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.

 

 

 

Deep Fried Mars Bars (5): On The Experience of Discrimination In The Workplace Because of Mental Health Illness and Disability.

This post discusses direct discrimination and trauma: and whilst I share this because I want other people who deal with discrimination to know that its not normal, not okay, and that they are not alone – self care matters more than clicks for me. 

 

I’d been jobless for 3 months when I began working at my last place of employment. It was a casual contract at first, and was never meant as a career move; most of the staff, except for a small handful in the office, were there on the same basis – it was work, it was January, and it paid cash weekly.  That was in 2009/2010, right before the Equalities Act came into place.

Eventually, I was taken on full time – finding other jobs had been difficult, and by then there were a core group of us who pretty much looked out for each other, and largely got on. When the work you do is repetitive, and your role is to deal with angry people on the phone, getting on with your co-workers makes even the most unpleasant day in the job more bearable. And it had counted for a lot, a little later on, that my then manager had gone out of her way to help me, when caring for my late sister became so difficult in the months before she died, so that I could keep the job. I was a single parent with teenage children and I couldn’t afford to be out of work.

Near the start of 2015, something happened outside of work which had a direct impact on my mental health. Whilst I did not know that I was, in fact, dealing with the onset of PTSD, I had dealt with depression most of my life and to start with I thought I just needed to more actively manage that side of things. But over the course of that year, increasingly there were symptoms with my mental health which I had not dealt with before,  although I wasn’t truly conscious enough of them to articulate what was happening to me.

Nevertheless I advised my employer that there was an issue outside of work which was impacting my mental health, and that I had spoken to my doctor about being referred for counselling.  The waiting list for that (because I cannot afford to go privately), was quite a long one. But as the situation which had triggered my PTSD progressed, it became harder and harder to get through even the most uneventful day.

My physical health (which for a while hadn’t been right) was also getting worse. I was struggling with constant migraines, eczema (which had become an issue for the first time a couple of years previously) all over my face and scalp, and a recurrent bladder infection which persisted for months. It wasn’t exactly great but my doctor said I just needed to get my mental health under control.  I wasn’t convinced that my physical health issues would be resolved by my simply ‘calming down’.

By May 2016, I barely knew which way up I was standing. Having told my employer – at every monthly performance review – that I was struggling, I was at a loss as to how to keep coping with work. At that point I was effectively talking to myself: my team leader noted it (and did whatever she could God love her), but otherwise it didn’t flag anything up further up the chain, because nobody who was supposed to, was looking; and even if they had, there were no policies or procedures in place that could have been utilised. 

There were days I had to keep checking the calendar, to make sure it wasn’t suddenly the 1970’s again or something. Perhaps I could get another job, I thought.

All of that went out of the window over the course of 3 days in May 2016, when I attended an anti-fascist demonstration (in my own time). Afterward I was doxxed online, and several hundred right wing extremists made rape and death threats. The extent of the doxxing became apparent when I got a call to go and see the HR department at work on the Tuesday afternoon.

I remember knocking on their door, I remember being asked to come in. I remember being told that the company had received telephone calls from people who had told them that unless I was sacked then ‘certain violent threats’  had been made. (The police confirmed to me the nature of the threats). I was advised that the recordings of the calls (all incoming calls to the company were recorded) had been sent to the police. I was then advised that I was to be investigated for bringing the company into disrepute.

There isn’t much about most of the rest of the next few days I remember. The police told me the threats were credible. The investigation of me by my employer happened. (They decided I hadn’t brought the company into disrepute).

A couple of weeks or so later I made a mistake at work which cost a couple of hundred pounds.

Most of those weeks are a blank in my memory. Every time the phone rang (and my job was customer service via the telephone, in the main) I was triggered into what I now realise were flashbacks, and that I had been suffering with them for some time by then. Especially the telephone line that those calls had been made on, because whilst I had not actually taken the calls directly, I took the telephone line which the calls came through on. And the online threats had involved hundreds of people.

After a few weeks, I begged to be taken off that one telephone line. But I was told that if it were really a problem I would have asked sooner, and anyway it ‘shouldn’t be a problem for me’ because I had never taken the calls. Oh, and by the way you’ve made the mistake and we going to have to discipline you.

