Author Archives: RHH

Orange is the New Black Season 2: Episode 1. ‘Thirsty Bird’

Orange is the New Black is back. After binge watching Season Two as quickly as we could we thought we’d recap the episodes to hold on to it for a little bit longer.

Oh Orange.

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First snog

Stonewall is 25 this year.

Happy birthday Stonewall!

I’m 25 too although not for much longer. I’ll be celebrating my birthday tomorrow by heading down to a local protest against victim blaming rape and sexual assault survivors.

Stonewall is also celebrating,

“25 years of campaigning so that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are free to love and be loved”,

with a ‘first SNOG’ campaign. Now in theory I can get on board with the campaign:  supporting change so that anyone can kiss their partner(s) wherever they like sounds great to me!

lipstick kiss

I live in a country where I can kiss my partner without fear of criminal charges or state persecution. In practice this isn’t so simple. In reality we can’t have our first, second or 3456th snog out in the street. We don’t often hold hands and rarely kiss in public unless we’re in an area we’ve experienced little or no abuse in. My partner isn’t out about her sexuality to the customers in her place of work because many of them are homophobic so if I walk her there we’ll hug goodbye.

This isn’t uncommon for many queer couples.

When we kiss in the street we out ourselves and we make ourselves a target. Of course I would love to be shouting from the rooftops that I love my girlfriend and I’m out to many people but as a matter of  self-preservation I just don’t want the abuse  that comes from kissing in the street. I don’t want the fear of violence that comes from loving who I love.

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Stonewall has joined with SNOG, a frozen yoghurt company I’d previously never heard of probably because they only have shops in London and some Waitrose sell their goods (according to their website my closest SNOG is 120 miles away). Anyway they have launched rainbow coloured froyo (that’s what the kids call it yeah?) to raise money and ‘awareness’ (I have issues with awareness raising campaigns, ask me about it sometime). You can take a selfie in their app which is downloadable and um get involved in um changing the world. How again? Oh raising money (by texting SNOG to 70300 which gives Stonewall £3) that was it. I knew there was a link to activism somewhere…

Stonewall is trying here but it just doesn’t reflect reality for many of us. Our snogs are hidden, behind closed doors, sneaking in and sneaking out, in darkness and in fear. I’m sure all these predominantly heterosexual cisgender celebrities taking SNOG selfies feel like they’re making a difference here but you aren’t making people kissing their partners any easier. You aren’t changing the world and I’m not sure if this campaign is even trying to. Even the word snog has all these connotations of teenage fumbling and for me all my teenage fumbling was conducted in a mess of confusion about my gender and my sexuality that I tried really hard to keep a secret in a very small town. I’d maybe like this campaign more if it was aimed at all those teenagers currently negotiating their first snogs but it appears to be aimed at adults looking back and I just don’t understand why.

Maybe on my 26th birthday I’ll hold my girlfriend’s hand on this protest. It’s late at night. It’ll be dark. Maybe next year Stonewall will have a birthday I’ll feel I can be part of. Maybe I’ll be less cynical and eat frozen yoghurt.”

 

 

 

 

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Queer News!

Marriage for everybody

New Mexico gets ‘equal marriage’! Doña Ana County is the only county in New Mexico issuing same gender marriage as you may want to call it. Their county clerk declared their laws were gender neutral and therefore did not permit same gender marriage. Hey gender neutral laws sound like they permit the marriage of any gender with any other gender. Is that the joyous sound of progress? Maybe it’s wedding bells because by the end of day one of this new practice over 40 marriage licenses had been issued. Fuck yeah.

Gender: it ain’t just a girl/boy thing

Ok so this happened last week but it’s too good not to mention. Germany became the first country in Europe to legally recognise a gender outside of the gender binary on birth certificates. But isn’t a birth certificate a little too early to be naming anyone’s gender so shouldn’t we call get to be ‘undetermined’ until we know better? Oh we can dream but at least arbitrary terms ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ aren’t forced on everyone. Would it not be great if anyone could get a legal definition of ‘undetermined’ at any point? As this now creates the legal definition of ‘undetermined’ gender in Germany which these people can keep or change as they see fit this certainly sets a legal precedent that can be developed over time.

fuck gender norms and barriers

Vaginas!

