sparkindarkness: (Default)
Ok. so someone has written a “won't you please think of the children” article about the terrible terrible darkness and drama of YA fiction And won't we allll please think of the children.

Life is dark.

Life for many teens is also dark.

Closing your eyes and pretending it's light really doesn't stop you running into things. It doesn't help guide you through the darkness. It doesn't give you a hand or a direction. It doesn't turn on a light or show you the way or help you hold on until it gets lighter.

You think teens don't know these things? You think teens don't live these things? Do you think teens live in fluffy little boxes where all is summary and light and shiny? Do you think teens don't live with drug addiction, with self-harm, with mental illness, with eating disorders with suicide, with pain, with suffering, with fear, with grief, with loss?

The rest of my thoughts continue on the blog. clicky clicky


May. 25th, 2011 11:58 pm
sparkindarkness: (Default)
I have been pondering about my hair lately. And no, this isn't going to be a post about hair care products or fashion :P

I have long hair, I've pretty much always had long hair since university when long hair on men goes largely without comment and the student pony tail was nearly a uniform among my friends. I would say I've always had long hair but there have been some dramatic cuts over the years that I'll come to. I like men with long hair, I like having long hair. When I don't have long hair I feel like I'm missing something and generally don't like how I look or feel until it's grown out again. I like it, simple as.

Of course, nothing's ever that simple. Because my hair is also my BIG EXCUSE.

New post on the blog click to go see
sparkindarkness: (Default)
And while I'm severely inclined to say "a fool and his money are soon parted" I can't help but be uncomfortable because of this. Because of the ravings of a fool, a whole huge bunch of people threw away so much of what they had and their lives are now very very very much poorer. And yes, it was their own choice and they knowingly and willingly decided to do this to themselves... but then, we often describe cult members as victimised and while this doesn't have the narrow, insular nature of a cult, it's still enough to make me uncomfortable with just saying "ha-ha, more fool you!"

...but doesn't the guy in charge of this whole mess, Harold Camping, have some responsibility? His careless words and manipulation of belief have hurt a whole lot of people. But then, by all accounts, he legitimately believes the nonsense he spouts? And there's no reason to believe he won't continue to, since it's not his first failed prediction

New post on the blog, click to go see
sparkindarkness: (STD)

This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

I have seen a lot of various stripes of allies who fit into all of these groups that I have seen raging here and there and everywhere – and I think that’s good because these need some severe attention – especially when it comes to working through the thorny issues of allies and supposed allies and the various problems that can come from various people wearing/using the label. Which is good, I think there’s a lot of things that have been badly glossed over for a very long time. But I also think in some cases we’re creating confusion and reactions from the first 2 may be causing problems with the last. So, I’m going to ramble! (You know I have to)

Concern Trolls

Concern Trolling annoys a great deal. Sometimes it’s a legitimate, albeit ignorant, and well intentioned but foolish response. And sometimes it’s just prejudice with a flimsy cover.

The problem is that Concern Trolls tell marginalised people how they should think and feel and act – and often comes with paternalistically telling marginalized people what they should do (even acting against marginalized people’s interests for their own sake).

I’ve seen Concern Trolls tell GBLTQ people not to push for rights for fear of backlash. I’ve seen them argue against removing DADT because it will expose gay troops to bullying. I’ve had Concern Trolls tell me where I should go, how I should dress, cut my hair, to be more “butch”, not to babysit my little nieces, a thousand things I should do – all for “my own sake.”

Marginalized people know their own lives best. Marginalized people do not need instructing how to navigate the isms they face. Marginalized people do not need to be patronized and controlled. They do not need shepherding or parenting by privileged people who think they know their lives better.

The White Knight

I will always remember the wonderful straight friend in an online computer game leaping all over someone for their homophobic statements. After all, he knew that I approached the arena with no small amount of trepidation because of the ubiquitous nature of open homophobic slurs – and he strode forwards to strike down the dragon for me.

Except… I didn’t actually see anything wrong with the statements he was fighting. I didn’t see any homophobia and I wasn’t offended. I’m now presented with someone proud of himself for defending me from an attack that wasn’t and someone else who is deeply confused, who has been reamed for non-offensive offensiveness.

And it’s not unique. There have been more than a few occasions when some badness has happened, I’ve moved forwards… only to not get an word in between the straight people rallying to protect me… which, yes, can be nice – but if there’s lots of people discussing how a homophobic comment will hurt gay people and the only gay person there can’t actually get a word in? And there’s lots of people saying how I feel and what hurts and what doesn’t… and they’re not actually getting it right and some of them are blundering around clumsily and throwing in their own sporks.

I’m glad I have such friends, such allies that they want to stand forward when they perceive me under attack and who care enough about issues that touch me that they are passionate about it – but it’s almost amusing to have a crowd of people talking so vehemently about how silenced and rendered invisible gay people are – that the gay person cannot be heard. And the issues I think are important to me are lost in a wave of issues the straight people think I should care about – and what actually hurt me is ignored, while the straight folks address a problem I never even saw and still don’t understand.

It’s great to be an ally – but if you’re overwhelming the people you’re “helping”, leading the charge when you should be supporting and telling the marginalised how to manage their marginalisation – well, this help isn’t very helpful?

The Fierce Ally

The flip side is, of course, that a lot of them time I’ve felt like no-one’s got my back at all. In my current on going family badness, I despair of the fact that most of my totally-not-homophobic-honest straight family are firmly keeping their mouths closed. I would love a show of support from them and it’s not coming.

And it’s not the only situation, there are many times when I’ve spoken and almost heard the echo and there’s a whole load of straight faces looking at me with expressions ranging from irritation, exasperation round to contempt and anger. And I want to slink away, I want to drop it, I want to brush it under, bite my tongue and go hide somewhere. And I have lost count of the times I have felt so extremely alone in trying to be me.

And, yes, I admit the weakness, I don’t always want to take point. I don’t relish in the face confrontation, I largely dislike leading anything, I’m not a leader by nature. There are times when I’d love someone to defend me, to fight for me, to pick up the torch and batter back the barbarian hordes. Yes, it may make me pathetically dependent but when some arsehole has run his mouth off, or some fool has thrown a bottle at my head or even some epitome of clueless has rambled on – I like it when a friend and ally stands up and says “it’s ok Sparky, you finish your drink, I got this one.”

Because sometimes it feels like being on guard all the time. And damn do I feel guilty if I let something slide – because I know that silence in the face of this shit IS consent, is enabling and does perpetuate it. So I feel I have to, I feel obliged even when tired and worn and sporked and even scared. And that’s aside from the fact my anger will rarely allow something go past unchallenged without rupturing something.

The flip side is, sometimes I’ve been a room full of straight folks who either haven’t seen me or haven’t realised I was gay and the homophobia has come out. And I’ve felt very… uncomfortable – sometimes outright unsafe – speaking up and saying “guys, I’m right here, could you not?” I’m much more comfortable knowing that some of the straight people there will back me up, will support me – that if I speak up and object I won’t be doing so to an empty room

And if one of the straight people there speaks up against it, I’m even happier. Because sometimes I’m not there. And that matters.

Why? Because I need to know this. I need to know that the anti-homophobia campaigning isn’t something that only happens when we’re watching. I need to know that when the straight folk are alone, they don’t say “phew, the homos are gone, let us now express how much we think they should all burn in hell, crackle crackle crackle.” Is it desperately insecure? Maybe…

But haven’t we all been there? You’re in a circle with a lot of people who are privileged in one way and they say something you know is 10 kinds of shit – but no-one says anything? The group of white people who relish the sudden freedom from the DREADED PCNESS! The group of men who are merry and joyous with their sexist humour and the gatherings of straight folks who think no-one’s watching so it’s time to let the homophobia fly. We’ve been there, we’ve seen it.

And that’s a problem. I think hate speech and the basic passive acceptance of prejudice in society is a major problem – it is considered acceptable. “PCness” is seen as a burden, not the norm. All the dehumanising language, all the devaluing jokes, all the dismissive and insulting comments are considered normal discourse is all the norm – which you are forced to deviate from when one of those whiny minority folks is around. And this is the foundation on which hatred is built.

And the marginalised? Can’t fix that. Well, I guess we could, we could have stealthy operatives infiltrating various privileged gatherings with hidden cluebats ready to deploy at a moment’s notice – but it’s probably not practical. Cool, but not practical.

Privileged folks need to be the ones that say that marginalising language is not ok. Privileged folks are the only ones who can say “no, this is always wrong. Even when they’re not around, it’s still wrong. Cut that shit out.” When the straight people gather and let the homophobia spill out, it has to be a straight person who calls them out. When the men gather and decide that sexism is a-ok, it has to be one of the men to say “no, it’s not.” When white people congregate and the racism abounds, it has to be a white person who speaks up. Because the marginalised people aren’t there – and so long as the shit continues whenever our back is turned it will always continue.