I fell apart. I crawled to my GP on my day off, and unspooled in her office. She signed me off work for 3 weeks and told me to get out of my employers clutches as soon as was humanly possible. I was given more drugs (yay!) and a referral to the local mental health crisis care team. A week later I had a telephone appointment with them, and they and they referred me to the team who deal with complex mental health care needs. I was formally diagnosed with PTSD a few weeks later.

I  was feeling a little stronger, when I went back to work: I needed to get my employer to understand that I would go through with the disciplinary (if they insisted on having it, given that they had received my doctors note, which used words like ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, ‘stress’ and ‘insomnia’), but I needed time for the meds to kick in, time for the diagnosis process to complete, and for me to be taken off the phone line, so that I could cope a bit better.

They insisted on the disciplinary procedure continuing. They were provided with the information about why the last 18 months (at least, by then) had been difficult*. They had the sick note from my doctor advising them of (some) of the symptoms I as dealing with: I was, nevertheless, told that unless I could provide proof of my PTSD (which was formally diagnosed a couple of weeks later), the assumption was that I was not being truthful about my mental health. Again they reminded I never personally took the calls. But they took me off that phone line, and agreed to wait 2 months before beginning the disciplinary process.

[*This was extremely personal information, which they not only failed to record and take into consideration – they also tried to persuade me that I never advised them of it, in order to cover up the fact that they had not recorded it or taken it into consideration. They made my manager sit there and tell me I had never said it. There’s a word for that: its called gaslighting].

I was isolated from my colleagues. Not in a physical sense, but in every other sense. I was under suspicion – and I was now very angry about it. The slightest thing would result in me becoming snappy, and for a very long time, I felt afterward like the kindest thing I could do for my colleagues was never come back to work. Shame is horrid and the idea that I was making their lives harder filled me with it.

The disciplinary happened: somehow I was able to make them see, without using the words ‘constructive dismissal’, that it would better if I wasn’t sacked. If this seems like a very few words to describe what was a hugely traumatic process, you’d be right. I had to explain how trauma works to them, effectively putting my own on show, and describe what a flashback was like. I needn’t have worried about that bit though, because I suffered a flashback during the meeting, which had to be held in two stages. They insisted it was my responsibility to provide all the resources, education and information that they would require (if I was telling the truth).

I remember listening back to the recording of the first meeting later (some days later): I could hear myself, straining to explain that I was trying to highlight the institutional nature of the problem – almost apologising for the inconvenience I was probably supposed to believe I was causing. And I heard a reaction I hadn’t registered properly in that room: It was as if the words ‘it’s institutional, I want to resolve this amicably’ were translated into ‘you’re all terrible people’ in their ears. Expressions of personal offense were made to me, as if I my disability (and their failure to manage or support me because ‘proof’) was an inconvenience for which I were personally responsible.

Having succeeded in demonstrating to my employer that I had a leg to stand on legally, I hoped (for reasons more to do with utter exhaustion then naivety) that my employer would see the sense in putting into place to the type of measures they are supposed to, in terms of mental health disability and the Equalities Act. I mean, they had wheelchair accessible toilets, so its not as if they were unaware of their own obligations.

It became apparent very quickly that I might have saved my job, but my employer had made themselves only as acquainted with the Equalities Act as they needed to, in order to pour as much oil as possible on what were some very troubling waters. (My HR Manager, at the second stage of the meeting, had proudly produced a good number of information leaflets from a certain well known mental health charity in a bid – I assume – to avoid my doing anything expensively legal).

But I was still expected to provide ‘proof’ my mental health disability (since being signed off, and having flashbacks at work, was otherwise assumed to be some enormous ploy on my part not to have to work); they never once were able to comprehend that this was the foundational discrimination from which all else flowed. Not even when they put that to me as a reasonable request, on the grounds that ‘other employees had lied about having mental health issues in the past’ (or more likely couldn’t meet the employers unreasonable standard of ‘proof’) did they seem to realise just how egregiously they were still actively discriminating against me.

And I was ostracised still further from my colleagues.

