In which I struggle to care about hetero civil partnerships

This week, a straight couple are challenging a terrible case of discrimination in the high court: they want a civil partnership, like same sex couples can have, but they’re not allowed one.

Now, at first it might seem like it’s a little bit weird that civil partnerships are only available to same sex couples, but actually under a power system which centres and favours heterosexuality, it makes perfect sense. Civil partnerships were brought in as the “lesser” option for same sex couples: marriage without polluting the Very Important Institution Of Marriage with all the gayness. Civil partnerships are pretty much exactly the same as a marriage, legally, except without the word “marriage”.

There’s a comparison here. Basically it’s the same, with a couple of pretty trivial differences: you can’t terminate a civil partnership if one partner had a STI at the time of the formation (though you can with marriage); you can’t terminate civil partnerships due to adultery (which doesn’t exist within civil partnerships); civil partnership certificates have both parents’ names on them (when, to be honest, neither certificate should have anyone’s parents’ names on them); and the register of civil partnerships is electronic. It comes down to words, at the end of the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I can see how this might be appealing to people who consider themselves too modern for marriage, but would like all the perks: the tax breaks, the sneaking around inheritance tax, and so forth. These things are, of course, a product of social engineering on the part of the state, encouraging people into little nuclear family arrangements, into a contract which makes it harder to get out of the arrangement. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty powerful piece of social engineering, and I can see why, if your life can in any way be bent into this little contract, you’d want to do it.

The thing is, it’s hardly an oppression that straight people can’t use the word that same sex couples use for the arrangement they were originally fobbed off with. Is it bad that cohabiting man-and-woman couples don’t have access to various tax things without getting married? Well, not particularly to me–I’m fully expecting not to be in a position wherein I’ll ever have anything for anyone else to inherit, and one of the biggest tax breaks of all is not cohabiting with anyone. But assuming these things do matter to you–why campaign for marriage-under-a-different-name when you could campaign for your cohabitation to be recognised? If you’ve lived together for years and got kids together, why shouldn’t this be recognised without having to get your very specific legal seal of approval? Why not ask for that? 

Not marrying should have the same benefits as marrying, for those who want it. And when I use the word “marry” there, I am including civil partnerships, because they are essentially the same. Support those who choose to stay the fuck out of it, and let them benefit too.

What would be healthier for everyone would be if the institution of marriage (including civil partnership) became irrelevant from a legal standpoint: sure, keep it as something with religious significance, keep it as something with cultural significance, but is it really necessary? Every time the marriage question comes up, I find myself saying no: open up those benefits to anyone in any domestic arrangement, and stop socially engineering relationships. If you don’t want the crap that comes with the word “marriage”, then the path is clear, even if it is a harder one: fight marriage.


The Daily Mail apologised for writing fanfic about me

Remember the big bread lie? The Mail apologised. Picture below because most of you probably won’t click the Mail link.

CZCVOS6WwAEotWg

I feel very good about this.


Misgendering is editorial policy at the Independent: Lola Phoenix shares their story

Content warning: this post discusses dysphoria, trans healthcare and misgendering

Lola Phoenix is an agender person who needs surgery to correct dysphoria. Because they are agender–they do not identify as any gender– and they have a feminine name, they have been denied treatment from the NHS​. So, like many other trans and non binary people who need surgery, Lola has turned to crowdfunding. Visit Lola’s crowdfunding page, and read why they need help in their own words.

To gain prominence for the crowdfunder, Lola decided to engage with the mainstream media, opting to work with who they thought was a sympathetic journalist. “Initially, I saw a story about GIC wait times in the Independent written by Paul Gallagher and I tweeted him and asked if he was interested in writing about my GIC experience. In my first email, I made it clear that I wanted my pronoun to be respected and I wanted to basically publicise my surgery fundraiser. I went through the whole rigamarole, ​spoke to him on the phone, filled out the questions he sent me, and answered his follow up questions. I even got photographed by one of their photographers and everything! I asked to see the article before it went live and in the one he provided for me, I corrected my pronouns.”

