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Whose brave new world? JFK, CS Lewis or Aldous Huxley?

Published November 22, 2013 by Katy J Went

On November 22, 1963, fifty years ago today, John F Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died. Whose vision of the future – political, Christian or sci-fi dystopia, was closer to reality or dream as the true prophet of our times? Whose new world? Kennedy’s space race, cold war and “new frontier”, Huxley’s “brave” dystopia or Lewis’s “magical” Narnia?

Huxley's Brave New WorldKennedy’s political vision was cut short after less than 3 years as US President. In that time he was criticised for being lukewarm on civil rights though he was somewhat distracted by foreign policy issues such as Cuba, the Cold War and Vietnam. That said, he was generally supportive of congressional change and led moves to change policy on women, blacks and the death penalty. In 1961 at his first State of the Union Address he said that:

“The denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race – at the ballot box and elsewhere – disturbs the national conscience, and subjects us to the charge of world opinion that our democracy is not equal to the high promise of our heritage.”

At the Berlin Wall erection Kennedy criticised communism before a million onlookers in these words:

“Freedom has many difficulties, and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”

Kennedy called his domestic policy program the “New Frontier”. Among the economic, education and health policies was a raft of measures to end discrimination and create equal employment laws. Fifty years later, how far has America come? Change takes time, but how long is acceptable to generations that have to die before they see substantive social evolution? There has been slow progress on Equal Marriage, just 14 states endorse it; the beginning of an end to gay discrimination in the military; yet a black President is significant – though it took less time and effort to get a man on the moon!

Indeed, Kennedy had urged international cooperation in space as a project that would be “impressive to mankind”, in both January 1961 and September 1963 Khrushchev turned down those offers.

If the moon landing was a vision fulfilled just 6 years later, what of the Sci-Fi visions of Aldous Huxley?

Aldous was a scion of the famous Huxley family which included the agnostic “Bulldog” biologist associate of Charles Darwin, Thomas Henry and several other prominent scientists and writers. His mother was niece to essayist, critic and poet, Matthew Arnold. He counted DH Lawrence among his friends and Bloomsbury types such as Bertrand Russell among his associates. Later, in the USA, he became friends with science fiction author Ray Bradbury.

Huxley briefly taught French at Eton where the future George Orwell was numbered among his pupils and who remembered him for his gifted “use of words”. (Remembering Orwell, Stephen Wadhams, Penguin Books, 1984, p.21) By contrast, his language was something that Walt Disney recognised as “genius” yet did not get! Huxley had written a ten page outline of Alice in Wonderland for Disney but it was rejected as “so literary” with the words that “he could only understand every third word” of it and that “if you want to work in Hollywood it is not good to have brains”. (The Huxleys, Ronald William Clark, Heinemann, 1968, p.295)

Dying on the same day as Kennedy, Huxley had emigrated to the US in 1937, where he wrote Ends and Means in which he explored how most people wanted a world of “liberty, peace, justice, and brotherly love”, yet had no idea on how to accomplish it.

His most famous work, Brave New World, was written in Britain five years earlier, during the global economic depression and nascent rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

Chapter One opens thus:

A SQUAT grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.

Here, in the 26th century, babies are birthed as “Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons” according to need.

…they didn’t content themselves with merely hatching out embryos: any cow could do that.
“We also predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future …” He was going to say “future World controllers,” but correcting himself, said “future Directors of Hatcheries,” instead.

The artificial womb of TV series Kyle XY already exists, for goats at least!

Before even penning Brave New World, Huxley had written in 1949 to George Orwell, to congratulate him on the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, saying “how profoundly important the book” was. Further, in his letter, he predicted that:

“Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.”

