Trans Women Are Not The Enemy, They Just Gotta Pee: responding to Cork Feminista’s Ale Soares.

In one of my earliest childhood memories I’m walking into my kindergarten’s bathroom. I’m alone. I don’t know why I was allowed to go on my own- I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old. My kindergarten (technically a Montessori preschool) rented part of a public building, and the toilets were down the hall from our classroom. I found a strange man there.

I don’t know what happened next- memories are hazy at that age, and all I even remember of the man was a huge, looming presence. I remember that I was scared. I think I must have run away. I don’t think that I ever went to that bathroom alone again- not that anyone should have let me go there in the first place. I’m not even sure that I went there at all, if I could avoid it. I think I might have avoided using school bathrooms at all for years. Not easy, when you’re a small kid.

I get being scared of strange men in bathrooms.

That fear does not make transphobia acceptable. It’s not okay to conflate strange men in bathrooms with trans women needing a wee. Which is why I was shocked to read  this post by Ale Soares on Cork Feminista earlier this week:

As a woman, I live with the “rape distress”; the threat that around every corner, in every kind of establishment (rich or poor, private or public), at any hour of day or night, I might be raped. Growing up in a society in which a woman is raped every four minutes, one can understand why it is so difficult for a Brazilian woman to shake this feeling off. In truth, there is no safe country for women. One of the “danger zones” would be entering a public female toilet alone. If a strange man is in there, I would fear for my life because of the sexist and misogynistic world in which we live. If I am absolutely convinced a person looks to be of a different gender than the one on the door of a public restroom, I will not try to be inclusive. My first reaction will be “attention”, and I will be tense regarding my well-being and personal safety. When in doubt and in a rush to use the toilet, I don’t think it’s fair to ask: “Excuse me, for my personal safety, are you a transperson?” I am not ready to say that every male-to-female trans is aggressive, also because I have no evidence of that and I know trans community are also targets of hate crimes. But we know some transwomen hate cisgender women, so if I tried this short dialogue I am not sure how it would go. We also know that there are gay men that hate cisgender women. The point is: misogyny is everywhere, and we simply cannot know who might possibly be targeting us. Cisgender women might hate other cisgender women, but the consequences of this hate very rarely lead to extreme hate crimes, as in male hatred cases or sexual abusers. The same way, if a person identifies so much with another gender to the point of crossing over sexes, why would a transman use the female toilet? As you can see, situations are always more complicated to biologically born females because of the “rape” issue. Female-to-male trans could be fearful of their safety in masculine toilets too.

This add, in my opinion, just reinstates the fact that, concerning women, we are never in control of our spaces, our surroundings and our bodies. It is another reminder that women do not matter. “LEAVE IT TO US, WE KNOW BETTER THAN YOU.” It is an extremely optimistic view, thinking about an abstract, inexistent environment that is always civilised, free from any forms of harassment, free from alcohol and drugs – let’s not forget. It is assuming that, no matter what kind of transgender you are, either female-to-male or male-to-female, you would know better than any woman about her own safety. In any case, cisgender women are the last ones to be consulted, taken into consideration and cared for. This add is not gender inclusive. This add is not thinking about women. This add is just propagating a rape culture and a culture of violence against women, trying to dress it differently. It has little to do with the trans community. So, I’d like to rephrase it: “Women, if you are in a public bathroom and you think it is strange for a man to be in there, follow your gut instinct. Safety first.”

Emphases mine.

Ale was posting in response to this poster, recently put out by the University of Bristol’s LGBT+ Society:

lgbt-society-bristol-university

Let’s unpack this.

It’s okay to be afraid of men.

I’ll be honest: I was angry the first time I read Ale’s post. And the second and the third time, too. How dare another cis woman perpetuate the same tired old tropes and stereotypes that put trans women in danger?

This is exactly what she’s doing. Why is she doing it, though? She’s afraid. I don’t blame her. I don’t know any women or AFAB people- or even very femme-presenting AMAB men- who haven’t experienced that fear. How severely we experience it does vary, of course. I’m pretty confident myself- but my instinct when cornered is always to start punching. I still walk home at night along well-lit streets. I make sure I’m not within grabbing distance of any dark hedges, doorways or car doors. I keep my eyes open for men walking alone or in groups, and I don’t relax unless there’s at least two other people or groups within sight. And when I go to a quiet public toilet on my own? If there are no other people in there, I check every cubicle.

I don’t feel particularly afraid when I do these things. Simply aware and alert. They’re habits, like checking that I’ve turned off the oven and remembered my keys before leaving the house. It’s another of those things we do that we don’t tend to talk about. Other people are more afraid, with good reason. Around 1/5 of women in Ireland will be raped or sexually assaulted as adults. And while most of those assaults won’t involve strangers, it’s strangers who we’re taught to fear.

