Monthly Archives: December 2014

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2014

Top row - UKIP in LGBT, Theresa May, Ferguson Police Bottom row - Vicky Beeching, Michael Sam, Laverne Cox

Top row – LGBT in UKIP logo, Theresa May, Ferguson Police
Bottom row – Vicky Beeching, Michael Sam, Laverne Cox

Santa’s going to be coming down (but hopefully not in) a million billion chimneys tonight, and whereas last year I was expecting coal in my stocking, this year I’ve been a fucking saint. Seriously, thanks to the FDA’s reuqirements that gay men only be celibate for a year before they donate, I can now give blood. It’s been that kind of year.

Some have been equally as good this year. Some, though, have been very, very naughty. And with that, I give you my annual naughty and nice list!

naughty

3. LGBT in UKIP

Where the fuck do I even begin? Well, there’s their Aunt Mary MEP who is against equal marriage. Or the time UKIP Leader Nigel Farage referred to him as a “great big screaming poof” when using him as an example of how they’re not homophobic. Oh, and the branch chair who said gay adoption was tantamount to “child abuse.” And the list of homophobic UKIP comments just goes on and on.

That UKIP doesn’t like LGBT people is not news. But the fact that LGBT in UKIP, the LGBT pressure group within the party, exists, is. And the fact that they’ve continued to support the party despite its large opposition to LGBT equality and offensive rhetoric is deeply troublesome. To their credit, they stood up to UKIP HQ when Kerry Smith referred to LGBT people as “poofters,” though he was speaking specifically of LGBT in UKIP at the time, so that may have been more a personal than principled reaction.

UKIP stands a good chance of entering Westminster en masse at the General Election, and it’s entirely possible they could hold the balance of power in a potential hung parliament. That LGBT people are backing an anti-LGBT party which could determine the future of Britain is not only mystifying, it’s infuriating.

2. Theresa May

Theresa May hates me. As a gay foreigner, she’s made that abundantly clear in 2014. Only this month, a lesbian refugee from Uganda was nearly deported, despite fears for her life; she received a last minute reprieve, but the allegations that the Home Office ignored evidence and medical experts is concerning. When considered along the myriad of other cases involving LGBT asylum seekers, it’s evidence of a systemic problem within the Home Office. In October, the Guardian reported that “more than a tenth of Home Office interviews of gay and lesbian asylum seekers include ‘intrusive or or unsatisfactory’ questions about their sex lives.” This came in a report by Chief Inspector John Vine, who found some of the questions so graphic even I blushed.

This comes in a year where May has taken a hardline stance on migrants, refugees, and even students. Most recently, she has backed tightening restrictions on foreign students in the UK, requiring them to leave the country and apply for a work visa, as opposed to the four months foreign graduates currently have to find a job and switch from a student visa to a work visa. You can study at our universities, May is essentially saying, but you can’t contribute to our society.

The increasingly hostile rhetoric towards immigrants coming from the Home Office is concerning, and it seems unlikely to temper as we approach the General Election, which means it’s a shitty time to be a gay person, a foreigner, or a current or future international student. As someone who ticks all three boxes, this is some bullshit.

1. The American Police

Tanesha Anderson. John Crawford. Michelle Cusseaux. Tamir Rice. Yvette Smith. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

These are but a handful of the unarmed Black people to be killed by American police this year. We need to have a national conversation about institutional racism within the ranks of the American police forces, and we need to have it now. We need to talk openly about white privilege and white supremacy, and how Black bodies are inherently viewed as criminal through white eyes. We, as white America, need to look in the mirror and see the ugliness of our own racism.White supremacy and structural racism are problems as old as America itself. Older, even, when you consider the transatlantic slave trade began more than two centuries before slaveowning Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. These are not problems America has solved, because they’re the problems America was built upon. Racism is not just a founding principle of America, but the foundation of American society. It is handed down, generation to generation, an inherent trait in the American bloodstream. This country was stolen from the Native Americans and built on the backs of enslaved Africans. Yet white America denies it, denies it, denies it.

