Category Archives: queer issues

In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.


In which Brendan O’Neill is, obviously, wrong again (and a weeping poxy chode)

Regular readers will know that I’m hardly a fan of Brendan O’Neill. And so it gives me no surprise to report that once again, he is seeping wrongness everywhere, this time about the Olympics up at Sochi.

Brendan’s got his knickers in a twist that everyone has come out in support of gay rights, and there are rainbows everywhere, and wonders if it’s just an excuse to get at Russia, and doesn’t think all of that will make a blind bit of difference to the level of support for Putin. You can read some highlights here, because fuck off am I going to link to it.

Now, I’ve also been pissed off about the ubiquitous rainbows and wondered if these hollow gestures are mostly an excuse to get at Russia, and I doubt it’ll change Russian policy. However, there’s a key difference between these critiques: I’m not a colossal raging homophobe, but Brendan O’Neill is. See, ultimately Brendan’s problem is that all of this is laying the groundwork for a big queer takeover, and the pink tanks will roll in and massacre red-blooded straighties like Brendan and Putin. Seriously.

“Over Sochi, the same sense of camp disgust with gruff blokes is being expressed, only this time an army of both straight and gay Westerners are wagging a finger at the backward antics of super-hetero Putin and his dumb, automaton supporters among the Russian masses.

[...]

“Where once the world was divided between the civilised and the savage, now it’s split between the gay-friendly and the homophobic. Welcome to the era of Queer Imperialism. How long before a Western nation goes so far as to bomb a country that is insufficiently gay-friendly?”

Now, I wish for nothing more than for the Queer Empire to have Brendan O’Neill shot into the sun with our special bespoke glitter cannons, but unfortunately, we have neither the resources nor the infrastructure to do this. Once again, we see Brendan O’Neill is fighting against imaginary enemies. I’d feel sorry for someone so deeply paranoid and terrified all the time, were he not such an obnoxious, gaping shitcake.

And it’s sad in a way, because perhaps Queer Imperialism is a good word for the direction that homonationalism–the incorporation of queerness into neoliberal values–seems to be taking. I propose, in fact, that we steal that phrase off of Brendan O’Neill, because it will piss him off and it kind of neatly articulates the problem. Nations don’t care about queer rights, unless it is an excuse to condemn others. The evidence stacks up day by day: here is the only the most recent story I have seen from the UK–who haven’t sent the Prime Minister to Sochi it would look bad–on how queer asylum seekers are forced to prove their sexual orientation. Queer Imperialism isn’t by the queers or for the queers: we’re instrumentalised as a barometer of human rights, and an excuse where needed.

Of course, Brendan O’Neill is just trolling, but the reason his trolling is so effective is this level of homophobia is how some people think. They think of us as colonisers, rather than colonised. And it is stupid and wrong, but really prevalent. And that’s why I took the time to respond to it, even briefly.


So you care about Sochi? Here’s some other shit to care about

I’ve been seeing a lot of people concerned about the Sochi Olympics, what with Russia’s frankly disgusting attitude towards LGBT rights. Many of these are the sort of people who I don’t usually see doing much for LGBT rights–or indeed broader human rights. And so I feel it’s necessary to point a few things out.

I’ll start with doing something I haven’t done in a while–quoting MediocreDave, who has managed to condense the issue very neatly:

Where is the outcry on these deportations of LGBT people–as I write, Jacqueline Nantumbwe faces deportation to Uganda, where there is a life sentence for being queer and corrective rapes are common. And she is not the first to be victimised in this fashion. Dave has succinctly put why this may be:

There are two things you need to think about when criticising Sochi without a broader analysis. First is that most nations are shitty towards LGBT folk. Their laws may pay lip service to LGBT rights–same sex marriage, anti-hate crime legislation and so forth, but that doesn’t mean their citizens are very good. Let’s look beyond the UK’s attitude towards deporting queers, and to a pile of other hideousness. This is a country where the national press can merrily print transmisogyny with impunity, and with little attention paid to this because the media just don’t give a fuck. This is a country where queer people are mass arrested before large spectacles. This is a country where heaps of unending bullshit are faced by bisexuals, and even the leading lobbying group for queer rights completely ignore and erase trans people. If you’re not furious about how things are here, then I am seriously side-eyeing your intentions as you tweet another fucking petition about sponsors of the fucking Sochi Olympics.

