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Gender anti-fascism and the fourth wave.

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People have been asking to write about men and feminism, and for weeks I have been trying to put my thoughts down in something approaching a logical and consistent order. Then, today, I read Cath Elliot’s latest piece for Comment is Free – on sexual bullying of girls at school – and it all clicked into place.

Because of course, Cath is right. School is where it all starts. School is where girls learn to be sexually frightened of men. School is where girls learn that their bodies are objects of desire over which they do not automatically get sovereignty. And the fact that people are sitting up and taking this seriously can only be applauded.

But Cath’s article only tells a part of the truth, and sometimes a half-truth can be cripplingly misleading. I don’t remember school as an environment where the boys lorded it around without a care in the world and the girls squeaked in corners hoping not to be felt up. In fact, as I recall, bloody all of us were terrified nearly all of the time. Most pupils of both sexes were learning what violence meant, which was power, and what power meant, which was sex. And everyone, whatever their sex, gender and orientation, lived with the fear of being declared not quite right – not girly enough, not manly enough, gay. School is where those rules of gender, power and violence were laid down, and it was a game ultimately won by nobody.

Sexual bullying in particular happens across the board in schools, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with romance. It’s perpetrated by boys against girls, but also against other boys, and in rare cases girls are even the aggressors themselves, and in every case it’s about asserting power over the victim, about laying down rules of dominance and submission. Moreover, male violence is a more constant and immediate threat for boys at school than it is for girls, as a recent study by antibullying.net shows: 90% of school-age boys reported being bullied mostly or mainly by other boys, compared to 29% of girls. In Brighton and Hove, attacks on boys account for 75% of violent incidents in school. So, in a childhood world where sexual and physical violence profoundly affect children of all sexes in school, is violent bullying still a gender issue?

Of course it is. Violence– whether sexual, physical or both – is almost always gendered, and remains gendered throughout adulthood, because it is about power, and gender as constructed by patriarchal society has always been about power. That’s why rape is always a violent act, the opposite of romance. Sexual and physical violence has been ingrained as a method of asserting a primitive idea of ‘masculinity’ and of patriarchal might for as long as nations have relied on having expendable, damaged, violent young men to send off to war at a moment’s notice. For all our talk of civilisation, we remain an intensely divided, primitive and warlike society – and we will continue to do so as long as our young men grow up learning that every other punch goes unpunished, every other verbal assault unremarked, as long as they grow up learning that instead of becoming whole human beings, they have to learn to fight. We will continue to be uncivilised whilst the schoolyard remains the place where, as their parents and teachers look on, a violent policing of gender, sexual and power norms is beaten into every child with fists and words, a message handed down through the generations that this is the way it goes and the proper reaction is to be a big girl/ be a man and suck it up.

Most men are not violent, but when violence happens, it is mostly perpetrated by men. That is not a statement about the inherent character of half the people on the planet, any more than it is to say: most women are not designed by nature to be domestic slaves, but when domestic slavery happens, it usually happens to women. These things are not native to us. The statement that we were not put on this planet to be either passive homemaking childcare-dispensers or vicious inhumane soldiers is a simple one, but one which runs counter to at least two thousand years’ worth of socio-cultural indoctrination.

This culture has been achingly slow to even begin to let go of the archetype of masculinity bred from the archaic notion that whilst the female body is sacrosanct or profane- to be used and controlled – the male body is fundamentally dispensible. Women across the world remain unaware of the extent to which the Western model of masculinity is damaging – partly because we ourselves have spent way too long trying to emulate it.

In reacting against the artificial prison of Western womanhood, liberated women have turned against their former masters with all the righteous rage of escaping slaves, not realising that they too are indentured. A crucial mistake that continues to be made is the fallacy that the fact that men are also worked over by their gender somehow invalidates the whole concept behind feminism. It does not. Pointing out that the slavemaster is a slave too does not excuse the fact that he used the whip, but it does explain it – and it does not mean that he deserves his freedom any less. However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry ‘but men don’t have it easy either’ has been assumed as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone’s gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone’s struggle is not an attack on everyone else’s.