So far, so good. Surely the Independent covered Lola’s story in a way which was acceptable to everyone? Well, no. “The article that went up is not the same and when I asked him to change it, he gave me the spiel about the editorial decision.” Changes to the article included deletion of paragraphs on the issues non binary people face, such as immigration issues, and honorifics. Furthermore, Lola’s pronouns were not changed.

The journalist said “The was decision taken to use ‘she’ etc in the opening few paragraphs to describe you as a child as it was felt this provided clarity for readers coming to the story fresh and make your gender at birth clear. Then when we mention the fact you considered yourself agenda [sic] c. post 16 we stopped using those pronouns.”

Whoever made the editorial decision made a pretty nonsensical one. Having read the article (freezepage here, content warning for misgendering), it is more confusing, using “she” pronouns for Lola in the first six paragraphs–it certainly seems to have confused readers in the comments, who are using the incorrect pronouns. At no point does the article mention Lola’s correct pronouns, and it seems to go out of its way at avoiding using any pronouns whatsoever. Also, it’s a fib that the “she” pronouns–which shouldn’t have been there in the first place–were dropped after it was made clear that Lola is agender. Just one sentence later we get this crap: ‘She no longer wanted to be referred to as “she”.’ Just try to process that sentence for a minute.

Lola was understandably unhappy with this response and took action. “I wrote him back explaining why it wasn’t okay. No response.”

Lola asked explained why the Independent’s current editorial policy is wrong, telling Paul Gallagher, “By misgendering me, you send a clear message to your audience that it’s okay if they misgender me. In your own article, you state that I don’t like being referred to as “she” despite doing so yourself, so it sends a message to the audience that it’s okay for people to continue misgendering me.If that’s an editorial decision your paper wants to make, don’t expect a lot of trans people, especially non-binary people, to feel safe telling their stories to you.”

The email was sent on 30th December; it’s been a week and still no word. Lola hasn’t yet taken any further action, although they were clear in their emails to Gallagher that they would talk publicly about their experience if the matter was not resolved. While they’ve open to contacting editors, they’ve found it difficult to find out who to talk to and had “rubbish luck” in the past.

It’s shameful that the Independent are not even trying to engage any more. If it is indeed editorial policy that people are misgendered to make it easier for a cis audience to understand their stories, this needs to change sharpish. It is completely disrespectful to ignore a person’s pronouns. Lola’s gender assigned at birth is irrelevant to their current situation: one where a binarist, cissexist world is depriving them of the treatment they need. They suspect this bad reporting is down to ignorance.  “I think that they are trying to tell the story clearly and they’re trying to address a primarily cis audience that will be obsessed with what my “birth sex” is. In order to get media coverage for my surgery fundraiser, and talking about being trans in general, that’s kind of par for the course. Cis people are obsessed with it. But if you have to talk about someone’s “birth sex” you can do so and still use the right pronoun for them.”

Far from helping Lola, the Independent are exacerbating the problem. And after all that, the Indy haven’t even linked to Lola’s fundraiser (here it is again!). Lola says they wouldn’t have gone through this process if Gallagher had been open from the start that the article could not link to the fundraiser.

Lola has also tried appealing to the NHS for a breast reduction outside of a GIC, but the requirements for every borough they have ever lived in have excluded Lola due to the fact that their chest isn’t seen as large enough (Over a G cup) or requires a “normal” BMI. The irony being that Lola not only has a thyroid condition which makes it impossible for them to lose weight but also Lola partially wants a reduced chest because having one would make it easier for them to exercise. Lola also has flat feet and a knee condition that makes some form of exercise difficult, which the CCG does not take into account — they purely want the patient’s BMI to make a decision. CCGs in the boroughs Lola has lived in do not consider psychological distress as a factor for getting a breast reduction, despite a recommendation letter from both Lola’s therapist and endocrinologist explaining their thyroid condition.​

Lola has a few things they feel would right this wrong. For themself, a correction to their pronouns, or at the very least an explanation as to why they were repeatedly misgendered in the article. For the community, better journalistic standards are a must, and they suggest some simple changes to writing style: “People’s preferred pronouns should be used at all times. If you need to clarify someone’s “birth sex”, then you can do so by saying “born female” or what have you. But in general, the preferred pronouns need to be use for any person.” And finally, Lola would very much like it if you could help with their fundraising.

