Gender Straitjackets

It’s common these days to hear descriptions of gender as something that is innate and intrinsic to us as individual human beings. According to modern identity politics we each have a “gender identity”, an internal sense of our own gender, or to use simpler terms, that gender is in the brain. In many ways this modern belief in gender identity is phenomenological, it’s simple, “Women play with dolls and like pink, men like the colour blue and are aggressive”. During a recent conversation on the topic my friend stated “but men are made more aggressive, it’s the testosterone”, “women don’t have that same level of base aggression”, and it got me thinking again on this issue.
Now as someone who has existed in this world with both testosterone and estrogen as their dominant sex hormones on their short time on earth I can safely say from experience that I have found no difference in levels of aggression since having estrogen as my dominant sex hormone than I did when I had testosterone as my dominant sex hormone. But this doesn’t explain why, again speaking phenomenologically, men appear to be more aggressive as a sex than women, “surely it has to be because of their hormones right? The testosterone charged hulks of man meat!”. As convenient as that would be, no, but what we do have in this world with it’s obsession with gender boxes is gender socialisation.
Now as someone who transitioned from male to female at 18 it’s fair to say my gender socialisation is likely well and truly messed up, but when we look at it a little wider, then we get to see trends. Within boys, aggression is praised, “boys will be boys” is muttered as they pummel each other with fists and terrorise their peers in school, yet within girls aggression brings out retribution, it doesn’t fit with societies mould of men being aggressive, active members of society, and women being passive, aesthetically pleasing members of society. And furthermore, we see aggression showing in boys before puberty has even started, before testosterone becomes a crutch on which to blame their inability to use reason before slamming their fists into some unsuspecting soul’s cranium.
Now comes the interesting bit, to talk from myself, as someone who throughout their childhood as a boy who didn’t like pummelling craniums or running after a bag of air like a Neanderthal, gender becomes more confusing. Throughout my childhood I was routinely criticised for not being “man enough”, not necessarily from my family members specifically, but from everywhere, and everyone. I enjoyed make believe over active sports, my friends were girls and Harry Potter was more my interest than rough and tumble, and this definitely caused issues.
For starts there was the bullying, “oh you have long hair do you want to be a girl?!!?”, the way other boys would enforce their dominance over me by displaying to there peers how they could physically overpower me. There was the constant questions, “why do you always hang out with girls?”,
“Why don’t you have friends who are boys?”, and thanks to my long blonde hair throughout childhood, “oh I think your in the wrong bathroom sweet” said patronisingly by old men every few days as I try to go for a wee somewhere other than the bathroom in my house.
When you take into account for how successful the enforcement of gender is on making men into porn watching, beer swilling assholes, and women into creatures of feminine grace, then it brings these ideas of innate gender identity into disrepute. And that whilst there are women who were born women who happen to still be okay with being women who are signing up for the army, display aggressive tendencies, and who wear their hair short and there are men who hate violence, prefer musicals and would rather go to a museum than a pub to watch the football, it’s hard to deny the grip that keeps us firmly into our gendered positions.
So what happens when your exposed to constant retribution for not fulfilling the desired gender role for your sex, and this retribution goes on every year from your first memory. Is it any wonder that some people develop severe hatred towards the thing they are supposed to be? Towards every thing that marks them as the sex they are routinely told they are awful at being. If you take a boy who displays an interest in fashion, looks up to women, dances around the room and wants to play dress up rather than rough and tumble, have their hair long rather than short, is it any wonder that they end up hating everything they are told they are crap at. Do we really have to pretend that the reason I feel the way I feel, and the reason in 3 weeks (at this day of writing) I will be going through extensive surgery to change my genitals, my primary physical sex characteristics, the thing that denotes me as the sex I’ve routinely been told I’m awful at being.
I’m not trying to say that the dysphoria I feel is somehow invalid because of the reasons why I believe I was likely put in the situation, I firmly believe for me, right now, I’m too far gone, this is the sensible, logical, path for me. Heck, I’ve been at it for a long time now. But what my worries are is this blanket ignorance towards logical reasons for me being in this situation. Why must I be forced to state that the reason I am getting my genitals turned inside out is due to having a female brain in a male body (a concept routinely denied by science and scientists who don’t have a claim staked in making money from those suffering from this condition).
Is it helpful for the next generation of me’s, the little boys who right now are being told they are bad at being boys because they don’t like sport, and would rather study music and dance than mechanics and science. Gender is a straight jacket, and it’s time we stopped forcing people into boxes and categories they don’t fit because their genitals tell us they should.
Carly Bell

A Letter To The Student’s Union:

Dear Student’s Union’s

Firstly I want to thank you, I really appreciate you deciding who I am supposed to fear and pre-emptively protecting me from their opinions. It is really comforting to me to know that you will ensure I never have to have my ideas or opinions challenged and instead will be able to rest on my currently held opinions and have them solidified by being exposed only to those who agree with me. Equally I would like to thank you for ensuring that nobody who could even slightly offend me has the ability to, I’m more than aware that mild offense is the worst thing that could happen to me and to know that you are going out of your way to protect me from those who pose a risk of causing offence to me is very welcome. I always hoped that university would be a place where I would be sheltered from new ideas and kept in the dark about the realities of discussion and conversations, I definitely did not come here to explore ideas contrary to those which I agree with.