As an aside, if you’re the sort of person who is sharing things about how TOTALLY HOMOEROTIC Putin is, or how KINDA GAY sports are, to “highlight hypocrisy” or whatever the fuck you’re trying to do, congratulations, you’re a homophobic pisshole.

The second thing you need to be pissed off about is the Olympics on the whole. Bluntly put, they’re not a very nice thing to happen to a city. In London, a lot of people lost their homes in order to build a park they’d never be able to afford to visit. Some of those who kept their homes had missiles put on their roofs. And during the opening ceremony, almost 200 people were arrested for riding bikes. And was the world watching aghast, threatening to boycott as this happened to London–or any other city which has hosted the Olympics and faced similar problems? Not really, no. This is a world, after all, that doesn’t freak the fuck out when a country with more than two million people locked up in prison hosts the Olympics.

I’m not saying don’t be pissed off about Sochi and Russia. I’m saying, be more pissed off. Be critical of everything. Stand with LGBT folk closer to home, or further away. Stand against these games which form an excuse for gentrification and human rights abuses. Use your anger at Russia as a spark, and ignite the flames for a greater understanding of broader struggles.

And for fuck’s sake, I’m not going to sign your fucking petition.


Jacqueline Nantumbwe must stay!

Jacqueline Nantumbwe is a lesbian woman from Uganda, where being queer is a criminal offence. In Uganda, politicians and religious leaders actively campaigned for the death penalty for homosexuality, and there is currently a life sentence for existing while gay. While in Uganda, Jacqueline and her girlfriend at the time, Rose, were caught, and as punishment, Jacqueline was imprisoned, tortured and raped to “correct” her. Her girlfriend was not heard from again.

Jacqueline is seeking asylum in the UK, and has faced horrific treatment from the Home Office over the last year. In order to have asylum granted, Jacqueline must “prove” that she and her partner are in a lesbian relationship. On 26th January, the Home Office transferred Jacqueline to Yarl’s Wood, the detention centre famous for abusing its inmates. She may face deportation.

The Home Office has a track record of appalling treatment of queer women from Uganda. Last month, Prossie N, a seriously ill lesbian from Uganda was deported back to a life of rape and persecution.

Jacqueline Nantumbwe needs our help. We need to apply pressure to protect her from the horrors she faces if deported. Jacqueline Nantumbwe must stay. Here are some things you can do.

  • Sign the petition to the Home Office.
  • Write to Jacqueline’s MP, Gerald Kaufman, asking for his support. You can find a model letter here. You may also send that letter to your own MP asking them to make a statement of support.
  • Get in touch with Jacqueline and tell her you support her. You can find out more here.
  • Finally, and most importantly, share her story. Talk about Jacqueline Nantumbwe. Make as much noise as you can.

The Home Office get away with such gross violations because they can get away with it without much public knowledge. Show them that this isn’t the case.


2013: The year of the hollow gesture

There is a certain fashion now to define a year and What It All Means as a comment piece. And so, in an attempt to be down with the kids, here is what the last year has meant to me.

To me, 2013 has been a year of Big Grand Media Gestures which do absolutely fuck all to change any of the system, as Big Grand Media Gestures are wont to do. Most recently, we saw this with the pardon of Alan Turing. Almost 60 years after the state drove Turing to suicide through their homophobic laws and “experimental” forced hormone administration, they have issued a royal pardon. Alan Turing is forgiven for being gay, to rapturous applause from precisely no-one paying attention.