This year was no different, except we were forced to confront it. The institutional racism inherent in police forces—which are, in the end, agents of the state—was finally exposed. White America, and the police in particular, were quick to bury their heads in the sand as they continued blowing the heads off Black men and women. Instead of grappling with the realities of institutional racism (which, by the way, doesn’t mean all cops are racist), cops like New York City’s Patrick J Lynch, who heads that city’s police union, has been quick to cast blame—on Garner, on the mayor, on activists, basically on anyone but the police.

We have to attack institutional racism in this country, and police forces are as fine a place as any to start. Until we do, we will never truly get to an equal society.

Dishonourable mentions: The NFL, Russell Brand, Boris Johnson

nice

3. Michael Sam

Michael Sam shocked the world when, as an All-American football player who was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year, he came out. Sam went on to make history, becoming the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. Things didn’t go so well from there; Sam was cut from the Saint Louis Rams and, later, the Dallas Cowboys. His future in the NFL remains to be seen, and what role homophobia played in slashing his prospects, first in the draft and now in the league, is hotly debated.

All of this matters. But none of it matters as much as Michael Sam matters, simply for existing. By coming out in the macho, misogynistic world of the NFL, Michael Sam provided hope and inspiration to countless young gay boys throughout America, and even abroad, who were struggling to reconcile their masculinity and sexuality. He became a role model over night, and blazed a trail which future openly gay athletes will follow. He also opened up a conversation on institutional homophobia within sport, one of which gay, lesbian, and bisexual athletes will benefit from in the years to come.

2. Vicky Beeching

Like Michael Sam, Vicky Beeching blazed a trail for LGB people this year. Long a public ally of LGBT* people of faith, Beeching sent shockwaves throughout Christian media when she came out in August. In the subsequent weeks, she has shown herself a tireless and effective advocate against the institutional homophobia of the Church, as her Channel 4 debate with the homophobic preacher Scott Lively shows. She has also been pivotal in reframing the conversation about the role of LGBT* people in Christianity, all the while teaching a more inclusive interpretation of the scripture.

In a year where the religious right redoubled its efforts to combat equality, in which LGBT* Christians fought to reclaim our own narratives, Beeching’s brave stand, and her subsequent tenacity, have been invaluable. She has shown what it means to live faithfully as an openly gay person, and she has opened a dialogue between LGBT* Christians and our sisters and brothers in Christ who wrongly condemn us. She is interested not just in advancing the cause of LGBT* people, but building bridges and mending fences, tasks for which she is uniquely qualified. Her importance will only grow in 2015, and I look forward to it, as she continues to offer fellowship to both those margianalised by the Church, and those responsible for it.

1. Laverne Cox

The Transgender Tipping Point.” That’s how Time described it when Laverne Cox, the Emmy-nominated star of Orange is the New Black, made history as the first openly transgender person on that esteemed magazine’s cover. 2014 has been the year of Laverne, culminating most recently when she became the voice of reason—by which I mean, intersectional feminism—in a debate on racism on The View. Laverne has consistently raised the concerns of trans* people of colour to the mainstream in a way that few, if any, others have.

She is, in many ways, a transformative figure, as Time pointed out. But she also seems so remarkably down-to-earth, the woman next door who says hi every day, and maybe pops over for a glass of wine and a Scandal binge. Laverne’s politics are on point, but its her personality—her wit and her warmth—which has endeared her to the American public.

2014 was big for Laverne, and 2015 looks to be even bigger, with a starring role in the film Grandma. As her star continues to rise, I look forward to seeing more of her talent, and hearing more of her succinct, biting cultural analysis.