Lola is well on their way to raising the funds they need for their surgery, no thanks to the Independent. However, they still need another £3000 to be able to afford the operation and associated fees. Unless gender identity clinics revise their attitude to agender and nonbinary people literally right now, and instantly manage to deal with their lengthy waiting lists, going private is Lola’s only option–and that of many others in the same boat. In a just world, nobody would have to crowdfund essential medical attention, but we have not built that world yet. So please, please consider donating what you can to help Lola access the care that they need.

HelpLola.co.uk


A short rant on communication and all girls’ schools

Doing the rounds today has been a headteacher of a mixed-sex private school trying to promote his school by saying that girls who go to single-sex schools don’t learn to communicate with men in the real world.

I went to an all girls’ school and I’d query that massively. I had a short rant, which I’ll collate here.

(though, to be fair to the lesbian drama, it was significantly superior to the hetero drama at sixth form)

 

Adding to this, at my current workplace, it’s mostly women. It’s a great place to work because I never get men talking over me, and I can make my points and get on with my fucking job.

 

The reason I used “much” here is because it’s not completely absent. Yes, you won’t have teachers calling on the boys more than the girls. Yes, you won’t be a direct witness to patriarchy in action among your peers. However, you’re still living and growing up in a patriarchal society so it’s kind of still coming in.

A “bitch” here clearly defined as “a woman who pisses off men”, by doing Terrible things such as not quietly standing there and nodding while he speaks, not accepting everything he says as right, arguing, talking back, saying no, etc etc.

If anyone can get hold of the paywalled article, please do send it my way. I believe it was in the January 2012 issue of Science, although I didn’t actually have much to go on: all the headteacher said was it was an article in that magazine, never specifying a date, or anything.

 

 

This bears repeating again and again. Single sex schools are fucking shit for a lot of kids. They’re probably not the best thing for anyone, really, in an ideal world. Nonetheless, do they make it harder for women to communicate with men? Yes, probably. But only because men are entitled pigs.


Things I read recently that I found interesting

It’s the first post round up of 2016–and the first since, like, early December. Anyway. It’s here.

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards– There’s a lot of doom and gloom in these links, so have this open in another tab for when you need it.

What Everyone Should Know About The Police Killing Of Tamir Rice (2002-2014) (Judd Legum)- Facts about the killing of this child which are important to remember.

Emotional Labor: The MetaFilter Thread Condensed– Almost everything about emotional labour. Take a bit of time with this.

White Feminism & The School To Prison Pipeline (Mikki Kendall)- Some work white feminists must take on in 2016.

jennifer lisa vest, “what doesn’t kill you”– Excerpts on the enormous problem of racism in academia.

The Exile Narratives of Trans Women of Color #Dispatch: Gabrielle Bellot (Bani Amor/Gabrielle Bellot)- An interview on fascinating work on exile and trans women.

(Not) All Men (Nona Willis Aronowitz)- Examining a problem we have: challenging “our” men.

Workplace (Robot Hugs)- A comic to which I am sure everyone who’s ever been the only woman in a department can relate.

On Airstrikes (James Butler)- A strong, nuanced analysis of the Syrian airstrikes.

Toxic Masculinity in Jessica Jones: Kilgrave as a “Nice Guy” and Will Simpson as Misogynistic Hero (Edeline Wrigh)- Good analysis of the show, and the two faces of toxic masculinity we recognise so well.

The fall of Jersey: how a tax haven goes bust (Oliver Bullough)- An in-depth examination of why Jersey is completely and totally fucked.