It is not hard to see the hollowness of this gesture. Alan Turing was but one of the thousands of men persecuted in this fashion in the past, and it just so happens that he was the one who made himself most useful to history. This pardon was stage-managed by Chris Grayling, a man who believes B&Bs should be able to turn away gay couples. Homophobia is not a thing of the past, it is a thing which is still actively perpetuated by those in power, and they should be the ones on their knees, begging for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past, the present and the future. They should grovel at Turing’s grave, and prostrate themselves before those who–alive or dead–still bear the convictions that Turing did. One cannot magic this away, and all of the bits of paper rubber-stamped by the Queen in the world will not make up for it.

Maybe, instead of pardoning Turing, they should have stuck him on a banknote as a convicted criminal. Alan Turing, the queer who saved the world, convicted criminal. After all, it’s clear they wanted a war hero on a banknote, and unfortunately the only one they could think of was Churchill, the notorious racist and architect of genocide, whose major achievement was appearing the lesser of two evils next to Hitler. It was this that pissed me off when the face of the new five pound note was announced earlier this year.

Churchill’s jowly visage will be bumping off Elizabeth Fry, a social reformer who made conditions better for prisoners. A large campaign with a feminist flavour was outraged by this, framed only around how we need to have another woman on a banknote. Eventually, the Bank of England issued a press release earlier than they otherwise would have saying they’d be sticking Jane Austen on a tenner. Job done, women!

Except, once again, we see a certain hollowness. Elizabeth Fry is the sort of person who, in current conditions, would never make her way on to a banknote. She saw humanity in prisoners, while today the government are doing all they can to make the lives of those in prison as much of a living hell as they can get away with. The faces on our banknotes are a political decision. That is why they got rid of the woman who cared. It’s why they replaced her with a warmonger. And it is why they were perfectly happy to use the image of the relatively-inoffensive Jane Austen.

The state’s response to the banknotes campaign was a hollow gesture, but the campaign itself had a certain hollowness in a climate where many women just need some banknotes in our purses. Austerity is hitting women hardest, and many of us can’t hold on to a tenner for long enough to care whose face is on it.

The other large feminist-flavoured media campaign of the year has been No More Page Three campaign. I’ve written before about the myriad problems with it, so I’ll spare the screed and link you to this and this instead. As with the banknote campaign, I don’t doubt that those involved think they are doing good work, but as with the banknotes campaign, they are asking for something paltry which does nothing to change any of the underlying social conditions. It is for this reason that such campaigns are popular with the media. No More Page Three has been supported by almost every media outlet, with the notable exception being The Sun (obviously). Let us remember that the media is owned and run by the rich and white and male, who have a vested interest in the system changing as little as possible. And they’ll allow attention to be thrown over such campaigns because they know it won’t unseat them from their comfy thrones. It benefits them to reduce feminist discourse to simple requests for a page of a newspaper to be removed, or a woman–any woman–to be depicted on a tenner.

The media support is a hollow gesture, and playing the media support game is, ultimately, hollow feminism. It’s misdirected noise. There is a lot of good work going largely unnoticed, as Lola Olokosie notes here.

What we need is a revolution. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of revolution envisioned by Russell Brand, the kind which just magically comes if we wish hard enough for it. Brand’s words were hollow, only words, with little thought for what he was actually asking for other than something else. To watch people shitting themselves with joy over a millionaire sexist waffling an analysis which might have been pretty good if it came from a twelve year old was absurd. Brand wasn’t bringing the idea of revolution to the masses, he just said the word “revolution” on the telly.

Those of us who actually talk the detail and the process, those of us who translate these ideas into praxis–we are labelled at best “divisive” and at worst “criminals”. Even articulating the problems is frowned upon, so how can we build a solution?

