Love, sex and interminable pop-culture references

Category: Opinions & Advice

ILB’s opinions and advice, in blog post form

Institutional casual transphobia, and why it sucks

Something that most of you may have missed:

During the week a local councillor was suspended from the Green Party of England and Wales for transphobia. As co-chair of the GPEW’s “Women’s Group”, she made the “unremarkable factual observation that transwomen are not female” (not my words). She was ousted from her position for this.

Kathryn Bristow, her co-chair, is a transwoman – or, as the co-ordinator for the Bridgwater Green Party puts it, “a man who wishes to be identified as a woman”. The GPEW councillor in Sunderland weighed in on this, including sentences like this:

“I have witnessed female colleagues issued with death threats and threats of rape by trans rights activists, so in comparison, I have only had a small taste of this vile behaviour.”

gpew sunderland councillor

The prevailing wisdom in the under echelons of the GPEW is that, despite the fact that we passed a gender self-ID motion at Conference, trans people (and, more specifically, M-to-F transwomen) are dangerous to women and children. Pink News reports on this story here.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my local Green Party (of which I am still a paying member) in which the writer, a party contact, said this:

As a party that claims/seeks to respect science it is outrageous that someone has been suspended for saying that transwomen are not female. Firstly, it’s true. Transwomen have XY chromosomes, the definitive marker for male sex.

local green party contact

He followed this up by saying that “telling the truth is, for [him], a matter of conscience.” So I did the same.

My e-mail read thus:

Much as I shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, I am astounded that this sort of viewpoint exists within the GPEW and maybe even some fringes of [my local GP].

Transphobia is not, in any way, an acceptable point of view, and as much as it can be an ‘accidental’ prejudice, it is nevertheless a prejudice, and both dangerous and damaging in every imaginable way, comparable to racism, sexism and homophobia. I have already had my issues with whorephobia (SWERFism) in the GPEW; on this issue, however, I am not content to be silent.

First of all, although ‘sex’ is biologically defined by chromosomes at birth, ‘gender’ is a social construct, and often weaponised. As a cisgender male, I’ve been subjected to “boys don’t cry” narratives (occasionally with those exact words); the recent tragic death of Sarah Everard has added weight to the right-wing media’s “girls are weak” and/or “need protection by men from men” sort of thing. All these viewpoints are damaging. They are insulting. They do not help. They also promote gender stereotypes which we should be working to eliminate.

We should not be focusing on ‘protect our daughters’, rather ‘educate our sons’. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that not everyone is a daughter or a son.

As a social construct, and as a matter of consent, gender is intrinsically flexible and changeable, and it is the individual’s right to make that decision (as many times as they wish; gender identity can be switched at any time, and as there are more than two genders in existence, this decision can be made multiple time), it is incredibly dangerous to label someone as one gender, especially if they have explicitly said they identify as another. If you are uncertain, it is possible to just ask someone what their gender identify and/or preferred pronouns are; neither question is offensive.

It is grossly offensive to call someone who identifies as a woman ‘a man’ or ‘male’. This is a genuine insult and has no place in acceptable, moral discourse. Trans people have suffered under the pressures of societal norms for far too long (and they shouldn’t have suffered to begin with). The right-wing press label trans activists as unnatural; they are seen with suspicion or unwarranted curiosity for the simple act of not being cis, or hetero, or both, or either. Even at an inclusive event, trans people are often singled out – a lesbian activist group at Pride in London came under fire for handing out anti-trans leaflets, saying that transwomen are not women. Jess Phillips MP recently read out a list of “women and girls” in Parliament, purported to be a list of all female victims of violence, but excluding all transwomen, who weren’t on the list as its author considers them to be ‘not real women’.

Do you have any idea how insulting this is?

It’s been said at some point that the GPEW is tying itself in knots about trans rights when we should instead be focusing on the climate emergency (and we should, but we are not a single-issue party and I would urge us not to become so). But we shouldn’t be. It is not an issue to be debated, it is a simple fact:

Trans women are women
Trans men are men
Some people don’t have a gender
Gender is something you identify yourself

and

TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS

and I will not stand by while anyone says anything different. Come at me if you will, but everything I have said above is correct.

ilb (he/him)

I make no apology for anything I said in the above. I joined the GPEW in 2010 because I saw it as an inclusionist, radical left-wing party and this is the first time I have been genuinely shaken by something somebody in the party has said (even if it goes against party policy).

