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Posts Tagged ‘gay rights’

Quoth Steampunk Emma Goldman:

You all know I am no fan of that “poor little State- and Church- begotten weed, marriage,” but I do love angry conservatives, and happy queer people, so today qualifies as a good one.

But as a general rule, if you want to find opinions I agree with, you are more likely to hear them voiced by someone shouting interruptions at a politician giving a speech than in a supreme court decision. Let’s keep fighting for all the LGBTQ folks whose problems aren’t solved by access to marriage.

I'm pretty much down with that. This week's marriage equality news from the US is a great sign that compassion and reason are both winning the battle at a rate of knots. It opens up opportunities for numerous families who've been waiting for acknowledgment, and bodes well for a near-future where same-sex relationships are sufficiently normalised that this isn't even a question any more.

But it's worth remembering that the government didn't itself achieve anything progressive or positive. All it did was finally got the fuck out of people's way, in this one area, once it became sufficiently politically expedient to do so. It deserves minimal credit for making a small step towards butting out of everyone's personal business, so late in the game. Love was already happening, people were already finding and creating beauty in their relationships with each other, no thanks to the government, which is just oppressing them a little less now.

A lot of prejudice and inequality is still universally pervasive, much of it built into the fabric of the state. The very fact that nine people making a 5-4 decision can have such a sweeping influence over the entire country is bizarre in itself. Ideally, there wouldn't be marriage equality because the Supreme Court declared it thus; there'd be marriage equality because what the fuck business is it of yours who we love and build our lives with, and who the hell's going to stop us?

So, you're still on notice, America. Don't start thinking you can distract us from the prison industrial complex, continuous indiscriminate killing and torture of innocent foreigners, systemic police brutality, the war on drugs, and the rest of the bullshit you’re still failing to deal with, just because you're suddenly throwing a hundred thousand or so totally fabulous parties.

Well, okay. Maybe for the rest of this weekend we’ll be distracted by the fabulous parties, and all the fabulous people who get to celebrate their love and feel more validated and accepted than they’ve been allowed to up until now. Have fun, fabulous people, and congratulations.

But then it’s back to work. There’s still a lot of shit to straighten out. Marriage equality’s a good start. Next stop: polyamory!

(Seriously, a lot of critical commentators have brought this up, as well as at least one of the dissenting Justices: if you let gay people get married, what’s to stop the same reasoning being applied to relationships with more than two people? These people are making an excellent point, entirely by accident.)

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I tweeted something of a stream of consciousness the other day, about the recent vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland, and in particular against the response to those who vainly railed against it.

I managed to Storify it over here, and I’m re-creating it below as well, because apparently I’m some sort of multi-platform SEO-conscious content-guru now. Ha. Oh god I hope I’m joking.


Finally watched the video the #VoteNo campaign seemed to think was their trump card, and I’m glad I did.

It’s still quite wrong, and #VoteYes was undoubtedly a triumph for compassion and equality and basic good sense.

But there’s more of a case to argue against than blunt, nuanceless, medieval homophobia fuelled by nothing but hateful bigotry.

Anything that reminds me that my ideological opponents didn’t all just wake up and decide to be evil anti-humanists is worth looking at.

It’s a much more feeble victory to be right about #VoteYes if we can’t sincerely and compassionately consider the arguments against.

Which doesn’t mean agreeing with anything they say or accepting that they have a point. They don’t! They’re still wrong!

But I spent too long doing that instinctive flinch thing against the whole #VoteNo tribe and made their wrongness their defining trait.

You do your own philosophy a disservice if you only let it be challenged by the weakest caricatures of the other side.

There can be nuance and intelligence to what your enemy is saying – and maybe even truth, if you try hard enough to understand them.

It’s a rare but vital skill to be able to do that, without flinching defensively against the feeling that your world(view) is under assault.

I still kinda suck at it. As ever, this is a note to self more than a lecture to others.

This has been “I should figure out how Storify works for this kind of thing. And hey, didn’t I used to have a blog?” with me, @writerJames.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled radio silence while I read Neal Stephenson books on my kindle in the bath.

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Here’s a thing I Facebooked recently:

I got more Twitter attention than I had for ages yesterday, by pointing out that homophobia is silly to people who already knew that. As you can possibly tell from my rather glib phrasing, it felt less than satisfactory or victorious.

