tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.


lgbt


Catalonia’s new gay rights law sounds great… except for the whole reversing the presumption of innocence thing.

Way to collectively shoot yourselves in the foot, guys. I want equal rights—that doesn’t require undermining absolutely vital civil liberties.

With one stupid decision, the lawmakers score a rhetorical victory for the homophobes (cue homophobic cretins shouting about how the gay agenda is trampling over civil liberties in 3, 2, 1…) and undermine a core principle of civilised society. What colossal idiots.

And Pink News don’t mention it at all. Apparently, they didn’t consider undermining the presumption of innocence an important thing to report. Wat.


With allies like this...

I read someone who identifies as a “straight ally” the other day say something very similar to the following:

The reason gay men are promiscuous is as a result of homophobia and oppression. When societal homophobia decreases, gay men will be less promiscuous and more responsible.

Let me put this in a way that you might understand.

How about FUCK OFF AND GO FUCK YOURSELF YOU GODDAMN ANTI-SEX, FUN-HATING PRUDES?

How about understanding the radical idea that sex is actually quite good fun and people can enjoy whatever type and frequency of sex they want without goddamn “allies” saying that it’s all due to us all being such pathetic wimpy little poofs that we can’t make informed decisions about sex and relationships for ourselves?

How about not peddling your puritanical sexual morality as a sincere attempt at opposing discrimination and bigotry? How about not projecting your bullshit sexphobia on people who aren’t similarly afflicted?

Do you like the fact that you have basically adopted the sexual morality of the Pope and Pat Robertson while at the same talking on behalf of a movement for sexuality-based freedom and liberation? Does that cause you as much intellectual or political discomfort as it does to me? Are we supposed to be grateful for your bullshit concern when you are feeding into the same rhetorical power dynamic of the people who so vehemently oppose the right to have informed, consensual, shame-free sexuality?

Do you buy into nonsense like “sex addiction” too?

Does it concern you that the same shitbags who hate LGBT people1 also hate straight people’s sexuality—especially female sexuality, hence the consistent attempts by theocratic fuckwits to obliterate access to birth control and contraception and impose ridiculous fundamentalist nonsense on them too? And that maybe the answer to that is to embrace and defend the positive and life-affirming value of sex and sexuality—gay, straight, vanilla, kinky, monogamous or not, lifelong or fleeting—rather than make it into a pathology?

If you want to defend and help sexual minorities, defend our right to enjoy the sex we want and desire (so long as it is consensual and safe etc., obviously) or you aren’t actually helping and you certainly aren’t being an “ally”.

  1. Oh, wait, no, they hate our sin. They love us. And if you believe that horseshit, I’ll happily sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.


John Browne's The Glass Closet: a review

I have just been reading Lord Browne’s book The Glass Closet, a very interesting book about being gay in business, and the importance of diversity and more importantly acceptance of difference in business. Browne has a stake in this particular topic: he resigned as CEO of BP after the Mail on Sunday published an article by his former male lover who “kissed and told” on Browne. Browne’s downfall was a product of the closet: in order to cover up for the fact that he had met the gentleman through a rather sleazy ‘rent boy’ website, he claimed to have met him in the park instead. The fact that this story was false was a fairly minor detail that ended up leaving him vulnerable to attack by the media and the court system. The closet Browne had built for himself came crumbling down thanks to a lurid scandal in a Sunday tabloid, and with it a corporate career that the same hacks would likely describe as “meteoric”.

And now a few years later, Browne is writing and campaigning for business to be more inclusive of minorities by making an economic case for the value to businesses of building open and welcoming environments for people of all backgrounds. In The Glass Closet, Browne talks to both out and closeted LGBT people in business as well as professionals in politics, sports and media. Browne’s message is convincing: 36% of gay people are not out at work. Coming out reduces stress and improves productivity—the energy focussed on hiding parts of who we are could be better spent on being creative and innovative at work.

In addition, we live in an era that places great value on authenticity: sharing our whole selves makes us more authentic and thus more trustworthy and more human to colleagues, clients and others.

Building organisations that are welcoming to LGBT people also makes it so that members of other minority groups feel welcome: Browne tells the story of how a company was promoting itself at an equality fair as being open to LGBT people, and lots of young Asian women were picking up the leaflets. Upon inquiry, it turns out that most were not themselves LGBT, but had worked out that if a company had gotten their collective heads around being welcoming to LGBT people, they would probably be have gotten over the hurdles necessary to be welcoming to an Asian woman. In sectors where finding talent is hard, explicit diversity and inclusion policies can mean the difference between getting the best people and not.

On the topic of whether and how to come out at work, Browne gives extensive personal testimony from a wide range of people in business and leans strongly on the side of “yes”. It’s not risk-free, but it’s less risky than some think. Remaining closeted is not risk-free either, it’s just that the cost is not always apparent. Being out does not necessarily mean being “aggressively” out—simply not lying if asked is an excellent middle ground between being a firebrand activist and a closet case.

As someone who has a good thirty of forty years ahead of him inside more or less dysfunctional corporate environments, I’m all for being out (and I am out at work), and I’m all for corporate leadership creating environments for people to be out. To that end, Lord Browne’s intervention in this discussion is valuable. But there’s still a nagging feeling that there are more important issues than whether gay people can get on inside the corporate world.

In the United States, young homeless people are much more likely to be LGBT than the wider population. Young LGBT people are still at greater risk of suicide, self-harm and mental illness. Young LGBT people face the risks of sexual violence, and especially in specific communities, trans people face a risk of combined sexual violence and murder. Schools are still not doing enough to quell homophobic bullying: the government’s continued fetish for “faith” schools only means more LGBT kids being picked on and bullied with the literal blessing of the combined religious and educational authority of their school.

The radical queer critique has a lot of merit here. The business world has issues of its own that can’t be solved just by getting more gays through the door. The malfeasance that led to the collapse of companies like Enron and WorldCom, the casino-like operation of markets in everything from technology startups (sorry, “disruption”) to even world food speculation, and the continued ludicrous control the banking sector has over such enormous amounts of our economy and society. Recently, Barclays were the main sponsor London’s pride parade. This would be the same Barclays that loaned money to both Mugabe’s government and to the apartheid government in South Africa, was recently fined £290 million for manipulating the LIBOR rate, is currently being sued by the state of New York for running a ”dark pool” to enable investors to do off-the-books stock trading, and is being investigated by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Services Authority as well as the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission for their business dealings in Qatar.1 We need to fight back against a world where a small handful of rich banking executives are kings of the universe, rather than just hope they employ a few queens too.

It’s great that the conversation is happening about people being out at work, just as it is great that we’re having professional athletes being out at the start of their career. It’d be nice if we could have more conversations about how we help the “least of these” in the LGBT community, rather than the comparatively well-off people who are climbing the corporate ladder (whether in football boots or well-polished Oxfords). I’ve got friends who are struggling with the stigma of mental illness, with racism, with sexual assault and familial abuse on top of being LGBT and their lives are unimaginably harder than either my life or the life of someone like Lord Browne, but they somehow manage to soldier on. For people at the bottom of society, the trials and tribulations of closeted gay executives of multinationals may as well be taking place on Middle Earth for all the relevance it has to their day-to-day lives. It’d be really awesome if we could collectively make sure their stories were told too.

If you are detecting a little cynicism here, well, congratulations Sherlock: I am fairly cynical. So cynical in fact I may be asking too much of Browne’s book. A book written by a business leader makes the sort of case that other business leaders will be receptive to. That’s Browne’s pitch: diversity and acceptance means happier and more contented employees, which means more productivity, less staff turnover and ultimately is good for business. Browne sells that case well. In addition to his own story, he also includes a wide range of testimonials from people at all stages of both their career and their journey out of the closet describing the issues they have or—even better—have not had to face, somewhat to their surprise.

