight gripped by both our hands –

this is not where we should be,

or where truth stands.

 

Though you would have some of

my sisters be transgressing nasty misters

and some brothers be

some poor unthinking fools to be relieved –

 

I’ll not keep my hand

where this harm be left to stand,

nor seek to keep

that separate state

we seek to leave;

 

No, saviour I am not

and will not be,

but liberations’ maiden I’ll embrace –

and fear not to speak loves name

or show God’s grace.

 

 

 

The Feminism and Queerness of Jane Austen (1): Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice

This is the first of two essays about the feminism and queerness I find in two of Jane Austen best loved novels – Sense and Sensibility, and in this one, I will be exploring the character of Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice. I write this because apart from one 6 year old tumblr post which notes it, I have never found a discourse on her character that fully recognises that Charlotte Lucas is aromantic and asexual, and, therefore, queer. However, I must also own that I am neither aro or ace (aromantic or asexual), so if you are, and you are reading this and I’ve got something horrendously wrong – comments are open for correction!

 

‘Oh, Lizzy!  do anything rather than marry without affection.’ – Jane Bennett

Pride and Prejudice is a story about marriage, and the business (the social and financial contract and exchange) of marriage. In telling the story of the Bennett sisters, and Elizabeth particularly, it examines a society largely dependent on mens choices, the ramifications of their choices, and how those choices affect women’s ability to be married well (within that context), and married safely. It is set in a society where ideas of romantic love are at odds with the reality of the business of marriage.

As with Sense and Sensibility, it is also a story of the relationship between sisters (both filial and by friendship): but whereas the Dashwood sisters in the former lose their social station with the death of their father, the Bennett sisters social station was lower than it might have been; not because of their Father (for their Father was a gentleman) – but because of their mother who whilst not poor, was not of equal rank to Mr Bennett.

The Bennett sisters lived in the tension of a rigid class system, and their options for marriage were defined accordingly. On the one hand, despite their Father’s rank, no male heir meant no financial status. Inheritance laws meant that their Fathers estate would be entailed away. On the other, they were socially defined by their Mothers’ lower rank and status, and, therefore, of very little social worth.

The situation of Charlotte Lucas is very little different. She is the daughter of Sir William Lucas who, whilst titled, earned his peerage after becoming mayor – he was ‘new’ money, too new to be considered in the same class as sons of historical inheritance. Whilst he has amassed a respectable amount, his fortune is not a large one. Unlike Mr Bennett, however, he has a son to leave his estate to, but his fortune is not large enough to leave a dowry for his daughters. Charlotte, who is around 6 years older than her friend, has limited options: she must marry, or she will otherwise be a burden to her parents, and then her brother. She is respectable,  but she has neither dowry, nor handsomeness enough, to tempt men of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy’s class.

By every measure, she is the match of her friends’ wit and intelligence. She is jovial, wry and not averse to chiding her friends sometime heated convictions:  she teases Elizabeth in front of Mr Darcy, goading her into playing the piano and singing. And she scrutinises Elizabeth’s thinking, eliciting from her headstrong friend an admission that it was Mr Darcy’s comments on her appearance that set her mind against him. She is remarkably self possessed and resourceful: she actively and cognitively chooses Mr Collins, recognising an opportunity in her friends refusal of a man neither holds in particular esteem.

Charlotte see’s the same vanity and pomposity in Mr Collins that Elizabeth does, she also sees what Elizabeth would never have found: an opportunity to be herself; for though Jane is Elizabeth’s’ social conscious, it is Charlotte who is Elizabeth’s intellectual ally and female mentor.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”

There is an essay in the New Yorker by Joshua Rothman from 2013, on the ‘problem’ of Charlotte Lucas’ choice of husband, which I found whilst looking for essays on this subject. It explores the idea that Charlotte Lucas does not seem to get the happy ending in marriage that Elizabeth and Jane do. It examines some of the many layered reasons for Charlotte’s decision, giving a nuanced look at both her pragmatism as well as the economic and social context in which the characters lives are led. And it respects how crucial Charlotte is, not just in the context of the relationship with her friend, but how critical she is to the narrative of the story. However Rothman, like Elizabeth, see’s Charlotte’s choice through the lens of Charlotte’s intellectual intelligence, and in relation to her husband’s stupidity. He concludes:

