Category Archives: queer issues

Is stalking feminist praxis these days?

Content note: this post discusses stalking, harassment and transmisogyny

Last night, I went to the pub with my friends Roz and Sarah. Roz and Sarah are trans women, so piss TERfs off by just existing and being really awesome with it. Meanwhile, you all know about me–to TERfs, I’m the traitor for sororitising with the enemy.

We were followed to the pub. Our whereabouts was spread about TERf circles by text message, and they were rumbled when one of their lot tweeted, bragging about this information exchange. It was fortunate that our whereabouts were only made public after we’d already left and started our journey home, because otherwise, this could have become very dangerous indeed. As a woman, a vocal, outspoken woman, I have pissed a lot of men off in my time, too. These men literally want me dead. I know this, they’ve said it often enough. I don’t really want these men knowing where I am when I’m in a small group and vulnerable, because there is a genuine sense of danger here. I don’t doubt the same is true for my friends.

I also don’t doubt the TERfs know that this is true. We know for a fact that these people want trans women dead. They doxx and stalk and harass, trying to be the ones who give the order rather than the ones who pull the trigger. They try to block access to vital medical care, knowing this might kill people.

Now, I know that I’m not necessarily a safe person for trans women to be around. I have a high profile and a shitload of enemies. I sometimes worry that by talking to me, these women could be put in danger, draw unnecessary and unwanted attention. I thought I was being careful enough, but maybe I wasn’t. Me and my friends discussed meeting up that day via Twitter, and this is probably how our stalkers ended up tracking us down and tweeting out our location. I noticed that one of the stalkers followed me on Twitter–I can’t tell who’s following me there, and who isn’t. I cannot believe that this is something I even need to think about, but this is the climate in which we work, and I don’t blame any marginalised woman for staying the fuck away from me because of something like this.

But ultimately, the fault here isn’t mine. There’s things I can do to tighten security, and I’ll do those things. The real problem here is TERfs. This is not feminism, it’s being a fucking creep. These people are a danger. This is why I have a hair trigger on my block button for them and anyone who pals around with them: it’s proved it to me. You never know when one could be passing on information.

I write this post as a reminder: a reminder that this isn’t some sort of intellectual parlour game. The safety of women is at stake here. I’m fine and I’m alive, but what I want to come from this is an increased level of awareness. I want this post to be read. I want people to know that the TERfs literally stalk women. And I know that me being cis means more people are likely to care.

Isn’t that just the most fucked-up thing?

Edit, about 2 hours after posting: It looks like TERfs are trying to distance themselves from this because they realised how bad it looks. They have decided to throw the woman who tweeted our details under the bus and claim she is a man. However, they are continuing to laugh at the idea, and crack jokes with the woman. Unsurprisingly, they’re also continuing to harass me online. TERfs are perpetrating. TERfs are complicit. TERfs are loving this. TERfs are responsible. And, to boot, they’re failing on basic principles of #ibelieveher. I don’t have the energy to document it. If anyone wants to, they’re welcome to, but I don’t expect this. I know my readers tend to believe survivors.


I was there when a lesbian pride march got picketed by bigots

Content note: this post discusses transmisogyny

Over the last few years, I’ve regularly attended London’s Dyke March. It’s important to me to be with my sisters who also love women, out in the streets showing our solidarity and strength. The march organisers are brilliant, ensuring maximum turnout by pursuing an inclusive policy: all dykes are welcome.

In the light of this inclusive policy, it was only a matter of time till bigots tried to disrupt this annual dyke demonstration. I’d heard rumours of some sort of presence from bigots online, who objected to the inclusive stance of the organisers and their proactive selection of diverse dykes outside of the traditional cis white lesbian speaker selection. At this point, some women, including my girlfriend, were put off from going on the march. I don’t blame these women at all: the last thing anyone wants at a day celebrating queer women’s identity is a confrontation with bigots. I imagine this is exactly why the bigots publicly threatened to show up, to put women off from coming. There’s a full summary of what they did before the march here, if you want to see their tactics.

