In which I rant about Torchwood and queer stuff

Like any good geek, I stick with my shows, even when they’re thoroughly awful.

Take Torchwood. I think I might have hated Torchwood much more than I ever liked it, yet I have stuck with it even as it moved to the States. I feel the urge to vent something that has been bothering me about the latest series. This post will contain spoilers up to episode 3 of Torchwood: Miracle Day. I think, though, that the experience of watching the bloody thing is much worse than the experience of being spoiled.

I have watched Torchwood since it started. I enjoyed the fact that it was essentially Doctor Who fanfiction with a standard fanfiction-inspired dose of slash. All of the characters were at least a little bit queer. It was one of the central tenets of the show: sexuality, for most of the characters was flexible. The gay-or-straight narrative simply did not apply to Torchwood. Most people were somewhere in between. I cannot think of another programme where bisexual characters are so visible.

Even though I find Captain Jack Harkness a gratingly annoying character, I very much appreciated the idea that he came from a future where people had stopped giving a shit about sexual orientation and anything goes. I would love to go and live in that future (except for all of the haunted libraries with shadows that come and eat you).

And here is the problem: Torchwood stopped being queer. I think the rot set in towards the end of season two, when they killed off Toshiko, a main character who happened to be a bisexual woman. Captain Jack begins a serious relationship with Ianto, and stops flirting with everything that moves. That is understandable, I suppose; he has gone monogamous. In the end of season three, Ianto was killed off, another bisexual main character. Ianto died because he had been written into the role of Love Interest Of The Hero, a role usually reserved for a woman character. The trope played out just the same.

After a purge of all of the mortal queers, Torchwood went American. With that, it stopped being anything remotely resembling a queer-friendly show. In the second episode of Miracle Day, the characters are on a plane. There is an air steward there, a well-groomed man. For the entire duration of the episode, the nameless air steward is repeatedly mistaken for gay, presumably because he is well-groomed and an air steward. This “joke” is so tired and hackneyed that it was used in such cinematic masterpieces as Snakes on a Plane.

In the first two episodes, this is literally the only mention of anything remotely pertaining to sexuality: HAHA! LOOK AT THE CLEAN MAN! HE MUST BE A GAY!

By the third episode, the writers have remembered that Captain Jack is supposed to be queer, and throw in a thoroughly unnecessary sex scene between him and a nameless bartender. I will give the show credit where credit is due: the scene is more graphic than one would expect from an American TV show, and safe sex is mentioned. However, this does not make up for the whole of the episode before, which was such a homophobic cliché that I’d been sure it would have been leading up to some kind of humorous subversion. It did nothing of the sort. All the gratuitous bumming in the world can’t change that.

I had always joked that Torchwood was the only fandom not requiring slashfic because it was sufficiently queer all on its own. This is no longer the case, and it makes me a hell of a lot less forgiving of the fact that the writing is terrible, the plot makes no goddamn sense whatsoever, and all of the characters are irretrievably irritating.

To summarise: don’t bother with the new series of Torchwood. I will keep you updated if it improves.

More Magazine, male-centred sexuality and kissing girls

Let me start by saying, I did not buy More magazine. I found it, and out of sheer curiosity, I read it. I sort of wish I hadn’t.

Imagine my horror, as a queer woman, a feminist, and a person with a tendency to get a little bit angry to be greeted with this article:

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

Apparently this is the most important issue in the world when it comes to discussion of kissing women. Whether it turns men on. In the text of the article, there is absolutely no acknowledgement that perhaps queer women may exist. Kissing women is, according to More magazine, exclusively something that women do in nightclubs “in front of an appreciative male audience”.

The article provides the opinion of two men. One man declares that it is “seriously hot” and that he “can’t help but fantasise about joining the party”. The other man thinks that it is “just attention seeking” and “ugly” and “insecure”. Both men are falling prey to objectification.

What is perhaps worst about this, though, is that no opinions of women are sought. From the title of the article and all the way through, how a woman might feel about kissing another woman is not mentioned at all. This is because, to More, sexuality is constructed as something which is entirely male centred.

The magazine is utterly riddled with such articles. A story about Victoria Beckham’s post-birth weight loss is framed as “POSH SHAPES UP FOR DAVID”. An interview with a pop star which largely discusses her music and her weight is titled “I LIKE MY MEN RUGGED”, as if that were the most interesting thing about her. A story about Cheryl Cole casts her as a passive bystander in the crossfire of a fight between two men. The horoscopes page provides horoscopes for “your man”, so the reader can discover whether the line up of stars will make her boyfriend a little grumpier than usual this week.

