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


Saudi Arabia are homophobic fuckwits, but .gay is a dumb idea too

Interesting news on the BBC News website…

Opposition to the creation of the internet address ending .gay has been voiced by Saudi Arabia.

Its Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said the action would be “offensive” to some societies and cultures.

So, I don’t really need to say this but: Saudi Arabia are a bunch of homophobic fuckwit fundamentalists who should shut the fuck up. If the mere existence of gay people is something you find offensive, I have a very simple suggestion for you: go fuck yourself. Actually, no, fucking yourself can be fun and pleasurable if done properly.

Instead, I’d suggest what the Saudi Arabians should do is dissolve themselves in hydrochloric acid. Or perhaps go juggling with paving slabs. I dunno. Anything really. I’m not fussy.

Anyway, Saudi Arabia being a bunch of homophobic fucks isn’t really news. The news is people are pushing to try and make .gay a gTLD. I have a long-standing objection to new gTLDs. I can at least see the comedy potential of a .gay gTLD. Like, registering “” or “” etc.

But… the Lesbian and Gay Foundation have much more pious uses for such a gTLD.

“Sites under .gay would be carefully regulated and would not ‘promote homosexuality’ but offer crucial support,” said a spokeswoman from The Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

“Arguably it is even more important for people living in countries such as Saudi Arabia where homosexuality is illegal and sometimes punishable by death to access this crucial support and lifeline.”

Who could be opposed to support for LGBT people? No sane person, obviously. But the LGF are conflating a gTLD with provision of support sites. It’s absolutely unnecessary to have an LGBT-specific gTLD to provide support sites for LGBT people. They exist already, damnit. See? Here! And here. And many more.

Why have a .gay gTLD? Vanity, basically. ‘Cos it’d be cool. That’s pretty much the only reason to have new gTLDs. As we’ve seen with .xxx, it’s not like you can mandate people shunt their stuff over to .xxx.

If .gay happens, moving all or a majority of LGBT support sites over to it actually makes them easier to censor not harder. Currently, there are LGBT-friendly support sites all across the web, on different domains, hosted in different countries. There are bloody porn sites that have support forums hidden away inside them. There’s IRC channels, there’s all sorts of places where people who need an anonymous shoulder to cry on or a friend to lean on for support in all matters gay can go.

And inside tyrannical regimes, whether that’s countries like Saudi Arabia or the individual homes of kids whose parents subscribe to the doctrines of some brain-dead fundamentalist cult, those who need the help tend to be watched by hawks. If some homophobic asshole is peeking through your history and sees “” they can make a whole load of inferences that they might not necessarily be able to make if they see lots of clicking around on Reddit. In closet-land, plausible deniability is king.

If you need support, putting a big rainbow flag and a honking great big “.gay” gTLD around it ain’t going to help. People already filter the living crap out of sexual health sites and LGBT support sites on the basis that they are all “porn”.

Much as I’m out and proud and shaking my tambourine, I just don’t see a need for a .gay gTLD, and there is great possibility for harm if people start using it as a way to try and lock down access to support websites more than they already are.

Andy Wasley, from Stonewall, added: “Saudi Arabia already prevents its 1.9 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people from visiting community websites, like Stonewall’s, that offer support and information. It’s disappointing that it now wants to censor the internet for 420 million gay people worldwide.”

Again, I agree with the overall message: Saudi Arabia are homophobic assholes. But they aren’t “censoring” the Internet for gay people. If the .gay gTLD doesn’t happen, whether on the basis of principled, reasoned objections or homophobic bullshit objections like those of the Saudi Arabians, no website which you currently can access will no longer be available.

Now, I should point out one small proviso. While I’m generally opposed to new gTLDs without really good reasoning (I have yet to see one I approve of), I’m a pragmatist. If we have to have .gay, I’d rather it was managed by some reasonable, sensible organisation like the LGF or Stonewall than farmed out to some money-grubbing hucksters. I’d question whether running such a gTLD is a valuable use of anyone’s time or money, but that’s the responsibility of groups like the LGF to worry about.

Now, can we please stop the gTLD bandwagon? The whole thing is utterly stupid. ICANN need to be destroyed. I mean, the fact that the fucking Saudi Arabians get to vote on this rather than Internet users tells you everything you need to know about how useless a bunch of bureaucratic queens ICANN are.

maddog, humanity and The Closet

Yesterday, I tweeted about Jon “maddog” Hall coming out as gay. It’s an interesting story, and rather sad that it took Jon till the age of 61 to take this step. What can I say? “Fundamentalism” may contain the substring “Fun”, but it ain’t much fun if you don’t happen to fit in the narrowly prescribed set of boxes that are considered morally acceptable in that community.

In general, the reaction to maddog’s post has been pretty good…

but, there are a few people saying things along the lines of “what does maddog’s sexuality have to do with Linux?”

Like this:

Who. The. Hell. Cares.

Lord almighty, seems like the only people who make a bug fuss about homosexuality these days are homosexuals. Why is this on techcrunch?

Let’s break this down. It’s very simple.

Software is written by human beings. You know, flesh and blood people like you and me.

Human beings suffer discrimination. That might be on the basis of gender or race or ethnicity or, indeed, sexual orientation.

Software is written by humans, humans can suffer discrimination, therefore discrimination and equality are kind of important to ensuring we have a world where people can enjoy and use and create technology.

Again, think of Turing. Imagine if Turing had lived another 20 or 30 years, imagine if Turing had been around to see PCs and the development of UNIX and programming languages and the AI revolution. Imagine if Turing could have stuck around a few more years to see the development of an era where everyone would have general-purpose programmable computers on their desks, and eventually even in their pockets.

This is the tragedy of discrimination, whether it is overtly prejudiced or just latent: it prevents people from doing what they could do, on the grounds of things that ought to be irrelevant.

When people say “who cares?” they are speaking to an ideal, but not speaking from reality. It would be lovely if nobody cared about gender or sexual orientation or any other similarly irrelevant fact about a person qua that person’s role in, say, computing. But since we don’t live in utopia, fighting discrimination does require people to stand up and do shit.

