Inevitable does not mean Okay: Respectability Politics, Erasure and Marriage Equality

Campaigns on both sides of the marriage equality debate have begun in earnest in recent weeks. On the No side, there are the predictable demonising of queer people, pleas to some kind of imaginary distinctiveness and special status of heterosexuality, and misguided calls to please protect the children. The actual children of same-sex couples are, of course, on the other side defending their parents and families from those who would seek to explicitly deny them. As, of course are people of all orientations and family situations telling their stories and asking for equal treatment.

So far, so good. The humanity of queer people- and the families and friends who love us- is what will win this referendum.

But marriage equality, far from being the universal arbiter of LGBTQ equality, is a single issue. And single issue questions breed single issue conversations. 

This is not always a bad thing. It feels inevitable that a narrowing of focus occurs when large groups of people are asked a particular question. And it’s definitely not a bad thing that an important LGBTQ issue is getting significant mainstream attention. 

A thing feeling inevitable doesn’t make it okay.

There are two negative impacts that this narrowing of focus has had. It’s meant that inconvenient facts get brushed under the carpet ‘for the time being’. Those queer people whose lives fit a respectable marriage narrative are showcased- and that is lovely. There are many wonderful queer couples who want to marry in this country. The narrative of queer couples falling in love and marrying is one that has never really hit the mainstream in this country until now. Much as those of us of a more radical persuasion would prefer marriage to not be a focus, there’s nothing about being born LGBT that leads to any particular political viewpoint. There are plenty of queer kids growing up who need to know that some kind of mainstream acceptance- fulfilling the same dreams as their peers, having the possibility of a future that doesn’t seem utterly alien- is possible. [Read more…]

buggrit, Terry. Buggrit. 

“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”
REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”
YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
“So we can believe the big ones?”
YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
“They’re not the same at all!”
YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—”
MY POINT EXACTLY.”

You were clever and witty and honest and brave. You made me laugh and think and sometimes even cry. I hope that, although there was no justice to your illness, that you took the end as you chose.

RIP, you splendid, splendid human. 

Thank you for all the little lies, and for how well you lived the big ones.

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

You ain’t going anywhere, then, for a long, long time.

It Doesn’t Matter If She’s Really Gay: How the Home Office got Aderonke Apata all wrong

According to the UK Home Office, Aderonke Apata is not a lesbian.

Apata is a Nigerian citizen currently seeking asylum in the UK. Eleven years ago, when her husband’s family discovered that she’d been in a relationship with a woman, she was taken to a Sharia court and sentenced to death for adultery. She fled, seeking asylum in the UK on religious grounds- Apata was from a Christian family and her ex-husband was Muslim.

She’s been in the UK, then, for over a decade. During that time, Apata:

has won a national diversity award as an LGBT role model (for which she received 21,000 nominations), she was named in the Independent’s 2014 Rainbow List and she is currently in a relationship with her partner Happiness, a recognised refugee. As well as giving evidence to the Detention Inquiry, Aderonke has been a guest speaker at the Ministry of Justice, set up Movement for Justice in Manchester and is a patron for community empowerment organisationProud2be.

Let’s recap on this. She’s not just gay. This woman is turbo-gay. She has a bucketload of gayitude awards, works as an LGBT activist, spoke to the UK government about gay stuff, and on top of all that, incidentally, she has a decidedly female fiancée.

But according to the UK Home Office, Apata is not a lesbian. Why? Because she has children. In an impressive display of ignorance of both bisexuality and heteronormativity, barrister Andrew Bird argued that “you cannot be heterosexual one day and homosexual another”. He went on to argue that she also can’t be a lesbian because she dresses like one, and because the way she dressed ten years ago is different to her current fashion sense.

Let’s not bother going into everything that’s wrong with either of those arguments (but hint: it’s actually everything), but simply point out that Apata heard all of this while sitting next to her fiancée.

