Tag Archives: Andrea Dworkin

Blood Test

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I took an HIV test yesterday. Not that I was seriously concerned I might have contracted the virus, mind: rather that I work for an HIV/AIDS organization, and a sister organization, as part of national HIV Testing Week, was utilizing our premises to offer instant antigen/antibody tests to clients and staff. Kinda weird in the former instance, since being HIV+ is a prerequisite for referral for treatment; but staff-wise it seemed like good form to – and be seen to – attend to one’s sexual health.

My ‘tester’ explained that which might once have been semi-taboo to voice, that as a ‘straight’, white man, the risk of my contracting HIV thru sex  was somewhat lower than it might be for a man indulging in regular homosexual relations.

One aspect of the testing procedure surprised me: I filled out a form with personal details prior to the blood test which included my sexual orientation; from which I could choose ‘straight’, ‘gay’. ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘Transgender (Male to Female), ‘Transgender (Female to Male), ‘other’. Perhaps you can guess from whence my surprise sprang? As something of a ‘gender sceptic’, I’m familiar with the line that ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ are discrete ‘boxes’ as it were. So goes popular, contemporary ‘queerthink’. Could it be that the UK’s preeminent (and admittedly gay-male-centric) HIV charity missed the memo or is their use of language deliberate and candid?

As it happens, I agree, to a point: both ‘cis’ and ‘trans*’ people can be attracted to either/both (biological) sexes and/or to folk presenting as one, other or both. But underlying that fact is the reason that sexual orientation is such a deal, even now, in terms of  personal identity. Andrea Dworkin delineated this so well in the ‘Law’ chapter of her magnum opus, Intercourse [1987](p. 185-211):

‘The laws regulating intercourse – prescribing how we must use each other (be used) as well as proscribing how we must not use each other – are supposed to protect the authentic nature of men and women. Men being fucked like women moves in an opposite direction … [t]he regulation of men by men in sex for the sake of upholding men as a class is the least recognized, least scrutinized aspect … of social control…’

During this chapter, the author also states ‘…[e]very detail of gender specificity was attended to in the Old Testament, including cross-dressing ‘A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garments; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto the Lord thy God…’

Dworkin remains on record as the least ‘transphobic’ of radical feminist thinkers; yet she clearly and succinctly apprehends the symbolic and real dichotomy between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ modes of attire/behaviour inherent in historical conceptions of gender: deeply-rooted (radical) correlations which are not easily dismissed or over-written by superficially-neutral jargon.  The inference I take from the previous quote is not that the consumerist-patriarchal monetization of gender-nonconformity is to be embraced (which can be discerned even in the presumably-positive notion of the ‘pink pound’, as well as the ‘Transsexual Empire‘ to borrow Janice Raymond‘s epithet) but, rather that in her radical vision, we might reach a point where ‘gender’ ceases to hold sway over our estimation of interpersonal – and specifically sexual – relations.

Until that day arrives, ‘gender’ and sexuality truly cannot be conceived as being entirely separate aspects of our malleable, shifting sense of human identity…

“When the environment makes gender salient, there is a ripple effect on the mind. We start to think of ourselves in terms of our gender, and stereotypes and social expectations become more prominent in the mind. This can change self-perception, alter interests, debilitate or enhance ability, and trigger unintentional discrimination. In other words, the social context influences who you are, how you think and what you do.”

Cordelia Fine (Delusions of Gender…, [2010])…

…even as living in the relatively-liberal West – and especially here in the city of Brighton, UK – the aggressive hetero-normativity and entrenched (Judeo-Chistian-Islamic) conservatism of most human cultures is easily-forgotten, or at least ignored. As Stephen Fry reminded us in his recent TV documentary, this is something of a luxury: in a gender-free, more sane world it ought not to be.

And to return in the end to the matter of HIV testing, if you or any of your loved ones are concerned about the risk of HIV infection, it’s HIV Testing Week until November 29: you can find information here and here.