That fear is real. I’m not pointing this out because it legitimises Ale’s perspective. It doesn’t. I’m pointing it out because, even if she’s wrong about this- which she is- she’s still coming from a genuine place. And it’s bloody hard to keep things rational when you’re scared of being raped. Legitimate fear combined with genuine ignorance? It’s a potent combination.

So while we take this apart, let’s be clear about something: many people are working through trauma. Being traumatised doesn’t make you right. And it doesn’t mean that trans women don’t get to be furious about this kind of thing. But it does mean that right here and now, I’m gonna ask that this space be one where we’re not jumping in, all guns blazing. Okay? Okay.

Trans women are women.

Right. Let’s take this:

This add is not thinking about women. This add is just propagating a rape culture and a culture of violence against women, trying to dress it differently. It has little to do with the trans community.

And this:

It is another reminder that women do not matter. “LEAVE IT TO US, WE KNOW BETTER THAN YOU.”

Here’s the problem with them: they both start with the assumption that real women are cis. That women’s problems are cis women’s problems, and that trans women’s problems are something else: something to do with LGBT people, not women. Making this even clearer, Ale says this in the beginning of her article:

It is not uncommon for LGBT and Feminist Societies to work in conjunct, as some of the oppressions faced are intertwined. However, regarding trans the same concordance seems to be missing.

See? She’s creating a separation between ‘trans’ and ‘women’. She is a woman. No matter how many times she calls herself a ‘cis woman’, it’s clear that she sees cis womanhood as somehow more real, more grounded and authentic than trans womanhood. And this division- this removal of trans women from the overarching category of “women”- is at the root of all of Ale’s fears.

You see, if you don’t recognise trans women as women, then of course you’re going to be afraid. If you do recognise trans women as women, then you’ll understand that trans women’s issues are women’s issues and you’ll create a feminism that includes all women. If not, you end up with confusing statements like this:

My problem is not with the transgender or with the LGBT community, it is with a male-dominated society. Therefore, I would like to talk exclusively about the use of the female toilet by the male gender because it concerns my own personal safety as a woman, and it endangers me and other women potentially.

Except, of course, that Ale isn’t just talking about men in the women’s room. Her argument- as far as I can see- is that as a cis woman, she has the right to “not try to be inclusive” if  “a person looks to be of a different gender than the one on the door of a public restroom“.

In other words, if someone doesn’t conform to her gendered expectations of what a woman should look/sound like, she will… what? We don’t know what the details of “making no effort to be inclusive” are. Later, she says that she’d even be afraid to ask the person about their gender because “we know some transwomen hate cisgender women” (do we know that?!). I have no idea what Ale wants to do in this situation.

What we do know, is that Ale thinks that she can tell if someone is or isn’t a woman, and that she reserves the right to not be inclusive towards people who don’t fit her expectations. As for trans women, butch women, intersex and nonbinary people? What are they to do?

What Ale is doing here is centering men in two ways. First, she’s assuming maleness as a default: anyone who doesn’t meet her expectations of what a woman looks/sounds like could be a man, and is therefore to be feared. But she’s also saying this: that her fear of men trumps the right of other women to be able to use the bathroom without fear of her.

Who should be afraid of who?

According to Ale, her feelings and perspectives are the ones grounded in reality, whereas people who disagree hold

an extremely optimistic view, thinking about an abstract, inexistent environment that is always civilised, free from any forms of harassment, free from alcohol and drugs

This isn’t the case. Bristol LGBT+’s poster hasn’t appeared out of nowhere or from a rootless desire to be politically correct. There are concrete reasons why it’s necessary, and why cis women who always pass as such need to take this on board.

Trans women face very real violence when they try to use the bathroom.

Ale starts her piece by pointing out that in Brazil, where she’s from, a woman is raped every four minutes. This is horrifying. How could someone facing that risk be privileged by their gender?

I did some research into violence against trans women in Brazil. I had a sinking feeling that it was going to be bad. What I read was worse than I’d imagined. While average life expectancy for cis people in Brazil is 75, for trans people it’s estimated at 30. Thirty years old. It’s clear from Ale’s article that she understands what it’s like to live in fear of rape and male violence. Imagine how much worse that fear would be if you knew that people like you rarely made it to middle age. And that your last minutes and hours were likely to involve agonising torture and hatred.

While Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be trans (that we have stats on), trans women face abysmally high rates of violence throughout the world. Trans people don’t live in an “abstract, inexistent [sic] environment that is always civilised [and] free from harassment”. Trans women live with every kind of harassment that cis women do, plus transphobia and transmisogyny.