That being said, I am concerned. As a transsexual who’s own brain holds dear to the belief that I, a transwoman, am in fact biologically male and am not now nor have ever been, female. Many of the beliefs held by Julie Bindel, a feminist who was barred from speaking at Manchester University by the Students Union, are beliefs that I personally share, and as I have been made aware that these beliefs are a direct threat to my safety and peace of mind I was wondering what would be done to deal with that problem? Obviously I wouldn’t wish to “incite hatred towards and exclusion of” my own self, and feel that exposing my delicate transsexual self to my personal set of beliefs would be a direct violation of Manchester University, and I’m sure my own university’s, safer spaces policy.

I look forward to hearing what suggestions you have to ensure my continued safety and inclusion within the UK education system.

Regards

Some Musings On My Veganism

I have been a vegan now for around 6 months, and honestly, I feel pretty okay. I don’t feel like I have suddenly become superhuman, but I don’t feel like a frail malnourished human either. I don’t eat overly well, my diet still involves a whole bundle of fairly unhealthy food, I don’t sit and chew on celery as so many people assume I do when I drop the “V bomb”, I eat chips and beans, pasta and sauce, stir fry and fried tofu. My diet is cheap too, when people tell me “yea but being vegan is SO EXPENSIVE” I always find myself sighing, I am a student, I live on fairly little, yet it turns out fruit and vegetables are the cheapest foods out there. A couple blocks of tofu, a variety of veggies and fruits, some pasta, a couple tins of beans and some rice, there you have a whole weeks’ worth of food, and if you go to the right place it will cost you barely over £10. Admittedly I only have to feed myself, I have no dependants or partner, this perhaps makes things cheaper, but when you get out of the mind set of needing every single luxury item you’ve become accustomed to (as is commonly found following a switch to a vegan diet), food shopping becomes easier, cheaper and far less of a chore.

There are many awesome positives as well to being a vegan, before when I was a vegetarian I would often feel uncomfortably full and very unpleasant following an intake of large amounts of egg and dairy, I would have clogged pores and felt physically unclean. Now I am able to stuff myself full of fatty foods to the point of bursting and despite feeling bloated, I no longer feel dirty, after a large plate of vegan cheese and biscuits, these days I feel clean and alert as opposed to sluggish and clogged up, the truth is that with a vegan diet you do not have to lose out, I would argue all you do is gain. There are vegan alternatives to every food you could ever imagine, from boiled eggs (I kid you not) to steaks, burgers and cheese, every single food you love now you can still enjoy. This is why I never understand when people say “I could never go vegan, I could not live without (x)”, because you don’t have to live without (x) you can have it, and enjoy it in the knowledge that it’s journey to your plate did not involve animal corpses or excrements, which in my honest opinion makes eating a whole lot more of an enjoyable experience.

Another interesting thing is my answer to the “why are you a vegan?” question, when I switched from being a lifelong vegetarian to veganism it was not due to some strong ethical, environmental of health reason, it just “felt right” and whilst there was a bit of me that didn’t feel comfortable eating animal products any more, as a vegetarian I felt like I was doing enough as was, going vegan was more an experiment to see if I could. For a lot of people that is disarming because I could not be labelled as some “crazy animal lover” instead I sat in this place of “just wanted to give being vegan a go” category, and it has been only through trying it that I began to get interested in the movement of animal rights and liberation. I really admire people who are able to advocate for veganism on a more widespread level, my current philosophy towards being an advocate is to advocate by being a positive vegan role-model to the people in my life. I will and do talk about what I am eating when asked, and I am not one to shy away from commenting on it, I will also stand up for my beliefs in the face of people advocating against veganism, I am only beginning to find within me the strength to stand up and say “This is who I am and what I do, this is why I do it”.