I Can’t Believe People Tell Sex Workers to “Go to the Police” If They’ve Been Raped (Mistress Matisse)- Shit that shouldn’t need saying, said well.

Men Not to Fuck in 2k16 (Katie McVay)- And then please put all of these fuckboys in the bin.

Princess Leia: The Most Important Character Ever (Hazel Southwell)- Why pre-TFA Leia matters so much.

Not Radical but Paranoid (Wail Qasim)- On radicalisation narratives and (justifiable) paranoia.

And finally, the lovely David Attenborough narrates Adele’s Hello and it is one of the best things ever.


My year of not reading men

Since November last year, I set myself a challenge: not to read any books written by men for at least a year. As of today, I still haven’t.

What’s perhaps been most notable in this challenge is how little I’ve actually changed my reading habits. I have no doubt that mediocre white men will scoff into their lustrous beards at my preferences, but I like my books to include at least some of the following: mythical creatures, sex, spaceships, lesbians, swearing, poetry by imagined cultures, lesbian sex.

Much, but not all, of what I read this year was completely new to me, even if it wasn’t necessarily new. However, I did also revisit a few old favourites: I reread the Harry Potter books for example, and concluded that Hermione probably wiped her parents’ memories and packed them off to Australia a hell of a lot earlier in the series than the point where she admitted to it; I binged on the Adrian Mole series and wondered on which side Pandora would fall in the rise of Corbyn; I treated myself to my favourite Sarah Waters novel, Fingersmith, which has something for everyone, if what you like is crime capers and lesbians. What I’m including in my round-up list of my top books that I read this year is only books that were new to me, the discoveries I made along the way.

Did I miss reading books by men? Honestly, no. All of the male authors I particularly love are dead, so it’s not like I’m going to be missing out on anything new. Pretty much the only words from a novel written by a man I ended up reading this year was Morrissey’s Bad Sex In Fiction Award-winning sex scene, featuring barrel-rolling tits and bulbous salutations, and frankly literally everything I read this year was better than that. 

If you’re considering trying your own personal experiment with not reading men for 2016, I would definitely recommend it. Fucking do it. You’ll be surprised at how little you miss it, and delighted by how many excellent reads you pick up along the way. You could start with some of these…

Imperial Radch series (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy) (Ann Leckie)- Without a doubt, this trilogy of space opera novels are my books of the year. What Leckie has done here is build a fascinating, compelling world which I could spend forever reading about but definitely wouldn’t want to live in, and a host of characters who are complex and layered, but I definitely wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with. Through the lens of a sprawling space empire (and the eyes of a former sentient spaceship), Leckie examines colonialism and class.

Tiny Pieces of Skull (Roz Kaveney)- This is Kaveney’s semi-autobiography, a romp through the trans subculture in the late Seventies. I wrote a fuller review of it here.

The Companion Contract (Solace Ames)- If you’re judging a book by its cover, this is ebook erotica. However, it’s so much more than that: it’s a book about immigration and identity, a discussion of sex work and other work under capitalism, a story of trying to find community. And on top of all that, it’s also ebook erotica, with oodles of hot sex scenes. In a way, it’s like Lace–a feminist porn novel–except with  more modern feminist politics (i.e. without Lace‘s heterocentrism, racism and transphobia).

The Dispossessed (Ursula LeGuin)- This is about anarcho communists that live on the moon, and if that hasn’t captured your imagination already, we probably have very different taste in fiction and you’ll probably not enjoy any of my recommendations. This was my first time reading what is essentially a classic that I should have read a long time ago. If you’re interested in theoretical physics and/or what an anarchist society would look like under conditions of scarcity, this is a very good read.

Trans (Juliet Jacques)- The only non-fiction text on this list, and for a very, very good reason. You’ve no doubt seen this book listed on every “book of the year” list, and it deserves to be there. I wrote a fuller review of it here.