Let’s go back to bathrooms.

I’ve been hearing horror stories about trans people’s experiences trying to find somewhere to pee in peace for as long as I’ve known any trans people. I didn’t want to just share anecdotes, though- and besides, they’re not mine to share. However, there is this: according to a 2013 study, 70% of trans women have experienced verbal harassment when they tried to use a public loo, and one in ten has been physically assaulted in the bathroom. Another study has shown that a quarter of trans people have been denied access to appropriate bathroom facilities. Where are they supposed to go?

Dry stats aside, how does that feel? From Gabrielle Bellot:

I am at a mall with a friend in Florida. We have been shopping for clothes at H&M, and she says she needs to use the restroom. I do, too, so I go with her. My heart starts to beat a bit faster when I see the gendered signs. I am a woman, and I am going to use the bathroom I always do—the women’s—but in a place as dense with strangers as this mall, I worry that this may be the time that something bad occurs. Pinpricks shoot up the back of my neck. I have always been androgynous, and I look like many other multiracial women from my home of Dominica in the Caribbean, a place I no longer feel safe returning now that I have come out as a trans woman. But in an American atmosphere dense with fear-mongering about how people like me are little more than sexual predators sneaking into bathrooms to assault “real” women and their daughters, I am never without some fear entering the restroom. Even before we near the door, I have already begun to chart the topography of the dangers that could come, hoping I do not give off so bright an aura of nervousness that I will be stopped even before I reach the threshold of the facilities.

As my friend and I approach the door, my voice drops to a whisper.

Read the rest. Remember: trans women are women.

Butch women and nonbinary people do too.

It’s not just trans women who are put at serious risk by views like Ale’s, of course- but let’s be clear, while other groups have difficulties, those issues are generally rooted in the fear of trans women and the myth that their womanhood isn’t “real”. Transfeminine people are the bogey(wo)men and our scapegoats for male violence. Butch women, transmasculine people and everyone else who looks like they mightn’t fit in? Collateral damage.

That caveat aside, what’s it like to be hit by that? Have a read of this:

I could write an entire book about bathroom incidents I have experienced. It would be a long and boring book where nearly every chapter ends the same, so I won’t. But I could. Forty-four years of bathroom troubles. I try to remind myself of that every time a nice lady in her new pantsuit for travelling screams or stares at me, I try to remember that this is maybe her first encounter with someone who doesn’t appear to be much of a lady in the ladies’ room. That she has no way of knowing this is already the sixth time this week that this has happened to me, and that I have four decades of it already weighing heavy on my back. She doesn’t know I have been verbally harassed in women’s washrooms for years. She doesn’t know I have been hauled out with my pants still undone by security guards and smashed over the head with a giant handbag once. She can’t know that I have five cities and seven more airport bathrooms and eleven shows left to get through before I can safely pee in my own toilet. She can’t know that my tampon gave up the ghost somewhere between the security line and the food court. I try to remember all that she cannot know about my day, and try to find compassion and patience and smile kind when I explain that I have just as much right to be there as she does, and then make a beeline, eyes down, shoulders relaxed in a non-confrontational slant, into the first stall on the left, closest to the door.

Every time I bring up or write about the hassles trans and genderqueer people receive in public washrooms or change rooms, the first thing out of many [cis] women’s mouths is that they have a right to feel safe in a public washroom, and that, no offense, but if they saw someone who “looks like me” in there, well, they would feel afraid, too. I hear this from other queer women. Other feminists. This should sting less than it does, but I can’t help it. What is always implied here is that I am other, somehow, that I don’t also need to feel safe. That somehow their safety trumps mine.

Emphasis mine. And, yes, do read the rest. Especially this:

I know a little girl, the daughter of a friend, who is a self-identified tomboy. Cowboy boots and caterpillar yellow toy trucks. One time I asked her what her favourite colour was and she told me camouflage. She came home last October in tears from her half-day at preschool with soggy pants because the other kids were harassing her when she used the girls’ room at school and the teacher had instructed her to stay out of the boys’ room. She had drunk two glasses of juice at the Halloween party and couldn’t hold her pee any longer. She and her peers were four years old, they knew she was a girl, yet already they felt empowered enough in their own bigotries to police her use of the so-called public washrooms.

I avoided school bathrooms for years because of that strange man I saw. Then I grew up, moved house a few times, and the incident and my fears started to fade into the past. But this kid? She doesn’t ever get to have that privilege. Those kids harassing her are going to grow up right next to her, and the adults who are supposed to be protecting her seem to be doing nothing to protect her.

