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All posts for the month October, 2013

Intersex Day of Awareness

Published October 26, 2013 by Katy J Went

26 October was Intersex Awareness Day.

Intersex Awareness Day fell yesterday but as with the Transgender Day of Remembrance now becoming a part of the longer Trans Awareness Week, we should not limit education and awareness to just one day a year. The more sex, gender and sexuality, are taught about, their differences and their areas of overlap, the better. As a friend has said elsewehere “we are all one but we are not the same”.

I have been told I am the wrong kind of trans, not intersex enough, not bipolar enough, and the wrong kind of lesbian – but I am certainly queer enough, but then some hate the reclaimed, new nuanced usage of queer. The “my difference is bigger/better/worse, more oppressed that your difference” rivalry, “my label is more important than yours” and “issue” oneupmanship has no place in equality and diveristy politics. Labels, even ones we are fighting for recognition of, need to be loose, flexible and tolerant, to truly embrace the diversity of difference. The only label that fits is the one we individually wear by choice, born or acquired. Whether the 6-10% that are gay and lesbian, the unknown 15% or more that are or have been bisexual, the 0.1-4% that are intersex or 0.1-2% that are trans, or more that are genderqueer and non-binary in some way – let us recognise we are minorities of one, but together we are movements and agents of change.

I have fought for intersex inclusion rather than intersex ignorance and invisibility and have encountered most opposition from LGB and even T activists. Gay rights movements were reluctant to embrace lesbian activism or recognise bisexuals as “born that way” rather than judged as “sitting on the fence”. In turn lesbians and gays were reticent to let the weird tail of LGB&T to wag the gay dog in any way despite the strong trans and indeed trans of colour presence if not prominence at the original Stonewall Inn riot. Some of the greatest levels of ignorance of trans and intersex I have encountered have been in the LGB communities, not the wider population.

In 2006 South Africa, curiously the country with probably the highest incidence, was one of the very places to incorporate intersex persons into law as part of an anomaly that until then had meant if you were neither male nor female you were not a citizen. The European Union has for the first time in 2013 included LGBTI, not just LGBT, in policy documents. Several countries including Australia and New Zealand now recognise more than two gender possibilities on passports and official documents. I have been told by LGBT groups that adding the “I” will just “confuse people”, “aren’t there enough letters already?”. Sex, gender and sexuality are different yet overlap and we should recognise that. We should not have to proclaim “intersex persons are people too”!

Being, or having been, each of L,G,B,T,I & Q, gives me a peculiar insight to the almost territoriality of each “identity” and resistance to recognising similarity and intersectionality (sharing common cause with others even if the fight is different) of others. We were all babies, and as such we all experienced the effect of chromosomes, hormones and receptors in the womb, that created the individuals we were born as. That much we have in common.

I was misgendered at birth for a mere hour or so, had genital surgery at 5 for an apparently unrelated issue, suffered more than 6 years of intrusive and dehumanising paediatric investigations for atypical puberty development and as an adult continued to grapple with my gender and sexual identity which were further confused by ongoing underlying sex differences that meant I never felt fully a part of male, female, trans, or GLB identities and communities.

Being told, “don’t worry puberty will eventually happen” and “you’ll turn out normal in the end” by a 1980s male chauvinist doctor who treated me a lump of meat and patronised my intelligent concerned “little” mother was insulting and far from reassuring. I got the most insight and education from sex & body workshops in America and dating a sex therapist who put it nicely that I was “wired like a woman and plumbed like a man”, she didn’t mean just my neurology but all my physical pathways since I never could have typical sex like a “man” being mostly anorgasmic and only getting aroused rarely and in atypical ways. Hormones have mixed that up further! Gender clinics do not usually take well to intersexed or non-binary trans patients.

Not belonging and yet feeling pushed and shoved, sometimes literally, into one gender or another has been an exhausting journey and one I am still not at the end of, and may never yet arrive – at least at times I am beginning to enjoy the trip. What I hope for, campaign for, educate about, is an increased awareness of sex/gender variation and the increasing comfort of self and society with difference and diversity.

The first Intersex Awareness Day (IAD) came about when the American intersex group Hermaphrodites with Attitude (HWA) teamed up with American trans group Trans Menace (named after the lesbian women’s movement Lavender Menace in turn reclaiming former “red” and “yellow menace” US propaganda movements of the 1950s and 60s) to picket an American Association of Paediatrics (AAP) conference in Boston on 26th October 1996.