Honourable mentions: Anitia Sarkeesian, the Ferguson Protestors, Owen Jones

I think we can all agree it’s been a shit year. But through it all, you lot have stuck by my side. For that, I am entirely grateful. I want to take this opportunity to thank a few of you in particular: Sara, Kellee, Vanessa, Michelle, Kayla, Jenna, Elizabeth, Nick, Robyn, Peter, Lily Jayne, Alex, Nathan, Wes, Derrick, Parker, Michelle, Sarah, Kat, Bryan, Kevin, and as always, Mamaw and Papaw. I am so grateful for everything you have done for me. Your friendship and support has been most humbling.

Now Happy Christmas you lot!!!!!

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So, let’s talk about Phi Kappa Psi’s statement on Jackie, the Rolling Stone article, and rape at UVA

Photo credit: WVIR-TV/NBC 29

Photo credit: WVIR-TV/NBC 29

A lot has been made about the Rolling Stone article chronicling the rape of Jackie, who during her freshman year, alleges she was gang raped by a group of men at a University of Virginia fraternity house. Rolling Stone has since distanced itself from the story, which has kicked up a firestorm of controversy, slut-shaming, and victim-blaming on social media, as well as fuelled rape denialism and apologism.

What prompted the Rolling Stone apology? Apparently, some factual inaccuracies found by the fraternity in question, Phi Kappa Psi, as well as the fact that they never reached out to her alleged rapists, in particular the one she accuses of orchestrating the attack. We can debate whether Rolling Stone should’ve reached out to Jackie’s unnamed alleged attacker, but what I find more pernicious is that Phi Kappa Psi’s assertions have gone unchecked and unscrutinised. They’re taken as fact.

What most of you don’t know is that, for the past several weeks, I’ve been working on a piece about my own experiences with Greek life. I hope to see it published nationally here in the USA soon. But the fact is, I am somewhat of an expert, by virtue of my own lived experiences, on the fraternity system and fraternity life in particular. I wasn’t Greek-that’s part of the point of my article-but I was an outsider firmly on the inside. As such, let’s talk about Virginia Alpha chapter’s rebuttal of Jackie, the woman allegedly raped at their UVA chapter house:

First, the 2012 roster of employees at the Aquatic and Fitness Center does not list a Phi Kappa Psi as a lifeguard. As far as we have determined, no member of our fraternity worked there in any capacity during this time period.

So this is pretty damning, obviously, and something that was easily verifiable by Rolling Stone. At least, that’s how it seems on the surface. But what we now know is that Drew, the alias by which Rolling Stone identifies the man Jackie alleges raped her, may not have been a Phi Kappa Psi at all. It is unusual, but not unheard of, for members of other fraternities to attend a party at another fraternity house. It is less unusual for GDI-goddamn independent, or non-affiliated students-to wind up at these parties; I was one of them. So Drew might not have been a Phi Psi, yet the assault could still have taken place at the Phi Psi house. This means Phi Kappa Psi would have some liability. Could Jackie have mistaken Drew for a Phi Psi? If he talked a lot about it and hung out with a lot of them, yes. I was regularly mistaken for an active member of the fraternity I hung out with by people unfamiliar with the chapter or Greek life. Jackie was a first-semester freshman who clearly knew little about college life, let alone fraternities and sororities. It’s possible.

Second, the Chapter did not have a date function or a social event during the weekend of September 28th, 2012.

This one actually made me laugh out loud. On my campus, and so many of the campuses I visited, wet events were banned at fraternity houses by the national organisation and by the university, for obvious legal liability reasons. That Phi Psi’s nationals would know about every party that happened at that house is ludicrous. In fact, the active chapter would probably be at great pains to make sure nationals didn’t find out. A date function or social event, such as a mixer (a party featuring them and a sorority), a formal (which almost certainly would have been a destination dance, not something held at the house), or other registered party would be tame by comparison, because Phi Kappa Psi doesn’t want to get sued. Any party like the one Jackie described is extremely likely to be an unofficial function not appearing in the official records of the fraternity. That means, even two years later, the local chapter could say there was no date function or social event during that weekend, without having to admit that yes, actually, there was a party. These terms have specific meanings.

