Tag Archives: sexuality

Bracing myself

When I was doing my PhD fieldwork a couple of years ago in eastern Europe one of the things that struck me (and I can’t think why this was unexpected, sigh) was just how bloody obstructive the church was in all matters relating to sexuality. Then in May last year both countries had (or attempted to have) gay pride festivals, and the religious media and blogosphere exploded in bile that went way beyond disapproval, to violence and hatred that has made me ashamed and horrified and sad and disgusted. A couple of sites and some of the blogs I read literally haven’t given it a rest since. In a fortnight’s time, another festival is planned in Moldova, and already the blogs and other church-based media are frothing at the mouth and gearing up to oppose it again. So soon after the anti-communist protests there (which have died down, but the repercussions are ongoing – many people who were arrested were assaulted by police, the vote recount has confirmed the communists in power, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this) tensions are already high, and I am scared that this year it will degenerate into worse violence than last year.

I’m in two minds about this festival – on the one hand I think it’s really important to give the same message year in year out about equality and acceptance and the inequalities that people face. On the other hand, by appearing to say little about the recent protests I don’t think the festival organisers have done themselves any favours, with the religious media banging on about the fact that teh evil gayz are so obsessed with their own human rights that they are saying nothing about the human rights of others (similar arguments were made by pro-gay activists about large sections of the black community in the USA claiming their rights as a discriminated-against minority and voting for Obama, but then opposing Prop 8 in California). Maybe if they’d said that the festival would still go ahead but would be delayed by a month or two in solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters that would have been the best thing – maintaining their (hugely important) message, but siting themselves in their wider context (oh arse, that poncey last clause sounds like it’s come straight out of my thesis!!), not to mention giving the religious right less ammunition to aim at them.

I don’t know. Whatever, it’s happening 7-9 May and I’m scared of what might happen. Lord have mercy. +

A more intellectual form of procrastination

Yesterday at work my attention was drawn to this Guardian article which resulted in a very interesting conversation about feminism and extremism. It certainly made me think, as it touches on a number of issues that have emerged during my own research.

My thoughts, in no particular order (apart from the first two):

* Can I just say that all men aren’t bastards? Thanks – needed to get that off my chest. The notion in the article that heterosexuality = a copout, a diminishing of the fight against domestic violence, is nonsense.
* A very striking thing for me was the argument that sexuality as a choice not as something you are born with could be liberating. Every day it seems I am reading people jumping up and down saying sexuality isn’t innate (or to be more precise homosexuality isn’t), that homosexuality is nothing more than a sinful choice. Also, I’m well aware that the “lifestyle choice” argument pushes lots of buttons and is something that is rejected by many (most?) LGBT people/communities/theorists. The argument here seems to be that the author feels she has chosen to be a lesbian as an empowering experience, rather than being a prisoner of her genes/chromosomes/biology/etc. I need to think more about this – I was reading recently about the taking of previously shameful epithets and concepts and reclaiming them as a positive identifier (in a book by a queer theorist about shame) and have a feeling that here is something I can’t quite put my finger on but is something important to do with the tensions emerging in my own research. On the one hand the author seems to be agreeing with the bigots that sexuality is a choice not innate, but on the other hand her celebration of this is turning the bigotry on its head. I wish there were fewer holes in her argument though.
* The comments below the article were also interesting (in parts). The “if everyone chose this we’d be wiped out in a generation” argument seems very unsophisticated (and also reflects the demographic arguments being used as a very very blunt instrument to bash gay people in eastern Europe) – I hadn’t really come across them in the west (or not that I’d particularly noticed anyway).
* Other comments reflected the general debate I had with my colleague yesterday, the notion that this type of argument sets back “sensible”, “moderate” feminism and (just like it’s the noisy loopy Christians who are the only ones who seem to get in the papers) this is the type of article “that gives feminism a bad name”. I think my colleague was surprised that I didn’t just dismiss the article, but hit on the “sexuality as choice” argument as something interesting and worth thinking about more. Feminism (and queer theory and praxis) is much more subtle, nuanced and often contested, there isn’t just a homogenous list of beliefs and practices and a tickbox form to complete and that’s it, you’re ‘in’ or ‘out’ (if you’ll excuse the pun, it wasn’t intentional!). Just as Christianity isn’t a list of boxes to tick either, but much more sophisticated and contested and ‘rich’ and complex, and it’s not the like of Christian Voice who have the monopoly on definitions of who is and isn’t a Christian. So I think if this is the only article that people read on feminism they will have a very distorted and one-sided view of what being a feminist (or a lesbian for that matter) means. But just because it appears to be on the more extreme end of things, doesn’t mean that it should be completely dismissed out of hand – at least not without further thought, debate, dialogue. I think that’s what I find so so frustrating in the reading I’m doing for my research – the essentialising, the ‘othering’ of the different, of those with whom the conservative authors don’t agree. I think it’s unfortunate that this article, which I could have found refreshing (and I’m really pleased it has given me useful things to think about), seems to be doing exactly the same thing. There are as many holes in this argument as in the arguments of the anti-brigade. I’m really sad about that. It’s so frustrating that important issues for debate so often get cloaked in bigotry and loopiness.

Thinking out loud

I’ve started and given up on this post several times over the last few weeks, because it will be rambly/probably dull/maybe a bit ranty/probably not too well thought through/not brilliant and incisive/too serious/etc etc. However, I am writing it now as I am putting off doing some proper work and can’t do the washing up as there’s a daddy longlegs flying around in the kitchen so I am hiding like a big girl’s blouse in the bedroom with the door shut. I think the inlaws think I’m working really hard – but I’m sure my secret’s safe with you.

