Monthly Archives: December 2015

It’s Christmas, and I’m still a person, how about you?

It’s Christmas week on planet Earth, and those of us who celebrate it are all running around like idiots trying to get ourselves ready for it. For some, of course, this means huddling in the cold, praying like buggery that the children survive another night, with hostility and the threat of death left behind with the shattered remains of a building that was once home, and hostility in front, with European nations falling over themselves to tell you to go somewhere else, or that you are a terrorist because you are running from terrorists.

In LGBT-land, it has been quite a year. Last year, Laverne Cox made Time Magazine’s front cover with “The Transgender Tipping Point“. This year, Caitlyn Jenner made Vanity Fair’s front cover with “Call me Caitlyn“.

Nicole Maines won her case against Orono school district that paves the way for other transgender schoolkids to use the toilet in which they feel safest. She also won the “Spirit of Matthew” award from the Matthew Shepard Foundation. And, she got to act the part of a transgender teenager on Royal Pains. And, she had a biography published. Not bad for someone who has only just gone to university.

Transgender children got their own series on Channel 4, AND a one-off documentary about a summer camp arranged for trans kids in the US. My kids’ school changed their uniform rules so that now all the children get to choose between a skirt, a dress and trousers, not just the girls.

The Supreme Court of the United States declared that it is a constitutional right for all Americans to marry whomever they choose (as long as it’s one at a time, of course), and Ireland became the first country on the planet to endorse marriage equality by popular vote.

It’s not all fun and games, of course. Time wonders why so many transfolk end up dead, and Leelah Alcorn’s death by suicide is one that still rings in my head.

There is some way to go, but this thing that cropped up in my Facebook feed gives me a little hope for the future.

love your enemies; do good to those who hate you. But Jesus, what if they're Muslim? OK, I'm going to start over from the beginning, let me know where I lost you.

Jesus speaks about Islam


House of One

I’m feeling ill this morning, and my brain is empty, so I will be brief.

I ran into a curious idea yesterday. The internet is loaded with them, of course, but this one stuck out higher than most.

We live in times of interfaith tension, particularly between the three great Abrahamic religions. This confuses me, and always has. According to the story in Genesis, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then he created some more stuff over a disputed period of time but, eventually, along came Abram and Sarah, whom God called to up sticks and travel to a new place with new names, Abraham and Sarah.

OK, so Sarah got to keep her name.

Anyway, Sarah was old and God had promised them children. Sarah couldn’t see how this was going to happen, so she persuaded her husband to sleep with her servant Hagar and they begat Ishmael. Then God sent an intervention team who told them that Sarah would conceive naturally and give birth to a son. In due time, Isaac was born. Then Abraham did the only thing a decent man should do (warning: sarcasm coming), he sent Ishmael and his mother off into the desert to fend for themselves. Nice move, old man.

Anyway, Ishmael’s descendants eventually grew into a great people, who formed one of the world’s major religions, namely Islam.

Isaac’s descendants grew into another great people who formed one of the world’s major religions, namely Judaism.

Then God sent another intervention team in the shape of his son, whose birth is celebrated only a couple of weeks hence. Many Jews converted to the new religion and many non-Jews joined up too to make the third Abrahamic religion, namely Christianity.

So all three teams have common ancestry. I suppose that means that we are destined to rub each other up the wrong way, which is what we have been doing on-and-off over the last five millennia. Whenever someone tells you that Muslims just want all Christians dead, feel free to remind them that Christians have wanted all Muslims dead at various points in history too. And Christians have slaughtered Jews, and Jews have slaughtered everyone in their path. None of us has clean hands here.

So, what do we do about it?

Well, these guys have a solution. Let us build a single building that is, simultaneously, a mosque, a synagogue and a church. In Berlin. Let us build bridges (amusingly, “bridge builder” in Latin is “pontiff”) between our differing, yet closely related, religions and get people to meet together in the same space, where we can eat and drink as friends and grow in understanding. Friends are much less likely to kill each other than family members are, and are much more likely to want to spend happy times together.

