On Jodie Foster, coming out, and privacy

At the Golden Globes the other day, Jodie Foster gave a touching, heartwarming speech, looking back on her life so far and forward to the future [transcript here]. She spoke with a rare kind of emotional honesty about living in the spotlight, and how things might change now that she’s fifty and had finally publicly announced that she is gay. It was a very sweet, and I kind of welled up a bit over it.

Foster touched on some very interesting issues in her speech, in particular, this:

“…be a big coming-out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show

“But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.”

While the speech was treated as a “coming out” speech, it actually wasn’t anything of the sort. Jodie Foster was hardly in the closet, she just didn’t want to make a big public announcement. And that’s perfectly OK, as it’s her life and it’s none of our fucking business how she lives it. From her speech, it sounds like it has been a happy life, with a lot of love, and I suppose I’m happy for her for wanting to share that, but if she didn’t want to reveal details of her personal life to billions of people, that’s perfectly all right too. It’s her life.

Unfortunately, the Guardian, desperate to retain its high from the Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill linkbait trolling exercise, decided to publish a piece with a rather more unpleasant line. Enable an ad-blocking add-on if you want to click, they’ll probably be able to tell from their metrics.

Poor little Patrick Strudwick is rather upset by the speech, and seems to believe that by not press releasing every detail of her life, Jodie Foster has got people killed.

But I could not ignore the message forming in my head from a careers-worth of interviewees – from Jamaican lesbians “correctively” raped, from Cameroonian gay men tortured by police, from the mother of Matthew Shepard, murdered by homophobes and left tied up in a Wyoming field – the message bellowed out: you had choices. You could have left acting at a young age, already rich and cosseted, to live an authentic life. You could have had that privacy if it were that important to you. You could have come out, easing the way for others like you. Instead, you chose your career, and you lied by omission about your orientation.

It is every gay public figure’s social responsibility to be out, to make life better for those without publicists and pilates teachers. Those who cry, “It’s none of your business! Who cares who I sleep with?!” shirk their public duty, and deny the shame that keeps the closet door shut. Do straight people consider their orientation private? You cannot skip the tough part of a human rights struggle. I long for being gay to be nobody’s business, to not matter, but we’re a long way off. You either do your bit, and in the case of an A-list actor, that means blazing a trail for other performers, or you remain concealed, bleating about privacy.

There is so much wrong with this argument that it is difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with Strudwick rehashing that tired old line that the media love to use to justify their grotesque invasions of privacy: that if they choose to be famous, they’ve agreed to have their privacy invaded and every single detail about their lives is fair game. By agreeing to act in films, this argument goes, they have also consented to long-lens photography of family holidays, and so forth. It’s a feeble justification for some vicious behaviour, yet the media rather like to get their scoops on who has gained weight recently and would rather not see this changing any time soon, so will continue to say this over and over again as if they had to wait for someone to make the choice to share information with everyone they would likely sell fewer vile rags.

Coming out, and being out are very personal decisions. Forcing people to be out is just as bad as forcing people to be in the closet: the decision of who to tell should be down to the person and them alone. The talk of a duty to be out is frightening and reprehensible. It’s not a duty, it’s not a responsibility, it’s a decision for each person to make and choose what’s right for them. Being queer sucks enough in this heterosexist environment; we don’t need the gay police explaining exactly what we have to do, if we don’t want people to get killed.

The fact is, nobody was killed because Jodie Foster didn’t throw a big “I AM GAY EVERYONE LOOK AT ME I’M GAY” parade 30 years ago, inviting all of the world’s media to document the occasion. The problem is structural oppression, which is the exact reason many people in the public eye may be reticent to come out in the first place. In this heterosexist society, anyone who does not live a life according to the heterosexual script is seen as somehow weird. At worst, there is outright aggression and violence. At best, queer people become an endless source of fascination. Had Jodie Foster press-released her sexual orientation earlier in her life, I imagine that there would have been a far greater invasion of her privacy–and that of her family–in the vein of OH LOOK THIS IS HOW LESBIANS RAISE CHILDREN. I can imagine that suddenly she would be unable to get roles as a female romantic lead–one of the few roles available for women in Hollywood–because of OH LOOK SHE’S A LESBIAN KISSING A MAN SHE MUST FIND THAT ICKY. I can see why she wouldn’t want that, and her life was no less authentic for having made this decision.

We have no right to hear details about someone else’s sexual orientation. Heterosexism just pretends that we do. This is why “coming out” is a thing, and why nobody has any obligation to do so.