As with trans, intersex people have long resented and resisted the medical pathologisation that comes from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the US DSM, now on version 5 which refers to intersex persons as having “Disorders of Sex Development” (DSD). Whilst this may sound like a logical description, the word “variation” rather than “disorder” would be less pejorative.

Intersex conditions may only be initially visible at birth for 1-in-2000 babies but can affect up to 4-in-100 people, often discovered later in life, at puberty, or whilst trying for a child, for example. Many may never even know. US Hospital Johns Hopkins psychologist and sex researcher John Money suggested that up to 4% of people are born with ambiguous genitalia whilst Professor of Biology and Gender Dr Anne Fausto-Sterling in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000) thought 1.7% a fairly accurate figure based upon combining the prevalence of differing conditions. Dr Sharon Preves, author of Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self (2003), says that “the frequency could be as high as 4%”.

What is intersex? It is being born with primary and/or secondary sexual characteristics that are not clearly or typically male or female, although may have characteristics of both. Complete hermaphroditism, an old disused and disparaged term (though being reclaimed by some), having the complete organs of both genders, is extremely rare but has occurred in recorded history for centuries. Medics, scientists, theologians and taxonomists have been noting and describing cases extensively since the 16th century. The use of the term “hermaphrodite” (stemming from Greek myth) as inappropriate has been raised since 1839 and yet in some quarters is still used.

GenderAgenda_symbol

There are some 80+ intersex variations covering physical organs, chromosomes, and hormone levels that can further result in atypical secondary development. Being male and female is not a simple case of X and Y, or rather XX and XY, cases of XXY or indeed XXXXY exist, not to mention XO or XXXX, and that is just a few of a more than a dozen chromosome differences, some of which have names such as Klinefelter or Turner syndrome. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) has several variations itself and as its name implies is based around atypical masculinisation and hormone development. Chimerism can see people with differing DNA at cellular levels, almost an internal twin at the simplest form of development.

We hear about intersex in the news mostly when athletes have their biological sex challenged. South African athlete Caster Semenya was literally dragged through the media whilst her sex/gender was investigated. Some radical feminists such as Germaine Greer never seem to “get” transwomen, similarly they are bulls in a china shop when discussing intersex, describing Semenya as “Big, blokish and bloody fast” with an “unfair biological advantage”.

After the London 2012 Olympics, in order to continue to compete “as women”, four athletes raised and thought to be typical women from birth but subsequently discovered to have XY chromosomes had surgery to remove internal testes. They were deemed to have a physical advantage from the increased testosterone in them. To all extents and purposes they were and are women, but with invisible to the naked eye XY chromosomes and an increased muscle mass. Yet, muscular XX women exist too. Perhaps in some sports we need more than 2 genders or body types, much as in competitions, like boxing, based upon competitor weight and stature.

The main fight of intersex activists is against early surgical interventions, the tendency for doctors and indeed some parents to want the child to resemble as near to one gender or “the other” as possible. In the past that meant making a lot of girls since surgeons used to inappropriately quip, “it is easier to make a hole than a pole”. The Organisation Intersex International (OII), founded in 2003 by and for intersex people, has as its mission “to attain human rights for intersex infants, children, and adults, particularly the right to bodily integrity and self-determination.”

Activists prefer a child to be allowed to grow up free from gender straitjacketing, shoe-horned into one or other, instead preferring free self determination via non-intervention, hormones and/or surgery as maturely requested. Worldwide, every year, 1000s are operated on to conform to binary gender “normality”.

“Many intersex people are perfectly happy with being men or women and more and more of us are quite happy being intergender and find the notion of trans totally foreign to our identity because we are rejecting binary sex and binary gender altogether and the prefix ‘trans’, just like the prefix ‘bi’‚ keeps the binary well intact.” (OII)

Gender and sex are far more than the feminists’ gender construct or the medics’ surgical one. Sex and gender are at work in us all on so many levels from cells to hormones, bodies to brains, appearance to identities. The ongoing studies of sex, gender and sexuality, continue to indicate that we are more than biological essentialism or societal construction. We all share a physical similarity, in that in the womb for the first 7 weeks we all look pretty much the same – then hormones hit us and depending upon chromosomes and hormone receptors we develop differently – but not only and exclusively into two sexes/genders as traditionally understood or defined. “All gender designation is ultimately sexism” (OII). We are ourselves, not male and female but fifty shades of male to female. A diversity to be celebrated.