  1. And despite all this, I still use them because pretty much every other major UK bank also stinks.


I just experienced a scene of casual homophobia… in a lift in a hotel in Brighton. It’s too profoundly odd to even begin to describe. I’m not hurt or offended, just very, very confused.

Just a small hint: if you are going to tell homophobic jokes, you are unlikely to find an appreciative audience in Brighton—Britain’s “gay capital”, just as you are unlikely to find an appreciative audience for your sexist jokes at a dinner party with Germaine Greer.

Absolutely surreal.


Denying Elliott Rodger was a misogynist makes you as dumb as a creationist

I’ve managed to mostly hold my tongue in the last week regarding the murder spree conducted by Elliott Rodger in California. But I need to say something now.

I read Rodger’s manifesto last weekend. It makes very interesting reading, although it’s pretty terrible writing. The public debate about Rodger’s views and motivations has played out exactly as stupidly as I expected it to.

First up, there’s the gun fanatics. Every time there’s a killing spree or some prick goes and shoots up a school, they always try and find a way to say that easy access to guns really is no big deal. Their immediate reaction is to blame it on mental health and be done with it. Ignoring, of course, that it might not be a half bad idea if the US could actually make it so people with serious mental illnesses don’t get the right to own guns. Here in Britain, a family friend’s ex-husband started having serious mental health issues. Within a few days of his doctor diagnosing said problems, his shotgun licence was revoked and the police turned up at his house to take away his gun. Because that’s a sensible thing to do.

The gun-lovers can blame mental illness all they like, but their solution to people with serious mental illnesses having guns is… well, they don’t have a solution. Just lots of stupid fucking slogans like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” (except like computers or photocopiers or cars, a gun makes the process ruthlessly efficient).

Then there’s another group of idiots: people who reckon that the best explanation for the crime is that, well, Elliott Rodger was a closeted gay man. Some idiot on Fox News gave that startling theory the other day. The evidence in the ‘for’ column seems to be: on YouTube, he is depicted listening to Whitney Houston and George Michael; he uses the word “fabulous” a few times; he is a bit swishy and effeminate in his mannerisms; and he buys expensive designer clothes. I mean, that seals the deal, obviously. He’s one of us. Send him the free toaster and the membership card for Club Queer.

I mean, it’s a great theory if you ignore the fact that his manifesto goes on at length about how he’s desperate for women to have sex with him, that he refers to getting instant erections when seeing hot blondes, that in his version of utopia, women would be disappeared from society, with a few left in chains to reproduce, and the men would be happy because there’d be no women and thus no sex to distract them from, I dunno, playing video games and watching sports.

I mean, it’s a notable thing about being gay: you are really mortified about rejection by women. Like, if you hear that a woman isn’t interested in sleeping with you, that’s terrible and ghastly and haunts you for all of about twenty seconds. It’s as mortifying as a vegetarian finding out that he won’t be getting steak for dinner. I read Rodger’s manifesto and while I can certainly empathise with the loneliness he expresses, it’s just really bloody lazy to equate any feeling of ‘outsiderness’ from sexuality with being gay. Back when I was 18 or 19, I would never have written that I’d seen a hot blonde chick at a shopping mall and I got an instant erection. Because, duh, not a dude. The “he was really gay” theory works great if you ignore the fairly fundamental fact that being gay actually includes being attracted to members of the same rather than the opposite sex.

The final and most significant part of the stupidity around Rodger is this: the complete denial that his actions stem from misogyny. The last week has been a cascade of idiots trying to find ways to avoid saying the bloody obvious: Elliott Rodger hated women, he wanted to destroy women, to get vengeance against women for the harm he believed women had collectively done to him by rejecting him as a sexual partner.

If he had published a manifesto saying that he wanted to kill all black people or all gay people or all Jews, we would have taken him at his word. But he publishes a manifesto calling for the destruction of all women and we collectively hem and haw and find ways to avoid coming to the obvious conclusion: that he was a radical misogynist. His rhetoric is one of complete elimination. That he failed to go through with it, and in fact ended up killing more men than he did women doesn’t change the intention. (Incidentally, David Copeland, the neo-Nazi thug who set off bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho—targetting London’s black, Asian and LGBT communities respectively—only ended up killing people in the last of his attacks. Thankfully, he didn’t do nearly as much damage and destruction as he possibly could have done. Does that mean that his motivation to start a ‘race war’ by targetting minority groups wasn’t actually his motivation?)

Elliott Rodger was motivated by extreme, violent misogyny. No, that doesn’t make every man a conspirator any more than the KKK being motivated by race makes every white person responsible for their thuggery. There are communities of people where the kind of extreme misogyny that motivated Rodger is bred and spread: Rodger spent a lot of time posting on online fora associated with the seduction community—pickup artists and ‘The Game’. These are real communities of people who spend an enormous amount of time online hating women. I’ve read more posts from such forums than I care to think about. They have blogs, they have forums, they have chatrooms, they have a community, a lingo, a set of shared myths and narratives. It’s right there, you just need to hit up your favourite search engine and take a look.

Denying that misogyny is an actual thing, finding dumb moral equivalences betwen the extreme misogyny of large swathes of the so-called “manosphere” with some long-dead feminist writer who once frustratedly said ‘kill all men’ or somesuch tripe—this is all keeping one’s head in the sand. There are men who actually do hate all women, who want to kill or subjugate all women. Denying this fact in the light of Elliott Rodger’s murders puts you in the same box as creationists or anti-vaxxers or anybody else who is unwilling to see the clear and present reality right in front of them.

That reality is really fucking depressing. Reality often is. Denying that reality won’t make it go away.


Stonewall don't represent me

I was tweeting a bit about this earlier, but I need a larger canvas (and preferably one I own).

I’ve had it with Stonewall. Stonewall are a charity here in Britain that campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality. Which is a good thing. Unfortunately, they say and do stupid things fairly often.

The first issue with Stonewall is they fail on trans issues. Now, to be fair to them, their constitutional remit is only to deal with lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) issues rather than issues affecting the trans community. In a “different strokes for different folks” way, I can sort of appreciate this. There are issues which affect LGB people primarily that don’t necessarily affect trans people so much and there are trans issues that are unique to people in that community.

But the reality of the situation is that while Stonewall don’t deal with trans issues, trans people are widely regarded to be part of the community of people who affiliate under the ever widening umbrella. Trans people are members of the community whether Stonewall like it or not.

Maybe it would be okay for Stonewall to not be trans-inclusive if they were at least respectful of trans people. But they aren’t. Stonewall distribute a short anti-homophobia film called Fit. According to Natacha Kennedy the film

does not actually include any trans children or young people, preferring instead to talk about trans people indirectly. In the film the term “tranny” is said to be “short for transgender”. If Stonewall had consulted a couple of trans people they would have been left in no doubt that “tranny” is not short for transgender. It is the insult menacingly hurled at us in the street, along with thinly veiled threats. This rather wooden, one-dimensional portrayal of transgender people contrasts with the film’s rich, deep and varied portrayal of LGB children.

This is pretty basic stuff. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to work out that putting out a film that uses the word “tranny” earnestly to refer to transgender people is fucking stupid.

Imagine if the shoe were on the other foot: a transgender rights campaign were to distribute a video with the intention that it be used in schools to fight transphobia and it briefly and in passing noted that “shitstabber” was a perfectly fine term to use for gay men. There’d be outrage. But when Stonewall fuck over trans people? Eh.

