Why the #Genderquake Debate Must Never Happen Again (cn)

I wonder if – at the meeting where the #Genderquake debate was first pitched – anyone took a moment to ask “will this meet the remit of the agreement we made to responsibly eradicate transphobia and represent trans people respectfully?” As far as quite a lot of the trans community are concerned today – and has already been noted by Trans Advocate – the answer to that question is no. Indeed it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that Channel 4 have harmed, perhaps beyond repair, the trust of one of our most marginalised communities.  What happens next will define if Tuesday night’s debacle was a turning point toward the end of unchecked transphobia in our media, or the start of an even greater saturation of it.

Everything that was wrong with the premise of the format was put on blast when – on national television – a small clique of white women hurled verbal transphobic abuse at a black trans woman. Producers then failed to remove those responsible for the verbal abuse, despite Munroe Bergdorf requesting that those who were abusing her be removed. Grown women were allowed to shout ‘you have a penis’ and ‘you’re a man’ at a trans woman. A last minute chastisement came from the host and chair of the programme, Cathy Newman, as the credits were about to roll – but by then it looked like the lip service it was to Channel 4’s commitment to “..ensuring that transgender people … are treated with the same respect as non-transgender people.”

It was probably the worst of it, but there were several points where the lazy journalism that propped up the ‘debate’ made it difficult for Munroe, Caitlyn Jenner, Jen Powell,  Kenny Jones and Ash Sarkar to address the tropes, myths and flat out lies that Germaine Greer and Sarah Ditum were able to drop-and-run into the ‘conversation’. The myth of the desistance rate of trans children wasn’t picked up on for example; Greer was allowed to get away with the anti-Semitic dog whistle claim that there’s a shadowy group of people making lots of money out of ‘transing’ people; and trans men were described as frustrated girls trying to become men as a ‘way out of their oppression’ – in front of a trans man. To put it bluntly, Cathy Newman had no authority in the room, and it showed.

This was particularly obvious almost mid way through the programme – Cathy Newman asked Germaine Greer about one of the many transphobic statements she has made. I’ll be honest: it came across as if the first part of the debate was set up to lead to that moment – Greer’s rampant transphobia exposed on live television, and a defence demanded.

First, and despite her (frankly half-arsed) denial, yes: Greer really did say ‘lopping your dick off and wearing a dress doesn’t make you a woman’.  I for one, certainly think we can respect an 80 year old woman enough to hold her responsible for what she said when she was 76. Greer has a long history of vocally demonising trans people, and most often trans women:

“On the day that The Female Eunuch was issued in America, a person in flapping draperies rushed up to me and grabbed my hand. ‘Thank you so much for all you’ve done for us girls!’ I smirked and nodded and stepped backwards, trying to extricate my hand from the enormous, knuckly, hairy, be-ringed paw that clutched it… Against the bony ribs that could be counted through its flimsy scarf dress swung a polished steel women’s liberation emblem. I should have said, ‘You’re a man. The Female Eunuch has done less than nothing for you. Piss off.’ The transvestite [sic] held me in a rapist’s grip.” – Germaine Greer in The Independent: ‘On why sex change is a lie’, 22nd July 1989

But I digress.

I would imagine – given Greer’s track record – that the production team hadn’t factored in Greer attempting to deny that she had said what she had, in fact, said. It would have been helpful if Cathy Newman included the fact of when Greer had said it, but that’s perhaps the wisdom of hindsight: it gave Greer the opportunity of a poor denial, and the ‘gotcha’ moment that Newman and Channel 4 were clearly expecting slipped out of their grasp, along with any vestige of authority Newman might have had – the heckling of Munroe Bergdorf came in the wake of that.

Were the audience encouraged to heckle (or ‘interact’)? I would imagine – it was a live television event, and audiences listening to the panel respectfully wasn’t going to make for dramatic tension. Or viewing figures.