The imagined “sci-fear” social eugenics of the future were not so far from the past of Nazi Germany and even 1950s America with sterilisation programmes. Last year, a journal paper brought the news that some US doctors were researching the use of drugs to prevent overly “masculinised” female babies:

“…fetal engineering, in which doctors are using a synthetic steroid to prevent female babies from being born with “behavioral masculinzation,” or rather a propensity toward lesbianism, bisexuality, intersexuality, and tomboyism. […drugs were given] as early as week five of the first trimester to try to “normalize” the development of those fetuses, which are female and CAH-affected. Because the drug must be administered before doctors can know if the fetus is female or CAH-affected, only one in eight of those exposed are the target type of fetus. The paper claims that this off-label intervention does not prevent CAH, but in fact just targets sex normalization.”

This shocking report show that we did not have to wait for the five imagined centuries of Huxley’s prophetic fear to arrive at a paradoxical world of both increased human rights and potential human interference. A combination of heaven and hell on earth.

We have more freedoms on the one hand, but how are we using them? To “kill all the ugly ones”, perhaps, as Boris Vian, writing as Vernon Sullivan, suggested in his novel Et on tuera tous les affreux, or to engineer only the best hereditary traits as in the 1997 film Gattaca.

Whilst Huxley was writing psychedelic drug influenced essays exploring perception and the limits of the mind in The Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956), CS Lewis was exploring heaven and hell on earth through a wardrobe door.

Between 1949 and 1954, Lewis penned The Chronicles of Narnia, publishing the final volume The Last Battle in 1956. Whilst they imagined a world of faith and magic they have been both praised and criticised for their values. Some have noted that dominantly western and male attitudes within the series, which despite inclusion of Greek and Persian mythic elements and the two girls, nonetheless later sidelines the elder of them, Susan, either for non-belief or adult female distractions. Whilst many Christians love the similarities between Aslan and Jesus, other aspects of pagan myth worry some evangelical purists.

Less well known, yet more interesting was his Sci-Fi trilogy written during the war years before Narnia. The main character, Elwin Ransom, was actually based upon his friend JRR Tolkien. The second book, Perelandra aka Voyage to Venus, is an interesting theological look at an Edenic world without the biblical Fall. The final volume, That Hideous Strength, explores some dystopian themes with a scientific institute and human “social planning agency” ironically called NICE (the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) whose superior beings seek to eradicate aspects of humanity and control the chemical phenomena that are emotions, much as in the film Equilibrium (2002).

Lewis had written on heaven and hell themselves in his 1945 book The Great Divorce and postulated a kind of Purgatory. In Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley Peter Kreeft neatly plays with the idea of all three men, who died on this day, meeting together in Purgatory and discussing the philosophy of faith. More interesting would have been a discussion of the real world each had imagined 50 years ago as prophets of our time where Huxley’s “Social Predestination Room” of biological eugenic determinism is part science fact, part social engineering, part political, part media brainwashing – and part here.

CS Lewis, in more depressing mode, wrote:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive….those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

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)


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!

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.

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.

Bi Visibility Day – Celebrating Bisexuality

Published September 23, 2013 by Katy J Went
Today is Bi Visibility Day (celebrated since 1999), because everyone needs a day, right? Actually, bisexuals are in many respects one of the least visible members of the LGBTIQ alphabet soup and, yet, they may be the majority.

Bisexuality is common in hundreds of animal species, especially the giraffe! The anthropologist Margaret Mead noted, ironically, that Western culture imposed a “straight jacket” on bisexuality whilst other cultures embraced non-specific gendered attraction.

bisexual triangles
Attempts to reclaim people as bi rather than gay or lesbian are fraught with historical and contextual difficulties. The ancient Greek poet Sappho from Lesbos, if “turned” bi, would remove sapphic and lesbian from the “women-who-love only women” dictionary.

The ancient world was rife with bisexuality in cultures that were more about power, status, class and penetration, than sex or gender. When laws and religion criminalise and stigmatise homosexuality, coming out as gay or lesbian is likely to be from a position of heterosexual cover. Thus, many older gay people are historically and serially bisexual rather than “gold star” straight virgins. People of “bisexual history” one might say.

