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.

Even bloggers have to pay the bills! Monthly subscriptions- no matter how small- help give me the security to devote time to this place and keep a roof over my head: Monthly subscription onetime donationWhy Donate?

We should not kill people for speech. But I am not Charlie Hebdo.

Killing people is not okay. Okay? The Venn diagram of when people kill people and when it’s okay to kill people is two almost completely unattached circles, connected only at the point where the person being killed was trying to kill someone else first and the only way to stop it was to kill them right back. That’s basically it. And even then, if I’m being honest, it’s only okay in the sense that it’s the least bad of a bunch of terrible options.

I’ve just gotta get that out of the way, since it seems that any attempt to inject a bit of nuance into conversations surrounding people killing white westerners is interpreted as a defence of the people doing the killing.

To state another thing for the record: there was absolutely nothing okay or justified about the Charlie Habdo killings yesterday. Nothing. It was a vile act. My heart goes out to the people mourning their loved ones today. Nobody deserves that.

Clear? Okay.

Within that context, let’s talk about #iamcharlie.

The first thing to to understand here: we don’t live in a world of good guys and bad guys. The fact of people being murdered horribly exists on it’s own. It doesn’t imply that the victims are people who we should emulate. A person can be a victim of a heinous crime and still have done questionable things.

Here’s a problem with #jesuischarlie: Charlie Hebdo, from what I can gather, was a publication that produced and distributed vile, racist material in the guise of satire. Unlike any satire worth the name, it punched down at already-marginalised minorities in an environment that just encouraged an intensification of preexisting anti-Muslim sentiment.

Muslims in the West are disproportionally targeted for abuse and attacks, as are people perceived to be Muslim- normally due to their names and the colour of their skin. There’s an ugly strain of racism running through so much discourse that puts itself up as “just criticising Islam”, that you can’t ignore. There’s a lack of nuance to how we talk about Islam, as well. People talk about something called the “western world” juxtaposed against the “Islamic world”, as if these are two entirely separate and self-contained things, ignoring the fact that there is and has always been both massive diversity within, and massive mixing between, Islamic and Christian cultures the world over.

Also? I strongly believe that if you want to tackle extremism, the way to do it isn’t to further alienate people who your society has already been marginalising.

This is what Charlie Hebdo was doing.

We can condemn murdering people without valorising victims.

I don’t want a response to murder that punches down. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, at least three (at the time I’m writing this) French mosques have been attacked in ‘retaliation’. That is not okay.

It is also not okay to respond to the murder of people who were doing problematic things by repeating the worst things that they did.

When you say “I am Charlie Hebdo” and repost their racist, islamophobic (and most importantly inaccurate) cartoons, you’re not standing up for freedom of speech. You’re valorising hate speech and bullying of oppressed groups.

We don’t have to be Charlie Hebdo, or to repost their work, to condemn utterly the actions of their murderers. We are not Tinkerbell, only able to feel one thing at a time. If our response is to mean anything other than self-congratulatory grandstanding, we have to take into account that terrible, undeserved things happen to people to who did fucked-up things. We have to hold that seeming-contradiction and understand that it is not so.

We don’t have a choice between being Charlie Hebdo or the people who killed there. We don’t have to respond to attacks on freedom of speech by saying that all speech is okay simply because it was said. We don’t have to ignore the context in which violence- be it physical or otherwise- happens in order to condemn it.

I am not Charlie Hebdo.

I deeply value my right to speak more or less as I please. I value the privilege of the platform I have to speak on. I am aware that that right and privilege comes with incredible responsibilities to be thoughtful and accurate, as far as I can to help more than I harm, and to be receptive- within reason, since this is the internet after all- to critique.

It is possible to value one’s rights and simultaneously to refuse to support the abuse of those rights. And it is possible to refuse to support the abuse of a right, while simultaneously condemning utterly, entirely and without reservation those who would respond to that abuse with murder.

It’s more than possible. If we’re to actually make anything better, it’s essential.

Even bloggers have to pay the bills! Monthly subscriptions- no matter how small- help give me the security to devote time to this place and keep a roof over my head:

Monthly subscription onetime donationWhy Donate?

 

Whose country is it anyway?

I’ve been thinking about a couple of comments that Marcus Ranum made on my last post (thanks for the food for thought, by the way!). Here’s the exchange:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 11.19.25Now, obviously (especially since he actually said it in as many words) the suggestion wasn’t a serious one. It’s just an expression of frustration, and a legitimate one at that. I threaten to move to the far side of the Moon on a regular basis, right? It got me thinking, though. [Read more…]

Irish women are now incubators. Even in death.