But the failure to own the goal that the C4 team were likely expecting to score exacerbated a situation which led to a black trans woman being verbally abused by a white woman, on live television – a situation which had been made likely enough already, due to the format of the show, and it was obvious how difficult, uncomfortable and frightening it must have become for the trans and non-binary panellists’.

Were women silenced on Tuesday night? You betcha. But it wasn’t the women who were shouting about penis’ who were silenced. It’s the trans girls, (and trans boys, and non binary children), and trans women (and trans men and non binary people) who were too frightened to come out before that programme aired, and for whom there will be precious little evidence that its safe to come out now: who heard Sarah Ditum make false claims of high desistance rates among trans children (again), and heard her (again) compare trans women and girls to violent predatory males, something which she does any time she’s given a platform to do so.

Channel 4 owe the trans community an apology, because it allowed trans people to be verbally abused and did nothing to stop it; and it owes them more than that – it owes them a renewed, and thorough, re-commitment to the promises that they so spectacularly failed to keep to on Tuesday night.

 

  • Eliminating transphobia in the media
  • Ending the provision of misinformation about transgender people in the media
  • Increasing positive, well informed representations of transgender people in the media
  • Ensuring that transgender people working in or with the media are treated with the same respect as non-transgender people in equivalent positions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

Deep Fried Mars Bars (Pt 3): Battle Scars [#TW/#CN]

This post includes references to flashbacks, and how I experience them. I am finding writing therapeutic again, but reading what I write may not necessarily be so helpful, so please take care.

At least once a week, on or offline, someone will ask me why I ‘claim’ to have PTSD, since I have not served in the armed forces.

To start with, the question bugged me: we live in a society that deems people ‘scroungers’ for the least sign of ‘weakness’. The assumption in the first instance, systemically, is to disbelieve. If you own up to a disability, its because you want a way out of work. In an of itself, that’s a brutalising system under which to live, so on first glance, accusations of lying because you haven’t been on a battlefield, a battleship or war plane, is just another form of disbelief.

What really rankled, however, was the sexism, misogyny and homophobia behind the question.

I am perfectly capable of taking a step back from my anger and seeing the moving parts of the bigotry: sexism, misogyny, homophobia and abelism are all present and correct; but I have also noticed that the men who accost me with the question (and its been exclusively white men so far), have never themselves served in the armed forces either.

Not a one of them.

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

In the grand scheme of things, fools who will not stop and think before speaking are merely an annoyance. There are days when all the various forms of bigotry that are encountered when you live in a body that is not so valuable, do sometimes pile up. At times like that it is important to see something as clearly as possible, lest your vision get so narrow that you fail to acknowledge some of the many other burdens to which you are not subject.

This condition to which I am subject – with its various attendant symptoms – is not something I need to justify, in either its cause or effect. I will – in the right context – share about how some of those symptoms manifest and how they impact. Flashbacks, for example, are a full body experience and not simply something in my head: the trauma’s (and that is the right word) did not occur on a literal battlefield, but the impact on the pysche and body was still very real. When your whole self finds itself jerked back in to that trauma, repeatedly, that is not the result of ‘weakness’.

We live in flesh and blood bodies, imperfect ones that are not built to withstand the kind of violence to which we subject each other when groups of people (and so often those people are white), try to assert dominance over another group of people because they do not meet with some ideological dogma about what a body should look like.

When your identity does not match that dogmatic ideal, that identity is suspect and subject to erasure.  Where those who assume I am lying about PTSD do so ‘because I haven’t served in the armed forces’,  it is not ignorance of the impact of violence that drives the question. Were that the case, then they would instantly recognise refugees (so often escaping the actual battlefields they claim to be the only place one can be exposed to something which would cause such a condition) as being traumatised people.

But refugees are often not white, and certainly not Western or Christian enough to be deemed worthy of such humanity.

Hence the question is – at heart – racist to its core: and whilst I am not subject to the racism at the heart of the question (or its colonial context), it is important to challenge it.  The world in which we live has become a much more dangerous place, and to be black, brown, Muslim, LGBTQ, disabled or a woman (or any intersection of those), means the horizon, never that welcoming, looks a lot more intimidating than it did.