The phrase “your man” occurs repeatedly. More‘s construction of sexuality is entirely monogamous: you get your man, and that is who you have sex with. More provides a “position of the week”, which explains “what’s in it for him”. If you are worried about him cheating, it is perfectly acceptable to look through his phone. Beauty products and clothes exist to “wow your man”. The most important thing about a woman is “her man”.

There is no space in More for anything outside of this heteronormative monogamous relationship. You are either in one, or you are seeking one. Someday your man will come. Perhaps you can tempt him with a little bit of girl-snogging?

The picture of sexuality presented in More is as unrealistic for many as the position of the week, which starts with “stand on the edge of your villa’s private pool”. For many women, the heteronormative ideal is undesirable or unattainable: it makes women who wish for the heteronormative ideal feel like failures for being unable to “bag a man”, while queer women may feel invisible and marginalised. It is also bloody awful to suggest to women that their boyfriend is the most important and interesting thing about them, as this is categorically untrue.

Sexuality is so much more than impressing a man or pleasing a man. I do not expect a mainstream women’s magazine to provide good detailed advice on polyamory or lesbian practice (though it would be brilliant if they did). What I would like to see, though, is some acknowledgement that ultimately, one’s sexuality should revolve around oneself: not about “what your man might like”, but about what you might like or want. The things that make you feel sexy.

Perhaps that is kissing women. Perhaps that is fucking women. Hell, perhaps it is kissing another consenting woman just to turn men on. Personal jollies, rather than constant thought of existing solely in relation to men.

It is so thoroughly miserable that even a magazine targeted to women will maintain the patriarchal notion that a man’s opinion is the alpha and omega.

And this is why I am adding More  to my library of publications to burn.

Wrong on so many levels

Sometimes a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. Other times, the broken clock is so thoroughly fucked that it manages to so completely tell the wrong time that space distorts around it.

This article is even more thoroughly and completely broken than the metaphor above.

The story is short: a man went to donate blood. He was turned away from the blood donation centre because the staff thought he looked gay. There is much to be angry about here.

It is wrong that the blood donation centre failed to even bother screening a potential donor, following good practice. Every time I have ever given blood I have been given a questionnaire which asks about prior sexual behaviour. I am sure that practice is not that far removed on the other side of the pond. If it is not, that is something which must be changed. That is because it is also wrong to believe that one can gauge a person’s sexual orientation from their “appearance and behaviour” as the staff in question did in this incident. There are no magical markers of homosexuality. A heterosexual man may moisturise. A gay woman may wear frivolous shoes. To say there are visible indicators of sexual orientation is to fall into an unpleasant well of stereotypes. In this case, the man was turned away for being “noticeably effeminate. It would seem that only gay men are allowed to display any kind of feminine traits. This is grubbily unfair to all men.

Ugly generalisations of groups aside, another incredibly fucked up thing about this situation is that men who have sex with men are barred from blood donation. This blanket ban is highly discriminatory: the ban currently applies even to men who are in monogamous gay relationships or those who practice safe sex. It is a product of crude Bayesian statistics, and could easily be rectified by fine-tuning the screening procedure. Furthermore, in the UK, more heterosexuals than gay people have HIV. The move in the UK to lift the ban for men who had sex with men more than a decade ago is not good enough. Completely banning a group of the population from giving blood is wrong.

The wrong does not stop here, though. I wish it did.

The title of the article gives a clue as to what another layer of wrong is: “STRAIGHT MAN TURNED AWAY FROM BLOOD DONATION CENTER BECAUSE HE “LOOKED GAY”.

The actual sexual orientation of the man is thoroughly irrelevant to the story; to reference it shows a nasty pile of distasteful attitudes towards gay people. It makes it seem as though it is worse that a man is labelled as a homosexual than it is that a clinic is failing to follow good practice, falling prey to stereotyping and is a cog in a wheel of systemic oppression. It is sad that a man being mistaken for gay is what makes news, rather than the millions of men who are actually gay facing this sort of bullshit every single day of the year. Unfortunately, that is how society is.

