Intersectionality is just another word for solidarity

I’m always leery of arguments like this, that want to dismiss the different axises of oppression various groups of people struggle with in favour of some vulgar marxist idea of the working class and not asking too many questions. Too often this has been used by alter kakkers to just dismiss any struggle that doesn’t fit in their century and a half old ossified world view:

Where people on the left should be focussed on what unites us, us here referring to the working class rather than the left in general (lol, as if that’s going to happen), as workers -the foundations from which we can build the new society- we now see attempts to stratify through definition the working class under the guise of intersectional analysis. An intersectional analysis is a useful tool to have in one’s box if one is studying Sociology or writing academic papers but in the real world it doesn’t translate well, not well at all. In fact one of the reasons that I began my abstention from generalised political activity was the emergence of this approach -along with the increasing popularity of privilege politics- as I saw early on that the praxis that would develop from this approach would inevitably see a return to the embarrassing ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ which permeated the radical politics of the 1970s/80s (before my time -I’m not that old!).

He may not be that old, but his criticisms are. There’s always been a tension within socialism about how to define the struggle. Rightwing socialists tend to define it narrowly, purely as the struggle of the working classes against the bourgeois and anything that isn’t directly related to that struggle as a distraction. Depending on the decade — or century — you’re talking about this could mean feminism, civil rights, gay rights, or today, intersectionality and online activism.

The leftwing has always defined the struggle much more broadly. There’s a long and proud tradition within socialism and communism of not just fighting for the rights of (white) working men, but also recognised from the start that you can’t build a classless society when half the population is still powerless because of their gender, that it’s immoral to let the welfare of the British worker depend on the continuing exploitation of the Indian worker. So there’s always been a strain in socialism that defined the struggle much broader than just defending workers’ rights, that strived for an utopia for all people.

That is intersectionality pur sang and the thing about it is that it works both ways. There’s always a tendency to assume that these causes always distract from your own, much more worthy and important one, but intersectionality also gets you allies. That’s what happened in 1984 when at the height of AIDS paranoia stoked homophobia a group of London gay men and lesbians reached out and supported the South Wales Miners Strike:



Both groups were canny enough to understand that they struggled against the same oppression. The gay and lesbian activists recognised the police violence and oppression the miners were subjected to from their own experiences with them and believed in solidarity enough to not just recognise it, but take action. And the miners reprociated, send delegations to Gay Pride, supported them in their struggle. It was of course mocked by the establishment — now the perverts support the pits, as The Sun put it.

But you might say, gay liberation, strikes, those are real political actions, real causes, not frivolity like what I’m talking about, but that was far from the mainstream view back in 1984. So many socialists for so long saw homosexuality as a capitalist perversion, not as part of their struggle, not something that could be easily portrayed in terms of class struggle. And that’s why this bloody cartoon included in the post annoys me so much:

cartoon by RednBlackSalamander

Not just because it’s a lazy cheap shot and doesn’t understand that in 2015 it’s really hasn’t been possible for at least a decade to pretend that that online space is less important than offline spaces. No, it’s because I’m old enough to know that all the examples of worthy causes given here –take back the night, ending rape culture, lgbt rights — would have been ridiculed and dismissed as fauxtivism and middle class vanities not too long ago. It’s breathtakingly ignorant.

Now AW Hendry started his post by mocking the Sad Puppies, which is how I stumbled upon it, thanks to Mike Glyer’s sterling work rounding up Puppy related material. He used it as his example of how people waste time with online activism and throughout his piece the unspoken assumption is made that online doesn’t matter and economic considerations should be much more important than cultural fights like this. What this misses is that, even apart from the simple fact that quite a few of us now live our lives as much online as in the real world, online follows you home — ask Zoe Quinn or any other SWATting victim. What he also misses is that the struggle over the Hugos is more than just the misplaced vanity of a few rightwing culture warriors: as Kameron Hurley explained, the Hugos meant she got $13,000 more in her post-Hugo book advance.

Not the highest of stakes perhaps, but for your average struggling writer that is a large chunk of money. I also have the suspicion for at least some of the ringleaders, this kerfuffle is a way to help themselves to some of that sweet, sweet wingnut welfare. People like Tom Krautman or Dave Freer may seem dangerously unhinged to normal people, but they’d fit in well with Vox Day’s old haunt, Worldnet Daily. Voxy himself of course is trying to establish his vanity press as a serious rightwing proposition and arguably does all this for the publicity. Which means for him at least it’s not the winning that’s important, it’s keeping the fight going, the better to keep fleecing suckers.