These are the things that are likely to come up in the nostalgia shows of the future when we talk of 2013. These grand, yet hollow gestures, this token resistance. I am not saying it is a year where nothing has happened, because loads has. From the achievements of Black feminism to the gains made by the 3Cosas campaign, small victories are being won to little, if any popular attention. And this is what I hope to see more of in years to come, turning our backs on the Big Grand Media Gesture and moving towards the highly unmarketable organising and activism that is essential to immediate survival, and building a better future.


Dear BT

Dear BT,

As you may know, I’m kind of against internet filtering anyway. Like many others, I share concerns about blocking important resources about sexuality and sex, and think it’s vital that children are able to access information about what options are available to them, and what is and isn’t OK. It’s vital that this information is available.

We’ve all heard horror stories about sex education sites being inadvertently blocked as porn, due to false positives on filtering. This is, of course, terrible. What’s worse, though, is that you’ve actively set up Sex Education as a category in your parental controls. That’s pretty iffy in and of itself, and gets much grosser when we look at exactly what you’ve explicitly decided to give parents the option to block:

Sex Education will block sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

I’ve got some news for you, BT. This is really, really important information that young people need to access. This is information that keeps them safe from abuse–information about what is and isn’t OK. Respect for a partner is something vital that young people need to know about.

About the only way what you’re doing is OK is if you’re using your filters as a red flag list for spotting potentially abusive families. Are you trying to find out what sort of parent would block their children from knowing about respect, so you can help get their kids out of that situation?

Nope?

I thought not.

Basically, BT, I didn’t think much of you to begin with, and I certainly don’t think much of you now. Your priorities in what information you want to help block are really, really fucking skewed.

No love,

Stavvers

P.S. Terms like “gay and lesbian lifestyle” are homophobic dogwhistles, you pile of skidmarked Y-fronts.

Edit 22/12/13: I note you’ve now reworded, BT. But are you still blocking all of this vital information? If so, all of this still stands.


Lucifer, literally. Or, yes, I am jealous. Yes, I do want to drag you down.

Content note: this post discusses rape, transphobia, disablism, racism and abuse. 

There are a lot of women who I can say make me feel jealous. And there are a lot of women who I would like to drag down to my level of misery.

I envy the women who think a few tweets with four-letter words in them telling them they’re wrong is abuse. I know abuse, both online and offline. Online, even the death and rape threats, the sustained harassment and the attempted doxxings fade into insignificance next to what has happened to me in the meatspace. There’s only one thing that happened to me that I “count” as rape, because it was violent and it involved the word “no” being ignored a lot, but I wonder if internalised rape culture myths have left me discounting other very coercive sexual experiences. There was the emotionally abusive relationship wherein my head was being so fucked with I couldn’t even consent. There were the attempts to somehow correct me. I’ve been manipulated into sex I didn’t necessarily want more times than I can count.

And beyond the physical stuff, there’s all the verbal assaults, the slutbitchdyke stuff which is supposed to keep me in my place, and keep me down. I am simultaneously frigid and fucking too much. These slurs based on my sexuality and on my femininity serve to support and enable the sexual violence.

So yes. I’m deeply jealous of anyone who thinks that a couple of rude words on the internet are in any way comparable with all of this.

I envy the women who believe certain oppressions cannot possibly exist. The ones who believe biphobia isn’t real, so can’t possibly hurt. The ones who believe that I cannot possibly have a disability because I have a job and am capable of articulating my opinions, blissfully ignorant of the fact that if I didn’t have the former I’d starve and die, and if I didn’t do the latter the silence would gnaw away at my soul, and that I’d rather be able to focus on taking care of myself than grind away to survive and defend myself.

I envy those who think transphobia isn’t a real thing, or those who think it’s just a little intellectual squabble, a petty parlour game. I have held someone I love in my arms more times than I care to count, comforting against the vicious assaults. I have dried tears of people I care about as their very existence is questioned, and spent long hours reiterating that mere existence does not make one scum, or a rapist.