Here’s a fun fact – I used to think vlogs were feminist blogs and the v stood for vagina reclaiming the word from connotations of sexy or dirty to give women a voice. I was really quite saddened to discover the v was for video. Anyway, the University of Sydney’s student newspaper, Honi Soit, also wants to challenge our connotations associated with vaginas so they ran a cover of 18 glorious vulvae in their naked, hairy, different loveliness to show that vaginas belong to women and we can feel whatever we like about them without pressure to shave them, jazzle them or put them in tight clothing for long periods of time. However, the Editors were told to censor the vulvae specifically the clitoris – no one wants to think of pleasurable for the person they are attached to now do they – but when printed the black bars of censorship just weren’t dark enough so the print run had to be recalled. 4000 copies of the paper were trapped in an office after being pulled from shelves but those 72000 feminist vulvae could not be silenced. I have trouble silencing my one. This week that issue is back in circulation with its vulvae proudly on the cover. It’s now sealed in plastic with an R18+ rating which somewhat undermines the intention to liberate vaginas from their sexualised and stigmatised trappings but R rated vaginas are better than no vaginas. Also a quick google of Honi Soit reveals a phrase, honi soit qui mal y pense, that roughly translates to ‘shamed be they who think evil of it.’ Indeed.

Funny Feminists!

So Foster’s (yes the beer people with the sexist ads) have this award called the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award (formerly the Perrier Award) and it’s kind of a Big Deal in the world of lols. This year it was won by a woman, Bridget Christie, for ‘A Bic for Her’ a title referencing the heavily criticised pens produced by pic for women’s delicate lady hands so they didn’t chafe writing shopping lists. I have some that I like to use to write ‘smash the patriarchy’ when the mood takes me. As you may have guessed from the title this show is about feminism, everyday sexism, lads’ mags, the whole shebang. Christie said “I decided to write a show about the emancipation of women and put it on at 11 in the morning. I didn’t think anyone would come, but the audiences have been unbelievable.” Fuck yeah.

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The Gay Agenda is Proud: Rhianna

This week, in the lead up to Glasgow Pride, we decided to interview some of our writers to find out what Pride means to them!

What’s your name, age and where do you come from?

Hi Cilla, my name’s Rhianna, I’m 25 and I’m originally from Ely but I live in Glasgow

Why did you get involved in the Gay Agenda?

I am very opinionated. I think we need more outlets to discuss issues for queer women in the UK

What do you write about?

Queer issues, trans* issues and books!

Photo by John: http://bit.ly/17ByjOy

Photo by John: http://bit.ly/17ByjOy

What do you do in real life?

I’m about to start an MRes in Equality and Human Rights, I work in a museum and I read a lot of books.

Why is Pride important to you?

It’s a really good platform for campaigning on the current issues for queer and LGBT people and you feel part of a community out in the street. You know you can hold hands with your girlfriend and won’t get shouted at for it.

What is your best and worst part of pride?

The people are the best bit. Everyone’s so happy to be out regardless of the weather or whatever else might be going on. The worst bit is all the commercialisation. All the pubs, clubs and the like that turn up to promote their drink prices and don’t give a shit about the protest part. Pride isn’t about pubs.

What’s your must-have item for Pride?

Rainbow clothes! I don’t fit in for many reasons – one of those is my fashion sense or lack thereof – and it’s nice to not be judged for wearing rainbow flares. Well not too judged.

If you had a placard for Pride what would it say?

“Gender Extender”. Actually it would probably say “Fuck gender binaries”.

fuck gender norms and barriers

What’s you Pride soundtrack?

Androgyny – Garbage

Best ever Pride you’ve been to?

The all merge into one actually. Probably Pride Glasgow a couple of years ago. I can’t remember what I was getting a petition signed for but I got a few hundred signatures and talked to loads of people. It was great.

What are you proud of?

I’m proud of us. I’m proud that we fight for our rights and how we fight for them. We are creative campaigners: we march, we blog, we have catchy chants, historically we’ve staged die ins and kiss ins. We are a movement changing the world one chant at a time.

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Porn?

No I was looking for gifs of women with cats…

As many of you have probably guessed I am a lesbian. A very small (5″1) lesbian. I grew up in a very small ‘city’ (15,000 people and as far as I knew 14,999 heterosexuals). When you grow up feeling like the only gay in the village, the Internet is your LGBT community. It’s a place to find and talk to other people just like you with considerably less social awkwardness and no embarrassing open mouthed gaping at quite how many queers there are out there.