Finally, a top ten of intersex falsehoods from OII USA (Organisation Intersex International):

1. Intersex means that a person has both sets of genitalia – False
2. 1 in 2000 infants is born intersex – False
3. When an intersex child is born, they cannot be left to grow up as is, but rather “something must be done” – False
4. Intersex is about homosexuality – False
5. Disorders of Sex Development, or DSD, is the preferred term for intersex – False
6. Intersex is not about gender – False
7. Intersex is part of the transgender movement – False*
8. The intersex movement is an identity movement like the LGBT movements – False**
9. Most intersex people were assigned female – False
10. Intersex is a “condition” which can be cured – False

OII’s definition of “intersex” is as follows:

“THE term intersex was adopted by science in the early 20th century and applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly male or female. An intersex person may have the biological attributes of both sexes or lack some of the biological attributes considered necessary to be defined as one or the other sex. Intersex is always congenital and can originate from genetic, chromosomal or hormonal variations. Environmental influences such as endocrine disruptors can also play a role in some intersex differences. The term is not applicable to situations where individuals deliberately alter their own anatomical characteristics. Intersex people represent a significant percentage of the global population, from 1 in 1,500 to around 1.7%.”

People whose sexual characteristics, chromosomes, and/or hormones, differ from the majority, may or may not accept the label “intersex”, some prefer to reclaim hermaphrodite, some are ok with the current medical Disorder of Sexual Development, some may not see themselves as different at all, and be perfectly content with a minor variation that may not affect their life in any way. Community and activist movements attempts to organise and campaign will always fall foul to lumping discrete individuals together under one umbrella term that not everyone may be comfortable with and as a result there will oft be internal disagreements of labeling and language and even the outcomes campaigned for. The important thing, though, is mutual respect for the right to self-label and freedom of choice over any medical intervention or none. At the end of the day, whatever our birth, development, sex and/or gender, we are human after all – that much we have in common.

Notes:

* Although some would see trans as a part of intersex – at the neurological, possibly hormonal levels.

** Calling something an “identity movement” as opposed to “born that way” which covers us all has a similar stigma to straights or cisgenders calling any or all of LGBTQ a “lifestyle choice”. Furthermore we should not be judging each other on nature versus apparent “choice” either. Being an individual, freedom of expression, are “human” rights. Even a “lifestyle choice” is part informed by our nature and psychological/neurological makeup. “Fashion”, too, is part of self-expression and resides as much in the brain’s thinking as on the body (both externally as clothes and on the surface via tattoos, piercings and body modifications). People should not be judged for who they are however they came to be that way.

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No man is an island – Activism and Asceticism, Society and Soul.

Published October 25, 2013 by Katy J Went

Many self-development paths talk about the voyage of self, a transformational journey of our inner being which may be accompanied by external somatic spiritual practices, for example – meditation, yoga, abstinence. Ascetism disciplines the body so as to set free the spirit. The idea can be that as we grow as spiritual beings we become more immune from the chaos of the world around, we can find inner peace rather than need world peace.

To me, though, that becomes a path of transportation, not transformation – a worldview eschatology that is more escapology than soteriology – one that also makes us immune from care, community and connectedness, to anyone other than our own self or conception of any higher being. Our vertical path must be accompanied by a horizontal one – outward, as well as inward and upward.
Some, on an apparent path toward illumination end up in isolation, looking only inward. But as Jesus said:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…” Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV).

True illumination gives light to others, and benefits society as a whole.
The modern twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton wrote a book No Man Is an Island and in the chapter on “Being and Doing” penned the words:

“what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in our outward reflection in our own acts. We must find our real selves not in the froth stirred up by the impact of our being upon the beings around, but in our own soul which is the principle of all our acts.”

Merton went on to express the idea that our acts are as a mirror to the soul, but an imperfect and impermanent one. He regarded them as “transient and superficial”, but to me this reeks of “so heavenly minded, as to be no earthly good”, even Jesus was eminently practical about spirituality, “not all those that call me Lord will enter heaven…but those that clothe the naked, feed the hungry…” etc.

Merton again, ponders the paradox that “Stagnation and inactivity bring spiritual death. But my soul must not project itself entirely into the outward effects of its activity. I do not need to see myself, I merely need to be myself.” (p.124)

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Drop Of Water by Jani Rava

Being fully yourself, should naturally overflow, not a glass half-full or empty but a glass over-full, spilling out, giving out… An ocean is never full, but always flowing. The drop that feels it has no effect still forms a ripple on a still sea or joins a wave in a stirred up one. We are not just drops of water in an infinite ocean of humanity, instead, together we are waves, eroding established structures, shaping systems and society. We can make a difference.