I’m a student and no, the NUS does not speak for me:

The NUS has had a variety of conferences lately, including the NUS Women’s conference this week and the NUG LGBT conference the week before. It is quite clear that the NUS stands not for the rights of students or for the support of academics and intellectuals, it aims to stifle debate, prevent learning and silence dissent. The NUS could be and should be a wonderful institution, one that stands by all students, Male, Female or Transsexual, and treat each as valuable human beings (as each are). Instead we see this backwards attempt at being as inclusive as possible, which ends up making it exclusive of all but those who are willing to promote the appropriate narrative.

Women are regularly told to be seen but not heard, attractive and quiet and not to take up space, this is a part of the socialisation into the subjugated position as a Woman in society, NUS Women’s conference decided to ban the attendee’s from clapping, under the banner of preventing triggering anxious speakers. This is clearly some kind of attempt to be inclusive and you cannot deny that the NUS had good intentions in doing this, but in reality it does nothing but continue to tell Women to be quiet, this is not something I can stand for, along with overall making a mockery of the whole conference. These conferences have continued on this line by continuing to suggest that dissenting voices, or any voices which go against the prescribed narrative, must be silenced, this is evidenced by the renewal of the motion to no platform Julie Bindle, all because of some comments she made in the past, and has even since apologised for! This is a clear attempt to slowly strangle women until they relent and refuse to speak up, every time the NUS or associated Student Union’s on campuses across the country no platform women’s voices, they are perpetrating the idea that women should not speak up against things they disagree with, instead silently go along with what everyone else wants, because women are caring and quiet individuals who are more than happy to bend their own morals to make others happy.

There are various aspects of these motions that I can pick up, the silencing of Kate Smurthwaite for refusing to believe prostitution and sex work should be legalised is one of many examples where dissenting women’s voices are being refused a platform. There are clearly cases where no platforms are important, places where inciting violence or inciting racial hatred are clear results of a talk being given, but if these same rules are being used to consistently silence non-threatening people who simply hold opposing views it becomes clear that we have to stand up to and question the validity of the no-platform process as a whole, as is the case with sweeping anti-terrorism laws where laws are brought in with good intentions and end up being used to chip away at the livelihoods and rights of non-threatening people. This is what I see happening every week within the NUS, there is an accepted narrative and those who disagree with constantly have to watch their mouths and be careful to not step too far out of the lines drawn up by a small but vocal minority for fear of pile-on’s and call outs. I dared to suggest on twitter that “NUS LGBT 15” does not speak for me, and that the support of decriminalisation of prostitution puts women at risk, within minutes I had various very vocal members of the “social justice” community calling me out, telling me I should have been there if I want to have an opinion, and that if I’d have been there I’d know why no-platforming Bindle is vital the safety of the LGBT community (etc etc). It’s relentless and even though what I experienced was very minor, it bothered me so much I felt I had to shut up and lock down my twitter. This is a cult like attitude used to silence others, mob-like actions just culminate in a culture of fear, and I worry, as a student, that it is not long before the NUS will act not as a movement for all students and more a political tool to manipulate people into espousing and promoting a specific narrative, one that is nothing short of misogynist.

We need to talk about mental health:

Mental health is serious business and it’s very real, depression and anxiety seem to be becoming more and more common in this modern world and children are experiencing these symptoms at a rapidly decreasing age. I have and do, as many of you will know, suffer from batches of depression, these can strike without warning often leaving me bed bound and unable to concentrate long enough to do anything productive, I’ve been dealing with these feelings seriously ever since I was a young teenager. We’re dealing with a world where one in ten young people experience mental health problems [1] yet children’s mental health funding is being cut by £50 million [2], mental health problems such as depression can seriously hamper a young persons education effecting their lack of ability to concentrate in class and issues with social interactions [3], by not publicly aligning ourselves against these cuts we are showing these people that their education is not important, that their future is not important, that they are not important. There has been a 68% increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital for self harm in the last 10 years and the number of young people between the ages 15 and 16 with depression has nearly doubled since the 1980’s [4]. These are not small numbers and it is not a minute minority, this is a sizeable number of children and youths. 9.6% of children and young people have a mental disorder, 1.4% of 11 to 16 year olds are “Seriously depressed” [4], that is a monstrous number of people we are failing.

Mental health issues left untreated cause future problems into adulthood and mental health in adults is an equally important issue. We live in a world where 40% of women with severe mental illnesses are victims of rape or attempted rape [5], this is not something that should be allowed to happen and shows the gravity of the problem we are facing, 40% of the most vulnerable women in society have been gravely failed by the world around them, I implore you to let that sink in. Mental health causes issues within employment, with seven percent of all people with a common mental health disorder being unemployed seeking work and having been so for over a year [6] it becomes clear that by not properly helping people deal with these issues and by continue to propagate a society where discussions in mental health are caked in stigma we harm not only those suffering, but also the economy of the country as a whole.