The only drawback is that they need a lot more cash than they have, so do pop along to their project website and buy a brick. Or donate a million Euros. Your choice.

R. City: when did masculinity become so pathetic?

My ten-year-old has been listening to R. City’s Locked Away quite a lot recently. In fact, he was playing it on loop in the car over the weekend, whilst he was playing a football game on the same device. It got to the point where I was on the verge of snatching the thing out of his hand and lobbing it out of the window just to make it shut up. But the psychological effects of playing one song over and over again are not the point of this post.

While I was being tortured, I got to spend plenty of time listening to the song’s lyrics and, the more I listened, the more I was dismayed by the desperately insecure version of masculinity that is portrayed. The lyrics are available around on the web and I’ll avoid copyright issues  by not repeating them in full.  The chorus sets the tone, though:

If I got locked away
And we lost it all today
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?
If I showed you my flaws
If I couldn’t be strong
Tell me honestly, would you still love me the same?

I suppose that it is just possible that the first line is commentary on the likelihood that you’re going to be arrested and imprisoned if you commit the heinous crime of being black in America. The first verse, however, begins if a judge ‘for life’ me, which suggests that this could be a little more serious than listening to an iPod in a hoodie.

The central question posed in the chorus and running through the whole song is one of self-worth. The guy singing is desperately insecure in his identity and is asking over and over again for reassurance that he is worth something. He’s throwing up all kinds of hateful scenarios and is, with big puppy-dog eyes, laying his insecurity on his girlfriend and asking her to affirm him as a person worth hanging around for. It is raw emotional blackmail right from the start.

In the first verse, he makes explicit the fact that the only value he thinks he has comes from being able to buy her “the fancy things in life.” Well done. First off, is she so shallow that the quality of the relationship is measured in dollars? Is he so desperate that the only value he sees in himself comes from his ability or otherwise to buy her stuff and he’s wringing his hands at the possibility that some circumstance (unseen or laid out in detail) might prevent him from maintaining this flow of goods.

Labelled as ‘pre-chorus’, the next bit is even more pathetic than the first. He asks her if she will stick by his side in various circumstances, and goes so far as to ask if she would die for him or, at the very least, cry for him, ending with “I wanna know, would you stick around?” The situation outlined in the song suggests to me, at least, that he thinks that he is going to take himself into various dangerous and probably illegal situations and that she needs to be there by his side in order to support his manliness in the face of self-inflicted danger right up to the point where she takes a bullet for him.

We return to the financial theme again in verse two where he needs to know if love would be enough, if he can trust her to stay when money gets low.

The pre-chorus and chorus roll past and we hit the bridge (head on, at speed) and he demands once more the reassurance that she needs him, that she loves him and that she’s not just playing him.

The whole thing goes back into the chorus. Twice for good measure.

It’s a song written from the point of view of a man who has been brought up in a culture where the only measures of masculinity are the display of macho strength and the ability to shower a woman with gifts. The only valid expression of love is gold and he is so worried that his manly posturing is going to land him in prison that he’s demanding that she confirm that she will maintain his own sense of self-worth if, frankly, he pisses it into the gutter.

When did masculinity become so pathetic?

Where is his sense of his own intrinsic value? Is he so shallow that he cannot see anything in himself that would be worthy of her love, that she will only love him if he can perform specific tasks?

Where is his sense of her humanity? Does she not get any say in the running of the household? Is her only value in the amount of his self-generated shit that she’s willing to put up with? Is her love worth anything only if she stays by his side if it turns out that he’s being put away for life for murdering his previous girlfriend (for example)? Is it that he has so little self-respect that he is only willing to hold hands with a woman with out any of her own? If she is so desperate for a man, any man, that she can affirm, in advance, that she will walk with him into life-threatening situations? Maybe if she had more self-worth, she could persuade him not to enter that situation in the first place. But that would mean that he doesn’t get to strut his manly stuff, which is incomprehensible to him.