There’s something miraculous in people—a resilience, an infiniteness—which can survive constraint, transformation, reversal, and anything else imaginable. The thread doesn’t have to be broken. This never-ending pulse of personality is what gives Lizzy and Darcy the courage to change, and it’s what makes it possible, I think, to hope for Charlotte’s happiness. People, Austen seems to say, are not so easily dominated by their own lives. Charlotte will always be a little apart from her circumstances. Her life will go on. – Joshua Rothman (emphasis mine)

In ascribing Charlotte’s choice as Elizabeth does, he sees only what Elizabeth sees – a constraining circumstance, albeit one that her abilities and capabilities would undoubtedly allow her to survive. But it is not this that sets Charlotte apart, and it is not this which allows Charlotte to see what her friend – and Rothman – cannot. Charlotte does not view marriage to Mr Collins as a constraint – indeed nor does Elizabeth find her friend constrained when she eventually goes to visit her now married friend. She finds instead that her friend is building for herself a life where she can spend the majority of her time most contendly.

Charlotte, who had once declared that it would be better not to know very much of a spouses faults before marrying them, knew completely what Mr Collins faults before making her decision.  Unlike Elizabeth, this did not prevent her from seeing marriage to Mr Collins as an opportunity. She is older, wiser than her friend – she has learnt the value of reflection.  Charlotte is thus able to use all the faults of the man to her advantage; his obsequious devotion to Lady Catherine de Bourge, and his vanity: Elizabeth finds these being actively, yet carefully nurtured. So that whilst being “Mrs Collins” brought certain obligations – it also afforded ample opportunity for the quietness and solitude that Charlotte sought.

“I see what you are feeling” Charlotte says to Elizabeth: and she does – she see’s her friend’s perplexity. But she is also 6 years older, and that age gap is crucial; Charlotte has already seen friends of her own age navigate the same system as they and their parents sought the best possible contract – and men sought out suitable wives, and preferably ones with money. Charlotte is older than Elizabeth, because the disadvantage of having neither dowry or looks has left her behind. Yet she has forged a close relationship with Elizabeth and in no sense considers herself superior. When she says that happiness in marriage is as much, if not more, to do with chance, those words are borne of experience, of seeing other friends whose romantic hopes had come face to face with the reality of marriage.

“I am not romantic you know. I never was. ” Charlotte Lucas

Charlotte is far too honest to say that to her friend simply for reassurance. She says it plainly, without excitement, for she is speaking a truth of herself she might otherwise not have voiced: she simply does not harbour romantic longings. She enjoys, indeed revels, in her friendships where there is intellectual equality, but has no need of romance to satisfy her emotionally. She, alone of her friends, can see more clearly that for all the emotional longings for romance that are satisfied in marriage, there are as many are not: yet she is never disturbed by this. She knows it as simply as she knows that the sun will rise each day.

And whilst Jane is chosen by Mr Bingley (who was then dissuaded by his sisters and Darcy), and Elizabeth is chosen by Mr Darcy, (whom she initially rejects) – it is Charlotte who is able to create the opportunity to make her own choice.  Charlotte does not choose Mr Collins because she aromantic and asexual, but being so affords Charlotte the opportunity to choose marriage, without sacrificing her sense of self. She does not encourage Mr Collins to be away from the vicarage because she is aromantic and asexual, but because she has no need of romantic or sexual intimacy, she can create space where she can live very much as she chooses. Indeed, in a world where women have no real autonomy, Charlotte is a compelling character: one who is able to create space to live according to her own needs.

In understanding Charlotte as aromantic and asexual, we meet more fully a remarkable woman – and we are no longer perplexed, as Elizabeth was, by her choice. Instead we find someone whose choice neither constrains, nor defines, her; and in a world where men’s choices dominate, we find a woman who chooses for herself, and remains herself without compromise. And instead of the hope of a happy ending for her – we have the assurance of it.

 

 

 

Poem: Upstanding Up, Standing Upside Down

I looked at it backwards

or perhaps as a mirror would,

though not would I claim to have

perfect my view –

there is too much to see that I

would not see

for me to say that

and to have that

be true;

 

But I am not her who suggests

that her theory is

somehow the only

and, exclusively

true –

I merely suggest

though you think me in jest

that the platform you

stand on is placed

to allow you

to see what you’ve heard

is the only good

view;

 

I merely invite you

– though not to delight you,

or have you drawn in

to some sticky old web –

to consider that we

are unable to see,

this earth in its whole

and the whole of its globe –

not even if one had the

vantage of space –

for your eye would not travel

the whole of its grace.