There are other examples of Stonewall sucking at trans-related issues like them giving awards to transphobic journalists.

I’d like to say “all of which would be fine but”, but I can’t. It’s not fine that they suck at handling trans issues. It’s fucking ludicrous that in 2014, the main gay rights charity and lobbying group still hasn’t come to grips with the fact that transgender people exist.

Instead then, I’ll say: what has kept me from going from critical to all-out condemnatory on Stonewall is that they do some good work on LGB issues. They may suck at trans issues, but at least they are fighting for LGB people. And as one of them, I should be happy that they are doing that, right?

Well, here’s the thing: they suck at that too.

Where do we start? How about a nice little minor issue like… they didn’t support same-sex marriage.

Yes. Britain’s leading gay rights campaigning charity didn’t think getting gay people the legal right to get married was something worth fighting for.

It took Stonewall an exceptionally long time to get on board with supporting the campaign. The hard work was done by dozens of other groups and individuals like the grassroots C4EM, by Peter Tatchell’s Foundation and many more.

Why is this? Very cynical people have suggested that it might have something to do with the way that former Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill is very much affiliated with the Labour Party, and Labour introduced civil partnerships, and it was the Coalition that was going to push marriage. Stonewall’s unwillingness to support the campaign for marriage rights gave a helpful card to the anti-gay folk to basically say “well, even Stonewall are against it”. The institutional power of Stonewall makes it so plenty of politicians think Stonewall represents the interests of LGB(and T?) people.

In a campaign to increase rights and respect for LGBT people, partisanship shouldn’t get in the way. We shouldn’t have a situation where the party bringing in the legislation that is going to benefit the cause of equality is a reason for or against it. You can not like the Conservative Party all you like—and I’ve got my own personal list of reasons—but you have to give the Coalition their dues for passing the marriage bill.

Except, according to Stonewall, you should congratulate them for the passage of the marriage bill. After it came into effect, Stonewall were tweeting and posting about how wonderful they’d been in getting it passed. The chutzpah of it was truly spectacular.

There have been other things. A particular bugbear of mine is Stonewall’s campaign with mobile company O2. Stonewall released a guide to protecting LGB teenagers on the interwebs with O2. In this, it told parents of said teenagers to report their own children to the police if they found evidence on their child’s phone they had been sexting. Just think about that: your parents find not only that you’ve been gay sexting but have you carted off to the cop shop for it.

Worst. Coming out. Ever.

And to do it with O2 of all companies—the same O2 that block the Wikipedia articles on “gay”, “lesbian” and “transgender” in the filter category LIFESTYLES. When Pat Robertson attacks the “gay lifestyle”, we laugh at him. When O2 categorise being gay as a “lifestyle”, Stonewall partner with them on a project to tell scared parents to have their gay kids arrested for sexting. Absolutely ridiculous.

And this week, the new acting chief exec at Stonewall, Ruth Hunt gave us very good reasons to think that nothing over at Stonewall Towers has changed. We can thank an editorial—improbably published on the Telegraph website of all places—titled Why Stonewall isn’t joining the Dorchester boycott.

The Dorchester boycott, incidentally, is a boycott of Dorchester Hotels which are owned by the Sultan of Brunei. This is as a response to Brunei’s imposition of harsh sharia-based law including stoning of gay people.

In the piece, Hunt has this corker of a sentence:

We’re renowned for our pragmatism and our belief that talking is usually more effective than protests - however satisfying protests may be, in the short term they’re often most rewarding to the individuals taking part.

It struck me: here’s where Stonewall is getting it so wrong.

The reason Stonewall is called Stonewall is precisely because its historical namesake didn’t follow this tactic.

If Stonewall the charity had been at the riots at the Stonewall Inn, they’d be trying to talk calmly to the police rather than taking off their stilettos and beating the cops around the head with them. The thing which started the modern gay rights movement wasn’t people being respectful and not making a fuss, it was brave and courageous people standing up and taking a risk. It was people with nothing left to lose risking being beaten up by cops or homophobic thugs or both.

As it was with the Stonewall rioters and the Gay Liberationists in the sixties and seventies, so it was with the courageous activists in the eighties and early nineties who—with nothing left to lose—set up ACT-UP and Queer Nation and fought for action on HIV/AIDS. What got anti-retrovirals into the hands of people dying with AIDS? Groups like ACT-UP acting up rather than just chit-chatting.

The reason we can live outside the closet and not be chemically castrated by the state, treated under barbaric reparative therapy regimes and chucked in jail for gross indecency is because courageous people protested, fought the police, and marched with pride rather than hid in fear. If we’d all followed Ruth Hunt’s advice, there would be no modern gay rights movement.

Ruth Hunt runs a charity named after a riot and she doesn’t believe in protest. She’s either ignorant of the very basics of the history of the movement she—by dint of her position—now helps lead, or she’s suffering some extraordinary cognitive dissonance.

I get not liking protests. I don’t like protests. I’ve been to a small number and… they’re not for me. I’m a writer not a fighter. My idea of political activism is poring over a long boring policy document and unpicking the gnarly details, the crazy assumptions and the fallacious reasoning. I’m so much better at pedantic philosophical wonkery than I am at placards and shouting. I’m not a “radical queer” by any stretch of the imagination: I don’t think we need a revolution.

But even to a liberal wonky type like me, Hunt’s response to the Brunei/Dorchester boycott shows Stonewall to be so mediocre and so inadequate to their mission, I can’t help but say “enough”.

Stonewall don’t speak for me or a lot of other LGB people I know, let alone T. We need a new national LGBT (and, yes, fully trans-inclusive) campaigning group. It doesn’t have to be radical. It doesn’t have to “kick the shit out of the system”, as Vito Russo put it. But it needs to have enough courage in its convictions to stand up for the people it claims to represent, and have enough vision to see beyond partisan hackery and beyond the self-interest of being nice to your corporate backers to what it is worth standing up for.

It needs to reflexively and institutionally know that transphobia is harmful and wrong and to act in a way that matches this. It needs to not have to be told that Internet censorship will harm young LGBT people seeking anonymous help on the internet. It needs to not have to think about it when presented with the opportunity of getting same-sex marriage. It needs to be fit for purpose because Stonewall isn’t.

We can do better than this. If we care about improving the lives of LGBT people around the world, we have to collectively do better than Stonewall.


Anglicanism: the loveless communion can't go on forever

Big news from the religion front. The Archbishop of Canterbury said some nice things to PinkNews including saying that it’s “great” that gay couples can now get married.

Which any intelligent, reasonable person would see as basically him trying to do some conciliation to the liberal wing of the CofE. The least drama-inducing way of interpreting his remark is that he’s happy that same-sex couples can get married, even though he’s opposed to same-sex marriage. Which is a nice enough sentiment.

But this is religion, not known for being an arena where intelligent and reasonable people dominate the dialogue. People are throwing a bit of a fit about it.

As an atheist who couldn’t give a flying fuck whether the Church of England approves of gay marriage or whether it prefers Marmite or jam on its toast or whatever else it gets steamed up about every week or so, the whole thing is tremendously entertaining to watch.

The Anglican Communion has become a loveless marriage. They are going to split up eventually. Watching them trying desperately to keep their shit show on the road is very entertaining if you are a particularly cynical person. Christ, it’s barely 11am in London and I already want to get drunk.


Coming Out Atheist: a review

An eleven year old boy is standing in his childhood bedroom while his seven year old brother lies on the wooden bunk bed. With very little thought, he just says something like “That God guy they talk about at school, I reckon he doesn’t exist.”