Recent decades have seen the dissolution of the gender liberation movement into in-fighting, with men and women attacking each other as if each were somehow to blame for the other’s lot in life. Men have remained unreconstructed, in the truest sense of that term, whilst women have gone on to socially evolve beyond recognition in the space of thirty years. Instead of claiming their own reconstruction in tandem, men have reacted at the shock of having the ability to define themselves against women taken away. Feminists have reacted against that backlash in turn, and the whole thing has descended to wary stalemate, neither side trusting the other enough to put their weapons down and start drawing up a peace treaty.

If we are truly to leave gender fascism behind, we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries – men and women, boys and girls, us and them. If we are to be liberated, then we must all be liberated, together: there can be noone left behind. Fortunately or unfortunately, the world is already moving to force us to the negotiating table, as the information age makes division of work by gender less and less logical and traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity belong increasingly to the past.

So what I hope for is a new kind of feminism – one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender. It is still fem.in.ism because it is about the exaltation and expression of ‘femininity’, but equally about re-imagining what masculinity and femininity signify. Women’s battles are at the heart of the movement, but they are part of the gender struggles of all human beings. We have to recognise that the spectrum of gender prejudice extends into everyone’s lives and places limitations on all of us. We must see that when a young boy in boarding school faces daily sexual and physical violence for not being ‘masculine’ enough, when a girl on a sink estate finds herself on the wrong end of the postcode lottery when she tries to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, when a woman is fired from a senior boardroom position after her maternity leave, when a young man is sentenced to years in prison for membership of a violent street gang whose excesses provide the only positive enforcement he has ever known, those cruelties stem from the same source, and they must be considered together.

The best term for what is perpetrated by patriarchal cultural mores is not misogyny nor even organised sexism, but gender fascism. Fascism in its most literal sense, in its etymological notion of the fasces, the ordered bundle, everything in its proper, pre-ordained and rigidly socially determined place. Ladies, gentlemen and everyone else in attendance: gender fascism is what we need to set ourselves against. And that is why – yes, Julie – we are all feminists are queer allies, every drag queen and transman and every nightclub queer and every straight conformist male living a life of quiet desperation and every person trying to live their live as a complete human being is a feminist ally who sets themselves against gender feminism, or if they aren’t, they bloody should be. Who’s with me?

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But think of the kiddies!

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One of the many things that royally pisses me off about this time of year is the endless bloody slew of articles about ‘children of divorce’ at Christmastime. Commentator after commentator calling for us to think of the children and ‘make marriage work‘. Column after column sopping with souped-up stories of ‘suitcase kids’ being shuttled between mummy and daddy, clearly innocent victims of Broken Britain (c.Cameron 2007). This helpful Daily Mail article includes heart-rending testimonies from Tilly, Archie, Freddie, Cora and other improbably-named crisis tots, accompanied by laughable illustrations: a pixie-hatted munchkin kisses daddy goodbye; a ringletted white toddler moops mawkishly by a window, the epitome of Victorian chocolate-box fantasy; and everything is covered in a dubious blanket of perfectly crisp, white snowflakes. Gimme a break.

My fingers are balling into fists thinking of all of the women reading this arrant bullshit and feeling guilty for being unable to provide their loved ones with the perfect, industrial-capitalist, heteronormative nuclear family Christmas. My pansy liberal heart bleeds for the parents of both sexes currently ruining their own happiness and their children’s mental health by staying in bad marriages after buying this sick conservative propaganda.