I find myself in similar situations with my sisters of colour, talking through racism that has been too often denied, providing support where I can, because there’s a lot of lucky women out there who believe that the only manifestation of white supremacy is a KKK hood or an EDL flag.

I find myself wishing I could be like those other women, the ones who don’t have to see this, the ones who can sit comfortably and believe that nothing is wrong. It must be so nice, having so little to worry about. It must be lovely, not having to check oneself at all, with no knowledge of one’s own complicity in this oppressive power structure. It must be absolutely fucking brilliant, being able to feel like they can actually do things and achieve things because the magnitude of the problem is largely invisible.

And it makes me angry, and it makes me want for them to see what I see. It makes me want to prop open their eyes with matchsticks and scream “LOOK AT IT. FUCKING LOOK AT ALL OF THIS.” It is a miserable thing, seeing all of this, and I want them to be down on my level of misery so we can actually begin to maybe solve these problems.

I am Lucifer, literally. The light bearer, illuminating the injustices that they do not see. And it’s not just me, it is all of us who see it, all of us who have had enough and want to point it out. We shine a light in the direction of just how deep the rot goes, and just how much of a battle we have left to fight.

And of course, this is not a popular position. Nobody wants to see it. I sure as shit wish I couldn’t, but because I do, the only option left open to me is to oppose it, fight it, hope that perhaps one day it will shift and do all that I can to help this on my way.

I want you to see what I see. I know it will hurt. But you need to see it to destroy it.

__

Thank you,  @veidtlemania, for calling me Lucifer. <3


Smugsexual and the closet: two faces of feminist biphobia

Over the last few days, I have found myself experiencing a shuddering anxiety which had been at bay for years. I’ve been made to feel ashamed for my queer, poly sexuality. I have been made to feel like maybe I should just shut the hell up and stop being so open about this part of my identity, because it’s bad and wrong and whatever the hell else. I know, in my head, that this is just how heterosexist patriarchy wants me to feel so I will stay in my allocated place. That doesn’t stop it getting to me.

It all started with a complicated situation wherein a feminist blogger started attacking a feminist woman of colour, seemingly inexplicably. The aggressor then wrote a blog to defend her stance, in which she decided to air her grievances with a number of other women. It has been critiqued here, by Sam Ambreen. In it was the following line, which rang a few alarm bells for dogwhistle biphobia:

I will not go along with the lie that any white, cis, middle-class blogger who announces she is [made-up word] sexual is therefore just as oppressed as those she claims to represent.

When challenged, it became all the more obvious what she was driving at. I should note from later tweets, one of the people she means here is me:

Glosswitch  Glosswitch  on Twitter

All together, this “smugsexuals” rant displays a number of tropes which occupy the intersections of biphobia and misogyny, and I’m not even going to go into how blatantly little she doesn’t understand how intersectionality and privilege work, as this is fairly self-evident. First is the assertion that queer sexualities are “made up”, that any language we use to describe our experiences is somehow not real. I’d have thought we’d moved to a position where we could at least acknowledge that some people don’t fall neatly into little filing drawers marked “gay” or “straight”, but between this and the nonsense surrounding Tom Daley’s coming out, it is abundantly clear that we still haven’t even gained this little bit of ground.

Second is the implication that queer folk are attention-seeking, embodied in this mention of smugness. This notion of “attention-seeking” is levelled at bi and queer women far too much, and it’s tangled in all sorts of hideous assumptions about queer sex and what a woman should do. Heterosexist patriarchy wants us to be quiet, keep our pretty little heads down and if we stray outside the norms we must be doing it for the attention of men.

I am open about my identity because it’s a part of me that I spent a long time coming to terms with. And I also talk about it a lot because I know that when I was coming to terms with it, seeing people being out and unabashed really helped me understand, and gave me the courage and strength to be out myself.

