Tag Archives: Feminism

Milo, Laurie Penny, the Lost Boys, and Toxic Masculinity

 

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Milo Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, a plum speaking gig, and his job this week. Photo: Flickr

I’ve spent a lot of the last three months calling Trump supporters and the alt-right monsters. I did so on this blog. I did so in The Independent.

But there is something missing from my analysis, and it’s something Laurie Penny touched on in a much praised and much derided piece for the Pacific Standard. Before I get into what Penny did and didn’t say, though, let me tell you a story.

When I was 22, I met a young 18-year-old straight boy. We’ll call him Jacob. Jacob was white, blonde, heterosexual, and totally lost in this world. Beyond anything, he was impressionable. Jacob only wanted to be liked. To belong somewhere. Gangly, bumbling, and painfully awkward, Jacob and I met through student government. I took an instant liking to him. He was sweet, goofy, and though intellectually inelegant (as 18-year-olds are apt to be), clearly intelligent.

Jacob looked to me as a mentor, and I to him as a kid I could help. I nurtured him and invited him to hang out with friends and go to parties. Eventually he pledged the fraternity I always hung out with (but didn’t belong to). I didn’t think this a good idea – Jacob was too sensitive, too vulnerable, and frankly too cerebral to really fit in with this hard-drinking, fast-fucking crew. I’ve written about my own college years drinking and fucking my way up and down fraternity row, and I was afraid that blend of toxic masculinity (which at the time I got a high off of) would kill poor Jacob.

Fast forward eight or so years, and he probably disagrees. I still don’t. Jacob was relentlessly picked on, though I must stress not hazed, by the guys in the fraternity. Most of it was the good-natured banter that twenty-something men tend toward. Some of it was a lot crueller. All of it proved too much for Jacob, who began drinking heavily and was prone to becoming violent when intoxicated. It got him banned from some fraternity parties and even, for a time, my house – unless he stayed sober.

Around this time, Jacob took a women’s studies class at my behest, and even began dating a lovely feminist woman. It seemed that he would sort himself out. But a year after I moved to Chicago, I got a call from him saying they’d broken up, and that he was in a very dark place. No stranger to dark places myself, I took a Megabus to see him. He rebounded, and I left.

As friends who live hundreds of miles away from one another often do, we drifted apart. It wasn’t really until last year when I drunkenly called him to catch up that I realised the boy I’d met who entered this world of toxic masculinity grew up into a misogynistic man and Trump supporter. We’ve not talked a lot since.

I’m from Kentucky, so the fact that people I know and even considered friends voted for Donald Trump isn’t all that surprising. But reading Penny’s piece, I thought specifically of Jacob and the strange, drunken, and desperate course he travelled from a dorky college kid to a self-identified feminist to the type of guy who, had he been born a few years later, could’ve been in that car with Penny and Yiannopoulos, evacuating UC-Berkeley.

I’m going to quote at length from Laurie’s piece here, because I think she makes two important points – one clumsily and one cogently. First, this:

It is vital that we talk about who gets to be treated like a child, and what that means. All of the people on Yiannopoulos’ tour are over 18 and legally responsible for their actions. They are also young, terribly young, young in a way that only privileged young men really get to be young in America, where your race, sex, and class determine whether and if you ever get to be a stupid kid, or a kid at all. Mike Brown was also 18, the same age as the Yiannopoulos posse, when he was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014; newspaper reports described him as an adult, and insisted that the teenager was “no angel,” as if that justified what was done to him. Tamir Rice was just 12 years old when he was shot and killed in Cleveland for playing with a toy gun. The boys following Yiannopoulos are playing with a toy dictator, and they have faced no consequences as yet, even though it turns out that their plastic play-fascism is, in fact, fully loaded and ready for murder.

This is the bit that seems to have gotten Penny the most flack, and to be fair, I get it. Writer Mikki Kendall summed it up best in a Twitter thread, in which she points out that Penny building her argument on the bodies of dead Black martyrs is callous and insensitive. I take that point. (I’m posting the first tweet in the thread below; please read and consider it.)

Still, engaging with who gets to be seen as a child, or an innocent, or have their behaviour excused because of youth is a worthwhile intellectual exercise, because in our culture not everybody gets to have youthful indiscretions. That is, in fact, almost exclusively the purview of straight cis white men.

So while perhaps Penny’s word choice was unfortunate, I don’t think her point was far from the mark. And yes, impact matters more than intent, but I have always believed that intent should be considered when thinking of how we respond, because it does still matter.