So yeah lots more rambling (you know I like to ramble) and I’m not sure entirely what the point is – probably somewhere around “we need you, our allies, but we need you on our terms, to be our supporters, our fierce advocates and our staunch defenders – but we don’t need you to be our voices, our decision makers and our instructors”

Yeah, that sounds good, we’ll run with that for a time.

sparkindarkness: (STD)

One of the perennial battles I’ve been seeing raging back and forth are a lot of battles about labels, their need and which ones to use. And they can get heated and passionate at time. There are also a movement at times to dismiss all labels as irrelevant, unneeded, damaging or otherwise unnecessary. To treat labels as relics or harmful or unnecessarily divisive. They have some good points

And while I respect people for their lack of labels (for reasons I’ll go into below) I certainly do not join them in dismissing them entirely, far from it. I like my labels and strongly identify with them.

Labels are, I think vitally important things, especially for marginalised people. Labels can be an important part of self-definition and self-identity. They can be a powerful way of declaring yourself, who and what you are, claiming yourself and naming yourself. That is important, that is powerful.

We live in a word where people will label us, negatively, insultingly with slurs and to dehumanise us, other us and reduce us.  To claim our own labels in response, to say “we’re not that – we’re this. THIS is us” is an act of empowerment.

And we live in a world where we are often rendered invisible, that denies our existence, forgets about us and generally shoves us under the rug and in the closet at every opportunity, then shouting our identity, clearly stating our identity and having a labelled identity is a great way to counter the erasure. I think this is especially important for GBLT people where our existence is not only denied, but the very possibility of our existence is often fought – with us being labelled as sick or deluded, with homosexuality being considered something we do rather than what we are and the huge denial of a trans person’s gender identity.

I like being able to say, “I am gay, this is me. This is who I am, this is what I am. Not what you say I am, what I say I am.” I like my label, it’s important to me and a matter of power to me.

But here’s another point – it’s my label. I label myself.

I think one of the main problems with labelling is that we have a desire to label others – and not with the labels they choose. Different labels mean different things to different people. And that can be frustrating, especially when they reject our labels in terms we find insulting and embrace labels we find problematic.

I get edgy when men who exclusively love other men don’t identify as gay, especially if they say “because gay means X, Y and Z” even though X, Y and Z have nothing to do with me. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s he who is being labelled, not me, and he has a right to choose his own label and to reject mine.

I don’t like the label “same-sex attracted” because I feel that it reduces being gay to sex alone. I find it diminishing. But, again, while I will reject that label for me, I have no right to force my disapproval of that label on someone else.

I have problems with the word “queer.” I’ve had it used as a slur in so many severe situations that I am repelled by it being used to label me. And I reject that label when people use it to label me, it has too much pain attached to it, so I refuse it as an identifier. But, at the same time I use it to label people who claim it for themselves – it is their identity, their choice.

Do I think that’s an absolute? No, few things are. Sometimes people can choose labels that are inherently offensive to other groups, they can choose labels that are appropriative, demeaning or diminishing of others. Sometimes a label has so much baggage and pain attached that others will refuse to use it (I will not call another gay man “fag” no matter how much they themselves use the word and try to reclaim it).  But this is because of very real harm for the word. I have seen similar arguments for words that have been considered silly, non-sensical or ridiculous. But not harmful – and then we have to ask ourselves if we’re forcing our definitions on someone else without cause?

I don’t think discarding labels is the way to go as I have seen argued around – not even close. But I think the endless battles over labels would be resolved a lot better and a lot more easily if people respected each other’s labels and reasons more. You cannot dictate another’s identity or the power that a label has for them.

sparkindarkness: (STD)

To begin with, before even starting this, I have to say that I do not have an amicable relationship with organised religion. I have seen over and over that organised religion is dedicated to making the life of me and mine sheer hell – not just occasionally, not odd individuals, but largely, in general and by far in the majority. I am not a friend of organised religion – because organised religion pretty much hates me.

In the past people have been angered and outraged by the fact I won’t treat organised religion with the respect they feel it deserves. I have not, do not and WILL not pretend that organised religion – and even religion itself – is somehow separate from the things done and supported by organised religion. I have been told that my refusal to give organised religion a pass or refusing to diminish its role in causing, supporting, encouraging homophobic bigotry is entirely due to my “hating religion.”

So before even beginning this, it has to be clear that I’m not organised religion’s biggest fan or supporter.

Now on religious rules, laws etc I generally have a dim view. I have an especially dim view on people externalising their faith. I do not respect religious rules, norms, requirements or judgements. I will not accept them and if any of these are ever applied to me I will be angry, outraged and offended. Religious rules, standards, symbols are not things I respect.

But I respect people. And while that means I have zero respect for their faith, I do respect people with faith and that that faith is important to them. That means I do not respect the symbols of any faith, but I respect that to some people they are important enough that I’ll generally leave them alone. I do not respect the customs or principles of  many faiths, but I do respect people that that believe they are important so will not appropriate, abuse or play with them UNLESS they are disrespectful to others, their rights and their beings.

I respect people. And because of that, I generally won’t attack religions or religious elements unless they themselves are disrespectful to people. I am not sure how concrete that will remain, especially since I’ve been putting some thought into the fact at very least some factions of organised religion are so utterly committed to opposing everything I am and have that it’s an act of sheer foolishness not to push back against the organisation whenever I see it. But at present this is where I stand.

Now, from that stand point I look at the recent campaign about drawing Mohammad.

Well, firstly 2 people who have drawn Mohammad have explained why they have in eloquent terms that I find highly

I did not draw Mohammad and I do not intend to. Not out of respect for Islam because, I’ll be frank here, I don’t have any respect for Islam as organised religion or particularly as a code, philosophy or ethic either. Much the same as I don’t have any respect for Christianity in those manners either. Nor is it because I have absolutely no artistic skills whatsoever.

But I will not draw it because I respect the people for whom images of Mohammad are important. I will not draw it because I have no reason or inclination to do so EXCEPT to engage with people who would find my actions disrespectful. That is not limiting my actions to fit someone else’s religious prohibition – that is deliberately doing something that I have absolutely zero inclination to do for the sole purpose of violating their religious positions. It would, I feel, be akin to pointedly eating pigs trotters outside a mosque even though I don’t actually like pigs trotters. Sure I have a right to do so and I’d be rather irritated if anyone told me that I should adhere to someone’s religious demand that I not consume pork products, but my sole reason for eating porky-feet would be to annoy people.

And sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes we annoy people to draw attention to how their positions are harmful, that what they are doing or saying is objectionable and how demanding we conform to their religious rules is oppressive and wrong – after all, this is PART (but only part) of the reason behind so many GBLT kiss-ins that are held. However, I also can’t decide on the action in question – after all, gays kissing is something that we wish to do anyway as a normal part of our lives and we’re protesting because a simple act of love is deemed offensive. Drawing Mohammad isn’t really an incidental activity.

I also think that the situation is complicated by the fact that western society has severe issues with rising xenophobia and islamaphobia and many participants will be doing this less because of a reasoned and considered response to a disproportionate and violent threat imposing religious rules on non-believers and more just because it will piss off muslims. I think it may

So I have not drawn Mohammad, and I do think many of those who have are doing so for problematic reasons. But nor am I saying that I inherently disagree with all those that did or that all those that did did so for bad reasons.  I think many had points to make, important points about the externalisation of faith, of the danger of raising faith above criticism and rejection of violence and I think that their drawings. I support that and agree with that. But I think there may be too much baggage attached to the act for me to wish to make my own doodle.

sparkindarkness: (STD)

Ok, so  apparently a school has decided to chastise parents for going on the school run delivering or picking up their kids dressed in pyjamas. This follows a Tescos’ shop in Cardiff banning customers for also wearing pyjamas

My initial reaction is “do people do this?” I mean I just can’t picture running around outside in my nightclothes (ok, probably because I don’t WEAR nightclothes so it’d be less an issue of going out in pyjamas and more an issue of going out stark naked and likely getting frostbite). The only time I can picture walking around outside my own home in nightwear is if, say, the fire alarm has gone off. So I have a faint boggle that pyjama clad masses are wandering around our streets.

But my second and more important reaction is – why do people care? I mean, so long as the pyjamas cover all the parts that are legally required to be covered*** then why do they care what their shoppers are wearing? And certainly what do they care what people coming to pick up their children are wearing? (And really, how does the school intend to enforce this, I wonder? I mean a shop can keep people out, but what can you do about parents outside the gate or in cars?)

Oh and in response to “people don’t go to see their solicitor dressed in their pyjamas” I have to say HA! HAHAHAHA! Oh that’s funny! Y’know, pyjamas may be an improvement.