The need for cis, femme-enough women to lay off trans and gender nonconforming women in bathrooms isn’t, as Ale says, an

extremely optimistic view, thinking about an abstract, inexistent environment that is always civilised, free from any forms of harassment, free from alcohol and drugs.

This is people: women like her, and nonbinary people without even the benefit of a stall matching their gender, who are responding to years of real, daily harassment that cis, femme-enough women never have to consider.

Those aren’t enough? Check out the comments in this article, where a lot of people from all over the gender spectrum share stories of being harassed in the bathroom. Not abstract, theoretical harassment: real incidents of real cis women policing other women’s right to have a pee in peace.

But what if..

What if, people ask. What if a man used our acceptance of trans and GNC people in bathrooms to gain access to the ladies’ restroom? What if predators gleefully jumped on this loophole?

When we look into what ifs, we need to balance our fears, the possibility of the what if happening, and who will be hurt if we give in to our fears. How do we do that here?

Do we- AFABs of all shapes and sizes, that is- need to be afraid of trans women in bathrooms? Ale is. Despite having claimed that her piece is about men, not trans women, she says:

we know some transwomen hate cisgender women… Cisgender women might hate other cisgender women, but the consequences of this hate very rarely lead to extreme hate crimes.

Do we? How?

Short answer: no. Longer answer? Not even a bit. In seventeen US school districts which adopted inclusive guidelines for trans women in bathrooms, (covering 600,000 students) there were zero incidents of harassment or inappropriate behaviour by those women and girls. Zero. None. Not a single one.

This is not a real problem. It’s something made up to play on cis women’s fears. It’s pitting one oppressed group against another who just so happen to be another step or two down the gender based respectability ladder.

Access to bathrooms is not a luxury: it is a necessity.

If you’re a cis woman who’s socially acceptably femme enough to never have had anyone question that status, and you see someone in the bathroom who doesn’t look like a woman? I get how you might be afraid. But right in that moment is where you’re going to have to grapple with one of the most complex things about who you are: while your gender is a source of vulnerability to violence, it is also and simultaneously a site of immense social power and privilege.

It’s hard to pay attention to that when we’re scared. Of course it is. But fear isn’t an excuse to play into a pattern where trans and non gender-conforming women have to construct their lives around avoiding using a public bathroom if at all possible. That is not fair. It’s not right. And as people with cis or gender-conforming privilege, we have an absolute responsibility to handle our own fears and stop being part of beating down others.

How about this, cis and socially-acceptably-gender-conforming people: instead of putting trans people at risk in bathrooms and other binary-gendered spaces, be part of the solution. Be a bathroom buddy. Grab an I’ll Go With You button and advertise that you’re not a danger in those spaces. Let your trans/GNC friends know you’ll accompany them to gendered spaces if they need it and back them up when they get hassled. And above all, look into your own fears. Figure out who you are afraid of and why. Work out ways to mitigate the danger you’re in. But while you do that, make sure you’re not creating danger for others. It’s hard work. But I can’t see any other way to get out of this.


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Should we take the B out of LGBT?

This video is one of the most thought-provoking, as well as difficult to watch, things I’ve seen in a while. It’s 7 minutes long, so you might want a cuppa before watching.

This is something where his premise is correct, and his conclusion.. incredibly saddening. Is this really all we can do? Is the LG(bt) community really so beyond help?

But then again, in another way I know that there is a lot of truth to what he says. I didn’t start Bi Ireland and spend the past few years working on that community just for fun. I did it because I was tired of hearing bi people talk about never having knowingly been in a room with other bi people. Or of abuse and exclusion from lesbian and gay (let’s be real: if they exclude bi people, they’re not LGBT. And they’re probably terrible to trans people too) communities. Teenagers being kicked out of Pride parades by biphobic gay people. Looks of disgust on gay people’s faces when they came out to them. A neverending litany of microaggressions leaving people feeling like, wherever their home is, the gay community isn’t it.

But on the other hand? I hate the idea of giving up on LGBTQIA. Partly that’s due to the many wonderful lesbian and gay people I’ve known, with whom I have felt community. I call myself queer because queer spaces have always felt right to me, in a way that straight spaces don’t. I feel like my space in that community isn’t something that can be given or taken away by lesbian or gay people. It’s as much of my birthright as it is theirs, isn’t it?

I don’t have an answer. I’d love to hear what you all think, though. It feels like a conversation to have.

It Was Acceptable In The 70s: Why I won’t excuse the actions of the past.

This is part of a series responding to issues that came up in comments on my post, David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?