I say this not only as a defence of Penny’s own work and intentions, but because it plays right into the next very important point she makes. While, as she writes, “these are little boys playing games with the lives of others,” she also points out that Yiannopoulos

exploits vulnerable young men. Not in a sexual way. Not in an illegal way. Yiannopoulos exploits vulnerable young men in the same way that every wing-nut right-wing shock-jock from the president down has been exploiting them for years: by whipping up the fear and frustration of angry young men and boys who would rather burn down the world than learn to live in it like adults, by directing that affectless rage in service to their own fame and power. This is the sort of exploitation the entire conservative sphere is entirely comfortable with. What happens to these kids now that the game has changed?

If you think that centring white male Trump supporters is the antithesis of everything you stand for and the very thing both Penny and I have dedicated our careers to not doing, well, you’re right. So let me say before we go any further that I will absolutely side with any marginalised community over angry, privileged, adultalescent men – whether 17 or 70 – who leverage their power and privilege to harm the most vulnerable. As I’ve said many times, to many friends, and on many panels, I say now for the first time in print:

Explanations are not excuses

There is absolutely no excusing the behaviour of Yiannopoulos, his fanboys, President Trump, or any of the enablers, gatekeepers, or even voters who propelled them all to where they are today. None. But I do think the left, the resistance, and for that matter American culture generally could benefit from asking ourselves what brought them to this point.

If you read Penny’s piece, it’s clear that it wasn’t economic anxiety. If you look at the polling data on who voted for Trump, it’s clear too. But I think Penny hit the nail squarely on the head when she labelled these groupies “the lost boys.” Because I know a boy like them. I know Jacob.

Jacob graduated university in 2013 and moved to a mid-sized southern metropolis in search of the elusive American dream. He found dead end after dead end, working a sales job he didn’t like which (if I recall) he was eventually fired or laid off from. He found dating hard, impossible even. Women just didn’t seem interested in him.

At some point between 2014 and 2016 he moved back to his parents’ house in a small southern city and resumed working at the fast food restaurant he worked at while in high school. Last I talked to him, which was probably last spring, he was the manager. He was still living at home. He was still single. And he was noticeably and perhaps understandably angry about it.

It was at that time he told me that he thought, like Yiannopoulos, that feminism was a cancer on Western society. It had damaged the natural order of men on top and women subservient. All the social progress we made wasn’t working for him, so it obviously wasn’t working for anyone. Best to go back to 1956.

This is of course absurd. It is also straight up sexism.

Yet – consider one of the young men in Yiannopoulos’ posse, who told Penny that “I think a lot of people in this crew wouldn’t be part of the popular crowd without the Trump movement. I think that some of us are outcasts, some of us are kind of weird. It’s a motley crew.”

This quote gave me pause, and I reread it probably four times before going on, particularly the phrase “popular crowd,” which is one most often heard in high school cafeterias, not political discourse. That phrase in and of itself conjures up adolescence, immaturity, and a childlike longing to be recognised as part of the crème-de-la-crème of your social unit. That is not the phrase a well-adjusted adult uses unironically.

I have often times thanked God that I’m gay, because I think it saved me from going down this darkly bigoted path. Being openly gay in Kentucky from 2001 – 2011 did for me what it clearly never did for Yiannopoulos: it made me empathetic to other minorities. But if you read the essay I wrote for Salon about trying so desperately to belong to Greek life at my alma mater, you’ll see that I tried desperately to fit in with the oppressive class:

But from under them I could still obtain a certain level of social cachet. My reputation as someone who would fuck but didn’t talk grew, and with that, came a certain level of trust. “Put a cock in his mouth and he’ll shut up,” one of my buddies once joked. Suddenly, I was invited to the premier parties, not just from the fraternity I was hanging out with, but others. And I went, because it felt good. Being invited signaled acceptance, even if it was only on their terms. I might not be one of them, but I could hang with them, and that meant something.

I was a women’s studies minor. I knew better. Yet I still fell for the trappings of white heteropatriarchy, which as I said in that essay, is one helluva drug – especially to a working class gay kid who had never found any semblance of social acceptance anywhere else.

The sociologist Paul Kivel has a theory he calls the “act-like-a-man box,” which explains the pressures men feel to achieve, to provide, to dominate women, and to suppress their emotions and how these things can negatively impact not only their mental health but their politics. It’s basically a handy diagram to explain the theory of toxic masculinity, and square in the middle of it can be found Jacob and the Milo Yiannopoulos fan club.