Merton was not the first to use the phrase “no man is an island”, the seventeenth century poet and thinker John Donne used it in his Meditation XVII:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
This reflection upon sickness, death and corporate humanity, has lines that have stood the test of time. We are connected, the death of one affects us all, “diminishes” us, as a piece of land eroded and washed away.

I have always struggled with belief systems and practices that separate faith and works, mind and body, self and society. To me, we are not good unless we also do some good, not in a guilt racked, works oriented, aid-based sense of charity – but a transformational change that spills out, from oneself, onto the streets, into communities, makes waves, affects structures, creates policy and which organically organises a better world for all not just for one.As Mr Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn).

To Aristotle, the securing of one individual’s good is great cause for rejoicing, but to secure the good of a whole city or nation was a nobler and more divine result. The Star Trek Vulcan-human paradox of logic versus humanity means that it is also often the right thing to do for the many to sacrifice for the one.

Socially, I disagree with Jeremy Bentham’s assertion that “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” Serving the majority is easy and far from right. Standing up for the “little ones”, minorities, the oppressed, distressed, disenfranchised, downtrodden or destitute – how we treat the disadvantaged is a far greater measure of ethical attitude.

Some people seek out solitude for an allegedly “higher” spirituality, others go there for refuge or retreat from the pain of the world. Simon and Garfunkel’s song I am a Rock (1965) describes an isolated existence, seemingly immune to pain and grief, but really rather lonely and protected.
I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain,
And an island never cries.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Steve Jobs:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently – they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”, Think Different

In the new book The Bite In The Apple by Chrisann Brennan, his first girlfriend, Jobs is portrayed more negatively as having returned from a 1970s transformational trip to India and coming back “sexist” and beginning to “reject the feminine aspect as inferior to the glorious masculine”. Hardly pushing the human race forward. For all his technological genius and advancement, in the world of human relationships and equality, he sounds less evolved.

Bill Gates was the man to be hated as Microsoft grew and grew, but now his health research philanthropy could potentially transform the lives of millions and with even Warren Buffett trusting him to dispose of $billions as part of the billionaire’s pledge where 114 US billionaires are giving away between 50 and 99% of their fortunes. As Buffett has said, “Were we to use more than 1% of my … stock … on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others.”

Transformative Social Change is a practical philosophy that combines the personal with the collective. The personal is political, true change effects change without as well as within, society is transformed when groups of individuals are. The “no man is an island” analogy, for me, means that spiritual paths that involve separation or escapism from our communities are elitist and in the end non-transformational, instead they can become, for me at least, selfish.

Author and trainer, Alison Clayton-Smith, writes that:

“One of the first issues I identify in my book about self development is that, well frankly, it can all be a little be self-indulgent. Ecclestone and Hayes have suggested that focusing on areas such as self-esteem risks becoming internally obsessed. Not only does this mean we stop wanting to do things for the benefit of the community but also we stop thinking about where society needs to change. I think that we can benefit from shifting to a view of the interconnected self. That is, I am not me in isolation of anything else. I am linked to everything that is around me, whether that be other humans or the rocks and soil. They affect my existence and I affect theirs. This is where ideas from ecopsychology, and systemic approaches, can aid our thinking…we can start to think of a more holistic self development, one which leads us to seek out opportunities to benefit the whole, not just the part of the whole.” http://www.growinginsights.co.uk/2011/12/self-development-moving-away-from-the-self-and-towards-the-interconnected-self/

To return to Merton’s “Being and Doing”, or St James’ faith and works, it is not that we are what we do, but that doing can reflect a truer state of our being, putting our spiritual practice into practice, to good effect, so to speak.

Neurologist Dr Daniel A. Drubach, has written books on the brain, from a holistic standpoint, and on the crossover between Jewish religious philosophy and the neuroplasticity of the brain. He writes that the path to psychological, physical and spiritual transformation, is a Jewish expectation, to constantly re-create ourselves, just as the brain does. In a 2002 journal article on “Judaism, Brain Plasticity and the Making of the Self” he talks about a key Jewish idea, that the “self” is created through action, just as the brain through repeated action, forms connections within from regular activity. Whilst Merton spoke of inaction bringing spiritual death, inertia can also bring mental or physical death.