Let me make it clear right now that yes, I come from a ‘broken’ home. My parents’ marriage disintegrated shortly after their children were born, and several years of ‘holding it together for the kids’, racked by unhappiness and infidelity, culminated in a messy and drawn-out divorce when I was in my early teens. Christmas since my parents separated has generally involved two sets of presents, significantly fewer rows, freedom to watch as much telly as we like and the blessed relief of not having to see my mother grit her teeth whilst serving Delia’s turkey to my father. These days, my mum, sisters and I scoff down chocolate from our stockings in front of Will and Grace and apologise to nobody. Cry me a fucking river. My one regret is that my mother didn’t leave my father sooner – something she might well have done had she not been convinced that my sisters and I would never recover. For the record, we have.

Because living with divorce is not bad for kids. Bad marriages are bad for kids (they’re not a barrel of laughs for their parents either), but divorces are symptomatic of family strife: they do not cause it. What divorce is extremely bad for is the maintenance of an increasingly outdated status quo, one in which a lifetime’s unpaid domestic labour is extracted from one partner – overwhelmingly the female partner – and in which male partners are isolated from the emotional sphere of family life as workers and as breadwinners.
The nuclear family, sustained by the middle-class myth of everlasting love and marriage, is an incredibly efficient way of dividing labour in the context of industrial capitalism, as observed by nearly every brave leftist writer from Engels to Betty Friedan. The idea of organising a household around one married, heterosexual couple and their children is, in fact, a relatively recent one, dating back to the mid-Victorian industrial surge: under a system where women were first blessedly permitted and then practically required to acquire paid employment, and following a welcome period of socio-cultural change, the myth of the nuclear family has become increasingly unstable. However, that hasn’t prevented it from being used as a stick with which to beat women who dared to imagine a life for themselves beyond the Nazi dictat of Kinder, Kuche und Kirche. The idea that divorce causes social breakdown is a colossal case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Don’t get me wrong: I sometimes wish my parents had been compatible enough to stay together. But given that they weren’t, my family and I are all a damn sight better off with this arrangement. Let’s cut the pretense that the conservative pro-marriage, anti-divorce propaganda circulating at this time of year and in this political climate is anything to do with protecting the welfare of children. When the Mail squeals at us to think of the kiddies, it is lamenting the turning of a tide of social change which even the continuing torrent of right-wing propaganda cannot turn back. It’s Christmas. Everywhere, up and down the country, alternative families are celebrating together – single-parent families, stepfamilies, families with multiple and same-sex parents, families of friends, families of choice, families everywhere which fall outside an increasingly irrelevant socio-cultural norm. Many of us are having a bloody good time. And David Cameron can suck it right up.

Hope and Humbuggery: a Christmas tantrum.

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This sucks.

I’ve just arrived back from my mum’s place and been greeted with a bollocking HUGE gas bill that we have only a slim chance of paying, plus a plumbing system that’s still buggered to the tune of having to wash my hair and essential parts in the sink, with a saucepan. All this, and scrabbling to prepare for a parental visit: clean, fumigate, hide the S’M posters, hide the ashtrays, hide the kingskins, hide our same-sex partners, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll make 2009 intact.

At this most magical time of the year, I truly pity the undeserving souls who work in call centres. Having been on the line to a dogged unresponsive pissed-off hack for half an hour, you could hear a festering note of impending armaggedon in the weary British Gas man’s voice when he asked if he could keep me informed of any new products and services.

Talking of festering Armageddon, does anyone else feel like we’re approaching the end times?

Maybe it’s just me. But in the latter months of 2008, it’s become far less easy to be a freak in this country. The black dog of recession is crunching us in its bloody jaws and, unlike the States, we don’t have any liberal saviour preaching change who we can clutch at, whispering save us. The government is clamping down on everybody, no matter where they live or why. The poor, single parents and the mentally ill are going to suffer under the new welfare plan. The atmosphere in Whitehall is one of stunned denial, with ministers emerging over the ramparts to frantically fire desultory, mean sallies such as today’s announcement that bailiffs will be given new powers to enter debtors’ homes at will, physically restraining or pinning down the occupants if necessary.