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Paul Kivel’s “act-like-a-man box”

Yiannopoulos first came to American prominence through GamerGate, which was a sexist backlash against women playing video games masquerading as being about journalistic ethics. He built his cult following of basement dwelling, Red Bull chugging nerdy men by tearing down the women who many of them felt were invading a space where they could live out their misogynistic, violent fantasies without retribution or critique. Games were all they had, because for many of these men, they were social rejects. (I can say this with some certainty, as the gamers I know who are well-adjusted adult humans reject GamerGate, Yiannopoulos, and Trump without hesitation.)

Yet these are men who were, for a variety of reasons – whether because they were nerdy, or more effeminate, or overweight, or socially awkward – emasculated by the patriarchal norms described in the act-like-a-man box. Instead of burning the box and liberating themselves, they retreated further into it, where they found Donald Trump and Milo Yiannopoulos waiting to exploit their anxieties and insecurities for profit and for power.

Jacob wasn’t a gamer, but he was in the act-like-a-man box too, and Trump and Yiannopoulos found and converted him too. These Lost Boys, as Penny calls them, were lost because they – for whatever reason, or for many reasons – couldn’t live up to the pressures of socially constructed toxic masculinity. So they turned to people who could help redefine that.

This is probably key to why Milo Yiannopoulos so appealed to these young men. Sure, as Penny points out, they weren’t gay, but Yiannopoulos simultaneously defied the norms of masculinity – camping it up, wearing his pearls, openly talking of sucking dick – while being embraced by the patriarchy. If he could do it, they likely thought, so could they. It actually makes perfect sense that Yiannopoulos was the standard bearer of these Lost Boys. He accessed the social currency they desperately want to possess.

Of course key to all of this is how they viewed what it means to be a man. The toxicity isn’t only what it does to them, but what it does to others. That to them being a man meant dominance, violence, and sexual control of women is exactly what enables rape culture to thrive and domestic violence rates to stay abysmally high. It’s patriarchal, white supremacist bullshit that keeps women, racial minorities, LGBT people, and other marginalised groups oppressed. But – and this is a fact many leftists don’t want to grapple with – it also hurts white cis straight men who are denied agency unless they fit these narrow parameters of what it means to be a man.

It has been pointed out numerous times that Yiannopoulos was brought down not by his bigotry but the bigotry of others, whose homophobia was so triggered by what he said about the pederastic paradigm (and I do believe that’s what he was trying to say) that they exiled him from Trumpland. Whether his Lost Boys continue to follow him remains to be seen. Judging from the comments on his Facebook page, I think many will. I also think, as someone who has followed Yiannopoulos’ career since 2009 (which is around the time Penny and I first followed one another on Twitter), that we’ve not seen the last of him. His career has at least six lives left. What the next one manifests as, though, is anyone’s guess.

If Yiannopoulos can’t rehabilitate his image in the alt-right and even mainstream conservatism, someone will surely rise to take his place. As Penny’s article shows, there are plenty of Lost Boys waiting to play Peter Pan. One of them will assume the mantle in due course.

When they do, though, I hope we have a better understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. Because I think understanding the toxic masculinity – and the denial of it – that gave rise to Yiannopoulos and his cult following is important. Besides the obvious “know thy enemy” trope, if we’re ever to successfully deconstruct white heteropatriarchy, we have to know how it harms men too, and also what it can propel them towards. I chose feminism, socialism, and queer theory, opting to burn this shit to the ground. Yiannopoulos, Jacob, and others chose instead to find alternative means of accessing the power and privilege they felt they were denied. That is the more pernicious and dangerous path, one which has undoubtedly led us to where we are today – an era where the progress we’ve collectively made over the past 50 years is in its greatest peril.

We need to think about how we can reach, maybe not these men who are already lost causes, but other boys and men who could become them. And to do that, we need to grapple with toxic masculinity. We need to include it in our analyses and activism.

That doesn’t mean we stop centring women, people of colour, LGBT folks, disabled folks, immigrants, or any other marginalised group. We can’t. That work is too important – more important – and frankly more pressing. Lives are at stake. When you’re in the middle of a war you don’t ask the soldiers to think about how they’ll rehabilitate the enemy after victory. But for those of us who have the currency to spare, we should start examining these questions and considering how to raise principled and purposeful boys into feminist men.