Whilst my mental health wasn’t getting any better, my physical problems also got worse. Getting to work on time, and then completing a full day, got harder; the physical pain increased and the fatigue was unbearable. I would climb out of the shower before heading to work, and then have to lay down to let the fatigue induced nausea pass. The manager did their best, I know – but it came down to the same thing, every time: if I was struggling to meet the hours, well then maybe.. and if I wasn’t performing up to speed then maybe…  The points racked up on my Bradford Score; the ‘maybe’ [we might have to let you go] was left constantly hanging in the air. I would stare at every ‘position vacant’ ad I could dig up, applying for as many as was possible.  (At some point before I left I was told that I shouldn’t let my growing Bradford score cause me stress, that they weren’t planning to use it against me… for now… but provided I ‘proved’ I was telling the truth of course…) My monthly wage (I was paid hourly) got to barely covering the rent.

By May of this year, I could no more complete a full day of work than I could recite a Greek play. Nearly daily, multiple, flashbacks, and constant pain and exhaustion resulted in my being signed off for 3 months. 2 weeks later I was hospitalised with a serious cardiac crisis –  which at least had the happy side effect of making it clear that my physical symptoms were because my immune system was screwed.

I resigned from work on health grounds after I got out of hospital. At least now I can put it behind me, I thought. And for a few blissful weeks, I didn’t think about it at all. The number of intrusive thoughts and flashbacks began to subside a little. Being under orders to do absolutely nothing created space, out of which came the unexpected pleasure of discovering that I could crochet like a demon. (I’m cack handed Lil with a pair of knitting needles).

But I couldn’t escape it forever. Seeing social media posts from former colleagues a couple of months later, (speaking of my now need of a wheelchair to go anywhere as further ‘evidence’ of my need for attention), slapped me hard in the face and reminded me that leaving my employer did not mean that the culture of discrimination had left with me: that had never, ever been my fault. (I’ve kept the screenshots of that of course. I’m not publishing them because its the culture that needs to change, and personal attacks help nobody).

I even have a letter from my employer, from during the constructive dismissal process, in which the HR Manager implicitly states that they are not in compliance with the 2010 Equalities Act (y’know, the law), by explicitly stating that they will be seeking to put those policies into place. I have debated whether to include a picture of that in this blog post – but this isn’t about revenge.

I have not named the company (though not as a favour of any kind to them), because the point of this post is primarily to be able to say to other people – if any of this is happening to you, it is not okay; it is not normal or acceptable to be treated like that; your employer really does have an obligation under law to make reasonable adjustments to your disability. There are people you can contact about that too, if you need legal advise (and if you feel able).

Discriminatory employment practices also leads to people internalising a culture where it becomes the norm to make pejorative, derogatory assumptions about disabled people , and no part of that is okay either.

All I ever wanted was for my employer to do the right thing: I told them my house was on fire. They demanded I provide proof that I was burning.

I want to put this all behind me. But I don’t know if my old employer will ever put the procedures for employees with mental health disabilities into place – for all disabilities into place (They still hadn’t when I left. They still hadn’t, and had no intention to, the last I heard).

Having, or developing, mental health disabilities and illness’ IS NOT A CRIME; putting an employee under suspicion of lying from the moment that they say they have a mental health problem is basic discrimination. Refusing to provide support because the employee hasn’t met a wholly unreasonable standard of ‘proving’ they are telling the truth is discrimination. Treating employees with mental health issues like an easy target for dismissal so that you can massage your KPI‘s when touting for other  business, is discrimination. An employer who does that, and keeps doing that, and assumes they can get away with it – is an employer whose practices are discriminatory and abusive.

And it has to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: Meditation on Matthew 25: 31 – 46

Stranger, be not afraid –

come in, come in, the table is laid.

I see thee be weary, please sit yourself down

You are tired, you are thirsty  – come, see now

you can rest from your worries and

your burdens lay down.

 

Stranger be not afraid –

come in, come in the table is laid

I once too arrived here, a stranger like you

Be assured you can lay all worries down too

Find here a place where from sorrows released

Where indeed you are known, and loved – be at peace

Stranger, stranger

Why do you beg, for some crumb of food,

for these meagre dregs? Stranger, begone

for I shall not share; but in my great mercy

I will at least, leave you alone

to beg on the streets.

 

 

Those with most power are not the least

(Though they claim the title –

but God knows, and God see’s)

and though the world tells us – turn the stranger away

God calls you out now: hear God say

When you shared nought with the stranger, you shared nought with me.

 

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?

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

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.

 

An Open Letter to @EricBristow on Your Harmful Attitude to Abuse Victims [CN]

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Dear Eric Bristow

It is hard to know where to start in describing just how harmful your tweets  – expressing your attitude toward former footballers like Andy Woodward and Steve Walters who have so bravely talked about the abuse they endured – are.