Today’s youth are far more likely to embrace bisexuality in open experimentation and disregard for society’s narrow binarism and heteronormativity. Whilst a third transition to gay and lesbian, they do so from a position of reduced fear and phobia than the generation that preceded them, meanwhile the majority of young bisexuals now remain that way.

Being a person of bisexual history myself and maintaining what I call bisexual appreciation rather than attraction/orientation I had no problem when reading Wolff’s Bisexuality: A Study in agreeing with her idea that the majority may be closet bisexuals. It is just that opportunity, cultural restraints, fear of judgement, exposure and stigma, and the course of attraction or love, prevent many acting on it. Indeed, along with Ancient Greece, the famous sexologist Krafft-Ebing suggested that bisexuality was our original and natural state when he first used the term in 1892.

Dr Charlotte Wolff was a Jewish lesbian feminist physician and psychotherapist who fled Germany during the 1930s when her non-Jewish female lover left her out of fear. Before this she had been detained by the Gestapo as a spy for being dressed as a man. Although born female and into a Jewish home she preferred male clothing and female partners – something that pre-Nazi liberal Germany and her Jewish family initially accepted.

Just after the War, in 1948, Alfred Kinsey had found that “46% of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or ‘reacted to’ persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives” (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949). And that was the 1940s! A 2007 survey in the US showed 10 times as many young people identifying as bi than the 18-44 age group.

Kinsey further noted that the term bisexual was unfortunate, given that in nature it referred to hermaphroditism rather than a bi or pan gendered attraction. Ambisexual – from Latin ambo “both” not “ambiguous”, may have been better or pansexual, for many bisexuals claim to be gender blind in attraction and would also consider relationships with trans and intersex people.

US surveys from 1993 to 2007 showed a declining figure for people comfortable with calling themselves bisexual whilst a growing number were confident to be gay or lesbian, until the latter now exceed the former. Both are beginning to be eclipsed by those that answer surveys as “other”.

UK Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index questionnaire in 2009 found that bisexuals were less happy than gay people to be “out” at work despite making up at least 4% of the workforce. Their experience of biphobia often came from gay colleagues telling them to “get off the fence”.

In the Sex and the City episode “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl” (2000) Carrie and Charlotte discuss bisexuality:

Carrie: “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists, it’s just a layover on the way to gaytown”

Charlotte: “I’m very into labels, gay, straight, pick a side and stay there” 

Kinsey again commented that sexuality was a continuum not a both, either/or situation.

“Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.” (Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949)

The American second-wave feminist and bisexual, Kate Millett, said that “Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.” (Flying, 1974).

Bisexuals have fought to defend themselves from the slur that they “sleep around”. That said, studies show that they do have a greater sex drive, increased biological masculinisation, higher levels of testosterone, sexual confidence and fewer insecurities.

The UK gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, has said of future sexuality that:

“[The] picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero and homo, so loved by straight moralists and – equally significantly – by many lesbians and gay men. If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality.” 

One thing we can thank television and media personalities for is that people say the more positive role models in characters or real life the more confident people are to come out themselves. True Blood, the deep South US vampire series has endless bisexual liaisons and its lead actress Anna Paquin who plays Sookie, despite being married to vampire Bill Compton in real life, came out as bisexual in 2010. British Dr Who spin-off series Torchwood was also famed for its positive portrayal of bisexuality and its lead actor John Barrowman being ogled by men and women alike. What we need is more positive bi visibility to combat both aspects of biphobia – fear of coming out and the prejudice that leads to bi erasure.

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist anti-capitalist nun and her political inspirations and aspirations

Published September 14, 2013 by Katy J Went

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist Christian anti-capitalist nun – Sister Teresa Forcades, who is also a medical Doctor with a Master’s degree in theology, has a quasi-political campaign that is fast gaining momentum. Oh and she’s pro-openly LGBT people ministering in the Roman Catholic Church alongside her support for women to be priests. She’s pro-women in other ways too including abortion and a woman’s right to decide.