Burchill’s defence of Moore: sadly inevitable

No, I’m not going to link to Julie Burchill’s defence of Suzanne Moore. It is literally nothing more than hate speech. If you haven’t read it, run away and save yourself.

The thing is, something like this was sorely inevitable. Burchill’s argument was, at its heart, the same as Moore’s, merely laying the bigotry a lot barer. So bare that even the commentariat, who have been drying Moore’s tears, found Burchill’s rather offensive.

But it’s the same thing, the same sort of bigotry. And it’s why we absolutely should and must call out the relatively minor instances–like Suzanne Moore’s initial thoughtless comment. As the “twitterstorm” escalated, and people defended Moore, it legitimised a bigoted position. Had Suzanne Moore just apologised, we would not be seeing Burchill’s article today.

Yet, we would likely see something similar, on a different day, perhaps by a different author, or in conversation. Because transphobia is structural, it’s endemic, it’s everywhere. It’s not just the death throes of the second wave: it’s everywhere.

And we need to fight it where we see it. Whether seemingly big or seemingly tiny, cissexism must be challenged. Burchill is not the only bigot; all of this has happened before and all of it will happen again. We need that revolution soon.

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Each week, I’ll be putting together some things I read this week–that weren’t even necessarily written this week–that I found interesting, thought-provoking or enjoyable. Here’s this week’s reading. Feel free to pop anything else I might like into the comments.

Symphysiotomy survivors gather to recount stories of torture (TheJournal.ie)- Trigger warning for abuse by doctors. I hadn’t heard about this procedure until I read this article. Up to 1500 Irish women were given a procedure called a symphysiotomy during childbirth. This involves sawing through pelvic cartilage with a hacksaw. It’s usually a last resort, when a C-section is impossible. It was thoroughly unnecessary. They didn’t consent. Many were left permanently disabled.

Grace’s Trans 101: An Introduction to Transsexuality and Some Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (Alas, A Blog)- An overview of trans. Worth a read, particularly for cis allies.

A fate worse than death (O.M. Grey)- Righteously furious piece about rape culture.

Racism within white feminist spaces (Black Feminists Manchester)- If you are a white feminist, read this. You are probably doing–or have done–some of these things. Read this. Resolve to be better.

The truth about false accusation (The Enliven Project)- An excellent infographic illustrating false accusations of rape. Note: these are based in US statistics. In the UK, the conviction to reporting ratio is slightly better.

As the #transdocfail hashtag showed, many trans people are afraid of their doctors (Charlie Hallam)- Trigger warnings. Charlie outlines the horrific processes and abuses trans people experience when engaging with healthcare.

Do you have sex like a girl? (It’s Just A Hobby)- Sex, intersectionality, calling out transphobic bullshit. This post has it all.

Privileges and oppression are never… irrelevant (Ally Fogg)- Ally on why we can’t just close our eyes and pretend some oppressions are irrelevant.

And finally, a little treat. Here’s a very important musical public service announcement from Nadia Kamil:

Transphobia. It’s not rational.

Is it Transphobia Thursday today? Hot on the heels of Suzanne Moore’s surprising outburst comes this utter turd from the Telegraph by one Ed West: “The transgender taboo is a threat to academic freedom“.

Ed’s argument is that there’s some sort of big conspiracy to silence the Real Scientists who claim that trans isn’t a thing. He seems to have a problem with the fact that we need to be respectful to trans people these days, because SCIENCE.

Unfortunately, Ed’s grasp of science is pisspoor. His first Very Scientific assertion is this:

And yet the strange thing is that, taking aside the fact that “blockers” may affect cognitive ability and bone density, there’s actually no accepted medical proof or consensus that sex change operations actually help someone’s mental health; we may one day find that it does, but we simply don’t know enough at the moment.

First of all, hormone blockers and surgery are two very different things indeed, something which I’m not sure Ed quite grasps as he made that mistake in the paragraph above, too. Secondly, if you click that link, it will take you to a footnote on Wikipedia. Apparently Ed didn’t even want to pretend that he’d actually read the article in this footnote, which is at least a show of intellectual honesty. Despite this, apparently Ed didn’t even bother reading what the footnote was attached to–far from being “no accepted medical proof or consensus”, the linked study concludes that the evidence is of poor quality.

And there’s a reason for that: both ethically and pragmatically, one cannot carry out a randomised controlled trial on many of the medical aspects of transition. RCTs are what is considered “good” quality evidence, but they simply can’t always be done. So, the evidence isn’t always of the level scientists would ideally like, however what’s there suggests that what is done is helpful, which is why it’s available on the NHS.