Tumblr didn’t exist when I was 15/16 and lacking in lesbian pals, because I’m older than I’d like to admit. But if it had, and if I were cooler, I would have been searching for all the #lesbian posts. Using Tumblr, After Ellen, WordPress and a host of other sites. These sites are a great way to find other queer women and feel part of a wider community when you may not know any other lesbians. It’s a way to feel less alone and ask all those awkward ‘Am I a lesbian? What is a lesbian? Do I need to move to a Greek island?’ type questions. Up until last week all the cool queers were using Tumblr to create this sense of community, post about politics, read about activism and appreciate pictures of women with cats. Today this isn’t so easy.

Tumblr have banned using ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ and ‘bisexual’ as search terms on its app but bizarrely not currently on its main website. Tumblr defended this on their own blog by stating that

‘[t]he reason you see innocent tags like #gay being blocked on certain platforms is that they are still frequently returning adult content which our entire app was close to being banned for’.

Searching for ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ and ‘bisexual’ is not the same as searching for ‘porn’ or ‘sex’. I imagine if you want porn or sex you’d search for those words or more graphic descriptions. If you want pictures of rainbow cakes, videos of equal marriage demos and blogs on lesbophobia you search for and use hashtags like ‘lesbian’. To equate gay only with sex suggests our entire community is nothing more than a dating pool – a slur LGBT groups often have to fight against. For a popular blogging site to do this affirms the suggestion that if you’re looking for lesbian posts you must be wanting porn.

Tumblr hasn’t just equated every gay, lesbian and bisexual post on its website with porn regardless of content, it has also made some strange decisions about which tags to ban. The banned list includes ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘straight’. However, you can still search for ‘lesbo’, ‘dyke’, ‘bi’, ‘lez’, ‘LGBT’ ‘LGBTQ’, ‘queer’, ‘trans’, ‘homo’, ‘faggot’ and ‘homophobia’ – which many of those terms encourage. There aren’t many situations in which ‘queer’, ‘trans’ and ‘lesbo’ are more socially acceptable than ‘straight’. There is a more worrying problem here that it may now be easier to find homophobic posts than those promote and support the LGBT and queer communities.

Even this cat is shocked!

Even this cat is shocked!

Oi Tumblr, give us the gay back.

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Not in Our Name

You know what I hate? Transphobia. You know what I hate more? Transphobia in the name of feminism and lesbianism.

Once a year there’s this conference on Radical Feminism that produces vile transphobia in the name of defending feminism from penises or something. So once a year I search for the RadFem13 or whatever that year’s hashtag is, read something transphobic and get sad, then read all the feminists – cis and trans* – speaking out against it and get happy again. It’s a weird way to spend your time but if you do it for more than an hour your face starts to hurt. I imagine these ‘Radical’ so-called ‘Feminists’ spout their transphobia more than once a year but I don’t hear about it quite as often. However, today I discovered transphobia in guise of feminism and promoting lesbian identity is alive and well in Glasgow.

Today I discovered something called ‘Dyke March Glasgow’, https://www.facebook.com/GlasgowDykesUnite?ref=ts&fref=ts. This group wants a march to show,

‘young lesbians who are not out. Can see that they are not alone that they are not freaks. Also because I really would like to meet more Lesbians in and around Glasgow who would be interested in doing actions… Making zines having group meeting or just organising more space for lesbians to get together and talk / support one another’.

Well that sounds lovely. The Gay Agenda UK wants a nice safe space for queer women and a sense of community too. However, that’s where the comparison ends. In fact I should retract any comparison. I missed out the first part of their post that begins ‘I want to create a Woman Born Woman Lesbian Dyke March’. Yep that’s right – only ‘women born women’ can celebrate their identity and community. I don’t know many people that see us as ‘born’ ‘women’ instead focusing more on social construct but that, dear reader, is an argument for another time. I looked at the comments to see if they would clarify their position on ‘Woman Born Woman’ or ‘WBW’ as they refer to it just in case there was something I’d misinterpreted and my fears of transphobia were wrong. I’m about to repost some very transphobic things. I apologise for reiterating their bigotry but we need to know what kind of ideas we’re up against.

One person claimed: ‘Trans women are not women. they do not have the right to my space or my vagina, if that makes me ‘transphobic” so be it.’

Another claimed: ‘Men are not lesbians. No matter what they are wearing. Pro tip: the clue is the dick.’

And another: ‘Trans is a myth and illusion. Men can never be women.’

And finally: ‘A person with a penis is a male. A male with his penis removed is still a male – but now he is a male without a penis. That is fact, and no, it cannot be changed. All the ‘preferred gender pronouns’ in the world can’t change that reality.’