The inspiration to write this article was seeing a 5Rhythms quote that “All this dance is bull-shit if we don’t take it out into the street”. The late Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms dance movement philosophy is described as a “dynamic movement practice – a practice of being in your body – that ignites creativity, connection, and community.” It is this integrated, connected aspect that I love. Roth termed herself the Urban Shaman and took dance to the kids, the elderly, to New York rather than California, and to those that thought they could not dance, but realised they could move in an individual, unstructured way that expressed themselves rather than conformed to structured time or dance steps. Her 5Rhythms integrated body, heart, mind, soul and spirit; created connection within and community without.

We need psychological/spiritual exercise as well as physical exercise and to exercise ourselves on behalf of others.

The biblical path to illumination was once described by the prophet Isaiah:

“…if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58:10-11)

The personal contemplative state can never be a fully enlightened one if it becomes separate from the connectivity we share with people and planet. It’s all very well looking at ourselves as the droplet of water under a microscope of self-analysis and development, but if we want to make waves then we need to fall from our solitary lofty intentions, become a drop in the sea and get rippling. Plop-psychology!

No to Hate – Yes to hope and harmony, equality, diversity, immigration and inclusion. The roots of hatred.

Published October 17, 2013 by Katy J Went
Wear Purple Spirit Day GLAAD

Wear Purple on Spirit Day – Take a stand against LGBT & all other bullying and hate

 

Today is Wear Purple or Spirit Day remembering gay bullying and suicides since 2010 in the US. It comes after National Coming Out Day last weekend and it is a sad token of our times that it still does not feel safe for some to “come out” and instead to take their own life. This weekend the annual No to Hate candlelit vigils are held around the UK rounding off Hate Crime Awareness Week and part of the national campaign by 17-24-30 and others to remember the victims of hate crime and foster more positive attitudes towards diversities.

The first Candle-lit Vigil, attended by 10,000 people, was organised on 30th October 2009 in Trafalgar Square after the death of Ian Baynham, who died from the injuries he received when he was homophobically abused and attacked by drunken teenagers outside South Africa House.

One of the leading antagonists in the alcohol-fueled attack was a 17 year old public school girl, Ruby Thomas. Whilst the incident was reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange her home life was far from privileged having an abusive father who was imprisoned for murder, a fact that when revealed led to her own bullying at school.

SpiritDay_Badge2013The Wear Purple campaign was fostered by GLAAD in 2010 after at least 5 US teen gay suicides in a just a few weeks. Tyler Clementi took his own life after being outed by his roommate. In early October 2010, Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan had promoted a new commemoration called Spirit Day after the purple “Spirit” stripe on the LGBT rainbow flag. Since then millions have taken to wearing purple on this day as members of and allies to the LGBT community and victims of homophobic and transphobic bullying.

Writer and blogger Wes Janisen says:

“Wearing purple on Spirit Day shows the world that not only are you a person who refuses to tolerate bullying, harassment, or hate crimes of any kind, but you are a person who supports and loves others, just as they are. You are safe to talk to, to come out to, to ask for advice or for help. Purple shows everyone you’re an ally”.

The 17-24-30 campaign remembers the 1999 London nail bomb attacks by David Copeland, killing 3 and injuring over 140 people, in Brick Lane, Brixton and Soho’s coloured and LGBT communities – even in the latter the indiscriminate nature of these heinous attacks was such that a straight woman and her unborn child were the main victims.

Copeland was a neo-Nazi ex-BNP and National Socialist Movement (an offshoot of Combat 18) organiser with subsequently recognised paranoid schizophrenia yet insufficient to justify “diminished responsibility”. His social background seems more to blame. A late developer with insecurities about his sexuality, orientation and manhood who struggled with employment and blamed immigration. He told police, “My main intent was to spread fear, resentment and hatred throughout this country, it was to cause a racial war.”

In contrast to Copeland’s aims, Britain’s communities came together over the incidents, Londoners rallying round. Surgeons worked non-stop for 72hrs and worked overtime till 11pm each night for a month to deal with the injuries – one victim remaining in hospital for 15 months. A lesbian firefighter on scene at both Brixton and Soho was shocked at the feeling of being targeted for her identity, saying:

“I am gay myself and I knew it was the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual community that was being targeted. My partner, who I hadn’t met at the time, was working just across the road from the Admiral Duncan when the bomb went off. She said it was horrific… I found it hard to believe that someone was targeting my community in such a horrifying way. I was deeply, deeply hurt.”