 

But you could perhaps travel

o’er more of its face.

 

Oh I see you still

claim I am in the wrong

place.

But I did not speak here

to drag you from

that space –

just to invite you,

and perhaps to remind you

that neither should you

claim to see,

what no human eye

could perceive.

Rejecting the Narrative of Fear In Trans Exclusionary Feminism And Christianity

Because the woman that I am is, amongst other things, a Christian, a feminist, a socialist, and bi (for all of those things play a part in making me the woman that I am), and because I am also very well aware of the wealth of information there is to support the lived experiences of trans people, I have no doubt at all that trans women are women, and that trans men are men. I believe them.

This acceptance is not universal in feminism – or Christianity; and as the pace of change in the improvements of trans peoples rights seeks to push forward, the old maxims about equal and opposite reactions ring true with conservative mainstream media outlets (as well as the more ‘liberal’), offering national platforms to feminists whose praxis is trans exclusionary.

This is about domination.

Trans exclusionary praxis seeks the right to debate trans peoples existence, because this is about domination within community; a forced debate in order that trans women are excluded and trans men are reclaimed en masse as butch lesbians, even if there is no consent from trans men for that. It is by definition therefore, about existence – because life becomes (or is maintained as) merely existence if you cannot, are prevented from, and actively oppressed from, articulating your identity.

That is not what liberation looks like.

That is what makes white supremacy so dangerous, because it is about the domination of identity. And in seeking a similar domination of (cis normative) identity, this wound we repeatedly inflict on trans people (and ourselves, though that is less the point) is, by definition, violence. Part of the praxis of white supremacy is that it, too, is trans exclusionary.

This is not what justice looks like.

Trans children are depicted as in thrall to a cult, their naked bodies used without consent in pursuit of that narrative. Crude caricatures of bearded men in floral frilly dresses are spun into the narrative – to describe other women in clearly derisory terms, as part of the dismissal of trans women’s identity as women, or to populate fearful, direful tales describing terrifying scenario’s, each more frightening than the last.  How do cries for the right to consent to what happens to our bodies, become warped into the justifying of the commodification of children’s bodies, and the assumption that our children’s sexualities are ours to decide?

This goes beyond a difference of opinion. For fear is to do with punishment: we punish children whose bodies and realities transgress some arbitrary norm. Conversion therapy becomes an acceptable option because our children frighten us, and fear is also to do with control. Trans men who refuse an identity they do not want are punished with banishment to a purgatory ‘non-state’; trans women who refuse to be labelled delusional are punished endlessly, with some feminists spending their entire energies on seeking them out to actively deride them, in accordance with the very standards of ‘femaleness’ that they have rejected for themselves. Because that which seeks to dominate, seeks to control.

When the foundation on which patriarchy was laid – (that females made the babies and must therefore be controlled) – is being defended, in order to exclude trans people, I wonder what people think liberation looks like. When non-conformists become heretics, and the pious claim dissenters will lead you from the one pure truth that will save you – claiming ‘it is the other guy’  keeps us all in a weary, endless dance, where the melody of freedom is replaced with discordant notes that sing of the lure of dominant jubilation.

Liberation doesn’t stand ready with a padlock and key, waiting to shut the door on those who haven’t made the list – a list which protects the conservative,  for the appeasement of the status quo and in service of the already powerful.

When you are looking at a trans person, what are you seeing? Another human being? Or are you thinking about those caricatures, gross in their dripping pathologizing grimness, urging you to mock – or urging you to fear? When the fears that trauma left you with are leveraged, to verbally portray trans women with same urge of exaggeration that is seen in anti-semitic and racist imagery we once thought part of our past – are we using real trauma to justify the blood lust that such narratives tempt? Should feminism becomes another prop that keeps the gates up – or the means by which we tear down the gates? Is equality only defined in terms of equal ownership to the keys to the gates? Because do not forget, those gates are the means by which we are kept shut in, as well the means by which we shut others, out.