My friend Charlie wrote this beautiful and heartfelt post a while back about how straight people often ask why her sexuality is so important to her. There is such an assumption amongst straight people that we’re just going on about it and obsessing over one aspect of ourselves, while nobody ever pays any attention to straight people talking about marriage and dating and so forth. It’s the same thing, our lives are just… well… queerer. Our love is important to us. This is a given.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what Glosswitch intended when she developed this brand new slur to smack down queer women with. What she has said takes place against the backdrop of policing of women’s sexuality, of a societal disgust levelled at queer people. This “smugsexual” slur is just a shorter word for what is usually yelled at us.

And it’s facing this, and seeing it go relatively unchallenged, hits me. It took me a long time to overcome all the horrible stuff I had internalised, and having it repeated and spat back into my face really fucking hurts. It’s enough to make me want to go back into the closet.

…except, according to the other face of biphobia considered acceptable in feminism, I’m already there.

Julie Bindel  bindelj  on Twitter (1)

This position is rooted in a feminism which likes to police women’s behaviour and coerce them into lesbianism, and it’s not like Julie Bindel doesn’t have a track record with this. It was because of the dominance of this feminism–in conjunction with general societal monosexual supremacy–that I still sometimes find myself saying I am a lesbian rather than being truthful about who and how I love. The expectation of this kind of feminism is that we should pack away a part of ourselves, stick it into a locked box and bury it under six feet of concrete, rather than living and loving to the fullest extent possible.

This kind of rigid feminism is, thankfully, in decline, and I expect to see less of this kind of rhetoric in the future. What we’ll see more of, though, is this new biphobia. As @nanayasleeps puts it, we’ve gone from “the love that dare not speak its name” to “the love that will not shut up”. Where once we were silent and we hid in the shadows of the closet, we are now too loud, too unreasonable, asking for too much and waving our sexuality in the face of others.

Bisexual people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than lesbian, gay or straight people, and it’s unlikely that our sexual orientation is a product of our madness. Rather, it is because we end up facing an ugly pincer manoeuvre of prejudice, from all corners. We are told we do not exist, and when we point out that we do, we are told to fuck off because we’re being smug about it. It is a grinding daily stressor, with little support offered to us, as most deny that biphobia even exists.

There is nothing more scary to heterosexist patriarchy than a queer woman who is not afraid to speak out, who cuts through the silence like a hot knife through butter.

I love people of all genders. I am satisfied with my sex life. I am at peace with the fact that I am not like the others. I am secure in the knowledge that I know who I am, and I kind of like it. If that makes me smug, so be it. I wish nothing but smugness on the rest of my queer sisters.

Edit 10/12/13: For the record, Glosswitch replied. Here are her tweets: 1 2 3 4. Here is how I responded: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.


Ira must stay.

Irina Putilova is a Russian LGBTQ activist. She fled the country and sought asylum here in the UK because the persecution of queer people and activists in Russia put her in danger.

Unfortunately, UKBA do not want Ira to be safe from imprisonment, from raids and state harassment, from attacks. Yesterday, she was taken to Yarl’s Wood–the detention centre which deported a witness to institutional sexual abuse. She risks deportation within days, and it is very likely that she will be imprisoned indefinitely if she is sent back to Russia.

Ira’s case is complex, and it is thoroughly inappropriate to fast-track sending her back into danger, even by the standard of the skewed and violent rules created by abusive xenophobes.

There are some things you can do which could help Ira and persuade the government not to send a queer person into a situation which could endanger her life. Please share her story, and make sure it is visible. Ask journalists to cover what is happening. You can also write to your MP asking them to make a statement in support of Ira–there’s a model letter here, and you can get your MP’s contact details here. Tomorrow–the 8th–there will be a solidarity demo at 6pm outside the UKBA offices at London Bridge, which you might like to attend.

And finally, remember that what is happening to Ira is sadly far from unusual. The immigration system is racist, and exploits intersecting oppressions. You might like to become active in “No Borders” work to try to end this system once and for all.