Third, our Chapter’s pledging and initiation periods, as required by the University and Inter-Fraternity Council, take place solely in the spring semester and not in the fall semester. We document the initiation of new members at the end of each spring.

This is interesting, but not necessarily a defence. Formal pledging happens in very structured and specific time frames, but informal recruitment (even if the men rushing have to go through the formal process) happens year-round, particularly with freshmen who may have missed the pledging process the year before. I’ve seen it happen, men who somehow befriended one or two active members and then decided to join their sophomore or even junior year. The time frame of when rush, pledging, and initiation happens at UVA is neither here nor there, because much like the party, year-round recruitment may well have been something not on the official records, but that is nonetheless a part of the routine and everyday life of this and many, many fraternities.

Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.

I 100% believe this. Ritualized sexual assault, I can say with total confidence, is not a part of Pi Kappa Psi’s pledging or initiation process, nor is it a part of any other North-American Interfraternity Council member organization’s ritual. If it were, we’d have heard about it by now, full stop.

But here’s where things become less clear. It is not unusual for individual chapters to have their own traditions and rituals. It could be as innocent as adopting a penguin as your mascot, or it could be something more odious, like the “hell night” I once saw a freshman pledging a fraternity notorious for hazing come back from. The bruises on his back and abdomen terrified me as an RA. I can guarantee you that’s not part of any national initiation ritual too, yet I witnessed the results. Reading back through the Rolling Stone article, it could be that these men were simply egging one another on by saying they all had to do it, even if they didn’t. It could be that Jackie doesn’t remember the details of what was said, which studies have proven victims of trauma such as sexual assault find difficult to piece together. Or it could be that this local chapter has a very dark ritual unto itself, one, again, that nationals would know nothing about. Until it did.

The fact is that the national Greek organizations, the headquarters, can only be so responsible and know so much about what’s happening at their individual campus chapters, run by 18-22 year olds with limited adult oversight. This means, invariably, that a lot of what actually happens doesn’t make it onto the official record, and doesn’t become part of the historic narrative. The chapter may have no record of the party Jackie attended, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a party that night.

And it also remains that what Phi Kappa Psi has said in their statement is only half the story. Yes, what they said may all be technically true, but it doesn’t mean that things didn’t transpire exactly, or close to, as Jackie described to Rolling Stone. Anyone who knows Greek Life will know this, even if they’re loathed to admit it.

We can talk about journalistic integrity and whether it was a dereliction of duty and due diligence for Rolling Stone not to contact Jackie’s accused rapists or look into some of these details themselves. But what we’re not going to do is cast the veil of doubt over Jackie’s account while letting the rebuttal by Phi Kappa Psi and others go unscrutinised.

The fact is, there’s a lot of wiggle room Phi Kappa Psi has given itself. They’ve done a good job of bringing Jackie’s account into question, but they have done it with the hope and the knowledge that most journalists don’t know the realities of how Greek life works on a grassroots, day-to-day level, and with the hope that no one would question this because, well, facts. But their facts give way to reality, and the reality is that what Phi Kappa Psi said in its statement is only the official truth. The actual truth is much more convoluted, and likely much, much closer to Jackie’s story than they’d ever care to admit.

Update, 5 April 2015: Today, the Columbia School of Journalism published its report on the journalistic lapses of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s “A Rape on Campus,” and I wanted to make sure those were included here. Back when this blog was initially published, Rubin Erdeley’s reporting was just being called into question and the story only starting to unravel. What the CSJ report has found is a complete dereliction of duty. Make no mistakes: this report is damning. Rubin Erdely, her editors, and Rolling Stone should have and could have done better.

As a blogger, essayist, and especially as a journalist, accuracy matters. While I stand by my overall analysis of and commentary on Phi Kappa Psi’s statement from December 2014–the gist being that things on Greek Row are not always what they seem–it has become very clear and unequivocal that things likely did transpire closer to what Phi Kappa Psi claims than to what Jackie told Rubin Erdely. 