On the day, my friends and I arrived late, running predictably on queer time. Luckily, the march, being run by queer women, was also running on queer time, so we hadn’t missed the speeches. We grabbed a spot near the stage. I looked around, unsure as to whether the bigots would have turned up.

As the speeches started, I realised with a sinking feeling that they had. A silver-haired woman handed me a leaflet. Through the block of text, I could see that it was transmisogynistic conspiracy theorising about Sarah Brown, one of the speakers. I ripped it in half. They held up placards, revealing their obsession with genitals. They yelled misogynistic and transmisogynistic slogans over a speaker, as the rest of the crowd shuffled away and told them to shut up. In all, I think there were five or six of them, and one of them was literally wearing a fedora.

I’d seen all this before. I have seen this sort of thing outside abortion clinics, where Catholics try to harass women seeking access to abortion. I have seen it at Pride, where every year bigots show up to picket queer people gathering together and being themselves.

A lot of TERfs claim to be political lesbians, but if that’s the case, why are they picketing London’s only lesbian pride parade? Why are they attempting to disrupt a gathering of queer women? Why did they try and stop dykes from joining with their sisters in solidarity?

It was clear that they were not here as fellow lesbians, which was evidenced by the fact that they did not participate in the march itself. They just showed up to try and wreck the event. I consider their intervention an act of lesbophobic violence.

I cannot say I’m surprised that this happened. In women’s circles, transmisogyny is too often treated as a kind of abstract intellectual difference. Let it be known that it is not: it is a belief system which directly leads to attempting to disrupt lesbian pride and solidarity.


Some musings on love (and gender)

If asked to, how would you define love? Would you rattle off the ways you express it? A touch of a hand, a kiss, wiping a snotty nose and brushing their hair? Would you maybe try and explain how it feels to you? A kind of rising feeling from the bottom of your stomach that crashes all over you, a sense of gladly doing anything for that person, an overwhelming closeness? Would you think about the different kinds, and how different it is between comrades, parents, lovers?

It’s difficult, isn’t it, and that’s because ultimately it’s something of a silly question because every single one of these answers is a correct and valid answer. We know that it’s something so beautifully complex and so completely personal that no definition would ever be sufficient. We know that there’s no real universal answers, as much as some would like there to be. Science thinks it can answer this question by reducing the matter down to hormones and evolutionary purposes, and we can see that this isn’t the full picture. The state tries to define it for us, and the best of us react with disgust, because this is simply co-opting something to serve their own purposes.

It’s only the worst sort of bigot who makes up a definition of love and rigidly enforces it on others. The rest of us are kind of content to let others make up their own meaning, knowing and celebrating the diversity of feeling. It’s almost intuitive, thinking about love that way, so why do we have so much trouble thinking about gender on similar terms?

When it comes to gender, there’s also no right or wrong answers, no definition that can ever be universally applicable. This is not a problem: far from it. It’s exciting. It’s mysterious. It’s deeply personal, just like love is. And I for one think that’s brilliant.


Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: I don’t dwell on your genitals

Content note: This post discusses transmisogyny

At the age of about three, I used to go around asking every person I met the same question: “Do you have a willy or a vagina?” This, I learned very quickly, was not a polite thing to say to people, so I stopped. In an ideal world, everyone would have grown out of wondering what other people’s genitals look like at around that age. We do not live in an ideal world.

See, there’s two broad groups of people who are still fascinated with what other people have under their clothes: misogynists and transmisogynists. Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them. Among transmisogynists, it can be a bit more complicated, as many of them happen to be women. They make a litany of excuses, conveniently forgetting that rape isn’t just about penis to attempt to excuse their obsession with other people’s genitals. However, ultimately, it’s all about entitlement nonetheless. They genuinely feel entitled to know the precise configuration of everyone else’s private parts.

It seems so alien to me. When I’m out and about, I’m generally not dwelling on what sort of genitals everyone around me might have. When I spend time with women, I’m not sitting there constructing a mental map of what their genitals might look like. When I shower or swim with women, I’m not gawping at their genitals, because frankly, that’s just rude.

I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much. Knowing that there are women who do this too makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.