I just boggle really at the amount of time, attention and effort people put into what other people are doing. If it causes no harm, if it doesn’t affect your life why do you care if your shoppers or the parents picking up the kids are dressed in pyjamas, formal business attire or fancy dress? Does it matter? Does it make teaching the children and getting the children out of school any harder? Does it make their money less valuable?

It’s just sad that these people think that it’s their BUSINESS what people around them are wearing. They’re not at work, they’re not in uniform, they’re not breaking any obscenity laws (dubious though they may be), they’re not obliged to be professional (and fail to the teachers comparing the way the teachers are dressed to the way parents picking up their children are dressed), they’re not in a formal or professional setting – so… why do you care? Why is your opinion on their clothing even remotely relevant? What gives you the damned right to comment? I’ll even go so far as to say who do you think you are to police their clothing choices?

I think I am endlessly frustrated by the idea that other people’s lives are our business. That we have a right to demand conformity for… what? Our comfort levels? But why are we made uncomfortable by what someone else is wearing when it doesn’t effect us? Our sense of what’s appropriate? Why does our sense of what’s appropriate overrule their sense of what’s appropriate FOR THEM TO WEAR?

It’s a terrible form of arrogance, methinks.

***Personally I don’t even see the point of having the screaming meemies about people being stark naked. I have never really got why nudity is bad, never understood why a nipple or an arsecrack or a penis or a vagina is going to cause our eyes to explode or something. BUT our silly societies have equated nudity with sex for so long now that walking around naked is almost like involving other people in your sex lives – in fact, flashing is just that. Using non-consenting people in your sexual acts or for sexual titillation by exposing yourself to them. So I’m inclined to think, in a proto, not really explored kind of way – that public nudity laws need to change – but so do our attitudes towards nudity first/as well/alongside of it.

sparkindarkness: (STD)

There has been a poll recently that is most curious.

It seems 59% of responders on this CBS poll support homosexuals into the military.
However, 70% of the SAME PEOPLE support gays and lesbians in the military.

Ok, let’s take a moment to despair of humanity. Yes yes, people really are that stupid.

I remind myself that the fools in this poll may represent Palin supporters and we can’t expect reality based thinking.

I think it’s a great lesson about how dubious statistics are and how easily they can be manipulated and twisted (another good example is on that poll about gay men and open relationship examined by the ever excellent Box Turtle Bulletin) and how even the language of a question can make all the difference in the oddest of ways.

There has been a debate in some GBLT circles about the use of the word “homosexual.” They point out – rightly – that it is clinical, that it was originally used as a word to diagnose a mental illness that,  and that, like the term “same sex attraction/SSA” (a phrase I don’t like) and “men who have sex with men/msm” (another phrase I’m not mad keen on) it overly emphasises our sex lives.

Still, I’ve always used the word. Partially because I haven’t yet found a good synonym I like for “homosexuality” (gayness? Um, no.) also because I use the word “heterosexual” because I’ve done a lot of mental running around with the term “straight.” Which is a good word – except the opposite of straight is “bent” which is, of course, an anti-gay slur. Still, I think straight has divorced itself from that and now stands well on its own.

So the point of all this musing? Well, I’ve used homosexual and generally not given much time or thought on the matter – I’ve known people had objections, even conceded them as valid, but at the same time considered it to be an issue of general indifference and rather supreme unimportance. Gods, it’s still nigh impossible to convince people not to drop “fag” left right and centre – let alone using “gay” as a generic negative descriptor (if 2 days can go by without me hearing that, it’d be a first. Actually 1 day would be kind of nice) and you want to start on “homosexual“?

And now it’s been raised again, and I’ve been thinking, especially thinking about the fact I don’t actually DISAGREE with anything they have said about the word ‘homosexual’ but I don’t agree with their vehemence on the issue.

Am I going to get offended by the word? No. That’s foolish. It doesn’t offend me and never has. To suddenly start pretending it does offend me will dilute my stance on slurs that do truly annoy, hurt, insult and offend me. And I going to push others to stop using “homosexual“? Also no. I think the word is adequate – it has problems but it’s in no way in the “ZOMG NEVER SAY THAT EVAH!” category.

Am I going to stop using it? Probably. Though, in truth, I read one blog comment on it that asked me to put it in a sentence – and I realised in a SPOKEN sentence, I couldn’t. I just don’t say it. I have never said “I am a homosexual” I’ve always said “I am gay.” It’s an idiosyncrasy of  writing, not speech. But yes I’ll probably stop using the word. Not, it has to be said, due to this poll directly (because polls and statistics are so very very very messy and because, well, a bunch of fools who are in dire need of a thesaurus and a good slapping are not going to change my word use) but because the poll has raised the old debate and the people who DON’T like the word “homosexual” have very good points I agree with – albeit I’m not nearly as vehement as they are.

I don’t think it’s a BAD word (though it has a bad history – but which gay descriptor DOESN’T? – and is overly clinical and/or sexual) just that “gay” and “lesbian” are better words.

Still habit is habit and, as I said, I’m not so bothered by the word to make a huge conscious effort not to use it but, in general?

So yes I’ll probably be using more “gay” and “lesbian” and less “homosexual.”

sparkindarkness: (Default)
Musing on my past post about not being particularly fond of the idea of Beloved mapping out our house according to Feng Sui (and not just because I have no wish to reorganise all the furniture)

Basically, it comes down to this - if something is someone’s legitimate spiritual belief - religious, cultural and/or both/other - then it deserves a level of respect because of that.

It deserves respect because it is important to people

It deserves respect because it is a part of their culture

It deserves respect because it is a part of someone’s identity, their sense of self, the greater picture of them. Their culture, spirituality and beliefs are a part of them.

That is due a level of respect. Not respect because I agree with the beliefs - but respect because I respect them as people - and this makes up an important part of them as people, their identity, their history and what goes into the tapestry of them.

And part of that respect is not playing with their beliefs. These beliefs have reason and meaning to people - these are a part of people. When we decide to use Buddha as a garden gnome, or re-organise our living room because feng sui is fashionable, or wear some fake Native American jewellery because it’s pretty or wear some henna tattoos or doaist symbols because it looks cool n’ stuff, then we’re saying we don’t care how important it is to people.

We’re saying we don’t care about that person, that culture. We don’t care that that’s a part of someone. Our desire for a decoration or a fashion trend is more important to us than their identity, than their being, than their selves and their lives. It is extremely privileged, arrogant and, I feel, grossly disrespectful for us to say “my need for a garden gnome completely justifies ripping of a vital symbol of your culture, faith and identity.”

And it is arrogant and appropriative. We see not just something that is very much someone’s symbol and belief system - but we claim it. We make it ours to use, to brand, to distribute, to wear. And we not only claim it - we mangle it, we rip the bits out that look shiny and throw the rest aside. We wear the symbols but strip them of their meaning. We appropriate the pattern but ignore the spirituality, we copy the forms but never the reason. We take something of theirs that is so vital and important - and we turn it into a toy.

To me, if you’re going to take the symbols you need to take them wholecloth, you need to take the meaning with them. That is respectful - that is treating them as what they are - more than just pretty pictures, more than just an interior design technique, more than a cool tattoo, more than a unique way to be cool and interesting. You need to acknowledge and respect the more, you need to acknowledge that this isn’t your toy, that it isn’t yours at all. You need to acknowledge that it is important, that is meaning and value - you have to acknowledge what it means and what its worth and the people who rest parts of their lives and selves on these things.

In short, by all means use the symbols if you’re a convert - but not if you’re a colonist.

Now, for some caveats:
“Due respect” doesn’t make a system, belief, culture, spirituality or faith sacrosanct (hmmm, better make that “untouchable”). I would accord it basic respect - but that can be lost.

- If a belief or culture is inherently objectionable and damaging (e.g. being overtly bigoted, supporting destructive laws, etc etc) then it can and SHOULD be challenged, fought - even mocked and satirised. Not because we disrespect the belief or culture or spirituality - but because we vehemently object to the damage it causes and the harm it does. For me a major example of this will be the Catholic Church. I can respect it as a belief system and a cultural foundation and a pillar of vital importance in people's lives - but that respect is eroded by the damage and hate it causes.

- “Due respect” doesn’t mean adherence. I can respect someone’s beliefs/faith/spirituality while at the same time refusing to be bound by it or refusing to apply it to myself as I’ve said, such a demand is disrespectful to me. It means I will make reasonable allowances to let someone follow their own path - but I am not obliged to walk it with them.

Caveat on the Caveat
I don’t think “not making sense” is reason to not respect a belief or spirituality. Because no beliefs make sense. No religious/spiritual beliefs make objective, logical sense - and I include my own in that. Nor do 80% of what people do. We’re not rational creatures. I don’t think harmless and personal irrationalities are justification for disrespect.
sparkindarkness: (Default)
Kinks, oh how I love kinks :)

See, like everyone, I have my kinks, those fun ways to push all my happy buttons. Some of it are pretty obvious - I know my kinks and am very very merry about them and acknowledging them and I‘ve probably touched on them more than a few times here.