In this post, I’m going to explore the idea that as the 70s were a different time, we can’t judge what people did back then by today’s standards. Here are some of the things that commenters had to say:

Luna:

You just can’t judge actions of the past on today’s standards. Lori Lightning and Sable Starr said they had the time of their lives  … The media lapped them up, being this young and adored by older men was normalised and they adored older men which too was normalised. The ”baby groupies” as they were known as had a mission to get with as many rock stars as possible ... Yeah, they were very young. Today, this would never happen, and that’s a good thing.

Kif:

[T]hey were different times – the Summer of Love had happened 5 years previously, and young people world-wide were caught up in the aftermath of the late 60s struggles for sexual liberation & emancipation. It is unfair to judge the morality of 1973 by today’s standards.

Amy:

[I]n the late 60s and 70s you had 17 year olds being sent to war so you know what? the times were different and kids were expected to grow up a lot faster than the sheltered protected kids we have today

Justin:

People realise that it was a different time right? That people were doing things with 16 year olds and it was considered okay. I don’t think we should go back and judge people of a different time doing something that was normal in a different time. David Bowie would have never done anything with anyone against their will and even judging him is wrong.

And Paul:

You can’t judge the past by modern standards – something that, unfortunately, it takes Years and experience to learn. 40 years from now, someone might read your judgemental, sophomoric opinions and wonder why people in the 2010’s were so eager to blame, scandalize, and general be puckered up tighter than an asshole.

That last comment aside (oh, Paul..), I think that these are interesting points. Is morality constructed? Yes, all the time. Are some things normal at one time and unacceptable in another? Yes, of course. Does this mean that we can only judge actions at the same time as they are committed? I don’t think so. And here’s why:

The 1970s Were Just Like That. They were also like this.

I know a lot of women about the same age as Lori Maddox. Unlike Lori, though, they didn’t grow up in LA. They grew up here in Ireland. While Lori was sleeping with rock stars, girls in Ireland were being locked up. They’d be taken from their families- or sometimes sent there by relatives to save their families from shame and ostracism. Their crimes? Becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Going on dates with boys. Looking too pretty. Their punishment? Indefinite imprisonment. Forced labour for the profit of the Catholic Church. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Some got out- through a combination of ingenuity and happenstance. Many others didn’t.

The Magdalene laundries weren’t technically run by the state. However, the state did send girls to be locked up there. And escapees were frequently rounded up by police.

Getting sent to the Magdalene laundry wasn’t the only thing that women in 1970s Ireland had to worry about. You’d dodge that bullet once you got married, true. Good luck planning your family though- it was illegal to buy or import contraceptives until 1980 (and even then, it took till 1993 until they were freely available). And don’t even try avoiding sex. Marital rape wasn’t criminalised in the Republic until 1990.

All of these things were socially acceptable in 1970s Ireland, at the same time as rock stars were fucking underage girls in LA.

I don’t accept any of them. I judge a society that turned a blind eye- at best- to forced labour and the indefinite imprisonment of thousands of girls and women. Harshly. As harshly as I judge a society that refuses to bring the perpetrators of this modern-day slavery to justice.

Of course, in one way it’s ridiculous to compare one adult man having sex with a willing minor to what was happening in Ireland at the time. Unless your assertion is that the former is okay, because we can’t judge people if their actions were accepted at the time. That leads directly to accepting the latter, as well as anything people did in the past as long as it was widespread. That kind of relativism is incredibly dangerous.


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Aoife is a vile opportunist attention-seeker, jumping on a bandwagon for clicks and money.

Well.

An awful lot of you read my last post on Bowie. And a lot of things came up in the comments, as well as discussions about the post in other spaces (my Facebook and Twitter and.. a lot of other places). There are some things I’d like to respond to here. I’m going to separate them into a few different posts, because they’re different enough to warrant it. And I pretty much haven’t the time to deal with them all in one go.


“Aoife is a vile opportunist attention-seeker, jumping on a bandwagon for clicks and money.”

I could tell you that the ad revenue we get here at FtB is the opposite of spectacular. Sure, that post garnered more hits than anything I’d ever written before. That does mean that in a few months time I’ll get a somewhat bigger chunk of cash than I normally would.

But let’s be clear about something: the amount of money I normally get from the ads here? It doesn’t even keep up with my Kindle store habit. It’s nice to get a few quid from the blog at the end of the month, true. But if money was what I was after, I’d be blogging about something else. I do this because I like to do it. I like having conversations. I like to write. And yeah, it’s nice that I get a couple of books, or a takeaway and a bottle of wine at the end of the month.

I could say that I wrote a journal entry on Monday morning. Then I felt like I’d really like to talk about it with other people, so I copied and pasted it into the blog, gave it a quick ten-minute edit, and posted it up. Shared it to my Facebook. And then got on my bike to meet a friend for lunch.