When you say “who cares?” or “why does it matter?”, you think you are helping. You aren’t. Read a newspaper. The reason you ought to care about discrimination is because it happens and it affects real people. Understand why people come out of the closet: because the only way to get anything is to stand and fight for it.

Then there are reactions like this:

The “its none of our business” bit is a well-intentioned remark: I’ve briefly met Ross and I have no reason to think he’s a bad person. While well-intentioned, I think it’s just wrong.

I think love and sex and relationships and all that are pretty unequivocally Good Things. Love is a wonderful, amazing feeling. When I see people who are in love, whether that’s opposite sex, same sex or any other permutation you choose to conjure up, that’s a reason to be happy. Because love is pretty fucking great. Relationships are wonderful too: romance, friendship, whatever. If we can find ways of spending more time enjoying each other’s company either platonically or romantically, that’s also a good thing.

And, well, sex. As pasttimes go, finding new and exciting ways to manipulate each other’s genitals is mostly a good thing. Screw all the guilt and shame bullshit we’ve inherited from religion, fucking is pretty fucking awesome.

In addition, being open and communicating about all of these things is a good thing too. If we talk about love and relationships, hopefully we can have better relationships and more love. If we tell each other what we want and hope for in sex, we can enjoy it more.

When people say that someone being gay is “none of our business”, they are ignoring that human relationships and human happiness is everyone’s business collectively. The reason people wear wedding rings and have fancy marriage ceremonies and hold hands while walking down the street and incessantly post pictures of their spouses (and pets, and kids) on their Facebook profiles and so on is because love and relationships are great things. On the value of love, philosophers, poets, stoned-out hippies and directors of otherwise terrible romantic comedy films have been fairly unanimous and mostly right.

When people say that who you are attracted to is something that’s “none of our business”, that’s bullshit. It’s in everyone’s interest that we live in a society where we can all pursue our happiness, live out our maximal utility, or whatever philosophical or self-help cliché you wish to use.

If we want to be ruthless about it, let’s say this: a wise employer thinks it’s right to try to ensure his employees are happy and secure in all the ways he can plausibly control. There’s a reason why Google has massage therapists and chefs and dry cleaning on site for employees: happy employees are more likely to be productive and do great work. If you are paying me to sit there and come up with a creative solution to a hard problem, the less other shit I have to worry about, the more likely it is I can properly focus on the problem.

So it is in the corporate world, so it is in wider society: if another citizen is happy, free and feels secure and good about their life and circumstances, that person is less likely to go out and mug me in the streets or get addicted to heroin and cost the NHS large amounts in drug rehab, or commit suicide or any number of other things I have fairly good reason to think are bad consequences. As human beings, we have a pretty fundamental shared mutual interest in living in a world where people aren’t exploited or treated like shit.

The name of the game here isn’t tolerance. Tolerance is what you do when you put up with something but don’t really like it. I tolerate loudmouths having noisy mobile phone conversations on the train. But, damn, someone wanting to be happy and free in their sexual orientation, that’s not some “none of my business” stuff that needs to be “tolerated”: that’s a bloody brilliant thing, and something people should affirm and praise and shout from the rooftops about. Don’t tolerate, celebrate!

When someone lives their life with integrity and openness and honesty, that’s not something that’s “none of our business”, that’s a reason we should be happy for them and happy that we get to have people who want to live with such integrity as fellow human beings.

Anyway, the point of this is to say: three cheers to maddog for bursting through the damn closet door, at last.

A modern day coming out story

Meet Steve Johnson. No, not the football player, not the character from Days of our Lives, I’m talking here about a different Steve Johnson. He went by SJ for short. He’s one of those kids who uses Tumblr. Back in the day, he would have used LiveJournal instead.

One day, SJ plucked up the courage to have the talk with his mother. It went a little bit like this.

SJ: Mum, could you sit down in the living room, we need to talk.

Mother: What’s wrong, SJ?

SJ: I kind of have a big thing I need to get off my chest. But before I tell you this, please tell me that you always will love me, and we’re cool.

Mother: Sure, you know I love you unconditionally.

SJ: So, umm, err, I’ve always known I’m not like all the other guys. There’s something very different about me.

Mother: Oh, that’s marvellous SJ, you are gay!

SJ: What?

Mother: Oh, my friends at yoga will be so excited. A gay son! Ever since that Cindy across the street found out her daughter was a lesbian, I’ve always wondered. This is fabulous. It explains everything…

SJ: …no, hold on…

Mother: Yes, you better be careful about AIDS and all that, but just imagine, you might get a lovely boyfriend and in a few years, it’ll probably be legal here for you to get married. This is great news. I’m so proud of you, SJ. Don’t let anyone tell you that being gay is a problem, or they’ll have to answer to me. Cindy gets to go to the Pride parade every year and march as a parent ally, it’s so exciting!

SJ: Mum, I think you’ve jumped the gun a little. I’m not gay.

Mother: Oh, you don’t have to hold it in any longer. It’s fine to be who you truly are.

SJ: That’s great, mum, but really, I’m not gay. I’m not attracted to guys, I’m not gay, really.

Mother: So what are you trying to tell me?

SJ: Well, I’m an autistic asexual demiromantic otherkin.

Mother: Is that what you crazy Internet kids are calling being gay these days? I mean, it’s a bit of a mouthful.

SJ: No, you don’t get it. I’m an Otherkin. I believe my soul is actually partly or wholly that of a cheetah.

Mother: A cheater? Don’t go breaking any boys hearts. I can live with you being gay, but not with you cheating on people, whether it’s guys or girls.

SJ: No, a cheetah. You know, the large cats, Acinonyx jubatus, run at 70 miles per hour through the plains of Africa. The true, inner me is a cheetah.

Mother: Have you been on some weird fetish websites, SJ? That’s not a normal relationship, whether you are gay or straight.

SJ: No, it isn’t a sex thing or a fetish thing. I believe the true me is a cheetah.

Mother: This is a code word for gay, right?

SJ: No, mum, I’m not gay. I’m not even sexual.

Mother: What does that mean? You don’t like guys or girls?

SJ: Yes, I’m asexual. I’m not sexually attracted to anyone.