None of this is to excuse any behaviour. “I was just following orders” wasn’t an excuse at Nuremburg, and it isn’t an excuse here. These assholes need to be held to account, full stop. And they cannot be let off the hook. Again, explanations are not excuses. But to not examine how they became who they are is to risk raising the next Milo Yiannopoulos.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a journalist and essayist based in Chicago. He writes about British and American politics and pop culture. His work has appeared at The Independent, The Huffington Post UK, The Daily Dot, and Salon. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.

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On Rose McGowan, gay male misogyny, and why intersectionality matters

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Photo credit: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Intersectionality. Louise Mensch thinks it’s bullshit. Caroline Criado-Perez thinks it’s bullying. Rose McGowan thinks it’s, well, we don’t know what Rose McGowan thinks it is. But her recent comments about gay men being “more sexist” than straight men, which she subsequently apologized for, demonstrate that she may not be an intersectional feminist herself.

I don’t disagree with Rose McGowan that a lot of gay men are misogynists. That’s a given, because a lot of men are misogynists. When I was 18, I briefly dated a man who referred to one of his close female friends as “Gash.” Reducing a woman to her genitalia is objectifying and demeaning, regardless of a man’s sexual orientation.

Back in January, Jezebel ran a lengthy piece by Rohin Guha, an out gay man, about just this topic, addressing the “myth of the fag hag” (itself a disgustingly sexist term) and the misogyny permeating gay clubs and the gay community:

It’s a dirty secret of a subculture of the gay male world about women: That they’re essentially unwelcome, unless they come to us as a Real Housewife, a pop diva, or an Tony award winner–or an unassuming fag hag. To anyone just coming out of the closet and hoping to get his bearings in the gay male community, the attitude towards women is simple: They are just objects whose function is to serve gay men. Maybe it happens when gay men get too comfortable in newly-discovered safe spaces–where they get to call the shots as their proudly out new selves. Or maybe it happens through cultural conditioning. Whatever the cause is, it becomes clear: If there isn’t any kind of transactional exchange happening, then women lose their value in gay male subcultures.

Rohin, like Rose, is talking about “gay male privilege,” but this is only part of the story, and misses the intersectional reality here, a point that Noah Baron cogently made in a rebuttal at the Huffington Post. There is no such thing as “gay male privilege.” There is male privilege, which gay men have. There is cis privilege, which cis folks have. There is white privilege, which white people have. A gay man can have, and should be expected to check, any and all of these privileges. But there is no “gay male privilege.” Being a member of the LGBT community means you are a member of the oppressed class, and by default lack privilege-in this case, “straight privilege.”

This is where intersectionality comes in. If Rose or Rohin were to speak of the male privilege which gay men possess and which many are oblivious to yet benefit from, while also acknowledging their simultaneous oppression, I wouldn’t be writing this. But neither does. Rose starts off by straightsplaining queer activism (around the Beverly Hills Hotel, specifically, and Sultan of Brunei’s brutal anti-gay policies more broadly), lecturing the gay community on why our response to our oppression is the incorrect response. Only after this does she begin lamenting the lack of gay male allies in the fight for equal pay and women’s liberation.

Rohin also addresses pay inequality. “So long as [gay men] know how to play our cards in the corporate world, we can potentially enjoy a higher salary than our female counterparts…” he writes, continuing with how, so long as we have a “poker face,” gay men can avoid sexual assault. “It isn’t perfect,” he says rather blithely, “but privilege is privilege.”

Indeed. But for the millions of Americans who live in states where they can be sacked or refused a job for being gay, this isn’t a privilege, it’s an oppression. For the millions of gay people, including in places like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, who have to assess their new workplace and think twice about putting up a picture of their families, this is not a privilege. We live in a white heteropatriarchy, which values heterosexuality and reviles homosexuality. Yes, my male privilege makes me less likely to face street harassment, assault, or gender-based discrimination. But you best believe I wouldn’t dare hold my boyfriend’s hand back home in Kentucky. You best believe I was a dirty little secret for years because my ex worried what coming out would do to his career. You best believe I still have to assess every situation, corporate or otherwise, to figure out whether it’s safe to come out.

Addressing men as a class, which includes gay men, and addressing the misogyny of gay men is not homophobic, and it needs to be done more often. Explaining how male privilege benefits all men is important. I’m glad that people are thinking and talking about these things, because the gay community has gotten a pass for too long. But there’s a way to do it that doesn’t dismiss the very real oppression that gay men face every day.