I am sharing this on my blog because I feel that it needs to be highlighted before the press gets their hands on this story.

I am not resigning from the GPEW, but I plan to challenge these damaging and transphobic views in my local party’s upcoming AGM. I will, of course, update you with anything else that arises from this.

“It’s Not a Him, It’s an It.”

When I was a very small child, I was cosmically in tune with the universe, insofar as I had a genuine belief that everything – even obviously inanimate objects – was alive, and both conscious and sapient. (I still hold the same opinion about non-human animals.) I did the schoolwork in Year 3 which suggested the opposite, but I didn’t believe it.

My mother helped shape my beliefs by using the word “hurt” as a synonym for “damage”.
“You’ll hurt it,” she’d say. “Don’t do it like…” (and then whatever I was doing wrong, likely to cause damage, like trying to shove one of my plastic dinosaurs into an electric plug to “power him up”.)
In time, I adopted this figure of speech, except for the pronoun, which I substituted for a gendered one every time (“Stop doing that! You’ll hurt him!”).
“It’s not a him, it’s an it,” my mother would say in a tired way. “And you can’t hurt it.”
“But I’m just using your phraseology,” I said, “and the message is clear, so why should it matter what pronoun I’m using?”

Only I didn’t say that.

Today is International Pronouns Day, which aims to raise awareness that people have different pronouns. There are multitudes of pronouns out there, and if you don’t like them, you can just make one up. My pronouns, in case you’re wondering, are he / him / his; I chose these pronouns when I chose my gender, and while I don’t like the connotations, they are easy pronouns to use. So I use them.

For a while – and I won’t say when, exactly, but for a while – I occasionally taught English to foreign students. It wasn’t a fantastic way to make income, but it was a way to both instruct people in the ways of language and indoctrinate them politically, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to do that. (I wrote “UKIP” on the board once and added synonyms: evil, bad, beware, that sort of thing.) One of the things we discussed, of course, was the use of pronouns:

I am
You are
He is
She is
We are
They are
It is (…not a him, it’s an it.)

And, perhaps not surprisingly, none of the students knew of any gendered pronouns other than he and she. Because why would they? They hadn’t been taught them. Quite why they hadn’t been taught them was beyond me, but in 100% of cases, none of the students asked. And none of them mentioned any third gender, or genderfluidity, or trans identity, or agender, or… well, anything other than male or female, really.

Until of them them did.

A young female student (she/her, cisgender) asked, at one point, what to call a trans person. She had seen a news article about Chelsea Manning on the way in, and she was confused by the use of a female “she” pronoun to describe someone who was born, and still biologically was, male. Suddenly, the ball was in my court. I had the opportunity to give a speech about the fact that gender is a concept (which it is), not an identity (unless you make it so), and doesn’t need to stay the way it was when you were assigned it at birth (because, well, you can change it).

But that would have taken the whole three hours. As her teacher, I had been asked a specific question, and I needed to give a specific answer.

I spent a while writing third-gender pronouns on the board – they/them, he, xe, xhe, zhe, ze, hir… maybe a few more as well, this was years ago – and was pleased to see that she was, indeed, noting these all down.
“There are so many of them,” she said eventually. “What do you do – ask everyone what their pronouns are when you meet?”
I couldn’t, in all truthfulness, say that I did that. I didn’t like to assume – I still don’t – but it wasn’t my usual conversation opener.

[That right there is the sort of thing that International Pronouns Day is trying to normalise. A noble aim and something we, as a sex-positive community, should be striving for.]

Fortunately, I had an answer.

“If you’re not sure,” I said carefully, “you might be able to just use the gender-neutral pronoun they, until you find out. But I’ve found most people don’t mind being asked.”
“What about animals? You call them it, right?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” I said hurriedly. “An animal, any animal, including a human, is a he or a she or a they or a…” (and here I indicated the board and its list of pronouns) “…a plant, or an object, is an it.”
“But I’ve heard people use the word it to describe an animal!”

And we spent the whole three hours talking about that.