But, in addition to the ones I know and love so much, the ultimate, all powerful “push it and I’m ready baby!” kink. And that is love.

Yes love - tender kissing, loving hugs, those little touches and caresses, that longing gaze just flat does it for me.

Awwwwwwww isn’t that sweet?

Enjoy it while you can, the angst is coming now.

See, this is my ultimate kink because for a very very very very long time it was the dream - as in, completely not going to happen. Utterly impossible. Having sex with cthulu (and no, before you ask, that isn’t a kink of mine - but enjoy the mental images) was more likely to happen than having a loving partner.

When I first came to terms with being gay and stopped trying to make it go away, I was under the settled impression that there were maybe 100 gays in the whole of the UK. Yes, I didn’t only think I was the only gay in the village, I was pretty sure I was the only gay in the county (and this is Yorkshire we’re talking about here). I wasn’t going to find love, I’d be lucky if I ever came across another gay man in my entire life.

Later, I slowly dispelled that little idea and realised, yes, there were actually other gay men in the country. But they didn’t live together and love each other. That’s what heterosexuals do. Homosexuals don’t do that. We don’t even want that, right? I was weird for wanting that (well, doubly weird). Homosexuals can’t love, it is known. The best I could hope for was one night stands, nights of cruising in public toilets and “looking for badgers” in midnight parks - because that was what gay men did. We had to hide. We weren’t allowed out where real people could see us. That would be wrong.

And then I found out there were bars and clubs where we were allowed to congregate. Gays could actually exist and be open and it was ok. I fell upon them with glee. Except, of course, I knew they were only about sex and lust. Gays didn’t love. I knew that. I’d been taught that., I grew up believing that - all we felt was lust. All we did was hook up. We didn’t date. We didn’t live together. We didn’t love each other. That was a silly dream,

And then I found out gays could form partnerships and even live together. But it wasn’t about love - it was so you could have someone close to you to have sex. It wasn’t about affection. You didn’t kiss or hold hands or hug or have lovey-dovey make out sessions. You had sex. That was the point. And for a long time I believed that - and if I found myself with any kind of partner I clung to it desperately - even if I didn’t love him. Even if I didn’t even like him very much. Because that didn’t matter - it was the closest thing I’d ever get to the real deal. (My relationship history? Yeah, we won’t go there).

Because I could NEVER HAVE the real deal. Love would NEVER happen for me. It COULD NEVER happen for me. Because gay men do not love. It was known.

And then I met Beloved. He fixed a lot of my broken assumptions. He fixed me in many respects. I was lucky. Very very lucky. And I wonder how many others are not even half so lucky.

My kink is love - the impossible dream that actually happened.
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I ran across, in my internet browsing, someone who was frustrated by all the self-justification from straight women writing M/M fiction (all of it? personally I’ve seen very little self-justification - and a whole lot more appropriation without a second thought. What justification there is from most seems to be more to deflect the “eeew why do you want to write about mansex, you weirdo?!” critics than the “are you treating homosexuals with respect?” concern). Normally I’d just walk on buy, but it came to a refrain that I’ve heard in many many places that made me springboard this post. I heard it during Lambda Fail. I heard it during Race Fail. I’ve heard it repeatedly whenever it comes to discussing marginalised people in fiction

It’s just fiction.

It’s made up.

So it doesn’t matter.

Dingding! Privileged check on aisle 3, privileged check on aisle 3!

“It’s just fiction” is a stance that a privileged person can take. But for the marginalised? That book with gay/lesbian/black/trans/asian/disabled etc characters is an oddity. It’s a rarity in a world where such portrayals are only remotely common within narrow genres and are nigh-non-existent in the mainstream.

To the privileged, that takes some grasping. I am currently sat surrounded by my library - hundreds of books and dvds. I can pick up any one of them and KNOW there will be a white person inside. I can pick up about 90% of them and know the main character will be white. I can pick up any of them and KNOW there will be a straight person inside - and, again, 90% of the characters within will be straight.

I would say at least half of them are lacking even a token appearance by a POC and up to 80% have no GBLT presence at all. Add in that of those token characters, I would say as many of half of them are strongly stereotypical or otherwise problematic.

It‘s only fiction. But it matters. It matters that, growing up for so long I didn’t see a single depiction of a gay man. It matters that the first depiction of a man like me I read was written by Ann “you can turn gay by being anally raped by a tent peg” McCaffrey. It matters that I STILL haven’t read a book with a gay main character that is even remotely considered mainstream. It matters because, in the world of literature, people like me hardly exist.

I repeat again that, no, I don’t think straight people should stop writing with GBLT fiction. They should write it - just as I think white people should write about POC. I will never ever say that people should only write about people like them. But there is a huge world of difference between writing the other well (or trying to) and using, appropriating and stereotyping the other.

So, yes, I like it when straight authors write their justification for why they are using gay characters. I like that they’re THINKING about how to portray their characters in a respectful, non-fetishised and non-abusive manner. And, no you can’t assume that authors are. You can’t assume that just because they want to write about gay men or black people or Native Americans that their portrayals won’t be offensive or damaging or insulting. There’s far too much out there that makes it abundantly clear that this isn’t the case. Just because they write something doesn’t mean they care about the people, doesn’t mean they are an ally, doesn’t mean they’ve worked and researched to make their work

So, yes, I like the justification musings. I like the thinking. I like that they may be thinking of the young gay kid looking for someone like them. I like that they’re recognising that portrayals can be damaging and insulting. I like that they are looking beyond their privilege and trying to respect us, rather than use us. I like that they are trying to get it right.

It may be fiction, it may be made up - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
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One of the most annoying arguments used against gay rights is the "slippery slope" argument. I.e. we give gay people right and next we know men will be marrying their pot plants.

The slippery slope argument has a lot of dubiousness about it. Yes, movements work in increments so it can seem that one thing leads to another - but it's more a movement reaching its goals. It's progression towards an end goal, not one event causing another.

For example - decriminalising gay sex will probably lead to gay marriage/gay adoption/etc. Yes, the haters are right. NOT because decriminalisation CAUSED gay marriage/adoption/etc but because they're both elements on the overarching path of equality and justice.

This is where the slippery slope proponents get themselves confused. It's not that one causes the other, it's just that they're milestones on the road to full equality.

And this is why the whole "men marrying children/pot plants/pet ducks" is so ridiculous. Because when you look at the overarching goal of GBLT equality it's pretty clear that duck-sexing is not even remotely relevent. If you want to see the "Slippery slope" of any group, movement or advocacy - you need to look at what their goals are and what they want.

And, much as I am reluctant to speak for everyone as a whole, I feel safe in saying that NO-ONE in the GBLT movement wants a potted plant being dragged up the aisle in a veil. No. Really.

Now, if you want ACTUAL slippery slopes I can give 2 good examples.
Firstly - the anti-choice movement. STATED overarching goal? Stopping abortion because they think abortion is murder. I think some actually believe that. But I think most don't, especially when it comes to the big movements and organisers. I think for them, the whole "abortion = murder" is a lie and convenient excuse. I think this because of the number of anti-choicers who are utterly against any kind of welfare (life starts at contraception and ends at birth?). They don't advocate appropriate penalties for 'murder'. They're against decent sex education and contraception.

So, I'm more inclined to think their goal is more anti-sex/religious imposition since that fits the position better. And here we have a slippery slope - pushing abstinence only education, opposing birth control, attacking the pill. Here's a slippery slope for you - religious imposition on health care choices, your private lives and on your sex lives. Frankly, I think that's a waaaay scarier slope than any amount of ducks waddling down the aisle.

Here's another slippery slope
It has been joked by many pro-gay-marriage folks that divorce should be banned since it's a clear threat to precious precious straight marriage.

Well, it just goes to show that satire can never match reality. Oklahoma state legislator, Sally Kern is expanding on her already well known and virulent homophobia and looking at you terribly immoral straight people and your divorces!

Again, what’s the overarching goal? Writing religious laws and morality onto the statute book. Controlling people’s personal and matrimonial lives with religion. And the progression? Gay marriage, straight divorce - anything that doesn’t fit her religious definition. There's a slippery slope for you. Of course, the anti-divorce stance probably won’t go to law because all those straight people who are happy to be ‘righteous’ about gay rights are going to be a lot more wobbly when it comes to being ‘righteous’ in their own lives. But still - we can see the goal, we can see the progression, we can see the slope.

So maybe we should start looking at these slopes in detail. It’s time to recognise not only how divorced from reality the “slippery slopes” they quote against us are - and it’s time to realise what treacherous slopes they’re trying to push us down
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This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

How much do we let tactics harm our principles?