I could also say that the idea that I’ve jumped on a bandwagon is a bit silly. Half the planet was talking about Bowie this week, and you expect me to write about something else? I’m a somewhat gender-discombobulated queer who grew up in the eighties fascinated by space, for feck’s sake. I’m not jumping on a bandwagon. This is my band and my wagon and I’ve been on it for a third of a century.

I could say that and leave it there. All those things are true. But I’m not going to leave it, because an assertion like that demands to be questioned. And here’s my question:

What on earth is wrong with wanting attention in the first place?

[Read more…]

David Bowie was wonderful. He was also an abuser. How do we handle that?

A couple of notes. First: CN for discussions of CSA. 

Second: despite my repeatedly asking them not to (and having my comments removed and accounts blocked), a site whose views on trans women I find abhorrent insists on linking to this post. If you’ve come from there, please read this.


 

I feel genuinely sad about Bowie’s death. Like many people, I grew up listening to his music. He had a unique voice in every sense of the world. He was brave and beautiful and fearless. Growing up as a queer kid and a bit of an oddball, it would have been hard to not feel a connection to him. Space Oddity was one of my favourite songs, way back when I was a child obsessed with space and robots, convinced that I could go to the Moon someday.

Some of my friends don’t understand why people grieve celebrities.

They say- we’ve never met them, so why would it affect us?

Just as they don’t understand me, I don’t get that perspective either. After all, we don’t just spend our time with the people we know. We spend it with artists we’ll never meet.

That’s not even a 21st century thing. Ever since humans first learned to draw and then to write, we’ve been connecting with each other through time and space. Music written centuries ago gives me goosebumps. Authors who died long before I was born feel like old friends.

They’re not, of course. We get their final drafts. What they choose to share. But despite that, this one-way connection is still real.

If we can have a real relationship with people who died long ago, then why wouldn’t we feel connected to living people we’ll never meet? Their words, art, discoveries and music can still change our lives. Or at least, give some texture to their backdrop.

I understand that people feel differently. Some of you simply don’t feel that kind of personal (if one-way) connection to people they’ll never meet. That’s absolutely legitimate, although I don’t see why you’d bring it up when people are obviously upset. Some take it further, describing this kind of grief as performance and appropriative. As if some people are permitted to be sad, and others aren’t.

I think that’s bullshit. When we express sadness over someone we haven’t met, we’re not stealing grief from their family or loved ones. My melancholy this morning isn’t the same as losing someone you love. It’s not even close. People grieve David the man in ways that none of us who loved Bowie the artist could imagine. Of course they do. But the idea that this means the rest of us should shut up and not feel anything? Ludicrous. Bullshit. Ludicrous bullshit based on a holier-than-thou fake cool that looks down on actually feeling a thing.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling. There’s nothing wrong with enthusiasm and there’s nothing gauche about grief. We get to be sad if we damn well please.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

The other story filling up my news feeds this morning? It turns out that David Bowie may have had sex with an underage girl. I say “may have”, because this morning was the first I’d heard of it. And I say ‘sex’ and not ‘rape’, since the woman in question seems to have, as an adult, always maintained it was consensual and I don’t think it’s okay to force our own meanings onto women’s experiences.

That still doesn’t make it okay, if that was what happened. Statutory rape is statutory rape. It’s never okay for an adult to do that.

I get why people are sharing this today. What I don’t really know, is how I’m expected to respond or if the expected response is realistic. You see, I think that this is the expected response: to put Bowie into the Terrible People category and be done with it. To stop caring, never listen to his music again.

I get why people expect that. It’s about standing up for survivors in the face of a culture that brushes away abuse of women and girls by rich white men. Yes. That is important. In fact, I don’t want to dismiss it with three words like “that is important”. That is essential.

But I can’t.

No, I don’t think that what he did was okay because it turns out it didn’t harm her. We don’t have laws against statutory rape because every time an adult sleeps with a teenager they’re scarred for life. We have them because young teenagers aren’t yet able to understand the consequences of their actions or what will or won’t harm them. And because teens who are barely out of childhood are desperately vulnerable to manipulation by older people. The age of consent is a mechanism to prevent adults from taking advantage of disparities in power and decision making abilities.

When it comes to causing irreparable harm, it looks like Bowie dodged a bullet. But the unacceptable action is firing that particular gun in the first place. He did that. That was a decision he made.

I’m supposed to call him a monster because of this, and stop feeling sad about his death. I can’t do that. I can call him someone who did a monstrous thing, though.

What he did was unacceptable. And he still inspired me. He still made music that crawls in through my pores and under my ribs. That kid singing about floating in tin cans in her kitchen a quarter of a century ago is still part of me.