A Brick Lane trader, Leo Epstein, whose shop was damaged, rushed to the scene. Copeland had planned to target the Jewish community next after Black, Asian and LGBT. Brick Lane, now predominantly Asian was previously a Jewish quarter and good relations remain between the two communities. As Epstein says:

“We all trade with open doors on Brick Lane, so on Monday morning, when they let us go back, we all stood around looking at the damage and talking about it. It was like the Blitz spirit, people were coming round and saying to me, ‘We’ve got builders in doing some work on our shop, do you need anything done?’ I’ve been here for 52 years and I know everybody, and we’re good friends. As I’m the last Jewish trader in Brick Lane, many of the Asian shop owners come in from time to time and say, ‘Oh good, you’re still here, why don’t you come and have a meal on us.’ You can’t exist if you don’t get on with everybody else“. 

 Copeland got the idea for his campaign by watching televised news footage of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics pipe bombs which were a violent response to abortion on demand. The perpetrator was only caught years later after further bombings targeted abortion clinics and a lesbian nightclub.

It is apparent that bad news sells and influences, one thing we need more of is good news, not as the endpiece 2 minute feel good soundbite cat rescue story on a local news channel – but national positive stories of diversity working, cultures being celebrated, communication and community changing lives.

Eric Robert Rudolph’s purpose behind the bombings according to his April 13, 2005 statement, “was to confound, anger and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.” He opposed “the ideals of global socialism” and “the so-called Olympic movement”‘s promoting of it.

Imagine by John Lennon was the theme song of the 1996 Olympics and it is sad to see the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics so mired in controversy over Russia’s recent homophobic legislation. Rudolph opposed the idealism of Imagine‘s vision. He’d grown up Christian and as a teenager had been taken by his mother to an extremist antisemitic white supremacist church.
Lennon had been inspired by a Christian prayer book and imagined “a world at peace, with no denominations of religion – not without religion but without this my God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing…”. The apolitical Lennon said that Imagine was “virtually the Communist manifesto”, one world without religion or geopolitical borders, though he was not envisioning Chinese or Russian Communism, rather “a nice … British Socialism”.

Back on April Fool’s Day 1973 John and Yoko invented Nutopia – a new, utopian society that, “has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people. NUTOPIA has no laws other than cosmic.” Ten years later U2 used the all-white Nutopian flag in their live performances of their third album and tour, War.

Rolling Stone
 magazine described Imagine‘s lyrics as “22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself.” One can hope…

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
 
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

The Independent on Sunday’s LGBT Pink List 2013

Published October 13, 2013 by Katy J Went

Published since 2000 The Independent on Sunday‘s Pink List always causes a stir. Straights may wonder why it even exists, homophobes see it as a Hall of Shame and celebrities may get recognition over hardworking campaigners and activists. That is set to change as the paper, or at least this year’s judges (actress and singer Heather Peace, long time trans activist Christine Burns, Kim Watson of GTDiva & Meta magazines, and Ben Summerskill of Stonewall) have decided contenders need to be more than LGBT, famous and/or influential – they need to actually “make a difference”.

With 15+ trans entrants compared to 2010’s none and 2011-12’s half-dozen it is topped by the young charismatic upcoming media-savvy trans journalist and activist Paris Lees. Other trans personalities and activists include: model Jackie Green, Trans Media Watch‘s Jennie Kermode and Helen Belcher, politicians Sarah Brown and Tara Hewitt, journalists Jane Fae and Juliet Jacques, poet and activist Roz Kaveney, lecturer and former primary teacher Natacha Kennedy, Big Brother‘s Luke Anderson, My Transsexual Summer‘s Lewis Hancox and Raphael Fox – now filmmakers themselves, and Gendered Intelligence‘s Jay Stewart.

Singer and co-founder of Queer Youth Network CN Lester appears at #41 and is probably the only notable queer and non-binary activist.

Clare Balding is #2 for the second year running having been #4 and a judge previously.

Peter Tatchell, notably forgotten in 2011, is raised to joint #2 after an apologetic re-entry at #3 last year, having featured at #7 and #34 in previous years. It feels like a pop-pickers Top 40 with movers and losers, who’s in fashion and who is not.