Fear is to do with punishment. Liberation is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: The Woman I Am Is A Feeling Too

 

I’m still learning to name

who I am,

who I’ve been

to recognise self and

name all of me;

all that was odd and

jumbled up

like glob-knot of string

I still carefully unwind,

the revealing it brings;

 

 

I learnt to find self by

the gifts that I got

from hands that were worn

but made tender with love;

and tender hands taught me

that what I was given

was not to store up

in some

quiet private heaven –

Justice to fear won’t give in,

and liberation welcomes all in.

 

And it doesn’t reduce us to things

And it hopes and it loves

and it never gives up

and all of the feeling I bring

is part of the woman I am

and I sing

we are bodies

but we are not things –

stop pinning it down like

a butterfly’s wing,

as if that in itself is all that defines

what makes a butterfly

grow wings

to fly.

 

the poet can speak as she finds –

and weeps,

when justice of feeling is robbed,

and speaks liberation in captors retort;

the cage was undone,

but the chain?

the chain

was hung loose round our necks,

once again.

 

 

 

 

On Naming Male Violence and Conquering Fear. (CN)

Let’s name the problem: the problem is patriarchy. It is patriarchy which enables, perpetuates and encourages male violence. Over eons, woven through systems political and religious, and whilst sometimes having to give a little ground in order to otherwise resiliently maintain the status quo, it has woven into our cultures, our systems and our communities the entrenched idea that men will always, and can only ever be expected, to ‘give in’ to the dictates of his primal, masculine, violent nature. And most especially of all, in terms of his sexual desires and appetites. 

It’s how White Supremacy took back the White House.

At every occurrence of male violence (in all its forms), society draws on a constant stream of excuses and justifications, and they are repeated ad nauseam –  as an unthinking reflex, because essentially it is: we have been taught to provide the patriarchy with excuses, even trained to perform what is needed so that those who benefit the most from patriarchy, can thrive accordingly.

It’s why all of those excuses blame the victim.

And women over hundreds of years have heard every conceivable variation, in all its forms, of those ‘reasons’, which are excuses. And we internalised all of that.

When you live under a patriarchal structure, you internalise the oppression: and we examine more, or less, of that internalised patriarchy, depending upon our ability to survive it.

 

It was the patriarchy’s choice.

It wasn’t a red mist, or a *loss* of control when he punched and hit out. It was control he was exerting, not losing.

It was his choice.

It wasn’t anything you did, or did not do; or said, or did not say; or wore, or any other  single thing about you.

It was his choice.

He didn’t do it because he felt overcome. He did it because it gave him dominance.

It was his choice.

And he didn’t do it because he had a penis.

He did it because he chose to.

And that was not *your* fault. It was his choice. It was his fault. He chose. And he chose it, because the patriarchy wants him to have those choices.

 

He didn’t do it because he had a penis. A penis is just.. muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. A penis doesn’t choose.

We want justice – so we have to start overcoming some of our fear. A penis is just… muscle, tissue, blood, nerve endings, skin. Blaming that won’t give us justice.

Because I want him to take responsibility for his choices. All of them. Because that’s justice. Because they said it was our fault. And it wasn’t. It was theirs.

I want justice.

I want that for my children, for my sons and daughters and my children who are exploring which of those they are; I want that for for my sisters, my brothers, for my ancestors; I want that for a future I will never be a part of.

We dream of building a world where we are safe, free, and have nothing to fear from a man’s choices. 

I know we’ve been taught to make excuses. We’ve been taught to blame ourselves. We’ve been taught to feel sorry, to forgive, and have pity, but not to expect justice. 

Patriarchy is a choice.

It needs to be binary to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Pastors, Roy Moore and Matthew 5:29

 

I have never in my life so far, or even once since becoming a Christian, advocated, believed in or approved of anything that looks like the authoritarian practice of ‘shunning’ or disfellowshipping, as it is practiced in various Christian traditions. It’s not an Anglican practice, and my understanding of it is very much in the context of it being practiced abusively by those who have more power, over those who have less. I have witnessed it toxic effects up close, and I do not believe it is healthy practice.

And then I saw that more than 50 Christian pastors had publicly given their support to Roy Moore.

*************************************

Christians have never been the most cohesive group of people. Even in the very earliest days of the church, Apostle’s quarrelled amongst themselves, and barely had Jesus ascended from Bethany before the church started writing women out of its formation, leadership and history. Arguably, you cannot trace the evolution of Christian tradition without acknowledging the fundamental role that it’s many splits played, not only in its differing theologies, but in the way that it sees itself, and how it portrays itself to ‘the World’.