And I think that that’s the hard part, isn’t it? We want to live in a world of heroes and monsters. We want to be inspired be wonderful people, and to condemn the human excrement who do terrible things. We’re not comfortable with how grubby it is, here in the grey areas. Of course we’re not. It’s not comfortable.

But it needs to be. While we make monsters out of people who do bad things, we turn every single one of us into Tinkerbell- only able to feel one thing at a time. To be one thing at a time.

So that’s what I’m going to try to do: try to get comfortable with the discomfort of the grey area. To understand that a glorious oddball can also be someone protected from consequence by his position in the world. To see genius and abuse not as reflections of monsters or angels, but simply things that people do. Real, complicated, screwed up things and people. To try to understand more about the why of it all, since all of it is part of our common humanity whether we like it or not. To acknowledge that I love and am inspired by so much music this man created, and that I’m going to be as saddened by his loss and transported by his music as I’m furious at what he did. And in that discomfort, working towards a culture where rich, white, extraordinarily talented men don’t get a licence to abuse with impunity.

Because we can’t make Bowie into someone who didn’t inspire. And we can’t make him into someone who never abused his power. All we can do is sit with that, and work towards this generation of extraordinarily talented white men knowing that they are as human as the rest of us, and that nobody’s immune from consequence.

I don’t see what else I can do, really.


 

Well! You had an awful lot of things to say about this. Thank you for coming by! I’m responding in some separate posts to some of the themes coming up in comments. I’ll link to the response posts here:

  1. Aoife is a vile opportunist attention-seeker, jumping on a bandwagon for clicks and money.
  2. It Was Acceptable In The 70s: Why I won’t excuse the actions of the past.
  3. …soon. Soon. Real life demands attention.

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Fuck Imposter Syndrome.

I remember when I started teaching. I was teaching English to groups of kids from all over Europe. An entirely new class almost every week- and me.

Here’s a feeling most of you know: it was months before I slept on a Sunday night. The rest of the week was more or less okay. Fridays I’d sleep like a(n exhausted) baby. But Sundays? Nope. Barely a wink. Staying up all night worrying about the next morning. Who would my students be? What would they think of me? Was I sure I had my class planned out okay? What if I was wrong? What if my students were terrible? What if I was terrible? What if they hated me? What if I got everything wrong?

You could point out that none of this fretting helped one bit. That a well-rested teacher is far better able to handle the unexpected than an exhausted one. That it wasn’t a reflection on my character if the kids were Awful. Or even that the vast majority of the kids I worked with were Lovely and I almost always loved the time I spent in that classroom.

You could point all of that out, and it wouldn’t change a thing. I heard it dozens of times. And despite the fact that I somehow managed to put fun, engaging classes together for my teens every day, I was convinced that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.

Here’s the thing about imposter syndrome: it’s not about you.

Imposter syndrome is all about making everything about other people. Your boss. Your students, clients, or coworkers. You constantly worry about all of these people judging you.

And when you do that, you forget about yourself. You forget about what you want. You forget why you’re there. [Read more…]

In lieu of a Serious Business Post

 

Apologies for the lack of alt text! I’ve got 5 minutes before I’ve to get out of the house and to the gym- I’ll get it done this afternoon. 


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I’m Tired of Trans Days Of Remembrance.

I’ve been thinking all day about what I wanted to say for Transgender Day of Remembrance. When it comes to days like this, it can feel like we’re rehashing the same damn thing over and over again. Trans people are still getting murdered at a horrifyingly disproportionate rate. Trans women, particularly trans women of colour, even more so. Even in Ireland, where murder rates are far lower than places like the US (for everyone), my trans (especially transfeminine) friends face a constant undercurrent of violence.

Here’s what I said three years ago:

I guess that we’re all a little bit selfish. We all love who we love, and though we care for those outside that little group, it’s the loss of our family, friends and lovers that tears at our guts and rips our lives apart. So every year on November 20th I feel a little bit lucky. The people I love are still here.

It’s a cruel kind of luck, and one that nobody should have to feel.

Like most of us, I’ve said goodbye to people I love over the years. They’ve died in different circumstances. Some after long years of illness. Some after short months or weeks. Some expected, some unexpected. Some peacefully, some in pain. The loss of every single one of them tore- and tears- my heart apart. But there’s one thing that is common to every one of them that I will always take comfort from. Every one of them died knowing that they were dearly loved. Everything that we could do to ease their suffering was done. They didn’t want for a hand to hold. They were cherished as they died.