In your interview on television this morning, you chose (eventually) to apologise for ‘offending’ people.  Let me be immediately clear – what you (and many of your followers in response) expressed was actively harmful to victims of abuse: whatever ‘intention’ you may claim to have in wanting victims to come forward, your attitudes will be doing exactly the opposite. Your view (shared by so many) is part of the reason systemic abuse continues. Let me explain.

Homophobia

Whilst your tweets are not newsworthy, and should not have been treated as such, what they express is a very real homophobia that permeates attitudes toward both victims of abuse, and their abusers.  However, as a public figure, your comments are bound to garner attention, and should therefore be addressed.

Your reference to abusers as ‘poofs’ (which you clarified after originally referring to them as ‘paedo’s’) illustrates both an ignorance of abusive behaviour and abuser dynamics: homosexuality plays no role in this.  It may surprise you to learn that abusers are not primarily seeking sexual gratification, which is a by-product of (not the driver for) abuse. What abusers seek is power, and control, and children are easy targets for such people.

Similarly, the sexuality (or the perceived sexuality) of the child is not why the child is targeted by the abuser – but a child who is gay and is being abused will be suffering not only the terror of abuse, but the scorn of people like yourself because here too, you reveal your homophobia toward the victims themselves. LGBT children are particularly vulnerable to bullying and isolation. More than half of LGBT children and teenagers report being bullied for the sexual orientation. 96% report hearing homophobic comments like ‘poof’ (a word you are happy to use publicly) or ‘lezza’. 99% will hear comments like ‘that’s so gay’ in reference to something which is broken or defective.

Think about that for a moment, wont you?

By invoking so strongly a reaction to abuse which is rooted in false notions about sexuality, what you are really saying is ‘I am not an abuser, I am not a victim because I am not gay‘. You are distancing yourself from a perception of homosexuality because you are homophobic.

You did not ‘mis-speak’ when you used the word ‘wimps’ Mr Bristow.  Your meaning was entirely clearly in the full context of what you said, and you seem happy to let the word ‘poof’ remain unacknowledged.

How then, does this encourage a child who is terrified for their life (and almost certainly the lives of their loved ones, given the type of threats typically made by abusers), to come forward?

Victim Blaming & Shaming:

There are simply no circumstances whatsoever in which the victim of abuse is ever responsible for the abusers behaviour – and this absolutely includes any past and future abuse perpetrated, whether the victim reports the abuse or not.

Many victims take years to report what has happened to them, precisely because there is an insidious belief that victims are ultimately responsible both for the abuse the suffered – and any future assaults perpetrated by their abuser.

Many of the following beliefs were clearly stated by you, or re-tweeted by you, in the last 36 hours:

  • “If they hadn’t been hanging around smoking/drinking/with the wrong crowd…”
  • “They were too sexually knowing for their age…”
  • “They should have spoken up sooner…”
  • “If they don’t report it, why should they expect justice?”
  • “If [male victims] were ‘real men’ they would have [insert ridiculous notion here]…”

In your particular case, being that the focus was on the male victims of a predatory serial abuser, the aggressiveness with which you expressed your view that they should ‘spoken sooner’, or sought out a chance to beat up the abuser, told those victims (and children currently suffering abuse) that it was, simply, their fault. The implicit and explicit assumption is that ‘real men’ don’t get abused.

What the hell is a ‘real man’ anyway?

Particularly for male victims, the context of what you both said and encouraged with re-tweets was so toxic in its expression of masculinity that I have to take really quite a deep breath at this point, because you clearly have absolutely no idea how abusive this is – or how it helps to enable both abuse of boys, and prevent help and healing being given.

Have you any idea what it is like to watch your sons agony and distress when they get told to ‘man up’ because they are expressing emotions or attitudes not considered ‘manly’ enough? Because they dare to be something other than a crude stereotype of ‘masculinity’? To watch the men that we love struggle in relationships, with mental health problems, because they feel shame that they might need help?

Do you know what the suicide rate is for men and boys?

 

Your attitude, (and it is not just yours) will do the exact opposite of encouraging victims to come forward.

It will silence them further.

And that benefits nobody but the abusers.

Sincerely

Ali