Here’s a more important reason why Bird’s arguments are all wrong: none of this matters one bit. Even if it were true- if sexual orientation were utterly binary, if lesbians in homophobic societies never married men for social acceptance, and if everybody chose one clothing style at birth and stuck to it till the day they died- it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if Apata is ‘really’ a lesbian or not. Whether her love for her fiancée (and all of her ex-girlfriends, several of whom have testified before this hearing and holy shit how weird would it be to ask around for those references?!) is genuine or faked doesn’t matter a bit- to anyone outside that relationship, at least.

What is relevant, then? That Apata is in danger if she goes home. While Bird is intent on arguing that a woman engaged to another woman is insufficiently gay to qualify for asylum, Nigerian law doesn’t care less about a person’s deepest feelings. It’s not being gay that’ll either land you in prison or get you stoned to death. What will? Same-sex sexual activity. Or dressing in a way that doesn’t match with your assigned gender- like, say, in those terribly dapper shirts and bowties that Apata tends to wear.

Apata isn’t at risk because she feels, deep-down, that the people that she falls in love with are women. She’s at risk because of the action of having relationships with women. The action of ironing a shirt for an awards ceremony. The action, even, of working in LGBT activism, volunteering her time for her community. That’s why she had to flee her country, and that’s why she would be in extreme danger if forced to return.

With any luck, she won’t be.

For news on Aderonke’s situation, check out her FB support page.
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Arguing for Marriage Equality: Engagement over Debate

I love a good argument as much as the next person. There’s something glorious about a perfectly placed point and the delicious combination of wit and incontrovertible evidence that feels so damn satisfying. Watch your opponents crumble before your logic. High five with your friends. Or, if it’s a friend you’re arguing with, high five anyway and make them buy you a beer for the privilege. Good times.

That said, I can’t remember the last time I argued someone- particularly a someone who I didn’t have a preexisting connection with- into agreeing with me. Most of the time being argued with just gets your back up, makes you feel attacked and digs you even more firmly into the position you already held- particularly if the position is one that you had an emotional attachment to. And, in fairness, if you didn’t feel attached to your position it’s not likely that you’d have bothered arguing it in the first place, is it?

This isn’t an intellectual exercise. This is something that is becoming incredibly important in Ireland right now. It’s a little over two months until the marriage equality referendum here in Ireland, and the No campaign have already started resorting to every dirty trick they can muster in order to scare people into voting with them. Supporters of equality already have facts, arguments and research on our side. Those aren’t going to be enough. [Read more…]

Catholic Bishops Thinks Queers Can Marry Just Fine, Just Like Straight People

So, a Catholic bishop said something completely wrong about marriage and queer people. I know. What else is new? Really, the newsworthy thing here is that I’m actually bothering to respond to it. But y’know something? Sometimes people who you expect to say terrible things do exactly that, and do it in a way that gets under your skin. Like this guy.

Of course, when an article has a title like “‘No obstacle’ to gays marrying, just not each other, says bishop“, you know that your blood pressure’s in for a bit of a boost. You also know it’s going to involve that delightful combination of someone talking about something they have zero experience of, and the particularly sanctimonious smugness that the Catholic Church has such a way with. Around this part of the world, at least. 

Also, before we go on can we take a moment to note the sheer audacity of this kind of moralising coming from a representative of an organisation well-known for depths of abusiveness towards children that I sincerely hope are absent from even your worst nightmares? Yep, let’s think about that one for a moment, because the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland have zero moral high ground to stand on. And yet there they are, standing on their Emperor’s New High Ground, acting like their right to tell people how to live their lives has any basis in reality. 

With all that in mind (are you feeling angry yet? I sure am), let’s take a look at what this guy- one Kevin Doran- had to say last Sunday. In public. To a congregation of people. Many of whom, of course, must be either LGBTQ themselves or have loved ones who are. And many of whom will, bizarrely enough, probably be back next Sunday. 

Doran starts with this:

 “You don’t have to be a Christian to recognise the truth about human sexuality; the joy of it and the heartbreak of it.

Well. So far so good, eh? People from all religions and none can understand that human sexuality can be a profoundly joyful and devastatingly heartbreaking thing. If Doran had finished that sentence, stepped down from the pulpit and toddled off home, I’d have nothing to disagree with. [Read more…]

Every goddamn year.