A Christian heroine of Sister Teresa is the 12th century German St Hildegard von Bingen, also a theological and medical polymath, though the “Sibyl of the Rhine” was, in addition, an artist, botanist, musician, playwright and poet. last year, Hildegard was made only the 4th female Doctor of the Church for her theological contributions. Forcades is unlikely to get similar approval given her open critique of the Roman Catholic church as “misogynist and patriarchal in its structure” and needing urgent transformation.

Hildegard was also critical of aspects of the Church, especially its Temple-moneymen-like selling of access to the Sacraments, something Jesus was infamous for combating when he drove them out of the Jerusalem Temple, whip in hand. She has also been regarded as something of an early feminist. Though willing to admit her “weaker vessel” sex status, much perhaps due to her sickly state of body, she, nonetheless, used that to her advantage in her attempts to gain political autonomy for her nuns. She invented a modified Latin alphabet, the lingua ignota and neologisms, perhaps for secrecy and community bonding with her nuns.

Like Hildegard, Sister Teresa says that “everything she does is born of deep Christian faith and devotion” but many question how a left-wing feminist can reconcile taking orders within the sexist homophobic institution that is the Roman Catholic Church. In 1971, when Mary Daly was the first woman asked to preach at Harvard Memorial Chapel she denounced Christianity as “irredeemable for women” and called for an exodus from the Church. Almost all those attending the service, men and women alike, joined her in walking out of the Chapel, so why is Teresa in it?

The Sister has, however, written on Christian feminism – La teologia feminista en la història (“Feminist theology in history”, Fragmenta Editorial, 2007) and just as with her famous opposition to Swine flu vaccine, which subsequently went viral, she researched for months before opposing its scientific basis – she has a PhD in Public Health – so too, she examined the Benedictine order before admitting herself to them. This she did by presenting to them a talk on a community of gay Catholics who celebrated their homosexuality as a divine gift – their positive reaction led her to put her doubts aside and take the sacrificial vows. She acknowledges that this has not stopped her falling in love three times.

The Second Vatican Council – The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 29) on human community, says that:

“with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion is to be overcome and irradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

So the religious is political but do religion and politics mix well? Most people recoil at the expressions of faith from Parliament rather than pulpit of Bush or Blair. Most recently, the shock coming out of Gorbachev as Christian, shows that he was wise to keep his faith quite when President of Russia. Faith for politicians can be a millstone around their necks but the Church gets as much criticism for failing to be political and certainly for not keeping up with the evolution of society, sex and sexuality.

Forcades, though, doesn’t want to run for political office or start a Party – she already has a ministry and political leader in the Church and Jesus, though also cites Gandhi and Chávez as inspirations alongside the radical left wing Greek, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party “alliance of leftists, greens, Marxists and Maoists” (Guardian). 

In like manner, Forcades has drawn political support – tens of thousands from a spectrum of political and religious beliefs, and has an agenda: one with with Marxist, socialist, green economic and social policies. As much liberation politics as liberation theology.

She also stands for the regional independence of Catalunya (a 2014 referendum is possible) and is a fierce nationalist in the sense of that region’s self-rule. Though she is no xenophobe of other peoples, regions, countries nor indeed of immigrants and would see immigration controls ended. A slight hypocrisy perhaps in that the Catalan region is Spain’s wealthiest and can afford to go it alone, isn’t Spanish unity, Christian generosity and the Benedictine-rule ascetic poverty better served by that region assisting the poorer ones amidst Spain’s current austerity climate that includes 30% unemployment, rising to 55% amongst the young.

Her blend of hard-left (as someone recently opined why is it “hard-left and far-right?), is more far-left but with a soft-heart and wise intelligent capable and captivating head, despite its nun’s coif and veil headdress. There appears to be no contradiction between her state-led re-nationalising socialism, anti-capitalism and more individualistic nationalist independence and strong democratic values that espouse every member representation and a transparent democratising takeover of utilities including public ownership of the Internet. Her vision and version of modern freedoms is more communitarian than either communism and capitalism.