Pints and Possibilities: The Curious American in London

jubilee17

There comes a point in every trip to London where I begin wishing I were home. Not America home, but home home, I miss my shower, with its hard water, and my sofa and my bed. You know, creature comforts.

Obviously this won’t be a problem when I move here, and I actually imagine it’ll be the bigger things I miss, like being able to get a drip coffee at any coffeehouse, and not having the barista sneer when you request it. (Seriously, London, this isn’t Italy; get over your coffee snobbishness.)

I just noticed a young man at the table across from me wearing Crocs. I suddenly feel a lot less basic for drinking drip coffee.

So anyway, this trip is coming to a close, and for those of you who follow me on social media, you know that getting here was quite an Odyssey. I’ll chronicle that at a later date. Right now I want to focus on how it feels to be back in London, and shoot off some quick, unedited thoughts. This is a free write (much like my Ferguson blog), so don’t expect a polished piece. Just stick with me. I’ll get somewhere eventually. I always manage.

I want to be here. More than anything, I want to be here. But the here I want is changing. My hostel is in Brondesbury, a fairly middle-class area on the cusp of Zone 3, with brick row houses and little children in school uniforms crowding corners in the afternoon. It doesn’t remind me of Logan Square (my neighbourhood in Chicago), but does have a bit of a Roscoe Village feel to it. Very quiet, residential, with just enough restaurants and bars and pubs to keep things interesting but not enough that it’s somewhere you want to stay on your holiday. That is, unless you’re me, and you like your holiday to be basically like your workweek except without the work. We’ll come back to this thought.

So here I am in Brondesbury. An ambulance has just blared its sirens past the cafe. That’s happened a lot here, with both ambulances and police cruisers, so I reckon there must be a station nearby. I’m not far from the Kilburn Tube Station, so I can see commuters hurrying to and from. You can tell the ones who have somewhere to be-maybe a job interview, possibly a lunch date-because they keep bumping into the wicker chairs and metallic tables that this place uses to create some semblance of cafe culture. In London. In November.

But you can pop out there for a cigarette, so I’m not complaining.

I really like Brondesbury, actually. There’s a gorgeous tavern/pub right around the corner, fully restored. Looks Victorian, but may be Edwardian; I haven’t investigated the history. The staff is incredibly friendly, as are the patrons. I had some great conversations last night whilst waiting to go over to my mate Nick’s for Thanksgiving dinner. My favourite was the old man who didn’t understand why a Frenchman could move to the UK without question but an American couldn’t. I didn’t bother to explain. I just accepted the compliment of his righteous indignation.

I could see myself living here, or just down the road in West Hampstead or Finchley. This is pretty significant, because in the past, I couldn’t tell you where in London I would live. My stock answer was also a complete fantasy; there is no way I will ever afford property in SW3. So where in London I “belonged,” where I would call “home,” was always a bit of a mystery, even to me. Bloomsbury will forever have a part of my heart, being where I stayed back in 2007 whilst at UCL, but again, that’s a cheque I can’t cash. And whilst I’m not even sure I could comfortably afford to live in Finchley-London is so much more expensive than Chicago-it certainly feels more attainable.

Indeed, I’ve seen a lot of London this trip that I haven’t seen before. I went down to Richmond, and then to Twickenham, a couple different times. On my way back, I stopped off in Chiswick, though I was slightly disappointed to not bump into Donna Noble. It was an entire side of the city I had never explored, and though my time there was brief, it was enjoyable. (Not least because of the company.)