Kitty jailbait

Kitty and Courtney enjoying some birthday cake

This post by Sigrid Ellis, about Chris Claremont, the X-Men, Kitty Pryde, hiding in hindsight pretty blatant lesbian flirting from the Comics Code Authority and telling Rogue you think you might be gay is adorable in its dorkiness:

I re-read this scene over and over again. I knew, now, in 1992, what this looked like. This looked like Spin-the-Bottle or Truth-or-Dare, it looked like the drunk and stoned random kissing games people played in the dorms on a weekend night. It looked like a challenge thrown down and accepted. I stared at the art. Courtney or Sat-Yr-9 or whoever was seducing Kitty Pryde. And Kitty was saying yes.

[...]

Davis knew something about Claremont’s intentions that I did not know, and drew what he thought a lesbian relationship, with willing participation from both parties, would look like. Kudos to him, it looked rather a lot like the same-sex flirting I saw monthly at the GLBUnion dances – licking of the fingers, et cetera. What I did not know is that Claremont included this sort of girl-on-girl sensuality in all of his comics, hiding it from the CCA as heterosexual female friendship. It wasn’t until 1992 and Davis’s fairly blatant art that I got the hint; actual straight women maybe don’t feel this way about their friends. It was entirely possible, I realized slowly, that finger sucking and licking was not a strictly heterosexual activity among friends. [...]

I can blame Claremont – and I do – for my not coming out earlier than I did. But I also have to credit him for slipping queers into my comics when the CCA forbade it. When I did finally come out to myself, the X-Men didn’t judge me. They accepted this new form of oddball difference the same way they’d always accepted me; with open hands and an invitation to be a hero once more.

The flirting and licking of fingers all happened in Excalibur #24, which was in hindsight quite blatant about it, but which went completely over my head when I first read it back in 1992 or so as an out of context back issue. I just thought it was a fun wish fullfillment story, but with the subtext, well, text visible behind it, i’ts slightly creepy as well?

Not for the not so hidden lesbianism of course, but because you have an adult woman seducing a fifteen year old girl. As the very first page points out this is Kity’s fifteenth birthday, so Courtney Ross, clearly an older woman, getting all flirty with her is a bit dodgy. Though not as dodgy as Kitty’s previous relationship with Collossus, when she was thirteen and had just joined the X-Men and he was at least eighteen. The inappropriateness of that relationship was never brought up in the books as far as I know, certainly not when I was still reading them. The only time people were upset with Pyotr was when he broke off the relationship.

Of course, reading The X-Men as a teenager all this passed you by. Kitty may have nominally been thirteen or fifteen but since she was thirteen for years it was easy to lose sight of it, especially as she was usually drawn slightly more mature than that, though she never suffered from/enjoyed the most common super power as much as her team mates…

A proper love story

Now here’s a great soppy love story I ran across when reading Jan Morris’ Wikipedia entry, about how she was forced to divorce from her wife after her gender reassignment surgery and how they got remarried again in a civil partnership in 2008:

. In a touching story of constancy, they stayed together after Morris’s trip to Morocco in 1972. He went as a man, and came back as woman. The law, then, did not allow same-sex marriages, so the couple were obliged to go through an amicable divorce. Morris used to describe her as her “sister-in-law”, but on BBC Radio 4′s Bookclub yesterday, she revealed that the relationship was closer and more enduring than that implied.

“I haven’t told this to anybody before,” she said, “I’ve lived with the same person for 58 years, I married her when I was young and then this sex-change thing – so-called – happened and so we naturally had to divorce, but we’ve always lived together anyway. I wanted to round this off nicely so last week Elizabeth and I went to have a civil union.”

The ceremony was held at the council office in Pwllheli on 14 May, in the presence of a couple who invited them to tea at their house afterwards.

“I made my marriage vows 59 years ago and still have them,” Elizabeth told the Evening Standard. “We are back together again officially. After Jan had a sex change we had to divorce. So there we were. It did not make any difference to me. We still had our family. We just carried on.”

I was looking at her Wikipedia entry because I just bought her Pax Brittanica history trilogy, which were still credited to “James Morris” but did have this dedication in them:

During the writing of the Pax Brittanica trilogy James Morris completed a change of sexual role and now lives and writes as Jan Morris.