By slashing funding we’re further endangering vulnerable people, the number of suicides committed in 2013 rose by 4% on the previous year with the rates of suicide amongst men being the highest since 2001 [7]. By continuing to slash spending in the name of austerity we show the world we do not care about the vulnerable populations of our society, a stark contrast from the Britain we know and love which looks after those who need looking after. It’s not a case of balancing books, the question we see being answered for us by those in Westminster is “people, or profits?”. Loud and clear we see that the answer is profits, profits over people, as we continue down the apocalyptic path of privatisation it is a situation that will become only more real as our health and livelihoods are sold to the highest bidder.

[1] http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/youngpeople

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30735370

[3] http://www2.massgeneral.org/schoolpsychiatry/info_depression.asp

[4] http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics

[5] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0914/040914-Mental-health-sexual-assault

[6] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/212266/hwwb-mental-health-and-work.pdf

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2015/feb/19/rise-in-middle-aged-men-committing-suicide-all-the-uk-data

Turn Up And See: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Turn up and see is a new project where at least once a fortnight I turn up at a cinema and ask for “a ticket to the next film being shown”, and then write up my experience of the movie and also the general experience of the cinema itself as a whole.

It was a bright yet crisp March day as I wandered down to the Reel Cinema in Plymouth, from the outside you can tell this cinema is somewhat stuck in a time warp, this is not helped by the fog of cigarette smoke you have to go through as you walk outside the bingo hall next door. Once inside the cinema is much like any other dated cinema which has not had much in the way of renovation since the sixties, dilapidated and musty. Queuing for the desk to buy a ticket I noticed the line of old people before me, and solely judging on the clientele I came to the conclusion I was in for a treat, and my golly wasn’t I right, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was “The next film being shown”. Following a kerfuffle with £5 minimum spend rules, I began the climb up the steps towards to screen, being old and lacking in accessibility features, the climb was incredibly slow and painful, as I was behind a small herd of old people. It’s worth noting here that the toilets at this cinema are fantastic, they have pink porcelain sinks and have clearly had no work done to them in years, it is like something from an Inspector George Gently movie!

We were in screen 1, it was a large room, not dissimilar to the auditorium of an old theatre, I decided to climb up to the rear section of the seats so as to have space to myself, and picked out one of the incredibly dated and marginally uncomfortable seats. Sitting high up I took in my surroundings, a sea of blue rinse sat before me like a congregation and with incredible irony the pre-show music that began playing was “Gangsters Paradise”, it was at this point I realised I was the youngest person in the room, by about 40 years. We then sat through a small selection of trailers before settling down for the movie, an air of anticipation washed over the waiting crowd, and as the curtain came up the room went silent.

In two words I would sum the film up as “heart-warming”, it was a relatively feel good film overall, but there was an undercurrent of older people who’re very aware of their mortality and at times it was a bit sad. I had not seen “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (the film before this one) so I really had no clue as to what was going on half the time, I also had no clue to the fact that, I’ve since found out, they are a group of old Brits who moved to India to live out their old lives in a place more affordable than England, and that they all have burgeoning sex lives that are mildly intertwined. I feel having not-seen the first film makes it hard to get into the story as the first half an hour is as much a catch-up with the characters as it is setting up for the story in this film, and that would explain why I was so fidgety at first (either that or the mildly uncomfortable very old seats that were falling apart). The cast was full of friendly faces including Dev Patel, Bill Nighy, Judy Dench and Maggie Smith there was also the amusing involvement of Tamsin Greig, most loved by me for her role in Black Books, and as such seeing her sober and without a cigarette hanging out of her mouth took a little while to get over! The cast worked well together, and it was nice to see the connections and friendships they clearly had off-set work together within the film too.

The film had a very loose plot revolving around two different events, firstly a hotel inspector visiting to decide if a large American firm would invest in the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” to enable expansion, and the preparations for Sonny and Sunaina’s upcoming wedding and the frictions between running a business and being a good partner. This worked alongside the various sub-plots between each of the characters, for a film with so many different yet intertwined very loose-plots it was remarkably easy to keep track of what was going on with each person at each time which is a credit to the production company. There are also various windings throughout the film that lead to the progression of the movie, the expected ups and downs of businesses and relationships,making up most of them. My main criticism is just the lack of real direction, the film is bright and colourful with a brilliant cast, but the actual overall plot is very loose and the focus is more on being happy and overwhelmingly cute than on actually ensuring there is a focused and well created plot. The Bollywood wedding sequence at the end pushed me over the edge, it was 30 minutes of: happy events, bright colours and dancing, for me it was a little too much.