Nobody can tell how each of us will end our lives. But that one simple thing- that in our last moments we know that we are loved and cherished, and that if there is any way to ease our suffering it will be done- is something that we can hope for everyone we care for. It’s the one thing that we can do.

Too many of our trans community are denied that.

So every year on November 20th we gather and we take time to remember the trans people who didn’t make it this far. Whose last moments were hatred, violence, contempt. Whose deaths were nothing but sport for those for whom their lives meant less than nothing. The latest victims in our wars of privilege and oppression. The overwhelming numbers of, in particular, poor trans women of colour, caught in the crossfire of too many intersections of hate. We gather together in the cold. Send short-lived, brightly burning lights into the darkness.

And every year I hold my loved ones closer.

[Read more…]

What’s courage?

“You’re hurt and you want to stop? But we are just about to begin! Get up on your quads right now, you bunch of wimps!” Credit: Will Argunas.

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage in the last few days. A little over a year ago, I wrote about bravery. I said this:

I don’t think that brave feels brave. We imagine that bravery feels powerful- feels like facing your demons, overcoming them and triumphing.

I don’t think it’s supposed to feel strong. Not all the time, anyway. I think the bravest things we do are when we feel weak. Those times when you feel tiny and scared, when you don’t know how you’ll get through that thing you have to do, when you can’t look more than one step or moment ahead and in that tininess and shaking and nausea or whatever it is you somehow take that step and do a thing? When you’re a goddamn mess and the smallest thing is everything you can do?

That’s a hell of a lot braver than squared jaws, narrowed eyes and confident stares.

This feels relevant.

Murdering people who can’t fight back- even if you know you’ll give up your life for it in the end- isn’t brave. It’s cowardice. Pathetic, repugnant cowardice. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting people in a school or a movie theater or a concert hall or a summer camp. I don’t care if you’re doing it for notoriety, martyrdom or a twisted idea of politics. I don’t care if you strap a bomb to yourself or fire one out of a plane. If you kill people who can’t fight back, you’re a coward.

Daesh are cowards, hiding behind guns so they can pretend they matter. They want to make cowards of the rest of us.

It’s not hard to do. We already have our fair share. Even before last week, Europe was quaking in its boots at the prospect of finding homes for some of the bravest people on the planet. People who’ve endured incredible hardship fleeing their homes in hope of finding somewhere they could rebuild their lives. I hear that America’s doing the same.

Cowards.

You know what bravery is? It’s #PorteOuverte. It’s knowing that there are murderers on the streets of your city- they could be anyone- and opening your door anyway. Because for every murderer there are thousands of people who need a place to rest. It’s refusing to cancel your Paris gig because you know exactly what it’s like to grow up in a city that people are afraid of.

People in the West are afraid. I understand. I’m one of them. Any time I’ve been out in town this week, I’ve felt that vulnerability. It’s right there in the back of my skull, in between my shoulderblades. A part of me understands that nothing can really stop them from killing any of us at any time. We can punish them afterwards (if they give us the chance), but we can’t prevent it.

We’re all afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. Remember: bravery doesn’t feel powerful. We are at our most brave when we feel the weakest.

Whatever we do, Daesh will kill again. They’re doing it right now! It may not be happening where you are I are from (or it may be). But people are losing their lives every day to these people.

What do we do?

We’re being presented with a false dichotomy: we bomb Syria, or we do nothing. We raise the walls around Fortress Europe (and America), or we’re just standing by and letting it all happen.

That doesn’t sit right with me. Here’s what that feels like: people who are terrified and don’t know how to admit that, who want to lash out at the people who hurt them until they go away. It’s the reaction of a cornered animal.

I understand it. The scared part of me feels like that too.

But we know that it’s not going to do a bloody bit of good. You don’t stop weeds growing by covering them in compost. Sure, it looks pretty good the day you do it. Come back in a few weeks, though, and you’ve just fed the problem.

I don’t know how to fix that.

I do know this: Islamophobia won’t do a damn thing to fix this. Attacking mosques and Muslims, lumping millions of people in with murderers will only make things far worse. Refusing refuge to people fleeing the very same groups who attack us here is senseless- we are more than capable of growing our own Daesh terrorists. This is 2015. We can communicate across the globe in an instant, and you think that a border will stop people indoctrinating each other? And even if that weren’t the case: people have the right to refuge.

I know that we also need to defend ourselves. And that we have a responsibility to do that right. If we rage against the killing of innocents, we make damn sure that we don’t do the same thing to anyone else.

I know that we can’t solve cowardliness by being cowards ourselves. I know that the only way to stop the growth of a movement rooted in Western inhumanity is to start treating others like humans. Cut it off at the roots. Fight fire with some goddamn water for a change.

I love this:

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