Normal family, abnormal morality…

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This ‘What Would You Do?’ clip, which arrived in my inbox today via Upworthy, recorded the reactions of diners in a Texas restaurant to same-sex couples enjoying lunch out with their families. In the same way that many in the UK were surprised that it was a Tory government that finally pushed same-sex marriage legislation thru the House of Commons, the clip shows that the connection between party politics and private attitudes isn’t always as clear cut as one might assume…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JibZ2U3o-M&feature=player_embedded

Disappointingly, the guy at 6.17 still resorts to using a sexist slur whilst taking the ‘waitress’ to task – misogyny might be the perennial #1 in the bigotry charts, yet remains the least recognized, and most casually perpetuated – but we can still take heart that in a world (or in the US, at least) where 1 in 5 gay couples raising kids, and a ‘normal family’ is a relative term, many ‘ordinary Joes’ are able to recognize injustice and are willing to claim the moral high-ground.

At 3.04 our ‘waitress’ berates the ‘couple’ (one of whom actually is lesbian) ‘…I actually have morals and standards’ so it’s not insignificant, then, that Donovan, who next takes the couple’s side is openly Christian in his extortion that she ‘not judge’ them. It’s refreshing that he interprets Christ‘s words in the spirit they were apparently intended, in an age when so-called Christian groups are too-often reactionary, narrow-minded and proscriptive in their thinking.

Andrea Dworkin‘s words ‘The worst immorality is in apathy, a deadening of caring about others, not because they have some special claim but because they have no claim at all’ are especially pertinent here; as Donovan says at 4.54 ‘I think silence is one of the failures of people today … when they see an injustice … they stay silent…’. Texas is one of 29 US states where gay people can legally be refused service, yet half the diners come to the defence of the harrassed couples; in liberal NY, by comparison, less than a quarter do so…

Back in the UK, the Marriage (same-sex couples) bill (2013) was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of 400 vs 175. British PM, David Cameron was brave and enlightened enough to make this a free vote, and fully half his party voted against or abstained. Much of the resistance was predicated on the notion that marriage is an institution designed around the ‘proper’ raising of children. Beyond party politics and religious orthodoxy, it is heartening that many people recognize this reasoning as specious; that marriage and family are fundamentally about commitment and love. Indeed, a recent study in The Netherlands suggests that kids of same-sex couples (female) actually do better than their Mum/Dad peers.

The Quakers and Unitarians, along with some Protestant groups beat Cameron to the punch with Gay Marriage. Sometimes ‘Conservatives’ don’t feel the way one might expect. Conventional ‘morality’ is changing: let’s not let human decency and real morality go the way of the ‘y’, for all our sakes…

Catholic distaste for bad press

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THE MOST DAMNING PHOTO PUBLISHED BY A BRITISH NEWSPAPER THIS YEAR?

From mirror.co.uk: ‘Jimmy Savile and the cardinal…’

Cardinal Keith O’Brien quit just 24 hours before he was due to fly to Rome to help choose the next pope. His resignation followed a series of recent allegations against him dating back to the ’80s by three priests and one former priest regarding inappropriate sexual behaviour. He ‘strongly denied’ those claims, but revelations of a relationship with Savile dating back to the ’70s will undoubtedly bode badly for his chances of being believed.

Another priest at Kilsyth (O’Brien‘s parish) at the time has been suspended following claims of abuse against two young victims. Ironically, it was Cardinal O’Brien who ordered the investigation last September; and when allegations against Savile first broke in the MSM last year, it was the cardinal who called for him to be stripped of his papal knighthood.

Also ironic is the fact that Cardinal O’Brien is known for his strong anti-gay views: he recently criticized the Scottish government’s plans to enshrine same-sex marriage in law by 2015, describing the latter as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. No wonder he was named ‘Bigot of the year‘ by Stonewall Scotland in 2012. His stance on women’s rights is no less forgiving: six years ago he claimed the abortion rate in Scotland was equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”, also describing the implications of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as akin to “Nazi-style experiments”. In all ways an exemplary Catholic, then.