99.9%

I was told once, by a friend who had recently become sexually active, that one of the greatest aphrodisiacs was male sweat. It had worked, he attested, on his new girlfriend, and they were both enamoured of it when consummating their relationship, taking each other’s virginity when doing so.

I wasn’t entirely certain of the validity of this. I’ve become equally uncertain in the last few weeks of debilitating, sticky heat. Adding sweat to the unintentional beard I’ve managed to grow without particularly wanting one, the itchy red spots forming on my back as a result of whatever skin condition I have, and the sullen and complete lack of motivation that’s plaguing me right now, is not the greatest of combinations.

It’s not even as if I’m entirely sure that what he was telling me was the truth. I’m not overly a fan of the scent of sweat myself (male or otherwise) and I’m loath to test its attractiveness by skipping showers and deodorant and then turning up to somewhere full of hot people and waiting for the bonk-fest to begin.

There’s something to be said for the scent of sex, however. That has a little bit of sweat in the mix (although I’m more disposed to liken it to the scent of pee – you’re welcome for that connotation), but then it’s a very distinctive one, and usually as a result of a very pleasurable activity. You may be sweating during sex, but then if you’ve got that far, somebody probably already does find you attractive, so…

There’s nothing wrong with sweating, of course. It’s natural, and it happens all the time. I just don’t see the attractiveness. I don’t like the way it looks, or feels, and I certainly don’t like its scent.

ILB can’t speak for everyone, but nevertheless.

Anyway. I hadn’t quite formulated this post in my head until an hour ago, when I took it upon myself to don rubber gloves, get my arse outside and haul huge black sacks of refuse down the road. (Sexy, I know.) Half an hour of struggling with rubbish bags, throwing things into metal and walking back and forth… in the heat and the humidity…

…and I was definitely reminded what I didn’t like about sweat.

It gets everywhere.

Can’t we all just get along?

Wow, life is just awful right now, isn’t it?

I’m sorry I just said that, especially if (like me) you are trying to get through what may be a hump in your life or have taken a knock to your already-fragile self-confidence. I didn’t even want to write this post, particularly, but I felt like I kind of had to.

The issues I need to address were things I… well, I needed to address, really. I’ve been a bit slack in getting this post up, admittedly (I originally had a draft going on Blogger), and I wasn’t able to get my thoughts really into order. So, the issues going through my mind at the moment are…

Transphobia in the Sex Blogging Community

Like so many, I’ve found the sex blogging community to be a generally welcoming and accepting place, but with a nasty streak of elitism and self-righteous egocentricity rearing its head every now and again. I shouldn’t, therefore, be overly surprised that there are the odd incident of transphobia here and there… but I still am.

There’s a difference between transphobia and trans* erasure, but the issues that have surfaced within the community are more than just lazy trans* erasure. I don’t really feel as qualified to talk about these issues, not being trans* myself, but MxNillin has a post which covers the issues quite nicely and a Twitter thread you can get lost in, so go and read those if you want the details.

For what it’s worth, I read the post by Inigo More when it was still live, and I just thought it was pointless. A lazy attempt at satire that completely missed its mark and ended up being offensive, all tied up with a metaphor which had absolutely no relation to what his message – whatever it was – was.

I shouldn’t need to say trans* lives matter, or that transphobia and trans* erasure have no place in our modern, outwardly-looking sex blogging community in 2020, but I have to. It’s a sad fact that I have to, but I do.

The J. K. Rowling Problem

A bit of history here. I grew up in a secondary school full of rowdy boys and snipey girls, very few of whom liked me. For most of year 7, before I had any friends, the only place I could escape was into my imagination, and I built up incredibly complex fantasy worlds which masked most of the pain, even if I did get thrown through doors and hit in the face.

In year 8, I discovered Harry Potter. My mum bought the first book on a whim, and the second immediately after reading it. Azkaban came out when I was in year 9, and for the rest of my education, I had a world not too dissimilar to the one I had initially created. Deathly Hallows was released one year after I finished university (and I was working in bookshops at the time, so I had a front-row seat to its release), and I’d been following the series religiously up until that final book. I’ve even taken a liking to the Strike series more recently.