It’s definitely worthwhile progress that being gay is coming to be seen universally as obviously completely fine, but I don’t see much of a useful endgame following from enlightened folk like me simply continuing to point it out.

I think I’m troubled by certain inbuilt methods of engaging with those who disagree, and how naturally I slide into those easy patterns. If you want people to learn to love better, and you’re not using love to teach that lesson, surely your methods are flawed from the start. Be the change you want to see in the world, and such. Otherwise your strategy is “Stop hating people different from you, or I’ll hate you for your differences from me.”

If you crush the rebellious, they’ll just learn tyranny & oppression. If you demand they be more accepting, without yourself displaying acceptance in action… Well, I don’t know. Just seems like if I want to be as revolutionary as I want to be, I’ll need to eschew easy options and put in the hours more.

This has been: @writerJames tweets from a nice warm bath while slightly tipsy on the theme of optimising the world through improved compassion and communication, then recaps it on Facebook the next morning.

Surprisingly, not everyone was instantly won over to my proposed hippie lefty love-fest of peace and harmony. I guess they must’ve just been feeling grouchy. Or maybe there’s at least one major proviso which deserves to be added to the above points.

Broadly speaking, I stand by my generalised support for being nice, and I’m strongly inclined to speak out in favour of being kinder to people than they might seem to deserve. Compassion can make real constructive progress between people of differing views possible, in ways that anger and bitterness can’t, far more often than the other way around.

But I can see, on reflection, how something as apparently innocuous at first glance as idly wishing for a charming idyll of universal tolerance might be problematic. As is so often the case, it’s largely down to the context. My context at the time of the above thoughts was a nice hot bath on a comfortably lazy afternoon. Not everyone shared in it.

(In the context of my position of comfort and security, I mean. Obviously no-one was sharing my bath. No-one ever is. Or seems to want to. I’m beginning to think I don’t know how to set up a Facebook event properly.)

The way nobody quite put it to me in the comments was: “That’s easy for you, but some of us are still dealing with shit that we deserve to be angry about, fuckdammit.” Maz pointed out how much fun it isn’t, being told essentially to “calm down dear”, something she’s heard often enough before. She objects to other people’s behaviour, and her audacity for speaking up seems to be reprimanded more severely than the genuinely objectionable remarks that earned her wrath in the first place. While I wasn’t advocating the passivity she argued against, I also wouldn’t dispute the entitlement she claims to her anger.

But my hypothetical commenter summing things up was right about something important. It is easy for me.

And if I’m one of the lucky ones for whom it’s easy, it seems like I have more responsibility than most to make some sort of effort.

My comments were coming from a place of significant privilege. Being a straight white able-bodied male, that’s true of most comments I’m ever likely to make. But the feminists who believe this means my opinions should be ignored or shouted down only really exist in the fetid imaginations of a significant slice of the men’s rights activism movement.

The remark I originally made on Twitter, which my later series of tweets referred to, was about this post by one of the UK’s foremost pitifully watered-down attempts at religious extremism, Christian Voice.

Now, to me, watching a niche outfit like Christian Voice, as they rail against the inevitable march of progress, and bluster about how those gays are undermining all you straight people and your own marriages, no really they are, you just don’t realise it – to me, it’s almost adorable. They’re too quaint to take seriously. They certainly aren’t a threat, but they’re too tragic to really be a joke either. They’re like a doddery grandparent who keeps muttering about how the blacks are everywhere these days doing jobs white people used to do, who you roll your eyes at and gently remind that that we don’t use certain slurs when we talk about people these days.

Their attempt at oppressive bigotry is such a misguided, overblown, tiny little gnat of a thing, it feels inappropriate for me to get all fiery and indignant over it. It’d be like trying to become righteously enraged at the unacceptable behaviour of a toddler throwing a tantrum on the living room floor, flailing at you with their tiny balled-up fists.

And the context of all this is that I’m still a straight white able-bodied male. The thing I know – but didn’t explicitly acknowledge in my original burble – is that for many people homophobia is really not in any way adorable. People are still shamed, humiliated, harassed, brutalised, and attacked for their sexuality. And that’s just in the kinds of progressive countries where these attitudes are obviously on the way out, let alone in somewhere like Uganda. A lot of folk are made seriously fucking miserable by the kind of prejudice at which I sigh and shake my head with weary indulgence.