Populism, nationalism, White Supremacy, Nazi ideology – all these things suffuse the air we breath and it is all too easy for it to infect those of us who aren’t black, or brown, or Muslim, or transgender, even if you are disabled and queer and a woman. It matters not to lose sight of that, because that’s where the trap is: its how you end up on the side of the Sith Lord, instead of the rebel alliance. Anti-trans feminists, for example, long ago failed to recognise just how easily they have found themselves in bed with Trump supporting bigots who are about to take control of the most powerful country on earth.

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

When living in or with a body and/or mind that is considered dysfunctional, how clearly we understand the prejudices that entails we face, matters. And whilst it matters that I take care of myself for my sake and my loved ones, self pity is dangerous.

It is inevitable that someone else will – because of bigotry and ignorance – accuse me of claiming a condition for myself which (they will insist) I have no right to, and it will be important that I see what is behind the question as clearly as possible.

It matters.

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Deep Fried Mars Bars (Part 2): Let Me Be Weak [CN]

 download-1

 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11: 28-3

As I adjust to the parameters that PTSD imposes – physically, mentally and emotionally – it is in navigating the responses of others which offer some of the greatest challenges.  I am very blessed – with so many friends in the disabled community, I am fortunate that those who have walked this or similar paths are ceaselessly generous with their love, and give freely of their hard won wisdom about surviving practically and emotionally within a society geared toward the able bodied and mentally ‘healthy’.

As a woman, and a parent, the intersection of disability and gender is brought in to sharp relief: in the patriarchal system under which we live, the ‘women as the weaker gender’ trope is an implicit standard, yet there is a perilous dichotomy under which we live. Women are constantly punished for any perceived weakness – disbelieved when victimised, yet parodied when performing ‘strength’.

In parallel to this, the ‘man as the dominant gender’ remains explicit, and males who do not conform to crude masculine cliches, or experience dysfunction emotionally or physically, are shamed: ‘man up’ is a phrase I loathe, carrying a toxicity which too easily grows to abuse. I have 2 sons, one of whom battles depression, who both bear the scars of a world that tells them they are ‘less than’ for being something which they are not.

It is a reality of living under capitalism that only those who can produce, sustain themselves, and contribute financially, are valued; as such, sexism and misogyny throw a sharper and more brutal light on those whose bodies and minds are perceived as ‘taking’.

Disability = weakness = burden is the equation that gave ‘austerity’ –  do not underestimate the brutality of the word ‘scrounger’. The writing, activism and creativity of the disabled is most usually treated with disdain – unless, of course, it is deemed to ‘inspire’ and even then, the price of inspiring others comes at a cost which is ignored.

From those outside of the disabled community, the reaction runs along a spectrum between assuming me a liar and a scrounger, offering pity, to expecting survival as though weakness were not an option.

Outright discrimination has been daily: for now I continue to work full time, but have been exhausted by work practices 20 years or more out of date. Whilst that now improves, it has taken its toll, particularly physically.  No doubt someone will think this reflects some degree of self pity on my part. It is not. It is a simple statement of reality.

There are still frequent indignities – having to sit on the floor of the toilet cubicle at work whilst having a flashback, because these things are no respecter of time and place, for example.

Other prejudice’s mask themselves as ‘reasonable questions’: why would I ‘claim’ to have PTSD when I have never served in the armed forces? (Discrimination is never more blunt when delivered in wilful ignorance).  The suspicion that I would prefer to absent myself of life’s responsibilities is odious. It is like sandpaper on the soul.

At the other end of the spectrum, are those who expect survival because, even where there is some degree of compassion, weakness is treated as a transitional state. My ‘brokeness’ is accepted on the assumption that I will be strong enough to overcome it, and return at some point to being ‘fully functional’ and ‘whole’ again.