Mother: You don’t have to deny yourself a sex life. I’m not all prissy and churchy, I’m not going to tell you that just because you are gay you have to live a life of celibacy and denial. It’s fine, I’m sure you’ll find a lovely boyfriend.

SJ: For the last time, I’m not gay.

Mother: If you say so.

SJ: Anyway, this is an important part of my identity.

Mother: I can’t say I understand it, but are you happy?

SJ: Well, there’s some people on the Internet who want me to go to this convention.

Mother: I’ll have to think about that. You really want to dress up in a fursuit and get all randy in a convention centre in Boise, Idaho?

SJ: No, that’s furry. That’s a different thing entirely. They just dress up like cheetahs. I actually am a cheetah.

Mother: Anyway, you aren’t being bullied, are you, sweetie?

SJ: Well, I know some of the gay kids at school get beaten up, but nobody really understands what an otherkin is, so I’ve mostly managed to dodge the bullies.

Mother: I still don’t think I’m quite getting it.

SJ: Okay, so let me explain it all. I’m autistic. I know I’m autistic because I did this quiz on Facebook which shows that I’m autistic.

Mother: Hold on, autistic?

SJ: Don’t be so neurotypical, mum. The Facebook quiz never lies.

Mother: Don’t you need to see a doctor?

SJ: The doctor is there to treat humans, but I’m a cheetah.

Mother: I’m sort of getting it. What’s this demiromantic thing?

SJ: Well, it means that I don’t experience romantic attraction unless there’s a deep emotional connection to the person.

Mother: You mean, like being married?

SJ: No, mum, it means I need to know what the person’s inner animal is before I want to date them. And even then, I’m not sure I’d want to sully the deep emotional connection with sex.

Mother: Have you tried drinking? It worked for me and your father.

SJ: …

Mother: Anyway, I’m glad you told me. I can’t say I understand it. It would have been much easier if you’d just been gay like all the other socially non-conforming kids.

SJ: But I’m not gay.

Mother: I understand. And I love you, and will always love you regardless of what people on the Internet say.

I’ll check my privilege here. I know, whatever I say, there’s no way that hate crimes like the Matthew Shepard case, the continuing epidemic of gay teen suicides, state sanctioned execution and torture of gay people, and systematic denial of legal equality in hundreds of countries around the world can ever compare with the true horrors of being made fun of on the Internet.

Support civil marriage equality today

Tomorrow, the government’s public consultation on equal civil marriage closes.

You can fill it in here.

If you wanted to go do something nice today, spend half an hour going through the consultation and responding. I did so as early as I could, and every response counts.

You know how it is when someone buys you a gift: a nice card, maybe a book token or a box of chocolates. Yeah, it’s like that, except the gift you are giving is support for equal rights for gay people under the law.

Here’s why it will be appreciated if it actually happens (and I’m not going to count any chickens until it’s on the damn statute books).

The state currently endorses discrimination against gay people by not allowing gay people to get married. It’s that simple. State endorsement of discrimination permits discrimination by wider society: in the workplace, in public life, in schools and elsewhere. Lack of equality and basic rights is a cause for a variety of mental health problems.

How can we have programmes in schools and youth clubs saying to gay and lesbian teenagers that society loves and values them for who they are, when actually society doesn’t? Without full civil equality, society simply sees the stereotypes: the sex-crazed hedonists, the leather daddies, the butch lesbians, the fabulous Gay Best Friends, the sissy as comedy relief etc.

Opponents of gay equality say that allowing gay people to marry destroys “traditional marriage”. No, no, no. That died a long time ago, and it wasn’t done by gay people but by more enlightened views of female sexuality that stemmed from feminism, and from the availability of cheap, reliable contraception. Heterosexual couples could now turn childbearing into a choice rather than an accident. If traditional marriage is the shotgun marriage of a woman finding herself unexpectedly pregnant and having to be forcibly partnered off with a man who doesn’t necessarily love her in order to meet social and familial expectations, we’ve got good reasons to be glad it’s dead and buried.

Marriage is now a romantic institution: one of the few romantic institutions left in a world run by markets and money men, incidentally. It’s yet to be convincingly deconstructed by either postmodern theorists or merchant banks. If you think marriage has any value, it’s because love has value. Behind my cynical exterior is someone who believes in love. Love is the foundation of all that is good and noble in humans: family, charity, care for each other, the desire to create and to share, in the fight for justice when we are wronged. Love requires above all honesty and truth. Marriage is the public telling of that truth to all. And gay people have some truth that needs telling.

The choice here is between segregation and equality, between fear and love. Please choose wisely.

Go respond to the consultation today.

You've got enough equality already

The same day The Guardian has an article about gay Tories, we get this little shocker from Karl McCartney, Conservative MP for Lincoln.

He told his constituent gay people have “exhausted the cause of equal rights and have now picked on an issue which would possibly only affect a few thousand people every year, whilst also uprooting thousands of years of Christian tradition.”

Exhausted? For real? Oh, sorry, you’ve got enough equality. Now, please fuck off.

(Also, the whole thing about how it’ll only affect a few thousand people every year. Yeah, that’s always a good justification for opposing equality. Hey, the oppressed minority is just a minority!)

“Furthermore, I support the right of any Christian in our Christian country to support the long held belief that a religious marriage is one between an individual man and an individual woman over the age of consent: 16 years of age (18 without parental permission).”

Okay, what about the Christians who want to support the belief that religious marriages they conduct should be between whoever the fuck they want them to be between? Quakers and Unitarians and other religious liberals shouldn’t have to be bound by the Church of England, any more than Muslims or Sikhs or Buddhists are. Who the fuck are you to presume that every religious person in Britain is as much of a homophobe as you are?

And, also, the consultation is about civil marriage, not religious marriage. Which, you know, might be something you’d grok if you’d read the fucking consultation… you know, the one put out by the government of which you are a part?


Remember, folks, lurking beneath the shiny happy David Cameron liberal reformation is the dark, thumping heart of the Tory party, the one that brought us Section 28. And they are fed up with all this equality stuff you’ve got and wish you’d just quieten down and stop asking for any more equality.

Of marriage privatization, libertarians and ahistoricism

I hope you’ve all been watching the gay marriage stuff in the media. I’ve sent off my response to the consultation. And I hope you do too.