It’s extraordinary that in the 21st century, an organization of such far-reaching social and political influence can continue to practice discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation with impunity. But the church has a real problem with sex, full stop. It’s clearly learnt it’s lesson from the last few years of public outrage over institutionalized abuse, and their media machine has been quick to swing into action following the O’Brien debacle:

Jack Valero, of lobby group Catholic Voices, said it was right for Cardinal O’Brien to resign.

He said: “I am very happy that this has been taken seriously, that the nuncio – the Pope’s representative in the UK – has written to the four people who have made the allegations to thank them for speaking out, and that the whole thing has been done so quickly.

I think this shows a new spirit.”

O’Brien tendered his resignation November last, and it was officially accepted by the Pope last week, but his sudden departure was unexpected. Was immenent exposure of the Savile connection a factor? New spirit or not, division, and confusion around the issue of priests and sex run deep in the church to this day, in particular the failure to grasp that the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sex tilts on consent, not the gender or sexual orientation of the participants. The church’s exception to homosexuality is not ‘homophobia’ per-se, so much as calculated propaganda in the interests of furthering it’s world-dominating, sex-dimorphic agenda. When O’Brien spoke of a ‘human right’ to marriage, it was the right of men to produce (Catholic) offspring he was defending. And who are ‘celibate’ priests to be dispensing this advice, anyway? That the Bible highlights the sinfulness of homosexuality*, yet not of paedophilia is scarcely surprising, given the social context of its time: that the church cleaves to those same standards 2000 years later, and that we give credence to the esoteric beliefs of this homophobic, misogynistic rape cult is the real scandal.

* See ‘Intercourse’Dworkin, Andrea. Ch. 8 ‘Law’ p. 185-211 for a penetrating, nuanced understanding of why homosexuality is such a ‘big deal’ within religious orthodoxy; and why policing men’s behaviour is really all about policing women.

Privilege: a quitter’s guide.

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I’ve been reading feminist writing for some time now, but it’s only since I’ve been trying to articulate the ways it’s inspired and enlightened me thru this blog that I’ve come to appreciate the adage that ‘the more you know, the more you realize how much you have to learn’ (or words to that effect). In a recent post, Haters, whores and hypocrites…, I waxed on the subject of, amongst other things, male privilege and hypocrisy. I think it’s a pretty good post, as far as it goes; but it got me thinking about my own privilege and how much that was unconsciously affecting the perspective I bring to my writing and my life. Best intentions aside, it would be arrogant of me to assume that 40 years of living in a male body and seeing thru male eyes hasn’t impacted on my view of the world. To point up the hypocrisy of others and not subject myself to equally ruthless scrutiny is, well, hypocritical.

It’s one thing to recognize the existence of privilege and the fact of your own, but how good are you at policing your own speech and behaviour? ‘Check[ing] your privilege’, to use the current vernacular. For every time you’ve caught yourself in the act of thinking or saying something sexist or making a privilege-based assumption/judgement, there are probably a dozen times you didn’t; at least, that’s my experience.

So for the benefit of myself and other guys, I’m posting a link today (see below) by a blogger called Synecdochic, who kindly took the trouble to produce a checklist aimed at those of us seeking to meet women (and the world) on more gender-neutral terms; not freak women out, and recognize when you’re on a hiding to nothing and back off, dignity – yours and hers – relatively intact (along with a couple reflections of my own).

DON’T BE ‘THAT GUY’

In Entitlement (part one) she begins with the fundamental assertion that ‘Women don’t owe you anything … not even their attention’. Ever posted a comment on a feminist blog, mentally congratualting yourself on how clued-up and sensitive you are on the subject in hand, to complete… apathy. Chances are they’ve heard it all before, so don’t waste a moment getting all butthurt about it. And whilst I don’t feel entitled to get a response to anything I post – I ignore/spam some comments others leave on my blog, too – I really appreciate it when I DO get one, even a ‘negative’ one, and it’s clear that the respondant is telling me something I need to know. I replied to a thread on a blog recently and the mod left a short, polite note informing men that that topic was a women-only discussion and that our comments would be spammed. Her blog, her prerogative, and there was no reasonable way I could take it personally. You don’t have to travel far on the www – or in the world, to which much of Synecdochic‘s advice also applies – to observe that men’s responses (to women) when the shoe is on the other foot are frequently MUCH less reasonable or respectful, and often sexist, spiteful and threatening, to boot.