Whilst I do not shun ‘strength’, I do not accept it in the form I am supposed to. On the days when I am weak, when my body, mind and spirit are battered by a flashback, strength is not an option. Acceptance of such weakness is all that allows me to survive. When my intestines and bowels constrict with the spasms brought on my IBS – a physical manifestation of the rigours of flashbacks – acceptance of my bodies failings is what prevents the corrosive bitterness  of genuine self pity from tainting my spirit. When intrusive thoughts mount another invasion, all I can do is wait until it passes.  My resources are not finite. My ‘strength’ is not endless.

As a society, we are collectively ashamed of what is perceived as weakness – and yet weep, pity or deride those who then feel shame when their body or mind cannot ‘perform’ as we are told they must.

Were my body also black, of colour, presenting as a gender other than that which had been ascribed to me – this perceived ‘weakness’ (through white supremacy and transphobia) would come with an even higher price.

Prejudice and discrimination is rooted is wanting to suppress (or erase) what is considered weakness, and that pressure is exerted financially, culturally and systemically, interwoven through white centred, patriarchal norms that demand binary bodies which meet some idealised notion of strength, and minds that conform to a ‘healthy normality’.

Talking ’bout stupid things
I can’t be left to my imagination
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep
And they say they take me home
Like poppies, heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper  Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep

I am tired. I am weak. It is enough for me today.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place Pt 1: The Gendered Language of God and Praying to My Divine Parent For A Church That Puts Victims First

Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Magdalena

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,  so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 27-29 (NRSV)

If your understanding of the discussion around the gendered language Christians use about God was based only on what you have read recently in the national media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the use of feminised worship and liturgical language was the concern of a few white middle class cis women. And indeed in the UK, WATCH (Women And The Church) who led the successful campaign for women bishops, is driving much of the current  national conversation. I agree with them: I am, however, frustrated with much of the mainstream church discussion** and media coverage. Whilst the Rev Jody Stowell has at least acknowledged that this is also about race, and has written and spoken about the need for more inclusive church for the LGBTIQ community, there is little acknowledgement about how this conversation matters for women who are black, of colour, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, or intersex people – and no acknowledgement at all about what this would mean for victims of abuse, and the intersections of all these.

This conversation of course did not start when Rachel Held Evans was called ‘heretic’ for referring to God as ‘She’, or with the recent discussion at the Westminster Faith Debates. But this conversation matters, because this is not just about sexism and misogyny in the Church. Its also about homophobia, transphobia, and the systemic sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse and victim blaming which so plagues, the world – and the Church.

***********

The medium is the message.

When we [Christians] speak about our faith, our message of the liberation, transformation, reconciliation, forgiveness and – above all – the eternal and encompassing love of Christ, we too often fail to think about who and what we are when we speak it.  Christians most normally fall to the arrogance of assuming that our faith provides us with a mantle that erases whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality and gender identity, magically giving us the insight to assume that know and understand what, in fact, we do not. Instead we take passages of scripture (all too often without recognising it’s cultural, historical context) and apply it like a sledgehammer against people and situations.

The overt use of masculine, white, language and imagery when speaking of God to people who find themselves excluded, rejected, oppressed, unloved, and silenced by white masculine cultural, political (and yes, religious) dogma’s of society distorts the message: and it is not Christ that people hear, but the white masculinity that abuses and oppresses them.

So often I see cis, white hetrosexual men claiming a mantle of ‘counter cultural’ and I wonder at the cognitive dissonance which allows them to believe this. There is nothing ‘counter cultural’ about people who embody the dominant power structures, and speak its language, albeit wrapped up in scripture, God and Jesus. It makes the very liberation promised in the Gospel a tool through which the oppressor maintains its dominance. The Gospel stops being hope, love, faith and restoration – it stops being a language of repentance and reconciliation. Instead it becomes a rigid and unbending ideology, the cage within which people are imprisoned, rather than the key which sets them free.