Which is, changing language aside, a decent thing to do and it goes on to consistently talk about her as female, but the edition I have is from 1980, some eight years after her public gender switch and I wonder why they kept her old name on the books.

And now they know

Once you see it, it’s obvious you can read Frozen‘s Elsa as a trans symbol, as Aoife does here:



Let me first say that, as I propose to offer a trans reading of Elsa, I’m not claiming there is any intrinsic connection between my analysis and the Disney creators. Far from it. I’m also not implying the appeal of Elsa as a trans symbol is universal: my spouse, who is also trans, informed me that she hated Frozen decidedly.

However, when many of us reflect on the stressed, condensed condition of gender dysphoria, of being encased in a fraught awareness internally and a false presentation outwardly, Elsa suggests to our collective spirit of survival the joy of release. We always wanted to believe our lives would get better, that the empowerment of freedom comes from the beautiful truth of becoming. Yes, there are many costs associated with this act to “turn away and slam the [closet] door”, and Elsa must confront in the isolation of liberation. But the slow motion suicide of “conceal, don’t feel” attests to what is truly frozen — the state of denial that rejects the possibility of living free.

Dressing queer in the office

Carolyn Wysinger writes about fitting in with the office dress code when you’re queer while still staying true to yourself:

As fate would have it, my first week on the call-center floor fell on a weekend, which is a casual dress period. I made friends as soon as I hit the floor because c’mon, who doesn’t love me?! The very next day I came in and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink/black/white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted up with my shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the women in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the women supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” And so my journey as the first boi in began.

Of course, the image she puts forward here immediately reminds me of:



That kind of gender separated dress code — or even having an explicit dress code — is somewhat less common in the Netherlands and you see as many women professionals in what y’all would call pant suits as in skirts. The other uniform, common to women in non-representative roles are the slightly too short white leggings, which seems to be the fuck you, I dress for comfort symbol of the (older) Dutch woman. It’s ubiqitous enough and annoys enough people that it has had facebook campaigns launched against it.

Imagine wanting new experiences as a sf reader!

So Alex Dally MacFarlane started a series on gender diversity in science fiction which some obnoxious little wankstain “author” called Larry Correia took exception to, whose nonsense was aptly but slightly more charitably than I would’ve done dissected by everbody’s science fiction pinup, Jim C. Hines. The gist of Correia’s ranting was that nobody was interested in all that gender nonsense and it was all political correctness and message writing and people want story, not strange queer or agender people in their fiction, anyway, you know the type.

Basically what he seems to say is that only white straight men read science fiction and they don’t want to read about anybody else but themselves, because the familiar is truely what you read sf for. Well, Ria off off Bibliotropic is here to set him straight (heh) on the first part:

I love opening a book and sinking into the story and discovering that a character is like me. Whether that means they’re asexual or agendered or just have a weakness for knitting with cashmere yarn, it’s a little bright light that goes on, a link between me and the person whose story I am following, and it makes me want to read about them even more. It’s a very selfish impulse to want to read about people in whom I can see myself reflected.

But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. It makes the character real, because I am real. It makes them a person, because I am a person. It means they have no point, because I have no point, but why should that mean that I and everything about me should disappear for the comfort of people who already have far more options to see themselves reflected in the pages of the novels they read? My existence doesn’t depend on someone learning a lesson from me. I am not an after-school special.

And I’ll set him straight on the second. You know, these days I not only reading science fiction that doesn’t feature the kind of protagonist I can see in the mirror, but actively seek it out. I bought Ascension because its cover featured a black woman; heck, this is my FemShep. Why? Not out of some poofaced desire to know what it would be like to be a black woman in the future, that would be slightly offensive, but because it’s fun, it’s interesting to read the adventures of somebody who isn’t you.

And that’s something people like Correia just can’t understand, that people can be genuinely interested in post-binary gender, even if they’re not personally involved in it. Which is just sad for a science fiction writer.

Queer characters in sf

Nicola Griffith has a new novel out, Hild and is getting a bit fed up with people asking about her heroine’s sexuality:

Interviewers and reviewers have already asked me: So why is Hild a lesbian?

I say: First, she’s bisexual. Second, why the fuck not?

I am tired of having to have a reason for characters being queer. When my first agent told me that my proposal for Slow River was “not a selling outline,” I asked her to explain. She said, “Well, why does Lore [the protagonist] have to have a girlfriend?” I said, “Because she’s a dyke.” And fired her.