Now, being aware of that context doesn’t negate the value of bringing compassion to these arguments, or undermine my basic point that fighting hate with hate is a suboptimal method for reaching a conclusion of love and tolerance. But if people are feeling hectored about their tone, I’ve done something wrong.

Judging anyone else’s moral obligation to be kind, patient, and compassionate to people unwilling to return the favour is absolutely not a game I meant to play. However much I might uphold that ideal, I know that berating anyone else for failing to live up to it, without considering their own circumstances and why it may not be a realistic goal in their case, will only add to the world’s level of dickitude. The one person whose situation I’m sufficiently familiar with to make that kind of moral judgment on is me.

I’ll need to eschew easy options and put in the hours more, is what I said. I can hold myself to that standard, while recognising that my straight-white-male-ness is part of what makes this a practical expectation for me, and that not everyone shares those features. It was a pondering on my own capacity for self-improvement that set me off on this road. Which is also why the later comment that “from what I recall of your blogging about religion, you don’t write in the style you’re suggesting here” is quite accurate.

Part of the reason for this apparent double-standard is that, while homophobia has always been almost entirely unthreatening to me, I’ve not always identified with the same privileged position when it comes to religion. I’ve been part of the atheist movement, as it were, and railed against the many and varied injustices of religious oppression as if they were in some way personal affronts. But, if I’m honest, my rights and personal safety have never been under serious threat from any Christian bigots or Islamic extremists or Jain nutjobs. I don’t need to defend my right to my anger the way some people do.

So, I don’t need to be an asshole to outspoken religious people any more than I do to anachronistic homophobes. I don’t need to give them a free pass if they’re going to be hateful or irrational or make the world a notably worse place in any way, but I also don’t need to be hostile in order to stand up for reality and kindness. If you can do that too, then wonderful, I recommend it. If you can’t, then it’s not for me to expect it of you. It may be an unreasonable ask, if these issues are actually affecting you personally and fucking up your life. We’ve all got our own shit to deal with. You’re entitled to work through yours however. I can dig it.

Hopefully that makes a bit more sense of things. Either way I think I’ll stop talking about it now.

Oh and by the way we’ve sold our house but can’t buy a new one yet and it’s all a ridiculous mess.

Bye.

(P.S. I read this only after drafting all the above, which makes a more interesting point more concisely than I did.)

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I’ve been thinking lately about making arguments that give away too much ground.

There’s three examples in particular that sprung to mind in quick succession, which should explain what I mean.

1. Born this way

Sexuality is not a choice. When somebody declares that a person “chooses to be gay”, they are, to within a margin of error, empirically incorrect. The idea that one’s sexual preferences are a mere matter of taste, which can be willed away or ignored if one simply stopped being so stubborn, is a falsehood, as many people have pointed out at length.

But if you’re arguing in favour of gay rights, it may be better to downplay this aspect of your argument, when engaging with somebody who is misstating facts in an effort to demean or denigrate homosexuality or homosexuals.

It’s not that you’re wrong to point out that you were “born this way” (or at least, that nature plays a strong role in determining sexual preference). It’s just an argument that gives too much ground.

Sexuality is not a choice. But so what if it was?

If you make the “born this way” argument your central theme, you’re implicitly accepting way too many of the homophobic assumptions behind the other person’s assertions. If most of your time is spent pointing out that a person’s sexual preferences are entirely beyond their conscious control, then it starts to seem like that is the lynch-pin of your argument, and should it ever turn out to be flawed – or even incorrect – then your opponents’ bigotry will be justified.

There’s always some value in correcting a factual misstatement, but beyond pointing out “It’s not a choice,” you might get more to the heart of the issue with: “Okay, say it’s a choice. If it is, it’s my choice. I’ve made it. Your problem with that is what, and I should give a fuck why?”

2. Big is beautiful

You don’t need to spend much time as either a vaguely attentive man or a barely conscious woman in the modern world to notice that there are some fucked-up standards of beauty out there.