Some things are easier done as pre-teens and coming out as an atheist is definitely one of them. Of course, it helps that I lived in a family filled with agnostics and atheists, in a country that—David Cameron’s distinctly odd Dyno-Rod fantasies aside—is mostly secular, in an era that is mostly tolerant of disbelief. Residents of other regions of space-time have been less welcoming, as can be seen from instances of extreme religious bullying from the burning of Giordano Bruno to the policy of Disconnection enforced by the Church of Scientology on dissenting family members.

The eventual coming out as gay sixteen years later was slightly less nonchalant than my exit from the irreligious closet. In gay-land, there are some people who it is perfectly appropriate to say “were never closeted”. The closet just wasn’t a thing for them: perhaps through supreme self-confidence, they were out from the earliest moment of realisation. They never were “in” so never needed to come out.

Reading Greta Christina’s book Coming Out Atheist: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why has been making me feel exceptionally lucky that I managed at the tender age of eleven to not only free myself from religion but also to deny myself the dubious comforts of a closet in which to keep my doubts. Since that age, I have always been out about being an atheist even if the sexuality closet was firmly glued shut for quite a while: I was out at school to friends, out at my Jesuit college, out online, out to anyone who wants to have a good old argument about this stuff. Being out as an atheist in central London—home of all those kale-eating metropolitan liberal elites who keep the UKIP voter down!—is refreshingly pain-free. Unless one is unlucky enough to be born in a family of daft fundamentalists, coming out in Britain as an atheist is a bit like coming out as straight. Here, atheists, agnostics and other secular types are the cultural majority—and not too many years from being the statistical majority.

Even if they may feign religious adherence for cultural reasons, most people in Britain are practically secular: only 10% of the population attend a weekly religious service. And the numbers are on our side. The number of people saying they are of “no religion” in the UK census has grown by ten percentage points between 2001 and 2011 (although there are legitimate complaints to be made about census methodology). Young people are less religious than ever. While it may still be a point of (usually fairly idiotic) debate whether Britain is currently a Christian country, the future of Britain’s religiosity is pretty surely one of rapid decline.

As someone who never experienced an atheistic closet and finds the idea that there is such a thing to be an utterly alien idea given my own society’s ever more overwhelming secularity, I’ve never quite gotten what exactly the deal is. To the very idea of the atheist closet, I’m a straight tourist. I picked up Greta Christina’s book precisely because if anyone is able to tackle the subject intelligently and humanely, she can.

The astounding thing about Greta’s book on the subject is how remarkably close the experience tracks with the LGBT coming out experience. As an openly bisexual woman and a writer of essays on sexuality as well as kinky fiction, Greta is excellently qualified to draw those connections.

If, like me, your stay in the atheism closet was exceptionally short and the checking out process was seamless and straight-forward, but one’s exit from the sexuality closet was rather longer and more drawn out, Greta’s book is worth reading to see the differences in experiences. Or rather, to see how for a lot of people, how eerily similar the two are.

And there is plenty to learn. The book describes how some atheists prefer to use what Greta describes as the “no big deal” method. When religion comes up, just drop the atheism in nonchalantly. There is, as the book says, problems with this approach. Namely, however calmly and non-dramatically you decide to announce your atheism, you’ll always have the odd weirdo who might blow up at you about it. This is one of the many wonderful things about being out as gay: you always have to have the mental armour on standby to deal with the occasional asshole. The same is true if you are a open atheist in an area with a noxious amount of religious nuttiness. So get building those mental shields.

The important part of the message is the affirmation that, yes, you bloody well ought to come out. Coming out, standing up and being counted has been the most effective weapon in the history of the gay rights movement. The whole reason homophobes spend so much time telling us to be quiet and “not make a big deal of” being gay is because the closet takes away our power and gives it to them. (Incidentally, in my opinion, the second most important weapon of the gay rights movement has been the hilarious stupidity of the opposition. I’ll leave you to decide whether the stupidity of religious advocates is an excellent tool for the atheists.)

Another recurring theme in the book that neatly parallels the gay experience is the mad lengths some people will go to in order to deny the obvious facts staring them in the face. Just as straight people found an enormous reservoir of cognitive dissonance to explain away the overwhelming campy gayness of everyone from Liberace to Kenneth Williams—and every gay relationship they encountered as being “roommates” and so on, Greta’s book documents numerous instances of religious parents who—unable to grasp the fairly clear statements of disbelief from their children, continue to act in ever more absurd self-denial. (Cognitive dissonance and denial of obvious facts from people who constantly praise the supposed virtues of faith—quelle surprise, non?)

Greta gives an important piece of advice for any closet leavers:

Be clear. Don’t drop hints or leave a trail of clues. If you think it’ll go over better, you can soften the ground first—but eventually, you’ll need to spell it out. Even if you think your hints are pretty obvious, people’s ability to ignore what they don’t want to see is pretty close to infinite.

The other obvious analogy between the case of gay people and atheists with closets and coming out is the strange and persistent belief amongst those unable to come to grips with either obvious hints or even more obvious and clear statements of the fact—that somehow if they force the person to practice as if it were not true, this will somehow change anything. Greta’s book makes mention of people who seem to think that if they just force their religiosity on their offspring with a little more vigour, that’s going to somehow make atheists un-know what they have come to know.

The attentive gay reader will find plenty more such parallels, some amusing, some sad.

The book does not just limit its counsel to those unfortunate souls who find themselves in the social grip of hardcore conservative religiosity and theocracy. Liberal religion—home of piously postmodern interfaith types contemplating the connection between Buddhism and Bultmann—can, despite their stated tolerance, be unwelcoming to the newly deconverted, apparently. More potent than this is the situations mostly outlined by Greta’s African-American correspondents who describe the issues faced when religion is considered foundational by many for their sense of communal identity. The broadly “intersectional” aspects of atheist identity are discussed, with advice on how to deal with how to come out as a female atheist, as an atheist person of colour, or an LGBT atheist. The book is blissfully free of the myopic assumption that atheist activism is complete when one has fully represented the issues as they present themselves to white, straight, cisgender, economically advantaged men in the Western world. Atheism must be for all or it shall be politically dead.

Greta’s advice seems eminently sensible throughout—I did not reach any point where I said “oh, no, she shouldn’t be telling the reader to do that!” The counsel given in the book advises some contextual lenience when it comes to time and place, and pushes the reader to follow a wise path of very selective silence in those situations where outing oneself would bring either no benefit or, worse, cause significant losses.

If you are an atheist who is already open and out about it—or slightly bemused by the idea that people ought to be out—it is worth reading Greta’s book for the stories of how other people came out and the sort of challenges they faced.

If you aren’t out: whatever on earth are you waiting for? Public honesty cripples the attempts by religious cranks and political opportunists to stereotype and demonize us. Coming out—whether as non-religious or as LGBT—makes the world a better place and makes those coming out into happier, more liberated people. You have nothing to lose but your closet.


Tinker Bell II: Francis appoints an anti-gay bigot edition

Cardinal Fernando Sebastián has lots of nice things to say about gay people, like: “Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because [sex] has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation. A homosexual who can’t achieve this is failing. Our bodies have many defects. I have high blood pressure.” Sebastián also said it is “possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment”.

The idea that homosexuality is treatable is a view that every mainstream psychological organisation rejects as being both scientifically inaccurate and harmful.

The Cardinal has been appointed by Pope Francis, a man who—if you believe his press—is a hippy-dippy queer-loving atheist-respecting reformer. As I’ve said before: Tinker Bell only exists if you continue to believe in her. Idiots seem willing to continue believing that Francis is a progressive in spite of the ghastly things he seems to be doing.