It doesn’t help that the man who was turned away is a bit of a weeping syphilitic chode himself (as are the writers of the article and those who thought it fit to publish). Not only is he so mortally offended by being mistaken for gay that he told his story to a magazine, he also displays prejudice against another group of human beings:

Pace told the Sun-Times he felt “humiliated and embarrassed.” “It’s not right that homeless people can give blood but homosexuals can’t,” he said. “And I’m not even a homosexual.”

Those dirty homeless people, with their AIDS and their promiscuity! They’re worse than the gays! Did I mention I’m totally not gay, because that would be thoroughly icky!

The article tells the story of a cornucopia of wrongs in our society, and its write up reinforces prejudice. I would be impressed at how wrong it manages to be in less than 200 words were I not so thoroughly disappointed that this shit is still roaring on in 2011. Isn’t it supposed to be the future now?

Asking why the day exists shows why it’s needed

Today is International Day Against Homophobia And Transphobia, and Twitter has been ablaze with comments asking what’s the point of having a day dedicated to it.

The same happened on International Women’s Day: people asked what the point was. Surely equality had been won and so, there was no point to it all? Wrong

That people do not see prejudice is precisely why such events are needed.  

The battle against homophobia and transphobia is not won. Uganda is perpetually attempting to pass legislation allowing gay people to be executed. This would not be problematic under international law; recently the UN voted to remove sexual orientation from the resolution condemning summary executions. Even in the UK, homophobia is still rife: consider the story two men thrown out of a pub for kissing. When other people arrived to protest, the pub decided to close its doors rather than risk seeing more same-sex kisses.

For trans people, the situation is equally bad: violence against trans people is commonplace–to the point that websites commemorating the dead are necessary. In the healthcare system, abuse and discrimination is frequent, as is sexual assualt.

Homophobic and transphobic jokes are still frighteningly frequent, and seen by many as acceptable. If you don’t laugh, you must be part of the PC-brigade (warning: link goes to a horrifying display of utter cuntbaggery).

Homophobia and transphobia haven’t gone anywhere. The need for a day to raise awareness of its existence is still there. The need for a day for activists all over the globe to get their shit together and fight oppression is still there. The need for a day where every person can ask what they, personally, can do to help the fight is still there.

When people cannot see the oppression and hate that exists in the world, a day is needed to make it clear.

The view from cloud cuckooland: Dorries and abstinence

The UK has long lacked any compulsory requirements for sex education, but that changed today. A tiny proportion of MPs voted through a 10 Minute Rule BMotion proposed by the chronically batshit religious nutter Nadine Dorries. The motion proposed the following:

“Sex Education (Required Content): That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.”

As the motion was voted through, this means that young women will now be taught about abstinence as a component of sex education. There are numerous problems with this proposal.

First of all, abstinence-only education doesn’t work. There’s a plethora of evidence. Quite simply, teaching abstinence and only abstinence is about as good as teaching young people nothing at all.

Dorries does not explicitly call for abstinence-only education. What is worrying, is that abstinence education is now the only compulsory part of sex education.

Dorries’s attitude towards policy for sex seems to be heavily influenced by two things: a fundamentalist Christian sense of morality and either dire stupidity or wilful misrepresentation of evidence. It is not just sex education she wishes to meddle in: she is also rather fond of twisting evidence to try to reduce women’s access to abortion.

Dorries, then, seems keen on controlling the reproductive freedom of women, as her motion only targets young women. There is still no compulsory sex education for young men of the same age. Young women, meanwhile, will be taught how to abstain.

This is deeply disconcerting. Teaching abstinence to women only suggests that women are the gatekeepers of sex: that it is their responsibility to abstain. This view has damaging consequences for everyone. It teaches men that they are creatures driven entirely by their dicks, and they cannot control their natural urges. It teaches women that they must always be the ones to say “no” to these piggish men and their piggish dicks. It reinforces rape culture, fostering the “no means no” notion.

Societally, what Dorries has proposed is disastrous.

More MPs need to propose more bills making comprehensive sex education compulsory, going beyond simple birth control into education about sex and rape and consent. People need to learn that sex is absolutely tremendous fun if you do it safely; that as long as everyone involved is consenting enthusiastically, there is nothing wrong. Knowledge needs to be taught: pregnancy, STIs, contraception, abortion. Skills need to be taught: contraception use, saying no, and saying yes.

With all of that compulsory, Dorries’s motion will be unproblematic. Abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy and STIs. However, as a good fucking is really, really fucking good, many will not make this choice, and abstinence education does nothing to address the nature of sexual consent.

Dorries needs to stop controlling women. It is for the good of everyone.