There’s also an encouragingly prominent backlash against many of them. Unless you’re hanging out in very different parts of the internet from me, you’ll regularly be bumping into tumblrs and gifs and photoblogs and memes and other internet doohickeys intended to remind you that fat chicks are among the sexiest things you’ll ever see. That sentence doesn’t even need a citation linked anywhere in it. Just Google it. And make sure SafeSearch is turned off first.

It’s beyond trivially obvious that curves can be gorgeous, and the standards of beauty still considered conventional on many magazine covers are insanely narrow and restricted. This defiance is important and empowering, and no doubt helps many people feel better about their bodies – but again, there’s an assumption behind it which deserves challenging.

Even if every human above a certain BMI were universally considered physically unappealing, so fucking what?

Why should being sexually desirable or attractive be the factor most associated with improved esteem? I don’t for a second resent anyone searching this way for validation, or using attractiveness to encourage and bolster the spirits of those who it might help – but the fundamental question of whether it ought to be considered so important deserves a place in the conversation too.

And let’s not forget the chubby men, incidentally. The internet seems to be mostly about the curvy girls, but I hope there are zones of love for the fuller-figured fellas out there, too, in areas I haven’t spent as much time exploring.

3. “Hardworking people

There’s a lot for a lefty like me to get angry about when it comes to the government’s recent war on welfare and rhetoric about “hardworking people”. Many more active activists have pointed out data which render the coalition’s whole output completely asinine – such as that the majority of people struggling to make ends meet, visiting food banks, and claiming benefits are actually in work – completing undermining the workshy scrounger image the Tories in particular are so keen to propagate.

For many, work doesn’t pay; the system is fucked and allows the rich to exploit the masses for their labour without offering them a decent standard of living (let alone the inhumanity of workfare). This is all important to recall.

But there’s one more assumption tucked in there which it’s worth ferreting out, lest the argument take a turn and veer into the kind of divisive territory we should be trying to avoid.

I don’t want anybody to have to experience the stress of worrying about being able to feed their family, or keeping them warm over the winter, or getting behind on rent and bill payments and ending up homeless, even if they’re lazy bastards who can’t be bothered to get off their arse and look for a job.

Those relatively few people who actually look like what the Bullingdon crowd imagine all poor people look like? I want a welfare system which supports them non-judgmentally too.

Compassion and an unconditional level of basic financial security, for hardworking people and feckless scroungers alike.

Classroom discussion questions

1. Is this a useful way to refocus the debate, or would it just distract from the liberating ideas that are already gathering momentum?

2. Are there any other obvious examples of this that I’ve missed?

3. How blatantly am I pandering to the overweight queer working class vote right now?

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I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

Thus spake President Obama yesterday, and yea, there was much rejoicing.

And maybe there should be. It’s a positive development, after all, to have such an unequivocal statement of support from the leader of the free world. People in same-sex relationships are still having to struggle hard for equality all over the world, whether that struggle is just a matter of being taken seriously, or the right not to be executed as an abomination in the eyes of God.

But a lot of the public reaction has been over the top. I don’t want to take anything away from gay people for whom this is a significant victory. But too much import is being ascribed to too insipid a gesture.

Society is changing, and Obama’s announcement reflects just how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. How long ago would it have been impossible to imagine the President of the United States saying something like this? Twenty years? Less? But compare that to Obama’s own “evolving” view on the issue of same-sex relationships. See how far he’s come in, say, the past sixteen years, back when the then State Senate hopeful’s stated position was:

I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.

Huh. So, long before he was running the show, he felt at least as strongly about this as he does now. In fact, if he was prepared to actually fight for it back then, he’s arguably back-pedalled since. Nearly four years into his presidency, he now supports individual states’ rights to decide on what side to let the law come down. (Not, as Radley Balko points out, a stand he seems to take on many other matters.)

In fact, there were a lot of provisos accompanying his statement of support yesterday. I’ve quoted the main highlight above, but he took a lengthy run-up to get there:

…at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that…

…I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

You’re welcome, gay people.

I think it’s fair to say that after much careful deliberation and contemplation I’ve decided provisionally but with conviction that it’s become a moral necessity for me as an individual in my own way to just go right ahead and stick my neck out there and lay my cards on the table and say that at the end of the day I happen to think in my own head personally all things considered that Barack Obama ought to stop being such a fucking politician about this.