Her political manifesto was co-authored with Spanish economist Arcadi Oliveres, and has 10 demands:

  • A government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation
  • An end to job cuts, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home
  • Genuine “participatory democracy” and steps to curb political corruption
  • Decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures
  • A reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services
  • An individual’s right to control their own body, including a woman’s right to decide over abortion
  • “Green” economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies
  • An end to xenophobia and repeal of immigration laws
  • Placing public media under democratic control, including the internet
  • International “solidarity”, leaving Nato, and the abolition of armed forces in a future free Catalonia

BBC World Service – Heart and Soul, Sister Teresa Forcades


Rainbow search on Google for gay marriage, Pride and some LGBT terms

Published June 27, 2013 by Katy J Went
Google’s search engine is celebrating LGBT Pride month again, the sixth year it has done so. The feature has been available all Pride month (the anniversary of June 1969’s Stonewall Riots) but people are only noticing it now after searching for “gay marriage” post the US Supreme Court Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Prop 8 rulings yesterday.
2013-look Google rainbow search box
The search box turns rainbow edged in a kind of Star Wars credits 3-d perspective way when certain LGBT keywords like ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transsexual’, ‘transgender’, ‘homosexuality’, ‘queer’, ‘Stonewall’ are entered. If you type in ‘LGBT’ or ‘LGBTQ’ it works too, but not ‘LGBTI’ or ‘LGBTIQ’, nor ‘trans’ and ‘intersex’, so barring the trans keywords above it is very gay-centric. Drag queens are included but crossdressers and transvestites excluded. Gay or same-sex marriage trigger the search graphic change as does “marriage equality” but not “equal marriage” or “transgender marriage”.
2012-look Google rainbow search box
Mercifully for Christian creationists or anti-gay activists searching for “Noah’ ark” will also not turn your search world into a rainbow! Equally disappointed will be Judy Garland, Wizard of Oz “Somewhere over the rainbow” fans!
2011-look Google rainbow search box
It also works specifically for New York, London and Toronto Pride searches, but not Norwich Pride, though Google says it will activate the feature 7-10 days before major Prides, though Norwich’s 5th Pride this year may not qualify.
2010-look Google rainbow search bar
Google has previously stood against California’s anti-gay marriage act (Prop 8) and has contributed to the “It Gets Better” campaign for LGBT youth. Their San Francisco employees, baked a cake for the striking down of DOMA this month.
2009-look Google rainbow search bar
Some have called, however, for a full goodle, a Google doodle, rather than this hidden “easter egg” feature, on the basis that Google may be protecting themselves from homophobic and/or religious backlashes since the feature only appears for certain LGBT keyword searches.
2008 Google rainbow search ribbon
Back in 2011, a gay magazine hit back at critics saying Google “should be commended for doing anything at all. Google has led the tech industry in supporting our community, and the latest addition to its arsenal of inclusion is a welcome boost in the right direction” a spokesman for Instinct magazine told CNN.

Some might also argue that Google’s data snooping, tax avoidance etc does not make it the most ethical or equal-minded of companies, just one of the most fun. Try typing in “google gravity” and then hit “I’m Feeling Lucky” – wait a few seconds and…! Now go to www.mrdoob.com/projects/chromeexperiments/google-space/ … floaty, eh?