Nicola Griffith is right that it should be normal for some characters to be queer, that there doesn’t have to be a reason for them to be and that more science fiction/fantasy writers should be unafraid to use queer characters if they want to. What I’m more worried about is whether the average science fiction writer is up to writing queer characters without it coming over as exploitative or overtly preachy.

But more queer characters, yes please.

“I’m an endangered species. I shouldn’t be anymore.”

Samantha Allen, in one of the better posts I’ve seen on the subject, talks about the contineous harassement of trans* people by a certain kind of radfem:

In some bizarre alternate reality, however, I’m seen as a villain who invades “real” women’s spaces and perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes. A small but vocal band of activists known as “Radfems” see transgender women like myself as a blight on the feminist movement, but — because their views are not representative of the feminist movement as a whole — many trans*-inclusive feminists refer to them as TERFs, or Trans*-Exclusionary Radical Feminists.

Things change

Some new horrible history I learned about today: forty years ago today In New Orleans, thirtytwo people were murdered through arson, in what was the largest mass murder of LGBT people in US history:

Just before 8:00p, the doorbell rang insistently. To answer it, you had to unlock a steel door that opened onto a flight of stairs leading down to the ground floor. Bartender Buddy Rasmussen, expecting a taxi driver, asked his friend Luther Boggs to let the man in. Perhaps Boggs, after he pulled the door open, had just enough time to smell the Ronsonol lighter fluid that the attacker of the UpStairs Lounge had sprayed on the steps. In the next instant, he found himself in unimaginable pain as the fireball exploded, pushing upward and into the bar.

It’s a horrible, upsetting piece of history, depressing even, but what is important is that it is history and things are getting better, as Joe Belknap Wall argues:

Forty years ago, when I was five, I was destined to be a victim, but things changed. We spoke up, sat in, made our points. Things changed.

Thirty years ago, when I was fifteen, I was destined to be a marginal citizen, but things changed. A disease came out of nowhere and shook the world, even as our President did nothing and said nothing, even as the population cracked jokes and shrugged it off and the preachers waved their crosses to stir up the hate, but we spoke up, stood fast, and made people see. Things changed.

[...]

Today, I am forty-five, and I am still a citizen without full protection under the law, but—

Today, I can marry in my state, and receive the protections accorded to the rest of my neighbors. If I fall victim to a crime driven by hate, it will be investigated. Few, if any, people will laugh and point and make a mockery of my basic human dignity. I am no longer required, by the dominant cultural norm, to be ashamed of who I am, and the people who once felt empowered to fuel the fires of hatred and intolerance are the ones on the run. The last of the churches built on foundations of hate are being deserted by their children, who were not raised with the old faith that had them accepting an injustice because they were told to, and the louder they get, the more they demonstrate that it’s all just a death rattle, destined to go silent as the older generations fade away, and the churches may yet turn back to the message of love.

When I feel that hot rush of rage, reflecting on what happened forty years ago today, I want to say “WE ARE COMING FOR ALL OF YOU,” but I don’t need to. The future is coming, and daylight and information wipe the world clean of those old, ugly falsehoods and make fools of those who used to get away with promulgating that fetid, soul-killing bullshit. There are miles to go on the way to a just, open, loving world, but we have come farther than ever before.

The trouble with Penny Arcade

It sadly does not come as a surprise that one of the Penny Arcade boys made some ignorant, transphobic remarks. This is not the first time either of them was caught saying something dumb and hurtfull, nor the first time that they dug in first rather than apologise and acknowledging that they’d done wrong. It’s not so much that they deliberately set out to provoke or hurt people but rather that they’re somewhat more ignorant about certain hot button topics than they themselves realise, nor all that used to being contradicted. So instead of backing down, they double down on the offensiveness instead.

Why this is may be explained by their own history. Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik were your typical gaming nerds that through a combination of luck and hard work managed to make what was just another gaming webcomic into a multimillion dollar business, themselves into nerd kings. They’re in a position where they rarely have to listen to anybody else, with an audience that actively sucks up to them and they have that typical nerd mentality of thinking they know everything about anything. It’s not full on Dunning Kruger, but it does mean they have trouble recognising their own ignorance at times. Which is deadly when it comes to these kind of indentity issues. What’s troubling is that they also seem unwilling to address their ignorance, preferring to just not talk about these things instead.

In conclusion, Penny Arcade is a land of contrasts, not willfully evil but perhaps willfully stupid.