Will Monaco and Jersey swarm with smart-suited Scrooges wearing knuckle-dusters?
Will hired muscle be sent to collect billions of pounds’ worth of debt from Britain’s richest tax-dodgers, like Philip Green? Will members of the treasury, recently found owing £645bn which my generation will have to stump up for in our middle age, be turfed out onto the street in their scanties? Nah, thought not. Once again, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable who are being targeted by this supposed people’s government, this government that promised us change, transparency, a new world order. Maybe that’s why Obamania is failing to cheer us up: we’ve heard this line before.

Meanwhile, in Vatican City a nominally celibate former Hitler Youth member in a dress has a Christmas message of goodwill and peace in our time. Yup, Ratzinger wants to defend holy heterosexuality from the despicable ‘gender blurring’ perpetrated by gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and women who don’t sit with their knees together in church:

‘We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and asks that this order is respected.

“This is not out-of-date metaphysics. It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God.”

I would like, at this point, to swallow the greater part of the Fuck The Pope tirade that was going to be my inevitable next outburst and instead point Herr Ratzinger towards the roll-call of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christian saints recently enumerated by activist scholars, amongst them Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Sebastian and ooh, wouldn’t you credit it, Saint George, patron of this blinkered isle.

I apologise for the unseasonal amount of bile and hatred in this post. Believe me, behind this cold, hard exterior twitters the pink and fluffy heart of a perpetual six-year-old who bounces out of bed at 5am on Christmas morning and dreams in sugarplums and fairy lights. But behind that is the chill adult realisation that we’re going to have to take the long road home. 2009 will be a hard, hard year, we didn’t need the IMF to tell us that. The rest of this beautiful, broken, brilliant decade is going to entail threats to socialism, liberalism and freedom of thought and action from all sides, with governments offering no quarter and giving none. Those of us brave enough to weather the distance, those of us with the strength and temerity to hold on to our liberal ideals, will need everything we’ve got to keep the hope in our heads alive.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. [Tennyson, ‘Ulysses’]

And that’s my Christmas message. Hope, if nothing else: hope, because that’s all we’ve got, that we will come through this with our sanity and our integrity, everyone: the poor, the young, the mentally ill, the geeks, the freaks, the queers and their allies, the feminists and race-activists and socialists and war protesters and those who dare to dream of a better and a fairer world. When we have nothing else but hope, we will have to find the energy from somewhere to keep on getting out of bed, keep on striving, keep on thinking for ourselves. I’m certainly going to keep on writing; I hope you’ll keep on reading. Thank you all for keeping up with this blog over the past year, and please believe me when I wish you, whatever your faith, a merry Christmas.

Freak Power!

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Thursday’s event was the largest trans demonstration in British history. One hundred and fifty transsexual, transgender, transvestite, intersex, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queerfolk and allies gathered in front of the Stonewall awards, yelling ‘Stonewall: hyp-o-crites!’ as wonks in spangly dinner jackets made their way up the steps. A fantastic evening, although I did feel a little sorry for the tiny ‘Julie Bindel fanclub’ that gathered on the other side of the steps, a thunderous twelve chilly people at maximum who left early (although we did try to invite them along to the pub). Early press reports seem to be firmly on the side of the protest, with even Stonewall award-winners lamenting the exclusion of the trans community. We did good.

We screamed, we shouted, we complimented each other’s dress sense, we stamped our feet in the glowing London winter air, we had fun, we were fabulous, and we made our point in song format: We are the trans nation, and we won’t take crap no more! Summerskill can hear us shout outside his door!.