It’s all jolly good fun and japes, having consultations and voting over whether or not to grant equal rights. And, of course, the Church and the Campaign for Marriage and so on are looking like utterly despicable fools.

Anyway, in amongst all this, if you go out on to the wilds of the Interwebs, or occasionally amongst political commentators and academics, you might get wind of the libertarian reaction to marriage equality, which can be summed up with the slogan “the state shouldn’t be in the marriage business”.

If you haven’t come across this argument, some examples of this: Michael Kinsley is one example from a non-libertarian perspective, and David Boaz comes at it from a libertarian perspective. I know Cass Sunstein has advanced a similar argument. For a broad overview, see Wikipedia which labels it “marriage privatization”, which I guess is as good a term as any.

Incidentally, Michael Sandel often uses it as an example when illustrating Aristotelian moral theory, and it’s a good example for that. According to the Guardian, Sandel doesn’t endorse the argument, instead thinking that the state has a duty to promote virtue, and letting same-sex partners marry does that.

What ought we make of people like Kinsley and Boaz? Obviously, they aren’t homophobes or bigots. As Boaz points out, he would vote for same-sex marriage at a state level, while believing that marriage ought to be a function that isn’t handled by the state. Nothing in the argument commits you to the view that gay people are second-class citizens or any other overtly homophobic view. And, well, as Stephen Fry might say, that’s nice. I’d rather live in a world where people are having a polite debate about whether or not the state should be in the marriage business than in a world where they are denying gay people their rights and dignity. So, yeah, that’s nice.

Intellectually, I don’t know whether I agree with the argument, because ethically, I’m rather unsure about my fundamental ethical starting points. When I was a full-on libertarian, I’d have an easy, off-the-shelf answer to these kinds of problems. (Then, of course, I finished puberty and realized that perhaps the world was more complicated than libertarian writers made it out to be.)

There’s definitely intellectual merit to the argument, and some practical merit too. If widely accepted, it’d solve a shit ton of problems: it’d obviously mean there wouldn’t be any inequality between heterosexual and homosexual people over marriage, it’d also mean that similar kinds of unions could be available for polyamorous/polygamous people, and there would be no downside to not being married. That is, the state wouldn’t really be able to offer some benefit only to those who are married. There’d be no state-level discrimination between a bunch of people living in a commune and a straight monogamous couple that are currently married.

There is, of course, an Aristotelian critique of this kind of thing, and I’d point interested readers towards communitarian critiques of liberalism—Sandel, MacIntyre, Etzioni, etc. If you have the full-on libertarian blinders on like I used to, you’ll just dismiss that kind of moral reasoning out of hand. But I’m not really going to discuss that much, because frankly that’s not the primary objection I have to it (I haven’t read enough communitarian moral theory to know whether or not I endorse that approach). The Aristotelian objection can be stated rather snarkily like this: “Oh, you want to privatize marriage? You know that marriage is rather a different kind of thing from a telecommunications company, right?”

There are practical objections to marriage privatization: if marriage were privatized, the state would still be doing a bunch of functions that it currently does for married people—pension provision and regulation, access to healthcare services, access to private records, regulations on banking for joint accounts, and other benefits or services provided to married people differently from non-married people. Without marriage or with privatized marriage, the state would have to decide how to provide those services and under what conditions: simply saying that the state is out of the marriage business doesn’t mean the state doesn’t have to decide which types of marriage-like unions are deserving of special status. There’s a whole barrel of worms there, some of which can only be answered with Yet More Libertarianism. (Remember, in libertarian logic, the answer to problems with libertarianism is always more libertarianism, the answer to market failures is even freer markets.)

But my concern isn’t even the practical ones, although those are tough. The issue I have is a very simple political one.

Even if this view is correct, and even if it’s convincing, it’s completely irrelevant. It isn’t a viable political alternative to the status quo. However compelling free market marriage or “getting the state out of the marriage business” is, it isn’t going to happen. It’s taken a boatload of hard work since the 1960s to convince people that gay people deserve rights, and we are actually on the cusp of getting marriage equality… but instead, we—actual human beings who care about gay rights—shouldn’t be bothering, and instead fighting for marriage privatization.

Instead of having to convince the heterosexual majority of equal rights, we need to persuade them that they need to stop being married altogether and start having denationalized contracts or whatever one might call these non-state-endorsed cluster of marriage-esque things.

Because you know what they’ll say? Yeah, go fuck yourself. Okay, they might be a bit more polite. Either way, politically, it’s impossible. Intellectually, it’s an interesting thing to discuss, but politically it’s a no-hoper.

This is one of the issues with libertarian argument: it is often ahistorical, it just derives policy from a bunch of a priori commitments. Which is fine, but we aren’t ahistorical, we are real, existing people in a particular region of space and time, with historical backgrounds, with real interests in this world. Marriage privatization might be lovely, but given that there are real, existing gay people who are being put at a disadvantage now by not having marriage equality, “hey, there’s a wonderful libertarian solution to this” sounds good, except it isn’t actually a solution, it’s just rhetoric.

To suggest to gay people who are fighting for marriage equality to stop and instead fight for marriage privatization is asking a historically marginalized group of people to give up the fight for a practical real-world change that can improve their lives—our lives—now in order to fight for a pie-in-the-sky libertarian policy proposal that has absolutely no hope of ever going anywhere.

Perhaps in 50 years time, people will come around to marriage privatization and we’ll have formally disestablished the Church of England, and then we’ll just have a world of rational actors wandering around freely entering into contracts with one another, stopping only momentarily from servicing their rational self-interest in order to offer a moment’s thanks to Ayn Rand. Maybe in a libertarian society, gay people will be treated with exactly the same liberty as everybody else. Great.1 But we don’t live in Libertopia, we live in this world, in this reality, with this government. And marriage equality makes that reality less awful by making it so marriage recognizes gay relationships and gay love as equal.

You want marriage privatization? Convince the existing married straight people. Make it a real, live political option, then we’ll talk. But until that point, don’t expect gay people to give up on the fight for marriage equality in order to support marriage privatization.