Anyway, I’m digressing.

For the past several months, and particularly the past month and a half or so, I’ve been trawling the press and blogs from the two countries I was in last year for articles not just about my topic, but on the wider issues around sexuality. This started off as just gathering background material for my research, and I didn’t have any expectations other than they might occasionally say something that I could quote to use to illustrate an incisive and brilliant insight (or a sweeping generalisation, more like) that I might make in my thesis. However, particularly over the last month and a bit, this sideline has taken on a bit of a life of its own. I’m not going to talk much about what is being said in the press and blogs (they’re Christian blogs, you can guess. Sigh), but I just want to note down here something that is in the long process of occurring to me, with the disclaimer that these are initial thoughts and hunches and not well-thought-through nuggets of wisdom or anything.

Basically, I’ve been thinking about processes of “othering” – you can see it for example in America with all the rhetoric about “terrorists” – creating an “other”, a common enemy, in order to promote solidarity/identity/political support/justification for decisions and opinions/etc. Over the last few years of course this discourse has mainly been focused on the Muslim community, and in the Cold War it was the evil Communists. Of course it’s not just the West that does it – Cold War propagandists in the Soviet Union were just as active casting “the West” as the “other”, and even today there is a lot of stuff being said about the pernicious influence of the decadent west destroying traditional values etc. Likewise in the Muslim community the west is often portrayed as a corrupt and decadent society, an “other” to be resisted due to the threat that it poses to traditional values and lifestyles. This of course leads to the creation of a homogenous “enemy” who may exist, but nothing like in the proportion that the “othering” discourse would have you believe.

With that in mind then, I’ve been reading a lot in the media recently about sexuality, given that last month in both countries Gay Pride marches were in the news (in one it went ahead, in the other it was banned and didn’t take place). Amidst all the frothing at the mouth are some “othering” discourses which are really worrying me, and I have to say they are nearly all coming from Christians. In particular the language being employed is insidious and powerful – to give the most worrying (in my opinion) example, one very influential and widely-read Christian blog keeps referring to homosexuals as “imoralii”. You can obviously guess the meaning of the word, but what bothers me is not so much that they consider homosexuality immoral, but that by using an adjective as a noun they are not only objectifying and “othering” homosexuals but also implying inferiority, sub-status if you like. What ‘imoralii’ means is literally “the immorals” – they’re not saying they are people who happen to be immoral, but that their primary identity is not “person” but “immoral”.

I’m trying to think of an example in English where we use an adjective in place of a noun to mean something pejorative. The main ones I can think of relate to gender and race, and I don’t really want to dwell on them to be honest. Another example, again from the Cold War, would be when Americans termed anyone living behind the Iron Curtain as “Reds”. It was an instantly homogenising, pejorative term which took no account of individual difference, but of course “people who happen by geographical accident to be living behind this Cold War construct, regardless of whether or not they support or oppose the dominant political ideology” didn’t have the same ring to it, and also didn’t convey the same implication of Communist threat and American superiority.

Some years ago I was thinking about the term “non-Christian”, as it had made me feel uncomfortable for a while. I realised that what made me uncomfortable was the “non” bit of it. I think there is a subtle but hugely important difference between “person who isn’t a Christian” and “non-Christian”. The first one is just a statement of (arguable) fact (by arguable I mean that I don’t think I’m in any position to pronounce who is or isn’t a Christian), whereas the second one to me implies inferiority – I am an X, you are a non-X, therefore I am superior. This use of “imoralii” to me feels the same as that, implying superiority, so the uncomfortableometer has started to be more than a bit troubled.

What is troubling me even more though, is that leading on from this “othering”, which is largely being supported and not challenged, there is a disturbing undercurrent of hatred and violence. At the Gay Pride march which didn’t happen, there was a protracted incident where a coachload of people who were intending to participate in the Pride march were stopped and threatened by thugs with weapons. The Christian blog showed a (rather close-up) photo of this incident, along with a sentence about people trying to stop the march from going ahead, which was interspersed among pictures of people praying and holding placards. Although challenged later in the blog comments and claiming that they did not support violence, it was clear that they did nothing to stop the violent intimidation and by including the picture as though it was a minor incident were basically condoning it as, after all, it was against those evil “imoralii”.

That very blatant example is only the most obvious. There are lots of others that are much more subtle. And then today I was listening to the BBC World Service where they were reporting from the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, where many conservative Anglican bishops who are unhappy with the way the Anglican Communion are dealing with matters of human sexuality in the church have gone in protest instead of going to the Lambeth Conference. There they played a snippet of a interview with a delegate who banged on and on about “gays” and how the Bible is so clear that the only result of being gay is DEATH (which was almost spat out, she said the word with such glee and relish).

And this is what is really worrying me. I am sure that however the current lot of discourses have ended up, they started off with a genuine belief that this position is the one which most glorifies God and obeys his word and all the rest of it. However, it seems to me that this concern about glorifying God is now, in many (not all, I must hasten to add) cases is now used as a veneer to cloak violent “othering” discourses, debates AND actions. So it is fine to turn and look the other way when homosexual people are threatened and abused and worse, because they are the “other” and are defying God and so somehow deserve it. NO! By all means disagree and debate, but this “othering” and demonising, and not only that but creating an inferior “other” who is acceptable to abuse is so contrary to the gospel I hold dear I hardly know where to start.

Actually in writing this I’ve got myself so worked up I hardly know where to finish this blog entry, never mind start anything. God help me.