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Regardless of denomination, the Church is not very good at dealing with the abuse: it is too quick to excuse the abuser, and does not listen to and believe the abused. Instead of being people who ‘come out from among them’ to be separate and truly ‘counter cultural’ – instead of going against what the world does when it excuses the abuser and does not believe the abused – it acts with the world. It replaces the excuses the world gives to the abuser (‘he was jealous’, ‘he was stressed’, ‘he was depressed’) with ‘we are all sinners’: the words are different, but for the victim the impact is the same – the abuser had no control, no responsibility. It couldn’t be helped. Forgive them – everyone deserves a second chance.

For the victim, this attitude is tantamount to the trauma and damage being brushed aside, swept away as though it were just dirt on the floor that simply requires a decent broom for everything to be made clean again, potentially deepening the wounds the inflicted. Instead of offering the love and justice of Christ – who would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick – the church offers instead exactly the same as the world does. Thoughtless indifference at best – cruel disregard at worst.

It is an approach that fails the abused – and an approach that makes the possibility of genuine, radical and effective ministry to the abuser impossible.

In the moment that the abused comes forward, instead of finding the mother bear who will love them and fight ferociously to protect and care for them, they are met instead with the embodiment of the very cause of their trauma – powerful people, protecting the person who had the power to harm them in the first place. Instead of the mother crying with and for her child, the abused are met instead with disbelief, or even shame.

This is what the world does – it excuses the abused and shames the victim. Language alone is not responsible for that – but language matters when the weakest, the most vulnerable, those ‘made low and despised by the world’ are found amongst us, or come to us.  The abused should not hear from us the language of the world which despises them, but the God – the parent who is Mother as well as Father – who will take care of them and make them safe.  And they should hear that because that is what the Spirit of God is: both (and neither) feminine and masculine, not one predominant over the other but the Divine parent, taking the best possible care of the children that are so loved that it would, and did, sacrifice anything for them

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**In various corners of the internet, a deeper conversation can be found about feminine images for God, and the use of feminised language.  Here are two posts by Sarah Moon over at Patheos Blogs, which I really love.

 

On The Violence and Transmisogyny of Christian Men and White Feminsim: Putting Ideology Before Love (TW/CN)

This article will discuss the violent, transphobic and transmisogynistic responses to the transgender community by – specifically – Meghan Murphy, Owen Strachan and Matt Walsh. The articles they produced, and which have rightly been received with revulsion by many, are linked using ‘do not link’: but given their content, I urge care and caution. 

Some time ago I was struggling to find the words to express what I saw as the parallels between anti-trans radical feminism and conservative (evangelical) Christianity: I recognised in both the desire to maintain the gender binary, the dismissal (in words, and in silence) of our black and of colour trans sisters, and the rigid ideology that grips tightly to a biological binary view of human beings. But my thoughts struggled to translate to words.

Dianna E Anderson, writer of Damaged Goods, whose experience living within, and studying, Christian Purity Culture adds a vibrant and vital perspective to the faith and feminist conversation, put it into words in a recent post on her blog, noting the similarity between the fundamentalist Christian thought process she had internalized during her years within that, and Radical Feminism, describing one as the ‘Church of Biblical Womanhood’ and the other the ‘Good Church of Radical Womanhood’.

In the last of couple of weeks, attacks have been made against the transgender community, one under the guise of feminism and others in the name of Christianity (and I would again urge caution before reading those articles by Meghan Murphy, Matt Walsh and Owen Strachan).

Murphy, like Sarah Ditum before her, targeted Laverne Cox: Walsh and Strachan targeted Caitlyn Jenner* following Jenner’s public revelation that they identify as a woman. There are notable parallels between their arguments; the premise from which both camps start is a conviction of the rightness of their own rigid ideologies; both camps understand patriarchy in the same black and white, binary manner (even if they come to that from different sides); both hold to an understanding of unity which is restrictive and prescriptive of womanhood (one through the idea of ‘shared womanhood’ and the other through their own understanding of Christ); both are rooted in a structural racism and colonialism from which they make no effort to divest, and both end up in a place where trans women – particularly black and of colour trans women – are met with brutal and violent resistance in word and thought, which is so often the pre-curser to violent deeds.