Next up, Ed cites a book. I haven’t read this book, but from Ed’s summary it sounds like it’s based on a very dated theory which is not accepted by science due to the fact it isn’t particularly scientific:

A few years back Prof Michael Bailey wrote a book about the subject, The Man Who Would Be Queen, detailing a theory which suggested that there were two kinds of transsexualism – “homosexual transsexuals”, who are attracted to men, and “non-homosexual transsexuals”, who are aroused by the image of themselves as a woman.

Indeed, a blue link a bit later reveals that indeed this is based on Blanchard’s transsexualism, which Ed reckons was rejected because of “the implication that transsexuals were men, rather than women in men’s bodies.” In fact, had Ed bothered reading the Wikipedia page he linked to, he would have seen the bulky scientific criticism.

Then there’s the fact that Bailey’s book is probably also crap. Often, scientists publish books when they can’t get things published in journals. Books aren’t subject to the stringent peer review that journal articles are, so if you’ve something scientifically poor, but might appeal to some people as it confirms their prejudices, then publishing a book is the way to go. Far from being a gold standard of evidence, a popular science book is one of the worst things there is.

Having undertaken slightly more research than Ed, I read the Wikipedia page on the book. There’s a lot of scientific criticisms alongside huge concerns about Bailey’s research ethics. This doesn’t stop Ed from insisting the book has merit because fellow popular science author Steven fucking Pinker liked it.

After that, the article kind of unravels. Ed has a brief foray into some gender essentialist nonsense, which is pure, unevidenced “I think” with a little attempt to get a dig in at feminism, and then suggests that maybe the current way of treating gender dysphoria is crap because in France, autism treatment is crap.

Now, there are criticisms to be made of the way that trans people are treated by the medical establishment, but not the way that Ed has. Take a look at the discussions surrounding #transdocfail for how poorly trans people are still treated, and accept that this is likely to be a confounding variable when assessing the efficacy of treatement.

Ed’s bigotry isn’t rational, as much as he’d like to think it is. His true motivation seems to be this:

This is the only explanation acceptable to the media and, indeed, the state, which spends a fair deal of money (which we don’t have) combating transphobia.

He chats shit. He gets called out on it. He doesn’t like it. So he makes up science to try to justify himself. Well, here’s the thing. There’s nothing rational about transphobia.


@helen_bop has pointed out to me that this article is old. Not, like, from the 1930s old, but a year old. It’s still a shitty, shitty article.

I wish Suzanne Moore would stop digging

The other day, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote a reasonably decent article about anger. I say “reasonably decent”, because it contained a honkingly problematic line:

We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.

This line, when viewed in the context of the sheer number of trans Brazilian women who are murdered, is not a good thing to write, as this blog by Edinburgh Eye–which I recommend you read fully–explains really well. At that point, when this was drawn to Moore’s attention, she could have apologised for a thoughtless, flippant line, apologised, learned something and we could all go on to appreciating her reasonably decent article about anger.

If you’ve read the title of this post, you’ll know this wasn’t the case. Instead, she responded with open, vitriolic transphobia about “cutting dicks off”, and complaints that we were not focusing on the real issues. Fairly standard shit, including whinging about intersectionality, and listing all the books she’s read which somehow shows she definitely can’t possibly be transphobic. I storifyed the first 24 hours of it. You don’t have to take my word for it and can view the whole thing in context.  Particularly notable was when she shared a flippant joke with Caitlin Moran about the whole thing.

I’d hoped that was the end of that, and we could all go back to our lives, but apparently I was wrong, and Moore’s still digging, deeper and deeper.

She wrote an article in the Guardian, complaining about the whole thing. It’s largely a rehashing of the tweets. She starts off with the “some of my best friends are trans” argument in record time, moving swiftly into once again listing some books she’s read that (possibly) show she’s right. Then she dips her toes into how the big mean intersectionals are shutting down discussion, claiming she’s read bell hooks. Then comes Suzanne Moore’s point: that we shouldn’t care about tiny little things like the oppression of trans people and her contribution to it, but we should instead focus on the cuts, literally saying this:

 So to be told that I hate transgender people feels a little … irrelevant. Other people’s genital arrangements are less interesting to me than the breakdown of the social contract. I am asking for anger and for alliances. Less divide and rule. So call me a freak.