This is something I have been thinking of for some time as an activist, a progressive and general all round loud, angry, rambly person.

And there’s something I’ve been recently musing on is how much do we, as activists (and that most CERTAINLY includes the large activist/advocacy groups and movements) think more about tactics than we do principles? In particular - how many times do we cede arguments, compromise and give ground in order to win victories?

Part of this was prompted to some thoughts I had while listening to the Womanistmusings radio episode : Impossible Motherhood . A great interview about a book written by Irene Vilar about her multiple abortions what struck me then, as was discussed then and as I discussed with Renee was how much ground the pro-choice movement had ceded to the anti-choice movement. The pro-choice movement seemed to be following the anti-choice rhetoric that abortion is inherently bad - just adding that it is sometimes necessary and unfortunate and better than the alternatives.

And I wondered how much damage had been caused by ceding that ground? How much damage had been caused by the pro-choice movement ACCEPTING abortion as a bad thing - maybe a necessary thing - but still bad.

And more, what did that mean for the people? Like Ms. how many women were/are still shamed for having an abortion - especially multiple abortions - even by the pro-choice movement? How many have bought the ‘abortion is bad’ rhetoric from the anti-choicers - OR how many are condemning her because she will be used as a weapon against the pro-choice movement. How many will take those tactical considerations over and above the woman herself?

When I first wrote this I continued to use the pro/anti choice movements as examples. But I’m not comfortable with that. I a man and fiercely pro-choice - but abortion MUST be a woman’s issue. I don’t think it’s my place or any man’s place to criticise the pro-choice movement except in very narrow circumstances. So, I’ve re-written it from a gay rights perspective because I’m more secure on my knowledge, experience and standing to comment.

And I see the same thing. Tactics used at the expense of actual people. At its most extreme it is obvious and grossly inexcusable - in the GBLT movement I think this is best showcased in the depressing times when we have been shamefully willing to throw the T under the bus. WE can all see how grossly wrong that is, how destructive and how truly vile.

I’ve seen gay rights movements and organisations tell me I should be patient, tell me we have to compromise. I’m pretty hostile to that idea. I want all the rights, privileges and respect that straight people enjoy. They want me to not exist. Where’s the middle ground here? Where’s the compromise? Do I get some rights? Maybe second class citizen rather than third class? Can I be consider almost human? Allowed to exist so long as I don’t upset the straight people? Do tell me where we should ‘compromise’ here.

I see us ceding ground, settling for half measures, allowing exceptions and exemptions and acting like it’s reasonable. A big example is various hate crimes and equality legislations - in the UK we’re battling over a gross exemption for religious groups. Hate is hate - why are we calling it acceptable because it’s backed by dogma? Why have we ceded that ground? Why have we accepted that hatred is REASONABLE because it comes from the clergy?

But there are more subtle ways as well, ways I realise I have practiced as well.

Whenever there is a crime (ESPECIALLY a sex crime) committed by homosexuals, I’m furious because I know it will hurt us. I know it will reflect on us. I know we will be judged by it - and so I judge them more harshly than I would if they were straight.

I remember when a report came out that new HIV infections among gay men were still high and I was angry. Not angry, as I usually am about the waste and the horror of AIDS, but angry at those men. Angry because I knew this statistic would be used against us, angry because I knew the anti-gay forces would use it against us. My first reaction completely overlooked the real people here and was concerned entirely about tactics and how the haters would see it. I looked at people’s suffering - MY people’s suffering - through the lens of those who hate us.

I have friends who have multiple casual lovers. And, horrifically, I find myself disapproving. Not because I disapprove of ‘promiscuity’ (I have never seen why monogamy is inherently moral so long as no deception is involved) but because I know it’s the stereotype. Gay men are promiscuous, gay men have sex with any man around them. This is one of the weapons used against us, one of the attacks the haters love to use.

But what am I doing? I am judging, even policing (albeit only mentally) my fellows based on values I DON’T EVEN SHARE. For the sake of tactics, I am giving ground, accepting a frame that I disagree with. How much damage does that do? What cost will we pay to win - and will we have won if we keep paying these prices?

And then I look at the flip side. In particular I look at this map on wiki:

And I consider that it was only in 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK. It was only in 2003 that homosexuality was decriminalised throughout the US. And I consider the list we draw up every time we plan a holiday. The list of countries where we run the risk of severe persecution (legal or otherwise) if we don’t go closeted. It’s not a short list. It’s a frightening list.

When I look at that I have a sudden urge for victories - an urge to push forwards because there is such a long way to go. Because there are places where our lives are worth little and some where they are worth nothing. I feel the urge to push forwards to fight desperately because there were nations in the western world that kept anti-homosexuality law on the books only SIX years ago.

I can see the need to fight desperately, to do what you can to move forwards - because we haven’t moved far enough forward to risk a movement BACKWARDS.

But if we forget the people - forget ourselves - in order to win the battle then have we really won? Are we winning the battle, but losing the war?
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This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

Why do you expect one of us to be a woman in our gay male relationship?

One of the more unusual things I’ve found since coming out as a gay man is the odd curiosity that some straight people have towards us.

The curiosity in itself is problematic (albeit infinitely more preferable to hate). I’m gay, not an alien from the planet Zog. I many ways the eager curiosity makes me feel far more of a freak than any amount of hate monger speculating about my eternal damnation. But that’s another post :)

It’s exacerbated by the fact that even complete strangers feel they have the right to ask extremely personal questions (but that’s yet another topic about privilege and entitlement. I’m getting quite a to-do list here. It’s good thing I like to hear myself talk :). Or read myself type, I guess).

But no, today I’m rambling about the main question I’m asked over and over to a truly boggling degree. Gender roles. Not only gender roles, but really really really silly ones that make me despair for THEIR relationships (though not nearly so much as I despair for my mental well being talking to them).

Which one of you is the man and which one the woman?
This question never fails to bemuse. We’re both gay men. Doesn’t that kind of make it clear that neither of us is the woman?

People never seem to realise how homophobic this question is. It completely invalidates and devalues gay relationships - that the only way a gay relationship can be a “real” relationship is if we somehow mimic straight people. The only way a relationship between 2 men can work is if one of us pretends to be a woman. Yeah, that’s man kinds of offensive and beyond ignorant.

Of course, when I point this out they start to ask more questions because they seem to think I don't understand the question - as opposed to finding the question ludicrous

Which one of you cooks? Cleans?
Honestly, these questions say a lot about their relationships, I think. I once offered a man’s wife my card since I assumed she’d need the services of a divorce lawyer soon (she found it funny even if he didn’t) after he asked these questions. What, the fact your a man means you can’t run a Hoover round the house?

I do most of the cleaning, mainly because Beloved thinks vacuuming the 3 square feet in the dead centre of the room is sufficient. Even when I helpfully point out the places he missed (I’m a helper). He also decides that dusting one shelf on a cabinet constitutes the cabinet itself being dusted. I disagree. Loudly. And at length. But he does tend to hide things I’m using and make it impossible for me to find anything (he calls it tidying up. And yes, I AM reading 4 books at the same time, thank you. Leave them alone!) We both cook - however Beloved needs step by step instructions, a fire extinguisher, a builder and, preferably, a take away menu, phone and credit card. I admire his enthusiasm when it comes to cooking, but I also admire my stomach lining - and would prefer it to stay on the inside of my body.

Who Takes out the rubbish/does the gardening/does the DIY?
Again, do hammers fall from your fingers if they detect femininity? Seriously, how silly are these gender roles? It’s not the 1950s any more.

In answer - no-one takes out the rubbish if we can avoid it. Advanced and complex schemes are plotted to avoid having to take out the rubbish at all cost. Beloved once had a complicated 8 part plan that took 4 hours of implementation to avoid emptying the bin (It worked, damn it. Revenge will be mine). Cats have been trained to knock over the pin, little devices to knock it over have been designed, brainwashing has been attempted. There is no lengths we will not stoop to to force the other to empty that damn bin. The only task reviled as much as bin emptying is ironing - which Beloved does because he fears a repeat of the Sparky Waking Up To Find No Wearable Shirts incident.

We both prefer our garden to be as close to nature as possible. Which is a REALLY good excuse to say we both slack and hate gardening. Occasionally we will shackle a passing neighbour kid to the lawnmower and pay them hush money to hide our cruel exploitation. Beloved has recently taken to growing vegetables because what our meals really really need is the addition of a scrubby carrot or 3 cherry tomatoes. I'm not sure whether this counts as gardening so much a religion - since the only way anything grows is through a sheer miracle.

Neither of us does DIY. Oh Beloved tried to do DIY - and I watch and helpfully point out the many many things he’s doing wrong (see? I’m such a helpful soul) while checking the yellow pages for someone to fix what he will inevitably break. I also hide his power tools - a task for which the UN sincerely thanks me.