And that was my major problem with Rose’s comments, and it’s been something I’ve stewed over since Rohin’s piece went live last winter. Rose didn’t approach gay men as men, she approached them as gay; as such, it read as a member of the privileged (straight) class attacking members of the oppressed (gay) class. Similarly, Rohin is incredibly dismissive of “gay culture,” completely ignoring the sacrosanct nature of gay spaces (like gay bars, for example) to so many gay men, for many of whom it is the only escape from pervasive heteronormativity.

Should more gay men step up in the feminist fight? Absolutely. Should more gay men have our male (and white, and class, and cis, and able) privilege checked? Definitely. Should more gay men examine the ways in which we objectify and degrade women, invading their spaces and bodily autonomy? Yes.

But this isn’t because we’re gay. It’s because we’re men.

Comparing oppressions is tacky, but understanding the basic tenants of intersectional feminism is necessary. We are all differently yet simultaneously privileged and oppressed, and it’s important to recognise the differences, both in ourselves and in others. Neither Rose McGowan nor Rohin Guha did this, and it was to the detriment of their otherwise cogent point. Tackling sexism in all its pernicious forms, in every place, is imperative, but attacking an oppressed class is a lousy way to do it.

2014 And All That: A primer for the new year

Goodbye-2013-hello-2014-wallpaper

Right. Where was I? So here we are on Blue Monday, when the festive warmth dissipates and we suddenly realise that, without the intoxicating mix of Christmas lights and liquor, bloody hell, this weather is shit. We also realise that politics is, too.

What did we miss over the holiday season? Nick Griffin went bankrupt, as did Britain (at least according to George Osbourne). Ming Campbell began drafting the coalition divorce decree, whilst apparently most of Sunderland is drafting their own. Michael Gove created an uproar by making the past a topic of present debate. Nigel Farage did the opposite, proving decisively that he’d like the present to feel more like the past.

But while Gove and Farage look backwards, the media pundits and this fledgling blogger are looking forward. The standard prognostications have been made. Iran will take centre stage, Ukip will write the narrative of the European elections, Simon will return to X Factor.

So, joining the chorus of predictions, I offer a few buzzwords you should listen for in 2014.

1. Intersectionality

Anyone who has ever trolled the internet is familiar with the oft-derided phrase “check your privilege,” and Laurie Penny and Louise Mensch famously debated its usage last year. What most people don’t know is CYP’s provenance. Intersectionality, at its most basic, is a feminist theory that our experiences in this world are dictated by the varying degrees of privilege and disadvantage our many identities bring us. It’s the place where gender meets race, class, sexual orientation, disability, religion and so on. Before 2013, I’d rarely heard the term used outside of a gender studies classroom. With the rising refusal of many on social media to check their privilege, coupled with the emergence of such hashags as #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, #NotYourAsianSidekick, and #BlackPowerYellowPeril, I expect 2014 is the year intersectionality enters mainstream consciousness.

2. Independence

Scotland will vote on whether it ought to secede from the United Kingdom in September. This alone is enough to propel the word into the public discourse. But the ramifications of Scotland’s vote will have global consequences, from Catalonia to Chechnya. Even Quebec might start looking at nationhood again. Also in the mix is South Sudan, the world’s newest state, which ended the year with the start of one of the world’s bloodiest (and most under reported) internal conflicts, which is sure to raise questions about the stability of any sovereignty movement looking to create a new country. (See: Kurdistan.)

3. Somme

Less a prediction and more an observation, I confess. 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, and as mentioned above, we’ve already seen politicians trying to capitalise and rewrite history. Expect this to continue throughout the year, with Ukip using it to argue against a pan-European identity, the Tories using it to argue for a British identity, Labour using it to argue in favour of a multicultural identity, and the LibDems throwing their exasperated hands up.

Other words to keep an ear out include libertarian (with the parallels of Ukip to the American Tea Party and US midterm elections), Hillary (will she or won’t she), heterosexism (the presumption everyone is straight, and that being so is the norm), healthy obesity (expect a a heavy debate on weight-pun intended), al Qaeda (it’s been a few years since this was bandied about, but with the recent loss of Fallujah to the terrorist organisation, al Qaeda has proven to still be a threat), Zac Goldsmith (if airport expansion continues the way it’s going, he could throw quite the curve ball to Cameron), the Troubles (the Haass talk broke up with no agreement, meaning questions of the past will continue to plague Northern Ireland’s future), and globalisation (of the economy, the markets, feminism, gay rights).