And a point Synecdochic makes in Entitlement (part two): ‘It is a very sad fact that nine times out of ten, people with privilege, who are exercising that privilege in a way that makes other people feel uncomfortable, will not hear the fact that they are making other people uncomfortable until it’s pointed out to them by someone with the same privilege … that guy is way more likely to listen to you.’   This is something that’s always been in the back of my mind since I started mbg. If I’ve had any kind of agenda in putting my thoughts into words – widening my knowlege and honing my writing skills aside – then reaching out to other guys has certainly been a big part of it: this hypothetical audience might include guys who have read and been influenced by feminism; heard of/read it and dismissed it out of hand, or never encountered it at all. By and large I’ve found myself conversing more with women, simply because guys on the whole haven’t been as interested; or at least, less inclined to get into discussions. Sad to say, I think the misconception that feminism is ‘anti men’ still prevails in many quarters. This has not been my experience. By way of example, Andrea Dworkin – an intellectual and activist frequently reviled as often by other feminists as by liberals and conservatives – has written movingly of the men who have touched her life, and frequently exercised great generosity in discerning positive qualities even in those she came to dislike and despise. If you can read her heartfelt tributes to her father and brother in this autobiographical piece, without a) reaching for a handkerchief and b) feeling a little lighter and more optimistic about the potential of your fellow man, then you’re harder-hearted and more cynical than I. Hers was – and remains – an original voice, challenging both politically and linguistically; reason enough for any aspiring writer, feminist or not, to open up at least one book of hers. I’d recommend Life and Death, for what it’s worth; and if a recommendation from a man rather than a woman is more palatable to you, then I can live with that just fine, for now.

To continue, and conclude on the subject of writing, if you’ve made your way thru to the end of this post, then thanks – I do write in the hope of being read, amongst other motives – but did you click on the link? I hope so. In a mere 3000 (ish) words, Synecdochic demonstrates kindness and insight and you might begin to gain a whole new perspective on the world. To paraphrase (the aforementioned) Dworkin:

‘Am I saying I know more than men about [social interaction*]? Yes, I am. Not just different: more and better, deeper and wider, the way anyone used knows the user.’
* fucking [orig.]

6 Days, 6 Degrees…

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Musicbugsandgender doesn’t entirely set out my stall, so to speak. My blog was thus christened via a brainstorm perhaps not far removed from that process fledgling bands go through trying to find a moniker that’s snappy, apposite, memorable and as-yet un-trademarked.  The music part was pretty much a given; that being my consuming passion. Bugs and gender were inspired by a cursory glance at my sagging bookcase, prompting the realisation that a number of my most memorable forays into literature to date had consisted of two comprehensive documentaries of the 1918 Flu Pandemic * ^ and a few variously witty and worthy tomes by the likes of Ariel Levy, Susan Brownmiller and Andrea Dworkin. On reflection I think I chose pretty well, but as my opening sentence implies, it’s far from all-encompassing. The sub-heading ‘A leisurely browse thru the rickety shelves of my mental bric-a-brac’ is perhaps more apposite, a worthwhile suffix at any rate: it grants me room to manoeuvre; permission to include heterogenous, deviant missives from time to time.

A couple such I posted towards the end of last year when I on a slippery slope into a mental black hole (later, when I was in the hole I wasn’t posting at all) exemplify this well; and I reiterate them here only by way of contrast (indeed, polar opposite) to my somewhat elevated mental state of the past six days. I’ve been positively buzzing, actually; feeling reckless and vulnerable in a way quite different to the aforementioned slump. As much as it’s been enjoyable, there’s an edge to it which is slightly disconcerting, accompanied by increased clumsiness (not good when one’s workplace is filled with a multitude of hot and pointy things like my kitchen!) forgetfulness and a temptation to indulge. In reality, these feelings may have begun sooner and more stealthily but the meat of today’s missive begins with last Friday…

I worked ’til seven on Friday, having swapped a shift with my junior chef to get my usual – working – Sunday off, thus enjoying what ‘regular’ folk will know as a weekend: an unusual experience for me. This worked out well, since our lovely nursing team – always a solid bet for a proper piss-up – had organised a staff night out on Friday, helpfully covening at, if not my local, then – five minutes up the road – as good as. This gave me the whole of Saturday to recover – necessary, given the eventual 4 am finish – prior to another engagement on the Sunday (more of which in my next post).