It is as if LGBT political correctness was trying to cover all bases and make apologies for previous omissions of all trans people, most lesbians, non-whites and one vocal and veteran campaigner. It would be no surprise if a suitable black bisexual was not shoehorned into #4. Oh wait, let’s google/wiki Nicola Adams … yes she’s bi, having come out last year.

2012 was an Olympic year in several senses, with among other sporting stars, Puerto-Rican Orlando Cruz, another boxer, also coming out. Four out of the first five Pink List places were taken up by sports celebrities. It also opened the list up to gender, disability and colour in ways not hitherto seen.

2013 has been the year of equal marriage, but also “the year when trans people finally began to glimpse the sort of respect and equality that gay people can, at last, expect”, writes the paper, “We hope the list reflects that.”

The aim, according to the Sindie – Sunday Independent – “To entertain and celebrate, infuriate and amuse. Above all, to kick-start a debate around the breakfast and lunch-table.” Well it has certainly done that – celebrate and infuriate in equal measure.

Back in 2010 national treasure Stephen Fry complained about the separately compiled Rogues’ Gallery section which pilloried Pineapple Dance Studio’s Louie Spence for his camp “gay stereotype” whose “fame would soon be up”. Fry described Spence as “An authentic, strong, charming and lovable person, every bit as ‘courageous’ as the others on the list, certainly more courageous than me, Louie deserves respect and support, not insult and derision. Do they want people like him not to count, do they see him as being guilty of a choice in his manner and his demeanour, just as homophobes everywhere accuse all gay people of choosing their sexuality and preferences?” Fry renounced his entry at #3 and gave it to Spence.

2010’s list was criticised for lacking obvious and open trans or bi persons and grassroots activists.

A gay HuffPost blogger tore into 2012’s list describing it as “meaningless” and if “a victory for equality, it’s certainly a hollow one.”

Yet the fabulous LGBT educator, Elly Barnes (#1, 2011), said, “Being awarded the No 1 spot on last year’s Pink List was a massive shock and overwhelming on every level. It not only gave me the confidence I needed to take the Educate and Celebrate initiative forward nationally; it was also the wake-up call to move to be a full-time LGBT advocate. I will be for ever thankful to all who voted and to the judges.”

To make room for younger activists, our campaigning forebears have been moved to a National Treasures List:

April Ashley MBE Model; Russell T Davies OBE TV producer and screenwriter; Lauren Harries Media personality; Phyllida Lloyd CBE Theatre director; Matthew Parris Journalist; Alice Purnell OBE Trans campaigner; Stephen Whittle OBE Professor of equalities law; Sir Cameron Mackintosh Theatre producer; Paul O’Grady MBE Actor, presenter; Neil Tennant Musician; David Hockney OM, CH Artist; Andrew Pierce Journalist; Jeanette Winterson OBE Writer; Boy George Musician and DJ; Eileen Gallagher OBE Television producer; Sir Elton John Musician; Philip Hensher Writer; Julian Clary Comedian and writer; Alice Arnold Broadcaster; Alan Bennett Playwright; Alan Hollinghurst Novelist; Stephen Fry Actor and writer; Sir Ian McKellen CH, CBE Actor; Jonathan Harvey Playwright; Paul Burston Author and journalist; Fiona Shaw CBE Actress and director; Simon Callow CBE Actor; Rupert Everett Actor; Sir Nicholas Hytner Theatre director; Val McDermid Novelist; Brian Sewell Art critic; John Barrowman Actor; Sandi Toksvig Actor and presenter; Graham Norton Comedian and presenter; Colm Tóibín Novelist; Linda Bellos OBE Activist; David Lan Playwright and film-maker; Dr Christian Jessen TV presenter and doctor; Michael Grandage CBE Theatre director and producer; Jackie Kay MBE Poet and novelist.

The shift to younger LGBT role models may inspire the next generation of activists and more people to “come out” – last weekend was National Coming Out Day in the US & UK. May next year’s list evolve to include more Queer, Pan, Intersex and Non-Binary voices. It is easy to find criticism with the list, the very notion of LGBT league tables is abhorrent, but some mention is better than none, and all publicity can be seen as good publicity. It will certainly continue to arouse “debate”, and long may it do so.

Driving mullahs mad and Saudi Women towards Equality … slowly

Published October 1, 2013 by Katy J Went

Why tune in to comedy when you can tune in to a fundamentalist preacher (christian, muslim or cult)?

Sheikh al-Luhaydan sabq

Sheikh al-Luhaydan on SABQ.org

Saudi Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, a judicial and psychological consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, has proclaimed on the sabq.org news site that:

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards. That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with clinical problems of varying degrees.”