If the first six days have proven anything, it’s that 2014 will be anything but dull. Watch this space.

Tom Daley didn’t come out as gay. Stop lying. (Or, On Biphobia)

tom daley medal

Good on Tom Daley. In coming out, he’s shown more courage than some men twice his age. It’s a monumental announcement, with Owen Jones marking how far we’ve come in such a short time, while elsewhere at the Independent, they celebrate the number of professional athletes coming out of the closet. Yes, it’s a very important day for LGBT people in sport in particular, and in society in general.

But let’s make sure we get the facts sorted.

Tom Daley didn’t come out as gay. In fact, no where in his emotionally raw video does he even mention the word “gay.” He says he’s in a relationship with a guy. He says he still fancies women. He says he’s quite happy, that his father would have been supportive but his family has had mixed reactions, and he says he’s tired of the speculation. He wanted to release an unmitigated message in his own words and on his own terms.

So much for that. The vast majority of the news stories I’ve seen have read somewhere between “Tom Daley Comes Out,” which is a misleading truism, or “Tom Daley reveals gay relationship,” which, of course, implies Tom Daley is gay. In fact, it seems aside from Nichi Hodgson, who beat me to the punch by publishing this succinct piece at the Guardian,, the only person not rushing to label Tom as gay is, well, Tom.

For the gay community, at least, it appears we’ll have all or nothing. Tom’s either gay or he isn’t, and since he likes men, he’s clearly on Team GB – Team Gay Blokes, that is. One internet acquaintance of mine posted a Facebook status defending Tom against those who felt his coming out was nothing more than stating the obvious, encouraging everyone to remember how difficult our own comings out as gay men had been. When I pointed out that Tom hasn’t come out as gay, but as being in a same-sex relationship, I was told to sod off with my “lefty no-labels” nonsense. After all, my acquaintance responded, every gay man pretended to be bisexual in his teens.

A gross generalisation, but a relevant point. Even I was on the “bi now, gay later” plan when I first came out. Telling the world you’re bisexual, to many gay teens, is easier than saying you’re gay because it, at least in my 15 year old mind, creates the illusion you could still have a “normal” life-whatever that means.

But Tom’s not a 15 year old boy. He’s a 19 year old man who has spent much of his life in the spotlight, and has in many ways been forced to mature much faster than myself and many others. His voice may have been hesitant, but it was also confident. He knows his own truth, and we shouldn’t be so quick to assign ours to him out of some misplaced desire for a relevant and relatable cultural touchstone.

To be fair, Tom didn’t say he isn’t gay, nor did he say he is bisexual. As Nichi Hodgson points out, we can only infer his sexuality, as he never clearly defined it. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t know it himself yet. Perhaps that’s because he thinks it’s none of our bloody business. Perhaps he didn’t think he had to.

But let’s play on the assumption that Tom is bisexual (or possibly even pansexual). He was pretty clear that he’s attracted to men and to women. And, like many young LGBT folks, and many in the wider society, he probably wasn’t aware of the nasty strain of biphobia that courses through the veins of our community.

Yet here it is, as usual.

I suppose for many of us attracted only to one sex, we can’t comprehend how someone could be attracted to both. As Owen Jones points out, though, it wasn’t so long ago straight people couldn’t understand how I could be attracted to other men. Some still don’t. Then there’s the aforementioned notion that bisexuality is nothing more than a gay bicycle with training wheels, that it’s just a stepping stone to full acceptance of one’s homosexuality. That it isn’t real. That it doesn’t exist. Couple that with the assumption that bisexuals are “greedy,” “promiscuous,” and/or “indecisive,” and suddenly an entire sexual orientation is invalidated.

You needn’t look further than representations of bisexuality in mass media. On the current series of Glee, Santana’s new girlfriend, played by Demi Lovato, tells Santana it’s time she should be with a “real lesbian,” dismissing if not discrediting the bisexuality of her previous girlfriend, Brittany. Lady Gaga, whom I don’t defend very often, has been singled out for using her bisexuality as a marketing gimmick, even being accused of making the whole thing up. And when Duncan James came out a few years ago, he was greeted with an onslaught of biphobic abuse.