Consent is not for Irish women: once a person in Ireland becomes pregnant, their right to refuse or to choose medical treatment is null and void. Self-determination is not for Irish women: once a person in Ireland becomes pregnant, they may no longer choose the direction of their lives within our borders, and if they do not have the right to leave their borders their lives become the property of our state. And as of today, even the right to be laid to rest after our deaths is not for any pregnant person in this country.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that way. December 26th marked a High Court ruling on the case of a brain-dead woman who has been kept on life somatic support since her death on December 3rd. She has been kept breathing, despite the unanimous wishes of her partner and family, because at the time of her death she was ~14 weeks pregnant, and Ireland’s constitution demands that the right to life of a foetus must be protected. Because of this constitutional provision- which I’ll go into in more detail in a moment, don’t you worry- none of her doctors would allow her life support to be turned off. Her family- including her two young children- have been forced to watch as the condition of her still-breathing corpse deteriorated grotesquely, waiting for the High Court to deliberate and make its decision.

It’s a hell of a way to spend Christmas. [Read more…]

An Actual Resolution: No More White Men

New Year’s Resolutions always seem a bit hokey to me. If you want to do something, just do it, right? No need to wait until January for it. And definitely no need to commit to an entire year of something- knowing full well that you’ll last about a fortnight- when you haven’t even tried it yet.

Combine that with the fact that December/January tend to come with a hefty dose of jerkbrain for me (who loves SAD? Not fuckin’ me, that’s who. Anyone got a place they’re looking to sublet somewhere way, way further south for next winter?) and we’re not generally experiencing massive amounts of enthusiasm around these parts. Maybe if New Year happened a month or two from now, things would be different.

However! This year I actually have a thing. A real resolution. One which doesn’t involve going anywhere near a gym or missing a single delicious, refreshing, icy beer. Which, btw, is good because I might actually keep to this one.

And that is this: no white men.

It’s not what you think. Some Of My Best Friends are, in fact, white menz and I am very fond of them and shall continue to invite them around for tea and beers and netflixes. I’m not about to go live on a No White Menz Allowed island somewhere. For one thing, I live in Ireland and all my stuff is here and this place is full of ALL KINDS of white people and men and it would be majorly inconvenient to relocate just for the sake of a New Year’s resolution. (Might be fun, though..)

Nah, this resolution is specifically about fiction. Books, to be precise. Cause there’s a hell of a lot of amazing books being written, right? Far, far more than anyone could ever hope to read. This year I want to make a deliberate effort to read things that aren’t all written from the perspectives that dominate our culture. Hence: no white men.

With one exception. Paul Anthony Shortt writes damn good books that are super feminist that I want to read, damnit. Also being an RL friend of mine who let me use his washing machine just last month when mine was broken and I was almost out of socks doesn’t hurt.

So the edited version: No white men who didn’t let me wash my socks in their house. And my definition of “not white men” is one which is terribly generous and pretty much allows for the vast majority of arguments that let me get my greedy paws on good books.

I am very, very aware that the second I post this, all of my favourite white-men authors are going to announce something I really want to read. And I will. Just, next year.

So! To the actual purpose of this post: feed me recs, you lot! Who’re your favourite women/POC/non-western authors? What should I be putting on my 2015 No White Menz Allowed reading list? Let me know!

Even bloggers have to pay the bills! Monthly subscriptions- no matter how small- help give me the security to devote time to this place and keep a roof over my head:

Monthly subscription onetime donationWhy Donate?

 

On living with a part-time broken brain: possibly a love letter to all of us.

It’s always unexpected.

How funny is that? I don’t mean ha-ha funny. How ridiculous, then, is it that a thing as predictable as this can take a person by surprise over and over and over again?

Yes, I know I get Seasonal Affective Disorder- a clean, clinical name if ever I heard one for an experience as ugly and as messy as this. I have known this for years. This marks my fourth winter since I first sat down in a doctor’s office and told him all the ways that I couldn’t cope. I left clutching a prescription, a phone number, and a sense of exhausted relief.

You don’t deal with it though. You think you will, but you don’t. Especially because it’s not always the same. That’s the thing about mental illness, you see. For many of us it is intricately wired into our lives. If everything is fine or better than fine, it’s genuinely not so bad. As long as we don’t have undue stress to deal with? Things are just a little more low and a little more frayed than normal.

Pull on a string at the end of that fray, though, and it all falls apart. [Read more…]

What hope is there for them? Teaching homophobia to kids: apparently “important” in Belfast.

What. The. Hell. So, a school in Belfast- one that claims to be a “cross-community grammar school” without a shred of irony- is now after getting into trouble for actively teaching queer kids to equate themselves with criminals and drunkards and that they are, in fact, going to hell.

The three questions appeared in a Religious Studies worksheet.

The school said they have an ethos of inclusivity and the worksheet was part of a wider discussion on sexuality on both sides of the debate including extreme opinions.

The questions were in relation to 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and were set by teaching staff.

They included:

  • What do these verses tell us about homosexuals?

  • Who else is included with homosexuals?

  • What hope is there for all these people?

What. Hope. Is. There. For. All. These. People. Like the hopeless depravity here is who we are and who we love, and not the inhumanity of telling some of our most vulnerable children that they are intrinsically wrong.

Fortunately, a parent complained and the worksheet has been withdrawn- too late, of course, since it’s already been given to the kids. But here’s what the Evangelical Alliance’s Peter Lynas had to say:

[Read more…]