How gay adoption caused the Catholic Church to lose their shit completely and become utilitarians

I’ve noticed an interesting inconsistency recently over public moral reasoning over anti-discrimination laws. Every so often, religious groups will flare up over the requirement to not discriminate against gay and lesbian people. Under the previous government, Catholic adoption agencies decided to shut after they were not exempted from laws forbidding discrimination by adoption services towards same-sex couples seeking to adopt.

There have been incidents since with hoteliers and cake manufacturers and dating websites and so on, but let’s stick with the adoption agency for now.

When faced with a law that would require adoption services to not discriminate against same-sex couples, the Catholic Church seeked exemption on the basis that greater good would be provided to society by Catholic adoption services continuing even if they engaged in discrimination against same-sex couples. That is, the harm of discrimination against the same-sex couples is outweighed by the benefit of helping opposite-sex couples adopt.

What’s interesting about this is the moral theory behind it is purely utilitarian. If the government were to have granted an exception to the Church, the happiness of society would have increased: the closure of the adoption services would have reduced the societal good done by ensuring that children are adopted (albeit only by heterosexuals) and this is not outweighed by the good of reducing discrimination in society.

Despite my antipathy to religion and to the Catholic Church, as a good utilitarian, I ought to give that argument some consideration. (Of course, I wonder whether we would give similar credence to the Mormons before 1978 wishing to have an exemption from laws forbidding racial discrimination. Because, lest we forget, the Mormons only started believing black people were actually people in 1978.)

What I think about the merits of the utilitarian case that the Church made is irrelevant though. The astounding thing about it is that the Church—in order to protect their desire to discriminate against gay people—were willing to advance such a utilitarian argument.

The Church and utilitarianism do not go together. On topics like embryonic stem cell research, abortion and euthanasia, the Church loudly objects to utilitarian moral arguments. Indeed, utilitarianism is frequently decried by Catholics as one of the causes of a ghastly society like ours where the unborn are routinely aborted and the elderly forcibly euthanised etc. etc.1

Another point here: the Church is dedicated to the doctrine of double effect. The doctrine of double effect is used as a justification when some harm is done but with a noble end in mind. The theory goes that the harm is not intended even though it is perceived as an inevitable consequence of the action. Double effect reasoning is used most notably in end-of-life care. When you have someone at the end of their life, a doctor cannot euthanise that person, but they can prescribe them very strong pain reduction drugs that have as an inevitable side effect the shortening of their life. The doctrine of double effect says that so long as the intention is to reduce pain, the secondary consequence is acceptable.

But the Church seems unable to accept that governments might also avail themselves of the double effect principle. In passing equality legislation, the government’s action is morally good: it intends to reduce discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation etc.—which even the Catholic Church deems to be morally good (§2358 of the Catetchism says that with regards to gay people “Every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided”). The secondary effect of passing the legislation is that organisations that do good work but which engage in discrimination (like Catholic adoption agencies that do not serve clients that are in a same-sex relationship) may face legal issues and/or choose to stop operating—that is foreseen but not intended. It seems strange that the Church would prefer to apply a utilitarian rule to the affairs of their adoption agencies than accept that their closure is an unfortunate secondary effect of an intended moral good.

When the Church—indeed the current Pope—says that they “love the sinner, hate the sin” when it comes to homosexuality, and point to §2358 of the Catechism and its call to accept gay peple with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”,2 consider the case of the adoption services. The Church was willing to throw a fundamental piece of their moral theology—their non-utilitarianism—under the metaphorical bus to continue discriminating against gay people. As we saw with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, when one is in a war, one is sometimes willing to throw away one’s stated—even sacred, axiomatic or foundational—moral principles. Despite the Catechism and the Pope’s call to the contrary, this is what we saw: the Catholic Church in Britain was so enraged by the demand that they obey the same anti-discrimination laws as the rest of society that they were willing to throw away one of their moral principles in the fight.

The horrifying spectre of Heather having two mummies managed to turn the Church into utilitarians. This should tell you how much stock the Church places in the Catechism’s call to avoiding unjust discrimination against gay people. Remember that next time Pope Francis mouths some widely-reported, pious PR horseshit about how the Church really loves gay people.

  1. This, of course, ignores that these days raw Benthamite utilitarianism has been tempered into a preference utilitarianism of someone like Peter Singer, where the forcible euthanasia of an unwilling patient would go directly against their stated preferences and thus be immoral and rightly criminal. Of course, dealing with this kind of modified utilitarianism would require application of both the Principle of Charity and some understanding of the complexities and varieties of utilitarian thought.

  2. Although how much “compassion” is shown in saying when they describe gay sex as “intrinsically disordered” is an exercise left for the reader.


"It shouldn't matter about Tom Daley's sexuality" == please stop

That kind of post is what I’ve seen a lot of mostly straight people posting on Twitter about Tom Daley coming out. Please stop.

It matters when people get married. It matters that people are happy and free to be themselves. It matters that people come out because it breaks down barriers and makes it easier for more people to be themselves.

Our relationships matter because they make us happy and bind us together as humans. These are pretty unequivocally good things. Overcoming “minority stress” is a fucking great thing that should be celebrated rather than brushed under the carpet as “shouldn’t matter”.

Do the world a favour and stop saying that this doesn’t matter because it does matter. How can someone be happy and accepting of themselves be anything other than important?

Someone’s sexuality doesn’t matter to whether they are a good person or whether they are a good sportsman or any other job they do. It “doesn’t matter” to the evaluation of a person’s character.

But Daley coming out matters in that it is a step towards happiness and satisfaction for him (and potentially inspiring to others in the same situation). Any step someone takes down that path is worth celebrating rather than complaining about it and saying it doesn’t matter.

It’s also quite easy to say coming out doesn’t matter if you’ve never had to fucking do it. Just saying.


Putin’s claim that there is no discrimination against gay and lesbian people in Russia is turning him into a modern day version of Comical Ali, the Iraqi Information Minister, proclaiming “They will surrender! We will crush them!” as the American tanks storm through the centre of Baghdad.


Apparently, using someone's name is really very difficult

Compare and contrast.

“Hi, I’m Hillary Rodham. I’m getting married to Bill. Can you call me Hillary Clinton now?”

“Sure, Mrs Clinton.”

“Hi, I’m legally known as Robert, but can you call me Bob please? Robert is way too formal.”

“Sure, Bob.”

“Hi, I’m Stefani Germanotta. Can you call me Lady Gaga please?”

“Absolutely. Now pass me the disco stick.”

“Hi. I’m Bradley Manning. Can you call me Chelsea from now on?”

“Holy fuck, this is confusing, my poor brain will never be able to take it. You are rewriting history, I can’t believe this. Oh my god, how dare you, this is insane, I don’t understand this, fuck you. I need you to send me proof of your legal change of name documentation in triplicate.”

It is almost like there is a massive double standard here or something…

“Hi, I’m Barack Obama. I was born in Hawaii. Here’s my birth certificate.”


Prisoners and gender transition

Fuck the Daily Star. And fuck the Daily Express too. And fuck every goddamn shit-tastic tabloid that prints so many goddamn stories about how there’s outrage over the spending of money on people’s gender transition surgeries because they happen to be prisoners.

There is a simple principle at stake here. If you are a prisoner, you have the right to access the same NHS services as everybody else. If you had a broken arm, no civilised society would deny you treatment for your broken arm because you are in prison. If you get cancer, you can get chemotherapy. We are rightly coming to realise that healthcare is a human right and should be delivered to all. The NHS has universality as a founding principle: the NHS must serve everyone, free at the point of use, delivering healthcare according to clinical need, not ability to pay. Not treating people based on clinical need but based on opinion is ghastly and undignified.