The only conclusion I can draw from this song is that the singer is desperately insecure and that he is looking for a woman who is at least as insecure as he is so that he can use her as his emotional crutch. He’s not interested in her mind, nor her friendship: he just wants someone he can lean on when his own decisions have unfortunate consequences.

Maybe if he valued her for herself and not as a fashion accessory, they could approach their shared lives as a team, and maybe that would be better for them both. For now, my advice to her would be to run. Run far and run fast. You are better off without this guy.

Pronouns. I bet you hadn’t noticed that there so many.

I’m back from a crazy month of writing 1667 words each day.  The NaNoWriMo journey is over for another year, but the story is only half-written.  Looks like I’ve got plenty more words to write in that book.  It’s been fun.  And exhausting.  And now it’s over.

As promised, I’ll talk about pronouns this week. I’m specifically limiting this to English. Other languages have different problems and different solutions (try finding a gender-neutral pronoun in French for example).

One of the most annoying problems that gender-nonconforming and non-binary-gender people face in everyday life is the simple fact that it is nearly impossible for them to even exist in spoken and written language. If someone is not “he” and also not “she”, the entirely valid question is what pronouns do you use?

It’s a question without a satisfactory solution just at the moment.

As society starts to adjust to a reality in which a person’s gender may not be obvious from a two-second glance, it will need to adopt some new pronouns to address such people. Right at the beginning, I will mention that it is never, ever, alright to call a human being “it”.  In English, we have three main third-person pronouns: he, she and it. The first two refer to people with obvious gender, the third has no gender, but “it” refers to objects, to things and not to people. People are not things and it is dehumanising to call anybody “it”. Just don’t do it.

I’ll also point out that, if you need to address a person by a pronoun and you don’t know which to use, it is OK to ask. If you have asked, you are then bound by decency to respect the person’s reply, even if they tell you that they prefer a pronoun that you have never heard of before. It can sound a little weird, but you’ll get over it, I’m sure.

Did you see what I did in that paragraph? I used a gender-neutral pronoun and you never even noticed it. The singular “they” has been around for centuries and, in certain places, is a completely natural part of the language. In other places, it can feel a bit like you’re referring to a single person in the plural. My only advice is “get over it”, because respecting the person you are talking about is only decent.

In addition to “they”, there are many other pronouns that have been manufactured to cover non-binary and ambiguous situations. Like most manufactured words, they can sound a little odd when you first hear them. Over time, the language will evolve and a winner will emerge. For now, the selection is quite dizzying… lists 80 sets of pronouns; Wikipedia lists 15.  As I said, when in doubt, it is more polite to ask than to assume.

Whilst thinking about this, an additional complication came to mind and that is ambiguity (it’s over there, in a box).

If I know that the person I am talking about prefers the gender-neutral Spivak pronouns, I can refer to them by saying E’s over there. Before I know Eir gender, however, I am faced with the ambiguous situation. I could simply use Spivak in this case as well, but that ends up conflating an unknown gender with an explicitly non-binary gender, and may well imply that I’m only referring to Em as E until E makes Eir mind up, as if E doesn’t know Eir own gender.

So we end up even deeper in the doodoo because English is pants.

We need more pronouns, clearly.  For now, I’m going to state merely four options, but there are probably more unless we just abandon gendered pronouns completely and revert to a non-offensive version of “it” for all people.

Explicitly feminine: she, her, hers.

Explicitly masculine: he, him, his.

Explicitly non-binary: you’re better off asking

Explicitly unknown: there are no English pronouns covering this remarkably common situation.

Having written all this, I find myself reaching the inevitable conclusion that it would be simpler just to settle on a single set of pronouns for all people that refer to “a person” in the same way that “it” refers to “an object”.

UPDATE: It seems that the BBC was thinking the same thoughts I was: Beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’: The rise of non-binary pronouns