For all her having read bell hooks, it looks like Suzanne Moore missed a vital bit:

“The vision of Sisterhood evoked by women’s liberationists was based on the idea of common oppression. Needless to say, it was primarily bourgeois white women, both liberal and radical in perspective, who professed belief in the notion of common oppression. The idea of “common oppression” was a false and corrupt platform disguising and mystifying the true nature of women’s complex and varied social reality…

The emphasis on Sisterhood was often seen as the emotional appeal masking the opportunism of bourgeois white women. It was seen as a cover-up hiding the fact that many women exploit and oppress other women.” -bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

And yes. In her call to unite around the thing she wants us to unite around while sweeping her own contribution to the oppression of other women under the carpet, Moore has been part of the problem hooks highlighted.

Once again, Moore said some shitty things on Twitter:

Not one trans activist has engaged with economic argument or attack on welfare. Why not?

At this point, the utterly fabulous trans activist Roz Kaveney pointed out that she had, amongst participating in her other interests (which included writing the Rhapsody of Blood novels, of which volume 1, Rituals, is now out and you should read it, because it’s excellent. A truly queer, feminist fantasy novel. Sorry for the digression, but it’s brilliant). Roz then gently explained why there was a level of anger about Moore’s initial comments, to which Moore embarked on a bizarre rant about “Latin culture”, and culminated in a rather dismissive “I get that . I must not say the penis thing.

It’s abundantly clear that Moore doesn’t want to learn from this issue, to the point where she just flat-out tweeted this:

I am not going to apologise. Get it?

This sort of reaction is horribly unhelpful and stands in the way of ever being able to unite against other forms of oppression, such as the brutal government attacks on anyone vulnerable. Moore fucked up. It was a minor fuck-up at first, but with her reaction, it escalated into something far uglier and far harder to heal. Moore feels like we can never move ahead if we worry about such trivialities as the oppression of trans people, but the reality is that this oppression is far from trivial. It might seem tiny to Suzanne Moore, but that’s only because it’s something that she doesn’t have to worry about herself. In order to build a movement that can actually unify, though, she should care about it, and should monitor her own contribution to oppression of other people–a lot of whom are women. An apology would be a nice place to start.

Suzanne Moore has shown she holds some nasty views. Some defend her actions as a response to the vociferous criticism she received, yet the level of bigotry in her tweets shows that if these tweets were in anger, they were always there, lurking under the surface. Likewise, if she is being flippant and sarcastic, it denotes a lack of empathy and interest in the struggle of a fellow group of humans.

It’s quite sad, really, because Moore’s article on anger was reasonably decent, and did make some points about gigantic problems in society. It’s a shame, then, that as well as addressing some, she also contributes to others herself. No one oppression is so important that all other oppressions must be neglected and ignored. There is no “let’s do this tomorrow, after we’ve fixed the real stuff.”

This is all real. It’s all important. You can be good on one thing and absolutely terrible on another. And isn’t it better to try not to be terrible on anything?

Nice guys, the friendzone and sexual entitlement

In the wake of the NiceGuysOfOKC tumblr (currently down), the discussion about Nice Guys has flared up again. The Nice Guy is a category of human which can be–and often is–entirely mutually exclusive from “guy who is nice”: Nice Guys are men who consider their lack of dating success to be down to the fact that they’re “too nice”, often bemoaning the fact that they end up in the dreaded “friendzone”, wherein women want to be their friend but nothing more.

Every so often, the world will get together and argue about Nice Guys, with one side seeing Nice Guys as figures of pity, victims of shyness, while the other finds Nice Guys creepy as hell. The lovely @RopesToInfinity–an actual guy who is nice–wrote an excellent piece on the matter, addressing Nice Guys, and there’s a few points of his I’d like to expand upon some more, though you should really read the whole thing:

5) The Friendzone Is Not Really An Actual Thing
If a woman is just your friend and not someone you’re having sex with, that is what we in certain circles call a ‘friend’. Yes, what you have there is a friendship, one between you, a man, and a second person, a woman. This can sometimes happen. The chances are she’s not ‘put’ you there because women get off on torturing men, but because she simply wants to just be friends with you, like you might be with a dude. Sex is not the default interaction between men and women. Sex is a thing that happens between two (or more!) people that express a sexual interest in one another and then gratify it by mutual consent. It’s not something you’re supposed to expect, but which women then cruelly decide to deny you from their lofty position as the gatekeepers of the sexual realm. Friendships with women that feature no sex can be rewarding. Try viewing said woman as a person rather than a target for your dick, and see what happens.