Bisexual people are either confused, indecisive, not fully developed sexual beings, not part of the gay and lesbian community, or liars. They’re not real people with real lives and real truths. They’re deceiving both themselves and us. In doing so, the fear I suspect many gay and lesbian people have is that they somehow invalidate our own struggle. It’s as if finally coming out as gay is completing a gruelling marathon, and coming out as bi is stopping ahead of the finish line.

This is all hogwash. While I understand the gay community’s desire to have more, not to mention younger, visible role models our youth can look up to, I don’t think it should come at the expense of whitewashing an entire sexual orientation from the public discourse. I don’t think dismissing bisexuality as a phase or a fib does us, as gay men and women, any good. It does, however, do bisexual people a whole lot of bad.

Besides, why can’t Tom Daley be a gay role model while still being bisexual, pansexual, or whatever he eventually identifies as? His coming out is still brave. Given the biphobia that is often tolerated in all segments of society, it is perhaps braver if he has indeed come out as bisexual. It took a lot of courage and a lot of self-awareness for Tom to speak so candidly and assuredly about something so personal at such a young age. He knows his truth. He wants us to know it, too.

I only hope we can accept it.

Why James Arthur’s apology is bullshit

James Arthur

James Arthur

I can’t believe I have to tell straight people not to say “fag” and “queer.” Seriously y’all? The words themselves send shivers down my spine, taking me back to my years spent in southeastern Kentucky, where they were regularly spewed in my direction, dripping with the vitriol of threats and intimidation. For three years I was terrorised, and I never once went to school in the morning convinced I’d make it out alive in the afternoon. It was a daily crucible of homophobia.

My story is sadly reflective of so many young gay men and women throughout the Western world. And that’s why, when James Arthur dropped his diss against some unknown rapper, my palm and forehead had a kiki. But if his use of “queer” wound me up, his apology really pissed me off.

James Arthur has sought forgiveness without contrition. He “has gay friends,” he says. Rylan Clark is his bestie! I mean for Christ’s sake, the man likes “Little Britain.” He can’t be homophobic! His backhanded apology betrays a nasty bigotry at worst or, as I truly suspect, an unabashed ignorance at best:

What the hell? There’s no “mistaking” the homophobia here. We’re not misconstruing anything. Does he really think that because he called a (presumably) straight rapper a queer that it’s not homophobic? Apparently so:

 

In fairness to James Arthur, it’s an easy mistake to make. “Faggot” and “queer” are dropped in rap battles like IEDs in real battles. Eminem made headlines earlier this month for the homophobic lyrics on his latest LP, taking me back to the my own high school hell by both using homophobic slurs and releasing new material. He was quoted in his recent Rolling Stone interview as saying “it’s more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or an asshole.” Similarly, South Park made a similar argument several years ago, saying that “faggot” isn’t a homophobic word anymore because the definition has changed.

For fuck’s sake. Let me break this down for you. Where do you think these words get their power? Why are they so insulting? If, in the context these men are using them, “fag” is used to question someone’s masculinity or humanity, it’s because the word is rooted in homophobia. To call someone a fag or a queer is to say they are less than a man, the subtext of which is “gay.” These words are so popular in disses because they cut to the bone, and that blade drips with the blood of martyred gay men.

Likewise, let’s entertain that “faggot” has evolved to mean “bitch,” as Eminem and the South Park pricks have both argued. Terrific. You’ve stripped it of its homophobia and instead varnished it with sexism. Suddenly “faggot” means “woman” and not “gay man?” You’re still using the word to emasculate your opponent, and because sexism and homophobia are so intricately connected, you’re essentially saying the same damn thing.

But beyond this, the fact remains that these words are still used to intimidate, bully, and harass gay folks. It happened in Chichester this month , in South Yorkshire just last month, and in the armed forces, too. It’s not just in the villages and towns, though; it’s happening in the cities too, like this case in Edinburgh and even right in the middle of Trafalgar Square. In so many of these attacks, homophobic slurs (like “fag” and “queer”) were used as the victims were ruthlessly and brutally attacked. And it doesn’t seem the were attacked for being “punks” or “assholes.”

Or, to put it blatantly enough for James Arthur and Eminem, they were called faggots and then physically assaulted for being gay.

So don’t tell me that word doesn’t mean what I know it means. Don’t tell me that the guys in high school were threatening my life because I was a dickhead. Don’t tell me that these words mean something they don’t. The meaning is obvious.

