Posts Tagged ‘ queer ’

What is Marriage?

Yesterday I gave a speech at York University about the institution of marriage and how it relates to me. Here is the transcript.

In order to examine what marriage is today, its important to see it within its historical and social context. Marriage first became something that fully involved the state when common-law marriage for practical purposes was abolished under the marriage act of 1753. Before then, legal marriage was mainly a practice of the aristocratic and bourgeois classes; its main purpose to secure business relationships between rich families and appropriate property away from women and the working classes.
As the UK moved from mercentilism to industrialism to a neo-liberal, ostensibly capitalist economic system, the way that legal marriage was used in society changed from being something that was used solely to secure business relationships between privileged families and something that was more accessible to some sections of the working classes. This is seen as a sign of liberal progression by some commentators, but I’m not convinced.

Capitalism is an economic system in which the means of production within society is privately owned. The ruling class, who are the owners of the means of production, have the most economic power, and therefore more political power within our society. They seek to extend their economic and political power by exploiting those who don’t own the means of production, the working class, by forcing them to labour in order to produce surplus value, so they can extract profit. The ruling class seeks to ensure their continued domination by using a tactic of “divide and conquer”; encouraging racism, homophobia, disablism and other forms of bigotry to take root in communities, so the working classes are fighting amongst themselves as opposed to combating the root cause of their exploitation – capitalism and the ruling class.

You might be wondering what exactly this has to do with marriage. Well, the institution of marriage and the concept of “family” it supports, has evolved into another tool to divide the working class by splitting communities in to atomised nuclear family units. This isolates individuals from their neighbours, and decreases the shared resources within a community, increasing profits for those in power. The concept of the family is then further used to exploit a right wing agenda – one recent example being the attack on the LGBT community in defence of the “family” by members of the conservative party. Its interesting that most political acts which supposedly support the “family” could arguably be seen as attacks on the community, and the working class as a whole.
The notion of the family and the institution of marriage is part of this process of division alongside forces such as racism and misogyny, and in some ways they both depend upon each other for their very existence – division in one area of public life giving rise to another form of division. From 1753 onwards, the state entered our bedrooms in order to police our relationships; granting legal marriages to those that were deemed fit of privilege. Now the state wishes most people to enter into marriages, giving them minor financial incentives in order to further atomise the working classes t the benefit of those in power. Whilst I have no issue with people living together, or publicly showing commitment to each other, buying into the institution of marriage is essentially supporting and aiding your own oppression by the state and the ruling class. Whilst there might be a some rare cases in which the benefits of marriage outweigh the disadvantages, such as marrying an asylum seeker to save them from a greater oppression, in most cases marriage represents a misinformed backing of the state and capitalism*

On the subject of gay marriage, I’m sure others speaking tonight will talk about issues of assimilation and heteronormativity. It is my question to ask, then, is advocating incremental change in fighting for the ability of queers to marry progressive? If we ifght for so-called equality within a framework controlled by heteronormative elite, how are me liberated?Is it better then, instead of arguing for gay marriage, to argue for the abolition of marriage altogether, to take direct action against the root causes of our oppression and move towards a society in which hierarchy and division no longer exist and power is held by the community and not the ruling elite?

* In case some of you don’t know me personally, I am currently married, going through a divorce. I married my best friend to take advantage of a relatively large pot of money that would become available to us through student loans and various bursaries should we show we are “independent” of our parents. Obviously, at the time I thought that action was justified, and it has, and will continue (even after the divorce goes through) to massively improve my standard of living whilst I’m a student, and will be essential to my affording to do a masters after this current degree. Im obviously still campaigning for free education and grants for all students though!

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IDAHO Kiss-in attacked by riot cops and neo-fascists

On Tuesday May 18th, LGBT activists held a kiss in against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Saint-Jeans Place, Lyon, characterised by growing tensions between Kiss-in participants and counter-demonstrators. The Kiss-in was originally planned to take place on Saturday, to mark IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, but the demonstration was deemed illegal by the council in Rhone for “administrative reasons”. Lesbian and Gay Pride of Lyon (LGP Lyon) consequently denounced the “lack of firmness and courage of the Rhone council” considering them to have “yielded to the pressure of the right wing catholic movement”, who organised an intense campaign to ban the “gathering of homosexual extremists” and calling for public funding to LGP Lyon to be halted. Young People for France, the youth wing of the right wing conservative Movement for France party, which forms part of Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidential majority, made up part of the counter-demonstration.