6) You May Not Actually Be That Nice After All
Look, are you REALLY that nice? You’re complaining about women refusing to sleep with you, but you haven’t told them how you feel. Is that nice? You’re friends with a woman, but whenever you do something for her you note it down mentally as yet another thing you’ve done which inexplicably went unrewarded with blowjobs, as if it should have been. Is that nice? Think long and hard about your expectations of women, and whether they’re reasonable. And consider whether you’re maybe acting with an unearned sense of entitlement. Be aware that what you think of as ‘nice’ (reluctantly listening to a woman’s problems while wishing she’d shut the fuck up already and touch your penis), may not be what she defines ‘nice’ to mean. Perhaps she thinks of a ‘nice guy’ as someone who likes her with no ulterior motive and who isn’t concealing his true feelings for whatever reason.

These two points get to the crux of precisely what is creepy about the Nice Guy: male sexual entitlement. The complaints, bitterness, resentment about the friendzone all boil down to the fact that the Nice Guy believes that, having completed all of the appropriate rituals, he is owed sex and didn’t get it.

We’ve got to the point now where most of us have no sympathy for the man who believes he is entitled to sex because a woman wore a short skirt, yet seem to be lagging behind on men who believe they are entitled to sex because they’ve been really, really fucking nice. There might be a difference in consequences on the latter: rather than raping, he’s more likely to just write long screeds about how females want douchebags and he’s sick of those bitches wasting his time. However, there is the same root cause here, and it’s not something we should be tolerating or indulging.

Being nice isn’t the cheat code to a woman’s knickers, and it’s not OK to be resentful about this fact. Nobody is entitled to sex. Absolutely nobody. If you are a genuinely decent human being, you need to be prepared to hear the word “no”. And you need to be prepared to deal with that “no”, and accept that. If hearing a “no” is soul-crushing, or enraging, or likely to cause resentment, then you really need to work on your own issues before attempting to connect with other human beings in a non-coercive capacity. Rejections happen, and they’re a product of the other person expressing their autonomy. It’s nice not to resent another human’s articulation of non-consent.

However, there is more than just individual responsibility to these Nice Guys: society shares its fair bit of blame. The straight dating scene is mired in icky gender politics and is so patriarchal it hurts. With these patriarchal expectations in place, male sexual entitlement is ever-present, and so of course the Nice Guys have internalised this, too.

Furthermore, the straight dating scene denigrates the importance of friendship, demoting it to “just friends”. In fact, friendship is awesome: you get to hang out with cool people who you like and do interesting and amazing things even if you’re not having sex. Friendship is a deep, emotional connection, and it is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

Once upon a time, when I was a dorky 17-year-old with all sorts of queer thoughts which I didn’t yet understand, I developed a galloping crush on my BFF. She was hetero. I went all Nice Guy on her arse, having been socialised among straights and believing queer sexuality worked pretty much the same way as it does for straights. I was creepy as hell at the time, and I’m kind of ashamed at how I behaved at that time.

Now I’m a dorky 27-year-old, and I got over it. I am still very good friends with the lady in question, which I’m relieved about due to the aforementioned being creepy as hell. And you know what? Being friends is really, really awesome, because I get to hang out with that cool person and do interesting and amazing things, even though we’re not having sex.

Someone wanting to be your friend is not an insult, unless you feel entitled to sex. It should be a fucking honour.

How do we solve a problem like the Nice Guy? We must acknowledge context, but also that this behaviour is not OK. And if you are a Nice Guy, why not do the nice thing, and try to be better?

Things I read this week that I found interesting

New year, and new feature on the blog: here’s some things I read this week–they’re not even necessarily recent posts, but just struck me as relevant–which I enjoyed and I’d like to share with you.

This week, I’ll be honest, I haven’t really done much reading, so it’s a little sparse. Please drop anything into the comments that you think I might like. I will try to read it. Promise.

Violence against women is pandemic (Sam Ambreen) — huge trigger warnings here for rape and gang rape. Sam discusses the Delhi gang rape, racism, and how we mustn’t think violence against women is limited to India.

Why do some feminist spaces tolerate male abusers? and On Hugo Schwyzer: Accountability, not silencing dissent (@graceishuman) — Trigger warnings for abuse. Grace talks about the issues surrounding Jezebel contributor Hugo Schwyzer, a former perpetrator of abuse who seems to be popular among feminists. Last night, she also tweeted some excellent things.

I hate the tone argument (unquiet slumbers) — How can we reject the tone argument while still enabling shy people to speak? Very good exploration.