Bindel was not, in the end, named ‘Journalist of the Year’ by Stonewall – the honour went to Dr Miriam Stoppard of the Mirror. But will someone please take Julie’s pen away before she pokes her eye out with it? Today, in the Guardian, in a piece which contains not one scrap of research but a great deal of bile, she’s having a little tantrum, telling the whole queer spectrum to go ‘way and just leave normal people like her alone:

‘It is all a bit of an unholy alliance. We have been put in a room together and told to play nicely. But I for one do not wish to be lumped in with an ever-increasing list of folk defined by “odd” sexual habits or characteristics. Shall we just start with A and work our way through the alphabet? A, androgynous, b, bisexual, c, cat-fancying d, devil worshipping. Where will it ever end?’

Spouting such paranoid filth in a national newspaper and then demanding not to be held accountable for ‘hate-speech’ would be funny if it didn’t make me want to eviscerate the nearest Guardian editor. It is clear that Ms Bindel does not want to be associated with anyone apart from other lesbians, literally or figuratively. If this hadn’t been made plain already, her prudish, achingly unfunny little ‘alphabet’, where she links ‘androgynous’ and ‘bisexual’ people to ‘devil-worshippers’, spells it out. She resents the expansion of the Queer nation beyond the tidy little enclaves of ‘gay’and ‘lesbian’, and seems to pine for ‘the 1970s and 80s’ when ‘lesbians were left to our own devices, and mainly organised and socialised separately from gay men.’

And that’s alright. That sort of rampant bigotry is what we have come to expect from Bindel and Rod Liddle’s ilk of biscuit-eating armchair prudes, sneering at the young, the freakish and the brave. What’s not okay is that organisations like Stonewall and the Guardian newspaper continue to give people like Bindel a platform for her horribly right-wing views. Please believe me: the only difference, now between Bindel and any fun-hating Daily Mail hack is that Julie likes cunt. But being gay, by itself, does not make you a liberal or excuse gender fascism.

Sarah, a young transperson and organiser of Thursday’s demo, commented: ‘I do genuinely feel sorry for her. I think she so wanted to be a big crusading journalist, who uncovered some great big medical plot to turn gay and lesbian people straight through surgery. But all she’s succeeded in doing is managing to unite most of the trans community in annoyance at the organisations who are so keen on ignoring their own communities in order to cosy up to her, and make herself look increasingly stupid in print.
To the people behind her nomination for “Journalist of the Year”, I think you should be ashamed of yourselves for the way you’ve treated trans people by proxy, and you should also be ashamed of yourself for nominating someone who produces articles like today’s, because lots of people can recognise quality journalism, and that’s not it.’

Bindel and her supporters have abandoned any notion of solidarity within the women’s rights movement or within the queer rights movement. It’s up to us to stand up for our generation of freaks and rule-breakers and say: we will not permit you to pull up the ladder of progress behind you. We are not ashamed. We’re coming to rattle your complacent little cages: sexual deviants, transfolk and gender magicians, bisexuals, pansexuals, pagans and atheists, angels and demons, black, white, Asian, mixed-race, boys and girls, men and women and everyone in between. We will not ghetto ourselves any longer. We will not be denied again. In fact, you know what? We’re here. And we’re queer.

Get used to it.

Pantomime dames (Oh yes, we are!)

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Queer campaigners and feminists alike are outraged over Stonewall’s decision to nominate Julie Bindel for its ‘Journalist of the Year’ award. Bindel is a notoriously outspoken transphobe (her insulting and upsetting remarks about transpeople in national newspapers can be found here, here and here) and protestors say that the decision to promote her as a pioneer of gay rights is an insulting piece of hypocrisy. ‘This is not just an insult to transgendered people, but hypocrisy in the extreme -Stonewall claims to represent a minority group which suffers from discrimination, but they are prepared to honour someone who is instrumental in repression of transgendered people with her bigoted transphobic journalism,’ said organisers of the protest against the controversial nomination.

Regular readers of this blog will know how I feel about Julie Bindel and her terrible views, which are – upsettingly enough – shared by grand dames of the movement including Germaine Greer. I think it’s important not only to challenge them, but to offer a response. So here’s a contemporary feminist take on femininity, feminism and transgenderism, from the point of view of a largely cis-gendered feminist activist (yes, many of my best friends are transgdendered and wondering where all their makeup has gone). For a transsexual feminist’s viewpoint and a much more in-depth and articulate study, look no further than the excellent Whipping Girl by the ravishing and razor-sharp Julia Serano.