Intersex steps forward and backwards, and the LGTBI debate

Published June 25, 2013 by Katy J Went
Four subsequently discovered to be XY developing nation athletes but raised and appeared to be women from birth, had their internal ‘male’ testes removed and cosmetic surgery to conform to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) requirements after the London 2012 Olympics because they had shown abnormally high levels of testosterone.
Although the exact intersex condition has not been revealed 1-in-4500 or more may be affected by this occurrence. As many as 1-in-100 may have some kind of medical intersex condition. Alternative allosome combinations can be XYY, XXY, XXX, XXXX, XXXXX or XXYY, among other possibilities. I know people who discovered they were XXY in their 30s only when seeking IVF after unaided fertility was not possible. I’ve similar friends and contacts with variants such as XXXXY. Human diversity is endless so why are we stuck with a legal pseudobiological binary? Perhaps athletes should have golfer’s handicaps based on height and hormone/muscle levels and all genders could then compete together. Boxing already divides based upon weight and horseracing equalises rider mass with weights.

Professor Charles Sultan, head of hormonology at Montpelier University Hospital said: “These women are born with female genital organs… but they assume male characteristics at puberty with considerable muscular development, a man‘s frame and a testosterone level similar to that of a man. They have the chromosome Y synonymous with masculinity. They can have 25% more muscular mass than their competitors.” (www.ibtimes.co.uk/articles/482141/20130623/transgender-castrated-gender-reassignment-olympic-athletes.htm)

Professor Sultan’s statement is respectful on gender, still regarding these women as women but with some male/masculine/’similar to … a man’ characteristics, not even accepting the XY chromosome as detracting from their inherent female identity and nurture.
Meanwhile, some good news, intersex has for the first time been used in an international agreement in EU foreign policy:

“The acronym LGBTI describes a diverse group of persons who do not conform to conventional or traditional notions of male and female gender roles. LGBTI people are also sometimes referred to as ‘sexual, gender and bodily minorities’.”
“…The term intersex covers bodily variations in regard to culturally established standards of maleness and femaleness, including variations at the level of chromosomes, gonads and genitals.” (www.ilga-europe.org/home/news/for_media/media_releases/protection_of_lgbti_human_rights_officially_part_of_eu_foreign_policy)

The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union adopted the Guidelines To Promote and Protect the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons, a legally binding document instructing EU institutions and Member States how to progress LGBTI  human rights when dealing with third countries and at international levels. Actions combating discriminatory laws and policies, LGBTI-phobic violence, and the promotion of equality and non-discrimination, are prioritised.
I have been active in getting the ‘I’ added to all LGBT groups I work with, the reluctance has not been from any public bodies, but rather the LGB elements, not wanting to “dilute” or “confuse” others! This is the same old argument that raged when Gay rights added first Lesbian, then Bisexual and most recently and reluctantly Trans rights. Gay politics has often been reticent to be seen to add the “weird” (and wonderful, IMHO) to their respectable middle class conformism after the early years of more outlandish and outrageous and generally just “out” activism. One group didn’t see the need to add the ‘I’ to any documents suggesting that those in the know knew LGBT included it, and those that didn’t need only be told it once and that the core acronym should remain unchanged, as if it had never changed before! 

I’ve written elsewhere about various groups suggesting a move towards MSGI (Minority Sexual & Gender Identities) or GSD (Gender & Sexual Diversity)/SGD (Sex and/or Gender Diverse) acronyms. LGBT could indeed be seen to be “diluted” by further additions to the alphabet soup of LGGGBTTTIQQQ2SSCHHHHAAAAFOOPPPPNUU (by my last enumeration) letters, but no minority wants to be the bottom of the pile, the mere asterisk in LGBT*. I don’t have a perfect solution but I resent the resistance to the very debate. Personally, I often use LGB/TIQ to indicate the split between sexuality and gender diversity, for the two groups are not always in agreement. Here I use Queer in the modern alternative sense of non-conformist, Queergender which could be seen to embrace genderfluidity, as well as Androgyne, Neutrois and Ungendered identities and expressions.

Australia seems to be the nation to watch on intersex rights. For a decade or more it has had sex/gender non-specific birth certificates and passports. Now it is passing an intersex-inclusive Sex Discrimination Amendment bill. Some half-dozen nations support M/F/X passports including Australia and New Zealand.