I want to refrain from analysing the reasons for these parallels too deeply right now, partly because there are writers out there who are doing a far better job of this that I would be able to, and because it is the distressing impact on women that is my own first concern: trans women are dying (TW) facing abuse and brutality (TW) and when both Christians and feminists – both of whom believe in the need for human liberation – express that same violence against human beings, and exclude, marginalise and de-humanise trans women in their praxis they do so because they have placed rigid ideology above the very liberation they claim to stand for.

The impact of this is real, and costs lives. The pain it inflicts is incalculable – and the message received constantly is that this is the price expected to be paid for the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ of straight, white, cis gender men and women.  It makes gods of those who fit the binary – and expendable pawns of everyone else.

When Christian men and the feminists they supposedly oppose demand adherence to ideologies which require the same blood sacrifice from the same group of human beings – then the question is not ‘is the price worth paying’?

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Some suggested reading for you:

Black Girl Dangerous

No Shame Movement

Sarah Moon

Joan’s Pants

Dianna E Anderson

*This article was written prior to Caitlyn Jenner revealing her new chosen name, and so has since been updated accordingly.  My apologies for any offence that may have been given for not updating this post sooner.

‘The Last Shall Be First’: Call Out Culture, Faith and Feminism

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I have been thinking, a lot, about ‘call out culture’ recently: as a Christian and a feminist, there is a tension that exists between challenging the entrenched norms that perpetuate oppression, and practising the grace and forgiveness I am called to. Criticism and self-reflection are vital tools when your conversation and activism is focussed on aspects of patriarchal and kyriarchal structures of hierarchy and power.  Often it means discussing complex and painful issues, and whilst challenging the entrenched myths and norms [both interior to, and exterior of the self] which perpetuate oppressions, how do we do that without falling to self-righteous finger pointing, or failing to speak up when justice demands it?

Critiques of call out culture can be nuanced, and reflective of the context in which our lives are lived – Flavia Dzodan’s essay on the subject for Tiger Beatdown 4 years ago remains one of the best on the issue: it is thought provoking, placing the era of blogging and social media in the context of the emergence of ‘reality show’ programming, examining the performativity of call outs and asking serious questions about what motivates people collectively and individually. (And if you haven’t read it yet, I would recommend that you do).

On the other end of the spectrum was the infamous Michelle Goldberg piece, which itself became a focus of ‘calling out’: it’s juxtaposition of ‘toxicity’ with black women and women of colour was indicative, not only of how white feminism can use words like ‘intersectional’ without a comprehensive understanding of the necessity of de-colonializing self, but how accurate Dzodan’s earlier piece had been. When call out’s are about performance in an era of Big Brother TV, magical intent and calcified liberal social politics, we act and react in the context of the cis-white-hetro-normative systems, losing sight of how other people are being subsumed in a society which forces us to clamber over one another in an un-winnable race to survive.

We cannot ignore the structural racism that exists around much of this conversation: black and women of colour – both trans and cis gendered – have faced appalling reactions from white feminists, recalling the days when Francis E Willard and other white suffragettes put white women’s votes above the lynching of black people, and the White British press tried to smear Ida B Wells.

What, then, are we ‘calling out’? Just sexism? Or are we asking not only others to look at their words and behaviour, but ourselves as well? As Dzodan’s piece challenges us – for whose benefit do we make these call out’s?

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I have been meditating on this in the context of how Jesus spoke about the last and the first – or those at the ‘bottom’ of the social heap, and those at the ‘top’ of it. In Matthew 20: 10 – 16 NRSV :

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 

Jesus topsy turvy kingdom has always profoundly spoken to me in my own calling of standing for and with the most marginalised : how God upends human systems of power and privilege, and puts the very least (in the eyes of the world) at the very top.

In the context of the work of feminism, I wondered, what might that look like?