I’ve actually met very few transpeople who shout about it in the street. Most, after years of bravely facing down abuse, dealing with the reactions of friends and family, struggling to access treatment and, often, battling the psychological fallout of feeling themselves born in the wrong body, simply want to be left in peace. Nonetheless, transsexualism’s existence and tentative acceptance within mainstream society is immensely radical.

Transsexualism is not merely a valid part of the queer- and gender-liberation movements: it’s a vital one. The notion that one’s biological sex does not have to dictate anything about one’s behaviour, appearance or even the eventual layout of one’s genitals and secondary sex organs, now that we live in a glittering future where such things are possible, is a radical one.

Furthermore, not all transsexuals present, as Bindel would have it, as ‘men in dresses’. Transsexualism, transgenderism, transvestism and intersexuality present in a myriad different ways. Some bio-men choose to live as women and to take hormones, but do not elect to have any surgery. Some bio-women present as males half the time by binding their breasts, stuffing their pants and going to nightclubs in tanktops and baseball caps, the liberated ‘bois’ of the spreading San-Francisco scene. Some people are born with hormone imbalances, or born entirely outside of the two-gender sphere altogether: in fact, one in 2,000 babies is born without an XX or XY genotype. Trans issues go way beyond ‘men in dresses’, although drag queens tend to remain the postergirls for the same reason that Kylie Minogue is now the face of breast cancer: they look good doing it.

Femininity is not a sacred cow. Femininity is a social construct, and Bindel is right to identify it as such, but utterly wrong to claim that transsexuals re-enforce these stereotypes. The problem is not with transsexuals, but with our entire fucked-up construction of what is ‘male’ and what ‘female’, what ‘masculine’ and what ‘feminine’. Bindel’s bio-‘boys’ in ‘fuck-me-boots and birds-nest hair’ are no different from today’s bewildered 12, 13 and 14-year old girls struggling to make the transition from deeply felt, little-understood womanhood to socially dictated artificial ‘femininity’. Like teenage girls stuffing their bras with loo-roll and smearing on inappropriate lipstick, the m-t-f transsexuals for whom Bindel, Greer and their ilk reserve special hatred are simply craving what all growing girls crave: social acceptance.

Yes, they are performing femininity. But so are all women, every day. Yes, some of them might sometimes present as ‘pantomime dames’ in Greer’s ever-tactful phraseology. But after a long night out on the tiles, too much slap, tarty heels, padded bra, bling and rapidly deflating hairdo, I fail to see in what way I’m less of a pantomime dame than, say, the fabulous Jodie Harsh (a lady who does it much, much, much better than almost everyone else).

Jodie Harsh is a pantomime dame. So is Victoria Beckham. Lily Savage is a pantomime dame. So is Vivienne Westwood. So was Margaret Thatcher. So is the Queen of England. We are all pantomime dames, performing femininity because that’s how we gain social acceptance. Those who have least to gain by performing femininity – bio-males who, in doing so, voluntarily and utterly abandon male privilege – are perhaps the bravest and canniest of all of us.

It is those who have found themselves outside the two-sex system who have done the most to challenge toxic gender binaries throughout history. From the Hirjas of India to the holy hermaphrodites of ancient Greece, from the Molly-boys of 18th century London to the f-t-m artists of bohemian paris, transsexual, transgender, transvestite and intersexed individuals have been revered and reviled, studied and sought out, as if they held the keys to the mysteries of the gender system that binds us. Perhaps they do.

Tories in queer hypocrisy shocker!

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So now the Tories are courting the pink vote. Big surprise. But the notion, promoted even by the BBC, that gays might have a ‘duty’ to vote Conservative is baffling.