If the cost of every gender reassignment surgery performed on prisoners is what it takes to guarantee that principle, it is well worth it.

The framing of these stories suggest that gender transition is some kind of privilege that should only be granted to people who “deserve” it. This attitude is a health version of the distinction between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor: the deserving transgender patients and the undeserving. There is literally a paternalistic level of control over the person’s new genitals: we paid £20,000 for your vagina, you better behave.

The implicit attitude of those who get worked up into a lather about this is that unlike, say, a broken bone or an infection, health services for transgender people aren’t real, they don’t serve an actual clinical need. If that is the case, they then need to make the case that gender transition ought to be unavailable on the NHS for everyone. Either it is a medical service being offered in response to a clinical need, in which case one’s status as a prisoner should not enter into it, or it isn’t a valid medical intervention that should be offered by the NHS. It would then be more like the sorts of cosmetic surgery which aren’t covered by the NHS.

I can’t say I know a great deal about trans issues: only what trans friends tell me, and what I read on blogs and in forums. I do know that for a lot of people, realising that they are trans and taking the steps they deem necessary to start living as their non-birth gender is one of those things that helps a person make sense of their life, that finally loosens the grip of unhappiness and a feeling that they are out-of-place in the world. There’s a reason why there is a 98% satisfaction rate for those who pursue medical gender transition. (If there were a medical intervention that made 98% of people with cancer or HIV/AIDS or multiple sclerosis satisfied, we’d see it as a medical miracle.)

If someone is in prison and commits a crime, it may be that they feel they have no stake in society, that the rules of society have no hold on them precisely because they feel so alienated and despondent at the world. As I said, I’m not trans so I can’t say whether this would be an accurate feeling, but certainly when I was in the closet about being gay, I had a lot less of a feeling of attachment or welcome in the world—it felt like I was just a passenger on a train I never decided to board. Certainly, I can only imagine, but if I woke up every morning thinking I was inhabiting the wrong body, that would make me fairly despondent and cynical about the world.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the prisoner who realises that they are transgender and then starts the gender transition process might feel a little less estranged from society, and now living a life in a body that they feel more comfortable with, turn away from crime. I don’t have any evidence of whether or not post-gender-transition prisoners are less likely to reoffend than, say, prisoners who are transgender but denied treatment.

And that’s the other thing. Nobody just decides one day: “you know what, I’m bored. I’m going to become a woman, just for a laugh and to piss off the taxpayer”.

Most people, quite rationally, do not think to themselves that putting themselves at greater risk of discrimination in housing and in the workplace, and greater danger of abuse, physical assault and even murder. Most men’s reaction to the thought of genital surgery is to protectively cup their testicles in defence, not think “yeah, that sounds like a good time, sign me up”. If you put yourself forward for it, and go through the lengthy process of meeting with doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists… perhaps it might actually be the case that you have actually thought about it and actually do want to go through with it for serious genuine reasons.

Even if, for flippant reasons, one decided on a whim to go through the process of what the tabloids always like to call a “sex change” (or worse a “sex swap”) they would first have to endure months, possibly years, of bureaucracy. Writing in The Guardian, Juliet Jacques said that “the pathway has felt like an endurance test” and usually the whole process from initial consultation to post-surgery takes two to three years.

In addition, the newspapers report but then very quickly gloss over the fact that the subject of the article is intersex: that is, they have “a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, and/or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female”. Why would shitrags like the Daily Star sensitively cover a topic that most people have never even heard of, let alone understand, when making it into a slag-off story is so much easier? Utter arseholes.

Here’s a radical idea: we could accept that prisoners are human beings, that some human beings are transgender or indeed intersex, and in a civilised society, the responsible and dignified thing we do is provide people with healthcare rather than demonise them in newspapers for being scroungers and ne’er-do-wells. The continued existence of newspapers like the Daily Star, the Daily Express and the Daily Mail prove that we do not yet live in a sufficiently civilised society.


An alternative proposal for dealing with Putin's homophobic Olympics

It’s looking like the plans to get the Olympics moved out of Russia are going to be a bust.

May I suggest an alternative?

The United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and other countries that have vaguely civilised policies regarding what the Russians so delightfully call “non-mainstream sexualities”, should make all the athletes (not just the gay ones) they send to Russia honourary diplomats. Send them on diplomatic passports and have diplomatic cars collect them from the airport and transport them to and from events. Offer them diplomatic immunity, and if any of them are arrested for such heinous crimes as holding hands with a person of the same gender or looking a bit too fabulous for dour old Putin, invoke said diplomatic immunity and send in the Cavalry to retrieve them.

They are representing their country, albeit in a sporting event rather than a diplomatic negotiation. So why not?

It’d probably cost a pretty penny to implement, and if one of our Olympians were to kill someone or smuggle drugs or something while at the Games and under diplomatic immunity we’d be in a bit of a bind, but it’d be a great way to say fuck you to Putin’s authoritarian regime.


How to be a radical activist

  1. Take an otherwise reasonable campaign for social equality and justice—feminism, LGBT rights, environmentalism etc. Prepend the name of said movement with the word “radical”.
  2. Set up a Tumblr. Tumblrs are obligatory.
  3. Find an actual practical policy proposal that is likely to improve the lives of ordinary people in society. These include: same-sex marriage, women being allowed to vote, racial desegregation, indoor plumbing, the National Health Service, universal access to secondary education etc. The more obviously common sense and useful said policy is, the more “radical” you are.
  4. Write a blog post explaining how the thing you chose in step (3) doesn’t go any way to overthrow capitalism and is therefore not radical enough.
  5. Post said rant to Tumblr, a blogging service now owned by Yahoo!, a publicly-traded multinational with $17 billion in net assets who have collaborated with the Chinese censorship regime.
  6. Tell anyone who responds to your post that logic and reason are inventions of evil white heterosexual cisgender capitalist patriarchs and that you do not need to respond to any critical but well-intentioned questions like “but, wait, how are the workers going to rise up against The Man if they’ve got untreated diseases and/or are murdered by the state for their political opinions, religious beliefs, sexual orientation etc.?”
  7. Claim that the wide mockery that your ridiculous beliefs are subject to is because they are challenging to the heteronormative patriarchal kyriarchy, even when it is other oppressed people who are cringing in utter embarrassment at your stupidity.
  8. Get other similarly radical people together on your favourite social networking site and set up a rhetorical circular firing squad. Bring lots of bullets. Be sure to include the word “non-violent” or “pacifist” on your bio for maximum lolz.
  9. Create a hashtag that insults as a group people who are not part of your oppressed minority. Watch as meta-debate as to whether it is appropriate/beneficial to insult privileged people enables the actual issues on which your campaign for justice is campaign.
  10. After having seen the above tactics fail repeatedly, keep on doing them.

Parsing the Pope's new remarks on gays

The Pope said something nice about gays, and Twitter is aflame with excitement.

Here’s what Frankie-boy had to say (excerpted from the above article):

If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well

The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.

Let me translate Pope-speak into plain language.

Nothing has changed. The catechism, which I said “explains this very well”, still says this:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

But that’s kind of mean and I sort of realise I’m on the wrong side of history on this argument. So I’d like to be seen as less of a dick. I’m emphasising the very next passage of the Catechism (gays “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity”) and pretending that something has changed, even though in terms of the actual policy of the Church, it hasn’t.

I’m pretending it is about my judgment rather than about the actions of the Church in supporting political structures that discriminate against gay people. We’ll tolerate you poofters so long as you don’t actually do anything to make your lives better by lobbying for political change.

(Also, Freemasons! Be afraid!)