Who buys who flowers?
Included more for wry amusement than anything. Beloved actually bought me flowers once.
Sparky: What am I supposed to do with them?
Beloved: I think you put them in a vase
Sparky: *does so* now what?
Beloved: Now you sit and watch them rot.
Sparky: ooooohkay

So we’ve kind of decided that the flower thing may be beyond us. I did buy him a Venus fly trap once. It was our Killer Plant. And we fed it (which was probably a bad idea) and then we fed it tofu and it became our Cannibal Plant. Then it died (can’t think why). Of course I was inconsolable and could only be comforted by Beloved taking out the rubbish for a week (didn’t work. Damn).

Who removes the creepy crawlies from the house?
Like this needs a dedicated role? Generally I do - because Beloved has absolutely no problem sharing his living space with spiders and wonders why I do. I point out that I’d rather not have spider webs festooning the ceiling. He declared that it would be a wonderful artistic statement. I agreed and pointed out it would go very well with blood splattered walls. He said he’d consider this but was busy getting a headstart

In the end, even some of those comments that were meant as jokes (and I think every question has been asked of me at least partially seriously - and this is only the tip of the iceberg) make me despair a little - because it shows how much of a backward view people have on gay relationships - AND on gender roles in general. We insist on trying to force people into little boxes - to such a ridiculous degree that virtually no-one fits in. I am astonished at how many women come to me with these questions without once realising how sexist they seem.

And it irritates me because we’re a gay couple. We don’t have to ape a straight couple to be acceptable or understandable. One of us doesn’t have to pretend to be a woman for our relationship to work or be comprehended (and not even a real woman! Some 1950s Suzy Homemaker that I don’t think has ever existed!) These questions ask us to conform, they say that if we’re gay we should at least mimic heterosexuals as much as possible.

We’re gay. We’re in a gay relationship. We’re happy, ‘normal’ (well... for a given degree of normal. I’ll admit to a level of eccentricity which may be a trifle unusual), very much in love and we don’t have to imitate a ridiculous Ozzie and Harriet life to make our relationship and our lives more acceptable or more palatable.
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This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

Ok blink, you read it right. No go back and read it again, trust me it’s not a typo. I am a homophobe.

Not something you usually expect someone to admit to. Far less a gay man. So let me explain myself before you all wonder if Sparky has started drinking early today.

It would be probably more accurate to say I have absorbed homophobia. I, like probably 99% of everyone reading this (and I only leave that 1% because I have a powerful dislike of certainty) grew up in a homophobic, hetero-normative society. My parents, my vast extended family, the media I consumed and consume, the books I read, the schools I attended, the college and university I went to, my work colleagues and bosses - in short everything around me for my entire life is hetero-normative and on some level rejects, diminishes and others homosexuality to varying degrees.

From the invisible, to the stereotyped, to the hateful venom, to the empty pity to the endless assumption that you are/will be/should be heterosexual we live in societies that are steeped in homophobia.

And that leaves a stain.

It has stained me. Some of the stain is from being homophobia’s victim. There are places I fear to go, people I avoid. Despite being out and proud, I still fear touching or hugging Beloved in public. At times in conversation I still use careful gender-neutral speech rather than out-right saying my partner is another man. I am harshly critical and angry with homosexuals who do ridiculous things or commit heinous crimes because I know I will be judged by their actions.

But homophobia itself has also stained me, not just living in the shadow of it. I have laughed at homophobic jokes before my brain caught up and replaced mirth with rage and hurt. I have pandered to stereotypes. I have played up to them. I even spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to follow stereotypes for fear I was Doing Gay Wrong. I make assumptions about my gay friends that I would slap people for if they assumed it about me (or at least give them a stern and long winded lecture. Trust me, the slap is more humane).

And the people who spend the most time with me are the same. The people who have taken the greatest pains not to exclude me, not to hurt me and generally not whack me round the head with their straight privilege - still do so on a depressing number of occasions. Friends and certainly family (my parents alone have filled up stacks of bingo cards - and many a sleepless night of pain and sadness) have all taken their turns bludgeoning me with privilege, thoughtlessness and homophobia

My point?

After much rambling, my point is - the chances are you’re stained by homophobia too. I know the instinct is to deny that - I do the same thing. Some people complain about those sensitive gay folks (or women or black folks or any other marginalised body for that matter) who are seeing homophobia/sexism/racism/etc everywhere. They don’t realise that we see it everywhere because it IS EVERYWHERE. Even on ourselves.

Denying it won’t fix it. We all carry the stains our society leaves upon us.

Some of it is our privileges - enjoying a world that is tailored to us in so many ways we don’t even notice or realise how much things are designed for us. Or the ways it is NOT designed for those that do not share our privilege.

Some of it is normative behaviour - we assume that a certain state of being is the norm - whether it’s cisgendered or able bodied or heterosexual or the thousand other normative assumptions we make. We assume and impose a norm that excludes those that don’t fit it.

And some of it is active harm. Intentional or otherwise, it’s behaviour that hurts and devalues people. It doesn’t just cast them as other (though that is bad in itself), it casts them as LESS.

These are the stains society leaves - stains we all carry - even those that are harmed by them. It’s tempting to say “but not me.” It’s much easier to say “I’m gay! How can anything I do be homophobic?” or “I’m an ally! Of course I’m not homophobic!”. But if we look in the mirror we all know there have been times - and will be times - when our own stains are showing.

And we need to recognise that.

We need to recognise the times when we hurt people and work to change our behaviour, school our language, challenge our assumptions that are so deeply ingrained - otherwise we just add to that stain and ensure the next generation will carry its smut.

We need to recognise that we WILL show that stain from time to time - and when people correct us they’re trying to help us wash it out. That there’s no need or call for anger and defensiveness.

And we need to recognise that others will show their stain - and that doesn’t mean they’re a die-hard spreader of hatred and filth (though they may be - and if they are it‘s time to start scrubbing, because there are some vile people out there that will never come clean) but nor does it mean we can let them spread the stain of prejudice without challenging them.

In the end, my point (rather rambly and severely strained under the creaking weight of a rather rusty metaphor) is that prejudice is EVERYWHERE - and so the fight to remove it has to happen everywhere - sometimes even our own heads.
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This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

Why we can’t always have a ‘productive’ conversation

Today I had the oh-so-wonderful chance to have a long, detailed conversation with a clueless straight person about sexuality in general and male homosexuality in particular. Not malicious - but certainly ignorant, wallowing in privilege and approaching the conversation as mildly interesting gossip.

It started with a joke: “Age of consent is weird. At 16 now you can have a fag up the arse but not a fag in your mouth.” Yes. Amazingly enough I didn’t laugh. And the sad thing is this is actually not only about the 6th time I’ve heard this joke, it’s the 6th time someone has told me this joke, knowing I was gay, AND EXPECTING ME TO BE AMUSED.

It wasn’t a fun discussion. It was long, full of stereotypes, lots of ignorance and enough cringe worthy moments to make me feel down, tired and generally not a happy person. We had “gay” used as a negative descriptor (and a good 10 minutes of totally not getting why that bothered me), we had gay sex referred to as sickening, we had the oh-so-fun ‘you’ve never slept with a woman so you can’t KNOW you don’t like it,’ a couple of more “jokes” (“it’s funny so it’s not offensive.” Really? Because I’m not laughing and I am offended, so I guess you failed twice. Oh yes, do try again, I‘m sure all gay people love your attempts to find a homophobic joke that makes them laugh) and many of the standard fodder that makes me want to stab someone.

Yes, all very awkward and unpleasant and I’m not sure any of the conversation made any difference because there’s a difference between hearing and caring. But that’s not really the point here

The point is, I knew where this conversation was going within the first 10 minutes - gods, the first 5 minutes. The opening lines, even. I knew that I was heading into a long, unpleasant and awkward conversation that was likely going to throw a lot of straight privilege at me, push a lot of painful buttons and generally leave me frustrated, tired and feeling like shit. In short, within 5 minutes of the conversation starting I wanted it to end.

How do I know this? Because I’ve had exactly the same conversation and variations of this about a squillion times before. All completely unoriginal, all tiring, all painful and all immensely frustrating. And I’m quite sure over half have been utterly, completely pointless wastes of my energy and mental health.

My point?

My point is sometimes I can’t do it. And that’s a shame because, even if most failed, I know some of these conversations HAVE worked. I know some ignorant people who bought a clue, listened and did their best not to do it again. Yes, it can be productive. Yes it has worked. Yes calmly and reasonably answering all the ignorant questions you’ve answered a thousand times or politely objecting and explaining why something was offensive can and does work. It’s half the reason I ramble so much about sexuality on this LJ.