300 participants of the Kiss-in gathered around Saint-Jeans Place, but were blocked by riot cops barring access to the square, apparently to avid a confrontation between the Kiss-in and the hundred young catholic extremists and fascists who had taken the right hand side of the square. The two groups held banners and placards, chanting slogans at each other, “Enough of this gang who don’t respect transpeople, dykes and fags!” and “Enough of catholic-phobia” (They don’t translate well from French). The president of the LGP Lyon said “Our demonstration is authorised, not theirs. I don’t see why it should be shocking for us to embrace in public. And we shall be back again next year, especially if Cardinal Barbarin (The archbishop of Lyon) does not condemn the actions of the counter-demonstrators”.

Some kisses between participants could be exchanged before the police issued an evacuation order at 21.30. Demonstrators were forcibly evicted from the square with tear-gas, and two catholic extremists were arrested. The Kiss-in participants left quickly, but the catholic extremists resisted the order.

LGBT Associations have said that they are pleased with the amount of people who mobilised for the Kiss-in, but question the management of the demonstration by the council of Rhone, calling it “calamitous”. A joint press-release signed by various LGBT, human rights and anti-fascist organisations was published asking ”Why wasn’t the right to demonstrate peacefully for gay rights not respected? Why were the extremists, gathering illegally in Saint-Jeans Place, allowed to spread their hate? Why were the demonstrators for human rights, acting non-violently, violently evicted by the police without reason?”

Videos and the original report from the event (in French) can be found here. Apologies if I messed up the translation! 🙂

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Fuck the Police! or, Fuck the Police?

This is going to be an attempt at a blog post that attempts to deal with my personal life. Big steps. Scary, I know.

The other day, I happened to come across a certain gentleman’s profile on fitlads, as you do. I decided he was pretty enough to have a go at striking up conversation with, and so I made a flippant remark about something he had put in his profile. We got chatting, and over the next few days we found we had a fair bit in common. The boy (lets call him Paul, because actually I don’t know his real name and “Paul” is nice enough) is a bit of a geek, likes going out on the odd occassion and talks about cleaning just enough to make it clear that he would tidy up after me if we ever got married and went all Stepford Gay. Perfect. Until the conversation moves round to what we do with our time. I tell him I’m a layabout student, and he tells me… wait for it… that he works for the filth.

“PSCO’s main duties include dealing with anti-social behaviour, minor crimes, and being the highly-visable, ever present eyes of the State on the streets.

He’s a PSCO. A Police Community Support Officer. All I really knew about PCSO’s were that they are the fake police that get sent out to annoy teenagers in the city centre and help old ladies cross the road. So I did a bit of research. There is a fair few of them, about 13500, and they dont have any powers of arrest beyond your average citizens arrest. Their main duties include dealing with anti-social behaviour, minor crimes and being the highly-visable, ever present eyes of the State on the streets.


So, not as bad as you average, truncheon wielding riot cop, but still something that I have reservations about persuing. Why? Well, for me the police service exist to fulfil the state’s wishes; to be the mechanism of ‘legitimate’ state violence and to enforce what are, in the most part unjust laws. Whilst some duties they perform are valuable, the police as an institution are racist and homophobic, and constitute a weapon that the state uses to control the working class through fear of imprisonment. The police are the enforcers of a criminal justice system where black people are 7 times more likely to be imprisoned, but actually less likely to commit the crime in the first place, where queer people and people with learning difficulties and disabilities are over-represented in prison through the un/conscious bigotryof the police, judges, lawyers and juries working within that system. Paul, even though he is just a PCSO,is complicit within that system and so, even though he is gay, actively promotes the homophobia, racism and bigotry that system represents.

“Whilst some duties they perform are valuable, the police as an institution are racist and homophobic, and constitute a weapon that the state uses to control the working class through fear of imprisonment.”