For some reason, people are cheering this, even though nothing substantive has actually changed. By their fruits you shall know them. If the Pope starts actually rewriting the Catechism or puts out a statement ex cathedra, perhaps then it is time to start paying attention. This is just feel-good PR fluff and people are lapping it up.


Porn, privacy and being a teenager

A few days ago, I posted the following comment on The Guardian’s website:

As a frequent hackathon participant (and indeed one-time hackathon organiser), I’d like to reject Mr Cameron’s invitation to attend a hack day to stem the flow of pornography.

My ability to access pornography as a teenager was one of the few things that made being a closeted gay adolescent tolerable. Thanks to his Conservative predecessors making it illegal for my local education authority to hint that my sexual orientation was in any way acceptable, indeed to hint that it was anything other than a “pretended family relationship”, sex education given in school was unable to say anything reassuring, confidence-building or even vaguely informative about the matter of homosexuality. This was compounded by schools consistently turning a blind eye to homophobia and homophobic bullying.

In fear and alone, pornography was one of the few places where it was okay to be gay, to not feel judged, to not feel like an utter outcast.

Access to Internet pornography did me not a jot of harm, it only did me good. You can shove your hackathon up your arse. I’d suggest reading the safest ways to do that from one of the many sexual health sites that will undoubtedly be collateral damage from any censorship regime (because any mention of sex will likely be deemed to be porn and not “family-friendly”).

A lot of teenagers have their heads a lot more screwed on than the adults who want to regulate them. They will get access to porn anyway. The question is whether our reaction to them doing so is to explain to them that they need to be careful to separate out the reality from the fantasy and to be an intelligent, informed, responsible porn user, or whether we’ll just throw our hands up in the air, shout “why won’t someone please think of the children?” and attempt to bring about censorship regimes that won’t work.

With this hackathon thing, there is also a small issue of practicality. If we are supposed to organise hackathons to combat access to either porn or child porn (and the government, Claire Perry and a subservient media have been doing their level best to conflate the two), surely there’s the little matter of access to said imagery. If we wish to build filters to prevent access to child porn, are we supposed to download some for ourselves, even though that’s massively illegal? Cameron hasn’t thought this through.

I want to expand what I said a bit further.

One of the big clichés of the debate on Internet censorship and pornography is when my fellow opponents of government-mandated censorship say: “it should be up to parents to monitor how their children use the Internet”.

Bollocks, I say.

I am very glad that I didn’t have my parents peeking over my shoulder at everything I did on the Internet as a teenager. Not just because their seeing the sort of pornography I was enjoying would have raised some interesting questions, but also because of a little thing called freedom to read and freedom to think.

This is one of the best things about growing up when the web was still pretty new. Using the web exposed me to lots of interesting people and ideas, possibly including quite a few “dangerous” people. I could read websites about everything from the craziest of radical politics, through to nutty conspiracy weirdos, kinky sex, barmy religions, and much else besides.

I found out recently that O2’s “parental controls” feature blocks my own site because it’s… a blog. Yes. Blogs are a category that a parent might good reason to consider problematic and block as such. I mean, that’s like saying “no magazines, full stop”. Blogs, at their best, hold the powerful to account with facts and logic. They share the personal experiences of people in situations you’d never be able to experience yourself: from hidden inside despotic Middle Eastern theocracies, from scientists doing ground-breaking research, from people doing professions you didn’t know existed.

But blogs are scary and O2 allow parents to control people reading them. I consider that absolutely despicable. And just because a person happened to be the person who managed to make a child, they shouldn’t be the one to enforce arbitrary, ridiculous rules on them. Freedom of information is generally a good thing. And it’s generally a good thing for teenagers too.

We let teenagers wander into libraries and read a wide range of books. And we rightly recognise that this is a good thing. We don’t require under 18s to go home to their parents and get a permission slip before they can enter a public library.

Unfiltered Internet access gave me the freedom to think for myself, to take risks in talking to weirdos, to explore my sexuality, to experience the strange nuttiness of some of the weirdest people on the planet. I’m glad that, whether through choice or technical incompetence, my parents never had the chance to stop me.

There is a term we use for societies where your thoughts are monitored and tracked at all times, where you have no freedom to read the books you want to read without inferences being drawn about your character, where you have no privacy, where your property is subject to search and seizure at any time without any due process, where your freedom of assembly is tightly regulated, where the media is censored—that’s a totalitarian dystopia. But we seem to be okay with totalitarian dystopias so long as they are run by a person’s parents.

I’m fortunate in that my parents are lovely awesome people. Many people’s parents are complete arseholes. I’ve got friends who have no relationship with their parents. I’ve got friends who are closeted teenagers whose parents would very likely chuck them out of their house if they were to reveal their sexuality. Parents are often assholes. “Let the parents decide” is a thought-stopper and a defence of shitty parenting.

I think every single teenager should be able to get sex education. Even if their fundamentalist shitwit parents think that sex education is a bad thing.

I read about the children of fundamentalists reading about science and facts on the Internet and how this challenges and undermines their faith… that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. That’s something we should be encouraging rather than discouraging.

Parents should give teenagers space to explore their own sexuality. If my parents had known I was looking at gay porn at 13 or 14, it would have only further fortified my already pretty well-secured closet. Of course, I shouldn’t worry that teenagers won’t be able to get access to porn. They still will. They might not be able to access NHS Direct or Brook or Reddit’s LGBT section or anything that might give support and information, but they’ll still be able to get all the dicks and pussies and breasts they need to get off.

The lack of access to information that will let teenagers think and explore for themselves is the big risk we don’t talk about in all of this. Instead, we mouth lots of pieties about how governments shouldn’t be censorious tyrants because parents need to be the one’s doing the job of censorious tyrant. Here’s a radical suggestion: why not have no censorious tyrants? Why not trust teenagers to have the brains to look at the Internet, to think for themselves, to explore without someone always peeking over their shoulder?


More arguments with people who think I shouldn't be able to get married

After work today, I popped over to Parliament Square to see the celebrations for the passage at third reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. It was lots of fun. There was singing, music, free ice cream and cake and general jollity, and lots of people dressed up in wedding suits. (In this weather? Rather them than me.)

And a few fundamentalist Christian anti-marriage protesters. I enjoy that sort of thing, as some of you may know, so after a bit of photo snappery, I settled into some chinwagging.

On the way home, I did see a gentleman loudly proclaim to some of the protesters “YOU ARE ALL A BUNCH OF HATEFUL CUNTS”, which is probably not the best of approaches. As with previous encounters, I prefer a more Socratic approach.

I had a nice chat with a man who opposed the bill on the basis that he has a right to teach his children that marriage is between a man and a woman only. I asked him how passing the bill would affect that. He seemed unable to give me any example except a vague reference to “European legislation”. I inquired which European legislation he meant, and he couldn’t tell me.

I asked him how far he thinks parents should be able to request that their children be “opted-out” of school lessons. I mean, if it was a problem teaching them that marriage is between two consenting adults regardless of gender, what else should they be able to exempt their children from. Biology classes? Yes, if they teach evolution. Because evolution is just an “atheistic philosophy”. I said to him that plenty of people object to tax. Let’s say there was a militant lobby who opposed corporation tax, should they be able to ask that their children taking courses in Business Studies or economics be exempted from learning that businesses pay corporation tax? How about people who believe that pi is 3? Should they be able to exempt their children from suggestions to the contrary in their children’s mathematics classes? Yes. Because children must learn “values”. Quite what values are being learned other than “if you don’t like certain facts, you can hide away from them”, I’m not sure.