What gives you the right to name another person’s gender? Transphobia is not something that can just be shrugged off because it doesn’t hurt you specifically. When cis-people in the queer community shut trans* people out it damages our entire community as feminists, queers, LGBT people and as lesbians. When we say that we as women share oppression and as lesbians we share other different forms of oppression we have no right to say who gets to be counted as a woman or a lesbian. You define as a ‘queer’ ‘woman’ some or all of the time? Come on in to The Gay Agenda UK! We don’t check you genitalia at the door. There is a worrying reduction to biology here that suggests unless you have a fully functioning vagina, menstrual system and when you were born the doctor shouted ‘it’s a girl!’ you don’t get to call yourself a woman. When I introduce myself as Rhianna people don’t say to me ‘No you can’t call yourself that – you can’t sing’. That would be ridiculous. Yet this group are attempting some gender policing on who gets to define as a woman!

And, it isn’t just trans* women that don’t get to play at ‘Dyke March Glasgow’!

‘Het and bisexual women take from Lesbians’.

‘Dykes are lesbians. Transgender is anti-lesbian’.

Unfortunately these comments offer no explanation as to how or why trans* might be ‘anti-lesbian’ or what it is that is being taken from lesbians. Thankfully, lots of commenters are speaking out against this transphobia. One writes ‘Trans women are women too. Keep prejudice out of my lovely home city’ to which Dyke March Glasgow responded with ‘Stop being Lesbophobic.’ I am deeply troubled by a definition of lesbophobia that refuses trans* women to be called women. Dyke March Glasgow, I think you need to take a look at who you’re speaking for and why. Are trans* women really against your identity? The only lesbophobia I read on your page was directed at trans* lesbians.

There are only 31 people that like this Facebook page and there is a danger that promoting them with a blog post does more harm than good. However, we need to call out transphobia or bigotry. We can’t let it go unchallenged. Dyke March Glasgow claim to speak for young lesbians growing up gay in this city I live in. Being 25 I just about fit into that young lesbian in Glasgow category. Let me be perfectly clear here: when you hurl transphobic abuse at women under the guise of promoting lesbian identity, you do not speak for me. When you insist on some form of gender policing to keep women you don’t want to acknowledge as women out, you don’t speak for me. When you want to march for being born as a women ignoring any shared experience of lesbians, you you don’t speak to me.

Not in our name.

We are proud to stand with our trans* sisters. Photo by Kellie Parker: http://bit.ly/16wsZPu

We are proud to stand with our trans* sisters.

Photo by Kellie Parker: http://bit.ly/16wsZPu

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The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe

Jonathan Coe is a wonderful writer and he’s a wonderful human being. His books offer many reasons to love his writing style, with well crafted characters satirising Britain, politics and revealing countless truths about who we are. However, they do more than that. Jonathan Coe normalises homosexuality with characters that just happen to be gay. It is this that makes him a wonderful person. His lesbians are not evil plot devices, stereotypes in dungarees, or going through identity crisis coming-of-age phases.

The main protagonist’s sexuality is casually mentioned with a comment about her ‘longtime companion’ within the first 10 pages and it is not a point of contention for any of the characters in the present day. We discover later that this character Rosamond has of course experienced lesbophobia like all of us but it has not prevented her from living a full and happy life with her long-term partner Ruth and before that with an ex-girlfriend Rebecca.

Rosamond’s life is movingly revealed as she describes a series of 20 photographs via a tape recording to be left after her death to a blind relative, the missing Imogen. The knowledge that the intended recipient of the tapes is blind allows Coe to focus on the description of these photographs that span from the 1940s to the present day. The novel is incredibly tactile and audible – there is a sense that you can feel the photographs in this old woman’s hands and hear the whirring of the old cassette recorder. The use of the cassette tapes and at one point a record player adds to this construction of a living room that you can see and feel – one in which the occupant has relied on the same appliances that have survived the last few decades and will remain reliable until the end of her life. There is a real skill in Coe’s writing that he can create several layers of memory and storytelling while focusing on predominantly only one woman’s life.

The novel begins with Rosamond’s niece, Gill, learning of Rosamond’s death and the novel is interspersed with scenes from the life of Gill’s immediate family. There is the sense of space in which Rosamond is telling her life story as she describes these photographs and within that there are the additional spaces created by those descriptions and the memories they reveal. This creates an incredibly rich narrative setting which is surprising considering much of the novel takes place in an old woman’s home while she talks to a cassette recorder. The sense of sound is very important to this novel and at one point Rosamund plays a piece of music that is vey important to her. Coe has also released a ‘Kindle Single’ story called Pentatonic that also focuses on music to tell a different story from the perspective of the character David, Gill’s husband who plays a very small part in this novel, which further adds to the richness of this story. I would be interested to hear The Rain Before it Falls in audiobook format to see if adds another dimension to the sensory qualities the novel has.