No person is illegal. Ira must stay.

Edit 9/12/13: Ira has been released! This is brilliant news, and shows how much showing support for asylum seekers can achieve.


Naming the problem

Content note: This post discusses transphobia, transmisogyny with particular focus on a known perpetrator.

I suppose in the past I’ve avoided, for the most part, discussing specific perpetrators of transphobia and transmisogyny. My reasoning for this has been that this shit is structural: one perpetrator does not a system make, and bringing the fucker down won’t heal anything without deep change. I prefer to discuss things more broadly, as a nod to the systemic nature of these problems.

So let’s talk about the problem named Cathy Brennan. I doubt I need to introduce her to you. The first Google hit for her name gives a precis on what she’s like. For more, it’s really worth looking at the work the trans community has done on collating the abuse she has perpetrated and the heartbreaking personal accounts of what she’s done.

Brennan is one of the most virulent of the TERfs. This is perhaps due to her class privilege: Brennan works as a lawyer for payday lenders and is fucking raking it in. Despite this, she has a hell of a lot of time on her hands. This time, she uses to harass and abuse trans women. She researches their dead names, finds pictures, and then puts them on her websites next to pictures of rapists. If she can, she contacts employers. These are trans women, simply existing as trans women, smeared and outed because Brennan doesn’t think they should exist.

Brennan uses her lesbian feminism as a veil for this behaviour. It is nothing more than that: a veil. Brennan will gladly side with homophobic organisations if they will get her what she wants–that is, making life more dangerous for trans women.

And this is not a petty intellectual difference. What Cathy Brennan does endangers the lives of women. Outing trans women can starve them out of a job, it can socially isolate them, it can put them at risk of acts of violence–the very male violence that Brennan pretends to oppose. Furthermore, her rhetoric trivialises rape and abuse: morally equating the existence of trans women with these horrors does nobody any favours except the bigots.

As feminists, we must stand against this. We must reject Brennan entirely. We need to stand against these repeated incitements to violence, and back up our trans sisters who are victims of her work.

Yet cis feminism does too little. We stay quiet in the face of this, because the perpetrator is a cis woman and the excuse of sisterhood keeps us quiet. Brennan has a small but loyal army of enablers who police any criticism, who cry division and silencing whenever anyone dares to point out that putting women in danger is hardly a feminist act. The whole thing creates a climate wherein it is hard to speak out.

My own reasoning for refraining from writing about Cathy Brennan specifically rings hollow in my ears. On reflection, that’s been rather a double standard on my part: I’ll gladly write reams about perpetrators like Julian Assange. Even I, Attacker Of Women, have perhaps gone somewhat easy on a perpetrator, because even I, Attacker Of Women, have internalised some of the cisterhood bollocks which shuts down and silences these discussions.

It has taken me this long to fully nail my colours to the mast. Fuck Cathy Brennan. I hope that every time she cooks pasta, it comes out slightly overdone or slightly underdone. I hope she steps on upturned plugs every morning. I wish stale biscuits and unripe bananas on her.

Calling out this one person will not fix a broken system, but it is vital that we do so. It is vital that we draw attention to the abuse she perpetrates, and reject her brand of feminism entirely. It is vital that we support her victims. It is vital that we question her enablers. We need to unite against hate and violence within feminism, and Cathy Brennan is one of the best places to start. As cis feminists, she is our mess, and we need to help clean it up.

It is not enough to say that Cathy Brennan isn’t a feminist, because she wears that label. We need to actively challenge her, to make it known that we see what she does and we reject it entirely.

Further reading:
#dearcisfeminism- A very enlightening hashtag, unfortunately marred by a few TERf attempts at detrailing
You Can’t Ignore the Bug (GenderTerror)
Abuse is still abuse (Sam Ambreen)
Transphobia has no place in feminism (me)
Time to pick a side (also me; both of these pieces kind of talked around the issue without naming the problem explicitly)


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