Feminism has, through it’s many evolutions and theories, sought to challenge and dismantle the patriarchal and kyriarchal structures which diminish and oppress women in the many and varied ways which it exerts it’s oppression and rabid authority.  Feminism, whether driven by intellectual theory or grass roots activism, is built on ‘calling out’ the harmful and violent expressions of patriarchy. It might be street harassment, rape and intimate partner violence or equal pay; it might be purity culture, victim blaming, or challenging an on line article or news story.

Whatever it is, feminism is born of the need to ‘call out’ patriarchy: to challenge it, stand up to it, and to demand it relinquish its grip on society.

There are subtle ways in which patriarchy exerts itself, and how it does so has changed over time: this was brought in to stark relief to me recently during a conversation with a friend whom I have known for some years. It came up that – for her – the word ‘queer’ has incredibly negative connotations, but not because she is homophobic, quite the opposite. Having watched a close family member have to cope with what used to be called ‘queer bashing’, having loved and supported them unconditionally, her understanding of that word is within an abusive context.

Now, for myself and many others who identify as queer, the reclaiming that has occurred of that word is positive and life giving: but not for my friend. That word brings threats of danger and abuse to the family member she loves dearly. Two or three decades ago, being LGBT and hearing that word called out would have frozen you with fear down to your very marrow. (Actually, sometimes I am not sure that has changed so very much).

When she raised this with me, my first reaction could have been even more damaging – I could have simply told her not to be silly, that the word meant something positive now: but that would have been to erase her experience and that of her much loved gay family member who endured such horrible abuse.

In one simple sense, this is what it all comes down to: recognising the experience of another human being, acknowledging their own story and their own hurt and respecting that. Had I overlaid my own experience of that word on to her, I would have hurt her tremendously – but by stepping back, by hearing her without pre-conceptions, by simply saying ‘sorry’ for using that word (whatever my intention) our conversation (which could have been hurtful to both of us) was instead encouraging and uplifting for us both.

And we knew each other much better.

Suppose for a moment, that you are cis gender and a transgender woman is trying to explain to you why she feels erased by other women – what should your first reaction be, as a human being? To listen to her – or to ask her to put her own feelings aside and prioritise your feelings?

Perhaps you are white, and a black person or person of colour is trying to explain why something you did not acknowledge as racist or appropriative, is exactly that – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?

Perhaps you are straight, and a person who is gay or bi-sexual is trying to explain something about their experience of the world which you do not understand – what should your first reaction be, as a human being?

You might be a man, wondering if women are spending too much time complaining about how they are treated – but when so many are treated with violence, verbally, physically and emotionally, should that be your first reaction as a human being?

Now suppose you are a Christian too.

Is your first reaction to prioritise your idea’s and theology – or to put the last first, and the first last?

People As Things – The Excuses We Are Still Making For the Patriarchy And Why They Wont End Rape Culture.

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“There’s no greys, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.”

“It’s a lot more complicated than that – “

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

Exchange between Granny Weatherwax and  the Quite Reverend Oates, Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett

I love the Discworld series of books- I have done for years and if I had to pick a favourite character, it would be probably be Granny Weatherwax. Sometimes I muse that if any character were most like the author Terry Pratchett, I would like to think it was Granny. She’s not at all cuddly or conventionally lovable, but she’s tough and smart and has a far bigger heart than probably most of her community realise. And whilst she has carefully cultivated a reputation that keeps people respectful (and slightly nervous of her), she’s a true servant to them.  She heals, cares for, and watches carefully over Lancre, the true extent of what she does so often hidden behind peoples assumptions and wild imaginations. She’s practical, doesn’t suffer fools at all (let alone gladly) – and she knows and understands people. And whilst she would probably have little time for my faith (The Omnian religion in the Discworld series is a mirror of the Christian church in it’s medieval fire-and-brimstone-and-now-trying-to-be-more-liberal-Anglican form), I have a sneaky respect for her ‘headology’.

And Granny Weatherwax  is bang on the money about sin – it starts when you treat people as things.