They’ve wheeled out Margot James, PPC for Stourbridge and noted deep-blue dyke, to tell us all why we need to vote Tory. This is the same Margot James who did not stand as a gay candidate at the last election, and who has been heard saying that she hoped her partner’s name, Jay, would be mistaken for that of a man by reporters. Ms James’ parroting of the party-line at the Stonewall event yesterday goes something like this:

“Gay people are net contributors to public services through their taxes, because very few of them have children.

“I think gay people have got more angst on this issue than anybody else because gay people are paying in, through their taxes and actually using far less of the NHS because they tend not to have families, less of the education system for the same reason and all the more reason to be angry with this government for the waste of their taxes.”

Translation: “Everyone knows you faggots hate kids! So vote for us – we hate kids, too!’

The suggestion that homosexuals do not have ‘families’ is both degrading and manifestly false. I happen to live in a massive multi-sexual household of six. None of us are related by blood, but we consider ourselves family. All of us, furthermore, have mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters and all of us feel that – despite our sexuality – we are just as invested in other humans as anybody else. Me and my big queer family are appalled by this throwaway rhetoric, at a Stonewall event, no less.

The logic of the tory tax argument also falls down when the ageing society is brought into play. Sure, homosexuals may, on average, raise fewer sproglets than their het friends, but this makes it all the more important for us that we live in a society that invests properly in healthcare, elderly care and the pensions system. Without the dubious surity of grown-up kids to wipe our octogenarian posteriors, we are going to need a government that invests in our care – a government that values the contribution we make as members of society enough to make public spending a priority.

The main tory line, however, remains that you and I should vote Conservative because, well, there are quite a lot of gay conservatives. Newsflash: there have always been gay tories; there have been gay tories before the word was even invented. What there have never been are tories promoting a gay agenda. In recent years, tory MPs have, for the most part, had an appalling voting record on queer issues in parliament – vital issues like civil partnerships and the age of consent. The tories are quite happy for us to carry on shuffling in the dark. If they’re gay, too, they certainly haven’t traditionally wanted the world to know about it. The tory closet door remains firmly shut. And no wonder, this being the party that introduced and tried desperately to save Section 28 of the Local Government Act, 1988.

Just a reminder: the amendment stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Ian Duncan Smith and a great deal of the tory party faithful spent 2003 trying to save this disgustingly homophobic piece of legislation. Nobody has apologised for that, and the silence of top conservatives over their shocking record at the Stonewall event stunk of hypocrisy.

I am not suggesting that just because you like a bit of same-sex action you absolutely must be a political radical. Not at all. Not one jot. In fact, I’m grudgingly of the opinion that one thing the 1990s were good for was freeing gay men and women of the grinding obligation not to also be bigoted fuckwits if they so chose. But bigotry and a forward-thinking queer agenda have never gone hand in hand, and if one is queer – not just gay, which is a statement of fact, but politically queer – you do have a duty to vote for anyone else apart from the tory party and far right.

Queer politics involve more than a private penchant for cock and a public rhetoric of tax breaks for straight, married couples. Queer politics are politics which make it easier for the millions of men and women who choose to live and love outside of the heteronormative box to do so without cultural, practical or financial discrimination. Queer politics are inherently radical, and not everyone working towards them is gay, and not everyone gay has queer politics. Let’s not mistake gay – which is what the Conservative party has always secretly been – for queer, which it never will be.

Lesbian mums and the end of patriarchy

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Medical technology is an awesome thing. It can save lives, cure terrible diseases, rebuild bodies. It can prolong and improve the lives of the chronically ill and disabled beyond the wildest dreams of sufferers even fifty years ago. It can reattach limbs, restore sight, cure depression, return the manic to health and sanity. But can it be used to give women control over whether and when they have children? Only if male doctors and MPs say so.