The other day he wrote that he made his first arrest on his own. He had caught a guy trying to steal a crate of beer from a supermarket (with multi-million pound profit margins which could stand to loose a few quid). For a minor crime such as this, the poor guy would probably have some form of fine, and now has a criminal record. For someone who can’t afford a crate of beer, getting stuck with a fine is probably not the most helpful thing in the world… and lets face it, if someone is desperate enough to risk their freedom for a beer they probably deserve a pint or twenty. Wasn’t Paul just doing his job? Well, yes, its not as if Paul makes the laws or has much say in the strategy of how they are enforced. He did, however, choose to take on that job, as well as make the personal choice to enforce this particular law in this particular case. After all, a crime isnt a crime unless your caught.

Arguably the catalyst of the queer rights movement, the Stonewall Riots were a series of clashes with the police as cops raided the Stonewall Inn, and were resisted by a group of radical queers, transvestites and street kids who had had enough. A year later, to mark the anniversary of the riots, the Pride parade was born. Explicitly political, it demanded action on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and expressed solidarity with other oppressed groups. Over coming years, pride started to become less political as it became more about parties and the pink pound. An important moment in the evolution of pride was when the Gay Police Association starting marching in the parade, causing a schism between the commercial and political elements of Pride, the political elements boycotting the parade.

“The police, by their very nature, cannot be members of our community because they are agents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and so represent a threat, even if the indivivual police officer is gay, bi or trans themselves.

The reason the queer community exists is not simply because we share non-comformist sexualities and gender identities, but through self defense. We are safer standing together against the endemic homophobia, biphobia and transphobia we face in wider society than standing alone. The police, by their very nature, cannot be members of our community because they are agents of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and so represent a threat, even if the indivivual police officer is gay, bi or trans themselves.

So, what does this mean for poor old Paul? Your’e not going to sleep with him just because of his job? Yup. Just as I wouldnt buy Coca Cola because their company murders trade unionists in Columbia, I wouldnt sleep with a policeman because his job entails the systematic harrassment of political activists, the locking up of working class people and the supporting of a homophobic, racist and otherwise discriminatory status quo. If he didnt have the uniform, and was doing the same, most people would shun him. What exactly is it about the uniform that makes Pauls actions OK?
So, sorry Paul, I’m not going to be sleeping with you any time soon. If you feel like changing your occupation, give me a call 🙂

*remember most of our laws are about private property, and a significant amount of people in prison are non-violent drug offenders, these people shouldnt be there.

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LGBT, Q? A queer case against the Q

In recent years, a radical political movement has grown to threaten both mainstream capitalist gay culture and heteronormativity* alike. The queer movement grew out of a militant gay rights movement that had been radicalised by mainstream societies’ lack of compassion during the HIV/Aids outbreak in the 80’s.

Social and political theorists started to draw on the movements confrontational anarchist tactics and propaganda to produce academic works highly influenced by third wave feminism, social constructionism and the radical left. They argued that gender and sexuality based oppression should be seen within a context of global capitalism, class, and other power structures such as race and disAbility.

The concept of ‘identity’ was critiqued, and the way that people are coerced into adopting identities based upon seemingly arbitrary factors such as sexual behaviour so they can be easily categorised into and recognised as being either ‘normative’ or ‘deviant’ exposed, the ability to justify oppression against those who happen to fall outside of the normative category challenged. As such, “Queer” is not an identity, but an anti-identity, more of a political ideology than something a person can ‘define into’.

In more recent years, the term ‘queer’ has been adopted by people who feel they aren’t straight/cisgendered, but don’t necessarily fit into the narrowly defined roles of L, G, B and T. This new ‘queer’ is effectively a grouping of lesser known identities such as pansexual and agendered which don’t receive as much attention as other identities.

What this represents is a de-politicisation of the word ‘queer’ and the appropriation of the term as an identity (or even as a group of identities) rather than as an explicitly political ideology, something which is often encouraged by some of the more assimilationist members of the LGBT community who may feel that their identity (or perhaps their reactionary politics) are challenged by the Queer movement.

This is further compounded by the current popularity of the term ‘LGBTQ’, used to group Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer together. By placing ‘queer’ in a list of identities, it essentially reduces it to become one.

“The term ‘queer’ is deliberately provocative and confrontational, in abbreviating it to ‘Q’, this is quality is lost”

Queer theorists have long discussed the importance of language and linguistics in the way that we refer to queer issues, an area of study called ‘lavender linguistics’. Indeed, the term “Queer” itself is deliberately provocative and confrontational; reflecting the radical nature of anarchist queer activism and theorist’s preoccupation with deviancy and normality. In abbreviating ‘queer’ to ‘Q’, this implication is lost, and ‘Q’ could easily be mistaken as meaning ‘questioning’, another term often used by LGBT(Q) youth groups and organisations.