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The fight to dismantle rape culture is a fight to dismantle the patriarchal power structures which, on the one hand, men created so that men had the power and privilege to shape, grow and rule over much of society – and when they abuse that power, to coddle, excuse, justify and rationalise that abuse in whatever form it has taken. When a man has beaten his partner or wife, raped, molested or abused a woman or child, we are as a society very able (and very well trained) in providing those excuses so that, often, even the man who has abused rarely has to lift a finger to provide them himself. It’s a Pavlovian response.

A woman is killed and the man has been ‘driven’ to it by something she supposedly said or did; a child is molested and abused, but that child had ‘presented as sexually mature’, or wore the wrong clothes, or hung out with the wrong people, or had a ‘record of bad behaviour’. A woman is raped, but she had been out drinking so energy and times is expended arguing about consent because of that somehow means it was ‘too hard’ for the man to know if consent had been given.

The victim becomes both recipient of the violence, the rape, the killing – and the person responsible for it. The man does not need to take responsibility – occasionally, rarely, he might see the inside of a prison but mostly society hands him some rationalisation and offers hope for him to rebuild his life, often with sentiments along the lines of ‘he’s not usually that kind of man’.

The excuses we give the abusers and murderers, the rapists, and the molesters are legion. But the truth is, they made a choice. They chose to rape, molest, kill, abuse, take advantage of, and inflict trauma. They chose it over any number of other choices that could have been made at that time: society has afforded them power – and that is how they have chosen to use that power in that moment. When people are merely things to the person with the power, it is a too-easy choice to abuse that power. And with every rape, every murder of another and trans and cis woman, a choice has been made.

Anything – anything at all – other than a full frontal recognition of rape, abuse and violence against women and children as the choice of the rapist, is simply another excuse that he can use. I have said this before: and I am about to say it again – rape (and sexualised violence and abuse) are abuses of power. They are choices, made by the men who perpetrate them. They are choices made as conscious decisions.

Yes, it is a terrifying truth and one I had to face too, and I recognise the desire which we as women have trained into us: to provide the understanding about why it happened, specifically why the man who raped and abused us, did it. Patriarchy demands that we as women provide the ‘understanding’ because that is part of the toxic nature of our relationship with misogyny. It is part of that Pavlovian response drilled in to us – men do stuff and its our ‘job’ as women to ‘understand’ why they do that stuff. And every time we say, in anyway shape or form, men rape because they have a penis, we do so because we have been conditioned to understand and excuse men’s behaviour.

But we don’t have to understand anymore; it is not our responsibility as women to understand the choices men make, because down that pathway excuses and justifications await.  We have to fight the conditioning that says we are supposed to ‘understand’. Yes, when the man has used his penis to rape with, it is a hard truth: but genitals have absolutely nothing at all to do with the choice to rape. Penises don’t make the choice to rape. MEN do. Penises don’t have brains – MEN DO.

My rapist made a choice. He was not at the whim of ‘uncontrollable’ desires. He didn’t do it because he couldn’t control his penis. He did it because he made a choice. And that’s HIS responsibility to bear not mine.

And not yours either.

I don’t say this for my sake, or to anger people. I know how unpopular my opinion is.  But there are women who are victims of rape and abuse –  Trans women and trans women of colour – who are the victims of the patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia and racism that abuses, rapes and kills them. Their voices are ignored and their right to healing safe spaces made harder because we think in the very terms that patriarchy trains us to think. (And that includes refusing to see or accept them as women). And it means that not only is the fight to end rape and the culture which perpetuates it made harder, but that some women are shut out by other women.

I want gendered violence to end: women and children are dying because of it and I want life in all its fullness for all women. But until we accept that saying men rape because they have a penis is handing men who rape just another excuses, not only we will continue to fail in any efforts to stop rape: we will let down, abandon and isolate whole groups of women and perpetuate victim blaming in to the bargain.

Sin starts when you treat people as things. We have to stop treating people as things.