This is no more illogical and unscientific than the Saudi religious Shura Council in 2011 being warned in a pseudo-scientific report that letting women drive would “provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce” and that would, in turn, result in there being “no more virgins”, presumably reducing the availability of reward for suicide bombing – I mean “freedom fighters”. In the last few days hundreds have died from these kind of immoral-by-anyone’s-standards attacks on freedom. In the last ten days over 130 people have died in terrorist attacks on a church, bus and market, in just one city – Peshawar, Pakistan. Over 60 were killed last week in the Kenyan shopping mall massacre, and on Sunday 44 students were massacred in Nigeria by the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name tellingly means “Western education is forbidden/sinful”.

Women2Drive campaign logo

Women2Drive campaign logo

Women in Saudi Arabia are being encouraged via a 12,500+ twitter campaign to flout the Saudi kingdom’s driving ban – strictly speaking a religious fatwa, though not based in either Sharia or criminal law – and drive en masse on 26 October. Defying the ban, the only country in the world that imposes it, is an attempt to raise awareness of all rights denied women there, although since 2011 they have been promised the vote by 2015. Punishment is normally by arrest and a fine, rather than more serious repercussions although imprisonment and lashings have not been unknown.

Access to the website oct26driving.com within Saudi has reportedly been blocked. Hashtags #women2drive, #Women_driving_affects_ovaries_and_pelvises and facebook pages such as Saudi-Women-To-Drive and Women2Drive have gone viral gathering thousands of likes but so too have ones advocating the beating of women that drive.

I don't have a car - I have a camel graffiti

I don’t have a car – I have a camel

Social media has at least safely enfranchised a Saudi woman’s right to protest, often and necessarily anonymously. One has even taken to graffiti art on the streets of Riyadh. The anonymous 23 year-old woman has been stenciling an image of a camel with the words “I Don’t Have A Car, I Have A Camel” and the hashtag #women2drive.

1990 and 2011 both saw attempts to ignore the restriction and demand equal rights, well progress at least, for Saudi women. Back in 1990 47 women were punished and many lost their jobs. In 2011, one of 100+ to take to streets and drive, Manal al-Sharif was accused of “besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion”, only her capitulation and promise not to drive again led to her eventual release. She had risked using her own face, voice and real name, to stand up for all women. Several others ended up in court, that year, and one, named Shema was sentenced to 10 lashes. Manal says, “I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are, the harsher the attacks were the greater the impact.”

Al-Sharif, a former Islamic fundamentalist herself, questioned her beliefs after 9/11 and listening, aged 21 – against the advice that it was satanic, to the Backstreet Boys’ “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely“. She began to challenge both terrorism, tradition and patriarchy. She was given an award in 2012 by the Oslo Freedom Forum for “Creative Dissent” and gave a brave and inspiring talk.

In 2005, Saudi’s King Abdullah was interviewed by ABC News’ Barbara Walters:

ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women … my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, my wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.

WALTERS: But there are so many restrictions against women. Do you see this changing?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time … Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world, and I believe that with the passing of days in the future everything is possible.

WALTERS: Why do you think Saudi Arabia is becoming fertile ground for al Qaeda?

ABDULLAH: Madness. … Madness and evil, it is the work of the devil. … Such acts cannot be perpetrated by any individual who has a sense of decency or humanity or justice or faith.
http://abcnews.go.com/2020/International/story?id=1214706&page=1&singlePage=true

Al-Sharif is a part of starting the My Right to Dignity campaign for full Saudi women’s citizenship and what has become known as the Saudi Women’s Spring after the uprisings of the Arab Spring. She says, “the child cannot be free if his mother is not free … society is nothing if the women are nothing.”

In Saudi Arabia women cannot work or leave the house to shop, without the permission of their husband or male guardian, they cannot even have certain medical surgeries without that say-so and hence do not even have rights over their own bodies.

Because they are almost prisoners in their own homes Saudi women have the world’s highest incidence of diabetes, 70% obesity rates and only last year was Physical Education added to the education curriculum and their women partially allowed to compete in the Olympic Games.

For her, “Freedom starts within. ..the struggle is not about driving a car. It is about being in the driver’s seat of our destiny. It is to be free, not only to dream but also to live.”

More on this story on the bbc news site, on alarabiya.net  and the excellent saudiwomendriving blog.