Rosamond’s narrative is one of growing up, falling in love, moving in, moving out, finding a stable career she loved, falling in love again and living happily ever after in an idyllic rural community in England. It’s the kind of heteronormative finding true love story that could be found anywhere. It would be so easy for this character to be heterosexual. Yet Coe has her growing up gay in the 1940s, falling in love with a woman, hiding their love from landlords and parents, not having children or familial acceptance from their whole family and gradually finding that society slowly becomes more accepting around them. Rosamond’s life is not painted as a sob-story, a cautionary tale or an unrealistic glorified tale of homosexuality. Instead it is an incredibly honest portrayal of being a lesbian with all of the joy and the despair that comes with it. There is the incredible rush of feeling sexual attraction to a woman for the first time and the heartbreak of taking care of the daughter of a cousin when her mother leaves for two years only for that familial bond to be suddenly broken and no further opportunities for children to offer themselves.

The Rain Before it Falls is a beautiful story of a life lived and one that just happened to be lived by a lesbian. For showing his readers that lesbians are just like everyone else I would like to thank Jonathan Coe.

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I’m not homophobic but…

Last week I experienced lesbophobia in a space I had previously thought of as ‘safe’. Big deal, we’ve all been there. However, this was different. It wasn’t violent – they expressed their hatred in words and they were good enough to speak at a reasonable volume so that’s a plus. What was different about it is that this person didn’t think they were homophobic.

I’ll summarise this conversation for you briefly.

Her: yadada yada yada relationship chat.

Me: Oh yeah I live with my partner.

Her: Oh how long have you lived with your boyfriend.

Me: I’ve lived with my girlfriend for just over a year. Recently we moved together which felt like a bigger deal than moving in together or maybe it was just more stressful haha.

*awkward pause*

Her: Oh I didn’t like to presume *looks at me quizically with a face that says ‘but you don’t have horns – you look just like me!‘*

Her: *insert awkward rant about sin* followed by this line

I have lots of gay male friends. I get they can’t help being gay but you know it’s different with them *pointed look at me*

So I cut that down and paraphrased a lot but the gist was that it’s ok to be a gay man – they just can’t help themselves because, you know, men are pretty or unstoppable sex machines or something. On the other hand, women should know better. Lesbians are doubly deviant. They have the audacity to be women and always banging on about equal pay or some other awful fight for rights and they are lesbians always asking to get married. Married! ‘The nerve of them’ heteropatriarchal society says to me.

Is lesbophobia homophobia I hear you ask fictional reader?

Well yes and no. I often use the term homophobia as a catch-all term for lesbophobiatransphobiaqueerphobia and biphobia as well as the traditional use of the term for homophobic attitudes to gay men. However, using it as a catch-all term may not work when it is also used to refer to one group of gay men.

After experiencing this lesbophobic abuse I text my girlfriend to tell her I’d just experienced homophobia because my first thoughts were that’s what it was. I don’t believe this lesbophobe’s discussion of gay male friends was a simple ‘Oh I can’t be homophobic because I know this gay/met one once/saw one on TV and wasn’t repulsed’. It was much more disturbing. She was telling me that men have the freedom to love who they like but women should be grateful to be loved by men and stop messing things up for all the other women.

This got me thinking that maybe I shouldn’t use homophobia as a catch-all term because there are times when we aren’t all in this together. Don’t get me wrong, I love the inclusivity of the queer and LGBT communities but sometimes I experience specific lesbophobia and queerphobia. When I’m told I don’t need a smear test because I’m a lesbian, that isn’t homophobia. When I’m out with my trans friend and we need to find a different pub because there isn’t a bathroom they can use (or they get kicked out of one), that isn’t homophobia. When I hear for thousandth time that so-and-so is ‘actually’ gay but they think being bisexual is more socially acceptable, that isn’t homophobia. When I have to defend my definition of queer lesbian yet again because I’ve been too honest with someone that likes the gender binary more than real people, that isn’t homophobia.

Of course we should tackle homophobia but we should remember that there are situations that homophobia doesn’t always cover depending on your definition. There is also a bigger issue here that knowing that one gay person or being gay doesn’t mean you can’t be biphobic, lesbophoic, queerphobic, transphobic or homophobic. Although I love queer communities, I have found LGBT groups can be pretty biphobic, transphobic and queerphobic.

Are we all in this together?

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