And, because I’m nice like this, I’ll make a deal with y’all. As soon as “fag” and “queer” are no longer used to harass and terrorise LGBT people, we’ll be sure to let you know. Until then, kindly shut the fuck up.

EDIT 18 November 2013 at 12:49 GMT: I just read this on the use of LGBT slurs in schools , and it’s relevant and worth a share.

#NNSexism: Newsnight illustrates the rise, Twitter the need, of digital feminism

Last night, Fi Glover had an excellent piece on BBC’s Newsnight about digital feminism and the future of women’s liberation in the 21st century. She profiled Laura Bates’ “Everyday Sexism Project”, the media’s fascination with and objectification of breasts, including Amanda Palmer’s Glastonbury nip slip, as well as the objectification of black women’s bodies. The prevailing theme was that technology and social media is changing the face of feminism, promoting the democratisation of the women’s movement.

So perhaps it was inevitable that a story about feminists online would prompt a storm of controversy on the Twittersphere. Using the hashtag #NNSexism, the Twitterati engaged the masses in their own experiences with everyday sexism while a debate erupted over the role of feminism and, indeed, women themselves. One of the biggest debates I had was the tiresome, redundant, 20th century debate over the difference between sex and gender, as illustrated below:

Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, the difference between sex and gender is quite simple. Sex (male/female) is physiological. It has to do with your reproductive organs, your hormones, and your pelvic bone. Gender (man/woman), on the contrary, is a social construct. It’s the set of characteristics we are assigned, even before birth, based on our sex. Think of it as blue for boys, pink for girls. Dolls for Linda, trucks for Liam. It’s not a radical notion; it’s been debated pretty heavily for the past sixty years, certainly since the advent of the third wave feminism in the United States.

My position sparked a lot of vitriol, mostly from conservative (small c) men. Some of it was quite nasty:

Others took to calling out the “sexism” of the Newsnight piece:

What was most poignant, though, were the women (and some men, like myself) using the hashtag as a sounding board for their own experiences with everyday sexism:

What was most disappointing was the number of men trying to trivialise or completely write off sexism and misogyny:

To say there is no evidence of real sexism is laughable. It certainly shows, at the very least, that one hasn’t been paying much attention to, well, anything. Just this month we’ve had Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis speak out on the fear many women have of being “found out” or labeled a “fraud”, the United Nations showing just what the internet thinks of women (and it isn’t pretty), and The Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh defending herself against allegations that she flirted herself to the top. I mean, cos, you know, pretty women can’t bake well. Only male chefs and your nan.

Or they attempted to turn the conversation away from women and onto their own perceived grievances:

Which Laurie Penny succinctly put down to actual, perhaps stealthy, misogyny:

And of which I stand guilty:

I’ll be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that by sharing my own experience I was steering the conversation away from sexism against women (which is 99% of sexism, after all). In fact, I thought Laurie Penny was calling me specifically out when she tweeted that, and it made me reevaluate my personal approach to the hashtag. After all, regardless of whether or not I identify as a feminist, gay men are still capable of sexism, and we have a notorious entitlement to womanhood and women’s bodies.

In the end I forgave myself. My feminist credentials are fairly well known, and while it was perhaps rude to change the subject in the middle of a conversation, it wasn’t entirely off-topic. In fact, I challenged Laurie on this point (and got no response, I should mention-though I do hope she’d agree):

For as the men who couldn’t grasp the difference between sex and gender prove, we (as a society) can’t even seem to get the vocabulary, let alone the conversation, right. So the men who actually acknowledge not only the merits of feminism but the hindrance patriarchy places on their own existence ought to be not only allowed but encouraged to freely contribute. At the very least we’re acknowledging sexism is real and tangible, which is more than can be said for a great lot of us.

That’s not to give us a pass, though. Patriarchy manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and the internet has proven that even those of us with the best intentions can sometimes stand accused, and even slightly guilty of, inadvertent sexism. In the end, Newsnight did a commendable job of highlighting the rise of digital feminism, but Twitter itself illustrated the dire need for it. Social media makes it possible, in real time, to illustrate tangible examples of blatant and even unintentional sexism and misogyny, and the Twittersphere was not lacking either yesterday. The rise of sites like EverydayFeminism and Jezebel give voice to women (and men) who may otherwise lack one, and perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we have a Feminist Spring.

Until then, let’s all brainstorm it a catchy hashtag.