Twickenham, and indeed Richmond, feels a world away from Brondesbury, though. I loved it down there, full stop. Not as unattainably posh as Kensington and Chelsea, but posher than Brondesbury or Logan Square, Richmond was just lovely. Like Logan Square in Chicago, it felt more breathable than the rest of London, but unlike Logan Square, my host told me many people wouldn’t consider it properly London. Indeed, Twickenham in particular, but Richmond as well, did feel more suburban than Logan Square and certainly more suburban than the parts of London I’m familiar with, but suprisingly, I enjoyed that. I didn’t spend enough time there to pretend to be an expert, but from what I saw, it was a bit of a slower pace of life, a little more laid back, and a lot, lot quieter.

I had one of my best sleeps this year in Twickenham. That my bedmate was a fantastic big spoon was only part of that reason.

Yes, I met a man. Yes, I fancy him. Yes, I would love to see where things go. But no, he’s not putting a ring on it any time soon. I don’t even know if he’s that interested in me, and I know the whole transatlantic thing kind of freaks him out. It’s understandable. It should freak him out. It’s scary as hell.

I don’t want to talk too much about him, though, because he A) hasn’t really given me permission to put his life and our date(s) on full blast and B) he reads my work so I bet this is already a little awkward (hey, you told me my best work was the confessional stuff). But what I will say is that he’s lovely. And when he texts me I smile. And that he’s good in a crisis.

I will also say that it’s nice to be dating again, even if just for this week. I mean the fact that this bloke is a gem aside, it’s been genuinely fun getting to know someone, flirting, and going through the inevitable self-doubt of whether they like you like you like them. I’d forgotten how exciting and terrifying and wonderful and stressful this could be.

Dating is fun, but it’s also frustrating. How many times have we all had that amazing first date, where you think everything went swimmingly, only to find out they don’t want to see you the next day? In 2012 and 2013, that happened all the time in Chicago. Sometimes you can tell, and you set reasonable expectations. But sometimes, man, men are dicks.

I did a cost/benefit analysis of romance and decided that it just isn’t worth it. Not in Chicago. Not when it’s impossible to find men stateside who want to move to the UK. I’m focusing so much on my writing career, and finding a job in Britain, that I don’t have the time or the energy to date.

Except in London. In London I do. Because he’s already here. But you try finding a man who is ready to do a long-distance relationship. A quick fling with an American, sure. But commitment across continents? Nope. And I don’t blame them. It’s bonkers. And even I’m not the biggest fan of it, because the last thing I want is anyone ever thinking that I’ve married a man for citizenship. I had that opportunity five years ago and passed on it, because I want to marry for love, not a passport. And could you imagine his family and friends always questioning whether my motives were pure? Fuck me. I’d never be able to live with that.

Yet, I can’t bring myself to date men in Chicago because I want to be in London, which means I don’t date. But when I date in London it’s only for a few days, and finding something that lasts is incredibly unrealistic.

There’s an obvious solution to this, and you’re probably screaming it right now. “Skylar, just fucking move to London!” That would alleviate a lot of my concerns, wouldn’t it?

So I think I’m going to. I don’t know how I’m going to manage it, but I’m going to figure that out. It’s not going to happen overnight. It probably won’t even happen next year. But I’m going to figure out a way to get here. Everything I want is here. My future is here. My home is here. Somewhere, my husband is here too. But I’m not here. So I’ve gotta get me here.

Each time I’m in London I feel closer to moving here. But this time my resolve is rock solid. This time I truly feel as though I belong. The problem is I have no idea how to make this happen. It’s something that comes up time and time again. But if I’m being honest, I just don’t know. My most obvious option is marriage, but as I said before, that’s out of the question. Trying to find a job is my next best option, but it’s hard, and I have no distinguishable talent other than writing. And until my career takes off back in America, I’ve no chance of actually moving here.

So I’m stuck. I’m stuck in Chicago. I’m stuck in America. And I’m stuck on my own. I’ll get here. There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll get here. I just… have no fucking clue how I’m going to make that happen.

But then, I’m the bloke who sold everything he had, bought a one-way bus ticket to Chicago, and never looked back. I figured that out. I’ll figure this out.

Watch this space.