This feeling that I have pales into insignificance compared to what trans women go through. If you think trans women don’t get sexually assaulted in order to verify what their genitals look like, you’re wrong. This is a very real threat that women face due to societal fascination with something which should be completely private and up to the owner of said genitals to share or not.

There are precisely two times in live when someone else’s genitals are really relevant. The first is if you are a medical professional and someone needs some medical assistance with their genitals, something which, for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case. The other is during sex, and even then it really doesn’t matter exactly which way they point. People say “oh, but I just don’t like penises/vulvas”, but that, too, is rooted in cissexism and general poor sex education. You can have sex–great sex–with someone with a penis without any penetration whatsoever. You can have brilliant sex with someone with a vulva with plenty of penetration. I instinctively distrust anyone who professes a dislike for a certain type of genitals: it usually means they’re either cissexist, or completely lack imagination in bed, or both of those things.

I cannot believe I’ve just had to write a blog about how generally disinterested I am in what your genitals look like, but I feel it’s necessary to punch through what risks becoming a dominant discourse. Returning to dwelling on what someone’s genitals look like does not help feminism one little bit: in fact, it sets us way, way back. It can be hard, unlearning the fascination with genitals in a generally genital-fascinated society, but for the sake of a feminism which does not equate women to walking vaginas, it’s utterly essential.


In which I think out loud about a film I watched: Under The Skin

Content note: This post contains spoilers for Under The Skin, and a discussion of rape and sexual violence. 

This week I finally got round to seeing Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi film about sex and aliens and stuff. As I mull it over, I still can’t quite digest my feelings about it; I’m not sure if I necessarily liked it, but it certainly made me feel things. It was beautiful to look at, providing an arty and distinctly alien view of Glasgow, and the sound engineering was absolutely stunning. Scarlett Johansson delivered a spectacular performance as the alien protagonist. It was pleasingly oblique, with plenty of room for interpretation (or polite befuddlement).

What touched me hardest was that I’ve never seen a film which has summed up my own feelings about heterosexuality so perfectly. We see the world through the eyes of an alien wearing the body of a beautiful woman, and her confusion and disgust at the way men react to her. We see her making polite small talk with men who want to impress her, we see her horror as she enters a meat market night club, and we see her weary acquiescence to being cared for by a man in a time of need. All of it is presented as disorienting and weird, oddly repetitive, and thoroughly and completely unsexy. This is largely how I feel in my interactions with men who I can tell want to have sex with me, and I don’t blame her at all for spending a lot of the second half of the film running away.

For a predatory alien, it is also rather striking how conditional her power is. She is only capable of killing when she has successfully lured men back to her house and undertaken the procedure for suspending them in oil. At all other times, she is helpless, apart from one brief window of opportunity where she is presented with a weakened and near-unconscious man. Even under these ideal conditions, it is hinted at that the alien is not acting of completely her own volition: throughout, we see her shadowed by a male motorcyclist minder.

The climactic scene of the film cements these themes, as her conditional power and the strangeness of heterosexuality converge. A man attempts to rape the alien in an isolated forest. She is powerless in this situation, away from her safe space and up against a man physically stronger than her. It is only the rapist’s disgust that prevents the rape: in the violence, her skin is torn from her body, and her true form is revealed. This disgust does not save her: she is set on fire by the rapist and is ultimately killed.

I didn’t like the ending at all, because it was a story I have heard all too many times before, albeit with a metaphor of an alien tacked on. Sadly, it seemed inevitable from a narrative perspective.

This is, of course, my reading of the film as a queer woman. I almost can’t see how it’s not about what I think it’s about, but I know it can’t be. This was a film made by men, and as such, the likelihood of them setting out to make a film exploring these themes is phenomenally unlikely. So I sit and wonder exactly what they had in mind. Is it working through fear of female sexuality? Are they trying to equivocate the alien’s predation with that of the rapist at the end? Knowing this film was made by men makes me understand it less. And yet, if this film had been made by women, this exact same film, I don’t doubt that rather than being lauded, it would have been panned as these themes would have been more readily accessible and the mainstream is not ready for a film like that.

I recommend watching, if you haven’t already. Technically, it’s a brilliant film, and I’d love to know if others saw what I saw.


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.


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