Bloody hell. All day long, and it’s only now I’ve realised that it’s February 23rd.

It’s been a long time. This day always feels strange. Is there a time when you should stop pointing these things out every year? Or is it more right to keep on saying that it’s horrible, and it’s not okay?

But I had a wonderful day today. I have the day off. Woke up when I woke, lazy breakfast, worked on some derby stuff before taking the train into town for a haircut and a potter around some shops. I’m sitting in my favourite cafe with my favourite kind of tea, and life is bloody good right now.

I guess, when it’s someone your own age, then it doesn’t get better in the same way that these things normally eventually do, cause every thing you get to do is yet another something that they should have had. Every part of my life that I get to experience is yet another piece that you missed out on. I’ve been an adult for over a decade and I still feel like I’m just beginning to get the hang of it and find a bit of perspective.

It is the perspective that gets you though, isn’t it? You can tell someone that things change as many times as you like. It’s nothing on having memories of crying in the bath every morning for months followed by falling in love followed by losing your job followed by discovery and freedom and trapping yourself again and getting out again and breaking your heart a dozen times and winters that feel like they could never end and springs that feel like coming alive again. You can’t tell anyone that that’s real, that’s how it is, that there are ways through depression that feels impossible, and that even within it there are moments that are worth every goddamn bit of it.

But I wonder if I’ll ever stop fantasising, Christmas Carol-style, about showing you how goddamn long and interesting and changeable life can be.

I wrote this one years ago now. Too many goddamn years you’ll never have.

But.. at the very least, I guess I can say thank you for one thing. Thank you for being the reason that, no matter how bad things have ever gotten, what you chose is utterly unthinkable to me. It’s not much and it sure as fuck isn’t worth it and I’d really rather have understood that any other way. But it’s a real thing.

That’s all I’ve got.

Who Are Schools For? Or: It’s About (Religious) Ethics In Public Education

Last week, we’ve been hearing about a teacher who, while interviewing for a Catholic primary school, was asked what her views were on “homos”. Yes, they said “homos”, and yes, they were talking about her personal as opposed to professional views. She’s taken her case to the Equality Tribunal, who rightly criticised the school and her interviewers.

Let’s back up a bit, shall we? Here in Ireland, the vast majority of public schools are run by the Catholic church. Before you ask, I don’t mean ‘public’ in the English sense that actually means private (seriously, what’s with that?). The public schools that are being run by the Catholic church here are national schools, paid for by our taxes. It’s a little complicated, but the tl;dr of the situation is that the Church has historically been involved in running most of our schools and hospitals, and although there are now some other options (such as the wonderful Educate Together, which I was lucky enough to go to as a kid myself), they aren’t letting go of any more control than they have to.

The other important point? While in most areas workers in Ireland are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act, this specifically does not apply to educational institutions due to a loophole put in place because of pressure from- wait for it- the Catholic Church, which allows them to implement a specific ethos and hire and fire according to that, regardless of whether it’s discriminatory.

There’s a lot we can say about this. Most of it is either righteously angry or frustrated and annoyed. I’m just getting to the stage where I may have to retire the concept of either ‘ethos’ or ‘ethics’ from my everyday language, which is a pity because I used to like them, damnit. They were good words. Sometimes it’s easier to mourn perfectly good words than to take on the combined powers of Church and State.

We could get bogged down asking questions about whether it’s acceptable to fire a teacher for being queer or unmarried and pregnant or saying she’s just fine with the homos. That wouldn’t be a waste of time, although we already know the answers and we do need to make space for outrage. Today, though, let’s ask a different question.

[Read more…]

Queerness and Inclusion

Should this group be added to the Lgbtqplus umbrella? How about that? Isn’t the acronym long enough already?

I’m not terribly old, and I’m old enough to remember when LGBT was mostly LGB (and oh, the fights we had..). A short few years before that and it was barely an acronym in a lot of places. These days, of course, we’ve letters coming out our ears, never mind the disagreements about what half of them stand for.