It is important that we see the de-politicisation of Queer in a context of capitalism and the way it seeks to appropriate radical movements and sell them back to us; turning campaigners into consumers and activists into beaurocrats. As queer activists and theorists, we should resist those who wish to engage in this process, those who use queer rhetoric to gain our support but use their platform to push assimilationist ideas. Lets keep queer political, and our movement radical.

*heteronormativity – the assumption that being straight/cisgendered is normal/good and everything else is weird/bad.

Cisgendered – not trans

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Is Free Education a Queer Issue?

Free Education is an issue that has mainly been forgotten. The National Union of Students has abandoned the fight, and is instead pushing a ‘graduate tax’ which in the long run leaves students paying up to double the amount we pay now under the ‘top-up fees’ model, selling out students in the process of cosying up to the government.

As much as the fight for Free Education has been forgotten, the effects of this education tax are felt acutely in the here and now. People are having to quit university because they cannot afford to pay tuition fees. Numbers of students going into sex work in order to pay for their degree has increased by at least 50% in the last 10 years.* The average student will be saddled with a debt of £26,000^.

Our movement needs to show its strength by fighting back against the marketisation of our education

Of course, the spiralling cost of education is an issue that effects us all, but, disproportionately effects students from oppressed groups; the working class, BME, disable, and LGBT. Indeed, LGBT students are more likely to be estranged from their parents; and so often do not have the Bank of Mum and Dad to fall back on. Not only that, but due to the overly strict rules that the ultimately inept Student Loans Company have towards “proving” one was estranged, many students don’t receive the bursaries that they should be entitled to otherwise, simply because they cant prove their estrangement, but cant provide documentation of parental income either.

Opponents of Free Education will talk about just how much education provision costs, they’ll bring along the bogey-man recession to make it seem like an impossible prospect. They may even try and argue that free education isn’t something you deserve. All this is utter rubbish, when it comes down to it, it’s not about finding the funds, they are already there. They are just being spent on something else – ID cards, nuclear weapons, or imperialist wars in the Middle East. Its time we stop spending our money on this nonsense, and start investing it in education.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/student/news/article665019.ece

http://www.onlyfinance.com/Debt/Student-debt-and-their-fantasy-world.aspx

Life on the inside: queer prisoners

Life in prison is hard. Separated from family and friends, prisoners spend a lot of time doing nothing but staring at the walls of their cell for a potentially long time, in harsh conditions. Most people I know can’t really imagine being incarcerated. Yet, the government itself thinks at least 33% of our population to deserve incarceration*, so it is very much a potential reality for a lot of people. But what is life like inside for LGBT prisoners?

Prisons are traditionally seen as a place to put the ‘bad people’; however practically speaking, prisons are a tool of the government to place people with difficult social problems (problematic drug users, etc.) out of sight, and thus out of mind, so the government doesn’t have to make any effort in sorting out the root causes of these problems. As a result, prisons are often places where racism, homophobia, sexism and other social ills abound, as social groups hit out at each other as a way of working through their dissatisfaction with their situation. For this reason, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are endemic in prisons.

This homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is perpetuated by the Home Office and the managers of prisons themselves. The Offender Policy and Rights Unit, the group which sets policy for ‘good practice’ in prisons, ignores this blatant discrimination within the system and has yet to produce any guidance on LGBT issues within prisons, or any guidance on how best to deal with the needs of LGBT prisoners. This is evident in some of the policies of UK prisons, where most trans prisoners are placed not by their current gender identity, but by their birth gender, and where LGBT prisoners are often placed in Vulnerable Prisoner Units (VPU’s) as a matter of course. VPU’s are a place where prisoners deemed vulnerable from attack in normal prisons, such as ex-gang members, or paedophiles, are usually kept to keep them separate from those who may do them harm. The existence of Vulnerable Prisoner units often doesn’t ameliorate the discrimination prisoners experience and their existence definitely should not provide a meaningful excuse for tackling homophobia, biphobia and transphobia within the wider prison.