Postscript If you wish to see a good example of a “marriage privatization” advocate that has grappled with the issues well, try Russell Blackford. Blackford seems to understand that an intellectual consent to the privatization argument isn’t enough, and it isn’t some kind of Solomonic third way in the gay marriage debate. The problem with the marriage privatization argument isn’t that it’s wrong or a bad approach, it’s that rushing towards it now is being done at the expense of real-world steps that can increase equality (like, say, full marriage equality for same-sex couples).

  1. Or maybe they won’t. There’s nothing to stop a libertarian society deciding that hating gay people is just fine, so long as it is an uncoerced free market of opinion that decides as much. Just as in a libertarian society, it would be perfectly fine and dandy for everyone to decide they hated black people and not provide them with any good or services.

The postmodern logic of homophobia

The theologian John Milbank on gay marriage:

This can seem like a perversely contorted claim, but its logic is quite straightforward: the intended change in the definition of marriage would mean that marriage as traditionally defined no longer exists. Thus heterosexual people would no longer have the right to enter into an institution understood to be only possible for heterosexuals, as doubly recognising both the unique social significance of male/female relationship and the importance of the conjugal act which leads naturally to the procreation of children who are then reared by their biological parents.

Now, let’s see what happens if we were to apply the logic of Milbank’s argument to whether women should be allowed to vote. Imagine an eminent theologian back in the era of suffragettes.

The intended change in the definition of eligibility for voting would mean that voting as traditionally defined no longer exists. Thus, men would no longer have the right to engage in a practice understood to be only possible for men, as recognising both the unique social significance of male rationality and the importance of the male brain which leads naturally to the selection of the most qualified, representative candidates for political office.

In other news, Milbank will be complaining to the Environment Agency that (as Heraclitus has shown) the river near his house has changed and he can no longer enjoy rafting in the river. He has lost the right to navigate the waterways in his raft, and can now only enjoy a series of temporally-related river-slices that may or may not form an ontologically substantive river. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to give the non-raft back to Otto Neurath because thanks to those meddling gays and their faux marriages, Neurath’s raft no longer exists.

Milbank’s bizarre postmodern Girardian insights about the nature of heterosexual and homosexual identity are about as incisive as they are readable, which is to say, not very.

Oppression, identity and sexuality

Oh yeah, what a lovely, academic-ish name for a post. It’d be even better if it had a colon afterwards, then a subtitle starting with the word “towards”. Oppression, identity and sexuality: towards a poststructuralist hermeneutic of something or other.

See, I don’t like talking about who I am, I like talking about what I do and what I think. So, I was born in the county of Surrey. Big deal. I could have been born in Wiltshire instead if I had been born a few years earlier. Or maybe Somerset. This is all very uninteresting, and is rarely a topic of conversation except with the people who issue passports.1

The same is true for my atheism: if there were no religious people, no religious claims being made, my atheism would be about an important a conversational topic as my preference for milk vs. dark chocolate. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Go watch Why Are You Atheists So Angry? by the brilliant writer Greta Christina.

Generally the things I am only become an issue when other people make them an issue. My vegetarianism only really is an issue when I’m in a supermarket, raging at the ubiquity and awfulness of Quorn faux-meat burgers,2 or sighing slightly reluctantly when the only non-meat option on a menu in a restaurant is essentially cheese on toast (sorry, melted mozarella and sunblushed cherry tomatoes bruschetta on artisan foccacia bread).3

And it’s only when people are telling me I’m a moral reprobate undermining the fundamental stability of human society and are thus undeserving of equal rights that my sexual orientation is an issue. I usually don’t talk about it because you probably aren’t interested in the gender of the people I find romantically and sexually attractive. Except due to society as a whole not having reached the very minimal standards of decency I expect of it, it remains an issue.

So I’m gay.

I know. Scandalous and shocking, right?

I’m not “proud”, except in the sense that pride is the opposite of shame. It is a brute fact, in much the same way that my birthplace is a brute fact. In a sane and rational society, I’d happily go off and fancy, fantasise over, fuck, marry, whatever, with whoever I damn well please, and it wouldn’t be an issue for anyone but me and them.

But, as I’m repeatedly reminded, every time I open a newspaper or go on Twitter or walk down the street, this society isn’t a sane and rational society. So I better spell out what the actual issues are.

The only reason my sexual orientation is an issue is because other people have made it an issue.

If I fall in love with someone, we can’t get married. I can have a “civil partnership”. Which is like a marriage, except it isn’t a marriage. I can’t get married because society considers the institution of marriage not fit for people like me, only for other people.

A historical oversight, maybe, but for the fact that there is a big shouty campaign from churches and Lord Carey and that lot to keep it that way.

Why? People like me shouldn’t be allowed to get married because we might wreck it. How exactly? If I fall in love with someone and I want to make a commitment to that person for the rest of my life, how exactly would that destroy it?

Marriage is good enough for my parents and grandparents but not for me? Sorry, but that makes me fucking angry.4

And it isn’t enough just to argue with people like George Carey. I have to point out something fundamental here.

The choice is between equality of all before the law or marriage segregation, marriage apartheid and straight supremacism.

That is what it boils down to. Either marriage as an institution accomodates gay people and gay love, or the state continues to endorse a de facto policy of straight supremacism.

When people are saying that the social and institutional form that love takes in this society ought to remain unavailable to me because of who I am, I cannot remain silent.

I’m gay, and most of the time I’m fucking angry about it.

I’m angry because, well, where do we start?

Okay, let’s start with this. Imagine, someone I know, meets someone abroad and falls in love with them. They date, they love each other, they get into a long-term relationship. And so they marry. They move back to the city where the husband comes from and buy a big flat and they live happily ever after… no, wait, let me stop you there. They don’t marry, because the society they live in, like the UK up until we got marriage-lite, doesn’t recognise gay relationships and gay love. And because they don’t recognise gay love, they can’t get married, and the partner cannot cross the border, and so rather than living together, they have to see each other on tourist visas and do all sorts of bullshit with their family and basically hack the legal system in whatever way they can to get permission to live with the person they love. And then when their partner gets sick, they have all the pain of not necessarily being considered family for making legal and medical decisions or getting access to the person in hospital. And then just as a giant fuck you, when they die, the government bureaucrat writes on the death certificate that the relationship is that of “friend”. As if the person that you love more than anybody is in the same category as the mate from work who you go bowling with.