I don’t question the sincerity of his feelings at all. I’m sure he’s perfectly fair-minded and decent and progressive about same-sex relationships. I doubt there’s a homophobic (or hetero-supremacist, or whatever) bone in his body. But he has to constantly worry about whether expressing an honest opinion is going to cost him 10,000 votes in a swing state, which would of course result in TOTAL CATASTROPHE. And so his honest opinion is often a long time coming. Because politics is insane.

I share many queer folk’s joy that we continue to see signs of an approaching time when this whole discussion is irrelevant, and true equality is really possible. But some people’s gratitude at having their humanity acknowledged is spilling over into a kind of demeaning, fawning obsequiousness.

He’s not your saviour, and he’s not some hero deserving of your worship. At best, he’s someone who means well and is finally making some sort of effort to do the right thing. But you’re a human being deserving of dignity and respect entirely on your own merits, without having to wait on anybody else’s say-so.

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Here’s a quick thought, while I’m still not putting too much pressure on myself to be interesting regularly on here. I may have had a brainwave about this whole gay marriage debate.

Okay, so on one side, you’ve got religious folk and other traditionalists. They’re hung up on the institution of marriage being some hallowed thing, which has remained unchanged through the ages and shouldn’t be fiddled with now. Many of them are fairly supportive of gay rights, and even equality, at least nominally – but only in the form of civil partnerships, which should allow same-sex couples many of the same rights under the law as any opposite-sex married couple, without changing the definition of marriage.

On the other hand, many same-sex couples think they should be entitled to more than just a separate-but-equal arrangement, which still somehow categorises them as second-class citizens, and excludes them from being an equal part of everyone else’s society.

I think there’s a middle ground we’ve all been missing.

Let’s say we make a new thing, kinda like civil partnerships, but unrelated to traditional marriage.

And let’s say we call it “marrij”.

Don’t worry, we’re not changing the definition of marriage. That’s still going to work the same as it was. But we can introduce a new way of recognising the relationships of people who can’t get married, such as same-sex couples, and giving them some of the… well, let’s say all of the legal rights that married people get.

Any two people, regardless of sexual or gender identity, can get “marrijed” (pronounced MAH-REED). It’s much like getting a civil partnership, and they’ll receive all the associated legal and publicly recognised benefits, in a system distinct from the sacred traditions that need to be preserved, but which is closer to equality than anything available now.

The state can marry, or marrij, any such couple who want to participate in either arrangement. Churches can recognise one or the other, or both, and won’t be forced to get more involved in marriages or marrijes any more than they’re comfortable with.

Did I just fix gay rights?

If this has a successful trial run, polygamous marrij is the next step.

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Wait, that sounds wrong. The Gay Slope. No, that’s got problems of its own.

Anyway, this is a brief post about the “slippery slope” argument as applied to gay marriage.

Martin Robbins is getting frustrated at the persistence with which many campaigners are seeking to Keep Marriage Heteronormative. He dismantles the various anti-equality arguments well enough, but that shouldn’t really even be a challenge for any thinking person these days.

Still, however many times all this needs to be repeated, there’s no forcing anybody to accept it, and there might be no escape from the futile waste of time that seems to present itself as the only solution: Wait until the generation of people who come stubbornly pre-opposed to the idea die off, and society is primarily comprised of those who’ve grown up amid this conversation and who can easily tell which, generally speaking, is the side that makes sense.

There’s just one thing that comes up in Martin’s piece which I want to comment on. One question being asked by the Coalition for Marriage is:

If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?

The same answer can be given here as with any question that takes this form.

The thing that will stop us from redefining marriage to allow polygamy, if anything, is simply this: a good reason why we shouldn’t redefine marriage to allow polygamy. Are there any of those? Well, maybe. Martin suggests not, and I’m inclined to agree, but that’s for a discussion about polygamy to decide. Right now we’re talking about gay marriage. So, are there any good reasons why we shouldn’t redefine marriage to allow same-sex partnerships? We’re still waiting.

If we do terrible thing A, what’s to prevent us from doing terrible thing B later?

Rational arguments against terrible thing B that simply don’t apply in the case of terrible thing A. That’s what.

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