Friday night was great. Outside we don’t – en masse – socialise as regularly (and generally not to the degree of – chemical and alcoholic – indulgence) as we once did, but when we do it’s gratifying to see that a spirit of comradeship quickly comes to the fore. It’s always there, of course; but nights like those remind me why, approaching a decade of uninterrupted employment, my enthusiasm and affection for our team and wider organisation remain undiminished. The aphorism, I believe is ‘work hard, play hard’: we do, and I actually enjoy it (the playing) all the more because it only happens once in a while. Besides, the costs are higher and take longer to pay off. Booze is still a nice buzz; but there’s deeper satisfaction to be had and I’m starting to get an inkling of where that might be had…

I’ve been feeling broody of late. If you’ve hung out with me for any length of time – and I count myself lucky to have a select bunch of lovable reprobates who have – this might come as a surprise. Hell, it surprised me! Having given some thoughts to the undercurrents that nudged this particular impulse to the surface just recently, I offer you these: 1) I’m fast approaching forty. This is less significant from the point of view of actual age, mind (though I’ve read recently that as guys get older their chances of fathering healthy kids begins to diminish – deteriorating quality of the genetic material in our sperm, apparently) so much as that that was the age my folks were when they adopted me. 2) Everybody at work (hyperbole alert!) seems to be having them. 3) I’ve recently met someone I can actually envisage having children with. I’m not going to embarrass anyone by naming names – not that said someone or her associates is likely to be reading this – but suffice it to say that she was there on Friday night and I was acting like an infatuated adolescent around her all night: at least, that’s how it felt at the time; my every gesture and utterance intolerably witless and gauche, no matter that she assures me otherwise.

This a far cry from  our post-gig dinner on the Sunday night, when on a far from typical – and perhaps, Burgundy-emboldened – priapic impulse I asked our waitress out on a date after the meal. I’m not entirely sure whether she misunderstood my proposition or politely – invoking her Frenchness – feigned as much. Either way, it was too brilliant a night to be spoiled by such an impersonal rejection. I wasn’t in love with her, after all. Along with the remainder of our party I repaired to the Pavillion Theatre bar around the corner for an informal debrief of the evening’s events and further amusement…

My good mood persists as I speak. I managed to meditate two days in a row – these last two – which is rare for me. I generally only remember to put these nourishing practices into, er, practice when the shit hits the fan: the adage that ‘prevention is better than cure’ buried in a far corner of my pickled brain. Mindful? I’m working on it. In my heightened state I’ve been overly tuned into and really enjoying the amazing autumn light; the – once – unseasonal warmth of the day. I stopped off for a couple of pints at the pub on the way home from work, just to enjoy the warm afternoon and watch the world go by. Whilst I was there I came up with the idea of a nice, simple little blog post before tea, describing what a great time I had last Friday. That was around six – it’s now half twelve…

And here’s one more thing (for those whose patience isn’t yet exhausted). Reviewing my mental ups and downs brought to mind one of my favourite pieces of music, a kind of rock opera – opera’s not quite right, since 6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence isn’t a storytelling album like The War of the Worlds or Tommy, although the music creates its own narrative arc which has a very ‘story-like’ quality – by Long Island, NY band Dream Theater. It’s a flawed masterpiece for sure, specifically in the lyrical department: as much as John Petrucci is a virtuoso of the rock guitar, his words can all too often lapse into cliche, banality and contrivance: but on this occasion, the sheer strength of the music prevails: it rarely fails to move me – especially the About To Crash and Solitary Shell movements. It certainly struck a chord today.

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