I’m angry that this utterly uncontroversial fact which I class as being in the same category as the county of my birth, if uttered or acted upon in states like Iran, can lead to execution. I’m angry that Ahmadinejad thinks there are no gays in Iran.

I’m angry that schools aren’t doing enough to put a stop to bullying against gay kids.

I’m angry about Rick Santorum.

I’m angry that gay people have to think twice before holding hands or kissing or displaying affection in public.

I’m angry that lesbians get “correctively raped”.

I’m angry that gay people were subject to electroshock therapy or chemical castration… in our lifetimes.

I’m angry that people think intolerance and homophobia are “family values” that need to be protected rather than eradicated. Hating other people was never a value my parents taught me.

I’m angry that at Wikipedia we have to have an article called Suicide among LGBT youth and that that’s a thing. I mean, if we got to the stage where there was an article on Wikipedia called “Suicide among redheads”, people would be as angry as I am, but when it’s just a bunch of queers, it’s no big deal.

I’m angry about Section 28. I’m angry that it took until 2003 to get rid of a law5 which is based on the fundamental premise that gay people are actually paedophiles and “predators”. I’m angry that such pernicious, hateful idiocy could be passed into law in 1988, that a new homophobic law could be passed a few years after I was born and not repealed until I started at university. I’m angry that in the year 2000, members of the Conservative Party still supported Section 28.

I’m angry that if other people get angry about some of the same things, they get told they have a “victim complex” or told to stop “whining”. Or that they need to be more tolerant of the intolerant.

I’m angry about the hundreds of gay people who have been murdered for being gay.

I’m angry that the best society is able to offer young people who are gay (or otherwise different) and getting bullied in school is the message that “it gets better”. Yes, it’s important to tell people it gets better. And it does get better. But it shouldn’t be bad to start with. Teenagers being bullied, whether for being gay or geeky or just not within the prescribed bounds of social statistical normality, should feel free to jump up with a megaphone and shout “No, this shit is not acceptable. Stop it now.” and not be made to feel like they are the problem.

I’m angry that in the United States and even in certain loonier bits of Britain, a lifetime of love between parent and child evaporates in seconds when the child comes out or is discovered to be gay. I’m really fucking angry when that kid ends up homeless on the street. I’m angry that Christian fundamentalist religion drives people to hate their own children because of the gender of who their children love.

I’m angry that in 2000, Frank Packenham, the Earl of Longford, could stand up in our upper legislative chamber and say something like this:

Why is it that so few of us would want our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren to be homosexual? One obvious answer is that they cannot have families, and most people look upon families as a vital part of human life. That is the very sad fact about being homosexual. We therefore do not want to encourage it. Does anyone want to encourage homosexuality?

I’m angry that such a man is seen as fit to be consulted on the issues of the day, as if being gay is something that the legislature can either encourage or discourage, rather than simply accept as reality. I’m angry that someone might think that if our laws were just a bit more homophobic, people would suddenly see the light and switch. It barely needs to be pointed out, but for straight readers, imagine the scenario: the government decide to pass a law that makes it illegal to have sex with someone of the opposite sex until two years after an equivalent gay relationship. Would you then be more likely to contemplate having a gay relationship? If you feel even slightly insulted that someone would be stupid enough to think that the law would somehow change who you want to have a sexual or romantic relationship with, congratulations, you get it.

I’m angry that someone in 2000 could assume that not being able to naturally have children means that one cannot have a “family”. It rules out the many gay and lesbian parents, single or otherwise, who have children, from adoption, from sperm donation, and so on. But it also rules out many families gay and straight who are either unable to have children or who have chosen not to have children, and still have a family. Whether I’m gay or straight, single or in a relationship, with kids or without, I have a family: I have parents, a brother, uncles and aunts, nephews and so on. That people can deny the real family relationships of real living gay people in order to paint them as sub-human makes me really fucking angry. That they can with one breath deny gay people the chance to form a family in the strict sense through marriage and adoption, and then use gay people’s inability to form a family as a stick to beat them with and to justify the denial of rights makes me apoplectic with bloody rage.

I’m angry that someone like Packenham could derive the wrongness of homosexuality from a male-on-male sexual assault, but not also see the equivalent logic: that a male-on-female sexual assault ought to lead to concluding the wrongness of heterosexuality. The logic of Packenham’s homophobia is the same idiocy that underlines sexism (obligatory XKCD link).

I’m angry that the sort of homophobic idiocy expressed by the late Lord and many others has led to bloody terrible sex education that has been so prevalent for so long. Everyone, male and female, straight and gay deserves decent, comprehensive sex and relationship education that’s compassionate, honest and evidence-based, rather than pandering to the prejudices of homophobes, fundamentalists and the tabloid press. Many STIs, unwanted pregnancies and bad relationship issues are the fault of bad sex education.

I’m angry about Anne Widdecombe.

I’m angry that there are people who believe they can “cure” gay people, as if we need curing, as if we are all “struggling” with anything other than the bigoted idiocy of people like them.

I’m angry that if I wasn’t gay, or I didn’t want to discuss publicly whether I’m gay, getting angry about homophobia and persecution of gay people is likely to cause people to “suspect” I’m gay, as if that’s some terrible crime I need to own up to.

I’m angry that there’s a default assumption that I’m straight, and I’m angry that I have to run the risk-rewards calculation in my head of whether to set them right, and whether I can be bothered to go through all the bullshit that’ll go with it. It’s not that I’m worried about negative reactions. It’s not about negative reactions or positive reactions, I just don’t want it to be an issue. I’m angry that I never hear the phrase “No, actually, I’m straight” because of the default assumption to the contrary.

I’m angry that if someone speaks of a wedding, they have to qualify it as being a “same-sex” or a “gay” wedding if it is two men or two women, but don’t have to qualify it as a “straight” wedding if it isn’t. Every marriage should be a gay marriage in the original sense of the word gay.

I’m angry about Alan Turing.

I’m angry that fundamentalists teach their children that being gay means you deserve nothing but hellfire and damnation.