I asked him if there were any limits to how much latitude parents should have to teach their values to their children? What about Islamic extremists? Well, he said, they need a dose of Jesus. Which doesn’t answer the question. I then asked him whether Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion fanatic who killed the Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, should be allowed to teach murderous hatred to his children? Ah, there’s an answer to that too. Tiller’s murderer isn’t a Christian. I’m not sure whether this is a ‘No True Scotsman’ or a simple assertion of fact.

While discussing the rights and wrongs with marriage, I asked the nice man what he thinks the civil law should be on homosexuality generally. I pointed out that the verse in the Bible about how man lying with man being an abomination to the Lord concludes with the recommendation that such people should be put to death and asked him whether he endorsed that as a solution for those caught engaging in sexual acts with other men. He seemed unwilling to conclude that this was a sensible approach.

Incidentally, on the subject of the Book of Leviticus, I overheard a lesbian couple in argument with a fundamentalist who argued that the Leviticus passage surely doesn’t apply to lesbians as it is “man lying with man as with a woman”, and says nothing about women lying with women as with a man. The fundamentalist came back and said that the “man” bit of the Leviticus quote should be intepreted broadly to cover men and women. So, man or woman shouldn’t lie with man or woman as they lie with man or woman. That… rather bluntens the force of the argument against same-sex relationships. In addition, I do like how it only takes a couple of lesbians to get fundamentalists to start favouring gender-neutral terminology in Biblical texts.

Anyway, back to our previous fundamentalist chum. I chatted a bit further about how the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill would threaten all the precious liberties of people who don’t agree with equal marriage. And… he still couldn’t come up with any actual plausible examples of how conscientious objectors would be affected, except the aforementioned vague European legislation. I then posed a hypothetical: imagine a world where whatever negative unforeseen (or possibly foreseen) consequence of the marriage bill would not come to pass. Would you still oppose the bill? Yes.

And so we’re back to religion. The long-winded, heavily citation-needed arguments about the treatment of bigoted homophobic twitsvaliant conscientious objectors (it is utterly offensive to call them bigoted!) boil down to this: despite all the blather about hypothetical European legal cases, they don’t like gay people because of religion.

Oh, shit, I said “gay people”. Fundamentalists will jump right back at you if you dare use the phrase “gay people”. And right on cue, the nice gentlemen told me that gay people don’t exist. I twizzled my very limp wrist around and gestured towards the dozens of people waving rainbow flags, holding each other’s hands and listening to the London Gay Men’s Chorus and said “wait, what are all these people then?”

But, yes, gay people don’t exist. Just sinners with “same sex attraction”. I was going to argue the point further, but then we got sidetracked into a long and dull discussion about the correct interpretation of Ten Commandments and Arian theology, which is about as exciting as watching paint dry in a darkened room, so I slid off.

I always enjoy a good natter with a fundamentalist, because you learn so many interesting things. It’s like peering into a strange bizarro-world of mutually reinforcing wackiness. If it was just “I don’t like gay people”, that would be boring and rather sad. But when they start explaining that marriage isn’t a matter of statute, even though huge amounts of what goes to make up marriage law is defined by Parliament in statute. A man was holding a sign that said “Man doesn’t have the right to redefine marriage”. Well, Parliament seems to think it does, as you can see in the Marriage Act 1753, which extended marriage to other denominations than the Church of England. And then in the Marriage Act 1863, which made marriage into a civil institution. And then there’s the Marriage Act 1949. And then there’s laws which have changed the proscribed degrees of relationship that are allowed to marry. And there’ve been laws like the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which set out the criteria under which divorce is possible. To suggest that marriage is not a matter that the statute book has had a hand in changing is ludicrous.

But it goes much further. The fundamentalists operate on bizarre hearsay: things with the authority of “stuff I heard in a pub” is elevated to considered legal opinion. When a stack of top human rights lawyers say that the idea that the European Court of Human Rights will force reluctant churches to start peforming same-sex wedding ceremonies is ludicrous, that information gets ignored in favour of the well-considered legal opinions of… a Bible-thumping lay evangelical preacher.

The sheer level of befuddled crazy that the marriage bill has brought out of the woodwork is quite astounding to watch.

Anyway, subject to a bit of Parliamentary ping-pong and a signature from Her Maj, I’m now an eligible bachelor. Despite what crazy people with signs say, this is pretty great news.

I’ll leave the last word to Freddie. We are the Champions, no time for losers!


Today is the last chance for the homophobes and... it's a fail.

The anti-marriage-equality lot have one last trick up their sleeve: a mobile billboard going around London which makes the idiotic and untrue point that same-sex marriage will harm children by taking them away from their natural birth parents.

Except it won’t. Because gay people have been able to adopt for a long time now, and can do so regardless of whether they are single, in a civil partnership, married, or not married/civilly partnered.1 Do we see an epidemic of children being snatched from their heterosexual birth parents by evil, conniving homosexuals? Err, no.

Even if you grant the premise that children get the best outcomes when raised by opposite-sex married birth parents, that doesn’t prove that anything other than opposite-sex married birth parents should be disallowed. It is the case that children raised by financially well-off parents do better than children raised by parents in poverty as richer parents have the independence to spend more time with their children, and can afford a wide range of things that poorer parents cannot (private tutors, fee-paying schools, extra books and resources). But we do not conclude from this that parenting ought to be restricted to those couples who are making over a certain amount a year.

You’d think that if the argument is that children do best when they have two, married, opposite sex birth parents… then they should be in favour of same-sex marriage as it would move same-sex parents from one of these four criteria to two of them. If marriage is good for children, why do opponents of equal marriage deny children in families headed by same-sex couples the protections of marriage? Maybe because they care more about their religious bullshit than they do about actual living and breathing children, or indeed the living and breathing gay and lesbian people who seek to get married and/or raise children (and, as I said, those are distinct things, even though these idiots conflate them all the fucking time for ideological effect).

So, that’s a big parade of shit arguments then. Glad to see that even though the legislation is now pretty much inevitable, they are ploughing on with their crap arguments.

They cite the Regnerus study which… doesn’t actually prove that same-sex stable relationships are bad for kids. The Regnerus study classed as a “gay parent” anyone who has ever had a same-sex relationship or fling. Get drunk at a party at sixteen and decide to experiment? Congratulations, you are now as queer as Elton John and Boy George combined. And if your long-term heterosexual marriage goes pear-shaped and you get divorced and your kids lives end up being fucked up as a result, ratchet up another case study in the evils of gay parenting. Yeah. That’s the study they cite. Of course, the contrary is not true—the gay parents who once had a heterosexual fling while deeply closeted aren’t counted as straight.

Because why would you want your study of gay parents to accurately count gay parents? That’d be too logical. Unless of course you are deliberately producing a shitty study in order to push a right-wing social agenda, in which case it’s a perfectly reasonable strategy. This is science, ladies and gentlemen, brought to you by the same people who tell us that intelligent design is real, that abortion causes breast cancer, and that “wear a purity ring and think about Jesus” is an effective strategy for preventing pregnancy and STI transmission among horny teenagers.

Incidentally, said arguments are brought to us by a new anti-marriage-equality group called GayMarriageNoThanks. I hadn’t actually heard of them, and they’ve left things rather late if their primary campaigning is on the last day of legislative debate on the bill. Anyway, they are run by Alan Craig from the Christian Peoples Alliance, who made a headline splash back in 2011 when he published an article claiming that gay people had become the least tolerant people in British society, and formed a “gaystapo” who marched around with “pink jackboots”.2

Which is fucking hilarious.

It’s kind of sad that the only people they can find to oppose this law are madder than a box of frogs. And by “sad”, I mean “absolutely hilarious”.

  1. Christ, how I long to no longer have to use that ugly type of construction.

  2. I seem to have misplaced mine.