And sometimes I can’t do it. Sometimes I’m tired, I’m in a bad mood or I’m just sick to the back teeth of the whole damn hetero-normative world, it’s ignorance, it’s insensitivity and it’s endless reminders that I don’t belong. Sometimes I’m annoyed because it should be damned OBVIOUS why I don’t find that joke funny, or why I get angry at being called “fag.”

These conversations are painful and tiring and frustrating. They’re very personal (they can’t help but be), they force me to confront homophobia and homophobic ignorance head on. They force me to endure it and slog through it. They force me to be vulnerable. They force me to expose that vulnerability to someone who, at best, may clumsily trample all over me and at worst may deliberately do some stomping.

So my point again?

My point is I know I shouldn’t snap. I know I shouldn’t lose my temper. I know that I should have a productive conversation. Because it can be productive. It can be useful. I KNOW I do myself and all GBLT people out there a lot more good by calmly and patiently having the conversation.

And I think that applies to every marginalised person - regardless of their marginalisation.

We know that being clam, polite and gently correcting and explaining is the best

But we can’t always do that.

Because it hurts

Because we’re tired

Because we’ve spent countless hours doing exactly the same damn thing before.

Because we don’t have the time, energy or inclination to do so.

Because moving in a world that devalues you is hard enough without having to give a running commentary to clueless privileged people.

Because sometimes we’re angry or upset or hurt or offended or scared.

So my point again?

It’s not necessary to lecture me - or any minority for that matter - on the tone of our arguments, on our anger, on our snapped reply and furious rebuttal. You don’t have to tell us that a calmer response would be better. That we should answer those questions. That we should be more moderate, more calm, more reasoned and cold and logical and sensible.

You don’t have to tell us this. We know. But we can’t do it all the time and you can’t expect that of us. And if you do expect it - well, perhaps you don’t know how much it costs
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Back here I made a post about coming out gay. [personal profile] mjules made a good point about another category of GBLT people coming out other than experience/inexperienced I and Plaid Adder referred to.

I don’t know how to refer to them, there are few labels I can give that does not carry negative connotations that are underserved. “Angry” would be accurate - but it’s so habitual to demonise anger, even when it is reasonable. “Wounded” would also be accurate - but it suggests a level of victimhood that I am not happy with. The same applies to “hurt.” “Defensive” implies touchiness that is most unfair. Even "battle scarred" is not inappropriate - since very few of us have managed to live without physical, emotional or mental scars from homophobia. I am going to use “angry” because it has the least negatives, but I am not happy with it.

Sometimes, someone will come out to you and they don’t seem nervous or afraid - or experienced and casual. They seem hostile, angry, even belligerent. They seem ready for a fight.

And they are. Because we live in a world that is just too ready to fight us. Nearly all of us have been hurt at some time, some of us quite badly. And some of us have been hurt so often and so badly that we expect it and are ready for it. We’re ready for the argument, for the fight, for the condemnation and the attacks - because we’ve already faced so many.

And it can happen not just during coming out. Any discussion. We can go in ready for battle - we get angry because we know that there’s a good chance in the next few minutes we’re going to get damn good cause. We go in angry because we expect a battle, we expect we have to defend ourselves, we expect we’re going to be hurt.

And in some cases it’s the only way to come out/have the conversation in the first place. The risk of being hurt again, the worry about the consequences are so high that it’s only by psyching ourselves up in the first place that we’ll even speak. I’ve been there. I’ve dreaded a conversation, known that it’s going to hurt and known that I don’t want to do it, don’t have the energy for it and don’t have the mental strength for it. But I’ve done it by stoking up enough anger to get through that - to make it hurt less, to overcome the fear and to give me enough energy to broach it.

And in some cases anger is just unavoidable. When you’ve been hurt coming out before, when you’ve been hurt having a conversation before then you can’t enter the same territory without that anger coming back - because they have been given so many reasons to be angry before, the anger comes automatically.

So what does this mean for the incomer?
Or anyone else suddenly having a conversation about homosexuality/homophobia with a gay person who is seething quietly (or not so quietly?)

First of all - recognise where the anger is coming from. The anger is coming from pain - from a society that hurts us over and over and over again. It is not directed at you personally (though if you join society in adding to that pain, it might be), it’s a defence mechanism against what’s likely to come.

Secondly - don’t devalue that anger. They have a REASON to be angry. You can’t tell them to calm down or not be angry without diminishing the impact of homophobia. They are angry for a reason. They have a RIGHT to their anger. Diminishing or shaming that anger will not help.

Thirdly - don’t feed that anger. They are angry. They have a reason to be angry. Don’t be that reason. Don’t be the clueless fool with the homophobia, don’t decide to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” don’t decide it’s time for a gay joke or to express your disgust at gay sex - in other words, don’t do all the things that I and Plaid Adder have already said not to do with an inexperienced outcomer.

Because that’s a point here - just because someone is angry doesn’t mean they’re not vulnerable or you can’t hurt them - it means they’re hurting. If you add to that pain or remind them of it they will treat you with the withering contempt you deserve. They may storm off and tell you to go fuck yourself rather than dissolve into tears and retreat hurt if you slathering them in heterosexual privilege - but you’ll still hurt them and give them yet another reason to be angry.

So appropriate reactions? Really, I can sum this up with “don’t be an arsehole.” You won’t need to build them up, calm their insecurities or reassure them. But you need to avoid poking sore spots, you need not to be part of the many things that attack hurt and anger us. You need to not be identified as an enemy in a world that is so very hostile.

And don’t be taken aback by any deflation that happens then :) Sometimes you can be so psyched up for a fight, so ready for a fight, so ready to defend yourself, so ready to resist being hurt that when it DOESN’T emerge it seems rather anti-climactic.
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As people know from my previous rambles, including my rant against the pernicious evil that is Wheatabix and my righteous fury against Special K I have some issues with healthy food.

My mother is a diabetic - sufficiently severe that the doctors keep umming and ahhing about her injecting insulin, which she rather fiercely wishes to avoid. So, checking labels on food became a necessity to her and it’s a habit that has spread through the family.

So I read labels and have generally been quietly horrified by what I read. The amount of artificial crap (preservatives, flavours, colourings etc etc) that goes into everything is unreal - but that’s nothing compared to the salt, sugar and fat lurking in every little thing (go check the sugar content of any condiment - then the salt content of your bread. BREAD! We’re advised to have between 4-6g of salt a day. There’s 0.7g of salt in every SLICE of Hovis’ bread and supermarket’s own brands are often worse).

In general, the more processed the food is, the more crap they put in it (to a point where I wonder if it should even still be called food). Most ready made sauces, for example, are horrific - and ready meals? Adding a heavy dose of arsenic probably wouldn’t make them much less healthy.

So, we do most our own cooking. We cook huge batches of food and freeze it. We cook our own sauces, prepare our own condiments. We bake our cakes and biscuits and even our bread. We cook as much as we possibly can from scratch with a minimum of meddling. We go to farmer’s markets and the covered market and get our food fresh and un-messed with. Our diet is extra tasty and super healthy :)

And it’s a luxury.

How many people have the TIME or ENERGY to live like we do? If they’ve got kids or other dependents or work extra long hours (or 2 jobs) then putting in the cooking time we do isn’t practical. And trawling round the various farmer’s markets is much more effort than doing a quick shop round the Supermarket (and checking - and understanding - all the labels of your weekly shop? Yeah time time time - especially when you’re tired or busy or distracted or little Bratleigh is screaming. And who thinks to check the labels on bread for salt content? Or food covered in ‘pro biotic‘ and ‘digestive health‘ for sugar content?). The time and the energy to cook and shop like we do is a luxury.

And there’s the expertise. I’m a decent cook - but I became a decent cook because I had the time and the energy and the money to splurge on cook books, to browse the internet, to experiment, to buy overpriced ingredients and risk a disaster with them, to cook a meal that we may not like (or may be totally inedible). That’s a luxury.

And let’s not forget the money. These toxic ready meals are damn cheap. Putting together all the ingredients for an equivalent meal can be damned expensive - and if it’s fresh they don’t keep as long either (sure you can, and do, find the ingredients cheaper - but that’s more searching and checking and TIME). The money is most certainly a luxury.

And this annoys me muchly.

It annoys me when the powers that be are having the screaming meemies about the obesity epidemic that we are happy to allow and encourage conditions that ENCOURAGE obesity. There’s no standard or real pressure to make ready meals remotely healthy - or healthy meals that are quick and easy. Sure, some places have made some steps but they‘re exceptions, not the rules. We bleat at people to eat less salt, have huge advertising campaigns about eating healthily, eating less fat - and the adverts run alongside adverts for, say, yoghurt full of sugar announcing that it’s healthy. Or Special Bloody K telling us how to lose fat and eat so much salt that you might as well just eat bacon.