I’m angry that people have been booted out of their jobs in the U.S. military for being gay and for being open about it. I’m angry that the hard-working and patriotic contributions of gay and lesbian people gets undermined for juvenile idiocy (“but, but, gays might look at my dick when I’m in the shower!”) dressed up in the jargon of ‘unit cohesion’.

I’m angry that who I’m sexually and romantically attracted to gives people the right to opt-out, to “follow their conscience”, because having to provide a service that the taxpayer pays people to provide on their behalf makes them ‘uncomfortable’.

I’m angry that homophobic bigots now think that anyone who tells them they shouldn’t be bigots (or legally prevents them from exercising their bigotry) is discriminating against them.

I’m angry that if you work in a registry office and you refuse to officiate over an interracial straight marriage, you’d be sacked on the spot, but if you refuse to officiate over a gay or lesbian civil union, that’s just “religious conscience” and needs to be respected. No, fuck that. You not liking my sexual orientation is not a reason for you to not do the goddamn job you are paid by the taxpayer to do.

I’m angry that if a TV show depicts characters as being gay and kissing or having sex or having a relationship or, really, just existing, people write to Ofcom. I’m angry that people think gay love or gay relationships are such a ghastly concept that they shouldn’t show them on TV. I’m angry that people who are otherwise able to drive cars and vote and have children think that two men kissing is “sexually explicit” but a man and a woman kissing on TV is just fine. I remember this brouhaha a few years back.

I’m angry about Nadine Dorries.

I’m angry that hundreds of people can express their desire to kill their own children if they happen to be gay. Hundreds of people, in a public forum, some of them with their real name. Have they no shame?

I’m angry that in the US, parents can legally have their gay kids kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken off to “reform schools” for “problem kids” (because being gay means you are a problem and not a person) where they try and make the kids straight through ‘tough love’. I’m not shitting you.

I’m angry that the primary reason given for opposing gay marriage is that parents would have to explain to children that gay people exist. They literally don’t want to have to tell their kids that love and happiness is possible between gay people. Five seconds of having to say “well, mummy and daddy love each other very much and so chose to live together as a family. Sometimes two men or two women love each other very much and choose to live together as a family too.” That you are too much of a goddamn fucking loser to say that to a kid, because you think the mere existence of gay people might infect your kid and make him or her gay, or you are embarrassed to explain the concept to them… that’s the reason? Really? I can’t get married because you suck as a parent?

I’m angry that Quakers and liberal Jews and Unitarians and gay-affirming religious groups aren’t able to marry gay people if they want to. I’m angry that people consider religious freedom incompatible with gay marriage.

I’m angry that people hear the message of radical love and acceptance that Jesus of Nazareth teaches in the Gospels and use that as a weapon of hate.

I’m angry that people have had to live in sham marriages and marriages of convenience. I’m angry for them and for their partners, but I’m angry at society for making such things seem like the only option.

I’m angry that people see issues of sexual orientation as issues of willies and vaginas and boobies and assholes. That’s not it at all. What underlies all issues of sexual orientation is whether or not we can have a truly liberal society where people can live in a way that lets them flourish as free and equal citizens.

I’m angry that people think that if being gay were a choice, that would mean it would be okay to persecute gay people. Even if it were a choice, in a liberal society, people should have the freedom to choose. What, you think I’ve got the right to choose PC or Mac, Android or iPhone, train or car, Tesco or Waitrose… but if sexuality were a choice, you’d have the right to decide for me?

I’m angry that it’s 2012 and we’re still having to argue against homophobic dumbfuckery when there’s still so many more fights that still need to be fought.

I’m angry that if I do decide to tell people that I’m gay, they act all surprised, as if it’s impossible for someone to be gay and not find Madonna fabulous or desperately want to go out shopping or whatever the stereotype of the week is. I’m angry that I have to point out that being gay hasn’t changed the fact that I’d rather be discussing Bertrand Russell than Judy Garland. And I fucking hate clothes shopping and musicals.

I’m angry that I’ve written the best part of 3,000 words in this post and I still haven’t scratched the surface of why I’m angry.

I’m angry that “coming out” implies some kind of Oprah-style self-discovery moment where I’m affirming my identity, or some kind of Freudian emotional cleansing bullshit. That’s not what it’s about at all. My identity doesn’t need affirming and I don’t need to cleanse my emotions. I’m angry that this is even necessary. I’m angry that I have to take on the mantle of being considered courageous for simply asserting who I am. Was it ‘courageous’ when you “came out” as straight? You did come out as straight, right? Yeah, and you do have to decide whether to have ‘The Conversation’ with everyone about it, right? And if you decide (perfectly rationally) that you can’t be fucked with all that, you somehow aren’t courageous or are in self-denial?

No, the reason is simple.

I’m not coming out because I’m courageous. I’m coming out because I’m angry.

I’m angry and I want you to be bloody seething-with-rage angry too.

Every time someone on Xbox Live calls another player a “fag”, I want you to get angry and not just shrug it off as juvenile behaviour.

Next time, if you are a third party to a conversation where someone attempts to correct somebody else’s heteronormative assumptions, back them up.

I’m angry that if I ever take issue with someone’s homophobic language, I’m told to stop being so sensitive and that those queers just say it about themselves anyway, and how dare they not be allowed to use a word they freely use for themselves, and that all them faggots are just pink jackbooted thugs who want to police our language. I’m angry that I have to decide whether or not to tell them how far the words ‘them’ and ‘they’ extends or just quietly slink off.

I’m angry that it has to be my job to explain the whole decency thing to people.

I’m angry that idiots think that I’m angry about me or that I’m feeling sorry for myself. Apparently, they conclude from their self-centeredness that everyone else is as self-centered. No, I’m angry that it isn’t just about me, but that it’s about everybody. Lack of equality is about everybody: how can it not be?

Every time someone like Rick Santorum pipes up and compares gay people to people who want to have sex with animals, I want you to feel righteous fury and anger too. I want you to imagine how it feels to have someone compare the right to marry the person you love with someone who wants to have sex with a dog. Imagine that’s your relationship that Santorum is talking about and you’ll see why people, myself included, are quite angry, quite a lot of the time.