JKR’s transphobic comments, whether she made them knowingly or not, are disappointing. JKR herself is clearly a very intelligent person, so why she made the now-infamous “people who menstruate” tweet is beyond me. It’s dumbfounding; it makes no sense. Clearly the tweet she replied to didn’t want to equate “people who menstruate” to “women” (and quite right, too), so why did she contradict them with a joke?

Her attempt to rationalise seems less like an apology and more like an excuse. She bravely speaks about her experience with abusive relationships, but that’s not really what this issue is about. This is about trans* visibility, and JKR appears to have forgotten that. Her quote (from the article):

“If you didn’t already know [what TERF stands for] – and why should you? – …”

Really says it all. Yes, I do think the level of vitriol and hate directed at her is too much – of course it is – but this sort of ‘la la la I’m not listening’ approach from a much-admired author whose work I love and respect is confusing, baffling, and antagonising. Once again, trans* rights matter.

The Harry Potter Race Debate

Where I differ from some commentators on the JKR issue is the fact that they have taken this opportunity to look hack on the Potter canon and pick holes in it, with accusations of racism, sexism, discrimination and homophobia. Some of these issues seem valid when looked at critically; a few of them have come from people who clearly haven’t read the books and are just going by the films.

In my opinion, of of the greatest things about literature (and the main reason who I didn’t want the Potter series to be committed to film in the first place) is that you build up an image of the world in your head, with nothing to guide you but the words on the page. The way JKR writes is incredibly visual, but there are some things she left out. Her attempts to fuck with the canon post-Deathly Hallows genuinely haven’t helped with this. The fact remains, however, that the reader visualises the characters as they see fit in their head (my mother has never envisioned Harry wearing glasses).

A couple of character pointers I take issue with (note: this doesn’t mean that you are wrong if you disagree; this is just my opinion!):

(i) Hermione’s race isn’t stated in the books. What’s canon with her is that she has frizzy brown hair and slightly large front teeth (later corrected by magic during Goblet), and that she’s intelligent. In the films, she’s white; in the stage production, she’s black. That doesn’t actually mean that either race is canon – both work (both are different continuities anyway; the books are a third). Reading the books, the reader is left to make up their own mind. I envisioned her as white, but that’s just my interpretation.

(ii) Gay Dumbledore. This was added by JKR after publication as an attempt to… what? Diversify? I have no idea. In any case, a gay friend of mine worked this one out after first reading Stone and was finally proved right. I repeated his theory to some fellow Potter fans throughout the series and they slowly came round to the idea, as well. Whether JKR ever actually planned to have Dumbledore be gay is something I’m doubtful about, but it’s not like it came out of the blue. Fuck off with your “intense sexual relationship with Grindelwald”, though.

(iii) Cho Chang isn’t, in fact, the only Asian character in the books – Parvati and Padma Patil have Asian names as well. Plus, she isn’t actually explicitly said to be Asian at all! She has a East Asian-sounding name, of course, but all that’s said about her in the books is that she is shorter than Harry, one year older, and very pretty. In A Very Potter Musical (by StarKid), she’s from the American Deep South… and I never imagined her as being Asian… I was picturing Lisa Boyle!

It’s hard to separate art from artist

And this is the kicker (that’s a Russ Meyer quote – someone I also have an issue with). It’s difficult to enjoy Potter or Strike with the knowledge of JKR’s transphobia, the same as enjoying Father Ted with what you know now about Graham Linehan or Glee with what’s come out about Mark Salling and Naya Rivera. But I like all of those.

Zounds, I play Mario games for hours on end, and apparently Shigeru Miyamoto’s terrible to work with.

I’ve always, always, always tried to see art as what it is: art. If you previously enjoyed something that you now can’t enjoy because you take an issue with its creator then you are completely within your right to do that. I don’t have much of problem with enjoying art for art’s sake, but that is another thing about art: it is entirely down to the consumer how much you put into it.

I don’t know where things are going to go from here

And nobody does. We didn’t expect a global pandemic to hit this time last year. The lasting effects of this period of isolation, coupled with resurgent #BlackLivesMatter protests, greater challenges against transphobia (including within our own community!), a progressively weaker and ineffective Conservative government and ‘ordinary’ proles taking the helm, I’d like to think that we’ll all come out of this well: stronger, more woke, more united, and looking to the future.

I’d like to think that.

I don’t, but that’s just one more reason to try to make it a reality.