This idea we have that if we throw enough guilt and condemnation out there and people will stop being so naughty is ridiculous. Yes, there are things people can do, especially in relation to exercise, and choices people can make (if they choose to do so). But while healthy eating costs more money, time and energy than loading on the fat some people will simply not have a chance or choice to eat healthily.

AND while advertisers are free to wrap even the most toxic of ingredients in “light” and “healthy” labels then many more will be sincerely trying to do so and failing because of the deceptions that are the norm in the food industry.
sparkindarkness: (Default)
I’ve never been in favour of civil unions/domestic partnerships/relationship-that-is-like-marriage-but-isn’t-because-the-religious-types-freak for gay people and then ‘marriage’ for heterosexuals. I don’t agree with them because separate but equal NEVER is. I don’t agree with them because having 2 different names for the same damn thing makes it EASY to discriminate. I don’t agree with them because it’s OFFICIAL recognition that gay people don’t deserve ‘marriage.’

All this is pretty well known.

But there’s a much better idea. The idea that ALL legal unions should be civil unions. Gay, straight, gender neutral and any future arrangements we make . And marriage become the pure religious ceremony - similar to, say, Mass or Confirmation.

And I agree - firmly and passionately. Let us divorce the legal from the baggage the churches keep throwing at it. And if this were a movement 50 years ago or 50 years (or however long it takes to achieve marriage equality) from now, I would completely agree and fight alongside.

But not now.

Because now it would be impossible to divorce it from the marriage equality debate. If it happened now it WOULDN’T be about separating legal and religious marriages - it would be about keeping the gays away from marriage. Because that’s how it would reach various legislatures and that’s how it would be sold and even if it wasn’t said overtly, it would be the tacit understanding. Because that is how civil union has been used so far - a way to keep the nasty gayness out of marriage.

So I don’t think it would be possible to separate them both now outside of that context.

If we tried now we would be admitting that the church has the power to define what is and is not marriage.

We would be admitting that they are RIGHT to exclude homosexuals, that their discrimination is acceptable - and I don’t care what any book says, they are most certainly not right and it is not acceptable. Apart from anything else, most churches seem to be positively blase about people married in other faiths or married after divorce or any other marriages that strictly speaking they should consider naughty - but they’re not trying to force the law to pander to those dogmas. We would be admitting that their prejudice is a legitimate concern - and what enrages me beyond thought is that we KEEP DOING THIS. We keep giving credence to these bigots.

We would be creating a cut price marriage. And even if it DID apply to all civil unions the context of the time would ensure that most of the heterosexuals would consider themselves ‘married’ while ‘civil unions’ are used to point out that gays can’t/shouldn’t get married (which, ironically ignores the fact that I am married religiously). It would be another note in the chorus of “gay people are inferior” song that is constantly being broadcast. And it is to the backing of that song that rights are denied and bodies are devalued.

It’s a great idea. And one I would support and fight for. But here and now I don’t think it could work. Because it would be seen as part of the marriage equality battle - and a way of protecting marriage from gay people, not a way to protect the law from religion.
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A friend of mine recently asked my opinion of m/m fiction in general. I tried to answer then and there but found myself rambling around because it is complicated muchly - and within it are many ifs maybes and buts. So, time to make an LJ post to see if I can sort out my own thoughts and see if the wonderful people who read this can help find order in the ramble.

First of all - the definition. M/m fiction as I see it, is literature centring around a male/male relationship. It is also primarily written by straight women.

And I know some gay men loathe it with a fiery passion. And I don’t blame them - because most of it is bloody awful.

No, really. It’s full of gross (and often insulting) stereotypes, focused entirely on the sexing, full of tired and unrealistic tropes.

Now the reason I haven’t had the same averse reaction to the genre is the FIRST m/m I read was actually very good. I have read good m/m fiction since then - but the very first m/m fiction I came across in the net was written by 2 women whose stories I still follow and enjoy immensely (I had thought to name them here but have decided against doing so. If I invite controversy with my musings I‘d rather not spill it into their spaces). These were good stories with actual developed characters, great plot lines and in general were good reads.

Since then I have read good m/m. But the majority I’ve read doesn’t come close - in fact it goes a long damn way from coming close. In fact, let’s be frank, most of it is porn. The m/m characters have as much relation with actual gay men as the nigh obligatory “lesbian” sex scene in porn aimed at heterosexual men. And, naturally, that has strong implications of appropriation, exploitation and voyeurism to say the least and potential consequences for young gays looking for something about them come across a stereotypical, angst filled, sex obsessed one-hand-reading piece of m/m fiction.

In short, I do not like the majority of m/m fiction because it doesn’t have gay men in it - it has blow up dolls painted with rainbows.

This is further exacerbated by what I’ve seen of the m/m community - though I admit my perceptions are heavily coloured from the Lambda fail (Details: here, here, here, here and here.) I have found it to be extremely straight-centric, straight privileged, very cavalier with gay people, characters and issues and with a very strong sense of entitlement (displayed grossly by the Lambda award brouhaha). We have some straight authors pretending to be gay to sell books - and arguing that that is ok and even straight authors assuming they are allied to (you don’t get to claim ally status) LGBT people just because they write about gay sex. I have seen them show up in gay spaces, gay forums, pride parades, gay events and actually acting like authorities or members because of what they write.

In short, I have been neither impressed nor amused. In fact, I don’t consider the m/m genre to be a safe space for gay men.

BUT, I am unwilling to throw away the whole category of m/m altogether. I as I said some authors of m/m write extremely good stories with gay characters. Some of them read this journal and they know they’re good (or should do :P). I also do not buy into the idea that straight writers can’t write gay characters. I think it takes time and effort and research to write gay characters in a sympathetic, realistic, non-stereotypical and non-offensive way - but I have no problem with straight people writing gay characters. I think the idea that they shouldn’t is both silly and self-defeating.

So what, I ask myself, to do? What is the way out here?

IDEALLY I would like to see a split of genres. With m/m fiction being classed as primarily books aimed at straight women that largely orientate around the *ahem* “relationship” (term used loosely). With another coined genre based on gay characters in a more full, less fetishised/voyeuristic fashion. In truth I think the latter would often fit nicely into CURRENT genres. Is there a reason why a quality Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Romance novel is suddenly labelled m/m just because it has gay characters in centre stage? Why does the fact the main characters are gay utterly change the genre? Are gay characters unfit or unqualified, somehow?

(I have to say at this point that I wouldn’t support the idea of straight authors writing books that were labelled as ‘gay fiction’. For obvious reasons).

Of course, the ‘ideal’ doesn’t happen. Mainstream publishers are not exactly falling over themselves for books with gay main characters. And publishers that do publish m/m primarily are very much a part of the genre and I doubt very much will draw any distinction at all between a book written with realistic, fully fleshed out, non-stereotypical gay characters in an absorbing and detailed plotline who do more than hump and angst and books which are intended to read one handed, written by Julian McHomo (honest), have more words spent describing the throbbing of penis than actual plot and have characters that make yaoi ‘uke’ and ‘seme’ characterisations seem a positively glowing example of homosexual relationships.

Despite the ideal being likely unattainable, I have to say I am unequivocally against the good authors who are as not impressed as I am from just putting down their pens and packing up their keyboards. And, sadly, I have seen 2 authors consider doing just that. Removing the well characterised plots from the voyeuristic, appropriation almost-porn will not make the headache-inducing stories less common, less prevalent or slow down its production nor will it balance the genre or the community. While I can understand an element of not wanting to be part of or being seen to be supporting a community whose practices you find objectionable, there also has to be a measure of practicality.

So I would say that, even if you don’t like all that happens in the genre, write. Promote where you can in the community - preferably choosing the least objectionable spaces (and they most certainly exist) - but don’t be afraid to hold your nose now and then. Choose the publisher most sensitive to your concerns - but in the end, any port in a storm. Don’t think that being a part of the genre means you can’t criticise it.

Mercenary? Maybe. But I’d rather see more good stories with gay characters out there, than the authors deciding they don’t want any part of the various problematic issues in the genre. I don’t think either their disapproving stance is damage nor the genre’s negative elements encouraged by their participation. And if they were, I think these concerns are outweighed by the benefit of having allies increasing the amount of realistic portrayals of gay men in literature.

So... I’ve rambled a whole hell of a lot here and not said an awful lot, largely because of my own ambivalence. I have to say again that I don’t think in any way that my characterisation of the m/m genre to all m/m authors. It may not even apply to most (but, if it doesn’t, then ‘most’ are very very quiet). And, again, I say that my perceptions have been coloured by the Lambda debate and similar which did not show the genre in the best possible light. I do feel though. there’s more than a little... unpleasantness there and some very strong problematic elements. I don’t know exactly where to go here (or how to end this piece) but it’s probably something I’m going to be musing about for a while.


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April 2015

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