Many of those splits could be considered a moral necessity, yet we must also remember the fullness of context: for example whilst Martin Luther was anti-semite,  a legacy that the Protestant church has yet to truly and properly acknowledge, Bonhoeffer’s split with the German Lutheran church helped grow a legacy of theology as resistance, as well as liberation.

Neither is the Anglican and Anglo-Catholic wing of the church without considerable failing – the role the Anglican Church played the treatment of Native peoples at the hands of her missionaries, for example, rightly remains an issue of contention with Indigenous people today .

But the Church is not without a model for corporate repentance, for there are moments in history when the body of Christ must reflect on its corporate sins and repent – as the Church of England did 10 years ago, when reflected on how it backed the slave trade, something which it acknowledged and apologised for. Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, said this:

“The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

The corporate Church across all of its traditions, however, is yet to truly repent for its systemic failure to address its sexual sins: long before those 50 pastors decided to support a man whose personal morality is at the very (very) least questionable, the Catholic Church and Protestants both have come under scrutiny with regard to the abuse of children by its priests and pastors. So the response from  some wings of the Church to the accusations against Roy Moore, whilst immensely disheartening, was sadly unsurprising. Only a day or so before the open letter of support was published by the Alabama Pastors, Franklin Graham Jnr, had tweeted his own support for Roy Moore.

Those 50 pastors represent a small-ish but hardcore group of Christians who assume that a powerful, influential man is more likely to be the victim in the situation than a child; who are so in thrall to a phoney gospel that they will leave the widow and the orphan, and the violated child, out in the cold. It does not matter that I am from a different Christian tradition – it matters only that the body of Christ “..exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors..” – and, indeed, our peers.

Children, in this instance young girls, were used and abused yet these 50 pastors hear those cries and they react first with paranoia, and suspicion. If we will know them by their fruits, and their fruits are as rank, as bitter and as spiritless as this – what place exactly do they have in the Body of Christ?  If abusers are welcome at the table but victims are not, when is it time to cut out the eye that causes us to stumble? Had we already gone past that point when the Church gave slave traders a theology to justify their trade?

I don’t have answers: I do have anger, and hurt and frustration both as a victim, a woman, a survivor and a Christian.Was Jesus not explicit enough when he warned us not to make these little ones stumble? Was he not severe enough we he said it would be better to drown, than to cause such stumbling to a child?

Or will centuries have to pass before we take responsibility, before we humble ourselves again before God, before we say sorry and repent, before the victims receive the justice, and the peace, to which we were called to live out in the first place? And is it time to gouge out the eye, if it means we will see more clearly?

Who Are Your Acceptable Victims and Who Do You Choose to Believe?

It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.

But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.

I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after.  I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such.  Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).

When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating.  And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.

You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.

But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.

Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.

(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).

Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is.  And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.

**********************

When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed.  There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.

There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”.  If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.

But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?

What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?

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The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced.  The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.

But if we accept that most people would rather work than put themselves through the Dickensian benefits process, and we believed disabled and chronically ill people, then would we really continue to tolerate and normalise the thousands upon thousands of disabled and chronically ill people dying, every year?

What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?

What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?

What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?

What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?

What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?

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The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.

And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…

And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.

We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.

And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.

Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.

 

 

Poem: We Are The Bodies That Tell – a poem for #CripTheVoteUK

We are the bodies that tell

Of the lies to us all you would sell;

We are the price, we are told,

Both hostage and ransom

The flesh and the blood,

Yet silence can never be bought, or be sold.

We are the bodies that speak

No matter how seemingly lowly or weak

you perceive, or have beaten us down to become

Our stories are many

And often unsung

Of our dead, we count and sing out, every one.

We are the bodies that value

What truly cannot be bought;

We are the bodies that love and support,

Creating and giving, reaching

stretching, though never quite meeting the end,

Yet still with the strength to stand up, and defend.

We are the bodies that tell

Of a far better truth than the lie you would sell;

We’re not the blame, or the shame, or the guilty –

We’re the flesh and the blood that pay for austerity,

And we’ll give voice even when we cant sing,

We are the bodies, no matter how broken, that never ever give in.