Whoever your parents are, they’re going to fuck you up to some extent. I make no apologies for assuming that gay women and single women are just as likely to make good parents as anyone else, if not more so, as children conceived via the arduous process of IVF are slightly more likely to be wanted and treasured infants. For the purposes of this post we shall assume that one’s sexual orientation has no bearing on one’s likelihood of raising an unfucked-up child, nor on one’s right to attempt to do so. With that one out the way, let’s tuck in to a tasty breakfast of radical feminism with a gin chaser.

Throughout the wholesale technological reworking of the cultural landscape in the 20th and 21st centuries, laws remained in place to prevent new medical technologies and increased understanding liberating women’s reproductive choices. Even now, a woman must gain the permission of two doctors and undergo stringent ‘checks’ before she can access safe medical abortion. Until recently, women seeking IVF needed to declare a father and use a named man’s sperm despite the existence of plausible alternatives. But this week, in an impressive feat of anti-Luddism, MPs voted to allow single female parents and lesbian couples the right to reproductive self-determination: the right to have children, if they choose, without mandatory male interference.

‘Fathers are no longer needed!’ screamed the headlines as the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill passed through the commons on Tuesday. Well, we could have told you that. Millions of us grew up without fathers at home, without fathers at all. Millions more of us have loving and productive relationships with our fathers, but it is categorically not the case that any father at all is better than no father. The work of pregnancy, labour and the majority of childrearing still falls upon women, and it is inhumane to insist that that work be anything other than a sphere of self-determination. Men do not go through the physical trauma of conception, pregnancy and labour; men can have no right, as such, to insist upon any control over the process. It might be hard for individual men to swallow, but until medical technology enables them to conceive, incubate and bear children themselves, fatherhood will remain a privilege to be earned, rather than a right to be insisted on.

Reproductive rights campaigning goes far deeper than individual instances of choice. It’s a powerful cultural fascination, an issue that is woven into the very fabric of the stories that make us modern. From the rape of the Sabine women to Europa, ancient myth and precedent is obsessed by violent male control of feminine reproductive potential. From Brave New World to 1984 to the Culture, fables and fictions of the future are replete with paranoid speculation over the reorganisation of reproductive control.

The power to continue – or not to continue – the human race is quite simply the biggest social loaded gun on the planet. Since the dawn of patriarchy, male control over reproductive rights has been essential to the furtherance of patriarchal power, just as the ancient matriarchies ended when men’s involvement in human reproduction was realised.

This is why the rights of women to have children without ‘declaring the father’, to terminate pregnancy and to raise children alone, are such emotive and important legal sticking points. Women’s right to decide whether and when and how they have children is the ultimate threat to the rule of men, the ultimate insult to the divine supremacy of the father, and this week’s Commons vote is a milestone in the erosion of political patriarchy whose significance we will be debating for years to come.

Conservative MPs such as Ian Duncan Smith have made “impassioned pleas that the Government plan would “drive another nail into the coffin of the traditional family”” (DailyHate, 21.05.08). The assumption of the Tories is that the vacuous notion of the ‘traditional family’ ever had any relevance. The organisation of human love has little to do with how children are raised and everything to do with the maintenance of the bourgeois state – and excuse me for coughing communism onto this keyboard, I’ve got this little marxist tickle that just won’t quit.

The Embryology Bill marks a turning point in the history of patriarchy, and all of us -men and women and transpeople, feminists and libertarians and trade unionists – can congratulate ourselves on beating back the tide of fundamentalist reactionism at extremely short notice. But, since this is a fight we’re going to be called to again and again, we will have to spend the meantime coming to terms with the radical systemic social change that must be the end-point of our ideology. The rights of women to biological self-determination, the rights of mothers to bear or not to bear children without mandatory male interference, must remain fixed points on the agenda of the British left. Men have a right to stand alongside women, a right to care for their children, a right to take up the responsibilities of fatherhood once that privilege has been granted them. Fathers have their place. But that place is no longer at the head of the table.