Scale-Bright (Benjanun Sriduangkaew)- I’ve no doubt that including this book on my list will prove controversial, since Sriduangkaew is a controversial figure, but forget about the author. This is an excellent novel, blending Chinese mythology with queer urban fantasy: it’s sexy, it’s hypnotic, it’s haunting, it’s evocative, and it’s urban fantasy which doesn’t focus on western myths and pantheons.

Kushiel’s Legacy series (Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar) (Jacqueline Carey)- If you’re looking for porny medieval fantasy, this is pretty much exactly what you want: follow Phèdre, a woman chosen by a god to experience pain as pleasure, as she uses her unusual gifts for political intrigue and divine purposes.

The Gospel of Loki (Joanne Harris)- A fun slant on Norse mythology, from the point of view of the trickster god Loki. This novel manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, and doesn’t fall into the trap of turning a bad guy into a woobie: you’ll enjoy the misfortunes of its narrator.

Romanitas series (Romanitas, Rome Burning, Savage City) (Sophia McDougall)- McDougall’s alternate history in which the Roman Empire never fell is a disturbing and often distressing read, with images that stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page. It’s the dystopic speculative fiction where the fascists won that should have been turned into a television show.

Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)/Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)- Reading these two as a double bill is an experience, especially if you do it in that order. While most people likely know the plot of Bronte’s classic, Wide Sargasso Sea focuses on a character who is treated only a nuisance: the mad wife in the attic. The novel looks at her struggle to fit in as a Creole woman, and her madness becomes a natural reaction. I never liked Rochester anyway, and Wide Sargasso Sea validates this.

Happy 2016 reading, everybody!

 


Let’s stop using the term “revenge porn”. Please.

Content warning: this post discusses abusive behaviour, victim blaming and misogyny

Every time I see the phrase “revenge porn” it hits a kind of berserk button inside me. I am writing this post to save myself having to have the same bloody rant every time it pops up: automating my own fury as it were, because I doubt the phrase is going to go away any time soon.

Revenge porn is not, as the name would suggest, like Kill Bill but naked. It’s the name the media like to give to distributing sexual images or videos (usually of women) without the consent of the person featured in them, usually to humiliate them. I’m not sure who came up with the name–it may have been men attempting to trivialise the violence they are enacting, or it may have been those well-meaning but ultimately harmful anti-porn feminists who have decided to have a pop at pornography. Either way, it’s a gross name for it, and as feminists we must be deeply critical of it.

Revenge porn is neither revenge, nor porn.

“Revenge” is inherently victim-blaming. It suggests that there is something that ought to be avenged: something that the victim did to warrant such treatment. There isn’t. Intimate images and videos aren’t released to avenge, they’re released to intimidate, to control, to humiliate. It’s probable that the perpetrator thinks he’s enacting revenge for perceived slight on the part of the victim, but that’s not what’s really happening, and it is not all right to keep on using the language that abusers will likely prefer.

“Porn” is perhaps harder to define, but most definitions tend to include that it is produced for the purposes of sexual arousal to distinguish porn from other reasons people might be naked in representations. Again, “revenge porn” does not fit this purpose. In a lot of instances, perhaps, the images or video were created because the people involved found it erotic at the time, but the public distribution of them did not have titillation in mind. The purpose was to intimidate, to control, to humiliate.

The usage of “porn” here is much the same as in the equally ghastly phrase “child porn” to describe images or video of the sexual abuse of children (and we should stop using that phrase too).

Put together, what we have in the term “revenge porn” is something which trivialises the violence being enacted, while simultaneously rooting for the perpetrators.

As feminists, it’s important we question everything, but it’s not difficult to see why, in a culture which helps abusers at the expense of survivors, the phrase “revenge porn” grew so popular.

So what to use instead of “revenge porn”? Instead of the euphemisms, I suggest we call it what it is, and here are a few suggestions:

  • Abuse
  • Humiliation
  • Sexual shaming
  • Violence against women
  • Non-consensual distribution of sexual images or video

You’ll note at least two of those are shorter than “revenge porn”.

 


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