And we still argue.

I think our arguments are, if not fundamentally wrong, then at least coming from a fundamentally incorrect space.

I remember an experience I had once at a demo. It was one of the few times I’ve ever been recognised by a stranger for my writing. They came up to me, asked if I was Aoife from the Tea Cosy. I said yes (secretly embarrassed and delighted in equal parts. There goes the secret), and we chatted a bit. And then they said something that has always stuck with me. They wanted to thank me for a post I’d written on queer communities a few months before, where I’d specifically mentioned other groups, including asexual people, who we should bloody we’ll be including. This person said it was the first time they ever heard a non-ace person mention ace people, and the first time they thought they might be welcome in our communities.

Well.

I think we’re creating these communities all wrong.

[Read more…]

Leo Varadkar: why his coming out really is a small kind of queer victory.

One of the things about being the type of queermo who’s been out for a gajillion years (since we were literally partying like it was 1999, people. Because it was, in fact, nineteen ninety-nine. More or less) is that hanging about in your little queer bubbles you get the idea that we’re somehow different.

Of course, there’s nothing about being born something other than a cis heterosexual that makes you special or different. In the beginning, we’re just like everyone else- tiny, adorable, and prone to pooping our pants on a regular basis. It’s not until much later that all that cisheteronormativity starts to kick in and you’re forced to sink or swim and learn to navigate.

It’s not that LGBTQ people are special or different. It’s just that those of us who are able and willing to be outspoken tend to have some things in common. We’re more likely to come from environments that nurtured us instead of excluding us. We’re more likely to be fairly, y’know, ballsy people who Give No Fucks. Or we’re the people who didn’t have a choice about being out or not, cause we tick one stereotype too many to pass under anyone’s radar.

For years, those were the faces you’d see. [Read more…]

Charlie Hebdo: How do we stand with people, without standing as them?

First: thank you to everyone who responded to my last post. Whether we are entirely in agreement or not, I appreciate it when you take the time to engage. Particularly when it’s on as fraught and complex a topic as this. I’ve been biding my time before saying anything else on the matter for precisely that reason- this is a big, difficult topic that many people feel extremely raw about.

There are some things I want to tackle, though. We seem to be arguing a lot over the question of whether Charlie Hebdo is racist/Islamophobic or not and whether we agree with what they did. Particularly in the context of #jesuischarlie, those of us who feel uncomfortable identifying with Charlie Hebdo are stuck in between two things that (to vastly different degrees) we aren’t okay with.

There are a few reasons why I’m uncomfortable with #jesuischarlie. One is that I don’t feel comfortable with how Charlie Hebdo and similar publications express themselves and their effects on marginalised groups. Another- far greater- part, though, is that I feel like uncritically standing as (as opposed to with) them contributes to the black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us kind of thinking that gets us into this goddamn mess in the first place.

But I don’t want this to be a post about the virtues or flaws of Charlie Hebdo. Instead, let’s take something as a given: many of us who utterly deplore murdering people for their speech are, nonetheless, uncomfortable with the pressure to identify with that speech in order to condemn these murders. There’s an assumption that you’re either #jesuischarlie, or you’re tacitly supporting people who murder others for their views and blaming cartoonists for being killed.

Whether or not you agree with Charlie Hebdo’s work (or see it as a hell of a lot more complicated than agreeing or disagreeing), this fact remains: there are going to be times when all of us are called to condemn atrocities against people we disagree with. We need another way to do that.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that not-actually-Voltaire quote we keep throwing at each other, although that is definitely an improvement. That quote is just a platitude, though, isn’t it? It’s throwaway.

I think that if we’re going to tackle issues of violence and freedom of expression, we need to figure out ways to stand with-not-as victims. We need to make space for multiple kinds of solidarity, including those that acknowledge our differences instead of papering them over. Because this isn’t simple. There are multiple things going on that will change how we show our support for victims. We need to work out ways to do that that don’t necessitate shutting down discourse.

I’m not certain how to do that. But I don’t think that we’re going to get anywhere if we don’t start working it out.

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