If all the inmates in prisons were as pretty as these, I would probably be more enthusiastic about committing crimes

Life inside for LGBT prisoners can be tough, with LGBT prisoners often being the targets of verbal, physical and sexual assaults. Indeed, Human Rights Watch report that “sex slavery is common in prisons”, and LGBT people are more likely to be targeted – their non-normative sexuality or gender identity being presumed as ‘consent’ by their perpetrators. HIV rates on the inside are 15 times that of the outside world, and Hepatitis 20 times greater. Prison management often do not provide condoms to prisons; some prisons have a limited supply of condoms/dams that would effectively require a prisoner to ‘come out’ to staff to access. As such, all prisoners engaging in sexual activities, consensual or not, are put at risk.

When you look at it, it seems surprising that Stonewall, the LGB Equality Lobby, would award the HM Prisons service an award for equality and diversity, but, they did do just that. GALIPS, the LGBT Prison staff association won an award in 2008 and is on Stonewalls ‘Diversity Champions’ list.** This underpins the blind-sightedness of lobbying groups such as Stonewall, who clamour to praise an organisation for their LGBT rights record when that same organisation is at worst actively oppressing some of the vulnerable LGBT people, or at best deeply complicit in their oppression.

Jokes about "dropping the soap" may be funny, but represent a reality for some queer prisoners

However, its not all bad for LGBT prisoners, there are some organisations doing work to try and improve their situation. The most notable and progressive being the Bent Bars Project, an active but under-resourced collective of activists who aim to campaign and show solidarity with LGBTQ prisoners by  sharing resources, providing mutual support and drawing public attention to the struggles of queer and trans people behind bars. They also have a really amazing pen-pal scheme, which currently has about 600 people waiting to be fixed up with a pen pal on the outside. They are desperately in need of your support. Find out more about how to get involved here:

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Queering the Bible, Pt 2. – Sodom and Gomorrah

The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19

Part 2 of an article that I wrote a while back, while I was the LGBT Officer at Bradford Uni, and had a lot of students come to me who felt that it was difficult to reconcile their sexuality or gender identity with their Christianity. I’m not a theologian, but I did a bit of research to bring this together.

This passage is often used to criticise homosexuality. It has been so often used that ‘Sodomite’ and ‘Sod’ has become an insult to throw at gay, lesbian, bisexuals and the wider queer community. ‘Sodomy’ was refered to in UK law as the act of anal sex, associated with gay males. But is Genesis 19 really a condemnation of homosexuality?

The actual sins of Sodom are provided throughout the Bible;

  • The sins of Sodom and Gomorrah include the making of false idols, Deuteronomy 29:23-26 and Deuteronomy 32:32-38 23
  • Making false sacrifice, murder, greed and rebellion against G-d, Isaiah 1:9-23
  • Arrogance and Pride, Isaiah 3:8-9

Jude 1:7 is often used as to argue that the sin of Sodom and Gommorah is homosexuality – “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

The fornication and ‘strange flesh’ referred to here could either a condemnation of promiscuous adultery, as condemned in Jeremiah 23:14 or, more likely, a reference to the fact that the visitors were angels of G-d and their flesh was literally ‘strange’, coming from the Greek heteras which, ironically, is the source of the word heterosexual. The phrase more accurately translates as ‘other flesh’.

The main sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality. In Gen 19, Lot, and immigrant to the city of Sodom, welcomes two strangers through the walls of the city and into his house. The townspeople are suspicious of Lot and the two strangers, them all being outsiders. All the men of the town gather outside Lot’s house demanding to have sex with the men. Now, let’s make this clear, not all the men of Sodom were gay, the presence of women and children in the city tells us that. The fact that the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the men was nothing to do with sexual enjoyment, but about their assertion of power. They intended to let the strangers know who were in charge by gang-raping them. Modern psychology tells us that the main reasons for rape are through anger and to assert power. Sodom was destroyed because the townspeople were violently inhospitable to the visitors. To put it in context, because in Biblical times, towns and cities were separated by vast swathes of harsh desert, hospitality was more than just good manners, it was about saving lives. This view is backed up by Jesus’ later quotes on Sodom and Gomorrah, in Matthew 10:13-15
and Matthew 11:20-24.

Other references in the Bible to Sodom and Gomorrah can be found here: Jeremiah 49:16-18;50:2-40Lamentations 4:3-6Ezekiel 16:49-50Amos 4:1-11Zephaniah 2:8, and 2 Peter 2:6.

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