Because I lied at the start of this piece: when people tell me I’m not a human being, it actually does matter to me quite a bit.

  1. I remember my mother once being questioned about why her passport said that she was born in Nottingham by a confused Russian border guard. “Yes, it says I was born in Nottingham because I was born in Nottingham.” sounds like it ought to be a line from a lecture on truth-conditional semantics.

  2. I fucking loathe faux meat. If I wanted to eat meat, I’d eat the real thing, not some pretend meat that tastes like a goddamn breast implant that’s been marinated in recycled diesel fuel and covered in breadcrumbs.

  3. The difference between a toastie and a sunblushed lah-de-dah is about £3.50 and 2.37 units of human dignity.

  4. Actually, marriage wasn’t really allowable for my maternal grandparents either. Because my grandfather had been married and divorced, he wasn’t allowed to marry in the Church of England. They ended up finding a minister of the Church of Scotland (in London) who married them in the crypt.

  5. Yeah, in Scotland it was 2003.

There is some interesting analysis on the Proposition 8 case (regarding California gay marriage) over at Pam's House Blend.

Station Approach, Tunbridge Wells, TN1 1

Chris Messina had an excellent post the other day about gay marriage and Proposition 8. If you are a Californian and you are the least bit undecided or know someone undecided on Prop. 8, read Chris' post.

PZ Myers on James Dobson's dystopian gay fantasies: Everything is about the gays - forget changes in the economy, or foreign affairs, or alternative energy, or labor, or anything that might actually affect most people. The whole story is about the gay conspiracy taking control and locking up the guns while spreading pornography throughout the land... It's a world-building prelude to a work of slash fiction. Future chapters, I'm sure, will include lurid stories of handsome young Christian men being compelled by scantily clothed muscular gay men to watch explicit pornography, followed by more chapters detailing their forcible deflowering by hunky followers of the Obama.

Rev Peter Mullen: homophic idiot shows Church's true colours

Two years ago, I posted of the intellectual incompetence of one Rev Peter Mullen. It looks like in addition to being an idiot on a purely intellectual level, he's also a homophobic bigot. He suggests that gay people need to be tattooed. Perhaps he should follow historical tradition and tattoo gays with a nice big pink triangle?

In a move likely to stifle me doing anything useful today, I went on to and checked out the other stuff on the blog. Here's a doozey: All three main political parties in Britain have declared that climate change is their priority. Can anyone think of anything more senseless, less rooted? Global warming is a politically-motivated myth put forward by the anti-capitalist brigade, associated nihilists who want to drag us back to the stone age: people who actually hate humanity and dress up their malignity in phoney idealism. Green is the new Red. And of course it's a great funding bonanaza for research departments (source)

Yes. All those scientists are just political hacks and anti-capitalist nihilists. Perhaps once we've got the gays all tattooed, we should send all those nasty empiricists off for their tattoos too. There's more fun and giggles in the blog's back catalogue, but I can't guarantee the rampant idiocy contained therein won't make you want to jam a bloody icepick through your eyeball.

Colin McGinn on gay marriage: All this stuff about marriage being between a man and a woman: it's just complete whooey. I really wonder what all those anti-gay-marriage twits out there think and feel when they see a picture like that. Do they feel their own marriages under threat because these two old ladies are finally able to tie the knot? I think we owe them an apology myself.

An utterly despicable, bigoted theoslimeball

Yes, the Bishop of Carlisle, that would be.

The Right Reverend thinks that God has punished Britain for it's tolerance of homosexuality.

You know that Fred Phelps character? Well, Bishop Dow is Britain's very own dogmatic, creepy zealot.

And yet, we entrust children's education to these brain-foresaken people. We let them sit in the House of Lords for no other reason but their divine election to the silly hat brigade.

What an utterly pathetic, silly little man.

American readers will be pleased to know that Britishness is not a guarantee of not being a complete imbecile, although membership in the clergy is a good predictor of the sort of off-the-cuff, hateful absurdity that we see in Bishop Dow and Fred Phelps alike.

Perhaps he's planning on setting up a UK version of GodHatesFags once the Anglican Communion tears itself apart for good (which, I have to say, I find nothing short of bloody hilarious).

Go, read this old article about the ex-gay movement.

Religious trick of the day: we don't like x, thus x doesn't exist

A blog that I used to read avidly, Ex-Gay Watch, seems to have fallen through the crack of the many, many aggregators that I've been using. Still, I've decided to subscribe and so should you.

An example of why you should read this blog is the excellent post from the other day entitled Exodus' Healing Message to Homosexuals: You Don't Exist.

And with this, we see an example of an old-fashioned trick that religious people play. If you pick up a book on the history of atheism, you'll often see that the early responses to atheism consisted simply of denial. "Atheists don't exist".

Of course, we did actually exist, but the thought was too terrifying for people to admit out loud. But still, this kind of nonsense still carries on through to today. Ray Comfort (the idiot from that stupid banana video) over at Christian argues that since we don't know everything that anyone who says their an atheist is a liar. Yeah, follow that logic.

Exodus International seem to believe that homosexuals don't exist. So why is their ineffective and borderline abusive racket still running? Well, tax relief? Why, also, are politicians battling the imaginary "homosexual agenda" if there are no homosexuals to run the agenda?

Gay Erasmus has an excellent post on ex-gay therapy: "I'm sick of the muted response that the community at large has towards ex-gay therapy. Too often we hear the uncertainty of relativism - "maybe it might help some people", "maybe some people who think they're gay really aren't gay and need help to figure things out" - used to describe this unequivocal form of abuse. We need to call it out for what it is - evil - and help as many ex-gay people as possible (and they are minors and baby boomers) become ex-ex-gay."

Andrew Sullivan rather likes David Cameron because of his support for gay marriage.

Great news. The gay marriage amendment didn't pass in the Senate.

Ed Brayton has a humourous write-up of how WorldNutDaily had the headline "Ford Backs Homosexual Polygamy" when, in fact, Ford advertised in a gay magazine which also contained an article about polygamy. Perhaps if they advertised in K9 Magazine, these nutters will start claiming that Ford endorse human-dog marriage. I don't even want to think of their interpretations of the ads in Badger Nation.