On the whole to movie is very watch-able, and if you would like to go and see old people frolic and dance and a frantic hotel owner run around freaking out about hotel inspectors and the arrival of an old once-friend whom he has some unexplained history with, then I recommend it! It’s a very colourful film with various things going for it, predominantly including the cast and smiles, just do not go in expected to be amazed. Overall I would categorise it as a nice film rather than a good film.

Ratings

Cinema 4/10 (gains points for awesome retro-ness, loses points for being a bit grim and under looked-after, also £5 minimum spend? Serious?)

Film 5/10

The Harassment And Silencing Of Women Who Dare To Speak:

Misogynistic internet harassment is an issue, it’s perverse and lobbied against women who speak out against male violence and other patterns of female subjugation all too often. From simply repeatedly typing “not all men” at women who acknowledge patterns of male violence in society to full blown rape and death threats piled on women who dare speak out in public. One of the most prominent examples of misogynistic internet harassment has been the abuse targeted at Caroline Criado-Perez following her campaigning to prevent the Bank Of England from removing historic women from banknotes. She writes of here experience in Glamour Magazine [1], there seems to be a never-ending stream of people who want to be that straw that breaks my back – that new person who’s made it their task for the day to ruin mine.” This is not an isolated incident either, other prominent examples include the vulgar debasement and harassment of Anita Sarkeesian [2], she has been persecuted, badgered and made a mockery of through a variety of disturbing acts including drawings depicting her rape and having a game created titled “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian”.

These acts are perverse and disturbing and display the aggression expressed by men against women who dare to suggest that they deserve respect and these acts demonstrate the way masculinity feeds and promotes violence against women. I absolutely believe it’s not a natural instinct of men to desire to debase and degrade women and I whole-heartedly feel we should be able to hold men to a higher standard than to write this violence off with “boys-will-be-boys”. This violence lobbied against women who dare to speak out also exists on various levels, the recent culture of no-platforming women who dare to speak out is an extension on the belief that women should only be allowed to speak out if their opinions are deemed acceptable. Activist Julie Bindel often faces no-platforming for daring to suggest female biology exists and her anti-porn, anti-prostitution stance [3] and comedian Kate Smurthwaite faced an uprising from Goldsmiths University’s students union [4] for her beliefs that prostitution is not something we should support. Both these acts suggest that there is a way women should speak, that there is a specific set of beliefs that are socially palatable for women to state, this is something we have to stand against.

This same action of what can only be seen as shielding society from women who use their brains and have opinions is noticeable on twitter, there has been a programme created titled “The Block Bot”. The block bot is essentially a database of all the people a small group of moderators deem un-palatable for wider exposure, this includes a large number of women who, like Bindel and Smurthwaite, dare to use their brains. These women are labelled handy acronyms like “SWERF” and “TERF”, a misogynistic slur designed to silence those who suggest that espouse trans-critical and prostitution-critical beliefs [5]. “TERF” and “SWERF” are made out to be neutral descriptors [6] but are clearly used to silence and push identity theory whilst smearing the names of women [7] [8]. These methods of cult-blocking and labelling are all methods of subjugation of women, the power of naming is a power held by men over women, labelling women terms ranging from ‘whore’ to ‘bitch’ in an effort to control and police their actions, I cannot see the application of “TERF” and “SWERF” as anything other than a continuation of that.

Ultimately from this it’s clear that there is a belief that women are only allowed a voice and a platform if their message is approved in advance. Speaking out against male violence, misrepresentation or complete male-washing of images on a currency is apparently viewable as a request for violent rhetoric, harassment and threats, that we live in these times is telling of the way left to go before we can be sure that women can live free from the overbearing policing of their voices. It’s important in the face of this culture of silencing that we use what powers we have to create platforms for women to speak, to stand up for a woman’s right to assert and define themselves and their lives, not doing so will only excuse this current culture and lead to more silencing, debasement, harassment and male violence exerted at the expense of women.

[1] http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/news/features/2013/09/twitter-abuse-misogyny-in-140-characters

[2] http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/internet/2012/07/what-online-harassment-looks

[3] http://www.newstatesman.com/sarah-ditum/2014/03/when-did-no-platform-become-about-attacking-individuals-deemed-disagreeable

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/feb/02/goldsmiths-comedian-kate-smurthwaite-free-speech-show-feminist-campaigners

[5] http://sarahditum.com/2014/07/28/how-terf-works/

[6] https://twitter.com/juniordrumkit/status/571642974578323456

[7] https://twitter.com/caephyn/status/571586306884689920

[8] https://twitter.com/Anon_Senpai/status/571567181680414720